My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Hip-Hop Forensics & Sampling Genealogy

Kudos to Ethan Hein for an impressive act of hip-hop forensics and sampling genealogy. His excavation of DJ Premier‘s production of Nas‘ song “Nas Is Like” includes this handy flowchart of all the constituent samples:

Many of those samples, as Hein notes, had appeared in earlier Nas songs — this includes samples of Nas’ own voice — which makes Premier’s production a meta-level project, and confirms why his name is uttered alongside not only the Bomb Squad but also the likes of Teo Macero and Bill Laswell.

As Heim puts it,

Any sample-based song carries a dense web of associations, and I love the complexity that gets introduced when people sample themselves, or when they sample tracks containing samples, or best of all, both. ‘Nas Is Like’ has a complex family tree, a set of allusions to allusions to allusions. This is as it should be. Fundamentally, all music is built of reshuffled bits of other music. Hip-hop makes this fact an explicit part of the music’s message, and that’s the biggest reason why I love it.

Heim collects all his “sample maps” at flickr.com. While many have to deal with the “sample and sampled” nature of the Nas piece, some map out from ur-texts like Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”:

And other Hein maps track various samples employed by a single musician, in the following case the rapper Common. Writes Hein in the caption for this photo on Flickr, “There are a lot of Kanye West productions here, which means a lot of samples. The map is nowhere near exhaustive for reasons of space, I limited it to songs using more than one sample”:

There are numerous resources for sampling information, notably the song-specific pages at wikipedia.org (click through for a more prosaic description of “Nas Is Like”), the rap-oriented whosampled.com, the more broadly defined secondhandsongs.com, which calls itself a “cover songs database,” and the-breaks.com. But none of that crowd-accrued data has the gravity of Hein’s post (which, of course, draws from those sources as raw material); his effort includes audio and video of various parts of the song, and commentary about the structure of the piece, as well as the nature of hip-hop and, more broadly, composition. As he writes in a related post, “What works the best in music, as in biology, is a minor mutation on an existing successful replicator.”

Read the full piece, originally posted in late August, at ethanhein.com.

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The Walk as Composition (MP3s)

It isn’t to privilege the visual to say that listening to field recordings is like opening a window. This isn’t about looking through glass, real or metaphorical; it’s about opening a window, and letting the sounds and their myriad associations flow in.

The Canada-based urbansoundecology.org seeks to open just such windows on Toronto and Vancouver, where people are taking recording devices with them to sound-map concisely defined physical areas. These sound maps take the form of brief audio recordings, about the length of a long pop song, annotated with information like location, weather, device, and a brief list of recognizable sonic elements (“crow, gravel, industry, road”; “crowd, march, traffic”). Here are four recent recordings, each track associated with one of the maps up above (clockwise from upper left) :

[audio:http://urbansoundecology.org/audio/download/98/160910-0935.mp3,http://urbansoundecology.org/audio/download/97/0910_221954.MP3,http://urbansoundecology.org/audio/download/96/Jericho%20Beach%20by%20T%20Goff%201.mp3,http://urbansoundecology.org/audio/download/95/090910-1136.mp3|titles=”Renfrew Ravine”,”Crows on Still Creek Drive”,”Frosh marsh”,”Jericho Beach”|artists=T. Goff,M. Ritts,T. Goff,G. Smith]

The geolocative essence of the Urban Sound Ecology project is emphasized by those rarefied maps, which look less like real life and more like the view from an early flight-control video game. They suggest the recordings as pure document, pure data, when in fact the recordings are just as messy as real life. There’s child’s adorable gibberish in “Renfrew Ravine,” followed by thunder (MP3); the ever so still white noise of “Crows on Still Creek Drive,” occasionally interrupted by the title subject, and the honking of human horns (MP3); the surf (and, late in the piece, conversation) of “Jericho Beach” (MP3); the school cheers of “Frosh march,” swallowed by traffic (MP3).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Urban Sound Ecology interface is that tiny orange line that appears in each of the visual interfaces. That is the path walked by the recorder: a sudden reverse in the first and fourth pieces, an extended but truncated journey on the second, and what looks like a brief jaunt straight into the water in the third.

The strict orange line serves as a kind of emblem of composition; it’s the graphic marker of the human element, the decision-making that went into what is, otherwise, a matter of geography and chance encounters.

Visit the service at urbansoundecology.org.

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Do Fees Rationalize/Incentivize Communal-Culture Ecommerce?

The recent decision by bandcamp.com, the music-hosting service, to charge for free downloads has been met with understandable rancor. The site had situated itself as a constituent part of the Internet’s music ecology. Musicians and labels had made it part of their tech infrastructure, especially netlabels, which give away their music for free.

The relationship between Bandcamp and netlabels makes this development of particular concern for this website. A search on this site for “bandcamp” suggests how thoroughly the service has become part of the Creative Commons community, notably in the case of musicians like Diego Bernal and Y?arcka, and deeply non-commercial enterprises such as the multi-artist One Minute for the Sun compilation.

Bandcamp secured a certain elevation in the crowded field of music-hosting services, and then it went and changed the rules — and not one of those semi-cursory mutual-agreement notices, like when Apple changes its iTunes Store terms of services what seems like several times a week.

A September 9 post on its blog (blog.bandcamp.com) introduced a new system in which only a set number of free downloads would be available per user, this in stark contrast with what had been the case, a system that allowed unlimited downloads. The decision wasn’t surprising. Downloads require bandwidth and infrastructure, and bandwidth and infrastructure cost money.

What was a surprise was Bandcamp’s surprise. This is the opening graph of that notice:

Our hope was that free downloading might be highest amongst the artists who were also selling the most ”“ for example, a band giving away a track or two in promotion of a paid album. That way, the revenue share on the artist’s sales would naturally cover the costs associated with the streaming, support and storage of their freebies.

Given the preponderance of free on the Internet, from YouTube to the Internet Archive (aka archive.org), it seems peculiar that the people who put together Bandcamp expected free solely to be used as a kind of loss-leading promotional opportunity.

David Dufresne (of bandzoogle.com, a “band website platform” whose business is not dissimilar to that of Bandcamp) summed up the issue well in a response to a story at hypebot.com:

I think the major grudge that some people hold against their latest announcements is that they built their customer base of tens of thousands around a VC-money-fueled free service, offering little transparency as to how they would end up monetizing (probably wasn’t clear to the founders either, as they got started). Only after people had invested time and resources in building and promoting their Bandcamp page do they find out how much it will cost them.

In other words, it seems like the real loss-leader here was Bandcamp’s own: allow the free downloads for a long time, build a participatory audience, and then begin charging a fee. Before and after the Bandcamp decision, musicians host files on Bandcamp, collect them as albums, and charge what they want for downloads, along a sliding scale (a la Radiohead’s milestone release, In Rainbows) from zero to whatever the consumer’s heart desired and wallet allowed. The difference is that members now have a set number of free downloads, after which they have to pay to allow additional free downloads, pricing ranging from three cents (U.S.) to half that, depending on how many credits are purchased.

On Twitter, musician @joshwoodward noted:

WTG, BandCamp – with your new pricing, it’d only have cost me $39,000 to give my music away for free through you.

A commenter on Jason Sigal’s freemusicarchive.org writeup said:

Blaming us for using what they offered. I just thought that was unfair

The comment was in response to this section of the Bandcamp announcement:

It’s obviously unfair to burden every Bandcamp artist with the costs of a few outliers giving away hundreds of thousands of free downloads, so we’re making some changes to button that up.

And musician Phil Wilkerson over at his blog (philwilkerson.wordpress.com) wrote:

The romance with Bandcamp is over for me. I won’t be recommending Bandcamp to my friends or to other artists. In fact, I will have nothing positive to say about Bandcamp henceforth. You have to wonder about their business acumen as well. Bandcamp has denied themselves an important way of generating site traffic and positive vibes and goodwill from the Creative Commons community. They have virtually spit in the face of the Creative Commons artists and netlabels who have driven traffic to their site.

The situation is unfortunate, to the extent that Bandcamp even revised its revision; instead of 200 free downloads, each account will get 200 free downloads per month (in addition, there are incentives).

What happens next at Bandcamp will be interesting to observe. Will pageviews and usage drop significantly? If they do, will the decrease in free-related traffic offset such drops? Will someone finally, as musician and netlabel administrator @hecanjog suggested, “[build] a front-end to archive.org as wonderful and slick as bandcamp.com”?

One of the issues with Bandcamp’s switch is how it treats all accounts equally, even though 200 free downloads for an individual artist’s page doesn’t correlate with 200 free downloads for a label’s page. There’s also no apparent easy way for users to offset an artist’s (or label’s) free-related debt. Bandcamp has, all these gripes aside, proved itself responsive to the input of its users. After capping a maximum upload size, the following addendum was posted on September 8: “Some Serious Ambient Artists have helped us realize that our thinking on this issue was very uptight, so we’ve modified our policy: once you’ve made a few sales through Bandcamp (totaling $20 USD or more), we’ll increase your upload limit to 600 megs (that’s like, one whole LaserDisc!).”

Anyhow, just as the Internet has introduced a wealth of micro-cultures in place of long-running Top 40 mono-cultures, I wonder if the same will be the case for financial interactions. Different people shop differently, consume differently, store their possessions differently. (I don’t know the background of those Serious Ambient Artists’ input, but it might have had to do with the fact that much ambient music is significantly longer than the average pop song.) Bandcamp’s system has many things to its credit, among them an easy “trade an email address for a download” interface, and the sliding-scaled, multiple-format (MP3s at various compression rates, Ogg, etc.) download system.

I wonder if the next best step for Bandcamp is to figure out how to provide a broader range of financial alternatives. For example, if I enjoy a recording, I might be inclined to, after the fact, donate a small amount of funds to allow for future listeners to themselves experience a free download of the same track or album. This is along the lines of Cory Doctorow’s manner with the free versions of his ebooks; he says that if you enjoy the book, rather than paying him after the fact, buy a copy for a library (“Cory Doctorow Aids Libraries with Donations-for-Downloads Program”).

As Wilkerson himself put it, the issue of what it costs to promote one’s music on Bandcamp is largely an issue of framing: “I will pay what amounts to a hosting fee. I am not opposed to that at all. I suppose I could look at Bandcamp’s fee as a hosting fee.”

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • The @nytimes Today's Paper page is a great thing, even if article titles (when separated from articles themselves) read like crossword clues #
  • Outmoded retail = video game (that's a McLuhan paraphrase). Recordshop Tycoon more Farmville than Paperboy http://is.gd/fr5FF via @appscout #
  • #ff @audiobaum @clinicalarchive @thecentrifuge @rec72 @publicspaceslab @luvsound @stasisfield all post adventurous free music #netlabel #
  • Fave recent bioacoustics-L list entry: "Yesterday a Shark ( a bull) eated my Hydrophone." Email titled "Hydrophone bait" http://is.gd/fqTWU #
  • RIP, Frederick Jelinek (b. 1932), who helped "make it possible for computers to decipher and translate human speech" http://is.gd/fqJfr #
  • Cage's 4'33" now the name of a London literary magazine that's audio-only, @433mag http://www.fourthirtythree.com/ (via @saraivry @weegee) #
  • If you have the time, would you please mash up the terse piano of Chilly Gonzales' "Never Stop" & the terse piano of Bad Plus' "Never Stop"? #
  • Clooney's The American would make for an interesting double feature with Swinton's I Am Love. #
  • Recent Disquiet.com null searches: Big Daddy Kane, Alberto Caeiro, Cesar Mesa, Mackintosh Braun, Valentino Kanziani. #
  • Morning sounds: whirring hard drive, nursing child, passing buses, rumbling heater. #
  • Morning sounds: a deep rich white noise comprised of traffic (land and air), heating, plumbing, and domestic electronics. #
  • Many thanks to Thorsten Sideb0ard (@sideb0ard) for drawing my new Twitter background. More info on him at http://is.gd/flXiY #
  • Tuesday noon siren: drone distended today, like Kid Koala's scratching it; the voice especially loud, like it's my neighbor in the yard. #
  • 4G is reportedly on in San Francisco. Does the air feel different? http://is.gd/flA5c #
  • 11 amazing and generous ambient musicians put together this compilation of baby-friendly music (a la @_raymond_scott_) http://is.gd/fltDp #
  • Morning sounds: heater, hard drive, bus, post-feeding child rustling in her swaddle. #
  • RIP, Buddy Collette (b. 1921), personification of Los Angeles jazz. http://is.gd/flufG #
  • So, @emusic only lists two artists as being "similar to" Keith Fullerton Whitman: Christopher Bissonnette with two "n"s (correct) & one "n" #
  • So quiet. Mother & child sleeping; cars slip pass outside; speakers off; one headphone earpiece on, other left open to keep an ear on kid. #
  • #np An amazing new 11-track compilation of quiet music, about which I'll be saying more in the next day or so, when it goes live. #
  • Insane @yoshisjazz month: Charles Lloyd, Logic/Wasserman, Geri Allen does Dolphy (w/ Lake), Ayers, Liebman — and George Wein conversation. #
  • ♪ Afternoon tune: MOSS (Berg, Block, Roden, Vitiello) performance excerpt from this past weekend in San Jose http://is.gd/fkb00 #
  • Autohotkey + Readability. Thank you, @autohotkey + @arc90 #
  • Guitar picks depict floppy disk, boombox, MP3 controls, more; look under Objects at http://bit.ly/12kpicks — by @mapmap & @taylordeupree #
  • Geek trio in Terriers the best of its kind since the Lone Gunmen of X-Files days. #
  • Whenever I watch Mad Men, I wonder which character is closest to what Don DeLillo would have been like at the time. #
  • Still adjusting to expanded @wsj culture coverage. Keith Fullerton Whitman interview: "very bad-looking algebra problem" http://is.gd/fijat #
  • It Might Get Loud documentary worth it just for Jimmy Page revisiting where Zeppelin broke the levee, and playing a quick theremin solo. #
  • #♪ Afternoon listen: various KFW activities (modular and otherwise) from his website, http://keithfullertonwhitman.com #
  • C64 BASIC emulator has been approved for iOS app store. Any chance someone could skin it for those of us reared on the TRS-80? #tapedrive #
  • Apparently Four Tet has been on @twitter since 12:25pm on September 13: @fourtet #
  • N.E.R.D. on their favorite hip-hop producers. DJ Premiere? "Primo deserves his own pyramid. He's a pharaoh." http://is.gd/fgKia #
  • "Sound of Shadows module… [is] like the Boss DD-3 the way that a Panther is like my cat" / Brian Biggs gets delay-ed http://is.gd/fgJ5Z #
  • Somehow in my dream a song off the new album by the 88 was a song by Alex Chilton and Eric Carmen. #sleeplogic #
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Fluid Movement Between Technological Generations (MP3s)

This sneak peek of a forthcoming video game says a lot about generational iterations in digital entertainment and culture. In the game, Mimeo and the Kleptopus King, the player leaps between not only those standard signifiers of gaming progress in platformers (i.e., levels), but also between degrees of video-tech sophistication, from 2-bit through 16-bit, and potentially onward.

Generations of audio development are less easily trackable than those in gaming, which is more clear-cut in its platform-dependency, but I wonder if there’s a music out there that can not only glide as easily between worlds as this game does, but that does so with the sort of emotional meaning packed in here — retro Pong samples and off-the-rack vocoding do not count.

Up above are the hero at various bit levels — note that they’re not just the same drawing with higher levels of resolution. And here are two sample stages of the game, showing how color and shading are depicted:

You need to watch the video below to appreciate the fluidity with which the game addresses these generations of technology. You aren’t just playing the same video game at with varying degrees of visual sophistication; certain moves require you to consider which bit level is the best way to proceed.

 

Here are examples of four degrees of audio, as represented in the Mimeo score — a 2-bit bass line (MP3), a 4-bit hi-hat (MP3), an 8-bit melody (MP3), and a 16-bit counter melody (MP3):

[audio:http://www.shauninman.com/assets/music/mimeo/Fortress%20(2-bit%20NSF).mp3|titles=”2-bit bass”|artists=Shaun Inman] [audio:http://www.shauninman.com/assets/music/mimeo/Fortress%20(4-bit%20NSF).mp3|titles=”4-bit hi-hat”|artists=Shaun Inman] [audio:http://www.shauninman.com/assets/music/mimeo/Fortress%20(8-bit%20NSF).mp3|titles=”8-bit melody”|artists=Shaun Inman] [audio:http://www.shauninman.com/assets/music/mimeo/Fortress%20(16-bit%20NSF).mp3|titles=”16-bit counter melody”|artists=Shaun Inman]

Original video post at vimeo.com. More on the development of Mimeo at the website of its creator, Shaun Inman, who also wrote the game’s music: shauninman.com (there’s an update explaining the development slowdown). Additional game footage at youtube.com/user/shauninman. Inman is also the developer of the game Horror Vacui (apple.com, creativeapplications.net).

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