MonthMay 2004

MP3 of the week: Counting Songs

     Hot on the heels of Entertainment Weekly’s assertion in 100 pt. type that the lyrical aspect of songwriting is without merit (“DUMBER! Must make the public DUMBER!”), I’ve become obsessed with a specific lyrical technique: pop songs that artfully employ counting as a device within the framwork of some sort of narrative. Ideally this will involve dopey exploitation of the homonyms of ‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘four,’ and ‘eight’ – not just counting for the sake of counting.

lyricsd

     A good example of what I’m talking about is a ridiculously rare Harry Nilsson song called “Countin’.” As far as I can tell, the only extant recording is from a session in which he demoed a handful of songs for the the members of the Monkees. The verses of the song cover the numbers one through ten in ascending order, a different way each time.

Harry Nilsson – ‘Countin’

From: Monkees Session (196?)

One coke, two straws

Three O’clock I’m gonna walk You home

For you I’ll carry books

Five blocks isn’t very long

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late

Two honks three miles to a movie show

Four hours once a week

Five bucks isn’t much you know but

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late



Countin’

Countin’

Countin’ the hours that we’re apart

Countin’

Countin’

With every beat of my heart

One kiss too much

Three times we’ve said goodnight

I’d do anything for

Just to spend five minutes more, cause

Six days a week I do without you

Seven days a week I need you

Eight o’clock, we had a date

9:10 on the street I wasn’t late”

     Upon completing the song, Nillson can be heard explaining: “Y’know, Cute.” He later described the session from which this song was taken as follows:

     “So I sang seven, eight or nine songs, and Michael Nesmith said, ‘Man, where the fuck did you come from? You just sat down there and blew our minds like that. We’ve been looking for songs, and you just sat down and played an album for us. Shit! Goddammit!’ He threw something on the floor. And he went and got Micky Dolenz and he said to him, ‘Would you listen to this man? Listen to that!’ Micky gave a surprised laugh, and Davy Jones started laughing over one song, and it was like the three of them were just out of their tree. Only Peter Tork couldn’t give a shit.”

     Another good example of what I’m talking about is the song ‘3 Small Words,’ recorded for 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats movie (The vocalist is Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo). I don’t own the CD so I’m not sure who the songwriting credit goes to, but it could be any combination of Adam Duritz (Counting Crows), Jason Falkner (Jellyfish), Jane Wiedlen (Go Go’s), Anna Waronker (That Dog), and Babyface, as they were all involved with the soundtrack work in some capacity. The chorus descends from six to one as follows:

It took six whole hours

And five long days

For all your lies to come undone

And those three small words

Were way too late

‘Cause you can’t see that I’m the one

josiecd

     A slightly less clever subset of this sort of trickery can be seen in songs like Elvis Costello’s ‘Every Day I Write the Book.’

“Chapter One we didn’t really get along

Chapter Two I think I fell in love with you

You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three

But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six”

     …or in Goldfinger’s cringe-worthy wholesale co-opting of ‘Every Day I Write the Book,’ “Counting the Days” (Which borders on counting for the sake of counting):

Still counting the days I’ve been without you 1, 2, 3, 4…

Still counting the days that you’ve been gone.

Day one, was no fun.

Day two, i hated you.

By day three I wish you’d come right back to me.

Day four, five and six, well I guess you just don’t give a shit.

Day seven, this is hell. this is hell.

I gotta get away, and find something to do.

But everything I hear, everything I see, reminds me of you.

So: any other examples?

MP3 of the week: Todd Rundgren – 'Cool Jerk'

Todd Rundgren – ‘Cool Jerk’

From: A Wizard, A True Star (1973)

     After having Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ recommended to me twice for wildly differing reasons, I finally bought it this weekend. The second side features a ten-minute medley of covers that concludes with this frenetic rendition of ‘Cool Jerk’ in off-kilter 7/4 time, cut from the same cloth as Devo’s take on the Rolling Stone’s ‘Satisfaction.’ The first 20 seconds or so of the MP3 feature the more stereotypically Rundgren-ian arrangement and production of ‘La La Means I Love You,’ which precedes ‘Cool Jerk’ in the medley.

The Secret World of Og

     In mid-2003 I started making an effort find the name of an animated special I remembered from my youth, via the friendster network:

     “I’ve been searching for the title of a longform (I think) animated special that I remember from the 1980’s. Here’s what I remember about it: It wasn’t a regular series – it seemed more like a chopped-up feature. The show was longer than a half hour – I’m wanting to say it was two hours, but maybe it only seemed that long because I was young. The worst part about it was that it ended with a ‘to be continued,’ and I never saw the second half. I know I saw the first half more than once, and I remember it airing on sunday mornings each time I saw it. It was (Maybe) an episode of an after-school special type program, as I remember waiting to see if the second half was showing on any particular Sunday in this time slot and being greeted with live-action of some sort – I believe it might have been a part of an anthology show – with a different movie each week. The story consisted of a group (or ‘gang’) of kids (maybe a dog or other ‘pet’?) falling down a hole / mine / waterfall / something into a crazy hidden underground world, and their attempted journey home. For some reason my memory of the ‘To Be Continued’ scene involves a rockslide in a tunnel, trapping the kid(s) in the fanciful (Though it may have been sinister, I don’t recall) underground world. That might be completely wrong. That’s literally all I remember, besides the fact that I loved the first half and never saw the second half. Can you help?”

     My friendsters were no help, so I turned to the animation discussion forum at cartoonresearch.com for answers… and got them!

     “Since you say this was specifically an underground world (and not just transportation through a fall or hole to some other land, like the others mentioned, but one with rocks and caverns), can you recall if the kids met any green people? Sounds like it *might* be the three part Hanna-Barbera special “The Secret World of OG,” which aired for years on “The ABC Weekend special.” Apparently it involved four kids, their baby brother, and their dog. The green people seem to believe that all of the old make believe toys or objects they’ve collected over the years are real, or something like that, haven’t seen it in years. It was apparently based on a children’s book, still in print, by Pierre Breton. Couldn’t find any stills online, alas, but does this ring any bells?”

og

     So began my quest for ‘The Secret World of Og.’ The sparse IMDB listing is here. Consulting amazon revealed no home video release, though there were a few used copies of the book on which it was based. Further searching turned up this summary of the plot:

     Five young siblings and their pets discover an underground world beneath their backyard. They realize that this could be the place where they can find their missing comic books and other items that vanished from their home. They meet a strange green man who can only say “OG.”

     Naturally, I next turned to eBay, where I found a seller who would list a single VHS copy each week. Without fail, these copies would get bid up to between 20 and 50 dollars. I contacted the winners of these auctions in an attempt to ascertain the quality of the video and accidentally got in touch with the family of one of the voice actors:

     My daughter was probably 8 or 9 at the time the cartoon was made… She worked in showbiz for about 5 years and grew up to be a nurse! She did the voice of the little girl with the snake [Patsy]. The credits are kind of hard to read, but I think they misspelled her name… they spelled Brittany as ‘Brittiny’ which is really funny because she also did a movie, and in the credits they spelled her name as ‘Britanny.’ I didn’t know Brittany was so hard to spell!

     “I received the tape today… I would not call the quailty great. The cartoon was copied from tv some 20 years ago and he has made copies of it. I feel kind of silly that I paid as much as I did for it, but it was my first purchase and it was important to me.

     I decided to wait and see if the bidding furor would die down as time wore on as the guy had a seemingly limitless supply. Surprisingly, a few months ago, he stopped relisting the tapes, so I had to find a new source. I found an MSN group that had been created since I began my inital search and got in touch with a member there who was selling VHS dubs for a more economical price. I (and other members of the group) sent him a check and hoped for the best. A few days later, he posted a fairly cryptic message to the group and hasn’t been heard from since. My check remains uncashed.

     I finally found someone via a google groups search who had a digital copy that they were willing to burn to DVDR for me. That copy arrived yesterday, and unfortunately, the audio and video are badly out of sync. It served its purpose, however, and after watching the DVD, I can now add the following details to the plot:

  • The inhabitants of OG are all green.
  • They’ve learned english by reading comic books stolen from the neighborhood children.
  • As their language only consists of one word, their schooling “only lasts ten minutes.”
  • They spend their ample free-time reenacting scenarios from comic books.

     In summary: Mission accomplished. I finally got to see the ending to The ‘Secret World of Og.’ The audio to the climax should probably be played at every comic book convention ever (mp3). My copy is lacking the interruptions of O.G. Readmore and his accursed commercial breaks, but I was able to pick out where the episodic break occurred. There was no rock slide, but the scene that was etched in my memory was there, as one of the children is chased into a dead-end tunnel by the inhabitants of ‘Og.’ There were also plenty of story elements keeping the kids ‘trapped’ underground to fuel my five-year-old ‘Holy crap, that’s creepy’ emotional fire, but as one might expect, 20 years later it wasn’t nearly as fast-paced, exciting, or creepy as I remembered it. The Og characters seem pretty ridiculous, and the overall sense of suspense that my memory conjures is flatly absent. If anyone’s interested I could probably post a few more stills, and I might even be convinced to put together a torrent if there’s sufficient demand.

     Tracking down ‘The Secret World of Og’ exposed me to the titles of tons of other animated ABC Weekend Specials, most of which threw a faint switch of recognition. A sampling:

  • The Haunted Mansion Mystery
  • The Red Room Riddle
  • The Amazing Bunjee Venture
  • The Return of the Bunjee
  • Ghost Of Thomas Kempe
  • My Dear Uncle Sherlock [I definitely remember this one.]
  • The Trouble with Miss Switch
  • Miss Switch to the
    Rescue
  • The Dog Days of Arthur Cane
  • All the Money in the World
  • Mayday, Mayday

     Judging by the reaction I got from people I discussed the Weekend Specials with, it seems like there would be a market for someone to release a bunch of them on DVD. If you were the sort of person who woke up early on Saturdays to watch cartoons until lunchtime, this google groups thread is full of crazy reminders.

Mutual Appreciation Society

     Amazingly great 80-page transcription of a hybrid conversation / presentation held at the University of Minnesota by ‘This American Life‘ host Ira Glass and Acme Novelty Librarian Chris Ware. (pdf format).

Ira Glass: One of the things I find myself – as somebody who does radio – always responding to and really aware of in, in your comics, in a way, in fact, I’ve never really noticed in other comics is um, that there are pauses built in. Like in the thing you just read, the guy will say something in one panel and then there will be a panel where nobody says anything and Jimmy just sits there, and then the next thing will happen. It’s like you’re building in, you’re building in a moment in between, like you’re building in pauses, you’re controlling time and the speed of the reading.

Chris Ware: I think that just comes from, from drawing – first of all without using words, and then trying to give it a real sense of the rhythm of life. And I can’t use any other word to describe it, but there’s a certain – when I’m drawing a strip, it has to have a certain rhythm to it and I basically play through it while I’m reading it, almost like a piano roll, and if I read through it and that there’s a pause in it or there’s a rhythm in it that seems wrong, I’ll subdivide a panel to put in a space, or -

Ira Glass: You’ll actually put in a panel, which is, which will space it out?

Chris Ware: Yeah. I mean, I would think it would be analogous to what you’re doing when you’re editing an interview so that it sounds natural and if somebody, you know, coughs or burps or whatever, or they say something embarrassing -

Ira Glass: Well then, well actually, well actually, like – somebody will talk and be making their big point and you just feel like – as a producer, you feel like, “Oh, I want to slow them down.” Because, because the point will have more emotion and will come across to the listener with the emotion that the person’s feeling more if you slow them down. And so, we’re constantly taking, like, these tiny little pieces of – of blank time and inserting it between words to change the pacing.

Chris Ware: Wow.

Ira Glass: Yeah. [audience laughter]

Chris Ware: That sounds – wow – [audience laughter] Is that legal, though? [audience laughter] I mean, it almost seems like that would be -

Ira Glass: It’s lying.

Chris Ware: – prosecutable, you know.

Ira Glass: Well, we had the quote the same. I mean, one of the things about audio – [audience laughter and applause] – one of the things about audio that’s um, particular and different than other media is that you can edit, you can edit those, you can edit out a phrase, you can move a phrase to another place – as long as, like, they keep a certain, sort of, pitch and speed of their voice. Like, there’s so much manipulation you can do. And so the version of – like sometimes people will say, “Well, how come the people on public radio just seem so much more
articulate than people you meet?” And it’s because, man, we have edited out everything extraneous. You know, they’re talking better than they’ve ever talked in their lives. You know? And, and uh, you know, we’re making a more perfect version of them than could ever exist in nature. And – [audience laughter] And my feeling about it is like, it’s, it’s, it’s such an artificial, um, it’s such an artificial thing to sit down and tape somebody to start with. Like, you’re already not getting the real person; do you know what I mean? You’re already getting this weird approximation of parts of their personality that they feel comfortable saying in the presence of a near stranger with a tape going for an audience of a million people. Like, already – like, that’s such a weird thing that, um, to get at something where it seems like that, that they’re talking about something that means something to them and to make it come across right, putting in a pause here and there doesn’t seem like that much more manipulative than the act of recording itself. Suddenly I sound like Michel Foucault. Do you know what I mean? Like, it’s already so artificial. So I go, pshaw, a pause. They’re not ever gonna know. They just gonna think, “God, I am such, I am so expressive. Like, I left that interview, and I knew – I knew I nailed that interview with that boy, but I really nailed it. And when you put the music underneath, man, it just -.” You know? If there could be music underneath all the time…you know what the music is in the radio story? Music is like the frames on the page. Like the music actually takes it and makes it – the music takes it and makes it into something, which is larger than itself. It’s like it puts a frame around the picture, suddenly you see it as – as a cinematic thing, or you hear it as a cinematic thing when the music comes in.

Chris Ware: Well, you’re the first person I’ve ever noticed that’s ever done that – basically, where you can tell where somebody is actually about to start to tell a story, where there might be an introductory line, and then the music starts and you know that, “OK, this is the – this is where it begins.” It almost – it feels cinematic, but I’ve never heard anyone else do that before.

Ira Glass: Yeah, if you put the music in at a certain place it just creates this feeling of motion, “OK, now we’re going somewhere.” And then one of the tricks we use a lot is that if there’s music playing underneath somebody and you pull it out, whatever they say next, over the silence, sounds more important, and you pay more attention to unconsciously. And so, as a producer, if you want to be sure that people get this point, like this is the point, they must get this, or the rest of this isn’t going to work, or this is the really – like this is the most surprising thing they said, and you want to be sure that it comes across with the power that you’re feeling it, as the person putting it together, you totally pull out the music and maybe put in a little extra pause here or there.
Because you’ve only got your sound and your silence, you know, it’s like – a pretty primitive medium, you’ve got your sound, you’ve got your silence, and so you’ve got to encase the sound around..

Chris Ware: That’s true. Gee! You sound like aesthetic fascists up here, or something.

     This is just a giant pull quote – you really should read the whole thing.

More Vinyl Manufacturing Minutiae

Toys

     It was pointed out to me in the comments for my article on parallel grooves that one of the most ingenious uses of this technology is in children’s toys, the classic example being the See & Say – a pull-string toy that plays a variety of randomized prerecorded sounds. There have been many designs over the years, but they all look something like this:

seensay

     Pulling the string sends the arrow spinning around. The area on the perimeter where the arrow lands determines which sound will be played. This playback is achieved using a plastic disc with numerous parallel grooves. In the photo below you can see the lead-in groove to each of the parallel samples along the edge of the disc – each of these lead in grooves corresponds to one of the selections on the perimeter of the See & Say.

see-say-disk

     The grooves are played by a stylus that is attached to a plastic cone. The stylus transmits the vibrations to the cone, which acts as the ‘speaker.’ There are no electronics whatsoever. You can see an example of the stylus / cone machanism below.

see-say-needle

     These photos came from How Stuff Works, a site that has a more elaborate explanation of the inner workings of the See & Say on this page. The same principle was used in some pull-string talking dolls with multiple ‘sayings.’

     Earlier talking dolls – manufactured to use Thomas Edison’s then-new sound reproduction technology – employed simpler mechanisms. Edison’s first attempt to capitalize on this idea failed, though he eventually managed to turn a profit after letting someone else do the work for him. A quote from this site:

     “Despite several years of experimentation and development, the Edison Talking Doll was a dismal failure that was only marketed for a few short weeks in early 1890. Edison had envisioned the idea of a talking doll as early as 1877, but it was another inventor, William W. Jacques, who first developed a prototype based on Edison’s original tinfoil phonograph. Jacques and his partner Lowell Briggs founded the Edison Phonograph Toy Manufacturing Company in 1887 with Edison agreeing to lend his name to the planned product in return for royalties and stock ownership. Before production began, however, Edison took over the company, demoting the founder and leading to years of ill-will and lawsuits.”

edisondoll

Self-amplified Records

     Another anomaly I accidentally found reference to while researching my previous articles on vinyl stuff was this promotional item for Skippy Peanut Butter – a record with the player built in. The sound was reproduced by spinning the record with a pencil and resting a pin, attached to the cardboard horn, in the groove of the record.

skippyR

     The Skippy item is described on The Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records:

     “It’s a crude sound and I wonder how this was thought to be the proper medium for the Skippy Peanut Butter company to send their message. This is the only product I’ve seen by Sound-O-Gram, the company that manufactured this. It is a simple and effective mechanism for sound reproduction. About 78 rpm, 195?.”

     You can view the instructions here, and watch a short clip of the device in action in Realvideo format.

Vinyl Home Recording

     An interesting sidenote in the history of grooved playback are ‘blank’ records. Many different companies marketed records that enabled the purchaser to crudely record sound using their home phonograph. These records were primarily made of metal – a good gallery of several examples can be found here.

     The ‘Repeat-a-Voice Metal Recording Discs‘ printed the following instructions on the sleeve:

     “Put a ‘Repeat-a-voice’ metal recording disc on your phonograph. Use an extra loud needle and a small megaphone. Then talk or sing into the horn [speaker]. That’s all! Play the record and you’ll hear your voice.”

     I’ve included an image of the sleeve below. These discs operated on a simple reversal of the principle normally used to play records. Instead of the needle transmitting vibration to the speaker, the speaker was used to transmit vibration to a hard cutting stylus. You can view an image of the webhost of the The Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records recording such a record here, and listen to the resultant recording here (Realaudio format).

RepeatC

     This practice of using a speaker as a microphone is still used in some capacity today. Many recording engineers maintain that this is a sure-fire way to capture low frequencies when recording bassy instruments such as the kick drum of a drumkit. This has become so entrenched in recording engineer lore that Yamaha has begun marketing a ‘SubKick Low-Frequency Capture Device’ (MSRP $299.99), as seen below. Detailed information can be found here, and all sorts of fun threads particularly dealing with the Yamaha product and the theory behind it can be found via the Tape Op message board (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

kickdrummic

     As technology improved, slightly more advanced methods for recording records were devised. One such example is the Recordio, which used a microphone element to directly impart the sound to the cutting stylus. The coin-operated recordios appealed to the novelty of recording messages in one’s own voice by offering the recordio-gram. Home-use recordio machines were also eventually produced.

     Before rushing off to ebay to get your hands on a vintage recordio machine to screw around with, be aware that the problem of finding quality blank media to record on is an issue among the diehard community of people still tinkering with them. Some discussion grabbed from the newsgroups:

     “…a very
important thing is age. Back in the days when disc recording was
commonly in use, you always bought the freshest softest discs that you
could find. If you could nick the lacquer with your fingernail, you
had a good disc. The lacquer hardens with age, and no longer cuts
quietly, but with a rushing, scratchy sound. I have several NOS
recordio discs, but they cut a pretty lousy record.”

     “I use the clear sheets used for spiral notebook covers (the kind that you put > 3 holes in and screw a spiral in). I cut it into a circle and then cut a hole in the center. Depending on how deep the machine makes grooves, you may be able to record on one side or both.”

     If this sort of thing fascinates you, there’s a decent history of such devices here, with all sorts of nerdy tangents to follow up on.

CD-RPM

     After noting my unhealthy obsession with vinyl trickery, George V. told me about a band called Nautical Almanac, who have been doing some great stuff using a dictaphone (A device similar to the Recordio mentioned above) and CD-R’s. I wrote to the band asking about their process and got a detailed reply from member ‘Twig’ Harper:

     “We [currently] have our own lathe. For the longest time we used an old dictaphone
transcrition machine which cuts tighter grooves – the fidelity is
horrible but it was all we had. We could fit about 8 mintues on the
information side of a cd, and we made a ton of these from 1997-2001. Once we got a CDR burner, we put half cd info and half grooves on one
format, which saved our ass cutting-wise because you have to cut in
real time which is a lot of hours sitting down. The machine [was] slowly dying, [and] it finally did after we finished our 2003
summer tour-only release (Did about 200 of those). We had our friend
work on our Presto 6N lathe and he got it up to par. We have an RCA head on
it now which sounds a little better than the original presto head. We still need to get a proper amp to drive it but we have a rigged set up. We
will probably make a few hundered cdr/recs for the Nautical Almanac
tour we’re doing this June/July….

     The major problem with the old
dictaphone set-up was figuring out the right material to cut on. Nate
Young worked on figuring this out – [he tried] plastic soap detergent
bottles, ‘solo’ brand plastic plates – anything soft plastic was used.
One day after sitting around, the idea of cutting onto cds magically
appeared in our heads – duh… – seems so simple in retrospect but for a
year or two we didnt think of it. The next step was to figure out a way
to hold the cd in place, so I had to glue a cd tray to the spinning
platter and then tape the cd down to get a centered cut.
I’m really happy the thing died… it was a pain in the ass.”

     Twig sent along photos of the dictaphone and a CDR with grooves cut into it, which I’ve included below:

naut1
naut2

     Mr. Harper also discussed some of the new challenges he’s encountered owning his new presto lathe, so if you’re a lathe expert, feel free to get in touch with him. You can visit Nautical Almanac’s website here.

     “The only problem with the presto is that i can only fit about 1 1/2 minutes
until the feed on the head stops. I hear there is a way of modifying
the 6n so you can cut all the way to the center if you want. Ill have
to call up someone in the secret society of lathe trolls to get this
information and trade some semi precious materials. The fideleity
is pretty insane with the presto, but ive only had it fixed for a little
bit so I’ll see what other problems come up. Right now, everything is sold out, but we’re getting ready for tour and will be making runs of some lathe cut cdrs and recs.”

Mailbag: Barnes & Noble

     Every so often my ancient Barnes & Noble stories get linked somewhere and I get a burst of sympathetic email from fellow booksellers. I got some good feedback from Kara a few days ago, reaffirming the weird public sexuality / bathroom obsessions of the typical BN customer. Good Times:

     “So, I tried to keep a copy of your blog in hardcopy in our breakroom at the [removed to protect Kara’s job] store, but surprisingly the management confiscated it, I wonder why? I thought that it was just us that attracted insane people, but it seems that crazy people are drawn to the dark depths of Barnes and Noble stores. We finally had to close our bathrooms due to customers, not the homeless, but well dressed upscale types with entitlement issues, pushing our employees when they were trying to clean it, finally someone spat on the manager and she had enough. We have found men’s tighty whiteys shoved in the back of our comfy chairs, and recently had to remove yet another of them due to someone jizzing in it, again. Just in case anyone who doesn’t work at a BN is reading this, never, ever sit on the big comfy chairs, just don’t, trust me on this one.”

"Unacceptable!"

     While looking up articles for the Acme Novelty Archive from my last post, I found the following piece from the July 9th, 1999 issue of Entertainment Weekly:

Double Takes

stewie

     Comic-book fans have been buzzing about a certain familiarity they’ve noticed recently: namely, that Stewie, the football-shaped-headed child who loathes his mother and invents diabolical weapons on Fox’s Family Guy, bears a striking resemblance to a comic-strip character: Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth (right), a football-shaped-headed child who fears his mother and invents things to escape from her. Chris Ware has been drawing Jimmy since 1991, creating a series of comic books called the Acme Novelty Library. A collection of Jimmy’s adventures will be published by Pantheon next spring. Says Ware, “I don’t want a book of seven years’ worth of my stuff to become available and then be accused of being a rip-off of Family Guy.”

     Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has no comment, but his production company, Twentieth Century Fox, issued this statement: “[We] maintain that Stewie is an entirely original, independently created character.” Ware says the similarities are “a little too coincidental to be simply, well, coincidental” but adds that he’ll try his best to shrug it off. “If I let it get the better of me, I wouldn’t get any work done,” notes Ware. “I’d just sit around and stew about it.” – Ken Tucker

     Reading this and then going back and reviewing some older, uncollected Jimmy Corrigan strips only make these coincidental similarities more suspicious. I offer as an example the sequence below, which appeared in Zero Zero #16 (published in 1996 – The Family Guy premiered in 1999). Click the image to see more of the strip.

jcfgicon

     It’s all there – the character design, the extensive vocabulary and verbose tendancies, the mother issues and scientific proclivities… I’m a fan of The Family Guy, but it does begin to seem a little too coincidental. Crazy.

ACME Novelty Archive

     A few years ago I saw a ‘Peanuts’ tribute strip by Chris Ware somewhere. This past January, when I wanted to find it again, I couldn’t remember where it originally appeared. I figured there would be some easy way to check a database of comic book works online and come up with the source, but it turns out I had overestimated the present state of such databases on the internet. I found good starting points in the CBDB Comic Book Database, the Lambiek Comiclopedia, and the Grand Comic Book Database; but none of them listed the work I was looking for. I decided to start compiling a bibliography of Chris Ware works as I hunted, and as I seemed to stumble upon new works every day, I ended up spending three months building up a mammoth listing. Finally, in early May, I found what I was looking for – ‘Top Shelf Asks the Big Questions‘ contains the Peanuts strip and an essay by Ware.

     Many fans of the work of Chris Ware are
already aware of the href=”http://quimby.gnus.org/warehouse/”>Acme Novelty Warehouse – an earlier
site that set out to keep track of where Mr. Ware’s works appeared.

     The Warehouse hasn’t been updated in ages, so I plan on keeping an
unofficial, updated record here. I’ve imposed a loose order on my findings thus far, but i’m open to suggestions in that department. In addition to the sources listed above, I’ve borrowed liberally from the original Warehouse site which was put
together by Lars Magne Ingebrigtsen, with help from Gus Mastrapa,
Anthony Perna, Todd Morman; Michael Rhode’s href=”http://www.rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html”>Comics Research
Bibliography; the Fantagraphics Website; and various listings that appeared in the newsgroups years ago.

     I don’t claim to own even 20% of the material listed here, so I have no doubt that the listings are rife with errors. I’ll be keeping the comments on this post open indefinately so that anyone who has further details, an addition, a correction, a clarification, a link, or an image can simply post a comment below. If you have images to send, you can email me here. I’ve bought a domain to make it easier for people to navigate to this bibliography: acmenoveltyarchive.org (should redirect here in the next few days), and I’ll probably come up with some dopey little icon to denote that the information has been confirmed with an actual copy of the item in question.

     A technical side-note: I know I went about coding this in a backwards sort of way, from a usability standpoint, at least. If anyone out there is knowledgable in some sort of database protocol that would make this easier to maintain, and wants to help out, by all means, let me know.

All images (unless otherwise noted) are copyright 1987-2004 Chris Ware.

Thanks: Chris Hope, Chris Merritt, Ken Parille, Alvin Buenaventura.

Year-old AIM conversation

     I had this conversation with a friend over AIM about a year ago, and saved it. I just found it again a few days ago.

Me: I just had a great idea for a band

Me: and i need to tell someone

Them: Can I Join?

Me: It’s an idea to cash in on this crazy ‘Band as Concept-art’ revivalism

Me: so the band: ‘Point of purchase’

Me: the band plays on stage

Me: singer sets up merch table in front of stage

Me: and stands behind it selling merch while singing

Them: hahaha

Them: i like it

Me: all wear jumpsuits with creditcard logos or something equally ridiculous

Me: all dancable songs about commerce and how the audience should buy their merch

Me: there

Me: had to get that out of my brain

More Musical Steganography

Steganography:

(security) “Hiding a secret message within a larger one in such a way that others can not discern the presence or contents of the hidden message.”

     I recently looked into different types of code (program, morse) embedded in ‘popular’ music. In doing so, I found several mentions of an Aphex Twin song with image data embedded in the audio. Every single citation I found linked back to the same website (link), but unfortunately the link is dead. I HATE when people put up unique content and then can’t be bothered to leave it up. Don’t they realize that they’re not keeping their end of the bargain?! What if everyone did that? The internet would be RUINED!

     ANYWAY, I decided to replicate this guy’s findings and put up a site that shouldn’t disappear.

aphextwinwindow

     Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) seems to have an odd fixation on his own face – the cover to the Windowlicker EP is a perfect example. It’s therefore not surprising that the hidden image appears to be a heavily altered self-portrait. The image is retrievable by viewing the logarithmic output of the second song on the ‘Windowlicker’ EP with a spectrograph program. The title of the song in question is purposefully unpronounceable, but I’ve grabbed the title off the back of the CD for easy replication below.

aphextitle

Retrieving the Face

     At about five minutes and 27 seconds in, the audio data that can be used to produce the face begins. I’ve isolated the portion of the audio that contains the ‘face’ data and posted a .wav file here. The easiest way to view the face that I’ve found is to download Spectrogram (Download), a piece of windows software made specifically for such viewing. Spectrogram isn’t freeware, but it does offer a free 10-day preview – long enough for our purposes. Here’s exactly how to do it.

  • Download Spectrogram and the ‘aphex.wav’ file above
  • Open Spectrogram (gram9.exe within the .zip file)
  • Hit F2 to open a new file
  • Select aphex.wav from wherever you saved it
  • Make sure ‘Freq Scale’ is set to log.
  • Press ‘OK.’

     This should playback the audio and simultaneously draw the face. If you’re skeptical about going through the hassle of actually viewing this yourself, let me assure you that looking at the images on this site and watching the translation happen in real time are two wholly separate experiences.

aphex2

     Tweaking some of the other settings in the ‘scan file’ dialog can result in a clearer image. Here’s a close-up of my best effort:

aphex3

     Almost all articles I found stressed the fact that you had to use either the original CD or a WAV file – they maintained that an MP3 would not work. I decided to encode an MP3 of the wav at 320 kBps and try to retrieve the image from that file. I’ve included the resultant image below – it’s an interesting visual assertion of the ‘lossy’ nature of the MP3 format.

aphexmp3

     I didn’t have much luck retrieving the face on a mac running OSX, but then I didn’t really spend much time trying. I did download several programs from this collection of mac spectrum analyzers, and got a partial image using iSpectrum, so maybe start from there.

Reproducing the Effect

     The consensus seems to be that Mr. James used a program called Metasynth to put this together. Metasynth is native to Mac OS9 (Apparently an OSX version is on the way). I downloaded the demo and mucked around with it a bit but wasn’t able to easily reproduce technique. I had better luck on a windows machine using a shareware program called Coagula Light (Download). I first created a simple Bitmap image using paintbrush:

nerd1

     I next opened Coagula Light and opened the paintbrush bitmap (Images must be in .bmp format for use with Coagula Light). Transforming an image into sound with Coagula is ridiculously simple, just click the ‘gears icon’ to process the image and select ‘Save Sound As…’ from the ‘File’ menu. You can download the wav file that corresponds to this image here.

nerd2

     Finally, I opened the resultant wav file in Spectrogram the same way I opened the aphex file earlier. Here it is in stereo:

nerd3

     Some sites recommend using a certain winamp visualization plugin (‘Tiny Fullscreen’) to examine these images. I’ve found that while the plug-in they specify does reproduce the images, the output is not logarithmic, so any imagery is vertically distorted.

Sources: