Open Up the Heartstrings — Considering Music

Three events have me thinking deeper about music this week. Though separate, they all connect.

First, I finished reading Rob Sheffield’s Turn Around Bright Eyes, which is a wonderful rumination on the power of music (and in Sheffield’s case, Karaoke) to create meaning in the phases of our lives. Second, I have been culling together a bunch of old recordings for a site I am creating at Bandcamp to share out some of my music. Finally, my friends Luke and Joel were musing on tracks this week as Luke wrote about ballads and Joel responded with a look at Smashing Pumpkins.

Sheffield’s book is the second of his that I have read in the past six months (the other is Love is a Mix Tape — another keeper). I read Sheffield all the time in Rolling Stone magazine, but I wasn’t sure if he could sustain a book. He can (at least three books, even), and I am grateful for the way he brings his pop culture lens and thinking about music to how he views life. You’ll have to read Sheffield’s book to get the whole story, but he married young, had tragedy and found love again when he thought it would never happen. Through it all, Sheffield uses his love of music as the lens to see life, and even when he is talking about bands that I don’t know, I am right with him, nodding my head and knowing what he is talking about. Music is one of those things that connects us to the past, he notes, but also connects us to the present moment while still guiding us into the future.

The past is what has been present in my head this past week as I have been culling through tracks recorded with two previous bands over the last 10 years. I’ve been pulling aside songs that I wrote or co-wrote in hopes of bringing a little light on them. A few of them I consider to be gems, captured nicely in the recording studio. A few had been gems that got lost and muddled in the studio. A few surprisingly became gems in the studio. But listening to the tracks is like walking down the path to where I was in time. I’m still writing songs for my current band, and maybe some day we will venture into the studio (although both of the former bands broke up as soon as we were done with recording — so the few of us still left from those previous bands are a little studio-shy, to say the least). But putting on headphones and listening to music I wrote, performed with bands from another time, has been a reminder of how music is, and was, a fabric in my life, weaving the stories of who I am together over time. Sometimes, I forget that and have to be reminded.

Finally, Luke blogged the other day about ballads as a sort of emotional anchor, and then he shared out the tracks he was writing about, too. I am always interested in what songs are other people’s lists, and I was surprised to see Radiohead right at the top. I’d quibble with a few of Luke’s choices (Not a huge fan of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, for some reason, although I could listen to Flea any day) and love that a few are new to me. It’s interesting that Luke’s lens here is ballads, which tug at our heart in ways that stories and words don’t do.

And it occurred to me … what ballads would be on my list? Here are a few, although I am not sure they all fall under the “ballad” banner (see above for the video playlist of most of the songs here. Some are different versions than I remember but still capture the gist of the song):

  • Marc Cohn: True Companion (from his debut album). Years later, I can still listen to this track and the way the piano deepens with those low notes and the opening voice, and then how the strings swell in. And Cohn sings about finding that person who seems to make your life complete. I hear this song and my own heart beats a little faster.
  • Scott Hamilton — The Very Thought of You (from The Beginning) — Jazz saxophonist Scott Hamilton plays with such an easy and swerve of sound that he often becomes the background when I am cooking or writing. Background is not the right word, though, since his sentiment floats up and out. This track is a favorite because Hamilton floats over the sparse rhythm track.
  • Indigo Girls — You and Me of the 10,000 Wars (from Nomads, Indians, Saints) — There was a time … when I was deep into the Indigo Girls, particularly around a period of relationship breakups that seemed to be more 0f a norm than I would have liked. I sank into Emily Salier’s lyrics and voice to get me through, and even today, I can’t hear some of those songs without remembering …
  • Seal — Prayer for the Dying (from Seal) — I was stunned when I finally found this album, in one of those “where has this sound been all my life?” kind of moments. His voice and the production (sometimes, over the top, but mostly, just along that edge) gives a feel here that still has me stop in my tracks when the song and album come on. I need to listen. I don’t think Seal ever reached these heights again.
  • Chris Isaac – Wicked Game (from Heart Shaped World). One on hand, the slide guitar gives it a feel of too much country (or maybe that is my wife talking in my head). But we play this one my band, and I only do a little back up vocals. Listening to the lead singer belt this one out while I am in the room can give goose pimples because he mostly nails it (it’s hard to hit Isaak’s vocal range). This song, and the video, is forever etched on my mind from the first time I heard/saw it. It’s definitely one where the feel of the video (so sultry and sexy) matched perfectly with the feel of the song.
  • Jakob Dylan — This End of the Telescope (from Seeing Things) — I seem to be one of the only people I know who has enjoyed Jakob Dylan’s solo efforts over the years. This track muses on our place on this planet, and how perspectives shift over time. It reminds me of times of confusion and trying to find focus, and how powerful friendships can be during the times of personal turmoil.
  • Joan Armitrading — Everyday Boy (from What’s Inside) — I have no idea how I got my hands on a Joan Armitrading disc during a certain time period where I was deep inside myself, but this song and the lyrics stuck with me over time. Then, I sort of let it go. Joan had done her job for me. So, here, listening again as I write this post brings up a lot of the past, and that brings us back to how music does something for our hearts and minds that few other kinds of composing and performance do (Sheffield’s point).
  • And finally, every track on The Swell Seasons album, Strict Joy. I guess they have broken up (figures) but this collection of songs, sung with heart-breaking harmony is an amazing headphone experience. It’s not the same when I play it out on speakers — the richness of the language and the depth of the singing get lost in the air. But put this one with headphones, and you transported deep into the heart.

What songs hit your heart?

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Playing Around with Bandcamp – two free holiday songs

Some of you know I write and record music, mostly as demos for my band (Duke Rushmore).  But I’d like to try to get more of music out there and I am playing around with Bandcamp as a way to do that. To get started, I posted two holiday-themed songs from the past and am allowing them to be downloaded from Bandcamp for free. I don’t see my songwriting as a money-making venture. If you enjoy the songs, I’ll be happy.

You can also access the songs at Bandcamp directly. Or just listen here with the embed files. Whatever works for you works for me.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Peace (I mean it),
Kevin

Gone Headless — The Rap

http://rlv.zcache.com/headless_icon_photo_cards-r1b359cc8e9ae4b43897f360417a2a7c8_vgjpz_8byvr_324.jpg

Someone over in DS106 had created a rap for the Headless Course a few weeks ago, and I decided to give it a try, too. I’ve made the audio file of the Gone Headless song shareable and downloadable, so feel free to remix it and mess with it and do what you want with it. Can I just say that working in the phrase “tech ambidextrous” to rhyme with “go headless” was a triumphant moment for me?

🙂

Here are the lyrics:

If you wanna play the bass – you can always go fretless
If you wanna create — are you tech ambidextrous?
Something about the Make — that’s always infectious
Here on the web — Come on and go Headless

Write on the screen — the paths are endless
If you wanna get crazy — you can always feel reckless
Take a little chance — you’ll never be friendless
Here on the web — Come on and go Headless

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Watching Green Day Create




I am a huge fan of Green Day, and I love to crank their last three albums (put out in a row) and now realize that their documentary of the making of Uno! Dos! Tre! (the documentary is called Cuatro!) is almost out. These teaser clips are interesting because I am always fascinated with the behind-the-scenes experiences, whether it is making an album, making a movie, or making a book. Seeing the creative spirit in action is inspiring.

I’m going to write a power pop song this weekend. That’s my goal. Seriously.

Peace (in the power chords),
Kevin

 

Women Who Rock and Write

women who rock lyric collage
I was able to get myself down to some great places in Seattle while on a retreat this past weekend, and one of those places was the EMP Museum, which I refer to as the Jimi Hendrix Museum because Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen put his money into this beautiful place to celebrate Hendrix and pop culture. I walked into the museum and on one of the largest video screens I have ever seen was footage of Jimi playing at Woodstock in full glory. Talk about larger than life …

Anyway, along with exhibits about Nirvana and Grunge, and display areas about Science Fiction Icons, Horror movies, and Fantasy, there was an exhibit about Women Who Rock. It was interesting but what I found most intriguing were the handwritten lyric sheets they had on display. I love when the layer of creativity gets pulled back and you can glimpse the mind at work. I spent a lot of time looking at the writing from Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Queen Latifah, Laura Nyro, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and others. Even Taylor Swift’s words were on display, which I appreciated because I hope her work in writing her own songs (as opposed to singing someone else’s songs) will inspire a generation of kids to pick up the pen and start writing.

While I suspect these sheets are not all the first draft of songs (not enough scribbled out words, in my experience), there was enough there to make sense of the ideas they were going for in their songs. And even just to examine the handwriting of the artists (some neat, some messy — like me) provides an insight into the creative mind. Looking at their lyric sheets reminded me of how I look at mine when I am done writing a song, all the messy words and lines and rhythms that come and go, and how difficult it can be to make sense of it all.

Check out this song sheet of mine:

The Mess of Songwriting

And then, when the finished lyrics are finally in place, you think: that’s where I was going. But the journey to that point is almost never linear and almost always messy, and I suppose one could invoke the metaphor for life here right about now. I appreciated that these artists shared out their draft lyric sheets and that no one in the museum decided it would be better to type them up for display.

I enjoy the messy, and of all the areas of the museum, that was the best part for me.

Peace (in the power chord),
Kevin

 

Making Music with Soundation

soundation
I wanted to add a way to make music to the Making Learning Connected MOOC Make Bank, and I wanted to share out an online tool for music creation. This one — Soundation — feels familiar to anyone who has used Garageband or other loop-based music creating tools. You can even play around without an account, just to get a sense. Basically, you drag and drop loops from the library bank (lots of free loops and then lots more premium loops), and mix the song that way.

You can publish online, too, or download the files (if you have an account).

Here is a song I wrote for the MOOC:

Peace (in the tracks),
Kevin

 

A Collaborative Mix Tape

 

#clmooc #FF playlist from CollaboList on 8tracks Radio.

Our friend, Ian, turned the Making Learning Connected MOOC onto a music sharing site called 8Tracks, and then he generously set up an account that we could access for collaboration. The result is that a bunch of us are adding songs to the #CLMOOC #FF Mix-tape, which is a pretty neat idea. I started off adding a song that captured the summer (Get Lucky by Daft Punk) but then, thinking of this community, began to add song about writing to the mix.

Peace (in the mix),
Kevin

 

How I Created My Mister Rogers Remix

I promised the other day that I would walk through how I went about taking part in the challenge by PBS Media to remix loops for its Mister Rogers project. (You may know that PBS has created some great remix of Mister Rogers’ videos by using auto-tune and music loops — setting the television host’s messages to a beat).

First, when I was done, this is what I created:

In hopes that you might dive in, too, here is how I went about the remix process.

First, of course, I had to learn about the remix invitation. I can’t remember now where I first heard of it, but I think it was a tweet that someone in my Twitter stream shared out. I’ve had “remix” on the mind lately with the Teach the Web MOOC, so I was intrigued by what PBS Media was inviting folks to do. I headed to the site, and found that they had established a group in SoundCloud, where PBS was sharing out a collection of musical loop files. You could take one, or more, or the entire collection. I took everything as a .zip file to my desktop. It was pretty fun going through them – listening to drum beats, Mister Rogers’ voice talking about loving music (the overarching theme), and other things like tubas. Yep, a blast from a Tuba was in the mix.

Second, I considered using Garageband, but to be honest, I still find GB a bit funky to use at times. So I turned to my old trusty Audacity for loop editing. I choose a bunch of loop tracks (not all) and moved them into Audacity. Here’s where the real work and the tricky part began. The fact that the remix probably should have a consistent beat puts the remixer into the role of music composer — lose a beat, and the effect can be pretty jarring to the listener.

Mister Rogers Audacity View

I spent a lot of time moving, shifting, repositioning, listening, re-repositioning, moving again, lining up and doing all sorts of tinkering with the tracks to make them fit. There was a moment when I could sense that it was coming together finally, and that the pieces were fitting together like a jigsaw puzzle of sorts. As a remixer, that’s a glorious moment, right?

Finally, I was done, and I uploaded the track into my Soundcloud account, and then shared it over with the PBS Media group (as they requested for remixes). I also played around with Popcorn Maker as a way to add my remix soundtrack to the video, but in this case, my music was not in sync with the movements in the video. Of course, my intent with the remix was for audio, not for video, and I realize now that my process would have been different if I had video on my mind.

All in all, it was a fun experience. Sure, it took some time, but it was time well spent. Now, I have my Mister Rogers Remix. How about you?

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

The Mister Rogers Remix

PBS Media puts out some interesting remix versions of classic Mister Rogers clips, and it recently invited folks to borrow some of the loop tracks from its archives, including the voice of Mister Rogers, to create a remix version. How could I resist? I’ll share out the process of how I created the remix tomorrow (and offer up some suggestions for your own remix). Today, here is the remix that I created:

I also took the audio remix and used Popcorn Maker to layer it in as the audio track for the video from which the loops come from. Unfortunately, it does not sync as well as the original. But still …

Peace (in the remix),
Kevin

 

Teachers Who Rock the Stage

At our school talent show this week, a group of us teachers learned the Philip Phillips’ song, Home, and performed it live (with bubbles!) on the stage after all of the students had performed their own magic. The kids love seeing us teachers in the lights, and in a different light, too.

Peace (in the live music),
Kevin
PS — That’s me on the left side of the screen, playing guitar.