#CLMOOC: Where Color and Music and Collaboration Mix

Color collaboration

In an email this week to Karon, Wendy and Ron, I noted that if this project I am describing here were all that came out of CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) for me this summer, I would be quite content and satisfied. (Happily, there is much much more coming out of CLMOOC this summer). These three friends of mine all collaborated with me on a musical piece called Coloring the Muse that arose from the theme of art and coloring during the first Make Cycle, and then was transformed by our collaboration.

Let me explain .. but first, let me share the project itself ..

This project all began with our explorations of color in the first Make Cycle of CLMOOC. Much of that Make Cycle centered on the Collaborative Coloring Book project. At one point, though, Karon and others, in our Google Community, shared some links that connected the color spectrum to the music spectrum, linking how we hear sounds to how we perceive colors. I found that fascinating, and began to think about how one might “paint” with colors to make music.

I tinkered a little bit with a melody line, based on some color patterns, and shared it back. Karon, whose CLMOOC connection I appreciate each summer, took that melody and used a music compositional software program called Noteflight to begin the process of composing a song, with harmonies and variations. The software program does kick out an audio file, so we could hear the parts in progress.

But I wondered if we might take the song into Soundtrap for some live collaborative recording. So I did, and I invited Karon and Ron (whose many talents include art and music via keyboards and programming) and Wendy (also a talented artist and musician). Soundtrap allows for distant, and global, collaboration on musical tracks. Ron is from the Netherlands, Wendy is from Australia and Karon and I are in the US. Perfect.

Color Muse, in Soundtrap

As I began laying the first tracks, though, I kept the main melody line and some of the harmony ideas, but didn’t exactly follow Karon’s compositional ideas. Instead, we played with the song, using Karon’s ideas of variations as a springboard, weaving percussion and counter-melodies throughout. I added some alto sax after Karon wrote out the parts, riffing off the main line at times, and using some sound effects to create a layered variation. There’s even a bit of planned dissonance, creating tension. The ending of the song is a piano part that Karon composed, but the track is actually the compositional software’s version of the piano, with Wendy’s clarinet as melodic accompaniment.

I also knew that I wanted to use the song as the soundtrack to a video with color, and I spent some time trying to find a way to do that. I could have done something more original myself, with iMovie or something, but I had this vision for an idea that I could not create myself, with colors dancing in time to the music. I ended up at a site called RenderForest, which has some neat templates but it is rather expensive to use if you want a video without their intrusive watermarks. I did find a coupon to discount it, and plunged to pay, since I really felt driven to have this color visualization be the visual for the music inspired by color spectrums.

That’s not all … Wendy has now taken the song, pushed it through another remix program, and then created her own video version of the song and its colors. And Ron wrote about an earlier project of his, connecting music to color, and shapes.

This is what CLMOOC is all about — emergent ideas that become the source for collaboration and creativity, following our passions through connections.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Book Review: Anatomy of a Song

Here’s a book that hit a number of buttons for me. It’s about music. It’s about songwriting. It’s an oral history project. It’s an inside look at how creative people are creative. Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits by Marc Meyers is apparently a riff off a Wall Street Journal column he wrote, diving deep into songwriting by interviewing the writers, producers, engineers and musicians behind some iconic music. (I didn’t know WSJ had a music column, did you?)

I really enjoyed Meyer’s approach here, as he brings the voices behind the scenes up in the mix, so to speak. I knew most of the songs, but not all, and he stops at REM’s Losing My Religion, arguing that 25 years have to go by before one really knows if a song reaches iconic status. I’m fine with that.

It’s intriguing to hear the stories behind the songs, of where the inspirational lines may have come from or where the melody or harmony originated, and the process that goes into the writing, recording and engineering of songs that become the soundtrack of our lives.

Anatomy of a Song covers quite a bit of ground — there are 45 chapters, sort of like a 45 spinning on your old record player — from Lawdy Miss Clawdy by Lloyd Price to You Really Got Me by the Kinks to The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff to Heart of Glass by Blondie to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper and more. You might quibble with his selection, but I didn’t mind.

Peace (inside the songs of our lives),
Kevin

Slice of Life (Day Six): Recording in the Home Studio

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

We have a relatively new bass player in our band. His name is Brian and we are all impressed by his chops, and focus, and kind personality. Turns out, he loves music, just like us, and he is dedicated himself this year to doing even more music. When I learned that he has a home recording studio set-up at his apartment, we connected with a plan to try a little recording of some songs outside of the band setting (but let the band know).

Hanging with Brian2

Yesterday, I drove over to Brian’s pad, and for about two hours, we talked about music and did some recording of scratch (rough) tracks with my guitar and my (still-sick) voice and two songs from a collection of songs that I have been writing for a few years as part of a much larger narrative project with poems and stories and …. oh, who knows anymore.

Hanging with Brian1

It was fun, though, recording again, and I am curious to hear what Brian does with the tracks. I explicitly gave him full permission to do what he wants with the guitar and vocal tracks, so he can feel free to experiment and add layers. We’re hoping this partnership extends into more formal recording down the road.

For now, for yesterday, it was just for fun. Sometimes, that’s the best kind of music to be made.

Peace (in the studio),
Kevin

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