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All Tomorrows Parties: Jeff Mangum

Just back from a fab All Tomorrow's Parties, this one curated by Jeff Mangum. As well as the bands, he curated quite an educational TV channel throughout the event - we got to learn about Chomsky, Zizek, the Bali islanders, oh and Monty Python on endless loop.

Some of the things I saw:

  • Elephant 6 Holiday Suprise - best thing about that was the ending, when they played a Sun Ra song and then started to process off the stage, led by the sousaphone player and the saw player (the saw player sticking his saw in the sousaphone and banging it!) - they led us outside singing the Sun Ra refrain, "This here, our invitation, we invite you, to our space world"...
  • Charlemagne Palestine played a wine glass nicely, but then when he settled into his long two-note piano tranceout it got really boring.
  • Joanna Newsom - quite amazing to see her play. That surprised me, I know her music but seeing her playing live, the intricacy of the harp and her twisty twindy vocals is kinda mesmerising. It's less interesting when she's playing the piano.
  • Matana Roberts and Seb Rochford did some delightful delicate free-jazz together. It's amazing watching Seb Rochford play, even when he isn't actually playing.
  • John Spencer Blues Explosion - amen to that.

That was all on the first day, fantastically enough. The best things about day two were:

  • Cream tea in town, with wortleberry jam, yum.
  • Flumes in the Butlin's swimming pool. The "space bowl" flume was brilliant. Word to the wise, if you're ever there...

Musically there wasn't much I planned to see on the second day. Two bands that are pretty new to me but I was looking forward to were Demdike Stare and Yamantaka // Sonic Titan. Both of them were a little bit underwhelming - Demdike Stare is atmospheric and has good video, but not sure it built up to much. Yamantaka were pretty good, especially their song "Queens", and they had some great costumery, with one of the singers looking like some big hair-creature out of a Studio Ghlibli film.

Sunday we had a lovely beef roast, though I cocked up the gravy so we had none. Then music. The Magic Band were a massive disappointment, not a credit to Beefheart's legacy IMHO, just some noodley noodle. However, they were bad enough that we went next door for Olivia Tremor Control who were fantastic. Their mixture of straight indie-pop and "musique concrete"-like sonic experimentation is just brill, neither of the two components losing out to the other.

Sun Ra Arkestra were also great fun, some great jazz ing. A bit more straightforward jazz than I might have expected, but with a notable appearance of a lovely electrical wind instrument, a buzzy little device played really well by the lead sax bloke.

Later on we joined a queue that had already been queueing for an hour to see Jeff Mangum. It was quite a pleasant queue and the ale people were delivering ale, so we didn't mind queueing for another three quarters of an hour (while Jeff played inside) and eventually went in to catch the last three tracks of his set, including "Two-headed boy" for which most of the crowd sang along. Lovely atmosphere in there. Though apparently the real closing event was a secret gig later that night where Jeff plus Elephant 6 crew, Sun Ra Arkestra and assorted others had a big old jam session...

Monday 12th March 2012 | music | Permalink

MCLD vs Kiti le Step, out now

Chordpunch has put online a video and free download of my performance last year with Kiti le Step. Check it out, here's the video:

Thursday 9th February 2012 | music | Permalink

What is a musical work? What is a performance of it?

Yesterday I went to a philosophy talk by Margaret Moore, on timbre and the ontology of music. I'd better say up front that I'm not a philosopher and I don't know the literature she was referring to. But I found it a frustrating talk - she was considering a position she calls "timbral sonicism" attributed to Julian Dodd, and asserting what she held to be problems with adding timbre (as well as pitch and duration) into the account of what a musical work can be, in terms of it being a normative description which a particular performance might or might not match.

I thought her argument had a couple of weird components in it: the dodgy assertion that there can never be a synthesiser whose sound was indistinguishable from that of a real instrument (unless the synth actually was functionally equivalent), and the requirement that a performance would have to match all dimensions of timbre (rather than just, say, the brightness dimension) in a performance before Dodd's inclusion of timbre as normative could make sense. But those problems are irrelevant for me because this "timbral sonicist" view is part of the "aesthetic empiricist" approach in which you have to claim that our evaluation of a music performance must only be done in terms of the sonic content of that performance. This is so clearly misguided that I don't see the point talking about it: this is the main reason I was frustrated. Music performances are so many and varied, and many other criteria come into our assessments - not only assessments of whether it was a good performance, but more importantly of whether it was indeed a performance of a particular work. We judge based on our own background and cultural expectations, we judge based upon what we see, on what we believe (e.g. whether the performers are humans or holograms).

But there are some interesting things in this philosophical consideration of the ontology of music, and it led me to think, so let me address one issue in my own way (with an uninformed disregard for any literature on the topic!):

This question is one that was floating about: What is a musical work? and more pertinently How do we judge whether a particular performance is indeed an instantiation of a particular musical work?

For me there are two really important components to answer this:

  1. The concept of "a musical work" only has meaning in some musical traditions, e.g. Western classical or Western pop. In other traditions (e.g. free improv, raga, and I think gamelan) the abstract structures that give form to a musical act have different granularities, and are brought to bear in different combinations.

  2. As Moore said, a musical work can be described as an abstract "sound structure" or a "normative type". The latter is Moore's preferred, and I think she draws some difference between those two, though I can't be sure what the exact differences are. I think the idea of a musical work as a normative type is a useful one, and it reminds me strongly of the idea of an abstract class or abstract type in object-oriented programming: a composer might specify a particular series of notes, for example, and not bother to specify every note's timbre, or not bother to specify which instrument must be used, so we consider it an incomplete specification. The specification is fuzzy as well as incomplete: a composer might specify "getting faster" but not exactly how much.

So in my way of thinking, putting these two points together, a musical work is not special: other abstract things that can be instantiated in a performance (genres, cliches, keys) are the same kind of normative type, and they don't have to sit in a hierarchical relationship to each other. Musical works don't have special status in general, but are a bundle of normative constraints which have a particular granularity that we are used to in Western music.

To say a musical performance is an instance of a particular musical work, then, we check if the constraints are satisfied. We'd need to allow for errors (a few constraints not met, a few constraints sort-of-met) - our tolerance depends on our expectations (maybe we tolerate timbre deviations more readily than pitch deviations, in a particular tradition; maybe we tolerate wider deviations in a school band than a professional orchestra). Criteria should also depend on context in the form of the background corpus - are enough contraints met that we can positively say this is a performance of work A and not of another work B?

But again, to describe it as work A vs work B is only really relevant in the Western idea of a "musical work", in which the piece (e.g. the sequence of notes) is so tightly specified that it's generally only ever a realisation of one work. In other situations, a performer might simultaneously be performing two traditional Irish tunes, woven in and out of each other, and that's the way these tunes are expected to be treated: the result is not a bastardised new work but a simultaneous realisation of two known normative types.

I must also state explicitly that I don't believe for a second that such normative types must only ever include acoustic or psychoacoustic properties (which is the line Moore was sticking to in her talk - whether to criticise it from within, or whether she believes it, I don't know). In some traditions in may be explicit or implicit that a work can only be played on a piano and not on a synthesiser: that's a constraint about the means of production, not about the sound that is produced. Our choice of how strongly to attend to that part of the specification affects our judgment of whether a particular performance counts as an instantiation of a particular work. But there is no a priori way to know what balance of judgments is correct: constraints are always fuzzy (was that definitely a C#, or was it slightly flat?) and pretty much any normative description of musical structure is under-specified.

In this view, pitch, timbre, rhythm, duration, instrumentation, lyrics, and potentially other stuff such as the performer's clothing all have the same status: they are examples of things that in the Western tradition are specified to a greater or lesser extent at the level of a "musical work". (Note that there's not much limit to what might be specified: in raga, the time of day is specified, though that idea might be a surprise to many Western listeners.) And musical works have the same status as genres, cliches, motifs etc, as bundles of constraints which I hope fit Moore's term "normative types". These constraints are brought to bear in what a performer chooses to do in a given performance, and also brought to bear by observers in deciding if it really was "a good/faithful rendition of the piece" or "a trad jazz show".

So is there a use for this? I can't speak for the philosophers, but in Music Information Retrieval I'm reminded of the task of "cover song identification", i.e. determining automatically if a recording is an instantiation of a particular piece (which might be represented as score, or might be represented as a reference recording). All too often, this task is reduced depressingly quickly to the question of whether the melody or chord sequence matches sufficiently. This is an impoverished idea of the "cover song" and fails badly for many widespread genres - an obvious one is hip-hop, but also much club music.

If it were possible, I'd like to imagine a system which does something like "cover song identification" by identifying from a wide number of potential dimensions the specific constraints that a musical work represents, over and above the constraints of any assumed background such as genre or common corpus of known works. It would then use these constraints to identify matching instances. In order to do this usefully, it would need to identify enough constraints that distinguish a work from other candidate works, but would need to leave enough dimensions free (or loosely specified) to allow interpretative variation. What can be held fixed, and what can be allowed to vary, clearly depends on musical tradition, so the context for such an inference would need to be aware not just of a corpus of musical work but probably some cultural parameters that couldn't be inferred directly from audio, no matter how much audio is available.

Thursday 9th February 2012 | music | Permalink

Generative art and UK copyright law - good news

One of the things you can do with SuperCollider is write computer programs that automatically generate music. So, for example, when we did the sc140 compilation of generative music tweets, we published a set of very short computer programs, many of which had some randomness in them so every time you run it you get a different musical output.

Fantastic eh? But there's a problem, one that we've discussed among ourselves: copyright only applies to things that are put in "fixed form". That idea, of "fixed form", is crucial to understanding copyright - for example, it's why you can't copyright an idea (we have patents instead, for ideas). Often, the fixed form is writing something down. For music, it might mean writing the score down or recording the audio - those involve different sorts of copyright actually, but they both create copyright, making something concrete.

So what's the problem? Generative music creates a new score each time, and new audio each time. The underlying program might stay the same, but because of the randomness built in, the music doesn't really have a fixed form in the traditional sense.

Well, to be honest, the discussion on the SuperCollider list ended up slightly despairing, with the consensus being that we could copyright the program that generated the music, but then if we publish the program and some arbitrary person runs the program to generate some music, we would have no control over what they might do with the music that came out of it. We couldn't even require them to say that our code was responsible for making it. For an analogy, think of a word-processor: do the people who make word-processors have rights over the documents you write? No. But in our case, we felt that the difference was that it was our creative/artistic effort that was represented in the output - not the efforts of whoever happened to press the "Go" button.

As far as we knew, the law was not able to help us. Of course, generative art is a bit of a niche affair and a recentish conceptual innovation, so it wouldn't be surprising if the law wasn't drafted to help us.

But following a tweet about a generative artwork made of wild flowers, I was alerted to the fact that in the UK, UK copyright law defines a category of "computer-generated work", where the copyright can be attributed back to the author of the program! See this quote:

Interesting questions arise in the context of computer-generated art works. It is important, first, to distinguish between "computer-generated" and "computer-aided" works. Computer-aided works do not receive special treatment under the CDPA. This is the case where the work is largely generated by a human author, although a computer is used incidentally in order to facilitate the task. An example is a book written on a word processor. The computer is a labour-saving tool. Section 178 of the CDPA defines a computer-generated artwork as one generated by a computer in circumstances such that there is no human author of it. Provided it is original and satisfies the other relevant criteria for copyright protection discussed earlier, a computer-generated work can benefit from copyright protection. However, the interesting question is who the author of the work for copyright purposes is--section 9(3) of the CDPA provides that in the case of a computer-generated work, the author shall be taken to be "the person by whom the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work are undertaken". It is a point of debate as to what precisely is meant by the ambiguous words "the person by whom the arrangements necesary for the creation of the work are undertaken".
"Art and copyright", Stokes, S. (2001), Section 5.2 (p88)

The author discusses the issue a little futher, mentioning a case (under an older act) "Express Newspapers plc v. Liverpool Daily Post & Echo plc", in which the programmer was ruled to be the author of some generative text.

For computer-generated work, the duration of copyright protection is 50 years from when the work was created. This is specifically about UK law and I don't know what equivalents there may be internationally, but from my point of view this is extremely good news for people who make generative music and other generative art. Which happens to include me.

Many thanks to Copyright Girl (Emily Goodhand of Reading University) for the pointer to this information! Remember that of course I'm not a lawyer and I've no idea if she is ;)

Wednesday 16th February 2011 | music | Permalink

Cookie I think you're tame? Covering the Pixies

A friend of mine is one of the artists on this new cover album of Doolittle by the Pixies. In some ways it should be "easy" to cover the Pixies: their songs often have really clear straight chord progressions and melodies (despite a lot of the surface signifiers of weirdness), so there's a lot of room for doing different things with those ingredients. But for some songs it's got to be really difficult, because a lot of the point is bound up in Frank Black's delivery. There's no point doing a "respectful" cover where you try to emulate the original closely - you'll just end up sounding almost like it but with something lacking. But for a song where the original delivery is really important, you're really going to have to do something extra to give the new version a point.

Take Hey!. That's an amazing song, it's kind of a poem, where Frank Black's delivery carries about half of the meaning. The lyrics have various shouts of "Hey!" and "Uh!" throughout, and it's those exclamations/grunts and the multiple meanings attached to them that are really the focus of the song, what it means about sex and life.

So, basically, I wouldn't want to be in the position of having to do a cover of Hey!. That would be really difficult. If I had to, I'd probably try and get some spoken word artist to read it out so the drama and the meaning would be the main thing, then try desperately to come up with an instrumentation to wrap around it. Anyway, enough about me. On this cover album the group have done I think pretty much the opposite, doing a fairly straight cover but with a soft vocal that mimics a lot of the melodic variation but drops a lot of the meaning (and even one of the important "Uh!"s) out of the lyrics. You're left with a decent chord progression and that lovely gentle solo but none of the impact.

Oh but wait the first track does exactly what you SHOULD do with a cover version, trample all over the original. They even call it Rebaser rather than Debaser, and it's an upbeat kinda UK urban cover, using the same tune and words of course but chopping and changing all the surface stuff around so that what comes out has a completely different feel to it. I love the way they say "Andalucia" together, and "Oh-ho-ho-ho", together sounding like a party rather than a raving madman. In the original, near the end Frank Black is screaming the word "debaser" while Kim Deal sings the same word in a gentle melody behind. In the cover, a female vocalist says "Ya" then the beat stops and a male vocalist does the melodic version in a kind of aggressive way. Every component is done different, and it comes out overall very different but I think kinda with the same spirit.

OK, one thing that's for sure is that some Pixies tracks are easier than others, and maybe there was a fight over who got to cover which track when they did this album. It's not these artist's fault that Hey is inherently a performed poem and Debaser is inherently a glorious racket. But when doing a cover of a track you've really got to be disrespectful, you can't be tame. Tracks 2 to 5 on this covers album are such limp respectful playthroughs of the originals that they're not really worth the time. After the brilliant opening of track 1, it's not til track 6 that the artists start pissing on the Pixies legacy again and make some good music. From there on it's much more interesting.

On track 6, Babyslave take Dead in an interesting kind of funky europop direction, stripping the original of it's starkness but re-using the weird punctuated rhythm for surprisingly poppy means. Who would have thought that would be so much fun?

Then John Callaghan, who I know from past experience we can trust to be properly disrespectful and piss on old icons, does something quite amazing with Mr Grieves. I don't think I should describe it in too much detail but suffice to say he re-uses some audio from the original together with some lovely synth stuff, rebuilding a kooky kitsch pop song directly on top of the ruins of the kooky rock original.

Another track where the original relies a lot on the vocal style is There goes my gun. In the orignal, the verses are a weird set of shouted calls like someone shouting "Friend or foe?!" to someone across a field. I don't really know what Frank Black was getting at in this one, but what are you supposed to do if you're covering it, just shout the same things? Luckily Ultrafoetus sidesteps that by recasting the thing so it sounds like a weird dark swingtime, um - shanty? I don't think that's the word I'm looking for, but it's certainly got a seasick swagger to it. The verses are delivered as deep rumbly growls, so despite using the same words, the verse plays a completely different role: scary monster rather than nervous soldier.

So yes this album is a mixed bag but it has some great reworkings really worth checking out. It reflects well on the Pixies in some of the uniqueness of their style as well as the solidness of their songwriting (compare this against the many Radiohead covers such as the excellent Radiodread - these reveal that Radiohead write solid songs and then cover them in digital fluff to try and pretend they're doing something weirder). Listen/download from bandcamp.

Saturday 5th February 2011 | music | Permalink

Automatic playlist: Food For Animals

Developing music-playlisting software is really difficult: it keeps giving me monster tracks that I just have to listen to.

Here's an example: in our software SoundBite I gave it a seed track Elephants by Food for Animals. It then made a playlist of things it thought were similar. Here's the results:

I defy anyone not to go mental to that playlist. There are a couple of weird matches (generally the indie ones I don't hear a connection - Decemberists and Life Without Buildings) but the others fit the approximate atmosphere of that input track so well, it's really quite impressive. If someone had asked me to think of things similar to the seed track, I would probably have said Saul Williams and some Clouddead maybe?

Wednesday 28th July 2010 | music | Permalink

Codebox 30min jam 1

Here's a 30 minute jam using my livecoding+beatboxing setup, some pretty good sounds I reckon:

Codebox 30min jam 1 by mcld

If you haven't seen me live, a quick explanation: this is live coding where I'm programming the music and sound effects, at the same time as beatboxing. It's all improvised from scratch and I do it in front of audiences. Here's a BBC video (featuring me) about live coding.

Saturday 10th October 2009 | music | Permalink

Improvising

Lots can go wrong when you do a gig. You improvise around it, and sometimes when that happens it's obvious from the way people talk that the end result didn't do much for them - but sometimes it's clear from the way people talk that they were into it. Tonight was a mix of those two: I had some technical issues that stopped me from doing some stuff in the way I'd planned, but it was no disaster, improvising around that led to different things.

If you're a gigging musician, live improv is an exhilirating experience, a million times more than playing pre-planned stuff, your whole mind has to be involved and yes you can make all sorts of music happen that just wasn't there before. Live coding is how to do that with computers. (You can "improvise" with traditional music software but it's so constrained that it barely counts.) It's not all plain sailing, especially when there's technology in the picture, but every single show has new things and new discoveries.

Improvise or die!

Improvise and die!

One of the two.

Friday 2nd October 2009 | music | Permalink

Some albums I didn't realise I was going to completely love

Sometimes you buy albums and the reality doesn't live up to the promise, but it seems like recently I've been doing the opposite: getting albums cos they pop up in last.fm or emusic or whatever but not expecting much, then a couple of months later I realise I'm obsessed with that album and couldn't imagine life without it. Here are some:

Kira Kira: Skotta

I was in Copenhagen and suddenly came across a branch of 12 Tonar the icelandic record shop. Well I had to go in there and buy something and I ended up with this - at the time I thought it was good, but I also thought that it was one of those musical equivalents of a holiday-romance, you know? You get home and you realise there's nothing to it. But how wrong I was. Kira Kira makes ambient abstract wandery music, and a lot of people do. But this stuff is somehow really meaningful, the atmospherics don't seem to be just there for their own sake, there's stuff going on in here.

Scientists of Modern Music: Electronic Sunset

Tuneful synthpop, vocoders everywhere, surely too glossy for my taste? No way! This album rocks. Even the instrumentalish tracks are great.

Maybeshewill: Not for want of trying

I love the recent tendency towards proper heavy math-rock. For example You Slut whose amazing single On the count of 13 blows me away. I expected to love their album and it's good but somehow this other band, Maybeshewill, I downloaded their album just to see, and it's just amazing. The way they push the dynamics around (e.g. on Seraphim & Cherubim) really pulls the raw emotion out of those heavy mathy chords, something expert there that I don't understand. (The sound reminds me of a band I liked a while back called Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia, by the way. Anyone remember them? Post-rock with great desolate lyrics)

Xavier Rudd: Food In The Belly

When I first heard Xavier Rudd I thought it was nice stuff, but not my usual sort of thing, reminded me of Paul Simon a bit too much. It's very wholesome music, the kind of thing you might expect to hear while you're wandering around the hippy shop, and I don't normally expect to want to own that kind of music. This stuff is so good though, the songwriting has enough meat to it that it bears many listens. He plays the guitar so nicely, and the didgeridoo too... properly...

Alan Jenkins and the Thurston Lava Tube: Free Surf Music #1

Out-there experimental surf music. Twangy guitar, spasmodic drum machines, sax, strange sound effects... and some free-jazz-ish wandering too. Whatís going on?

That description sounds like a record you might play to impress people with what a weird record collection you have, you know, nothing more than an insane novelty. But the slightly out-there-ness and the zany track names might distract you from the fact that there are some brilliant surfy tunes in here, great enough to be famous. (But they aren't, of course.)

Animal Collective: Hollinndagain

Very abstract, strangely primal music this album. Animal Collective vary a lot, between weird out-there stuff and tuneful melody. I don't think I'd have liked them if I started from the normal end. This is the weird end. But it's not just some noodling - it has an amazing creative atmosphere, where primal stuff and weird sounds mix together to create inexplicably great moments.

Sunday 13th September 2009 | music | Permalink

Guthman New Musical Instrument Competition

I've just had the honour of performing in the public finale of the Guthman New Musical Instrument Competition. It was great to meet some people I already know via oddmusic.com (Neil Feather and Peter Blasser) and also lots of new people with great ideas. Best of all, I performed in a concert as one of the nine maddest new musical instruments in the world :)

One of my favourites was Arvid and his Toob, a really neat wireless interface played a bit like a trumpet. But to pick favourites is actually quite unfair since everyone was coming from their own angle: some were conceptual, some were installation art, some were electronics research, some were electroacoustic music, some were just good instruments. It was especially good that individual artists/makers did so well: although there were some coming out of university funded projects, plenty of self-supported people got into the final and got recognition.

Another great thing was the amount of improv involved: the majority of the contestants, and of the finalists, improvised their pieces, and that's what I like to see. Nothing against planned pieces, don't get me wrong; I just love it when the creativity happens right there on stage.

Big shout outs to all the Georgia Tech folks I met, who were so involved in the proceedings, and to all the instrument makers too. Looking forward to seeing pics+vids etc.

Tuesday 3rd March 2009 | music | Permalink

The best selling MP3 album of 2008 was free

Cool news: The best-selling MP3 album at Amazon in 2008 was Nine Inch Nailsí Ghosts I-IV, which was released free under a Creative Commons license.

The album made more than $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week, and hitting #1 on Billboardís Electronic charts, Last.fm has the album ranked as the 4th-most-listened to album of the year, with over 5,222,525 scrobbles.

From this blog at longtail.com

Tuesday 17th February 2009 | music | Permalink

Portishead: Third

Portishead's Third album completely recreates what they were meant to be. Their second album was frankly disappointing: it was the first album again, but with the subtlety removed. It was stuck within the clichťs that Portishead laid around themselves through the success of the first album. The third album destroys all of that and rebuilds it from the ground up, with added weird noise built into the foundations.

Take the very start of the record: a harsh distorted foreign radio presenter tells us something, I don't know what, and then a rhythm starts - but then guitar echoes come in, aggressively out-of-time with the beat, trying to start a fight with the beat, kick it over. And Beth Gibbons' singing in the same as it ever was, but laid on a chord progression that is weirdly rootless, never resolving but never wrong.

The album is full of moments like that, all the Portishead elements still there but rebuilt with aggressive experiment. There's a moment where a song stops for a jaw-dropping solo consisting of ten seconds of skronking bassoon noise, richocheting off a brick wall of an echo, and then it slides into the rest of the song, and it works perfectly.

I'm writing this in a notebook a long way away from my copy of the album but it's an album that you can't forget. It makes previous Portishead seem kind of narrow, coy, and this time they've come out into the open.

Sunday 25th January 2009 | music | Permalink

Turning real music into 8-bit music

You might have heard some of the funky funky music still being made on old 8-bit computers. For example the AY Riders' delightful cover of Hung Up by Madonna. I got an email from someone asking if it was possible to take any MP3 and automatically turn it into chiptune music. The answer is, it's tricky...

One of the problems would be a kind of "reverse engineering" thing about calculating which notes are present in the music, and when they start and stop - I know from some of my research that that's surprisingly difficult, and computers can't yet do it very reliably. If you have no polyphony (only ever one note happening at a time) then the pitch can be tracked pretty well. But when there are multiple sounds at once, things get difficult...

I know that "polyphonic pitch tracking" is an ongoing research area. Maybe there are already some decent systems that can already do it, I'm not sure. Once that problem is cracked, then it's just a case of resynthesising the notes using a chiptuney palette.

OK, so polyphony might get in our way, but let's have a simple-minded go at it anyway. Here's some code which runs in SuperCollider (you also need the Tartini plugin and the MP3 quark). It takes an arbitrary MP3 and makes it into a chippy-sounding pulse wave:

s.boot;
(
SynthDef("help_mp3_01", { |bufnum = 0|
    var son, pitch, amp, wibble;
    son = DiskIn.ar(2, bufnum).mean;
    pitch = Tartini.kr(son)[0];
    amp = Amplitude.ar(son);
    pitch = Median.kr(5, pitch); // smooth
    pitch = pitch.min(10000).max(10); // limit
    pitch = pitch.cpsmidi.round.midicps; // coerce
    wibble = Pulse.ar(pitch, 0.2, amp * 2); // resynthesise
    wibble = FreeVerb.ar(wibble, 0.3, 0.1, 0.9); // bit of reverb just to taste
    Out.ar(0, wibble.dup);
}).memStore;
)

// Now let's create the MP3 object and cue it into a Buffer.
m = MP3("../mp3s/Gimme A Pig Foot And A Bottle Of Beer.mp3");   
m.start;
b = Buffer.cueSoundFile(s, m.fifo, 0, 2);
// Off we go:
x = Synth("help_mp3_01", [\bufnum, b.bufnum], addAction:\addToTail);

// Please remember to tidy up after yourself:
x.free;
b.close; b.free;
m.finish;

And how does it sound? Depends what you put into it. Often it goes disastrously wrong. But here's a rendering of Bessie Smith's Gimme A Pig Foot And A Bottle Of Beer:

(Audio hosted at archive.org)

Saturday 17th January 2009 | music | Permalink

New soundtracks for Old films

I've seen a few people adding new soundtracks to old films over the years. It's an interesting idea but I reckon it's really hard to get right. Some highlights/lowlights from my experience:

  • aPAtT performed a live soundtrack to the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu. You can download it here. Their soundtrack is great, partly cos they've got a wide selection of sounds they can do (from melodic to abstract, etc) and cos the music changes well with the scene-changes and atmosphere-changes. There's a brilliant bit near the end where two different sorts of "travelling" music overlap each other, while the film shows us two different journeys happening in parallel. And the scary climax of the film has a really great accompaniment, really worth seeing.
  • A few years ago I saw Faust soundtracking Nosferatu (i.e. the same film as aPAtT), which was less good, to be honest - they seemed to be enjoying themselves too much making music, and didn't make enough of an attempt to attach to the contours of the film.
  • I think the worst attempt I saw was someone soundtracking The Big Lebowski. The reason it's so bad is that The Big Lebowski is such a verbal film, it's all about what people are saying, but the new soundtrack only included the occasional snippet of what people were saying. So we watch lots of people with their mouths moving, wonder what they're saying, and what the music's got to do with it.
  • Over Christmas BBC4 showed the original King Kong, with Rob Da Bank soundtracking it with various records. This was sometimes pointless but sometimes great. Often the soundtrack was oblivious to scene-changes or mood-changes: for example some chill music despite a scene that started chill and got exciting. Near the end there were some great choices: "It had to be you" came in as KK re-discovered Fay Wray. And despite KK being a non-silent film, the voices aren't so important, almost everything's there in the action.
  • I saw RLF soundtrack some Godzilla stuff. This was pretty good (my favourite memory is the zappy sounds which happened when jets of flame came out of monsters' mouths). One thing which is a bit of a cheat is that it was a kind of edited-Godzilla-highlights (I think) rather than a full film, so he didn't need to make sure we were following the plot or anything. It meant it wasn't dull though!
  • Oh and I also have a DVD of Wizards of the Lost Kingdom with 3 alternative soundtracks by Billy Ruffian crew. There's some great moments in there, though it's a while since I watched that - but again, Wizards is one of those films where you don't really need the voices since the action and the bizarre interjections from stock footage are all you need to know.

There's quite a variety of approaches - for example, should the soundtrack faithfully support the film (which I think is what aPAtT's does), or should it be ironical and playful, suggesting reinterpretations (which Rob da Bank did here and there)?

I do think there are some "rules" which you can generally derive about this business. As usual rules are good for breaking, but here are some suggestions:

  1. The soundtrack must fit to the broad contours of the film, reacting to things like dramatic changes in mood. Often you can deliberately contradict the intentions of the film, fine, but if there's no association in the contours then you get an icky sort of audio-visual dissocation: my ears aren't watching the same film as my eyes are.
  2. It's handy to mimic physical events in the soundtrack. All of the above do this: jets of fire cause zappy sounds, bell-like sounds happen when someone in the film hits a gong or a bell, gunshots ring out. It's pretty easy to do, and reduces the dissociation I mentioned above, but it's not compulsory, and it can be gimmicky if overused.
  3. People can't watch a full-length film without a plot (which is what happened with The Big Lebowski re-do). If you can't mix crucial bits of voice into the new soundtrack (e.g. cos of pollution from the old one) then perhaps you could give us some selected subtitles? Thanks.
  4. The standard stuff about how to score a film still applies - e.g. themes that can return later on, pushing and pulling the musical density. I think aPAtT's soundtrack does this nicely, one of the reasons it's a good un.
Sunday 4th January 2009 | music | Permalink

Hokaben Saturday

Was looking forward to Chris Corsano cos of his drumming skills. But the set was much more boring than I had expected... he was duetting with Mick Flower playing the "shaahi baaja", an instrument which didn't seem to be able to go anywhere or change the mood. So the drumming was the only thing that could provide any dynamics, and he did that, building things up, pulling things down, playing in many different ways, but he couldn't really make up for the lack of other dimensions. Luckily The Mystery of the Wax Museum was playing on the backdrop so we watched that.

Frustration of the night was that Shitmat didn't get to play, after we'd waited hours for his set. DJ Scotch Egg was pretty good, hardcore gameboy gabba madness, but I think the sets being a bit delayed meant that the venue staff wouldn't let Shitmat go on after. Massive shame for us and for mister Shitmat himself, who wasn't very happy about it either.

Oh and finally, the bouncers were annoyingly aggressive. It's understandable when they're on the door - but the moment that Scotch Egg finished, they were striding round the venue fixing people hard in the eye and saying "We're closed." Jeez.

Sunday 9th November 2008 | music | Permalink

Hokaben Friday: aPAtT win!

A couple of superlofi photos from Hokaben last night...

Skul Hazzards (above) were fun: mind-destroying riffs that never changed, sort of hypnotic but fun rather than dirgey, so that was good. I also liked Chops who did keyboards+drums in a Stereolabbish good way.

But aPAtT were the winners of the night! Five of them, and something like 10 or 12 instruments that they kept swapping around, playing music that varied unpredictably between funky fun pop and avant-garde weirdness. Some lovely tunes, occasionally featuring clarinet, glockenspiel, accordion, but also occasionally including heavy guitars and screaming. The sound technically was awful: there was so much feedback on stage that the lass had to step into the crowd when she wanted to play the violin without being buried in feedback from the monitors. But the band and the music easily rose above that and they topped off the night no problem.

Saturday 8th November 2008 | music | Permalink

Stereophonic loop beatbox jam

Sterophonic jam - MP3 file, 4.5 MB

I was programming this morning, I made this little looper system that automatically pans things around all over the place, so I jammed these little loops... just using built-in mic and everything, nothing posh but it worked pretty well.

Listen to it on headphones if you can, cos the stereo's mad!

Saturday 1st November 2008 | music | Permalink

Placard: On gigs on headphones

This weekend we did a gig at a headphones festival called Le Placard - the basic idea is instead of having loudspeakers, everyone brings a pair of headphones and plugs in, so the gig is "silent" in a way.

Spoonfight playing at Placard

I'd never even been to a headphone-session before, let alone played one, so I didn't really know what to expect. It's surprising really, there were things I'd predicted but things I hadn't predicted. A couple of thoughts:

  • It's head music only. Head music is fine but we make booty music really... and when you've got headphones instead of PA, there's nothing to shake your chest or make you feel like the music's anywhere except inside your head. Made me think about the importance of those physical aspects of a lot of music.
  • There's two separate worlds: the one with your headphones on, and the one with them off. You take your headphones off when you need to talk to your mate, or go to the bar, whatever - so you're flipping in and out quite a lot. And when you flip out, suddenly there's no music, there's just a room with some people not saying anything and some people over one side with some equipment of some sort. Weird.
  • As a listener the gig feels quite intimate, because headphones make music feel really close up, inside your head, you can really listen to the fine detail of the music. But oddly enough I think the opposite is true as a performer: there's a bit of a distancing effect from the crowd, less of a feeling of communicating directly with them, kind of because you have less of a direct physical sense of what they're experiencing. Kind of hard to put into words.

Anyway it was a fun gig to play as well as to be at, including one performance that was beamed in from Australia, the performer chatting with us on instant messenger while performing...

Monday 22nd September 2008 | music | Permalink

New podcast of the Ock show

Just finished a new music programme for the podcast. I've got hold of some absolutely amazing music, can't believe how good the playlist for this programme is, check it out: grab the MP3 or go to the Flat Four Radio site for more info.

Monday 8th September 2008 | music | Permalink

All Tomorrows Parties 2008

Highlights of the ATP festival last weekend:

Saul Williams at ATP

  1. Saul Williams and his band all glammed up like Niggy Tardust, damn they rocked.
  2. Damon made us a wicked roast dinner on the Sunday, and we had it with Matt's homebrew gooseberry wine - now that's living it up.
    Sunday lunch at ATP
  3. Dancing in the Crazy Horse (pub) - especially when the Beef Warehouse DJs got it going good and proper. (Plus they're the best-named DJs ever.)
  4. Ghostface Killah's set when a bloke from the crowd stepped up to represent UK with a nice bit of rhyming - nice one Neutronixx.

ATP outside, on Sunday when the weather became OK

There were a couple of acts that I was disappointed by (e.g. Four Tet - just cos you're fiddling with a Tenori-On doesn't make it interesting), but some good surprises too: Polvo turned out to have a nice line in melodic guitar patterns. Also good was Iron & Wine, and Animal Collective, and, erm, yeah, everyone we met... especially the woman who caught us trying to sneak our pints out of the venue...

Monday 19th May 2008 | music | Permalink

Human Beatbox Convention 2008

The 2008 Human Beatbox Convention has just ended, two or three days of more beatboxing than any sane person would ever wish to experience... some of my thoughts about it: it was wicked to meet up with other beatboxers, some I knew before, some I didn't, and do plennnnty of jamming. The main "events" were all onstage and yeah there are some beatboxers who do really good shows - Nino G springs to mind as the most showmanlike - but the kind of creativity I like is the type when half a dozen people in a circle and you're all throwing musical ideas around, keeping a beat but passing all the roles around, and the way you can play off each other without having planned it at all.

That's why I think the pre-event party was kind of the wrong format, there were two mics and it was kind of freestyle and open but still it was another stage-vs-crowd setup in the end. The atmosphere outside the party was much better, groups of people jamming who'd only just met up, that kind of thing.

I saw a million beatboxers do showcases and some of my favourites were Corroboree, Ball-Zee, and Skiller. Skiller's known for doing really really fast stuff and he does, but it's not like some mad fast D'n'B or gabba, it's more like a jazz drummer solo, and what is actually amazing about his stuff is how musical he is. I heard lots of people do really fast drumrolls this weekend but most of the others were basically showing off rather than really using them.

Ball-Zee rocking the joint

Got onstage twice myself. First because Hobbit (hosting the thing) was looking so despondent that some of the open-mic people hadn't showed up - damn I really wish I'd used the time more wisely, I basically just did my favourite beat and jumped right off stage again - and second in a mass onstage jam at the end of the last day. About thirty of us onstage, taking turns on five mics, kind of taking the group jam thing onto the stage.

Anyway got to go to bed. Met up with good people, got an american addicted to chips and curry sauce, got ideas maybe to do something for next year's convention... looking forward to seeing online videos of all the jams!

Monday 21st April 2008 | music | Permalink

New music out: guitar2

I've just published a new EP called "guitar2". It's four acoustic-guitar based tracks.

There was never a "guitar1". The name of this EP is just because the tracks were recorded in '02, or probably earlier. Just recently I found a CD of archived recordings I'd made, and the CD was dated 2002-01-03. After filtering out some of the more useless recordings I had these 4 tracks, all mainly acoustic guitar, all recorded on my Tascam 4-track using the guitar pictured on the cover art (guitar given to me by my mum, quite an old guitar now, still working fine though).

Thursday 3rd April 2008 | music | Permalink

Music playlists

I seriously doubt all this "intelligent playlist" stuff (e.g. programming computers to make playlists by automatically analysing the "mood" of yr music tracks etc). The reason? Putting yr entire music collection on shuffle is BY FAR the best way to listen to music! :)

Saturday 5th January 2008 | music | Permalink

The reacTable and the research

The reacTable is pretty big news in my research field (one name for that field is new interfaces for musical expression). It was very well-received by researchers; but then it got really big by breaking out of academia and into the real world when BjŲrk included it live onstage in her recent performances (example video here).

Her use of it is a tiny little bit gimmicky - it's mostly used to add some squeaky noises over the top of existing tracks, rather than being an integral part of arrangements, or being used with any precision - but in the mode it's being used it works fine, adding expressive daubs of sound with a really impressive expressive freedom. Watch whoever-it-is using the thing and you can see they have really fast and intuitive access to lots of effects and processing units, thanks to the very nice way the reacTable works with the little blocks that you put on it. The graphical display on the reacTable works well for the musician as well as being interesting enough to display to the audience.

This is exactly the kind of thing that should come out of the research field. The research group at UPF (in Barcelona) has a good standing in the field and has produced a lot of research. Not all of the research is theoretically 100% solid, since I remember reading a couple of papers that hurried too quickly towards the implementation, skipping over unsolved issues which really should have been solved first to make the solution worthwhile. But as with the reacTable you can really see the benefit of moving towards real implementations: putting aside commercial considerations (university research departments shouldn't have commercial considerations), the fact that the reacTable is out in the world being used and noticed means that it's now in an authentic context, used by musicians who have to tour and perform and impress a load of people. We have conferences where new interfaces are shown and demonstrated; but when the inventor shows his/her invention to a load of other inventors that's not an authentic context, it's rarified and only a shadow of what should be the real eventual target for these technologies. Open-ended research is fine, but in the Digital Music field even open-ended research should make observations, take data from real-world musical contexts. It would be nice to know how the reacTable group planned/managed the move from research to real instrument... and how much luck vs strategy was involved.

Thursday 4th October 2007 | music | Permalink

Björk: Volta

OK, so Bj√∂rk's new album Volta is a brill album: more tuneful and more fun than some of the other recent albums (Vespertine, Med√ļlla), and with some of the same kind of range of moods that was on Debut.

I would never have thought that anyone could manage to join Björk on those fluttery vocal flights she sometimes does, but Antony-from-Antony-and-the-Johnsons does exactly that on The Dull Flame Of Desire, and it works brilliantly. Antony's vocals and the slow building drumming (from Lightning Bolt!) make this one of the best tracks on the album, really worth hearing.

If you want to sample one or two tracks, try Earth Intruders (the single; NB the single version is a much better mix for some reason) and The Dull Flame Of Desire.

If you want to hear Björk trying to do an impression of Alec Empire, well, that's what Declare Independence seems to be (!). It's there with all the distortion, vocal clipping, remorseless tuneless slogan yelling, and bludgeoning beats. It's a fun track but it does tempt me to go and put on Squeeze the Trigger.

I am impressed with Antony-from-Antony-and-the-Johnsons though. He sings duet on two of the tracks. Maybe I should listen to some of his own music.

Tuesday 15th May 2007 | music | Permalink

Björk goes percussive

This is getting weird. Every time I hear of some exciting new music-makers, two months later they turn up collaborating on a Bj√∂rk album. It happened with Matmos a while ago, then it happened with the beatbox crowd - one day I was in St James Park (in the middle of London) doing beatboxing with a load of people I'd met on a message-board, the next thing I knew one of them was on Bj√∂rk's all-vocal album Med√ļlla.

Now it's happened again. Last year I was blown away, almost literally, by Lightning Bolt. Their volume and intensity in performance is mind-blowing, yet it's still colourful and fun. I like it. Also last year, a friend of mine recommended Chris Corsano, this "crazy drummer" who did some brilliant solo performances. I downloaded some of his stuff from eMusic and it's wicked. Now it turns out that both of these have been collaborating with Björk on tracks for her new album Volta!

This is good news of course. It gives tantalising hints that maybe this new Björk album is going to be full of mentalist drumming which would be brilliant. The single she's released, which was written with Timbaland, is a great track but it isn't mentalist at all, but here's hoping.

The question then is: who in the world hasn't Bj√∂rk collaborated with? I really have to think hard to think of innovative musicians I like who haven't magically appeared on a Bj√∂rk album yet, but I can think of a few. If any of these do turn up on one of her albums, then it'll be true after all - every innovative musician ends up working with Bj√∂rk: Seb Rochford, Einst√ľrzende Neubauten, Shitmat, Clouddead...

Friday 20th April 2007 | music | Permalink

My evolutionary music, as on Resonance FM

Hello to any Mixing It listeners dropping in. (One of my evolutionary tracks was picked up by Mark & Robert for their programme, now on Resonance FM.)

If you want to know where to get the music you heard, this page has MP3 links and some explanation.

Please do leave a comment, I'd like to hear from you. My music page has more things to listen to.

Wednesday 21st March 2007 | music | Permalink

Radio 3‚Äôs ‚ÄėMixing It‚Äô to be axed?

I can't believe this news: It seems Radio 3 are getting rid of Mixing It:

As reported by a blogger here, Mixing It to be axed

Mixing It has been the only source of really interesting and fun music on the BBC since John Peel died, so for me this is adding insult to injury.

Sunday 21st January 2007 | music | Permalink

Build your own festival

Next year the All Tomorrow's Parties festival is taking the unprecedented and frankly foolish step of getting the punters involved in choosing the bands they want to appear. Each of us has to come up with a list of bands they want, and the organisers will do their best to get the most requested bands to play.

I'm writing my "long list" of bands, which I'll have to (agonisingly) pare down to only 10 artists in the end. I'm trying to avoid asking for bands that have already played ATP, as well as avoiding bands that are too big/expensive/etc for the festival; plus there are bands that do really good music but aren't necessarily worth dragging over to play live. Plus there are loads of great bands that have fallen by the wayside so I have to discount them because they no longer exist (McClusky, Data Panik/Bis, Geraldine Fibbers).

Even so, it's really difficult to choose. Ideally I'd like a proper good mixture of technological madness and guitar madness. And preferably plenty of British stuff, there's been far too much American focus at ATP really. Here's the list so far, roughly in descending order:

  • Man or Astro-man?
    • The only manic surf-rock band from actual outer space. When I saw them live they had a supercomputer on vocals and played a flaming theremin. Therefore: absolutely crucial.
  • Charlotte Hatherley
    • Too tuneful/well-known for ATP? No way, get her in there!
  • Bj√∂rk
    • Bj√∂rk can do really special gigs so it could be good. Plus, her music's amazing. Hopefully she's not too big to be asked to ATP.
  • The Cardiacs
    • My new favourite old band.
  • Paul the Girl
  • Bearsuit
  • Shitmat
    • "Seminal breakcore artist" yes yes yes. ATP needs more breakcore.
  • Einst√ľrzende Neubauten
    • The ATP crowd is the ideal crowd to appreciate a band that makes music by attacking shopping trolleys with buzzsaws, or by blasting compressed air into their mouths. Neubauten invented industrial music by actually using industrial equipment to make music.
  • Help She Can't Swim
  • Botnle√įja
    • OK, so it was actually at a previous ATP that I saw them play live. But they're a manic post-pixies rock band from Iceland and I don't think I'm going to get many chances to see them ever, so it's worth asking for them again.
  • nullsleep
    • how many people can rock a gig using only two Nintendo Gameboys? And I mean actually rock a place. There are quite a few Gameboy musicians but you'd be surprised, quite a few of them are dull.
  • Matthew Herbert Big Band
    • He's an experimental genius of many varieties. I think his big band jazz would be the most entertaining but it'd be good to have him along for any purpose.
  • goto80
    • Another 8-bit/16-bit musician who actually rocks rather than not rocking.
  • Swci Boscawen
    • They're so brilliant - disco indie pop, kind of like Welsh inheritors of Kenickie's shiny brilliance.
  • Carla Bozulich
    • She's doing more freeform textural stuff than she used to (with the Geraldine Fibbers etc) but her singing is still amazing.
  • Kid Carpet
    • Everyone should see Kid Carpet at least once.
  • The ZX Spectrum Orchestra
    • A real spectacle, a handful of old ZX Spectrums magically coerced into making bleepcore techno.
  • The Research
    • Lovely indie. Almost too tuneful and winsome for my own tastes, but good enough to win me over.
  • The Evolution Control Committee
    • Plunderphonic madness that's entertaining and actually worth seeing live. You have to see the thimbletron in action. Some of the recent stuff downloadable from the website is less interesting, unfortunately.
Sunday 26th November 2006 | music | Permalink

The Cardiacs: My New Favourite Old Band

Went to see The Cardiacs play live on Friday and blimey they're good. I've never really heard of them before, but they've been going for about 30 years so they're one of those underground-ish institutions. Like Einst√ľrzende Neubauten or Faust or (to a lesser extent) The Fall, they're one of those bands that invented their sound sometime in the 1970s and, without ever really making the mainstream, ploughed such a furrow that their influence pops up everywhere in the sounds of loads of cool bands.

The Cardiacs sound a bit like a cross between Frank Zappa and Ooberman, which is a bit of a superficial comparison but it'll have to do. I definitely think Ooberman must have been influenced by The Cardiacs, because they use a suspiciously similar combination of excitable psychedelic indie with twinkly floaty bits.

The other thing that's really cool is that, like Faust and Einst√ľrzende Neubauten too, they're great live, a whole world away from those "aged rockers" (clich√© clich√©, sorry) who get back together and go touring for the cheques. I think if you never reached a kind of celebrity status, there's no temptation to fall back on past glories (or to be dragged back by them).

If you want to check that I'm not talking rubbish, check out the free Cardiacs MP3 downloads to hear what they do.

Wednesday 15th November 2006 | music | Permalink

Maison full of Oiseaux

The people downstairs are being annoying again, playing bassy music loudly. Rather than start an arms race by putting on some bassy music of my own, I put on Catalogue des Oiseaux by Messiaen.

The thing is that it's a 3-CD set consisting basically of birdsong transcribed for piano: so what I did was put CD1 on the main hi-fi, and at the same time put CD2 on the hi-fi in the little room. The result is amazing: the CDs call-and-respond with each other, and share themes, and sometimes they're following each other's moods and sometimes they're contrasting. It's a perfect piece of music for doing this with. (Very different kind of experience from Zaireeka, by the way, although that's good in a different way.) Maybe I should put CD3 on in the bathroom.

Sunday 8th October 2006 | music | Permalink

Radiodread

Interesting project: Radiodread - a reggae reworking of Radiohead's OK Computer. I've heard two tracks from it so far on the radio and they're both nice. I wonder if the whole album holds up.

Thursday 31st August 2006 | music | Permalink

Hit Me Baby One More Time

I did Hit Me Baby One More Time at the karaoke on Thursday and now the song's stuck in my head. It reminded me what a perfectly-put-together song it is. Leaving aside the vulnerable lyrics and the school-uniform video (part of what made it successful, obviously), it's musically really well-written and makes very crafty use of Britney Spears' voice.

The first vocal hook, for example, is "Oh baby baby". Hundreds of songs throughout history have used that line, but Britney Spears' singing makes it a proper hook. She pushes the vowels to the front of her mouth, but she also starts the "Oh" with what's technically known as "creaky voice". It's a sound that female pop singers sometimes use, and they seem to use it as some kind of sexual signifier (the vocal equivalent of come-to-bed eyes). Here it's not used quite so bluntly, and I think it's part of what makes the line distinctive. And it's one of many vocal hooks throughout the song.

The chorus is really interesting because you can actually barely hear Britney Spears' voice at all - most of the lines are driven by the backing chorus. It's clever because her own voice isn't really suited to pushing such a strong chorus along, so it's sufficient for her to be carried by the crowd and remind us she's still there when she chips in with an ornamental "And I".

The strange thing is that I happened to listen to the full album once and it's absolute rubbish, horrible sickly sentimental formulaic crap with horrible production. I don't know if it's just luck that they produced such a well-judged song as HMBOMT, or if they produced the single and then had to produce a full album's worth of filler in a couple of rushed days.

Sunday 6th August 2006 | music | Permalink

SuperCollided

Well I'm back from the SuperCollider symposium in Birmingham. It was a fantastic event - not only was it great to meet many people who I previously only knew from the mailing list, and find out in detail about the kinds of things they're doing, but also to see new people using SuperCollider and starting to do interesting things with it. SuperCollider acts as a kind of junction between programmers, musicians, sound artists, scientists, and the like, and the range of things that SC is good for is pretty amazing.

It was interesting to give my talk and demonstrate my musical genetic algorithm software using 8-channel audio, which is something I've never done before. Now I have to tidy up my code so that it's sensible enough to release it...

I have released a couple of new SuperCollider UGens (FFT-related ones), available on my SuperCollider code page.

Monday 31st July 2006 | music | Permalink

ATP 2006 crew: artists' impressions

Also to go along with my All Tomorrow's Parties review, here are the pictures of the ATP 06 crew as rendered by some of history's pre-eminent artists...
Thursday 25th May 2006 | music | Permalink

All Tomorrow's Parties 2006

This weekend we went to the All Tomorrow's Parties festival 2006 and it was very possibly the best yet. Some of the highlights were:

  • The cape guy! A Japanese-looking bloke who wore a cape and basketball shorts for the entire weekend and ran around dancing the entire time. He was extremely good value, and he once even berated a whole crowd: "English people don't move, they just sit there and read poems!"
  • Lightning Bolt's mind-blowingly loud set which opened the festival (the drummer wore ear-defenders!). They actually played four sets throughout the weekend, partly because the amount of people allowed to see them at any one time was being limited for safety...
  • The band Big Business, not so much for their music but for the way they filled in while their drums were being fixed - the bassist jumped into the audience and forced people to play bass solos, before performing a special whistling set.
  • The karaoke, when the sound system cut out during the Flaming Lips' "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots" and the crowd all sang it together to make up for it.
  • The Decemberists, for a brilliant set but especially for making the whole crowd (and band) sit down on the floor during the last song, before everyone stood up in a massive mexican wave when the music kicked back in.
  • The dancing machine in the arcade room. Cor it's fun.
  • A completely unexpected spontaneous group chant moment on Sunday night. I came out of the chalet to find a mass of people stood outside all "Ahhhhhhhh"ing a single note. This went on for a long time and I joined in - it alternated between the "Ahhhhhhhh" and some "ATP! ATP!" chants, and eventually (and bizarrely) got broken up by some of the security people - why???
  • R Kelly's film In The Closet. It's basically an R'n'B opera/soap-opera, although it also defies description and you really have to see it. We watched it a few times, it was that mind-blowing.

Some of the bad points were: the ugly moment when some fuckers in the crowd shouted down comedian David Cross, who ended up having to cut his set short; failing to sign up for the pub quiz; and the ants in the chalet!

But other than that it was great. Our chalet was very good despite the ants, with a perfect view of the cape guy dancing around in the children's play area. Props to my 6 chalet mates - we had a great time.

Ruth has written about it too (with videos!).
And so has Toby.
And so has Hannah.

Wednesday 24th May 2006 | music | Permalink

Data Panik, live at the Luminaire

OK, so I have now seen Data Panik live (at the Luminaire Club) and I can now say whether they're the same as Bis or not (see earlier post) and whether they're good. And the answer is yes. They even stand in the same formation as the times I saw Bis live (but with the extra new drummer and bassist slightly behind them), so they're not trying too hard to make us forget about Bis, despite the special Data Panik uniforms they wear.

Their personalities come through brilliantly onstage - Manda Rin is so cute, dancing around and yelping/singing when not playing keyboard, and Sci-Fi Steve and John Disco having fun with the guitar riffs and banter. Having a band with live drums and bass changes the emphasis ever so slightly towards a more normal rock sound, which I'm still slightly dubious about, but overwhelmingly they're just as much fun as Bis.

My discovery of the night is Cartridge, the main support band. They put the excitement back into intricately-structured songs that play around with imaginitive dynamics. Sound-wise they range from Delgados-y male/female vocals and keyboards to nu-metal stop-start stabs, flowing pianos, jaunty guitar... except that this description starts to make it sound like they're trying too hard. The music is compelling and melodic, and thoughtful at the same time. I'm listening to their CD now and trying to decide which songs I like best - I like a lot of them, but I have to mention Boxing Stravinsky which is a surreal nursery rhyme about putting Stravinsky in a box and making him disappear, played on piano but with a crescendo of guitar noise in the middle.

Friday 7th April 2006 | music | Permalink

Bis becomes Data Panik

I thought Bis, one of the best indie pop bands ever, had completely died and gone away. In fact I was quite reconciled to the fact. At least I got to see them play live a few times (they were really brilliant live, more so than I expected given their recorded sound), and at one of the gigs Steve saw my ZX Spectrum T-shirt (it was an Ooberman T-shirt) from the stage and complimented me on it, so that's pretty much all that anyone can ask.

But now a message from a riot-grrrl mailing list announces that there's a band "formed from the ashes of the dear-departed Bis" called Data Panik. In fact, look closer and you'll see that it's all the same people as Bis, except instead of a drum machine / sequencer they've added a live drummer and bassist.

It's hard to know exactly what to make of this. The drum-machine fulled synthpop sound was one of the great things about Bis, and I'm a bit worried that this new band will have less of that distinctive fun sound. The demo tracks on the site do sound quite a bit that way. I wonder if this has many similarities to the controversy Bob Dylan caused when he shocked folk fans by going electric?

No-one should be forced to stick with past glories, and the best bands have always been ones that constantly re-invented themselves. Artists like Björk and Beck re-invent themselves pretty much for every record, and although they occasionally stray down dead ends, some of the records they produce are such miracles that it's absolutely worth it. I'm a bit puzzled about why Bis split and why they're now all back together but let's see what happens. Hopefully we can see them live soon and see just what Data Panik's all about.

Saturday 1st April 2006 | music | Permalink

Resonance Lives

Last night we went to our first Resonance FM night, a fundraising gig for the station. The music was just as you'd expect - a massive variety: some weird, some techno, some a bit self-obsessed.

My favourite was probably "Superstrings with strings", a band called Superstrings working with a string quartet for a one-off semi-improvised performance. The string backing, the powerful and experimental Japanese vocalist (e.g. at one point she was using the sound of sucking the back of her hand!), and the amazing range of bendy sounds that the guitarist could come out with, worked really well together. The sound was baffling at some points: there was one song where I kept thinking I could hear a trumpet, but then was that a side-effect of the vocals or the violins or...?

Philippa's favourite was Hot Roddy who did some very nice music combining computer beats with sitar playing. I thought his sitar playing was a bit ropey. There was also some boring bleepy stuff, some guitar stuff which I didn't like, and some nice Aphex-Twin-style stuff, and Kevin Eldon pretending to be a poet. Oh, and some really great African guitar music - can't remember the man's name, but it was gorgeous songs and fun. The least po-faced act by a long way.

There was a really good film which was nothing but a speeded-up film of a man working in the cab of a crane on a building site. The film stayed with him over days and months, moving the crane around, lifting things around the building site, sitting smoking or talking on his mobile, and it might not sound like much but it was fascinating.

Sunday 5th February 2006 | music | Permalink

HB Hardcore

With our new wi-fi radio we've been discovering some really good stations. One excellent one that we're listening to right now is HB Hardcore which broadcasts a brilliant stream of non-stop four-to-the-floor hardcore house.

It's absolutely joyous music, and really good to listen to. The thing about this kind of hardcore is that on the surface it can seem amazingly stupid - there's almost nothing but a grating pseudo-bass-drum BOWM-BOWM-BOWM-BOWM noise with some samples and keyboard sounds sprinkled over the top. But actually it can be really rich - the non-stop pounding sound is a kind of touchstone, an anchor which lets you explore the rhythmic flutters over the top. The music always seems to tagged with aggressive macho voice samples (the tag for the current one on HB Hardcore is "Hardcore, you pussy motherfuckers!") but it's not as mind-meltingly offensive as it likes to think.

Slightly weirdly, with the wi-fi radio you can't tell where the station is from (unless you browse by country - but I found HBH by browsing by genre) or who is producing it, or what the URL is - so I've no idea who is putting this station out. I tried a quick web search and couldn't obviously see a home for it, although one page suggested it was from Norway. Whoever you are, HB Hardcore, and wherever, thanks!

Wednesday 25th January 2006 | music | Permalink

Kid Carpet and The Holloways

We saw Kid Carpet in concert on Monday and it was a proper triumph.

Sadly, a tramp had walked away with a bag full of his equipment during the day - so he lost his white guitar, his Furby, and a lot of wires. You could tell he'd spent the day running around trying to sort things out, and that he was worried about pulling off the gig. Despite all that, he performed a fantastic full set and everyone loved him. (He had to leave out the white-guitar-based songs, but the audience filled in for the furby's vocals.)

Both the support bands were good too. The Holloways were a good ska band, and you know, a lot of the time ska bands can be fun to dance to but not so fantastic on record. But their single, "Generator" is a fantastic slice of calypso which can't help but make you feel better. It's really something special. You can buy the single for not much money - try it out, it's really worth it.

Thursday 1st December 2005 | music | Permalink

John Peel's twisted internet memorial?

John Peel was memorialised last week by the announcement of a website "devoted to finding fresh talent". The website is tended by John's son (Tom Ravenscroft). Bands can make MP3s available for download, and the most popular (i.e. most downloaded) may be signed by Universal Music Group.

Is there anything more antithetical to what John Peel did for the UK music scene?

It goes against what he stood for in two ways. Firstly it's blandly populist. Imagine a song that you might hear on one of John's shows - something you've never heard before, and is quirky, and does something new. Now imagine how that track would fare on any kind of voting-based system (for example, one of those Saturday-night telly talent contests). Democracy is simply not built for innovation, and averaging out a group of people's tastes (even, dare I say it, if those people are all John Peel listeners) is no way to discover fresh talent.

Secondly, Universal is one of the largest record companies in the world, nothing like the indie record labels that John did so much to champion. It's certainly easier to arrange for one massive record label to benefit from this website, than for a variety of small ones, but that's no excuse for misappropriating John Peel's contribution to culture.

Sunday 16th October 2005 | music | Permalink

Evolving music

I've released a selection of recordings from my evolutionary sound system. People always abuse words like "science" and "evolution" in music, so I should probably make it clear that I really do mean evolution - the music is actually produced by Darwinian natural selection...
Saturday 8th October 2005 | music | Permalink

Neubauten

A couple of months ago we went to see Einst√ľrzende Neubauten play a live gig, and it was absolutely amazing. I mean actually amazing, not just that the music was really cool but my mouth was hanging open in amazement. They use almost all acoustic instruments (strangely-shaped pieces of metal, compressed air guns, plastic tubing) and they make sounds that approximate some of the hardest digitally-processed industrial-type music. It's completely mindblowing, and really good to dance to.

I signed up to their website as a "supporter", which means that I've paid some money, which entitles me to loads of music downloads as well as a copy of the CD/DVD they're currently working on at the moment. This might just be the canniest music-making arrangement yet conceived for the era of the internet. I like it a lot. It only works with very heavily established bands though, since new acts are unlikely to get any money this way.

They've just released a full two-hour live recording (for registered supporters only I'm afraid) and it's bloody great. If you've not heard of Neubauten, go to their site and try out one or two of their tracks. And bear in mind that it really isn't sample-based music, it's mostly people hitting heavy things.

Tuesday 30th August 2005 | music | Permalink

Imogen Heap

I've seen the name around but I've never heard her stuff before. But on Radio 1 I just heard this song:

Imogen Heap - "Hide and Seak" - (Megaphonic)

It's a very beautiful thing. Try and have a listen if you can.

Friday 5th August 2005 | music | Permalink
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