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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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.

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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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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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December 16th, 2009

do you bun what i bun? (riddim meth0d repost)

[Sticking to the seasonal, here’s another musical maneuver I pulled on some well-worn Christmas fare. Given the recent resurgence of talk about homophobia in reggae — not to mention what must be some serious shadenfreude over Buju Banton’s arrest — I have to admit that, sharing Rizzla’s frustration, I’m a little ambivalent about adding, um, flames to the fire. But a lot of my thoughts below still hold, and I still find it unsettling that I can’t hear “Little Drummer Boy” without thinking “Fire Mek We Bun Dem!” This was originally published on Dec 14, 2005.]


bun santa!

as a sort of musical reflection/intervention on the murder of steve harvey, i offer a mashup that i’ve been thinking about putting together for a while.

wayne&wax (TOK vs. Johnny Mathis), “do you bun what i bun?

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as with “boom bye bye” – that ever-so-catchy ode to killing gays by buju banton (who has recently been on trial for allegedly beating, with some help from his friends, six gay men back in June) – TOK’s “chi chi man” always struck me as similarly pernicious in its pleasures. by giving such sensual form to such violent thoughts, making it easy for hateful sentiments to roll around in our minds and on our tongues, these artists abuse some special powers. and though i’m not one to call for censorship, i do believe in the value of self-censorship and of community censure. at times, TOK and buju clearly suffer from too little of both.

i’ve always heard the chorus melody of “chi chi man” as an unmistakable riff on the christmas classic, “do you hear what i hear?” (one of my favorite renditions of which is the johnny mathis version used here). i’ve heard others claim, however, that TOK borrow the melody from a jamaican folk song. (can anyone confirm that? and, if so, which song?) regardless, i, and probably many other listeners, always hear it referencing the christmas carol. and although one doesn’t hear “chi chi man” too frequently ’round these parts – my brother called me one day from hartford, completely shocked that they were playing it on the radio – at this time of year, one does hear “do you hear?” and guess what it makes yours truly think of?

yup – TOK have colonized my musical imagination in this case, so i find myself dubbing “blaze di fire, mek we bun dem!” over the refrain to the song. it’s a little absurd, really. annoying, sure, but so’s the original by itself. it’s the cognitive dissonance that i find most striking: as this very (new testament) christian song overlays with the very (old testament) christian sentiment of smiting abominations, i find myself thinking about all sorts of amazing contradictions.

this mashup calls attention to the ridiculousness of TOK’s assertions. although the group boyband would likely claim to speak from a communal voice, when we hear the lyrics put in the mouths of shepherd boys, mighty kings, and people everywhere – never mind night winds and little lambs – the utter smallness of espousing such hatred is more than evident. its very christianity, of course, also comes into question. (but whose doesn’t these days?)

at any rate, i present it here in the hope that it might provoke more thought about the issue of homophobia in general and about music’s role in reflecting/informing people’s values (and, crucially, actions) around it. i agree with robert carr that “If the dialogue is going to be effective, it has to be clear that it is an internal dialogue, not something imposed from outside influences with different agendas.” but i’m not exactly sure where we draw the lines of internal/external. these lines are blurry. i hear TOK’s as well as more “homegrown” anti-gay sentiments here in cambridge, MA, and jamaican citizens (a large number of whom live outside of JA, let’s remember) encounter various perspectives, in public and private, with regards to sexual orientation. there are no discrete communities or cultures in the world. they all intersect and overlap.

so we’re in this together, don’t?

or to put it some other ways:
no man is an island. no island an island either. i land is your land. etc.

[quick technical note for those who care: i’ve pitched down the mathis version a bit, and i pitch up the TOK as the mathis modulates (twice!).]

here it is again:

wayne&wax (TOK vs. Johnny Mathis), “do you bun what i bun?

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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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