November 15, 2010

Tristan Perich, a New York composer of experimental music, wanted to see how small he could make big philharmonic pieces.

This Wired piece details 1-Bit Symphony, a 40-minute symphonic work on a single, tiny microchip. While technically not 1-bit in size (the work is actually 8 KB), it is an impressively small creation in an age of miniature ubiquity. (You can order 1-Bit Symphony here, which includes a small battery and is shipped in a CD jewel case.)

It’s not the file-size or dimensions that are particularly notable (the iPod Nano, for instance, can probably boast more extraordinary specs), but rather the minimalist nature of the setup. This is a bare-bones recording, and underscores how little one needs these days to make music. It’s an extreme example, but hopefully it will inspire musicians to balk at costly setups and begin working within limitations they can afford, master, and use easily.

The Amplitube iRig is a perfect example of one way for musicians to exploit current technology. The iRig is simply an interface: You plug your guitar into one end, your iPhone/iPad into the other, and your headphones into a third input. Just download the Amplitube app, load up a few effects and pedals, and you have a full-fledged recording setup.

Add to this the Sonoma Four Track iPhone app, and you have a multi-track mini studio on you at all times

The value in these tools is in their accessibility and ease-of-use, but are also valuable for the creative process. The flood of gadgets available to a musician (pedals, amps, mixers, microphones, cables, compressors…) can obscure the fact that the name of the game is music. You don’t need very much to create music, and now you don’t need much to record it either. The only real sacrifice with using these “iTools” is fidelity, but this is a non-issue when recording demos, ideas, piecing together songs, or practicing.

And the fact is, if you can’t create great music using these tools then you aren’t ready for a full-fledged studio setup anyway. The power of a recording lies in the heart and soul of the musician, lyrical craft, and an inspired placement of notes, not the sample rate of the resulting file.


Travelsong – The Top 3 Things To Enhance A Trip’s Soundprint

July 10, 2009


I just returned from a full week in the Bahamas, without phone, Blackberry, or computer. No e-mail, no games, no updates of any kind whatsoever. I brought a watch but rarely used it, and did not always know the day of the week or the time.

More notably, I didn’t bring my iPod either. Instead I read, or just relaxed and listened to the waves, f ootsteps, cars, trees, sidewalks, or storefronts… I listened to the country. I thought it best to take in the place I visited, and not the things I brought with me. What’s the point of travelling when you’re still tied to the comforts, habits, and music from home?

I came to realize this: the composite of all the sounds of a countryside or city is the aural thumbprint of that region’s culture. It’s a nuanced and complex tapestry of sound that includes the cries of specific birds, the splashes of specific types of fish on a specific pattern of migration and schooling, engine sounds of local vehicles, gravel scrapes of cobblestoned and pavemented roadways, subtly accented whispers and yells, the way wind sounds when rushing through buildings or trees, the sound of local appliances and tools… they all form a soundprint. This soundprint is something that cannot be easily recorded, but that you should experience in order to compare against the soundprints of other countries, cities, and cultures.

Here are 3 things you can do to ensure that you are experiencing, and not ignoring or drowning out, the soundprint of a region:

  1. Don’t Bring An mp3 Player. Well, okay, you might want to bring it for the plane. But sock it away for the rest of the trip and don’t look back. Music from home simply muddles the soundprint of the place you’re traveling to, and confuses it with the soundprint of home.
  2. Don’t Bring a smartphone. I was unfortunate in that my personal cell phone is also my work Blackberry, so I was forced to leave the whole hybrid machine stateside. While it’s probably safest to make sure you have a cell phone handy, stay free from any form of smartphone or e-mail device. The games, Twitters, Facebooks, and Googling you’ll inevitably do will keep your ears (and eyes) away from your surroundings. Again, the soundprint will be muddled. You’ll also find that when you’re waiting in line for the restroom or for a reservation, and you don’t have your crackberry to feed your attention, you distractedly find details about your locale to fixate on instead.
  3. Walk whenever possible. Cabs, buses, and boats are not easily replaceable, but they are used more often than is always necessary. If a destiantion or landmark is a 45-minute walk, then block out 45 minutes to get there. It won’t kill you, and the path you take will add more layers to the soundprint. You’ll hear sounds you never would have heard in the first place. It simply makes for a richer experience overall.

Note that it’s not essential that you leave EVERY bit of technology behind. Cameras are great for immersing yourself in (and logging) visual experiences, and voice recorders can log notes that are not easily written down.

The soundprint of a region does not take easily to description, so it’s essential you hear it firsthand in order to appreciate the often overlooked aspects that make cultures so different from one another. The differences you start to log away in your mind’s ear keep your memories of the trip fresher for longer.

Blackberry 8830: “Phone calls?”

August 12, 2007

Verizon’s Blackberry “What’s a phone call?” 8830

Turns out I’m not the only one having issues with Verizon’s Blackberry 8830 World Phone. They released this thing into the world with every feature imaginable… except halfway decent call quality. There seems to be a streak of 8830 users whose background noise gets amplified to an absurd degree. People think I’m at a raging party instead of my quiet office with the slight din of a water-cooler conversation about 20 yards away. Upon exchanging the hardware the problem keeps on keepin on.

Verizon and RIM have been no help. I’m turning to the internet.