51 Shades of Geek

8 Bit Weapon – Class Apples

8 Bit Weapon - Class ApplesI remember the Apple II. By way of the Franklin ACE 1000 clone that was later sued off the market, I grew up with the Apple II as my first computer. I programmed it – or tried to – endlessly. Trying to get music and sound right with the native Apple II speaker was an especially bruising experience: endless data tables, pokes, and very seldom getting what I wanted out of the machine. A whole sub-industry was born to bolt better audio capability onto the Apple II via add-ons like the Mockingboard sound card. It was never as easy as just plugging a MIDI-capable keyboard into it and just playing what was in your head.

Except that now, it is. And that’s how we got Class Apples – a new MIDI controller interface, and a modern-day software hack allowing for samples to expand the sound of the Apple II, and 8 Bit Weapon doing what 8 Bit Weapon does. The entirety of Class Apples is performed on Apple II computers, with minor post-production tweaks providing the finishing touches that the Apple itself can’t (reverb, stereo tricks, a bit of flanging here and there). It’s still the same lo-fi machine that it always was, but the Apple II can do more musically thanks to persistent fans of the machine grafting new abilities onto it, inspired by technological developments that have taken place since the Apple II’s heyday.

The music here is all from the classical repertoire, and heavy on pieces with complex counterpoint. Everything has a beat to it, and there’s a strong Hooked On Classics vibe to the whole thing. It’s hard to nominate any one track as a standout – each of them have their own charms – though I’m always a sucker for “Ave Maria” and, well, just about any flavor of Bach.

4 out of 4Computer music may be nothing new, and classics filtered through computer music may be nothing new, but there is something new here – significant musical capabilities have been grafted onto a machine that was known for little more than the plaintive PR#6 “BEEP” that accompanied a startup or reset. Just as 8 Bit Weapon helped alert the public to the possibilities of the NES and Game Boy as musical instruments, the same can now be said of the not-especially-musically-inclined Apple II. It’s a musical tech demo that is, if you know anything about the Apple II’s native sound capabilities, surprisingly listenable. You had me at INIT HELLO,S6,D1.

Order this CD

  1. Sheep May Safely Graze (Bach – 2:55)
  2. Two Part Invention (Bach – 1:03)
  3. Prelude and Fugue 1 in C Major (Bach – 1:29)
  4. Für Elise (For Elise) (Beethoven – 2:14)
  5. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) (Mozart – 5:24)
  6. Invention 8 (Bach – 0:51)
  7. Prelude in C Minor (Bach – 1:35)
  8. Rondo Alla Turca (Mozart – 2:07)
  9. Invention 14 (Bach – 1:13)
  10. Air Tromb (Bach – 1:29)
  11. Ave Maria (Bach & Gounod – 2:52)
  12. Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven – 4:43)

Released by: 8 Bit Weapon
Release date: July 22, 2017
Total running time: 27:55

Twister – music by Mark Mancina

TwisterEvery once in a while, a soundtrack appears that you just kind of order on sight. This was one of those. I was no stranger to Mark Mancina’s propulsive, all-American-sounding score from the 1996 tornado disaster flick Twister, as I already had the original release of the score from that year, but the thought of a complete Twister score release was enough to lighten my wallet a bit…mainly for the love of a single piece of music omitted from the ’96 CD.

One of the film’s best sequences follows a somewhat introspective series of vignettes that nail home, none too subtly, the emotional stakes for the movie’s characters. After a hasty retreat from a decidedly southern meal, the ragtag storm chasers led by Bill Paxton’s character do a bit of ill-advised off-roading without being entirely sure where they’re going to wind up. The orchestral part of the soundtrack begins churning in a steady rhythm with the signature battery of cellos that anchor the entire score, eventually transitioning into “Humans Being”, the song Van Halen contributed to Twister‘s “songtrack” album. It’s quite possibly the best integration of score and tie-in song I’ve ever heard Hollywood pull off, and…it was missing from the original album.

That track, “Walk In The Woods”, tapers off rather than crashing into rock music territory (the Van Halen song can still be found on the readily available song CD), but it sold me on this whole remaster. Unlike some past reissues which doubled the amount of music available or blew our minds with alternates or unused takes, there are probably fewer than ten minutes of truly “new” music to be found on this reissue. But in conversing with fellow soundtrack afficionados, I found that “Walk In The Woods” was the tipping point for them picking this one up too.

4 out of 4The familiar tracks from the original album are renamed and shuffled around a bit from the original 1996 release, but it’s all there – with one exception. Missing from this new release is the snippet of movie dialogue (well, singing, really) in which a couple of the storm chasers sing a bit of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma (particularly badly); if you’re a fan of that few seconds of silliness, you need to hang on to the 1996 release as well as this one.

Order this CD

  1. Wheatfield (film version) (1:25)
  2. The Hunt Begins (3:50)
  3. The Sky (1:03)
  4. Dorothy IV (film version) (1:57)
  5. The First Twister (0:49)
  6. In the Ditch / Where’s My Truck? (2:00)
  7. Waterspouts (2:49)
  8. Cow (5:42)
  9. Walk In The Woods (2:05)
  10. Bob’s Road (2:13)
  11. Hail No! (2:43)
  12. Futility (film version) (2:17)
  13. Drive-In Twister (2:57)
  14. Wakita (film version) (5:19)
  15. Sculptures (film version) (3:06)
  16. House Visit (4:47)
  17. The Big Suck (film version) (1:47)
  18. End Titles (2:25)
  19. Wheatfield (alternate) (1:28)
  20. Waterspouts (alternate) (2:50)
  21. The Big Suck (alternate) (1:14)
  22. End Title / Respect the Wind (9:20)

Released by: La-La Land Records
Release date: January 20, 2017
Total running time: 64:07

The Radiophonic Workshop: Burials In Several Earths

Burials In Several EarthsThe Radiophonic Workshop is back, minus the BBC. If the band’s retinue of veteran analog electronic music pioneers can keep turning out original material like this, it might result in a new generation of fans wondering why they were slumming it for the BBC for so long. The Radiophonic Workshop is made up of former members of the storied BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an experimental electronic music & effects department of the BBC founded in the late 1950s to provide unique music and sounds for the steadily growing output of the BBC’s radio and television channels. The work, in those days before samplers and digital synthesizers, was grueling; membership in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop was always fairly limited because you had to love what you were doing, working with oscillators a beat and tone generators and analog reverb and tape loops. The Workshop remains, perhaps unjustly, best known for the original Doctor Who theme music dating back to 1963, but its body of work spread so much further than that…until the BBC closed the Workshop’s doors in the 1990s.

But its members, it turns out, weren’t averse to workshopping their unique sound without Auntie Beeb paying the bills. Having spent over a decade as a touring group recreating their sound the old-fashioned way for audiences who already knew their work and audiences only just discovering them, the Radiophonic Workshop has now gifted us with a new album with the unmistakable sound that gained them a following in the 1960s and ’70s. Is it abstract? At times, yes – about 13 minutes into the lead track, you’d swear they were trying to make a musical instrument out of the sound of the Liberator’s teleport from Blake’s 7. Everything from white noise to whalesong crops up. But what’s amazing is how tuneful it is at times. Echoing piano is a constant presence, along with actual guitar work (Paddy Kingsland, whose Doctor Who and Hitchhiker’s Guide scores in the early ’80s were ear-wormingly hummable, take a bow). There are a few places where a groove emerges from the soundscape and the Radiophonic Workshop proceeds to rock out.

Not a bad feat considering that some of these gentlemen are past what many touring musicians would consider retirement age.

4 out of 4The real fascination of Burials In Several Earths is that it’s electronic music created in a way that has almost been lost to time and the march of technology. That description doesn’t really do it justice though – that sounds more like the description of a tech demo. The Radiophonic Workshop is making actual music this way, delighting audiences on stage, and bolting new chapters onto a legacy of ridiculously hummable short tunes from a bygone age. At times ethereal, at times exciting, the one thing Burials isn’t is boring.

Order this CD

  1. Burials In Several Earths (18:58)
  2. Things Buried In Water (22:01)
  3. Some Hope Of Land (25:15)
  4. Not Come To Light (3:58)
  5. The Stranger’s House (11:23)

Released by: Room 13
Release date: May 19, 2016
Total running time: 1:21:35