Friday, April 30, 2010

Stress Management for Musicians

One of the scariest things that can occur in a musician's career is an injury.  The saddest part of injuries are they are almost always self inflicted, take forever to heal, and are usually preventable!

It's the Stress

Injuries usually occur is because of problems with technique, how the instrument is held, or how the musician practices. The root of all of these problems are stress. Today we're going to talk specifically about stress management for musicians but not in the typical way. We're going to talk about stress that musicians put on their bodies, arms and hands when practicing their instrument.


We all talk about getting stress out of our lives by taking time out, learning to relax and making sure that we don't try to do too much at one time. All of these ideas also apply to musicians and their instrument. Stress comes from not taking time to relax (ignoring it), not taking the time to learn why the stress is there (awareness), and by trying to do too much at the same time (over-compensation). Musicians have to be aware of what is happening when they play their instrument. They have to be careful that there's not more going on there than what's needed. Most of all, they have to take time to make sure that there's no undo stress on your system. Relaxation is paramount.

Feel the Burn

Most stress problems arise from awareness; or lack of awareness. Sometimes musicians can feel the pain and damage on their system and continue to practice anyway. Stress and pain are not natural occurrances when playing any instrument and it's important to take time as asses and see if there is any pain. And, if there is, it's important that the musician takes time to erradicate that problem as soon as possible. It's important that this is taken care of and not just swept under the rug and left to take of itself.

Not 'Uncomfortable'

When just starting to play an instrument, there is usually some 'dis-comfort' because of the newness of the activity. I'm not talking about pain here, I just talking about the fact that holding the instrument properly or playing it may not feel completely natural. Much like learning a golf swing, there are times when learning a new skill feels completely awkward. At least this is how if felt for me the first time I was told how to swing a gold club properly. After a while we may become insensitive to these feelings and categorize then as inconsequential and something that will go away. We may have the attitude of just 'playing through the pain'. Pain, no matter how small and inconsequential, is wrong when playing an instrument. Remember I'm talking about pain here and not simply feeling uncomfortable or unnatural because for example, you may want to slouch and your teacher is making sure you sit properly. There are ways to hold instruments properly and it may not be something that feels completely natural at first. This isn't to say that there should be any pain. Most of all, if there is some pain, it's important that it's addressed right away. Alot of teachers will take the time to make sure that the student is holding the instrument properly. All people are different. There are going to be microscopic movements and small adjustments that are going to be completely your own. It's important that you take the time, find the problem, and determine how to fix it.

Check, Check

Here are some areas to check when playing. These should be addressed every couple of months just to check and see you haven't developed any bad habits. If you practice a lot and don't have any teachers or outside help, it's easy to get into bad patterns and not realize it. In our society it's usual for people to have tons of built up stress and not notice. It's part of our culture to ignore pain. The only way to combat this is to take time periodically and check to see there are not problems.

1. Numbness. This may seem like a huge indicator but a lot people won't notice this. Remember to put your focus and awareness on your body and notice if there are any problem areas. Numbness can be tricky because if you're not paying attention, it's easy to go by completely unnoticed.

2. Shoulder/neck and back pain. These are almost universal these days. People in general will put stress into one of these areas on a regular basis. Unfortunately, if you're getting pain in these areas after your practice, you may be putting even more there. Your practice sessions may not be the stress relief you thought. Violin players usually have a lot of troubles in this area because of the problems holding the instrument correctly. In general, musicians like to crouch over their instrument like they're deep into the performance. While that may help with interpretation, it's extremely hard on the body for extended periods.

3. Pain after extended period of play. This is the most common occurrence. These reason for this is because your body (particularly the hands) will usually take a lot of abuse before they complain. If by the end of your practice you have to discontinue because of pain, there is something wrong. That is not normal. That shouldn't be happening. You are doing some thing wrong or you are putting pain/stress on your body. Don't just 'let this go'.

4. Correct posture/technique. There are better ways to hold and play your instrument. Some people learn simply by doing. It's important that if you're one of the DIY people out there, that you take the time to reassess your technique every couple of months. It's easy to get into bad habits and not even realize it. If you have bad habits, it may not be obvious and you may realize the problem only after some major problems have occurred. Are you sitting/standing properly or are you slouching? Are your hands relaxed and you're making sure there are not problems areas? Are you making sure you have good technique when learning a new piece or are you just plowing through it? It's important you ask yourself these questions in your practice sessions.

Stop, What's That Sound

When any of these happen, take a step back. Try and figure out what part is the most painful. What particular exercise causes the pain? You may notice that when playing chords, your arms feel great but as soon as you try some arpeggios or extended intervals, you feel pain. Are you trying too hard in this one exercise? Are you putting pain in an area so that the exercise sounds right? If so, you will have to go back to the troubling exercise and start over. But this time, instead of focusing on getting the right sound or the right rhythm, play the exercise and focus only on the problem area of your body. Can you make the pain go away just by relaxing the area while you do the exercise. If it's a shoulder problem, you will have to examine hold you hold the instrument. Are you square or is your back twisted? If you're a horn player, there may be problems with your embouchure. There's one famous story of a jazz musician who had to take a couple of years off after discovering (after quite a few painful experiences) that his technique was all wrong. It's amazing how many of these problems arise from us putting too much stress in these areas without even realizing it.

Be Aware

If you're at the point where you spend a lot of time practicing, you may find some problems creeping up more often. This may be because of the increased workload, but it may be because the problem was always there, it just took an increased workload to bring it out.

Everybody's body is different. You're going to have some problems that are special to you. That means you will have to make sure that when fixing these problems that we take stress into consideration. We try to fix the problem but being sensitive about where the pain is, what may be causing the pain, and how we can fix the problem. Simply being aware of the problem and checking for stress is one of the best measures you can take to make sure that there aren't any problems.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Call for Works - Really Useful Resource

The website netEX - networked experience has a really useful resource page that list forthcoming calls for works that would be relevant in particular to those who create visual music and audio visual work.

The page is called "calls and deadlines" and is worth checking into every now and then for opportunities to get your work shown.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Shane McKenna - Moving Lights in D

Shane McKenna is a composer and video artist based in Ireland, who creates the most intricate muscial visual music pieces.  He expolores the use of animated graphic notation to create musical collaboration.
His latest piece - Moving Lights in D is a wonderful example of his approach.  It can be viewed on Vimeo and is embedded in this post

Moving Lights in D from Shane Mc Kenna on Vimeo.

Information about Moving Lights in D
"To experiment with processed video footage as an animated score I performed this short piece myself in twenty separate takes on both classical guitar and electric bass. Each track was recorded listening to playback from the previous track only to allow some interaction between parts but a free feeling overall. I stayed within the key of Dmaj to tie the layers together while following the visual rhythms gave a sense of pulse at certain points. Playing along with D maj or B min scales will sound tasty if you have an instrument handy or just follow the visuals with any notes or sounds, why not?"
Source: Vimeo description


Saturday, April 17, 2010

{R}ake - electro-acoustic music and video


A performance series of alternative and collaborative electro-acoustic music
and video


Thurs April 22 - 8pm

Issue Project Room
in The Old American Can Factory
232 3rd Street
(corner 3rd Avenue)
3rd Floor
Park Slope, Brooklyn
718 330-0313

This Month's A/V:

Set 1 - Giles Hendrix - Video
Set 1 - Richard Lainhart - Music
Set 2 - Kamran Sadeghi - A/V
Set 3 - Bradford Reed - Music
Set 3 - Ursula Scherrer - Video

This Month's Message:

{R}ake is a performance series of alternative and collaborative
electro-acoustic music and video. Performances range from pure improvisation
to more structured pieces, with video-artists and musicians working together
in exploratory ways.

Link for more information on this event

More Info:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Joseph Hyde - Vanishing Point Video - Audiovisual work

vanishing.point from Joseph Hyde on Vimeo.

View the wonderful audiovisual work - Vanishing Point by Joseph Hyde. For a really informative account of the ideas explored in the work, visit his vimeo page for the video.

Joseph Hyde's website:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Störung Festival 5.0 of experimental electronic music and visual arts

Experimental Electronic Music and Visual Arts Festival/
La Farinera del Clot

"The fifth annual festival of experimental electronic music and visual arts organized by the platform Störung will start next Wednesday 21st of April offering us, during four days, the performances of outstanding national and international artists of the electronic and experimental scene./
Störung Festival 5.0 features, besides the performances of the invited artists, a cycle of conferences, a permanent screening of audiovisual works in the exhibition room, and a thematic day on Friday 23rd of April titled 'Hydrophonia', dedicated exclusively to subaquatic sounds./
With this program the festival wants to offer the audience the chance of getting to know in detail different tendencies of the electronic music scene, continuing the work that the multidisciplinary platform Störung has been doing since 2006./
Störung's aim, in short, is to promote and support a variety of creative tendencies of the electronic music field, providing live performances, radio programs, and records, to enable the audience to hear and enjoy these musical and artistic tendencies."


Monday, April 12, 2010

Composing On The Run

They say that the desktop is going to be obsolete in a couple of years. I'm personally not buying it since I know a lot of musicians (including myself) who love their powerful machines and dual monitors. But more and more musicians are using laptops for most of their musical activity. It has almost all of the advantages of a desktop plus of course the portability. For the purpose of this article we're going to look into composing on the laptop away from the studio; composing on the road

The Bare Necessities

There are a couple of things that we have to take into consideration right off the bat. When composing on the road we won't have all of the toys of a regular studio. That includes a full size MIDI keyboard, a mixer, outboard gear, or any other peripherals (aside from the ubiquitous mouse). We're going to look at it from a minimal point of view and see how much we can get done. 

The Most Important Device

Aside from the computer and software the most important piece of gear is going to be your audio interface. While laptops have some built in audio capability, you will want to spend extra money on a quality unit. Some of these units have pretty good preamps and instrument DI built right in. You never know when one of those 'demo tracks' will end up on the final track. It's important that if you choose to work on the road that you choose a piece of gear suited to traveling. Thankfully, there are tons of choices out there. It all comes down to price and features but you want to consider these carefully. For example, how many inputs do you really need? This is usually a big consideration because more inputs can hike up the price considerably. It also keeps the size of the unit at a minimum since more inputs take up more space. I only have four inputs and that's enough for my needs. If you're a guitar (or bass) player make sure there's a high impedance input so you can record guitar parts right into your DAW. Other considerations are MIDI input/output/thru, phantom power and (hopefully) more than one headphone jack. Some of the higher end models have tons of mixing functions built into their software which makes different headphone mixes possible (e.g. if you're recording vocals). Remember if you use propriety software like Pro Tools, you’ll need a supported device or the software won’t work.

No Input

As a multi-instrumentalist, one of the things I hate about working on a laptop is the lack of any musical input device. I've never been much of a manual input guy. For some composers (Ableton Live users and electronic musicians for example) this doesn't pose much of a problem but for most it does.  There are two solutions a) you can try and find a manageable and portable input device, and b) make due with the limitations of the software and make the most of it. I usually go with b) because most portable keyboards are only an octave or two (for the portability of course) and that usually isn't enough for me; though there are some great choices out there if you don’t mind carting around another device.

If you're like me and love using a traditional keyboard there are tons of choices out there. Now dubbed USB controllers, these go beyond the traditional keyboard. Some units put together the keyboard, audio inputs/outputs and tons of tactile buttons and knobs. If you're so inclined to take one of these on the road, they're great for use as a master controller. These also interact well with the loop and beat programs mentioned. Keep in mind that even though they are portable, they are another piece of gear that has to be carted around.

Built Right In

If you're used to writing on a musical instrument and find yourself lacking when on the road, you may find some usable workarounds in your DAW and some VST instruments. For example there are tons of drum machines that have built in beats and patterns that can be used as song starters. There are also some VST guitar instruments that include built in strumming patterns and chord progressions. I've actually never left these in the final track but found them great for starting songs and working through arrangements. The same goes for keyboard parts and bass lines. The great thing about these instruments is that it's incredibly easy to change the tempo or key at any given time. I use these in the studio all the time. They become invaluable when working with vocalists when we may need experiment with different keys and tempos.

Band Stuff

Then there are software programs that have tons of built in songs to start. Band in the Box has tons of built in songs, progressions and styles. While some of the styles are better than others, these work great as song starters and idea generators. It's incredibly easy to input your own chords into a given style and output it to your DAW. It's also possible to change the style of separate parts of the arrangement. The best thing is that can easily be done anywhere and there is no extra gear needed. You can even output it to .wav and email it off to your writing partners.  
Be careful when sending out unfinished tracks. Not everybody may understand the meaning of the word 'demo'!! Getting unfinished material into the wrong hands may not do your credibility much good.
Reason for Loops
If you're more of a dance, hip hop or electronica producer, Band in the Box may not be your thing. There are other programs that you may want to use that are 'better' at this type of music. There are a ton of loop, beat and virtual studio programs that are great for producing beats and dance music. Propellerheads Reason and Fruity Loops are great programs for this type of music. They have a virtual rack of drum machines, loop players and synths. You can start from nothing and create original beats and songs. These usually tend to be better for (but not limited to) electronic and dance producers because of their layout (pattern based) and the quality of their drum machines and synths. Keep in mind Reason is a virtual rack only as there is no wave recording facility. You need Propellerheads other product Record or your own DAW for that. Other programs like Ableton Live and Sony Acid are great for manipulating loops and putting together arrangements. These programs also have the ability to record and input your own tracks. These programs also used the Rewire feature so your arrangement can be used with your favorite DAW. Some artists have forgone the traditional DAW altogether in favor of these programs.

What's The Rush?

If I'm on the road and just trying to get ideas down, I just rush and try to get them down. I'm more worried about getting the idea than the performance. This means that I use any method available to get the basic idea there and worry about the intricacies and performance later. This is usually the best method for me. For example, I'll use a lot of presets and utilities built into the software. I'll also use 'fake' guitars and horns (and whatever) to get the idea down. That way when I come back to record the tracks in the studio, I have an idea of what to do and build from there.

Even though it's possible to create finished masters in these programs, I use them mostly for ideas and putting together arrangements. They're perfect for trying tons of different ideas, arrangements without ever going beyond your laptop and mouse. The greatest thing is that they may open up new ideas that you would have never thought of when writing in the traditional approach.
The Melody

This is usually the toughest part of writing on the road. I usually come up with my melodies by belting it out into a mic. This of course isn't the best solution when sitting in a hotel room. It’s usually a matter of a) doing your best to get the idea down without belting it out b) doing your recording in the middle of the day (when there usually isn’t much going on as far as people sleeping) or c) finding another location to record besides your hotel room. The other way I like to write is by playing the melody and chords on the piano. They usually come together so that’s why I like the full size keyboard over the smaller, portable versions. I do find the smaller keyboards suitable for writing synth and basslines though.

The Mic/Preamp

When I travel, I always bring a good mic with me. These don't take up too much space and are great if the opportunity to work with a great vocalist comes up. I also use them for acoustic guitar tracks and any other recording I have to do. I also bring along a good preamp. For some this might be overkill when working on demo tracks but I find that sometimes, the demo tracks are irreplaceable. Having them recorded as well as possible always leaves up the option to use them in the final mix without any hesitation.

Guitar Parts

Not only do I like to write most of my material on the guitar, I use it for inspiration for other parts as well. If you do have a guitar on the road, make sure your audio interface has an instrument input so you can record your electric guitar parts directly. This gives you the option to re-amp the tracks later if you really love your tracks. If you're more an acoustic player, make sure you always bring a good mic.

Putting It Together

One caveat of using all of these methods for putting together demos, trying ideas and getting work done on the road is transferring and backing it all up. There are a couple of ways that these audio companies are trying to make transfer of audio from one program to the other a bit easier but the process is still full of problems. The best method of backing up any material is to simply convert all of your tracks to audio. Even though this is by far not the easiest method, it is the most foolproof. When backing up songs on your own system, you may upgrade your DAW in the future and not all of your settings are going to migrate properly. The best way is to save audio files of your tracks. That way you can transfer the most important parts to any other system. I'm still old skool and actually like to keep written notes on songs as well as lyrics.

What’s the Big Idea?

I usually like to sit down and schedule writing and recording times. It usually takes a while to ‘warm up’ and get into it. With a laptop, your sessions can be done almost anywhere. Sometimes we get into thinking patterns that stop us from getting work done. For example, you may think that you need to be in the studio, working for a couple of hours at a time, to get work done. In fact, writing can be done almost anywhere these days. Even without a studio, there’s no reason why not to schedule some writing time. Use what you have in front of you. The ideas will come. As long as we’re talking about capturing ideas, there is no substitute (in terms of efficiency and portability) as the portable recorder. Any device will do as long as it’s portable and available e.g. cell phones, smart phones, mp3 players, or a dedicated device. If an idea comes to you at any time, try to have one of these available to capture your idea right then and there. Don’t wait; the idea probably won’t be back.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

FAR - 8 Music Films, 8 Directors, 8 Weeks

A really innovative and innovative concept for the production of thematically and visually connected music films, organised by the acclaimed rock band - Filligar with students from USCs School of Cinematic Arts in L.A.

8 thematically and visually connected videos set to music

FAR: a series of eight thematically and visually connected music films. Beginning 3/2/10 one film will be released every Tuesday for eight weeks. These films were written and directed by seven student filmmakers from USCs School of Cinematic Arts in L.A. and one graduate film student from DePaul in Chicago. The 8 videos were produced by Alice Mathias, also a USC grad student. FAR will culminate in the release of a new Filligar album in May. The 8 Directors: Alice Mathias Brian Brown Pete Mignin Giles Andrew Andy Landen Joselito Seldera Jeff Hersh Meredith Upchurch

"Filligar, the acclaimed rock band that contributed their music to Far, encouraged the eight directors to do whatever they wanted with these films–– without any revisions or requirements.  As Filligar's drummer Pete Mathias puts it: "We were just there to help–– whether they needed us to act in the videos, or to help set up lights or make lunch... we'd do whatever it took to get the job done." The only narrative requirement imposed by (Three One Two) was that all of the videos be connected to one another.  "



View videos on FAR's youtube channel
Far Youtube channel

Press Release

Indie rock band Filligar launches Far
“DIY” audio-visual collaboration with film students from around the world CHICAGO— On March 2, (Three One Two) Productions will release Far, a series of eight thematically and visually connected videos set to music from indie rock band Filligar's most recent album, “Near or Far,” recorded at the renowned Gravity Studios. 
These eight music videos, which are more like a wild series of interconnected short films, were written and directed by seven film students from USCʼs School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles and one graduate film student from DePaul in
Chicago.  Beginning on March 2, one music video will be released every Tuesday for eight weeks through their website and other online platforms at Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and the Filligar iPhone application.  Project Far willculminate in the release of a new Filligar album in May. 
(Three One Two) Productions is a young partnership of musicians, writers, and filmmakers who are all students or recent college graduates, and therefore have limited financial resources. From its earliest stage, Far  was designed to involve locations, actors, equipment, and props to which the collaborators already had access.  One film was shot at the bands' grandparentsʼ home in Michigan, others
guerilla-style in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles.  For the Hounds video (which required lots of extras in the wilderness), the crew road tripped from Chicago to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. There, dozens of students took a study break to dress up as animals and dance in the culminating scene of the video.
The producer of Far, Alice Mathias, an MFA student at USC and the older sister of the three brothers in Filligar, managed significant discounts and even donations on 16mm film, a Bolex camera, a Sony EX3, a RED camera package—and perhaps more importantly, tons of bizarre costumes.  Everyone involved in Far recruited classmates and friends from across the country to help edit, shoot, gaff, and act in these videos.  The final scene of The Willows video features a bar full of USC Film students dressed as former US Presidents.  The directors themselves also appear in one anothers' videos. 
Filligar, the acclaimed rock band that contributed their music to Far, encouraged the eight directors to do whatever they wanted with these films–– without any revisions or requirements.  As Filligar's drummer Pete Mathias puts it: "We were just there to help–– whether they needed us to act in the videos, or to help set up lights or make lunch... we'd do whatever it took to get the job done." The only narrative requirement imposed by (Three One Two) was that all of the videos be connected to one another. 

The eight directors (Giles Andrew, Brian Brown, Jeff Hersh, Andy Landen, Alice Mathias, Pete Mignin, Joselito Seldera, Meredith Upchurch) therefore collaborated when developing their stories–– with the aim of featuring reoccurring images, themes, props, and actors.  Each component of Far is stylistically distinct, yet somehow part of the whole.

Filligar is Pete Mathias, Johnny Mathias, Casey Gibson, and Teddy Mathias
Press Contacts
Alice Mathias                                                                                                            
(Three One Two) Productions                                                                                                                                       
(312) 848 9766 (US number)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

rain - audio visual composition - iphone application

"rain is a minimalistic audio visual composition you can play yourself"

The iphone application was created by Rainer Kohlberger, a Berlin based freelance visual artist and designer.

rain documentation website

rain was created by rainer kohlberger 2010.
sound samples by max kickinger.



You can view more work by Rainer on his website

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Visual Music: Sensory Cinema 1920s-1970s

Visual Music: Sensory Cinema 1920s-1970s
Northwest Film Forum and The Sprocket Society, in association with Center For Visual Music, present this special series celebrating the history of Visual Music, at Northwest Film Forum, Seattle, April 9 - 13, 2010.

Over the past century, there have been a number of prescient artists who’ve approached cinema as a tool for merging visual art and music in order to create a new art form and explore uncharted areas of synaesthetic experience. Through a vibrant history of cinematic experiments, these pioneers have been inventing the concepts, aesthetics, techniques and technologies on which our modern image-and-sound culture is based.

VISUAL MUSIC is a rare opportunity to see restored film prints of work by such master animators as Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, Jordan Belson, Robert Breer and many others on the big screen. In addition, we’ll host a panel discussion on Seattle’s own history of visual music in the 1960s and early ’70s.

Center for Visual Music provides three programs:

April 9 - Optical Poetry: Oskar Fischinger Retrospective

April 10 - Seeing Sound: The Films of Mary Ellen Bute (in association with Cecile Starr), and

April 11 - Jordan Belson, Films Sacred and Profane

The series also features two programs curated by NWFF: Seattle Psychedelics and Sixties Synaesthetics

CVM's Director Cindy Keefer will introduce several programs and discuss the visual music of Fischinger, Bute and Belson.

Series curator: Peter Lucas. This program is made possible by a grant from the National Endowment For The Arts.

Series Website:

Amazon related products to purchase online.

Useful links
Still from Oskar Fischinger's Kreise (Circles) (1933), 35mm, color, sound (c) Fischinger Trust, courtesy Center for Visual Music. Link

Friday, April 2, 2010

Collection of Visual Music Resources - Amazon

I have only recently got round to compiling some of the books I have checked out (and would like to check out) when researching topics for visual music.  There are also some great DVDs worth getting.  These resources I have compiled into an amazon a store - at present it links to books on the website, but I will be also creating a similar one to link to

These resources are not all exactly visual music resources, but they are definitely helpful in any kind of visual music investigations or research or in the broader area of audio visual composition/installation/interaction

I have signed up with Amazons affiliate programme, so every link you click from my store and then go onto purchase I get a small percentage.  I am slightly monetising my blog to help pay for the time I spend putting work here, so thanks in advance if you purchase from my astore link to amazon programme.

Link to my compiled resources for Visual Music Research