Let It Rip

Compact Disc Logo

Any audiophile will tell you that original audio CDs will always sound better than compressed music. And yet the proliferation of digital music players requires us to sacrifice quality for convenience. However, there are ways to squeeze out every last bit of fidelity from your music in the transition from disc to file.

You don’t need to have a golden ear to appreciate the difference between a badly ripped, poorly encoded file from one that was more carefully produced. For the best possible results, you don’t even need expensive or bloated software, just a few well-honed, lean and mean freeware tools. CD Ripping might be one of the more common tasks performed on PCs these days, but not everyone may be aware that not all CD rippers are created equal. At the very least, you should make sure that the program you are using has some form of error correction to prevent unwanted skips or pops.

Exact Audio Copy Icon

Exact Audio Copy Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Exact Audio Copy  or EAC (www.exactaudiocopy.org) is widely recognized as one of the best audio extraction programs. Using an advanced reading technique called secure mode, EAC is able to recover audio data that other programs may discard.

The popular CDex (cdexos.sourceforge.net) also has a Paranoia mode that adds an extra level of error checking to compensate for defects on the CD.

And for iPod users, Apple’s inimitable  iTunes (http://www.apple.com/itunes) also has an error correction mode for importing CD audio tracks.

Vorbis Logo

Vorbis Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For convenience, you should generally rip to the format which most of your devices can play. But while MP3 may be the undisputed leader in terms of compatibility, it definitely lags behind in quality and compressibility. More advanced codecs like Apple’s AAC (the preferred format for iPods and the iTunes music store), Microsoft’s WMA (integrated with Windows Media Player and a wide range of products and services) and the open source Ogg Vorbis (gaining ground among more manufacturers like iRiver, Rio, and Neuros) all offer better-sounding music at smaller file sizes. Aside from ripping to uncompressed WAV files, you can install plug-ins into both EAC and CDex that enable them to encode directly into either MP3 and Ogg Vorbis among other formats. Naturally, Windows Media Player defaults to WMA, while iTunes encourages using AAC.

FLAC logo

FLAC logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For music archiving, you may also consider using a lossless codec that doesn’t toss out any audio data, such as FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec, or Monkey’s Audio). While these codecs work on fewer portable players, they do shrink files up to 4 times smaller with absolutely no quality loss, and you can easily play them on your PC or media center. Both AAC and WMA also have their respective lossless flavors.

But if you want to stick to good old MP3, then you really need to use the LAME encoder to get the best results. LAME properly supports VBR (Variable Bit Rate) encoding, and is constantly under development by dedicated audiophiles.

As to what bit rate one should rip to, higher is indisputably better, but your mileage may vary. For MP3, 128 kbps has long been used as a standard, but you really need to use at least 192 kbps to avoid getting nasty-sounding artifacts. Over 256 kbps, and any improvement in quality is negligible. Using a more advanced codec, you can go as low as 64 kbps and still get acceptable results, although 192 kbps will sound like CD quality for most people.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in PC Mag Philippines, 2005. 

Crash Chords: D’ Hebigats

Heady, heavy assignment, figure out the TEN most influential Pinoy albums EVER in less than a week. In the end, I could only come up with nine, and a few days late too. But, tough noogies. During crunches like these it turns out that everyone’s an expert, everyone’s a critic, and everyone interprets the word “influential” in a different way.

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Era...

Ultraelectromagneticjam!: The Music Of The Eraserheads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody agrees on one album though – the Eraserheads’ “Ultraelectromagneticpop”. I can still remember watching their first TV performance on Dawn Zulueta’s late night show RSVP, and foreseeing that they were going to be big. Released in 1993 by BMG Records, the album’s commercial success rejiggered the sound of the decade, reintroducing band-based music into the pop mainstream, leading the way for rivals Rivermaya, Yano, and arguably every Pinoy pop-rock band created since then.

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock ...

Filipino musician Pepe Smith, Philippine Rock n Roll Legend (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Going back to the era when Pinoy rock first exploded, the Golden Age is tied irrevocably to the rise of The Juan Dela Cruz Band, founded by legends Edmund and Mike Hanopol. The band was named after the common man and played rock for the common man. Although the band debuted with “Up in Arms,” in 1971, it is “Himig Natin“, released in 1974 and featuring the too-cool trifecta of Mike, Wally Gonzales, and the notorious Joey “Pepe” Smith on the cover that will always resonate for a generation of teenagers that lived through the “maximum tolerance” of martial rule, a time when sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll raged under the cloak of curfew.

Hotdog’s Unang Kagat” combined big band music with droll Taglish lyrics resulting in their patented “Manila Sound”. Hitting it big with the theme song to the 1974 Ms. Universe Pageant held here in Manila, “Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko” could have cemented Hotdog’s immortality all on its own, if it hadn’t been followed by the just-as-memorable smashes “Pers Lab”, “Annie Batungbakal”, “Bongga Ka ‘Day”, “Beh Buti Nga”, and eventually “Manila”. The 1970s saw Hotdog, together with VST and Company and the Boyfriends, pushing Filipino pop music to innovate, adopting foreign trends such as disco to serve local tastes.

The culturati may beg to differ, but novelty songs are as important a subgenre in Pinoy music as jazz and classical. Although its roots can be traced as far back as vaudeville and even bugtungan, and its fruits continue to haunt us in the musical stylings of the Sexbomb girls and the Masculados, only one man can stake a claim as conquistador of this turf, and that’s “Magellan”, Yoyoy Villame’s first recording in 1972. As an artist, Yoyoy has had his ups and downs, but he’s never worn a frown.

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musicia...

Freddie Aguilar is a very popular folk musician from the Philippines who is best known for the hit – Bayan Ko-, which became the anthem for the opposition to the Marcos regime during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. Photo taken in Tondo, National Capitol Region, The Phillipines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1970s Filipino rock musicians started infusing folk influences into their sound, leading to the 1978 breakthrough success of Freddie Aguilar‘s debut recording “Anak”. This album was the most commercially successful Filipino recording in history, even crossing over to the rest of Asia and Europe. Master Freddie went on to record other powerful (and revolutionary, in a literal sense) anthems such as “Bayan Ko“, and he also paved the way for later Filipino folk stars such as Joey Ayala and Grace Nono.

Rey Valera

Rey Valera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few could have predicted that a fresh young 12 year-old mayor’s daughter would eventually spawn a veritable industry unto herself after first listening to the sweet, inoffensive, obviously-sucking-up-to-the-radio-stations ditty “Mr. DJ”. But the hits and record albums kept coming and a Megastar was born. To her credit, Ate Shawie has managed to use her considerable popularity to boost the careers of talented composers such as George Canseco and Rey Valera, and even other singers like Raymond Lauchengco…

…who, as we of a certain age all know, shot to stardom with his songs for the soundtrack to the mother of all 1980s barkada flicks – Bagets (and its sequel). Not only did this flick define teen fashion, trends and morès for the pre-Edsa era, but its accompanying songs burrowed into the collective consciousness, prompting laughter and tears for many proms, graduations, homecomings, reunions, and nostalgia sessions to come. “Growing Up”, anyone?

Francis Magalona

Francis Magalona (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Francis M’s “Yo!” exploded in 1990, the first rap album by a Filipino to be commercially released in the Philippines, giving birth to Filipino hip hop (for good and ill). Francis M always seemed to take rapping seriously, unlike some of the subsequent pretenders (like the Es, Vs, and “Amirs”) to his throne as “King of Pinoy Rap”, thus earning the respect of even the folksters and rockers, and bridging a customarily unbridgeable divide.

A couple of years ago, thanks to an inundation of Chi-novela-induced pop and other Pan-Asian pap, it was a real slog wading through the sickly-sweet waters for something less cloying. But something was there all right, and ‘twas Sugarfree no less. Drowning in obscurity for months, their album “Sa Wakas!” was finally rescued from the depths and heralded the resurgence of the real Pinoy music scene. Record labels started taking chances on local talent again, and the rest, as they say, is the present.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

Crash Chords: Music for the Mod and Manor Born

You’ve got the money, the education, and you’re starting to climb the social ladder. You’ve read the books, slipped into the suits, and made the connections. Now you’ve got to learn to set the mood for your upwardly mobile life. What sounds should you be playing on your sophisticated system?

You need music to sip martinis to, background noise for sinking into thick shag carpeting or lounging on plush leather upholstery, a soundtrack for elegant seduction scenes and leisurely rounds of foreplay, NOT for “getting it on” or “shaking your booty”.

Burt Bacharach in concert, 2008.

Burt Bacharach in concert, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forget rap, rock, hip-hop, R&B, and folk. We’re focusing on the recording industry’s upper crust here. Common opinion would also encourage you to turn to jazz. But honestly, all those unpredictable bursts of melisma and improvisations can sometimes set your teeth on edge, not the best match for feeling suave and debonair. It’s tricky to slow-dance to besides. We’re looking for songs that sound good even at half-volume, with lyrics that whisper sex as a suggestion, not a declaration. Burt Bacharach is the undisputed master of this style, no man swung as groovily as the Burt. Dismissed as elevator music for decades until pre-millenial tension nurtured the retro lounge music scene of the 1990s, Bacharach’s deceptively subtle compositions continue to influence today’s groovemeisters.

Cinerama came about when The Wedding Present’s David Gedge crossed over from abrasive punk rock into melodic groovy pop. Gedge carried over his knack for crafting honest, understated songs and enhanced them with a lovely 1960s Phil Spector/Burt Bacharach sensibility. The resulting retro pastiche sounds like a homage to classic pop as influenced by the movie soundtracks of Ennio Morricone and Isaac Hayes. Charming orchestral flourishes and lush production wrap each sublime pop nugget, ripe with lyrics revolving around the usual comedy of errors that takes place between men and women in love or lust. Gedge still snarls and growls a bit, but here he also croons and makes you swoon.

The Aluminum Group are not your parents’ easy listening music. Fronted by John and Frank Navin, two brothers from Chicago whose icy-cool voices blend silkily over words that reference postmodernism and urban life. Their sound is a mellow mix of acoustic guitars, strings, banjos, brass, and synths, sounding something like crystallized pocket symphonies retrofit for digital music players. Although their post-rock dabblings tend to teeter close to the brink of style-over-substance, the Navins manage to give an edgy high-gloss twist to the high pop radio sound of their inspirations: Jimmy Webb, the Carpenters, and Bacharach of course.

The Essential Michael Nyman Band

The Essential Michael Nyman Band (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Classical music doesn’t always mean stuffy instrumental shit that sounds like it belongs in a museum, or a mausoleum. There’s a ton of stuff out there that’s exciting and moving, and just happens to have been recorded with classical instruments. British composer Michael Nyman coined the term “minimalism”, a form of composition that relies on simple patterns and repeated figures, where the musical skill lies in subtle progressive or cyclical alterations to this tapestry to achieve its effects. In other words, this is deep stuff, man. Nyman’s music sounds eerie and dangerous, and can easily hypnotize you with its elegance and poignancy. Although fellow minimalist Philip Glass has a substantially higher profile, it’s Nyman who has the most cred with the intellectual-and-indie crowd.

Neil Hannon

Neil Hannon (Photo credit: sjrowe53)

Just to add to the mix, anything French from the 1960s-70s is also a good bet. Check out Michel Legrand and Francoise Hardy, they’re the sonic equivalents of champagne and silk stockings. If you’re the patriotic type who plans to stick to the KBP radio code of 4 OPMs per clock hour, then 1980s-era Kuh Ledesma and Ric Segreto are quite respectable choices, as long as you stick to their songs that have yet to be covered (and good luck with that) then you’re sure to astound the ears of any date younger than 24.Michael Nyman has greatly influenced the work of The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. Blending minimalist orchestration with witty lyrics sung in Hannon’s warm tenor, their music sounds grand but cozy, intricate but intimate. Hannon’s subject matter ranges from fairy tales and famous books to playboys and international travel, all delivered in an earnest yet hip tone seemingly voiced by the probable lovechild of Rex Harrison and Nico. These are complicated songs about complicated things that will appeal to anyone from geeks to Goths.

Now that you have all these idea for software, how about hardware? Even among audiophiles, vintage gear suggests a certain flair. Analog outclasses digital in the realm of luxury listening. Among these circles, vacuum tubes and vinyl rule, not microchips and compact discs. And lastly, don’t forget to hide your Magic Sing microphone somewhere safe but inaccessible.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Toti’s Ten

Music guru Toti Dalmacion lists 10 luxurious LPs

Luxurious is a word I don’t often associate with the music I listen to, but I suppose my interpretation for it would be either it’s lush sounding or just an all-around great release and I never get tired listening to it.

1. The Blue Nile – Hats
The quintessential TBN album for me. (although I love the other 3 albums as well) The Blue Nile at their most depressing best. Picturesque and moody.

Cover of "And She Closed Her Eyes"

Cover of And She Closed Her Eyes

2. Stina Nordenstam – And She Closed Her Eyes
The first album Memories of Color made me listen but this album had me wanting to bring her in (commercial suicide yes but it would’ve been really be soul  satisfying. Unfortunately, she is said to have stage fright so forget that). Just plain beautiful, combining ambient, jazz and THAT voice.

3. David Sylvian – Brilliant Trees
I have been a fan since his Japan days. This debut solo effort made me worship him all the more. Just check out “The Ink in The Well” and “Nostalgia”… and you’ll know why.

4. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach – Painted from A Memory
This has got to be one of, if not the best ever, collaboration in decades. It also highlights Costello’s vocal prowess as well as the arranging genius of Bacharach. No dud track whatsoever.

5. Paul Weller – Paul Weller
Weller at his funkiest. A great comeback/debut album that has allowed him to go on and be the Modfather that he is.

6. XTC– Skylarking
My all time favorite band. There are lots of other great XTC albums but the flow and songs of Beatle-esque proportions make this such an enjoyable listen despite of the conflict between producer Todd Rundgren and the band during the recording of this album.

7. The Wedding Present – George Best
It could be the title or the album cover but I’ve always found this album to be well worth it.  David Gedge may write songs about the same thing over and over again and they still come out enjoyable and fresh.

8. Gene – Olympian
One of the most underrated British bands to ever come out and the guitar work of Steve Mason is sadly overlooked as well. This debut is a classic for its swagger and Englishness post-The Smiths but fortunately not too Britpop.

9. Terry Hall – Home
Another striking, underrated album and artist. Great tunes from start to end for hopeless romantics.

Swoon (Prefab Sprout album)

Swoon (Prefab Sprout album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

10. Prefab Sprout – Andromeda Heights
A misunderstood, often criticized Prefab Sprout album due to its lush production and sappy tunes of love. While it is smooth and not as gritty as “Swoon” nor with the feel of their other equally great albums, it’s still not your average love themed ridden album and just with “Steal Your Thunder”… it’s already “LUXURIOUS”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

Crash Chords: Band Paper

Writing about music isn’t quite as awkward as dancing about architecture, but a lot of books sure make it feel that way. If you’re tone deaf or just plain deaf, then let your eyes do the hearing and see what you’re missing by reading through this list of noteworthy prose, background noise is optional.

Cover of the UK edition.

Cover of the UK edition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone with even the slightest belief in the legitimacy of their personal musical taste would have tried to inflict it upon helpless friends and family via that trusty weapon of sonic torture – the unsolicited mix tape! Nick Hornby goes one further with Songbook (published in the UK as 31 Songs), a collection of personal essays about his 31 favorite songs. “I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do,” he declares unapologetically. To be honest, if Hornby hadn’t cemented his music-writing cred with High Fidelity, or written so passionately and shamelessly about falling into Last Song Syndrome as easily as the rest of us, then this trifling exercise may have come off as insufferable. But there are deeper undercurrents to all the navel-gazing. While Hornby was working on the book, his young son was diagnosed with autism, and proceeds benefit TreeHouse, a U.K. charity for autistic children.

Shelter, by Marty Asher, is a little book that doesn’t seem to have much going for it. The back cover blurbs name-drop Ellison and Vonnegut, the usual stock fixtures of the 1960s counterculture scene that Generations Y and Z may mostly find irrelevant. Each page contains only a paragraph or two, and most of the text seems to be composed of lyrics from Beatles songs, quoted repeatedly. But there’s much more at work between the lines of this fun, funny, and poignant fable. We read through the ramblings of Billy, an idealistic bumper sticker writer surviving the cold-war era’s paranoia of nuclear Armageddon by obsessing over the music of the Beatles. It’s a charming character study filtered through a heady experimental trip that shakes your views on just what John Lennon was trying to say, whether you’re a fan of the Fab Four or not.

Cover of "The Wrong Boy"

Cover of The Wrong Boy

In Willy Russell‘s The Wrong Boy, we follow the story of star-crossed misfit Raymond Marks, as told through a series of long letters written to his own hero, the cult musician Morrissey, lead singer of indie music gods The Smiths. Raymond’s life was perfectly ordinary, if slightly dysfunctional, until the expose of an innocent little game that he and his school friends played together, undeservedly brands him as a perverted troublemaker. Excerpts from Morrissey’s lyrics weave in and out of the correspondence, setting the tone for the book’s blend of social commentary, comedy, and pathos, much like the actual songs themselves. The narrative is rich with extended gags that you can’t help but laugh out loud to, but it also hits heavily with touching moments that’ll jerk tears from even the hardest punk rocker or Smiths fan (whoever you find more extreme). The Wrong Boy is the real deal, a novel that satisfies completely.

Sting is so “awesome”, he not only does without a last name, but he even manages to make our great editor-in-chief personally request the inclusion of his book in this humble piece. Of course, could we ever expect Sting’s autobiography to be anything less than lyrical? Entitled Broken Music, we get to know Sting as the young Gordon Sumner, and probe into the devastating influence of his artistic but volatile mother. Sting’s writing is open and honest to a fault, only his kinkiest fans may appreciate his digressions into sexual mumbo jumbo. He also relies on a flashback framing device that verges on the disorienting and unevenly spreads out the nuggets of true insight. Fortunately, we also get treated to the inner workings of The Police, and the stories behind the composition of some of his most significant songs. In the end, this memoir serves quite well as an apology, explanation, and confession, demonstrating how Sting tries his best not to sell his fans short, which is way more than you can say for most music icons.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2005

Original Pilipino Music’s Bright Spot

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

One word to describe Christine Bendebel’s house is bright, bright with color, and bright with the light of many suns. The award-winning composer of hits for Regine Velasquez, Ariel Rivera, Rachel Alejandro, Jamie Rivera, Jaya, and Martin Nievera usually shares the cheerful space with her mom and her sister’s family, while her dad and brothers are frequent visitors and habitual tenants. The close-knit Bendebel family divides its time (and family members) between Mandaluyong and Cebu. Their cozy Mandaluyong compound resounds with the antics of her pets Diana, Whoopie, and Pusing, and her nephew, Jarrod. Their quirky sala is anchored by their beloved pianoforte and two sinuous sofas in salmon and yellow. An old wooden trunk acts as a coffee table, and an immense ceramic elephant serves as a telephone stand. The most intense space in the house though has to be the psychedelic kitchen, painted in neon colors dazzling enough to cook food and cause seizures.

Upon entering Christine’s domain, the solar motif is inescapable. The sun shines down from her cabinets and walls, even her electric fan has a sunray centerpiece. Christine gathered the pieces for her sunny collection from Vigan, Baguio, and Cebu. Scattered among the sunspots is an eclectic collection of knickknacks, her favorite piece being a miniature mask with musical notes gracing its frilly collar and peaked cap, a friend’s gift from Turkey. Her vividly patterned curtains match her sheets because they used to belong to the same set, but after a bit of creative alteration, they now also cover her windows aside from her bed. From the cherubs peeking in through the window to the maps that tile the floor, her room never lacks for visual stimulation, all the better to stir the creative juices.

Tucked away at the back of their house is Christine’s music studio. A sign proclaiming “tunesmith” greets you at the door underneath a Zagu lightbox, and a license plate saying “songwriter” perches on top of her computer monitor alongside assorted cartoon characters. One wall is completely taken up by rows of cassette tapes. If you wonder where all the CDs are, Christine admits that she mostly skipped the CD-buying stage and went straight from cassettes to MP3s. A cabinet top is laden with all her plaques and trophies from various songwriting competitions and award-giving bodies. The walls are peppered with Christine’s stamp collection, sheet music, posters, prints, photos, calendars, and collages. A Picasso fan, Christine has several framed reproductions of his works scattered about, and even has one of his sketches patching over the hole of her exhaust fan. The studio also acts as a mini-museum for her family’s small collection of vintage cameras and recording equipment.

Christine’s has been making melodies ever since she can remember. “Since elementary school, I was already known in my school for songwriting. I continued doing it all through high school and college. I got my start from Ronnie Henares, he was the one who chose my material for Regine Velaquez. Actually I first submitted songs for Janno Gibbs, I didn’t know Regine yet then, she was still Chona Velasquez. When they heard the songs I submitted, they got interested and Ronnie called me. He said that he wanted to use my songs for Chona. I asked,’Who’s Chona?’ She would turn out to be Regine,” recalls Christine. The songs and the singer turned out to be a perfect match, and it didn’t take long for both of their budding talents to be recognized.

“In a way Urong Sulong and Kung Maibabalik were breakthrough songs for both of us. Since then, the record companies started calling me already. After that, I only got to work with Regine again after 6 years for her Christmas album.”

Like all composers, Christine continues to pursue the elusive goal of a hit song. “Now I want to have a new hit. I never stop writing but it’s really hard to make a hit. Which is why I truly admire Vehnee Saturno, because even if he disappears for a while, when he comes back, he has a hit right away. He really knows the feel of the masa.” Among foreign songwriters, she looks up to Diane Warren for her seemingly effortless ability to pen hit after hit.

All the new uses other people appear to find for her old songs never fail to amaze her. “Undoubtedly my biggest hit is “Kung Maibabalik Ko Lang”. Up to this day, just yesterday, I have people negotiating with me so that they can use it again. They go on using it for TV, VCDs, DVDs, Magic Mike, and ring-tones.” She admits to being very appreciative of the income she gets from these workhorses of hers. “It’s great if you have a lot of hits, you can just relax. Like last year, I was able to rest a bit. There wasn’t a lot of pressure to come up with new songs. With the money I made, I could take a break.”

And yet her most successful songs aren’t necessarily the ones she’s most proud of. “Of the songs that were released, my favorite is “I Still Believe In Love”, which I wrote for Jaya. It was released as a single, but didn’t become a big hit. I also did a song for Ariel Rivera entitled “In My Life”. That’s also a good song,” she discloses. “But basically the songs of mine that I really like haven’t been released yet. It’s really hard to market those songs because they’re not the type that sell here. I feel that I’ve grown somehow, that I can’t go on writing the jukebox-type songs anymore. But I still enjoy it, so I still go on writing.”

Jingles, she says, are where the money is at. “But if I’m not working directly for a client, they can be a headache. Because if you go through an advertising agency you have to go past all these people who are supposed to approve your jingle. So you can be ok for the first two stages, then in the end you’re out.” Christine has done jingles for such corporate giants as Palmolive, San Miguel Beer, Purefoods, Triple V, and Kodak. Because of the ubiquity of her commercial work, she gets to hear her music in the most unlikely places. “I did the theme for the Sta. Lucia Mall. So it’s very familiar among those who live in Cainta and Antipolo. I was surprised once when I heard some kids singing the jingle. I asked them why they were singing it, and it turned out that they were from Cainta.”

Tune-smithing isn’t all fun and financial gain, she explains. “The competition is very tough when submitting songs for an album. Sometimes, there are 50, even 80, of you competing and only 12 or 14 songs will be included. So every time there’s an album, that’s what we songwriters have to go through, unless maybe you’re really asked to do a particular project. Like what I did for Jamie Rivera’s Seasons album, every month has a different occasion and I was assigned to do the father’s day song. That was a good project.”

Christine believes that the talent for songwriting is a blessing, and one has to be grateful for every break that comes your way. “You’re not always sure where your income will be coming from. When you feel that your funds are about to be depleted, you just have to write and submit your songs again. But before I get to that stage I have to go through a lot, writing songs everyday, because here in the Philippines you need to be prolific if you really want to earn. Unlike abroad, one big hit and you’re set. Over here, Vehnee Saturno and Odette Quesada are already like that. They just continue to write songs because they enjoy it. But sometimes you can’t help but get the urge to write“.

She encourages all those who feel they have it in them to try their hand at it. “It’s a good career as long as you set your heart into it. I didn’t have any equipment before. I’d just play on my guitar and piano. To make my demos I’d have to hide inside the cabinet to get some quiet. Those starting to write songs now are really lucky because we now have computers. But you really have to love what you’re doing. If you do it’s impossible for you not to break into the industry because it’s really small. So if you really want to write, it’s really fast. If you’re really serious about songwriting you’re sure to get somewhere. Maybe it’s easy for me because I’m not supporting a family so I don’t have a lot of problems.”

She reveals that the business of writing love songs has its own share of heartbreak. “There are also a lot of heartaches in this industry. There are intrigues and politics. Everybody knows each other. I’ve been in the business for the past 17 years so I’m used to it. I remember in my early years if the singer didn’t thank me, or I was left out of the recording, I’d feel really hurt. You find out that someone is using your song without your knowledge, and it’s almost like stealing. These days, I don’t mind anymore, because now I look at my songs here as material for my demos abroad.” Christine has already managed to get her food in the door to the bigger foreign markets. “Last year and in 2001, I had a few recordings in Taiwan, not for F4, but another band named IPIS. They used a few songs of mine and translated them to Mandarin. Up to now I’m still trying to get into the US market.”

Christine declares that she can get her inspiration from anything, from movies, and from friends who talk about their relationships and romantic escapades. “Urong-Sulong” is a true story, what the song says really happens. I had a classmate in college who didn’t know if he should ask me out. It was embarrassing when the song became a hit because he knew that it was about him. “Kung Maibabalik Ko Lang”, was inspired by a movie, that’s all I’m going to say. I can also get inspiration from my nephew Jarrod, my pets, my family, but mostly from my friends.”

Christine is currently in a curious stage of her long and fruitful career. “I haven’t written any new songs in a while. Now I just get songs from my stockpile and recycle them. It’s because I have a feeling that there I already have too many songs that haven’t been marketed. So now I’m concentrating on marketing the songs I’ve already written, and I’m taking a break from songwriting creation.”

Her participation in an international competition is what Christine considers to be her biggest achievement. “100 songwriters competed, 15 got in, then I was the one chosen to compete for the Philippines. That was the highlight of my career, to get into an international competition, and winning.” But Christine’s best work may still be ahead of her, and she’s already sitting on a treasure trove of unreleased material. Good songs never go out of style, and sometimes time is all it takes for underappreciated gems to get a second chance. As the world of popular music pushes onward in its never-ending cycle of hits and misses, Christine is rolling right along and enjoying the ride.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Crash Chords: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Christmas-time cues the start of the sonic parade of nonstop carol medleys, sentimental wishing-you-were-here ballads, and religious hymns. It takes some effort to find something on the air that doesn’t sound like it’s being spewed by a perky elf, homesick OFW, or sanctimonious choirboy. During this most frenetic of seasons, ironically there’s a dearth of music to chill out too, or any tunes that just sound cool. This is supposed to be the time of Siberian winds and cold snaps and winter wonderlands (either real, imagined, or simulated) and yet the airwaves all seem to want to keep the sap-o-meter at a nice tepid level. Well, freeze that. Keep your stereo system frostily aloof by shunning those overcooked standards and reheated favorites. Crank up these CDs (or compressed audio files) and drown out the noise of the neighborhood kids and the neighborhood malls that are all just caroling and clamoring for your money anyway.

takk

takk (Photo credit: 1541)

While not exactly having anything to do with the Baby Jesus and Santa Claus, the Icelandic group Sigur Ros’ third album, Takk, can almost make you hear the finger of God stirring up the heavens as he tinkers with the Northern Lights. Takk’s soundscapes flow like a glacier surging past fjords and icebergs. Takk makes us feel the raw yearning of a land defined by ice and frost. It’s like they’ve adapted the better parts of the novel “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” into an avant-garde musical.

Lead singer Jonsi’s chilling falsetto soars over notes of frozen glory, moaning and sighing as if he were the spawn of a Christmas elf and an archangel deep in the throes of orgasm (or dying of hypothermia). With song lyrics written in the mostly-made-up language of ‘Hopelandic’, he could actually be saying “deck the halls with boughs of holly, fa la la la la la la la la” for all we know, but the swirling crescendos make it all sound so magnificently grand and profound. It’s best to listen to this record while the temperatures are still low, it just might melt in the summer heat.

The Hague Jazz 2009 - Rod McKuen

The Hague Jazz 2009 – Rod McKuen (Photo credit: Haags Uitburo)

Rod McKuen‘s carols are nothing new or groundbreaking. To most modern listeners, they’d come off as quaintly old-fashioned, but in a good way. In the right mood, his songs can both soothe and charm. Rod speak-sings in a deep, velvety sigh that we Pinoys would characterize as “malamig at suave” (cool and smooth), quite an antidote to the overproduced treacly pap that usually fills the Christmas CD sale bins. Just left of folk, drifting slightly towards ballad territory, and very easy on the ears, Mckuen’s Christmas album presents some songs that are sad, some that are upbeat, but each one lyrically deep. His compositions have the tendency to borrow grace notes from classics like Pachelbel’s Canon or to erupt into delightful instrumental interludes. These are carols you can kick back, sit down, and sip hot chocolate to without having to turn your brain off.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Trans-Siberian Orchestra (Photo credit: James Marvin Phelps)

For more recognizable Christmas music interpreted in an extraordinary style, check out the Trans-Siberian Orchestra‘s rock opera trilogy. This ambitious and complex work tells the story of heaven’s youngest angel called back to earth to continue Jesus’ unfinished work. This time he has to help redeem not only Christmas, but the soul of humankind itself.

Straddling the borders of rock opera, progressive rock, and New Age music, these aren’t your typical Christmas albums. But then, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra just happens to be the alter ego of Savatage, a band known for building on high concepts and complex arrangements, raising them far above the limits of ordinary creativity.

Most of the tracks consist of walls of sound constructed from a mortar of electric guitar, synthesizers, choirs, and drums. Hard and heavy power chords crash into gentle piano or delicate classical guitar melodies. Just when all the bombast starts to get overwhelming, the band intersperses a few peaceful passages featuring vocal or instrumental solos. The effect is sublime but not sentimental, ingenuous but not affected, all in all a very Christmassy contradiction.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published under music column Crash Chords in Manual magazine, 2005

Chic Lit: Reading for the Red Carpet

photo by Tata Tuviera

Sometimes it’s not what you know but what you have. It’s not about the books you’ve read, but the books you own. And to some people’s eyes, luxury reading means expensive books about expensive things. However, true class is a different beast from mere conspicuous consumption. A catalog of rare Star Wars memorabilia cannot compare to a registry of vintage cars. If you want to impress, it takes more than a pair of Armani reading glasses to show that you’re a connoisseur of the printed word and the hardbound book. You need to have a kick-ass library (or coffee table at least) to back up your wardrobe and wallet. Past the medicine cabinet and baby pictures, most dates and prospective mates progress to ransacking one’s bookshelves. Barring librarians and literature majors, this roster of weighty tomes ought to raise your lux-factor considerably.

Cabernet: A Photographic Journey from Vine to Wine by Charles O’Rear, Michael Creedman

Part travelogue and part oenologue (just a fancy way of saying wine-book), the authors take us on a worldwide tour of the regions where the Cabernet grape is grown. Get drunk on stimulating panoramas of vineyards, grapes, oak barrels, and photogenic locals. Wordiness-wise, there’s just enough red meat in the text, including a foreword from renowned vintner Robert Mondavi, to go well with this particular vintage. Now you can better sip and smooth talk your way through a wine list. Just say, cabernet (that rhymes).

ART of the 20th Century (Paperback) by Klaus Honnef, Schneckenburger, Fricke, Ruhrberg

Cover of "Art of the 20th Century"

Cover of Art of the 20th Century

This attention-grabbing boxed set aims to be the end-all and be-all guide to the art of the past 100 years, a tall order for any work. Full of eye-popping pictures of modern art’s usual suspects like the crisply named Klimt and Munch, who you can now match to their respective tersely titled paintings (The Kiss and The Scream). If the art won’t work you up, at least the writing won’t put you to sleep.

Annie Leibovitz: American Music by Annie Leibovitz

Cover of "Annie Leibovitz: American Music...

Cover of Annie Leibovitz: American Music

Leaf through revealing portraits of rock stars, folk singers, and their elaborate accoutrements as shot by Vanity Fair’s top photographer. The compositions are alternately nostalgic and naughty, showing off Leibovitz’s knack for capturing icons at their most relaxed and real. Seeing these gods of cool brought down to earth will do wonders for your own cred.

Film Noir by Alain Silver, James Ursini

This ultra-stylish book even features white text on black background to go with its dramatic collection of black and white stills from classic crime movies. The elegant imagery is a stark contrast to the sordid themes, vulgar dialogue, and depraved characters of the typical noir film. Possessing this book lets you point out and congratulate yourself on how far above you live from the humble criminal lowlifes such as gangsters, hitmen, and corrupt politicians.

The Rulemakers by Sheila Coronel

Knowing about the wealthy and well-born is a step closer to being one of them (but then if you’re reading this magazine and this book then you probably already are). Although rather deceptive and academic, this is the closest one can get to a comprehensive inventory of the reigning political dynasties of the Philippines. Whether you’re wooing a militant activist (reading the PCIJ’s work earns you major radical points), or a silver-spooned scion (pointing out their family name in the power list is sure to charm), you can’t lose.

The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Cover of "The 48 Laws of Power"

Cover of The 48 Laws of Power

Power is the ultimate luxury. And Greene’s guidelines read like Machiavelli and Sun-Tzu spiced up and simplified for modern readers. With such ruthless gems of advice as “Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit” and “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy”, once you take these 48 rules to heart you can give even the Rothschilds and the Medicis a run for their money. Merciless ambition always impresses, maybe as long as you aren’t dating your boss, or his daughter (if she doesn’t idolize Lady Macbeth that is).

Modern Sports Cars: Roger Bell Evaluates the World’s Top Driving Machines by Roger Bell

Full of enough acronyms and jargon to intimidate the casual car enthusiast, and brimming with glossy shots of shiny hoods, gleaming engines, and plush interiors to make the hardcore auto-eroticist blow his load a few pages in. Who cares about erectile dysfunction when your hands are fondling the gear shift of a Ferrari at 203 miles an hour? If you don’t, then this motor show is for you. Just take care to mop up the saliva (or whatever) stains.

New Complete Sailing Manual by Steve Sleight

Cover of "The New Complete Sailing Manual...

Cover of The New Complete Sailing Manual

What, you don’t own your own boat yet? Then at least own this book. It’ll be handy for bluffing your way through affairs on a yacht or at the yacht club. This comprehensive manual teaches the basics of sailing from navigation to boat care. Get a tan, blow some wind into your hair, learn which side is port or starboard, and you’re all set for the next regatta (or at least the next clothes shopping trip to Regatta).

The Horseman’s Bible by Jack Coggins

Cover of "The Horseman's Bible"

Cover of The Horseman’s Bible

The original luxury conveyance, purebred horses trump sports cars or yachts any day. There’s something primal and sensual about horse-riding. In terms of prestige and sex appeal, a man on a horse evokes such noble imagery as polo matches, fox-hunting, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Horse racing isn’t called the sport of kings for nothing. Besides, having this book lying around provides you with a great back-up explanation for owning all those Mane & Tail products. Since horses don’t usually come with their own instruction manual, this classic guide is the best one you can get.

The Architecture of I.M. Pei by Carter Wiseman

Here’s a thorough retrospective on one of the most important architects alive. To even the most architecturally clueless people, you can always point out that he’s the guy who designed the Essensa towers at the Fort. This thoughtful and detailed look at Pei and his work is heavy on the textual content, sketches, and diagrams, but a bit skimpy on the color photos. If it’s a good enough hobby for Brad Pitt, then maybe there’s something sexy about blueprints that we guys ought to look into.

Hip Hotels series by Herbert Ypma

Herbert Ypma seduces us with a procession of the world’s chicest and quirkiest boutique resorts and hotels. These slickly designed paperbacks give readers a peek at the lush interiors of the ultra-modern getaways that are Ypma’s focus, while dozens of detail-rich thumbnail shots help capture each hotel’s interior mood. Although the vivid layout might skirt the edge of sensory overload, Ypma’s writing remains immensely readable and full of flair. Fortunately, some of the establishments he highlights are so hiply obscure, you can get away with talking as if you’ve been to them without having even set foot on the same continent.

photo by Tata Tuviera

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2005 

Crash Chords: Rant and Rave

first published under music column “Crash Chords” in Manual magazine, 2005

Toti Dalmacion

“We are not hip, we are trendy,” and with that devastating statement music guru Toti Dalmacion effectively dismisses the nascent Filipino music scene that he himself has carefully helped cultivate. In an era of unlimited downloads, overstocked record stores, and competing music channels, it’s ironic how most Filipinos continue to stick to what’s popular, safe and familiar. What started out as a casual chat about different music genres morphed into an impassioned manifesto regarding all that is wrong with the local music scene. Toti did oblige us by offering a few pithy notes on the various genre definitions, but not before expounding that the labels are little more than shelving categories for the stores to use, and for record companies to slap onto compilation CDs that usually offer an inaccurate or watered-down version of the particular genre that they’re supposed to represent. Toti just wishes that things were less about the money, less about the image, and more about the music.

Differentiating the sub-genres of techno music is all about listening to the layers. It all started with the invention of synthesizers and drum machines. Which meant that an aspiring musician no longer needed to be a virtuoso or even play an instrument to make music. The grand history of techno, its sub-genres and all related electronic music that reside under the catch-all term ‘Electronica’, deals mostly with the ping-ponging of ideas across the Atlantic ocean, with one side embellishing the other’s inventions then throwing them back for another round.

Acid House

Cover of "Everybody Needs a 303 1"

Cover of Everybody Needs a 303 1

This dates back to the 1980s, a style that was played at the club “The Warehouse” in Chicago. This is where the characteristic synthetic plip-plop sound often heard in dance music comes from. The sound popped out when DJ Ron Hardy played around with a small synthesizer called the “Roland TB-303 Bass Line” which was originally meant to be used by drummers to emulate a bass guitar.

Example: Fatboy Slim’s “Everybody Needs a 303

Acid Jazz 

It’s actually a fusion of old and new classic jazz riffs and scat vocals with funky hip hop beats and modern techno sounds. Its attributes include hip-hop or house rhythms, live instrumentation, silky smooth arrangements, and an easy, fluid, soulful energy.

Examples: Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai

Ambient

Brian Eno

Brian Eno (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

During raves, those with battered eardrums could rest by going to a chill-out room where ambient music was played. Associated with the experimental and avant-garde, it features lots of dreamy soundscapes, with a very discreet rhythm or none at all.

Example: Brian Eno – the godfather of this style

Eurodance 

This is the most popular dance format in Europe. You’ll be sure to hear happy synth-tones, perky vocals, a catchy refrain, and short parts of crap-rap in between. This sub-genre dominates every chart and dance floor in the European Union.

Examples: 2Unlimited

House

House is what disco used to be, but with new machines having modernized and updated the sound. It is the musical core of today’s dance music. Emerging from clubs in Chicago and New York in the mid 1980s, it can be recognized by the 130 electric beats per minute big bass lines and hard drum loops.

Lounge 

It’s music that’s so bad it crosses over to hip. The appeal is in appreciating the irony of it. It’s associated with coffee, beatniks, swingers, the jet set, the Rat Pack, Bacharach, and elevator muzak.

Lounge pushes a retro aesthetic restyled for the contemporary. Computers may be used to add that 21st Century Modern flava. It’s very jazz-influenced, and sometimes spiced up with ethnic flavors such as bossa nova.

Examples: Groove Armada

Trance

Not Toti’s favorite subgenre for sure, he terms it as music that has no soul or credibility; white, blank, and wimpy. Trance evolved from German Techno, using the rolling bass and sizzling keyboards of techno to give the music a hypnotic flowing effect, yet retaining all the driving, pulsating energy of its true techno roots.
Examples: Paul Oakenfold

Trip-Hop

Produced by taking hip-hop and fusing it with moody psychedelic electronic rock sounds over a down-tempo beat.

Usually melancholic in nature, the mainstays of Trip-Hop are R&B vocals over smooth Hip Hop beats/scratching layered with Rock and Jazz.

Examples: Massive Attack, Sneaker Pimps, Portishead.

To sample the abovementioned ear candy, pop into your nearest respectably-sized record store, browse online shops such as Amazon, or check out download tools Limewire or Soulseek (but don’t tell the RIAA that you heard of them from us).

More info at: www.ethnotechno.com/defs.php

-text by Jude Defensor, photos courtesy of Toti Dalmacion or the Internet, some rights reserved

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