Book Review: Switched On Pop (How Popular Music Works and Why It Matters)

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding are music nerd friends who host an interesting podcast — Switched on Pop — that became the anchor for this book of the same name. In it, Sloan and Harding dive into pop music to figure out what makes songs and styles tick. In doing so, they brilliantly bring us deeper into tracks and showcase things you might intuit as a listener but not have the vocabulary or expertise to completely understand.

This book — Switched On Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why It Matters —  is fantastic in this regard, and Sloan and Harding make a perfect set of tour guides, being both ecstatic about the songwriting and production moves they uncover as well as pointing out the tropes that have long been hallmarks of pop music culture, whatever the decade.

Starting with an analysis of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe, to Outkast’s use of unusual rhythms in Hey Ya; to the use of voice and timbre by Sia in Chandelier to Justin Timberlake’s use of “text painting” in What Goes Around; to samples as collage by MIA in Paper Planes to a comparison of two song with the same titles — Made in America — the Toby Keith version side by side with the Jay Z/Kanye West/Frank Ocean version … the paths of this book are varied and deep.

They reference Swedish producer Max Martin numerous times — he is the one who has crafted songs over the last decade or more for Brittney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift and many more — and while the writers note how often Martin seems to fall into tropes, he also is adept at adapting to the changes of production and sound and song types, transforming the way pop music is made and heard. A brilliant essay here shows how Maps by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs was used by Martin to create Since You’ve Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson.

The book ends with a look at one of Paul McCartney’s strangest releases in recent years called Get Enough, which weaves Auto-tune and modern sounds with some old fashioned instruments and McCartney’s ability to craft another “silly love song” for the modern age.

If you are a songwriting (as I am) or love music (as I do), this book is well worth your time. I highly recommend it, if only to give you another way to “hear” the songs that make up the musical landscape of radio (remember that?) and YouTube and culture.

Peace (harmony and melody).
Kevin

Collections of Covers (Animated Book Covers)

Covers from Henning M. Lederer on Vimeo.

I just wanted to share these out because they intrigued me, for my love of books and my love of animation and my appreciation for any artist who remixes what’s already there into something new.

More Covers from Henning M. Lederer on Vimeo.

The animation is by Henning M. Lederer, who has so far created three videos of animated book covers.

Even More Covers from Henning M. Lederer on Vimeo.

And I wonder: how could I do a version of this? How about my students? Hmm.

Peace

 

Slice of Life: Here Come the Rains, Again

(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.)

We looked out the window of the classroom. It was dark and getting darker and it was only just before lunch. The rain was pouring down in sheets, obscuring the world but giving us an interesting soundtrack with our windows slightly ajar.

I looked at my sixth graders. Most shook their heads, no, in frustration of the inclement weather. A few gave me a hopeful look, so I opened the metal green door and invited anyone who wanted, to run outside, gulp some fresh air on a rainy mask break, and come back inside, ready to write.

Perhaps this separated the adventurous among them, I thought, or maybe, the desperate, the ones for whom wearing a mask an entire day (except for snack and lunch) is wearing thin. I stood there, in the middle of the doorway, raindrops rolling down my neck. On a few faces, I saw the childhood joy of just standing in the rain, and then the quick jolt to get back inside the dry classroom.

Later, at home, thinking of this, I had my Trombone Shorty station on Pandora and a cover of the Eurythmics came on and it just seemed like perfect timing. I can’t find that Shorty cover at YouTube but here is an unplugged Eurythmics version.

Peace (raining upon us),
Kevin

Conversations Continue: The Power of Crowd Annotations

connect“connect” by katypang is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In January 2019, some of us in the CLMOOC Community decided to read the book Affinity Online by Mimi Ito and company to better understand how young people were engaging with each other and with media in online settings.

We had lots of reading and conversations, and one of the places where we gathered was in NowComment, to annotate Chapter 5 together (putting the ideas of the book into practice through shared learning in a shared space). The chapter annotation was spearheaded by Terry Elliott.

Nearly two years later, I am still getting email updates, inviting me back into new conversations in NowComment that are being built on the original ones. While I suspect these new annotators are probably in some graduate level class, I find it encouraging how annotations can live on and beyond (Hypothesis does the same thing — sending an email note when someone has commented on an annotation you have left). More than two dozen people have engaged in the chapter.

Now I am going back in, responding to new comments and perhaps engaging the conversation that started two years ago with my CLMOOC friends in new directions with others.

Come join in the conversation

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

 

Thanks/Giving Small/Poem

Night rain 2“Night rain 2” by Mourner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Thankful/ Morning/ Music

(Thanksgiving 2020)

Listening
to the rain, these
rhythms of
the sky

Between
steady fall, these
moments of
gravity

Sometimes,
something’s there, this
world and its
wonder

Sometimes
nothing’s there, this
hope for the
possible

Peace (on this day and next),
Kevin

12Tone: Writing Lyrics

This video, and all of the 12Tone videos, is great for thinking of how we might imagine the writing of lyrics for songwriting. I have all sorts of techniques, but I am also always looking for other ways to get inspired.

And then there was this one, too

Thanks to Verena for sharing this out as part of another piece of sharing she had done.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Waiting On The Line Of Idling Cars

(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.)

There’s no one to blame, really. What with the lower grade classrooms now “full in” (everyone back) and a decision by the School Committee in the summer to limit who has access to school busing by setting a distance requirement and families wary of sending kids on the buses for safety reasons, to begin with, the result at our school is an endless line of idling cars each morning and afternoon.

Yesterday, three of my students told me they were waiting in their parents’ car for nearly 20 minutes just to get dropped off at the door to enter the school. In the afternoons, the six-foot distance rule means the gym is full of students, and the hallways are now spill-over zones. It means when our work day ends, there is no way to leave the parking lot on time because the cars keep coming (not for much longer, but still).

The waiting cars snake from our back parking lot, to the main thoroughfare, past the Post Office, and nearly to the intersection with our local state highway. All those cars, idling. And with the cold weather approaching, even more so.

I’m afraid to tell my wife, whose pet peeve has long been car idlers, and the impact those idling engines have on the air and climate. She’s written letters to newspapers about it. She’s pressed our kids’ principals at our own neighborhood school to take action against parents sitting in running cars at the end of school days.

And I’m with her on this — all those cars, engines running, can’t be good for the planet.

(The School Committee is tinkering with its policy on who can ride the bus to help alleviate this a bit, but I suspect most families are in the pick-up line because of concerns about Covid19 and buses, even with the protocols and safety measures in place).

Peace (sitting here, thinking).
Kevin

Book Review: World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks and Other Astonishments)

If beautiful words were shimmers of light, this book would be luminescent. Maybe that’s a bit of hyperbole on my part for Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s book, World of Wonders (In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments), but some of these chapters just sing with poetry and such insight, as Nezhukumatathil explores her own life with connections to the Natural World, that I could barely put the book down.

(Perhaps this is also because I had recently finished with the Write Out Project or because the political landscape required some respite into something more lovely than my news feeds.)

Nezhukumatathil’s explorations into such plants and creatures as Dragon Fruit, Comb Jellies, Narwhals, Dancing Frogs, Whale Sharks, Cara Cara Oranges, and more — all situated in ways that make connections to her life as young Indian-American girl of immigrant parents, and then as academic, as wife, and then as mother — are so effective at times, it often takes the reader’s breath away.

Not every piece in this collection is a home run — some feel a bit like a stretch as she works to make connections — but when the writing works, well, wow. Her writing flows so beautifully off the page, and you can tell she is also a poet of insight.

There’s an underlying theme of acceptance running through each of the pieces of the strange in the world, of bringing that curiosity into our daily lives through inquiry and forgiveness, of understanding our places as people in the world that is larger and more diverse than we may ever truly know.

Nezhukumatathil opens and ends with stories of fireflies, and in her last chapter, she notes how many of her students that she works with not only hadn’t seen fireflies, but didn’t believe her that they even existed. And they live in places where a walk to the edge of the neighborhood would have revealed more magic than the video games and movies they were spending their time watching.

Nezhukumatathil is careful not to judge these children of the modern age (and maybe, us, too), but she is effective in sensing the things we are losing when we lose touch with the Natural World. And in reminding us to go outside and look for the magic.

Peace (seeking it at night),
Kevin