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kottke.org posts about music

A documentary on the 808 drum machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2016

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.

We Work Remotely

Lovely illustrations drawn on vintage sheet music

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

Lyapunov Ehrlich

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)

Hamilton/Beyonce mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2016

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.

Beastie Boys / Daft Punk mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2016

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.

Legacy: David Bowie’s greatest hits compilation

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2016

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.

The most relaxing song in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

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.

Black Mirror soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 15, 2016

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”.

The ultimate Wes Anderson music playlist

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2016

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 Hamilton Mixtape

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 04, 2016

Hamilton Mixtape

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!

The western rock covers in Westworld

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2016

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.

  1. The show is giving off some serious Lost vibes. Lost, if you’ll remember, started off very strong and then the people running the show got lost themselves and had no idea how to keep the whole thing from being an incoherent wreck. Thinking they’d turn it around somehow, I watched until the very end, and, disgusted by the ending, have never thought about it again, except in a context like this. Westworld, don’t play me like that!

Green Day brings fan on stage, fan slays on guitar

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2016

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.

Stranger Things x Childish Gambino

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 26, 2016

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.)

A short history of Beyonce

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

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.

Kanye songs slowed down to match the tempo of the original samples

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 24, 2016

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)

Philip Glass: own your work and get paid for it

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2016

Philip Glass Whitney

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.

  1. Just this morning, a friend texted me a photo of The Pioneer Woman’s line of products on the shelf at Walmart.

Epoch, a new album from Tycho

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 30, 2016

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.

Tycho’s 2016 Burning Man DJ set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2016

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.

This car’s glove box plays light jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2016

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)

The most amazing whistler in the world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2016

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.

ASL performance of “Alexander Hamilton”

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2016

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.)

The 40th Anniversary Edition of the Voyager Golden Record

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2016

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.

Why does blockbuster movie music all sound boring and the same?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2016

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?!

The Ramsophone

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2016

Ramsophone

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 deconstructed: The human voice as the ultimate instrument

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 01, 2016

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.

Nirvana on the cusp

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2016

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)

Beyonce’s performance at the MTV VMAs

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2016

Beyonce performed a 15-minute medley of songs from Lemonade Sunday night at the MTV Video Music Awards. Whether you didn’t catch it the first time around or have seen it 20 times, it’s worth watching with your full attention. This is Exhibit A in How to Be a Performer in 2016. Masterful.

BTW, have we talked about how unprecedentedly great Beyonce is? After four years with Destiny’s Child, she’s 14 years into her solo recording career and Lemonade is her sixth solo studio album. And it’s her best album…as was the album before that when it came out. She’s always been a wonderful singer and entertainer, but with the last three albums, she’s pushed her output toward the artistic (very successfully, I would say). How many other musical artists, bands, or groups who met early massive success are making their best stuff 14 years and 6 albums in? The list is not long. The Beatles. Radiohead (both In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool are among their very best albums). The Rolling Stones? Who else? Even if there are a few others on the list, it’s still rarified company.

See also this list of iconic VMA moments.

The Millennial Whoop

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2016

Patrick Metzger noticed that a huge number of pop songs from the past few years use a musical trope that Metzger has dubbed The Millennial Whoop. The video above contains a number of examples. Warning: once you hear it, you will perhaps not be able to enjoy listening to pop music without noticing it.1

I like to call this melodic snippet the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern. And it is in so many pop songs it’s criminal.

Some prominent Millennial Whoop songs include Katy Perry’s California Gurls, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Good Time, and even The Mother We Share by Chvrches.

  1. I first read about the Wilhelm Scream many years ago and now I hear it in every single action movie I see. It’s distracting as shit. See also Hitchcock’s distracting cameos.

Star Wars album covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2016

Star Wars Album Covers

Star Wars Album Covers

Star Wars Album Covers

I totally loved this…famous album covers modified to include Star Wars characters. The Bjork/Leia one is just perfect. More album/movie mashups on this Instagram account (like this Game of Thrones take on Sgt. Pepper’s).

DJ Shadow Essential Mix 07/02/2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2016

Speaking of DJ Shadow, his 2-hour Essential Mix that aired in early July is really hitting the spot right now.

Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2016

This video for Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels is one of the best music videos I’ve seen in a long time.

Says DJ Shadow: “We wanted to make a positive, life-affirming video that captures politicians at their election-year best. We got this instead.”

Says Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike: “It’s such a dope video. It’s what I really wish Trump and Hillary would just do and get it over with…And even in that fight I think Hillary would win — and that’s not an endorsement.”

The album is one of my faves so far…you get listen to it here or here.