Monthly Archives: January 2013

They Come from Alabama?

270px-Alabama_in_United_States.svgLittle known fact, well, maybe not that little known, but a fact nonetheless, I was born in L.A., as in Lower Alabama.  Though to either my saving, or failing grace (depending on your personal biases) I was born on a military base, in a military hospital, which I believe qualifies as quasi neutral territory, and only my first 24 months of existence were spent there – so whatever memories I have there are spotty and vague.  That being said though, I did spend the vast majority of my life in the southeastern United States, and I have heard plenty of jokes about that region; hell, I’ve even made a few jokes about it myself.

One belief held by many, particularly many who believe that the universe rotates around a certain northeastern island, that was bartered away from the natives for a few trinkets, is that once you cross below Washington DC, then you have essentially entered the unchartered hinterlands of the third world.  That is to say that a not too insubstantial amount of people believe that the South is an uncouth backwater, and not too far from being populated by tobacco chewing Cro-Magnons.  A land where fire is still considered state of the art, and electricity is magic.

Sorry to disappoint everyone, but indoor plumbing, electricity, and even the internet, all do exist in the South; and I can assure you, as someone who has also lived north of Washington DC, as one who has been to that bartered island, and one who has seen most of the rest of this country (35 of the 50 states), that the South is NOT a back-water, lodged deep in the Dark Ages.  Are there hicks there?  Yep, you betcha; but you know what?  In my experience there are hicks everywhere.  Doesn’t everyone just listen to country music down there?  Um, no, and there are plenty of “sophisticated” northerners who love them some country music.  Plus, one town in the South was ground zero for one of the biggest, and culturally relevant bands of the last 20-30 years.  That town is Athens Georgia, and the band was R.E.M., and the B-52s, Widespread Panic, Drive By Truckers, as well as others hail from that small-ish southern town too.

Birthday IslandTo further my defense of the South, particularly music from the South, is the band below, called “Plains,” from the plains of my birth state, Alabama; and they have been kind enough to share their entire latest album, Birthday Island, with everyone, for free (see below).  The first thing I was expecting, was to hear some sort of “southern rock,” and/or, stereotypically, some sort of country inspired music – boy was I pleasantly surprised.  The music has that indie, “college band,” with a whiff of “surf guitar” sound in there; along with a tinge of electronic synth too.  Sure, the third track has a certain country – maybe rockabilly? – element to it, but to call it country music would be a mistake.  The college thing makes sense, as, I believe, they are based out of Auburn Alabama, which, like Athens Georgia, is home to a university, in Plains case it is Auburn University (Athens Georgia is home to The University of Georgia).  correction:  Plains actually hail from Montevallo, AL, home of the University of Montevallo; and located on the plains of Alabama -Ed.

I am now on the third rotation of listening to Birthday Island, and I have to say that it is REALLY growing on me – in fact just as I typed that last little bit there, something hit.  That something is the sound, there is a band that I have heard before which Plains does have a similar (not exact, but similar) sound as, and that band is Rooney; particularly Rooney’s first album – and Rooney is NOT from the South, they’re from L.A., the real one, in California.  Anyway, I encourage you guys to give Plains’ Birthday Island a listen to below.  I have a suspicion that many of you will enjoy it; even many above Washington DC, and heaven forbid, some on that bartered island might even like it too . . .

 

The Foley Artist

One thing that the average movie goer most likely overlooks when sitting in the theater or in front of their TV is the sound; it is such an inherent part of the reality that has been created on screen that it takes a back seat to the visuals. While new special effects techniques often leave young audiences gawking at the complexity of the robots in the Transformers movies or the brilliance of the Balrog in The Lord of The Rings, not many people really stand in awe of the otherworldly sounds that accompany these things. Moreover, many might be surprised to find that about 80% of all dialogue is rerecorded in a studio and that almost everything else you hear in a movie is assembled on the computer and recorded on a Foley stage (which is a large room filled with props and different surfaces for recreating the sounds one would expect to hear throughout the story). Next time you watch a movie, choose one notable seen and try to pick out every sound, including the ambiences. Now, remember that almost none of it was recorded while the scene was actually happening. That doesn’t mean that no one was recording while the cameras were rolling, but that is a whole other aspect of the audio process. Foley artists develop a skill set that requires a strong sense of timing and creativity for interpreting how something should sound so that it is stimulating rather than simply realistic (which is often boring to the viewer).

 

The Art of Motion Picture Sound

As my last semester is just beginning and I am starting my internship search, I thought I would take a break from my usual topics to share my chosen career focus for the future. It is no secret that the life of the music performer, producer, or recordist is a struggle and often leads to little or no financial stability. However, nothing drives the point home more than really immersing oneself in the music culture. Although the film industry (dealing with Audio post production and music) is certainly still ambitious and highly competitive, it does provide a higher level of stability than the music industry.

What is clear to anyone looking in from the outside, is that the film industry is inherently multi discplinary. Within the realm of Audio alone, there is a vast range of concentrations ranging from the many types of mix engineers, to sound design, composition, dialogue replacement, on-set recording, field recording, conducting, foley etc. Such an industry requires an ability to interact and work with many different fields to put imagine and assemble a world that is so truthful that it can engage the minds of those who view its story. This is a pursuit that elevates the art of storytelling to one of its highest levels.

“Let The Beat Rock”

The current state of pop music is widely recognized by most serious listeners as an industry that favors consumerism, the beauty industry, and sex over musical and lyrical expression. Hip hop is a dominant part of almost all top charting music as is over processed and affected female vocals. The messages expressed in this music almost always play on sexual desire, material desire, or teenage relationship. This can be demonstrated by an action as simple as turning on any one of the many overly disappointing MTV stations. However, once in a while something “hip” pops up and then very quickly disappears from the spotlight to make way for stuff that brings in the teeny-boppers.

Tabi Bonney is one of those artists who will tend to pop up every now and then as he is constantly peaking out of the alternative rap scene into the national pop arena. Yet, his commitment to alternative styling in his music make it not always the most marketable. Though, while watching his videos this may seem counterintuitive due to the large focus on female talent and “high life” references. Even his lyrics have many elements of material and sexual desire.

The big difference that sets him apart from the mainstream is how he approaches his aesthetic, lyrics, and music. The aesthetic is heavy on female modeling but approaches it from the perspective of high fashion. There is a maturity to his music videos that make them almost completely necessary to the listening experience of many of his songs. Such a bond comes from concentration on artistic influence rather than exploitation of the listeners sexual instincts. From a lyrical perspective his material, once again, seems to be similar in content to the mainstream. Though, his approach to its delivery makes use of a combination of subtlety, overtness, and “tongue and cheek” to create something which is engaging, and sometimes humorous rather than manipulative. Lastly, the music he uses is not simply a backing track but often plays a very large role the song itself with forms that are more organic than simply pumping a chorus for its entirety.

His albums make use of a wide range of styles and feels to create something that is eclectic, confident, and cool.

The Wheel of Time

Wheel of Time LogoLast night I met up with some friends for some tasty Mexican food, a few cervezas, and of course some conversation.  When we hang out, our conversations wander across the spectrum of many subjects, like sports (who is going to win the upcoming Super Bowl?), movies (“Apocalypse Now,” “Killing Fields,” “Deer Hunter,” and to lighten the atmosphere after those rather heavy films, “The Big Lebowski”), a little music (which band was Rob Thomas in, 3rd Eye Blind, or Matchbox 20 – it was Matchbox 20 – don’t ask how or why we got on that topic), politics (income tax vs. consumption tax), and literature (specifically the sci-fi series “The Wheel of Time”).

It was the last subject that I found interesting, because I do have a degree in English Literature (you know Shakespeare, both Shelleys,  Lord Byron, Keats, Yeats, Chaucer – that kind of literature) so when my friends bring up books, my ears tend to perk up; which is what happened last night.  Two of my friends started talking about The Wheel of Time series, which I didn’t know anything about, because I am more than a bit of a book snob, as is a given by my chosen degree.  I sat there and listened to these two friends of mine tell me how great the series is, and how the final book, which they are both reading, is equally fantastic.  Needless to say, when I got home, I decided to do a little research into this sci-fi/fantasy book series.  I found that it has been licensed twice for TV/film, once for a miniseries on NBC (that never materialized), and currently the film rights are held by Universal Pictures.  I found that it is being/has been adapted into comic book form, by Dabel Brothers.  I also found that there are games based upon the series too.  However, since this is a site about sound after all, I was also a bit intrigued to learn that there is actually music based upon this series too.  This led me into more … um … “research.”

The first bit of research I did was into the German based power band that goes by the handle “Blind Guardian,” and their not one, but TWO songs they have written about/in honor of this series of books.  The first being called “Ride into Obsession:”

The other, suitably enough, is called “Wheel of Time:”

There’s also an orchestral version of this song, it basically sounds the same as above, minus the vocals.

Not to be out done by their European neighbors, Swedish heavy metal band Katana has their own tribute to this series, with their song “The Wisdom of Emond’s Field:

Okay, so the above music kind of fits a bit of the stereotype of Metal/Sci-Fi/Fantasy fusion/inspiration/whatever you want to call it, going back to Led Zeppelin’s references to J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” and/or “The Hobbit” in some of their songs.  However there was even a “The Wheel of Time” soundtrack released in 1999, featuring music by Robert Berry, which seems a bit odd to have a soundtrack with no film or TV show.  I guess that should show the popularity of this book series.  Then there is a symphonic poem that was done by composer Seth Stewart, entitled “Age of Legends:”

Say what you will about the music inspired by this book series, personally I think that Blind Guardian and DragonForce could be mistaken for the same band, and I kind of chuckled at the photo of the band Katana, on their MySpace page, because it reminded me of the animated metal band “Dethklok,” which airs on The Cartoon Network’s late night schedule, called Adult Swim.  Anyway, I think I might have to start reading this series of books, based simply off of my friends recommendations, and not so much on the music inspired by it.

Sonification: the music of the planets

In a modern society that is constantly bombarded by sensory over-stimulation it is surprising that the importance of sound and audio is greatly under-appreciated in comparison to visual media. The Vedic literature of the Hindu faith looks at sound as  “that which conveys the idea of an object, indicates the presence of a speaker and constitutes the subtle form of ether.” Essentially, it is a symbol for the make up of reality as we know it. When combined with the visual arts it becomes an art form which is elevated and altogether unique. In an attempt to translate and represent various aspects of the physical world in terms of auditory stimuli, composers and scientists have used sonification (connecting data to procedures which generate auditory material) to uncover new ways of viewing art and science. This can be seen in the work of serial composers such as Milton Babbit and aleatoric compositions of John Cage among many others. In the feature video, the contemporary composer, Robert Alexander demonstrates and explains how such a process can be useful for making art, but also for practically interpreting scientific data because it allows the researchers to view the raw material from a wholly different perspective. In the sciences we see that often the most important and focused data is represented and interpreted visually. As you will see in the video, however, an auditory understanding of the data reveals insights that can be very important to its analysis. What is inspiring about this story is that it illustrates the merging of visceral creativity with the scientific process in such a way that there is true camaraderie and synthesis between these two seemingly divergent disciplines. It represents a step forward in the consciousness of both worlds that everyone should be able to appreciate.

Ghostland Observatory

So last night I was thumbing through the channel guide on the old television, lamenting the fact that nothing was on (is there ever though?) and as I scrolled down towards the bottom of the channels, where the “dreaded” local channels are, I saw that Austin City Limits was coming on PBS in about 30 minutes.  I didn’t tune in though – instead I went to bed.

However, as I was going upstairs to retire, I thought about an episode of Austin City Limits that I watched about 6 years ago.  I thought how then too it was a boring Saturday night, and I was again fighting off going to bed, and I just sort of landed on PBS that particular Saturday.  I didn’t have extended cable back then so I basically only had about 10 channels, and Austin City Limits won out.

For those who do not live states side, Austin City Limits is a long running (since 1976) music show on our Public Broadcasting System (PBS), that is filmed/taped before a live studio audience in Austin Texas.  It is known for having musical artists from just about every genre, some popular, some not – though few, if any, are what would be called “pop idols” like Justin Bieber.  Well that particular boring Saturday night, I happened to tune in when one of the lesser popular artists were on.  They were/are a duo, based out of Austin Texas itself, called Ghostland Observatory; and I was absolutely riveted at what I saw.  Soon after though, I all but forgot about them – until last night, as I lay down to go to sleep.

Now, I am not too sure how I feel about their music.  I mean I like it, but I cannot say that I love it; but I am not exactly a big fan of electro music.  If a friend is playing that type of music I will listen without complaint, however I do not generally tune to it in my house or car.  If you notice what I said in the previous paragraph though, I said I was riveted by what I “saw.”  That is because the front man for this duo Aaron Behrens (the drummer/producer is Thomas Turner) is definitely one of the most entertaining front men to watch that I have seen in a long, long time.  He reminds me of a Jim Morrison (though sober), mixed with some James Brown, and maybe a little Elvis.

Below is a video of Ghostland Observatory Performing their song “Vibrate” live (Not at Austin City Limits):

Here is a video from that Austin City Limits episode, with Ghostland Observatory performing “Sad Sad City:”

And one more for good measure, here Ghostland Observatory performs “Ghetto Magnet:”

I think I am definitely going to have to see these guys live at some time.  If you watch any more live videos of this band you will see and hear the crowd are definitely into it.

Laws of Nature

laws_of_natureFirst let me say that I cannot claim that this post is my own creation.  I was doing some house cleaning on the site and found what lies below buried in the “drafts” folder.  It was initially set up in a table format; however the table fit poorly on the page; and when I say “poorly,” that is an understatement – which is probably why it never made it out of the “draft” box.  Anyway, I liked the content and sought to clean it up so that it could be published – enjoy.

Grundman’s Law:  Under the most carefully controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, humidity and other variables, the system will perform as it damn well pleases.  (Bernie Grundman; Mastering Engineer & Educator).

Knight’s Law:  A pat on the back is only a few centimeters from a kick in the pants.  (Mickey Knight; Mickey Knight, Diacoustic Lab, purveyor of styli, lacquer blanks, and Gear, and creator of this list).

Hidley’s Law:  Nothing is impossible for a man who doesn’t have to do the work.  (Tom Hidley, Studio designer, Westlake Audio).

Duncan’s Law:  When in doubt, mumble.  (Kent Duncan, Kendun Recorders. Recording and Mastering Facility).

Evan’s Law:  Every man has a scheme that will not work.

Hulko’s Law:  A theory is better than its explanation.  (Lee Hulko, mastering engineer, Sterling Sound, one of the original owners).

Storyk’s Law:  The amount of work done varies inversely with the amount of time spent in the office.  (John Storyk, Studio Designer).

Woram’s Law:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”   Propounded by Sci-Fi writer, Arthur C. Clarke, 1962.  (John Woram, Engineer and Author).

Nordahl’s Law:  Everything goes wrong at once.  (Tore Nordahl, Studer & Neve. Now a consultant).

Emmerman’s Law:  In a crisis that forces a choice to be made among alternative courses of action, people tend to choose the worst possible course.  (Mack Emmerman, Criteria Studios, Miami FL).

Tarsia’s 1st Law:  The obvious answer is always overlooked.   (Joe Tarsia, Sigma Sound, Philadelphia)

Tarsia’s 2nd Law:  When booking recording studios, pick any two out of three:  Fast, Cheap, or Good.  (Mike Tarsia, Sigma Sound, Philadelphia – 2009).
– You can get your product fast and cheap … but it isn’t going to sound good.
– You can get it cheap and good … but it won’t be done fast.
– You can get it good and fast … but it won’t be cheap.

Snoddy’s Law:  It works better if you plug it in.  (Glenn Snoddy, recording engineer. Discoverer of Fuzz as an effect. Fuzztone Origin):

Harrison’s Law:  There is always an easy answer to every problem – neat, plausible and wrong.  (Dave Harrison, Harrison consoles, inventor of inline console topology)

Meadow’s Law:  It won’t work.  (Glenn Meadows, Masterfonics)

Westlake’s Law:  The first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90%.  (Westlake Audio, purveyor of Gear and studio systems).

Harned’s Law:  Once you open a can of worms, the only way to recan them is to use a bigger can.  (Jeep Harned; founder, MCI)

Schnee’s Law:  Anything that begins well will end badly.  It is important to note, the converse of this law is not true.  (Bill Schnee, Engineer and Producer).

Stone’s Law:  Necessity is the mother of strange bedfellows.  (Chris Stone, founder and owner of the Record Plant, aka Farber’s Fourth Law).

Golden’s Law:  A man with one watch knows what time it is.  A man with two watches is never sure.  (John Golden, mastering engineer: Artisan Sound Recorders, Kendun, K-Disc, and John Golden Mastering.aka Segall’s Law – 2009).

Perry’s Law:  If the facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.  (Ken Perry, Mastering Engineer – 2009).

Garay’s Law:  An object will fall so as to do the most damage.  (Val Garay, Engineer and Producer).

Kelsey’s Law:  Make three correct guesses consecutively and you will establish yourself as an expert.

Lightner’s Law:  If it happens, it must be possible.  (Bill Lightner: mastering engineer @ K-Disc.-2009).

Steele’s Law:  Social innovations tend to the level of minimum well being.

Guy’s Law:  The probabillity of a given event occurring is inversely proportional to its desirability.  (Richard Guy(?)).

Moyssiadis’ Law:  As soon as you mention somethng, if it’s good, it goes away; if it’s bad, it happens.  (Dave Moyssiadis, mastering and recording engineer – 2009(?)).

Capps’ Law:  If it can find a way to wear out faster, it will.  (Capps makes disc recording styli).

Lippell’s Law:  If a research project is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.

Neumann’s Law:  Whoever has the gold makes the rules.  (Georg Neumann, microphone God.(see also: Temmer’s Law)).

Calbi’s Law:  Nothing is as easy as it looks.  (Greg Calbi, mastering engineer: The Cutting Room @ Record Plant NYC, Sterling Sound, Masterdisc. – 2009).

Marino’s Law:  Everything takes longer than you think it will.  (George Marino, mastering engineer: The Cutting Room @ Record Plant NYC, Sterling Sound.- 2009).

Todrank’s Law:  There are two types of people: those who divide people into two types, and those who do not.  (Bob Todrank, purveyor of Gear).

Brosious’ Law:  The components you have will expand to fill the available space.  (Ham Brosious, then with Audiotechniques, Gear Purveyor. Now with Digibid, Gear Purveyor of the new Millennia).  Ebay ended up eating Digibid’s lunch; they are now toast.

Ingoldsby’s Law:  You cannot determine beforehand which side of the bread to butter.  (Brian Ingoldsby; MCA).

Merten’s Law:  The more time you spend in reporting on what you are doing, the less time you have to do anything.  Stability is achieved when you spend all your time reporting on the nothing you are doing.

Sax’s Law:  All laws are basically false.  (Doug Sax, The Mastering Lab).

Zentz’s Law:  Inside every large problem is a small problem struggling to get out.  (Alan Zentz, Mastering Engineer and studio owner).

Ludwig’s Law:  The other line moves faster.  (Bob Ludwig, Mastering Engineer).

Dozier’s Law:  Negative expectations yield negative results.  Positive expectations yield negative results.  (LaMont Dozier, Producer & Songwriter).

Rettinger’s Law:  Nothing is ever a complete failure.  It can always serve as a bad example.  (Michael Rettinger, Acoustician).

Ricker’s Law:  Experiments should be reproducible – They should all fail the same way.  (Stan Ricker, Mastering Engineer, half-speed mastering God).

Boden’s Law:  If an experiment works, you must be using the wrong experiment.

Hansch’s Law:  Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. (Jo Hansch; Mastering Engineer: Festival Records -Australia, Kendun, Artisan Sound Recorders, K-Disc, Dinkum – 2009)

Eberle’s Laws:  (1) Once a job is fouled up, anything done to improve it makes it worse.  Appears to be part of Murphy’s Laws.  
                           (2) No matter what results are expected, someone is always willing to take it.  
                           (3) No matter what occurs, someone believes it happened according to his pet theory.  
                           (4) No matter what the result, someone is always eager to misinterpret it. 

Fulginiti’s Law:  In a heirarchical organization, the higher the level, the greater the confusion.  (Greg Fulginiti; Mastering Engineer, Sterling Sound, Artisan Sound Recorders, Masterdisk)

Reese’s Law:  There are two sides to every argument, unless a person is personally involved, in which case there is only one.  (Mike Reese; Mastering Engineer: The Mastering Lab-2009)

Leek’s Law:  An experiment may be considered if no more than half your data must be discarded to obtain correspondence with your theory.

Cato’s Law:  The merchandise you need the quickest will be shipped the slowest way.

Gray’s Law:  In any collection of data, the figures that are obviously correct, beyond all need of checking, contain the errors.  (Kevin Gray; Mastering Engineer).  Corrollary 1: No one you ask for help will see the error either.  Corrollary 2: Any nagging intruder who stops by with unsought advice will spot it immediately.

Simpson’s Law:  There is a quantity which, when multiplied by, divided by, added to or subtracted from the answer you get, gives you the answer you should have gotten.

Berra’s Law:  In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is.  (Attributed to Yogi Berra).

Anderson’s Law: Nothing takes 5 minutes.  (Jim Anderson; 2009 AES Past President)

Karl’s Law:  When time is of the essence, all fixes have failed, and the show must go, then: one man’s buzz is another man’s line noise.  (Karl Johnson; Audio Engineer)

Hufker’s Law:  If at first you don’t succeed, you’re using the wrong hammer.  (Eugene Hufker Contributed by his son, Barry Hufker Recording St. Louis, MO)

Stamler’s Law:  80% of the problems in audio are caused by a bad connection someplace. (Contributed by Paul Stamler).

Stuart’s Law:  The worse they are, the more verses they know.  (John Stuart, recordist of more folksingers than you can shake a stick at).

Temmer’s Law:  If I don’t make or sell it, it isn’t any good.  (Stephen Temmer, Gotham Audio, importer of Neumann  Microphones.).

Wilcox’s Law:  In any endeavor, two thirds of the work is done by one-third of the participants.  (Peter Wilcox; Wannabe dobro player (by his own admission)).

Blasingame’s 1st Law:  When operating in the vacuum of a studio, time moves faster than anywhere else in the Universe.  (Joe Blasingame; Blasingame Audio Productions St. Louis, MO)

Blasingame’s 2nd Law:  No matter how fast and effective an audio engineer works, to the paying client it’s like molasses.  (Joe Blasingame).

Simpson’s Law:  When you reach for the knob, the _____ player will stop playing.  (Keith Simpson).

Jaeger’s Law:  The evaluation sample is always in the 99th percentile of the performance range.  (Rene Jaeger; Analog Design Engineer, Loud Technologies)

Welti’s Law:  If you’ve worked through the problem forwards and backwards, checked your math, consulted your intellectual superiors, and made invocations to the Gods, and still your hardware setup is giving the wrong result, you will find that it’s a bad cable.(Todd Welti; Staff Scientist, Harman International).

 

In the spirit of honesty and fairness, upon getting the above all spiffy, I did some searching on the internet to fix some missing info, and found that these laws, as well as more, are already on www.aes.org – I just want to give credit where credit is due.

Patchwerk: control a real massive modular synth from your browser

In 1973, Media Lab associate professor Joe Paradiso was an undergraduate at Tufts University. It was a time, he says, when information and parts for DIY projects were scarce, and digital synthesizer production was on the rise. But, he decided to tackle creating a modular synth. Paradiso gathered information from manufacturers’ data sheets and hobbyist magazines he found in public libraries. He taught himself basic electronics, scrounged for parts from surplus stores and spent a decade and a half building modules and hacking consumer keyboards to create the synth, which he completed in the 1980s.

That synthesizer, probably the world’s largest with more than 125 modules, is now on display in the MIT Museum.  Through the magic of the interwebs, Joe has created a system that lets you control the synth through your browser!

Patchwerk lets you control a massive analog synthesizer from your browser, and streams the results back to you and everyone connected. The interface on this site is linked to a physical synth cabinet connected to the world’s largest homemade modular synth, currently housed at the MIT Museum. Turn a knob here, and Patchwerk will turn a motorized knob on the cabinet. If someone at the Museum grabs a knob, you’ll see it turn too.

Watch Joe describe the synth:

You can try out the synth right here (just enter your name, and switch to “control”), and you can find out more about it here.

If you don’t feel like playing with it, you can hear a live 24h stream of the synth right here:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(3/11/2012 Update:  Unfortunately though this link no longer works)

This Ain’t the Same Old Jazz

We were approached by the UK based indie record label, Tru Thoughts Recordings about a week ago inquiring as to whether or not we would be interested in conducting some music reviews for some of their artist’s recordings.  As music fans we jumped at the opportunity to do so, because it is a great opportunity to hear music and artists that we, and I suppose many of you, haven’t heard before.  We are music fans here at Noise Made Me Do It, even though not all posts are strictly related to music.  We told the Tru Thoughts representative that we would be fair, and, most importantly, honest.  We are not being compensated in any way for these reviews, which is, of course, the best way to ensure our honesty.

Now a little about who are giving the reviews.  There is Luke MacClean, who is a musician, and currently working towards getting his degree in music.  There is also Mike Catania, a published, and accomplished composer, and musician, holding several degrees in music.  So those two guys know a little about music; Then there is just me, Tim Bean.  I do not have a music degree, nor am I a musician.  I am simply a mere mortal compared to my two colleagues, but I am a huge music fan, with broad and eclectic musical tastes; so my reviews are simply the thoughts of a fan.  Without further ado, below are the reviews – click the linked titles above each review to hear each piece.  Many thanks to Sean at Tru Thoughts Recordings for asking for our thoughts.

Tim.

Mark de clive loweMark de-Clive Lowe – “Take the Space Trane”  To be released on February 5th, 2013

Luke’s Review:

First off, Mark de-Clive Lowe has just gained another fan.  Far too often I see a lot of Jazz coming out of New York that parades around as a new synthesis of urban and jazz idioms, but upon listening I discover that they cautiously added a couple “hip” samples or a buried synth part.  Not MdCL.  What he gives us is pure energy through relentless and unflinching use of drum and bass style beats, sweeping leads/pads, and heavy synth bass. However, the horns only briefly relinquish the spotlight to the electronics, and I wouldn’t have it any other way with such an awesome display of talent being thrusted out of my speakers.

The composition is complex to say the least and is at times a little over zealous with multiple horn solos all building on top of electronic textures, but the fact of the matter is that his rises and climaxes are gold. Sometimes you have to push the envelope.  There is an ebb and flow to the piece as well; not simply massive horn hits for seven minutes.  The periods of smooth affected rhodes and sax/trumpet solos provide a refreshing emotional contrast to the heavy horn onslaught that the Rotterdam Orchestra throws at you.  There are such great parts to it though that I would like to hear something repeated eventually. How I would have killed to hear him do something huge with a return of that juggernaut intro or bring back the horn theme that appears around 3 minutes.  As for the ending, I’m not really sure what to make of it; it comes off as abrupt but yet still appropriate.  Maybe it achieves its goal because it leaves me wanting to listen to it again

All in all, Mark de-Clive Lowe delivers something which is bold, aggressive, and also very cool.

Rating:  ♪♪♪♪ out of 5 Notes

Mike’s Review:

I found Take The Space Trane a fun departure from what I thought it was going to be – an over-produced, synth-heavy spin-off of the Strayhorn hit.  The performances, especially the brass, are exciting; so much so I would have rather heard some scaling back of the effects and let the instrumentalists shine on their own.  That said; the electro portions are integrated well.  I don’t feel as though they were thrown in as an afterthought, which is extremely common in this style.  I would have liked to have heard more development of ideas instead of the barrage of new material.  All told, though, I think the piece is successful.

Rating:  ♪♪♪♪ of 5 Notes

Tim’s Review:

Okay, here are my thoughts on Mark de-Clive Lowe’s “Take the Space Trane.”  I am a fan of jazz, not a huge fan, but a fan none-the-less.  I am also a bit of a traditionalist; which means that free form jazz, to me, often sounds too discordant for my tastes; but that’s just me.  So, when I fired up “Take the Space Trane” for the first time I found myself waiting for the song to actually start, it sounded like it was just one long intro; but again, free form jazz isn’t really my thing.  However, I am not one to rush to judgment.  I didn’t just listen to it once and decide that was enough.  No sir, I listened to it a good half dozen times, and I am here to tell you, that despite my personal biases towards free form jazz, I really began to like this piece of music.  I found the incorporation of modern synthesizers a nice touch, and even began to dig (to use the old jazz slang) it in its entirety.  Even though it isn’t the style of jazz that I like, what I like about jazz is that it is cool.  Jazz music sounds cool, feels cool, looks cool, and this is definitely a cool piece of music by Mark de-Clive Lowe and the Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra – though I do still prefer more traditional jazz.

Rating:  ♪♪♪ ½ of 5 Notes

menagerieMenagerie – “Leroy & the Lion”   To be Released January 22nd, 2012

Luke’s Review:

Usually, the genre-term smooth jazz carries with it a stigma of being synonymous with elevator music.  If it’s even appropriate to categorize this song under such a label the fact of the matter is that it’s definitely smooth, but it’s also definitely the real deal.  With the percussion groove popping in at the intro it’s easy to know you are listening to something special; it is one of those beats that doesn’t really change much, yet somehow doesn’t get old. On top of this pocket groove unfolds what is simply a very catchy melody and improvisations that really turn the tune inside out.  The simplicity of this song is key for it allows growth to occur, and as the listener gets comfortable in the beat the melodies come flying at head level. In essence, “Leroy and the Lion” is stimulating, satisfying, and almost impossible to stop moving to.

Rating:  ♪♪♪♪ ½ out of 5 Notes

Mike’s Review:

Menagerie’s Leroy and The Lion is a shapeless blur that, I think, is supposed to suck you into a groove but lacks any sort of contour making it nothing more than a waste of a superb performance by Roy Ayers.  The piece is tired–there are no elements in the form, orchestration, style, harmony or melody that merit giving this a place in your playlist.  Nice studio work and the performance by Ayers is all that salvages the stars it gets.

Rating:  ♪♪ of 5 Notes

Tim’s Review:

Menagerie’s “Leroy & the Lion” is definitely more my type of jazz, but . . . It just didn’t really resonate with me.  I gave it plenty of time, and tries, just so that I could be sure that I wasn’t rushing too quick to judgment.  I know this is going to sound crazy, especially given that I have already said that I don’t really care for free form jazz too much, but I found “Leroy & the Lion” sounding a bit generic and derivative. I also think the xylophone was a little over done, giving too much of a tinny sound.  I wanted to hear a deep, smooth bass line so bad, but it never materialized.  Over all “Leroy and the Lion” is a bright piece of music, but I just found something lacking, which left me wanting.  That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Rating:  ♪♪ of 5 Notes

Nostalgia 77Nostalgia 77 & the Monster – “The Taxidermist”   Released on November 19th, 2012

Luke’s Review:

“The Taxidermist” is reminiscent of the psychedelic fusion stylings of the “Bitches Brew” recordings.  The stark and moaning horns in the melody and solos provide a haunting atmosphere that conjures images of empty dark streets.  This piece definitely has a lot of atmosphere.  Moreover, the drum groove, which is such a key element to the tension of “The Taxidermist,” really tugs at the listener with the hi-hat emphasis and syncopated snare drum hits.  Though, what seems to nag me about this piece is the fact that it never seems to get to where it’s going.  It suggests some sort of build or raise of energy and while it starts to get there near the end, I would say it just doesn’t do enough.  At the finish, even though I appreciated the mood it created, I felt relatively unfulfilled.

Rating:  ♪♪♪ of 5 Notes

Mike’s Review:

The tags the record label applied to The Taxidermist are frightening: beats, funk, hip hop, jazz (to name the first few).  If this tune had come out fifty years ago, it still would have sounded dated.  It’s the kind of thing that make non-musicians hate jazz:  the arrogance of soloist falsely believing that he/she has the skill to poorly improvise for extended lengths of time in lieu of an actual thought-out piece.  Nostalgia 77 & The Monster should spend a little more time emulating before they recklessly attempt “innovating” again.

Rating:  ♪ of 5 Notes

Tim’s Review:

Nostalgia 77 & the Monster’s “The Taxidermist” just sounds cool, which is what I think jazz is supposed to sound like.  There is a darkness and a broodiness to this piece that I often associate with jazz too.  Maybe I am the only one who does this, but often times, when I am listening to an instrumental piece of music, I close my eyes and “envision” the music.  When I did that with “The Taxidermist” I conjured it being played in a dimly lit, smoky bar; where people drink highballs, not beer, and they’re just grovin’ to this music.  Sure, there still are the elements of the free form jazz (which I already said is not my favorite style of jazz) from the horns, but it never really goes overboard into full blown “jam session” free form, and the steady cadence of the cymbals, and drums; which at first listen sounded too monotonous, but upon hearing it again, and again, it just worked for me.  That steady little rhythm kind of kept me on the edge, I found myself just waiting for it to go off, and blow up into something bigger, and louder, but it just kept steady; leading me along, like bread crumbs.  I know that might sound like a complaint, but really I mean it as a compliment.  Of the three pieces of music here this one is by far my favorite.  It has the elements that I associate with jazz; a little groove, and a little mood, with a touch of improvisation.  Yeah, I dig “The Taxidermist” a lot.

Rating:  ♪♪♪♪ ½ out of 5 Notes

So, those are our first, and hopefully not last, official music reviews.  If you would like us to review your music please feel free to leave us a comment and we will email you with our contact information.  Also, if you clicked the above links to the associated artists and music, and liked what you heard, please visit Tru Thoughts Recordings and explore these and other artists – again, we are NOT being compensated in any way by Tru Thoughts Recordings, we are just being gracious.

Thanks Again,

Tim

 

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