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.


A Master Class in Songwriting

June 18, 2010

This is brilliant. Paul Simon sits down with Dick Cavett to discuss music, and he uses his then-unfinished song, “Still Crazy After All These Years,” to demonstrate his take on songwriting and music theory. His bridge begins with a D9 chord, which he introduces for the sole purpose of introducing C and C-sharp—two notes that haven’t been used in the song yet. He even gives a great breakdown of a guitar’s standard tuning and the fact that all of those open strings actually do form a legitimate chord… two actually: E minor 7th and G6: Both chords are identical in the notes they include.

Aside from the sad fact that you would never see this type of discussion on a talk show these days, I find remarkable the topics that get introduced along the way:

“It’s one of those lines that has the right inflection… it swings.” – Paul Simon drops this offhanded remark after Dick Cavett playfully interjects, “Have you ever reached for your C-sharp and gotten your C-natural?” Paul picks up on the cadence and rhythm of Cavett’s sentence, not its meaning.

“You’re Theatre People. Theatre People come at music from another direction.” – Paul notes that your relationship with music affects your knowledge of it. Paul, being a musical architect of sorts, knows the engineering of it, naming chords and resolving cadences. Cavett, ever the entertainer, adores music (enough to have a conversation like this on television) but through a different lens. It’s an astute observation by Paul: music means different things to different people.

“I imagine the same principle would hold true in comedy…” – Comedy?! Yes. Right in line with his comments about the timing and inflection of Cavett’s “joke,” Paul compares music theory to comedy, and rightfully so. Timing, delivery, freshness, variety… all adjectives at home in both worlds.

The point here is that a topic like music invariably opens up conversation into the rest of the humanities. I truly believe that the arts are somehow linked on a primal, atavistic level and that all artists are using the same creative fuel.


August 18, 2009


The summer grabbed hold of me in August—interference of the highest degree—so instead of writing about creativity and music I decided to live it for a bit. This Interference may have interrupted my routine and writing schedule, but it also fostered a restless mental energy that I’m finally getting around to scribing.

The Interference led to the following thoughts and discoveries I accumulated during the hiatus. They are scattered but pertinent…

CapoI discovered Capo thanks to Michael over at Daily Exhaust, and lamented never having it a decade ago while learning guitar. Dubbed “a musician’s best friend,” Capo lets you “slow down your favorite songs, so you can hear the notes and learn how they are played.” This is exactly what I sought after while struggling to learn music, but always had to settle for a MIDI-based guitar tablature playback program. Capo lets you change tempo and pitch (!), and incorporates markers to “bookmark” the portion of a tune you’re attempting to learn. You can even export your adjusted track and upload it to your iPod, for portable practice sessions. It’s a bit pricey ($49) but I would have bought it in a heartbeat if it meant bringing down Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Little Wing” to a manageable speed and tuning while learning it in college. I probably could have saved hundreds of hours in frustrated practice sessions…

NYTimes_GraphicI’ve be evaluating and re-evaluating the fate of the music industry these days. It is truly an Industry in Decline, and this NYTimes Op-Ed piece makes this clear. The article is concise and prescient (“…This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model.”), but it’s the graphic outlining music sales that is particularly sobering. People just aren’t buying music in physical format anymore. They’re barely buying at all. It makes you wonder if there is an industry for music outside of the live performance space. I’m beginning to doubt it…

As long as you’ve read the Op-Ed piece above, check out the following, also on the NYTimes website: Artists Find Backers as Labels Wane.

GibsonThe Father of the Electric Guitar, Les Paul, passed away on August 13th, 2009 at the age of 94. Despite the minor resurgence that arose in the wake of his death, his contribution to music is still vastly unappreciated and unrecognized. You must realize that this man not only pioneered overdubbing, reverb, and phasing effects, he invented multitrack recording. For those unfamiliar: multi-track recording is recording as we know it today. Those large consoles in recording studios, and Garageband, would not have been possible without Les Paul’s innovations. He also has his name on one of the most popular electric guitars ever: the Gibson Les Paul. Living in New York City, I had the chance of seeing Les Paul play at his legendary weekly gig at the Iridium Jazz Club in Times Square. I never bought a ticket—the price seemed too steep for someone just starting out in such an expensive town—but now it seems like an absolute bargain. There’s a lesson in there I’ll never forget…


I’m gearing up for another ramp-up of QuikCallus marketing, as more and more users are sending positive feedback my way. Looking to bring QuikCallus to the next level in 2010, and I’m laying the groundwork now. Also syncing up with colleagues to launch a new entrepreneurial initiative centered around budding business owners. I’ve been digging the promise of Creative Entrepreneurship these days, and am looking to bring it to the forefront. Exciting things to come…

Guitar_ToolkitThe iPhone has changed my life. For all you guitarists out there: download the Guitar Toolkit. Tuner, metronome, fretboard, and chord dictionary all in one. It’s cheaper, more robust, and more portable than any tuner you could buy in a guitar shop. And at $9.99 you can’t beat the price.


If you aren’t on Twitter yet, get on it. I’m posting there more frequently than BlogSounds, and am always looking for feedback and suggestions from followers. Fire up an account and start following stockyturtle (@stockyturtle). I’ll make it worth your while.

99 Ways To Play Better

July 26, 2009


99 Ways to Play Better – A great post over at the Guitar Player website, which includes quotes from famous guitarists about ways they keep their playing fresh, inspired. Some of my favorite quotes form the list:

“Moving into uncharted territory is a key ingredient to making your practice sessions a success. Playing the same stuff over and over will only take you so far.” – Joe Satriani

“If you’re in a rut with your electric playing, pick up an acoustic. There’s something about playing the acoustic guitar that makes you think about songs.” – Buck Dharma

“Learn everything you know in all keys.” – Joe Pass

“In the long run, it’s more important to look at paintings than to listen to the way somebody plays bebop lines.” – Jim Hall

“Over-indulgence in anything is wrong—whether it’s practicing 50 hours a day, or eating too much food. There’s a balance with me, as there should be with everything and everybody.” – Jeff Beck

“Keep your guitar out of the case and handy. Practice short periods—anywhere from five to 45 minutes—many times throughout the day, rather than for one prolonged period. Often times, five minutes is enough time to work on a technique or musical passage. The whole idea of practice is to get your reflexes working like a gunfighter’s, so you can pull out that gun and be instantly hot.” – Barney Kessel

“Play a new thing every day.” – Ry Cooder

I would add that it’s also important to seek out quotes like these, to read guitar magazines, to take part in message boards full of guitar players… you need to find resourcs like these that can keep feeding your desire to learn more, to practice more, and to stay interested.

Boredom and familiarity are the enemy, and you need to actively beat them away.

State of the Art

March 6, 2009


In case you missed it, the L.A. Times highlighted the Obama-Arts connection, and is optimistic on the first family’s ability to create a boon for the artistic community.

Influencing behavior not through policy, but simply by being enthusiastic patrons of the arts.

“They could indeed lead by example,” agrees Mariana Nork, senior vice president of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, across the street from the White House. “We’re going to have new trends set.”


In a related story, check out the Obama Art Report. Could the paintbrush be mightier than the policy?

“Of Music, murder and shopping”

January 11, 2009


“The connection, then, is that both music and murder pertain to mating. One attracts mates. The other disposes of rivals.”

The Economist, “Of music, murder and shopping,” December 20th 2008-January 2nd, 2009

What Art Is For.

November 19, 2008


A recent New York Time articles spotlights writer Lewis Hyde, author of the never-out-of-print, 1983 classic, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. The article is titled, “What Is Art For?” and touches on Hyde, his life, his work, and art’s purpose and use in society.

What is art for?

The central framework of The Gift is that of so-called “gift economies.” These aboriginal societies, very much real, place the most adulation and respect not on the men and women who accumulate the most goods and luxuries (as in American society) but on those who give the most away. Imagine hip hop tracks that brag about how many Bentleys they gave to charity and you’re starting to get the picture. As the article puts it, in these societies “goods have value only insofar as they are treated as gifts, and gifts can remain gifts only if they are continually given away.”

So, what of art?

Hyde argues that this concept is what explains the behavior of poets who devote their life to words, musicians who tirelessly play in dark subway stations every day, and dancers who work long hours for money during the day, simply to perform long hours at night for free.

The problem, as Hyde states, is that these artists are living “in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities.” But goods decline in value immediately upon purchase, while artwork gains value by being passed around. Bands, for instance, gain traction through fans who share the music with their friends. It’s this vision of art as an offering that occupied Hyde for the 7 years he spent writing The Gift.

The discussion spirals out to topics such as file sharing, the validity of patents, and the ethics of concepts like “intellectual property.” The ultimate question is, as the Times summarizes quite nicely: “If creative work doesn’t necessarily have any market value, how is the artist to survive?”

I won’t spoil the article or the book, but reconciling this conflict may find its answer in public domain and “the cloud.” We’re living in an open source age, where programmers code for months on end to release products for free, and where encyclopedias are written by a global community and funded exclusively by donations. This sense of community and “giving” may give way to a shift in how artists are perceived in society.

The next time you hear someone refer to a performer’s talent as a “gift,” see if you can catch the sound of gratitude beneath it.