The cure for Tinnitus?

Every one at Open Ear is acutely aware of the importance of protecting our hearing, because of the work we do but also because we love to play, perform, and go to clubs and gigs. Music is our passion, and our ears are always open. Thankfully none of us has suffered more than minor hearing loss so far, but let’s be honest; like everyone else who loves music, the fear is there.

For those people where it’s unfortunately too late there is a minefield of pain, irritation, stilted conversations, and frustration. Hearing damage often shows itself through Tinnitus, which affects up to 10% of the world’s population. Up until now that’s been treated with hearing aids, some of which play alternate tones to mask the dreaded ringing so many of us have experienced for brief spells.

On trial now, however, is a new product developed in Texas called the Serenity System which aims to train the neurons in the brain to ignore or even forget that ringing noise. By attaching a transmitter to the Vagus nerve in the neck and listening to tones that trigger the tinnitus through headphones, the system stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain resulting in a rewiring around the sounds that encourage tinnitus. Whether that’s closer to magic than medicine we don’t know, but we can say that the latest round of tests showed around 50% of participants benefitted from it. Since it’s an invasive surgery we’d assume those people were particularly bad sufferers, but at least it offers some hope for those most in need. Equally, if all goes well it shows that looking at the way our brain processes sound signals may as important as understanding physical ear damage when it comes to planning ways to help hearing damage.

J. Dilla at the Smithsonian

You might remember we looked at Afrika Bambaataa’s awesome record collection being transferred to Cornell University in the past, and we really wished we could have popped over the Atlantic to check it out. Now the Smithsonian Museum are building a collection of cool Hip Hop ephemera to rival that at Cornell with a chunk of gear owned by J. Dilla. Donated by Dilla’s mother, the kit will be going into the National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens in 2016. Other gear by greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, George Clinton and Chuck D will also be on show, but it’s Dilla’s Minimoog and MIDI kit that revolutionised Hip Hop beats that we’re interested in. Check out the video to find out more.

Is two years notice too much to be able to get cheap flights?

Commonwealth Sporting Playlist

As the Commonwealth Games start today we thought we’d run up a quick selection of sporting themed tracks from musicians based throughout the Commonwealth. We admit some of the links are more tenuous than others, but that’s half the fun. Feel free to chuck us some alternate suggestions via Facebook or Twitter, the funnier or more inspired the better.

Don’t forget – We have great Commonwealth playlists, featuring a host of the best Glasgow bands, available right now. Contact us on or  0141 248 6006 for more details.

The HerbaliserGinger Jumps The Fence [England]

LenkaJump in the Pool (Originally by Friendly Fires) [Australia]

Sweet BabooLet’s Go Swimming Wild [Wales]

Remember RememberThe Swimming [Scotland]

Arcade FireReady to Start [Canada]

Fela KutiGo Slow [Nigeria]

Manu DibangoBig Blow [Cameroon]

A.R. RahmanCyclists Rhythm [India]

Mo Kolours – Ridda Mountain [Mauritius/England]

Ok, so we cheated with that last one, but you try finding great music that represents Mountain Biking…

Glasgow tunes for the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth Games start in our home city of Glasgow next week and we’re rather looking forward to it. We’ve been getting involved with the build up for quite some time through the Big Big Sing Project which has been set up to encourage singing and sharing through song all across the Commonwealth. We’ve heard some pretty great tunes because of it, and soon enough Glasgow will be hoaching with others eager to explore a little bit of Scottish culture. Of course that means we want to share some great Glaswegian music with our visitors.

What a musical heritage Glasgow has too. Though usually associated with Indie from the likes of Orange Juice, Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, and CHVRCHES, there have also been the big Pop hits of Biffy Clyro, Texas and Paolo Nutini, as well as the electronic music coming from folk like Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and Kode9. Then there’s a great Folk scene, and a Jazz scene too, alongside Reggae, Funk and Hip Hop. Oh, and the best new releases by favourites like PAWS and Remember Remember. All that and we’ve not even mentioned that Rod Stewart will be back in town to kick some footballs from a stage (now that’s an opening ceremony).

With that in mind, we’re bringing you playlists that celebrate the very best musical talent from Scotland, the feel of the Games, and inspiring summer vibes. If that sounds ideal for your business then drop us a line on either 0141 248 6006 or now.

Alarming Development

How was your wakeup call this morning? A slightly off-tune radio announcer? The classic clattering metal bell? Or our favourite, the first 55 seconds of ‘Master Blaster (Jammin’)’ by Stevie Wonder?

Well now you can have sounds that are a little more soothing for those brief seconds caught between the land of dreams and the stark reality that only you can put your feet on the floor to go make that first, brain starting, cup of coffee. Thanks to Rob Da Bank and Jon Hopkins there’s this specially designed tune to ease you into the waking world. Closer in tone to the delicate work Hopkins’ did with King Creosote than it is to his latest, more propulsive, solo album the alarm call does pose the risk that you’ll hit the snooze button just to hear it again. You can download it for free below.

A shocking lack of thought

Recently there were a slew of newspaper reports of a rather shocking psychological experiment carried out in the USA. Researchers at Virginia and Harvard Universities hoped to investigate how we cope with quiet reflection time, low stimuli and boredom. To do so, they provided an overly plain room containing only a chair to participants and left them alone, one at a time, to have some ‘me time’ so they could simply sit and think. The rules were simple; they each had between 6 and 15 minutes to let their mind wander, but they couldn’t talk, sing or get up and move around. The results? Most participants found this environment unenjoyable, with many struggling to concentrate on their own thoughts.

Next up the researchers decided to see how the participants would react if they were provided with one very unattractive stimulus input – in this case a button that, when pushed, would provide a mild electric shock. Would the participants be so bored they’d actually shock themselves rather than sit and think? In a lot of cases the answer was a resounding ‘Yes’. In fact, 12 of 18 men shocked themselves at least once, while one male participant shocked himself 190 times. That’s commitment to a whole lotta nothing goin’ on up there.

What’s all this got to do with music, you may wonder? Well, the results got us thinking about outside stimuli and the way we interact with the world around us. Have you ever sat in a quiet café and been acutely aware of your own voice? That’s pretty uncomfortable, and must be similar to how the participants of these studies felt when left to their own devices in that empty room – when you’re made aware of your surroundings the knock on effect on your subconscious appears to be rather severe. It’s the reason so many children like to sleep with a night light, that little bit of stimulus calms rather than distracts.

We’d like to think that by providing the right style of music, with energy appropriate to a slow moment in the day, that quiet café could be less jarring. Not that we condone zapping people, but we do wonder how many people would reach for that button if they’d were tested in a room with some well chosen music. We’d bet very few.

New Music – July

Lone  - Reality Testing (R&S Records)
Taking the classic sounds of Detroit Techno and mixing them up with skittering Hip Hop beats may not be innovative but in the hands of Lone it sure makes for an entrancing sound. This latest album of mainly instrumental cuts, his sixth to date, flits between swollen grooves, entangling melodies, and rhythmic stabs which together build an absorbingly dynamic atmosphere. The exemplary ‘Meeker Warm Energy’ is almost loungey, yet its back-to-basics Hip Hop pulse keeps it focused until the static-filled ending on bare key chords. The standout for us, however, is ‘Vengeance Video’s’ slurred bassline lurking below the attention grabbing arpeggiated melody – check it out here.

Ikebe Shakedown – Stone by Stone (Ubiquity Records)
Moving in a heavier direction than on their first album, Ikebe Shakedown continue to provide Afro-Funk instrumentals with classic ‘70s style grooves. With horns right up front leading the way the tempo’s change but the warmth and soul never stop. Elsewhere, crisp guitar work sets this album apart with wonderful tones, while the entire production feels tight as can be. The highlight, ‘By Hook or By Crook’ is sorrowful and feels like the soundtrack to the gritty but touching sort of B-movie that just isn’t made anymore. Check out the whole album on Bandcamp now.

How To Dress Well - What Is This Heart? (Weird World)
Often summer releases have a distinctly upbeat and bright kind of vibe, and in some ways What is this Heart? is a perfect summer album, yet its vibe is slower and more muted than may be expected. Instead, laid back R&B vocals backed by electronic beats that hint at House yet stray towards Pop provide a sensuous musicality that feels positive and invigorating. This is bound to catch on with diverse audiences due to the sheer quality of the songs, and picking a highlight is nigh on impossible. Anyone who thought Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange was a great R&B album should hear this. Check out ‘Childhood Faith in Love’ here.

Various – Eccentric Soul: Capitol City Soul (Numero Group)
Back in the mid-to-late ‘60s Columbus, Ohio was, like so much of the Mid West and North East of the US, a hotbed of great Soul and Funk. This collection showcases a host of artists who released or recorded for the long defunct, Columbus-based, Capsoul label. Very little of these songs saw much if any release at the time making this album a cross between a time-capsule and a treasure trove of goodness. Highlights include ‘Funky Disposition’ by Dean Francis & the Soul Rockers which is James Brown-esque, and ‘Your Love Makes Me Lonely’ by The Chandlers which would have been a smash if it had been released on a certain Detroit label. Check it out, here.

Jose James - While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note)
Describing an album as ‘pop’ can be a contentious exercise; does the reviewer mean an album will sell well, is aimed at a mainstream audience, or simply that the songs have choruses that we can all sing along to? In the case of While You Were Sleeping the answer is all of these, but only in part. Instead, Jośe James presents us with a diverse album filled with R&B, Hip Hop, Soul, Jazz and Rock influences that never ceases to captivate. Perhaps the closest comparison would be a tamed and polished version of TV on the Radio, and that in itself should be enough to make this worth checking out. Hear single ‘Every Little Thing’ here.

George Ezra - Wanted On Voyage (Columbia)
With a hit single (‘Budapest’), and a place on the BBC Sound of 2014 shortlist under his belt, George Ezra is proving there’s still a voracious appetite for indie-ish male singers within the record buying (or is that ‘playlist streaming’) public. With a gritty voice beyond his years, and a Folky leaning, Ezra is in some ways the Paulo Nutini of Americana. The big budget production of Wanted on Voyage keeps that voice right up front, showcasing an uncanny vocal resonance that is already Ezra’s signature style. Check out ‘Budapest’ here.

Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything (Fiction)
Six albums in and now chart-toppers, Elbow have come a long way since Asleep in the Back was released in 2001. That said this most recent outing is much like all their other albums; full of mid-tempo Indie guitar songs with an over-arching feel of contentment. In truth, few other bands do the sound of contentment quite so well as Elbow. At times they are sorrowful, others they are jubilant, yet their overall feel is always one of comfort. There are no hits like ‘One Day Like This’ here, nor is there the challenge of older tracks like ‘Newborn’, but Guy Garvey’s doleful vocals are as much a pleasure as always. Check out ‘Fly Boy Blue/Lunette’ here.

Eno & Hyde - High Life (Warp)
Just two months on from their first (rather disappointing) release together, Brian Eno and Karl Hyde have dropped a record more befitting their rich musical histories. By taking the sort of cyclical melodies that have come to be an Eno signature, alongside the synthesised guitar sounds that were always a hallmark of Hyde’s work with Underworld, High Life is a strange kind of guitar album that few saw coming. Filled with the sort of ambiguous ‘world’ music influences that have always been a part of both protagonists works, as well as Funk, Indie and Ambient sounds, it’s a solid package for an album created in 5 days. Think of the ‘80s vibes of The Pop Group and (less surprisingly given the Eno link) Talking Heads and you’ll be pretty close. Check out ‘DBF’ here.

Korg ditches the knob-twiddlers?

Leaving Brazil behind for a moment, let’s return to our normal service and take a look at some music tech that every kid of the ‘80s and ‘90s will love – a Korg hook-up with Nintendo.

More than a game but quite a way short of a full blown analogue synth, this software synth runs on a Nintendo 3DS and is designed to enable “performing in a DJ-like manner”. On your plate are 12 mono synths, 64 step sequencing, the expected range of effects (including chorus, delay, and reverb), and a 3D oscilloscope display.

After the release of their Lego-like modular synths, with Little Bits, late last year it seems Korg are definitely looking for ways to make their field a little more interesting and fun. Part of us does wonder, however, if this is really intended to be a useful musical tool or if instead it’s a sure fire way of capturing a few hundred thousand page clicks from amateur music geeks around the world. Korg has long been the home of the dedicated knob-twiddler… but has this time come to an end?

Check out a video of the DSN-12 below.

Exploring Brazil: DJ Marky

As a DJ who made his name in Drum & Bass DJ Marky doesn’t immediately spring to mind when we think of Brazil. The thing is, he’s a massive draw all over the world, a superstar in Brazil, and his music is both influential and heavily influenced by his land of birth. It’s also a whole lot of fun.

It’s hard to believe that just starting to describe the beginnings of DJ Marky’s career involves mentioning him being DJ of the year in Brazil two years running (in ’95 and ’96). His early career also saw him pick up residencies in the hottest clubs and numerous radio shows all across Brazil. By the late 1990s, with Drum & Bass hitting its peak, DJ Marky hit the shores of the UK and soon enough he was working alongside names like Goldie and DJ Hype and had a residency at Movement.

The result of all this talent? His One World show on Radio 1, another show on MTV Brazil and International acclaim. Not bad going, if you ask us.

To us, DJ Marky’s greatest achievement is to instigate an entire genre; Sambass. While the propulsive nature of Drum & Bass can sometimes be oppressive, by mixing in the rhythms and grooves of Samba DJ Marky creates music that highlights the communal nature of dance. DJ Marky really did help bring South American vibes into European dance culture, and we’ll forever be thankful.

Check out Carolina Carol Bela to see what we mean.