January 10, 2013

Can I be a Mommy Blogger?

by bmiller445

I was just told “You really aren’t a good writer.” For second I thought about showing the person that told me this my earlier posts on this site, I am glad I read those again before I did. After hearing what may be considered fair but slightly worrisome criticism, as I work in Television and believe it or not we write that stuff, I went back and looked at what they were talking about I had to ask myself some questions. Was it horrible? No. Was it War and Peace? Is that a book? I’ve looked it up, yes it is. What was this whole thing about? Oh yeah, I’ve decided that I should write more, so I can go from somewhere better than horrible and closer to a book called War and Peace. (Not War and Piece as I Google searched it.) So here is the fun for everyone, I’ll post these musing to Facebook for my friends and family to tear up. You can read them and love them, and hate them, or love them, and then let me know what you think. This is a no holds barred invitation, this is not an invitation for a classy conversation. I must be broken before I can be rebuilt. If you are too nice to do this pretend that either A) Obama wrote it B)George Bush wrote it or C) joke payoffs usually go here. This will be a fun exercise so everyone join in and apparently there is some other stuff the guys write on this Blog that’s fun.

So this is the first one comment on my lack of punctuation, misspellings, poorly constructed sentences, and…list that go on too long without an ending. Nothing is off limits and I have the thickest skin you have seen.

July 29, 2012

Beyond the Infinite – A review of the Moog Guitar

by George

Infinite.  The definition of this word is one we all know, but how can we possibly understand it.  Nothing we’ve ever known or experienced in our lives has been never-ending. Until now…

Behold…the Moog Guitar.  Moog?  Guitar?

Known for their massively influential (and sometimes monolithic) synthesizers, Moog have been at the forefront of sonic exploration for decades.  In addition to creating the most imitated and desirable monophonic synthesizer of all time, the Minimoog, one of Bob Moog’s greatest achievements was the creation of the Ladder Filter.  You’ll see why this is important in a minute but for more info on what this nifty circuit does read this.  Needless to say, when Moog announced plans for a guitar, many people were interested.

That was in 2008.  Now, four years later, not much more is known about this elusive instrument and they’re rare (if not impossible) to find in most music shops.  Most musicians I talk with aren’t even aware of it’s existence, let alone know exactly how it’s capable of being used.  With that, we begin our tour of this other-worldly instrument.

By appearance alone, there’s not much to indicate that this instrument possesses any magical powers beyond those of a standard electric guitar.  A ‘super Strat’ style body dressed up nicely with a flamed maple top on a swamp ash body, the only thing that strikes you as odd are the cluster of knobs and switches that dominate the lower curve of the body.  Two pickups, set neck construction, a Fender-style dive-only tremolo bridge, locking tuning machines and a clean, inlay-free (save the cryptic, circular logo at the 12th fret) rosewood fretboard…all features found on a number of guitars today.  Then the paths diverge; where you would expect to find a standard 1/4″ output jack is an XLR output, a connection commonly found on microphones, not guitars.  Curiouser and curiouser.  Following this cable leads to a junction with an expression pedal and on the opposite side of the pedal is the 1/4″ output you were expecting.  From here you feed out to the amplifier and things are starting to feel sane again.  Plugged in, you turn the amp off of Standby.

At first listen, it sounds like a standard electric guitar.  The proprietary pickups are akin to a fat single coil, or perhaps a P-90.  Not the most powerful or clear pickups, but they hold a decent amount of harmonic content.  Running through the pickup selector yields some interesting tonal variations; neck, in phase, out of phase and bridge only.  The 5th position in the selector engages the piezo pickups housed in the bridge saddles; percussive, chimey and bright, the sound brings to mind an amplified acoustic guitar.  A control on the guitar allows for a continuous blend of the piezo and magnetic pickups letting you mix the clarity of the piezos with the warmth of the magnetic pickups.

But below the pickup selector is a second three-way switch.  You didn’t really notice it yet because it’s function is coupled with the gold knob below the master volume knob and it’s turned down.  Turn it all the way up and suddenly the guitar is crackling with electricity; it comes alive!  The strings begin vibrating…on their own.  The entire guitar is steadily vibrating but you haven’t even touched pick or fingers to string.  What separates this guitar from a standard electric suddenly becomes clear even though you aren’t quite sure what is happening.  Those proprietary pickups have the ability of controlling a magnetic field that envelops and dictates the amount and type or vibration of the strings.  That gold knob controls the intensity of the magnetic field and the three-way controls the mode of control.

That first mode is Full Sustain, meaning that all six strings are being simultaneously driven by the magnetic fields and vibrate as if being played by some unseen force.  You hit a chord, it swells to an almost overbearing volume and the feeling is completely intoxicating.  As you hold the chord, it sustains and morphs, naturally, shifting overtones and harmonics.  This can be controlled with the expression pedal; heel to toe, the control moves from the bridge to neck pickup creating a pointed, aggressive harmonic crown that blends into a deep, airy and open halo centered around the notes being played.  Polyphonic sustain that is completely natural (i.e. the strings are physically being moved without end) and yet feels anything but.  Adjusting the amount of sustain allows for chords that have a volume pedal swell effect.   Using the tremolo bar to quickly dive before each chord change supplies enough vibration for amplification and the breath-like pulse from chord to chord leaves you baffled.  Techniques you had never even considered before allow you passage to harmonic destinations previously unknown.

The second position of the three-way is Controlled Sustain.  Not only are these pickups powerful enough to physically move the strings, but they’re intelligent enough to simultaneously mute strings that aren’t being played.  Infinite legato is literally at your fingertips and single-note runs take on a pedal steel feel, swelling into each note before growing to epic proportions only to dissolve gracefully once the next note is played and the cycle begins again.  With a nice delay effect unit you can manifest sounds and progressions that bring to mind the majestic ballad of a migrating whale or a spacious, repeated message to the heavens…a cosmic psalm.

You slide the three-way to the final position and something is drastically different.  All the power you held beneath your fingers is gone.  Not only has your new found power of sustain vanished, but it’s been reversed.  This is Mute Mode and it’s Biblical; where before the guitar giveth sustain it now taketh away.  The same forces that kept the strings vibrating in the previous two modes now are used to stop any string played from vibrating for more than a few seconds.  The sound…synthesizer? No.  Mandolin?  Not really.  Banjo? Kinda.  Sitar?  Sure.  More than the sound, the feeling is incredible.  If you pay attention, you can feel the string vibration die, again, as if guided by a supernatural force.  Finger-picked arpeggios and quick chord comping play to this mode’s strengths.

But that’s just half the story.  Dial back the gold knob controlling the magnetic mayhem and there’s still that 3-pole switch.  It’s been in the bottom position, where it functions like a regular tone knob on a guitar, the whole time but you flick it up to the middle.  Even before you play you hear something like a hiss.  Rocking the expression pedal and you hear this hiss build until it’s gone.

What you were hearing is the built-in Ladder Filter sweeping across it’s frequency range.  Yes, the same low pass filter made famous in the synthesizers of the 70s is an integral part of this guitar.  In this mode, the Articulated Filter mode, the envelope cutoff frequency of the filter is set by the position of the expression pedal and triggered by the on-board envelope.  The filter envelope is directly proportional to the signal output of the guitar meaning that the harder you pick, the further the filter “opens”.  The result is a low-pass, wah-like tonal accent that brings to mind the Mutron-inflected lead tones of Jerry Garcia or Frank Zappa.

The last postion of the 3-pole switch is a manual Ladder Filter mode where the expression pedal controls the sweep of the cutoff.  It operates even more like a wah, but sounds like something far more futuristic and covers a much wider range of frequencies.  Where a wah is a moving bandpass filter (meaning that it accents a set range of frequencies ‘up and down’ the spectrum) the low pass filter, at it’s heel setting, allows only low frequencies through.  As you rock the pedal forward, more frequencies are allowed through until, at its fullest, the full spectrum of frequencies coming out of the guitar can be heard.  It’s a sound that has much more sonic content to it and, as a result, feels much more alive and far less honky.

After all this, you don’t really know how to explain what just happened.  Your mind accelerates as you create mental notes about what you now may be capable of…the promise of the unknown.  You’re not sure what to do with this guitar but you’re thrilled by the possibilities.

October 15, 2011

“…the power of inducing fantastic images.”

by George

One area we’ve ventured towards in previous postings but never really entered into is the impact of effect units on electric musicians and the music they create.  Since the first fuzz boxes & treble boosters of the 50s & 60s through the monolithic rack units of the 80s to the analog renaissance/guitar processor era of today, musicians have been using effects to tailor their sounds and elevate them above the physical constraints of wood, pickups and vacuum tubes and into sounds that had never been heard before.  The growth and expansion of these effects in all forms of music has led to the formation of an army of electronic (and a few adventurous acoustic) musicians seeking new tones and stepping through new gateways into worlds unknown.  For theirs is a wonderland of sonic exploration; a world where the impossible is possible.  Sounds great, huh?  Well it is…for those adventurous enough to open their mind and step out into the brave new world before them.

Inserting one of these devices between your sound source (be it a guitar, bass, synthesizer) and amplifier, adjusting a series of controls, knobs, sliders, buttons then stomping on a bypass button unleashes the power contained by the circuit/chip within.  In a way, it’s like stepping on the accelerator of a majestic transport that travels to the depths of your creative mind.  It can have all the impact of a black hole collapsing, sucking you in to the epicenter of the sonic transformation.  While some nuances are revealed, others are dampened.  When things go awry it’s as though Pandora’s Box has been opened, that ancient seal that held back terrifying evils broken.  Effects units (pedals, processors, whatever the device) transform the sound of an instrument into something beyond it’s natural form, restraints and capabilities and give the player a new perspective on the sonic potential.

In most instances, these effect pedals are attempts to instantly recreate certain physical or mechanical manipulations of sound or recorded audio.  A flange unit emulates the effect of slowing down and speeding up a recording tape head that, when played in unison with a second identical recording playing back at standard speed, conjures up the mighty rumble and whoosh of a 747 jet engine passing over head (flange was actually created by a studio engineer during the recording of a Beatles record and named by John Lennon).  Even the first fuzz box was designed to simulate a ripped and torn speaker, one push well beyond it’s limits until it could not physically withstand sound.  With a reverb unit, you can trick the listener into thinking that you’re a mighty sorcerer; one able to magically transported yourself from a small room to the Grand Canyon, then to the far depths of space and back, all while not missing a note of your melody.  Some devices extend the range of the instrument (pitchshifters, octavers) turning a single guitar into an wall of polyphonic might, while others increase it’s output to prodigious size and imbue it with aggressive harmonic overtones (distortions, overdrives, fuzzes).  Some are capable of distorting the fabric of time, creating fantastic and cosmic sounds from the far reaches of the universe (delays, echo units and choruses) while others still have the power of reducing and separating and recombining certain frequencies from the sonic spectrum, controlling sound in ways not possible without electronic wizardry (phasers, filters, envelopes).  Using more than one of these simultaneously can have a hypnotic effect, entrancing the listener with otherworldly sounds own heard in their mind’s ear.

Amid the vast myriad of these devices there can be seen two distinct classifications, regardless of the effect type, analog and digital, and many players have a strong preference for one or the other.  Analog devices are named as such because, to quote the great Bob Moog, “the way the electricity vibrates in the circuit is analogous to the way sound vibrates in an acoustic instrument.”  He goes on to compare analog electronics to light, saying “When we look at sunlight or the light from and incandescent bulb, we get a continuous spectrum of colors and, to our eyes, this seems very natural”, something that most would agree with, especially when compared to a fluorescent bulb. And because each has a unique mix and arrangement of individual components within, no two pedals (even of the same brand) are identical.  Human error and imperfection in the manufacturing defines these devices and analog fans can swear that the NOS germanium transistors in their fuzz pedals or the bucket-brigade devices in their delays have magical, almost god-like, properties.  This can be especially evident on reissues of classic fuzzes, etc. from decades past, as manufacturing processes have become far more regulated and consistent in recent years.  Although an old schematic may say that a 500 Mohm resistor was used, the actual value of the component put in place in 1972 may have been +/- 15%.

Digital devices sample the electrical waveform that would pass through a similar analog circuit, taking measurements and describing that waveform along certain points and at a certain rate, then adding them up to form a model resembling the original electrical signal.  The more samples, the more ‘realistic’ the sound and the lines between real and digital get blurred more and more with all the advances in computer processors and their use in audio applications.  Digital systems not only offer lower production costs vs. analog gear, they are also far more reliable (more resistant to changes in temperature than analog components) but they are also capable of being almost identical across multiple production batches.  Digital devices live or die based on the robustness of their sacred code, or algorithm, that is ‘taught’ to them before they leave the digital nursery.  These algorithm-driven megamachines allow us to process sound in ways not even possible through the use of analog circuitry, transcending the known and carrying the sonic explorer into another dimension.

Some players stand firmly on the warm, natural analog side, while others pledge their allegiance to the efficient and versatile digital contingent.  The smartest sonic architects have the wisdom and experience to know when each variant is best suited to their particular challenge or work.  Only experimentation and a willingness to extend out into the unknown can yield this knowledge.

The question (or argument) then becomes, does the creative potential lie within the hardware or the human?  Are these powerful tools the creative source or just the catalyst?  Could a painter create a masterpiece with only 2 colors?  A carpenter build a barrister bookcase with a pocket knife?  Or a driver win Le Mans with a Prius?  It’s true that having more options enables greater possibilities and opens up options that weren’t there before.  But at the same time, I could not accomplish either of these feats even if given a palette of unlimited colors, a workshop of tools or the most nimble sports car.  These powerful and unique tools are only utilized to their full potential in the hands of an experienced master.

pedalboard of J. Mascis

Pedal board of the great J. Mascis
September 11, 2011

Electricity shall be passed through your body

by George

We are electric beings.  We rarely think of ourselves and our natural state as being such, but the human body is a complex organization and execution of chemical reactions and electrical impulses all timed for optimal operation of our muscles, organs and tissues.  This is the natural way of all living things.  Yet when it comes to the creation of sound, one might think the opposite; that the most natural tones arise from acoustic instruments, ones made of wood and steel that resound un-amplified.

While it’s true that it’s hard to duplicate the simplicity and honesty, if you will, of an acoustic instrument like a piano or cello, there’s something equally beautiful about an electric, amplified instrument.  It’s a marvelous fusion of Earthly and synthetic materials; soul and science.  A leap into the unknown where emotion, both positive and negative, is amplified to extremes.  Volume, sustain, feedback.  Creation of sound beyond simple natural resonance and reverberation is possible with the institution of these tools.  Starting with a simple tone from a plucked string and bending that pitch upward across the stratum of textures found within the power section of a tube amplifier transforms a simple, stagnant soundwave into a complex downpour of sonic rain.   An exhalation and the subsequent inward breath, releasing tension and giving life to sound.

Taking those frequencies and natural overtones and embellishing them with electric sorcery in the form of effect processors, tone circuits and pedals elevates the sound to a new dimension, giving it lift and allowing it to escape the narrow confines of sonic reality in the world we know.  Molding and redefining the natural sound of an instrument through analog manipultation of electricity.  When you take something like a pure tone or waveform and push it past its intended harmonic content or filter it down to a fraction of its former self you start to focus in on the subtleties that really resonate with the listener.  That one particular pitch modulation or texture that imbues a musical piece or passage with a complexity that stimulates both the soul and the mind.

Another particularly powerful aspect of electric instruments is the sheer force and attention that they command by way of volume.  Amplification taken to the extreme imparts its own inherent qualities to sound.  So much so that it can cause intense (both pain and pleasure) and sometimes violent reactions from its subjects.  We literally begin to resonate with certain frequencies and at the same time are more immediately aware of those that conflict or are out of sync with our physiology.  The amplifier, speakers and even the venue itself becomes as much an instrument as the one in the hands of the musician.

We stand at the edge of a bold, electric landscape, waiting to behold the sonic architecture of the future.  A brave new world with nearly infinite possibilities for creativity and limitless sonic potential.

August 25, 2011

My Review of Roku 2 XS Streaming Player

by daverj

Originally submitted at Roku

Adds an enhanced remote for playing games, plus extra connectivity options.

Great product, highly recommended!

By DaverJ from Knoxville, TN on 8/25/2011

 

4out of 5

Pros: Easy to set up, Compact, Low wattage, Easy to use, Great value, Netflix Adaptive Bitrate

Cons: No optical, Outputs full range video

Best Uses: Primary TV, Netflix

Describe Yourself: Home entertainment enthusiast, Netflix fan

Frustrated with my TiVo Premiere’s Netflix, I wanted a better option. So I hooked up the Roku 2 XS to my primary TV, mainly to get Netflix adaptive bitrate streaming. This is the newer way to stream Netflix to prevent re-buffering, which interrupts the movie or show if the internet temporarily slows down.

Easy to set up, and it works great. It does Netflix and Amazon rentals so much better than the TiVo!

I wish it had an optical out. The only way for the Roku box to get 5.1 surround from Netflix is via HDMI pass-through to an A/V receiver with Dolby Digital PLUS. My legacy receiver doesn’t have DD+, but I still wish the Roku 2 had optical for Amazon rentals and other sources.

Also, the Roku 2 is outputting only full-range video (0-255), which will look dark and loose lots of shadow details on many TVs, including mine. I wrote Roku about this, and they said there should be a software update soon the will detect if the TV can display full-range or limited range (16-235) and select the appropriate output. Until then, I have to crank up the brightness for the Roku 2’s input on my TV. Looking forward to this being fixed.

(legalese)

May 15, 2011

A bit of the old Ultra-Violence – A Mortal Kombat (2011) review

by George

Alright, video games are not what I usually write about on here, but I had to jump on this one, as it is a reboot of a childhood favorite of mine.  Thinking back, I remember going to Blockbuster (pre-era when they were only frequented by child molesters and, subsequently, bankrupt) with my mother, aunt and cousin and making the life-or-death case for them to rent us the original Mortal Kombat.  Being a subscriber of Nintendo Power magazine (yep, that’s right) I had read all about this blood-fest and had to get my mitts on it.  A visiting cousin was the perfect opportunity; who better to fight with to the death than my best buddy and partner in crime?

Our pleas worked and soon we were on our way to my house to fire up Mortal Kombat I on the Super Nintendo!!  Hours of excited cheering and reveling later, we had been brought into the light of violent fighting video games.  Flawless Victory.

Fast forward to today and what we have here is a reboot, meaning an issuance of Kombat that is meant to wipe away all the weak and diluted version of the game that have shown their ugly faces up to now while glorifying and (hopefully) embellishing what made people love MK I & II (maybe even III).  Violence.  Fatalities.  “GET OVER HERE!”.  Flying kicks.  Uppercuts off a bridge onto a bed of corpse-covered spikes.  All the while, trash talking with your friends (who are preferably in the same room as you whilst this blood is spilled) as you electrocute their character to death until his head explodes.

This violence is what got MK in a lot of heat when it first came out and if I could, allow me to show you why a fighting video game can never be blamed as the inspiration for kids/people committing violent acts in real life…when was the last time you turned on the TV and heard a story on the news about two people fighting each other for control of Earthrealm but throwing chained spears and ice blasts from their hands and who, upon defeating their opponent, proceeded to take off their mask (which, by the way, revealed that their head was only a skull) and incinerate them in a torrent of fire that spouted from their mouth?  Wheeww…that was a doozie of a rant.

Which brings me to the first part of the actual review and the feature (as well as a recurring theme in this review) that would have been a make-or-break with me…violence.  When it comes to fighting games, I’m not interested unless it’s chock-full of over-the-top ways to beat, crush, smash or burn your opponent’s character until he is reduced to a pool of blood or chunks of meat.  That’s the point; I say over-the-top because no one finds realistic violence funny or entertaining except psychos, serial killers and general evil-doers.  On the contrary, something so ridiculous that it’s not believable or realistic is intrinsically and infinitely more humorous.  To paraphrase Paul Baloff (RIP), it hits the same funny bone that makes kids break windows or stomp on their sister’s dolls and this game has brutality to spare.

Characters show cumulative damage as the fights progress, with each punch and kick landed bruising and tearing off another piece of your opponent.  The Fatalitites executed at the end of the match are back to “uuuugggghhh” and “ohhhhhhhh, yeah” status; a definite step up from the last few iterations of MK whose finishing moves were uninventive or re-hashed.  That being said, there are a few ‘classic’ finishes (a al Sub-Zero’s freeze, tear off, present like a badge of honor) that have been re-vamped and actually made better that will make old fans proud.

Another flaw of recent games that has been fixed is the roster.  MK went from 7-8 fighters to upwards of 32 in the course of a decade +, which meant that the vast majority of characters in the game were ones that had no loyal fan base and no one cared about (Bo Rai Cho, Rain, Kenshi??).  This version borders on being  too prodigious with 25+ characters, but there aren’t any total flops or filler characters.  It’s really the MK II line-up (best of the series in my opinion) plus a few adds from III and beyond.  All the classics are here and have their classic moves: Raiden’s flying slam, Liu Kang’s fireball and Kung Lao’s hat throw are all hear and, as far as I can remember, use the same button combinations as 15 years ago.

Of course, you can plunk down and start tearing-ass through the tower of challengers that awaits you in the Single Player mode or pair up with a friend and tear into a 2P head-to-head or team up in a feature new to MK, a Tag Team mode.  For me, this is how a game like MK is best enjoyed; sit down, get a few drinks, turn on the system and let the fists (and smack talking) fly.  Reducing your opponent to dust (both their in-game character and their real-life pride) is an itch that this game definitely scratches.  There’s also a Practice Mode, Online Mode (for taking the brutal bloodshed to the rest of the world) and Extras where you can use points earned in the game by winning fights to buy new costumes, game art, soundtrack audio and character bios…in other words, all the minutia, bonuses and detail that hardcore gamers dig. Sound and graphics are top notch, easily the best seen/heard in any MK to date.  The punches land with some ‘oomph’ and are best enjoyed with a loud, bass-heavy sound system.  The pre-fight character intros and in-fight dialog are good without being too cheesy or repetitive.

Bottom line, this is the game that old Mortal Kombat fans like myself have been waiting for, and that longing has made the heart grow fonder.  And then get torn out of my chest by Kano…

March 10, 2011

What’s the point?

by George

Let me begin by apologizing…to everyone.  Especially anyone who reads past this word.

Not long ago, I was walking around the racks at my favorite record store in Nashville, just perusing the aisles looking for a few of the albums on the seemingly never-ending list I keep on my phone, when I overheard some other patrons of the store talking.  They too were in search of some music, but their presence in the store alone was intriguing.

Here’s the part where you think I’m a judgmental ass, but they are not the point…typically I wouldn’t peg an early/mid twenties woman who wears fur boots with a mini skirt and is a tiny-dog-in-her-purse away from being the next celebrity look-alike we ALL care so much about ( just watch any/all new channels) to be the kind of person that you’d find looking for music in an actual record store (iTunes maybe)…let alone a trio of these women…let alone an independend record store…let alone in the vinyl section (more on that below).

So this gaggle of Gucci is walking around the store and gets to the aisle beside the one I’m in, when they’re approached by a most Indie Hipster looking dude (once again, he’s not the point).  Maybe they know this guy, maybe they don’t, but the first words out of his mouth to them are ” Hey, do you guys like Mumford and Sons?”.  OK.  To which their leader’s response was (and I’m eggagerating) “ccchyeah, do you have it on vinyl?”.  That was the 234th time I’d heard the words “Mumford and Sons” that day and a little piece of me died that very moment….(again I don’t know any of these people and may be generalizing, but that’s not the point)

Not because I’m a defender of the notions of independent record stores or a huge fan (or hater) of Mumford and Sons (in fact, I’ve not heard more than two songs of theirs), but because it reminded me why I have an inherent habit of not liking things that are popular, initially at least, for the simple fact that they are popular.  This seems to happen to me a lot, especially with music.  After much thought on the topic, here is what I’ve come up with: there’s a group of pop artists/musicians in EVERY genre.

All of them.  I don’t think there is a separate genre of music called pop, it just exists as a sub-sect within the other styles of music.  Every genre has a spectrum that runs from pop to independent to underground.  And that’s fine (not that it needs MY approval), that’s what makes the world go around…woohoo and la di da!  But these groups, to me and I assume many, represents the watered down portions of these styles.  This would, and does, piss me off were I a fan of a particular style of music or band.  To think that other music listeners/passers by think THIS is what ____ (americana, grindcore, dubstep, whatever the hell you listen to) is…yeah right!!

The argument to that is ” Well who cares what people think or how they dissect the music you listen to?”  Good point.  Of course I’d hate to think that people whose lives are deeply interwoven with the music they love are drawn to it because of popular opinion or fashion.  But to say ” Oh, I don’t care if people fully understand what makes true ____” is kind of a lie.  Inherent to any opinion is a certain degree, however small, of pride and identity.

Not that everything has to have crisp and distinct lines…”this is where one style ends and the other begins, right here, this spot”.  Not at all; blending genres and incorporating new ideas into different artforms is absolutely necessary to keeping music growing and listeners engaged.  Some of my favorite bands are groups that took multiple influences and turned them into something greater.  But most of the time, a merge of styles results in a product that is inferior to any of the original ‘ingredients’.  And, of course, this somehow ends up being insanely popular…oh well.

Keeping this in mind and surveying the new boom of indie bands making it big in music (to get an idea, take your brain out, smoke crack and watch the Grammys; they consistently prove that they have their fingers miles away from the pulse of music), it occurs to me that what we’re seeing is a recycling of failed/dated musical trends being infused into the current ones.  People from other genres are changing their look and sneaking in to these new-fangled music booms.  “Let’s keep the frail, wounded musician thing going, but roll it into garage rock and neo-folk music” “let’s hand out Ray Bans and womens’ jeans to kind of punk bands”.  That’s the ticket!

Perhaps what I’m saying is that I want people to proudly and firmly stand up for things they’re passionate about.  If nothing else, conversation with someone with some musical conviction is more fun, if only for the challenge they present in trying to convince them that you’re right and that death metal is way more brutal than black metal (or some equally cerebral argument).

Also (and I’m writing this while watching the news) people need to stop painting on the eyebrows they don’t naturally have.  Just stop.

-George

February 21, 2011

“All deep things are song…”

by George

The quote that is used as the title for this article made me think about the ‘birthplace’ or creation of music.  I’ve read/heard many different opinions on this topic with answers ranging in nature from scientific to psychological to pure subjective opinion but they all have similar strains of thought behind them.

In my mind, the composition of music is a three-way battle; it is the product of three forces pulling a creative spark apart and in three separate directions, each with its own purpose and goal.  Every unique piece that is involved in the equation counts, and the composite of these results in what we hear through the speakers.

But boil it down to its purest form and you start with that creative spark.  This is where peoples’ opinions, I think, are fractured and begin to migrate in different directions; down separate paths that may cross over and under each other dozens of times or perhaps never once.  You could make the argument that the birthplace of this spark is within one of these formative forces, but I think that is too simple an explanation…

The Mental

Our mind is perhaps the most powerful, influential and capable force responsible for the creation of music, or any creative endeavor for that matter.  So powerful, in fact, that we cannot, at times, distinguish between our own, controlled conscious thought and the wild, enigmatic subconscious that drives many of our most basic actions.  We study and learn to play instruments in a certain manner; there is a structure and methodology that impacts every aspect of ones creative composition.  There are certain ‘rules’ that guide creation; scales, patterns and rhythms and physical mechanics in music, whose inter-compatibility is defined by centuries of musical tradition.

There is beauty in the seemingly natural resolution that certain intervals and scales have and we strive to create and enhance those patterns.  Like a chess match, there are movements and counter-motions that define the ebb and flow of a piece of music.  Each of these actions planned and orchestrated for maximum sonic impact.  We calculate and plan out our works, sometimes delving so deep into the minutia of a sound and timbre of a particular passage of music that we lose sight of its role in the overall piece.

The Physical

While this force is seemingly the most simple (in comparison) it can be the most influential on the final product.  We may intellectualize an idea, craft it and shape it, but unless we possess the physical capabilities and prowess of executing the  broad strokes and subtle touches we envision, our desire to express our thoughts and emotions is futile.

It’s generally believed that the more technically proficient a player is, the more capable and precise he/she can be when crafting their work.  Sure, you can build a house using only wood, but there will be certain areas that may require other skills and materials and possessing these skills will enable you to build a more efficient and cohesive structure.  Ideally, the larger your vocabulary, the more vivid your descriptions and the more focused your message.

In contrast, it can be one’s physical limitations as players that define his style and unique voice.  There are countless artists that may not be the most talented musicians, yet they each have their own identifiable sound and style of phrasing that is, most often, a direct result of what they can’t do.

The Emotional

Finally, the force that we have the least control over but one that is most apparent and obvious, our emotions.  Just as energy is never created or destroyed (it’s physics, man, look it up) you could make the argument that the emotion that an artist pours into his/her work came from someone/place else in the form of inspiration.  These ideas and feelings are ingrained in the piece of work itself, in every melody, rhythm and tone.  Even though we filter this in through our ears, and there is a physiological response that allows us to recognize and organize the sounds as music, there is, simultaneously, another response elicited; an emotional response.  That response is typically expressed with both physical and mental actions: released as you dance around and sing out lyrics at a concert, recalling an event or memory tied to a particular sound or piece of music, or even in the form of enthusiasm you exude when talking about music with your friends…you’re passing along the emotional energy.

This is obviously not a scientific quantity that can be measured, or even properly defined.  Nevertheless, it may be the biggest reason that people enjoy music; it taps into some unknown and undefined part of their psyche and allows them to release some of the emotional energy that they have inside; to pass it along down the ever-flowing stream of our collective social and cultural creativity where it will meet and blend with other similar and different thoughts and creations.

February 17, 2011

one device to rule them all

by colemauer

unconfirmed statistic:

8,284,671,582 smartphones have been released in the last year running android OS alone.

With that said, the actual percentage of wireless users who use a smartphone was 28% at the end of last year according to Nielsen.

With predictions that smartphone usage will eclipse that of non-smartphone usage in the coming year, it’s safe to assume that we’ll all be carrying around a 4 inch device capable of calling, texting, tweeting, checking in, blogging, microblogging, flikring, twitpicking, youtubing, digging, redditing, 4channing, commenting, liking, and upvoting pretty much anything we can get our eyes on. While the sheer number of smartphones available rises as quickly as the user base can keep up, it seems these hardware companies are having no trouble packing the latest processor, keyboard (or lack thereof), camera, internal memory, and screen output into a device as small or as large as is appropriate.

These capabilities, comprehensive as they are, lead me to one question that I pose to the makers of mp3 players, cameras, video recorders and gaming handhelds.

What now?

It’s a disheartening questions, because many of us, myself included, have several of these peripherals that could, at any moment, become obsolete. Now you may notice no shortage of iPod, NintendoDS, PSP, Flip HD, or heaven forbid, the latest appearance of @aplusk and his newest coolpix point and shoot, but now that the smartphone is beginning to catch up in the realm of hardware to not only still pictures but HD video, onboard storage, and now processing speed indicative of a gaming handheld, where to these secondary accessories turn to differentiate themselves from their multitasking brethren?

The truth is, as you’ll find out, I have a lot of questions and far fewer answers (at least in this post), but with the coming of the Nintendo 3DS and Sony’s new Playstation handheld on the way, we’re soon to find out. My guess is they’re sticking with the dedicated hardware route to stay ahead of the smartphone curve. With its 2 rear-facing cameras, Nintendo’s new model touts a 3D experience unlike any other handheld; and Sony’s new model is teasing enough processing ammunition to spec out at near PS3 speeds, surely keeping any smartphone’s antenna shaking in fear…for now.

 

But what what we have to ask ourselves (I know, again with the questions) is do we really want to continue paying $20-40 for new games on systems that are likely to be pricepointed between $300 to $400 that we’re really only going to pick up on a plane or a bus ride?

I’ll admit, my last gaming handheld was a Gameboy, the big one, no – not the one that came in pretty colors; so I may be a bit biased, or at least recently unversed in the ways of the current handhelds, but I just don’t see the market. I’m not going to shell out the cash for a low-res version of a game I have on my console at home just so I can be entertained on my flight to Atlanta when the free version of Angry birds (with free updates on android) awaits on my phone for hours (yes, hours) of enjoyment.

I guess my point is that I see smartphone gaming and app purchases on the rise, and gaming handhelds and cartridge play on the downslope. Nostalgia pulls at me, ’cause Mario and I had some great times playing golf in monochrome, but with my keys in my right pocket, It really comes down to me only wanting and needing one handheld, powered by Android (or Apple), indivisible, with HDMI out, and extended battery life for all.

-cole

November 30, 2010

Camera Man’s Creed

by bmiller445

This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My camera is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My camera, without me, is useless. Without my camera, I am useless. I must shoot my camera true. I will…

My camera and myself know that what counts in TV is not the amount of min. we shoot, or the camera we shoot with. We know that it is the shot that counts. We will get the shot…

My camera is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its lens. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and FedEx damage, I will white balance, check my audio, and We will NOT fix it in post. I will keep my camera clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will…

Before God, I swear this creed. My camera and myself are the shooters of cable TV. We are the entertainers of America. We are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is nothing left to shoot, but darkness!

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