Sure, making music on obsolete technology is fairly common and unremarkable, but what about actually releasing it on a format that has (commercially speaking) been dead for almost two decades? Well, that's what electronic musician Dan Witkoske does... In the past year, he has brought out not one, but two... eight-track tape only releases! (For those too young to remember, the eight track tape was "state of art" late 60's-70's audio technology which was eventually killed off by the cheaper, longer and easier to record audio cassette.) Although he seems to be the only artist who's producing 8-track recordings right now, he's certainly not the only one who's done so in recent times. Over at 8-track Heaven, they've compiled a list of 17 8-track releases that have come out in the last decade or so. Stylistically, you'll find anything there from experimental electronica to good ole surf rock. (The surf rock entrant came about because the record's producer wanted to listen to it on the 8-track player in his '72 Buick!)
If you don't have a 8-track and you're intrigued to hear what Mr Witkoske's music sounds like, then you can download some tracks in the shockingly modern mp3 format from Download.com.
(Many thanks to Geoff on the Sound Scavenger mailing list for putting me on to this.)
As part of an information studies course he did at UCLA in 2001, Ryan Hildebrand put together this treasure trove of mp3s by artists who have used musical technology in the "wrong" way. (Or, more correctly, have rejected the proper, time-established ways of using their tools of choice.) The collection is divided into four broadly-defined genres - glitch electronica, free improvisation and extended technique, tape music and musique concrete, and turntablism - and features close to 200 tracks by musicians/composers like John Cage, Pierre Henry, Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgar Varese, Steve Reich, The Beatles, Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, AMM, John Zorn, Evan Parker, Autechre, Oval, Fennesz, Kid 606, DAT Politics, Grandmaster Flash, Christian Marclay, Kid Koala, Invizibl Skratch Piklz, and LL Cool J... just to name a few. Dive in and explore. (via Daily Jive Weblog)
For our multicultural TV channel, SBS, the Eurovision Song Contest is a serious ratings cow (500,000+ viewers, which is a big deal for a non-commercial station in this market.). As a result, its not only broadcast live; its preceded by a week off lead-up specials. (And its kiddie version, Junior Eurovision, is also televised.) So, with such a captive market, it would be nice if next year they could cast the net a bit wider, and expose us to some of the other multi-national pop “talent” quests that are out there… Like this one – Azia Dauysy (Voice of Asia), an international festival of song that’s held annually in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
If the website’s anything to go by, it immediately satisfies all the globo-trash-hound prerequisites. It’s got glitzy sets with blacklights and overactive smoke machines; gaudy costumes; and slick schlock pop… And, it also has a much broader catchment area than its more vaunted Eurocentric cousin – bringing in contestants from as far afield as the Czech Republic in the west, and the Phillipines in the east. As a result, you get a much wider variety of takes on the whole saccharine pop music ideal than you do in Eurovision… Like Georgia’s party-band answer to the Corrs, The Rondo Band; the Bollywood-meets-Urban-R&B stylings of Sri Lankan Nadine; the hilariously bad “sexy” balladry of the Czech Republic’s Tom Malar; and the Malaysian entrant, Waheeda, whose sinuous Middle-East-inflected singing is accompanied by sub-vocalised rapping.
Of course, all of the above is fairly disposable, and so far, the competition hasn’t produced anything as world-conquering as Abba, but it has thrown up one singer who has gone on to have a seriously credible career on the ethereal world music diva circuit – the Uzbek songstress, Yulduz Usmanova.
(To give you an idea of what she sounds like... Here’s a superficially silly track about illegal immigration (with darker undertones) called
Kiss Me from her most recent album, Bilmadim, which can be purchased from 30 Hz Records... There are other streamed Yulduz tracks on this site.)
Late Friday afternoon... Time to disengage the mind from work... And this week, the sonic means to that end is Sine Fiction, an netlabel/art project devoted to soundtracks inspired by notable science fiction novels. The project's been going since 2000 and has so far released 14 compositions (with another 19 in the pipeline.) The authors who've received the Sine Fiction treatment include Stanislaw Lem, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Samuel Delaney, Italo Calvino, George Orwell and William S Burroughs. (In the future, we're promised H G Wells, J G Ballard, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, and Robert Anton Wilson - just to name a few.)
The music itself its mostly boffin electronica - soundscapes, dubby glitch, moody IDM, ear-searing digi-noise, and even some musique concrete. But if any of that appeals to you, I highly recommend heading over to the site and having a good aural wallow! (via Metafilter)
Earlier on this month, a Circuit Court of Appeals in the US ruled that NWA was in breach of copyright when it used an uncleared three note sample from a Funkadelic guitar riff in one of its songs - even though that sample had been manipulated to the point where "no reasonable juror, even one familiar with the works of George Clinton, would recognize [it] without having been told of its source". (quote taken from the ruling in the original case that was overturned by this appeal.)
When the anti-copyright-abuse firebrands at Downhill Battle got wind of this appalling decision, they naturally organised a protest - and what a brilliant-conceived protest it was!... On their site, they posted the 1.5 seconds of Funkadelic guitar at the centre of the case and invited allcomers to compose 30 second song using only this sample.
The response to that invitation (made back on Sept 15) has been impressive to say the least, with 58 tracks of digifuckery submitted so far. In the process, the sample has been turned into everything from dark electronica to video game and synthesized insect sounds. (There's even a version of the "Star Spangled Banner".) And the best thing about it all is that no one involved can get sued, as the use of copyrighted material for protests is protected under the US Constitution!
(More details in this Wired News article)
To coincide with the birthday of late great outsider scat vocalist, Shooby Taylor, the official fansite shooby.com has been relaunched. (For a brief background on Shooby, refer to this earlier posting.) On the design side, there are no major changes – a few new graphics and a busy (but not too obtrusive) background filled with transliterations of Shoobyisms. But the really interesting new addition is a previously unseen video of Shooby at an Apollo Theatre amateur night in 1983. Sadly, Shooby is on for only 20 seconds before the crowd erupts in a chorus of boos, and he is unceremoniously booted off. All deplorably disrespectful, but in those twenty seconds at least, Shooby cuts loose with his “air saxophone” and we get to see what a good performer he could’ve been… if given a chance.
For anyone whose a fan of Incredibly Strange Music on the web, this is sad news indeed… As of the end of September, Oddball Auditorium, one of the great online repositories of “unusual tunes in mp3 format” will be taken offline. The site, which started way back in 1998, is devoted to those vinyl bargain bin / thrift store finds that make you do a double-take the moment you read the label or gently place a stylus into their crackling grooves. By today’s “mp3 a day” standards, the postings were fairly sporadic (once a month at best) but the accumulated selection is blessed with some memorably offbeat tracks, like a pro-capitalist kids’ song by Janeen Brady, the cloying Zionist pop of Joshua Tenne, a 1979 flexidisc of McDonalds motivational material, and song-poems galore…
But the postings that Oddball Auditorium is most “famous” for are Coo Coo Bird and Hush Puppy Hush, two tracks of rambling backwoods vocals buried underneath a borderline-psychotic sound collage. The tracks are from a battered old 45 by Wee Willie Shantz, which site curator John Fitzpatrick has called “The World’s Strangest Record”… Here’s his description of it:
Can you imagine John Cage jamming with Negativland inside a moving boxcar full of victrolas... or perhaps an old backwoods codger, swigging mash whiskey from a facejar, has been working on these songs for 40 years and he finally got a chance to record them, but the only band he could find was a family of occultists who live at the junkyard. Anyway this record has it all -- prepared sound objects, recording manipulation, sing-speak vocal somewhere between nursery rhyme and shaman ritual, semi-aleatoric stringed instruments, and even a sublime saxophone solo.
About this record, all that is known is that it was recorded in St Louis (and that renowned St Louis alto sax player Leroy Harris performed on one of the tracks). When it was recorded and who the hell Wee Willie Shantz is, are complete mysteries – even to John Fitzpatrick! (His postings of these recordings conclude with a plea for any information… To date, four years after they initially went up, nothing has been unearthed…)
So, while you have a chance, head over to the Auditorium and download Wee Willie, and the oddities that remain. (If you want to get your hands on the ones that have gone off line, you can purchase a CD-R compilation.)
From the International Herald Tribune, comes this interesting articizzle about Snoop Dogg's now-famous rhyme-enabling suffix, "izzle". (Substitute it for the ending of any word and - hey presto! - instant hip-hop doggerel.) The writer traces its origin back to the use of infixed and suffixed nonsense syllables in early San Fran hip hop... Go back a little further, though, and you will find the godfather of all this lyrical tomfoolery, jazz musician Slim Gaillard. Back in the 1930's, Gaillard created his on jive dialect called "vout", which was peppered with silly suffixes and made-up nonsense words like "oroonie", "oreenie" and "floy floy". A mild version of Gaillard's "vouting" can be heard in this mp3 of Bassology, which has been posted on UbuWeb. For a more comprehensive selection, go to Vooty Radio, which streams non-stop Gaillard.
This interesting and nicely designed little site traces the attempts by twentieth century composers to escape the bounds of traditional staff notation and devise more graphical means of presenting their avant garde scores. The results of their endeavours are presented in a series of zoomable scanned images which are accompanied by interviews and sound clips. They're all very idiosyncratic, and regardless of how effective they were at conveying musical ideas, some of them are quite visually appealing... Its just a pity none of them are available as wallpaper-sized jpgs. (via Metafilter)
The world’s only non-human improv ensemble is back... After a three year wait, the highly-talented ensemble of elephant musician/composers from the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Northern Thailand have finally released their second album, Elephonic Rhapsodies. (For more background on them, see this earlier posting.) And its turned out to be both a better and worse album than its predecessor.
On the downside, it opens with one of the most patronising and cringe-worthy intro tracks imaginable; with the project directors, who refer to themselves as “your Uncle Dave and Uncle Richard”, presenting the elephants in a manner obviously designed for a kiddie audience. After that, they do allow one memorable track of languid glissando improvisation from the orchestra’s star xylophone player, Phong. From there on in, its all composed-by-humans pieces, which the elephants perform with and without humans. The results are truly beautiful and, as "Uncle Dave and Uncle Richard" assure us, quite enjoyable for the elephants as well.
Here are two tracks from the album, Phong’s Solo and Little Elephant Saddle. (NB: the trumpeting in the latter track was apparently a spontaneous response to hearing a violin for the first time.) The album itself can be purchased from Mulatta Records.
I was quite chuffed to get a posting recently from French mp3 blogger, David Fenech. So I visited his LiveJournal site, and was even more delighted to discover that he is a musician in his own right who seems to specialise in woozy, quirked-out musical non sequiturs... There aren't many common threads in what I've heard of his work. Stylistically, it veers from tumbling Tom Waits-esque guitar numbers backed by balloon-squeal keyboards, to pinched falsetto torch songs warbled over synthesized scissors, to stop-start post-punk spazz-fests. (There's even a cover version of Ring My Bell that delightfully parodies the vocoder fetishes of more well-known French acts like Daft Punk.) In other words, its the sort of stuff that your life is incomplete without, so get your arse over to Demosaurus right now and download everything this twisted bastard has to offer... Oh, and you might like to buy one of his albums as well.
Tim Barsky and Yuri Lane are two insanely-talented beatboxers who spit out killer rhythm lines and play wind instruments - at the same time! Barsky's instrument of choice is the flute; Lane's is the harmonica. You can check them out by going to their web-sites where they both have an mp3 and quicktime video of them droppin' their instru-vocal science. (Here's the direct link to Barsky's track, Sophisticated Maybe; and here's the direct link to Lane's, Harmonica!) Da bomb, as they say...
(FOOTNOTE: In addition to being masters on the mike, Tim and Yuri both write beatbox musicals for the stage. Barsky's most recent work, The Bright River, is a tour of the after-life which incorporates elements from the other artform he is versed in - traditional Ashkenazi Jewish storytelling. Lane's latest offering, From Tel Aviv To Ramallah, deals with the Israel-Palestine conflict.)
...And try to build music mixers, they probably come up with stuff like this... That's the only way I can explain it... Ear-pummeling repetitive loops, an incomprehensible interface, random flashes of 3D cars, office furniture, cash register text... Surrender your mind to Looptracks now...
Nowadays, thanks to cultural studies and the literary aspirations of music journos, you can find a coffee-table-stack of books on just about any musical genre/movement you care to name… But what about a history of music made using children’s toys? (If its out there, its beyond the reach of my admittedly cursory Google searches…) And before you scoff, yes, toy music does have a rich, varied – and even respectable – history. Here are some highlights:
Suite For Toy Piano by John Cage – This suite - composed in 1948 - is widely acknowledged as the first piece of “serious” music written specifically for toy piano. Here’s a streamed version performed by Cage student, Margaret Leng Tan, who also released an album called “The Art of Toy Piano” in 1997. The album can be purchased from Amazon and includes this cover of Gymnopedie No.3 by Erik Satie.
Wendy Mae Chambers – Chambers is an avant-garde composer who specializes in large scale oddities, like 77 trombone masses and pieces for 24 musicians in rowboats, and is probably best known for her Car Horn Organ. (Here’s a Real Audio stream of it playing New York New York) In addition to that, she is regarded as “possibly the world’s foremost virtuoso of the toy piano” (NY Times) and has composed numerous pieces for it, including Mandala For Toy Piano (all Real Audio). She also has a number of toy piano renditions of Christmas songs that can be heard on her website.
Pianosaurus – The party band of the genre, who were famous-for-15-minutes in the late 80’s with their old-time rock numbers based around R&B riffs hammered out on a toy piano. You can buy their 1987 album “Groovy Neighbourhood" from Amazon, and while you’re there, you can also download two mp3s from it - Thriftshoppin and Ready To Rock.
Toy Death – This distorto-electro toy outfit from my hometown of Sydney not only play toy instruments (and, in classic DIY punk fashion, pride themselves on the fact that none of them cost more than $60), they actually take to the stage dressed as toys. At the last gig of there’s I saw, the band consisted of a cowboy, a music box dancer, a foam-muscled soldier, and a white rabbit that occasionally played the toy guitar with its vagina!... Here, from their 2001 album “Pokey As Shake”, is their deranged version of Funkytown.
Toychestra – A six-woman ensemble from San Francisco who, like Toy Death, use a wide variety of toy-store noisemakers. Out of the current crop of toy bands, they’re the one with most avant-garde cred; having recently recorded an album with improv guitar supremo, Fred Frith.
Twink – Of all the currently recording toy bands, Twink is easily the most hipster friendly. On its latest release, “Supercute”, this toy piano-based band tinkles its way through a diverse array of contemporary electronic styles. From sultry horn backed trip hop; to plucked ukulele faux-bhangra; to sombre, drifting electronica reminiscent of Boards of Canada or Mum. Here, for you to sample, is one of their "sombre drifting" outings, Light Through A Keyhole. If you want more, you can download their entire first album from IUMA, or you can purchase “Supercute” from Mulatta Records.
Toy Symphony – Finally, from the interactive music device boffins at the MIT Media Lab, comes this project which attempts to create orchestral music from specially built “musical toys” with names like Beatbugs, Shapers and Hyperviolins. They’re called “toys” primarily because they are designed to be simple enough for a child to use, but powerful enough to render fully-fledged orchestral works… and because they look quite cute. The Toy Symphony web-site has a selection of mp3s of performances which don’t sound terribly “toy”-like… But the videos of their workshops are pretty cool in a chaotic playtime kind of way.
In the world of early 70's glam, where bands went out of their way to devise outlandishly bad outfits and dream up ludicrous stage persona, Zolar X had a commitment to their particular "vision" (ie we are 50's drive-in movie aliens) that placed them in a league of their own. Unlike their contemporaries who'd drop the "I am space emperor Doofus from Dimension X" act once they got off stage, these guys were NEVER out of character in public. When not performing, they would often wander the streets of LA in full space regalia (see picture) talking in a nonsense alien language, and playing Echoplex sound effects on miniature tape recorders... Yep, they were complete wankers alright...
But they also churned out some pretty stomping glam metal with a big Detroit guitar sound, wonderfully loony lyrics (sample song titles: "I Pulled My Helmet Off (I'm Going To Love Her)" and "Plutonian Elf Song"), and occasional moments of unhinged prog excess. All good overblown fun, in other words!...
And now the best stuff from Planet Zolar has been released on a single CD by Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles label. (Apparently, Zolar X was one of the bands that Jello most hated when he was a young punk... That disdain, however, was based merely on their appearance; when he finally heard them, it was a different matter altogether.) The disc can naturally be purchased from the AT site, where you can also download four mp3s: Timeless, Jetstar 19, I Pulled My Helmet Off and Silver Shapes.
Here's something that truly warms the cockles of this crabby old lefty's heart. A 2 CD set of "blazing anti-Howard anthems" released just in time for the Australian federal election. And the good news is there's lot of funny material on it, and a lot of serious spleen-venting vitriol - some of it even downright slanderous!... Nice!...
The collection was put together by Frenzal Rhomb's Lindsay McDougall, so its heavily weighted towards snotty skater punk. In addition to that, though, you get indie/shoegazer, hip hop, 60's pop, rockabilly, country, cabaret, and even a death metal track with the rather surreal and disturbing title of "Keep On Raping In The Free World (Voting Booth Rape With The Democratic Dildo of Death)". (In other words, something for everyone!)
I strongly urge all of you to go out and buy this worthy but enjoyable compilation. All the tracks on it were donated by the artists, so all proceeds from its sale go to refugee charities, through the Refugee Action Coalition. If its not at your local record store, then you can pick up a copy from Shock Records.
As an incentive, I've uploaded two of my fave tracks: TISM's classic ode to heartless right-wing self-interest,
The Phillip Ruddock Blues; and I'm Sorry, a silly but serious cut-up of our own Inglorious Leader's voice with cheesy 80's disco backing. I'll also throw in a link to the website of hip hop outfit Toekeo, where you can download an mp3 of the track with the best title on the album, John Howard Is A Filthy Slut. (The site even has an acapella version so you can do your own mash-up remix. If you do, send it in and we'll play it on the directed sound PA that's going up outside Kirribilli House in the final week of the election campaign.)
(FOOTNOTE: If you live in the Darlinghurst/Paddington area, go into Disc Specialists and ask about the CD. Maybe it'll encourage those lame-arse hipsters to actually get it in stock.)
Music has a long history as a weapon of war - it's earliest recorded use being the wall-tumbling 1400BC blast of trumpets used by Joshua in his seige of Jericho. In recent times, though, it has really come into its own thanks to US military and paramilitary forces who routinely employ amped-up musical assaults to psychologically destabilise an enemy. In Panama in the 1980's, for instance, the army attempted to blast Noriega out of the Vatican embassy with hard rock, and during the Waco siege, the FBI supposedly tried to unnerve the Branch Davidians with Christmas songs, clocks, and Tibetan chants. More recently, the musical weapon of choice in Iraq has been Metallica. To quote a US psy-op, "These people haven't heard heavy metal before. They can't take it"... To top it off, they even threw in crying babies...
And, as with any American battlefield weapon, there have been recent technological advances... Enter directed sound weapons, which can produce bursts of ear/head-fucking noise and music which will only be heard by people that they are targetted at. These weapons are already being used in Iraq and now, according to Boing Boing, they're being employed as crowd control in the streets outside the Republican National Convention in New York.
To get a sample of these devices in action, check out the website of their manufacturer, American Technology Corporation. On it is a primitive 3D animation demo and a San Diego TV profile. If you want more info about sound as a weapon, peruse the links on the website of Sydney sound artist, Alex Davies.
It's Friday and work's been utterly manic, so when I did get a chance to catch my breath and do some surfing, it was a great to find this glorious piece of metal madness... It's a review of a Japanese black metal concert, and what makes it oh so special is the fact that the second band on the line-up has a keyboard player... who uses sheet music!
The review is just one of the many hilarious pieces of Japanese pop-culture madness on a site called Tokyo Damage Report. Also worth checking out on the site are the gangsta hip hop punk concert, the Japanese hip hop fashions, and the always reliable Engrish T-shirt slogans. (via shiner.clay)
If you're going to indulge in the bloated conceit of making a concept album then you might as well go all the way, and concoct something so mind-bogglingly pretentious that it could potentially serve as the basis for a new religion... That's what Bobby Brown did back in 1972... And, no, I'm not talking about the late 80's R&B artist responsible for the hit "My Prerogative"... This Bobby Brown was a Hawaiian hippy dude who built his own ensemble of stringed instruments with a total of 311 strings; possessed a six octave singing voice ("possibly the greatest range ever recorded"); and had devised a new type of physics that would "lead to the most significant change in human history".
On his album "The Enlightening Beam of Axonda", he laid out this new "physics" in the form of a tale about some guy called "Johnny" who leaves his Hawaiian home and embarks on a spiritual quest that inevitably leads him to New Orleans. (Makes sense... That's where they ended up in Easy Rider...) But unlike the "can't-handle-a-bad-trip" lame-arses in Easy Rider, he ventures into a nearby forest, communes with nature, and discovers a subatomic "oneness" called Bray that humanity will ultimately communicate with via a machine called Axonda. The machine will send out beams of energy that will "eventually lead to total Goconciousness". With this knowledge under his belt, Johnny is ready to enter the "preparation dimension" of heaven and merge with God but, at the last moment, he decides to return to earthly life... to record this album!... L Ron Hubbard, eat your heart out!
As for the music itself... Well, as you might expect, there's a lot of po-faced "straining for the sublime" which is only saved from being completely drippy by the primitive-synth like swoops and glides of his 311-stringed juggernaut. And, yes, he does have a pretty impressive voice - reminiscent of some lysergically-drenched Nick Drake.
The album can be purchased through Aquarius Records, who have a couple of streaming samples. For your spiritual enlightnement, though, I'm posting the complete mp3 of the opening track, I Must Be Born.
Here's another one of those interactive online music projects that I'm a big fan of... This one is a giant progammable music box, with lights installed in the barrel to illuminate the melodies entered into it. Its on display at the Tisch School of Arts at NYU, and what's particularly notably about it is that anyone who hops on to the website can program in a melody which can be played on the music box by other users.
After getting your freak on to all the chutney and Michigan white-boy booty-rap in the previous two posts, you're probably ready for a change of pace, so let's go back to the Southern Carribean (kinda sorta as this actually comes from the plains of northern South America) for some Venezuelan harp music. On his website at the University of California, ethnomusicologist Robert Garfias has posted this gorgeous album of llanera (traditional harp-based Venezuelan music) which was recorded by the Astor Piazzolla of the form, Juan Vicente Torrealba. Its all very lovely and brings to mind images of cascading streams and waterfall spray dripping from rock-bound ferns... Download and wallow.
I finally got my copy of Found, the coffee-table-book companion to the magazine of the same name, in the mail today and let me just say at the outset - its one of the funniest frickin' things I've read in a long time!!...
For those who don't already know, Found magazine is a publication devoted to notes, cards, letters, etc which people have stumbled across and submitted. Those which have found their way into the book are invariably hilarious, and include such gems as a warning about washing machine defecation, a series of acerbic teacher evaluations, an algebra test filled with spontaneous poetry, and the most pornographic to-do list ever compiled. In the midst of all the written ephemera, there is also a home-recorded demo cassette of booty-rap by a "some thugged-out white kids with a drum machine" from Ypsilanti, Michigan. Unfortunately, the cassette didn't come shrink-wrapped with the book, but there are some Real Audio/WMA streams on the Found magazine site... Head on over there now and get nasty with Yo Ass Is So Fine, Yo Shit Be Up In My Face and Wiggle On The Flo (NB: links are to the Real Audio samples because the encoding sounded slightly better)... And while you're there, download or buy the official Found magazine 7" single with four tracks inspired by found items.