Category: Audio

The Holidailies Audio Guide to modern classical music

Classical is classical, and pop is pop. And never the twain shall meet.

When I was studying music in college, that was distinction drilled into our heads. But a generation of performers and composers are blurring those lines such that rock musicians write works inspired by avant-garde composers, and composers work with international rock stars. Even when those lines were clearly marked, many composers still found inspiration outside the bubble of the European tradition.

Györgi Ligeti, Etudes, Book I: I. Désordre (Jeremy Denk, piano)

Györgi Ligeti’s piano études in the mid 80s were influenced by gamelan, African polyrhythms, Bela Bartók and jazz. This first étude from Book I certainly tests a pianist’s rhythmic mettle.

Nico Muhly, Drones and Piano: I. (Bruce Brubaker, piano; Nico Muhly, drones)

In addition to composing works for major symphonies, Nico Muhly has worked with Jónsi from Sigur Rós, Björk and Grizzly Bear. Muhly was inspired by the hum of his vacuum cleaner to compose a set of works collected as Drones.

Jonny Greenwood, Popcorn Superhet Receiver: III. (AUKSO Orchestra; Marek Mós, conductor)

Jonny Greenwood is known mostly as the guitarist for Radiohead, but at one point, he studied music composition. Popcorn Superhet Receiver is a response to Krzysztov Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.

Aaron Roche, “Trash”

Aaron Roche released !BlurMyEyes on New Amsterdam, a label dedicated to composers and ensembles equally at home in rock bands and classical ensembles. “Trash” starts off with some strange textures before some Americana emerges.

The Holidailies Audio Guide to

Shiina Ringo? fra-foa? Cocco? NUMBER GIRL? Are they for real?

Why, yes, Holidailies reader, they are. If you regularly spend your Saturday late nights watching [adult swim], you’ve probably encountered some ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION, Hajime Chitose, ORANGE RANGE or L’Arc~en~Ciel. Popular music from Japan is not an unknown quantity here in the US, but it’s not anything you would encounter on a Clear Channel playlist either.

And while there are sites catering to worldwide audiences of Hamasaki Ayumi, tends to focus on bands that, even in Japan, may not get a widespread audience. And there is room for Utada Hikaru as well.

If the last five days of entries seemed like a whole lot of music geek posturing, well … you’d be right. I don’t hang onto Pitchfork’s every word. I’m not out to outdo Fluxblog, Stereogum or Arjan Writes. I listen to what I like, and I write about what I’m listening to.

And most of that stuff is sung in Nihongo.

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Listen: Stephanie Mills – Never Knew Love Like This Before

I was 8 years old when Stephanie Mills scored a hit with "Never Knew Love Like This", and my motivation for wanting a 7-inch single of this song was pretty basic — I liked it.

Nearly 30 years later, I still enjoy listening to it. Most R&B today is done with an arsenal of synthesizers and samplers, so the sound of a live band backing Mills feels pretty refreshing by comparison.

I’m finding myself slowly getting fascinated by the R&B of that era. Lakeside’s "Fantastic Voyage" and the S.O.S. Band’s "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" — they were done by live musicians. Who does what they did nowadays?

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Listen: Electric Light Orchestra – Twilight

Of all the bands in all the world, would you ever imagine reading about Electric Light Orchestra on this site? Probably not, and most likely never again.

ELO earned a spot on the map of my family thanks to that cinematical gem called Xanadu. My brother bought the soundtrack, and it got some extensive spins on the local turntable. (We were all kids back then — cut us some slack.)

"Hold on Tight" was one of the first singles to come in the wake of Xanadu, and so too "Twilight". I think I heard it once on the radio in Hawaiʻi, and it was enough to make me love it.

Nearly three decades later, the song strikes me as having a close affinity to New Wave. I can easily see someone doing an indie rock version of this song.

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Listen: A Taste of Honey – Sukiyaki

A few months back, I cataloged some 7-inch singles that have been sitting in the closet, which gave me opportunity to seek these songs out on various online retailers. Many of these singles date back to 1980, when I was a wee youngster bugging my mom to get me this or that.

My music collecting habit didn’t really take off till 1984, but these early purchases were a harbinger of things to come.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a "Listen" column, so over the next few days, I’ll be sharing some of these songs with you. (All files detonate after a week, of course.)

A Taste of Honey’s "Sukiyaki" isn’t really a cover of Sakamoto Kyu’s US hit from the 1950’s. The English lyrics aren’t a translation of the original. An 8-year-old, however, wouldn’t really care about that. Back then, I just dug the mix of koto with Western instruments, something that would reinforced a number of years later when Hiroshima recorded "Hawaiian Electric".

If I were to cover the song today, I’d probably do the original Japanese version, but I couldn’t do it in an enka style.

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I should have covered Do As Infinity’s ‘We Are’

I keep blaming Eponymous 4 for why I never update this site. Well, I offer this cover of Utada Hikaru’s “Be My Last” as a Christmas offering to readers. I really should have covered Do As Infinity’s “We are”, since that’s an actualy Christmas song.

Tomorrow, I might post a Shiina Ringo cover.

Requisite gay pride entry, 2008

June is Gay Pride Month, and last year, Towleroad linked to a post on Hypeful containing MP3s of gay artists. I supplemented those offerings with my own list of less recognizable names.

If this blog has a focus — which it really doesn’t — the three top subjects are Japanese indie rock, modern classical music and college rock from the ’80s. But I do mention independent gay musicians as well.

2008 has been a good year for discovery, so why not share yet again? These links will self-destruct in two weeks.

The Dead Betties, "Nightmare Sequence"

Darren Hayes, "How to Build a Time Machine"

hey willpower, "Magic Window"

Adam Joseph, "Take Time"

The Magnetic Fields, "California Girls"

Mirah, "Cold Cold Water"

Bob Mould, "Shelter Me"

Nico Muhly, "Mothertongue, Part 1: Archive"

Office, "Possibilities"

There are still not enough women on this list.

Listen: 中森明菜 (Nakamori Akina) – URAGIRI

Like Nagai Mariko’s WASHING, I picked up Nakamori Akina’s CRUISE as a way to explore what Japanese pop had to offer outside of anime soundtracks. The album was released in 1989, a tumultuous time in Nakamori’s life. She attempted to commit suicide when she split with her actor boyfriend, and her pop career never really recovered from that incident.

The album itself is incredibly understated, Nakamori singing so low she barely registers on some tracks. Back in 1991, I really couldn’t get into the very subdued sound, but in 2008, I find that restraint appealing. I remember the salesperson at Shirokiya in Ala Moana telling me at the time she didn’t really like the album. I’ve come around to it.

"URAGIRI" is the opening track, and it sounds like it could be an opening theme to some television drama. Or even an anime.

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Listen: 永井真理子 (Nagai Mariko) – Say Hello

Back in 2007, I made a New Year’s resolution to post an audio file everyday for the entire year, and like most New Year’s resolution, I failed to keep it. I did, however, soldier long enough to get me to SXSW, which thus killed the momentum of the project.

So I’m bringing back an occasional "Listen" column when I come across something in the collection that catches my attention.

When I first started listening to Japanese pop music, I wanted to hear something a bit more rocking than the Macross Song Collection, something more along the lines of the Bubblegum Crisis Complete Vocal Collection, Vol. 1. Nagai Mariko’s WASHING came close enough to what I was looking for, although even in the early ’90s, I was craving for something along the lines of Cocco.

"Say Hello" is a more poignant take on the power rock that seems to have informed Nagai’s early career. I say "seems to have informed" because I never really explored any of her other albums. Judging from a few YouTube clips, she sang the kind of pop perfect for anime theme songs.

I’ve tried to sell WASHING at various points in the past with no takers, but now I think I’ll hold onto it. It’s such a contrast to the self-important stuff that takes up so much real estate on my shelves.

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The worst performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’?

I don’t usually mention my home studio project, Eponymous 4, except when I let readers know I’ll be neglecting this site to do work there. But I just spent the last two or so hours on an experiment.

It involves Ableton Live and Terry Riley’s seminal work, In C.

The Session View of Ableton Live lets musicians take snippets of a song and arrange them in different configurations. Say you have a bass line in a verse. If you want to hear what it sounds like in another part of the song, you have to cut and paste in a linear setting but not with Ableton Live. You can even experiment with how different parts of a song connect. It’s tough to describe Session View (especially at 2:40 a.m.) without some demonstration.

When I was introduced to the Session View, I immediately thought of In C. If it’s so easy to isolate every portion of a song to mix and match every which way, why not leverage that with the 53 motifs in In C?

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