Friday, December 14, 2012

Why Dubstep is Music

Addressing the Naysayers

     I've been playing the saxophone for over a decade. I'm, in fact, classically trained, with a current focus on jam-band style jazz playing. My point is that I am very much a musician, with a fair amount of natural talent and an extremely good ear.
     So you can take it seriously from me when I tell you that dubstep is a form of music. Some of you will read this and say "well, of course it is", but others will say "it is definitely NOT music". Both of these are opinions, and are fair to hold. However, it is when an opinion is so outrageously magnified and externalized that things get 'hairy'. I just mean that it is one thing to have an opinion, and it is a far different thing to force that opinion on others. It is for this reason that I will give you some of my opinions and some musical facts in the paragraphs to follow.
     First off, I'll briefly talk about what kinds of music I listen to. You could guess correctly that I listen to jazz. That's a given. I often tell musicians that it is important towards improvement that a musician listen to other musicians in the similar field/genre. Besides jazz, I listen to classic rock and modern rock: it's what I grew up on. What surprises most people is that I listen to, and very much enjoy, metal, some electronica, and dubstep. I personally don't like most pop music out today, but that's my opinion. Now here's why I like dubstep and some of the other unconventional genre:
     To me, these styles represent a culture. And it's not just me- dubstep actually originated recently in England in the lower-class youth currently struggling in that area of the world. The country isn't doing very well, with a double recession and a divide between the youth and the adults of the people. This is a common story in more countries other than just England.
     Like any new form of music, the culture and the music itself are scrutinized by the pre-established norms. Look at jazz in 1910-1920's Harlem, New York. Whites actually turned against the music violently  because the style was created by Black culture. Now, however, jazz is a greatly popular form of music in the entire world.
     Dubstep isn't generally well received. While people aren't generally killing each other over it, the music is being belittled as "not at all music", simply because it isn't in accordance to the norm. In fact, the genre is supposed to challenge societal norms. It's a style that is widely used by Occupy movements around the world as well as youth protests in an attempt to break from the conventional.
     I could go on about social justice and the meaning of life all day, but instead I want to now tell you, musically, why dubstep is music and why I enjoy it. Dubstep is like hip-hop and hip-hop culture. By this I mean that it is heavily centered on rhythm and beats. Generally, dubstep is like an ensemble of mostly, if not only, rhythm instruments, electric instruments, that collaborate to form, let's say, a really high tech drum circle. But that's not all, like how jazz has instrumental solos, dubstep has a sort of "bass-drop" solo. The wobble bass effect so synonymous with dubstep is used as a focal bridge. 
     With that sad attempt to describe dubstep (for which I'll likely get lots of hate mail), I'll tell you why I like it. Simply, the scope of frequencies and rhythms sounds really good. My sensitive musician's ear picks up on all of those detailed lines of wobble and dirty bass effects, as well as the sub harmonies and melodies. It's not only a form of music, but a complex form of music. 
     Dubstep isn't for everyone, and I definitely get that. Nobody has to like a form of music, but they do have to let others enjoy what they will. It isn't anyone's place to tell another person how to listen to music, or what music to listen to. 
     By this time, you may still completely disagree with me, which is fine. I'll include at least one link to a dubstep song I like, take it or leave it, but I'd like to encourage you to keep an open mind. The only thing, through all of this that I insist, in fact I am telling you, is that dubstep is music. To pose my own counter argument  consider this: the amount of musical work that goes into forming a dubstep single as opposed to the work that goes into a standard pop single, with auto tuning taking out most of that work, is it fair to single out one genre over another? 
     Ultimately, listen to whatever you want: that's the beauty of music- freedom. Enjoy it all. 
This song is pretty intense. A pretty good example of raw dubstep.
This official track-video has over 114 million views.

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Ocarina of Time

A New Sound

     I just received the ocarina I ordered last week. I got a 'replica' of the ocarina featured in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I have to say- I'm quite satisfied! 
     I've played recorders and penny whistles, which are fun and very similar to the concept behind the ocarina. The big difference between, say, penny whistles and ocarinas is that the whistles are straight in shape, with linear hole styling, while ocarinas are wide and have multiple holes of different sizes on the top and bottom of the instrument. On top of this, the ocarina has a large chamber, giving the sound it produces a deeper warmth than a penny whistle or recorder.
     I got a cheap version, relatively anyhow, and wasn't expecting too much from it. However, I'm quite pleased with the performance of the piece. It plays very well and sounds much like the one in the video game from where it is themed. 
     In fact, I've been learning many of the songs made popular by The Ocarina of Time. It not only makes for a good basis for learning the instrument, but is also very fun to do.
     Ten years of saxophone experience has made wind instruments such as the ocarina very easy for me to learn, but the instrument is relatively easy for anybody to learn. I'd say that it's harder than a recorder, but only due to the variances in hole patterns. Such wind instruments which are easy enough to learn are always a joy to do so. They offer new sounds and recording potential. Ultimately, though, they're just a lot of fun to learn.
     I recommend learning to play an ocarina wholeheartedly. Mine is a twelve hole model, but they make nine  hole or fewer, and many more. Pick one up simply by looking around on the internet, or a music shop near you.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Cold!

Taking Indoor Practice for Granted

     I'm in a rather unique situation, where I can give you some advice that might come in handy. I like to think I'm a pretty good musician, particularly with the alto saxophone. I wasn't always. It took me a long time and a lot of practicing to get as competent as I am now. I practiced at school a lot, but I also practiced a fair amount at home. 
     Recently, I've downsized, into a sort of apartment where, for obvious reasons, I can't practice my saxophone. Not that my sound and the music I make is bad or anything, it's just loud and I practice a lot
     So, if I can't play in my residence, what can I do? Well, the answer lay outside my walls- it was time to play outside! This was a good idea, at the time, and perhaps the only thing I could do. In fact it is the only thing I can do, even on campus at my college, there are no practice rooms, so it's outside for me. When I first decided to practice this way, it was late summer, and there was nothing wrong with this plan. I have a couple nice secluded parking lots, the lower field of the high school I live right next to, and similar locations nearby. However, now that it's winter, it's a bit harder.
     I obviously don't go out while it's snowing. While my favorite location is in a covered dugout, I still won't risk getting my saxophone pads wet, as I can't afford to replace them at this time. Rain is, of course, also out of the question, but if there are clear skies, even if it's bitter cold, I'm out there practicing, and the only reason I have been surviving it is for one big reason: gloves.
     I got lucky. On my recent vacation to farm country in Pennsylvania  I got a cheap pair of leather gloves that fit nicely. When I got back and started practicing again, I found that I could wear them while I played- they were warm, yet not overly chunky as to get in the way of my key work. In fact, I've gotten quite adept at playing with my gloves on.
     As for the rest of me, while a coat and warm clothes help, a few minutes of playing the saxophone warms you up. All the vibrations and sound coming from the horn warms both horn and player up nicely. 
     All of these things fell together, and I've found that I can practice outside in most any weather (if I wanted  to, I could bring an umbrella and make it to the dugout in rain or snow). So even though I cannot play in my place, I can still practice most anytime I need or want to.
     In fact, I'd say it's a good way to practice my 'outdoor voice' for any future live jam venues in my town or elsewhere. You never know what you'll learn, in dire situations.