6 Degrees of Black Sabbath

I’ve now officially crossed the threshold of being obsessed – here’s another great hack that came out during The San Francisco Music Hack Day back in mid-May. It’s called Six Degrees of Black Sabbath. It’s simple…. just type in the name of two musical artists and see how many “degrees” they’re separated by (just like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon). For music geeks – it’s a colossally beautiful time waster. Try to see how many degrees you can get with your pairings… the more degrees – the more obscure the connection. I’ve been using it as part of my son’s musical education – want to know how Pete Townsend is related to Black Eyed Peas or how Keith Moon is related to Timbaland? – just punch it in, sit back and let it be revealed.  What’s surprising in messing with this is discovering instances when two totally random and unrelated artists are actually pretty closely connected… here are a few examples:

Paul Anka to Geddy Lee: 6 steps (total surprise on this one)

Jimmy Page to Lady Gaga: 7 steps

MGMT to Juice Newton: 9 steps

Pat Metheny to Colin Moulding (from XTC): 18 steps

Have at it. If you get a connection that’s more than 18 steps – post a comment – I’d be curious to see it!

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Trends We Really Like: Personal Music Showers

Just came across this – Japanese Burger Kings are installing what they’re calling “musical showers” that allow customers to plug in their iPods and other MP3 players into jacks built into the walls where the music is played from a cone above the table and it audible only by those under it. No longer do you have to be subjugated to corporate muzak or generic pop music mixes designed to offend (or delight) no one.

Each table can have its own music thing going on without disturbing anybody else. Given that with my iPhone, I constantly have lots of playlists and songs at my finger tips at all times, I’d be up for this being in every restaurant, book store and other retail outlets where one hangs out. Let’s hope this catches fire.

Fantastic Flix for Kids

Been meaning to write a post on Fantastic Mr. Fox – Wes Anderson’s marvelous screen version of the classic children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl. Although it’s been out for about eight months (Nov 2009), we recently saw it and instantly fell in love. Both my children, one eight the other four, were mesmerized by the colors, characters and overall visual approach – and the storyline kept myself and my wife glued to the screen – which is rare when watching a kids’ flick. It helps greatly when the voice talent includes George Clooney (as Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep,long-time collaborators Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.  

In the age of CGI-based animated spectacles on IMAX screens in mind-blowing 3D – it was a very nice change of pace to see a movie using stop motion to tell the story. It feels so different and precious (in a good way) – considering the amount of effort and painstaking detail necessary to bring the dolls used in the movie to life. And if you’re familiar with Mr. Anderson’s work – Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – then you’ll immediately notice the director’s highly recognizable and unique style in this movie.

The other remarkable aspect of the picture is the eclectic and surprising soundtrack with songs ranging from The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Bobby Fuller Four, Burl Ives and magical original music by Alexandre Desplat – the French film composer who has scored over 100 films including The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Julie and Julia, Syriana, The Golden Compass – to name just a few.

We rented it once but then went out and bought it as this movie will be (and has been) watched many times over. If you’ve got kids of any age – I suggest you do the same.

It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing…. Including Rock.

Here’s a super cool music hack that I came across while perusing BoingBoing from last weekend’s San Francisco’s Music Hack Day. It’s called Swinger from Tristan Jehan, PhD from MIT Media Lab. It effectively takes any song and transforms it into a swing version of the song. For those not familiar, a swung note or shuffle note is a style of playing, mainly in jazz-influenced music, where notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short notes. Therefore, a swing or shuffle rhythm is the one produced by playing repeated pairs of notes in this way.

So the magic of The Swinger is it converts any song into a swing song, through a program written with a bit of python code. It does this by taking each beat and time-stretching the first half of each beat while time-shrinking the second half (so it takes songs written say in 4/4 time and transforms them into unequal durations – creating a swing rhythm).  The effect is almost magical.  Here are some examples (I’ve included the “straight” version of White Rabbit for comparison):

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit “Straight”

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Metallica: Sandman “Straight”

Metallica: Sandman

Guns and Roses: Sweet Child O Mine

The Beatles: I Will

Random Tasty Tracks

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but here’s a quick post on a few tracks that I’m fixated on. Three very different bands; one a group from Brooklyn, a Danish indie outfit and a duo whose one half is a movie star. They’ve all been around – some for several years but I recently discovered them and feel compelled to share.

The first track – Across Your Knee by Robbers on High Street, is a tightly crafted rock/pop tune that randomly conjures up Nick Lowe and Rockpile which I pleasantly can’t seem to move beyond. The second track by The Figurines lingers hours if not days after hearing it – a dark plaintive track with a chorus refrain that sticks to the ribs. On the other end of the spectrum is She & Him brought to life by  Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, (500) Days of Summer, Yes Man and much more) who partners with country folk artist M. Ward on a fun, kitschy yet highly melodic ride channeling Beatles (Dear Prudence)… luv it. And as always, enthusiastically endorsed by the local munchkin authorities….

Robbers on High Street – Across Your Knee

Figurines – Back in the Day

She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here

Frank Black Dissects Doolittle

Charles Thompson, AKA Black Francis and Frank Black provides a personal perspective on Doolittle on this week’s Sound Opinions rock talk show – which airs from Chicago and hosted by two rock music writers and critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot from Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune respectively.

Doolittle is the subject of the show’s Classic Album Dissection of the Pixies landmark 1989 release. As it turns out, Mr. Black is actually extremely gregarious, opinionated and funny as hell and provides insights into the Pixies and the album – such as the origin of the album’s title (which does, in fact, involve the “slicing up eyeballs”), how the demos and final tracks were recorded, where his names came from and the real story behind “Here Comes Your Man”. If you’re a Pixies fan – it’s a must listen. I sat in my car today tuned into NPR catching the last half hour – with my son listening. He now knows more about the Pixies than any other eight year old on the planet.

There’s a few minutes of general music news before the interview starts. Click here to stream the interview.

Tasty Track – Beach Comber by Real Estate

Having spent several Summers during high school at the Jersey Shore, I can relate to the hazy dreamy imagery conjured up by the Ridgewood NJ band Real Estateon their self-titled album singing about loving and losing among the dunes. After a few rounds through the record, I get flavors of Yo La Tengo and Panda Bear

For those who think the Garden State is nothing but a bunch of freeways book-ended by Newark and Trenton, take a listen to the album to get a small taste of magical moments that can happen on the mid-Atlantic.

This track Beach Comber is shimmery slice of lo-fi pop has a killer hook that echoes for hours if not days after hearing it.

Beach Comber