Archive for the 'Music' Category

William Orbit: A Tale of Two Albums

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009
William Orbit - My Oracle Lives Uptown.jpg
William Orbit - Strange Cargo III.jpg

Wwwaaayyy back in 1993 an album came out that set me on a path of deep exploration of all things Electronica, borderline “dance”, and trance/ambient. Of course, back then, it wasn’t called that. It was just called “rave/dance” or “electronic” in most record stores.

That album was William Orbit’s Strange Cargo III.

It was a pivotal album in my music collection. Combining a depth & precision in production that any geek would be awed by with sometimes poignant and often beautifully ethereal lyrics all on top of brilliant compositions yielded an album of auditory bliss.

For many years, Strange Cargo III was the album I played for anyone claiming that bleep blorp compositions weren’t really music. And they walked away proven wrong, generally off to pick up a copy.

madonna-ray-of-light-cover-design.jpg

An aside; you might be wondering why Madonna’s Ray of Light appears at left. To many, Ray Of Light was a total surprise. It exhibited a depth of composition and lushness of sound that was unprecedented either in Madonna’s catalog or in major pop releases, in general.

One listen to Strange Cargo III and the connection is unmistakable; Ray of Light is a William Orbit album with Madonna authoring lyrics and performing vocals!

This is important because a relatively small percentage of avid music fans have heard the name William Orbit, and yet his work is pervasive and unmistakable, once you know the sound. Signature singles & mixes from Depeche Mode, Erasure, U2, Beth Orton, and many others were produced by Orbit. As evidenced by his discography, William Orbit’s impact on popular music has been huge!

16 years after SCIII, Orbit has released My Oracle Lives Uptown.

And this is where this particular “review” goes sideways.





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MTV playing MUSIC VIDEOS!?!?!?!

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I actually watched when MTV went live. I remember the first video played way back in 1981. Barely.

This it. The Buggles’ performing Video Killed the Radio Star. Great album.

And then MTV became a fairly regular waste of time. I would leave it on in the background and enjoy some tunage while hacking my Apple II or some random electronic bits. Or sit and stare.

After quite a few years of mostly music videos and music events, MTV added some interesting non-video content. Some animated clip shows that were cutting edge and entertaining.

But then they lost their way. Took the “music” out of the TV and filled it with utter crap instead.

However, MTV is back. Only it isn’t on your TV. MTV launched “MTV Music” which appears to be their attempt to build a community based web site. I’ll forgive the redundance in the name, as the site actually focuse on music videos.

And it has an API (well, a bunch of things you can embed, anyway).

Seems a bit passive, actually. Doesn’t really seem to be a “keep streaming videos at me” option.

Shell Script to Control iTunes

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

For mother’s day, one of my wonderful wife’s requests was to have a bit of a Ms. PacMan marathon.

So, out came the ghetto arcade controller and, a bit longer than expected later, a Ms. PacMan marathon she had! (A bit longer because a nasty latency bug has cropped up in MAME OS X somewhere along the way. I found a workaround. But, yuck.)

Now, MAME is full screen and pausing the game just to deal with iTunes shuffle play song selection suckage (since iTunes on the MAME machine sends tunage to the garage workspace) is not considered good gaming etiquette.

Clearly, I need a shell script to control iTunes. Remote Buddy is cool, but it is too slow, requires too much configuration, and, after much use, has proven a bit flaky. A simple, straightforward, shell script is sufficient and, certainly, I cannot have been the first too think of this.

I wasn’t! I found this ancient hint on MacOSXHints.com.

David Schlosnagle — who seems to have disappeared — wrote a very useful little shell script that can play, pause, go to the next track, and set the output volume. The script, as posted, doesn’t quite work all the time due to (I presume) shell changes between 10.0(?) and Leopard.

So, I grabbed a copy of the script, dropped it in my hacques repository, and have updated it for Leopard. I also added the ability to set ratings from the command line (and the status command will show the currently playing track’s rating). Minor changes, really.

The latest version can always be had at http://svn.red-bean.com/bbum/trunk/hacques/itunes.sh.

Thanks to David for doing this in the first place!!

Dark Side of AmazonMP3

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

Today, Amazon launched their AmazonMP3 digital music store.

From the title of this post, you might think I’m going to reveal something sinister about it.

Nope — just here to point out that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is rapidly climbing the charts. Pink Floyd is the second most popular artist and DSotM is the #1 most popular PF album. However, The Wall seems to be beating out DSotM, making me wonder if Amazon is ranking album sales by # of tracks per album?

No idea. What I do know is that Amazon’s music store is really quite very nice. Beyond selling non-DRM’d MP3s at a reasonable sample rate of 256kbps (VBR, LAME encoded) — though I’d rather have AAC at the same bit rate as it really does sound better — the pricing seems really quite attractively flat.

99 cents/track. Period. If you pick up a 4 track album with 4 20 minute tracks, that’ll be $3.96, please! Fantastic. Gotta wonder if that’ll survive the beta period.

In any case, I picked up two awesome Fela Kuti albums for less than $9/total.

Zombie: This rather brilliant bit of high energy funk jazz sparked a major uprising in Nigeria as it was highly critical of the corrupt government and very popular with the people. It led to the death of Fela’s mother, the destruction of much of his work, and nearly his death. Eventually, it led to Fela taking 27 wives in 1978 to mark the anniversary of the attacks.

OK — wow — some serious history. But, ultimately, it is just an amazing piece of musicianship. One very deep central african groove going on here.

The second album is Fela with Ginger Baker LIVE!. This might just be the very first album release from Feta, though it is hard to tell.

As its name implies, it is Fela and his band playing with Ginger Baker — drummer extraordinaire of whom I have written about before.

The album starts out with Fela sort of introducing the group and about how they are going to just sit down and play some music… 1..2..3..4…holy oh my i just got run over by a wall of amazing rhythm and music.

Great stuff. I’m going to continue hunting through the 20,000 or so $5 or less albums– bound to be some other gems.

Pat Benatar (w/ Lennon Murphy opening)

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Christine and I headed up to The Mountain Winery to see Pat Benatar this evening.

Great venue. Outdoor stage with a relatively small number of seats on top of a mountain overlooking all of silicon valley. Decent, but expensive, concert food — burgers, fries, calamari, etc.. — and quite tasty, but also expensive, margaritas or bottles of wine.

Benatar and Neil “Spyder” Giraldo, Pat’s husband and the one individual that has contributed to every Benatar album, played an excellent set of classic Benatar tunes. Nothing new here; just classic Benatar hits played by excellent musicians fronted by Pat, whose voice has held up well all these years. Neil is a strong and versatile musicion, playing keyboards, guitar and drums throughout the main set and encore.

Kind of like going to Karaoke where the performance is done by the original artists with a goal of trying to achieve the same sound they had when the songs were still considered new. No matter how good they play, it is still just a rehash of former performances.

And the crowd loved it. Totally ate it up. Great energy. Pat and Neil had some great interactions– both historical recounting and joking around — with the crowd and it was definitely a big happy Benatar love fest. It was quite a bit of fun.

But, in the end, not my thing. I’m too much of a newjunkie. Not just “totally new”, but if I’m going to see a band play 30 year old hits, I really want to see something new; a jam session that breaks out into total improv around the classic theme, new instruments or arrangements, or — at the very least — at least a handful of interesting songs that were written in the last year or two.

Lennon Murphy opened thee show with an acoustic set; just her and a keyboard in piano mode. Never heard of her. It was quite good; simple cord sequences with her solid, Natalie Merchant-esque, voice on top.

Apparently — I haven’t listened yet — Lennon normally does music that could be described as “metal”. It definitely comes through in her piano+voice work in that the chord progressions and melodies tend to be fairly simple. It was easy to imagine what that same set of chords might sound like through screaming guitars.

As usual, wikipedia has a bunch of interesting biographical information on Lennon Murphy. Beyond the seemingly ubiquitous MySpace profile, Lennon also appears on SuicideGirls.

Lennon’s Career Suicide album is quite good and closely matches the set she played as the opening act at the show. Nice production value, with just an occasional touch of electro-effect on the piano and vocals, and good storytelling. Neat — scratches my newjunkie itch nicely.

American Masters: Les Paul

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

I’m a huge fan of music; all kinds, but I lean to the modern. I love rock-n-roll, techno, [some] country, and just about everything in between.

And when you talk of modern music, there is one man whose inventions and accomplishments impacted modern music more than anyone else.

Les Paul.

PBS’s American Masters has now covered Les Paul. Amazing show; interviews with the man himself accompanied by contributions from many others and plenty of examples of Mr. Paul’s amazing recordings.

Excellent show.

If you are in New York City on any given Monday evening, go see Les Paul live at the Iridium Club.

I have been three times and it was amazing. Every single time. Given that Les invented basically all of the technologies behind modern rock-n-roll — from the electric guitar to multi-track recording to overdub — you never know who might show up.

(Funny — the part where Paul McCartney is relaying a story to Les on stage … that happened at the Iridium on a night I was there. McCartney was sitting at the next table. That is just how the show works.)

The first time I saw him, I went with a friend that did a bunch of engineering work with Les in the early years (50s or so) and we sat and chatted with Les Paul until about 5 in the morning.

About inventing, engineering, life, and everything… For the Make crowd, there is your poster child right there– amazing.

Brian Eno + David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

I have a decent sized music collection — 25,000+ tracks across all genres but EZ listening — that has largely evolved along lines of producers, artists, and genres. Following these kinds of lineages have led to some truly awesome bits of music.

I really like ambient music. Not that wishy-washy crap, but stuff with rhythm and lots of interesting samples and sounds that meld together to create seriously complex and mesmerizing textures. Moby struck me as a bit of pioneer, as does the Orb.

A couple of days ago, a friend introduced me to an album that is quite clearly a historical anchor in the realm of sampleriffic ambient textural rhythmic goo.

Brian Eno and David Byrne created My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1981. A combination of field recordings, world music, studio effects, and other bits of electronica (but no samples!), the result is a groundbreaking groove that presaged much of what would become standard fair more than a decade later (and with much better technology).

Awesome album. And an interesting combination of extreme artists. Some of Eno’s work can put a tweaking meth head to sleep and Byrne’s solo efforts often get inanely vocal. Together they seem to ground each other and the result is pure brilliance.

Update: davidf mentions that My Life in the Bush of Ghosts was produced around the time of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. Remain in Light is another piece of flat out brilliances. Complex compositions with layers of effects and rhythms. Almost primal, at times. Unlike Bush of Ghosts, Remain in Light has lyrics, interesting stories told/sung by Byrnes on top of awesome soundscape produced by the Heads.

Another must have album. And, interestingly enough, there is a third album that is considered to be equally as masterful. Byrne did a soundtrack called The Catherine Wheel that was commissioned by Twyla Tharp.

Rob Bevan also wrote to say that there is an entire web site devoted to the Bush of Ghosts album. It contains multi-track downloads of some of the songs and a slew of user submitted remixes.

Very very cool stuff. Thank you for the links and pointers!

Update2: The thread not followed: Sometime in the late ’80s or early ’90s, I picked up a fabulous collection of songs put together by Peter Gabriel called the The Best of Music And Rhythm. Amazing collection of songs. As it turns out, the second song on The Catherine Wheel appears on that album! While I ran long on Peter Gabriel, The English Beat and a couple of the other artists on that album, I never got around to exploring the Byrne content.

Happily, that circle is now closed. Catherine Wheel is excellent!

iTunes Album Sale!

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

In one of my random RSS feeds was a notice that the iTunes store is having an album sale. Cool. $7.99 or less for some random assortment of albums. Sounds like a perfect opportunity to spend some of the $90 or so in gift credits I had on account.

Wow. Score! There are some really awesome albums in the lot. Yeah, yeah, still 128kbit/sec DRM’d, but I’m happy to optimistically assume that an upgrade option will be made available if and when any of the albums are available in an upgraded form.

With a six year old in the house, 2 dogs, and way too much crap, it isn’t like I have a listening environment where I can truly hear the difference anyway. Someday…

I ended up picking up 6 albums.

  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue I picked up a couple of live set of Davis in Europe from the 1960 and 1961 tours. Damn. Smoking hot non-electronic jazz. Kind of Blue is the album that preceded that tour and it has all the energy of the live set, but with the precision only afforded in a studio session. If there is only one jazz album to own, this is an easy choice.
  • Cream – Disraeli Gears If you ever listened to classic rock radio stations, you have heard a song or two from this album. In passing. Maybe in the background. But listen more closely and you will hear the beginnings of what already were great musicians on the cusp of becoming legends. Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. Beyond the obvious successes of Clapton, the Bruce and Baker have contributed to an unbelievable selection of music across many genres. As a bassist and pianist, Bruce worked with or toured with Ringo Starr, Bernie Worrel, Zappa, and Frampton. Baker’s drum work is flat out amazing on this album and throughout his career that spanned work in everything from pop to blues to techno to punk. The musicians work well together and their future potential is highly evident throughout this recording from the late ’60s.
  • Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet Many people don’t realize the acoustic blues roots of the Stones. Beyond being a kickass rock and roll band, the Stones were brought up on a steady diet of blues and the entire band is composed of world class musicians that don’t need electronics or amplification to play one hell of a set. Beggars Banquet has the Stones returning to their acoustic blues roots while maintaining a bit of that psychedelic sound they had mastered in the previous years. Rich, raw, and intimate.
  • Queen – A Night at the Opera Yes, this is the album containing Bohemian Rhapsody. Listen closely, lose the Wayne’s World association, and you’ll discover an incredibly rich song with production values (and production budget) that had been unmatched prior to its recording. All of A Night at the Opera is in the same vein; it is complex, layered, and contains beautiful harmonies and compositions. Best of all, it is largely one big joke presented in that dry witty and serious way that only british humorists can pull off. Not only is this a brilliant album, but it is also a milestone in rock and roll. While the prog-rock crowd’s albums were frequently compared to A Night at the Opera, the Punk movement rebelled against everything this album stood for.
  • Curtis Mayfield – Superfly Who would have thought that the soundtrack to a forgettable early ’70s blaxploitation film would yield such a brilliant bit of Funk/Jazz/R&B that also managed to convey the harsh realities of inner city life? Because that is exactly what Mayfield did. Maybe because the musicianship is brilliant and the vocals generally sits on top of a thick bass groove and layers of hand drums and wah-wah guitars. And then you realize the stories that Mayfield is telling are so much deeper than the pap on the screen. This one album launched the blaxploitation movie soundtrack genre and went on to become a very widely sampled and covered album. Hell, the iTunes source has over a dozen covers of Pusherman alone. Kinda fun to throw this album on at a party and watch as the guests, one by one, go from “casual groove” to listening carefully to the stories being told…
  • Eminem – The Marshall Mathers LP Raw. Offensive. Violent. Homophobic. Whatever — all of those words have been thrown at Eminem and many, many, more accusations. This album has been a prime target. It is also an absolutely brilliant work of art. As A Night at the Opera is an astounding prog-rock production, this album is hip-hop at its most refined. The production work on this album is unbelievably tight– the use of ambient sounds, multiple voices, and the instrumentation all work together to amplify the verbal punch of Mather’s poetry. The result flawlessly paints an extremely vivid, often disturbing, portrait of whatever mish-mosh of reality and imagination that is the man known as Slim Shady, Eminem and Marshall Mathers.

There are a slew of other brilliant albums in the iTunes “discount bin” that I already own. I have no idea how long said sale will exist, but I definitely encourage folks to go have a poke around if purchasing through iTunes is compatible with your listening habits.

Muslimgauze — Blue Mosque

Sunday, March 11th, 2007

I’m a huge fan of trance music. But not that elevator-esque put-you-to-sleep stuff. I like trance music with an emphasis on beats. Preferably a dark rhythm that borders that yields an edgy bit of relaxation.

Over ten years ago, I picked up Muslimgauze’s Blue Mosque album. Just had a listen again.

Wow. Now that is some intense trance. Seriously heavy rhythm loops with a decidedly middle eastern structure. Awesome bass drone layered on top. Though it begs to be played loud, it is hard to do so simply because the rhythm is so driving and intense that it is pretty much guaranteed to nail the resonant frequency of something in the room.

Muslimgauze is the stage name for one Bryn Jones. Unfortunately, Bryn died of a mysterious fungal infection in 1999. He was incredibly prolific across his career, releasing nearly 100 albums or EPs under the Muslimgauze name. While all similar in nature, it isn’t all as rhythmic (or, in my opinion, as good) as Blue Mosque.

As far as I can tell, Muslimgauze is mostly out of print. The iTunes Store has a decent selection of stuff, though no Blue Mosque. I might have to explore a number of other albums to see if I can find other examples in the Blue Mosque vein of heavy drums

Bryn had some rather strongly held political beliefs. He was a vocal supporter of both Hamas and the PLO. Now, oddly, Bryn was neither a practicing muslim nor did he ever visit the Middle East. He just really liked the music and let middle eastern rhythms and sounds permeate most of his work.

Music; six degrees of separation.

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

I have a large CD collection that evolved out of various lines of investigation across what is mostly the popular music landscape. It all started with Bronski Beat, Thomas Dolby and Propaganda.

The connections across the collection are sometimes surprising. For example, Public Image Ltd. released Album in 1985 (named Compact Disc on the CD release, pictured at left — that is a link to the Amazon product page). iTunes Music Store has the album, too. Surprised it isn’t called “Digital Download” or something like it.

Anyway, it is a great album. Driving rhythms. Lots of great guitar and synth work and Lydon’s somewhat disturbing voice on top. It stands out in the pop music arena. There is something more to the composition and musicianship than would be expected from just some random band.

Not surprising. Musicians contributing to the album include:

  • Ginger Baker: one of the best rock and roll droppers around. Brilliant solo career, too. A very fine example of his work is Ginger Baker Middle Passage.
  • Bill Laswell: Beyond being an extraordinary producer and founder of the brilliant Axiom label. Examples of his work? There are thousands. This guy is unbelievably prolifc. Two standouts are The Goldan Palominos Dead Inside (Dark. dark dark dark. Brilliant.) and Praxis’ Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis) (Insane album. Brilliant. Soundstage moves around all the time).
  • Steve Vai: Brilliant guitarist, both in terms of play ability and in his technical musicianship. He got a job playing with Zappa by transcribing Zappa’s music by ear and sending Zappa a copy. Many a guitarist has idolized Vai. The guitar solo in rise certainly smells like a Vai guitar-wank anthem. On top of Baker’s thundering drums, it is just plain old awesome.
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto A classically trained synth virtuoso. Ryuichi has played with David Sylvian, Robbie Robertson, Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and many others.
  • Nicky Skopelitis Often appearing as a session guitarist (or stringed instrument player), Nicky has contributed to lots of well known albums.

End result? A brilliant bit of musicianship in a genre — synth-punk — where you really wouldn’t expect a lot of emphasis on composition. Lydon’s contributions are obvious and he certainly sets the energy level appropriately.

Branching out from the above list of artists, I could easily find connections — six degrees of separation or less — to most of the three thousand or so albums in my music library.