Thursday, February 24, 2011

How Our Technology Has Let Us Down...

In the mid-1980s, I was on tour with a young woman singer from Brampton Ontario. As is the custom of most musicians, the first day I had free after arriving in a new town, I would go to the local music store to see what was in stock. At each and every store, I would see one or more sets of Simmons electronic drums which were the rave at the time and the only electronics available back then. I was not a fan of them and, being as vocal as I am with my opinions, voiced my preference for traditional acoustic drums. The arguments I heard in favour of the electronics ranged from, “The sound man has more control” to “They’re so easy to record” to “They’re always in tune.” All valid points, I must concede, but all refutable as well.

Those discussions though, were a great insight into the way non-drummers saw us; those of us who hit things with sticks. At first I was offended by these statements, but I began to look at them for what they were; the truth as seen from the perspective of others.

Then I began to look at why others had that perspective.

Could it be that they had encountered so many drummers who could not play softly? Surely that was true in some cases, but if we go back far enough, pre–Rock and Roll, we can find all sorts of examples of drummers who could play with fiery intensity and be barely heard, and then unleash a barrage that would frighten the hounds of Hell back to their lair.

And what about electronics being easier to record? By today’s standard, I would have to say yes, they are. Set up the pads, connect them to the module, connect the module to the mixing board, and lay down the tracks. No microphones to put up, no experimenting with placement, no time lost. I can only assume that applied to those earlier pads as well, and today’s pads and modules are much better.

But they aren’t infallible. If the module goes down, the whole drum kit is gone. If in an acoustic drum situation, a microphone goes south, it can be replaced quickly and easily.

Which leaves us with tunability. Electronic instruments rely upon circuitry to provide the sounds we desire. If we don’t like a certain sound, we tailor the module to compensate. If we want higher or lower tone, the module can do that. If we want pitch bend or overtones, the module can do that.

Finally, there’s the actual recording studio of the twenty-first century. Gone are the days of huge rolls of tape and reel-to-reel recorders. Today, it’s all digital, using computer software programs such as ProTools or Adobe Premier Pro. These programs allow the engineer to “go in” and move sounds to make them more metronomically correct, or to duplicate them so the same part can be used in another section of the song. It is possible that the piano or guitar player on your favourite song did not play completely from start to finish, but played a verse and chorus that were then duplicated as many times as necessary to get the finished product.

Recently, I was listening to some demo tracks one of the students at McKenzie College was working on. He was explaining how he still had to go back and electronically repair some timing inconsistencies. I asked why he didn’t just play it right when he recorded it.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: We depend too much on the technology that was designed to assist us. Many drummers today do not know how to tune their drums or play with dynamics; they believe it’s up to someone else to “fix it in the mix.” Vocalists don’t have to sing in key; pitch bend takes care of that. Timing isn’t important anymore; that can be quantized.

Music today isn’t being made by musicians, but by studio technicians.

Another way our technology is letting us down is in the area of social media.

WHAT? The Lonster is dissing Twitter and Facebook? E-mail? Sup wit dat?

Well, I’ll tell you, but before I do, please let me reassure you, I am not dissing them, I’m simply pointing out how they can be abused and unhelpful; possibly even harmful to the relationships they were designed to enhance.

I often find statements made, words “spoken” in e-mails of on social forums are misunderstood, taken out of context, or completely confusing to myself or others. There is something, ... dare I say “sacred,” about person-to-person conversations wherein we can draw upon such additional information as body language, facial expression, or eye contact. A straight-to-the-point “What do you mean?” can set things straight immediately if necessary.

Now, I’m not advocating we give up our computers, blackberries, or even paper and quill, but I DO suggest getting out and having conversations with friends and family over dinner or coffee as often as possible. Time shared this way is time that will lead to great memories and stronger friendships or family bonds. Time spent this way will be the topic of future conversations, either real or on the virtual plane.

Time spent this way will never be wasted...

~Still Wandering…

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid-Winter Ramblings...

I’m restless.

Today is February 16, just a week and a half from March, or as a friend pointed out today, “Just 26 days from daylight saving time!” As I sit here at my computer, the sun shining through the window feels extremely hot, a total contradiction to the severely cold wind chill outside.

When I began blogging, I created a word document where I could keep my ideas for future blogs and work on them until they were completed. In some cases this has been successful while in other cases it just sucked. But here on this day, when it’s really too cold to go snowshoeing or play with stuff in the garage, and I can’t seem to concentrate enough to read, I thought I’d compile some of those ideas into a more complete state and share them with you.

Following up on a previous post’s theme of Meditation, serendipity has once again come to visit, and slap me into awareness.

Since that post was added to my blog, it seems every magazine I read, every internet forum, every You-Tube video, has had some reference to Meditation. I’ve been on this planet long enough to know that when these things happen, I’m supposed to pay attention!

Before Christmas, probably as early as October or November, I had come across a series of You Tube videos about the life of Jazz drummer Jerry Granelli. I met Granelli once several years ago when he performed in Sydney NS. While his drumming was beyond anything I’d witnessed in person, he was an extremely humble and gracious man. At the time I met him, and for several years after, I had no idea of his enviable history.

Jerry is also known and admired by my friend Roger Strange whom I have looked up to since I met him in 1985. Roger also has an enviable history dating back to the late 1950s. He has worked and studied with an impressive line of big names and has many amusing anecdotes which he is more than happy to share over coffee or on breaks when he performs.

Through our discussions of drums and drummers, Roger has been a great source of education to me. I have learned the essence of drumming “in the moment,” to play spontaneously, reacting to the stimuli surrounding us. I began to wish I had more opportunities to play Jazz, to have the freedom of spontaneity. The kind of music I play is quite structured, the patterns well-known to all musicians and audience alike. There is little freedom for improvisation.

Zen is like Jazz; there is no time other than this micro-second known as “now,” and even in the process of saying it, it is gone. Zen teaches that life cannot be planned. While one can prepare for possibilities and/or eventualities, life is seldom that simple, and situations and people change and with those changes our plans must also change.

Life also cannot be changed after the fact. That’s generally a “given” in our society where statements like “you can’t change the past” become so commonplace, we often don’t stop to recognize the inherent wisdom in them.

Remembering back to the day I saw Granelli perform, I was carried away by the way he played. He did not try to recapture past moments through repetition, nor did he “set up” the moments yet to come... he played, eyes closed, head back, so completely in the moment; a part of it.

It was during an e-mail conversation with Roger that I was reminded that within the restrictions of the songs I play, there is plenty of room to play in the moment; the fills I play at the end of verses and choruses, the extra long intros when a vocalist isn’t prepared to start on time, the additional chorus or guitar solo when the crowd is really into our music... Yeah, I play Rock music with a Jazz attitude; flexible, in the moment.

Part of today’s restlessness is the sunshine making me miss my bicycle. As you know, I am quite passionate about that; I’d say it comes second only to my drumming.

I had become involved with Velo Cape Breton in late 2008, just before I bought my Norco Mountain bike. I knew right away I needed the structure of a club to keep me motivated and the educational value was priceless. I proceeded to take Can-Bike 1 and 2 courses, and am planning to go for my instructor’s certification as soon as practically possible.

One of the most important issues for me is bicycle safety. I’m not sure why, but motorists seem to have a grievance against cyclists over fifteen years of age. As long as you’re a child on a bike, it's acceptable, but as soon as you’re old enough to drive a car, you’re expected to not ride a bike. That to me seems ludicrous, and Velo Cape Breton, as well as many other clubs, both formal and informal, is proof of this.

While doing an internet search one evening looking for safety tips, I came across the Ride of Silence, and was immediately drawn to it. “This is something that makes a very clear statement, without saying a word,” I thought. I brought it to the attention of Velo Cape Breton’s Jacques Coté, and asked if it was something he thought should be looked at for this area.

Fast forward to early May 2010, and Jacques had taken it upon himself to have a Ride of Silence organized and advertised. As soon as I was aware that it was proceeding, I e-mailed all my friends and talked it up as much as I could. The ride drew over sixty riders of all age groups and from every walk of life and riding style, from casual infrequent riders to hardcore racing/triathlon riders.

This year’s ride will take place on May 18th beginning at 7:00 PM at the Sydney River Superstore, 1225 King’s Road Sydney River NS. Details will be coming forthwith, but we are clearly still in the initial stages at this point.

Finally for today, my thoughts turn frequently to my friends of the late ‘90s; friends with whom I would meet at a local coffee shop and discuss several topics for hours on end. We seemed to create a “learning vortex” within our circle; they, still in University with their minds alive and on fire, I with my many years experience in “real world” activities, and our mutual interests and open-minded desire to know more about everything. We shared knowledge and all became better for it.

I miss those friends a great deal. The human mind needs stimulation, and becomes weak, stagnant without it. This is what we gave each other; often expressing several points of view and sifting through the facts and fantasy to find mutual ground. With these young brilliant minds no longer here, I sometimes feel isolated and alone. Thank the Deities for the internet which allows us to stay in touch and occasionally have those deep meaningful conversations again.

So I send shout-outs to Mike, who is now a Friggin’ PHD in Edmonton. I love you my Brother, and your beautiful wife too. To Bobbi, who is closest geographically, in Dartmouth, letting old dogs teach her new tricks as it were. I will never forget the night of February 14, 1997, when you kept me laughing for hours and then held me when I could no longer hold back the tears. I love you with a grateful heart. Kevin, the funny one; you made us ALL laugh and found ways to point out the absurdity of taking things too seriously. I am happy your new life in Japan is rewarding and fulfilling. Together with your lovely wife and incredibly cute little son, I know you will continue to see the lighter side of the Human existence. Finally, to Tony, the Departed one... Your curiosity, wisdom, and incredible capacity to embrace life showed us all that life is indeed to be embraced for in the end it is all too short. Rest in Peace Tony; we love you still. Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti...

I love all of you for the friendship you have given me and allowed me to return to you.

~Still Wandering…