Frank and Robot


Go and see it.

Great track. “Fell On Your Head” by Francis and the Lights.

The point isn’t whether or not he was going to kill himself, it was that he had a moment of lucidity — and he wanted to share that with his kids; and when he was debating whether or not to erase the robots memory it was a realisation that if he did, he was being deleted; a metaphor for his state of being — he wasn’t living, if he couldn’t remember.

January 2013 workout playlist

Here is my current workout playlist. It is a bit of a mix of different styles, mostly hipster kind of  indie/rock and electro of various genres. It is about an hour’s worth.

Also, I finally bought an indoor rowing machine and now I am in the online rankings (currently equal 68th in weight/age group for my first 2km of the year). I am aiming to do a 6:30 2km for 2013.

Name Artist Album
Don’t Save Me Haim Don’t Save Me EP
Broken Leg Bluejuice Head Of The Hawk
End of Days Born Gold Bodysongs
Running Romeo Gypsy & The Cat Gilgamesh
Sweet N Sour MVSCLES Sweet N Sour single
The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance (Chromeo Remix) Vampire Weekend The Kids Don’t Stand A Chance
Can’t Keep Up Bluejuice Company
Material Things Jake Troth
Breakaway Gypsy & The Cat Gilgamesh
Monster Magic Man
Soul Night damian
Do You Will? Bluejuice Company
Lawn Knives Born Gold Bodysongs
Run Vampire Weekend Contra
Decimate Everything Born Gold Bodysongs
Corvette Cassette Slow Magic Triangle
All of Me Tanlines Mixed Emotions
The Mother We Share CHVRCHES The Mother We Share

Marking & Grading Playlist

Here is the playlist I am listening to whilst marking and grading papers.

It is a measure of soothing melancholia and aggressive upbeat tracks, all with a suitable dose of irony:

1. “Be Still” Killers

2. “Best Around” Dana Buoy

3. “Cuntry Boys & City Girls” The Fratellis

4. “Stress” Justice (I am pretty sure this is designed to make the listener feel stressed)

5. “Out of the Blue” Julian Casablancas

6. “Stay Awake” Example

7. “I Get Wet” Andrew W.K.

8. “Fail Epic” The Presets

9. “Burn Bridges” The Grates (I like this clip, has a bloke on a treadmill)

10. “This Too Shall Pass” Ok GO (official Rube Goldberg Machine version, good way to pass 5min or so)

In sickness and in health

I’ve stopped smoking and my body is in revolt. I googled “can i do exercise when I have the flu” this morning. Because it is my lungs, apparently I am not meant to exercise. I still did 20 minutes on the bike, however. I’ll probably go for a walk later.

Instead, I’ve been looking for new gym music. I really like having a certain kind of music as a soundtrack when at the gym, mostly it involves positive affects.

Here is my current gym playlist. The song titles all link to youtube clips, except for the Peaches remix at the end, which links to soundcloud:


Artist Album
Say Nothing (Radio Edit) Example Say Nothing – Single
Down With the Trumpets Rizzle Kicks Stereo Typical
Promises The Presets Pacifica
Photofinnish 3OH!3 Want
Doomsday Nero Welcome Reality
Into the Galaxy Midnight Juggernauts Dystopia
When I Was a Youngster Rizzle Kicks Stereo Typical
212 (feat. Lazy Jay) Azealia Banks 212 (feat. Lazy Jay)
One Day LMFAO Sorry for Party Rocking
Tell ‘Em Sleigh Bells Treats
Emerge Fischerspooner #1
Burst! (Child in Disguise Remix) Peaches Burst! (Remixes)

The Drop as Transversal Element (or data-driven music journalism?)

I’ve been looking for a fun example to push the boundaries of what is possible when doing data-driven journalism in our Online News unit this semester. I used Skrillex in a lecture last year to discuss affect and popular music (Lawrence Grossberg’s work is good on the way affect can be analysed in terms of ‘mattering maps’, but also check out this journal article for a different kind of engagement). Earlier this year someone posted this capture of comments on Skrillex’s Facebook account regarding the quality (or absence) of ‘the drop’:
Mark Richardson at Pitchfork (music site, the bastion of indie music etc) had this to say about Skrillex, his fans and these Facebook comments:

The responses were edited down from hundreds of comments, many of which had Skrillex fans mirroring his praise of the tune. But the reason why it’s funny, and why it’s been passed around so much, is clear: These bass fiends have no ear for electronic music genius. They just want that drop.

So what is ‘the drop’?


Typically, the percussion will pause, often reducing the track to silence, and then resume with more intensity, accompanied by a dominant subbass (often passing portamento through an entire octave or more, as in the audio example). It is very common for the bass to drop at or very close to 55 seconds into the song, due to the fact that 55 seconds is just over 32 measures at the common tempo of 140 bpm.

Or urban dictionary:

The part of a dubstep tune where it gets so incomprehensibly filthy that one cannot fathom – therefore, ones mind explodes.
Person 1: “Yo dude, check out the drop in this banger”
Person 2: “Holy shit dude”

The drop is the when the beat kicks after a duration of anticipatory build up (‘intro’). The relative value of the drop or the intro is often debated (sometimes it is the ‘bounce’ that wins out). Dubstep is also known for the ‘wub’, check out this application of the below-mentioned Echo Nest API, the Wub Machine. The results can be truly horrific:

I downloaded the free iPhone app and created a wub machine dubstep version of the They Might Be Giants’ track “The Bells Are Ringing”. I laughed so hard I almost did rofl.

Skrillex is actually fed up with people talking about ‘the drop’:

Transversal blocks of musicality

What I find fascinating about the discourse of music enthusiasts and fans around ‘the drop’ is that it is largely congruent with popular music discourses at different points in history referring to the ‘swing’, the ‘riff’, the ‘beat’ (as in ‘house’ or ‘break’) and so on. Each of these elements describes a particular block of musicality that is repeated in different ways within specific genres of popular music and within specific scenes (here I am using Will Straw’s influential definition of a scene).

I don’t know what to call these blocks of musicality in general; I am sure that musicologists have a term for it or someone will invent a term. I am thinking about them following Foucault’s concept of the ‘statement’. A ‘statement’ is a kind of singularity in discourse: the distribution of statements in an archive characterises the field of (onto-epistemological) positivity for articulating ‘truth’ in scientific discourses. Although music scholars have pointed out that discursive repetition is different to ‘musematic repetition’ within an individual song, I am describing something else.

The distribution of these blocks of musicality characterises a field of (onto-affective) positivity as a condition of popular musical appreciation. I am not talking about whether or not a track is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but that these blocks of musicality will serve as the affective condition (in the philosophical sense of causality) of musical appreciation. Within genre studies, we’d call the drop a trope of the genre dubstep. I am trying to push it a bit further however, because genre studies is largely concerned with complexities of cultural typologies. What I am interested in is the affective dimensions of these blocks of musicality and how they come to organise listening practices.

The different blocks of musicality have different affective qualities. The drop combines anticipation and a pitch of intensity. Anticipation can have negative affective qualities (dread) and positive (‘excitement’), with popular music associated with the latter. The distribution of the drop as a differentially repeated block of musicality is also a distribution of these affective qualities through the communities of practice (online, clubs, etc.). If this seems like an overly convoluted way of saying that beats are dropped in clubs, you’d be right, but I am not (only) saying that. I am suggesting that ‘the drop’ cuts across music, the bodies of listeners and the discourses of music reception (Pitchfork, or any number of other music appreciation sites).

There is a transversality to these blocks of musicality that transcends a purely musical interpretation of them. What if ‘the drop’ became popular not because of the sonorous dimension of its musicality, but because of the shared (ie social) distribution of anticipation and pitch of intensity felt that moves across a community of listeners? You not only ‘hear’ the drop, to paraphrase Adorno, you ‘hear’ the everyone-else-hearing-it. There is a social dimension of the block of musicality present in every ‘drop’. I could imagine a ‘media archeaology’ of such blocks of musicality, as a way to examine the composition of power relations characterising popular music scenes (as well as Straw’s categories such as nostalgia, etc.). The social dimension of ‘the drop’ is accidently captured in the above quoted Urban Dictionary definition. So beyond academic research, what if you could analyse the character of ‘the drop’ not in strictly musical terms, but in terms of its musical capacity for sociality as a predictor of popularity?

The possibility of data-driven music journalism?

There is UPlaya that carries out an algorithmic analysis of music submitted to compare it to previous ‘hits’ to assess whether or not it fits with its predictions of success based on previous popular music. The big player in parsing music and a great deal of associated material is The Echo Nest API. The Echo Nest is described as a ‘music intelligence platform’ and boasts 5 billion datapoints with 30 million songs and 1.5 million artists. Here is a Slideshare presentation where one of the creators of Echo Nest walks through its creation and the “pitfalls and promise of music data”. One of the more amusing uses of the Echo Nest API is this project called The Pitchfork Effect. The project in itself is very cool. I find it amusing that data analysis tools are being used to analyse the qualitative process of judging music and sound aesthetics (as well as whole range of other issues to do with political economy of music, i.e. ‘indie’ used to mean something beyond an aesthetic/marketing category). But I am thinking of something else.

Say, for example, I wanted to analyse Skrillex’s music and reception through the concept of ‘the drop’. Is an algorithmic analysis of his music tracks possible, in terms of when each track ‘drops’ and the quality of the ‘drop’? Certainly. It would be a question of exploring the relation between the anticipatory build up (‘intro’) and then ‘drop’ when the beat kicks. I’m interested in not only an analysis of the music itself but locate the music in patterns of reception. The question here would be, how does ‘the drop’ ‘drop’ (in communities of music listening practice)? Similar to Skrillex’s computational music producing ‘drops’, this would be a computational music journalism analysing meta-drops. (::diabolical cackle::)

Data could be gathered a number of ways including by way of doing a basic sentiment analysis of online commentary about the quality of the drop or number of ‘plays’ of a given track through online sites such as Last.FM. Combining both sets of data we could look for patterns/correlation between the qualitative reception of the socio-musicological ‘drop’ and the algorithmic analysis of the ‘drop’ as a block of musicality. The thesis could be tested against historical examples of ‘riffs’ and so on using different algorithmic measures for a media archaeology of such transversal ‘blocks of musicality’.

As a start here is the ‘fantracker’ data vis of all activity tracked by Musicmetric: