Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Black Freighter

So my buddy Danny Thompson* posts a Marianne Faithful video on Facebook of her singing "Pirate Jenny".

I've never really dug Kurt Weill (I almost spelled it "Kurt Veille"). I mean, Mack the Knife is fun and so forth. But I'm listening to this song and I'm thinking okay, I really know this song. But... different. Which shouldn't surprise me 'cause it's a famous song and maybe I just don't remember it exactly. But it's kind of strange as I felt I knew it very well from a long time ago.
And looking it up on Wikipedia I discover that it was covered by Steeleye Span under the name "The Black Freighter".
Ah. My sister took it upon herself to put music in my head wee head at the time (meaning the 1970's). So there are some funny albums that ring around in my brain. There's Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" which, quite rightly, I listened to as an elementary-school child. There's some non-canonical Cat Stevens which she bought for me at some point. And there's this Steeleye Span record.

Strangely, my elementary and middle-school years were devoid of The Beatles. And certainly absent was anything which even remotely resembled hard rock. And that was mostly due to my sister's taste. My older brothers were old enough to be mostly out of the house by the time I came along so other than some classical music their influence on me as a youngin' wasn't nearly so great.
So anyway, yes. I used to listen to the song a lot. But it was called something different.
I do think the chorus melody is squandered. There should have been at least one double-chorus. So say I.

*Not, incidentally, Danny Thompson. Why had I never noticed that before?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Make it Loud

More from the 2nd-to-last night of Theatresource.
Picture taken by Maduka Steady with the exposure too low but rescued by bringing the image in from RAW. Lily Kenner (back to us), Dave Wolfe, Andrew Bellware, and Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, Andrew Bellware, Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, Andrew Bellware, Vincent Marano, and Greg Bartus.

Lily Kenner, David Wolfe, Andrew Bellware, and Greg Bartus. 
You read it here first. The best predictor in how well a song will do is how loud it is. Turn up those compressors -- it's gonna be a loooooong night.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

And it Comes with Video

City Samanas with Andrew Bellware and Vincent Marano rocking it out.

Last City Samana Show at Theatresource

City Samanas Lily Kinner, Dave Wolfe, with Andrew Bellware on guitar and Vinnie Marano blowin' harp, City Samana Greg Bartus (partially obscured.)
 The City Samanas played their final show at Theatresource tonight. They invited me to sit in with them which was a great honor. I could only play the one song -- a 26-minute version of Dark Star. At one point Vinnie Marano found a harmonica (on the, er, floor apparently) and sat down and blew some licks with us. Luckily the harmonica was in A because otherwise... I don't know what we would have done.
These pictures are all taken by Maduka Steady.

Note that I chose the Celtic Edana JTM-45 clone for this gig. Into a Celestion Alnico Blue 12" the way God intended when she invented the Gibson Les Paul. All clean sounds that sustained for days. 

Lily, Dave, Andrew, Vinnie, Greg. 
I couldn't be playing with a nicer bunch of folks.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Piano vs Band

John August suggests guitar and piano for grade-schoolers. As in "piano and guitar only". In the classical-music world, learning piano first is a kind of trope. The piano is polyphonic, it's the default fundamental instrument of Western music (even though Bach and Mozart never had one, they had precursor sorts of things and wrote all kinds of music we today play on the piano.)
With the best of intentions, we’ve taught kids to be helpless cogs in a symphonic machine. Worse, we’ve created a system that pretty much guarantees most adults won’t be able to make music by themselves.
 Well, sorta. But on the other hand we've taught kids to do something together. Of course, they do a crappity job of it, but they are at least trying to play at the same time. Which is interesting.
But my main criticisms of his thesis are two:

1. that there seems to be a false dichotomy between piano or band. Which I think Mr August backs off on because he himself started on piano before moving to clarinet as a child. (If I were King I would order that each child take a piano lesson each day -- don't even make 'em practice at home, just sit and play with a teacher for an hour each day. But I wouldn't say they should do that instead of joining band.)
2. that kids will automatically learn musical theory just by playing piano as a kid. In my experience kids are able to play piano and guitar and have no idea at all how chords are constructed or how parallel movement works. In fact, as a guitar player, I deliberately took a music theory course in the 9th grade just to find out how chords are made so I didn't have to look them up in a book anymore.

So although learning at least a little piano is certainly a goode thinge, I'm not so sure it does a good job with replacing bands. I certainly enjoyed playing trumpet, and then trombone. And right, I didn't learn any music theory when doing that. But (as far as I could tell) neither did any of the kids who took piano since they were five.

But the other advantage Mr. August points out is that piano and guitar are stand alone instruments. You can play them and accompany yourself singing. Well, sure. That's true with autoharp too. It's also true with singing. The problem we have in this country is how anti-singing we are. Well, at least how anti-singing dumb white people are. But that's an issue for another post.

Mickey Hart and other dudes from The Grateful Dead did a bunch of the percussion for the score of Apocalypse Now.

Chicken systems has software that will presumably translate Gigasampler files. Apparently it doesn't work 100% though.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Do You Feel?

You know, Peter Frampton is a very precise yet tasteful guitarist -- especially for such a flashy guitar player. He gets those 32nd-note bits in with no slop at all. I mean really, where other flashy guitar players can be flashy and precise without being tasteful (I'm thinking Eddie VanHalen here). Or they can be precise and tasteful (David Gilmour). Frampton manages to be all three.

Perhaps I'm thinking David Gilmour because of the above (YouTube) 14-minute version of "Do You Feel Like I Do". I mean, most of the song is just I iii vii I -- you know, straight-up blues rock.
So the trick is getting as many textures as possible with those three chords. In other words, you better have a rocking rhythm section. But the guitar itself has a fairly tremendous dynamic range in this song. Especially for an electric guitar. And it's interesting that the energy of the song actually amps up during the pianissamo section.
The "talking guitar" section is the whole point though, right? Frampton pretty much ruins talking guitars for everyone else for all time just with this one solo. After hearing this, why bother even trying?
And again it's interesting to hear his incredible precision alongside the very tasteful use of dynamics and his phrasing -- which leaves very musical "holes" and space not only for the other instruments but for the "breathing" of the song itself.
There's songs like this which are so overplayed on rock radio that I think we tend to forget how good they actually are.
And if the moment where the band kicks in and the talkbox goes off doesn't bring chills up your spine, then you're not alive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Here's Mine

Question 811B is whether Tyrannosaurus Mouse is going to record anything before the end of the year. And will we do it here at Theatresource or will we do it at my apartment or what?

Via Jonathan Newman, the Contemporary Classical Composer's Bullshit Generator. Here's mine:
My work aims to re-bar generatively-integral arts with modernly-ambiguous chords whilst composing certain pitches or psycho-extended tessituras. Recently, I have started to embrace silences as a strongly-modernistic alternative to established forms of microtonal time-signature-experiences, which has made my work diametricly apparent. The fact that imitations tend to (at least in their aesthetic state), harmonically visualise, even in the presence of a strong element, is, you will agree, patently absurd. My latest piece begins with a rather musical 'sketch-aesthetic', before experimentally transforming the existing innovative material into a more Stockhausenesquely-quartal state, a process I term 'actively-rhythmic-examining'. Recently, I have started to embrace techniques as a strongly-integral alternative to established forms of choreographic device-installations, which has made my work innovatively predominant.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


So, I was talking with a friend the other day -- a guy who is a professional composer but (and I hope you're sitting down for this) writes music on paper. I know, right?
And my point was that I'd never tell some 20-year-old kid who wanted to be a professional composer anything other than "You have to be able to deliver complete, recorded, scores." And by that I mean you have to be able to do what my friend would call "synthestration". You know, using synths and sound libraries to create complete - sounding scores which can (sometimes) pass for real orchestras recorded specifically for the project. Why do you, as a new and young composer, need to do that? Because that's most of the work that's out there.
To make matters weirder, I actually know two composers who write on paper. Now note, when I'm teasing them about "writing on paper" they do actually use Finale and Sibelius so it's not like they run screaming from computers altogether. But they don't do any "synthestration".
There are, however, specialists whose day jobs consist of synthestration. I think they mostly work in Hollywood. Plus, lots of commercial music is composed by ateliers -- music houses where a "master" composer has a number of "journeymen" and apprentices. And sometimes it's the journeymen (or one of the journeymen who serves essentially as the master's assistant) who does the synthestration.
For the last few movies I've done I've been using the Video Copilot scores to build our music cues. And, especially when mixed with the scores I've done for previous films and a couple plays, they work pretty well.
But frequently I find I need just a little more. One counter-intuitive thing about scoring for film is that a shocking amount of the score has to sound pretty bland and boring by itself. That's because, essentially, the "melody" of the music is the dialog that goes on top, not an instrument that will make the dialog harder to hear. And the intelligibility part of the dialog is right where you'd go and put a melody (if you had one).
That's why drones and bits of percussion are so popular in film scores.
And, of course, the music has to go well with the sound effects. Indeed, they should all be part of the same "score". On big Hollywood films the two departments -- sound effects (or sound "editing") and music -- tend to "compete" for prominence in the mix. That is, on the face of it, a horrible idea. We're all making one movie here guys, not competing for screen time. Right?
Anyway, this does mean that I require a professional way to make orchestral scores. I was meeting with a guy who produces music for commercials the other day (the meeting wasn't about music, but about real estate) I asked him "What do your composers use?"
He said "Mostly Logic, a couple Digital Performer users, and one or two ProTools."
So for the next couple days I'm all thinkin' hmm... maybe I should get Logic or DP to compose scores on?
But no, forget that. I'm a Samplitude user dang it! And it's not Logic or DP or ProTools which actually make the sounds you use. No, most of those things are VST plugins anyway.
But what I do need is a library. And honestly what's most important to me in a library is decent percussion. Because a couple tubular bells, a tympani, and maybe one of those big pieces of metal you dunk in a tub of water is 3/4 of film scoring.
The rest of film scoring is decent strings. And because we make sci-fi movies we are more interested in string "effects" than soaring strings (although we do need those, too.)
And the thing is that we live in a golden time for orchestral sample libraries. If you're good, and you pay a lot of detailed attention, you can make an orchestral score that sounds a lot like a real orchestra. There's a whole subset of composers who as a day job make "synthestrations" of other people's scores. They can get paid very well. The work involves going through every dang part and making sure each phrase is played by the right sample and massaged so that the dynamics and portamento and all the other details are just right.
Sometimes it's easier to just hire good players, right?
But an orchestra (the real kind) is fantastically expensive. Even if you go to Eastern Europe to record one you'll pay at least $15/hour/musician plus some amount for the space and the recording. And that's after you've split out your parts and made copies for everyone. So it's actually economical to throw a couple thousand dollars at a "synthestrator" -- especially if you're making a demo for a client to listen to -- a demo which could result in them giving you enough of a budget to hire an orchestra. (Even better if that synthestrator works for you full-time.)
The joke there is that if you synthestrate a score and then record an orchestra over it, you may likely find that you'll want to mix the two together. Adding some cellos from a sound library to the live cellos might be just want the client really wants to hear.
One thing that clearly makes no difference at all is whether you work on a Mac or a PC. Except for Logic and Samplitude, all the programs people use are cross-platform. Samplitude is PC only, Logic is Apple-only.
So, where does this leave me? Well, the least-expensive way for me to go is to simply upgrade my Samplitude system to the next version. I think that's just four hundred bucks. It comes with 70GB of samples and such and can theoretically read my old Gigasampler discs through an add-on application called Independence (although apparently it doesn't understand the "note off" parts of the .gig files so, er, no). But it is a big ol' orchestral library.
Still, with VST instruments like Kontakt it doesn't matter what application you're running (DP, ProTools, Logic, Samplitude) -- you can load 'em up with one of the gazillion sound libraries out there and off you go.
And there you have it. Everything I know.

Moving the Blags

I'm re-consolodating my blogs.  I know, you wanted them separate. But my little mind just doesn't work that way. All my blogging -- ...