Music

The work I don’t know

I don’t mean to give you a Zen koan, but the work I did is the work I know, and the work I do is the work I don’t know. That’s why I can’t tell you, I don’t know what I’m doing. And it’s the not knowing that makes it interesting.

La ci darem la mano – jazz style!

An amazing version of the most influential song in my life:

The Muppets also did it pretty well!

My favorite songs

I finally put together a sharable playlist of my favorite music from the past few years. No particular theme or criteria; but at some point I went completely nuts for each of these songs. To paraphrase the Dos Equis spokesman, “I don’t always listen to music, but when I do, I listen to a single song on repeat for days at a time.”

Here’s the list of my favorites, mostly in alphabetical order by artist but leading off with Mr. Blue Sky, my latest obsession:

The only ones missing (from Grooveshark, the service I used) are “The Three Of Us” by Ben Harper and “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel.

Looking over all of these, it’s interesting to remember where and when I listened to them. Many of them I heard for the first time, or loved for the first time, when they were used in movies (Good Will Hunting, Once, Big Fish, Garden State, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and amazingly American Wedding were some of the most influential); there’s something about music when combined with storytelling and video that is especially powerful. Some I learned about from friends on the cutting edge of new music, and some were simply popular radio songs I overheard and later Googled.

While I still enjoy most of the music, it’s clear that some of the charm is from memories of the situation where I first heard them. Listening again brings back the feelings I had at the time and makes me feel like I’m back in that context. The strongest example of this for me is Nirvana, where listening to Nevermind (and especially “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) puts me right back in 8th grade, on the bus headed to a field trip, where a friend handed over his Walkman and the music blew my mind. I have to be careful listening to music, because certain songs will put me in such a nostalgic state that I’m lost for the rest of the day.

I don’t know if everyone has the same reaction to music, or where exactly mine came from, but I love the ability of music to transform my mood and my outlook. Powerful stuff.

A wall of sound

A virtual wall of the Buddha Machine boxes, looping ambient music in unplanned combinations: Zendesk – FM3 Buddha Machine Wall.

The design of the boxes themselves is also elegant and simple. On/off, switch loop, change pitch, built-in speaker, runs off a single AA battery. I just ordered three…

Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour

Those who listen to XM Radio may have heard Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. This three-year show explored a ton of Dylan’s favorite music and got rave reviews.

Those who missed it (like me) may enjoy the Theme Time Radio Hour Archive, which hosts most of the music and links to commentary on each track. That should be enough for the next few weeks…

Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley died accidentally at exactly the age I am today (via Dead At Your Age, which sounds morbid but is mostly motivating).

Before that, he performed this:

Bear McCreary event at Google

Here’s the Bear McCreary talk at Google that I mentioned earlier. Great stuff.

The stock media distributed community

My favorite thing about working with stock image and music sites is seeing the same photo you used for a project show up in someone else’s work, or hearing the music you’ve repeated endlessly while editing a video project pop up in a commercial on tv.

It’s like being part of a big community of people who recognize each other by little noises and visual hints. Kinda like the Cylon’s music in Battlestar Galactica, I guess.

Designing multimedia

Just saw a fascinating presentation by Bear McCreary (of Battlestar Galactica fame) at work. Among many interesting stories was his description of how he composed the adaptation of All Along the Watchtower used in one of the show’s most climactic scenes, the piano in the bar.

Apparently the inclusion of the song was director Ronald D. Moore’s idea, and over several seasons it became an increasingly important part of the plot (which I won’t spoil here). But that meant that the musical score for the show was now also something the characters were aware of, so Bear worked with the writers to weave his music into the story. And for the piano scene itself, the writers called him up while he was working on a particularly difficult cue and asked him to describe what it’s like to tease out a piece of music that’s stuck in your head. His responses went almost directly into the script.

I think as media continues to evolve, we’ll see even more examples where connecting music to plot, and to the other aspects of a story, leads to a more interesting and holistic experience. Learning ways to do this is an exciting opportunity for designers from all parts of the spectrum.

The entire presentation was captivating, including a bit where Bear taught the piano theme to someone from the audience, just as was done in the show, and his description of how he sees music while watching a scene (first he sees the overall shape, then starts to fill in the pieces). Hopefully it will be published online for more to see; I’ll link to it if so.