November 29, 2004

Murtogh D. Guinness' Musical Automata

The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection is an example of an eccentric life-long obsession that is pursued so thoroughly that it becomes a valuable and significant history of the object(s) obsessed over. In Guiness’ case, it was antique mechanical musical instruments and automata. In 50 years of collecting, he amassed nearly 700 music boxes, fairground organs, clockwork driven dolls, and self-playing instruments – some of them dating back as far as the 16th century. Ever since his death in 2002, the collection has been housed at the local museum in Morristown, New Jersey, whose website includes video/music clips of such highlights as a flute-playing doll, an automatic banjo, a 108 pipe Orchestrophone, and an animated musical ring. (via Boing Boing, and the NY Times. Free reg required.)

Posted by Warren at 10:56 PM

November 20, 2004

Dr Joe Paradiso's Humungous Modular Synth

Meet the Borg of synths – a fully integrated and patchable room sized assemblage of over a hundred individual synth modules, along with a variety of fully assimilated Casiotone and Moog keyboards. (Full list of modules here.) This beast is the result of 20 years worth of bower birding by Dr Joseph Paradiso. As a result of its complexity, he is able to wire up a single set of patches that will burble away indefinitely, producing sophisticated endlessly varying pieces of music (which do sound surprisingly composed), without any additional human input. A selection of mp3s of these wonderfully old-style analogue concoctions is available on his website. (via Music Thing)

(When he isn’t tending to his modular monster, Dr Paradiso works at the MIT Media Lab, where he designs esoteric musical interfaces. His most recent work of note is a pair of shoes with motion and pressure sensors that can be used as music controllers.)

Posted by Warren at 01:14 AM

November 18, 2004

Oh Yeah!

Video of the Moment Part 2… Many of you will probably already know about the Grey Album, DJ Danger Mouse’s memorable mash-up of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album, which provoked cease-and-desist orders from EMI, the copyright owner of the White Album… Well now, a video mash-up of a Beatles concert which features guerilla broadcasts of Jay-Z, Ringo DJing and John breakdancing, has been concocted to accompany the Danger Mouse version of Encore... Very fab and worth a look-see.

(UPDATE: It seems that the main site hosting The Grey Video is down, but luckily Waxy is hosting a mirror of the Quicktime video. There's also a torrent, and another mirror of the video courtesy of Matt Haughey. Via Boing Boing)

Posted by Warren at 12:20 AM

November 16, 2004

Shatner's Rocket Man... On Video!

Before he was hobnobbing with Ben Folds and trading rants with Henry Rollins, William Shatner the “singer” was famous for the close-encounter inspired album Transformed Man, and a drolly soliloquised version of Rocket Man that he performed at a sci-fi convention in 1978. An mp3 of this take on the Elton John classic has been bouncing around the Web for quite some time, and now, thanks to the good folk at iFilm, you can watch a video of this truly unforgettable performance.

Posted by Warren at 08:43 PM

November 15, 2004

Laughing And Crying Records

Presenting one of the more perplexing oddities from the early days of audio recording… These crackling old platters, which came out in the first decade of the twentieth century, begin unremarkably enough with an instrumental or vocal performance, but this is quickly drowned out by the sound of its audience of one erupting in hysterical laughter or tears

Just why these recordings were made, and what purpose they were meant to serve is a mystery. The Geocities site, where low quality Real Audio streams of these recordings are posted, speculates that they were early attempts at comedy records, but the emphasis is on the response rather than the "joke"… And what about the crying record?

Maybe that period was characterised by starchy parlour room gatherings where open and relaxed exchanges were only possible with help of emotionally histrionic ice-breaker recordings… We can only wonder...

Posted by Warren at 07:14 PM

November 10, 2004

Listening To The Sky…

With massive solar storms causing the polar aurora to venture far into temperate skies, now seemed like the perfect time to post these sites set up by boffins who use Very-Low-Frequency radio receivers to produce audio portraits of the EMF emissions that seethe through this planet's atmosphere.

Over at NASA, they have an audio stream of sounds picked up by their VLF receiver in Huntsville, Alabama. By and large, they emanate from far off thunderstorms that produce a lovingly categorised array of noises with names likes sferics, tweeks and whistlers. (via Web Zen)

Stephen McGreevy also records low-frequency atmospheric sounds but he heads out into the action; monitoring the aurora borealis in Northern Alberta, or travelling to RF noise free environments like Death Valley to capture “whistler showers”. He has a wide variety of sound files of recordings from these field trips on his website, and also has CDs for sale.

Posted by Warren at 10:58 PM

A Positive By-Product of the Coming Chinese Century: Pitch Perfect Ears Will Bloom Throughout The World

Anyone who's tried to learn Mandarin knows that the key is to get your ear tuned to those fussy inflections that can radically alter the meaning of words. (For instance, “ma” pronounced with a high flat tone means “mother”, whereas “ma” with a rising tone means “hemp”.) Well, it turns out that the effort involved in doing this actually gives you a better ear for musical notes.

So, when China finally inherits the mantle of pre-eminent world superpower from an al-Qaeda bankrupted America, it may be more-of-the-same bad news for the environment and even worse news for human rights, but at least music will be a winner. With millions of school kids in the Western world rushing to learn Middle Kingdom putonghua, the number of instrumental virtuosos per capita will rise astronomically and – when it is written – the definitive “Symphony For The Last Frog” will be the most beautiful and accomplished thing ever composed. (via Monkeyfilter)

(FOOTNOTE: While you’re checking out the linked Scientific American news piece on this, you might also want to peruse their very interesting article on the neurology of music.)

Posted by Warren at 09:10 PM

Matisyahu: Hasidic Reggae

Matthew Miller was your typical American teen – a disaffected stoner with a taste for Phish and Bob Marley – who was drifting along aimlessly until he discovered G-d during a sojourn in Colorado and went on to embrace the strict lifestyle of Hasidic Judaism (and change his name to Matisyahu)… But he never lost his Marley-inspired love for reggae, and has since turned it into a medium for expressing his Orthodox beliefs.
Recently, he released an album of his Hasidic reggae called Shake Off The Dust. Streamed mp3s from it are available from his website. (via Metafilter)

Posted by Warren at 12:38 AM

November 09, 2004

Banned In Belarus: Drum Ecstasy

Drum Ecstasy are one of the stars of the underground music scene in Belarus. A quartet of 3 drummers and 1 bassplayer who play propulsive polyrhythmic anthems bedded in dark, sub-industrial low-end smear; they have been a fixture on the club scene for a number of years and have even been courted by corporations wanting “edgy” music to accompany big product launches. Their website has a good selection of mp3s for you to download, including these two standout tracks, Nails and Empire...

On July 21 this year, they were one of seven local bands who performed at an opposition-sponsored concert in Minsk to commemorate/protest 10 years of despotic rule by Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko was originally elected by a legitimate landslide for a four year term back in 1994, but since then he has used dodgy referenda and rigged elections to extend his tenure indefinitely. And anyone who has tried to oppose him has been ruthlessly “silenced” – as the bands at the 21/7 concert quickly discovered.

Although they did not suffer the fate of official opposition figures who have been detained or “disappeared”, all future performances by them were banned and their music was removed from Belarusian radio playlists. In response, the musicians released this open letter in September and are encouraging anyone who is concerned about this reprehensible act of censorship to send an email to For more information (and regular updates) on the situation in Belarus, visit the Charter ’97 site. And for a good journalistic overview, check out this article from Russian independent newspaper, Kommersant.

Posted by Warren at 09:50 PM

November 07, 2004

Pick a struggling rock band and turn their small gig into the best show of their lives...

I love these people!... Improv Everywhere are a group of NYC actors who "cause events" like synchronised swimming in an ankle deep fountain, birthday parties for complete strangers, and groups of subway commuters wearing no pants. Their latest project is to find a band from out of town who has come to New York and been stuck playing the shittiest gig imaginable - the sort of thing that would only attract three punters at best - and swamp the venue with "agents" who will act like rabid fans and turn it into the best show of the band's career. The first recipients of this honour were Vermont group, Ghosts of Pasha, who got a funny feeling about the adoration they were receiving but used it as a springboard to rock out like they never had before. And, when they ultimately found out the truth, they still remained grateful to have got an audience in the Big Apple they could play off... And that's your feel-good story for the weekend. (via Metafilter)

Posted by Warren at 12:17 AM

November 06, 2004

Play Harry Partch's Instruments and Tweak The Hammond Flower

And now a couple of online Flash playthings that I've come across recently. First up, is a set of virtual instruments based on music-making devices created by legendary American composer and patron saint of weird instrument builders, Harry Partch. In the collection, you will find the boo, the chromolodeon, a variety of modified marimbas, cloud chamber bowls, kitharas, and other just intonation goodies. (In some cases, the playing of the instruments is accompanied by matching stills of Partch et al striking the notes so you can create some great jerky performance animations as well.) These virtual instruments come courtesy of the American Mavericks radio series.

For something a wee bit more abstract, try the Hammond Flower, a series of radiating triangulated faders that control the levels of a set of Hammond organ chords... Another interesting experiment in musical interfaces and a glorious waster of time... (via Waxy)

Posted by Warren at 10:40 PM

At Last! Two Konono No 1 Live Albums!

Konono No 1 are a band from Kinshasa who play a traditional form of Angolan/Congolese trance music based around the sound of the likembe (a type of thumb piano). In their case, though, this sound is backed by pots-n-pans percussion, amped up with home-made mics built from magnets salvaged from car parts, and finally sent blaring through a home-brew PA based around megaphones. What emerges from all of this is a glorious, super-saturated racket of galloping rhythms, bellowed vocals and angular metal-guitar-like likembe lines.

Until recently, the most readily available recordings of Konono No 1's music were a Quicktime video of a live performance and a rather tepid demo mp3 on the Crammed Discs website. (In addition to this, there were two songs on the 1985 Musiques Urbaines à Kinshasa compilation on Ocora.) Now, however, comes news that not one, but two, live Konono albums have been released. One was recorded in Kinshasa by Crammed and is being used to kick off its Congotronics series devoted to "tradi-modern" groups from Kinshasa, the other comes from a gig they did in Holland in Feb 2003. The latter recording is available through Subterranean Distribution, who have kindly posted an mp3 of one of the tracks, Ditshe Tshiekutala.

Posted by Warren at 06:16 PM

November 04, 2004

Hip Hop Resistance In Exile: Myanmar Future Generation

Myanmar is a country that has spent the past forty years under the dictatorial rule of successive military regimes. In that time, these regimes have effectively destroyed civil rights, attempted to ethnically cleanse the country of undesirable minorities, amassed a slave labour force comparable to that which existed in the US prior to emancipation, and tried to brutally silence any form of dissent – including political hip hop. In that arena, one of the current regime's prime targets is Myanmar Future Generation, a posse of up to sixteen Burmese in exile who write hip hop anthems that are highly critical of the Burmese junta. They have been going for a year now and recently released their first full length album on the net. Their choice of this, over of methods of distribution, was based on the hope that it would make their music more accessible to young people back in Myanmar. (They also released karaoke version of their songs, with songsheets in Burmese, to encourage the kids to download and sing along.) Their album can be downloaded from this site.

Posted by Warren at 10:14 PM