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From Chapter 14, “Beethoven Was Wrong”, on Steve Reich’s accidental composition of ‘It’s Gonna Rain’

“In one sense, all he done was to isolate a technological quirk: the machines essentially wrote It’s Gonna Rain by themselves and he was simply smart enough not to stop them.”

from later on in that chapter – less profound perhaps, but no less wonderful:

[Philip] Glass also worked as a plumber, and one day installed a dishwasher in the apartment of the art critic Robert Hughes.”

That would have been one for http://awesomepeoplehangingouttogether.tumblr.com/

Just finished watching Julian Temple’s film about Ray Davies and The Kinks: “Imaginary Man”.

It’s incredibly tender toward it’s subject – which is at once Ray, his music, the band – and London.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

The Turner-esque, painterly imagery alternates with more graphic compositions of Davies’ peregrinations around North London.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

It’s a series of psychographic sketches, punctuated by Kinks songs – in archive footage, in cover versions and most affectingly perhaps, hummed, sung and stumbled through by Davies as he strolls.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

He’s cast by the film as a flawed-heir to Blake – wandering London, inventing his own sung-systems rather than be enslaved by another man’s.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

This blog goes into far more detail and appreciation.

If you can hunt it down online do.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

If only to revel in London as Temple and Davies do.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

My thanks to both of them.

Ray Davies: Imaginary Man

As has become habit for me, I grabbed my end of year charts from last.fm

Last.fm charts 2010: My Top 10 Artists

Eno at the top, Bowie close behind – unassailable by now.

While Eno, and The Black Keys have put new records out in 2010, Four Tet is the only act that can really claim to have dented my 2010 with music from 2010.

Last.fm charts 2010: My Top 10 Albums

“There is love in you” dominated my 2010.

Walking music, working music – dancing-round-the-kitchen-cooking music. It’s a cracker. Best Coast’s debut album “Crazy for you” gets in there too. More of them later.

Last.fm charts 2010: My Top 10 Tracks

“Sing” from that album got heaviest-rotation, and coincidentally right below it is the snappily-titled “OAR003-B” by Oni Ahyhun (otherwise known as Olof from The Knife) which I think I first heard on a mix by Keiran Hebden (Fourtet) in close aural proximity to his track.

But for various boring reasons (mainly how much I listen to music on my phone), the last.fm stats don’t really tell the story of the albums of 2010 that made the greatest impression on me this year.

And, they’re overwhelmingly by female-led acts.

She and Him: Vol 2

A lovely record, associated with driving through Wales to some of my favourite places – Aberdovey, Cardigan, Laugharne – and climbing Snowdon on our wedding anniversary.

Best Coast: Crazy for You

Sing-along slabs of fried sunshine. Seems to be on constant loop in our local, The Book Club.

Sleigh Bells
But I think the crown has to go to Sleigh Bells.

Not only incredible pop, but incredible pop that couldn’t have come from anywhen but 2010. I loved all of “Treats”, especially “Infinity Guitars” and “Riot Rhythm” – but the opening track, and debut single “Tell ‘Em” grabs you with it’s incredible intro: all-together now – “SPUGGA-DUGGA! BEW!!! BEW!!!”

Also worth trawling youtube for the seemingly-ever-multiplying Sleigh Bells Vs … remixes…

Let’s give some too-early-to-tell-honourable-mentions to Warpaint

Twin Sister


.
..and Guards

But, I’ll finish up with two beauties.

Firstly, “Further” by The Chemical Brothers… especially “Swoon”

I’m liking the hyperdrive MBV-ness of your late-period Chems.

Not shoegaze, but… Screengaze?

Ahem.

Anyway…

Finally, probably my absolute favourite album of the year is the beautiful, hauntological post-ambirock soundtrack “Man of Aran” by British Sea Power.

Huge grey oceans, dark arcologies of cloud, massive shear cliff faces and dazzling bursts of sunlight – all in your ears.

“Come Wander With Me” is the one I find myself humming nearly everyday.

I’m cheating – “Man of Aran” came out in 2009, but hey – It’s 2011 already and it’s staying…

“‘The lists in this book,’ I ventured to a Kylie momentarily caught precisely midway between a cynical world and a romantic one, ‘locate us somewhere, I hope beautifully, midway between the slight and the complete, between the incomplete and the deep.’

Kylie fainted. I think my audacity had penetrated the barrier of fame that separated her from everyday speculation, and had caused a couple of vital wires to snap. She had a way of fainting in slow motion that was both alarming and alluring. I had to explain that, yes, the list often just a nice way of passing the time, of showing of the hipness of your choices, a sketchy part of a self-portrait, a way of wallowing in a bubbly nostalgia that returns you to a simpler, sweeter time, of trying to contain sheer chaos in little patches of consoling order, of making plans for a future that seems so blank and featureless you have to impose shape on it by transferring things in easily wrapped packages. Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately a future.”

Words and Music, Paul Morley

Which is the best preamble I can think of to my obligatory last.fm rolling yearly top 20 (sort-of) chart of albums:

1 Tunng – This is… Tunng: Mothers Daughter and other Tales
18
2 Sigur Rós – Agaetis Byrjun
17
3 Jim Noir – Tower Of Love
16
4 808 State – 808:88:98
14
5 Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
9
5 Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
9
7 Hot Chip – The Warning
8
8 Television – Marquee Moon
7
8 Sébastien Tellier – Sebastien Tellier Sessions
7
10 Viva Voce – The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
6
10 Gorillaz – Demon Days
6
12 Grandaddy – Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla
5
13 Various Artists – Lost in Translation
4
13 Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Deluxe Edition) (disc 2)
4
13 Gary Jules – Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
4
13 The Auteurs – New Wave
4
13 The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
4
13 The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
4
19 Brian Eno – Before and After Science
3
19 Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
3
19 Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
3
19 Mull Historical Society – Us
3
19 Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
3
19 Charlotte Hatherley – Grey Will Fade
3
19 We Are Scientists – With Love and Squalor

And top ten tracks

1 Television – Marquee Moon
7
2 Justice Vs Simian – We Are Your Friends (Radio Edit)
6
3 Nick Drake – One of These Things First
5
3 The Automatic – Monster
5
3 Sébastien Tellier – La Ritournelle
5
6 Sigur Rós – Intro
4
6 Jim Noir – Key of C
4
6 Sébastien Tellier – Fantino
4
6 Arctic Monkeys – When the Sun Goes Down
4
6 Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
4

By comparing both of them, it’s clear that my last.fm usage is a reflection of where my music is - i.e. I listen to last.fm a lot at work, where I have very little music stored on my hard-drive(s).

There’s a smattering of iTms purchases which tend to be earworms I need to purchase and listen to immediately, DRM-be-damned. In this category I would place Justice Vs Simian’s ‘We are your friends’, ‘Monster’ by The Automatic and ‘Key of C’ by Jim Noir.

Sidenote: it is extremely gratifying for the reader of Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’ to find while referencing the wikipedia definition of ‘earworm’ that it’s first example of an earworm in popular culture is ‘I can’t get you out of my head’ by Kylie Minogue.

There are also things revealing of deeper needs, flaws and habits here – but again related to place. I often have a overwhelming need to play Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ loudly on my speakers when everyone else have left my little bit of the office – which is well represented here.

It’s also clear that aside from these ‘hits’ that I placed on heavy-rotation I spent most of my listening year in my own long-tail, as it were. Heh – I think I might be disappearing up my own buzzword there. Ahem.

Revealing, in review, in terms of Last.fm’s character: it’s radio-station metaphor seems to have a powerful hold on me. I walk away from it, I leave it running, I come back to it.

There’s an implicit ‘passivity’ pitch: ‘just enjoy the music, it’ll be exactly what you want’ which belies the activity you have to invest in it: rating, banning, skipping.

To quote Paul Morley again, the list is a way: ‘of showing of the hipness of your choices’ but a last.fm list is a mix of my choices, a machines choices and a multiplication of the two via the choices of others.

When I look at this list I see things that have a high rating that I would never actively ‘select’ e.g. Gary Jules (Gary Bloody Jules?! That’s putting a major dent in the ‘hipness of my choices’) but have probably played to no listener and multiplied their way up the list each time they have sung to no-one but the database.

So presenting a last.fm list of your year can feel an oddly-outsourced form of self-portraiture. A partly ghost-written musical memoire.

Yet – there are some gratifying things there – things which I discovered through last.fm and social-music-discovery-technology (clumsy!) – like Broken Social Scene, Tunng, Sufjan Stevens (late to the party on all three, another hole in the hipness of my choices…)

Richard Hawley ranks highly too – one of the albums which I think I always played as an album – a rare thing in this shuffle-culture, and also one that on a road-trip to West Wales I found that myself, my wife and my father all enjoyed. Again – rare!

So the list ends, 2006 ends – but last.fm keeps on cataloguing, “reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future..”

Happy new year!

Unknown Pleasures Album Cover

“Context-Handback” is something I find that I want nearly everything – or my everyware, at least – to do.

What do I mean?

An inverse-concrete example: something that can’t perform context-handback is my new little iPod shuffle.

I bought it last weekend after a longish break from the Jobs/Ive Hegemon, in order to play some of the iTunes purchased DRM’d gear I’m stuck with, and also because it’s just gorgeous as an object.

More perfect than the perfect thing it seems in both build quality and simplicity.

Foe had owned an original shuffle before but I’d never tried it – I’m finding thought that I really love the surrender to the flow of your own music – music that you perhaps didn’t realise you owned or had neglected, surfaced by the pseudo-stochastic, inscrutable selectah inside the tiny metal extrusion.

Perhaps I’m prepped to enjoy this semi-surprising personal radio station by my other semi-surprising personal radios – last.fm and pandora.

I listen to a lot of last.fm at work, and I find its recommendations only more and more rewarding over time.

But I find I obsess now on feeding it more and more – I want to handback to it from all of my musical consumption – my shuffle, the radio on my N95, shazam-tags from something playing in the pub – everything.

I want to bring it offerings.

And there’s the rub – so little of that musical consumption, in fact the bulk of it done on the go – can be offered back to last.fm.

It’s so frustrating that my musical discoveries and rediscoveries can’t feed back into creating more, or even that I can’t see what I enjoyed in iTunes when I synchronise with
the shuffle.

Faltering steps towards remedying this trivial problem can be seen in something like this hacked-up scrobbler for mobile in S60 python.

More context-handback hopefully in the next few years, until then – unknown pleasures.

Mike Sugarbaker makes comparisons between Last.fm and Pandora, finding pros and cons in each, and ends up asking why we can’t gene-splice the two together:

“We shouldn’t have to choose between bottom-up and top-down, between cathedral and bazaar – that’s the other thing, that Pandora’s categories were made by experts and presumably applied by professionals, whereas last.fm basically is just the product of what people do anyway, via the site and its associated Audioscrobbler tool.

People say that the top-down, made-by-those-who-know-what’s-good-for-you approach is now outmoded, but in this case it seems to have what folksonomy will never get us: the element of surprise.”

Well, the gene-splice has happened it seems: with PandoraFM (http://pandorafm.real-ity.com/)

I missed this when it made LifeHacker late last month, but this seems like an excellent idea (although there’s still no link through to Bleep. Hummph) – injecting the element of robotic, clinical input into the organic social network. Going to try it for a little while…

What other social networks could benefit by the addition of non-humans?

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