Hive Five: Awesome Music-Related TED Talks

Hive Five: Awesome Music-Related TED Talks

Last week Edinburgh, Scotland, played host to the annual TEDGlobal conference, a gathering of innovative do-gooders with “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Founded in 1984, TED often invites musicians to hang with the brainiacs, and the organization’s TED Talks website features videos of lectures and performances given by numerous singers, rappers, instrumentalists, beat-boxers, and other people connected to the industry. The clips can be quite thought provoking, and this weekend, as scorching temps make leaving the house even more of a drag than usual, Hive recommends you lay low and soak in these five mind-expanding videos.

1. “Andrew Bird’s One-man Orchestra of the Imagination”

“This is a song about loops,” Bird announces midway through this clip, filmed at TED2010. That’s an apt lead-in for many of his songs, as the indie singer and multi-instrumentalist is known for on-the-fly layering of his own violin, guitar, xylophone, and whistling tracks. In the case of the unnamed track he debuts here, however, he’s singing not about sound loops, but rather “feedback loops,” or “the sound of self-destruction,” as the Northwestern grad demonstrates by holding a microphone too close to an amplifier. It gets pretty heady, but those not up for a lecture can simply sit back and watch Bird pile on the pretty sounds, and making like the world’s coolest high school science teacher. [Watch at TED]

2. “David Byrne: How Architecture Helped Music Evolve”

As the leader of Talking Heads, Byrne once wrote an album called More Songs About Buildings and Food. Here he focuses on the former, hypothesizing that human beings -- and indeed, certain types of animals, such as Savannah sparrows -- create sounds to fit certain spaces. Byrne starts his discussion with CBGB, “a pretty good-sounding room,” in his estimation, and draws a line through Gothic cathedrals, 18th century classical music halls, West African jungles, cavernous sports arenas, and even today’s tricked-out, speaker-heavy automobiles. In the end, Byrne offers a rebuttal to the romantics, who believed that passion and emotion shape the art that follows. “I’m saying, well, the passion is still there, but the vessel it’s going to be injected into and poured into, that instinctually and intuitively created first,” Byrne says. “We already know where the passion is going.” [Watch at TED]

3. “Emmanuel Jal: The Music of a War Child”

Plenty of American rappers spit lines about shooting AKs, but few, if any, know the consequences of gunplay like Emmanuel Jal. In this video filmed at TEDGlobal 2009, the Sudanese native recounts his experiences as an eight-year-old child soldier trained to kill Muslims. Jal was one of the lucky ones; he escaped the war and learned “the truth” behind the conflict. “What was actually killing us wasn’t the Muslims, wasn’t the Arabs,” he says. “It was somebody sitting somewhere, manipulating the system, and using religion to get what they want to get out of us.” Jal has since become a musician, and here, he performs the song “Forced to Sin,” inspired by a moment when extreme hunger nearly led him to cannibalism. “But still as I wonder, I won’t go under/ Guns barking like lightning and thunder,” he rhymes, showcasing a flow forged in fire. [Watch at TED]

4. “Nardwuar: Do It Yourself!”

“The less you know, the better”: That’s the unlikely interview advice given here by unlikely celebrity interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette, a Canadian punk rocker and TV/radio personality. Nardwuar believes that curiosity and enthusiasm are the keys to good celebrity sit-downs, and in this video -- shot at a TEDx franchise event in Vancouver -- he tells the stories behind memorable interviews with everyone from Snoop Dogg, whom he charmed with a vintage Red Fox doll, to Kurt Cobain. Fast-forward to 7:10 to watch Nardwuar’s chat with a perplexed Henry Rollins. The notoriously intense rocker isn’t quite sure what to make of the spazzy guy holding the microphone, but he can’t help but respect his nerve. [Watch at TED]

5. “David Merrill Demos Siftables”

Siftables are part building blocks, part cookie-size interactive computers, and as MIT grad student and product developer David Merrill explains in this video, they’re great for teaching kids about words, colors, and numbers. That’s all well and good, but here’s where Bjork and Damon Albarn might want to pay attention: The cubes can also be used to make music. Simply by bumping, tilting, and rearranging the blocks, Siftable musicians have the ability to layer sounds, change tempos, and dial in effects. The technology could revolutionize live performance, provided musicians don’t mind looking like they’re playing Boggle onstage. [Watch at TED]