Riffed by Dr. Geek
from an idea by Vitriol


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how not to assemble a compilation CD

Making a mix tape or mix CD can be a tricky thing. I've done it a few times over the years, but I'm not sure that I've ever been too successful at it. Some of my friends did a better job -- including one who routinely included his own artwork and liner notes. So while I can't say that I am a good creator of mix CDs, I at least have a few good ideas about what constitutes a good mix CD.

The most important thing I look for is some kind of sonic consistency. I guess this boils down to some kind of internal sense of flow. One song has to somehow lead into the next. This can mean that the dynamic level of each song builds into the next, creating an art of increasing intensity. It can also be cyclic; the levels of the songs can alternate between fast and slow, or intense and calm. I want to tonal palette of each song to blend well with the songs both before it and after it. It all has to feel good, or right. What's the point of putting together particular songs in a mix otherwise?

As a case in point of what not to do, I recently ripped the Cornerstones/Sony Legacy CD Sampler. It's a professional compilation of interesting tracks from different labels in the Sony Music Group. It's also what I consider to be an awful mix CD in one glaring respect. To understand why, let us consider the play list:

  1. Springsville - Miles Davis & Gil Evans - This is a pretty solid start from a classic collaboration between two major mid-century jazz talents.
  2. Sweet Home Chicago - Robert Johnson - The second track moves quickly from 50's jazz to late 30's blues (though I associate the song much more with the Blues Brothers), but again it is a seminal recording that sits well within the range of the mid-century African-American musical idiom.
  3. Mahogany Hall Stomp - Louis Armstrong - Another important jazz track, this time from the late 1920s or early 1930s.
  4. Until The Real Thing Comes Along - Billie Holiday - The jazz theme continues, moving back to the late 1930's with one of the important sides Billie Holiday cut with Teddy Wilson.
  5. Take Five - Dave Brubeck - The time period now shifts back from the 1930s to the 1950s with a serene "cool jazz" classic from the 1950's. If they had stopped right here, it would be a good if not great mix.
  6. Romeo's Tune - Steve Forbert - The mood of the mix is completely destroyed by the sudden shift from largely acoustic/orchestral music to late 1970's AM radio rock. No offense to Mr. Forbert, but this track sticks out like sore thumb that's just been hit with a hammer.
  7. Hobo's Lullaby - Pete Seeger - The Forbert problem is compounded by immediately shifting back to a lovely, dreamy banjo/vocal acoustic number by Pete Seeger that summons the musical vernacular of the 1930s.
  8. Stack O'Lee - Mississippi John Hurt - The mix gets back on the rails again with a smooth transition from banjo folk to late 1920s era delta blues with light, upbeat blues stylings of Mississippi John Hurt.
  9. Mister Boogie - Sir Charles Thompson - This is not a great transition (acoustic blues to Hammond organ-based boogie woogie) but it sort of works because boogie woogie shares a lot in common with piano blues.
  10. E.S.P. - Charles Mingus - The disc ends very much as it began with orchestral jazz. I don't know too much about the work of Charles Mingus, but this one track makes me eager to hear some more.

So there you have it. There is some great blues, jazz, and folk there... with one late 70's AM radio folk/rock piece that destroys the mood. What was Sony thinking? Fortunately, I can just remove that one track from my iPod and be left with a very serviceable mix. There is that at least.

said drgeek on 2007-01-18 at 2:49 p.m.


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