The 20 CDs Curated by Steve Jobs and Placed on Prototype iPods (2001)

in Music, Technology | October 27th, 2016

On October 23, 2001, almost exactly 15 years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the very first iPod–an mp3 player, capable of “putting 1,000 songs in your pocket” and playing cd-quality music. A novel concept back then. A product we take for granted today.

Above, you can watch Jobs make the first iPod pitch. And below find a list of the 20 cds that came loaded onto iPod prototypes given to journalists attending the launch event. What better way for them to demo the gadget?

The list comes from Nobuyuki Hayashi, a Japanese reporter, who was there that day. If you know something about Jobs’ musical tastes, you’ll see that he had a strong hand in the curation:

h/t Eli

via Daring Fireball

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Green Day Fan Joins Band On Stage, Takes Over on Guitar, and Acts Like He’s Been There Many Times Before

in Music | October 27th, 2016

At a Green Day concert in Chicago, a fan held up a sign, “I can play every song on Dookie.” So Billie Joe Armstrong let him pop on stage to play “When I Come Around.” And the fan didn’t disappoint, from the moment he climbed on the amp and kicked things off, to his stage dive back into the crowd. The footage was recorded on October 23rd. Enjoy.

h/t Robin – via SFGate

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Leonard Cohen’s New Album, You Want It Darker, Is Streaming Free for a Limited Time

in Music | October 21st, 2016

A quick heads up: Leonard Cohen’s new album You Want It Darker is streaming free online for a limited time, thanks to NPR’s First Listen site. Now 82 years old, and sensing that time is running short, Cohen offers, writes Rolling Stone, a “gift to music lovers: a realistically grim, spiritually radiant and deeply poetic worldview, generally spiked with a romantic thrum and an existential wink.”

Hear the title track above. And stream the complete album right below using NPR’s free stream. Or another one provided by Spotify. You can purchase your own copy of Cohen’s album on Amazon and iTunes.

We’d also encourage you to read this new profile of Cohen, written by The New Yorker‘s long-time editor David Remnick. It’s quite poignant.

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Hear What Homer’s Odyssey Sounded Like When Sung in the Original Ancient Greek

in History, Literature, Music | October 21st, 2016


Image by via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a humanist truism for some time to say that Shakespeare speaks to every age, transcending his time and place through the sheer force of his universal genius. But any honest student first encountering the plays will tell you differently, as will many a seasoned scholar who works hard to place the writer and his work in historical context. Even onetime director of London’s National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner, once said, “I’ll admit that I hardly ever go to a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays without experiencing blind panic during the first five minutes. I sit there thinking… I have no idea what these people are talking about.”

Of course, none of that means we can’t learn to appreciate Shakespeare, and we do not need a graduate-level education to do so. But much of his archaic language and obscure references will always sound foreign to modern ears. How much more so, then, the language of the ancient Greeks, whether in translation or no? Although we’ve also been taught to think of the Homeric epics as containers of universal truth and beauty, the world of Homer was, in many ways, an alien one—and the literature of ancient Greece was far closer to song than even Shakespeare’s musical speeches.

In fact, “before writing was generally known among the Greeks,” the University of Cincinnati notes, “poets recited and sang stories for audiences at the courts of city leaders and at festivals. A poet could actually improvise a tale in the six-beat rhythm of Greek verse if he knew the plot of his story.” We do not know whether Homer was one enterprising scribe or “a group of poets whose works on the theme of Troy were collected” under one name. But in either case, that poet or poets heard the tales of Hector and Achilles, Odysseus and Penelope, and all those meddling gods sung before they wrote them down. Now, thanks to Georg Danek of the University of Vienna and Stefan Hagel of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, we have some idea of what those songs may have sounded like.

“In the course of the last years,” write Danek and Hagel, “we have developed a technique of singing the Homeric epics, which is appropriate for the primarily oral tradition from which these poems emerge.” The two scholars caution that their theoretical recreations are “not to be understood as the exact reconstruction of a given melody, but as an approach to the technique the Homeric singers used to accommodate melodic principles to the demands of the individual verse.” Accompanied by a four-stringed lyre-like instrument called a phorminx, “the Homeric bard” would improvise the “melody at the same time as he improvised his text, which was unique in every performance.” In the audio above, you can hear Danek and Hagel’s melodic recreation of lines 267-366 of book 8 of the Odyssey, in which Demodocus sings about the love of Ares and Aphrodite.

At their site, the two scholars present an abstract of their Homeric singing theory, with musicological and linguistic evidence for the recreation. Their technical criteria will confuse the non-specialist, and none but ancient Greek speakers will understand the recording above. But it brings us a little closer to experiencing Homer’s epic poetry, “the foundation stones of European Literature,” as the ancient Greeks might have experienced it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Meet the Memphis Group, the Bob Dylan-Inspired Designers of David Bowie’s Favorite Furniture

in Design, Music | October 21st, 2016

David Bowie, in his years at Bromley Technical High School before becoming David Bowie, studied not just music but art and design as well. Despite becoming a rock star, he never forgot about the importance of the visual, a sensibility manifest in the performances he put on, the personae he assumed, and the music videos in which he starred right up until his death earlier this year. After his success, the artist also became a full-fledged art connoisseur, and next month Sotheby’s will hold Bowie/Collector, a series of three auctions “encompassing over 350 works from the private collection of the legendary musician.”

The first two auctions will sell Bowie’s modern and contemporary art; the third will focus entirely on his collection of furniture and other pieces of design by Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group. Even if you haven’t heard of the Memphis Group, you’ve certainly seen their furniture. “It’s Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Miami Vice,” in the words of Alissa Walker at Gizmodo. “It’s Saved By The Bell plus Beetlejuice.” As the postmodern wing of the 1980s Art Deco revival, Memphis “combined overtly geometric shapes from a variety of materials in bright, contrasting colors. Graphic patterns — usually black and white — were not unusual.”


Image by Zanone, via Wikimedia Commons

Memphis, whose influence has extended far beyond the movement’s official lifetime of 1981 to 1988, began “when Ettore Sottsass, one of Italy’s architectural grandees, met with a group of younger architects in his apartment on Milan’s Via San Galdino,” according to Design Museum. (Sottass had made his name with, among other things, Olivetti’s bright-red Valentine portable typewriter.) “They were there to discuss Sottsass’ plans to produce a line of furniture with an old friend, Renzo Brugola, owner of a carpentry workshop,” an idea that turned into “an exuberant two-fingered salute to the design establishment after years in which color and decoration had been taboo.”

Why call it Memphis? During the meeting, the group put on Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again),” which gave Sottass the inspiration. “Everyone thought it was a great name,” wrote Memphis member, and later Memphis chronicler, Barbara Radice, with its evocations of “Blues, Tennessee, rock’n’roll, American suburbs, and then Egypt, the Pharoahs’ capital, the holy city of the god, Ptah.” This aesthetic foment eventually produced such items found in the Bowie collection as Michele de Lucchi’s Flamingo side table, Peter Shire’s Bel Air armchair, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s friendly-looking radio-phonograph, and Sottass’ own Carlton room divider, the most popular Memphis object and one still made today.

Always aesthetically polarizing, Memphis has undergone a bit of a revival in recent years: younger designers have looked to the group for ideas, and its surviving members have heard a new call for their special brand of bold colors and striking geometry. In the video at the top of the post, gallerists Leo Koenig, Margaret Liu Clinton, and Joe Sheftel show and tell about Memphis, and in the subsequent videos you can learn more about Sottsass’ life and times and the memories of Memphis designer Mattheo Thun. Call the fruits of the Memphis Group’s labors dated if you like — “it just looks like the 80s,” writes Walker — but they’re dated, like many a Bowie or Dylan record, in the best way: undeniably time-stamped, yet somehow always fresh.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Jimi Hendrix Plays “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for The Beatles, Just Three Days After the Album’s Release (1967)

in Music | October 20th, 2016

There are many ways to celebrate a new album from a band you admire. You can have a listening party alone. You can have a listening party with friends. You can learn the title track in a couple days and play it onstage while the band you admire sits in the audience. That last one might be overkill. Unless you’re Jimi Hendrix.

Hendrix was so excited after the UK release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 that he opened a set at London’s Saville Theater with his own, Hendrix-ified rendition of the album’s McCartney-penned title song. In the audience: McCartney and George Harrison.

It’s a loose, good-natured tribute that, as you might imagine, made quite an impression on the Beatles in attendance. “It’s still obviously a shining memory for me,” McCartney recalled many years later, “because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished.”

To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you’d put it in, but he just opened with it. It’s a pretty major compliment in anyone’s book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career.

McCartney frequently reminisces about that night. See him do so in the clip above from an August, 2010 concert. Macca gushes over Hendrix’s solo, then tells the audience how Jimi—having thrown his guitar out of tune during the solo with his whammy bar dive-bombing—asked Eric Clapton to come onstage and retune for him. Clapton, who McCartney says was actually in the audience, demurred. It’s a story he continues to tell–in fact, as recently as this weekend at Oldchella.

One lingering question is whether or not Hendrix knew there were Beatles present that night. NME and the BBC both say he did not. In a recreation of the moment, above, from the 2013 fictionalized biopic Jimi: All is by My Side, Hendrix (played by André Benjamin) knows. Not only that, but he decides to open with “Sgt. Pepper’s” right before the gig, with no rehearsal, over the strenuous objections of Noel Redding, who thinks the Beatles might be insulted. It’s highly doubtful things went down that way at all. (The scene takes other licenses—note the Flying V instead of the white Stratocaster Hendrix actually played). But it makes for some interesting backstage drama in the film.

In any case, I’d guess that Hendrix—“the coolest guy in the world,” as Benjamin called him—would have pulled off the cover with panache, whether he knew McCartney was watching or not. There may be little left to say about Hendrix’s brilliant guitar theatrics, completely innovative playing style, onstage swagger, and powerful songwriting. But his “Sgt. Pepper’s” cover is an example of one of his less-discussed, but highly admirable qualities: his genuinely awesome rock and roll collegiality.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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The 4’33” App Lets You Create Your Own Version of John Cage’s Classic Work

in Music | October 20th, 2016


Image via iTunes

John Cage’s 4’33” is one of the most infamous works of the 20th century and which still has the ability to divide people. Three movements of silence, where the performer does nothing, it forces the audience to listen to its surroundings and be present, a distillation of zen thought if there ever was one. In an increasingly distracted age, being silent and present is very difficult for most people. A Mental Floss article on the piece’s legacy referenced a 2014 University of Virginia study where hundreds of people sat in silence for a total of 15 minutes. “25 percent of women and 67 percent of men opted to endure painful electric shocks rather than pass the time without any stimulation,” says the article.

Two years ago, the John Cage Trust launched the 4’33” app, which sounds counterintuitive. How can a phone app make one present?

Well, it doesn’t exactly do that. Instead, it offers a chance for members to record and share their own “performances” of Cage’s famous piece, once again demonstrating Cage’s result-—there is no real silence. (Even in 1951, one year before 4’33”’s composition, when Cage sat in a sound deadening anechoic chamber in Harvard, he could still hear the blood rushing in his veins.)


The iPhone app, which costs 99 cents, is simple and comes with a recording of the piece from John Cage’s New York apartment, which highlights the traffic sounds and police sirens. Tap on the “World of 4’33”” button at the bottom and a world map opens, showing green pushpins in various locations where users recorded their own moments of silence. (The project is similar to the 2008 internet project of field recordings, “One Minute Vacation”).

One user’s Kaloli, Hawaii recording is all tropical insects and birds busy composing their own music. The one somebody recorded downtown in my home city is of our shopping mall at Christmas, with pedestrians, far off carols, and the sounds of commerce. In Japan, there’s a lovely recording of Chitose airport, especially if you find echoey tannoy announcements romantic (I do). From urban to suburban to countryside, this is a portrait of a world that is never silent.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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The Life & Times of Donald J. Trump: A Feature Film Set to Pink Floyd’s The Wall

in Music, Politics | October 18th, 2016

On Sunday night, Roger Waters made his feelings for Donald Trump plenty clear before a crowd of 80,000 at Desert Trip (aka Oldchella). A giant pig, emblazoned with the words “Divided We Fall,” hovered over the concertgoers. The words “Trump is a Pig” flashed on a screen a football field-wide. As did some pretty unflattering images (my pix) of the divisive candidate. You can watch the scene play out below.

When I got home from the show, somewhere around 2 am, the video above was waiting in my inbox. “Here’s Donald Trump’s The Wall, a brand new feature film covering the life and times of Donald J. Trump set to the album The Wall by Pink Floyd.” I took it as a sign from the political gods.

If you’re a regular OC reader, you know that mashup artists regularly turn to Pink Floyd for their soundtracks. Remember Dark Side of the Rainbow, where Pink Floyd scores The Wizard of Oz?  This time around, the 1979 concept album The Wall provides the musical accompaniment. It’s not a random pick, of course, seeing that Donald has promised to wall off America from the rest of the world.

To see a list of the songs that make up the soundtrack, click here.

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Hear Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies & Ballets in a Complete, 32-Hour, Chronological Playlist

in Music | October 18th, 2016

Those who know the work of Igor Stravinsky will be familiar with the reception the Russian composer’s The Rite of Spring received during its first performance in Paris in 1913. The typical description for what happened is that the ballet caused a “riot,” though given our usual associations with that word, it hardly seems like the appropriate term. As The Telegraph’s Ivan Hewett notes, the responses, though bemused and irate, were genteel by most standards of civil unrest. But there was violence and the threat of violence.

According to a member of the orchestra, “many a gentleman’s shiny top hat or soft fedora was ignominiously pulled down by an opponent over his eyes and ears, and canes were brandished like menacing implements of combat all over the theatre.” What could cause such a scandal? Hearing the piece, above, it’s perhaps not obvious why “people started to whisper and joke almost immediately.” Both Stravinsky and Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev sought to provoke the audience, but both were taken aback by the vehemence of the reactions. As audience members began to shout, “I left the hall in a rage,” Stravinsky later wrote. “I have never again been that angry.”

Of course, the music alone, without Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography, only gives us half the story. Onstage, writes Hewitt, “there’s no sign that any of the creatures in the Rite of Spring has a soul, and there’s certainly no sense of a recognizable human culture. The dancers are like automata.” And yet, Stravinsky seems to have intended his music to alienate listeners as well: “there are simply no regions for soul-searching,” he said, “in The Rite of Spring.” It’s a comment that succinctly sums up the composer’s iconoclasm and defiance of sacred musical norms.

Stravinsky’s first ballet, 1910’s The Firebird, followed Debussy in recuperating the so-called “Devil’s Interval,” a tonal figure avoided for hundreds of years in religious music for its sinister sound. But The Firebird’s exotic beauty charmed audiences, as did his next ballet Petrushka.  And despite the Rite of Spring controversy, many of Stravinsky’s symphonies are quite traditional next to the avant-gardism of his peers. His tendencies of “regression and restauration,” writes classical site CMUSE, “an amalgam of the archaic and the modern,” caused Theodor Adorno to describe Stravinsky as schizophrenic in Philosophy of Modern Music.

Unlike his modernist rival Arnold Schoenberg, Stravinsky is “in the same category as T.S. Eliot, as both were well-versed in literary/musical tradition and well aware of the current avant-garde movements, but maintained quite a conservative approach to novelty.” Stravinsky’s conservative modernism had a profound effect on another form of 20th century music that looked both backward and forward: jazz. Artists like Charlie Parker paid tribute to him, and the composer very much appreciated it. “This cat,” said Parker, “he’s kind of cool, you know.”

In the chronological playlist above from Ulysses Classical, hear the early symphonies and sonatas that inspired Diaghilev to hire him as the Ballets Russes first composer, and many of the ballets that enraged the Parisian elite, delighted Charlie Parker, and repelled Adorno. And find out why, as CMUSE argues, Stravinsky may be “the greatest composer of the 20th century.”

The playlist runs 32 hours. If you need Spotify’s software, download it here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Watch a 27-Year-Old Glenn Gould Play Bach & Put His Musical Genius on Display (1959)

in Music | October 17th, 2016

Glenn Gould died young, in 1982 at the age of 50, but the Canadian classical pianist made great contributions to the world of music in his short life. He did it in part by starting young — so young, in fact, that he first felt the vibrations of music played for him while still in the womb by his mother. She’d decided even then to raise a successful musician, and her plan surely worked better than she could ever have expected. Young Glenn had perfect pitch, learned to read notes before he learned to read words, entered Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music at age ten, and grew into the very archetypal image of a musical genius: eccentric and often difficult, but possessed of almost otherworldly skill and distinctiveness.

Those qualities came out nowhere more clearly than in Gould’s relationship with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, whom he described as “beyond a doubt the greatest architect of sound who ever lived.” Even listeners only casually acquainted with Gould’s work will know his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the first of which, recorded in 1955, shot him to stardom and became one of the best-selling classical albums of all time.

Four years after that, the National Film Board of Canada documentary Off the Record, just above, captured his playing on film in the clips at the top of the post. “When Gould is not on tour or recording,” he spends most of his time at his retreat, a cottage on the Shore of Lake Simcoe 90 miles north of Toronto. Here he works on the piano he favors above all others for practicing: a 70-year-old Chickering with a resonant, harpsichord quality recalling the instruments of the time of Bach.”

There, in that cottage in the small community of Uptergrove, we see the 27-year-old Gould play Bach’s Partita No. 2, vocalizing along with the distinctive mix of forcefulness and delicacy issuing from the instrument that he never chose, but mastered to a degree few had before or have since. “His ambition,” the narrator says, “is to make enough money by the time he is 35 to retire from the concert stage and devote himself to composing.” In fact Gould put live performance behind him just five years later in order to pursue with more focus his own kind of pianistic perfection, which he continued to do for the rest of his life.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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