Jun 22

I need to start this post with a brief diversion. Call it social housekeeping.

Can we all agree to stop using the terms “world wide web” and the gut-wrenching “information superhighway”when we talk about the Internet?

We get it.

You can let those go along with saying “1-800” when giving out a phone number. We all know by now you need to dial a 1 in most places in the US to get another area code.

I imagine it takes a while to drop phrases like that from the lexicon. Much like during the early 1900’s folks said “Nineteen Hundred and Ten” for 1910. Looking ahead we’ll be saying Twenty Ten and leaving Two Thousand and … for the aught years.

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We’re a culture of overachievers. Or so we would like folks to believe.

Though the Web has been around for over 20 years, most of us are only ten years into it as far as personal computing goes.

Prior to 1995 I don’t recall having heard the term “multitasking” in my work or home life. I mean we did more than one thing at a time like cooking and being on the telephone, but we didn’t have a name for it. Nor did we care if there was one.

I read a great blog article today from The New Atlantis written by Christine Rosen called The Myth of Multitasking.

She discussed the term in detail from concept to colloquialism citing references in literature and research studies. It’s a great read and so as not to paraphrase her, I suggest that you click on the link and read it for yourself.

There was a section in the article that sticks with me. She wrote about a 1999 study where Jordan Grafman, Chief of Cognitive Neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, used a type of MRI scan to determine that when people engage in “task-switching” there is increased blood flow to the frontal cortex of the brain.

To be clear, task-switching isn’t multitasking, but the behavior associated with it: The act of switching between one task and another.

Other scientists have found evidence of a bottleneck in the brain from having to sort out which task to perform and when.

Now there is hope that we will eventually develop this as a natural ability, but so far we are all dealing with this bottleneck and becoming increasingly less effective and more importantly: STRESSED.

Ok, I’ll take off my lab coat for the moment as I’m not a Doctor (but I do play one in this blog). What I am is a songwriter in today’s world.

When I write, there are some times when I just pick up the guitar and play someting new, jotting down what I’ve just played. Similarly, there are times when I can just sit down and type out lyrics into Notepad. I rarely write with a pen these days as my office is as close to a paperless office as one I’ve ever heard of. The fact is, I’m writing lyrics only at that point.

For those of you that read this blog religiously (yes, both of you) you know that I recently bought my Line 6 Toneport UX2.

It’s a USB interface that I plug my guitar into that allows me to record into recording software. The Toneport uses a sister software component called Gearbox which is what I use to set what I want my guitar to sound like, or keep my guitar in tune. It also allows me to use a metronome that functions as a tiny drum machine module.

So, where I used to sit down with a pen paper and guitar, I now sit with my guitar, computer, Notepad, Toneport, Gearbox, metronome and tuner.

All this technology is fantastic, to be truthful, and I love how I sound now. The fact is from a writer’s standpoint, it takes me a lot longer to write a tune.

By the time I’ve got everything set right, it’s either time for the next meal, a shower, or bedtime.

There’s a lot of time spent on “getting ready to get ready”.

Often I find myself less productive as far as writing goes, but I sure do have fun with all the virtual knobs and switches. 😉

To actually do two things at once is not always possible. I find that I do part of one, then part of another, then back to the rest of the one until eventually it all gets done with only partial attantion paid to detail. Invariably, I’ll forget something. To me that’s not being productive. It’s not me doing my best.

I guess the key is to compartmentalize. Do my set up one day, and write down what I set up. Then unplug and come back later to actually write, paying no attention to how things are set up. Just focusing on the writing.

Singletasking.

There’s a concept. Nothing like coming up with a new phrase to define what we’ve been doing for thousands of years that previously needed no definition.

I guess we just need to figure out when to Multitask and when to Singletask. I can cook and talk, but I still can’t sneeze and keep my eyes open. 😎

-V

 

 

Jun 15

We’ve all heard music that strikes us as special. Something slightly out of the ordinary or in fact, way out of the ordinary has made most songwriters including myself say “I want to write a song like that”.

Maybe you’re saying, “Dude, I NEVER do that. I’m all about being original.” Well as hard as you try to make me believe that, you’re either naive or you’re full of crap.

To be honest, though. Nothing is that cut and dry. Granted, no one wants to be thought of as a plagiarist. To learn about music whether through studying an instrument, or merely for enjoyment, you’ve got to have heard a few songs.

OK, I hear your collective “Duh, thanks Dr. Obvious.”, but stay with me here.

Some will say that in this age of information, we’re barraged by so much input that the output is sure to be tainted. Actually “flavored” may be a better term.

Let’s take a look at a definition (which could change at some point in the future as technologies advance).

Plagiarism:

The practice of claiming or implying original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else’s written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one’s own without adequate acknowledgement – the issue of false attribution.

Musical influence on the other hand is as inevitable as farming. Once the seeds are planted…well you get the idea.

If not for Leopold Mozart, we’d have no Wolfgang Mozart, if not for Haydn, we’d have no Beethoven all the way to Boogie Woogie giving us Swing and Blues which begat Gospel, R & B, Rock and Roll, Heavy Metal and Hip Hop.

Don’t forget, if not for Little Richard and Elvis, we’d have no Beatles.

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the way, Swing had a threesome with the Recording Industry and Don “No-Soul” Simmons and Disco was born. 😉

So obviously it’s all about learning and reinventing and pardon the American Idol reference, “Making it your own”.

Where does one draw the line? Well, it’s hard to say. Sort of like little white lies I guess. We all know its wrong to do, but sometimes it’s forgivable. We just have to listen to what moves us, and see how much of us we can put into it.

For me, when I started writing I was about 15 years old. I knew if I was going to write songs, I needed to really get familiar with how a song was put together. I would take a song I liked, re-write the lyrics, then put it away for long enough for me to have forgotten what the song was that I wrote it against.

I’d also take chord progressions right out of an artist’s songbook, see how I might trim off a chord or add one, or flip a sequence around, add in another sequence from another artist and do the same. Then I’d see how I might play it with different tempos, rhythm changes, trying to make it fit the lyrics until I got something I liked.

There always was the fear that someone would say “You stole that from so and so”, but no one was going to buy those tunes so I didn’t really care much back then.

Today, I write in a similar vein. I listen to as many varied styles as I can. Now, instead of stealing chord changes, I go for the feel of the song or a similar build up rather than copying specific phrases.

What I listen for now is for suggestions in style more than anything else. A surf music sound, or a 70’s Rod Stewart style rocker, or a late 70’s New Wave type of tune. Maybe a jazz infused ballad with a hard rock bridge.

No matter what I do though, I’m always going back to listening to stuff I like, so that I can write stuff I like. Rarely do things just happen naturally for me unless, well John Lennon referred to it as “Diarrhea of Rock”.

I’d rather call it a flow of prolificacy.

That’s the word for the day. Use it three times and there’s a penny in it for ya 😉

Meanwhile, until next time, I’ll leave you with with this cool vid I found on You Tube. Check out Theresa Andersson

-V

Jun 3

Recently I decided to upgrade my USB interface to a Toneport UX2 by Line 6

I must say, as easy as it was to find online, it was a bit dodgy trying to get one locally. My guess would be that the stores must keep selling out of them, or they stocked too many of the UX1 unit they needed to get rid of.

What’s a USB inyourface you ask? Simply stated, it’s a way to connect your instruments to your computer. It’s great for guitars, basses, keyboards, microphones or a theremin (I knew you’d ask, so at the bottom of today’s post there’s a cool video showing one in action)

So as not to digress, the Toneport UX2 is much more powerful than I anticipated. It’s hardware component allows the input of all the above with simple pre and post gain controls, and separate output and headphone volume knobs (a nice feature). It’s got a USB output as well to connect to your computer, but it’s also got an analog output to go directly into your monitor speakers which is another nice touch.

So while the hardware is straightforward cool and easy, there’s a software component called Gearbox that’s the magical part of the Toneport. It’s got 16 guitar and 5 bass amplifier models, and 29 different stomp box and studio effects. You can have up to 10 of these effects strung together at once if needed, though I can’t imagine why.

Tony Butterworth of Home Made Hit Show has a couple of great videos showing how it all works. So, without reinventing the stick (which most people don’t realize came before the wheel and was instrumental in making sure the guy that invented the wheel made one for the guy with the stick)

Here’s Tony’s video in 2 parts:



Many thanks to Tony for going through all the work on that video. It truly was seeing that video that convinced me that this unit was the must have piece I needed for my home studio.I’m still getting the hang of Gearbox, but it’s really making my guitar sound like anything from Johnny Cash’s acoustic to Angus Young’s Gibson SG.

So now for your listening pleasure, the lovely Carolina Eyck on Theremin. I know, it sounds like a drug, doesn’t it? I’ve gotta get myself one of these soon:


-V