Music

Gamelan

Announcing the release of my Escher’s Drum EP album.

You may have already seen the video of percussionist Gavin Ryan performing this piece on bongo, tom-tom, and cymbal, but Gavin went further and created a second version using Indonesian Gamelan instruments, available now for the first time.

The use of tuned percussion transformed a purely rhythmic composition into one that’s filled with active melodic motifs. In a wonderful surprise, these motifs turned out to have an intentional, composed quality to them even though they arose as a direct consequence of assigning one fixed pitch to each part. Gavin’s experiment uncovered a totally new dimension of this piece that’s not visible in the score, and in so doing he created a unique sound where traditional Gamelan meets the mathematical arena of rhythmic tiling canons.

The album consists of two tracks, the drumset version and the Gamelan version of Escher’s Drum. Great care has gone into the recording, mixing, and mastering to achieve the best possible sound, so if you like the streaming preview, please download the full-quality tracks.

Here’s a photo of me at Peerless Mastering, getting these tracks ready for release:

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Photography, Places

Condos

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While Gothic arches, reaching upward, symbolize aspiration to heaven, here we see them reach towards a substituted objective, one that is more immediate: luxury condos, burgeoning above what was once Holy Trinity Church on Shawmut Avenue in Boston’s South End. A wish has been answered, but it is not the wish of those who prayed here. This photo, captured at night, shows the construction site aglow.

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Leaving Facebook, Music

Audio Mastering

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I thought I’d share what I learned in the process of having my Canons album mastered. First of all, what is audio mastering? The credits of almost every album say “mastered by so and so,” but what does that mean? For much of my listening life, I’ve had the vague notion that mastering is about refining the sound of album before you release it. In fact that’s basically right, but there are some important distinctions to make.

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Photography

Storefront Apparitions

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Three images from two walks in Union City, New Jersey, March 10-11, 2017.

Mannequins in storefront windows are a perennial fascination of street photographers, including the present blogger. Mannequins by themselves are eerily intriguing, and combined with street life reflected in window glass, they seem like alien observers of the human world. Though these immobile but well-dressed window-dwellers are an obliging subject, it is not every dayfor me at leastthat an attempt to photograph them succeeds in capturing the full extent of their ghostliness.

To be precise, only the first two images show mannequins; the third shows a praying statuette for sale in a religious supply store.

On the technical front, these images have had some color adjustments but no other editing. The effects are achieved in lens, by shooting with shallow depth of field and focusing on the distant reflected material while blurring the forms on either side of the windowpane.

Music

Searching for “X”

As I was preparing my Canons album for release, the distribution service I’m using asked me to name several famous artists I “sound like.” I listed Bach first (thinking of his canons from the Art of Fugue and the Goldberg Variations), and then Bartok (thinking of his contrapuntal pieces with nonstandard tonalities in Mikrokosmos).

For any musician with an appropriately deep reverence for Bach and any semblance of humility, it would seem outrageously immodest to say that one “sounds like” the master himself. (Similarity to Bartok is not a claim to be made casually either.)

But I was being asked to liken myself to a famous composer—the question had the requirement of self-flattery built into it—so I complied. My answer prompted me to reflect on what my relationship to Bach actually is, and to what extent sounding like Bach has been a goal in my efforts.

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Leaving Facebook, Visual Design

Making a CD

[Facebook Post from March 1, 2017]

For much of my life I’ve wanted to make a CD — not just in the abstract sense of “an album,” but a real physical thing with cover, spine, notes, etc. I’m glad to be getting in while there’s still a chance! In anno domini 2017 there are still some people, in some places, who possess the hardware required to play these shiny discs, and there are still some companies that manufacture them. I remember when CDs first came out. This was in the 80’s. I was in computer camp. Five-and-a-half-inch floppy discs were all the rage, overtaking cassettes. In a magazine, I read about some newfangled optical storage technology that was on the horizon. I went around telling the other kids how many megabytes of data we were going to be able to store on these new discs–amazing!–and they called me a nerd for being so excited about it. Yes, the kids in computer camp called me a nerd, how about that? Fast forward. I’ve just spent a month working on the visual design for my CD. I uploaded PDFs of the design to the manufacturing service and they generated this 3D virtual-reality preview of what the CD is going to look like. How cool is that?

 

Addendum — April 3, 2017

Here’s what the boxes of CDs looked like when they arrived at my house. I posted this image on Facebook with the note: “Help. I ordered an album by this obscure composer and they sent me 600 copies! What do I do with all these?”

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Addendum — April 7, 2017

I sold a few copies of the CD to Brattle Bookshop in Boston. Here’s what they looked like on the shelf. Having grown up in the 80’s and 90’s and having spent countless hours scouring record shops, there was one thing I wanted to experience in my life (well, more than one, but this was a big one): I wanted to see my own CD on the shelf at a record shop. I posted these photos on Facebook with the note “Brattle Book Shop is one of the few places left in Boston where those of us who are still attached to the experience of shopping for physical CDs can indulge in our increasingly archaic pastime. Should you choose to go to Brattle and peruse their eclectic collection, you might notice three copies of the album Canons by Rudi Seitz and Matthew McConnell on the shelves, while supplies last.”