27 July 2009

Outsider Love

I will now worship Jonathan Coulton. He writes smart wonderful songs AND he relases them with Creative Commons permission for anyone to create and publish videos of them. (And I think I still owe a blog on Creative Commons, don't I?) In his honor, I offer videos!

"I'm Your Moon"

A love song from Charon to Pluto
(CaptainValor, 2009)

"Chiron Beta Prime"

A Christmas letter from a family in unusual circumstances
(jocopro, 2006)

"Still Alive"

The end credits song of the game Portal. You do NOT want to do science with this computer.
(Gyoru, 2007)

"Baby Got Back"

Coulton covers a special love song
(Gl3nn, 2006)

23 July 2009

Dispatch War Rocket Alpha to Bring Back Freddy

As usual, while I was looking for one thing, I found something else altogether. Then got distracted. "Oh, shiny!" I blame YouTube's recommender. It suggested that I watch a particular a capella version of "Bohemian Rhapsody". That was meh, but that had a related video that had a related video that (lather rinse repeat) brought me to the Queen official YouTube channel. Shiny!

Let me share the shiniest with you. Queen did the song for Flash Gordon. I loved that song, but I haven't heard it in years. I have never seen the video at all, so I was delighted to find it. It is a camp fest, with footage from that movie and footage from earlier versions. Now I get to make you listen to it, too.

Not content with this one Art Nouveau effort, Queen later recorded "Radio Gaga" and set the video in a very Flashesque world, with a lot of footage from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Unfortunately, the official channel has disabled embedding. (Since that's the only one they've blocked, I'm going to assume it's a rights problem and not greed or stupidity. But still, boo.) I did find one clean version of this video elsewhere.

This reminds me of how much I love Freddy Mercury's voice. It's easy to forget how technically amazing his voice was until you hear another great singer like Annie Lennox (e.g.) tackling one of his songs and not quite getting it. Here is a version of a big Queen song with two good singers. One gets it; one doesn't.

Not Art Nouveau, but maybe only Freddy could pull that off.

20 July 2009

19 July 2009

Pocket Pandora

Wow, yikes. I increased the dose of a medication and lost nearly a week to daze. I thought occasionally "I need to write a blog today", but then time would slip away again. Next time I change a dose, I'm going to get a week of stuff written ahead and enlist someone to drop them into the blog day by day for me.

There was one cool and music-relevant thing from the week to share. My old Blackberry, an 8703e business powerhouse, died. I was right at my "get a new phone if you renew your contract" date (picture my faithful steed collapsing inches from the finish line), so I was able to replace it with the latest coolest the very next day. I am so loving my Blackberry Tour. It's smaller, faster, and does all sorts of amazing things. It even has a camera! (There were places in my office that banned cameras, so I avoided getting a phone with a camera. Now they ban phones, iPods, flash sticks, and just about everything but pencils so there's no advantage to a cameraless phone.) My only complaints about it so far are that it doesn't have Wi-Fi and that it doesn't have a magic battery that never needs charging.

The most wonderful feature is that there is a Pandora client for this generation of Blackberry. I mean, "w00t!" doesn't even cover it. Of course, regular readers know that this leaves me with my old dilemma again. (Amber on Music: Tyranny of the Scrobble) If I stream Pandora on my phone, the music won't be scrobbled to my Last.fm profile. On the PC, I use PandoraFM, but that doesn't work on the Blackberry and Last.fm has no Blackberry client for their streaming music. Wah.

(Of course, my scrobbling is all gewhackity these days because my library is on the shared drive that keeps getting stuck on my roommate's computer. This resource PITA is balanced by his contribution of new music to the household, though, so I cope. I also expect to get some wordage out of his intermittent efforts in streaming his own music out. But I digress ... )

The Pandora client is pretty slick. It is easy to use and has all the Pandora features for just plain listening to music, including Thumb Up/Down and "why was this chosen?" You can listen to any of your Pandora stations or start a new one from a single artist or song seed. It shows the album artwork even bigger than it does on my PC, which is nice. It lets you select music quality level to balance performance and data consumption. I really like that it adds itself to the top of every application menu, so you can get into it to skip a horrible song or pause it with practically no navigation.

It omits some features that I use a lot, though. I can't edit any of my existing stations, or even see their seeds. It lets me select my Quick Mix station, but doesn't let me add anything to it. That kind of spoils the point of Quick Mix, seems to me. I can, however, delete any station. I'm not sure why I would feel the need to delete on the road more than mixing up something new to meet my on-the-road needs.

There are a few drawbacks that bother me. The earbuds that came with the phone suck utterly. They hurt my ears, have crappy sound, and fall out. Boo to you Blackberry. I can replace those with something better, of course. I can't fix the other glitch, which is only a problem for total geeks like me: the "why this song?" blurbs are often slow to load and too long for the Blackberry-sized window. I can cope with that. It drives me up the wall that the music pauses briefly for every alert, which leads to a string of hiccups as SMS and email land. You choose a Blackberry because you expect to get a lot of SMS and email, so this is not a small problem for the crackberry-addicted.

I do step back and put this in perspective. It will only let me listen to radio stations I developed myself in advance and not let me develop any while I'm on the subway? Poor me. I'm complaining about something that is head and shoulders above just plain old pocket radios. It won't replace regular-broadcast radio in cases of emergency or civil insurrection, but it totally demolishes it for music. If I whine about this again, take away my phone and make me get by with an AM transistor radio for a week.

12 July 2009

Hand Jive

The last few days, I've had migraine and couldn't write at all. I was too photosensitive and dopy to face a page of words. On top of that, sound hurt and my tinnitus was out of control. Often when my tinnitus is acting up badly, listening to music makes the buzzing, clanging, whistling, and squeaking more orderly. (The noise is still there, but more organized and less rackety. I think of it as combing messy hair out straight.) This week, though, there was no taming it.

My hearing loss and tinnitus always affect my ability to hear music. It particularly hits some singers whose voices happen to be in my most damaged frequencies. It really plays hob with nice stereo mixes, because my left ear is so much worse than my right. I wish the iPod would let me adjust the balance to compensate for that. No home sound system has a "adjust to missing frequencies" switch, though.

Because my loss is in the frequencies of speech, I often have trouble understanding all the lyrics of songs. I would love to have access to captioned videos. I once heard someone going off on how ridiculous the idea of music videos with captioning is. This is based on the simplistic ideas that "deaf" is an on/off switch. Hearing impairment is often partial, and people who can't hear at all can feel rhythms. Besides, lyrics are words that you don't necessarily have to hear any music to appreciate, and videos are all about imagery. That is all a long way to say "bunkum!".

Captioning isn't the only way that people with hearing impairments can get lyrics to songs. There are also American Sign Language (ASL) and Signed English translations. YouTube is replete with examples of popular songs with signing. There are different kinds of "signed songs". The best of them, in my opinion, are those which are performances in their own right.

Live Performance, "Fergalicious" (macboy17, 2007)

Live Interpretation, "I Had a Shoggoth" (filkertom, 2008)

Ordinarily the point of live interpretation is to just tell what the speaker is saying, but this one is fun because the interpreter part of the show. The interpreter had never heard this song at all before! If you think about it, there would have to be signs for "Cylon" and "Sith Lord", wouldn't there?

Music Video, "Pump It" (st0rmfx, 2008)

Bjorn Storm takes a completely different tack and made his own videos of the songs. I wish he could do more, but YouTube's new copyright wars are keeping him on the sideline for now. My son the Black Eyed Peas fan says this is his favorite BEP video.

08 July 2009

Sucker Punch

Today for a while I had my iPod shuffling. I pretty much never shuffle because even though I like a lot of different kinds of music, I'm hardly ever up for Lil Wayne as a follow up to Old Crow Medicine Show. I'm stodgy. I generally listen to albums right through in the official track order. I have to say that too many artists are not so good at arranging the songs on an album to be listened to straight through as a playlist, but what is an album now but a playlist? Mostly the cool people ignore those and make their own, but if you the artist and you are making that one playlist, shouldn't you try to make a good program out of it? And stay off my lawn you kids!

But anyway, today I did have a playlist of songwriters-who-sing going on shuffle: Michael Tolcher, Lee Mellor, Rodney Crowell, Tribute to Townes Van Zandt, Gordon Lightfoot, Tribute to Elliot Smith, Tim Acres, Lucinda Williams, ... thud. Once again, I got ambushed by that one song of hers, "Something About What Happens When We Talk". That song is so much a part of the soundtrack of a hard part of my life that I can't hear it without being pulled back into the emotions that made it hard.

It's clear from the words that she's telling a story of a voluntary parting. My story was a sudden falling-out. The first time I heard it was just at the peak of the crisis for me and it hit my feelings so exactly on the head. It was truer than the literal facts. (Does that make sense? I think so. Anyway...) Now I can't think of that bad time without the song playing in my head and I can't hear the song without feeling a little sick and sad.

I really like this song. I could avoid it, but I don't because it's such a splendid perfect song. I like the album it's on, too. When I do play it, I know it's coming and I can keep the feelings a bit detached, sort of at the level of strong nostalgia. When it hits me unexpectedly, though, it is a hard blow.

I need to put together a playlist of songs that remind me of happy times, don't I? I'm going to take that as an exercise.

(Tangential note: if you wonder why I use YouTube to embed songs when I'm not particuarly referring to the video, let me show you. I like Imeem and they have an "embed" feature. Here it is:

Something About What Happens When We Talk - Lucinda Williams

All those little ads and buttons (you should see the page of code), and you just get a 30-second sample. You can click through to hear the whole song, but you have to be a registered Imeem user for that. That is a PITA for you and spoils the whole point of including the example for me. So I'm sticking to YouTube and sorry about the bandwidth.)

07 July 2009

Music Out of Time

I was watching an episode of CSI:New York and was surprised to hear song I know instead of their usual house music. I posted a video of that, Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble "Ghost Dance", yesterday. I was thinking about why that song was a bad choice for the place they used it. That got me thinking onward to the Ghost Dance religion and the modern Pow Wows, and that made me turn to YouTube again. I wanted to see a modern version of the Ghost Dance if I could find one.

Then, of course, I had YouTube serendipity. In 1894, Edison brought some Sioux from Buffalo Bill's show troupe into his studio to film them doing some traditional dances! These are among the first movies ever shot. Now the Library of Congress has posted a mass of Edison's early flms on YouTube. It's so cool. 1894!

Here are the two relevant snips. Both of these are very short and have no sound.


Sioux Ghost Dance (Edison, 1894)


Buffalo Dance (Edison, 1894)


Hopi Buffalos/sumi'nangwa 2007 (nativemama, 2007)

For comparison, here is a more modern version of a buffalo dance. It is Hopi, not Sioux, but it seems similar to my outsider's eye. (I can just about tell the difference between a Lady's Fancy Shawl dance and a Grass Dance.)

I am definitely going to look more into the Ghost Dance and Pow Wow movements, but these and the other Edison films completely distracted me today.

06 July 2009

Song for a Monday

Wow! The day completely slipped away from me. Here is a video of a song from Robbie Robertson that I've been thinking about. Enjoy it now; more about it tomorrow.

05 July 2009

Roommate Radio

I have a roommate now. This changes everything about my daily life, including music.

For one thing, hanging with him has taken time I would have used just listening to music. It's good to spend time with a real person instead of digital voices, but I miss the soundtrack anyway. I have always been in the habit of putting my headphones on whenever I sit down at the computer, because the next step has always been to start up some music, but he thinks that I do it to avoid listening to him, so I'm breaking the habit, or trying to. I'm not starting music as much anyway, because he is using some space on the external hard drive that I have my music on and so most of the time he's shifted it over to his computer when I wasn't home using mine; I don't always bother to get up and fetch it. I hardly ever blast out the speakers anymore, because we like such different music. This all makes it sound like a big drag, but it seems like normal adjustment to sharing space and time to me. I've spent so much time on my own that I notice every little change.

It's not all loss, either. Note the "we like such different music". Regular readers will recall me saying that I don't listen to much hip-hop. That's not true anymore! It's pretty much all he listens to, so I've gotten plenty of exposure in the last few months. It's still not my favorite, but I understand it better. In fact, I've heard enough to know that I like T.I. and Dr Dre a better than Roommate (henceforth "RM") does.

In honor of RM, I have created the Roommate Radio station on Pandora. Here is a sample to fill the time you are waiting for Pandora to load:

The very most coolest thing about this? It turns out that his favorite artist, Lil Wayne, is an excellent test artist for my Pandora project! Win with awesome sauce.

04 July 2009

The moment music changed: my MJ tribute

My first thought on the obligatory Michael Jackson Tribute article was to share some fascinatingly wrong covers of MJ songs. But then I started thinking about all the other reactions to his death that I've read. Everyone seems to have a "first memory of Michael" moment to share. I suppose my first memory was of him singing "ABC" or "One Bad Apple", but that is boring even to me. The one MJ moment that stands out for me is what I have always thought of as "the moment music changed," one instant in the Motown 25 Anniversary special. A lot of people point to MJ's performance in that show, particularly the moonwalk, as revolutionary, but the significant moment for me came before that.

To understand what and why, you will have to see a bigger chunk of the show. Clips below, with my thoughts as I watched it the first time next to the clip.

All the brothers together again for this special. They owe so much to Quincy Jones. Gah, what happened to his nose? Good performance. Oh, Randy, what are you wearing?

What is missing from the clips was a bridge when the brother and extra mics are whisked offstage; MJ gets the hat and then makes a comment about the old stuff being great, but new stuff is good too.

Looks like more dancing. [bass line starts] WHOA! WOW! Grownup. Intense. Damn. Wheee!

Everything about him and his performance was a new thing, right from the first bass notes. His facial expressions and body language we so deliberate, so intense, so non-Jacksonish, completely riveting. It was all done as a declaration of his independence from other people's vision of what he should do. It completely left his old music in the dust. And all in that one first moment. The moonwalk was gravy.

This last video is from AbejaMariposaJr; you should definitely click through and read his description of the history of the moonwalk dance step.

Artists (in alphabetical order): Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Buck and Bubbles, Cab Calloway, Clark Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Daniel L. Haynes, Rubberneck Holmes, Patterson and Jackson, Eleanor Powell, Bill Robinson, Three Chefs (only the feet), Tip Tap and Toe (feat. Ray Winfield), Earl Snakehips Tucker

02 July 2009

Returning with Glee

I haven't been around in a while, and I could write a whole long "my dog ate my homework and I had a bad hair day" entry, but why? I had a buncha stuff going on and my life got eaten up by it. I kept listening to music and making notes on cool things to share with you all, so here we go again.

I still haven't watched an episode of High School Musical and still don't feel like bothering. The bits I've seen make it look way past my annoying threshold, and that is from someone who loves musicals.

I have been bitten by the Glee bug though. Fox very cleverly ran the first episode and now is making us all wait until the fall to see more. Wah. I want it now. I'm not sure I'm going to love the story, but the music is great. If you can't watch the episode, all the musical parts are available on YouTube.

I ran across some covers of the choral version of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" from Glee. First I was amused (covering a cover? snicker) but this one put me straight.

The performance is stunningly good and the video is good. And clever, too.

I'm baaaaaack. Are you ready for more ukuleles?