Archive for the ‘music’ Category

love the Rybak story, don't like Rybak

May 17th, 2009

It has come to pass.

I would say it's hard to believe that it's gone this far, but truly it isn't. Eurovision has always been garbage so I'm not particularly shocked at this outcome. The problem with Eurovision isn't the music, it's the voting. Every time there are some good acts in it, but the votes fall pretty much as the wind blows, it's by no means meritocratic. (That is, even looking past the blatant political voting and back room deals between neighboring countries.) So if you watch it you'll only be pissed that the best songs never get recognized.

But then they picked Rybak. Two-three months ago I'd never heard of him. I was visiting in Norway and I was told the biggest celebrity in the country right now is a guy with Belarusian origins who plays the violin. Sweet! What's not to like about that?

It's a feel good story, almost makes me feel like it could have been me. I'd like nothing better than someone like this get recognized. Norway is a great place, but like all immigration stories go, there are some people who look down on some people from certain geographic origins; it's pure prejudice. And he plays violin to boot, an eccentric interest to say the least. Which I did too once! And this is the guy the Norwegian public loves to death.

All was rosy. And then I heard his music. :/

Awful stuff. The melody must be derived from some sort of folk music, evidenced by the lame dancing. I hate folk music. Then there is the violin, which he doesn't really do much with, except play the theme. And even if you liked it up to that point, then he starts singing. Borderline off key. It literally doesn't even make the standard of an average Eurovision entry.

Needless to say, pop music is not about music, it's about image. And he certainly has that going for him. Maybe if he gets a good producer behind him he can crank out something actually worth playing on the radio. Having come this far, he can't be completely devoid of talent, can he? Just talent misdirected, that's my guess.

The Rybak story is a great story, but it sorely needs an injection of credibility. Maybe one day he could be celebrated on musical merit?


July 16th, 2008

magnatune recommendations

November 6th, 2007

It's been a while now since I found out about Magnatune, the record company that doesn't hate the world (and doesn't peddle muscular rappers and skimpy clad teenage girls). In this time I've listened to a bunch of albums with amarok, and here are the best ones I found. I've listened to many more, but these are the ones I liked enough to secure permanently.

Amarok has the nice property that you can browse the collection right in the program. If you buy using amarok, it remembers the albums you got, so you can redownload and stuff like that, very handy. If you only stream, you get the same music, but you also get a short commercial at the end of every track.

Rob Costlow - Woods of chaos

It's always difficult to determine genres. Magnatune calls this New Age music. Another description given is melodic piano pieces, which is dead on. It's a suite of greatly soothing pieces I would say. One thing it perhaps lacks is enough complexity to last a long time, so after a while the pieces become too familiar and appear a bit dull.

Costlow has one other album on Magnatune, Sophomore Jinx, which I didn't find as good.

Johannesburg Philharmonic - Coleridge-Taylor/Dvorak Violin Concertos

I found this album while browsing the classical section (which seems to be the best one on Magnatune).

Coleridge-Taylor is an interesting find. His concerto opens with an irresistably virtuosic voilin solo delivered by Philippe Graffin, and from that point on I knew I was listening to something I would like.

And then there is the Dvorak, one of the underrated Romantic composers I'd say, sure to catch my eye every time. The concerto in a minor is not his most well known work, and I think not as good as his cello concerto in a major, but still offers quite enough to satisfy.

Ehren Starks - The Depths of a Year/Lines Build Walls

Ehren Starks is more of a jazz piano act. These two albums are declared New Age and Classical respectively, although I'm not sure if I would stick them in separate categories. The difference is that The Depths of a Year also has a cello part, played by Kate Gurba. This offers a powerful dimension to an otherwise piano dominated offering.

Each album has a dozen discrete pieces, and they happen to be quite varied. Some are more calm and melodic while others are more busy and engaging. The mixed bag is tough to pull off, but when done right it produces an album that offers much more than a series of performances in much the same style.

learning music modes

May 15th, 2007

As with a lot of things, the theory of music intervals is complicated enough to require a little bit of maturity. The division of the octave into different tunings has evolved with the times, and while the concept is simple, there are many nuances.

An easy way to illustrate is by observing the piano keyboard. The most fundamental scale is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C, and that's an octave, of course. Each of the scales (or collections) built on these successive pitches has its own fancy Greek name, so if you want to understand what the heck people are saying, you better know these as well.

music_modes.pngThe problem is a typical memorization exercise, tie 7 different pitches to 7 Greek names. There is no obvious way to do this, match one set of numbers with another set of names. Except when you're a football supporter. We can memorize lineups and shirt numbers like nobody's business, linking them to faces and positions on the pitch. So why not leverage this ability.

There are 7 players, so we're going to play a 2-2-2 formation. The numbering is standard, ascending from right to left. C is our fundamental pitch, so that's where we start counting.

You're going to look at this formation, and the next time someone mentions Lydian mode you're going to think "Lydian... right midfield, shirt number 4, so that's... C, D, E, F. The mode is then F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F".

If only we could get this team into Football Manager, everyone would know this.

the one big problem of hip hop

May 13th, 2007

It's almost as if no one dared to say it before. But here's the statement that says more about hip hop music than anything else.

People fail to realize that hip hop first and foremost is a musical art-form. Right now, hip hop just isn’t living up to musical standards. It’s just plain bad.

From an opinion about why hip hop sales are plummeting.

I would go much further than this. To me, hip hop has always been bad music, with a few exceptions. I believe that any musical genre must always be about the music, otherwise it's pointless. And while there are certain things that have always attracted me to hip hop - the energy, the bold form of expression, the rhythm, and sometimes the lyricism - I have always found it profoundly lacking in the music itself. It's a genre that wants to be loved, but I just cannot find enough reason to embrace it, the music is so lacking.

Meanwhile, there have been exceptions. Songs that have the kind of musical quality that make them mainstays in my listening (most have previews on

But these are exceptions, not the only ones, but taken out of a small set. When I do like a hip hop song, it's usually because of the melodic/harmonic/rhythmic value, not the lyrics, whatever they may be.

Perhaps melody and harmony just don't square with the core values of hip hop, but as long as it is music, it will always be judged on those.

So how can you tell if a hip hop song is worth its salt? Here's one thing to try. Remove the vocals. Vocals are very important in hip hop, so removing this will make the music feel very empty. But here's the question. Does what remains offer anything at all?