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jason on 01/30/2013 at 10:15AM

Beatjazz: Onyx Ashanti's 3D-Printed Interface To Create Music From Movement, Now Open Source

Originally a jazz saxophone player, Onyx Ashanti cut his teeth in the 90s rave scene where he imagined how sax-like gestures might control the sound of drum 'n' bass music. Following through on this idea, he harnessed the potential of new open source technology to design his own instrument, the "Beatjazz" system, which is also the term he uses to describe his distinct style of music.

Beatjazz is an open framework for improvisation. The two tracks below are from Recursive Artifact II:Nomadic Summer 2010recorded as Onyx Ashanti road-tested his ever-evolving system and experimented with new techniques. The recordings themselves make for a fantastic listen, but it's the performance that takes Beatjazz to the next level.

The Beatjazz controller includes two hand units and a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece senses breath pressure to instantiate notes, using a lip sensor for added expression. The hand units each have a joystick, four pressure-sensitive buttons, a switch to change modes (i.e. from 'record' to 'loop'), and accelerometers to measure x-y coordinates. Three wifi-equipped Arduinos transmit all of this controller information to a computer running Puredata patches that turn these zeroes and ones into sweet Beatjazz music.

Onyx Ashanti is continually refining his Beatjazz system. For example, the prototype's controllers were made out of cardboard, while the latest iteration is almost entirely 3D-printed. Now you can play a role in the evolution of Beatjazz because Controller v1.0 is officially released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license via MakerBot's Thingiverse. The same CC BY-NC-SA license covers the tracks below.

Onyx Ashanti has many more releases available at, where you can keep tabs on his latest innovations. 

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ange on 01/28/2013 at 12:29PM

Radiovision Keynote: Mark Frauenfelder & Do-It-Yourself Rediscovered

Radio may be old fashioned, but it's still powerful, connected, and intertwined with the dreams and revolutionary power of the Internet. WFMU's Radiovision Festival brings together innovators who are doing things right now in radio, on the internet, and sometimes both.

This year's keynote speaker was one of those innovators, Mark Frauenfelder. He is the founding editor of Make Magazine, the founder of BoingBoing, editor at Wired Magazine from 1993-1998, and the founding editor of He is the author of Made by Hand: My Adventures in the Land of DIY. He also hosts Boing Boing's podcast called Gweek.

Here's the audio of his keynote talk as heard on Radio Free Culture, and a transcript of his talk lightly edited for readability.

Today what I'm going to talk about is do-it-yourself. Do-it-yourself media and do-it-yourself physical things. Making your own media, and making your own 3-D things. And I'm going to talk a little bit about things haven't really changed much in the last hundred years, how they've really changed dramatically in the last two or three years, and, looking to the future, how much more it's going to change in really exciting ways. 

Just a little bit about what I do. I started BoingBoing with my wife as a zine in 1988. The first issue came out in 1989, and the reason that I started it was because I wanted a magazine that I wanted to read. I think that's a really good recipe for creating your own media—imagine getting something drop-shipped to you that is the perfect thing that you want to read, or use, or have be part of your life, and then make that happen.

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ange on 01/24/2013 at 06:30PM

Mix: Musical Impressionism

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ange on 01/23/2013 at 01:15PM

Free Music Archive Now on 8Tracks

Good news, mix-makers! The Free Music Archive is delighted to announce that we've partnered with 8Tracks to make our library available through their lovely mix-making and sharing tools. The basic idea of 8Tracks is making simple and sharable online mixes with at least 8 tracks. Here's a peak at what that looks like: 

How better to celebrate the merging of two awesome music websites than with a mix tape exchange? We shared mixes featuring our favorite Punk Hooks and New Era Dance Pop. In exchange, 8Tracks has made us a mix of hidden indie rock gems

Enjoy this mix, and head over to make your own sometime at

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jason on 01/18/2013 at 08:00AM

Balkan Brass & Beyond: WFMU Live From NYC's Golden Festival This Weekend (Mix)

For much of the last three decades, Zlatne Uste was the singular Balkan brass band on the U.S. eastern seaboard. Their influence has spread rapidly in recent years. Newer groups like What Cheer? Brigade, Raya Brass Band and Slavic Soul Party have not only helped introduce a new generation to the irresistible melodies, rhythms, and timbres of Roma (Gypsy) Music, but infused everything from Bollywood, hip-hop and dabke into a genre that knows no bounds.

They're among the 60+ groups performing at this year's Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, where the spirit of Balkan brass is a jumping off point to celebrate a wide range of traditional music. Bulgarian women's choirs, Turkish folk, Norwegian hardingfele, Egyptian film music, Georgian throat singing, and flamenco are all part of the mix. It's an incredible grass roots event where generations join hands for circle dances in complex time signatures. Traditional food and drink are included with your ticket, with all profits donated to Balkan educational & relief organizations. The 28th annual party kicks off tonight (Jan 18th-19th) at Brooklyn's Grand Prospect Hall.

WFMU's Transpacific Sound Paradise presents a special live broadcast from the Golden Festival's main stage on Saturday Jan 19th, 6-9pmET (91.1-FM NYC | It's the fifth year that WFMU and the Free Music Archive document performances across the festival's multiple stages.

This mix offers a sampling of Golden Festival archives from recent years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) as well as tracks from artists scheduled to perform at this year's event.

Zlatne Uste kick things off with a Čoček, one of the most common Balkan brass styles, performed live in the WFMU studios for Transpacific Sound Paradise.

Provience RI's 19-piece street band the What Cheer? Brigade play brass music "with the intensity of metal." A crowd favorite whether they're playing a house show, Lollapalooza, or legendary brass festivals like Guca (Serbia) and Sziget (Hungary).

Rooted in the tradition of Bulgaria's a capella women’s choirs, Black Sea Hotel performed "Malo Selo," a song named after the village in Bosnia-Herzegovia, live on Irene Irudel's WFMU program.

Young classical virtuosos The Rosen Sisters perform "Ruchenitsa," a Bulgarian line dance in 7/8.

Toronto's Ventanas meld sephardic, flamenco, and Balkan traditions on "Gusta Mi Magla."

"Merzifon Karsilama" is a bride-meeting song from Merzifon, Amasya in northern Turkey, performed by Turku: Nomads of the Silk Road.

The guitar duo Isra-Alien Band draws on Israeli musical traditions for "Brogez/Sholem."

Rakiya peform an electrified Roma tune "Sa Bas Tute."

Zikrayat, specialize in Egyptian film music's golden era, accompanied by live dancing on stage at the Golden Festival for this rendition of the song "Tahey" by an unknown composer whose song now lives on.

Raya Brass Band put a Brooklyn spin on Balkan brass, take a listen to a room packed with people gettin' down to "Riff Cloud" during last year's Golden Festival, and don't miss 'em this year!

Photos by Oresti Tsonopoulos: Raya Brass Band (top) & What Cheer? Brigade, Golden Festival 2012.

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ange on 01/11/2013 at 12:00PM

The New Happy Birthday Song Contest

Artwork by Greg Harrison

The Free Music Archive wants to wish Creative Commons a Happy Birthday with a song. But there's a problem. Although "Happy Birthday To You" is the most recognized song in the English language and its origins can be traced back to 1893, it remains under copyright protection in the United States until 2030. It can cost independent filmmakers $10,000 to clear the song for their films, and this is a major stumbling block hindering the creation of new works of art.

Intro by Ken Freedman | Judges | Official Rules | Prize 
Submit Your Song | View Entries | Video: Birthday Song Alternatives 

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dvd on 01/08/2013 at 10:00AM

Best of 2012: dvd's Picks

a tough nut to crack

Hey! I'm David - former FMA librarian, admin, and thing-doer. I spent a lot of time this year hunting the virtual stack for lost gems and Creative Commons treasures, and I come to you now with my Top 10 Albums to hit the Free Music Archive in 2012. They're presented below in alphabetical order... enjoy the tunes, and here's to another couple years of free sonic goodness at the FMA!


Hisko Detria

Static Raw Power Kraut

As a sucker for all things Krautrock, this Creative-Commons licensed demo from Finnish psych-rockers Hisko Detria hit all the right buttons for me. Long cuts of interstellar guitar/keyboard explorations, delay-laden vocal outbursts, and a steady rhythm section from a group that doesn't shy away from its influences. Looking forward to hearing them build on this sound in 2013!


Howie Mitchell & Ruth Meyer


If you haven't been keeping up with The Howie Tapes pseudo-label here at the FMA, then you're missing out on some of the, er... freshest archival recordings on the net. David Mitchell, son of famed Hammered Dulcimer player Howie Mitchell, has been methodically digitizing and releasing his father's recordings - so far dating all the way back to this unreleased 1958 tape. They're all excellent!

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ken on 01/01/2013 at 03:15AM

Six Notes to Oppress You: Shake “Happy Birthday” From Its Fortified Cultural Throne!

The song Happy Birthday to You (HBTY) has a story to tell, and it’s not wishing you to have a good one on this, the anniversary of your birth. The most recognizable song in the English language – a simple six notes and words - is owned by Time Warner, who will charge you ten grand to legally sing the four verses in a public place like a school or restaurant. But the history of how HBTY turned into a two million dollar a year corporate earner is the interesting part. It’s a case study in the copyright-by-fiat strategy that has recently proven so popular with corporate minions and robots. They allege intellectual ownership where none exists, and they often get away with it.

There are many ways to right this wrong. You could challenge HBTY’s dubious copyright in court, as long as you’re prepared for a foe like Time Warner. Or you could try to shame Time Warner by urging innocent birthday revelers to request permission for every innocent public “performance” of the song. Both are worthy endeavors, but neither one sounds like much fun.

No, for our purposes here, we’ll encourage you to unseat (or at least unsettle) “Happy Birthday to You” from it’s cultural throne by composing possible replacements. The Free Music Archive Happy Birthday contest seeks a few new Happy Birthday songs that are simple and catchy, with great earworm potential (remember: HBTY uses only six notes!) that can be sung in restaurants, bowling alleys, even in TV shows and movies – free of charge. Together, let us shake “Happy Birthday” from it’s fortified cultural throne, and replace it with a melody that the children can sing without fear of being served.

The three top entries will be all dressed up and distributed to the most powerful media companies on earth with colorful, Ross Perot-style financial incentive charts encouraging the recipients to better their bottom line by using one of these shiny new Happy Birthday replacement tracks.  WFMU will organize and pay for the digital and physical mailings of the three winning tracks to the luckiest people on earth-  any media or public organization who might have need for new birthday songs - movie studios; theater troupes, restaurant chains; sport leagues, scouting associations, youth groups; minor league baseball teams, major league Jai Alai squads, bowling alleys and we’ll also send the track to music journalists, bloggers and radio stations to help get the word out and cement the new songs into the cultural subconscious.

Ready to compose the next great Birthday song for the cake-eating masses? Here's where you can learn more about the judgesofficial rules and how to submit your work.

And here’s more background, if you hanker for more historical details on the very shaky copyright in question. The familiar melody for “Happy Birthday to You” was borrowed from other mid-19th century songs such as Horace Waters' "Happy Greetings to All" and "Good Night to You All," (published 1858) and also "A Happy New Year to All" and "A Happy Greeting to All" (published 1888). All four of these songs had that same six-note melody, and from the 1850’s to the 1880’s those six notes were reapplied to any number of greetings songs, some of which made it into published songbooks of the day.

Two esteemed Kentucky Kindergarten teachers named the Hill Sisters use this same melody with the lyrics “Good Morning to All” and used that version in their classes to greet their students, even publishing it in their own 1893 pamphlet. But over the years, somebody – who, we will never know – modified the lyrics to now public domain “Good Morning to All” with the present birthday lyrics. Were these 19th century wordsmiths The Hill Sisters themselves? Their students?  A class parent? The school janitor? We will never know. But the modified “Good Morning to All” caught on.

If fact, it caught on so much that Western Union used the song for their first singing telegram in 1933. But when the Irving Berlin musical “As Thousands Cheer” made use of the song later that same year, the forgotten Hill sister Jessica sprang into gear like a depression-era Gloria Allred.  Jessica got legal assistance from the Summy Company, who registered for copyright in 1935, crediting the song’s authors as Preston Ware Orem and Mrs. R.R. Forman, whoever they were. Time Warner purchased the Summy Company in 1998, and Edgar Bronfman Jr and friends purchased Warner Music Group in 2004. The song has been scheduled to enter the public domain a few times, but copyright term extensions have now delayed that date to 2030 at the earliest. 

Which is how we got to where we are now – living in a world in which restaurant chains invent their own replacement birthday songs, rather than break the law or pay thousands of dollars in licensing. A world that’s more like a dystopian hellscape, frankly, in which countless movies and TV shows sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow” rather than fork over the estimated ten grand in licensing fees. Take a look at the video to see just how bad the problem really is. And then create your own Happy Birthday song, either with a melody of your own creation, or a reworked public domain melody with new lyrics. Keep it simple. And let’s put the Happy back into Birthdays, and take the Cease and Desist out of ‘em.

Contest rules |  How to Submit your Song | Entries

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ange on 12/24/2012 at 12:59PM

Lessons in Authenticity from Makers, Pirates & Occupiers: Guest Post by Alexa Clay

"The Hacker" Illustration by Tom Jennings from Imaginals

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time in archives reading pamphlets written by 17th century pseudo-scientists: alchemists, astrologers, and hobby scientists. One thing I came to learn was that it was these freaks and rebels, these “deviants” that came to inform the boundaries of what came to be defined as modern science. In a similar vein, WFMU’s 2012 Radiovision Festival seemed to have an analogous logic at work – bring in the folks operating on the fringes and see how they might be able to re-invent or provide interesting musings on radio. So while it wasn’t alchemists and astrologers, the Festival, deliciously curated by WFMU’s Ben Walker, brought together pirates, hackers, occupiers and nomadic storytellers to explore the mighty question, what’s next for radio?

The festival kicked off with maker / DIY extraordinaire Mark Fraunfelder, founder of Boing Boing and Make Magazine. Mark noted that the maker movement was for him, and for many others, primarily about self-reliance, but at a deeper level also about self-expression. While less of an apologist, some of Mark’s comments reminded me of Sociologist Richard Sennett who outlines in his book The Craftsman the intrinsic pleasure associated with the act of making. What Sennett and the modern maker movement have in common is a vision for broadening the realm of DIY craftsmanship. Both also seem to link this renewed maker spirit with an active kind of citizenship. It might sound a bit magical: does a good maker translate into a good citizen? Well, maybe not yet, but it’s the first step really, it’s about people’s empowerment. The empowerment that comes along with do-it-yourself.

Over time, I think the maker movement really will become a force for good in the world. It’s a movement that can provide a new script for how we engage in the economy, not as consumers, but as producers, as active shapers of the economy itself. If makers turn their attention to re-thinking how we create primary commodities and services like food, energy, and healthcare, particularly at a local level, then the force of the movement could be really disruptive. We would not only be able to reduce our dependence on large corporations, but we would be in control of our own economic destiny. It’s an appealing vision, but one that we haven’t yet fully realized.

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jason on 12/17/2012 at 07:00AM

Best of 2012 Mixes: Punk With Hooks, World Wide Folk, Nova Era Dance Pop, Abstract Rhymes

Here are some 2k12 sounds that grabbed me by the ears and said 'listen'. I veered towards the punk with hooks, world wide folk, abstract rhymes & surreal beats, from pure pop to the uncategorizable. I made one mix for four of these styles, and I'll follow this up with another round before the year's out. Enjoy, and I look forward to hearing your picks—use the bestof2012 tag to join in on the mixtape club!

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