Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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An immolation

31 January, 2009

Charles Wesley Cooper III
12 April, 1977 – 22 January, 2009

What follows below is a review for an album whose title has been rendered regretfully apt. The sudden passing of Telefon Tel Aviv‘s Charlie Cooper only two days after the group released their long-awaited third full-length studio record is a coincidence suggestive of a sacrifice: an untimely departure at the arrival of something so great, yet so final. The well-deserved reception of Immolate Yourself, made public on 20th January, has since seen TTA fans buzzing with excitement across music forums worldwide. Based in Chicago and originally from New Orleans, the duo comprised of Cooper and Joshua Eustis had opted to join Berlin’s BPitch Control community shortly after their successful release of Remixes Compiled (including Apparat’s ‘Komponent’) provided clear indication as to why such a marrying of talent would be ideal. Previously signed on with Hefty Records, their earlier albums Fahrenheit Fair Enough (2001) and Map of What Is Effortless (2004) had been emotive masterpieces in their own rites. Early introduction into the world of TTA meant listening to tracks such as the first’s title number, ‘Introductory Nomenclature’, and ‘Nothing Is Worth Losing That’, with an awe reserved to the contemporary electronic greats who so masterfully balance the timbre of their glitches, the time-delays on snare and the synthetic chorus in reverb that unfailingly elevates the entire listening experience.

Telefon Tel Aviv have always presented something so beautifully understated with their music’s philosophical allusions as evidently inspired by science and literature (‘What’s The Use Of Feet If We Haven’t Got Legs?’). But beneath that, their unique chameleon metamorphosis integrating sounds across genres (most notable R&B and ambient) into a quasi-minimal techno has never ceased to impress. And Immolate Yourself takes that even further, bringing in some New Wave inspiration (‘Helen of Troy’, ‘M’) with all the heavy 80s synth necessary for nostalgia to boot. Yet, somehow it still manages to sound very much like TTA, culminating halfway through on the hauntingly poignant ‘Mostly Translucent’ so worthy of replay and reminiscent of that driving force behind the fifth on their second LP. But all of this is beside the point. Because it is in this nature of TTA’s sound that Charlie Cooper will be remembered. Joshua Eustis, in a eulogy on MySpace for both his groupmate and close friend since high school, wrote ‘We have been so fortunate to tour the world together, while at the same time having a massive amount of laughs at one another’s expense… His musicianship was surpassed only by his greater gift to the world — his warmth, his generosity, his unquenchable humor, and his undying loyalty to those whom he loved.’

‘Aside from Charlie’s singular genius and musical gifts, I can tell you that he was a total sweetheart of a guy, and a loving friend and confidant to people everywhere.’ At the age of thirty-one and earlier having been set to tour North America with Matthew Dear, Cooper is survived by his parents, sister, nephew and ‘more adoring friends than the Universe has dark matter.’

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Ghostly International

Telefon Tel Aviv (Force Field PR)

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Ampersound

25 January, 2009

With the exception of this morning (norovirus woes throughout the night),  I’ve taken to regularly posting a couple of news stories and a single music video to my Facebook feed as I begin to tackle the day’s work ahead over breakfast. Several people tell me they frequently tune in, though more for the music, and I’ve been contemplating whether it might be easier to just present the videos on a page of their own. I’ve been an avid fan of music videos for as long as I can remember (the Jacksons, Ace of Base, Metallica — all introduced to me on-screen), and despite there being several ‘channels’ online with great collections, production information is not always as comprehensive as should be, and not all players are made for convenient embedding elsewhere. So in my poor state last night I had no option but to follow through — and all 165 videos posted to date (with the exception of those removed from YouTube since 2007) are now up on the new Ampersound site.

The current domain is set to change once the IP points in the right direction, so take note of the new address when updated. Still much progress to be made, but have a browse through and let me know what you think.  It’ll be added to daily, alongside extra additions taken from this site and my bookmarked collection not yet tapped into. And on another though related topic, Express Checkout was also refurbished recently. It’s about time, too, seeing as my foray into the blogosphere actually began there and not here. Admittedly this tangled web of sites is starting to become a bit difficult to cover overhead alongside my writing articles for other non-affiliated sites. So the video library will eventually be incorporated into this site, and from there everything is likely to become a new section featured on one or two of the domains currently in main use. In any case, I’ll follow up on all that soon, whenever there’s another chance (hopefully without the involvement of projectile vomiting next time).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Sticky logistics (pieces at random)

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Spotify v Last.fm

21 January, 2009

So I accidentally got an invitation to use Spotify recently (don’t ask), and my instinctive reaction was as one would expect from someone already devoted to another music platform. ‘Surely this can’t be better than Last.fm‘, I thought to myself as I reluctantly proceeded to sign up — albeit semi-curiously hitting download for the client application. From the outset, it had already been obvious: Spotify’s marketing ploy was envisaged in a byline beaming about its effortlessness, ease, and sheer simplicity. ‘The best thing about music is that you can just listen to it,’ it modestly informed. ‘It doesn’t have to be hard, and neither does using Spotify.’ Minutes later, the introduction screen appeared with an invitation to ‘dive in’. So I did. Naturally, I searched for Trentemøller, and 118 tracks soon appeared in a list, to my surprise including several mixes I’d actually not had the pleasure of hearing before. So three minutes into Djosos Krost’s reworked ‘Chapter One‘, I had already reached my tentative verdict of approval. And that was certainly more favourable if not entirely contrary to my prematurely predicted reflex derived from a growing distaste towards the onslaught of new online and mobile applications seeming to be cropping up by the thousands at breakneck speed.

So what is Spotify and what’s the catch? The Anglo-Swedish cloud-based, peer-to-peer networking service provides unlimited access to a music library, with or without the optional paid subscriptions. It essentially allows you to stream tracks via a player that very much resembles iTunes — or the iTunes Store, rather, only with track-preview in full. Instead of being modeled on profile-driven network interaction as is Last.fm, it allows you to ‘share’ tracks and create collaborative playlists via e-mail and instant messenger with fellow Spotify users. Somewhat similar to Last.fm is the radio available for less autonomous, more exploratory listening (though it limits you to too simplistic a selection for tuning based on music decade or genre), allowing you to skip from song to song as you wish. Integration with Last.fm’s Audioscrobbler is also made possible through enabling preferences in the menu, so you can continue listening without abandoning your chart data collection. And of course conveniently placed are links to purchase the tracks being listened to, helping to fulfill Spotify’s apparent aim to spread the music whilst fairly compensating the artists featured by agreement.

As such, you can reasonably imagine that the legal framework binding this project together is pretty watertight, having to clear rights for use which — for example — would limit you from using it to entertain customers at a restaurant or club. It grants a limited, non-exclusive, and revocable license for personal, non-commercial use, and arbitration arising from legal disputes is administered as per Swedish jurisdiction. But having said that, the audio quality is quite good for a streaming player, using the Ogg Vorbis q5 codec offering a satisfying 160kb/s rate on decent speakers or headphones. And the catch? Well, advertising — like with most things these days — is the primary pool of revenue, and a single advertisement resembling the sort you might hear on local radio programming is evenly distributed (though not distractingly so) between every few songs. Purchasing subscription access does away with the adverts and allows for more invites and more selective radio-listening at a £9.99 premium. The Spotify team are also in the process of exploring options to branch out on mobile and other platforms, so watch this space…

Now the question that remains is how extensive the catalogue may become. In terms of prompt updating, the Fever Ray album that was released digitally last Tuesday is already available; Telefon Tel Aviv‘s latest, however, isn’t there. In fact, few tracks by them are available, and the same goes for The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Radiohead, on the other hand, is included — which says a lot considering the fact they weren’t on offer via iTunes until only earlier last year. I still do wonder if and when more will eventually come; but for the time being, it’s nice to have the option of using a platform friendly to both users and music, where you’re relatively free to select, enjoy, and (as a musician) earn your keep. I have no doubt that Last.fm is far better in terms of ‘musicability’ through its taste-gauging, music-trekking neighbourhood approach that I’ve loved all these years. But the two in fact cannot be directly compared within the confines of being the same type of product. Because they do differ in both purpose, function and presentation — a point clearly concluded when you use Last.fm’s player to ‘heart’ Spotify’s tracks.

It’s still in its beta phase and free service is available only via invitation in Sweden, Norway, France, Spain, and the UK (Spotify Premium is more widespread otherwise). But I might have one or two invitations going spare, so if you’re interested in trying it out, just drop me a line.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Love thy neighbour (pieces at random)

Exponential growth (pieces at random)

Site overhaul (pieces at random)

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My playground

15 January, 2009

VM Mountain Series by Kim Høltermand

Philosopher Michel Foucault once said, ‘architecture is not an object but a process; not a thing but a flow.’ Little did he know that nearly thirty years later, in the same city that helped launch his career, a group of teenagers would invent a sport that would not only bring his words to life, but it would also inspire an entire movement to re-examine the way we build our cities and view our urban landscape. The artful athleticism of parkour has swiftly taken the world by storm since the Yamakasi formed in Paris back in 1997. Led by its legendary founder David Belle and Sébastian Foucan, the trasceurs (practitioners of parkour) have become increasingly known for their mastery of overcoming physical obstacles in order to efficiently reach one place from another. It is this visually impressive, highly skilled discipline required in the undertaking of parkour and freerunning that has since inspired films ranging from Luc Besson’s Yamakasi – Le samouraïs des temps modernes and Banlieue 13 to the more recent Breaking and Entering by Anthony Minghella. In 2003, Mike Christie presented parkour to the English-speaking world with his Channel 4 documentary Jump London, in which Foucan coined the term ‘freerunning’ to describe the parkour off-shoot geared towards freedom of movement and street acrobatics.

What each of these films has in common apart from featuring high-action parkour stunts is that they all reflect upon urban life and how it’s shaped by the surrounding architecture. Even more interesting, however, is the way traceurs reach destinations made impossible by what ordinary pedestrians see as physical obstacles. And a brilliant demonstration of these views can be seen this summer in Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s highly anticipated upcoming film MY PLAYGROUND. Inspired by his previous documentary CITY SURFERS about the parkour scene in Denmark, Schröder set out to more closely examine the way that traceurs interact with architecture, honing in on movement, tricking and parkour in the urban space through the exceptional skill of Denmark’s Team JiYo. What makes MY PLAYGROUND so unique is that not only does Schröder provide the perspectives of the traceurs themselves, but he also includes interviews with the architects, politicians, planners and philosophers who determine how space is shaped within our cities. Bridging both modern and traditional architecture, Schröder’s choice of locations highlights the potential for traceurs and architects to learn from one another in order to pave the way for revolutionizing the functionality of our living spaces and the dynamics of our surrounding environment.

Shot in Copenhagen, the film features the award-winning VM Houses and neighbouring Mountain Dwellings designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). These buildings reflect the firm’s common interest in parkour and freerunning, ultimately stemming from its reputation as being a member of the new generation of architects combining innovative analysis, experimentation and social awareness in their work. BIG architects go beyond common convention in order to incorporate contemporary life in a manner similar to that of the famed architect Le Corbusier and his Unité d’Habitation. Pioneering functional, urban design in modern architecture, Le Corbusier had dedicated himself to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities — even going so far as to exclusively use the proportions of the human body for his scale of architectural proportion. Today, as Le Corbusier had done decades before, BIG seeks to understand the way humans live rather than merely building buildings to fill up space — all the while exploring new ways to create our living, commercial and social spaces. A philosophy summed up nicely by the words of parkour photographer Andy Day as featured in Canon’s 2005 ‘The Shot‘ campaign on-site at the London School of Economics: ‘[The urban landscape] is there for you to run across; it’s not there to contain you.’

Shot, edited and directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder. Music by The Notwist (‘This Room’, Neon Golden).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: MY PLAYGROUND – Bjarke Hellden, Team JiYo

A Day of Few Spoken Words by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

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V&A Forever

13 January, 2009

For any Londoner who yearned to see Advanced Beauty at Lovebytes 2008 but was put off by the two-hour ride to Sheffield, the brilliant work of the Universal Everything creatives is now being showcased much closer to home. The Forever exhibition, featuring at the Victoria & Albert Museum since the end of November last year, once again sees the collaboration of Universal Everything founder Matt Pyke and designer Karsten Schmidt alongside musical composition by sound-designer Simon Pyke. Taking its queue from the ‘sound sculpture’ thematic format of Advanced Beauty, the ‘bespoke’ design breathing life into the Forever display creates unique audio-visual films on a daily basis (or until, as the name suggests, forever) in this large video-wall installation hovering over the pond in the V&A’s John Madejski Garden. The iridescent animations infinitely span time in direct response to the soundtrack to which the visual generator is programmed. And as such, the project’s design team set out with defining parameters to enable the sculpture to continually grow upwards from the pond’s water beneath it, as though the movement of light itself stems from a time-aware primordial nerve which directly responds to the music’s  points of inflection. A commission for the V&A’s new digital programme, Pyke’s hundreds of different soundscapes were composed in a single key in order to make way for a sense of seamlessness in their mixing together, allowing them to visually translate as the work itself alters in appearance and intensity over its two-month lifespan.

One of the most innovative multimedia installations I’ve had the chance to see in recent years, it reminds me so much of the interactive light installation featured in the Volume exhibition by United Visual Artists and onepointsix back in winter 2006 (also held in the John Madejski Garden, that too had an audio-visual component, though the light in Volume responded directly to the sounds of human movement). Since its very inception in 2004, Universal Everything has been well situated at the helm of that dynamic crossover between art, design and music, whilst being known for the distinct ability to capture the attention of a wide variety of audiences through a vast array of media plus environment pairings (their visuals for Nokia were undoubtedly the highlight in my experience of the T5 fiasco early last spring). So naturally, a paradoxically organic yet technologically engineered sculpture inspired by micro-patterns similar to those favoured via Mozart’s generative chromaticism (the Rondo in A Minor is a prime example) follows suit in their portfolio of conceptually impressive, challenging yet comprehensible work to date. What makes this even more unique is that it essentially is that: you never see or hear the same thing twice as the sound intensifies and triggers the visual elements, subsequently feeding back into the music like an ephemeral electronic fingerprint. And this evolution is set to continue as the installation tours to other venues worldwide.

So if you happen to be in the South Kensington area before the closing of show on 1st February, do make sure to stop by (admission is free). An online installation generating a series of downloadable video podcasts will also coincide with the V&A exhibition on the Universal Everything website, along with the making-of film and a beautiful set of 20,000 unique postcards being made available as well.

Management and support by Philip Ward, Creativesheffield, Apple and Universal Eveything. Film directed by Jack Laurance & Rex McWhirter.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Making of ‘Forever’

Advanced beauty (pieces at random)

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Fever ray

8 January, 2009

Thankfully having just been reminded to look out for Röyksopp’s upcoming release of Junior, I was very glad to see that The Knife’s Karin Dreijer will once more be featured. Because nearly four years following the success of their second studio album, who can forget those delicately haunting vocals from ‘What Else Is There?’ on The Understanding, so masterfully visualized by the award-winning director Martin de Thurah and later remixed by Anders Trentemøller? It was because of this particular album that I later dug into Silent Shout and Deep Cuts, both catapulting The Knife to number two on my must-see-live list, just below Sigur Rós and Radiohead tied at number one (footage clearly proves why). And as though that weren’t enough, Dreijer is set to double the anticipation with the release of Fever Ray, the debut album for her new solo project, out on the same exact date as Röyksopp’s and most likely paving the way for a successful European tour later on in the year. So judging by the video premier for Fever Ray’s first single, ‘If I Had a Heart’ (co-produced by Hird’s Christoffer Berg), I already sense my Klicktrack pre-order imminent on the horizon. From the same talent behind various clips for The Knife, José González and fellow Rabid musician Jenny Wilson, this stunning feature was directed by Malmö-based artist Andreas Nilsson — yet another to add to this paragraph of Scandinavian audiovisual revelry.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Rabid Records

Tricolore (pieces at random)

Remind Me (pieces at random)

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Costs of excess

4 January, 2009

«Tout s’achète : l’amour, l’art, la planète Terre, vous, moi…»
Frédéric Beigbeder

At last it’s 2009, and the bad economic news continues on like a low-budget sequel with a sorely disappointed audience. The economists and pundits all seem to have morphed into fortune-tellers in the last few weeks, gazing through interest group-affiliated crystal balls to write yet another twenty paragraphs about why the new year is destined to be a terrible hell of a downturn. Or let-down. Or not… So I will join them, because in the midst of the inclement forecasting are the monotone voices of politicians turning over leaves anew with self-contradicting views over neo-liberal capitalism and its unbridled financial institutions bound by the farcical (mis)effect of regulatory bodies formed to prevent precisely the thing that has happened after all. Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of recession so far has been being made to suffer whilst listening to political rivals attempting to one-up each other, trying to gain grounds through capitalizing on the misfortune of their disillusioned electorate. Our born-again leaders and believers of equitable society have conveniently re-remembered the man on the Clapham omnibus by acquiring that prophetic aura about them to impart the wisdom that a gross amount of wealth as be-all and end-all of human existence is, in fact, gross. And though intermittently placed between pleas to spend our way through to salvage the economy as per Keynesian theory would have it at micro-level, the notion of saving money (or at least not spending as much as we did before) is looking more attractive by the day.

So pauvre-chic is back in, and after the recent magnum success of Damien Hirst and ten inflation-adjusted landmark sales for artists such as Rothko, De Kooning, Klimt and Monet since 2006, the post-binge purge has become as increasingly apparent in the art world as it is on the High Street. Through a rising movement advocating the ‘it factor’ of unpretentious frugality, an industry that relies heavily on the pockets of investors most inevitably tied to Bernard Madoff by less than six degrees of separation is finding ways to beat the squeeze. ‘Jack Boul: Then and Now’, an exhibit showcasing work by the Washington-based artist, opened to much acclaim last month at the American University Museum in Katzen Arts Center. With an extra-loving emphasis placed on the intimate simplicity of his oil paintings, many examples of his work measure no more than thirty centimetres in width — a most certainly stark contrast to Pollock’s famed seven-footers. In a similar fashion (or ought that be ‘anti-fashion’?), the sixteenth edition of ‘Small is Beautiful’ which closed show in London’s Flowers East gallery yesterday has always been well-accustomed to rebellion against the ‘bigger is better’ aesthetic, with all featured multimedia pieces constrained by the annual series’ limit of a modest yet creatively stimulating 9×7 inches.

Even the art of speech hasn’t escaped the witch-hunt, with Lake Superior State University’s 34th annual ‘List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’ tut-tutting at 2008’s superfluousness of words such as iconic, maverick, and not in the least bit bail-out. Frugal awareness in this regard may be more difficult to implement, as it’s easy to yield to ornate verbosity as manifested by stunted attention-seeking vocabulary without noticing. But even worse is the shameless hyperbole found on the newswire (‘credit crisis’, anyone?), and more distastefully in the ironically irrelevant and non-distinctive output of account planning. And this indulgent, sometimes sinister nature of advertising is fully demonstrated in a film unbeaten in my recent top-ten roster, 99 francs by French director Jan Kounen (last month featured in CINEMA16 with Gisèle Kérozènea). In his 2007 film starring actor Jean Dujardin playing the snide, self-involved and hyper-materialistic Octave Parango, Kounen has done with 99 F what Spike Jonze, Jason Reitman and Michel Gondry have done before him in terms of laying bare some of man’s most gruesome attributes and then some. Thrilling on so many levels not least because it’s based on writer and critic Frédéric Beigbeder‘s eponymous book,  this VFX spectacle of sex, drugs and copywriting interwoven by one man’s struggle to come to grips with a twisted yet awakening moral conscience is so well-done, I’d be short-changed to find any other film (or book) as good on the topic.

As in Klapisch’s L’auberge espagnole and its successor Les pouppées russes, the French modern narrative style plays in favour of first-person plot propagation, blending a great deal of Parango’s sardonic humour with the dramatic throws in rich ($) character development alongside actors Vahina Giocante and Patrick Mille. The conveying of advertising-on-Viagra is helped quite remarkably by a soundtrack fit for cause, much like the essential Farväl Falkenberg OST. And opening with Amina’s beautiful ‘Bienvenue dans le meilleur des mondes’, the 99 F bande originale offers twenty-three finely calibrated tracks ranging from narrative excerpts from the film to a balance between Parisian techno-house (Etienne De Crécy’s ‘Funky Bloody Beetroot’ is generic, but Garnier’s ‘Crispy Bacon’ is better), a chillout alterna-indie mix (think smooth St.Germain plus slightly annoying though poignant number from CocoRosie), and an enjoyably apt dramatic score. In short, it goes without saying that after viewing the trailer below (if anyone tracks down the English-subbed version, feel free to forward the link), allow for one last additional shopping spree and start off the year with the DVD. Because if it doesn’t give you ample reason to downsize your budget thereafter, then surely not much else will.

Sarah Badr © MMIX


See also: Jan Kounen (Official)

‘A prediction that’s a safe bet’ (BBC News)