Sunday, May 25, 2008

Life's Soundtrack

As a composer, I've been taught that "music is the heart" and everything else "is the brain." Whether that everything else is the words that are sung with the music, or the movie the music is scoring, the music says what the "truth" and the emotion is. (Incidentally, I wrote a paper about No Country for Old Men, which has about 90 seconds of music -- about 30 of which is non-diegetic -- in the entire film before the credits and said that it is a movie that not only has no music, but it has no heart.)

The example first given to me to illustrate this concept was "Summertime" for Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are happy, "Summertime and the living is easy..." but the music is melancholy and morose. The truth in the plot fits the music.

Portable audio has created a soundtrack by simultaneous juxtaposition of image and audio. This has made things more difficult for artists looking to mix audio and video because simultaneous juxtaposition of the two media is not enough to create a connection between the two. We are conditioned to be able to separate the music in our ears with our environments.

Lately, I've managed to escape this emotional disconnect between music and environment. The strange thing is that when feel and smell are added to the sense of sight, no longer does music influence the mood of everything else as much as everything else can impose its mood upon the music.

It's also nice to be able to listen to music mixed with environmental sounds. Unlike the city, being on lovely Cape Cod has birds that chirp loudly and happily. (Not to mention the fact that I love not needing my volume at its loudest...)

As I was walking today with Maria Schneider in my ears -- a song I've listened to on many-a-walks -- I had many more thoughts on this subject -- about how I've listened to this song in the rain, in busy parks, on desert streets, on the beach, and how its emotion has been different each time. But aside from that, all thoughts are gone. All that remains is the quiet contentment (is that even a word?) and memories of every emotion I've ever felt while listening to this particular song.

That's a pretty full heart...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

rural walking

I had my first long-walk of the summer today. More than the scenic roads -- mostly unpaved -- or the sounds of the back roads of Brewster, MA, I love the people.

Yes, I walk alone, but I see people on the walk. And yes, it's fewer than 10 people, usually, but they all say hi. People wave from their cars, even though they don't know me. Maybe it's that I'm walking in areas where people who walk don't normally explore so I must know the area and know some of the people, or maybe people here are just, well, nice.

I say hi to people in my building I don't actually know, sometimes people on my street, but that's as large as I'll go. Can you imagine a subway ride in a major city in which people would walk on and say 'hi'?

It might be kind of nice...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More than a game

For those of you who do not see baseball as more than a game, I submit to you Jon Lester's improbably no-hitter from last night.

For those who don't know, Lester was an impressive Rookie starting midway through the 2006 season, but was then diagnosed with cancer. He had a slow recovery whose end was marked completed by his start and win in the final game of the World Series last October. Last night's no-hitter was the last piece of proof that he is back and better than ever.

It's moments like last night that prove that baseball is so much more than a game and means more beyond just who wins and loses. I cannot say it as well as the published writers can, so here are a few excerpts from some columns and blogs I've been reading off

Dan Shaughnessy writes:
“All of New England will cherish the moment. It's storybook stuff. Seven months after winning the final game of the World Series, the 24-year-old kid who survived cancer pitches a no-hitter at Fenway Park.”

From the Boston Sports Blog, Eric Wilber put Lester's career accomplishments into perspective, as well as juxtaposed them against the Red Sox minor leaguer whose cancer diagnoses was publicized three days ago, and that Lester is an imspiration for him, as well as the rest of us:

“What Lester means for the Red Sox, Boston, and cancer patients around the world is something special. Surely there are survivors in other ways of life, movie stars, teachers, family members, who serve as motivation for others. But athletes seem to carry that torch a bit more prevalently in the spotlight, using their body to make a career, the same body once feared to have failed them in life...

“Lester may grow weary of the constant questions of cancer that he's asked, wanting surely to look ahead, not back, but never will he tire of the accomplishments he's already achieved in his career. His determination and success can't be easily quantified for those in a similar battle, seeking a little bit of a lift. Jon Lester beat cancer. Jon Lester won a World Series-clinching game. Jon Lester threw a no-hitter.”

From Chad Finn's Touching All The Bases:

“Let me ask you this on a glorious morning after, Red Sox fans: Is there anyone else in franchise history you'd rather this happened to? I cannot think of another name...

“One of the great ancillary joys of winning last autumn's World Series was watching Lester deliver the defining performance of his career in the clinching Game 4, just 10 months after completing his cancer treatments. It was the ultimate capper to his comeback, the most heartwarming scene in this feel-good movie. Now he owns two signature performances in his young career, and even the saccharine souls at Disney have to be wondering if this guy's for real...

“It's impossible to exaggerate how meaningful this is. The Red Sox, to their eternal credit, are downright heroic in their contributions to the fight against cancer with their longstanding relationship with Dana Farber and the Jimmy Fund. Every time Lester takes the mound from now until the final pitch his career, he will stand tall as a hero and an inspiration to those scared children getting treatment just a few blocks from Fenway. He could throw a half-dozen more no-hitters, and his status as a survivor would remain his greatest legacy.

“On a much lesser scale, this is one of those occurrences that reaffirms your commitment as a fan at a time when such dedication is often assailed and ridiculed. As one longtime correspondent put it in an email not long after Lester's final pitch last night:
For anyone out there who can't understand the emotion that we sports fans put into any given team's season, this is why we watch sports. Moments like this make it all worthwhile.

“Weird game, baseball. It's why we love it. You just never know when something magical will happen. Though when Jon Lester's on the mound, it seems the odds are better than with most.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Audio Blog: Songs that make me cry

I finished my last paper around 2 and I spent the following 2, 2-and-a-half hours making an audio blog entry about the songs that have the ability to bring tears to my eyes.

So here it is. It could use some massaging, but I'd say this isn't bad for recording, editing, and mixing in only 2 hours!
(Note to subscribers, you may need to actually visit the site to listen.)

It's just under 7 minutes. I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

What do you want to be when you grow up - revisited

I spent $500 on recording equipment (recorder, microphone, memory card, microphone today. This is meant for field recording and a project I will be starting this summer, but I, of course, had to test out tonight.

So what did I do? Pulled out two of my favorite blog entries and read them, hoping that the emotion behind them would translate to voice. I recorded one with the microphone and one with the internal mics. I don't remember which this one was, because, well, both came out sounding equally fantastic.

So because I read aloud my first blog post ever and recorded it and edited it together, all of you have to suffer get to listen.

I hope that the emotion of the text translates at least partially to my less-than-well-rehearsed but also less-than-spontaneous reading comes through. I actually had to turn the last line's volume way up in order to make it sound okay because at that point it did get to me...


Friday, May 9, 2008

"I'm not a bad guy..."

His name's Marvin. He introduced himself to me one night when I was coming home from the diner at 1 am on crutches. He asked me to help him get a meal. I handed him my leftovers.

He's the local bum. He smells of alcohol and is always in the neighborhood -- sometimes on First Ave, sometimes on Second Ave, sometimes in the laundromat late-night. The first time I met him, he had a bike. Since then, I've spoken with him a few times -- but the bike's been gone. I always make sure to walk his way when I have leftovers from the diner -- and otherwise, I don't avoid him and I have no problem giving him a buck here and there.

I'm sure he's using it to drink -- or at least his stench would indicate -- but I don't blame him for that and I don't really care. If I were stuck on the street and had a choice between getting a bag of chips or a beer, I'd probably pick the one that makes me feel a little better about the world around me.

Tonight he saw me coming from a block away, and I could see his extra bounce, realizing that I was going to treat him like a human for a few minutes and then probably give him a dollar after I went in to buy a bag of chips of my own. (I offered to buy him one, but he said he wanted a sandwich and I told him I didn't bring enough money with me for that.)

He shook my hand, as he always does, and then he made small talk. He asked me how the ankle is, probably to show he wasn't too drunk to forget who I am, and asked me how finals are going, again to butter me up, I'm sure. Then, he asked me for money or food. He knew at that point I wasn't going to say no.

If this man didn't dress badly and smell of booze, he'd be a great salesman. He has the natural abilities to make you buy something you went in not knowing you needed. Instead, he's selling himself in the sense that he's selling his story, his persona, and the good karma that comes with treating a man like him as human. All in all, a pretty good deal for one dollar or some leftovers that are never as good the next day, anyway.

Tonight, I was struck by the fact that he waited outside the convenient store and the flower guy gave him a look and he just said, "I'm not a bad guy, I've just got bad luck." I don't know how much of that's true. I believe he isn't a bad guy, but the bad luck part, I don't know. And I don't particularly want to sit and hear his story of how he ended up as he is. I mean, I use him as much as he uses me. He uses me for cash, and I use him to feel good about myself and to contribute to karma. I'm curious, but not enough to sit down with him at a diner, buy him a meal, and actually sit with him for a half hour. It isn't that I don't want to know, it's that I couldn't be that close to the alcohol smell for that long and I don't want to set a precedent I cannot afford to keep.

The strangest thing about my relationship with Marvin, though, is the sense of loyalty I feel. I'm sure it's a false sense, but I feel like if I were walking down the street and some other drifter came up to me and the situation turned ugly, Marvin would come out and protect me. Possibly only for the monetary reward, but I believe that it's because he isn't a bad guy. I just hope the bad luck part is true and it changes. Or at the very least, he buys himself something better than PBR with the dollar I gave him.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Real life black-and-white

Something amazing happened to me not yet two weeks ago. I saw something I absolutely loved at The Museum of Modern Art.

Usually, I laugh at a lot of what I see. A rope hanging from a ceiling is not art, in my mind. Neither is the "4x4 squares of steel" below it, or as I call it: a tile floor. But this, I could stay -- and did stay -- in one place, experiencing it, for 15 minutes with little movement.

What was this amazing thing?

Real-life black-and-white.

Coming down the escalator onto the third floor, the entire lobby area and a long hallway were flushed with bright yellow lights with walls painted the same color. Yellow is a very disorienting color when not contrasted with anything, and it made me feel slightly uneasy about the world.

After about a minute or two getting used to the yellow -- which was so intense that I actually flipped my sunglasses down from atop my head in order to feel more comfortable, though they did little to my actual vision -- I realized that I was black and white. In fact, so was everything that wasn't the bright yellow. Whether the yellow itself or a special kind of light bulb, I am not sure, but all colors were washed out.

I had suddenly stepped into my favorite films -- only sharper -- and was living in a world that was both real in the sense that it is, well, real life, and formalistic in the sense that it made you so keenly aware that you were in the real world while at the same time not so sure if you were.

I may say bad things about MoMA at times -- see the "tile floor" comment above -- but I do enjoy the museum. I usually do not enjoy the exhibits, but I love to watch people interact with them. For once, I loved interacting with one, too. As for watching others, I was amused watching people take pictures only to go out into the regular white-light parts of the museum to see that their pictures did not capture the world in black-and-white but rather in its real color.

How upside-down: The human sees black-and-white while the camera sees color.

I need to go back...

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I know, cognitively, that radio is a dying medium. I do, however, still think it's the most powerful medium. It's a great way to feel connected with someone you've never met and to have an experience unlike any other.

Film is nice, but for a movie to really work, it has to be seen with the right equipment -- that is to say a large screen with quality a sound system in place. Television cannot be as powerful because of its size. Radio, however, is only voices. Just headphones is enough to be engulfed in a new world.

In addition, the voice is very personal. A whisper in your ear feels like a secret, even if coming from someone you've never met. Someone can talk directly to you through radio. An entire world can be created with the right sound design.

And perhaps best of all, radio can bring us all back to being 2 years old, having mommy and daddy read us stories in bed where we can close our eyes and just listen as we drift to sleep.

I think the best person at this is Jay Allison, who has produced many of his own segments, pieces for various NPR shows, segments for This American Life, is the curator of the "This I Believe" segment on NPR, is the founder of the Public Radio Exchange, and...well...countless other credits. He also runs the Cape Cod NPR stations, which is why I bring him up right now. My favorite part of the Cape stations are the 15, 30, and 60 second ID spots that give the station -- made up of mostly syndicated programming -- a local flavor.

I helped start a podcast for The New School that is finally up and running (kind of...) and I recently took on the task of creating short spots like this to tell stories and create an identity across the station beyond just the individual programming.

Below are two of my favorite spots.

Also, I highly recommend Jay Allison's piece New York City: 24 hours in public places as a fantastic 30 minute piece that, well, partially explains why I love the city I have chose as my home for now. (Note: It's a very old piece, and the subway at night isn't as dangerous as they say in the piece. (It's from 1983)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Alexi David

In December of 2006, I spent about one hour and ten minutes interviewing Alexi David. In addition to being a great bass player, great story, and great inspiration, Alexi is a great friend.

Alexi is a former heroin addict, and one of these days, I am going to turn his story into a 30-minute (maybe longer?) radio feature. (Maybe with Bill Kirchner narrating...if I can convince him to...I may need to travel to get the audio I want, but for Bill's voice, I'll do it!)

I have been doing some radio editing this week, and I decided I was going to comb through Alexi's interview. Two things he said that night have stuck with me and I remembered word-for-word without listening.

So I give you, the two audio clips of Alexi David's brain. More to come from this interview by July 1, I hope.