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.


The Tao of Music

November 11, 2009


I was flipping through the book Everyday Tao and came across the entry for Music:

There was once a zither student whose master, frustrated by his pupil’s lack of musical progress for so many years, pronounced him unsuitable for learning. To understand how devastating this was to the young man, one must remember that playing the zither was considered a very high and demanding art, practiced only by refined and learned people. In addition, one’s master was like a parent. He or she was usually as dedicated to teaching as a parent is to rearing a child. So to be rejected by his teacher was a great shock to the student.

The master abandoned the young man on the shores of an island, leaving the student only a zither. Left to his own resources, the disappointed pupil provided first for his survival. The island, although uninhabited, had enough wild fruit and vegetables to sustain him. In the time that followed, he listened to the singing of birds, the chorus of the waves, the melodies of the wind. He spent long periods of time in meditation and musical practice. By the time he was rescued, several years later, he had become a virtuoso player and composer, far greater than his master: he had entered into Tao.

And so it is with us. We need teaching. But there is a point beyond which teaching cannot provide for us. Only direct experience can give us the final dimensions we need. That means learning from nature, and learning from ourselves. As long as we remember that, there can be no mistake.

So start playing.

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.

Getting Lost.

December 24, 2008


“When you’re really working, really playing tennis, lifting weights, playing basketball, or whatever it is—it happens in sports, it happens in music, it happens in everything—when you’re fully consumed with the act, the witness just disappears. And for that reason, when someone asks, ‘What was it like?’ you can’t remember, because the person inside of you who does the remembering was otherwise occupied.”

Philip Glass, Composer


December 19, 2008


photo courtesy of gdargaud.net

I’ve always felt that traveling can be like a dinner party if you’re not careful.

A traveler is a person who seeks new experiences in far off lands but, if that traveler is not firmly set within each experience that is occurring at that moment, then they are like the partygoer whose eyes wander away from the person they are speaking to, off looking for different experiences while a potentially great one is at hand. It’s also completely annoying and rude.

I bring this up because the same problem, this wanderlust, can afflict musicians as well. It happens when practicing your instrument and, rather than learning a piece in its entirety, you stop halfway through to start learning a different song altogether. It begins a cascading routine that leaves you with a repertoire of half-finished songs.

The same thing can occur with the instruments: an aspiring virtuoso may put down their alto sax to practice a tenor, in an effort to cure their boredom or expand their instrumental vocabulary.

Even listening to music can be a problem: have you ever played a song in your iTunes (or Songbird) playlist as you search for the next song you want to listen to?

Wanderlust sounds like a charming concept and is generally assumed to mean a “love for travel”, but it is rooted in inattentiveness, multitasking, and the overall diluting of experience. An activity or endeavor, in fact any particular moment in time, deserves your full attention. You need to keep experiences close to you, and not spend too much time looking for the greener pasture on the other side. Travel, new skills, and new experiences are crucial, but it is important not to let them hold back the vitality of your existing locale, skills, and experiences.

The German concept at hand here is actually called Fernweh, which literally means “an ache for the distance.” Fernweh keeps you far away from what is near to you.

Free Online Ear Training!

December 1, 2008

Here is a great online tool that teaches you how to play any song by ear. At the absolute least it’s a great introduction to music theory and how songs are built.

The principle at work when learning to read music and play songs is one of relation. How one note (or chord, or melodic line) relates to another. But some people can learn songs without any point of reference at all. Check out an introduction over at the Instant Guitarist blog entry: How To Learn Perfect Pitch. The post describes the concept of perfect pitch (also called absolute pitch) in a great way:

Perfect Pitch is being able to identify a musical note without a reference note. Basically, you can tell what any sound is in the world and classify it into the seven notes. Soon you will hear car horns, clanging cans, or even laughter as musical notes.

Perfect pitch, then, is the ability to hear the world as music. This makes it a worthwhile skill for musicians and non-musicians alike.

Check out the wikipedia article to learn more about this phenomenon, as well as the controversy surrounding the ability to learn it.

Rinse… Repeat…… Mostly Repeat.

October 28, 2008

“Be mindful of the link between present action and desired future outcome. Ask yourself: if I repeat today’s actions 365 times, will I be where I want to be in a year?”

Roz Savage (Rower, writer, speaker. Working to become the first solo woman to row across the Pacific Ocean from California to Australia)