Wednesday, November 10, 2010 4:23 PM
Even though our society idolizes pop stars, fanboys and fangirls used to demand a couple of things from them. Maybe a new album every year or so, or an over-publicized breakdown to read about in the tabloids. Unobjectionably, we ask them to at least be human. Singularity Hub reports on a rising Japanese diva, Hatsune Miku, who defies even that simple criteria. Hatsune, you see, is a hologram.
Well, technically she’s a computer program. Developed by Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku is half vocal-synthesis software and half three-dimensional visual projection. Performing one of her brainwashingly catchy synthpop tunes, Hatsune looks like a hyper-real Sailor Moon, but with a wardrobe that changes more often than Lady Gaga’s. When she’s all booted up, she can sing in key and cut a rug. And even if you think it’s a gimmick, it’s a gimmick that can sell out a concert hall.
Source: Singularity Hub
, licensed under
Friday, October 16, 2009 5:31 PM
Americans are peculiar. We like ethnic food, as long as it’s not too ethnic. We like foreign films, as long as they’re not too foreign. But we draw the line more starkly at non-English pop music. We don’t widely embrace music that is not sung in our tongue.
What is it about non-English lyrics that so repels us? Elyse Franko proposes on the travel website World Hum that we’re driven by overblown fears:
We English speakers are terrified of not understanding. We’ve gotten so used to speaking the coveted lingua franca that we’ve neglected to give other languages a chance—even if doing so would somehow benefit us. At this point, neglect has turned to fear: fear of miscommunication; fear of traveling outside the realm of English-language tours; fear of ordering the wrong dish from a non-English menu; and fear of misunderstanding the non-English lyrics to an otherwise excellent song.
Franko notes that many artists seeking a large audience are pressured to learn English, and that 19 of last year’s 25 Eurovision song contest finalists sang in English. But she also holds out hope that the tide is turning. After all, she notes, the Swedish “swing-rap-jazz combo” Movits recently performed on The Colbert Report—in Swedish!
OK, so maybe it wasn’t a cultural watershed, but Franko’s central point is well taken: “In this, the Age of the Internet, new music can travel over continents in seconds—why should we ignore good tunes just because they’re not performed in a language we can understand?”
To do our part, we’ve included two songs with non-English lyrics on our downloadable October Utne Reader music sampler: “Culpa de la Luna” by Rupa and the April Fishes, which is in Spanish, and “Surprise Hotel” by Fool’s Gold, which takes the multicultural prize: It’s African-style music played by non-African Los Angelenos and sung in Hebrew by the Israeli-born son of parents from Iraq and Russia. Touché!
Source: World Hum
Image by pocuswhiteface, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 14, 2008 1:52 PM
Marnie Stern, the woman Pitchfork calls the “Sorceress of Shred,” has risen to prominence in part due to the fact that there just aren’t that many women doing what she does: frenetic, virtuosic electric guitar alongside high-strung vocals. This is bad news for gender parity in the world of Awesome Guitar Skillz, but good news for Stern, for she is truly one of a kind.
Since the release of her dizzyingly titled sophomore album This Is It and I Am It and You Are It and So Is That and He Is It and She Is It and It Is It and That Is That, Stern has been garnering a lot of attention, receiving a benediction from Pitchfork, who also showcased her hilarious video “Ruler,” a workout/boxing montage a la Rocky. She also stopped by the University of Minnesota’s Radio K for an in-studio performance last week.
This Is It is definitely worth checking out, but might not be for everyone. Its instrumentation is loud and brittle, comprising Stern’s blistering fretwork and the unconventional percussive grammar of Zach Hill, the drummer for freak-prog outfit Hella. For guitar geeks with eclectic taste and a healthy sense of humor, however, Stern’s high-energy music, her playful videos, and her plans for a rock-festival kissing booth ($100 for “some tongue”) will be a revelation.
Image courtesy of rephlektiv, licensed by Creative Commons.
Monday, October 13, 2008 2:39 PM
Being a music fan and a writer, I am very particular about the music I listen to while writing, and am careful to note which artists and albums are most conducive to a good writing session. (This way, if I get blocked or my prose is lackluster, I can always blame it on the background music.)
It appears I’m not alone; many writers give ample consideration to the relationship between music and their own work, and their musings on the subject are gathered by Largehearted Boy, which stands out from the overpopulated music blogosphere with its thoughtful prose, guest columnists, and mp3 downloads. My favorite department at Largehearted Boy is Book Notes, wherein authors “create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.”
Book Notes includes some big names, like Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Klosterman, who have always made a point of incorporating pop music into their writing. But the roster is dominated by relatively obscure authors and poets (David Breskin, Christina Henriquez, Ander Monson) whose musical tastes are all over the map, from mainstream (The Eagles, Radiohead) to avant-garde (Arvo Part).
There’s also Note Books, which inverts the formula by having indie-rockers write about some of their favorite books. This list includes famously erudite artists like the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, the Jayhawks’ Mark Olson, and John Vanderslice.
(Thanks, Minnesota Reads.)
Image by el monstrito, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008 12:54 PM
Because the Internet inspires encyclopedic research and archiving, it’s no surprise that online repositories like Wikipedia and Usenet have rendered no nugget of knowledge too arcane to be exhaustively catalogued by geeks in every field. This is especially true of music, where mp3s and file-sharing networks have allowed songs and albums to be stored and traded by collectors and connoisseurs.
Now some enterprising music archivists have created the Whitburn Project, an astoundingly ambitious endeavor 10 years in the making whose aim is nothing less than the total documentation of every popular song since the 1890s. It’s more than just a listing of pop charts—release date, label, chart position, duration, etc.—all arrayed in a huge 22-megabyte Excel spreadsheet. It’s also a Usenet-based audio archive collecting audio files of every song. That’s several illegal terabytes of more than 37,000 mp3s.
The value of this information to music critics and scholars is limited only by their imaginations. Andy Baio, who wrote about the Whitburn Project on his blog, published a fun analysis of one-hit wonders and chart longevity based on the data, and made a graph showing how the average length of a pop song has fluctuated over the decades. Meanwhile, the video blog Grabb.it has performed the valuable service of reminding those of us in the MTV Generation what videos we were watching instead of the news when, for example, the Challenger exploded.
This isn’t the first project of its kind (though it's far and away the most audacious). There’s the fun little site that tells you what song was No. 1 on the day you were born. (I’m not sure what cosmic significance there is to mine, which happens to be “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.) Incomplete release data is available on Wikipedia’s Year in Music pages. And Billboard, which owns the rights to chart data, makes it available to the public on a very limited basis, with full charts accessible for a fee.
Which raises the question of legality: The Whitburn Project is breaking copyright laws by making proprietary Billboard chart data available without permission. (This is why the aforementioned blogs, and now this one, won’t post actual links to the project.) But it’s all easily available via Usenet (the pertinent newsgroups are listed in WFMU’s blog entry), so music geeks—and I mean that in the most flattering sense possible, being one myself—should check out this staggering mass of data while it’s still available.
Image by stevecadman, licensed by Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!