Tag: music

A whistleblower of another persuasion

February 21, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
A whistleblower of another persuasion

DI has a soft spot for whistleblowers, as well it should. I don’t mean to make light of that in any way, but TED calls Geert Chatrou, world champion whistler, a whistleblower you haven’t heard :

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Instant Rockstar and Instant Respect

August 27, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
Instant Rockstar and Instant Respect

Now you don’t have to learn how to play the guitar. All you need to do is pretend that you can play guitar. At my neighborhood Walgreens, there is now a big display featuring Paper Jamz plastic and cardboard string-less guitars (electronic sensors pick up where your hands are). For only $25 ($15 extra if you want a separate amp made mostly out of cardboard), you can be an “Instant Rockstar.” I picked up one of these “guitars” to see whether I could feel like an “Instant Rockstar” right there in the aisles of Walgreens. I felt the glow of stardom for only a few seconds, because you can’t actually play Paper Jamz guitar like you can play a real guitar (I play the guitar professionally). You can’t play individual notes, you can’t play precise rhythms, the sound range is extremely limited, there are no dynamics and there is only one genre offered: distorted rock chords.

Each of these five models of “guitar” is loaded with only three songs. Once you master the three songs on one of the guitars, you’ll need to go back to Walgreens and pay $25 for a different model in order to play three more songs. Instead of real guitar lessons, just go to Rockstarz Academy.

The manufacturer of the Paper Jamz “guitar” tells you that you’d be wasting your time and money to buy a real guitar and learn how to play it. The Paper Jamz display actually includes a video promo with this opening line: “Why play an electric guitar when you can play Paper Jamz?” Why, indeed? I would offer one good reason why you might want to forgo the Paper Jamz “guitar.” When you play a fake guitar instead of a real guitar, you will get fake respect, instead of real respect. To paraphrase and expand the Paper Jamz motto, “Why live a real life when you can watch TV and pretend to be living a life?”

Amotz Zahavi made it clear that in order to be reliable, a signal means to be expensive. If you want lots of respect, then, go practice hard so that you really learn how to play the guitar, and then come back and impress people by playing real songs. Paying $25 and then banging on a piece of plastic and cardboard isn’t going to get you much respect, unless your audience consists of three-year-olds. Then again, I’m probably missing the point because massive numbers of Americans are under the delusion that reality is the way they desire it to be, rather than the way it actually is. Buying a cardboard guitar can bring instant respect to many teenagers because they believe it can.

We are a society that craves instant respect. We show off our gadgets and toys to the have-nots for instant respect. We join the military so we can carry guns, wear uniforms and blow things up in order to get instant respect, even though we’ve floundered through life until then. We celebrate family tragedies, sickness and addictions because these bring us respect as high-ranking victims. We strive to shake hands with Hollywood and sports celebrities, because this brings us instant respect. We become fans of professional sports teams in the hopes that they will win their championship, which seems to bring us respect.

I hope that everybody buying a Paper Jamz guitar really takes the time to impress their friends by “playing the guitar” before they lose all interest in “playing” the three songs programmed into their “guitar.” I’m not denying that this gadget is technologically impressive or that it could be fun for a small child. But within a few months after buying a Paper Jamz guitar, this gadget will undoubtedly end up in the back of the closet, and it will eventually be tossed into a landfill with all the other gadgets we buy in our attempts to gain instant respect.

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Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

July 16, 2010 | By | 14 Replies More
Christian Rock and the Banality of The Market

Personal gripe time. This is one of those instances where I believe The Market is a hydrocephalic moron and people who put their undying faith in get what they deserve.

Shortly after the 4th of July just past, a St. Louis radio station changed hands. KFUO 99.1 FM had, for sixty-plus years, been our commercial classical station. Before the first Gulf War, our local NPR affiliate, KWMU, was largely a classical music broadcaster, but after that first foray into Mid east adventurism they became pretty much All Talk All Day. Mind you, I like some of what they offer—Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, Diane Rheem—but I am a lover of music. My youth, in regards to radio, was all about music. I cannot tolerate most of Talk Radio, especially the right wing stuff, but I’m not overly fond of the left wing blatherings, either. Give me a good solid news show twice a day and then fill the airwaves with music.

This has become a subject of nostalgia for me, because for the most part the music scene on radio has devolved into mind-numbing banality and repetition. Catering to The Market has the net result of leavening out at the lowest common denominator, so instead of fascinating, new, or just first-rate music, we get the cuts that will appeal to the greatest number of whatever demographic a given station thinks it’s playing to.

After KWMU went All Talk, little by little I began listening to KFUO. They did not do as good a job, overall, as KWMU—I am a firm believer in airing complete works, so when I am offered A Movement of a symphony or what have you I am turned off; I want the whole damn thing or don’t bother (this is also true of other genres as well: I once got into a shouting match with a DJ over his insistence of playing the three-minute version of an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track that, in its fullness, ran to twelve minutes, and he demanded to know who wanted to listen to all that synthesizer soloing, to which I replied “people who like ELP, you moron!” Needless to say, I lost that one, but I resent the whole assumption that the attention span of people will never exceed five minutes—if you assume that and that’s all you give them, you train them to have short attention spans)—but it was classical music, and I find myself, aging that I am, more and more indulging in that genre (if genre it is) out of sheer boredom and impatience with most other forms. At least, on the radio.

So KFUO became my car station. (At home I listen to albums. I would eliminate DJs and commercials if I could. Playing my own discs, I can.)

Due to the demands of The Market, the impatience of shareholders, etc etc, management at KFUO—the Lutheran Church, basically—sold the station. It is now Joy 99, playing contemporary Christian pop…stuff.

I’ve attempted to listen to some of it, but I find it unremittingly boring. And I am pissed. Where can I now go on the radio to get classical music? Well, KWMU has taken advantage of the new high definition broadcast tech to split itself into multiple channels and has one dedicated to classical music. But I can’t get that in the car. Can’t get at home on my stereo, either, unless I buy new equipment, which is a source of resentment as well. We live in an age where if one does not have the latest, most up-to-date Thingie, at a cost of X hundred dollars per widget, one cannot partake of the goodies available—and the media changes often enough that buying new Thingies is now every couple, three years.

Pardon my expression—Fuck That! This is the Microsoft model taken to extremes. It is a form of class division, based on tech-savvy and money. You don’t have to pass laws to keep the so-called Unwashed out of the Club, you just have to make sure they can’t afford the newest Thingie.

Ahem. Excuse me, that was paranoid of me. I have no reason to believe this is intentional. This is The Market, in all its lobotomized asininity.

Back for a moment to the new KFUO. It is boring. (I am beginning to recognize a pattern. Christian pop sounds somewhat to mainly Country. The southern lilt to the vocals, the excessively forced emotional warbling, twisting notes through laryngeal gymnastics for no reason other than to make use of a single chord for a few moments longer. Never mind the lyrics—I didn’t have a problem with groups like Creed, at least not initially: the music was interesting, the lyrics showed a modicum of ingenuity—just the American Idol approach to hyped emotionalism as substitute for actual content. But I really cannot abide dull music. Even when, initially, this stuff sounds like they’re getting down with some passion, it’s really just arrangement and playing with the compression. The simplest chords, the over-reliance on melody—almost always in major keys—and the deemphasizing of anything that might distract from the primary message of the lyric content. Now, KFUO, having been a Lutheran station, played a great deal of sacred music. Most of which was GLORIOUS. Beautiful, sonorous, majestic, interesting! Composed by musicians who saw no reason to muffle their strengths, but put what they had into such compositions because the music itself was a form of worship, an offering to what they believed, honest and unhampered passion. Modern Christian rock seems to do everything it can to apologize for being rock. Of course, there’s a reason for this, since a good deal of what these folks espouse is a typical American attitude that sensuality is an enemy to faith, and let’s face it, rock is all about sensuality. So, too, is jazz, perhaps even more so, which may be why one hears almost no Christian jazz.) Boring is inexcusable, I don’t care what cause it is in the name of.

Somehow some one or more “consultant” companies told the new owners that this will attract a larger market share than what KFUO had been doing. For all I know, they’re right. I have little faith in the taste of the masses, as a mass. Most of the people I have ever known as casual acquaintances have exhibited appalling taste in the arts. You have to be aware to be sensitive to nuance, to passion, to genuine merit, and it seems that most people move through life barely conscious of their surroundings.

(I once had the most frustrating interchange with a woman at a party who kept complaining that everything I was putting on the stereo was “depressing.” Her word. Depressing. What was I playing? Flim and the BBs, Grover Washington, McCoy Tyner, things like that. I couldn’t figure it out until she demanded, somewhat drunkenly,”Where’s the singing?” Unless there was singing, it was depressing. Of course, by singing she didn’t mean opera, she meant anything she could sing along to. This was more music as sport than art.)

So after a couple of weeks of listening the all this strained pseudo-music sung by earnest C & W types against the most singularly undifferentiated backgrounds, I am officially peeved. I’d like my classical music back, please. I don’t care about demographics. There are dozens of other stations where one can hear similarly banal excrescence, albeit possibly without the juvenile nonsense worship lyrics. KFUO served an audience that is now not served at all, and I can’t help wondering if this is at least partly propagandistic. That this is as much an effort to force a single voice onto the airwaves, driving out the specialist, minority voices, as it is to maximum returns on investment.

Of course, that would be a bit paranoid, wouldn’t it?

Except that over forty years of listening to radio I can’t help but notice that every instance of a station or a show that reached a bit higher, took a chance on quality, played the unexpected or occasionally controversial—all those stations were, one by one, taken over and dragged back down into the stew pot of “popular taste” at expense of anything genuinely challenging or interesting. Regardless of genre. Mediocrity is the hallmark of the largest market share.

Of course this is just me expressing the idle-time thoughts in my head as I simmer in resentment over another source of something worthwhile going the way of the proverbial dodo. There really isn’t a plot of this sort.

There doesn’t need to be, though. Does there? The Market, the “invisible hand (or ear)” will do it for us.

Sometimes something is worth preserving just because it is good, whether it sells well or not. I think most people would agree with that. Where the breakdown comes is in the lack of appreciation of how those good things will inevitably fade away unless we stop praying at the temple of The Market. In that respect, the advent of a “new” Christian Contemporary radio station is deliciously ironic, as clearly someone thinks that Christianity is a marketable commodity and will command market share. The moneylenders have a cozy home in the temple these days, in the American version of Christianity, in which the hallmark of god’s love is a positive bank balance and a healthy hedge fund.

I can hear the protest, “Well, it must be good if it sells well!”

Pet rocks sold incredibly well. So did shares in Enron.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just annoyed at seeing something I found special axed in the name of the bottom line. Again.

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Rubin’s tube displays hot music

June 24, 2010 | By | Reply More
Rubin’s tube displays hot music

Music and flaming propane generate mathematical patterns. It’s a “classic physics experiment according to the fellow running this demonstration.

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Music, math and art

June 21, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Music, math and art

Animusic has been creating some incredibly sophisticated music animations for years. The work is difficult to describe, though when you see an Animusic creation you’ll know it was by Animusic. At this Animusic page you can get a sampling of eight creations. My favorite is “Pogo Sticks,” but they are all mesmerizing.

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What is cool?

June 12, 2010 | By | Reply More
What is cool?

Back in 1973, the Mid-America Music Association sponsored its Seventeenth Annual Music Festival at the Omaha Hilton Hotel on August 3-5 (MAMA still exists). I was a 17-year old guitar teacher back then, and I participated in the contest as a “Virtuoso” (I was not really any sort of virtuoso, but there’s nothing like a label to appeal to one’s ego). About six of my students also participated. It all seems so long ago and hazy to me now, but it seemed like a big deal back then.

I do know, however, that in addition to the guitarists, many accordion players participated in their own accordion contests. Hence, in the program that was handed out, one could spot many advertisements geared to accordion players, making it clear that it was “cool” to play the accordion. I didn’t think so–I always thought that kids from the Midwest who liked the accordion were a bit odd. But the ads pushed the opposite message. Here’s a sample (click for enlargement).

accordian-advertisement-lo-res

I’m in no way impugning the talents of these players. Many accordion players were extraordinarily talented. I find this ad interesting in that it made it clear that accordion playing was cool, yet here we are, 35 years later, and I would think that it would be extremely difficult to find music studios that even offer accordion lessons.

Which brings me to this question. What is obviously an in-thing to do today–what is “cool”–that will be chuckled at 35 years from now? Will it be that we walk around with iPods plugged into our ears? Will it be that so many of us were obese? Will it be that people thought they could consider their online network members to be “friends”? Will it be that we dress up with corporate logos on our clothing? Will it be that we worked so hard to get jobs for the money rather than because the work was meaningful? Will it be the type of music was thought was impressive? Will it be that the average American watched more than four hours of television? Will it be that the citizens walked around, apathetic to the rampant corruption in their national government?

In what ways will people 35 years from now shake their heads and chuckle at us?

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Carrot music

April 16, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Carrot music

This video shows you how to play a carrot (with a little help from a reed). You’ll get the idea in the first m

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That’s All

April 4, 2010 | By | Reply More
That’s All

Here’s a great way to end the evening. In this video of a musical duet, Peter Martin is accompanying Dianne Reeves on the tune “That’s All.” There is some pretty amazing musicality going on here, starting with Peter’s gorgeous introduction to the tune (but sorry that the ending is cut off a bit too soon).

BTW, Peter’s children attend school with my children. Last year, he volunteered to accompany the third graders for their musical. During the big performance, somehow . . . somehow . . . he made sure that he never stole the spotlight from the children–it was an incredible musical experience to hear the voices of little children framed by the music of a world-class jazz pianist.

Every other month here in St. Louis, Peter is playing jazz at the beautiful Sheldon Theater in the Central West End. The next show is June 4 at 8pm. The first two installments (the February show featuring Peter and Dianne Reeves and the show two nights ago featuring Peter and Jeremy Davenport) were everything you could have hoped for. If you’re interested in hearing some great jazz live for a reasonable price of $25 per seat at the Sheldon, visit Peter’s site. If you’d like to view and listen to more of Peter’s music online, here’s where you need to go.

[BTW, if you’d like to know more about how to play jazz piano like Peter, check out his “2 minute jazz piano” video podcasts on iTunes. Free piano lessons from a guy who really knows his way around the keyboard.]

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The beat of the solar system

April 1, 2010 | By | Reply More
The beat of the solar system

Whimsical. Charming. The “beat” of the solar system. Two times around per tone for speedy Mercury.

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