National News

The guitarist with 78 fingers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-05 01:00

Tom Jenkinson, aka Squarepusher, is known for pushing the limits of electronic music.

His latest EP goes beyond electronic sounds and into the territory of electronic musicians: robots that play instruments.

He first encountered the musical machinery last year when Japanese researchers introduced him to the Z-Machine robots: a 78-fingered guitarist, a percussionist utilizing 22 drums, and a lightning speed keyboardist. Jenkinson was immediately impressed by the robots' capabilities.

He also discovered that in spite of their incredible abilities, they are not limitless. In fact, Jenkinson even had fun playing with pushing the guitar robot too far:

"There are elements in the recording where I’ve actually deliberately pushed it too far, because you can then start to get these very strange, random, idiosyncratic...barrage of noise that I find really fascinating and quite interesting."

Ultimately, though, Jenkinson wanted to find out if robot musicians could make emotional music. While he is reluctant to say whether or not he succeeded, he's fairly certain that the album went a long way in providing an answer:

"I find technology fascinating in it’s own right, but my criteria for releasing a piece of music is that it has something above and beyond that. It has an element which can’t be written down, it can’t be quantified."

Find out more about "Music for Robots" here, or purchase the EP here.

Marketplace Tech gets musical

Marketplace - American Public Media - Mon, 2014-05-05 01:00

When you ask someone about their favorite piece of music, the conversation gets personal. Everyone feels music differently -- that's what makes it human.

It's why music and technology, at least to some people, seem like a mismatch. Machines are cold. Music is not. 

Here's the thing: We use technology to make music all the time. No, I do not count the auto-tuned antics of Glee tracks released on iTunes. I'm talking about musicians using technology to compose, create, and record music. It's a relationship that gets deeper and more complex all the time. The place where music and technology cross paths is a fascinating intersection.

All this week, we'll talk to musicians for whom tech is an integral part of their process. From Squarepusher, who wrote an entire EP of music played by robot musicians, to Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs, who turns herself into a one-woman percussion instrument using loops and drum machines. We'll also talk to prolific film composer John Powell about his recording process for film, and electronic musician/composer Dan Deacon about why the computer is the biggest diva he's ever worked with (and why it has a right to be). DJ Rekha, credited with bringing Bhangra music to America, talks about the technology involved in being a DJ, and how it has evolved over time.

These are musicians and performers at the top of their game who constantly ask themselves how technology can help them be better at what they do, but also wonder how far is too far when it comes to letting machines take over. Each of these guests have funny and insightful comments to offer.

So plug in your keytar, boot up your computer, and let's get to playing with machines.

All The Single Ladies: 5 Takeaways About Unmarried Female Voters

NPR News - Mon, 2014-05-05 00:21

Going into midterm elections, this key demographic poses a big challenge for Democrats: getting their most reliable female supporters to become more reliable voters.

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South Sudan's Unrest Turns Politicians To Rebels, Tents To Homes

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 23:40

Even where there is peace, there is distrust, as the country divides along ethnic lines. In the government-controlled capital, members of the Nuer ethnic group are seeking protection in a U.N. camp.

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Learning A New Skill Works Best To Keep Your Brain Sharp

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 23:39

Brain training has become a multimillion-dollar industry. But if you want to improve your memory, don't waste your time and money on brain games. You'd be better off learning how to quilt.

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You Had Me At Hello: The Science Behind First Impressions

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 23:39

Maybe it's true that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. People are judging your personality from the first word you speak, scientists say. Try it yourself with our quiz.

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Seeking A Fortune Through Search Funds

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 23:38

Normally, investors look for promising companies to invest in. With search funds, they invest in promising people. Investors back "searchers" by covering their pay while they hunt for companies.

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Blessed Be Thy Bicycle: New York Riders Roll Into Church

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 23:37

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine held its 16th annual ceremony to bless the city's bikes and cyclists on Saturday. Some come for God's help; others are just hoping for "a little extra mojo."

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Biplane Crashes At Northern California Air Show

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 22:08

A 77-year-old pilot was killed when his vintage biplane crashed on a runway Sunday. He was performing an upside down stunt at a Northern California air show.

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Amid Statewide Drought, California Races To Burn Wildfire Fuel

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 14:02

Officials are trying to protect fire-prone areas by targeting the grasses, brush and trees that fires feed off of. But until recently, conditions for controlled burning have been too dangerous.

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Ranch-To-Table Trend Has Some Diners Asking: Where's The Steak?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 12:53

Just about every bite of meat that a Pittsburgh chef served in 2013 was raised in Pennsylvania. He learned from his locavore experiment that diners prefer prime cuts of beef over sausage and offal.

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Circus Performers Injured During Hair-Hanging Stunt

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 12:33

Nine performers were seriously injured Sunday when a support apparatus failed at a show by the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Rhode Island.

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First Openly Gay Episcopal Bishop Announces Divorce

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 11:22

"My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time," Bishop Gene Robinson says.

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Sinn Fein's Adams Is Released; Was Questioned About Murder

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 08:39

Gerry Adams, the leader of the mostly Catholic party Sinn Fein, was held by police for several days of questioning about a 1970s murder case.

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Slipping Through The City: Bristol Turns Street Into A Water Slide

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 07:42

Taking over a steep street in Bristol, England, the Park and Slide is a nearly 300-foot-long water slide. Hundreds of people rode the one-day attraction Sunday.

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Boehner Plays It Loose With His Speakership At Stake

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 07:28

While House Speaker John Boehner is almost certain to win re-election in his suburban Cincinnati district, his prospects of being re-elected as speaker are far less clear.

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Ukraine: Pro-Russia Crowd Surrounds Police Station In Odessa

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 06:38

Urging the release of separatists detained during Friday's unrest that left dozens dead, more than 100 pro-Russia activists surrounded a police station in the southern Ukrainian city of Odessa.

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From Family History To Ballot Fights: What Drew You To Politics?

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 06:17

We asked: "who or what got you engaged in politics?" The answers from NPR's audience have been heartfelt and personal.

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May the Fourth Be With You: It's Star Wars Day

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 05:36

Darth Vader walks the Earth today. By that, we mean he's walking all over the place. Fans of the sci-fi franchise are celebrating Star Wars Day — or May 4 for the less geek-inclined.

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For The Clippers, Something to Cheer: A Win In Game 7

NPR News - Sun, 2014-05-04 04:11

The Los Angeles Clippers continue their playoff run, days after the team's owner was banned for life by the NBA. The Clippers ended the Golden State Warriors' season in a back-and-forth game.

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