A concert, nonetheless

The Sinfonia of Leeds, the orchestra my wife ordinarily plays in, were supposed to be playing a concert this weekend. That didn’t happen, obviously, but they invited us to enjoy their programme anyway.

Their Facebook page directed us to live recordings of other orchestras performing the pieces they were going to play, and we watched along from the comfort of our sofa, starting at 7:30pm and with ice cream at the interval, as is only proper.

We had a wonderful evening (you can’t really go wrong with a Sibelius symphony), so much so that we’ve promised ourselves to create another YouTube concert evening next weekend. And it’s my turn to pick the programme.

What else doesn’t exist?

I admit I had fun with those people who don’t exist and their related websites, but it’s getting a little silly now. An artificially intelligent songwriter? AI feet??

These lyrics do not exist
This website generates completely original lyrics for various topics, uses state of the art AI to generate an original chorus and original verses.

Want some happy metal lyrics about dogs? No problem.

I am the dog in you
I am the dog in you
How one animal can be so tense, yet so free?
Such vicious dogs in search of a trophy

This foot does not exist
The foot pic, then, becomes a commodity which the consumer is willing to pay for on its basis as an intimate, revealing, and/or pornographic (and perhaps power-granting, when provided on request) asset, while the producer may** see it as a meme, a dupe, a way to trick the horny-credible out of their ill-spent cash.

The hills are alive with the sound of the Oomphalapompatronium ♪♬♫

More marvellous musical contraptions.

Len Solomon and his amazing DIY musical contraptionsThe Kid Should See This
Making instruments can be as simple as adding different amounts of water to a row of bottles or as elaborate as creating your own pipe organ-style instruments from any object that suits a musical vision. That’s what Len Solomon does. For over 30 years, he’s invented instruments by “filing and sawing” parts like “old vacuum cleaner tubes and plastic bottles, hardware supplies like PVC pipes and copper tees, and specialty items he makes himself like rubber squeeze balls and fipples.”

How this guy makes amazing DIY musical contraptions – YouTube

hills-alive-sound

Bach’s perfect prelude

It’s an iconic piece of classical music, and even if you’re not a fan of the genre you’ve probably come across it before now—Bach’s prelude from his Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. It’s only a couple of minutes long, depending on who’s playing it (and on what instrument), but it’s perfectly constructed. To understand why, let’s take a closer look with Alisa Weilerstein. (via Kottke)

Bach’s G major prelude, deconstructedVox
If you hear the first few measures you’ll likely recognize it. A simple G major arpeggiated chord played expressively on the cello opens a short, but harmonically and melodically rich, 42 measures of music. Bach makes a single instrument sound like a full ensemble. How does he do it?

It’s simple, really (to some, perhaps!), just the tonic key G and the dominant key D playing off each other.

That famous cello prelude, deconstructedYouTube

I could listen to this over and over. Wonderful music. I just need someone to go through the rest of it.

perfect-2

(I wish I had stuck with it now.)

A new family of brass instruments

I have the pleasure (?) of living in a household with a number of brass instruments, but I’ve never seen anything like these.

Brass horns mounted in interactive sculptures by Steve Parker emit sound by touchColossal
Artist and musician Steve Parker’s latest interactive projects invite viewers to feel the music⁠—literally. Activated by touch, “Ghost Box” plays randomized audio segments on a loop, including the ticks of Morse Code, the chorus of spirituals, and the blows of the shofar and Iron Age Celtic carnyx. Each time someone makes contact with a part of the wall sculpture, a new noise emits. Inspired by WWII era short wave radio, the mounted piece is constructed from a mix of salvaged brass, tactical maps, paper musical scores, wires, map pins, electronics, audio components, and an instrument case. The name even references the paranormal tool sometimes employed when people try to communicate with those who have died.

brass

brass-2

Ghost BoxVimeo

And whilst these may look loud, they’re actually listening devices that remind me of those concrete sound mirrors.

TubascopesSteve Parker
The Tubascope is a sculpture that works likes a telescope for your ears. Modeled after obsolete WWII acoustic locators, the Tubascope is made from reclaimed and repurposed brass instruments that have been augmented with tubing and headphones. When used, the Tubascope helps a person focus their listening on specific, far away sounds that may have been otherwise unnoticed.

brass-3

brass-4

TubascopesVimeo

Now, these mad trombone and trumpet shapes really reminded me of paintings I first came across at university (25 years ago now? goodness me), but I couldn’t for the life of me remember who they were by—murals, I think, in collaboration with school children, somehow. And for all I moan on about Google, it did come to the rescue with such vague search terms as painting, trumpets, children, mural.

Tim Rollins & K.O.S.Institute for Research in Art
The history of Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) is a story of art and education triumphing over the hardships of life. It is a story which might have been torn from the pages of great literature. In fact, the group uses pages cut from classical literature as the groundwork for many of their paintings and as the source of imagery for their works.

Yes, that’s the one! He was a teacher in the 80s working with under-privileged kids to create art that would “transport his students from the tough streets of New York to the inner sanctums of major museums as celebrated artists”.

kos1

But alas.

Tim Rollins, artist and activist whose work thrived on collaboration, dies at 62ARTnews
Tim Rollins, whose work bridged the gap between activism and art, bringing together strands of literature and art history, painting, Minimalism, conceptual art, and social justice, has died of natural causes, according to the Maureen Paley gallery, which showed him in London, and Lehmann Maupin, which showed him in New York and Hong Kong. He was 62.

Far too young.

Can we not have web 1.0 back?

I do miss the early web, sometimes. Amateurish, in a good way—spontaneous, care-free, lighthearted.

The early internet, explained by one weird Celine Dion fan siteThe Atlantic
Celine Dreams was a bit of a sensation. Toroptsov never lacked for dream submissions, and at the turn of the century—before the internet was a corporatized monoculture repeated across only a handful of giant web properties—a scrappy, DIY fan site could easily build an audience by climbing up search rankings and encouraging active participation. For years, Celine Dreams appeared in the first page of Google and Yahoo search results for Celine Dion—a distinction now reserved for Celine Dion’s official website, Celine Dion’s Wikipedia page, Celine Dion’s Twitter page, Celine Dion on Spotify, and Celine Dion on YouTube.

And then it shut down, blinkering out at the same time as thousands of other fan sites. The whole ecosystem slid into the digital ocean slowly, but pretty much all at once, like a famous ship.

Nothing lasts forever. Especially nowadays.

More of these fan sites disappear all the time, and the Wayback Machine isn’t able to keep even a near-perfect record. Toroptsov’s project, and the work of his “competitors,” are vanishing in what information scientists have long been referring to as the “digital dark age.” “However widely the myth of the automatically archival Internet has spread over the past 70 years, the fact is that the system of networked computing utterly fails as a memory machine,” the UC Berkeley media researcher Abigail De Kosnik writes in her 2016 book, Rogue Archives. “The internet and computers do not constitute the greatest archive in human history, but rather the reverse.”

This applies to iconic software, too.

The last vestige of Internet Explorer dies todayGizmodo
When Microsoft decided to use EdgeHTML, it made sense. Internet Explorer had once been the biggest web browser around and consequently, lots of web page designers focused their energies on making their sites work for IE. But Chrome had a foothold when Edge launched and Microsoft’s new browser just never gained the popularity it needed. Instead, more and more web page designers focused on making the best looking sites the could—for Chrome.

Chrome uses the Blink engine and the source code originates with the open-source Chromium project. The Edge that launches today will rely on Blink and Chromium too.

Some people are clinging on, though. I’ve been reading Joanne McNeils’s newsletter for a while, now, and her website is joyously web 1.0.

joannemcneil.com
Hi, my name is Joanne McNeil and this is my Home Page on the World Wide Web. My book Lurking is out on February 25, 2020 with MCD.

underconstruction

And do you remember Noah Everyday from the 2000s? He’s back again, and doesn’t look a day older. Ok, that’s a lie. He looks older, we all do.

Man takes picture of himself every day for 20 yearsFlowingData
In 2007, Noah Kalina posted a time-lapse video showing a picture of himself every day for six years. Pop culture swallowed it up. There was even a Simpsons parody with Homer. After another six years, it was a video for twelve years’ worth of photos. Kalina has kept his everyday project going, and the above is the new time-lapse for two decades.

Noah takes a photo of himself every day for 20 yearsYouTube

Sledging with Beethoven

Understanding music can be a challenge to those of us who have difficulty reading a score. Thankfully, there are ways to visualise what’s going on.

Some are helpfully straightforward, some are quite complex yet followable and others are more abstract and hypnotic, but I especially love this one, via Jeremy. As he says, “Have a look, but be warned once you’ve started you’ll be there to the end!”

Line Riders – Beethoven’s 5thYouTube

Check out the rest of DoodleChaos‘s YouTube channel for more clever animations. Can you imagine how long he spent rehearsing for this synchronised screen juggling, for instance.

So now you know

They say you learn something new every day. Here are some of the things Tom Whitwell learnt in a year.

52 things I learned in 2019Fluxx Studio Notes

  1. Since the 1960s, British motorways have been deliberately designed by computer as series of long curves, rather than straight lines. This is done for both safety (less hypnotic) and aesthetic (“sculpture on an exciting, grand scale”) reasons. [Joe Moran]

Ah, motorways, “the twentieth century’s equivalent of the pyramids”.

  1. Gravitricity is a Scottish startup planning to store energy by lifting huge weights up a disused mine shaft when electricity is cheap, dropping them down to generate power when it is expensive. Using a 12,000 tonne weight (roughly the weight of the Eiffel tower), it should be half as expensive as equivalent lithium ion battery. [Jillian Ambrose]

Such a simple idea, though something about it reminds me of those perpetual motion contraptions.

  1. CD sales still make up 78% of music revenue in Japan (compared with less than 30% in the UK). Japanese pop fans have been encouraged to buy multiple copies of their favourite releases to win rewards (buy 2,000 copies, win a night at a hot spring with your favourite star). One 32 year-old fan was charged with illegally dumping 585 copies of a CD on the side of a mountain. [Mark Mulligan]

You really must follow the link to that one and read more about the incredibly bizarre and manipulative marketing practices going on there. It beggars belief.

This next one reminds me of that xkcd comic about Bobby Tables.

  1. A man who bought the personalised number plate NULL has received over $12,000 of parking fines, because the system records ‘NULL’ when no numberplate has been recorded. [Jack Morse]

Here’s one for Borges and his friend Funes the Memorious.

  1. SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is a rare syndrome where otherwise healthy, high-functioning people are unable to remember events from their own life. There is also an exhausting syndrome called Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, where people can remember precise details about every single day of their life. [Palumbo & Alain]

And I’m sure this one applies this side of the Atlantic too, as we head into the last few days of general election polling.

  1. “Polling by phone has become very expensive, as the number of Americans willing to respond to unexpected or unknown callers has dropped. In the mid-to-late-20th century response rates were as high as 70%… [falling to] a mere 6% of the people it tried to survey in 2018.” [The Economist]

Too much of a good thing?

Looking for something to watch when you’ve got too much time on your hands?

The top 10 best 10-hour long videos on YouTubeLifewire
It’s pretty unlikely that most viewers actually sit there to watch one of these excruciatingly long videos in full, but that’s not really the point. The point is that a 10-hour version of a popular video or meme simply exists, and that’s what makes it at least ten times funnier than the original.

I see there’s an epic version of the catchy/creepy Russian Trololo guy, which I think I’ll pass. Though if they made a 10 hour version of any of these old Russian tunes I won’t complain.

Sounds good to me

Yes, it can get a little too loud for us oldies sometimes, but movie music — and cinematic sound more broadly — is such a fascinating area.

Making Waves: The art of cinematic sound
Directed by veteran Hollywood sound editor Midge Costin, the film reveals the hidden power of sound in cinema, introduces us to the unsung heroes who create it, and features insights from legendary directors with whom they collaborate.

An incredible amount of vital yet laborious work goes on behind the scenes.

A new documentary explores the underrated art of movie sound
Synchronised sound came in with “Don Juan” in 1926, and synchronised speech followed in 1927 with “The Jazz Singer”, starring Al Jolson. But sophisticated sound design wasn’t born until 1933, when Murray Spivack created the giant ape’s bellow in “King Kong” by mixing a lion’s roar with a tiger’s roar, and playing it backwards at half-speed. Cece Hall did something similar on “Top Gun” more than 50 years later. Actual fighter-plane engines “sounded kind of wimpy”, she recalls, so she concocted her own substitute from big-cat growls and monkey screeches. The producers nearly fired her for her pains, she says, but she went on to win an Oscar.

The documentary is the work of Midge Costin, a sound editor-turned-academic. It took some time to get off the ground, however — getting clearance for the samples of so many movie clips can be a costly affair.

Making Waves: behind a fascinating documentary about movie sound
The courts have since ruled that sampling footage will be acceptable so long as it’s done in the spirit of public edification, and just like that, Costin was off. Between the connections she’d made in the industry and favors called in from fellow sound people, she put together an all-star lineup of commentators. From her former student Ryan Coogler to Steven Spielberg, who named her the Kay Rose chair at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, the deep bench of experts dissect scenes classic and contemporary to illustrate the great quantities of work that go into creating and fine-tuning a soundscape. Spielberg, for example, goes into the subtly expressionistic quality of the shellshocking beach invasion that opens Saving Private Ryan.

The bizarre methods by which sound effects are captured often remains a mystery, but in this music video, it’s all on show.

A brilliant highly rhythmic music sample created from abandoned industrial equipment on the docks
Multimedia artist Daniel Gourski and DJ Jonas Appel have created “Docks”, a brilliant, highly rhythmic music sample made entirely from abandoned industry equipment. Gourski and Appel creatively banged, scraped and knocked at the waterside equipment with all sorts of objects.

Gourski & Appel – Docks

Debauched Bach?

Whether alphabetized or not, when it comes to classical music composers, Bach’s at the top of the list. It’s hard to overstate his influence and legacy. But, as this excerpt from Ted Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History shows, he was no saint.

J.S. Bach the rebel
I’ve talked to people who feel they know Bach very well, but they aren’t aware of the time he was imprisoned for a month. They never learned about Bach pulling a knife on a fellow musician during a street fight. They never heard about his drinking exploits—on one two-week trip he billed the church eighteen groschen for beer, enough to purchase eight gallons of it at retail prices—or that his contract with the Duke of Saxony included a provision for tax-free beer from the castle brewery; or that he was accused of consorting with an unknown, unmarried woman in the organ loft; or had a reputation for ignoring assigned duties without explanation or apology. They don’t know about Bach’s sex life: at best a matter of speculation, but what should we conclude from his twenty known children, more than any significant composer in history (a procreative career that has led some to joke with a knowing wink that “Bach’s organ had no stops”), or his second marriage to twenty-year-old singer Anna Magdalena Wilcke, when he was in his late thirties?

Happy 18th birthday, iPod

The iPod is 18 already? Time flies. Here’s the original Apple iPod press release, from 23 October 2001.

Apple presents iPod
“With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”

Yep, pretty much.

Oct. 23, 2001: Now hear this … The iPod arrives
Apple’s Steve Jobs, who tends to overuse superlatives (“the best ever,” “it’ll put a ding in the universe”), was not far off the mark with the iPod. Despite some conspicuous flaws — a wonky scroll wheel, no Windows compatibility, short battery life and a whopping $400 price tag — this innocuous-looking device was indeed a game-changer.

Mine are still going strong. Well, I guess so, I’ve not fished them out from the back of that drawer for ages.

Apple | The Very 1st iPod Ad (ever) | Circa 2001

Affecting and infecting movie music

In this video from Vanity Fair, director Todd Phillips talks us through a few of the opening scenes from his new film, Joker.

Joker director breaks down the opening scene

At 3:40 or thereabouts, he’s talking about what really helps Joaquin Phoenix get into a scene.

And I think, if I remember it right, in this particular scene I was playing the score for him, in the room, because – we had Hildur Guðnadóttir, who was our composer, I had her write music before we shot the movie, which isn’t done very often, and she wrote it based on the screenplay – and I wanted that because I wanted the music to really affect and infect the set in a way, really, even the camera operators, the set dressers, wardrobe, everybody to feel this music.

(That’s a name to look out for in the future.) Todd Phillips is not the first director to use this technique, however.

Why Sergio Leone played music on set

It might be too much for some people, though.

Deafening cinema sound is ruining films, claims Hugh Grant
Joker, the sinister hit starring Joaquin Phoenix, is dividing film critics. Hailed as a masterpiece by some, it has left others balking at its violence. For the actor Hugh Grant, the experience of watching at his local London cinema last week was “unendurable”, but not because of Todd Phillips’s menacing vision as director.

Grant felt high noise levels in the auditorium had made his trip to see Joker at the Vue in Fulham “pointless”, he complained on Twitter, adding: “The joke was on us”. “Am I old or is the cinema MUCH TOO LOUD?” the film star asked.

Music at war

I’m familiar with the role drums have played during times of war, but not pianos.

When the pianos went to war
During the war, the U.S. government essentially shut down the production of musical instruments in order to divert vital resources such as iron, copper, brass, and other materials to the war effort. Yet the government also determined that the war effort ought to include entertainment that could lift soldiers’ spirits. But just any old piano wouldn’t do. They needed ones hearty enough to withstand the trying conditions out in the field—including being packed into a crate and dropped out of a plane.

From literal war, to a more symbolic musical clash.

The ‘implicit danger’ of a violin concerto
The concerto is the ultimate display of musical virtuosity – pitching a soloist against the orchestra as they alternate, compete and combine in a constantly changing dialogue. Those dynamics are crystallised in the word concerto itself, which has two, apparently contradictory, meanings: Competition and agreement.

And far from clashing and jarring, here are two genres working so well together you wonder why combining metal and jazz hasn’t been done before.

A funky mashup of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ and Herb Alpert’s ‘Rise’
Video editor Bill McClintock has created a really funky mashup of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica and Herb Alpert‘s iconic instrumental “Rise”. It all sounds really good together, however what stands out, is Abraham Laboriel‘s phenomenal bassline punching through.

Mashup – War Puppets Rise to Heaven

There are plenty more where that came from.

Discordant ambitions

Seeing orchestral music played live is a marvellous thing. Years ago I wrote about how uplifting watching an orchestra can be, as opposed to just listening to a recording.

If only the same could be said for being in an orchestra. Here’s an impassioned account from Kate Wagner of the heartache and struggle you face when you come up against the “myth of meritocracy”.

Strike with the band
Classical music is cruel not because there are winners and losers, first chairs and second chairs, but because it lies about the fact that these winners and losers are chosen long before the first moment a young child picks up an instrument. It doesn’t matter if you study composition, devote years to an instrument, or simply have the desire to teach—either at the university level or in the public school system. If you come from a less-than-wealthy family, or from a place other than the wealthiest cities, the odds are stacked against you no matter how much you sacrifice, how hard you work, or, yes, how talented you are.

All the music

You might think you have pretty eclectic musical tastes, but honestly, there’s just so much music out there. We can only scratch the surface. What we need is a map of it all.

Every noise at once
Every Noise at Once is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 3,385 genre-shaped distinctions by Spotify as of 2019-08-30. The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.

3,385 genres? I only really listen to one now, but perhaps this will encourage me to broaden my horizons again.

Dive into Every Noise at Once, a musical map of genres you didn’t know existed
“I’m continually surprised to find that no matter how obscure some niche genre seems to me at first, there always turn out to be a hundred bands doing that and three more subgenres based on even subtler distinctions,” McDonald says. “The music just doesn’t stop! And some things I had never heard of turn out to make me as happy as things I’ve loved for decades. Australian hip-hop! German oi! Liquid funk, bachata, doomcore, jazz orchestra, warm drone!”

Some genres make more of an impact than others, of course. And the same could be said of some of the albums within those genres. Like this one, for instance.

Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue at 60: A new video essay celebrates the 60th anniversary of the iconic album
With the company of other legendary musicians, like John Coltrane and Bill Evans, Kind of Blue was recorded; the greatest selling jazz album of all time. Miles chose to take an interpretive dance approach to improvisation, developing ideas and using space to create his unique style. This new style of modal jazz pushed musicians to express themselves through melodic creativity.

Kind of Blue 60th anniversay

Or try this version.

Kind of Bloop
Kind of Bloop is a chiptune tribute to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, a track-by-track 8-bit reinterpretation of the bestselling jazz album of all time.

Piano guys

A couple of fun musical performances that caught my eye recently.

World piano playing record broken by 88 schoolchildren
The team created an enormous, multi-stringed instrument which allowed 88 children, aged six to 14 years old, to play at the same time. The record previously stood at 21 pianists.

The project began in 2018 when engineers from University of Cambridge decided to try and break that record, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci.

So much invention within each individual key. Here’s the fuller video.

88 pianists on one piano

And from the very large to the very small.

One of the world’s greatest pianists came to Classic FM, so we made him play our silly, pink toy piano
He’s one of the world’s finest keyboard virtuosos – and he composes, paints, writes and is brilliant on Twitter – a true Renaissance man. But can Stephen Hough master our pink piano? We wanted to find out.

Mechanical, musical marvels

I’m not sure how I’ve failed to share Wintergatan’s Marble Machine video before now. It’s from a few years ago, but I still come back to it and am just as blown away as I was the first time I saw it.

Wintergatan – Marble Machine

It’s just (just??) a large music box, really, but it made quite an impression, to say the least. And as technically astounding as that is, a new-and-improved version is being built, and musician/designer/engineer Martin Molin has been sharing the journey in some detail. It looks and sounds incredible.

Marble Machine X plays drums

As well as showing us his own work, Martin has filmed his favourite music machines from the Speelklok Museum in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. They’re just as bizarre.

100 year old self-playing violin – “The Eighth Wonder of the World”
This amazing instrument is The Hupfeld Phonoliszt Violina – an Orchestrion with self-playing Violins, Enjoy!

Domtoren Clock Tower plays the Marble Machine song
Malgosia Fiebig surprised me completely by playing the Marble Machine song on the Carillion of the Domtoren clock tower for the whole city of Utrecht!

It’s crazy to think that that 900 year old tower, all 112.5 metres of it, is one instrument.

mechanical-musical-marvels

A dazzling early-morning commute

Certainly more vibrant and kaleidoscopic than my sleepy 98 bus.

D A Pennebaker transformed documentary filmmaking. This is his first film
With its frenetic pace, early morning hues, avant-garde touches, and playful use of shapes and patterns, Pennebaker’s first short, Daybreak Express (1953), made for a precocious debut. The sounds of an eponymous Duke Ellington composition form the film’s clattering backbone, as Pennebaker crafts an urban mosaic from Manhattan’s soon-to-be demolished Third Avenue elevated train line. While more experimental than much of the work he would be celebrated for later, Pennebaker’s career-long knack for kinetic editing, adventurous storytelling and skilfully marrying music and images still permeates nearly every frame.

Daybreak Express