July 31st, 2014
For their 4th etude of our summer adventures in technomusicology, my students produced their own YouTube montages (as I’ve discussed here and there), and, as usual, I’m smitten by the results. I even shed a few YouTubeTears in class as we screened them together. I’ve rounded them up in playlist form, but allow me to embed here several examples that are well worth a watch.
Many students did the mega-montage thing, and they selected quite a range of songs and routines to explore this way. Their subjects run the gamut from predictably enduring songs such as “Imagine” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to more recent upstarts such as “Let It Go” and “Thinking Bout You” to such YouTubey phenomena as “Canon Rock” and routines inspired by K-pop and the collectively-sourced cultural products built around Vocaloid software to tango warhorses. Wow!
A few videos merit a little more contextualization, so here they are with the students’ explication:
This is a video montage of “Bar Bar Bar,” the popular song by K-pop band, Crayon Pop. K-pop is largely characterized by bubble gum tunes and catchy lyrics, and “Bar Bar Bar” is no different. However, the song has somehow managed to rise above the rest of the K-pop scenery, taking Korea by storm and causing a multitude of different dance covers to surface in the past year . The various groups shown here range from Korean police departments to taekwondo teams in Korea, and this montage attempts to offer a vivid perspective into one aspect of the pop culture minutiae that permeates through Korean life today.
Kokoro x Kiseki is an original Vocaloid mix of two versions: Kagamine Rin’s and Kagamine Len’s. In Len’s version, he usually sings over a recording of Rin, but not vice versa. In some parts of this montage, it is possible to hear just Rin’s version, just Len’s version, as well as the mix of the two versions.
Due to the nature of this being a Vocaloid song, there is heavy emphasis on the accompanying video. Though there are some vocal and instrumental covers of the song, the majority creative works kept the original song but changed the video. In the different videos, people got creative with using their own drawings to make an animation, making slideshows of pre-existing art and playing with timing, cosplaying and acting out the story of the song, translating the song, and playing with camera angle and various other features of the Miku Miku Dance (MMD) program. There is an official dance for this song, so the dance is the same in the videos that use the dance, but the smoothness of the dance, the camera, and the backgrounds and costumes are noticeably different.
In this video montage, I focused on showing the different videos that people have uploaded onto Youtube. The song’s lyrics tell a linear story, so I wanted to keep the flow of the story of the song. I achieved this by keeping the video clips with their respective section of the song and by giving the videos their own space in the limelight. The only video that I showed multiple times throughout the montage was the Official Live version. The Live performance of a Vocaloid song is impressive, and I felt that letting it flit through the montage follows the story of Kokoro x Kiseki.
Since the majority of videos used the original song, it was not very difficult to sync the videos to make a smooth song. The difficulty in creating this montage was choosing which frame to switch videos because this song is riddled with pickups. Depending on what followed the pickup, I alternated between changing videos on pickups and on downbeats. The instrumental/vocal covers also used the original song, so even if they weren’t perfectly synced 100% of the time, they always met back at the start of new phrases. I decided not to forcibly sync the covers with the original song because it would be destroying the artistic license of a human musician.
Aside from the videos with creative animations, MMDs, cosplays, and covers, there are some videos there that are more featured for the translation. The few that I incorporated into this montage are Vietnamese, Spanish, and English subs, which give a small view at how popular and widespread this particular song is.
The seeds for this Etudé were actually planted last summer. Specifically though, the La Cumparsita (“The Little Masked Parade”) obsession of mine erupted last November during a minor email contention between my friend and teacher, a tango expert from Buenos Aires, and her teaching partner, a US born tango expert. During the discussion the original snapshot of the lyrics caught my fancy because they revealed to me the dark internality that is the thread running through Argentinian/Uruguayan Tango. While Uruguay claims the song as its own and has made it their national anthem, it is intrinsic to traditional Tango as practiced worldwide. Tango was an expressive outlet for the lower classes dwelling in the underside of Buenos Aires and Uruguayan society. It was not a fashionable or high brow entertainment to begin, and this song, La Cumparsita, really exemplifies a rather destitute and bluesy pastime originating from a night life and its creative expressions of peoples of color in Argentina and Uruguay.
In the pre-WWII era, the song was recorded throughout the world by classical, jazz, opera, and popular music artists, swing bands, and orchestra’s. I have tried to pull from my own research into the song: the ripped collection of videos as well as those recordings and amusing or exciting interludes that best exemplify most of the era’s this song has run through, as well as some really old Tango dancing by Rudolf Valentino (who was really quite passionate about Tango dance) from the film, The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse and taken from a video that mashed up Rudy’s moves with the Italian pop singer Mina’s over the top production of the song from 1968.
I also include some very nice dancing by Tango artist Chicho, dancing with a lot of ornamentations with his partner to a recording of a live band. A little later in my clips, I cut in Mina’s production film as she is singing the last verse of lyrics from the popular version, an ending to the effect of, to paraphrase: “the sun no longer shines the same on the abandoned bedroom, and even our dog stopped eating because you left and finally ran away from me, on seeing me so miserably alone.” An amusing farce indeed! Since it matched up to the Mina versions eventual cheesy guitar passage, I added Gene Kelly’s solo stepping to the song, from Anchor’s Aweigh. On a humorous note, I close it out with a scene from Some Like It Hot, when Daphne (Jack Lemmon disguised as a woman) forgets and starts taking the Tango lead from his/her would-be suitor and the orchestra plays an interesting version of La Cumparsita.
I took advantage of the many pauses and lurches inherent to the song and made single audio layer with plain cuts of the phonographs playing 78’s and a 45 rpm of the song. I did the same with the cuts between the live Tango orchestra’s of Alfredo De Angelis and Juan D’Arienzo. I did not need to do any fading or layering until at the end of Mina singing the farcical passage after which the song starts again with a real twanging 60’s guitar and a rock beat. That is when I fade it out and in comes Gene Kelly dancing a relatively soft shoe tap dance to the song. I enter the song from that scene of Anchor’s Aweigh since it matches with Mina’s rock passage, and that then easily lends to the rather interesting version from Some Like It Hot.
And I’ll close with an example that departs from the collages above as one student was inspired to take a page from Kutiman‘s book and create his own YouTube sourced jam session that opens with an overture of sorts, revealing the sources of his palette:
July 23rd, 2014
It’s been *crickets* here on the blog for a while, and the main reason is that I’ve been spending more time behind a tractor and less in front of a laptop. And loving it.
I don’t spend very much time on the tractor, actually, because the work I do at Belmont Acres, a 5 acre farm 5 minutes from my house, is always a varied mix of seeding, weeding, transplanting, watering, harvesting, and other forms of ongoing and ad-hoc maintenance. I’ve learned tons about farming in the process, and spending so much time doing physical work, outdoors, with simpatico people, all the while attending and responding to the forces of nature — and gnoshing on fresh vegetables — has made me substantially healthier and happier. I’m pretty sure humans were made to do the kinds of work that farming involves. In its way, agriculture simply seems like a particular (sedentary) approach to hunting and gathering.
But I’m sorry for the silence in this space, especially since I have continued to publish things about music that may be of interest here — and to teach my favorite class in the world, Technomusicology. And I intend to share a bunch of that stuff here very soon. (Famous last words, I know. Also: the sorriest sort of blog post is the apology for not blogging, so enough already.)
A bit more about Belmont Acres: the farm is run by a lovely family who live down the road, and the farmer, Mike, has turned the operation at this long-farmed plot of land — allegedly since the 17th century, though you wouldn’t know it by the rock load — from an oldschool corn-stand into a place that grows a great variety of vegetables without the use of pesticides or other “conventional” farming methods. (Belmont Acres is not certified organic, but our growing practices are concerned with sustainable, food-web-friendly agriculture.)
Last year, Mike and crew grew over 120 varieties of vegetables, and this year we’re on par for a similar showing. (And people say the farm looks as good as it ever has. You can judge for yourself.) This week alone you’ll find the following at the stand: beets, bib lettuce, new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, zucchini, artichokes (!), green peppers, green beans, faro and caraflex cabbage, garlic, scallions, sage, parsley, oregano, chard, and Tuscano kale. (For those who are local, you should come check the place out, pick up some of the freshest food you’ll find in the vicinity, and say hi. The stand is open Tues 3-6pm, Fri 2-5, & Sat 1-5, and we’re located just across Blanchard Road from Fresh Pond.) They even let me indulge my enthusiasm for abundant, delicious “weeds” like purslane, which has now appeared in shares as well as on the stand.
Though I haven’t written much about it on this blog, I think that supporting small-scale, sustainable agriculture like that practiced at Belmont Acres is one of the most important ways of nourishing our food system and our families and communities, and I’m just delighted to be so directly involved, getting my hands dirty in a way that feels so wholesome. I haven’t blogged much about it — or anything, recently — but I hope to find the time to share a lot more from this new realm of fascination and commitment. I suspect some of you may see a kinship between my work on music ecologies and my interest in food webs.
To whet appetites, or at least give a glimpse, allow me to present a convergence of sorts — a farmey soundscape I cooked up last month as a brief demo for my class. It’s not an accomplished work, or even a finished one, but it does offer a sense of the sights and sounds of the place (the smells I’ll have to leave to your imagination):
belmontacrescape from wayneandwax on Vimeo.
April 11th, 2014
No one does radio (by which I mean, audio storytelling) like Benjamen Walker. You may know him from his incarnations as the host of Your Radio Nightlight, Too Much Information, or Theory of Everything, which has recently become one of the flagship programs in PRX‘s new podcast network, Radiotopia.
I feel very lucky to count Ben as a friend. His incisive sense of humor consistently cuts to the chase of the kinds of things we find ourselves concerned about in this modern world, or should be. His commitment to running down good stories and telling them with audio aplomb is downright inspiring. Man oh man, the stories he could tell…the stories he does tell!
So I’m thrilled to report that Benjamen has made one of the best episodes of his life with “1984.” To put it plainly, this is a monumental work of media history, largely sourced from YouTube (but also via vintage TV Guides, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, & his own rich trove of alienated adolescent experience). “1984” is a deeply engaging examination of, as Benjamen puts it, the year, not the book.
I found myself totally entrained and entertained listening to it, and you will too. Benjamen masterfully interweaves and teases out trenchant themes as US society tries to come to grips with the advent of the hyperreal and media politricks in precisely the year that George Orwell freighted with such significance. Borrowing Orwell’s central narrative conceit of the diary is a stroke of genius on Ben’s part, but it’s the dazzling execution of his vision that is most impressive. Imagine Marclay’s The Clock stretched out over a calendar year with grainy advertisements and newscasts in place of Hollywood film fragments.
Here’s how Benjamen frames it:
In 1984 your host was twelve years old, and like Winston Smith he kept a diary for the citizens of the future. For this special installment of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything we travel back in time and give this diary a soundtrack. TV commercials, radio spots, movie clips — all from 1984 (the year, not the book). Along with personal memories of making the transition to middle school the show focuses on four of the most important people of year: Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs, and Clara Peller.
Do yourself a favor and make some time for this one. Ben brings the beef, no doubt.
Word to Clara Peller!
March 27th, 2014
Over at Complex, David Drake offers up a supercut that “trac[es] the lineage of the Migos flow” — that is, the 8th note triplets that underpin “Versace” and have been making waves across the rap world.
For Drake, the recent, remarkable spread of the so-called “Migos flow” offers compelling evidence that, even as it may rankle all manner of commenters, the Migos’ Quavo is no less than “the most influential rapper of 2014“:
part of the reason Quavo has become so influential is because his rapping isn’t overly concerned with the intricacies of lyricism. Instead, he’s imprinted a very specific rhythmic pattern on hip-hop’s psyche. By finding a flow that stood apart and emphasizing it, he shifted the way rappers rap.
This is a contentious claim, and the technomusicologist in me loves that Drake has gone the extra mile to put together some audible evidence to convince the skeptics — a video montage that speaks for itself. So don’t take my word for it, or Drake’s, just peep the supercut:
As you’ll note, the montage not only depicts the undeniable post-Migos spread of the flow, it also includes a series of clips that predate Migos and show how the flow has been around for quite a while, especially in Southern hip-hop but even all the way back to a memorable turn in Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”!
Such an audible genealogy is certainly convincing, and even the pre/proto-Migos examples don’t necessarily lessen Drake’s argument about Migos’ role in popularizing the flow for 2014. (As something of a sidenote, it’s interesting that this sort of cross-rhythm is also a consistent presence in recent juke/footwork tracks from DJ Rashad and cohorts. That’s one helluva hemiola!)
That said, I’m not totally persuaded that, as Drake further contends
No single rap artist has so completely popularized a single, distinct flow.
I suspect we could pick out a few examples from the 80s or 90s or 00s, but even in the last few years — as Drake himself notes — something like Lil Reese’s / Chief Keef’s trademark stuttered, splattered, staccato syllables would seem to offer a similar example. It may be true that that flow has had less “reach” than the Migos flow, relatively speaking, but it’s still a remarkable spread. Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” was maybe the most obvious example of copping that flow and making it “pop,” but echoes continue in “Drunk In Love” and other recent recordings. Moreover, far as I can tell, that Chicago drill flow has less of a history than 8th note triplets, which have been a staple flow — if not for entire verses — for a couple decades, especially if we look to, say, Bone Thugs’ early oeuvre.
But perhaps I need to make a supercut to make my point ;) Better yet, sign up for my Technomusicology class this summer and you can do it as homework!
March 24th, 2014
Today marks five years with Charlie in the world. That’s five years full of her sweetness and smiles and sensitivity and boundless love.
As Becca recently recounted, a few months before Charlie was Charlie, we were very afraid that we had lost her. I’m still struck by the sadness of the thought of that little life-that-could-have-been lost, even in the abstract, but to imagine that we would have had to live without Charlie the concrete, the joyful and kind and utterly delightful kid we’ve gotten to know over the last five years, well, that’s just unthinkable.
So, to our dear Charlie, who we are so happy to have in the world, and who may or may not one day see this bloggy birthday card…
Here’s looking at you, you adorable dandelion gatherer, foraged flower muncher and pizza devourer, wearer of wonderful hats and funnier faces, jam enthusiast and sourdough steward, all around cutiepie and light of our lives, you just keeping being sweet little you <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
March 17th, 2014
It all started with a provocative turn of phrase and a successfully solicitous blog post, and now some 13k words and 5 years later, I’m delighted to report that my epic essay on “Treble Culture” has finally been published! It’s been a little frustrating to watch something I completed a long time ago — and which is so concerned with the contemporary moment — languish through the incredibly lengthy academic publication process, but I’m very glad it’s finally ready to be shared & circulated.
In brief, the essay examines so-called “treble culture” (vis-a-vis bass culture) — or the apparent ascent of mobile listening and music made for it — in three ways: 1) by assembling an anecdotal ethnography of the remarkable public life of trebly broadcasts; 2) by offering a long view of the treblification of music; and 3) by considering ways that musical aesthetics, especially at the level of production / composition / mastering but also (always) listening, have themselves been involved in embracing and reshaping how music sounds in the latest epoch of its technological mobility.
As a research project that I largely crowdsourced via this blog and my Twitter account, I need to offer my deeply unattenuated thanks here to all the dear interlocutors who helped push the piece into unforeseen corners of our bass-impoverished sonic and cultural worlds. I feel it is a duty to all of you, and to wider publics, to exercise my authorial prerogative and offer the proofs here for your reading pleasure. So without further ado, I give you
Marshall, Wayne. “Treble Culture.” In The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies, Vol. 2,
eds. Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek, 43-76. New York: Oxford University Press,
I’m happy to note that my chapter helps to kick off volume 2 of a 40 essay (!) collection of writings about music in the age of mobile technologies. Congrats to the editors, Sumanth Gopinath and Jason Stanyek, for bringing this behemoth to completion! I’m honored to be a part of such an ambitious undertaking alongside so many sharp contributors. And I hope readers of “Treble Culture” will have an opportunity to check out the rest of the contents too.
Here’s what Vol 2 — and the volumes more generally — are all about:
The two volumes of The Oxford Handbook of Mobile Music Studies consolidate an area of scholarly inquiry that addresses how mechanical, electrical, and digital technologies and their corresponding economies of scale have rendered music and sound increasingly mobile-portable, fungible, and ubiquitous. At once a marketing term, a common mode of everyday-life performance, and an instigator of experimental aesthetics, “mobile music” opens up a space for studying the momentous transformations in the production, distribution, consumption, and experience of music and sound that took place between the late nineteenth and the early twenty-first centuries. Taken together, the two volumes cover a large swath of the world-the US, the UK, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Mexico, France, China, Jamaica, Iraq, the Philippines, India, Sweden — and a similarly broad array of the musical and nonmusical sounds suffusing the soundscapes of mobility.
Volume 2 investigates the ramifications of mobile music technologies on musical/sonic performance and aesthetics. Two core arguments are that “mobility” is not the same thing as actual “movement” and that artistic production cannot be absolutely sundered from the performances of quotidian life. The volume’s chapters investigate the mobilization of frequency range by sirens and miniature speakers; sound vehicles such as boom cars, ice cream trucks, and trains; the gestural choreographies of soundwalk pieces and mundane interactions with digital media; dance music practices in laptop and iPod DJing; the imagery of iPod commercials; production practices in Turkish political music and black popular music; the aesthetics of handheld video games and chiptune music; and the mobile device as a new musical instrument and resource for musical ensembles.
And here’s what my 13k+ words look like in cloud formation —
March 12th, 2014
The Summer of Love is way behind us, as is the Second Summer of Love, & perhaps the Third and Fourth. The Summer of Technomusicology, however, will soon be here!
I’m thrilled to report that I’ll be offering my favorite class to teach in the world right now, as premiered last year at Harvard U, this July-August as an intensive 7-week course at the Harvard Summer School. If you’re planning to be in town and around, it should be a good chance to make some conceptually cogent, historically situated, and, we hope, aesthetically engaging media.
Here’s a taste of what we did last year. So if that whets the appetite, you can access the syllabus and look into registering via this page:
For your browsing ease, here’s the syllabus as it presently stands; please note that this is preliminary, and items may shift between now and the summer:
MUSI S-190r: Technomusicology
Instructor: Wayne Marshall
Course reference number: 33209
This course uses hands-on media production to examine the interplay between music and technology. Using audio production software, we will explore new techniques for telling stories about music and media by composing a series of études, or studies in particular media forms.
Readings, discussions, and projects focus on significant forms and their histories, including soundscapes, mashups, montages, DJ-style mixes, and radio sound design. Students will develop a fluency in the history of sound studies while cultivating competencies in audio and video editing, sampling and arranging, mixing and remixing, and, in framing their projects, descriptive and poetic forms of writing.
Class sessions comprise a mix between discussions of relevant readings and audio works, software demonstrations, and in-lab project-centered work. Readings and listening/viewing selections will be available via the course website or the WWW.
ASSIGNMENTS / GRADING
1) Attendance & class participation – 25%
2) Études (6 in all) – 60%
3) Final Project – 15%
In general, études should be between 2-5 minutes, and will be due, along with a brief prose gloss and/or other forms of annotation, on the Monday of the week after each has been assigned.
Week 1 /
Intro to Technomusicology, Sound Studies, & Soundscapes
Sterne, Jonathan. “Hello!” In The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction, 1-31. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.
Suisman, David. “The Musical Soundscape of Modernity.” In Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music, 240-72. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Schafer, R. Murray. “The Music of the Environment.” In Audio Culture, ed. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 29-39. New York and London: Continuum, 2004.
Gould, Glenn. “The Prospects of Recording.” In Audio Culture, ed. Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, 115-26. New York and London: Continuum, 2004.
Feld, Steven. “A Rainforest Acoustemology.” In The Audio Culture Reader, ed. Michael Bull and Les Back, 223-240. Oxford and New York: Berg 2003.
_______. Rainforest Soundwalks (liner notes). EarthEar 1062. 2001.
Étude #1: Compose a soundscape collage from your own local recordings. Include brief description of subject, methods, and poetics.
Week 2 /
Histories & Aesthetics of Radio
Wu, Tim. “Radio Dreams.” In The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, 33-44. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
Marshall, Wayne. “Love That Muddy Ether: Pirate Multiculturalism and Boston’s Secret Soundscape.” Cluster Mag. December 2011.
Étude #2: Compose a radio collage, focusing on a particular dimension/station/time of the Boston/Cambridge airwaves. Include brief description of subject and methods.
Week 3 /
Mashup Poetics & the Ethics/Aesthetics of Sampling
Sterne, Jonathan. “The MP3 as Cultural Artifact.” New Media & Society 8:5 (2006): 825–842.
Katz, Mark. “Listening in Cyberspace.” In Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, 158-87. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
Marshall, Wayne. “Mashup Poetics as Pedagogical Practice.” In Pop-Culture Pedagogy in the Music Classroom: Teaching Tools from American Idol to YouTube, ed. Nicole Biamonte, 307-15. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2010.
McGranahan, Liam. “‘It Goes Beyond Having a Good Beat and I Can Dance to It’: Mashup Aesthetics and Creative Process.” In Mashnography: Creativity, Consumption, and Copyright in the Mashup Community, 35-70. Ph.D. dissertation, Brown University, 2010.
Schloss, Joseph G. “Elements of Style: Aesthetics of Hip-hop Composition.” In Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip-hop, 135-168. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.
Taylor, Timothy D. “A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery: Transnational Music Sampling and Enigma’s ‘Return to Innocence.’” In Music and Technoculture, ed. René Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, 64-92. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
Étude #3: Make a mashup using 2 (or more) related recordings. Include notes discussing thematic and/or musical linkages (i.e., poetics).
Week 4 /
Video Montage in the Age of YouTube
Gillespie, Tarleton. “The Politics of ‘Platforms.’” New Media & Society 12:3 (May 2010): 347-364.
Tagg, Philip. “The Milksap Montage”
“Harvest Song from Bulgaria”
Marshall, Wayne. “The Montage Is the Method”
“Megamontage Is the Method”
“Bump Con Choque”
Étude #4: Create a video montage that illustrates a particular story of musical circulation and/or relationship.
Week 5 /
DJ-style Mixing & the Mini-Mega-Mix
Katz, Mark. “Mix and Scratch—The Turntable Becomes a Musical Instrument: 1975-1978.” In Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-hop DJ, 43-69. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
Fikentscher, Kai. “‘There’s Not a Problem I Can’t Fix, ‘Cause I Can Do It in the Mix’: On the Performative Technology of 12-Inch Vinyl.” In Music and Technoculture, ed. René Lysloff and Leslie C. Gay, 290-315. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
Étude #5: Produce a brief DJ-style mix guided by some logic of musical, cultural, and/or historical connection between the recordings involved. Make efforts to use blends, cuts, and other edits strategically. Include notes explaining aesthetic choices and narrative (i.e., poetics).
Week 6 /
APIs & Algorithmic Remixes
Seaver, Nick. “On Reverse Engineering: Looking for the cultural work of engineers.” Anthropology and Algorithms (Medium.com).
Lamere, Paul. “Where’s the Pow?” Music Machinery.
The Echo Nest Lab
Echo Nest Remix
Étude #6: Create a remix of a music video using commands and features made available by the Echo Nest’s API.
Week 7 /
Sound Design & Final Projects
Mitchell, Jonathan. “Using Music.” Transom.
Mitchell, Jonathan. “Sound Design from Hell.” Third Coast Library.
Rosenthal, Rob and Kathy Tu. “The Fighter Pilot.” How Sound.
Final project: Using the contemporary techniques of radio sound design, put together a brief tour of your études from the semester, highlighting whichever projects you choose and, when possible, making linkages to the readings and themes we’ve discussed.
Final Projects Due: August 8
Here are our collected works, in progress:
March 10th, 2014
For whatever reason, I’ve now become the guy that your crazy internet uncle (in my case, El Canyonazo) now forwards emails about Jeff Goldblum remixes. The latest, which appeared delightfully unsolicited in my inbox last week, samples his unnervingly odd laugh from Jurassic Park (which someone else has turned into a 10 hour version if that sort of thing is your thing) to great effect over some trappy beats. Deservingly, it’s got over 600k plays after just a month —
Why do I deserve this? Probably for, at various points in the last several years, linking to the two transformative takes on Jeff Goldblum I embed for your convenience below. You can thank me later, if you haven’t already.
That last one is still criminally underwatched, so I don’t mind sharing it here again.
Do keep me abreast, all you crazy uncles out there!
February 12th, 2014
Picó Picante is always a nice nice time, but this Friday they’ve really stacked the decks —
All these DJs are stellar and longtime friends & colleagues, and among other things, Jubilee has a poppin new EP out on Mixpak Records, and Dev/Null just posted a helluva 2 hour session devoted to atmospheric jungle from ’94-95 (which clearly presaged so much drum’n’bass that would follow) —
But I’m especially happy to welcome BBrave to town as he’s the only one I’ve yet to meet IRL.
I suspect Benjamin “BBrave” Lebrave needs no introduction here at W&W, but for those who don’t know, Benjamin is the force behind Akwaaba Music, an independent label devoted to African music of the post-Fruityloops era, or as he puts it “syncopated music made on computers all across the African continent.” Carefully and lovingly curated by Benjamin, a champion for genres and artists from West to East Africa, South to North, Akwaaba has served since 2008 as a crucial international platform for emerging artists, including acts as varied as Just a Band or FOKN Bois.
Akwaaba’s latest offering is a blistering rap album, Burkin Bâ, from Burkina Faso’s Joey Le Soldat, who pushes social critique with wicked flow over jagged electronic soundbeds that recall the Bug’s distorted dancehall. The lead single boasts an arresting video too; should slay in London or anywhere grime resounds —
But BBrave’s DJ sets are more focused on dance music per se, as opposed to head nodding beats, pivoting around hiplife, azonto, kuduro, afrohouse, tarraxinha, coupé décalé, zouglou, and the like. Here’s 8+ hours if you’d like a taste ;)
And don’t miss Benjamin’s most recent column in the Fader, a Q&A + mixtape c/o kindred spirit, none other than “Mr. African Hip-Hop” Thomas “Jumanne” Gesthuizen, which also includes a gracious s/o to this here humble blog. Thanks, Bbrave — we look forward to finally welcoming you to town!
February 7th, 2014
Back to the native genre beat for a moment…
I’ve realized that I neglected to mention such obviously indigenous YouTubery as dhol playalongs and keystyling vids (wherein one “freestyles” a few bars in the comments section of a hip-hop instrumental), but these clearly have their precedents in pre-online-video cultures — if far less public and “permanent” — whereas the K-pop reaction video, which Alexis “@pm_jawn” Stephens recently brought to my attention, is one of the best examples I’ve seen yet, in part because so recent and in part because so inextricable from YouTube. (And which I used to frame the “Sorry Sorry” montage I made last month.)
Here’s Alexis on the phenom —
A reaction video is when someone records themselves watching a music video for the first time via a webcam and then uploads it to YouTube. In K-pop reaction videos, there is often a picture-in-picture showing the progress of the music video, or MV, so that the viewer can follow along with the YouTube user’s knee-jerk, often funny responses. Nothing gets more up close and personal as YouTube, because it gives you a direct visual portal into the living spaces of other fans. The popularity of the K-pop reaction video has grown alongside K-pop’s ascent as an international cultural phenomenon.
Recorded all over the world and in a variety of languages, these reaction videos can themselves rack up hundreds of thousands of views — a staggeringly popular form of meta-voyeurism. (Surprising but persuasive, Alexis proposes a possible genealogical link, or at least predecessor, in the 2 Girls 1 Cup meme from a few years back.) And of course, they aspire to be as effectively performative, complete with tropes and archetypes, as the original spectacles to which they bear affective witness.
Alexis shares the following example, instructive and quintessential in a number of ways:
What immediately struck me was the self-conscious performance of fandom here — and the remarkable parallels between the mastery of codes and forms by reacting viewers and by the spectacular performers of K-pop. The particular viewer-performers above are from the UK but totally fluent in contemporary American/global slang, much of it in the form of stylized African-American vernaculars (including black men’s, women’s, and queer idioms) — indeed, about as fluent, it strikes me, as the K-pop performers themselves (who, it must be admitted, are pretty virtuoso in this regard).
Along these lines, if one frame removed, the video by G-Dragon they’re reacting to above clearly merits a multitude of reactions:
It’s amazing, dense, vivid, masterful, and playful. Clearly, it would be a mistake to reduce the pleasures of K-pop to a simple if charming form of mimesis. Rather, this is sui generis mastery of craft and gesture. Observing K-pop stars making a splash at fashion weeks around the world may offer a better angle from which to appreciate K-poppers’ distinctive synthesis of an irreducible array of signifiers, whether or not many of them are cribbed straight from the (Af-Am) hip-hop playbook.
It seems to me that K-pop’s “appropriations” demand a different frame of analysis (although, this video prolly owes MIA money) — and the reaction vids, including entire networks of African-American appreciators help complicate the picture further. (My “Sorry Sorry” montage includes a group of black college students watching the Super Junior video, with one singing and one dancing along.) In contrast to many other “global” (ie, local, non-US) hip-hop scenes, K-pop’s take on hip-hop does not begin to pretend to any alignment with the margins of society. The only authenticity operative here, it seems, is a demonstrated commitment to cultural currency. It’s purely a matter of style and swagger and savvy manipulation of global symbols, musical and sartorial and gestural &c.
And it’s pretty damn impressive.
Stepping back another frame again, there’s something perfect in how reaction videos themselves function so similarly, often mobilizing and reaffirming the same sets of codes and signs. K-pop reaction videos are an amazing and amusing performance of fandom in an age when it’s easier than ever to share that experience with others. They’re an imagined but also, notably, asynchronously witnessed form of collective joy — of the pleasure of sharing an appreciation for cultural codes and their spectacular, affective enactment (across language lines or other borders).
In some interesting ways, then, reaction videos might be understood as attempts to bridge the gap that Michael Warner contends is always there for so-called publics. For Warner, publics are necessarily constituted imaginatively and asynchronously as people engage the same circulating text, privately, and then imagine themselves as part of a collective addressed by it. Reaction videos may still be “private” engagements both in their production and reception, requiring private attention, but their publicness and persistence would seem to heighten the feeling of sharing such collective engagements with public texts. These private moments of attention become a lot more visible, perhaps even more intimate, ironically.
As such, and in contrast to publics gathered around print material, K-pop reaction communities may better resemble the “counterpublics” that, for Warner, “make expressive corporeality the material for the elaboration of intimate life among publics of strangers” [p.76].)
And without a doubt, reaction videos — which may soon transcend K-pop as a genre, if they don’t already — are a “native” YouTube genre par excellence. O Brave New World that has such people watching people watching people in it!
February 6th, 2014
Last month, Nico and Charlie each made their own sourdough starters — the yeast + bacterial cultures that have been used to leaven bread since…leavened bread (which predates sliced bread, by the way).
Nico began hers the simple, local, wild way: just take some flour — in our case made from Western, MA wheatberries we milled at home — and add water, more or less in equal parts (to make a thick batter), then give it a stir or two every day and sometimes a little more flour or water.
Charlie’s was similar in composition but included a spoonful of beer trub, harvested from the bottom of a carboy of a recent batch of ale — to give it a sure kick of (commercially-cultivated) yeast and to see whether it might otherwise effect the process (of fermentation) or the product (the bread).
They also both contained what Charlie — and then all of us — began referring to as “finger yeast,” which we think may contribute another key source of wild microbes. Here they explain the process, with some gentle prodding (and some useful prompts c/o Christina Agapakis, synthetic biologist, science blogger, and infamous maker of “human cheese” [who blogged about us here!]):
Perhaps predictably, Charlie’s culture got off to a quick start as the “beer yeasts” went (back) to work doing what they do: munching carbs and belching air and alcohol. Within a day Charlie’s starter was bubbling away and smelling boozy. The yeast still seemed to want to make beer! And despite making things quite bubbly very quickly, the beer yeast seemed to be making a thinner and, ironically, less vigorous starter. Nico’s took a little longer to grow, but after 3 or 4 days of stirring and feeding, it began to build steam, and it more quickly took on the sour notes — rather than beer notes — we were hoping for. When fed, it would also puff up a lot more than Charlie’s, which was more likely to pool.
Eventually, both starters got to a place where they seemed ready for a test run — sufficiently sour and ready to go to town on some fresh flour — so we baked a loaf from each of them a week or so ago in order to compare and taste our homemade sourdough.
Our bread recipe was a synthesis of some variations on a few approaches we’ve been trying for the last few months: Peter Reinhart’s, Chad Robertson’s (and Michael Pollan’s remix), and Jim Lahey’s popular “no knead” recipe (which, crucially, helped us first get our feet wet, or hands sticky). Notably, though they’re all different in various ways, all involve a long/delayed fermentation and relatively little kneading.
Our own approach mixes as it departs from them all. We’re totally into starters and soakers and long fermentations and low kneading and hearty country loaves, but we’re hardcore about ingredients: we’re using 100% whole wheat flour (a lot of so-called whole wheat loaves are actually 70/30 or 50/50, with plenty of refined white flour to up the gluten ratio to better trap air and make the bread bubbly & springy); we’re also making “lean” breads (as opposed to “enhanced” with fats or sweeteners) and we’re trying not to use any active dry yeast — just flour + water + (homegrown) microbes + salt. It’s a challenge — for many, it’s long been a holy grail — but it feels elemental. And rewarding. Even when a loaf comes out flat, it still has amazing depth of flavor.
After mixing up their own soakers (water + flour, to help soften the bran and begin enzymatic processes) and starters (essentially, 60 grams of their cultures + 200g flour + 150g water) the night before, and letting them each go to work for 12 hours, they woke up and mixed their final doughs the next morning.
I baked the loaves for the girls while they were at school, scoring each one with a first initial, and they came out just lovely — and were even tastier than they were beautiful.
We’re still not sure why Charlie’s didn’t get as nice an oven-spring as Nico’s — may have been the beer yeast, or the hydration, or my kneading (which needs improvement). But both she and Nico — and Becca and I — were very happy with the results.
We’re looking forward to future experiments with microbes — maybe future videos too. It’s been fun to learn about all this stuff together, and we hope some people might want to copy our experiments and share theirs with us. We’ll do our best to keep you posted on future things a-brewin’.
In that vein, while we’re here, I should note that — indeed, as is speculated with regard to the intertwined history of brewing and baking — Nico and Charlie had already made their first homebrews before their first starter cultures and loaves of bread. They began with a base of cracked & milled (but not malted) spelt, water, sugar, and preserved fruit, mixed to their own proportions —
Rather than going totally wild with the microbes, though, in this case they each used some trub to get things started. And I can attest, as the sole guinea pig several days later, that their very-small-batch beers (micro-micro-brews!) were not bad: a bit odd, a tad flat & a touch sourish, but nonetheless, beery.
Here’s to feeding ferment.