Favourite music albums of 2016

I guess this year finally marked the end of my album listening behaviour. Spotify’s Discover and Daily Mix features were the one-two punch that knocked it out. In addition I somehow stopped scrobbling to Last.fm in March. It’s switched back on now but the damage is done.

So the data I do have is incomplete. I did still deliberately put on a number of albums this year. But I won’t post them in order of listens like I did last year. This is subjective, unsorted and hand-picked. I will even sneak in a few albums that were published towards the end of 2015.

My sources included Pitchfork’s list of best new albums which used to be how I discovered new music and still wields some influence. I cross-referenced with Spotify’s top songs of 2016.

So first Spotify tells me what to listen to and then it gives me a list of things I actually listened to. This is getting weird…

Anyway, here they are. A * marks a particular favourite.

  • A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… *
  • Solange – A Seat At the Table
  • Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
  • The Avalanches – Wildflower *
  • Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
  • Whitney – Light Upon the Lake
  • Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial *
  • Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book *
  • ANOHNI – HOPELESSNESS
  • Moodymann – DJ-Kicks *
  • Grimes – Art Angels *
  • Floating Points – Elaenia
  • The Range – Potential *
  • Sepalcure – Folding Time
  • Jamila Woods – HEAVN

Here’s a playlist which includes a couple of more albums if you want to have a listen.

Favourite music albums of 2015

Well what do you know, a blog post. Because looking back is the thing people do this time of year and I actually have the luxury of time to look back for a change, I thought I’d compile a list of albums I enjoyed listening to in 2015 that were also released in 2015.

There were quite a few albums I listened to this year that weren’t released in 2015. Those don’t show up here. If you’re curious, there is always Last.fm. Most notably, I discovered The Hold Steady through BEE and got seriously hooked on ‘Boys And Girls In America’. Some of the best rock music made this side of ‘Born in the U.S.A.’, if you ask me.

Anyway, here is a list of the 15 albums from 2015 that I listened to the most, in order of number of plays. A ❤️ denotes a particular favourite. If you want to have a listen, here’s a Spotify playlist.

  1. DJ Koze – DJ Kicks ❤️ (Just a flawless mix of delightful tunes that lift the spirit.)
  2. Blur – The Magic Whip ❤️ (Lyrically interesting, sonically a kind of review or repetition of their whole oeuvre. Atmospherically I think they captured the spirit of the times quite well.)
  3. Tame Impala – Currents (The falsetto gets on my nerves some times, but the opening tracks have an irresistible groove to them.)
  4. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit ❤️ (Strong contender for album of the year. Funny, imaginative lyrics and music that simply rocks.)
  5. Kurt Vile – b’lieve i’m goin down… ❤️ (It is kind of amazing to me how Vile keeps churning out one great record after an other. This is his most optimistic to date.)
  6. Jamie XX – In Colour (There are a few letdowns on this one preventing it to be the kind of dance music album you play on repeat.)
  7. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (All over the place. I dig the nods to P-Funk.)
  8. Everything Everything – Get To Heaven (I binged on this in July and have hardly listened to it since because of the love hate relationship with the singer’s voice. But this remains delightfully eclectic and energetic.)
  9. Dr. Dre – Compton (Not available on Spotify but I mention it here because I enjoyed the return to uncomplicated west side hiphop it offers.)
  10. Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion (Obligatory guilty pleasure. Each year I get hooked on one of these female pop stars. This was Carly Rae’s year.)
  11. Miguel – Wildheart (Easily the best R&B album of the year. Versatile, sexy, musically interesting.)
  12. Royal Headache – High (Great throwback to punk that sounds fresh at the same time. Great lyrics.)
  13. Destroyer – Poison Season (Wasn’t so sure about this one until seeing them live (again) at Le Guess Who? and now that I’ve heard the songs live I understand what they’re trying to do here. These songs are meant to sound BIG.)
  14. Deerhunter – Fading Frontier ❤️ (Another album of the year hopeful. Most accessible album of a band that continues to fascinate. Musically and lyrically imaginative and exciting.)
  15. Majical Cloudz – Are You Alone? (I return to this for its intimate atmosphere.)

Honorary mentions:

I should have listened to these more but somehow didn’t. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Lower Dens – Escape From Evil
  • Ought – Sun Coming Down
  • Beach House – Depression Cherry
  • Kelela – Hallucinogen
  • FKA twigs – M3LL155X
  • Ratking – 700 Fill

Announcing a hybrid game opera for Monster

I never thought I would make an opera. But now I have.

A bit of Monster

In a few weeks time the above market square in the town of Monster will be transformed into an arena where fighters duel each other using their pet monsters. If this sounds familiar, it is no coincidence.

Mega Monster Battle Arena is one of 11 operas produced by Dario Fo to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Westland municipality. Dario Fo specialize in creating music theatre in close collaboration with the local community. They asked composer Daniël Hamburger to create the opera for Monster. The brief was to do ‘something’ with the town’s curious name, and to make it a production that would appeal to youth by referencing games culture.1

Daniël in turn approached me, since he had little affinity for games, and wanted the piece to not only be about games, but to be a game itself. So that’s what I helped do. By turning the game design principle of embedded narrative inside-out, we’ve managed to create a structure in which we can both tell a story using a script, and have performers improvise using game rules. Those rules I designed as a proper game. I could give you those rules and you would be able to play it yourself.

So there will be fights, and they’ll not be scripted. You won’t know beforehand who will win, and neither will we. There will also be a story, about a heroine facing off with a bad guy, in the best game and martial arts film tradition. Sieger M.G. was our third man, the piece’s writer. A rapper turned poet with a life-long games addiction, there could be no better fit.

What’s probably most exciting to me is that on top of the improvisational choreography of the duels, a live band will use a rule set of their own, composed by Daniël, that takes the game as it unfolds as its input to improvise. How’s that for adaptive music?2

It might all go horribly wrong, or it might become a wonderful spectacle. If you are like me and would like to find out which it will be, head to Monster for one of the shows. They’re scheduled for:

  • Thursday 18 June 20:30 (tryout)
  • Friday 19 June 20:30
  • Saturday 20 June 20:30

Tickets are 15 Euro and can be bought at the venue. Once the show is over, I’ll post some more detailed stuff about the actual work I did. Stay tuned.

Mega Moster Battle Arena flyer

  1. There would be tons of kids from local high schools to work with. They also wanted to use the local firemen choir. Oh, and aerial work platforms too… []
  2. One of the sources of inspiration for Daniël was John Zorn. []

Reboot 9.0 day 2

(Waiting for my train home to arrive, I finally have the opportunity to post this.)

So with Reboot 9.0 and the after-party done, I think I’ll briefly write up my impressions of the second day.

Stowe Boyd – Good talk as always, offering a new definition of ‘flow’. I guess his attempt to have people open themselves up to the beneficial sides of being intermittently connected was a success.

Marko Ahtisaari – Interesting character with a good story to tell. His free mobile operator for teenagers scheme made a lot of people curious. (Free stuff always does that, it seems.)

Lee Bryant – Very fitting to the theme of human?, a touching story of how former inhabitants of a Bosnian town used social software to reconnect and rebuild the town.

Julian Bleecker – Cool stuff on new ways to interact with computing technology beyond the utilitarian and efficient, into the realm of play.

Dave Winer – An interesting character having a nice conversation with Thomas. I enjoyed his offbeat remarks and dry wit.

Guy Dickinson – Another round of micropresentations, this time with me participating. I stumbled several times. Next time I’ll prepare a custom talk for this. The other presenters were awesome.

Rasmus Fleischer and Magnus Eriksson – Two cool young anarchists with interesting ideas about file sharing and the future of music. Too bad large parts of their presentation were read from a sheet.

Leisa Reichelt – A carefully put together overview of ambient intimacy, what it is and what it’s for. Next step: coming up with design guidelines for these types of ‘tools’.

Matt Webb – Delivered on the expectations raised by his performances previous years. Interesting to see him move into experience design territory and hear his take on it. Very much applicable to my daily work in designing web services.

Dinner and the after-party were great (although it seemed that the reservations scheme had gone awry, they had no place for us at our chosen restaurant). I guess drinking and talking into the night at Vega with a lot of confused locals around was a fitting way to end another great Reboot.

Paris mashed up

Street art hero Banksy strikes again: he’s spread 500 mashed up copies of Paris Hilton’s new album through 48 record stores in the UK. This excellent video shows how he goes about Photoshopping and pasting up the booklet, inserting a new CD and sneaking it into an HMV shop. The music on the spoof album was created by hip-hop producer Danger Mouse.

Shot of mashed up Paris booklet

Guys like him make life in the 21st century slightly more bearable; Banksy proves ordinary citizens can provide some counterweight to mass media with well-executed and highly targeted actions. HMV doesn’t agree: “It’s not the type of behaviour you’d want to see happening very often”.

Thanks to Bart for the heads-up.

Bleep!

The first digital music download service that gets it right, in my opinion, is Warp Records Bleep.

I discovered it through Chris Heatcote’s blog (thanks Chris) and decided to give it a go. Signing up is painless, browsing through the music works reasonably well (although they could take a few hints from services like Odeo when it comes to interface design) and buying an album is easy, you can even use PayPal, so no looking around for your credit card. Best of all is the fact that the files are plain mp3s without DRM. Lovely. Give them a try!

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