Thomas Dolby: The Earth is flat

I wanted to post something about Thomas Dolby for some time (after I borrowed the title for this entry). But now I was beaten to it by the mighty Popdose.
Anyway, this is no contest and Thomas Dolby is hardly suffering from over-exposure, so here is my favourite Dolby song:
The Flat Earth.

Like many productions from the mid-eighties it relies heavily on the Fairlight. But while most albums from this era suffer from a sterile, dated and generic sound, the seven songs on "The Flat Earth" are not dated at all. The production is lush, multilayered and transparent. Like its predecessor its a pretty grown-up album. Pretty impressive if you consider that Dolby was only 23 when he made it.

The first video shows Thomas talking to his audience about his past as an 80s star and his involvement with Trevor Horn (and his fuck-off-Joe-90-glasses). The second video is an amazing live version of "The flat earth", which he builds from scratch on stage. And yes, he looks a bit like Bruce Willis.


The Flat Earth:

More Dolby on his website.
The mugs are on sale here.

Click & Stick

Are you fed up that you never find your USB cable to hook up your camera-(phone) to your computer? Life is hard these days! But cheer up and get "Eazzzy", a slick USB digital camera! Just take your pictures and stick the tiny camera into your computer.:No strings attached...

The idea and design is by Sung Woo Park, who has more brilliantly simple ideas in store. I have no idea if some of the stuff he invents is already in production or if its just a study.


Uptown Top Ranking: In memoriam Joe Gibbs

When Joe Gibbs began to sell records in his TV repair shop in Kingston he did not know that this would change his life completely. He soon got a simple two-track recorder and in 1967 he started to record the local talent in the back of his shop.

From then on he would become one of the most influential producers of jamaican music which evolved from Ska to Rock-Steady and finally to Reggae.

Ten years later his productions would become a big influence on the emerging punk scene and in 1978 he produced the number one hit "Uptown Top Raning" by Althea & Donna. To this day I have never met anyone who doesn´t like this bizzare one-hit wonder.

Althea & Donna: Uptown Top Ranking
"Uptown Top Ranking" is one of those songs that used an already well known riddim which was (and still is) recycled every now and then.
Originally it was the music for "I am still in love" by Alton Ellis. It was later used by Marcia Aitken as "I´m sill in love with you boy". Recently the riddim was used in its entirety or as a sample by many producers.

Sadly, jamaican music (and Jamaica) has recently got a very bad reputation because of raging homophobia and gay-bashing. While some of the music that was released during the last ten years is downright disgusting in its hate for the so called "Batty Men" it should not be forgotten that especially in its formative years some Ska and Rock-Steady tunes were the most original music ever made.

Here is Big Youth with "Last train to Rhodesia".
He also worked with Joe Gibbs and his style was a mixture of upbeat music with social conscious lyrics.

Joe Gibbs died aged 65 one week ago.

These rocks...

have neither fallen from the sky nor have they been excavated out of the ground. No apes are running around and touching them either. This sci-fi fortress is actually the cultural center of Santiago Domingo, Colombia. Architect Giancarlo Mazzanti has really turned our expectations of the proper use of glass, steel and stone upside down with this one.

At first these three brutal blocks look alien, disfunctional and foreboding. But at second glance there is this strange draw that forces us to go near and explore it. And is there a better way to encourage visitors to go inside than to build something that does not give the impression of owneship and the need to show-off?
The often attempted "merging" of technology and nature is captured in a baffling way. This is no pseudo-organic blob which tries to wear its conciousness and intention on its sleeves. Those three rocks appear to be "made" but they don´t give away by whom, why and when. Time just bounces off its sleek outline. This is truly timeless architecture.

A bit dissapointed I must say that the interior appears to be far more conventional and a product of its time: wide, open and light, it could be a bank, a nightclub, an airport or a cultural center.

Say: Freeze!

New York based Improv Everywhere have already accomplished over 70 "missions" in which they are performing improvised performances with hundreds of "agents".

Before you think: "Oh, more "FlashMob", snore..." check out their "Frozen Grand Central"-Improvisation. Here they got more than 200 people "freezing" at exactly the same time for five minutes. Its a wonderfull and touching experiment.

I don´t know how much press coverage this got (and seeing that it already has over 6 million views on youtube, it was probably a lot) but this is such a wonderfully executed prank, I had to watch it several times!

For a "making of" click this.


Funtopia pt. 3: Coney Island & Glen Echo Park in high-resolution

Step right up!

Coney Island must have once been the most amazing place on the planet. A century ago the countless electric lights, the whacky architecture and the daring and dizzying machines must have filled the audience with awe and wonder.

The spectacular thing about these pictures is not exactly what they show, but how they show it. These are photos from 35mm nitrate or glass negatives. Besides having the sepia tilted tone, they are incredibly sharp and detailed. Click on the picture for full size and marvel at the depths and details:
Above shows Coney Islands Luna Park in 1913. The ride on the left was called "The Frolic". (click pic to maximize!)

Note the people sitting on feeble stairs in the middle of the picture? This is not a café but a ride called "The Teaser". The photo was taken in Luna Park in 1911. (click pic to maximize!)

A look down Surf Avenue in 1913 (click pic to maximize!)

One of many fires that devastated Coney´s amusement parks destroyed Dreamland in 1911. (click pic to maximize!)

Here are a few photos of Glen Echo Park, Maryland in the 1920s. (click pics to maximize!)

Glen Echo Park was one of the typical american trolley parks. Built at the end of trolley or bus lines, they blossomed during the first half of the 20th century. When race-segregation finally crumbled during the sixties, many parks were abandoned by the white population. By the end of the sixties many of the trolley parks closed indefinately.

The last picture is a snapshot from the Delta County Fair, Colorado in 1940, taken in glorious Kodachrome. (click pic to maximize!)
I found these pics on the wonderful photo site Shorpy the-100-year-old-photo-blog. This blog is full of hundreds of high-resolution historical photos. Highly recommended!

Harmonic 313: Speak & Spell & Solve & Click

These days you have to work for your free-promo-mp3-download.

If you, like me, can´t get enough of rapless electro hip-hop with Detroit influences you need to solve five mildly stupid problems on the Harmonic 313 website before you can download the track "Solve it".

Thanks to the always charming "Speak and Spell"-robovoice and some infectious groove, the mini game is almost entertaining.

The free track sounds like a vintage arcade-game playing a dub-step tune. Listen for yourself and see if you want to play the game to get it:

If Harmonic 313 sounds a bit familiar, but you thought you got the numbers wrong: You´re right (and wrong).
Harmonic 313 is a solo off-shoot of Harmonic 33, an instrumental exotica hip-hop duo consisting of Mark Pritchard and Dave Brinkworth.

They have released two very nice albums on Warp records, who now are also releasing the Detroit-esque (hence the 313 area-code, I guess!?) Harmonic 313 e.p "EP 1". It is limited to "only" 2000 units! But I guess the latest U2 record won´t sell much more hardware. Confused by the numbers? Wait till you play the game on the website and study the colour-code credits on the record sleeve. Nerds!

"Harmonicat"-Mark Pritchard also used to work with Tom Middleton on some groundbreaking electronic music as Global Communication, Reload, Link, Jedi Knights and much more.


Isolee: Beau mot plage...and before

There is a moment in Kraftwerks "It´s more fun to compute", when the sequencers and delays are playing in such perfect precission and harmony with each other that the whole sound seems to leave the basic song and takes on a life of its own.
Sadly this exstatic moment kicks in 20 seconds before the song -and with it the mammoth "Computerwelt" album- ends.
I always wanted this moment to go on for at least a few more minutes. Where is the 12" mix when you need one?

When I heard "Beau mot plage" by Frankfurt based musician Rajko Müller, aka Isolee, I suddenly thought that somebody had the same idea and extended this one moment into a whole song.

In fact, "Beau mot plage", does not sound as sequenced and controlled as "...more fun to compute". It has a disctinct "live" sound as if the sequencer, the drum machine and the backwards guitar are not quite in sync. After the track plays out long enough the effect is similar to that moment in the Kraftwerk song.
The whole song dissolves into sound and rhythm, simply reverberating around ist basic structure.

The video is definately not a masterpiece, but I like the goofiness and the lazy, stoned escalator groove of the whole thing.

"Beau mot plage" reminds me of another lost classic of german minimalism: Rheingolds "Dreiklangsdimensionen" (Triad dimensions). It became a big european hit around 81/82. Like Kraftwerk, Rheingold came from Düsseldorf and they were trying to create a new, modern sound.
Listen to the minimal rhythm and the wonderful machine-like guitar. It has a very airy and flowing sound. After years of Kraut-noodling, Germany finally found a way to produce proper popmusic, which dared to explore german lyrics without stepping into the "Schlager"-trap. It wouldn´t last too long.

Pseudo Psycho

What to do, when you don´t have any original ideas but a big budget and a glossy magazine to fill? Why not copy and re-stage some famous film scenes? Scenes, so iconic and part of the shared unconsciusness of every 20th century movie-goer that its hard to fathom that they were all dreamed up by the same person: Alfred Hitchcock.

So Vanity Fair called up a bunch of famous actors who were certainly thankful for the free publicity, hired the creme de la creme of make-up artists, costume- and set designers...threw everything together and released it in their so-called "Hollywood Edition".

The finished photos are a strange mix of an overblown, failed attempt at camp, mis-casting and empty gloss. In other words: they´re incredibly funny!

The best idea and execution by a long shot is the "split screen" Psycho re-enacting with fresh Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as the showering corpse.

But things are quickly getting bizzare with Jodie Hedren as Tippie Foster in "The Birds"?

Seth Rogen as Cary Grant stand-in is nothing but a plane crash

Guess: Joan Crawford back from the dead? A doctored Glenn Close? Or Rene Zellweger after a long night? One could get Vertigo!

A "behind the scenes"-story, which explains some of the excesses of this production, can be found at Vanity Fair.

Watch the whole photo-spread here.

"The music from the balconies"
Painting by Edward Ruscha, 1984.

An exhibition of Ruscha's paintings will be on view at Gagosian Gallery's Brittania Street location in London from February 5-March 15, 2008. A major retrospective will open at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2009.

The quote Ruscha used for this oil on canvas painting is taken from the novel "High-rise" by J.G. Ballard.


Mark Stewart about the new Portishead album "Third"

Mark Stewart talks about the new Portishead album "Third", which will be released in late april, here.

According to Stewart the album, which will be the first Portishead release in ten years, uses influences from funk, prog-rock and John Carpenter-esque film music and is decidedly different from their first two albums which defined a big part of the nineties.

Jam on it! The beat that won´t be beaten!

"The Face", May 1984, designed by Neville Brody.
Newcleus "Jam on it". The clarity and sharpness of the sounds rock me everytime.


Adriano Celentano: How he invented Hip-Hop (!?)

Allright, here is another post celebrating Italy´s contribution to pop music.

My mother fell in love with everything italian when she returned from her first trip to the boot-shaped country as a teenager. One of the better musical imports she brought to the stereo was Adriano Celentano.
Forget for a moment his horrible films from the eighties and some of the mediocre songs he did.

Despite all of this, Celentano is a superhero! Yes, a superhero!

Not only did he sing "Azzurro", a global consens hit that could end wars if everybody would sing it unisono, he also invented Hip-Hop sometime in 1972!

I present: Evidence A: Prisencolinensinaincusol!

Just listen to this incredible bottom heavy drum-"loop", the chunky brass and grinding bass. Its the most hypnotic, get-down-to-it-groove this side of James Brown.
On top of this Adriano raps a string of gibberish that mocks italians singing english tunes without getting the words. Its a whole song of "mondegreens" (mis-understood lyrics).

Now, if that song wasn´t enough to convince you, look at the video! Just Look at it!!!

I must honestly say that this is one of the best performances set to music I have ever seen! This is everything Gondry, Madonna and Riverdance ever did rolled into 3:30 minutes of AWESOME!

What seems like a set of dozens of dancers is in fact only a handful of people cleverly sandwiched between mirrors and cameras. On top of this you have Celentano dancing like they injected the groove into his veins, and his host Raffaela Carra is shaking her bits to the hits as if her life depended on it. If you wonder why nobody is watching TV anymore, now you know why!

Evidence B-Z: He turned 70 last january, recently released his 56th album, began his musical carreer 50 years ago, his first movie-appearance was in Fellinis "La Dolce Vita" and "Azzurro" was voted the most famous and beloved italian song ever outside of Italy.

I rest my case!

If someone would tell me, that he also invented rock´n roll, I think I would believe him.


Break my heart at the FUNPLEX! The B-52s are back!

After only 16 years the B-52s are about to release a new album called "Funplex"!
The single of the same name is donwnloadble now and can be heard on their MySpace site.

Its amazingly good and astonishingly nothing new (or vice versa).

Upon first listen you are back in B-52-land: Shopping malls, diet pills, taco-tiki-huts and wonderbras are the buzzwords. The sound harks back to their early days. There are fuzzy guitars, drum machines and the typical party-wall-of-sound in the background.

Finally, both Kate and Cindy are back together. Even a duller B-52 song gets catapulted into the ionosphere with the B-girls singing their outlandish harmonies.

As annoying "Love Shack" sounds today due to overplay and bad memories of drunken yuppie assholes at yuppie weddings, it was one of the last great pop records to emerge from the USA before grunge levelled everything. But this is really not the bands fault.

They are still one of the best bands in the world and I am happy to have them back! And don´t they look smashing these days!?
Strangely enough, my favourite 52-album is "Whammy" which is certainly not the best in their discography. But any record that begins with an ode to counterfeiting and the words "We are in the basement, learning to print" is gold in my book!

I remember seeing them live for the first time around this release. It was one of the first concerts I went to and the opening "Song for a future generation" is still one of my dearest memory of any live show I have ever seen.

To the simple riff of a drum machine the band members appeared one by one and told us what they wanted their life to be.

Anyway, its great that they are back. This could be one of the comebacks that are not doomed to fail or fall into obscurity like so many others.

The sound of today is very much the sound of the B-52s in 1979. I don´t know if this is good or bad, but hey:They wanna be the rulers of the galaxy, the first ladies of infinity and the nicest guys on earth!

Lets meet and have a baby now!

Here they are with the late Ricky who loved computers and hot tamales.

Mind the chair - You don´t see with your eyes, you see with your brain

Biomedical engineer Paul Bach y Rita devoted his work and research to the field of sensory substitution when his father suffered a stroke. He set up a rehabilitation center and nursed his father to full recovery. During his researches he found out that brain functions are flexible and not hard-wired.
This opened the door to help blind people to navigate hallways and finally he developed devices that deliver sensory information to the brain through a helmet by electrodes and solenoids.

In 1969 he put a set of electromagnetic solenoids in the back of a dentist chair, connected them to a camera and made people who sat down on "see" the pictures from the camera.

Bach y RIta died in 2006 and now designers Beta Tank and Peter Marigold have revived this idea.
They have constructed their prototype mind chair "the Polyprop" which looks like simple chair with an interesiting inner life.

A set of 400 solenoids is built into the back. When connected to a camera the visuals will be transformed and the person that sits on the chair will be able to "see" the image.

Sounds magical!

While the beneficial exploits for blind people are great, I can´t shake the feeling that the entertainmet and marketing industry and...the military are slobbering over all the possibilities of selling us stuff via our backs.

One one hand its a nice touch that todays designers have managed to fit the technique into a small, ordinary chair. The prototype from the 60s looked freakishly like a torture device. On the other hand: Aren´t all dentist chairs torture devices and is the fact that we can have this technology in any ordinary bus chair much more disquieting?

In the end, I would rather prefer to have mental images of lush, green hills played into my nervous system while sweating at the dentists...as long as they don´t feed you a trailer for "Saw 5".

The mind chair will be on display at the MoMa´s Design and the elastic mind exhibition from February 24 - May 12

Is this too good to be true or just a hype like all the 20 year old promises of virtual reality?

Parole Parole Paroles Paroles

Escaping the radio was impossible when I grew up in Germany during the seventies. I had a radio alarm clock which would mostly end my dreams with some horrible MOR-rock, jazz noodling or some inane Schlager.

Driving around with my parents would also mean that I could not escape the radio brainwashing for hours. While we had a cassette player in the car, my parents were not really thrilled to play my tapes which were full of my latest self-made 20-minute-extended-versions of "Funky Town" and "Heart of Glass".
But every now and then a strange, haunting song would ooze through the aural mud. Without understaning a single word it would somehow find its way directly into my subconciousness and drip its obscure message back into my mind.

One of those songs was the enigmatic "Paroles Paroles" in which a husky female voice sang her lonely melody while a man talked to her inbetween. He seemed to plead and beg to her in a very dramatic and passionate way, while she just kept on singing.
He didn´t even stop asking her to listen when she burst into the climatic, goosebump inducing chorus.
The incredible tension between the two was almost tangible. Even without getting the words and still being unaware of the whole concept of love, I knew that something really substantial was going on between those two.

"Paroles" was sung by French superstars Dalida and Alain Delon. For a long time I thought it was the original version. Dalida even recorded a german version of the song called "Worte". But the full magic of the song somehow transcended in the french language only.

Somehow her voice is full of such a profound sadness that listening to the song brought me close to tears even before I knew anything about the terribly sad story of Dalida. When she recorded the song in 1973 she had already gone through a personal hell. It became a huge hit all over Europe, Canada and Japan.

However, "Paroles, Paroles" was actually the french version of the italian original "Parole Parole" which was recorded a year earlier by Mina & A. Lupo.

While both languages are very melodic, I prefer the french version as it sounds more intimate and gripping.
Alain Delons delivery is more whispered and dreamy. He appears to have accepted the distance between him and her and he is passionate but sad that his words are not reaching her.

A. Lupo on the other hand seems to be much more aggressive. Sometimes during the song you can actually feel a menacing streak in his voice as if he is about to slap her at any moment. The visual presentation of the italian show, which is posted below, shows a strong woman that actually mocks the guy who is shouting into her ear. She shrugs him off with a knwowing laugh.

At the end of both versions the men seem to realize that they have failed. Their pleads are getting weaker and their voices soften, while the female voice keeps singing her melody completely unfazed and unresolved.
She has long realized that all the sweettalk is just empty words and she is not going to fall for them anymore.

The great climax of the song is the absence of a climax.
The rules of pop music would have demanded at least a finale in which both singers would belt out the chorus together. But this would have destroyed the song completely.

The wonderful thing about "Parole" is that it tells a story which transcends in any language. Its a story of failed communication, the meaning of words and the lack thereof.
You don´t have to understand one word of it, but you will get the meaning by simply listening.

This is from an italian TV-show and -like the song- the direction is amazing in its slight creepiness.


How to get THINNER for free

One of the first netlabels that offers its output for free under the creative commons license has recently put its 100th release online! To download! For free!
Frankfurt/Main based Thinner Netlabel started its operations in 1998. Since then they have released an astonishing output of dub techno, dub-tronica, ambient and minimal house-permutations. With a strong emphasis on dub and ambient aesthetics, the label offers only high quality releases complete with full colour covers (which are featured as lovely animated flash covers on their website).

Many of the featured artists are also releasing on record-labels, but they all come back to contribute to thinner.
Since most small niche indie labels are hardly making any money with physical releases anyway, the idea to start a proper label with high quality control on a free-download basis, seems to be a logical step.

While the early releases were clearly inspired by the neo-dub of Basic Channel, the recent releases have taken more free floating approach.
The typical thinner sound is 100% digital but always attempts to sound warm and organic.

My favourtite release is Canadian act Deluge with Departure in affection and new noise. Its a whole 10 track album full of nicely pulsating ambient beauty. Especially the opening track "Departure" sounds like you are floating through an airport lounge on a bed of whispering voices.

Fellow Canadian Paul Keeley is another creator of increcibly transparent, spacious music that comes close to transcient pop music. "Smynk" and "Bumper" from his Essex Blue ep with their cut up voice fragments are just fantastic.

For a great overview I recommend the label compilations I like to listen and 100 which celebrates the 100th release.

There are also two full mixes available. One features the ambient side of the label, the other focusses on their minimal techno dub. Available for streaming or download on the bottom of this page.


"La Jetee" vs. "Dancerama"

Chris Markers great short film "La Jetee", which he composed entirely out of b/w still-photos in 1962 has become some sort of holy grail of intelligent sci-fi cinema.

The haunting and beautiful story of a boy whose memory is obsessed with a picture of a falling man and the face of a woman on the pier of Orly Airport which he visited with his parents shortly before WW3 broke out, is a remarkable excercise in imaginative storytelling.

Inspired by Hitchcocks twisted masterpiece "Vertigo", "La Jetee" inspired virtually every film that deals with time travel and the time-space paradoxon.

"12 Monkeys" credits "La Jetee" in the opening titles and is a blown up remake. "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" gives a referrence and even stuff like "The Jacket" makes use of Markers ideas.

Being such an influence on so many movies, the stylised and stylish film should have had an impact on musicians too.

And it did! Who would be the first choice to make a stylish black and white, pseudo still-shot video that ripps off the visual ideas of Marker? Who else but Sigue Sigue Sputnik!
Yes, the band that was promising the pop-world that they were ahead of their time, while at the same time using ideas of the past.

When the sonic boom of their Moroder produced debut album was fading, SSS needed to come up with something that would make people listening through the heavy backlash of a hype machine that had turned against them.Sadly their follow up "Dress for Success" which even bore the subtitle "This time its music" was neither one or the other.

The "La Jetee"-video is the official promo to one of their last singles. It sounds like it should be their version of Suidide´s "Dream Baby Dream". But it isn´t. Far from it!
I actually wonder that EMI was still shelling out a substantial budget for the video. Despite being in black and white and certainly not made with a big budget, it must have cost more than Chris Markers 27 minute feature.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Dancerama

With that out of the way:
For a long time "La Jetee" was very hard to get and was rarely seen.
Thanks to google video and Youtube we can at least get a rough look at the whole, beautiful movie. One effective scene is sadly lost in the low compression. The always great Criterion Collection has recently released "La Jetee" together with Chris Markers other big masterpiece "Sans Soleil".

Chris Marker: La Jetee

"We want answers to the questions of tomorrow" 2003 by Mark Tichtner


Mark Stewart: Closer to the Edit

One of the last people I was expecting to have a site on MySpace was sound terrorist supreme Mark Stewart. But here he is and I was pleasantly surprised to read that he will release a new album called "Edit" in a few weeks. He will also go back on the road with his all-star band The Maffia and Adrian Sherwood.

I went out of my way to catch as many Mark Stewart/Maffia/Sherwood gigs as possible in the mid to late 80s. I was bored by pseudo-tough guys like Front 242 who tried to justify their second grade multi-media-horror-show with the lame excuse that they wanted to "force the audience to think".

When Mark Stewart and the On-U Sound was in town, you were about to get your ears ripped out of their sockets by an incredible tidal wave of techno, funk and dub. It was the sound of total audio destruction. But instead of being subjected to uninspired white-noise, you could witness as some top of the line musicians (who used to be the Sugarhill Band, and would tour with people like Mick Jagger) would play their tight set, while Adrian Sherwood would work his mixing desk to maximum effect. With his dub-phasers set on "stun", he would de-construct the elements of their music, chase them through his effects and by doing so, would create an incredibly dense and massive sound in real time.

The bottom heavy funk was held in place by incredible drummer Keith LeBlanc whose drumkit was a innovative set up of analogue and syndrums which were triggered to different samplers and more effect processors to shake two drumsticks at.

The YouTube quality can only hint at the massive sound that was unleashed. This live version of "the resistance of the cell" must have been recorded around 87/88.The audio onlaught of politics, paranoia, dub-funk, reggae and innovative sounds would leave the audience totally exhaustesd (and practically deaf for three days!). The band however seemed to have a blast and would obviously enjoy their sets.

The cherry on top were Stewarts vocals. This tall, handsome guy was working the mic as a living human sampler. His lyrics, a mixture of political agitation combined with quotes from pop, early hip-hop and literature would be shouted like a muezzin from a minaret.

This style was a direct influence for acts such as Meat Beat Manifesto, whose ambition it was to record something more extreme than "As the veneer...". Well, Meat Beat Manifesto are also about to release a new record this year. Maybe they will finally fulfill their goal this time.

Early Pop-Group poems like "We are all prostitutes/Everyone has their price/And you too will learn to live the lie/Aggression, Competition, Ambition, Consumer Fascism/Capitalism is the most barbaric of all Religions" would stand next to a stunning cover version of "Forbidden Colours" by David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto.
Jaques Brel
snippets would be shouted over the heaviest beats and feightened screams of "contagious, your love is contagious!" would meet a smashed-up Donna Summer tape-loop.

Although this kind of cut-up art would soon become standard practice, his stand out albums "As the veneer of democrazy starts to fade" and "Mark Stewart" still sound incredibly raw and original today.

With the newly found interest in all things post-punk and no-wave, a comeback of Mark Stewart is certainly most welcome.


3...2...1...Carpenters are GO!

In this strange world we are living in, the planned destruction of this ordinary, suburban, family home in Downey, California can initiate a worldwide wave of concern and protest.

This is not newsworthy because some poor tennants are about to be evicted by an evil corporation. The current owners and inhabitants bought the house and want to replace it with something newer and bigger. But most likely they want to get rid of a spirit.

The house in question stopped being a normal home in 1973 when it appeared on the Carpenters album-sleeve "Now and Then".
Its merely a backdrop for Karen and Richard Carpenter, who can hardly be seen behind the windows of their sleek red car, which seems to speed out of the picture. ("Speed" is of course the wrong word here).

Here they would live with their parents, even after the siblings became one of the biggest american recording acts of all time.

It would still take another ten years before the Carpenters home would become a mythical place for fans of the band and of the morbid. In 1983 Karen died in her parents home of complications caused by anorexia. A sickness, which was hardly talked about back in the day.

After the death of both parents Richard would sell the house in 1997.
The new owners were reportedly quite proud of their famous new home and would gladly show it off to friends and fans.
But soon they had had enough of the fan-pilgrimages who would leave flowers on the lawn or stared through the windows in hope to see whats cooking in the kitchen.

By this time the story of Karen Carpenter had grown into a pop-phenomenon of mythical proportions.

This was certainly helped by Todd Haynes infamous 1987 short movie "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story", which he filmed in glorious "Barbie-rama"

The lovingly made "Bio-pic" about Karens personal trauma that led to her anorexia and death is made entirely with Barbie dolls and handcrafted model interiors.

By combining original drive-by footage with the artificial puppet furniture, Haynes created a hyper-real effect, which makes Norman Bates motel and the "Amitiville"-house look cosy in comparison.

The film, which was forced from the market by Richard Carpenter (and alledgedly Mattel), brought awareness to this strange sickness that kills its victims because they want to disappear.
All their problems are turned inward, their perception of themselves is out of focus and their bodies are refusing to absorb anything.

when Karen became aware of her situation, she tried to fight against it. But her weakened heart could not withstand the constant weight-changes and use of laxatives.

The banning and resulting rareness of the film created a massive cult that might not necessarily be justified.
Today, Haynes is a celebrated Hollywood director, and his debut has some stunning moments of melodramatic beauty.

Thanks to the internet it can be streamed or downloaded via google video


Wasted Sheet Music: Dot Matrix Printers as Music

I loved my dot-matrix-printer! My parents hated it. It´s piercing, scratching noises, and complex rhythms sounded as exotic as any Lex Baxter record and would wreck the nerves of those who could not hear it´s amazing capabilities.

This must be one of the reasons why the demise of this one-time futuristic, clunky piece of office-machinery is only lamented by very few people.

I had to smile when I recently (two years ago) was entertained by a lonely Epson dm-printer in the business center of a 5-Star Hotel in Bangkok. These things refuse to die!

Once seen as a quantum leap from the typ-machine, today these huge boxes look like dinosaurs who simply were too slow and bulky to adapt to laser-printers and ink-jets.

The fact that they are practically free because they areconsidered as junk today makes it easier for Australian artist Sue Harding, who creates amazing concertos for up to four Dot-Matrix printers.

The concept is just brilliant! The harsh and complex sounds of the machines are so far away from the overly sound-designed products of today.

Harding conducts the printers by creating patterns, forms and senselss code on four amiga computers. Experimenting with different shades of gray she learnes how to "control" the pitch, tempo and interaction of the singing needles.

The source material, or "painting" is only secondary. The music that is created is an analog waste-product of a digital picture.

It would be interesting to find out how the sound would be affected, if the print-outs would be scanned and "re-played". Would we hear the equivalent of "tape-hiss"? Will the printers be sloppy or would we hear signs of spontaneous interpretations? How will a concert for four Epson printers differ from a selection of Panasonics?

I hope that Sue Harding will find enough old printers to answer all these questions.

Dot Matrix Music (Sue Harding)

Ukrainian artist Younnat has a less purist approach to the matrix printer. He uses it´s rhythms and mechanical twitches as a background for his ambient compositions.

Younnat: Dot Matrix Printer Etude

The real surprise is -of course- the way in which people present their old printers in small Youtube clips.
Another day, another strange obsession...

Obsolete - 3D rendering by Pawel Hynek

"Will process data for energy"

You have to look really, really close to see that this is actually a rendering.Click the pic for screen bursting size!
But to be honest: My untrained eye has a hard time to find any evidence that this is actually NOT a photo.

The artist is Pawel Hynek from Poland. He says about his inspiration: "It's something I was thinking about a long time. It was somehow inspired by Battlestar Galactica and idea of Cylons. Creation of man, abandoned by him. Where lays the border of responsibility for our deeds?"

This and more renderings from the rendering folks at CG Society.

Next Stop: Busblasting

I read about an interesting new phenomenon that is apparantly spreading onboard London Busses

Since London´s Mayor decided that youngsters (under 16?) can use London Transport for free, some bus lines see an increasing amount of kids who travel endlessly from station to station. Many of them gather on the top floor while blasting loud music from their mobiles and making life horrible for the paying commuters in the process.

They are also using their mobiles to meet their mates while they continue to bus-hop until a whole party is underway.

Since conductors have been taken off the buses there is only a helpless busdriver who is sitting secured in a plexi-glass cabin on the lover level. His only power against the "busblasting" activities is refusing to stop at stations where another group of kids is waiting to hop on board.

Isn´t it actually pretty amazing that in a town which is plastered with video surveillance cameras, the bored youth is freakishly criss-crossing the city "under the radar" of surveillance? And how long will it take until a whole new sub-culture will be growing out of it? Can organized "busblasting" be that far away?

Found here.


Pan Am Lovebeats: The sound of Yoshinori Sunahara

The solo work of Tokyo based musician Yoshinori Sunahara is obsessed with flying and especially with the iconography of PanAm, the airline that once stood for everything that was cool and chic about the emerging mass-tourism of the early seventies.While he was still a member of japanese techno superstars Denki Groove he released his first solo album "Crossover" in 1995.
Aptly titled, "Crossover" is a bonafide product of the Shibuya-kei style that was in full swing at the time. The ever growing possibilities of sampling technology and the obsession with Bossa Nova and the faded Jet-Set era invited many musicians to produce music that sounded like it was put together by bright-eyed kids who had been locked up in a candyshop.

After "Crossover" which was heavy on dancebeats, Sunahara went for an even more eclectic mix on the follow up album "Take off and landing" which marked the beginning of his "aeronautic trilogy". On tracks like "Music for robot for Music", "Elegant World" and "Life & Space" the most prominent influences are definately the exotic sounds of Martin Denny, Les Baxter and the quirky sound wizardry of Esquivel, kings of the stereo/hi-fi craze of the late fifties.
More recent inspiration came from the experimental phase of OMD´s "Dazzle Ships" and the work of british sampling pioniers Colourbox (Sunahara uses the same "Westworld"-dialogue samples).
But Sunahara manages to infuse the experimental with a slick pop veneer of Bossa-beats, cheesy strings, asian influences and sparkling synthesizers. Its a colourful voyage for the ears, never dull but at times a bit incohesive and overboarding.
And track titles such as "Sony Romantic Electro Wave" are wonderful giveaways of what to expect from the music and the mood.Actually, fellow japanese producer Towa Tei, released his first solo album "Future Listening" at the same time to a much bigger, worldwide audience. Tei is working in the same field as Sunahara, while they employ the same imagery and ideas Tei´s production is much crisper and more focussed.

On his next album "Pan Am: the sound of 70s" he would expand the aircraft/airport-theme to a concept. Apparantly a big collector of Pan Am-memorabilia the CD booklet is a dream for every departure-lounge-lizard. And, lets be honest here, aren´t we all?

The "Pan Am" album makes use of a very interesting sound manipulation: The beats are treated with a 16-bit filter which results in a "glassy", very crispy and transparent sound. Its a great contrast to the ultra-easy-listening feeling that the album tries to evoke. This way the music is never in danger to step into the lounge-trap that was looming behind every second production of the second half of the nineties.

Compared to "Take off and landing" the "Pan Am"-album is rather stripped down. There is more focus on songwriting and less on multi-layered sampling.This is an interesting video to "Love Beat" which appeared in a different version on the album

For his third album "Lovebeat" Sunahara would strip down his sound even further. It´s an elegant, stunningly produced electro chill album that is very reminiscent of Kraftwerks "Expo 2000" sound design. After Sunahara gave up on the aircraft imagery he obviously liked to repeat himself with songtitles.
This is his second "Lovebeat" which was a single off the same-titled album.
This time he went all minimal and geometric and for the first time he would allow bits of silence and serenity in his music.
There were no more sampled beats, no steel-drums and no retro-lounge reminders. Just pure, clean sound

"Lovebeat" was released in 2001 and was the last of his solo albums to date. Last year Sunahara released a retrospective double CD "Work 98-05". One CD features tracks from his three solo albums, while the second disc offers a wide range of remixes he did for japanese and european bands.