Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Music notes from all over
I watched the documentary “Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child” on Netflix the other day. I enjoyed it, but it got me to thinking.
Lots of musicians died too early. Some times it mattered more than other times.
Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums while he was alive, plus the live performance Band of Gypsys and some other singles. He was working on a new album when he died, but it wasn’t finished, so who knows what it would have sounded like. Hendrix never made an album while he wasn’t also touring: he never stopped touring long enough to spend exhaustive hours in the studio to make something as polished as Dark Side of the Moon, or other creations of the studio. He built a recording studio- Electric Lady Studios – to his own specifications, and recorded a handful tracks there, but there was a lot of unexplored territory we as music fans were deprived of hearing. Hendrix could have easily made a solo acoustic blues album; an album with some blues guitar master like B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or the like; a deep and dirty funk album with Parliament/Funkadelic/George Clinton; could have eventually recorded that frequently discussed collaboration with Miles Davis; could have recorded an album of Motown covers; a soul and R&B album; an album of Krautrock guitar landscapes inspired by Kraftwerk, Faust, Can etc.; and some albums with Brian Eno exploring the spaces between guitar feedback. I could even imagine Hendrix getting into heavy metal or grunge for a moment. Did Hendrix ever hear any Reggae? Ska, probably, but Reggae wasn’t really “a thing” in 1970. The list goes on and on, Hendrix was such a genius and a musical sponge, absorbing sounds from the aether.
I divided modern pop musicians into 3 categories, and obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few quick examples.
1. Died too early, but recorded enough of a legacy to enjoy, had a career long enough, but it could have been longer. There could be a long, long list of people who died in their 30s or 40s or even 50s.
- John Bonham – Led Zeppelin ceased to exist when Bonzo died, but there are hours worth of rocking out to be enjoyed.
- John Lennon – Beatles, solo work. Not all great, but quite enough to be able to spend an entire afternoon listening to good, interesting music.
- Bob Marley – With the Wailers including Peter Tosh, and then semi-solo. Something around ten albums of great reggae. There was more in him that we won’t hear.
- Prince – my favorite Prince LPs were from the period before Prince became religious, but there are thousands of unreleased songs, allegedly, some of which will be great, some not so great.
- Jerry Garcia – borderline Category 2: because of the whole taping-of-shows-encouraged-ethos, there are thousands of hours of Grateful Dead music available, of varying quality, but quite a lot of it is good. Did Garcia die too soon? Not soon enough? Who knows?
2. Lived a long time, had varied career, of both good and bad quality. Some of these artists are still making music, having survived the 1960s, some of the music is even listenable.
- Bob Dylan – Some of the best literate rock, and also some Christian rock, acoustic albums of covers, Christmas songs, throwaway albums, and so on.
- Neil Young – Peaks and valleys, but always exploring new sounds and documenting them in the moment.
- Paul McCartney – Beatles especially, solo work less stellar, but still moving through the fair
- Mick Jagger/Keith Richards – Four great albums, a bunch of other good songs, but so much dreck, and yet they soldier on.
- Leonard Cohen/David Bowie/Guy Clark/etc. – a full and varied career that had to end sometime as we haven’t yet figured out the key to immortality of the human body.
3. Died way too early – nobody, artist or not an artist, should die before the age of 30.
- Jimi Hendrix
- Janis Joplin – a powerful, emotional singer, but with limited range. Could she have done anything else? Maybe, probably not. Would Joplin have recorded an Alt-Country LP in her 50s?
- Jim Morrison – Six studio albums. Maybe that was all there was for Morrison to say? The Doors are a sort of Baroque-Rock band, would they have been popular for ever? Would they have made a disco album? A punk rock album?
- Brian Jones – started the Rolling Stones, but the best Rolling Stones LPs didn’t have him playing on them, or playing much.1 What would he have done to pull himself out of the drugged-out wastrel lifestyle?
- Kurt Cobain – Was Nirvana a band with staying power? Would they still be as popular? Could they play other styles beside aggro-rock?
- Amy Winehouse – a powerful, emotional singer. Did she have more to contribute? We’ll never know.
- Syd Barrett – One studio album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a few songs on Pink Floyd’s second LP, and a lifetime of subject matter for the rest of the band. Plus 40 or so solo tracks recorded and assisted by David Gilmour, Roger Waters and others. Seems like enough.
- Ian Curtis – Joy Division morphed into New Order after Curtis killed himself at the age of 24, but Joy Division is my favorite of the two. There should have been at least 5 Joy Division albums, but instead there were only two plus some singles.
And there you are…
Hendrix – West Coast Seattle Boy
- Beggars Banquet; Let It Bleed; Sticky Fingers; Exile on Main Street by my estimation [↩]
More skirmishes in the continuing battle between corporate behemoths…
Apple, in a government filing on Friday, proposed simplifying the highly complex way that songwriting royalties are paid when it comes to on-demand streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.
According to Apple’s proposal, made with the Copyright Royalty Board, a panel of federal judges who oversee rates in the United States, streaming services should pay 9.1 cents in songwriting royalties for every 100 times a song is played. This formula would replace the long passages of federal rules for streaming rates, which often leave musicians bewildered about just how the money flows in streaming music.
Apple’s filing was made as part of a proceeding by the Copyright Royalty Board to set statutory rates for downloads and interactive streaming services from 2018 to 2022. Spotify, Google, Pandora, Amazon and the Recording Industry Association of America were all expected to file their proposals by Friday, but the panel has not yet made the filings public.
Although the bulk of Apple’s proposal with the Copyright Royalty Board is confined to three brief paragraphs, it would have wide implications if it were adopted. Songwriting rates paid by interactive streaming services like Spotify are now governed by a byzantine system that includes a division between what are known as mechanical and performance royalties for the same songs. Apple’s proposal would cover all songwriting royalties with the same rate. (Royalties for recordings are accounted separately.)
What Apple does not say in its filing, however, is that the statutory rates it proposes would not apply to its own services. When the company introduced Apple Music last year, it struck direct deals with music publishers at rates that are slightly higher than usual.
(click here to continue reading Apple, in Seeming Jab at Spotify, Proposes Simpler Songwriting Royalties – The New York Times.)
Streaming services like Spotify, Pandora et al, do seem to rely upon underpaying artists, or figuring out schemes to avoid payment at all. If musicians cannot make a living creating music, there won’t be any, other than vanity projects, and top 40 bullshit. But then I’m a curmudgeon who still purchases all my music in hard-copy and don’t subscribe to any of these services.
The common ground between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” largely comes down to a 10-second musical theme that appears 45 seconds into “Taurus,” an instrumental from the band’s 1968 debut album, which is similar to the opening acoustic guitar pattern on “Stairway.” That song was released three years before “Stairway to Heaven” surfaced on Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, commonly referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
Zeppelin surviving members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones and their legal team are expected to argue that the similarity is nothing more than coincidence between musicians working in a field rooted in commonly used and re-used musical ideas. Or they may attempt to cite earlier precursors to both songs from the public domain, which could render moot the Wolfe estate’s copyright claim.
“It’s a tough one to call,” says singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, whose 1960s band Fairport Convention helped pioneer the merger of traditional British folk music with the amplified energy of rock ’n’ roll that Led Zeppelin took to its apotheosis in the 1970s.
“They were on the same bill together before [Zeppelin guitarist] Jimmy Page wrote ‘Stairway,’ there’s that,” Thompson said, referring to the Wolfe estate’s claiming that because the two bands played shows together in the late 1960s, and that Spirit often included “Taurus” in those shows, Zeppelin’s members at least had the opportunity to have heard the song.
“On the other hand,” Thompson said, “it’s not an uncommon riff, and the melody not that unusual.”
Guitarist Laurence Juber, who used to play with Paul McCartney’s band Wings, noted that the opening progression can be heard in a 16th century sonata for guitar, violin and strings by Italian composer Giovanni Battista Granata.
“The reality is that to have a descending bass line with an A minor chord on top of it is a common musical device.”
Because of the statute of limitations, the Wolfe estate is only able to seek revenue produced by “Stairway” since 2011, or the three years before the latest remastered version was released in 2014. But going forward, any percentage of monies coming out of sales or airplay of the song could add up to a significant windfall for the estate of Wolfe, who drowned in Hawaii in 1997 while rescuing his son from a strong undertow.
(click here to continue reading Did Led Zeppelin steal a riff for ‘Stairway to Heaven’? A court will decide – LA Times.)
I am a fan of Led Zeppelin, enough so that I’ve purchased all their albums on multiple formats, or editions. That said, for a long time, I usually skip Stairway to Heaven – I’ve just heard it way too many times.
Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have borrowed heavily from previous artists, people like Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, etc. Did they borrow a bit of Spirit’s Taurus? The decending riff does sound similar, but it is not unique. In fact, the sonata for guitar by Granata, below, does sound quite similar too, and it’s from the 16th century.
Extremely similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”; the arpeggio can be heard at 0:32 in this 17th Century Composition titled “Sonata di Chittarra, e Violino, con il suo Basso Continuo” by Giovanni Battista Granata.
Guitar performance by Stephen Stubbs.
Or this Davy Graham guitar from 1959’s “Cry Me A River”
Guitarist Davy Graham playing Cry Me A River, as captured in a 1959 BBC documentary directed by Ken Russell on the rise in popularity of the guitar in Britain.
And why did Randy Spirit not file a lawsuit while alive? Once he died, then his family’s estate went after Led Zeppelin.
I guess we’ll see.
A perfect, balmy night on the roof deck of my building. I brought up some cognac, and a BlueTooth speaker.
Here was the soundtrack…
- Ashley Hutchings, Richard Thompson, Dave Mattacks– Cuckoos Nest
- The Albion Band– Gresford Disaster
Rise Up Like The Sun
- Fairport Convention– Doctor Of Physick
- Richard Thompson– The Angels Took My Racehorse Away
Henry The Human Fly
- Richard Thompson & Linda Thompson– The Little Beggar Girl
Live At The BBC
- Fotheringay– Banks Of The Nile
No More Sad Refrains
- Thompson, Richard– The End Of The Rainbow
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
- Richard Thompson/Linda Thompson– I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
In Concert November 1975
- Fairport Convention– The Hiring Fair
The Woodworm Years
- Richard Thompson– I Misunderstood
Ramble On! Uncut Cover CD – September 2014
- Fairport Convention– Flatback Caper
- Thompson, Richard– The Great Valerio
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
- Fairport Convention– Sir Patrick Spens
Liege & Lief [Deluxe Edition]
- Fairport Convention– Banks Of The Sweet Primroses
Live At The BBC
- David Bowie– Life On Mars?
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
- Fairport Convention– Dirty Linen
- Thompson, Richard– When I Get To The Border
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
- La’s, The– There She Goes
- Fairport Convention– Flowers Of The Forest
- Thompson, Richard– Down Where The Drunkards Roll
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
- Shirley Collins & Albion Country Band– Claudy Banks
- Thompson, Richard– Withered And Died
I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight
- Fairport Convention– Sloth
- Richard Thompson– Nobody’s Wedding
Henry The Human Fly
Some days the volume is low and there is no way to crank it up to ten.
((Editor’s note: even my website was low-energy yesterday, as this post failed, and my entire site also went down))
If you haven’t seen this film recently, do. Especially the Criterion Collection released a few years ago…
Casting David Bowie as a space alien was one of Hollywood’s best decisions since marrying sound and image. Okay, that’s more than a touch hyperbolic, but come on. Bowie, and his post-Ziggy specialization in coming off like an otherworldly being, was exactly what Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth needed. Hallucinatory, heartfelt, and wholly bizarre, Bowie’s 1976 cult film turned 40 this year, and its marvelous mystery seems to still reach not just beyond the stars, but deep within the human condition. The Man Who Fell to Earth endures not only as a truly bizarre sci-fi masterpiece, but as a time stamp for one of Bowie’s most fascinating and alluring creations: The Thin White Duke.
Newton’s the only alien on our planet; perhaps not so coincidentally, so was Bowie. While the film may flounder at points due to ‘70s excess – hefty nudity, hallucinatory cinematography, a general lack of focus that may or may not have been brought on by drugs – it endures as a wild trip into the outer limits of what defines a man. If anything, Newton is a classic story of commerce, a rise and fall experienced by an extraterrestrial with a preternatural world-weariness. Newton lacks affect for much of the film, as he casually gazes at our world through a particularly yahoo American landscape. Commerce and cowboys and loud things abound. Why wouldn’t an alien recoil in quiet contemplation of the surrealism of it all? Bowie himself summarized it best: The film is sad.
(Via Consequence of Sound)
For your daily theremin news…
If Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin are two of the undisputed masters of synthesis, then Dorit Chrysler is the sonic equivalent when it comes to the theremin. A composer, producer, and singer, Chrysler is the co-founder of the New York Theremin Society and founder of the first school for theremin, KidCoolThereminSchool. So as much as the theremin is a tool in Chrysler’s electronic instrument arsenal, she’s also one the most visible thereminists spreading the gospel of this mysterious sounding instrument, which is basically played by massaging thin air.
…Chrysler’s door into the world of the theremin was opened by her friend Lary 7, a New York-based musician and filmmaker. After inviting Chrysler to his house one day, Lary 7 showed her a theremin he was repairing, then demonstrated the playing technique.
Something clicked within Chrysler, who refused to rest until she mastered some notes. She saw in the theremin a lot of underappreciated sonic potential, and had to “get to the bottom of it,” as she explains. For Chrysler, this involved dedicating herself to the theremin.
“With the theremin, you surrender to a microtonal universe consisting within a one-inch movement of your hand towards the pitch antenna,” she explains. “[You] sculpt and chisel every note above the volume rod—close your eyes and perk your ears and you shall be rewarded.”
“For me a good thereminist is a player who focuses on the expressive potential of the instrument,” she adds. “No other electronic instrument can sound so devastatingly emotional, or shall we say, even hysterical at times. Run with it and find your own voice. Supposedly, Lev Termen, its inventor, said, ‘if you put your soul in it, you are worthy of playing the theremin.’”
(click here to continue reading Get Inside the Mind of a Theremin Master | The Creators Project.)
One of these days, I’ll encounter a cheap-enough theremin, or theremin-building kit, and will add it to my home orchestra.
Bonus video: Leon Theremin playing a theremin…
I’ve never heard Christy Moore perform live, though I have several albums that he sings on (as part of Planxty, or as a solo act, or as a guest artist with Shane McGowan or Sinéad O’Connor, etc.). His new LP, Lily, sounds interesting:
Ireland’s finest singer-songwriter and interpreter of other people’s songs returns with his first album in three years. Christy Moore’s new set is as varied as his celebrated live performances: unexpected songs are reworked with his intimate, soulful vocals. He starts with a series of easygoing pieces by Irish writers, including the upbeat The Tuam Beat, but the mood changes with the thoughtful, partly self-composed title track, which blends nostalgia and history. Then comes the politics. A powerful treatment of Wallflower, Peter Gabriel’s 80s lament for political prisoners, is followed by Mick Blake’s Oblivious, an angry analysis of Ireland, a hundred years on from the Easter Rising. The backing includes fiddle, harmonica and mandolin, and for the final track, Christy recites a poem by Dave Lordan against a wash of sound. He celebrates 50 years as a full-time singer this summer, and he’s still taking chances.
(click here to continue reading Christy Moore: Lily review – politics, nostalgia and soul | Music | The Guardian.)
Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting essay, with a subject my inner rock historian appreciates: who will be the John Phillips Sousa of rock music, as viewed by students 300 years in the future? What artist will stand in for the genre itself? Will it be The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Elvis Presley? Or Bob Dylan? Or someone else entirely?
The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over. Rock — or at least the anthemic, metaphoric, Hard Rock Cafe version of big rock — has become more socially accessible but less socially essential, synchronously shackled by its own formal limitations. Its cultural recession is intertwined with its cultural absorption. As a result, what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit. It will exist as something people have to be taught to feel and understand.
I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.
So what’s the image?
(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)
From my perspective, Bob Dylan is a better candidate than Elvis, simply because his music is more interesting to me. But who knows? It might be Prince, especially if the unreleased music contained in his vault turns out to be good, and culturally resonant for years to come. Or someone else entirely, like Chuck Berry.
Klosterman’s thought experiment is full of good lines, of course, including this train of inquiry:
In 2014, the jazz historian Ted Gioia published a short essay about music criticism that outraged a class of perpetually outraged music critics. Gioia’s assertion was that 21st‑century music writing has devolved into a form of lifestyle journalism that willfully ignores the technical details of the music itself. Many critics took this attack personally and accused Gioia of devaluing their vocation. Which is odd, considering the colossal degree of power Gioia ascribes to record reviewers: He believes specialists are the people who galvanize history. Critics have almost no impact on what music is popular at any given time, but they’re extraordinarily well positioned to dictate what music is reintroduced after its popularity has waned.
“Over time, critics and historians will play a larger role in deciding whose fame endures,” Gioia wrote me in an email. “Commercial factors will have less impact. I don’t see why rock and pop will follow any different trajectory from jazz and blues.” He rattled off several illustrative examples: Ben Selvin outsold Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1956, Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter outsold “almost every rock ’n’ roll star not named Elvis,” but they’ve been virtually erased from the public record. A year after that, the closeted gay crooner Tab Hunter was bigger than Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, “but critics and music historians hate sentimental love songs. They’ve constructed a perspective that emphasizes the rise of rock and pushes everything else into the background. Transgressive rockers, in contrast, enjoy lasting fame.” He points to a contemporary version of that phenomenon: “Right now, electronic dance music probably outsells hip‑hop. This is identical to the punk‑versus‑disco trade‑off of the 1970s. My prediction: edgy hip‑hop music will win the fame game in the long run, while E.D.M. will be seen as another mindless dance craze.”
(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)
I agree with Gioia in this sense: there is a lot of music in my library that I only encountered because someone wrote about it, either a music critic, or a liner-note scribe, or similar. Word of mouth only covers so much ground. Big Bill Broonzy died before I was born, as did the career of Syd Barrett, The Sonics, The Velvet Underground and many, many other bands I never encountered on the radio, nor in a local tavern.
I confess that when I was a teenager, I only liked songs with long, loud guitar solos, and Hall & Oats was not on the list of “cool” bands. As I’ve mellowed, and expanded my musical palette, I now can appreciate artists like Daryl Hall.
David Masciotra of Salon interviews Daryl Hall, but first introduces him thus:
Daryl Hall is possibly the most interesting man in music. He and John Oates form the most successful musical duo of all time, and even though, their setlists during sold out shows around the world are full of instantly recognizable hits from the 1970s and ‘80s, they are not a nostalgia act. More than other performers in their age bracket, including The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, Daryl Hall and John Oates have constructed a coalition of baby boomers who remember where they were when “Rich Girl” or “Sara Smile” first hit the radio, and thirty and twenty-something fans who enjoy the smooth, soulful, and pop-infused style of “I Can’t Go For That” and “Out of Touch” as if those songs came out yesterday.
Hall owes much of his multigenerational admiration to his songwriting – clandestinely innovative and wildly varied – his voice – one of the best in the business – but also his early adaptation of the internet as an enhancement of art and entertainment, rather as a murderer of creativity, as many often call it. In 2007, Hall launched “Live From Daryl’s House” – an internet show depicting Hall and an invited guest jamming to a variety of songs within the confines of his home. The show still broadcasts from the internet, but also plays on the MTV Live network, and it is now filmed in Hall’s live music club, aptly named “Daryl’s House.”
Guests range from legends like Smokey Robinson, Cheap Trick, and The O’Jays (Cheap Trick was the guest for the debut episode of the current season) to rising stars such as Aloe Blaac, Amos Lee, and another guest of the current season, Wyclef Jean.
The show has a natural excitement. Hall’s band is in peak form – playing grooves so tight it is a wonder there is any oxygen in the room – and Daryl Hall’s voice soars whether he is singing blues based rock alongside Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top or he is shouting with soul to the music of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.
I recently had a conversation with Hall, and learned that he is as passionate in his perspective as he is in his performance. Like a professor in the Department of Funk, Soul, and Pop Studies, he needs little provocation to provide “adult education” on everything from the state of music commerce to conflicts over cultural appropriation.
(click here to continue reading Daryl Hall has a message for critics crying cultural appropriation: “Shut the f*ck up” – Salon.com.)
I’ll have to check this show out…
The Rolling Stones last great album, Exile on Main Street, is also mythical. There are all sorts of stories about the album’s debauched creation, and why not? Forced to flee the U.K., their native country, because their former manager Allen Klein while ripping them off, also didn’t pay any taxes, the Rolling Stones ended up in the south of France. Keith Richards rented a mansion in Villefranche called Nellcôte, a house in the grand European style, with porticos, columns, and gardens, and a basement that the Nazi’s used to torture French partisans and others during WW2. Richards had pharmaceutical grade heroin, and who knows what else, and the band, and friends, hung out, and created a sprawling album while having fun. Well, some fun anyway…
Rich Cohen has a new book out called, “The Sun & the Moon & the Rolling Stones”, I suspect I’ll read it eventually. Here’s how he describes the setup at Nellcôte
The Stones, then in the process of signing a distribution deal with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, needed to make a follow-up to Sticky Fingers. They’d gone into exile with several cuts in the can, leftovers from previous sessions—some recorded at Olympic, some recorded at Stargroves, Mick’s country house. France was scouted for studios, but in the end, unable to find a place that could accommodate Keith’s junkie needs, they decided to record at Nellcôte. Sidemen, engineers, and producers began turning up in June 1971. Ian Stewart drove the Stones’ mobile unit—a recording studio built in the back of a truck—over from England. Parked in the driveway, it was connected via snaking cables to the cellar, which had been insulated, amped, and otherwise made ready, though it was an awkward space. “[The cellar] had been a torture chamber during World War II,” sound engineer Andy Johns told Goldmine magazine.“I didn’t notice until we’d been there for a while that the floor heating vents in the hallway were shaped like swastikas. Gold swastikas. And I said to Keith, ‘ What the fuck is that?’ ‘Oh, I never told you? This was [Gestapo] headquarters.’”
The cellar was a honeycomb of enclosures. As the sessions progressed, the musicians spread out in search of the best sound. In the end, each was like a monk in a cell, connected by technology. Richards and Wyman were in one room, but Watts was by himself and Taylor was under the stairs. Pianist Nicky Hopkins was at the end of one hall and the brass section was at the end of another. “It was a catacomb,” sax player Bobby Keys told me, “dark and creepy. Me and Jim Price—Jim played trumpet—set up far away from the other guys. We couldn’t see anyone. It was fucked up, man.”
Together and alone—the human condition.
The real work began in July. Historians mark it as July 6, but it was messier than that. There was no clean beginning to Exile, or end. It never stopped and never started, but simply emerged out of the everyday routine. It was punishingly hot in the cellar. The musicians played without shirts or shoes. Among the famous images of the sessions is Bobby Keys in a bathing suit, blasting away on his sax. The names of the songs—“Ventilator Blues,”“Turd on the Run”—were inspired by the conditions, as was the album’s working title: Tropical Disease. The Stones might hone a single song for several nights. Some of the best—“Let It Loose,”“Soul Survivor”—emerged from a free-for-all, a seemingly pointless jam, out of which, after hours of nothing much, a melody would appear, shining and new. On outtakes, you can hear Jagger quieting everyone at the key moment: “All right, all right, here we go.” As in life, the music came faster than the words. Now and then, Jagger stood before a microphone, grunting as the groove took shape—vowel sounds that slowly formed into phrases. On one occasion, they employed a modernist technique, the cutout method used by William S. Burroughs. Richards clipped bits of text from newspapers and dropped them into a hat. Selecting at random, Jagger and Richards assembled the lyric of “Casino Boogie”:
Dietrich movies / close up boogies
The record came into focus the same way: slowly, over weeks, along a path determined by metaphysical forces, chaos, noise, and beauty netted via a never-to-be-repeated process.
(click here to continue reading Secrets of the “Exile” sessions: Drugs, sex and madness as the Rolling Stones took over France – Salon.com.)
Music Monday continues with the never-ending struggle of Republicans to drape themselves with the coolness of liberal-leaning rock musicians, and failing to secure permission first…
Technically speaking, copyright laws allow political candidates to use just about any song they want, as long as they’re played at a stadium, arena or other venue that already has a public-performance license through a songwriters’ association such as ASCAP or BMI. However, the law contains plenty of gray area. If a candidate refuses to stop using a song in this scenario, an artist may be able to protect his “right of publicity” – Springsteen’s voice blaring over a loudspeaker is part of his image, and he has a right to protect his own image. “It’s untested in the political realm,” says Lawrence Iser, an intellectual-property lawyer who has represented the Beatles, Michael Jackson and many others. “Even if Donald Trump has the ASCAP right to use a Neil Young song, does Neil have the right to nevertheless go after him on right of publicity? I say he does.”
Iser represented David Byrne when the ex-Talking Head successfully sued Florida Republican Charlie Crist for using “Road to Nowhere” in a video to attack opponent Marco Rubio during a 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. He also helped Jackson Browne win a suit against John McCain in 2008 when the Republican presidential candidate played “Running on Empty” in an ad bashing Barack Obama on gas conservation.
(click here to continue reading Why Politicians Keep Using Songs Without Artists’ Permission | Rolling Stone.)
Even though the music review is a dying art-form, the magic words, “Brian Eno” are usually enough for me to purchase an album…
Greg Kot writes:
Brian Eno is perhaps best known as producer to the stars (U2, Coldplay, David Bowie, Talking Heads). But as estimable as some of that work has been, quintessential Eno can be found on a long string of less widely celebrated solo and collaborative records dating to the ’70s.
Since playing mad scientist to Bryan Ferry’s brooding night-crawler on the first two Roxy Music albums (still the peak moments in that band’s career), he has gone on to create small masterworks of skewed pop, ambient music and experimental electronica. He’s been especially prolific lately, and “The Ship” (Warp) continues his recent run of creativity, an album that has few direct antecedents in his vast discography and arrives as a late-career landmark.
In his typically thought-provoking liner notes, Eno presents the album as something of a soundtrack to two catastrophic events a century ago: the sinking of the Titanic and World War I. “Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia,” Eno writes, and “The Ship” captures that anxiety in two extended pieces.
The 21-minute title track is a theater of the mind: sonar blips, harbor bells and human voices weave in and out of a luminous soundscape that evokes an orchestra. Though comparisons might be made to Eno’s placid ambient works, the gently lulling layers of synthesizers give way to something more unstable. Eno uses his voice like another instrument. An excellent if underrated singer, he evokes the rumbling low end of Tuvan throat singers and the droning harmonies of medieval monks. As the mighty “unsinkable” ship goes under, words emerge with greater difficulty, as if the shivering, awe-struck narrator were slipping beneath “wave after wave after wave after wave …”
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno brings another wave of innovation with ‘The Ship’ – Chicago Tribune.)
Sounds good enough for me…
How is Brian Eno still finding uncharted waters after half a century spent making music? On The Ship, his first solo album in four years, Eno fuses his signature yawning soundscapes and substantive vocal work for the first time. The result is an album that occupies a space somewhere in between the ambient realm Eno helped to define and traditional songcraft. Its two major pieces meander, unmoored from rhythm and narrative, but they also demand your attention.
Of course, it’s not like Eno just holed up in his breakfast nook and jotted down the lyrics making up The Ship in a spare notepad — that’d be a little too simple. Instead, he fed dozens and dozens of texts into a Markov chain generator written by his frequent collaborator Peter Chilvers, many of them orbiting around a few key topics: soldiers’ songs from the First World War, accounts from the sinking of the Titanic, disclaimers inserted at the bottom of emails. The interesting phrases he salvaged from the resulting mess ended up on The Ship, brought to life by Eno’s sonorous voice.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno’s The Ship, and the family tree of ambient music | The Verge.)
plus a cover of one of my favorite Lou Reed / Velvet Underground songs – the one with a great, echoey unusual guitar solo1
For the sound installation, Mr. Eno assembled the speakers into “columns which look like gravestones from some culture that you haven’t quite heard of yet,” he said. “A mausoleum of some kind or a cemetery, because the music is very morbid.”
The music of “The Ship” is tolling and elegiac, while “Fickle Sun,” with lyrics about the “dismal work” of a soldier’s life, is in constant metamorphosis. Electronic sounds melt into orchestral upheavals and guitar distortion; voices, natural and synthetic, loom from all directions. It’s a rare Eno piece that revolves around contrast rather than homogeneity: “I liked the fact that things happened which you weren’t expecting, and they jutted out at you,” he said.
The piece ends unresolved, followed by an actor’s reciting a poem generated by a computer program over sparse piano notes and, as a soft landing, Mr. Eno’s tranquil, richly harmonized remake of “I’m Set Free,” the Velvet Underground song with a sweetly barbed chorus: “I’m set free to find another illusion.”
Time and mortality haunt “The Ship.” In recent years Mr. Eno has lost friends like Mr. Bowie as well as colleagues and family members. His father-in-law — “a very happy man, a very good man” — who worked as a doctor for the World Health Organization, once said something that stuck with him: “All men die in disappointment.”
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno: Ambient Sounds, but Political, Too – The New York Times.)
Brian Eno discusses that song:
The first time I ever heard [The Velvet Underground] was on a John Peel radio show… it was when their first album came out and I thought “This I like! This I want to know about!”. I was having a huge crisis at the time. Am I going to be a painter or am I somehow going to get into music. And I couldn’t play anything so music was the less obvious choice. Then, when I heard The Velvet Underground I thought, “you can do both actually”. It was a big moment for me.
That particular song always resonated with me but it took about 25 years before I thought about the lyrics. “I’m set free, to find a new illusion”. Wow. That’s saying we don’t go from an illusion to reality (the western idea of “Finding The Truth”) but rather we go from one workable solution to another more workable solution.
Subsequently I think we aren’t able and actually don’t particularly care about the truth, whatever that might be. What we care about is having intellectual tools and inventions that work. [Yuval Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens”] discusses that what makes large-scale human societies capable of cohering and co-operating is the stories they share together. Democracy is a story, religion is a story, money is a story. This chimed well with “I’m set free to find a new illusion”. It seems to me what we don’t need now is people that come out waving their hands and claiming they know the Right Way.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno Covers the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free”: Listen | Pitchfork.)
You’ve always pushed the boundaries of technology and recording techniques. Did you use any new methods on this album? I’ve been working with Markov chain generators (( from Wikipedia; A Markov chain (discrete-time Markov chain or DTMC), named after Andrey Markov, is a random process that undergoes transitions from one state to another on a state space. It must possess a property that is usually characterized as “memorylessness”: the probability distribution of the next state depends only on the current state and not on the sequence of events that preceded it. This specific kind of “memorylessness” is called the Markov property. Markov chains have many applications as statistical models of real-world processes)) which are statistical randomizers. I was using them to generate text and, in some cases, music as well. Like all varieties of randomizers, what matters crucially is A) what you put in the front end and B) how much you select what comes out of the backend. It’s not magic — they’re tools.
The story that is read by Peter Serafinowicz on “Fickle Sun (ii) The Hour Is Thin” is generated by a Markov chain generator. What I put into the system in the beginning was some dirty songs by First World War soldiers — they used to take old songs and would put their own words to them which were often totally pornographic. I had some of the warnings and terms of conditions that appear at the bottom of emails, where they say “If you have received this email in error…” I like that kind of technical language. Then I had accounts written from the lifeboats by people watching the Titanic sinking. And also part of a book about the blitz over London.
All of that stuff went in and then the statistical generator reconfigures it. It might be mixing a bit from a bawdy song with a very serious account of weather conditions over London in 1941. It churns out tons of stuff. The trick is to go through it and find the bits that surprise you.
(click here to continue reading Brian Eno’s The Ship: Producer and artist interview | EW.com.)
Markov chains are employed in algorithmic music composition, particularly in software such as CSound, Max and SuperCollider. In a first-order chain, the states of the system become note or pitch values, and a probability vector for each note is constructed, completing a transition probability matrix (see below). An algorithm is constructed to produce output note values based on the transition matrix weightings, which could be MIDI note values, frequency (Hz), or any other desirable metric.
1st-order matrix Note A C♯ E♭ A 0.1 0.6 0.3 C♯ 0.25 0.05 0.7 E♭ 0.7 0.3 0 2nd-order matrix Notes A D G AA 0.18 0.6 0.22 AD 0.5 0.5 0 AG 0.15 0.75 0.1 DD 0 0 1 DA 0.25 0 0.75 DG 0.9 0.1 0 GG 0.4 0.4 0.2 GA 0.5 0.25 0.25 GD 1 0 0 A second-order Markov chain can be introduced by considering the current state and also the previous state, as indicated in the second table. Higher, nth-order chains tend to “group” particular notes together, while ‘breaking off’ into other patterns and sequences occasionally. These higher-order chains tend to generate results with a sense of phrasal structure, rather than the ‘aimless wandering’ produced by a first-order system.
Markov chains can be used structurally, as in Xenakis’s Analogique A and B. Markov chains are also used in systems which use a Markov model to react interactively to music input.
Usually musical systems need to enforce speciﬁc control constraints on the ﬁnite-length sequences they generate, but control constraints are not compatible with Markov models, since they induce long-range dependencies that violate the Markov hypothesis of limited memory. In order to overcome this limitation, a new approach has been proposed.
(click here to continue reading Markov chain – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)Footnotes:
- at least on the originally released version – there are alternates, “closet mix”, “mono mix”, live, etc. – though my favorite is the originally released version [↩]
Quickly, one last entry into today’s tech file:
Joe Atkins, chief executive officer of Bowers & Wilkins, has owned a majority stake in the half-century-old British speaker business for the last 30 years. On Tuesday, he plans to tell his 1,100 employees that he’s selling it to a tiny company that almost no one has heard of, run by a man he met just 30 days ago. Over the weekend, Atkins reached a sale agreement with Eva Automation, a 40-person Silicon Valley startup that hasn’t yet sold a single product or service. The company was started in 2014 by Gideon Yu, a former Facebook Inc. chief financial officer, ex-venture capitalist, and current co-owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Yu has said little about his startup. According to the company’s website, it is “making products that will change how people interact and think about the home.” About a quarter of its employees have worked at Apple, according to their LinkedIn profiles.
Bowers & Wilkins became a household name before speaker companies had to distinguish themselves through Spotify integrations and voice recognition capability. While Bowers & Wilkins does sell speakers designed to accommodate people used to listening to music through their smartphones, Atkins acknowledges that his company lacks the expertise needed to build software that communicates with cloud services. Any company that wants to sell speakers at a significant premium would need to integrate high-end hardware with sophisticated software. Yu plans to begin selling new products that incorporate Eva’s work by early to mid-2017.
(click here to continue reading Speaker Maker Bowers & Wilkins Sells Out to a Tiny Silicon Valley Startup – Bloomberg.)
I have owned three different Bowers & Wilkins headphones: they all still have great sound. I hope these new owners don’t gut the company of what made it great and run it into the ground.
This sucky blog has been a bit moribund recently due to my lack of engagement with the outside world. No strike that, just a long, long winter and my body has made the leap1 from young to not-so-young, and with it, nagging health issues of various kinds that I won’t bore you with. Anyway, to jump start me writing here again, I’ve assigned myself topics based on the day, starting with Music Monday.
I may be one of the last citizens of America who still purchases music CDs on a regular basis. Streaming music is well and good, I don’t participate. I’d rather indulge my nascent horder tendencies, and have my own copies of things, especially since “used” CDs sound identical to “new” CDs 99% of the time. I also have wider, more varied tastes than the streaming algorithms encourage. I’ve only dabbled with Spotify and the Apple Music channels, but an hour of music via Spotify seems artificially constricted to my ear. You can change your musical directions by seeding new stations, but every “next track” is via a linear progression from the preceding song.
When I am the DJ of my own radio station, which truth be told, runs 20 hours a day2 whether or not I’m in the room(s), I queue up 500 or 1,000 songs at a time. If you are listening to Radio Seth3, you should expect to hear deep cuts from Funkadelic followed by Alt-Country maesters The Jayhawks followed by Brahms concertos followed by outtakes from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti followed by whatever. Or 50 songs about rain, or 24 hours worth of David Bowie or Prince or Merle Haggard. Or albums released in 1985. Or albums released last year. I liberally use randomizing AppleScripts from AppleScript guru Doug Adams to top up my playlists, I change direction on a whim, and of course alter playlists when I have an audience4
There was a mythical era in commercial radio when DJs had the freedom to play what they wanted. By the time I was interested in music, this FM free-form radio era seemed to be on its last legs, so I don’t actually know if there were radio stations that played all sorts of music with only the taste of the DJ linking them together, or if that is another bullshit myth perpetuated by aging Baby Boomers. I don’t even care, in my mind, there was such a time, and I want to have my own radio station that plays all the hits as defined by my own idiosyncratic charts.
One last thing, the age of the CD box set has encouraged record labels and musicians to open their vaults, reissues and repackaging are attempts to cash-in, but also mean that much music is available that I’ve never heard before. I’m not one of those who claim “music today doesn’t have the same soul”, I seek out new music from current artists just as much as I seek out classic albums from garage rockers of the mid-1960s or obscure Nigerian funk musicians from the 1970s. I try not to have preconceptions over what I’ll explore, but of course, there is plenty of new and old music I am not interested in. As someone on Reddit said:
People think old music is better than new music because people have already stopped listening to the old music that sucks