This will sync with the Spotify playlist when I update it each week. Something that’s not so easy to do…. But for you dear readers/listeners, anything…. Actually I did this four my mum who can’t get Spotify in Kenya, but that’s another story.
Every week I add a few new songs to my playlist on Spotify (See the link to the playlist here: link).
Choosing the songs is the end of a rather convoluted process:
On Spotify, I ‘Like’ all songs and albums (I’m about half way through) included in the following book: link
I listen to the resulting recommendations from Spotify in my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist.
I Pick a few standout songs and add them to my chimpwithcans playlist (link here).
The results are broad in their musical genre. It has turned into a pretty chilled playlist and I really enjoy pressing shuffle now. It has so many songs I never would have heard. Importantly I feel like I have had a say in training and filtering the Spotify algorithm to spit out something interesting.
This week, my Discover Weekly gave me the following standout tracks:
Fela Kuti – “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am”. Below is a great review of the song:
Released as part of a quartet of albums from the most productive year of Fela’s career, “Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” has all the hallmarks of a classic Fela single, a languid, self determined instrumental warm up that goes on for several minutes, putting the listener in the right frame of mind, and setting up a tonal theme for the rest of the performance, a choral style, call and response chorus in conjunction with Fela’s omnipresent band, and long winding verse that defy the laws of composition and march at a tempo that only Fela decides. But what really distinguishes this song from the rest of the master’s oeuvre, is the masterful storytelling that Fela employs. Fela had always understood that at the core of his sway over his fans was his ability to empathize with their terribly oppressed lives, and the skill with which he consumed their stories, ruminated on them and regurgitated them back, defiance milled into the broth.
“Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am” is brimming with defiance, delivered subtly as an exchange, reflected through a lens of righteous justice. Fela sings of the oppressed, and personifies the oppression of Nigerian people. He asks through a direct chorus and series of vignettes, that the suffering of oppressed be respected and that if it is not, then the oppressed is justified in their decision to revolt, to take arms against the persons who mock their suffering and remain unempathetic to their oppression. He substitutes the government for smaller, more relatable avatars of power, like the landlord who wields the power to deny shelter, or the policeman who can take away a man’s freedom, or even closer. Never to look away from intrigue when the opportunity presents itself, Fela subverts his own theme in the third vignette about a husband, citing that sometimes it is our own avarice and pride, not an external agitator that puts us in trouble.
Sidney Bechet – “Blue Horizon”. Holy moly please listen to this man play a clarinet! I remember when I was about 11years old my Mum tried to get me to play an instrument and I tried clarinet. I had zero idea it could sound like this. My efforts sounded more like a strangled ibis making an escape from the torture chamber…..But this man…..The control, the wary tension of the small group surrounding him. The sharp tone, a vigorous vibrato. This is an absolute master and I had NEVER heard of him until today. More fool me. Have a listen, just beautiful.
I have a sort of long-running experiment with the internet. It plays out in real time. It is not clear to me, nor was it ever taught to me, what to publish on the net and why. And when I do post something on there (on here?), how much of it is really a part of my life? My work? My community? My identity? What exactly is the impact?
The calculation baffles me to be honest (I am an over-thinker!) but I can see people who have it under control. They harness the power of the net to their advantage. They are comfortable with the online self versus the offline self.
When I first created a Facebook account it was all a bit of a joke – in my eyes it wasn’t really me. But now i’m not so sure. The internet is a powerful sandbox, where we must draw our own lines. Limitations are our friends. Intention is our friend.
Some lines and decisions to consider for the internet:
Are you on Apple devices, or Android?
Do you read or write? Consume or create?
Is it free or are you paying?
Are you using a pseudonym or your real name?
That last point is topical for me. I tried to create something with the chimpwithcans.com domain but it never really took. I love and identify with the image of the chimp (ha!) but I couldn’t figure out what to do with the domain name. I felt pressurised to build something other than my own thoughts and identity. A business or a following perhaps – but I didn’t have anything clear in my head. That lack of authenticity and pandering to others is for the birds.
All of this is to say I have changed the name and address of this blog. No more hiding behind a chimpanzee.
As a teenager I used to think I would listen to my walkman for the rest of my life. It was so essential to me – the cassette tapes I had painstakingly curated, the stock of fresh AA-size batteries, the headphones I found in an airport in England. The ritual of plugging it all in and pushing play. It just didn’t get any better.
One day in my early 20s I found my dad’s LP collection and an old hifi setup. I heard classics like Otis Redding and Springsteen in such clarity and power. Besides the fidelity, there was the long beautiful process of choosing the record, cleaning it, playing one side through and flipping it over, reading the liner notes, poring over the album covers, adjusting the needle and the audio settings. A new ritual was born. My life changed.
Now in my 30s I have my iPhone and an Apple watch. New tech, new ritual. I can call up any song I want no matter where I am. The digital liner notes are getting better every day and the sheer convenience of Bluetooth and music on the go is changing my life again. Don’t even get me started on Spotify’s daily mix and discover weekly playlists. That revolution in curation is a topic for another post.
Older forms of technology can all still be used of course. And often they retain their original power even though the convenience factor is low. Vinyl has made a come back. Audiophiles also tout the benefits of CDs and cassettes. For me this means I now have an arsenal of ways to access the Music drug. The music is the constant, Platonic form while the tech revolves and morphs around it in a clumsy, circular dance.
Perhaps one day the headphones will be nothing more than chips in our brains. A neuralink device Elon Musk sells for a fee. What might a music listening ritual look like for this scenario?
I get comfort from the fact that the music never changes. Taste and quality may vary, but a song is a song no matter what. The catalogue keeps on growing, but the essential form and function of a song is set. It is information in the form of a sound wave being received by the brain. Only the tech for delivery varies.
Today was a first. I laid down a drum track using the iPad, and sent it overseas to my dad in Kenya for him to overlay guitar and vocals.
I know musicians have been doing this for ages, but Covid19 is forcing us to use the tools at our disposal and pushing us out of our comfort zones. For me that means sticking to a blogging commitment and producing music with family overseas.
The pixies as a band passed me by. I was a little too young and a little too stuck in east Africa for their first few albums to make any impact on my life. However, the beauty of music streaming services now is that I can dig into all the rich history.
I sometimes wonder why as a society we make all this new music when there is so much to discover in the back catalogues. Maybe they should put a moratorium on new releases until everyone has caught up with listening to everything ever released to date?
This week I have had two very conflicting experiences on the net. One was a Twitter exchange which devolved rapidly into aggressive one-upmanship. That wasn’t fun and so I am off Twitter (again!) – I just don’t have the time to get good at Twitter.
Another was an invitation by a reader of my blog to answer some questions on music and audio. It was really enjoyable and I see it as a privilege to be asked to write about something I love so much. Rafael’s blog can be found here. I presume my questions and answers will show up soon enough.
On a more personal level, it is really satisfying to get an ad hoc request for writing about audio. That is exactly the sort of thing I want to do more of. So, two affirmations – one with regards to my poor Twitter skills. One encouraging my writing and my love of audio.
On reflection, this has been an excellent and productive week so far 🙂
They say software is eating the world. In the world of music production, software has given anyone with a computer or an iPad access to multiple sounds and techniques. Is this a valid replacement for the old school methods?
Quincy Jones doesn’t think so. In his recent, infamous interview with Vulture he claims that: “Musical principles exist, man,” he said. “Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man.”
I agree with him on some of this – A classically trained musician will presumably be able to get more out of a production studio (and an iPad) than I can with my untrained background. But, I also think that convenience and emotion trumps technical proficiency for a reason – it sells. And so we have music-by-numbers.
The internet has let the genie out the bottle. By giving publishing and creative power to anyone with a modem, the internet upended the music industry harder than any other i can think of. Music used to have the perfect model. Scarcity in its production process meant that money was made at an astounding rate, and this could be ploughed back into experimentation within the industry. However with the cash dissipating due to online piracy and access to resources – most songs on the radio are now designed to appeal to the masses, and to guarantee a sale. Much like we tend to have sequel movies at the cinema, new ground is rarely broken in the mainstream music world.
My response to Quincy is – so what? Move out of the mainstream then. What Quincy Jones fails to realise in his interview is that mainstream music is only one type of failing music. In fact, the term ‘mainstream’ and ‘pop’ are becoming less and less important. The internet has built up communities around every kind of genre you can imagine – from classical to afro-electronic beats driven by iPads – you can find it if you want to.
The problem is not a lack of proficient musicians or producers in the world. It is just that Quincy is looking for new things in the old places. And those old places are broken now.