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kottke.org posts about music

The Moog Cookbook

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2019

I pretty much stopped using iTunes for music when I switched to Rdio1 (and then to Spotify). So going back in there is like unearthing a time capsule of music I listened to from ~2003-2012. This morning, bored of my Spotify playlists, I dug around a little and rediscovered a cache of songs by The Moog Cookbook. The duo uses old school Moog synthesizers to make playful covers of rock & pop songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Are You Gonna Go My Way? by Lenny Kravitz, and Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie. Their album of classic rock covers is available on Spotify:

Their debut album (which I like more) is a bit tougher to find, but you can listen to the whole thing here on YouTube:

  1. I still miss Rdio. *sniff*

Wicker Musical Chairs

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2019

I bet you don’t think about wicker furniture that much, but Estelle Caswell does. In this video, which proves that almost anything can be interesting if the right person looks at it from the right angle, she explores how the peacock wicker chair became an unlikely pop culture icon.

The golden age of album cover design doesn’t have a specific start and end date, but many regard the late 1960s to 1970s as one of the field’s most exciting times. From the psychedelic rock covers of the ’60s to glistening airbrush covers of the ’70s, the era was a kaleidoscope of colors worthy of placement in modern art museums.

But there’s one genre of cover so ubiquitous it almost flew under the radar. The covers typically featured a wide shot of the artist sitting on a throne-like wicker chair, like a king or queen. Usually, the artist looked casual and relaxed; sometimes props would sit around them to decorate the scene. No matter what, the oversized woven chair was the main feature. This was the peacock chair album cover, and it was everywhere: Dolly Parton, Al Green, and Cher all sat in it.

The Songs of 1979

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2019

Chicago mashup masters The Hood Internet have been pretty quiet lately — their last mixtape was released more than two years ago. But in the west, a shadow stirs… In the same vein as their 40 Years of Hip Hop video, the duo has released a musical tribute to 1979, combining 50 songs released that year into a tight 3-minute mix.

Their plan is to release a new video each week in October that will cover the subsequent four years, 1980-1983.

Update: Here is their video for 1980. I’ll share the rest of them as they post.

The Birth of American Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

I’ve been slowly making my way through various aspects of the NY Times’ ambitious 1619 Project spearheaded up by Nikole Hannah-Jones, including the excellent podcast. In the third episode of the podcast (and in a related article), Times critic Wesley Morris shares an impressionistic and informative timeline of how black music became the sound of America, from the minstrel performers of the 1800s to Motown.

Blackness was on the move before my ancestors were legally free to be. It was on the move before my ancestors even knew what they had. It was on the move because white people were moving it. And the white person most frequently identified as its prime mover is Thomas Dartmouth Rice, a New Yorker who performed as T.D. Rice and, in acclaim, was lusted after as “Daddy” Rice, “the negro par excellence.” Rice was a minstrel, which by the 1830s, when his stardom was at its most refulgent, meant he painted his face with burned cork to approximate those of the enslaved black people he was imitating.

In 1830, Rice was a nobody actor in his early 20s, touring with a theater company in Cincinnati (or Louisville; historians don’t know for sure), when, the story goes, he saw a decrepit, possibly disfigured old black man singing while grooming a horse on the property of a white man whose last name was Crow. On went the light bulb. Rice took in the tune and the movements but failed, it seems, to take down the old man’s name. So in his song based on the horse groomer, he renamed him: “Weel about and turn about jus so/Ebery time I weel about, I jump Jim Crow.” And just like that, Rice had invented the fellow who would become the mascot for two centuries of legalized racism.

That night, Rice made himself up to look like the old black man — or something like him, because Rice’s get-up most likely concocted skin blacker than any actual black person’s and a gibberish dialect meant to imply black speech. Rice had turned the old man’s melody and hobbled movements into a song-and-dance routine that no white audience had ever experienced before. What they saw caused a permanent sensation. He reportedly won 20 encores.

Rice repeated the act again, night after night, for audiences so profoundly rocked that he was frequently mobbed during performances. Across the Ohio River, not an arduous distance from all that adulation, was Boone County, Ky., whose population would have been largely enslaved Africans. As they were being worked, sometimes to death, white people, desperate with anticipation, were paying to see them depicted at play.

Morris’s article is excellent and covers more ground than the podcast, but the music clips make the podcast episode a must-listen.

My Recent Media Diet, the “Is It Fall 2019 Already?!” Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

Every month or two for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since late June. I’d tell you not to pay too much attention to the letter grades but you’re going to pay too much attention to the letter grades anyway so… (p.s. This list was shared last week in Noticing, kottke.org’s weekly newsletter.)

Fiasco (season one). Slow Burn co-creator Leon Neyfakh explores the Florida recount in the 2000 Presidential election. My key takeaway is not that anyone stole the election but that any halfway close election in the US is fundamentally unfair, can easily be swayed in one direction or another, and violates our 14th Amendment rights. I didn’t enjoy this as much as either season of Slow Burn…perhaps it was too recent for me to emotionally detach. (B+)

The Impossible Whopper. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef. (B)

American Factory. Completely fascinating and straight-forward look at what happens when a Chinese company takes over an old GM factory in Dayton, Ohio. Give this just 5 minutes and you’ll watch the whole thing. (A)

XOXO Festival. Always a creative shot in the arm. (A)

Norman Fucking Rockwell! I tried with this, I really did. I don’t think Lana Del Rey is my cup of tea. (C)

The Handmaid’s Tale (season 3). The show’s producers noticed how much critics praised Elisabeth Moss’s emotional closeups and now season 3 is like 80% just that. Way too much of a good thing. Still, there’s still a good show in here somewhere. (B+)

Do the Right Thing. Somehow still bold and controversial after 30 years. But I confess…I am not sure exactly what the takeaway from this movie is supposed to be. (B+)

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man Sunrise Set. Always a treat when the latest installment of this series pops online. (A-)

Spider-Man: Far From Home. It was fine but I kept waiting for an extra gear that never came. (B)

Existing Conditions. The drinks here are very precise and well-balanced. Hit ‘em up if you miss Booker & Dax. (B+)

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Excellent and rhymes with the present in a number of ways. I previously shared a bunch of my highlights from the book. (A)

Keep Going by Austin Kleon. A timely little book. (A-)

Stranger Things (season 3). The best part of this show is the 80s nostalgia and they overdid it this season. (B)

Weather. Tycho switched it up with this album by adding vocals. I hated them at first but they’ve grown on me. (B+)

Apollo 11. The first time around I watched this in a terrible theater with bad audio and didn’t care for it. The second time, at home, was so much better. The footage is stunning. (A)

Apollo 11 soundtrack. Love the first track on this. (A-)

Ex Machina. Still gloriously weird. (A-)

Planet Money: So, Should We Recycle? I don’t 100% agree with their conclusions, but it was interesting to think that recycling might not be the most efficient use of our resources. Pair with an earlier episode on how recycling got started in the US. (B)

Chef’s Table (Virgilio Martinez). Central sounds absolutely bonkers. I hope to make it there someday. (B+)

Silicon Cowboys. Compaq took on IBM in the personal computer space and won. The first season of Halt and Catch Fire was inspired in part by their story. (A-)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Needed more plot. (B)

To Kill a Mockingbird. I listened to this on audiobook and am convinced that Sissy Spacek’s narration made it like 20% more compelling. (A)

Metropolis II. I could have watched this for hours. (A)

redwoods

Redwood trees. (A+++)

The Dahlia Garden in Golden Gate Park. One of my favorite places on Earth. (A+)

Mindhunter (season 2). I love this show. (A)

The Clearing. Not the strongest true crime podcast but still worth a listen. (B)

5G. On my phone (iPhone XS, AT&T), anything less than 4 bars of “5GE” basically equals no service. And there’s no way to revert to LTE. (D+)

Atlanta Monster. Started this after watching Mindhunter s02. Too much filler and poor editing in parts. When they started talking to a conspiracy theorist who has been brainwashed by the convicted killer (or something), I had to stop listening. A pity…this story could use a good podcast. (C)

Booksmart. Second viewing and this may be my favorite movie of the year. So fun. (A)

I’ve also been watching Succession and rewatching all five seasons of The Wire (to test a hypothesis that with the hindsight of the past decade, the fifth season is not as outlandish as everyone thought it was at the time). I’ve slowed way down on listening to Guns, Germs, and Steel on audiobook and reading SPQR — both are interesting but not holding my attention so I may end up abandoning them. I watched the first episode of the second season of Big Little Lies when it was first released but might not finish the rest of it; the reviews of this season have not been great.

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

The Four Notes of Death

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

When something dark and ominous happens onscreen, there’s a good chance that the action is accompanied by a four-note snippet from the dies irae, a 13th-century Gregorian chant used at funerals. It shows up in The Lion King, The Good Place, Lord of the Rings, and It’s a Wonderful Life. This Vox video explores how this “shorthand for something grim” went from chant to Hollywood.

Think back to some of the most dramatic scenes in film history — from The Lion King, The Shining, It’s a Wonderful Life. Besides being sad or scary, they have something else in common: the dies irae. “Dies irae” translates from Latin to “Day of Wrath” — it’s a 13th-century Gregorian chant describing the day Catholics believe God will judge the living and the dead and send them to heaven or hell. And it was sung during one specific mass: funerals.

Alex Ludwig from the Berklee School of Music made a supercut of over 30 films that use dies irae.

Nirvana’s Underwater Baby

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Kirk Weddle took the iconic photograph of the underwater baby for the cover of Nirvana’s breakthrough album Nevermind. On his website, he describes the shoot and the process that resulted in the final photo. Before the baby went into the water, Weddle used a doll to get the lighting and focus right.

Nevermind Doll

Once I felt I had the framing, light, and exposure dialed in; the parents slipped the child into the water. I took seven frames on the first pass and four frames on the second. As expected, the baby started to cry, this had been the babies first time underwater, and we wrapped the shoot. The dollar bill and the fishhook were stripped in in post.

The baby’s name was Spencer Elden, who has recreated the underwater scene more than once as an adult. He’s even got a tattoo that says “Nevermind” on his chest.

Nevermind Adult

(via life is so beautiful)

How Much Better Does an Expensive Piano Sound Than a Cheap One?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

YouTuber Lord Vinheteiro recently played the same pair of tunes on six different pianos, ranging from a $499 used upright to a $112,000 Steinway to a $2.5 million Steinway grand piano that’s tacky af. Which one sounds the best?

I’m not sure that you get the full effect and nuance of the super luxe pianos after the audio has passed through YouTube’s audio compression and whatever phone or computer speaker or headphones you’ve got going, but the more expensive pianos sound better than the lower-end ones for sure. I would have appreciated a medley at the end that repeatedly cycled through all six of the recordings to better hear the differences.

Tycho’s 2019 Burning Man DJ Set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

For the past 6 years, Tycho has done a 2-hour DJ set at Burning Man to coincide with the sunrise. He’s just posted 2019’s installment and I’m going to be listening to this all week long.

Check out his past installments as well: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014. (thx, scott)

Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Covered in 20 Different Musical Styles

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 23, 2019

Listen in as Anthony Vincent covered Metallica’s classic Enter Sandman in 20 different musical styles, ranging from yodeling to The Eurythmics to Hans Zimmer to Lil Uzi Vert to John Denver.

Music Video Shot from the Front of a Toy Lego Train

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 20, 2019

The music video for Anna Meredith’s latest song, Paramour, is a single-take journey of a toy Lego train through a group of musicians playing cellos, drums, and tubas, from the perspective of a camera mounted on the front of the train. This has some definite Star Guitar + Wallace & Gromit vibes. (via colossal)

Measuring the Popularity of the Falsetto in Pop Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

In today’s episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell teams up with Matt Daniels from The Pudding to track the popularity of the falsetto in pop music from the 50s to today. Caswell has a hunch that falsetto has been getting more popular, so they end up getting a bunch of data from Pandora that tracks the amount of falsetto used in a song and the vocal register of the singer, which they compared against Billboard Top 100 songs. The verdict? You’ll have to watch the video, but just remember all of those soul songs in the 70s and heavy metal & pop songs in the 80s…

Caswell compiled a Spotify playlist of songs with prominent use of falsetto:

In the recommended reading list, I found this Frieze piece from 2010, The Evolution of the Male Falsetto.

By reputation the falsetto voice is both angelic and diabolical, depending on who is singing, and to what purpose. Jónsi Birgisson, vocalist with Sigur Rós, is revered for his keening falsetto, the most ethereal element inside a great wash of sound. Birgisson is openly gay; on the other hand I still remember, at age 13, hearing Robert Plant singing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’ (1971) for the first time, and how its devilish heterosexual lust scared me to bits. Plant is a truly outrageous singer, possessing a voice so alight with desire that he sounds in imminent danger of burning up. He is predatory but vulnerable, a bare-chested rock god who sings from a place of sexual rapture that cancels out the boundaries of his own body. He got there through intensive study of the blues: as with most tropes in popular music, the falsetto is in continual transit between black and white performers and their audiences.

But back to the video, I LOL’d at ~3:30 when they went through the raw data of falsettos, which goes from George P. Watson in 1911 (a yodeler) to contemporary Radiohead. I am a big Radiohead fan. And my kids? Not so much. In fact, my son has been trying to convince me for the past year that Thom Yorke doesn’t so much sing as yodel. I’ve explained falsettos to him but I will invariably hear “ugh, yodeling!” from the backseat when Radiohead comes on in the car. This Watson/Radiohead connection though…maybe he has a point? Maybe I just like yodeling?

A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2019

Music pioneer Fab 5 Freddy is most well-known for hosting the seminal Yo! MTV Raps, but his earliest public attention came because of his art.

In the late 1970s, Freddy became a member of the Brooklyn-based graffiti group the Fabulous 5, known for painting the entire side of New York City Subway cars. Along with other Fabulous 5 member Lee Quiñones, under his direction they began to shift from street graffiti to transition into the art world and in 1979 they both exhibited in a prestigious gallery in Rome Italy, Galleria LaMedusa. In 1980, he painted a subway train with cartoon style depictions of giant Campbell’s Soup cans, after Andy Warhol.

Freddy is back on the art scene as the host of a BBC2 documentary, A Fresh Guide To Florence With Fab 5 Freddy.

Hip hop pioneer Fred Brathwaite — aka Fab 5 Freddy — goes on a quest to uncover the hidden black figures of Italian Renaissance art. “Not only were Renaissance artists making art that defined high aesthetic ideals, but they were also groundbreaking in showing an ethnically diverse, racially mixed Italy in the 15th and 16th century. You just have to look at the art.”

Pairing a hip hop legend with Renaissance art might seem like a bit of a stretch, but NYC in the 70s and 80s was a place that a curious kid could get into all sorts of things: hip hop, graffiti, and Caravaggio.

“When I was a kid,” he says, “I would cut school to travel around Manhattan museums.” The Metropolitan was his favourite because of its lax entry policy. “I would show up and toss a nickel in the admissions box then spend a day in fantasy land, going from English armour to Renaissance paintings, pop art to expressionism.”

It was an unusual interest, not one he could share with “the kids on the corner from the hood”. But it sparked his own artistic career as a subway graffiti artist and led to a lasting bond with Basquiat, who he met as a teenager. “He would spend a lot of his childhood at the Brooklyn Museum just as I did at the Met,” he says. “Finally, there was someone I could talk to about Caravaggio and Rothko. We were both so impressed with the radical nature of modernist manifestos like futurism. They gave us — two young, black kids — the capacity to articulate what we wanted to say.”

There doesn’t seem to be a trailer or any clips available online and I don’t know if this will be released in the US at all, but I would love to see this show up on Netflix or Amazon at some point.

See also Susan Orlean’s 1991 profile of Fab 5 Freddy for the New Yorker.

One 8-Second Sample Yields 800 Radically Different Songs

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

Last year, music software company Ableton gave music producers a challenge: take an 8-second sample of audio and make a track out of it in just 12 hours. They received almost 800 submissions, which you can listen to here. At the company’s conference, three producers working under the same conditions debuted their tracks onstage and talked about their creative process; here’s a highlight reel:

Included in a blog post about the challenge are several playlists that show the common approaches to sampling, including the use of acoustic instruments, using the sample as texture, and of course using the sample as percussion.

While listening back to this huge volume of material we noticed something interesting; above and beyond each track’s individual sound and overall character, we were able to make out a few trends and tendencies in the ways that people were working with the source material. And so we’ve assembled a few playlists with prime examples of some of the main approaches we were hearing.

You can watch the entire panel here. And if you’d like to try your hand at making your own, the sample can be found here. (via digg)

Sony’s Proto-Walkman that Went to the Moon

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 23, 2019

50 years ago, the Sony TC-50 cassette player and recorder accompanied the Apollo 11 crew to the Moon and back. (Here’s what they listened to.) Ten years later, the company came out with the Walkman, the first portable cassette player that struck a chord with consumers. In this video, Mat of Techmoan shows us the TC-50 and shows how similar it is to the later Walkman. I found this video via Daring Fireball, where John Gruber remarked on the iterative nature of design: “You get to a breakthrough like the original iPhone one step at a time.”

Disco’s Revenge: the Birth of House Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2019

In this episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and the gang explore the elements of a classic house track — the disco diva samples, the sounds of the Roland TR-909 drum machine, and pianos — and delve into the origins of house.

House has become one of the most popular forms of electronic music since its inception in the late 80’s. It began in Chicago, when local DJ’s and music producers experimented with remixing disco vocals over hard hitting drum machines. They would soon play a huge role in popularizing the sound and distinguishing house music as a global music genre.

The bit near the end about the influence on Chicago house music by Italian disco records was super interesting.

Relax to the Sounds of Tibetan Singing Bowl Music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2019

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if you’re in need of some relaxing sounds, a meditative moment, or a chill work soundtrack, I recommend this 71-minute video of Tibetan singing bowl music.

See also Hours and Hours of Relaxing & Meditative Videos.

A Demonstration of 16 Levels of Piano Playing Complexity

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2019

Watch, listen, and learn as pianist and composer Nahre Sol plays what you might think of as a very simple song, Happy Birthday, in 16 increasing levels of complexity. She starts out using a single finger and ends by playing an original composition that seemingly requires 12 or 13 fingers to play. This gave me, a musical dunce, a tiny glimpse into what a composer does.

Sol has a popular YouTube channel where she posts videos of her musical explorations, including Improvising in the Style of Different Classical Composers and The Blues, As Digested by a Classical Musician. (via open culture)

Christopher Walken Can Dance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

This is an older clip so maybe you’ve seen it before, but if you need something a little bit fun & joyful today, you can’t do much better than this video of Christopher Walken dancing in dozens of his movies, edited together to C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat”.

Walken is, of course, a wonderful dancer…a throwback to the “Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, dance on air” era of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. See also Walken dancing in Spike Jonze’s video for Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice.

The Forgotten Women Pioneers of Rock & Roll

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

Women in Rock & Roll’s First Wave is a project by Leah Branstetter that uncovers and highlights the women who pioneered rock & roll in the 50s.

For sixty years, conventional wisdom has told us that women generally did not perform rock and roll during the 1950s.

In every decade, you can find someone commenting on the absence of women on the charts during rock and roll’s heyday. Others note that women during that era were typically not so inclined to a wild, raucous style.

The reality is, however, that hundreds — or maybe thousands — of women and girls performed and recorded rock and roll in its early years.

And many more participated in other ways: writing songs, owning or working for record labels, working as session or touring musicians, designing stage wear, dancing, or managing talent — to give just a few examples.

Meet, for instance, Laura Lee Perkins.

Perkins cut several sides there, where she was backed by the same band that accompanied Ricky Nelson (she was thrilled that she also got to meet Nelson). The label did some publicity for her — though they appeared to have listed her under several different stage names — and apparently tried to bill her as the “female Jerry Lee Lewis” because of her skill at the piano. Perkins returned to Cleveland, where she had difficulty promoting her recordings. She recalls that being single and working as a waitress, she couldn’t muster the payola required to break through in some markets. She would play record hops where she would lip sync to her Imperial sides. Some of the other acts at the hops she played included Connie Francis, the Everly Brothers, and Fabian.

And Ruth Brown:

Ruth Brown

Brown’s success for Atlantic was such that the label has famously been called “the House that Ruth Built.” She would eventually cut more than one hundred sides for the label. Initially, Brown recorded mainly ballads and jazz standards. Her first #1 R&B hit, “Teardrops from My Eyes,” marked a firm turn in her style toward the “hot” rhythmic style for which she became famous. Hits including “5-10-15 Hours” (1952) and “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1953) are arguably among the first of the rock and roll era. Her first major crossover success came with “Lucky Lips” (1957), which made it to the Billboard Top 100 list. She recalls in her autobiography that the success of that song plus her involvement with rock and roll “supershows” such as Alan Freed’s was that “I sang ‘Lucky Lips’ seven times in one day. And nothing else! It was a fiasco, a rock ‘n’ roll circus, but it was a huge business.”

And absolutely do not miss this Spotify playlist compiled by Branstetter: Women in Rock & Roll’s First Wave Sampler.

“Sir Duke” Deconstructed: Stevie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 08, 2019

In the latest episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and Jacob Collier break down Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke, in which he pays tribute to the jazz artists that inspired him, both in lyric and in the arrangement of the music. As someone who isn’t musical but has experience programming, writing, designing, and doing science, it’s fun to see a similar borrow/remix/homage process at work on a virtuoso level.

The Otherworldly Sounds of a Giant Gong

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2019

Listen in as “Gong Master Sven” plays a gong that’s 7 feet across. (No seriously, listen…it’s wild. Headphones recommended.)

Ok, show of hands. How many of you of thought it was going to sound like that? I had no idea! He barely hits it! The whole thing sounded like a horror movie soundtrack or slowed-down pop songs. Here’s another demonstration, with some slightly harder hits:

The Memphis Gong Chamber looks like an amazing place. Watching this on YouTube, we’re missing out on a lot of the low-end sounds:

And if you were actually standing here like I am, you can feel all your internal organs being massaged by the vibrations from this. It’s really quite the experience.

This guy drags some objects over a large gong and it sounds like whale song:

Ok well, there’s a new item for the bucket list. (via @tedgioia)

My Recent Media Diet, Summer Solstice 2019 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2019

I keep track of every media thing I “consume”, so here are quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month. I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson; I loved his The Devil in the White City. On the TV front, I’m holding off on season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale and season 2 of Big Little Lies for some reason…don’t want to get sucked into anything right now, I guess. Ditto for catching up on the Historical Cinematic Universe…just not feeling it at the moment. As always, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades…they’re higher in the summer than in the cold, depressing winter.

Deadwood: The Movie. A fitting end to one of the best shows on TV. It was great to be able to spend a little more time with it. (A-)

Booksmart. I loved this movie. Great soundtrack too. (A)

Thermapen Mk4. Finally got tired of my anxiety about overcooking my meat. Been using it with the reverse sear to great effect. (B+)

Serial season 3. I couldn’t make it through more than two episodes of each of the previous two seasons, but I went the distance on this one. Is the American system of justice just? I doubt it. (A-)

Working by Robert Caro. The DVD extras for The Power Broker and the LBJ books. I don’t have time to read a 3000-page biography of Lyndon Johnson right now, but Working made me want to do it anyway. (A-)

Persuasion System. The latest album from Com Truise. Great for working to. (B+)

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. An idiosyncratic and deeply personal little museum. I felt very much at home there. (A)

Small Steps, Giant Leaps. Apollo 11 artifacts paired with historic scientific tomes from the likes of Galileo & Newton go together like chocolate and peanut butter. (A-)

Mary Queen of Scots. Nothing much here to distinguish this from your usual historical drama. (B)

Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris. Great show at the MFA. Was not a particular fan of Toulouse-Lautrec before but perhaps I am now. (A-)

Street Food. Interesting to compare this to David Gelb’s other show, Chef’s Table. Same focus on quality ingredients and serving great food, but very different ends of the economic spectrum. (B+)

Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Caught the peak of the cherry blossoms. Beautiful. But crowded. (A-)

Salt Fat Acid Heat. This wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I can see what other people love about it. The final episode is the strongest and I thought Nosrat’s emphasis on shopping as a vital part of cooking was interesting. (B)

Summer in Vermont. It’s been spectacular here lately. (A)

Normal People by Sally Rooney. I burned through this in only two days. (A)

Cumulonimbus Mammatus

Cumulonimbus mammatus. They’re no asperitas clouds, but cumulonimbus mammatus is still one of the best clouds around. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show interview with Alison Gopnik. Gopnik’s ideas about gardeners vs carpenters and explore vs exploit are fascinating frameworks for thinking about human creativity. (A-)

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s tough to maintain a coherent story told over several generations, but Lee manages it easily. (A-)

No Country for Old Men. Masterful. (A)

Chernobyl. Sometimes bureaucracy is no match for the truth. See also the accompanying podcast. (A-)

The Lives of Others. Got on a bit of a Cold War kick. (A-)

Always Be My Maybe. Strong ending. (B+)

Toy Story 4. Hollywood is often accused of being super liberal, but I thought the values depicted in this movie were quite conservative. (B+)

Anima. Thom Yorke’s solid third solo album. (B+)

13 Minutes to the Moon. There’s lots of Apollo stuff out there right now and some of it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. But this podcast from the BBC is substantial, with interviews from key players, including Apollo software engineer Margaret Hamilton, who doesn’t give many interviews these days. (A-)

Bad Times at the El Royale. Rhymes with Tarantino but not that well. This should have been 90 minutes long. (B-)

Long Shot. Why did this flop? It’s not exactly great but it works fine. (B)

Whitney Biennial 2019. Things that caught my eye were Christine Sun Kim’s hand-drawn graphs about “deaf rage” and Jeanette Mundt’s paintings of Olympic gymnasts based on these composite photos in the NY Times. (B)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Daft Punk Live DJ Sets from the 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2019

From the Flow State newsletter — “every weekday, we send out two hours of music that’s perfect for working” — comes a collection of live DJ sets that Daft Punk did in the 90s.

Aside from being masterclasses in DJing, these sets feature a bunch of classic house tracks from pioneers like DJ Deeon, DJ Sneak, Todd Edwards, and Giorgio Moroder. What’s amazing is that these performances happened over 20 years ago, but sound like they could be from last week.

Here’s the playlist for their Headbangers Ball set in 1998 and their Cameo Theatre set in Miami in 1999. I also found additional sets from 1995 and 1997:

And then there’s this: a two-hour mix of songs by artists that influenced Daft Punk’s seminal Homework album.

That should keep you rolling right into the late afternoon.

Two-Hour Mixtape from Boards of Canada

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Boards of Canada haven’t released an album since 2013 so this is a welcome development: a two-hour mixtape by the duo that appears to feature new music from them sprinkled throughout:

You can also listen on YouTube. (via why is this interesting?)

Art Zoom

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2019

Google Arts & Culture, with expertise from music video geniuses La Blogothèque, have produced a series of videos they’re calling Art Zoom. Inspired a bit by ASMR, the videos feature musicians talking about famous artworks while they zoom in & out of high-res images taken with Google’s Art Camera. Here, start with Maggie Rogers talking about Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night:

You can zoom into Starry Night yourself and get even closer than this:

Starry Night Closeup

The other two videos in the series feature Jarvis Coker talking about Monet’s La Gare Saint Lazare and Feist talking about The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Sesame Street Tiny Desk Concert

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2019

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Sesame Street gang dropped by NPR for one of their Tiny Desk Concerts. They sang the theme song, People In Your Neighborhood, and four other tunes.

See also this new six-part Jim Henson documentary. Oh and Philip Glass on Sesame Street.

That’s My Jazz

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2019

That’s My Jazz is a short documentary by Ben Proudfoot about world class pastry chef Milton Abel II, who reminisces about his father, Milton Abel Sr., a world class Kansas City jazz musician. The film is a tender and moving rumination on their relationship and the balance between achieving greatness in the world and being present in the lives of your loved ones.

Rather Than Pay Ransom, Radiohead Puts Stolen Music Up for Sale

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

OK Minidisc

According to Jonny Greenwood, someone stole Thom Yorke’s “minidisk archive” recorded around the time of OK Computer, the album that propelled Radiohead into the stratosphere. The thieves demanded a ransom of $150K, the band didn’t pay up, and the audio leaked onto the web. Instead of fighting the pirates and leakers, the band put all 18 hours of the archive up for sale on Bandcamp with the proceeds going to Extinction Rebellion.

as it’s out there
it may as well be out there
until we all get bored
and move on

Here is a detailed FAQ and timestamps for all the songs & snippets in the archive — “holy grail” tracks are marked with a star. On Bandcamp, Tanner Gallella describes the release:

Rarely is the artist’s process presented in such an unfiltered, uncompromising way — especially at this strata of musicianship. Polished mixes are juxtaposed against takes recorded in bathrooms; landmark tracks against distorted noise. A unique and delightful insight into a band in the middle of writing their masterwork.

My Radiohead fandom stops just short of listening to 18 hours of Thom Yorke recording music in bathrooms, but this is certainly a trove for superfans and those interested in the musical process of one of the world’s biggest bands.

Prince Archivist Michael Howe Discusses “Originals”

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 07, 2019

When word came out shortly after Prince’s death that his estate was looking for an archivist, I briefly imagined the position to be like a Prince librarian: documenting papers, facilitating research, etc. Now, maybe some of that stuff is also happening, but the main job of Prince’s archivist Michael Howe so far seems to be facilitating new musical releases from the huge amount of recorded material from over four decades that Prince left at the time of his death. Which is understandable, if less exciting to a nerd like me.

Schkopi.com has an interview with Howe, discussing the forthcoming release of “Originals,” an album of demo material and other recordings of Prince’s original songs which were first officially released as covers by other artists. It’s in French, but there’s some good stuff in there about the process of selecting songs for release, narrowing the album’s focus to concentrate on the 1980s, and dealing with the fact that these songs have been circulating as bootlegs among Prince superfans for years.

Here’s a short section, translated pretty capably by Google Chrome:

We decided to release this record because we think it is of quality and that Prince would have been proud of it. Our primary goal is to release albums that honor his work, and complete his official discography. We want to come out with the values of respect we owe him and the integrity that was his. Open all valves would not be a responsible act and would not meet these requirements. And even if we wanted to do it, there are so many contractual, legal and legal restrictions with the different labels that would condition what could come out, how and when. It is not that simple. We can not say “oh yes, here’s a good idea, let’s do it”.

We know that Prince was very prolific in the 80s and that many songs of this era are in the trunk. The number of unpublished songs found on the net for the following years is gradually decreasing. Was he just as prolific in the studio in the second half of the 90s and the 2000s?

He did not stop working throughout his career and he was extremely prolific during those 40 years. Even during the last third of his life, and if it was not with the same frequency, he was in the same state of mind as in the 80s and 90s.

Hence the likelihood of more archival releases to come.