Musical Interlude: Hopeful Me/Angry Me

Hope Remains song lyrics

(Note: This post is a convergence of a couple of ideas, including DigiLitSunday, where the theme this week is “purpose.” I am sharing out and reflecting on that theme as I contemplate making music as a protest moment.)

I often respond to the world by turning to songwriting. Admittedly, my first attempts at writing songs always seem to slant negative, and then I often have to wrestle the words back towards something more positive and productive (well, sometimes a song just needs a downcast view of the world to be truthful and honest).

As I continue to go through my stages of What the @#&% over this election, I have been turning to music to vent. My purpose here, in both the writing and then the decisions I make with the production of my music, is to find a creative path into grieving and, then moving into action. It’s meaningful for me to write — it’s how I process — and my guitar has always been a companion during difficult times. I find comfort there.

This weekend, two songs emerged. One song is hopeful, if a bit mournful; and the other, a remix project, is angry and resentful.  My friend, Terry Elliott, wrote a post with poems and a hackable text that he called “Flip the Coin.” Each of these songs belongs on the same coin. How you feel in a given moment is how you might flip the coin.

The more optimistic song – called Hope Remains — is my attempt to remind myself, and maybe you, that we have each other in dark times, and that even in the darkness of the world, there is light. It can be hard to see. We sometimes need to search long and hard for it. We often stumble. But it is there. I wrote this one for me. I wrote it for my friends. I wrote it for you. Hope remains.

This song came together rather quickly. I knew I did not want to reference the election directly. That’s not what it was about. I started negative, and turned positive. In less than an hour, the lyrics and chord changes were done, and I had recorded the demo on my iPad. My original purpose in recording was to keep the song raw. No production – no reverb or compression or anything. The next day, though, I knew it needed something more, something lingering off the edges of the guitar and my singing. I then layered in the bass/cello on the bottom end and did a slight mix of the guitar/flute on the higher end.

The second song — called Welcome to the Boardroom — was my attempt to use Trump’s words against him, crafting a dangerous-sounding remix with his own voice as the underlying track. My purpose? Channel anger into song and use his own words against him. I put his voice through all sorts of effects, and gave the tune a driving beat, with an underlying distortion field of instruments. Listen in headphones to get the full effect. I also added in strange sounds, to aurally show how off-center and off-kilter I feel right about now. I felt a lot better afterwards. The cathartic effect, I guess.

Peace (we have each other),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)

The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s name was in the weeks before he hit the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines in the 1970s. Our neighborhood was crazy about rock and roll, and someone knew someone who had a cousin who had heard about this rocker out of New Jersey who could put on a lights-out live show. His name was Bruce Springsteen.

Who?

Soon, we knew who he was, although his music never could compete with the Led Zep and Aerosmith landscape of my neighborhood. His sound wasn’t hard enough. There were no Bruce fans on my block. But Bruce was out there, and we knew about him. (Years later, I finally saw him live and saw what the fuss was all about … no other live show had that kind of energy and no other artist that I have seen had that kind of command on stage.)

Yesterday, after a marathon session, I finished reading Springsteen’s autobiography — Born to Run — and while I consider myself an avid fan these days, I realized that I never quite grasped the larger vision that Bruce has been pursuing over the past 30 years or so. The book brought to the light the narrative of America that he has been writing about and exploring, from the first guitar riff in Born to Run (when he decided to change his musical direction from his two earlier Dylan-like albums .. two albums I particularly like) right through the songs he is still putting out today (Wrecking Ball, etc.).

For an artist to have a vision and to stay mostly true to it over the course of time, particularly given the fickle nature of the world, is difficult. To be a pop artist (at least for a while) and stay true … that’s something we rarely see. Springsteen sought to tell the story of ourselves, through his characters, and himself, too, and as we all grew up, he tried to show how we adjust to the changing landscape. Many of his songs are short stories, told to rock and roll and chord changes. Some, like American Skin and Born in the USA, are often misunderstood.

The autobiography (written by Bruce himself … he’s a solid writer most of the time) explores his songwriting craft (a topic which I always find intriguing) and his life, but I was most attuned to where he was able to find his inspiration for stories, and how he took control of his career and his music (he owns the rights to all of his song and all of his albums … which is pretty rare). Bruce has his demons and his battles, but he seems to have now found happiness in his family, even as he is still driven by the need to write music and to perform in front of an audience, to connect to the energy of something larger than the music itself.

I still think his response to 9/11, with the album The Rising, was what the country needed at the time. It is a measures response, with song about loss and love and the toll these have on the human spirit. Bruce writes about looking at the New York skyline, and the missing towers, and then a fan yelling out the window that “we need you” as the undercurrent of the album. His performance of My City of Ruins on a televised event gave me pause.

Born to Run gives context for why Bruce felt the need to meet that call of that fan and why he needed to bring music to the world as reckoning of events and a comfort in the stories we needed to tell to try to make sense of the tragedy. I think we’re still telling those stories.

 

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Songs of Human Voice: From Cacophony to Composition

I was creating a Storify of all of the short video reflections that folks are making for the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset), grabbing them and tucking them into the curated project. (see it here) But when I was tinkering with the template of the Storify, and tried to use the slideshow template, suddenly, my speakers were filled with all of the voices, talking all at once.

At first, I panicked — too loud! too loud! — and turned the volume off. After some reflection and a spark of curiosity, though, I turned it back on and  … I listened. I listened to the swirling sounds of all of our voices. I could hear different textures of sounds. I could hear individual words and phrases lifting up from the chaos, every now and then. Clusters of noise came together and then apart, weaving this noisy tapestry.

And I realized — this is a song of human voice and experience and questions. This is the collective songs of educators, deep in inquiry. This is music.

Which got me thinking: could I record all of those voices together (yes, I could) and then add a looping music track underneath it all, guiding the sounds into some sense of song? I could. What made it all work, in fact, is that towards the end, voices begin ending, slowly, like an audio tail wagging, and we are left with one lone voice, and her daughter, telling the entire IMMOOC community to “have a great day,” and that voice of that young daughter of Sheila Vick (@sheila_vick) was the magic sauce that made it all work.

Listen in headphones, if you can, and tell me this is not beautiful in its own way. It is longer than I would have liked, but I could not force myself to cut out anyone’s voice. (And some videos were added to the Storify later that did not make it into my audio recording. Sorry.)

Peace (sounds like …),
Kevin

PS — this is how I did it:

  • Launched Audacity recording software
  • Placed microphone by speakers
  • Started the Storify
  • Downloaded audio file as MP3
  • Launched Soundtrap website
  • Uploaded audio
  • Used loops to create underlying music
  • Downloaded and then uploaded to Soundcloud
  • Shared in social media

Make Instruments, Make Music, Make Change

We were in our independent movie theater recently when the trailer for the upcoming documentary — Landfill Harmonic — came on the screen and blew us away. There’s so much to admire in this story — of the way one person saw possibility where others saw nothing, the way they turned to the resources at hand to create something, and the way an idea can potentially alter an entire community for the better.

Landfill Harmonic from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

I just ordered it (via Vimeo), so I can share it with my students this year and support the cause.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

De La Soul Documentary: Beyond the Age of Sampling

The new De La Soul album — And the Anonymous Nobody —  is interesting in the way it was made — after years of legal wrangling over use of samples of other artists to create the backbone of its music (as hip hop often does) — the old-school band decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to pay for recording a funk band for hours on end, and then to use samples from those studio recordings as the basis for its new songs, instead of relying on samples.

“What we’re doing … is farming the recordings for samples … and creating new music,” says the narrator of the video.

This is a video documentary of the band’s efforts. I find it interesting because, well, I like the band well enough (and bought its album), and I am interested in the significance of this shift away from hiphop roots (of sampling others), even if the move by De La Soul caused by the legal climate of record labels being very litigious.

The age of the remix is fraught with these difficulties (although educators and students have more leeway). But one lesson here is that making your own beats and music for your own songs is worth doing, even if it adds time and planning to a project.

Peace (it’ll be here),
Kevin

Unfolding A Musical Conversation

K2BH Conversation

My friend, Karon B., and I have been playing around with different musical compositional tools. In tinkering with a site called Flat, we found we could collaborate together. So I started a “sort of” conversation (the words are mine) and invited Karon to “harmonize” with me in counterpoint. Kind of interesting to see two people collaborate on single music document, envisioning it as a thematic conversation, albeit a short one. (She had already been doing similar explorations with Twitter streams for CLMOOC).

Take a listen (and know we just used pre-set instrument voices from the site):

Peace (and harmony),
Kevin

Curiosity Conversations: Turning Tweets into Music with Karon

I feel honored to meet so many interested and creative educators in the CLMOOC. Since last week, Karon B. and I have been engaged in an intriguing email conversation that falls under the umbrella of this week’s concept of “Curiosity Conversations” in Make Cycle 3 of CLMOOC.

Our interactions began with a Daily Connect, themed on “reaching out” (which she did), and then took a path towards presence in social media spaces (or, rather, non-presence and how that feels), and finally our back/forth reached a point where we worked on a project together that turned tweets into music.

Actually, she did all of the compositional work, and I just followed her lead as best as I could. This is what she did, in a nutshell, and where we have sort of ended up. For now. She is still working on other versions.

Karon is not on Twitter, for her own valid reasons, but she has followed the weekly Twitter Chats through the curated Storify projects that we put together afterwards. She has also been tinkering with a musical notation program, and so, she wondered if she could take the Twitter feed from the CLMOOC Twitter Chat and code the tweets into musical notation, and then create a “song” of the Chat.

 

 

I thought that was a pretty cool concept, and she went about it with an intense passion that I admire. I still don’t quite understand her coding system (sorry, Karon!), even with many intriguing emails back and forth as she worked hard on the project. The five-page music manuscript of the Twitter Chat is so interesting to read through, as themes emerge and counter-melodies of people and ideas.

from Karon Tweets into Music

You get a perspective of a Twitter feed that you don’t get in any other way. We’re slanted, on an angle, and see the sharing as music. How friggin’ cool is that, eh?

I wanted to do something with Karon’s manuscript. I wanted to find a way to turn her music on the page into music for the ear. So, using Soundtrap recording platform, I tried to record the song with my tenor saxophone, layering the top melody with the bottom harmony parts. I fumbled many times, and still don’t like this rough cut version. But I hope it gives you an idea of how the sharing from Twitter turned into music on the page turned into sounds for the ear.

Take a listen.

Thank you, Karon, for pushing my thinking about music, social media, and composition over the course of the week, and reminding me of how creative we can be when we think beyond the normal. She saw Twitter as an inaccessible point, and turned it into music.

For more on her project, check out the slideshow video she shared in the CLMOOC Google Plus space. She used a midi sound generator to create an audio soundtrack for her presentation, too, so you can “hear” what each person “wrote” in the chat. Nifty.

Peace (it sounds like the sunrise),
Kevin

What Diversion Sounds Like (Masters of War)

The other morning, I had my list of tasks to do. You know, writing and other things that I needed to get done. Then, along comes Simon on Twitter, referencing Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, with a call to remix or remediate or something, and there I am, remembering the day I bought Dylan’s vinyl Biograph box set and heard Masters of War for the first time on my headphones. I was 19 years old, just starting out with songwriting, and that box set became a bible of songcraft to me.

And Masters of War .. that one song haunted me for weeks on end. I could hear its words in my head at night when I slept and its phrasing crept into many of my songs that year, when I focused on writing political songs in the era of Reagan. I even wrote a song for a band that I just formed (our name was Behind Bars) that was an echo of Masters of War. Mine, about US intervention policy in Central America, was called Another War. (I am still digging around for a version of it).

So Simon reels me back in to that time period of my life, and I wondered if I could do a version of the Dylan song in Soundtrap and invite others to add to it.

My initial goal (now that my list of tasks for the morning was kaput) was to do something sparse with Dylan’s song and keep open musical space for others. An hour or two later, I realized I had set forth a version with tension and very little space for others but I could not find a way to remove sounds without messing with the urgency of what I was creating. Still, Ron came on board, adding the very interesting voice of emergency (This is NOT a drill) and some guitar riffs, and Bryan arrived later, with even more guitar flourishes.

The invite to others is still open. We’ll see what happens.

Peace (it sounds nothing like War),
Kevin

PS – this version of Masters of War by Ed Sheeran is a new favorite of mine.

EduJoy: Scenes from a Pop-Up Concert

I am the advisor to our Student Council, and the group just hosted the first Pop-Up Concert — a sort of unofficial concert of sixth grade musicians (including teachers) for an audience of sixth graders and anyone else who wandered into the cafeteria after lunch. We didn’t really announce it or anything.

I wrote a song for the event, and I was joined on the stage by my school technology friend and guitar player, Steve. The song is called One True Friend.

There was a sixth grade A Capella group who did a fantastic job (but not sure of permissions to share photos and videos) and then a few individual student performers, including these two gifted students who work with Steve on music on a regular basis.

Sara (on the ukulele, singing Riptide)

Gabby (singing a song she wrote)

It was a cool way to end the week before April vacation, and to showcase student talent in a concert that wasn’t all that stressful (although the students were still nervous).

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me

memecat stays positive

From time to time, I pull out my guitar and record a “corner concert” in my house. Nothing fancy. Just me and a song. Given all the noise about politics, to which I am very much attuned, I pulled out this song that I wrote, Woody Guthrie Lives Inside of Me.

While the politicians sleep
We’ll occupy the streets
Woody Guthrie lives inside of me

Thanks for watching and listening and being engaged in this crazy political season.

That man

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin