Science of Sound
Sure, I know to some people the title of this post makes no sense… yada, yada, yada Grateful Dead, blah, blah, bonghits, murmur, murmur, when were they ever productive in the first place…phuck phish. But c’mon – hippie bashing became passe in the late 90′s. You can only tell so many light-bulb jokes before you realize everybody around you is having the time of their lives. Take it from THIS GUY. But anyway, in the past there’s always been a distinction between the dreamiest desires of nerdy passions and the technological possibilities available to us. These days though, the nerds are in charge. And with the nerds in charge they’ve been able to develop the means and know-how to bring our nerdiest dreams to fruition. What this really means is that after some recent developments, you can currently stream for free every Grateful Dead and Phish show ever played. You can now open up your nerdy setlist book, find some epic moment where some specific song is being played in some odd fashion, and you can listen to instantly. If you had told any Deadhead that this was possible in the times when Jerry was still around, they would have lost their friggin’ shit. Hell, if you had told any Phishhead this was possible ten years ago they would have lost their shit. The fact that we have reached a time when all this music, and furthermore all this information is truly available at our fingertips is quite astounding. I’m only 32 years old, and I already sound like an old fart when I talk about sending out Maxell XLIIs to people who would make a shitty copy of a show for me if I sent them “blanks and postage” – and that I would then wait for it to be physically mailed back to me. Sure the thrill of anticipation is lost, but I for one surely don’t miss it.
I feel some of the legality of these sites is still up in the air, but as long as they’re audience produced recordings that have been freely available in other forms for years elsewhere, I think they’ll stick around. But if you’re a fan, be warned – because hours can fly by in a heartbeat when you’re listening to random gems from Europe ’97, or Anywhere ’69. God bless these super nerd fans for figuring out the date entry formula to create these pages, and for the fact that they weren’t Nickelback fans. The only current flaw with the system is that over at listentothedead.com, each song needs to be started on its own – you can’t just sit back and listen to a whole show without cuing each track. You have been able to do that with Dead shows over at archive.org, but that site doesn’t have them so neatly organized as this new site. I’m sure it’s a bug they’ll fix soon though, so enjoy your fucking face off…
GRATEFUL DEAD – www.listentothedead.com
PHISH – www.phishtracks.com
In another bout of “holy shit that’s cool, but I don’t really understand the science of it so I guess I’ll just have to take your word for it” news, physics professor John Cramer today released his updated recording of what the Big Bang sounded like. As Cramer describes it, “In general, there are no sounds in space, because there is no air to vibrate… The Big Bang is the exception to this, because the medium that pervaded the universe in the first 100,000 years or so was far more dense than the atmosphere of the Earth.” I’m not sure how he got from the concept to the actual formula for constructing this sound, but I presume it has a lot to do with spacial density and sound frequencies’ ability to move through said density. But don’t expect a massive explosion, rather it sounds more like Skrillex fell asleep on his dub-step wobble knob. It’s essentially 8 minutes of electronic decompression, like the biggest God fart of all time. Now in reality the tone would have been too low for our puny human ears to hear, but then there’d be nothing for us cool nerds to listen to. It somewhat reminds me of those crazy folks who have those car-bass competitions and see who can make the loudest bass tone without their automobile collapsing. Check it out HERE.
Now for real fun, bring up that page and press play. Then at the same time, play one of these youtube cuts of the sound of the sun. Your neighbors will definitely hate you, but hopefully the sonic convergence will open up some sort of temporal space riff and you’ll never see them again.
Last week, the most talented shitty-named band of all time, Umphrey’s McGee, announced that they would be trying out a brand new idea at some of their upcoming shows. For an additional cost of $40 on-top of your concert ticket, a select group of fans will be given headphones with a wireless belt-pack upon which they’ll be able to hear the direct soundboard mix of the band. These fans will be given access to the front-of-house area, but the wireless mix will still work outside of that area. However, they can only confirm an uninterrupted audio signal if you stick by the board. Basically it’s the same technology that folks are using for those “silent disco” parties, except if you take off your headphones there’s still live music raging in front of you. I’ve really been weighing the pros and cons of this situation in my head over the past week, and here’s what it boils down to.
- You can hear those cool little subtleties that you usually can’t make out during the live show. It will essentially let you hear the music the way the band is hearing it.
- You can take a piss and still hear everything fine. While they are still in the process of making the signal strong enough for this to work without glitches, imagine not having to worry about missing your favorite song at a concert. Hell, you could leave mid-jam to take a massive dump if you wanted. If Phish were to utilize this, then those spunions who go to the upper decks of MSG would actually be able to hear the music for once.
- On that same note, the hallways could come back into play at some of the bigger shows. The Dead used to put speakers in the hallways – something I’ve always wondered why Phish hasn’t done. This could bring back that ability to open up all areas of the building for dancing and not interfere with the hot-dog salesman who wants to play Lil’ Wayne on his boombox.
- You don’t have to worry about the dumb fucks next to you who are talking about the after-party all gig long. You could become your own little pod of isolation.
- Seeing music live is all about hearing music live. As cool and crisp as it is to hear the soundboard mix after the show, at the show you want to hear all the nuances of the room. You want to hear the guitar solo bounce off the ceiling and hear it mesh in with the roar of the crowd. That’s why we see shit live in the first place.
- It’s a mother-fucking rock and roll concert. You’re supposed to be a part of it, not be a piece of living furniture. You’re supposed to have the dude next to you be able to ask you for a lighter – you’re supposed to be able to joke with your friends about the sweaty guy in front of you. You’re supposed to have an experience – not just hear some shit.
- We’ve already got half the crowd sticking their iPhones up in the air at the gig – do we really want to go deeper in manufacturing a whole crowd of cyborgs oblivious to one another at a rock concert?
So… Well fuck, I’m not gonna ever pay $40 for this shit. But what if they could isolate the signal so it was like some sort of walkie-talkie signal that you could bring your own headphones to hear. If it was somehow available for free for everybody, then I probably wouldn’t be against bringing in a set of headphones myself that I could throw on when I went to take a piss, or when I wanted to hear the high upper piano notes that I can’t make out in the back of the room. It’s a cool idea, but the most important thing is that we’ll need to come up with a new slang name to call the headphone elite. “Ear jockeys” or something.
Valentine’s Day today. We all have those moments in our life when love truly strikes us, and for most of us, those moments when love strikes us down. But the amazing thing about life, and love, and the indomitable will of the human spirit, is that we find these specific things that keep us going – that keep our heads up. Presumably if you read this blog, music in general plays a major role in your life, and you have your go-to songs. Songs that you not only play in times of sorrow, but in times of joy. Songs that center you and make you feel normal, and alive, and make you stop and wonder at how amazing it is that we can have sounds that can shape us so deeply. There is music in my life that I truly love. And besides the love I have for and with an amazing woman in my life, music is the only other thing in my life that I truly and passionately love. The only other thing that can encompass me and make me exist solely in its moment – in its existence. It’s the only other thing that can feel like having my girl’s face pressed against mine, and feel like my relation to it is a moment of success in the universe. That the cosmic goo looks down and smiles and says “yes, it’s shit like this that is the reason we made this whole thing in the first place.” Relating – understanding. In this way, I was reminded today of the amazing video that appeared last year of Henry, the nearly empty of shell of an old man with Alzheimers in a nursing home.
This video of Henry is an excerpt from the documentary film, Alive Inside, which doesn’t appear to have been fully completed yet, or released. I can’t tell unfortunately. But what the video does show is that these folks who can barely speak are brought back to life and back to themselves when they hear the music that they love. At one point, a doctor refers to it as “the quickening art.” If you know the term “quickening,” you may recognize it as the moment in a women’s pregnancy when the child actually comes to life. They say this is the time when the pineal gland forms and connects the two hemispheres of the brain. And you can actually see this quickening moment happening in these people. It’s almost like it’s reconnecting those lost synapses. It totally reminds me of that De Niro movie Awakenings, or even dare I say The Notebook. Anyway, I don’t want to ramble much further – you should just watch the clip. And if you’ve seen it before – watch it again. It’s fucking amazing. This is what love and music and life are all about – we are sentient beings, and the power of sound is a primal force – a force that can shape, and create, and rebuild, and bring us back to the true nature and destiny of the beings we are meant to be. And if you rag on somebody for listening to crappy music, like shitty dub-step or horrid Bieberesque shit, just remember… That music brings them utter joy, and that’s all that matters. They’re being touched, and they’re experiencing their own relationship with sound and existence, and that in itself is a beautiful thing. To quote the reawakened Henry – “I feel the band of love and dreams. The lord came to me and made me holy…so he gave me these sounds.”
Visit the film’s website HERE, and here’s Henry…
Here’s a video of someone who tried this on his own parents…
Hey everybody, time for the kind of thing that your jackass uncle calls nerdy new-age bull-crap! So regardless of how deep your musical knowledge knows, you at least know the names of our basic notes, right? You know, A-B-C-D-E-F-G? Ok. So currently what we know as middle C is a tone that vibrates at a frequency of 523.3 Hz. That means that the tone cycles 523.3 times a second when we hear it. Think of a tuning fork being struck that rings in C – if we could magnify our view of it quivering, it would be moving back and forth that many times per second. Now there’s been several times in our modern history when the recognized frequency of tones has been altered. One such moment is when that horrible asshole Nazi Goebbels pulled the actually amazingly genius move of altering the symphony concert pitch of A=432 Hz to A=440 Hz. He actually instructed all symphonies to tune up this nearly indistinguishable 8 Hz because he realized the slight change in the natural tone could cause a dissonant change in the way we think. He changed music as a part of attempted mind-control. And basically it worked. We still tune to his alterations, and many folks consider that a direct cause of the social unrest that has erupted over the world in the past century. Some folks at the Schiller Institute have issued a campaign for changing the frequency back, and some of the larger orchestras in the world are doing it. While again, many people may not be able to hear the difference, reportedly you can feel the difference.
Anyway, before this change ever happened we had already slightly diverted from an ancient frequency scale known as the Solfeggio Scale. Like I said before, currently our C vibrates at 523.3 Hz, but the C in the Solfeggio scale vibrates at 528 Hz. So besides, that extra 6.7 Hz being a disruption from the natural frequency, there are now genetic biochemists who are experimenting with the notion that 528 Hz is actually the same frequency used to repair DNA. I’m no biochemist, and I’m trying to put this into simple terms that any of us can understand, but essentially the water surrounding our DNA vibrates at this same 528 Hz. So when we are immersed in that vibration, we can actually bring the potentially altered states of our DNA back to their natural and true states of being. If you want to go deeper into this I recommend checking out HERE or HERE. But the true way to find out about it is by listening to the video below. This is about 5 minutes of a single tone at 528 Hz being played. It’s in stereo and you need to position yourself directly in the middle of your stereo speakers to really feel the affect. If you hear a slight oscillation in the sound, then you’re a little off center. So just move your head around til you find the spot where it’s just that single tone. Or put on some killer headphones. As crazy as it may sound, I personally can instantly feel my head get lighter and squishier, and it really feels good. Sure, it’s reminiscent of what’s played over radios when the power is cut, but give it a shot. If you’ve got a keyboard or perfectly tuned piano near by, play middle C and you’ll realize that it’s slightly lower tuned than this vibration. And don’t worry about looking at the flower of life video, just give it a listen.
Now if you dug that, then check out this hour long video where they add some binaural beats to the 528 Hz. A binaural beat is when two slightly varying frequencies are played in stereo opposites of one another, and your brain processes the distinction between the two as a low frequency beat. Different binaural beats are supposed to heal your body in different ways, but essentially it’s just an epic way of self-inducing a trance like state in yourself. Self-audio hypnosis if you will. Give it a shot – if you find it annoying, then pay it no mind. If you can get down with it, then relax and give it a go – it’s not like it will release any dormant demons inside of you… I don’t think.
Just when you thought the world was lacking in innovative new musical instruments that could instantaneously launch you into an alternative ethereal landscape, along comes the Wheelharp. Essentially taking the foundation of the hurdy gurdy and expanding it into massive fruition, the wheelharp uses a constantly cycling bow to play actual strings that are controlled by a keyboard. It basically puts an entire orchestra’s string sections at your fingertips. The sound quivers though with more of a unified echo then any orchestra, and it also has a totally spooky, metallic ring to it. If I could find that shoebox I misplaced with $10,000 in it, I would buy one right now.
The story is that it’s based on an old design of DaVinci’s that he never actually constructed, and then some fella named Jon Jones began building one about 10 years ago. And despite being burdened with one of those obnoxiously redundant names, we owe Mr. Jones a great deal of respect because this is one of the dopest sounds I’ve heard in a long time. I guarantee this thing is going to find itself a home somewhere in the soundtrack for The Hobbit Part II, and I can’t wait to see who the hippest band will be to use one in the studio and on stage for the first time. I’ll give Arcade Fire 3-1 odds, and The Low Anthem 2-1 odds dependent on them receiving some sort of foundational grant. I’ll also throw in Wayne Cohen and The Flaming Lips at 8-1, and Stephen Malkmus at 12-1. You can send wager payments to my paypal account.
We’ve all heard of using music and sound as a torture, like how we blast supposed terrorists in Guantanamo Bay with Rage Against the Machine until they shit their pants and tell us they know where Bin Laden’s 3rd cousin 5 times removed is hiding. Or how somebody should duct tape Paul Ryan to a post and then slowly read him the lyrics of Rage Against the Machine songs while somebody bashes a splintered log over his head. And of course I’ve talked before about the brown note, and just the fact that sound literally affects your physical being. But listening to the uberly-awesome and wicked geeky NPR program Radiolab the other day, I became enamored with a whole other part of the equation. This particular show was about the recent studies of one Dr. Hashim Ahmed who is using High Intensity Focused Ultrasound or HIFU to kill cancer cells. Literally, he’s shooting tones at a group of cells which resonate at a frequency by which they only affect the cancer cells and not the other healthy cells around it. It’s really quite wild stuff and you can read a more detailed interview about it HERE.
Regardless of the details of the study, I became more intrigued about how different sounds could affect our own unique cellular patterns, and thus how when we say that sometimes music is so crappy that it actually feels like its’ killing you, perhaps it actually is. What if the tone of Kenny G‘s horrid soprano saxophone is literally decomposing part of your cellular makeup? What if the robot sex bass wobble of Skrillex is literally destroying your brain cells? And you know, even differently than what’s due to the mass amounts of shitty ecstasy you’re on while at his concerts. And fuck, what about those really crazy adult-contemporary party-rockers who love to snort Molly at Kenny G shows? They’re just launching themselves down the shitter. Either way, it once again leads to my previous conclusion – really shitty music is really fucking shitty for you. If you’re listening to some modern crap just because you want to go along with the crowd, or just because you want to fuck some 14 year-old girl at a Carly Rae Jepsen concert, then stop for a minute and think of what dyer consequences it’s actually having on your physical well-being. Sure, we’ve all done some stupid things before to blow our loads off, but is it worth losing the cellular lining of your kidney for? You know, is really crappy dub-step really any different than those military LRAD things?
Crowd participation at concerts has always been a tense subject for me. I love Phish, and they have an onslaught of interactive things I don’t really do…a 3-beat clap during “Stash,” the vocal chanting of “Wilson”, the dumb Hood ad-lib in “Harry Hood”, the “Meatstick”… but ironically the band used to base a solid portion of its live performances on secret signals that fans could perform in syncopation so that newbies would have no clue what’s going on. I may sound like a pretentious fuck, but I seem to only like crowd participation if the majority of the crowd isn’t doing it. I know, that sounds stupid but that’s who I am. I will, however, do the wave whenever possible.
Anywho, the biggest flip in the game for me was the first time I saw Dan Deacon perform about 5 years ago. The man forces crowd participation and you’re a total jack-ass if you deny it. So leave it up to the Baltimore Wonder-Mind to come up with the next logical advance in crowd participation – digital smartphone apps! Bum, bum buuuuuum… Now this is a massive expansion on the brief notion that Coldplay put into rotation this year – where they gave everyone in attendance wristbands to wear, and those wristbands then all shined like black-lights when a certain light was cast upon the crowd. So instead of holding up a lighter, or an iPhone, you just put your wrist in the air and you can see the masses swaying in motion together. Neato. Deacon has gone light-years further though, and created an actual app for smartphones that directly links to Deacon’s equipment at the show. Thus, it’s OK if there’s shitty reception or no WiFi at a certain club, because Deacon’s own gear will be the source of the digital info going to the phones. The phones themselves then emit both light and sound in time with the music he is producing, thus the fans are literally becoming part of the show. Basically he’s completely taken the horrible scenario of being at a rock concert where the entire crowd is playing with their phones, and he’s turned it into one of the flyest, and most innovative things to happen to the live concert experience since Gwar started shooting semen on their fans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Dan Deacon is a genius and a blessing. I can’t wait to try this live – this might be the first thing that really pushed me into getting a new phone. Check it out…
I first had the thought last month when I went to see my buddy play with his highly successful pop-rock band at the Oregon Zoo…Do the animals really like this pumped-out fem-rock? More specifically, what about the elephants which dwell directly at the back of the concert lawn? It was still fairly loud back there, and those fellas got some big fucking ears which I presume can hear really well. Actually, I did my research and they can hear incredibly well – even to the point of some sub-sonic level. Look, here’s a picture I don’t understand but will make me look fancy to people just quickly scanning this post:
Either way, the elephants in Portland’s zoo didn’t really look like they were digging my buddy’s band too much, although the zookeeper said they were swaying a little bit when Jimmy Cliff played earlier in the Summer. So you know, maybe you could make some massive iPod which the elephants could use to shuffle through some different genres since forcing specific music upon them doesn’t really seem to make them shine too much. I mean hell, it’s not like they’re Beluga Whales or anything, which everybody knows only listen to mariachi music.
But honestly, the real reason of this post was to talk about this insane new footage of scientists pumping Cypress Hill through the membrane of a Longfin Inshore Squid. Why are they doing it? Because a squid’s body has a chameleon like reaction to electrical stimuli, thus it creates a light show almost at par with Pink Floyd night at your local planetarium.
It’s hard to tell whether they’re using a squid that’s alive or dead, but I feel like these guys have no qualms in pumping B-Real’s stoned out nasal raps through the flesh of a still-living creature. I mean, they definitely didn’t care about ripping the leg off of a cockroach so that they could make it dance to the Beastie Boys. (Skip to 1:06)
By now you’re saying, OK King, cool footage, what’s your point? Well it seems quite obvious to me…my point is that music, of all forms, is THE dominating force in nature. We should mount a stage to the back of a giant bulldozer upon which AC/DC will shred their greatest hits while the massive, metallic beast rampages over the old growth forests of the Pacific NorthWest…or not. No, actually… the real point is that life and humans and animals and all of nature operate upon these cycles of circadian rhythms. And music is merely segments of these natural patterns which we have recycled and positioned in order to manipulate the present patterns and states of being which flow within us. So when you go to that amazing concert screaming to your friends that it was so epic that it changed your life, you have to realize that at a fundamental level, it truly has. You have opened yourself to a new relay of patterned segments outside of the daily rotation that your body becomes accustomed to. It quivers you…it shapes you…it reforms you. This is why it is not only a matter of your own health, but it is your due responsibility as a human being to acknowledge when you are seeing really shitty music. You must not be afraid to walk away from the retched beat-deprived DJ just because your Molly-laced friend is dancing your ass off. Don’t go with the crowd, don’t be afraid to not succumb to the masses. There is great honor in being the elephant that walks indoors.
I had one of those moments of existential despair for the modern age this morning when I read a quick blurb about how a premier screening of the new Avengers movie was postponed today because the projectionist accidentally deleted the film from the digital projector. So you know, I had one of those flashes where I realized that the easier and easier it becomes to access information and material, the seemingly easier it becomes to also lose things just as quickly. Back in the day, that guy would have had to accidentally set the film on fire for the thing to just disappear like that. Now he thinks he’s confirming “boob” on words-with-friends and actually sends a full-feature film into the nether-world. We’ve still gotta turn 2 keys at the same time to launch nukes, right? Let’s fucking hope so. Anyway, nothing like a little Tuesday imposed fear of Kurzweilian fear to make me find a killer link…
So I’m trying to think about folks who are still advancing into the modern age while they embrace the techniques of yesteryear. I think of my friends who are adamant about recording only to 2-inch tape… I think of Stephen Malkmus‘s utter disdain for ProTools… I think of RZA running all of Wu-Tang‘s beats through analog mixers… and I think of Dan Deacon. It’s been 3 years since Deacon released the epic and seminal album Bromst, and while his ‘electronic’ music has always had a very natural, organic, breathing feel to it, it wasn’t until this album that he really began to involve actual instrumentation into his compositions. Over the past few years, the album has only become more of an enigma to me as I’ve contemplated his different routes of composing and what ‘real’ instruments he utilized to get his sounds. The thing is a masterpiece, and the world will be thoroughly blessed if he can make something ever again of equal caliber – the crazy part is I think he can. Anyway, even after I interviewed him about the album when it came out, more questions have only arisen upon further listens. Luckily, those bastards over at Pitchfork have finally decided to put up the video they made of Deacon in the studio in Montana working on this album, and it is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.
Besides using a house with a natural steel reverb plank installed, Deacon does something that I couldn’t find any instance of ever being done before. He composed massively rapid piano lines, that are not only too complex for one human to actually play on piano, but are too fast for a piano’s hammers to be able to recover and make a sequence of notes in the correct order. But to give the illusion of just such impossibilities happening, they digitally wire the key tracks into an actual player piano. I suppose after many rigorous hours, he and another player could have practiced the parts so that they could play the sequential impossibilities, but then there still would need to be layers of those parts put on top of one another so you can have the rapid firing effect succeed. Basically, a piano just won’t let you hit a note as fast as they needed.
Anyway, the video is amazing, and I posted it below but I’ve also posted the link to the pitchfork page with the other short videos assembled from this same recording session. Dan Deacon is an honest-to-goodness musical genius in our modern age, and sometimes just hearing the man ramble on is a blessing.