May 28, 2004

Cookie Mongoloid: Brought To You By The Number 666

I’ve always thought that the Cookie Monster would make one hellraiser of a death metal vocalist... And it seems I’m not alone in that…
Cookie Mongoloid are a "Sesame Street-themed speed metal band" (which is bit of a misnomer as the music is more mid-tempo grind). They come complete with a lead singer in full leathers and a Cookie Monster head, and a scantily clad bevy of Cookie Girls who “throw treats into the audience”. Their repertoire includes such “educational” numbers as C Is For Cookie, The Number 6 and Wash Yourself (…!?) All good clean fun, which recently earned them a Best Concept Band guernsey from the San Francisco Weekly. COOOO-KKIE!!

Posted by Warren at 10:24 PM

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
(Originally aired 28th May 2004)

If any instrument deserves more respect than it gets, it’s the ukulele… Routinely dismissed as a mere comical prop for cabaret/vaudeville acts like Tiny Tim and George Formby, the humble uke actually holds a much-vaunted place in Portuguese (and Hawaiian) folk music and, thanks to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great of Britain, its starting to be treated as an instrument that can grace concert halls.

Formed in 1985, the 6-person Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are – as the name suggests – an ensemble of virtuosos who produce glorious renditions of popular tunes on ukuleles (with a little help from a bass guitar). On their most recent release, The Secret of Life, they tackle tracks like "Je T’aime… Non Plus", "MacArthur Park", "Le Freak", and even do a call-and-response number inspired by Montiverdi.The highlight though would have to be Wonderful Land, an instrumental evergreen by The Shadows. The album can be purchased from Longman Records, who are also planning to reissue select releases from their back catalogue in the near future. (I look forward, in particular, to “Anarchy in the Ukulele” which contains their version of Anarchy in the UK...)

(For more information on the wonderful world of ukulele music, check out the Boing Boing sponsored ukulele web log, Ukulelia, or this past discussion thread on Metafilter... Especially worth reading on that thread is the "very sappy story" of ukulele-enabled love from bradth27.)

Posted by Warren at 12:12 AM

May 26, 2004

Plundered Home Recordings: Mic In Track
(Originally Aired 29th Dec 2003)

I don’t know if any of you actually use MusicMatch Jukebox, a music utility that lets users record mp3s through the mic input on their PC… But if you do: be careful where you save your recordings. If you have a P2P file-sharing program and store your home recordings in the same folder as the one you share with the world, then anyone out there can download them. (If that's what you want though, you're in luck...)

One person who is doing this rather assiduously is Dr David Dixon, who maintains a site called Mic In Track (the name is a reference to the default filename given to MusicMatch files). Each week he posts a selection of choice mp3s plundered from the shared directories of the unsuspecting… The entries range from the scatological outbursts and improvised theatre pieces of children to earnest Christian rock recordings, freestyle raps and death metal vocal practice sessions…

Some of the posted pieces have also been used by Dr Dixon as the basis for a collection of techno tracks that have been released as a free-download EP by Comfort Stand. (Recommended highlight: Bunnyrabbits, Satan, Cheese and Milk.)

Posted by Warren at 10:29 PM

May 20, 2004

Act Your Age: Kids Of Widney High
(Originally aired 23rd April 2004)

Back in 1987, Michael Monaghan, a teacher at Widney High, a Los Angeles school for the developmentally disabled, decided to set up a songwriting class for the students. After some initial difficulty with the idea of original songs, the kids – who suffered from conditions like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome and muscular dystrophy – quickly warmed to the whole process of expressing their unique experiences in three-minute pop tunes – and they had an undeniable talent for it too.

When Monaghan sent their first batch of material out to be professionally recorded (so the kids would have a memento of the class), one of the tapes found its way to the offices of Rounder Records who offered to release it commercially. The resulting album Special Music From Special Kids developed a serious cult following and the Kids were soon scoring regular gigs in LA clubs. (At one point, they were even opening for Mr Bungle.)

“Act Your Age”, which came out earlier this year, is the third album to have emerged from this songwriting class. In addition to its tales of life as a Widney kid, it includes a reflective history of the Cuban revolution, a bouncy number about a disabled Santa, and an anthem to bovines. The album (and the rest of the KOWH back catalogue) can be purchased from their website.

(With the music world taken care of, the Kids of Widney High are now heading off to conquer the silver screen. There's a documentary about them in the works, and special appearance by the Kids in a forthcoming Farrelly Bros film.)

Posted by Warren at 01:39 PM

May 17, 2004

Thhh-ehhh Fiiii-nnnalll E-e-e-pppiiiisoooode offf Ffff-rrieeeee-nnnndsssss

There is an excellent (if somewhat depressing) site called Exit Mundi, which catalogues the many ways in which “life as we know it” may come to an end. In addition to the usual nightmare scenarios of extinction by asteroids, climate change and killer robots, it contemplates the ultimate end-game for our species – the heat death of the universe

In one hundred trillion years time, when the stars are cold, dead embers and every last joule of energy in the universe is all but spent, our few surviving descendants will be forced to discard their bodies and become low-power-mode cyborgs. To converse energy, they will spend most of their time asleep. When they do wake, it will be into a slow-witted semi-conscious state where all new or original thought must be avoided (thinking new thoughts means discarding old ones which dissipates valuable energy.)

So what will they do for entertainment in this energy-depleted world of the far, distant future?... Well, might I suggest this – the soundtrack of the one-hour long final episode of Friends time-stretched to fill an entire three-hour radio show by WFMU DJ, Kenny G… (This strangely-compelling dirge - which has ensured that the much-loved sitcom will live on till the very end of time - begins about four minutes into the broadcast…) (via Sharpeworld)

Posted by Warren at 11:13 AM

May 14, 2004

52 Weeks: Song Of Survival
(Originally aired 14th May 2004)

Jan Turkenburg is a music teacher and "obsessive collector of amazing sounds" from Holland. When he's not teaching or producing charmingly quirky sample-based music, he's overseeing 52 Weeks, the slightly-more-modest Dutch "child" of the 365 Days Project. Every week since the beginning of this year, Turkenburg has been posting a new album of interesting and/or unusual music on this site; most of it from the Low Countries.

Last week, he posted something truly beautiful and inspiring which would have to count as one of the highlights of this project so far...

In 1943, Margaret Dryburgh, a Presbyterian missionary who was being held captive in a Japanese prison camp in Southern Sumatra, sought escape from her plight by reconstructing entire works by composers like Beethoven, Debussy and Dvorak entirely from memory - without the aid of musical intruments. With the help of Norah Chambers, a professional musician and fellow internee, these works were transcribed on scraps of hoarded paper and arranged for a choir consisting of thirty other inmates. (Of those 30, only half would survive the war.)

In 1983, one of the surviving members of the original ensemble organised a recording of Drybugh's prison-camp arrangements by a Californian women's choir. That recording will be up on the 52 Weeks site till next week. I urge everyone to go there and download it.

Posted by Warren at 12:06 AM

May 13, 2004

Making Music From DNA: Genomixer

Stanza is a UK-based multimedia artist who has taken the DNA from a sample of his own blood and used it as the basis for a fascinating collection of online artworks/interactive playthings. One of these is Open Source, in which Stanza's X chromosome has been translated into 25 different electronic instrument loops that can be mixed in real time. (Be warned: when you first open it, all the loops will be "on", so you'll get complete (but not entirely unenjoyable) cacophony.)

Because it's based on DNA, the range of notes/sounds in each loop isn't terribly wide. (After all, there are only 4 "letters" in the DNA alphabet - A, C, G and T.) So most of what you produce will sound like some epileptic Phillip Glass out-take. But still... its a pretty damn addictive time-waster! (And if you ever tire of it, you can always go buy a DNA-patterned bedspread from the "online store".)

Posted by Warren at 10:33 PM

Magnatune: We're Not Evil
(Originally aired 5th Jan 2004)

Anyone whose a musician (and not a member of Jet) may find the following depressingly familiar…

A couple of years ago, John Buckman’s wife signed to a indie label, recorded a CD and released it into the marketplace. Ultimately, 1000 copies of the CD were sold, but all she received in royalties was a paltry $137 (1% of the price of the CDs)… And this was from an artist-friendly label who gave her a 70/30 split of all profits!
So where did all the money go? Well… “The label got screwed at every turn: distributors refused to carry their CDs unless they spent thousands on useless print ads, record stores demanded graft in order to stock the albums, and in general, all forces colluded to prevent this small, progressive label from succeeding.”

This disheartening experience spurred John to set up Magnatune, an online mp3 label dedicated to ensuring that artists actually get a fair share of the money that comes from music sales… 50% of it to be exact, and the artists keep the rights to their music. In addition, Magnatune have adopted a novel approach to pricing; giving you the option of paying anywhere between US$5 and US$12 for an album ($8 is recommended but generosity is encouraged for the artists’ sake.)
The music itself spans a wide variety of genres; anything from Renaissance and Indian classical, to electronica, punk and metal. And its all available under an “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike” Creative Commons license. This means you're welcome to use it in any non-commercial works of your own.

All things considered, its hard not to concur with Mr Buckman when he declares, “We’re a record label. But we’re not evil.”

(FOOTNOTE: Compare this with the activities of the big record companies, who were recently ordered by a New York court to pay $50 million worth of royalties which they had been keeping from many of their artists. The companies’ excuse for not handing over this money was that the artists were too difficult to find… Some of these difficult to find artists included Sean “P Diddy” Combs, Gloria Estefan and Dolly Parton…)

Posted by Warren at 05:46 PM

May 12, 2004

Comfort Stand: Everybody Needs Free Music
(Originally aired 8th Dec 2003)

Around these parts, Otis Fodder is a much-admired individual... This Seattle-based DJ was the genius behind 365 Days, an online project which delivered one mp3 of interesting, obscure (and often out-of-print) music per day for the whole of 2003. (Some of the highlights of this project have been posted on this site already. Others will be featured in future postings.)

With 2003 over and the 365 Days Project retired to P2P land, Otis Fodder has joined that growing band of altruistic music producers who are setting up free online labels. Every recording that comes out on Otis' Comfort Stand label is released only as a set of mp3s (192k+ encoding). These are posted on the label's site along with professional jewel-box formatted artwork and liner notes - and it can all be downloaded for free. (Provided, of course, that its used for "private and personal" purposes. If you intend to use any works commercially, its expected that you'll do the right thing and get a licence from the artists.)

Comfort Stand debuted at the end of last year with an excellent "double CD" of contemporary exotica called Two Zombies Later. Since then its churned out another 30 albums & singles which have included such diverse fare as found home recordings, the work of a music-sharing remix community, Argentinian psychedelia, reknowned SF busker The Space Lady, an imaginary metal band, and a compilation of "space music".

(If you applaud this approach to music distribution, but none of the afforementioned is your cup of tea, don't worry... There are another 80 plus free online labels out there for you to explore. You can find them on The Netlabel Catalogue.)

Posted by Warren at 10:47 PM

May 07, 2004

Blind Man's Penis... In Flash

Anyone whose read the entry on Song Poems will know about this infamous stream-of-nonsense song which was written as a dare to see if a "we-will-record-anything" song-poem company would be true to its word... Well, now its been turned into a Flash animation, with visuals that give you the sort of "insight" into its "meaning" which you'll probably live to regret having...
Warning: Not safe for work (unless, of course, images of Stevie Wonder "getting the horn" and using it on Adolf Hitler are OK with your colleagues..) (via Boing Boing)

Posted by Warren at 04:58 PM

A Break In The Road

This week's online music toy is A Break in The Road, a great little field recording 'n' sequencing Flash adventure game, in which you are sent around a typical London suburb with a minidisc to record a variety of everyday sounds. These include everything from carpet-beating, banging gates and construction noise; to arcade machines, overheard rants at the local boozer, and klezmer music from a Kosher deli. Once you have these on disc, you then have to sequence them together into a track to play at a mate's club. The track is then rated by the club's crowd (Luckily, they don't seem to be too demanding...) (via The Null Device)

Posted by Warren at 07:57 AM

Shouting Finns On The Big Screen: Mieskuoro Huutajat
(Originally aired 7th May 2004)

Huutajat.jpgThe Sydney leg of REAL:Life, an annual travelling documentary festival, kicked off at the Chauvel last night. Skimming through the programme, I noticed two music-related docos that should definitely be worth checking out - Channels of Rage, which is about the vexed relationship between pro-Zionist Israeli rapper, Subliminal, and his Palestinian protege, MC Tamer; and Screaming Men, which is about Mieskuoro Huutajat, The Finnish Shouting Men's Choir.

Hailing from Oulu, a provincial town in Northern Finland (which is also home to the World Air Guitar Championship), Huutajat Mieskuoro was formed in 1987 by a couple of guys in the local punk scene who decided it might be amusing to get 20 men in black suits and rubber ties, and have them shout over the top of popular Finnish songs. (Why shout? Well, basically because Finns have a tradition for being quiet...)

From these humble, tongue-in-cheek beginnings, Huutajat have gone on to become the toast of the European music festival circuit, and have even scored a Top Ten hit in their homeland. Recently, it was reported that they planned to perform on the frozen Baltic Sea for the crew of a stranded ice-breaker.

If you can't make it to the film (which is screening on Saturday) and you'd like to hear a sample of Huutajat in all their bellowing glory, there are a couple of mp3s from their 10th Anniversary Concert CD on their website. The CD itself can be buy through Finnish label, Bad Vugum. (For more background on the group and its eccentric hometown, check out this article from The Age.)

Posted by Warren at 06:59 AM

Beware Panda Bearing Ring Tones

While the rest of the music industry is in a paranoid funk over piracy and declining revenues, one sector has been calmly and unobtrusively raking it in – mobile ring tones. Last year, sales of these 10-20 sec pieces of condensed pop exceeded $6 billion.
So it comes as no surprise to hear that a German electro outfit called Super Smart recently became the first band to release an entire album exclusively as ring tones. (At 10-20 sec a track, it is also one of the shortest ever recorded.) According to the press release that accompanied this “event”, it amounted to such a “radical” assault on the music establishment, that the band were forced to wear giant panda heads to conceal their identities…

Yeah, right… More likely they need to hide the fact that they’re a gaggle of pony-tailed apparatchiks from the marketing department of the label that brought out the album… Until May 10, it can be downloaded as a free set of mp3 from the GoFresh Mobile Music site.

Posted by Warren at 12:36 AM