Air – The Virgin Suicides: Downtempo tension

Several degrees of Air. Or, what’s it take to get Air to remix a Beck song?

  1. Air gets Beck to remix Sexy Boy and provide vocals on Don’t Be Light and the Vagabond.
  2. Beck dated and is married to Marissa Ribisi.
  3. Marissa Ribisi has a twin brother: Giovanni.
  4. Giovanni co-stars in Lost in Translation.
  5. Lost In Translation is directed by Sofia Coppola.
  6. Sofia Coppola also directed The Virgin Suicides.
  7. The Virgin Suicides’ score was written by Air.
  8. Air is on the same record label Astralwerks as fellow French band Phoenix and the two groups plan to play a show together this June at Versailles. Phoenix is also the backing band for a remix of Air’s Kelly Watch the Stars.
  9. Phoenix’s vocalist, Thomas Mars has a daughter with Sofia Coppola.
  10. The soundtracks to Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette both feature a song by Phoenix and a song by Air.
  11. Air remixed Beck’s Missing for his remix album Guerilito.

Ok, that’s just an elaborate way of introducing the next record on the tunequest countdown the Pocket Symphony: The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2000, The Virgin Suicides is the directorial debut of Sofia Coppola. Driven by the demands of a soundtrack, this album can’t really be considered a proper follow up to Moon Safari, but it is a nice “bonus disc” of smooth downtempo music as only Air can provide.

Playground Love, the film’s theme, starts the album and provides it with a backbone on which to rest. The song is one of Air’s most conventional in terms of structure and its soulful saxophone melodies are pure delight, setting a perfect mood. From there, The Virgin Suicides is mostly appealing atmospherics. Having not seen the film, I can’t comment on its screen effectiveness, but musically, it is stellar. Somehow, it manages to be tense and laid-back at the same time.

However, downside is that, due to the requirements of being a dramatic underscore, there are few jump-out-and-grab-you moments on the disc, as the music must be subtle enough to blend with the film. As a result, not much stands out from the whole, even though that whole is generally gratifying.

Additionally the record is peppered with the complex compositional influences of prog-rock, yet most of the songs are rather short, which doesn’t give them enough time to really work themselves out. At less than three minutes each, most tracks start off enthusiastically, but prove to be somewhat unfulfilling when they end before reaching a satisfactory conclusion.

The exception is Dirty Trip, which clocks in a just more than six minutes. Fueled by a fat, in-your-face bassline, the song is the swagging monster of the disc. It’s easily the highlight of the soundtrack.

Overall, the score to The Virgin Suicides comes highly recommended. I just wish it were a little longer.

Playground Love video:

My Library

Air: The Virgin Suicides (2000)
13 tracks (of 13)
Average Rating: 3.85
Median Rating: 4
Signature Track: Dirty Trip

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Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar video: Cleverly Hypnotic

In addition to their world-sized beats, The Chemical Brothers are generally known for their world class videos. I stumbled across this video to Star Guitar from the duo’s 2002 release Come With Us while perusing the ol’ Google Video/YouTube library this afternoon and was quickly fascinated.

It was directed by noted film dude Michel Gondry, who’s done some impressive work, including intriguing videos for Bjork, Beck, Radiohead and many other musicians, as well as numerous innovative television commercials. But he’s also responsible for pioneering “bullet time” cinematography, so negative points there.

Of course, the concept of synchronizing visuals with the rhythm of music isn’t exactly new, but the execution here is clever. Though by the end of minute three, you’ve pretty much gotten the point and are ready to move on.

Star Guitar is an awesome song and the video is pretty cool, so enjoy it:

star guitar at itunes store

come with us at amazon

Beck – Lloyd Price Express

where it's at single

Beck’s song Where It’s At took the world by storm in 1996, forever banishing the idea that he was a one hit wonder and showing that he was an innovative and exciting musician. Several singles of the song were released during the year, each featuring a different set of remixes (for a total of seven), including an infamously lame version by Oasis’ Noel Gallagher.

That’s OK though, the Make Out City version more than makes up for it, full of horns and bombast. But here we’re going to get a little funky: the John King remix of Where It’s At, entitled Lloyd Price Express:

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Another day of seemingly non-random iPod

As if to prove my previous post for me, the tunequest-pod offered me these selections today (in order):

  1. pearl jam-live at the fox theatre in atlanta (which i skipped because i had just heard a live show yesterday)
  2. vince guaraldi’s oh good grief (a decent jazz album)
  3. sonic youth experimental jet set trash and no star (my first sonic youth record and, for lack of a better word the group’s most "quirky." to this day, ‘self-obsessed and sexxee’ remains one of my favorite songs.)
  4. tchaikovsky’s symphony 4 (ooo, the lush strings of its marvelous second movement)
  5. spiritual vibes’ newly (more work from the ever-fascinating nobukazu takemura. before tunequest began, i would have named his songs as top candidates for removal from the library, but now i’ve a much renewed and invigorated appreciation for his musical talents.)
  6. john williams’ score for the 70s disaster film earthquake (skipped because i wanted to pay extra attention to it and couldn’t at the time)
  7. a pearl jam single (hail hail, b/w black red and yellow. that one’s a good b-side)
  8. two beck singles, then a beck album (mutations. all of which were skipped because i wasn’t in a beck mood)
  9. two more symphonies i didn’t feeling hearing at the time
  10. finally, the 1992 re-recording of maurice jarre’s lawrence of arabia. (fine stuff there)

So despite the fact that albums by Beck, Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth have only a roughly 10% chance, combined, of being the next one played, we see here that, in fact, said artists account for 6 of 11 “randomly selected” albums for the day, or 55%. My iPod choose them at 5 times the rate I would have expected.

I’m not railing against it, since it doesn’t really bother mean though; just pointing it out.

putting mothballs in the beef stew

my ipod loves it some sonic youth. and beck. and pearl jam.

one of the recurring subplots here at tunequest has been the tracking the seemingly non-randomness of the selections my ipod chooses to play and lately it’s starting to draw my aggravation. you see, part of my goals for  tunequest is to get to know some of the vast swaths of under-appreciated tunes resting in my library. so i made it a policy that my most listened to artists wouldn’t be eligible for play.

it’s july; there are six months left in the year. filtering my top five artists, in terms of total playcount, should help ensure that those lonely souls get the attention they deserve. this is a recent change however. for a while, i just excluding the blanket top 10 from my profile at last.fm.

But I eventually realized that i’d eventually get to the point where i’d have left nothing but those top artists and i’m pretty sure that i’d get sick of listening to the same things for a couple weeks toward the end of the year. so i adopted a new method. using both last.fm and super analyzer (at least until the iTunesregistry is functional once again), i’ve put stitched together a new list of exclusions. the result being that a lot of formerly mothballed titles were now available for play, including a bunch from sonic youth, beck and pearl jam. (radiohead was available, but quickly earned its way back into the exclusion list).

and this turn of events apparently pleased my ipod to no end, because all of the sudden, it’s been one those three bands played every other album, usually as the first or second random selection. i’m not really complaining about it. i do, of course, enjoy the music. it’s just that i’d rather not have it all crammed together.

at any time, the tunequest pod holds about 300 separately tagged albums. in aggregate, including singles,
live shows, albums proper, etc, those 3 have had about a 10% chance of being randomly selected as the next album played and i’m telling you it certainly feels like they’ve been getting more they’re 10% lately.

of course, each time one of those heavy-hitter does get played, their chances for future play drops.

here’s to a more diverse listening experience.

Where are the Dust Bros?

Wouldn’t you know? as soon as I bring up my film score classification difficulties, I am presented with yet another challenge. Fight Club. Both the film and the soundtrack by The Dust Brothers are, I do say, fantastic. but I am torn between keeping the score with my other filmtracks or moving it closer to its musical brethren. In either case, the fact remains that this is electronic music done right. It’s got great mood, nice beats, interesting sounds, is slow, is soft, is hard and is driving fast when it needs to be. Recommended.

Speaking of the Brothers Dust, where have they been lately? Fight club was released in 1999 and I haven’t seen or heard anything from them since. I know they’ve been doin’ the producer/mixer thing for a while, and i’m sure that Beck keeps them busy. But seriously, their independent work is so so good that it’s disappointing to see them working on other people’s projects and not their own. Though, the Nickel Bag remix of Hey Man Nice Shot… that’s kickin.

On Classical Music Tagging (ID3 tags) for iTunes and iPod

When it comes to organizing for iTunes and iPod, classical music is an entirely different animal than the “pop” formula the program is primarily designed for. Why tie yourself to an inefficient and illogical "album" model when classical works were never meant to be treated that way? iTunes allows you to appreciate individual works as they were conceived and executed: as individual, stand-alone works.

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Example of my tagging structure (click to see full size).

I recently ran across Musicbrainz’s classical music tagging structure. Musicbrainz provides a database from which to retrieve the proper ID3 tags for artists, album, song title, etc. It’s like the CDDB (gracenote), but rather than using the CD song data, Musicbrainz-compatible programs generate an ‘audio footprint’ to compare against. This helps ensure that the tag result you are given is specifically matched to a particular song.

The system works pretty well and is useful when CDDB gives you a load of garbage. It is also useful for making sure your song tags are consistent with those of other people. Sites like Last.fm, which tracks your listening habits and connects you to similar fans and artists, are made possible only when everyone is submitting the same data.

That works great for pop/rock/jazz, where the music was created by and for one particular artist. The system becomes more difficult when dealing with classical music. I’m not the first person to discuss how to shoehorn the vastly different nature of classical tags into a scheme that is very much designed for popular music (as evidenced by many many discussion threads and, of course, the existence of the Musicbrainz guidelines itself). But, I take issue with the Musicbrainz solution because it is unfriendly to iPod users.

Classical music tags have to keep track of a more diverse set of data for music that has been created by and for many people. Whereas a Pearl Jam record contains songs written, performed and released by Pearl Jam, a recording of The Planets might contain music written by Holst, performed by the Montreal Symphony and conducted by Charles Dutoit. This recording, or portions of it, might be released on any number of albums or bundled with works of another composer (usually elgar). Indeed, the concept of an album was unknown to the vast majority to classical music composers. Each composition they created was intended to be a stand-alone work.

Classical music is an entirely different beast.

In addition to the standard artist, album and song name tags, iTunes’ composer, genre and comments tags are of equal importance to classical music tagging.

The Composer Tag

Let’s take a look at the Musicbrainz Classical Music Style Guide

  • Artist:

    • Ludwig van Beethoven

    Album title:

    • Symphony No. 9 in D minor (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra feat. conductor: Herbert von Karajan)

    Track titles:

    • Symphony No. 9 in D minor: I. Allegro ma non troppo

    • Symphony No. 9 in D minor: II. Molto vivace

Immediately, I see a problem for iPod users. Musicbrainz advocates that the composer be listed under the artist tag. That might work fine if you’re only a casual classical listener and you’ve only got one Beethoven CD mixed in with your Beck records. To that type of listener, the fact the music might be performed by the Berlin Philharmonic is secondary to the fact that it has Ode To Joy on it.

But for the devotee, who may have several recordings of the same piece by different orchestras or performers, that’s not going to cut it. Besides, after receiving complaints and requests, Apple deliberately added the composer tag to iTunes specifically to hold the composer info. Thus, it makes sense to put the composer in the composer field, leaving the artist field open for other, more appropriate, uses.

With the composer listed in the correct field, it’s a simple matter of browsing by composer on my iPod to find a particular composer’s work. Likewise, in iTunes, I can easily create a Smart Playlist with all of Mahler’s music by setting the conditions to:

Composer contains Mahler

Or if I want all my classical music on a single playlist:

Composer is not "blank"

It’s simple and it works. Unfortunately, Musicbrainz does not support the composer tag, so there’s no way to reconcile that aspect of the two schemes.

The Artist Tag

With the composer assigned, what goes in the Artist field? The two likely choices are the conductor and the performer (soloist or ensemble) of the work. I prefer to list the performer as the artist, with orchestras listed by their organizational names, omitting the conductor or featured soloists. the reason I prefer it this way is simplicity of display.

The iPod’s screen only displays so many lines of listings and only so many characters per line. If I were to customize each performing ensemble with the conductor and/or soloist (as in the Musicbrainz album model), not only would my artist tags be overly long, but I’d run the potential of my iPod displaying:

Berlin Philharmon...
Berlin Philharmon...
Berlin Philharmon...
Berlin Philharmon...
Berlin Philharmon...
Berlin Philharmon...

And I wouldn’t have a clue which listing refers to which specific combination of orchestra, conductor or soloist. Plus those multiple listings would just clutter up everything else in the artist list. I certainly don’t want to have to scroll past six different "Berlin Philharmon…"s and five different "Chicago Symphony…"s while browsing my iPod.

So, the Artist tag in my scheme becomes simply Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Besides, when navigating my iPod, I rarely search for classical music by performer; if I want to hear Holmboe’s 9th, I’ll browse the composer listing first.

so, composer = composer.
artist = performer (simplified).

The Album Tag

What of the Album tag, then? It makes no sense to maintain the compact disc paradigm when dealing with the flexibility of the iTunes model and the nature of classical music. Just because Deutsche Grammophon decides to put both Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Symphony No 5 on the same disc doesn’t mean I should maintain that structure. As I mentioned above, classical works were created distinctly and separately. Thus, I keep my classical music separated by work title.

Thanks to the instant availability of any song in the iTunes/iPod equation, I don’t need to load the physical disc of Atlanta Symphony’s Rainbow Body in order to listen to Copland’s Appalachian Spring. I can just browse for

Music > Composer > Copland > Appalachian Spring [ASO:Spano]

Ta da! Instant music.

This method works quite well, but I’ve discovered that for this scheme to function properly, I have to use a specific syntax for album names/work titles.

Back when my classical collection was small enough that I only had a single recording of a piece, my album tag for Mahler’s 6th Symphony would look like this:

Symphony No 6 "Tragic"

If I browse

Composer > Mahler >

I’ll see a list of works

Symphony No 1...
Symphony No 3...
Symphony No 6...

I discovered a problem with this method when Mahler’s No 6 became one of my favorite orchestral pieces and I obtained a second recording of it. Using the same album tag for both the Philharmonia’s version and the Berlin Philharmonic’s version made iTunes/iPod confuse them for the same album. My solution was to add an abbreviation of the performer at the end of the title.

The Berlin Philharmonic’s entry looks like this:

Symphony No 6 "Tragic" [BPO]

While the Philharmonia’s is this

Symphony No 6 "Tragic" [PO]

Now I have separate entries for each performance. Hooray! Problem solved… Unless I have more than one recording of the same piece by the same ensemble but with a different conductor. Once again, this problem popped up with Mahler’s 6th. I have 2 recordings of it by the Chicago Symphony, one conducted by Abbado and another conducted by Solti. The solution, however, is quite simple: add the conductor after the ensemble name.

Symphony No 6 "Tragic" [PO: Zander]

Now each performance has a unique identifier that iTunes displays separately and is easy to navigate via iPod.

Drawbacks (3rd-generation iPods and earlier)

This system works, but it isn’t perfect. For one thing, the specific details at the end of work titles gets cut off on older iPod screens, resulting in:

Symphony No 6...
Symphony No 6...
Symphony No 6...
Symphony No 6...

In addition to a screen size that shows more characters of a selection, 4th-generation iPods (iPod photo) and later scroll long file names when they are highlighted, eliminating this problem. However, iPhones and iPod Touch do not scroll long names when viewing by Artist or Composer.

Categories, Styles and Genres

Ok, we’ve covered composer, work title, performer and conductor. What’s left? Categories. Organizing classical music is no easy task. There are numerous types of works of various eras and styles and opinions vary what counts as what. How ever you choose to organize you classical music is a matter of individual preference. I’m not too particular, choosing to keep things relatively simple. Generally, I take information from AllMusic’s classical music database to create the Genre tag using the era and format of the music.

Romantic Symphony
Modern Ballet
Contemporary Suite for Orchestra

I do this primarily to take advantage of iTunes’ smart playlists. If I feel like listening to some Romantic-era concertos, all I have to have to do is set up a playlist with these conditions:

Genre contains romantic
Genre contains concerto

Likewise, if I’m in a symphonic mood but not in a particularly romantic mood, I can set it as follows:

Genre contains symphony
Genre does not contain romantic

Track Titles, Comments and Year

Track titles are straightforward enough. Unlike the Musicbrainz model that would create yet another list of seemlingly identical track names, I simply put the movement number and title. I also put the movement number in the track number.

I use the comments field to include notes about the performance, including a featured soloist if necessary.

And lastly, I use the year tag for the year of the performance, not the year the piece was first published or composed. This helps me keep the context of the recording in mind when selecting and listening to a piece. I’ve found ArkivMusic’s catalog to be quite useful for tracking down dates.

::

That tagging structure again (click to see full size).

Well, there’s my take on it. If you made it this far, then I hope this was helpful. My goal here is to keep track of essential data, while leaving my library simple enough to find and navigate efficiently in an iTunes/iPod environment. I think I’ve succeeded in that regard. It certainly works for me. However, if you’d like some other perspectives, try these links:

playlistmag.com
oakroadsystems.com
kirkville

soundtrack for a car wash and oil change

At times, i really resent owning a car. Yeah they’re convenient necessary for getting around, but with the fueling and maintenance and cleaning and well, effort that goes into having one, there are times when I’d just as soon not have one. (Oh, for a more vibrant public transportation system in metro Atlanta.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got a ’99 saturn sc2 (aka "the cherry bomb"–it’s red) and I love it; I’ll probably hang on to it until the day it stops working. To that end, I try to treat it right. Thanks to car-pooling, it’s taken me five and a half months to put not-quite-3000 miles on my vehicle, so it was definitely time for an oil change and quarterly car wash.

Normally, when there’s music to be heard wafting through the neighborhood’s air, it’s some kind of bass-thumping or mexican oompah. On a couple occasions there’s even been some adult contemporary. But today was my turn to be the obnoxious boombox on the block.

And I’m sure the stuff I was playing is not the kind of stuff it’s used to hearing. To start things, I cranked Can’s Ege Bamyasi. This is one of the records that changed my perspective on music and I discovered it in a roundabout way.

For a number of years in the late 90s I maintained a website devoted to helping me keep track of all the various b-sides, covers, and unreleased ecetera from my favorite artists at the time. When you’re a collector, those types of things are important and I figured that others could benefit from my work as well as offer me updates.

One of the more challenging artists in the project was Beck, whose catalog was, even then, extensive and diverse, parts of which are pretty obscure. At one point, I read that he had covered a song called I’m So Green by a group called Can. I hadn’t heard of it and couldn’t locate a copy of it, so I just filed it away on the list and carried on. to this day, I’ve only been able to track down a 1-minute excerpt from it.

ege bamyasi by can

Cut to a couple years later, when in the summer of 2000, I was researching my-new-and-to-this-day-favorite-band Mouse on Mars, who cited Can as one of their musical influences. Inspired by this coincidence, I found a copy of I’m So Green and the album it appears on. I was instantly hooked and Ege Bamyasi quickly became one of my top albums (Six of its seven tracks are rated 5 stars).

That thing that amazed me though and changed my musical perspective was that the record was released in 1972, a number of years before I was born. While I considered a lot of music from before my lifetime to be "respectable" I had never really accepted that it could be good. This album convinced me otherwise and the timespan represented in my library has extended much.

::

On to the oil change. This was my first unassisted oil change in quite sometime, so I had to re-teach myself how to do it. The theory is simple enough; the practice… well that takes practice. It took a little bit longer than expected, but I got to serenade the neighbors with Mahler’s Symphony No 6 "Tragic" performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while I figured it out.

To say that I like this symphony would be a dramatic understatement. I own nine different recordings of it (the Philharmonia’s is my favored and the Berlin Philharmonic’s is exceptional, as is this CSO performance under Abbado). At nearly 90 minutes in length, it is a symphony that takes dedication and perseverance to get through, but it is an edge-of-the-seat roller-coaster of raw power and emotion that sucks you in from the first measure and never lets go.

Originally published may 2001.

Experimental rock band Can was always several steps ahead of its contemporary music scene, exploring frontiers of rock music that wouldn’t become popular for another 10 to 20 years. Formed in Cologne, Germany, in 1968, Can (bassist Holger Czukay, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, guitarist Michael Karoli, and drummer Jaki Liebzeit) was dedicated to tinkering with song construction methods and unorthodox arrangements, often incorporating noise, analog synthesizers, and experimental recording techniques. By the early 70s, Can had emerged into an experimental music community that included such pioneers as Neu!, Faust and Tangerine Dream.

Though rooted in the German rock scene, Can gravitated more toward minimalism (and even ambience), abstaining from the industrial bent that marked many of the group’s contemporaries, most notably Kraftwerk, preferring a musical formula that was closer to, but still divergent from, traditional rock. Despite its relative obscurity in America, Can has been cited by a wide range of artists as an influence, including Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Tortoise, and Mouse On Mars, as well as mainstream rockers Beck and Radiohead and scores of electronic musicians.

Recorded at the height of the “Suzuki Era” (so-named for then-singer Damo Suzuki, an expatriated Japanese street poet, who betrays not a hint of ethnicity), “Ege Bamyasi” shows Can at its most avant-conventional, delivering an amazing set that still holds its own against many of today’s more technologically sophisticated artists.

The pneumatic “Pinch” opens the record, trading slide whistle expressions with Suzuki’s ambiguous vocalizing over what amounts to a free jazz-inspired funky nine-minute rhythm section solo. Pinch fades into “Sing Swan Song,” a melancholic pseudo-waltz that effortlessly floats from the speaker. “One More Night” resumes the pace, driven by a simple, but mesmerizing head-bobbing groove, while Suzuki ponders the delusions of being alive for “one more Saturday night.”

Time feels as though it’s running out on “Vitamin C” as Leibzeit’s militaristic drums combine with a spring-wound tick-tock bass to deliver Suzuki’s ominous message: “You’re losing your Vitamin C; You’re losing your mind.” Czukay’s muted bass takes center stage on “Soup,” contributing to one of Can’s trademark rhythm explorations, before dissolving into sporadic and independent expressions of noise from each of the band members. Contrasting the proceeding cacophony, “I’m So Green” provides Ege Bamyasi with its most accessible song. Powered by an infectious proto-techno beat, it is easily the highlight of the record. Closing the album is “Spoon,” an other-worldly bossa-nova that seemlessly marries psychedelia with exotic composition.

Despite the passage of nearly 30 years, Ege Bamyasi is as fresh a record as it was when it was released and remains a great starting point for those curious about Can or experimental German rock in general, as it is as listenable as it is groundbreaking.