Category Archives: facebook

The Swamp Effect

I have a horrible habit. At some point in every project, things start not sounding … right. Good. Emotional. Whatever. The train has jumped the track, and is off wandering through antique stores on State Street. I’ve lost my way.

At this point, I do the same thing, every time.

I do more. I do everything. I take every idea, and make it louder. I double it. I do it in octaves. I do it with a triplet backing rhythm. I add 3 string samples and 2 pads, on top of 3 more loops and a delay. I start putting out frantic midnight calls for friends to play overdub parts, stacked, with overdrive and double-stops.

I add piano, add flamenco guitar, add horn swells and swirly synths, a B3 solo, 6 passes of backing vocals, and a Taiko. With reverb. Then a reverse Taiko with even more reverb.

Then I put a limiter on the main bus, a 6:1 multi-band compressor, then another limiter. Then I turn my mains up. I turn on the sub, then add another low string sample.

The swamp effect takes hold, and whatever spark of inspiration birthed the process has been completely, utterly, horrifically buried in a morass of crap.

Save as.

Rename.

Delete.

Repeat.

The Good Kids

As I was driving home from a gig yesterday, the LA sun painted the San Gabriel mountains with just the perfect Tuscan hues, and it got me thinking about June and Stick moving back to LA, because how could they not? and that got me thinking about our secret long-term strategy to marry our two great houses together. Sophia and Zane, or Sophia and Nate, we’re fine with either. And that got me thinking about our kids. It got me thinking about Ella, and Z, and Nate and Zane, and Camille and James, and all the other little munchkins that are trolling along behind the Addison Road crew.

There’s a good chance that none of our kids will end up married, although I will lay a $200 bet that Ella is going to be Josiah’s first heart-breaking crush. Although nothing would thrill me more than to look across the aisle on that sacred day and see one of y’all sitting there, parents don’t really get to plan that kind of thing anymore. Still, the thought of it gave me hope.

The reason I would love to see any of my kids with any of your kids is because I’ve seen how you are raising your kids. I can see the trajectory you’ve set them on, and 20 years from now, they are going to be incredible people. And it gave me hope, that there are people in the world who value the things we value, who are teaching their kids to be respectful and curious, joyful and passionate, hardworking and generous. And if you guys are doing it, then other people are doing it to, and if there are such people out in the world, then there is a chance that my daughter will arrive at 26 and find that there are men in the world worthy of her attention, and my son will find that there are women who will make him want to grow up and become a man worthy of their attention, and that thought gives me hope.

Carry on, good people, your sacred mission of stewardship, so that our charges will burst into the world full and glorious and bright, and will charge the heights in the company of good and worthy friends, well-suited spouses, and a cloud of witnesses to give them strength. Carry on.

The Sound of Light

I was recently a guest in a classroom (not at APU) and listened to a fantastic composer and beloved professor tell a room full of eager students that the reason florescent lights buzz when they start to go bad is because some of the light is slowing down, and the frequency of the light is getting so slow that it becomes a sound wave instead of a light wave, which is why the buzz is at 60 Hz.

Nobody in the room contradicted him. Nobody. After about 30-second of dumb disbelief, I protested, and the whole class turned on me as if I were an idiot, daring to argue with this obviously brilliant man.

This brought to mind 3 things:

1. An expert in one area is not an expert in all areas. If you are a teacher, be sure you communicate to your students when you are speaking from your area of expertise, and when you are speaking out of your nether regions. If you are a student, become critically aware  of the difference. 
2. Intellectual authority comes from being right, not from being in a position of authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge professors when they are wrong.
3. In a room full of 20 people, I can’t believe nobody knew enough about light, or sound, or electricity to contradict an obviously absurd assertion. I’m worried that we’ve come to just accept general ignorance about how the world works.

So here’s today’s extra credit question. Help me restore my faith in the world. Without heading to wikipedia or google, with just your general knowledge of physics, what would you have said to the man to demonstrate his error?

It’s Friday, Friday

So, a few weeks ago, ARK music productions unleashed what is, unarguably, the worst pop song ever inflicted upon a listening public. That song is called “Friday”. It has been watched by 34 million people. 34 million.

What I offer here is a bit of musical sorbet, a palate cleanser if you will, to remove the fetid taste of bubblegum ice cream from your mouth. Here are the days of the week, as they deserve to be songified.

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

The Days of the Week

Our Best Habit

I got an email from a friend today, and it started me thinking about the things we do that build relationships, particularly marriage relationships. We’re in that stage where kids and careers are stealing away time from just the two of us, and we have to be more “on purpose” with almost everything in our lives.

So, here’s the big questions: what’s one thing you do, one habit or ritual, that builds up your relationship with your significant other.

Gretchen and I have struggled for years to figure out how to get regular time together. Date nights are great, but they end up being more expensive than we can really afford right now. Instead, we do a once-a-week “Late Dinner”. We feed the kids crap food at 5, let them have a movie night until 8, then one of use gets them to bed and the other starts cooking. We cook good food, we relax with no time pressure, and we talk in the kitchen while we do it. We sit down at maybe 8:30 or later, and we have a slow dinner. No kids, no distractions, just time to sit and talk.

It’s a new ritual, but so far, I think it’s our best habit. And it’s on my mind because I’m missing it tonight for a crap gig. Sorry, love.

What’s your best habit?

Boudicca

For those of you who missed the 2010 New Music Concert at APU (and heavens, what else could you possibly have been doing that’s more important than driving 7 hours to hear a 6 minute piece I wrote?), here is the recording of the piece I wrote. You’ll have to excuse the quality of the recording, especially when the speech comes in.

Boudicca
by Michael A. Lee

And for those who want to totally geek out, here’s the score.
Boudicca – Score (this doesn’t include pencil edits made in the final rehearsal)

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.

Week O’ Projects

This is the week of projects for me. Three things on the plate:

  1. Preaching on Sunday about The Prodigal Son, focusing on the feast at the end of the story. I think I may cook up some burgers on a little hibachi grill while I talk. Mmmmmm, feasty.
  2. I’m giving a presentation tomorrow night on the state of digital music distribution, with emphasis on the legal and commercial barriers between subscription services (like grooveshark and lala.com before it’s untimely death) and download services (amazon.com and itunes).
  3. Doing a critical analysis paper on  3 different pop-rock piano songs: Tiny Dancer, Piano Man, and Drops of Jupiter. My thesis is that Elton John established a piano ballad form that Billy Joel copied, and that Train sucks.

What are you folk up to?

Musical Authenticity

Billie Holiday vs. Bing Crosby

Hank Williams vs. Garth Brooks

James Brown vs. Prince

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the last few months thinking about musical authenticity (mostly in order to pass one of the classes in my master’s program). This topic has come up here at the Roadhouse before (1|2|3), but this is the first time I’ve done any real heavy lifting on the topic. So here, in very un-academicy format, are some of my thoughts on musical authenticity.

1 – Romanticism
Most people use the “Authentic” as a stand-in for the romantic notion that art should be unfiltered and un-crafted. Sophistication is the antithesis of authenticity. Niel Young is authentic because he gets falling-down drunk and then records songs on the first take without rehearsing the band. Never mind that the result sucks, it’s authentic. The idea of muse, inspiration, artist-as-bystander, these are the notions that get bound up in the term “authentic”.

2 – Historicity
Authentic is also a function of historical proximity to the musical nexus, when something changed into something new. When field songs became the blues, the first generation of artists were “authentic” by virtue of being close to the source. The Sex Pistols are more authentic than Green Day because they were part of the pivot. In some sense, anyone who tries to stand in an existing stream of music suffers comparison to how it was done by the first ones who did it, and even the flaws and cracks in how the first generation did it become codified as essential to the “authentic” sound.

3 – Pills and Powders
If you have liver damage, you are more authentic.

4 – Africa
This is a particularly American phenomenon, but authenticity in American music is often used as a way of quantifying the amount of “Africanism” in the music. American music emerged out of European and African streams – it’s not African, it’s not European, it’s American, something uniquely new emerging out of the tension and crossing influences of the two. In spite of this historical reality,  the controlling narrative of musical criticism is that White music stole and corrupted Black music. Against this backdrop, “authenticity” is a code phrase for music that is less “corrupted” by white influence, something that is “true to it’s African roots”. This narrative was already in full effect by the time John Lomax made his famous field recordings of the early blues, seeking out music he believed to be “untainted” by white influence (ignoring the fact that anything with a dominant 7th chord is already hopelessly entwined with European harmony). The commercial success of Lead Belly and other earth blues artists with white audiences was specifically because of this perceived authentic preservation of Africanism in their music. This controlling narrative emerged again and again, in the social commentary on Jazz, Be Bop, Motown, Funk, Hip-Hop …

It’s impossible to escape the blatant racism in this assumption, especially in light of point 1. The subtext of Africanism-as-authenticity is the appeal to lack of sophistication, the romantic notion that music emerges unfiltered and un-crafted. Clearly James Brown couldn’t have thought through the complex intricacies of how to form a funk groove – “those people” just have natural rhythm!

So, I’m interested in what you fine folk have to say. Here are a few questions:

  1. Is it possible to be authentic as a 2nd generation artist in a genre?
  2. How important is impact (who it influences, how long it endures) on authenticity?
  3. Does authenticity matter? I know we all get skittish about words like “better” or “important” when we talk about music, but let’s acknowledge for a minute that our experience grants us some expertise, and make a judgment call. When it comes time to load up humanity’s cultural artifacts in the space-ark, will authenticity be part of the criteria for preservation?
  4. Race. Not really a question, but go for it anyway.

I promise, you are not being drafted into my thesis paper homework. I just think this is a discussion worth having.