Category Archives: music

Filters

A low creek

I’m not much of one for lifehacks these days. There was a time when I believed that productivity was something that was important. It’s less so now. Now it’s not so much about how much one does, but what one does and with what level of quality. I don’t need more shortcuts or more automation. I need fewer of the things that require shortcuts and automation. And maybe that’s where we are collectively.

Me looking at the news every day will not change the number of new COVID-19 cases found in my county. My behavior pattern is set and will not be altered on a timescale that is measured in hours or anything less than months. Reading about the latest garbage spewed by partisan hacks will not change how I plan to vote. These are all ships that are far from port.

That’s where the filtering comes in.

Some people remember how to use computers. Some people even know about things like “hosts” files. I use this arcana to do things like make sure I never see certain websites. An errant link click doesn’t need to send my mind into a spiral. It can simply send me to a page that says, “Nope!”

But the biggest filter is not opening the browser at all. More reading of books. More experimenting with projects that are meaningful to me. More time with my family (not that this kind of time is necessarily in short supply in these Strange Days).

I’m thinking about music again. Art Music. The kind of music that I wanted to make the last time I lived in this ZIP code. I’m hearing the world in a different way. I’m feeling like some of the filters are really working.

Focusing

Page 1 of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modeste Moussorgsky

The best time for me to practice, when I was in school, was very early in the morning. Most of the practice rooms were empty. It was absolutely the wrong way to practice for a performance, because those are always in the evening and you are usually in a different mental and physical place at that point in the day, but it was the best time for technique. My mind was clear. My hands were fresh. I wasn’t tense from any interactions with other people yet. It was good.

This could be a good time for focus and reflection. The world that we knew is burning or gone. It’s not coming back. So what do we do now that we’ve removed some things? What grows up in the spaces between the empty buildings of the mind?

I’m trying to make space for music. I restrung an instrument today. Movements must be slow and deliberate right now. Everything is heavier. Resistance is everywhere. Maybe the space between the burned hulks is meant for focus and honing a touch of intent. Intent leads to good work.

Pickin’ and Trimmin’

I watched this short documentary by Matt Morris last night that illustrates perfectly the function of music in our real lives as well as why I need to patronize a real barber shop instead of the Hair-O-Rama.

Check it out here or dig my embed. 

Pickin’ & Trimmin’ from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.

Collaborative Tunes

One of my favorite things about collaborating with cool cats like Jason and Astra is that sometimes we start something, life gets busy, we forget, and then some magical piece of music shows up in the old Inbox. That happened this weekend!

A long time ago, Astra came to Houston to hang out and we played some tunes. One of them was Johnny Cash’s I Guess Things Just Happen That Way. Out takes were, um, rough. After the original meeting, I put down some guitars and sent it out into the ether. Apparently, Astra got some time and threw down some vocals. I love it.

Check it out:

      1. Guess Things Just Happen That Way

My Personal iPad Revolution

Why does this thing exist?

When the iPad was first introduced, I didn’t get it. It seemed like it wanted to fill a gap that wasn’t there. At that point in time, I was using my iPhone for everything mobile and my MacBook Pro for the heavy lifting. I didn’t see much point to trying to create a space between the two simply for the sake of filling it. Some of my friends felt the same way. Then I got my hands on one and it made complete sense.

To be clear, this device is still very new and the paradigm that it represents is fresh. It’s much more than a big iPhone and at the same time isn’t always less than a laptop. It does have a place and that place is becoming better defined every day.

This isn’t gadget pr0n. I swear.

When I was still hacking away in graduate school, I came across several attempts at touchscreen interfaces. They were first on the order of $10,000 and about a decade later dropped to the $1500 range. And that was for the interface and not the software or the synth hardware that was needed to use it. Regardless of what are now obviously crushing limitations, I got what that could do. Or I thought that I did.

The iPhone interface grabbed me because I could see in an instant how cool it would be to draw sound. TouchOSC does a great job of making that happen. On the iPad, it’s even better. I can control Logic sessions. I can pipe gestures to PureData over wifi. For experimental performers and anyone who does live sound the advantages and pure coolness are obvious. It’s enough to get a lot of music nerds to shell out for the Apple Developer License program and a pile of books to learn Objective-C. Certainly enough to drop about $50 for a catalog of apps that make this dream a reality.

If you’re really into that sort of thing, Curtis (bonus points for being named for Curtis Roads), Gliss, and DopplerPad are great apps to pick up. Why? Because they let you make cool sounds by moving your fingers and that’s what it’s all about. They turn the iPad into a unique musical instrument.

But where the iPad really shines for me is in sketching. And I have to say that my favorite tool is also the source of most of my frustration: GarageBand.

GarageBand

What can I do with GarageBand? Well, I can set up some smart instruments and play with chord patterns. I can take my songs and experiment with drums or bass. I can tweak some synth action that can all be sent over to my Mac, opened in GarageBand, and then sent to Logic for real work (yes, you can skip GarageBand on the Mac but I don’t for a host of reasons whose discussion is for another time). This is great. The interface is amazing for plunking out melodies and picking chord structures (in a well defined key and standard time signature – sorry prog rockers!).

What can’t I do? Well, I can’t take a GarageBand project that I tweak on my Mac and put it back onto the iPad. I understand why. The iPad version is limited to 8 tracks. There are issues with audio data formats. A lot of the innards are just different. But the fact that it’s so easy to create a project and get some momentum going on the iPad is what results in powerful frustration once I hit that first hurdle. It wrecks what could be a really, really nice workflow and replaces the opportunity for doing serious work with a piece with a host of words that make me question the parentage of the product. In short, it does everything so well that it’s a given that it should take it the whole way. That’s actually a compliment for creating a product so great that I just assume that it will do it all. But more than a compliment it’s a source of raging frustration. Yeah, it’ll get there…but I’m here now.

Life after GarageBand

So what do I do about it? Enter Studio.HD. It’s primarily aimed at folks who dig on loops. I don’t, but that doesn’t make it any less useful for me. I can take AIF or WAV files from my Mac and put them into the app via iTunes sharing (OH DEAR LORD PLEASE STOP THE PAIN!!! PLEASE COME UP WITH A BETTER WAY TO GET STUFF INTO MY APPS!!! I AM BEGGING YOU!!!) and then drop them into a multitrack environment that allows me to move snippets around and experiment with my arrangements. It’s really, really easy to use and puts a lot of power into such a tiny device.

The other thing that is great about Studio.HD is that it uses the Sonoma’s Audiocopy. That means that I can pull audio from a number of apps into Studio.HD and make cool things happen. One example is Korg’s iMS-20. It’s a modular synthesizer with a delicious interface that lets me dork around with stuff that I would only dork around with if I had it in my lap. And I do. So I do.

Studio.HD also has just enough features and effects to make working with it worthwhile. Would I use it to produce an album? Maybe. On a desert island. Or as my time for pursuing certain activities becomes so limited that I only have the seconds and minutes I can scrape together between explaining, yet again, Luke Skywalker’s family tree and checking to make sure that the house isn’t on fire. Please don’t take this as disparaging the app. It’s amazing and for $10 you can’t really go wrong.

Bottom line

I’ve mentioned before [link to last post] that I don’t have time for things that don’t work. This really comes down to the fact of my life (and maybe yours too) that I don’t have time. Period. The iPad has become my new way of feeling good about myself and my creative progress. I can open it at a moment’s notice and close it up just as quickly.

And it goes everywhere with me. I’m waiting for the man-bag to come into its own to the point where my son doesn’t refer to my messenger bag as “daddy’s purse.” I need to have it with me. It’s not an addiction like the smart phone early adopters, but rather a mature need to have what I do with me all the time so that I can feel like what’s important to me is not only in my mind, but also at my fingertips when I have a few minutes. If I can push a project along even a little bit while I’m at lunch or waiting for the doctor or even with a sleeping baby on my lap, then the device has more than paid for itself.

Apps

If you are a musician and you have an iPad, then at the bare minimum you owe yourself GarageBand and Studio.HD. For the grand total of about $15, you’ll have that imaginary studio in your hand that we were promised along with flying cars and meals in pill form.