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Letting The Algorithim Decode

Algorithim

Unavoidable in modern living, algorithms have penetrated every aspect of our lives. From Amazon to Netflix, they help us decide what to watch, what to listen to, what to buy, who to talk to. They are unavoidable. Despite their 1984-esque nature, there is definitely an argument for their usefulness, im sure everyones been recommended a great band or album by Spotify at least once, but at the same time it feels a little bit gross. The point of algorithms is to help you pick things to make your experience more enjoyable, the human element is still important on making the final decision. But what happens if you let the algorithm take full control?

The reality is that the results would probably be sub par, I doubt it would make a more enjoyable listening experience but its an interesting prospect at the least. YouTubes algorithm has been known to suggest obscure tracks from little known artists of the past, with tracks like 'Plastic Love' by Mariya Takeuchi reaching eye watering views (or listens) of 20 million+ despite the fact that it was unknown beyond the bargain bins of Japanese record stores. Its an isolated example sure, but you have to wonder how and why that happened. With this thin line of hope I wanted to test out YouTube’s algorithm from a fresh account, no influence from any of my searches or watch history.

I quickly set up a new gmail address, xxsniperlegend666xx to be specific. What do I reckon will happen? I hear you ask. Well my hope is that I will be suggested some stuff that is at least interesting but I fear that, with a fresh account with no previous data for the algorithm to feed off, I will instead be met with a series of current top hits. This would definitely be the case if I just chose the first song that appeared on YouTubes homepage so I decided to give the algorithm an initial sniff of something, and watch as it tries desperately to hunt out what it thinks I might like, like a trusty artificial blood hound.

My first choice was the Modern Lovers – Ice Cream Man, I like the song and it's a pretty safe option, not too obscure, not too mainstream. Lets see what YouTube throws me next. Okay so the next song is another Jonathan Richman song. And again. And again. And again. Etc. Well that was clearly a dud. This might be the case for everything that I throw it, now that I think about it. Never the less it's worth another try.

This time I choose Bjork and pick the first song that appears (its oh so quiet fyi). In theory this should be much easier for the algorithm to feed off, it's a well known song and Bjork has a wide network of related artists. Next up is another Bjork song, I worry that’s gonna happen regardless of what I pick from now on. After a few more Bjork related tracks, Sugarcubes and beyond, it gets to Kaelan Mikla, an Icelandic synth-punk trio. I've never heard of them but they are pretty good! I guess the algorithmic blood hound picked up on the Icelandic thing and really ran with it. The next band up is another synthy-post-punky band, from Croatia this time, called Popsimonova. I'm not that fussed about it but it’s interesting to see where it’s going, from Iceland, to synthyness. The Agnes Circle are next up, looks like YouTube is keeping up with the electronic-synth feel, this is very very Joy Division esque but I think it's a fairly recent track. An interesting trend here is that the past few tracks have a lot of views, just under a million, but the bands are certainly not huge. My guess is these tracks have been blessed by the algorithm somewhat, maybe not on the scale of some things but it certainly seems like the algorithm has favoured them. Cold Cave up next, very 80s. Not much more to say on that. Dead Vibrations next, this is a bit more grungey and shoegazey. Certainly a fair way away from Bjork that’s for sure. Looks like the algorithm is doing what it should and suggesting things that are similar but slightly different.

For the sake of readability I'm going to skip ahead a few tracks and just mention anything that seems interesting or unusual. After all, this process could theoretically go on for an infinite amount of time. At the moment I think its fair to say that the algorithm is doing a decent job! And yes I do say that through gritted teeth as I want nothing more than the algorithm to be useless. I’m not sure what grungey-shoegazey has to do with Bjork but everything seems to flow pretty well, theres no crazy jumps. But then it starts chucking out doom metal songs...? After some duds it gets to everyones favourite Ned Flanders metal band Okilly Dokilly. Beautiful! And it seems like Youtube really likes Okilly Dokilly suggesting live sessions, interviews, other tracks all from the green sweater wearing mustacheod metal band.

What an educational experiment. Kind of. We learnt that Bjork and a Ned Flanders metal band are only about 30 minutes apart according to the algorithm. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult to YouTubes smart algorithm but I certainly wouldn't let YouTube decide on your music at a family gathering. Grandma might be a bit shocked by the doom metal. That being said it wasn't as soulless as I would have expected. And that's either a compliment to YouTubes vastly evolving AI, as it becomes more and more human, or a terrifying glimpse into our future where our decisions are ruled by artificial intelligence headed by global corporations with colourful logos.

lets check out my Discover Weekly.

In Conversation With Lealani

Lealani

Lealani has been on the SCUFF radar since day one. Unique in every respect, the Pamona, California resident blends electronic instrumentals, that range from noisy and cutting to more minimal, with haunting vocals that comfortably find their own presence in her musical landscape. Her debut album 'Fantastic Planet' was warmly recieved by many fans and publications, enjoying a launch show through Obey that featured a myriad of great guests. It's no surprise then that Fred Perry Subculture snapped her up for a performance at their All Our Tomorrows all-dayer, in celebration of groundbreaking creatives.

It's her first UK show, and her first time in London. And despite London's polarising nature it made a good first impression, you can already tell the music culture here is off the charts and the buldings here are amazing, it's so artistic and the way the architectures done... it's so beautiful and inspiring to me. We talk flights and jet lag for a bit, I bring up the ease of transporting so much equipment on a flight which triggers flash backs of bubble wrap infused nightmares, laughing she fills me in oh my god, it was a nightmare, it was horrible she explains that she had to minimise her set a lot, usually opting for two synths, a Korg and a Moog, a mixer and a bunch of cords (certainly bigger than carry on luggage!)alas TSA requires you to unpack all electronics to be checked I'm the slowest person in the line taking out all my electronics and then everyons asking 'are you a DJ?...' it's just a hassle!.

On the topic of instruments, it becomes quickly apparent that Lealani is a seasoned vet of her craft. A flurry of fingers dance across her drum machine with ease that to much of the crowd is hynotising and certainly highlights her talent. This adeptness is perhaps unsurprising as she is no newcomer to the world of music, she explains Fantastic Planet is the very first album I put out.. it's songs i've made from ages 12 to 18 she goes on to discuss her musical develoment I feel I can do a lot more and I wanna get a little bit darker and a little louder... I feel 'Fantastic Planet' is very flowery, very pretty...'oh okay this little girl is singing a song,' and no I wanna be like im a tough little girl! she laughs. The goal is to get a little cult following some day... have my own little minions of aliens from fantastic planet she explains. Lealani certainly has that underground, cult like edge to her. Her act that she is an alien from Fantastic Planet is increasingly believeable the more you're exposed to her otherworldly style and talent. I wouldn't be surprised to see her hit that line of cult like wonder, she is endearingly out of this world both musically and in her on stage personality, flitting between dancing around and lightning fast drum machining.

As I think has become apparent by now, the uniqueness of Lealani is undeniable, but there are certainly influences that can be heard. I've always listened to Bjork and Portishead she tells me, the most recent (Bjork) album i've been listening to is Medulla, where she is using all vocals... I've been experimenting with that, acapella and seeing how I can use my voice in different ways. She also highlights Guerilla Toss and Machine girl as noisier elements of her musical rotation, and anything that sounds good on the radio.

On top of her musical career, Alongside music Lealani studies animation at university. It's not something i'm naturally good at... but it's something I wanna learn she explains, I have this cartoon character called rapper cow and he just moos and raps she tells me before exhibiting exactly what rap mooing sounds like. This would certainly seem like a lot to take on to many, two highly demanding creative fields, but they collide inside of Lealanis world its all about timing and so is music. Now working with animation I actually see my music more visually and I see my animation more like I can hear music behing played in front of it... I think they are going to work well hand in hand.

It's fair to say that Lealani is one to watch, her unique world view is so apparent in both her music and her personality that it’s hard not to find it endearing and exciting. Whether it's new music or animation SCUFF will firmly be behind whatever she outputs. She graciously provided us with a drawing of rapper cow who has been hand printed in the trusty SCUFF Gocco printer which appears on the next page! If you want to keep up with what Lealani is up to check out her Instagram @veggieburgerr.

Video Game OSTs

Gamepad

I've probably been playing video games longer than I've been listening to music (at least properly listening to music. From PlayStation One classics like Tekken 3 and Final Fantasy 7 to vast open world extravaganzas like GTA 5 and the Witcher series. I've sunk ridiculous hours into some games; often without even thinking about the music that's enhancing my experience. Even more so I feel like some of the music created for video games, or used in video games, recieves a kiss of death of sorts, it gets shafted to the side, not to be taken seriously by swathes of music listeners. It's an injustice at the very least when you consider the impressive nature of many soundtracks (OST). So let me attempt to shed some light on some stellar work by top tier musicians that accompanied some of my favourite video game memories.

Immediately when thinking about this article there were two games that stood out to me: Final Fantasy 7 (FF7) and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (THPS3). Interestingly enough, they use music in two vastly different ways, both incredibly effectively. The soundtrack to THPS3 is full to the brim with punk rock and hip hop bangers and undoubtedly shaped my early-mid teen taste in music. You’ve got tracks like 'Amoebe' by Adolescents, 'The Boy Who Destroyed The World' by AFI and 'Not The Same' by Bodyjar to name just a few. These tracks stuck with me for years, conjuring up images of pulling off completely impossible combos with my favourite skaters. The soundtrack was positive, energetic and exciting and acted as a bit of musical bible to me. Reigniting my motivation and energy for life in the cosy confines of a half pipe. A great example of a well thought out playlist that just works and encapsulates the excitement of the game so well. It's nothing short of a perfect match. If you type any of the tracks from the soundtrack into YouTube I guarantee there will be comments about other peoples emotional attachment to the game.

Buster Sword

Admittedly, this soundtrack probably sits on the more accessible side of OSTs. You can put it on and listen to it without anyone questioning what your listening to it. It is after all essentially a playlist of songs that were made separate from the game.

This brings us to perhaps the less accessible side of video game OSTs, and to our second focus FF7. For those who don't know this 1997 game was pretty revolutionary and is probably considered one of the greatest games of all time. A pretty big deal in the world of gaming. And despite the fact that I could never beat the copy that my uncle passed down to me I could, and still can, appreciate the music on this bad boy.

Innovative in nature, FF7s soundtrack was the first to use a track with digitised vocals, utilising the PlayStation's increased hardware power. The tracks all use the PlayStation’s internal sound chip as opposed to using a recording of instruments and inserting the recordings onto the disc. Pretty interesting stuff! It’s hard to compress the cultural importance of this soundtrack into a short article but one last fact might help highlight this: The FF7 OST was the first video game music album to appear on the charts, reaching #3 on the Japanese music charts. Impressive stuff if you ask me.

Parappa

The OST comes in at nearly four and a half hours so as you would expect it consists of a variety of different moods and tones. With light and cheerful synth tracks like 'Tifa's Theme' and 'Barret's Theme' to full on orchestral numbers like 'Aerith's Theme' and 'One Winged Angel', the tracks explore the theme's and locations of the game so perfectly that the music almost melts into the background. Gently pulling you into the game as you become ever more invested into the RPG. Whilst THPS3's OST hits you in the face with it's punchy numbers, FF7 takes a more muted role. But when you take time to listen to the tracks on their own you can really recognise the skill and effort that went into this. A true masterpiece in many peoples opinions.

I get that this is a bit of a self indulgent article which is just me nerding out about video game soundtracks but allow me to offer a few final soundtracks with a more abridged description, in case you want to explore the often forgetten world of video game OSTs. Silent Hill 2 has an incredible OST which captures the strange world of the game, with swooping ambient movements throughout and an overall sense of loneliness that becomes almost hypnotic and relaxing. Real good stuff. Parappa the Rapper is a game I recently picked up on PlayStation One. A rhythm based game where you play as a rapping dog, the tracks are unsurprisingly ridiculous but super funny and surprisingly catchy. Katamari Damacy has wonderfully absurd mix of pop and off kilter instumentals, the jazzier numbers like 'Que Sera Sera' in particular are an interesting touch to video game music. Cult game LSD Dream Emulator feautres a soundtrack as wild as the strange, psychadelic explorer game with tracks inspired by Warp Records ranging from comfortably ambient to borderline nauseating. Finally, Runescape is full of absolutely timeless tracks. Nothing better than loading in and hearing the Runescape main theme. Meet you at GE fellas.

LSD