Friday, September 28, 2012

I've Got You Covered


     Music offers the unique ability to replicate another person's work and not have it be considered illegal or immoral. With the proper permissions, a musician can cover another band or artist's work. There are right and wrong ways to do this, as I'll try to explain briefly:
     The wrong way is to follow identically what a previous artist has already produced. Commonly, this includes most amateur pop/rock guitarists or vocalists- that is, many of the people who play only well-known and pre-established works. I've tried jamming with such people and, while they may sometimes provide good alternatives to the original in a cover band, they (let me express that I'm talking generally) cannot follow a jam session. This musicality leads to bad covering. Simply, it is being able to do nothing other than look up tabs and replicate.
     So let me explain the good cover bands/artists/pieces, so as not to simply sound arrogant and biased. To cover a piece well, you should dissect said piece. You should take it apart, identify all moving parts, and put it back together. Given this, you shouldn't put the music back together the same way you took it apart: you should piece each part together slightly different than how you originally found it. To cover isn't to copy. To cover is to take an already established piece of music and make it your own (but with obvious credit, where credit is due).
     My point overall, is that it takes far more musicality to cover correctly than it does to simply duplicate someone else's work. It's hard work, and it's so for a reason- because when you finish, the result is unique and amazing.
     I've personally worked on a few covers. That said, I never finished a project, for lots of reasons, but I don't mind- the process is fun. In my case, I generally take a unique piece from something, say Doctor Who or The Legend of Zelda, and replace certain leads (vocals, flute, etc) with a saxophone (what I play). After this, I play around with rhythms and dynamics. The product turns out delightfully different.
     Others have done things drastically different: I heard a metal song be turned into old school blues, and one of my favorite artists took a classical piece and flipped it into smooth jazz.
     Covering is an art- fitting, that it thrives in music. It is no place for narrow mindedness. I don't mean this to sound mean, rather to get people to understand that there's more to musical covers.
     Let the below works be an example (mp3/4 examples):

Monday, September 24, 2012

Big Gigantic

There's More than One Way


Use a Saxophone

     Today I'd like to feature Big Gigantic, a livetronica musical duet featuring a saxophone. While there's a lot of electronic DJ'ing, there isn't a whole lot of groups out there live-jamming it out with a saxophone, drums and DJ electronics. While I generally don't mind electrica type music, I still prefer musical groups capable of live performances: on this point, Big Gigantic wins me over on the one fact. However, the additional fact that they feature live drums and even a live saxophone intrigues me greatly.
     I was told about the group by a peer of mine from my class on campus. If I wasn't already into some pretty harsh stuff, I wouldn't have seriously looked into it, but since I have a lot of free time after said class, I gave it a look.
     And I'm glad I did.
Big Gigantic doesn't require a lot of explanation- you should simply follow the link below and hit "play" on their page, and listen. What makes them so great is, simply, that they're a lot of fun to listen to! It's high energy because they perform much like a live jam session you might see from big name jazz artists, while using the DJ modernization.
     I haven't much more to say on it, other than you should listen to some of the stuff. Sure, it's not for everyone, but you should at least try. It's a good example of thinking outside of the box, in terms of music making.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Foley Artistry

Picking Up Sounds

     I've written, before, about music technology, which touches on elements of both music and sound in different types of media. While I almost exclusively talk about music, for obvious reasons, there is another topic that has to do with music tech I'd like to write a bit about.
     Foley artists are those who create, or recreate, sounds for use in film. Foley is, of course, the sound effects used in the art. If you take a music tech course either in high school or college, you'll likely learn about the history of foley artistry. I won't go into too much detail now (as you should research on your own), but I will say that foley artists thrived in the 1930's. Anytime, now, that you look up a sound for a film you might be doing, from a YouTube video just for kicks, to a final for a film class in college, you've likely used some amount of foley that exists already on the Internet. While the Internet today gives us seemingly endless amounts of usable sound effects, it pays to look back in time and see that things weren't always so easy. Back in the early twentieth century, foley artists had to create all-new sounds themselves- from scratch. Some of the most recognisable sounds, those which first appeared in Star Wars, for example, were created by doing such things as plucking a tightly, vertically pulled slinky (this example gave us some of the laser blast sounds). From The Jazz Singer to the movie advancements of today, foley continues to be an important part of film making.
     But is it as popular now as it was then?
While there may have been a gap between the mid previous century and today, I feel strongly that there is an uprising of amateur foley artists. While pro foley artists have always been around simply due to their necessity in film making, the art of foley has become less known- an unfortunate fact, given that the art is most enjoyable.
     If you have even a decent recording mic and some software to manipulate audio files, you can try collecting and creating some of your own foley. If you're anything like me, you've been out in the world, and have heard a sound and wished you had been able to record it. It doesn't matter if you use them for anything, maybe not right away, but they're good to have and especially fun to create.
     In my case, I'd love to get recording some foley for my friends' videos that they create periodically. Like adding music to film, the right foley goes a long way to deepening the media. Most of what you watch on TV, be it a show or a film, has added foley. An example could be that, while shooting, everything was done perfect and went to final cut, however it was decided that a certain door opening wasn't loud enough. This is where foley recording might kick in.
     Probably the best part about recording foley is that you can be as creative as you want. It's an art for this reason. If you need to get the recording of a door opening, you don't have to record doors. You can find something else that has nothing to do with doors, yet produces the desired sound.
     I've only scratched the surface on foley artistry, especially for those who have never previously heard of it. I didn't go into details for two reasons: so that I wouldn't drag on and become a history professor, and that you might go research what it means to be a foley artist. Even if you don't look into the rich history, you can at least do some research into how you can get recording your own sounds today.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Have More One-On-One's

The Double Embouchure

     I played in (at least) concert band for four years of middle school, four years of high school, and a year of community band- that's nine years. I'm actually working on my tenth, making it my first decade of concert band. Anyway, for seven of those years on the alto saxophone, playing lots of music- and well -, I was apparently playing the instrument 'wrong'. On my last year of high school, senior year, just before my last concert ever in the public school district, I had a one-on-one with an instructor of mine. We were going over The Inferno, a piece in which I was doing an incredible solo/duet. As it happens, Mr. D, the instructor at hand, was one of the last people to do the very same solo/duet in the same school, so it was a good learning experience.
     It was after school hours and I wanted to work on some of the seriously finer details in my sound work. In concert band, and this song in particular, pitch is extremely important, especially when you're in a duet. By the end of the session, Mr. D realised something aloud: that I had a "double embouchure". He exclaimed this just as my other mentor, Mr. T (not from The A Team) came in.
     Anyhow, a conversation between the two teachers broke out, including stuff like "he always had such a great sound, who knew?", and "you had him for four years and you never saw it" - "well, he must have hid it well". However, the question that came into my mind as I sat there being talked about right to my face might be the one you're thinking right now- what is a double embouchure?
     Well, if we think about what an embouchure is, it makes a bit of sense. An embouchure is what you do with your mouth to produce the desired sound from a wind instrument, be it a woodwind or a brasswind. On the saxophone, you place your upper teeth directly on the mouthpiece, as you put your lower lip between your likewise teeth and the reed (so as not to bite directly on the reed). This is the dirt basics of a saxophone embouchure. Now what I did was the same thing, but instead of my upper set of teeth on the mouthpiece itself, I copies the lower set and had my upper lip between my teeth and mouthpiece, making it a double embouchure.
    Imagine being me: by this time a confident player- a player with such a near perfect sound, and then learning you've been "doing it wrong" your whole life thus far. I was worried. My final "good-bye" concert was in about a week. What could I do?
     As it turns out, there's nothing wrong with having a double embouchure. You can play just fine with one. However, I did end up switching- I practiced hours with a single embouchure and finally got used to it, and now, having played the 'correct' way for over two years, I can't even imagine how I got by with the double. If you play a woodwind with a mouthpiece, and have the start of two holes on the top of your mouthpiece where your teeth go, you know what I mean: that would be my lip.
     Ultimately, it payed for me to switch. Now I can play altissimo, and hit some funky multiphonics and semitones. There are a lot of fine details I can put into my playing that I probably wouldn't be able to with a double embouchure. So to you I give this advice: Have more one-on-one's with your instructors, because you might just catch something big that you never knew before.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Future Saxophone

The Role of the Saxophone

in Space Exploration

     The past few months have restocked the minds of many people on this planet with excitement over space exploration and what the future holds for us in the vast universe. It makes sense- what, with the Mars Rover, and the International Space Station experiments. In the U.S.A, if you're like me, you wish we- as a nation -had money to spend once again on going up to space regularly, because the fact is that our future as a race is out there.
     Fast forward a couple hundred years and, if we haven't caused our own extinction, we'll likely be 'among the stars'. We'll have put some of those rapid space travel theories to the test and founded colonies far, far off in our galaxy. We, as a species, will exist happily and (finally) have our practical jet-packs. Life or death, though, the important factor in this scenario is this: that saxophones still exist, and closely to how they do today. Mankind can discover some amazing things, but most importantly, we need zero gravity jazz clubs- where the musicians will literally be bouncing off the walls.
     But I digress- I'm getting far ahead of myself.
     First we have to get that far. We need to explore, and so far that means being in a ship for a very long time.
Stargate's "Asgard" Alien
Playing a Saxophone

     Sci-Fi, of which I am an avid fan, suggests things such as cryostasis, by which one is put to sleep, or 'frozen', for the duration of the trip.
     However, I find that to be pretty dull and impractical, for many reasons I won't go into in this music blog. But I do think that filling a ship with music for a million year journey is a great idea. By the time we reach that far off star, a ship would land containing hundreds off (possibly a bit inbred) musicians- and well learned ones at that. The first building to be set up- a jazz club or overall music hall. After that, sure, all of the facilities and homes. But first, a club in which everyone could jam, with their million year old saxophones.
    Unless, of course, they can make new saxophones using some sort of futuristic technology, in which case I hope that they are made with the same quality as they are today. However, given that the now vintage Selmer Mark VI is still considered the greatest saxophone of all time and they don't even make it anymore, I don't have much hope for the future. On the other hand, though, there could be an advancement that makes saxophones more cheap to make, but with the sound quality of some of the old horns- and, yes, new horns -available today.

Cantina Band from Star Wars
     Space age saxophones, people, that's why the world needs to come together and get out of the 'house', or so to speak. We need to explore new planets, and boldly play our saxophones where no one has played before.
                                                      Intergalactic jam session? Play it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sounds Around Town

Mass Busking

     In the town I live in, there's a biannual musical event which takes place to promote business. Bands, or other musical groups, register to play in several of the best spots in town- the square, large parking lots, and so on -while some more minor buskers, such as myself, take the opportunity to nomadically wander the area, playing music in several different smaller spots. The day is called Sounds Around Town and is a great opportunity for musicians to get out and play publicly.
     The event just took place yesterday, and went pretty well considering it was during the rain date, which lands on a Sunday afternoon. There was some good local talent including a few bands from the nearby high school. I played a duet in various places with my brother: me on the soprano saxophone and my brother on the tenor. We saw some of the bands and played some blues funk during the breaks.
     Sounds Around Town is a good example of a town hosted event which you can use to further your skills with public playing. As I mention in my bio, I have a stage fright issue. This event, if you're like me, is perfect to help remedy the problem. It's a venue which is good for playing for small to medium sized audiences without feeling uncomfortable. In fact, during the event I felt at home playing- I was in my element. We actually tried to jam with a drummer friend of ours, but the area was booked for another group, which was unfortunate because that's even better practice for playing in front of an audience- playing with new people.
     Busking is a good way to fine tune your public playing. While the United States socially accepts busking a bit less than many European countries such as Belgium or France, there are still  many opportunities to play. I live in the shadow of New York City, so as someone who frequents the place, I can say that there are a lot of buskers. In Central Park there are a lot, many of them being saxophonists.
     However, you don't need to be in a major city to play out on the street. While you don't want to get in the way of business, you should still try and get out to play. Events such as Sounds Around Town are good, but not every town has it. You can always play in public parks or the such. You'll often see people doing so, especially acoustic guitarists. You can get the permission of a certain business and play near there, where there are passers by (just be respectful).
     Playing in a public setting like these spots is a good form of practice. It helps with any stage fright problems you might have, and is a good way to share your love of music. Perhaps try starting by going to a park and inviting several friends of yours to join. The most important thing is that you have fun doing it so that those who listen also do. Music is, after all, meant to be shared.

Friday, September 7, 2012

All of My Favorite Things

Three of the Best

     Today I'm simply writing about three of my particularly favorite instruments, just 'cause. There is some insight in what follows, of course, but that's for you to take from it. People who don't play an instrument have a favorite instrument, even if they don't really think about it, but people who play an instrument also have a favorite- which may not be just the one that they play. I am no exception to this. In my case, I have three favorite instruments. I'll go into a little about what each one is and why they are my favorite (not in any order).
A Cello
     Firstly to mention, there is one instrument that, hands down, is one of my favorite instruments. I feel that any person must appreciate the simplicity and genesis of the string instruments. They are what the master classic arrangements are comprised of, and have been instrumental in musical development going back hundreds of years. They have constructed what it is to have music- what music is. However, to choose one of all the strings, well that isn't as hard for me as you might think. The first instrument I want to bring up is the cello. While I do have a love affair with the violin, the cello hits me deep. Probably the first time a cello really 'spoke' to me was when I heard some old Gothic arrangements where the instrument is truly master. I don't even remember what pieces they were that I heard, but the deep timbre of the cello stuck with me. The instrument is beautiful, and those who play it to potential are also beautiful. It defines what it means to posses musicianship. The way it speaks, to the way the vibrato sings, the cello is and always will be one of my favorite musical instruments, even if I was never really good at playing it.
A Saxophone

     Strings are classically beautiful instruments, but the next instrument is another kind of classic and is probably not surprising to anybody. The saxophone is just as much one of my favorite instruments as the cello. The king of jazz, the saxophone has been used by some of the most giant individuals, in terms of raw talent, to construct pure masterpieces in the world of jazz. Even today, we have new and aspiring pros who rise up to produce great jazz for everybody's listening pleasure. I myself play jazz, mostly focusing on bluesy smooth jazz and a lot of improvisation. Anybody who plays saxophone passionately has to at least try some type of jazz, as it's in the nature of the instrument. That said, there is another function of the saxophone that makes it my favorite instrument. The saxophone's ability to play in concert- to produce a classical sound -this makes it a truly wonderful instrument. With just the right control, the right horn, and a masterful sense of pitch, the saxophone may be transformed into a gentle wind, able to produce seductive solos, mimicking the ever classic oboe. The versatility of the saxophone, in all of its forms, makes it, in my opinion, one of the greatest instruments ever devised.
An Oboe

     And yet another wind that deserves to be called the greatest is the before mentioned oboe. I have actually played the oboe, admittedly not too well or for too long, but it was an extremely enjoyable double reeded woodwind to learn (as I hope to continue in the future). The oboe is like a mix between the cello and the saxophone, a string and a wind, in that it has the flawless classicallity (a new word of mine) of the cello and the diversity and almost personality of the saxophone. As a great many sax solos in concert band are transposed from the oboe solo part (when there isn't an oboist), you can imagine just how incredible the parts sound when played by a competent oboist. It is used in concert, in symphony, in movie and show scores, and is in huge demand, as many are needed, but few play. Anyone who does play, well, I love them. Automatically, I love them. They do something which I find simply wholesome. Oh, and the snake charmer's song sounds cool on the oboe.
     While those are my top three favorite instruments, I'll be honest: I love all instruments, as they all enable us to produce music- which is a pretty wonderful thing, right? And yes, that includes the human voice, all except mine, of course.

Monday, September 3, 2012

In Tune with the Old Ways

Vintage Saxophones

     I'm sure at one point or another anyone who has heard of a saxophone has heard about vintage saxophones, at least a little bit. These are simply old saxophones- those that have made it through the test of time. For vintage saxophones, there are a few large periods of time that are most notable: the late 1800's, the 1920's, 1930-40's and 1950-60's. If you do your research, you'll see a clear path through time, where changes were made constantly between the 1800's and today.
     In today's modern age we have some pretty responsive saxophones due to advanced metals used in springs, and clear sounding tone thanks to the brass work done in the body. Today's top saxophones are made with blue steel springs enabling faster key work, as well as a ridged two-part brass body for durability and decreased air resistance. Yamaha and Selmer brands in particular are the front runners for today's modern sax.
     However, the old saxophones that are still able to be played have a rather unique sound to them. They're often described as darker, or warmer sounding. This sound is popular among jazz artists- some of whom actually have vintage horns which they got themselves when the horn premiered. They also have that vintage 'look' to them: they're worn and beat up simply from being 'alive' for so long. You might feel all of the experience that the saxophone has as you play it.
     The combined uniqueness of the sound and appearance of these vintage saxophones makes them more and more desirable to buyers today. There are a number of vendors who sell such horns, including some on the Internet. If you want a good place on the Internet to buy a vintage saxophone, go to Junk Dude- a family business that finds, restores and sells old saxophones. Some of them aren't in full working condition, so there's the option to fix them up yourself, if that's what you like. At the very least, the site is a great place to start your search for a vintage saxophone.

Selmer Mark VI

     While, for me, older is better, simply because I love the history that comes with a super old horn, there is a vintage horn that has been referred to by many as the "greatest saxophone ever made" yet is on the newer side of vintage. This is the Selmer Mark VI. A horn of the 60's, it plays beautifully. Many of the greats play this horn, such as one of my favorites: Eric Marienthal. The horn isn't produced anymore (which I don't understand), but you can still buy it as a vintage in places like the before mentioned website. Like any professional saxophone, though, it costs quite a lot to buy, so don't go thinking you can pick it up that easily.
P.Mauriat PMXA-67R
    With the old and the new, there are a lot of saxophone options: it makes one wish for a cross between the two. Well, as it happens, there is a modern-vintage hybrid, and it's called the P.Mauriat PMXA-67R. I've recently come across this horn, as it's a rather upstart piece. The price is fair and the dark lacquered version looks incredible. The horn, besides looking dark, sounds dark- it has the vintage quality of sound that many love, but has the playability and response of a modern pro horn. It isn't one of the major brands selling today (Yamaha, Selmer, Yanigisawa and so on), but this fact simply makes it more unique. This horn is usually shy of three thousand dollars, making it one grand less expensive than the YAS-82z, and two grand cheaper than the upper Selmer Paris Series. The 67R is beautiful to look at and to listen to- just look at the pearls! It's a wonderful horn, and I plan on adding it to my collection soon. It is simply a modern classic.