Biochemical Music

I noticed the other day that there are some songs that just... well... move me. Not like a plain-old great song (Shpongle comes to mind), but individual tracks that just flip some switch somewhere, demand the volume be turned up, and that everything else be ignored. All hands on the audio deck.

Interestingly, these are also songs that would likely not make my list of "best ever" music! This is a bit paradoxical, and I cannot put my finger on why, but it's true: these are not songs that I would put on my Desert Island list... at least, wouldn't have. Now that I've discovered such a class of music exists, I might re-think my reflex to take songs that are "great", in the conventional sense of the word.

These songs are good, mind you... it's just that they may not hold up to technical scrutiny. No advanced theory, here. No super-human technique. My college music professors would laugh at me for mentioning them. No, these songs aren't great. They just move me. It's biochemical.

The song that did this to me was Kyes Ivrload by Esem. Technically, it's a stupid song. It's literally the same bassline, beat, and bells played over and over and over for three minutes and 48 seconds. But of course, the song is all about the effects that roll over the themes like dark waves. As I said, this song moves me. I wondered if there were other songs that were capable of it. That said, I don't think any of the others provoke such a visceral reaction: my whole demeanor changes when this song percolates to the top of the playlist.

Beat 6 by Aaron Jasinski (sorry, I don't think he ever released it, officially) does it for me. It's another non-complex song, with just a few themes. Very electronic, heavy. It's one of those songs that demand high volume and low distraction. One of those tracks that's hard to hit the "skip" button on, even when you're rushing. Aaron has a tendency to "borrow heavily" from others, and I wonder where his influence for this track (and the others in the series, which are all great) came from: I would likely enjoy that artist!

Uninvited by Alanis Morrisette. (Does it make me less of a man to say so?) Nearly perfect: dark, musical, driven-yet-downbeat. Using the "hard to skip" criteria, this certainly passes: I don't think I've ever skipped this track when it comes up. I like Alanis, but it's usually a mood thing: I can't just listen to her music on an average day. ...except for this song.

I Want You (She's so Heavy). Enough said.

Nothing's Impossible and The Darkest Star by Depeche Mode. I'm a little wary putting these on the list, since I haven't even owned this album for a year, and it's dangerous to judge a song's merit on anything less than a year's listening. ...Further, it takes me a minute to get into these track (I can skip one easily through the first few bars)... but once it's in full swing, I'm hooked. It's dark, detailed, textured.

I almost want to put some of Enigma's first album on the list, but I don't. Close, but not biochemical.

Another close miss is Giles Reaves's Velvet Shade and Here and Now. These are intensely personal songs, from a time in my life where I really first started to "find myself". ...But as such, these are more cerebral celebrations than physical. They are still hard to skip, though. : )

Undocumented by... uhh... me. Okay, perhaps this is cheating, but also perhaps this song is what truly sparked this whole line of thought: I had just finished listening to this track the other day and said to myself, " Man, I LOVE this song...", then immediately asked if I thought it was my best, and had to say no, it wasn't. Yet this track makes the list: it's not fancy, but it's visceral. I wrote it in a few hours, and found no need to ever go back and tweak it: it is what it is, and I love how it came out. So nyah. (Then again, if a musician doesn't put their own music on their best-music list, something is wrong.) Another track like Undocumented in this respect is Viral Proteins. I wrote it very quickly, loved the result, and it moves me... but I'm not sure I'll put it on this list "for real," since it's so much more ambient than the other tracks. It sparks wonder, not energy.

Okay, I've gotten into Nine Inch Nails territory. I expect more than a few, here. First up is Somewhat Damaged. Perfect, in its angry, simple way. The Wretched, which may be the best song Reznor's ever written: it satisfied on both levels: this low-level, emotional one, and it's also technically a superb song (well, for the genre, at least). Dammit, a good half of this album qualifies. At least, that's what I'm thinking when The Fragile comes up. I love this song. I'll try and skip Even Deeper , The Great Below, and Into the Void. (But really, they should probably count.) Every Day Is Exactly the Same. ...I don't know what it is about that song, but... well, I just become helpless when it comes up. Must listen to it. Only counts. How could it not? The imagery makes it (and the beat's cool, despite it's simplicity.) "I'm becoming less defined, as days go by ... kind of drifting in the abstract, in terms of how I see myself." Ha! There's also this vague, tense crescendo throughout the song that keeps you from stopping it early.

Yup, more than a few. It's possible another four or five tracks will make their way onto this list, once I've had time to re-digest Year Zero. ...But I promised myself I would take some "time off" from listening to it before I went back, so I'm going to skip it now. ...Plus, I've only owned it a month or two now. : )

Goodbye Blue Sky. Floyd. Of course. Note that I wouldn't put "Comfortably Numb" on this list: it's a perfect counter-example of a song that is superb (perfect?) in every other respect... but it's not something that grabs you and sucks you into this introspective world of deep, moving music. Ahhh, but it is such a good song. : ) "You are only coming through in waves; your lips move, but I cannot hear what you're saying..." Of course, not a song I can skip easily, but it's not the same thing. Again, biochemistry. I can't think of any other way to describe it.

Oh, here's another counter-example: Her Majesty's Secret Service, by PropellorHeads. This is the song that keeps me from buying "Saturday Night Fever" (thank god): it's got that disco rhythm down, but adds to it all the electronic goodness that makes modern music cool. I was thrilled they used it in The Incredibles. One of the best movies of all time! In this case, I think I can name why it's not on the biochemical list: it's frivolous. Disqualified!

In the Maybe-Someday department, there is Puff Dragon's Chinese Radio. I have a feeling it'll make it, but it needs more time to sink in. I'm listening to it now. It's close. "Perception, Reality. Perception, Reality."

Sir Psycho Sexy
. "A long, long, long time ago, before the wind, before the snow lived a freak of Nature named Sir Psycho." Ahhh, we love him so. I become someone else when I listen to this song... most because the lyrics are so much racier than anything else I could get caught listening to. (Even Reznor's.) Note that this is another song that would likely make my "best ever" list: it works on both levels.

Oh, TOTALLY! Human Beings by Seal. Totally. Another one of those songs that just transforms me: I just want to put my head down and press the headphones into my ears and dissolve into the music. Don't know why: it's not an incredible song, and I might not even think of it when considering best-ever's. Yet, here it is. Perfect example. Future Love Paradise comes close, but it's not the same: again, it's more a cerebral kind of thing.

Ahhh, Shpongle. I love 'em: I honestly think he's one of the best five composers I've ever heard--a Mozart for the electronic age... But they don't make this list. Perhaps because the music is too frivolous.

Tangerine Dream, too. Dream Mixes, as an album, does something for me, but that's probably because of the experiences I had when I first grew accustomed to it. They're also kind of "backgroundy" to me: I don't have to devote my attention to them.

Okay, I'm putting Butterflies on the list (Toad the Wet Sprocket). It's a magical song. It's sort of the odd-man-out on the list, I think, but I have to put it here. I'm addicted to it.

Hmmmn, perhaps that's part of what I'm trying to describe by "biochemical". It's a form of addiction.

hevv . Tobias Wilton. I had this song in mind the second I thought of creating this list. Here's an excellent example: I don't think I've ever convinced anyone else this song is as brilliant as I seem to think it is. People I expose it to think it's redundant and obnoxious. I adore it. Nay: I need it. Yes. Perhaps we are talking about addiction.

Mmmn, I've really taken to the music of Ultimae (it's a label) over the past two years. ...But I can't really put anything in the biochemical domain. Chinese Radio (mentioned above) comes very close, as do some others by Hol Baumann.

Aleksi Virta Meets Tortsi... another example of great music that isn't an addiction. Hmmmn... No, I think True Dwelling Place qualifies. Deep, dark. Mmmmn. Sure.

Some of Alexy V's music might make it in the near future. Hundred Miles is a contender.

...Which brings us to esem.

Ahhh, esem. He created this list, really. The first artist I was truly addicted to. He might not be the best composer... but there is absolutely something there in his music that infects. ...Not every song does it for every person, but every person who's been smitten by his music has more than a few tracks of his that just feed the soul. Esem may give Reznor a run for his money on this list. For me, the magic is in:

  • Halfmoon
  • kyes /live (I already mentioned kyes ivrload, but... hey, I love it just that much that I'll take both versions!)
  • eloki.neadu (A remake of an early track of his... about the time when I realized I was absolutely hooked on his music.)
  • qre.ii
  • ekred
  • rz ttt
That exhausts my list at work, and I don't think I would have left any of this music at home. : ) I've created a playlist of it... let's see if listening to them all in one stream is wise. ...I suspect not: this is music I want to stop and listen to... and if there's a whole bunch of it one after another, it might get tedious. We'll see.


So, lately, I find myself itching to listen to electronic music.

Those of you who know me would say "what else is new?" to that.

But I mean REALLY electronic music. Like, burbling, screeching, super-fat electronic music. I want to hear the circuitry overloading.

The problem is, there isn't enough of this style of music in my collection! There's some level of it in, say, Shpongle... but there's a lot of smoother fluff in there, too. Even "classic" electronic music (ie: Tangerine Dream) is lacking, for my recent tastes. Too many sampled sounds. Too much piano. (Ewww, piano.)

So where do I turn?

I get the most enjoyment out of--believe it or not--my "samples" directory. This is a collection I've made over the years, during my gear-lust phases, of recordings of synthesizers. Usually raw. ...Just folks fiddling with presets or showing off cool patches.

This is, of course, less "musical" than... well... music. Thus, I can't listen to this stuff all the time. ...though I've been tempted!

There are a few albums that scratch the itch. Depeche Mode's "Playing the Angel" fits the bill, for example. Nine Inch Nails, though guitar-heavy, seems to satisfy thanks to its dark, overdriven pseudo-electronic sound.

I also listen to my own music, despite it's flaws. ...And as I do, I find myself drawn to changing it: making it more simply electronic. Opening up the filters. Whipping out impOSCar. Throwing on the overdrive filter. Removing some notes. Compressing the beat.

We'll see where this leads.

Now playing: The Sinner in Me, by Depeche Mode. Yum.


I've long had a strange infatuation with Cornell. In fact, when I was still a Linguistics student at U-Mass, I started looking into graduate programs... Cornell topped my list then (along with Berkeley, UCSD and U-Penn). I talked to my "mentor" professor at the time, asking him what he thought of their programs. He told me to go to Berkeley, period. In fact, he specifically steered me away from Cornell, saying that their linguistics program was "in really bad shape". But that made me want to go there even more: I like to fix things. (But looking at it now, there's little there to interest me: just a small "Phonetics Group".)

What drew me to Cornell? The beauty, of course. The size (it's big). The prestige: it's not a Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford class school, but it's well-respected. A lot of research comes out of Cornell. But, I think more than anything else, it's the epitome of a "college town".

I would love to study animal behavior. ("Chemical Ecology"? I'm there.)

The Art department has a nice website, and they have a concentration in "Electronic Imaging", as well as photography and sculpture... best of all, they allow a "dual-degree": basically a double-major with an adviser. I'd do that.

They have a relatively small music program. Bummer.

Biochem at Cornell appears to be graduate-only, but their research includes signal transduction, cell motility, and a whole lot more in that area. I could dig that (eventually). They also have Cell Biology (and Genetics), but nothing there stirred me.

Their CS department seems decent (I worked with a programmer who studied here; she was quite good). "E
lectives in artificial intelligence, computer graphics, computer vision, databases, [and] multimedia ... are also possible." I could dig it.

Overall, I think I still like Cornell, but I'm somewhat less wowed by it than I have been of other universities. That said, I think it's a microcosm I could really enjoy, if I were there.

No Masters Degree for Moi

Today, I found out that the online degree program at CSU that I was looking at doing does, in fact, require a Bachelor's degree to be accepted.

I don't have one.

I can't get in.

This made me slightly sad, and my grand scheme of getting a Masters there and a Doctorate here in NM has gone away. ...I think I'll fall back onto my idea of working at a University, rather than teaching at one. I realize this was not an ideal position for a good friend of mine [waves at Victor], but I'm being a bit block-headed about it: I think it's something I would a) be really good at, b) really enjoy, and c) make a good contribution to.

That said, I am really enjoying my current job, and so I don't plan on running away anytime soon. Specifically, I've picked up a few really big, really cool projects. ...And even though I can't get a degree from CSU, I can still take the courses. Today, I showed the program to my geek co-workers, and all of them were very serious about doing it themselves. I think it would be enjoyable if all seven (!) of us did the same track of classes.

I'm continuing to look at colleges, and continuing to focus on the undergraduate offerings. ...So when I do start seriously looking for a job, I'll know where to look. ; ) (And, hey, if I have to start with a Bachelor's, then that's what I should be looking at, right?)

Anyway. Drag. But I had a honey-bun and a bottle of orange soda, and I'm getting over it. : D

The UW

My first exposure to the UW (yes, that's what they call it, the UW) was back when I was at Texterity. We were doing some kind of format-recognition system, and we worked in conjunction with staff from the UW. ...It didn't go well, and we abandoned that in lieu of a system developed in-house (and we hired staff to do it).

Thus, my confidence in their CS department is less than optimal. : )

I like their selection of majors. A few really cool concepts in there that I haven't seen elsewhere. What I don't like (at all) is that they don't have a CS department per se, but instead have two programs: Applied Mathematics and CS&E. Applied Mathematics is perhaps the least interesting form of software engineering for me, and Engineering doesn't whet my appetite, either. ...But digging around, I see that the CS&E actually contains a couple of interesting research branches:

The Art program doesn't have a Computer Graphics focus, but does have reasonably-sized focuses in Painting and Drawing, Sculpture, and Photography, along with some others I'd be less interested in. I notice more overtly sexual themes in their art examples than at other Universities.

They have what appears to be a very tiny undergraduate biochemistry major. Oh well: the graduate program seems quite robust. None of the focuses made me jump out of my seat, but it seemed to be a decent mix. The program does have two Nobel laureates on staff (and another past-student), so they do seem to be pretty serious. ; ) They also have a PhD program in Neurobiology and Behavior, which has a focus on endocrinology.

The UW has a sizable Linguistics department too. A good mix of focuses there. One of their faculty (though he's listed as a "visiting assistant professor") is into NLP, which is something I would get into if I were there for CS work.

They have a huge Music department.

All in all, I certainly wouldn't mind being here, though I suppose I'm less excited about it than I expected to be.