Archive for the Digital Culture Category

So How’s That News Break Working Out For Me?

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Life Hacks on June 6, 2012 by deliriumdog

In January of 2011, I wrote that I was going to greatly reduce the time I spend reading about news and (especially) politics and divert that time into my serial obsessions. The idea was that news (especially politics) was generally a downer and had very little to offer me other than sadness and anger. There was nothing I could act upon, other than to be more sad and angry. If I instead spent that time learning something new about music or video or social media or any number of other topics allowed me to put that knowledge to work right away. In that earlier post, I detailed (bullet points and all) the changes I made to steer myself in a more productive direction.

How am I doing with that now?

It was working out great for several months. I would start the day with an article or two about music marketing or learn something new about the software I use for audio or video, and then settle into the day knowing I had already done some small thing to move my work forward. During any break time I had, I would dive into the large list of bookmarks I’ve gathered about multimedia production and pick up some new tidbits. I did the same at all times that I would have reached for a news fix. It helped me in a lot of ways. I didn’t feel stuck–I felt empowered. I knew that whatever I learned that day may not change my whole world, but that  after a month or so I could look back and see actual progress. And I did.

At some point I sort of fell off the wagon. While I did a great job of keeping politics off this blog and the other social medias, I did think about it a lot. The events of  the presidential primary became so darned entertaining that I got sucked right back in. It was not nearly the same level of saturation as in the past, and I did make progress with my music, but it was still too much. I know it was too much because I have so little to show for it now.

Perhaps I’m doomed to learn that same lesson over and over. BUT things are better now. Really. When the election settled into a “wake me up when it’s time to vote” phase, I saw an opening to shift back to a news-light lifestyle.

I’m also re-learning that I do not need to follow the minutia of the news in order to stay informed. In fact, I barely need to follow it at all. I find that the important news finds me no matter what. I do work in DC, after all. The people around me are very informed. Friends ask “have you heard?” and we have something to talk about. I can check in to the two weekly news programs that I enjoy and hear information that is actually new to me rather than a recap of what I already know. And of course, spending any time on the internet, news is always bubbling up through the social medias.

So now I pause every time my muscle memory goes to tap out “washingtonpost.com” into my browser and try steer by brain towards better nourishment. It feels a little like I’ve had my head above water for the first time in a while. It’s like I’ve moved around some tubes and wires that had fallen into disuse and fashioned them into a positive feedback loop. It feels good.

There is one thing the news consumption habit was good for: it was a habit that involved reading and ingesting new ideas on a regular basis. That is one habit I’m going to keep.

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The Last Album?

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Music Industry, Music Making with tags , on July 25, 2011 by deliriumdog

I think it was a couple albums ago that Radiohead announced they would no longer release albums. A couple albums ago I think I said the same thing. And yet here we are at it again, releasing music in a form that has supposedly outlived its usefulness. People can now very easily purchase songs willy-nilly and barely have the time and concentration span to listen to them, so why drop an hour of music out there all at once?

Lots of reasons. Many of them are technical. You gear up to create and record music and, while in that mode, it makes more sense to make a batch rather than a one-off. This made more sense in the big studio era, but even working in a home studio as I do, you have things configured a certain way when you’re really cranking out the music.

Then there’s the fact that musical distribution still strongly favors the album. There are many aspects to this, but I will save them for another post because I’d like to focus on the most important reason for albums to exist.

I have always loved albums and still believe in them as an art form. I grew up listening to music as sets of songs recorded and conceived together and sequenced in a (hopefully) thoughtful way. An album of songs creates a larger artwork that a single song alone cannot achieve. (Maybe that is the definition of a music album! My definition, anyway.)

Any album worth its salt is more than just a bunch of songs thrown together.  Good albums are rooms, houses, fields, clubs, rivers, or streams. Dank basements or sterile hotel rooms. These are places your sonic mind can inhabit, spend some time there, and return there when needed. The songs speak to each other, bounce off one another, and meld together in our minds. Good albums create a cloud of images, impressions, ideas and emotions that we carry in our memory. Our favorite albums are like close friends with which we sustain long-term relationships with all the ups and downs that go with them.

Songs are poems, albums are short stories or novellas. Having typically been recorded together over a focused period of time, an album of songs are the result of intense artistic obsession. Without that obsession, the album probably would have not been finished. We all try to act like it was an effortless process, but finishing a whole set of songs requires a sustained push through all the creative ups and downs that occur during any big project. For many musicians, an album is the largest kind of project they will ever take on. It’s a big mountain to climb, and it’s not for wimps.

I know there are a lot of people who just want to get that one song that they know and like and never think twice about it as a part of a larger work. But should we trust the future of the music industry to those people alone? Frankly, I’ve always thought of such people as strange. Ok, not strange (there are the vast majority as far as I can tell) but it is a mindset I simply cannot understand. Yes, I’ve often enjoyed listening to singles–but I am always, always curious about the artist’s larger body of work. Was that one great song a fluke, or are they frequently just as brilliant? Does the song define their style, or was it just a little digression or stylistic experiment? I must know these things when I hear a song I like.

Yes, I’m a musician and as one obsessed with music and sound from a very young age, am prone to thinking about music this way. But I also know a lot of non-musicians who have a similarly active relationship with their music collection. (And bless them because without them it would be just us musicians patting each other on the back.) It’s a given that real music fans look at their collection as a series of albums. How can you think of it any other way?

Having just finished an album that I’m finally releasing into the world, I sure hope it isn’t my last. And I hope that the art of the album is with us for a long time to come.

Fun With Textify.it

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Free Downloads, Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 by deliriumdog

I could use this first post in weeks to dwell upon how busy I’ve been with the new recording and other ventures.  But hey! Why do that when there are so many cool new distracting toys to play with? Like Texify.it, which will take a photo and render it with the text of your choosing.

What amazes me about tools like this is how wonderfully cool they are when you first encounter them, and then how quickly they can become commonplace. Then, they can eventually become stale or just overused. We’ll see how this one fares.

Note  that it only works in some browsers (I used Firefox). In other browsers it can appear to only half-work and might leave you confused.

You can adjust several parameters, so it’s worth trying some different settings to get just the right effect. Have fun!

Liberty. Tragedy. Lucky.

Posted in Digital Culture, Scarehouse, Video with tags , , , , on May 3, 2011 by deliriumdog

I spent the past weekend in NYC and parts of NJ where a high school friend of mine hosted me and another high school friend visiting from the West coast. We reconnected, toured around Ellis Island (thought provoking) the Statue of Liberty (as moving as I expected) and parts of Greenwich Village and Little Italy (intoxicating as always).

I had barely set foot in midtown, right off the bus, when another high school friend (or grade school if you must know) phoned me. He’s the one who is creative director for The Scarehouse and he sez he’s heading out of town and needs someone to handle a video job. I say oh sure, aside from the fact that I’m currently in NYC, I can take it on.

The job is helping out Ghost Hunter Kris Williams with an awareness/fundraising video about the devastating weather that just rolled through the South. She was disturbed by the news being dominated by a particular royal wedding across the sea and not so much about the second largest natural disaster in US history. So she’s having her Facebook fans who live near the wreckage send in footage and asking her reality show colleagues to send in videos of themselves speaking from the heart about how people who have had their lives torn asunder could use your help.

Throughout the weekend, Kris forwarded photos and video content to me and I would opine back to her about how or if we could use the material. All the while, thanks to them smart phones, I was still managing to be a tourist.

This confluence of events resulted in a weekend where I could enjoy the company of good friends, enjoy beautiful weather and good food in NYC, and see sights like this:

While getting emails of tornado damage in Alabama that looks like this:

And feeling very lucky for my life and grateful I can do something, however small, to help.

You can also help by heading here (Red Cross) and giving what you can.

And you can stay right where you are at this very moment and be grateful for what you have.

So That Happened…

Posted in Digital Culture on April 6, 2011 by deliriumdog

We think they got lucky-they were aiming for the door knob area and discovered that the panel was weak enough to kick through. We're replacing it with a metal model.

Yep, last Thursday our house was broken into and a few things were stolen. Basically, a computer, a PS3, some games, and a few other items. Worse things have happened, worse things can happen, and worse things will happen in the future. And, it could have been worse.

I could write a lot of words about this experience, and in fact have done that in a previous draft. But at this point, I’d rather not dwell on it. We’re making some minor adjustments to make the house more secure, but not letting it change our lives.

The most important thing I could do I already did: I backed up all my data on a hard drive that was fortunately not stolen. My laptop is gone and with it the entire album I’ve been working on for months. Without the backup, I might have had to hang it up altogether and go live in the woods somewhere because there was so much of my creative output on that laptop. The only additional thing I need to do is to better hide the backup and upload the most essential files to the cloud, because I was so durned lucky that our burglars were not interested in the hard drive that was sitting right beside my laptop. “Phew!” doesn’t begin to describe how I feel about that. Now that the backup drive is the most important thing I own, I backed that up as well and hid the backup backup elsewhere.

In case the moral of this story is not painfully clear, let me spell it out:

ALWAYS BACK UP YOUR DATA AS OFTEN AND AS MANY WAYS AS POSSIBLE!!

Got it? Good.

The Art of the 4-Hour Video

Posted in Creativity, Digital Culture, Video on March 8, 2011 by deliriumdog

Of course, I’m so busy with the new album that when I saw a tweet from They Might Be Giants about a 24-hour video challenge I…just decided to jump on it. I can’t explain why, but it’s often when I’m working hard on one thing–usually to the extent that I can’t imagine finding time for anything else–that I end up jumping into another mini-project just for the hell of it. I think it has to do with having my creative juices flowing, all the neurons firing, ideas flying all over the place, all while having to work in a very focused way on a particular thing. If I’m ever to finish anything, I need have some sustained focus. And yet it is at these very times that my mind is most active and looking for things to do.

So it was when I spotted this call that looked too good to pass up:

CHALLENGE: Make a video for TMBGs song Omaha (Sokol Auditorium) from Venue Songs before Nebraska’s statehood birthday celebration ends tomorrow. Creativity and style count.

Prizes included T-shirts and free TMBG tix. (Listening to my music, you might not make me out to be big TMBG fan, but I have been for a long time. I’ve seen them many times. What can I say? I have eclectic tastes.)

There is something freeing about only having 24-hours, which in my case turned out to be about four, plus time to render, save, and upload which resulted in very little sleep that night. You know you won’t have time to make it “perfect” (nothing ever is) so you just do what you can get away with in the time you have.

So I only had two hours of sleep, but it was worth it. Not just because I won two TMBG tickets for my efforts, but because I made something that I would not have otherwise. And I got to be part of a small, short-lived, online community of creative fans who shared and commented on each others’ work just for the sake of doing it. Truly, this is the internet at it’s best.

I didn’t win top honors with my video, but I did get recognized as “Most Informativeiest”, got the free tickets, and had something to share with friends around the social mediasphere. Not a bad evening’s digression, I think.

Enjoy: (Production details below…)

The video was made entirely in Apple Motion, a program like After Effects that lets you do all sorts of groovy things with video. I made ample use of the “Bad TV” effect that comes with Motion to get that static-y look. I downloaded and manipulated images from the Sokol Omaha website and elsewhere using Pixelmator. Pixelmator is my excuse for putting off buying Photoshop for my machine at home. About 80-90% of the times I use Photoshop, Pixelmator would have done the job just as well and costs a teeny fraction of what Adobe is asking. I used Pixelmator to make the cutouts of the chandelier, falcon, Ford falcon, etc., saved them in PS format, and imported the images into Motion with their layers so I could use them with their transparent backgrounds.

The Sokol site is fairly amusing if you give it a close read. I wanted to keep pulling quotes from the site and animate them, but the song is just over a minute long so there were only so many ideas I could cram in there.

The Vinyl LP: Not Dead and Just May Remind Us We’re Alive

Posted in Digital Culture, Music on February 17, 2011 by deliriumdog

The other night I was at a dinner party with friends.  The hosts had just recently acquired one of those oldfangled “record player” contraptions. Actually, it had a USB output, so it was also partially newfangled. I’ve been in the market for a USB model myself so I can sample old out-of-print recordings to my computer and create further sonic mayhem. So I ended up capitalizing my friends’ player for the evening and charged myself with the duty of replacing or flipping the record when a side ended.

It felt like this was happening quite often. I remembered album sides being 20+ minutes, but these records seemed even shorter than that. That was the biggest downside. The rest of it was fun! Gingerly removing those large disks from their gargantuan cardboard sleeves, plopping them down on the turntable, manually placing the needle down, waiting those first few seconds before the needle hits the first track, hand hovering near the volume knob in case the music comes in louder than you thought…

I missed all that. This experience took me back. We listened mostly to big band recordings from the 40’s, which is not what  came out of my turntable when I was young but made for fine dinner music. You can argue that LPs sound better–I never really had strong feelings about the LP vs CD vs MP3 debate–but it is definitely a different experience.

A composer friend of mine often argues that music requires some sort of frame to be experienced properly. Even if, for instance, the greatest violinist in the world is playing one of the most beautiful pieces written, people are likely just walk by if he’s playing somewhere other than a concert stage. When people ask me at parties or social gatherings to play something for them, I usually say no because the frame isn’t there. (Or I say “just one song” and people will pay attention for about half of it before returning to what they were doing.) Or sometimes everyone is interested enough and other conditions are such that the frame is there and it turns out be a nice, personal mini-concert.

The LP experience is like an instant frame around the music. It’s a ritual. It prepares the body and spirit to get into the mode of listening. (Otherwise, why would you be doing such an odd thing?) The smell that emerges when the vinyl slips from its cardboard sleeve is like a music lover’s incense. Whatever else you may be doing, your time is structured around placing down that needle, listening, and then picking it up again 20 minutes later to flip the album. The songs play as a short set, only in the order determined by the artist. If you make any big vibrations, the record skips. If you leave the room, the record will there waiting for your next physical instructions, most likely still spinning.

Just pause for a moment and put a frame around that. How different is today’s digital player-driven music experience?

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