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Friday, December 30, 2005

Get Off My Lawn You Damn Indie Kids

This nice blogger has posted their top 50 music videos for 2005 (you can watch them all right there!). At this point, I'm going to have to admit that I just don't get rock music anymore. Every month or two I'll go and check out whatever bands the kids seem to be talking about, and discover that they are, in fact, boring as hell. Tom Vek? Boring as hell. Animal Collective? Boring as hell, and also noodley and irritating, like a jam band for people too hip for jam bands. The Arcade Fire? I really wanted to like this one, but no, doesn't really move me. I also maintain a special kind of hatred for Bright Eyes, the wanker.

There are two related factors at work here. The first is the obvious one: age. Damnit, I spent the 90s pretending it was still the 80s... all these retro 80s, post-punk revival bands (not so much the bands listed above, obviously) sound like the music I used to really love, but with the drums and bass mixed way out in front, 2000's-style. Sure, Interpol is ok, but why would I want to listen to them over Joy Division? Franz Ferdinand, they're actually a pretty good band, but Gang of Four's lyrics were much smarter.

I hate this kind of reasoning. I am aware (and approving) of the fact that advancements in music come from a new generation's attempts at imitating what has gone before. But I've already invested a lot of time into generating meaning for myself with those older bands. They mean something to me because their songs spoke to me at a time in my life when the emotional messages of rock bands resonated with my experiences. A time when I was growing up. Which brings me to the second factor.

I've spent this latest decade listening almost entirely to pop music (not counting all the classical and jazz). By "pop" I don't mean top 40, I mean music that does not generally purport to bear deep meaning. All manner of electronic dance music, IDM, reggae, ska, and rocksteady, hip hop and dancehall, bossa nova, western swing... I want an open-ended template I can project all kinds of emotions on to, or something that will make my toes tap. At this point the idea of directly communicating deep, personal emotions through the lyrics of a song usually feels embarrassingly egotistical and adolescent to me. I really couldn't care less about how some whiny guy's relationship went. When I hear Bright Eyes crooning about his oh-so-important emotions, I just want to throttle him. Or take him out dancing.

All music should be about partying. If I ever hear a lyric deeper than "put up your hands if your body look good" again, it will be too soon. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who at one point owned every LP, EP, 12", and 7" ever put out by The Cure. It's likely I'm just making up for my past listening behavior, going from one extreme to the other.

By the way, I don't really think all music should be about partying. I just like to say that around other music lovers in order to provoke fun arguments about the nature and purpose of music. So if anyone out there wants to point me towards some of their favorite new bands, keeping my cranky little rant in mind, please do so. I think I'm probably missing out on some great music.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sound Sculptor: Bill Fontana

Bill Fontana is a sonic artist whose work focuses on the relocation of ambient sounds in public, urban spaces and the resulting recontextualization of both the sounds themselves and the sites of his installations. Several of his better-known projects include:

Distant Trains (Realvideo clip): In West Berlin in 1984, Fontana constructed the acoustic space of a living train station (the Köln Hauptbahnhof, the busiest European train station at the time) inside what had been one of the busiest stations in Europe before WWII, the Anhalter Bahnhof, but had become a bombed-out ruin. He was unable to use live sound in this installation due to technological limitations, so instead used a live recording of train station hustle and bustle made from eight microphones placed inside the Köln Hauptbahnhof, then played on loudspeakers hidden among the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof.

Sound Island (Realvideo clip): In 1994 as part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing at Normandy and the liberation of Paris, Fontana transmitted the white noise of the sea live from the Normandy coast to loudspeakers hidden in Paris' Arc de Triomphe.

Acoustical Visions of Venice
(Realvideo clip): For the Venice Biennale in 1999, Fontana created a "sound map" of the city by piping audio live from twelve sites around the city, chosen for historic and cultural significance as well as acoustic character, to the Punta della Dogana. As this spot has one of the best views of the city and its landmarks, the installation allowed visitors to hear as far as they could see, in some cases hearing even further, reversing the way they normally experience the balance between these two senses.

For more on Bill Fontana, this brief essay that places his work in the obvious shadow of the ideas of John Cage is easy to digest.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hippocamp Ruins Sgt. Peppers

Those wacky kids over at Hippocamp have gone and done it again. Except this time they are taking on The Beatles in their prime:

Hippocamp Ruins Sgt. Peppers

Like their last similar effort (Hippocamp Ruins Pet Sounds) the album consists of a pretty broad pool of artists doing a weird and wild mix of covering, mashing up, remixing and the original source material... usually all at once. Some of the songs seem like earnest reinterpretations of the original sentiment, some latch onto a tangential but recognizable element in the original and run off in a totally new direction, some will leave you scratching your head about how they are related at all.

Oh, and in case it wasn't obvious enough, grab this now as I can't imagine the files will be hosted on the website for any lengthy period of time, for obvious reasons.

I can't wait to find out what their next target is.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Stupid, Dumb, and Hyphy

I've been meaning to post something about the Bay Area hip hop scene for a while now, since it seems to be one of our more vibrant scenes these days. I am a fan, but by no means an expert. With that in mind, I want to recommend a compilation I've been digging called "Bay Area Best of 2005 - Bring Da Slumpah", but I can't find anything about it on the web. So if you're lucky enough to live here in the Yay Area, pick it up at Amoeba Records. Otherwise, allow me to direct you to Get Stoopid, a fine blog providing mp3s and insight, and also The Bay Is In The Area. Or use whatever means you have to find tracks by Mac Dre, The Frontline, The Team, The Federation, Messy Marv, Mistah F.A.B., E-40, El Dorado Red, JT The Bigga Figga, and a ton of others I'm forgetting or don't yet know.

The Bay Area sound, though far from being consistent, to my ear can be characterized largely by what we used to call "balls-out club music." Synthesizer driven, faster tempos, hookier choruses, more dancable beats. Check out this remix: Mistah Fab & Scweez - Stupid, Dumb, and Hyphy (via Get Stoopid). Yes, this song is stupid, but imagine it coming out of giant club speakers at 2am and you should get the idea.

The lyrics you'll hear in this music are pretty opaque if you don't know the slang. Most people have probably heard "hyphy" by now -- it's kind of our Bay Area version of "crunk". But do you know "thizzin"? This article by Erik Arnold I spotted in the East Bay Express a couple of weeks back explores both terms, as well as providing a good entry point to the scene in general.

If you want to go a little deeper, this Thizzle dance instructional video will show you how to get stupid in five easy steps. Once you've mastered the Thizzle dance, you'll need to know a little more about the legendary Mac Dre.

I'm swearing off mainstream hip hop for now -- there's too much going on right here. Snoop will still be there when I get back.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Find And Share Rare Music At Gabba

Gabba is an online community for sharing music that uses a merit-based system to sift the wheat from the chaff. Members are awarded points based on the strength of their contributions -- commenting, "plugging" tracks, adding links, voting and downloading. This creates a forum perfect for unearthing obscure treasures that you never knew existed. It's crate digging without the dust and hassle of leaving your chair! So far I have found a Soft Cell b-side that I'm pretty sure I used to have on a 7" back in the day (No. 1023), a goofy ska cover of the Coronation Street Theme (No. 1032), and, much to my surprise, a wonderful Italo Disco track called "Disco Clown" (No. 998), complete with a hilarious spoken-word breakdown and an irresistible, vocoded chorus ("Oh girl, don't be down, I'll be your disco clown...").

The best aspect of the site is the push and pull of the members' differing tastes. They have created a community that makes it remarkably easy to find good music that is very different from your usual listening. I'm rocking the Italo Disco today -- not really what I expected to be doing when I woke up this morning.

Membership is free. If your ears are itching for something new to hear, and you've got a little time to kill, check out Gabba. For the genre-spotters out there, no, they do not seem to specialize in 250 bpm hardcore techno. I haven't been able to figure out where the name comes from.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Louis Prima and The Loss Of New Orleans

Trumpeter, composer, singer, and bandleader Louis Prima (1910-1978) was for decades one of America's most popular musicians. You may not know his name, but you know his sound. My generation is probably most familiar with him as the voice of the fire-coveting orangutan in Disney's 1967 adaptation of The Jungle Book, singing the film's hit song "I Wanna Be Like You" (audio clip available via Amazon). He also wrote the tune that has come to represent the whole of the big band jazz era for many, "Sing, Sing, Sing" (audio clip available via Amazon), as made famous by Benny Goodman. Other points of reference for those not up on their swing history include Brian Setzer's relatively recent cover of Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail", or David Lee Roth's (no link for you, David) 1980s version of Prima's "Just a Gigolo"/"I Ain't Got Nobody".

Louis Prima's music, from the big band era to his later, smaller ensemble, "jump" period, combined elements of dixieland, swing, and Italian song to great effect. In recordings made throughout his long career his style is instantly recognizable, especially his classic duets with vocalist Keely Smith. When swing briefly made a comeback in the US during the 1990s, to my ear it was Louis Prima more than any other bandleader that cast his shadow over the scene.

There are many more complete biographies available online, but this piece on a recent Louis Prima documentary at The Unrepentant Marxist is succinct, and considers Prima in the cultural context of his (recently demolished) hometown, New Orleans.
Although the name Louis Prima will draw a blank nowadays, he was one of America's most popular musicians from the 1930s through the early 1960s. Last night I watched a fine documentary on his life titled "The Wildest" that demonstrates the way that popular music can meld together different styles of different nationalities. Like Bob Wills who blended country music and swing, Prima fused various jazz styles throughout his career with the Italian songs that he heard as a child growing up in New Orleans.


Like Elvis Presley, who sopped up Black gospel and blues influences in Memphis, the young Louis Prima would stick his head through the doors of Black churches on sundays, to be knocked out by what he heard. When his mother wasn't singing Italian songs around the dinner table, she was performing at local minstrel shows. Among the eye-opening segments of the film is a huge crowd, including many whites, paying homage to the King of the Zulus, an honorary figurehead of the Mardi Gras. New Orleans, like Memphis, was a city made for cultural cross-fertilization.


...I could not help feeling remorse about what has happened to New Orleans. The sort of racial gumbo that made a Louis Prima possible is probably gone forever.
This last point has been kicking around my head for weeks. There are plenty of other places in the world that are hotbeds of cultural crossfertilization. But New Orleans was a particularly powerful one, and it, as it was, will be missed with a special kind of sadness by musicians and music lovers.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Better Than Carolling: Unsilent Night

Unsilent Night is a roving holiday concert performed by a group of volunteers holding boomboxes, each blasting a different part of the piece. What a wonderful idea! Composer Phil Kline has performed Unsilent Night in Manhattan every year since 1992, and the third annual San Francisco performance will take place on Wednesday, December 21, 2005, at 6:45 PM, starting in Dolores Park. Bring your own boombox and Kline will hand you a tape or cd with one part of the music on it. Of course, I'm such a music nerd that my first thought was, "How do they keep all the parts in sync?" But I guess the point is that they're not.
A moving piece of ambient public art, Unsilent Night can be compared to a holiday caroling party, except that participants don't sing. Instead, each carries a boombox playing a separate cassette, CD, or MP3 that becomes part of the piece. In effect, Kline and his co-performers become single elements in a huge, mobile sound system.

Performed within the confines of the city streets, Unsilent Night reverberates off the cars and buildings, resulting in a magnificent, drifting cloud of shimmering, echoing sound. The 43-minute piece includes chiming bells, choral voices, and various electronic effects. (Kline cites Brian Eno and Charles Ives among his influences.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Blog Link Roundup

Excel based drum machine (from hackaday)

5000 Early Wax Cylinder Recordings Placed Online (from /.)

Anti-teenager sound weapon (from boingboing)

David Byrne gets RIAA warning. Clearly he's just a pirate who doesnt care about artists... (from boingboing)

Band that released whole catalog as MP3s seeking donations (from boingboing)

American Idiot was mashed up ... then it was cease and desisted off the web... but you can still download it here


Jazz And The Left

Via my brother (a grad student who recognizes the usefulness of Marxist analytical theory), comes this informative if somewhat wandering piece tracing the evolving relationship between jazz and the organized left in the United States by Louis Proyect. There is a much larger story here, but this survey of events from the 1930s through the 1960s provides an easily digestible introduction to the subject:
Fundamentally, major social changes in the United States have determined the evolution of jazz, just as they have in any other art form.

The 1930s were a period of the rise of jazz and the organized left. Concretely, this meant big bands and the Communist Party. Notwithstanding some early dogmatic opposition to jazz from cultural commissar Mike Gold, the party soon threw itself into proselytizing for jazz and fighting segregation in the music business.

I have more than a little trouble with the characterization of the blues as the "least corrupted and corruptible part of jazz" (authenticity is such a slippery thing), but since it's in a quote and only tangential to Proyect's point, I'll let it slide this time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Industrial Superstar Promotes Industrial Supplies

Blixa Bargeld (founder of industrial/experimental music group Einstürzende Neubauten, and until recently guitarist and backing vocalist for Nick Cave's Bad Seeds) reads from the Hornbach Home Improvement Superstore catalog with all the passion of his tormented soul in this amusing series of ads for German television:

Part 1: Mosquito Killer With UV Bulb
Part 2: Quartzite Polygonal Paving Stones
Part 3: Power Drill PSB 1000 RCA
Part 4: Silicate Paint

I've seen Neubauten perform, and they make a spectacle of producing noise on stage with all kinds of strange objects. The list of items Blixa reads from the catalog probably bears some resemblance to the checklist their roadies use to prepare for a show. Indeed, Blixa can barely conceal his glee while describing the drill in part 3.

As an aside, if you are a fan of Einstürzende Neubauten or of eating food, then you'll want to try a recipe from Einstürzende Neueküchen. Everything tastes better when you know that the recipe came from a famous industrial band. Who could pass up a piping hot bowl of Blixa's Lemony Lentil Soup?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

New Mix from FlightDynamics

FlightDynamics posted his latest mix. Its a very nice blend of deep melodic and abstract glitchy IDM. It also features a couple tracks of dubby goodness from our own Blue Vitriol, which we always like to see. Very nice, and at 37 minutes it goes perfectly with your morning coffee:

Episode 14 - Fallback Tracks

Friday, December 02, 2005

Eek-A-Mouse Inna Trad Style

Via BoingBoing, download a six minute mp3 (pretty low quality, but a sense of fun is clearly audible) of Eek-A-Mouse doing a couple of his hits, "Wa-Do-Dem" and "Ganja Smuggling", with a group of traditional Irish pub musicians. Sounds like a great party. From the Blood and Fire forum:
For those that aren't familiar with the irish trad scene it basically comes in two flavours, one being watered down 'trad hits' usually found in temple bar in dublin and other tourist spots and the other a free for all who are musically minded to sit in the corner and drink & play whatever instrument you can, usually fiddles, pipes, whistles spoon etc.. the later being the rowdier and far more fun variety, and it was the Sine in Cork city, a particularly (in)famous trad pub that we found ourselves continuing eek's 50th birthday celebrations downing the black stuff from lunchtime till close.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Nino Rota's Juliet Of The Spirits

Italian composer Nino Rota (1911-1979) created scores for many famous films, perhaps most memorably his waltz that was the theme for The Godfather. Though he studied at conservatory and was acquainted with the modernist tendencies of the art music of his day (even maintaining a long friendship with Igor Stravinsky), Rota favored a much more populist sound. His music was melody-centered and harmonically straightforward, often unabashedly tonal, and he employed largely traditional approaches to rhythm and form.

Rota scored fifteen films for Federico Fellini, including 8 1/2, Roma, and La Dolce Vita, but my favorite is his score for 1965's Juliet of The Spirits. This was Fellini's first color film, and it is evident that he made the most of the technology. The New York Times describes it like this: "Fellini went deliriously and brilliantly bananas with the color to create a rollicking through-the-looking-glass series of tableaus evoking a woman's troubled psyche. These sequences are a zany, surreal jumble of Freudian, Jungian and pagan symbolism segued into a 145-minute head trip."

Rota's score provides an appropriately zany and surreal auditory counterpoint to Juliet's on-screen journey of fantastical self-discovery. The almost circus-like theme presented in the first song on the soundtrack, "Amore Per Tutti", is developed throughout the film in a series of lushly strange and beautiful, breezy orchestrations somewhat reminiscent of an Italian Esquivel on quaaludes, featuring organs, guitars, choral effects, and poppy brass and string sections. It oozes "60's" from every note, but that only adds to its charm. The score is psychedelic, but grounded by a sense that if the fancy orchestrations were stripped away, you would be left with a Italian peasant song that you'd still enjoy hearing.

This record will put me in a good mood more reliably than almost anything else. There's something about its winking, otherwordly tone that says "Everything is ok -- nothing can be wrong because nothing is real anyway, so there is no reason to be sad." If a score can be measured by how well it evokes the sentiment of the film it's tied to, then this one deserves more recognition.

Download full mp3s of the entire soundtrack for Juliet of the Spirits from this helpful blogger, flickhead.

There is some mildly very inconvenient click-through-and-wait business where the files are hosted, but I recommend you grab at least track 1, "Amore Per Tutti". It presents the theme in its fullest form, and will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.