Smart Air: Spending Time At NPR Music
The only thing better than, or as good as, a good radio station is if that broadcaster also has a great website. This is true of the CBC and the BBC (both of which I will look at in subsequent columns), but today we’ll point our magic attention wand at National Public Radio’s NPR Music site.
Just on a random visit today, I saw at least THREE things that were worth investigation, within seconds on the site.
There’s this feature marking the 38th anniversary of The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street and the much-hyped reissue featuring unreleased outtakes, remastered originals and alternate versions, (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126743273#on)NPR took it one step further and asked a bunch of other musicians to cover some of the Stones’ material for the site. These include a cover of “Rocks Off” by Liz Phair, “Shake Your Hips” by Robert Randolph, “Sweet Black Angel” by Spoon’s Britt Daniel, “Happy” by Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein and “Shine a Light” by Alejandro Escovedo. Not stopping there, they’ve also posted Exile bonus tracks, “Plundered My Soul”, “Dancing In The Light”, “So Divine (Aladdin Story)” and “Loving Cup (Alternate Version)”.
Then there’s this story, ostensibly about the history of the Vocoder, but really about so much more, tied into the release of a new book by Dave Tompkins, called How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop. The story is fascinating and traces the technology back to Bell Labs (for use in long distance calling systems) where it was apparently never intended to have a musical application at all. As the story continues, it was World War II where the Vocoder technology first found practical use in espionage, as a way of encoding conversations (Churchill was being eavesdropped on!) and the National Defense Research Committee needed help to stop the Nazis. Later, the pioneering electronic musician Wendy Carlos featured the sound on the soundtrack for Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, and the world was never the same. The robot voice was cool, cold even, and before long Kraftwerk were employing it to simulate the interface betweeen man, machine and music.
According to Tompkins, it was funk musician Michael Jonzun who delivered “what is said to be the first hip-hop vocoder album, Lost in Space, in 1983.” Of course, he finishes by explaining how of all of this robotry lead to the rise of the evil Auto-Tune. Listen to the NPR piece here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126781688
NPR Music also has their great First Listen feature, where in the past I’ve had a chance to preview albums by David Byrne, Joanna Newsom and LCD Soundsystem. I was pleased to hear a warm and friendly voice from Everything But The Girl is back to recording, as First Listen features the new album by Tracey Thorn, Love And Its Opposite. Listen to it here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126612091
There’s plenty more to be found on NPR Music, including features with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Public Image Ltd, an actual interview with Tracey Thorn, and a playlist for an awesome “sweatin to the 80s” workout mix.
Log on and enjoy.
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