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kottke.org posts about music

20 Years of Lauryn Hill

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Yesterday, hip hop legend Lauryn Hill announced The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary Tour 2018.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of seminal hip-hop album The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, and Lauryn Hill is marking the occasion with a special anniversary tour dedicated to the album. Hill will be performing Miseducation in full, and each stop on the tour will feature “special guest performers” that haven’t been named yet. Plus, a portion of ticket sales will be donated to Hill’s MLH Foundation, which backs a huge group of charities built to help people all over the world-including the Africa Philanthropic Foundation, Appetite For Change, Apps & Girls, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

And Nerdwriter’s Evan Puschak, always with his ear to the ground (or perhaps with his ear to Drake’s Nice for What), just came out with this mini-doc celebrating of Hill’s music, influences, and people she’s influenced:

This might be one of the best Nerdwriter videos yet: no commentary, just clips of Hill performing and talking, music she was influenced by, and people & music that were influenced by her…an impressionistic portrait of a significant and uncompromising artist.

The Westworld season two soundtrack covers Kanye & Nirvana

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2018

One of my favorite aspects of HBO’s Westworld is the music, particularly the acoustic covers of modern rock and pop songs, many of which sound like they could be coming from a player piano in the show’s Old West saloon. The first season’s soundtrack, composed by Ramin Djawadi, featured covers of songs by Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, and the Rolling Stones. The second season is starting in just a couple of weeks, but they’ve already released two new covers from this season’s soundtrack: Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana and Kanye West’s Runaway.

Djawadi, perhaps best known as the composer of the Game of Thrones theme song, spoke to Pitchfork about the rationale behind the cover songs:

What I love about that is it just comes out of nowhere and you don’t expect it at all. You see the settings and the way people are dressed and even though you know it’s robots and it’s all made to be modern entertainment, you would think the people in control would make everything authentic, including whatever is played on that player piano. It would be from that time period. And when it’s not, it’s that subtle reminder that, ‘Wait, there is something not right. This is not real.’ It’s just such a powerful tool that only music can do.

An animated “music video” of similar satellite imagery

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2018

Arena is a video created by Páraic & Pearse McGloughlin constructed from different structural forms (roads, stadiums, center-pivot irrigation circles) in satellite images of the Earth animated together into a kind of music video. (It’s hard to describe it. Just watch and you’ll see what I mean.) The first part of the video, with the roads, reminded me of the screensaver on a computer or DVD player where a ball or logo bounces around the screen.

McGloughlin did an interview with Director’s Notes about how the video was produced.

I put a lot of focus on imagery containing flat lines, symmetry and grids as they are so different to the patterns/shapes made by nature, and hoped in turn that this would be most effective. It wasn’t until I started messing with some images that I thought to allocate the idea of the game of life — “Arena” to the theme as it fit perfectly in my opinion. I wanted to create a retro-like video game effect out of the images and I knew I wanted to start with flat roads ‘bouncing’ off the sides of the screen with an element of growth, a focus on the abundance of life on earth as well as some kind of evolution idea.

(via bb)

The New Yorker’s musical magazine cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2018

New Yorker Audio Cover

The New Yorker has a fun cover this week from cartoonist Tom Gauld. The New York street scene shows bits of music being played and listened to by people and birds and if you click through to the interactive version, you can listen to what each snippet of musical notation sounds like.

In his early sketches, Gauld had only vague notions of the music he’d like to include, and “placeholder nonsense” in the speech bubbles. “If, like me, you’re musically illiterate, then the notes give a suggestion of what’s going on sonically,” he said. “But I also wanted the scores to make sense to those who can read music.”

To achieve that goal, he enlisted the help of fact checker Fergus McIntosh, a veteran chorister. Together, the duo struck upon a repertoire that includes Vivaldi’s “Spring”; Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”; Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata”; the folk song “One Morning in Spring”; and birdsong from the American robin, which tends to appear in springtime after local migration.

Found this via Austin Kleon, who remarks that Charles Schulz was similarly faithful in using accurate musical notation in Peanuts cartoons.

Peanuts Music

When Schroeder pounded on his piano, his eyes clenched in a trance, the notes floating above his head were no random ink spots dropped into the key of G. Schulz carefully chose each snatch of music he drew and transcribed the notes from the score. More than an illustration, the music was a soundtrack to the strip, introducing the characters’ state of emotion, prompting one of them to ask a question or punctuating an interaction.

Schulz used music so extensively in some of his strips that they didn’t really make much sense if you didn’t know how to read music:

Peanuts Music

When Beethoven gave the Hammerklavier to the publisher, he bragged, “Now you will have a sonata that will keep the pianists busy when it is played 50 years hence.” In this Sunday strip, Schulz most fully develops the idea of the preparations required to storm “Mount Everest.” Before marching to the piano with determination, Schroeder prepares himself for this mighty undertaking with seven different kinds of exercise and a “carb-loading” bowl of cereal, almost as if he were preparing to climb a mountain!

Music from Babylon Berlin

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2018

I’ve been watching Babylon Berlin on Netflix for the past week and the scene that got me hooked was the time-bending dance number in the second episode, one of the most energetic, vibrant, and sexy scenes I’ve seen onscreen in a long time. The song in the scene, Zu Asche, Zu Staub, is a 20s/30s swing number put through a modern filter of EDM. You can hear it on the show’s soundtrack (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon):

The original music for the show was composed by Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer, who have worked together since Tykwer’s breakout Run, Lola, Run and have done the music for Cloud Atlas, Sense8, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

My recent media diet for March-ish 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 05, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I was out of town for a few days so there are more books on here than usual. I’m trying to keep it up…reading right now but too early to call: Broad Band, Am I There Yet?, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Oh and I’m really glad The Americans is back on, even though it’s the final season. (As I’ve said before, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades. They are subjective and frequently wrong.)

Star Trek Voyager. Not in the same league as Next Generation, but it hums along nicely after they get going. (B)

Mr. Robot. I watched the first episode of season three and then got distracted by other things. Anybody watch the whole season? Is it worth circling back? (TBD)

Annihilation. I enjoyed this more than many people I know, but not as much as Matt Zoller Seitz. Eager to watch it again since reading the book (see below). (B+)

Lincoln. I love this movie. One of Spielberg’s best. (A)

Ugly Delicious. I wanted to hate this, but it’s really interesting and David Chang wears you down with his, well, I wouldn’t call it charm exactly. The episode that really hooked me was the Thanksgiving one, when he’s wandering around a massive supermarket with his mom, who’s mockingly calling him “David Chang” (you can almost hear the appended ™ in her voice) and then refers to him as the “Baby King”. Also, for a chef, Chang is weirdly incurious about food but harangues people for not appreciating kimchi. I really should write a longer post about this… (A-)

Murder on the Orient Express. Better than I had heard, if you choose to embrace its slight campiness. I really enjoyed Branagh’s Poirot. (B+)

Geostorm. I love disaster movies like this, but I kept checking my phone during this one and a day or two later I couldn’t have told you a single plot point. That will not stop me from watching it again because (see first sentence). (C)

Sunsets. I recommend them, particularly on the beach. (A)

The Wizard and the Prophet by Charles Mann. “I recommend that you read The Wizard and the Prophet”. (A)

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Great book, deserving of all its accolades. (A-)

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This is likely an unpopular opinion, but I liked the movie more. Upon finishing, I was not inclined to read the sequels. (B)

The Odyssey, translated by Emily Wilson. As I mentioned here, I’m reading this aloud to my kids, which feels a little like a time machine trip back to antiquity. (A)

An Incomplete History of Protest. Inspiring collection of objects related to the protests of everything from the AIDS crisis to Vietnam. Fascinating to see how the disenfranchised leveraged art and design to counter their neglect by the powerful. (A-)

Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables. Fun to see American Gothic up close, but I was more impressed by some of Wood’s other work, particularly his illustration-like landscapes. I showed the kids a photo I had taken of one of the paintings and Ollie said, “that looks like a 3D rendering!” (B+)

Stephen Shore at MoMA. I’d label this a “must see” if you’re into photography at all. Shore’s shape-shifting career is inspiring. (A-)

Red Sparrow. I was texting with a friend about how cool it would be if J. Law’s character in Red Sparrow was Paige Jennings from The Americans all grown up, but the timelines don’t match up. (B-)

Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle. I don’t play a lot of board games so maybe this is a common thing now, but I really like how all the players have to work together against the game to win. But once you get past the first couple of decks, the games take *forever*. (B+)

The Royal Tenenbaums. Rushmore will always be my sentimental Wes Anderson fave, but Tenenbaums is right up there. (A)

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. I have been listening to the audiobook version while in the car, and Wallace’s reading of the first story, Big Red Son (about an adult video awards show), made me laugh so hard that I had to pull of the road at one point. (A)

Logan Lucky. Much better on the second watch. I don’t know why I didn’t appreciate it the first time around…I love Soderbergh and this is basically Ocean’s 7/11. (A-)

Moon. I saw this when it originally came out but didn’t like it as much the second time around. Great soundtrack though. (B+)

Sleep. An 8-hour-long album designed to be played while you sleep. I listened to the entire album while working, and it’s pretty good for that purpose as well. (A-)

Simon and the Whale. Wonderful room and service. Really good cocktails. I know the kitchen crew and they still blew me away with the food. (A)

Girls Trip. I haven’t laughed so hard at a movie since I don’t know when. Bridesmaids maybe? Can’t wait to watch this again in a few months. (A-)

Ready Player One. I very much enjoyed watching this movie. Spielberg must have had fun going back through the 80s pop culture he had a large part in shaping. (A-)

Electricity. I’m writing this not from my usual home office but from the lobby of the local diner/movie theater. We had a wind storm last night, which knocked the power out at my house. That means no heat, no water, no wifi, and very poor cell reception. And a tree came down across the road I live on, so I was “stranded” for a few hours this morning until someone showed up with a chainsaw. I unreservedly recommend electricity (and civilization more generally). (A+)

The Philharmonic Turntable Orchestra

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2018

A turntable orchestra that includes several past DJ world champions recently performed Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E Minor, which was the first LP released back in 1948.

I love everything about this: the history, the music, and the aesthetic of the performers sitting on the floor with their shoes off, wearing tuxedos with optional non-fancy headwear.

Hip Hop All Stars on The Arsenio Hall Show

posted by Aaron Cohen   Mar 22, 2018

For the final show of The Arsenio Hall Show, Queen Latifah organized a huge amount of hip hop talent for a tribute. It’s amazing. Some more details here. The segment features Yo-Yo, MC Lyte, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Fu-Schnickens, CL Smooth, Guru from Gang Starr, Das EFX, GZA and few others from Wu-Tang Clan, KRS-One, and Mad Lion, and, as mentioned previously, is amazing. (via @mattwhitlockPM)

Max Richter’s Sleep, an 8-hour album designed to be listened to while you sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

Composer Max Richter released Sleep in 2015, but it only recently became available on streaming platforms: Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Tidal. The album is 8 hours and 24 minutes long and was designed by Richter as a sleep aid/accompaniment. The composer worked with neuroscientist David Eagleman to align the music with the brain & body’s natural sleep rhythms.

A snack-sized version of Sleep is also available: From Sleep, which clocks in at a mere hour long.

Stevie Nicks sings “Wild Heart” on set

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 09, 2018

Thanks for following along this week while I filled in here! As my final post, it seems important to share the best YouTube video ever*.

Here you have songbird Stevie Nicks, every makeup artist’s worst nightmare, belting out an early version of her song “Wild Heart” during an Annie Leibowitz cover shoot for Rolling Stone in 1981. If this sends you down a rabbit hole of live versions of “Silver Springs” and corresponding levels of emotion between Buckingham and Nicks, I don’t blame you.

*Feel free to tell me otherwise or to keep in touch on Twitter.

Van Morrison and the Boston counterculture in 1968

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 08, 2018

van-morrison-boston-common-1968.jpg

Van Morrison wrote his spare, stringed magnum opus Astral Weeks during his time among the late 60s LSD-fueled counterculture in Boston. Ryan H. Walsh’s new book Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 covers the nine months Morrison spent in Cambridge, as well as a cast of characters both known and not. Among those orbiting Morrison were commune/cult leader Mel Lyman, members of the Velvet Underground, who played the Boston Tea Party club 15 times that year, and Carly Simon’s younger brother, Peter.

The common thread among the myriad personalities and communities profiled by Walsh is a yearning for transcendence and rebirth. These are also the central themes of Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks.” Morrison’s route to the spiritual plane was through music, not drugs. (A notorious drunk during his time in Boston, he is said to have eschewed dope after “burning [his] brain on hash” when he was younger.) The singer seems to have been guided by his subconscious in creating “Astral Weeks.” Some of the songs emerged from dreams and reveries. Morrison was a student of the occult who believed in automatic writing.

From stories of gigs on Cape Cod where Morrison and his band improvised what became “Moondance,” to him quietly crooning about Cambridgeport “like he’s talking about a misty hobbit village,” Walsh’s book seems to give context for Boston being more culturally significant within the late 60s era than most people give it credit for.

(Image of Van Morrison performing at Spring Sing on Boston Common in 1968 via WBUR.)

Spike Jonze is very good at making ads

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Mar 06, 2018

Huh, weird. Spike Jonze made a video of me in my living room last night.

I’m fully here for FKA Twigs being the face of dancing your way out of depression.

3000 years of art in just three minutes

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2018

This short film from 1968, set to Classical Gas, shows 3000 years of fine art in just three minutes. As the final frame of the film says:

You have just had all of the Great Art of the World indelibly etched in your brain. You are now cultured.

As mesmerizing as the film is, especially for 1968, the backstory is perhaps even more interesting. Mason Williams, who wrote and recorded Classical Gas, saw this film by UCLA film student Dan McLaughlin and arranged, with McLaughlin’s permission, to have the original soundtrack replaced with his song and to have it aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS, then the number one show on TV in America.

The impact of the film on television opened the door to realizations that the viewer’s mind could absorb this intense level of visual input. It was a double shot of a hundred proof music and video that polished the history of art off in three minutes! It was also the beginning of the fast images concept now called kinestasis (a rapidly-moving montage technique set to music) that has over the years been exploited so effectively by television commercials, documentaries, etc.

Curiously, a similarly produced film called American Time Capsule also aired on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour that year. Directed by Chuck Braverman, it showed 200 years of American history in less than 3 minutes:

McLaughlin’s film was produced and aired first (he made it in 1967) and was the inspiration for Braverman’s film (see the relevant snippets from David Sohn’s Film: the Creative Eye) but Braverman made a career out of the technique.

I was actually working in the same building as [Tommy Smothers], at CBS as an assistant — really as a messenger — trying to get into the cameraman’s union in the news department. They literally made the Comedy Hour just upstairs. I called, made a meeting, and Tommy looked at my other work and we discussed doing a film on the history of the United States — American Time Capsule. I made it and it aired on the weekend before the November ‘68 election and it was a huge hit. It catapulted me into a career. Not only did it appear on the Smothers’ Brothers Show, which was huge, but it appeared on The Tonight Show within a few weeks and then 60 Minutes picked it up. So I got a reputation right away for being the king of the fast-cut montage. I ended up doing dozens of commercials and lots of title sequences.

My favorite use of the technique is in the trailer for A Clockwork Orange:1

But anyway, getting back to Mason Williams and Classical Gas, after the success of the 3000 years of art video, he wrote a sketch about video jockeys playing music videos on TV:

As a result of the response to the CLASSICAL GAS music video, in September of 1968 I wrote up a piece for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, projecting the idea that someday VJ’s would be playing hit tapes on TV, (as well as DJ’s hit records on radio), a prophesy of what was, 13 years later, to become MTV.

All this film and media history, just barely surviving in YouTube videos, video descriptions, partial scans of out-of-print books, and interviews & obituaries scattered willy-nilly all over the we, what a mess. What a fascinating mess. (via open culture)

  1. Who made this trailer? Kubrick? His editor? Braverman? A Warner Brothers employee who was in charge of making film trailers and was a fan of Braverman? I couldn’t find any info on this.

Why are action movie trailers sounding more musical lately?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2018

Did you watch the teaser trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story or the recent trailer for Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp? Here they are if you need a refresher:

In both clips, you’ll notice how the sounds of the action — phaser blasts, switch flicks, explosions, engine revs, gun shots, tires squealing — are synched to the music…and in some cases, make music of their own. This is most apparent in the Ant-Man trailer starting at around 0:45.

Pacing in-movie sound effects to sound musical isn’t exactly new (martial arts flicks come to mind, as do the rapid-fire cuts from Requiem for a Dream), but these recent uses of the technique in these trailers have to be influenced by Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s 2017 “action musical”. Just about every action in the movie is timed to the soundtrack. Take a look, or rather, take a listen at the gunfight that starts at around 1:20 in this clip:

What’s particularly interesting about the use of this technique in the Ant-Man trailer is that Wright was replaced as the director of the first Ant-Man movie (which he refuses to watch), which freed him up to direct Baby Driver. I wonder if the trailer’s sound design is a subtle fuck you to Wright on behalf of Marvel/Disney, a sly homage by the person who cut the trailer together, or just the unwitting borrowing of an ear-catching technique?

I’d expect to see more usage of this technique as the summer action movie trailer season heats up. Has anyone noticed any other recent uses?

Update: Here are several more trailers that use this effect, although none of them quite to extent of Ant-Man or Baby Driver: Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, Deadpool, an upcoming Mission Impossible movie (as well as an older one), Suicide Squad, The Punisher, and even the Coen’s A Serious Man.

That’s four Marvel trailers that do it. I wonder if Wright drew inspiration from them instead of the other way around? (via @opeyre, @celiacunningham, @vlavallee, trailer town, @paulstachniak)

My recent media diet, special Black Panther & Olympics edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 19, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I have fallen off the book reading wagon…I really really need to find some time to start reading more. Maybe after the Olympics are done and I’ve made it through all of the levels in Alto’s Odyssey

2018 Winter Olympic Games. Yes, the Olympics are corrupt & corporate and NBC’s coverage is often lacking, but on the other hand, all of America gets a two-week look at all of these amazing women, immigrants, children of immigrants, and openly gay athletes (some of them just children) displaying many different kinds of femininity and masculinity while performing amazing feats and suffering humbling defeats. The Olympics, as the joke goes, is the future that liberals want and America is watching and loving it. (A-)

Black Panther. Really entertaining and affecting after an expositional slow start. (B+)

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Leonardo da Vinci is not overrated. (B+)

Alto’s Odyssey. A worthy successor to one of my favorite games. (A-)

Reply All: The Bitcoin Hunter. Is admitting that you bought illegal drugs on Silk Road a thing you can do without the risk of being prosecuted? (B+)

Black Panther The Album. I can’t wait to drive around playing this as loud as I can. Also, based on my experience, movies should put more effort into their soundtracks. The really good ones (like this one) inspire repeat viewings and cause me to remember the movie more fondly. (A-)

Paddington. If more people in the UK over 65 had watched Paddington, Brexit wouldn’t have happened. (A-)

Paddington 2. Seriously, these Paddington movies are better than they have any right to be. Smart and lots of heart. (B+)

See You in the Cosmos. Read this to the kids as a bedtime story over the past few months. We all loved it. Rocketry, Carl Sagan, the Voyager Golden Record…what’s not to like? (A-)

Allied. Bland and forgettable. (C-)

On Being: interview with Isabel Wilkerson. An excellent interview of the author of The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. (A-)

Phantom Thread soundtrack. More strong work by Jonny Greenwood. But don’t listen if you want something upbeat. (B+)

Song Exploder. A podcast where musicians break down their well-known songs. Always solid. I recently caught the episodes about the Stranger Things theme song and DJ Shadow. Oh, and I’m going to give the Arrival score a listen soon. (A-)

Apollo 13. One of my I’ll-watch-this-whenever-it’s-on movies. Love the scientific and engineering detective scenes. (B+)

Alias Grace. Several people asserted this was a better Margaret Atwood adaptation than The Handmaid’s Tale, but I didn’t think so. (B)

I, Tonya. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. (A-)

Goodthreads T-shirt. Goodthreads is one of Amazon’s house brands. Ordered a couple of these after a recommendation from Clayton Cubbitt and damn if they’re not some of the most comfortable and best-fitting t-shirts I’ve ever worn. And only $12! My new go-to. (A-)

Sleep. One of the best things I’ve done for my work and my sanity is going to bed at about the same time every night and getting at least 6.5 hours (and often 7-8 hours) of sleep every night. (A+)

This American Life: Chip in My Brain. Holy parenting nightmare. (B+)

Professor Marston & The Wonder Women. The surprising role of BDSM in the development of Wonder Woman. (B+)

Atomic Blonde. John Wick-like. I wanted to like this more but the plot was a little muddled. (B)

SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy. That choreographed double booster landing… (A)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

Composer Johann Johannsson has died

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2018

I was very sad to hear about the death of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson at the age of 48. Jóhannsson’s soundtrack to Arrival is one of my favorite soundtracks in recent years.

He also scored Sicario & Prisoners for director Denis Villeneuve as well as The Theory of Everything, earning a pair of Oscar nominations for his work. Back in 2016, Jóhannsson did a breakdown of one of his Arrival tracks for Song Exploder.

Update: This is a great little story about Jóhannsson from musician Ólafur Arnalds:

My favorite Jóhann story is when he had spent a year writing the score for Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother” and at some point realised that the film was better with no music at all. He proceeded to convince Darren to delete everything. It takes a real, selfless artist to do that. To realise the piece is better without you.

The most important part of creating art is the process, and Jóhann seemed to understand process. The score needed to be written first in order to realise that it was redundant. So in my view, Mother still has a score by Jóhann. The score is just silence… deafening, genius silence.

What’s happening just offscreen of famous album covers?

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2018

On his Instagram account, Igor Lipchanskiy is imagining what’s happening just “offscreen” of musical album covers.

Igor Lipchanskiy

Igor Lipchanskiy

Igor Lipchanskiy

My recent media diet for January 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

Quick reviews of some things I’ve read, seen, heard, and experienced in the past month or so. I worked so much in January, mostly on getting the Noticing newsletter launched, that by the time the evening rolled around, all I wanted to do was collapse and watch a little TV or maybe go to a movie (I’ve seen all the Oscar Best Picture nominees this year). But I still managed to read a couple books and am currently working my way through two more: Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey and Charles Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet.

Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield at ICP Museum. A retrospective of Greenfield’s photographic survey of wealth. Also available in book form. (A-)

Lady Bird. This one’s been growing on me since I saw it. (B+/A-)

The Post. My main problem with this movie is that Streep, while otherwise excellent, does not properly sell the transformation of her character at the end. (A-)

The Farthest - Voyager in Space. I had no idea about many of the amazing things about the Voyager program. If I’d seen this as a kid, I might work for NASA right now. (A-)

Black Mirror season four. Perhaps not as strong as some of the previous seasons, but USS Callister is one of the best episodes of the series. (B+)

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright. A compelling argument that Buddhists figured out thousands of years ago how to route around a human brain designed to delude us, a tendency that neuroscientists and psychologists have only learned of more recently. (B+)

Call Me By Your Name. A touching love story. One of the best movies of the year. (A)

Jane. Jane Goodall is a remarkable person, one of the best scientific researchers of our time. The footage in this movie of her early career is stunning, like it was filmed specifically for the documentary. (A-)

Jane soundtrack. Philip Glass. What more needs to be said? (A-)

Darkest Hour. Churchill is over-acted by Oldman, like an SNL character. I much prefer Lithgow’s take in The Crown. (C+)

The Shape of Water. This was ok, I suppose. (B)

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: interview with Errol Morris. I could listen to Errol Morris talk about film and truth all day. (A-)

Phantom Thread. One of those movies that gets better once you read about it afterwards. (B+)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Frances McDormand is amazing in this. I’m also unconvinced of the straightforward reading of the movie as the redemption of a racist cop. (B+)

Slow Burn. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. (A)

The New York Times For Kids. The rest of the paper should be more like this. (A-)

Past installments of my media diets can be found here.

A choir of strangers accompanies David Byrne singing David Bowie’s Heroes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

A group called Choir! Choir! Choir! recently put on a show in NYC where they taught the audience to accompany them on a song, in this case, David Bowie’s Heroes sung by David Byrne. Byrne wrote up the experience in his online journal:

What happens when one sings together with a lot of other people?

A couple of things I immediately noticed. There is a transcendent feeling in being subsumed and surrendering to a group. This applies to sports, military drills, dancing… and group singing. One becomes a part of something larger than oneself, and something in our makeup rewards us when that happens. We cling to our individuality, but we experience true ecstasy when we give it up.

The second thing that happens involves the physical act of singing. I suspect the regulated breathing involved in singing, the act of producing sound and opening one’s mouth wide calls many many neural areas into play. The physical act, I suspect, releases endorphins as well. In singing, we get rewarded by both mind and body.

No one has to think about any of the above-we “know” these things instinctively. Anyone who has attended a gospel church service, for example, does not need to be told what this feels like.

So, the reward experience is part of the show.

That’s really thrilling and cool to watch. You can check out some of Choir! Choir! Choir!’s other performances on their YouTube channel, including Zombie by The Cranberries, Free Fallin’ by Tom Petty, Karma Police by Radiohead, and Passionfruit by Drake. (via ted gioia)

A choir imitates a thunderstorm

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2018

Before they start to sing Toto’s Africa, the Angel City Chorale perfectly imitates a thunderstorm by rubbing their hands together, snapping, and stomping their feet. You might want some headphones for this one. What a cool effect.

Update: This performance is likely a reference to a 2008 performance of Africa by Perpetuum Jazzile, a vocal group from Slovenia.

Their thunder is definitely better. (thx, scott)

Update: Ok, this appears to be the original choir thunderstorm by the Kearsney College Choir.

As Rion said when she sent me this link, “I’d never run into them before but now I can’t believe how many Toto/rainstorm videos there are on YouTube”. (thx, rion)

John Williams conducting the opening fanfare for Star Wars: The Last Jedi

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2018

Director Rian Johnson has posted a short clip of the legendary John Williams conducting the opening fanfare (aka the Star Wars theme) for The Last Jedi. It is difficult to think of the Star Wars films without Williams’ music.

Tycho DJ set from Dec 2017

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2018

Tycho is one of my favorite electronic artists and he recently did this 90-minute DJ set at the SnowGlobe music festival that’s currently powering me through some lazy Sunday chores and work.

See also his most recent Burning Man DJ set. Oh, and he’s also got some sets coming up in Boston, NYC, Houston, and DC.

Slowly shredding some pow to classical music

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

Glide along with this snowboarder as he surfs his way through a powdery forest to the strains of Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. I’ve watched this twice now; it’s super relaxing. A fine antidote to the typical extreme sports video. (via the kid should see this)

The surprisingly great mashup of Pearl Jam’s Jeremy and Footloose by Kenny Loggins

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2018

If you were to name a pair of songs that would absolutely not sound good mixed together, Pearl Jam’s Jeremy and Footloose by Kenny Loggins would be a good place to start. But as DJ Cummerbund’s mashup Jereloose, the two songs actually go surprisingly well together.

But what’s actually blowing my mind is that Footloose and Jeremy were released only 7 years apart. Maybe it’s because I went from 5th grade to my first year of college in that span, but the cultural distance between the two seems much greater than just 7 years.

Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack for Phantom Thread

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2018

Phantom Thread is director PT Anderson’s latest film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in what he says is his final movie appearance. As was the case with Anderson’s previous films, The Master and There Will Be Blood, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood did the soundtrack, and it was just earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.

It’s available on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

The soundtrack to Kurzgesagt

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 17, 2018

Even if you only read kottke.org once a fortnight in a drunken stupor, you’re likely aware that I love Kurzgesagt, a YouTube channel that makes animated explainers about everything from robot rights to the failure of the War on Drugs to black holes to The Most Efficient Way to Destroy the Universe.

Epic Mountain is a music and sound design company based in Munich that does all of the music for Kurzgesagt episodes. They’ve put four volumes of their Kurzgesagt music on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

I’ve been listening to these on and off for the past few days and they make lovely background music to work to.

A guide to the musical leitmotifs in Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2018

In the New Yorker, Alex Ross points to Frank Lehman’s Complete Catalogue of the Motivic Material in ‘Star Wars,’ Episodes I-VIII, which has been updated to include The Last Jedi. Ross goes on to note that composer John Williams did some of his strongest work for the film, deftly employing musical themes called leitmotifs to supplement (and sometimes subvert) the on-screen action. (Spoilers, ho!)

In early scenes set at a remote, ruined Jedi temple, we keep hearing an attenuated, beclouded version of the Force motto: this evokes Luke’s embittered renunciation of the Jedi project. As the young heroine Rey begins to coax him out of his funk, the Force stretches out and is unfurled at length. Sometimes, the music does all of the work of explaining what is going on. In one scene, Leia, Luke’s Force-capable sister, communicates telepathically with her son Kylo Ren, who has gone over to the dark side and is training his guns on her vessel. Leia’s theme is briefly heard against a dissonant cluster chord. Earlier in the saga, we might have been subjected to dialogue along the lines of “Don’t do this! I’m your mother!” Williams’s musical paraphrase is more elegant.

If you’re looking for a primer/refresher for the use of leitmotif in film, Evan Puschak’s video on Howard Shore’s music for the Lord of the Rings films is a good place to start. (via anil dash)

The soundtrack for Jane by Philip Glass

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2018

Despite the glowing reviews, I haven’t seen Jane, the National Geographic documentary about Jane Goodall…hopefully this week. But I discovered the soundtrack on Spotify this morning, composed by Philip Glass:

It’s also available on Amazon and iTunes.

Smells Like Teen Spirit in a major key is an upbeat pop-punk song

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2018

This bent my brain a little: if you re-tune Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in a major key, it sounds like an upbeat pop-punk song. Like, Kurt Cobain actually sounds happy when he says “oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile” and the pre-chorus — “Hello, hello, hello, how low” — is downright joyous. Although I guess it shouldn’t be super surprising…in a 1994 interview with Rolling Stone, Cobain admits that the song was meant to be poppy.

I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it [smiles]. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.

“Teen Spirit” was such a clichéd riff. It was so close to a Boston riff or “Louie, Louie.” When I came up with the guitar part, Krist looked at me and said, “That is so ridiculous.” I made the band play it for an hour and a half.

Like me, if you don’t know a whole lot about music, here’s the difference between major and minor chords & scales.

The difference between major and minor chords and scales boils down to a difference of one essential note — the third. The third is what gives major-sounding scales and chords their brighter, cheerier sound, and what gives minor scales and chords their darker, sadder sound.

You can also listen to the song on Soundcloud.

See also this falling shovel sounds exactly like Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Update: I heard from a few people that the changes made to the song aren’t as straightforward as shifting from minor to major. See this series of tweets by Jesse Appelman.

This is fun and well-executed, but it’s not just Smells Like Teen Spirit transposed as-is from minor to major. They changed the chord progression (from 1-IV-bIII-bVI to I-V-vi-IV) and altered the melody to better fit the chords…

If they had just switched all the minor stuff to major it would sound, well, pretty hilarious but less like a radio-ready pop song. This is not to take away from the joy of this clever reimagining…

…but it’s not quite as simple and miraculous as “change from minor to major and voila!” It’s more like “write new changes and melody while preserving the rhythmic phrasing and general contours/directionality of the original.” Still great stuff and sorry if I un-blew your mind.

And to appreciate the difference between major and minor keys, this six-minute video of Chilly Gonzalez is highly entertaining and worth your time. (via @karolzyk)

Update: On his YouTube channel, Oleg Berg has reworked dozens of songs from major-to-minor or from minor-to-major, including Don’t Worry, Be Happy in a minor key, Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World in a minor key, and the Game of Thrones theme in a major key. Surprisingly, the comments of the GoT theme are pretty good:

Meet Brienne, the beautiful maid of Tarth. Meet Jon, the legitimate son of Ned Stark. Meet Cersei, the queen of hearts. All these characters meet at the Blue Wedding and vow eternal friendship.

Spring is coming

If the plot ran backwards, this would be the theme.

You know everything, Jon Snow.

(via @volapuk)

Music video for Jay-Z’s Family Feud, directed by Ava DuVernay

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2018

The latest video from Jay-Z’s 4:44 is for Family Feud, directed by Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th, A Wrinkle in Time).

The Ava DuVernay-directed short film spans more than 400 years, beginning in the year 2444 with a Shakespearean tale of infidelity, politics and murder before working its way backwards through different generations. The video, scored by Flying Lotus, finishes in a church in 2018, with Blue Ivy Carter watching parents Jay Z and Beyonce perform in confessional booths and pulpits.

Besides Jay-Z and his daughter Blue Ivy, the video features Beyonce, Jessica Chastain, Michael B. Jordan, Thandie Newton, Brie Larson, Rosario Dawson, Rashida Jones, and Mindy Kaling.