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My music genome

Humans share a common genome, so sayeth the biologists and the musicologists. But no one has the exact same genome. The various human genome cataloging projects compile an aggregate model, as does Pandora.

So, like the botanists stashing seeds in a vault in Norway in case of apocalypse, I present my own music genome — the albums that form the basis of my musical evolution.

There are other strands of nucleotides in my musical history, of course — Pink Floyd, The Smiths, They Might Be Giants come to mind — but the albums below have given rise to the most positive mutations. They aren’t my all time favorite albums or even the best in their own classes. But such is how one’s taste in music evolves.

Message to Future Scientists: If you are able to reconstruct me from fossilized genetic information please reprogram my musical knowledge according to the following list.

Gary Numan – Telekon
Kraftwerk – The Man-Machine
Devo – New Traditionalists
Ministry – The Land of Rape and Honey
Depeche Mode – Violator
The Prodigy – Experience
Orbital – Orbital 2
Vapourspace – Themes from Vapourspace
Biosphere – Substrata
Plaid – Double Figure
Autechre – Tri Repetae++
Boards of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children

And a mix I made, one track per album, just for you: My Music Genome.

Rave to the grave

So last night, mid-Zombiefest, my brother got a text message from a bar that he DJ’s at saying that the replacement DJ was awful: “He’s playing ‘let’s talk about sex, baby’ get over here now”. The bar manager needed an emergency DJ, stat.

We deliberated. Neither of us had anything set up for such a thing, we were in the midst of chronicling the undead, and had been drinking since 3pm. Oh, we were also wearing zombie masks. We didn’t deliberate long.

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The DJ at the bar was none too pleased to be getting the hook. That’s what you get for playing George Michael to a bar full of twenty-somethings, buddy.

In our rush out of the house we forgot headphones. Let me suggest that this is a rather vital omission when attempting to play music. Cueing was, you know, impossible. It was all completely impromptu without a matched beat to be heard. But it was damn fun. Just back and forth musical one-upsmanship, echoes of Christmas Party.

In many ways a bar full of drunken patrons is not all that different from an assault of the living dead. Single-minded of purpose, responding only to the crudest instincts, lurching from prey to prey.* Yep, a Friday night bar scene.

The bar manager begged us not to put the zombie masks on. Inexplicably, we did not play Thriller.

The crowd was odd. The manager said they wanted 80’s and 90’s stuff. OK, can do. But every request that came in (none written on cocktail napkins, alas) was for hip hop, perhaps the most under-represented genre in my library. I mean, I have a good bit, but that’s not the point. I probably didn’t win the bar repeat customers by being a complete ass about music I didn’t want to play. Thankfully we had our pal Chris with us and after a while I just pointed to him as the designated request-taker when someone would approach. Shoulda been wearing this.

The bar wants us back tonight. The undead filmfest has resumed and we’re properly organizing tunes for the eve. I’m taking requests online only, so get yours in now.

* This is, in fact, the actual premise of Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave, the inability to distinguish drug-addled revelers from brain-craving corpses. Tom Petty knows.

DJ Internets

Had to get that egostroke of a post off the front, so here’s a fairly cool use — the first to my knowledge — of the EchoNest song analysis API that let’s you create custom beat-matched playlists just by pointing to tunes (or your Last.fm feed). Not at all perfect, but an interesting start. Here’s a quick one.

More fun at thisismyjam.com.

Do it Justice

Many consider the Daft Punk headlining of Lollapalooza the most amazing arena rock show of 2007. But after tonight I gotta think Justice will one day claim the same title. Crazy Frenchmen. I’ve heard it called it the “French touch” but something’s in the water of Seine because these frogs can seriously rock out. It is 1970’s proto-headbanging in the electronic milieu. Just fantastic.

Here’s a concert-goer from the show. Looks like vector art, but he was human after all.

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A shape that resembles music

For the few of you who saw the 1998 electronica documentary Modulations* and the fewer of you who remember Autechre’s brief, perplexing interview, you may be surprised to learn that they can be remarkably insightful. Or at least the Rob Brown half of the duo was in a recent interview with Pitchfork.

Pitchfork: Do you ever feel limited by technology? Where you have ideas or songs that you’re imagining or certain arrangements that, because of the tools you have, can’t be realized?

Rob Brown: … The gear can guide you — you can choose one bit of gear and it’s obviously got its restrictions and its limitations, but at the same time, you’ve got to exploit what it’s capable of and what it’s best used for. Sometimes you try not to be too overly analytical, trying to let it flow for a bit first and see where it’s leading you and then see what sticks to it, see what it implies. A lot of it is implications. Some of our earlier albums, like Confield, are almost all implied music. But it’s cohesive because we spent long enough fashioning the idea down — to a shape, if you like — that actually resembles music.

Implied music, wow. And he’s not talking John Gage-y silence-type conceptual music. That idea — of a music that peripherally or fragmentedly suggests the music that informed it — really does make Autechre’s “difficult period” (Confield, Draft 7.30, Untilted) click for me. Go back and have a listen. But first read the whole interview. Oh and also, pick up the new one Quaristice. It’s a new direction that, well, implies older directions. Really digging it.

* Easily one of my top three favorite movie posters of all time.

Aural decoration or, further adventures in filtering one’s music library

Last Saturday was our school fundraiser, an elaborate auction/party. One of those things you just don’t think as being a big deal until you have children in school. The amount of planning required is only slightly less ridiculous than the amount of money raised.

Last year when planning began I was appointed in absentia to be the “entertainment chair”, meaning the music guy. Naturally I envisioned myself on the decks slamming beats late into the night. But no, that wouldn’t do. Couldn’t really, as the focus needed to be on getting people to make outrageous bids for items, not crowded on a dance floor.

So I hired a band. Working with them put me right back in high school when playing keyboard in a band was pretty much the most important thing I had going. (You might remember such acts as The Jerks, Big Green Milk Truck, The Young Republicans, and Relativity. Wow, now there’s a blog post that needs writing.) I had to resist every urge not to rent a smoke machine, ’cause, I mean, who can rock out without a smoke machine?

Anyway. There was also the issue of “interlude” music, what to play from my iPod during times the band was not on. Easily the most challenging playlist I’ve ever put together. What exactly is the mood that you want to set at an auction? Classical, too stuffy. Country, wrong demographic. Classic rock, too retro. Jazz, maybe, but either you like it or you don’t. It was so much more difficult than I imagined. I needed an angle.

The city of Chicago helped me out. Apparently our local airports will soon play only music from bands from Chicago. They’re covering all the genres, but leaving out really upbeat stuff. No Pumpkins or Ministry, probably no R. Kelly. The reasoning is that people are already on edge at an airport and don’t need 160 BPM to push them off the cliff — a similar problem to my own, in a way.

So I sliced my music library by Chicago-based bands. There’s no tag for this, of course, so it was all manual. Last.fm’s tags helped out immensely — but wouldn’t it be cool if Last.fm could actually add biographical data to MP3 headers? I added “chicago” to the grouping tag for all this music and put together a smart playlist to segregate it.

Andrew Bird
Califone
Chicago Underground Trio
Exploding Star Orchestra
Kanye West
Ministry
R Kelly
Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Smashing Pumpkins
Styx (huh?)
Sufjan Stevens (honorary, only for Illinois)
Tortoise
Wilco

OK, fine, but that includes everything from Sir Georg Solti to Alain Jourgensen, neither appropriate. So, using Tangerine I generated a new playlist of Chicago-related band tracks between 100 and 145 beats-per-minute with medium intensity.

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Lastly, I removed stuff that would, you know, upset those of fragile sensibility. Like, say Ministry’s Stigmata: “School families, silent auction table three closes in — cutting my face and walking on splinters, I lost my soul to the look in your eyes!!! — whoops, sorry. Next track.”

So what did I end up with? 239 tracks became 59, far more music than I needed. Full track list after the jump.

The method was dorky, both horribly imprecise and overly complex, and unknown to anyone that night. Yep, just right.

Next year: embedded subliminal messages. Bid more, you will bid more now!

Scapegoat

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Though I am not the author of this particular graffito I do agree. Typically when anything goes wrong in my life I blame house music.

Breakbeatbox

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Got a new little project to share. A friend of mine out in Boston (loaner of the mythical monome) and I thought it might be fun to play a game where we create short musical compositions then post them for each other with a rule on how the next submission should proceed. A musical exquisite corpse, audio Layer Tennis. Whatever it is, it forces us to make time to make music, if for no other reason than not to be outdone.

http://breakbeatbox.com

By the way, start with “Doctored”. Jesse’s was the first track.

Most played music of 2007

    last year
1 Biosphere 1
2 Fatboy Slim
3 Aphex Twin 17
4 Office
5 Sufjan Stevens 2
6 Tycho
7 Justice
8 Mike Relm 11
9 Ulrich Schnauss 15
10 Apparat
11 Amon Tobin
12 Der Dritte Raum 6
13 Ladytron 12
14 Air
15 Matthew Dear
16 LFO
17 The Black Dog
18 Shpongle
19 MSTRKRFT
20 Jóhann Jóhannsson

Interesting how few artists made it on the list from last year. Sorta proud of that. Biosphere of course is unassailable, as ol’ Geir accompanies most night’s trips to sleep. The list is Most Played, you see, not Most Actually Heard.

As I compile these stats year after year it is becoming clear the bias built in. For one, iTunes/Last.fm doesn’t do a great job of logging very long tracks — such as unbroken DJ/live sets — which this year accounted for much of my listening. Not sure a track is logged unless its end is reached, so though I could listen to an hour of a set if I don’t hit the end it is statistically invisible. Also, since I don’t automatically synch music to my iPhone or iPod iTunes never knows about play counts that happens outside of itself. This also skews things mightily since so much of what I listen to is not in front of my computer.

More stats here.

Album art tag cloud

This nifty site takes your Last.fm or MusicMob profile and creates an embeddable cloud of album art (linked to artist pages) for your most played tracks. As with text clouds, the larger the image the more plays. I like.