I came across a “Cycloid Polka,” composed by one Charles Kinkel and published in 1873. I was curious what it sounded like, so I ran it through my DAW. It’s a pleasant tune, but I don’t hear anything of particular mathematical interest. (It’s the computer playing in the recording, not me.)
Planning a Halloween party for the weekend, or want something to listen to while distributing candy to the little extortionists next week? Here are some tunes for you.
Laika and the Cosmonauts, “Psyko”
Fredösphere, “Abraham Lincoln Was an Invader from Space”
Yuki Kajiura, “Sis Puella Magica”
The Pretty Things, “Baron Saturday”
Hedningarna, “Räven (Fox Woman)”
Raymond Scott, “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House”
Oingo Boingo, “Pictures of You”
Don Ross, “Dracula and Friends, Part One”
The Klezmatics, “Beggar’s Dance”
Brave Combo, “People Are Strange”
Procol Harum, “Juicy John Pink”
Split Lip Rayfield, “The High Price of Necromancy”
Tonio K, “How Come I Can’t See You in My Mirror?”
Van Der Graaf Generator, “Killer”
Steeleye Span, “Elf Call”
Haystacks Balboa, “The Children of Heaven”
Oingo Boingo, “Little Guns”
Onmyouza, “Onikosae no Uta”
Procol Harum “The Devil Came from Kansas”
William Bolcom, “Poltergeist Rag”
Mayumi Kojima, “Poltergeist”
Tom Smith, “I Had a Shuggoth”
Don Ross, “Robot Monster”
Hedningarna, “Tina Vieri”
It’s a pleasant day, and I have the windows open as I listen to Beethoven piano music. The dog yapping and howling across the alley adds a certain something not entirely inappropriate to the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata.
The golden age of progressive rock began on this day in 1969 with the release of two classic albums, Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats and King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King.1
Also released on that day was the Kinks’ Arthur. It doesn’t quite qualify as “prog rock,” though it was a “concept album.”
I suppose I ought to comment about the historical significance of these works, with analysis of the musical techniques employed and explication of lyrics2, plus some personal notes…. Nah. The music speaks for itself.
Q. How many Catholics does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. (Raises hand, extending three fingers) One.
I discovered a couple of acts worth investigating at this year’s Walnut Valley Festival. Muriel Anderson, who wrangled chickens for Chet Atkins, plays a hypertrophied harp guitar that combines guitar, bass and music box into a single instrument. Feel like dancing? Can you count thirteen?
Fillyjonk triggered one of my stranger memories. A long, long time ago I spent a summer in Spain. One day my group traveled to Segovia (by bus, not dragonfly) to see the Alcázar. It was a spectacular place, everything a Spanish castle ought to be. My most vivid memory, though, is not of the Alcázar itself. I spent some time on the terrace at the top of the tower surveying the region. While I was there, someone with a tape recorder played two songs over and over, loudly. One was “American Woman,” and the other was “Spirit in the Sky.” I felt a certain slight dissonance between what I saw and what I heard.1
Charles Hill recently posted a video that purports to list fifteen albums that are in the collections of everyone who bought records back in the age of vinyl. Surprisingly, I have four — but only four, and Thriller is not among them.
I thought it might be fun to do the opposite: compile a list of LPs in my collection that almost no one else has. I’m including only albums on vinyl; if I were to include CDs and digital files, I could easily list hundreds, maybe thousands, of obscure recordings. Here are ten records, all worth hearing, that I’ve never seen in anyone else’s music library.
Rare Air, Hard to Beat
Tomorrow is World Fiddle Day, or something like that. Here’s Roger Netherton with some fiddle music.
Update: Roger’s in Japan now. Here’s a video of the old-time session last night at the Armadillo Music Bar in Nagoya. After a bit of talking, Roger starts off with three solo pieces such as he would play in a fiddle contest. Then he is joined by several other musicians for the rest of the set.
Miku may finally have competition.
The Yamaha Vocaloids, particularly Hatsune Miku and her colleagues at Crypton, have been the gold standard in synthesized vocals for over a decade. None of the alternatives I’ve looked at combine musicality and intelligibility as well. 1
That may change soon. I just stumbled across the Emvoice One beta and gave it a try. Its capabilities are limited — it doesn’t receive MIDI data yet, all note entry and editing must be done by clicking on a piano-roll, and the one available voice, “Lucy,” is not particularly melodious — but it already sounds more musical and enunciates more clearly than Plogue’s Alter/Ego. Here’s a quick five bars of Lucy with a bit of compression and reverb.
This might be worth keeping track of.
By the way, if you use Alter/Ego, the “NATA” voicebank is now free for the downloading.
Today is Tartan Day in North America. (In Australia, it’s July 1.) Here’s a medley of melodies that were once Scottish: “The Piper’s Weird,” “Bonnie Thackit Hoosie,” “Marnock’s Strathspey” and “Mackenzie Highlanders.” I don’t have a good set of bagpipes on my computer, so I had to make do with other virtual instruments. That may or may not disappoint you. The first two tunes are from James Scott Skinner’s collection The Harp and Claymore. Skinner uses “weird” here in the sense of “destiny” or “fate,” though the more common meaning may also apply.
Dick Dale, the king of the surf guitar, died Saturday at the age of 81. I discovered his music late, when I listened to his comeback CD Tribal Thunder out of curiosity. Ever since then his spring reverb-infused twang has featured regularly in the various playlists I put together.
Dale never hit the top 40. His biggest hit, “Let’s Go Trippin’,” only went as high as #60 on the charts fifty-eight years ago. So what? Quality is at best weakly correlated with popularity.1
His signature tune was the eastern Mediterranean tune “Miserlou.”
Dale often did covers of other people’s music. When he performed them, they became Dick Dale songs, no matter who wrote them. The following were once Link Wray and Johnny Cash tunes.
The one memorable part of the otherwise disappointing series Ghost Hound1 was the opening theme, Mayumi Kojima’s “Poltergeist.” It immediately became one of my favorites. I don’t understand a word Kojima sings, but I don’t need to; the music tells me all I need to know.2 I recently came across a video of the song with the lyrics translated. Does knowing what the words mean add to (or subtract from) the value of the song? In this case, I don’t think it makes any difference. Judge for yourself.
If you want to hear more of Kojima, you face a challenge. Aside from “Poltergeist,” none of her most listenable songs are on YouTube. Your best bet probably is to locate a copy of A Musical Biography, a best-of compilation.
I tracked down a couple of tunes mentioned in an episode of Hozuki no Reitetsu. Yutaka Ozaki’s “15 no Yoru” is probably best appreciated by adolescent drama queens, but the other, “Giza Giza Heart no Komoriuta,” by the Checkers, is not bad at all. (Epileptics beware: jerky video.)
A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I received Malcolm Hamilton’s recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a Christmas present. I discovered a few days ago that most of the six-record set is now available as free downloads. The sound is very good for being digitized from vinyl. I can’t give the set an unreserved recommendation, though. At least two of the prelude and fugue pairs are missing, and there are occasional skips — true to vinyl, perhaps, but annoying. Still, the performances are good and the price is right. You can also listen to them on YouTube.3
If you prefer piano to harpsichord, Kimiko Ishizaka has released Book I of the WTC, completely free of any copyright and downloadable for any price you care to pay (including $0 if you’re a cheapskate).
And now for something completely different: Jordan Peterson, performing with the Muppets.
I’ve been playing around with an old fiddle tune dating back to the interrupted presidency of James Garfield, “Democratic Rage.” Except for the piano and percussion, all the sounds are the u-he Diva.1
Here’s another batch of quickie tune arrangements using the Arturia V Collection synths. As before, every sound in each is made with the named synthesizer emulation, though there may be some occasional manipulation with equalization, compression and delay. “Captain Sudley” is a Carolan tune; the others are traditional.
“The Dashing White Sergeant,” Matrix 12
“Captain Sudley,” Solina
“Tulloch Castle,” Fairlight CMI
“Lai,” ARP 2600
Bonus: “Captain Sudley” on the B3 emulation.
Trivia: the ARP 2600 was the voice of R2-D2.
Along with the earlier batch, I’ve now made inexpert use of half of the Arturia collection. With a few exceptions, the remaining keyboards are of less interest to me. While I can always use a good, accurate grand piano, electric pianos have never appealed to me, and transistor organs sound cheap.
Working with these new toys confirmed a couple of observations.
1. After a while, all subtractive synths start to sound the same. Someone with a good ear might be able to tell a hardware ARP from a Moog on a recording, but once you’re using computer emulations, with all the electronic and mechanical quirks cleaned up, one sawtooth wave sounds much like another.
2. The more novel the sound, the harder it is to use. In a piece with many voices, the plainest patches work best. The Buchla Easel is an amazing noisemaker, but I doubt that I’ll ever use it much.
I spent much of the weekend playing with my new toys, emulations of “classic” synths in Arturia’s V Collection. Some of them are very complicated and will take a while to figure out. To get an idea of what each is like, I’ve been assembling quick arrangements of various tunes from my big page of MIDI files. Here are some of the results. Every sound in each is from the named synth (with one exception, as noted)
“The Scolding Wives of Abertarff,” Buchla Easel (and an instance of Arturia’s Piano)
“Oaken Leaves,” Yamaha DX7
Generic bourrée, Moog Modular
A bit of ancient Marxist humor:
This was a skit from the 1924 I’ll Say She Is, re-enacted in 1931 when moving pictures finally had sound.
A bit of musical history:
Jean-Jaques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley recorded what was probably the first electronic music intended for popular audiences. Their first album featured Perrey’s Ondioline, a forerunner of the Moogs and Arps to come, plus tape loops with funny noises. In the musical demonstration during the second half of the video, note how Perrey wiggles the keyboard side to side to obtain a vibrato.
I stumbled across the Perrey video while looking for the episode of To Tell the Truth in which the panelists try to identify the real Robert Moog.1 Perrey and Kingsley used Moog’s modular synthesizer on the second album, over a year before Switched-on Bach. The music from the two Perrey-Kingsley albums is collected here. It may be cheesy, but it’s cheese of high quality. If you’ve been to Disneyland, you may have heard one of their tunes.
Pop quiz: Who said this about what?
Primitive music with all modern conveniences
How about The Lightning Fingers of Roy Clark? Clark may have had the persona of a hayseed clown, but he could play guitar. Here’s a sample:
It’s not as easy as it looks. If you have any interest in guitar music, you need Roy Clark in your library.
Back in ancient times, synthesizers such as those played by W.W. Carlos and Keith Emerson were assembled from various single-purpose modules, linked together by a multitude of short cables. To change the sound, the musician rearranged the cables and fiddled with the controls on the modules. It was laborious, but with perseverance you could make something like Switched-on Bach or Tarkus. Eventually these modular monsters were replaced by compact synths with fixed architectures, which were easier to program and to transport. Later ones added polyphony and memory for patches, so the musician could play chords and recreate sounds instantly.
Although many of the later synths were immensely useful and desirable, none ever sounded quite like their forebears. Emerson’s modular Moog in particular was legendary. During the past 20 years or so, there’s been increasing interest in modular systems. Notably, the Doepfer “Eurorack” format has become prevalent in certain parts of the electronic music world. A musician can buy whatever modules he wants from a variety of manufacturers and combine them as he pleases. Unfortunately, purchasing modules gets expensive.
However, if you have a reasonably powerful computer, you can run the VCV Rack, a virtual Eurorack. The basic rack, including all you need to make funny noises, is free, and there are many more modules you can download to play with once you get the hang of it, most of which are also free. It’s available here.
I spent several recent lunch hours fiddling with the VCV Rack, and a couple of things quickly became apparent. First, it’s not easy to get an interesting sound out of it. The early synthesists had to work hard to make their music sound good.
Second, videos are the worst way to teach anything. There’s very little text documentation for the rack, so I sat through a number of videos explaining the basics. Good grief, they’re such a waste of time. In principle, videos should be perfect for this job — you can see the connections being made and hear the sounds that result. In practice, you get a guy rambling for half an hour trying to explain something that could have easily been summarized in three minutes. Advice to anyone making an instructional video: before you plug in your microphone, make a detailed written outline of what you want to cover. Better yet, write out what you want to say and skip the video entirely.
Charles G. Hill brings tidings from Japan of a man who “married” a holographic representation of the vocal synthesizer “Hatsune Miku.” Hill linked to a video featuring Miku’s voice which is apparently extremely popular but which doesn’t show what the software is capable of. Here are a couple that better illustrate how a pathetic dweeb could become fixated on the computer-generated image of an anime-style girl: Miku in concert; Miku on a desktop.
Vocal synthesizers, of which Vocaloids are the most successful, occasionally come in handy for those of us with lousy voices. I’ve made use of Miku myself. Others include Plogue’s Alter/Ego and Chipspeech, and Wolfgang Palm’s Phonem.
Francis W. Porretto wonders if anyone remembers Vaughn Meader and David Frye now that their targets are gone. The First Family was before my time, but I do remember hearing one particular skit by Frye frequently at the left end of the FM dial.
It’s been scientifically established that nearly any pop song can be improved by remaking it as a polka or surf tune. In a similar vein, J Greely recently wished that the cast of Dr. Who had turned a recent episode into a Bollywood musical. I haven’t seen that episode so I can’t say for certain, but I expect that would indeed have been an improvement. I suspect, in fact, that most television shows would benefit from being transformed into Bollywood musicals. (Just wondering: are there any Bollywood musical production numbers featuring surf guitar?)
This is terribly unfair, I know, but Cardinal DiNardo in the picture above looks very much like how I visualize Wormtongue when I read The Lord of the Rings.