A shout-out to Weird Al Yankovic – Word Crimes

I make misteaks when I’m writing. But I try not to make big ones, and I do my best to correct them when they occasionally crop up.

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These gigantic erasers have been around since I was a kid in the 50s; fortunately I have never needed one that big. Whilst typing, I can’t ever seem to spell “friend” right the first time; it’s just a quirk, I suppose.

That said, I am always gobsmacked when I see people confusing loose and lose, or their/there/they’re, or its/it’s. Maddening. I tend to be a descriptive linguist rather than a proscriptive one, knowing that languages flow like the mighty Mississippi river over time, and that usage is king – but there’s a difference between colloquialisms and ignorantisms (that last is a neologism.)

Now comes Weird Al, with his second music video in a stream of 8, released one each day. I’ve always loved his work, and this one immediately rose to the top of my favorites list because of the subject matter, near and dear to the heart of a linguist.

I’ll let Al speak for himself.

And now the Old Wolf has done spoke.

Priced out of the market once again.

The text below is summarized and redacted from an article at PolicyMic – I wanted to share the information but there’s too much that’s unrelated or unsavory at the original site.

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There are plenty of reasons to avoid music festivals in 2014.

From the $12 Bud Lights and vomiting 16-year-olds to sexual assault-ridden crowdsurfing and white people in Native headdresses, your range of deterrents is limitless.

But one stands head and shoulders above the rest: the price of admission.

1967’s Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival, considered the modern era’s first such event, charged $2.00 for a bill that included the Doors, the Byrds and Captain Beefheart.’

Today, you can’t find a decent toothbrush for that price, let alone see some of the most legendary acts in rock history.

Two years later, Woodstock organizers charged $18 for all three days of the iconic festival, which featured performances by Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. That’s $120 in 2014 money, but considering the lineup and how door prices dropped to “free” once more attendees showed up than expected, that might go down as the deal of the century.

For $1 a pop in 1972, you could see pretty much every famous soul singer of the ’60s and ’70s at Wattstax in Los Angeles:

But times have changed. Weekend passes to the 2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — America’s most profitable festival — asked a starting price of $375.

Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo clocked in at $234 and $250, respectively. Meanwhile, the “secondary market” costs for people who got edged out by stampeding ticket buyers are astronomical. Forbes reports that Coachella’s average ticket price in this arena was a whopping $825, while festivals like Lolla and Bonnaroo make closer to a humble half thousand.

And of course there’s the Ultra Music Festival, an EDM extravaganza where you pay $399.95 for people to whip their sweaty hair against your face and otherwise freak out in your general vicinity. “Next year, I won’t be going,” former Ultra attendee Matthew Agramonte told the Miami Herald. “Ultra is isolating its fan base that simply can’t afford outrageous prices. What was once a great experience is a ripoff and a great shame.”

Concurrent with these hikes was an influx of corporate brands and advertisers, all chomping at the bit for exposure to the festivals’ captive young consumers. Ad Age reports that brands will spend more than $1.34 billion sponsoring live music events this year, up 4.4% from 2013.

That means plenty more Heineken, Red Bull, Samsung and Sephora between you and the music. Hair washing stations by Garnier and “gaming tents” by Mattel are welcome to some but completely pointless to others who just came to check out the acts.

Such interlopers have become fixtures of the modern live music experience, so profitable, in fact, that corporate events are even popping up on their periphery:

“You can create your own environment,” General Motors’ David Barthmus told Ad Age, referencing an “off-Coachella” party co-sponsored by GM, McDonald’s and L.A. nightclub Bootsy Bellows. “Plus it’s more cost efficient because there isn’t the cost of being on the Coachella grounds.”

Some attribute these skyrocketing prices to industry monopolization. Some say illegal downloading forces artists to tour and charge more. Others blame venue rental costs, while others still say artists are greedy and know they can charge whatever they want without consequence.

Whatever the case, today’s festival-goers are suffering. It’s absurd that the term “payment plan” now goes hand-in-hand with your ticket purchase, but that’s the sad reality, and there’s little you can do about it.

Affordable festivals do exist, though they seem to be disappearing by the day. And it’s easy to romanticize the economic ethos of a bygone era while ignoring that challenges facing the usic industry were markedly different then.

But the next time you drop $400 on a festival pass, think of the pulsating hordes of molly-popping frat bros and trust fund babies flailing in a sea of ads and $15 hot dogs while multi-millionaires kick back in their air-conditioned offices, counting your money and laughing at how easily you were duped. Then think about Woodstock, Magic Mountain and the salad days of a time far gone.

That’s probably harsh, but so are these prices.

Welcome to 2014.

It’s not just music festivals. The price of Broadway shows has gone beyond what most people would consider reasonable; want to see “Wicked”? That’ll be $97.00 for the nosebleed section, all the way to $222.00 for premium orchestra seating, and that’s not even considering what scalpers charge. Even a family of 4 will now spend $400.00 for a single-day entry to Disneyland. Unless you want to drive to Tooele, Utah to see Three Dog Night like we did last July 4, and paid what would be considered a reasonable price for the privilege, many music concerts don’t fit the budget of those at whose heels economic terror is daily snapping.

And I don’t even have any answers, because I don’t understand the entire landscape, or the economic factors that are driving these soaring prices. All I know is that it takes a special performance and a special occasion, or a gift from some lovely friends, to make attending possible, and most of the time we look for other, cheaper forms of entertainment.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Hannibal Lecter… Musician.

The things we learn. Seriously. It appears that Sir Anthony Hopkins was a musician and composer before he was an actor; his piece “And the Waltz Goes On” was composed in November of 1964, but was never performed until Hopkins took the bull by the horns and sent it to André Riu, who loved it. The waltz was performed by Riu and his orchestra for the first time in Schloß Belvedere in Vienna, with Hopkins in attendance. The video below is a performance by Riu in Maastricht; it’s wonderful to watch the audience’s reaction, along with Sir Anthony’s, as he listens to his composition.

You can also watch a lovely 2011 interview with Hopkins by Richard Wilkins on the Today Show, in which Sir Anthony discusses his life, his music, and the collaboration with Riu, and we see extracts from that first performance in Vienna.

I was thoroughly delighted to learn of this little bit of ephemera, and I love waltz music anyway, so it was a double win.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Mario on the Sheng

As a follow-up to my post on strange ways of making music, I share with you an astonishing performance of the Mario theme (it seems to be a very popular demonstration piece) on an odd Chinese instrument called the Sheng, one of the oldest Chinese instruments known. It has an odd quality that combines a wind instrument with a steel drum. The thing I love best about this performance is the incorporation of some of the game’s sound effects into the piece.

If you want to hear a young lady really get down on the sheng in a more traditional setting, have a listen here:

For what it’s worth, some more Mario follows:

There is more of interest  in the world than I could possibly learn in a thousand lifetimes.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Music Across the Ages

If you love music and aren’t afraid to genre-hop, or take on new tastes, please visit “The Daily Music Break.”

Updated daily, this website is a good way for people to listen to new music that they might not otherwise. I think Grooveshark just took a back seat for a while.

Mad props to Carl and his son, redditor /u/karsforkidz for creating and sharing this.

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The Old Wolf has spoken.

And you thought the theremin was weird.

Well, it is, sorta. But 50’s science fiction movies would never have been the same without it.

Here’s a video of Leon Theremin playing his own instrument:

The Japanese, of course, know how to take anything weird and push it over the top: Here’s an orchestra of young ladies playing Beethoven’s 9th on theremins built into Russian Matrochka dolls:

But thanks to modern technology (and some retro technology), people have figured out all sorts of new ways to make music.

Some geek figured out how to program old 5.25″ floppy drives to make music. This is not good for the drives, but it’s pretty cool:

But a good idea can always be made better:

Not to be outdone, Steve Ward and Jeff Larson realized that Tesla coils could be made to become musical:

The physics behind this feat is explained at Physics Buzz.

While Mario Brothers sounded good, I think Inspector Gadget sounded better:

And one last one, the most complex effort I’ve seen in this medium:

There are far more odd ways to make music than I could list here, but these were some which tickled my fancy.

Edit: Thanks to Inshadowz who pointed out this one using a dot-matrix printer to play “Eye of the Tiger”

Edit 2: Here’s a captivating demonstration of how using the same principle can create speech using nothing but a piano (The narration is in German, but the captions are adequate):

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Tape Storage, 1977

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Found in Texas Monthly, 1977 Vol. 5, No. 11

This advertisement for Maxell media displays four very common tape formats from the 70s:  clockwise from top, studio tape [1], 8-track tape, reel-to-reel tape, and cassette. Digital storage has, for all intents and purposes, obsoleted all of these. That said, some companies still offer tape backup solutions for companies which are looking for certain advantages.

For the most part, however, this is a forgotten technology among the young people of today, an entire generation of whom have never lived in a time when the Internet didn’t exist.

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If you’re one of those youngsters and wonder, that pencil would come in really handy if you ever encountered a cassete that looked like this:

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… which would happen with more frequency than you might wish, if your player was on the fritz.

Having grown up in the 50’s and 60’s, reel-to-reel was all I knew as a child; when the Tinico tape recorder [2] was introduced, I coveted one of these with a white-hot passion. It was one of the few things I begged for as a kid that I never got.

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You can see this one in action, playing a speech by John F. Kennedy, at YouTube.

What I did get much later, as an adult, was the smallest Sony Walkman ever produced. It was designed to be exactly the size of a tape cassette in its case when closed  – the lid would slide down about half an inch to accomodate a cassette:

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Walkman, closed

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Walkman, open.

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Size comparison

I still have mine  in a drawer – time has taken its toll and it no longer works, but I got a lot of use out of it and it’s still fun to hold. It was manufactured, I think, as more of a novelty than a truly useful device, because the ultra-miniaturization of all the components meant elevated fragility as well.

It’s interesting to have some historical perspective on audio and computer media. As usual, it makes me wonder with insatiable curiosity what my granddaughters will have seen by the time they are my age.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] I had originally called this computer tape; thanks to Salvador Virgen for pointing out that it was indeed something else, which I verified with an image search.

[2] The referenced article compares the Tinico recorder with a Soviet copy. I remember a joke my mother telling me back in the 60’s, which she in turn heard from a Russian emigrée friend of hers; it concerned a Soviet diplomat being given a tour of a technology display, and at every stop the Russian would say, “Oh, da – Russians invented that.” Finally he was handed an audio cassette, and he said, “Oh, da! Russians invented that! What is it?”

The Cricket Chorus: Reality trumps the Internet Once Again

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this story pop up on various social media and fora:

“Someone Recorded Crickets then Slowed Down the Track, And It Sounds Like Humans Singing”

For myself, I had doubts about this the first time I heard it – I found several tracks of crickets singing, slowed them down to various speeds, and they sounded like… drunken crickets singing. The shared articles usually include the sentence,

“Though it sounds like human voices, everything you hear in the recording is the crickets themselves.”

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Well, as lovely as it sounds, it just ain’t so. It’s actually a multi-track recording, consisting of crickets and the beautiful operatic voice of Bonnie Jo Hunt.

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You can read the full story at ScienceBlogs. Edit: This matter is not at all clear. I suggest that you read all the comments at the ScienceBlogs article and come to your own conclusion. A commenter named Thibaut refutes the claims made there and provides some of his own experimental results, but other comments back up the claims of the ScienceBlogs author and provide additional information as to the origin of the viral track. For myself, until I see further confirmation that crickets can be made to sound like a human chorus through audio manipulation, I remain unconvinced.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Czar of the Tenderloin

When I was little, my mother used to sing bits and snatches of songs to me  that she remembered from her own childhood. One that always stuck in my mind was “The Czar of the Tenderloin,” which she told me she often heard sung by her uncle, Leo Marshall.

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Leo Marshall, center in rear, with his wife Lucile Rogers Marshall (right front) and her siblings Frances, William, and Victor, December 1970

Years later, at the 80th birthday party of my grandmother Frances, (Leo’s sister-in-law), he sang it for the assembled family one last time. It was two years before his death, and the rendition was hesitant and shaky, but all the more lovely for his still being able to remember as much as he did.

As I grew older, I often wondered about the origins of the song, and if there were any more of it than the little bits Mother sang.

And then came the Internet, the modern-day Areopagus (Acts 17:21). As the body of the world’s knowledge is slowly but surely gathered and preserved online, not everything happens at once. For years I searched and scraped the web, but always came up poor… until today.

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Notice the nightstick on the cover.

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The Lyrics

America has a President and England has a Queen,
While Germany’s great Emperor sits ruling all serene,
The Indians have their medicine man, Bavaria a king,
But none of these high diplomats are quite the proper thing.

For in gay New York where the gay Bohemians dwell,
There’s a Colony called the Tenderloin, though why I cannot tell,
A certain man controls the place with no regard for coin,
The Czar, the Czar, the Czar of the Tenderloin.

Chorus:

The Czar of the Tenderloin,
With great propriety, seeks notoriety,
But the girls all shun the society
Of the Czar of the Tenderloin.

Each evening through the Tenderloin the Czar will gayly prance,
With whiskers well divided just to give the wind a chance,
His bodyguard behind him scouting for a finish fight,
Arresting everything that’s left because it isn’t right.

Piano legs must now be clothed with care,
And he’s ordered all the trees cut down because their limbs were bare,
He’s going to build a little church which everyone must join,
The Czar, the Czar, the Czar of the Tenderloin.

Chorus

His hobby is arresting shoes whenever they are tight,
He also nabs electric lights when when they go out at night,
The sun came out one morning and he ordered its arrest,
The moon was full, he pulled it in and claimed it was a pest.

One day on the Tenderloin, a maiden changed her mind,
Now the Czar thought that was naughty so the girl was quickly “fined.”
He arrested a cook for beating an egg, now don’t that take the coin,
The Czar, the Czar, the Czar of the Tenderloin.

Chorus

This 1897 song by Bob Cole and Billy Johnson is based on the life and times of Alexander S. “Clubber” Williams, a notoriously corrupt but effective police inspector who ruled over New York’s Tenderloin district with an iron fist and a wooden club. At the end of his career he was reputed to have said that he never clubbed anyone who didn’t deserve it. The name of that part of town, the northwest corner of which is now Times Square, came from William’s statement that “I’ve been having chuck steak ever since I’ve been on the force, and now I’m going to have a bit of tenderloin,” said because of the lucrative business of protection payments from legitimate and illegitimate businesses alike. Prior to Williams’ reign, the district was known as “Satan’s Circus.” San Francisco also has a Tenderloin district, and the term has come to be synonymous with a seedy, ill-reputed or red-light district of town.

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Manhattan’s historical districts, the Tenderloin indicated by a star.

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Emile Berliner’s Gramophone 78 rpm record. “The Czar of the Tenderloin,” sung by Will F. Denny. Recorded July 14, 1897

With thanks to Tim Gracyk, you can hear Will F. Denny singing an abridged version of the song at YouTube, but I can still hear Uncle Leo singing it as clearly as though it were yesterday.

The Old Wolf has spoken.