Wednesday, September 23, 2009

[The Record Crate] An app for that

Though I have never been a full Apple computer acolyte--I write software in other parts of my non-music nerd life and a Mac is just not a viable platform on which to do that--I am an unabashed iPhone fan. I think that it is the first step into the "next way we do things," whatever that is, and have been looking into how it is offering new possibilities for music. There are scads of fan sites that offer social networking opportunities, song snippets and photos, but that's old hat. We've had the internet for a while now. Two apps have caught my eye this week; maybe they're wearing a new hat.

24 Hours: The Starck Mix (Free; iTunes link; web version) This app was developed as a specially curated soundtrack in tribute to French designer Phillipe Starck, a streaming mix of (right now) piano and pleasant background techno and people talking in French. The interesting twist is that it syncs up to that what I hear at 10:00 AM my time, someone in Saudi Arabia hears at 10:00 AM their time, and we all can be in the same virtual, upscale hotel lobby at once. I see this as a future for broadcast media, where a simultaneous morning show/news program would be ever-present at the right time.

Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers - Trope ($3.99; iTunes link Brian Eno is always onto something good. This is Eno's second iPhone app for creating what he calls "generative music." You select one of the oblique moods, a geometric figure and a couple of other parameters and then doodle on it with your finger. Voila! It creates slowly undulating, ambient music. Like Bloom, his previous outing, I don't get a concrete correlation between my actions and the music created. But from what I see, these are not instruments or songs, but something in-between. In that regard it works brilliantly. And when you set the thing in motion and let it go, like blowing on a triangle in a Calder mobile, Trope is a deeper, more resonate listening experience than Bloom produces (though I think Bloom is more fun to play with). My first impulse with both is that I'd like the option of removing the mood and letting my own seep into the resulting work, but that isn't the point. It's interactive, not resultant. It's like saying I'd rather have great art supplies than great art.

Also, like Eno's best work, I like the questions this brings up more than I do the answers. Is this a music review or a software review? Is it a game or a song? Is it the same thing if I just let it play itself instead of playing it myself? Does it make a difference in the end?

I think the Beatles are foolish if they don't seek out an app like this for their catalog. They could do it on a subscription basis to maintain their revenue stream while facilitating a further generation's experience of the formative music of former generation in their own context.

Should you decide to stop staring at your damn phone for a minute and interact with actual people, this is an excellent week to do it. Chelsea's has fallen into yet another licensing rabbit hole, but Spanish Moon is more than filling the gap with Mono, Frightened Rabbit, Ra Ra Riot, Colour Revolt and Monotonix all playing here the same week. Did Pitchfork set up a satellite office down here or something? Multi-lingual folk favorites Christine Albert and Chris Gage will be at the Red Dragon, one the finest blues guitarists you can see, Lil Dave Thompson, will be putting in an appearance at Teddy's Juke Joint, and New Orleans roots rock behemoth Honey Island Swamp Band will be at Bogie's.

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