Category Archives: Recommendations

Dance!

Is there anything more human than dancing? Here are a few of my favourite music videos with dancing in them, simply because they make me so damn happy (or other emotions). Also: kick-ass tunes!

 

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Fripperies re-launched!

Many, many moons ago I put together I website called “Fripperies” which sought to document the guitar equipment used by Robert Fripp through the years. For various reasons of web hosting, it didn’t last very long. However, it never left my mind (nor my hard drive) and it is now my distinct pleasure to announce its re-launch!

At frippgear.wordpress.com you will find everything you never thought you needed to know about RF’s guitar, effects and amplifiers, whether referenced from outside sources or by original research by yours truly. I hope you enjoy!

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Webcomics, pt V

All right! It has been a while since I posted one of these.

Firstly, Phoenix Requiem. I have no idea where the name comes from as it contains no trace of a phoenix after, at the time of writing, 557 pages. There is quite a lot of dying though, so maybe it can be explained in part. Anyway, PR takes place in the Victorian era of a fictitious world where the magic and supernatural are real. It is well drawn and the story is original enough to keep the reader’s interest engaged, although much of the character interaction borders on cliché.

Next up, one that is even more cliché but has a lot of grace saving charm – Red String. It follows a group of teenage friends in Japan and their various everyday lives. Topics like arranged marriages and coming out make it less predictable, but generally it is all rather innocent.

Want to read something absurdly long with lots of exposition? Errant Story might be just the thing for you. Fantasy, manga-ish, elves, moments of immense destruction: the works. Pretty good actually, but boy does it take long to read… I am not even near to catching up. However, it does contain new twists on old ideas so parts of it is pretty good.

This all demands something un-cliché to wrap it up, and I cannot imagine anything less cliché than the comics of Jesse Moynihan. I have read all of Kime Agine and follow Forming obsessively. Wonderfully, wonderfully weird. And thus I think, sometimes very profound.

On a final note, DAR has ended.

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Music Videos, pt II

Radiohead – Videotape. This is the winner in a contest for making a Radiohead music video to their latest album In Rainbows (the “Aniboom video contest”). It is an illustration of the uncanny, with everyday objects suddenly an inexplicably coming to life when no one is around. It reminds me of scenes and moods from films like 2001, Solaris and The Abyss. Exceptionally well made. The contrast with the very emotional song is very effective.

Blur – No Distance Left To Run. What is the most vulnerable human state of being? To be asleep. It suits the song’s lyrics of “thank you, good bye” – and Damon looks hilarious at the end!

Apparently he has said this about the song at some point: “It upsets me, that song. It upset me singing it. Doing that vocal upset me greatly. To sing that lyric I really had to accept that that was the end of something in my life. It’s amazing when you do have the guts to do that with your work, because it don’t half help you.”

Nits – dA dA dA. Being the title track from the last album of the band’s “golden era” (my opinion), like much of the rest of the album it deals with growing up/coming of age/childhood. This is a recurring theme on many other of their songs, like “Boy In A Tree” and “The Infinite Shoeblack” from the previous album Giant Normal Dwarf.

Please be patient with the Finnish announcers at the beginning of the video. The man on the right is a good friend of the band and even appeared briefly on their album Wool via telephone.

R.E.M. – Everybody Hurts. Well, what can I say? This song has become incredibly popular and has, like U2’s “One”, become a bit of a cliché. But R.E.M. or the song itself can hardly be blamed for this, and it is still a great song and very powerful live. The moment where Michael Stipe starts miming the words still gives me goosebumps.

Coldplay – Trouble. Another ballad! There is not much to say about this one: it is one of Coldplay’s best songs and probably their best video. It is a perfect illustration of the lyrics.

Björk – All Is Full of Love. A gorgeous, beautiful song with a gorgeous, beautiful video. Like so much of Björk’s work, it is completely its own thing and was very different when it came out. It still is. All is full of love.

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The Best Song In the World: “Secret World”

The best song in the world was written by Peter Gabriel and is the last song on his 1992 album Us. The lyrical theme is about the aftermath of a relationship, with regret mingling with a feeling of resolve and starting over. The “secret world” is defined as that world that exists between two lovers that no other have access to.

I have loved this song for well over 15 years now and I always return to it. At least twice every year it gets stuck in my head for days, keeping me awake at night and refusing to leave me alone. For me the ultimate version is the ’93/’94 live version; the arrangement, the players, the delivery – it is flawless. The 2003 version is good too and has a more satisfying end, but I prefer Manu Katche’s more delicate drumming.

I think PG as a lyricist has been severely overlooked. He has a vocabulary and set of idioms that is all his own  – “you put out and I recieve” – and he is one of the few  songwriters who can bring tears to my eyes. He does the sort of pamphlet/declarative writing very well too: “with no guilt and no shame / no sorrow or blame / whatever it is / we are all the same”. In fact, looking at it now, I realised just how much that particular section of this particular song has influenced my own writing.

Enjoy!

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Live Music

This, in my opinion, is the whole point of music – playing it live. Music is an event; it takes place when performer and audience meet. Music is an outside entity; it is created when performer and audience merge. I have experienced this for myself, but only a bare handful of times and always as an audient. A live performance has the ability to in a very real and tangible way change the people involved. One person enters, another person leaves.

Given the experiential nature of music, and the way a live performance involves many more senses than a studio record listened to through a stereo system, I have found many to be be of the opinion that live records are somehow inferior entities, below both the sweaty gig and the considered studio album. I disagree, and have always done.

I think the way I started to really listen to and be affected by music plays a big part in this. I can point out four, maybe five records that really got me interested in music, and two of those are live recordings. Well, one and a half at least: The Nits’ Urk and U2’s Rattle & Hum (for more on R&H, see my Achtung Baby review).

An important effect of this was that when at the tender age of 9-10-ish I heard the studio recordings of these songs, I became aware, at least subconsciously, of the concept of rearranging music. Of adding, removing and changing parts of songs to make them work better live, to add variety for the players and to accomodate new ideas. I was downright disappointed in the Joshua Tree version of U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” for example. At the very onset of when I started to really listen to music I was given the impression that live music was somehow better.

And it has been like that ever since. Of course there are exceptions, but take a band like King Crimson: here, the studio recordings are actually less important than the live performances. Yes, their albums provide an opportunity for considered statements and the introduction of new material to the audience, but it is not until the pieces have been played live for at least one whole tour that they truly become what can be. Very few KC songs are ever better in their studio versions. And happily in KC’s case there is a plethora of live material availiable for purchase and immediate download on the DGM Live website, currently spanning 40 years of playing.

I do not have a conclusion or anything to all this, I just wanted to present a few thoughts on the subject. Let me say this – I missed Leonard Cohen’s recent touring in Europe due to lack of money, and I am instead very very greatful for the live recording made in London that was later released on CD and DVD. Without it, I never would have had my life changed by hearing “A Thousand Kisses Deep”.

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Music Videos

I have heard a few times the opinion that music videos are just “promotion” and not a valid form of artistic expression: not to be taken seriously. And indeed, there is a lot of deeply crappy videos out there. But if the artist and video maker together do take the medium seriously, great things can happen. Here are some of my favourites!

Gnarls Barkley – Who’s Gonna Save My Soul? Have we not all felt like this at one point or another? There is not really much to say about the video, it is simple and uncomplicated. It is a shame that the restrained music and Cee-Lo’s amazing vocal delivery are buried below dialogue sometimes, but that is why you go get the album and/or do a quick search for the lyrics. I usually dislike any sound being added in the video for a song, but here it works very well, because they are basically saying the same thing (although in the video it is the man’s eyes, not his words, that do the talking).

U2 – Lemon. U2 made some fantastic videos in the 1990’s – especially the videos for “Lemon” and “Please”. The “Lemon” video is in black and white with the odd splash of colour for contrast, shot mostly against a white grid on black. With the sometimes grainy phootage and the cracklingly dry little captions (“Man walking up ladder”, “Man playing hi hat”), the contrast with the lyrics of the song is striking, even jarring. This is Bono’s song, written about his late mother – a recurring theme in his lyrics. Speaking in conventional terms, the more “feminine” side of life, of expressing and discussing emotions, lies in the lyrics and the music, clashing with the “masculine” side’s tendency to analyse and draw schematics expressed in the imagery.

Caught in the middle of this, we have what I believe is the first appearance of MacPhisto (or a least a proto-MacPhisto), the stage persona Bono would adapt for the last part of the ZooTV concerts in Europe and Asia. The empty nature of MacPhisto is deeply unsettling, as if he is simply a shell with its humanity crushed and withered.

Radiohead – Pyramid Song. I am a bit of a fan of the post-apocalyptic, so this video I like almost instinctively. Basically, it is about the last journey home of the last human being, after humanity has fucked up one time too many. I like the visual style and love the song. The ending is very “Close Encounters”.

John Frusciante – Going Inside. I have always liked music videos and considered them a perfectly valid form of expression (many do not), but this was the first time I was genuinely bowled over by a video. The visuals are absolutely perfect for the song, but what I like most is probably how the looped parts are not in time with the beat. It is a song about confusion, and the video expresses that confusion perfectly.

Daft Punk – Around the World. A genuine music video classic! When you have no lyrics to express, express to music – or in this case, illustrate it with dancers. Beautiful.

Bright Eyes – First Day of My Life. Can a music video possibly get any cuter or sweeter than this? I think not. Beautiful lyrics as well, “I would rather work for a paycheck / Than be waiting to win the lottery” is one of my absolute favourite pair of lines. This video also illustrates with all due clarity that a music video does not need to show the artist to be memorable.

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Webcomics, pt IV

It is time for a few new recommendations!

If you liked Dresden Codak, there is a good chance you will like Gunnerkrigg Court. It follows the protagonist Antimony Carver’s adventures at the eponymous school/institute. The Court itself is greatly reminiscent of the castle Gormenghast from Mervyn Peak’s books but set in the modern day, with internet access, robots and science classes. It also has some parallells to Harry Potter with a boarding school setup, school houses and class room drama. Combine these two things, put them through a Dresden Codak filter and possibly you have something that approaches Gunnerkrigg Court. It is beautifully drawn with over 560 pages as of this writing.

In the vein of Questionable Content, we have the long running Least I Could Do, which is something so rare as a daily updated webcomic. It follows a group of friends and their somewhat inept attempts to live their lives. Rayne is the one most of the action circles around, his main motive in life appearing to be to get laid. It is not exactly a deep comic, but often very funny!

And finally this time we have Menage a 3. It follows comic book geek Gary and his troubles – which are plentiful. The name comes from the fact that he has to share an apartment with two other people, two very strange girls. The drawing style is western, but it has a certain japanese edge of hysteria that makes it stand out a bit.

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The Best Song In the World: “Blockhead”

The best song in the world (is it still called a song when it has no lyrics or vocals?) was written by Paul Richards. It is performed on guitar – at least a trio of guitars – tuned in the New Standard Tuning established in Guitar Craft: CGDAEG, low to high. In its lifetime it has mainly been performed by the California Guitar Trio, alone or in various constellations with other artists: as part of the Robert Fripp String Quintet, CGT+2 (with  Pat Mastelotto and Tony Levin), with Trey Gunn and Robert Fripp during the First Day tour in 1992  with Sylvian/Fripp/Gunn (ie. essentially the RFSQ) and with Bill Janssen.

It begins in media res, with a hectic motif that feels slightly claustrophobic, partly due to it being played with palm muting. After a few bars it opens up with a determined bass line but keeps its feel of rushing. This is followed by an ascending arpeggiated theme more peaceful in its feel but retaining much of the momentum from the opening. It’s like someone standing still with great upheaval going on all around them. It is usually during this third theme that any accompanying soloists first make themselves known.

These three main themes are played in this sequence three times, but the third time the peaceful theme is replaced by a fourth theme, strummed with muted strings. The muting is gradually opened up as the theme rises and becomes more dynamic. This part is played again, the second time even more dynamically and then the piece comes to a dramatic stop. Usually, this is also where the truly soaring solos are played.

My favourite version was for a long time the one found on the RFSQ DGM downloadable concert from Cosenza, Italy in March, 1992. It has Trey Gunn adding a strong bottom end to the sound and Robert Fripp playing amazing solos. These days I somewhat prefer the version from the CGT’s live album Rocks the West which has Tony Levin on bass or Stick and Bill Janssen playing absolutely mind blowing solo saxophone. The intensity gets pretty ridiculous and several audience members can’t contain the energy and just scream.

Unfortunately, there is no really good version of “Blockhead” on Youtube. This is a basic trio version of the song, with sound that is uninspiring even by YT standards…

And here is one with keyboardist Ryo Okumoto as soloist:

I’ve seen at least one with Pat Mastelotto, but I strongly feel that drums add nothing to “Blockhead”.

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Live looping

Live looping, like all similar kinds of live improvisation, must be one of the most hazardous things any performer can do on stage. Some live looping can be of the more structered kind, however, and here are some examples of this availiable today on Youtube.

Steve Lawson and Lobelia, “Love Is A Battlefield”:

This is looped tracks as a rhythmic background for melody, vocals and solo performances. Many buskers and one man bar bands use this method extensively in performance.

John Clarke, “Mosaic For Shadows”:

John Clarke is a skilled and talented guitarist focusing on flamenco guitar. In this piece he uses a looping device as an integral part of the writing and performance of the song, not layering loops as such but rather playing distinct parts, looping them and then playing a complimentary part or melody over it.

These are examples on using live looping as a songwriting/performing tool. On the other side there is live looping where the loop is entirely improvised and the loop itself is the musical piece. This approach was made famous by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp in the 1970’s on the albums No Pussyfooting and Evening Star.

Fripp later made the system of tape loops portable and called it “Frippertronics”. He toured with it and recorded several frippertronics albums and used it as backgrounds in songs in many other projects. In live performance he usually would rewind the loop and solo over it, as in the following clip:

In the early 90’s, he rebuilt his looping rig with entirely digital gear and now refers to his looping as “soundscapes”. Thanks to the availiablity of increasingly cheap and increasingly competent hardware, live looping and soundscaping has become more widespread. There are several recurring live looping festival every year all over the world.

There is an enormous wealth of loop music to be found out there – some of it complex and challenging, some of it sweet and gentle, but all of it taking a risk in being created right there, as you listen.

There will be more on this subject in the future!

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