Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Semantic Shifts": Analyzing The Greatest Band's Music

Bob Dylan once said "their chords were outrageous...just outrageous" while describing the Beatles' music.

Just in case the word "outrageous" does not impress the serious musicologist in you, here's a fantastic scholarly analysis of the the band's work. (If the site is down, read it from the cache.) Via Digg.

A question that often pops up when reading such papers is "did the Beatles themselves understand the musical underpinnings of their songs like these scholars do?" The implicit assumption there being pop music is all about "feel" and "instinct" and pop songs are not written or composed like classical music. I find that hard to accept. Demo tracks on "Anthology" ("I'll be back" is a great example) are proof that only rarely did the songs "arrive" fully realized. Besides, a musician, like any creative artist, has to make good choices. So whether or not John and Paul understood the technical implications of using incidental chords or starting a song in one key and the verse in another, they certainly had to know what choices made for a great pop song.

Soundscapes has an entire section titled "Beatles' Studies", with papers like "A flood of flat-sevenths" :)

For a "music-only" analysis of the Fab Four, nothing comes close to the great Alan W. Pollack's "Notes On" series.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Riding Around In The Breeze

Messrs Harrison, Dylan, Petty, Lynne, Keltner (and a sad, empty chair) singing "End of the line" on a train. Life is good. (Link to YT.)

Isn't there's something very warm, satisfying (and even uplifting) about the major key melody and the ease with which the singers sing their parts?

There are a couple of interesting contradictions in the song. Even though the song is in a major key, Roy Orbison's vocal lines make it sound like it is a minor key song, thus introducing a melodic tension. You are never quite sure if it is a "happy" song or a "sad" song. Lyrically too, the song's themes of hopefulness, acceptance, resignation and contentment (all in a three-minute pop song with three chords!) stand in contrast with some of the lines which are gently defiant and project a non-conformist attitude. When was the last time you heard a pop song which says "It don't matter if you are by my side/I'm satisfied"?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I can now safely say I am hooked to alltop. I wasn't so sure at first. Too many topics/categories seemed repetitive; "Opera" turned out to be a collection of blogs about the browser; that orange banner was a pain in the rear. But all that was four weeks ago. Now I find myself checking out news and blog updates regularly on alltop rather than via RSS. And I've made peace with the orange banner.

Searching for blogs by topic is just not easy. Google's own tool has been gamed to death by spam-blogs. (Simply enter an alltop topic into Google's blog-search and compare the results with alltop's blogs). Alltop is filling an important gap in the market while destroying my productivity. What could be better than that?

Friday, July 25, 2008

75 Degrees, Humidity Is Only 80% And I Still Can't Play That Face-melting Solo

I was shopping for a metronome. Instead, I found this strange device on Amazon. It has a tuner and a metronome and - I don't get this at all - it includes a temperature and humidity meter.

Are these guys competing with The Weather Channel? Or is this product aimed at bands that have lost all interest in their art? Like, say, the Rolling Stones. Just bring this device into the rehearsal room and voila! Mick, Keith and Charlie suddenly have something to talk about - the weather.

It could also be that the device is a deliberate Zen koan-like statement, designed to expose the limitations and conditioning of our minds. Why should a metronome be limited to playing a "tick-tick-tick-tick"? A metronome should be a representation of everything in the universe. After all, Time is infinite and a metronome is all about time.

But if multi-function metronomes are the way of the future, how about integrating it with a lie detector and a complete Guantanamo-style waterboarding setup? You fake a few chords, you flub a few notes, you "arrive" at the 6th bar too late - DIE, LOSER, DIE - and the audience applauds in appreciation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Google's Knol: The World Is A Very Depressing Place

Google launched their version of Wikipedia-Yahoo, called Knol, yesterday and it took just one visit to that site for the proverbial shit to be scared out of me.

Under the folksily titled "Plain old bag o' Knols" are contained such delightful topics as "Urinary tract infection", "lung cancer", "herpes zoster", something called "acoustic neuroma" (which I don't want to click on even though it has the word "acoustic" in it because God help us if there's an electric neuroma), "constipation" and the scariest of them all, "Toilet clogs". (Which, I hope, explains the sense of panic I so touchingly conveyed in the opening sentence.)

Here's a free sales tip to Google: why not simply hire a bunch of doctors, show them your "Top 10 medical-related search words", have them write up a bunch of Knols and suck in the rest of the 0.0001% traffic that you don't have today? (Wait. There is a Knol on Erectile Dysfunction already. But there is no Knol on Penile Enhancements. A-ha.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"He's Texting!" "He's Just Chilling!!"

Frighteningly cool display of riding skills and blatant disregard for personal and public safety. Ladies and gents, Easy Rider, Indian Version. (From MeFi)

Monday, July 21, 2008

No Nipples On This Batsuit

For my money, "The Dark Knight" is easily the best superhero film till date.

It's only too easy to come out of "The Dark Knight" and wonder if the film should really have been titled "The Joker". But that is stating the obvious. Drama is conflict and an extraordinary conflict requires an extraordinary antagonist. All great "action" films have memorable villains. It's the rule.

One of the reviewers got it right - I believe it is Ebert - when he called Batman merely one of the ensemble players, not the lead in the traditional sense. When reading the comic-books, it was easier to appreciate this fact: those books were as much about the villains as they were about Batman. In fact, the decision to buy a Batman comic-book was often dependent on which villain got the "top billing" on the front cover.

I disagree with Falstaff when he describes Nicholson's Joker as "a bizarre, larger-than-life arch-fiend, who seemed to have stepped straight out of an animation. He was psychotic and scary, but in a way that conformed to the boundaries of the genre."

IMO, Nicholson tried too hard to be scary-funny and was neither scary nor funny. It took me completely out of story-universe. But Ledger's character elicited laughter, sympathy (when he first starts talking about those scars), fear and revulsion. This is what the Joker's character is all about. Here's a sick, crazy villain doing all those crazy things and what you want most, at that point in the story, is for Batman to show up and straighten up things. Totally unlike Burton's Batman, in which I just wanted to watch Nicholson do his shtick.

What Christopher Nolan's film manages to convey at the end is a (temporary) sense of security: yes, villains like the Joker are out there, but Gotham has Batman. He may be the Hamlet of superheros, but at the end of this adventure, Batman's voice has certainty and confidence. The Joker may have had the most interesting lines in the film, but it is Batman's conviction about his actions that will bring me back to the next episode.

P.S.: For the first time on screen, Batman has that glowing, "white-eyed" look. Need I say more why I think this is the best Batman film ever?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brother Cesare's Molten Metal

The words "heavy metal monk" appear in the story. The said monk, sixty-two years of age, makes the devil sign in the video while singing growl-y metal vocals. So if you don't want to burn in hell while being poked on your sides by Gibson Flying-Vs, check out this awesomely cool story.

I hope that when I am sixty-two, I am still as inspired and moved by music - by any and every form of music - as Brother Cesare. And that my mind is still open to accepting new ideas.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Everyone loves a good muxtape but a random muxtape is even more fun.

Via Muxtape's blog, a lovely little jazz muxtape.

My latest random muxtape started with the Austin Powers Intro and ended with Daft Punk's "One More Time". Huh.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

100 Essential Jazz Albums, According to The New Yorker

David Remnick's list of 100 Essential Jazz albums.

There are five Miles Davis albums on the list, three Louis Armstrong albums, five by Duke Ellington and at #55 is the Mount Everest of vocal jazz albums, "Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Cole Porter Songbook".

Tabula Rasa probably owns all these albums in CD, mp3 and vinyl formats...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Mahatma Gandhi's Audio Recording, 1947

God bless the internet.

Courtesy of Washington Post, a rare recording of Gandhiji addressing a gathering of Asian leaders, recorded on April 2, 1947. (Via Metafilter). What makes this recording unique is its "date stamp" and the fact that the speech is delivered in English.

WaPo writer Shankar Vedantam provides a good historical background for this little audio gem. You can also watch a very interesting video discussion between him and Rajmohan Gandhi about this recording here. (In the video, Rajmohan Gandhi makes a reference to recordings of his grandfather's post-prayer meeting speeches and how they are lying undigitized in Indian government's archives. So much for Information and Broadcasting.)

The audio quality is slightly patchy at times, but not so much that you can't hear the great man's words. And there are some great words in there. Just listen.