Tuesday, November 23, 2010

AV Clash - Tag Mash

Edit of screen captures from live sessions using AV Clash:

AV Clash (2010) is a project by Video Jack (http://www.videojackstudios.com/) for creating audiovisual compositions, consisting of combinations of sound and audio-reactive animation loops. The sounds are retrieved from freesound.org.
More info:
André Carrilho (visuals); Nuno Coreia (interaction); Gokce Taskan (coding); Freesound.org and community (sounds)

AV Clash - Tag Mash from Video Jack on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Aural/Visual Synthesis project
Call For Video Art: Aural/Visual Synthesis To Soundlers By Hoop Dreams


On December 8th, 2010, REDEFINE magazine and InterArts will be curating MMMicroFestival – An Evening of Music, Movement, and Multimedia – at Holocene in Portland, Oregon. The inventive evening will feature cross-disciplinary projects and performances, including four musical acts, three performance pieces, and one video installation. (Complete event details here.)

A community-rooted project of aural and visual synthesis, the side room installation will feature an open call for video art. Portland/Seattle-based musical trio Hoop Dreams will be offering forth “Spirit Momentum,” a track from their forthcoming debut album. Artists of all disciplines and persuasions are invited to submit their video interpretations of the track, which, at one-minute-and-thirteen-seconds long, is chock full of visual fodder. Watery beats, ghostly vocals, and glitched-out sound effects float in and out without commitment, giving plenty of audio cues for artists to interpret to their liking.

Visit website for more information and for application details:

You can download the song at the above link for the project

HOOP DREAMS is a project featuring Aaron Chapman and John Bowers, of the indie psych-pop band Nurses (Dead Oceans), and Rhubarb Jackson, and is essentially the result of three multi-instrumentalists loosening their reins on traditional songwriting. Dub-influenced beats, layered vocals spanning multiple octaves of harmony, and mysterious electronic noises evoke vaguely familiar feelings of nostalgia. Despite their short durations, Hoop Dreams tracks sit densely upon the human psyche.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Musician's Top 10 Guide to Learning Music Theory

You've decided that you want to learn some theory or some new concepts on your instrument. You may start out reading a book or checking out something online but then lose interest quickly. It's kind of dry and nothing you read seems to have anything to do with what you're doing on your instrument. Here are some things to help you out and make your time learning theory a lot more effective.

1. Apply it to your instrument - Most of the time when we learn theory it's an abstact idea. It may be written down or explained to you. The most important thing you can do is apply any new ideas right to your instrument. That means if it's a new scale, chord then apply it to your instrument. Even if it's something like an abstract idea, there are ways that you can apply it so it makes sense on your instrument.

2. Commit it to memory - Learning music is accumulative. It's important that you internalize one concept because other concepts will likely stem from that. For example when learning scales, commit these to memory because that knowledge is useful in so many other areas.

3. Make learning theory a regular part of your practice sessions - There are many areas and facets to theory. Most of it isn't tough to learn but does take time. If you make learning theory part of your regular practice regimen, the cumulative effects start to add up rather quickly.

4. Always do exercises from textbooks and learning materials - Learning about music theory without doing the exercises is like learning to cook without entering the kitchen. If you've taken the time to get and read through a book on theory, go through all of the exercises. Not doing so is a waste of your time.

5. Learn piano - One of the best ways to make sense of music theory is to learn to play the piano. We're not talking about being a virtuoso here, just a working knowledge of the instrument will do. The piano is laid out in such a way that it makes perfect sense when learning things like scales, intervals, chord construction etc. It's also one of the best instruments to compose and arrange on since it's relatively easy to write a melody and accompaniment at the same time.

6. Apply it to the real world - I really started to get to know theory inside out when I had to show students how what we were learning applied to the music that they were listening to. I had to apply conventional theory to dance/club music, pop, metal and everything in between. All theory applies in one way or another. Once you get your head around what's going on in any song, it makes it a lot easier to compose, improvise and memorize.

7. Learn the fundamentals first - When I studied music at university, I wanted to start writing symphonies right away. But there were quite a few pre-requisite courses that you had to go through first. All of these pre-requisites helped in putting my compositions together later because there were so many principles involved. Make sure if you're just starting out to learn the fundamentals. It might be boring and it may nor be obvious how it applies at first, but have patience, it will.

8. Sing and play all exercises - This is another way of putting the idea of making sure everything you learn is applied. If you're reading about a new scale or chord progression or whatever, it's important that you turn it into sound; play it and turn it into sound. The best way of making sure that the sound gets into your head is to sing it. Every musician should sing. Singing puts the sound in your head like nothing else. If you've written some counterpoint, a new melody, a new chord progression, sing it and play it. You'll soon start to recognize chords and intervals without any need for an instrument.

9. Apply the theory you learn to your style of music - Again with the application. If you're a metal guitarist and are just starting to learn modes, try and apply them to metal and the specific style of music you're into. Also, go back into the songs you know and see if you can find some examples of what you're learning. This helps in getting to know a style really well and will help in your writing and your ears.

10. Don't use theory for theory's sake - Some musicians get into the trap of writing with their textbooks open. They revel in the fact that they've been very clever in using all of the latest hip voicings and scales. This is why I stress making sure you listen and turn everything into sound. It's great to push the envelope as far as sounds are concerned, but make sure you're doing it to express yourself and convey some emotion, not to impress other theorists and fellow musicians.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Practicing Your Rhythms Effectively

Most of the time when we talk about practicing we talk about scales, chords, technique and songs. But there's little talk of rhythm. In most of the music we listen today, rhythm is perhaps the most important aspect of the music. Yet most musicians spend very little time focused on just rhythm. There are a couple of things that should be included into your practice regimen that makes sure you're getting your rhythms and timing rock solid.

The Metronome

Always practice with a metronome. It's great at working one your scales, rhythms and phrasing. Some say that practicing with a metronome is bad because it will become a crutch. You'll get so used to it being there, that you won't be able to keep a straight rhythm on your own. I disagree. Metronomes are very useful for getting your timing better, especially in the initial stages of learning. That said, it's important that you practice with a metronome but also incorporate other exercises to help with your timing. Also, always make an effort to play with other musicians. This will help your rhythm (and ears) immensely.

Different Times

Play everything you practice at different tempos using the metronome. Most things are harder to play at slower tempos, not faster. If you're working on speed, this makes it easy to measure exactly where you are and how well you're doing. Don't get carried away with this though. Speed is nothing without phrasing, dynamics and feel. These are things we want to incorporate when practicing our rhythms. For example, don't just play through a scale over and over. Try dynamics on different notes and phrases. First, start of with accenting just one note (or chord) every bar. Start with 8ths and accent the first 8th note in each bar. Then accent the second 8th note etc. This really brings scales and phrases alive. It's something that we usually do automatically we strumming chords or copying solos but it helps when we break it down and do it on purpose. Next, try playing using different rhythmic patterns. Aim for controlled dynamics and smooth legato notes.

On The 2 and 4

When practicing with the metronome you'll want to try using it at different settings. For example, try setting the metronome at a slow tempo and pretend that that is the 1 and 3. Now practice your rhythms. This gets harder the slower you go. Of course most of our music uses the back beat so it's really useful to practice with the metronome on the 2 and 4. Also, try different rhythmic values like 3 on 4. Quarter note triplets and 5 notes to the beat are also interesting things to try.

On Your Own

Now try your rhythms without a metronome (or drum beat). This is something I usually don't have to tell people since it's something that most musicians do all the time. The difference here is you really want you to focus on your rhythm, That means just playing a basic rhythm or phrase over and over. No variation, no jamming. What you're trying to do is get your timing as solid as possible by just focusing on that and not on what chord or note to play next. For this exercise it's best to actually start with a metronome because we'll use that to keep track of our tempos. Start of with a very basic rhythm at a slow tempo. Start your metronome at the slow tempo to gauge the speed. Now, turn off the metronome and start playing the rhythm. Focus on keeping the tempo. Feel it in your head. Don't force it because that will make you want to speed up. Play the rhythm for a while, then go back and check your tempo on the metronome. How did you do? Yours won't be exact but you can gauge how fast or slow  you were compared to the original. Try this at different speeds. It usually helps if you actually hear and play the rhythm in your head first, before you touch the instrument. Always take half a second to internalize the speed and rhythm. Record your practice and see how it feels on playback.

Sequence This

One of the great things I love about sequencers is how many ways you can come up with (and twist) loops and grooves. If you've used any sequencers you'll know about quantization. This effectively lets you control the amount of feel on any drum beat you have. :Let's look at a couple of ways you can use this to tighten up your timing.


As we talked about in the effective practicing post, it's a good idea to practice your scales (and chords, songs, etc) to a drum beat. By setting up a basic drum beat, you can play along and practice getting a good feel. What you want to start out with is a basic swing beat. I usually start with the bare minimum: the kick is on the 1 and 3, the snare is on the 2 and 4, and the ride is doing (strict*) swing 8ths. Using this basic beat makes me focus on the swing 8th note. I then start at a slow tempo and go through the various exercises. Start with scales, using different rhythm variations. Then try various licks and phrases. Got through some chord progressions, keeping the rhythm relatively easy, focusing on placing the chords at the exact place you want. Some sequencers allow you to vary the amount of swing. Again, set up a basic beat like the one listed above. This time though, sequence in (strict) straight 8th notes. Again go through the exercises we talked about: scales, chords, licks. Now, go back and try varying the amount of swing. Try 25% and see how it feels. Before playing a note, stop and really listed to the beat. Notice the difference between that and the straight one. Don't skip this step, it's really important. Once you stop and start really taking notice of the variations in rhythms, your ear will become sensitive to hearing these things.

*That means I go in and manually enter the groove.Yes it's mechanical and boring but for our purposes here, it's what we want. 

Playing It Straight

Another thing that's great to do with sequencers is practice your rhythms with a straight beat. Set up a basic beat with no humanizing or variations. It helps our exercise if the beat is straight and boring. Again it's just a basic beat with the hi-hats doing 8ths. Now we're going to play a strict 8th rhythm and record it. Listen and lock in with the hi-hats. Once you've recorded your take, go back in and listen to your performance. First, listen to your track with the beat. How did you do? Is it in the pocket or does it go in and out? The best way to tell is to edit your take. Zoom in until you can see your rhythm track against the time-line. Do the transients of your rhythm track line up with the beats on the time-line? You'll find that most of the time you're either constantly early or constantly late. Most people are early, especially with slower tempos. Now go back to your track and move it back and forward a 64th. Does it sound better or worst. Were you early, late or right on. Fix the timing of your track until it's almost perfectly straight. Now listen to the track. If you can, compare that track to your initial take. Always listen back and take note. This is how you'll get better.

With the Band

Like I mentioned earlier, it really important that all musicians practice with other musicians. I can't stress this enough. I can't tell you how many times I've met musicians who can play the snot out of any scale and not have any feel at all. I've always found that musicians who had the best time, were the ones with the most experience playing with other musicians. When you do get a chance to get together with other musicians, take the time to practice just getting the groove. You'll find that grooves need a bit of settling. You'll start playing a groove and after a little time, it will just seem to lock (hopefully). This comes from settling into the groove, relaxing, and not worrying about what chord (or note) comes next. It's important that the rhythm section just works on the basic groove. No extras, no solos, no vocals. Just play the groove over and over. Work on listening to each other. Listen to each other and each part of the drummer's kit: listen to the hi-hats, then the kick, then the snare. Try to match what the drummer is doing. Great grooves come from knowing your instrument, your parts and listening to each other.

Doing It By Feel

After you've been working on your rhythms for a while, you'll just try to settle in and get the feel without thinking too much. This is great when you're playing with other musicians, recording, or just having fun. But you also want to dissect rhythms, practice variations, and incorporate new things into your playing. Try and incorporate some rhythm exercises into every practice session. While sometimes it may feel like you're not getting anywhere, these rhythm exercises will start creeping into your playing. You may notice that your playing gets better, and feels better. Always remember; the rhythm is paramount.