Archive of posts tagged with "riddimmeth0d"

March 5th, 2013

Boston Mashacre

On the 243rd anniversary of the Boston Massacre (bigup Crispus Attucks!), I’m reposting the merely titular-pun-related mix of Boston-associated songs I cooked up for the Somerville Art Council back in 2005. This is also (barely) germane to the day given the currently flaring debate over Massachusetts’ official rock song. (As they say around here, I shit you not.) Not to mention, if only very tangentially, the emergence of one of the best mashups in years. (Really love how it reproduces the effect of that ol’ Eminem/Britney mashup, revealing the underlying pop sensibilities of two putative hardcore outsiders.) Without further ado, here’s the Boston Mashacre (my follow-up, the Smashacre, resides over here)…

wayne&wax, “boston mashacre” (for somerville artbeat 2005)

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we begin with sounds of the davis square farmer’s market, with several different languages being spoken, including what sounds like a guy saying “habibi.” the percussion is an empty soda bottle that another guy was banging on his hip, quietly singing what sounded like a reggae song at the same time. confirming my impression, yet another guy–this one a farmer/vendor–walks up to him and says rather dryly, and to my incredulous ears for stumbling upon such a soundbite, “champion sound, yeah?” from there, the man with the bottle plays a classic 3+3+2, reminiscent of so many caribbean styles, and we hear car alarms and horns spin into melody. as a bus pulls up and takes off again (and “buses” was one of the most popular returns i got to the question “what are the sounds of somerville?”), the familiar strains of the standells’ “dirty water” enter the soundscape and the mix. from there, the incidental sounds of the city–which, as you can hear, are rather musical in their own way–yield to the “musical” sounds of the city. that is, we enter the realm of pop recordings, of the boston soundscape as MOR radio presents it (at least as filtered through the ears of a lifelong boston jerk who harbors a strange mix of pride, humility, and humiliation when it comes to the sounds of his city).

after the standells, the lineup moves through a number of boston mainstays and one-hit wonders, has-beens and shoulda-beens. the full tracklist is as follows:

the standells, “dirty water” (not a boston band, but they might as well be)
the cars, “you might think i’m crazy” (yup, a boston band)
dj c, “boston you’re my bounce” (beat research)
NKOTB, “hangin’ tough” (omg! jordan is my fave lol ;-)
mr. lif, “home of the brave” (so he lives in berkeley now, and what?)
tracy chapman, “fast car” (used to play T stations)
extreme, “more than words” (found an acapella!?!)
aerosmith, “walk this way” (nice break, dudes)
run DMC, “walk this way” (better break, jam master)
NKOTB, “the right stuff” (williamsburg where ya at?)
bell biv devoe, “poison” (girl, i must warn you: i know that BBD album by heart)
the cars, “just what i needed” (uncanny how the intro mirrors BBD’s)
j geils band, “angel is a centerfold” (urbody whistle now)
boston, “more than a feeling” (guitars are for dorks)
ed O.G., “i got to have it” (representin’ the bean harder than guru since 1991)
MBTA, “davis square redline stop” (a wicked hahd-to-find recording)

listeners will notice that some of these tracks are in more fragmentary form than others. (hope not to leave anyone hanging too much, but you should seek out the originals in that case.) as with most mixes, it was the tracks’ suggestive qualities and affective resonance that i was going for–not some sense of their textual wholeness. this is however less a mix or a mashup, per se, than what might be better called a mix’n’mash. at times, i play songs on their own, though more often than not i play two or more songs at once (or instrumental versions/loops of them).

the sound and shape of the music i am making here is a product of the technology that i am using: ableton live. having the relative freedom to stretch tempos without changing pitch allows me to match a number of songs together that the average vinylist couldn’t/wouldn’t. of course, i also change pitch sometimes, purposely, either to make a harmony sweeter or to weird/chipmunk something out. generally though, at least in this case, i have preserved the original pitch/key of the songs in question, which i think makes them much more recognizable. the changes in tempo are less noticeable. you’ll notice i like the echo button, too.


w&w performing the mashacre live at artbeat 05

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March 18th, 2011

dubble dub (riddim meth0d repost)

Although I initially posted this mix in November 2005, springy days like today — it’s nearly 70 degrees and flowers are poking out of the ground! — always seem like just the right setting for my dubby take on dub, as prepared a little over 5 years ago for bredrin Brynmore‘s erstwhile weekly, Heavy Dread. The mix has really weathered the years, IMO, all the better with weather like this. (I’m still particularly pleased with the funny, sentimental ending.) Here goes again…

i call the mix “dubble dub” because i’m playing a bunch of dub tunes (from across the dub spectrum, and a few from beyond) and treating them as a dub producer treats individual tracks in a mix, applying plenty of echo/delay and reverb and working with layers of sound as layers of sound. i also apply some digital-age tricknology, cutting and looping fragments of tunes and often time-stretching tracks to maintain a steady tempo for much of the mix. because the tunes are already dub tunes, many of them brimming with effects and edits, i’m essentially doubling-up on the dub – thus, “dubble dub.” (a phrase which barrington levy, thankfully, almost said, which makes for a nice little intro.)

wayne&wax, “dubble dub” (35 minutes, 33 mb)

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in terms of song selection, my idea was to try to represent the dub tradition in some breadth and depth. so i drew ecumenically from across the spectrum: early, classic dub/DJ experiments; later, dread-ful dub; 80s digi-dub; heavy UK dub mutations; european minimal techno dub; new york illbient dub; and a few tracks that aren’t dub at all but get the dub treatment, mashed up with dubby loops and echoing along with that lovely ol’ 3:2 jamaican/caribbean/west-african polyrhythm that dub consistently brings out of even the most foursquare music.

the sequence is guided by musical matches and mashes. for example, the vintage drum machine running through lee perry’s “dub revolution,” mad prof’s “boombox,” and shuggie otis’s “aht uh mi hed” (i’ve always wondered whether that’s an attempt at patois) provides a nice audible thread, among others, with which to weave these seemingly disparate tracks together. in other cases, it’s just a matter of time or tone. overall, i try to maintain a good vibe – a proper meds, seen? – while keeping the music and the mood flowing. mostly, i just enjoy the echoes: across beats and bars, land and ocean.

here’s the tracklist:

barrington levy, raw raw, dami d, wasp – intro
we – caya’s kids
lee “scratch” perry – dub revolution
mad professor – boombox
shuggie otis – aht uh mi hed
pole – silberfisch
jan jelinek – tendency
lou donaldson – ode to billie joe
wayne&wax – odes to billie joe
ernest ranglin – surfin’
tapper zukie – man ah warrior
ansel collins – nuclear weapon
big joe – glitter not gold
dennis alcapone – DJ choice
andy capp – poppy show
brentford all-stars – greedy G
burning babylon – addis red dub
timbaland – get to poppin’ (instrumental)
king jammys – megabyte
peego and fatman – dry your tears
the cars – drive

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September 16th, 2010

nature mashing (riddim meth0d repost)

In anticipation of tomorrow’s opening session of MIT’s Sensing the Unseen series, which, in October, will bring to campus Steven Feld — a scholar of music and sound who has deeply influenced both my field (ethnomusicology) and my own work — I am re-posting yet another riddimmeth0d mashup. This particular mash was even more of a conceptual joke than most of the others I’ve made, and the tongue-in-cheek write-up should attest to that. I’m not sure it’s particularly funny, nor whether all the irony comes through, but I still chuckle when I think about “entomusicology” and “avian sonic subjectivities.” I hope you do too.

As for Dr. Feld, I kinda hope he never gets wind of this. While I was thrilled to be asked to serve as discussant for his talk in October, I’m also fairly intimidated by the prospect. His work is rigorous, often challenging, and usually takes me some time to absorb. (I still try to read this essay, perhaps my favorite piece on the semiotics of music and the mechanics of the listening process, at least once a year; and there’s no writing about “world music” — which y’all know I like to do — without reckoning with this and this.) Trying to riff on Feld’s talk in more-or-less real time will be a challenge to say the least. That said, I am really looking forward to it! If you’re interested in sensorium (and sound) studies, and you happen to be in the Cambridge area, please join us for any and all.

This was originally published on 9 November 2005.

never mind all that talk about culture mashing, nature mashing is the future.

as evidence, i present you with my own example, a mash of “morning fanfare” (from broken-hearted dragonflies, a collection of “insect electronica” recorded by tucker martine in thailand, burma, and laos) with “keafo, morning” (from rainforest soundwalks, a collection of “ambiences” of bosavi, papua new guinea, recorded by steven feld).

w&w, “morning, morning”

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first, i should note that the temporal convergence of these sounds — i.e., morning — presents one of several significant unities brought out by the juxtaposition of the two recordings. despite this obvious alignment, however, the sounds and sound qualities — a product as much of the microphones, media, and mastering as their specific spatial sites — are rather different in a variety of ways, and these divergences are similarly highlighted by their simultaneous sounding. the resulting tensions across the mash’s spatio-temporal resonances produce an alternating, enveloping effect/affect of location and dislocation.

indeed, by bringing together here several geographically-distinct but diurnally-linked sound sources, the mashup displaces as it triggers one’s sonically-informed sense of place. as the sounds of the new zealand forest, in characteristic form, lift-up-over the southeast asian soundscapes, what emerges is an acoustic ecology that is — at once — here and there, where and frere.

along these lines, what i find most striking about this mashup is the way it calls our attention to the overlapping qualities between the two sound sources in question. it has long been my (casual) hypothesis that the bugs of southeast asia have influenced, as they have been influenced by, the bugs, birds, and waterfalls of new zealand. indeed, a cursory glance at migratory patterns and informal pitch- and rhythm-based analyses suggest that not only do the dragonflies in question appear to “riff” off the unique sounds of the bosavi rainforest, the latter sounds themselves appear “broken-hearted” in their warbles and woops. in these intertextual moments, such seemingly serendipitous combinations reveal themselves to be, perhaps, less than coincidental, to be — indeed — crucial to the constitution of insect and avian sonic subjectivities, not to mention human ones.

as such audible interplay pushes the very edges of ento-/ornitho-musicology (two fields in which i am, admittedly, but a dabbler), i humbly submit this sonic example as an outsider’s ear’s view on worlds heretofore unconnected in the acoustic imagination and yet, as you can hear, deeply and soundly intertwined.

hope that doesn’t bug anyone.

-

August 25th, 2010

musical examples (riddim meth0d repost)

[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”).

wayne&wax, “concrete jungles” (marley marley in control? mix)

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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.”

wayne&wax, “alcaponna rain”

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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.

wayne&wax, “planets rock”

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July 22nd, 2010

musical travels with seymour and bernice, pt. 1: points of embarkation (riddim meth0d repost)

I’m reposting this, originally published to the now-defunct Riddim Meth0d site back in January 2006, in tribute to Seymour, who passed away earlier this week. A long overdue part 2 will follow…


i don’t think we’re in rockville center anymore

with this champagne-bust of a post then, we embark.

and hence we commence our sonicultural adventure, a trip across (real) time and (imagined) space, a journey into the middle of the last century, into a middle-class home, into the middle of long island.

you may be surprised, if reminded, that the middle stands between near and far, high and low. it mediates these extremities, quite literally.

but we’re not interested so much in the literal on this voyage (at least not at this point). we’re interested in the symbolic, in the narratives that music mediates and which themselves animate musical meanings. but let’s begin with some literalities, if simply to couch the symbolic in a more meaningful, relatable context.

seymour and bernice are my wife’s maternal grandparents. they’re not my own grandparents, so i don’t know all that i should know to attempt such an excavation as this, though i hope to learn much by way of listening. recently, as becca and i visited her grandparents, seymour and bernice offered me their record collection. they haven’t had a record player for years, and bernice just got an ipod nano, so who needs a few big, heavy boxes of vinyl sitting around? i guess i do, since i accepted their offer without hesitation. there was something just too tantalizing about all those records, not just for their hidden gems and samplables, but somehow for the sum-total of their expression of a life of record collecting. what would these records say about my in-laws and their lives and the way society and culture looked and sounded to them? i had to find out.

when we returned from long island, i unpacked the boxes, went through each and every one, putting the records in piles according to the imaginary maps in my head, listening to any that caught my eye, putting aside a stack of favorites, and attempting to come to terms with the collection and what it expressed. some of the records seemed rare, some utterly common. there was more classical (and opera, specifically) than i had hoped for, but this was significant in itself (and a fine collection in its own right). the records mainly represented the era in which they were collected (i.e., the 50s and 60s), with relatively few big surprises and a fair number of delights: plenty of swing and standards, pop and dance records, a good whiff of exotica, lots of neo-folk stuff (a la pete seeger), but then a fair amount of jewish music, from the kitschy to the cantatorial, russian and yiddish folk songs to jazzed-up klezmer and israeli nationalist anthems. mostly 12s, a few 10s, and a handful of 78s. i was told that some records (mainly the russian ones) were inherited from an aunt, and that some were probably the kids’ (one of whom, my mother-in-law, will no doubt be gassed to hear the records released by her childhood summer camp — limited pressings indeed, and for good reason).

the music i plan to share with you as i go on these travels with seymour and bernice will mainly be those tracks or records which caught my attention, those that are most curious to me — and, of course, those that sound best. all things considered, this will undoubtedly be a strange trip, and i will acknowledge at the outset that it may well ultimately express my own musical imagination more strongly than it expresses anything that might relate to seymour and bernice, or their family, or mid-twentieth century long island, new york america. but that, i hope, is what might save this exercise from being the sort of thing that should be confined to one’s parlour (if one has a parlour these days). i hope that my role as curator or interpreter or whatever-you-wanna-call-me makes these travels not just bearable but enjoyable — perhaps even something in which you can participate.

i envision this venture/project/travelogue as taking a road somewhere between pace’s L.O.V.E. and jace’s vinyl rescue service (as well as the seemingly defunct stickershock). i see it as another way that riddim = method, which is to say, another way that music can express ideas, can open up into broader conversations, can provoke us to think, to contemplate, to make sense of the world. it seems that this medium’s (i.e., the internets’s) ability to share and revise, discuss and debate, tag and archive media is unparalleled in its power, and i hope to tap into that — if only partially, suggestively — to tell this story. i invite you to build the narrative with me, to riff off of it, and to start your own. i’ll lend you my ears if you lend me yours. so many record collections, so little time. but worlds upon worlds to discover. and this is as good a way in (and out) as any…

// i wish you L.O.V.E. //

the first track i will offer is from a record that caught my eye on that first day home, partly because of the stereotypically gay-parisian scene (and thus its kitsch potential) and partly because of the shiny sleeve. the song is a midcentury french pop standard, “que reste-t-il de nos amours?” — written by charles trenet. it appears on living strings at a sidewalk cafe, an LP issued in 1963 by camden RCA, whose other releases included living strings play henry mancini, the shimmering sounds of living strings, and where did the night go with the living strings. (i’ve left the telltale, and cherished [by us hip-hop folk], vinyl static around the song so as to frame it with reminders of the sound’s original material form.)

living strings, “i wish you love”

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right away, i’m struck by the sentimental, if not outright schmaltzy, strings — typical of pop arrangements of that era and hallmarks of what came to be known as easy listening music. the second thing that grabs my attention, though, is the mellow, latin-ate percussion. one thing that emerges from the experience of listening across many of these lounge-y records from the 50s and 60s is the degree to which latin styles permeate the parlourscape of the period. after a certain point, such signs are not exactly exotic anymore, and it’s interesting to hear the way american music absorbs various “foreign” currents to the point where they become so ubiquitous as to seem utterly unremarkable, utterly american.

after these initial impressions, i find myself following the melody, finding pleasure in tracing its romantic contours. the arrangement erupts into wonderful little surprises, however scripted, as when the flutes bubble-out their transitional riffs or when the accordian takes up the melody, giving it a decidedly (if imaginatively) french sound. (the hanging vibraphone arpeggio that concludes the song is just the sort of thing that amon tobin might employ to end one of his sample-based epics.) the song’s swelling grandeur, while predictable, is not only audible and visible (see below), it’s downright palpable — and that’s a sign of affect accomplished.

france here appears both foreign and familiar, dressed in the dulcet tones of international pop and yet fairly exotic too. the sounds themselves, and the record sleeve’s promise of “music to whisk you away to cafes international!“ express both a longing and an affinity for the foreign, perhaps even a cosmopolitanism that we might hear as progressive. but is it articulating an individual’s desire to experience different senses of place? or a generation(s)-removed nostalgia for the old world? or, perhaps, an international alignment — e.g., NATO — that may have seemed appealing in post-WWII, cold-war-era

the language of escape and difference, fantasy and distance running through the sleeve notes would seemingly point us more toward nostalgia and desire (e.g., to go abroad — a relative novelty given the recent advent of mass air travel), at least as far as the marketing team was concerned. here’re the notes from the back of the sleeve:

It’s the Cafe de la Paix in Paris, the Caffe Doney in Rome, the Cafe Demel in Vienna, and a state of mind and wistful dreams anywhere at all. This is the sidewalk cafe, a relaxed, alfresco world of wicker chairs, marble-top tables and aproned waiters – part club, part meeting place, alive with laughter and talk.

Here is the music of the sidewalk cafe – gay songs, sad songs, songs of memory.

From Germany, music of love and the warm atmosphere of “Gemutlichkeit”: Du du liegst mir im Herzen (“You Are in My Heart”); Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart; You Can’t Be True, Dear from a German Hit called “Du kannst nicht treu sein,” and the classic Lili Marlene, adopted as a world-wide favorite by American G.I.’s in World War II.

From Austria the lovely waltz Vienna, My City of Dreams.

From France, I Wish You Love (“Que reste-t-il de nos amours”), written by the French idol Charles Trenet; another French favorite, J’attendrai (“I’ll Be Yours”).

From the U.S., three lovely hits which have become sidewalk cafe favorites the world over: Play, Fiddle, Play, an entrancing waltz; My Heart Cries for You, one of the big hits of 1951, and the enchanting Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo from Leslie Caron and Mel Ferrer‘s movie hit “Lili.”

it’s interesting to me that germany, austria, and france have been so thoroughly recuperated in the american imagination by this point (“warm atmosphere”?!), as well as how these particular european places don’t necessarily seem to matter so much at all. indeed, one could have one’s “wistful dreams” anywhere at all if one wants. and, what do you know, there is a direct reference to WWII and the way that europe came home, and went ‘round, with the boys. finally, the comforting notion of american global influence rears its head in the last paragraph and yet, interestingly, it appears alongside the explicit acknowledgment of the french actress who popularized the song to which they refer and of the composer, the only american composer mentioned and a man with a conspicuously cuban name.

so, i’m thinking “ambivalence,” but that’s a no-brainer. this is obviously more complex territory than that, and the decades between its production then and its reception here, as an mp3, will obviously make our hermeneutical endeavor that much more tricky (if fun).

listen again: what does it sound like to you?

// tighten your beltz //

the second example i offer you is from another record that grabbed me at first sight. again, it something about the design, rather than a verbal description of the contents, that caught my eye. the bold lines, the simple color scheme – it recalled for me various jazz records from that time, especially the modernist blue note sleeves. of course, the barry sisters are a handsome pair as well. and when i looked closer and saw the yiddish titles, my curiosity was piqued.

i put the record on immediately, and the first song proved to be the most arresting of the LP, a collection of yiddish folk/popular songs released by cadence records in the 1960s (no exact date found) under the unassuming title, the barry sisters sing.

the barry sisters, “beltz”

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as the song begins, plaintive strings conjure a sense of melancholy which seems to hang in the air, heavy with dreadful anticipation, as the opening gesture comes to a rubato resolution. when the sisters’ voices enter along with the rest of the arrangement, they quickly confirm these intimations of sadness: they sound tormented by grief, like souls longing for another time and place. they embrace the tune’s minor harmonies, drawing deep pathos out of chordtones and semitones, slurring syllables and bending pitches around their heavy hearts. they sound — if i may — like jews with the blues, and that’s not meant to be a pithy cliche: on the contrary, it’s meant to describe the very sound and sentiment underlying “beltz.”

known early in their career as the bagelman sisters, the barry sisters were among the most prominent exponents of yiddish swing, a jazzed-up approach to yiddish folk songs that emerged in an era which produced swing ballads and ethnic novelties alike (and in spades), and a genre that found favor among (second and third) american jews looking for a modern expression of their cultural heritage. as you can hear, the MOR arrangement bears witness to the degree that this subcultural style partook in mainstream popular musical vocabulary (another ending on a hanging vibraphone?!), but there’s something unnervingly distinctive about the accompaniment all the same. those sweeping strings could almost evoke nat king cole or dean martin in their cartoonish sentimentality, but then, they’re a little too ominous, especially against the barry sisters’ voices. allusions to and uses of the yiddish musical vocabulary and repertory would seem partly, if not largely, to account for this elusive but qualitative difference between the music of the barry sisters and their easy listening contemporaries. and perhaps they explain why — despite the looming threat of kitsch — the song sounds, even today, not so much a curio as a hauntingly beautiful performance.

of course, it gets a little goofy in the middle, with some uplifting strains which still manage to sound fragile, fleeting. the middle section doesn’t resolve, it leads right back to the beginning, the sad refrain, the painful memories. and then, a dreamy instrumental chorus, allowing us to fill in the pictures before the sisters return at the bridge to take us slowly, (bitter)sweetly home.

as it turns out, the sisters are singing about a far-away place after all, a former home of sorts (if only in metaphorical terms), a place called beltz/belz — a small town in ukraine which was also home to a hasidic dynasty. but their song is a more generalizable tale. it is a story of mourning, of grieving for a childhood memory — of life in a shtetl — that is no more. again the historical context of the record’s production is crucial to guess at its range of reception and resonance: post-WWII, holocaust hanging heavy over the lieu de memoire that is the subject of the song. the shtetl could thus be heard as a metonym for a former life that has been destroyed, ruined, lost. i didn’t get all of this upon my first listening, but i do think the song’s power of affect evokes this sentiment rather well — almost precisely. the only words i really recognized when i first listened were “mein shtetl,” which were enough in themselves to suggest a few possible themes to me, especially when paired with the lyrics’ sorrowful setting.

the sleeve notes provided me with more grist for the mill, including no little astonishment at the strange sort of self-deprecation with which the author (identified by the initials S.D.) introduces his/her remarks. allow me to share some excerpts:

You are now reading the opening sentence of a rambling essay of some five hundred words covering the entire reverse side of this album. But, truthfully, even if you were to stop reading right now, you would still know most of the facts in the case. You have already seen the front cover. You have been advised that here are a dozen familiar and beloved melodies which have their origins in Yiddish folk and popular music. They are sung in the warm and flawless style of the Barry Sisters. Some of the songs have been composed, and all of them arranged and conducted, by Abraham Ellstein. So, then, why continue to peruse the rest of this less than immortal prose? Shouldn’t an album of music, any kind of music, speak, or, rather, sing for itself? It should. And this one does. But there is a reason for this writing. It’s a reason that has to do with a normal reaction to a new musical experience. When you hear a work of genuine beauty, stature and originality for the very first time, you just cannot let go of it. There’s that exciting urge to examine it, think about it, talk about it. And so we thought that perhaps you would care to know just a little bit more about the background of the songs and the singers since never before has there been an album of music exactly like this one.

In one sense these are melodies and rhythms that might be said to possess a definite flavor and feeling even though no two of the songs are exactly alike. Several of them are popular tunes written by well known composers but the origins of some of the others will always remain a mystery. Who knows how many thousands of years ago a Palestinian shepherd first played the original strains of Hi Hora on a primitive reed? How old is a folk song like Rozenkes und Mandlen, and who wrote it? We will never know. What we do know, however, is that each song in the album has undergone a remarkable transformation. While losing nothing of their original charm, they have taken on an illuminating and new dimension. They are still Yiddish songs but now they speak to us in the universal language of music. They belong to everyone regardless of speech or background. My Yiddishe Momma is now everybody’s Momma. Gesselle is now everybody’s street of heartbreak, nostalgia and unrequited love. Beit Mir A Bisselle and Abi Gesunt are as modern and as swingy as anything in the juke boxes.

Quite sincerely, we believe that these will be your conclusions after you have heard the album. You are probably asking yourself how was it done? Well, it didn’t happen by accident. It would be altogether accurate to say that this album has been years in preparation. It was made by people who grew up with this music, who have known it, nurtured it and loved it. First, we have the Barry Sisters, Claire and Merna. All right, they were born lucky. They discovered, quite early in life, that they had voices. Claire’s voice is high and beautiful; Merna’s is sweet and low. Constant study and arduous practise succeeded in producing the breath-taking and seemingly effortless blend that is so characteristic of their unique and lovely style. The songs in this album go back to their childhood. But even at the beginning, Claire and Merna heard these melodies in terms of other rhythms and other notes. They were born in New York and were raised on the popular music of America. From the very first, they brought a new world interpretation to an old world tune. For a while, as their many recordings, broadcasts, and club dates might indicate, they were the country’s leading exponents of what was termed Yiddish Swing. But the girls were proving something else to themselves and the public. They were demonstrating beyond any shadow of a doubt that good music can break any language barrier. Today, they are one of the country’s leading singing acts, at home with any type of song anywhere in the world. To them, this album represents a return to an early, never forgotten and still active love.

The result is music that is older than all of our ancestors and as new as this morning’s paper . . . music that springs from a single nationality, and is as universal as the United Nations.

yep, it’s pretty quaint stuff, couched in terms of newness and normalcy, of foreigness and familiarity. it describes the music as modern and “swingy” and yet timeless, as being of universal appeal — they belong to everyone — and yet “from a single nationality.” i wonder whether the universalist rhetoric was meant to appeal to non-jews or simply to jews ambivalent about their jewishness? or am i simply being naive about midcentury, metropolitan jewishness? it is interesting to me also that, apparently, zionist discourse had not yet divorced the term palestinian from any association with jewish heritage.

i could say much more, but this entry has already grown too lengthy. suffice it to say that this complex gem of a recording points us to what will inevitably be another thread running through our musical travels with seymour and bernice: the weirdness and wonders of negotiating jewishness in the post-war era, a historical moment in which israel loomed large, across which the holocaust cast its long shadow, and during which many american jews of the post-post-pogram generation (i.e., born to first- or second-generation parents), were going secular, embracing cultural notions of jewishness, and trying to figure out which traditions and values and symbols to maintain and which to let go.

or at least that’s what i imagine i hear, at least at this moment.

what do you hear?

btw, if you want to hear more from the barry sisters, stay tuned, as i will surely revisit their catalog in another installment. and for more music along these lines, check out the yiddish radio project from NPR as well as josh kun’s hippocampus. [update: see also, the idelsohn society for musical preservation, involved with such salutary projects as jews on vinyl.]

// . . . //

more perhaps than even this monstrous first entry might portend, i hope to unpack a great deal of this collection in due time, working through it and learning as i go. on the way, i hope to get some feedback from you, dear reader and listener, as well as from seymour and bernice, who will surely be tickled by all of this and who will hopefully be happy that i’m enjoying their records.

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July 20th, 2010

The Lemon-Red Mix (riddim meth0d repost)

Two birds, one stone: in the ongoing effort to re-host some adventures in riddim meth0dology, this post also continues the recent trend of recommending mixes well-suited to summering. (But plz note — I really do think of this mix as suitable for all seasons.) I’m very happy to (re)present: our Lemon-Red Mix!

>>> The Riddim Meth0d, “Lemon-Red Mix”

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As initially hyped over at Lemon-Red (back in April 2006):

The Riddim Method is a collective of DJs, producers, and ass-shaking academics who formed like Voltron to embark on a group-blog experiment. After years of playing together in various configurations — from Toneburst days to present endeavors in Beat Research — the Riddim Methodists decided in ’05 to share their musico-tricknological discoveries, creations, and conversations on the internerd, hoping others might add their two fifty cents.

From bases in Beantown and Oaktown, the six Riddim Methodists play local and link global. There’s DJ C, who, with remixes for Kid 606’s Shockout Records and for XL Recordings (on MIA’s “U.R.A.Q.T.”) — not to mention raggacentric productions for his own Mashit Records — has been burning up dancefloors on tour and at his weekly residency back in Boston. There’s DJ Flack, C’s co-host at Beat Research – a multimedia maestro who makes video music when he’s not making beats. Then there’s Ripley, rootical rallycry-roaring, breakcoring, copyfightin’, blog-writin’ DJ-slash-activist. There’s Kid Kameleon, a smash’n’mash mixmaster, globetrottin’ DJ, and music scribe (XLR8R, Grooves, Pitchfork). There’s Pace, the vinyl librarian and riddim networkian, a b-school b-boy with deep crates and nothin’ but L.O.V.E. And there’s Wayne&wax, hip-hop scholar since being knee-high to a duck, prolix mu’fucka, and all-around Boston Jerk.

For their Lemon-Red mix, the Riddim Methodists take turns connecting the dots between dubstep, hip-hop, dancehall, bass, merengue, soca, bmore, rai, dub, electro, doo-wop, ragga house, and boston bounce, among others–a genre-mashing jawn that can work in your earbuds and speakerboxxes alike.

Check the Method.

Check the method, but don’t believe the hype :P

Actually, speaking of hype, I would like to note that our mix even got a little Pfork love back in the day, c/o erstwhile (and missed!) music-writer Dave Stelfox. About the mix, Dave wrote

Assembled by a team including Harvard musicologist Wayne Marshall, DJ Ripley, Kid Kameleon, DJ C, DJ Flack, and Pace, it could fit comfortably in any of Pitchfork’s specialist columns, needlestitching together an array of genres, from dubstep to Dirty South hip-hop, Egyptian shaabi to Baltimore club, reggae to techno. It’s an inspiring ride, cohesive yet omnivorous and proves there are no boundaries in music if you’ve got a little imagination and a whole lot of love for it.

Yeah, that basically sums it up. (For the record, though, I don’t think I could ever be accurately described as a “Harvard musicologist,” though I have done some teaching over there and I do hold a degree — in English — from the place.)

But seriously, this one was a double honor for me. First, it was a pleasure and a privilege to contribute to the illustrious Lemon-Red mix series. Many of us are still missing Lemon-Red. Or to paraphrase everybody’s favorite Guru non-sequitur (again): Lemon-red was a popular blog, and it still is.

For my money (or lack thereof), the L-R mix series, which popped off with DJ /Rupture’s stellar Low Income Tomorrowland, marked the beginning of a new era: the age of internet mixes. Ever since, my iPod/Phone has been filled with 15min to 2hr blocks of sound. I hardly ever listen to discrete tracks anymore, at least recreationally, as I much prefer going on a little ride provided by some careful curator. The two hallmarks of Chris Lemon-Red’s series were A) his fine choice of DJs — and I don’t mean this to be self-aggrandizing (I’m humbled to join the ranks) — and B) the relatively reasonable lengths of the mixes: at least for the first several, they tended to clock in at around a half-hour, perfect for a quick, music-addled jog around Fresh Pond. Of course, being a six person team, we couldn’t really deliver on brevity, but we were certainly inspired by the funky, chunky mixes turned in by the likes of /Rupture, Poirier, the Rub dudes, Cap & Jones, Emynd & Bo Bliz, etc. Fine company, fi true.

Second, it was a blast to collaborate with five of my favorite DJs in the world — and to attempt to stitch together a coherent mix out of a half-dozen different visions. Given our asynchronous exchange (combined with a few realtime building sessions), I think it holds together pretty well. (And Jake, aka DJ C*, deserves some credit for doing the work of pasting things together and smoothing over the edges.) I ended up with the slightly dubious honor of closing out the mix. Dubious only because it takes almost an hour to get to my wee 6 minute section. But it was definitely fun to cook up a climax! For that reason, way back when and again today, I’m also offering up a standalone mini-mix of my contribution:

>>> wayne&wax, “Lemon-Red Mix Bit”

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(You can read more about the mashing up of Lil Jon, Del Shannon, and some bubbling loops here.)

* FYI — DJ C will be returning to Beat Research, the night that he founded some six years ago, this coming Monday, July 26, to rock alongside Flack (and me) just like old times. Come help welcome him home for the evening!

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May 5th, 2010

version a version (riddim meth0d repost)

[Ok, while I’m grinding on non-bloggy things, let me keep things moving here by offering up another from the riddimmeth0d vaults. I’m happy to report that I’ve since discovered more info about the origins of “Bird In Hand” here, which points out that the female singer on “Milte hi aankhein dil huwa” (from the 1950 film Babul, directed by Raj Kapoor) is not Geeta Dutt as I initially reported but rather Shamshad Begum. I also want to note that just about three years ago, my mashup of the Lee Perry recording and its filmi inspiration worked its way into a podcast by Mick Sleeper (mp3) devoted to odd remixes of Perry’s odd remixes. Finally, given the recent uptick around Dutch club music thanks to the moombahton movement, I’m pleased to note that the second track here employs a classic bubbling loop. This post was initially published on 27 April 2006.]


worldclass warblers talat mahmood and geeta dutt

several months ago, matt woebot called attention to another amazing instance of far-flung musical connections. in this case, a filmi melody turning up in a lee perry-produced dub track. i myself had always wondered about the odd, haunting melody of “bird in hand” (on return of the super ape), but like many listeners i suppose i chalked it up to that ol’ wacky jamaican creativity or assumed it was amharic or something. recorded in 1978, the song foreshadows reggae’s embrace of the bollywood sound by a cool twenty-five years.

even more remarkable, whereas contemporary dancehall producers tend to simply sample lata and conjure the east with tabla patches, here we have an amazingly faithful engagement on the part of the singer, versioning the melody like alton ellis doing sam cooke and drawing out suggestive vocables (ma-ri-wa-a). (woebot’s post points to more info, but one of the more explanatory pages is down so i’ve linked to it though the waybackmachine here. [update: actually, I’m afraid that page is no longer viewable at archive.org b/c it “has been blocked by the site owner via robots.txt”; I can’t seem to find it on Mick Sleeper’s site either; shame.])

as you might have anticipated, i couldn’t resist mashing the two versions together, hearing – as on “big gyptian” – one complement (and perhaps compliment) the other, filmi singers over dread riddims. (properly speaking, i guess what i’ve done is more like “blending” – no pellas, mang – but, importantly, via digital cut’n’play.) i’ve arranged the two so as to play up their relationship, lining them up and juxtaposing them toward the end, letting the versions share a chorus before their forms (which, despite all the melodic fidelity, are far from identical) diverge too much. i also pitch- and time-shifted the filmi song slightly, playing it a little higher and a tad faster so as to better ride the upsetters’ deep one-drop.


wayne&wax, “a bird in hand is worth two a yard”

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[as is par for the course, the filmi version itself is full of far-flung musical connections. note, for example, the tango-derived piano figure in the opening.]

/ .. / .. /


del shannon and max crook’s musitron

as i was cooking up my segment of our lemon-red mix, i was suddenly inspired to include del shannon’s “runaway” (well mixed’n’mashed, of course). given that it seems a less than obvious choice (see comment #3), why did i think this was a good idea? i’m not totally sure. i suppose that some aesthetic doors had been opened for me by bmore’s affinity for oldies as well as hip-hop’s recent embrace of doo-wop. (indeed, as it turns out, not only has bobby vinton been sampled and frankie lymon channeled but, apparently, shannon’s “runaway” has itself been tapped recently – pressed into service for the crossover-courting comeback of NYC’s kulcha don. ) but the main reason i even had the song ready to remix is because i recently picked up a bunch of 60s pop to play at moms’s birthday party. (where people – mostly aunts – were getting down to some golden oldies, boy.)

given the degree to which i’m tampering with it, i was delighted to learn that “runaway” is itself quite a product of electronic technologies. (you can read a detailed account of the story of the song on del shannon’s site.) for one, the track’s famous keyboard solo also happens to be one of the first appearances of a synthesizer (the musitron!) on a pop/rock’n’roll record. second, and significant, del shannon’s voice – which i have chipmunked here (along with the entire song) – was itself pitch-shifted for the original! so all you oldies fans who always wondered how he hit those alvin-esque high notes can now revel in the knowledge that del actally recorded the song in a lower range to a slowed-down accompaniment:

Upon his return to Detroit, producer Harry Balk listened to the tapes only to hear that Shannon was singing too flat. Balk liked the song’s potential and suggested to his partner, Irving Micahnik, that Shannon be flown back to New York to re-cut the vocals. Again, Shannon was nervous and singing flat. Having spent a lot of money on studio time and expenses, Balk and Micahnik were very concerned. Balk and Big Top Records president Johnny Beinstock turned to the owner of Bell Sound for help and advice. The owner developed a machine, the size of a desk, that would enable the tapes to be sped up and slowed down. This allowed Balk to speed up Shannon’s vocals to nearly one-and-a-half times it’s original speed to bring him into key. “We finally got Del on key, and it sounded great, but it didn’t sound like Del,” explained Balk. “We mixed it anyhow, and it came out wonderful. (source)

and i was quite pleased to discover that my chipmunked, boston-bounced, merengue-mashed remix not only seems in line with the original both technologically and aesthetically, but also – considering del shannon’s frank admission of alluding to “stealing” other people’s music – philosophically and ethically:

Shannon, too, was ahead of his time, being one of the first white boys to sing falsetto on record. “I learned falsetto from The Ink Spots’ ‘We Three,'” Shannon would explain in a 1989 interview. “I eventually got hooked on Jimmy Jones’ ‘Handy Man’ in ’59 and would sing that at the Hi-Lo Club. I always had the idea of ‘running away’ somewhere in the back of my mind. ‘I wa-wa-wa-wa-wonder, why…’ I borrowed from Dion & The Belmonts’ ‘I Wonder Why.’ The beats you hear in there, ‘…I wonder, bam-bam-bam, I wa-wa…’ I stole from Bobby Darin’s ‘Dream Lover.’ We all steal from the business you know. When ‘Runaway’ went to #1, people stole from me. That’s the way the record business is played.” (source)

well said. ahem:

wayne&wax, “runaway imagination”

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[as you can see, i’m mixing the chipmunked “runaway” with loops from the merengue-mix of lil jon’s “get low” as well as additional percussion courtesy of a bubblin’ loop, “Beat-005” (itself a far-flung thing, filtering dancehall/soca through dutch happy hardcore) and a few boston bounce layers, namely that swingin’ hi-hat and syncopatedly-snappin’ snare.]

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April 16th, 2010

big gyptian (riddim meth0d repost)

[Ok, here’s another oldie-but-goodie from the Riddim Meth0d vaults. Plenty of readers are no doubt familiar with this post/mashup, especially since I’ve revisited the issue. In the time since I wrote it (almost 5 years ago!), I’ve also had the strange fortune of submitting a brief report — about the significance of “Big Pimpin” to Jay’s and Timbo’s respective oeuvres — to the lawyers working for the heirs to Baligh Hamdi’s copyrights. (For the record, while I don’t want to contribute to bad legal precedent, I’m generally ok with taking some of the money that explodes outward as rich people sue rich people, as long as I get to tell the truth as I see/hear it. Also, this likely won’t go to trial.) This example also finds its way into a chapter I’m contributing to a forthcoming book on Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom. Finally, I want to thank the lovely humanitarians at archive.org for preserving the post and — more importantly — the comments on it. I’m happy & relieved to recover the comment thread from the initial RM post, which I will paste in at the bottom of this re-post. It’s hard to lose conversations to the e-ther, even little ones. For the record, this was initially published on 19 September 2005.]

riffing off pace’s east-meets-west blend and continuing my experiments with mashes of musically-related songs, i offer up an orientalist oddity: jay z’s “big pimpin’,” as produced by timbaland, mixed with abdel-halim hafez’s “khosara,” the song that provided timbo with the inspiration for the slinky, flute-propelled loop that undergirds j-hova’s jam.

wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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although there was some controversy about the similarity between “pimpin'” and “khosara” (including talk of a lawsuit), timbaland apparently escaped penalty, at least at present, because in this case he replayed – i.e., re-recorded – the two-bar section (rather than digitally sampling it), and the sense appears to be that the underlying composition was not original and/or substantial enough to be infringed in this case. you will hear in the four-bars that begin my mashup that timbaland’s beat bears a very strong resemblance to the original. [note from 2010: i have since changed my opinion on the question of whether this features a sample or not, based on irrefutable evidence.]

this is not an unambiguous case. because the music in question is a short loop and it is re-recorded rather than sampled, it seems reasonable for timbo to get off the hook. of course, not only is the musical reference a clearly recognizable one, the two-bar phrase in question is an important part of the original, serving as an intro and as a recurring riff (notably, returning after the vocal section). at the same time, the fact that, according to this article, label owner magdi el-amroussi would have denied timbo the ability to use this fragment – “Because he’s changed the composition” – also seems to argue for timbaland’s right to do it. despite that timbo and jay used the flute loop to craft a somewhat crass (if catchy) song about pimpin’, the world would be worse off with such arbitrary, authoritarian restrictions on derivative works, whether the so-called owner of the copyright is disney or a seemingly stodgy label owner.

what i like about this mash, as with the “code of the beats” experiment, is that one gets to hear more of the original, which is great in its own right, and thus one understands the sonic inspiration at work here. at the same time, hearing the source alongside the “derivative” track offers new ways of hearing the originals. in this case, one gets to hear how timbo’s interpretation changes the original: rather than a recurring motif, the flute loop now undergirds the entire composition, moving its emphasis toward rhythmic repetition and bass frequencies. similarly, rather than supporting some southern-fried, slap-a-bitch rap, timbaland’s breezy beat, enhanced by additional winds and strings, instead accompanies the mournful, melismatic singing of abdel-halim hafez, the “king of arabic music.”

although timbo’s beat has always had me open, i gotta admit that jay’s lyrics (and those of his cohorts) tend to put me off. frankly, they make me cringe. as much as i can see the attraction of expanding the pimp-metaphor (as with the hustler, badman, etc.) and of playing the role – at bottom, it is a position of power, par excellence perhaps – i just can’t get with the misogyny when it comes down to it. similar to oliver, i have a hard time recuperating exploitation. so, rather than playing any of the verses, or even the chorus, what i have done here is to “dub in” a few of the phrases in jay’s verse that seemed more “positive” or at least could be interpreted that way. “love ’em” (without the “leave ’em”) seems about as good as it gets, though i found some others, too.

after putting the phrases together, i was struck that the line “take ’em out the hood, keep ’em lookin’ good” suggests quite another set of meanings when heard in the context of egyptian music: one can either hear jay-z critiquing conservative islam’s call for women to wear veils – recalling vybz kartel’s “you nuh haffi hide your face like bin laden gal” – or one can hear him assailing the american-style torture interrogation techniques so symbolized by hooded abu ghraib prisoners.

and despite its appearance before 9/11, “big pimpin'” does tap into our historical moment nonetheless, sitting alongside a host of other orientalist beats in hip-hop, dancehall, and various electronic genres. the resonance of middle eastern music in the world’s (urban, popular) musics has been building for some time, reflecting centuries of history of interaction, not to mention a contemporary and increasingly visible and audible cultural presence in the US.

even so, representations of middle-easterners and islam in the US (and, say, UK) remain as stereotyped and distorted as the “eastern” musical figures in contemporary popular music. the article in al-ahram notes that the hip-hop press completely conflated various asian/orientalist signifiers when trying to describe the egyptian sound of “big pimpin'”:

The identity of the composer of the song, though, has been lost within the crazy machinations of the hip-hop world. A review of the song on MTV describes it as “Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping,” ignoring its Egyptian roots. Another review describes the beat as featuring “Z droppin big willie rhymes over a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali.”

so it is also my hope that a mashup of this sort can serve to bring a little more awareness to the actual music whose ghosts and caricatures today haunt mainstream radio and the global underground alike. the hafez original could serve as a window into a wonderful world of truly amazing music, which, really, should only further justify the existence of timbaland’s homage. (let’s face it: they’re not exactly competing in the same market; one’s existence does not diminish the other – on the contrary, they enrich each other’s resonance.)

i recommend tracking down the original recording of “khosara” – never mind various live versions – and giving the song a listen. it certainly holds up on its own. (i’m sayin’, how do you think it came into timbaland’s hands?) in fact, given that the infringement suit seems like a non-issue, and considering that so many of us really dig the same sounds that inspired timbo and jay-z, it would be dandy if hafez found new listeners by virtue of timbo “putting him on.” you can find one version of “khosara” on CD here (and listen to a real-audio file of the whole thing), and you can hear much, much more from him here. enchanting stuff, no doubt. listen to this alongside some um kulthum, and you’ll get a good sense of mid-20th century egyptian popular music.

a word on technique: i have pitched the hafez recording up slightly in order to match the timbo version (since the latter had the more compelling, bumping center, which i would rather not distort). when the hafez makes harmonic changes, however, i shift the timbaland up in pitch to match it (which, yeah, sometimes sounds a little weird – but this is all kind of weird to begin with, no?). i have simply replayed the first vocal section of the hafez after the jay-z-quoting dubby section in order to give the track’s form a kind of roundness. because the hafez original is substantially longer than i imagine most people’s attention spans are, i decided to excise the rest of it. (when i tried out an earlier mix of these at a boston-based college-bar, it was clear that heads were not ready. it nearly caused a riot on dance floor, and not in a good way. but i insisted on making it through at least one round of hafez’s singing before bringing back the jay-z. the manager thought i had lost it. i quit that gig shortly thereafter. when i played the same sequence at beat research, where there also happened to be some egyptians in the house, people went bananas for it.)

one final note: i’ve added some additional, locally-inflected percussion here. having added this mash into my set at the boston bounce party a couple weeks ago, i already had the two tracks arranged with some bounce-y beats underneath (i.e., all the percussion that enters after the first eight bars). i decided to leave the beats in because they give the track some nice extra drive (if obscuring some of the halftime feel of the jay-z) and because i’ve been enjoying this odd beantown groove lately. “big pimpin'” and “khosara,” both with tempos in the mid-130s, were well suited to a boston bounce refix. it’s kind of a funny tempo, i think – unsettling with its constant question, “too fast or too slow?” – but between grime, garage, b-more, techno, soca, electro, and the occasional uptempo hip-hop or dancehall oddity, among others, beats in the 130-140 bpm range seem all the rage of late. at any rate, what’s another node in the network? shit’s messy enough to begin with. i think that’s why it sounds so good.

in case you missed it at the top:
wayne&wax, “big gyptian” (j-hova v. abdel-halim hafez)

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April 13th, 2010

the lion seeps tonight (riddim meth0d repost)

[Well, the Riddim Meth0d domain has finally kicked the bucket, scattering our posts to the great Internet Archive in the ether, or elsewhere. I’m going to continue rehashing here certain posts that seem to merit the treatment. In that vein, here’s another bit of resurrected mashup poetics for you. I’m happy to report that the example below has found its way into a chapter I’m contributing to a forthcoming book, Pop-Culture Tools for the Music Classroom, edited by Nicole Biamonte. This was initially published on 13 April 2006.]

the story of solomon linda’s “mbube” (known to many more as the weaver’s “wimoweh” and the tokens’ “the lion sleeps tonight”) is a tortuous one.

recently, the award of longstanding royalties to the linda family and an article in the NYT has renewed interest in the story’s embodiment of issues of appropriation and just compensation. i’d also recommend reading rian malan’s rolling stone exposé, which tells the story in no small detail, not afraid to name names and indict various actors. not everyone will agree with malan’s perspective (esp. re: pete seeger’s complicity), but the narrative arc malan traces certainly provokes a complex – and, one hopes, careful – consideration of all the problems swirling around this case.

as a musical analog to these prose provocations, i decided to mashup four versions of the tune: solomon linda’s 1939 original, the weavers’ 1951 adaptation, yma sumac’s 1952 cover, and the tokens’ 1961 smash hit. what i like about the mashup is that, as i’ve noted before, it draws our attention to certain correspondences – and differences – in musical form and performance style. it shows us, for example, how seeger’s and the weavers’ version is both faithful to and far from linda’s and the evening birds’ performance. it does the same for the subsequent versions. (i was somewhat surprised, for instance, to discover that yma sumac’s version so closely followed the weavers’ that it not only contained the same number of measures, but it also ended with a big brassy chord on measure 87! – a feature i have retained to end the mashup with the bombast it merits.) above all, i like the way the accretion of new versions in this mash seems to symbolize and embody the accretion of meanings, money, and – depending on where you stand – injustice that have piled up over time and over dozens of repeat performances. it’s a bit of a musical mess, which seems appropriate.

i don’t want to say much more at this point, lest i forestall other interpretations. after all, as i attempted to argue last saturday, musically-expressed ideas about music should communicate, in some ways, more directly than speech about music. so i’ll leave you with the sounds and with a graphical representation of my edit(s).

wayne&wax, “the lion seeps tonight”

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a technical note: among other manipulations, i have “warped” the songs so that their tempos match, i have pitched-up the tokens’ version to bring it – more or less (i didn’t fuss with microtones) – in the same key as the others, and i have arranged the songs so that to a large extent their forms correspond (in order to highlight the similarities and differences via simultaneous performance). also, overall i have attempted – in something of a critical-creative move – to “discipline” the subsequent versions to the linda original, as a musical “corrective” of sorts, or a mashup intervention, if you will. such explicit “tampering” is intended to underscore that my approach here is ultimately more artistic than scientific.

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February 17th, 2010

odes to billie joe (riddim meth0d repost)

[Here’s another Riddim Method re-post, featuring a couple mashups which I made all by myself (with the help of Kazaa and Ableton). It attempts to embrace a “riddim method” approach to music blogging — to focus more on musical texts that say things about music than wordy texts. I liked the playfulness and directness, as well as obliqueness, of such an approach. As you’ll see, I nevertheless also like the sound of my voice. The exuberant verbosity below — in stark contrast to what you’re reading here — embarrasses me a bit at this point. But, for me, blogging has always been about putting stuff out there — projecting my voice, so to speak — and hearing how it changes. Feel free to skip the words and listen to the tracks. This was first posted on 30 August 2005, an age ago.]

riffing off kid k’s inaugural post, i’d like to offer a couple mashups of my own for my first entry here. in this space, my posts will generally take the form of musically expressed ideas about music. much as i love words, it is music which draws me in, which informs my ideas, and which, in the end, communicates differently – and sometimes more precisely – than words.

this approach – this riddim method, if you will – is something that i have been trying to carve out over at my own blog, and i’m eager to explore it with some real focus in this new forum. look for more music than words from me here, but i’m already spilling more ink than i would like to, so let’s move on to the music.

wayne&wax, “odes to billie joe”

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“odes” is an attempt, like unscrewed music, to execute a musical idea that i had. if mashups are so good at demonstrating the proximity and distance of two or more pieces of music, then the form would also lend itself to new reflections on the proximity and difference of multiple interpretations of the same song. and it would do so rather directly: laying one version on top of another reveals their differences immediately and almost constantly. it also reveals their similarities and their serendipitous (and intentional) signifying on each other. a unique interplay of consonance and dissonance arises from such combinations – a crazy counterpoint made all the more beguiling when one warps the songs to match each other in terms of tempo and key (broadly interpreted).

not that other examples haven’t already transcended the genre’s predisposition toward novelty and nostalgia, but there is something about mashing covers that also seems to take mashups beyond simple signification – dude, eminem sounds so gay over that britney beat! in this case, the mashup has the wonderful effect of making it sound like bobby gentry is being accompanied by a double-quartet comprising tommy mccook’s and lou donaldson’s late 60s groups. their juxtaposition transforms a sparse, spooky country lament into an otherworldly torch song. saxophones weave around the voice and each other, rocksteady pulls against soul jazz funk, while the singer lags behind and darts ahead of her able accompanists.

the central song here is an exceptional one: gentry’s haunting hit of 1967, “ode to billie joe.” but the covers are remarkable in their own right. donaldson’s version is, of course, a classic, providing one of the most cherished and frequently used breaks that hip-hop has ever had. mcook’s version, probably as influenced by donaldson’s version as by gentry’s, cooks in its own way – a rocksteady instrumental, the riddim section bubbles on while their jazz-steeped, ex-skatalite leader blows away the competition (which, since he recorded this cut for duke reid, would have been his erstwhile bandmates over at studio one). together, the three versions make a fourth that seems to stand on its own legs, if woozily.

a brief technical note: i’ve pitched down gentry’s voice so that she blends better with her bands. also, despite the constant presence of some great drumming in both “rhythm tracks,” i couldn’t resist imposing another layer consisting of the intro break from donaldson’s version – the same break that you’ve heard in countless hip-hop beats. i’ve also looped the mccook and donaldson versions after their second pass through the changes, largely because both groups, later in their performances, depart from the regular progression that gentry’s version follows. that’s all well and good for a jazz jam, but here i thought it better to keep them all together. finally, i settled on a tempo in between all three versions, though significantly slower in gentry’s case, which for me, only serves to draw out her dreamy drawl.

and while we’re on the subject of cover-mashups (quick: someone suggest a snappier name), allow me to point you to one more that i’ve done along these lines:

wayne&wax, “hawaiian wedding songs”

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this one i put together for my dear friends amy&ron who moved to honolulu a while back and may never move back to the mainland. (jah bless ’em.) here’s how i described the making of this mashed-up matrimony music:

for the wedding of my dear new-honoluligans, i was excited to have stumbled upon the existence – nay, proliferation – of the hawaiian wedding song, which has been recorded dozens of times. i went straight to kazaa and downloaded as many versions as i could find. i was lucky enough to locate renditions by jim reeves, elvis presley, andy williams, santo and johnny, and makaha sons of ni’ihau.

using the andy williams version as the tonal center, i pitched the other tracks around until i found relationships that sounded good to me, but not according to any “rules” of harmony. (you’ll hear that there is a good deal of “dissonance” between the tonal-centers i settled on.) i then “warped” each of the tracks – dig the incidental alias-tremelo effects – so that i could sync them in time at the somewhat arbitrary (but, i would add, stately and banging) tempo of 75 bpm (which happens to be 15 bpm faster than the original tempo of the andy williams “lead vocal”). in some cases, i applied filters and other effects to the tracks, especially since, as random, peer-to-peer mp3 files, they were not always of the highest quality. in the case of the fuzzed out slack-key track (the timbre of which i’ve come to like quite a bit), i used bit-reduction and white-noise to cover up the unlistenable digital belches of a shitty mp3. when pitched up to fit the andy williams tuning, the elvis sounded downright eerie and jim reeves hopped right on the kanye-wagon, so i decided to bring them in later in the song as “backup singers” of sorts. to round out the form, i use a couple classic breaks – the blackgrass and billiejoe – sometimes in combination, and thus give the crooning a bit more drive. (i like the way that the rolled snare gives the track an air of gravitas, if in an ironic kind of way.) finally, i cut and paste some parts here and there, such as the opening percussion loop, culled from the elvis cut.

so there you have it. interestingly enough, as you can see, the two mashups of covers (quick: someone suggest a snappier name) that i offer you here both employ the billiejoe break, which is a total coincidence but a nice bit of synchronicity all the same.

it is my hope that others will take this approach in foreseen (hendrix meets dylan along the watchtower anyone?) and unforeseen directions. i think it has a lot of potential, especially with some rich resources around. the tools are out there, too: live5 does mp3s, and its new-and-improved automatic beat-detection is scary good (except with reggae, which, with the strong offbeats and all, tends to come out upside down, or downbeat up).

the upshot of all this: get a concept. cute don’t cut it in a kitten factory.

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January 18th, 2010

dem bow legacies (riddim meth0d repost)

[Since we’re talking about reggaeton again, and about the absence/return of dembow, it seems like a good moment to repatriate the following riddimmeth0d post from early 2006. The post, a complement to an article on reggaeton I wrote for the Boston Phoenix, features a mix which uses the dembow drumloop to string the songs together, most of which represent the sound of the genre during its mid-decade heyday. For more mixxage along these lines, see also: Dem Bow Dem, a mix of “Dem Bow” cover versions (as opposed to songs which only gesture to the dembow rhythmically or timbrally). This was initially posted on 19 January 2006, almost 4 years ago to the day!]

to accompany my piece on reggaeton (with sidebar!) in this week’s phoenix, i’ve put together a mix intended to demonstrate just how deep the dem bow runs through contemporary reggaeton (as well as to establish some sonic links to jamaican dancehall and to other styles).

the sonic-social-symbolic connections here are multiple, myriad. though one can try and try to convey them in prose, sometimes hearing them is really the best way. and that’s what the riddim method‘s all about (for me anyhow): letting the music do the talking.

so let’s get to the sounds in question, but permit me just a couple of notes to orient your attention to what you’ll be hearing.

wayne&wax, “dem bow mix” [mp3] (40 min / 48 mb)

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it almost makes no sense to make a “dem bow mix” of reggaeton songs since the vast majority of reggaeton songs appear to feature some element of the inspiring, originary riddim. (and i’m not exagerrating when i say the vast majority.) thus, to make a reggaeton mix is to make a dem bow mix, and vice versa. that’s how inextricable the two are. the dem bow is reggaeton’s rhythmic DNA, a constant feature of the genre’s rhythmtexturtimbre, performing a function somewhere between ‘amen’ and clave. rather than boiling the blood of copyrighters, such use should prove a demonstration of the degree to which a vast world of derivative works can emerge from the creative sampling of recorded music, but which would not be possible – or conceivable even – without an utter disregard for, disrespect for, and disagreement with (american “international”) copyright law.

in the mix i’ve posted here, you’ll hear many appearances of dem bow, including more subtle, textural uses of the percussive loop as well as riddims that really foreground it. moreover, just for good measure, i often add an additional layer of the dem bow (in various versions) to thread pieces together, though a close examination will reveal the riddim already lurking in most of the tracks i’ve selected here. finally, as might be expected, i’ve also cooked up a couple specials and some little segments that i hope prove interesting.

i begin with the dem bow riddim itself (an “original” instrumental version, technically, as one would find on any one of a number of reggaeton “beats” CDs), overlayed with some clips from the BBC/”the world” radio program which aired last summer and featured some interview clips and beatboxing boom-chicking from yours truly. i like the way the mainstream media “hype” comes across here, complete with mis-pronunciations (“reggae-tawn”) and slight exaggeration. from there, we move into shabba ranks’s “dem bow,” the hit which propelled the dem bow riddim to NY, PR, and beyond. i don’t really want to get into the implications here of an entire genre essentially emerging from something that draws such stark lines in the sand, but suffice it to say that shabba’s thematic focus on “dem bow” is consistent with a lot of reggae (and some reggaeton): it’s anti-gay, anti-oral-sex, anti-imperialist.

the latter point – shabba’s pro-black stance against colonial(ist) oppression – points us to an interesting, and often overlooked, irony: that the dem bow is closely related to another dancehall riddim, the poco man jam, created by steelie&clevie in 1990, essentially “re-licked” (and tweaked) by bobby digital for shabba’s “dem bow,” and associated with and juggled alongside each other ever since. of course, “poco” in this case refers to the afro-jamaican religion, pocomania (alt. pukkumina), but i can’t help hearing a strong resonance with another meaning of poco. reggaeton’s relationship to race is something that has gone pretty unexamined in all of this coverage, so that’s another dimension – linked as it is to circumstances in the post-colonial americas – which i attempted to address, if only briefly, in my article for the phoenix.

after the dem bow/poco man section (including tunes by gregory peck, cutty ranks, and super cat), we hear panamanian founding-figure el general performing “son bow,” his traduccion of shabba’s “dem bow,” and from there, we get into the real deal: some PR-reppin’ from tony touch to kick it off, followed by some early, ruff-n-ready sounds from ivy queen. once we get into the reggaeton songs, we essentially thread our way through various “big chunes” that employ the dem bow, making a couple detours as we go: we hear how reggaeton producers nod to contemporary hip-hop as we segue from “el tiburon” to the busta rhymes song that seemingly inspired its chord-progression (as well as a dubplate-version by kingston-based DJ scrum dilly); there’s a section devoted to “juggling” over what we might think of as the gasolina riddim (for luny tunes appear to approach their riddims much like, say, lenky approached the diwali and steelie&clevie approached the poco man); and finally we close with two mini-mixes, the first devoted to bachataton or reggaetonchata or whatever they’re calling the increasingly common mixture of reggaeton and bachata (actually, i think they’re calling it reggaeton, and genres like bachata may be in serious danger of being eaten by reggaeton), the second devoted to some salsa-drenched remixes, including one of my own, connecting el gran combo’s “ojos chinos” to the tego song that alludes to it.

that – and the tracklist below – should be enough to give you a handle on all of this (si no ya lo tienes). ojala que hope you dig. if you do, go out and get yerself some reggaeton today. (i recommend these.)

wayne&wax, “dem bow mix” [mp3] (40 min / 48 mb)

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tracklist:

Dem Bow intro: BBC “The World” excerpts
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
Gregory Peck, “Poco Man Jam”
Cutty Ranks, “Retreat”
Super Cat, “Nuff Man a Dead”
Shabba Ranks, “Dem Bow”
El General, “Son Bow”
Tony Touch, “Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepa”
Ivy Queen, “Yo Soy La Queen”
Tony Touch ft. Nina Sky, “Play That Song”
Wisin & Yandel, “Rakata”
Alexis, Fido, & Baby Ranks, “El Tiburon”
Busta Rhymes, “Break Ya Neck” (w&w dembow mix)
Scrum Dilly, “Nah Go Stray (dubplate)” (w&w dembow mix)
Hector “El Bambino,” “Dale Castigo”
Daddy Yankee, “Dale Caliente”
Daddy Yankee, “Cojela Que Va Sin Jockey”
Ivy Queen, “Marroneo”
Daddy Yankee, “King Daddy”
Tony Touch ft. Lisa M, “Toca Me La”
Daddy Yankee, “Gasolina”
Don Omar ft. N.O.R.E., “Reggaeton Latino (remix)”
Don Omar, “Dile”
K Mill, “Metele Perro”
Ivy Queen, “La Mala”
Pitbull, Master Joe, & O.G. Black, “Mil Amores”
Ivy Queen, “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado”
Tego Calderon, “Metele Sazon”
Tego Calderon, “Dominicana”
El Gran Combo, “Ojos Chinos” (w&w dembow mix)
Daddy Yankee, “Sabor A Melao”
Dem Bow outro (Shabba Ranks vs. El General)

pocoman nuh bow. dem jam, seen tu sabes?

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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