June 30, 2004

Judging Aimee

Well, actually, it should be 'Judging Julian', which does have a certain ring to it as well, but forfeits the really lame pop culture reference. So 'Judging Aimee' it is.
Aimee, as in Miss Mann, played at Avalon last night (thanks mle for the ticket!) with her five piece band including the aforementioned Julian, as in Mr. Coryell. Julian also performed a half hour of his own creations as the opening act.
Here comes the judging part: Julian should stay in a supporting role where he absolutely shines and avoid performing his solo stuff. I can understand his apparent desire to go out on his own and be in the spotlight as opposed to more behind the scenes, but I would not recommend following that dream just yet.
In his opening set, Julian played a fairly poor piano patch on a keyboard and sang several of his own songs along with a few covers. His stage presence varied from pretty cool to slightly lame, and the keys were hard to listen to, but his voice was really stunning. He had a range that might rival Prince or Freddie Mercury (whom he admittedly admires) and hit every note with power and precision. But his songs just weren't so good. They rambled and had little memorable melodic or lyrical content (although I do remember that he repeatedly called himself an asshole in one song). Appropriately enough, his covers were the best songs he did.
So I was kind of unimpressed, but then Aimee came onto the stage and there was Julian - looking suddenly a bit like Slash - with a guitar firmly strapped over his shoulder. And over the next hour and a half, he played some of the most inventive and tasteful guitar that I have heard in a while. Every note had this brilliant tone and he played with a confidence that oozed through the remarkably minute motions of his fingers into his guitar and out to us. The thing that was really great and so admirable in my eyes was that he could easily have stolen the show with fits of stunt guitar a la Steve Vai, but instead chose to in a very calculated (but not cold) way sprinkle the songs with helpful notes only.
I left the show really liking Julian as a guitarist and thought he seemed like a cool guy, but I would not purchase his cd.

This whole predicament got me to thinking about my own situation. I mean, is Julian able to take a step back and look at himself and the whole of what he is doing and accurately judge what is good and what is not so good? It was pretty obvious to me and my concert-going colleagues, but accurate self-assessment is so hard.
So what about Judging Halsey? I don't have the luxury (yet) of having any third parties lend their opinions to any live performances, but there is studio stuff that you all hear. I wonder how my list of pluses and minuses compares to those third parties' lists.

WORK ALERT!! I started writing these out, but will have to wait because work is crazy today. But I wanted to at least post what I've got so far. Stay tuned!

Posted by halsey at 03:26 PM

June 25, 2004

arachnophobia

A Song To My Spider

Though I would love it if this song were on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack, alas, it is not. This is sort of a different kind of spider.
I recorded the narration sitting on this hill behind the Yahoo! campus in Sunnyvale, CA last month. I was out there visiting my friend, a Yahoo! employee, and I was hanging out, reading and writing along with recording stuff, as I like to do.
It was a one take spontaneous sort of thing and that's exactly why I ended up liking it so much. I didn't know if I would use it for anything - had no plan whatsoever - but when I listened again later there was something about it that stuck with me. Something both dark and funny; poorly thought out yet engaging; bizarre though somehow easily identifiable. At least that is how I felt about it. You might feel differently. Let me know!

These will really help:

What use are cats if they can't even kill a spider?
good question

What do you use to record stuff in the field?
NOMAD Jukebox3 - it's an mp3 player and will record to wav and mp3 formats in various resolutions. With a pair of stereo binaural mics and a preamp, I can make some decent recordings. It's a little big to conveniently carry around in my pocket, but it quite transportable nonetheless. I wish the iPod would let me record.

I want my own spider. Where can I get one?
Chances are you already have a few(!) Just look harder...

Is it normal behavior to sing to a spider?
No

Posted by halsey at 09:17 AM | Comments (4)

June 24, 2004

semi-lost in translation

I like Mum. I liked them before seeing them last night at the MFA because of their album 'Finally We Are No One" and now I like them for that same reason. Unfortunately, I found their live performance to be disappointing. It's not that they were bad or anything; it's more that I don't think they figured out a good way of translating their good songwriting and creative approach to music-making into the live situation.
I've talked about this before with regards to Tracy and the Plastics, but it is an important topic for me, so here I go again. Mum uses lots of electronics and acoustic 'sounds' in their music. They use them well in their recordings, but this live show seemed like someone said to them 'you can't use all those electronics live because it won't really *be* live with everything sequenced'. It seemed as though they tried to take this advice in certain ways, but were not successful, and in other ways they ignored this advice which caused further issues. Take the drums for example. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the drums on the above-mentioned album (the only one I have heard, though they do have a brand new one and several other releases) are electronic, yet for some reason they had a drummer sitting behind an acoustic kit on stage. He was forced to play along with all the electronic sequences which were mixed much louder than him and in all honesty, despite how hard I tried, I couldn't even figure out if anything he was doing was audible at all. Live drums are so great because of their physicality. You see arms and legs flailing and hear the results in real time and you know for damn sure that the harder that guy hits those cymbals the louder and more powerful the sound that emanates will be. That's exciting and fun. It's not so fun to strain to hear if the subtle motion of a drummer is actually adding anything to the barrage of electronic percussion being spit out by the band's Powerbook.
The drums were just one instance of how I felt that the band was playing along with their computers as opposed to really dictating what was happening on stage. There was one time when I think each of the six band members were ringing cool little (Icelandic?) bells. This was totally neat except it highlighted the sequenced and pre-recorded stuff because the other parts of the song didn't stop while they were all preoccupied doing their ringing.
I felt like they were performing with the luxury of a huge bouncy safety net of sequencing. It's not trivial to play with sequencers given their rigidity, but having that solid totally predictable backbone dominate your performance is simply less exciting to me. Playing live should be more dangerous, I think.

Ok, so that was the negative, but they did some very cool stuff as well. The one thing I cannot give them enough credit for is actually taking an accordion and using it in a way that wasn't totally obnoxious! I'm serious. The lead singer (who also happened to have a great voice and funny mannerisms) played an accordion for a number of their songs, but she used it as this wide, open, bass instrument. I was amazed how she created these great gravelly bass lines that really filled out the low end.
Their songwriting was very unique; interesting forms and sonic combinations. They used lots of 'environmental' type sounds and had some great melodies. And their trumpet/flugelhorn player was a fantastic addition to the sound. Now I am feeling like I have been too negative here because these guys really are a very good band. I suppose I am judging them more harshly because I feel they are capable of so much more. But that's fair, right?

Overall this was certainly not a bad show, but I did feel it could have been better somehow. They paled in comparison to that other Icelandic band we all know and love, but they are young and talented and I hope they continue to progress and give us lucky listeners more unique music to appreciate.

Posted by halsey at 10:30 AM

semi-lost in translation

I like Mum. I liked them before seeing them last night at the MFA because of their album 'Finally We Are No One" and now I like them for that same reason. Unfortunately, I found their live performance to be disappointing. It's not that they were bad or anything; it's more that I don't think they figured out a good way of translating their good songwriting and creative approach to music-making into the live situation.
I've talked about this before with regards to Tracy and the Plastics, but it is an important topic for me, so here I go again. Mum uses lots of electronics and acoustic 'sounds' in their music. They use them well in their recordings, but this live show seemed like someone said to them 'you can't use all those electronics live because it won't really *be* live with everything sequenced'. It seemed as though they tried to take this advice in certain ways, but were not successful, and in other ways they ignored this advice which caused further issues. Take the drums for example. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the drums on the above-mentioned album (the only one I have heard, though they do have a brand new one and several other releases) are electronic, yet for some reason they had a drummer sitting behind an acoustic kit on stage. He was forced to play along with all the electronic sequences which were mixed much louder than him and in all honesty, despite how hard I tried, I couldn't even figure out if anything he was doing was audible at all. Live drums are so great because of their physicality. You see arms and legs flailing and hear the results in real time and you know for damn sure that the harder that guy hits those cymbals the louder and more powerful the sound that emanates will be. That's exciting and fun. It's not so fun to strain to hear if the subtle motion of a drummer is actually adding anything to the barrage of electronic percussion being spit out by the band's Powerbook.
The drums were just one instance of how I felt that the band was playing along with their computers as opposed to really dictating what was happening on stage. There was one time when I think each of the six band members were ringing cool little (Icelandic?) bells. This was totally neat except it highlighted the sequenced and pre-recorded stuff because the other parts of the song didn't stop while they were all preoccupied doing their ringing.
I felt like they were performing with the luxury of a huge bouncy safety net of sequencing. It's not trivial to play with sequencers given their rigidity, but having that solid totally predictable backbone dominate your performance is simply less exciting to me. Playing live should be more dangerous, I think.

Ok, so that was the negative, but they did some very cool stuff as well. The one thing I cannot give them enough credit for is actually taking an accordion and using it in a way that wasn't totally obnoxious! I'm serious. The lead singer (who also happened to have a great voice and funny mannerisms) played an accordion for a number of their songs, but she used it as this wide, open, bass instrument. I was amazed how she created these great gravelly bass lines that really filled out the low end.
Their songwriting was very unique; interesting forms and sonic combinations. They used lots of 'environmental' type sounds and had some great melodies. And their trumpet/flugelhorn player was a fantastic addition to the sound. Now I am feeling like I have been too negative here because these guys really are a very good band. I suppose I am judging them more harshly because I feel they are capable of so much more. But that's fair, right?

Overall this was certainly not a bad show, but I did feel it could have been better somehow. They paled in comparison to that other Icelandic band we all know and love, but they are young and talented and I hope they continue to progress and give us lucky listeners more unique music to appreciate.

Posted by halsey at 10:30 AM

June 23, 2004

listening list

Sneaker Pimps - Bloodsport
David Byrne - Grown Backwards
Muse - Showbiz
Einojuhani Rautavaara - Seventh Symphony
Praxis - Collection

What are you listening to today?

Posted by halsey at 11:43 AM | Comments (6)

June 22, 2004

preview

Last night I was working on a song in my studio and this tiny spider crawls out from somewhere and starts weaving around my workspace from crack to crevasse to wherever else spiders like to hang out. Normally I would have done something to rid my space of this visitor, but I couldn't do it this time.
'Spider' is one of those words, I'm finding, that just gets weirder and weirder the more often you say it.

Posted by halsey at 07:46 AM | Comments (5)

June 21, 2004

sleeping with Joseph

Hmmm...that might give you the wrong impression, although it is not entirely inaccurate. I am talking about Joseph Haydn. He has been dead for a while (yes, this blog is a great place for current, scintillating information), but his music lives on in many forms. I have been putting on his String Quartets before I go to sleep recently and it has been really nice. It is a calming influence and though I don't really listen to it, it's presence is felt and somehow my mornings are positively influenced. It's worth it; give it a shot sometime. I wouldn't do it with, say, System of a Down, or the Mars Volta or even Wagner, but chamber strings fit the bill for me.

I have his complete string quartets (he was VERY prolific) by the Aeolian Quartet and it's like 22 cds long, so I can go almost an entire month without repeating!

Posted by halsey at 11:32 AM

June 18, 2004

associating

Imagination Environment

This project reminded me of my spam words song. The whole free association thing is fascinating to me and combining that with the power, speed and sheer magnitude of possible content that computers and the internet now enable is an amazing thing.

Is this art?
Is this science?
Is this just a social experiment?
Can Mr. Shamma possibly open his eyes any wider?

I wonder if it is beautiful; conceptual art loses its interest for me very quickly if it isn't aesthetically engaging.

Posted by halsey at 02:25 PM

June 17, 2004

narration

I'm trying to write music to a pre-recorded narrative. This is not easy.

How do I structure the music? Should I be ironic or direct? Is there a way to portray the wide array of interpretations I have of the text without seeming totally psychotic? Is it bad to seem psychotic? Is it cheating to shrink and stretch the recording to fit the music? How prominent should the narration be?

I have written what might be the catchiest (and happiest!) melody I have ever created. It sounds like a hundred other vocal melodies we have all heard, but I'm OK with that sometimes(!). It's kind of funny actually, in relation to the spoken words.

Posted by halsey at 05:07 PM

June 16, 2004

6,696,631

My dad sent me this article the other day from the NYT.

Virtual Music Machine

This is a tough situation. I love hearing live instruments, but I am also a big proponent of the progress of technology. Technology and creativity and human expression are often, it seems, at odds with each other, or at least perceived to be at odds with each other.
For me, the technology I use (including sequencing) is vastly helpful for my composition process. I couldn't do it without sequencing, in fact. But for the final product, I would be MUCH better off to have real musicians playing real instruments, mistakes and all. It just sounds better; there's no way around it. But it's expensive and impractical in many situations.
I don't imagine sequencing will ever get to the point of equality of sound to people. Machines are precise and predictable; people never will be, but this is exactly why listening to real people is that much more thrilling than hearing a sequence.
Modern recording technology has gotten to the point of being able to manipulate the minutest detail anywhere, anytime to the point that many of them sound devoid of life. I like hearing the little glitches, the slight mistakes, the sound of someone's emotions. This is why live music is so great and why I gravitate towards live recordings as well. Until human beings develop artificial intelligence as capable as we are, I don't think machines will ever fully replace the orchestra. We do have drum machines that have 'humanize' functions designed to introduce some randomness into a drum loop, but it's not really randomness that is needed. What is needed is a type of variation that is generated by the summation of all concurrent inputs, musical and otherwise, and tempered by the experience and aesthetic taste of the performer. Will this ever be reduced to a programmable algorithm? I doubt it.

I come down in favor of technology progressing continually in every way, but am very wary of how I choose to use these new technologies. It is way too easy to get caught up in the newness and coolness and easiness and lose sight of what music is really about.

Posted by halsey at 03:38 PM

June 15, 2004

listening list

Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
B-Tribe - Fiesta Fatal!
Beastie Boys - To The 5 Boroughs
Juana Molina - tres cosas
Lost in Translation - OST

Posted by halsey at 01:40 PM | Comments (1)

flashy

I updated the WaV page for the new song...check out the roll-overs.

Posted by halsey at 08:06 AM

June 14, 2004

The A.C.

We had to get off the boat at some point during our trip and Atlantic City happened to be situated in a geographically perfect location, so we found ourselves anchored in the AC harbor last Saturday night. This is just the way it happened. And what else just happened to happen was that we happened to take our inflatable tender into the Donald's official marina to ensure that we understood what this place was all about.
The process of discovery took a bit longer than we had planned, and we didn't arrive back at the boat until about three hours before we had to wake up and start motoring up the Jersey shore. But you do what you have to do; you make the required sacrifices; you suck it up and persevere, right?

But what I really wanted to write about was that I had an epiphany about techno dance music when I was at the Wave night club. This might surprise some of you, but I am not a frequenter of dance clubs. What happened this evening was that I think I finally got it. I now understand the appeal of going to a crowded dance floor and listening to pounding music at near deafening volume.
It's all about losing yourself. The music is so loud and BIG that it just enters you everywhere and takes up everything inside so that you have nothing left to think about. Thinking is bad; feeling is good. Letting the music take you to a place that is as simple, direct, and fun as a non-stop 120bpm in-your-face kick drum is what this is all about. It makes you feel alive.
I have always loved this power that music has, and this particular breed is specifically created to hit you on the most visceral, elemental level possible. It's so repetitive and not overly musically interesting -- this is surely why I never have truly gotten into it before -- but I now understand that it is being exactly what it intends to be. Nothing more, nothing less. And it can be very effective.

I will readily admit to not being a good dancer, but thankfully for the first time I wasn't thinking enough to be so critical.

Posted by halsey at 01:34 PM

June 11, 2004

18.2 kts, 51.8 ft, 155 SSE

OK, so this has nothing to do with music, although we are blasting some Delerium right now on the onboard hi-fi.
I am on this boat:

reveler.JPG


and we are motoring towards Cape May at the lip of Delaware Bay. Oh yeah, and I have internet access. Pretty cool. I couldn't resist posting something.

Posted by halsey at 03:28 PM | Comments (1)

June 10, 2004

fossiliferous

First of all, THANK YOU to those special people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were forced to record words for me. You formed the basis of this song. Please don't sue me; you won't get much!
I realize that I stand a chance of alienating the majority of my fanbase with this one as many of you might not like how your own voice sounds, but I'm feeling risky. And believe me, they all sound great, or I wouldn't have used them. I have lots of experience making less than stellar voices sound cool, as I'm sure you are aware.
I would recommend listening to this one on headphones if you can as there's a lot of stereo imaging going on that should make some of the parts more distinct.

Here goes the Q&A for 'was she wrong hungary yuck?':

Where did all those sounds come from?
All the clapping and slamming sounds were recorded up in Maine at the end of my dock. I was up there several weekends ago and one day was completely calm and slightly foggy. For some reason, these conditions seemed to lend themselves to amazing reverb/echo characteristics throughout the bay (if anyone understands the physics, let me know!). So I got out the portable recorder and recorded a bunch of sounds. I want to record my entire kit there sometime.

dock1_sm.JPG

Where did you get all those words?
They were graciously sent to me, unrequested, via email. I think some people call it SPAM.

How many audio tracks did you use for this song?
29

Who's that barking?

cirrus_dock_sm.JPG


What is this song about? It doesn't seem to hold together lyrically.
Aha! You figured me out. Given their source, these words, not surprisingly, mean absolutely nothing. Whether or not there is meaning in the song is something I am still trying to determine.

Are there any hidden messages?
Yes.

Posted by halsey at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)

June 09, 2004

moms and dads

I went to the production of Oedipus at the A.R.T. last night. Overall, I found the show to be OK with some good stuff and some not so good. Thankfully for me, the main positive aspect was the music.
This was a modern adaptation of Sophocles' play and Evan Ziporyn was commissioned to write original music for it. As it turns out, Mr. Ziporyn was one of the five composers whose pieces were played by the BMOP at the show I went to several weeks ago. This music was better and in many ways saved the production from being not much more than an over-dramatized obtusely-referenced festival of self-loathing(!).
The music was written for a small group consisting of a drummer, upright bassist, guitarist/keyboardist and, blessedly, a beautiful cellist (with whom I fell instantly in love). All sounds were amplified - in some ways moreso than the sound reinforcement system could handle accurately - so that they filled out the performance space fully. Mr. Ziporyn turned parts of the play into minimalist operatic explorations with a group of eight or so singers onstage supplementing the instrumentalists.
The approach was bold and interesting, and though not entirely successful, it got me thinking that maybe theater is a place where modern 'classical' music has a particularly relevant and exciting outlet. Is it the combination of the visuals and sounds that create an experience that could attract audiences of all ages and interests?
I'm not trying to say that music needs to be be more of a supplement than a focus, but rather that this sort of expanded and extended musical experience can be much more satisfying and plain old cool than the traditional mode of classical performances.

Posted by halsey at 04:41 PM

June 08, 2004

each to her own

In case you thought that this blog was entirely about my opinions...

The Thrills: No Apologies

What ever made Ms. Tomlinson think the Thrills show was 'sophisticated' or 'pristine' is beyond me, but then again, I am sort of a music snob.

(yes, this is a diversion from the new song announcement which is a bit delayed due to unanticipated (and unrelated) anxiety last night. Also, I decided to try a little pseudo-mastering which wasn't necessarily successful...)

Posted by halsey at 12:14 PM | Comments (2)

June 07, 2004

was it you homesick jeffrey?

I think I am very close to being done with my next song. This is how I spent my weekend. My car didn't move between Friday night and this morning; a scary thing when you live in Bedford.
I found the hardest part of this one to be the mixing and engineering. There are so many little parts going on and so many disparate recordings each with their own share of ambient issues, that putting them all together in one semi-cohesive piece proved to be difficult! I really don't know what I am doing when it comes to this technical stuff. Trial and error is my best method.
This one actually came together musically fairly easily, probably because it is simple. I'd say that there were two things in particular which really make this song. At least, these are the things that make me feel excitement in my stomach and get me dancing (thankfully only in the privacy of my studio). I already talked about the drums; they are still very cool. And the other thing is this great string sound that I found. It totally sucks as a long, sustained pad sort of sound, but it turns out to be very powerful for driving, attack-y, staccato stuff. In some ways it reminds me of Les Claypool playing an electric upright with a bow.
Tonight I think I'll make the final touches, update the WaV flash page and post it. Since I know you guys are anticipating this moment like nothing heretofore anticipated, I'll give you the title to muse upon: 'was she wrong hungary yuck?' Yes, I am serious. Don't hurt yourself.

Posted by halsey at 11:07 AM | Comments (2)

June 04, 2004

sometimes I am technical

Well, really this isn't very technical at all, but I am proud of my efforts nonetheless as this is something I have never done before.
I have been able to tame FormMail and make a cool 'contact me' page. This is probably MUCH more exciting to me than to any of you, but I see no reason to stop writing in the self-indulgent way that I have been since the inception of this blog! So go ahead; check it out; be impressed...
Soon I hope to be able to use FormMail to help you guys tell all your friends about this site too. I need all the help I can get; my hit count is pathetically low.

Posted by halsey at 11:35 AM

June 03, 2004

word slicing

I'm using words in my current song like I haven't used them before. I'm kind of treating them as little elements, maybe musical, maybe not, and throwing them into the mix in a way that is not lyrical at all. They are random words; semi-randomly arranged; but voices I know.
It's actually a total pain in the ass chopping up all these spoken audio tracks into the individual words. Very tedious, so I am taking a break right now. I wonder if this whole thing is going to work. It might just sound totally garbled sort of like this guy who purportedly condensed the sound of the early universe into a 5 second clip (again, thank you S!). Well, probably not that garbled, but I'm not sure if so much nonsense can ever make sense, or even if it needs to.
The musical elements are very simple, yet I think they are catchy, so perhaps that will help. And I do still really like those drums!

Posted by halsey at 12:50 PM

June 02, 2004

Paul Petzoldt

This is an update to the entry about 'from us to me' .
My grandmother refers to a 'famous mountain climber' in reference to a question as to whether she knew any 'great people'. Turns out this person is Paul Petzoldt. Among many climbing accomplishments (including K2), he founded NOLS and several other outdoor education institutions. It seems his favorite mountain range was the Tetons and this is, fittingly, where he and my grandmother met. He guided her and my uncle up the Grand Teton circa 1940. Apparently my uncle was ~9 at the time and became the youngest person to summit. Who would have thought?
I find it incredibly interesting and somehow strange to find out things about my family that I had no idea about. It's like discovering some deep dark secret even though there was no active attempt to hide anything. I don't necessarily think it is expected that I know everything that ever happened to everyone in my family, but nonetheless, I get this feeling of bewilderment, surprise, and often a dose of pride, all at the same time when I learn about these people who I have known my whole life, but in many ways not really known at all.

It's weird being able to dive into such an unknown without going far away.

Posted by halsey at 08:42 AM | Comments (2)

June 01, 2004

engineering is important

Working on new song last night. Might even be happy(?!); we'll see. It was coming along OK, and then I got lucky and hit on a very cool channelstrip eq/compression setting that made the otherwise not overly exciting drums totally kick ass. And that pushed the entire song into a new and much improved place.

Ahhh, yes, this is better.

Posted by halsey at 09:56 AM