Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Biking and parkour combined?

     There are many ways of expressing oneself creatively.  This video really caught my eye as an incredibly beautiful expression of that fact.  

     As a longboard skateboarder (of course, nowhere near the level of proficiency this guy has!), I can personally attest to how doing sports like these changes the way you see the world around you.  Go on a drive with a longboarder and you'll see him oogle and crane his/her head at the sight of hills you pass by like a 17-year old seeing a scantily-clad supermodel.  

     Though nowhere near an all-encompassing definition, for me, a large aspect of art stems from the artist's the ability to see the world from unique perspective and express it in a way that helps others come to appreciate the paradigm shift without the need of long-winded explanations (like the one I'm writing here).  Case in point, Danny Macaskill transformed what most people would dismiss as an abandoned train yard into a playground for his bike.

     With these kinds of videos, it's easy to over-glorify the acts being portrayed.  There was no non-diegetic music playing while Macaskill rode.  He had to have messed-up many times while practicing these skills.  The story told in the video was of a lone rider solitary in his craft, however, there was obviously someone manning the camera.  Point being that the video editing quite successfully told a story, enhanced the experience, and allowed we the mainstream to view the biking in a way that is entertaining and accessible.  

     Really though, this post was probably just a lame excuse to show a couple of cool videos, so while I'm at it ...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Novel Music Tech #3: The musical flying saucer

     One day, I hope to own one of these!  It's a really cool instrument called a "Hang Drum."  It sounds and works similar to steel drums (see bottom of this entry) but instead of mallets, the softer, more rounded sound is made by the hands.  The instrument also has a nice, percussive element to it that makes it a great solo instrument as well as something to be included in an ensemble.

     These unique and rare instruments are actually products of the 21st century from Switzerland of all places (which also happens to be, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world).  Very few are in circulation, and even with the wonders of the Internet, obtaining one is an ordeal and an expensive one at that!  However, the sounds are beautiful.  

     There are alternatives however, the Hapi Drum being one.  It works similar to African thumb pianos sans the plucked sound and the added element of that metallic percussion sound.  

     If you're looking for something closer to the real thing, a US based company called Pantheon Steel offer their Halo Drums (link).  These are made to order, so you've got to really want it and know what you want, but as popularity (and with it, demand) of these instruments increases, I'm sure more and more avenues will open up.  Now, I might be underestimating the versatility of this instrument, but I wonder if the mainstream-ization of the hang drum and saturation would reduce this to nothing more than a novelty item.  

     That said, to close, here's a video of some enthusiastic steel drummers to leave you on a good note (so to speak).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Honey Fest 2011

     Well, after all the time preparing, planning, promoting, practicing for, etc Honey Fest 2011 (link), it's finally over.  It was one huge party with some very unexpected surprises that came along the way.  The organizers of Honey Fest are friends of mine, and I've only been getting closer over the past year, getting to know their story and how this all came about.  It was a huge honor to be able to perform with them on stage to close the night's on-stage music to an incredibly appreciative and supportive audience.  

     Though a three-day celebration full of good times, good people, good food, and good music, the underlying and driving force behind this relatively new festival is more sobering.  It was organized to raise awareness for Polycistic Kidney Disease or PKD for short, an incredibly common yet relatively unrecognized condition.  No cure currently exists, and victims must undergo regular dialysis or a kidney transplant.  It's also a genetic condition meaning parents suffering from PKD have a 50% chance of passing it on to their children.  

     One of the big things that was emphasized throughout the festival was the importance of organ donors.  This is a topic that is very near and dear to me: my uncle's life was saved thanks to an organ donor.  Additionally, a friend of mine who passed away in an accident two years ago was able to give the gift of life to five people because he was an organ donor.  For those who have never gone through the process, being the recipient of an organ donation is a difficult, unpredictable, and nerve-wrecking process.  Unless someone donates directly to you (usually a family, friend, or loved one), you're put on a waiting list meaning it's anyone's guess as to when or even if you'll get it.  At the festival, several people who weren't already volunteered to be donors.  

     That all, said, I enjoyed staying active, enjoying the food, meeting some new faces while reveling in how small the world can be sometimes, and had an absolute blast performing both my solo material as well as on keys with Honey Juice, the headlining band.  No doubt that many more will come, but photographer Greg Martini ( has already posted a bunch of pictures of the day (link).  All of the pictures you see here are courtesy of Greg.

     Also, a special shout-out to the sound guys, the unsung heroes of live music.  They did a bang-up job of providing nice, clean, balanced sound throughout the festival.  Both the on-stage and off-stage levels were great, something that unfortunately doesn't happen very often.  They were all also really nice, cooperative, patient guys to boot too!  

Until next time,

Love and Peace!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Handbook for Creating Evolutionary/Revolutionary Music!

DISCLAIMER: I am no lawyer and barely anything close to an English or Philosophy major. Ok fine. I used to be an English major, but that didn't stop me from not reading. The content henceforth is only reflective of the immediate ramblings of the author (me) and not necessarily the opinion of Sheltered Turtle (me) which grants us (me) with immunity from any legal actions regarding and not limited to: damages, blurred vision, erectile function, implosive diarrea, sudden loss of the ability to make right turns, awkward Facebook messages, and texting while driving.

CLAIMER: I am, however, legally entitled to any money you make from this no matter how indirect. But again, I am no lawyer. Also, by reading this, you kinda owe me your soul and 3.14% of every pie you eat henceforth (yes, I made a math joke). But nobody reads these things anyway.

Statement of the obvious:  The way people listen to music has changed significantly over the past several years.

Assumption:  More so than ever before, people have eclectic musical tastes.  An increasing number of music lovers more strongly associate as listening to “everything” than to a single genre.

Question:  Why is it that musicians, most of whom I assume are also music lovers with broad tastes in music, are stuck with a single genre of music for the entirety of their careers?

Answer:  Well, we all take our paychecks where we can get them.  If a musician gets known as an alt-rocker, it means people are responding to that.  So the musician continues on that course.  It’s all about marketing an image and maintaining it consistently.  Don’t get me wrong: many strive to change their sound and grow, but think back to artists you followed over the years.  To how many of them does the statement “I liked their old stuff more” apply?  People become fans of the music and expect more of the same from the respective artist.  Of course, all artists have their modus operandi which gives them their distinct sound.  However, let’s leave that thought for the moment.   

So many eager musicians begin their ambitions with a desire to create a totally new genre of music filled with sounds and melodies never before heard.  The words “evolution” and “revolution” get thrown around a lot.  However, as much as everyone might complain about hearing the same darn thing over the radio, the same songs covered by every cover band out there, and the same formula used for every hit song you hate to love and love to hate, the formula continues to be used because it still consistently sells better than anything else.  

But let’s think about what the music that follows no rules would sound like.  Well, if I were to be cute and ridiculous about it (you know, until it happens 20 years from now), the most revolutionary music probably couldn’t be heard.  Not through the ears at least.  Even better if you couldn’t even experience it with any of your five (six if you’re a character in a M. Night Shyamalan movie) senses.  

Too out there?  Let’s ground it a bit more starting with instrumentation.  Guitar and piano: absolutely out of the picture.  It shouldn’t even be composed on a guitar or piano.  Everyone uses guitars and pianos.  No drum set.  No bass.  People love vocalists, and that's not going to change, so let’s start there.  Why restrict ourselves to using just the mouth (and all the respective, necessary anatomy) to sing?  How could we revolutionize vocals?  Exploring the possibilities would merit another essay if not a book of its own.  Sample version (keeping in mind that these are just the rules for breaking the rules and in no way proposing a solution): Don’t use language but don’t scat either.  Don’t invent your own language for the purpose of singing: that’s already been done.  Don’t sing in the same key or rhythm as the band.  

Ok.  Now for the band (yes, the rules say it’s ok to have a band in a musically revolutionary ensemble … it’s just not recommended).  We already cut-out the most common instruments.  Why not go for something that creates its own sounds?  Heck, MAKE your own instrument (of course, using physical matter’s fine.  In this economy, who can afford antimatter or dark matter anyway?)!  I mean, there’s no need to turn to an already made instrument to limit your compositional abilities!  Just remember, it can’t be stringed, percussive, wind-based, heat/motion/light based, or programmed in any way.  We’re trying to start a revolution, remember?  Get with the program! Furthermore, the band (they're not all homo sapiens are they?) is not allowed to play in rhythm together (Compound time signatures only, nothing boring like 13/8 or 17/16. What, are you still in 4/4? LOL NOOB!) let alone the same key or mode.  They shouldn’t even be tuned the same frequency let alone anything remotely near 440Hz.

Point of all of this being: the revolution isn't coming. Not all at once at least. There is some truly amazing as well as truly awful music out there that defies many of the conventions of today's popular music. So why aren't people flocking to listen to it, abandoning everything that's popular? Simply put: the majority of us don't want it.

The music we listen to is so closely tied with our social identities that we want things that bring us together. That means finding music we can relate to. This results in music that is, structure-wise, marginally different from decade to decade with a new coat of gloss and possibly glitter (poetically though sometimes literally). We sing to remember and connect with the past: the first songs were used to pass on wisdom and stories of past generations to future ones. This was happening with the only recording technology we had available to us at the time: our brains. Instruments were added to embellish the experience and eventually took a life of their own. Music everywhere makes people dance. No one needs to be taught to sing or dance: babies can do it without taking a single lesson. Point being two-fold: 1) music is social and 2) music is laced into our biology.

So many of us in the creative fields try so to hard to stand out from everyone else and forget that sometimes, it's nice to be a part of something bigger and grander than yourself, something so big that you won't be able to notice it until retrospect, if at all. History makes things seem like revolutions are sparked by a single person when in fact the ideas are already there in the hearts of many, piggybacking amidst our social fabric. A single soul with a grand idea is only that: a single soul with a grand idea. However, with a following, it turns into a movement. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, and Darth Vader would have amounted to little without the support of like-minded people who related to their teachings. Actually, Vader still would have been a Dark Jedi which does amount to a lot.

[This is where Facebooking made me lose my nonexistent train of thought and thusly end this post.]

Now where's my pie? (See Disclaimer/Claimer)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Novel Music Tech #2: Shiny keytar from outer space?

I'm a fan of Jordan Rudess.  Dream Theater was my favorite band in high school and still are a source of amazement though I honestly haven't been keeping as up-to-date as I should.  "Evening With ..." was a great live album, blah, blah blah.

Anyway, it was through the Wizard (Rudess) that I first saw this fancy, expensive toy: the Zen Riffer.

When you mention "keytars," you think about the zany instrument so intertwined with the music of the 70's and 80's that it's difficult to take them seriously (which might be the appeal to so many of its players).  

With its streamlined design (which looks like the Brute Shot from the Halo games) and interface (AKA relative lack of the 19,203,982 buttons, switches, atomic clocks, and toaster ovens usually seen on fancy keyboards), it definitely offers a different vibe than the techno-nerd look of most keytars (unless you customize it to look like the Brute Shot form the Halo games).  

The founder, creator, and maker (pictured above ... I believe ...) customizes each Zen Riffer as per the wishes of the buyer (my dream design pictured below).  It's definitely an eye-catcher but as with most keytars, is currently pretty far down on the list of instruments I want to have in the immediate future.  Certainly wouldn't mind trying one though!  

Official Website:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Novel Music Tech #1: The guitar that folds in half??

     I've always been a fan of the novel.  That certainly rings true for musical instruments and gadgets too.  This post is #1 of what hope will be an ongoing series of cool music gear.  While the majority of the stuff I'll be posting is stuff I'll never buy/be able to afford, I'll put in a word for the stuff I actually manage to get my hands on.  

First up is something that I actually own, a Voyage Air Guitar!

Ok.  Great. It's an acoustic guitar.  What's so great about it?  This:

Then it fits into a nifty case like this:

Close the lid and you get this:

Even better, it fits the size requirements for carry-on luggage on an airplane.

Not exactly being an impulse buyer, I did some research.  There wasn't all too much about it that was terribly useful.  An official review from Musicians Friend helped (link) as did seeing approval from renowned guitarists like Don Alder (link) and Tommy Emmanuel (link).

I bought a used, out of production model (AKA savings).  I had to change the tuners and install my own pickups (link to blog post), but it's a decent guitar now.  The strings are spaced nicely though the frets feel rough on the sides.  The rig doesn't go as out of tune as much as you'd think.  Even with my alternate tunings, I can always tell what tuning I was in.  Adjustments are minor.

The sound's decent but it has neither the depth nor a powerful percussion body I like on my guitars, but for a travel guitar, it sounds great.  Honestly, it beats out the tone of many guitars above its price range.  

I've done countless gigs with it and went through my babying phase pretty quickly.  It is prone to damage a bit easily: the body is the only thing that has a coat of gloss, but it doesn't strike me as something that'll be withering from old age any time soon.  With some work, it's become a worthy addition to my quiver.

Check them out here: