10.28.2009

“Farm Machine Music”

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:02 am

I received this video in an email from my father-in-law this morning. This is what was in the forwarded message (not including his skeptical comment, “Is this for real?”):

Last seen and heard 2-3 years ago. Good to see and hear it again.
This incredible machine was built as a collaborative effort between the
Robert M. Trammell Music Conservatory and the Sharon Wick School of
Engineering at the University of Iowa .. Amazingly, 97% of
the machines components came from John Deere Industries and Irrigation
Equipment of Bancroft , Iowa ..Yes, farm equipment!

It took the team a combined 13,029 hours of set-up, alignment,
calibration, and tuning before filming this video but as you can see it
was WELL worth the effort.

It is now on display in the Matthew Gerhard Alumni Hall at the University
and is already slated to be donated to the Smithsonian.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear that this is fake. The whole look and feel of the video is very computer-animated-ish, and it would be very strange if the xylophonic-type instrument would actually light up as its bars were hit. But the most important tell-tale sign of fakery is the sound quality. There aren’t any microphones visible anywhere in the setup, and obviously if this was an acoustic instrument as the quote claims, there would have to be microphones to pick up the sound. And even if there were microphones that somehow weren’t visible in the video, the sound quality of the audio would not be nearly as neat and polished as it is–there would be a great deal of ambient noise, both from the space in general and from the bleeding of different parts of the “instrument” into each microphone.

And to confirm my suspicions, the trustworthy rumor-busting site Snopes.com has exposed it as false in their article “Farm Machine Music.” It was created originally as a computer animation, but then was picked up by someone and passed off as a real video.

Nonetheless, it’s definitely an impressive animation and a fun song. Enjoy!

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10.15.2009

Piano Stairs and The Fun Theory

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:36 pm

I saw this fun video in an email sent by a fellow member of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers, and thought I’d pass it on. A group of creative folks try to get people to take the stairs rather than the escalator by turning the staircase into a big keyboard. Check it out!

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10.12.2009

“Gustavo Dudamel: The Dude Abides”

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:20 am

I wrote back in March about Gustavo Dudamel, the young conductor with awesome hair who just took over the LA Philharmonic. And I read a good article on him today by Allen Yeh on Scriptorium Daily, the blog of Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute. The article is a fun read with good commentary, and he even talks about his hair like I did. Check it out:

“Gustavo Dudamel: The Dude Abides”

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10.08.2009

“Ways and Means,” Final Straw, Snow Patrol

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:45 pm

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been listening to Snow Patrol‘s album Final Straw in my car recently, and one of the songs that has struck me as interesting is “Ways and Means,” which is track nine. The factor of interest is the chord progression in the verses. I’m not sure what key the song is in (I haven’t taken the time to check), but the progression is minor tonic and major tonic, alternating back and forth; or, in Roman numerals: i – I – i – I etc. Those are the only two chords throughout the whole verse, and although it’s a very unorthodox progression, it works very well (especially with the Mixolydian-ish melody line) and makes sense to the ear. I’ve written before about how Snow Patrol sometimes uses a single progression over and over in a song but can still make it interesting and not sound too repetitive; and “Ways and Means” is another good example.

You can listen to “Ways and Means” in its entirety here, courtesy of the latest free online music-playing site I’ve found, http://listen.grooveshark.com.

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10.01.2009

Final Straw, Snow Patrol

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:19 am

One of the most brilliant things Amazon has ever done is introduce their Free Super Saver Shipping program, which gives users free shipping on any order over $25. This has worked on me numerous times to get me to buy something I otherwise wouldn’t have, just to get free shipping (even though the price of the item was probably greater than the cost of the shipping it removes). But recently, I ordered a few things from the site and to get the free shipping, also ordered Final Straw, the third album by UK band Snow Patrol and the one immediately preceding Eyes Open, the only album of theirs that I have.

Eyes Open, which I’ve written about before, is a very enjoyable CD and one that I’ve returned to in my own listening quite often. And Snow Patrol gets extra points because they opened for Coldplay earlier in their tour this year. So I was interested to see what Final Straw would be like.

I wasn’t disappointed, although I have to say it’s clearly not as good as Eyes Open. There are some really great tracks (I particularly like “Chocolate” and “Run,” tracks 6 and 7), and the sound is similar enough to Eyes Open to identify it as the same band. There’s a lot of minor electronic experimentation, mostly with little blips and bleeps that sound as if they’re somehow slightly outside the sphere of the band’s style. I also noticed that the singer’s voice is mixed differently on several different tracks; rather than finding one setting of reverb/delay/effects that makes his voice sound good, the band (or rather the producer) changed it multiple times–not only in obvious ways like adding distortion as in “Wow,” but different types of “normal” sounds to fit with different moods. And there are a plethora of short melodic ideas that are not quite hooks but serve to give the songs an identifying motif and fill empty harmonic space.

But it was interesting to listen to Eyes Open after I’d familiarized myself with Final Straw. It was clear that the band had learned lessons from the previous album and really crystallized their style. Mostly gone are the sometimes random electronic effects; the guitar playing is simpler, clearer and more direct. In a word, Eyes Open is a distillation of the best elements of Final Straw without the clutter and filler that the earlier album sometimes stumbled through. But I certainly enjoyed both records, and very much enjoyed seeing the band mature between the two.

Now I’m even more interested in getting the band’s latest release, A Hundred Million Suns, that came out last year and was the followup to Eyes Open. Anyone have that record and care to give me a sneak preview?

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