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Oct. 29th, 2009 @ 04:52 am big sea
Current Music: 張雨生(Tom Chang) - 大海(Ocean)
Tags: ,
I am under the weather.

And what do I do when I'm under the weather? I translate sappy Taiwanese Mandopop.

From the sea's distant shore
Fading gently you go
Your face was so blurred
Now it's clear to me, oh

Would I say it, I should
But how could I, I don't know
So it under my heart now goes

(Repeat from here after end.)

Walking shoreside, I try
Watching waves ebb and flow
To remember each crest,
but it's futile, I know

Would that "I love you so"
scatter where the wind should blow?
Then I look back
Where are you now?


If the ocean could bring
Back our love from before
Then I would wait a lifetime more
If nostalgia you've none
Of our passion gone by
Then the wind should drift it high!

If the ocean could bring
'way this awful feeling
Like each river and every stream
All the pain that I've felt
All the tears that I've shed
And my love
Please take it away

This translation, like all translations, is an interpretation. Meaning was unavoidably lost. Verse order occasionally had to be arranged for the sake of having each stanza make grammatical sense. Some prettiness had to be cut to enforce the syllable limit (Mandarin being a far more concise language than English in many respects).


  • Same meter.
  • Singable. (Can be sung in unison with the original performance without sounding like a complete buffoon. A minimum of overemphasized conjunctions and prepositions, key changes in the middle of words, putting the ac-CENT on the wrong syl-LA-ble, etc.)
  • Preserve rhyming scheme.
  • x Natural-sounding English.
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Sep. 25th, 2009 @ 03:44 am we're going to big rock candy mountain, charlie
Current Location: on the way to big rock candy mountain
Current Music: Harry McClintock - Big Rock Candy Mountain
Tags: ,
I was doing my usual Wikipedia crawl today, and I discovered this song, written by hobos sometime in the late 1920s and popularized by Harry "Haywire Mac" Clintock, professional country singer and hobo himself.

This song. (The animation is obviously much more recent.)

This song.

This Candy Mountain.


Anyway, I really like this song. It reminds me of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry Be Happy" in that it sounds really sweet and innocent to a child but heartbreakingly sad to an adult.
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Sep. 20th, 2009 @ 12:30 am americanizing beatmania
Current Music: Becca - I'm Alive!!
Tags: , ,
How do you improve upon a classic? Turn it into a business model, apparently! Social gaming site OMGPOP ported Konami's popular arcade rhythm game Beatmania to Flash, gave it a slick chrome interface, made it free, and bought the rights to a whole bunch of real music videos. When you complete a song, a brief ad plays and you are encouraged to buy the artist's music. The result, Hit Machine, looks like the bastard lovechild of iTunes and Rock Band, and is easy to pick up and fun to play. The concept is simple but the execution is solid--my only complaint is that on laptop keyboards that do not allow more than two simultaneous keyboard presses (like mine), it is literally impossible to get over 90% for some of the songs on Hard difficulty. Which is a shame, because Hard is fun.

What's really great about this project is that as slickly corporate and mainstream as it is, it can't afford to get rights for the big-name artists you would associate with such an endeavor--no Justin Timberlake or Miley Cyrus or Black Eyed Peas. Hence, an emphasis on cult (but still mainstream) artists: underground hip-hop legend Matisyahu, longtime electronica staple Crystal Method, Christian crunk band (!) Family Force Five, and OMG Dahler Fucking Mehndi all have songs on the site.

What particularly got my attention is that one of the most prominently featured artists is Becca--just Becca, no surname. Becca is one of those odd curiosities of American music, an aspiring pop-punk starlet who after years of unsuccessfully trying to make it big in her home country got picked up by a major record label and became a hit in Japan. (Fans call her "Becca-chan," which for some reason I find really, really funny.) Her debut single, "I'm Alive!!," is extremely cheesy and makes her sound like a gaijin-kawaii'd up Avril Lavigne, and has lyrics that sound like they were written to sound cool translated into Japanese. But apparently it was popular enough to be used as the theme song for some anime, and, well, it does seem like she's making waves over there. Becca is still trying to break into the American market, though. I first heard of her at a big fancy booth in the dealer's hall at Otakon this summer, where she was promoting her new album (produced by Meredith Brooks!) and holding a Sharpie, presumably to autograph things. Turns out that the one American demographic likely to have heard of her--anime fans--didn't even care. Every time I passed by the booth she was just sitting there bored and alone, and everyone was just passing her by, not even stopping to watch the high-budget music video of "I'm Alive!!" blaring from the monitors around her. Poor Becca. Someday she will come back to Otakon and be mobbed by throngs of drooling perverts--but, not quite yet.

Beatmania, despite its popularity in Japan, is not particularly well-known in America either. It's rather appropriate that OMGPOP is trying its best to promote her--from America, to Japan, trying to find their way in America again.

Hmm...OMGPOP is located in New York. I wonder if they're hiring developers.
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Sep. 18th, 2009 @ 03:48 am how computers say hello
Current Music: CANYON.MID
Tags: ,
virt, legendary video game remixer and founder of vgmix.com, has done a remix of canyon.mid.

If you know what this is, you can probably understand why I am omgwtfroflmao.

On a related note, Music Thing has done a feature called "The Tiny Music Makers," on the little, instantly recognizable sounds that define our life with technology: THX's "Deep Note," the Apple boot sound, the Windows 95 startup sound (composed by Brian Eno!), and the Intel Inside jingle. These are sounds that everyone takes for granted, yet have become so deeply ingrained in our everyday lives that they have crossed over from the domain of music into the domain of language.

(Anyone remember the gag from WALL-E in which the Apple boot sound plays when Wall-E wakes up in the morning?)

I listened to the Microsoft Sound today. Like Pavlov's bell, it gave me a brief shock of anxiety, and a thought somewhat akin to "omg please don't crash on boot."

(Edit: Also by virt: this is the most obscene midi file I have ever heard. omg.)
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Sep. 5th, 2009 @ 03:46 am mario kart love song
Current Music: Sam Hart - Mario Kart Love Song

The punchline is that this song is actually beautiful.
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Sep. 5th, 2009 @ 03:42 am 32 songs in 8 minutes

What can I say. The guy knows his audience.
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Aug. 29th, 2009 @ 11:22 pm massively multiplayer nerdgasm apocalypse
Current Music: The Guild - Do You Wanna Date My Avatar



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Aug. 25th, 2009 @ 03:36 am speaking in dance
Tags: ,
Thing of the moment: Interpretations of popular music in American Sign Language. You don't have to be deaf to appreciate how beautiful and expressive this language can be.

Rufus Wainwright's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

Jonathan Coulton's "Blue Sunny Day." (Yes, he's done Coulton's "Still Alive" too.)

Same guy doing Nickel Creek's "The Lighthouse's Tale."

Duet of Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat's "Lucky!" I love how their "voices" are so different.

Adele's "Right As Rain." A natural performer!

It has occurred to me that I listen to a lot of music in languages I don't understand...
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Aug. 25th, 2009 @ 01:32 am fucking soviets shot a dog into space
Current Mood: sentimental
Current Music: Jonathan Coulton - A Space Doggity
Turkey pot pie has never tasted so good. :)

Unrelatedly, Jonathan Coulton's A Space Doggity, a tribute to David Bowie's "A Space Oddity" and the first dog in space, is the second saddest song about a dog I've ever heard. (The saddest, of course, is My First Friend. Dr. Mario, whyyyyy? ;_;) I'm not a dog person but even I couldn't help but be moved by this. Worth a listen.

On the subject of dogs and mortality, here's an extremely emotionally manipulative short film (11min) about both:

Awww, Japanese people. Why aren't there more of you.
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Jul. 27th, 2009 @ 01:14 am attack of the sound robots
Current Music: Plain White T's - Hey There Delilah
Those of you who have done recording before may be familiar with Auto-Tune, known more generically as automatic pitch correction. Auto-Tune is not a recording tool, it is a crime against music.

That may sound hypocritical coming from someone who loves mashups and is an avid fan of the Vocaloid synth-vocal software, but bear with me here.

The issue I have with Auto-Tune is not the technology itself but how the recording industry uses it. While it can be used for artistic effect, as any Daft Punk fan is well aware, in the record industry it is overwhelmingly used to give perfect pitch to professional musicians who cannot sing. With this technology, anyone--you, me, a drunken hobo with laryngitis--can hit any note, follow any beat, and match any tune. Applied poorly, it produces a cringeworthy vocoder-like effect and makes you sound more like a synthesizer than a human--which lots of hip-hop producers pretend to do on purpose; it's the old lazy artist's trick of applying a quick, ugly fix and claiming it was intentional. (I wonder if anyone would actually recognize T-Pain's normal speaking voice?) Applied well, it actually sounds convincingly human, with one minor caveat--to hide the effects of the pitch shift, every last bit of nuance, soul, or personality in the singer's voice must be drowned out or polished away. (Not that that's a problem in East Asia and much of Europe, especially among producers who see music as little more than a series of frequencies for waveforms to hit, like colored bars in a Rock Band game.)

Now I don't mind this technology being applied where it's appropriate--I mean, so much of techno music is synthesized anyway that vocals actually work better when there's some kind of vocoder involved. In the hard-rock sound of some of Britney's more recent hits I admit it kind of works; given the trainwreck her personal life has been recently I can understand the decision to edit some of the humanity out of her music. But in folk music? Soft, gentle, "unplugged"-sounding acoustic guitar music? Absolutely unforgivable. In that genre, the texture of the singer's voice is the music! Take that out, and what you are left with is mere karaoke. Auto-Tuning a skilled screamer, rasper, or crooner is like dumping half a bottle of ketchup on a porterhouse steak because it's not salty enough.

There are two versions of the Plain White T's "Hey There Delilah" out there. The first is a lo-fi recording, and is admittedly not that great. The second was done in a real recording studio, and is absolutely beautiful--it would be one of my favorite recordings, ever, if not for one tiny bit where Tom Higgenson is straining to reach one note, the one that he gets to just before singing "planes and cars," and suddenly it sounds like he's being eaten by robots. This aggravates me, I admit, only because I've heard the first recording, in which that part was the most emotionally resonant of the song. In the first recording, Higgenson strains to reach that note, and just barely falls short--and the effect is powerful and resonant and deeply, deeply sad. You know Higgenson's narrator is making promises he doesn't know he can keep--you can tell that just from Higgenson's too-anxious-to-be-reassuring delivery--but that tiny moment of imperfection, that part where he soars ambitiously to hit that one point and just narrowly misses, and his voice cracks, is when he really drives the uncertainty of his message home. That one moment carries so much of the emotional resonance of the song, all that love and anxiety and hope and concern from a young man who has nothing promising everything to his beloved; everything else in the song builds up to that one point. I'm not going to lie--it moved me almost to tears the first time I heard it. It struck too much of a chord with me.

In the second recording of "Hey There Delilah," after a spellbinding two minutes of leaf-crisp guitar notes and rich, impassioned singing (I am not opposed to audio editing when it brings out the best qualities of the original performance), Higgenson hits the note. And that wouldn't be such a big deal, if not for the fact that you can hear the telltale synthesized warble of Auto-Tune while he's hitting the note. This one little change dramatically changes the meaning of the song. The first recording says, "Girl, I'm going to make this work. Somehow. I don't know how, but I will. Someday I'll give you the world, but right now all I've got is my guitar, this shitty microphone, and a heart full of dreams." The second recording says, "Skynet has seized control of the music industry! RUN AWAY!!"

I sometimes wonder if pop stars even bother singing anymore. They'd achieve the same effect by speaking in a monotone and letting the pitch algorithms do the singing for them. Producers think we're stupid enough to not notice that Kanye's voice only does that weird warble when he would have to hit a note too high or too low outside his range. Sadly, we do notice--we just don't care anymore. Auto-Tune is singlehandedly responsible for bringing us the Backstreet Boys, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Ashlee Simpson, Hannah Montana, and twenty years of lip-syncing marionettes who anyone who's sat close enough to the stage during a live concert knows can't actually sing. I sometimes wonder why people were so appalled when that terrible Microsoft Songsmith commercial came out, because, frankly, that's the way it's done in the big leagues these days. So much of mainstream music is done in production that I wonder why the mainstream record industry even bothers having vocalists anymore. Or instrumentalists, for that matter. Lower cost, higher profit margin!

You know who couldn't hit a note to save his life? Jimmy Scott. And yet, he had one of the most amazingly, heartrendingly expressive voices in American music. Not in spite of, but because of it. Given a choice between perfect pitch and that kind of soul...I'd go with soul, any day.

I have to admit, however, that Auto-Tune does have its redeeming qualities. Like its ability to make news broadcasts more entertaining!

And even I will admit that this Auto-Tuned treatment of the Slap Chop infomercial is fantastic:

Your'e gonna love his nuts!

Speaking of...back in 2007, stand-up comedian and former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins raised a small stir when he denigrated the entire techno genre's credibility in his act:

Two years later, DJ Steve Porter, the guy who did the Rap Chop mix, Auto-Tuned Rollins's sarcastic drum machine beatbox, mixed in some choreography from Internet darling the Techno Viking, and made this:

Oooh, burn. Reverse satire!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm only okay with Auto-Tune when it's completely fucking ridiculous. :D
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