Okay, so, maybe this blog thing that's so popular with the young people today could work for me.  It seems like an attractive format for presenting some of the interesting stuff going on.

So I'll try this for a while, and see how it goes.  Enjoy...

(Later... registered comments are now set up.)

December 12, 2011

This was at the New Spectrum Foundation Prog and Experimental Music Festival last August in Palo Alto.

Here I am playing, of all things, my rendition of The Doxology ("Praise God from Whom all blessings flow...") on 12-string.  Okay, that's neither prog nor experimental (I'll say) but it was followed by other stuff that was.

The remarkable photographic skill is from Stu Cameron of progressive rock radio show The Odyssey on The Dividing Line.

Posted by DonTillman at 05:00 PM | Comments (0)
October 08, 2011
Letter to the Editor, Varsity Theater

Here's my letter to the editor that ran in the Palo Alto Daily Post today.

(This sounds so much like a classic Fusco Brothers comic: Oooh! I'm so mad I'm going to write a letter to the editor! How do you spell "persnickety"?)

A little background: The historic Varsity Theater on University Avenue in Palo Alto has been a Border's Bookstore for, oh, about a decade or so. Borders has since gone bankrupt and closed all their stores, including this one, so there has been a discussion about what to do with the building. Some would like it to be office space, some would like it back as a theater, some would like it to be retail.

One of the local newspapers, the Palo Alto Daily Post, ran an article and an editorial this week suggesting that those who want to see the Varsity back as a theater should give up because the owner of the building has, correctly, pointed out that the cinima business is not too good right now and there's lots of competition nearby.

So here's my response. The version that was published in the newspaper was edited substantially.

In Monday's article "City keeping theater idea alive", and Tuesday's editorial, "Theater-seekers ignoring landlord", Ryan Riddle notes that the owner of the Varsity Theater, Chop Keenan, recommends against its use a movie theater because he does not think it would be financially viable. And sure enough, the revenue would not be large and there are already three other screens within just a few blocks of the place.

But what about another kind of theater, a music venue? I could easily imagine a privately owned, for profit, music venue serving up jazz, folk, fusion, blues, improv, rock, bluegrass, experimental, poetry slams and comedy. Get some investors together; the place is already theater-shaped.

Location is very important for a music venue, and downtown P'Alto is perfect in that regard. Close to a major Caltrain station, numerous buses, freeways, free parking, shopping, etc. And close to Stanford's 15,000 students, so there's a substantial customer base right there. And there are opportunities for symbiotic business operations in the courtyard, like a cafe, pub, pizza, desserts, gallery, whatever. And the city council would probably be helpful considering the cultural, historical and commerce benefits.

The closest music venue is the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, which is certainly a nice place, but there's basically nothing south of there. Nothing from Menlo Park down to San Jose, and nothing on the East Bay south of Oakland. That's pretty sad.

And that's especially unfortunate considering that Palo Alto has been so vitally important to our musical culture: the Kingston Trio started here, as did the Grateful Dead. Joan Baez and Grace Slick grew up here (both Paly High, class of '58). Guitarist William Ackerman grew up here (Amherst Street), and founded Windham Hill Records here (High Street). Ackerman also discovered guitarist Michael Hedges here, playing at... wait for it... the Varsity Theater. Oh, and the Donna's.

So I believe that the Varsity would be a remarkable opportunity for a music venue business.

Don Tillman, Palo Alto

Posted by DonTillman at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)
December 24, 2009
New Alembic Active Cable Looks Familiar

(Wow, third in a tight series of accurately predicting the future...)

Alembic has just built a prototype run of active guitar cables. 'Looks impressive.

I published my version of the active cable here over eight years ago:

Don Tillman: FET Preamp Cable

I still use this a lot today, and I still think it'd make a great product. I don't know what specific technology Alembic is using for theirs, but it's very cool to see this and I'm sure they did a great job.

The Alembic cable looks even more like my very original prototype Preamp Cable... Lessee, I have it around here somewhere...

Okay, 'found it. Here's a picture of my original prototype, built, oh I dunno, around 1994 or thereabouts.

Preamp Cable Prototype

The guts of the FET Preamp are inside the plug on the right. It's phantom powered. The little aluminum box contains a 9V battery, and the phantom power circuit. There's a power switch on the side. The output goes to that phone plug epoxied in place, so you can just hang this off a guitar amp input jack. The jack on the side is a second parallel output for a tuner.

(It turns out that this particular package wasn't very good as some guitar amps don't have the physical space for a box dangling off the input jack. I was using this with a Fender Twin Reverb at the time, and that's got a sloping panel. My current Mesa/Boogie Lonestar Special wouldn't work with this at all. And the extra connection to the tuner is sloppy at best. So I dropped this packaging scheme early on and went with the "MXR Box" style approach.)

Posted by DonTillman at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)
September 11, 2009
iTunes LP Looks Familiar

With iTunes 9, Apple introduces a feature called iTunes LP. It sure seems like the folks at Apple's iTunes group have read my article A New Business Model for the Music Industry, and taken it to heart. Good!

Posted by DonTillman at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)
May 12, 2009
What Are You Listening To?

It'll take some time to finish listening through last week's order from CD Universe:

Bill Bruford / Ralph Towner
If Summer Had Its Ghosts

Chase / Ennea / Pure Music

Larry Coryell
Lady Coryell

Jerry Goodman and Jan Hammer
Like Children

Phil Ochs
All the News that's Fit to Sing

By the way, I like CD Universe a lot. They have a very good selection, great prices, and if you check out the top selling listings, their customers seem to have pretty good taste in music.

Posted by DonTillman at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)
April 01, 2009
Zappa Drummers

Here's a pretty amazing thing — the Drum Channel features a roundtable discussion with Frank Zappa drummers Ralph Humphrey, Chester Thompson, Terry Bozzio, Chad Wackerman, and Ruth Underwood.

The Zappa Drummers Roundtable, Parts 1 through 7

Enjoy. (There's also an impressive drum jam at the end.)

Posted by DonTillman at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)
March 04, 2009
It's a Click Track Detector!

Paul Lamere provides an amazing little tool that can tell you if a drummer is using a click track. Very cool. Check it out here:

Music Machinery: In Search of the Click Track

Posted by DonTillman at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)
February 20, 2009
Opus Spongebobicum

Just listening to one of my favorite radio shows, Memory Select on Stanford's radio station KZSU FM, and Wedge is playing a piece by Frank Rothkamm called Opus Spongebobicum, forty piano variations on the Spongebob theme song for piano.

Man, oh man...

Oh and I see that Wedge has a new blog too: Memory Select: Avant-jazz radio. Excellent.

Posted by DonTillman at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)
February 11, 2009

Oh wow, look at this... "Mellodrama", a documentary film about the Mellotron by Dianna Dilworth.

Mellodrama Trailer on YouTube
Mellodrama Article on BoingBoing
Mellodrama Mellotron Movie web site
Interview with Filmmaker Dianna Dilworth
Don's Mellotron Resources

Apparently the premiere screening is at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montanna on Monday February 16.

Posted by DonTillman at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)
You Can't Fool the Children of the Revolution

Yet another reason that YouTube is wonderful; you can get access to material like this...

Here is the classic song "Children of the Revolution" as originally performed in 1972 by Marc Bolan and T. Rex:

YouTube: T Rex, Children of the Revolution

Here's another version, also 1972, with Elton John and Ringo Starr (!!!) from the film "Born to Boogie". Note that this footage includes Marc Bolan's head inside a piano, jester cameramen, and stuffed animals:

YouTube: Bolan/Elton/Ringo, Children of the Revolution

And here it is as performed in 1986 by the Violent Femmes, from the album "The Blind Leading the Naked", complete with production by the Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison, a scenic tour of Milwaukee, a Friday night fish fry, beauty shop hairdryers, fish, and some fine marching:

YouTube: Violent Femmes, Children of the Revolution

(Also note that one of my favorite musicians, keyboard player Sigmund Snopek III, makes a very brief appearance at 2:02.)

And of course:

Children of the Revolution on Wikipedia

Posted by DonTillman at 07:43 AM | Comments (0)
February 07, 2009
Tillman Preamp Fan

A fellow who goes by the handle "wnorcott" seems to like my Discrete FET Guitar Preamp, as he describes in a posting to the Telecaster Guitar Forum here:

Telecaster Guitar Forum: Don Tillman's discrete FET guitar preamp

And in this YouTube video here:

YouTube: Tillman FET Guitar Preamp Demo -- I Built It

Thanks "wnorcott"!

Posted by DonTillman at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)
It Came From NAMM, 2009

It's February; and that means it's time for Barry Wood to provide us with yet another wonderful summary of the oddities he discovered at this year's NAMM (the National Association of Music Merchants) convention:

It Came From NAMM 2009

I love this stuff!

Posted by DonTillman at 11:18 AM | Comments (0)
January 17, 2009
Welcome MetaFilter Folks

I've been getting a lot of traffic as MetaFilter recently referenced my Mellotron page.

Hi guys; welcome. I enjoy MetaFilter a lot.

(Heh-heh; I should have written this post in that annoying style of putting a separate unexplained link on each word.)

Posted by DonTillman at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)
October 17, 2008
Plants and Birds and ARPS and Things

I think this was in 1992. Scott Miller had invited me to contribute some bits to the recording of the Loud Family debut album Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. (Which is a remarkable album, by the way. Certainly not because of me, I just did a few noises.)

Robert Toren shot some footage of the festivities and posted it to YouTube recently. So here ya go; enjoy!

The studio was The Music Annex in Menlo Park. Mitch Easter (REM, Let's Active) was producing the album. And being present there was a wonderful experience. I'm playing my classic ARP 2600 synthesizer. And my Mellotron is also visible.

Update -- a better copy of the clip.

Posted by DonTillman at 01:19 AM | Comments (0)
September 14, 2008
Classical iTunes

I usually don't complain about Apple products, but man, I gotta say... iTunes absolutely sucks for classsical music. I'm not talking playback quality or anything, it's that the organizational features of iTunes completely fail in the presence of any sort of composed music.

My iPhone is loaded up with a healthy proportion of classical music for dog walks, and that turns out to be a wonderful listening environment. So that's the situation I'm most concerned with here. And it's this situation where the iTunes tagging data is an absolute trainwreck.

For one thing, there's only one "Classical" genre setting available. That's not a big deal, it's easy enough for an individual user to add "Baroque", "Opera", "Chamber", "Choral", and so forth, but it's symbolic of a lack of respect for all composed music, and it's a bad omen of what's to come. (Given the available genre's like "Electronic", "Hip Hop", "Rap", "Techno", and "Trance", it's pretty clear where their allegences lie.)

The Artist and Composer fields in the song data, at first sight, seem reasonable. But classical libraries are always sorted by composer, and the iPod/iPhone doesn't sort by composer, and even if it did it would place Antonin Dvorak under A. The iPhone doesn't even display the composer, so that field is useless.

Almost all classical works are multi-movement pieces, and they need to be grouped as such. Now there is a Grouping field in iTunes, which leads one to believe there's hope, but no, the Grouping field is more notational and doesn't actually do anything useful. In fact it screws up the song order, and the Grouping data isn't actually displayed on the iPhone.

On top of all this, the CDDB database data for classical albums isn't even slightly consistent, so it is impossible to rip an album and not hand-rework all of the song data. Typically you get something that looks like this:

Example: off the CDDB database

All is not lost, as I believe I've found a way to make this work. So until Apple's iTunes folks get their act together, here's my approach.

Don's iTunes Tagging Method for Classical Music

Given that we have to work with what we've got, the goal is to make iTunes work well, especially when listening on an iPod/iPhone. The display size and options on the iPhone/iPod are limited, and we have to make the best use of what we have.

The basic plan is to:

  1. Use the Artist field for both the composer and the performer.
  2. Split the albums up into works, and use the Album field for the name of the work.
  3. Use the Name field for the movement number and the movement name.
  4. Accept that the Album Artist, Composer and Grouping fields won't be helpful.

Here's an example. At this point we've just ripped a CD and retrieved the song titles in whatever insane random format comes over from CDDB.

Step 1: Select all the tracks on the album and edit the artist field to show both the composer and the performer, composer first, last name only (or last-name-comma-initials). Use a format like this:

Dvorak / Prague String Quartet

This is the main field that the songs will be sorted by, so you want it to match your record collection as closely as practical. I really want my Dvorak string quartets under D and my Handel Concerti Grossi under H.

(It's possible to do use a prettier version of the composer name, first-name-first and last-name-last, and use the Sort Artist feature to sort it correctly, but that's painful as the Sort Artist feature is not documented and you need to do a resort every time you add new music. And in practice it ends up pushing the performer off the end of the limited iPod/iPhone display, so it's just not worth the trouble.)

I've been using the Composer field for a prettier version of the composer name and the Album Artist field for a prettier version of the performer name, just for documentation purposes, as these fields don't show up on an iPod/iPhone.

Step 2: For each composition on the album, select all the movements and adjust the Album field to reflect the name of the work. This effectively splits an album up into several albums, one per composition.

String Quartets: No. 3 in D Major

Physical albums, as such, are less important to classical music listeners; classical albums are generally just a container for a number of works and don't have notable titles. So instead we use the Album field for the name of the individual work, optionally prefixed with an abbreviated album name so that works from the same album will group together. You'll want to check to be sure it's short enough to display well on the iPod/iPhone.

Step 3: And finally, use the individual song name for the number and the name of the movement, like this:

1. Allegro con brio

And here's how it looks on an iPhone:

Example: Dvorak

And here's another example:

Example: Corelli

Going Forward

I'll publish this here, and maybe collect some improvements over time. So far this is working well for me.

Yes, there is a significant amount of manual labor involved in editing the iTunes tags for classical music. That's a bad sign. At least it's mostly cut-and-paste and you can listen to the music while you're editing.

Maybe this will suggest a better tagging schema to Apple. And maybe Gracenote, the folks behind the CDDB database, will be able to address classical music, either by adopting this approach or coming up with something better.

Or maybe there's an entrepreneurial business opportunity for a classical CDDB.

Posted by DonTillman at 04:52 PM | Comments (2)
August 10, 2008
Rundgren on Night Music

Thanks to YouTube we have this amazing clip of Todd Rundgren, Taj Mahal, David Sanborn, Pat Metheny, and more, performing Gilbert and Sullivan's "Never Mind the Why and Wherefore".


A few notes:

This is from David Sanborn's Night Music television show which ran from 1988 to 1990. Sanborn brought together an amazingly diverse set of the best musicians around and the result was always interesting. This particluar clip was clearly one of the more out there moments.

The performances here are all delightful. I'm even digging the guy on turntables. And the triangle player.

The woman is Michelle Gray, and she does a fantastic job. (Later she'd be known as Mrs. Rundgren.)

Todd Rundgren is apparently a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, and the driving force behind the selection. That makes sense if you listen to "Onomatopoeia" or "An ElPees Worth of Toons". And he's sort of directing things here.

It's a major cultural loss that Night Music was cancelled, that there is no show remotely like this on today, and that the show is not available on DVD. Here's a Petition to Release Night Music, but I doubt it'll fly.

Posted by DonTillman at 08:30 PM | Comments (0)
August 07, 2008
Batman album

I was a big fan of the Batman television series. It started in 1966 when I was in fourth grade, and highly impressionable. And as I was into rock'n roll music at the time, my parents bought me this Batman album for a birthday present. The album seemed a little schlocky, certainly not proper soundtrack music from the TV show or anything, but I dug it for what it was.

Years pass... Decades, actually.

I'm listening to a Sun Ra marathon on local college radio station KFJC a couple years ago. And around 2:00 in the morning they're playing something oddly familiar. Music my neurons recognized from 40 years ago. Yep...

It turns out that the Batman album was actually a recorded jam session with Sun Ra, Al Kooper, and members of the Arkestra and The Blues Project. All uncredited. Who knew? Not me, that's for sure.

Now, in these days of modern times, in this archeological trove we call the internet, you can actually find the contents of the entire Batman album as handy downloadable mp3's on the always delightful and highly recommended WFMU Blog, along with some vital backchannel information. That's so great.

As an aside, I'd forgotten how delighfully twisted the writing on the Batman show was. Here are some quotes. Man, oh man, that's great stuff.

Posted by DonTillman at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)
February 22, 2008
Bill Cosby with Sonny Stitt

Here's Bill Cosby on the Dick Cavett show in 1973, describing what it's like to play with Sonny Stitt:

YouTube: Bill Cosby on Sonny Stitt

Posted by DonTillman at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)
January 30, 2008
It Came From NAMM, 2008

It's that time of year again...  the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) has come and gone, and Barry Wood provides us with yet another delightful summary in:

It Came From NAMM

Thank you, Barry.  This is great.

Posted by DonTillman at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)
January 16, 2008
A Man, A Plan, Bob Dylan, Weird Al, Panama

If you're not familiar with Bob Dylan's famous film clip for "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (they sure didn't call them "videos" back in 1965), YouTube has it here:

You Tube: Bob Dylan — Subterranean Homesick Blues

And Wikipedia has some fascinating background on it here:

Wikipedia: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Very cool.  But the purpose of this post is to share my discovery of Weird Al Yankovic's take on the song, called, "Bob", with lyrics made entirely from palindromes (!!!):

You Tube: Weird Al Yankovic — Bob

Wow... This is why Weird Al Yankovic is a freaking genius.  Normally the use of palindromes in a song is lost because the listener doesn't have a way to visualize the lyrics.  Yankovic looks to Dylan's flip cars for the solution.  Also note how he's got all the detail in there, even down to the shadowy Allen Ginsberg character.

Comedy skit idea: Record company producers are negotiating with Bob Dylan about producing a modern remix of "Subterranean Homesick Blues", replacing the flip cards with a PowerPoint presentation.  Hilarity ensues.

Speaking of palindromes in songs, here is They Might Be Giant's wonderful performance of "I Palindrome I" on Letterman in 1992:

They Might Be Giants: I Palindrome I

I think it's great how John Linnell is not only able to use a word-level palindrome for the bridge, but he's able to sing it so well, getting out that awkward set of words and phrasing and also diving right into the third verse without catching a breath.

Posted by DonTillman at 08:26 AM | Comments (0)
January 12, 2008
TMBG, Here Come the 123s, Friday Night Podcasts

My kids are jazzed about this...  They Might Be Giants are coming out with a sequel to their wonderful "Here Come the ABCs" DVD/CD set called "Here Come the 123s", and it will be available soon.  (Best to get it from Amazon, as the Amazon edition has some bonus tracks.)

In the meantime the Johns are producing a weekly video podcast for kids and families.  Get the TMBG Friday Night Family Podcast by subscribing with iTunes (free) or from the feed.

As I've mentioned before, the This Might Be a Wiki — TMBG Knowledge Base is a wonderful thing.

Posted by DonTillman at 08:43 PM | Comments (0)
"That was the moment we realised the game was completely up"

A fascinating article in The Economist called The Music Industry — From Major to Minor opens with this paragraph:

IN 2006 EMI, the world's fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits.  At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table.   But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free.  "That was the moment we realised the game was completely up," says a person who was there.

Woah....  Y'r business plan is toast, man.

The music industry has basically committed suicide.  Sure enough, the business arrangement they gravitated to, involving a few large record companies, A&R people with focus groups, unfair contracts with musicians, a few large companies owning hundreds of radio stations, payola, playlists, retail stores with high prices and limited stock, the whole shebang, makes for an unsupportable industry.

It sounds bad, but it's not really.  In fact, it's very good news.  It means that the elements of mediocrity are in free fall and that there's a huge opening for an entirely new music business based on a more artistically favorable core.  If anything, now is the time for the new music entrepreneurs. 

Don't believe me? Okay, note that Apple's iTunes is currently the fourth largest retailer in the country.  And note that iTunes didn't exist before 2001.

Also do check out this delightful article in Wired called David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars Which includes interviews with Brian Eno and Thom Yorke.  The opening paragraph is here:

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

These are going to be very interesting times for entrepreours in the music industry.

Posted by DonTillman at 06:56 PM | Comments (0)
April 18, 2007
"Prog, prog, prog rock high school."

This is pretty amazing; it's the Poteet High School (Texas) Band performing Emerson Lake and Palmer's Karn Evil 9.  On many marimbas.  And doing it really well.

YouTube -- Karn Evil 9 part 1
YouTube -- Karn Evil 9, part 2


(I first saw this two years ago on the Poteet Pirate Band web site, but unforunately it wasn't up for very long.  Luckily somebody grabbed it and made it more generally available.)

Of course adapting progressive rock to alternative performance realms is potentially trecherous.  Here is Yes' Roundabout as interpreted by the Hastings High School (Minnesota) Show Choir:

YouTube -- Roundabout

Posted by DonTillman at 01:06 AM | Comments (1)
January 31, 2007
It Came From NAMM, 2007

Another year, another NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show.

And that means yet another delightful installment of It Came From NAMM is available from Barry Wood.  Enjoy, music lovers.  This is great stuff.

Posted by DonTillman at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)
September 24, 2006
Mellotron Patents

Mellotron patent

There's a new electronic music article at Till.com, where I review all the Mellotron Patents.  Enjoy.

Posted by DonTillman at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)
June 27, 2006
Zappa Plays Zappa

Saw Zappa Plays Zappa Saturday night at the Warfield in San Francisco with Chucko, Nick and a bunch of others.  (No photo, sorry.)  Absolutely wonderful show.  This is Dweezil Zappa performing Frank's music with a band that inludes some folks from FZ's bands as well as some new musicians.

There are a few very good descriptions of the show, including setlist, in the Zappa Plays Zappa Reviews section of the Kill Ugly Radio web page (which itself is pretty cool).

It was a very touching show; you could feel the love of FZ and the appreciation for his accomplisments throughout.  This was the last show of the tour, Dweezil mentioned that the tour was very successful and that they were planning another one in the fall.

Napolean Murphy Brock was great.  And I was completely blown away by the new alto sax player Sheila Gonzalez.  And of course Dweezil.

Also, Dweezil talks about Frank's SG guitar and playing some of the impossible parts in a bunch of video clips at GuitarPlayerTV.com.  And there's a good interview with Dweezil on the Gibson guitar site.

Posted by DonTillman at 02:03 AM | Comments (0)
June 23, 2006
Music News Sites

Yeah, yeah; a long time between postings.  It'll get better...

I don't know of many really good music industry news web sites.  And that's surely a bad indicator for the industry.  But here are the ones I frequent:

The Fretboard Journal Blog A blog associated with the very new local magazine The Fretboard Journal.

Guitarz Blog Guitar news, interesting reading.

Harmony Central Probably the oldest and least useful, their headline news has become mostly press releases about software and samples.  Sigh.

Matrixsynth Blog Interesting analog synthesizer material, though a little obsessed with Flickr photos.

Modern Guitars Magazine News, features, articles.  And a beautiful presentation.

Music Thing A bunch of fun postings.  The guy used to be a little obsessed with eBay, and now he seems obsesseed with YouTube.

Anybody else got any favorites?

Posted by DonTillman at 01:29 AM | Comments (1)
February 19, 2006
Check out "The Long Tail"

Hey musicians; have any of you been following the economics of "The Long Tail"? It applies directly to progressive rock, or any other genres of music that are outside of the mainstream charts.

The basic idea (and I'm not wording this elegantly...) is that the business of mass marketing top-selling hit material is not as profitable as selling a wider variety of more diverse material... when the channels of distribution are wide enough.

Here are some links:

Wired Magazine Oct 2004: The Long Tail

The Long Tail, Chris Anderson's Blog

Wikipedia: The Long Tail

The Economist: Profiting from Obscurity

Read'm all.  This is very good news.

Posted by DonTillman at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)
January 31, 2006
Random Musical Links

Assorted random musical links for you to enjoy.

It's January, and NAMM is in the air.  And Barry Wood's NAMM Oddities never fails to deliver.  (Thanks Chucko.)

A remarkably talented, and tasteful, 9 year old (!!!) guitarist plays Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings.  (Seen on the e-prog list.)

King Crimson Larks Tounges in Aspic at the Beat Club in Germany, 1972 or 1973.  Wow.  Unbelievably rare footage of madman percussionist Jamie Muir.  (Seen on the Mellotronists list.)

Here's the motherlode collection of They Might Be Giants Video Clips.  My personal favorite is the 1992 performance of "I Palindrome I" on Letterman.

Los Angeles Times article: Uneasy Listening -- Frank Zappa's Edgard Varese recordings may soon be released. (From the e-prog list)

Doug Self's Amplifier Institute is not always successful.  (Thanks to Tim Brown.)

Posted by DonTillman at 01:57 AM | Comments (0)
November 20, 2005
"In the future, there will be no virtuoso musicians..."

Did you notice something really bad in the music industry recently?  (No, besides that...  And that...)  Look around, there are almost no recent virtouso musicians, no masterful influential players who aren't old timers.

I mean, if this were the early 70's and someone asked you to name some virtuoso guitarists, you'd have absolutely no problem coming up with at least twenty.  Lessee, perhaps something like: Fripp, McLaughlin, Beck, Howe, Allman, Garcia, Zappa, DiMeola, Hackett, Clapton, Page, Coryell, Parkening, Williams, Towner, Latimer, Martino, Gatton, Holdsworth, Akkerman.  Easy.  For extra credit you should be able to name 20 more.

But try to name any virtuoso guitarists that appeared on the music scene within, say, the last six years or so.  It's tough!  There's that John Mayer guy, he's alright, but he's no virtuoso.  Charlie Hunter is certainly a virtuoso, but he's been around for over a decade.

You can ask the same question about keyboard players.  For the early 70's you've got Emerson, Minnear, Banks, Corea, Hancock, Moraz, Duke, Sancious, Wakeman, Stewart, Jarret, etc.)  And now?

Or bass players (McCartney, Squire, Rutherford, Wier, Cassady, Pastorius, Clarke, Entwistle, Kaye, Jamerson, Graham, Swallow, etc.).

Or drummers (Bruford, Collins, Palmer, Starr, Moon, Baker, Cobham, Williams, etc.).

But it's truly sad; there really are almost no recent virtuoso players.  There's apparently not going to be a Hendrix or Coltrane of this generation.  That's a major cultural loss.  That's a lot of student musicians who are not going to be inspired to do great things.

(On the upside, this also means there's very likely a lot of market demand for virtuoso musicians.  And that a record label that puts some effort in this direction would do pretty well.  Hint-hint.)

Posted by DonTillman at 12:38 AM | Comments (1)
October 24, 2005
21st Century 45's

The cool thing about Apple's iTunes is that it is singlehandedly bringing back the 45 rpm single market, which has been missing in action for about 20 years.

45 rpm vinyl

Remember 45's?  They used to be very popular.  They were how the Beatles and Elvis Presley made their mark.  In the sixties, the 7-inch 45 rpm vinyl single was the primary way popular music was marketed.  Music stores carried racks and racks of them, they were inexpensive (I think I'm remembering under a dollar each) and they were fun to collect and play.  And before 45's there were 78 rpm shellac singles.

There was only room for one song per side, so even though it was called a "single" it was really a "double".  The "B side" offered an additional freebie song from the artist.  And while there are examples of B sides that were as good as or better than the A sides, the phrase "B side" came to mean a song that didn't have a chance of charting, or something cool and obscure from the source of a well-known hit.

The Billboard Charts were important too, as they tallied the sales of 45 rpm singles.  You could watch a song be introduced (with a bullet!), climb up the charts, enjoy popularity, and phase out as it was replaced with other songs.  "Top 40" radio stations would not only have playlists that were similar to the Billboard Charts, but they would often celebrate and have contests to predict the top songs each week.  In the 1940's it was "Your Hit Parade", in 1970 it was Casey Kasem's "American Top 40".  Record stores often followed suit and had a special promotional display for the top 40 singles.

But the popularity of the Compact Disc in the 1980's effectively killed the single.  Not only the 45 rpm vinyl single, but the sales of single songs in any format.  Sure, there did exist a small market of "CD singles" (compact discs with one song on them) for a short time, and there did exist small format 3-inch compact discs, but I challange you to find somebody who actually has any of these in their music collection.  The compact disc turns out to be the wrong format for delivering single songs, both economically and from a point of presentation.

And during this period the Billboard Charts stopped existing as such.  Why bother charting the sales of something that has no market?  Instead the Billboard charts evolved to tally CD sales, and radio play, and other variants, but not actual single sales.  (Jeeze, why don't they just tally the payola directly and be done with it.)

iTunes logo

But, look at this:  Apple's iTunes sells (hold on tight now...) single songs.  This is exactly the domain of the missing 45 rpm vinyl single.  iTunes is the 21st century version of the music store that sells 45 rpm singles.

Apple's iTunes will be wildly successful for a long time to come because they are tapping into a market that is natural, trendy and timeless.  And since the market has been missing for so long, the pent-up demand has been substantial enough to overcome any startup issues.

And note that iTunes provides high tech delivery of an ancient product (recorded music has been around for about a century) where brick-and-mortar retail sales has difficulty stocking lots of titles.  'Just like Amazon.

It's a remarkable business model.  Steve Jobs has done something the music industry (specifically the four major record labels) couldn't handle themselves.  iTunes has already had, and will continue to have, a major impact on the music industry.

And note that starting this year Billboard is charting paid song downloads.


Billboard Music Charts
Wikipedia's Billboard Magazine entry
Wikipedia's 45rpm Single entry
Wikipedia's Gramphone Record entry
Posted by DonTillman at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)
September 01, 2005
Larry Coryell at Yoshi's
Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey

Saw Larry Coryell, Victor Bailey and Lenny White last night at Yoshi's in Oakland.  It was a fine show, a real treat, and I got a chance to talk to him afterwards.

It's taken me a couple of decades to notice, but it seems that Larry Coryell has been a serious influence on my own playing.

Posted by DonTillman at 11:47 AM | Comments (1)
May 12, 2005
Keneally at Don Quixote's
Keneally and Brock at Don Quixote's

Saw the Mike Keneally Band play last night at Don Quixote's in Felton.  Special guest Zappa alumni Napoleon Murphy Brock joined in for a couple songs since he lives nearby.  And they did a wicked version of Inca Roads (YES!!!).

This was a really great show.  Of course.  Keneally is a pretty remarkable musician.

I'd never been to Don Quixote's before; it's a nice little place in downtown Felton, inland just a little bit from Santa Cruz.  A 45 minute drive for me.  The acoustics are good, and they pride themselves on booking a wide variety of musical styles.

Posted by DonTillman at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)
March 07, 2005
A Visualization of John Coltrane's Giant Steps

Giant Steps

Check out Michal Levy's remarkable short film Giant Steps, based on the John Coltrane piece.

(It's a large flash file, 5 MBytes.  I recommend saving a copy if you want to watch it more than once.  Which is very likely.)

So this is what dancing about architecture is all about.

I like how each note does something, especially in the solo, where each note does something wonderful. And I like how the pitch movement translates graphically.

The twins love this.

Posted by DonTillman at 01:42 AM | Comments (0)
I Agree with Richard Thompson

This is old news, from about five years ago, but what the heck... I haven't seen it summarized anywhere else.

Pat Metheny wrote about his opinion of soprano sax player Kenny G, including it in the Question and Answer section of the Pat Metheny Group web site.  Kenny G had recently released a recording of his playing spliced onto Louis Armstrong's classic "What a Wonderful World".  Metheny considered this to be a tasteless act, and explained why in a forceful and eloquent way.

Word of Metheny's criticism got out, the text was forwarded and passed around, and it become headline material.  I remember reading an article about it in a copy of Entertainment Weekly on a plane trip.  It makes the news when someone with a reputation for being humble, mellow, and generous lashes out.  It's a beautifully written and entertaining flame, but at the same time his message is truly important.

The entry was soon removed from the Pat Metheny web site.  Of course by then it copies has been stashed away and it is now available at a number of places, such as Jazz Guitar Online: Pat Metheny on Kenny G (including a follow-up posting), and Jazz Oasis: Pat Metheny on Kenny G.

[Later: Sigh, the jazzguitar.com site is no longer around.  You can view an archived version of it here: Archived Jazz Guitar Online: Pat Metheny on Kenny G.]

It's definitely worth the read.  (Go...)  (...if only to see the use of the term musical necrophilia.)

But the kicker is that Richard Thompson (probably best known as the guitarist with Fairport Convention) joined in by writing a song called "I Agree with Pat Metheny, Kenny's Talents are Too Teeny", which he plays at his concerts.

A recording of the song is here (mp3 format) on Richard Thompson's web site.

And here are the lyrics to read along with.  Note the cool references to the deatails of the Metheny commentary.  And the way the rhymes are so thoroughly tortured.

I Agree With Pat Metheny
Richard Thompson

I agree with Pat Metheny
Kenny's talents are too teeny
He deserves the crap he's going to get
'Overdubbed himself on Louis
What a musical chop suey
Raised his head above the parapet

Now Louis Armstrong was the king
He practically invented swing
Hero of the twentieth century
'Did duets with many a fella
"Fatha" Hines, Bing, Hoagy, Ella
Strange he never thought of Kenny G

A meeting of great minds, how nice
Like Einstein and Sporty Spice
Digitally fused in an abortion
Oh, Kenny fans will doubtless rave
While Satchmo turns inside his grave
Soprano man's bit off more than his portion

Brainless pentatonic riffs
Display our Kenny's arcane gifts
But we don't care, his charms are so beguiling
He does play sharp, but let's be fair
He has such lovely crinkly hair
We hardly notice, we're too busy smiling

How does he hold those notes so long?
He must be a genius. Wrong!
He just has the mindlessness to do it
He makes Britney sound like scat
If this is jazz I'll eat my hat
An idle threat, I'll never have to chew it

So next time you're in a rendezvous
And Kenny's sound comes wafting through
Don't just wince, eliminate the cause
Rip the tape right off the muzak
Pull the plug, or steal a fuse, Jack
The whole room will drown you in applause

Yes, Kenny G has gone too far
The gloves are off, it's time to spar
Grab your hunting rifle, strap your colt on
It's open season on our Ken
Yet I await the moment when
We lay off him and start on Michael Bolton

Oh, I agree with Pat Metheny
Kenny's talents are too teeny

(Reproduced without permission; I assume copyright lies with the author.)

Posted by DonTillman at 12:39 AM | Comments (1)