Burst of Creativity

August 29th, 2010 at 8:09 pm (Random Stuff, Songwriting)

Had a nice burst of creative energy yesterday on some songs I’ve been writing.  Was released early from a 12:00 rehearsal for “13” (a Broadway in Boulder musical I’m working on) and went home in a really focused musical and lyrical mood.  Man I love those bursts, but they’re so precious rare — it seems everything from the preceding weeks of creative work (and deadlock) to exactly how much sleep I got the night before, how much coffee I drank and when, what other music I was exposed to that day, etc. all have to come together in just the right way.  I swear I felt like had I got 15 minutes more or less sleep, it wouldn’t have happened.


Antoine and the Culture of These Internets

August 22nd, 2010 at 11:14 pm (Dan Griping About "The Modern World", Random Stuff)

Not surprisingly, I’ve entirely missed the recent internet sensation Antoine — the “hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife” dude — because I don’t know how to surf the internet.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you watch, in order, these YouTube videos:

Thanks to Jenny’s blog for bringing me up to speed, and for reblogging this bit of very astute commentary on the viral event.  The video he refers to is a YouTube of a full University marching band performing an arrangement of this song, which has unfortunately been removed from YouTube, apparently for copyright reasons:

Upon seeing [the marching band] clip this morning it struck me that humanity is in the process of moving in unfathomably directions. A couple of weeks ago Antoine Dodson wasinterviewed by a local TV station in Hunstville, Alabama regarding a man breaking into his sister’s house and attempting to rape her. The footage of Antoine’s interview was cut up and set to music by a group in New York. The song created by that group has now been arranged and performed by a university marching band in North Carolina.

In late June there was an article in The Observer which discussed the impact that the internet might have on the world. The journalist made note that the internet had been “mainstream” for around 17 years now, and made the analogy that 17 years from the invention of the printing press in 1455 people would still have had little idea about the scale to which is was to transform civilization. It is obvious to state that nowadays distance is completely irrelevant to the spread of information and this is something completely unique in human history. However, how this information is being utilised is becoming increasingly unpredictable. A university marching band in North Carolina is playing a song that began its existence as the attempted rape of a woman in Alabama. The transformation is absurd, and viewed from its starting point it’s something that nobody could have anticipated. Yet it exists, and its existence is evidence of some significant (and exciting!) changes that are occurring in human interaction.


And that transformation — from local news story to worldwide YouTube sensation to marching band cover — apparently happened in a matter of weeks.  Finally, if you’re still curious, click here for an interview with Antoine himself; he apparently acquired a manager in the course of all this, and his own action figure:

I’d like to just point out, as we wax philosophic about the neoteric power of the internet, that this whole bit with Antoine began its life with the necessary help of a more traditional source — the local television morning news and the expensive and difficult work of real in-the-field news gathering, an enterprise with a struggling business plan whose function has not been replaced by the internet.  The internet is great at spreading news and content — in sometimes unexpected ways — but not at funding the work of going out and finding it.  Just sayin’


August 1st, 2010 at 10:17 pm (Random Stuff)

I’ve more or less kept this thing going for a month.  Maybe it’ll stick?

But seriously, I’ve got the next “Making of City Dreams” post almost ready to go!  And then we’re going to get on a regular posting schedule for the series.  For realz.


Molls On The AutoTune Fad

August 1st, 2010 at 9:47 pm (Home Recording, Music Commentary)

Molls writes an interesting post on her “Molls She Wrote” blog about the recent — and surely soon-to-die — fad in pop music where autotune is used in a deliberately obvious way.  If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here’s some background.  Autotune is a specific brand of pitch correction software that was added to the arsenal of studio tools sometime in the last 15 years with the genesis of Pro Tools and computer audio editing and processing.  Used primarily on vocals, though it can be used — and I have — on any monophonic instrument, autotune determines the pitch of the selected signal (i.e., what note the vocalist is singing), and how close that pitch is to the nearest note on the keyboard (or the nearest note in a scale) and then time-stretchs the audio signal so that the pitch more closely matches the note (you know how you can speed up or slow down a cassette player to mess with the pitch? Well this is the same idea, but with way more precision).  The idea being: the vocalist may have intended to hit A-440 (A-440 being the correct note in the melody), but actually hits something like A-450, which would sound sharp of the correct pitch.  Autotune then adjusts the audio signal until the vocalist’s pitch sounds like A-440, thus correcting the out-of-tune note.  Autotune can be remarkably transparent, and while it’s used pretty extensively to correct bad singers (i.e., Katy Perry), it can be useful even on good singers, in that it might allow you to use a take that was fantastic emotionally (which is the element that’s really hard to capture in the studio), but may have come out unacceptably sharp or flat in places.

Which brings me to the abuse of autotune in certain recent pop releases.  Autotune contains, among other parameters, an attack parameter, which sets how quickly the software applies correction once it deciphers a deviation from the “correct” pitch.  How you set the attack parameter depends on the material, how far out of tune the singer is, just how much slight-of-pitch singing the song can withstand, and generally what you can get away with before it begins to sound “processed.”  I’m feeling generous tonight, so here’s an audio example:

A short clip from “Cathedral Bells.”  First, the vocal take with no pitch correction.  Tayler hit the big note that leads into the chorus a bit flat.  Tayler’s a great singer, and surely there was another take with spot-on pitch.  But there was something about this take (the tone, the emotionality) that made me want to use it.  Here’s with no correction:

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Here’s the same clip with the pitch correction I actually used on the album, set with a relatively aggressive attack time time of 78.3 milliseconds.  A keen listener will notice the vibrato sounds a little funny, but the correction is otherwise transparent:

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And now with the attack time pushed to zero milliseconds — i.e., the correction happens immedietely:

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This last clip makes the vocal sound fake and computerized.  But this is exactly the effect that’s become a small fashion in certain recent productions.  Kanye West used it quite famously, and fairly artfully in my opinion, on his 808’s And Heartbreak album, notably the single “Love Lockdown.”  With the hyped autotune, Kanye, it seems to me, admits that he isn’t a great singer, and asks us to just accept that fact in exchange for the deeply personal, emotional character of his singing on these tracks (they were written from a place of genuine personal heartbreak — a painful breakup with his fiance and the loss of his mother).  It’s the only instance I’ve heard of abused-autotune that I haven’t found completely irritating.  I’ll be forever baffled as to why Mariah Carey — the best-selling female pop artist of all time, with the biggest range and some of the best pipes in the genre — used the same hyped autotune on the single “Obsessed.”

A number of bad-singer pop stars have surely been grateful for the fad, though.  Molls comments shrewdly on one example, the aggravating — but unfortunately catchy — single “Blame It On The Alcohol“.  I’ll edit a few *choice* words to keep this a family blog:

OK, so this morning I was walking back from Coffee Bean and “Blame It On The Alcohol” came on my iPod. I was thinking about it and I decided that that song is probably a forever jam. It has that vibe about it. It’s kinda funny, it’s dancey. It’s got what it needs to be played at weddings for all of eternity.

So I was thinking about that and then I was like, “If I ever have kids and they discover this song and start listening to it ironically, that’s going to be really annoying.” ‘Cause like, after 2009, I don’t need to hear that song more than once a month, at the very very most, for the rest of my life.

I thought about how what my future kids would probably find hilarious about the song is the autotuned chorus, specifically the “a-a-a-a-a-alcohol” part. Because that’s so ridiculous. It’s such a ridiculous thing to have in a song. And it’s so unique to that time in music, I feel like. When we’re wondering what will stand out about our generation the way we think of our parents in bell bottoms, it’s probably going to be s*** like that (which you know makes me want to kill myself, but we can talk about that more later.)

Then I tried to decide how you’d explain autotune to a child living in the future. And I had a memory: My BFF Bethany and I sitting in her parents’ Fun Room (I think it was called the Fun Room) listening to “Baba O’Reilly” by the Who. We went through this whole Who stage sophomore and junior year of high school. Yes, I’m bragging about how cool and popular I was in high school. Again.

Bethany’s dad, Steve (I love you, Steve Folger), came in the room and he stood over us and he was like, “You like The Who, huh? You know that song is the first song that ever used a synthesizer.”

BAM! Right?! S***! It’s kind of like that. Except with autotune. Because you wanna know why? Because we’ve failed.

Have a great day, guys.

Molls She Wrote

I’m going to hope that we haven’t failed, but only momentarily fallen for a passing fad.