Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September Journeys

September begins with a dedication to learning minor pentatonic scales up and down the fretboard.  The use of backing tracks and play-along apps like Jam Tracks makes practice more enjoyable. After a week of practice it's virtually impossible not to see patterns emerge places where it is easier to shift to a higher or lower pattern.  My next steps include learning to quickly identify root note locations and how to play in every key at the same location as well as how to play every key up and down the frets.  I also decided to try to learn the patterns on the keyboard I have set up as well.  I don't know a thing about playing keyboards, but since I know the scale notes on the guitar, it transfers easily to the keyboard.  In fact, it's easier since there is only 1 pattern to learn instead of the 5 patterns I am learning for each minor pentatonic scale on the guitar.

On the weekend of Sept 15-17, I journeyed  to Saratoga Springs, NY for a few musical experiences.  First and foremost, was the Florence + the Machine concert at the Saratoga  Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Florence Welch is a top-notch performer with a beautiful voice. I'm surprised by the number of people who still don't know her material.  She is so fun to watch on stage.  She seems to be in a trippy, hypnotic-like state of being somehow possessed by Stevie Nicks and Adele.  We had wonderful 1st-row balcony seats which provided great site lines, however, those behind us remained seated so we didn't stand until the last couple of songs.  I much prefer to stand during a rock concert!  For some reason the video screen sync was behind the audio.  This made it impossible to watch the large video screens.  We didn't really need the screens from our seats but I'm sure it was annoying to those who did like watching the video screen.

Two other musical side trips in Saratoga included late evening visit to One Caroline Street Bistro. They have local musicians almost every night and this particular Saturday was no exception.  I can't find any calendar listing the artist we enjoyed but she was probably in her 80's, used a walker, and carried an oxygen tank.  As my back was to the stage at first, I was quite surprise to find out who was killing it on piano!

The second side trip was a look at Caffe Lena, the oldest continuously operating coffeehouse in the United States. Opened in 1960, Caffe Lena helped propel the careers of Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, and Ani DiFranco.  Unfortunately, we didn't get to see a show here but maybe next time.

Right now, I am exploring the Blue Note Spotify App.  The entire Blue Note catalog is available.  It is similar to the Classical Spotify App in that you can listen according to a timeline, instruments, or mood.  I filtered for electric guitar from 2000's to the present and Dr. John's Duke Elegant (performing the music of Duke Ellington was the first recommendation.  Next up is Brian Blade, who I am not familiar.

In an article reviewing the top live concert apps, I came across bandsintown app for my iPhone (also web-based).  I like the concert cloud feature and the ability to stretch the radius to 100 miles.  You can also automatically listen to artists via a Spotify premium account.

It's not too late to check out the iTunes Music Festival.  Every day in the month of September, iTunes is streaming the live shows from London.  You can watch on any iOS device, including Apple TV.  Apple TV is my preferred viewing method.  I live-streamed the Jack White concert on September 8th.  It was great to see since I had to sell my Jack White concert tickets for Toronto in October.  Still up and coming....Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Ray, Ellie Goulding, Alicia Keys, and Muse.

Finally, some starred music of the last couple weeks include Cat Power's Sun, Wax Poetic's  (Nora Jones' original band) On a Ride, and Bob Dylan's 35th (yes, 35!) studio album, Tempest.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Journey through Garageband as a Non-Musician

If you are like me the look of screen on the left is a bit intimidating.  At the same time, as a non-musician music lover, I am intrigued by capabilities that Garageband provides for non-musicians.

So this week I was determined to connect my daughter's older Yamaha keyboard and my guitar to Garageband.  I wanted to explore the MIDI capabilities and guitar amp capabilities of the program.  Yes, I do "play" guitar but believe me when I say that I consider myself a non-musician.

The first thing I learned was that I needed a MIDI converter USB cable to go from the Yamaha to the iMac.  There are cables like MIDIsport available but discussion groups led me to believe that there were too many issues with this 3rd party cable.  Instead, I purchased a UX-16 cable directly from Yamaha.  I then watched 2-3 YouTube videos on how to use a keyboard with the MIDI features on Garageband.  It was pretty simple but I did have an issue with a clicking sound once I released a key.  I did a complete shut down/restart of the computer and this solved the problem.

After watching a few very short basic instructional videos, I was creating all sorts of MIDI tracks.  It is amazingly simple to create layers of sound that are listenable.  I'm not going to publish any songs any time soon but it was a lot of fun messing around with the 1000's of combinations of software instruments available in the program.

Connecting my guitar was even easier as I already had an iRig cable to use my guitar with my iPad.  I then added a guitar track and started experimenting with all sorts of amp and effect capabilities.  As a practice tool I found some .mp3 jam tracks to download and add as a track in Garageband.  I then started a commitment to learn some blues scales.  I can confidently say today that I have the Am pentatonic scale memorized up and down the fretboard.  I've been inspired by Gary Marcus's book titled Guitar Zero.  My interest in neuroscience and music intersect once again.

Next steps?  I am going to continue trying to find the time to practice guitar everyday.  Playing along with backing tracks is not only fun but a great way to learn.  If you add a drum track to Garageband you can even sync the guitar track in perfect time even if your timing is a bit off.  Secondly, I plan on teaching my son and daughter the in's and out's of creating music.  Since they are both better musicians than I will ever be, I hope they start to enjoy the creative process as well.

So don't be intimidated.  Read, explore, watch videos and have some fun!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Journey though Spotify Apps

Music lovers who are into music discovery must try Spotify Apps.  I will discuss some of my favorites and how they contribute to my musical journey.  The great thing about reading reviews and playlists from Spotify Apps is the instant access to the track.

The Spotify Apps provide a wealth of information regarding new releases, reviews, trending playlists, and songs on the rise.  In addition to information that comes to me from various feeds and friends, I often come across that artist that appears in a variety of places.  I feel compelled to give those bands a listen.  At other times, the review is written in a way that makes you feel like you have to give that band a try.  And finally, other times it might be enough to know that if you like one artist then you might like this one.

My recent favorite comes from ANYDECENTMUSIC?  ADM surveys over 50 sources and compiles reviewer averages to compile its' listings.  Currently Bill Fay, Purity Ring, and Plan B top the list.  You can also find what is being talked about and direct links to reviews.  When multiple sources give stellar reviews, more often than not you are onto something good.

Rolling Stone Recommends provides users with various playlists, album reviews/links, and top rated songs.  Playlists include Best New Music to Ultimate Girl Group listings.  Occasionally, an artist will compile their own playlist to share.  Direct links to album and song reviews are provided.

The Classify app is great for anyone who would like to learn more about classical music.  You can listen my era, mood, theme, instrument, or composer.  Classify also provides recommended playlists.  It's a must app for anyone interested in classical music.

Pitchfork, The Guardian, and NME also provide Spotify apps with reviews, playlists, and new music highlights.  I usually check all of these to see if there are any cross listings.

For those who like to stream lyrics there is TuneWiki, just play a song a TuneWiki will stream the lyrics for you to sing along or to share.

There are plenty of other apps to help you create a greater social experience, listen to playlists by mood, keep up to date on concerts, make Top 10 lists and more.  What is your favorite Spotify App and why?

Here is Rolling Stone magazine's New Music Playlist (scroll to bottom of the playlist for the latest additions).

Bernie Worrell Orchestra

Center-Legend Bernie Worrell
On Friday August 17, our awesome local independent record store, Record Archive hosted an in-store performance by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, Bernie Worrell.  When I first saw the event listed I remembered back to my college days when I went through my Talking Heads phase.  I had a distant memory of Bernie Worrell from the movie "Stop Making Sense."  Bernie is introduced by David Byrne at about the 4:48 mark in this videoclip.

This led me on a musical journey.  I did a bit more research to find out Bernie's inclusion in the Hall of Fame is for his work with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.  I saw P-Funk around 2006 at the House of Blues in Anaheim  California.  This show continues to be one of the strangest shows I've ever seen.  It's not everyday you get to see grown men in diapers on stage.  George himself made a very limited appearance and to my recollection, Bernie was not part of the band.

Upon further investigation, I found Bernie's story was told in a documentary available on Netflix (trailer) titled "Stranger-Bernie Worrell on Earth."  Bernie's influence is unprecedented.  A child prodigy whose work with the Moog synthesizer was both controversial and ground-breaking.  Bernie's description of his work and how it relates to sex and the spirit was recorded in another documentary simply titled "Moog," a 2004 film about Bob Moog's electronic musical inventions.

My last stop on this journey was a listen to DJ Logic's Global Noize release featuring tracks that included Bernie.  Once you know Bernie's sound, you realize his contributions are undeniable.  Dr. Dre is another artist to have been influenced by Bernie.  I haven't yet taken my journey down that road.  If you know of specific tracks that might link Bernie to Dr. Dre, please comment.

Bernie Worrell is a genius.  What is sad about his story is that so few know about Bernie's influence.  Sadly, some have said that Bernie's greatness will only be appreciated when he has long gone.  Bernie never concerned himself with the commercial side of the music business.  Bernie never benefited from a PR machine.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see Bernie is such intimate quarters.  See Bernie heating up in the clip I recorded below, then take a listen to the Spotify playlist.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

August Journeys

Willis Earl Beal
"Cocaine Blues" by Escort was recommended by SPIN Magazine's list of the Best Releases of 2012 so far.  This track takes me back to my 70's disco youth and the early 80's club scene.  What goes around, comes around.  Also from the SPIN recommendations comes Willis Earl Beal's  "Take Me Away." The sometimes homeless, Willis Earl Beal pleads for someone to take him away.  If you write to him, he will make you a drawing.

Sometimes I will add music to a playlist so I can listen to new sounds when I have more time.  I maintain a Spotify playlist folder of 2012 releases that I often revisit.  The two tracks from Omaha based Icky Blossoms fit this description.  The self-titled release has 3 starred tracks for me, "Deep in the Throes" and "I Am" recently added.  Vocals by Sarah Bohlin on top of some heavy bass and electronic vibes.

I also took another listen to Neil Young's Americana's record.  While an interesting project, "Oh Susannah" is the only track I want to hear again.  The arrangement is the most original on the track listing.

Band of Skulls played a local show recently at the Water Street Music Hall.  While I considered attending, I didn't end up going to the show.  However, I did enjoy the track "Sweet Sour."
Flying under my radar for I don't know how long was Matisyahu.  Born Matthew Paul Miller in West Chester, PA, Matisyahu (his Hebrew name) brings a strong blend of reggae and hip-hop.  I love the hook in "Searchin." Yes, Matisyahu, "I've been searchin for you, I've been searchin far and wide..." "Crossroads" and "Fire of Freedom" are also strong tracks.  I also learned my 17 year old son is a big fan of Matisyahu when he recently traveled to Buffalo, NY to see Matisyahu and Dirty Heads.

Sharon Van Etten's Tramp has been in my 2012 list for quite awhile.  I caught her act at Lollapalooza (the live stream) earlier this month and thought I better give her some more air time.  "Serpents" was already a starred track but I've added "Give Out" to my favorites.  Rolling Stone lists her as a must-see act.

My next concert will be Florence + the Machine in Saratoga Springs, NY.  As I am sure many people do the same, any upcoming concert puts that artist in heavy rotation.  I am still surprised by how many people I talk to have never heard of Florence + the Machine.  I also caught her Stevie Nicks inspired set on the Lollapalooza live stream and I cannot wait to see her in a few weeks.

Finally, the DJ Logic track was discovered as a result of recently meeting the legend Bernie Worrell  This deserves it's own post in the near future.  Stay tuned.