Playing with sound at work and on the side: Electronic tracks from our pubmedia playlist

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Earlier this year we asked public media’s musicians to send us songs so we could compile a playlist. We heard from 40 musicians from across the country, covering a wide variety of genres. This week: glitchy electronica!

Imagine it’s 1996 and you’re playing a brand-new Nintendo 64 in your parents’ basement. You pull out Mario Kart and blow into the cartridge a few times for good luck. The game fizzles to life on the screen. You choose your character of choice and your track of choice — Rainbow Road. It reminds you of driving at night when all you can see are the lane lines guiding you. 

Then Jay Cowit’s song “Ballistic” comes on, with a driving beat and swooping synths — perfect for a trippy late-night cruise.

Cowit is a producer with WNYC’s The Takeaway. His band, J. Cowit and the Ruthless Orchestra, stemmed from Cowit making bumper music for his job.

“The Ruthless Orchestra project was all about taking those bumps and building off them, making them weirder and more complex and busier,” Cowit said. 

Over the course of nearly 6 minutes, the song grows weirder and more distorted, building on itself yet held together by the beat. 

“The song in question was inspired by bouncing off people on a fast crowded subway,” Cowit said. 

From the subways of New York to the Gulf Coast of Texas, Nathan Bernier said he draws inspiration from something a bit more natural than New York’s subway system — dolphins. Specifically, videos of dolphins swimming. 

That’s what Bernier, a reporter at KUT in Austin, Texas, says inspired his song “We Made It” by his band Bern Ban (dare you to say that three times fast in your next newscast!). “We Made It” sounds like a Miami summer nightclub banger, and I’m not mad about it. It’s got an occasional trap beat and a solid drop, plus a good fake-out ending. 

A submission from Kurt Kohnen of San Diego’s KPBS draws from a cultural critique that is perhaps a bit deeper than videos of dolphins swimming.

“‘Medicine Show’ is inspired by all the bullshit artists trying to sell us the ‘miracle cure’ and the relentless advertising that chips away at our self-confidence at every turn,” Kohnen said. “The consumer as prey.” 

“Medicine Show” is a Gorillaz-style rap backed by a glitchy beat. The song is by Dusty Nix and Kohnen’s project, iD the Poet.

“This is a Medicine Show,” Kohnen raps, “and we’re glad you could come.” 

While the song isn’t inspired by his work in public media, Kohnen says he’s working on a song that is. 

“On my upcoming album, I have a song about all of the people I’ve done mic checks for: Dalai Lama, Gene Wilder, Judas Priest, Maya Angelou, etc.,” he said. We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for that one! 

Listen to the full Public Media Rocks playlist:

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