I’ve recently been digging this old Stereolab song. By chance, this Peel session was recorded 25 years ago today.
Archive — Music
Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien: ‘Cricket was my refuge’
On the associations between playing cricket and playing music.
I’ve had the odd gig where I’ve been able to slow down my breathing and my heart-rate. I remember playing this show where I could divide the bar up, a four-beat bar into 32 or 64s, and play anywhere on that beat. It was the most intoxicating feeling. A batsman must have it. The great batsmen, they have all the time in the world. They’re able to stretch time with their breathing. All the chaos that might be in your own life is alleviated, it’s about being in the moment, being in the flow.
A conversation with Brian Eno
Always interesting to see an interview with Brian Eno. Here he talks to author David Mitchell. I was particularly interested on the section about why people like music.
And that is truly a mysterious question, which many learned books have utterly failed to answer. Why do I like one composer’s string quartet rather than another’s, when to a martian visitor they’d seem indistinguishable? What are the differences we’re hearing? What intrinsic wiring exists for having feelings about music?—and by intrinsic wiring I mean the kind of wiring that leads us to prefer symmetrical faces to asymmetrical ones, or to be frightened of spiders. I used to think that, given enough goodwill, anybody would be able to “get” any music, no matter how distant the culture from which it came. And then I heard Chinese opera.
Autechre on their epic NTS Sessions, David Lynch, and where code meets music
A good interview with Autechre in which they reveal a little more about their techniques. It explains a fair bit about why their sound is so unique, and why other people can’t (or shouldn’t) emulate it.
It gets a bit hazy in terms of what’s a musical idea and what’s a piece of technology. If you make a sequencer that only makes one type of sequence, and you’ve used it twice, then I guess you’ve used the same musical idea twice…
Our system is great for making Autechre tracks, but I’m not sure if everybody else wants to do that. And if they do, I’m not sure I want them to.
Photo — 2018-08-04
Photo — 2018-07-29
Soulwax at SWG3 in Glasgow, 15 July 2018.
Annoying online ads cost business
Results from a study of users of Pandora has quantified the effect of shoving adverts in users’ faces. As part of the experiment, a section of users were served fewer ads than normal, and another section were served more ads than normal.
…after 1.5 years of being exposed to the experimental conditions, people did use the service more, the fewer ads they were served. At the end of the experiment:
- The low-ad group listened for 1.7% more hours weekly than the control group.
- The high-ad group listened for 2.8% fewer hours weekly than the control group.
‘How we made Now That’s What I Call Music 100’
BBC News discovers how the 100th edition of Now That’s What I Call Music was compiled. Amazingly, the whole process seems to involve just three people, and takes only a day.
Like many people, Now That’s What I Call Music was a key gateway into music for me when I was young. I bought two of them.
The first was Now 30, which was released in April 1995. I don’t really remember why I bought it. I probably liked a handful of the songs, and I figured out that this was cheaper than buying all the singles.
Interestingly, it contains at least two tracks that I didn’t fully appreciate until I was much older — Protection by Massive Attack and Glory Box by Portishead. That they are hammocked between Eternal and Oasis speaks to the eclectic nature — and variable quality — of a Now album.
I had Now 30 on cassette, so I never digitised it. As such, the tracklist is less familiar to me than the other Now I bought.
That was Now 32, which came out in time for Christmas 1995, when I got a CD player. There are some seriously strong tracks on that album — but perhaps that’s my rose-tinted glasses.
How come I end up where I started?
Adriaan Pels ran the popular Radiohead fan site At Ease for 20 years. The costs of running the website got out of control before his web host unexpectedly pulled the plug last year.
I used to be a very active participant on the At Ease forums, but that probably ended when I became a more active blogger / studies took over / I got a proper job / whatever. I stopped reading the website at some point as well. I still looked in occasionally, but I could tell that Adriaan didn’t seem to have as much time as he needed to look after it properly.
I didn’t even realise that At Ease had disappeared off the internet. It’s so long since I’ve tried to visit.
But it was good to see this update from Adriaan, although I’m sorry he’s lost the whole website.
Nick Barlow reflects on the meaning of “football’s coming home”, and the differences between the original version of the song Three Lions and the 1998 version. I enjoyed reading this because I had found myself getting annoyed about the way people were saying “football’s coming home”, completely forgetting that there was a second version with a different meaning.
When Three Lions came out the first time, I was already a fan of the Lightning Seeds, and I think I had been a viewer of Fantasy Football League. I thought Three Lions was a good song. Which it obviously is, because everyone is still singing it 22 years on. So despite being Scottish, I was determined to buy a copy of the single — to my dad’s great disappointment.
I barely remember the 1998 version. As Nick reflects, it seems to be inherently different, and more dislikeable.
This wonderful reinterpretation of Tilapia by Autechre appeared on Warp20, a box set celebrating the 20th anniversary of Warp Records. (Rather scarily, that occasion was itself almost 10 years ago.)
There were two CDs of Warp artists covering classic Warp tracks, and a lot of them are really good. But John Callaghan’s effort towers above everything else on it.
It probably takes a lot of guts to attempt to cover Autechre, never mind a track as strong as Tilapia. But Phylactery boldly reinvents it, and possibly ends up being even better than the original (although as John Callaghan says in the comments to this YouTube video, both have their place, for different reasons).
In case you’re not aware of the original, here you go:
Childish Gambino’s This is America and how the internet killed the cultural critic
How considered criticism has been replaced by mindless churnalism collating stuff an under-pressure journalism has hurriedly gathered up on Twitter.
Floating to the top of my feed was an article in the Guardian: “This is America: theories behind Childish Gambino’s satirical masterpiece”. This video is popular, it said, then asked: “But what does it mean?”. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly what I’m here to find out. But instead of an answer, I got a summary of tweets and notes from Genius. No interpretations were drawn, no conclusions reached. Was it a masterpiece? The headline said so, but the piece just linked to tweets by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu.
I grew tired long ago of news stories that are basically just lists of other people’s tweets. I have even noticed BBC News doing this. Yet again, I’m left wondering if most of the media’s problems are with their own unwillingness to pursue quality.
Photo — 2018-06-07
Thom Yorke and friends at the Usher Hall
This was England ’90
How the Stone Roses story was bastardised by the music media. I’m not a Stone Roses fan, so I don’t recognise this specific account. But you often do get the sense that at least half of what music journalists say about music is… well… made up?
It was around this time that I started to get the first stirrings of a nasty feeling that my past was being sold back to me…. Suspicious accounts were given of the Spike Island concert as some kind of harmonious pilgrimage to a utopian musical bliss, without a single mention of the smell, the dodgy sound system, the deep techno warmup acts, or the gangs of ne’er-do-wells who clearly weren’t there for the music (and, conversely, referring to the venue as a ‘derelict wasteland’ when it had actually been reclaimed as a ‘green space’ several years previously), almost as though they might not actually have been there.
It was a delight to listen to Adam Buxton’s recent podcast interview with Eleanor Friedberger, half of the Fiery Furnaces (with her brother Matthew) and now a solo artist.
The Fiery Furnaces are one of my favourite bands. Their quirky and decidedly different music was actually quite important to me as I struggled my way through university.
Despite that, I’m don’t think I have ever heard an interview with either of the Friedbergers. I don’t often seek out interviews with musicians because (with a few exceptions) it is often disappointing — a topic touched on in the podcast. So I found it quite strange to learn new things about the Fiery Furnaces, whose music I know so well to listen to, but whose story (I have suddenly realised) I don’t know too much about.
This is one of my favourite Fiery Furnaces songs. Unfortunately for some reason the music in this video is really glitchy, but the visuals are awesome.
The gardens where ideas grow
We tend to think of musicians as architects, who fully control the sound they compose. But here, Austin Kleon outlines how it is in fact more like gardening. Top musicians like Prince, Ralf Hütter and Brian Eno appear to subscribe to this approach.
Brian Eno says:
One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life. And that life isn’t necessarily exactly what you’d envisaged for them.
The analogy certainly works well with Brian Eno’s generative music. I remember a radio interview where he described being the opposite of a control freak — a surrender freak. (This is the only reference I can find to it.)
I would like you to tell me how you feel about “see on see”.
Sean Booth replied: “surprised”.
The guide to getting into Autechre
That question when someone is trying to get into a band — “Where should I start?” — is perhaps especially difficult to answer in the case of Autechre. Their music is unique and uncompromising. You almost need to learn to read Autechre, because it is sonic world lives by itself. It is difficult to relate it to anything else.
That situation escalates when the artist has 13 albums over 25 years under their belt, the latest of which is eight hours long.
This article makes a good attempt at introducing Autechre to the uninitiated, by splitting their music into different types: club-friendly, austere, strangely beautiful, melting computer, endurance test.
They say a song is like a fart — if you have to force it out, it’s probably shit. So when a band leaves a gap of 11 years between albums, it means one of two things:
- Option 1 — They have been enduring the worst form of musical constipation, and the album will be shit.
- Option 2 — They have taken their time, let it come to them, and the album will be excellent.
When Portishead’s Third came out, there wasn’t much indication that option 2 would be on the table. In the words of Armando Iannucci, the second album by Portishead had nothing new to say.
Portishead were pioneers of trip-hop, but by 2008 it had become a cliched genre.
But Portishead avoided all those traps with their third album, which is actually probably their best. It conspicuously avoided the now-cheesy trip-hop tropes. It was a new sound, but still unmistakably Portishead.
The album was released 10 years ago today. There is no indication of when their fourth album will arrive. But we are still ahead of schedule by Portishead’s standards.
Encoding data in dubstep drops
Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ turns 20
More on the 20th anniversary of Music Has the Right to Children.
The music imprints ideas in your head, subliminally or through uncanny association: opener “Wildlife Analysis” sounds like an old TV ident left to wander into the woods, the treated, wobbly synth harmonies of “Olson” could’ve come from a half-remembered Stevie Wonder or Gary Wright song heard as background music during some family car ride, and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” sinks its minimalist, graceful melody in so deep through repetition that the realization you can hear indistinct voices in the background is almost startling. There’s something deeper in the music than just music…
It is 20 years to the day since Boards of Canada released Music Has the Right to Children.
Seminal is a word that is bandied around easily when talking about music. But it may be genuinely applicable in this case. Simon Reynolds in Pitchfork notes how the album seemed to kick-start a transformation in electronic music.
Before this point, electronic music was unashamedly futuristic. Boards of Canada set the template for a nostalgic yet dark genre known as hauntology, since explored further by the Ghost Box label among others.
The album’s cover, featuring a weathered, decades-old family photograph with each person’s facial features redacted, sets the scene. Following a short introductory track, Music Has the Right to Children introduces the listener to the Boards of Canada sound in uncompromising fashion, with An Eagle in Your Mind.
A wistful drone slowly evolves into a darker, brooding melody. Crunchy, syncopated beats and glitching speech samples then take precedence, while narration from a nature documentary subliminally slips beneath. Things get psychedelic, before an unpredictable abstract hip-hop vibe takes over. A childlike melody discordantly tinkles on top, hammering home the sense that something has gone horribly wrong.
Tortoise’s most recent original music may not be as good as their material from the 1990s. But they have developed a knack for producing some excellent cover versions. This cover of Rock On is the highlight of their most recent album, The Catastrophist.
Today is Piano Day. I am in favour of this. The piano is the best instrument. 🎹
The clip above is of every recording of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie № 1, put together by an artist called Hey Exit. Each recording is timestretched to the length of the longest one, and they are placed on top of each other. It’s a brilliant idea, with a truly ethereal sound.
Photo — 2018-03-17
Field Music at St Luke’s, Glasgow. 🎼
Ambient 1 / Music for Airports is 40 years old this month.
It is spurious to claim that Brian Eno invented ambient music. Erik Satie’s furniture music deserves mention. Eno himself recognised the role of Muzak.
Music for Airports is not even Eno’s first ambient album, despite its Ambient 1 moniker. But it certainly is the most important.
Music for Airports is both experimental and timeless. Bold yet gentle. You can consciously listen to it. But it may also affect your mood without you consciously being aware of it. Or in the words of Eno, “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
It was a genuinely new idea. It introduced the notion of designing music for a specific purpose, yet was still packaged as a pop album. A stunning concept.
But how would we feel if music like this was played in an airport? Would it be a calming influence? Or would it grate like Muzak?
I have been shamefully late to discover Mica Levi, and Micachu and the Shapes. This is a track from the band’s 2012 album Never. It contains a lyric that made me laugh out loud, which doesn’t happen very often.
My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002
What happened when one person started up his iPod for the first time in 15 years.
…I also came across music and artists which made me wonder what on earth I was thinking of when I loaded their tracks into iTunes. If I could talk to my 2002 self, I would sit him down and explain that Limp Bizkit’s album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water is an abomination and not at all funny (my London music buddies and I thought it was hilarious at the time)…
…looking back through the playlists on my first and oldest iPod I was struck by the fact that some of the music from 2001 and 2002 seemed far more dated than some of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.
I certainly have a memory of music from 2001/2002. In fact, because of my age, it is precisely when a lot of my favourite music was released. But I do wonder what I would discover if I found my iTunes library from that period, warts and all?
This is the opening track from the 2001 album Claro by Brothomstates. That was a special purchase for me, because it was the first IDM album I bought. I already knew I liked this sort of music because I was exploring what I could with whatever clips of tracks I could find online. But Claro was the first full album of this genre that I had heard. This was opening up a new world of sonic possibility to me, and I never looked back.
Wintry weather brings this album to mind. I have vivid memories of walking around my home town of Kirkcaldy in icy weather while listening to Claro on a Discman.
In particular, this opening track, In, epitomises the chilly vibe. The piercing synthesised staccato whistles may as well be icicles falling from the sky.
When thinking of what jam to feature this week, as the Beast from the East descended on the UK, I could make no other choice.
Shuffle mode has just reminded me of the time Richard D James (best known as Aphex Twin), using the pseudonym DJ Smojphace, opened for Björk at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2003.
From the YouTube video description:
For almost 2 hours Richard played nothing but “noise and feedback” from the backstage, only appearing in stage to cheerily wave goodbye in front of a very, very pissed audience.
Listen to the booing! Delightfully funny.
Bittersweet Bundle of Misery — Graham Coxon
This song is a little bit too close to Coffee & TV for comfort. But after having left Blur, perhaps Graham Coxon wanted his own version of his own song, which I guess is fair enough.
Looking back, this song almost seems like a last gasp of the Britpop sensibility — an unashamedly, straightforwardly good pop song.
Grammy Winners — Funkstörung
If brutalism was a genre of music, is this what it would sound like?
Photo — 2018-02-12
I’ll be honest; I’ve had better music rounds.
Is the greatest hits album dead?
Count It Up — Field Music
When a band you like releases a new album and it’s really good then count it up.
Harsh Reality — Claro Intelecto
A delicious slice of minimal techno. Perfect for a chilly night time walk through the city.
Sense — The Lightning Seeds
The Lightning Seeds were one of the first bands I really liked. They don’t seem to have as much indie-cred as I think they deserve. Maybe that’s what happens when your biggest hit is a football anthem.
Sense is a little bit before my time, but I still think it’s one of their finest songs.
Everywhen — Massive Attack
A lot of bands I liked wilted somewhat after Radiohead released Kid A. Not Massive Attack. 100th Window may not be their most admired album. But I thought it was one of the few that successfully met the Kid A challenge.
Gone were the trademark trip-hop beats that made them so successful in the 90s. In came a more clinical, experimental electronica sound. It switched some people off, but I think elements of this album are superb. It was an impressive reinvention, but it was also still unmistakably Massive Attack.
Note — 2018-01-15
There may be no real science behind the concept of Blue Monday. But there is definitely something strange about mornings in January.
I always go back to work as soon as possible after the new year. On my morning walk to work, the streets are dark unlike any other time of year, and eerily quiet.
It’s now a new year tradition of mine to spend my first morning walk of each week listening to Blue Jam. Chris Morris’s peerless radio programme of the late 1990s mixed dark comedy with downtempo music. It was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in the small hours of the morning, maximising its unsettling vibe.
That vibe seems to suit these weird, dark Mondays in January.
Roundabout — Yes
I used to think I got my proggy tendencies from my dad. However, he was recently dismayed to learn that I like Yes, who he says are too noodly. I guess I developed an excellent taste in music all by myself.
Every Friday evening I’m going to post a tune that I’m digging right now. Because why not?
Conditions of a Shared Belief — Soulwax
I’d never taken notice of Soulwax before. But after reading a review of their latest album From Deewee in an end-of-year list, I decided to check it out on YouTube.
Wow! The motorik beat grabbed me; the climactic melody hooked me. I have become obsessed with this tune.
The album, supposedly recorded in one take, is also magnificent. This is bold, uncompromising electronic music that
commands attention. It continually surprises without being pretentious.
John Bult: Julie’s Sixteenth Birthday
The story of one of the worst record covers of all time.
“During the photo shoot, Ted kept telling her to look serious, like her dad is talking to her,” Bult said. “But she just kept looking sad to me.”
When the final album was pressed, and Bult saw the finished product, he was livid.