tom moody

Archive for March, 2017

lazy YT-jaying: Swayzak

Swayzak notes from Discogs:

Tech house duo from the United Kingdom that consists of James S. Taylor and David Brown. They live and work in London.

The name Swayzak comes from "zwińÖzek" which means "union" in Polish.

I seem to recall an interview from back in the day where they said they took the name from Patrick Swayze. Much better. (Naming one of their LPs "Dirty Dancing" favors the latter interpretation.)

Taylor and Brown started working together in 1993, under the name "Language Lab" though they first met in 1989, after working for four years of mainly studio evolvement, became Swayzak in 1997. Taylor left the group in 2012 and Brown continues alone.

Alone, alone, to soldier on into the existential fog that is the life of... the techno musician. But seriously, what I admire and envy about Swayzak is (a) the "deep" sound that is tinged with melancholy but also occasionally humor and (ii) the ability to do long songs with a few simple elements, which are made lush and mysterious through the use of reverb and impeccable production skills.

A short history of Swayzak:

Swayzak "Low-Rez Skyline" [YouTube] from 1998 -- CD version

Swayzak "Low-Res Skyline" [YouTube] from 1997. 12-inch. In addition to the change of spelling "low-res," the song is structured much differently. The electro "whonk/zap" sound comes in at the middle and is used to make tunes. The CD version is better overall but the comparison intrigues.

At the peak of the duo's popularity they began adding vocals, some by name musicians. This didn't work, owing to the incompatibility of grafting an overt "humanizing" element into a genre which charms through its essentially alienated, abstract, mental space. Swayzak had already successfully "humanized" techno with the touches mentioned above. You don't need Kirsty Hawkshaw singing on top of that.

One exception is:

Swayzak "Illegal (Bigga Bush Version)" [YouTube] Not because the rasta poetry is great but for the overall development of the song from slow, ambient stabs to full-on house, replete with a disco bassline.

In any case, happily, years later, now that Brown is... alone... Swayzak is back in form.

Swayzak "Shot by Both Sides" [YouTube] from 2016. 13 minutes!

- tom moody

March 30th, 2017 at 7:32 am

Posted in music - others

i hear music in the air

Discogs is helping to make sense of some of the vinyl scarfed up during my days as a professional disc-spinner, mostly around the turn of the millennium. French and German house predominates in this cache. Dan Electro's "I Hear Music in the Air" always sounded good in a bar/restaurant environment -- the EP it came from was sold without the cover (above) so I had no clue what it was. The vocal sample, which I half-heartedly guessed might be Ella Fitzgerald, comes from gospel diva Vickie Winans, who is utterly transformed from a rafter-rattling sonic cannon into a mellow club groovemeister.
The real name of the somewhat ridiculous Dan Electro is Alain Gerber.

- tom moody

March 29th, 2017 at 9:13 am

Posted in music - others

lazy YT-jaying

Am organizing my "record collection" (with many nerdy visits to Discogs to see which pricy versions I was fortunate to have picked up back in the day for $4.99). As I do this I find songs to "share" -- much as I hate contributing to the YT monoculture (yawn let's get on with it)

Tuxedomoon "Grand Hotel" [YouTube] Blaine is kind of sawing away here but I love the vocoderized Garbo loop and how it comes back in at the end

Tuxedomoon "Conquest" [YouTube] "What do I care for your orders? You can't frighten me." more vocoderized Garbo - nice

Tuxedomoon "Queen Christina" [YouTube] "...Oh, this great joy I feel now. This is how the Lord must have felt when he first beheld a finished world, with all his creatures breathing and living..." (Not vocoderized. Need to watch these Garbo films)

Tonto's Expanding Head Band "Jetsex" [YouTube] Just realized how much this anticipated the trippy "road" section of Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" (long version)

Atomic Robo Kid "Googlex" [YouTube] Some crazy techno sh*t

David Van Tieghem "All Safe" [YouTube] Heavy on the Fairlight; this was right on the cusp, pre-808 State and "Techno! The New Dance Sound Of Detroit," where '80s beats went from crunchy/static to fluid/sexy

Harley & Muscle "Friends and Enemies" [YouTube] Deep house, and the confusion between friends and enemies.

- tom moody

March 28th, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Posted in music - others

we need your card, because we... just... do

11:45 am
Rebel sits down at the bar in the neighborhood yuppie restaurant and orders brunch.
He's the only customer sitting at the bar; about six people are seated at various small tables, and otherwise the joint is empty.

Rebel: I'd like the Asian Marinated Skirt Steak Salad, please, and sweet potato fries, and coffee.
Waitperson: Cream or sugar?
Rebel: Black is fine.
Waitperson: OK, I'll just need your card so I can start a tab.
Rebel: I'm paying cash.
Waitperson: Well, I still need your card.
Rebel: What for?
Waitperson: So we can get you in the system and keep track of everyone.
Rebel: There's no one in here!
Waitperson: It usually gets crowded around 1:00. Card?
Rebel (obviously lying): I don't have one.

Waitperson pouts and begins keying something into the register.

- tom moody

March 25th, 2017 at 11:02 pm

Posted in computers-R-stupid

unpaid ad - animated GIF

At 4.2 MB it exceeds my self imposed GIF size limit but I like it so much I'm willing to give these folks a plug: [amusing GIF]

- tom moody

March 23rd, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Posted in animation - others

new-ish vimeos

Have been neglecting my Vimeo account, mainly because I hate video and think there's too much of it in our world. Yesterday I posted a couple of laid-back efforts from late 2014 I had been sitting on:

Ambient Bro Environment

Walk to Liberty

Was sort of briefly interested in the idea of home movies as art -- taking that trope of ultimate boredom and elevating it to festival material, as a form of protest or Dada or what have you. I even went as far as to submit Idyllic Bike Ride to the festival "Migrating Forms" (where it was rejected). What happened was, I get a lot of press releases going back to my years as a pundit. Some are welcome and some go to spam. Migrating Forms sent me an announcement with a call for entries. It took about five minutes to submit Idyllic Bike Ride -- I thought a dude's bike ride might be an amusing break or palate cleanser in several hours of heavy identity exploration. It was rejected, and also lessened my spam traffic because I stopped receiving Migrating Forms announcements! Unlike moi, they do not hate video.

- tom moody

March 23rd, 2017 at 8:10 am

Posted in theory, video - tm

MIDI Users' Group performance

MIDI Users' Group performs at an electronic music event, Oscillate:Pittsburgh 2017 [YouTube]

Travis Hallenbeck tweeted: "my set in Pittsburgh was described by the organizer as like being stuck in an office"

On the other hand, it was kind of refreshing not seeing an Apple laptop or a rack of modular gear. These not-quite-ancient MIDI devices have their own unique sound and seem to have their own mind. Hallenbeck treats them like a flock of erratic sheep, letting them go where they will and savoring their little bleeps and hums as events in themselves. The caretaker approach to (dis)organized sound.

- tom moody

March 23rd, 2017 at 7:41 am

chicken little for real

When lab-grown meat was first announced a few years ago, science fiction fan Paul Krugman (whose economic theories in support of the Clintons have also been called science fictional) mentioned the "Chicken Little" episode in Pohl & Kornbluth's book The Space Merchants. That was P&K's name for a monstrous mound of non-sentient chicken flesh, filling a small underground cavern, flensed off in strips to feed the populace. The meat Krugman was comparing to it was pork, or perhaps nu-pork, but last week the feat was achieved in San Francisco startup-land with actual chicken, or nu-chicken. (hat tip m.po)

Since the source is Business Insider they don't call it Frankenfood, but rather a form of venture-capital-funded disruption. If brainless meat ever becomes economical, the idea is, its various purveyors will do to chicken farmers what Uber does to cab drivers. Or, as BI puts it:

They're all hoping to disrupt America's $200 billion meat industry (and $48 billion poultry industry), by offering foods that mimic meat but are more environmentally friendly.

The details are pretty disgusting, even if you aren't excited by a food that is "eerily similar" to real meat (BI's telling phrase):

...lab-grown meat still requires fetal serum, which comes from unborn calves and chicks, to start the cultivation process. Memphis Meats told The Wall Street Journal in 2016 that it expects to replace the serum with something plant-based soon.

Right, sure. It's the nu-ethics: Disrupting baby cows is bad, disrupting family farmers is OK.

- tom moody

March 22nd, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Posted in around the web

belter history

The cable channel formerly known as the Science Fiction Channel has a new series, The Expanse, which is pretty adroitly done, despite overuse of the trope of "blowing people away" (via pistol, railgun, or airlock), which occurs with as much regularity and emotional impact as a Moe/Curly face slap. The series adapts books by two sf late colonizers writing under the name James S.A. Corey. When it's time to borrow, borrow from the best, and the Coreys owe a large debt to earlier writers for their conception of "the Belt" (as in, asteroids) and Belters.

Larry Niven used "Belter" in the '60s, mostly in short stories in his "Known Space" series. Wikipedia's summation:

The Sol Belt possesses an abundance of valuable ores, which are easily accessible due to the low to negligible gravity of the rocks containing them. Originally a harsh frontier under U.N. control,[citation needed] the Belt declared independence after creating Confinement Asteroid, a habitat with spin gravity that permitted safe gestation of children, and Farmer's Asteroid, the Belt's primary food source. Almost immediately a lively competition began between the fiercely independent "Belters" and the technology police of the U.N. Several years of tension and economic conflicts followed, but soon settled into a relatively peaceful trade relationship as the Belt has so many resources that the UN and the Earth need.

C.J. Cherryh also had gritty Belters in her books Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992). Wikipedia, again:

[The novels] are set in the Sol system at the beginning of the "Company Wars" period in the 24th century. Heavy Time introduces ASTEX, a division of the Sol Station Corporation, ... engaged in asteroid mining for minerals to support the Earth's economy and the war effort. Disputes over mining rights, corporate corruption and economic exploitation are key plot elements in the first novel.

Both Niven and Cherryh depict Belters as scrappy, independent operators, comfortable in tight spaces and hard vacuum suits, mining the rocks and constantly struggling with more sedentary Earth bureaucracies. The whole concept is basically bunk since radiation exposure and bone density loss make it impossible for humans to live in space for long periods, but as long as romantic conceptions are dying hard, might as well acknowledge the early dreamers.

- tom moody

March 18th, 2017 at 10:33 am

Posted in books, films

"Streets of Passive Aggression"

"Streets of Passive Aggression" [4.1 MB .mp3]

As noted previously, I've been working with the Tracktion digital audio workstation, which, amazingly for a commercial DAW, offers a Linux version in addition to the standard Mac & Cheese alternatives. My understanding is its JUCE code is designed to work with any OS, and, on Linux, integrates very well with the JACK audio standard.

I use looping MIDI files quite a bit in my autodidact-ish form of composing -- that is, listening to C2-F3-F2-A2-D3-A3-F3-D#3-C#3 (or whatever) over and over as I write the next part that plays in harmony or counterpoint to that. If I have to keep adjusting the loop markers to keep notes from disappearing -- as happens constantly with Ardour, I get frustrated and go read an e-book or something instead of working on music. Several people on the Linuxmusicians forum noted that Tracktion and Bitwig are "stable" in that regard, so I'm checking out the alternatives.

The good news is Tracktion-on-Linux is incredibly stable for long term editing work with MIDI and audio. It's superior to Cubase and Ableton in its ability to render loops "on the fly" (as they say) and place them in the timeline as you are working. It also has a better browser that allows you to quickly find and move samples from your PC into an open project window, or individual sample players.

The bad news, on Linux at least, is it doesn't handle third party plugins well. They tend to crash, or not have save-able presets. This forces you to use Tracktion plugins -- which are perfectly fine for most effects such as delay, reverb, compressor, limiter, but somewhat lacking for software synthesizer choices. Tracktion has a ROMpler-type sampler, that you can arrange in racks of multiple samplers, and that's what I used to make this track, pulling from my burgeoning, motley sample archive. (Many of these sound files originate "on the internet," including 808 kits, the Legowelt synth collection, and some truly gritty 8-bit "Streets of Rage" samples -- hat tip to kiptok for that last one, I think). The one softsynth used here, Helm (that chirping sound at the beginning and end) is pretty reliable as a plugin as long as you don't care about saving presets -- Tracktion remembers the settings for project, however.

So, for the moment, at least, am treating Tracktion as a self-contained instrument sitting on the PC -- like a virtual Octatrack -- until I get a better handle on the "plugin situation."

- tom moody

March 17th, 2017 at 9:54 am

Posted in linux diary, music - tm