Saturday, April 30, 2011

Space Light Art - by Cindy Keefer

"Space Light Art" - Early Abstract Cinema and Multimedia, 1900-1959 by Cindy Keefer

Article online at:

Friday, April 29, 2011

How To Sing Harmonies

Harmonies. They almost seem to be invisible on some tracks, yet on others, they seem to make the whole song. Most music you hear on the radio (pop/rock/MOR) is filled with harmonies. Sometimes it's obvious, usually it isn't. A great harmony can take a track to the next level. Yet, there seems to be lots of confusion about how to do these or where to put them.

They're Out There

If you listen closely to the vocal tracks on most pop songs, you'll find tons of harmonies. You'll not only hear them on the chorus but peppered throughout the rest of the track too. Most vocalists like to stick a harmony on a couple of lines throughout the song, not just the chorus. A lot of the time, it's layered in the background, just lifting the line without making it too obvious. Sometimes the vocal will be doubled, sometimes it's the lead an octave above or below, and of course the traditional 3rd above is always popular. Doubling and singing the same line an octave above or below is also vary effective in bringing something extra to the line without having a full blown harmony there. Some artists will almost always double their vocal line.

Different Strokes

What people don't realize is that each style of music has it's own way of dealing with harmonies and vocals. Some styles (like metal) generally don't like 3 part harmonies unless it's for a special effect. Other genres (like country) use harmonies so much, that it's pretty much part of the style. Jazz of course has it's more complicated harmonies, but usually used more in vocal groups (versus the intimate trio setting). Certain types of rock and indie rock also use different harmonies to create different moods (Alice In Chains is a great example of unique harmonies being part of their style). RnB harmonies also can go beyond the typical intervals to great effect.

Some Of The Rules

Straight ahead harmonies follow simple rules that can be used as a starting point (as well as ending point) for some of your songs. Most harmonies will follow the chord or 'harmony' behind the vocal line. Depending on your melody, your harmony will usually be a third (or fourth) above (or below) that. For example if your chord is a C major and your vocal melody starts of an E note, goes up to an F, and returns to and E, your harmony line will be a third above that (i.e. G, to A, back to G). However, if your vocal melody line starts on a G, goes up to an A and back to a G, your harmony line will be a fourth above that (i.e a C, to a D, back to a C). It doesn't always work exactly this way because your melody doesn't always start on a convenient note, but it's a good starting point. Also, depending on the genre, different harmonies will apply. If you're singing harmony on a blues song, or a reggae song, different harmonies will apply. Still, a third is a great way to start.

Get It Going

The best way to get started in using harmonies is to just get started. Don't worry about too much of the technical stuff to begin with. Just try singing along with songs and try doing the harmonies. We'll go into some exercises that will help you along the way but it's best to just get going. A lot of vocalists I've worked with didn't work on harmonies as much because they were a mystery and had trouble at the beginning. Try working on these and see how far you get. The best harmony singers I've ever used had a great ear and would come up with the best harmonies. There are two ways to go about figuring out and working on harmonies; a) strictly technical (following the line exactly) and b) experimentation (not following the line). These both occur in music for different reasons. Most of the time when signers are in 3 (or more) part harmony, you have to be a bit more strict about the lines because you don't want the different harmony lines tripping over each other. The second happens a lot with just one line of harmony where the harmony line won't follow the melody line exactly. Examples of this is where the melody will move but the harmony will stay on one note (or move around very little).

Strictly Technical

Start by playing a chord on the piano. Keep it simple to start. With your right hand play a simple melody. Start with using chord tones only. The example listed above is a great example to start with. Play a C chord. Play the melody above that: C to D back to C. Now you're going to sing the harmony. Play the E to F just above the C to D you just played. Hear those notes in your head. Sing them and try to remember them. Now play the chord with your left hand, the melody notes C and D with your right hand and sing the harmony notes E and F all at the same time. It's important when you work on this that you get your pitch right. Once you get your notes right, try and hear the notes you're singing with the original notes of the melody. This is the most important part; you need to hear both parts at once. This is where most vocalists fall behind. The reason for this is because whenever you sing harmonies, you're always singing with another person. That other person is usually the lead. Your line must meld with theirs seamlessly. That can't happen if you aren't listening carefully to what they're doing. This listening has to be done as soon as you start practicing harmonies. The best harmony singers I've ever heard didn't just have great pitch, they had great timing, and most of all they had great ears.

A Little Experimentation

The other way to get some harmonies  going is to simply start singing and see if you can 'hear' another line, it doesn't matter if the line is 'technically' correct i.e. a correct harmony line moving in perfect parallel with the lead vocal. It just matters that you try and start to 'hear' these things. Again start with a simple line and then start singing lines above (or below) that line. Try to stay above or below the melody; harmony lines as a general rule don't cross the melody. Try as many variations as you can. Remember to try lines below as well as above your original. The value in this is that after you become used to singing harmonies, this is the best way to come up with interesting lines. Line made up are almost always better than lines carefully constructed (this may not be the case in strict harmonies or really involved arrangements) . If used in conjunction with the technical method, you'll find you're on your way to becoming a great harmony singer.

One Liners

Because some melodies just around a lot, or don't stick to chord tones, a 3rd or fourth line won't work. Sometimes, because the chords are moving and your line doesn't or vice-versa a moving line won't work. Sometimes when nothing else fails, singing a single note over the entire phrase is best. Not only is it a good idea in some cases, in some genres (like indie rock) a single note above or below the melody will actually sound better (or cooler to your ears). Other styles of rock also like to use one liners like an octave below to a line to thicken it and make it sound darker.

In The Mix

Most of the time a harmony line will play second role to the melody. This usually works the best and like mentioned, it's a great way to bring out that melody. When it comes to having more than one harmony part, you're going to have to go in and do some tweaking to make it sound right. Depending on your harmonies and how many people you have singing any one part, the harmonies are going to have to be mixed right. It's not always all completely even. We tend to like the higher harmony parts better, so they're usually mixed a little higher, or at least heard better. If it's a three (or more) part harmony, be careful with the inner voices. If one of these sticks out too much, it'll sound weird to our ears. Our ear naturally pick up three things. First, we hear the lead and for a lot of people, that's all they really notice. Second, we'll hear the highest harmony, third we'll hear the lowest note and finally we're able to discern the inner voices. To most people those inner voices are almost invisible. A lot of musicians try and pull those inner voices out to make their music more interesting. The point is that unless it's something you want to do on purpose, it'll sound strange to our ears if those middle lines are the most prominent.

The Double

Once a special effect, it's now standard for artists to double their vocal line. This is used in every genre of music from pop to rap. There's something special that happens when a vocal line is doubled. Keep in mind that the line has to be sung twice and not just copied and pasted. The latter results in a chorus/phase type effect (or even make the line completely disappear) whereas doubling the vocal will thicken it. Some artists do this numerous times. While effective to bring out a vocal line, it also takes away from the intimacy of a single vocal; the idiosyncrasies and special inflections of the original vocal may get lost. One effect that a lot rock artists like to use is to keep the verse a single vocal line and then double it at the chorus. This really makes the chorus stand out and keeps the intimacy of the verse intact. Remember too that often the harmonies are doubled just as much as the lead. This has the same effect making the harmonies sound bigger (and somewhat smoother) than just the one line. Remember to make the double as close to the original line as possible or you'll end up with a useless mess.

Start Your Harmony Engines

There are so many ways to treat a vocal line. Harmonies are one of the best ways to really pull out a line. Plus, people just love the sound of multiple voices. It's a powerful tool. Try some of the other things mentioned in this article: doubling, octave doubling, alternate lines etc. Even if your genre doesn't generally use a lot of harmonies, you may start something that changes everything. At the very least, you'll create your own unique voice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Cirlce Of Fifths: Other Applications

We've talked about the circle of fifths and the different ways that songwriters you can use it. Today we're going to talk about a couple more ways that the circle applies to different aspects of music theory. Other uses include chord progressions, key modulation, improvisation and composition.

Modulate What?

When it comes to modulating to different keys within the same song, there are ones that are more fluid than others. For example a modulation from the major to it's relative minor is a very fluid modulation whereas the modulation from C major to F# major is more abrupt. The further away the modulating key from the original in the circle, the more obvious and abrupt* the change will be. In most forms of classical music, there is a modulation as part of the form. For example the second movement is usually in a different key. You'll find that the composer would often follow the circle when choosing a key to modulate to. If they chose a key further away, if was often on purpose and for a good reason. So in effect, the simplest modulation would be from a major key to it's relative minor. One movement to the left or right would be the next easiest movement. The only exception to this would be the modulation to the major's parallel minor. For example going from C major to minor. Even though their key signatures are different, we hear this modulation so much, that it doesn't seem intrusive to us at all.

*Of course 'abrupt' here is subjective since accomplished composers can make the most unusual key changes seamless...or the most obvious change seem intrusive.
This not only applies to composition but to improvisation as well. If' you're DJing you'll find the same thing happens when you mix songs. The further away the keys, the more obvious the transition will be.


The use of the circle is also a great vehicle for improvisation. Go through some theory books or jazz courses (the Aebersold series is a great example here), and you'll find that they'll often suggest going through the circle of fifths as an exercise. There are two reasons for this. First it's a great way to get the circle second nature in your mind. After going through the circle a million times with your scales, it becomes like your second name. Second, like mentioned above, a lot of modulations follow the circle so you're in effect practicing something that's going to come up in real world situations.

Try this: When practicing your scales, go through the circle. Play the C major scale up and down and then move to the right (or left) of the circle and keep going. You'll end up going through all keys in a very musical way. Try playing a pattern and doing the same thing. Next, try doing the same thing with chord progressions (e.g. a ii V I ). Since keys often modulate a fifth away, you're practicing things that will definitely come up. You'll find that the entire progression (a ii V I progression is all fifths) is just one movement of fifths after another.

Chord Progressions

We covered the circle and how it applies to chord progression before. Chords will often move in fifths. For example the famous 'Rhythm Changes' is just a chord progression going through the circle of fifths. Just like modulations, the movement of a fifth in chord progressions is a very pleasing sound to us. You'll find that the most well known ( and used) chord progressions (e.g. ii V I, IV I, V I, vi ii V I, etc.) are all just movements of fifths. At the same time, if you want to make things difficult, modulate across the circle. Start at C, then go to Gb, then to G, then to B, etc. If you look at notoriously difficult songs, (e.g. Coltrane's 'Giant Steps') you'll find that it follows these guidelines. Also, when improvising on changes in jazz or blues, it's common to add a V or ii V in the middle of the progression (again, just more fifths). These need to be on your fingertips.


Of course, all of this leads us to composition. Key modulation and effective chord movement and progressions are part of the craft. Knowing where to go, (or at least knowing where you want to go) is a huge part of effective writing. If you start off in the key of F and want to make a couple of modulations, what are your choices? Or, you're right in the middle of writing a beautiful melody and are trying to find a great way to harmonize that line, what are your chord choices? One of the things that you should be looking at in both examples is the circle of fifths. The 'smoothest' modulations are the ones that are closest to your home key on the circle. If you're right in the middle of writing a song and can't figure out the next chord, if it's not the root chord, try one a fifth away, you'll be surprised at how effective this is. This can also work in reverse. If you want to jump all over the place, if you want more angular changes or intrusive modulations, use the circle to pick the oddest modulation.

It's There, Use It

As you can see, there are tons of uses for the circle of fifths. It's best to have the circle on the edge of your fingertips. You'll be amazed how often you'll use it.

Pierre Hebert - Fraction Part2 - Improvised image and music

Fraction et Pierre Hébert en concert à la Maison de la culture d'Amiens, 29 janvier 2011, partie-2
Extract of the live performance of Pierre Hebert & Fraction@Amiens, France. 20/01/2011. Image and music are improvised.

Fraction - Part Two

Part One and Three are also online at youtube
Part One -
Part Three -

Live Visual Music Event

USC School of Cinematic Arts Event - Rhythms and Visions: Expanded and Live!

The USC School of Cinematic Arts and Visions and Voices: The USC Arts & Humanities Initiative invite you to experience a live visual music sensation on Friday, April 22nd!

"The School of Cinematic Arts Complex will be taken over and transformed by Rhythms and Visions: Expanded and Live! a spectacular outdoor live-cinema event merging animation and visual media with live acoustic and electronic music.
Exciting and innovative UK audio-visual collective D-Fuse and Los Angeles artist Scott Pagano will perform to music by notable musicians Brian King, Trifonic, Brian LeBarton and MB Gordy. These cutting-edge performances will span animation, experimental documentary and abstract visual music. The School of Cinema Arts complex will come alive with large animation and 3-D stereoscopic projections by faculty and students. 3-D glasses will be provided."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Georges Schwizgebel - Fugue (1998)

Beautiful use of sound and image and animation and narrative and structure. Had to share it.

"Director: Georges Schwizgebel
Year: 1998
Michèle Bokanowski - Composition
Gerard Frémy - Piano
Olivier Bokanowski - Piano
Virginie Simonean - Harp"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jane Cassidy - Visual Music Piece

Jane Cassidy's visual music piece "The Night After I Kicked it" is a stunningly beautiful well structured visual music composition. Jane composed the visuals and music.

 Having watched closely as Jane composed this piece, it was really a pleasure to see and hear this wonderful work unfold over a period of months. I love this piece.
It is now on vimeo - but to see it in full quality with surround sound audio is the best way to experience this piece. However for its visual music genius, great to watch on vimeo.

The Night After I Kicked It from Jane Cassidy on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

luminokinetika /// trailer

Davor Sanvincenti / b.1979 / is a International multimedia artist from Croatia, also known by monikers such asMessmatik and Gurtjo Ningmor

International multimedia artist from Croatia, specifically interested in a field of audiovisual research and anthropology of visual culture, particularly focused on the conditions and forms of human senses and perceptions.
His work plays with the concept of illusion, exploring the possible boundaries of perception and the construction of experience.
He is recipient of the Radoslav Putar Award 2010 for the best Croatian artist under 35.


Hauntingly Beautiful Piece

luminokinetika /// trailer from messmatik on Vimeo.

see also:

Monday, April 4, 2011

Rectangle & Rectangles (1984) - Réné Jodoin

This is a didactic film in disguise. A progression of brilliant geometric shapes bombard the screen to the insistent beat of drums. The filmmaker programmed a computer to coordinate a highly complex operation involving an electronic beam of light, color filters and a camera. This animation film, without words, is designed to expose the power of the cinematic medium, and to illustrate the abstract nature of time.


website url:

More information on the filmmaker on the NFB website

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Silk Chroma - Visual Music Piece

I was lucky to be involved in the creation of the visual music visuals for a collaborative work entitled "Silk Chroma". Working as a collaborative team to create this work was a wonderful experience. The Irish composer Linda Buckley was a pleasure to work with and the electro-acoustic composition that she composed is beautiful. Linda and I worked closely together to realise the ideas for the work, interestingly Linda described much of the music she would like to create in visual terms that really appealed to me and inspired the visuals. Similarly some visuals and still images that I created inspired sounds and timbres for Linda. Good stuff.

Silk Chroma is an audio-visual work that is inspired by the novella Silk by Alessandro Baricco as a conceptual framework for the creation of a Visual Music colour presentation, with an accompanying electro-acoustic musical composition using synthesized timbres and a surround sound presentation.

Silk Chroma was created by staff teaching on the Music and Media Technologies (MMT) postgraduate programme at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and University of York, UK. MMT silk chroma team: Dr. Dermot Furlong, Dr. Linda Buckley, Maura McDonnell and University of York:  Dr. Gavin Kearney.

screengrab from scene 1 - Silk Chroma
The premiere presentation of Silk Chroma as audio-visual installation took place in the Printing House in Trinity College, Dublin as part of the Innovation Dublin 2010 on November 11th and 12th, 2010.

Visual Music: Maura McDonnell
Music Composition: Linda Buckley
Surround Sound Composition: Gavin Kearney
Concept: Dermot Furlong

Website Links:
MMT music and media technologies course, TCD, Dublin - Link
vimeo website - Link

The video is for viewing on vimeo in three sections.

Section 1 - Water flow over his body

Silk Chroma - Section 1 - Water Flow Over His Body from Silk Chroma on Vimeo.

Section 2 - Silk threads stopped time

Silk Chroma - Section 2 - Silk Threads Stopped Time from Silk Chroma on Vimeo.

Section 3 - Birds in flight

Silk Chroma - Section 3 - Birds in Flight from Silk Chroma on Vimeo.

Purform - WHITE BOX | Excerpts

"A/V performance for a tryptic of HD video screens and quadraphonic audio White Box is a work based on a new way of generating A/V compositions in real time and is a new piece in a cycle that began in 2003 with Black Box."


WHITE BOX | Excerpts from Purform on Vimeo.