29 November 2006

Algorithmic Music in Real Time

Using the Haskell programming language, Alex McLean has developed a new system for "livecoding", the practice of writing software programs to generate music live, in real time.

What I'm intending to try though is making a language built around the kind of music I want to make, able to cope with programming under tight time constraints, allowing vague specification of sound events but well specified enough to allow other bits of software to reason within the language as well as myself.

Julie Steinberg Plays John Cage in San Francisco

At the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, this coming Monday (4 Dec):

Fresh from her guest appearance at Tanglewood, pianist Julie Steinberg takes on John Cage's complete Sonatas and Interludes. In this masterpiece, Cage transformed the piano into a percussion orchestra by inserting carefully chosen objects between the strings. The concert provides a rare opportunity to hear Steinberg, a leading interpreter of Cage's music, performing one of his most engrossing pieces. In sonic contrast, Chaya Czernowin fashions, in her Winter Songs, an arresting, low-voiced plaint for winds, brass, strings and percussion. David Milnes, Music Director.

Test Your Pitch Perception and Musical Memory

This online test of pitch perception and musical memory is totally cool.

26 November 2006

Throwing Muses and 50FootWave in San Francisco on 16 Dec

Among other cool items from ThrowingMusic News:

Throwing Muses will be playing one more show this year. It's on December 16, 2006 at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, CA. Tickets are available at Virtuous <http://virtuous.com/events/v/181536628/2006-12-16.html>. 50FootWave will be opening the show and we're happy to have Kristin's newest favorite band, The Moore Brothers <http://www.themoorebros.com/> playing in the middle slot.

25 November 2006

The Most Wanted and Most Unwanted Songs

While ripping a bunch of CDs, I hit upon The People's Choice Music by Dave Soldier and Komar & Melamid. Komar & Melamid performed web surveys to determine what instruments, vocal styles, lyrical content and emotional content people want in music, and then had Dave Soldier compose songs that would maximally satisfy (and maximally dissatisfy!) the "average" listener. I actually bought it as part of my project to acquire Vernon Reid's complete discography (he plays the guitar solo in the most wanted song -- the sarcastic final note kills me every time).

According to the CD jacket, "fewer than 200 individuals of the world's total population will enjoy" the most unwanted song, while the most wanted song is "a musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably 'liked' by 72 +/- 12% of listeners". Apparently people really like the super cheesy type of R&B.

You can grab MP3s of the songs on Dave Soldier's web site. Nice!

Currently listening to: "Floating Seeds" by Ozric Tentacles and "Mass Hypnosis" by Sepultura

20 November 2006

A Feast of Corpses

Metal Show: Special Report

Who: Necrophagist
When: ~6:30 pm, Wednesday, November 19
Where: Station 4, St. Paul, MN, USA

Like those Tasmanian Devils Psycroptic, German gore-noodlers Necrophagist are forced to tour with such wholy unworthy acts as Unmerciful and Cannibal Corpse. It was in this situation that I saw them at a dingy little metal club in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Station 4 is about as metal as a metal club can get, too. It's dark (the walls seemingly painted black), it smells of thousands of sweaty shows, and there are 10-inch diameter steel posts in the middle of the moshfloor, holding up the roof and just waiting to break faces. The building the club is in is nearly as bleak -- a nondescript 3-story warehouse with those windows made up of 12x12 panes, each blackened with years of grime. As I walked by one side of the building on my way to the end of the block-long line snaking out of the door, I heard blast beats and some gritty riffing coming out of the second story, probably from the practice space used by local legends Anal Blast. They're what I like to call sick-core (my term, though they're probably classified in some semi-official metal pseudo-genre I've just never heard of), playing nothing but songs about vomiting, defecation, menstruation, sex and small woodland creatures... sometimes songs involving all of the above, and other times songs about eating all of the above... 'nuff said.

Standing outside the club, the crowd seemed to be really pumped for the show.. but not for the headliners Cannibal Corpse. In fact, I didn't hear anyone yell, "CANNIBAL COOOORRRRPSE" in a bad attempt at a yelling growl. Instead, most people were there to see Necrophagist and the alright-but-not-my-favorite (though Chris P. has confessed to liking them) band Dying Fetus, while there were a few people pissed that we were still trying to get into the club when Unmerciful started their set. Honestly, I'm not sure what they were in such a hurry for.

By the time I got in the club, Unmerciful (so unmerciful were they that they made us suffer their noise) were three songs in to their six-song set. Compared to Necrophagist, Unmerciful were like 5-year olds beating on plastic buckets with sticks and blaring their Speak & Spells. When they announced they were playing their last song, some guys in front of me cheered that our misery would end.

Unmerciful (mercifully) hauled their junk off the stage and some house crew started moving around monitors, setting up a new drum set and running some cables. The guy sitting at the drum set started out the sound check and seemed to be a wizard in his own right, double-pedalling and blasting away. Then some other guy comes out to sound check a guitar... and immediately busts into Necrophagist's latest title track "Epitaph". Whoa! As it turns out, Necrophagist didn't really have any roadies and they were sound checking all their own instruments - not a common sight for a show of this caliber, even in a relative backwater like MN. So over the course of the next five minutes, we were treated to solos by everyone in the band, a really nice bonus!

Like a lot of European bands I've seen, these guys were relatively clean looking - they even had cut hair! No offense, America, but most of our death metal bands look like they live in the gutter. Necrophagist were really professional. Their playing so technical and so well-conducted, they didn't even have time to run around the stage jumping off of monitors like Angus Young. They were stony-faced and on a brutal mission to make us trip over our own feet while we feebly tried to keep time. At a few points during the show, some huge guy tried to get a mosh pit going, but then Necrophagist would shift gears and start spraying speghetti into the air while everyone in the pit lost the beat, or just stood in awe at the insane skills they were witnessing. Between the fifth and sixth songs, some guy turned to me and asked, "Who are these guys?!"

I don't remember the exact order of the set list, what with being in a complete fan-boy trance, but I believe they played the first seven songs from their latest release Epitaph, followed by a long-ish (6-8 minutes, so long for Necrophagist) song I'd never heard before. It's possible it was an unreleased song, or it possibly could have been something from their debut album that I just didn't recognize live (I'm not quite as familiar with that album).

During the last tune, I made my way over to the swag counter. Once there, I was informed that I couldn't buy a t-shirt yet because the band insists on selling all their own merchandise. After about 10 minutes, with a long line queued up behind me, Necrophagist's bass player finally makes it over to start selling stuff and I walk away with the first t-shirt of the night. In a bit of a divergence from the norm, their t-shirts don't have the name or cover of an album on them, but instead are adorned with some jagged, Giger-esque artwork and the name of a song. Mine was "Only Ash Remains". I was a bit disappointed at the lack of a tour t-shirt, as I consider those more valuable, but I was happy just to be able to see these guys play!

Just after picking up the t-shirt, Dying Fetus started to play. I hung around for one song, but my ears were shot, I was full from eating so much dead flesh, and I wanted to prolong my Necrophagist afterglow, so I head out to my car and fired up Epitaph for the drive home.

For those of you out in Blue-Skies-and-Puffy-Clouds country, there's still time to see Necrophagist. They'll be playing at 7 pm on Sunday, November 26 at Slim's in San Francisco.

Corpse meat + Jagged Noodles = Aphrodisiac

Next show
: Leaves' Eyes opening for Blind Guardian.

12 November 2006

Octochordal Electro-lutes

Speaking of double-quaternary catgut hypermandolins, last weekend I picked up the reissue version of Meshuggah's album Nothing. It's mostly the same as the original, except that the guitars were re-recorded with 8-string guitars instead of down-tuned 7-strings. The songs were written for the 8-string tuning (F B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ G♭ B♭ E♭), but in order to finish the album in time for the Ozzfest tour, they recorded it with the 7-strings they had, because the custom 8-strings were not done yet.

Overall the album sounds much better with the improved clarity and responsiveness of the 8-string guitars. Because they have the longer scale lengths required for such low pitches (these are bass guitars with some bonus treble strings), they sound much more natural and clear. The difference makes a musical difference; for example, "Glints Collide" sounds much funkier and crisper since the strings aren't so flabby and unresponsive. Similarly, the annoying "flam-like" effect between the guitars, bass, and kick drum (most obvious in the original on "Rational Gaze") is gone. That's good, although you now sort of miss the audibility of the bass and kick drum.

The Nothing reissue comes as a set with the CD and a DVD of some videos (the "New Millennium Cyanide Christ" video is the same as the one on Rare Trax) and live clips. The live clips are good, but overall the DVD feels like an add-on thrown in to entice chumps like me into buying another copy of an album they already had.

Only rabid fans like me really need both versions; normal people only need the reissue. The reissue also has lyrics printed in the CD insert, for the people that care about that sort of thing...

(If the flat signs show up as question marks or squares and you are using Firefox on Windows, set the page character encoding to Windows Western. View -> Character Encoding -> Western (Windows-1252).)

Currently listening to: A discussion of how Richard Dawkins and the extropians are religious zealots

8-string Guitars

I hadn't heard of the Black Machine before. They look great. There are Black Machines in both the Charlie Hunter/Robert Novak style (different scale lengths for each string) and in the "normal" style. And check out the beautiful wood.

08 November 2006

Splice: Online Music Collaboration

I am at the 10th Creative Commons Salon, where Wendell Davis, the founder of Splice, just gave a little chat about his online collaborative music composition/editing application. Using a Flash-based web application, you can trade and tweak tracks and combine them into a new tune. Sweet!

06 November 2006

From YouTube... To Sirius

Chris's post about Voivod and their harmonically-gifted guitarist tickled a synapse. One of the most interesting bands to recently emerge from the French metal underground (yes, there is one!) is Gojira. I really like their guitar work, and their tunes are just all-around awesome. To quote my girlfriend after the first 10 seconds of Gojira she'd ever heard, "I like the way this guitarist thinks."

Their most recent album is called "From Mars to Sirius", and as far as I can tell, it's about the threats to Earth's ecosystems (a rather high-brow topic for a metal band). I like to think it's about Star Trek IV, due to the flying whale on the album cover and the whale song woven into some of the tracks, not to mention the first line of "Global Warming": Four-hundred thousand years ago/They came from outer space. Though, now that I think about it, they could be Scientologists.

Take a listensee for yourself, though. Full tracks are available on their site (Medias -> Audios) and here's a YouTube of a surprisingly-good video. Sadly, the song in the video is not nearly the best on the album. My favorites are "From The Sky", "Unicorn" (which seems to me to reveal a very heavy Morbid Angel influence) and "Global Warming" (sweet opening/closing guitar work - carpal-tunnel city!)

05 November 2006

The Devil Went Down to Tasmania

Once upon a time, in the economically successful and otherwise-peaceful 1990's, the Devil decided to "get away from it all." His vacation spot of choice? The former penal settlement of Tasmania. Although not home to penal 'colonists' for many decades, he felt Tasmania still had that "unspoiled penal vibe", and thus made a prime location for all manner of nerve-soothing debauchery.

While strolling through the Tasmanian country side, the Devil happened upon a group of young men, ripe specimens perfect for his latest experiment. Convincing them that they were filled with untapped potential, he put wicked steel in their hands, imbued them with the knowledge of strange time signatures and a taste for erratic music, injected them with psychotropic substances, and ordered them to their basements. To one of these new minions, he gifted the gift of scary, croaky spewing, reminiscent of a tasmanian devil eating a bullfrog. Into another, the Devil injected Essence of Blastbeat and Eye of Doppelbass.

During the following few months, these new demonically-infused virtuosos riffed their fingers to bloody stumps while weaving jagged, sonic scarves for their family and neighbors. To top it off, their wailer croaked up box after box of bloody cupcakes, enjoyed by children all over the remote island. The Devil, satisfied with his pupils, returned to the comforts of his hellish depths... but not before giving them a sufficiently evil, yet delightfully cryptic label:


Soon, Psycroptic yearned to spread their filthy, squeaky hypnotic sounds to their northern neighbors. On a misty evening they set out northward, thrashing, horking and blasting themselves a bridge to the Australian mainland. During the turns of many moons, Psycroptic shred a capricious path over Oz, touring with such unworthy acts as Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, and Incantation, while releasing three must-have albums.

What does the future hold? You. Yes, you... listening to Psycroptic until your eyes bleed out your nose... and perhaps even a North American tour, if we could be so hell-blessed.

Ahh, Cyberpunk

My fellow linguist and metalhead Sacha pointed me at these Youtubes of the late, great 80s thrash/prog/cybernoodle band Voivod. I actually hadn't ever heard their music before; I had only been assured that as a prog-rock and metal fan I would dig them. And indeed. Piggy is easily the most harmonically intriguing heavy-music guitarist this side of Vernon Reid and The Fripp. Some of this stuff is just plain out.

"Inner Combustion" + "Nothingface"

"Psychic Vacuum"

"Tribal Convictions"

02 November 2006

Yay, I Have a Co-editor Now; Vedic Metal

Thanks Gabe!

Actually, I probably don't agree that college-educated, white-collar peeps are a minority, or a majority, of metalheads. I haven't taken any polls or anything, but there are so many different types of metal, and so many different types of fan, that it's not easy to make any but the most broad generalizations. Who cares, anyway.

Case in point, found in a clicktrail started from the Wikipedia links in Dopp's previous post: Vedic metal! I had never heard of it until now, but in retrospect it should have been obvious. It's cool how adaptable metal is. Check out Singaporean Vedic metal band Rudra, and their sample MP3s.

01 November 2006

Headbangs from the Frozen North

Greasings, Hemioleans! In what could have only been a bout of noodle-induced insanity, Chris P. invited me over to give my internationally-struggling two cents on various noodle-slinging bands, tracks, people and events. I prefer my noodles a bit on the bloody side...

Like Chris, I'm part of the minority (but growing!) population of college-educated, white-collar metal heads (thank you, IT industry, for paying me to play with computers). We tend toward technical and melodic (wha?) metal, preferably that which defies categorization. The more noodles, wonky time signatures, and incomprehensible riffage, the better. However, as a fish-loving lefse eater, I also have a an ever-growing fondness for folk music, particularly that from Scandanavian climes. Come back for blatherings about metal, folk, and sometimes a frightening yet strangely tingly combination of the two!

My next segment: The Devil Went Down to Tasmania

Currently listening to: "There's Something Rotten" by Illdisposed (groovy, somewhat-noodly Corrosion of Conformity vs. Life of Agony vs. Gorefest cagematch-like stuff from Denmark) and "Tales Along This Road" by Korpiklaani (Sami-influenced Finnish oompa metal, complete with accordians, mandolins, bagpipes and yoiking)!