25 August 2014

Just a hop skip and a jump (across the pond) to Music Tech Fest: London 2014

Gatherings that involve amassing lots of creative energy often lead to new discoveries, new efforts or new relationships that may not have formed otherwise. This is why conferences and meet ups are so popular among the music industry.

One such gathering is just about to arrive on the calendar and its spontaneous collaboration is not to be missed! 

Music Tech Fest, which you can read previous coverage on here, is putting together the last round of their preparations before kicking off the third installment of its flagship event, hosted at the place of its founding, London. Themes challenging hackers, musicians, artists and creatives of all types who present and attend, incorporate a unique frame for thought each year and this year is no exception. Three days of presentations and their 24 hour hackathon bring in three fresh and contrasting themes for exploration, all of which are bound to prompt intrigue. Getting underway on Friday, September 5 and running through the weekend until Sunday, September 7, the festival's chosen location is of extra special significance to the area, being held at the LSO Saint Luke's home to the London Symphony Orchestra.

If the trip isn't a long plane ride away, do consider getting one of the very limited tickets available to the general public for attendance at the festival, on sale now through the LSO's official website! If the UK is a trip too far away, don't despair, as every minute of the inspiring and surprising will be filmed and streamed live for viewing across the world. Pair that with the instantaneous power of Twitter and it can feel like you are right there with everyone so there's nothing to lose!


Here's the breakdown of Music Tech Fest: London for 2014 and information on the tickets:

Friday, Saturday and Sunday tickets are each available for £20, or if you buy all three days, it's just £50 for the whole weekend.

We have a world first presentation of wearable performance technologies, a computer that composes classical music, a quartet making music directly from human brainwaves, a gunk band you can join and play music using old game controllers, and so much more.

The industry will be there. The hackers will be there. The artists will be there. The inventors will be there. The future of music will be there. We'd love you to be there too!

Themes and schedule for 2014

Friday: 6pm - 10pm - Occupy Music
Join us as we take over the music industry and invent it again from scratch with new technologies, new ideas and new economics. From an exclusive sneak preview of a documentary film about the social technologies of independent music collectives in Brazil to the introduction of brand new music formats, new wearable performance technologies and the reinvention of merchandise, a specially commissioned wearable tech performance with Jason Singh, new ways of being a band, brand new apps - and radical digital innovation from a bunch of people who are several steps ahead in their thinking about the music business.

Saturday: 1pm - 10pm - Gunk and HMI
On Saturday, we're going Gunk - geek punk. Forget three chords - here's a Raspberry Pi, an accelerometer and the Soundcloud API. Go form a band. Have a battle of the apps. We're pitching Coldcut with Ninja Jamm against Yellofier. Improvise with gaming controllers and enrol in Fakebit Polytechnic. Rough and ready innovation at the cutting edge of music and tech. We'll also be getting into HMI - Human Music Interaction - music and the brain, music and emotion, music and visuals, new works at the intersection of contemporary music and data and live performances by a brainwave quartet - as well as a new classical work entirely composed by a computer.

Sunday: 1pm - 10pm - Get Your Ears Dirty
Roll up your sleeves and get your ears dirty. Music is for playing. Technology is for making. We're getting out the components, breaking open the software. Anything that can make noise will make noise. Bring your inner child - and your outer one. Here's your chance to get involved and help invent the future of music - or simply watch it being invented before your eyes with lots of hands-on experimentation, hacks by both pros and kids, bucketloads of improvisation and unlikely collaborations, Shlomo getting his ears dirty with you - and great figureheads from the worlds of beatboxing, hip hop and jazz chipping in.


As quickly as Music Tech Fest London is approaching, Music Tech Fest may also be coming to a city near you, so take note of the "tour" dates below! In addition, Music Tech Fest is already planning into 2015 with ten global festival events lined up, including large Music Tech Fest events in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and at Midem in Cannes in June.

Music Tech Fest 2014 dates:

• London 5-7 September at the LSO St Lukes (the home of the London Symphony


• Berlin 24-26 October in association with Fraunhofer, Berklee College of Music & Factory Berlin;

• Paris 21-23 November alongside Ircam Forum and Berklee's Rethink Music

Venture Day at IRCAM in the Pompidou Centre;

• New York 10-12 December in partnership with NYU.


Andrew Dubber, Director

Music Tech Fest


Email: dubber@musictechfest.org

Twitter: @dubber / @musictechfest

Phone: +44 7446 886566

Skype: adubber

13 August 2014

Sensible or not: Scrutinizing the subtleties of sound

Thus far, our senses have led to some pretty solid sounding instruments.
How much should we or shouldn't we abandon relying on them?

"Sound waves", Online Image, Wikimedia Commons, 12 August 2014
< http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PSM_V13_D058_Sound_waves_1.jpg >

Busting out the microscope, testing protocols and then turning massively specific — these choices that revolve around pursuing absolute certainty don't necessarily align right away with the very free flowing, interpretive, abstract nature of artistic performance. True, when a person reaches for their instrument in preparation to play, tuning often involves steady listening and exact precision in order to settle on the proper micro tone and set oneself up with proper intonation. Meticulous behavior and meticulous standards have a place amidst music but perhaps only when it comes to all the stages prior to playing.

After all, if we started to makes things too precise and memorize them too intimately without room for variation, that would result in overly sanitized sounds wouldn't it? 

Oh, wait, we might be a little late on that one... *cough* digital manipulation *cough*

The construction of virtually any instrument, many steps prior to it ever reaching a musician's hands for play, involves an exactness, much like that of any architect. It is intriguing to note the inherently opposing approaches to understanding and navigating an instrument's assembly when looking at modern, machine aided evaluation and the reliability of tried and true human experience over many years of training and formation of individual intuition. The sheer variety of instruments there are in the world, deciding to do such a compare and contrast for any single one would be daunting. The choice to study the piano in this more intimate way, one of the most stylistically multi-faceted and physically complex instruments out there, only seems like the most maddening of options to pick.

Yet this is exactly what some professors from around the country and have set out to do, one step, or one note rather, at a time. According to a recent podcast with Science Friday, Agnieszka Roginska, a professor of NYU's music technology department and Alex Case, an associate professor of music with the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, are working together to create a sonic map of piano note radiation in relation to each key's frequency. Repeated, identical strikes of piano keys (for the time being, middle C,) using an electronic Disklavier player piano for play consistency, and ever increasing microphone placement along the length of the piano, presented them with a rough sonic image of the radiation pattern for that particular note on the piano. 


Prior to doing anything, simply walk into a room with a piano and one is faced with an intricate device of many delicately interconnected parts — the hammers, strings, and sound board to name a few — each capable of many different kinds of manipulation that all affect how well or poorly the pieces work together to do their jobs and then collectively how well the instrument itself sounds at the time of play. Most of our senses can even be trained to observe an instrument like a piano in such a close way: through sound, feel of string vibrations and even merely by sight, with enough experience.

On the one hand, knowing how many minute differences there can be in each and every piano that's made (because humanity and artificially forced copying just don't match up 100%), and given the piano's inherent mechanical complexity, understanding its inner workings in a more straightforward and measurable way could certainly paint a better picture of what specifically makes every new piano sound the way it does. This elucidation would then conceivably make it easier for pianists to choose a piano with a sound even more tightly catered to their individually preferred timbre. Think, ultimate level of customization! 

Still, is it a good and or necessary advancement that people want to further strip down something self-taught and apprenticed masters have been capable of building with refinement since long before mass production lines were even a thought?

In the context of some very isolated purposes, dissecting a piano note down to its many, often unnoticed, harmonics and overtones leaves less room for gross misuse or excessive application. Discovering more about the very origins and behavior of timbre for example, (e.g. the pluck of a guitar string vs. the pluck of a piano string.) would simply be an expanding of comprehension about sound as an entity. The idea that we might have a better sonic visualization of piano tone resonance against its soundboard and be capable of applying that to studio micing that will give a piano player stronger recorded input, long before any plug-ins or EQ are used, such an application feels much like a maximizing of pre-existent potential. If a soundboard in a piano is what is it and we just have a clearer picture of what it does with the notes people play, there's nothing forcibly excessive about that either. Again, thumbs up to technology and advancement here.


Going back to the first mention of ultimate customization though...does gaining the ability to create the "perfect blues piano" or "perfect symphonic piano," by way of (eventual) zoning in on the ideal combination of harmonics, feel like sliding too far outside the area of balance between having/utilizing science and technology's capabilities and retaining some area of gray obscurity necessary to keep music's human character? It's not just about human character in playing the music but in what is used to play the music as well.

There's the argument that electric instruments have already somewhat answered the question of this dilemma but the fact of the matter is that they are separate from their acoustic counterparts. If you want a specific sound, you reach for an electric guitar and trick it out using technology to give you the sound you want, but, we don't technologically manipulate the construction of a guitar that is meant to exist acoustically, in order to give it some level of digitally acquired specificity. 

Doing so might just change how we view the meaning behind a "truly acoustic" instrument or a "truly digital instrument" and may just create a new category of hybrid between the two. Will that be the first move toward a type of natural sonic predictability? An auto-tune even outside of auto-tune? Or is this just another flow of evolution in music making akin to the when electric instruments came on the scene in the first place?

As with any new developments that result from scholarly research, it will come down to what we desire out of the music we go forth to make and where we place the lines of application and musical differentiation amidst new information. 

Bob Berger, Steinway's director of customer satisfaction put it perfectly for Science Friday, and it's people like him, especially given in the position he's in with Steinway, that makes his objective view toward this kind of potential change, so valuable:

"And you know the idea of having sophisticated equipment to measure acoustic performance is wonderful to have, but never discount the ability of your hearing to be able to discern very subtle changes in many different aspects of tone and sound.” 

01 August 2014

And now for something completely different...

Perfect scenario: unorthodox bits of sky-inspired audio played back
on Richard Clarkson's interactive lamp and speaker, also called The Cloud!
"The Cloud", Online Image,  1 August 2014, Cloud + R.C.
< http://static.squarespace.com/static/
51b52c1ee4b0f0ee887cd1e8/t/5307897be4b05512e6e91a6f/1393002885630/4.jpg?format=1000w >

Happy August!

Today's title is inspired by Chris Thile's use of this recognized Monty Python quote, as Thile said it during a live performance, right before playing a cover the "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" by the White Stripes — been stuck in my head since coming across it last week. 

Personal ear worms aside, the transitional sounding title is indeed pertinent and all-to-fitting, for what is here today: A pair of fascinating works that both interpret something from a non-auditory experience into audible and sonically varying results. 

Let's start with these two questions to get things rolling:

If clouds made music as they moved, 
what would their melodies sound like?

If space weren't devoid of air and incapable of sustaining sound waves, what would the activity happening around the planets in our solar system sound like?

The answer to these contemplations reside in one audio visual robotic build and one round of NASA probe transmissions, titled the Cloud Piano and NASA Space Sounds, respectively. 

The Cloud Piano, created by kinetic, robotic and sculptural designer David Bowen, seems to embody each of the three character qualifiers of Bowen's sculptural scope. Working primarily with real time, visual programming engine, Max/MSP, Bowen's installation joins together video input with an everyday piano and a few robot appendages in-between, to make the visual-to-auditory conversion come to life. The work is described as such on his official website:

"[Cloud Piano] plays the keys of a piano based on the movements and shapes of the clouds. A camera pointed at the sky captures video of the clouds. Custom software uses the video of the clouds in real-time to articulate a robotic device that presses the corresponding keys on the piano. The system is set in motion to function as if the clouds are pressing the keys on the piano as they move across the sky and change shape. The resulting sound is generated from the unique key patterns created by ethereal forms that build, sweep, fluctuate and dissipate in the sky."

NASA's Space Sounds, on the other hand, utilize no conventional instruments for a trickle-down musical representation. Rather, the the various probes responsible for recording and converting electromagnetic waves in space, around planets and so on, over to frequencies audible to humans, conveys a much more literal and direct display of what a non-sonic occurrence leaves in human ears if it becomes discernible within 20Hz-20kHz. The coincidentally ethereal and tonically-uneasy results of these wave conversions almost makes it feel as though a cosmic joke is being played on the human race. Perhaps these clips could become the standard for background sound in space exploration films, much akin to the Wilhelm Scream continuously applied to films since 1951 but with far more realism, given their actually real interpretation.

While the answer to each question, provided in the form of these clips, might seem like a frivolous, non-necessity to functional living, seeing more and more exploration into the understanding, conversion and (occasional) artistic programming of these types of unconventional auditory avenues via non-music related projects, ushers in new, much needed, room for musical evolution. It's no secret that every note has been played. Every lick, riff and hook has been done. Avant-garde is even getting to be a difficult label to genuinely take on, as the absence of more and more expected approaches to music leaves only the uncommon to expose, and, eventually, there will only be less first-time newness to that sector as well.

NASA might not take up music in-between working to expand space exploration technologies but what these two endeavors have in common is a new, yet straightforward, look at two sources for musical inspiration, from things we have long had around us but have maybe taken for granted, in lieu of trying to intensely and or consciously to "do or  be different" only in ways we perceive to be relevant for music.

Maybe the next new movement in music is going to come from not working with an objective for new at all. 
Maybe we have to truly look at everything we already have around us and see (and hear) what untapped vantage points have been thus far left unnoticed because they have existed, up to now, in a non-musical context.

25 July 2014

Players, perfection and paranoia of a different color

In this case, should the sign actually say, "Population: Everyone. Now what?"
"Population1", Online Image, Linked to Business 25 July 2014
< http://linkedintobusiness.com/content/uploads/perfection1.jpg >

Stage fright, performance anxiety, plain nerves...whichever label one prefers to reference, the general experience associated with these terms tends to be one that nobody wishes on themselves or anyone else –and not just because sweaty palms are unpleasant.

The idea of losing focus and becoming negatively, hyper aware of everyone watching an unfolding performance is certainly no fun. Nonetheless, despite burying oneself in an avalanche of books on preparation, the occasional shaky set of legs is virtually inevitable among anybody putting themselves out there for evaluation. I have touched on this topic in a previous piece, as it was a part of a discussion I had with one of the members of the October Project, back in 2012. The occurrence of anxiety around musical performance is nothing unique to one type of musician or one type of situation. Simultaneously, for an occurrence so commonplace, one would imagine that additional, as well as more effective mechanisms for coping with and overcoming the problem would be hanging around in abundance for analysis and personal execution.

Why is this reality important and worth re-visiting?

This piece, from the LA Times, posted a little over a week ago on July 15, ventures into the fearful waters from a slightly different angle and prompts a reconsideration of the lines that separate the reasons for fear in artistic study, among other things elaborated on later: stage terror manifesting not from fear of inadequate musicianship or technical skill, but rather, fear of one's performance not being the choice of another, that makes the cut for a job spot among others equally as skilled. Auditions, by the nature of their underlying competitive purposes, are associated with wanting perfection and possibly fearing providing less than that and subsequently forming serious anxiety over that. However, when a player is in a room with comparable colleagues, what exactly constitutes less than perfection is not nearly as blatant; with the margins of good versus less good existing so close together, no light can peer through the space between them. Jumping right to the blunt cut of the conversation, take a look at some of these sentiments on the current state of professional level auditions and accompanying anxiety:

Today, perfection is a requirement...You must have flawless intonation, you must be a machine,

are the words of David Taylor, assistant concertmaster with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The article then paints and even more overarching picture of what auditions can be like for the modern high level musician:

Now auditions take place behind screens to ensure anonymity. For a while, tapes were sent along with résumés — before it was realized that...the result might be a record spliced together from several takes. The point of it all is to make the process as fair and democratic as possible, even though subjectivity remains key.”

Carrie Dennis, principal violist of the L.A. Philharmonic described the intense level of anonymity striven for by authorities for her audition as being akin to animal herding:

[The Philadelphia Orchestra has] carpets so the committee can't even hear the sound of the auditioners' shoes. You pick a number, you get called and herded in. It's like a cattle call."

Such statements and enforced policies are not freshly conceived, nor are they even especially bolstered thanks to the attention of any particular scandal, however, they have definitely been given even more mental priority and decision-impactive emphasis among some orchestras as the years have progressed, held back partially thanks to the varying approaches to audition and interpretation of perfection among varying cultures as also alluded to by Dennis. A lack of objective, tonal or technique based imperfection leaves seasoned musicians with stage anxiety sourced from a completely separate place –one that holds itself up against unattainable qualifiers, described as such due to the plain fact that no one is a machine.

Moreover, there is something to be said about the elimination and disallowing of any variable in execution because machine-like proficiency is the antithesis of artistic singularity. The inclusion of some humanity –potential for mistakes and all– into ones playing can mean technical pitfalls, or, it can be absent these and simply lead to the inclusion of additional, intangible emotional conveyance, which is as much of an enhancement element as is hitting all the right tones and dynamic markings. It is a wonder performance majors across the country have not already all had severe nervous breakdowns with expectations like these.

Consider this:

Classical music might not use Auto-Tune to excess in the way many contemporary, mainstream musicians do. Still, with the bars for the former group of artists currently set so dramatically high –not to mention functionally impossible– the classical vein is actually mirroring a move toward, and apparent desire for, sonic sterilization in much the same fashion. It just has not realized and or won't admit it (yet). The sterilization of the latter might not be intended to correct unattainable notes but instead would be akin to a removal of every professional's own recognizable tone color, as they steadily and forcibly need to adapt to some committee's nebulous rubric of expectations. Combine those two descriptors together with a pool of people competing for rare orchestral openings and it is difficult to conjure up a list of who wouldn't be full of terror and eventually develop some degree of an inadequacy complex.

17 July 2014

Startup Spotlight Special: Soundwave 2.0!

Soundwave's next evolution is here!
"Soundwave 2.0", Online Image, Cover Photos, 17 July 2014

Try saying that five times fast!

Today I'm featuring and highlighting, the hard work of some exceptionally creative friends from across the pond, in a way that that I'm thinking might just stick around on the site going forward...

Soundwave is a Dublin based music discovery app for iOS and Android, that I have been following for quite some time over at SoundCTRL, where I do much of my tech writing. For those just hearing about this app company for the first time here, my last bit of published commentary on the app was back in March, talking about an update and migration from mobile to desktop access. In short, and as you can read in the hyperlinked article, Soundwave is a music tracker that is all about global, real time discovery –or, as I love to refer to it: the musical jetsetter app.

Commonly known now, as the ‘Instagram of music,’ Soundwave is unleashing its biggest update and feature evolution to date –and when your app's most unique feature already lets users see what people are listening to any place in the world right when they play something, one can imagine growing past that element is no simple aspiration or achievement. Still, Soundwave has surpassed their previous bar with a solid batch of changes that have cemented their reputation as a top notch startup success.

As a discovery engine requiring virtually no manual work on the part of users in order to get their music out to the rest of the global community, (thanks to automatic capture and sync technology that detects song plays from desktop players and native smartphone players, along with many other popular outlets like SoundCloud, Rdio, Spotify and YouTube, to name a few,) the Soundwave development team was able to acutely listen and efficiently react to, the app user base via community suggestion and massive beta testing, when it clamored for faster and deeper social connection. Already equipped with widely popular commenting and tagging capability, the newest layer of social features include these significant upgrades:
    Soundwave's brand new "Group Chats" feature!

    Music messenger/groups: Expanding from single comments and the inevitable “chat chains” that form when you really get into discussing a song with another fan, users can now initiate group chats with one another.

    Instant playlists with friends: Create playlists together with friends by instantly adding songs from Spotify, YouTube, iTunes or anywhere else. Just swipe to view all the songs that have been shared and voilà: an instant playlist.

    Smart recommendations: Finding other people who are playing the same music as you, are in the same area as you and are even “Liking” the same tunes as you, is now even more intuitive and easy with Soundwave's new smart recommendation feature.

    Song search and share: Users can now look for specific songs within the app and then instantly share them either on their own activity feeds or with other users.
    New Soundwave user profile interface!

    In addition to these social upgrades, the other major changes in Soundwave 2.0 include:
    Music on tap: Play a full YouTube video for any track, directly via Soundwave or open it in Deezer, Rdio or Spotify with a single tap. 
    New profile UI: Next to the functional expansion of Soundwave, this is probably one of the biggest changes, that is also the most immediately noticeable. The aesthetic of Soundwave's interface has gotten a nice makeover. The new design is cohesive, bright, visually streamlined (ideal given the scroll-and-swipe-heavy nature of the app's content) and everything simply feels refreshed –ready to take on this new level of user interaction.  
    A permanent feature bar that includes single tap access to one's profile, playlists, the main activity stream and recent social activity, works in tandem with a separate side menu of the other features –including the Music Map. Together, the two parts house all of Soundwave's surfing and socializing tools. In the nature of full honesty, this can feel a little navigationally confusing at times if one has been a pre-existent user because of the drastic facelift. However, just as with any other popular outlet, give it time; maybe take the first few uses slowly and just go through every corner of the app. In no time, everything will be right where you remember it. If anything, new users are liable to adjust more quickly because this structure will be the first thing they experience.

    Soundwave's CTO, Aidan Sliney, explains Soundwave's latest development in context of the company's recent accolades, the longer term and the big picture:

    “Having received the coveted Editor’s Choice Award, Designed for iOS 7 and Best of 2013 award from Apple, along with Top Developer from Google and, most recently, the EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year nomination – these awards enhance the sense of pride that we have for the product and it solidifies the progress we have achieved in year one but most importantly, it enhances the confidence we have in the roadmap we have outlined for the future and the new product launch that we will be delivering to our users [today.]”

    It is a rare sight to see a company that can keep moving forward with such a degree and combination of: development speed, staff-to-user intimacy, (something that can fade as a company grows and resources stretch,) tech trend awareness and retention of core product vision. The stage Soundwave is at now, clearly shows them laying down a new marker on the path of socialization that has been carved out by so many before them. Nevertheless, as mentioned before, this is only because Soundwave's grasp on the instantaneously and ubiquitously present nature of music in everyday society is already so airtight, needing only minor alteration from time to time because they have been so ahead of the discovery curve since unearthing their concept on day one.

    The newest version of Soundwave is available now from the iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store and the company can be found/followed on these social media outlets.


    Twitter (@Soundwave)


    Soundwave's founders are Brendan O'Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and Craig Watson. The app is backed by venture capitalist Mark Cuban and enthusiastically supported by actor, author and philanthropist, Stephen Fry.

    11 July 2014

    Music: The middle ground amidst the arrival of (more) emotional data mining?

    A line from Disney's "Frozen" just felt all too appropriate for this one...
    "Conceal, Don't Feel" Online Image, This is a State of Grace 11 July 2014,
     < http://31.media.tumblr.com/f8ebe02c777bf4b713d69dc915affb5f/
    tumblr_mxltmgSfoy1qlt4fao1_500.jpg >

    The hot topic as of late seems to revolve around further inclusion and analysis of human emotion and that information from such being applied to strategies used by marketers, advertisers and brand designers, among many others in the advert industry. The idea in some circles is that this will become the next “hot commodity” for those sorts of people to garner and then use (read: exploit) I order to better fine tune the delivery of their intended marketing messages of product perceptions.

    Facebook falling into some hot water over their initially non-disclosed emotional manipulation of users via positive and negative messages in feeds revealed at least a modicum of discomfort on the part of the public. However, as with most things that are new and uncommon, will the uproar die down if emotional data indeed becomes something of an expected tradeoff for using services or attaining products? Furthermore, are we really, actually upset over the concept of emotion mining or, is it just about the slowly but ever closing gap on how far away we can keep others from seeing our emotions now lined up against tools driven by hard lined facts?

    An aversion to the latter over the former feels most likely, due to these two things:

    • Lack of ability to keep any semblance of emotional secrecy

    (Pop culture reference! For anyone who is a fan of Grey's Anatomy, here is a nice, literal analogy of someone who puts this idea very bluntly because that is her life, thanks to a medical condition and all without the “aid” of technology to divulge anything: “I can't get mad, I can't, feel happy, I can't feel anything, without the whole world knowing. I can't have a secret. Can you imagine living that way your entire life?”)

    • The fact that emotions are an inherently gray-tinted phenomenon of sentient condition means that placing them in heavily defined, steadfast categories via things like biometric machinery challenges the very nature of emotional fluidity and the potential for organic, authentic change. Emotions manifest in our thoughts, both consciously and subconsciously, in time faster than single instants.

    If we know we are wearing, being watched or listened to by something that will reveal very strictly, how or what we are feeling, invariably our thoughts will at least partially dwell on that reality and that fact will flow over into an effect against our emotions –whether it amplifies them (e.g. anxiety/self-consciousness) or stunts them because of our attempt to avoid point number one listed above.

    There is a willingness to show our emotion –down to very specific and verbalized articulations (e.g. from the old school “any additional comments” section of any survey, to the tech-infused, artistically driven manner of things like the butterfly Wishing Wall currently on display at the Barbican Centre in London for their Digital Revolution Exhibition.) and then, there is a taking away of that choice to disclose. We can choose our feelings but how will we go about making our decisions and how fully will they be revealed if we know they reside in a format discernible to anyone we meet, even if for the first time?

    The butterflies for the Wishing Wall at an in-progress state of development. 

    Just to drive home the point with one more creative analogy, what if we all lived like Pinocchio? Technology widening its function at the rate it is, (here I am deliberately avoiding the word "advancing" because not everyone believes the new is a “step forward.”) the choice to allow some of our thoughts and feelings to be revealed only leaves leeway for a very slippery slope of more to eventually become included because technology is not going to revert; only move forward and aim for more specified material.

    This pair of approaches to accessing emotional feedback is exactly where society is standing right now –a fork in the road if you will. In addition to visual art, music is an entire activity, and construct of thinking, that thrives on emotional disclosure form nearly every aspect of its existence. The songwriter has feelings that inspire and build a song, a band has feeling that shape a song's recording and production and then the consumer has feelings that affect whether they like and pursue an ongoing aural relationship with said band. Once that relationship has been established, on some level, it is as though fans are carrying around a portion of their emotions for all to see, in a very plain, transparent manner, capable of being judged, anytime someone take out their music player or cues up a playlist.

    However, even then, people can still find respite in the fact that no one knows the full, detailed reason we include a specific artist in our publicly viewable music players. The artist or group's emotion that is intended for delivery upon listening (which makes associating with them partially like resigning oneself to a defined category,) otherwise boiling down to a personality element derived from a single genre classification, is certainly one factor that gets attached to listeners as a sensibly perceived reflection of our own emotions, mindsets or ideals. Yet, that does not necessarily HAVE to be the reason or even a reason, so therefore, some secrecy, gray area and option of choice for disclosure remain.

    In this way, regardless of how discombobulated the industry's working for profit, music (and its consumption) are right now, each continue to stand as entities that inherently manage a compromise between deliberate, trackable, emotional revelation and wanting to retain concepts like abstraction and unrestricted or undefined appeal. Music is like the “other, please specify” in the old school survey and the “hipster” in the metaphorical crowd of people that make up consumers and who the music industry's advertisers believe can be intentionally molded and directed to fit a specific inventory or profit margin agenda.

    That said, at least when it comes to music, maybe we have nothing to worry about, even if we should eventually, actually wear, our musical hearts on our sleeves?

    04 July 2014

    Fire up the band and lead us to indie-pendence!

    Are you community or competition: which are you "in?"
    "Indie", Online Image, De'massed 3 July 2014
    &lt; http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-Ab73fqfbDOo/UUfl_heSXFI/AAAAAAAAAUs/YNykMRVfAC0/s1600/indie.jpg >

    This piece was inspired by a question posed via tweet, by web designer, Ross Barber (@ElectricKiwi)

    Look momentarily at the calendar. Lo and behold, it is already July and the Independence Day holiday weekend is already upon us. That means it's just the beginning of summer and with the beginning of summer, comes the unfurling of concert dates, tour schedules and festivals galore.
    Nothing summer specific has his my schedule yet but in past week or so, I will say I have seen and heard at least 10 bands I had never known even existed prior to right before they struck the first downbeat on stage. 

    (Credit and a special shout out to Soul Sounds Inc. in Sayville, NY for much of my aforementioned music exposure the past week! Never forget to support independent music retail!)

    What makes this slew of musical showings feel significant enough to write about and comment on, is the fact that these groups were each local, independent bands –some a bit more established than others– but still within a relatable enough bracket for each of them to be putting their songs out there to the public in the same accessible and still highly intimate way bands do when they are aiming for lots of buzz and a solid, loyal group of fans.

    It is this level of connection and type of show that I believe sometimes gets taken for granted, or possibly even overlooked by the public, as far as its rare and often too fleeting window of band-to-band connection is concerned. Yes, fans are important; particularly at the initial stage when a group is still mostly unknown outside of band member circles. However, there is something to be said for the time in a band's development when the opposing goals of “gain enough recognition to play music all the time” and “make friends with other cool bands who are in the same boat as we are,” are able to strongly, but healthily, coexist.

    Think about it:

    When are bands making the biggest, most grassroots, DIY push for artistic growth and listeners?

    When they're unknown/developing

    When are bands most likely to connect, team up and work to enhance one another, whether through an EP or double show or other project, and with little to no fuss of nuts, bolts and territorial logistics?

    When they're unknown/developing.

    That's not to say that artists who have “made it” don't offer a friendly mic if a fellow musician happens to be at their show (see Michael Bublé and Josh Groban's little on-stage chat and sing-off below) or that artists don't pay respect/homage to one another on accomplishments that range from album releases to performances gone viral.

    Still, it is intriguing to contemplate the inevitable degree of transition for a band; going from having widely open arms and a sense of communal effort, to starting to hone one's own assets and seemingly needing to care quite specifically, about things like whose merch table get the spot closest to the venue door. To say nothing of the evolution from a band playing free shows to playing shows that charge for tickets and have venue fees –a change that primarily impacts the fans first– is there even a need for that awkward in-between stage where a band stops being so casual with other acts and becomes fixated on competing for things (fans, favor, resources, etc.) or can the pursuit of joint achievement and steadfastness of community among the industry's neophytes remain intact?

    The “local” piece of the equation is what makes things really interesting in evaluating and answering this question. There are those groups who have enough recognition and funds to do things like professionally record, tour, sell lots of merch but they still play a lot of the same venues, on a fairly regular basis, that were perhaps part of their venue repertoire while on a lower tier of the public's radar. In this way, maybe all it takes to maintain a genuine sense of community amidst fellow indies, even after one's band has grown, is to stay directly plugged in to those places.

    Sure, if a band has exploded in popularity, no one would expect them to go back to playing free shows all of the time but, much the same way students who are passionate about their universities can choose to stay connected as alumni even though they are no long part of that crowd that is finding their place in the world, bands that have “outgrown” their grassroots stage could choose to maintain ties, maybe play the occasionally special, intimate show for the hometown and ultimately, exist as a leader figure to those bands that come after and who then have to take on the challenge of trying to grow and reach that same level of success.

    There may be plenty of talk about not forgetting where one started (Here's looking at you Jenny and Drake!) so as not to take fans for granted but, can we say the same about enough bands not taking their initial scenes and the other people therein for granted as well? The key to keeping community among the indies might just be to think of the everyone existing linearly with one another rather than as one happy family sitting at a round table. Sounds somewhat counter intuitive but when you're working to climb over a wall, it's your friends that are ahead of you that you reach for and that are there to offer a leg up so everyone can reach the top together, right?

    Happy Independence Day to my US readers! 
    Stay safe and enjoy!


    iTunes Top 20 U.S. Singles Chart