This past weekend I realized what the true harbinger of summer is in this fine city. No, I’m not talking about enjoying the gorgeous, sunny weather, or smelling barbecue after barbecue as you traverse the neighborhood, or watching all your neighbors re-emerge and take to their roofdecks, or fighting the crowds in the gardens behind your favorite restaurants and bars. Sure, I did all of those things over the last several days, and sure, they do suggest that summer is coming. But it only really hit me that summer is here when, walking briskly through Midtown, I looked down to find a healthy, energetic roach strutting down the sidewalk right next to me. If that’s not a sign of the season changing, I don’t know what is. Take that, Punxsutawney Phil!

I recently got to talking to Harold, who plays bass in Screentests, about some classic synth sounds, among them the famous orchestra hit sample that showed up in Afrika Bambaataa’s Planet Rock and, subsequently, practically every electro and electro-inspired song of the early- to mid-80s. You know, the one that plays about 0:16 into this video:


Well Harold forwarded me this article which discusses the sample a bit more. It was made by a Fairlight CMI, which is generally credited as the first digital sampling synth. And while the Vice article is pretty informative, I suggest that the true obsessive read Robert Fink’s in-depth academic article tracing the history of the sample.

And while you’re at it, you should check out this meticulously digitized archive of 12 issues of Synapse magazine, an old electronic music magazine, from 1976-1979. There are interviews with Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Devo, Jan Hammer, Patrick Gleeson, and more, plus lots of discussion and analysis of (then-)brand new technology.

And when you tire of reading about synthesizers, why not actually play one over at Patchwerk, a web interface that allows you and up to nine other nerds enthusiasts to tweak some knobs and toggle some switches on the massive Paradiso modular synthesizer at the MIT Museum without leaving your desk. (Though you really should leave your desk every once in a while, what’s wrong with you?)

As touched on before, I’m playing in a new band these days. We’re called Screentests, and we play music that’s a little bit psych, a little bit dancey, and all hottt jamzzz. Laia sings, I play keys/electronics, Harold plays bass, and Danny plays drums. You can check out and download a bunch of songs on our Soundcloud, and find out what we’re up to on Facebook. And if you’re in NYC, come see us play our second show ever–it’s next Thursday, May 17, at Fontanas on the Lower East Side. We go on at 9.


A few weeks ago the third New York incarnation of the Polish Unsound Festival took place in various locations around NYC, and I, breaking an unfortunate streak of non-show-going, checked out most of it. The correlation between the lineup and the most-played artists on my iphone was pretty astounding. Festival highlights for me were Julia Kent‘s loop-based cello performance at the new Issue Project Room, Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s (aka Hype Williams) sensory overload of a set at LPR, Sun Araw‘s spacey, dubby stew of guitar, electronic drum kit, and processed saxophone, and Ital’s infectious energy (plus some pierogies) at Warasaw. Can’t wait to see what the Unsound folks come up with for next year’s festival.

Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland

Sun Araw

Laurel Halo

Ital

Yup, that video I previously mentioned Luxe Pop was working on is now out in the world. It premiered on CMJ and they gave us a nice little write-up. Check it out below:

There’s a lot of lore around famous jazz figures. From Sonny Rollins woodshedding on the Brooklyn Bridge to Keith Jarrett admonishing his audience members for coughing, certain oft-repeated stories come to represent specific individual musicians’ traits and, collectively, come together to form a commonly accepted history of jazz. But it’s always fun to come across lesser-known stories that add some color to these better-known narratives.

For example, Bob Gluck, a pianist and music professor whose forthcoming book (You’ll Know When You Get There: Herbie Hancock and the Mwandishi Band, which University of Chicago Press will publish later this summer) I’m greatly looking forward to, tells a great, little-known story about Herbie Hancock in a recent blog post. Herbie is of course famous for his pioneering synthesizer work beginning with the Headhunters in 1973, through the Rockit period, and continuing to today. Here he is dropping some science on Quincy Jones with a Fairlight synth in 1984:


But, as Gluck reports, it turns out that when, in 1969, Herbie was invited by Herb Deutsch, an associate of Bob Moog, to participate in one of the first public performances featuring Moog synthesizers as a live performance keyboard instrument, Herbie declined because he felt he didn’t know enough about synthesizers and electronic music to take part. There’s something I like about this picture of Herbie Hancock, one of the most brilliant jazz musicians of all time, a bit intimidated, walking away from an early opportunity to give a new Moog keyboard-operated synthesizer a spin only to then immerse himself in the world of synthesizers and, within a handful of years, become one of the best known synth players on Earth. Plenty of descriptions of Herbie Hancock suggest that he’s by nature studious and meticulous, but this little non-event paints such a great, real-life picture of those traits in action.

Similarly, it’s no secret that Miles Davis was, at least for most of his career, a very well-dressed man. I mean Esquire magazine publicly recognized this indisputable fact at least as early as 1960, when it placed him on its list of “Some of the Best-Dressed Men in the United States.” The article identified the tailor responsible for Miles’s look as “Emsley (New York).” As a man who has had a suit or two custom-made in the past and who also can’t help but seek out NYC spots with secret jazz histories, naturally the first thing I did after reading this blurb was google “Miles Davis Emsley New York.”

While it seems that Joe Emsley’s shop is long gone, it turns out that at least some of his creations for Miles live on, having been bought by artist and self-proclaimed “Thrift-Shop Diva” Grace Kirkwood. She happens to have bought several articles of his clothing from the owner of a thrift shop in the early 80s and has posted her story and pictures of the duds–from classic, slim-cut, Plugged Nickel-era suits to later, Prince-of-Darkness-era sheepskin and full-length leather coats–on her website. The kicker: neither she nor the thrift shop owner knew who Miles Davis was at the time, so she passed on several large moving boxes full of his clothes, which are now assumed lost to the ages. Even so, the pieces she did take are pretty awesome, as is the idea of owning even just a few of the everyday items that contributed to Miles’s larger-than-life persona.

Looking back at my sporadic posts here, it seems I’m a reasonably productive blogger during the spring, but the rest of the year…not so much.  Yes, much has happened since my last post, and now that I have some music-related developments and musings to share, I figure I should get them posted before it’s time for me to hibernate for the winter (and possibly summer and fall as well).