Tag Archives: amplified observations

Amplified Observations: Music might soon require us to become listeners, readers and viewers at the same time


Stephen King has hypothesized that his readers do not return to him for action but rather for a voice.

Artists, whether musical, visual or literary, function like a font that surfaces from underground streams of individualized and undiluted ideas. The clearest examples of these distinct voices also happen to be the easiest to name: Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Shakespeare, Richard Wagner, Bob Dylan, Jane Austen and Langston Hughes.

Despite some great artists focused solely only one type of artistic expression, others have expanded their voices into other mediums to present more comprehensive works that speak to the eyes, the ears and the psyche.

In 1849, Richard Wagner popularized a German aesthetic term called “Gesamtkunstwerk,” which translates to “total work of art” or “comprehensive artwork.” The phrase looked to blur the lines between different mediums and artistic tasks into one conceptual statement made up of all its parts.

The idea continues to float underneath the brim of pop culture with Jack-of-all-tradesmen like Phil Spector, Bob Dylan, who paired his music with his paintings, and David Bowie, whose final work Blackstar included an off-Broadway play titled “Lazarus” after one of the album’s songs. In every way, Bowie’s last release followed the carte blanche, combinative tradition Wagner pioneered in his operas.

In the present age of digital storage, more and more artists have released visual compositions about the creation of their albums or as a companion piece, such as artists like NothingMGMT and recently Flying Lotus. Musicians are no longer one-dimensional in their expression, and technology has facilitated their access to honing and mastering mediums other than their primary one.

Perhaps the two releases that have most mirrored Wagner’s method are Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Both 2016 albums arrived with visual stories interlinked with the music rather than added as an extra feature. At the same time, Ocean also published a magazine called “Boys Don’t Cry” featuring an explanatory project details and a silly, witty poem by Kanye West. 

Regardless of the quality of the albums, their use of mixed media, including print, is unprecedented in their professionalism and personally-crafted sheen. But full-length album films are not the only way to expand on an album’s meaning. Artists include things in releases that are often overlooked.

On my wall hangs a poster that came with the vinyl for Archy Marshall’s moody hip-hop album A New Place 2 Drown. Although the poster is only made up of different patterns of black and white lines and the album’s name, it provides another object to contemplate the deeper feelings behind abstract sounds. It gives the album a visual backdrop.

Prior to dropping the group’s ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead sent cryptic postcards to its mailing list complete with appropriately-paranoid lyrics and a painting related to the album.

A gesture as simple as a poster or postcard that differs from the album’s mandatory cover artwork can give listeners a better idea of which stream of human emotion the artist filled his or her canteen.

An artistic concept should not be confined to one area of expertise but rather allowed to flourish in many different forms. Artists are moving forward in releasing more comprehensive works from the viewpoint of music rather than the traditional mixed medium of film.

And as long as the voice remains strong and present throughout the work, the listeners, readers and viewers will always return for more. And more and more, those three separate labels of consumption apply to one person engaged with one work of art.

Amplified Observations: Searching for a song by melody sends listeners on an unexpected quest


At a time when the answer to our most biting questions rests as near as the stitched denim of a jean pocket, few mysteries go unsolved. Smartphones have become an indispensable resource in daily life, ushering in a new approach to problem solving.

And when it comes to identifying music, an area of knowledge that once relied on sharp attention and wide familiarity, the challenge has now been reduced to simply opening apps like Genius or Shazam. Punch in a few words echoing around in your head or let Siri take a brief listen and in seconds you will arrive at an instantaneous answer. The power to decipher anything in earshot is a luxury exclusive to the 21st century. Could you imagine having to learn the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Chopin off top?

But limits to this technology exist. For instance, what happens when a bliss-inducing song ends and exists only in the mind’s eye, or rather, ear?

Until tech developers start drilling into our noggins and implanting devices that recognize tunes based on thought, some mysteries will remain. A bluesy riff, a spiraling vocal melody, a crisp drum fill or an arresting chord sequence might stay shrouded in uncertainty, so much uncertainty that you might question if you heard it all in the first place.

Simultaneously, these unrecognizable fragments lodged into the abstract parts of our brains tend to hold the most value because they succeed in causing listeners to retain them. Passing through the hammer, anvil and stirrup, the strength of imprinted melodies, playing, delivery and even theory sticks in the mind for a reason. The decisions the musicians made worked and resonated despite embodying an enigmatic presence.

The journey to uncovering these evasive song titles is one of the last remnants from an era prior to the silver spoons and resources of today. Not only does identifying an unknown song deliver a feeling of sleuth-like satisfaction, but the labor leading to the discovery opens doors to more newfound artists and styles. An odd jazz song leads to finding bossa nova. A sample in modern hip-hop gestures back to ’70s funk bands. With enough in mind, it only takes a bit of research and legwork to reach an entirely new realm of creativity in the shadow of popularity.

Not to mention, this search changes the role of the listener from passive to active. To locate a song from memory requires listeners to ask him or herself what made the song so memorable in the first place? What sections or features stood out? Who does this sound like, if anyone? Why do I like this?

Maybe innovators in the 22nd century will find a way to identify songs straight from memory and take away any trace of human error. But for now, music’s mystery and magic still floats around in the subconscious awaiting the eventual moment of clarity and reemergence.

Amplified Observations: Bob Dylan cautious of media in acceptance of Nobel Prize


The wind stopped blowing and we finally got an answer.

Following two long weeks of speculative silence, Bob Dylan acknowledged his Nobel Prize for Literature on Saturday in an interview with The Telegraph.

He is quoted saying he would “absolutely” accept the award “if it is at all possible.” Had he not, Dylan would have been the first to turn down the prize since Jean Paul Sartre in 1964 who did not want to be made into an “institution.”

Prior to Dylan’s acceptance, hundreds of news articles and think-pieces invaded everyone’s social feed and occupied several niches of the press: music, celebrity and the almighty cold case. Why isn’t he talking and what will he say?

Sure enough, in Dylan’s long-developed mannerisms, he let the public and press sweat for a bit with his thumb and index figure on society’s air-conditioner’s knob. Dylan has long been wary of acknowledging the sacred cows of civilized culture, including time-honored awards.

Perhaps his extended reticence also emerged as a reaction to the firestorm created by the initial reaction. One party argued Dylan’s selection did not follow the traditions of the Nobel Prizes in Literature, which include William Faulkner, Gabriel García Márquez and Hermann Hesse. The other argued for the songwriter’s cultural contributions through his lyrics and themes (even though Dylan is no Hesse).

I fall into the latter camp and I guess so do the Swedish people on the prize’s board.

Over his half-century career, Dylan has remained wary of public attraction toward publicity stunts and ratings-magnets. The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature might have been awarded earnestly, or possibly with an angle. Either way, Dylan let the medal cool down before reaching out for it.

But along with avoiding controversy, Dylan also caused “irritation and anger” among the selection committee. Perhaps he reminded them of the emptiness in their validation of him, which could have meant more to someone whose message had not yet been received clearly by the public.

To accept an award of elite validation is to give power to the validators, which is ultimately a personal choice. Dylan eventually accepted the award, but only after exposing the hollowness and vanity of the whole process.

And aside from a knighting by the Queen, music honors only look to confirm or validate what an artist already knew, especially one around as long as Dylan. The only one that seems honest in judging quality and innovation is the Mercury Prize.

With his silence, Bob Dylan intentionally or unintentionally showed that awards do not make us more human or more real than anyone else. Awards are nice, warm validation, but no one lives in a higher or lower state than anyone else because of them.

Committees and opinions would make it appear so.

Amplified Observations: Why do post-rock bands score so many movies?


Scoring a film is much like capturing it. It takes arrangement and execution.

It’s not an uncommon practice to bolster a film’s visuals with a barrage of orchestral strings and powerful brass. A good film score increases tension and targets emotion, feats that grandiose classical ensembles easily achieve.

But for some directors, violins are not enough. Several famed filmmakers have strayed from the Hans Zimmers and Danny Elfmans of the world in favor of a less conventional sound: post-rock.

Columnist Luke Furman argues how despite going through changes of sound and subjects, folk has retained its original intention and purpose.

Post-rock, a mostly instrumental rock derivative that focuses on creating longer, more complex compositions than traditional rock, works in a similar fashion to classical film scores. Both take time to establish fine-tuned textures, build suspense, convey intensity or triumph and both sound amazingly rich at loud volumes.

One of the most popular post-rock bands, Explosions in the Sky, scored two critically successful Peter Berg films: Friday Night Lights (2004) and Lone Survivor (2013). Berg described the appeal of the band as having “an emotional, tender quality to their music, even when it gets aggressive.” In addition to these, the quartet also crafted soundtracks to Prince Avalanche (2013) starring Paul Rudd and Manglehorn (2014) starring Al Pacino. But they are hardly the only band of this style to cash in on this art form with dual film and soundtrack revenues.

The films Moneyball (2011) and Room (2015) both feature “The Mighty Rio Grande,” an 11 minute wordless ode by Texas post-rock band This Will Destroy YouMoneyball almost uses it to a point of motif. The band also lent its song “Villa Del Refugio” to the Brad Pitt zombie thriller World War Z (2013).

Scottish genre band Mogwai scored Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (2006) and the French TV show known in America as The Returned. And even further back, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s song “East Hastings” appeared in Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic 28 Days Later in 2003, which might have even set the precedent for the use of post-rock in place of traditional scores.

Boyle told The Guardian he used Godspeed’s album F#A# Infinity as inspiration for the atmosphere of the film, saying “The whole film was cut to Godspeed in my head.”

So whether it’s stirring moodiness or feelings buried underneath layers of reverb, something about post-rock makes for a perfect complement to any tense or meaningful film sequence. It’s what Beethoven or Bach might have made if they had some effects pedals and rolling papers lying around the house.

And ultimately, when two passion-driven art forms like film and post-rock collide, something memorable is bound to emerge in its radiating aftermath.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Can you think of another movie with a great post-rock soundtrack? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.

Amplified Observations: Folk music has changed over the years, but its message stays the same


Behind all folk, there is a clear message.

Unlike other music styles more focused on aesthetics and instrumentation, folk’s highest goal is to offer stark truths and sharp criticisms about the society in which we all live.

Stemming from the precedents set by traditional folk music, contemporary folk continuously acts as vehicle for social and political commentary since its inception in the late ’50s and early ’60s. And much like its precursor, it is still performed by the sensible working class, the downtrodden and those who want their non-conformist voices to be heard.

Contemporary folk’s simplistic sound comes from taking time-tested chord progressions and rustic timbres — such as the guitar, the banjo, the harmonica and the mandolin — and infusing them with new commentary about how the folk artist wishes to see change in the world.

Many of the 20th century folk revivalists, alongside their own compositions, covered traditional folk songs for their new audiences like “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “Oh! Susanna” and “Joe Hill.”

Naturally, the context of their songs change with the era they’re played in, and the times they were a changin’.

Columnist Luke Furman discusses how rhythm guitarists and other support roles are often overlooked, despite playing a crucial part in binding an act’s sound together.

Following the initial wave of artists who established contemporary folk, Bob Dylan turned the movement on its head when he incorporated electric guitar in 1965 much to the dismay of other folk musicians, including Pete Seeger. However, the songs he produced with electric instruments, including “Maggie’s Farm,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” became classics, dismantling the perception of how true folk must be played. But it would not be the last major change that would befall the music.

After going electric, many sub-genres and derivatives emerged from the folk revival such as folk rock, folk punk (e.g. The Pogues) and later on freak folkpsych folk and indie folkone of the most pleasant genres.

In the new millennium, folk singers started to introduce modern technology and life into into their lyrics. Artists like Father John Misty, Bright Eyes and Bon Iver have adopted a modern angle to folk, referencing topics like email repliesprescription drug abuseGeorge BushJean-Paul Sartre and online friends.

However, folk’s original working class subversion is still present in these newer works as each one of these artists criticize modern politics or society, in one fashion or another. They also manage to craft their songs in a fairly self-aware way that often adds an extra layer of sarcasm and irony to their music, especially with Father John Misty and Kurt Vile.

With such a wide array of musical arrangements and subjects to pick from, today’s folk artists might have the most freedom to create a unique sound, as opposed to an acoustic guitar and 4/4 drumming.

This is because, at its roots, folk is really about what’s being said and less about how. Something as simple and abrasive as a Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains song is just as much folk as something as complex and lush as a Fleet Foxes tune. They look to accomplish the same goal of transferring relatable truths backed only by a steady beat beneath some bluesy strings.

Having a huge back-catalog to take inspiration from can only produce a better future for folk music, especially since that catalog stretches back long before Lincoln took office. So, although the means might change, the spirit of folk ultimately remains the same: meaningful, subversive and honest.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. What’s your favorite folk song? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.

Amplified Observations: Rhythm guitarists are the unsung heroes of rock music


How can you expect a house to stand without its foundation? You really can’t. The same principle applies to the process of songwriting and the role of the rhythm guitarist.

Without a foundation from a solid chord sequence, even if it’s expressed in secret, there wouldn’t be anything to guide a song’s progression and anchor down all its fluttering melodies. If a song lacks this necessary structure for the creation of riffs and repetition, it might not hold up as well as others that do. When those hurricane force winds of criticism descend upon it, hopefully it has enough support to not topple over onto its neighbor’s fence.

Naturally, the purest example of assuring chord structure is bolstered belongs to the role of the rhythm guitarist. Whether it’s a designated band role or simply a playing style, rhythm guitarists almost exclusively strum the song’s unabridged chord progression behind the lead guitarists’ melodies and the bassist’s often-wavering undercurrents. For this reason, they act as a crucial part of an artist or act’s intended sound, unless the intended sound is something unusually sparse along the lines ofPete Seeger.

But this musical role is also a loveless one.

Columnist Luke Furman discusses what characteristics to look for to gauge the quality or illusion of quality music holds.

If you don’t think so, then how many rhythm guitarists can you name? And, hard mode, how many rhythm guitarist can you name who are not also lead singers? For reference, that eliminates Chuck Berry, George Harrison, Joan Jett, Glenn Frey, Bob Marley and Dave Grohl.

So, unless they’re in an über-famous group or contribute vocals, sole rhythm guitarists’ names seldomly rise to prominence of the household variety. But that’s not their fault.

Their role allows them to fill in the frequency gaps between the bass, drums and leads, which is important enough that it doesn’t require conscious recognition. Perhaps it is then the most selfless role in music.

Some rhythm guitarists who have achieved fame of their own include Keith Richards, whose rhythmic playing functions doubly as a lead, Izzy Stradlin of Guns ‘N’ Roses and Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, but the majority of solely rhythm guitarists remain unsung for their seemingly passive contributions whether live or in the studio.

Keyboardists, whose support role serves a similar, if not the same, purpose of providing dense structural padding, share an equal level of anonymity. Except for legendary players such as Ray Manzarek of The Doors and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, along with the previous examples, musicians in sound-spectrum support roles seem to pass by unnoticed and unthanked.

But ultimately, fame doesn’t really matter as long as you’re doing your job.

Without the sonic layering rhythm guitar provides, we might not become as immersed in the textures and timbres of songs as we so often do. The importance of the role essentially boils down to one of those cases where, in the words of 80s glam-metal band Cinderella, you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

So to all the rhythm guitarists out there, I thank you for your work. You keep a lot of houses from crumbling into ruin.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you have a favorite rhythm guitarist? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.

Amplified Observations: Sirius XM delivers an optimal driving experience worth the cost


When semester breaks roll around, I always look forward to the long drive back home to Pennsylvania mainly for two reasons.

One is that I get to take in the rustic Appalachian landscape and the other is that my parents’ car has Sirius XM. Oh and I like to see my parents, too, so I guess that’s three reasons then.

But aside from the two givens, having Sirius XM for roadtripping or just driving in general vastly improves the whole experience.

Formed from a 2008 merger between Sirius and XM, the commercial-free satellite radio service provides a diverse selection of high quality music including several channels surprisingly dedicated to niche genres and deep cuts almost never played on FM radio. Their channel 27 is even called “Deep Tracks” for that sole purpose.

Many Sirius XM channels tend to be narrowly focused on specific eras or sounds of music rather than the umbrella terms of “classic rock,” “alternative rock” or “rap.” For example, a channel called “The Bridge”  focuses on mellow 70s rock and folk acts like James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon and an assortment of the likes. This one usually stays on if my dad is in the car.

Classic rock is also divided between 60s and 70s on “Classic Vinyl” and the later stuff on “Classic Rewind,” giving listeners the freedom to choose.

Columnist Luke Furman determines whether Jim Morrison’s poetry could get an A in a high school English class or if it would come up short.

Conversely, there are also more loosely-focused channels that broadcast a variety of brand new and less established artists. Channel 44, “Hip-Hop Nation” is on rap songs nearly as soon as they’re released, and the Eminem-created “Shade 45” features the popular show “Sway In the Morning” on top of uncensored verses.

For all needs indie, “Sirius XMU” and “Alt Nation” play everything working its way through the music blogs along with some classic indie artists like Yo La Tengo. And for the birth of indie, you can tune to channel 33, “1st Wave,” for some of the earliest alternative/indie rock like R.E.M. and The Smiths.

And apart from being in a tunnel, all of these channels come in crystal clear from a satellite, seasonable to taste with the bass and treble knobs of your car radio.

Of course, like many things, cost is a major downside to Sirius XM. However, if you can shell out an extra $20 a month, it saves paying for data to stream music on-the-go and allows for more song variety than an iPhone can hold. Even so, with options in each style of music in addition to sports, talk, comedy and news, the experience is unmatched by other streaming services, at least while in the car.

For college students stretching every penny, it might not be the best use of money, but it’s nonetheless a great service that might put the subwoofer you bought in high school to good use. And if you can afford it or even have access to a car, then color me jealous.

Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. Do you use Sirius XM? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at lf491413@ohio.edu.