Archive for the ‘music’ Tag

bizarroMUSIC: Do Your Thing / ISAAC HAYES

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

ISAAC HAYES

 

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Say what you will about Uncle Ike, with his Scientology and penchant for gold chains and dodgy bodyguards, but Black Moses never ever compromised his ‘thing’.

 

This track, from the original Shaft soundtrack, is a great spacey, no-surrender, no-shit-taken specimen of this ethos.

 

isaac-hayes-shaft-SX

 

“I want to create a twenty minute funk jam that transverses time, space and touches the face of God. I want horns – lots of them – I want drums that leave no silences untouched, I want a bass player who think he’s playing a completely different song altogether and finally, I want it all lathered over with the most obnoxious, most spaced-out, most proto-art-p(f)unk guitar solo ever created by man (the Bar-Kays’ Michael Toles – Please find for yourself the 6minute9second mark and ask yourself ‘what the fuck is that unearthly noise and why does it make me want to believe in music again?’)

 

…And then I am going to put it on an album and sell it to Hollywood and they’re going to give me an Oscar because they’re dancing so much they don’t realise I’m the goddamn freaking Beethoven of funk…”

(*not actual Isaac Hayes quote)

 

Like a burning bush, Do Your Thing makes me want to be a better person, makes me want to cry, laugh, throw up and throw middle fingers and sarcastic thumbs up to a cruel, cold, dumb, unappreciative world and say no fuckin’ compromise, you sons of bitches, no surrender, no frikkin’ deal, world.

 

Do Your Thing makes me want to do my thing…

 

 

…but listen to the ‘song’, maybe you might understand much better than I can describe here.

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bizarroMUSIC: MINAJ – a word from Tipper Gore Jr.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

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These are the actual ‘lyrics’ to a ‘song’ by someone called Nicki Minaj – minge? mirage? something…

 

now, I am all for the repetitive banalities of pop music lyrics, I enjoy a little ‘she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’ and ‘da-doo-doo-da-da-doo-doo-de, etc.’ ‘baby, baby, ad nauseum’ I understand this is what makes pop music ‘pop’ as it were, what makes it sell, and what makes us brainless clones gurgle it quietly to ourselves while sitting in traffic (on a side note: “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!!”)…

 

..and I am a big fan of profanity in music – Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name is one of my all-time favourite songs and that’s got enough ‘friks’ ‘frigs’ and ‘fffffade aways’ in it to send anyone’s granny to the emergency room, now matter what she got up to in the sixties. I get it, swearing is the ultimate act of rebellion, the one thing we do to get attention for ourselves. Cavemen grunted profanely enough to get kicked out of the cave and evolve in some way, the Romans liked to chisel whatever the Latin words for ‘fuck’, ‘bum’ and ‘poppycock’ onto public buildings to make themselves heard…I get it, swearing is cool, I do it, we all do it.

 

and above all, I love sex in music – it is the perfect medium for the low down dirty-nass of it all – doesn’t work so well in literature and visually in photography or film, surprisingly, there is nothing left to the imagination, but music is sex’s ultimate art form : billions of songs are created with one express purpose – to get you laid. And whether it’s a Beethoven harpsichord solo to get the salons a-rocking or Serge Gainsbourg’s Gitane-stained grandpa-grunting or Robert Plant having his lemon squeezed (tequila optional) until the juice…well, you get the picture, SEX is the life-force of popular music. I get it.

 

but this…this has got to stop.

 

signed: Tipper Gore Jr

 

bizarroMUSIC: the THEREMIN

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

THEREMINS:

download

making music sound spooky

since 1920

Nothing does ‘spooky’ more than the whining wails and drones of the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments to capture public attention.

From hundreds of horror B-movie soundtracks to atmospheric prog-rock, from the Beach Boys to the B-52s and beyond, the theremin – an electronic sound manipulator machine invented in 1920 – is one of the more unique modern instruments. Not only does it sound creepy, and look peculiar too, it also has a rather mythological history, too.

A brief history of the THEREMIN:

leon_theremin_locportrait

The theremin – also known as the etherphone or thereminvox – was invented by Russian scientist Leon Theremin during the tumultuous early days of Soviet Russia and an equally unbridled era of scientific experimentation and discovery, not as a musical instrument, but as a government-sponsored experiment into proximity sensors – i.e: an early form of close-quarter radar.

330px-Block_diagram_Theremin

How to play a theremin:

Simply put: a theremin has a central controlling unit made up of two metal antennae (a loop and an aerial) that send out electronic waves that can then be manipulated by the movement of hands – sort of like the way a portable radio’s reception is affected by its position relative to radio wave signals. One hand affects the frequency oscillations – the tone and key of each note – and the other hand controls the amplitude and volume of the signal. These signals, electronic pulses are then amplified to create sounds.  All without the hands touching any part of the machine.

Theremin, after discovering the invention could create sounds and be manipulated musically, touring Europe and America, demonstrating the instrument to investors and the public.

In 1928, he patented the invention as an instrument and granted commercial and production rights to RCA Victor music company for sale in the US.  Slow at first to gain popularity, it soon became a bit of curiosity piece, used to reinterpret classical music for the masses, as well as drive a new wave of musique concrete – avant garde manipulation of classical music with electronic elements.

In 1938, Theremin disappeared under mysterious circumstances, later revealed as being kidnapped by the KGB and returned to the Soviet Union and forced to work in Stalin-era labour camps. He returned to the US only in 1991, to discover how his instrument had gained a cult following among musicians and electronics enthusiasts, in particular inventor and Moog synth visionary Robert Moog.

FURTHER READING: http://www.moogmusic.com/legacy/pulling-music-out-thin-air-interview-leon-theremin

Moog’d Theremin:

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Moog had been building theremins since he was a teenager, and had always offered that the theremin and the technology behind it was a significant stepping stone to the invention of his first Moog keyboard synthesiser.

Moog went on to create variations of the theremin, incorporating the principles of musical oscillations and sound wave manipulation into not only the famous popular series of keyboard synths, but also reworking the theremin itself, as technology evolved around it.

Today, the theremin had become more streamlined, less volatile, and easier to play. The newer reinventions, while not making the instrument a more mainstream musical component, have made it a popular choice for musicians seeking a more innovative, more organic electronic sound.

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5 essential

theremin songs

in popular culture:

Contrary to popular belief, some pieces of music – particularly sci-fi soundtracks – that been thought to use the theremin, do not. The original theme for Star Trek for instance, with its ghostly high-pitched wail motif is actually a singer, a soprano recreating the sound of a theremin. Also, the Doctor Who theme does not use a theremin, but a series of ground-breaking synthesiser manipulations built by the BBC sound department, inspired by the work of Theremin and Moog.

Nonetheless, here is a list of other theremin-based songs, or variations thereof:

Beach Boys – Good Vibrations

While technically a Tannerin (a more sophisticated modern electronic theremin) the sounds on this seminal Beach Boys track is the more well-known use of the eerie sounds of the theremin. Used to great effect here, the Boys continued to use the instrument in varying degrees throughout their career – from their surf-pop, right into their more ambitious concept-pop era, and beyond into some of Brian Wilson’s strange and wonderful solo work.

Portishead – Mysterons

Again, not technically a theremin, but the effect is the same. A monophonic synth (possibly a MiniMoog) gives a spooky, atmospheric background to the influential and ground-breaking Dummy album.

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin.

*from the documentary This Might Get Loud. Jimmy Page demonstrates the theremin to The Edge and Jack White. Everyone suitably impressed. 

That really bizarre bit from 1 minute 24 seconds through to 3 minutes, that sounds like aliens landing if you listened to it in the dark contains elements of theremin, played by Jimmy Page, and later used extensively in the legendary live performances of the song, often clocking in at over 20 minutes and killing several violin bows in the process.

Day the Earth Stood Still (OST) – Bernard Herrmann

The first instance of extensive theremin use in popular culture, Herrmann’s score went a long way to defining the original film, and creating a musical/sci-fi trope that’s still being used today. Other innovators of the theremin in soundtrack work were Miklos Rozsa and composer Shostakovich. Today, the theremin can be heard in the music behind Hell Boy, The Social Network and the comedy of Bill Bailey.

Autumn’s Child – Captain Beefheart.

Trust one of the weirdest people in popular music to be an avid embracer of the theremin, making his music even more unstable and odd.

Honourable mentions: also found on The Pixies’ Velouria and somewhere amongst the 23 minute soundscaping epicness of Echoes by Pink Floyd.

For more info, check out Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, a documentary film on the creation and influence of the theremin on modern music:

NOW TRY IT YOURSELF!

Capture-d’écran-2014-02-05-à-18.17.11

Theremin – A Playable Touch Synthesizer Using Web Audio API http://femurdesign.com/theremin/

…an interactive Theremin app for phone and tablet that offers a near enough experience to the real thing.

bizarroMUSIC: Apollo 440 (review)

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

the

(rather lacklustre)

return

of

APOLLO 440 

 

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Apollo 440 (A440) have been around since the wild west days of early 1990s electronica, part of the cross-pollination of dance, rock and hip-hop elements that artists like the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim and the Prodigy made their reputations with.

A440 had always remained a fringe member of that genre, never really scoring the classic, cult status of these contemporaries.

They did enjoy some success with their reworking of Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin’ About Love, into a rollicking dub, drum n bass anthem that, while derided by rock purists as opportunistic, has aged relatively well, sounding as fresh and ground-breaking now as it did then.

Their Electro Glide In Blue album remains one of those grossly underrated albums from an era where pickings, as far as dance music was concerned, were slim. A heady mix of powerful, eclectic beats, cinematic rushes of synths and  strange sampledelic ideas managed to bridge the no-man’s land between Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and modern EDM rock, the effects of which can still be felt in the music of Radiohead (and its various hybrids), Pendulum and leftfield hip-hop. Electro Glide… was a dance Rosetta Stone, an alternative blueprint of tropes that have become the norm in today’s more progressive music, both electronica and alternative rock.

That said, the group, helmed by Trevor and Howard Gray, along with some fascinating long-time collaborators like indie-soul singer Ewan McFarlane (The Grim Northern Social ) and Mary Byker from grubbo-electronica pioneers Gaye Bykers On Acid, have never really capitalised on that initial critical success, releasing sporadically since then with collections that, while very good, lacked any kind of concrete identity. Their Dude Descending Down A Staircase album, their last full album in 2003, was a funky, clever concept work that brought together such vast and different influences like hip-hop, polymath philosophy and Jack Kerouac. Perhaps a little ahead its time, the album was hardly noticed by anyone outside of the most hardened and conscientious fans of the genre.

Dude Descending a Staircase

And so to The Future’s…

their latest album which, on the face of it, brings together the ideas of those two previous albums into one collection. Musically, the synth riffs and beats are pure 90s, and while done well and sounding really good, seems a little lazy. The song Smoke And Mirrors is a prime example of this: a little time machine back to an abandoned warehouse somewhere outside London in 1993, sounding like a C+C Music Factory riff with the bass turned up way too high. By today’s standards of dance electronica, where even the most mundane pop music contains at least some interesting electronica soundscapes, A440 here seem to be lacking imagination. It continues into A Deeper Dub, a song, again, that would be comfortable on Electro Glide…but here, seems  like a 90s throwback.

But there’s good news, though, for students of modern philosophy, at least. Love Is Evil is a dubby, bluesy Floydian walk-in-the-rain soundscape wrapped around a distant spoken word sample of Slavoj Žižek, renowned cultural dissector known more for his slobby lisp and tendency to warble on for hours in said lisp about B-movies and bad art. It makes for an interesting musical marriage here, anthemic almost to the point of turning into a stadium-sized cock-rock over-indulgence, but that’s a good thing. “There is nothing,” implores Žižek, “I mean that quite literally”, in-between Ewan McFarlane Robert-Planting about a world without real love. It’s not a particularly good song, but stuck in between all the clichéd electronic beats and tepid glitchy synthesis, it stands out by virtue of being just a good musical idea.

The next track Odessa Dubstep gets right back to business of being stuck in the 1990s again, and does what it says on the box: martial beats, squiggly bits of arpeggios and orchestral Shostakovich samples. It’s all fun and danceable, but nothing new here.

As an avid fan of A440 I really want to love and enjoy the album for its fun and dancebility, its disposability and funky ideas, but to sit still and attempt to dissect the well-produced but mediocre sum of its parts is a little difficult without ridiculing its blatant ignorance of electronica music trends of the last ten years.

But before it’s all over, there is one more philosophy lecture, this time with influential discordianist-mystic Robert Anton Wilson discussing the power of synchronicity on the song Fuzzy Logic, and it manages to lift the album a little with half a smidge of a truly original musical motif, executed well enough for you to sit back and say, without the cynicism that listening to the album so far has built up, “that’s a great song”. A slow atmospheric build up evolves into searing emotive climax of guitars and keyboards that just manages to avoid cliché. It ends far too soon, as the album closes with Music Don’t Lie, sounding like a PiL B-side that has a lot of emotional catchiness, but that once again, as with the rest of The Future’s…would have sounded good in 1995. Today, it just sounds a little cheerless.

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Despite having some good moments scattered inside mediocre envelopes, I was expecting better from a usually strong musical collective, but it all lacks innovation and originality.

Song writing:  – nothing new is explored, might consider trying new, different collaborators.

Originality:  – too much reliance on throwback 90s dance music clichés.

Lyrics:   – interesting lyrical ideas and use of spoken word samples, all let down by the music.

Flow:   – despite the haphazard mix of genres on the album, from rock to dance, dub to drum n bass elements, the schizophrenic qualities of this collection, and A440’s well-deserved reputation for throwing in interesting juxtapostional ideas into the mix, stand out as one the album’s few virtues and saving grace.

Production:  – though clichéd and stuck in the 90s, the sound mix and well considered production values on the album are actually very good, it doesn’t quite save the album, though.  

bizarroMUSIC: what the heck is ‘dubstep’?

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

DUBSTEP RULES? OK?

Devastated-Compact-Disc

*Extract from an abandoned record review of the MINISTRY OF SOUND DUBSTEP VOLUME 3 compilation

As a reasonable, rational fan of music, my introduction into the mysterious world of dubstep electronica (the sound of which, I believe, has been officially defined by scientific propellerheads as ‘a faulty hairdryer, a dot matrix printer and your mother-in-law being dropped down the stairwell of an abandoned haunted insane asylum) seemed like a daunting proposition.

Friends and family may laugh or disown me, small animals and thin-skinned children might scurry when they cross my path. Perhaps I may find myself dancing inexplicably to the sound of microwaving popcorn, or even worse, enjoying it long enough to stop deridingly referring to the genre’s biggest pop star as Scallectrix and making a point of finding out what his real name is (Ricky or Buster, or something?)

Skrillex4

Whatever happens, I had to realise that, whether I like it or not:

Dubstep. Is. Here…and it may not be going away any time soon.

Naturally, as a flavour of the era, there are a great many starving artists, struggling musicians, horny DJs dabbling in dubstep today, and unless you’ve been spending most weekends in darkened, noisy rooms with dubious, noisy teenagers staring at a couple of paracetamols in the palm of your hand thinking: ‘what the hell is this?’, it is safe to assume you have no idea who or what is currently dropping the bass on this

truly!

Awesome!!

Track!!!

Right now!!!!…oh, that paracetamol just kicked in.

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Thankfully, the kind hardworking people at Ministry Of Sound, who, for almost twenty years now, have conveniently been compiling the best, the most popular and sometimes the most downright embarrassing popular electronic dance music onto CDs, have now made all things dubstep a little easier, a little more consumable, on this, their third volume of essential dubstep tracks.

As always, no matter what genre of dance music they highlight, MOS are good with flow and continuity on their releases, finding only the best and sometimes most obscure tracks that best display the genre. This being the third of the series, the selection is a lot more unusual, a little more exciting, opting to highlight some of the lesser known proponents of dubstep. Not always the best, but usually the most eclectic and interesting.

So, no Skrillex here, but there are other big names represented hero: Nero, DJ Fresh, Example; remixes by James Blake and Dirtyphonics and appearances by the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Ed Sheeran and Tasha Baxter. The rest of the artists, however, require a little more research, which means long, drunken evenings falling down the Bandcamp and Pitchfork rabbit holes, I’m afraid.

But I’ll try sum it up for you here, with a few highlights from both discs.

The pace is relentless from the first track. Dubstep is not known for its sultry ballads and sugary pop sensibility, although it does try once in a while. Its primary objective, as with all dance music, is to keep you on your feet. But often forgotten by other dance compilations, and something that MOS do well, is that you won’t only be dancing to it. You’ll be listening to it in your car, in the shower, washing dishes.

The mix has to be interesting, captivating, and cerebral almost. MOS almost get it right here. There are some interesting thoughtful transitions and short passages of melodic themes that ebb and flow with natural fluidity throughout. However, with over two hours of music across two discs there is a problem of too much runway. It never really takes off and takes flight in a way that a good old fashioned house mix or well-planned Ninja Tune compilation might achieve.

That said, it is a decent selection of varied sounds: a little (real) dub, a little bit of soulful house mixed and blended to within an inch of its life (see: Red (Chasing Shadows Remix) by Laid Blak), some great old school minimal drum n bass sounds crossing swords with unapologetic poppy riffs and runs (see: Young Guns by Lewi White, Ed Sheeran, Griminal, Devlin & Yasmin) and, above all, late into the mix, some of the most extreme, most offensive examples of the genre, most notably Cookie Monsta’s Ginger Pubes, which will quite possibly strip the panelling off your gramophone if you don’t get your settings right.

One noteworthy highlight from disc 1 is KOAN Sound’s Trouble In The West. Funky, with a great sense of drama, wrapped up in a seemingly out-of-place Tom Morelloesque riff, but manages to travel across the song’s different moods effortlessly.

Bare And Dastik’s King Kong is another of those paint stripper tracks, but this time so organically tribal and full of sensual otherworldliness, it defies the usual dubstep trope of relentless beats and overkill bass, to become much more than just another dance song.

Disc 2, as mentioned, loses bit of steam halfway through, never really deciding if the tracks should get you dancing or offend you with onslaughts of bass and percussion.

The highlight here is Tasha Baxter’s great vocals on Feed Me’s Strange Behaviour track. The disc mellows out pleasantly enough towards the end with the pretty but bizarre Cloudlight by Eskmo, all plucky glitches and sweeping sci-fi intonations.

Individually, none of the tracks really outstay their welcome, hanging around just long enough to create the mood for the next track and adding its own unique element to the mix as a whole.

The compilation serves its purpose as a good, concise introduction to the dubstep genre, but as with most commercial dance compilations, will most likely be redundant by the time you finish listening to it.

As a historical document for this current age in music, is might be useful, but in all likelihood, once we have all moved on to the next evolution, the next flavour in electronic dance music, this set will spent eternity on a shelf alongside aging copies of Bump, embarrassing us like old uncles who dance a little too youthfully at family gatherings.

deadmau5-i-sold-out-by-going-dubstep

Song writing:   – there are some interesting new ideas here, particularly the mixing of dubstep with other leftfield genres. Even for a commercial compilation, there is music here that has a lot of meat on its bones.

Originality:  – the dropped bass has become the genre’s calling card, but it is also becoming its noose.

Lyrics:  – evaluating commercial dance music lyrics is like wondering when Lindsay Lohan will win a Nobel Prize for science: pointless. Of what I can remember, there were some good choruses, now keep quiet, they’re about to drop the bass.

Flow:  – some interesting passages, but on the whole, a loss of momentum over two discs is jarring.

Production:   – thanks to technology, we’ve all become bedroom plagiaristic Phil Spectors, so it is surprising that some of the tracks here still manage to achieve studio-quality professional production, that are both unique and fresh. 

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