Saturday, April 30, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: Summer’s Cauldron

XTC: Summer‘s Cauldron


In nature, crickets and birds do not chirp precisely on the beat. That they do here is most likely the fault of producer Todd Rundgren. This approach to music making perfectly fits this paean to the natural world. Elsewhere on the album Skylarking, Rundgren’s production gets a little heavy-handed for my taste. But here on the song that opens the album, everything works just right.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: If You Were Here

Poe: If You Were Here


Imagine, if you will, having your beloved father pass away and having dreams of him telling you "you're forgetting my voice" which makes you go searching for old answering machine tapes that might have that voice on it. But instead, what you find are long lost recordings of letters he had written to you when you were very young. A voice from the grave.

That is what happened as Poe, aka Annie Danielewski, was embarking on writing her sophomore album. This album, "Haunted" is littered with recordings of her father and of her own voice on answer machines and these (quite literally) "found" sounds make an album which promised to be something emotional and rich into something heart-wrenching and breath-taking. This same occurrence was shared by her brother, author Mark Danielewski who was also inspired and wrote his novel "House of Leaves". Poe's "Haunted" also works as a sort of soundtrack to her brother's novel.

The song I chose is the album's closer, which, like the moral of the story, finds redemption and release for the character of the story and album and for Poe herself as she says her final farewell to her father as an adult and a child, and he answers her via his tapes from the grave.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: What The World Needs Now/Abraham, Martin, & John

Tom Clay: What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin and John


Few top 10 hits have featured live recordings of murder. This peace anthem, released on Motown subsidiary MoWest and a #8 US hit in 1971, includes the live coverage of John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and, chillingly, the sound of Robert Kennedy being murdered in 1968, including his last, optimistic words. All that, plus Ted Kennedy’s tear-choked eulogy at Bobby’s funeral and Martin Luther King’s poignant words in his last speech before he was gunned down in Memphis, is interspersed with army drill singing (the “I don’t know what I believe” stuff), and, framing the whole thing, a rather affecting interview with a child about definitions of such terms as bigotry and prejudice.

With all that, it matters little that the covers of Bacharach/David’s What The World Needs Now Is Love and Dion’s overly sentimental Abraham, Martin & John – performed by session band The Blackberries – are rather cheesy. Actually, the way The Blackberries launch into What The World Needs Now after the Ted speech compensates for the cheesiness.

Tom Clay, it seems, was a bit of an operator. In the 1950s, he was one of the radio DJs nabbed in the payola scandal (which was really an attack on rock & roll, rather than a fortification of ethical principles). At the height of Beatlemania, Clay cashed in on having interviewed the Fab Four by launching a Beatles Booster Club, which offered in exchange for a fee of a dollar an item used by the Beatles. Clay got 80,000 payments of a dollar. Allegedly, not everybody got the promised Beatles item, and the few who did received stuff like used tissues and cigarette butts.

Clay died in 1995 at the age of 66.

Samples and Found Sounds: One in Ten

808 State: One in Ten


This is not the post I set out to do. It’s all the fault of a reader named Leopold Stotch. Two years ago, Stotch left a comment on one of my posts. It was the second part of my survey of polyrhythm, from Tricky Beats week. I had posted Help Me Somebody, by Brian Eno and David Byrne. Byrne and Eno had created an entire album of music built around samples of talk shows, radio preachers, and other spoken word found sounds. Stotch, in his comment, let me know that some of this music was sampled in turn by a group called 808 State. In checking them out, I found One in Ten.

One in Ten is technically a remix, but I really don’t like the term. It is built on a snippet of a recognizable song, but the resulting work is something new entirely. This one takes as its starting point the old UB40 song One in Ten. I suspect that the 808 State song also contains other samples that I don’t recognize. I still love the original UB40 song, but I find 808 State’s take off from it fascinating.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: AM Radio

Everclear - AM_Radio

Everclear: AM Radio


This 2000 ode to the glories of AM radio (back when it actually featured music you wanted to hear) starts with a radio announcer from LA station KHJ, followed by the intro to Jean Knight's Mr. Big Stuff. There's a bonus TV laugh track in the middle, too.

If you're as old as Everclear vocalist Art Alexakis (and me), you'll get the lyrics to this song right away.

I'd be in bed with the radio on
I would listen to it all night long just to hear my favorite song
You'd have to wait 'til you could hear it on the AM radio…

Do you remember that sinking feeling when you turned on the radio just to hear the final chords of your favorite song you'd usually wait hours to hear…which meant you wouldn't hear it again for a while. I remember getting a little portable tape recorder and pressing the microphone to the AM radio speaker to capture that horrible, tinny sound just for the pleasure of The Monkees music on demand.

I know I too often don't appreciate the instant access of nearly any song nowadays. Look here, you can just click that little arrow in this post and hear AM Radio instantly! Enjoy…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Samples and Found Sounds: It's Only Natural

Crowded House: It's Only Natural


Surely, there are choices of more obvious and consistent substance for this week's theme - songs which utilize found sound throughout, and depend on them to carry the tone of a musical piece. But let us not underestimate the establishment of that tone, as evidenced here in the madcap, cartoonish, don't-blink-you'll-miss-it found sound collage which kicks off my favorite "guilty pleasure" Crowded House single, released as the last of five charting singles for Woodface (1991), a critical and popular success and the first and only Crowded House album to feature songwriter and band founder Neil Finn's brother Tim, who had previously worked with him for decades in Split Enz. The breezy artpop which follows is all the more perfect for having emerged from such a short, sweet cacophony.

Earth Day = > Samples and Found Sounds: Some Houses

Billy Jonas: Some Houses


In our journey through Samples and Found Sounds, we will be hearing plenty of music that uses electronically sampled sounds. But I want to start off with found sounds, specifically home made instruments. I can think of no better example of that than the music of Billy Jonas. In Some Houses, Billy Jonas takes the listener through a list of various materials that a house might be made of. But, in the end, Jonas reminds us that our most important home is this planet. Listen closely, and you will notice that the percussion in each verse corresponds to the material that house is made of. Most of the instruments used will not sound familiar; Jonas uses a percussion kit made of common household items. So there are pot lids and trash can lids, even a bicycle horn, but nothing you would normally think of as a musical instrument. All of this could be put together with samplers, but Jonas plays all of these instruments in real time. This makes his live performances wonderous events. Try to sit where you have a good view.