Category Archives: Music

Music

Big Swifty, fusion, and the full circle

From 1988 to 1992, nearing the end of his life, Frank Zappa released a series of CDs made from live recordings of his bands from the 70s and 80s. He had compiled a huge library of recordings, and scoured them for the best, most significant performances of much of his catalog of rock and jazz music.

One of these recordings was an instrumental track called “Big Swifty”. The studio version of this took up the entire front side of the “Waka/Jawaka” album from 1972, and featured Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Soul Music Hall of Fame member George Duke on keyboards. But I was drawn to the live recording of the piece that was released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1“.

Sometime in the late 1990s, I was obsessed with that recording of that piece of music, in particular the middle improv section. You see, every time they played this track, the band improvised for several minutes in the middle. So no two recordings of it sound the same. The music in that section sounded unlike anything I was familiar with at the time, so I took the CD to work and played that track for a coworker of mine who was a bass guitarist and teacher with a serious background in jazz. “Where can I find other music that sounds like this?” I asked him. He listened to the recording once, maybe twice, and gave his answer, which was something like this:

“Yeah, that’s early- to mid-1970s fusion. Go listen to Weather Report and Herbie Hancock from that period.” So I did. At the time, I had never heard either except for Hancock’s weird track from the 80s called “Rockit” that they played on MTV. I started buying up Weather Report and Herbie Hancock albums, and grew a library of and appreciation for a whole new genre of music I’d never heard.

A few years later, I sold my turntable and gave away all my records, as part of what I call “the great downsizing of 2011”. But then I bought another better turntable (American made) in 2016, and rebuilt a small record collection. One of the first vinyl albums I bought? Herbie Hancock!

You still with me? Here’s where the story gets even better.

Now it turns out that in addition to making audio recordings of a ton of his live shows throughout the 70s and 80s, Zappa also filmed some of them. One film project was a set of shows his band did at the Roxy Theatre in 1973. The Roxy had just opened in the fall of 1973 and was the hot thing in West Hollywood. Tons of cool bands were playing there, and Zappa was booked to play on December 8, 9, and 10. The film crew filmed all of them on 16mm color film and made audio recordings (of course).

Unfortunately, there were some technical problems with the film reels they shot, preventing them from being synchronized to the audio correctly. And so the video was written off as a loss.

The audio recordings slowly made their way public over the course of the next 41 years. In 1974, Zappa released some of the recordings from the Roxy shows on the album “Roxy & Elsewhere“. But these recordings had overdubs of some parts. In 1988, some more recordings of those shows were released on “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore, Volume 1” as I mentioned before. Those probably also had some edits and overdubs. In 2014, the album “Roxy by Proxy” was released that had original recordings of some of the other tracks from those performances, without any overdubs.

And then, in 2015, something wonderful happened. The technology of audio and video editing had advanced enough that they were able to go back to those 1973 film reels and repair them so they could be synchronized correctly with the audio recordings, which led to “Roxy – The Movie” being released. It’s a Blu-ray video from those shows, accompanied by a CD of the audio of those same recordings (without overdubs).

As of yesterday, I knew almost none of this. But then I found the video on Amazon Prime Video. So I decided to spend my Saturday night watching this 46 year old live performance, which I was pleased to discover included “Big Swifty”.

Can you guess what else I learned? The performance that’s in “Roxy – The Movie” is the exact same one that I heard 20 years ago on the live compilation CD from 1988. Now I can see all these amazing things I’ve only been able to hear for the past 20 years…

  • Ruth Underwood’s mind-blowing mallet work
  • the incredibly tightness of one of Zappa’s greatest bands at the height of their abilities
  • George Duke and the rest of the band finding the groove instantly and staying in it for the duration
  • Frank’s wildly unpredictable guitar solo that somehow just works

Thanks for bearing with my long gushing blog article.

If you want to hear the recording of this specific performance I’ve been talking about, it’s here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAe3_O3vZzQ

And if you have Amazon Prime, you can watch the movie right here: https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Zappa-Live-at-Roxy/dp/B07JMX2Q7Q

 

 

Amazon Fire TV Stick

Todd in Alien Mask

Todd in Alien Mask

I got a bunch of nice gifts for Christmas 2014, including some strange surprises like a rubber green alien mask. But I want to talk about one gift that is so much cooler than expected. It’s the Amazon Fire TV Stick. I read about it a month or two ago, and thought it would be a fun little toy to have and not too expensive. But Beth thought it was a frivolous purchase we didn’t really need, so I just put it on my Amazon wishlist and didn’t order one for myself. Fortunately, my parents gave me one as a gift.

Beth was right in that it’s something of a frivolous purchase. It doesn’t do anything that I don’t already have a way of doing. The main thing I wanted was just a way to easily stream movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video (a service where you can watch some movies or TV shows for “free” if you have Amazon’s “Prime” shipping service) or Netflix. I was able to watch Netflix movies from our TiVo HD, but if I wanted to watch stuff from Amazon I had to plug my laptop into our TV, change the settings around, and play the video on my laptop. It was possible, but it made watching any TV show or movie into a 10 minute affair just to set things up, and another 10 minutes to take it all back down later. For a 50 minute TV show, that’s a pain.

Anyhow, the Fire TV Stick arrived earlier this week and I spent some time after work setting it up on Monday night. It does way more than I originally realized, and brings a bunch of entertainment and news into our living room that we didn’t have. The Stick is just a tiny gizmo that plugs into a power supply and into the HDMI input on the TV. It’s very similar to a thing called Google Chromecast that came out a year or so ago. But Amazon’s seems to do more. Here are all the things I’ve set it up to do:

  • Watch Amazon Prime TV and movies – This is free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Listen to all the music I ever bought from Amazon, through the TV
  • Listen to Amazon’s free music collection, sort of like Spotify – Also free if you have Amazon Prime
  • Watch any streamed movie or TV show from Netflix streaming – a Netflix subscription costs money of course
  • Watch any YouTube video, especially my video playlists of travel oriented videos
  • Listen to my favorite local radio stations – These are streamed online and played on the TV using a Fire “app” called tunein. I had no idea I could get radio on this thing, including KUVO (Denver’s jazz station, which normally has a weak signal), Radio 1190 (the CU college station that I can’t even pick up in Denver), KGNU, NPR, CPR, and NOAA weather radio.
  • Listen to streamed music from the Spotify service – I have Spotify premium already, which is required to make this work.
  • Listen to police and fire scanner radios – Here’s another thing I had no idea was possible. I occasionally listen to the police scanner during regional emergencies like when we had tornado warnings in our neighborhood last summer.
  • Watch videos from PBS’ free online video archive – This includes things like Ken Burns series, etc.

I’ve seen a few other things that this thing will do that I haven’t tried yet:

  • Stream music from my huge iTunes library on my laptop’s external hard drive
  • Play games, both free and not
  • View my library of photos, either from my Mac or by uploading them (for free) into Amazon’s cloud

I’m tempted to just ditch the old TiVo HD, but there are still a few things I use it for that aren’t replaced by the Amazon Fire TV Stick.

  • Record and time shift Broncos games. I don’t see any way to play live TV on this, much less record it so I can skip through commercials.
  • Record other over-the-air TV programs, like “Nova”, travel shows, “Soul Train”, “Land of the Lost”, and “The Joy of Painting”. If there was just a service that would take over-the-air TV broadcasts and stream them online — the same way that’s done with FM and AM radio and police scanners — that would be ideal. But the one company that tried this got taken to court and lost, and later filed Chapter 11.

So for the time being, I’m using the Stick as a replacement for a laptop for watching movies and as a replacement for a radio. It’s so much more convenient than how I was doing things. But I’m not ready to get rid of the TiVo and over-the-air antenna yet.

my letter to YouTube, explaining why they are violating copyright law in their effort to prevent violation of copyright law

Here is a letter I just sent to copyright@youtube.com attempting to explain why they should remove their advertising from one of my videos.

Hi, I uploaded a video that contains audio from a song that is copyrighted by a US artist. However, in addition to releasing the music under a standard license, the artist also released the song under a Creative Commons license that allowed use for attributed derivative works. YouTube flagged the song as copyrighted, and I disputed that claim because I have the legal right to use this music in this video. YouTube then rejected the dispute, and reinstated the claim.

Because that the YouTube web interface doesn’t allow any further recourse, what are my options? Is there any way to get a human being to look at my license to this piece of music and remove the ads you are showing on my video?

The video is this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9qBIKzK9hU

I purchased the music on March 5, 2008. And as you can see from the following article, the license sold on that date was Creative Commons BY-NC-SA. I can send you a copy of the receipt if you’d like.

http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/8095

Thanks for your help with this matter.

Sincerely,
Todd.

ps. Ironically, by advertising on my video, YouTube is now making money from this work, which violates the non-commercial restriction of the music license. That, in turn, makes it illegal to publically perform this work. As strange as it sounds, I think in your effort to catch copyright law violations, YouTube has now actually caused a copyright violation!

404 Not Found catalog now available completely free

From 1996 to 2004, I led a musical group called 404 Not Found.  We self-produced and released seven CDs.  In the early days, it was just me and a collection of collaborators I met online, focused on electronic music.  Over the years, it morphed into a more traditional rock band focused on live performance of spoken word pieces set to music.  Our final show was on April 1, 2004.

Now, for the first time ever, you can download the most interesting six 404 Not Found CDs in MP3 format, for absolutely free.  Here’s what I recommend:

  1. First, go check out the 404 Not Found website.  It’s kept here in the form it existed when we split up in 2004, and were promoting our final CD, called “Paper Cuts.”  And you can go here to read about the previous albums.
  2. Next, point your browser here.  You can download each album as a ZIP file of MP3s, or you can go into each directory and select individual songs if you prefer.
  3. Finally, leave me a comment to let me know what was your favorite song or your favorite album.

Enjoy!

YYZ in Rio

I had the DVD of “Rush in Rio” playing in the background while I caught up on bills and mail.  When YYZ came on, I just had to go watch it.  Even 25 years later, the guys still play it flawlessly.  It’s funny to watch the musicians, though.  They each have such different personas on stage.

Neil (drummer) plays like he’s in deep concentration, like a brain surgeon at the most difficult part of the operation.  One false move and the patient dies.  Except during the easy parts, Alex (guitar) looks somewhat winded, like it takes all his effort to keep up with the onslaught of notes.  Occasionally, he gets musician bliss face.  And Geddy (guitar, keyboard) looks like he’s having giggly fun the whole time, even while adding in extra flourishes he didn’t play on the studio track.  He seems he could give another 50% before breaking a sweat.

This tune was nominated for the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental in 1982, but lost to “Behind My Camel” by The Police.  I like both pieces of music, but which one do 80,000 people a night still pay to hear?

Here’s a lower quality pirate version of the performance:

teenage wasteland

I just heard the most poignant thing I’ve heard on TV in a while. Pete Townshend, writer and guitarist from The Who, said this in reference to his famous song “Baba O’Riley” (which many people mistakenly think is called “Teenage Wasteland”):

“For me – you know – that notion of ‘teenage wasteland’ – it is about waste. It’s not about getting wasted. It’s about waste. It’s about wasted life, wasted opportunity, wasted years. And I take full responsibility for the fact that my generation complained about the state of the planet and did nothing to change it.”

Now that’s a lot of guilt to live with!  But I see his point.  They were the biggest rock band and one of the most significant cultural phenomena in the late 1960s to the mid 1970s.  That’s quite a bully pulpit they had, if they had chosen to use it.

404 Not Found music – 6 free CDs for download

Once upon a time, there was a musical group called 404 Not Found. It started in 1996 as my project to make unusual electronic music for my friends and other people who were into that sort of thing. I met a few people online with similar tastes and we collaborates. It eventually morphed stylistically into a more traditional “band” with a set group of musicians performing poetry and spoken word pieces set to simple but occasionally strange rock music. Our last performance was April 1, 2004.  Over those 8 years, we recorded 6 full length CDs.

Even now, 5 years later, I occasionally get small royalty checks from one of the people who sell our music online. And I also recently got an email from my website hosting service saying my account now has unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth.

So I decided to just upload the 404 Not Found CDs so people can download them for free! All tracks are in 160 Mbps MP3 format. You can either download individual tracks or a ZIP file containing all tracks from a given CD.

The CDs I uploaded are: Something Is Wrong (1997), In the Beginning (1998), Eclectronic (1999), Nightmare Lullaby (2002), Warts and All (2002), and our grand finale Paper Cuts (2004).

If you already own one of the limited edition physical CDs, treasure it!  Otherwise, if you just want to hear some of our music to see what it was like, click here to browse the selections.  You can find more information about the band on our website.

calling Nine Inch Nails “industrial” is like calling Black Sabbath a “blues” band

Here’s the most insightful thing I’ve read on the internet this week:  “I dunno . . . it always seemed to me that calling NIN “industrial” was like calling Black Sabbath a “blues” band.”

From this Boing Boing article:

Documentary about Nine Inch Nails and industrial music – Boing Boing

“The Life Plan” book trailer

As a very late wedding gift to my friend Sybil Baker, I told her I’d make a book trailer for her upcoming book, called “The Life Plan.”  Actually, when she first started talking to me about a book trailer, I didn’t even know what that meant.  But it’s basically a short video advertisement for a book, the same way a movie trailer is a short video advertisement for a movie.  The genre is still young and fresh, and there aren’t many expectations for what goes in a book trailer.  Obviously, unlike a movie trailer, there’s no footage you can steal from the movie to edit into a commercial.  So you gotta make up something from scratch, which is what I did.

“The Life Plan” is a comedic novel about a woman who travels to Thailand, has a bunch of crazy adventures, and ends up going through a bit of a life change.  I made the trailer from a combination of still images of Thailand and video images of Thailand, along with a smattering of stock photos.  Best of all, I did the whole thing without having to do a single shoot to create new footage.  But that meant I had to get creative about where to find footage.  Turns out the Internet Archive had most of what I needed, and Wikipedia had some of the rest.  We also got stills from a friend of Sybil.

And much to my surprise, I was able to make the whole thing using only iMovie.  I assumed I’d run into a road block and have to switch over to using Final Cut Pro, but that wasn’t the case.  In fact, there’s one short clip that could only be done in iMovie ’09 – the animated line showing the journey from Washington DC to Bangkok.  That’s a new iMovie ’09 feature, so I figured I had to use it!

The book comes out March 2, 2009 from Casperian Books.  But you can pre-order it online.  Visit Sybil’s website for more details on that.

Also, here’s a blog post I wrote with my opinions about iMovie after finishing my first project with it.  (shhhhh, don’t tell Sybil this was my first project ever using iMovie, or she might get the idea I had no idea what I was doing; or, on the other hand, maybe she’ll be that much more in awe of my skills that I can just pick up a new tool and make something wonderful using it based on my skills with similar tools)

The voice-over was read by my friend Susan Dorsey, whose short film “Clockwise” I’ve been working on since about August.  It’s nice having some friends with acting talent for times like this.  I co-wrote the voice-over script with Sybil and her husband Rowan.  The music came from one of the demo songs from Apple Garage Band, and so perfectly fit the feel of what I wanted to achieve that I didn’t feel I needed to add anything to it.

And now, since you’ve made it this far in my rambling blog article, you get to watch the YouTube version of the book trailer: