Patti Smith, pop plagiarism, musical brains

What we’re reading

Apparently, in the last 22 years the creators of This is Spinal Tap have earned $81 in merch and $98 for their contribution to the soundtrack. According to the accounts of Vivendi, the company that now owns the movie, that is. Unbelievable? Harry Shearer thinks so too and has launched a $125m lawsuit against the conglomerate. He talks to Rolling Stone here about the twisted accounting logic applied to filmmaking by the corporates who deny creators their due.

Here’s another fascinating story about copyright: have songwriters run out of catchy melodies? Recent high-profile, mega-dollar lawsuits contesting pop plagiarism have understandably made songwriters nervous about inadvertent soundalikes. Fortunately, forensic musicologists (it’s a real job) can analyse the deep maths behind musical structure to provide proof of rip-offs. In these litigious times — and with the collected canon of 70 years of pop informing every new song — their services are in demand.

What we’re viewing

This video provides an illuminating insight into the workings of the brains and central nervous systems of two accomplished pianists: Professor Daniel Beliavsky and his student Charlotte Bennett. What do they look at when they’re playing? Put on the eye-tracking glasses and compare.

What we’re listening to

The Bluesfest has an amazing legacy. It has been going for 28 years strong and the lineup is always spectacular. But last time I attended, the drenching rain, the mud (wellies were obligatory) and the stench underfoot by Easter Monday made me decide that enough was enough. Never again. And yet, here I was in a giant marquee in swampy Tyagarah. Why?

Patti Smith.

I had just finished reading her memoir Just Kids when the announcement came she would be performing her album Horses live at Bluesfest, and that this would be her last tour of Australia. So, I threw caution to the wind and bought a ticket for that one night in April.

And what a charge it was to experience the power of this 70 year-old woman with long greying hair and no hint of make-up on centre stage. Her voice is undiminished and her presence is electrifying. With every note she sang, every word she recited, we — her congregation — were drawn deeper under her mesmerising spell. As a number of the original musicians who played on Horses joined Smith, the performance was a spiritual coming together of players and true believers.  Listen to the original recording of Horses.

Our latest mixtape features new cuts from Sydney indie darlings Middle Kids, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and Benjamin Booker (featuring Mavis Staples). I’ve included a gorgeous song called Come & Get Your Love from 70s funksters, Redbone.  I stumbled across it while researching works for the new series of Love Child. It’s kinda corny now, but a lot of fun. Have a listen.

Strange Loops is a blog that celebrates the mysterious power of words, music, dance and the moving image. Each month or so we present a roundup of the best of what we're reading, what we're viewing and what we're listening to right now.