Archive for May, 2009

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Decibel Fest no more?

May 7, 2009

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The Stranger reports that the fate of Seattle’s electronic music festival, Decibel, hangs in the balance. Says founder Sean Horton (also known as Nordic Soul):

So far 2009 hasn’t been a very good year for Decibel in terms of attendance at our one-off events, which isn’t a good sign for the 2009 festival. Not sure what to make of it, but if we can’t raise the necessary money by the middle of June, the 2009 festival program will be cancelled.

Like many promoters, Horton and fellow organizers have been fronting the money for the festival on their own credit cards. The credit crunch has reduced their ability to fund it this way, including foiling Horton’s attempt to take out a loan against his house. On top of that, attendance at yesterday’s gala fundraiser was far lower than expectations.

It’s an incredible pity, since Decibel 2008 was fantastic (I bought a pass before I even moved to Seattle and went out every night, to what seemed like pretty crowded venues). One issue is that Decibel, unlike other festivals such as Mutek, only recently registered as a non-profit, thereby becoming eligible for local arts funding. Advanced sales for Mutek and Movement are pointing towards increased attendance from last year (as was the case for Coachella), so it’s quite possible that Decibel would also do fine this year, but that’s a hell of a risk to take when it’s your personal financial wherewithal at stake. Here’s hoping they get the funding sorted out. If you want to help, you can make a tax-deductible contribution via their funding partner, Shunpike.

MP3: Claude von Stroke – Who’s Afraid of Detroit? (Audion remix) [beatport]

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Muppet Rawk art show

May 6, 2009

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This Saturday, May 9th, is the opening of the Muppet Rawk II group show at Ouch My Eye Gallery, just south of downtown Seattle. The mandate was to take an existing rock album cover, and re-imagine it using Muppets, in a 12″x12″ format. You can see a preview of one of the paintings at Boing Boing.

Needless to say, this is what I will be doing on Saturday night.

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Watch: Passion Pit, “Sleepyhead”

May 6, 2009

I have a deep weakness for stop-motion animation, and this unofficial video for Cambridge, MA’s Passion Pit far surpasses the original.

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Auto-Tune, pop, and the body politic

May 5, 2009

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A bit of pop culture commentary today…

What I Learned at the Pop Conference. From The Stranger, a lighthearted summary of the goings-on at this year’s EMP Pop Conference, which had the theme, “Dance Music Sex Romance: Pop and the Body Politic.” Under the heading, “People Like Gimmicks,” author Eric Grandy describes this talk:

Douglas Wolk, presenting a paper on the incorporeality of club and radio DJs, the disconnect between their bodies and the sound they produce—they can’t physically touch the sound they create the way that a guitarist can touch the vibration of a string, they aren’t physically interacting with their audiences, and if they’re doing their job right they might as well not even have a physical body—stood at the podium, silently shuffling his papers every couple minutes and cueing video clips while prerecorded voices read the paper he’d written. A cute and effective conceptual stunt.

The article is a great overview of the conference that captures both academic music nerdery, silliness and—the best part—the intersection of the two.

Auto-Tune reconsidered. Like most indie music fanatics, I have considerable disdain for Auto-Tune—at its best, it’s a crutch, and at its worst, it’s a way for people (young skinny beautiful people, that is) with no musical talent to become pop stars. That is, until I read this article in Frieze Magazine, “Pitch Perfect”. In particular, Jace Clayton pulls in examples from Cher to Kanye West to North African Berber pop, complete with embedded YouTube videos so you can listen. He argues that effective use of Autotune requires the vocalist to work with the electronics:

Unlike traditional effects such as reverb or echo, Auto-Tune actively responds to human error and pitch subtleties. It doesn’t flatten or smooth. Nor does it universalize. Ari Raskin, chief engineer of high-end Manhattan recording studio Chung King, explains, ‘if you sing really ‘on’ [key] then the effect is less drastic’. The software works hard to make wrong notes right, so correctly-pitched notes sound relatively natural. But a virtuoso will confound the software when sliding around notes. The interplay becomes complex.

and that this melding of the human and the digital is a ‘cyborg embrace.’ Check out the whole article and see if it makes you re-think the use of Auto-Tune, too.

[image credit: Mark Kaufman, The Stranger]

MP3: Matmos – Regicide [buy]

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Music and tech news roundup

May 4, 2009

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Music and technology news from around the Internet:

Canada is a nation of pirates. Arrr! The US Trade Representatives, who track intellectual property protections among US trading partners, elevated Canada from their ‘watch list’ to the ‘priority watch list’ last week, which puts it alongside China, Russia, and India. They only presented data for software piracy (not music or movies), on which Canada is at the bottom of the list of pirates. I’d guess that Canada got added to the super bad guys list because they didn’t pass a bill that would be Canadian equivalent of the DMCA, much like it got added to the list of countries whose citizens you shouldn’t talk to if you do DARPA or DoD-funded research right after Canadians declined to send troops to Iraq – never mind the larger picture. [via Ars Technica, from whence came the fantastic illustration above]

MGMT settles lawsuit against Sarkozy’s party. Speaking of piracy, MGMT sued French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s political party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), for using their song, “Kids” at rallies and on videos on the UMP website. MGMT weren’t offended by them using to song per se, but more by its unauthorized use by the UMP, who are pushing a new anti-piracy bill, with stricter penalties for downloading and filesharing. MGMT settled with the party, for somewhere in the ballpark of €30K, which they plan to donate to artists’ rights groups. [via CHARTAttack]

Best Buy to start carrying vinyl. Best Buy, which is the third-largest music-seller after iTunes and Wal-Mart, has decided to start carrying vinyl records at all its stores after a 100-store pilot project proved successful. They’re going to carry a pretty small selection at each store – about 200 albums, versus about 8000 CDs – but this is definitely seen as a net win by the music industry. A number of record companies have started re-releasing (or are gearing up to re-release) LPs, complete with original artwork and packaging. While they cost more to produce, and have lower margins than CDs, sales of vinyl are growing – pretty much the only bright spot in the world of physical music. [New York Post]

Home boozing is killing music. The Guardian reports that revenues from public performance of music in UK pubs and clubs fell for the first time ever, by about 2%. This corresponds with a drop in beer volume sales, and has been attributed to more people staying home and drinking, rather than spending money in pubs. Wonder if we’ll see something similar in the US soon. [via Current]

Richie Hawtin tweets track info while DJ’ing. Richie Hawtin has started using a custom version of Traktor Pro mixing software to automatically send out track information to Twitter while he’s onstage (you can take a look here). While this is obviously a boon to the kind of music nerds who want to know every track that’s getting played (er, guilty as charged), it’s a great way for lesser-known labels and songs to be identified, and may eventually lead to a better way for them to be compensated for performance rights. [via The Stranger]

MP3: MGMT – Kids [buy]

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It’s May 1st…

May 1, 2009

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If you’re anywhere outside the US or Canada, Happy May Day! If not, Happy First of May!

MP3: Billy Bragg – There is Power in a Union [buy]

MP3: Jonathan Coulton – First of May [buy/download] (N even remotely SFW! Also it’s absurdly catchy, so try not to inadvertently sing it aloud)