Tag: Sound Of The City

Bagpipe Buskers

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

The latest round of my busker field recording project Cast In Concrete features Scottish Octopus, a duo that combines bagpipes and drums.

Bagpipes are a deceptively powerful instrument, which you may not realize until you’ve heard them from a few feet away and/or had them overload your mics, but that also means they’re a fine counterweight for a drum kit. Combining them, at least in the manner these two do, also creates a strangely compelling time travel sensation, because although the pipes are well outside the comfort zone for most of the people who are going to end up reading this, a drummer like Morales can propel them along into something that could pass for modern, at least enough to survive outside period pieces and dramatized police funerals on Law & Order.

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Have you seen my blog posts about CMJ? Y/N

Friday, October 19th, 2012

New York’s annual CMJ music festival is happening again this week. I’ve written about it before via short reviews of the litany of concerts held across the city, but this time I wanted to focus on the awesome daytime programming hosted at NYU before the shows commence each evening. So, for the Village Voice, a series of mock flow charts which help* you pick the right discussion panels to attend (* = they do not actually help).

Tuesday, October 16
Wednesday, October 17
Thursday, October 18
Friday, October 19

A few interesting footnotes here:

First, we considered putting the charts together as giant image files, which is how this sort of thing is usually done, but eventually I successfully pitched the idea of building the charts right on the web page. This makes for a much more pleasant user experience, since traversing the decision tree is just like scrolling through an article without any cropping or resizing weirdness, and the content can be highlighted and copied just like any other text. It also reconfigures itself much more cooperatively for viewing on mobile devices than a static image file would.

In a way, it’s pretty simple — essentially, we just created a whole bunch of divs and applied tons of inline CSS to them, most notably setting the background images and the padding to create the illusion of interconnected lines and arrows flowing between them. This is generally frowned upon as a web design practice, but for a single-use scenario like this it actually works quite nicely, because I didn’t have to add any external stylesheet files to the CMS and it’ll remain remarkably stable as the Voice’s site evolves in the future.

But man, that’s a lot of inline CSS! For example, generating single box to put a question in requires all these rules (many of which are duplicated because they get split across a parent and child div):

width: 500px; min-height: 150px; padding-top: 70px; background:url(“6.png”) no-repeat center top; background-color: #F9FFB2; padding: 20px; border: 1px solid #333399; text-align:center; margin: 0 50px 0 50px; font-style: italic;

Worse yet, since it’s all stored in an inline attribute, this would need to be repeated in full every time you want to generate a box of that type. And if you later need to change something — say, the images aren’t lining up quite right, or you need more vertical space for text — you’d have to go back and manually fix every instance. So in order to make this easier, I wrote a little set of scripts in PHP which dynamically applied the CSS while looping through the content I wrote for the boxes. I’ve done a fair amount of both writing and coding over the past few years, but it was really neat to finally have a project in which both were so tightly woven together.

Second, please also note the awesome visual design work by my friend John Bylander, who first brought the rough demo charts I sent him to life with subtle color and typography tweaks, and then cobbled together image files late into the night.

And finally, a nod to my sources of inspiration for this: former Village Voice music editor Rob Harvilla, who back in 2007 wrote about the rapper Mims using diagrams to thunderous acclaim, and then in 2010 covered the CMJ panels with a series of snarky comments not unlike my own Q&A content here. And then there’s also the extensive timeline of future events from sci-fi movies as compiled by the Awl, where a close examination of the markup helped me figure out how best to approach the CSS here.

See you next year, I hope.

Concrete Casts

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Lately I’ve been lax about posting all the individual installments of my Village Voice column, in which I roam around New York City with a portable recording setup trying to turn performances by buskers and street musicians into tangible MP3s for music fans. This should catch you up:

Jon Benjamin Has A Drum Machine

Monday, March 5th, 2012

I attended a variety show at which noted cartoon voice actor H. Jon Benjamin performed, sort of, as the musical guest.

Since the brilliant FX spy cartoon Archer might be intended as a vicious Aqua Teening of intelligence agencies and our decade of national security hysteria, you have to wonder whether lead voice actor H. Jon Benjamin may have been trying to do the same to overly serious electronic music when he took the stage last night as the musical guest for Elna Baker and Kevin Townley’s popular variety show The Talent Show. Or maybe he’d giggle a bit at the idea of his goofy show spawning such a pretentious opening lineā€”and wouldn’t that be glorious, with his fantastic baritone.

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Playing For Change/Tips

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

My NYC field recording project Cast In Concrete found a kindred spirit in Mark Johnson of Playing For Change, who travels the world facilitating collaborations between otherwise disconnected buskers and street musicians. He was kind enough to share with me some of the insights he has picked up over the years.

“It occurred to me that the best music I ever heard in my life was on the way to the studio, not in the studio. And what New York City can teach you is that the best music and great art, it’s just everywhere. People always say to me, ‘How do you find all these musicians?’ And the truth is, by showing up. Great music is everywhere, so those people that show up are the ones that get to find it.”

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Morning View

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Moments before the clock runs out on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, here’s an introspective and retrospective piece for the Voice about one of my coping devices at the time. If you like it, you might also proceed on to the companion interview with a somewhat confused rock star.

The most violent guitars turn up on a song about suppressing the urge to retaliate and trusting in cosmic retribution. This, of course, was not the way the 9/11 aftermath played out.

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Vote Bush In 2011

Friday, July 29th, 2011

gavin-rossdale

I enjoyed the Bush reunion show way more than I thought I would.

My second concert ever was Bush’s tour in support of Sixteen Stone. (I can’t bring myself to tell you the first.) This necessitated an extra ticket for a friend’s parent, who drove a van full of kids up to the arena an hour away while we giggled in the back about girls and whatever, and then sat up in the stands while we went down to the floor to explore our first-ever mosh pit. We promptly discovered crowdsurfing. “The rest of you guys, sure — but I swear, every time I looked down, Vijith was floating across the crowd,” said Jefferson’s dad after the show. As an awkward 14-year-old who couldn’t play any sports and took forever to work up the guts to admit to anybody at school that I was trying to learn to play the guitar, that’s as proud as my moments got. Bowery Ballroom in 2011, though? Totally different story — I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it was upsetting to realize as soon as I entered that it looked and smelled like a room full of Shinedown fans (hair gel, beer, sweat, shame).
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Yer Concrete Shoes

Friday, July 8th, 2011

subway-instruments

An exciting new project! For my new Village Voice column Cast In Concrete, I wander around NYC recording buskers and street performers, then write about them and post the MP3s on the Sound Of The City blog. Here’s the first installment, wherein I happen across the wonderful Sistine Criminals in Washington Square Park.

In which I give my heart to Autechre

Friday, May 6th, 2011

autechre

I’m fantastically excited about my latest essay for the Village Voice (and tickled that they started the “appreciations” tag just for this piece). It can be hard to cut through the torrential weirdness of the British experimental electronic duo Autechre, so they often get filed away as music to academically respect rather than passionately adore. Here, I defend them as a band that’s well worth your emotional investment, filtered through the autobiographical story of my own decision to move to New York City.

By the time Quaristice came around in 2008, just a few months before my big move, almost all the sensible time signatures had been subverted by experimental ambition, and sure, there was probably also a little ego in there too. “Perlence” was an especially difficult track–just two minutes and change, but I still can’t figure out how to count its pulses, and when the inevitable remix came, its running time had been expanded to a full 58 minutes. Even the song titles grew stranger: from “Flutter,” “Chatter,” “Eggshell” and “Further” to “fwzE,” “ThePlclCpC,” and “90101-51-6.” It’s mostly from these obnoxiously antisocial shenanigans that we get the common but misguided notion that if Autechre’s music displays any beauty at all, it comes in a sterile and mechanical form, like a sculpture built from gears or animations made with a glitching graphics card.

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Phil Selway

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

phil-selway

A nice break from the monotony of concert previews — kind of a holy-shit moment for me here, interviewing the drummer from Radiohead.

Does your new solo album need a record label even though Radiohead doesn’t simply because the band had spent so many years as a primary project for a major label first?
It hadn’t really crossed my mind, to be honest with you. I certainly wasn’t thinking about it on that political a level. I just wanted the music to be released in a way that I felt happy with. There wasn’t any great intellectualization behind the process, really. And in some ways, the same could be said about how we released In Rainbows — it was just something which, at the gut level, felt very exciting.

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The proper thing to do here is probably to point you toward that solo project, but I’d wager that you’d prefer to spend your time with the band proper. So here’s “Idioteque,” a song on which Phil doesn’t actually perform since he was famously tossed out in favor of a drum machine on that album, except that the music video apparently used an alternate version which does feature live drums, and thus is much closer to the arrangement they use in concert. Eh, whatever.

Just Blaze and Baseline Studios

Friday, January 29th, 2010

just-blaze

Legendary hip hop producer Just Blaze just closed down his Baseline Studios facility, where a lot of crucial Jay-Z records were made over the past decade or so, and he sent out an open invitation for people to drop by on the last night. I went, and I was so struck by the way he was interacting with his fans that I wrote about it for the Village Voice.

A surprisingly small turnout all things considered (the extent of Just’s influence, in particular), but that just made it more intimate and personal: Just just sat around in his control room surrounded by everyone, giving demos on how to use his MPC and turntable, with a Rick Astley LP for the latter. (Biggest laugh of the night: He called one dude over to the MPC, only to be asked, “Hey, you got those Just Blaze sounds on there?”) Eventually he pulled together a quick and dirty beat for his fans to freestyle over, joking with them as he encouraged them all to join the cipher while rapping a little himself, liberally quoting Wu-Tang’s “Triumph,” and even reading lyrics off a flushed Queens fan’s phone. (“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the latter gushed later.)
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Peter Bjorn and John

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Peter Bjorn and John

I just reviewed last night’s impressive performance by Peter Bjorn and John for the Village Voice.

Even their most immature tunes were updated with startling verve and grandeur. Foremost among these was “Living Thing,” which turned into an energetic cross between “Not Fade Away” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Second place goes to “Object Of My Affections,” if only because of its audience participation segment, which somehow actually had everyone clapping on the correct beats. “Young Folks” didn’t fare nearly as well; ever heard several hundred people try to whistle in unison? “Lay It Down” drew some cheers with unruly lines like “Shut the fuck up, boy/You’re starting to piss me off.” But it wasn’t a fight song, or at least not a serious one — it was a party anthem, the sort of drunken spat between friends that gets worked out the next morning over hangovers and cold Pop-Tarts. Carpe diem, kids; even the worst memories from the best years of your life are worth holding onto.
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