2011 Favorite Listening

Here, in no particular order, are my choices for the 2011 releases that I keep coming back to.


Merril Garbus weaves her African influence, her loop boxes,  and her DIY spirit into something totally new and compelling. A big, bold voice with something to say.

Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest

I didn’t see a lot of live music in 2011, but Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in Chicago was a real highlight. This album is full of great songs that sound as if they could have been written any time in the last 75 years.

Deep Blue Organ Trio – Wonderful!

Soulful groovin’ organ trio from Chicago, playing Stevie Wonder tunes with fresh new interpretations. Jazz comfort food!

Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes

I’m a sucker for intelligent, literate pop music, and this filled the bill this year. Raymond Carver meets the Ray-Beats.  Recommended for fans of Squeeze.

James Farm

A terrific new quartet with rising stars Joshua Redman on sax and Seattle native Aaron Parks on piano. Great compositions and thoughtful improvisation. Take a listen even if you think you don’t like jazz.

Larry Goldings – In My Room

A lovely, contemplative, (mostly) solo piano set from Larry Goldings.

Miles Davis Quintet – Live in Europe 1967

Miles’ great quintet captured at the height of their power – 3 CDs and a DVD. One of the high water marks in all of jazz.

Bernstein Goldings Stewart – Live At Small’s

Another fine example of the modern organ trio. This long-standing grouping plays empathically together.

Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down

Who better than Ryland P. Cooder to take on the role of Woody Guthrie for the 99%?

Sunna Gunnlaugs – Long Pair Bond

Two years in a row for Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs on my list. This record rewards repeated listening!

Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’

The best of new soul, where Raphael transcends the retro act to produce a new and joyous sound.

The Decembrists – The King Is Dead

In which Colin Malloy and company leave the pretension behind and make great rock tunes.


Just getting into:

Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

Van Hunt – What Were You Hoping For?

Levi-Strauss, remix culture, and mining the rock ‘n’ roll past

Logic Studio screenshot
Last week Wet Paint, my old band from the 70s, got together to play a college reunion gig in Bellingham. Great fun was had by all, and I think the band sounded better than it ever had.

Leading up to the gig I digitized our 1978 single from vinyl, and then I decided to try my hand at doing a remix of one of the sides, Steve Robinson’s very cool Shake A Maraca.

Doing a remix is an interesting process. Starting with the original tracks you visually slice and dice them into parts, adding various levels of audio processing to them, and then combine them with other audio. The tools for digitally manipulating music these days are nothing short of astounding in their power (and complexity). I used the latest version of Apple’s Logic, version 9, but there are a variety of competing tools.

Logic comes with a vast array of software instruments and pre-recorded snippets (known as “loops”) which can be utilized at will, and you can import audio from any other source you can find. So the process of the remix involves sifting through a huge library of available sounds and grooves, and trying to figure out what’s useful to the task at hand, and using those pieces to build up what hopefully becomes a compositionally coherent whole.

That got me thinking about the late Claude Levi-Strauss’ writings on “bricolage” in traditional cultures. Bricolage literally means “tinkering”, or as Wikipedia defines it, “to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process”.

Levi-Strauss wrote about the use of bricolage in the construction of myths in indigenous cultures, saying:

The set of the ‘bricoleur’s’ means cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project… It is to be defined only by its potential use or, putting this another way and in the language of the ‘bricoleur’ himself, because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. Such elements are specialized up to a point, sufficiently for the ‘bricoleur’ not to need the equipment and knowledge of all trades and professions, but not enough for each of them to have only one definite and determinate use. They each represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are ‘operators’ but they can be used for any operations of the same type.

which sounds a lot like the current way music is built up digitally. He recognized that the results of the bricoleur’s technique “can reach brilliant unforeseen results on the intellectual plane,” which I think is completely true of using musical remix techniques, which can often bear only the slightest resemblances to the original source material.

Some of my old fogey contemporaries question whether the technique of building up new musical art by reassembling and manipulating digital pieces is as valid as making music by playing a traditional instrument. Get over it! While I personally will always treasure the pleasure of my hands and ears interacting with strings and wood, I don’t think that any one method of achieving sound necessarily holds any more validity than another – it’s what you can do with the tools that matters. I’m sure if I was just starting out with music, I’d be spending a whole lot of time in front of my computer mastering these tools.

All of which seemed relevant this week with the news of the Rolling Stones release of a remastered Exile on Main Street complete with ten new tracks, some of which had some vocal and instrumental parts finished this year. I’ve always loved Exile (though I think Beggars Banquet is still my favorite Stones album), and having just been spending this time mining my own 30-year-old past for a remix, who am I to question whether Mick and Keith should delve into their own unfinished creations? While I haven’t given the new material a good listen, I did really enjoy the All Songs Considered interview with producer Don Was on the project, and the pieces he played during the interview sounded great. If I had a back catalog like the Stones, you can bet I’d be spending time revisiting it – and it sounds a good deal better than any of the Stones’ new material has in some time!

I also think that the bricolage approach has a lot of relevance to software engineering and how we manage IT, particularly in higher education, and I’ll have more to say on that in a coming post.

#Gnomedex 09 Day 2: 20 million vs 20: Audience vs. Impact by Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson

They’re not geeks, but they’re trying really hard to be.

They’re from Vancouver – Giant Ant Media, that makes social objects for people – things you can discover and watch online, mostly videos.

This is a story of how they started telling fart jokes on MySpace and ended up making a hip hop album in the ghetto in Tanzania.

They started with a viral video – How to Shower: Women vs. Men that they put on MySpace. Phone started to ring, and it showed up on all sorts of places. MySpace called and flew him to come to LA to talk about a deal – signed with a talent agent in Beverly Hills, thought they’d be the next big internet thing. Then they made “how to conceal a fart” video. What was surprising was that people were actually watching and commenting – they welcomed all the feedback.

While waiting for the MySpace deal to come through, they went backpacking to Europe – they haad about 13k friends on MySpace and asked them if they could come stay at their houses. Brought home the realization that they were reaching real people. Sleeping with MySpace videos. People showed them lots of trust, which blew them away. Sometimes “Friends” are Friends!

Finding: F#ck Viral!

Started making content that really mattered to them – viewership took a nosedive. But engagement went up. Stopped caring about what the agent wanted.

Their friend Dani had been doing research with youth in Tanzania and came to them with the idea to do an album and film. Started a charity to raise money. Worked with 20 guys who live on the street in Tanzania, who make music to keep themselves entertained. Bongo Flava style. Life stories really embedded in the lyrics. There were lots of people online who gave little bits of money. Put $18k of their own money into the project. Blogged the process – really careful to put the best content online during the process – http://bongothefilm.com/ Bongo is the name of the film, which tells the entire story.

Realization is that they were lucky to have a big audience at the beginning, but the shift to those that followed them was really an amazing experience. Through the social networks they’re reaching out to they have the potential to bring the story to many more people. Left a trail of trial and error that they’ll never be able to erase.

They realized that they created a disruptive situation when they went in. Realized that the social fabric on the street was very different in the studio – on the street it was about street smarts, but in the studio it gravitated towards talent, which created conflict.

Buy a CD

Apple – the right hand giveth and the left hand nickle-and-dimeth you

I’m really happy to see that all of the content music in the iTunes store will be available with no DRM. That’s a big step forward – just tonight I was denied the right to play some of my music on my family room computer because it’s not authorized for my purchased iTunes content and I already have the maximum five machines authorized. Unfortunately two of those machines are no longer functioning, so I can’t de-authorize them. So I thought – here’s a perfect opportunity to change those tunes I purchased from iTunes (not very many – usually I buy through eMusic or Amazon).

Then I found out that Apple wants 30 cents a tune to change content I already paid for to the non-DRM’ed version. Does anybody besides me think that’s totally outrageous?

Napster offers mp3s

Does anybody other than me see this as incredibly ironic?

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Why can iPhones only be synced with one iTunes library?

So I’m out on the road in Ann Arbor, MI.

My iPhone has a bunch of music on it that I’ve put on from my music collection on my Mac mini at home. I now want to add a couple of new tunes which I’ve put on my MacBook.

Can’t do it. Nope. No way. If you set your iPhone to Manually Manage Music and Videos in iTunes you get this:


No I don’t want to erase this iPhone and sync with this library! I just want to add a tune or two! What’s so hard about that? You can do this fine with other iPods, but not iPhones.

I know – I can use PodWorks to copy all the music off the iPhone onto the MacBook and then sync with the MacBook, but that just seems like such a pain in the rear. C’mon, Apple – how about it?

A really interesting travel week

I’m traveling this week to two different meetings, that somehow seem thematically related.

The first is the initial workshop for Project Bamboo, which is:

Bamboo is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:
How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?
and then Thursday I’m heading to New Orleans with a crew from KEXP for a meeting about the possibility of creating a national alliance of independent music radio stations.
So what’s the relation? Well, if KEXP is at all indicative of what independent music stations are up to, they are producing an incredible storehouse for research in popular culture in present day society, through a rich archive of interviews, live performances, playlists, and the like.
And the fact that we’ll be hosted in New Orleans by WWOZ during the second weekend of Jazzfest is pretty sweet too! More blogging as we go!