A terrible guide to singing with DECtalk

It’s now possible to build and run the DECtalk text to speech system on Linux. It even builds under emscripten, enabling DECtalk for Web in your browser. You too can annoy everyone within earshot making it prattle on about John Madden.

But DECTalk can sing! Because it’s been around so long, there are huge archives of songs in DECtalk format out there. The largest archive is at THE FLAME OF HOPE website, under the Dectalk section.

Building DECtalk songs isn’t easy, especially for a musical numpty like me. You need a decent grasp of music notation, phonemic/phonetic markup and patience with DECtalk’s weird and ancient text formats.

DECtalk phonemes

While DECtalk can accept text and turn it into a fair approximation of spoken English, for singing you have to use phonemes. Let’s say we have a solfège-ish major scale:

do re mi fa sol la ti do

If we’re all fancy-like and know our International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), that would translate to:

/doʊ ɹeɪ miː faː soʊ laː tiː doʊ/

or if your fonts aren’t up to IPA:

/doʊ ɹeɪ miː faː soʊ laː tiː doʊ/

/do? ?e? mi? f?? so? l?? ti? do?/

(sorry about this, my website hates Unicode still)

DECtalk uses a variant on the ARPABET convention to represent IPA symbols as ASCII text. The initial consonant sounds remain as you might expect: D, R, M, F, S, L and T. The vowel sounds, however, are much more complex. This will give us a DECtalk-speakable phrase:

[dow rey miy faa sow laa tiy dow].

Note the opening and closing brackets and the full stop at the end. The brackets introduce phonemes, and the full stop tells DECtalk that the text is at an end. Play it in the DECtalk for Web window and be unimpressed: while the pitch changes are non-existent, the sounds are about right.

For more information about DECtalk phonemes, please see Phonemic Symbols Listed By Language and chapter 7 of DECtalk DTC03 Text-to-Speech System Owner’s Manual.

If you want to have a rough idea of what the phonemes in a phrase might be, you can use DECtalk’s :log phonemes option. You might still have to massage the input and output a bit, like using sed to remove language codes:

say -l us -pre '[:log phonemes on]' -post '[:log phonemes off]' -a "doe ray me fah so lah tea doe" | sed 's/us_//g;'
d ' ow  r ' ey  m iy  f ' aa) s ow  ll' aa  t ' iy  d ' ow.

Music notation

To me — a not very musical person — staff notation looks like it was designed by a maniac. A more impractical system to indicate arrangement of notes and their durations I don’t think I could come up with: and yet we’re stuck with it.

DECtalk uses a series of numbered pitches plus durations in milliseconds for its singing mode. The notes (1–37) correspond to C2 to C5. If you’re familiar with MIDI note numbers, DECtalk’s 1–37 correspond to MIDI note numbers 36–72. This is how DECtalk’s pitch numbers would look as major scales on the treble clef:

a treble clef showing quarter notes from C2 to C5 in the scale of C Major
The entire singing range of DECtalk as a C Major scale, from note 1 (C2, 65.4 Hz) to note 37 (C5, 523.4 Hz)

I’m not sure browsers can play MIDI any more, but here you go (doremi-abc.mid):

and since I had to learn abc notation to make these noises, here is the source:

T:Do Re Mi
C,, D,, E,, F,,| G,, A,, B,, C,| D, E, F, G,| A, B, C D| E F G A| B c z2 |]
w:do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do re mi fa sol la ti do

Each element of a DECtalk song takes the following form:

phoneme <duration, pitch number>

The older DTC-03 manual hints that it takes around 100 ms for DECtalk to hit pitch, so for each ½ second utterance (or quarter note at 120 bpm, ish), I split it up as:

  • 100 ms of the initial consonant;
  • 337 ms of the vowel sound;
  • 63 ms of pause (which has the phoneme code “_”). Pauses don’t need pitch numbers, unless you want them to preempt DECtalk’s pitch-change algorithm.

So the three lowest notes in the major scale would sing as:


I’ve split them into line for ease of reading, but DECtalk adds extra pauses if you include spaces, so don’t.

The full three octave major scale looks like this:


You can paste that into the DECtalk browser window, or run the following from the command line on Linux:

say -pre '[:PHONE ON]' -a '[d<100,1>ow<337,1>_<63>r<100,3>ey<337,3>_<63>m<100,5>iy<337,5>_<63>f<100,6>aa<337,6>_<63>s<100,8>ow<337,8>_<63>l<100,10>aa<337,10>_<63>t<100,12>iy<337,12>_<63>d<100,13>ow<337,13>_<63>r<100,15>ey<337,15>_<63>m<100,17>iy<337,17>_<63>f<100,18>aa<337,18>_<63>s<100,20>ow<337,20>_<63>l<100,22>aa<337,22>_<63>t<100,24>iy<337,24>_<63>d<100,25>ow<337,25>_<63>r<100,27>ey<337,27>_<63>m<100,29>iy<337,29>_<63>f<100,30>aa<337,30>_<63>s<100,32>ow<337,32>_<63>l<100,34>aa<337,34>_<63>t<100,36>iy<337,36>_<63>d<100,37>ow<337,37>_<63>].'

It sounds like this:

Singing a scale is hardly singing a tune, but hey, you were warned that this was a terrible guide at the outset. I hope I’ve given you a start on which you can build your own songs.

(One detail I haven’t tried yet: the older DTC-03 manual hints that singing notes can take Hz values instead of pitch numbers, and apparently loses the vibrato effect. It’s not that hard to convert from a note/octave to a frequency. Whether this still works, I don’t know.)

This post from Patrick Perdue suggested to me I had to dig into the Hz value substitution because the results are so gloriously awful. Of course, I had to write a Perl regex to make the conversions from DECtalk 1–37 sung notes to frequencies from 65–523 Hz:

perl -pwle 's|(?<=,)(\d+)(?=>)|sprintf("%.0f", 440*2**(($1-34)/12))|eg;'

(as one does). So the sung scale ends up as this non-vibrato text:

say -pre '[:PHONE ON]' -a '[d<100,65>ow<337,65>_<63>r<100,73>ey<337,73>_<63>m<100,82>iy<337,82>_<63>f<100,87>aa<337,87>_<63>s<100,98>ow<337,98>_<63>l<100,110>aa<337,110>_<63>t<100,123>iy<337,123>_<63>d<100,131>ow<337,131>_<63>r<100,147>ey<337,147>_<63>m<100,165>iy<337,165>_<63>f<100,175>aa<337,175>_<63>s<100,196>ow<337,196>_<63>l<100,220>aa<337,220>_<63>t<100,247>iy<337,247>_<63>d<100,262>ow<337,262>_<63>r<100,294>ey<337,294>_<63>m<100,330>iy<337,330>_<63>f<100,349>aa<337,349>_<63>s<100,392>ow<337,392>_<63>l<100,440>aa<337,440>_<63>t<100,494>iy<337,494>_<63>d<100,523>ow<337,523>_<63>].'

That doesn’t sound as wondrously terrible as it should, most probably as they are very small differences between each sung word. So how about we try something better? Like the refrain from The Turtles’ Happy Together, as posted on TheFlameOfHope:

say -pre '[:PHONE ON]' -a '[:nv] [:dv gn 73] [AY<400,29> KAE<200,24> N<100> T<100> SIY<400,21> MIY<400,17> LAH<200,15> VAH<125,19> N<75> NOW<400,22> BAH<200,26> DXIY<200,27> BAH<300,26> T<100> YU<600,24> FOR<200,21> AO<300,24> LX<100> MAY<400,26> LAY<900,27> F<300> _<400> WEH<300,29> N<100> YXOR<400,24> NIR<400,21> MIY<400,17> BEY<200,15> BIY<200,19> DHAX<400,22> SKAY<125,26> Z<75> WIH<125,27> LX<75> BIY<400,26> BLUW<600,24> FOR<200,21> AO<300,24> LX<100> MAY<400,26> LAY<900,27> F<300> _<300> ].'

“Refrain” is a good word, as it’s exactly what I should have done, rather than commit a terribleness on the audio by de-vibratoing it:

say -pre '[:PHONE ON]' -a '[:nv] [:dv gn 73] [AY<400,330> KAE<200,247> N<100> T<100> SIY<400,208> MIY<400,165> LAH<200,147> VAH<125,185> N<75> NOW<400,220> BAH<200,277> DXIY<200,294> BAH<300,277> T<100> YU<600,247> FOR<200,208> AO<300,247> LX<100> MAY<400,277> LAY<900,294> F<300> _<400> WEH<300,330> N<100> YXOR<400,247> NIR<400,208> MIY<400,165> BEY<200,147> BIY<200,185> DHAX<400,220> SKAY<125,277> Z<75> WIH<125,294> LX<75> BIY<400,277> BLUW<600,247> FOR<200,208> AO<300,247> LX<100> MAY<400,277> LAY<900,294> F<300> _<300> ].'

Oh dear. You can’t unhear that, can you?

mildly impressed by shazam (and soundhound)

I’m a late adopter of Shazam, which is a semi-magic music recognition service. I just gave it a ten song shuffle from my collection.

Shazam matched:

  • LLL — Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
  • Puppet Master — Marissa Nadler
  • He Woke Me Up Again — Sufjan Stevens
  • At The Bottom Of Everything — Bright Eyes
  • Derelict — Beck

Shazam found no match for:

Shazam was completely wrong about:

So: 50% hit rate, 50% miss — and one false positive. Adequate.

Karl recommended I try SoundHound. It matched:

  • LLL — Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter
  • He Woke Me Up Again — Sufjan Stevens
  • Religious Songs — Withered Hand
  • Caney Fork River — Old Man Luedecke
  • At The Bottom Of Everything — Bright Eyes
  • Derelict — Beck

Soundhound didn’t match:

  • Puppet Master — Marissa Nadler
  • Reuben — Rafe Stefanini
  • Appetite — Mount Eerie
  • Setting Forth — Flashman

So it knew about Withered Hand and Old Man Luedecke, but didn’t know about Marissa. About the same; maybe slightly better.

MetaFilter 2012-1 Music Swap

It’s music swap time on MetaFilter. Here’s what I chose:

  • Mobius Smurf — Nichol Robertson
  • Unyoked Oxen Turn — Alasdair Roberts
  • Is She Fiona — The Gerbils
  • The Sloth — Flanders and Swann
  • Morphine — Clifton Hicks
  • Please Be Kind (demo) — Colleen and Paul
  • Running on Fumes — King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
  • Alcoholic Blues — Sheesham and Lotus
  • Four Horses — Ken Reaume
  • Hypernuit — Bertrand Belin
  • Ran So Hard The Sun Went Down — Otis Taylor
  • Freeing Song by Reindeer — The Music Tapes
  • Wrapped In Grey — XTC
  • Tengo La Voz — Bostich
  • Singing to the Earth (to thank Her for You) — Apollo Sunshine
  • Flop Eared Mule — Holy Modal Rounders
  • The Speed of Things — Robyn Hitchcock
  • Olivia — BGM
  • Yawns — Frightened Rabbit
  • No Cigarettes — Withered Hand
  • Ficelles — Ingrid St-Pierre

It’s here on Spotify: MeFi Swap 2012-1.

pity the lobster requirement

It appears that my musical choice has this effect on people, as this just happened on a collaborative jukebox I’m aware of:

  • (07:50) The Lobster Requirement has left
  • (07:49) Playing Freeing Song for Reindeer by The Music Tapes from Music Tapes for Clouds & Tornadoes
  • (07:49) Finished playing French Toast Man by Fred Lane & Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs from From The One That Cut You & Car Radio Jerome
  • (07:48) The Lobster Requirement has joined
  • Oh well.

    goin’ up to eleven for twenty ten

    This is the music that powered the year for me:

    • Bertrand Belin — Hypernuit: heard this on the radio. He has an awesome voice. Seeing as it’s all in French, I have no idea what it’s about, but that’s okay.
    • Calvin, don’t Jump! — Under Bridges: Kirk Pleasant’s first major outing from his Canadian location. Combines E6 ambient and skronk with some thoughtful songwriting.
    • Colleen and Paul — Colleen and Paul: happy, sunny, folky, lovely. Enjoy it before it becomes car ads.
    • Dum Dum Girls — I Will Be: Motown meets The Jesus & Mary Chain, with screamy lofi fuzz. Like Strawberry Switchblade (DDG are big fans) with maximal noise.
    • Entertainment For The Braindead — Roadkill: Julia did a banjo album! It’s great — and free!
    • Frightened Rabbit — The Winter of Mixed Drinks: juddery Scottish gloriousness with full miserability ahead.
    • Jónsi — Go: this album’s so sunny it farts marigolds.
    • Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps — Outertainment: dementedly demented, with demented bits gleefully stuck to it. Gramps sings like Popeye’s ancestor, and Peter’s got the caterwauling yawp down pat. They’re having so much fun making this, they don’t care what you think.
    • The Ruby Suns — Fight Softly: don’t you dare call them Animal Collective Lite. They can dance better, for one thing.
    • Stereo Total — Baby Ouh!: “irritating” is not usually a word one associates with a favourite album, but Stereo Total are completely annoying. I love them for it.
    • Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz: this is a hard album to like. I was about to completely give up on it when I played it on a long subway ride home. I’m sold. Charming, but difficult.

    Here’s six not from 2010 that also helped make the year:

    • Brett Dennen — Brett Dennen (2005): he’s got a weird little voice in his first album, but Don’t Forget is as catchy as anything.
    • Charlotte Gainsbourg — IRM (2009): it’s a Beck album! Not sung by Beck!!
    • Kyle Creed — Liberty (1977): this is the clawhammer album. Kyle played such a clean banjo; e-v-e-r-y note’s in the right place, the volume’s right, he doesn’t dominate (bluegrass pickers, take note). So brilliant, and finally available on something other than cassette.
    • Major Organ And The Adding Machine — Major Organ and the Adding Machine (re-release): squee! An expanded version of 2001’s mad outing complete with the movie. Spot all your favourite E6 musicians!
    • Raymond Scott — Soothing Sounds For Baby (1963): The first volume (designated for one to six months) is about my level. I’d have been tripping spheroids if this had been playing near my crib.
    • The Turtles — The Turtles Present The Battle of the Bands (1968): a delightful confection of phenomenal songwriting and playing making a very silly concept album. You’d hardly believe it was all done by one band.

    Podcast: scruss-best_of_2010 [mp3]

    2010 contenders

    Dammit, is it really December? Anyway, this is what I listened to this year:

    • Albemarle Ramblers — Gentleman from Virginia
    • Amanda Palmer — Amanda Palmer Performs The Popular Hits Of Radiohead On Her Magical Ukulele
    • The Apples in stereo — Travellers in Space and Time
    • Arcade Fire — The Suburbs
    • Bart Veerman — Some o’ Mine and Some I Like (2003)
    • Basia Bulat — Heart Of My Own
    • Belle & Sebastian — Write About Love
    • Ben Veneer — Ben Veneer
    • Bertrand Belin — Hypernuit
    • Bill Holt — Dreamies (1973)
    • Brett Dennen — Brett Dennen (2005)
    • Brian Wilson — Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin
    • Broken Social Scene — Forgiveness Rock Record
    • Calvin, Don’t Jump! — Under Bridges
    • Caribou — Swim
    • Carolina Chocolate Drops — Genuine Negro Jig
    • Charlotte Gainsbourg — IRM (2009)
    • Chris Coole & Ivan Rosenberg — Farewell Trion
    • Colleen and Paul — Colleen and Paul
    • The Corin Tucker Band — 1,000 Years
    • Dan Jones — Dan Jones and The Squids:Live 09
    • Dan Jones & Peter Wilde — My Name Is John Smith
    • The Delgados — The Great Eastern (2000)
    • Dum Dum Girls — I Will Be
    • Eels — End Times
    • Eels — Tomorrow Morning
    • Elf Power — Elf Power
    • Entertainment For The Braindead — Roadkill
    • Final Fantasy — Heartland
    • Forest City Lovers — Carriage
    • Friendly Rich and the Lollipop People — The Sacred Prune Of Remembrance
    • Frightened Rabbit — The Winter of Mixed Drinks
    • Frontier Ruckus — Deadmalls and Nightfalls
    • Germans — Elf Shot Lame Witch (2008)
    • Goldfrapp — Head First
    • Gonja Sufi — A Sufi And A Killer
    • The Good Right Arm Stringband — The Good Right Arm Stringband
    • High Places — High Places vs. Mankind
    • Hold Your Horses! — 70 Million
    • The Hungry Moment — Phantom 45
    • Hurray for the Riff Raff — Young Blood Blues
    • James Blackshaw — All Is Falling
    • Joanna Newsom — Have One On Me
    • Jónsi — Go
    • Kyle Creed — Liberty (1977)
    • Ladies of the Canyon — Haunted Woman
    • M.I.A. — Maya
    • Macy Gray — The Sellout
    • Major Organ And The Adding Machine — Major Organ and the Adding Machine (re-release)
    • MGMT — Congratulations
    • Miles Kurosky — The Desert of Shallow Effects
    • Mojave 3 — Ask Me Tomorrow (1995)
    • Nana Grizol — “Ruth”
    • Nesey Gallons — Southern Winter by Smouldering Porches
    • The New Pornographers — Together
    • of Montreal — False Priest
    • Old Man Luedecke — My Hands Are On Fire and Other Love Songs
    • The Open Letters — Bicycle EP
    • Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps — Outertainment
    • Peter Stampfel & Zöe Stampfel — Ass in the Air
    • Pocahaunted — Make It Real
    • Princess Pangolin — Princess Pangolin
    • Raymond Scott — Soothing Sounds For Baby (1963)
    • Robyn Hitchcock — Propellor Time
    • The Ruby Suns — Fight Softly
    • Smoosh — Withershins
    • Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin — Let It Sway
    • Stereo Total — Baby Ouh!
    • Suckers — Wild Smile
    • Sufjan Stevens — All Delighted People EP
    • Sufjan Stevens — The Age of Adz
    • Sunbear — Moonbath
    • The Superions — the Superions
    • The Tallest Man On Earth — The Wild Hunt
    • Tune-Yards — Bird-Brains (2009)
    • The Turtles — The Turtles Present The Battle of the Bands (1968)
    • Vampire Weekend — Contra

    Must be getting old; two of the albums (Bertrand Belin and Brett Dennen) I bought because I heard tracks on the radio. Consequently, I predict Lawrence Welk in my best of 2011.

    emusic canada changes its pricing

    What with the sad loss of Wild East Compact Sounds this summer, my sources of music are now limited. eMusic, bless ’em, have been my source of indie stuff since about 2003. They were cheap, had a fixed price per download, and carried a raft of indie stuff and no major label tat.

    Not much longer; got this in my inbox:

    So, yeah, the full announcement: major label content, minimum 49¢/track, and variable pricing. Exactly all the reasons I wouldn’t want to use them. Good call, eMusic, for a battered-about subscriber since 2003.

    I was initially confused by the pricing. I pay 36¢/track, so I couldn’t see how their promise that “your monthly payments will not change and you will still be able to download the same number of tracks available today, if not more, depending upon your current plan“. Then I see their new menu:

    So basically they’re crediting me with a fake $4.48 a month (oh wait; “30 days”, not a month; they so want you to forget to download stuff by making the cycle date change) so I can still get my 35 downloads. Since they hint that there will now be variable pricing, I’ll bet the new stuff will be >49¢, so I really won’t be able to download as many per month after all.

    They’re saying that the new pricing will allow them to do a bunch of fun stuff:

    We’re also committed to making eMusic a better member experience. We recently rolled out improvements to Browse and Search pages. And we’re hard at work on a host of new features and enhancements including a music locker, which should allow you to stream your music collection from any desktop or mobile device. In addition, improvements to eMusic’s social features, to better connect you with our editors, other members, artists, labels and your friends, are also in the works. We’ve sketched out an ambitious slate, and it will take a little while to get there. We hope you’ll continue on the journey with us.

    I don’t want all that social fluff. The MP3s work just fine on any mobile device, so streaming them just adds more crud. I want fixed price downloads, not some half-assed music locker. Where, oh where is Frank Hecker and swindleeeee when you need them?

    Please Be Kind | Colleen and Paul

    <a href="http://colleenandpaul.bandcamp.com/track/please-be-kind">Please Be Kind by Colleen and Paul</a>

    I like this album a lot. Colleen and Paul have been working together for years (I saw ’em as Jack and Ginger in 2006), and this music needs to be heard!

    jukebox sampler

    Every thousandth track from my library:

    Track Title Artist Album
    1000 How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us R.E.M. New Adventures in Hi-Fi
    2000 Lesson 8 / Ex 3 David Hamburger The Acoustic Guitar Method, Book 2
    3000 Way of Woe Peter Stampfel The Jig Is Up
    4000 Exercise: Changing Chords Jack Hatfield First Lessons Banjo
    5000 The Edison Museum They Might Be Giants No!
    6000 Got The Jake Leg Too Ray Brothers
    7000 Light Is Returning Rise Up Singing: The Teaching Disc O
    8000 Birmingham Sunday Rise Up Singing: The Teaching Disc J
    9000 Bring Me A Leaf From The Sea Carolina Tar Heels Mountain Frolic (Rare Old Timey Classics 1924-37) – Disc D (1925-30)
    10000 Window to Mars Elf Power In a Cave
    11000 The Book Of Doves Alasdair Roberts Spoils
    12000 Grounded Pavement Wowee Zowee
    13000 O Holy Night Classic Carols Classic Carols (Piano-Vocal Harmonies)
    14000 Track 23 Peter Gelling Teach Yourself Harmonica
    15000 Priscilla The Soft Machine The Soft Machine
    16000 Colours Gorp Shapes And Colours Game
    17000 The Mayor Of Simpleton XTC Upsy Daisy Assortment
    18000 Jóga Björk Homogenic
    19000 Everything Merges With the Night Brian Eno Another Green World
    20000 Great Races – The Marathon Ivor Cutler, et al King Cutler, Part 6
    21000 Coal Creek March Dock Boggs His Folkways Years (1963-1968) Disc 1
    22000 The Ghost You Draw On My Back Múm Summer Make Good
    23000 Tidy (Previously Unreleased Demo) Dressy Bessy Little Music: Singles 1997-2002
    24000 Careless Soul Daniel Johnston 1990
    25000 Introduction Joyce Ochs First Lessons: Dulcimer
    26000 On A Monday Morning Rachel Unthank and the Winterset Cruel Sister

    best of 2009 (top 10 for hexadactyls)

    Again, to my own rules; what I discovered this year, and not necessarily ten:

    • Spoils — Alasdair Roberts. Alasdair’s transformed from a good (if somewhat doleful) Scottish folkie to a full-on demented psych-folker with this record. The Wyrd Meme EP is nifty too.
    • Banjo — Billy Faier. I know this album was recorded in the 1970s, but it’s as far away from tedious lick-based picking that most people link to the banjo. The fact that Billy’s giving it away free now doesn’t hurt, either. It’s kinda prog banjo, if you must.
    • Old Dog — Chris Coole. Chris has been recording for more than a decade, but this is his first solo album. Fabulous songwriting (Old Dog, and The Bottle Got the Best of Me is sounds like something that Porter and Dolly should’ve sung), brilliant playing, and all this from a man who can smack himself inadvertantly on the nose with his own coffee grinder.
    • Signal Morning — Circulatory System. Only five years late. Worth every minute.
    • Clifton Hicks — Clifton Hicks. Zero production; just a guy singing along with his banjo. But both so well.
    • Hypersomnia — entertainment for the braindead. Julia Kotowski makes achingly beautiful lo-fi noises.
    • Sing the Greys — Frightened Rabbit. Visiting Scotland, and having a crappy job over the summer, made this my singalong-driving album of the year. The Midnight Organ Fight has a high nift-factor too.
    • Yours Truly, The Commuter — Jason Lytle. Probably better than anything he did with Grandaddy. His free christmas album of piano music is pretty spiffy too.
    • Lord Cut-Glass — Lord Cut-Glass. I didn’t get into the Delgados when they were around (silly me; there was some fine fine music in Scotland while I still lived there), but Alun Woodward belted out a classic this year. Bought on a whim (a small Scottish coin, or unicycle) at Monorail in Glasgow, it’s a favourite when stuck in traffic on the 401.
    • Waxing Gibbous — Malcolm Middleton. Who knew that miserabilism was so much fun? Actually, it was Devil and the Angel from his first album that got me back into his work.
    • Love It Love It — Nana Grizol. And I do love it; noisy punk from the friends of Elephant Six. Technically the new album Ruth comes out next year, but it’s out already if you’re not hung up on physical media.
    • These Four Walls — We Were Promised Jetpacks. Scottish – yeah!

    Quite a bit of Scottish content in there, I know.

    Some late arrivals and miscellaneous:

    • I was probably supposed to like Goodnight Oslo by Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3 more than I do, but there was so much music this year it kind of got buried.
    • My sister  (Wendy Arrowsmith) has a new album out, Seeds of Fools.
    • Dunno what Friendly Rich was thinking releasing Pictures at an Exhibition so late in the year. It’s a twisted jazz take on Mussorgsky, and nothing to be modest about.

    2009 contenders

    This year, I can revert to my own slightly unusual system of the music that found me during the year. I listened to a lot in 2009:

    • Délivrance — A Hawk And A Hacksaw
    • Reservoir — Ah Holly Faml’y
    • How To Get To Heaven From Scotland — Aidan Moffat + The Best Ofs
    • Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free — Akron/Family
    • Spoils — Alasdair Roberts
    • The Wyrd Meme — Alasdair Roberts
    • Alela & Alina — Alela Diane featuring Alina Hardin
    • The Pirate’s Gospel — Alela Diane
    • To Be Still — Alela Diane
    • Old Crows / Young Cardinals — Alexisonfire
    • Danse Manatee — Animal Collective
    • Merriweather Post Pavilion — Animal Collective
    • Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’re Vanished — Animal Collective
    • Monday At The Hug And Pint — Arab Strap
    • Calling Out of Context — Arthur Russell
    • Springfield — Arthur Russell
    • Litany — Arvo Pärt
    • March of the Zapotec & Realpeople: Holland — Beirut
    • Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant — Belle and Sebastian
    • The Life Pursuit — Belle and Sebastian
    • Both Sides Of The Gun — Ben Harper
    • let’s do something… — Bill Evans & Megan Lynch
    • Banjo — Billy Faier
    • Banjos, Birdsong, and Mother Earth — Billy Faier
    • Live at the Cafe Lena — Billy Faier
    • The Art of the Five String Banjo — Billy Faier
    • The Beast of Billy Faier — Billy Faier
    • Travelin’ Man — Billy Faier
    • In The Future — Black Mountain
    • Together Through Life — Bob Dylan
    • Blood Bank — Bon Iver
    • For Emma, Forever Ago — Bon Iver
    • The Very Best Of Booker T. & The MG’s — Booker T. & The MG’s
    • Words of Wisdom — Brian Dewan
    • Another Green World — Brian Eno
    • I Just Wasn’t Meant For These Times — Brian Wilson
    • Gold — Buddy Holly
    • My Maudlin Career — Camera Obscura
    • Underachievers Please Try Harder — Camera Obscura
    • Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) — Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band
    • Modern Silence — Casper & The Cookies
    • Jukebox — Cat Power
    • Bird and Diz — Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie
    • Old Dog — Chris Coole
    • Inside Views — Circulatory System
    • Signal Morning — Circulatory System
    • Bring Me Your Love — City And Colour
    • Clifton Hicks — Clifton Hicks
    • Outer South — Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band
    • Superfly — Curtis Mayfield
    • Hey Everyone — Dananananaykroyd
    • 1990 — Daniel Johnston
    • Dirt of the Angel — Danny Barnes
    • The Folkways Years 1959-61 — Dave Van Ronk
    • Curse Your Branches — David Bazan
    • David Henman Band — David Henman Band
    • …For The Whole World To See — Death
    • Venus on Earth — Dengue Fever
    • Pioneers Who Got Scalped: The Anthology — Devo
    • Fly — Dixie Chicks
    • Home — Dixie Chicks
    • At Newport — Dizzy Gillespie
    • Heavy Ghost — DM Stith
    • Hombre Lobo — Eels
    • Mountain Meadows — Elliott Brood
    • Elvis Perkins In Dearland — Elvis Perkins In Dearland
    • What Is Free To A Good Home? — Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton
    • Watch The Fireworks — Emma Pollock
    • Dead Relatives — Emm Gryner
    • The Summer Of High Hopes — Emm Gryner
    • hydrophobia — entertainment for the braindead
    • Hypersomnia — entertainment for the braindead
    • Raw Timber EP — entertainment for the braindead
    • seven (+1) [aaahh.005] — entertainment for the braindead
    • Distillation — Erin McKeown
    • Sing You Sinners — Erin McKeown
    • We Will Become Like Birds — Erin McKeown
    • Liege & Lief — Fairport Convention
    • Reservoir — Fanfarlo
    • Fleet Foxes — Fleet Foxes
    • Flight Of The Conchords — Flight Of The Conchords
    • Lungs — Florence and The Machine
    • Folk Uke — Folk Uke
    • Roughin’ It — Fred Spek’s Camp Combo
    • Quietly Now! — Frightened Rabbit
    • Sing the Greys — Frightened Rabbit
    • Swim Until You Can’t See Land — Frightened Rabbit
    • The Midnight Organ Fight — Frightened Rabbit
    • St. Elsewhere — Gnarls Barkley
    • Felt Mountain — Goldfrapp
    • Seventh Tree — Goldfrapp
    • Supernature — Goldfrapp
    • Veckatimest — Grizzly Bear
    • Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill — Grouper
    • Ellipse — Imogen Heap
    • Speak for Yourself — Imogen Heap
    • The Creek Drank the Cradle — Iron & Wine
    • Keep Me In Mind Sweetheart EP — Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
    • Privilege — Ivor Cutler
    • The Inspiration Of William Blake — Jah Wobble
    • The Glass Bead Game — James Blackshaw
    • Yours Truly, The Commuter — Jason Lytle
    • The Utmost — Jayme Stone
    • Riceboy Sleeps — Jónsi & Alex
    • Ramblin’ Son — Julian Fauth
    • Autobahn — Kraftwerk
    • Tour De France — Kraftwerk
    • World of Goo Soundtrack — Kyle Gabler
    • Of Whales and Woe — Les Claypool
    • Alright, Still — Lily Allen
    • It’s Not Me, It’s You — Lily Allen
    • Lord Cut-Glass — Lord Cut-Glass
    • The Liberty of Norton Folgate — Madness
    • Snakebite — Magic Slim & The Teardrops
    • Kiss Me Quick — Makita Hack And The Log Rollers
    • 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine — Malcolm Middleton
    • A Brighter Beat — Malcolm Middleton
    • Sleight Of Heart — Malcolm Middleton
    • Waxing Gibbous — Malcolm Middleton
    • Dibango: Rough Guide to Manu Dibango — Manu Dibango
    • Little Hells — Marissa Nadler
    • Youth — Matisyahu
    • Big Meal Time! — Max & Frank Evans with the Family Supper Stringband
    • Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? — Metric
    • Oracular Spectacular — MGMT
    • Armchair Boogie — Michael Hurley
    • Ida Con Snock — Michael Hurley
    • Singing Insects of Missouri — Missouri Department of Conservation
    • Toads and Frogs in Missouri — Missouri Department of Conservation
    • The Hawk Is Howling — Mogwai
    • Hold Time — M. Ward
    • Love It Love It — Nana Grizol
    • “Ruth” — Nana Grizol
    • Middle Cyclone — Neko Case
    • Obligatory Villagers — Nellie McKay
    • Lipstick Killers — New York Dolls
    • At My Age — Nick Lowe
    • Chelsea Girl — Nico
    • Hymns and Hers — Oliver Schroer
    • Achilles’ Heel — Pedro The Lion
    • At 89 — Pete Seeger
    • Wonderland — Pogo
    • Like Hearts Swelling — Polmo Polpo
    • Porn Sword Tobacco — Porn Sword Tobacco
    • The Rubber Room — Porter Wagoner
    • Tales From The Punchbowl — Primus
    • Different Class — Pulp
    • The Essential Ramblin’ Jack Elliot — Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
    • Raising Sand — Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
    • Goodnight Oslo — Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3
    • Exit Strategy Of The Soul — Ron Sexsmith
    • Time Being — Ron Sexsmith
    • Sam Hinton Sings the Song of Men — Sam Hinton
    • Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts — Sam Hinton
    • Smokin’ and Drinkin’ — Scotty Campbell and His Wardenaires
    • Secret Machines — Secret Machines
    • Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols — Sex Pistols
    • The Remix Album…Diamonds Are Forever — Shirley Bassey
    • Color Voice — Sinkane
    • Stand! — Sly and the Family Stone
    • Love.Life.Ukulele — Sophie Madeleine
    • African Spirit — Soweto Gospel Choir
    • Tres Tres Fort — Staff Benda Bilili
    • Telescope — Steve Dawson
    • Let’s Get Small — Steve Martin
    • The Crow — Steve Martin
    • Never Gonna Touch the Ground — Still Flyin’
    • Barn Yard Banjo Pickin’ — Stringbean
    • The BQE — Sufjan Stevens
    • 25 O’Clock (Remastered) — The Dukes of Stratosphear
    • Psonic Psunspot (Remastered) — The Dukes of Stratosphear
    • Buddha Electrostorm — Thee American Revolution
    • I Thought You Knew — The Ebony Hillbillies
    • Sabrina’s Holiday — The Ebony Hillbillies
    • Hex Enduction Hour — The Fall
    • Are You Sleepy? — The Gerbils
    • Shout Monah — The Haints Old Time Stringband
    • The Smell Of Our Own — The Hidden Cameras
    • Tyrannosaurus Hives — The Hives
    • 21 Singles — The Jesus & Mary Chain
    • At Large — The Kingston Trio
    • Something Else by The Kinks — The Kinks
    • Monk’s Music — Thelonious Monk
    • Bootleg Six-Pack — The Mammals
    • Evolver — The Mammals
    • Mount Eerie — The Microphones
    • Thieves — The Organ
    • The Phonemes — The Phonemes
    • There’s Something We’ve Been Meaning to Do — The Phonemes
    • The End of the World — The Real Tuesday Weld
    • England’s Newest Hit Makers — The Rolling Stones
    • New Seasons — The Sadies
    • Fourteen Autumns, Fifteen Winters — The Twilight Sad
    • The Flat Earth (Collector’s Edition) — Thomas Dolby
    • The Golden Age Of Wireless (Collector’s Edition) — Thomas Dolby
    • The Singular Thomas Dolby — Thomas Dolby
    • FeelingPulledApartByHorses — Thom Yorke
    • O — Tilly and the Wall
    • Music for Spaceships and Forests — twi the humble feather
    • Introducing Vakoka — Vakoka
    • Tight Knit — Vetiver
    • At the Cut — Vic Chesnutt
    • Unmap — Volcano Choir
    • How Can I Keep From Singing — Wendi Hunter
    • Seeds of Fools — Wendy Arrowsmith
    • These Four Walls — We Were Promised Jetpacks
    • Let’s Talk About It — White Denim
    • Dos — Wooden Shjips
    • Fever To Tell — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    • It’s Blitz! — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    • Show Your Bones — Yeah Yeah Yeahs
    • Crusp Srexstling — Zumm Zumm

    Stuck at the Border / Unexpected Spector

    So I was at The Dakota Tavern last night, expecting to see nana grizol with Colleen and Paul. I got there far too early, and notice that there was no sign of Theo Hilton or the rest of the band. I learned from Colleen (whom I’d met before) that they’d been stopped at the border, so Colleen and Paul were playing a longer set, and Colleen’s partner Ron Sexsmith would play later.

    Immigration for musicians annoys me. The costs of visas, and the processing time required, basically means that most bands I’d want to see risk getting turned away at the border. Since touring is how these bands make their living, everybody loses.

    Still, Colleen and Paul – assisted by a couple of Colleen’s friends – ended their set with a lovely version of Jeff Mangum’s arrangement of I Love How You Love Me [mp3, lo-fi phone recording].

    My Name is not Alvin

    When I first heard of Alvin Lucier‘s “I Am Sitting in a Room” I thought it would be interesting to attempt a recreation with the tools I had on hand. Rather than shuffling tapes around, I recorded on my iPod Touch, and then e-mailed the file to my laptop to play back. I repeated this sixteen times. This is what I ended up with: my name is not alvin [mp3].

    "My Name is not Alvin" recording rig

    I’m pretty sure all I ended up recording was the hard drive and the backlight on my MacBook. By the final iteration, the cricket-like chirping is centred pretty close to 5400 and 16000 Hz.