Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Succeed in Experimental Music

So, you wanna try yer hand in the experimental improvisational music game, huh? Who doesn't? Good luck, son. It's a tough racket. I've been at it for over a quarter century and I still got my day job. Lucky for me I likes my day job but if you really wanna make it you not only gotta get into the venues but you gotta know how to give it when you get the show.
Y'aint one of them laptop guys are you? Good. Besides them bein' a dime-a-dozen, I have yet to see any of them's got any showmanship. If I wanna see someone tappin on a computer thinkin they're makin art I'll go to a Starbuck's, know what I mean? Gear and gizmos and someone who knows how to work 'em is what folks wanna see. Give 'em lots of knob twiddlin, octopus arms, blinkin lights, nests of wires and, if ya got it in ya, nothin beats the one of a kind, homemade electro or electro-acoustic noise maker. Give em a show. They wanna see you movin around up there. They wanna see you in the zone makin decisions and implementing them in the micro-seconds that on-the-edge experimental improv demands.
Besides the show they see, of course, what they hear is what ultimately makes or breaks ya. My advice is: "Don't be lazy and don't be scared." Your audience is not there to hear some pussy ass four to the floor bullshit or endless dronage; if they wanted that they'd go to a club or chill out in a relaxation room in one of them wacky spas. Your audience wants to see you stretching boundaries and, well, experimenting.
The trick is to have fun up there exploring while keepin it entertaining. Experimental folks like to think they're seein something new and different. They wanna feel like they're in on something special and on the cutting edge but, and here's the big thing, they don't want it to hurt and they have a limited capacity for boredom. It's all about balance. Find the edge and learn to walk it- No. Find the edge and learn to dance on it and that's where you'll find yer success. Now get out there and show 'em something weird and wonderful.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where are all the rock stars?

In case anyone hasn't noticed, rock stars as defined in the twentieth century are no longer being born, created, or landing on our planet after long interstellar journeys. Seriously, can you name anyone who matches the criteria set forth by the likes of Bowie, Jagger, Morrison, Elvis, or going back to the prototype, Hank Williams? Where are the bad boys and girls of today? Where are the feral heros calling out for rebellion against all things safe, sterile, mass produced and corporately controlled? Do we no longer need these archetypes? Have we overcome the evil menace and created a society that celebrates free thinking, individual expression and social consciousness? No? What happened?
What happened is that the recording industry that was created by like minded rebels around the icons of their age became the very beast it started off trying to slay or at least subdue. This is old news and the independent movement of the late twentieth century was the response and spawned some anti-heros and heroines of its own. They existed on a level well below the stars mentioned above both in terms of fame and financial reward but they served the same cultural purpose in that they provided inspiration and a means to identity for their generation. I'm sure most that found themselves in that position never started off wanting anything more than chicks and kicks but they served that purpose for a lot of us young hell-raisers and we appreciate it.
It's the young hell-raisers of today I'm worried about. I honestly can't name anyone within the last five years who is anything more than a disposable, industry created, income generating performing seal. Who do they look to to help them get through the craziness and eventually channel their young rebellious energy into something positive that doesn't destroy them and those around them? I'm all for tearing things down but I've always believed in doing that to put something better in place. I'm worried that kids today are into destruction for it's own sake as a release for anger they don't know the source of or understand. Am I too old to know who's speaking to them and for them these days? Or, is my perception correct that this latest generation has been branded from birth by frighteningly effective marketing campaigns which have left them spayed, neutered, cowed and unaware that there is indeed a menace to fight against?
I'd rather believe that I'm correct and not old but I am well over forty so I have to stay open. I'll keep listening and looking and maybe I'll find that there are some pied pipers out there leading a new generation towards freedom and inspiring them to rise up against the corporate giants that swallowed the original rock stars and spit them back all clean, pretty and harmless.
Maybe they're not musicians. Maybe there are new icons in media I haven't considered. Wherever they are I hope they're out there or I believe we're truly fucked.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Recording Among the Dinosaurs

In my last post I mentioned I bought a new modern, up to date computer. It was hard to let go of the old one as I had invested a lot in it, specifically for recording. In its heyday it was at the center of a recording studio I had set up costing several thousand dollars. I had a midi rig with several synths, effects and modules all of which I could control without getting up from my chair and a MOTU DAW with an 828 firewire interface. I didn't play a single note I couldn't edit down to the microsecond or single cycle wave.
What this did to me was make me more of an editor than a musician. It also frequently required me to be an expert computer technician. I lost hours digging around my extensions folder, downloading drivers, keeping on top of updates, tweaking buffers and running hard drive diagnostic programs. Making music started to feel like work and we all know work sucks.
When I moved and broke I down my studio I did so with the full intention of duplicating it in my new location. When I went to do so, however, I gave some thought to what I wanted from it and decided that all I really wanted to do was make music and simply make a record of it. I set up my rig as if I was playing live, did away with midi and just started playing straight to two track mixing in real time and guess what? I was having fun again and started becoming a real musician.
When I bought my new Mac Mini for the unbelievably cheap price of $700 including flat screen monitor and printer, I remembered that Mac OsX (I was running the ancient Os9 on the old Blue and White) comes with Garage Band. Free is good I thought. I bought a $100 M-Audio interface, fired it up and was up and running within a half hour. Since all I needed was two track I was good but even if I wanted a set up like I had before I could still do that. Free.
What I've been leading up to is this: Pro Tools should pack up and go the way of all the other recording industry dinosaurs. Digidesign (Manufacturers of Pro Tools) got a lot of people hooked into their product in the early days and studios spent hundreds of thousands on set ups that had a lot of bells and whistles and cool controllers with flying faders and racks full of expensive interfaces. The simple truth is that digital recording is so vastly superior in terms of what goes in comes out than the old analogue equipment that a good musician could make a studio grade record for next to nothing. But who wants to believe that after investing so much money?
The reason the studios bought into this was because companies like Digidesign took advantage of the fact that studio owners were used to spending beaucoup bucks on gear back in the analogue days. Analogue recording is an art in and of itself and in its case the expense is justified. With digital... Bullshit. The whole 90's electronica revolution was based on this. Kids with creative energy and talent were making awesome music and recording it on PC's (Macs were expensive after all) often using freeware (or illegally downloaded software) and if you were reading the recording magazines back then that were dependent on the advertising money from Digidesign and their ilk you didn't read a word about it.
Now, studios are folding and falling into the black hole of the music industry implosion. What's left? How about a bunch of restless kids with Garage Band increasingly pissed off at the big screw they've just been given by corporate America. Can you see a revolution brewing? I hope so.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Synth Punks

I've recently purchased a new computer. My last one was a pre-millenium Mac Blue & White G3 and it's still working next to the one I'm writing on now. I've experienced over a decade's gap in technology and am only now just catching up. I can now youtube, work facebook, blog, and what I'm leading up to is my lateness in coming to Pandora radio. I know there are others out there that delve deeper but I'm not quite bored enough (though I am getting there) with Pandora to take the time to look.
What Pandora has provided me with is a new insight into my past and the music I liked around the outskirts of punk and hardcore that I never got around to fully exploring. I've decided to call it Synth Punk as opposed to what it was called back in the day which was everything from New wave to No Wave. I feel (as do others) the term, Synth Punk more accurately reflects it's true nature in that the people creating it came out of the same gene pool as the punks and created the music in the same DIY fuck the Man spirit.
As soon as I set up Pandora the first thing I typed in to create my station was Suicide, which is Martin Rev and Alan Vega ripping it up with drug fueled lyrical weirdness and primitive drum machines, a beat up Farfisa organ and later synths. They actually were called Synth Punks as they were deep in the scene having started in 1971. Their first album came out in the seminal year 1977 and they were as influential to the industrial/electronica scene as, say, Iggy Pop was to the Punk scene.
There were a lot of people to follow. Alien Sex Fiend, Ultravox, Human League, Gary Numan, Cabaret Voltaire, Foetus, and Devo are obvious inclusions in the genre but I would add Killing Joke, Joy Division and The Stranglers as well. The common element in all of these bands is the use of the first cheaply available mass produced synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7, the Roland 303 bass sequencer and 606 drum machine, the Casio Cz series and, of course, the Minimoog.
These and many other bands explored where there were not yet any formulas or expectations to be trapped by and the music is wildly creative and wonderfully strange. Most of the bands were short lived and synth music itself did become formulated and mostly relegated to the dance scene. What I feel is that the whole genre never truly got its legs and what the aforementioned bands did was open a door to a vast area of musical expression that is still there for others to explore.
There has been a resurgence of interest in the roots of the electronic music of today that goes back to the fifties (twenties if you want to include Leon Theremin and his ilk) and I feel something along the lines of the Synth Punks of yore is gelling as I write this. People are getting fed up with laptop performers and record spinners and are looking for people who play hands on, balls and breasts to the wall, with real hardware and real, dare I say it, ability. I don't know about you but I'm going to fire up my Moog Little Phatty and get to work.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Making music in the wake of the collapse.

The music industry has imploded. Is this still news to anyone? Was anyone blindsided? Sorry to hear that. In the 90's I had a friend who ran the web-sight for Warner Brothers and when he told me his department was treated like the bastard child of the organization I was amazed. Could they really be that short-sighted? "Don't they realize that it won't be long before Joe Shmoe will be able to download songs and burn his own CDs?" "Oh, the recording industry will figure something out." What they did was attempt encoding and litigation and now we got no Tower records store and what the hell are we going to do with that big empty space where Virgin used to be?
What's a musician to do? How about make music and aspire to make a reasonable living at it through live performance and modest sales through internet outlets? Face it; the days of the mega star millionaires are numbered. Who the hell wants that anyway? Look what it does to people. The go nuts and shave their heads, die of drug overdoses and live being followed by predators with cameras looking to expose their every weakness and foible to the public eye. No, we at eep!music are happy with our anonymity and are free to do what we love, which is making music and gettin our groove on.
What's left of the industry consists of folks still going for the easy bucks. The rock star of today is show over substance and music is now disposable like most things we buy here in the west. Could you older souls have imagined Disney creating rock icons back in the day? How about Disney peddling underage booty?
Enough with the negative. This blog will, in the future, be dedicated to celebrating the uncelebrated and finding the flowers in the dustbins. We will post links to music from a variety of artists in our production family as well as those we admire. Rock on, keep it shakin and peace.