Category Archives: Music

KISS in M.I.A. Sample

Matangi & KISS’ Heaven’s On Fire on New Album

Listen to the first 5 seconds of both of these songs…

“Matangi” by M.I.A., 2013

“Heaven’s On Fire” by KISS, 1984

Cool, huh? Share this on Twitter!

What do you think? Ever recognized a sample? Are you a KISS or M.I.A. fan? Let us hear from you in the comments.

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin: A Review

Note: The folks from Grammarly graciously offered to sponsor this post. I use Grammarly for proofreading online because it can free up more brain power for enjoying music.

Music is everywhere, especially when it has to do with our emotions. Music has the power to move us, physically and spiritually. It is familiarity and exploration simultaneously drawing from experience, atmosphere and energy… spatial points of reference blending in sound.

This is Your Brain on MusicI discovered this book while browsing Audible randomly for something interesting a few weeks back, and I’m glad I did. I found it to be entertaining, well-articulated and just technical enough to make solid points but not so much that I became lost in scientific mumbo jumbo. The author, Daniel J. Levitin states:

“This book is about the science of music from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience – the field that is at the intersection of psychology and neurology.”

Levitin is an experienced producer and studio engineer, who came by his musical appreciation honestly – his father offered to finance a set of headphones as long as the young author promised to use them whenever his dad was home. Sounds like good parenting to me.

Levitin later went on to become a bona-fide brain researcher and Ph.D., incorporating his musical background. This qualifies him to explore what’s happening with the brain in relation to music.

Consider how something as instinctive as “groove” works. Levitin notes: “when we talk about a ‘great groove’ in music… we’re talking about the way in which beat divisions create a strong momentum. ‘Groove’ is that quality that moves the song forward. When the song has a good groove, it invites us into a sonic world we don’t want to leave.”

That’s a pretty darned good description of groove, right there.

Beats and melodies, grooves and lyrics, disconnected ideas forging a shared energy… what happens with music is happening in our brains. So many areas of our consciousness activate together in a musical experience – like performance and interpretation happening at once. I’ve long believed music is the most powerful art form.

The book explores some of the author’s own, and other recent studies conducted on music, musical meaning, and musical pleasure, along with what’s happening in the brain in relation to music, from many perspectives – biological, physical, anthropological, and others.

“Music listening, performance and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.”

This makes a ton of sense to me, since so many, many hours of my youth were spent listening intently to music closely, over and over, concentrating on untangling its secrets into something I could tap into and impart to others through a shared experience. It’s a beautiful thing, and this book illustrates some of the biological mechanisms that enable such magic. As a self-taught musician, I found it fascinating to consider all this from a physiological and evolutionary point of view.

Above: interview w/ Daniel Levitin on The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Levitin notes that “music is unusual among all human activities, for both its ubiquity and its antiquity.” I agree that there’s something primal about music, something as elemental as the air we breathe, as visceral as any vibration. Like the rhythms of a wind rustling leaves, hoofbeats on a plain, or a brook cascading among the echoes of a forest. It makes sense of the world through organization of energy, with the power to send us elsewhere and take us back home in our minds, something that has been happening since humans first started drumming on logs around a fire, continuing to this day in new and exciting forms.

“As our brains have evolved, so has the music we make with them, and the music we want to hear.”

Just think of a song you know, one that makes you tap your foot to the beat or sing along – maybe just the first melody that pops into your mind, maybe something you heard on the radio on the way to work… in a commercial… in college… last weekend at a friend’s house… years ago when you were just beginning to understand the world, or maybe love — what is that sound? It’s living in your brain right now and likely will be for a long time to come. This book can offer a new appreciation for that kind of art.

Update: author comments & recommendation!

What do you think? Have you ever considered how music affects the brain? What do you consider an example of a song that takes you to a certain place? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Russian Meteorite Aftermath Video

I don’t see what all the hubbub over the latest meteor in Russia is all about. I mean, based on this documentary of what happened with the Tunguska meteor event in the early 1900s, clearly the proper authorities are on top of things. This film happens to be set to the music of Metallica, but there are subtitles, so feel free to watch with the sound lowered if this type of music isn’t your fare.

And here’s another Russian meteor video featuring the music of Leona Lewis. No word from scientists yet as to whether the music triggered this most recent event as some type of wrath from the heavens.

What do you think? Ever seen a meteor streak across the sky? Anything to be concerned about here? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Photek’s KU: PALM Embraces Past, Present, Future

In his first full-length album of new material in a decade, KU: PALM, the electronica artist Photek delivers hints of the past, crafted in the present, with a look to the future.

KU: PALM by Photek

I recently had the opportunity to review KU: PALM and as electronica/dance goes, am pleasantly surprised. This isn’t a record that blew me away after first hearing it, but that’s because the depth is in the details, something that only comes with repeated listens — preferably at very loud volume.

I’ve long been a fan of Photek’s stuff. I got into Modus Operandi about the time I was discovering Massive Attack (Mezzanine is in my top 5 all-time favorite records) in the late ’90s. The textures and beats in tracks like “Axiom” and the forward-moving groove of “The Fifth Column” got me interested, and I’ve been into Photek ever since. Here in KU: PALM, I especially dig new elements like the Eastern-ish themes in “Pyramid.”

Whereas the following track, “Shape Charge” is exactly what I’m talking about when referencing the past and future. It holds up against anything from Modus Operandi, but the production is super-clean and razor sharp for 2012, even with a hint of dubstep wobble. But not too much.

The Phuture

That’s what I mean about an eye toward the future — there’s no telling where dubstep will fall in the electronica pantheon, but to have some of it worked in here for color is totally appropriate. That’s something I’d expect from an artist with a track record like Photek. Check it out yourself over at AllMusic or download a copy at the Photek site.

What do you think? Have you discovered any good records lately? Do you still listen to music you were getting into 15 years ago? Let us hear from you in the comments.

8Tracks: Music Curated

8tracks - handcrafted internet radio

8tracks: handcrafted internet radio. Their apps are pretty cool, too.

I’ve become fascinated with the playlist curation site, 8tracks. It allows users to upload songs from their personal libraries as playlists with tags and cover art, then share, browse and comment on playlists of other members. All for free. Think of it as cloud-based mixtapes with social functionality included (comments, tags, profiles, etc.).

I’d been a casual listener of the site for a while (and similar sites like Pandora), but only when hosting an ’80s-themed party recently did I fully get into the full 8tracks experience.

The two above were the perfect soundtracks. Turns out there are scores of ’80s playlists already hand-picked and battle-tested by folks who care enough to share them with the world. And now I’m making my own playlists.

My 8tracks playlists: singles, covers, guitars…

It’s been fun for me to see who likes these and then to check out their playlists myself. As a person who enjoys discovering new music perfectly suited to my tastes, this is rather exciting, as I now have several promising playlists to explore. Heck, TIME magazine even named 8tracks the best site of 2011. If you’re into discovering and sharing music, you should definitely give 8tracks a try.

What do you think? Have you ever used 8tracks? Is there a similar music discovery site that you recommend? Let us hear from you in the comments.

My Best Concert Ever: Bauhaus

The best concert I’ve ever seen was Bauhaus at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. [setlist] [discussion] I’ve always been a big fan of their music, yet they broke up long before I was old enough to go to concerts. So I only had references from others’ experiences, and the occasional glimpse of a video to experience anything resembling a performance.

Note: although embedding has been disabled by request on all these videos, they still play at YouTube and are definitely worth checking out. Just click that “Watch on YouTube” link.

Going to see the band after they’d reunited was not just a personal thrill, but the show itself was absolutely phenomenal. Their performance was right on, and Peter Murphy‘s remarkable voice only seemed to have gotten better with time. The lighting and set design were breathtaking, yet intimate and appropriate for this band and their dramatic aesthetic.

Bauhaus In Concert = Chills

It gives me chills just to think about it now, and I still have frozen in my brain, and probably will forever, images of every song as they came to life before my eyes – these pieces of music which we’re so compelling-yet-mysterious now happening in front of me and a room full of 1000 people. The experience was an electric, hair-raising religious one.

I was never a totally goth kid growing up, although I did appreciate the music and style. I was more into metal and punk than new wave or alternative when my musical tastes were forming, but I’ve always appreciated many types of music. The unifying factors I do appreciate most, however, are creativity, skill at craft, and overall dedication, all of which Bauhaus and my other favorite bands have in abundance.

What is your best concert ever? Is there a band you would like to see but haven’t yet, or may never get to see? What would be your fantasy best concert? Let us hear from you in the comments.

Interview with MelodySheep and Symphony of Science Mastermind John Boswell

MelodySheep autotune creator John Boswell’s musical magic: Bruce Lee, Bob Ross, Mr. Rogers & More

John Boswell

John Boswell, aka MelodySheep, aka Symphony of Science

To say John Boswell grows ideas in the garden of his mind is at once an understatement and yet highly appropriate. As you may have seen on CNN, Forbes, NPR, or especially YouTube, Boswell creates infectiously catchy pop songs from such unlikely sources as Julia Child, Billy Mays and  Yoda – all through the magic of autotune technology and his incredible talent for musical montage.

The results are simultaneously hilarious, touching and highly enjoyable, as evidenced by the millions of views his videos have been racking up lately. I recently asked Boswell a few questions about his process, and his responses follow. Do yourself a favor and check out his full catalog, available for download at MelodySheep.BandCamp.com.

rsmithing: How did you get started in music, and what instruments do you play?
John Boswell: I started off as a keyboardist and turntablist for a metal band in high school – definitely an unorthodox way to begin, but I learned basic music theory and how to combine different elements of music, both of which paved the way for the work I do today. I play mostly piano and guitar but dabble in a handful of other instruments, like mandolin and accordion.

rs: Have any of the subjects of your videos seen them, and what have their reactions been?
jb: A few of the figures I have used in my videos have been in touch with me, and their reactions have been entirely positive. I think what I am doing can be considered a mostly positive endeavor to begin with, and it’s always fun to see yourself given the remix treatment.

rs: What’s been your favorite composition so far?
jb: It’s hard to pick a favorite piece of my own, but the Ode to the Brain video is definitely near the top. It was a blast to make and I learned so many things in the process, which is always a plus. The music came together really well too, which gave it all the right ingredients for a solid video.

rs: Happy Little Clouds got a million views in one weekend. What’s it like to get so much attention so fast?
jb: It’s always great to get the sort of recognition that the Bob Ross video got, and I always appreciate the comments coming in and love hearing people’s reactions. Attention spans on the Internet are very short though, so once one big thing is happening it’s crucial to think about what is going to be next and how it can be different and better.

rs: Which composition has been the most challenging?
jb: The most challenging video thus far was most likely the Bob Ross remix. His quiet voice and tendency to mumble, combined with the constant sound of his brush on the canvas, made it hard to isolate good vocal samples. Luckily he was philosophical enough to provide enough clean quotes to use in the song.

rs: Why did you go with a pay-what-you-like model, and how’s that going for you?
jb: I believe music should be available free to those who want to listen but cannot afford. There is still enough generosity in this world to make pay-what-you-want worth it to artists, although there has to be a critical mass. Anybody who works hard enough can reach that point, as I have demonstrated.

A big thank you to John Boswell for answering my questions. Check out his stuff here:

What’s your favorite autotune mix? Who would you suggest for John’s next project? Let us hear from you in the comments!