Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Dream Weaver.

August 12, 2017

Have you ever heard a song that had such an impact on you that you still remember where you were when you heard it for the first time?

My family had just moved to Oklahoma, where my father was transferred on assignment. One day I was in my room standing in front of my stereo, tuning around the radio while looking for music to record. When I tuned to KATT, a rock station from Oklahoma City, “Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley was playing. I liked that song, so I pressed the record button to capture its last few minutes before the next song began playing. This next song was unlike anything I ever heard before and I instantly fell in love with it. I kept playing it over and over. It would be years later, long after moving back to Florida, when I would finally learn that the name of that magical song was “Dream Weaver” and I bought the CD at Sam Goody not long afterwards. Goody got it indeed.

My Top 10 songs of the week.

August 12, 2017

I have an account on Last.fm that I use to keep track of what music I like to hear. During the week I listen to my music on my iPod and if there’s a song I really like, I will play that song more than once. When I’m done listening, I synchronize the iPod with iTunes, which in turn reports the data to Last.fm.

Here are my most-played songs for this week.

1. Gary Wright — Dream Weaver
2. King Harvest — Dancing In The Moonlight
3. “Weird Al” Yankovic — Lasagna
4. The Chipmunks — Alvin For President
5. The Chipmunks — Alvin’s Harmonica
6. The Chipmunks — America The Beautiful
7. Bobby McFerrin — Don’t Worry, Be Happy
8. ZZ Top — Rough Boy
9. ZZ Top — Sharp Dressed Man
10. Rodrigo y Gabriela — Tamacun

Yes, I listen to the Chipmunks and no, I am not ashamed.

If there’s enough interest I’ll make this a weekly feature on my blog. If not, then this will be the last time you will ever know what songs keep me sane. EVER.

Wendy Carlos by request.

August 11, 2017

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When I was growing up during the 1970’s, I enjoyed listening to records on my father’s stereo. I especially enjoyed listening to albums of early electronic music from artists like Kraftwerk and Wendy Carlos.

One of my favorite Wendy Carlos albums is By Request in which she performs familiar tunes on a Moog synthesizer. This album was released in 1975 and hasn’t stopped enchanting me since.

Here’s a breakdown on the tracks on offer:

1. Three Dances From “Nutcracker Suite” – The album starts with the Russian Dance before taking us to the Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy and concluding the set with Dance Of The Reed-Pipes, all of them delightfully performed.

2. Dialogues For Piano And Two Loudspeakers – Basically a heated argument between piano and synthesizer. My father hated this track because of the electronic noises but I found it especially haunting. It painted vivid images in my mind, such as flying saucers, eagles falling from the sky and Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper in distress. In fact, when I listen to this same track today, those same images come to mind.

3. Episodes For Piano And Electronic Sound – This picks up from where the previous track left off. The piano playing here is more heartfelt but the electronic sounds always find a sneaky way in with chaotic results.

4. Geodesic Dance (Electronic Etude) – After the piano and synthesizer call it a draw, it’s back to the music. Here Ms. Carlos manages to weave various musical tones and textures into a single tapestry she can call her own while still staying faithful to the familiar melodies.

5. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 In F Major (1st Movement) – One of Bach’s more recognizable tunes, electronically realized. The variety of tones here is amazing.

6. “Little” Fugue In G Minor – Playing a fugue has got to be tricky but Ms. Carlos makes it sound easy. Again a good wealth of various tones integrated into one masterful track.

7. What’s New, Pussycat? – This is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The classic Tom Jones song benefits nicely from its electronic makeover and the playful music captures the mood of cats running amok in the recording studio.

8. Eleanor Rigby – I heard this version years before I heard the original song from the Beatles. Another favorite track.

9. Wedding March – A short and sweet track I really should’ve used at my own wedding.

10. Pompous Circumstances (Variations & Fantasy On A Theme By Elgar) – Ms. Carlos saved the best for last. This epic, 12-minute track is a mashup of familiar classical tunes mixed with variations on the Pompous Circumstances theme. This is beyond ingenious.

This is a fantastic album that’s worth a listen. It just may be the best music you’ve never heard.

Space Music.

April 9, 2016

Space Music is a podcast I found on iTunes that has some very cool electronic music which captures the mood and spirit of outer space. Some of the tracks are mellow and ambient while others have a very catchy percussive beat. As I write this, there are a total of 82 tracks on offer, and I’ve heard them all. Here are my favorites:

I can’t wait to see what new music is coming next.

Low Light Mixes.

March 18, 2016

I was recently searching iTunes for a podcast with news on upcoming meteor showers when I came across an interesting-sounding episode entitled Music for the Perseid Meteor Shower. That episode led me to the Low Light Mixes podcast, specializing in hour-long mixes of some very relaxing ambient music. When I gave it a listen I found the music so enchanting that I now subscribe to this podcast.

As of this writing I haven’t heard all the episodes but there are some that I enjoy so much that I saved them for repeated enjoyment. I list them here, in no particular order:

  • Space Rock – Mellow space rock instrumentals. The 14 tracks are so well integrated that it sounds like one continuous space jam.
  • Cartridge – an ambient 8-bit adventure – An ingenious mix of vintage 8-bit video game music.
  • Driving All Night – This one perfectly captures the mood of going on long drives in the night. This one is my favorite.
  • Across the Water – The one episode that blew me away. Highly atmospheric and deeply soothing.

If you’re looking for a podcast with music to help you unwind from a day on this hectic planet, this is it.

Jamming with Synthesia.

December 28, 2015

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I’ve seen numerous videos on YouTube that show how to play popular tunes while others seek to blow your mind with visual renderings of musical compositions in excess of several million notes. The program used to play the music in these videos is Synthesia.

Synthesia is an educational game that teaches you to play the piano. It has a built-in library of 150 songs ranging in difficulty from easy to hard. Playing the songs is a matter of hitting the right key at the right time as the notes fall down the screen, much like Guitar Hero. Your accuracy is measured and your progress is saved as you progress through the songs.

Synthesia also plays MIDI files and shows you how they’re played using the onscreen keyboard. And of course, there’s the free play mode that lets you play your keyboard your way and improvise some new tunes of your own. It works nicely with my M-Audio O2 USB MIDI keyboard.

I enjoyed Synthesia so much that I decided to buy it. It will come in handy for quenching my thirst for playing music time and time again.

The Lion of Soweto.

December 20, 2015

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I still remember that one afternoon many years ago when I walked into a record store in search of an acquisition to my expanding music library. I walked right past the section containing offerings in the rock music category and headed to the world music section instead. There wasn’t as large a selection here but that was of no concern. I just wanted some music from Africa. Ever since I saw a TV documentary of people in remote African villages singing songs and playing music, I found myself wanting to hear more.

The problem was that I didn’t know any of the artists whose works appeared on the shelf in the African music category, so I had to take a chance and make an adventurous decision. It was here when I noticed an album with a well-dressed man on the cover. His smile appeared to invite me to give his album a try, so I bought it. That album was The Lion of Soweto from the late Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde and was the very first African music album I purchased.

Once I got in my car I put the cassette in my car’s stereo and gave this album a listen. Yes, this was back when music cassettes were still sold in record stores. Anyway, what I heard next was magical. I heard Mahlathini’s powerful baritone voice roaring over lively music with virtuoso guitar playing, catchy percussive beats and harmony female backup vocals. I found the entire album enchanting and wanted to hear it again and again. My gamble had paid off. This is a perfect primer to the world of African music.

Over time I bought albums from other African artists, including Kanda Bongo Man, Johnny Clegg, and yes, another album from Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. This one is entitled Thokozile and has more of Mahlathini’s unmistakable voice along with the unmatched harmonies of his Mahotella Queens. I give Mahlathini credit for opening the doors to an entirely different world of music, a world very different from what you hear on the radio. It is well worth your time to check it out.

French rock ‘n’ roll.

March 10, 2015

It all began when my father was transferred to Montreal on assignment for 6 months. My mother went there with him, leaving my sister and me in charge of the family household. Occasionally my mother would return home for brief visits to check on us and to bring back souvenirs from Montreal. On her first visit home she brought me a music CD by Jacques Offenbach, an album entitled Les Incontournables: Rock de v’lours. When I heard it, I was enthralled. This wasn’t just rock music, it was rock music with lyrics sung in French. I’d never heard anything like it before.

After my father returned home after his assignment had ended, he took the whole family to Montreal, and it was here I finally got to see the city he had fallen in love with. There was so much to do here but the one thing I wanted to do most was go to a record store and get some more French music CD’s. And I got my chance to do just that.

This was probably the most adventuresome I’ve ever been when buying music CD’s. I walked into HMV and would pick out some CD’s from artists I never heard of. I bought the hard-rocking Invitez Les Vautours from Eric Lapointe and the mellower Quatre saisons dans le désordre from Daniel Bélanger. I also picked up a copy of the trip-hop masterpiece Maverick A Strike from Finley Quaye after seeing it on display at one of the Second Cup coffee shops we frequented. Finally, I found the soundtrack album to the famed music film Woodstock. (Yeah, I know, it’s not exactly French music but an album I’ve been trying to find for years.)

I didn’t listen to my newly acquired CD’s until I got home from Montreal, and needless to say, I absolutely enjoyed them all.

Several years later we made a return trip to Montreal, where I had another chance to add to my collection of French music. Taking place downtown was the annual FrancoFolies music festival featuring performers from all over the world, including the United States. I was pleasantly surprised to see a CD containing highlights from this festival at HMV, so I bought a copy, of course.

I also bought a copy of Chroniques De Mars, perhaps the single most interesting CD in my French music collection. It’s a hip-hop album featuring various artists rapping in French. It’s quite a departure from the usual hip-hop I’ve grown accustomed to. This album caught my eye when I was passing a shelf displaying the top-selling albums at HMV, and Chroniques De Mars was the biggest-selling album at the time. It’s good stuff even though I can’t understand the words.

I also picked En Famille from Mes Aïeux, which is another delightful album I enjoy hearing again and again. It’s nice mellow rock music that’s fun to listen to. Finally I got Les Filles À Canon from Jean Leloup, which is a live concert album with some very lively performances. Once again I picked the albums without any clue as to who the artists were but when I heard them after I got home, I enjoyed them immensely.

A few years ago my parents returned to Montreal for one more visit. They knew how much I enjoyed hearing French music and bought me back a CD by Les Cowboys Fringants entitled La Grand-Messe. Needless to say, I absolutely enjoyed it. Another fine sampling of the thriving French music scene with some mellow but very lively music.

I still listen to my French music CD’s from time to time to bring back memories of my wonderful trips to Montreal. I can’t wait to go there again.

A free piano.

March 7, 2015

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I own an M-Audio O2 USB MIDI controller that I use to create my music or to satisfy my jamming needs. I have several programs installed that support it, including the quintessential FL Studio and the mighty Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ. Occasionally I’ll use MIDI-OX for some on-the-fly jamming with MIDI while testing the settings on my controller, but I really don’t use it all that much because the MIDI interface seems rather sluggish on these newer versions of Windows.

Even with all these tools installed, it still felt like something was missing. I wanted a simple virtual piano that lets me play my keyboard like, um, a piano. Nothing fancy, just a program to run when I feel like improvising some piano music to clear my mind. After a quick search and a few disappointments, I came across FreePiano, which was just what I was looking for.

FreePiano is a small, open-source virtual keyboard that needs no installation and supports my controller with ease. Even better, it supports VST plug-ins and comes with a piano VST file to get you started. Better yet, it found my folder where I keep the rest of my VST files I use with FL Studio and allows me to use them in FreePiano.
Should I happen upon a tune worth saving, I can record it and save my recording as a MIDI or MP4 file for sharing with the world.

My search for the ideal virtual piano has ended. FreePiano is definitely a keeper.

My hit list.

May 6, 2014

According to iTunes,these are the top 25 most-played songs in my music library.

  1. Love Me Tender – Elvis Presley [My single favorite Elvis song.]
  2. Spirit In The Sky – Norman Greenbaum [This gem lifts my spirits every time.]
  3. Dancing in the Moonlight – King Harvest [Another classic I can’t get tired of.]
  4. Java Jive – The Ink Spots [I heard this song when I was a kid and have enjoyed it since.]
  5. Starsong – Rick Miller [A soothing piece of electronic music.]
  6. Les Étoiles Filantes – Les Cowboys Fringants [I fancy French music from Montreal. This mellow tune is a favorite.]
  7. Kodachrome – Paul Simon
  8. The Sound Of Silence – Simon & Garfunkel
  9. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon
  10. Bush – Elwood [A hip-hop tune I find irresistibly catchy.]
  11. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – The Rolling Stones
  12. Yellow Submarine – The Beatles [I keep playing this song over and over.]
  13. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida – Iron Butterfly [The long, 17-minute version from their album of the same name. A true masterpiece.]
  14. I Want To Hold Your Hand – The Beatles [The very first Beatles song I ever heard.]
  15. Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard – Paul Simon
  16. It’s The Falling In Love – Michael Jackson [My favorite song by Michael Jackson. I still can’t believe it wasn’t released as a single.]
  17. Friends and Family – Trik Turner [Another inspiring song that cheers me up.]
  18. You Can Call Me Al – Paul Simon
  19. A Hazy Shade Of Winter – Simon & Garfunkel
  20. One Of These Nights – The Eagles
  21. Flea-Ridden Sheep Dog – Carl Stalling [Let’s hear it for the all-flea marching band.]
  22. Sai – Kanda Bongo Man [I enjoy music from Africa too. This lively tune is a favorite.]
  23. Nina Majuba (You pigeons) – Mahlathini & Mahotella Queens [Another delightful tune from Africa.]
  24. Man In Black – Johnny Cash
  25. Geiger Counter – Kraftwerk [The opening track to Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity album.]