Tag Archives: music

Washed Up Emo: ‘It felt like you were turning a page of a book that you’d never opened before’

Tom Mullen, host of the Washed Up Emo podcast, interviewing Justin Courtney Pierre of Motion City Soundtrack fame:

JCP: Now we’re all on Twitter and Instagram. We can see at least a version of ourselves that we want to put out to the world, which is still more than when you had to find that one article of the band where they had a few paragraphs. You had to read it. You didn’t get to see video of the person that’s speaking.

It’s just so much easier to connect to people now. There less mystery involved. I think back then, everyone just seemed way cooler than they probably were.

TM: This is brought up a bunch because of the time period of some of these bands and their age. You knew it before [the internet/connectivity], and now you have it. You have this context of being able to know when you didn’t have it and that feeling, versus someone today who’s younger doesn’t. They’ve only always had a phone. They’ve always had Wikipedia.

You talked about that feeling, but it’s also that sense of discovery. It felt like you were turning a page of a book that you’d never opened before. That feeling I try and replicate as much as I can today.

More and more I realize how detached I am from new music. As much as I looked forward to the new Cursive, Minus the Bear, Saves the Day, and Thrice records, they are new records from old bands. Plus, there was little for me to chew on aside from the music itself. Little in the way of liner-notes, thank yous, etc. Or maybe it’s just my lack of focus, time, and energy.

Even more is that my pendulum of consumption has swung far in the opposite direction of video games to books this year. I don’t think I’ve finished a single game I’ve purchased in 2018.

Together, I now get the sense of discovery I used to have with music intertwined with the insatiable appetite I had for video games rolled into reading. I’m on pace to read more than I ever have in a single year.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, books are my new albums.

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Books Are My New Albums

The perfect song is “Have You Forgotten” by The Red House Painters.

Not the official album version on “Songs for a Blue Guitar”, but the version that only appears on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s 2001 film Vanilla Sky, of which the song only appears for a brief moment during the film: six minutes in, lasting only 20 seconds, and tucked into the background under banter between Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. Easily missed if you’re not paying attention.

So, how did I find it?

Some time around 2003, I was on a family trip to Oregon. My brother and I were driving through Oregon’s lush mountains, trailing my parents and grandparents who were navigating. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful space. Tired of the CDs we had been spinning, I decided to pop in the Vanilla Sky soundtrack. It was my favorite film at the time.

I came to own the CD after hearing a song at the end of the film that moved me profoundly. The lyrics were foreign and I never heard sonics like it. Certain it must be on the soundtrack, I tracked a copy down and scoured. Not Radiohead. Not Peter Gabriel. Not Afrika Bambaataa. Of those artists I’d never heard of: not two seconds into the Red House Painters track it sounded too structured — skip — but Sigur Rós sounded close. It was not quite right, but I was tracking the right scent.

Fumbling around the early-‘00s internet, Sigur Rós’s website listed a slew of live recordings, one of which was the track used for Vanilla Sky’s finale; what would become known as “Untitled 4” or “Njósnavélin” or “The Nothing Song”.

Needless to say, I had never listened to the full Vanilla Sky soundtrack before. I had only purchased it on the chance of obtaining “The Nothing Song”.

So, a time came during our trek to Oregon that I was sick of the other albums I’d brought, and decided to give the Vanilla Sky soundtrack a spin.

“Have You Forgotten” came on and the world became a painting. After the first listen, I listened again. And again. And again. It was perfect. Lyrically, sonically perfect.

This version is not available via traditional streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify. I could — maybe should — encourage you to purchase the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, but I’ve done the leg work to discover this gem, so I’ll save you the trouble. Just this once:

The perfect song. Full stop.

Music discovery as we knew it is a thing of the past. Radio is still a powerful tool to promote Top 40 and the latest singles. Deep cuts are just a click away. A playlist will introduce you to bands and tracks of particular themes or influence. But the archeological process of obtaining limited releases, a band’s first EP, or a compilation for a single track have been fast removed in the day and age of streaming. Albums can be thrown away after a track or two in instead of considered an investment; not pilfered or appreciated for their concept or the one magic gem hidden before Track 1, tucked away at Track 7, or 10 minutes after the last song. It‘s free to listen and time is money.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. Quite the contrary. I would have killed to have all of this music at my disposal as a teenager. Money was tight but my craving for new music was not. $5 would score me a new Punk-O-Rama compilation with 20 tracks. $10 would buy an album at Best Buy — maybe not the one I was looking for, but anything was better than nothing. $20 for something more desirable but a little harder to find at Tower Records. I recall finding The Appleseed Cast’s Low Level Owl: Vols 1 and 2 at two different stores in Berkeley — my crowning music discovery bounty.

For better or worse, those days are long gone. Even a local punk band can release music on Apple Music for $20 and a few clicks. It’s (virtually) all there.

If the music discovery itch has been scratched, what is the next frontier? Truth be told, it’s quite possibly the oldest form of media discovery out there: Books.

Amongst the centuries of tomes, the mountains of paper and ink, books are ripe with treasure. One that speaks to me may not speak to you. Chapter 4 is not Track 4. Jumping to the good part is not an option. Short of a collection, books must be taken in as a whole. And that whole is an investment up front. Choose wisely. And if you’re short on dough, hopefully your choice nets out a sentence or two that you can hang your hat on. Something meaty. A compass. An inspiration. A goal.

It’s all very obvious, but for someone who lived and breathed music and didn’t take up reading until age 29, it feels like rediscovering an old me. I’ve read 16 books this year. 12 in 2017 and 24 in 2016. Some are good. Some are bad. I finish all of them. Even a bad book hones my hunt for something perfect. All wash over you. All are an experience. All cost money and time and patience.

I’m still searching for the perfect book; the perfect passage; the perfect sentence. Hear you me, it will be done. (It won’t.) But until then, discovery is back in my life. The hunt is on. Thankful, I have not forgotten.

Oh, and the perfect album is Elliott’s “Song in the Air”.

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Music seems to send us out on a quest for new experiences

Wonderland by Steven Johnson

One premise unites both sides in this debate: that music “presses our pleasure buttons,” as Pinker describes it. Yet there is something too simple in describing our appetite for music in this way. Sugar and opiates, to give just two examples, press pleasure buttons in the brain in a relatively straightforward fashion. Given a taste of one, we instinctively return for more of the same, like those legendary lab rats endlessly pressing the lever for more stimulants. And we put our ingenuity to work concocting ever-more-efficient delivery mechanisms for these forms of pleasure: we refine opium into heroin; we start selling soda in Big Gulp containers. But music—like the patterns and colors unleashed by the fashion revolution—appears to resonate with our pleasure centers at more of an oblique angle. The pleasure in hearing those captivating sounds doesn’t just establish a demand for more of the same. Instead, music seems to send us out on a quest for new experiences: more of the same, but different.

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Video Game Music’s Tremendous Power

Voice actor David W. Collins digging into the Super Mario Bros. ‘Ground Theme’ on his recently debuted Soundtrack Show podcast:

As a general concept, game music is very often written to loop back around, seamlessly. This composition is meant to loop endlessly into itself so you can play for hours and hours and hours. But the actual composition that we just listened to was only 80 seconds long. 80 seconds! And there’s repetition within that 80 seconds; there are repeating parts.

There are other pieces of music in this game — the underground music, the underwater music, the castle music, a series of music fanfares, etc. — but in total, the amount of music written for this game adds up to less than 5 minutes. 5 minutes of music. 40 hours of gameplay, give or take on average. 40 million copies.

Now we’re starting to get a picture of the power of video game music. The amount of times that we heard that 80 seconds. That’s what I mean about video game music’s tremendous power. It’s why we have to talk about it.

Don’t take repetition for granted. When done poorly, repetitious music can become jarring — quickly. When done well, a great loop can increase the feeling of immersion in the game’s world. When done well, a standalone soundtrack’s standard of two loops per song feels wrong.

Nintendo has a knack for this. Koji Kondo — composer of many first-party Nintendo titles, including Super Mario Bros. — is without a doubt a master at this. But even Kazumi Tokata painted his masterful stroke with the Wii’s heavily repeatable ‘Mii Plaza’ and ‘Wii Shop Channel’ themes, both of which continue to live on in today’s mainstream.

While today’s AAA titles can incorporate orchestral arrangements through to procedurally generated soundscapes, repetition in video game music was born with the medium and will continue to live on. For those of us who grew of up listening to 8-bit repetitions to orchestral repetitions, we’ve had the great fortune of experiencing the evolution of a music technology, medium, and experience, as I touched on in my piece 1985: Burst and Bloom:

The sounds, visuals, and interactivity provided a pool of imagination. The limitations of early consoles could not provide orchestral arrangements. Instead, repetitious patterns were drilled into our heads. They not only encapsulated the game we were playing, but they opened the world outside to a new soundtrack, creating a wealth of memories that could be tapped into from a few simple chirps. Hearing these primitive arrangements evolve felt like experiencing the birth of music. As hardware progressed, so did the complexity if the music. Repetitive pieces turned into grand and iconic themes, each game re-shaping the idea and importance of video game music.

Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts, Mega Man 2, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage, Vectorman — these are some of my favorites.

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Phil Collins: Crash Bandicoot man

A fun tidbit from Phil Collins’ memoir “Not Dead Yet”:

Somewhat dazed, I go back to the hotel, the Peninsula Beverly Hills. Lily, now aged nine, is waiting for me, which brightens things up no end. She and I start playing Spyro the Dragon—computer games are one of our new shared passions. I love them, and I love Spyro, although if push comes to shove, I’ll declare myself a Crash Bandicoot man. As if by magic, the hearing in my left ear roars back. It’s like I’ve been underwater, but the blockage is suddenly gone. Thank God for that.

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Rogue One: The Sound of a Story

Michael Giacchino (Lost, Star Trek, Up) is the first Star Wars film composer to step foot in John Williams’ shadow.

Giacchino in an interview with Anthony Breznican, Entertainment Weekly:

Entertainment Weekly: So you were a late addition to the Rogue One crew…

Michael Giacchino: Yes, literally the last thing I expected I’d be doing this month would be this. I mean we were literally planning a vacation when I got the call asking if I could come and talk to them about it. At the time, it left me with literally four and a half weeks to write. So it was one of those decisions where you’re like, okay, well… And I was talking to my brother about it. He goes, “Oh, come on. You’ve been writing this score since you were 10! You can do this.”

Giacchino, the long time J.J. Abrams collaborator, had replaced Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Grand Budapest Hotel).

EW: What inspirations will we hear in the music?

MG: It does borrow from traditions that both John [Williams] and George Lucas borrowed from when they made the original Star Wars, you know. George was looking at Flash Gordon, the old serials, and John was looking at [Gustav] Holst and different composers along the way to get a baseline for what he wanted to communicate. There is a wonderful musical language that John put together for the original films. I wanted to honor that vernacular but still do something new with it, something that was still me in a way.

My great friend Scott Kawai often makes the case that Michael Giacchino is the next John Williams, with a style heavy of colorful and memorable themes. Without reading too much about Rogue One, I assumed he had been the first choice for the film. The revelation that Desplat was the first choice was a shock to me. Desplat’s music is certainly incredible with an air of moody atmosphere, but does not strike me as “Star Wars”. I’d kill to hear his take on Rogue One.

There are inclinings of the saga’s legacy in Giacchino’s score— curious woodwinds and dancing percussion at the opening of “He’s Here For Us”— but there is a drive in the timber that strikes less fantastic and more brooding. It is immediately clear that the “stories” have room for exploration and departure from the “saga”. There are ties back to the episodic series, but at their core, Giacchino’s pieces are something new and derivative; they are always less memorable, iconic, or sure of themselves. Nonetheless, there are many times when the presence of brass brightens and lifts what is ultimately a grittier film to something more familiar and nostalgic— something more reminiscent of Star Wars.

As for the touches of William’s throughout Giacchino’s score, The Force Theme is heard when Bail Organa enters the frame. Likewise, The Imperial March is heard during Darth Vader’s appearance. During the film’s finale, both themes are heard as two iconic characters make stunning (re-)appearances, which can be heard in “Hope” on the film’s soundtrack.

However, the one that struck me the most was the piece backing Rogue One‘s title card, the finale of “A Long Ride Ahead” on the soundtrack. Briefly teasing Williams’ Main Title sequence, it kicks off the iconic C-G half-notes but branches into something new and less confident.

Kathleen Kennedy says they’re trying to break from some of the traditional Star Wars tropes, like doing away with the opening crawl. Sounds like that applies to the music as well?

Kathy said that to me, too — “No one is asking you to do what was done before.” I feel it’s important to be me, but in this universe, we’re working within. That was sort of the challenge. It was never sort of, “Oh, you have to do this, this, and this.” It was always just: “Here are the emotions that we need to cover.”

As a story outside of the saga, Giacchino’s freedom is extremely evident, for better or worse. My question is whether or not Giacchino’s score will be the audible language of all Star Wars stories to come, or just specifically Rogue One? Even more specifically, is Rogue One‘s title card sequence strictly Rogue One‘s title theme, or has Giacchino defined the theme for all Star Wars stories?

The other changes—the omission of the opening crawl, lower-left location queues, a lone title card— are so heavy-handed that it leads me to assume the themes Giacchino has established for Rogue One will permeate future Star Wars stories.

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How Videogames Are Saving the Symphony Orchestra

Sarah E. Needleman, The Wall Street Journal:

In Philadelphia, the 80-year-old Mann Center has held videogame concerts since 2012. Representatives say the shows attract as many as many as 6,500 attendees, roughly double the average attendance at classical concerts.

The growing popularity has helped offset a decline in U.S. orchestra ticket sales. Over the past decade, such sales have declined at an average annual rate of 2.8%, according to a soon-to-be-published report commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, an advocacy group.

While I had known of the popularity of these concerts with Video Games Live, whose album Kickstarters for Volumes 3 and 4 raised $285,081 and $187,646 respectively, et al., I had no idea of this level of success. Likewise, I was a bit surprised to see “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” perform on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”, but a bit less so now.

The piece continues:

Unlike classical-music performances, videogame shows feature arrangements that blend looping tracks of music designed to match various moments in a game, such as a slow, eerie medley of piano, percussion and string as the videogame character navigates a castle dungeon.

I think there’s something here. Two years back, in a post titled “Why Game?”, I wrote the following:

The sounds, visuals, and interactivity provided a pool of imagination. The limitations of early consoles could not provide orchestral arrangements. Instead, repetitious patterns were drilled into our heads. They not only encapsulated the game we were playing, but they opened the world outside to a new soundtrack, creating a wealth of memories that could be tapped into from a few simple chirps. Hearing these primitive arrangements evolve felt like experiencing the birth of music. As hardware progressed, so did the complexity if the music. Repetitive pieces turned into grand and iconic themes, each game re-shaping the idea and importance of video game music.

Back to the WSJ piece, a quote from illustrator Mathew Grigsby:

I developed a taste for classical music through videogames.

I echo this sentiment.

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José James on Discovering Miles Davis, Jazz

American jazz and hip-hop vocalist José James during a ‘Meet the Musician’ event at the Apple Store, Kurfürstendamm:

I couldn’t believe one artist had made 50 albums. I pull one out and I look at the back and it has four tracks on it and each track is 18-minutes long. I’m thinking, “I can’t listen to this. I want value.” I was looking for the one with twelve tracks on it.

So incredibly peculiar how we subscribe value. I too ran into the same quandary when experiencing Miles Davis for the first time. Then I thought back to listening to “The Decline” on repeat. And “2113” after that. And “Goodbye Sky Harbor” after that. And “Cicatriz E.S.P.” after that. And “Drop” after that. And “Chimera Obscurant” after that. And “Dauðalagið” after that.

Cumulative time does not equate to value. I’ll be damned if I couldn’t listen to “So What” on loop for the rest of my life.

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Pretty Alright

Ben C, a friend of mine, shared his band’s new demo with me. I was incredibly impressed. A strong influence from Band of Horses with Grizzly Bear and My Morning Jacket sprinkled about. I especially enjoy “Even When You Don’t Sing”.

On a personal level, Pretty Alright sounds like a combination of Alexander J. Roberts, Team Hate Nelson, and Of The Swaying Sort. Give it a listen.

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Smooth McGroove on Upvoted

Smooth McGroove on the Upvoted Podcast, timestamp 17:45:

It’s such a niche thing that I had going, and still do. Not a lot of people played these video games, especially in Oklahoma. Most people that I’d encountered had heard of Zelda and maybe played a Mario game or something like that. Whenever it came to the people that I encountered day-to-day, most people would have never been supportive of this. They would have just said, “Oh, that’s a fun thing but keep your day job.” It was really the feedback that I got back from the Internet that gave me enough confidence and willpower to reinforce my own drive to do this.

It was April of 2013. I quit giving [drum] lessons, I finished up my last semester at college, and from then on it was a good year-and-a-half straight of just singing, recording, mixing.

On fans:

The fact that they were willing to not only watch a video or listen to a song but make a comment under the YouTube video or buy a song from one of the places I license with. It was when I started a Patreon that they were willing to donate a dollar for every video I put out.

All of these things coming together was huge for me. It felt so big. It felt like… I can’t even describe it really. It was that feeling that allowed me and gave me the confidence to squash not only the doubts, but to push forward the stuff that I really wanted to do, which was make music in some form, some way. It just happened to be through this video game music platform with me singing all the instruments.

Upvoted is the newly debuted podcast from Reddit. Every episode is hopeful and inspiring, especially for silly dreamers.

My personal favorite McGroove jam here:

Find all of Smooth McGroove’s albums on iTunes.

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