Slice of Life: A Gift of Peace

(I often write about my teaching life here for Slice of Life, but I wanted to share this musical gift. Slice of Life takes place over Two Writing Teachers.) 

My songwriting friend, John, and I worked on writing and recording this song as a gift for family and friends, and others, for the holiday season. We actually wrote it years ago but then we went into a local recording studio earlier this year to do a more polished version.

Meanwhile, we hired my eldest son to produce a short video to go along with the song, and he did a fine job of crafting a story of the gift that moves along from person to person.

Here, then, is a gift of peace to you, my connected friends in Slice of Life, and CLMOOC, and beyond.

If you just celebrated the Hanukkah season, or if you celebrate some other holiday — or even none at all — I hope you still accept this gift of peace as a token of friendship and that you pass it on to others.

Peace (in song),
Kevin

 

Ridin’ It Underground: Where Music and Sound Take You

I was working on constructing a song the other day and I began to imagine and remember riding the underground subway systems (I was thinking of New York, Washington DC, Boston).

As I built the song out of loops, I wanted to purposely create a sonic landscape of the experience of the subway transportation systems in my memory and imagination.

I tried to capture:

  • The rhythm of the train lines themselves
  • The walk down the escalator into the underground
  • The sounds of buskers, playing music
  • The mingling of the voices
  • The act of keeping on eye on other people
  • The echoing and pounding footsteps of the crowd on the move
  • The slow fade of the subway as you depart and leave the station behind you

This approach — capturing a sense of place through a piece of music — is intriguing because I found myself really approaching each sound, each loop, each beat, with a highly focused ear. Did it help me capture the essence of riding the rails? If not, I didn’t use it.

You can be the judge of whether my attempt was successful or not

Peace (going underground),
Kevin

You Are Heard Out Here (Song)

You Are Heard Out Here

I got into a songwriting mode yesterday morning, thanks to an empty house and an acoustic guitar with the capo up the neck, making my guitar sound a bit mandolin-ish. This song’s lyrics revolve around those people we don’t really know, but whose presence is a regular in our social media feeds. They flash by, with stories and sharing. Sometimes, with joy. Sometimes, with sadness.

The second and third verses of the song captures this piece of online interactions:

Sometimes it gets lonely
living on the screen
It’s easy to fall apart
when no one hears you scream

I’m send out a lifeline
A song with just a voice
To let you know the world exists
and you have a choice

Even if we don’t “know them,” we can still sort of know them, right? Right?

The theme of the song — You Are Heard Out Here — connects to thinking I’ve been doing in EL30 and UnboundEq recently around identity and online presence, and the ways we can and cannot connect to one another, and whether there is meaning in those connections that we do make. I am an optimist. I say, yes, there is connection and meaning and caring.

We all want to be heard.

And if not us, then who?

Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Peace (in the knowing you),
Kevin

Writing Myself In a Corner: Write and Record a Song (in 24 hours)

song under construction

Sometimes, when I hit a bit of a creative wall, I challenge myself to just go on and do something. Write that poem. Start that story. Write a song. On Sunday afternoon, I decided I wanted to see if I could write and record a demo of a new song, all within 24 hours. With that impetus, I got to work, huddling over my guitar and notebook paper, scribbling and scratching out lines as a phrase “we forgot to dream” became the hook.

I knew the song would be inspired by the recent elections, but I didn’t want it to be an overt political song. More like a reminder that even when things take turns to the worst, there is always some hope for change. And that there have been difficult times before. We made our way forward then. We can do it, again. It won’t be easy. It never is. But we can do it. This was the theme I was working towards.

I do get a bit obsessive when writing a song. Sort of a hermit in the house, riffing the same chords over and over on guitar (my poor family) as I work on rhymes and meaning, and structure. I revamp and re-arrange words and phrases and verses and choruses, and then I walk away from the guitar and paper, silently singing lines in my head, remixing rhythms. I wander the house and the rest of the day like some madman, whispering poems to himself.

Late Sunday night, I went back to the work on the song and hit a wall. I found that I had forgotten the basic rhythm of the song from earlier in the day. In fact, I got so frustrated with myself (one, for forgetting what I had written, and two, for not doing a quick raw demo when I first started, which I often do, as a listening post) that I had to walk away and call the songwriting challenge quits.

By morning, my mind have found the threads again, though, and began weaving me back to the song. Thank you, sleep. When I picked up the guitar yesterday morning, the phrases all clicked into place again, as easy as you can imagine, as if I had never stepped away from the song at all. I can’t explain that process. It’s a strange and wonderful mystery.

So I set to work on recording what I had written. First, I began by finding a beat, and then I went about recording the guitar, and then, the vocals. Oh, these vocals. I don’t like the way I sing this song at all. It’s a bad key, or something. But I never really like my vocals. I worked to add effects, to give the voice a silo-like, garage effect. Bleh. Still, I kept moving forward with the recording, finishing the voice, and then adding percussion and then topping it off with some guitar power chords.

A little after 24 hours after I was done, the demo of the song, entitled “We Forgot to Dream” was done. For now.

Peace (sounds like power chords),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Hope (Still) Remains

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

After the 2016 elections, in the days of disbelief and anger that followed, I sat down and wrote this song for myself, and for family and some friends who I knew were feeling like I was. The lyrics were a little message to the world, a reminder that politics was and is always about the long-game, of being close to those around us. I dug the song out again this weekend, as this mid-term election is upon us, to remind myself of that.

I still believe in the message. I share it with you, my friends. Make sure you vote.

Listen:

The following is a live version of the song — I like the above audio-only version better because the sound quality off the iPad is not so great — but here is me, performing the song, if that interests you. Notice I have my Peter Reynolds’ Create Bravely shirt on!

 

Peace (sounds like hope),
Kevin

Slice of Life: RoomGameSounds Bonus Track

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

During a freewheeling exploration of possible song ideas for a recent musical project — A Whale’s Lantern: Field Trip — I put forth a suggestion that my partner and I work with some past audio sounds of a classroom of students working to hack the game of chess.

The theme of the collaborative music project was ‘school.’ I tinkered with something to show what I was thinking — with bass and synth and some effects on the student voices to expand the atmosphere — but we decided to go in another direction instead, cranking out a three minute rocker called Outcast Kid.

Still, I liked how the use of student voices informed a piece of music. Or might have, if we had developed it further. Take a listen:

I still like how the sounds of the kids becomes the atmospheric element of this groove. You can just hear my voice, asking questions of groups of students, and then explaining the games they were making with a modified chess board and assorted other things, like dice.

Peace (sounds strange),
Kevin

Making Music with the World: A Whale’s Lantern 3 (Field Trip)

Whale's Lantern 3

For the past year or so, I have been involved in three rounds of a music project called A Whale’s Lantern. Folks in the Mastodon networking space are randomly paired with other volunteers, and then they have an extended period of time to write and record a song on a theme. The most recent theme was along the lines of school.

The third iteration — entitled Field Trip — just dropped yesterday on Bandcamp, and my contribution was a garage-rocker called Outcast Kid. My partner was a keyboardist/artist (whose artwork is the cover of the album) and our song’s lyrics are about finding a mentor in a mixed up world and feeling less on the fringe because of your interests as a result. I’m on guitar and bass and vocals.

Take a listen:

If you are interested, here are links to all three rounds. Each time, my contribution and partner and resulting song has been very different from the other, and that variety is intriguing.

 

 

Round Three — Song (partner: keyboardist): Outcast Kid https://awhaleslantern.bandcamp.com/track/outcast-kid   Album: https://awhaleslantern.bandcamp.com/album/field-trip
Peace (sounds good),
Kevin

How Headlines Inspire Songwriting (A Song for Two Fathers)

Like you, perhaps, the images and sounds of children being taken away and separated by the United States government under this heartless president has struck a nerve of humanity in me. As a writer, I often try to deal with those things through words, and as a songwriting, sometimes through music.

This song tells the story of two fathers — one who is coming to the US to escape the violence of home and one who is taking to the streets in protest over the treatment of such immigrant families.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

 

Final Reflections: Networked Narratives from Out Here in the Wild Open

Netnarr Daily Alchemy Playlist

The second iteration of Networked Narratives has been over for at least a few weeks now, and I’ve had a version of this reflection sort of sitting here in my blog draft bin.

I’ve watched Alan Levine, one of the instructors, post his reflection yesterday from a teacher perspective (which was insightful to peruse). I’ve read through and enjoyed Wendy Taleo‘s reflection and presentation she gave about a project in Networked Narratives that we launched. I’ve skimmed through some of the final posts by the university students who took NetNarr for credit at their university.

What I continue to find intriguing is the open invitation by Alan and Mia Zamora for anyone to follow NetNarr and participate, and so I and some others (like Wendy and Sarah Honeychurch) have done so. We’ve come and gone, as we pleased. Added to conversations. Commented on blogs. Disappeared from time to time. Re-appeared suddenly. Engaged. Created. Made. Remixed.

Being out here in the Wild Open, as I often refer to it, has its advantages (we can engage where our curiosity is piqued and ignore the rest) and disadvantages (we aren’t always part of the larger conversation that comes from being in the class at the university, and seem to be invisible at times).

Here, in this NetNarr reflection, I want to share out a few projects that I took on that formed my framework of interaction, or at least, the hope for interaction. One of the three was more successful in this than the other two, but the other two were meaningful to me anyway.

First, when Mia and Alan announced this second round of Networked Narratives with the theme of Digital Life, I was interested. I had had fun with the first round of NetNarr a year ago, and figured, I’ll just see what they’re up to this time. I decided to bring a comic strip character out of hiding, and wanted to weave a story about Arganee –the fictional world of the first NetNarr — and digital alchemy, a theme of inquiry for NetNarr.

So, I wrote a story about Horse, the companion to The Internet Kid, and left the Kid at home. I remember being obsessed with telling this story in comics, and working very diligently on the storyline. I released the comic story, one comic at time, into the NetNarr hashtag, and then bundled the entire thing up into a graphic story adventure.

Made with Padlet

I really enjoyed this Horse with No Name comic project, but I got almost no response from the NetNarr students or participants (Wendy and I did a little exchange now and then), and I wonder if those students even knew that the Horse story was always part of NetNarr. Or if they just thought some weirdo was releasing comics into their midst.

That would be me.

Second, I also tried to do the Daily Arganee prompts, every single day. My aim was to come at each prompt from a slant, and to be as poetic as I could. I used the app called Legend for its animated text and visual image feature, but its text limits forced me to edit and narrow the poems to their core. Some were more successful than others. This YouTube Playlist gathers up six small collections I made throughout the three months of NetNarr.

Again, there was very little reaction to any of the poems, although I did them mostly for myself, and the challenge of writing small pieces on an angle from a prompt.

Third, there is the Digital Alchemy Lab project, an adventure that began with a desire to weave the concept of transmedia storytelling (which didn’t really take root the way I envisioned, mainly because I could not envision how it would take root), collaboration with other Wild Open participants (and university students), and the theme of “every object tells a story.”

Alchemy Lab unofficial object tally

Over the course of weeks, a group of us planned out how to invite collaborators to use media to tell stories of assigned objects, which were then woven into the Alchemy Lab — an immersive 360 degree art project using ThingLink. This project took the most time and coordination, and the result is something magical — a collaborative art piece that weaves story and media together in a fun way, showcasing how people can come together to create and make and learn. I wrote three long reflective pieces just about the Alchemy Lab endeavor.

This project continues, in a way, as we share out individual pieces each, with an invite into the lab. Yes, you are invited, too. Come on in. The narrative is networked.

Finally, I want to share a project that had on the surface seemingly nothing to do with Networked Narratives, and yet … it did, in my mind at least. It is a music collaboration project called A Whale’s Lantern, in which online music collaborators from all over the world work on writing and producing a song, which then becomes part of a larger “album” of music.

The reason I include this here in the NetNarr reflection is that I saw/see A Whale’s Lantern project as part of the larger aims of Networked Narratives — of finding ways to connect people from around the world with media creation (in this case, music) as connector points for collaboration, using the Internet as a way to publish and interact in a meaningful, authentic way. It didn’t matter that this took place off Mastodon as opposed to Twitter, or that I was the only one making the NetNarr connections (although Wendy may have seen that connection, too, as she dipped her toes into the music collaboration).

The point is that the very things that we all looked at in NetNarr around the positive elements of our Digital Lives — of following your passions and engaging in virtual strangers with similar passions to create something unique, together, with technology and media — played out beautifully here, overlapping at the same time I was engaged in NetNarr.

We weave the threads.

And, to make the connection even clearer, the lyrics I wrote for my collaboration with my partner, Luka, was inspired by Networked Narratives itself and the idea of digital alchemy. The song is called Alchemist Dream, and you can find the lyrics here. How’s that for synergy?

Thank you, Mia and Alan, for at least trying to find way to fuse classroom experiences at the university level with the open learning networks beyond the classroom walls. I still wish there were more ways to interact among the two groups — the Wild Open and the classroom — but realize the logistics would be difficult to navigate and the demands of running a university course are different from facilitating an open learning adventure.

Still … imagine the possibilities.

Peace (reflects wel),
Kevin

Adventures in the Music Recording Studio

John and I in Studio May2018

My friend, John, and I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon inside a music recording studio of a local musician. Years ago, John and I wrote a song together (we’ve written many), and it has been his long ambition to record and release this particular song. Yesterday, we worked on laying down the vocals, saxophone and guitar tracks. The goal is release the song later this year, in time for the winter holidays, as the song is a holiday-themed song, with peace and love at its center.

I am always intrigued by music engineers and their studios, and the set-up in a third-floor loft overlooking our city’s downtown area was pretty cool. Actually, it’s right above the downtown music store, where Jim (the engineer) used to work. The scene was laid back, comfortable, and the engineer/producer is an amazing musician himself, so his feedback was helpful.

John and I also remembered some other studio sessions with past bands (he and I have been playing music for years) and I went and dug up a video I had made from long ago for a band we were in called The Sofa Kings. This video was created during a time when I was experimenting with a Flip video camera (the little white ones) was something completely new, and phones weren’t made for video quite yet (unless you had money to burn). The sound quality is terrible, but the moment in time captured (for us) is priceless.

Peace (in the songs),
Kevin