Music and Repetition

An interesting piece on repetition and music has appeared on NPR recently discussing the work of music psychologist Dr Elizabeth Margulis. The main thread recounts how she randomly cut up and editing the work of classical composer Luciano Berio, creating short pieces which were far more repetitive than the originals. On the basis this has been reported at all it’s probably pretty clear that listeners preferred the new repetitive pieces over the originals.

Of real interest, however, is the statistic that 90% of the music we hear is music we’ve already heard before. In some ways that can appear a little insidious, like when you consider the unconscious manner we can hear a few instrumental bars of a song in an advert and then instantly know we like the same song when the single turns up on the radio weeks later. We don’t even know we’ve heard it before but our exposure to it allows us to feel more comfortable with it, and thus make us more susceptible to giving it the time of day. On the other hand take a look through your iTunes, your record collection or consider your favourite radio station. How many plays have your top tracks, favourite albums and go to radio stations had over the years? Why?

Repetition is a strange thing in the modern era. We associate it with the mechanical, the digital and even with manipulation yet it is something that has developed throughout human history. Language, musical notation, and the manner in which we learn are all underpinned by repetition. Consider that statistic the next time you hear a track that feels like it’s brand new and ask yourself, ‘where might I have heard this before?’

Record Store Day 2014

So Record Store Day is nearly upon us again, and all over the country people will be buying marked up ‘rarities’ in the hope that it supports a network of record shops who dropped from 119 stores across Scotland in 2003 to just 54 in 2013. Of those 54, only 15 could say they were independently owned and sold new stock vinyl as a major part of their business. That’s not a lot of shops, and with Avalanche on another indefinite hiatus, those stores are getting fewer.

So our big question is: Are you bothered?

If so, what are you buying? If we were to make a suggestion of what not to buy, it’d be this limited edition 7″ picture disk by none other than One Direction.

Jamie XX – Sleep Sound video

Check out the new video for the flip side of Jamie XX‘s new 12″ Girl, b/w Sleep Sound. It features, and is directed by, dancer Sofia Mattioli alongside members of the Manchester Deaf Centre as they dance to Sleep Sound. More accurately, it is better to say that these dancers, all of whom other than Mattioli are deaf, dance to the vibrations of Sleep Sound whilst also following her movements. It makes for a moving piece, and the interaction between dancers and music is well worth seeing.

Mattioli describes the work:

I was on a train listening to music, getting deep into it, and this girl started staring at me. After a while I took my headphones off and she came up to me, started signing and then wrote me a note to say that she was deaf but could almost feel the music by my movement.

The relationship between silence and music is a big part of what I am trying to express with my work. The first kid in the video, Archie, was bliss—all of them were amazing. I hope this is a project I can develop further.

If nothing else this piece reminds us that interacting with music is a varied and diverse experience, and that its impact is significant no matter where it is played.

Do you know your Stradivari?

Of all the musical instrument manufacturers to have existed, Stradivarius is perhaps the most renowned and celebrated. Of the 1000+ instruments Antonio Stradivari hand crafted in the 17th and 18th centuries only around half remain. His violins in particular are often considered to possess a quality of sound that is unattainable from any other, lesser, instrument. Yet, new research suggests soloists recognised around the world actually prefer more modern instruments.

Ten “first-rate” violinists were blindfolded, as part of a study by Professor Claudia Fritz of Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, and allowed an hour to play six modern and six vintage instruments, including Stradivariuses. The results showed that six of the ten picked a modern instrument as a preference, while only three picked a Stradivarius.

You can test your ability to pick out a Stradivarius over on the Telegraph’s website. We can proudly (smugly?) say we got it bang on.

All this got us thinking. What other instruments would it be good to do a blind test with? Could you pick out a classic Technics SL-1210 Mk2 from a line up? How about a classic 50s Stratocaster?

New Music April

Check it out: A selection of our favourite new releases coming out over the next month or so. We’ll be adding choice tracks to playlists all month. Keep up to date with what we’re playlisting via Twitter.

Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (Olsen Records)
Having been around for a fair while it’s nice to see Todd Terje eventually releasing a full length LP even if some of the tracks will be familiar to both dancefloors and fans. The title, in many ways, says all that needs to be said as Terje connects Electro, Disco and House cuts together into an upbeat and broadly instrumental record. The collaboration with Bryan Ferry on a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ may be new but the older ‘Inspector Norse’, with its synth-driven classic House sound, is the highlight here. Check out that Bryan Ferry collaboration here.


Quantic – Magnetica (Tru Thoughts)
With his first solo album in 8 years, which is a long time for someone quite so prolific, Will Holland has somewhat surprisingly returned to electronic production. Having worked almost exclusively with live musicians from around the world of late, Holland’s return to his electronic roots is an interesting step underpinned by the possibilities presented to him by Ableton Live. The result is a renewed focus on the beat whilst not sacrificing his analogue sound and its typifying warmth. Influences and collaborators include Iara Renno on the Brazilian ‘Caruru’, Shinehead on the dubby ‘Spark It’ and the ever present Alice Russell on the folky ‘You Will Return’. Check out lead single ‘Duvidó’ here.


Ibibio Sound Machine – Ibibio Sound Machine (Soundway)
When Funk meets Electro a sense of fun and excitement is typically on the cards. When that Electro-Funk is combined with a heavy African influence, particularly Highlife and Afro-Beat, then an irresistible groove is all but guaranteed. It is through these infectious influences, and a keen sense of rhythm, that Eno Williams weaves her songs with stories from the Nigerian folk tales told to her by her mother. In many ways it makes a great contemporary companion to last year’s excellent William Onyeabor record. That alone makes it worth a spin. Check out ‘Let’s Dance’ on Soundcloud.


Fràncois & The Atlas Mountains – Piano Ombre (Domino)
This may be Fràncois’ fourth record, but it is the first recorded in a proper studio. In moving away from their Lo-Fi roots their sound has expanded into a synthy form of Indie-Pop that feels refreshingly light and uplifting. The addition of those synth vibes alongside those wistful Gallic tones does mean thoughts of Air are inevitable, though that is certainly no bad thing. On ‘La Vérité’ there are elements of Soul guitar that bring energy and gusto while overall the sense is of texture and space. That studio time has been well spent. Check out ‘La Vérité’ here.


Tycho – Awake (Ghostly International)
One of the great things about this time of year is that the light, upbeat records that encourage thoughts of summer days have started to be released. Often amongst those early releases will be a record that will see us through until autumn and Awake stands a fair chance of being one of those this year. Tycho’s instrumental Electro and downtempo Electronica is both light and airy with synthetic washes and analogue bass leading the way. Put simply, this is a happy record forth spending some springtime with.  Check out ‘Awake’ here.


The Souljazz Orchestra – Inner Fire (Strut Records)
The Souljazz Orchestra have often been a band that force you to pay attention through their unbending energy. With Inner Fire, however, that outward energy has been pegged back just a little in favour of a drive from within that presents itself most often through horns and keys. Equally, while the Latin and African inflections come across as strongly as ever, this is a Jazz record that checks back to classic Blue Note as much as it hints at Eastern influences or Funk. Delivering such a mixed bag of influences is no easy task, and Inner Fire succeeds with aplomb. Check out ‘One Life to Live’ here.


Kelis – Food (Ninja Tune)
By teaming up with producer Dave Sitek, of TV on the Radio fame, Kelis has delivered an album that is designed to incite nostalgia with its rootsy form of soulful pop. Featuring horns and light electronic touches throughout, it has warmth and depth that makes it a pleasurable and involving listen. New single ‘Rumble’ is a highlight with its simple piano-led melody and low-end bass groove allowing Kelis’ vocals to take the reins and inject the bite that keeps the listeners attention throughout this surprising record. Much like Neneh Cheery last month, Kelis has shown that time can be a kind and supportive accomplace. Check out ‘Rumble’ here.


The cost of free music

Last year in a small bar just outside Cleveland, OH a local band played a classic rock covers set. When one less than original member of the audience shouted the clichéd ‘FREEEEBIRD!’ the band duly obliged. Seven months on and the bar, 69 Taps, has a copyright infringement suit filed against it. While the band had not published their setlist it is (now) suspected that either a BMI or an ASCAP employee must have been in the building for the show, and they took exception to ‘Freebird’ and ten other songs being played without the royalties due being paid by the venue.

That doesn’t initially seem fair, but the band themselves are in agreement: if you use a musician’s music they should be paid. Here in the UK that means dealing with the PPL and PRS for Music. They’re far less inclined to send a lawsuit down to you seven months after an event, but this story acted as a stark reminder to us that many people do attempt to avoid paying musicians what they’re worth. It’s a particularly sad fact in our line of business that many people choose to use Spotify to provide a soundtrack to their venue or work place. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the fact that this is against the Spotify user policy, it also means that the correct royalties for a public performance may be omitted. Spotify, after all, pay to rights holders (read: Labels) rather than to artists, and those rates tend to have been struck with the labels rather than being the standard PRS royalty rate.

While all this may make a negligible difference to the coffers of the biggest stars it can often mean a small artist seeing no royalty cheque at all. We love showcasing less heard artists, and we’re always proud when we can include them on our royalty statements. We don’t do cautionary tales very often, but this one made us feel like we should address the matter head on. We’re going to keep making sure small artists get what they’re owed. If, like us, you feel all musicians work that is played in public should be paid for properly, we hope you’ll share this article around.

One-off Wu-Tang

Wu-Tang are getting set to release a new album ‘The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ as a limited edition of one, complete with engraved silver presentation  box. The intended asking price to be paid by the eventual lucky owner? Somewhere “in the millions”.

The album, in many ways, is a think piece; intended as a way of transforming the way music is consumed, bringing it away from mass production and taking it into the realms of visual art. There’s a long history, of course, of discussing the difference between the presentation of visual art and the presentation of mass cultural products like popular music. Most famously, perhaps, is Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the loss of aura in art through mechanical reproduction. Benjamin argued that by copying an art work for wider distribution the unique qualities of the work are diminished and this reduces its sense of authority and impact. Of course, when ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ is considered, the impact stems not from the music itself (though we’re sure it’ll be pretty special) but from the concept itself, and there’s the problem.

This isn’t about an album, or a shiny box it’s kept in. It is about a concept carried out by people who have the authority in their name to charge multi-million dollars for what to all intents and purposes would normally be considered a high quality dubplate. If Wu-Tang pull this off and succeed in touring this album in museums and galleries like they hope, and then manage to sell it for whatever price they name, they’ll have done so because of their success in mass producing their brand around the world.

Going up?

In an elevator inside the Wolf Building in Philadelphia’s Chinatown a new form of Muzak plays. It is designed specifically to provoke a reaction, to demand interaction and to be noticed. It is not like elevator music as many of us imagine, and it appeals to us immensely.

Really Good Elevator Music’ is the brainchild of artist Yowei Shaw and it is designed to instil a sense of shared space and community in a multi-use building that includes apartments, studios and a health care centre. Musical works have been supplied by six artists, and they can be listened to here.

We’ve always promoted the fact that we do not provide background music. Instead we prefer to focus on providing quality music that suits its environment and its audience. That means it is music to be listened to, and enjoyed. We feel that public spaces benefit from this far more than from jarring, or worse insipid, ‘Muzak’ and the discordant clatter of everyday life; after all your ears are always open.


The Sound of Silence

John Cage’s 4’ 33” must be mentioned when discussing the relationship between music and silence. Now that is out of the way, we can focus on Vulfpeck, a funk band who share a home town with the Stooges; Ann Arbor, Michigan. Like many small bands, they have recently publicly displayed their dissatisfaction with the royalties they are paid via Spotify. They’ve done it slightly differently though.

Rather than a photo of a royalties cheque worth a few cents, or a snarky Tweet, Vulfpeck have released an album on Spotify that consists of ten tracks of silence. They hope fans will queue their album to play on repeat all night long, making them some much needed money to help pay for a tour. We like the idea, and we’re pretty impressed with the way they’ve created their album too. Each song is a little over 30 seconds long, which is the cut off time where a song is considered to have been played on Spotify, but none of the songs are much longer than that so the cycle of songs moves swiftly.

The Guardian reports that Vulfpeck could expect to see as much as $5.88 per sleep listener per night. That, however, almost certainly isn’t right as it’s based on the average ‘per stream’ royalty rate of $0.007. We suspect Vulfpeck won’t see anything near that due to their (presumably small) share of the overall Spotify market, which is what really counts. If you’ve ever wanted to know how Spotify distributes its royalty payments then check out this site. It’s certainly not clear, but it offers some guidelines to read between.

Scent and Sound

When three boundary pushing artists like Tim Hecker, Kode9 and Ben Frost are brought together for a project, we’re bound to be interested. When they’re brought together to create sounds for a sensory experience as part of Unsound Festival, we’re very interested indeed.

Working alongside Berlin’s boundary-pushing perfumer Geza Shoen, the three musicians have created original musical pieces which in turn have been used to inspire scents created by Shoen. These scents will then be used to encourage a new round of musical pieces and all will be unveiled in an installation as part of New York’s Unsound Fest, alongside some visuals by Manuel Sepulveda and Marcel Weber.

The co-creator of the project, Małgorzata Płysa, explained: “Scent and sound are both the most ephemeral of senses – without having a visible physical form, an image attached to them, they have the power to trigger emotions, uncover memories and move other senses. Having been working with various types of sound, often abrasive and physical, we have decided to try and blur the lines, adding sense of smell and discovering what the effects could be.”

In the past  we’ve discussed the importance of scent and sound to creating the perfect ambience, including looking at this research on how scent, sound and visual environment impacted on perceptions of a whisky’s taste. This is putting it into practice however, and with some big names behind it we’re very keen to know how it goes. If you’re in New York at the start of April take a look and then let us know.