CategoryNerdy Music

More fun with liner notes

Shellac’s ‘The Futurist’

     Shellac (Audio Engineer Steve Albini‘s vehicle for musical abrasion) had some fun with the liner notes to their limited-edition ‘Futurist’ LP. Click the image below for a legible version. A quote from this site sums up the concept nicely:

shellac

     “The Futurist is also referred to as the “Friends Of Shellac” record. Apparently, the boys did an album of music for some sort of dance production, and decided to press it to vinyl and give it to 779 of their closest friends.”

     “The sleeve is black with silver printing. The entire front of the sleeve is printed with the names of each of the recipients of the record. It looks a lot like the cover of XTC’s Go 2.”

     “The band apparently wants the record to not get into the hands of anyone besides the original recipient. Each receipient’s record has their name circled in silver ink. This is so that if any of them turn up for sale, the band will know whose copy it is.”

     The site from which this quote is drawn appears to be the reigning authority on this matter, having compiled an extensive alphabetical listing revealing who each of the Friends of Shellac ‘is.’

     One copy recently sold on ebay for $810, which is absolutely INSANE. The Albinos on the Electrical Audio Message Board (I’m sure someone else has already proposed ‘Albinos’ as a term for Albini devotees, so I won’t claim credit) have determined that the copy belonged to Kimberly Stahr – described in the alphabetical listing as a:

     “Designer, erotic film actress. Member of Louisville band Saint Christopher (Link?).”

     Several posters have offered their opinions of the sale in this thread on the Electrical Audio bulletin board, to which Albini himself posted the following:

     “Hey, it was a gift, and when you get a gift, you’re entitled to do whatever you like with it.”

     Awesome. If I were Albini, I would have bought it myself, so she’d have had to ship it back to me.

     This post was inspired by Fred Metascene‘s pointer to a page indexing every posting Albini has made on the Electrical Audio Message Board. Also relevant: Albini’s raised his rates.

Coded Covers

     Another byproduct of the ‘Code in popular music’ bits I wrote (1, 2) was a slight fascination with ciphered text in the liner notes of various albums. I’ve encountered several great examples of such ciphers, and am curious to learn if there have been other instances. The source of many of my leads in compiling this list is a text-based Cryptorock Summary, crossposted in the alt.rock-n-roll and sci.crypt newsgroups in 1989, though I’ve noticed several post 1989 examples as well.

     The most obvious of the more recent examples is ‘Imaginary Day‘ by the Pat Metheny Group. The cover to the album makes it fairly clear that something’s up, and provides enough ‘given’ context that one would have a decent shot at cracking the rest of the symbols even if the key wasn’t provided inside the case.

patmetheny

     Inside the booklet, all information is written in this code. An example of how the coded liner notes look can be found here, and a giant scan of the back cover (which features the tracklisting, in code) can be found here. Decoding the notes using the provided key entails properly aligning the disc itself with the artwork beneath the ‘tray’ of the case. Doing so allows each letter of the alphabet (on the under-tray artwork) to show through the clear center of the disc, and align with the corresponding symbol. This cipher was carried over to the packaging for the live DVD release associated with the ‘Imaginary Day’ tour. To avoid in-store confusion, both the CD and DVD are wrapped in a blue strip of paper identifying the item in plain English. This newsgroup posting contains a translation of all of the liner notes.

     There is a slightly pointless application based on the cipher available for download at the promotional site for the album. Running the application brings up a screen that translates your keystrokes into the pictoral code. Correctly filling in the blanks with ‘Pat Metheny Group Imaginary Day’ rewards you with a photograph of Metheny sitting with his acoustic guitar, lost in thought. One can only imagine how much Warner Brothers was duped into paying for the development of this ‘intricate’ promotional software back in 1997.

     The second example of coded liner notes that I’m aware of is ‘Mer De Noms,’ by Tool off-shoot A Perfect Circle. This is a more subtle example in that there is no key or allusion to the code at all – it has to be deciphered based on context. I wasted an hour or so figuring out the code one sunday morning shortly after ‘Mer de Noms’ first came out, and was pretty pleased with myself. The coded text running down the center of the cover reads ‘La Cascade Des Prenoms’ – a fragment of the original title for the record (‘La cascade de prénoms pour une mer de noms,’ rough translation: the cascade/stream
of first names for a sea of names).

aperfectcircle

     I’ve since sold the CD, and I never gave the code a second thought until It started turning up in my searches for popular music weirdness. Unsurprisingly, there’s all sorts of information on the code online. A no-frills key can be found here. Goth cipher-enthusiasts everywhere can also download the code as a font (‘Mayan’) and hide their tortured missives away from prying eyes. With these resources readily available, it was only a metter of time before ‘Mayan’-coded tattoos started surfacing (It says ‘Evolving.’)

apctattoo

     The back of the sleeve to New Order’s ‘Power, Corruption and Lies’ album features a color wheel designed by Peter Saville that was used to encode brief messages on many New Order releases (Power Corruption & Lies, Blue Monday, and Confusion).

     Searching through New Order’s official FAQ reveals a description of the decoding process, among other useless knowledge (ie “What record was [Joy Division singer] Ian Curtis listening to when he hanged himself?” A: Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’):

     “To decode the wheel, use only the outer two rings. You could divide the outer
two rings into full colour, various on green, and various on yellow. The inner
segments appear to be meaningless. Start with the full colour sections, the
first of which will be the green one… This is ‘A’. Work your way clockwise
namiong each colour the next letter. There are exactly 26 segments around the
disc. From ‘Z’ work back into the full colours, the first of which is ‘1’. This
means that the full green segment is either ‘A’ or ‘1’, and the colour for ‘I’
is also that for ‘9’.”

color-wheel
color-wheel-TEXT

     I simplified the directions by making the visual key pictured above. The rest of the New Order messages translate as follows:

  • Power, Corruption & Lies LP cover: ‘FACT 75′ [image]
  • Power, Corruption & Lies CD cover: ‘FACD 75′
  • Inner cover PC&L: ‘Power Corruption And Lies New Order’
  • Blue Monday 12″ Sleeve:‘ FAC 73 Blue Monday And The Beach New Order’ [image]
  • Confusion Outer Sleeve: ‘FAC 93′ [image]

     New order also uses the code on their official website.

     Interestingly, another Factory records artist, Section 25, used the same code on the cover of their album ‘From the Hip.’ While I haven’t got a copy to decode, I did find a decent-sized image of the sleeve via this site:

section25

     The cover does indeed feature a message coded using the new order color wheel – the upper sections off the posts spell out “From the hip.” This message is repeated in the liner notes as seen below:

section25inner

     One of the albums cited on the previously mentioned cryptorock list is Ozzy Osbourne’s live album, ‘Speak of the Devil,’ released shortly after guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash on March 19, 1982. The back cover of the album features both a ring of symbols (which appears to be a key), and numerous strings of smaller symbols in red. The message is described on the list as being a dedication to Randy Rhodes, but I have found no reference online to decoding the message. Clicking the image below should open a larger image of the full back cover in a new window.

ozzysmall

     Another example of a known code without a method for decoding is the cover to Todd Rundgren’s ‘A Wizard, A True Star,’ which is littered with multicolored banners bearing strings of obscure symbols (Example below). According to the cryptorock list, these translate to “I, Arthur Wood, painted this,” “Be true to your words and your words will be true to you,” “Be true to yourself and your work,” “I will be as true to you as I can,” “Tenderness is the secret to love, as far as I can see,” and “Todd Rundgren.”

awizardrunes

     Also of note is the back cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Red Rose Speedway,’ which features a short message in braille. Said to be for the benefit of Stevie Wonder (Though I can find no confirmation of this and it may be apocryphal), the message reads: “We love you, baby.”

mccartneybraille

     There are several other pre-1989 examples listed in the newsgroup posting, but they are either of dubious quality or too rare for me to easily track down. Is anyone aware of other modern examples?

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:

Maximum Minimalism

     This might be old news to everyone, but there’s a really great flash video of someone constructing a song using only windows sound recorder and the default windows sound effects. It’s fairly long and really starts to evolve in a great way about halfway through. The cynic in me doesn’t believe it was done in realtime, but it’s put together pretty well. The site I link to is just a mirror – anyone know where it came from?

sndrec

More Quadratic Ridiculousness

     I started an Ask Metafilter thread on the quadratic equation songs I wrote about the other day, and got a few more submissions. In case you’re keeping score at home, so far I’ve been told of versions sung to the tune of the following familiar melodies:

  • Frere Jacques.
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Row, Row, Row your boat
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • The Notre Dame Fight Song
  • The U of M fight song
  • Jingle Bells
  • Ballin’ the Jack

     For some reason, I had never heard of ‘Ballin’ the Jack.’ Maybe it’s just me. Turns out its a 1913 rag that sparked a gigantic dance craze. Gelling nicely with yesterday’s post, Harry Nilsson even recorded a version of it. Just to add to the useless trivia – here’s some info on where the phrase ‘Ballin’ the jack’ comes from, via this newsgroup thread.

     “The “Historical Dictionary of American Slang” says that “ball the jack”
means: to go fast (said espcially of a railroad train), make haste; (hence)
to run away. The 1913 quote from a well-known ragtime song gave the phrase
wide currency and referred specifically to a dance step presumably
introduced by the song. Whether the phrase itself was coined at the same
time is uncertain. This reference is to the Jim Burris and Jim Smith song
called, “Ballin’ the Jack” as in…”and that’s what I call ballin’ the
jack.”

     So there you are. There are all kinds of references to useages of
“ballin the jack”
but not a word as to what “ballin” (in this context) or “jack” (in this
context) mean. What an elusive phrase. Sure it means, “make the train go
fast” but why does it mean that?

     From the Glossary in the back of Lucius Beebe’s “High Iron” (1938):

JACK: Locomotive.

     Unfortunately, there is no reference to ‘ball the jack’. Maybe ball is
short for highball:

HIGHBALL: Signal for clear track, deriving from the first train signals
which were in the form of painted metal globes hoisted to the crossarm of
a tall pole when trains were to proceed….

     Given that a “Jack” is a loco, and to run on a clear signal (Highball)
is to “Highball” the train, it’s probably most likely a contraction:
‘ballin’ the Jack…or running the train at top speed on clear signal.

     You can download a recording of ‘Ballin’ the jack’ for free from Amazon via this link.

     Be on the lookout for my next band: ‘Quadratic Invasion.’ Our reportoire will consist exclusively of these different arrangements of the quadratic equation… as they would sound if performed by (early) Beatles.

Probably Music

     A few months ago I read somewhere that Mozart had written an algorithm to compose music automatically. This, of course, fascinated the shit out of me. I did a bit of googling and turned up the following:

     “Music publishing was a thriving trade during the latter part of the 18th century in Europe. Publishers vied with one another to print the works of the latest “hot” composer. Many of them looked for novel ways to entice new customers into their music shops.”

     “One such ploy was to publish systems that would allow any amateur to compose music without having to know the techniques or rules of composition. The London music publisher Welcker, for example, issued a “Tabular System whereby the Art of Composing Minuets is made so easy that any person, without the least Knowledge of Musick, may compose ten thousand, all different, and in the most pleasing and correct Manner.”

     “Many of these schemes involved using dice or other randomizers to select musical fragments from an array of choices. Composer Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721–1783), a former pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), suggested the use of dice for this purpose in his book The Ever-ready Composer of Polonaises and Minuets, published in 1757.”

     “One well-known example of such a scheme is the “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” (Musical Dice Game), first published in 1792 in Berlin. Attributed by the publisher to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), it appeared a year after the composer’s death.” [source]

     So it was a dice game, and it might not have been by Mozart at all, but it was a start. The next step was to look into the ‘authenticity’ issue. In doing so, I found several essays that conclude that Mozart was not the author, but that the dice game was a result of the rampant plagirism that plagued the music publishing “scene” of the 1800’s. Chief among the evidence are the tables used in the “Mozart” game, which appear identical to tables used in earlier games by other authors. An essay that meticulously traces the origins of such dice games can be found here. The author finds that many dice games bearing similarly incorrect credits were once available from the same publisher, and manages to find many simlarities between these games and previously published works. He infers from this that the Mozart game has similar origins, and that Mozart’s name was invoked purely for reasons of marketing. The essay concludes:

     “In short there is absolutely no evidence, even a hint beside Mozart’s name being on the title pages of the above issues, that these games had anything to do with Mozart.”

     This does not mean, however, that Mozart did not mix a bit of math with his music. Another article, after establishing that the dice game is most likely not authentic, adds the following:

     “Nonetheless, there are indications that Mozart enjoyed mathematical puzzles. He also had a lively sense of humor and was fond of playing around with names. And he had a passion for gambling—a major preoccupation at the time (along with drink) among the men of both Salzburg and Vienna.

The article goes on to discuss the beginnings of a musical game found in one Mozart manuscript:

     “On both sides of the sheet, Mozart wrote down long strings of measures, grouped into two-bar melodies, each labeled with a letter of the alphabet and a number (1 or 2). However, other than supplying a “worked-out” example at the end of each page, he gave no instructions on how to proceed.”

     Hideo Noguchi of Kobe, Japan, has written a paper on the rules of the game as he has worked them out. It appears to be a method for developing a ‘signiture meolody’ based on one’s name. Noguchi’s paper is available online here, complete with figures depicting bits of the original manuscript.

Gameplay

     Ok dudes, so you want to play the “Not by Mozart” dice game? Itching to compose some minuets? The procedure is as follows: the ‘composer’ rolls two dice and looks up the resultant roll in a table. The table dictates a certain numbered measure of music to be played. This process is repeated 16 times until the randomly generated minuet is complete. In the interest of further alienating former kempa.com readers, I’ve pieced together a short discussion of the mathematics involved in this game from various sources on the internet. It might be a good idea to visit one of these two sites – both are web-based midi implementations of the game – and compose a few minuets before moving on, so you aren’t completely lost.

     The total achieved by throwing a pair of six-sided dice can result in any number from 2 to 12. Therefore, there are 11 possible outcomes. As such, each of the 16 measures in the resultant composition have 11 possible selections associated with them (Depending on which version you’re going by, the 8th and 16th measure have either the standard eleven, or a far less impressive two possibilites). This means that the final piece is composed from a pool of ~ 171 prewritten measures. These measures are arranged in a table corresponding to their placement in the context of the 16 measure piece and the dice roll for that measure. You can view an example of the table that determines the measure to be played, and listen to each measure here.

     The most interesting aspect of this game is that the measures are arranged within the table according to the total rolled on two dice. The probability of getting a certain result when rolling two dice dictates that certain measures will be chosen more often than others based on their positioning. I’ve illustrated this in a ridiculous table, below:


Dice 1

Dice 2

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

1

1

x

                   

1

2

 

x

                 

1

3

   

x

               

1

4

     

x

             

1

5

       

x

           

1

6

         

x

         

2

1

 

x

                 

2

2

   

x

               

2

3

     

x

             

2

4

       

x

           

2

5

         

x

         

2

6

           

x

       

3

1

   

x

               

3

2

     

x

             

3

3

       

x

           

3

4

         

x

         

3

5

           

x

       

3

6

             

x

     

4

1

     

x

             

4

2

       

x

           

4

3

         

x

         

4

4

           

x

       

4

5

             

x

     

4

6

               

x

   

5

1

       

x

           

5

2

         

x

         

5

3

           

x

       

5

4

             

x

     

5

5

               

x

   

5

6

                 

x

 

6

1

         

x

         

6

2

           

x

       

6

3

             

x

     

6

4

               

x

   

6

5

                 

x

 

6

6

                   

x

 

Total:

1

2

3

4

5

6

5

4

3

2

1

     As you may or may not be able to see from this hastily constructed table, a roll of two dice is 6 times more likely to produce a total of seven than a total of two or twelve. Because of this, we see that the probability of a measure being chosen is directly dependent on its position in the table. As the tables were composed by the author of the game, the mathematically optimistic among us can assume that the composer took this into account when arranging the measures, placing the measures he favored with the more likely-to-be-rolled totals, and hiding the more exotic and less aurally pleasing meaures along rows two and twelve of the table. For reference, the probability of realizing each total with a roll of two dice is conveniently recorded in the table below:

Dice Roll Probability
2 1/36
3 2/36 = 1/18
4 3/36 = 1/12
5 4/36 = 1/9
6 5/36
7 6/36 = 1/6
8 5/36
9 1/9
10 1/12
11 1/18
12 1/36

     This game has proven a popular project for programmers all over the place, and there are a heap of web-based implementations. Here’s a list of the best working versions I found:

  • This version, by Zsófia Ruttkay and Bram Boskamp, is among the best. While it doesn’t show you any of the randomizing, it does everything else remarkably well: automatically loading the score to the generated piece, playing it in midi, and presenting you with a variety of playback options. There’s another simple MIDI version by John Chuang, here.
  • There’s a simple shockwave version, by Michiko Charley, here. This one also keeps the randomizing behind the scenes, jumping right to the playback of completed random piece. Uniquely, The chart of each measure is displayed as the measure is played, giving a nice visual reference to where each interchangable measure begins and ends for those of us who do not read music.

Musical Quadratic equation

     When I was in 7th grade, my algebra teacher, Mrs. Berry, taught us the quadratic equation to the tune of the Notre Dame fight song. In discussing this with other people years later (I’m a “Sit around and discuss the quadratic equation” kind of guy), I found out that this was a common practice, but that the tune to which the quadratic equation was applied would vary.

     Here’s where you come in. I want to know how (if?) you learned the quadratic equation. I’m hoping it was via song. The IDEAL participant will find a recording of the tune online, and record themselves singing the quadratic equation along to it. I realize that this probably won’t happen, but that would be really, really great. The less ideal participant will post in the comments to this entry and tell me what song was used in their quadratic equation education. In case you have forgotten what exactly the quadratic equation is, here’s a reminder:

quadratic

     …and as sung to the Notre Dame fight song:

X eq-uals the op-po-site of B

plus or min-us the square root of

B squared min-us four Ayy Cee-eee

All over two times Ayy (dum dum).

     I did a bit of searching online and didn’t come up with much besides this 19 page .pdf document called the ‘Math Song Sing-a-long.’ The Math Song Sing-a-long suggests that the Quadratic equation can be sung to the tune of both the Notre Dame fight song AND ‘Amazing Grace.’ Without hearing it, the ‘Amazing Grace’ version doesn’t seem to work as well, but you can be the judge of that – here are the ‘lyrics:’

THE QUADRATIC FORMULA

WORDS BY: JOHN A. CARTER

TUNE: “AMAZING GRACE”



If you need to solve a quadratic

Equation in any form,

Set it equal to zero,

And use this formula.

You’ll have the zeroes before you know.



x equals the opposite of b

Plus or minus the square root

Of b squared minus 4a times c

All over two times a.

     Now, you may be thinking – “This is ridiculous, it can’t possibly get dorkier than this.” But it CAN. The other songs in the Math Song Sing-a-long are AMAZING. Just awe-inspiring. Here’s a bit from their take on the ‘Cheers’ theme:

CHEERS TO INTEGRATION

WORDS BY: STUDENTS IN J. CARTER’S CALCULUS AB CLASS

TUNE: “THE CHEERS THEME”


Integrating with trig identities takes everything you’ve got.

Anti-diff-er-en-tia-ting sure can take a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to learn a way… ?

     …and a bit from a mathematic interpretation of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You:’

WE WILL GRAPH YOU!

WORDS BY: JOHN A. CARTER

TUNE: “WE WILL ROCK YOU!”



Buddy, you’re a man with a hard time graphing

All you need to do is find the m and the b.

It’s not too hard you see, You put your pencil on the b.

Graphing’s not as hard as you thought it might be, singing



Chorus:

We will, we will graph you!

We will, we will graph you!

     As you can see, it’s really necessary to read the whole thing. That’s it for today. Math and music. And this is only the beginning. I can feel the cool kid links already. Also – Rob, I get half of your pay for every day you use this in class.

The Fourth Chime

     I somehow stumbled across a bit of questionable trivia regarding NBC’s audio “logo” – that the three familiar notes are “G-E-C”, in honor of the initials of NBC’s one-time parent corporation, General Electric Company. I also found a mention of the tones in a newsgroup posting that added: “Back when NBC was more of a radio operation, a four-note version (with a higher note at the end) meant “all news people to their stations; breaking story coming in.” Looking into this opened up a whole can of internet worms that I got way too involved in.

     Consulting Google reveals that a guy named Bill Harris has written two of the most ‘authoritative’ essays on the subject, available online here and here. His introduction to the earlier article betrays the fact that he’s just as easily obsessed as I am:

     “I became interested in the history of the chimes after discovering a book at the library titled ‘The Fourth Chime’ by NBC, printed in 1944. I had never heard of a “fourth” chime and my curiosity was aroused. I checked out the book to find out more about this extra chime, but the book told me very little, dealing mainly with the role NBC played in the reporting of special world-wide news events, primarily during World War II.”

     “I began to seek more information on this fourth chime. Was it a different note from the other three or maybe a repeat of one of the others? Where could I get a recording of this fourth chime?”

     Harris recieved this response to an early article mentioning the chimes, from an 87 year old former employee of Atlanta radio station WSB:

     “I read in your Jan. 17 Action column that NBC officials said the chimes used for network identification are the musical notes G, E, and C and originally stood for General Electric Corporation which was part owner of NBC. I think if you research this a little further you will find that the chimes really originated in Atlanta, GA., at radio station WSB”.

     “In the late 1920’s, WSB station manager Lambdin Kay began using a miniature xylophone to hit those same three notes to signal station breaks. Later, when WSB joined the NBC network, WSB cut in one day during a Georgia Tech football game with the chimes. NBC liked it so well that it got permission to use the chimes for its own identification.”

     This story was later confirmed by a former manager of WSB. Harris elaborates on where the notes came from in the first place:

     “The notes used by WSB were the first three notes of the World War I song Over There, which are the notes E-G-C. This becomes important when discussing the fourth chime as I will clarify later. NBC rearranged the notes to G-E-C. Station WSB went on the air in 1922 and became an affiliate of NBC on January 9, 1927 shortly after the formation of NBC.”

     In the wake of Harris’ first article on the subject, several other radio stations came forward to claim credit for the origination of the chimes. WGY in Schenectady and KFI in Los Angeles reported stories similar to the WSB story. Harris wrote about this conundrum in his more comprehensive follow-up essay.

     His further research uncovered an additional story of how the chimes were developed internally at NBC:

     “At the end of a program the NBC announcer would read the call letters of all the NBC stations carrying the program. As the network added more stations this became impractical and would cause some confusion among the affiliates as to the conclusion of network programming and when the station break should occur on the hour and half-hour. Some sort of coordinating signal was needed to signal the affiliates for these breaks and allow each affiliate to identify. Three men at NBC were given the task of finding a solution to the problem and coming up with such a coordinating signal. These men were; Oscar Hanson, from NBC engineering, Earnest LaPrada, an NBC orchestra leader, and Phillips Carlin, an NBC announcer.”

     “A set of hand dinner chimes was purchased from the Lesch Silver Co. of Manhattan for 48.50 and during the years 1927 and 1928 these men experimented with a seven note sequence of chimes, G-C-G-E-G-C-E, which proved too complicated for the announcers to consistently strike in the correct order, so the sequence was reduced to four notes G-G-G-E. Sometime later two Gs were dropped and a C added to become the three notes G-E-C. These three notes were first broadcast on November 29, 1929, the notes were struck at 59 minutes 30 seconds, and 29 minutes 30 seconds past the hour.”

     The purpose of the fourth chime was to notify NBC staff of breaking news. In his article, Harris reports that “it was first heard on the air with the crash of the dirigible Hindenburg, in 1937 at Lakehurst, New Jersey, and during the Munich crisis in 1938. It was next heard with the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” Harris also reports he was surprised to find, while reviewing NBC news broadcasts of the 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe, that the sequence of notes was B-D-G-G, in the key of G. He continues:

“If you sound this sequence in the key of C, they become E-G-C-C. As stated in an earlier paragraph the note arrangement of E-G-C are the notes as originally used by radio station WSB, and the first three notes of the World War I song Over There.”

     I hypothosize that this is all due to inconsistency in the playback speed of the original source recordings, which I imagine is why Harris thought to transpose the notes he heard to the key of G. The subject is not addressed in the article. I looked into the song ‘Over There’ a bit – those of you with an interest in hearing it can do so in either the lifeless midi format or the craptastic realaudio format, which offers both vocal and instrumental versions. The lyrics are available here.

     The method by which the NBC notes were sounded changed over the years – the early chimes were simply three note bars mounted on a wooden box, struck by the announcer. Beginning in 1932 the chimes were generated automatically by a music-box-like machine that functioned at the push of a button. While Harris’ article doesn’t spend much time on the inner workings of the machines, I was pretty excited to discover that NBC had built electro-mechanical devices simply to play three notes. This was presumably done to ensure the uniformity and accurate reproduction of the chimes – almost a rudimentary sampler.Harris explains how the machines came to be known as Ranger chimes machines:

     “In 1932, two NBC engineers, Robert M. Morris, and O. B. Hanson visited a Captain Richard H. Ranger at his home in Newark, New Jersey. The purpose of this visit was to see an electronic organ Captain Ranger had invented. Morris describes the organ as “quite complex, and had many features of the pipe organ but the equipment consisting of countless tubes, relays, oscillators, amplifiers, filters, modulators, etc., occupied all of a two car garage.”

     “After their inspection of the electronic organ was complete, Captain Ranger accompanied Morris and Hanson to the Robert Treat Hotel for some refreshments. It was here that the subject of a possible electronic version of the NBC Chimes arose. It was suggested that Captain Ranger design such a unit and present it as a proposal to NBC. Approximately a month and a half later Captain Ranger had a working model.”

     A bit more digging turned up Brian Wickham’s short article on a salvaged Ranger chimes machine, recued from the trash by an NBC engineer:

     “The chimes are now used to herald “The Ticker” on NBC football games and have been doing so since sometime in the 1994 football season (possibly 1993, it’s not something you write down and remember). The actual sound used is a recording of a restored “Electric Chimes Machine” that was found in the garbage at NBC in 1977. The machine, from about 1930, was rescued by a radio engineer and given to me, as I was known to have an interest in these things. It was later returned to NBC and restored by Radio Net Maintenance to good working order and even modified so that it gave a clean ring off.”

     “My understanding is that it was Dick Ebersol’s idea to use the chimes at a low playback level to alert the viewers to the “Ticker” which gives the current scores in all games. I thought it was a lame idea but when I heard it on the air I had to admit that it sounded pretty good and that it worked as intended. Besides, it’s nice to hear the original chimes on the air on a regular basis.”

     You can view the schematic and inner workings of an NBC chimes machine here.

     Like any great cultural icon, NBC’s chimes worked their way into popular culture:

     “There have been many songs written about the chimes and even concerts performed around the famous three notes. In 1935 Paul Whitman’s band performed Announcers Blues that uses the chimes in a jazz arrangement. The tune was written by Frank Trumbauer, the bands saxophonist, and Harold Stokes. Composer Kurt Maier wrote a composition titled “The NBC Polka”, around the three notes. The selection was first played on NBC-TV in 1949. For the 25th anniversary of NBC in 1951, a tribute to the chimes was written by Meredith Willson, The Three Chimes of Silver.

Audio Links:

  • You can listen to the NBC chimes in .wav format here, or in the vastly inferior realaudio format here.
  • You can view a vintage station identification animation (also with sound!) here.
  • A recording of the NBC chimes with the fourth chime intact can be heard in .wav format here.
  • You can listen to a recording of a song about the chimes called ‘I Love You,’ here.
  • Several other audio clips are available here.

References / further reading:

Oh! The Joy of Reproducing Pianos!

     I recently started reading ‘Playback: From the Victrola to Mp3, 100 Years of Music, Machines, and Money‘ by Mark Coleman. As the
title implies, it covers the innovations that have allowed us to record
and playback sound over the last 100 years. In researching another
essay that I haven’t posted here yet, I stumbled across a technology
that isn’t mentioned in the book, but purports to be one of the
earliest methods for recording a musical performance. This technology is the
Reproducing Piano.

1

     It’s important to make a
distinction between the reproducing piano and its more famous cousin the player piano, as they
are very different beasts. The player piano’s rolls are cut by hand to
play notes at a fixed dynamic with little if any expression or
variation. The resulting playback sounds stiff and mechanical,
fittingly. The reproducing piano used a much more complicated system
involving a mechanism that punched the actions of a human player into a blank roll as they played, effectively recording the performance by not only punching a hole according to the note being played, but also by recording the
velocity with which the performer struck the keys, their expression,
and pedaling. This innovation was developed by the German
Welte piano Company:

     “In 1895 the Welte firm developed a
successful paper roll operated
player piano, one of the first such devices to be made on a commercial
basis. This early player piano was entirely mechanical. The paper was
punched out by hand using a piece of printed sheet music as a guide.
There was no attempt at expression other than maximum or minimum
loudness. What the pianos lacked in subtlety of dynamics they
compensated for in volume. But the Weltes were true artists; they were
convinced that the public would buy better reproduction if it could be
perfected.”

     “So, in the early 1900’s, Edwin Welte and
his associate Karl Bockisch
developed a machine known as a ‘Vorsetzer.’ This complex device had
felt covered ‘fingers,’ one for each piano key. It was placed in front
of a piano’s keyboard (The name ‘Vorsetzer’ means ‘Sitter in front of’
in German), the same position occupied by the pianist. [When a roll
was played], it actuated the mechanisms within the Vorsetzer in such a
way that these ‘fingers’ came down and depressed the keys with the same
dynamics and in the same order as the original artist’s performance.
The mechanism also faithfully reproduced the artist’s use of piano
pedals. By this method, a performance could actually be played back
from a master roll, much as we do with our modern tape recorders
today.”

     “Every precaution was taken to get
conditions as nearly equal as
possible to the original performance. The wooden fingers of the
Vorsetzer were made the same length as a man’s fingers from the pivot
of his wrist to the tips, so that the same power of touch would produce
the same dynamic strength on the piano as the artist when he struck the
keys during the making of the master roll.”

     I’ll be quoting liberally from pages
324-327 of ‘Encyclopedia of Automatic Musical Instruments‘ by Q. David Bowers, a 1600 page tome that documents all manner of turn-of-the-century mechanized music. The book is overflowing with
black and white photographs of instruments you never knew existed, and
is punctuated with surprisingly engaging narrative passages. I liked it
so much that I bought myself a copy.

     A photo of several ‘recorded’ Welte rolls is shown below:

1

     To produce these rolls, four different pianists were asked to play the same piece to illustrate the Welte’s ability to capture variation and nuance. Once their invention was perfected, the Welte company contracted many famous players to record rolls. I am ignorant of which among the laundry list of pianists to have been recorded are important, but the fact that even I recognized several names says something, I suppose. Bowers’ encyclopedia collects correspondance and recollections of those attending these earliest ‘recording sessions.’ Debussy was reportedly very tempermental at his session, declaring that “There have only been produced so far in the world two great musicians: Beethoven and me!”

     The importance of the Welte rolls is easily seen – they allow us to experience the performances of composers and pianists, many who never lived to be recorded by other means.

     The most interesting part of this story is how the rolls came to be heard again. The rolls were in Germany during World War II, not exactly the safest place for fragile, rare art. The following is a passage by Richard C. Simonten:

     “As soon as hostilities ended after World War II, I sent a letter to
the last known address of the [Welte] firm in Freiburg, Germany. I eagerly awaited the developments.

     “After some months I recieved a despondent reply from Edwin Welte who
told me that the factory had been destroyed and that there were no
rolls available, but that he had in his posession, in his home, about
sixteen organ rolls which he would be glad to send to me in exchange
for food. They were literally starving and would be most happy to
convert these rolls into some form that they could eat. I was equally
happy to send them food for the rolls. In due course the rolls were
shipped, and I recieved them. I was so touched by their plight that I
continued to send food, and from that humble beginning a warm
friendship developed.”

     “After many months Edwin Welte told me of the work done in gathering
together the vast library of the playing of famous pianists, and he
impressed upon me the great value of the unique master roll library
which was wrapped in mothballs and put away. Both he and Karl bockisch
were elderly men, there were no heirs to the business, the plant was
totally destroyed, and it looked as if future generations would be
forever denied the privelege of hearing the great artists they had
recorded. Few people on this side of the ATlantic knew that thee
master rolls existed. In fact, the era of the reproducing piano had
been largely forgotten.”

     “Edwin Welte sent me sone old literature which contained photographs of
the artists and signed testimonials to the fact that the artists
themselves had actually recorded and commented on the faithful
reproduction of the Welte instruments. It presented a very imposing
roster of famous artists and composers and showed promises of being
musically important. I realized immediately that these recordings had
commercial possibilities. However, I first needed the answer to one
major question: Was the artistry, even after being recorded on these
specially prepared master rolls, worthy of the men who performed, or
was it lacking in subtlety and reminiscent of the old parlor player
piano?”

     “Proving this point was not simple. The only conclusive means was to be
able to hear the actual reproduction of some of the masters and let
experts decide. The only place I knew of where they could be heard was
in Germany, and then only under very difficult conditions.”

Reproducing Piano Espionage!

     The following is an extensive passage describing the recovery of the Welte master rolls in post-war Germany. This is probably of interest to no one but myself, but I was really excited when I found it. Rife with suspense and intrigue!

     “There followed a furious exchange of letters across the atlantic. In
searching for a solution the fact came to light that the local radio
broadcasting station in Friedburg had a magnetophon, or the original
prewar German magnetic tape recorder which was later copied very widely
by American manufacturers. But there was no recording tape available
in all of Germany. The answer was to mail some tape from here and pray
that it would fit. The Magnetophon, however, was in the broadcasting
station as a permanent fixture, and the piano with its associated
reproducing apparatus was in Edwin Welte’s home. This impasse was
solved by suggesting that a telephone line connect the two, and not
meeting with any apparent opposition from the French occupation
officials, it was done on a temporary basis.”

     “Soon all arrangements were completed and, after many exasperating
delays, the day set for the demonstration recording arrived. Fourteen
selections were reproduced on the Welte apparatus, sent over the
telephone line to the Magnetophon in the station and recorded in a form
that could be sent to the United States to serve as a listening test to
evaluate the musical performance. All that remained was to get the
tapes from the station inot my hands.”

     “The next day Edwin Welte called on the French Commandant to ask for the
tapes so he could send them to his American friend who was eagerly
awaiting them. He was told that the French government had officially
seized the tapes, and that they never intended that he should have
them, much less send them to America – of all places.”

     “Of great assistance at this time was a young Ukranian displaced person
who had been a German prisoner of war. After his capture on the
Russian front, he was sent to Friedburg to teach languages at Friedburg
University. Mr. Welte met him there – where both had been assigned
duties by Hitler’s government. Since the war this young man had been
employed by the Radio station. The French officer evidently was not
aware that he and Edwin Welte had been good friends. The young
Ukranian was the first to tell Welte that the French officer was not
going to release the recorded tapes as they appeared to have value and
the officer hoped to sell them.”

     “One night the tapes in a wrapped package were left on the officer’s
desk, and at closing time our friend hid himself in a closet so as to
be inside after the French civilian supervisors had locked the door
behind them.”

     “With only the dim moonlight filtering in, he opened the package on
the commandant’s desk, carefully preserving the cord and paper. With
some other rolls of magnetic tape that I had sent by regular mail, he
set about recording duplicates. There was only time to record five of
the selections as his friend, a fellow displaced person, was waiting to
take the 2:40 a.m. train back to Frankfurt and had agreed to take the
package into the American zone and airmail it to me.”

     “He worked up until the last minute, magnetically spoiled the recordings
on the originals so they could’nt be used, and then he carefully
repacked them so as to make it appear as if [the spoiling] had happened
in transit. With tape hidden in a rag under his shirt, he climbed over
the transom, kept out of sight by staying in the back alleys until he
got where his friend was waiting, and together they went to the railway
station. In a dark section along the way they transferred the package
into the other man’s clothing. THere were always occupation officials
at the train station to open all baggage and examine travel documents.
It wouldn’t do to have the tape in evidence, as too many questions
would be asked. As it was, the tape got to Frankfurt, in the U.S.
Zone, without further incident. It was soon across the Atlantic and in
my hands.”

     “Almost without pausing I had the tapes reproduced and conventional
acetate records made from them. The instant I heard the first
reproduction I realized that the artistry was excellent, even though
the multiple re-recording had introduced some pitch variation and
distortion. This didn’t matter as it meant the master rolls were good,
and I could go back to them, and with proper recording apparatus, get
good records. This would be as good as the actual playing of the great
composers and artists themselves.”

     “The next step was to plan a trip to Europe and seek permission to enter
the occupied zones. My wife and I arranged for the care of our two
small children, and on September 28th we sailed on the Queen Elizabeth.”

     “Our first sight of Freiburg was one which we shall never forget. The
vista of a demolished city is one which an American cannot concieve of
unless he has seen it firsthand. The first thig we saw from the
railroad station was the twisted wreckage of the once awesome Welte factory. While our bags were being taken through customs and subjected to inspection by the French officials I strolled over to the edge of the platform and saw the remains of the many buildings which had once been the stronghold of the Welte empire, virtually a dynasty in the musical history of the world. All that remained were heaps of brick, twisted steel, and shells of buildings that could never be used again.”

     “In the latter part of World War II when the allies bombed freiburg (Freiburg was not a strategic target; it was a university town that was bombed in retaliation for an earlier German raid on the English university town of Coventry) the Welte factory and 65% of the city was reduced to nothing but useless piles of smoking rubble. One of the machines for playing the Welte master rolls was destroyed in the factory, but fortunately the other had been dismantled and stored in a safe place. There was only one man alive who knew how it was constructed and how it should be operated. This man was Karl Bockisch, who at this time was in his 70’s. Because of the proximity of the Welte factory to the railroad station, a prime target, the priceless master rolls had been transferred to a parsonage in the Black Forest and had been hidden in a barn. There they remained until October, 1948, when we came to Germany.”

     “Once we were set up and recording we worked tirelessly many hours a day. Often we would do a recording as many as five or six times because somehting had interrupted usor because a noise had ruined the sound. One time the distraction might be an airplane, another time the crackling of the wood fire in the little stove in the corner of the room. Of course, all of the beautiful homes like Edwin Weltes had central heating, but during the postwar hardship there was no caol available. They were allowed a few cords of wood to last all winter. To use the small supply sparingly, Welte and others set up little stoves in one or two selected rooms and fashioned makeshift chimneys. We had to keep the stoves going because it was the only way we could keep the piano in tune. Sometimes in the middle of a recording the power would suddenly fail for a few seconds, or else the frequency would shift and change the speed of our machine. Often we did a recording over and over until it was as near to perfection as possible.”

How does it work?

     I’m glad you asked! The key ingredient is Mercury. The piano used to record the performances was unique in that it had a trough of mercury beneath its keyboard and pedals. Attached to each key and pedal was a carbon rod. The mercury and rod were used as an electric switch, and depending on the depth the carbon was plunged into the mercury, the electrical current was varied. This current was used to actuate inked rubber wheels (one for each key / pedal) onto a master roll. These master rolls were used to cut rolls for Welte-Mignon reproducing pianos, an example of which is shown below (Clicking the image will open a higher quality .pdf document):

1

     The piece is Chopin’s Etude in F Major. The key and expression information on these playback rolls were read using a pneumatic system similar to conventional player pianos. Anyone who has ever sequenced MIDI will see a striking similarity to these almost 100 year-old rolls.

     As with any technological invention, the reproducing piano is not without its naysayers. L. Douglas Henderson has written a summary of his complaints with the reproducing piano here. His central complaint is that player pianos or pionolas, which were typically foot-pumped, were capable of expression as long as they were operated by a skilled interpreter, or ‘pianolist:’

     “Essentially, a pedal player action required one to use the treadles and the hand controls — which were levers or buttons — to INTERPRET the perforated rolls. The accomplished intepreter was called a “Player-Pianist”, “Playerist” and most frequently a “Pianolist”.

     “A “Pianolist” can modify and otherwise influence the tempo and pedal shadings of a perforated arrangement, but he/she is working within limits established by the music roll Arranger, who defines the striking by the control of the perforation lengths … and who also establishes the paper travel speed limits for the performance.”

     “A “Reproducing” piano merely uses marginal perforations to imitate in a generalized manner the SAME DYNAMICS which a human interpreter would add to the Player-Piano’s performance. It’s not unlike the automatic transmission of an automobile, such as Hydra-Matic™, which “does the shifting of gears” as one operates the accelerator pedal.”

     Clearly Mr. Henderson misses the point that a player piano roll with the addition of a human interpreter – whose relative skill effects the resultant playback – hardly constitutes a recorded performance. Much of the other criticism directed at reproducing pianos can be attributed to the many imitators who marketed reproducing pianos in the wake of Welte’s innovation. They payed a royalty for the ‘Welte Mechanism’ on each piano they produced, but used it only in theory, constructing their own mechanism by which to record and reproduce the performances. A further explanation for the ill will directed at these instruments may stem from their relative scarcity in working order – discovering a completely working original instrument is so unlikely that collectors classify them only as restored or unrestored.

     Recordings of these rolls being reproduced on a well-maintained Reproducing piano are now available on CD. This is obviously a niche market, so they tend to be rather expensive. You can listen to samples from two cds, representing two types of reproducing piano rolls on Amazon.com:

Paderewski on Welte-Mignon Rolls.’

Gershwin plays Gershwin,’ recorded using Duo-Art rolls.

Related Links

  • Histories of the Welte Mignon in the U.S. are available here and here.
  • There are photos of Welte recording sessions and a wealth of other related information here.

Morse Music

     While researching hidden code in commercially released music, I ended up turning up tons of references to albums containing morse code. For some reason, this didn’t seem ridiculous enough for me – it seemed too obvious. I’ve since looked into it a bit more and found a few examples that officially surpass my threshold of ridiculousness.

     The one really, really great one that I found mention of is in ‘YYZ’ by Rush, from their 1981 album ‘Moving Pictures.’ Now, this is a ridiculous song to begin with – the mind reels at the number of steering wheel percussionists who have caused accidents trying to keep up with Neil Peart’s off-kilter part. It was like an added bonus-burst of ridiculousness to find the hidden meaning in both the title and rhythym of the song.

     The rhythm of the beginning of ‘YYZ’ IS the letters ‘YYZ’ in morse code. Just to make sure everyone is clear on what is meant here – this isn’t just someone tapping out the code ‘y y z’ (dash dot dash dash, dash dot dash dash, dash dash dot dot, incidentally) – the actual rhythym of the song follows the code. I’ve illustrated this below using Morse, Drum, and Beavis terminology. I’ve also posted a short clip of the rhythmic intro to the song here.

Twins

     About a quarter of the way through they abondon the ‘YYZ’ beat and break into typical Rush fare for a minute or so before hitting a run of prog-ified dancepunk which would make the Rapture piss their pants. It’ll be sampled soon, I hereby declare. But what’s the significance? Why all that trouble to fit ‘YYZ’ into the actual music of the song?

     ‘YYZ’ is the transmitter code for Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport. In a 1990 edition of the band’s newsletter, drummer Neil Peart said the song is “loosely based on airport-associated images. Exotic destinations, painful partings, happy landings, that sort of thing.”

Rush, of course, are from Toronto, so this makes sense. Another source adds:

     “The characters YYZ are the beacon identifier for the Toronto International Airport. The inspiration for the song came from Alex Lifeson, the guitarist for the band, who holds a private pilots license.”

     There’s an essay listing other, less ridiculous instances of Morse code in music here. All songs but ‘YYZ’ appear to be similar instances of low-mixed code played over the song proper. My favorite part of the essay is the conclusion:

“Until next time, KEEP POUNDING BRASS!”

The author mentions a song called ‘(Oh Dear) Miss Morse,’ but fails to deliver on the hidden message:

     “Wayne states that in 1967, the band “Pearls Before Swine”
recorded a song with an adult-rated [morse code] message in it. The song was
titled “MISS MORSE”. The song is said to have vulgarities in it spelled
out with Morse Code.

     I did a bit of poking around and found out that it’s pretty great. Here are the lyrics to the song:

Oh Dear, Miss Morse,

I want you,

Oh yes, I do,

I want you.



This may strike you

Odd-I-ly

But I want you

Bodily



Don’t blame me dear,

Blame McLuhan

His media

Was your ruin



Chorus:

Dit Dit Dah Dit

Dit Dit Dah

Dah Dit Dah Dit

Dah Dit Dah

     Examining the chorus, we find that each line is a morse-coded letter. Tom Rapp, the brains behind Pearls Before Swine, had this to say about the song:

     “I had read ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man‘ by Marshall McLuhan. I think one of the songs around that time was `Winchester Cathedral’ and we wanted a little vaudeville type song like that. We wanted the chorus to be a rhythmic chorus based on Morse Code.”

“I looked up the word `love’ but it didn’t work. But DIT DIT DAH DIT, DIT DIT DAH, DAH DIT DAH DIT, DAH DIT DAH worked rhythmically, even though it spelled `Fuck,’ of course. Remember (New York DJ) Murray the K? He got into a bit of trouble because he played `(Oh Dear) Miss Morse’ on the radio. Well, who knows Morse Code (especially in 1967)? Boy Scouts and Boy Scout Masters. They all wrote in and said; Do you know what that says!?”

     Tangentially: Other creative methods of hiding the word ‘Fuck’ in popular music include the phrase ‘If You See Kay,’ employed by the likes of April WIne, The Poster Children, Memphis Slim, and many others; and the immortal single by Brute Force, ‘The King of Fuh:’

     “Brute Force was the guy who sold the Beatles on the idea of releasing his song: ‘The King of Fuh,’ on Apple. Said Derek Taylor: George had met him somewhere, and Brute had written a dificult song called The King Of Fuh. I gave Mr. and Mrs. Force something to drink while we listened to this amazingly rude song about the ‘Fuh King’ who did this and the ‘Fuh King’ who did that, wondering how we would ever get EMI to relase such a work. They didn’t, in fact, but Apple pressed it privately; it was available only through mail-order, and copies now retail for over 350 pounds.”

     There’s an mp3 clip of the song on Brute Force’s official site.

Twins

     As with any good hidden-message technique in the world of music, there are morse code messages falsely attributed to the Beatles. This newsgroup thread details the propigation of the rumor that Lennon hid his initials in ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ via morse code:

“The source was J. P. Russell in “The Beatles On Record” (Scribner’s,
1982), p. 84. Russell describes two “oddities” about “Strawberry
Fields Forever, one of which “is a Morse code message, tapped out
just after John sings ‘Let me take you down…’. The Morse message
consists of two letters, J and L….”

     “Mr. Russell clearly does not adequately read morse code. There is
no deliberate “j” ( . – – – ) or “l” ( . – . . ) at all. Instead
there are some electronic pips which several amateur radio enthusiasts
(our own Bob Clements among them) have read as:”

-.- .- -.- – – . .-

     “where the last dash is considerably extended and there is too
long a space between the first dash and the first dot. This
translates as “KAKTTEA” if you believe it’s Morse. If you misread
the spacing, you can pick out a “j” but there’s just no “l”. Trust
me. I have a Ham license too. :-)”

     “This actually appears to be “intermodulation distortion”, as
our Mr. Clements describes it, perhaps from the Mellotron used in
this song or from something on the surface of the Mellotron. The
dits and dahs don’t appear to be deliberate, hence the gibberish
when translated. BTW, Mr. Clements used several outtakes of the song
for his analysis as well as Lewisohn, whose studio investigations
reveal no sign of code generators being used as musical accompaniment
to “SFF”, nor any verbal chatter about embedding morse code messages
in the song.”

     “Russell’s analysis was in error. It’s unfortunate that his book
continues to give rise to such speculation.”

Two more quick links:

Until next time, KEEP POUNDING BRASS!

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