Archive for September, 2009

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Music, tech and culture roundup

September 28, 2009

oblique strategies

Auto-Tune, by way of Brian Eno: Montreal’s Islands (opening for the Psychedelic Furs and the Happy Mondays at House of Blues on October 10) are taking flak for the track “Heartbeat,” off their brand-new album, Vapours, for the heavily-Auto-Tuned vocals. In this interview over at Street Carnage, Nicholas Thorburn defends their decision to  use it, inspired by their use of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies in the studio.

What does your music look like? Paul Lamere is spending a lot of time thinking about visualizations of music these days. Want to help? He’s collecting visualizations of musical taste. Grab a marker, sketch out what you think your music looks like, and upload it Flickr, tagged with ‘MyMusicTaste.’

Indie music stars on the big screen. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and James Mercer of the Shins star in upcoming release Some Days are Better Than Others. You can watch the trailer here. No word on whether they’ll be contributing to the soundtrack (via Line Out).

MP3: Islands – Jogging Gorgeous Summer (no Auto-Tune, I promise) [buy]

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The Mark Sandman Memorial Concert

September 25, 2009

MSMC poster

This Sunday is the Mark Sandman Memorial Concert, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the passing of the legendary Morphine frontman. The event takes place at Pacific Park in Cambridge from 1 to 7 pm. Performers include Orchestra Morphine, Elastic Waste Band, Faces on Film and more. There’ll be opportunities to play Harmonix‘s new Beatles Rock Band, as well as an on-site raffle, charity auction, and more. The concert is part of the larger Mark Sandman Music Project, which honors Sandman’s life by supporting music opportunities for youth.

Download MP3s from the Mark Sandman Music Project site for a PWYC donation.

UPDATE: Looks like rain. The concert has been relocated to the Middle East Downstairs, from 11:30 am to 5;30 pm.

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Read: Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records

September 23, 2009

ournoise

[Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, The Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small, by John Cook with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance]

Author John Cook has assembled a history of Merge Records‘ two decades, from the early days of hand-screening record sleeves in bedrooms to its current status as home to mega-indie bands like Spoon and Arcade Fire. The book is definitely all about the primary sources and the historical record—while Cook’s writing provides excellent context, much of the text is in the form of direct quotes with artists, colleagues, and friends of the label. The book also highlights the unusually close links between the label and its artists by interleaving chapters on the bands, particularly Superchunk, of course (it’s the band of Merge founders Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance).

The picture that emerges from the text and interviews is that Merge did everything right (which is why they’re around get books written about them, admittedly). To begin with, it’s a label that was started by musicians, for musicians. But even artist-run labels die off like fruit flies, except that fruit flies are unlikely to disappear with any of your money. Merge’s  no-contract, we’re-all-friends philosophy was coupled with an unstinting focus on the bottom line (the individuals quoted in Our Noise almost unanimously attribute this to Ballance’s influence). Despite that, Merge took a certain number of risks—most notably, the release of Magnetic Fields’ magnum opus, 69 Love Songs, a three-CD box set with an expensive insert booklet. That a massive collection of love songs, in a comprehensive range of musical styles, could sell more than 150,000 copies is wildly improbable—except for one minor detail, which is that the music is brilliant. Finally, Merge benefited (and is continuing to benefit) enormously from the way the world changed around them. The mainstreaming of indie music has helped the label, of course. But more significantly, the rise of digital distribution has flattened the landscape, allowing Merge to compete effectively with the majors, not least because the big players can no longer offer anything useful that Merge can’t, since the value of promotional tools like payola-greased radio play and premium placement in record stores has plummeted.

Appropriately enough, given Merge’s philosophy, the book is inexpensive (the first edition is a sub-$20 paperback) but beautifully designed and crafted, from the matte-finish cover to flyleaves  illustrated with a grid of Merge album covers. It’s also lavishly illustrated with ephemera—photographs, notes, postcards and more—culled from the closets of the interviewees.

Read an excerpt here. Check out the Our Noise website. And then buy it.

Want to win a free copy? E-mail us or DM debcha before 5 pm Eastern on Monday, September 28th. We’ll pick a respondent at random to receive a free copy from Algonquin Books (and extra-special thanks to them for being willing to mail it anywhere).

MP3: Magnetic Fields – Grand Canyon [buy]

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Archive of Crocodile live sets

September 21, 2009

Odegaard media center

Jim Anderson, the sound engineer at Seattle’s legendary (and recently re-opened) live music venue The Crocodile, has donated five years worth of live show recordings (2002-2007) to the University of Washington’s Ethnomusicology Archives – nearly 3000 hours of music. Artists include z=z faves the Dresden Dolls, the Mountain Goats, the National, and oodles more – you can take a look at the huge list and find your own favorites. The good news? They’re all available to the public. The catch: In order to obviate licensing issues and piracy concerns, you have to go in person, to the ‘listening stations’ at UW’s Odegaard Library. I think it’d be great if artists could agree to put their recordings in the public domain or otherwise agree to let them out on the Internet – I sincerely hope the University is looking into the possibility.

Since I spent most of the last year on the University of Washington campus, I’m kicking myself that I only found out about this collection after I returned to the East Coast. On the other hand, it’s probably just as well – I can’t imagine that spending all my time in the library, headphones on, would have really helped my productivity.

(thanks to Scott for the heads-up!)

Image: Media Center by Flickr user University of Washington Libraries, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Music, tech, and culture roundup

September 18, 2009

canadianMusicWikipedia

Colbert Report to stream albums. The Flaming Lips were on the The Colbert Report on Wednesday night, and the Mountain Goats (whoo!) are scheduled to be guests in a couple of weeks. More interesting, though, is that both artists will be streaming their albums, before the official release dates, on the Colbert website.  Here’s hoping it leads to new fans and bigger sales. [via Underwire]

Canadian music wiki. Journalism student and CBC Radio 3 intern Amanda Ash is working on putting together a Wikipedia-style database of Canadian music as her thesis project, tapping into CanCon-loving music fans (whence the awesome illo, above).  She’s soliciting ideas – go help her out.

Another fun online musical toy. In the same vein as the online Tenori-On, there’s a web-based musical instrument, Nudge, with a range of sounds and tempos. If you come up with something you like, you can embed it in your blog or share it with your friends. Warning: making pretty melodies is quite the timesuck. [via Indie Music Tech].

There and back again. Over at the New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones has a thoughtful profile of Trent Reznor, tracing his journey from indie, to major label, to indie again.

What does filesharing mean for composers? Lyricist and composer Björn Ulvaeus (sound familiar? argues that musicians can ‘sing for their supper,’ but songwriters can’t, and they might end up the big losers with declining music sales. This probably explain why composers and songwriters are trying to get a cut from 30-second song previews on iTunes.

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Logan Lynn, From Pillar to Post

September 16, 2009

I blogged about Portland, OR electronica artist Logan Lynn waaaay back in April, when I got a pre-release copy of his new album, From Pillar to Post:

I’ve been listening to an early copy of Logan Lynn’s new album, From Pillar to Post, for a few weeks now, and it’s been gradually infiltrating itself into my brain. The Portland-based Lynn describes his music as ‘electro-pop’, but that carries connotations that are a little too saccharine.  The gentle tenor vocals over a background of electronica are like the smooth, reflective surfaces of mirror shards, belying the razor-sharp edges of the complex song structures, syncopation, and bleak lyrics—as his bio puts it, putting the ‘disco’ back into ‘discomfort.’

It’s finally out for the general public. Well, kind of. You can download a digital version now, but the physical CD won’t be out until November (?!). If you decide to go for atoms instead of bits, you can buy one of the packages – I’m partial to the sterling silver knuckles in the shape of a row of hearts – or you can always drop $5000 on a Logan Lynn dance party.

MP3: Logan Lynn – Alone Together (Boy in Static remix)

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Watch: Stingray Sam

September 14, 2009
StingraySam poster

Filmmaker and musician Cory McAbee has created his second sci-fi Western musical, Stingray Sam, featuring his band, The Billy Nayer Show. In the film, Stingray Sam is reunited with his old accomplice, The Quasar Kid, and “the story follows these two space convicts as they earn their freedom in exchange for the rescue of a young girl who is being held captive by the genetically designed figurehead of a very wealthy planet.” David Hyde Pierce provides the deadpan narration, and it’s a decided homage to ‘singing cowboy’ movies and classic sci-fi, aiming for (and doing a pretty good job of hitting) that sweet spot between irony, nostalgia, and kitsch. You can watch the trailer and the first episode here. If this seems up your alley, you can also check out McAbee’s first sci-fi Western musical, The American Astronaut.

The film is ‘designed for screens of all sizes;’ to start, it’s a feature-length film that’s broken into six download-friendly episodes. There’s a screening in LA tomorrow (September 15th) at 7 pm PDT, followed by a Q&A with McAbee, and it’ll be streamed live at the film site. It’ll also be screening theatres around the country and the world, and as of tomorrow, it’ll be available for purchase in a variety of formats, ranging from phone-friendly to hi-def.

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Music, tech and culture roundup

September 11, 2009

heteropoda davidbowie

Spiders from Mars Madagascar: That beauty above? That’s a Heteropoda davidbowie, newly discovered spider named after David Bowie (in honor of his Spiders from Mars). You can read the whole story here.

Sound quality in music: Sasha Frere-Jones has started a new series in the New Yorker called “Dithering: The Sound of Sound” which explores sound quality in music. The first and second posts are up.  If you haven’t yet, you can test yourself to see if you can hear the difference between MP3s at 128 and 320 kbps.

Monkeys find Metallica calming: Primatologist Charles Snowdon at UW-Madison showed that the affective state of tamarind monkeys can be changed by ‘monkey music’ (music based on their calls) but it largely unaltered by human music, with the exception of Metallica, oddly enough. This is interesting because music affects the emotional state of humans in a similar way across cultures, but it these effects don’t seem to cross over to other primates. More information here.

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Read: M. Specktor, That Summertime Sound

September 9, 2009

that summertime sound

It’s after Labor Day, which means that the summer of 2009 is a fast-fading memory (in US and Canadian culture anyway, even if the astronomers don’t agree). But the debut novel by Matthew Specktor, That Summertime Sound, looks even farther back, to a summer in the 1980s. The narrator has just finished his freshman year of college, and is lured to Columbus, OH by the promise of sharing a town with the girl of his dreams and his musical heroes, Lords of Oblivion.

Heavily laced with references to artists from Hüsker Dü to Elvis Costello (and a disconcertingly veiled-but-transparent reference to Bauhaus), the prose and narrative of That Summertime Sound are sparse and evocative. This works well to elicit the heat and sounds of the Columbus summer but less well to draw the characters, who come across as rather thinly sketched, especially the women. Nevertheless, it’s an engaging read, especially for anyone who was a music-loving adolescent.

More information on the book, including MP3s of excerpts read by Jeremy Irons, J. Mascis, James Franco and others, can be found here. Largehearted Boy asked Matthew Specktor to create and discuss a playlist for the book – you can read it here.

Buy the book here. I also have one free copy to give away. Just e-mail or message me on Twitter before 12 noon Eastern on Monday, September 14th, and I’ll pick someone at random from the responses and have a copy of the book sent out to you (US and Canada addresses only, I’m afraid).

MP3: “The Devil In It Somewhere” – TSS excerpt read by Jeremy Irons

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Nick Hornby on MP3 blogs, and his new novel

September 7, 2009

Nick Hornby, who immortalized intimidating record stores in High Fidelity (as brilliantly conveyed by Jack Black in its on-screen translation: “Do we look like the kind of store that sells “I Just Called to Say I Love You”? Go to the mall.”) wrote a paean to the brave new world of music on the Internet in this weekend’s Guardian Observer:

But more importantly, you need never again feel as though the pop life is drifting away from you – indeed, the anonymity and user-friendliness of the MP3 blogs mean that one feels emboldened to walk into even the scariest-looking website in the full confidence that nobody will laugh at you.

He also makes an amusing (albeit slightly depressing) prediction for the future of musicians and bands. Read the full article here.

Hornby’s new novel, Juliet, Naked, about the relationship between a reclusive songwriter and the girlfriend of his biggest fan, is due out later this month. You can hear him talk about it in the video above or in person at Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, September 30th.

I will now sell five copies of  The Three EPs by the Beta Band.

MP3: The Beta Band – Dry The Rain (live) [buy]

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Music, tech and culture roundup, bis

September 2, 2009

The National

It’s the start of school! Here are your reading assignments for the week.

Music History 101: The transition from live music performance to recordings. In the 1950s, music used to be about songs – what we now think of as standards. Whether in Paris or Poughkeepsie, people wanted to hear someone sing Cole Porter’s  “Miss Otis Regrets,” and it didn’t really matter who. With the rise of radio in the 1960s, music began to be about recordings – “Hey Jude” is not only by the Beatles, but there is a single, canonical version of it in our collective memory. In this article by Elijah Wald, he discusses the history and context of this transition, including how it reinforced racial segregation.

Intro to Sociology: Indie rock from the perspective of our parents. While “The Grown-Ups Guide to Indie Rock,” is a less than appealing title, fifty-something music critic D.J. Palladino writes an appreciation of indie music that gets closer to its heart than a score of Pitchfork 9.4 reviews ever could.

[extra credit] Advanced Topics in Neurobiology: Why we respond emotionally to music. Scientific American had a great article last month on the neurological basis of the emotional response to music. You can read a summary here, but unfortunately the full article is behind a paywall (if you happen to actually be at a college, you should have online access).

MP3: Kirsty McColl and the Pogues – Miss Otis Regrets [buy]

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