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Posts Tagged ‘turntablism’
10 Feb

Week 196: “Yeti’s Lament” by Berry Weight

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As the album’s title suggests, the songs on “Music For Imaginary Movies” are very good at evoking mental images. And they’re more than just mental images. They’re the kind of animated mental pictures that float through your head as you drift in and out of a light sleep. The images that cross your mind when you’re on the bus, and you zone out for a while.

But it’s not just the music that is evocative. The song titles themselves are sometimes enough to spark your imagination. Magician’s Assistant…The Way of the Dodo…The Day Nothing Happened. If those were real movies, I’d go see them in a second.

Of all the tracks, however, no imaginary movie is as intriguing as “Yeti’s Lament”. I can picture it now: our abominable furry friend trudges through the snow, pondering the meaning of his existence, lamenting the loss of…whatever a yeti might lose.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The opening clarinet. Mental image: the yeti looks at an old photograph and lets out a snowy sigh.

2. The turntable scratches at 0:53. Mental image: a panicky mosquito gets trapped in the yeti’s fur.

3. The way the two clarinets harmonize from 2:05 to 2:16. Mental image: the yeti frees the mosquito from his tangled fur, and realizes that he can make a difference in the world, no matter how small.

Recommended listening activity:

Drawing your dreams.

04 Feb

Week 143: “A Touch of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff

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1987 was a big year for hip hop.

Looking at a list of hip hop releases from that year, it becomes obvious that this was a genre struggling with the fact that it was breaking into the mainstream, but not sure whether doing so would harm its authenticity as an artform.

Rap was heading into a lot of directions all at once; Public Enemy pushed the political side, NWA was building the foundations of 90s gangsta rap, and the Beastie Boys were…well, white. A comment in the liner notes of Kool Moe Dee’s 1987 album “How Ya Like Me Now” hints at how apprehensive many experienced rappers were of hip hop’s sudden appeal: “The Beastie Boys: We rappers have worked very hard to get rap to the level it’s at. Don’t mess it up.”

One of my favourite hip hop songs of 1987 is “A Touch Of Jazz” by DJ Jazzy Jeff. When I first heard it, I hadn’t even considered the fact that you could make a hip hop song without someone rapping, and it really made me listen to the way he blended samples to make something new. It was the beginning of my love affair with sample-based music, and the soundtrack to many a solo dance session in my room.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. His choice of samples. Jeff earned his nickname by sampling outside of the standard roll of funk breaks that DJs were sampling in the 80s. The jazzy, spacey vibe he accomplishes sets him apart, and makes his songs interesting enough to stand alone as instrumentals.

2. The sample at 0:51. It comes out of nowhere and totally changes the direction of the song.

3. You can tell it’s mixed live. This is one guy with two turntables. Sometimes the cuts are just a bit off the beat, something that wouldn’t happen nowadays, as everything would be done to a click track and edited with computer software. But the fact that he’s not metronome-perfect reminds you that it’s a human manipulating various records on the fly. That’s real DJ-ing.

Recommended listening activity:

Developing a secret handshake with a friend.

19 Nov

Week 132: “Two Hearts In 3/4 Time” by The Avalanches

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We’re three-quarters of the way through Southern Hemisphere Month, so it’s only fitting that we take a listen to a song in ¾, a crazy, schizophrenic blast of sample-based beauty by Melbourne’s Avalanches.

I discovered this band in 2000. I got home late from a night at the bar, dazed and sleepy, and I thought that a little MTV and a nice tall glass of water would be a nice nightcap. I sat on the couch, took a swig of water, and turned on the TV right as the video for the Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” began to play.

If you’ve never heard that song, it’s a weird one. And the video is weirder. I spent the next four minutes staring dumbly at the screen, a trickle of water dripping from my lip, with one eyelid twitching. It was one of the weirdest videos I had ever seen, and the music had me hooked. The next morning, I bought the album.

Thankfully, not all the songs were as crazy as “Frontier Psychiatrist”. But it was (still is) a brilliant piece of work. While most of it is dancey and frenetic, it slows down just enough for this fun little number.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The constant vinyl crackle. This is an album of samples, the way DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing…” was, and with all the crackle and hiss you can almost smell the stacks of forgotten records that went into making it.

2. The vocal sample. It’s from “Yu-Ma” by Marlena Shaw, and when it’s taken out of context like this, it seems almost ridiculously happy to the point of being borderline creepy. Kind of makes me want to start skipping.

3. The e-piano sample. Not sure where this came from, but it’s great. A bit aimless, like it might have been improvised.

Recommended listening activity:

Sitting on a chair that’s high enough to allow you to swing your feet.

15 Oct

Week 127: “Changeling” by DJ Shadow

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When the unmanned Voyager space probe was flung into space in 1977, with the hopes that it would one day be found by intelligent (and, we assume, surprised) aliens, it contained a golden record that included 90 minutes of music from around the world, carefully compiled to give a complete sampling of what music was like on planet earth.

By now, Voyager has probably left the solar system, and that golden record is still sitting patiently inside, just waiting to be discovered. It’s an incredible thing for us to have done, if you think about it…one of the most hopeful yet desperate, admirable yet futile things the human race has ever attempted.

However, if we ever decide to do it again, I’d like to suggest that we save ourselves the trouble of compiling another golden record, and just include a copy of DJ Shadow’s 1996 masterpiece, “Endtroducing…” If you have never listened to it, start to finish, you really should. It’s like boarding a time machine that malfunctions, sending you simultaneously into the past and the future.

But if you haven’t got 63 minutes to spare, then at least spend the next seven listening to “Changeling”.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The 7/4 time signature. Different enough to stand out, but still head-nod friendly.

2. The sample at 1:38. It comes from this song, and it’s unexpectedly bright and cheery.

3. It starts to break down at about 4:37. The drums get clippy, then drop out altogether, giving way to ethereal guitars and atmospheric noises. It’s like the song is disintegrating, slowly coming apart and floating away. Entropy.

Recommended listening activity:

Closing your eyes and imagining that you’re slowly leaving the solar system.

24 Oct

Week 76: “Ghostwriter” by RJD2

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Some songs are hard to love. They take multiple listens and an open mind before they finally begin to grow on you, getting gradually better with each listen.

This is not one of those songs.

For me, this song was an insta-love. It was 2004, and I was wasting time in the record store (remember those?) at one of those “listening posts” that were so handy in the pre-YouTube era. I was giving a first listen to the album Deadringer by RJD2, which had been highly recommended by a friend. For no good reason, I skipped to track six. Within five seconds, I was intrigued. Within thirty seconds, my head was nodding approvingly. By two minutes, I didn’t know whether to discard the headphones and run to the cashier, or continue to demonstrate my erratic dance moves to the increasingly uneasy co-shoppers who were quietly edging away from me.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s got spooky sampled vocals. Listen for them starting at 0:46. They’re similar to the type of samples Moby used to use, but more haunting.

2. It’s got big funky horns. Clear some space around you before you get to 1:30. Those horns have been known to cause some serious cases of spontaneous running-man.

3. It’s got some serious groove. Try walking with this in your headphones. You will be unable to stop your feet from walking in time with the beat. Add those horns, and before you know it, you’ll be walking with some serious attitude, like you just gave that annoying co-worker a piece of your mind.

Recommended listening activity:

Strutting.

23 Aug

Week 15: “The Crow…” by DJ Food

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As explained in the liner notes of their brilliant 2000 album “Kaleidoscope”, DJ Food is not a person. Rather, it is an ensemble of British turntablists and electronic artists who, in the early 90s, put out a series of jazzy samples for use by DJs…a kind of food for DJs, hence the name.

This song is by a member named Patrick Carpenter. Often listed on their albums by his initials, Carpenter was mistakenly assumed by some fans to be nothing more than a personal computer. On this song, however, he proves to be more than mere circuitry, as he assembles a wide range of samples to create a stunning piece of music. And you’ve gotta love a song with an ellipsis in the title.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. The percussion. It starts with some quiet bongos, and builds into looped drum madness by the end.

2. The samples. Many turntablists and turntablist groups use samples as accents, or even filler, but in this song, little vocal snipits and other various bits of noise build a spooky yet beautiful atmosphere.

3. The vibraphone. Is there any instrument more likely to put you into a deep, satisfied snooze than the vibraphone? It’s used sparingly in this song, but they throw it in at just the right moments. The end is particularly great, as the vibes sink lower and lower, disappearing and reappearing, until you’re so relaxed all you can manage is a blissed-out grin of satisfaction.

Recommended listening activity:

Walking through your favourite neighbourhood late at night.