Tuesday, June 30, 2009

He's not MY "boyfriend"

Late Night TV

Catherine and I watch late-night news most nights - and we typically watch CBC's The National ... mainly because it's the only decent one on at 10:00. Okay, we'd probably miss any news show we tried to watch at 11:00 because we'd fall asleep.

It's a little bit stodgy and sometimes, when the news cycle for the day seems to be quite dry, going to bed early will definitely be the best option - CBC is not the best at creating filler or fluff pieces.

The nights that we actually do get to the end of the broadcast and get to see the flirtatious jibes between Peter Mansbridge and CBC's "senior meteorologist", Claire Martin, we get our ten minutes of local Vancouver news and then...

It's "The HOUR" with George Stroumboulopoulos (put that name on the back of a hockey jersey). The Hour is the only Canadian late-night talk-show and I gotta say, the show itself seems to be able to book a lot of great talent. BUT, I don't think I've ever been able to watch the show for more than five minutes...

I don't think it's the late hour and it's definitely not the fact that there are so many other fantastic shows on at the same time (ahem) ... but I have to admit, something about Georgie just makes me want to turn the TV off.

Some of my complaints:
  • He tries to be funny with little skits and impromtu stand-up-like routines ... and to me, it sounds as though even the audience is being threatened to at least force their laughter.
  • He talks WAY too fast.
  • He comes off as being ... immodest - I have no idea why he would have a big ego...
I think the thing that seems a bit grating about the show is that someone at CBC (don't know if we can entirely blame George) is that he's been officially labeled as "Canada's boyfriend".

"Your boyfriend is next after your late local news."
"Tune in to see your favourite boyfriend tonight..."
"Hello there, it's me, your boyfriend, and on tonight's show..."


I don't know about you, but I have trouble seeing how I'd be attracted to George.

He does have a show, seems to be famous and well connected, so I guess there's that going for him, but really ...

George Stroumboulopoulos: a sex symbol?

Am I out of touch with what others see as attributes that contribute to a man being attractive or desirable?

I don't know, maybe I AM turning into a cranky old geezer.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Synth Memory Lane...

Ahhh... Nothing better than a little trip down gear-from-the-past memory lane.

This latest episode was brought to you by my upcoming segment for Inside Home Reocording. I'm planning to do a "Synthesizers 101" bit - getting into some basics on theory and practice behind subtractive synthesis.

I'll probably be touching on other kinds of synthesis (granular, wavetable, additive, physical modeling...), but subtractive synthesis is probably the easiest and most popular form of synthesis to cover. Plus a lot of the "downstream" aspects of subtractive synthesis apply to other forms as well.

Back to the post subject. As part of researching this, I was trying to find a soft-synth out there that was:
  1. a subtractive / analogue model,
  2. FREE and
  3. available on both Mac and PC platforms
Surprisingly, there were more than just a handful when I did a search on KVR. I unearthed a fantastic candidate from Togu Audio Line called the U-NO-62. It's apparently a model of the Roland Juno-60 built back in the early '80's.

Finding this soft-synth was awesome on a couple of levels:
  1. The Juno 60 was a simple synth with a single"ish" oscillator and fairly intuitive controls - so perfect for demonstrating a "101 Basics" thing with.
  2. It was the predecessor to my very first synth - the Juno-106 - which I spent HOURS on back in high school. It had a similar layout and controls as the Juno-60, but also had this new-fangled thing called MIDI on it as well.
... which brings me to memory lane... {ahhh...}.

"To all the synths and gear I've owned..."
Come on everyone, you know the words!

Alright, I'll spare you the nostalgic crooning, but I'll indulge you with a shortened, abridged version of the trip down memory lane of gear I've owned and sold over the years...

Soon after investing in the Juno-106, I went on to acquire a Roland TR-909.

That led to getting my first MIDI cable and ... well, the rest is history. I started doing some rudimentary recording with two tape decks and a couple of RCA splitter cables. Very time consuming, but hey, I was a teenager with time on my hands. We didn't have the Internet back then folks!

When I went off to music school at Western, I thought I needed to upgrade, so like any budding gear-slut, I haunted the local music store in Ottawa (Steve's Music) and lusted after the latest and greatest (at the time): Ensoniq's ESQ-1.

.... {drool}

It had 3 oscillators and 8 multitimbral voices! Woo Hoo!!!! To boot, it had an on-board multi-track sequencer which was the kicker!

Having this little baby around made me realize that I was a Music-Theory geek. I spent hours trying out stuff we'd learned in Theory classes - trying to apply to different styles of music and whot-not.

A couple of years later, the next shiny toy came out: The Korg M-1

This was just a killer synth at the time - a lot of the same concepts that the ESQ-1 incorporated, but it just sounded ... fantastic. So, back to the sell-your-gear-to-finance-the-upgrade cycle.

Soon after that, I decided to go to B-School at Mac and sold the M-1 to finance my next "toy" - a shiny 386 33MHz PC. Woo Hoo! Boy, that thing had 4 Mb of memory and a 80 Mb drive - killer!

The rest is sort of more recent history, but it took another five or six years before I'd start marrying the PC-geek and the Music-geek who were just itching to hitch up. I went out and bought a Korg N264 along with a copy of Cakewalk Pro-Audio (version 5 or 6 I believe).

That's where the downward spiral to today begins, and THAT is where I unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) have to end this before it gets way too complicated and rambling....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Music Technology & a Few Sucking Sounds ... Part II

In my previous blog entry, I mused about the possibility that Music Technology itself may contribute to a "suckage" factor in today's music. This mental excursion was the result of listening to Joe Chiccarelli in an interview on Electronic Musician's monthly podcast where he stated that he felt that the low barriers present for artists to record, produce and distribute their music has deteriorated the overall quality of music you hear on radio these days.

Well, I must say, I've had a lot of great response both on my blog and on Facebook (I have my profile pick up my blog and post it as a note there...).

I wanted to touch on one more thing before I let it rest - give a bit of a real-life example that I came across that frustrated me a bit.

For those of you who know me, or tune into Derek and I on the Inside Home Recording podcast, you'll probably have heard me mention that I've been teaching a theory course at the Art Institute of Vancouver.

I'm about to mark the second of two assignments for the term. Their first effort was good overall, but there were a few instances where folks were ... well a little TOO reliant on technology. I'd asked them to piece together a "song" using stuff we'd covered in class: 8-bar verse, 8-bar chorus. Be as simple or complex as you want. I gave an example of what I was looking for too...

I got some interesting stuff back, but I think the most irksome bit was getting back stuff that was printed off Logic and other notation modules from DAWs that were ... unplayable as written. I asked these folks to at least play me what they were thinking and found it to be quite simple.

There were odd double-dotted 64th rests at beginnings of bars, sixteenth notes tied to dotted 32nds over bar lines... some of these scores were simply unreadable. What they'd done was play their creations into a DAW with a click, look at what came out on the screen, added in chord analysis as I asked, and pressed print.

Interesting, I thought ... why would these folks - and they're all intelligent young dudes (and a dudette) - not go ahead and double check to see if their work actually worked out? They've shown me that they understand notation rules and the like to be able to verify the validity of their work. Was it laziness? Were they pressed for time?

Maybe. But I also feel, now looking back on the first assignment, that these kids rely so heavily on technology to finish their music and put that "special sheen" on it, they don't find the need to even question what comes out the other end.

The next class, I gave them a half-hour primer on how to actually go into the piano-roll in conjunction with the score view and use tools such as quantization to line things up, stretch notes out so that what you get something that will be playable by a musician.

Regardless, I changed up the second assignment to force some good old fashion pencil sharpening and thinking ...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Modern Music Making Tools = Increased Suckage Factor?

I was just listening to the latest Electronic Musician podcast which contained an interview with Joe Chiccarelli - Producer / Engineer who's worked with The Shins, U2, My Morning Jacket, Tori Amos, Beck...

Mike Levine asked what his opinion was of the impact of recording technologies available out there now for everyone have on recordings these days. He had some interesting comments that got me thinking one in particular was him lamenting that although there is a larger volume of artists out there getting attention, he felt that the quality of music coming out these days has gone down - both from the songwriting/structure and the overall sound standpoints.

Got me wondering if I agree or disagree.

In the end, I think I have to be on both sides of the fence.

One the one hand, I absolutely love the tools that are out there now. There's a ton of flexibility, and ease to which you can work on music projects and produce things in a bedroom at relatively low cost.
There are a lot of great artists getting heard with the low barriers now. There are also a lot of folks who are not necessarily musicians being able to create music now.

A lot of barriers are getting broken down and there is a TON of diversity out there - which I find great!

On the flip-side, the low barriers also does produce its share of ... kr@p too. Joe lamented that now-a-days there is a lot of mixes coming out that try to emulate what FM Radio sounds like - getting back to the loudness wars debate - where everything seems to have no dynamic range whatsoever. Charles Dye and company have been outspoken proponents of bringing dynamics back to music.

I also thought - well, what about the actual music itself? What's going on there to facilitate the "suckage factor" these days.

With all these tools out available to pros, semi-pros and amateurs alike, a lot of variations on representing music - whether it be performance information in the form of MIDI or recorded information in the form of digital audio waveforms - conforms to a grid-like paradigm.

You start a new project in Logic, Sonar, Garageband, CuBase etc. and you're presented with grids - time, measures, beats etc. along the top and your tracks along the left-hand side. Usually, you're not proficient in all the instruments you'd like to add to your creation, so you have synthesizers and samplers, but if you're not a keyboardist either, then you have LOOPS!

Loops have become a staple in a LOT of music you hear these days and they're usually found increments of one, two, four, eight... bars. You drop these into your creation and bada-bing, you're ready to move on to the next part.

All this grid / pattern stuff, at least to me, seems to promote a "laziness" on the part of the artist sitting behind the screen. There's a system ... a formula if you will ... that home recordists, semi-pro and even pros succumb to in constructing their creations.

Listen to a top-40 station and try and find something that contains something that deviates from a formulaic 4 or 8 bar phrase. It's pretty hard.

I guess, what I took away from this personal brain fart was that I need to try and step away from the tools and create music with ears - come up with things that don't easily fit into the formulas - shake it up a bit. Folks worked like this 10-20 years ago and there was some GREAT stuff.

Don't get me wrong, next to Catherine and the kids, music technology rocks. I just think the next project I create, maybe I'll start away from the things that require power and have those shiny, flashing lights...

Monday, June 08, 2009

My Toys Suck

... well, that's what my son said in not so many words.

I just bought and am in the process of configuring and and setting up a Network Attached Storage device on our home network - copying files over, setting up backup programs to talk to it...

My son walks in and asks what I'm doing ...

"Playing with my new toy" I tell him.

It's black, it's shiny, it's got cool lights that are blinking.

He asks what it's for and I try to explain that it's so that we can keep our data in a centralized place AND have it on redundant/mirrored media.

Before I finish, I can see his eyes glazing over ... his hope that it's some sort of cool new Star Wars device from Toys R Us dashed to oblivion.

It's then that I wonder ... when did my toys start to adopt this ... "boringness"? Maybe next time, I'll bundle the optional lightsaber, holoprojector option with my electronic shopping cart...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Mystery of the Lost Tooth

Our little guy Alex, lost his tooth a couple of days ago.

He wanted to save it for show and tell today. He got up this morning and put the tooth in a little carrying case (shaped like a tooth) and strung it around his neck to bring to school.

Well, as you can probably guess from the title of this post, just before going into class, we discovered the carrying case hanging open and the tooth missing.

We took a look around the playground and ... sigh ... didn't find it. Well, it's a playground with woodchips ALL over, and a bazillion other kids were playing at the same time, so chances were pretty slim of finding it.

On the way home with Sam, I found myself in a very deep discussion about why the Tooth Fairy would most likely still be able to "re-imburse" Alex for his tooth ... even though the said tooth was not going to be in the, ahem, agreed-upon location: under the pillow.

I found myself wondering how much of this she'll remember. I'm pretty sure that Alex will - after all, it was his first tooth.

Chris is now at the age where doubts have surfaced and he gives little winks and nods at the mention of different holiday and special characters quite regularly.

It'll be interesting to probe their memories in the next few years and see what sticks and what doesn't.

I'm only hoping that these memories aren't the catalysts for future therapy sessions ...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Parent Break is coming to an end...

Just looked on the calendar and saw that our daughter's last day of school is next week!


The boys get out of school a couple of weeks after that, but geez, it got me thinking ...

Has anyone ever done a study on the amount that summer break loses it's luster and appeal in relation to your age / amount of kids? Is this an inverse direct relationship? Is it linear, logarithmic? Am I the only one who wonders this?

Oh, don't get me wrong, I still look forward to it and love being outside - especially on awesome days with the kids - swimming, biking, playing in the park .... it's going to be a blast.

I'm thinking of the lame-o things that us loser adult types start to elevate as priorities - sleep, mowing lawns, fixing stuff, typing on a computer in a cafe (ahem) and ... oh yeah ... work.

I mean, what's up with that? We spend our entire childhood getting pysch'd up for holidays and summer vacation, then when we're teenagers, we're slowly introduced to the "summer job" and once you leave school - it just gets the "oh never mind - you're a responsible adult now" treatment.

I'm thinking it's got to be the biggest bait and switch scam out there! Why do we do this to ourselves and our kids?

The solution? I don't know - until summer holidays are mandated by governments, perhaps we should do away with all this negativity around childhood labour just so that we can let our kids down easier as they get older.

I'm just sayin... ;)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Am I sounding like a broken record?

I've been listening to a LOT of different music these days - I have to admit, consumption of new music has become a habit ...

It's been a condition of mine for a while, and I don't think it really has any real serious side effects - well, except if you count my kids requesting songs such as "Balls to the Wall" or "Crazy Train" once in a while.

The new bands coming out today are fantastic! I mean, stuff like the Silversun Pickups, Metric, Phoenix, Band of Skulls, Patrick Watson... I'm having a blast listening to them.

I'm also expanding the jazz collection - picking up classics from Herbie, Miles, Chet...

However, just this morning, I went ahead and found my music selection on my iPod fall onto AC/DC for some reason.

Back in Black came up.

I haven't listened to Back in Black all the way through since high school.

Dang, what a brilliant album - the song sequence fits, the sound is amazing - great tracks from beginning to end.

Derek and I have discussed this online with others a lot before - how music from your youth really resonates with you. But, I don't know there IS something fantastic about this album that is so much different from the ones out these past years.

What makes a "classic" album? What's going to be a classic album from the 2000's in the next 15-20 years?

It'll be cool to see.