Science Journal App: Tracking the Ups and Downs of Music

Setting up the Music Space

I’ve had Science Journal app on my phone (Android) for some time now, and every so often, I pull it out to play with it. But last night, as my new/old band began to play for the first time in over a year with a PA system and guitar amps (long story short: we lost our singer and bass player and practice space, went acoustic, found new practice space, looking for singer and bass player), I wondered what the sound levels were.

Right before we started our first song of the night in our new practice space — Love Potion Number 9 — I put the Science Journal app into motion, capturing and recording the decibel levels in the room. Yeah, it was loud. Our drummer has been waiting a long time to pound on his skins (as opposed to the electronic drums he has been using). He pounded away.


But it was neat to see the spikes of the song in Science Journal later on. I could see where the solos were, and where the song dipped into the break part, and more. I could see where the decibels clipped maybe a bit too high.

It made me wonder about that 85 db range that we hit. So I tracked down this chart. No wonder our lead guitar player wears special “in ear” plugs. We hit 737 sounds!

Science Journal is part of Google’s Making & Science initiative, which is pretty cool to check out.  You can read more about Science Journal (it even connects to Arduino? Cool) with this article.

Peace (it sounds like),
Kevin

Ideas Become the Wire Frame for Making

I spent part of yesterday putting some finishing touches up on a new song I have been writing, in hopes of having the pieces in place to share with my band — Duke Rushmore — at our practice. Some songs, I can hear in the band, even as I am writing them, even though I know my friends will take the song in directions I probably can’t hear. I am comfortable letting the song go in places I did not imagine. Other songs … just never make the leap from my head to the band to the stage.

Last night, I pulled this new song — You Can Hold On if You Want To — out, and we played it for about 30 minutes, tinkering with parts and talking through dynamics and trying to get a feel for it, and it all began to fit together quite nicely. The lead singer was not there, so I took on the vocal duties instead of working on a saxophone part. The best part of the evening was when I was handing out the lyric sheet, and the drummer sat down and said:

I love that we get to be the first ones to see your songs. It’s like opening up a present.  I’ve seen a lot of your songs over the years and every time, it’s exciting to wonder what might happen.

If we didn’t play another note or song in practice, I would have been fine after a comment like that. His words show the connection and passion that we have for music and for friendship and for making something special, together. The songs I write (and others write, too) get shaped by the band, so that the song becomes “ours.”

As songwriters, we just bring in the wire frame. (In animation, the wire frame is the basic mock structure that things are built on or around, to make movement)

If I can take a leap here, moving from making music to developing a learning process, I think this is a sort of metaphor for the best of the Making Learning Connected MOOC. Lots of people are bringing ideas to the table, and others in the community/network are transforming those ideas into something new. Or collaborating together.

The ideas are the wire frame, and we are all building and exploring off of it. It’s like a jam session of possibilities. Take a riff and build a song. Make something interesting today.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

So, Is This Rhizomatic? How About This?

No teacher

Terry Elliott asked an intriguing and rather pointed question yesterday (not surprising, if you know him) in the #Rhizo15 Twitter Stream: Forget the mumbojumbo theory about rhizomatic learning.

Where can rhizomatic learning be seen in practice?

Hmmm.

First, a definition, of sorts, by Dave Cormier:

The rhizome is stem of plant, like hops, ginger or Japanese bamboo, that helps the plant spread and reproduce. It responds and grows according to its environment, not straight upwards like a tree, but in a haphazard networked fashion. As a story for learning, it is messy, unstable and uncertain … The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem.

I tried to get at this question from another angle the other day, with mentions of Inquiry Projects in the K-12 setting, but heck, even then, the teacher sets some guidelines and scaffolds the way forward, if only with structure. Inquiry-based learning has some rhizomatic flavors, but may not be full and true rhizomatic learning.

I wondered about the Making Learning Connected MOOC and the Connected Courses. Nope. Both were/are deeply planned in many ways, and while the invitation is to go your own way, if you desire, they are also a contained unit (6 weeks or so).

But the creation of the Daily Connect, which replicated the Daily Create (see below) emerged from a discussion on Twitter and became a collaborative brainstorming idea around ways to keep people connected with short activities. That was rhizomatic.

Push for Fun-1

I wondered about the RhizoRadio Play that a bunch of us created in the first week of Rhizomatic Learning, where a sketch of a skit on a blog post led to a global collaboration of writing and recording and publishing. Yep. That’s rhizomatic.

I started to think about the Headless DS106 course that I took last year (was it last year?) in which there seemed to be no real teacher and no real classroom. But even then, someone (Alan Levine, I think) was pulling the strings behind the screen … we had loose themes and loose tasks on a regular basis that sent us off into our own thing, like creating a DS106 radio show.

Merry Hacksters Title DS06

Ahhh, but this had me thinking DS106 and the Daily Creates. Each day, a new Daily Create is sent out and people can join in or not, share or not, connect or not. You follow your own path and your own inspiration, and can contribute ideas to future Daily Creates. You can access the entire library of Daily Creates online. And it never seems to end. The Daily Creates keep coming, day after day. I’m not sure we are teaching each other what we know, necessarily, but we are sharing what we have created in networked spaces, and inspiring imagination. I’d consider the Daily Create a rhizomatic learning activity.

So, that’s another one, perhaps.

Then I started to mull over how songs come to be adopted in the band (Duke Rushmore) that I play in. Sure, this is a non-traditional educational space — a rock and roll band — but we are always learning together. I am one of a few members who write songs for the band, and I always find bringing in a new song to the band to consider to be an interesting and challenging event.

Duke Rushmore

Just recently, another member has been working with a new song that he wrote. He had it all mapped out in his head — you play this, you play that, drums go like this, saxophone comes in here, vocals are inflected like this. He “heard” it. But reality was very different. We were all very hemmed in by his directions, and yet, we were respecting him as the artist with the vision. We tried. But. Something didn’t gel.

Then, two weeks ago, he gave up on us and almost on the song. He said, do you own thing. So, we sped the song up and began to unshackle ourselves from his vision of the song. And you know what? Over an hour or so, we began to collectively remake the song into a shared vision of music, and it was good. There was life to it. We all had a hand in the song’s re-creation, and that is making all of the difference in the world.

That’s rhizomatic learning. The roots take hold.

Peace (in the mulling),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Pictures of the Band

(This is a Slice of Life post, in which we share out the events of the day. It runs through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year, and is facilitated by the folks at Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

Kevin with Duke Rushmore March2015

Our bass player is also a videographer and at our last gig, he invited a friend to shoot video of our gig in order to make some cool videos. He’s still working on the editing and mixing of it all, but he shared out some snippets that sound and look cool.

I grabbed a few screenshots of myself (selfie alert) to make this collage. I play saxophone and do back-up singing (and write songs for the band, too). It’s a blast.

The band is Duke Rushmore. And I am happy to say that we are more than bandmates — we are very good friends. This is us, off the stage, chatting about life and music.

Duke Rushmore relaxin'

Peace (in the pic),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Cold Gig

(This is a Slice of Life, a monthly challenge to write every day facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. You can join in, too. Come write.)

The gig

We have nicknames for some of the gigs my band — Duke Rushmore — has played over the years. We have the Ice Gig, where the roads were so slick coming home one night after we played at a bar in a very faraway hill town that we were all sure we’d end up in a ditch at 3 a.m. in the morning. There was the Bug Gig, where the outside event turned into a mosquito fest, and we were the main entree, apparently. There was the Quiet Gig, where we played loud but the audience just sat there, like stones in their seats, and refused to dance. There was the Loud Gig, where the engineer for the venue cranked it so loud people had to leave the room.

And now we have the Cold Gig. We played out last night at a brewery that does two-hour tasting (it is a real brewery, not a brew pub) and they have bands entertain the crowds drinking their homebrew beers. It’s a good gig, and we love playing there, which we do a few times a year. It’s a funky space — wide open floors, very little seating. You have to climb five stories of steep steps to get there (although the band uses the freight elevator). You rough it at this place.

Last night was a bit more rougher than usual. The heating was on the fritz (meaning: no heat) and the outside temperature hovered around the single digits. It wasn’t so cold we could see our breath but it was close. It took all of my courage to take off my jacket to play, and my saxophone — that temperamental piece of metal — does not like the cold air. We wrestled all night for the right notes. Oh, and the only toilet in the place wasn’t working, so there were huge buckets of water to use to flush.

Like I said, you rough it.

But we had one the biggest crowds of the year there, with more than 160 people jammed into this tight space, dancing the cold night away to the music, and we warmed up quickly, jumping around and finding the groove, and it was a great night of music. It was the Cold Gig, but we turned up the heat, and it was all right.

Peace (in the gig),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Getting Ready to Gig

(This is a post for Slice of Life.)
sol15 icon
Lately, I’ve noticed that our mail does not get delivered anymore during winter storms. Whatever happened to “neither rain nor snow …” and all that? I don’t begrudge the mail service, of course, and last night, a friend and I were driving home in some of the worst conditions of the winter: snow, sleet, freezing rain. Things were slick.

And all because my band — Duke Rushmore — is gearing up for a gig this coming Friday night (passing through Western Massachusetts? Come to the Paper City Brewery in Holyoke, from 6-8 p.m. — see you there!). We jammed the songs out one last time, worked through a few pieces that are new for us, and then began to pack up the gear that we need to lug to the brewery. (We need roadies.)

Getting ready for the gig

I have some revisions to do on my notes, which I keep handy in the days before the gig to help me stay focused. You can see all the scribbles, arrows, and other handwritten notes that I need to use to adjust my notes. During gigs, I barely glance at them. But before the gigs, I consult them quite a bit, thinking of song keys, solo sequences, changes, background vocals, etc.

Duke Rushmore 2Friday will be here soon and we get to rock and roll. What’s better than that?

Peace (in the gig),
Kevin

 

My Totem: My Tenor Saxophone

Duke Rushmore VFW 2013 sax-centered

It’s taken me a few days to really think about a “totem” that captures the essence of my identity. This is part of our explorations at Walk My World, and the idea for this learning activity is to consider a representation of self, something that connects you to who you are.

I chose my Martin tenor saxophone.

I have been honking out notes on this particular tenor saxophone for more than 30 years. Although in childhood, I had aspirations of becoming a professional musician, that plan never came to be. I did attend high school summer programs that immersed me deeply in music and even spent a year in a music program in college. But it was clear that I didn’t have the focus and intensity (maybe dedication), nor the innate talent, to succeed in a very difficult field filled with amazing musicians and not a whole lot of job opportunities.

And yet, I still play music with my saxophone. Each week, I gather with my bandmates in Duke Rushmore and we play for two hours. A few times a year, we gig out. I have a gig coming up in a few weeks, in fact, and we are working on our set list for that night. I’ll never claim to be a great saxophone player, and my ability remains fairly limited. I play because I love the act of making music, and my saxophone is one way in (the guitar is another, although that is primarily for songwriting).

Music continues to enrich my soul each week, each year, and I find some deep connection with the old Martin saxophone.

Plenty of times, I have thought: I wish I had a Selmer, not this old tenor. The saxophone can be a bit moody at times, and it has a rich deep bottom but the top of the scales are a little thin. It might be me. Or it might be the two of us — the saxophone and I. Still, I strap it on to play and it feels comfortable, like a blanket you pull over you, night after night. You know how it feels. That’s how I am with this old Martin.

We know each other.

saxophone shape poem

And when I think of how many turns life has taken, there’s something to be said about some consistency. I am happily married, with a family, but that saxophone has seen me through some other, turbulent times. There were years when the sax collected dust in the closet. Still, I would pull it out and play now and then, getting lost in the music, working through some emotions that words (spoken and/or written) could not articulate. Allowing me to make music just for myself is a gift this saxophone has given me over the decades.

It’s my totem. My charm. My saxophone.

Wonderful World, sax solo from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peacd (in the muse),
Kevin

How to Get On Your Boogie Shoes and Get People to Dance

Here is another project for this week’s Make Cycle for the Making Learning Connected MOOC. We don’t expect folks to do more than one, but it is neat if they can. I had this idea for a How To .. for music-related things, and this Haiku Deck is about how to rock the house and get people to dance.

How To Rock A Show And Get People To Dance – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Can you tell my band — Duke Rushmore — has a gig coming up? It’s next Friday, at a local brewery, where they open up the main floor, hire a band, give out free “samples,” send patrons home with free beer, and let the party rock for two hours before the whole thing shuts down. It’s an odd gig, but hey, it’s a gig!

Hey, if you live in Western Massachusetts, come on down to the Paper City Brewery next Friday night. If you don’t live in Western Massachusetts … CLMOOC Road Trip!

Peace (in the boogie),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Shifting Musical Spaces

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

For almost 17 years, every Tuesday night, I have driven over to my friend’s house on the other side of our city, walked up three flights of stairs to a converted attic space full of guitar amps, drum sets, and microphone stands, and played music. Through three different bands — the current one being Duke Rushmore, but before that it was the Sofa Kings and Big Daddy Kiljoy, along with assorted smaller configurations like The Millenium Bugs — that space has been my home-away-from-home for making music.

Alas, no more.

My friend, the rhythm guitarist and fellow songwriter, finally sold his house, as part of his larger financial plans for retirement, and the attic space where so many songs were written, arranged, played, abandoned, rediscovered, revamped and more is now empty of everything but the memories. We’ve now moved over to the basement of our bass player’s house, another town over. It’s great that we have a new space but I’m going to miss that attic.

This is a panoramic picture of the last night of practice:
John's Attic SpaceAnd this is a poem I wrote for my friend, who was so generous with his house for so many years. I framed it for him as a present.
UpontheThirdFloorElizabethStreet

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Making Music/Learning Songs

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(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge with Two Writing Teachers. We write about small moments each and every day for March. You come, too. Write with us.)

Some of you know I play saxophone and write songs for a rock band, Duke Rushmore. We’re in a bit of a quiet spell right now because our lead guitar player has some medical issues that are not yet resolved and our other guitar player has sold his house where we practice (that’s another slice for another day). The other night, we were working on a song that I wrote a few months ago, and which I have shared as a Slice earlier in the year.

The quality of the recording is terrible (our singer used his phone and then had trouble sending the file to me, so he recorded it off the phone with a digital recorder … and that’s never a good thing when you add a second layer of recording — you can hear it in the wavy gravy element of the sound), but you can listening in on how a new song is developing here. We’re still figuring it out, together, making changes and trying out parts. Seeing what work and what doesn’t work. As the writer of this piece, it’s such a powerful experience to be in a room with musicians who are my friends, playing and learning a song that I wrote, and having it slowly come together, section by section.

I left this practice on air, really, and I thought back to where this particular song started months ago, with me on the floor of my bedroom, an empty piece of paper and an acoustic guitar in my lap and some vague notion of lyrics.

Take a listen to Set My Anchor on You


This is a shout-out to my bandmates in Duke Rushmore.

Peace (in the song),
Kevin