My personal progressive rock anthem: The Ytse Jam

Those who know me also know about my obsession with Dream Theater. I even met them personally on April 11th, 2000. For this reason, I think it would be interesting to share a live version of what I personally consider the archetypal modern progrock anthem, The Ytse Jam.

First, a little history: Dream Theater’s first name was Majesty, however another band with the same name threatened to sue them and they eventually switched to Dream Theater, following the suggestion of Portnoy’s father. They even went as Glasser for a short while, but thankfully the name was ditched after ten days or so. However, the Dream Theater symbol is still named Majesty.

On their first album as Dream Theater, When Dream and Day Unite, they released an instrumental song that laid the foundation for what their music would eventually become. The piece was called The Ytse Jam (but most often referred to simply as Ytse Jam) and runs 5 minutes and 43 seconds. It is packed with odd time signatures and catchy riffs. It’s also the first example of their passion for nuggets and secret codes, as “Ytse Jam” is “Majesty” reversed.

I’d like to mention some random trivia about the band, but I suppose that I’d better make a separate post about that. In the meantime, for the nerdiest among you, a detailed analysis of their 2005 album Octavarium can be found at It mentions all the hidden messages contained therein, and it’s a very enjoyable read.

So, without futher ado, here is The Ytse Jam performed live in 2004 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of When Dream and Day Unite‘s original release.


And an older version with a drum solo by Portnoy. If I’m not mistaken, this is from the Live in Tokyo tape, filmed in 1993. You can see the original line-up, with Kevin J. Moore at the keyboards. (Alright, it’s not the original line-up since LaBrie had already replaced Dominici, but this is instrumental and neither would be there anyway.)


Pretty neat, innit?

Progressive acoustic music: Maneli Jamal and others

The word “progressive” carries many meanings. When talking about music, it’s the best word to get people confused, as everybody will give a different definition of it. To me, progressive music is not necessarily linked to a genre; rather, it defines the progression of a piece — no pun intended — that defies the typical “verse – chorus – verse – chorus – bridge – chorus” structure found in most popular music.

Often, but this is not strictly required, there will be many time and key changes throughout the song, and the song itself can be longer, sometimes even much longer, than someone used to pop music might find acceptable. All of this inevitably relegates progressive music to a niche for connosseurs, mostly because it’s seldom music that one “understands” upon first listening to it.

I mentioned genres because most people associate that to progressive rock or progressive metal, with bands such as Yes, Rush, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd; and more recently with Marillion, Dream Theater, Ayreon and others. Yet, any style can show progressive traits, at least according to my definition.

Jazz music is progressive by design, and my favorite example of a gorgeous non-rock progressive piece is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” which I present to you in a gorgeous, albeit much shortened, version by The 5 Browns:


A style that has recently become common is what I call progressive acoustic music. It involves playing an acoustic guitar in unconventional ways, mixing different techniques such as tapping, strumming, plucking and hitting the body in a very peculiar way, producing songs that are progressive not just in structure, but also in feeling.

The most known song of this kind is probably Andy McKee’s “Drifting”:


The independent label CandyRat acts as a hub for many artists who make this kind of music, allowing them to network and come up with little gems like this, by Antoine Dufour and Tommy Gauthier (make sure your speakers have a good bass response):


I also recently came across an Iranian guitarist, Maneli Jamal, whose foray into progressive acoustic is not as bold and aggressive as Andy McKee’s, but is rather sweet and, dare I say it, hypnotic. Here is his live performance on BBC Persian:


Watch it twice: get a general feel for it the first time, then pay attention at how skillfully he uses natural harmonics and how sharp, yet “easy,” the transitions are. What I especially like is that even through the different parts, the whole piece has an underlying rhythm that encircles the music. He effectively joins the best of both worlds.

There is a downside to this type of music. It is so peculiar that just listening to it doesn’t make it justice. The playing style is so much an integral part of it that it has to be watched, especially when played live.

Thankfully, DVDs can be produced very easily and without the need for an expensive service nowadays, so artists can make some money out of their work, and that’s good for all of us. It would be a pity indeed if people like Andy, Antoine and Mameli gave up their skills to get a nine-to-five to pay bills.

As a bonus, here are two of videos of a great duo. What makes their performances is not only their undeniable ability, but also the fact that you can see that they’re genuinely having fun. How can you beat that?



iPad, iTunes, iPhone OS; or: how you are not forced to use them

One day after the release of the iPad in the United States, reviews are pouring onto American and foreign websites alike. For every person who is amazed by the device, there is someone who is bothered by the Apple buzz. To these I say: what’s the big deal?

I happen to live in the Province of the Empire, in a country I oftentimes call “the third world of technology.” No way to rent movies online – or through the mail, for that matter –, no or to easily find new music (the latter is available on a paid-membership basis; the former is simply forbidden), no iBooks when the iPad comes out, and so on. I live in Italy.

I am also a happy Mac and iPhone user. Not an evangelist, not anymore at least: I will praise how durable and enjoyable Apple products are, but I won’t urge anybody to buy them. I will, however, talk about them to people who ask me. After close to ten years as a Mac user (I do remember MacOS 9.2 and MacOS X 10.0) and years of previous experience with Linux systems, Apple has become an invaluable provider of my daily computing. OS X allows me tinker with the underlying UNIX system with ease while being extremely user-friendly with the rest of the user interface. As a web developer, it’s the closest thing to perfection I can think of.

When the iPad was announced, I was following Steve Jobs’s keynote through Engadget. I gradually turned from skeptic to disappointed: what, a big iPhone? A few hours later, a friend of mine summarized such feelings as: “I was hoping for a laptop replacement, and he just announced a tray. An iTray.”

A few days later, however, an article on a blog shone light on the matter: most of us computer people probably wouldn’t have much for a device like that. I’d personally much rather use my 13-inch MacBook Pro rather than an iPad, as it’s a full-fledged computer onto which I can install any program I want, with which I can multitask and that has a physical keyboard. I do sometimes use my MBP on the sofa, and while I agree that it’s not the most perfect experience, I’m willing to trade comfort for power.

People who do not have complex computing needs, though, will love the iPad. Take my father: he inherited the last PC I used, a glorious machine based on an AMD Duron 850 MHz CPU and 512 MB of memory. It runs Windows XP, and it’s far exceeded its time. Components keep breaking, and they are becoming hard to find. Every replacement has to be second-hand, and considering the higher price compared to current parts, it’s probably best to just ditch the machine entirely and build a new one. That was the plan, until the iPad was announced. Continue reading “iPad, iTunes, iPhone OS; or: how you are not forced to use them”