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Run To Me Part 2


I never run to music while racing. I always run to music while training. In this I’m not unusual. But as all runners will tell you, especially those who have played or worked at being a DJ, some music works better than others. There’s a certain tempo each of us likes to run to, a particular style of grooves, a special timbre. That’s why my wife Posie burned a running mix CD to begin with, and why, even once she got an iPod and a world of musical possibilities were opened up, she continued running to that same mix. (See yesterday’s post.) That’s why we’ve often wished our favorite artists could read our needs – and instead of making music to dance to, to rock out to or to chill to, that they could make music to run to.

And that’s why DFA producer/remixerJames Murphy, in his guise as LCD Soundsystem, made 45:33, released two weeks ago exclusively through iTunes: as music to run to. Well, it’s not the only reason why: 45:33 was commissioned by Nike specifically to promote its Nike+ product (a sensor you slip into your running shoe that transmits reports to your iPod Nano about your speed and distance and calories burned), and we can presume that Murphy was paid handsomely for his time.

The “sleeve” to 45:33 shows the peaks and valleys of a treadmill run: the music on 45:33 echoes this journey.

Commercial commissions are nothing new. In the old days, it was the nobility who financed new operas and symphonies; in the 21st Century, it’s corporations who play at being patrons, commissioning music from hip artists for TV commercials, for soundtracks, and, as in the specific case of the Nike+ sensor, for new products via iTunes. And so, much though I admire Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen for holding on to selling out all these years, they’re the last of a dying breed. Turn down corporate commissions and sponsorship as a young act these days, and your so-called best friends will be falling over you in their rush to take your place.

So I’ve nothing whatsoever against the concept – perhaps only some surprise that Murphy should be the man to break such new ground. His DJ gigs, after all, have tended to be serious late-night parties, and the first time I saw LCD Soundsystem in concert, Murphy drank from a bottle of Jamieson’s throughout, finally falling over on stage like he’d already polished off a bottle in the dressing room.

But people change. I was a slob through much of my teens and twenties; I only got into running relatively late in life, when I realized I needed to work at staying fit and healthy as middle age encroached upon me. Murphy may well be cut from the same cloth. In the digital sleeve notes that accompany 45:33 he claims that, “Our band, LCD, when on tour, tends to do a lot of running – mainly to keep sane and to resist the inevitability of turning into a bus-bound potato, filled with all that makes one sick.” He had every reason, then, to be excited by the Nike commission.

LCD Soundsystem live at the Bowery Ballroom, October 2003, Murphy on vocals. The band has since, admirably, taken up running while on tour.

And as he points out, the proposal was, happily, “anathematic to what you’re typically asked to do as an artist: make easily digestible lumps of music for albums, or the radio.” Upon accepting, Murphy writes, he listened to two band members who noted that they ran, loyally, to his DFA remixes of Gorillaz (‘Dare’) and U.N.K.L.E. (‘In A State’), “which both were long, sprawling, organic dance songs that eased from section to section for ten+ minutes each.” Sure enough, in “testing” his Nike+ recordings on the treadmill, he realized “that ‘hard, fast, propulsive’ music was not the best running music for me – this was maybe why my band mates had gravitated towards the more sprawling tracks in our catalog. Sometimes the best way to keep running is to find that parts of the run are actually rests…. that while you’re still running, you’re viewing some of the run as soothing and recuperative, rather than constantly feeling like you’re running for your life.”

Posie and I both understand Murphy’s feelings. We’re each fans of the long, sprawling track (which is why Posie’s original running mix had so much Underworld on it), and we know that it’s not always advisable to run to hard, fast music. Long-distance runners, like long-set DJs, understand the importance of patience and pacing. There’s a build-up, a high, a climax and then a cool-down. And yes, you’re welcome to compare running and dancing to sexual activity: they share in common the end result of unleashing our endorphins.

Intrigued by the whole concept, and hoping to love the music, I picked up my copy of 45:33 from iTunes, put it on the iPod and took it out for a test run. It began nice and mellow, seemingly slower even than its 117bpm tempo, with digital house piano, a re-sequenced vocal, and the ambience of retro disco, just the thing to get me going. After ten minutes, this groove gave way to some light acid techno, the kind of thing Murphy excels at, the kind of music I can jog to for hours. I’ve always loved the human touch at the heart of LCD Soundsystem’s music, and in the midst of this slightly hypnotic groove, I could picture Murphy twisting the synth knobs before chiming in with a child-like keyboard melody that many would deem too simple to be credible.

The track then segued into a vocal about a trip to outer space; while I wished the lead voice were not pitched slow, I loved the disco girls that followed. So far so good, then when, almost two-thirds of the way through, Murphy thankfully shifted the tempo up to 130bpm and prepared to send me, so I presumed that first time out, sprinting down the final straight. But no: unfortunately, just when I needed the kick to find my way home, the music lost its sense of purpose and ended up meandering around its own headspace.

Perhaps most frustratingly, Murphy proved his lack of distance training by suddenly giving up: with nine minutes to go – and I had timed my running according to the music’s length – 45:33 segued into a lengthy ambient chill-out piece that was far longer than either I or, I imagine, most runners, need after barely 35 minutes.

But therein lies the inevitable dilemma. One man’s run is another person’s jog; and the music that makes Murphy tick on the treadmill is clearly not sufficient to kick me into top gear when I’m running those Catskills hills. Posie, too, who sucks down DFA mixes like Gatorade, was unimpressed the first time she took 45:33 along for a run. It may be that Murphy succeeded all too well at making something “sprawling” – and that a 45-minute piece needs more music of substance to justify itself. I paid the full $9.99 for 45:33 at iTunes – and I’ve paid that much far too often for 12” import singles of far lesser quality – but I can’t recommend this segued mix of four or five grooves for any but the most loyally ardent of LCD Fans. Especially as the act’s debut album comes loaded with hits for only two bucks more.

As half of the DFA Production duo, James Murphy has produced some of tthe greatest remixes of the last few years. They are available on the albums The DFA Remixes Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Full tracklisting here.

When you stand back from it, Murphy’s valiant attempt at an album-length piece of running music is essentially a studio-recorded mix tape. Yet iTunes – the very product he’s co-promoting – allows us all to make such mix tapes, for working out to or making love to or whatever we turn our fancies to. And while 45:33 delivers its grooves in a pre-determined order, iTunes enables us to continue tweaking our own mixes as long as we like, as we figure which order of sequencing works best for which routines and/or distances.

Moreover, when we do want someone else to make the mix for us, to segue the music like a dance floor DJ, we no longer need to buy a CD – or spend $9.99 at ITunes. Thanks to the PodCast, the online world is awash with dance mixes, and all for free. I subscribe to the Stycast, which routinely gives me a Beats to the Pound mix that usually gets my juices flowing when my feet are moving; but if I’m in the mood to be surprised, I just surf around until I find something new, as when I recently came across alt 124 via Podomatic, who put up a new and happening hour-long mix every month.

Ironically, Murphy has been bested at his own game at his own web site: the same time as I found out about 45:33 – by visiting dfarecords.com – I saw that Murphy’s protégé, Tim Sweeney, had a fall 2006 ‘Radio Mix’ up on the site, available for free download. James probably doesn’t want to hear this, but Tim’s 80 minute mix, complete with their DFA remixes of Hot Chip and Goldfrapp, worked just as well for me out running as did LCD’s 45:33. I just need to remember that Underworld’s ‘Rez’ – my ultimate high – kicks in at the one-hour mark and plan the home straight accordingly.

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Discussion

3 Comment(s)

  1. John Matthews

    3 November, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Well Tony I guess that answers my question from your previous article!!!

    Easy

    John

  2. 4 November, 2006 at 10:15 am

    I need to run to the beat so I’ve found that just picking stuff that sounds like it might work doesn’t necessarily fit the bill. I’ve figured out that I run at around 145 steps/min up to around 155 when I’m fitter/faster (better/stronger). So I used Mixmeister (which I had on my PC anyway) to calculate the tempos of every track in my iTunes library (took a few days!) and then created a play list of everything between 145 and 150 and another from 150 to 155.

    This works great for me, but has some interesting consequences. There’s not much electronic music at these tempos, so it’s a lot of indie and guitar based stuff, but it seems okay to run with. A pleasant surprise is that a lot of old reggae and dub seems to fit in (technically it’s half the tempo – 70 to 75bpm) and works nicely for a psychological change of pace. I’ve also found that certain artists do nearly everything at these tempos so they get more representation in the playlist than they should (e.g. the Modern Lovers).

    I recommend counting the steps in a minute and working from there…

  3. 5 November, 2006 at 7:56 am

    JOhn,

    Yes I guess that does answer the part to your first question! I originaly had posts 1 and 2 in the same article but it looked too long (as usual) so I separated them. What do you think of 45:33 John?

    Kenny… The decision to run to the heart-beat explains the popularity of Hi-NRG disco art aerobics classes and in gyms across the world. It’s also why you hear so much sped-up music – there is something to be said for running to the beat of your heart. Going back to the early 90s when I DJd all the time, I enjoyed running to my own mixes as they often made the journey from 130bpm to 155bpm. But I’ve since found it’s too much hard work to try and make a mix all at that speed. It’s why I don’t listen to music when I race – in those circumstances I like to be in tune with my body and its own pace. Given your feelings about reggae and noting that its half the tempo of a good work-out speed, I’m surprised you have not converted to drum and bass!

    Cheers

    Tony

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