Tag Archives: music

7 Things

The idea of “7 Things” is to write seven things that your readers may not know about you and then “tag” other bloggers to do the same. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough bloggers to do that, so if you read this and decide to participate, please let me know so I can pretend that I put you up to this. Here goes.

1. When I was in pre-school, I was convinced I was not a human being. The reason? We were read an environmental-themed book which showed “human beings destroying animals’ habitats”. Logic: human beings practise deforestation, I have never even thought about deforesting anything, ergo I am not a human being.

2. In the past week, I have been eaten by lift doors over a dozen times and almost lost my manhood to a scaffolding pole at a church clean-up

3. Russians don’t have middle names but rather patronymics so my full name is Alexander Petrovich Sheko (which is to say, “Alexander Sheko, son of Peter”). However, when I was young, I decided to rebel against the patriarchal system (you’re welcome, ladies) and called myself AlexanderTatianovich (Alexander, son of Tania).

4. At the age of three (or so), I had nightmares about a dragon chasing me around the backyard. Not just any dragon: the St George dragon. And I don’t mean the generic ectothermic creature of legend, but the dragon on the St George Bank logo. (Ironic twist: Last year I briefly worked for a sales company representing St George Bank)

5. I sing bass but because I have never had proper singing training, my range depends on the temperature, time of day and how long I have been singing. Usually the lowest note I can reach is D below the stave but it can go up to F if I’ve strained my voice. I once sang an A below the stave.

6. My parents made me learn the piano. At various points in time, I despised it and hated them for not letting me quit. I now have an Associate Diploma in piano, am being paid to play for a school musical (Cabaret) and enjoy playing every single day. I consider it a great blessing and one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.

7. A fundamental element of Russian culture is forcing children who have barely learned to speak to commit to memory large portions of poetry and recite them in front of large groups of people. At some point in my childhood, it was decided that it would be a good for my education (despite the fact I spoke very little Russian) for me to participate in this cultural treat and I learned some verses of a poem to recite at the annual Russian Culture Day. Unfortunately, I was sent on stage with a girl (half my age and height) who recited her poetry first. It never occured to me to adjust the microphone stand and I could not understand why several dozen Russians were laughing raucously at my attempt to combine poetry recitation with limbo.

If you are reading this and have a blog, please give it a shot of your own (and tell me so I can have a read!). It’s good fun.

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Colours

ColoursAaah… my first non-reflective post. It’s good to return to blogging, having kept an eye on my stats during the period I wasn’t writing. Having had 40, 50 or more visits per day during the period in which I was initially writing (having stopped in late September/early October to focus on study), it was a bit disappointing to see the number of visits steadily decreasing as people realised there was nothing new.

But now I’m back and hope to turn all that around. Firstly, I’d like to promote some music I’ve recorded during the study period, a short concept album of sorts. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to embed the music player directly into the blog, but you can listen to (and download) these recordings at my Last.fm page. The idea of a colour-themed concept album (EP, really) came to me when my brother was studying musical general knowledge for his violin exam and was learning about Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a Russian composer of the Romantic era who had colour synesthesia, a condition which caused him to “experience” colours when hearing music played in certain keys.

I casually remarked to my mother that I associated certain colours with various keys and we soon realised that though I did not have synesthesia (I did not vividly “feel” the colours), some of my colour associations were the same as Rimsky-Korsakov’s. This gave me the idea to play with some musical ideas and record a set of improvisations in keys with which I associated colours, using colour-related ideas.

Red is in D minor, a key which I associate with the colour red and contains a lot of arpeggi and sequence passages, which sort of made me think of some exotic or ornate object, returning to loud and powerful tonal notes in the bass. Yellow is in triple time and meant to sound a bit Eastern European in its chord structure, which made me think of old Russian cartoons and storybooks with a big yellow sun. I also associated yellow with A minor. The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

I wanted to record a collection of pieces that meant something to me as a whole, unified by the concept and I found this difficult to do as music without words is quite an abstract medium. So I chose the theme of colour to unify the tracks, and the structure of the album as a whole is sort of like a tierce de Picardie, being in minor but ending in major.

The quality of the playing is far from perfect as these were essentially improvisations, but the actual recording quality turned out all right considering I connected an electric piano directly to the microphone plug of my laptop computer and recorded in Audacity without editing the sound (mainly because I don’t know how to). I would be very grateful for any feedback and hope you enjoy listening to the music (it’s available for free download). Hopefully, it’s something I will be doing more of in the future.

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The Death of the Album

The Death of the Album” is how Elbow frontman Guy Garvey describes the iTunes music store. AC/DC’s Angus Young criticizes the service for enabling listeners to download only a certain number of musicians’ songs, rather than entire albums. But it is undeniable that the internet is changing the way music is created and distributed. Although internet music downloading has been around for ages, the growing affordability and uptake of high-speed internet and the increasing rate of computer literacy means that more people than ever can choose to download their music on the internet from services such as iTunes rather than buy it in the traditional way.

But not everybody uses paid download services. If you’re already on the internet, why pay for something you can get for free? The majority of music can be easily accessed and downloaded on programs such as BitTorrent. And naturally, this is giving the record companies grief and eating into their profits. This is considered theft of intellectual property and can (and has!) be(en) grounds for a lawsuit. But is this way of thinking about music outdated?

As I mentioned in a previous post, this way of doing it has been challenged by the likes of Radiohead (who released their latest album, In Rainbows, for free on the internet as an experiment) and Nine Inch Nails (who are allowing the modification, remixing and redistribution of their music through a Creative Commons license). As my friend James says:

“…no matter how they released their music, there was no way that NiN’s or Radiohead’s ‘experiments’ were going to fail, as they both have large established fanbases…”

I believe these baby steps taken by people who have already made it big are indicative of the future of the music industry, the traditional methods of distribution being killed off by internet piracy. But should this be seen as a threat to musicians and their ability to make a livelihood? My answer is: no- providing the system is overhauled.

The whole idea of buying music- whether as a grammophone record, tape cassette, CD or whatever- is relatively new. When you consider that the technology to record sound was only developed in the late 18th century (Thomas Edison’s phonograph cylinder) and remained quite limited (in terms of both quality and affordability) for quite some time, the concept of the album, the mass-produced recording of an artist’s music, is quite recent. Obviously musicians existed and worked before then. But this technology marked a new era in the way musicians could create and distribute music. So my argument is that the current technology marks another paradigm shift regarding commerical music.

Let me explain the way I see the history of musicians’ livelihoods: at first, musicians needed a patron, a king or wealthy lord who would sponsor them (and this is true of course for other creative artists) and commission the creation and performance of music. Then, as the middle class expanded, more people could afford to attend musicians’ performances and so the role of the patron diminished as musicians could make a living by giving public concerts to the “common people”. Later, as recording technology developed, and the majority of people had access to gramophones, tape decks, CD players and the like, the role of the patron (this time reincarnated in the record company) again increased. However, today it is possible to cheaply record and distribute music without the neccessity for record labels (as is evident if one only takes a moment to search through the great amount of free, unsigned music available on websites such as Myspace). In addition, viral marketing and networking have shown that it is possible to advertise and distribute one’s work without needing the vast resources of the likes of Sony and IMG.

So where is this leading? My argument is that the next natural step in the creation, distribution and even popular conception of music will result in the irrelevance of major record labels and the destruction of the current concept of recorded music as a commodity. Because recorded music need not be a commodity. Because of the zero marginal cost of information, downloading music does not directly cause the musician to incur a loss; which is to say if I downloaded an album off BitTorrent, it would not physically reduce the artist’s profit, but only in that it would make it far less likely that I would spend money on purchasing that album.

So under the current system, we see the musicians are clearly losing out. But what if there were a new generation of musicians that did not expect to make money in this way? To give an example, I would be happy for as many people as possible to read this blog; as though I spent time and effort writing it, I am not further inconvenienced by people reading it and generally want people to read what I have written. But if for some strange reason people had to log in and pay to read my blog, I would be very angry if somebody was distributing unauthorized copies of my writing elsewhere. So the way I see it, the next generation of musicians–those who would record their music without ever stepping into a major studio, promote it on internet for free and have it available for everybody on websites such as Myspace–would be only too happy to share their music, to get as many people listening to it as possible.

But of course there is the issue of money. How will musicians make their livelihood? Well, I cannot answer that, but perhaps the future of music will lead to a growing emphasis on live music (as you cannot the experience of a live concert for free on the internet). To me, this theory of the next stage sounds lovely on paper (but then again, so did communism). The way in which it occurs will have to be seen, only time will tell, etc…

Finally, my Marxist vision for the future of music is centred on a greater freedom: because patronage demands conformity. Musicians hundreds of years ago and mainstream ones today have one thing in common: they must please their benefactors, be they lords or executives. This can be seen in Trent Reznor’s break away from Interscope Records, as he claimed that their commercial concerns and restrictions were impinging in his creatvity. In Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (later adapted to film), Antonio Salieri says of the role of the musician:

“We gave them processions for their strutting, serenades for their rutting, high horns for their hunting, and drums for their wars. Trumpets sounded when they entered the world and trumpets groaned when they left it!”

But Salieri suffered from great mediocrity, despite his present fame and acclaim, because the conformity demanded of him limited his creativity. So, in my vision for the future of music and the death of the album, I see musicians creating music for its own sake (and still somehow making a living!), unburdened by the suffocating demands of big business and the free sharing of recorded music: a dictatorship of the individual musician.

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Cat Empire (with Blue King Brown, The Beautiful Girls, Ash Grunwald): Sidney Myer Music Bowl, 4 Feb 2008

When I saw the tickets advertised in the Sun the day they came out, I just knew I had to go. Unfortunately, it took a while to organise people and buy the tickets, so we ended up with Reserved Row S tickets (which I guess were pretty good). Only managed to catch the last 10 or so minutes of Ash Grunwald‘s act, due to the lengthy line and the fact we only arrived half an hour or so before gates opened. Though not a fan of his music, his enthusiam (and obvious skill) was good to see.

Shortly after, The Beautiful Girls started playing. I was quite disappointed (having heard good things about them) and went off to purchase a souvlaki. Their music was entirely bland and unoriginal, consisting of very little more than a couple of basic chords and dull bass lines– what one might expect of a high school band. The next act more than made up for the disappointment of The Beautiful Girls. Blue King Brown were fantastic as usual (this being the fourth time I’d seen them). A fantastic synthesis of many musically talented individuals, through whose music came an incredible sense of rhythm and fun. Especially impressive was the percussion section- the drummer and percussionist had an incredible sense of rhythm. They did a fantastic job of priming the crowd for the main item.

The Cat Empire were amazing. The talented musicianship, intense rhythms, catchy melodies and the pervading sense of a good time communicated through their albums pales in comparison to what is delivered by a live show. Although there was a focus on songs from the newest album So Many Nights, it was fantastic to see they did not neglect their earlier crowd-pleasing masterpieces. Unfortunately (but obviously), they played their worst-ever song No Longer There (the flaccidity of which is incomprehensible compared to their otherwise excellent body of work). Extended improvisations from the Empire Horns (Ross Irwin and Kieran Conrau on trumpet and trombone respectively), the virtuostic Ollie McGill on keys and drummer Will Brown were a fantastic addition to the well-known studio-recorded tracks. Highlights of the show included the four dancers during Sly and the two dancers (featuring guest guitarist and percussionist) during Two Shoes, which was a visual treat. The night was powerfully ended by the encores: new track The Darkness and all-time favourite The Chariot (which we were to sing/hum/whistle for the rest of the night). A fantastic night out, supported by amazingly talented Blue King Brown and others. Much more than well worth the $65 ticket price!!

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