music

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Top tracks 2010

Continuing my "end of year round up", I like to compile a list of favourite music for the year. Here is my list of top tracks for 2010.

My favourite artists of the year in order (pretty much identical to last year's, probably; at least I'm consistent):

1. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - I went to see them live for the first time this year (enjoyable, though Andy McCluskey's dancing is off-putting); I should mention that I pretty much hate their music after The Pacific Age, so the fact they're my number one band is based on about half of their output.
2. The Fall - I got Your Future, Our Clutter for my birthday, which I really enjoyed
3. The Divine Comedy - very middle class, yes; the latest album Bang Goes the Knighthood came out this year, which I thought was one of their best for ages
4. Autechre - a new album and EP this year; both very good
5. Hot Chip - a recent addition to my taste; this year I bought The Warning as well as their most recent album
6. Wire - of course
7. The Residents - probably largely because I use random play a lot, and I have practically everything they've ever recorded over the last 40 years
8. David Bowie - the man
9. Cocteau Twins - I remembered I had a CD of Victorialand (a tape copy of this was the first album I bought when I was about 16) which I'd neglected to rip, and then proceeded to rip it and listened to nothing else for about a week
10. The The - everyone feels maudlin now and then

Others which don't appear in this list but I listened to quite a lot: Tortoise, Future Sound of London, Joanna Newsom, Flying Lotus, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals. It's not a radical list, is it? In fact, I was listening to most of those artists 20 years ago. Must be getting old.

I went to see OMD, Silver Apples and Heaven 17 (they were surprisingly good) live this year: 3 bands in one year is probably the most I've managed since the children were born. I'm going to try to see some more next year (starting with Seefeel in May).

Hurrying with my Eye-Born Night Wax / Needle Spit Literal

I released this track a couple of weeks ago, but no one has listened to it yet at http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/. Given that I think it's my best track, I'm going to put it here (last time I did this, quite a few people did listen to the track). Otherwise all my artistic endeavours will go to waste...

<a href="http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/track/hurrying-with-my-eye-born-night-wax">Hurrying With My Eye-Born Night Wax by Spill Twins</a>

There's also this one, which was slightly less successful, but has its moments:

<a href="http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/track/needle-spit-literal">Needle Spit Literal by Spill Twins</a>

Album released

I've finally released an album: One Million Corners, recorded by me under the name Spill Twins. It's on the Earthrid net label, and available either as a CD or as free mp3 downloads. (I'm going to put lossless versions on bandcamp this week.)

There is an Internet Archive page for the album.

And here's the embedded player from the Bandcamp page:

<a href="http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/album/one-million-corners">Ant Mansion by Spill Twins</a>

NB the content is Creative Commons by-nc-sa licensed. In the unlikely event anyone fancies remixing it, they're also welcome to the original sound/project files.

Releasing music

I've been writing more music recently, and am really enjoying it. Part of the reason for this was some interest from a local radio DJ, Kevin Busby, who produces Phantom Circuit, a great radio programme with eclectic tastes. Kevin's been a fantastic proponent of my music (he's played a few on his show). Having this external verification that it's not completely terrible has urged me on (though I would carry on without an audience, as I have been doing for the last 20 years).

The second reason was the discovery of LMMS, a free multi-track audio sequencer tool for Linux, which supports (some) VST instruments (I've actually just found a list of VSTs known to work, which I'll explore next week). I've switched entirely to that environment now, and think my music is improving. On top of that, I also bought Music Theory for Dummies. Despite its good reviews, I don't think it's a particularly great book; but it has helped me learn about scales, chords, and chord sequences, which I vaguely understood but never really applied. I feel like understanding form better, and principles of composition, gives me a better feel for what "sounds right", as well as giving me starting points for writing new stuff.

So, to the point, I just finished Umpet Steak Ripple as Spill Twins (my current musical incarnation). Here it is:

<a href="http://spilltwins.bandcamp.com/track/umpet-steak-ripple">Umpet Steak Ripple by Spill Twins</a>

I published it on Bandcamp which was introduced to me by Iain - as an aside, there seem to be a lot of musicians among the people I work with). It's a free download, or you can listen on the site, or embed it elsewhere (like I did above). Bandcamp seems much better suited to releasing music than http://last.fm/, which is what I was using previously: for whatever reason, tracks on last.fm seemed to keep disappearing or turning into limited 30 second previews, even if they were free downloads. Bandcamp allows you to upload proper, lossless recordings (I used a wav file), while making it available in standard formats like mp3; you can also sell stuff through it (not just give it way).

I really like this track. It feels like the kind of music I should be making, and sounds novel when I listen to it: by which I mean, I can't quite fathom it and personally find it interesting to listen to. Although very short (1m 37s), it took ages to put together. Finding just the right notes (I even wrote down the chords) and sounds (I had probably 10 different attempts at the bass sound) and the right tempo etc. took me probably 6 hours. FYI, the voice is sampled from Carnival of Souls (which you can watch in its entirety online); the drum sounds are generated using one of the built-in LMMS instruments which (I think) emulates a Gameboy sound chip.

I've still got a lot to learn about music (just ordered another book about composition; P.S. if anyone knows of a music composition evening class in Birmingham UK, please let me know). But it's currently one of the things I can lose hours to without realising, and which I love doing. So expect more soon. (And I haven't forgotten about my mathis project, either.)

Never Toss a Johnny

I've completed track 2 of my mathis album, Never Toss a Johnny. At this rate, the album should be finished in 5 years' time.

You can listen to it on Last.fm here: http://www.last.fm/music/Mathis/_/Never+Toss+A+Johnny?autostart

Mind your ears, though - it's a bit peaky. I used this oscillator thing towards the end, and while a nice effect, it does veer towards damaging your ears at times. And there's some loud clanging in the middle which might wake a baby or dozing pet.

(For background, this track uses only samples of music by Johnny Mathis, plus lots of effects. You might hear a fragment of Fly Me to the Moon if you're lucky.)

If you want a download, I've put some higher-quality mp3s onto S3 (including some of my other tracks), as follows:

  1. Never Toss a Johnny by mathis
  2. Neighbour Forgotten Like a Silent Ray by mathis
  3. Close To You (Unfinished) by Spill Twins - a cover of the Carpenter's song, written from memory, i.e. I didn't look at the sheet music while writing it; I also didn't finish it
  4. Nipple Soup by Spill Twins
  5. SplashFlap by Spill Twins
  6. Bread Sounds (Batch and Tin) by Spill Twins
  7. Breeding in Your Sponge by Spill Twins
  8. Ant Mansion by Spill Twins

One of my favourite things about Wednesdays

On Wednesdays, my employer lets me work from home. I actually find this one of my most productive and enjoyable days of the week: without the distraction of the office, I find it easier to focus; plus I get to take my daughter to school and fetch her, which gives my wife the chance to do student visits, and gives me a chance to spend some time with my daughter.

On top of those great things, Wednesday is also the day when I receive a rather excellent email from 14tracks. This is a fine idea put together by the equally marvellous Boomkat music store: each week they send you a list of 14 tracks exemplifying a particular musical style, label, producer, artist etc., with short reviews, plus links to play previews and buy on Boomkat.

This week's selection is 14 tracks relating to Surgeon, the techno/dubstep producer. It's a great way to find out about new music, particularly if you're into electronica of any stripe.

The Home of Metal

The West Midlands is the Home of Metal. I hadn't really grasped this until I read this blog entry and had a browse around the Home of Metal site. I'm not particularly a fan of metal (except maybe some of the tracks by Scorn by ex Napalm Death chap Mick Harris, and despite the best efforts of Jono); but it would be good if the West Midlands and Birmingham got more recognition for the good stuff it's brought to the world. You can have a look at Famous Birmingham People for starters (though Arthur Conan Doyle is a bit of stretch: wasn't born here, he just lived here a while). Most notable for me:

  • George Cadbury (the chocolate man)
  • Tony Hancock
  • JRR Tolkein (not born here, but lived here when young; I've visited Sarehole Mill in Birmingham a couple of times, where he surely must have got some inspiration for The Lord of the Rings)
  • David Lodge (who taught English at University of Birmingham; I went to a talk he did in the Computer Science department while I was studying there, around the time he wrote Thinks...)

I've lived here since 1994 and feel very defensive of and proud of the region: great people, great places to go, great atmosphere. It's a fine place to live, and I'm glad my children are growing up here.

Beauty

"Beware of that which is breathtakingly beautiful, for at any moment the telephone may ring or the airplane come down in a vacant lot." (John Cage)

Nicola and I had this at our wedding:

Now I'm getting all nostalgic. We had this during the wedding ceremony too:

We are quite soppy, as you might have guessed.

Residents time again

One minute videos for songs from The Commercial Album DVD. Most of the videos are on YouTube, but these are my favourites.

Picnic Boy:

Perfect Love (perturbing):

Amber (funny):

Phantom (nicely atmospheric):

Not from the DVD, but on the Commercial Album. The guitar solo in this is great. Moisture:

Colleen, Aphex Twin, Cabaret Voltaire, The Free French

Colleen is (as far as I know) a little known electronic/ambient artist, but her work is very subtle, delicate, plaintive. Just plain lovely. I think more people should know about it.

Quite a lot of her music videos are on Youtube, via her record label's site.

This one is a fan-made video, but for me it perfectly captures the spirit of the song:

In case it's never crossed your consciousness, here's the rather excellent, grotesque and hilarious Aphex Twin video for Window Licker:

Nice to see this Cabaret Voltaire video again (recorded in 1979):

These still sound great to me (more Cabaret Voltaire) - No Escape:

Seconds Too Late:

I also keep meaning to mention The Free French, who have a website where you can buy their music. Do. It is superlative intelligent (slightly reedy and eccentric, but in a good way) pop. I've been listening to it pretty much constantly all year. I think my favourite album is It's Not Me, It's You, which is glorious, and has some of the best lyrics of any pop album, ever (e.g. Ghost Writer - which is available as a free download from their site - download it!).

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