Post-contact outback Australia is a land that has been divvied up and delineated by wires – wires nailed to fence-posts to mark out properties; wires strung atop poles to deliver power and telecommunications. If you’ve spent any time driving through it, these wires (and the road under your wheels) are often the only discernable reminders of the European conquest of this sparsely populated continent. (Until, of course, you come across the inevitable roadhouse/internet café in the middle of nowhere.)
So, its somehow appropriate that the two artists who have been most active in exploiting the musical potential of such long-span wires, are both Australian.
First up is Alan Lamb, who records the sounds made by telegraph wires as they vibrate in the wind. He started doing this in the late 80’s, after acquiring a property near Fitzgerald National Park in southern Western Australia, that was traversed by these wires. The recordings he made were done by attaching contact mikes to the wires and waiting for the wind to set them in motion. The results are an eerie mix of glacially surging tones and slow-motion laser gun blasts. Here’s a remixed sample from his 1995 CD, Archival Recordings.
Unlike Lamb, who passively records the sounds produced by wires, avant-garde violinist Jon Rose seeks out continent-spanning barriers like the rabbit proof fence, and hammers and saws tones out of them with help of violin and cello bows. Where Lamb’s recordings surge and spike, Rose’s rattle and splinter. Here’s a sample recorded on the perimeter fence of a communications site near Alice Springs. Its taken from the CD, Great Fences of Australia (which was released with a complimentary piece of barbed wire.)
While you’re waiting for the release of the live CD of Symphony #13 by veteran NYC art-rock guitarist Glenn Branca, which was recorded in New York, back in October, with 80 guitars, and 20 basses and drums; you might want to check out one of his more inspired pieces of axe modification – the double bodied guitar. (via Music Thing)
Currently doing the rounds of the film festival circuit is a film about the Edelweiss Pirates, a group who occupy a prominent place in the youth counter-culture movements that thrived on the fringes of Nazi German society. The Pirates were a loose organization of largely working kids from the Cologne area, who inherited a love of the outdoors as a place for (relatively) unfettered self-exploration from the pre-Nazi German Youth Movement, and turned it into a touchstone for rebellion against the strict regimentation of Hitler Youth culture. As part of this rebellion, they were open to a free mixing of the sexes (which the Hitler Youth never allowed); they tagged Cologne with anti-Nazi graffiti; aligned themselves German anti-Nazi movements like the White Rose Society; sheltered Army deserters; and, in 1944, even killed the head of the Cologne Gestapo. (The reprisals they faced for their more subversive activities were naturally brutal, and culminated in the hanging of a number of their members.)
Like any form of self-respecting youth counter-culture, they also articulated their opposition through music. Primarily, they used parodies of Hitler Youth tunes and patriotic songs like “The Watch on The Rhine"; substituting the words “Beloved fatherland, have no fear, Beloved fatherland, have no fear” with “Beloved fatherland, have no fear, Nazi pigs still stink here.” Recently, a group of Cologne-based musicians set out to produce updated versions of their anti-Nazi anthems. The results can be heard here (German language only write-ups)
Unlike the direct action oriented Edelweiss Pirates, the Swing Kids were a group of teens whose rebellion revolved entirely around a fashion and a genre of music – swing. For the fanatically racist authorities of the time, swing was a complete anathema. After all, it had largely been developed by blacks and, according to the paranoid Nazi worldview, it was being spread like a virus by Jewish music industry moguls. For middle class kids in Berlin and Hamburg in the early 40’s, however, it represented a way of thumbing their nose at Hitler Youth culture without being overtly political. Instead of getting buzz cuts, donning khakis, and engaging in paramilitary outdoor activities; they let their hair grow, decked themselves in big suits, cavorted with the opposite sex in clandestine swing clubs, and listened to banned imports of Louis Armstrong’s Tiger Rag. (If you want a good introduction to the scene, check out the 1993 film, Swing Kids… But be warned: it has the most appallingly mawkish ending imaginable.)
The story of swing in Nazi Germany, however, doesn't end with a few disaffected boho jungen. (Indeed, if the recent film of Hitler’s last days, Downfall, is to be believed; swing made its way into inner circle parties, thanks to Eva Braun.) On a more official level, swing was seen by Goebbels as a useful means of making his long-range propaganda broadcasts palatable to Allied audiences. And, for this purpose, he enlisted a group of swing-proficient German musicians to make versions of American swing songs with pro-Nazi lyrics. They were known as Charlie And His Orchestra. The musicians agreed to take part largely because it meant they would be exempt from military service, but they were supposedly not that sympathetic to the Nazi cause (for the most part, they didn’t even understand the English lyrics that were being sung over their music). They even had a drummer, Fritz Brocksieper, who came from Jewish stock. If you want to hear a fairly comprehensive selection of the Orchestra’s music, check out this posting on the WFMU blog. As pieces of propaganda, they leave no stone unturned – pleasant enough renditions of standards like Sheik of Araby and Indian Love Call are transformed mid-song into smirking demolitions of Winston Churchill and the Anglo-American alliance.
If this is more than a mere furphy, then get ready for the inevitable round of glib speculation about the redundancy of musicians… Apparently, a pair of ubergeeks who made their millions as VoIP developers, have been squirreling away at the problem of polyphonic MIDI transcription and finally found a way of making it viable. (Polyphonic transcription is the ability to translate a piece of music with more than one note playing at one time (ie chords) into MIDI code sequences. Up till now, this has been only 80% possible, which means that 20% of the notes are lost. So it hasn’t really been viable…)
In a couple of weeks time, however, the VoIP geeks are promising to debut faithful MIDI reproductions of old recordings by two long-dead piano virtuosos. Naturally, the recordings contain plenty of polyphony, and if they can pull it off, it will be like cold fusion… that works. We await the debut with serious interest… (via Music Thing)
Sita Sings The Blues is a work-in-progress by American animator Nina Paley, which retells the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana from the perspective of the hero’s wife Sita, and does it as a series of animated video clips set to recordings of 20’s (Western) jazz love songs. So far, she’s completed four episodes, and they can all be downloaded as Quicktime files from her site. (But, be warned: the files are around 20 Mb a piece, so they might take a little while to download. Well worth the effort though. via grow a brain)
A bit of a blast from the recent past via Music For Maniacs: It’s the debut single from The Burka Band, a group of young women from Kabul who came together during a series of musical workshops conducted in that city by the German record label ata tak back in late 2002. In keeping with their name, they perform in burkas, and write songs about… burkas. In this one, which was a hit in Germany in 2003, a drolly comic rap about this formerly mandatory item of female attire (… my mother wears a burka… my father does it too… I have to wear a burka… the burka it is blue...) is intoned in nursery-rhyme style over stout, echoing drums and chirping, squelching guitar and synth. Very cute, very funny, and remixed by Barbara Morgenstern on the B-side.
Last week, I posted a link about Music Thing's research into the origins of ice cream van music and in response, I received the following comment from Rummage reader and fellow blogger, Bummpy:
I recently got back from a trip to visit my brother in Taipei.
I figured I'd jump on and fill you in on interesting tid-bit of information.
Taipei is such a densely packed metropolis, there's no easy way to coordinate garbage removal. So the way they got around this was to mount speakers to the garbage trucks to let people know they are coming. Only thing about it is that they play the same music ice cream trucks play back in the states. It's completely bazaar.
He promised a couple of video samples, and here's one of them which comes complete with commentary worth bottling (then later sampling)... Yes, the music your hear... is a freaking garbage truck... Not an ice cream truck... Its a freaking garbage truck... Its the truth, I shit you not...
Freaking great find, Bummpy!
Considering that there are a significant number of Germans who yearn to be buried to the strains of AC/DC and Metallica, it comes as no surprise to learn that a pair of wacky interface design students from that country have come up with a sampler that is controlled... by headbanging.
Using a helmet with built-in accelerometers, Bangarama is able match the volume and speed of a guitar sample to the vigorousness of the banging. To enhance the experience, the inventors - Laszlo Bardos and Stefan Korinek from the Media Computing Group at RWTH Aachen University - have built a guitar-shaped sample selector which "would act as a "airguitar" simulation - a instrument which is widely used by headbangers".
Right now, as you can see from these videos, the design of Bangarama is fairly rudimentary, and frankly rather... unrock. Thankfully, Laszlo and Stefan are aware of this and have plans to "install a long haired wig on the helmet to maximize the "rockness" of Bangarama".
If you ask me, this is an idea whose time has come; and in less than a year, I expect to see videogaming arcades everywhere filled with the flailing tresses of young metalheads jerking away to its inevitable offspring, Headbang Headbang Revolution. (via We Make Money Not Art)
From WFMU (once again) comes this interesting little episode in Canadian broadcasting history...
Back in the early 80's, the staff at a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation operated radio station in Northern Canada went out on strike, and left the station in the hands of its Inuit janitor and his mates... who valiantly carried on the work of producing and broadcasting programmes.
And they made a pretty decent fist of it. Their output during their tenure as ad hoc producers/announcers included an Inukitut version of You Are My Sunshine, a live commentated Heart Of Stone, an ode to Ayatollah Khomeini, a DIY beer commercial, and a slab of Inuit Cheeh-and-Chong inspired humour.
Imagine Hank Williams, Robert Johnson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, George Jones, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Dolemite, Thomas Edison, Uncle Jesse, Grandpa Munster, Groucho Marx, Johnny B. Goode, Casanova, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Sitting Bull in one body...
And the vision that will appear in your reeling head will be Hasil Adkins, a giant in the field of demented rockabilly. He was a primal influence on the Cramps and once recorded an entire album devoted to chickens. If you want to hear the man in all his glory, check out this lurching lo-fi Real Audio recording of his ode to romantic decapitation, We Got A Date. (It's the start of an archived WFMU radio show.)
Sadly, he passed away in his West Virginia home last week at the age of 68.
(FOOTNOTE: The opening quote comes from his official site.)