Slice of Life: We’re All All Right

(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.)

I took my 12-year-old son to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for the second time (we first went on opening weekend) because his friend had not gone yet. That seemed a shame. We had a blast in the cold theater on a hot day and my son’s friend loved the movie.

Once again, the scene where Cheap Trick’s Surrender plays hit me the heart of memory, reminding me of playing that song in my college-days rock band, Rough Draft.

So, I dug our cover of Surrender out. It was part of an audio track to a cable television recording we did, and then the studio lost the video tape so we don’t have that, only the audio. Maybe that’s a good thing …

That’s me singing and playing rhythm guitar. We used to have so much fun with that song. It was not a band of finesse. It was a band of loud energy. Rough Draft, indeed. Three of us from that band are still very close, and we get together once a year. In fact, that reunion is coming in two weeks.

We’re all all right!
We’re all all right!
We just seem a little weird …

Peace (no cheap tricks),
Kevin

PS — bonus song? Only if your ears can take it. This was early song of mine for Rough Draft. I was just starting to do some writing.

Passing the Song Along (A little Dylan in the Day)

Dylan Words

A few weeks ago, my friend Laura put out a call for a project that she was doing that would feature the Bob Dylan song The Times Are a-Changing. When I first taught myself guitar, that was one of the songs I wanted to learn, and did. Laura was hoping to build a musical quilt of songs and voices and words, as part of a public performance.

I grabbed my guitar, re-learned the song a bit, and then choose the verse that I think has the most resonance for the times that we are in right now – the one where Dylan calls out politicians and writers to embrace change for a better world and be ready to defend the choices you make in the moments before you. I recorded the verse and sent it forth to Laura, to use as she saw fit.

A few weeks later, Laura shared out a video of the live performance of her Affirmation Quilt. As I watched and listened via YouTube, I was pleased to hear her cello layered in on top of my guitar and voice. She is a talented musician, and I was honored to hear her strings on top of my ragged singing voice. It was wonderful, particularly as she wove the music in with spoken words contributors by others, and other music pieces, too. She also performed the song, live. That was the quilt affect she was going after.

But this story doesn’t stop there.

Ron, another musician friend from another part of the world, watched Laura’s video, too, and he asked if she could share it on Soundcloud. He wanted a copy of the song. I figured he was up to something, and of course, he was. Ron, a talented keyboardist, took the duet of Laura and I, and made it into a trio (or more) by adding keyboards and other elements in Garageband, and then shared it back out again.

If you’re counting, that would be Song Iteration Three: me, then me and Laura, then me and Laura and Ron. (Well, Four, if you count Dylan, and you probably should.)

None of us (including Dylan, as far as I know) have ever met in person to jam. We only know each other through our networks, coming together for a shared purpose with shared interests. When collaboration comes together like that, it’s magical and powerful.

Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Ron.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Sing for the Trees

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. You are invited. Come write with us.)

It snowed. And from a small window in our studio area, I was watching this one tree get snowed upon, its branches grabbing the heavy wet snow like a blanket. Then, as the day grew warmer with sunshine, I watched the snow drop off, almost in slow motion, as if the tree branches were reluctant to let go.

During the first Snow Day of the year, I started to write this song, with that tree in mind. It’s a musical Slice of Life today, constructed from loops and imagination.

Peace (hearing it everywhere),
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

 

Book Review: Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)

The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s name was in the weeks before he hit the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines in the 1970s. Our neighborhood was crazy about rock and roll, and someone knew someone who had a cousin who had heard about this rocker out of New Jersey who could put on a lights-out live show. His name was Bruce Springsteen.

Who?

Soon, we knew who he was, although his music never could compete with the Led Zep and Aerosmith landscape of my neighborhood. His sound wasn’t hard enough. There were no Bruce fans on my block. But Bruce was out there, and we knew about him. (Years later, I finally saw him live and saw what the fuss was all about … no other live show had that kind of energy and no other artist that I have seen had that kind of command on stage.)

Yesterday, after a marathon session, I finished reading Springsteen’s autobiography — Born to Run — and while I consider myself an avid fan these days, I realized that I never quite grasped the larger vision that Bruce has been pursuing over the past 30 years or so. The book brought to the light the narrative of America that he has been writing about and exploring, from the first guitar riff in Born to Run (when he decided to change his musical direction from his two earlier Dylan-like albums .. two albums I particularly like) right through the songs he is still putting out today (Wrecking Ball, etc.).

For an artist to have a vision and to stay mostly true to it over the course of time, particularly given the fickle nature of the world, is difficult. To be a pop artist (at least for a while) and stay true … that’s something we rarely see. Springsteen sought to tell the story of ourselves, through his characters, and himself, too, and as we all grew up, he tried to show how we adjust to the changing landscape. Many of his songs are short stories, told to rock and roll and chord changes. Some, like American Skin and Born in the USA, are often misunderstood.

The autobiography (written by Bruce himself … he’s a solid writer most of the time) explores his songwriting craft (a topic which I always find intriguing) and his life, but I was most attuned to where he was able to find his inspiration for stories, and how he took control of his career and his music (he owns the rights to all of his song and all of his albums … which is pretty rare). Bruce has his demons and his battles, but he seems to have now found happiness in his family, even as he is still driven by the need to write music and to perform in front of an audience, to connect to the energy of something larger than the music itself.

I still think his response to 9/11, with the album The Rising, was what the country needed at the time. It is a measures response, with song about loss and love and the toll these have on the human spirit. Bruce writes about looking at the New York skyline, and the missing towers, and then a fan yelling out the window that “we need you” as the undercurrent of the album. His performance of My City of Ruins on a televised event gave me pause.

Born to Run gives context for why Bruce felt the need to meet that call of that fan and why he needed to bring music to the world as reckoning of events and a comfort in the stories we needed to tell to try to make sense of the tragedy. I think we’re still telling those stories.

 

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Songs of Human Voice: From Cacophony to Composition

I was creating a Storify of all of the short video reflections that folks are making for the IMMOOC (Innovator’s Mindset), grabbing them and tucking them into the curated project. (see it here) But when I was tinkering with the template of the Storify, and tried to use the slideshow template, suddenly, my speakers were filled with all of the voices, talking all at once.

At first, I panicked — too loud! too loud! — and turned the volume off. After some reflection and a spark of curiosity, though, I turned it back on and  … I listened. I listened to the swirling sounds of all of our voices. I could hear different textures of sounds. I could hear individual words and phrases lifting up from the chaos, every now and then. Clusters of noise came together and then apart, weaving this noisy tapestry.

And I realized — this is a song of human voice and experience and questions. This is the collective songs of educators, deep in inquiry. This is music.

Which got me thinking: could I record all of those voices together (yes, I could) and then add a looping music track underneath it all, guiding the sounds into some sense of song? I could. What made it all work, in fact, is that towards the end, voices begin ending, slowly, like an audio tail wagging, and we are left with one lone voice, and her daughter, telling the entire IMMOOC community to “have a great day,” and that voice of that young daughter of Sheila Vick (@sheila_vick) was the magic sauce that made it all work.

Listen in headphones, if you can, and tell me this is not beautiful in its own way. It is longer than I would have liked, but I could not force myself to cut out anyone’s voice. (And some videos were added to the Storify later that did not make it into my audio recording. Sorry.)

Peace (sounds like …),
Kevin

PS — this is how I did it:

  • Launched Audacity recording software
  • Placed microphone by speakers
  • Started the Storify
  • Downloaded audio file as MP3
  • Launched Soundtrap website
  • Uploaded audio
  • Used loops to create underlying music
  • Downloaded and then uploaded to Soundcloud
  • Shared in social media

Make Instruments, Make Music, Make Change

We were in our independent movie theater recently when the trailer for the upcoming documentary — Landfill Harmonic — came on the screen and blew us away. There’s so much to admire in this story — of the way one person saw possibility where others saw nothing, the way they turned to the resources at hand to create something, and the way an idea can potentially alter an entire community for the better.

Landfill Harmonic from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

I just ordered it (via Vimeo), so I can share it with my students this year and support the cause.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

De La Soul Documentary: Beyond the Age of Sampling

The new De La Soul album — And the Anonymous Nobody —  is interesting in the way it was made — after years of legal wrangling over use of samples of other artists to create the backbone of its music (as hip hop often does) — the old-school band decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to pay for recording a funk band for hours on end, and then to use samples from those studio recordings as the basis for its new songs, instead of relying on samples.

“What we’re doing … is farming the recordings for samples … and creating new music,” says the narrator of the video.

This is a video documentary of the band’s efforts. I find it interesting because, well, I like the band well enough (and bought its album), and I am interested in the significance of this shift away from hiphop roots (of sampling others), even if the move by De La Soul caused by the legal climate of record labels being very litigious.

The age of the remix is fraught with these difficulties (although educators and students have more leeway). But one lesson here is that making your own beats and music for your own songs is worth doing, even if it adds time and planning to a project.

Peace (it’ll be here),
Kevin