No matter how succinct or extensive, subjective or objective, accessible or obscure, a survey of music websites would not really be one, without a proper mention of the ALL MUSIC GUIDE. This site, the closest one can get to an actual Internet musical encyclopedia, offers detailed information on a large variety of artists, songs, albums, musical styles, and related information. The website also features ‘Music Maps’, a highly useful tool that provide users with a visualization of related musical styles and influences.
A good alternative/companion to the massive web encyclopedia that is the All Music Guide would be TROUSER PRESS. The New York based rock magazine existed from 1974-84, specializing in a number of sub-genres such as New Wave, British Invasion history, and other progressive, independent label releases. In 1983, the editors of the magazine penned the first of a series of record guides (the Trouser Press Record Guide). Those, including later editions, form the content of this site, which lets you search for an artist, title or keyword, and up comes a handy mini-history.
Considered as an Internet companion-of-sorts to the Rolling Stone music magazine, PITCHFORKMEDIA is an enlightening and highly entertaining independent music news/review site. This Chicago-based resource, launched in 1996 by alternative-rock fan Ryan Schreiber out of his parents’ house near Minneapolis, has nowadays become the most powerful voice among the music media’s exploding new breed of digital tastemakers. Viewed daily by roughly 160,000 music zealots, record store buyers, college radio programmers, label executives, magazine editors and the like, the free site is capable of propelling an independent artist’s career with a single rave. Recent Pitchfork-approved acts such as the Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse and Broken Social Scene will attest to that.
Host to numerous artists from a multitude of musical genres, BRAINWASHED organizes its vast resources along appealing sub-categories: the Brain (containing frequently updated news and reviews), a radio station, links, and last but not least, the Eye (www.brainwashed.com/eye), a series of mini-documentaries between 10 and 40 minutes apiece, containing live clips from concerts and backstage interviews with different groups. The documentaries are hugely compressed so with a fast connection they can be downloaded in a few seconds. The screen, however, is the size of a small matchbox so if you want a better view, compiled DVD’s can be purchased at the commerce section of the site. Custom-made to order and personalized with your name, the first two editions contain concert excerpts and conversations with, among others, Devendra Banhart and Antony & the Johnsons. A personal favorite item from this website is the ‘second worst album’ poll from June ‘06: The Clash’s ‘Give ‘em Enough Rope’, The Strokes’ ‘Room on Fire’, or Interpol’s ‘Antics’?
Not content with being New York City’s most exhaustive and customer-friendly alternative record store, OTHER MUSIC also delivers the goods on its website, with a wealth of record and concert reviews, announcements for in-store events and various gigs, as well as an efficient online purchasing service.
COVERS PROJECT is an enormous database of cover versions. You can search by artist or just browse in the vast artist list that includes everyone from pop siren Olivia Newton-John to jazz/experimental music guru John Zorn. The site aims to create ‘cover chains’, a set of songs which is covered by an artist who has been covered by another artist, who has been… You get the drift.
Anyone still in thrall to the current booming 80’s retro-wave should have a look (and listen) at MASTERMIX. The owner of this site has uploaded a whole raft of mixtapes from that decade. Most interesting among the lot are Hiphop and House mixes, mainly picked up from New York and London radio stations.
Run from London, POLYMORPHIC MUSIC specializes in Techno of the most minimal kind, with laptop composers such as HAL, Si_Comm’s Level and White_Line8 recording and uploading an intelligent range of glitches, beats, and gently melodic tracks. The music is completely accessible to all downloaders (a jukebox link takes you immediately to a browsing palate for a host of artists) and the site is regularly updated.
SELIMSIVAD is a fascinating resource dedicated entirely to the genius of Jazz musician Miles Davis, offering articles, photos, mailing lists, links, obituaries, and even Miles wallpaper and downloadable icons. It encourages stories from the first time you heard Miles, so if you have an epiphany you want to share, contributions are welcome! The site has recently shifted its focus to another Jazz icon, namely saxophone player John Coltrane.
Online journals VAGUE TERRAIN and POINT OF DEPARTURE (www.pointofdeparture.org) are firmly intent on pushing the envelope for experimental music, its ideas and methods. Vague Terrain is a quarterly with ambitions to sync up mind (see its essay topics) and body. And Point of Departure, launched by famous Jazz writer Bill Shoemaker, is dedicated to free jazz and strong opinions. Each issue contains a couple of feature packages with a lengthy CD review section, covering jazz, improvised music, and contemporary music.
SEVEN THINGS I DAREN’T EXPRESS is a Scottish Web based label that aims to provide high quality recordings for download at relatively cheap fees. The content of Seven Things is geared towards the experimental end of contemporary classical music, although it does embrace the opportunities for overlapping with other genres. Among the works made available by the site are live performances by renowned American experimental composer Charlemagne Palestine, Japanese noise group Hijokaidan, and some of the last work of the late French contemporary composer Luc Ferrari. Each download is bundled together with a free file that includes artist interviews and other material by way of an introduction to each subject at hand.
Based in San Francisco, the Other Minds New Music festival has set up an online archive called RADIOM containing recordings of past music festivals and concert productions, recordings of contemporary music contributed by composers from around the world, and 4000 hours of audiotape recordings donated by the KPFA radio station in California. The KPFA archives contain live conversations, interviews, and performances with many of the innovative musicians who created 20th century music.
AMERICAN MAVERICKS is a tremendous, gargantuan archive site, holding all manner of excellent interactive, audible, visible and written content related to contemporary American composers and their music. The ‘Features’ section contains interactive elements: an online version of the ‘Rhythmicon’, a keyboard built in 1931 by Leon Theremin (see below) at the request of composer/theorist Henry Cowell; ‘The Unmixed Question’ lets you enter composer Charles Ives’ head, adapting strategies used in one of his most famous pieces; a rich section on composer Harry Partch lets you play virtual Partch instruments, listen to him explain each of them, and hear musical examples. The site also features rare films and archival footage.
Electronics, sound-poetry, experimental, musique concrète, collage, early industrial and sound sculptures are just some of the stated areas of interest at the Italian site SOUNDOHM. This well-designed site posts a huge list of records and plenty of information on labels and obscure artists. Its Spanish equivalent, ARTESONORO, features MP3 downloads of compositions by a wide range of artists, classical and contemporary alike.
Onwards to Canada; SONUS is an online listening library of electroacoustic works, created and managed by the Canadian electroacoustic community and open to “anyone making creative or exploratory audio with digital or analog technologies – from live electronics to experimental Electronica to audio art to sonic art and beyond.” Toronto-based electronics composer Sarah Peebles contributed her composition Music for Incandescent Events: Sunset – made while watching a sunset through her kitchen window (!) – which later developed into an installation. The audio version of this installation is available to anyone visiting Sonus.
ODDMUSIC is a site dedicated to “anyone interested in unique, unusual, ethnic or experimental music and instruments”. It contains a vast glossary to immerse yourself in, including sound files of instruments like the Aeolian wind harp, the optivideotone, the Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheepee and the Serpentine bassoon, as well as a section featuring an interview with Leon Theremin, the infamous inventor of the theremin himself.
BAGATELLEN is an information-heavy destination. The site contains a great selection of reviews, features and interviews as well as functioning as a discussion group regarding improvised and experimental music of all stripes. A host of musicians from various musical spheres drop in to air their views or contribute their writings to the site.
MICROSOUND is a mailing list dedicated to the discussion of digital and “post-digital” music. It addresses a general digital aesthetic displayed across a wide variety of styles. Microsound.org has become a thriving center of activity, hosting music projects encouraged by list members. Lovingly set up like compilation albums ready to download, these are MP3 lists complete with specially designed covers. Microsound members have access to a server used for raw material to be picked up by participating list members.
CATHEDRAL is an interactive site of music and art designed specifically for the Net, created by media artist Nora Farrell and composer/author William Duckworth. The site contains interactive musical and text-based “experiences”, all focused on five mystical “moments”: “the building”, “the dance”, “the pyramid”, “the bomb” and “the web”. You can watch as shapes unfold and listen to the gentle compositions attached to each moment.
What is sound art? Does music constitute sound art just because it’s in a museum? How is sound art collected? These are just some topics being discussed over at ARTFORUM. Virtual round table discussions are held and feature conversations between art historian Branden Joseph, curators Anthony Huberman and Debra Singer, and sound artists Marina Rosenfeld and Stephen Vitiello, among others. The site is coupled with the New York art center PS1’s Net radio station, wps1.org.
The PS1 Gallery mentioned above is an affiliate of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), and its radio station offers coverage of a wide range of art, music and culture. Content includes one-off broadcasts of live concerts, arts and music news from correspondents across the world, and performances broadcast live from New York’s Bowery Poetry Club, among other assorted goodies. The station also hosts a healthy chunk of archive recordings, including selections from New York MoMa’s tape collection featuring readings by artist Marcel Duchamp, writer William Burroughs, etc.
In the mid-90’s renowned British musician/composer Brian Eno speculated that in the future, children would gasp to their parents: “You actually listen to the same CD many times over?” With that, he predicted a future for music where you never have to hear the same music twice, and where machines would generate sounds controlled by parameters set by the consumer. At New Year 2000, London art commissioners Artangel planted sound artist and musician’s Jem Finer’s LONGPLAYER in the Trinity Buoy Lighthouse, in England. This device is in fact a thousand-year long piece of music, which started to play on 1 January 2000 and will continue to play without repetition for 1000 years.
“What shall we do with 60 seconds? If 60 seconds is all that is left, what shall we do with such a short period of time? How significant can 60 seconds be?” asks Sleepatwork, a collective based in Hong Kong. Created in May 2002, 60 SECONDS is an open project inviting audio and visual artists based around the world to submit a minute’s reflection of time in an instant-turnover, here-today-gone-tomorrow digital culture.
If it is interactive surfing that strikes your fancy, log on to AUDIOSCROBBLER. This server calculates which people are most similar to you, based on shared musical taste, so you can take a look at what your peers are listening to. Many commercial Websites these days, such as Amazon, will build customer profiles, recommending further products based on previous purchases. Audioscrobbler works on the same principle, only it’s not selling anything. The system builds a detailed profile of your musical taste, once you’ve installed the free Audioscrobbler Plugin. It is linked with LAST FM, a radio station which works on the same principle.
In turn, LAST FM links with INSINE. “We are looking forward to listen to your stuff”, announce these enthusiastic folks. Subtitled “The Living Room of Cutting Edge Music”, the site supports what Insine call the “democratization of electronic production”: in other words, an open invitation to people to post ‘stuff’ for public consumption. Go there to download or upload MP3’s, play with virtual sound toys, post to the message board, and subscribe to the mailing list… MP3 DJ’s will appreciate the site’s streaming MP3 mixer unit, which lets you mix together any two of their files.
Amateur musicians and composers should rush to SECTIONZ, where all “bedroom composers” are invited to “learn, review, share, collaborate, and most importantly, be heard”. Though more limited to Techno, the participants there offer up an impressive sonic range. In a similar spirit, some software companies are joining in on the fun: MIXMAN not only provides remixing software, but also space on their site for users to show off their handiwork at MIXMAN RADIO, with sometimes impressive results. Furthermore, PROMOROOM lets record labels themselves feature new tunes and get feedback from DJ’s and fans to figure out if they’ll want to put out a song or not.
If you are a part of the iPod fraternity or own any other similar MP3-playing device, but have become weary of sourcing your own MP3’s manually, Podcasts might be the thing for you. Similar to a blog, only in audio, anyone can create a Podcast, and anyone can download it, listen to it at any time of day anywhere. Websites such as IPODDER, PODCAST and PODCAST ALLEY make the procedure quite easy: you download a software application, subscribe to a Podcasting service that suits your tastes, and sit back and receive programs to your machine automatically as they are produced. A personal favorite is the now-defunct VINYLPODCAST, which featured songs from a collection of out-of-print 45’s and LP’s, mostly concentrating on Rare Groove, soul and folk. Archived Podcasts are still available as downloads, but you might want to hurry…
For regular MP3 downloads, go to MP3IT. It is quite a good site for free MP3’s, and also features live versions, B-sides, etc. EPITONIC (www.epitonic.com) has thousands of MP3’s on offer, all appearing with a short biography and the option to download or stream tracks by each artist. INSOUND is similar to Epitonic, but with a slightly thinner MP3 selection. TONSPION reviews MP3’s from around the Net, with a link to the source page for the file.
To end on a more ‘local’ note, make sure to check out MOOZ RECORDS, home to the brilliantly diverse Lebanese Underground compilation, featuring such luminaries as Soap Kills, Karma, New Government, and Lumi. Also appearing on this compilation of local Lebanese acts is the band Scrambled Eggs, whose own website, http://www.thosekidsmustchoke.com, is definitely worth a peek. Last but not least, graphic artist and writer Mazen Kerbaj’s website, features an impressive catalogue of recordings (available to buy online), made with local and foreign musicians hailing from the Free Jazz and Improv’ music scenes.
for BYBLOS INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL REVIEW