Tag Archives: music

Implanted memories teach birds a song

Researchers at UT Southwestern have begun to answer these questions in a new songbird study that shows memories can be implanted in the brain to teach vocalizations—without any lessons from the parent. Although the findings have no immediate implications for treating patients, they do provide compelling clues about where to look in the human brain to better understand autism and other conditions that affect language.

https://phys.org/news/2019-10-implanted-memories-birds-song.html

George Clinton: Life lessons from a funked-up superstar

On Halloween 1976, a spaceship descended on the stage of a Houston sports arena in front of 15,000 people. When the smoke and sparks cleared, a figure calling himself Dr Funkenstein – dressed all in fur with a pair of shades – stepped out to the sound of P-Funk: a psychedelic mix of rock and soul played by incredible musicians in ridiculous costumes.

Dr Funkenstein and the Mothership (a stage prop constructed from a blockbuster budget) sprang from the otherworldly imagination of bandleader, songwriter and producer George Clinton.

P-Funk was conceived as “pirate radio from outer space” but its blend of all-out partying and social empowerment evolved into a way of life. Through elaborate artwork, sci-fi mythology and slang that sounded like a cosmic Dr Seuss, Clinton’s Afrofuturist universe offered young black audiences an uplifting escape from everyday struggle.

But that vision had a practical strategy behind it too. Rather than just start a band, Clinton formed a collective whose various projects could be released through different labels at a prolific pace. That made for maximum impact in the short-term (mainly through the success of Parliament and Funkadelic) but by the 1980s, after a decade of hits, the dynamic burned out amid legal entanglements.

Then, as sampling took off, the biggest names in hip hop began to reappropriate Clinton’s sound. It gave P-Funk a new lease of life that continues to resonate, inspiring collaborations with contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Flying Lotus.

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Today the P-Funk Mothership rests in the Smithsonian collection as a symbol of African-American culture. George Clinton, meanwhile, is still out on tour: preparing Medicaid Fraud Dog – the first Parliament album in 38 years – and throwing P-Funk parties around the world.

In conversation, the 77-year-old sounds like someone who has seen and heard it all… because he has. The further you delve into his experiences – punctuated with mischievous chuckles and hoots of laughter – the harder it is to believe that they all belong to one life.

Richard Pryor used to joke about how the sci-fi world never represented black people. But your music and the mythology behind it changed that. At the time, did it feel like you were part of a countercultural movement?
I knew it was countercultural but I didn’t know it could be successful because those kind of ideas weren’t accepted. We had just become ‘black and proud’ and people were still getting accustomed to that. Then I saw places like New Jersey voting in black mayors, I saw that D.C. had a 70 per cent black population – so I took that idea and just rode it all the way to outer space.

You’ve said that when Bob Marley blended music with activism, speaking up about matters of consequence, you feared for his safety. So what made you feel safe as an artist tackling issues like war and brotherhood?
Well, it was the humour of it; it was just simply asking ‘What if?’ I wasn’t trying to start a specific movement where people follow me. I ain’t no guru. I wouldn’t follow me nowhere; I was always high as hell! [laughs] We played so crazy that we didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of politicised figures. Instead it was about having fun through music and giving people food for thought at the same time.

You’ve worked with some incredible talents and huge personalities in big numbers. How have you managed to keep the circus going?
Oh, I don’t know. I never stopped to figure that shit out! [laughs]

Well, were there any rules?
No! I did my part and everybody else was expected to do theirs. And if they’re down for doing that, we have a good thing going. Easy. If we can’t get along, that’s fucked up for both of us. You also have to remember that when Fred [Wesley], Maceo [Parker] and Bootsy [Collins] came in from James Brown’s band, they were so organised that they were able to help us. The closest thing to a rule was not letting talent outta the room!

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What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
Gettin’ paid. [laughs]

How much money do you think you’ve lost to the record business over the years?
Honestly? Probably half a billion dollars.

It sounds like you’ve been through all sorts of battles to regain ownership of your music, but what did it feel like when people started recycling your work into hits?
I never had a problem with the artists. It was the record companies, the publishing houses and the system itself. It’s crazy; you can’t even find out what you’re owed. I’m actually making a documentary about it so people can see that side of the story.

When Dr Dre pioneered the ‘G-Funk’ sound of gangsta rap, he hired musicians to reproduce your work. How did you feel about that?
Dre did it both ways: mixing samples with live instrumentation. When a publisher made it hard for him, he did what anyone would do: record it yourself. And that’s where the word ‘interpolation’ first appeared on the scene. People tried to sue him and other artists a thousand times on my ‘behalf’. Not me.

Two groundbreaking albums from different strands of George Clinton’s P-Funk collective: Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, released in 1971, and Parliament’s Mothership Connection from 1975.

Two groundbreaking albums from different strands of George Clinton’s P-Funk collective: Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain (1971) and Parliament’s Mothership Connection (1975).

What impact did Motown have on your approach to making music?
Oh damn, that’s where I learned everything: producing, arranging, promoting. It all derived from being at Motown and getting my start as a songwriter in the Brill Building in New York. That’s where I got the idea of creating a big musical family of different producers and musicians. You could write songs for any type of emotion and have all sorts of artists perform them.

But to go from that to dreaming up characters like Sir Nose, Dr Funkenstein and Mr Wiggles… I’m sure those people in the Brill Building would have thought that was crazy stuff.
[laughs] Well, I’m from the same generation as Pink Floyd and the Beatles, who also thought in terms of big theatrical productions where you didn’t necessarily have to go from point A to point B. Exploring my own cartoon world came natural to me. And what I realised was that artists don’t last forever, but characters do. That’s why Funkadelic and Parliament were both thought of as ‘brands’ long ago. We even called [1978 album] Motor Booty Affair a ‘motion picture underwater’. Everything was imagined as entertainment on a grand scale – and we did it all ourselves.

The back cover of Parliament's Motor Booty Affair.

The back cover of Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair.

How did LSD affect your creativity?
It was definitely coloured by LSD and whatever trendy chemical substances were about. Yes! It was travel for the mind, turning my attention from doo-wop to rock’n’roll to experiments in all different kinds of music and just life itself. It definitely changes more than your mood. Heh heh!

Of all the famous P-Funk fans, which one came as the biggest surprise?
Wow, I haven’t even thought about that. [long pause] I guess, lately, Denzel [Washington]. He knows lyrics to shit I don’t even remember. Some people have really paid close attention to the stuff we put out. Once Samuel L. Jackson, Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx all argued over who was the biggest P-Funk expert. So that was a surprise. [laughs]

How have you changed as a person over the years?
Oooh… I went through phases. I got lazy and tired for a minute. But I’m back to feeling like I’m ready to jump all over shit now. That comes and goes with the decades: I slow down on inspiration intake and then speed back up. But I think I’m pretty tempered on everything else. Once I stopped doing drugs, everything else became normal and calm.

I understand that you’d been smoking crack up until relatively recently.
Yeah, I couldn’t stop. The best advice ever given to me was: ‘Don’t fuck with crack.’ And I didn’t take it. [laughs] Back in ’79, it seemed just like cocaine… and it took me 30 years to realise, nuh-uh, it ain’t the same! During that whole Contra era, it was so easy to  get – it was there for everybody. I was one of the earliest [users], so it wasn’t a case of learning from others’ mistakes. When you’re one of them, that’s just what time it is… until you find someone who can help get you off.

What was your wildest experience on stage?
Oh, there were a lot of those. [laughs] One time, the Mothership landed on stage in Washington D.C. and Sly [Stone] came out. He hadn’t played in years, so while he was standing there in front of people screaming, I came out right behind him – buck naked.

You could have got arrested for that…
Oh, they would have tried. I did it for a few shows after that! [laughs]

George Clinton and Sly Stone.

George Clinton and Sly Stone.

You and Sly are still close friends. What would you say you’ve learned from each other?
Lots of musical things and just a lot of jokes and gettin’ high! Other than that, we mostly have different ways of lookin’ at shit, believe it or not.

What about your relationship with Prince? People seemed to think he could be tough to work with. Yet you two had a long, productive relationship…
I didn’t fuck with him unless we had something to do together. I respected his style – specific, quiet, done his own way – and he respected mine. We just trusted each other like that. He had an ability to arrange things in his mind exactly as he wanted. To me, that made him easy to work with.

Out of all your encounters with musicians, the one that sticks out is you and Bootsy Collins having a possible UFO experience…
Oh yeah, that was in Toronto. We had seen some kind of light darting around before it hit the car and splattered – like mercury out of a thermometer – and ran all down the side. We weren’t high, because we had just crossed the border. It went from being morning time, on a four-hour trip, to all the street lights going on. We arrived at my house in Detroit just as my kids were going to bed. We didn’t realise it then, but we lost time that day. It tooks us years to piece that together.

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Have you ever had any experiences with the paranormal?
Heh heh… nah! I probably didn’t call them ghosts but I saw every kind of fuckin’ thing when I was trippin’. [laughs] It was all too friendly to be thought of as paranormal.

What are your favourite memories of your pet piglet, Officer Dibbles?
Aw, shit. The way he would curtsy. He would run to the phone when it rang, knock it over and grunt at it. [laughs] He loved to watch Arnold the pig in [US sitcom] Green Acres.

Before you were doing music full-time, you ran a barbershop where you once bought over a million dollars in counterfeit money from some scared kids for $2,000…
We had to make it look used, so we crumpled it up, dipped it in coffee and then dried it. We furnished the barbershop with new gear; we passed it out around the community; we paid for studio time and cut a lot of records too. I would tell people it was counterfeit and just give them twice as much. [laughs] Then it was up to them to get rid of it. Once the police became aware, we threw the rest of it away – about $200,000 at that point.

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A lot of people admire you for being a fearless innovator. Have you ever struggled with insecurity?
Only in the courtroom. When you’re going up against big corporations and fighting for something worthwhile, they’re not going to give up easily. That will make anyone anxious; doesn’t matter who you are. But in a way it’s helped me reinvent myself.

One thing that gets me going is fightin’ for copyright; not just for me but my heirs and my bandmates. They need that legacy to survive. All I have to do now is represent the music I’ve written, keep the group alive and fight back to relevancy. That gives me the energy to prove what I have to prove.

Why do you think funk music continues to endure and inspire 50 years later?
Funk is the DNA of booty movin’ music. Sly calls it ‘the long tail’ effect. You can find it in electronica, hip hop or plain ol’ rock’n’roll. It’ll be around forever, just like classical music. But it seemed the least likely to have that impact at the time. Musicians would say, ‘Oh, it’s funky’ – lookin’ down their noses at it. And I wanted it to be so relevant that you have to look up to it. I think we’ve succeeded in doing that.

From your perspective, what’s the thread that connects you to contemporary artists like Kendrick Lamar?
With Kendrick, he’s crazy in the same way he explores ideas in his music. We had conversations during the making of ‘Wesley’s Theory’ [on How to Pimp a Butterfly] and I was just in awe of what he’s doing right now. And Childish Gambino is creative in all kinds of ways. So yeah, I’m proud of that.

How would you like to be remembered?
I don’t care, once I get outta here! [laughs] But as I say, I’ve fought hard for intellectual property. It really only started in the ’50s, when rock’n’roll got popular, so they’re still defining these concepts. We gotta put our claim in, otherwise it’ll be just like the 1800s when slaves were told, ‘You won’t be able to keep your land.’

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What is the biggest misconception about you personally?
Probably that I’m a nice, nice guy. I get pissed just like anyone else and would love to kick the shit out of motherfuckers. [laughs] Oh, hell yeah! But in reality, I know you can’t do that. Just like you can’t post shit on your computer and think it goes away. You can’t take those things back. But you think about it!

But what kind of thing would piss you off?
Oh, I don’t even want to entertain it…

Well, what advice would you have for someone just starting today?
Do the best you can – and then funk it. Once you know you’ve done that, it’ll be alright. Leave it alone; don’t go crazy. The psychological world is just as dangerous as all the other shit.

George Clinton is on tour and will play London’s Roundhouse on 8 June.

This article appears in Huck 64 – The Journeys IssueBuy it in the Huck Shop or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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The Gidi Tribe: Nigeria’s most exciting new youth movement

Chinedu Okeke and Oriteme Banigo started Gidi Culture Fest back in 2014, after feeling increasingly frustrated by the lack of community spaces available for young, culturally savvy Nigerians.

Now, five years later, the annual one-day festival has established itself as one of the biggest music events in the country: doubling in size with each outing, and shifting the world’s perceptions of young African culture.

“Gidi Fest started out of frustration of there not being enough outdoor events that brought the youth together,” explains Okeke. “We wanted to create a safe place that would allow the youth to channel their energy towards something positive. More than a festival, it was about a movement.”

The multi-sensory art, music and cultural experience took place in Lagos at the end of March this year, with over 10,000 fans in attendance. According to Okeke and Banigo, these fans are known as the ‘Gidi Tribe’ – a group of young, impeccably dressed individuals who are uniting to “push boundaries”, refresh Nigeria’s cultural scene, and “rewrite the status quo.”

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The festival hopes to transform Nigeria into a major cultural force, not only by inviting global artists to play in the country, but by helping to strengthen the backbone of Africa’s live music business. Ticket sales will help fund new initiatives, and will go towards driving sustainable “economic growth” on the continent.

“There are so many reasons why Gidi is such a unique experience,” says Everyday Africa photographer Tom Saater, who attended the festival for the first time this year, taking portraits of the hyper-stylish crowds for Huck. “When I arrived, the atmosphere was colourful and festival goers were really energetic. As the night drew in the vibe of the festival became more electrifying.”

This year’s lineup included some of the biggest names from across the afrobeat, hip-hop and gqom worlds, with Diplo, Burna Boy and Nneka all headlining on the main stage this year. “The first thing you notice about the crowd is how they were all very fashionable looking,” adds Saater. “Interestingly, the audience was quite diverse. Lagos has quite a big wealth and class disparity but it seemed that festival brought everyone together.”

“People from all sorts of backgrounds were partying next to each other having an amazing time.”

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Learn more about Gidi Culture Festival on its official website.

See more of Tom Saater’s work on his official website, or follow him on Instagram.

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Downtempo drifting: The sonic influences of boerd

For the latest Monday Mix, Stockholm-based musician boerd shares his selection of sonic influences; fusing downtempo electronica with euphoric synth soundscapes.

boerd, real name Bård Ericson, has become known for his introspective, meticulously made compositions. The 26-year-old has been making music for over a decade – cutting his teeth on chiptune and 16-bit video game consoles, before moving onto a stint as a professional double bass player with the Swedish Royal Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras.

His latest album Static, released earlier this month, sees Ericson return to the role of bedroom producer – a move encouraged by his love for artists like Bibio, Aphex Twin and Burial.

“I went with a quite chilled out downtempo feel, since I listen a lot to this kind of music,” Bård tells Huck, when asked about the mix. “It starts off with a short excerpt from a 20+ minute song called ‘Hon’ by Gidge, two guys from northern Sweden that have inspired me a lot. It’s probably one of my favourite releases ever when it comes to electronic music.”

“It continues with a wonderful track by Nils Frahm, from his wonderful new album All Melody that came out this year. I love how he combines analogue synths with acoustic recordings. There’s also a track by Röyksopp, a band that I’ve been listening to on and off since I was 15 or so. Kahn is one of my favourite UK producers, and his track ‘Altar’ sticks out a bit from his other stuff. It has a great trip-hop feel to it and I love the vocals. Burial is a great inspiration too – I’ve been listening to his music a lot, especially over the last couple of years.” Listen to the full mix below:

Gidge – ‘Hon (Excerpt)’
Nils Frahm – ‘A Place’
Hot Sugar – ‘Sinkies’
Röyksopp – ‘Sparks’
Giraffage – ‘Feels’
DJ Shadow – ‘Transmission 2’
Kahn – ‘Altar (Feat. Jasmine)’
boerd – ‘Blind’
Axel Boman – ‘Fantastic Piano’
Burial – ‘Fostercare’
boerd – ‘Too Sad’

boerd’s latest EP, Static, is available now on Anjunadeep. 

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Wendy’s Serves Up a Beefy Mixtape

Last month, the fast-food chain Wendy’s released a mixtape. Titled We Beefin?, it includes five relatively concise songs, lasting a total duration of ten minutes. Song titles include “4 for 4$” and “Rest in Grease.” Streaming services list the artist as “at Wendy’s”; the identity of the actual creators has been deliberately kept anonymous, although Metro Boomin and WondaGurl have confirmed production credits on “Holding it Back.” Over voguish trap beats, an embodiment of the corporation’s mascot, Queen Wendy, holds forth on subjects of great importance, including the excellence of the Baconator, the mediocrity of McDonald’s, and — how meta, — the brilliance of the Wendy’s marketing team. Whether one finds the songs engaging or the lyrics entertaining, the project’s totality is hilarious because it’s real. It actually happened.

If you’re accustomed to finding amusement in novelty, absurdity, and cultural detritus, the function of We Beefin? as an aesthetic artifact is disorienting. Although music critics have expressed misgivings about the very existence of the thing — and why shouldn’t they? — recoiling from the concept of a mixtape produced by a corporation inevitably reveals naive assumptions about what art can and should be. Only real musicians should make music, goes the initial grumble. Yet there’s no reason the people who programmed these beats and rapped these verses don’t qualify. Remix algorithms and stock compilations have produced brilliance, anyway. Likewise, there’s no reason corporations shouldn’t make music — Jay-Z is a corporation.

Whether or not music should serve as a marketing tool is another nonstarter. Music is commonly used as a marketing tool, from charity singles to songs in advertisements, and musicians often deploy marketing tools themselves, as hundreds of UPS trucks with Taylor Swift’s face painted on them could tell you. Whether marketing should be an album’s primary intention is trickier ground, but parsing artistic intentions is critical quicksand, a terrifying black hole of false consciousness, and baser intentions have produced better music. Even the subject matter is unobjectionable, as the Fat Boys and Action Bronson have demonstrated the merits of rapping about hamburgers. If anything, more artists should try writing food songs. I hereby declare We Beefin? a valid object of analysis for ordinary music criticism.

Music releases by brands are not unprecedented. In 2016, for instance, Hamburger Helper commissioned a similar mixtape from students at McNally Smith College of Music. We Beefin? hence joins its predecessor, the quintessential Watch the Stove by Hamburger Helper, as a notable example in the august genre of corporation-sponsored hamburger rap. If the beats are lit, why deny their mouthwatering appeal?

The litness of the beats on We Beefin? is variable. Midtempo rattling snares and ominous keyboard loops, half-buried under a wispy synth cloud, constitute the sonic essence of hip-hop in 2018 played at half speed, reminiscent of Future’s newer material. These songs share a restrained, mildly sedative quality with recent manifestations of trap and street rap; Metro Boomin and WondaGurl’s swaying, loopy beat on “Holding It Down” fits right in with the (largely uncredited) rest — or maybe it’s the rest that fits their model. The lead rapper, a husky-voiced woman playing the role of Queen Wendy, delivers the rhymes with tensile elegance and attention to sneered phrasing. She often sounds bored; I wonder how she’d enjoy rapping more substantive lyrics.

I wish the musicians were credited; beyond Metro Boomin and WondaGurl’s production credits (presumably the only names known and not affiliated with Wendy’s in the project), all we’re told is that marketing agency VML and creative consultancy Six Course rustled it up. Queen Wendy should rap more, perhaps in connection with other projects. It’d be lovely to know who she is.

Often textural attenuation thins out musical force, as the bleepy loop on “Clownin” fizzles into mist and the piano on “Twitter Fingers” spirals around at a tempo shy of moderate. “4 for 4$,” the liveliest track by some margin, bends an icy set of synthesized strings around skittering metallic percussion and a keyboard whose sudden octave jump lends the beat a certain bounce, while Queen Wendy sings the praises of the 4 for $4 value meal. The bubbly underwater synthesizer on “Rest in Grease,” perpetually morphing into a different textual register, enlivens the barbs thrown at McDonald’s and other chains: “Why your ice cream machine always broke/why your drive-through always slow/why your innovation just can’t grow?”

Note the above quote’s final clause: the language of corporate marketing teams, translated into hip-hop. While indeed a valid object of criticism, We Beefin? is advertising first and music second; its content matters less than its exploration of an uncharted outreach strategy. As advertising, We Beefin? is in character with Wendy’s Twitter presence, in which the company has cultivated a snarky voice, peppered with internet slang, regularly responding to user comments and openly insulting rival brands; it’s a lighthearted gesture, meant to amuse. As music it will entertain for prolonged periods only if A) brand loyalty has led you to have a personal stake in the performative jousting of megacorporations; or B) if you can’t stop laughing at the sheer, absurd novelty of the thing. Wendy’s encourages both such responses, especially the latter. They’re counting on comic incongruity, the mismatch between a fast food chain and an irreverent public presence — and, most crucially, the mismatch between a corporation and a rap mixtape.

It’s not that novel, though — We Beefin? and Hamburger Helper’s Watch the Stove are versions of the advertising jingle updated for today’s consumer culture. Moreover, Watch the Stove is funnier, awash in goofy yelping voices, oddly pieced-together beats, and generally droll self-mockery. We Beefin?’s relative sleekness and coldness reflect a specific focus on the rap beef — for the pun, naturally, as well as the excuse to diss rival brands in a (marginally) acceptable context. But one gets the sneaking suspicion it’s also for the intrinsic silliness of beefing and even hip-hop as phenomena. It’s a sophomore’s “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if this happened” type of hypothetical, appropriated as a corporate marketing strategy. The humor of integrating incongruous external elements into rap stems from a condescending attitude towards rap; it’s only funny if you already view rap as somehow ridiculous. Listen closely when Queen Wendy raps — you can almost hear the marketing team giggling in the back room.

That’s not the point. The point is to cater to millennial and black audiences, innovate new outreach techniques, operationalize customer happiness, etcetera. We Beefin? has gone viral neither on YouTube nor on streaming services, but these may not be the best metrics for an advertisement; the success of its own product is more telling.

I won’t predict whether more corporate mixtapes loom in the future. Imagine the onslaught: Spotify already teems with branded content in playlist form, and if said brands started regularly producing music of their own, branded takeover will become that much less of an alarmist buzzword. As ideals of artistic agency change, so will the need to evaluate the relationship between music and context, and how context can define and irrevocably transform an album.

We Beefin? (2018) is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

The post Wendy’s Serves Up a Beefy Mixtape appeared first on Hyperallergic.

Type your song lyrics in the handwriting of your favorite rockstar

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Say goodbye to Helvetica, because now you can type in Kurt Cobain’s handwriting thanks to designers Nicolas Damiens and Julien Sens. The two designers have converted David Bowie‘s, John Lennon‘s, Kurt Cobain’s and Leonard Cohen‘s handwriting into free downloadable fonts. Read more…

More about Music, Design, Mashable Video, Inspiring, and David Bowie

ESG UFO

Classic new wave / funk / breakbeat from 1981 at 33 1/3 RPM

and 45

ESG (Emerald, Sapphire & Gold) from the South Bronx: sisters Maria Scroggins (congas, vocals), Renee Scroggins (vocals), and Valerie Scroggins (drums), and friends David Miles (guitar) and Leroy Glover (bass).

You can hear the influence on The Beastie Boys and other 80s NYC bands.