kottke.org posts about Music
The Recording Academy has produced a series of three short and breezy videos on the history of recorded music, from the wax cylinder phonograph to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s. Interest piqued, I went to read more about the history of the CD. When developing the disc, the physical size of it was dictated by Beethoven:
The two companies argued about what size, shape and technology the CD should support. It was eventually settled on a disc of 115 millimetres in diameter and 74 minutes worth of storage. Why 74 minutes? To fit Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, of course.
When the format was released in 1982, players cost $900 and CDs themselves were $30 ($2270 and $75 in 2016 dollars)1 and fewer than 100 individual titles were available for sale.
A Canadian musician called TRONICBOX is taking contemporary pop songs like Katy Perry’s Firework, Baby by Justin Bieber, and Somebody I Used To Know by Gotye and remixing them so they sound like they came out in the 80s. The effect is unnerving for someone like me who grew up immersed in 80s pop music. Even though it’s impossible, I can almost remember listening to some of these songs back in my bedroom, probably taped off the radio during Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdown. Total time travel paradox nostalgia bombs. (via digg)
Beyoncé Knowles recently interviewed her sister Solange Knowles for Interview magazine.
And, as far back as I can remember, our mother always taught us to be in control of our voice and our bodies and our work, and she showed us that through her example. If she conjured up an idea, there was not one element of that idea that she was not going to have her hand in. She was not going to hand that over to someone. And I think it’s been an interesting thing to navigate, especially watching you do the same in all aspects of your work: Society labels that a control freak, an obsessive woman, or someone who has an inability to trust her team or to empower other people to do the work, which is completely untrue. There’s no way to succeed without having a team and all of the moving parts that help bring it into life. But I do have — and I’m unafraid to say it — a very distinctive, clear vision of how I want to present myself and my body and my voice and my perspective. And who better to really tell that story than yourself?
This exchange just made me laugh out loud:
BEYONCÉ: Well, it brought tears to my eyes to hear both of our parents speak openly about some of their experiences. And what made you choose Master P to speak on the album?
SOLANGE: Well, I find a lot of similarities in Master P and our dad.
BEYONCÉ: Me, too. [laughs]
I loved the simple mic drop bio for Beyoncé at the bottom:
BEYONCÉ IS A 20-TIME GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING RECORDING ARTIST. HER SIXTH STUDIO ALBUM AND COMPANION FILM, LEMONADE, WAS RELEASED LAST YEAR.
And Beyoncé is right about Solange’s wedding photo (above), it is indeed “the dopest wedding photo of all time”. (via @caseyjohnston)
French visual effects artist Maxime Causeret took a track from Max Cooper’s album Emergence and created these wonderful biologically inspired patterns and interactions.
Maxime also shows us a section of animated reaction-diffusion patterns, where simple chemical feedback mechanisms can yield complex flowing bands of colour — these forms of system were originally thought up by Alan Turing, and were part of the early seeds of the field of systems biology, which seeks to simulate life with computers, in order to better understand the systems producing the complexity we see in the living world. They were also the starting point of my main research area many years ago before I got lost in music! (where I began with the question of what patterns could be produced via reaction-diffusion forms of system as opposed to gene-regulatory network controlled patterning).
There’s a blue brain coral pattern at the 1:30 mark and a neuron-ish pattern at 2:30 that I wish would go on forever. Headphones recommended, psychoactive drugs optional. (via colossal)
One of my favorite art experiences this year was seeing Bruce Conner’s short film Crossroads at The Whitney. (It’s part of the Dreamlands exhibition, on view until Feb 5, 2017.) The film pairs slow-motion clips of the 1946 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll with music from composers Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley. The result is mesmerizing…the film’s 37 minutes long and I sat through the entire thing and will likely go back once more before the show closes. Riley’s portion of the music was particularly memorable for me…I would love to have a recording of that. Neither the film or the music is available online, save for the short clip at the bottom of this page, so you’ll have to go to The Whitney or SFMOMA, where it also happens to be showing.
Update: It’s not an exact match, but this 51-minute song from Riley called Descending Moonshine Dervishes is quite close to the music he did for Crossroads.
808 is a feature-length documentary film on perhaps the most important musical instrument of the past 30 years, the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. The soundtrack includes songs by Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, and Jamie xx. The film will be available exclusively on Apple Music sometime in the next week but will likely be available elsewhere at some point after that.
See also a browser-based emulation of the 808.
Russian illustrators Alexei Lyapunov and Lena Ehrlich use the notes, staffs, and other musical notation marks on vintage sheet music as a framework to create these inventive illustrations of everyday life and nature. Prints are available. (via colossal)
A singing group delivers a tight six-minute mashup of songs by Beyonce and the hit Broadway show Hamilton. It starts a bit slow but gets better as it goes along.
This is pretty simple: 8 songs from the Beastie Boys remixed using beats and samples from Daft Punk. If you need further prompting, it’s probably not for you.
A pair of greatest hits albums by David Bowie have been released.
The album collects together a selection of Bowie’s most popular tracks and singles, from 1969’s ‘Space Oddity’, through to the final singles ‘Lazarus’ and ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’, issued earlier this year.
BOWIE - LEGACY will be available as a 1 CD and a Deluxe 2 CD from November 11th. These will be followed by a double vinyl album version on January 6th, 2017.
The album is available in a shorter 1-disc length and as a double album (embedded above). 2016 took Bowie from us, but maybe a little Bowie can help us through the rest of the year.
According to a marketing study conducted by Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson, the most relaxing song in the world is Weightless, by ambient band Marconi Union. The song was produced by the band in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy.
The song makes use of many musical principles that have been shown to individually have a calming effect. By combining these elements in the way Marconi Union have has created the perfect relaxing song. The study found this to be the world’s most relaxing song. It contains a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. While listening, your heart rate gradually comes to match that beat.
Many songs were tested and found to relax the participants, but Weightless stood out:
In fact, listening to that one song — “Weightless” — resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.
This is a “neuromarketing” study conducted on behalf of a company that makes bubble bath and shower gel so grain of salt and all that, but it is a remarkably relaxing song. Here’s a Spotify playlist of ten of the most relaxing songs from the study:
And right now I’m listening to this 10-hour version of Weightless on YouTube:
Awwwww. Much better than the Black Mirror music from this morning.
Perhaps listening to the pulsing, creepy, and foreboding music from Black Mirror is too much at a time like this, but in case you’d really like to wallow, there are several albums of music from the show available on Spotify: Be Right Back, White Bear, White Christmas, Nosedive, and Men Against Fire. I’ve added all five albums to this Black Mirror playlist.
I hadn’t realized while watching, but the show used some top-shelf composers for the music, including Clint Mansell, Max Richter, and Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury (who did the Ex Machina soundtrack).
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker also put together a playlist of 80s music from the stand-out episode of season 3, San Junipero.
The playlist includes “tracks from the episode, tracks which didn’t make it in (for rights/other reasons)…and a couple which inspired elements of the story”.
Music is an essential aspect of Wes Anderson’s films. Michael Park has created a 9-hour playlist of music from Anderson’s movies, from Bottle Rocket (Artie Shaw & Chet Baker) to The Royal Tenenbaums (Elliott Smith & Nico) to Fantastic Mr. Fox (Burl Ives & The Rolling Stones) to The Grand Budapest Hotel (mostly by Alexandre Desplat).
The original cast recording of Hamilton has been on heavy rotation in our house since the early summer. The kids know several of the songs by heart and Minna can get through Aaron Burr, Sir in about 45 seconds, so watch out Daveed Diggs.
As an accompaniment to the main album, Lin-Manuel Miranda and his collaborators are releasing The Hamilton Mixtape. It features a couple of unused songs and the rest of the album is covers of songs from the musical by rappers, pop artists, and hip-hop stars like Kelly Clarkson, Usher, The Roots, Alicia Keys, and Chance the Rapper. I mean, check out the track listing…what an all-star cast. Available for pre-order now, it’ll be released on Dec 2.
Update: Two of the songs from the album were on Spotify but they got pulled. Except that if I go to this playlist, I can still play them. Maybe they’re cached somehow?
Update: The two songs are available on YouTube (My Shot & It’s Quiet Uptown) and Apple Music/iTunes. (via @mattgrieser & @scojjac)
Update: The entire mixtape is now out. Huzzah!
I haven’t quite figured out if HBO’s new show Westworld is any good or not,1 but I’m sticking with it at least through the first season. One of the fun things about the show — ok, maybe the only fun thing, Westworld takes itself pretty seriously — is the western-style covers of rock songs by the likes of Radiohead, Soundgarden, and The Rolling Stones. There’s a mini playlist of the main theme and some of the covers — Paint It Black by the Stones and Radiohead’s No Surprises — up on Spotify.
Oh, and here’s one of the most popular fan theories out there: the multiple timeline theory.
Update: The entire “two-disk” album from season 1 is up, which includes original music as well as covers like Radiohead’s Exit Music (For a Film). LOL.
At a recent concert in Chicago, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong noticed a kid in the audience holding a sign saying “I can play every song on Dookie” and pulled him up on stage to prove it. Aside from a slightly slow tempo, he did pretty well on When I Come Around.
P.S. Was thinking about this the other day: I don’t know that I would have picked Green Day as one of the 90s bands that has stuck around, still touring, still recording, still attracting new fans.
Soundcloud user kmlkmljkl took the Stranger Things opening title song and mixed it with Childish Gambino’s Bonfire. [fire emoji] [fire emoji] [fire emoji]
(Will they have Lando sing in the upcoming young Han Solo movie? That would be a brave move.)
From Genius, a short review of Beyonce Knowles’ life and career, from an appearance on Star Search — I wonder what Skeleton Crew is up to these days? — to Lemonade, one of 2016’s few genuine bright spots. The greatest entertainer of the century so far? A friend recently went to see Beyonce and Kanye concerts about two weeks apart. I asked her who was better and she just rolled her eyes.
Here’s a playlist of snippets of five Kanye West songs that contain samples played at the original tempo of those samples. (A couple of the songs are his and some he was featured on or produced.) (thx, brant)
From a new Kickstarter publication called The Creative Independent, Philip Glass was interviewed about the importance of artists owning their work and getting paid for it.
My personal position was that I had wonderful parents. Really wonderful people. But my mother was a school teacher. My father had a small record shop in Baltimore. They had no money to support my career. I began working early. You’re too young to know this, but when you get your first Social Security check, you get a list of every place you’ve worked since you began working. It’s fantastic! I discovered that I was working from the time I was 15 and putting money into the Social Security system from that age onward. I thought it was much later. No, I was actually paying money that early.
The point is that I spent most of my life supporting myself. And I own the music. I never gave it away. I am the publisher of everything I’ve written except for a handful of film scores that the big studios paid. I said, “Yeah, you can own it. You can have it, but you have to pay for it.” They did pay for it. They were not gifts.
A lot in this interview resonates, including this:
It’s never been easy for painters, or writers, or poets to make a living. One of the reasons is that we, I mean a big “We,” deny them an income for their work. As a society we do. Yet, these are the same people who supposedly we can’t live without. It’s curious, isn’t it?
And this bit about making work vs performing (italics mine):
What happens, is that the artists are in a position where they can no longer live on their work. They have to worry about that. They need to become performers. That’s another kind of work we do. I go out and play music. The big boom in performances is partly because of streaming, isn’t it? We know, for example, that there are big rock and roll bands that will give their records away free. You just have to buy the ticket to the concert. The cost of the record is rather small compared to the price of the ticket. It’s shifted around a little bit; they’re still paying, but they’re paying at the box office rather than at the record store. The money still will find its way.
Then you have to be the kind of person who goes out and plays, and some people don’t.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the economics of writing online. Making a comfortable living only by writing is tough and very few independents are able to do it. More successful are those who are able to get away from writing online by speaking at conferences, writing books, starting podcasts, selling merchandise,1 post sponsored tweets and Instagram photos, building apps, consulting for big companies, etc. This stuff is the equivalent of the band that tours, sells merch, composes music for TV commercials, etc. But as Glass said, what about those who just want to write? (And I count myself among that number.) How can we support those people? Anyway, more on this very soon (I hope).
Photo is of a Chuck Close painting of Philip Glass taken by me at The Whitney.
A cool brace from Tycho this week. First was the chill Burning Man set and now a brand-new album called Epoch. My Friday is allllll set.
An unexpected gift from Tycho this morning; he just uploaded this year’s installment of his annual Burning Man sunrise set. Check out the sets from last year and 2014 as well.
When you open the glove compartment on this car, it sounds like light jazz. And with that, it’s time inaugurate a new tag on the site: things that sound like other things, which includes my all-time favorite, this shovel falling sounds exactly like Smells Like Teen Spirit. (via @kepano)
Steve Wiles is a band director from Oklahoma who is a extremely talented whistler. Wiles can whistle two melodies at the same time.
Competitive whistler Christopher Ullman is pretty good too — he doesn’t kiss before competitions and his best friend is a tube of Chapstick.
When Roger Whittaker whistles, he sounds like a damn bird! Pavarotti was also not too shabby a whistler.
Watch Sarah Tubert perform the opening number from Hamilton in ASL. You might want to put on some headphones to hear some of the signs Tubert performs (snaps, claps, etc.)
Just launched on Kickstarter: a gorgeous reproduction of the Golden Record that was included on the Voyager space probes when we shot them into space almost 40 years ago. The records contained images and sounds from Earth that some extraterrestrial civilization may someday view and listen to.
The Voyager Golden Record contains the story of Earth expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth’s greatest music from myriad cultures and eras, from Bach and Beethoven to Blind Willie Johnson and Chuck Berry, Senegalese percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Dozens of natural sounds of our planet — birds, a train, a baby’s cry — are collaged into a lovely sound poem. There are spoken greetings in 55 human languages, and one whale language, and more than one hundred images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are.
This is so cool. When I was doing the packages with Quarterly, one of the ideas I had on my list was to replicate the Golden Record. The production values would have been a lot more limited than this effort and the rights issue is ultimately why I never pursued it:
The overwhelming majority of the funds raised from this historic reissue will go directly to the high production costs, licensing, and royalties incurred in creating this lavish box set.
See also the Contents of the Voyager Golden Record and The sounds of Voyager’s Golden Record.
The series of Marvel movies — X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, etc. — is the highest grossing film series of all time but the films’ music is largely forgettable and bland in a way that it isn’t in Star Wars, James Bond, or Harry Potter. In this video, the Every Frame a Painting gang explores why that is: partially a trend toward movie music not designed to be noticed and also the use by directors of temporary music that unduly influences the final score. All the Marvel movies run together for me (aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, which had distinctive music in it, I can’t recall a single scene from any one of the more recent films) and perhaps the music is one reason.
There’s a follow-up video to the one above composed of clips of movies played with their temp music followed by the same clips with the final music, which is nearly identical.
They’ve also started a Twitter account highlighting the influence of temp music on final scores.
These videos have me wondering…was Carter Burwell’s score for Carol influenced by temp music, specifically Philip Glass’ score for The Hours? This interview in Rolling Stone and the FAQ on his site suggest not:
It’s his ability to make music that compliments a scene rather than eclipse it that has made him an invaluable creative partner to filmmakers who work in such intense melodramatic registers, and Burwell is emphatic that his scores aren’t responsible for all of the emotional heavy-lifting. “As a listener, I do not like being instructed,” he says, emphatically. “It riles me when the music tells me something before I can figure it out for myself. In fact, I enjoy the discomfort of not being sure how to take something.” It’s the reason why he loathes listening to the temp music that directors often attach to rough cuts in order to point composers in the right direction.
But the similarities are there, so who knows?
Update: I forgot to mention that Stanley Kubrick ended up ditching the original score written for 2001 and sticking with the temp music, which were the classical compositions by Strauss et al. that we’re so familiar with today.
Update: In a video response, Dan Golding shows how temp music is not a recent Hollywood obsession…even the famous Star Wars theme was greatly influenced by temp music:
He questions that the pull of temp music by contemporary directors and composers is sufficient to explain why movie music is now so uninspiring:
Film music is an embrace of rampant unoriginality, and to think about how film music works, we need to think of new ways to talk about these questions, rather than just saying, “it’s a copy”.
Golding pins the blame primarily on technology but also on composers and filmmakers drawing from fewer and less diverse sources. Interestingly, this latter point was also made by Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou in a recent chat with Anil Dash, albeit about originality in video essays. A lightly edited excerpt:
My advice to people has always been: copy old shit. For instance, the style of Every Frame a Painting is NOT original at all. I am blatantly ripping off two sources: the editing style of F for Fake, and the critical work of David Bordwell/Kristin Thompson, who wrote the introductory text on filmmaking called Film Art. I’ve run into quite a few video essays that are trying to be “like Every Frame a Painting” and I always tell people, please don’t do that because I’m ripping of someone else. You should go to the source. When any art form or medium becomes primarily about people imitating the dominant form, we get stifling art.
If you look at all of the great filmmakers, they’re all ripping someone off but it was someone 50 years ago. It rejuvenated the field to be reminded of the history of our medium. And I sincerely wish more video essayists would rip off the other great film essayists: Chris Marker, Godard, Agnès Varda, Thom Andersen. Or even rip off non-video essayists. I would kill to see someone make video essays the way Pauline Kael wrote criticism. That would be my jam!
ps. Also! Hans Zimmer — composer of film scores for Gladiator, Interstellar, Inception, The Dark Knight, etc. — was the keyboard player in the Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star music video. WHAT?!
This is fun: the Ramsophone is a music box you can play around with on the web. Push buttons to make it do stuff and refresh for a new box that sounds/works differently. Design inspired by Dieter Rams and music inspired by the Stranger Things theme.
Kanye West is not a great singer. But he packs his songs and albums full of the human voice. Estelle Caswell explains how Kanye uses the human voice as the central instrument in his music.
This is a video of Nirvana playing Smells Like Teen Spirit in a small club just two days after Nevermind came out in 1991. There’s a freight train bearing down on those boys and they don’t even know it. (via digg)
See also The Notorious B.I.G. freestyling on a Brooklyn corner at 17 and LL Cool J plays to a mostly empty gymnasium in Maine…he was also just 17.
Update: And here’s 40+ minutes from the same show at which they played Drain You, Polly, and Breed. (via @fimoculous)