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

Book Review: Mo’ Meta Blues (The World According to Questlove)

I can’t say I am a diehard Roots fan (I have the album they recorded with John Legend … it’s very good), but what I have heard, I have liked. And I know that Questlove (Ahmir Thompson), the drummer and co-founder of the Roots, seems to often be at the center of musical circles and an insightful writer about culture from the hip-hop viewpoint.

His memoir (a format he liberally plays with here) is called Mo’ Meta Blues, and it is a rich journey into more than just his personal history in music (The Roots are now Jimmy Fallon’s house band). It is also an insightful look into the history of hip-hop, with a Philly perspective, and of modern Black music and Black identity.

Music has the power to stop time. When I listen to songs, I’m transported back to the moment of their birth, which is sometimes even before the moment of my birth. Old songs, rock or soul or blues, still connect with me because the human emotions in them, whether jealousy or rage or hope, are recognizably similar to the emotions that I’m feeling now. (Ahmir Thompson, Mo’ Meta Blues, page 272)

I appreciate the humanity and humor Questlove brings to his story, and the way he shows us a band that often struggles to find an identity in the changing pop culture landscape and then keeps true to its heart and reforges its identity, time over time, and yet still clings to a vision of music as a powerful force in nature. They’re after bigger game than the next hit. It’s a bumpy ride for the Roots, and yet, they remain a viable force on many levels.

Peace (in roots),
Kevin

 

Two Songs in One Post: A Newbie and an Oldie

I recently wrote a song — Everybody on the Dance Floor — for the band in hopes of having a female lead singer. We had someone coming to audition, and I thought I would write something for down the road. Well, she pulled out of the audition, and we may or may not keep the song. It is inspired by an article I read of this woman DJ who does not have the “look” but who kicks out the jams. She does one party and then disappears to the next party. I had her in my mind, or some version of her, as I wrote this one.

I wrote the basic chord structure of Everybody on the Dance Floor on the guitar but recorded all of the music on the Garageband App (it’s pretty astonishing what you can do with that app). The vocals I added later in Soundtrap. I think it has a catchy element to it. See what you think. I think it plays best in headphones.

The other song is an old one, but the news out of the field of science about Gravitational Waves had me remembering this song called Gravitational Pull, and my band at the time did do a recording of it in the studio. That’s me singing, which is all I played on this recording. I co-wrote it with my guitar player, John. He wrote the music. I wrote the words.

Peace (and thanks for listening),
Kevin

All Join Hands: A Global Musical Collaboration

All Join Hands musicians

I am fortunate. I have friends who are willing to collaborate with me, and it doesn’t matter where on the globe they live. We connect and create, regardless of time zones and languages. This was once again made clear to me over the past two weeks when I recorded a song that I had written a few years ago, moved it into Soundtrap, and began inviting folks to sing along with me on the chorus.

The song — All Join Hands — is a response to the violence in the world, a pushing back against discord. An acknowledgement that we need to help those in need, and that we all have an obligation to each other. We all need to join hands.

All Join Hands music tracks

The chorus goes:

All join hands and light the candle
We are one tonight
Peace and love and faith inside us
We are one tonight

So, out went the invites, asking for voices, and in came the amazing array of sounds as Ron, Sarah, Maha A., and Wendy all lent me a gift that we wove together for this version of the song.

Thank you, friends. Thank you for taking the time to sing with me. Thank you for honoring the lyrics with your voices and passions and melodies. Thank you for connecting with me, again, and reminding me of the power of those connections.

Thank you.

And I am excited that my other close friend and regular collaborator, Bonnie Kaplan, may use this song as part of the soundtrack for her annual Digital Storytelling collaborative project, in which she invites folks to send her images on a theme. This year’s theme is “Joy.”

Peace (and love and faith inside us),
Kevin

 

Which Modality? Making Music

Interesting question … and it feels like the 140 character limit on Twitter just won’t cut it. Or, it will cut it too short to respond with depth. Yin-Wah, if I think of which modality I most like to create in, it has to be songwriting. I do love the other kinds of creating — making comics, writing stories, remixing media. But there’s something about working on a song and music that pulls me in deeper than all of the others that I dabble in.

And I am not ever claiming that I am some professional songwriter, or ever will be, nor do I think that the songs I write will become the soundtrack of the world. It’s a personal thing, this songwriting that I do, although some songs do become used in the band I am in, Duke Rushmore. As I was writing this, I remembered once writing a post (I see, from 2009) entitled Why I Write Songs.

Just this week, I was working on a new song, perhaps for the band, and in a break in the writing (and even in breaks, my brain keeps working on lyrics and rhythm and parts …. when writing songs, I can’t turn it off), I found myself writing a second song. It emerged from an old scrap of a guitar riff, and then the first line came, and I found myself writing very quickly, this song of losing a friend, and in little time at all, I had the structure and the first verse and the chorus.

It’s odd how sometimes the writing flows like that, something coming out of nothing and utterly unexpected, Yin-Wah. So, for a few days, I found myself toggling between two new songs. For me, if I don’t play the song over and over, and over and over, I lose the nuance of it. I have to practice it into the ground (my poor family) to understand what the song is, and what the song is about. My fingers ache, Yin-Wah, from playing guitar so much this week.

But I can look at what I wrote, and hear it as I play it, and know: this is something worth keeping. That might mean just stuffing it away into my guitar case, or it might mean sharing it with my bandmates. I’m still unsure. Last month, I dug out a song that I write five years ago and never shared, and showed it to the band, and now we are working on it. You just never know. Songs are like messages in a bottle. The bobble on the surf of the mind.

Maybe you want to hear the demo of the song I have been writing about?

First, here is my lyric sheet. You probably can’t read much of it, Yin-Wah. I’m a word scratcher. But you can see the general ideas I was developing, the ways I identified rhyming and verses and choruses, and how one word gets changed, erased, changed again, returned to the original, changed again. I revise more with songs than I do with other writing. I admit it: I am terrible reviser. But with songwriting, every word is a rhythm, and every beat is important.

Come in close lyric sheet

Here is a demo I recorded quickly yesterday. I hear the flubs. You may not.

Thank you for asking me about my writing. This is probably more than you expected, but in answering your Tweet, you gave me an excuse to be reflective. That’s a gift in and of itself.

Peace (in the muse you find),
Kevin