Category Archives: Submissions

Come Back to Erin

I was thrilled to receive another musical submission this week. Paul O’Regan, making music under the name RavenConspiracy, has remixed and reinterpreted a song called ‘Come Back to Erin’, using samples from a hundred year old recording. I asked Paul to write something about what he’s done, so here’s Paul explaining it in his own words.

I chose this song because it I wanted to work with something that connects to Ireland. Although written before 1914, the lyrics of the song could easily be transmuted to a wife or partner waiting at home for a husband or loved one who had joined the British Army in WWI. This version of the song was recorded around 1914 so I thought it would fit in nicely with the centenary of WWI.

Not being a musician in the traditional sense and with no singing voice to speak of I embarked on creating an electronic track using this original recording as a core component. To that end, many of the sounds in my track are sampled from the original. These samples were then sliced, edited and effects added to form various hits, melodies and vocal pieces within the track. After the arrangement was down, I then set about adding automation to effects such as filters, delays, distortion etc. I used a combination of automation envelopes and real-time automation recoding (such as the filter sweeps in the bassline).

The interesting thing about the song ‘Come Back to Erin Mavourneen’ is that it was written by an English balladeer Charlotte Alington Pye Barnard around 1868. The song became synonymous with Ireland for obvious reasons but like ‘It’s A Long Way to Tipperary’ it was not written by an Irish person.

Well done to Paul. It’s great to hear something so unexpected, such radical and imaginative reinterpretation of the source material. I’ve found a nice version of the original sound recording Paul used, and it doesn’t immediately make you think of EDM. I’m really pleased that the enthusiasm for this project is crossing traditional boundaries and mixing disparate genres. If you like what you hear on this track, I recommend you check out RavenConspiracy on Soundcloud.

As Paul said, the song was written by Charlotte Alington Pye Barnard in the 1860s. This English composer, poet and balladeer – who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Claribel’ – also wrote I Cannot Sing The Old Songs, which I covered myself for this project a few months ago.

This version of ‘Come Back to Erin’ on YouTube features an original Edison Blue Amberol cylinder being played on a working cylinder player. Here it was sung by Orville Harrold. A short film made in 1914 by Sidney Olcott also used the name ‘Come Back to Erin’. Olcott was a Canadian-born filmmaker of Irish descent who made several movies in Ireland in the 1910s. According to his Wikipedia page, only the outbreak of World War I prevented him from building a permanent studio in Beaufort, County Kerry. You can watch the entire film on YouTube.

Many thanks to Paul O’Regan again, for a wonderfully different interpretation of a beautiful old song.

Play a Simple Melody

Irving Berlin wrote the words and music for the 1914 musical ‘Watch Your Step’, which included the song ‘Play a Simple Melody’. The musical was a ragtime revue starring the popular dancers Vernon and Irene Castle, who you may remember from my post on unsung jazz pioneer James Reese Europe. Relatively few songs have the cultural importance to merit their own Wikipedia page, this song’s got one. It notes that the song was one of the few true examples of counterpoint in American popular music – a melody running against a second melody, both with independent lyrics. The parts are musically independent and very cleverly also lyrically contradictory. The lyrics of the first melodic line yearn for a simple melody “like my mother sang to me”, melody in the old simple style of bygone years. The second melody line calls for music in the more exciting modern ragtime style.

Polo Moro recorded this wonderful version of ‘Play a Simple Melody’ for Hundred Years Late. I absolutely love the fiddle on it. And the good old-fashioned harmony. Really excellent work by Polo Moro. He had this to say…

A duet by Bing and Gary Crosby (listed on the label as “Gary Crosby and Friend”) was a hit recording in 1950. This was the main inspiration for my re-recording. Procuring a ragtime band, traditionally clarinet, trumpet, trombone and banjo was not feasible, so I have subbed in violin, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and what is known as a banjuitar, a banjo head strung with 6 strings in guitar tuning.

Its worth noting too that these music hall compositions were a strong influence on Paul MacCartney in his formative songwriting years, echoes of ‘Simple Melody’ can be heard in ‘Octopus’s Garden’ from the Abbey Road album, with very similar chord progressions.

 

You can hear more from Polo Moro on reverbation. Here’s that version by Gary Crosby and Friend… Gary Crosby’s vocal stylings seem to be making Bing laugh. I like when Bing says “Steady, steady!” It’s quite funny. He then adds, “Don’t lose your head.”

I also found this fun version of the song from The Muppet Show, Jean Stapleton singing a duet of ‘Play a Simple Melody’ with Fozzie Bear. Jean Stapleton was a popular American actress of stage, television and film (I knew her from her guest appearances in 1990s sitcoms). She died last year, aged 90. Fozzie Bear is still alive and well.

-Singer 1-
Won’t you play a simple melody

Like my mother sang to me?

One with good old-fashioned harmony.

Play some simple melody.

-Singer 2-

Musical demons set my honey a-dreaming.

Won’t you play me some rag?

Just change that classical nag

To some sweet musical drag.

When you play from a copy of a tune that is choppy

You’ll get all my applause, simply because.

I wanna listen to rag.

 

All these modern versions left out the opening verse section which is included on the 1916 recording by Elsie Baker (credited as Edna Brown) and Billy Murray (linked in the image below, the one disguised as an embedded player). Maybe the verse section was left out in later versions because of the use of the word ‘darkies’. Or maybe it just wasn’t as catchy. Casual racism in the archives, I’m getting déjà vu.

This image represents the earliest recording of the song I could find. Click to listen to it on US National Library of Congress website, National Jukebox.

The Murder Machine

The Murder Machine

I’d like to introduce an interesting and unusual song sent to me by a band called Yearning Curve. Instead of interpreting an archived song, they’ve used snippets of the text from Pádraig Pearse’s 1914 essay ‘The Murder Machine’ in a new composition. Pearse’s essay on the inequities of the Irish education system and the dysfunctional realities of imperialism and occupation can be read in full on UCC’s Corpus of Electronic Texts. Yearning Curve’s version of ‘The Murder Machine’ also includes modern-day sound-bites, painting a sound-picture of an Ireland swathed in corruption, still offering up its young to an indifferent imperial ruling class a hundred years after Pearse’s essay. In this post, Bairbre from Yearning Curve tells me a bit more about ‘The Murder Machine’…


 

“A machine vast, complicated, with a multitude of far-reaching arms, with many ponderous presses, carrying out mysterious and long-drawn processes of shaping and moulding…”
– Patrick Pearse,
The Murder Machine (1914)

‘The Murder Machine’ is the title track from our debut album inspired by Patrick Pearse’s book, ‘The Murder Machine’ (1914).

Using lines from Pearse’s book, samples from the infamous bankers tapes, Vincent Browne in full flight and Bertie Ahern on the steps of Dáil Éireann, we wanted to explore the idea of ‘The Murder Machine’ and the relevance of it in our time.

Although Pearse’s book deals mainly with the early 20th century education system, ‘The Murder Machine’ of the corporate world is surely as oppressive as anything the imperialist world could dream up as we struggle daily with the grinders of poverty, inequality and conformity.

I read somewhere once that Bertie Ahern kept a photo of Pearse on his desk and the irony of that couldn’t be lost on those who are living in the Ireland that Ahern and his policy-makers have left behind. The ‘Murder Machine’ song is some attempt to reclaim our history in the spirit of those who visioned a fair and free future for all of us. Kind of like Jinx Lennon, but not funny. 

Listen here:
https://soundcloud.com/yearningcurve/themurdermachine
Album out May 1st:
https://soundcloud.com/yearningcurve/the-murder-machine
—–

What is ‘The Murder Machine’? 
The personal and political meathooks, 
the myriad ways we can be ground up? 
And why make music about it?

—–
http://www.breakingtunes.com/yearningcurve
http://www.facebook.com/yearningcurve
http://www.twitter.com/yearningcurve

The Slumber Boat

Baby’s boat the silver moon
sailing in the sky
sailing o’er the sea of sleep
while the clouds float by.

Sail, baby, sail
out upon that sea.
Only don’t forget to sail
back again to me.

Baby’s fishing for a dream,
fishing near and far.
His line a silver moonbeam is,
his bait a silver star.

Sail, baby, sail
out upon that sea.
Only don’t forget to sail
back again to me,
back again to me.

I became taken with this song and decided to learn it for myself. You don’t hear many lullabies these days. Such simple innocent timeless imagery is conjured, the moon, the sky, the clouds, the sea. Baby’s boat the silver moon… the lyrics were written by children’s poet and lyricist Alice C.D. Riley sometime around 1898. The music was written by Jessie L. Gaynor. I found a version of this song performed in 1914 by famous Mezzo-Soprano Christine Miller which was released on Victor Records. You can listen to it on National Jukebox, I urge you to check it out (unfortunately it’s unembeddible in WordPress).

There are a couple of modern versions of this song as well. There’s one from the mid-sixties by Mrs Miller, a fascinating figure (and no relation to Christine Miller). Mrs (Elva) Miller gained some notoriety self-releasing albums of shrill, off-key renditions of popular songs. According to Wikipedia, “Miller was apparently unaware at first that her musical ability was being ridiculed, but eventually realised it and decided to go along with the joke.” This clip on YouTube features a comedic introduction by someone claiming to be her husband and calling her Mrs Festoon.

I really enjoyed the process of recording this song. Though the piano leads the arrangement, I gave the bass and drums some real power. It seems counterintuitive for a lullaby, but I liked the effect. Cork songwriter Lynda Cullen lends her vocal talents, and Paul Moore (Polo Moro) improvised some lovely fiddle parts, I’m so pleased with the final version that’s going to be on the album. The simple imagery of the lyrics lends itself to a very literal visual interpretation, so I made an animated video to accompany the song. I couldn’t tell if the vintage sleeping baby illustrations I used were girls or boys. So I changed the lyrics to make it a lullaby sung to a girl, where originally it was a boy. Because why not?

Show this to your little ones at sleepytime. Okay, goodnight.

Let’s Make Music. Let’s Make History.

There are many projects in Digital Humanities which need active participation from a community of users in order to grow. The most famous and staggering example is Wikipedia, a vast Encyclopedia of human knowledge produced, edited and updated by its own users, generously donating their time and expertise to make it an invaluable resource for millions of people. New technology has enabled the interconnectivity of scattered users throughout the world, based not on geography but on the interests of those people. Clay Shirky spoke of ‘cognitive surplus’, the generosity of these scattered users uniting for a common goal, contributing to a collaborative project of some kind, using their own free time, resources and expertise to build something for the common good.

There are also many projects in Digital Humanities which seek to digitise archived material to give it new value. Once text is digitised and collated in a computer system, it becomes possible to perform text mining and other technologically advanced techniques to obtain new meaning and insights from the material.

Music is a special case among these archived materials. A computer algorithm cannot analyse and extract meaning from a sound recording to the same degree that it can ‘understand’ text. For archived music, human ears and listening is required. Metadata is often attached to a music file. In the case of a wax record from a hundred years ago being transferred to .mp3 or .wav format, the kind of dry information that is typically attached will not answer the kinds of questions a musician, or indeed a casual listener, might want to ask.




Four very different interpretations of
When You’re a Long Long Way from Home
performed and recorded since 1914.

I would contend that music itself is alive. Songs are not static and unchanging, good songs are malleable things. A strong melody can be transposed in style from jazz to classical to rock. It can survive and thrive in different time signatures, at different tempos, on different instruments. A good song can be reinterpreted and reimagined to suit the sensibilities and peculiar gifts of the musician or musicians reworking it. A hundred different singers will sing it a hundred different ways. Just listen to these strikingly different versions of the same song. It was recorded by influential R&B outfit The Orioles in 1951, by Bing Crosby and The Paradise Isle Trio in 1954, Buffalo Bills in 1961 and the final version was performed by The Fralinger String Band earlier this year. Across these different versions the song went from soul to soft jazz to barbershop to bluegrass banjo/string band. And the first recording I can find of this song is by Henry Burr in 1914. Interestingly, Henry Burr recorded ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ in 1927. You could say he was the Elvis of his day.

Music, more than most literary forms, can have an immediate emotional impact. It is a uniquely personal and emotional form of human expression. I recently read a thought-provoking post entitled ‘Emotion, Archives, Interactive Fiction, and Linked Data’ on Mark A. Motienzo’s blog. In it, he examines the idea that archives can be repositories of emotion, appealing not merely to the academic or the intellectual parts of our minds, but connecting very powerfully with our emotional cores. It occurs to me that music archives have the power to move us like no other archives.

You Broke My Heart to Pass the Time Away
Sung by Manuel Romain in 1914
A fine example of emotion in the archives.



File embedded from
The Internet Archive (archive.org)

As a musician and songwriter myself, I’m very interested in old songs. What made them different from songs today? What makes a song timeless? The archived music from 1914 is fascinating. In terms of sound quality, it’s sometimes grainy and muffled. The old recordings are scratchy, the bass end is missing, the overall sound fidelity leaves an awful lot to be desired. Apart from the sound quality, I’m struck by how different the vocal stylings are from what’s common today. Most singers then were accustomed to performing without electrical amplification, they projected their voices to fill large rooms in an operatic style. Backing music was typically ornate and orchestral. The modern drum kit barely existed yet, most songs had none, and the rhythm would slow down and speed up in response to the crescendos and mood of the vocal performance. All of these features make these songs very different from most modern songs.

Part of my exploration of music archives has been to find songs that still feel relevant, though they were being performed a hundred years ago. The process of finding these songs has been quite organic. I don’t have specific criteria, I’m just looking for songs that I like. I want to undertake a project that allows me to indulge my passion for music in a hands-on creative way. The idea of methodically cataloguing music archives or some such other typically-academic project was intimidating in its scale and would likely never be completed. There are thousands of archives on the Internet, some in private collections only available to certain academic institutions and/or paid subscribers. I found the idea of reinterpreting one song at a time much more exciting. The idea becomes more exciting still if lots of people decide to do it – it can become a community of curators and creators. When I sat down at my piano and figured out the chords to some of these songs, they came alive again. Immediately, as musicians do, I was thinking about how I would rearrange and rework them to suit my own peculiar gifts and sensibilities. Compositionally, I found the chords interesting, sometimes jazzy, sometimes presciently modern in feel. Some very sophisticated musical ideas were hiding behind those scratchy old recordings. I felt like I learned a lot in the process of reinterpreting them. And I found it so enjoyable, I thought perhaps other musicians would enjoy it too.

Picture of The Edison Phonograph Player

The Edison Phonograph Cylinder Player, an early record player. In 1914, cylinders were losing out to the new disc format in the first commercial format war of recorded music.

Music recording software has allowed many people to have a functional recording studio in their home. There’s a legion of bedroom producers out there who are making incredible music across all kinds of genres. I began thinking how brilliant it would be to harness some of that talent and creativity and direct it to an archive-revival project, taking those old songs and reworking them into something new and unique. Picking a hundred years ago as a starting point will ensure most songs are out of copyright, allowing musicians to experiment with them however they please. In 1914, recorded music was in its infancy. That’s a good place to start. That narrow time-frame will make this a focused cohesive blog. Hundred Years Late will be a forum for musicians to showcase their talents and share the songs they found most interesting. Contributors will be encouraged to write about what they have recorded, why they picked the song, any historical background, links to the archived version (where possible), lyrics, score, chords etc, anything the musician wants to include. Other visitors to the blog can comment, perhaps contributing other historical information or links to further resources on the song.

As the collection grows, the links to various scattered archives will start to amass as contributors and enthusiasts find more archived material. Ultimately this will make the blog a valuable resource about where to find music from this era. If this project aims to mirror the archives a hundred years later, it will be an incomplete picture. Not every archived song will grab the attention of modern listeners and inspire musicians to record a cover version. But it will encourage engagement with music archives and salvage from obscurity some absolutely wonderful songs that have a lot to offer modern audiences and a lot to teach modern songwriters. If it works like I’m hoping it will, it can be a vivid, creative and vibrant community. The more musicians, contributors, followers and enthusiasts we can attract, the better the resource will become.

To get the ball rolling, I’m going to upload a couple of songs I’ve recorded. Each blog entry will include background info contributed by the musician, a link to the source version in an archive (where available), the contributor’s version of the song in some streamable format (YouTube video, Soundcloud widget, anything WordPress-compatible). Hopefully other user comments will provide further metadata. This ‘music-blog’ style arrangement allows the contributors to host the Be Creative!music however they please and retain control of it. It also seems to be a manageable format from my point of view. If musicians email me with their work, I can compose the posts in a consistent format and maintain the focus of the blog as a Digital Humanities project and a resource on archived music. I’ve posted a video on YouTube that introduces the project and outlines its objectives. It would be good of you to share it, especially among Digital Humanities practitioners, lecturers and students and most importantly, musicians who enjoy a challenge.

If you like this idea, please help me run with it. Tell people. Tweet and talk.

A call for music submissions

To encourage engagement with music archives, Hundred Years Late wants to get musicians to record their own versions of songs from 1914. This is a really exciting project for musicians to get involved with. You may learn a lot, showcase your talents and discover some really interesting and unusual music. As the collection of songs grows, it will hopefully become an interesting resource on archived music and a creative outlet for contemporary artists to reinvigorate old forgotten masterpieces. If you’re a musician who would like to contribute a song, please email hundredyearslate@gmail.com

It’s Late November 2013 and I’m just setting up the blog now. I’ve recorded a few songs from 1914 myself but I want to get the word out to other musicians as soon as possible, now’s the time to browse the available archived music and pick out a song you like. I’ll be posting some archive resources, blog posts on the project and most importantly, some reinterpretations of old songs. There will be more information on this project in the next blog post. It all starts soon…

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