- How Headphones Changed the World – "A short philosophical history of personal music", at The Atlantic
- Amanda Palmer And Steve Albini On ‘Piracy’: It Only Helps Musicians – Surprise! (NB: not actually surprising) Steve Albini "rejects the term piracy" and thinks sharing music for free helps musicians, especially those who tour and play lots of live gigs. BTW, if you've never read Steve's rant about where money goes when you sign with a major label (linked from this article) then you definitely should.
- A respose to Tom Tom’s OSM FUD – Tom Tom (the satnav provider) tries to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about OpenStreetMap; here's a great takedown of their claims. Via David Gerard.
- Commodore 64 Bass Guitar by Jeri Ellsworth – A bass guitar made out of an old C64. Nuff said.
- Internet Arbitration | Judge.me – I honestly don't know whether this is an excellent disruption of a broken system, or a sign that we're heading even faster into an SFnal dystopian future. The fact you can pay by bitcoin makes me think the latter's more likely.
- Plan a Trip Through History With ORBIS, a Google Maps for Ancient Rome – How come it took three weeks for me to hear about this mapping hack to help you understand travel routes and expenses in Ancient Rome? Maps, history, digital humanities — what's not to love? I only wish this existed for other time periods. Imagine how useful it would be for people writing historical fiction!
- Criminal Creativity: Untangling Cover Song Licensing on YouTube – A few interesting things here, including the little-known fact that you need a (nearly impossible to get, if you're an ordinary person) synch license to post a cover song on YouTube, and that ContentID can now identify cover songs, up to and including drunk guys belting out "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the back of police cars.
- Brodustrial: WWJD? – Via jwz: an industrial music performer discovers he's booked to play alongside some really nasty bigots. Asking, "What Would Jello Biafra Do?" he ends up calling out the racism and sexism of the other bands' lyrics, videos, and album art in a PowerPoint presentation — while opening for them. It's good viewing, but NSFW.
- bootlegMIC | Open Music Labs – A better mic for your iPhone, inspired by the crappy sound of all the concert videos on YouTube. Sold as a kit, the bootlegMIC is a small electret mic that plugs into your phone's headphone jack. Gain adjustment is done by swapping out resistors til you find one that works for your phone and use case.
- DJ Rupture’s Sufi Plug Ins – Great post about Western assumptions built into music software such as Ableton, and some plugins that challenge those assumptions.
- Ravelry API – Wait, what? How did I miss this. Ravelry has an API now, and they've been using it internally since Feb 2012, so it isn't just an unloved add-on. (You probably can't follow the link, which is to the Rav API forum, unless you're a member. But anyone who might be interested in this probably is already, so…)
- Our real first gay president – Newsweek says Obama's the US's "first gay president", ignoring James Buchanan, who was openly gay in the 19th century. This article has some great context and thoughts on the ideology of progress. "Remembering that James Buchanan was homosexual complexifies our national narrative, to be sure, but it is a complexity that we need."
- The world’s hottest digital markets: a music map – Interesting… this map is trying to show you digital music services' market share worldwide, but it also lets you see which digital music services are available in which countries.
- Welcome to Life « Tom Scott – A science fiction story about what you see when you die. Or: the Singularity, ruined by lawyers.
- The Bombay Royale – Karle Pyar Karle – Check out The Bombay Royale. They're a Melbourne band (including some recent graduates from my school) who play surf/disco/funk/Bollywood fusion, and apparently they've got a gig at the HiFi Bar on Swanston Street this Saturday. I'm planning on going.
- Mitt Romney, Bully In Chief? – s.e. smith brings a solid analysis of Mitt Romney's school "pranks" (read: homophobic bullying) and what it could mean for his possible presidency.
- Chumbawamba – The Diggers’ Song – YouTube – Who knew that Chumbawumba had recorded an album of songs of political rebellion from 1381-1914? Not me for sure. This is their rendition of "The Digger's Song", a 17th century song by the same group that Billy Bragg sings about in "The World Turned Upside Down".
- MOTU 4pre – Really nice looking 4-channel mixer/analog-digital converter from MOTU. I've got the Ultralite Mk2, but if this had been around when I was shopping, I would have bought it for sure. The two "Hi-Z" inputs so you can plug in an instrument without a DI look particularly handy.
- What’s behind the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece? – A good overview of what's going on with Greece and the neo-Nazi party "Golden Dawn", who won a surprising number of seats in the country's recent election.
- Mapping hacks for the 17th-18th centuries – Say you're an early modern historian with a bunch of data about 18th century Paris. How do you display it using modern mapping tools, given that old streets may have changed or disappeared?
I’ve recently had the misfortune of having had to sit through a series of classes on Western Music History that managed to make just about every form of music prior to 1900 seem deathly dull, irrelevant, and inaccessible. It amazes me how they can do this. I mean, it’s not hard to find some truly amazing stuff even within the confines of “Western Art Music”, and present it in a way that’s engaging. So why don’t they? Do they not know? Are they just teaching it out of a sense of obligation? Did they sit through dull music history classes back in the day and figure that we have to suck it up just like they did?
The Medieval period. What we learnt in class: there was Gregorian chant, which was basically monophonic vocals without much rhythm or melody to speak of, and then mumble mumble something happened and there was polyphony, SURPRISE! RENAISSANCE!
Yeah right. As if that’s all that was going on musically in the middle ages. We’re talking about an era that gave you St Vitus’ Dance, an uncontrollable urge to dance all over the place as if possessed by the devil. You think they did that to Gregorian chant? Of course not.
Here’s Corvus Corax with a little something to show you how it’s done:
Yeah, those dudes have a lightshow and moshpit. Their interpretive choices for this Saltarello (a 13th century number, if I recall correctly) are, ahem, somewhat non-standard, but no more ridiculous than the early music ensembles that play medieval dance tunes as if they were lullabies and dirges. No self-respecting medieval musician would’ve been able to earn his or her living unless they could get the village green jumping.
Corvus Corax use a range of medieval instruments including medieval-style bagpipes, ear-shattering shawms (clocked at 98dB!), and of course a buttload of percussion. But if you really want to appreciate the full ridiculous awesomeness of medieval instruments, you need to check out some of these Youtube videos:
Space Theme #1 by Skud
I posted the following in my welcome message, laying out the shape and scope of the project as I see it, and I’m including them here for easy reference (and so this post is more than a paragraph long).
1. The scope of this project is “independent and hard-to-find Australian music”. (My current personal interests are in the indie/alternative/punk/post-punk/etc sort of genres, but I see no reason to limit it to that.)
2. The goal is to make information about this music, and (eventually/hopefully/ideally) the music itself available as freely and openly as possible, to maximise the possibility of people being able to spread the love. To this end we will release everything we can under open source and open content licenses — ideally CC-0 for content and a permissive open source license for any code we create.
3. I want us to use existing infrastructure where possible, rather than creating our own. To that end, I think we should be putting structured data into repositories like MusicBrainz, encyclopedic content into Wikipedia, digital archive material into the Internet Archive, etc. We should give strong preference to data/content repositories that are run by long-term stable non-profits, whose data/content is accessible via open APIs, and whose data/content is widely used by third parties. This will make our material more accessible to the world at large, and won’t wear out our volunteers on maintaining our own servers and databases.
4. This project needs to work within the bounds of copyright law as it currently exists. I personally think said copyright law is deeply deeply flawed, but I also don’t want to be sued into oblivion. So when it comes to media archives, we need to think innovatively and come up with legal ways to do it.
5. We should partner, where possible, with other projects and organisations with similar goals. This can range from public libraries and archives, to groups like Creative Commons, to (just a blue-sky example) crowdfunding organisations like pozible.com.au. Partnering will get us more exposure and awareness of our project, and also save us from reinventing the wheel.
6. We need to involve people from a range of backgrounds: musicians, fans, librarians and archivists, coders, journalists and zinesters, everyone. I want us to share knowledge/skills and make this something that all sorts of people can take part in, regardless of technical background, profession, or degree of indie cred.
Another thing I would say, as a sort of high-level description of the project, is this: librarians talk a lot about preservation and access. This project needs to consider both of those, plus awareness. We should be making people aware of Australian music, and of the set of issues that prompted this project in the first place.
Anyway, if that sounds interesting to you, please join the saveaussiemusic mailing list.
So I’ve been thinking about this project for a while, and it doesn’t have a name, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. At least I have my startup-style it’s X for Y pitch: it’s like textfiles.com for Australian indie music.
Yeah, well, let me explain.
For background, I’d better start by saying I was pretty terminally uncool, music-wise, in the 80s and early 90s. My family weren’t big on following popular music, I lived somewhere with no decent record stores, records were priced out of my range, and even at school the kids I hung with weren’t hip enough to make mix tapes of anything much but Top 40 stuff. Despite this, I somehow got exposed to a certain amount of Australian indie and alternative music. I say “somehow” because I honestly don’t know where I heard most of this stuff. I guess 3XY and EON-FM, early on. Later, I listened to a lot of Triple J, and watched Rage.
These days, of course, I get most of my musical knowledge and exposure from the Interwebs, and the availability of digital downloads and information about musicians is really helping me backfill a lot of the older Australian music I wish I’d known better at the time.
Like, for example, The Go-Betweens, a Brisbane indie band that I was only faintly aware of until a few years ago, when Grant McLennan died and many of my friends online were expressing sadness at his passing. Of course I quickly figured out that they were part of the soundtrack of my childhood and teens, I just didn’t know them.
The Go-Betweens were pretty well known, and it’s not hard to find their albums, but a lot of equally important Australian music from the 70s to 90s is no longer readily obtainable. Much of it’s not available for (legal) digital download. In many cases CDs are out of print, or there may never have been a CD release, and the only version is vinyl mouldering in someone’s garage. Even information about older Australian music is hard to find: now-defunct labels and publications don’t have websites, and bands that would otherwise pass Wikipedia’s notability guidelines often don’t have articles because it’s so hard to find sources/citations. Only a handful of hobbyist websites and generous-hearted bloggers are keeping vast swathes of our musical heritage alive.
So why did this happen? Well, obscure music is always hard to find. That’s what makes it obscure. But in Australia even a bunch of pretty well known stuff, stuff I grew up on in my no-hipster-cred-whatsoever suburban youth, is rare as hen’s teeth now. For some reason, music that was released on the Mushroom and Festival labels was particularly likely to have this problem. So I asked around, and learnt that those labels, which had released some of the best music of my adolescence, had been consumed first by News Corp and then by Warner, who didn’t care enough to keep the back-catalogs available. I don’t even know how many smaller labels were caught up in this, but I’m guessing plenty.
(The good news is that this seems to be clearing up a little now. More stuff seems to be available in iTunes since last time I checked, and I hear that Warner recently sold back Flying Nun Records (NZ) to the original owners. So there is hope.)
So here’s what I want to do. I’d like to start a project for people — techies, music nerds, archivists, whoever — to come together and work on projects to preserve and disseminate (information about) Australian music, in as free and open a manner as possible: open source code, creative commons licenses, non-commercial and optimised for maximum sharing and reuse.
First project (something I’ve been meaning to do anyway) is to extract pertinent facts about artists, albums, and labels from a variety of online sources (such as, for example, the archived website of The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop) and use it to update MusicBrainz (and from there, hundreds of sites and apps that use MusicBrainz’s data).
Then I’d like to make sure that any Australian musical acts that are sufficiently notable have Wikipedia entries. In many cases this will mean grovelling through pre-Internet dead trees publications, but I’m going to be in Australia and probably unemployed through the summer and I hear that libraries have air conditioning and Internet access these days, so that actually sounds quite pleasant. Along the way, I hope to make a resource list for other Australians who’d like to do the same thing: which libraries have useful collections of music periodicals? Who’s got zines or clippings they’ll scan if you contact them? What online archives already exist for you to trawl through? That sort of thing.
Those two projects are pretty simple, but they’re important because free, open-licensed online resources will be the foundation for later projects. I don’t even know what these later projects are, yet; I just know that having the information out there will make them easier.
So, I’ll take a shot at MusicBrainz and Wikipedia regardless of whether anyone else is interested. I suspect that lots of people are interested, though, and that with a sufficient number and variety of participants there are a lot of other, more ambitious things we could try.
So I’m looking for coders, open data nerds, Wikimedians, librarians and archivists, scholars, music journalists, zinesters, fans, broadcasters, copyright law experts, free culture advocates, and past and present musicians, producers, promoters, and label folks who might be interested in this project. I’m planning to set up a mailing list and/or website for it, so leave a comment below with your email address (which will be hidden, not shown to the public) and I’ll let you know when there’s something to join.
Also, still looking for a name. Ideas welcome.
Image credit: the image used on the front page of infotrope.net to link to this post is a collage of clips from Party Fears, a Perth music zine from the 80s-90s now archived online by its creator, David Gerard.
A few weeks ago I asked around for recommendations of twitter people to follow who were at the intersection of tech and music. Consider this a set of “people to follow” recommendations if you’re interested in the same thing, as well as some highlights of recent things I’ve found via them.
(As an aside, can anyone suggest a good way to read a twitter list such as this one in such a way that it includes new-style retweets? It seems like Twitter itself screws this up, unfortunately.)
I’m strangely attracted to this topic. But I’m not sure what my attraction entails. I know that it’s definitely related to my fascination with LA and excitement for moving to LA. I also think that this could be a seed for a new digital project. The KCET’s project can be a start of what I conceived as an in-depth interactive investigation of the interconnections between music of the “underground,” immigrant communities, and place, to unfurl the hidden discourses behind the often-times white-centered punk rock narratives.
Got a song stuck in your head? Unhearit promises to unstick it for you. The catch? It does so by replacing it with something equally sticky. A Faustian bargain if I’ve ever heard one.
Brewster decided that he should keep a copy of every book they scan so that somewhere in the world there was at least one physical copy to represent the millions of digital copies. That safeguarded random book would become the type specimen of that work. If anyone ever wondered if the digital book’s text had become corrupted or altered, they could refer back to the physical type that was archived somewhere safe.
And to wrap it up, have a death metal parrot:
Girl in a Coma were great — hard to describe their musical style, but if I tell you that they’re on Joan Jett’s label Black Heart Records and that she plays guitar and sings backup vox on their recent album, that’ll point you in the right direction. Every website I’ve seen describe them takes the mashup approach: punk-alternative-latin-rockabilly-blues-r
Much as I liked Girl in a Coma, my pick of the night were actually the first openers, Venus in Furs, a local Madison surf-punk trio. Their drummer Marlo was the best I’ve seen in a while (not that I’m an expert, but she really drew my attention with her tight beat, smooth handling of tempo changes, and use of the whole kit) and their bassist Nat had that over the top rock star demeanour that always makes for a fun show. Between the shirtlessness and the Gene Simmons tongue action she gave me some good photo ops for my new camera. I’m still working on how to make it do its best in low light but I threw up what photos I’ve got this Flickr set. Venus in Furs don’t have an album out yet but you can hear some of their stuff on their website.
The other thing I wanted to mention is Sarchasm, a local kids’ band who regularly play at 924 Gilman St where I volunteer as a sound engineer. A few weeks ago I helped them record a bunch of songs live at Gilman, which they’ve now put up on their Myspace page. If you listen to one song, make it their punk-rock cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl”, which I guarantee will get you smiling. Their EP, “Take #924″, recorded by yours truly, is available for $5 from the band in person or drop them a note on Facebook and they can probably get it to you somehow. They have a show on Sunday June 5th, 6pm, at Ashkenaz in North Berkeley. Check them out!
Look, I may as well post about it. I’ve been planning it for months, and a whole swag of people already know, but this’ll make it official.
Sometime around early September, I’m planning on heading back to Melbourne, Australia, whereupon I hope to spend a few months bumming around on people’s sofas/the beach/relatives’ farms/etc, before going back to school in 2012 to study sound engineering.
So I’m leaving Google, then? Yup, that’s the plan. I’ll have done a year there since Metaweb’s acquisition, and I’ve got a lovely new replacement, Shawn, who started a couple of weeks ago and who’ll be supporting the Freebase developer community going forward.
Why sound engineering? Because it gets me away from the tech industry, from sitting in an office all the time, and from the mind-boggling ennui that’s started to attack me whenever I think about software and the development thereof. It’s well past time for a change. And I’ve been enjoying myself so much volunteering at Gilman St that it seemed like something I’d like to pursue more seriously. Plus, it’s a field that’s at the intersection of technical/creative that really works for me, and I suspect that with the increasing digitisation of sound production my computing background will serve me well.
What sort of work do I want to do, then? I’m not going to commit to anything at this point, but stuff with a “startup” feel to it (to use the tech industry term), that harnesses grassroots participation and encourages disintermediation between artists and fans really appeals to me. You know the stuff I like — open culture, remix and transformative works, online collaboration and crowdsourcing, micro-entrepreneurism, activism, connecting people together. If I can’t find a way to mix that stuff with a background in Internet technologies and a fresh education in the tech side of music production, I’ll be very surprised.
Why Australia? Why not go to school in the US? Short answer: tuition in Australia is about 5% of what it is in the US for similar sorts of courses, and I won’t need a visa for it.
What school? What program/course? I’m looking at a Certificate IV and Advanced Diploma in Sound Production, which is a 2 year course offered by various TAFEs (Technical and Further Education institutions — UK readers please think “Polytechnic”, US readers please think of a cross between a community college and DeVry). RMIT’s course description gives a pretty good overview of the program. I’m also considering NMIT. If anyone happens to know anything about those two institutions/courses and can offer advice or opinions, they’d be very much appreciated. (Yes, I’ve emailed the faculty/admissions for both; no, I can’t make it to Open Day at either.)
Will I be doing X before I leave? (For values of X usually including certain conferences or places to visit.) I’m attending WisCon in Madison, WI in just over a week, and will probably be in Portland in late July during OSCON though not attending (I do hope to catch up with a bunch of my friends there, though). I am not planning to attend any other conferences/events between now and when I leave, nor do I have plans, or much time, for other travel at this point.
Will I be coming back to the US after completing my study? Maybe. The sort of work I want to do (see above) may lead me back to the Bay Area, if the visa-granting gods smile on me. Who knows? It’s also likely that even if I don’t move back here, I will visit occasionally if my budget allows.
And this is definitely definite? Well, it’s about 90% definite at this point. It’s possible that something might happen to completely change my mind in the next couple of months, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.
So here’s where I ask you for stuff.
- If you read this and thought, “ooh, that reminds me of $person who works in that field” or “I know a startup that’s doing stuff like that” or “I bet Skud would love to hear about $project”, I would love an introduction. That goes double for anyone/anything in Australia.
- The courses I’m applying for are quite competitive and have an application/interview process where they want to know about your previous experience in the field. So I’m interested in picking up any related work I can between now and the end of the year. Do you know anyone who needs a hand or wouldn’t mind me tagging along while they work live shows, record demos, go into the studio, or whatever? Any kind of live or recorded sound work would be of interest. Volunteer/unpaid would be preferred for now — I can’t do paid work in the US outside of my primary employment, though of course I wouldn’t turn down paying gigs once I’m back in Australia.
- Know anyone who’s looking for a housemate in Melbourne later this year? I’m thinking of splitting a 3br house in Melbourne’s inner north (Preston?) with one other person, but I’m open to other suggestions too. Looking for a grownup who pays their bills on time, but who’s also fun to hang out with. I keep odd hours and am a bit strange, but I’m pretty considerate and reliable as a housemate, as well as being a good cook.
- Got a spare room or need a housesitter between September and, say, Decemberish? Mostly thinking Melbourne here, and more “need someone to feed the cats for 2 weeks” than “you can crash on my sofa for a night or two”, but any and all offers would be welcome.
Please feel free to email me (email@example.com) if you can help me out with any of the above!
1) When I get back to Australia, I am going to form an all-girl Doug Anthony All Stars tribute band. I’m Paul. If you’re a Tim or a Richard, let me know!
2) I hereby place dibs on the band name Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. (Not for the DAAS tribute band, though. The DAAS tribute band will be called the Tangawarra Baptist Ladies Netball Association.)
3) I am working on an acoustic guitar cover of Cyndi Lauper’s She Bop. It’s gonna be awesome.
Friday night, my friend Molly and I went to see Zoe Keating and Kaki King performing at Yoshi’s, and I wanted to take a moment to rec both of these amazing artists.
Zoe Keating is an avant-garde cellist whose work I discovered when hunting for music for a Sherlock Holmes fanvid. She uses her cello, her Macbook, and an array of pedals to loop layers of sound over each other, building atmospheric, haunting music. You can see her doing it live in this video of her playing “Escape Artist”, which (she said on Friday night) is about running away to the forest, or possibly from the forest:
During Friday’s show, Zoe described Kaki King as “the only guitarist in the world who I’d let surround me with a bunch of guitars on stage,” which I guess means something coming from a cellist. Kaki plays a range of different guitars, most of them strange, like the seriously freaky-looking harp guitar or the 7-stringed, fan-fretted guitar she had custom made and showed off during her performance. She had about 5 different guitars, in total, for her performance. Her playing style is rhythmic and unusual, and I spent most of the time at the show thinking “how the hell does she do that?” Check this out:
Zoe and Kaki have finished up their tour now — Friday was the second last date on it — but if you get the chance to see either of them perform live next time they come round, I highly recommend it.
A while ago I wrote about my shifting attitude to live music and how I’ve totally changed my live-music-going ways of late. It’s not that I didn’t used to like live music, but there was so much related crap that bugged me, that I very seldom ended up going to shows.
I missed one important thing in that post, though, and realised I should write more about it. So this is my post about how I figured out something about my brain, and stopped being a passive consumer of live music.
I am crap at focusing on stuff if I don’t have anything to do. I can’t just sit down and watch TV or a movie, I have to have something else going on, which is why I always knit or have my laptop open. Music’s the same: I listen to it while I’m on the train, or walking somewhere, or at the gym, or working, or else I actually dive into iTunes and start obsessively categorising and rating and fooling around with metadata. It’s hard for me to just listen, though, without something else to do.
The same goes for live shows. If I don’t have something to do other than consume, I get twitchy. Dancing’s a good start, and throwing myself round in a moshpit is great, but some crowds are too cool for that kind of shit and just stand there with their hands in their pockets. You know how it is.
About four or five months ago I found a workaround for that problem. When I got twitchy, I’d go ask if I could hang out in the sound booth. It gave me something else to watch at the same time as the band, and I enjoyed the mental stimulation of trying to figure out how it all worked and (depending on the show) how I’d do things differently if I were in charge. And the guys I met working sound were generally reasonably friendly and would tell me a bit about what they were doing and how it all worked.
You know where this is going, right? Show me a pile of technology that’s connected to something creative and my fingers start itching. It was only a matter of time.
So it turns out there’s a volunteer-run punk music venue in Berkeley, 924 Gilman St. I’d been to a couple of shows there and had a great time, so I decided to see if they’d teach me how to do sound. A couple of weeks ago I managed to meet up with their head sound guy Rob, and since then I’ve been going out there a couple of times each weekend and working as a volunteer sound trainee/minion. I help with setting up sound gear on stage, sound check, mixing for the shows as they happen, and breaking everything down and putting it away afterwards.
It’s been interesting. The technical aspects of running sound for punk bands are not all that complex (I mean, compared to, say, how the Internet works), but there are a number of new skills I’m having to pick up. Not just how to twiddle knobs on the board and how to position mics, but also how to listen critically to a band’s sound, how to react quickly to things happening on-stage (equipment failure! vocalists switch mics just to annoy you!), and how to navigate a field/industry that’s very different from my day job.
That said, I think I’m picking things up fairly quickly, and I’m having a great time with it. Last night I got to work sound for two bands famous enough to have legitimate Wikipedia entries: The Billy Bones and The Frustrators (Mike Dirnt from Green Day’s side project). I worked the mixing board for Billy Bones and was sidestage in case of on-stage crises for the Frustrators. There were no crises whatsoever, so I just hung out and took photos on my iPhone. Still, pretty awesome to be doing this for a couple of weeks and already have the opportunity to work with musicians that I suspect most people I know have heard of.
Oh, and the other thing that’s improved my live music experience considerably? Buying some decent earplugs. I got a couple of different types to try out but these Etymotic Research ER20s are the ones I like best. Great sound quality, much better than those cheap squishy foam ones. Highly recommended, though if I want to dive into the thick of the moshpit I fall back to the foamies which I won’t mind losing and which won’t hurt if someone whacks me in the ear.
(In passing… I’m also feeling pre-emptively nostalgic about looking back at all these phone camera pics I’ve been taking at shows. I think they will be the faded polaroids of our generation. I’m not even going to apologise for the shitty phonecam quality. There’s something about the grungey immediacy of a phonecam pic that appeals to me.)