ML and Music

I’ve been working on figuring out ML for an Advanced Programming Languages assignment. ML is a peculiar language, so it’s been taking some time, and when I’m spending hours staring at blocks of text I tend to get more into music as a complimentary activity. Both are turning up things worth sharing.
Functional programming has always confused me; as a computer engineer it strikes me as a deeply unnatural thing for the computer to do (what the hell does it look like in memory? — I mostly know and it isn’t pretty), and it isn’t a terribly natural paradigm for humans (although I will grant that is would likely be no more of a contortion for someone not accustomed to programming than any other paradigm). I guess there is a reason the deeply functional stuff tends to be mostly limited to “interesting” languages that are mostly outside the mainstream. I can “feel the power” on a lot of fronts; the ability to completely describe functions as input/output pairs is cool, recursion is natural and easy, and the type system is nifty, but it all still feels a little uncomfortable to me.
I’ve spent the last couple weeks on a Hyper Crush kick . Pandora brought me Hyper Crush off an A Kiss Could be Deadly derived station a while ago, and it took me a while to make up my mind about them. They make INCREDIBLY catchy, ostentatiously course, and somehow still incredibly geeky techno-influenced hiphop, which is either absolutely brilliant or unforgivably obnoxious. Aside from endless energy and spectacular synthesizer work, their songs are laced with a vast and remorseless collection of samples from and references to bits of pop-culture ephemera from the 1960s onward. Just to name a few, one track begins with a sample from The Shangri-Las “Leader of the Pack”, and another borrows its background from “Crazy Frog”. Both mixtape releases (Both available legitimately free online, but buried behind some flash obstructions) are shot through with samples from West Side Story, The Wizard, Back to the Future, and a wide swath of 80s and 90s video games. It is the pure sound of geeks letting their hair down, and it feels damn good.

To compliment the loud, I started listening to The xx yesterday, which I actually learned about from the music section in the back of last week’s The Week, which is usually too pretentious to pay attention to. Their debut album xx is unbelievably complex and nuanced for a first effort from a group of 20somethings. The lyrics are often male/female harmonies (I like the female vocalist’s voice much better, but thats par for the course with me), which are not necessarily the same words or timing for both voices but remain in harmony none the less. The lyrics are also quite subtle, one could reasonably make it through the entire album without realizing it’s mostly about sex. The coolest thing to me is how much they play with negative space; the crisp gaps are as much a part of the music as the instrumentation itself. There really isn’t any standout track, good or bad, on the album, so just go listen to any random track.

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