Let’s make music together…

I am not a big fan of the movie All Dogs Go to Heaven.  Sure, the messages of getting a second chance, and changing for the better, and doing the right thing, are all positive.  And the music is catchy.  But something about this movie in particular felt manipulative to me, even as a kid.  Maybe it was the unbelievable innocence of the girl, or even the major premise of the film.  Mafia dogs who go to heaven?  Throw me a bone, please.

Yet sometimes it’s the absolutely ridiculous nature of the tale that tickles my fancy.  Take the opera-singing alligator, for example (crocodile?).  He’s living in the sewers, eating lesser dogs, and is just about to do the same to our hero, when the doggie howls.  Which somehow is a pleasing, not repulsing, sound to the alli, and he insists that they have a sing-along instead of chowing down.  I love that.

I love the idea of the world singing.  I love that whole odd earlier Christian philosophy about the spheres of the heavens giving of some small, ringing music that we could all hear, if we were only just a little bit closer.  I like the idea of every molecule vibrating with some kind of lively sound that we will someday hear and enjoy, when we only have the science.  I like the idea of acoustic harmony bringing some sort of resolution or at least tentative acceptance and tolerance for the conflicting members of a group.  Let’s just make music.

So, what else can we make musical?  Garbage dump supplies?  Been done.  Old buildings?  Yep, that’s taken.  A giant concrete seashore instrument?  I mean I love them, but they’re a dime a dozen.  How about the swine flu?  According to this article, it’s the next big thing.  After a little listen, I’m not so sure.  But the idea of viruses as encoding a natural music all their own…well, it’s just plain beautiful.

Corina told me she was utterly ashamed of me for not blogging about my experiences at the made-up superhero pub crawl this year.  I thought about it, but then I decided being known as Flamebow Brite to the entire internet community might not be a good idea.  Added to the fact that my sister thinks costumes make me look like a drag queen, I’d prefer to say very little and leave my excitement and joy to memory and what pictures are already widely available.  Instead, I’d like to point out a few of the things that the experience shows about me through song.  If I were a song, there would be a brassy trumpet involved.  Sometimes it would be loud, and totally dominate all other songs in the room, but that would only happen very rarely.  More often this trumpet would blare with no real rhyme or reason, almost like an accident on the part of the performer or the composer.  A slip of the pen here, and…..Whoa, trumpet!  There would be some other sounds – a nice bongo rhythm, a breathy set of pan pipes, a little base.  Solid, pleasing, and enjoyable if not genius – except for the occasional squaking trumpet.

So, what’s your song?

Popcuts? Why not.

I am a music imbecile.  As a young person already worried about descending into her thirties, that’s something of a challenge to admit, but it’s also honest.  I typically just don’t have the spare brainpower to focus on the music scene.  I forget the names of artists and songs, lyrics fly out of my head, and about the only thing I can say about my personal music preference is whether or not I enjoy a song while it’s playing.  Other than that, I am at least proud to be uncategorizable.

As this is the case, I occasionally allow myself to be bombarded with my friend’s music tastes.  This allows me to experience new artists that I would never otherwise discover (Suphala and Regina Spektor have both been good ones), and exposes me to new ways to listen to music (like Pandora).  In fact, I am enough behind in the trend-setting that I even allow CNN to provide me with new musical outlets.

Which brings us to the main focus of this blog ramble – Popcuts.  This is a place where even a bum like me can be a music snob.  It’s a way to dig into new music and something of an investment in that music.  The way it works is that the early purchasers of a specific song get a cut of later purchasers of that song.  Of course it means that those later purchasers end up with the short end of the stick in the sense that they get less out of their purchase.  But everyone still gets the song.  Sure, you could potentially get that same song from a friend for free.  But this system incentivises both the exploration of new music (ie, buying a new song first) and legitimate purchasing (ie, not just giving it away to your friends if you are one of those early purchasers).

While I haven’t actually tried it out myself (yet), it does make me want to say ‘bravo’ for a job well done.  This is the kind of company people need to set up to deal with the realities of modern media and how to capitalize both on its accessibility and changeability.

Art Beat 2008

Last night, at the behest of a former roommate, I set out to listen to some free music put on by this annual event in Somerville.  Primarily we were there to see Freezepop, a poppy electronic sort of group popular with the young crowd.  I relaized then and there that I am no longer part of the young crowd, but it was still enjoyable.  Freezepop was fun, frolicking, and despite the threat of rain and thunderstorms, generally well attended.  But that was not the only pleasant surprise the night afforded.  The other was, direct from Italy, Rota Temporis.

When you see a stage set with several large drums, one covered in zebra hide and others bearing horns, you expect a certain type of music.  When the band members come out on stage all in leather with long and mangled hair, tattoos, and a sprinkling of cave-man jewelery, your suspicions are almost totally confirmed.  What you don’t expect (especially from obviously mannish Italians) is bagpipes.  Three of them.

Now, I won’t say that I don’t like bagpipes.  I was recently at a lantern festival where a piper played as the lanterns were set out across the water – it was quite beautiful.  However, I expect most bagpipe music to be mournful and, well, Scottish.  I don’t expect Italian metal-looking dudes to be playing them.  Still, the sight of such dudes prancing around with enthusiasm and actually playing a variety of non-repetitive songs on the things is impressive and delightful.  In fact, they were so into it that I was afraid several times that one of the swirling bagpipers was going to conch out the drummer with the horns with some of his pipes.  Pretty intense and moving stuff.  And while some of their attempts to interact with the crowd were hampered by less-than-fluent English, it still got the point across.  By the third or fourth song in, I was really grooving to those pipes, along with the rest of the crowd.

I have yet to find a way to buy their stuff online, and alas, I did not get a CD before they left.  But I will be looking for it.  In the meantime, their Myspace page is here.  Knock yourselves out.

Postscript – found the website!

Evidently I need to listen to more current music.

When I was a young teenage thing, everybody listened to the radio.  That’s how us hip kidsters were appraised of modern trends.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to according to pop culture at that time either, so I missed out on quite a bit.  Even in my more educated 20s, I am occasionally embarrassed by not knowing particular songs or more often by not knowing the names of songs or singers or groups.  I didn’t own an iPod till someone gave me one last year, and I don’t really do much with iTunes or other music services of the online variety.  So I’m still out of the loop, though in a closer orbit around it.

My youngest sister gave evidence of this online today when we were chatting.  I will give you our conversation verbatim:

Shannon
guess who I saw in concert last night?
Stacey

who?

Shannon

Colbie Caillat

for FREE

she sings Bubbly

isn’t that cool?

Stacey

um, I don’t know who that is

so potentially, yes

but then again, maybe not?

How did I get myself into this fix yet again?  Should I start listening to the radio?  Or Pandora?  Or some other online radio station?  Or do something with Myspace Music?  Or just bother people for their favorite new stuff?  Please people, I’m in immediate need of education here!

Spring morning.

Few people who know me would say I love this time of year. It’s cold, and I hate the cold. It’s windy, and I don’t really like the wind. And while I don’t mind the rain, spring rains are simply dampness with cold and generally miserable. Most of all, though the sun is coming back, there’s not nearly enough of it yet. Every day I still wear my giant winter coat. But this morning was perfect. The air was frigid, yes, but at least the sun was finally bright enough to seem welcoming. It gave the air more than a crispness – the morning seemed more honest, more real. And to complete that moment of walking to the bus through the perfect morning, I had the perfect song.

I am not usually a person to comment on music.  I don’t like talking about it, and though I enjoy it, I especially detest any discussion of favorites related to music.  It’s a blind insecurity I haven’t yet completely dealt with in myself.  But occasionally a song or album will have such an impact tha I feel the need to talk about it.  Portastatic’s Be Still, Please is that album.  I bought the thing because one song, Sweetness and Light, so perfectly captured my mood at the moment I was listening to it on the radio that I had to have the whole album.  I rarely listen to the radio, but on this one morning, I heard the perfect song for the day.

Of course, I ended up not liking most of the other songs on the album.  I ended up not listening to it much, and put the whole album on my iPod just recently to make myself listen to it more.  And then today, with the same album but a different song, it happens again.  The mood just strikes me perfectly, and I am ready to sink into the day.

I don’t have a handy copy of the song with me, so I’m putting the Youtube video below.  I encourage you to just close your eyes and listen to it – don’t let the video detract.

The ‘International Language’

Some people may think the only international language is love.   Wrongo, punks.  What kind of person loves someone they can’t even talk to?

Nope, the real international language is art.  Some of it is international because without words it expresses a deeply held belief or invokes a powerful emotion.  Some of it is international because it has value and meaning to a wide variety of cultures and countries around the globe, even if that meaning is not exactly the same everywhere.  Some of it is international because no one really understands it, in any country.  Regardless, art serves to connect us, whether through response to it, esteem for it, or rejection of it.

A more specific  example can be seen here, relating to the specific art of classical music.  Now, whether or not you are a fan of classical music (or of the NY Philharmonic), the idea of a symphony being a bridge between two very different and often opposed cultures is inspiring to me.  it reminds me of that famous World War Christmas, when both sides stopped fighting and just sang carols back and forth in their disparate languages.  There is a respite, a gift, and a connection we share in music that has power and deep meaning, something of significance that I hope we can learn to develop.

There are studies that show calming effects due to music, and it is also thought to improve brain function in the elderly by stretching parts of the brain that are not typically or as frequently exercised. There has even been some success in the area of music therapy and Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Finally, this article paints an even more hopeful picture of the relationship between sound and better health.  Too bad I didn’t see this long one first.

Though it seems like similar types of music are processed by various people in similar ways, musical taste remains a hallmark of individual personality.  Why is this?  Is preference in some way linked to who we are, or who we want to be?  Does the emotion/memory/endorphin rush sparked by music look the same, or mostly the same, in all of us?  Or is some part of that response to music colored by our own preferences, or tastes?  Could music, over time, affect who we are, and if so, does it provide some evidence to a true ‘generation gap’ due to what type of music is popular in our culture at a given time?

A little more music.

It seems that once I get going on a topic, I just can’t stop.  So I was pondering music a bit more today, especially about the typing of songs.  All genres of music seem to have a few things in common that are almost archetypal.  There is a certain type of song that I can’t quite define – longer, more melodious perhaps, with longer note lengths and a slower beat – that seems more reflective and/or sad.  This can be true of any music genre – pop, country, folk, indie, R&B.  Even rap is more reflective and sometimes sad when it’s slower and more ponderous.  Even Chinese Opera is.  Why is that?  Why is a song with words I can’t even understand, or a song with no words at all, automatically interpreted as mournful or pensive by my brain?  What are those little wirings and firings in our head or genetics that get us all to think and feel these same things?  And how did they come about?

I get on a similar kick about language.  There are obvious parts, like onomatopoeia where a word sounds like the noise it is representing, that make sense.  But most words we use are strictly arbitrary.  Why is tree called ‘tree’ instead of ‘bush’?  In this case the words are strictly based on how you were brought up, what you heard as a child.  Still, isn’t it interesting that despite these early categories and distinctions we learn to make, there are universal constants in music and perhaps in other arts that transcend them?

All Music Is Sacred

I came across this idea in the Vonnegut book I’m reading today, and it struck me as rather nice.  Wow, music is sacred.  But then I started to wonder if it’s really true.

Of course, there’s the traditional thoughts behind this idea.   There’s ‘sacred music’, including everything from hymns and carols, to most Classical music, which is often written to interpret a Christian theme.  I think of the Hallelujah Chorus, which my home church sings together every Easter, a cacophony of sounds that ring mostly in tune.  That’s a big, powerful, faithful sound, and to me it sounds sacred.

But when I think about other music that I personally consider sacred, there are many things I don’t include.  Rap is not really sacred in my mind.  Neither is most popular music.  More mellow, reflective stuff is more sacred, or maybe songs that make you think, but often these don’t have a really pumping beat.  I can’t think of a pumpy song that I consider sacred.  Not that I don’t like popular music – I do, sometimes, find a very guilty pleasure in the dumbest forms of music.  It’s just with all that bustling about inside the song, I don’t feel the same uplift that I would from a different, more relaxed and introspective song that I would consider sacred.

Where, then, is the line drawn between sacred and secular or even profane types of music?  Is there anyone out there who feels that country music is sacred?  What about all the crossovers, like popular tunes that become hymns, or songs that really move and touch and shape us and are so popular because they are sacred?

It reminds me of the similar corollary that all children are special.  Some children are very difficult to love and cope with.  Does that mean they aren’t special?  Are some children more special than others?  Who, or what, makes that definition?

Please share your thoughts.  What could make music sacred, or not?  Is there any type of music that can never be sacred?  Why?  What about music (like free jazz) that may be very artistic, but still difficult on your hearing?  Do meaning, sound, emotiveness, and art form each carry a part of music’s sacredness, and if so, to what extent?

iPod Plus.

Living with an avid Mac supporter has been an interesting experience, growing up as I have in the PC world.  While there have been some lame attempts to convert me to the other side, none have yet succeeded.  I guess I just don’t see the supposed benefits of switching.  Perhaps someday I’ll be converted – who knows?  I don’t have much vested interest in either side.  Just so far the supposed claims that Macs run better and are more user-friendly haven’t panned out for me.  Oh well.

Take the iPod, arguably the best mini music player out there.   I would even say it is the best, even including alternative forms of music minis like satellite radio.  However, ‘best’ does not necessarily translate to ‘good’.  Take, for example, the lovely compilation of songs that Mike had installed on the iPod for me when he gave it to me.  Of course, as soon as I stick my iPod into my PC, it has to reformat and wipe out all that thoughtfulness.  Why?  Copyright protection?  Possible viruses?  No.  Simply because Macs and PCs can’t seem to get along.  Why not?  Aren’t we all here for the same reasons?  C’mon people!  I’m talking about togetherness!

Also, let’s note the CD he burned me for Christmas.  1) It’s about a quarter of the volume of all the other songs on my iTunes 2) Because I am dumb and never remember the names of songs or singers, I have no idea what I’m listening to, since my iTunes doesn’t like his iTunes and can’t read the song titles and singers from the disc.  What is this?  Have we not moved beyond this petty ridiculousness?  I mean, I know in the past with some Word versions there have been document conversion problems, but i thought we’d moved beyond that technologically.  If I write a love note in Word on my computers, he can still read it in Word on his.

Lastly, the iPhone.  Supposedly the wonder of wonders technologically,  it is pretty cool.  I’ve played games on it, and used it to look things up or get directions.  SO that’s nice and good.  but alot of the ‘fun stuff’ I’ve played with is only even there since Mike has hacked his iPhone.  Dude.  If this is ‘the thing’ for those nerdy types, you know someone is going to be able to hack the thing – why not allow people to install applications as they like instead of coming up with new and better ways to beat the hacks.  I just don’t get it.