Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cinder Bridge on the air

Ooh. Looks like Cinder Bridge is going to be on KXCI's Live at 5 in August. Community radio rocks!

More details to come after we confirm the date.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rock me, Amadeus

The International Mozarteum Foundation has discovered two previously unknown piano pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. On August 2, this organization will reveal more details about the pieces, and someone will perform them on Mozart's original fortepiano.

Y'all know who Mozart is, so I don't I have to explain why this is cool. Instead, I'll share the reaction I had after getting "Wow, cool" out of the way.

I had come across this news via a Google alert, which directed me to blogger David Duff's post about it. When I did a search for more details, I only found a couple of actual newspaper articles on the subject. (In English, anyway.)

Isn't Mozart kind of a big deal? I know there's a lot of stuff going on in the world right now, but come on. Two articles?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why so serious?

Over the weekend I finished writing a protest song. I have no idea if it's any good.

As far as the music goes, I'm happy. It's a decent little na-na piece. Lyrically? Hard telling. I've never written this sort of thing before. I tried to convey righteous indignation without falling over the edge into preachiness. I tried to avoid a technique that annoys me in other protest songs, namely getting too detailed about the specific issue at hand.

Mostly, I wanted to give the song's target audience a sense of optimism, a sense that it really is possible to change things for the better. I wanted to inspire people -- including myself -- to take action, even if that action is small.

* * *

After finally watching United Breaks Guitars and getting a few good laughs out of it, it struck me that if I want to effect change through music, protest songs might not be the best way to go. Humor is so much more effective. Make the thing you're fighting appear ridiculous, and listeners can't help but understand where you're coming from.

The problem, I realized, is I don't have the slightest clue how to write that kind of song. An interview from today's Songwriting Scene contains a few good tips, but I still wouldn't know where to start.

* * *

Shortly after posting about "United Breaks Guitars" and contemplating whether I could do satire or parody, I came across a news item on Ryan Baldwin. Ryan is the kid who's in foster care because he has ME/CFS, and the authorities suspect his parents of "factitious illness by proxy." The parents have been fighting this decision in court. Apparently they lost the case in June. Ryan is staying in foster care.

This is exactly the kind of thing that inspired the song I just wrote.

I don't know how to make something like this funny. I don't think I can.

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the guitarist

After having this link e-mailed to me by three separate people, I finally watched the "United Breaks Guitars" video on YouTube.

Summary: United Airlines broke Dave Carroll's $3,500 Taylor guitar. They refused to compensate him. He wrote a song about it, made a video with his band Sons of Maxwell, and posted it up on YouTube.

Where it has 3.5 million hits and counting.

Moral: Don't piss off a songwriter. Ever.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The universal language

My first piano teacher was big into ear-training. At the end of my early lessons, Mr. Stahl had me look away from the keyboard as he played notes and asked me to identify elements. Is this interval a fourth or a fifth? Is this chord major or minor?

Telling major from minor was easy. Major was happy. Minor was sad.

Years later I sat in on an ear-training session Mr. Stahl gave for some of his younger students. "Major is happy," he explained. "Minor is sad." He played successions of chords and the kids called out responses ("Major!" "Minor!"). Most of the time they were correct.

As I watched and listened, a question occurred to my teenage self that I'd never thought about at age six:

Why is major happy and minor sad? It's intuitively obvious that they are, but why?

I remembered this experience while reading "Why Music Moves Us," an article in July's Scientific American. The article talks about how emotional responses to music are universal:
Several pieces of research indicate that music reliably conveys the intended emotion in all people who hear it. In the late 1990s neuroscientist Isabelle Peretz and her colleagues at the University of Montreal found that Western listeners universally agree on whether a song using Western tonal elements is happy, sad, scary or peaceful.

Music’s emotional content may even be culturally transparent. This past April neuroscientist Tom Fritz of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues exposed members of the Mafa ethnic group in Cameroon who had never heard Western music to excerpts of classical piano music. The researchers found that the adults who listened to the excerpts consistently identified them as happy, sad or scary just as Western listeners would. Thus, the ability of a song to elicit a particular emotion does not necessarily depend on cultural background.

The article posits all kinds of reasons why humans respond to music in the same way. Music excites regions of the brain associated with language. It stimulates other parts of the brain that govern emotions. Many scientists believe emotional response to music is epiphenomenal. That music affects us only because it pushes buttons that evolved for other purposes.

Interesting stuff. But it still doesn't explain why major is happy and minor unhappy instead of the other way around. Why dissonant chords are discomfiting. Why we go crazy if someone plays the melody to "Shave and a haircut, two ..." and leaves out the last note.

(You twitched a little bit just thinking about that last one, didn't you.)

Maybe it's useless being so left-brained about this. If anyone figured out how specific musical stimuli produced specific emotional responses, I would probably find the resulting journal article both incomprehensible and boring.

Even so, it's fun to think about the question.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Speaking ill

I plucked an old Newsweek off of my to-read pile and flipped through the pages. My parents had saved the March 16, 2009, issue because I wanted to see some famous conservative's slam on Rush Limbaugh. With that article out of the way, I perused further, read a piece on the Octomom, and ... hey, look at this ...

On page 61 was a picture of Michael Jackson followed by a few sentences on his tour announcement.
It was short. It was confusing. All in all, it was Jacko. During a chaotic London press conference crammed with nutso fans, the king of pop (isn't he more like a duke now?) announced his plan to attract some "on purpose" attention: a 10-concert run at London's O2 Stadium this summer.
Ah, yes. There was a time, not so long ago, when Michael Jackson's name evoked something other than fond memories, indignant commentaries about his abusive childhood, and general wistfulness.

So what? you may ask. I don't know what. That people become abruptly reverential upon someone's death is hardly a new or startling insight. It's not like I don't participate in this kind of hypocrisy myself. I can't put my finger on why the disconnect bugged me.

But I wonder what the world would be like if everyone treated the living with the same compassion and reverence we reserve for the dead. What if we tried to do this just for one day?

I'm not sure people could hold out on the snark for even that long. I know I'd find it hard.

Be an interesting experiment, though.

Delayed response

A few people came to see us at Old Town Artisans on Saturday, including one of the musicians from the previous Z Mansion gig. I considered that an excellent turnout given that we had very little time to promote. But the last of our crowd left in the middle of our second set. That left the people who were there for a going-away party.

We kicked into atmosphere gig mode. That is, we continued to put as much energy into the songs as we could, but otherwise left our audience alone, keeping the talk-up to a minimum. Following each song came a slight pause, followed by brief, polite applause. The kind that acknowledges that the song has ended, and that's about it. I had no idea if they liked us, hated us, or even noticed us.

As we were packing up, though, a few people approached and thanked us for being there. They said the music had added something to their little gathering.

They'll never know how much we appreciated that. It's easy to tell if a listening audience digs you. When you're playing for people who came to socialize, it's harder to figure out if you're successfully enhancing the atmosphere.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Pinch hitting

We have a gig at Old Town Artisans tonight!

We acquired said gig a couple of days ago, when the band originally scheduled to play backed out. Apparently their opening acts bailed as well.

I don't know who the bands were or why they cancelled. I do, however, know that the temperature was supposed to reach 110 degrees over the weekend. And as Old Town Artisan gigs happen outdoors, part of me has to wonder if these two things aren't related.

If so, the joke's on the other band. Latest predictions say the high will only be 108 degrees. Ha!

Anyhow, if you're in Tucson, come see us:

Date: Saturday, July 11
Time: 7 to 9 p.m.
Place: Old Town Artisans, 201 N. Court Ave.
Admission: Free free free

The patio in question has a bunch of trees providing a bunch of shade, so you should be fine. If you were the sort who would let a little heat keep you from good music, you wouldn't be living in Tucson, darnit.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guess it's been a while ...

I often forget a line or two of some song I've written while practicing or rehearsing. That's normal. Happens to the best of us.

Occasionally I can't remember the lines after I've had time to sit and think about them. That's more annoying, but they'll generally come back to me if I put the song aside and try again later.

Tonight, during rehearsal, while playing a song we hadn't touched for over a year, I found that I couldn't remember the melody for the bridge.

Yeah, it's time to think about rotating our set list more often.