2013: Roundup • Albums • Songs • Writing • Sounds

This is the third annual installment of my favorite sounds and moments from music this year. All sounds have been extracted from their songs and smashed together in the SoundCloud player above; the list is below so you can follow along.

(I first did this in 2011 and again in 2012.)

For three years now I’ve enjoyed Matthew’s collage of his favorite sounds of the year; you might enjoy it too. 

This is pretty wonderful.

Joe Jonas: My Life As a Jonas Brother

Who knows how much of this is just really good, massaged PR messaging, but still. An interesting look from the inside out.

Joe Jonas: My Life As a Jonas Brother


I feel like this song was, for many American children, an introduction to Deep Thinking. Even at age 8 or 9 you heard this and thought something like, “There is some essential yearning and sadness and an essential sense of loss in life that we can’t escape, though many things are also beautiful and happy and the power of love and human connection is very real,” even if your mind didn’t yet have all these words in that order.

An Interview With Steve Reich, Who Rewrote Radiohead

Steve Reich can talk a mile. The most amusing, Reich-splaining part of this interview is him talking about how, exactly, he was influenced by jazz.:

Yeah, sure, all jazz is improvisation. What I’m saying is what jazz is for me is yes, improvisation is a big part of it, I understand that and I’m just not a very good improviser and I’m not interested in improvisation at all, but I understand that it’s a very, very important part of music. What interests me in jazz is the feel of jazz, the tones of jazz, the gestures of jazz, the way John Coltrane sounds as opposed to some classical saxophone is like two different universes. I’ve had a tremendous influence where, when I was a kid I took piano lessons, but it wasn’t until the age of 14—when I was a kid before the age of 14 I never heard a note of music before 1750, I never heard a note of music after Wagner, and I never heard any real jazz, I heard you know, pop music and all kinds of Broadway shows and that kind of stuff. But at the age of 14 for the first time I heard the The Rite of Spring, the 5th Brandenburg Concerto, and Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and the drummer Kenny Clarke and I decided I want to be Kenny Clarke and I started studying percussion at the age of 14. I studied with Roland Kohloff, who was the local great drummer and later became the timpanist with the New York Philharmonic, and I remained a drummer ever since. And so hence all the percussion in my group. And I went down to hear Miles Davis and Kenny Clarke and Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and all those groups started when I was 14 years old, on through high school, on through college when I got to Juilliard and continued doing it, and I started listening particularly to John Coltrane.

I got out to the West Coast and I was studying with Luciano Berio during the day, and every time he was in town I would go to hear John Coltrane at night. Now what was it I learned, improvisation? No, forget about it. What I learned was this: John Coltrane could play for half an hour on one harmony. Think of the album, or if you don’t think of it, go out and buy it or steal it whatever, called “Africa Brass”. Do you know it? “Africa Brass” is 17 minutes and it’s all on the low E of the double bass. So if you go to a jazz musician and say ‘hey man, what are the harmonic changes of “Africa Brass” – “This is E” “well what changes?”.”E for 17 minutes!” “Well that sounds strange, how are you going to play one harmony for 17 minutes?” Well I’ll tell you how: you have incredible melodic invention from Coltrane himself, who’s either playing gorgeous melodies or screaming noise through his horn, you have incredible timbral variety because he was working with another great jazz musician Eric Dolphy, who arranged all the brass in the “Africa Brass” and part of it was french horn, which sounded like elephants coming through the jungle. He also was working with Elvin Jones, who as you may know, is a drummer who sounds like he’s two or three or four drummers all at once. If you have rhythmic complexity, timbral variety and melodic invention, then you can stay put on a single harmony for half an hour, and it’s fascinating, it’s fantastic, it gives it more intensity because you’re focused on these other things. And in a funny way my piece “Drumming” doesn’t sound like “Africa Brass”. I didn’t even think about “Africa Brass”, but really it syncs the exact same way. There’s one slight change of key in the glock section, but basically it’s in six sharps for an hour. It doesn’t change. Because of the rhythmic complexity in the drums, the complete change of timbre into marimbas, and the rhythmic complexity and the melodic invention of the women’s voices and then the complete change of timbre into glockenspiel and the melodies in the flutes and piccolo and whistling, and then the complete change of timbre to all those instruments playing together you can listen to one key for an hour and enjoy it. So my interest in jazz is in gestures, the way Kenny Clarke could make an entire band sort of float in a magical way I never heard in any classical music, and the gesture of tones, the style of playing, THAT’S what I loved about jazz.

He also closes talking about his Radiohead piece and a great rant about artists getting expensed out of NYC. Filed under: Steve Reich.

An Interview With Steve Reich, Who Rewrote Radiohead

The Arts – €”Agents of Change and Source of Enchantment | Catholic World Report

Dana Gioia:

Dana’s brother Ted Gioia:

If you asked me to sum up my view of music in one sentence, I could do it: music is a change agent and a source of enchantment. When people start understanding the arts in those terms, you don’t need to sell them on culture. They come out of curiosity, desire, and self-interest. Teachers can help spur this process, but it’s a different kind of teaching than you find in most classrooms

The Arts – €”Agents of Change and Source of Enchantment | Catholic World Report

Beatlemania: ‘the screamers’ and other tales of fandom.

If anyone is likely to look kindly on the excesses of new generations of fans, it’s a former Beatlemaniac. “I understand when I see the One Direction kids going mad,” says Bridget Kelly. “People think they’re silly but they’re not. It’s the togetherness. We had this big communal thing that we all knew and loved and understood — something that was yours and nothing to do with your mum and dad. We were all in it together. It was lovely.”

Remember this old photo? Filed under: fandom.



Drinking Hanson’s beer, Mmmhops, with Hanson

Austin Ray totally nailed this article for Creative Loafing. I took some photos. We drank beer with Hanson. It was a lot of fun.

I mentioned this on Twitter already—I’m not sure what would have seem crazier to 11-year-old Me: That one day she’d have a dude pal (that would be Austin, mentioned above) who “got” Hanson, or that Hanson would make a beer. But now that I think about it, actually, the beer maybe would have seemed more likely.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this for a while and haven’t quite cracked it, but in short: back when I was someone who would have identified in any real capacity as “a Hanson fan,” people in general and boys in particular were, to put it quite elegantly, basically like total megadicks to me about it! Liking this band was probably the thing I got teased about the most in middle school. It probably wasn’t that much, actually, just amplified times a million by the general OMG OMG UGHHHH EVERYTHING IS AWFULNESS of being an adolescent human/female, but it still hurt and made me feel weird and bad about myself in a way nothing else quite could. This was true even on into high school, when Hanson was quickly becoming more of a personal relic than an active~*~*~love~*~*~; I think I was a sophomore when a friend of mine, a senior, in a very convoluted and roundabout and deeply personally stabby way, mocked me for it in front of our entire creative writing class.

MEANWHILE, one of the greatest things ever, when I was a wee fan and an even wee-er Person Thinking About Becoming A Writer One Day, was when people wrote things that seemed to really “get” the band, which is actually not super hard to do but does requires a certain amount of taking-them-seriously, which is a tough prospect when the subjects are widely beloved by teenaged girls. Two pieces I remember in particular: This Rob Sheffield review, and this Spin feature (well, except that subhed, but eh). They took the band seriously, and by extension I felt like I was being taken seriously, and that was huge.

Anyway, can’t wait to drink some of this stuff. I will probably giggle a lot.


An interview with Rick Rubin

On not-knowing:

I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking that we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better. But it’s not the voice in your head. It’s a different voice. It’s not intellect. It’s not a brain function. It’s a body function, like running from a tiger.

On producing:

So how would you describe your role as a producer, in general?

Just as fan. Making music that I want to hear. You’re so close to something when you write it that it’s hard to have any perspective on how it hits someone else. My job is to be a professional version of the outside world—a listener who is not attached to any of it, who doesn’t know the story of how it was written, who doesn’t know how it works, who doesn’t know why this is important to you.

On stripping things down:

There’s a tremendous power in using the least amount of information to get a point across.

Wonderful interview.

So great. That part about being a “professional version of the outside world” reminded me of Jeremy Denk’s New Yorker essay about recording, and how hard it is to get perspective. A favorite quote:

In the moment of playing, the logistics of just hitting the notes distract you somewhat from the continuous choices you are making. In the edit you have nothing but choice. And yet you feel helpless, since everything has already been played.

And since he talked about Kanye, remember the rules: No hipster hats. No acoustic guitar in the studio.

Nitsuh Abebe on the Punk Movement — New York Magazine

By the time punk swept the U.K., the sound had cut itself back to the sinew and muscle of early rock and roll, yes, but it had also excised one of the key things that made early rock and roll captivating to young people, which was some sense of sexual urgency—swing, groove, sly vocal implication. All were traded for happy hectoring and desiccated angularity. The guitars may have a kinship with Chuck Berry, but the barking does not.

Ergo, punk never had much appeal for me.

Nitsuh Abebe on the Punk Movement — New York Magazine

Tyler, the Creator Talks Directing Movies, Being Rejected by Justin Bieber | Billboard

Tyler and the Clancys’ 4 Strike management group recently started a new creative agency called Camp Flog Gnaw, which aims to lend Tyler’s brain to companies that want to engage the youth demographic. The first fruit of the new enterprise is a partnership with Mountain Dew, for whom Tyler has directed four left-of-center TV commercials starring a talking goat named Felicia. “The agency is a way to stay true to Tyler and not do endorsements, but to allow companies to use his creative energy,” Clancy says. “There’s a demographic out there that corporate America has lost, but Tyler has managed to build a brand around it.”

This strikes me as a bit more savvy and way more interesting than becoming creative director of Blackberry or Intel or something…

Tyler, the Creator Talks Directing Movies, Being Rejected by Justin Bieber | Billboard