Herb

Herbie Hancock has been more influential in my development than any other single artist. I was introduced to his album “Head Hunters” by my cousin when I was about 8, and my mind was immediately blown. I had heard jazz and I had heard funk, but I had never been subject to such a completely homogeneous mixture of the two. Huge, delicious synthesizers are everywhere on that album, supporting a top-notch band of musicians and often even taking center stage.

Herbie was a huge part of a musical revolution. Synthesizers had become acceptable in mainstream music, and jazz and funk were going through many changes. “Head Hunters” was one of the earliest popular examples of “jazz fusion,” taking the chords and instrumentation from jazz and imbuing them with the ferocity and attitude of funk and rock and roll, and adding synths of course. I would imagine that most of the people listening to that album for the first time had never heard sounds anything like it. The opening track literally blew my mind as a child.

Just the first half, the song is 15 minutes of pure funk. That bass synth is so deep and squishy and hilarious, and I feel like it perfectly embodies the soft yet screaming boogie mindset that Herbie’s and other’s funk defined.

Hip hop is entirely based on samples from this era. Contemporary producers looking back to their roots find this music and see it as the godfather of future-funk. It directly influences myself and countless other musicians and really opened my world to the beauty of electronic sounds. He says here (about 5:30 in, but the rest is SO sick you have to watch) that synthesizers are just tools, and it’s up the musician to make a thing of beauty out of it, which he certainly does.

This video also demonstrates his forward thinking. He’s hangin out with Quincy Jones, jamming on one of this many synths with the Fairlight (one of the first digital samplers) provided a groovy swangin sampled drum beat. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s exactly what every digital production studio is based on today. And he was there on the forefront, working out the kinks so that we could all someday make beats on our laptops. He could never have known what the technology would lead to, but his funky fresh style (and all the money he made with it!) enabled him to bring the light and love of synthesis to the ears of millions.

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Mnd’s I

Thanks, Mndsgn! He and Devonwho just released an album together last week. Listen/buy here http://klipmode.bandcamp.com/

Track 26 on that album, called “Ovrwhere”, is fearless. I’ve already listened to it way too many times, but it is such challenging listen that I can’t help but go back for more. The point I want to make today is about style, and boy is this album full of it.

The freedom throughout gives a sense of real innocence. These particular cats certainly know what they’re doing, but the heavily swung rhythms and bouncy synth lines are so playful and experimental that it really reminds me of a couple of kids getting down on their dad’s keyboards. You can tell they’re having a blast.

These tracks are like the perfect modern culmination of funk, rnb, hip hop, and jazz. Samples taken from all over, drums reminiscent of 90s hip hop (which were all either drum machines from the 80s or samples from 60s 70s and 80s records anyway!), and classic synthesizer patches. I think it’s marvelous that a dude with a laptop can bring so many of those styles together under his fingertips to create a new sound and inspire everyone else. The swang ain’t for everyone; once again my pops can’t hang, and some of my pals argue, “You can’t dance to that!” To which I reply, “no, YOU can’t dance to that. Face!” And while a lot of the chords and sounds might sound like lucky guesses or chances discoveries to a passive listener, I can tell that at least someone around them has really given jazz a lot of thought. The choppy sound comes from the fact that everything is sampled (just getting it into the computer is sampling!), but the majority of it, I’m guessing, is sampled from themselves.

This kind of shit influences me so profoundly. As I said before, the track “Ovrwhere” is fearless. It’s possible that he just knew it would be cool, but it seems that most of the public (the uneducated, hah!) is still some time away from accepting this as “hip.” (at least here in San Marcos. If yall’s buds are all bout it bout it then please, hit me up!)  It’s inspiring on many levels to hear music coming straight from the soul like that. It seems like it’s as much a process of discovery for the producer as it is for the listener, like a found objects collage or a non-objective Pollack-style painting. And in that sense, not only do Mndsgn and Devonwho take the listener on a journey, but they’re along for the ride, too.

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What does non-objective music mean to me? Taking experimentation to the extreme, many artists don’t even include traditional rhythm in their compositions. Kind of like free jazz, these dudes (and dudettes!) are experiencing music through very thin guidelines and only rarely referencing what we’ve come to know as common structure. The mental dissection usually present in conscious composition is obscured by the investigation of aesthetics. How many or few synth stabs can you get away with in a piece and have it affect your listener in a positive way, or in any way? Non-objective (noise, experimental, non-representational) music is arguably less fun to listen to than to produce, but something in some listener’s heads allows them to appreciate it as they would any other music. It can be hard for some listeners to hear past the clicks and ambience and accept the gift the composer has given them, or to see any meaning in it, but for me, this otherworldly sound-art is all about surrender. Surrender to the limitations of your instruments, surrender to the raw feeling that sounds can evoke. It reminds me of nature, where sound is not following western trends or centuries-old rules of “proper” composition. Non-representational music is full of surprises, and if you let it, can catalyze the internal synthesis of thought and emotion. The field of psychoacoustics deal with the feelings and ideas that music can deliver, and explores the reasons for phenomenon like major scales sounding happy, minor scales sounding somber, etc. But in noise music, these notions aren’t present, at least not in an easily recognizable or traditional form. Most of us, and certainly our collective unconscious, do not have a strong frame of reference for what sound collages are supposed to make one feel. And that’s one thing I really love about sound art: the meaning of the composition is often intentionally left up to interpretation. I’m sure some composeres take it very seriously and know what they’re shoot for from the start, but strange noises make me feel something different every play through. Something painfully calm could stir and unnerve, or actually relax you, depending on how you were feeling when you started it. With digital technology becoming so common, more folks have the opportunity to explore themselves through sound, and that’s exciting.

 

KFW is too cool, he’s doooin it.

 

 

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A New Chapter!

A new chapter has begun in my life, folks. My music will be different, my projects less varied, my Futurama intake severely attenuated. It’s terrible and wonderful all at the same time; my macbook died.

He totally died. He’s been having issues for a while that seem to have finally caught up and taken his sweet innocent life. Bummer, right? Well anyway, it’s making me think a good bit about composition, focus, and productivity.

A fly hipster macbook not only gave me freedom in the form of the internet in bed, but it let me explore any musical idea I could imagine. Any weird, non-objective sound I wanted to make, I could. Any wacky rhythmic explorations or total sampling-deconstruction that I desired to make true, I could. But with all that opportunity, I rarely finished a damn thing. Too much freedom, too wide open. I ended up making music that was more about the process than about the product, which has got me thinking hard about trends in electronic hip hop. I think that a good bit of the call-and-response style volleys between producers come out of a search for direction. When you can do anything, it really is all on your shoulders to make something tight.

I’ve found that verrrry few musicians make Dilla, Lotus, Madlib style music without computers or at least sampling machines. When it’s all live instruments, you’re working hard to not fuck up. Real rhythmic exploration is something that comes after you’ve decided what to play. And for the most part, you usually are working on something that you would potentially reproduce. Not so easy when the rhythm takes a good 4 bars just to recognize.

So since my computer died, I’ve been makin music like I and everyone else used to. By playing it. I still am using electronics of course: synthesizers and midi connectivity. But what I’ve noticed is that the wonderful slanky style, that I report on every week and love so dearly, doesn’t show through hardly at all. At least in my process, it really is a product of the tools I’m using. Maybe everything is so easy to accomplish with a laptop that I (and certainly others) get bored easily and move on to daring sonic experiments. Having to really play every part and record them one at time on  to a tape really has me focusing on melody and the early planning stages of songwriting, something I always felt was lacking in my attempts to reference my heroes.

So I wonder what will happen when my hero’s comps kick the bucket. They’ll prolly just buy a new one, so I feel lucky for the chance to explore myself without at. Better than wishing I wasn’t broke 😉

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Frying Rotus

That video is nuts! Hella original, and Flying Lotus is about as original of a cat that you could find. He’s based of out LA and is pretty much spearheading a genre with his un-quantized synthesizer masterpieces, and he’s the dude behind most of the music in the weird little Adult-Swim commercials on Cartoon Network. Hip folk are all over those shows, so that exposure got everyone and their mom jamming FlyLo’s music (even though many people never knew who they were listening to, he’s never credited anywhere obvious)

He def has a lot of insteresting things to say about music. When asked about the changing hip hop scene in LA he said, “Well, I feel like a lot of kids, a lot of halfway kids, come out here, kids who started making beats six months ago, thinking they can get on stage because their drums are off. This kind of stuff annoys me.” http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/7793-flying-lotus/

That’s refreshing to hear from the king of slank. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether these producers are conciously innovating or if they just suck at the drums and don’t quantize their shit. My dad thinks it all sounds terrible and off, and he’s a pretty cool cat. Pretty hilarious. But FlyLo’s doing what he does deliberately.  He say on that same interview ( read the whole thing, it’s tight ) It’s organic. I just don’t quantize the stuff. You do what you feel and that’s what it is. You don’t try to out-feel yourself. ”

What’s so bad ass is that he’s straight up opening minds with songs like that one. He’s hot stuff right now, everyone’s giving him a lot of attention. So people who would normally never be exposed to something like that, totally are. That being said, there’s hardly a thing like it anywhere already anyway, shit’s so legit. He in general sounds like a legit guy, just making music, not overthinking shiat (like , erhrm, someone i know(am)).

And now, mere months after Cosmogramma (the album that the first two songs are from) comes a new EP, Pattern+Grid World. His catalogue is getting huge, and these tracks are all worthy additions. The song below is adventurous to say the least. I think he’s got a sick balance of goofy 8bit wonder and synth fantasia goin on, but I’m worried what will come out of people who try to copy this sound 😉

Anyway, yeah. He’s raw.

 

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Aww tech her!

Naw, it’s Autechre. One of the more forward thinking electronic duos in the known universe. I wouldn’t actually consider them a part of hip hop’s current slankification, but within their own musical career they’ve expanded the minds of oh so many with head scratchers like this one.

That music video deserves a blog of it’s own. Shit’s dope.

Fairly recent Autechre. Totally nuts and totally awesome! Legend (wikipedia) has it, they met through the local graffiti scene in Manchester in 87 (a year before I was born!) and bonded over their love of hip hop. Their earlier works (debut in 93) were a good bit more accessible, and honestly don’t do much for me.

Like that, their first single (though that version could be a remix, unclear fasho.) 17 years is a long time, and their sound has clearly (and understandably) changed in that span.

Who cares? Forward thinking artists set the stage for new development. Autechre grew up listening to music from the 70s and 80s, and expanded on the sounds they were familiar with. Then when they got tired of those, continued out into the deep sonic tundra of “experimental” music. I grew up on late 80s and 90s music, and was introduced to the more extreme side of electronica when I was maybe 9, and didn’t even embrace it until my later teens, and I’ve been profoundly influenced by these wild textures and rhythms. What I think is exciting is the future crop of young, adventurous producers. What will hip hop sound like when the producer’s earliest memories of electronic music are Squarepusher, Autechre, or even extreme-extreme jams like Merzbow. It’s exciting to say the least. Each time someone releases a bold audio exploration, the bar is raised. Seasoned artists will copy and expand on each other’s work, while the listeners (especially the impressionable young listeners) sit in awe and submit themselves to the marvel of innovation. I love it. And Autechre aren’t freaking people out for the sake of being different, they’re investigating the outer reaches of their favorite genre. Even rock and roll was looked upon as abrasive at one time.

Next time we’ll talk about Flying Lotus, finally. He just recently released a new Ep that totally wrecks, and marks yet another forward step for the genre. Rave reviews and funky jams and even some possible concerns, lots to talk about.

Everybody reading this should open up garageband (or something tighter!) and muck around for a minute or two, feel creation in yo fingatipzzz

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Is you iz

Flying Lotus and Samiyam colab, you’re life’s better now that you’ve heard it. 

These two guys are at the forefront of progressive hip-hop, and each are going to get their own entry 😉

Samiyam is up first. He grew up in Michigan listening to east coast hip hop and his dad’s old jazz records, and has since moved to LA to be closer to the budding experimental scene there. While not quite as extreme at Flying Lotus, Samiyam’s beats and squishy synth stabs often push the limit of danceability (if you ask a square, that is!). One look at the comments on any of his youtube videos shows that his style (this style, the whole thang I’m ever on here rambling about) is at the least, controversial. Half of the people say it’’s the face of new music, the future of hip hop and underground culture. The other half condemn it as crap or argue with the fans about it’s cultural validity. Samiyam, himself, says, “none of us are doing something that groundbreaking, but just some different shit, you know?” (http://cosign.wordpress.com/2008/05/08/samiyam-cosign-interview/)  I wonder if he’s just being modest or if he really feels that way. The format is similar to hip hop, certainly. Samples and drum machines and synthesizers in sometimes-repetitive patterns, but the laidback soul of hip hop culture shines through in his production.

He mentions in that same interview that, “the kids are getting something a little bit different.” Being one of those kids, I can absolutely vouch for that. Kids are always looking for something rad and different, and his rhythm stands out so obviously as real exploration. Lovers and haters agree that it’s engaging and new.

 With an almost impish disregard for standard quantization, Samiyam slyly slips his listener’s an audio envelope of funky mystery. What interests me so much is the direction this is all leading. People who pick up a drum machine for the first time today will have so much fresh inspiration to draw on, and media outlets, particularly Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim,” have begun disseminating the slanky scene phenomenon to kids and young adults all over the world. It’s funny to think of how many people will be touched and influenced by these songs just because someone at that TV station really digs new, experimental hip hop. They could’ve been into anything, but since it’s Flying Lotus and Dilla all over the place in between hit shows, they and the station both gain mega cool points.

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