A new documentary is poised to take what looks like a personal, thrilling look at the UK turntablism revolution.
The film is “The Man from Mo’Wax,” a documentary set to premiere at the end of August, with a full digital release (disc and download) on September 10.
The film centers on James Lavelle and his label, the pioneering purveyor of trip hop, alternative hip hop, and other things involving vinyl. And because of Mo’Wax’s seminal role in the 90s UK music scene, you get Lavelle’s story, but a lot more. DJ Shadow, Joshua Homme, Badly Drawn Boy,
Robert Del Naja (3D), Ian Brown, Futura, Thom Yorke and Grandmaster Flash… you name them, they’re in this picture. And it’s a coming of age story about Lavelle, who launched his DJ career at 14 and the label at 18 – all the ups an downs.
And of course, a lot of what sampling and beat-driven music is today is connected to what happens in this film.
How you get to watch this – apart from the YouTube trailed we’ve embedded here – is also rather interesting. Via something dubbed ourscreen, you can actually order up a screening at a participating local cinema… erm, provided you’re in the UK. For the rest of us, of course, we can just wait some extra days and microwave some popcorn and make every crowd around our MacBook or something.
The real fun will be for Londoners on the premiere date:
On Thursday, 30 August at 20:30, London’s BFI Southbank will host a premiere launch screening alongside a live Q&A with James Lavelle and the filmmakers. The event will also feature a Pitchblack Playback of an exclusive mix from UNKLE’s new forthcoming album. Plus, join us for an after-party with a live DJ set from Lavelle. The Q&A with James Lavelle will also be broadcast via Facebook Live from the BFI.
Given the subject of the film, of course there’s also a lovely limited edition record to go with it:
Time-stretched remixes of Microsoft startup sounds: they just never get old. But maybe we need this vaporwave Windows 98 in our lives.
The source material in this case isn’t Brian Eno – that’s Windows 95. Instead, Microsoft’s own Ken Kato is credited with the composition.
Apart from the glitched-out thumbnail and wonderful sound, I’ll give extra points to this remix on a couple of counts. First, it leads to Indonesian artist Fahmi Mursyid, who has a Bandcamp full of sonic delights. Fahmi, if you were using this as a scheme to bait us into clicking on your music, well … why not? I did:
And second, it has this fantastic quote attached to it … for some reason:
“Global capitalism is nearly there. At the end of the world there will only be liquid advertisement and gaseous desire.
Sublimated from our bodies, our untethered senses will endlessly ride escalators through pristine artificial environments, more and less than human, drugged-up and drugged down, catalysed, consuming and consumed by a relentlessly rich economy of sensory information, valued by the pixel. The Virtual Plaza welcomes you, and you will welcome it too.”
— Adam Harper, in his initial Dummymag article
I miss those innocent days when the thing we were afraid of was too many computers using Windows.
Now we live in the fantastic world where totalitarian governments are watching us through our phones and we aren’t just paranoid … and that’s presuming a social network on our phone doesn’t make us so depressed we ourselves become a danger.
No, let’s loop this beautiful 90s sound and make the world … melt away.
It ran natively in MS-DOS, then died by the end of the 90s. But now it’s back: one of the greatest chip music trackers of all time has been cloned to run on modern machines.
FastTracker II will now run on Windows and Mac (and should run on Linux). The clone project started last year, but it seems to have picked up pace – a new set of binaries are out this week, and MIDI input support was added this month.
FastTracker II is a singular piece of software that helped define trackers, demoscene, and the music produced with it. If you’ve used it, I don’t really have to say more. If you haven’t, but you’ve used other trackers – even up to modern takes on the genre like Renoise – you’ve used software influenced by its design.
Like all trackers, the fundamental use of the tool is as a sequencer. But unlike other sequencer concepts – piano rolls which represent time visually like pianolas and music boxes do, multitrack recorders and DAWs modeled on mixers and tape, or notation views – the tracker is a natively computer-oriented tool. Its paradigm is simply about a vertical grid, with shortcuts for entry (represented as numerals) via the computer interface.
That makes trackers uncommonly quick via the computer interface. In the case of FastTracker II, you program every note and timbral change via mouse or keyboard shortcut, and it’s represented compactly in characters onscreen. FT2’s doubling up of mouse and keyboard shortcuts also makes it quick to learn and still quicker to use once you’ve mastered it.
In fact, firing up this build (in 64-bit on Windows 10, no less), I’m struck by how friendly and immediate it is. It’s not a bad introduction to the genre.
MIDI in is great, too, though MIDI out will “never” happen (in a message from the 13th of April).
But it’s kind of amazing this thing even exists. The clone is built in SDL, a cross-platform media library, the work of one Olav “8bitbubsy” Sørensen, who apparently got permission to do this. And it was never supposed to even happen. Heck, the thing was even buried with this note:
“FT2 has been put on hold indefinitely. […] If this was an ideal world, where there was infinite time and no need to make a living, there would definitely be a multiplatform Fasttracker3. Unfortunately this world is nothing like that.”
So, we may not live in an ideal world. But we live in a world where FT2 again runs on our machines. (Amiga fans, there’s also a ProTracker clone.)
Dance or die? Some kind of robot with killer lasers? Well, if you happened to be in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands round late April 1996, that’s what was promised.
There’s so much to love in this VHS vintage gem. There’s the retro Wolfenstein-styled 3D opening with the dramatic threatening voice over. Or the extensive footage of the build-up of the venue … and drug pat-downs. And then, there’s nothing quite like the 90s sound – mad, mental, absurdly fast, totally dry synths and drum machines. It’s a cartoon-ish silliness that’s a far cry from even the self-seriousness of EDM, let alone the somber, mechanical dirge Eventide-drenched cave techno that’s often in fashion. If that’s a Bach Toccata & Fugue on a pipe organ, this is Spike Jones.
But of course, Dutch people shouting is always the best part of all. (Yes, my friends in the Netherlands, I know you can still get just this crazy.)
I’m sure this has been passed around before. On the other hand, it’s a nice antidote to the potential conformity of today’s parties – and today’s might seem just as odd to someone looking back from 2027. Plus, some fashion tips.
Ah, the mid 1990s. We used terms like “new media,” and the idea of a record label of sorts devoted to the multimedia CD-ROM seemed natural and futuristic.
It was the era of the Voyager Company, a pioneering media firm that spawned the Criterion Collection (via beautifully curated LaserDisc editions of great films), and an interactive line for Windows and Mac. Voyager is a story all its own, but I think Laurie Anderson’s Puppet Motel stands out.
Being led through three dozen virtual rooms by a ventriloquist version of Laurie Anderson finally made me feel like I understood why the computer was invented. But I think I’m not an average person.
The breakthrough in technology at the time was that rich media could be distributed to a wide variety of platforms. On the Mac side, this came in the form of newer-generation models and the availability of QuickTime. (It’s actually easy to forget just how radical an invention QuickTime was at the time.) On the PC side, there were somewhat dubious multimedia standards, but a general availability of computers capable of playing video and audio on Windows. And this all coincided with Macromedia Director (born Macromind Director), a deep scripting tool for creating interactive content – one with capabilities that actually exceeded Flash.
But that’s just the technical side. It’s the way this capability was received by a handful of forward-thinking artists that’s notable.
Perhaps 90s media thinking is the perfect antidote to today’s online media, driven as it is by big data, ads, and mobile-digestible content. In fact, the legacy of the Voyager creation is more on the side of experimental gaming, when users of PCs and consoles are willing to shut off other distractions and immerse themselves.
Morton Subotnick spoke about his own contribution to the Voyager line as an opportunity to create a new “chamber music,” to embrace the intimacy of a private experience in the home.
The reason I single out Laurie Anderson is that her work felt most at ease with the format. Laurie Anderson’s performance style had already by the 90s matured into fragmentary narratives – bits of stories, interwoven, with poetic slices of phrases added sometimes almost decoratively to more linear tales.
In other words, watching Laurie Anderson perform is already a bit like experiencing something immersive and non-linear. Her content was already tailor-made for the format.
Laurie Anderson presented her latest show this past weekend in Berlin, and alluded to the inadequacy of conventional performance presentations to her style. She told a story about someone shouting at her “play jazz!” at a jazz festival to which she’d been booked, and introduced the show by saying she stumbled around the idea of trying to do it as standup comedy. (The strung-together story bit works, but … only barely, even then.)
On a CD-ROM, you can wander and linger and let bits wash over you in any fashion. You can string together those pieces like a performance, almost as Laurie Anderson does in variations on hers. Her tendency in her work to repeat and vary tropes, working over past notes, naturally fits the flow of interactive media. It’s a world you can enter and leave.
She was also paired with a perfect collaborator, Taiwanese media artist Hsin-Chien Huang. Huang’s aesthetic perfectly fits Anderson’s – stark, surrealist, contemporary. It’s a world built as an echo of ours, a pastiche made from the component furniture of our everyday landscape, once removed from its expected context. And Huang’s experience in building large scale and mechanical installations gives the virtual world a sense of solidity and impossible realness.
And there’s the fact that Laurie Anderson’s work was at the peak of what might be considered a mature style, a combination of spoken word, stories, electric violin, and songwriting, in a collaboration with Brian Eno that filled out the electronic orchestrations. In advance of Anderson’s return to Berlin, I went back and did some quality listening to the album from which most of the material is taken, Bright Red. And I think it’s a weird masterpiece, one that seems oddly resonant and relevant today. There are some “hit” singles in there, mixed with more of these fragments that seem to want to spill off the album and into their own universe. These then make a perfect soundtrack and landscape to the interactive version.
There are also bits of the 1986 Anderson short film What You Mean We?, but given her cyclical, iterative working methods, it’s impossible to tell which is which unless you know the material separately.
The work is fully digital, but self-aware – media recognizing the demise of the CD, the overload of digital information, and the way in which that would destroy old notions like LPs or linear narrative.
The return to Berlin was fitting, as the Transmediale festival celebrated its thirtieth year, and Andersen herself came back to perform in Berlin having presented Puppet Motel at an edition of Transmediale back when it was stilled called VideoFilmFest.
This week, Laurie Anderson described our world of constant Twitter updates from the President and fake news as being one in which we are “drowning in our own stories.”
Puppet Motel was an early experiment in re-imagining media and learning to swim.
You might have to do some hacking to make it run, but there’s an ISO of the 1998 Windows/Mac edition on the Internet Archive. I kinda sorta made something happen with it, but maybe someone smarter out there has some tips on running this with emulators:
(Hey, I do own the original 1995 disc, so I think I’m entitled! Actually bought that in a store or something absurd!)
Some text descriptions:
Puppet Motel, an arts CD ROM by writer, musician, composer, performer, and photographer Laurie Anderson, is an imaginary universe made up of the interplay between light and darkness, mystery and poetry. This universe is populated by puppets and, of course, its creator, the artist herself. Wandering around the visitor is often tempted to put a story together from the succesive images displayed on a virtual TV screen in a “black jack manner” or from the objects found in a dim lit room but in the end he must realize that he has been chasing after shadows since the CD ROM does not belong to the tradition of the great narration. These three dimensional virtual spaces are crammed with ghosts and secrets: the visitor is constantly taken by surprise. He is trapped, over and over again, by the virtual setting so he must switch off the computer and start again in order to escape. This platonic vale of tears radiates an enigmatical atmosphere which, all too often, appears manneristic and over-refined.
I’m not sure what that last sentence means, actually, but thank you artpool.hu.
This is an interactive environment containing music, videos, monologues, and art-jokes from performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson with the help of designer Hsin-Chien Huang. It begins with an electrical outlet that glows and howls into the darkness. Then you enter “The Hall of Time”, a corridor in the motel where icons cover the walls, and lead to 33 symbol-crowded rooms. A puppet Laurie Anderson sparingly appears as a guide.
The surreal rooms include one full of exotic musical instruments from her performance-art career such as the “tape bow violin”. Clocks abound and floating telephone receivers on tree-like stiff cords, televisions showing static, and airplane kaleidoscopes. In one room with a maze of chairs, Anderson steps out waving flashlights like a runway attendant and recites the legend of Plato’s Cave – where prisoners are doomed never to see the true images of things but only to glimpse their fleeting shadows. In another room, she gives a long palm-reading session asking many questions of the player, and in yet another there is “The Amazing Ouija Floor Board” where you get to ask the questions. You must figure out what to do in each room, complete interactive art puzzles, and find how to exit.
Throughout the game, your recorded voice and typed responses will be used and information from Anderson’s website will be downloaded including new videos and concert information. It’s recommended that you play the cd-rom while listening with headphones as small sounds and poetry flows back and forth from one ear to the other to impart a message. There’s ethereal music and Anderson whispers in your ear in a dark, soothing voice.
Actually, part of what’s interesting about this is, it’s hard to describe Puppet Motel. It’s like someone trying to recount a dream. So thanks, Laurie and Hsin-Chien, for giving me this dream material and probably being one of the big reasons I wound up getting hooked on the computer as a medium.
Now having let the genie out of the bottle, there’s no saying where Roland will turn next with reboots and reissues. But some people are evidently not content to wait. So, via Twitter via Facebook, we see this lovely image of the 1998 Roland MC-505 groovebox, reimagined for people who love that black-with-Matrixsynth green-trim look of the new AIRAs.
And… well, it’s kind of hilarious. It definitely cleans up the legibility of the labels.
Now, the MC-505 isn’t quite what you’d call a “classic” or “legendary.” But don’t scoff: I know some folks who really love this 90s beast, proof there’s basically a home for anything you put on eBay.
When I start this headline with “someone…,” I’m not just aping viral headline style, either. I have no idea who did this.
I’m hoping they read CDM. Please, come forward.
Oh, and Roland, if this somehow accidentally really is an AIRA reissue (almost certainly impossible given that it has the exact actual MC-505 controls), please come forward, cease and desist.
Anyway, I love the 90s. Hillary Clinton’s back, and so is the MC-505?
It’s the instrument that was the first real electronic music product. And it’s the reason we even know the name Bob Moog – as it inspired Moog to go into electronics and the sale of electronic musical instruments.
So, when the Theremin is the subject of a video by Bob Moog himself, it’s a big deal. You’ll have to settle for early-90s video quality, but you’ll be treated to the dulcet tones of Dr. Moog’s New York baritone narration of Theremin history, followed by an enchanting and pretty-darn-technically-good performance on the Russian electronic invention.
Thanks to Chris Stack and experimentalsynth for sending this along. Chris writes:
Many years before going to work for Moog Music as marketing manager I was a printed circuit board designer. I met Bob Moog in Asheville and wound up doing the PCB design work on his Multi-Touch Keyboard project. Around this time, Bob hosted a presentation called “New Vistas 91”, a look at some then current happenings in avant garde electronic music.
Bob was gracious enough to let me record the presentation on my then new Video 8 camera. The tape was lost for decades, but recently found and digitized. Unfortunately the audio and video quality is not great, but I feel this is very interesting from a historical perspective, and I offer it as such.
That PCB itself is an interesting story, but I’ll save that – and some of what Chris is up to musically – for another day.
Here via the Moog Foundation (and Moog Music) are early and later images of Dr. Moog at the instrument that changed not just history, but his history.
Well, here we are at yet another weekend. And hopefully we can give you some video watching pleasure yet again, in those moments when you aren’t, well, hopefully, making music.
Leading the pack is a 1986 story from Chicago TV news back when house music was in its early days, as spotted by Dancing Astronauts. And it’s an astounding document, featuring Danny “Sweet-D” Wilson, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Steve “Silk” Hurley, and Keith Nunnally. Two big takeaways. One, it’s interesting to note that London was already catching onto house even when these artists were relatively obscure in sweet home Chicago. Europe and the UK, always ahead of American audiences when it comes to American music – note the British announced proudly wearing an enormous American flag shirt.
Two, it’s fantastic to see this stuff being made live. Why that shouldn’t be more commonplace in 2015, I have no idea. Steve Hurly and Jackmaster Funk constructing a track is inspiring and fresh nearly two decades later.
But there’s more, of course. With no particular theme, here’s a bunch of documentary stuff to queue up.
If you’d rather go to pioneering electronic composition in place of 80s dance music, here are two documentaries on the incomparable Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, via OpenCulture (which just happened to pop into my inbox today):
Better Living Through Circuitry is a 1999 documentary, available for full-length viewing (and spotted in comments).
Generation of Sound also covers the 90s dance scene:
And it seems every genre has its own YouTube documentary:
As does Berlin club Tresor:
And Richie Hawtin:
Returning to pioneering electronic music, it’s fascinating to get the 1983 perspective on electronic process (and perhaps it’s a sign of the maturity of the field now that a lot of this is today readily accessible):
And this seminal UK electronic doc:
And here’s a playlist with some of those, plus many more.
America’s on-again, off-again love affair with electronic music – often, with idioms it helped create – is endlessly full of unexpected twists and turns. But all this bears examining. For some, it’s a journey back to the music that first inspired them. For others, it’s a chance to learn, perhaps, how where music has been might help lead to where it’s going. It’s a chance not just to repeat electronic music past, but go beyond it.
And if you’re looking for something to entertain you this weekend, you could do worse than Modulations, a documentary from 1998.
Back then, it was “electronica,” not “EDM.” But then, as now, high culture met festival culture – Karlheinz Stockhausen and Danny Tenaglia get equal screen time. Robert Moog weighs in. Some figures – Carl Cox, Derrick May, Giorgio Moroder – are just at home on today’s lineups. Others are not. As in the 808 film, Arthur Baker gets a starring role, too.
The film is mainly a document about the dance scene, but as such, offers a reminder to what 90s culture was, and how it does and doesn’t mirror the situation today.
And now you can watch the full thing for free on Vimeo or YouTube. Ah, back when electronic music was real electronic music, parties were real parties, and all the women were purple. (Erm, see the cover image.) Um… right. The 90s. Here’s Vimeo:
David Abravanel, friend of the site, has done an extensive electronica nostalgia trip for Network Awesome, full of still more videos to occupy your brain. He writes:
“I vividly remember the first time I became aware of Electronica. I was 11 and a budding music obsessive, I watched MTV religiously. Sitting in the living room, my parents paying attention to other things, the video for The Prodigy’s “Breathe” came on. I still remember Maxim’s tattooed and painted body gliding towards me. It felt like some kind of disneyland horror ride, but with better music. Keith Flint sealed the deal – these were guys to freak out your parents, the popular kids, you name it.
For this article, assume “Electronica” by its American definition – a catch-all for all electronic music that hit mainstream between 1995 – 2000. It did this by positioning certain figures as rock stars (tellingly, The Prodigy’s breakthrough happened after Keith Flint and Maxim emerged as punky frontmen), and playing up its role as the “future of music”. While Electronica encompassed a number of genres – Daft Punk’s French Touch, Sneaker Pimps’ Trip Hop – Big Beat was clearly the leader.
Electronica also coincided with the most lucrative historical period for the recording industry – as such, artists who had just a few months ago been living check-to-check suddenly had high-budget videos commissioned. This is a celebration of those videos – narrowed down to one song per act, because people got things to do.”
Actually, I’ll say, part of why I miss the word “electronica” was that it could sometimes serve as catch-all for electronic music – a genre-blurring vagueness that’s perhaps needed even more in 2015 nomenclature than it was in the 90s. (Contrast EDM, which apart from the ‘d’ meaning ‘dance,’ should be completely general but means something sort of painfully specific.)
Even me, a classical kid completely out of touch with dance music in the 90s — even I get a bit nostalgic for “Trip Like I Do.” (Also, I love that it samples The Dark Crystal in an all-too-rare crossover of dance music and the Muppets.) Oh yeah, that and The Matrix.
In other film news…
Electronic Beats today posted a trailer for this 2008 documentary on techno, which I wish were as easy to come by as the film above:
Oh yeah, and did we mention I Dream of Wires is now on Netflix? (plus digital services far and wide)
Have a great weekend, everyone. Hope you have a good time out listening to music – or at home making music and, of course, curling up in bed with The Internet and its video entertainment.
In the age of wonder…
This land was green and good.
Okay, I need to someday be somewhere where someone drops that track at exactly a completely inappropriate moment.
While Google has imagined how machines might dream, media artist and multi-disciplinary technologist Martin Backes has revealed how they sing.
And not just bad karaoke, either. Following in the footsteps of a legacy of machine vocals that originates with Max Mathews’ Daisy Bell, a computer rendition so ground-breaking it was featured in Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Mr. Backes has gone one step further. He wanted to produce an algorithm that would make a computer seem to emote. Grab a mic, and this is a sound art installation. A installation in my heart that is.
And… aw… I said I wouldn’t cry, damnit!
Okay, in case you’re wondering, the software behind the scenes is SuperCollider, the free and open-source multi-platform sound toolkit. And Backes cleverly hauls the machine out of the uncanny valley, but approximating the songs in an almost cartoonish, muffled machine voice. It’s the imperfections that make it work, in other words, steering clear of being too human. (See also Chipspeech, earlier this year, proving that sometimes the earlier, “flawed” synthesis algorithms are actually more desirable than more modern ones.)
„What do machines sing of?“ is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.
What do machines sing of? (90s Version)
Size: 170 x 55 x 45 cm
Material: metal stand, mic stand, mic, cable, 2 screens, computer, custom-made computer program
List of songs which are included and performed by the computer program:
Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
R. Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly
Toni Braxton – Un-Break My Heart
Bryan Adams – Everything I Do, I Do It For You
Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On
Buy your special someone an SSD this year. Clean that display, tenderly. Order that AppleCare extended warranty. Because your computer will, truly, always love you.