Monday, October 22, 2018

Blue and Yellow Killer

When I previously posted the song "I'm Not Going To Turn Into Jonathan Mann", I had completely forgotten (or overlooked) that I've actually worked with Jonathan before! Now, in case you're wondering how something like that could happen, it's because I didn't work directly with him. I had never so much as talked, chatted, or emailed with him. However, we did collaborate on a song.

Travis Langworthy (aka "SpinTown") wrote the lyrics to a Minecraft music video called "Blue and Yellow Killer". I rapped the lyrics, and completely separately, Jonathan Mann created the music and set the words to it. So here it is, "Blue and Yellow Killer":

The World Beyond (Paris Daydreaming)

First, let me give a thank-you to Ted Kiper for providing the vocals and piano for this song.

This is one of those songs that you would never guess what it's about unless someone simply told you. Then you'd slap your forehead and say, "Oh, of course!"

Sadly, I'm not going to simply tell you what it's about. William wrote the lyrics about something that's very close to his heart, but if it reminds you of something that's close to yours, all the better. Officially, it's about whatever you believe it to be about.

The World Beyond (Paris Daydreaming)

Reaching out in wonder to the world beyond 
With arms too short to satisfy a curiosity so strong 
Day by day the beckoning a silent beacon calls 
From inklings of infinity to dreams beyond these walls 

I wandered beyond the stone today 
Tomorrow the avenue 
And someday I may fly away 
To that place they call the moon 

Many are the windows under lock so little means 
But in an infants hands may lie the keys of destiny 
Marvel at the wonder of the endless world beyond 
And explore the possibilities of mysteries not yet known 

I wandered beyond the stone today 
Tomorrow the avenue 
And someday I may fly away 
To that place they call the moon 

Instinctive the desire 
Insatiable the quest 
Though the mind will journey freely 
It's imprisoned by the flesh 

I wandered beyond the stone today 
Tomorrow the avenue 
And someday I may fly away 
To that place they call the moon 

Someday I may just fly away 
To that place they call the moon

I'm Not Going To Turn Into Jonathan Mann

Jonathan Mann writes a song a day, and has done so since 2009. He currently holds the Guiness world record for doing so. And if you start RIGHT NOW, it will take you a decade after he stops just to catch up. So here's a little tribute.

You can follow Jonathan Mann on Twitter (@songadaymann) or on his website.

I'm Not Going To Turn Into Jonathan Mann

I've written songs by the hundreds 
But it took me a good thirty years 
There's a fella who's done 
what I've done 
Every trip 'round the Sun 
And it drives me to tears! 

Hey Jonathan Mann! 
The Song-a-day man! 
How do you do it? 
Is there some kind of plan? 
My life is so busy 
I've often asked "is he 
a clone or the name of a clan?" 
I wanna be just like Jonathan Mann 

So I put my nose to the grindstone 
To craft me some ditties to sing 
And I guess you could say 
That the stuff that I play 
Has some sway 
But it ain't got that swing 

Hey Jonathan Mann! 
The Song-a-day man! 
How do you do it? 
Is there some kind of plan? 
I've got places to see, 
And I love D&D 
So I budget my time as I can 
It's harder than <> to be Jonathan Mann 

[bridge... Jonathan Mann voiceover] 

I ain't got a song-a-day in me 
I'm sure as hell no Superman 
Though I try as I might 
My output's a fright 
That's alright 
I'll just do what I can 

Hey Jonathan Mann! 
The Song-a-day man! 
How do you do it? 
Is there some kind of plan? 
I've got volumes to read 
And a long Twitter feed 
And I've gotta get through all this spam 
So I'm not gonna turn into Jonathan Mann

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Weird Instruments 6: The Dord and the Carnyx

Today we have two ancient Celtic horns. First up is the Dord.

The Dord is is a curved tubular horn with a very large mouthpiece, native to Ireland. It hails from the Bronze Age, and examples have been uncovered dating from as early as 1000 BCE. Experts believe it may have been played like a Digeridoo, and you can hear this in the video below:

The second example (the Carnyx) is an awesome fusion of Iron Age engineering and art. It consists of a long straight tube culminating in a dragon's head. Depending on the style it could be played horizontally or upright, and the sound could either come straight out of the mouth like a trumpet or could resonate in the head. Some advanced examples had wings or ears that resonated like bells, adding to the sound.

I ran into references of it in Suetonius' histories of the Roman Empire. When the Celts sacked Rome, prior to entering the city, they played these outside of the city walls first to soften up the resistance. I don't know about you, but if I heard an angry barbarian mob playing these freaky things I'd piss my pants.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Far Away

For SpinTunes #14, Round 3, the challenge was to write a contemporary song based on a classical music selection. Since this is a shadow, we re-worked a set of older lyrics of William's. Technically it would be disqualified, I think... or arguably not, as the end result is a new work written for the contest. He'd been dissatisfied with the original tune I'd given them, as it was a bit somber. He'd been bugging me about "fixing" it anyway, and it just so happened that they precisely fit the tune I was aching to do for this challenge... The Beautiful Blue Danube by Johann Strauss.

I originally envisioned this with a vaguely Caribe rhythm, but sometimes the song gets the last say. This one really wanted to be Mack the Knife. I finally threw up my hands and decided to go with a swing beat, choosing the style of Count Basie with Bobby Darrin style vocals. The end result was a bit goofy, but suddenly turned charming when I added harmony backing vocals from Heather Zink, who has this delightful Doris Day quality to her voice. In my view, she saved it from being buried in cheese.

The rhythm, guitars and horns are just auto-generated by an algorithm. I didn't spend much time on that. The only thing I was careful about was the piano and vocals. I wanted to make sure that at least in the opening verses I got the little piano hits that confirm for us that this is based on the Blue Danube waltz. I dropped them in the later verses in favor of some more jazzy riffs, because style. I didn't write any of this down, preferring to play directly from Strauss' notation, converting it to 4/4 time on the fly and using the chord progression as my framework. Very little of that sheet music winds up in the finished product. Early verses have the tune based on Strauss, again abandoned later to just work around the chords because the point had already been made. I figure I'll just let the listener make the connections from that point forward. The chorus is original, with only the first two notes being taken from the second movement of Strauss' piece.

Lyrically, the song decided to do its own thing, too. Originally the lovers don't wind up together, but are pining. But with the change in atmosphere, that changed, too. So we get a sweet little ending.

lyrics by William Hoover

Everyday lately
I see you smiling
But every day's gray
When you are gone
Love's in the way
When I try to find you
It's so easy to say
When alone
And you seem far away.

A kiss was so pleasing
Early this morning
It changes the season
From cloudy to sun
Whatever the reason
I've never stopped soaring
And I'll never be leaving
As one
To lose you far away.

Far away
You've taken me
So far away
And if I had the chance today
I'd still choose reality
Far away
You've taken me
So far away
And I'll always be
With you
So far away.

All of my time
Is spent trying to tell you
All that these rhymes
Just can't convey
The place isn't mine
You say to surround you
Still I can't find the line
That will say
Don't be too far away.

You try to believe
There's something about this
That will not deceive
Our open hearts
I've tried to relieve
All of your doubts with
A soft touch and ease
But there are scars
On our hearts from far away.

Empty Room

The challenge for Spintunes #14, Round 2 was to write a prequel to a Billboard Top 100 song. We chose to prequel I'm Still Standing by Elton John.

As you read the lyrics (below) you can see that we're writing about a break-up. In our song, the singer is distressed... distraught... as the the break up is ongoing ("...we divvy up the props...", etc.). In I'm Still Standing he's recovered and is issuing a musical F.U. Life goes on, and he's still standing. Jerkatorium, in their review of the round, made an insightful comment on the first verse about the stars in the eyes standing in for the over-the-top glasses often worn by Elton during this period. Unfortunately, I can't confirm it, because Hoover's in charge of the lyrics, and he's not saying.

Sometimes you write a song and it has more than one meaning... the public meaning and the private one. Such is the case here, where some personal events informed my writing of the music.

lyrics by William Hoover

The moon like a tear-drop
Is falling from the sky
And the stars become detached
Then settle in my eyes.

And the words they've no idea
That they're still supposed to rhyme
So now I'm finally thinking
That this may be the time...

To get out...
Of this empty room...
Already too long abandoned
This empty room
Spinning me at random
Now a flavorless expression
In a world we cannot question
Just a song without a tune
This dark and empty room.

So we divvy up the props
Which made this stage a home
And the laughter from the wings
Still echoes but it's gone...

From this empty room...
This empty room...
Already too long abandoned
This empty room
Spinning me at random
Now a flavorless expression
In a world we cannot question
Just a song without a tune
This dark and empty room.

This dark and empty room.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

SpinTunes and such...

It's been a while since I posted, but that's not because I haven't written anything. I actually have written a couple of blog posts here, but they never got past draft, for reasons that will become apparent.

Travis Langworthy, aka "SpinTown", ran the SpinTunes competition for a number of years, picking up where the Masters of Song Fu contest on FRED entertainment left off. After 12 contests, Travis decided to retire, and needed a successor. That turned out to be me.

I've had some mixed feelings about that. On the plus side, I love the contest and am privileged to keep it going. On the other hand, this means that I don't get to actually compete. That's not as terrible as it sounds, because I do get to work with the judges to draft interesting rules and challenges.

One of the things I brought back to the contest was eliminations. Early SpinTunes contests, like Song Fu, were games of attrition, and by simplifying scoring I was able to bring that back.

Even without eliminations, we've always had some attrition due to missed deadlines. But we've also allowed contestants (and even non-contestants) to "shadow"... that is, play along as if they were in the contest. Shadows get played at the listening parties and are placed on the albums, but are not scored and cannot win.

Well, I've changed that a little bit, too. When regular contestants miss their deadlines, the empty slots can now be filled by eliminated contestants who chose to enter a qualifying shadow. What that means is that if you were entered into the contest and weren't actually disqualified, but were simply eliminated due to a low score; and if your shadow would not be disqualified due to not meeting the challenge or late entry; then you could get promoted back into the fray, filling those empty slots and continuing on as if you weren't eliminated. My goal for that rule is to keep people interested and shadowing, and to put a little more uncertainty into the contest. In game design, some uncertainty = excitement.

It's can be frustrating that in an elimination contest someone can be removed due to a single bad round. It was a bad fit for their talents, etc. Now, you could conceivably get eliminated in Round 1, shadow the contest, and be promoted in Round 4 to blow away the judges and actually win. It's a reward for perseverance and for submitting every round. With this rule, it's better to submit a weak entry and be eliminated than it is to miss the deadline. Perseverance keeps hope alive.

Of course, the rule changes make SpinTunes feel more like a game than a contest, and that's by design. I think you have to remember that music is meant to be played, and that word isn't used by accident. If it's not fun, you should be doing something else. So I would rather see people having fun creating music than be in cutthroat competition. SpinTunes has always been a "kinder, gentler contest", and I like it that way. There are other competitions that are wonderful and great, and some SpinTuners participate there and vice versa. It's a big, big world, and it's meant to be shared.


So I've been herding cats (judges) and doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the contest. It also means that I won't be writing as many reviews and songs as I had previously done, but that's mostly due to time and a desire as the "showrunner" not to be too influential in the outcome. I still break ties when they occur, and currently limit my explanations to when that makes a difference as to the outcome (as in, when someone is eliminated).

SpinTunes #13, Round 2 just ended, and as I write this the Round 3 challenge will be posted in an about a half hour. You can view the new albums at, and follow the contest at On the blogspot site you (anybody!) can also click a link to the Suggestion Box and suggest challenges for upcoming competitions. And should you want to join in, instructions are there as well. Check out the links in the left sidebar.

Also, you can peruse the older albums at their original home,