People who know me well know I’m rather obsessed with music. I love listening to it, I love singing, and I love playing it (mainly on my accoustic guitar, and badly at that). But my playing has always been of the incredibly amateur, self-taught variety… ie, I can fingerpick a simple song or play a decent set of chords, but dear god don’t ask me to improvise on the spot.
That said, I do sometimes find myself plucking out melodies and playing around a bit with composition. Nothing serious, mind you, and entirely ephemeral, as I never actually record what I’m doing, but I do enjoy the activity, as I find it incredibly organic and instinctive.
Well, recently, on a whim, I decided to see what was available for music composition applications for my Touch. If you’ve actually read anything on this blog (and odds are you haven’t), you may have heard I picked up a 4g iPod Touch recently, and have been having a great time discovering great applications for making my life easier (Appigo Todo, Trunk Notes, and a ton of others). Well, it turns out there’s also an absolutely unbelievable DAW for iDevices: NanoStudio. And by unbelievable, I mean a full-blown music studio sporting:
- A powerful drum machine that supports 2 tracks and 4 buses, with a ton of options for pad configuration.
- 4 full synthesizers with 10 different effects available (and 128 stock presets), X-Y pad controls, a pitch wheel, and a patch panel for tying them all together.
- A complete multitrack sequencer.
- A mixer for adjusting the levels on all these lovely things.
- Support for resampling output, which you can then tie back to the synth or drum machine.
- Probably tons of other stuff.
And because it’s all done via a simple touch-based interface, the workflow is dead simple and incredibly natural. And being portable, it means you can compose wherever and whenever you feel like it.
Suddenly I feel unleashed! Creating music on this thing is unbelievably easy… instead of my clumsy hands limiting my creativity, the only thing stopping me is my brain and my need for sleep (and, I kid you not, killing time with this is way too easy… like, hours disappearing without my noticing).
So if you’re at all interested in music composition, check NanoStudio out. At $15 it’s an absolute steal. And going forward, the author has plenty of enhancements in the hopper, not to mention a full iPad version in the works (quite honestly, this might be the killer app for me that triggers my investment in an iPad).
When the whole idea of web radio started floating around, it seemed like a remarkably brilliant idea. The web had already made the printed word accessible to the masses, giving anyone the ability to make their works avilable to the world. The idea of extending this paradigm to music, and perhaps even video, seemed romantic and outlandish, science fiction made real.
And then came the blog.
Oddly, the blog has become the epitome of everything I love and hate about the Internet. On the one hand, it’s a wonderful paradigm for personal communication, making it simple and easy for anyone to make their written works available to the world. On the other hand, the blog made us realize something: most people have little interesting to say, and/or they lack the basic writing skills necessary to say it. The end result is that, despite immense potential, the blog has, for the most part, turned into merely a simple way for friends to communicate amongst each other.
By the way, in case you were wondering, everything I just said is true of this little place. But I digress…
So after seeing how the blog has evolved, I was quite skeptical of web radio. After all, if blog content is so uninspiring, why would putting radio in the hands of the masses be any different? Well, for the most part, I don’t think it is any different. However, there are some real gems out there, and one of them, which I find myself listening to more or less constantly right now, is SomaFM. SomaFM is one of the oldest, most popular web radio stations out there, as of this writing offering 11 different channels covering a variety of different genres, my personal favorite being Indie Pop Rocks.
What I love about Soma is that it’s clearly run by people who love music, and more, importantly, have good taste. As a result, I end up hearing from bands that I would never hear otherwise, without having to wade through the long tail that is the indie music scene. It’s also a nice break if you happen to be sick of the music you already own.
Related to this, I also installed MythStream on my MythTV frontend, which is a nice module for playing back streaming video and audio within the context of MythTV. The result? I can listen to SomaFM from the comfort of my own livingroom at the touch of a few buttons.
Of course, just as I start listening to Soma, I discover that the US copyright board, in their infinite wisdom, has cranked the licensing fees for web broadcasters such that Soma will need to raise upwards of 1 million dollars in order to stay in operation. Thanks a lot, assholes.
So, in a fit of excessive boredom with my existing collection of music, I decided to start expanding my musical horizons. Fortunately, the wonders of the Internet make it incredibly easy to explore and discover new music and musical artists. Particularly, the Rolling Stone List 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and Wikipedia, combined with some filesharing software, has given me the opportunity to listen to a whole bunch of new stuff.
See, it all started with the Nirvana, MTV Unplugged album. In it, Kurt Cobain makes reference to a man by the name of Leadbelly. Curious, as I’d never heard of this fellow, I decided to look into it, discovering that he was a proto-Blues musician born just before the turn of the century (the 20th, that is). Surprised that Mr. Cobain would be familiar with such an artist, I simply had to find some samples of his music, and managed to track down a “Best Of” album. It’s very cool stuff, and his work has influenced (and been covered by) many people.
So that’s how it all started. My next step, I figured, was to track down a list of influential albums, and so I came across the Rolling Stone list. Obviously, it’s a list of their own opinions, but it did provide some good suggestions for stuff to check out, so I started with the weirdest thing I could find: Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.
Now, before anyone considers exploring Beefheart, I gotta tell ya… this is, hands down, one of the weirdest albums I have ever encountered. Filled with a bizarre fusion of free jazz, blues, and other styles, it initially comes off as sounding like so much noise played on raw guitars, drums, and other jazz instruments, combined with non-sensical lyrics voiced by a very strange “singer”. The result is something that is, frankly, way way out there, and I haven’t yet decided what I think of it… but it is interesting.
Next, I decided to give Bob Dylan a shot. I’ve derided the guy for his “singing” voice on more than one occasion (and I stand by my derision!), but I figured there must be something that causes people to identify with him. So I decided to grab one of his most heralded albums, Highway 61 Revisited. The first track opens up with an interesting mix of rock, country, and folk, with some very beautiful arrangements, but as I expected, it isn’t until you listen to the lyrics that you realize why Dylan is considered so brilliant. But he really can’t sing.
After that, I thought, a little Tom Waits would fit the bill. After all, I was already exploring blues, folk, and jazz, and the bizarreness of Tom Waits sort of appealed to me. So I decided to check out Swordfishtrombones, which represents his first exploration into more experimental blues. Is it kinda strange? Absolutely. Anywhere near as weird as Captain Beefheart? Absolutely not. And, again, brilliant songwriting, combined with a deep, gravelly voice and some haunting music. I like it!
Lastly, I found myself on Wikipedia, following this path:
Olatunji is considered the progenitor of “World Music” as a genre, having recorded the smash hit “Drums of Passion”, a collection of African percussive music. Ultimately, he released a few other albums, and I decided to sample one in particular: “Drums of Passion: The Invocation”. This is a collection of Yoruban spiritual music, comprised of chanting and fantastic drumming involving complex polyrhythms. Really wonderful stuff.
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