Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Art of Algorithm in the Moving Image by Martin Blažíček

A lecture on the art of algorithm in the moving image.

'The lecture demonstrates, by means of practical examples, the use of algorithmic relationship in the art of moving images, from films and early generative art to contemporary digital techniques...

The lecture will include the projection of films by Peter Kubelka, Kurt Kren, James Whitney, Larry Cuba, Dan Sandin and Granular Synthesis.'

visit website

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Must Have Gear for Every Musician

Most musicians are adamant about the gear they have and the gear they want. We all love to talk about the latest and greatest stuff, but there are a couple pieces of gear that every musician should own and use everyday. These may not be flashy or exciting but they all have a specific purpose and go a long way into making you a much better musician.

The Practice Workbook

Most musicians I know don't have one of these. They might have a list of things that they're working on and that's about it. It's imperative that you have all of your notes and practice material in one place. I find that the best solution for me is the practice binder. I use a binder because I find it easiest to make notes, rearrange, add and take things out. You may want to use your computer or your own system. It doesn't matter as long as it works for you. Simplicity is best here. You can have different sections for different things you're working on. You may want to make a section at the beginning and make a list of your goals. There's no use in getting a great practice schedule going if you're not going to have goals. These don't have to be huge 'going to be a rock star' goals but simple goals. Examples would be learning all of your major scales. learning a new style, or mastering a new technique. That way you don't pick up the instrument everyday wondering what you're going to work on next. Put all of your relevant material in your binder. Make sure everything is right there were you need it so you don't have to stop in the middle of your practice session to go looking for something. If there's something that you want to learn, put it in there. If you have any special reference material , put it in there. Following a good method/program or putting together your own would be a great thing to add along with your own exercises.

Make notes everyday on what you've done and what you need to do next. Also. list all of the reference materials and books that you need. Have notes on what you would like to learn, what you need to get, and what progress you've made. 

A Metronome

Ok, so it's not very exciting. A tiny box that just ticks away. No beats, no bass lines or shiny buttons, just a ticking box. The truth is, every musician should spend some time practicing with a metronome. The value of a metronome is that it doesn't fill in any of the holes. You are required to play the notes in between the time. Some people call it a crutch but it only becomes a crutch when you've come to a certain level; before that, it's invaluable. Try practicing all materials with the metronome at a variety of speeds. It's surprising to find it's much harder to play some materials at a very slow tempo.

It's important that you practice with the metronome and without it. Play your scales or a song with the metronome and then try to keep the same tempo and feel without it.

A Recorder

There's nothing like recording yourself as a record of how you're doing and what needs to be fixed. It's hard to gauge how well you're doing something when you're right in the middle of it all. This is where recording your progress comes in. It's great for listening to yourself and scrutinizing your playing. You should try and record all facets of your practice sessions; everything from scales to technique exercises. Other ideas would be to record jams, rhythm exercises, song ideas, and of course performance pieces. I also have a recorder that I carry around with me to capture any writing ideas that may pop up.

Music/Instrument Stand

This goes with having your own space for your practice sessions. Even if you don't read music (if you don't, you should add it to your list), you should have a music stand placed right in front of your practice space. Place your instrument right next to it on it's stand, ready to play. If you must keep your instrument in its case, have the case next to the stand. All materials that you need for your practice (i.e. music books, method books, practice notes) should be open on the stand. I also have a small table right next to the stand that has my recorder, metronome, tuner etc.

Music/CD Player

Another item that should be right beside your work area. This has a couple of functions. First, it's great for reference. Take the time to listen to recordings of material while you're working on them. There are many things that the printed page just can't convey and having the recorded version right there is critical. Secondly, the player is useful if you have jamming tracks or beats you've created to jam along to. If you're using an mp3 player, make sure it's hooked up to a stereo; headphones* just get in the way.

*If you live in an apartment or have little ones, this may not be a choice. For you folks, being organized is even more important if you want to get some quality practice time in.

Drum Machine/Jam Tracks

Have some jam/backing tracks to play along with. This can be anything from backing tracks (e.g. karaoke), to jamming software (Band-in-a-Box), to play-along CD's (e.g. Jamey Aebersold). It's important that if you're working on a certain style, that you have rhythms in that style to jam to. There are some products out there (drum machines, accompaniment keyboards, jamming software) that allow you to pick your style/key and it will provide a track for you. There are also some method books that go into detail on how to play certain styles that also include a play-along CD. Having separate rhythm tracks or a stand alone drum machine are also great to have ready to go. It's important to practice with just a drum beat or rhythm track if you're trying to groove with the rhythm section (or if you're part of the rhythm section).

All In One

Some of you might be thinking that you could probably have all of these things right on your computer and have done with it. There are free metronomes online that you can install on your computer. You could have your work/practice regimen on your computer along with all of your jamming tracks. I have found that this is not a good idea. Having all of your items on your computer actually becomes counter-productive because you will have to go looking for things just to use them. It's better to have a separate system set up just for practice. It's fine to assign your computer one task (like using it for jam tracks or using it as your recorder) but using it for too many tasks starts to get in the way of our purpose. I keep my notes and materials in a separate binder because it's there, open all the time, ready for me to add things, make notes and check my progress. I use my laptop for jamming tracks but when I find one I really like, I make a CD so I can access it over and over without having to load up a program or go looking for it on my already overloaded laptop.

Keep It Simple

That's it. Not too exciting but I'm always amazed at how many musicians don't have these essential pieces of gear. You also want to have all of the essentials for your particular instrument (picks, strings, rosin, etc.) right there just in case. The point is you want to have all of these items in arms reach so you can just pick them up and get to work. You don't want to be searching your documents, going online, wondering what you did last session, looking for lost CD's, or anything like that when you're right in the middle of your practice session. It's important to get to work and have as few distractions as possible. Have all of the items separate like I've listed above so as soon as  you sit down to practice, it's all there ready to go. No excuses. No interruptions. Nothing getting in the way of you, your music and most of all, your progress.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Problem With Perfectionism

More than any other group, artists are known for over the top perfectionism. We all know the story of the tortured genius being held ransom by their own genius and perfectionism. It's held like a badge of honor that we all aspire to. It's the mark of a true artist and genius. It denotes quality, hard work and always expecting the best. These are honorable traits no doubt, but perfectionism isn't always a good thing. Perfectionism may be responsible for more failures than any other trait.

Perfection as we all know is a mirage. It's not real. There is no perfect in the real world. For every living organism there are faults. Some say that the beauty is in the faults. Perfectionism is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore it's entirely dependent on an external filter. An object's inherent beauty comes from the beholder and not the object itself. Some people find beauty in the most odd things. The things you find beautiful and perfect may be horrible to someone else. Some like rock, some like classical. Some people find noise beautiful some love the sound of the violin. It's all in the eye of the beholder.

There is a difference when you are the creator. In this way you have control over the 'beauty' of the object. In this way, there is the tendency or at least there is the option that you can always make the object 'more beautiful' or 'just better'. If the goal is to make the object or outcome as good as possible, what's the problem?

The problem is perfect is imaginary. The perfect object or creation doesn't exist. More importantly, what seems perfect today can appear to be imperfect tomorrow. To some there is the idea that no matter what, any object can be improved and 'made better'. In this way the creation is actually never done. It's never good enough. It never sees the light of day. There are some creators that do let their work out into the world. Yet for perfectionists, the work still isn't done. The work is never done. Even when the world has declared their love for the creation, the work still isn't done.

The worst side of this is when the work never gets done. The work never actually becomes good enough for public consumption. This is the biggest pitfall of perfectionism. The work is never good enough.

Being a perfectionist is supposed to help the artist in the creative process. It helps artists separate the great from the crap. It makes them question what they have created and wonder if there is a better way. If this helps make the art better, then it's a good thing. If it stops the art from ever getting finished, it's a bad thing. If it comes to the point where the artist no longer creates, then this is the worst thing.

In actuality, it is true that a lot of works could be improved upon. There are works earlier in an artists career that don't stand up to their later works. There are points in every artists careers where the work isn't as good as others. This is all part of the process. That's the point. You must create these 'points' or works of  art to signify your progress. If you've created something and it's not up to your standards, ask yourself why. Look at your art and see how you can improve and what you may have done wrong. Do you lack talent, need more training, or need more time on that particular skill?

Whatever you do, don't throw it away. It's there to teach you something. It's part of your journey. If you're assessing something right after it's been completed, are you being completely impartial to what you're seeing (hearing)? Finish it, wait a while and then look upon it with fresh eyes. Can you make some minor adjustments? Is it good for what it is? Is it a major piece/accomplishment or another step in your development?

If perfectionism keeps you on top of your game. If it's responsible for your high level of creativity, then that's great. If it's getting in the way; stopping you from creating, making projects take years instead of weeks, stopping you from being happy with your art, then lose it. Lose it now.

Create it, critique it, edit it, finish it, move on.