Sunday, June 28, 2015

Paradoxically Sized World I

"The Whole World Is Yours"

[This is one post in a series about my music mixes.  You may wish to read the introduction so that you understand some of the terms I use.

Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]



So far all but one of the mixes I’ve introduced have been downbeat of center.1  So, in the spirit of balance and paradox, I thought I’d rectify that with a more upbeat mix that also contains a fair amount of slower tracks.  And, hell: “paradox” is right there in the name of the mix.

The name is fairly obvious once you know that this mix was inspired by Little Big Planet.  This cute but addictive video game has a lot to recommend it, but its music is one of its best features.  It’s an electic mix of electronica, world, jazz, hip-hop, pop, and dream, with touches of funk, latin, new age, cinematic, classical, and medieval revival.  None of it fits together, and yet it forms a coherent whole.  The remarkably diverse music all just seems to flow, and you get to the point where you hear other music from random places and think “hey, they ought to use that in LBP.”

So I made a mix.

Now, let’s be clear about the parameters of this mix.  First of all, there’s quite a lot of original music composed for the game, but, with rare exception,2 I don’t put those songs on the mix.  That would be a very different type of mix altogether.  No, it’s the songs by real artists, off real albums, that I use.  And I go hunting down the original versions of those songs, which means that this mix often contains vocal versions where you would hear an instrumental version in the game.  In fact, Little Big Planet has been responsible for my discovering quite a few new artists that way that I’m pretty sure I would have never come across otherwise.  I now own several albums by LBP artists: Röyksopp, Trentemøller, Lullatone, Plaid, Ladytron, Mocean Worker, just to name a few.  And there are at least two bands—Ugress and Tashaki Miyaki3—that I now consider among my favorites.4  So, for me, Little Big Planet is not only a fun game to play with my kids, it’s also a music discovery service.

Now, as I mentioned, not all of the songs on this mix are actually from Little Big Planet.  Only about half are, in fact.  The remainder are just songs that seemed like they belonged in this grouping—perhaps other songs from LBP artists, or just, as I said above, songs that I felt ought to be in the game but weren’t.5  I also didn’t bother to restrict myself to those LBP games that I’ve actually played: we own LBP 1, 2, and 3, but there’s also LBP for PSP,6 LBP for PS Vita, and LBP Kart.  Thanks to the Internet, I know the names of most all the songs from all the different levels of all the different games, and I’m not shy about stealing whatever strikes my fancy.  Of course, I’m also not shy about rejecting music: just because a tune appears in Little Big Planet doesn’t mean it automatically lands on this mix.  Some of them just aren’t as good as others, and I continue to employ my usual artistic sensibilities when creating the mix.  That also means that you shouldn’t expect to find the music from the game in the same order you’d find it in the game.  Nor even expect to find it all in the same order that the games were released, although, since I started this mix between LBP 1 and LBP 2, you’ll get a rough approximation of that order.

In this first volume, the music is all from LBP 1 and LBP PSP, more or less alternating with non-LBP tracks.7  Most of the non-LBP artists I discovered via the “Zen” music channel of my television provider.8  There’s also one track by Lullatone, who I discovered via LBP 3.  Naming volumes in this mix is tough, as many of the songs are instrumental even in their original versions, and ofttimes the ones that do have words aren’t in English.9  In fact, there are only three songs on this entire volume with any words in English at all,10 so I chose a phrase from the spoken word intro to “The World Is All Mine” by Clutch Player.

In the mix list, I’ve thoughtfully added a note for all the tracks used in Little Big Planet games: either 1, 2, 3, PSP, PSV, or Kart.  If a track doesn’t have a note, it isn’t from an LBP game.11  All of the LBP artists on this volume were unfamiliar to me when I first heard them in game, except of course Thievery Corporation.12  The only non-LBP artists I didn’t first hear on the “Zen” channel was Transglobal Underground, who I talked about way back in Smokelit Flashback I.13


Paradoxically Sized World I
    [The Whole World is Yours]


        “Left Bank Two” by The Noveltones [Single]
   1

        “The Awakening” by Tom Teasley, off Painting Time
        “Get It Together” by The Go! Team, off Thunder Lightning Strike 
   1

        “Count the Daisies” by Chris Joss, off Teraphonic Overdubs
        “Dancing Drums” by Ananda Shankar, off A Life in Music: Best of the EMI Years [Compilation]
   1

        “The World Is All Mine” by Clutch Player, off The Atlantic Connection All Stars
        “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” by Thievery Corporation, off The Cosmic Game 
PSP

        “Tapha Niang” by Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra [Single]
   1

        “Isis Unveiled” by Hossam Ramzy / Phil Thornton, off Eternal Egypt 
PSP

        “Flutter” by Bonobo, off Dial 'M' for Monkey
        “Cornman” by Kinky, off Kinky 
   1

        “Jatayu” by Transglobal Underground, off International Times
        “2 Sips & Magic” by Nickodemus, off Sun People 
PSP

        “Curio” by Stratus, off Fear of Magnetism
        “Still Feeling the Waves When You Go to Bed” by Lullatone, off Summer Songs [EP]
   
Total:  15 tracks,  71:00


Two other things I’ll mention before I close.

If you are a fan of Little Big Planet, you’ll recognize most of the tracks here, especially “Left Bank Two” by the Noveltones, which is a piece of sixties “library “music,” but more famous as the music for the tutorial level in LBP 1.14  So I thought that made a good mix opener.  I believe the only surprise here among the LBP tracks is that I’ve used the vocal version of “Tapha Niang,” which is the music from The Savannah in LBP 1.  I’ve read that they originally wanted to use the vocal version in the game, but there was some legal hang-up with the copyright, so they ended up going with the instrumental version.  So now you can hear it as it was meant to be heard.  Probably my favorite of the game music on this volume, though,is “Dancing Drums” by Ananda Shankar, nephew of Ravi.15  Ananda put out some great music in the seventies, fusing traditional Indian music with jazz, along with touches of funk and psychedelia.  I’d never heard of him before playing Little Big Planet, but I’ve now picked up his greatest hits compilation, A Life in Music, and we’ll be hearing from him again in volume II.

Among the non-LBP tracks, “The Awakening” by Tom Teasley is so LBP that my children swear it’s a game track and fight over which level it’s in.  “Count the Daisies” by Chris Joss is another track that is quite strongly reminiscent of the game, but then again Joss’ music is primarily composed of retro-recreations of the music from movies of the late sixties and early seventies, so it’s not surprising it fits right in here.  Electronica artist Bonobo is also a natural fit, and we’ll hear more from him in future volumes.  “Jatayu” from International Times is one of the more upbeat tunes here, but it fits well with the world vibe and flows beautifully into “2 Sips & Magic” by New York spinner Nickodemus.  Stratus gives us “Curio” to help wind down, and we close out with the lovely “Still Feeling the Waves When You Go to Bed” by Lullatone, who would go on to provide the background music for the LBP 3 trailer.16  It’s a calm, relaxing piece which provides the perfect closing for this mostly upbeat mix.

There are several more volumes of PSW to come, but I like to keep things mixed up.17  Next time I think we’ll drift into even more instrumental territory, but take a darker turn.


1 The exception being Salsatic Vibrato, which is pretty upbeat.

2 Only twice so far, in fact.  But not until volume II.

3 One of which, as you can see, meets my criteria for being an “obscure band”; the other has no bio on AllMusic, but does have a Wikipedia article.  Although it occurs to me that, the Internet being forever, you may well be reading these words in a time when both those things exist for both these bands, and you’ll wonder what the hell I’m on about.  Just trust me when I tell you that, as of this writing, these bands are obscure enough that, without LBP, I doubt I would have ever discovered them at all.

4 Although, to be fair, my list of “favorite bands” is very long.

5 Yet.  By the time you read this, who knows?

6 The kids have played that one, but I never have

7 There’s one 3-track stretch of all LBP in the middle, and we close with 2 non-LBP in a row, but other than that, strict alternation.

8 Which happens to be DIRECTV.  But as far as I know they all have these sorts of music channels.

9 Not that I have anything against giving a mix volume a title in a foreign language, in principle.  But I like the names to be something I can remember, something that puts me in mind of the songs on the mix.  Rarely would a foreign phrase work in that way for me.

10 And two of those are more in the English-as-a-second-language camp.

11 At least as far as I know.  Lacking omniscience, I welcome corrections.

12 I’ll be telling you the story of how I discovered Thievery Corporation once I get to Smokelit Flashback III.

13 And Smokelit Flashback II, for that matter.

14 Unless you’re a Brit of a certain age, in which case I gather you’ll always think of it as the music for Vision On.

15 Ravi Shankar is perhaps best known for introducing George Harrison to the sitar, although he probably ought to be equally celebrated for fathering Norah Jones.

16 “Race Against the Sunset,” which is also used in the Needlepoint Peaks level.  We’ll see it show up on volume IV.

17 Pun not intended.  Though admittedly not removed after being noticed either.