Friday, November 21, 2014

Batteries not included

‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.
‘What sort of things do you remember best?’ Alice ventured to ask.
Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
The Queen goes on to remember the future punishment of the King’s messenger. Further discussion continues what would happen if the messenger was punished but then didn’t commit the crime. The Red Queen insists that the messenger would be improved if he were punished without committing the crime because punishment improves people. I know that the next thoughts will be heretical, especially at this time of year, but - here goes: every time we purchase technology we are punished because we do not know what the future holds. Formats will change, new computers will be more powerful and smaller.

That’s right. Mr. Technology is revealed to be wearing no clothes. All of the newest and best converging technology in the world cannot respond with the same sensitivity as a seven year old singing with her classmates. No matter how much RAM you have, how many virtual instruments, how many gigabytes of hard drive you can access your computer still only ‘knows’ one thing; is voltage present at some location or not. Even more worryingly if there is no electricity, it can’t even make that decision because without electricity, as far as we can tell, it is unconscious.

So as you leave catalogs open with advertisements circled or casually mention that it “...would be fun to have a digital camera to show Grandma what the new school looks like...” remember that our memory only works backwards. Cast your mind back...

The smallest child in your choir came up to you after the holiday performance and apologised. In all the excitement, they had forgotten the words and stopped singing. You went to her house for the holidays for the first time; the scarf was incredibly tight around your neck, the wind was cold as you walked up the drive to the door and as you stepped through the door the warmth of room fogged your glasses and you tripped on the boots on the mat and fell flat on your face, crushing the flowers you were carrying. What were the sounds, the colours, the smells?

Somehow, the right words were said, the correct thing done, care was given and that smoothed the way and made things right again. The warmth, concern and love all flowed and somewhere in your memory the event was lodged. What will take you back to those special places - a smell, a piece of music, an image, the weather? What do you see and hear when you are ‘there’ again? We have powers that scientists are only beginning to understand. Some can hear a pitch and give it a name; others hear music and see colours while others see colours and hear music. The gifts we posses are limitless and open to the future. Technology is only a tool that we use to capture a moment and externally store it. It is the internalisation of that moment that makes it timeless.

So as we hint towards the things that will create the images and sounds that may externally start a memory, let us look within ourselves. Let us rejoice in our humanity and give thanks for all of the love that has brought us to this place; the love that holds us together in this place; and the faith in the love that will lead us into the future. We must always be aware that the gift of our love will create the sounds and experiences that may live on in the memories of others long after we have gone. And unlike computers, many of us have had our most precious memories created without electricity.

Standing in the darkened church, the minister lit his candle from the one candle on the altar and passed it, first to the ushers, then to the choir. He began to sing and the choir and congregation joined in. As the light and sound grew and grew, the flame was passed down the row of seats. My father passed the flame to my mother, and she passed it on to me and as our candles were lit, we joined the singing. Sometimes even now as I light a candle, especially at this time of year, I can see the glow reflected in my parents faces and hear these words and sounds echoing in my memory;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Originally posted on the AMIS web site December, 2002

Sunday, April 27, 2014

CDs and iPods and Smartphones - Oh my!

‘I still like buying CDs,’ says Hornby. ‘But there are a lot of people who will never pay for music ever again. Why would you? I was talking to a 17-year-old recently, and he said he didn’t think his little brother had even seen a CD. He didn’t actually know that music came like that.
Nick Hornby, quoted in “The day the music shop died”
John Harris, The Observer
The date on that quote is 2003. Notice that the music vehicle was CDs, not LPs. The CD was commercially made available in 1982, so it celebrated it 21st birthday in 2003. The record industry cooperated by making the CD and standard so it would play on any CD player.  The CD, when introduced, were uncopyable by the average user. You could tape a copy, but tape is a serial copy in that the order that you taped them in was fixed. You couldn’t program them to play the second, third and fourth track one time and the first and 12 track later as you could program CDs. The Album Era was supplanted by the CD Era. What had been introduced to supplant the once all-conquering CD? 
The iPod was introduced in October 23, 2001, about 8½ months after iTunes, Macintosh version, was released. The iTunes Store and a Windows version of iTunes was brought to market in April 2003. The iTunes store software was free, and the price for individual track was 99¢. iTunes has been credited with accelerating shifts within the music industry. The pricing structure of iTunes encouraged the sale of single songs, allowing users to abandon the purchase of more expensive albums. This hastened the end of the Album Era in popular music. The downloadable purchase raised its head. Rip your CDs and add it to your iPods. In April 2007 Apple sold its one-hundred millionth iPod. Yet sales of iPods were actually shrinking by 2009. Why? Apple debuted the iPhone in June 2007. The age of the smartphone was upon us. 
Remember back in the “old days”, when floppy discs ran the computer and you had to “boot it up,” How you scrimped and saved to afford your first hard disk? Ten megabytes, if you were rich. Remember that you thought,“I’ll NEVER fill this up!” Even the hard disk is not able to outpace it. In the intervening six years, smartphones are leading the way in consumer spending. That, accompanied by increasing expansion of the mobile the networks to expand 3G and 4G services and the advances made in high speed mobile broadband made the next logical step - subscription services where you could listen to any music.
Internet radio was the first step. The Internet radio station, an online form of broadcast radio, was the “playlist” played by presenters and featuring news and ads - the standard radio format.  You can have a smartphone app for each individual station assuring branding, advertising streams as well as providing a stream for apps such as TuneIn Radio. Subscription services such as Spotify and were offering free, with advertising, or a per-monthly subscription with more limited advertisements. The computer, not a presenter. was selecting and playing the songs based on an algorithm. Stuart Dredge, reporting summarising the Digital Music Report by IFPI in The Guardian stated, “Overall, physical music sales of CDs and vinyl fell by 11.7% to $7.73bn, while digital revenues rose 4.3% to $5.87bn. Within the latter sector, sales of downloads fell by 2.1% to $3.93bn while subscription streaming income rose 51% to $1.11bn.” What will be next? 
The answers, in the immortal words on Robert Zimmerman, “…are blowin’ in the wind.” I don’t know what Apple, Samsung and ??? are cooking up. What I worry about is this: how will you cope with the staggering amount of music that is available to you and your students?  How do communicate the idea of timeless works of art? How do you teach responsible curation? How can you inspire your students to come together and create music? 
You will find an answer to these and more through experimentation, pedagogy, and philosophy of education. You will find these based on your own formative experiences. You will find out from observing rehearsals at AMIS festivals. You will find out through the dialogues with your students. You will find out from your performance successes and, most importantly, from your performances that are not quite successes. 
We live in a fast-moving world. Three revolutions in the way we access music. I leave you with Wayne Shorter’s words: 
The challenge is to be in the moment and the thought of playing or writing what you wish for. What you wish the world to be like. Or playing what you see. What condition the world is in today. A lot of loose ends. And also playing music that you can’t anticipate. Uncertainty? Play that. We have to learn to deal with uncertainty and dialogue with the unexpected and dialogue with the unknown. Because the unknown can not be rehearsed. How do you rehearse the unknown? It’s something that’s coming out of the human existence that’s making us evolve and grow. On a humanistic level, we’re pulling out of ourselves what we didn’t know was there. That should be telling us a whole lot about eternity. No such thing as beginning or end in life.

Have a restful summer. See you next year!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Few Reasonable Words

“ One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. ”
     Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Happy New Year!

The most popular gift in the UK was the tablet. In the run up to Christmas, Apple reckoned that every 50 seconds an iPad was purchased online or in  the store. Kindles, Samsung and even the Tesco Hudl were flying off the shelves at similar rates. If Santa left an iPad under your tree, I’m recommending two apps. One is a utility app, the other a music app.

Documents, by Readdle, is the Swiss Army knife of the iPad. Basically, it’s a drag-and-drop interface connecting you to Box, Google Docs, iCloud, FTP, WebDAV (and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all!) You can make folders inside just like a computer. You can view and annotate .PDF files. You can view Office files, media and create text files. It’s a media player as well. You can connect via WiFi or USB and drag and drop between all your online accounts. Once you try it, it will soon become your go-to app for moving documents on and off of your iPad.

“What’s the cost?” I hear you say, “I bet it is expensive!” Well, you will be wrong. Documents is free. Like Apple offering the iLife suite free. If you bought a new iPad after 1 September, 2013, you can get Pages, Numbers, Keynote, GarageBand, iPhoto, iMovie and  iBooks for free and use them in the cloud with your Apple ID in your iPad, iPhone and your Mac. Not to mention Mail and Calendar.
The music app is a chord-based sequencer with an intriguing twist. Gone are cheesy synths, synthesized drums.  SessionBand is world’s only chord based audio loop app. Recorded by London’s top session musicians, each volume as packed with musical fine touches. SessionBand comes in six “flavours” SessionBand Blues - Volume 1,
SessionBand Rock - Volume 1,
SessionBand Jazz - Volumes 1 & 2,
SessionBand Acoustic Guitar - Volume , and1
SessionBand Piano - Volume 1.

The interface is simple. I’m going to load up a demo song “The Girl Form Brazil” from the Jazz Volume 1 app. You can write your own changes as well. You tap on the “Play” button. You will probably want to hook up external speakers to your iPad.  Fifteen styles in each volume, ranging from Ballad, 12/8, Slow Swing to Bossa Nove, Fast Latin, Up Swing and Afro Jazz.  Volume 2 the palate gets extended to Slow Funk, Poinciana, ECM, all the way to Reggae, Boogaloo, 5/4 and 7/4!

Tap the “Write” an you enter into a mode where you tap on the end of the bar and insert chord by tapping on the keys of a piano.  Repeated tapping make the chords advance through the options. Pinch two fingers to shorten the chord or expand to make the chord longer. Elapsed time, fill, ends are all there for your asking. Transpose for the whole song – not pitch-shifted but the whole loop is substituted.
Tap the “Mixer” and the five-track mixer is brought forward offering individual volumes for the bass, drums, piano, lead instrument and metronome. You can record with or without automation. Go back to the main screen, tap “REC” to arm, tap “1,2,3” for lead-in bar, tap “Play” and you are recording. Press “Export” to save. Press it again and choose “Export” and choose from “Live Recordings” or “SessionBand Tracks”.  You are presented with AudioCopy, Email. AudioCopy is for GaragBand or other synthesizers who support AudioBus files. Email gives you and option of Audio Only, SB File and Both.
“What’s the cost?” I hear you say, “I bet it is expensive!” Yes, Virgina, it costs, but it not expensive. It’s available for iPhone £1.49 - £5.99 and iPad £1.99 - £5.99. SessionBand Jazz as £5.99 per volume, but there’s a massive 16,000 loops to play with. SessionBand Blues is £2.49.  Warning from SessionBand – don’t buy if your device is older than an iPad 2 or and iPhone 4S.
I guess it’s time for closing. Documents, by Readdle for organization and SessionBand for music.  That’s a fine start to the year.  See you next time!