Thursday, March 31, 2011

Computer music with Brian Eno

I am sure my computer nerd friends knew this already, but it came to my attention recently that it was actually none other than Brian Eno who designed the sounds for Windows 95, making it one of the most heard (and despied) “pieces of music” until of course later releases of the software.

Brian Eno claimed that Microsoft wanted "… a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah- blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,  and it must be 3 1/4 seconds long." No mean feat.

The promotion for Windows 95 was extreme even by many standards, with rumours that US$3 per copy was spent on promotion, including the use of the Rolling Stones “Start me up” in the advertising campaign. Obviously then, the “universal emotion” of Eno’s start up music was nothing compared to Jagger and company’s ability to get us up and buying.

It is not immediately clear who made the sounds for Windows XP or Windows 7, but for Windows Vista Microsoft turned to another well known musician in King Crimson’s Robert Fripp.

Finally, although no video is available, Trans Am released a track off their Red Line album called “Let’s take the fresh step” which featured Eno’s Windows Startup sound stretched to 50 seconds.

Exploiting psycho-acoustic simulation

Many may have seen that the Beatles back catalogue finally made it to the iTunes store this week. Also in the news was a story of a legal suit against a US based company called BlueBeat who had briefly been selling MP3s of Beatles and other tracks for as little as $US0.25 until their forced closure in 2009.

What is interesting about this story is the apparent use of a technique called  “psycho-acoustic simulation“ by company owner Hank Risan to create “unique versions of copyright material”. The judges were obviously not convinced and concluded that Risan used an "obscure and undefined pseudo-scientific language [that] appears to be a long-winded way of describing 'sampling'."

But the Beatles “move” to the iTunes store is also intriguing. One wonders if it is a subtle link between the Beatle’s Apple Record Label (who's records came with vinyl labels designed with the inside and outside of an apple on either side) and the computer brand, a peace of sorts after years of apparent legal conflict over the image rights.

EMI however, look at the deal as a form of salvation amidst the music industry’s current collapse (see Figure 1 for albums and Figure 2 for singles).

  Figure 1: Album sales 1973-2010

Figure 2: Singles sales 1973-2010

Given the Beatle’s 50 year life-span so far it is interesting to imagine their contribution alone to the curve, having gone through a variety of formats despite only arriving now at digital.

What is perhaps more disturbing for the companies is that "The Beatles were about 10% of their [EMIs] sales in the US last year [2010], excluding digital, so having The Beatles available online can clearly be a good thing. They're very good at exploiting them." According to Ben Rumley from Enders Analysis. That an old group accounts for so much is worrying for such a company, but also one has to laugh at his “innocent” use of the word exploiting. It’s always nice to be treated with respect.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Black Swan 2

And while the Black Swan is still fresh: Cristian Vogel, another Barcelona resident (albeit Chilean born) has also recently released an album called Black Swan on Sub Rosa. Somewhat curiously this work was actually intended as a dance piece, but sadly without Natalie Portman. Vogel has worked frequently over the last years with Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and together they have premiered works in several countries.

By more coincidence, Vogel has also remixed a track by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, also entitled Black Swan… This track combines Vogels electronic background with his more guitar and song based work.

This is an unofficial video but a nice accompaniment. Musically it shows another side of Vogel’s work, based less on electronics and more on his guitar and song based output.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recent Gigs – Pulshar

It was a great pleasure to finally see Pulshar, a group from Barcelona that I like a lot at a club last week. It was also a greater honour to be able to do some photos of them as well for Resident Advisor even if my camera is not quite up to it.

The duo is made of Pablo Bolivar and Sergio “Aphro” Sainz. Bolivar is a long term survivor of the local scene, releasing an impressive array of techno, ambient and dub flavoured music for almost a decade including many tracks on Barcelona-based Galaktika Recods. His vocal partner Sainz is a designer and was a vocalist in several previous reggae groups. This was their first show of a mini tour to support their album from last year.

Nospheratu” is probably their signature track while “Dub by the river” gives a sense of Bolivar’s techno side, albeit slowed down and spaced out. My favourite track is “No meditation” which is something of a soundtrack sometimes.

You’re thinking too much
You think that you’re thinking too much
No meditation..."


Another group that recently released on Experimedia that deserve a bit more attention is Piiptsjilling (pronounced ‘peep-chilling’). Their album “Wurdskrieme” from last year keeps appearing in commentaries and round ups of 2010 without ever making the “best of” lists. Combining isolation ambient, laptop and acoustic improvisation and most strikingly the poems of duo Jan and Romke Kleefstra, the effect is almost overwhelming and sometimes frightening with its quiet intensity. The language of the poems is from Friesland, a province in the far North of the Netherlands which adds another air of mystery-

“Ik soe in wurd net allinićh wêze wolle
Ik soe ûnmjïtlik ljoćht wêze wolle”

“I’d like to be a word not alone
I’d like to be immeasurably light”

-          Wurch Ljocht (Tired Light)

The musicians are the much celebrated Rutger Zuydervelt of Machinefabriek and Soccer Committee's Mariska Baars also from the Netherlands. The video was presented at the Frisian Film Festival 2008.