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A tribute to the music of Entourage

So, I came across a rerun episode of Entourage over the weekend. It’s one of those shows I can watch over and over again without tiring of it. But it’s not the show itself that I look forward to the most. It’s the music.

I love that each song seems to fit the scene and the situation perfectly. I love that I watch every single credit roll because the last song is always that good. I love that the music of Entourage is as much a character as Vince or Ari.

As I watched my weekend rerun, I wondered who was responsible for all the great music. That dream job belonged to Scott Vener, who is currently the music supervisor for How to Make It in America and 90210. Vener had never worked as a music consultant previous to Entourage. He says it kind of just happened.

Vener was a long-time friend of the show’s creator, Doug Ellin. When Ellin showed Vener the pilot episode, he told his friend he couldn’t pay attention to the jokes because the music was so bad. He pitched a few of his own ideas, which were used. By 2007, Vener was hired as the show’s official music consultant.

The man behind the music of Entourage

How did Vener choose the right music?

“I think when I’m placing music, mostly at the end credits, what I’m thinking in my head is, ‘I have 10 friends who I know love music, and if I can stump five out of those 10, then I won,” he told NPR music’s Laura Sullivan. “Or if I can make them say, ‘Oh my god, I remember that,’ Then I won.”

Vener often chose unknown music to reflect the show’s energy and tone. He became known for discovering new music. But Vener says it’s the music buffs online that really deserve the credit because that’s where he looked to find a lot of the music he used.

And Vener says that HBO gave him a surprising amount of freedom with his song selections. “It’s unique for two reasons: You can use profanity, and HBO spends money on the music. They’re one of the few networks that will pony up and pay, and they stay out of your way and let you do what you want to do…”

One of the most exciting things about the music that airs on Entourage is that Vener  has consistently broken tracks before they’ve been released anywhere else.

And long after the show’s final episode, Vener’s music choices continue to reach the masses. There are an endless number of websites dedicated to the music of Entourage. There is a Facebook profile called, “The Music of Entourage.” It features songs from a variety of episodes over the years.

And The Song Detective Blog states, “It’s one of the most common questions about the show Entourage we have gotten over the years: What’s the song playing during the end credits of entourage season x, episode x”. The blog actually offers a complete list of every song ever used during the closing credits of Entourage.

Vener says he has two personal favorites. The first is “In My Lifetime Remix” by Jay-Z (season six). The second is a song he used that was written by his brother, Josh. The song is called “Phone Bill Money” because Josh wanted to pay his phone bill. Vener says his brother made it on Garage Band on a keyboard and got paid about $250 for it. The song made its debut in season two. Vener says he got away with it because it was good and it worked perfectly for the scene.

For the record, Vener says he has only been turned down once on a request for licensing music to feature on the show. It was for “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: In Your Atmosphere (LA Song) by John Mayer

Poignant and raw and dripping with regret, this song breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I hear it.  So, on that note, enjoy! “I’d die if I saw you, I’d die if I didn’t see you…”

I promise I’ll pick a joyful song one of these days, but in the meantime I’ll be keeping Kleenex in the black.

-Benevolent Siren

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Haute tech: Making a statement with wearable electronics as fashion accessories

The back of this gown literally lights up a room

It’s a crazy world we live in today. I feel that technology is a large part of the craziness, for better and for worse. And in the case of modern electronics, for wondrous and a little weird.

A German-based fashion label called MOON Berlin is the perfect example of this. Founded in 2010, this company has transcended pure entertainment (think the Black Eyed Peas’ performance during the Super bowl Halftime show) and taken wearable electronics directly to the streets. The company philosophy states, “The main idea is to combine light technique with high fashion in a sensitive way.”

Pause.

I’m not really sure what that last part means either. But I digress.

What I find intriguing is the mix of companies working together to create this electro-fashion. This label is working in cooperation with jewelry designer Damir Antolovic, DAAN Designstudio, and Stretchable Circuits. Stretchable Circuits is a company that provides engineering services and project management for flexible and stretchable electronic systems, with a specialty in integration of electronic functions into textiles.

Stretchable electronic systems. That is something to think about.

I’ll admit that I’m a fan of pretty things that sparkle and shine. I am also a firm believer in function over form. There is no reason something functional cannot be pretty, but I don’t think form should ever trump function. If you build something that contains both form and function, you’ve hit on something fantastic.

Enter The Orb. This innovative new design is both a Bluetooth headset and a piece of jewelry. Of course, every new product has its own angle in a niche market. The Orb has its own take on the best way to carry your headset with you when you aren’t using it. This innovative new gadget transforms from a wireless earpiece into a ring with one simple twist. It was developed through a partnership between Hybra Advance Technology Inc. and AbsolutelyNew Inc. They’ve promised to cater to those with petite or stubby fingers with the availability of different ring sizes. There will also be a limited edition designer model featuring decorative gemstones with a bling factor.

Ugg ear muffsUgg may be known primarily for boots, but they are one of the many companies out there getting involved in the headphone industry. They are leveraging their well-established brand to sell “tech-savvy knit earmuffs that feature a port for audio devices.” Of course, these are made of shearling, which is the same material they use for their famous boots.

And for those of you who are into using personal audio products as a fashion statement and also enjoy arts and crafts, it’s your lucky day. Click here for a tutorial on how to make a pair of ear muff headphones, which requires “basic sewing and soldering skills.” This tutorial is narrated by Syuzi Pakhchyan, whose blog, fashioningtech, is devoted solely to the idea of wearable electronics.

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The common denominator in all of this seems to be the mixing of art with technology. It’s no longer all about the way something sounds to your ears or fits on your body. It’s all about adding innovative technology and taking it to the next level.

In fact, there is an organization in New York City devoted solely to pairing artists and technologists together. The Eyebeam Art & Technology Center offers both education and state-of-the-art tools for digital research and experimentation.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: “The Cave (Bookshop sessions)” by Mumford & Sons

A Grammy 2012 nominee for Record of the Year, Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” is a nuanced and engaging track that I can’t stop listening to. The banjo is fun and lends a kind of frenetic energy to the song, while Marcus Mumford’s satisfying growl puts delightful substance behind the lyrics. (I call it a growl mostly because his name sounds to me like a well-dressed British lion detective character from a kid’s book. Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book just so I can use that name.)

 

While you watch that, I’m going to go write chapter one of Marcus Mumford and the Case of the Jungle Bow-Tie Thief. …I’m still workshopping the title.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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I just watched the best thing ever: Depeche Mode cover band DMK on YouTube

There are some days that just seem surreal…and I tend to want to embrace that feeling. I was having one of those days when I came across DMK, a Depeche Mode cover band from Bogota, Columbia. They just took “surreal” to a whole new level. And my view of the world became instantly brighter.

This cover band is unlike any other I have seen. I am obsessed. I’ll admit that I find these videos slightly disturbing for some reason, which I cannot seem to name. But their slightly disturbing nature is part of their appeal. You just need to watch.

The leader singer is a Columbian dad named Dicken Schrader and he has some serious skills. Schrader’s band is comprised of his children, Milah and Korben. Some of their instruments include; keyboards, kazoo, tambourine, soda bottles, beer cans, baby rattles, and chocolate mix cans.

I like to think that this is what happens when children watch less television and spend more time with their parents. They seem to be having a lot of fun together.

Everything Counts: Yes…Korben is playing a metal mixer and cheese grater. He looks like a deer in headlights and, when I first watched, I was certain he could not keep it together. But his timing is spot on.

Strangelove: Yes…those are metal binder clips Milah is attaching to her dad’s face. The play on the word “pain” somehow seems very wrong, but in just the right way.

Shake the Disease: It does appear as if dad might be sporting a bit of a hangover this time, but it doesn’t seem to affect his timing. Yes…Milah is playing scissors and a spray bottle. It does appear there is clear liquid in the spray bottle. And the traveling gnome in the corner is like the cherry on top.

Absolute perfection.

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part II)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

To read the first part of this post, visit The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I). As the title suggest, this playlist is the perfect soundtrack for taking action, taking chances and taking charge of your own destiny. Also, the songs are pretty catchy if you’re into that sort of thing.

 

8. “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked: This is the ultimate feel-good, do-your-own-thing, break-all-the-rules anthem. Plus it’s from a musical and thus a perfect sing-along. “Something has changed within me / Something is not the same / I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game / Too late for second guessing / Too late to go back to sleep / It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes and leap / It’s time to try defying gravity / … / And you won’t bring me down” Aaand goosebumps. Yeah, obstacles, you WON’T bring me down. So there.

 

LIKE SO.

9. “I Woke Up In A Car” by Something Corporate: “Here I am, well here I am / … / I’ve never been so lost, I’ve never felt so much at home / Please write my folks and throw away my keys / I woke up in a car.” This song is about the freedom and clarity that can arise from aimlessness, which I definitely need to hear about at this juncture. Plus it’s really fun to dance to, and it’s impossible to worry when you’re dancing with the appropriate level of enthusiasm. (In case you’re wondering, the appropriate level of enthusiasm when dancing is AS ENTHUSIASTIC AS YOU CAN BE.)

 

10. “Shake It Out” by Florence + The Machine: In which Florence reminds me that you can’t really control what happens, so just get ready to roll with the punches and take chances. All you can do is open yourself up to the world and let the experiences wash over you. “And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t / So here’s to drinks in the dark, at the end of my rope / And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope / It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat / … / But what the hell, I’m gonna let it happen to me, yeah”

 

11. “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons: The Cave was nominated for Record Of The Year at the 2012 Grammys, and it’s easy to hear why—it’s hard to resist screaming along that “I’LL FIND STRENGTH IN PAIN” and “I WILL CHANGE MY WAYS!” Anthemic and singable, this song isn’t to be missed. “But I need freedom now and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be…”

 

12. “Dancing with a Gun” by Jack’s Mannequin: Dancing with a gun sounds like a fairly dangerous pursuit, but no guts, no glory. Like all the songs in this collection, “Dancing with a Gun” urges the listener to bust out of the comfort zone and take action, however uncertain the outcome. “Sometimes we’re stuck, most times we’re drifting / But tonight let’s move / … / You’re dancing with a gun / Your hands are shaking / Just take another shot in the dark / Don’t keep your safety on…”

 

Ah, the open road.

13. “Boston” by Augustana: This one’s a little melodramatic, but fitting nonetheless. The protagonist of this piano-rock ditty seeks the comfort of anonymity and a fresh start, which is an appropriate theme for a Change Your Life playlist: “I think I’ll start a new life / I think I’ll start it over / where no one knows my name…” As a bonus, the song is lovely.

 

BONUS. “The Motto” by Drake feat. Lil Wayne: Drake didn’t really fit musically into this collection of songs, but I couldn’t resist throwing this song in as a bonus track. It’s a rap song, not a ballad or anthem, but it’s a good one to have in your back pocket when you need to put a little attitude in your step. I certainly do every now and then. Use in case of self-confidence emergency: “You only live once, that’s the motto / … / **** what anybody say / Can’t see ‘em ‘cause the money in the way” …WHAT’S UP. The bass line will have you feeling like a champion in no time. (If you’re interested, you can read more about how bass can affect your mood.)

 

Well, that’s all the songs I have. Armed with this playlist and determination, I’m off into the great unknown to forge my path on this big blue orb. I’ll keep you posted.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I)

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Sometimes you have to make a change, and for me that time is one week from now. I won’t go into details because I don’t really know the details yet, but suffice it to say I’m gearing up to make some major life changes (geographical and otherwise) and my future is totally open-ended. On the one hand, I know through and through that I need to shake things up and open myself to new experiences. On the other hand, change can be daunting and, if I’m totally honest, a little terrifying. I flip on a momentary basis between excitement and fear, and as the date approaches I’m finding the anticipation to be rather exhausting. Luckily, I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing that music flowing through my headphones can’t make a little easier, so I’ve combed through my library of tunes to find the gems that will help me navigate uncertain waters with optimism and joy and certainty that I’m doing the right thing. Without further ado, I give you The Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life (Part I):

1. I’m Ready by Jack’s Mannequin: As the title suggests, this is a song about being READY. A strict interpretation indicates that the singer is ready to end a relationship, but this can also apply to making a change in general. I especially love the way this song starts, with the spoken line “And today was a day just like any other.” In a way, this reminds me of why I’m going for broke: I don’t want today, and the next day, and the next day to be just like any other. The rest of the lyrics are a mantra that I need to keep repeating until I believe it: “I’m ready / I’m ready to drop / I’m ready / I’m ready so don’t stop / Keep pushing, I’m ready to fall / Don’t stop, I’m already gone.”

2. No Such Thing by John Mayer: A common theme of this playlist is the assertion that one must forge his or her own path, ignoring preset notions of how to live your life and creating your own destiny. This theme is the core message of Mayer’s hit, with lyrics like “I just found out there’s no such thing as the real world, just a lie you’ve got to rise above.” Amen, John!

3. Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield: This song is a definitive call to action with the most upbeat melody you could hope to find. Singing along makes me feel like I’m on top of the world and I can’t wait to embrace whatever’s next. “Reaching for something in the distance / So close you can almost taste it / Release your inhibitions / Feel the rain on your skin / No one else can feel it for you / … / Live your life with arms wide open / Today is where your book begins / The rest is still unwritten.” In other words, uncertainty is an essential part of an adventurous existence and today is the first day of the rest of my life. If it rained more than twice a year in California, I’d be inspired to go feel it on my skin right now.

4. Live Like We’re Dying by Kris Allen: A little on the nose, but I’m not looking for lyrical subtlety here. Kris Allen has essentially the same message as Ms. Bedingfield, but he’s a little more morbid about it, citing mortality as motivation to live in a meaningful way. At the end of the day, can you think of any better motivation? This song will always give me a kick if I need one. Also, death is pretty scary, so it makes moving away seem a lot less scary by comparison. Key inspirational lyric: “So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would have done?” [Incidentally, another song with the same message is “Hey Hey Hey, We’re All Gonna Die” by Jack’s Mannequin, but I already have far too many Jack’s songs on this playlist. If you want a shortcut to perpetual inspiration, you can stop reading this now and just buy their three albums—I won’t take it personally. On that note, on to another one…]

5. People, Running by Jack’s Mannequin: “We are only chemical and skin barely strapped in for this air-conditioned drive / We are tired of waiting, still we stand in line / … / You drift in no direction so it seems / That we are just these people running around / And I am in no hurry to figure it out / … / I think we’re learning that the answers never come / … / Just watch the people run.” This lyrical commentary on the absurdity of human pursuits is very existentialist, which to me is a comforting belief system. If you accept the premise that everything is inherently meaningless, you can’t possibly get it wrong as long as you indulge your whims and desires; the lack of inherent meaning gives you freedom to create your own. So, in my interpretation of existentialism, the locus of control is placed firmly with the individual and calls for a rejection of external ideals and…Oops, I’m waxing philosophical. Back to the music.

6. Why Georgia by John Mayer: This track documents Mr. Mayer’s “quarter-life crisis,” to which I can relate whole-heartedly. “I am tempted to keep the car in drive and leave it all behind / Cause I wonder sometimes about the outcome of a still-verdictless life / Am I living it right?” He perfectly captures the melancholy of monotony and reminds me that I’m not alone in my need to examine and take control of my life direction.

7. I’m Movin’ On by Rascal Flatts: Self-explanatory: “I’m movin’ on / At last I can see life has been patiently waiting for me / And I know there’s no guarantees, but I’m not alone / There comes a time in everyone’s life / When all you can see are the years passing by / And I have made up my mind that those days are gone.” I can’t listen to this song without getting emotional, but I’m not afraid of a few tears. Or, okay, a lot of tears.

 

I’m already a bit of  an emotional wreck putting this together, and I’m only half done, so it’s time for an intermission. If you’re still in one piece and ready for the rest, continue with Part II of the Perfect Playlist for Changing Your Life.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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3 inventions that changed personal audio forever

Velodyne has just thrown its proverbial hat into the arena of personal audio products. The incredible reception to vPulse is exceeding all of our expectations. And as we gear up for some amazing new releases in the near future, our brains are filled with visions of technology that may have seemed like an impossible dream 100 years ago. But we’ve become so accustomed to technology in our daily lives that it sometimes loses its zing. It’s almost impossible to remember life without it.

How did this evolution happen? Pondering the history of personal audio has started some great conversation in the hallways of Velodyne, as well as blissful reminiscing about the good old days.

A set of antique Nathaniel Baldwin headphones

The Invention of headphones

Born in 1878, Nathaniel Baldwin was a natural tinkerer and inventor throughout his life. He was also a devout Mormon and reportedly, grew frustrated when he couldn’t hear Mormon sermons over the noise of the crowds at the vast Salt Lake Tabernacle. Baldwin began experimenting with sound amplification , which led to the invention of the first modern headphones in 1910. Baldwin sold his invention to the U.S. Navy. His headphones were made by hand in his kitchen and, despite the Navy’s suggestion; he never patented his invention because he considered it to be trivial.

It’s not incidental that his imagined headphones were first thought of as a way to block out crowd noise. Workers and soldiers have long used them to mute the din of machines or artillery while receiving one-way orders from someone with a microphone.

Baldwin eventually started the Baldwin Radio Company. He became quite wealthy and used his success to help support the post-manifesto polygamous movement in the 1920s. Many officers in his company were leading polygamists who assisted in creating the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Baldwin himself actually only married once. Sadly, this celebrated genius was bankrupt by 1924 and impoverished when he died in 1961.

That last part had nothing to do with headphones, but I found it interesting.

The first audio cassette player

No way...I was just listening to that song in my car!

The idea for this product came from Masaru Ibuka, the founder of Sony. He challenged Sony engineer Nobutoshi Kihara to come up with a simple, playback-only stereo version of the small Pressman tape recorder. Kihara certainly met that challenge.

The first Walkman model was unveiled on June 22, 1979. Journalists were invited to Yoyogi (a major park in Tokyo) and given a Walkman to wear. They listened to an explanation of the product in stereo while Sony staff members carried out various demonstrations, including a young man and woman listening to a Walkman while riding on a tandem bicycle. Many journalists predicted the product would never take off since it didn’t include a recording device.

In 1986 the name Walkman was included in the Oxford English Dictionary. By 1995, the total production of Walkman units reached 150 million and over 300 different models have been produced.

A single product that changes the course of music, media, and entertainment

On October 23, 2001 Apple publicly announced the introduction of their iPod line. The initial reaction was somewhat hostile because of the $400 price tag, the unconventional scroll wheel, and the lack of Windows compatibility. It was only a few months later that Apple introduced iTunes, the first legal way for the public to download music. It was the perfect companion to the iPod. A decade later, the iPod is a household name along with a small army of other gadgets attached to its legacy.

The iPod was named by Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter who was called by Apple for advice on how to introduce the player to the public. After seeing the prototype, Chieco thought of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey and the phrase “Open the pod bay door, Hal,” which refers to the white EVA Pods of the Discovery One spaceship. Chieco saw an analogy to the relationship between the spaceship and the smaller independent pods and the relationship between a personal computer and the music player.

At the unveiling of the iPod in California, Steve Jobs told journalists; “No one has found the recipe yet for digital music. And we think not only can we find the recipe, but we think the Apple brand is going to be fantastic, because people trust the Apple brand to get their great digital electronics from…we’re introducing a product today that takes us exactly there, and that product is called iPod.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

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Live vs. Headphones (A selection of tracks)

There are many ways to experience music. Historically, I’ve found two of the most emotionally arresting of these ways to be live and via headphones. As I explained in Tuesday’s post, each offers distinct advantages; some songs are more powerful with the pulsing electricity of a crowd backing them up, while others benefit from the intimacy of the artist singing right into your ear. I’ll run through a few of my favorite songs and let you know whether to snap up concert tickets or pop on some ‘phones to hear them at their best. (Make sure to choose headphones with good bass; if you’re wondering why, read my post about why bass is important).

 

Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine is a captivating performer. Photo from F+TM's official web site.

Howl by Florence + The Machine: LIVE Florence Welch’s vocals are exquisite in any setting, but she is a truly enchanting performer. I saw her in 2010 at the Wiltern in LA and was mesmerized by her stage presence and spellbinding, emotional delivery. The difference between the recorded and live renditions of her songs was most stark in “Howl,” a visceral and animalistic track that evokes wild passion. It’s a sight to behold when this song pours out of Ms. Welch with an intensity that’s a little scary in the best possible way. 

Baba O’Riley by The Who: HEADPHONES This was a tough call, since this song is so amazing and epic that it blows me away no matter how I listen to it. I was lucky enough to see The Who play the HP Pavilion in San Jose in 2006, and they’re still legendary rock stars. Still, the magic and energy of the live setting (and accompanying light show) couldn’t quite compare to the overwhelming sensory overload that takes place when I close my eyes and fall into this song through a good pair of headphones. Just try getting one-on-one with this song without getting goosebumps.

“MFEO Pt. 1 – Made for Each Other / Pt. 2 – You Can Breathe” by Jack’s Mannequin: LIVE I was already in love with Jack’s Mannequin’s first album, Everything in Transit, before I ever saw the band live. The obsession didn’t set in, however, until the first time I saw them in 2007. “MFEO” was a completely overwhelming experience; the lyrics took on an entirely new meaning in the context of a live show. And maybe we were made for each other // And maybe, just maybe // the world will look like this forever… meant that I might get that feeling over and over, the feeling that everything was perfect and wonderful and utterly, painfully beautiful. It wasn’t a love song about a girl; it was a love song about music, about the crowd, about the ecstasy of a couple hundred people worshiping at the rock pulpit together in a room. If you’ve never seen Jack’s Mannequin live, I recommend it as highly as I could recommend anything.

Black Balloon by the Goo Goo Dolls: HEADPHONES “Black Balloon,” which tells a story of love and drug addiction, breaks my heart every time it plays on my headphones. The Goo Goo Dolls put on a decent show, but by now they’ve performed this hit so many times that it’s lost a little bit of emotional authenticity in the live rendition. It’s clear that they’re bona fide rock stars, and with that title comes an aura that enhances their “bigger” songs (see the next paragraph) but detracts from their most heartfelt offerings.

Slide by the Goo Goo Dolls: LIVE The rock-star vibe that takes away from “Black Balloon” serves to pump up sing-along-friendly radio hits like “Slide”. I had a blast dancing and singing along when this song filled the Greek Theater in Berkeley on a Friday night in 2007, riding the energy the band brought to the venue.

 

I invite you to play “Live vs. Headphones” whenever you get the chance to compare. No matter how you listen, I wish you frequent and joyful musical experiences.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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