Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Torture Season: Xmas Muzik

I was in Starbucks a few weeks ago (Early November) and couldn't believe that they were already pumping in christmas music! Jumping the gun a bit are they not? I wondered if anyone could tell me who actually enjoys hearing the same old christmas tunes year upon year in EVERY bar, restaurant, shop that they go to for a whole month!! TORTURE!! Are all businesses following their neighbours without thinking about the consequences?

I suppose the people who suffer the most is the staff. Music Psychologist Prof Adrian North was quoted in an article in the Scotsman as saying

"Shops would be better steering away from the Christmas pop tunes and opting for something a little calmer, like sleigh bells," he adds.

"It's festive and it's gentle. And who wants to listen to Merry Christmas by Slade over and over again?"

I agree, but i also think there needs to be a balance where places can use music to create a festive atmosphere but not play the same played out christmas pop tunes we've all heard a millions times before. So, i took a browse through Open Ear's music library and came up with a few 'wintery' suggestions -

1. Max Richter - From 553 W Elm Street. Logan Illinois (Snow)
2. Vashti Bunyan - Coldest Night of the Year
3. Blockhead - The First Snowfall
4. Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
5. Frightened Rabbit - It's Xmas so we'll stop
6. Roots Manuva - Too Cold
7. Peter Broderick - A Snowflake
8. Casiotone for the painfully alone - Cold White Christmas
9. Mogwai - Christmas Song
10. Readymade FC feat Feist - Snow Lion

come on, be inventive! Anyone else got some selections? please post some up!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ten Tracks for a pound

In the sea of new business models that attempt to find the best way in which music can be sold to consumers so that the everyone involves benefits, Ten Tracks is making a mark. Already featured in the Guardian in only it's second month, Ten tracks allows users to download ten tracks for only a pound. You have to buy the bundle, meaning you get exposed to new music and all the artists benefit by receiving 50% of the sales.. We think it's great and were flattered when Ten Tracks asked us to curate November's selection.
We went down the electronic mutant-disco route, with tracks from Neil Landstrumm (Planet Mu), Ali Renault (Heartbreak) and Alex Smoke (with a Various Production remix).

Check it and the other selections out at Ten Tracks and please download at least one selection - at 10p a track, what have you got to lose?!

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Ever wonder what you do after burning a million pounds of your own money?
Well Bill Drummond, formerly of early 90's subversive pop ravers the KLF, famed for burning most of their pop career earnings in 1994 has resurfaced over a decade later with his manifesto for No Music Day - a five year project which aims to eliminate the world of music on one day each year. The day - November 21st - is the day before St Cecilia's day who is the patron saint of music.

Music is so ubiquitous in our lives it is a rare experience for us to actually pause and actively listen to it. Having said that, the power of music is impossible to escape. Whilst we may not consciously be able to recall individual track played during a trip to a bar, restaurant or club it will always affect us - It works away at our subconscious and influences our mood and overall experience.

With studies showing that on average we listen to between 3-5 hours of music a day, it is certainly an interesting prospect to have music turned off for a whole day. Will this help us to enjoy hearing music even more when it floods back into our lives on St Cecilia's day? I hope so. At the very least, if No Music Day can draw our attention to the music that we all experience and connect with on an everyday basis, i think it will have done it's job.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

David Byrne and Daniel Levitin on music

This is a fascinating discussion between former Talking Heads singer and all round musical pioneer David Byrne (who we mentioned a few months ago) and Daniel Levitin a former musician, music neurologist and author of 'This is your Brain on Music', a fantastic book on music and the mind which acts as a great companion to Oliver Sacks 'Musicophilia' released around the same time last year.

Particularly interesting is the chat about 'mirror neurons' about how we experience a musical performance by neurologically mimicking the musician on stage. In other words - we are all air guitar enthusiasts !!.

Check out the video interview at Seed Magazine

Hidden Radio

I like the look of this. Designed by San Francisco based John Van Den Nieuwenhuizen it's basically a nicely design radio. The coolest thing is the volume control: to increase the volume you lift the top part to reveal more of the speaker allowing it to emit more sound - i.e. revealing more 'hidden' sound.

check it out at John's site

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dreams Kaimin: Music and the Science of Sleep

A mass experiment with around 1500 participants took place in Japan recently to investigate the power of music to help people sleep. Not a new phenomenon, but the experiment was unique in that it was presented as a concert playing a selection of music designed to help send people into slumber. The event was called Dreams Kaimin (translated as 'good sleep') and organised by Dr Takuro Endo who is a neurologist and a music designer for sleep, selling CDs that help induce slumber.

Quite what the point of the mass experiment was, i'm not sure. Taking 1500 into a mass arena that surely excites the senses akin to a night out is surely an unusual way to recreate a setting that most would find themselves in when trying to catch some Zzzz's. However, maybe that was the point - if the music was so powerful as to override the other senses and event signifiers, Endo would surely be onto a winner!

But, with a few exceptions, most of the audience were wide awake at the end. Feedback questioned the choice of music as being too 'popular', therefore triggering opinion-based memories amongst listeners keeping them awake. I would suggest that instrumental, soothing, repetitive, minimalist, slow music from one of two artists (so the style is similar throughout) such as James Blackshaw or Arvo Part or even the wonderful buddha machine (pictured - portable playing soothing loops of instrumental sound) would be better choices than Endo's mixture of Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Mary Hopkins and Japanese pop...

or maybe the point was to try and sell a few more of his sleep CDs?!

N.B. i personally don't listen music to help me sleep as i listen to so much during the day, at night i like natural ambience to help me drift off..

if this article didn't send you to sleep, feel free to post your sleepy tunes below!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Event: Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo

I was a bit slow on the uptake on this interesting event taking place in Edinburgh right now. It features one of our fave bands Found, with installations and performances from Chinese acts and composers. I've copied and pasted info below -

Welcome to Dialogues of Wind and Bamboo. This is the story of a journey exploring themes inspired by the connection between plants and people. For Kimho Ip, a composer and musician from Hong Kong working in Edinburgh, wind symbolises change while bamboo represents traditional Chinese culture but it also stands for constant renewal.

In the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on June 21, Midsummer night, the audience will be invited to join the journey, following different artists as they explore themes of change and continuity through music, art, dance and song. Click here for full details about the performance.

As we travel from the Palm House to the Chinese Hillside we will move from the ‘reality’ of the technological modern world to an idealised view of traditional Chinese culture at the T’ing. What we discover there is likely to be different for every member of the audience but Kimho hopes that as we return to the Palm House we can bring a memory of the ‘ideal’ to reconnect us with an understanding of nature in the ‘reality’ of the modern world.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sound Art: David Byrne - Playing the Building

Former Talking Heads singer and all round musical legend David Byrne has unveiled his new installation at The Battery Martime Museum in New York. The building is kitted out with various devices attached to a variety of different parts of the building itself. These devices are used to make sound through striking wind or vibration and channeled into a customised keyboard allowing you to 'play the building'.

Reminds me of an arty version of Barry Blesser's 'Spaces Speak' book we talked about here.

check out the pics and vids at

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sweet Child of Wine

Research commissioned by Chilean wine producer Aurelio Montes (pictured) by Dr Adrian North of Heriot Watt University has discovered that music plays a big influence on how we perceive taste in food and drink. When they played Gun n Roses "Sweet Child Of Mine" to people drinking cabernet sauvignon, they thought that the wine tasted 60% more robust than they did when no music was playing.

This is rooted in cognitive priming theory which we've talked about before and again goes to prove the powerful effect that music has on our behaviour. The article in the Times prompts that this could be an end to piped music in restaurants as more places seeks to nulify music's effect. However, i don't quite go along with this - why don't the restaurants take advantage of this effect by focusing more on the music design in their spaces to have a positive influence of taste and perception of the food such as the "Sound of The Sea" experiment by Heston Blumenthal

It is also significant that during any restaurant experience we are being primed by mixture of factors including the visual decor, lighting, service etc not just the music - and it is only by getting all these factors correct in combination can the restaurant really make proper use of this priming effect.

Times Article by Melanie Reid

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Event: Tree Listening @ Atmospheres 2

The fantatsic Touch records (Fennesz, Philip Jeck etc) have collaborated with the Museum of Garden History to present the Atmospheres festival in London from tomorrow till Sunday. Focusing on the sounds of the natural world the thing that caught my ear was an installation from recent RCA design graduate Alex Metcalf called Tree Listening. Metcalf has designed an ear trumpet that can be used to listen to the microscopic sounds that trees make as they carry out their daily routine - mostly drinking water and creaking!
Apparently the trumpet filters out low frequency tones emitted from the earth to leave a clicking sound which is actually the tree drinking water and distributing it to it's branches.

Alex Metcalf Web

Atmosphere2 / Touch Music Web

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Run to the music

Following years of research at Brunel University, Dr Costas Karageorghis has launched Run to the Beat, a half marathon where you run accompanied by live music strategically placed around the route, and designed to help ease the torture of pounding concrete for a couple of hours. Of course, readers of this blog will know that this 'music design' phenomenon that Karageorghis has spent the last two decades on is nothing new and is found in many other aspects of our life, dating as far back as the 1920's with the Muzak corporation's experiments on music and 'stimulus progression' of worker's in factories in America (There are undoubtedly even earlier examples, but that, to the best of my knowledge, was the first time music was turned into a 'science').

Anyways, Karageorghis ambitious project has exposed the benefits of music to a wider audience and the whole thing looks like a bit of fun rather than a huge devious experiment disguised as a charity run.. My concern is that by using pop bands whose music most will be familiar with and either love or completely resent, there's bound to be an element of

'oh- here's my fave tune by my fave band, i'll slow down to listen'
'awww- i can't stand this song, i'd better speed up to get away from it'...
thereby making the whole thing a bit of a farce..

Especially when looking at the tunes that are talked about in the science

The half marathon will take place on the 5th of October this year. We'd better get training - dubstep for the snailpaced anyone?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sound Art: Beneath and Beyond by Stephen Hurrel

Beneath and Beyond is an audio visual installation by Stephen Hurrel at Glasgow's Tranway as part of the annual GI festival for Visual Art. The installation presents a realtime feed of seismic shifts recorded from data of 100 of so seismic monitoring stations around the Earth. We are presented with the sound of the various vibrations going on within the Earth's core at that very moment. We also see two visual screens showing graphical displays of particularly large tectonic shifts or events at that one time.

We went to this on Saturday and were totally blown away. The work has been two years in the making following Hurrel being awarded the prestigious Creative Scotland award in 2005, but the hard work has paid off - we could have sat there all day just listening to the sound of the Earth grinding away.

Highly recommended!

Stephen Hurrel - Beneath and Beyond

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The birds take on radio

A digital radio station which plays the sound of bird song from an English country garden is causing quite a chatter by swooping up over half a million listeners. There is now a campaign to keep the station on the air before a commercial station takes over it's frequency range..

I love the idea of this - we have all come to accept that mainstream radio represents annoying 'personality djs', offensive adverts and playlisting formats which limits diversity of music being played. The fact that so many listeners would choose to listen to bird song instead should acts as a wake up call to radio producers.. tweet tweet

listen to birdsong radio

Friday, April 04, 2008

Sound Art: Encounters by Katie Paterson

Saw this advertised in the Sunday Times last week - Sound installation by Katie Paterson at the Modern Art Oxford from the 2nd April to 1st June 2008. You are confronted by a telephone which connects you to the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland where you can hear the sound of the glacier melting.

Sounds interesting and obviously a topical subject to pick, what with constant stream of global warming debates dominating the news. But does the Sunday Times really need to give us ANOTHER history of 'Sound art' - brian eno, cage et al?? Surely, there must come a point where audiences can accept the concept of using sound as a medium for art - how hard can that be to grasp?!


Friday, February 22, 2008

What it sounds like for a boy/girl ? or How i started to file her under misc, a tragedy in 12" 7" and cdvd formats

Men are from.... ? women are from.......?

It's easy: women dance around handbags, men can't.

...and now to add to the gender definition industry.

How we listen!
How do we listen?

According to Lesley Douglas, BBC6 head of music and a crack team of pointer-outers with super eyes, it boils down into two main camps -

MEN: Nerding over the producers suicide halfway through recording, compulsively collecting every last 7 inch where the word "bless" is used, etc. That is to say that men enjoy the overall stuff around a song and get enjoyment from the trivia. Reminds me of Losing My Edge by LCD Soundsystem - you know the one with the green label and the lightning bolt and Tim Sweeney and Yoko Ono kissing dogs in the background..... shit! I did it again.

WOMEN: Being swept into floods of tears by Tori Amos then swung into a Lambrini induced hysteria by um...Take That, Tom Jones, Girls Aloud (well you never know)... Emotional creatures at the mercy of cruel musicians who take them to the edge of ecstasy only for Stuart McConie to talk over the final seconds. Who enjoy each song without the baggage of whether they died in a plane or once supported their family by selling crack.

So for your own gender labeling please take a minute to take our test.

Are you a man or a women eh?

1) Kraftwerk or Joni Mitchell

2) Bannanarama or Nick Kershaw?

3) Debussy or Wagner

Now, bearing in mind you may not prefer either or like both. In this case i advise a peek down your front. Answers in the comment section.

As ever thanks to the Laura Barton at the Guardian for the article which inspired this little experiment.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


"Priming in psychology refers to activating parts of particular representations or associations in memory just before carrying out an action or task. It is considered to be one of the manifestations of implicit memory. A property of priming is that the remembered item is remembered best in the form in which it was originally encountered. If a priming list is given in an auditory mode, then an auditory cue produces better performance than a visual cue."
so thinking about the applications of this.... hmmm... trade?

A person walks into a cafe which is playing just the same tune granny used to have on as she tucked them into bed. That person now feels warm and comfortable and at ease and ripe for selling lattes, muffins or Vashti Bunyan cd's. poor sod:
This person has been primed.

Last nights horizon was focused on choices and how they aren't ever really yours. (half shite talk from men in blazers or prescient future imagining Gibson readers) but also half scary Harvard business school graduates that will be making a killing, and worst of all you will ask them too.

Yes their example was of a warm drink and a cold drink but I'm more interested, of course, by music as a priming mechanism.

What's interesting is that we self medicate with music to prime ourselves all the time - think of the couple getting the mood right for a romantic dinner tomorrow night only to put on Goblin, Earth or Sunno))).
It won't happen! Or, if it does I can only expect that one of the participants will be dinner. No actually try it.

Funnily, there is a discussion knocks around my flat about what everyone will play at my funeral. Why mine i can't really say, but what seems to come to the fore is music which will either bring people into the correct level of Georgian maudlin black mood or the opposite and bittersweet the ceremony with all the fun I used to have. This sport has some real winners (I'm not telling) but what I want to know is - will I hear the Pointer Sisters one day as i approach the counter to buy a coffee only to corpse it???

So just watch when you're next in a shop and you start humming along - you're already beat.

Two Open Ears @ Instal 08

We've been asked by our good friends at Radio Magnetic ( to report on the wonderful annual Instal festival taking place in Glasgow this weekend. One of the leading experimental music festival's in the world, Instal brings together local, national and international artists, critics and curators to present a fascinating and varied insight into the music that has no boundaries. What we like about it is the way it's presented in such as way that can be enjoyed by the most hardened critic and uninitiated musical novice in equal measure - if you have an open mind and want to experience something different, challenging, and inspirational this festival is for you.
Basically, we're looking forward to it very much!

We'll post interviews, sets and other stuff we get our hands on after the event.. watch this space.

check - Instal - Arika webpage

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sonic Deterrent infringes on your human rights

Claims made by Al Aynsley-Green the government Children's rights representative last week have called for the ban of the controversial 'Mosquito' sonic deterrent that is placed outside shopping centres and other public spaces to stop gangs of neds hanging out and being a general nuisance to law abiding citizens who want to shop in peace.

I've talked about it in an earlier blog post here -
Sonic Chav Deterrent on Two Open Ears
MosquitoByteam website

The deterrent works by emitting high frequency pulses or tones that are only picked up by young people who have more sensitive hearing than adults (especially in the higher frequency ranges). The tones help to stop the children loitering for too long..

I guess it's the subliminal effect that Aynsley-Green doesn't like, even though I think her 'infringes on human rights' argument is ludicrous. her main point focuses on how these alarms may effect young children and babies who have done nothing wrong. I would say that she should look at the bigger picture and tackle the larger issues - Noise Pollution and unsociable behaviour in our cities.

The sonic deterrent isn't the only source of noise that may have an adverse effect on infants - any machine that creates noise will do - cars, coffee machine, pneumatic drills, TV, etc etc! For example, imagine raising a baby if you live underneath a flight path or on a busy street with bars or clubs creating noise after 10pm- surely the terrible effect this could have on a babies ability to get a good nights rest is a much more severe issue than the 5 seconds or so they might experience the Mosquito alarm as they go in and out of a shop?

Aynsley-Green should try and tackle the problem that these alarms are helping to combat - unsocialable behaviour by gangs outside public places. Surely this in itself is a bigger infringement on everyone's basic human rights?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Music tastes: where are YOU from?

This article in the G2 section of the Guardian yesterday explores musical tastes as being defined by the location you live in. On first glance this seems to have a lot of truth in it - just look at the amount of music sub genres that are linked to a city -

Detroit Techno
Chicago House
Miami Bass
London Grime
West Coast Hip Hop
and more recently the sounds of Sheffield Bassline.

Does location create the music or music create the location?

Is the listener able to appreciate the music more because they can visualise an image of the particular location and imagine a 'scene' where everyone in that city is influenced by the sound of the music created? It seems to me a bit of a generalisation as most of the time the music linked to that location is only related to one (normally tiny) demographic.

On the other hand, the majority of musicians are influenced by their surroundings. The city they live in and the people they meet will be reflected in the music they make.

One interesting thing is that in a more globalised musical world, can this trend continue or will musicians become more influenced by global rather than local stimuli? Do musicians create music, consciously or subconsciously, to create an identity which represents their city? I would go so far to say that a city's very essence (culture, identity, economy) can be enhanced significantly by having a musical scene intrinsically attached to it, even if the reality is that the scene is generated by a minority band of locals. Usually this is centred around a single record label or collective (e.g. Underground Resistance records and Detroit - techno or Fence Collective and Fife - folk)

if cities do not have this musical identity, they are lacking a soul.

Laura Barton Guardian Article

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Positive Soundscapes: Re-evaluation of Environmental Sound

This looks like an extremely interesting and worthwhile multi disciplinary project based in Manchester.
Here is some info from their website:

In the acoustics community, sound in the environment, especially that made by other people, has overwhelmingly been considered in negative terms, as both intrusive and undesirable. The strong focus of traditional engineering acoustics on reducing noise level ignores the many possibilities for characterising positive aspects of the soundscapes around us. Desirable aspects of the soundscape have been investigated in the past, mainly by artists and social scientists. This work has had little impact on quantitative engineering acoustics, however, perhaps because of barriers to communication across different disciplines.

The team behind this project comes from a very wide range of disciplines – social science, physiological acoustics, sound art, acoustic ecology, psychoacoustics, product perception and room acoustics. They will apply their breadth of experience to investigate soundscapes from many aspects and produce a more nuanced and complete picture of listener response than has so far been achieved.

The aims of the project are:

  1. To acknowledge the relevance of positive soundscapes, to move away from a focus on negative noise and to identify a means whereby the concept of positive soundscapes can effectively be incorporated into planning; and
  2. The evaluation of the relationship between the acoustic/auditory environment and the responses and behavioural characteristics of people living within it

Check out their site for more info -
Positive Soundscapes Web

Blog: La Blogotheque

Check this French site out - La Takeaway Away Shows. They get a band such as Caribou, Animal Collective, The Kooks etc and get them to perform ad hoc in random out door or interesting locations. They film and record it and you can watch the finished versions on the site.
My particular favourite is Caribou and the mad frantic run by main man Dan Snaith to get to his drums which are positioned around the block in time to perform his drum solo.
This is interesting, site specific music with environmental sounds kept in the mix to enhance the experience. Plus, surprisingly good recordings in general.

La Blogotheque