This past year I began reviewing records regularly again, mostly for the wonderfully serious London-based publication, The Wire, which has been pushing lots of interesting releases across my desk.
It’s been a great experience working with the editors over there and trying to bring my prolix, punny, occasionally-too-precious style in line with their more exacting house rules (e.g., no using the word band!). As per usual, if a bit late, I’m going to archive the pieces here at W&W.com, usually in the form they appeared in the magazine. Sometimes it’s a little tricky to track down the final draft after many backs-and-forths, so there’ll be a mix of “director’s cuts” in these re-posts as well.
We’ll start at the beginning. First up: Beyond Addis, a compilation of new groups — dare we call them bands? — working in the Ethio-jazz style, as reviewed in Issue 363 of The Wire (May 2014).
Beyond Addis compiles recent interpretations of Ethio-jazz from outside of Ethiopia, bearing witness to the remarkable recent diffusion of this distinctive style. Thanks to the Ăthiopiques compilations, the Broken Flowers soundtrack, and such longstanding musical torchbearers as the Either/Orchestra, the swinging Addis sound of the early 1970s has grown into a repertory of its own for jazz groups and kindred groove collectives, especially those that like vintage funk with a loping waltz, or wah-wah guitar with baritone sax. At once foreign and familiar, and suitable for ensembles of all sizes, Ethio-jazzâs moody, modal melodies and triple-time romps have won over a new wave of devotees.
Whether or not you read Western notation, it’s easy to follow along with the animation (indeed, it makes a good score-reading exercise just to watch the bouncing notes). And there’s something simply amazing about seeing, as you’re hearing, the music unfold in all its vertical and horizontal glory.
The one for “So What” is definitely the winner for me, perhaps because it includes most of the ensemble. It’s so engaging to watch the different, deeply familiar parts unfold on the page —
Cohen adds apologies to Jimmy Cobb, the drummer and the one member of the ensemble left out, but he couldn’t source notation for the drum part. (Classic Eurocentric lacuna there, no fault of Cohen’s.) It would be nice if some drum geek were to draw one up for it! Imagine eventually mapping thousands of jazz recordings this way, perhaps even automatically, a la Melodyne. It would be a stunning archive, at any rate, and an incredible resource for entertaining edification.
Western notation appears nice and precise, but I don’t find it all that beguiling to look at. As such, Cohen’s animations may not not achieve the game-console dazzle & quirk of the Rites of Spring graphical score I linked to last spring, but there’s dazzle enough in the musical performances to justify watching them through.
“Confirmation” and “Giant Steps” are more minimal than “So What,” but awesome in their own right —
Today is the final meeting of my last class at Harvard this year — and possibly my final class as a college-level instructor, but we’ll save that discussion for another day. For now, I’ll leave you with a few playlists I created in order to have some examples a click on during class.
In short, this was the one class this year that I didn’t completely make up myself. Music 97c (“Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective”) is a long-running requirement for Music concentrators here. Essentially an introduction to ethnomusicology — theories, methods, and repertories — it departs from standard “World Music” courses by eschewing the survey/smorgasbord and instead focusing on just a few geographical areas in some depth. I designed my own syllabus from scratch, of course, and perhaps unsurprisingly the emphasis largely fell on the Caribbean, North America, and Afrodiasporic matters. We did, however, also include units on Turkish and Balinese/Indonesian music. You can see the whole syllabus here, if you like.
Or you can just edutain yourself by perusing these playlists–
As it happens, this week a new Vijay Iyer album came out, Solo. And it just so happens that for the recording Vijay decided to take on one of my absolute dearest jazz compositions. (He also plays through “Human Nature” and “Darn That Dream,” two cheeseball songs I find quite endearing; it’s like he’s daring me to make more mashups!) Vijay’s “African Flower” reworks Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine,” which I know (&love*) from the sublime session with Charles Mingus and Max Roach that yielded Money Jungle.
Considering that Ellington and Mingus are, for realz, my two favorite jazz composers — & that each cultivated unique voices on their instruments (as did Roach) — the album has long held a special place in my life / collection. Mingus’s fluttering bassline, and then his melodic moaning during the B section of the composition, make my heart ache. And I love the idea, as widely reported and fairly audible, that the session had its share of tension, with Mingus playing almost aggressively “out” while Ellington maintains composure, Roach’s tuned-toms knitting it all together.
As a solo take, Vijay doesn’t have to contend with any bandmates playing at cross-purposes, but somehow, one imagines, he needs to sublimate the engaging energies of Money Jungle into his own performance. (Or maybe not. I suppose we’d have to ask him whether the composition itself served as his guide, or whether his experience hearing Duke&co. play the tune has indelibly stamped it.) To my ears, Vijay’s version is at once reverent and distinctive, as the process of lining these up demonstrated to me in great detail — and hopefully as this mashup will suggest to you.
About the process: while the making of “Galangs” was relatively clear cut, the very same procedure in this case presented some serious technical and ethico-aesthetic challenges. MIA’s “Galang” is, of course, rather metronomic, since it moves to a drum-machine / programmed / quantized beat, and since Vijay & his trio-mates attempt to emulate that consistency, it was neither difficult, nor IMO problematic, to warp the two recordings and line them up. With “African Flowers,” however, there was no such steadiness; rather, Duke & co., although pretty odd-swingingly propulsive, are rather elastic in their relation to each other and the pulse, and Vijay, playing the tune solo, takes some rubato liberties to be sure.
So even though both recordings have palpable pulses — and indeed, Mingus and Roach, for all their outtitude, still play rhythm section — it felt a little odd / wrong to snap them onto a grid. But there’s no making a mashup without that level of correspondence, unless one wants cacophony, and that does not a good mashup make. So I made a deal with the Ableton devil and disciplined each to a click-track.
One thing I (re*)learned while warping them is that “African Flower” is not as straightforward as it sounds. Despite its stately sadness and surface simplicity, it contains some surprising twists, including one place where a measure seems to skip a beat. Grappling with this through Vijay’s performance, and then again on Duke’s, I was thrilled to hear, in the end, that they generally lined up.
But while they shared the same underlying form, the process of juxtaposing the two also brought to my attention some remarkable macro and micro differences. In the end, I again struck a compromise with regard to whose performance I would “subordinate” to the other. I decided to favor the brevity of Duke & co.’s rendition, so I chopped off the latter half of Vijay’s performance, essentially a repeat run through the changes, with all the signal differences one expects of a great jazz musician. At the same time, I decided to loop Duke & co. in order to leave in tact Vijay’s creative stretching of the form whereby he repeats the first section (12 bars) of the tune (after a 4-bar intro), as you see in the screenshot below. In the end, just one splice a piece, essentially —
Once I started mucking around with the snap-to-pulse stuff, certain dilemmas arose with regard to what degree of manipulation I would employ. Sometimes the whole point (of jazz, etc.) is that the musicians play a chord or a figure a little before or after the beat. As much as possible, I wanted to maintain the individual approaches of each performance, so as to bring them into greater relief when combined. In the end, I did my best to strike a balance between preserving the original feel of each while letting them line up when not too coercive a procedure. Perhaps only Vijay, or an astute mashup-analyst, will discern the micro-tweaks of tempo and articulation.
Even though I’ve done some quasi-violent clobbering of an occasional gesture, I’d like to think, as with any of these endeavors, that the mashup I’ve made justifies its existence as more than an exercise in arithmetic, but rather, as living up to the new math of the form.
But that’s a question I’ll leave to y’all.
Here’s the mashup, again in video form to help listeners track the changes and the degree of overlap / departure. One thing I’ve done in this case is to split the audio in the stereofield (Vijay on the left, Duke & co. on the right), to aid with hearing them in tandem. I’ll offer two different audio versions for your listening pleasures, one stereo-split and one centered/combined. It’s nice to hear Vijay playing on a nearby platform, but also to hear two pianos on the same stage. (Because the effect was so helpful, edifying even, I’ve gone ahead and made a stereo-split version of “Galangs” as well.)
* Incidentally, just in case you doubt my longstanding admiration of the composition, here’s a version of “Fluerette Africain” which I myself put together — programmed note by note, using FruityLoops! — way back in 2001:
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 NiĂ±o’s recent ReggaespaĂ±ol 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. BravĂsimo!
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.
Pacey Foster has a great post over at his blog detailing a recent discovery of — and creative engagement with — a 1914 book published by Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the premiere dancing couple in the pre-jazz age and crucial players in the formation of the “society” dance scene in NYC during the 1910s.
Go read the whole thing and feast your eyes in particular on the animated gifs Pace has constructed from the book’s plates, e.g.
I love the way Pace’s gifs bring these dances (back) to life, esp if admired alongside some of the music provided by the Castles’ in-house band, led by the great James Reese Europe.
I also like how Pace uses this (re)discovery and (re)animation to reflect on contemporary conversations about global flows of music and dance and (our?) cosmopolitan attachments to them:
From the Cortez, to the beautiful Tango to the Brazilian Maxixe, the Castles certainly seemed hip to the latest global dance trends. They even provide some historical guideposts. âThe Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance which came to Argentina by way of Spain, where in all probability it became invested with certain features of the old Moorish dancesâ. Whatâs more, the first recording made by Europeâs Society Orchestra was the tune Maxixe (though itâs rarely included on Europe comps). I donât know the story behind the selection of this Brazilian themed tune for the first song recorded by an African American band on a major label, but Iâd love to hear it. In any event, with my pals tracking more recent/rapid diffusions of global dance/music trends, I love finding antique examples that seem so similar (if kind of slow mo) in their features.
great post by kevin linking lil wayne to coltrane, miles, george duke and other techno-musical visionaries :: including the great question, "Is not Auto-Tune the wah pedal of todayâs Black pop?" :: and, to boot, he inserts his video-supported commentary into recent discussions @ duttyartz re: language and voice and identitititity
interactive site on latin american music, w/ video interviews/demos w/ musicians from across the continent discussing rhythm, harmony, community, y otras temas :: bomba, plena, cumbia, son huasteco, vallenato, y mas!
ned sublette on bo diddley — the man, the music, the legacy :: a pull quote, among many: "It was positively modernist: a song called 'Bo Diddley' about the exploits of a character named Bo Diddley, by an artist named Bo Diddley, who played the Bo Diddley beat. No other first-generation rock 'n' roller started out by taking on a mystical persona and then singing about his adventures in the third person. By name-checking himself throughout the lyrics of his debut record, Bo Diddley established what we would now call his brand. Today this approach to marketing is routine for rappers, but Bo Diddley was there 30 years before. He was practically rapping anyway, with stream-of-consciousness rhyming over a rhythm loop."
“With this record I was trying to tune into that old Channel One, Studio One aesthetic.” :: roots manuva hits that ball out the park on this lead single (prod. by shyFX?!) :: rodney da realest, u done know
“A virtual label whose main goal is to distribute suburbia music. Cumbia, dancehall, reggaeton and any other rythm that started in the slums and made its way to the dancefloor.” :: nueva BA stylee spot for whirledwide bastard bassquakery, neat but sloppy?
read my friend and colleague Pat Burke’s book — it’ll make you smarter and, more specifically, give you a richly textured sense of what jazz and related/imbricated performance practices said about race then, and now
on music, noise, and neighbors :: “…it is precisely at this interface of community and sovereignty, at the imaginary line that separates âthemâ from âmeâ, that the story of the noisy neighbour can be told.”
“If, by [‘work in the humanities’], you mean only individualistic research, directed at arcane topics detached from real-world needs and written in inaccessible and insular jargon, there is indeed very limited money.”