Just something I wrote for WGTB:
Everywhere you turn, it seems like an old movie or TV series is getting the remake treatment. This often gets fans of the originals up in arms, and the product can easily become an uninspired retread, where no new life is put into the work. Rodrigo y Gabriela could have fallen into this trap with their newest album Area 52, in which they reinterpret several songs from their previous albums. Fortunately, they’ve managed to come out with an album that separates itself from their early work while, for the most part, maintaining their personal sound.
“Santo Domingo”, the album opener, starts off with the fast plucking and guitar percussion that define Rodrigo y Gabriela. Then the brass comes in, driving the piece along at a breakneck pace. It all comes together. The brightness of the horns matches well with the Santana-influenced guitar playing (the original song was part of an album where each track was dedicated to a particular influence on the band, in this case Santana).
Although this sound works well for much of the album, there are some moments where it feels overblown. For instance, the original cut of “Tamacun” from 2006’s Rodrigo y Gabriela has a power derived from the silence when the guitars stop to breathe. On Area 52, there are so many extra instruments playing little flourishes that the song sounds too busy, and the old magic is lost.
This is also a prime example of when Area 52 feels like a big band jam session. The actual melody is broken up by long stretches of horn, piano and guitar solos. When you expect the tightly crafted pieces for which Rodrigo y Gabriela are known, this can be frustrating.
Despite these problems, most of the tracks are welcome reimaginings of the originals. The beautiful violin solo in “Ixtapa” is gone, but Anoushka Shankar plays an equally impressive sitar solo to replace it. The bright, ever-present brass section actually complements the sitar’s sliding notes, as well as its sweet drone.
When approaching this album, Rodrigo y Gabriel fans should be careful about what they expect. The guitarists are not the focus of this album. They instead frame the album, occasionally dipping back into the spotlight for a brief solo section. If you come in expecting this to be another classical guitar thrash fest, you will be disappointed. That said, the difference should be a draw for fans who want to hear new life pumped into the songs that work. As for newcomers, if you like fast-paced, metal-influenced big bands, this is a great album to pick up.
Ryan Holladay, half of the D.C. music duo Bluebrain, described his first attempt at location-based music at a Georgetown University music class on November 17. He described the album, The National Mall, as the “first location-aware album.”
New mobile technology, especially the iPhone, inspired Bluebrain to uses the GPS tracking and WiFi connections to enhance a user’s musical enjoyment. To do this, they partnered with an App developer and sat down with several other musicians to record various bits of sound.The final product provides an entirely new musical experience.
When the App is activated on the National Mall, it senses where the user is located. Each location corresponds to a different piece of music, and each piece of music is meant to convey a certain mood matched to each location.
For example, if you approach the Washington Monument, the music slowly rises in intensity until it reaches a crescendo at the top of the hill. It begins with sweet violins, slowing adding parts, including powerful drums at the base of the monument. Holladay said he sought to convey the power and feeling of smallness he feels whenever he approaches the monument.
The most incredible aspect of Bluebrain’s music is its ability to transition between each piece of music. Because the medium is based on the whims of the user as he walks across the mall, any combination of the recorded musical themes is possible. Thus, Bluebrain had to ensure everything flows together, so that any one walk will be a cohesive musical experience.
Holladay said the hardest part of the project was testing the App. He and his team had to physically go to the Mall and wander across it to make sure the transitions worked.
The National Mall was released in March at App Shopper. Since then, Bluebrain released their second location-aware album covering New York City’s Central Park. Both are now available in the iTunes App Store. FCTN released this documentary about the project, which gives a good look at how a location-aware album works.
Bluebrain continues to update both location-aware Apps and hopes to eventually release them for other mobile operating systems.