Mouse on Mars: Turn the Dark Up [twift]

This song is perhaps the greatest mystery in the entirety of my music collection. It’s a fairly sophisticated remix of the song Twift Shoeblade from Mouse on Mars’ third album Autoditacker (1997).

The tempo is a little faster, the arrangement has a little more punch and it has been resequenced slightly. Not to snub the original at all, but I must say I pretty much prefer the remixed version.

The strange thing is, in the seven years I’ve had it in my collection, I’ve never been able to track down any information about it. If I could remember where I got it, that might help, but honestly, I have no idea where I it came from. The song is old enough that it could be from the original Napster, but either way, that wouldn’t help.

Surprisingly, because tagging wasn’t a common practice at the time, the file came with some decent ID3 information:

Name: Turn the Dark Up
Artist: Mouse on Mars
Album: mixed by the big chopper
Year: 2000

Still, even armed with this information, I’ve been able to track down nary a clue about its origin. Google is completely useless, turning up seven results for the phrase “turn the dark up,” most of which are about theater.

Searches for “The Big Chopper” and “Mixed by the Big Chopper” don’t reveal much either, mostly with regards to motorcycles. I’ve found one music-related reference at musician and noted producer Don Flemings’ Instant Mayhem, but Surfin Halloween doesn’t sound anything close to what I’m looking for.

The iTunes Store has a rapper by the name of Big Chopper, but I don’t think that’s it either.

So, whoever you are, Mr. Remixer, I salute you. I guess this is one riddle that will have to remain unsolved.

And to all you readers, here’s a treat: Turn the Dark Up, mixed by The Big Chopper. Enjoy.

Turn the Dark Up

Mouse on Mars: I Go Ego Why Go We Go

From the album Varcharz (2006)

After creating some most infectious and “warm” electronic grooves that were both danceable and singable, Mouse on Mars returned with an album of “spatial free-jazz and cocaine-fried booty funk” on the largely structureless Varcharz. But don’t take structureless to mean groundless. Beats are what MoM do best, and while the album has its share of dissonance, it’s a noise symphony built on a solid foundation.

Take, for example, the assonantly named I Go Ego Why Go We Go. With its calculated repetition and precise layering, the song sounds like it could have been composed by some sort of JamDroid, its disruptive rhythms compelling all the other robots to abandon the assembly line and get on down.

What I Love: It’s Mouse on Mars; the beats are cold and unfriendly, but that won’t stop me from bobbing my head.

I Go Ego Why Go We Go at itunes I Go Ego Why Go We Go at amazon I Go Ego Why Go We Go

Free Download.

8 Ways to Improve the iPod (and could be done with a firmware update)

The iPod is supposed to be “iTunes to go” but as the little music player has advanced over the years, it still lags behind in some relatively basic features, features that have been a part of the desktop program for some time. iTunes’ capabilities seem to be constantly improved and refined; its portable counterpart’s behavior has remained relative unchanged, even as it has gained photo and video support.

Forget touchscreens and Bluetooth, FLAC and DivX; here, I present a list of the iPod’s more troublesome foibles, all of which could be overcome with a firmware update, making it an even better music player.

Toggle display of the Composer tag

This is something I’ve wanted since Apple added the Composer field to iTunes five years ago: A display of the composer when listening to classical music. The 5G iPods have more than enough screen real estate to accommodate an extra line of text. It makes no sense that after all this time and after adding a way to browse and select by composer, Apple still doesn’t allow a way to view it while playing. Classical music aficionados have to either do without or devise elaborate tagging systems to see who the composer of a piece is.

Of course, not everyone has need for composer display. There certainly are people who don’t appreciate Prokofiev. Also, the field is often populated with junk from Gracenote/CBBD. A simple toggle in the iPod settings would fix that. Those of us who want to see the composer can turn it on and those who don’t can leave it off.

no composer visible
At a glance, there’s no telling who the composer is. One hack, though, would be to embed the composer name in the album artwork.

Support for the Album Artist field

iTunes 7 introduced a new data field to the song info dialogue box: Album Artist. Apple says it’s for assigning a primary artist to an album with multiple artists. It signifies a way to separate the artists producing the work from the artists performing it.

It’s a great idea for classical works that have a featured soloist in addition to the orchestra or when one artist is a featured guest on someone else’s song, eg, William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins. In this case, William Shatner is the primary artist and would be to sole “Album Artist” while “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins” are the performing artists.

The tag works well in iTunes, keeping song listing nicely and tidily organized. The iPod, however, still separates “William Shatner” from “William Shatner featuring Henry Rollins,” leading to a cluttered interface that is difficult to use. Most of my music listening is done via iPod, so Album Artist remains under-utilized.

Album Artist would be a very useful tag. It would even solve my dilemma for tagging remix/dj albums. But without iPod support, the tag is DOA.

two shatners
Despite having the same Album Artist, these listings are still displayed by regular Artist.

Full Support for Sort fields. (accomplished)

UPDATE 3/19/08: Firmware version 1.3 for the Fifth Generation iPod adds support adds support for Sort Album and Sort Composer.

Other options recently introduced into iTunes but not into the iPod are customizable Sort Fields, which let you control how iTunes alphabetizes your artist and album listings.

By default, the iPod is smart enough to ignore “A,” “An” and “The” at the beginning of artist names. The Chemical Brothers are sorted with the C’s, for example. Starting with iTunes 7.1, you can customize the Sort name for Artists, Albums, Songs, Album Artists, Composers and TV Shows.

If you want Fiona Apple to appear with the A’s rather than the F’s, just set the Sort Artist to “Apple, Fiona” and you’ll soon see Fiona next to Aphex Twin.

It’s pretty cool, but…… on the iPod, it only works with Artists. You can customize all the albums and composers in your library and Gustav Mahler will still be chillin’ with the G’s and The Colour and The Shape will still be sorted with the T’s.

the thes
The “thes” like to hang out together in album view.

Browsable playlists

Music libraries get larger every day it seems. And the iPod’s hard drive does its best to keep up. At 80 GB, the device can hold a month or so of continuous music. For myself and others with large libraries, it’s effortless to create Smart Playlists that contain hundreds or thousands of songs based on specific criteria. Navigating those playlists can be nearly impossible as they show naught but a long list of song titles.

In my library, creating a Smart Playlist of Ambient music from between 1990 to 2000 returns 305 songs from 44 albums by 11 artists. Viewing the playlist on my iPod is a jumble of songs. I would love the option to sort and browse the artists and albums in a playlist.

Perhaps, when you select a playlist, the iPod displays an entry at the top of the song list: “Browse this playlist.”

Full-screen album art

When in full screen mode, I want the iPod to display album art as large as it can, no margins, no scaling. Just like when browsing photos, I want the image to take up the entire screen. This, the iPod can already sort of do…… if you plug it into an iPod HiFi, Apple’s own speaker system. I would like it to be standard. For more, read this recent rant.

Bonus Wishlist

I’m not annoyed by these missing features, but if they were real, I’d find them useful:

iPod Party Shuffle

A more limited version of iTunes’ Party Shuffle. When you’re shuffling, this would let you see a handful of upcoming songs. You could skip ones you don’t want to hear.


My listening preferences are different depending on whether I’m at work, in the car, at the gym, or moseying around the house. At the gym, I like to shuffle by song while at work I like to shuffle by album. When listening to ear buds, I like to use the bass booster EQ, but the bass response in my car is a little heavy, so I like to turn on the bass reducer.

It would be convenient to save different settings configurations for easy switching.

Grouping behavior that makes sense

“Grouping” is the red-headed stepchild of ID3 fields. No one *really* knows what it’s for or how to use it. Ostensibly, it’s for creating “groups” or subsets of related songs within an album. But it wasn’t until iTunes 7 that you could do anything with it (you can shuffle by Grouping).

It seems to me that an effective behavior for songs with the same Grouping to be “always keep these songs together.” For example, Mouse on Mars’ Varcharz has one song, One Day Not Today, that is broken into 12 tracks. Give all 12 tracks the same Grouping, “One Day Not Today” and the iPod would know to start at the first track and play through all of them sequentially, even when shuffling.


Hopefully, one day, these wishes will come true. I still love my iPod, but I’m looking for reasons to love it more.

Pinwheel Herman: My foot in the door of the postrock scene

At pretty much the first listen, a live version of this song got me hooked on Mouse on Mars, the German team with the heart of gold that expands minds while keeping the beat. In the summer of 2000, this song was the catalyst away from my college-era exploration of club and trance style electronic music, leading me toward the so-called postrock and “intelligent dance music” of the late 90s. From there it was an all downhill run into musical hipsterdom.

Without further ado, tunequest presents Pinwheel Herman, from the incomprehensibly-titled album Niun Niggung. Go nuts.

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P.S.- In honor of this song, I named an iPod after it.

Flickr, Bootlegs, Live Recordings and iTunes Album Art

Tortoise at the Independent
Originally uploaded by Luiza.

Whereas my previous iPod, a 3rd generation model, could not display album art, my new one, of course can. So I spent a portion of my morning going through my library, searching for albums that were missing their covers. During the process, I ran into a couple live shows that, since they aren’t formally-released albums, obviously don’t have album covers.

Specifically, I had a Tortoise show in San Francisco from October 2005 and a Mouse on Mars show in Toronto from October 2004.

Most music clubs I’ve been to in recent years seem to have a laid-back “we-don’t-care” policy toward shooting photos of the acts that roll through, so it is not uncommon to see folks with digital cameras snapping away. Heck, I even saw someone with a video camera (or possibly 8mm) at a recent Ratatat show.

Even if a venue does prohibit recordings and photography, the rise of cell phone cameras and pocket point-and-shoots almost ensures that some clandestine pictures will escape.

Knowing this, I went over to Flickr, where a good portion of the world’s digital pictures eventually end up. I hoped to find, if not pics from the specific shows, something close enough for displaying on my iPod.

The mission was a success. A couple searches later, I found a really nice shot from the exact Tortoise show at The Independent shown above. I did not, however, track down anything from Mouse on Mars’ performance at Lee’s Palace. But I did get a nice one from the show in Montreal the day before and that’s close enough for rock and roll.

Those two shows now have some nice iTunes artwork.

Viva Flickr.

Nobukazu Takemura – Hoshi no Koe: glitches

The note at the top of the page says that the site layout is currently broken in firefox. It turns out that I royally screwed something up while trying to "Improve" Things around here. As a result, I’ll have to recode the site structure and css from scratch. Until then, sorry firefox users. I commend you for your independent spirit, but for now you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the page to see the sidebars.

However, that’s not the only type of glitch in these parts lately. I ran across Nobukazu Takemura’s hoshi no koe the other day. Takemura is a guy I was first introduced to in new orleans 5 years ago in june 2001. He was opening for Tortoise and Mouse on Mars at the howlin’ wolf. (by the way, best concert ever. it’s not often you get to see a band at the height of your fandom for them.)

It was my first exposure to both the glitch genre of music and the concept of a ‘laptop performance.’ For 30+ minutes this Japanese guy with a long pony tail sat calmly behind a table, meticulously twisting dials, pushing buttons and manipulating his powerbook, creating a perfect, swirling mess of sounds… And I was mesmerized by it. By the time he was half way through Sign and those dueling artificial voices had finished their seemingly-never-ending chant, I was hooked.

I bought Hoshi no Koe that night after the show and quickly launched an effort to acquire as much Takemura as I could. It was a foolish endeavor; The dude is as prolific as he is obscure (not to mention foreign) and I had a hard enough time tracking down a full discography, let alone much of his music.

Eventually, I gave up on that particular tunequest as it proved nearly impossible. Besides, the thing I came to slowly realize about Takemura’s music is that it’s very dichotomic. It’s either so brilliantly clever that you want to shout "Oh my god, that’s awesome!" Or it’s completely and totally unlistenably abstract, the type of compositions that certain people who want to prove their intellectual mettle listen to. A similar phenomenon occurs throughout the genre. However, lesser composers than Takemura lean distinctively toward the latter opinion.

In the end, despite the short burst of passion, my affair with glitch was short-lived. As I’ve mellowed with age, I’m not as likely to indulge in the less listenable as I find that my musical tastes are for my own enjoyment and not to impress the kids with some kind of street cred.

But Takemura, the man is still fascinating.

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.

Didot 3 – At long last, I’ve found it!

lithops didot

There's a particular electronic song that’s so invigorating that it just keeps popping into my head every so often, at random, without warning or prompting. The problem is that I’ve never quite been able remember what song it is, or who performed it. I can hear it note for note, but every time I think i've come close to identifying it, it slips away. I've long suspected that it was e*vax or esem, but a exhaustive searching of the library failed to reveal it.

But, this morning, out of nowhere, voila! comes that same pulsing, driving beat, over-lapped with the dirtiest grinding wahwah flange that I’ve been search for. Suddenly pounding my ears was Didot 3, the third song on the album Didot, by Lithops, aka Jan Werner who is one half of the one of the few bands whose t-shirt I’m still willing to wear Mouse on Mars.

At last, this particular tunequest is over!

Didot is a very good example of what I call is “listenable experimental electronic music”. A lot of “experimental” music shies away from traditional songcraft and musical appeal. Didot, on the other hand, uses fairly straight-forward arrangements, which despite being composed of harsh electronic sounds, makes it fairly enjoyable to listen to and keeps it from falling into the realm of “difficult but rewarding.”

Give Didot 3 a listen:

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This album is very hard to come by. So if you find it, get it.

Wherein I ponder all the music I could listen to in my lifetime

I did some thinking today about my library and listening to music in general. I’m 27; given the average American life expectancy, I’ve got another 50 years in me. If the size of my iTunes library remains constant (big if), I could expect to listen to every song in it a maximum of 429 times, if i were to listen to each song an equal number of times. However, that would require listening for 24 hours a day for the next 18,000+ days, so that is really not a practical measurement.

Given that on days when I’m really trying hard to listen to as much music as possible, I only clock about 3 hours of listening, it brings the number of listens down to 53 per song, roughly enough time to play each song only once per year, That’s all the more reason to clear out the less-than-stellar songs and albums from my collection, because I know I’ve got music i want to hear more than once per year.

meanwhile, here’s today’s tracks.

  • broken social scene [bee hives]
  • uakti [aguas de amazonia]
  • nautilis [are you an axolotl]
  • mouse on mars [cache coeur naif]
  • counting crows [august and everything after]
  • underworld [beaucoup fish]

No laughing at the Counting Crows. I’ve only got a handful of tracks from their first album (from before they tanked) and I don’t care what anyone says, Omaha is a damn impressive song; it’s their best. •

Honestly, today was a great day for music. Underworld’s Beaucoup Fish is a masterpiece of progressive house music that relies more on songcraft than thumping beats–though their are plenty–to create some compellingly danceable music that’s not just for dancing. It’s enjoyable as music in its own right. I’ve had the album for more than six years and it has consistently been among my favorites. It’s surprising to me that the group’s others albums haven’t broken through the clutter in my library. •

Mouse on Mars teams up with Stereolab on the Cache Coeur Naif ep. Two powerhouses of the upper echelon of indie-dom combine to create… a rather run-of-the-mill couple of tracks. It’s good; don’t get me wrong, just not very compelling. I think it suffers from “too much expectation” syndrome. •

Lastly, I was totally prepared to weed the Uakti album. Despite the fact that it’s a collaboration with Philip Glass (or perhaps because of), I was ready to write it off as a superfluous acquisition from a more experimental time in my listening habits. But it appears my perceptions of it had become corrupted over time (it had been quite a while since i last heard it). Aguas de Amazonia’s unique percussive style really makes this album a fascinating listen. Then again, I’ve always been a sucker for percussion, which is funny, ’cause Ican’t dance. at all.