Archive for Music

Free software #Mellotron for download

by David Solomonoff

Plogue Sforzatron Is A Free Mellotron Library In SFZ Format

via Bedroom Producers Blog:

The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard – basically an analog precursor of modern software music samplers.

Plogue Sforzatron is a software implementation of the Mellotron for the free sample player Plogue Sforzando. It’s based on the same set of samples released by Taijiguy used in several other free Mellotrons, but it adds a little flexibility not present in the originals.

In addition to allowing the blending of any three sounds from the Mellotron samples, Sforzatron also adds ADSR envelope, tone, detune and pan controls for each sound slot, plus global overdrive, detune and reverb effects. The presets fall into three general categories: authentic Mellotron sounds, thicker and swirlier detuned variations, and sounds which use the envelopes to simulate percussive sounds or reverse tape effects.

Creating a digital recreation of a comparatively primitive analog audio sampler would seem counterintuitive – but recreating the warm distortion and character that defined classic art rock of the late sixties and early seventies as a starting point for new music is the goal here.

Related:

  • Blog post by Michael Thomas “Mike” Pinder, English rock musician, founding member and original keyboard player of the The Moody Blues whose haunting riffs were played on the Mellotron
  • Mellotrons still being manufactured today

 

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Pulling Music Out Of The Airwaves

by David Solomonoff

Pulling Music Out Of The Airwaves

 

RADIO WONDERLAND is a one-man band with many famous unintentional collaborators. [Joshua Fried]’s shows start off with him walking in carrying a boombox playing FM radio. He plugs it into his sound rig, tunes around a while, and collects some samples. Magic happens, he turns an ancient Buick steering wheel, and music emerges from the resampled radio cacophony.

It’s experimental music, which is secret art-scene-insider code for “you might not like it”

Source: Pulling Music Out Of The Airwaves

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Sponge-worthy metal tape begets decentralized culture

by David Solomonoff

TDK cassette ad "The Sound Sponge"

Boingboing recently had a post about the last remaining factory making analog audio cassette tapes. Business is booming with a resurgent taste for things analog, physical and tangible – and they also sound good.

My wife and I took part in an international underground art and music movement in the 1980’s that used snail mail to create a decentralized culture that predated but anticipated the public Internet. Cassettes were the game-changing technology that allowed for fast, cheap music reproduction in small production runs.

Blank cassettes are actually collectors’ items now. Unfortunately the type of cassette that allowed us to do complex sound collages with cheap hardware doesn’t seem to be made anymore. The Type IV metal tape – actual metal bits instead of metal oxide in the tape emulsion – had sound quality that rivaled analog reel-to-reel machines and digital compact disks.

I found a few metal cassettes at a church rummage sale recently and plan to save them for special musical projects – the way Elaine chose “sponge-worthy” boyfriends on Seinfeld.

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All Saints Keep Marching In! 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

All Saints Eve aka Halloween is long gone. Even the Great Turkey has flown. Yet the saints keep marching in! How spectral is that? Meanwhile, back at the 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art project, folks are revving up for Xmas*. Partying with in-laws and no laws, stalking Black Season sales, and decking the motel halls with duct tape. Me no tell Santa if you don’t…

 

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1) Making merry with balloon golf. BYOB and watch out for the holes. Go ask Cousin Alice— she fell down one!

 

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2) Bennington, Vermont.  Where a surprising amount of product can be found.

 

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3)  Anonymous Motel, Lake George, New York.  An attentive staff and a TV in every room. Set amidst rolling acres of stain-resistant carpet.

 

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4) Anonymous Motel, Lake George, New York. An attentive staff, plus cozy cabins with kitchen/bath combos.

 

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5) Meanwhile, back in Vermont, the wacky ways of Hollywood– and organized crime– are being pondered.

 

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6) Duct tape, used auto parts, and a heavenly calendar girl. Happy new old year, January, 1963. Cooperstown Junction, New York.

 

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7) Gilboa Dam, Schoharie Reservoir, upstate New York. Created to supply New York City with water, the reservoir sits atop a flooded village and acres of rolling drowned farmland.

 

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8) Hotel Mark Hopkins, San Francisco, California. A tip top view from glamorous Top of the Mark. Careful of the eye holes tho. Cousin Alice… well, you know.

 

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9) Shinglekill Falls, Purling, New York. Postcard sez: “The water evoked reverence in early years”. Now?  Folks “must scream to be heard over the roar”.

*Xmas: Though often confused with Christmas due to proximity, Xmas is a completely different holiday. Widely celebrated, its origins are somewhat mysterious. Conspiracy theorists claim Satan thought it up while “X-ing” old angel friends out of his address book. Others put the blame on Bizarro. Or possibly Mame

 

Coming for Christmas: Return of the Magnificent Incoming/ Miraculous Mail Art from Around the World.

The series so far:

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art– The Movie!

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art: Summa Summertime Fun

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art: Famous Faces, Strange Places

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art: Incoming! Incoming!

Spring a Ding Ding, Eight from the Gate

Mail Art Confidential Part 2: Extreme Sports

Mail Art Confidential Part One

Five More for the Road

200 Postcards/Got Mail Art?

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The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Think totalitarians are dull boys (and girls) who wear matchey matchey duds, never quaff cocktails or croon torch tunes in the wee small hours? If so, you’re wrong. No need for shame though. I thought the same. Until I found a copy of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings! in a box of old records at a junk store.

At first I figured it was some sort of spoof production. Lenin sings? Yeah, right. Maybe in his shower after rolling out a little Red Terror. But no. Lenin did cut a record (actually, a wax cylinder) in 1922, around the time he became premiere of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union). After Lenin’s death in ’24, the album disappeared into a memory hole dug by his successor, Joseph Stalin.

Luckily for lovers of pop culture esoterica, the master somehow survived…

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually emerged as head of the single party USSR. In ’56, he delivered his famous Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, ripping Stalin and the personality cult that let Stalin be Stalin. Among other things, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for expanding the use of the term “enemy of the people” to include Party officials who disagreed with Stalin. Thereby putting them in the same non-human, expendable category as, say, kulaks— those Greedy Gus peasants who resisted having their farms collectivized.

Khrushchev also distributed copies of Lenin’s Testament at the Congress. Lenin wrote it in late 1922, after being been laid low by a stroke. Death was on the way. In the Testament, Lenin assessed various Party biggies with an eye to future leadership. No thumbs up for Stalin. Lenin dished “Comrade” Stalin’s “rudeness” and “capricious temper” and suggested he be booted from his position as Secretary-General of the Party’s Central Committee.

Until recently few knew Lenin’s Testament wasn’t the only thing Khrushchev distributed; he also passed out remastered vinyl copies of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

What motivated Khrushchev to include the record? Did he hope hearing Lenin sound so presciently Rat Pack would make rude boy Stalin seem totally yesterday?

Whatever. The album stands on its own as a pop music classic. Lenin delivers the goods from first cut to last, opening with a subversively scat-shattered version of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band and closing with a high octane, finger-snapping delivery of Cole Porter’s little known Ha, Ha, They Must Sail for Siberia. Twixt Berlin & Porter, Vlad turns sad. Waxing middle-of-the-night moody with lush ballads– including one written by himself titled What is to Be Done (When your Lover Leaves).

Though copyright laws make it impossible to include cuts from Swingin’ Totalitarian, I’ve reproduced the album’s cover, a gatefold hinged at Lenin’s waist with identical images front and back. The doubled Lenin is shown lounging at the type of bar typically found in suburban basement rec rooms. (Swingin’ was recorded at Lenin’s dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.) Those octopus-like suckers sprouting from his head? Symbolic. As said, the record was cut ’round the time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

Album Cover

Interestingly, the graphic from Lenin’s album surfaced in altered form during the late 1960’s as an advertisement for Romanov Vodka. Not to be confused with the Romanov Vodka currently being marketed by the India-based UB Group, the Romanov Vodka that featured Lenin in its ads was produced in Romania under the aegis of Nicolae Ceaușescu. A swingin’ totalitarian in his own right…

Romanov Vodka Ad

 

Next in the Swingin’ Totalitarian series: Mao Wow! The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Zedong

 

 

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NY Times Report of Doo-wop’s Death Greatly Exaggerated

by David Solomonoff

With the closing of a specialty record shop in New Jersey, the New York Times announced the death of doo-wop, a form of R&B most popular in the 1950’s and early 60’s which featured  harmony vocals and romantic lyrics. Doo-wop was most often performed by African and/or Italian American working class youth and combined gospel and operatic elements.

As recently as the late eighties and early nineties, I remember doo-wop groups singing a cappella on street corners in the West Village for tourists.

Though the Times tends to dismiss almost anything working class and romantic as destined for the dustbin of history, they neglected to note some innovative musicians who performed or were heavily influenced by doo-wop including Brian Eno, here performing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” made famous by the Tokens in 1961:

 

 

… and Frank Zappa, who began his career singing doo-wop and continued to incorporate it into his music throughout his career:

 

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Hand-Cranked, Antique MIDI Sequencer

by David Solomonoff

“Digital Enhancement” uses an electrified Symphonion Brevet No. 28 music box combined with digital technology to convert it into a MIDI sequencer. The music, embossed on steel plates, is played on a MIDI-controlled synthesizer. A hand-cranked dynamo serves as a remote control.

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The Cassette Culture Sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl– in Stereo!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

If only I were Edith Piaf. But alas, I can’t say je ne regrette rien. Once upon a wasted time (circa late 1970’s and early 80’s) I hung on New York City’s downtown art/music scene. The scene never fit me, I tried to fit it. Which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. My only excuse is that I was caught in a spiritual downdraft. Couldn’t see how deeply the Punk New Wave No Wave Ironic Transgressive thing wasn’t me. Its gods weren’t mine. The Velvet Underground gave good vinyl but their legend was tiresome. William Burroughs seemed shallow. Neo-Expressionism? A few pieces were sharp (albeit over-priced) but a lot looked like puke splattered on a sidewalk outside the Mudd Club .

Oh. Yeah. Those fabulous avant-garde nite spots…

Color me ashamed for ever taking pride in being approved by a doorman.

By ’83, I was outta there. Living in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. In those days Hoboken felt far from NYC. An escape from hip happening hell. David Solomonoff (my future husband) and I lived in a five floor walk-up in the tallest building on our block. No telephone. Couldn’t afford it. Up there in the clouds, where no phone ever rang, we began doing Mail Art and making music cassettes as Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl. The post office became our scene and we loved it. No cliques, clacks or clutter, just real deal underground art. Via snail mail we connected with artists and musicians all over the world.

Our first connect came via Jim Sauter of Borbetomagus. (Aka the “pioneers of aggressive improvised noise music”.) Jim gave us contact info for Japanese Mail Artist and musician Masami Akita. The work received from Akita was a revelation. His dense rich collages were non splatter and his music as Merzbow was full-tilt lush noise. Apres Akita, the deluge. Our correspondents eventually numbered in the hundreds. Some were creative trifectas (art, music, words) others specialized. We developed collaborative relationships (as opposed to just trading work) with many, both for Mail Art and cassette projects. We contributed numerous pieces to cassette compilations and also supplied material for other musicians to cut up and rework.

In no particular order, our cassette culture collaborators* included: Joel Haertling (Architect’s Office), Zan Hoffman (Zanstones, Zanoisect, Zidsick, etc.), Al Margolis (Sound of Pig; If Bwana), GX Jupitter-Larsen (The Haters), Seiei Jack Nakahara (Joke Project), Rafael Flores (Comando Bruno), Mike Honeycutt (Mystery Hearsay), M. Nomized (Fraction Studio), Hal McGee (Homemade Alien Music), Shinichi Igari (Uterus of Plant), Alain Neffe (Insane Music Productions), Rudi Tuscher (Nisus Anal Furgler), Wally Shoup, Kowa Kato, Bart Plantenga, Ken Clinger, Denier Du Culte, Calypso Now, Soft Joke Productions, Magthea, Absolute Body Control, DDAA (Déficit Des Années Antérieures), Intrendent Fansette, Bog-Art, Reportage, and So On & So Forth. The last a place holder for anyone I’ve inadvertently omitted.

Over roughly four years, we produced five cassette “albums”: In The Mood, Swim Or Die, Great In Bed, God Is Love, and finally, The Element That Defies Description. Great In Bed was a compilation which included work by some of the people listed above. It came packaged in a black nylon stocking. (We’d bought boxes of them at a Hoboken odd lots store.) In The Element we took tracks supplied by others and reworked the material into an overarching musical structure and metaphysical theme.

The Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl sound was shaped by having little money. Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood once said “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The same goes for broke musicians. Our equipment was limited and we knew those limitations intimately. We worked them. Our apartment was our studio. Its ancient inadequate wiring meant lots of line hum. The hum would sing in shrill choruses when channeled through the frequency analyzer (aka ring modulator), a groovy 70’s effect manufactured by Electro-Harmonix. David had a made-in-Korea electric guitar and a Polytone Mini-Brute amp. Which was indeed brutish. When its spring-reverb was sproinging and its distortion was cranked the Mini-Brute turned into Godzilla doing Tokyo. We also had a vintage tube hifi amp which we played through the kind of wooden PA speakers that once hung in schoolrooms.

Our biggest (in terms of size and lineage) instrument was a 1960’s Vox Continental organ. The keyboard that carried The Doors. When momentarily flush from a freelance writing job, I’d bought the Vox for 200 bucks from The Major Thinkers, an Irish punk group. They claimed it previously belonged to Hall & Oates. The Vox was a workhorse. It had a few iffy drawbars but the randomness was a good thing; it seemed as if the Vox were actively improvising. Vox and Mini-Brute were bosom buddies.

Our other keyboards were miniature Casios. An MT-40 and VL-5. Among the earlier Casios on the market, their cheesy rhythm sections had options that allowed jump-cut transitions twixt say, samba and disco. When jacked with the line-humming frequency analyzer and/or our Doctor Q envelope filter (also made by Electro-Harmonix) samba and disco shattered into infinity. When the Casios’ batteries got weak, the shattering became even more extreme.

We also snagged rhythm from records. Most typically, ones from the 1950’s that demonstrated the exciting new audio technology of Stereo. Think demented bongos bouncing back and forth, forth and back, while Dad mixes martinis (clink clink) in the rec room. We also pulled snippets of exotic instrumentation from easy listening albums. We found countless treasures of Incredibly Strange Music and Exotica in Hoboken’s many junk shops. Prices ranged from 10 cents to a dollar. An LP had to be really special to warrant a dollar. Something like: Mario Lanza Gargles Gershwin– in Stereo.

We listened intently to the records we mined. Culling snippets of rhythm, minuscule musical phrases, and single syllables. Everything we sampled was sampled without a sampler. David was fast on the draw with our Pioneer turntable. He’d hover over a spinning platter, tone arm in hand– his other hand poised to punch the ree-cord button on our cheapie cassette deck. We had three cheapie decks. Plus a stereo amp with cheapie speakers, a good set of headphones, and a Radio Shack four channel mixer. Four tracks in, two tracks out. Layer up and do it all over again. Toss in a few guitar effect pedals (which we also used on samples and keyboards), a Roland analog micro synth/sequencer, a microphone, and me on vocals. That was our sound. Tech wise. As for the creative process–

When creating a piece we carefully assembled and structured the materials, then combined them through improvisation. We’d have a clear idea of what mood we wanted to create, how it should sound, and how the piece should generally progress. But the road was open to inspiration. Instrumentals by David and myself, together and solo, were improvised but sometimes sampled, cut-up, and recast. My vocals were fairly straight (no, no Yoko) inclining more to cocktail lounge and big band than rock. Sometimes a bit gospel. The sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl (in Stereo) was/is described by others with words such as Industrial, Electronic, Experimental, Sound-Collage, Noise, Art-Rock. I’ve never known how to describe it. Guess I’d just say it is what it is.

One thing I do know– we had a whole lot of fun doing it. Though being so broke was no fun. That big old railroad apartment was only heated at one end, by the kind of gas heater that even then was archaic. Up on the top floor we froze in the winter and baked in the summer. We didn’t have a stove for a year and juggled pots on a hot plate. And like I said, no phone. But hey, we always managed to scrape together enough for postage and blank cassettes. And when the no-cash blues got tough we got going. Cranking the Mini-Brute to the max and ring-modulating our cares into the international ether.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

“I hear you singing in the wire, I can hear you through the whine…”

Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb, 1968

*So as to not clog this paragraph with links, I’m supplying contacts and/or background material re our cassette collaborators below. Haven’t been in touch with some of them for years. Apologies if I’ve missed more apropos links:

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

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