When I was in Mexico recently, I gave a lecture-demo on how one might express ideas about music through music. (Readers of this blog will be familiar with these approaches, especially via my excursions in riddim meth0dism.) Although I want to keep the concept as open as possible, believing there are myriad ways to do so, in my presentation I explored two principal methods: the mashup and the mix.
With regard to mashups, I talked about two different sorts of uses, which I termed the “analytical” and the “aesthetic” (even though the whole point of music-about-music is that the aesthetic and analytical modes merge). Essentially, I was trying to draw a distinction between using mashups — i.e., the vertical / simultaneous juxtapositions of two or more tracks — to 1) demonstrate certain correspondences between recordings; and 2) embody a kind of “poetic justice,” a critique of the relations between two or more works that one can attempt to encode by choosing to “discipline” or “subordinate” one track to another (whether in terms of form, pitch, tempo, or the like). These lines really do blur, inevitably even, though certain examples I offered were rather cut’n’dry and could prolly safely be consigned to category #1.
I played a bunch of mixes and mashes from the W&W oeuvre, but I also tried my hand at making one on the spot. And I’d like to share that one here (especially since one of the mashees, Vijay Iyer, saw my tweet about it and told me he’d like to hear it).
Although mashing up Vijay’s version of “Galang” with the MIA original doesn’t really offer much opportunity for much in the way of ethico-aesthetic statements (unlike otherexamples), it does offer a pretty classic case where the simple act of juxtaposition brings out some interesting points of coincidence and departure. Before I tell you more, let’s let the sound speak for itself –
I’m not sure what emerges as you listen to and/or watch this yourself, but one thing that you’ll hear&see if you try again is that I’ve only made two small cuts to the MIA track, suggesting that there is a great deal of correspondence between the two. In the process of lining these up, I learned — after noting that Iyer & co. remain faithful to basic issues of key and tempo — that the trio skips 14 bars at one point, at the 33rd measure to be exact (i.e., after two clean 16-bar “choruses,” in jazzspeak), bringing it back for one more trip through the refrain before getting to that ya-ya-hey-ya-ya-ho part at the end (which, interestingly and mercifully, they riff on for 4 fewer measures than she). Deciding to cut here rather than extend, I followed Vijay’s lead and snipped those 18 total measures from the MIA track, which brought them right in line. I like how the mash brings out the ways that the trio traces and accentuates MIA’s vocal lines (and driving, angular accompaniment) while, at other times, departing in some fanciful ways, as Vijay takes off on some small spiky solos. I also quite like the resulting chaos and density, matching key for keyb.
While I was in the process of getting back into the cover-song mashing practice, I decided to do one more (now back at home, not on-stage in Mexico). I’ve really had Nina Sky’s refresh of the Cure’s “Lovesong” in my head for the past few weeks, so I figured I’d whip up a little tribute in the form of a “duet.”
Notably, as with the Galangs above, I didn’t have to alter pitch or tempo in either case here, showing the new version to be faithful to the original in its basic parameters (and making it easy on me). Once again, though, there were some small differences in form that I had to reconcile, and it’s always hard to perform such nips and tucks without thinking about the act and what it effects, symbolically speaking. (This is where aesthetics and analysis necessarily intersect.) Why should I favor this one over that? Is there a poetics here that might guide this choice? Does the sonically “right” choice imply an aesthetic position, or suggest a poetics, that I hadn’t myself premeditated? What’s the best choice in terms of both sonic and symbolic outcome?
In the end I decided to compromise. Rather than totally warping one to work to the other, they take turns leading the way. Because the Nina Sky version features a far briefer intro (2 measures vs. 8) — & such a lovely vintage drum machine loop — and I didn’t want to start right in with any incisions, I decided to loop it (and make it loud enough to compete with a rock band) until they were ready to sing together. From there, as you’ll see, I’m pretty hands-off. I make only two small cuts to the Cure version, excising the guitar solo (yeah, yeah) and inserting a brief pause after measure 45 in order to match the newer version’s terser form and awesome little breakdown. In general, I also have the Nina Sky version a bit louder in the mix so that we get more contemporary bump than 80s midrange grind. Any rockist lawyers out there can sue me. We neither cease nor desist, yo –
In Mexico I demonstrated less in the way of mixes, though I did do a brief rundown of the Zunguzung meme, zipping through 20 or so examples at a rapid clip. And I discussed a few organizing themes I’ve employed in my more “lessony” mixes, such as pursuing particular rhythmic threads or vocal lines, though I neglected to mention (doh!) the two swipes I’ve taken at my home soundscape, the Boston Mashacre and Smashacre. I also overlooked a great number of stellar efforts by other folk which do exactly the thing I’m talking about — i.e., the forms and contents of the mixes themselves, without requiring additional explication, possess the power to represent some rather interesting things about music, sound, and the relationships between particular works.
There are a growing number of these and, indeed, already a rather massive number that might be counted. Plenty have been mentioned on this blog before. We might think of Dr. Auratheft‘s suggestive series, devoted to everything from fairly straightforward collections (“Calypso War Songs”) to philosophically provocative assemblages (“Post-European Dialogues in Sound”). Or El Niño’s recent Reggaespañol mix or John Eden’s Boops Specialist compendium. Or attempts to gesture at the range of global hip-hop, world house, Indian house, or — one of the all-time greats of the meta-genre — the history of English MCs. Or take the (not one but) two vocoder mixes that have emerged alongside Dave Tompkins’s magisterial vocoder opus; notably, they need not be taken as supplements but as sonic (non?)fictions of their own.
But my favorite example in recent months — maybe of the year — has to be Nguzunguzu’s Moments in Love. I sorta slept on it for a while, but I’ve been listening to it weekly just about all summer and it’s just so good. There’s something really deep about those Art of Noise synth stabs, and their hauntingly simple melody, that makes me happy to hear them over and over again. But it’s also the engrossing, downright amazing way that one hears the riff take on new life, rising and falling across the various permutations and recontextualizations that Nguzunguzu string together. Beyond anything else, I love how this mix demonstrates the utter pliability — and yet resilience — of one little riff, weaving it through all kinds of club music, hip-hop, r&b, cumbia, you-name-it. It’s an audible trip through the remix age. Bravísimo!
The first few times I listened, I almost couldn’t believe that the riff had been repurposed by such an incredibly wide range of producers. Indeed, I started to suspect that Nguzunguzu must be mucking around a little, throwing the riff in at times in order to keep the flow going and not caring too much about playing with the musical-historical record. Now, even though that might not be quite as “cool” as if all the tracks actually contained the riff, I wouldn’t really have minded at all. No need to be too strict about this stuff. It is music after all, which is to say, at least in this case, art (& craft). And I’m happy to grant Daniel & Asma all the poetic license in the world. It would make the mix no less enjoyable, IMO. And that’s an important dimension of musically-expressed-ideas-about-music: they need not be held to (and indeed intrinsically resist) the same standards of comprehensiveness or authority or transparency that we expect from, say, academic or even journalistic writing; rather, such creations offer gestural and sometimes personal engagements with some musical or sonic subject. That is all. From there, feel free to entrain and entertain me. Edification is a bonus.
Anyway, I had to get to the bottom of what was happening in the “edits” noted in the tracklist. Turns out, rather than superimposing the riff, Nguzunguzu were doing the exact opposite: adding drum tracks to beatless versions of the Art of Noise song! Tres cool. Via email –
Actually yes, there are two instances that “mash-up” an awesome drum beat with an already made remix of art of noise.
LIke many classical musicians would remake moments in love with a whole orchestra or bells, and we would find these recordings and put
them to a dance break as with:
MACHETE MOMENTS: ERIDSON VS. LUCIFER (NGUZU EDIT)
ART IN MOMENTS: DJ QUEST VS. LIEBRAND (NGUZU EDIT)
(Lucifer and Liebrand made the more ambient/ classical renditions)
hope that helps, and we would be delighted for you to post about it,
im glad to hear people are still listening to it!
We are always finding new remixes and are thinking of making a vol. 2
of moments in love mixtape! there are just so many!
I for one would welcome that!
I’d also like to hear a Vijay Iyer Trio version of the whole damn thing ;)
Keep on, all — and do send any worthy contenders my way.
[Here's another repost for the archives. These are by no means my most accomplished etudes in this vein, but I think they suggest some fun and useful possibilities, especially for pedagogy. As usual, I've updated some links below. This was originally published way back on 17 February 2006.]
in my class on electronic music, i generally use ableton live to play through – and more importantly, to play with or manipulate – the various musical examples for each week. sometimes i simply like the way live allows me to zoom in and out of a musical example with ease, focusing in on particular moments or sections. sometimes i use live to loop a particular section in order to examine it more closely. and sometimes i use live to tweak the selections in some way or another, which can range from simple to more radical transformations.
often, as with my mashes of cover songs, i juxtapose two (or more) tracks with each other in order to draw out relationships and highlight connections as well as divergences.
one such mix that i created for a recent class was a version of bob marley’s “concrete jungle” that segued back and forth between the “released” and “unreleased” versions (as collected on the catch a fire reissue “deluxe edition”).
as you can see from squiggly red line in the picture above, i generally go slowly back and forth between the two versions (every couple of bars or so, at least until the end), in order to draw out the comparison. it really is remarkable how different the two versions sound, especially right next to each other. in contrast to the kingston version’s acoustic guitar and heavy low-end (on bob’s voice and the rest), the london version adds some flashy rock instrumentation and filters bob’s voice to leave only the high-mid range. the filtering of the voice seems to odd to me, since the original has such presence, but i suppose the decision was made to keep the song’s frequencies relatively unmuddled and to create a greater degree of instrument/voice separation. not sure it’s a money move, though. (ok, actually it was a money move, so what do i know.)
perhaps even more telling is that bob’s third verse – which, in classic reggae style repeats the first – was excised for wayne perkins‘s clapton-esque guitar solo wankery. sure, it’s a wicked solo by pop-rock standards, dripping with the southern style perkins was known for, but i prefer to hear it mixed under bob’s voice. at any rate, i play with the panning/crossfader a lot here, and the ultimate goal is not so much about creating something aesthetically more pleasing but simply to draw our attention to the songs’ differences. (btw, i think this also reveals that, despite the lore around blackwell’s remixes, the “officially released” version includes a different vocal take than the original – though, yes, it’s still highly filtered/EQ’d.)
another example of this sort of approach can be heard in my attempts to draw out the ska-like rhythms that emerge at various points in steve reich’s “it’s gonna rain” – a classic tape-piece and one of the first shots in the phase-process approach of the minimalist movement. one of the great things about the piece is how it subtly shifts accents, creating various “aural illusions” (as ethnomusicologists often call them, especially with reference to such traditions as shona mbira music or ewe agbekor), as we tend to hear different collections of strong and weak beats and thus impose various patterns on the sounds. this can be a difficult thing to demonstrate to a class as it largely involves one’s own perception and imagination rather than something objectively observable in the music itself.
i wanted to provide a bit of a suggestive hearing of the reich piece by showing how at certain times one could hear ska-like patterns of alternating downbeats/upbeats in the phased-out vocalizing of reich’s preacherman. in order to do so, i looped a couple of these moments and then mixed them with a segment from prince busta’s ska classic, “al capone.”
funny sounding? yes. and, i’d say, definitely no improvement on either of the originals. but that’s not the point here. again, i’m simply seeking to demonstrate some musical relationships through the wonderful possibilities of mixing and mashing and tweaking and looping.
finally, i present you with a “standalone” version of my mix’n’mash of jazz pianist jason moran’s “planet rock” with the original as performed by afrika bambaataa and the soul sonic force (w/ the assistance of production/keyboard wizard arthur baker). after i saw that rio rocket posted a follow up on moran/bam, i decided it would be worthwhile to show how much the two versions actually correspond/diverge outside the context of a mix.
originally, i thought that i might perform a few additional edits on the piece to better “line them up” and show how amazingly accurate moran’s interpretation is. but then i noticed that not only are the two tracks almost exactly the same length (bearing in mind that this is a shortened version of the original) but by juxtaposing them largely unchanged it really serves to highlight moran’s distinctive touches. rather than having the two play in unison on later verses/sections, i prefer the way they seem to anticipate and echo each other. and once moran begins soloing on the materials, i like how the combination brings out the out-ness of moran’s homage.
I’m happy to report that tomorrow today I’m headed to Mexico City yet again. At this rate, I’ve been telling people, I expect to be relocating there permanently sometime in mid-October. I joke, but I do feel like the place keeps calling me.
Si escribir sobre música es, como algunos han propuesto, el equivalente a bailar acerca de la arquitectura, tal vez “musicar” sobre la música ofrece una manera más directa de contar historias, definir relaciones, y enfocarse en características particulares. Incluso si no es exactamente más directo, tal enfoque ofrece modos ricos y evocadores de análisis y comunicación sobre música. Desde el mashup a la mezcla, el software contemporáneo de audio permite plantear preguntas sobre las obras musicales a través de la yuxtaposición vertical y horizontal, mientras que un procedimiento tan simple como la disminuir la velocidad de algo puede ofrecer inimaginables formas de escuchar y entender. En esta conferencia-demostración se ofrecen algunas técnicas y ejemplos del uso de software de producción digital para contar historias sobre la música y la cultura.
I want to thank Eric Gamboa (aka Elebleu) for extending the invitation. Along with Majadero (aka Lauro Robles), who knows the form (and has been ustreaming it up), we’ve been plotting to perhaps do another little session at some point in the next few days — more like a live mashup clustermix than anything vaguely academic.
When I was last in town I had the pleasure of sharing a bill with Majadero, the first guy I’ve seen wield an iPad in the DJ booth. What was wild was that this was the second time I’d shared a bill with him (the time before was last November). What was crazier still was that I realized back in November, while talking to him, that I had been playing his&crew’s leftfield dub tracks in my Beat Research sets for a couple years already (having stumbled upon them looking for “Mexican dubstep” or something like that). All of these encounters happened independent of Lauro and I ever being directly in touch. Mexico City is a huge place, but it sure can feel like a small world sometimes.
Also, apropos of nothing but my own vanity, I want to take the opportunity to thank Eric again, a bit belatedly, for taking some of the coolest photos of me, like, ever.
I was surprised and delighted to learn last week (h/t Rizzla) that everyone’s favorite pair of singing Boricuas from Queens, Nina Sky, have released a handful of new tracks, all for free DL (long as you give them your email address, which, in this case, seems a fair exchange). Apparently, the release comes in response to finally getting out of their contract with a label that was simply sitting on their work. Adoring fans should obv let Nicole and Natalie know how much we appreciate.
The first three tracks of the EP are a really strong start. They manage to sound new and unlike much else right now, even while incorporating cherished breakbeats and hints of hip-house (funk dat!). But while they synthesize so many currents in pop, r&b, and club music — and the EP is even tagged, hilariously, with “happy hardcore” — what I really hear running through this, and through Nina Sky’s whole oeuvre, is the spirit of freestyle, which these girls are keeping alive and, oddly enough, autotuned! (I love the stuttered vocals on the title track, which really do seem like a nod to classic freestyle freakiness.) Above all, they sound like they’re having fun, all up in the mix and loving it.
For me, the EP sorta goes awry when it starts to sound like Madonna trying to sound like Kylie Minogue. These girls should stick to their “happy” “hardcore” New York dance steez, all sorts of syncopated synth-stabs and popping percussion — and forget about trancey arpeggio presets. Anyway, as a saving grace of sorts, the second half of the EP does feature this gem, a cover of the Cure’s “Lovesong” that is equal parts Ace of Bass and Lil Jon, none of which am I mad at.
In my best Sagat voice: Why is it that you haven’t downloaded this yet? Funk dat! Fix dat.
ps — after hitting the publish button, I ran across this new Q&A, which confirms what I was hearing –
The EP is definitely influenced by freestyle music. What are your favorite freestyle tracks?
Natalie: “I Wonder If I Take You Home” by Lisa Lisa. I love that song. It reminds me of being young and hanging out with my friends. We used to listen to mad freestyle music.
Nicole: I think mine would be “Let the Beat Hit ‘Em” by Lisa Lisa because it’s a freestyle song with more of a house feel. My mom used to play Lisa Lisa so much when we were growing up.
Ayobaness! continues a line of releases from Outhere portraying African popular music that is, you know, actually popular (not just what might best fit outsiders’ expectations of African difference).
That teensy critique joins an ongoingattempt at course correction for the representation of African music (and by extension, Africa), especially when the enterprise is led by European and American middlemen.
It’s an important discursive battle — whether waged by bloggers or ethnomusicologists, &c. — but efforts like Outhere’s are, I suspect, ultimately more influential in terms of shaping people’s ideas about African difference, and sameness. I could talk at you for days about how not to think about Africa, but you’d just have to take my word for it. Better to hear and see for yourself.
Which is why I’d like to herald another important, awesome, intervening effort in this vein: the upcoming release (Aug 24) via Dutty Artz, curated by DJ Rupture, of a 17-track album by Ivorian crew CIAfrica –
Here’s a brief, semi-snarky run-down from the Dutty Crew:
Ivory Coast vocalists spit soul over futuristic beats that draw on dubstep and electro. This is forward-looking rap/dancehall/r&b for those who get bored listening to all that black-and-happy African music.
It’s true: when lots of folks think about African music, they think: “it’s dancey, it’s happy, nice melodies, very uplifting” or maybe they think about kuduro remixes or “hybridity”. But CIAfrica are abrasive, synthetic, angular, non-dancey lyric-driven music. Urban. Stubborn. Proudly themselves. Religious, sometimes.
Continuing my tradition of posting “director’s cut” versions of the reviews I freelance from time to time, here’s the latest: a review of a recent compilation from Germany’s Outhere records, Ayobaness!, which showcases the rich, vibrant South African house scene. This one was an interesting endeavor, as my editor, Derek, pushed me to foreground a discussion of the sound (understandably) while I was, as usual, a little more interested in the narrative framework (as offered by the compilers, and beyond). Both aspects are, IMO, crucial to how listeners and practitioners make meaning from these recordings, but short reviews don’t always permit an equal engagement with both. The “director’s cut” below contains two extra paragraphs that couldn’t make the cut for the print edition.
You can preview tracks, place an order, and watch some awesome videos over at Outhere Records.
Various Artists Ayobaness! The Sound of South African House
House music’s big tent contains multitudes. And South Africans are no strangers to the show. An early local love of house, from about the same time the UK was embracing and reworking Chicago’s jacked-up disco-tech, famously paved the way for kwaito’s bridging of township rap and house rhythms, serving as suggestive soundtrack for post-apartheid jubilance and impatience alike. South Africa’s affinity for house qua house, however, continued unabated, and expanding access to production and distribution tools has given rise to a burgeoning scene that threatens to reabsorb kwaito, if not offer some course correction for house itself.
At a time when metropolitan house variants traverse a global network of labels, clubs, and DJs, South Africa’s convivial mix of soft synths, hard drums, and local vocals should find plenty of complimentary grooves to slip into. Ayobaness! The Sound of South African House, a new compilation from Germany’s Outhere Records, makes a strong case for South Africa as a hotbed for the genre. Thanks to YouTube’s projection of township youth cutting asphalt rugs, tracks by such standouts as DJ Mujava, represented here on the rollicking “Mugwanti / Sgwejegweje,” have recently enjoyed eager uptake abroad, mixed and remixed into the kindred forms of UK funky, dubstep, electro.
While some of the scene’s biggest tracks are off-kilter instrumentals with spooky synth leads and chunky percussion, Ayobaness! highlights vocal numbers. Male and female voices mix judiciously, as do the forms they take, from raspy rap verses to sweet, full-throated call-and-response choruses. In contrast to a lot of house tracks, even of the diva-propelled variety, the tracks collected here sound a lot more like songs. Spiky riffs, needling leads, and fuzzy washes interplay with snare drum cross-rhythms, bongos for days, and a panoply of voices. Take DJ Cleo’s “Nisho Njalo,” which dresses up house’s four-four kicks with a clave-shaped tom-and-piano riff, some laser beam skanking, interlocking synth melodies, and polymetric percussion rolls while kwaito sensation Bleksem recites coquettish rhymes to a skeptical chorus of women. This level of density and detail, conjuring local and global tropes all the while, is utterly typical.
Despite the music’s uniqueness, the sound of South African house is not so much a product of peripatric speciation as it is an aesthetic committed to local style while audibly attuned to contemporary currents in the wider world. The detailed liner notes boast that the scene has “deep, tribal, electro and minimal” sides, and discerning listeners will pick out nods to various tropes of the genre, old and new. The convivial mix of synths and skins is enough to win one over; no need to be cute and call this “shanty” house, or dub it the “most crazy house culture in the world” as it has been promoted.
Ayobaness! continues a line of releases from Outhere portraying African popular music that is, you know, actually popular (not just what might best fit outsiders’ expectations of African difference). From bongo flava to hiplife to roots reggae, Outhere’s compilations help to round out a picture of what contemporary urban Africa sounds like, including how much it sounds like the rest of the world. Amidst the ongoing Afrodiasporic jam across the Net Atlantic and a growing interest in African club sounds like kuduro and coupé décalé, the sound of South African house should resonate widely, but it’s best embodied on its own sure-footed terms.