Monday, December 14, 2009

Artificial car noise

From the New York Times' 2009 Year in Ideas: "Evidence that hybrids might be hard to hear coming has been accumulating... Having spent years trying to make cars quieter, manufacturers of hybrids and electric cars now find themselves in the curious position of figuring out the best means of warning people that 3,000 pounds of metal is rolling their way." Read article

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recent / recommended listening / viewing

l i s t e n i n g

--Amon Tobin: Foley Room (A terrific album, detailed and thoughtful in a way sample-based music ought to be more often.)
--Kraftwerk: Autobahn, Kraftwerk 2
--The Heliocentrics: Out There
--PJ Harvey and John Parish: A Woman A Man Walked By
--Joe Meek demos (Not necessarily recommended unless you're already a Meek fan, but fascinating if you are)
--Hair: original cast recording
--Miley Cyrus: "Party in the USA" (I can't get enough of this song! I love the portamento synth.)

v i e w i n g

--Paranormal Activity (The finest in the "found footage" genre so far, in my opinion, and just a fine horror film at that. There seems to have been something of a backlash, and I'd like to be part of the backlash against the backlash.)
--The Girlfriend Experience
--The Happiness of the Katakuris
--Synecdoche, NY
--Mildred Pierce

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alan Splet tribute

Nice tribute to samurai sound designer Alan Splet (David Lynch, et al)-- kind of busy right now so I'm not sure of its origin, but it's interesting-- I'll post more info when/ if I get it. Enjoy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cool web-based drum machine

This online drum machine functions by way of mouse clicks on the image keys, or keystrokes on your actual keyboard.


1. The sinister face up top plays a drum loop, and I'm pleased to find that if you click it repeatedly in succession, the loop will build up out of synch into a squall of static. Sweet!

2. If you hold down each letter key, you'll get rapid-fire looping of each sound. All RIGHT!

This turns out to be the work of Ron Winter, a director, animator and music producer who's worked on lots of stuff that's, like, famous.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm A Hunter : World of Warcraft video

I was drafted to sing and mix the vocals for this video, put together by a World of Warcraft guild led by a friend of mine who goes by the name of Frostheim in Warcraftistan.

I don't play WoW myself, so I have no idea what I'm singing about.

My fiancee Jen sang the backup vocals. The Hunters Union is going for 500,000 hits on this puppy, so check it out! Thanks for supporting local music.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Monkey Music

An interesting (though not particularly surprising) article on MSNBC's Cosmic Log relates a recent experiment:

"Cotton-top tamarin monkeys grew calmer after they heard music based on their own calm, friendly calls. But the monkeys became more agitated when researchers played music that contained elements of their own threatening or fearful calls."

From the mp3 samples provided, it sounds like they're using granular synthesis to make randomized loops of the audio.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

How Wagner solved "The Soprano Problem"

CTV News' blog relates how physicist John Smith "read through some Wagner, note by note, lyrics by lyric, and actually entered his recordings into a computer program which determined Wagner 'used a vowel-pitch matching technique' to allow sopranos to sing all of his lyrics." Read story

This is actually a link to a link; the full story is an article in Seed Magazine that I haven't had the time to read yet. Sounds interesting though.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Scream album

Interesting article in the NY Times about an entire album of record store clerks' favorite recorded screams. Check it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Apple

I learned about this film at the "Joy of Bad Movies" panel during ConVergence last summer, and it was actually shown twice at the convention (once by popular vote as to which film should be granted an encore presentation at Cinema Rex), but I never got the chance to see it until very recently. And oh, what an experience that was.

"The Apple" is a bizarre glam/ disco mash that reminds me of "Rocky Horror", The Village People's "Can't Stop The Music", "Velvet Goldmine", and even "Fahrenheit 451". Quoth Netflix: "Two Canadians... fight the leaders of a future dystopia (set, interestingly enough, in the now-distant past of 1994) when they test their fate at the Worldvision Song Festival. Their sweet and smart lyrics earn them the admiration of many, but corporate giant Boogalow International Music pushes for another team to win. When BIM offers them a contract, however, the pair wonders whether the gift is really a trap."

And so on... many spectacular song-and-dance production numbers follow, and an inexplicable plot careens on a collision course with the viewer's utter bewilderment. The elaborate costumes, sets and lighting are truly unbelievable.

One of the many truly odd aspects of this film is a kind of hamfisted satire of real-world America circa 1980-- the BIM regime enforces values of totalized decadence and unconcern for one's fellows, all in the name of the corporate revenue stream. One gets the sense that some (though, sadly, not all) of the performers understand they're partaking in a monumentally silly undertaking, and the writer(s) must have been cognizant of it as well.

But that makes the film sound considerably more savvy than I mean it to. The colossal train wreck of all these ideas is what makes "The Apple" such a hoot, especially since the characters introduced to oppose BIM's values (or lack thereof) are... a commune of hippies who live in a cave? It's one of those artifacts of an era when the question of "How did this happen?" likely has something, somewhere, somehow to do with cocaine. Sample the trailer linked above, and if it looks like your cup of tea then kick back with this film and get get ready for a real treat.

Failed Westerns

A fun game I ran across on Twitter yesterday: subjecting Westerns to titular sabotage. Choice entries include "The Adequate Seven" and "Oklahomaphobia"; someone just decided to call one "Palin". I offered "Midwestworld", "The Mild Mild Mild Mild West" and the contribution of which I'm proudest, "The Oscar Wilde Bunch". Vote for your favorites.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Recent listening

Bonnie Prince Billy-- Beware
Brown Rainbow-- Advantage: Y'all, Undergrounders, The Littlest Puppetmasters
Beseppy-- Sferic Witch
The Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show 1969-1971-- Ray Charles' rendition of "Ring of Fire" is incredible, and hearing Joni Mitchell and The Man in Black do "Girl from the North Country" is quite charming.
The Hip Hop Box, Disc 1-- never heard "Freaky Tales" by Too Short before. Hilarious.
PJ Harvey-- Rid of Me, To Bring You My Love-- I've always liked Pajama Harvey, but why wasn't I listening to this stuff constantly during the 90s? Better late than clever, I guess.
Paul Metzger-- Deliverance
Mogwai-- The Hawk Is Howling
Arthur Russell-- Love Is Overtaking Me-- can't get enough of this album.
The Smiths-- Rare
Stockhausen-- Theatre of Voices
Lucinda Williams-- Little Honey-- some terrific songwriting, as usual, especially the ballads. And her cover of AC/DC's "It's A Long Way to the Top" is wrong in a way that's just right.

A very boring story

Out for a walk this morning, I passed a big earth mover machine making a lot of interesting sounds. Swung home to pick up recording gear, then headed back.

A dismal failure of a recording in that a) I had the recorder set on "mono", thus neutralizing the charm of binaural playback, and b) the guy had turned off the machine by the time I got back anyway. The contractors working on a nearby garage made sure to lapse into silence as I passed too... A dog started barking at me at one point, though, and I'm sure that'll come in handy sometime.

Later at home I sat on the couch reliving this underwhelming experience via headphones. My cat Abigail, sitting on my lap as she obsessively does, could apparently hear a lot of the sounds even though the headphones were fairly isolating and I didn't have the volume up very far. She's a jumpy one, and she flinched at a lot of the sounds (she didn't like the barking dogs very much, of course). But when the recording reached the passage where I was unhooking the front gate, she leapt off my lap, ran into the dining room, jumped up on the table and gazed out the front window expecting someone to come in as if she'd heard the gate itself. So I guess I captured that part pretty well anyway.

See? Told you it was boring. Can I sell it or what?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Microsoft Songsmith

This goes back a while, but I want to make sure it spreads as far and wide as possible. This is, I kid you not, an actual advertisement for an actual Microsoft product-- evidently an attempt to one-up Apple's Garage Band. Believe me, you owe it to yourself to watch this video.

There also appears to be a deleted scene that's been made into a separate video, wherein the barritsa from the longer ad sings about her dream of stardom, and how Songsmith can help her achieve it.

Naturally, some folks out there have put Songsmith to work using a capella tracks from the hits: I recommend We Will Rock You, White Wedding, Tom Sawyer, and The Ace of Spades.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Recent listening

Calexico: Carried to Dust
Arthur Russell: First Thought Best Thought
School of Seven Bells: Alpinism
XTC: Nonsuch


Catch-up entry #1 of 50,000: Recently I was invited to participate in a workshop of a new play called Hawking by Lonnie Carter at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis. The piece imagines Stephen Hawking in conversation with various historical and mythological personages. Director Hayley Finn wanted to integrate some live sound into the production, and I wound up scoring the entire piece with a fusion of Foley effects and percussive accompaniment. The approach was a hybrid of underscoring and punctuation. Big fun! Further development of the show may follow... perhaps a play, perhaps a multimedia piece of some sort? Stay tuned...

Monday, March 23, 2009


The other night I was invited out for karaoke, and I heeded the call to service. Karaoke is a uniquely democratic form of performance, a healthy subversion of performer-audience duality, and all of that sort of thing-- but most importantly, it's just plain more fun than a frog in a glass of milk.

I perpetrated a rendition of Dire Straits' "Walk of Life", signed up for another song and sat down with my crew to wait. A woman wandered over to our table and asked if any of us knew the artist associated with the song Life is a Highway, so she could look it up in the book. My girlfriend and I raced to look up the answer on our tricorders, and she won. The answer: Tom Cochrane! I never had any idea that was the artist, but as I always say, you learn something new every three days.

I did, however, feel sorry for the woman who was going to sing "Life is a Highway". I mean, come on-- what a lame song. Myself, I was slated to regale the crowd with Rick Astley's immortal "Never Gonna Give You Up", and darned if I didn't do just that. I felt I was cultivating a pretty loyal fan base among those assembled.

But nothing could prepare us for the revelry and camaraderie that greeted this woman's performance of "Life is a Highway". The crowd rose as one to howl along with the chorus, isolating me and my pooh-pooing of the song. At least I was able to take solace in the fact that I helped pull it off-- proof that when we all work together, great things can happen.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ecstatic Dancing

So I'm designing sound for an as-yet-unnamed project being assembled (in collaboration with a cast) by Alan Berks, who I had the pleasure of working with on his play Everywhere Signs Fall for Gremlin Theatre in 2008. I say "assembled" because the show is being put together partially through improvisations and discussions with the performers. The subject matter at this point is a question: In a world fractured by media and technology, where a paradox of intimacy vs. isolation takes root because of these factors, where/ what is the self? And, moreover, how can/ does one love?

A few days ago Alan wanted to put together an exercise wherein the actors danced ecstatically (in whatever way they chose, individually and as an interactive ensemble) for 20 minutes. I've worked on enough of these developed-through-improvisation shows to know not to bother asking why, or what ecstatic dancing would have to do with the rest of the show, or what music he thought would be appropriate for ecstatic dancing (though he did give me a couple of examples).

Anyway, I sifted through my hard drives and put together about 18 tracks that I thought would be interesting to try, and played them for about a minute apiece in rehearsal: they ranged from 70s New York art-funk to Bollywood techno to British art-rock to a campy 60s trumpet instrumental to 2000s pieces ranging from languid synth-pop to jagged robot beats. This last I included because I feel like as a designer it's often valuable to think of what the worst, wrongest choice would be. 99 times out of a hundred, it's just plain wrong, but when that 1% incident clicks... wow.

Anyway, this wasn't one of those times, because of course robot beats don't exactly facilitate ecstatic dancing... but a lot of interesting things happened. Assorted contact improv, impromptu human clusters and forts and trains, one dancer riding another like a horse, mimed stabbing, ass slapping... what did all this have to do with ecstasy? I haven't the faintest, but it sure was fun to watch. Alan and I both realized too late, though, that we had no video camera.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


So today I went to one of those fitness classes at the Y. A good experience overall.

I helped the instructor soundcheck her headset mic at the beginning of the session, since it wasn't sounding through the PA at first.

Good tunes for the most part: Postal Service, Queens of the Stone Age, Portishead. I think I'll go back to this one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


A showcase of work by Twin Cities choreographers, curated by Lisa Conlin, who will appear as a dancer/ choreographer as well.

I'm designing the sound for Conlin's piece, which is inspired by her family; different passages of music evoke specific family members.

For the first section she presented me with three pieces of varying styles and asked me to integrate them somewhat sequentially, but overlapping each piece with the one following it as much as possible. It was a challenge because each track was in a different key; some pitch shifting solved the problem between the first two pieces, and I found that if I overlaid the second and third tracks in just the right place and rode the volume just right, the result was consonant even if the music wasn't technically in key with itself.

The second section invloved a percussion piece heavy on the marimba, accompanied in one section by a whispery swishing sound it was my job to create. Conlin wanted many of the passages extended to accommodate movement onstage, so I did a lot of duplication and subtle pitch shifting to make phrases longer. There's often a lot of work involved to make edits of acoustic music sound right-- lots of digital gymnastics to accomplish things that sound like nothing's happening at all. So it goes. That, quite often, is what I do. Fortunately, it's a lot of fun.

I love working on dance pieces because it's all about the symbiosis of the sonic and the visual. Every project is an adventure and a learning experience.

Renovate runs March 13th, 14th, and 15th 2009 at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. More info/ tickets

Monday, March 9, 2009


Absolutely the best user's manual ever composed for music software: "Thingumajig contains five oscillating thingamabobs: three rythmic thingamabobs, one clicky thingamabob, and one semi-melodic thingamabob." Etc. Read in its entirety here, down at the bottom of the page.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Siren / Ray Lee

I've been poky about posting this, but I'd be remiss if I neglected to do so, because this was one of the coolest performances I'd seen for a long time. Part sound installation, part music performance, part kinetic sculplture.

This show was hosted by Walker Art Center on several dates; I saw the 2 pm show on February 21st for those of you keeping score at home. The performance space was the stage of the McGuire Theater, but the audience was onstage as well, permitted to "promenade" through the area as the show proceeded.

A veritable forest of windmill-type constructions filled the roped-off zone opposite the audience corridors; two performers (one of whom I assume was Mr. Lee) turned on oscillators (?) strapped one to each end of the spinning structures, tuning them by ear and setting them spinning.

The result was probably the most notes I'd ever heard in a single chord, and the sound changed drastically as one moved through the space. Varying melodies emerged and vanished, and the chordal structure evolved slowly. For the last few minutes of the piece, the lights went out and all we could see was a forest of spinning lights in the darkness. Then the performers began turning off the devices, and the sound dissolved into silence again.

Read more about the career of Ray Lee at his web site; see and hear some samples of Siren.

A / V Connection : Freedom Highway

What do the films Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and the recent Derek Jarman documentary Derek have in common? Both lift material from the singularly strange 1956 educational film Freedom Highway-- and from roughly the same clip, no less.

I was only able to detect this because I've spent hours watching and listening to Freedom Highway while cutting it up to use as appropriated footage in a video project that may or may not ever be finished. But anyway...

In Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Ellen Burstyn tells her son to go in the other room so she and Harvey Keitel can talk. Her son complies, and soon we hear (presumably from the TV) a faint voice intoning "Gone are the dark days of the War between the States..." from about 54 seconds into Freedom Highway.

Derek, oddly enough, appropriates the visual from roughly the same passage; at some point in the film (I forget where, since I was taken by surprise) we see the rolling wheel of the bus and then a clip of the bus in its entirety.

Surreal in the way that only 50s educational films can be, Freedom Highway is, um, a film that tells us about American history or something. It features the bizarre combo of Angie Dickinson, Tex Ritter, Bill Roberts of the Philadelphia Eagles, and all kinds of other people, crammed aboard a Greyhound bus crossing the country and learning about life, romance, how to love their country, and stuff like that. The rest of it's kind of hard to explain, but it's worth watching. Make sure to get a load of the conversation between the mysterious stranger and "Fred Schroeder of Portland, OR".

I've embedded the YouTube version for the sake of the visual, but the incomparable Prelinger Archives at has a better version.

Recent listening

Calexico- "Feast of Wire"
Jon Hassell- "Earthquake Island"
Mott the Hoople- "All the Young Dudes"
Jon Brion- "I Heart Huckabees" soundtrack
Various artists- "Sounds of Rajasthan"
Peter Gabriel- "Last Temptation of Christ" soundtrack

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pat O'Neill

The Pat O'Neill films at the Walker were really great tonight. Intellectually stimulating, layered, beautiful, challenging, and entertaining... he's a filmmaker who clearly thinks a lot about the arbitrary linkage between images, and between image and sound, and about how these relationships can work or break down.

Some very funny moments too-- lots of hilarious excerpts from educational films and the like. Not sure if the source here was original or lifted from another piece, but one of my favorite elements was audio of someone reading excerpts of a screenplay aloud. What a compelling device, and a fertile form of cinematic appropriation: quoting the language that generated a piece of cinema in the first place. Interesting...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Workflow productivity

Here's something I've thought about doing a million times, but never actually did till today...

For every music composition and/ or sound design project I work on, I wind up with pretty much the same division of data on my hard drive: one folder containing the entire project, and several sub-folders for 1) admin (schedules, correspondence, etc), 2) sequencing sessions, 3) multitrack sessions, 4) assorted soundfiles that I'll be using as raw material, 5) various iterations of mixes, from rough to "final" (heh heh), 6) a folder for client video, if applicable, and of course, 7) a "discard" folder for stuff I know I won't need when I'm done, but that I don't want to get rid of before then.

So what? Well, I've long thought that it'd save me a lot of time if I created a dummy folder with each of these folders already inside it, and just made a duplicate of the master folder and re-named it for each project, ready to go, rather than creating each folder from scratch for every project. Not the hugest thing, but definitely a time-saver in the long run. And I've never actually done it till today.

So I've saved a lot of time for myself in the future. But wait... I might have just traded that time by writing this blog post. You people owe me now, I hope you realize...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Play in a Day, The Steve Jones Way

I was teaching my friend Brian how to play "Anarchy in the UK" on guitar yesterday. This led (as it often does) to geeking out on a documentary about the band we'd been discussing, since Brian is the Keeper of All Media and we can both watch stuff like that all day.

A section entitled "Play in a Day, The Steve Jones Way", proved I was basically teaching the song correctly-- how often does that happen? And this movie, Never Mind the Bollocks, features lots of footage where we get to hear discrete instrumental tracks faded up and down in the studio, always a magic opportunity in my book. After all this time I still didn't realize guitarist Steve Jones actually played bass on these songs as well (according to this movie, anyway). I always wondered how Sid could have laid down such buoyant bass lines, not really being a musician of Jones and drummer Paul Cook's caliber.

It's always refreshing to hear tracks from the "Never Mind the Bollocks" album-- despite what might have been going on culturally, attitude-wise, etc., the Pistols' music holds up as tight, solid, spare, aggressive rock music. Still some of the finest ever made, I daresay.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Walker week!

Very excited about Walker Art Center's upcoming Expanding the Frame film programming: an evening with Pat O'Neill on Feb 19th, and the Derek Jarman films as well. Yay!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A / V Connection: Knopfler / Morricone ?

Tonight, while preparing and cooking a pizza, I listened to Morricone's soundtrack to "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". The piece entitled "Padre Ramirez" (Track 11) struck me as having a chord progression and general sensibility that might have influenced Mark Knopfler's early compositions for Dire Straits. Never thought about that before. Then it struck me that the first track on DS's "Communique" album is called "Once Upon a Time in the West", so Knopfler might indeed be a spaghetti Western fan, which would tie it all up. To my knowledge, he doesn't appear on the Morricone tribute album anywhere-- which is too bad.

Recent listening

Some things I've enjoyed lately:

Animal Collective- "Strawberry Jam"
Luc Ferrari- "Visages V"
Legendary Pink Dots- "All the King's Men"
Amanda Palmer- "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?"
Toru Takemitsu- "Water Music"
Robert Wyatt- "Cuckooland"

Blurring (Kwaidan, Saw)

I've been watching Kwadian (1964, d. Masaki Kobayashi) lately; the 20-minute spurts while I eat lunch haven't been ideal viewing intervals, but it's quickly becoming one of my favorite films. As far as I can tell, it's entirely shot on a soundstage, even though most of the action takes place outdoors, and Kobayashi exploits this staged quality to give the film a mannered, presentational atmosphere. I've read that shooting averaged about three takes per day on set. The soundscape is heavy on the silence, and Toru Takemitsu's haunting score often blurs the line between whether or not the music is "in the scene" or a psychological/ artistic occurence. Highly recommended.

I've also been watching the Saw movies, 'cause why not, and I like the score for these as well but it's more of a kitchen-sink industrial/ electronica approach. I've read a couple interviews with composer Charlie Clouser (formerly one of Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails worker bees) where he talks about how these scores fly in the face of the usual scoring philosophy (keep it simple, and don't get in the way of what's happening onscreen). I noticed this as I was watching the movies: the music often introduces sounds of pounding, scraping, sizzling, etc endemic to the world we're in but not what we're seeing at present, as if we're hearing more action through the wall or something. Clouser says he was pushed to increase the density in that manner, so it's good to know it's a case of giving the director what he wants rather than mere self-indulgence. And again, it's interesting that the score blurs the line between action in the scene and psychological atmosphere. Nice to see these "rules" broken effectively.

Is this thing on?

Testing... 1 2 3