MusicMaking: The River Rides the Beat Beneath Us

This is a Loop Composition, inspired by a recent trip to the Delaware River Gap, where I tried to pay attention to the rhythm of a river that cut through the section where we were staying and working.

Along with the various waterfalls, where the sound came crashing down, there were calm sections, places where the water bubbled over rocks, narrowed gaps where the stream zigged and zagged.

Each of those sections of the river informed sections of this composition, as I worked to layer sounds and loops and beats together to capture my remembering of the riverway.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Open Songwriting: Bad Weather Blues Demo

Bad Weather Blues collageEvery now and then, I get bored with traditional tuning on my guitar, and try my hand (uneducated as it is in this vein) with open tuning. I’m not quite sure what I’m often doing as I tweak the knobs on the guitar, so I aim to make sure the open chords sound OK in a certain key (often D). On Saturday, that’s what I was doing and then this song emerged from the rubble of my mind, thinking of climate change and political inaction, so I began writing (Give Me Shelter) Bad Weather Blues.

The photo collage above shows how the lyrics moved from notebook sketches, to a more structured draft of the song, to a sort of final version (some changes were later made). There is a purposeful reference to Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm in there.  I have no idea why I used red pen for revision, other than it was handy and nearby.

I then recorded the song yesterday with Soundtrap, with just guitar and vocals, less than 24 hours after writing it. I mulled over adding some drums and other instruments, and decided it needed to be simple and somewhat raw for the intentions of what I was doing with it. This visual tracking (three stages of the song) of writing is helpful for me, as it helps me remember to curate my creative endeavors with making music.

And I think the song came out OK for a demo. Give it a listen, if you have a moment:

Peace (and shelter),
Kevin

A Whale’s Lantern Collaboration 4: Portraits

Photobooth Song Arc CollaborationThe fourth iteration of A Whale’s Lantern — a musical collaboration on a theme with random partners, mostly from the Mastodon social networking space — has just been released this weekend, and a song I co-wrote/co-produced with my partner — Bobbo — is the track called Photobooth. The theme was “portraits.”

I wrote about the construction of the Photobooth song from idea to final track here.  But now you can listen, too, to what we ended up making together:

And the entire album of music is on Bandcamp — along with all the other three Whale’s Lantern adventures, which I also have tracks from partnerships — for free, although you are invited to pay a little if you download the tracks.

Peace (in the listening),
Kevin

 

 

Photobooth: A Collaborative Song’s Construction

Photobooth Song Arc Collaboration

I am just wrapping up (but not rapping up) a fourth round of a inspiring collaborative song project called A Whale’s Lantern, which has roots in the Mastodon federated networking space. In each round, participants are randomly partnered with others, and all pairings are given an overall theme to work with as a connector thread, and then, the partners have extended periods of time (usually a few months) to get creating something.

I have been fortunate in each of my pairings to connect with collaborators who have been easy to work with (maybe this is an inherent quality of those who volunteer for the project and reach the ending point). Although each partnership has had a distinct and different feel to it, and my role has been different each time, each round has really pushed my abilities as a songwriter and musician. In the latest collaboration — the music tracks will be released in a few weeks after they get mastered and gathered and posted at Bandcamp — the overarching theme was “portraits.”

My partner, Bobbus, is someone who I had interacted sporadically with on Mastodon, and I know he is a talented and thoughtful musician. We hit it right off the bat in our emails, both of us expressing gratitude for the chance to try to make music in a different format than we are used to and both of us expressing an openness to try any idea the other pitched, and both of us open to a starting point.

With this mind, I sent forward a song to him that I had started on acoustic guitar after thinking a bit on the theme of “portraits.” The proposed song — Photobooth — captured a pining by the narrator of an old photo album of a relationship that is long since gone to dust. The “portrait” might be a picture taken in one of those box photo booths, where you put coins in and an image pops out.

Draft Lyrics Photobooth Song

Bobbus thought the song could work for us (although we were both open to starting over if it didn’t), and the chart/map/graphic at the top of the post here shows some of the ways the song was woven over a few months time, particularly as he used his skills as a sound engineer and solo guitarist to create the song’s sonic landscape, adding unexpected (to me) chord changes and suggesting other parts to break up what began as a pretty traditional pop song of verse/chorus.

On a technical note, we used PCloud storage as a way to share many audio files back forth. I would send him raw music that I was making and he would do rough mixing, and share it back, asking for comments and feedback, and so the revisions would flow. We also used a writing app called Turtl for sharing written notes, lyrics, chord changes and more. I was not familiar with either of those platforms, so it was interesting to try to collaborate with different technology tools. Both worked just fine for us.

My challenge with the recording process, as it is always, was with the vocals, and he did as much he could with effects to make my voice work for the song, although there are points where .. well… I’m not sure I hit the notes I wanted to hit. I did like the way he created the ending section, where I recorded three saxophone parts that he mixed under his guitar … there’s a sense of the world kind of coming apart that works well with the song’s theme itself.

I am grateful and appreciative of Bobbus as a musical partner and collaborator, and for the chance to make more interesting collaborative music and art with the Whale’s Lantern community.

Anytime anyone has the opportunity to make something out of nothing — to pluck melody and harmony and rhythm out of thin air and transform it into something that someone else might hear and maybe even appreciate — particularly when this magic is done with someone from somewhere else in the world connected only by a federated space, is a cause for celebration, and experiences like A Whale’s Lantern provide a powerful counterpoint to so much of the failure of other networking spaces to live up to the promise of a world made better by connections.

Peace (inside the booth),
Kevin

 

Making is a Verb: Musicking with The Art of Is

Musicking with The Art of IsThere’s a whole section in the book some of us are reading together in NowComment, with annotation conversations unfolding, where writer Stephen Nachmanovitch (in The Art of Is) explores the division of the world into nouns and verbs, emphasizing the forward motion of doing things (verbs) as opposed to merely observing things by breaking them down into parts (nouns). He uses music as his example, noting that the word “musicking” would be a way to encompass the act of making music, often with others, and being creative.

I wondered how I could use the text itself for a way to inspire a new piece of music, to put Nachmanovitch’s idea into motion. I wanted to be musicking within the words of the text. After mulling it over, I decided to use the book title — The Art of Is — and the book subtitle — Improving as a Way of Life — and the author’s name — Stephen Nachmanovitch — as a means to gather chords.

The image above explains how I went about making my song — I only sought existing chords as I read (so, as Wendy asked elsewhere, I did not convert other letters without chords into something else … I just ignored them) and created three distinct sections: title, subtitle, name. I did keep the sequence of chords intact, however, so that in whatever order they were, that’s what I had to work with. I took the liberty of adding minor chords where it would make sense of the structure and sound.

I then went into the Garageband app on my iPad, and began to compose over the course of the afternoon, improvising and experimenting as I went about it.

First, I created drum tracks and worked with the bass, adding some guitar riffs, and then finally, layering in some of the world music instruments. I was slowly adding pieces, and then removing them at the end, to create a sound version of our annotation efforts (OK, this may be a leap, but not for me). For the most part, I think the song works, unfolding itself against the rhythm beat, and certainly, it is a piece of distinct music connected to and inspired by the book (if only in my mind).

You are welcome to remix or download or do whatever you want with the track from Soundcloud.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Dancing with Wendy in the Intermezzo

My CLMOOC friend, Wendy, shared a blog post yesterday about her explorations of Affinity Spaces, networks, poetry and music, and in doing so, she left a piece of music manuscript. I could not resist the urge to see if I could turn her musical notes into something musical (and I suspect she is doing the same).

Read her whole post to see the entire thread of what she was doing and thinking, for it is a fascinating example of how an idea is built with the help of others, creating a conversion about creativity and connection.

I hope my small musical piece — done rather quickly and with less finesse than I would have liked and crafted with some liberties of repeating some musical phrases in her original manuscript — is another angle from which to see/hear how Affinity Networks like CLMOOC can be powerful in how they inspire others to think, to learn, to make.

Read Wendy’s Blog Post: Entr’actes and Other Ways to Fill the Silence

Peace (and thanks),
Kevin

 

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

Deconstructing the Modern Hip-Hop Song

Travis Scott Concert Collage

I’m not really all that sure where this post is going to so … hang on a sec as I meander through it …

My 14-year-old son has been deep into making beats and music with Logic software (the next level up, way up, from Garageband) and in recent weeks, he’s been exporting his work into his Soundtrap account, inviting me to collaborate with him there.

Of course, I have accepted, and I’ve been making some cool jams with him. Here’s one sample of what we are working on …

He’s also a fan of modern hip-hop, listening for hours (maybe too many hours) to artists, humming to himself as he wanders the house, walks the dog, does chores, etc. He’s a close listener, from what I can tell, and I am starting to hear that filter in through the music he is making.

Which leads us to the recent Travis Scott concert. I agreed to take him to Boston Garden the other night (and took him to Kendrick Lamar last year and to Future, the year before that). It’s an interesting experience to be an aging rock and roller/songwriter in an arena of hip hop.

Here is my simplistic deconstruction of a typical hip-hop song, with Travis Scott’s vocoder-ized auto-tuned voice still in my head. I’d take Kendrick over Scott any day (but maybe that’s because Lamar had a kicking live band backing him and a better feel for politically-charged lyrics that connect more with me and my sensibilities.)

Creating a Hip Hop Track: Notes from a Rock And Roll Observer

  1. Start with a simple beat. Maybe kick drum on the beat or on the off beat. Keep it pounding until your feel it in your skull.
  2. Add piano or organ over it. Do this for about four measures. Just enough to establish the melody.
  3. Drop the drum and transform the opening melody part to synth after the first few measures. Come in strong with a big kick drum sound (think: John Bonham from Led Zep. That’s the sound you want. Bigger than your head.).
  4. Make sure the bass is deep enough, rich enough, to reach into your esophagus. Deep in sound, but not too complicated in parts. The bass will become the thread that holds this whole thing together. Modern bass is the river on which the melody floats.
  5. Shout out “yeah” on the offbeat until you create synergy off the beat. Wave your hands in the air if you care. Get hangers-on in the studio to the mic, and have them join in.
  6. Name-check yourself. Maybe a few times. Don’t let the listener forget who you are.
  7. If your lyrics are a mostly meaningless flow about nothing much to talk about, pump up the effects to bury the meaning beneath your voice. Also, do this, too, if you can’t really sing. If your lyrics have meaning, push the voice up over the beat during verses. Make it known.
  8. If your partner(s) are the DJ at the mix machine, have them interject a few odds and ends now and then. Maybe during live performances tell the crowd to make some noise, but with a slew of profanity. Say it at least a dozen times. Keep their microphone volume lower than yours, though.
  9. Have a famous friend? Invite them into the track for some verses or a line of words or two. Guest overdubs are the rage right now. If you are a male rapper, having a female singer take over the chorus seems like a good bet to get heard.
  10. Bury the words of the chorus with layered overdubs of voice and effects. Ideally, you do this in stages, so that by the end of the track, the chorus is bigger than a building. Unless you can’t sing. Then, bring in a guest (see #8) or add more effects (see #6)
  11. End by either reversing the flow — ending back on simple opening beat and keyboards — or by taking the track in another direction, and the come to a full stop. A big boom blast — cannon shots are popular — with tons of reverb will end the track with a slow-fading tail. Add lights and fire during live shows.
  12. Start over again until you find your groove and your audience.

I admire those artists and producers who play with this genre (as seen from my middle-age white man’s world), and the lyricists who understand how internal rhymes and rhythmic play with words and syllables can take songs to a new level. Like any musical genre, there are those who are artists, pushing the limits to make something interesting, and those who leverage the formula to make money.

Take a guess who gets the more plays and more profit?

I’d be remiss not to say that every genre seems to fall into its own patterns. Rock and pop music is all about verse/chorus/break and Jazz is mostly about head/solo/head (unless you’re Ornette Coleman, and then all bets are off) and so on.

Deconstructing what we love is a form of play, and a way to think about where the limits are and how we might push those limits to transform what we love. Go on and do it.

Peace (old man blues),
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