Cardboard Lamb
December 23, 2009 4:05 PM   Subscribe

Crash Course in Science "Vintage electro dance-punk... harsh, throbbing, propulsive grooves and synth-noise mania. Incredible stuff! Crash Course In Science was a trio from Philadelphia that released two singles from 1979 to 1981. The latter of the two, a 12" entitled "Signals From Pier Thirteen," is one of my new favorite records. How could this music go undiscovered for so long? If it came out today, it would be all over the neon geometric hipster clubs... it seems like everyone is trying to sound like this these days, but no one can match the audacious energy of the orginals."
posted by vronsky (26 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Myspace
posted by vronsky at 4:11 PM on December 23, 2009


Nice.
posted by asok at 4:27 PM on December 23, 2009


First song is pretty sweet. In my opinion, bands can't emulate the energy because high quality recordings don't have the same sense of urgency that lo-fi stuff like this does.
posted by cloeburner at 4:39 PM on December 23, 2009


One of the members of New Order (I think it was Stephen Morris) summed up pretty well why the people aping this sound can't do it: essentially (paraphrasing), the old analog electronic instruments were so temperamental that all those sounds were pretty much made by just turning a knob and seeing what happens. "Blue Monday", for example, was written around the drum beat, which was created when someone accidentally started the drum machine in the middle of its sequence. The gear now just works too well for that kind of experimentation, at least to that degree. Even if you're using vintage analog synths, you probably at least have a MIDI to CV converter or something in the mix.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:35 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


To give an example of what I mean, most of you probably didn't know that early synthesizers actually had to be tuned. You have to tune the oscillator(s) to A440, and none of the early 80s era stuff stayed in tune for very long. "Press a key and it's the right note every time" wasn't a safe assumption until Yamaha came out with the DX7 around 1983. This is the reason why old synths sound "fatter", because they're always slightly out of tune and create a natural chorus/unison effect. That and the fact that they were recording to tape rather than ProTools.
posted by DecemberBoy at 5:41 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Woah. I don't care much the singing, but then I just don't like punk. It's still very forward-looking. I like the 'kitchen motors' song on the 2nd link best.

DecemberBoy, much of what you say is true but I can't agree with the assumption that the gear nowadays 'works too well' to allow for musical serendipity. Aside of the fact that people can and do exploit lo-fi techniques like recording to and back from tape, or running signals though old or home-built gear - and there's plenty of interesting analog junk to be had without paying 'vintage' prices - there's a great many possibilities even within the difital realm. I lose control (in the good way) of my Nord Modular on a regular basis, and even in times of no keyboard I've been surprised and delighted at the possibilities for audio offered by software like Reason.

For the analog purist, $3-400 will net you an Oberheim Matrix-6 (rack) on eBay which is a remarkably flexible semi-modular if you can live with the endless button-pushing required. Another route to instant hipster credibility (if not fame or money) is to eschew the instruments for a while, go down the music concrete route, and just record lots of other things, like, well, kitchen motors or my favorite, washing machines. Throw 'em into an editor, turn off 'snap to grid', space out a bit and go mad with the copy/paste. And so on. There's no point in fleeing the audio fidelity trap only to end up falling into the authenticity trap and paying Stradivarius prices for a Juno or whatever.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:44 PM on December 23, 2009


here is their official site, with remix samples and the original flying turns -- which was up on youtube until last week, when suddenly it got blocked :(

more info
posted by vronsky at 6:54 PM on December 23, 2009


Maybe "works too well" is poorly stated. What I mean, by example: I have an MOTM modular, which is about as analog as it gets. You can accidentally bump a knob on that thing and completely change the character of the sound. Whereas your softsynths and analog-modelers and so forth are all based around algorithms which have the same result every time by their very nature, rather than simple electronic components that can "fail" in interesting ways.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:01 PM on December 23, 2009


Cool! I especially like the third track you linked, "Factory Forehead." Love that distortion. Hard to believe I had never heard of this band before, even though I've been listening to industrial, synth-pop and electronic music for 20+ years now. Thanks for helping me fill in the gaps in my knowledge!
posted by velvet winter at 7:05 PM on December 23, 2009


Also, I'm not saying experimentation and happy accidents are no longer possible, just that you sort of have to know what you're doing now to get those sort of interesting results with, say, Reason. I'd bet a lot of money that none of the guys in this band had much of an idea how subtractive synthesis actually works, you know? You didn't need to as much with the vintage gear.
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:14 PM on December 23, 2009


This is the reason why old synths sound "fatter", because they're always slightly out of tune and create a natural chorus/unison effect.

That is only true if your analog synth has multiple oscillators, and it is easy enough to simulate digitally by detuning them with an LFO, a really long envelope or just automation. I think the fatness really comes from a legacy of audio-oriented analog op-amps that were developed over the years to create a warm audio feel. If you built a synth out of the very earliest silicon op-amps or the most ancient vacuum tubes, you'd probably get a similar kind of harshness to what you get out of cheap digital gear.

The gear now just works too well for that kind of experimentation, at least to that degree.

I can't disagree strongly enough with this claim. Sure, modern gear works really well. It also provides ample opportunity for dadistic/surrealistic/automatic composition. Reaktor will happily randomize settings for you. Logic's Ultrabeat is great for dropping in random notes, or even drawing pixel-pictures out of the drum patterns. Throw some random taps into Delay Designer and you are well on your way to some fun chaos.

If you want to get serious about your aleatoric composition, check out SuperCollider. If Musique Concrete is more your style, pick up a Zoom H2 and away you go.

Modern tools definitely lean towards established artistic conventions, but they are just as easily bent and misused for new and interesting purposes as the classics.

Whereas your softsynths and analog-modelers and so forth are all based around algorithms which have the same result every time by their very nature, rather than simple electronic components that can "fail" in interesting ways.

That is a much better point. Soft modular synths like Reaktor are clearly built with optimizing assumptions that do make them a lot more repeatable. You can get pseudo-randomness out of them, but not in the same way as you'd get with real analog gear.

Circuit designers simulate analog gear all the time. Remember, "digital" is a fiction that exists only in software. Hardware designers of "digital" gear deal with electrical components that are very much analog, and they have plenty of tools to simulate their very real imperfections. Maybe the next generation of virtual analog synths will incorporate some of that in to their sound.

Until then, I'm finding plenty of ways to inject randomness at composition time. And I really like not having to debug ground loops.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:20 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Word, b1tr0t. There are tons of awesome/awesomely crappy free-to-cheap VST synths and effects out there to keep things from getting too slick.

Also: Crash Course In Science rule, and if you like them you will totally dig The Naughtiest Girl Was A Monitor. (I think both have had reissues happen on Vinyl On Demand.)
posted by mintcake! at 8:06 PM on December 23, 2009


Lots more to love at Electric To Me Turn

Charlie - Spacer Woman
posted by vronsky at 8:11 PM on December 23, 2009


YMO
posted by vronsky at 8:15 PM on December 23, 2009


Those are interesting points december boy and I think a perfect illustration of what you are talking about is to listen to the original Flying Turns and compare it to the lifeless, charmless modern remixes linked above.
posted by vronsky at 9:40 PM on December 23, 2009


Telex
posted by vronsky at 11:38 PM on December 23, 2009


Thanks for sharing, a nice find
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:45 PM on December 23, 2009


my feeling on the whole "people don't make music like this anymore" is that it's the interfaces which have changed music styles and made music like this less likely to happen.

I'm an ableton freak so I feel I'm using the most immediate and flexible sequencer available, and yet I still feel like all my gear is behind a piece of glass and I'm twiddling knobs with my hands thru the letterbox.

the eye opener for me was getting hold of korg ds10 on nintendo ds. now that's an instant piece of software, as close to hardware perfection as I think you can get in terms ofinteraction. it made me write music something like I did before the days of the computer. daft of course since it's software, but the key is the limited options available and the speed you can work with the step sequencer. the complexity of a modern DAW, the sheer number of options available is the biggest creativity killer...for me, anyway.

suddenly all the tunes I was writing were raw and stripped, and I worked much faster. I was amazed at the difference it made on the results. even our most well made DAW can't match the instant fun of an analog step sequencer and a few simple devices and effects pedals and a mic, and the proof is in the pudding - from having tried both ways of working, and music like this.
posted by 6am at 12:18 AM on December 24, 2009


the eye opener for me was getting hold of korg ds10 on nintendo ds. now that's an instant piece of software, as close to hardware perfection as I think you can get in terms ofinteraction.

Have you ever used Reason? It sounds like you'd really love it.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:33 AM on December 24, 2009


This is great! Thanks, vronsky. And yeah, I was in a band with a guy who built his own instruments and they would often have that "fat" sound.
posted by Kattullus at 5:09 AM on December 24, 2009


I hold Crash Course in Science responsible for my love of electronic and weird music. My dad had the Signals from Pier Thirteen record. It was a 45 but my sister and I liked to listen to it on 33 speed. Please, imagine: 2 little girls dancing erratically, flailing about, and rolling around on the floor, singing "Caaaaaaarrd boooooooaard.......... LAAAAAAAUUHHM" I seriously thought that Cardboard Lamb was sung by a really droopy sounding man for about 12 years until my dad sent me an mp3. Apparently I couldn't tell, as a child, which version was the intended one (slow or fast) and had convinced myself it was the slow one.

But thanks, Dad. Thanks, Crash Course in Science. I love you both.
posted by bobobox at 6:38 AM on December 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


the eye opener for me was getting hold of korg ds10 on nintendo ds. now that's an instant piece of software, as close to hardware perfection as I think you can get in terms ofinteraction.

You might want to try using your favorite DAW and soft synths with a Wacom Cintiq. It is an expensive input device, but less expensive than any one hardware synth.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:15 AM on December 24, 2009


I remember back in the day watching them at the East Side Club and Omni's. We had a real thriving scene, I went out at least 3 times a week. CCS, the Dead Milkmen, Pure Hell, Bunnydrums, Pretty Poison,The band I joined, the Warm Jets. Wow. Once there was a Prince/Madonna double bill, waaay before they found fame.

The main instrument on Cardboard Lamb looked like a morse code speed key (A two sided reed switch).

Crash Course had a song the chorus of which was them reciting words from one of the first talking arcade video games
"Help Me"
sheer genius.

I'm an old old Punk.
posted by djrock3k at 3:43 PM on December 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Geeky nerd music?

This is my response
posted by Zangal at 1:15 AM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's amazing, Zangal... I can't believe this came out in 1984.
posted by Kattullus at 1:47 AM on December 27, 2009


Zangal, that's great! Geeky nerd music! Yeah! If I'd seen that adorable-nerd-with-a-boombox video and heard that tune in 1984 when I was a teenager, no doubt I would've had a huge schoolgirl crush on Patrick. Thanks for sharing that!
posted by velvet winter at 4:44 PM on December 27, 2009


« Older Holy Night   |   Training the hacker underground Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments