Sunday, February 13, 2011

February Ketchup

Before I start a new week of posting, I want to catch up on a few little things that have been on my mind.

Dinosaur News

Two weeks ago I did a week of posts where every post said something about dinosaurs.

That whole week—starting from Monday—I’d intended to build toward a post around a recent news story about Japanese scientists trying to clone a mammoth. I put the story aside in my OneNote folder and every day I glanced at it but—somehow—the whole week got past me with a dinosaur post every day and without me ever mentioning the scientists in Japan trying to clone a mammoth. So, here’s the news link I was going to use.

Will the woolly mammoth be lumbering back? Japanese scientists 'to resurrect extinct giant from frozen DNA within five years'

It’s an interesting story. Many people take it for granted that by the time a technology gets mentioned in the mainstream media it must already have been implemented numerous times in black-ops military labs and cutting-edge hush-hush industrial research facilities. If there is any truth to that thinking, then with the mainstream press now getting around to talking about mammoth clones, somebody somewhere must already have done it. I don’t know. It’s interesting to think there might be mammoths walking around somewhere. And if there might be mammoths, there might be dinosaurs walking around somewhere. Who knows?

Stop-Motion Animation Music

I really enjoyed doing those little stop-motion animation movies this month, “Dinosaur And Woman: A Puppet Show” and “Robot By Television Light: A Puppet Show.” Because they’re so short—less than a minute—they can be made in a few hours, but they have all the elements of a little movie. Acting. Cinematography. Special effects. Music. Words. They feel to me like fun little poems, but with light and sound along with the ideas, what I—had I ever become the cloistered academic I’ve sometimes dreamed of being—might have called the pan sensual immersion of multimedia. (Part of me would have loved living on a secluded campus somewhere teaching kids about Robert Frost endlessly, but I strongly suspect had I become that guy some teenage girl would have shot me dead by now.)

Anyway, I like doing those little stop-motion things and I’m going to be doing more but one aspect of the music is annoying to me right now.

When I think of a melody and harmony, whether it’s an old song or something I make up, my first mental pass through the tune is always built around a melody harmonized with seventh chords—majors, minors, dominants and half-diminished. These sounds come very natural to me and on guitar I can play them very easily. In fact on guitar the sounds, the seventh chords, feel so natural that it always seems a little strange when I work with some traditional song or “plain” melody that sounds better with simple major or minor chords or with just a melody note and no harmony at all. That happens now and then. With music you always go with what sounds good and sometimes “simple” stuff sounds right.

But on the keyboard my hands aren’t comfortable yet hitting the seventh chords. I can do it, but I can’t sing and play and grab seventh chords on the keyboard keeping a rhythm all at the same time.

And on those stop-motion animation things even though I record the soundtrack separately from the visuals I still like to make the music a recording of a live performance. So I record me playing and singing something live, just like the videos I make of me playing guitar.

On guitar that’s no problem but on keyboard, well, it’s a problem.

On keyboard my hands just aren’t practiced enough yet to perform—in real time—what I can hear and want to play. So on the keyboard instead of seventh chords I reduce everything to simple majors and minors. And instead of a rhythm to the harmony I just (try to) keep time.

Now, my robot keyboard can elaborate on that simple playing if I want to. I could—if I wanted to—create a midi sequence of me playing the proper seventh chord arrangement and fix any mistakes I make. Or I could play “simple” chords and let my robot keyboard elaborate a style accompaniment along with my playing. But although that stuff is a lot of fun—and it greatly helps learning to play keyboard—it’s not a real performance of me playing, so I don’t want to do that. At least not because I have to, not because of my limitations. Someday I’ll do it because it’s fun and fits with some scene, but only after I’ve acquired the ability to play it right by myself without the clockwork musicians helping out.

Anyway I have two points about this.

One is I know the music for these little films can be better than what it has been so far. I like the music I’ve done, it seems to fit the two little films—the simple melody notes for “Dinosaur And Woman” and the simple chord background for “Robot By Television Light.” Both arrangements seem right for the visuals so I’m happy. But I think both could have been better. And I’m working to get better. It will happen.

The other point is something that took me completely by surprise.

Both soundtracks on those little movies were recorded live and both captured some, umm, extraneous percussion that I hadn’t intended. But I liked! I left it in on purpose. I’m not a big drum person, not a percussion kind of guy. I normally think of melody and harmony and my approach to rhythm is to break up the harmony into chords and arpeggios and chord fragments. (On guitar I can do that.) But when I did those two soundtracks, percussion kind of forced itself on my hearing and I liked both bits and left them in. Now I’m thinking about ways of doing stuff like that on purpose.

What happened is, on the “Dinosaur And Woman” audio track when I tested out the microphone I put the microphone too close to my keyboard rather than my speakers and the microphone—because of simple proximity—captured the physical sounds of my fingers hitting the keys and the keys hitting the felt pads. (I was banging away at the keys because I was too lazy to reach over and adjust the volume. Gads!) Anyway, when I played back the test audio track I heard the banging away sounds and I thought it sounded cool, kind of a nice sound along with the simple melody, so I just used that as the soundtrack. Then on “Robot By Television Light” as I was playing the IV-III-V part of the intro I was shifting around on my chair and my wood chair was creaking and popping and the microphone captured the cheap furniture noises of my chair and again I kind of liked it so I just left it in “as percussion” rather than a stupid recording error.

And ever since I’ve been thinking about percussion and how cool it would be to have percussion sounds mixed in with “regular” melody and harmony sounds. Or as a unique synthesizer sound, a tone with pitch and percussive elements at the same time.

Now, my robot keyboard—an “arranger” keyboard—can make just about any sound a person can imagine, including of course drum sounds. However, an arranger keyboard is not a music workstation. Two things an arranger keyboard specifically can’t do are sampling and custom waveform creations to generate a whole new sound from scratch. I never thought I’d miss that kind of stuff but after doing those two little soundtracks I think it would be cool to make a new sound that included a percussive element within the waveform.

I’m not going to buy a second keyboard—damn it!—but now I can see how musicians end up with racks of equipment. I guess there’s always some little thing that you want to do that isn’t on this or that piece of equipment you already have. I’m not going to get suckered in to that thinking and clutter up my studio, but it is tempting. It would be fun.

But I’ve got lots of other fun stuff to do!

(And I think Yamaha's top-of-the-line arranger keyboard can do some of that stuff but it costs six or seven times more than my Yamaha arranger keyboard cost.)

Photography and Drawing

One other thing that’s on my mind is that since I buckled down and bought a new camera I haven’t done any drawing or painting. For those power line posts I considered doing a watercolor of the horizon but it was so much quicker to just take some photos. For the high heel image I thought of doing a drawing but it was so much quicker to just modify and crop an image off the net.

This morning I wanted to do a watercolor of a ketchup bottle but it was so much quicker to just take a photo.

All the time I bump into this drawing versus photography thing. And I always go with photography.

It bugs me. I love technology but the combination of “technology” and “lazy” makes for less art in the world. Or, more to the point, less art in my life. That can’t be good. And I know I’m not going to get less lazy. And I’m not going to push away technology. So now I’m wondering if I’ll ever draw or paint again?

Is this how the world gets you?

Seduced by the lazy.

Bringing Back Extinct Things

And now because the internet is so effing cool, here are a couple of kids bringing the past back to life somewhere in the world by playing Paul McCartney’s ketchup song!     Ram on!

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