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The Late Movies: Andrew Bird, Whistling Violinist/Singer/Guitarist

Andrew Bird is my favorite violinist, partly because he's not just a violinist. He's a master whistler, singer, guitarist, xylophonist, and looper -- that last one is particularly interesting. By using digital looping effects, he's able to create the sound of an entire band by himself. In some settings, he trades off playing violin and guitar, setting up loops behind him. It's fantastic stuff, especially live -- I saw him at Coachella some years ago, and his whistling sticks with me. Oh, and he also writes for the New York Times. Have a listen.

"Tenuousness," 2008

Live in The Basement, Bird sets up a loop plucking his violin, plays over it, sings over it, and eventually switches to guitar. Mesmerizing.

"If I Needed You," During Hurricane Sandy

With Tift Merritt and Alan Hampton on Letterman, during one of Dave's audience-less shows due to Hurricane Sandy. First, think back to Sandy. Imagine you're in New York during the storm, doing a show with nobody in the audience. Got it? Now, settle back and listen to these three sing into a single microphone. Simply beautiful, and somehow simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking. If you stick around to the very end, you can see the empty auditorium. Note: this is a Townes Van Zandt tune.

Note: I'm pretty sure Hampton retunes his bass on the fly during this song (he reaches up to the headstock at one point). Major bonus points.

"Plasticities," 2008

Showcasing Bird's whistling chops (starting around the one-minute mark), this is another cut from Bird's apparently nearly audience-less show at The Basement.

"Anonanimal," Live on Cemetery Gates

One YouTube commenter sums it up: "This is the music I'd? like to die listening to."

"Imitosis," 2007

In Paris, with help on percussion. From his terrific Armchair Apocrypha tour.

"Effigy," 2009

From the lovely Noble Beast, this one takes a melodic turn around one minute in. With a full band, for a change.

With Yo-Yo Ma

Improvising to "Dona Nobis Pacem."

Bird's TED Talk

In this nineteen-minute talk, Bird plays and explains a bit of what he's doing. At the 5:30 mark, he explains his song "Eyeoneye," then plays it around 9:30. The finished song later appeared on Break It Yourself.

Fever Year

Apparently Bird suffered a fever...for a year. He continued playing and touring, and the year is captured in a documentary entitled Fever Year. I really want to see this. Here's the trailer.

Official Trailer (2:45) from Andrew Bird: Fever Year on Vimeo.

Getting Started With Andrew Bird

If you're new to Bird, I recommend Armchair Apocrypha. If you like this, there are many more great Bird records.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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iStock

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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The Unsolved Mysteries Soundtrack Is Coming to Vinyl
Terror Vision
Terror Vision

If you never missed an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, just listening to the opening theme of the series may be enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Now, you don't need to wait to catch reruns of the show to experience the haunting music: The original soundtrack is now available to preorder on vinyl—the first time it's been available in any format.

Terror Vision, a company that releases obscure horror scores on vinyl, has produced two versions of the soundtrack: a single LP for $27 and a triple LP for $48. Both records were compiled from the original digital audio tapes used to score the show. Terror Vision owner and soundtrack curator Ryan Graveface writes in the product description: "The single LP version features my personal favorite songs from the ghost related segments of Unsolved Mysteries whereas the triple LP set contains EVERYTHING written for the ghost segments. This version is very very limited as it’s really just meant for diehard fans.”

Both LPs include various iterations of the Unsolved Mysteries opening theme—three versions on the single and five on the triple. Customers who spring for the triple LP will also receive liner notes from the show's creator John Cosgrove, composer Gary Malkin, and Graveface.

Over 30 years since the show first premiered, the theme music remains one of the most memorable parts of the spooky, documentary-style series. As producer Raymond Bridgers once said, "The music was so distinctive that you didn’t even have to be in the room to know that Unsolved Mysteries was on.”

You can preorder the records today with shipping estimated for late June.

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