Music News: Synthmaker behind R2-D2's voice dies at 93

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R2-D2 is carried by Jawas in 'Star Wars.'
R2-D2 is carried by Jawas in 'Star Wars.' (Lucasfilm)
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Synthmaker behind R2-D2's voice dies at 93
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Synthesizer designer Alan R. Pearlman has died "peacefully" at age 93. If you know one synth pioneer, it's probably Robert Moog. If you know two, it should be Moog and Pearlman. Pearlman founded the company ARP in 1972, and while Moog became more iconic, it was ARP synths that actually fueled more music in the Me Decade and beyond. Those are ARP synths you hear on songs like Kraftwerk's "The Robots," Nine Inch Nails' "The Hand That Feeds," and the early '80s Doctor Who theme.

ARP's biggest pop-culture moments, though, came in the movies. Specifically, in Steven Spielberg's 1977 science fiction classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that's an ARP 2500 the earthlings use to play the haunting five-note sequence that opens their communication with an alien race. That same year, an ARP 2600, mixed with other noises by sound designer Ben Burtt, also served as the voice of one of the world's most famous fictional robots: Star Wars’ R2-D2. (New York Times)

Corey Hart named to Canadian Music Hall of Fame

Americans know him as a one-hit wonder, but now his fellow Canadians know him as a Hall of Famer. Corey Hart, who hit the top ten in 1984 with the moody single "Sunglasses at Night," will be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards on March 17.

An exhibit dedicated to Hart will open at the Hall of Fame in Calgary on March 22, featuring items including handwritten lyrics and the iconic Wayfarers he wore in the "Sunglasses at Night" video, which was the first-ever winner of the Juno Award for Best Video. According to Billboard, Bonus fan messages provided by Hart will be sprinkled throughout the exhibition and can be viewed using interactive 'sunglasses.'"

Colin Kaepernick denies reports that he approved Super Bowl halftime lineup

Earlier this week, the NFL officially announced that Maroon 5 will be headlining this year's Super Bowl halftime show, with appearances by Big Boi and Travis Scott. In a report that was widely repeated, Variety said that Scott talked with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and that the two arrived at "mutual respect and understanding" regarding the fact that Scott is performing at the big game, whereas other African-American artists including Rihanna and Jay-Z reportedly turned down performing slots due to the football league's treatment of Kaepernick after he started taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

Now, Kaepernick is retweeting users making assertions like, "There is NO mutual respect and there is NO understanding." It seems he doesn't want to be perceived as "approving" of anyone's role in the show. More to come on this, no doubt. (Pitchfork)

Depeche Mode and Moby to cover...silence?

How do you cover silence? That's what we'll find out in May when Mute Records releases an album called STUMM433. It's a compilation of artists including Depeche Mode, Moby, Goldfrapp, and New Order playing a song that requires only silence.

The song, or composition rather, is called 4'33". You might have heard of it, since it's one of the most famous avant-garde compositions of the 20th century. It was written by a composer named John Cage, who was fascinated by musical experimentation. He's often cited as an important influence on noise rockers and experimental pop artists like Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, and Radiohead.

4'33" debuted in 1952, with pianist David Tudor sitting silently at his instrument for four minutes and 33 seconds. The point is that during a performance of the piece, you do hear sounds: coughs, rustles, shoe squeaks, and other ambient noises. Those, in effect, become the music.

Over 50 Mute artists participated in the compilation, with proceeds going to charity. It also celebrates the 40th anniversary of the label — which is, after all, named Mute. Each artist will also create a visual accompaniment for their performance. The first video to be released is by the Slovenian experimental group Laibach. It involves a floating turntable and someone playing chess in the nude. Did I mention this piece is experimental?

When did the Killers get political?

"Mr. Brightside," "When You Were Young," "Somebody Told Me"...when you think of the Killers, you don't really think about political messages. The Vegas rockers' new single, though, is a protest song that voices the group's dismay at American life today. The song's lyrics touch on America's treatment of immigrants and people of color, on mass incarceration, on the scourge of gun violence, and on the proposed border wall that's currently the subject of a standoff that's shut down the federal government.

It is kind of a grab bag — as music writer Hanif Abdurraqib tweeted, "I don't want to discourage their growth around topics but the lyrics of this song definitely sound like someone just reading the news and saying all of the headlines."

How did the Killers get political? As NME notes, they have always had a strong Springsteen influence, so it only makes sense that Brandon Flowers and company would eventually emulate his social consciousness — complete with anthemic chorus. It's also true that with the government actually shut down, it's pretty clear that our country is more divided than ever.

The song is accompanied by a music video directed by Spike Lee, depicting riot police and tear gas attacks at the U.S.-Mexico border...a border that's not far from Las Vegas.

Viral clip: Your mom can shred

A Twitter user whose handle is @blackamazon has also been feeling "the midst of gloom and sadness," she wrote in a recent tweet that went viral. But, she added, "WHO IS THIS WOMAN PLAYING A SLIDE GUITAR FASTER THAN THE DEVILS SONATA I MUST KNOW HER SO I MAY PRAISE HER."

The tweet included a video of a woman playing slide guitar with heavy-metal ferocity, and Twitter jumped in to identify her. It's Joanna Connor, a Chicago-based guitarist who's seen this very clip go viral before. The video, from a live version of "Walkin' Blues," was posted a couple of years ago by a Massachusetts fan. It's led to a new level of recognition for the journeyman — or, rather, journeywoman — guitarist who's been at her craft for decades, playing with artists including Buddy Guy and James Cotton.

Connor, who responded to @blackamazon with thanks and hearts, says on her website that as a veteran artist, she still plays multiple shows a week and she's been thrilled to see her crowd sizes grow. "When it gets to be around midnight, the audience starts getting younger. And I love that — my son is 29, and he gets people looking at him and saying, 'That's your mom'?"


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
BoxCat Games: "Against the Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
Corey Hart: "Sunglasses at Night"
Kraftwerk: "The Robots"
John Williams: "Wild Signals" (from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
William Marx: 4'33"
Laibach: 4'33"
The Killers: "Land of the Free"
Joanna Connor: "Walkin' Blues"


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