Musical Slice of Life: Love and Defiance

(This is for the Slice of Life, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write each Tuesday — and all through March —  about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

In the days after the protest marches in Washington, I started to write a song about what I was seeing here at home, and how I was galvanized by the gatherings. I recorded a raw demo, but I knew I wanted to do something more with it.

So, when I had time to myself the other day (ie, family was out of the house and the world was silent), I finally got to record the song more properly, and I am happy with how it came out. When I first started writing songs, in college, all I wrote were protest songs, and my band would play them on campus to small audiences (mostly friends). That was during the Reagan years. I wonder if the Trump years will spark a new age of protest songwriting …

Well, here is Love and Defiance for you …

Peace (and resistance),
Kevin

 

 

#DigiWriMo: Remixing Love and Hope

Remixing Love and Hope

My musical/songwriting and Western Massachusetts Writing Project educator friend, Michael Silverstone, wrote and recorded and shared out a beautiful song about love last week called To Give Our Love. I paid for the download via BandCamp and then asked if he would allow me to remix his song. He said yes, although at the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do with the song. I just knew I wanted to do something.

After mulling it over, I realized that his song about love and my demo song about hope (Hope Remains) might provide an opportunity to entangle our sounds together, and so I worked to try to find elements his song and elements of my song. It didn’t work quite the way I wanted for a variety of reasons: he went into a real studio, so the sound of his song is bright and professional — I used my iPad as a demo recording, so the sound is narrow and confined, tight. The key signatures for each song are different, as is the pacing. But — and this is important — neither had drums, so meshing them together was a bit easier. When rhythm is in the mix, the remix is more difficult.

Even so, after my first attempt, upon listening, it was clear that the transitions between his song and mine didn’t work. The jolting differences between the two tracks were too much. It needed something in the transition moments. Later in the day, I had one of those “aha” moments: What if I brought in the voices of poetry and speech to fill in the gaps? What if the poems/speeches were on the same theme, but provided transition points between the music?

So that’s what I did, chopping and remixing audio poems and readings by Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou themselves and a poem by Emily Dickinson (alas, not read by her but still …) and cast myself as a sort of knitter, pulling threads here and weaving threads there, all in an attempt to get at something larger than either of our songs.

And it mostly worked. Take a listen.

This kind of Digital Writing — composing without the written text in front of you, using only the sounds of text as the means for making something new with echoes of the old — is always a challenge. But when done right, it brings to surface themes that might otherwise be out of focus. We listen as writers, using sound as words, and we hope the listeners “read” the remix. (Note: Michael wrote in appreciation for the remix after I sent the final to him. That made me happy, that I honored his songwriting with something new).

What will happen if this audio remix file is taken a step further, and brought into some other site, some other media? Maybe we’ll see … you are invited to play with the track, if you want. It is downloadable. (be sure to credit Michael Silverstone, though.)

Peace (the muse calls),
Kevin

On the Music of Butterflies


flickr photo shared by jeffsmallwood under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Dear Ron,

Thank you for asking me to remix your song, Butterfly Waltz, for your upcoming picture book, set to be published next month. I love, but am not surprised, that you are envisioning music as part of the release party for your upcoming picture book. Music and words are deeply connected in all of our conversations and collaborations over time. I know you as creative and musical, and a reliable partner in my own musical escapades.

I listened to your track of your version of your song and stared long and hard at the manuscript of music you sent along. I printed it out and carried it around with me. I wondered how I could take the music in another direction and yet, still honor you and your ideas. I played around in Soundtrap for some time, and then began to find a kernel of muse in a jazz drum beat.

Over the course of the day (as you know from my messaging to you), I wandered back and forth into the song, adding bits here and there, and ending with my own vocals, layered low into the mix on purpose. I hope you like my version of your song, my friend, and I am grateful for the musical challenge.

It occurs to me that this is personalized Connected Learning at its best — reaching out to peers in our networked spaces, finding common ground on a shared interest, creating and making something in the process, and sharing out to the larger audience. That’s why I am writing this as an open letter, Ron. It just made sense.

Good luck with your book! I am sure it is going to be a great release party next month! I am curious if others will be making music as part of your invitation, too, and what the whole collection will sound like when it is done.

Sincerely and Peace (’cause I always end in peace),

Kevin

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

 

I Am The Stamp: A #CLMOOC Poem Becomes Song

Postcard mashup

One of my favorite post-CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) connections is the Postcard Project. I’ve written about it before. Last week, Wendy Taleo wrote a very interesting poem, after “reading” the stamps on the postcards making their way to Australia.

Read Wendy’s poem.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered of Wendy’s poem could be remixed into a song. Ron L., one of my regular musical companions and gifted artist, also had the same idea. So I took a chance at it, and boy, it was a bit more difficult than I thought. Mainly, I had some struggles because they were Wendy’s words. I didn’t want to change what she wrote too much ( I did ask her permission to remix and she graciously gave me the go-ahead, noting too that all of her material is Creative Common licensed.) I tinkered with words and phrases.

Turning Wendy poem into Song to sing

The final paper had lots more of those scratches. The difficulty was finding rhyme and rhythm to my guitar part, while still maintaining the Wendy-vibe of the poem. The result was a chorus that I wrote, and then a sort of Dylan-like singing of the verses to make them fit into the structure. Some parts work better than others, as song, in my opinion, and I wish it all worked better than it did.

I told Wendy and Ron I would try to make a demo of whatever I came up with. Here it is:

Still, despite my own “hearing what could have been better in my recording,” I love the concept of a song for the stamps on the postcards that we send, and the personification of the object as it travels through the world, bringing words and stories and art to each of us in the mix.

Thanks, Wendy!

Peace (sing it loud),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),
Kevin

Musical Collaboration and Celebration: Come On Through

COME ON THROUGH

(Verse)
This is what it means
to be on the side —
to watch it all unfold
to watch the world fly by

(bridge) This is where you are
You’re on the inside, not out,
and even in the quiet
you figure it out

(chorus)
We’ve got a place for you
and when you’re ready
Come on through

Lurkers learning lots
lessons followed
on their own plots
words un-hollowed
(Bridge/Chorus)

Self direct your learning
And unexpected turns
Squash any limits
Reach out in return.
(Bridge/Chorus)

A discussion that unfolded some days back via the Rhizomatic Learning ‘uncourse’ (which is not happening) centered around how best to celebrate those folks who watch online learning networks (like MOOCs) but don’t participate.  I don’t like the word “lurker” and prefer active observer. These folks (you may be one) are valued members of the community, too, even if they don’t actively participate. Sarah suggested a song in celebration of the observers of networks, which I took as a call to collaborate.

I quickly set up an online document on TitanPad and opened it to up anyone to add lyrics. I honestly don’t know who wrote what lines. Isn’t that interesting? I did a little tinkering with the words to make them fit within the rhythm of the song, but not much.

A few days later, as the words were being written on Titanpad, I was messing around with some open tuning on my guitar and came up with the underlying structure. I went into Soundtrap, a collaborative music recording site, and put the guitar track down and then invited folks to join me. Ron and Sarah, from other parts of the world, did, and over the last week or so, we’ve been slowly pulling the song into shape in Soundtrap.

Here it is. Ron added the many keyboard layers and some of the underlying vocal pieces. Sarah added some mandolin. I played the guitar and sax, and we stayed with my scratch vocals, although we had hoped others might sing instead of me.

Peace (looking in, looking out),
Kevin

Channeling Anger into Song: Build U Up Tear U Down

When I first started writing songs nearly 30 years ago (yikes!), it was all about politics and anger (it was the Reagan years). I wrote songs protesting the military actions in Central America, about the trickle down policies of the land, about corruption at its deepest political core. I would play at coffee hours and open mic nights. I recorded a lot of songs on my old four-track music recorder.

At some point, I sort of forced myself to make the shift into more personal songs for myself, or I wrote songs that could be played by a rock and roll party band. I never forgot my political protest roots, really, but I tempered my art with peace, love and some understanding. (Maybe that is a symptom of growing up or something).

But the current US presidential race has me pissed off all over again, channeling those early years of frustration in the political sphere. While I don’t name Trump in this song I wrote the other day and recorded yesterday as a demo (just me and my guitar), it’s all about him, particularly his use of language and rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Words matter. We tell this to students all the time, and we teach it to them as the heart of writing. Words matter. What you say and what you write has meaning and depth. Then someone like Trump takes the stage and spews off venomous words and divisive ideas intended to splinter us, not unite us. I can live with political differences (many of my friends lean way right … we have interesting conversations) but I can’t live with vitriol. And Trump is now backed by a major political party.

Yeah, I’m angry and it’s only May.

I am hoping we knock Trump and his supporters down a few pegs with our votes and reactions. (I am not advocating physical confrontation here, of course.)

The chorus to the song goes:

You may think you’re on top but we don’t care
We’ve got our eyes on the prize so best beware
You can say what you want but we’re not amused
Every word that you say comes back on you

Peace (brings us together),
Kevin

Exploring the Muse: SongMap

SongMap

At the DS106 Daily Create the other day, we were given the task of creating a “hand drawn” map. In other words, get away from the computer and make something on paper. I’m glad I did that because this map got me thinking metaphorically about how I go about writing songs. Plus, I got to poke fun at myself and my own wanderings in this imaginary world where I hope melodies and rhythm will come together.

Peace (on the map),
Kevin