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If I Were/Was Your Girlfriend

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 23, 2017

It’s tempting to treat Prince’s “If I Was Your Girlfriend” as a genderscrambled version of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ “If I Were Your Woman” or Janet Jackson’s “If.” It’s really not. All three songs are great, but thematically and grammatically, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is way more complicated than the others, and more intricate than almost any other song Prince wrote.

Prince is not just saying you’d be better off with him; he is not just saying that he wants to get in your pants. He’s not not saying those things, but Prince has written dozens if not hundreds of songs with that as his theme, and none of those songs are “If I Was Your Girlfriend.”

Prince is up to something. Even the usual interpretive trick for Prince’s songs — imagine that he is singing them to and about himself — doesn’t get you very far here.

Let’s start with that “Was.” We use the simple past “was” instead of the subjunctive mood “were” all the time, mostly because the subjunctive in English almost only shows up for a few irregular verbs like “were.” But there’s a songwriting tradition here; Prince knows it; every word is carefully chosen; we should take that “Was” seriously.

If I was your girlfriend, would U remember

To tell me all the things U forgot when I was your man?

The song is built on a series of conditional clauses, all of which are firmly set in the past. Was, would, could, sometime. Over and over again. Even when the singer lapses into something that seems like a present or present continuous tense, we get a counterpoint placing it in the past conditional again.

Sugar
Sugar, do you know what I’m saying 2 U this evening?
(If I was your girlfriend)
Maybe U think I’m being a little self-centered
But I, I said I want to be all of the things U are to me
(if I was your girlfriend)
Surely, surely you can see

That “this evening” is deixis — it’s pointing to say, “I am speaking these words HERE and NOW.” And it gets completely wiped away by the conditional past “If I was your girlfriend” and the conditional future “I want to be” and “surely you can see.”

This is an amazing song about intimacy, fantasy, the limits of gender roles, the limits of gender flexibility, a man’s full catalog of shortcomings and possibilities. This is also a breakup song, about heartbreak and desperation. It’s a song about a man putting the pieces of the past together and hoping they can add up to something more than they were.

Breakup songs are not exactly plentiful in the Prince catalog, although the ones he wrote were amazing. He wrote “Nothing Compares 2 U” for The Family because it didn’t fit the brand of progressive party pop he’d established for Prince and the Revolution. Sinead O’Connor covered it in 1989, after Prince had shifted his image with Sign O’ The Times, and everyone marveled (again) at his songwriting.

“If I Was Your Girlfriend” gets smuggled in as a Prince song at the right place and time. (Principle: every song on “Sign O’ The Times” is doing something other than what it seems to be doing.) The song is sexy because Prince is sexy. But the singer is losing the thread between past, present, and future. All those nesting dolls are collapsing. Even the marvelous, sensual come-on at the end, a desperate throw of the dice that pulls the song into the full future tense for the first time, gets framed as a dream:

And would you, would you let me kiss you there
You know, down there where it counts
I’ll do it so good, I swear I’ll drink every ounce
And then I’ll hold you tight and hold you long
And together we’ll stare into silence

And we’ll try to imagine what it looks like
Yeah, we’ll try to imagine what, what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll, we’ll try to imagine what silence looks like
Yeah, we’ll try

The song seemed to evolve for Prince himself. In early live shows and the song’s official video above, Prince is the sexy seducer. Of course he talks his ex into bed. He’s Prince — the one and only — and his fans came to see a Prince show.

Later, he can’t do the splits any more. He’s sitting at the piano. The BPM is slowed down to about 80 percent. His eyes are closed. It’s a Joni Mitchell ballad.

Anil Dash, CEO of Fog Creek software, blogging pioneer, and Prince superfan, told me about these late performances of “If I Was Your Girlfriend”:

In his final shows, Prince would do the song in medley with Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”, a song he only started playing very late in life, that seemed to have a lot of meaning for him.

[“Wait(ing) In Vain is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, even in Bob Marley’s bouncey version. Prince’s cover on solo piano is devastating.]

In his last set of concerts, he’d pause the song to bring up a still of Streisand and Redford in “The Way We Were”, after the part where he says “if somebody hurt u, even if that somebody was me.”

[This was at Prince’s second-to-last show, in Atlanta.]

It was one of the most honest and unexpected and sincere and heartbreaking things I think I ever heard him do. I was listening to audio of that in an airport in Tokyo a few months before he passed, and it brought me to tears, and it was one of the first things I returned to after I heard about his death. Was just as purely empathetic as I’d ever heard a straight man be in pop culture, and taught me a lot.

For me, losing Lou Reed was like losing a great teacher; losing Bowie was losing a hero; losing Phife was losing a best friend. But losing Prince, for many of us, was like losing the love of your life.

Dot Piano

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2017

Dot Piano

Dot Piano is a web-based visual piano that works with a MIDI keyboard peripheral or with your regular computer keyboard. As you play, colorful dots dance across the screen in a variety of ways. Hit record and you can easily save and share your composition with others. This one is fun to watch. (via prosthetic knowledge)

Here’s why we like, really like, repetition in music.

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2017

Pop music songs have become increasingly repetitive in recent years — think Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, Beyonce’s 7/11 or Formation, and just about anything by Rihanna — and there’s a good reason for this: we like repetition. When people repeat words, it stops sounding like speaking and starts sounding like singing. Lyrical repetition makes songs sound more musical.

My media diet for the past two weeks

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past two weeks or so. I’ve been working and traveling, so there have been fewer books and more podcasts in my life. On the way home from NYC, I started The Devil in the White City on audiobook and can’t wait to get back to it.

From Cells to Cities. Sam Harris podcast interview of Geoffrey West, author of Scale. Two genuinely mind-blowing moments can’t quite salvage the remained 2 hours of rambling. (A-/C-)

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. I much prefer the book. (C+)

Kingsman: The Secret Service. Entertaining enough. I’ll give the new one a try. (B+)

Philip Glass Piano Works by Vikingur Olafsson. This is relaxing to listen to in the morning. (A-)

Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This sounds very much like all their other albums and I am not complaining. (B+)

mother! An intense film but it was too overly metaphorical for me to take any of the intensity seriously. (B)

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. “A fun, high-quality, serial mystery that can be described as Goonies meets Spy Kids meets Stranger Things for 8-12 year olds.” My kids and I listened to season one over the course of a week and they could not wait to hear more. (A-)

The Vietnam War original score. By Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. An unusual choice for the score to a Ken Burns film. (B+)

Blade Runner 2049. Seeing this in IMAX (real IMAX not baby IMAX) really blew my doors off. Visually and sonically amazing. At least 20 minutes too long though. (A-)

New Yorker TechFest. I hadn’t been to a tech conference in awhile because the ratio of style to substance had gotten too high. The caliber of the speakers set this conference apart. My full report is here. (B+)

Items: Is Fashion Modern? Great collection of items, but I’m not sure I’m any closer to knowing the answer to the question in the title. (A-)

LBJ’s War. A short, 6-part podcast on Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War, consisting mostly of interviews and audio recordings from the period in question. A good companion to the PBS series on the war. (B+)

Driverless Dilemma by Radiolab. Revisiting an old episode of Radiolab about the trolley problem in the context of self-driving cars. (B)

Max Richter: Piano Works by Olivia Belli. Short and sweet. (A-)

Jerry Before Seinfeld. This felt pretty phoned-in. Some of these old jokes — “women, am I right?” — should have stayed in the vault. (B-)

Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack. A critical part of the movie that also stands alone. (A-)

Spielberg. A solid appreciation of Spielberg’s career, but more of a critical eye would have been appreciated. Also, was surprised how many of his movies referenced his parents’ divorce. (B+)

Universal Paperclips. Ugh, I cannot ever resist these incremental games. What an odd name, “incremental games”. Aren’t most games incremental? (A-/F)

A thrilling Line Rider track synched to music

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

Remember Line Rider, the drawing/sledding game we were all obsessed with 11 years ago? YouTuber DoodleChaos drew a Line Rider track by hand that is synchronized to Edvard Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King (which you will recognize when you hear it). Make sure your sound is on and watch the whole thing…it gets almost poetically thrilling near the end. (via @neilhalloran)

Eminem blasts Donald Trump in new freestyle

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 11, 2017

In a freestyle rap that aired at the BET Hip Hop Awards last night, Eminem blasted Donald Trump for his racism, false patriotism, deceit, and disrespect of military veterans, among other things. Watch it if you haven’t…the man is angry, as are many of us. The lyrics to the freestyle are on Genius:

He says, “You’re spittin’ in the face of vets who fought for us, you bastards!”
Unless you’re a POW who’s tortured and battered
‘Cause to him you’re zeros
‘Cause he don’t like his war heroes captured
That’s not disrespecting the military
Fuck that! This is for Colin, ball up a fist!
And keep that shit balled like Donald the bitch!
“He’s gonna get rid of all immigrants!”
“He’s gonna build that thing up taller than this!”
Well, if he does build it, I hope it’s rock solid with bricks
‘Cause like him in politics, I’m using all of his tricks
‘Cause I’m throwin’ that piece of shit against the wall ‘til it sticks
And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
“Fuck you!”
The rest of America stand up
We love our military, and we love our country
But we fucking hate Trump

As you can read, Eminem is really calling out his white fan base here, something that Elon James White mentioned in this Twitter thread:

So basically Trump, a grade A troll just got trolled by a bigger more experienced troll. Eminim trolls every album & he chose 45 this time. White dudes who thought Eminem was [their] voice, all angry and White at home right now like [What do I doooooooooooo!?] And y’all know Eminem is petty. If 45 responds he’ll have 3 diss tracks in a week. If 45 doesn’t he will be shat on as weak AF & a punk. And a lot of White folks who may have been sitting this whole shit storm out just had their fav rapper call them dafuq out.

White also addressed the misogyny and homophobia in Eminem’s music:

And as for his music catalogue of misogyny and homophobia…
.
.
.
That empty space is called me not defending ANY of it one bit. Notice I didn’t say “everyone should go buy Eminem albums!” “SUPPORT THIS ARTIST!” I was commenting on the freestyle & how it will play. I haven’t bought an Eminem album since I was a young punk. But my support or lack thereof doesn’t negate his skill or his platform.

A blueprint of hip hop history

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 10, 2017

Dorothy Hip Hop

Dorothy Hip Hop

Design studio Dorothy has released this poster of a map of hip hop history, featuring notable rap and hip hop artists and groups laid out in the style of a circuit diagram for a classic turntable.

The print pays homage to the godfathers of hip-hop (Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets) but takes its starting point as DJ Kool Herc’s Back to School Jam in August 1973 — a block party in the Bronx, New York which is widely regarded as the birthplace of hip-hop.

The print weaves it way through many different scenes and record labels including early old-school innovators (Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Cold Crush Brothers), golden age heroes (Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, KRS-One, Eric B. & Rakim), the collective Native Tongues (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, Monie Love), politically charged hip-hop (Public Enemy, The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, Lauryn Hill), legendary East Coast artists (The Notorious B.I.G, Nas), legendary West Coast artists (Tupac Shakur, Dr. Dre), gangsta rap (Ice-T, N.W.A, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg), hardcore (Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep), Southern rap (Lil Wayne, T.I., Outkast) underground hip-hop (Company Flow, MF Doom, Aesop Rock), turntablism (Invisibl Scratch Piklz, The X-Ecutioners), trip-hop (Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead), UK grime (Wiley, Skepta and Stormzy) and legendary producers (DJ Premier, J Dilla and Madlib).

Pairs well with Tim Carmody’s Introduction to Hip Hop playlist.

Band uses video delay to create “a mesmerizing visual loop sampler”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

A band called The Academic cleverly took advantage of the slight broadcast delay in Facebook Live to construct a loop sampler out of video, so that at any given moment, each member of the band is performing with their past and future selves and bandmates.

We rearranged each instrument on “Bear Claws” to fit Facebook Live’s delay, with each loop getting more complex, adding instruments, rhythms, and melodies. Additionally, by projecting the video live from a soundstage we created an infinite tunnel consisting of all the previously recorded loops.

OK Go is probably kicking themselves for not thinking of this first. See also Piano/Video Phase, David Cossin’s performance of Steve Reich’s Piano Phase with himself. (via clive thompson)

Spotify’s Time Capsule personalized playlists

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2017

Spotify has made a Time Capsule playlist for each of its users, “a personalized playlist with songs to take you back in time to your teenage years”. It’s a little tough to find…you can search for it, find it under “Decades” on the Browse page, or use the website. Here’s my Time Capsule:

I’d heard from friends how eerily accurate their playlists were, but mine’s not that great. I grew up in a small town with limited access to music. Everyone I knew listened to country, metal, or top 40. I didn’t really care that much for metal or country, so top 40 it was. My musical taste took a right turn in college and it was only much later that I circled back to the sort of music that I would have listened to in the 80s had I been aware of it. Also, it looks as though Spotify thinks I’m 8-10 years younger than I actually am. The playlist should be crammed with Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna, George Michael, and other 80s MTV staples, not stuff that came out in the mid 90s.

However, I have no idea how the hell it knew about Cum on Feel the Noize, Wishing Well, and Eye of the Tiger. I’ve never listened to any of them on Spotify but young Jason was obsessed with each of these for a brief period. I can still hear Casey Kasem saying Terence Trent D’Arby’s name with his distinctive America’s Top 40 cadence. Freaky!

Audio samples of 1500+ musical genres

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2017

Every Sound At Once

Warning: you might lose an entire hour to this… Every Noise at Once is a one-page map of playable audio samples for more than 1500 musical genres, from deep tech house to Finnish metal to smooth jazz to geek folk to klezmer to deep opera.

This is an ongoing attempt at an algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space, based on data tracked and analyzed for 1536 genres by Spotify. The calibration is fuzzy, but in general down is more organic, up is more mechanical and electric; left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier.

You can also listen to a playlist of one song from each musical genre on Spotify (1536 songs that play for 110 hours & 35 minutes):

Or slice and dice genres list in various ways to get to genre specific playlists.

Update: I’ve been informed that if you hover over the name of a genre and then click on the “»”, you get a map of artists in that genre, each with a playable sample. Oops, there goes MY ENTIRE DAY.

The music of The Vietnam War

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2017

I’m about two-thirds of the way through Ken Burns & Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War on PBS. Much like the war itself, the series is epic and complicated and weird and perhaps even too long.1

NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says that The Vietnam War “is not Mr. Burns’s most innovative film”, but I would argue that doesn’t apply to the music. Half of the music is what you would expect: rock and folk music from 60s & 70s groups and musicians like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, etc. More than two hours of songs used during the series have been released on this album:

Even The Beatles were part of the soundtrack:

Then there’s all that popular music from the 60s and 70s: more than 120 songs by the artists who actually soundtracked the times, such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Wilson Pickett, Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds, the Rolling Stones, and even the ordinarily permissions-averse and budget-breaking Beatles. Of the Beatles, Novick noted, “They basically said, We think this is an important part of history, we want to be part of what you’re doing, and we will take the same deal everybody else gets. That’s kind of unprecedented.”

But an original score was also provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that sounds a lot like their work on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Seven episodes in, I’m used to the mix of music, but the effect is definitely discongruous; the transitions pulled me out of the narrative more than once. Not sure that’s the effect they were going for…

  1. The whole series starts off on a wrong note. Literally the first thing you hear in the first episode is a shout-out to the sponsors: “Major support for the Vietnam War was provided by…”, which my brain quickly filled in as “Robert MacNamara, Dow Chemical, the American military industrial complex, etc etc”

Beyonce drops a new remix, all proceeds going to hurricane & earthquake relief

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Last night, Beyonce posted a video of her remix of J Balvin & Willy William’s song Mi Gente and she’s donating the proceeds to hurricane & earthquake relief efforts in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean islands, and other affected areas.

As many have said on Twitter, nothing but respect for my President.

Blue Planet II

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2017

Having achieved spectacular success with Planet Earth II, the BBC and David Attenborough are revisiting another of their previous nature documentaries, the 2001 series The Blue Planet, “a comprehensive series on the natural history of the world’s oceans”. Blue Planet II, Attenborough promises, will use new technology and our increased understanding of the natural world to great advantage in telling the story of the animal and plant life — dancing yeti crabs! dolphins spitting to trick prey! TurtleCam! — that dwells in our oceans.

The score is by Hans Zimmer, who also collaborated with Radiohead to rework an old song of theirs for the series. Bloom, off of King of Limbs, was originally inspired by the first Blue Planet series, so it’s come full circle with its inclusion in the new series. Vox examines how Zimmer and the band adapted the song:

If you listen closely enough to Radiohead and Hans Zimmer’s rework of “Bloom” for Blue Planet II, you can hear a really fascinating orchestral trick at work. They call it the “tidal orchestra” — it’s a musical effect created by instructing each player to play their notes only if the person next to them isn’t playing. The result is a randomly swelling and fading musical bed for the entire series that captures the feeling of ocean waves. It’s a captivating way to score a soundtrack for the ocean — but it also fits in with a long history of capturing randomness in music composition.

The “tidal orchestra” technique was inspired by pointillism and randomness: using small individual sounds to build a soundscape rather than starting with a specific tune. For some reason, it also reminds me of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 797. (No idea what inspired Yorke’s pants though. MC Hammer? Wow.)

Planet Earth II was probably my favorite movie/show/media from the past year, so I am really looking forward to Blue Planet II.

My media diet for the past month

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. I’ve been watching too much TV and not reading enough books. I’m currently trying to get through Scale & Behave and listening to Superintelligence on audiobook and they’re all good & interesting, but I’m having trouble staying interested enough to actually pick them up in lieu of zoning out in front of the TV. I think I need something with more of a narrative.

The Vietnam War. Excellent, a must-see. (A)

The Matrix. Holds up well. I saw this in the theater in 1999, not knowing a damn thing about it, and walked out in a daze…”what the hell did I just see?” (A)

The Founder. There’s a certain kind of businessperson for whom the Ray Kroc depicted in this film would be a hero. Travis Kalanick, etc. Fuck those people. I stand with the McDonald brothers. (B+)

A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches. I aspire to this level of sandwich obsession. (B)

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I should have stopped watching after 15 minutes but then I would have missed perhaps the worst closing line in movie history. (C-)

Inception. This might be my favorite Christopher Nolan movie. (A-)

american dream by LCD Soundsystem. I’ve never been able to get into LCD Soundsystem. Is there a trick? What’s the secret? (B-)

Basic Instinct. This movie is not great and hasn’t aged well. But you can totally see why it made Sharon Stone a star…she’s the only thing worth watching in the film. (C-)

Minions. *whispers* I kinda like the Minions and think they are funny and not as insipid/cynical as many others think. (B)

The Antidote. “Reread” this as an audiobook. I recommend this book to others more than any other book I’ve read in the past few years, save the Ferrante books. (A+)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I enjoyed it the first time, but this movie is so much better when watching it with two kids who think that everything coming out of every character’s mouth is the funniest thing they have ever heard. Biggest laugh was “I’m Mary Poppins y’all!” (B+)

Everything Now by Arcade Fire. Gets better every time I listen to it. (B+)

10 Bullets. Neat little one-button game. There’s an iOS version (and sequel) but they don’t work on iOS 11. (B)

Dunkirk. Saw this again on a larger screen (not IMAX sadly) and liked it even more this time. (A)

Champlain Valley Fair. I love fairs. We ate so many mini donuts and saw a dog walking a tightrope! (B+)

Logan Lucky. I was somewhat lukewarm on this leaving the theater but thinking back on it now, I definitely will see this again. (B+)

Sleep Well Beast by The National. Meh? (B-)

War for the Planet of the Apes. I saw this 3-4 weeks ago and can’t remember a whole lot about it, but I enjoyed it at the time? I do remember that the CG is seamless. (B-)

Applebee’s Artichoke and Spinach Dip. Way better than it had any right to be. I will make a special trip to eat this again. (A-)

Blade Runner. Rewatched in advance of the sequel. The final cut version, naturally. I watched the original cut for about 20 minutes once and had to shut it off because of the voiceover. (B+)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

The trailer for Score, a documentary film about movie soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 22, 2017

Score is a feature-length documentary film about the music in movies.

This celebratory documentary takes viewers inside the studios and recording sessions of Hollywood’s most influential composers to give a privileged look inside the musical challenges and creative secrecy of a truly international music genre: the film score.

Looking at the list of people they interviewed for the film (Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Quincy Jones, Mark Mothersbaugh, etc.), it’s apparent that women composers get about as much work in Hollywood as do women directors. The movie’s gotten good reviews though and is currently available on Amazon and iTunes. (via @veganstraightedge)

A digital trove of 1000s of images of early hip hop photos, posters, and ephemera

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2017

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Hip Hop Archive

Cornell University has a hip hop collection with tens of thousands of objects in it: photos, posters, flyers, magazines, etc. Much of the collection is only available on site in Ithaca, NY by appointment, but parts of it have been digitized, like these party and event flyers:

Created entirely by hand, well before widespread use of design software, these flyers preserve raw data from the days when Hip Hop was primarily a live, performance-based culture in the Bronx. They contain information about early Hip Hop groups, individual MCs and DJs, promoters, venues, dress codes, admission prices, shout outs and more. Celebrated designers, such as Buddy Esquire (“The Flyer King”) and Phase 2, made these flyers using magazine cutouts, original photographs, drawings, and dry-transfer letters.

And the archive of Joe Conzo Jr., who photographed groups, parties, events, and the like in the South Bronx in the late 70s and early 80s (but FYI, the Conzo archive interface is more than a little clunky and there’s lots of non-hip hop stuff to wade through):

In 1978, while attending South Bronx High School, Conzo became friends with members of the Cold Crush Brothers, an important and influential early Hip Hop group which included DJs Charlie Chase and Tony Tone and MCs Grandmaster Caz, JDL, Easy AD, and Almighty KayGee. Conzo became the group’s professional photographer, documenting their live performances at the T-Connection, Disco Fever, Harlem World, the Ecstasy Garage, and the Hoe Avenue Boy’s Club. He also took pictures of other Hip Hop artists and groups, including The Treacherous 3, The Fearless 4, and The Fantastic 5.

These rare images capture Hip Hop when it was still a localized, grassroots culture about to explode into global awareness. Without Joe’s images, the world would have little idea of what the earliest era of hip hop looked like, when fabled DJ, MC, and b-boy/girl battles took place in parks, school gymnasiums and neighborhood discos.

And most recently a portion of the Adler Hip Hop Archive, compiled by journalist and early Def Jam executive Bill Adler:

The Adler archive contains thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, recording industry press releases and artist bios, correspondence, photographs, posters, flyers, advertising, and other documents. These materials offer an unprecedented view into Hip Hop’s history and are made available here for study and research.

Fair warning: don’t click on any of those links if you’ve got pressing things to do…you could lose hours poking around.

Where did rap’s now-ubiquitous “Migos flow” come from?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 15, 2017

Contemporary rap music has come to be dominated by a style called the “Migos flow” (after the group Migos, who made the style famous in a song called Versace). This video looks at where the style originated and why it’s become so popular.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m loving these music-deconstruction videos by Estelle Caswell (the most recent ones are part of a Vox series called Earworm), especially the ones about rap & hip-hop because a) I am listening to more and more of it and know relatively little about it, and b) the more I learn, the more I feel that the people making this music are/were goddamn geniuses.

P.S. Caswell made a playlist of songs that use the triplet flow.

P.P.S. Here’s Migos rapping the children’s book Llama Llama Red Pajama over the beat of Bad and Boujee:

Radiohead: Lift

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

What’s that? You want to see Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke riding in an elevator accompanied by a revolving cast of odd people getting on and off at even stranger floors of an apartment building? Ok, here you go. The song is fan-favorite Lift, which was first recorded in the late 90s but not officially released until this year on OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. The video contains a few Easter eggs for hardcode fans, including some cameos:

Perhaps some of Radiohead’s notoriously devoted fans will recognize Thom Yorke’s girlfriend, Italian actress Dajana Roncione, in the opening of the band’s new music video for “Lift.” Accompanying her, and pushing all of the buttons on the lift, is Yorke’s daughter Agnes.

Halt and Catch Fire music playlist for season 4

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2017

Season four of Halt and Catch Fire finds the show in the 90s and the music has changed accordingly. Here’s the official playlist on Spotify.

See also the playlists for season 3, 1985, 1984, and many more from the show, including playlists for each main character.

Beyonce’s How To Make Lemonade box set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

How To Make Lemonade Beyonce

Last month, Beyonce released a collector’s edition box set of her latest album called How To Make Lemonade. The set is $300 and includes Lemonade on vinyl as well as downloadable digital versions of the audio and visual albums. But the star of the show here is the 600-page coffee table book full of photos, stories, and poetry about the making of the album.

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade Beyonce

Lemonade is still my favorite album of the past few years.

Tycho’s 2017 Burning Man DJ set

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2017

Every year at Burning Man, Tycho does a 2-hour DJ set coinciding with the sunrise. Here’s 2017’s installment. You can also go back and listen to sunrise sets from 2016, 2015, and 2014. There, now your whole day is chill.

The death (and possible rebirth?) of the fade-out in pop music

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

The fade out used to be ubiquitous in pop music and the technique has some advantages over other ending methods. In one study, participants tapped along to the beat for a couple seconds after songs with fade outs ended, as if the fade out helped the song live on after it had ended. What musician wouldn’t want that? So why has the fade out fallen out of favor in the past few years?

Also, I love the lo-tech origin story of the fade out: composer Gustav Holst had someone close a door on a choir during a performance in 1918.

Composer Gustav Holst understood the power of the fade-out and employed one of the first at a 1918 concert. For the “Neptune” section of The Planets, Holst had the women’s choir sing in a room offstage. Toward the end, he instructed, the door should be closed very slowly: “This bar is to be repeated until the sound is lost in the distance.” Given the subject matter — Neptune was thought to be the most distant planet in the solar system — Holst’s attempt to conjure the remoteness of the planet and the mysteries of the cosmos makes sense.

The technology for recorded music wasn’t any more evolved…if you wanted to fade a sound out, you had to physically carry the recording device (the phonograph or microphone) away from the audio source.

Inside Music, an interactive musical exploration & remix tool from Song Exploder and Google

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2017

Inside Music is a Web VR tool from Google and Song Exploder that lets you explore how songs from Perfume Genius, Phoenix, Ibeyi, and others are put together. Here’s a short video explanation:

You can turn different parts of each song off and on…guitars, bass, vocals, etc.; it’s cool to isolate different parts of each song. This works pretty well in the browser but I would imagine it’s a whole different deal if you have a VR rig.

Google has put the code for Inside Music on Github so if you’re a musician, you can explore your own songs in VR or put them up on the web for others to explore.

My recent (and not-so-recent) media diet

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 29, 2017

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past few weeks. As always, don’t take the letter grades so seriously. Somehow it’s been almost two months since my last installment?

Paterson. I would pay to watch Adam Driver read the phone book and that’s kinda what this is so I was satisfied. (B)

Despicable Me 3. I have a soft spot for the Minions movie (don’t know why, afraid to ask myself) but not for this one. (C+)

Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. This was my favorite book to read to my kids, but both of them can read by themselves now, so this is perhaps the last time I will get to sit down and read it with them and oh no I’m crying right now. (A+)

Mr. Holmes. This could have been good but 24 hours after watching, I’d forgotten everything about it. (C)

Spider-Man: Homecoming. My brain let out a big ol’ “ohhhhhh” after I realized two-thirds of the way through where they got the title. (B)

The Defiant Ones. Great. But I felt Dre’s apology for his violence against women was lacking. As with many apologies from the wealthy and powerful, it had more to do with him than with his victims. (A)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I love reading weirdo books with my kids. (A)

Game of Thrones (season 7). Pure pulp and soap at this point. (A-)

Hey, Cool Job Episode 21: Wellness Expert And Swole Woman Casey Johnston. I LOL’d at “I’m going to remain poor and right”. (B+)

Dunkirk. I feel like Christopher Nolan watched Mad Max: Fury Road and said, “I can do that…but my way.” Also reminded me strongly of Run Lola Run. (A-)

Dunkirk: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack contributed heavily to my enjoyment of this film. (A)

Baby Driver. A 2-hour music video. If were 25 and had never seen a Tarantino movie, I would have thought this was the coolest shit ever. (B)

The total solar eclipse. A once-in-a-lifetime experience I will attempt to replicate at the earliest opportunity. (A+++)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Philip Glass: Piano Works by Víkingur Ólafsson

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2017

I’m currently listening to Philip Glass: Piano Works by Víkingur Ólafsson.

Compare with Glass’s own take on the Études. The NY Times recently interviewed Ólafsson about Glass and other things.

Mr. Olafsson’s version is often more atmospheric. Although the ‘Etude comprises a series of repeated phrases, he doesn’t settle into any patterns. He treats Mr. Glass’s music like a sculpture, worth studying from all angles in search of new interpretations and surprises.

“I came to the conclusion that it’s not a repetition,” Mr. Olafsson said of Mr. Glass’s music. “It’s a rebirth. It’s not treading the same path, but traveling in a spiral. That’s the image I have.”

Today’s Google logo is a set of playable turntables

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2017

In celebration of the 44th anniversary of the birth of hip hop, Google has replaced its logo with a pair of working turntables and a crate of records to scratch and mix.

On August 11, 1973, an 18-year-old, Jamaican-American DJ who went by the name of Kool Herc threw a back-to-school jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, New York. During his set, he decided to do something different. Instead of playing the songs in full, he played only their instrumental sections, or “breaks” — sections where he noticed the crowd went wild. During these “breaks” his friend Coke La Rock hyped up the crowd with a microphone. And with that, Hip Hop was born.

The introduction and tutorial is hosted by Fab 5 Freddy, host of the groundbreaking Yo! MTV Raps show. You can play with the DJ setup here:

That was super fun…I spent more time than I would like to admit playing with that. See also Tim Carmody’s Spotify playlist, Introduction to Hip-Hop.

The hidden rhythm in Radiohead’s “Videotape”

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2017

In her first installment for a new Vox series called Earworm, Estelle Caswell takes a look at some weird musical stuff happening with Videotape, a song off of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. According to a longer video by Warren Lain referenced by Caswell, Radiohead has hidden a syncopated rhythm in the song that even the band members have trouble keeping straight when they’re trying to play it. Videotape is my favorite song on that album…maybe this is a reason why?

Also, don’t miss the short explanation of how “rhythmic sound synchronizes the brain waves of groups of people”. !!!

The art of making classic/pop music mashups

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2017

I’ve mentioned Steve Hackman here before; he’s a composer who arranges and conducts mashups of music from classical and contemporary musicians. He’s done performances of Beethoven vs Coldplay, Brahms vs Radiohead, and several others. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the video for the full performance of Drake vs Tchaikovsky…but no dice yet.

Hannah Yi from Quartz recently talked to Hackman about how he goes about creating these mashups by looking for similarities in meter, chords, and emotion between two pieces of music.

The infinite auditory illusion that makes the Dunkirk soundtrack so intense (and good)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 31, 2017

I remarked on Twitter recently that “Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack for Dunkirk is outstanding”. The music blends perfectly with the action on the screen without being overbearing; it’s perhaps the best marriage of sound and visuals I’ve experienced in a movie theater since Mad Max: Fury Road or even Tron: Legacy.1

Zimmer and Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan achieved that effect by utilizing an auditory illusion called the Shepard tone, a sound that appears to infinitely rise (or fall) in pitch — the video above refers to it as “a barber’s pole of sound”. From a Business Insider interview with Nolan:

The screenplay had been written according to musical principals. There’s an audio illusion, if you will, in music called a “Shepard tone” and with my composer David Julyan on “The Prestige” we explored that and based a lot of the score around that. And it’s an illusion where there’s a continuing ascension of tone. It’s a corkscrew effect. It’s always going up and up and up but it never goes outside of its range. And I wrote the script according to that principle. I interwove the three timelines in such a way that there’s a continual feeling of intensity. Increasing intensity. So I wanted to build the music on similar mathematical principals. Very early on I sent Hans a recording that I made of a watch that I own with a particularly insistent ticking and we started to build the track out of that sound and then working from that sound we built the music as we built the picture cut. So there’s a fusion of music and sound effects and picture that we’ve never been able to achieve before.

  1. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this — because it fits somewhere between “unpopular opinion” and “embarrassing admission” on the scale of things one doesn’t talk about in public — but seeing Tron: Legacy in 3D IMAX was one of the top 5 movie-going experiences of my life. The Light Cycle battle was 80 feet tall and because of the 3D glasses, it looked like it extended out from the screen to immediately in front of my face, to the point where I actually reached out and tried to touch it a couple times. And all the while, Daft Punk was pounding into my brain from who knows how many speakers. I was not on drugs and hadn’t been drinking, but it was one of the most mind-altering experiences of my life.

Radiohead hid an old school computer program on their new album

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2017

As if you already didn’t know that Radiohead are a bunch of big ole nerds, there’s an easter egg on a cassette tape included in the Boxed Edition of OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017. At the end of the tape recording, there are some blips and bleeps, which Maciej Korsan interpreted correctly as a program for an old computer system.

As a kid I was an owner of the Commodore 64. I remember that all my friends already were the PC users but my parents declined to buy me one for a long time. So I sticked to my old the tape-based computer listening to it’s blips and waiting for the game to load. Over 20 years later I was sitting in front of my MacBook, listening to the digitalised version of the tape my favourite band just released and then I’ve heard a familiar sound… ‘This must be an old computer program, probably C64 one’ I thought.

The program turned out to run on the ZX Spectrum, a computer the lads would likely have encountered as kids.