Episode three of our exclusive doc on BAMM.tv favorites The Soft White Sixties heads to Sacramento, California – the third date on the tour we followed, and also the hometown of band member Octavio, whose childhood home soon gets invaded by a film crew (in the nicest possible sense, of course). Among other things there’s a cage full of canaries, a selection of dive-bombing tips, and – most importantly – some awesome music selections courtesy of the band themselves, including a storming piano-led version of ‘Ain’t Your Mother.’
BAMMers Zachary Ryan and Jeff LaPenna have certainly pulled a classic out of the bag with this directorial effort, and the best news is that there are more installments to come. Keep an eye out for future episodes in the coming days, as well as yet more incredible live music videos exclusive to BAMM.tv. Sometimes we wonder if we’re too generous …
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Here at BAMM.tv, we’re always keeping an eye out for the latest exciting developments in the worlds of music and tech. That’s why we’re thrilled to offer up an exclusive interview with none other than Vince De Franco – musical innovator par excellence, whose incredible career to date has seen him invent new instruments like the Dimension Beam and the Mandala, collaborate with artists as varied as Yes, Tool, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger, Prince, Tina Turner and Peter Gabriel (not to mention working along psychedelic figurehead Timothy Leary) and develop several online systems.
In short: the man is a pioneer in a world where the term pioneer is thrown about with impunity. We were lucky enough to pick his brains about the future of music … and he had some fascinating stuff to say.
Do you think these are particularly exciting times for musical progression?
Yes. Everyone is a musician, and always has been. As time goes on we are moving closer to a reality in which our innate musical self is more easily projected onto a medium and distributed than ever before because of intuitive and accessible tools. More people are being more musically creative than ever right now because the tools necessary to create and record music are already in their pocket or on their desk in the form of a phone or tablet or laptop. The ability to share musical creations is also more widespread than ever right now by way of a few taps on a screen or clicks of a mouse. To me, more expression and more sharing of expression is progressive and creates excitement.
Does increased accessibility of technology mean that more and more people can create their own instruments/sounds?
There are an infinite number of ways to synthesize sound, from tapping two rocks together to playing a cello to speaking words to running a computer program, etc. So, we’ve always had the ability to create instruments and sounds with the tools around us, but with today’s increased accessibility of technology there’s been an exponential increase in the ability to create novel sounds. These days we’re hearing more and more new sounds than ever before.
How do new musical inventions come around, in a ‘chicken or egg’ sense? By which I mean, does an invention come about because an artist requests a specific sound, or does the invention arrive first and is then leapt upon by artists?
It can happen both ways. I may be experimenting with a new technology meant for some purpose outside of musical instruments and it suddenly becomes apparent that a more evolved version could facilitate the ability to express oneself musically.
The Dimension Beam [D-Beam] infrared musical controller came about because I was working with an IR beam that had 2 levels of reflection detection for video game control, but I pushed it up to 1000 levels in order to track my guitar neck. After it was presented at a musical convention it was leapt upon by many artists and then eventually licensed to Roland.
The Mandala Drum on the other hand came about because Danny Carey of the band Tool asked me to make him a three zone drum trigger that would connect to his Mac and output sound with just a few milliseconds of latency. In the course of creating that trigger I invented a membrane technology that could detect at least hundreds of zones, and now we’ve got a whole new instrument in the Mandala.
You’ve worked with Tool, who are noted for their experimental attitude. Which other artists are great to work with in this sense? Are there any you would like to work with in the future?
Groups like the Melvins and Fantomas use unconventional methods live and during recording. That sure keeps things fun and interesting. Also, Ryeland Allison as a composer and sound designer, etc., has kept my mind sharp for many years. He’s always trying new techniques whether he’s working on something like the Dark Knight score with Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard or solo compositional projects and groundbreaking sound libraries. He’s been a great help during development of the Mandala Drum as well. And there are also people like Aphex Twin [Richard James]. I’d be into somehow collaborating with that wizard.
The notion of ‘muscle memory’ machines (devices that will program our muscles with ‘memory’ – the same kind of muscle memory that a guitar player spends years developing through practice) sounds intriguing. Could you tell us more about this?
Going through the motions of playing constitutes practice whether a mechanical device is guiding/pushing you through or not. However, a mechanical device could reduce the amount of time it takes to ‘memorize’ something because the perfectly executed repetitive steps would, of your own volition, be forced upon you. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Sophisticated physical rehabilitation and therapy machines are being developed and used successfully at places such as the Kessler Foundation and UC Irvine. People are relearning how to walk! In theory there is no reason why their findings couldn’t be adapted to the development of the physical and mental motion necessary to play an instrument.
How do you think such muscle memory devices would compare against classically-trained people? Is there any contest for innate musical ability (i.e. if I used this machine, hypothetically, would I have the same skills as, say, Eric Clapton?)
There are plenty of people out there who have trained themselves to cover Clapton songs amazingly well, note for note, with all his inflections and technique. A lot of those people can pull off amazing covers of other players as well. That doesn’t mean they could’ve written any of those songs though. Developing muscle memory helps develop technique to get from one place to another and can help add some flair along the way. That’s not creative skill however. That’s technical skill. Technical skills are a tool that can support creativity but not necessarily conjure it.
What implications do you think these muscle memory devices would have on music and popular culture in general?
There’d probably be a lot more shredders out there …on all musical instruments! But, that wouldn’t do much to enrich culture. I think the cultural impact of musical muscle memory development would be analogous to the impact of motion picture special effects technology on culture. On their own, the effects do nothing. There has to be a great story underneath. Something essential. If there is, and the effects are top notch and used wisely, culture can be affected positively. Individuals are touched in a mythical way by these artistic offerings, and a unified feeling ripples through the collective unconscious. It’s similar with music. The inspiration and life experiences that fuel the musician will need to be there underneath the muscle memory technique which is being used as a tool to support the essence of the creator.
You also state that we will soon be able to play instruments using only our thoughts – which, again, is similarly fascinating. Could you expand on this?
Scientists at places such as UC Berkeley and University of Utah and Northwestern are already decoding and translating brainwaves into words and control signals for mechanical devices. Their applications for this technology are in the field of medical treatment right now but I see great new forms of musical expression emerging from their developments. Just think, directly from your mind to an instrument to someone else’s ears. Physical ability may no longer be required to compose music or record a new symphony for the ages!
What implications do you think such thought-controlled devices would have?
There will be a lot of previously untapped smiling and happiness bubbling to the surface. Something big will be unlocked in a lot of minds that hadn’t previously been able to fight through themselves. There will be a new freedom of expression. It makes me think of the amazing viral videos of people with new cochlear implants that are hearing for the first time ever. Thought controlled musical creation will be just as momentous in an inverse way.
Are there other exciting music/tech developments you could share with us?
The sound of a billion drums beating! What do you think the music industry will look like in 20 years time?
A struggle between individuals and large operations will continue, with the state of technology helping define whose court the ball is in along the way. In terms of substantial revenue streams for artists, the live experience can always prevail, as well as merchandise sales. The problem is that there will always be a way to exchange recorded music freely unless a technology comes along which adds a new and overwhelmingly desirable dimension to the musical listening experience by way of a medium or tools that are not easily accessible by most people. Then the distribution of those tools will regulate the distribution of the recorded musical experience. You had a long-standing working relationship with Timothy Leary. Do you think it’s beneficial to use the experimental, psychedelic approach of someone like Leary when approaching technology?
Timothy used to say ‘Everybody gets the Timothy Leary they deserve.’. What I got was was a mentor in the form of a world class psychologist that stressed the importance of learning. He encouraged me to continue exploring areas that were most exciting to me; physics, music, technology, personal expression and interpersonal behavior. The deeper something is examined the more properties and possibilities arise. The evolution of my learning processes resulted in divergent thinking that helped lead to the development of several technologies and the formation of my company, Synesthesia. Thanks for talking to us, Vince!
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Neil Young may hail from Canada, but his uniquely influential country-rock legacy has seen him take on the mantle of an all-American icon with ease. What better title for his upcoming album, then, than ‘Americana’ – a new collection of cover versions in which he is accompanied by long-standing bandmates Crazy Horse. It’s no less than the 34th studio album by Mr. Young, and – much like his rock legend cohorts Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen – age has done little to mellow his creative prowess, political astuteness, and enviable emotive craft.
‘Americana’ sees Young and Crazy Horse take on the heritage-laden world of American folk songs, classic-era pop music and – bizarrely – a cover of the UK national anthem ‘God Save The Queen’ (which – given the media hype currently swamping Britain in advance of the Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne – one suspects may be more than a little tongue in cheek). They’re all filtered through Young’s unmistakable rock vision and aesthetic, and the result – regardless of what the listener may think of the original songs – provide some of the most interesting interpretations of these classic tunes ever recorded.
‘Americana’ will be available to buy from next Tuesday, but in the meantime why not wind down your hectic week (hey, Thursday is essentially the new Friday, after all, right?) by kicking back and listening to the whole thing in advance, thanks to the good people at Soundcloud? Here you go …
We’ve been losing far too many musical icons in recent months. First came the untimely death of Monkees pop maestro Davy Jones, then – only last week – we bid farewell to all-American country legend Earl Scruggs. Now we’re sad to say goodbye to another pivotal music figurehead: Jim Marshall, the creator of the Marshall amp, and the self-made ‘father of loud’. If you’ve ever had the neighbors complain because your jamming session is shaking their floor like a tectonic plate, chances are it was because of old Jim’s technology.
Marshall Amps released the following statement:
“It is with profound sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved founder and leader for the past 50 years, Jim Marshall. While mourning the Guv’nor though, we also salute a legendary man who led a full and truly remarkable life.
“Jim’s ascent into the history books as ‘the Father of Loud’ and the man responsible for ‘the Sound of Rock’ is a true rags-to-riches tale. Cruelly robbed of his youth by tubercular bones, Jim rose to become one of the four forefathers responsible for creating the tools that allowed rock guitar as we know and love it today to be born. The groundbreaking quartet also includes the late, great trio of Leo Fender, Les Paul and Seth Lover – together with Jim, they truly are the cornerstones of all things rock.
“In addition to the creation of the amps chosen by countless guitar heroes and game-changing bands, Jim was also an incredibly humble and generous man who, over the past several decades, has quietly donated many millions of pounds to worthy causes.
“While the entire Marshall Amplification family mourns Jim’s passing and will miss him tremendously, we all feel richer for having known him and are happy in the knowledge that he is now in a much better place which has just got a whole lot louder!
“Rest in Peace & thank you Jim. Your memory; the music and joy your amps have brought to countless millions for the past five decades; and that world-famous, omnipresent script logo that proudly bears your name will always live on.”
Ever look at the ‘number of plays’ tab on a particular album and marvel at the sheer amount of times you’ve listen to it? Your humble BAMM correspondent recently had this experience when playing Beach House’s ‘Teen Dream’ for the billionth time – released back in early 2010, it still gets a listen from these ears at least every other day. Long-time readers of the blog (and if you’re not yet, we’ll forgive you – but start now and stick around!) will also remember that we also canonized this Baltimore dream-pop duo into the hallowed realm of BAMM Legends.
It’s with a frankly juvenile amount of excitement, then, that we can reveal Beach House’s new album ‘Bloom’ will be unleashed on May 15 via Sub Pop Records. You can check out the first inklings of the record above: the wonderful new song ‘Myth’. Enjoy …
It’s kind of weird that the video which best captures the spirit of Davy Jones – singer-songwriter and Monkees alumni, who died yesterday at the far too early age of 66 – is the one below: an audition tape for The Monkees TV show which he carried out as a 19-year-old whippersnapper. Take a look:
It’s all there – the supernatural confidence, the winking jocularity, the desire to entertain, the way with evasion that only the most charming of bullshitters can truly grasp. Then there’s The Monkees themselves: a band who act as the perfect counterpoint to any sneering hipsters who rally against the validity of ‘manufactured music’. One spin of ‘Daydream Believer’ or ‘Last Train To Clarksville’ is enough to make anyone realise – the notion of a ‘manufactured’ act is a moot point. There are simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’ acts.
And the Monkees? They were very, very good:
And yet … the Monkees were more than ‘just’ a pop band. Despite the common image of manufactured pop being lowest-common-denominator rubbish (and since the ascent of Simon Cowell, that’s arguably a more prescient assessment than ever), there was so much more going on with these guys: an intellectual playfulness, a refusal to treat their teenybop audience like idiots.
Take ‘Head’. Seriously, just watch it again – a movie written by Jack Nicholson in which the band spiral through a metafictional, stream of consciousness odyssey focusing on the nature of free will. With great pop songs added. It’s ‘Being John Malkovich’ thirty years in advance:
And where did Davy himself come into all this? Put bluntly, he was essential. Following the sad news yesterday, tributes flooded in. Guitarist Mike Nesmith stated that Jones’ “spirit and soul live well in my heart among all the lovely people”, bassist Peter Tork said, “Adios to the Manchester Cowboy”, and drummer/singer Micky Dolenz said, “He was the brother I never had and this leaves a gigantic hole in my heart”.
Here’s one of their last performances together. Enjoy:
In our series of predictions for 2012, we quite feasibly announced that the ever-growing phenomenon of ubiquitous band reunions wasn’t going anywhere. And – while cultural mainstays like The Stone Roses and Black Sabbath are getting in on the action – it seems that a good number of cult icons are putting their differences aside too. At The Drive In have famously reunited to play at Coachella this year … and that same festival will also see firm indie favorites Mazzy Star treading the boards.
Even if you’re too young to remember Mazzy Star in their first incarnation, you’ll almost certainly know the voice of Hope Sandoval. The Mazzy frontwoman has been busy with her own band (Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions), but has also carved out a prolific niche as a great guest vocalist for acts such as Death In Vegas, The Chemical Brothers and The Jesus And Mary Chain. Her sultry modernist country-twang is instantly recognisable, even if her name (shamefully) isn’t as well-known as it should be.
Mazzy Star was where it all began, though: an alt-rock bunch of shoegazers from Santa Monica whose 1990 debut ‘She Hangs Brightly’ is easily one of the decade’s best guitar albums. It wasn’t until their 1993 follow-up ‘So Tonight That I Might See’ that they enjoyed (relative) commercial success with their crossover tune ‘Fade Into You’, however.
After years of being unfairly overlooked, 2011 saw Mazzy Star enjoy a whole new reappraisal. The reason? A video game. Gears Of War 3 featured the sublime ‘Into Dust’ on its launch trailer, and suddenly a whole new generation were Mazzying themselves into a tizzy.
Reunion rumblings had been floating around since 2010, but the 2011 popularity surge also saw the release of ‘Common Burn’, their first new material in 15 years:
Mazzy Star are also working on a new album which is due for release later this year. Let’s hope their uniquely flavorful, ambient dream-pop stylings start to gain more of the recognition they deserve – both in terms of their future work and the wider influence their back catalog has cast over rock music in general.
We’ve spoken about band reunions on the BAMM blog before: sometimes they can seem to be a great opportunity for a group to reignite some creative fire, sometimes they can seem like cynical cash-ins worthy only of contempt, sometimes all they can elicit is an indifferent shrug. The news that post-hardcore El Paso rockers At The Drive-In are getting back together, however, should really really stoke your excitement – and here’s why.
It’s widely acknowledged that the tail-end of the 90s (say, ’98 to late 2000, roundabout the time ‘Kid A’ came out) wasn’t the best time for music. Pop stars – who nowadays are self-referential, ultra-ironic brand entities who can often carry a few decent tunes in their catalog – were drippy and insipid. Indie music was going through a wretched phase, particularly in the UK, where the likes of Crowded House tribute-act Travis were considered megastarszzzzzzzz. Electronic music was making great progress, sure – Aphex Twin, Squarepusher – but in an oddly clinical, often emotionless way.
If you were a teenager looking for someone to inspire you to, in the parlance of modern youth, ‘start some shit’, who would you look to?
Answer: these guys.
At-The-Drive-In were loud, frenzied and uncompromising – but also smart, literary, funny, and with a grasp of song structure and melody that can often go overlooked by someone who gave their work a mere casual listen. Their performance on the BBC’s ‘Later With Jools Holland’ remains the stuff of legend. Just look at Robbie Williams’ face at the end. If ever the meme-harvesters at Reddit need an image macro for ‘How Do I Top That?’, that’s the screengrab they need to get hold of.
And now? Now they’re reforming, in time for Coachella 2012. We wouldn’t suggest that it would be worth attending the festival solely to see these guys in action, but … well, actually, that’s exactly what we’re suggesting. History may see The Strokes as the rock band who kickstarted the 2000s, but a select few of us will always know, deep down, it was a bunch of skinny dorks with Afros and library cards who ushered in a new dawn …
Just an occasional feature in which we celebrate artists we love …
There’s prolific, there’s ultra-prolific, and then there’s Stephin Merrit, the lead singer-songwriter behind The Magnetic Fields. Not just in the context of the Magnetic Fields, however (although their back catalogue is impressively sprawling) – Merrit has also taken on frontman duties for several other musical projects, including The 6th, The Gothic Archies and the Future Bible Heroes.
Nonetheless: the Fields are his most well-known artistic excursion, and with good reason. Infact – and not that we want to take a swing down Hyperbole Avenue – they could easily be described as the closest thing America has to The Smiths: fusing together irresistible melody, biting satirical wordplay, androgynous sexuality and single-minded purpose of vision.
Comparisons with Merrit and Morrissey run further than mere aesthetics – Merrit’s un-rock-star-like demeanour has seen him labelled ‘the most depressed man in rock’, which sets him up neatly alongside Mozza in the cheerfulness stakes. Unlike Morrissey’s post-90s career of diminishing returns, however, the quality of Merrit’s work has always been of a standard to actually deserve his loyal fanbase.
1999’s ’69 Love Songs’ remains to many their defining moment – a three-disc concept piece which features, well, 69 Love Songs. It’s the essence of their sound: occasionally bewildering, often patchy, but every now and then shining with such pop brilliance that you cannot help but forgive each and every misstep. It’s easy to argue that Merrit should leave a lot more material on the cutting room floor … but then would the Magnetic Fields still be the Magnetic Fields if he did that?
Predominantly accustomed to blending together acoustic and electronic sounds, Merrit has expanded out of this mindset in recent years with his ‘no-synth’ trilogy of albums. The upcoming ‘Love At The Bottom Of The Sea’ reportedly sees the group returning to their trademark noise – yet one can be sure there’ll always be something surprising in store.
Its always sad when a great band calls it a day, and even sadder when that break-up is something that almost seems to go unnoticed. Even if you’re already a fan of Los Angeles indie-rockers Rilo Kiley, it might have passed you by that they decided to go their separate ways earlier this year. The group had already been on a creative hiatus, but lead guitarist Blake Sennett broke the bad news in July: this temporary split was to become a permanent one.
If you haven’t heard of Rilo Kiley, well, let’s face it: their catalogue ain’t gonna grow anytime soon, so now’s the ideal chance to fully acquaint yourself with one of the most underrated bands of the past few years. Fronted by the luminescent Jenny Lewis (who instantly became the poster girl for lonely indie boys nationwide), their melodic, smart, sassy output spanned four full length albums, of which the two most recent (2004’s ‘More Adventurous’ and 2007’s ‘Under The Blacklist’) solidified their sound perfectly.
This isn’t to say that they were totally unappreciated during their twelve years together. Rilo Kiley were indeed heralded by certain quarters as the ‘next big thing’ roundabout the mid-noughties, with magazines such as Rolling Stone and Word continually championing them. The fact that they didn’t become megastars makes this hype something of a double-edged sword: they could rather unfairly be seen as having ‘failed’ to break the big-time, when that was far from their primary artistic objective. That objective remained constant to the end: to make great music.
Thankfully all the band members remain active, so that Kiley magic will be sprinkled across numerous new creative ventures in the future. Still – it’s a shame that (barring a reunion, which is so often a bad idea) we’ll be hearing no more literary pop-rock from this very special band.