A new track, “Mochaka’s Groove”, is up on the Parametric Monkey page. “Mochaka’s Groove” began as an exercise in learning how to manipulate audio files. I had been working with MIDI and wanted to learn something about audio so I began making clips in Ableton Live by taking a drum loop or two, chopping them up, rearranging the pieces and then putting them back together. I played some of the clips together which produced a mess so I started shaping the clips to fit each other. “Mochaka’s Groove” is based on three interlocking rhythm patterns that are panned across the soundstage. The other instruments were played through a MIDI keyboard and are either tweaked presets or were built from multisampled instruments in various software packages.
Recently I decided to dig deep into the music of the Doors by purchasing and giving serious listening time to the Perception box set. I then thought I’d enrich the experience by reading a book about the band while I was listening to their six albums. I ended up with The Doors because it is compiled from interviews with the band members and several people who knew them well with framing and text by Ben Fong-Torres. I thought a book about the band that was primarily written by the members of the band would be the best way to supplement Perception and immerse myself in their music. Perception was worth the time, worth the money and is a collection I expect to return to often. The Doors was a waste of time, a waste of money and will gather dust until it gets stuck in a box to make room on the bookshelves.
The Doors is a large-format coffee table book that appears to be modeled along the lines of U2 by U2. It’s loaded with photographs and serious fans of the band may find the pictures alone worth the price of the book. There are Forwards recounting how The Doors meant so much to them by Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction) and Chester Bennington (Linkin Park) which I didn’t read. There is also a Selected Bibliography and a Discography which is incomplete but is not indicated as such.
There are a lot of books about The Doors. Most of them seem to fall into either one of two camps. They are either written by worshipful fanboys who think Jim Morrison was some kind of minor deity or by tabloid sleaze mongers who seek to detail every lurid event in Morrison’s descent into drunken dissolution. This split is reflected within the band by keyboard player Ray Manzarak who appears to view Morrison as a brilliant and talented poet and shaman for his generation, and drummer John Densmore who seems to see Morrison as a brilliant and talented alcoholic degenerate .
Ben Fong-Torres, who is a rock journalist and former editor at Rolling Stone Magazine, tries to take the middle ground by illustrating both aspects of Jim Morrison without committing to one or the other. This was a good idea. Previous books about the Doors have tended to be mostly about Jim Morrison and Fong-Torres attempts to widen his coverage by including more information about Manzarak, Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. This was another good idea.
So what went wrong? Fong-Torres may have intended to put together a book about the band but the result was still a book that is mostly about Morrison. We get interviews with Morrison’s, father, Morrison’s brother, Morrison’s sister, Morrison’s girlfriend’s mother (the girlfriend died of a heroin overdose). We don’t get any interviews with any members of Krieger’s, Densmore’s or Manzarak’s families. For every picture of anyone else in the band it seems like there are five pointlessly similar pictures of Morrison. Most of the text is about Morrison.
The heavy emphasis on Jim Morrison at the expense of the other members of the band will probably not be seen as a problem by many readers and fans who are more interested in Morrison than they are in either the band or their music. It was a problem for me because I think The Doors were first and last a great band made of of four equally important members who, for a brief period of time, made great music. I’m interested in their music and in examining the band’s music The Doors is almost a complete failure.
I haven’t read Fong-Torres’ rock journalism so I don’t know if his interest is in the celebrity of rock, or the social and cultural world of rock, or something else. On the evidence provided by The Doors, he appears to have little or no interest in or knowledge of the music as music. Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore are very talented musicians and Fong-Torres interviewed all of them for the book. Apparently he never thought to ask them very much if anything about the music in and of itself. It may have been the case that none of the former Doors wanted to talk about the music but I’ve never known a musician who wasn’t interested in talking about music at the nuts and bolts level. Talk about the music is often limited to naming the location where an album was recorded, somebody saying “We jammed till we found something and then looked in Jim’s poetry books for lyrics” (and anyone who has ever written original music knows there is more to it than that), and quoting people about how difficult it was to get Morrison interested or sober enough to make the album. We get interviews with girlfriend’s mothers and nothing from Bruce Botnick who was the recording engineer on all of The Doors albums. It’s like Fong-Torres decided to put together a book about some of the things that happened “When the Music’s Over.”
The end result is a book that reads like an extended press biography. The Doors is a book with heavyweight production values and lightweight content.
Starting in 1967 and ending in 1971 The Doors released six albums, The Doors, Strange Days, Waiting for the Sun, The Soft Parade, Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman. The Perception box set from Rhino/Elektra includes all six. There are at least two versions of Perception , one that includes a CD and a DVD for each album and one that only has the CDs. This is a review of the CDs plus DVDs version.
Each album is presented in it’s own fold-out cardboard folder that contains a CD, a DVD and a booklet. The six folders fit neatly into a heavy cardboard box. The CDs contain the original albums (remixed) along with a collection of outtakes, alternate versions, and recorded snippets of conversation. A good amount of this extra material is listed as “previously unissued”. The DVDs contain high resolution mixes of the album (but not the extra material that appears on the CDs) and a video or two. The high resolution mixes include a stereo mix and 5.1 mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS. Bruce Botnick, who was the recording engineer on all of The Doors albums, did all the remixes for Perception in 2006.
Each of the booklets contains a brief essay on the original recording of the album or the remix process by Botnick, an essay about the album by somebody or other, lyrics for the original Doors songs on the album and pictures. I found the essays by Botnick to be of the most interest. I read bits and pieces of some of the second essays in some of the booklets but found them to be the kind of laudatory/ecstatic/respectful blather you expect to find in these collections and quickly gave up. There may well be some good stuff here that I missed.
I did an A/B comparison of the first album, The Doors, by time-syncing the CD with the DVD. All of the mixes sound noticeably different and I didn’t find any of them to be clear winners or losers. They all sound good although each has strengths and weaknesses. This is a nice feature for real Doors fans who will have a wealth of different ways to hear these albums. I ended up listening to the 5.1 DTS mix of the entire set. For the most part the surround mix is fairly gentle with the rear speakers providing a slight delay to impart an increased sense of fullness to the music. There are a few exceptions such as the “Mojo risin'” break in “L.A. Woman” where Morrison’s voice is panned around the listening space. The surround on the rain and storm effects on “Riders on the Storm” is also very nicely done.
In his essay on the The Doors Botnick points out that the album was originally released at the wrong speed and hence the wrong pitch. It was too slow and a bit flat. The singles from The Doors, “Break on Through” and “Light My Fire” were both released at the proper speed but all of the album releases, both on vinyl and CD up until Perception played at the wrong speed. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is that neither Botnick nor anyone else noticed it until it was brought to their attention by a music professor in 2003. Although I hadn’t listened to The Doors for many years, decades actually, I’m fairly familiar with it having listened to it hundreds of times and introduced it to many listeners on a college radio show I was doing when it first came out. As soon as the corrected version started playing I knew something was “wrong”. I didn’t immediately recognize that it was faster and the pitch was higher but I heard that something was different. Given the amount of time you spend listening to the same music over and over again when recording, mixing and mastering an album it’s hard to believe that neither Botnck nor anyone in the band noticed the problem for over twenty-five years.
The Doors released six albums in four years and All Music lists close to seventy compilations of their music that have been released since. Given that glut of previously released Doors music, who would be interested in buying Perception? If you don’t have all or much of this music in your collection and you like the Doors, Perception is a great buy. The Doors made some truly outstanding music (The Doors and Strange Days are especially fine although most of the other albums have their moments as well), sound quality is uniformly good, you get The Doors playing at the correct speed and pitch, you have multiple mixes to choose from and lots of bonus material on the CDs and DVDs. If you’re a rabid Doors fan who has to have every last scrap of recorded output, you already have this set. If you’re looking to fill in some holes in your Doors collection and/or upgrade the sound quality of the recordings, Perception is a choice worth considering. If you’re reasonably happy with the Doors music you have or don’t care that much about the band, walk on by.
Throughout this review I’ve assumed the reader is familiar with The Doors and their music. I bought their initial album, The Doors, when it was first released because I had heard a radio spot for a club advertising a band called The Doors and liked the music that was playing in the background of the ad. To this day, I still don’t know if it was the same band. I immediately fell in love with the album, however, and had played it to death before the AM radio edit of “Light My Fire” hit it big six months later. Although Jim Morrison got all the press I had tuned in to the band before the media-hype machine had gotten into gear and I never thought of Morrison as anything special. He was an important part of the band, certainly, but not the main focus of interest. Listening to Perception reminded me of what had turned me on to The Doors in the first place. The music. Especially the musicianship of John Densmore (drums), Robby Krieger (guitar) and Ray Manzarek (keyboards). They were all accomplished musicians who meshed together beautifully and played music that didn’t sound like anyone else. There just weren’t rock bands around that featured a classically trained keyboard player, a guitarist steeped in flamenco, and a jazz drummer. They were brilliant, especially at the beginning before it became obvious that Morrison was several zip codes away from being able to handle the consequences of fame and success. Morrison’s rapid deterioration had its effect on the band and the music they played but the first two albums, The Doors and Strange Days, and, for me, parts of the third, Waiting for the Sun, are among the highest moments of the spectacular music made between 1964 and 1971. Listening to the high quality remixes of this music on Perception has been thoroughly enjoyable.
Fabric is a club that opened in London in 1999. In 2001 they began a series of monthly CD mix releases featuring well-known DJs that alternate between the fabric and Fabriclive headings. At the time Martyn’s studio mix was released there had been 49 discs in each of the two series and the feeling had arisen in some corners that the Fabric releases had gone stale. They needed to shake it up.
They did. Martyn is a Dutch DJ who currently lives and works out of the Washington DC area (Yikes! he lives somewhere near me!) who is know for being both the high quality and innovative originality of his mixes. He gave Fabric just what they needed; fabric 50 is a knockout.
One of the more appealing aspects of fabric 50 is that Martyn isn’t afraid to mix different types of music into his set. He smoothly mixes dubstep, techno, umpteen kinds of house and a number of other micro-niches with names that only have meaning for the truly obsessed into a thoroughly entertaining set. The variety of music on display makes fabric 50 a terrific CD for listeners who may know little or nothing about dance music to sample a fairly wide selection of many of the types of club music that are currently in the air. Find what you like, follow it up, and open up a whole new world of goodness.
That bit about “smoothly” points to another great strength of fabric 50. Martyn really know how to put music together. Tracks flow into each other seamlessly most of the time. Styles, rhythms, timbres, instrumentation consistently vary and flow so the mix never falls into the monotonous rut that can easily bedevil dance music.
The illustration on the CD packaging shows a dancer being held in the palm of a big hand. Nice image for this set; you’re in good hands with Martyn. If Fabric can reinvigorate their two series with sets of this quality the coming months are going to be very good ones indeed for those listeners who enjoy electronic dance music.
Driven by an apparently unlimited need to make even more money the music industry relentlessly packages music into limited and narrow genres designed and marketed to demographic groups that the industry has identified as prime targets because the people in these groups are seen as (a) interested in music, (b) susceptible to marketing pressure to brand themselves with the music they listen to, and (c) having money to spend. This is great for the music business and the people who are content to allow the music business to determine what they listen to. It’s not so great for many musicians who tend to find something of interest in almost any kind of music and for the people who have broken free of the idea that music is a means of social branding rather than something to simply be enjoyed for its own sake.
One of the benefits of the the digital revolution that has occurred in music (and MP3 is only the tip of the iceberg) in the past 20 years is that people who make music, enjoy listening to it, or both are no longer subject to the limitations imposed by the major music companies. The major record companies may have no interest in distributing styles of music that aren’t considered cool enough to move hundreds of thousands of units but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t musicians who are making good music in these styles and listeners who enjoy hearing it. The ease with which musicians can make their music available and interested listeners can hear or buy it on the internet make it possible to enjoy just about any kind of music you like if you take the time to find it.
Canadian Invasion is a case in point. The band is five-piece out of Philly that specializes in classic guitar-driven power pop. Their songs feature most of the characteristics of the genre: uptempo, melodic chorus-verse song structures, jangly guitars, and lots of harmony vocals. Not as blissed out as Cosmic Rough Riders nor as singer-songwriter oriented as, say, Matthew Sweet, Canadian Invasion sound like they listen to a lot of Teenage Fanclub. If you like Teenage Fanclub, and I do, this is a good thing because it’s always nice to hear new music in a style you like that is as well done as what Canadian Invasion gives us on Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand.
Most of the tracks on Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand are straightforward power pop written and played by a band that knows what they’re doing. The ringer is “But You’re God (And I’m Me)” which sounds like it has its roots in the kind of Doo Wop produced by groups like the Tymes (also from Philly, albeit a long time ago) and the Duprees (from Jersey City not too far from Philly). With heavy reverb and vibrato on the vocals and a lovely sax break it’s a terrific song that makes you wish Canadian Invasion would work more in this style.
Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand might be difficult to find. If you’re content with the sonic limitations of the MP3 format or your preferred music reproduction medium can’t produce the difference, the album is readily available over the net from many of the usual sources. If you want the CD, you may have a more difficult time finding it, but if you like Teenage Fanclub and appreciate the difference between redbook CD and MP3, Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand is worth the effort.
Bummer. I’d like to have put up a track from Three Cheers for the Invisible Hand for you to listen to but the CD has videos that load automatically when you open the disc and I can’t find a way to access the tracks from the album.
Madonna, Goldfrapp and – God help us – Lady Gaga may get most of the press but for dance-oriented pop featuring a female vocalist Lindstrom & Christabelle’s collaboration on Real Life Is No Cool nails the target.
Lindstrom is well known in electronic dance music circles as one of the trio of Norwegian producers (along with Prins Thomas and Todd Terje) at the head of the recent space disco phenomenon. Lindstrom’s first album was Where You Go I Go Too which opened with a 28 minute track which made it pretty clear that this was a guy with major chops who was thinking way outside the box. The Lindstrom – Christabelle collaboration began before Where You Go I Go Too was produced but the two didn’t get around to completing an album until after Where You Go I Go Too was released.
In 2001 Christabelle’s brother was into Lindstrom’s music and played it at home. Christabelle heard it, dug it, and began singing vocal lines over Lindstrom’s instrumental dance tracks. The brother, who knew Lindstrom (they all lived in Oslo), recorded his sister and gave Lindstom the tapes. Lindstom liked what he heard and he and Christabelle met, hit it off and began working together on and off. Nine years later Real Life Is No Cool was released.
In many ways the ten tracks on Real Life Is No Cool come across as a fresh take on the last thirty years or so of dance music. Lindstrom, who never really listened to dance music until he sat down and figured out how to make it, takes a wide variety of dance-pop styles and composes new work using their instruments and rhythms. For example, “Baby Can’t Stop” sounds like something Michael Jackson would have jumped all over to include on Off the Wall while “Lovesick” is a terrific piece of disco funk.
It’s not all about nostalgia, however. “Never Say Never” is a spaced out sound collage that then leads into CD closer “High & Low” which combines a Frankie Beverly and Maze slow groove with Christabelle doing a Donna Summer sultry vocal along with a dirty guitar break.
I once had the sadly unpleasant experience of eating dinner at a table next to Madonna in a restaurant in Paris (if interested you can read about it here). When she walked in I didn’t recognize her at first but I was struck by how much effort this woman had put into trying to look younger than she was. It looked like a small army had been roped into applying pounds of makeup in a vain attempt to recapture something that was long past. Listening to Real Life Is No Cool in the context of the hyped new releases from the dance-pop divas reminded me of that dinner. Where the divas slather thick layers of modern production techniques on music that is basically old and tired, Lindstrom and Christabelle look back for inspiration to make something fresh and new.
“Lovesick”, from Real Life Is No Cool
Mark E is a DJ/producer out of Birmingham, England who works in the house and disco areas and specializes in re-edits. His work tends to feature the slow accretion and buildup of layers of musical detail until either a crescendo is reached or the song he is working with bursts forth. Works 2005 – 2009 is just what the name implies, a selection of tracks he has made over a five year period.
Mark E has an uncanny grasp of groove. At his best he delves deep into the heart of the rhythm and then slowly unfolds it from the inside in a way that can be captivating if you respond to this aspect of music. As the groove unfolds subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) additions of layers and shifts of emphasis within the mix build tension and hold your interest. This isn’t easy to do. Many dance tracks die in a monotonous rut as aimless synth layers come and go over a hammering and largely invariant rhythm track. With a clear focus on the groove Mark E largely avoids this problem.
Works 2005 – 2009 starts out with two killer tracks. First up is “Sun Shadow” which is his re-edit of Labelle’s 1972 cover of Cat Steven’s classic “Moon Shadow”. I’m unfamiliar with the Labelle cover but “Sun Shadow” doesn’t sound like anything remotely similar to the Cat Stevens tune. It’s a driving groove fest that leads to Patti Labelle going on with some weird rap about how you couldn’t do things you usually do if you lost parts of your body as she introduces the members of the band for brief solos. It’s beyond strange but Mark E’s groove is so delicious it can’t be resisted and when the piano drops at about the 6:30 mark it’s heaven.
The second track, “You (full vocal mix)” is Mark E’s astonishing re-edit of Diana Ross’s 1978 “You Are the One”. It opens with a closed high hat rhythm pattern coupled with a finger snap marking the back beat and builds to Ross’s vocal. So what’s so astonishing about that? Ross doesn’t show up until about the 5:47 mark. Mark E creates a rhythm-based intro that lasts for nearly six minutes and holds your attention the entire time. When she finally arrives Ross takes command and the last two minutes is essentially a vocal crescendo with Ross reaching for the skies. Astonishing.
The rest of the CD isn’t as successful. While all of the remaining tracks hold moments of interest they don’t have the developing structure of the first two and often come across as exercises in building, developing, and sustaining groove. Mark E is so good at this that even when the cuts on Works 2005 – 2009 don’t quite work as independent tracks they are a rich source of ideas for anyone interested in making their own groove-oriented music.
“You (full vocal mix)” from Mark E’s Works 2005 – 2009
I recently found myself in the position of having written and performed a song which is being streamed from various websites such as Myspace, Facebook and right here on Tuned In To Music as well as being offered for sale at sites like iTunes, Zune, Rhapsody and lala. This circumstance immediately raises questions about copyright, ownership and publishing of the song. I knew nothing about any of this and turned to Wixen’s The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing for help. It was a good and lucky move on my part.
The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is exactly what the title says it is; a brief, straightforward introduction to the world of music publishing, ownership and copyright. It’s written for a musician or songwriter who has no legal background. Rather than take the condescending tone of someone speaking to a five year old that specialists sometimes adopt when talking to someone outside their field of expertise, Wixen assumed his readers are intelligent adults and writes to them in plain English. Legal jargon is necessary, of course, but when he introduces it, Wixen clearly and simply explains what the term means. The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is well written and easy to understand.
The book begins with the basic distinction between a songwriter and a music publisher (which is not exactly what I thought it was) and moves on to explain the basic types of income that can be derived from music for both songwriters and publishers. The three main categories Wixen presents are mechanical licenses (income derived from physically reproducing copies of your song on a CD, for example), performance licenses (income derived from playing your song on the radio, over the internet, as background music in a restaurant or club and so on), and synchronization licenses (income derived from your song being used in a film or TV show). He also includes an additional chapter on other types of use that can produce income such as having your song used in a commercial, in a video game or as a ringtone.
For each type of income Wixen explains where the money comes from, how it gets to you, and how it is divided up between the songwriter and the publisher. He also introduces some of the many different types and variants of license contracts that can be offered under each of the main categories of income.
One of the things that becomes clear as you read the book is that the music industry not only has at their disposal a bewildering array of possible ways to rip off and fuck over musicians, but they are constantly coming up with new and insidious ways to not pay you for your music. Although he points out common ways the music industry rips people off, Wixen does not present a rant against the notoriously rapacious music business. However, it doesn’t take much thought to see ways in which musicians who aren’t aware of even the basics of music ownership and publishing (which is a fairly large proportion of musicians who are interested in the music, not the legalities) can and almost always do get cold-bloodedly ripped off.
It is fairly common for people who illegally download music to point to the unmitigated greed of the big music companies that has resulted in decades of customers being charged ludicrous amounts for legal music formats (e.g., CDs). “The record companies have been ripping us off for years and turnaround is only fair play.” They have a point. However, illegal downloading not only rips off the record companies, it rips off the musicians who make the music in the first place. Reading The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing may open people’s eyes to the fact that the musicians are getting screwed from both sides; they get it from the music companies who are paying them a fraction of what they’re supposed to and from the fans who aren’t paying them anything at all. When the musicians are multimillionaires like Jay-Z or Bruce Springsteen the income lost from illegal downloading is inconsequential. When the musicians aren’t famous and are trying to make it on their own, the lost income can mean the difference between having a career in music and having a career at McDonalds.
I read The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing from the point of view of a songwriter who has no expectations to ever make any money from music and had no knowledge whatsoever about copyright, ownership and publishing. I found the book to be tremendously helpful. It pretty much answered every question I had. How do I secure the copyright for my song? (I had it as soon as I put the song up on the web), do I have to make application to the US Copyright Office? (not necessary but a good idea anyway), am I a songwriter or a music publisher? (both if I want to receive all of the income my music generates, if it generates any at all), should I join ASCAP or BMI? (yes, choose one, I chose ASCAP). More advanced topics that would be of interest to established musicians are also discussed in the book but they are of no relevance to me at this point and I can’t comment on whether they would be valuable to musicians operating at a more advanced professional level.
If you are a musician with little or no knowledge about the money part of the music business, The Plain and Simple Guide to Music Publishing is a clear, fast and easy way to get an introduction. The knowledge that can be gained here can save you a lot of heartache and frustration later.
Afroskull is a funk-rock-soul-jazz collective originally based in New Orleans and now working out of New York. Their first album, Monster for the Masses in 2000 showed immense promise with at least one all-out kick ass track in “It”. However, for all of their potential, their reach exceeded their grasp as the band was not quite up to consistently realizing songwriter/guitarist Joe Scatassa’s visions. Monster for the Masses is a very good album that would be worth your time to find but the band was not quite ready for prime time. Close, but not quite there.
That’s changed. Shit happened, Afroskull more or less came undone, Scatassa and drummer Jason Isaac moved to New York and Afroskull was reconstituted with Matt Iselin (keyboards), Dan Asher (bass) and Seth Moutal (percussion). Moving to New York gave Afroskull something they didn’t have in New Orleans – access to New York’s cadre of great jazz horn players. No matter what you think of Wynton Marsalis’ rigid, limited, my-view-is-the-only-view approach to jazz, there’s no question that New Orleans has been the home of superb horn players for well over 100 years but for whatever reason Afroskull didn’t hook up with the best of them. They did in New York. On To Obscurity and Beyond the band is joined by baritone sax colossus and original member of the Mingus Big Band Ronnie Cuber along with the Horns of Doom composed of Jeff Pierce (trumpet), Justin Flynn (tenor sax) and Rafi Malkiel (trombone). These guys make Tower of Power sound like a high-school band.
The results are immediately apparent. To Obscurity and Beyond is dense with horn charts that are brilliantly written and tightly executed. World class stuff. The band churns, drives, rips and roars while the horn section blasts into the stratosphere. This is big band funk-rock-jazz music of the first order. Put To Obscurity and Beyond in your CD player and Afroskull stomps into your house, destroys the furniture, scares the neighbors, and leaves everyone sweating, happy, and wanting more.
If you have any interest in driving rock-funk-jazz-soul big band music check out To Obscurity and Beyond. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you don’t already have an interest in this kind of music To Obscurity and Beyond would be a great place to start.
Here’s a taste. Turn it up.
“Dance of the Wild Koba” from To Obscurity and Beyond