Spotify doesn’t do a great job with new music discovery. Their personalized “Discover Weekly” playlists were once groundbreaking - and while they’re still good, it seems like the technology hasn’t evolved in a long time. I’m ready for the next big thing in music discovery - and while I wait, I’ll be listening to a lot of Bon Iver.
Bon Iver (which is principally just a stage name for the front man, Justin Vernon) makes delightful music. It’s wild to hear how his music evolves and shifts from album to album, all while maintaining a consistent sonic quality rooted in sparse, patient, and emotional folk - even when the core sound diverges into rock and electronic.
If you haven’t listened to Bon Iver; if you’re interested in a musical journey; if you’re open to new and different sounds; and if you have a lot of time on your hands - then buckle up and turn it up. You’re in for a treat.
I’d definitely recommend listening in chronologic order starting with the first album, “For Emma, Forever Ago” (2008). Don’t skip the 2009 four track EP, “Blood Bank”. The self titled 2011 album “Bon Iver” is beautiful and has a warmer and more fully-developed sound than the rest of his music. Things start getting particularly challenging (and rewarding) in the 2016 album “22, A Million” where his well-established folk sound gets married with an aggressive, dark, esoteric electronic backdrop. It’s weird, it’s excellent, but it’s probably not good background music - at least not during your first listen.
I’m convinced that everything he touches turns to gold. Check out the last track on Taylor Swift’s latest album, Evermore. Swift spins her wheels on this tune for two and a half minutes until Vernon jumps in, changes up the melody, lays down some passionate poetry, knocks it out of the park, and then ducks out of the track after about 60 seconds. That’s a virtuoso.
Is there a line that I can just go cross?
Enjoy! And let me know if you have a good music discovery tool!
Please enjoy this memory from Christmas 2019!
It was Saturday December 7th. Jess and I were in Union Square in Somerville for a night out. Our friend Abby was DJing at a club called The Canopy Room - which Jess and I had never been to.
We got to Somerville a little early. It was a cold night, so we decided to head right to The Canopy Room. We were surprised to see that it was jam packed. We could hardly fit in the door, but we squeezed in anyways to get out of the cold.
As we passed through the door, I immediately noticed something unexpected. Instead of thumping dance music I heard a soft guitar. I peered around a curtain blocking off the doorway to see the club. It was crammed with people, all sitting down on little pillows on top of criss-crossing oriental rugs. The room was smaller than expected, with tapestries, paper lanterns, string lights, and potted plants lining the walls and ceiling. A trio of young women were playing guitar and singing a unplugged cover of Last Christmas by George Michael. It was the warmest coziest place. We overheard that it was a private show, but we justified staying for the rest of the song because leaving mid-song would cause a disturbance.
After a few minutes we were back into the cold. We found shelter at a nearby brewery, then looped back to The Canopy Room for Abby’s show. By then, the room had dimmed lights and dancing. But it still had remnants of cozy. I recall seeing a massive pile of jackets on a couch, and it made the club feel like a dorm party. It was a fun night.
I took an unplanned year-long hiatus from blogging - What up with that?
Well, I don't know. One of my favorite aspects of the blog is that it brings structure and meaning to my personal projects/hobbies - and my hobbies have been on the back-burner for the last 12 months. My professional workload has been high; plus, Jess and I have been on a board game kick recently - perhaps some board game blog posts are in the future.
Let's face it - 2020 has been unusual. Jessica and I are fortunate because we both kept our jobs. Plus, for the first time ever, our rent didn't increase. Many people said that 2020 was a year to reinvest in yourself. For me, that definitely happened, and it was professional growth.
I hope I get back into the swing of regular blog posts. But...I'm not going to commit to that. If 2020 taught me anything, it's that I should just play the hand I'm dealt - and that I don't have any idea what cards are even in the deck! We've drafted some loose plans for the next few years; the current world requires us to plan with a lot of flexibility. We are excited to put those plans into action. A wedding is certainly a part of those plans.
I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!
Jess and I went to a Bob Moses concert at the Pier 17 venue in New York City. This was a fantastic concert. Bob Moses was on point, they put on a really great show. The venue was also great; it was basically on the rooftop of a pier in downtown New York right next to the Brooklyn Bridge. Plus, the weather couldn’t have been better. We also quite enjoyed the opening act, Broods.
Aside from the concert, we had a nice weekend in NYC. We stayed in SoHo and spent a lot of time walking through the Village. It was surprising how lively the parks were; I particularly liked Washington Square Park. If you ever find yourself in that area, I recommend Morgensterns Ice Cream and Third Rail Coffee.
Is this thing still on?
I lived two months of life since my last post, and it’s been jam packed with family, fun, work, travel, music, and everything in between. If there were a highlight reel, and that highlight reel was transcribed into bullets, it might look like this:
...and that is the full run-down of our last couple months. While that list might sound like a lot, what doesn’t come through is how busy we’ve both been with work. We are trying to push through and get back to more balanced schedule soon.
We just got back from an excellent weekend at the Electric Forest music festival. Our friend convinced us to go to this festival for the first time in 2018, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. This year was terrific too! Please enjoy my photo album from Electric Forest 2019.
[Cover photo was taken from this Reddit post]
After several months of hardware tinkering and programming, my hobby LED light project has come to a close. Jessica and I successfully displayed the lights on our backpack during the Electric Forest music festival last weekend.
I’ve posted several times about this project already, so this post will be a final summary focusing primarily on topics I haven’t yet discussed.
I arranged the 64x32 LED matrix panels side-by-side to form a square. I needed a way to hold the panels beside each other, so I designed a laser cut acrylic support panel (which I call “the belly”). The belly goes behind the lights and holds them in position. I also designed a second acrylic panel to sit in front of the lights and protect them (which I called “the lid”). While it would make sense to make the lid out of clear acrylic, I did some research online and chose to instead use a semi-transparent white acrylic that will gently defuse (blur) the light.
The LED lights need to be connected with the raspberry pi with a power cord, a 16-wire ribbon cable (for sending data to the LEDs), and a 4-wire ribbon cable (for communicating to the accelerometer). I ended up splitting the 16 wire ribbon cable into 16 individual wires to improve flexibility, then cut each of those wires to about 20 inches and fed them through a braided cable sleeve. Splitting the ribbon cable was tricky to do; if I were to do it again, I’d use one of the rainbow color ribbon cables which are supposedly easier to work with. Rather than plugging the wires from the Pi directly into the LED panels/accelerometer, I decided to make plugs on the perimeter of the lights for easy plugging and unplugging (which turned out to be a huge benefit).
All code for this project is original aside from the physics toolkit and the framework for communicating with the lights, which use publicly available open-source python libraries.
The software running the lights operate in “stages”, which each have their own behaviors. The light patterns are generated in real-time for all stages. Some of the stages use the accelerometer, while others show randomly generated patterns. I originally wanted the lights to sync up with music using a microphone, but there were some significant hardware and software limitations that prevented me from implementing it in time.
One of the more interesting parts of the software are the cellular automation stages. These are the stages that look like waves, tie dye, and fire. These patterns are achieved by programming a set of rules that are followed by each individual light based on the status of its neighboring lights. For example, think of a crowd of people doing “the wave” at a sporting event; the crowd could theoretically do the wave with their eyes closed if each person who pops up tells their neighbor to the pop up. Cellular Automation is similar to that, but often follows much more complex rulesets.
That’s the full rundown. I was successful at getting the device through airport security on our way to Electric Forest (although the TSA agent initially thought I was being wise when I told him it was a “Raspberry Pi”). I also it through the venue security without issue; it probably wasn’t even in the top 20 strangest things that they encountered that hour. Once inside the venue, I was able to store it in a locker.
We used the lights for two out of the four nights at the festival. We didn’t wear it every night because we had to avoid crowded areas when wearing the lights (due to the bumping and jostling), which was a big limitation. Many other attendees enjoyed the lights and gave compliments. A few dozen attendees started tapping on the lights assuming it was a touch screen (maybe next year). It was fun for us to contribute to the the many other bright and colorful totems and outfits in the forest.
The Boston Calling music festival is always a great time, and this year was no exception. The festival was during Memorial Day weekend - so I’ve had some time to reflect on the experiences - and here are my takeaways:
My LED light project is in it's final stretch before we bring it with us to the Electric Forest festival at the end of the month. I have a lot of updates, but for now I just want to post a video of the lights in action. Stay tuned for a more detailed post where I talk about the final hardware/software for this project.
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