WEB SITE OF THE MONTH
If you're looking for information about American composers and musicians, check out NewMusicBox (www.newmusicbox.org). Serving as the Web magazine of the American Music Center (www.amc.net), which composer Lou Harrison once described as a “central information booth” for American music, NewMusicBox is well designed and easy to navigate — a helpful feature, because the site is rich in content.
Although NewMusicBox's topics pertain to new contemporary American music (which includes the work of deceased composers such as John Cage and Harry Partch as well as the music of living composers such as Steve Reich and the Kronos Quartet), it is far more inclusive than you might imagine. The artists covered range from the conservative to the extreme, from composer John Adams to vocalist Diamanda Galas. The curators of NewMusicBox aim to cover as many styles and genres as possible.
NewMusicBox is also a good model for a sticky site, one in which visitors will stay awhile. To begin with, it's updated regularly. The site hosts streaming audio and video, and links abound. The interview section, In the First Person, provides a text transcript (also available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file) and a QuickTime movie of the interview. Audio examples of contemporary recordings in the SoundTracks sections are presented in RealAudio format. Contributing artists can bring up interesting (and sometimes controversial) topics in the section called In the Second Person, which also features a forum for visitor feedback. Recent topics include “Your Career or Your Life” by John Luther Adams, “Finding Your Voice” by Keith Corbin, and “The World Trade Center Tragedy and New Music” by NewMusicBox editor Frank J. Oteri.
You also get current events in the News section, composer and performer perspectives from In the Third Person, a concert calendar of American works in Hear and Now, and Hymn and Fuguing Tune, in which a group of artists are asked to respond to a question. Rather than serving as a source of jingoistic pride, NewMusicBox provides a resource for information about creative music emanating from around the country.
The Freesound mailing list focuses on freeware, shareware, and topics related to unusual sound-design software and techniques. Some of the programs discussed are Tom Erbe's SoundHack (see the July 2000 “Web Page”), Audio Ease's Thonk, and Phil Burk's Java-based application program interface, JSyn (see the June 2000 “Web Page”). You can join the Freesound list by sending an e-mail to email@example.com with “subscribe freesound” or “subscribe freesound-digest” in the body of the message.… Owners of vintage Korg MS- and PS-series analog synthesizers should take a look at Benjamin Ward's Korg Kornukopia (www.benward.net/korg). The site offers transcriptions of the user and service manuals (complete with typographic and technical mistakes), user tips and techniques, and fan-related items such as brochures and photos of the wonderful late '70s instruments.… An interesting and reliable source for older electronic instruments is the Vintage Electric Musical Instrument Auctions (VEMIA; www.vemia.co.uk). Located in the United Kingdom and administered by Peter Forrest, author of the A-Z of Analogue Synthesizers, VEMIA's auction list typically includes synthesizers, amplifiers, microphones, effects, and drum machines as well as odd and unusual items. Well-known customers of the site include Brian Eno and members of Oasis.
Certainly, one of the most outstanding sites for classical-music fans is Andante (www.andante.com). The site's creators hope that Andante will become the online source of information for classical-music enthusiasts, and so far they are headed in the right direction.
Andante provides eight general areas to explore: Musicroom, Magazine, Calendar, Directories, Reference, Profiles, Learning, and Boutique. To hear music, head directly to the Musicroom, where you can link into Andante radio for streaming audio or view exclusive Webcasts of important performances. For news and information, Magazine and Calendar offer up-to-date listings and links. The Magazine area includes relevant news, interviews, and concert and CD reviews. The Calendar section covers hundreds of concert listings worldwide and includes a search engine for searching by date, key word, country, and venue.
Directories offers links to no less than 12,000 Web sites dedicated to classical music. The links are grouped by categories such as Composers, Ensembles, Festivals, and New Music Links. That section alone is worth bookmarking.
From the Reference section, you have access to the Concise Grove Dictionary of Music, the New York Review of Books, and New Kobbé's Opera Book, among other resources. Included under the Profiles heading are previews of upcoming projects, such as Andante's planned partnership with IRCAM, the renowned research center in the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, France.
Boutique features Andante's reissues of rare and historically important recordings. Although still in the works, the Learning section will eventually include online educational resources.
Unlike other venues for classical music, Andante is not afraid to cover contemporary composers and performers. For example, Pierre Boulez, known as much for his interpretations of major symphonic works as for his own challenging compositions, was the featured artist on the site at the time of this writing. Whether you're a classical-music buff or just getting your feet wet in the genre, Andante is an important destination for your browser.
DOWNLOAD OF THE MONTH
More than just a source of free samples, AnalogueSamples.com (www.analoguesamples.com) is a community of synthesizer enthusiasts willing to share its sonic discoveries with others. Launched in 1999 by Stefan Walter and Björn Fogelberg, both of Sweden, AnalogueSamples.com contains thousands of interesting sounds.
The samples are grouped into 14 categories, including drums, leads, keys, pads, brass, and bass. Once you choose a category, the sounds are presented in a list, with useful information about each sample: name, rating (based on votes from site visitors), number of files available, type of synth used, description of the sound, and file size. A RealAudio version of each sample is provided, so you can preview the sound before you download it.
On AnalogueSamples.com, you can just as easily view samples by synth type. If you have ever wondered what kind of sounds a Serge modular can make, this site will let you hear one. Simply scroll down the long menu of synthesizers until you find one you want. The list includes common instruments (such as the ARP Odyssey and Oberheim Xpander) and rare ones (Buchla 200-series and E-mu modulars). Besides a link to related samples, each synth page includes a photo, a brief description of the instrument, and a link to a related site if available. The site also lets you rate the samples for the synth you chose.
Rounding out AnalogueSamples.com are a few other notable pages. Documentation for older synths (including Akai, Korg, Moog, Roland, and Yamaha) and popular chips (CEM 3340 and SSM 2044, for example) can be located among the Manuals pages. At the Store, you can purchase a CD-ROM of Akai-format samples called Killer Tweaks — Analog FX, made using Roland System-100 and SH-09 synths.
To use AnalogueSamples.com, you must register, but registration is free. If you're interested in checking out even more sounds, for a $10 monthly fee, AnalogueSamples.com gives you FTP access to additional samples as well as its entire site.
BAND ON THE WEB
Arriving from the frog planet Kero Kero are the three musicians who form eX-Girl (http://0505.net/ex-girl). Their mission: to save the human race with Kero Kero music, which features unearthly vocals and odd, unpredictable songs. (The word kero is the Japanese equivalent of the frog utterance ribbit.) Back to the Mono Kero is the band's fourth CD and its U.S.-label debut on Ipecac Recordings (www.ipecac.com).
Beyond the sci-fi trappings, eX-Girl, at first blush, comes off as a Japanese neo-power-pop trio. But underlying eX-Girl's overt cuteness are staggering vocal parts, clever writing, intricate arrangements, and inspiring musicianship worthy of heavyweights such as Frank Zappa, the Art Bears, and Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.
The trio demonstrates considerable vocal prowess with complex and demanding parts that exploit the dynamic range of the members' voices. For example, eX-Girl may begin a song singing standard rock vocal parts, dissolve into Bulgarian-inspired close harmonies, and then drop into an overdubbed operatic chorus reminiscent of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Collaborations with progressive-rock legends Gong, Magma, Hugh Hopper, and Chris Cutler are a testimony of eX-Girls' musicianship.
It is surprising, then, to hear that the members of eX-Girl picked up their instruments for the first time four years ago, when they first formed the band. “They were just singers before forming eX-Girl,” says the band's producer and chief collaborator, Hoppy Kamiyama (www22.cds.ne.jp/~inochi/kamiyamania/findex.html). “Kirilo, the leader of eX-Girl, chose the instruments for each member using her sixth sense.”
Kirilo's sense was spot on. EX-Girl's guitarist, Chihiro, is as agile at playing rhythmic power chords as she is at twisted melodic lines. Fuzuki has the strength and focus of a Taiko drummer while standing and playing only a floor tom, snare drum, and some cymbals. Kirilo — whose label, Kiki Poo Records (www.kikipoorecords.com), is the home of previous eX-Girl releases — gave herself bass duties. Live, she also plays a small Casio with her foot.
Kamiyama, an internationally renowned musician and producer who has worked with notables such as John Zorn and Marc Ribot, has produced and shared songwriting credits with the band since the beginning. In eX-Girl mythology, he is known as the Frog King. “Outer space is the Utopia where eX-Girl has forever lived with Frog King,” Kamiyama says. “I tell them anytime I get a great idea from the Frog God of the entire universe. Then, we realize that we are creating these great songs by means of a fantastic telepathy from planet Kero Kero.”
Often the messages come in the form of English lyrics that are delivered in a manner that playfully confuses their meaning. In “Cucumber Surrender,” Kirilo delivers her lyrics in a quasi-operatic style that gives its surreal innocence a bit of overt sensuality: “Before you slice him up and make him a meal/Stroke your cucumber/Let him know how you feel/Lettuce bed him with Princess Jalepino/He saved the world of vegetables we know.”
Another item that stands out on Back to the Mono Kero is eX-Girl's cover of Robin Scott's dance hit, “Pop Musik.” The pedestrian four-on-the-floor beat is pushed along by the tight chorus punctuations and dozens of intricate interjections by the vocalists.
The songs on Back to the Mono Kero are rife with so many melodic twists and turns that you may think they result from hours of studio manipulation. However, eX-Girl is adept at delivering its focused performances live and in the studio. “I never edit the songs,” Kamiyama says. “It was kind of like making a live recording. I only spent seven days recording and mixing Back to the Mono Kero.”
When asked which digital audio workstation he uses to make records, Kamiyama revealed his preference for older technology. “I've never used a computer system to record eX-Girl,” he says. “I use a 16-track analog recorder with ½-inch tape. I just sprinkle eX-Girl's sound with strawberry magic called gram pot. That's true, indeed!”