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kottke.org posts about Music

Trains Speed Through the Swiss Countryside to Techno Beats

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2020

Perhaps my fondness for Michel Gondry’s video for The Chemical Brothers’ Star Guitar has primed me to enjoy these POV Swiss train videos paired with techno music. The driving beat of the music, the forward motion of the train, and the soaring scenery complement each other perfectly. (via why is this interesting?)

Music for Empty Malls

posted by Jason Kottke   May 07, 2020

Listening to recorded music as if it’s being played in empty malls1 is a thing that I find incredibly soothing and nostalgic and also a little creepy?

An entire playlist is available here. Some of these sound more convincing than others, but almost any of them with 80s music instantly transports me back to wandering past Kay Bee Toys, Chess King, and Spencer’s while wearing my Hypercolor t-shirt, KangaROOS, and Guess jeans.1 (via @Remember_Sarah)

  1. A la running Christian choral music through digital filters to make it sound like it was sung in the Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul.

  2. Just kidding on the Guess jeans…my family couldn’t afford those! They were like $60! Even Levi’s were a luxury good. I wore mostly Lee or Bugle Boy jeans from Farm & Fleet. The Hypercolor shirt was a Christmas present.

Radiohead’s Rejected Spectre Theme Song Played Over the Film’s Opening Credits

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2020

My kids have been making their way through the Daniel Craig Bond movies so when I mentioned that our local theater was planning on showing drive-in movies on a screen in the parking lot, my son said, “ooh, maybe they’ll show the new Bond movie”.1 Then they began to speculate who would be singing the theme song in the new movie, and I piped in: it’s Billie Eilish and they’ve already released the song.

So we listened to it and, since they had just watched Spectre, I also played Radiohead’s rejected theme song, which I obviously prefer to Sam Smith’s bland Oscar-winning song. This morning, while trying to figure out who sang the official one, I ran across the video of Radiohead’s version played over the opening credits (embedded above). Gah, so much better. What a missed opportunity.

P.S. Funny story from my research: not only was Smith unaware that Radiohead had been asked to do the theme song before them, they were also apparently unaware of who Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke even was.

  1. We’ll have to wait until at least November for that, although I suspect that as the summer goes on and people don’t go back to movie theaters even if they reopen, the studios will have to start releasing films straight to digital/Blu-ray. The can’t delay everything for a year or two.

Juilliard Students Go All Out for Online Performance

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2020

Like other schools, performing arts conservatory The Juilliard School is closed due to the pandemic. But constraints drive creativity, and a group of dance, drama, and music students at the school (along with some alumni like Yo-Yo Ma, Laura Linney, Patti LuPone, and Itzhak Perlman) have created this wonderful performance of Ravel’s Bolero, each performing from their own home.

This is one of the best and most creative grid music videos I’ve seen. The meeting through the glass at 3:40 was genuinely moving. You can read about how the performance came together.

Created with the support of a roster of internal producers, staff, and faculty members as well as a team of external artistic and technical personnel, Bolero Juilliard is a complex online puzzle with many components being conceived, rehearsed, and produced simultaneously. Keigwin and his co-choreographer, Nicole Wolcott, created a storyboard based on states of being and emotional concepts like “Interior Lives” or “Soothing.” Juilliard dancers learn Keigwin’s choreography in Zoom sessions, creating a simulacrum of unity and cohesion very much in spite of the reality of social isolation. Juilliard actors, singers, and alumni contribute videos of emotionally specific gestures and actions. Rather than gathering in-person as they normally would, members of the Juilliard Orchestra and Juilliard Jazz — from wherever they happen to be — video-record themselves playing individual lines, which are edited together to create a complete piece from disparate parts.

My Recent Media Diet, The Pandemic Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

Well, it has been awhile. I have not done one of these since late December. First I was away for a few weeks and then, well, you know. I’m not even sure if anyone wants to read this sort of thing right now — I barely wanted to write it — but I know a lot of people are stuck at home, looking for stuff to watch, read, and listen to. Plus, keeping the media diet going feels normal, at least a little.

If you’re strapped for time/attention, my top recs are Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Devs, Exhalation, Little Women, Unbelievable, Future Nostalgia, The Overstory, and You’re Wrong About.

Devs. Fantastic. I loved every minute of this gem. (A)

Unbelievable. Based on a true story. Excellent performances by Toni Collette and (especially) Merritt Wever. (A)

The Report. Also based on a true story. The Bush presidency still does not get the credit in terms of the harm it did, and continues to do, to America. (B+)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Killer collection of tech/science stories. (A)

Slow Burn (season 3). Not just about Biggie/Tupac, but about 90s hip-hop & the cultural reaction to it. (B+)

AirPods Pro. Wearing these feels a little like the future. (A)

Aeronauts. Perfectly fine. (B)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Straight-up masterpiece. (A)

Don’t F**k with Cats. How on Earth did I not hear anything about this case when it originally happened and why is it not more widely known? A media-obsessed wanna-be serial killer caught by online sleuths? It seems like fiction. (B+)

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan. This maybe would have been better at half the length. (B+)

1917. Technically stunning but I never truly got involved in the story because I was trying to see where the cuts were. (B+)

Icarus. Almost unbelievable where the story goes in this. (A-)

Little Women. My choice for the best 2019 movie. (A)

My Brilliant Friend (season 2). The second part of the first season set a high bar to clear, but I’m loving this season so far. (A)

Jojo Rabbit. Like Inglourious Basterds directed by Wes Anderson. (A-)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Fittingly finished this on the plane to Vietnam. (B+)

Anthropocene. Typically excellent look at the impact of humans on the Earth by Edward Burtynsky. (A-)

Frances Ha. Baby Adam Driver! (B+)

Catch Me If You Can. Spielberg (and DiCaprio) at their most entertaining. (A-)

Edge of Tomorrow. Love this movie. An underrated gem. (A)

The Overstory by Richard Powers. A wonderful novel about trees and the natural world. (A)

Titanic. A masterclass of blockbuster filmmaking and storytelling. (A)

Good Place (season 4). Loved the ending to this. (A-)

Outbreak. Contagion. Deep Impact. 2012. The Core. I Am Legend. I have been watching all of the disaster movies. They are terrible and I love them. (A/C-)

The Aftermath. The ending of this felt random, a gotcha to the audience rather than the natural end to the story. (B)

Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner. I had medium hopes for this, but the Seth Rogan episode made me laugh harder than I have in months. (B+)

Watchmen. The first three episodes gave me this-is-gonna-end-like-Lost vibes and then they announced there wasn’t going to be second season, so I stopped watching. (B-)

The Farewell. Wonderful. (A-)

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon. Started slow but finished strong. Keep your eyes peeled for all of the sci-fi references. (B+)

Birds of Prey. This was mindless. And not in a good way. (D)

McMillion$. My main takeaway was being aghast at how much time, energy, and money the FBI put into this case, which one of the lead investigators only pursued because it was fun. (B)

Star Trek: Picard. I would have voted against bringing this beloved character back (for fear they’d ruin it) but I enjoyed almost every second of this. (B+)

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Another great book from Larson. The Battle of Britain is surprisingly relevant to these pandemic times. (A-)

Onward. Not my favorite Pixar, but solid as always. (B)

Future Nostalgia. Love this album, not a single weak song. (A)

The Mandalorian. It took me too long to realize that this was a western. I don’t care that much for westerns. (B)

Star Wars Episodes I II III. I needed some true garbage to watch about two weeks into my self-quarantine. These movies are mostly terrible. (C-)

You’re Wrong About. I’ve mentioned this podcast before, but You’re Wrong About has become essential listening for me. The OJ and DC Sniper series are both great, and their episode Why Didn’t Anyone Go to Prison for the Financial Crisis was excellent and surprisingly didn’t really mention the actual crisis at all. (A)

Iron Man. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. The kids and I are rewatching all the MCU movies in release order. Some are better than others. (B)

Tiger King. I watched the first episode and…is this anything more than just gawping at yokels? Does this documentary have anything important to say about society or is it just reality TV? (C)

LBJ and the Great Society. A fascinating look at a brief moment in time when our government worked and how that happened. (A-)

The Case of the Missing Hit. You’ve likely heard this instant-classic episode of Reply All by now, but if you haven’t, it’s worth the hype. (A-)

Tempest in a Teacup. Outside/In talks to Charles Mann about a passage in 1491 about passenger pigeons, which suggested that their famous abundance was a relatively recent occurence caused by the decimation of indigenous populations in the Americas by Europeans and their diseases. (B+)

The Living Room. The episode of Love + Radio that inspired the Oscar-winning The Neighbor’s Window. (A-)

Simulcast. Tycho’s instrumental companion album to Weather. (B+)

Minority Report. This was cheesier than I remembered it. Hasn’t aged well in some ways. (B)

Pelican Brief. So 90s. But I’d forgotten the star power of Denzel and Julia Roberts, even in a mediocre movie. (B)

Murder on the Orient Express. Rewatch. Branagh sure does chew the scenery, but it is fun to watch. (B+)

Gemini Man. Action. Sci fi. Mostly forgettable. (B-)

Yesterday. Cute flick. (B)

Monsters University. This was the only Pixar movie I had never seen. And now I have. (B)

Dark Phoenix. Slightly more entertaining than I was expecting. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Songs of 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2020

You might remember last year1 when the Hood Internet released a series of videos mashing up the top songs of 1979-1983. Over the next few weeks, they’re going to finish up the 80s. The video from 1984 is up first:

As previously noted, 1984 was perhaps mass pop culture’s high tide, a great year for music, and the most 80s year of the 1980s.

Update: Here are the videos for 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, & 1989.

Update: Steve Reidell and Aaron Brink of The Hood Internet talk about how they do these year-by-year mixes.

Oftentimes we’ll have an idea of where we want to start and where we want to end, and the work is figuring out how to get from one place to another. We’re changing song speeds and tempos to match and pulling in individual instrumental or vocal tracks if we can find them. Sometimes the thing that matches is a musical similarity and sometimes it’s lyrical. In the 1981 video, there’s a section where we string together Rick Springfield singing “Jessie’s Girl” and Rick James singing “Superfreak” and made it sound kind of like a duet about the same girl. Dropping that on top of Vangelis’ theme to Chariots Of Fire just ups the intensity and the absurdity of it all.

  1. I know, I probably lost a bunch of you at “remember last year”. But I’m pressing on regardless.

Audio Deepfakes Result in Some Pretty Convincing Mashup Performances

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2020

Have you ever wanted to hear Jay Z rap the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet? You are in luck:

What about Bob Dylan singing Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time”? Here you go:

Bill Clinton reciting “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot? Yep:

And I know you’re always wanted to hear six US Presidents rap NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police”. Voila:

This version with the backing track is even better. These audio deepfakes were created using AI:

The voices in this video were entirely computer-generated using a text-to-speech model trained on the speech patterns of Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump.

The program listens to a bunch of speech spoken by someone and then, in theory, you can provide any text you want and the virtual Obama or Jay Z can speak it. Some of these are more convincing than others — with a bit of manual tinkering, I bet you could clean these up enough to make them convincing.

Two of the videos featuring Jay Z’s synthesized voice were forced offline by a copyright claim from his record company but were reinstated. As Andy Baio notes, these deepfakes are legally interesting:

With these takedowns, Roc Nation is making two claims:

1. These videos are an infringing use of Jay-Z’s copyright.
2. The videos “unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our client’s voice.”

But are either of these true? With a technology this new, we’re in untested legal waters.

The Vocal Synthesis audio clips were created by training a model with a large corpus of audio samples and text transcriptions. In this case, he fed Jay-Z songs and lyrics into Tacotron 2, a neural network architecture developed by Google.

It seems reasonable to assume that a model and audio generated from copyrighted audio recordings would be considered derivative works.

But is it copyright infringement? Like virtually everything in the world of copyright, it depends-on how it was used, and for what purpose.

Celebrity impressions by people are allowed, why not ones by machines? It’ll be interesting to see where this goes as the tech gets better.

Music That’s Perfect for Working

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2020

I like to listen to music while I work, but it can’t have any vocals or I get too distracted when I’m writing or reading. So I end up listening to a lot of electronic, classical, and soundtracks. During the pandemic, I’ve been sharing my daily work soundtrack in this Twitter thread with selections like the Amelie soundtrack, Burial, Tycho, Nine Inch Nails, and Philip Glass. I’m no musical expert or connoisseur, but I know what I like and what works to keep me focused.

Over the past few months, I’ve been getting a lot of good music recommendations from the Flow State newsletter, so I was happy to write a guest issue for them today recommending music from Ben Prunty.

Today we’re listening to Ben Prunty, a composer of video game soundtracks. His first release was the chiptune soundtrack for the critically acclaimed FTL: Faster Than Light, a video game released in 2012. The music is chill and retro, the perfect backdrop for gameplay that’s more about careful planning and execution than fast-twitch reflexes. Inspired by fans who listened to the FTL soundtrack while working or studying, Prunty released Color Sky a couple of years later, describing the album as an “epic journey across your own subconscious.”

You can find the links for the albums I mentioned if you click through and so many more recommendations in their back issues.

Update: Damien Joyce reminded me that I asked for recommendations for “head-down coding/designing/writing concentration music” on Twitter a few years ago and received a bunch of great responses. Joyce compiled many of the responses into a 15-hour playlist on Spotify.

Ella Fitzgerald Masterfully Butchers “Mack the Knife”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2020

If you listen to more than 20 seconds of any song by Ella Fitzgerald, you can instinctively tell how amazing a singer she was. But taking a closer look reveals just how special. In this episode of NPR’s Jazz Night in America, they took a look at Fitzgerald’s 1960 performance of Mack the Knife (where she forgot half the words and improvised the rest) and her talent for referencing other songs while improvising, creating live “mix tapes” of popular songs using just her voice.

By 1960, Fitzgerald had become a global sensation. That February she gave an unforgettable performance in West Berlin for an audience of thousands. On the set list was “Mack The Knife,” a huge hit first made popular by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong. Fitzgerald sang the song flawlessly until about halfway through, when she forgot the lyrics. But she didn’t stumble — instead, she playfully freestyled her way to the end with nonsense syllables and improvised words — the singular jazz style called scatting. This unforgettable and Grammy Award-winning performance demonstrated her masterful grace under pressure.

You can listen to her Grammy-winning version of Mack the Knife on Spotify:

I love how confidently she sings “Oh, what’s the next chorus…” — Fitzgerald belts it out like those are the right lyrics. Her self-assurance sells it. (via the kid should see this)

A Virtual Performance by the Chicago Sinfonietta Orchestra

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2020

Forced to cancel performances due to the pandemic, the members of Chicago Sinfonietta (“North America’s most diverse orchestra”) gathered together via video for a lively virtual performance of Leroy Anderson’s Plink, Plank, Plunk!, which is played primarily by plucking string instruments. Tag yourself…are you bored triangle lady or clarinet banana?

The Rolling Stones Perform “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” While Sheltering at Home

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2020

As part of the One World: Together at Home fundraiser organized by the WHO, Global Citizen, and Lady Gaga that raised $127.9 million for Covid-19 relief efforts, the members of the Rolling Stones, each in their own home, got together via video to perform You Can’t Always Get What You Want. It’s a lovely messy & spare performance and the choice of song is timely — plenty of people around the world are definitely not getting what they want right now, but hopefully we will eventually end up getting what we need.

John Krasinski Hosted a Virtual Prom for the World’s Quarantined High School Students

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2020

With the help of Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell, the Jonas Brothers, and Chance the Rapper, John Krasinski threw a virtual prom for the nation’s high school students who are stuck at home because of the pandemic. This show is such a gift. Don’t miss Brad Pitt doing the weather report and a brief segment from the International Space Station.

The History of Music About Diseases

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2020

From Retro Report, a short video about how epidemics, past and present, have been represented in music. Blues musicians sang about the 1918 flu pandemic and pop stars wrote songs about HIV/AIDS.

A disease that killed tens of millions of people, more than the number who died in World War I, might not seem like a promising subject for a song, but the legendary Texas bluesman Blind Willie Johnson didn’t see it that way. In Dallas in 1928, Johnson recorded “Jesus Is Coming Soon,” an intense chronicle of the ravaging influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. In a growl that conveyed the horror of the illness, as well as its scarifying ubiquity, Johnson declared that the “great disease was mighty and the people were sick everywhere / It was an epidemic, it floated through the air.”

Other lines seem as if they could have been written yesterday: “Well, the nobles said to the people, ‘You better close your public schools / Until the events of death has ended, you better close your churches, too.’”

A Buddhist Monk Covers Queen, The Beatles, and The Ramones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 15, 2020

Using traditional instruments, a Japanese Buddhist monk named Kossan performs delightfully earnest covers of rock songs. So far, he’s done Queen’s We Will Rock You, Yellow Submarine by the Beatles — both embedded above — Teenage Lobotomy by the Ramones, and a song by Japanese punk bank The Blue Hearts. The Queen one is my favorite, I think. (via open culture)

Fanciful Typographic Performance of Peter & the Wolf

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2020

Yet another gem from the Kid Should See This: a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf that combines live action, animation, and creative typography.

Radiohead Putting Classic Live Shows on YouTube During the Pandemic

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2020

Starting today and continuing weekly, a little musical band you have never heard of called Radiohead is putting classic live shows up on YouTube. First up and embedded above is a concert they performed in Ireland in October 2000. Here’s the setlist in case you want to skip around a little. The band says they’ll be putting shows up every week until “either the restrictions resulting from [the] current situation are eased, or we run out of shows”.

I went to a show of theirs in Oxford in 2001 and I would love to see it again. They played Creep for the first time in ages after an equipment failure 86’d whatever song they were supposed to play — and the crowd went fricking bananas.

Update: You can find all of the live shows they’ve uploaded in the At Home with Radiohead playlist. They include Bonnaroo 2006, Buenos Aires 2009, Berlin 2016, and Coachella 2012. Tomorrow’s show will be Summer Sonic 2016 (streaming begins at 9am ET).

Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks Rapped Over Dr. Dre’s Beats

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2020

As someone who a) thinks Dr. Dre was an amazing producer, and b) read Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks to his children roughly 1 million times (enough to be able to, eventually, get through the entire book at a comically high rate of speed w/o any tongue twisting slip-ups), I thought Wes Tank’s video of himself rapping Fox in Socks over Dre’s beats was really fun and surprisingly well done.

Tank has also done Green Eggs and Ham (over the beats from Forgot About Dre) and The Lorax. (thx, andrew)

Boots & Cats: A World Champ Explains the 13 Levels of Beatboxing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2020

This is fantastic: former beatboxing world champion Butterscotch explains the 13 levels of complexity involved in beatboxing, from the simple “bass drum” to how to breathe while beatboxing to singing to emulating real instruments.

Expert beatboxers go so fast that it’s amazing to see someone with Butterscotch’s skill level break this down — like watching a water balloon bursting in slow motion. Her short explanation & demonstration of “breathing within the beat” bleeeewww my tiny little mind. Also, she is soooo good — what a treat to watch.

See also Robert Lang on the 11 Levels of Complexity of Origami, Tony Hawk on the 21 Levels of Complexity of Skateboard Tricks, and A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity.

Update: Phil Guillory is a speech-language pathologist and he wrote up a technical analysis of Butterscotch’s explanation of beatboxing. It is gloriously nerdy and I love it.

Humming adds a really interesting layer to this. The act of humming itself is a natural nasal sound. The soft palate, or velum, is relaxed, allowing airflow into the nasal passages. Humming requires glottic closure in order to vibrate vocal folds, and those vibrations resonate up the oropharynx and, because the lips are closed, the air then has to travel into the nasopharynx to be released. When Butterscotch adds percussive beats on top of the hum, if there truly is nasal airflow, that would mean that her velum isn’t fully contacting the pharyngeal wall, and there would be a combination of nasal and pharyngeal air flow. Obviously, a video like this won’t allow us to visualize, so we’ll have to make a couple of assumptions here: a combination of oral and nasal airflow would (1) reduce the loudness of the beats while (2) also reducing the loudness of the hum itself. This is because air would be traveling in two directions, so there would be less pressure for both, and thus, less loudness and resonance. Given that the hum sounds pretty consistent, I think it’s safe to guess that Butterscotch is able to relax her velum to allow for nasal airflow voluntarily, which is indeed a very challenging thing to do given that velar movement is largely automatic. Super cool.

Cut Your Own Records with the Easy Record Maker

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2020

Easy Record Maker

Sound artist & designer Yuri Suzuki has designed the Easy Record Maker, an affordable machine for cutting your own records. Suzuki explains how it works on Instagram:

To cut a record, you simply play audio through an aux cable and lift the cutting arm onto a blank disc. Once the record is cut, you can instantly play back your recording through the tone arm and the in built speaker!

More like cute your own records — look at how wee this thing is:

Easy Record Maker

It’s out now in Japan and will be released in the US & UK later in the year. The price seems to be in the $80-100 range. Read more about the Easy Record Maker at Design Week. (via boing boing)

Coldplay’s Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

Maybe I’m gonna get some guff for this, but I believe that Coldplay is an underrated band. Oh sure they’re popular, but they are also good, better than their reputation suggests. Brian Eno doesn’t work with just anyone after all. Their recent Tiny Desk Concert at NPR bears this out. Backed by a fantastic nine-person choir (who previously performed with the band at a prison-reform benefit), Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and guitarist Jonny Buckland joyously perform a few of their songs (like Viva La Vida and Champion Of The World) as well as a rousing cover of Prince’s 1999.

Iconic Art & Design Reimagined for the Social Distancing Era

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

While it predates the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying social distancing by several years, José Manuel Ballester’s Concealed Spaces project reimagines iconic works of art without the people in them (like what’s happening to our public spaces right now). No one showed up for Leonardo’s Last Supper:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps just as delightful without people:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

And Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has been rescheduled:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Ben Greenman, Andy Baio, and Paco Conde & Roberto Fernandez have some suggestions for new album covers:

Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined

Designer Jure Tovrljan redesigned some company logos for these coronavirus times.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Coca-Cola even modified their own logo on a Times Square billboard to put some distance between the letters.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

(via colossal & fast company)

Update: Some emoji designed specifically for COVID-19. The Earth with the pause button is my favorite. (via sidebar)

Italy Sings Together During Coronavirus Lockdown

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

People under quarantine lockdown in Italy due to the country’s COVID-19 outbreak have been singing and playing music out their windows and on their balconies to keep their spirits up while social distancing.

Here’s a Twitter thread with more videos from Salerno, Turin, Naples, Siena, Florence, etc.

No matter how much fear and panic and anxiety and negativity are on display during a crisis, it also brings out the best in people. Humans are social animals and we can’t help sharing with our neighbors, comforting one another, and coming together even when we’re physically apart.

Pandemic Advice from Wu Tang Clan

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2020

Wu Tang Covid-19

A message from Wu Tang Clan on Instagram about what to do about the COVID-19 pandemic. This is better guidance than we’re getting from the executive branch of our government. (via maria konnikova)

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

Most humans have been washing their hands since childhood, but I bet very few of us have been doing it correctly. Because of the effectiveness of hand-washing with soap in preventing the spread of COVID-19, the CDC and the WHO (and health professionals everywhere) both make it their top recommendation and provide guidance on how to do it properly: CDC hand-washing instructions, WHO hand-washing instructions.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Here’s a video from the WHO on proper hand-washing technique (and a similar one from Johns Hopkins that has subtitles):

And a graphic from the WHO:

Wash Hands Instructions

And if you’re getting sick of singing Happy Birthday while washing your hands, a site called Wash Your Lyrics can help you make a hand-washing infographic with your favorite song’s lyrics.

A Joyful Flash Mob Plays Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

This is an oldie but a goodie. Watch as a single busking bass player grows into the Vallès Symphony Orchestra and a pair of choirs to perform a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy) in front of a delighted crowd. (via @victoriamia)

The Long Goodbye

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

British rapper and actor Riz Ahmed released an album last week called The Long Goodbye. It’s a breakup album with a twist — Ahmed is not breaking up with a partner but with a racist, post-Brexit Britain. A Guardian review describes it as “a conceptual work based around the idea that British Asians are locked in an abusive relationship with the UK and that the rising tide of racism spawned by Brexit might represent the moment at which they’ve finally been dumped”.

To accompany the album, Ahmed collaborated with director Aneil Karia to make a short film (embedded above). It starts out with a typical British domestic scene but after a few minutes, it becomes something else entirely. Be warned: this film is quite intense & dystopian. (via dunstan)

Hear How Choral Music Sounded in the Hagia Sophia More Than 500 Years Ago

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 06, 2020

When the Ottomans invaded and conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Orthodox Christian church Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. As a result, the Christian choral music that had reverberated in this acoustical masterpiece for centuries was not allowed. But thanks to a digital filter developed by a pair of Stanford researchers, one an art historian (Bissera Pentcheva) and the other an acoustics expert (Jonathan Abel), we are now able to hear what a choir might have sounded like in the Hagia Sophia before the mid 15th century.

When they met, Pentcheva started telling Abel about the Hagia Sophia — how we couldn’t really understand the experience of worshipers there unless we could hear the music the way they did. And as she talked, Abel started to feel a prickling of excitement. They could recreate what that music would sound like. If only they could get in the Hagia Sophia and pop a balloon.

When a balloon pops, it makes an impulse, a sharp, quick sound that takes on the character of whatever space it’s in. So when a balloon pops, you’re really hearing the acoustics of the space itself, says Abel.

In this clip from 2013, the Cappella Romana choir sings a hymn passed through an early version of the Hagia Sophia filter:

The marble interior of Hagia Sophia was 70 meters long, while in height it reached 56 meters at the apex of the great dome. The vast chamber and its reflective surfaces of marble and gold resulted in unprecedented acoustics of over ten seconds reverberation time. As a museum Hagia Sophia today has lost its voice, no performances could take place in it. Using new digital technology developed at CCRMA, the second portion of Cappella Romana’s concert at Bing aims to recreate sound of what singing in Hagia Sophia must have been like. Each singer caries a microphone that records the sound transforming it into a digital signal, which is then imprinted with the reverberant response of Hagia Sophia. What you hear as a wet sound is the product of a digitally produced signal transmitted through loudspeakers placed strategically to create an enveloping soundfield. This digital signal may shock you with the way it relativizes speech, transforming its content into a chiaroscuro of indistinct but immersive sound. For the Byzantines, this sonic experience was associated with the water: the waves of the sea.

Last year, the Cappella Romana released an entire album of choral music recorded with the filter — you can listen on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal, or Pandora.

Needless to say, the album sounds better with the best pair of headphones you can muster. You can find out more information about the filter and the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia at Icons of Sound.

See also this online Gregorian chant generator.

Max Richter’s Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

This is lovely: composer Max Richter, accompanied by a string quintet, plays a Tiny Desk Concert at NPR.

Half way through this performance of Max Richter’s achingly beautiful On The Nature Of Daylight, I looked around our NPR Music office and saw trembling chins and tearful eyes. Rarely have I seen so many Tiny Desk audience members moved in this way. There’s something about Max Richter’s music that triggers deep emotions.

Richter is one of my favorite composers, so this was really fun to watch.

A DJ Mixes Songs That Sound The Same

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 21, 2020

From DJ Mike 2600, a YouTube series called Songs That Sound The Same.

My hit series of DJ videos exploring pairs of songs that aren’t direct covers or rip-offs, but have similar melodies, riffs, or chord progressions and just fit together nicely.

Each video is about a minute long and features him playfully mixing two or more songs together that sound very similar. Here’s one of the early episodes, featuring Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly & the Family Stone and Misunderstanding by Genesis:

T.I.’s Whatever You Like and Zombie by The Cranberries:

Whomst among us wouldn’t go nuts if the DJ laid this down at the club — M83’s Midnight City & Rihanna’s Diamonds:

And this one made me LOL — Draggin’ the Line by Tommy James mixes really well with the Baby Back Ribs song from the Chili’s commercial:

What a great combination of creativity and craft. Watching stuff like this always makes this non-musical person want to make some music. (via @hoodinternet)

We Interrupt This Brain Surgery to Bring You a Violin Solo…

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 20, 2020

This is the most metal shit ever: the doctors removing violinist Dagmar Turner’s brain tumor woke her up during the procedure to play the violin to make sure that she didn’t lose any parts of her brain vital to her playing.

After explaining concerns she had over losing the ability to play the violin, Prof Ashkan and the neurosurgical team at King’s devised a plan. Prior to Dagmar’s operation they spent two hours carefully mapping her brain to identify areas that were active when she played the violin and those responsible for controlling language and movement. They also discussed with Dagmar the idea of waking her mid-procedure so she could play. This would ensure the surgeons did not damage any crucial areas of the brain that controlled Dagmar’s delicate hand movements specifically when playing the instrument. With her agreement, a team of surgeons, anaesthetists and therapists went on to meticulously plan the procedure.

During the operation Prof Ashkan and the team performed a craniotomy (an opening in the skull) and Dagmar was brought round from the anaesthetic. She played violin while her tumour was removed, while closely monitored by the anaesthetists and a therapist.