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Documentaries I Like: Strange Parallel (Elliott Smith)

I'm a little shocked that I've gone so many years being an Elliott Smith fan, and living in Portland (where it is contractually obligated that you be an Elliott Smith fan), but had never heard of Strange Parallel, a 1998 30-minute documentary on Smith. Directed by Steve Hanft as a promotional film (never released commercially), it's hard to find -- but a copy has popped up on YouTube, and it's well worth a look if you like Elliott Smith. Part documentary, part experimental weirdness (as in the sequence where Smith contemplates buying a "robot hand" to improve his guitar playing), this is a gem, despite the poor YouTube quality.

Here's a nice comment from the Wikipedia page by the director, explaining the film:

Director Steve Hanft says this about the film:

"In 1998 I was hired to make a film for the reclusive rocker Elliott Smith. Very excited, I flew to Portland, Oregon, where he was staying and met with him to figure it out before we filmed. At the meeting he explained, in a very quiet voice, with a slight smile, that he didn't want it to be a straight-up documentary. So I suggested he write down some of his dreams. The next day, we met again, and he began talking a lot, and louder, telling me all about how he "had a fucked up dream last night." It was very funny when he explained it, everyone in and around the music business he was in was telling him to get a mechanical hand to replace the hand that he'd trained for so long to play guitar. There was also a military recruiter who came into the bar where he was writing a song that would yell at him for no reason, and Satan was there, that kills me. A lot of people who know him from his music don't understand that he was really funny. So we wrote the dream into the shot list and intercut it into the more traditional music footage. It was hard to get the documentary footage out of him, he hated being interviewed. He was much more into the dream sequence and we had a lot fun shooting it. It was an amazing experience and just knowing a guy like that, so talented and brutally honest, has changed my life. Bless him."

Update: see also, Lucky Three, a 12-minute short by Jem Cohen featuring live performances of several songs.

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How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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