Vital Listening

mutemathvitalsalbumcover
Mutemath’s latest album “Vitals” drops tomorrow. As is wont with many bands these days, they are streaming it in advance. My physical copy doesn’t arrive until tomorrow, but I couldn’t resist taking a quick listen. Have listened to “Joy Rides”, “Remain” and “Used To” so far. And I’m liking what I hear: peppy, synth-heavy alt-rock. Nice. Very nice.

Electronic Head-space

I’ve been getting into a different musical head-space these days, one that is tending more towards electronic. Having grown up in the ’80s, this is sort of like returning to my first love. I’ll always love modern progressive rock; I thoroughly enjoy the complexity the genre offers and it’s been so much of my writing and listening focus the past decade. However, the compositional simplicity of electronic music with a focus on the sound palette (ala Depeche Mode) has of late become so very interesting to me. So much so that I’m busy writing and recording new music with a strong focus on the electronic. It’s actually quite liberating artistically helping to spur lots of new and interesting ideas.

To be continued.

Durham Is For Creatives

Looks like Durham, NC has been ranked #9 out of the top ten cities in the United States for creative types. You can read all about it here at The Huffington Post.

Durham NC Top 10 Cities for Creatives

Raleigh, the capital city of the Tarheel state and nearly twice the population of the Bull City, didn’t make the list. Frankly, this is no surprise. I’ve watched Durham steadily excel above and beyond Raleigh culturally and artistically over the course of the 15+ years I’ve lived in the area. And it’s not much more evident than from a musical standpoint. Durham just landed the next Moogfest, a pretty big deal in music circles. Raleigh has been hosting Hopscotch for awhile putting forth mostly indie/alternative acts. But this year’s final night headliner is Dwight Yoakam. Not exactly cutting edge.

Raleigh has essentially become a glass of warm milk compared to the rich, dark roasted cup of coffee that is Durham. When I think of which of these two cities seems the most suited to creative types, hands down it’s Durham. So congrats Bull City on your deserved ranking for creatives. You’ve earned it.

I think I’ll have that cup of coffee, please.

Blockage

I’m having some blockage. No, not the bodily kind. It’s the dreaded creative block. One song I’ve been working on the past week is almost done, but I just can’t quite figure out an ending. The section I’ve set aside as the bridge could act as the finale, but then I feel the song would end up being too short. And what I’ve added after the bridge as an initial stab at an ending kinda, sorta makes the song too long. I don’t know. Maybe I should just let the song write itself and not worry about the length. A lot of The Beatles’ songs run under three minutes, so if it was good enough for them…

Finally Underway

Finally underway towards finishing some songs. It’s going on two years since I released anything and that’s been personally frustrating. Nevertheless, the past month or so has seen an increase in a level of creativity I’ve not had in awhile. And with a recent rearranging of my studio, that’s helped to spur things along even more.

The Lair

I’ve been able to finish one song and get it ready for mixing. Close to finishing another with at least three more in the wings ready for completion.

Looking forward to a rather productive midsummer!

Use What You Have

image
Use what you have. That has become my motto of late, particularly in regards to music equipment. As a gear junkie, it’s easy to get trapped in the mindset that just one more piece of gear will spark some sort of creativity, crush any writer’s block, make me ultimately happy and solve all the world’s problems! Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. It’s easy to allow the desire for some piece of new gear to get in the way of, or the “latest and greatest” software release to distract from, the fundamental reason I’ve invested in musical hardware and software: making music.

I remember as a young teenager trying to eke every bit of functionality out of my first real synth, a Korg Poly-800. I learned to program my own sounds, to program the step-sequencer and to record it via a poor man’s multitrack (i.e. two separate cassette decks feeding into each other). It was all that I had and could afford at the time. When I had few choices in regards to gear or functionality, I was (if I’m remembering non-nostalgically) more creative. Nowadays, with the wide availability and affordability of powerful soft-synths and the myriad functions they come with, there’s almost too many choices to make when using a software instrument. They come with such an array of features and sounds that it would take a person years to explore it all. Now this is great for those just starting out in this crazy world of music-making as it provides a big bang for the buck, particularly if one is a cash-strapped teenager. But once you’ve spent some time creating music, you begin to realize that too many choices can lead to a stifling of creativity. More isn’t always better.

The DAW (digital audio workstation) that I use for recording, like most software, has periodic updates, typically on an annual basis. And like most software, there is usually a fee for major updates. This year however, I decided to break the cycle and stick with the previous version. Yes, the update that was released has new features I’d like to have and could find useful. But here’s the thing: “last year’s” version is really all that I need. Indeed, it’s much more than I need as there are features buried in it that I’ll likely never use. Can I record and mix audio? Yes. Can I record and edit MIDI data? Yes. Can I do pretty much everything I need to do from a recording studio standpoint with an older, non-current version of DAW software? Yes.

Another driving force for me putting off any new purchases and to use what I have is that, over the past several years, I’ve been moving back into the hardware world. Don’t get me wrong, software plugins sound great and are economical when compared to hardware, but the tactile thing is not there. And as a musician, I miss that. Sitting in front of a computer and mouse-clicking around in the GUI of a soft-synth program feels too much like work. Also, as operating systems are updated, the soft-synths I have today may not run on a future OS due to potential incompatibilities. At least hardware instruments, barring any breakdown in the components, will continue to be playable for decades. That’s not being seen, at least yet, with software instruments.

For me, the solution is a hybrid setup of things I already own: select pieces of quality hardware instruments combined with a few pieces of powerful software. I have not only the immediacy and tactility of hardware instruments but also the convenience and power of software. For me, a focus on just one or the other is unduly limiting. A hybrid setup is, to use a well worn cliche, the best of both worlds.

At the end of the day, it’s not the hardware, it’s not the software, it’s not the latest and greatest gear that makes music. They are just tools that are useless without someone to play them. Take a second look at those tools currently at your disposal: the older instruments, that “out-dated” software, your aging computer. Squeeze every last ounce of creative juice from them to achieve your creative goals. Use what you have.

Moogfest Destination: Durham, NC

Exciting news announced today! The next Moogfest will be held in Durham, North Carolina, May 19-22, 2016. I’ve never been to this event as it has historically been held in Asheville, North Carolina, a 4 to 5 hour drive from my house. So to have Moogfest held locally? Can’t wait!

Moogfest Screen Capture

Another Reason I Love Moog

moog logo

Hmm. Maybe it’s time to go work for my favorite synth manufacturer. 😀

At the Moog synthesizer factory in Asheville, N.C., on Tuesday, Michael Adams, the company’s owner and chief executive, wanted to share some life-changing news with the entire staff.

“I’ve sold half the company,” he told them.

Anxious silence descended among the tight-knit group, many of whom feel a familial loyalty to the business, which has been likened to Willy Wonka’s factory for electronic musicians.

Then Mr. Adams revealed the buyer.

“I sold it to you,” he said, to a relieved wave of whoops, applause and happy tears, according to employees present.

Full NY Times article: Moog Music Becomes Employee Owned

Longing for Porcupines

As much as I’m loving Steven Wilson’s solo work these days, I do miss an active Porcupine Tree. Granted, they are currently on indefinite hiatus, so there is at least a possibility, albeit a slim one, that they’ll release at least one more album. But even if they don’t, they have plenty of previously released music to go back and re-listen to or listen to for the first time. 🙂

In the meantime, here are two of my many favorite songs from PT, “Strip the Soul” and “.3”.

Happy Birthday Bob!

Robert Moog Wikipedia Entry Summary
Today is the late Bob Moog’s birthday. I’m so grateful that he was on this planet and for his many technological contributions as they’ve had a tremendous impact on me musically and personally.

Thank you, Bob. I never met you in this world, but perhaps I will in the next. You are very much missed by many, but your legacy is alive and well. Happy birthday! 🎹