Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July's sweet breeze will bring you home...

Hey everyone, I know it's been forever since I last blogged - almost three months! Homework and projects got pretty hectic towards the end of the semester, and so far this summer I've been keeping busy even though I'm not taking any classes.

Around March this year, I discovered a Berklee band called the Mike Lombardo Trio (aka ML3). Mike Lombardo, the band leader, is a talented musician that graduated from Berklee two months ago with a degree in songwriting. He writes intelligent piano rock, anchored on solid riffs and infused with catchy melodies. I first contacted Mike through Twitter (@mikelombardo), and heard the trio perform at school to auditioning students and their parents.

Pretty soon, I became a big fan of Mike's compositions. From a song about a rock to a song based on a nursery rhyme, Mike's melodies and lyrics taught me a great deal about rhyme, rhythm, and an important thing in songwriting called prosody - the way melodies and lyrics are set together to make the most musical sense. During the spring semester I was taking a class called Lyric Writing 1 - my first foray into wordplay. This video by Mike is a glimpse of the best things he's learned as a songwriting major - I got a great deal out of it.

Last Wednesday I saw ML3 perform at TT the Bear's Place in Cambridge, and then on Friday I joined them on their trip down to NYC. It was a lot of fun and I got to see Mike perform at the Best Buy on the corner of 23rd St and 6th Ave in Manhattan.

The Mike Lombardo Trio just released their debut album The Fordham Sessions, and Mike has a solo album available called Off the Record. He also has some really cool t-shirts. I have the white on black "Piano Rock" shirt :)

Check out Mike's songs and tell him what you think!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Project K-Paz @ Avatar Studios

Hey everyone! I'm blogging live from Avatar Studio C this morning. Sound check is almost done - Álvaro, Josh, Laurent and Pablo are ready to make some amazing spontaneous music. Today I have the honour of hanging out with them at the studio and being the interviewer for the DVD footage.

If you don't know about Project K-Paz yet, check out their website.

Some notable artists that have recorded at Avatar Studios:
David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Madonna, Dave Matthews, John Mayer, Bobby McFerrin, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Sting...

I'll be posting status updates on Twitter throughout the day - read them here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

String Session

As some of you are already aware, during the winter break I wrote some string arrangements for my singer/songwriter friend Tom Howie. Over the course of this semester, Tom and Chris have been working on completing the songs and it's getting close to being done.

In the meantime, check out Tom's website, and watch this video of us from the string recording session in March.

The players from New England Conservatory were great to work with, and Chris ran the session very well. Overall, an awesome experience at Mix One Studios.

Stay tuned for the full release of Tom's EP - coming soon!

Monday, March 23, 2009

What is Art?

What would you tell me if I asked you, “what is art?”
And while we’re on the subject, what is an artist?

Are these terms perhaps thrown around a little too casually in today’s society?

Over lunch today, my friend Christopher Lars Carlson and I had an interesting conversation about the ramifications of being an artist within a business model. Since all of us Berklee students are presumably heading into the music industry, this discussion was one that hit very close to home.

Through my life-long journey as a student of the arts and my skirmishes with its creation, I’ve surmised that the defining characteristic of art is its purpose – to exist purely for the sake of art, and for that purpose only. When an object is created for a purpose other than its own existence – for example, for the sake of making money, it becomes utilitarian. And in reverse, when something that was initially created for the purpose of making money is relieved of this duty (pre-emptive pun, wait for it), it is afforded the ability to become art. This concept is well illustrated by Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 work “Fountain”, a production line urinal placed on its side and called a sculpture. As ridiculous as it may seem, a simple urinal came to be regarded by many as a landmark of 20th century art.

So what happens when something is created with artistic intention and motivation, but is ultimately packaged in a commercial way? For all the artistic integrity of a musician in the sphere of creating popular music, is the end result inevitably defined by the business model?

Taking a look at today’s popular music industry, it’s easy to see certain trends. Most things you hear on the radio will follow a general verse/chorus structure. It will most likely have a hook and there’s a good chance that it’s between 3 and 5 minutes in length. Why is this? Because in the age of the internet and file sharing, we all collectively suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder. There are a million things you can do online – and because we have the ability to jump from one thing to the next, our attention spans become shorter and shorter. When was the last time you listened to an entire album from beginning to end? How often do you listen to a song that’s longer than 6 minutes? And how often do you listen to a song that doesn’t follow the verse/chorus structure? Come to think of it, how often do you listen to songs that aren’t in 4? Whether we’re aware of it, we’ve been programmed to want songs that fit within a certain framework – this is where the money is made.

Given all of this, where does it leave the musician and his genuine desire to create art while still being able to pay the bills? I had a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that no matter how much artistic integrity a musician pours into a song, its final form will most likely follow that which is most easily marketable – which therefore means it’s not art. Following the breakdown of major labels, many established and upcoming musical acts alike have turned to direct fan interaction. If a musician asks his fans what they want to hear, is what he writes still considered art?

There is no doubt in my mind that a great song can send a meaningful message to the world, and that a fan can experience genuine emotional attachment to a song. To me, these things are invaluable, but separate from a song’s artistic value or its commercial viability. The way I see things now, when the creation of music contains a commercial purpose however small, the only art that remains is the integrity of emotion behind the creation of lyrics and melody.

But perhaps that garners enough artistic merit in our crazy ever-changing industry.

Edit: Please read the comments for more information!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Berklee Internet Radio Network

One of the new activities I got involved in this semester is the Berklee Internet Radio Network (BIRN). My friend Joel and I have a show every Friday from 12pm to 2pm EST called "Jack and Joel & The Pail of Water Show". Each week, we select a theme (or three) and play an eclectic collection of songs.

Our first show was on February 13th, and the themes were "New Beginnings", "Spooky Songs" (Friday 13th), and "Love Songs" (the day before Valentine's Day). Tomorrow will be our second show, and the theme will be "D.A.N.C.E." - so tune in for some groovy numbers. Featured songs include Earth, Wind & Fire's 1978 hit "September" and Herbie Hancock's 1983 single "Rockit", which was an early inspiration for the "scratching" turntable technique.

Random fact: Both "September" and "Rockit" can be tied directly to Ben Stiller movies. The former is used in the closing dance scene of "Night At The Museum", and the latter is part of the climax in "Zoolander", when Derek is incited through music to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Last night my friend Joel Darling asked me to play hand percussion on his Live-To-2 Project. The band he recorded is called The Grand Tangent (Daniel Hartzheim on keyboard, Marton Juhasz on drums, Emily Moore on violin, and Nick Tennies on bass). They have a very interesting sound, and describe themselves as Electroacoustic / Trip Hop / Nu Jazz.

I took an instant liking to their track "Transition".
Check it out
here or here.

During the recording process, we turned off the studio lights and played with a single red light bulb in the middle of the room (the band often rehearses this way). It was really fun and I'm pretty happy with the conga and djembe parts.

A big thank you to The Grand Tangent and Joel Darling for the awesome experience.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Super Mario Percussion

During my 2nd semester at Berklee, I took an elective called "Mallet Lab 1". From the course description, I was expecting to begin with two mallets and eventually work my way up to four. This was not the case - as soon as the first class began, the teacher taught us how to hold two mallets in each hand.

Many years ago, I played percussion (keyboard and otherwise) in several school ensembles, so I was excited to get back into it. To me, keyboard percussion is halfway between the piano (my first instrument, on which I have the most experience) and the drums (my current principal instrument at college). I had a lot of fun in the class, and started playing all kinds of silly tunes including video game themes.

Very quickly, I decided that I wanted to create an arrangement of the Super Mario Bros Theme for mallet percussion. Last year, on May 26th, I fulfilled that goal with this:

Each instrumental part was sequenced separately, and for a lot of it I was writing on the spot. It took up most of that day but I'm glad it turned out okay. Just today I passed 6,000 views. I'd like to thank everyone who's taken the time to watch my video, and hopefully it will continue to do well.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Conceptual Art

Wednesday was a snow day - classes got cancelled in the afternoon. All of a sudden, it seemed like I had nothing to do. Even though I have assignments coming up in the next few weeks and months, my schedule for the day was disrupted and I felt like chilling out and just doing nothing for a while.

As I listened to music and stared at the empty coffee cup on my desk, I wondered what I could do to amuse myself. Near the cup was a desk light and a couple of Sharpies. I got some tape and made this.

I call it the Starbucks / IKEA Crossover Lamp. As ridiculous as it sounds, the Grande cup from Starbucks is a perfect fit for the rim of the IKEA Kila Lamp that resides on the corner of my impossibly cluttered desk.

For some reason I decided the mermaid/siren in the logo should have orange hair. And of course, since it's so bright, she would be wearing sunglasses. The "H" reflects part of my peculiar chimeric accent. All in all, it places an eerie commercial glow on my apartment. No doubt that's a precursor to the inevitable fire that results from a paper cup's immediate proximity to a halogen light.

I once read about the idea of taking a meaningful photograph each day as a kind of visual diary. Although I haven't been able to do this on a regular basis, I think it would be amazing to look for or create something of aesthetic value each day. Sometimes it's really as simple as drawing silly things on a paper cup and holding it up to the light.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lights Out

So it's been forever since I wrote a blog post. A lot has taken place between mid-December and the present - I took my finals, spent three and a half weeks back in New Zealand, came back to Berklee for Orientation Week work, and now I'm in the second week of classes.

At the end of the Fall semester, I had a lot on my plate. As such, I didn't have much time to practice for my playing classes, and felt like I had reached a bottleneck with drumming. Nonetheless, I enrolled for an ensemble class this Spring in an effort to continue with my playing and give myself some variety in a writing-heavy major.

Last week, during ensemble, the teacher had everyone introduce themselves and talk in some depth about their musical background. After this, he switched off the lights and asked us to play "completely open". There was no key, no time signature, no fixed tempo, and no groove. Having only done this briefly on a few occasions, it took me a while to feel relaxed and comfortable with what I was doing. Eventually, after stopping to discuss what we did and didn't do well, we began listening to the balance and feeding off each other's ideas.

After the class, I reflected on the exercise. It reminded me again that when we start playing our instruments, we tend to play a lot of things we already know. It's easy to do this - it's familiar, and you know it works. On the other hand, it takes a lot to put yourself out there and play something unpredictable. Since the lights were out anyway, I decided to close my eyes even though the room wasn't pitch black. It forced me to think of my playing in a very different way, and to listen a lot more than I probably otherwise would have.

I have a great feeling about my ensemble this semester - in fact, the second class is in just a few hours. This should be exactly what I need to reinvigorate my interest in drumming. For any musicians out there who feel like they've reached a plateau, try playing completely open for a while. Change your fundamental approach to the instrument. And while you're at it, turn out the lights.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jalapeño - Reanimation

This semester, one of my Contemporary Writing & Production classes is called "MIDI Applications for the Writer". Throughout the semester, I've been composing music for hypothetical projects such as a 30-second toy commercial, or a 60-second video game advertisement. The current project is an open-structured piece of electronic music.

Back in 2002, when I had just started drumming, I had a jazz/funk trio with two high school friends. We played real book material, as well as our own compositions. In those pre-Berklee days, when I had little knowledge of harmony outside of classical piano, I simply wrote by sound and gave no thought to harmonic analysis.

My best composition, which we named "Jalapeño", had a curious beginning. I was using three tom toms at the time, tuned in 4ths. I also liked to play with the snares off. Those four drum pitches took on an interesting melodic form when I played a certain pattern, and with some minor alteration it eventually became a bassline. Pretty soon I added chords to the bassline, and there it was - a core idea of five chords.

At the time, our arrangement was for keyboard, bass, and drums. I was happy with what we made of the idea, but I still wished for a more elaborate electronic incarnation. That never happened - until now. My electronic project for MIDI Applications was a great time to realize my six-year-old plans. Check out "Jalapeño" on the widget to your right, or on my ReverbNation page - let me know what you think.

The digital soundscape was created in Logic Express 8, with a few samples from Kontakt 3.