Monday, April 05, 2010

Moby Video Contest

My friends Holly and Dylan created this excellent entry for Moby's "Wait For Me" music video competition. Please have a look and vote for it if you like it.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Piano Improvisor Merton + Random Webcam Chatroom = Viral Hit!

People go onto anonymous webcam chatrooms for a variety of reasons. Loneliness. Boredom. Sexual exploration. But to be serenaded by a hooded improvising piano-player was not one of them, until now.

Merton (not his real name) is now an Internet phenom. His video was seen over 4 million times in less than a week! On his Youtube channel, Merton wrote a note saying he was not Ben Folds, a semi-famous male piano player from Atlanta (of the band Ben Folds Five). As Merton's video became more popular though, some media insisted Merton and Ben Folds were the same guy. Playing up the joke, Ben Folds recorded his own "Ode to Merton" video in front of a 2000 member live audience, complete with hoodie and glasses.

Here is the very first interview with Merton on Mashable.

I love the combination of improvisational music performance and the randomness of the participants, with all of us watching. It's a bit like those old "You're on Candid Camera" TV shows, where a set of actors and a camera crew do things in front of unsuspecting people. Only now, none of the parties has to go anywhere in particular. Both sides of the chat could be anywhere, and the audience could also be anywhere. Imagine if two improv pianists in front of live audiences from random places in the world encountered each other on Chatroullette?

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Joe Raposo's song "Wonder Child"

I remember being in my grandfather's high-rise apartment in Philadelphia sometime in the mid-to-late 70s. I was sitting on the bed in his bedroom. An off-white Zenith TV with a thick, noisy spring-loaded button metal brick remote sat on a stand in front of a large window overlooking the 30th Street Train Station. On the screen, a fuzzy PBS station was airing Sesame Street, and Helen Reddy was singing a song that has been stuck in my mind's infinite shuffle playlist ever since.

Of course, where else do I find it but YouTube, the ever-present fountain of nostalgia?

Lovely song. But then I discovered the Ritchie Havens version, also on Sesame Street and possibly the original version of it:

Tricia and I love this version even more!

The song was written by the late Joe Raposo, the primary musical force behind the early Sesame Street and The Electric Company years. Probably best known for his "Bein' Green" song sun by Kermit The Frog. Musically, he's got a trademark sound built upon flutes, piccolos, glockenspiels, chimes, harpsichords, player pianos, 70s funk bass and guitar, random sound FX and banjo. He believed very strongly that children should hear music from everywhere else, and that it wasn't over their heads.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Today's Musical Inspiration: Nick Drake

Tricia and I watched Seven Pounds on DVD last night and while we did not like it all that much, one redeeming part was that there's a song in it I recalled hearing before on another movie soundtrack (Garden State), a jazzy guitary piano tune with a vaguely Cat Stevens vocal and lyrics like "Could've been a sign post...could have been a crook." I thought perhaps it was a modern artist returning to an earlier production style, something KCRW might play.

Turns out this is "One of these things first" by British folk singer Nick Drake, recorded in 1970 on the album Bryter Lyter. Sadly, as seems typical of many Romantic poets and painters, Nick suffered from depression and died way before his time (age 26). His work is only now starting to get some attention in movie soundtracks.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TEDx USC: Junoon (Salman Ahmed) and Melissa Etheridge LIVE

Junoon and its lead guitarist/singer Dr. Salman Ahmad (part rock star, part U.N. Ambassador and humanitarian) performed twice at TEDx. Its music is a nice mix of South Asian and Western influences with a Sufi touch (think George Harrison). Later in the program though we were surprised by a special guest -- Melissa Etheridge! She and Dr. Ahmad met at Al Gore's Nobel Prize ceremony and became fast friends (meeting later for a "mind meld", according to Melissa). Both performed a special song together (accompanied by the audience ringing little white bells provided beforehand). Later in the day, he sang John Lennon's "Imagine" with some volunteers from the audience.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

TEDx USC: Qi Zhang opening

Qi Zhang opens sitting at an unusual organ-like instrument with foot pedals. However, the music being played sounds nothing like an organ, it's a symphonic tune reminiscent of a Walt Disney World fireworks show. But all being played by her! Whoa! Drums, percussion, horns, strings... Incredible.

UPDATE: The piece played is Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges. (Ménage à troi l'orange?)

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Very poignant vintage Sesame Street film

A particularly good performance of Vivaldi's Guitar Concerto in D Minor, 2nd movement is combined with footage of a little flower that manages to bloom atop a busy Manhattan cityscape.

This piece offered hope for my father, who saw it in the hospital while I was very sick as a toddler. He felt very moved by it. Whoever you are that made this film -- thank you! I wish more children's TV today had sublime moments like this.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Random Life Updates

A few things I haven't had time to write about:
  • Had a fun time with my team at the London Shopzilla UK office.
  • Recovered from a week long bought with bronchitis right after my return. Ugh.
  • Saw legendary salsa jazz fusion band Azymuth and Brazilian-inspired DJs perform at the echoplex.
  • Got Serato Scratch Live finally. DJing using my laptop now possible!
  • Been in JAVA training all week at work.
  • My old friend, PENN roommate, and successful business financier Raj Das was in town for a business trip. Last night we had dinner at Crustacean and drinks at the Hollywood Hills house of the creator of a new music site called BoomBacker (which might just reinvigorate the ailing music industry) and his wife, who runs an upscale wedding planning company, Eventful Designing.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bootie LA with surprise cameo from B-52's lead singer

I went to my second Bootie LA event last night. Last time around, the venue had a packed upstairs for dancing and a somewhat chill downstairs. Both played mash-ups, though the downstairs ones were particularly bold combinations (Tom Jones "It's not unusual to be loved by anyone" over Blondie's "The Tide is High", The Muppets Mahna Mahna over several different tunes, etc.) while the upstairs stuck to more straightforward, though still novel arrangements including one with Salt N Pepa's "Push It" on top of Grease's "Tell me More". The crowds at these things seem to be diverse, not your typical "L.A." crowd. At the last one, I saw people dressed as Vikings and pirates, something you'd expect at a Comic Con party, not an L.A. club.

Last night's was at a larger venue, the Echoplex. The dancing area was still a dense sea of people, but there were more places to sit or even dance further away from the main area. Unfortunately though, I wasn't quite as impressed with the musical selection this time. (I think that's most of the fun at these Bootie L.A events -- the "Oh wow" of recognition when you hear two songs you know being thrown together and having it work.) Still, there were some highlights:
  • Yaz's Situation vs. Foreigner's Urgent
  • Nirvana's Come As You Are vs. a 70s funk groove
  • Toni Basil's Mickey vs. Material Girl vs. Quiet Riot's Cum On Feel the Noise
  • DJ Dangermouse's 99 Problems vs. Nena's 99 Luftballoons
  • Diana Ross's Upside Down vs. Dead or Alive's You Spin Me Right Round
  • Fergie's Fergilicious vs Salt N' Pepa's Supersonic vs Push It
Sometime later, the DJ got up and introduced a special guest: Fred Schneider of the B-52s! So I swam through the sea of people to shake his hand.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Random Mash-up Idea

"Easy" (Commodores / Lionel Ritchie) with "Cold As Ice" (Foreigner)

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

LifeFormz: Livin' In the Fridge music video

One of the best ways to learn video puppetry, in my opinion, is to lip-synch to songs. It's how Jim Henson started -- he used the local TV station's record collection of Stan Freberg comedy sketches as well as popular songs. When I started LifeFormz, I discouraged new puppeteers joining us from jumping right into character dialog work.

"Aww, come on Brian!" they'd say. "This is just for fun, who cares if my head's in the scene or my puppet's head is flapping?" Well actually, the audience does. Do it right and the audience will believe in the character and respond to it. Do it wrong and it may laugh at how bad the puppet's moving or the funny dialog, but it won't have any connection to your character.

So when we started, all we did were music videos and very few spoken bits. With songs, we could focus on these techniques first:
  1. Proper lip-synch
  2. Eye gaze
  3. Rhythmic choreography
This music video (to the song "Livin' In the Fridge" by Weird Al Yankovic) was actually one of the last clips I worked on before graduating and it was finished and shown after I left. Unfortunately, you can tell -- note the difference in lip-synch of the red monster for the song up until he gets pushed into the fridge. Head-flapping! Stiff! Heh. Oh well. I think it turned out rather well despite my absence.

I love how we somehow found a real fridge, yanked off the door and attached it to a fake fridge interior with holes in the back. Making all the food puppets was really fun. We learned a lot about coverage -- how do we fill up the time with the lead singer, cut to close-ups of activities inside the fridge, and keep things reasonably consistent. The psychedelic sequence was really fun to make although it's a bit crude. (Layers of S-VHS tape being duplicated over and over just don't hold up, apparently.)

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jonathan Coulton on Yahoo!

Jonathan Coulton has broken out into the semi-mainstream with an article about him on Yahoo News! Nifty.

Who is Jonathan Coulton, you ask? Well, he's a great geeky singer/songwriter I've written about before who got his start through the Internet and is now touring.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

The GO! Team: Crazy British Happy-Go-Lucky Band Hiding in my PSP Game

Once again, it often takes two exposures to some new things before it sinks into my brain to the point where I notice. This was the case for Jonathan Coulton, whom I had seen perform along side John Hodgman without knowing who he was, then later finding out that HE was the one doing the great folk-songy version of "Baby Got Back" and a bunch of other great songs. Today's rediscovery is The Go! Team.

Sometimes last year I bought Lumines II for my PSP, the sequel to the horrifically addicting block game that features bizarre music (mostly Japanese electronica) and swirly visuals. This new version features actual music videos (!) of a few familiar artists (Beck, Gwen Stefani). I had started on the Basic mode, so none of these appeared. Hadn't played my PSP in a while, so yesterday I put in Lumines II and tried the Intermediate & Advanced modes to discover whatever tunes might be hidden in the game. Sure enough, there's one really, really strange video that sounds a bit like a high school marching band mixed with a previously unknown happy-sounding Janet Jackson or Nina Cherry rap song playing on a cassette player in the basement mixed with a harmonica riff, and a drummer playing an early 70s-style backbeat. Meanwhile, the visuals have a Super-8 film look, cut into a bizarro early 70s Sesame Street-like New York montage (with a few shots of Hollywood?) with no polish whatsoever. Unfortunately, one can't really focus on the visuals because the game itself is underway and blocks cover them up. Doh! How to figure out who made this craziness?

Luckily, the game tells you the name of the song ("Bottle Rocket") as you complete a level, but who was this artist? Was it a guy with lots of samples? Maybe two? A real marching band went home and recorded itself on Garage Band and went nuts, mashing it with 80s rap and adding tons of reverb?

In the back of my mind, I thought "Could this be The Go! Team?" Being an Angel member of the fantastic public radio station KCRW, I get new CDs sent to me every six weeks or so. In this manner I've discovered KT Tunstall, Zero 7, Imogen Heap, LCD Soundsystem, Band of Bees, and so many other great artists that in general, don't get played on mainstream, tightly-controlled corporate radio. Back in the Fall, they sent me an album called "Proof of Youth" by The Go! Team, which sounded like a high school cheerleading section paired with an acoustic drumset. It was a cool concept, but to my ears a little too muddled. I couldn't really make out the lyrics, and some parts were mixed too loudly for my taste. But maybe the creator(s) of this CD were responsible for this bizarre game video.

A quick search on YouTube for "Bottle Rocket" revealed this (albeit in poor quality):

A-ha! Caught red-handed. And this other video reveals that no, this is not the result of only a guy with some brass and rap samples (or a cheerleading squad / marching band for that matter):

Nope. This is a band from the UK, apparently quite multicultural and jubilant:

And how you can you not like a band with TWO drummers and an invisible horn section?

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Friday, January 25, 2008

My DJ Education Continues

Last year I took a DJ 101 class at the Scratch Academy after work to avoid the horrendous traffic between Santa Monica and Hollywood. Tried the next level class but found that they were trying to teach two many skills at the same time: beatmatching, vinyl hunting, and song selection. It was just too much for me and I dropped out about half way. It would be way cool if they taught beatmatching class where they provided you with the song list, and everybody focused on just getting them to flow into one another. That alone takes a lot of practice! Trying to do that when you're hunting for records, not knowing exactly what tempos they will be, getting them home, then finding the tempos are two far apart... starting over... and then going to class being expected to have your chain of songs with one added song each week, practiced and sounding good. Aaaaah! Too much.

But now I'm at it again. Familiar faces from 101 class are in my DJ 202 Scratching class taught by the acclaimed DJ Shortee, the most famous female DJ and scratch master (featured in the Hip Hop documentary movie Scratch). So far, it's great! Much easier for me to learn with specific drills that we do together and then sequentially.

Of course, to practice reliably I need a turntable and a good quality, scratch-worthy needle, like the Shure M477 or M44G. So this week I've been looking for a used Technics turntable and a mixer. Missed a few good deals on Craigslist last week, but finally a single, black Technics 1200 Mk2 in excellent condition showed up for a very good price. Even better, it included a good (albeit older model) Stanton Battle-mixer. Tonight, it's mine! Whohoo!

Now the tricky part... how to set it up properly.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

"I Want a Monster" - Banned Sesame Street sketch

I've known this song since I was maybe 5 or 6 when I got the Sesame Street LP "Monsters!" This album has been reissued by Sony on CD in 1996 but WITHOUT this song. The R & B group EnVogue did a cover of this song but with lyrics changed.


If I make friends with a friendly monster
I'd let him bounce me on his knee
I'd let him do whatever he wants to
'specially if he's bigger than me.


If I make friends with a friendly monster,
I'd be the best that a friend could be.
I'd let him do whatever he wants to
And he'd always belong to me.
It was taken off rotation on Sesame Street in 1984 after a mom complained. Other classic SS sketches have been removed too due to a complaint, like the Don Music sketches where he bangs his head against his piano when frustrated.

(Interestingly, the person who uploaded this onto Youtube had to combine a Dutch-dubbed version with the original album version. At home I found that I have a Spanish-dubbed version and was considering doing the same thing.)

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Creativity: A Curriculum

I was combing through old VHS tapes this weekend, recording any useful tidbits of footage into my Mac. One that I stumbled across was a Steven Sondheim episode of Inside the Actor's Studio on Bravo (back when they were actually an Arts channel and not just another reality-show landscape).

Sondheim talked about how his mentor Oscar Hammerstein (Showboat, Oklahoma) had read his very first musical at age 15 and told him "Are you sure you want me to critique this as if I didn't know you?" and when Steven nodded, he said "Well in that case it's the worst thing I've ever read." Ouch. But then Oscar laid out a curriculum for him, the gist of which I think could apply to any craft or artform you're trying to get better at:
  1. Write a musical version of a play you like
  2. Write musical of a play that you like but find flawed
  3. Write a musical adapted from a work of prose fiction
  4. Write an original musical

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Fun Little Animated Music Video

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Other Music Genres need 3rd Person Singular Verbs!

Yesterday my site producer IM'd me to thank me for having the album Orblivion by The Orb on my iTunes. I wrote back "You're welcome. The Orb rocks!" and then realized that was inappropriate. The Orb doesn't "rock" -- it makes excellent ambient electronica music! But how do you say that in a one-word soundbite?

The Orb trip-hops? Zero 7 chills out the house?

What about other genres? Do Bach, Prokofiev, and St. Seans project Classicism? Rap is already a verb, but not an emphatic one like "rock." Shouting "You rap!" during a 50 Cent concert is just stupid.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Beatboxers & Other Instrumental Vocalists

There's been a lot of vocal instrumentalism going on lately on the Net and elsewhere. I don't mean regular a cappella -- full of loose approximations of instruments like "doo doo doop" for bass and "weeee" for trumpets. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. I love Bobby McFerrin, DaVinci's Notebook and The Bobs). No, I mean impeccably close imitations of real instruments.

I remember being 6, hanging out in the school playground with other kids all trying to make sound effects with our mouths: lasers (from Star Wars), explosions, animal noises, drums, what have you. One boy named Adam was able to do a mean electric guitar sound through his teeth somehow. After lots of attempts I managed to make a similar sound but for whatever reason it sounded a bit more like a weird Moog synthesizer lead from "Lucky Man" (Emerson Lake & Palmer).

Later in my teens my voice dropped (thank god for testosterone!) and that noise through my teeth sounded more like a saxophone. Gradually I figured out how to growl (helps to have a plegmy cold!) and alter the amount of "reed" to where now when I'm in a subway corridor with lots of reverb, some people have told me it sounds pretty darn close to a baritone sax. So far I have not been able to teach other vocal instrumentalists how to do it sucessfully -- they can do trumpets, trombones, and drums (probably the most common) but sax seems to be really difficult.

When I was in college, I had the idea to form a group of vocal instrumentalists and singers. Like a whole bunch of Bobby McFerrins but as a band. Wanted to call it "The Pseudotones." Sadly, I couldn't find anybody able to do much other than drums, and the Pseudotones never saw the light of day.

Well, now there's a group called Naturally 7 that is just that. Drums, harmonica (!), bass, electric guitar. Plus a lead singer who sounds a lot like Seal.

There are many purveyors of beatboxing (named after another name for drum machine), who specialize in imitating acoustic or electronic drums, and sometimes the DJ scratch sound made famous by Grand Mixer DXT on the Herbie Hancock 1980s hit, Rockit. On Youtube there are hundreds. For example:
French guy
Belgian guy
Kid Beyond from San Francisco, whom I've seen live with Imogen Heap. Amazing!

Way back in 1980, Fred Newman released a kids book called Mouthsounds with a floppy mini-record! It's still available with a CD. Wes Carroll has a website, offers one-on-one instruction, and has a series of instructional videos called Mouth Drumming.

So get out there and make some noise!

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

DJ Lessons

I had my second DJ 101 class at the Scratch Academy. Definitely a lot fewer people this time around. Class one contained a surprisingly diverse group of aspiring spinners -- a grey-haired man in his late 40s, several caucasian "geek" types (myself included, for lack of a better category), a pack of asians who were drawn in by one asian woman, perhaps three black men and women, a large hispanic guy, a high school kid (who listens to Drum n' Bass non-stop in his head), and other women I would expect to come across only at clubs. But by class two, this had dropped by about half. The diversity had also dropped. It felt a bit like an unaired episode of Beauty & the Geek, except that the "Beauties" here were a smarter.

Class One:
After a preview of the movie Scratch (now in my Netflix queue), the teacher (DJ Hapa) and his side-kick gave a spiel about how the Academy was formed by the late Run DMC DJ, Jam Master J, so that the collective knowledge of hip-hop turntabling -- started by DJ Herc (scratching discovered by Grand Wizard Theodore) back in the early 70s and perfected by so many others -- would continue to the next generation. They stressed (despite us being in a Hip-Hop store called "Rehab Records") that no matter what kind of music we liked (within limits I suppose), we could learn something useful in this class. Apparently one graduate spins country music. And they pointed out that this can not only be a great hobby, but a potentially lucrative habit as some DJs make well over 6 figures. (A tiny percentage, I assume? Playing basketball can be lucrative too... )

They had us all introduce ourselves, insisting that we each come up with a DJ name. Hmm. Most people picked rather dull ones. Never liking to join the crowd, I picked LordBanjo (my old e-mail handle) which people laughed approvingly of and again when the teacher asked if I actually played banjo. "No!! That's the irony of it all." Of course that hasn't stopped me and my friends from coming up with other names. In the running are:

DJ Stojo (a mashing of my last and middle names)
DJ Dot Dot Dot
DJ Baze (after my college nickname)

After watching some demonstrations, we all manned (womened?) our turntables. Far more fancy-looking than the old RCA, or even the Mirantz my parents had. Not one but two start/stop buttons. Putting my childhood years of proper record hand-holding to work I picked up the Scratch Training LP record daintily, fingertips along the side. "No, grab it like this!" In horror, I watched as the teacher clasped half the record's radius with his hand, presumably offending the Vinyl Gods. I expected us to be smoted within minutes! But no, apparently this is how a DJ holds records -- perhaps having made some pact with the Vinyl Gods around the time Compact Discs took over.

We proceeded to learn baby scratch techniques, basic rhythm theory, and began the DJ equivalent of an aerobics or typing class, scratching away in semi-unison to Run DMC's version of "Walk This Way." "Quarter notes! Forward! Back! Forward! Back!" It was trickier than it looked. You get the appropriate scratch sound only if your black circle is properly rotated such that the "Aaaah" sound hits the needle at the right time and correct speed. I could imagine some imaginary dance crowd staring up in aghast at my sloppy, rhythmically boring sound effects and my awkward, over-thinking body. Fortunately, the second class felt a bit better, my brain having absorbed the proper motion technique somewhat.

Class Two:

I got there early and reacquainted myself with the turntable. Smaller class -- we could each have our own turntable pair this time! Different teacher -- ours was off spinning somewhere. We learned a bit about song structure and how to drop a song on the all important "One." We did this by pulling out some terrible rap records (ones they couldn't sell) and cueing them up. (One "lucky" guy ended up with some very 80's break-dancing music on his LP. I was jealous!) We learned how to do a release scratch, where your hand rides around a bit, then pulls the record back to where you started.

Have to say I'm really enjoying the class a lot so far. If you happen to be in Miami, New York, or L.A., give it a try sometime.

Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cool Flash Site for Billy Harvey

Just when I thought that Flash websites were so late 90s and that the Web was moving away from sites and towards light-weight, shareable, indexable, searchable, remixable RSS feeds aggregated through readers like Feedburner and Google Reader, my friend Marc Deadrick sends me this link for independent Austinite musician, Billy Harvey.

It's a fine example of a site creating more of an experience than just a controllable soda-fountain of information.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

PhoneZoo: Make Your Own Ringtones

Despite being enthralled with technology, I typically hang on to a cel phone until it becomes unusable. That is, it's lost, its battery life is pathetic and no spare ones are sold anymore, or it just won't turn on. My Samsung A460 (age 4?) replaced a Samsung 3500 when it broke, not because I chose it but because I have phone insurance, and 3500s were extinct by then. Both of these ought to be extinct -- monochrome screens, no camera, no SMS, text-only web-browsing, and bulky. I could have done the insurance route again when I lost my A460 a couple of weeks ago, but I found a deal online to get a brand new Motorola™ KRAZR K1m for nearly free.

Suddenly, I have features that everybody else has enjoyed for years! Mp3 ringtones, photo & video mailing, SMS, Google Mail, Google Maps, Skype (using a website called EQO) plus IM, games, and even television (if I want to pay Sprint™ a lot per month).

The nagging question on my mind today was how to get my own ring tones into this phone without paying $1-3 a song. Supposedly there are manual ways involving cables and software. But then I found this website PhoneZoo that offers a YouTube-like service where you upload songs and have them beamed to your phone automatically. Cool! Also like YouTube, you can have your song listed for others to hear, though interestingly, the songs that you tag as "copyrighted" (which nearly all will be in some form or another) cannot be downloaded to other people's phones. Other folks can, however, listen jealously and upload their own renditions if they have them.

I can tell I'm not going to get a lot of sleep this weekend -- I'll be sifting through my modest CD and DVD collection looking for audio gems.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pachelbel Rant

Over a million views of this so far. Have you seen it?
I have, and now Pacelbel's Canon is stuck in my head too!

From memepool

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Computers -- Bad for Music Creativity?

I really have to agree with this article from the Chip Collection Blog. When I first began composing with a computer, I had an 8Mhz 2 Mb RAM Atari ST running a very simple sequencer called Hybrid Arts EZ Track, with a total of maybe 16 total MIDI-only tracks. I had one keyboard (a Korg M1) that could play up to 8 instruments at a time. I had one drum machine for better drum sounds. With it, I was quite productive. It never crashed. Once I figured out the basics of my equipment, I was ready to go.

Since I moved to the PC, I've barely finished a piece. First, getting all the drivers for the audio & MIDI interfaces to co-exist on a single version of Windows has been gnarly. Then, whenever I chose a platform to learn, the company making it would either die or get bought out and abandoned, rendering my tool extinct. Finally, the sequencers out now are ridiculously complicated. Sure, they're powerful, but sometimes you don't need an F-16 fighter plane to get to store to buy some milk. And they crash, put glitches in your music during playback, and make my brain work really hard to the point where I lose interest and go watch another episode of The Office.

Granted, the short bits I do end up making can sound amazing. With dozens of software instruments and thousands of sounds and samples, I could sound like Vangelis, or Vince Clark, any Hip-Hop / Rap piece or The Orb if I wanted to.

But ultimately, the PC has taken a decade to where it is remotely useful to me for making music in an inspired, relaxed way. Interface design and stability are the culprits, in my opinion.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Yet Another Mash-up Idea

"Separate Ways" (Journey) vs. "Fame" (Irene Cara)

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Another Mash-up Idea

"Double Vision" (Foreigner) vs.
"Losing my Religion" (R.E.M) vs.
"I Ran" (Flock of Seagulls)

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Imogen Heap

Imogen Heap is definitely one of my favorite musical artists now. Check out her albums Details as part of the duet Frou Frou, and her solo album Speak For Yourself. The actor Zach Braff is a big fan, and chose a few of her songs for both his movies, Garden State  and The Last Kiss.

I first heard her Frou Frou single "Must Be Dreaming" when they showed the video at some sort of VJ multimedia party after Macworld in San Francisco, and was hooked ever since. Later, I met a couple at a party in LA who had toured with her. They were surprised I had any clue who she was!

Click here and then on the "Imogen Heap" link at the bottom to see her during a recent live radio performance.

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posted by Brian at 11:18 PM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, September 11, 2006

Dolby, Wonder, Jones & Hancock

No, it's not a law firm, it's an unlikely combination of two American and two British pop-synth & jazz maestros at the 1985 Grammy Awards. Click on the title above to read about how this transpired.

Thanks to Music Thing.


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Monday, July 31, 2006

Music Video: New Friend Request

Rap + MySpace = Hilarious. Click 'Approve'!

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Octopus Project

My friend Christina told me about a fun experimental pop band called "The Octopus Project." Guitars, drums, a theremin, balloons and masks. What could be better?


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Digital Trumpet Controller!

At last, you trumpet players can get into the digital music game previously reserved for keyboardists, drummers, reed-instrument players, guitarists, and violinists.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pandora: The Music Genome Project

Some coworkers demonstrated a really cool Internet radio station to me today. There's nothing to download -- everything is in a Flash window. What's different about it than say, iTunes Internet radio, is that it will base its songs on musical characteristics of songs you like. At any time you can press the "Oh I hate this song" button and it will figure out something about it musically that you don't like (bad chord progression, heavy guitar usage etc.) and adjust itself. Unlike a typical radio station, you can skip songs all together.

The backend research for all this is intriguing -- breaking songs down into common genomic parts. Just goes to show how music is built out of pieces of prior music.


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posted by Brian at 5:05 PM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, December 09, 2005

Post Song Lyrics, Go to Jail

The Music Publishers Association is going on the offensive to protect its ancient business model, selling sheet music. It wants jail time for folks putting up lyrics and guitar chords on the Internet. The false logic behind their offensive begins with this quote: "The Xerox machine was the big usurper of our potential income."

Revenue stream is not guaranteed in copyright, any more than new technologies guarantee the business models of the past. Revenue stream in a free market is based on market demand and actively supplying that demand. People that look at lyrics websites online are generally not the folks who would buy sheet music. If we accepted this logic that folks who don't buy sheet music are "stealing", we are saying that people who no longer use kerosene lamps (now that they buy lightbulbs) are stealing. People that stopped paying for horse whips are stealing (now that they buy cars). Granted, having lyrics online is not a new business. People have been sharing lyrics as long as there have been songs to sing.

There is nothing stopping the Music Publishers from offering a legal, online method of selling PDF files of sheet music in far better condition than the freebies. Sueing the free sites instead of innovating is lazy and un-capitalistic. But thanks to ridiculous misinterpretation of copyright, they can make more money suing and throwing potential customers in jail.

Can you imagine a society where it's illegal to sing songs to children without payment or permission first? Would you call this a Democracy? A free culture?

Whatever you call it, we're getting closer to it everyday.

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posted by Brian at 6:57 AM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sony BMG's Response: Is it an Apology?

Sony BMG is in a lot of trouble for its stupid approach to copy protection. Even retailers are wising up and not believing the "it's not so bad" defense. 500,000 networks were compromised, after all.

As despicable as its behavior though, Sony BMG is not Sony as a whole but a subsidiary. It operates quite independently of other units. Sony Pictures Imageworks, for example, makes awesome special effects and I can't think of a way it hurts consumers (other than by luring hapless fans into places where hot dogs cost as much as a steak dinner). Sony TVs are still awesome. But not surprisingly, the headlines all abbreviate "Sony BMG" to "Sony". Bleh.

My heroes over at BoingBoing described Sony's response as a "Non-Apology".
I leave it to you to decide if Sony's response to this fiasco is an apology or not:
To Our Valued Customers:

You may be aware of the recent attention given to the XCP content protection software included on some SONY BMG CDs. This software was provided to us by a third-party vendor, First4Internet. Discussion has centered on security concerns raised about the use of CDs containing this software.

We share the concerns of consumers regarding these discs, and we are instituting a program that will allow consumers to exchange any CD with XCP software for the same CD without copy protection. We also have asked our retail partners to remove all unsold CDs with XCP software from their store shelves and inventory. We will make further details of this program available shortly.

We deeply regret any inconvenience this may cause our customers and we are committed to making this situation right. It is important to note that the issues regarding these discs exist only when they are played on computers, not on conventional, non-computer-based CD and/or DVD players.
Our new initiatives follow the measures we have already taken, including last week’s voluntary suspension of the manufacture of CDs with the XCP software. In addition, to address security concerns, we provided to major software and anti-virus companies a software update, which also may be downloaded at We will shortly provide a simplified and secure procedure to uninstall the XCP software if it resides on your computer.

Ultimately, the experience of consumers is our primary concern, and our goal is to help bring our artists’ music to as broad an audience as possible. Going forward, we will continue to identify new ways to meet demands for flexibility in how you and other consumers listen to music.
Personally, I think that's about as good as you can get from a corporate behemoth.


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posted by Brian at 7:26 AM 0 comments links to this post

Monday, November 14, 2005

Software to Make Music

It's insane how easy it is to make music these days. For a few hundred dollars and a PC or Mac, you have more tracks, audio effects, and instruments than the Beatles ever had. What used to take a big room of expensive synthesizers, amplifiers, and microphones can now be done with some programs on your computer. Now you can even do that annoying artificial-sounding voice thing like on Cher's Do you Believe song.

Here are some programs I like to use on the PC (though Ableton and NI can be found on the Mac as well):
  • Ableton Live - This lets you queue up audio files and trigger them live, with complete tempo & pitch control, plus effects.
  • Cakewalk Sonar - A complete multi-track music making system.
  • Goldwave - A great shareware 2-track editor for more precise editing and recording. It's really fast too.
  • Native Instruments Komplete - Virtual keyboards from different eras. Sound like the 60's, 70's, 80's, or beyond.
  • Sony Acid - The original audio looping software. Available in different versions depending on your budget. Many of my tunes online were made with this and Goldwave.
Other choices include Pro Tools LE, Adobe Audition, Arturia Storm, Reason, Fruity Loops, and Steinberg Cubase.

For the Mac, Apple's GarageBand, Soundtrack, and Logic are excellent, but there's also Mark of the Unicorn's Digital Performer, and Steinberg Cubase.

None of these tools will make you a great composer or record producer, but a little creativity, practice, and lots of listening to music will help you make original and distinctive stuff.

Harmony Central and Tweakheadz are great websites for learning about music products and how to record and edit computer music.


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posted by Brian at 9:00 PM 1 comments links to this post

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Day The Music Died (in Star Wars Galaxies)

A bizarre consequence of overly-restrictive copyright legislation (or at least the fear of being sued). Although online players of the massively-multiplayer online game Star Wars Galaxies are allowed to create their own characters that can perform virtual music, they are not allowed to make their own creations. Why? Fear of licensing issues if someone makes new music, and the fear of being sued if someone performs a tune by The Beatles or Madonna.

In real cantinas out there, one can pay a small fee to perform someone else's work (i.e. a cover song). But there are no equivalents online.

It just seems odd that in a Galaxy far far away, original music is banned. The only music allowed is pre-canned segments (by John Williams at least?)

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posted by Brian at 1:52 PM 0 comments links to this post