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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My album of the year

Well, 2009 has been another interesting year for prog and progmetal. I looked back at my top 10 list of 2008 and there were only 2 or 3 albums that had any lasting appeal for me. So I might even call 2009 a resurgence of sorts for me but it's possibly all relative and at the end of 2010 I'll feel the same way about 2010 that I do right now about 2009.

There has been more than a few CDs that could easily be contenders for the top spot on my list, but I'm always keyed to a newcomer that seemingly comes out of nowhere and knocks my socks off. This year I chose the Israeli band Edgend's album, A New Identity. Hats off to Lance/Nightmare Records for finding and releasing this album.

The scope of this album is what grabbed me from the start. It's epic and magnificent in breadth. References to Symphony X and Adagio are obvious here. The bands treads a delicate balance into the neoclassical genre that is epic without being too cheesy, instrumental without being too much shred, and symphonic while keeping it heavy but while also avoiding the typical galloping drum pitfall of power metal. There are so few bands who can find the right balance, and Edgend does it perfectly. Symphony X raised the bar on the neoclassical genre but it took them 5 albums to do it, and Edgend comes close to matching this mastery right off the bat on their debut!

There's great talent at work here on the instruments, most notably in the keyboard and guitar work. The singer sounds to me like a close match for Adagio's old singer Readman. Highlights on the album are Revelation and A Chosen Truth which are both very catchy. Also Voices/Out of The Equation (A New Identity) make an excellent ending to the album and both songs flow together as a single song. My only nit with this album is on the production side. The guitar tone lacks clarity, especially during the guitar solos. The production issues are serious though. I'm just a bit of a stickler when it comes to guitar tone and I thought it could have been done better but it doesn't decrease my enjoyment of the album. The production of the album itself is quite clear with a good balance of keyboards within the music.

Considering this is the debut CD from the band, I hope Edgend have many more great albums in their future and will eventually release a masterpiece like Symphony X's 'V'. As a new avid fan of the band, I can't wait to hear what they do next.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A couple of stocking stuffers for the guitarist on your list.

There are a couple of guitar-oriented albums that I come back to time and again which I would consider essential for any guitarist's collection. There are guitarists who are well-rounded with their own unique styles and exhibit total mastery of their instruments. These aren't "shred" albums, but they are the result of people who have studied their craft and practiced endlessly and the results are timeless and always keep my attention:

Joel Hoekstra - Undefined and The Moon Is Falling: Joel assembled a great cast for these albums, with Virgil Donati on drums and and bass by Ric Fierabracci. Joel covers a wide range of styles throughout both albums with a reserved flair. The songs are well crafted and Joel lets it rip unabashadly at times. Other times he has a sense of humor. I'd have a hard time choosing between these two CDs. Undefined is a little "lighter" and more diverse, while The Moon Is Falling is a bit more thematic and stylized.

Brett Garsed - Big Sky: Brett has played with more artists and bands than I care to count, but he has only put out one solo album. It's interesting that this album also has Ric Fierabracci on bass. Every note on the album seems well thought out and perfectly placed. "Brothers" in my opinion is one of the best songs written recently for guitar. There's a emphasis on dissonance and resolution that shows how good songs are crafted. Brett is the guitarist's guitarist.

Cosmosquad-Squadrophenia: Jeff Kollman plays guitar and he shows on this CD that he's one of the finest guitarists on the planet today. While Brett Garsed and Joel Hoekstra are smooth and refined, Kollman is more gritty and biting and makes me think at times he is some strange homunculus of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I love Kollman's guitar tone on this CD. Add Shane Gaalaas on drums and Barry Sparks on bass and you have the perfect power trio.

Tak Matsumoto-Hana: Most people outside of Japan have never heard of him, but the truth is he has over 10 solo albums and he plays in the band B'z which a very popular band there (according to wiki they have sold over 78 million records in Japan). I have not listened to all of his solo CDs, but I love Hana and heard from a colleague who has heard them all that Hana is his best solo CD. What's great about this album is it's so different. There are lots of Eastern-sounding melidies combined with a more traditional Western-sounding solo album. Tak is not one to play flashy on this CD. What you get is a beautifully written set of songs. There's also a really great rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" on the album.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interview with JT Bruce

JT Bruce is a composer and guitarist from southern California who has released 3 albums of instrumental music. His music can best be described as cinematic. Sometimes prog metal with crunching guitars, sometimes symphonic with spaced out synths, always painting an image in sound. These can be downloaded from his site for free, or you can order a cd from him (totally worth it for the artwork). In addition to music, JT is a visual artist, film maker, and animator. You can download music, see some of his art and watch some film clips at his site http://www.subjectruin.net/. Please do donate if you like what you see and hear.


Sometime after Universica, his newest album, was released I asked if he would be interested in doing an interview with me. He was kind enough to say yes and now that the physical cds for Universica are ready to go, I'm ready to post the interview.


He took the time to expound quite a bit. I think his answers are very insightful and show a great sense of humor. He's part of the young, new generation making prog music for the sake of the art, and one who pretty much entered the business knowing that file sharing and free music would be the new norm. He's got some great thoughts about the plusses and minuses of free music on the internet, getting on with your creativity, and he gives the best advice ever about what to do if someone knocks you down.


______________________________________________________________________________







1. What or who got you started in writing and recording your music?


I never really liked popular music growing up. As a kid, I had very confused tastes and bought a couple cassette tapes to be cool, but I never really enjoyed the music for what it was. It took me until 7th or 8th grade to find an interest in old heavy metal and punk, which in turn inspired me to learn guitar. After picking up an instrument, it didn't take long for me to realize how formulaic and homogenous most mainstream music is. This really fueled my desire to make something different and new. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

The future you were waiting for has already happened (Part 1)

When I joined Strange Land 11 years ago, the music industry still worked the way it had, at least during the history of rock music. Ever since I had picked up the guitar the dream was to write and record some songs, build a fan base, get discovered, signed, rich, and famous. Pretty early on I figured out the rich and famous part was unlikely, and that is was more important (for me anyway) to be true to my artistic vision. I'm sure I could have done something more commercial with the intent to make money but I never would have been happy.

In 1999 we released our first 4 song ep. I found this new thing called mp3.com and uploaded music to it. We did pretty well, with our song Foundation reaching number 4 in their prog chart. Now, imagine how long ago that was. I was using dial-up. If you could shell out for it and you didn't live out in the country (like I did) you could get a DSL. I was recording the band on my Powermac G3, recording to a whopping 10 gig external SCSI hard drive (Tech aside: My choice of backup back then was a SCSI DVD-RW drive that used cartidge-loaded dvds. I still have it, and the G3 - with a G4 chip - but I haven't powered them up in years). I didn't even have a real audio interface, I recorded into the computer via the stereo line in. If I remember right we recorded drums and bass at the same time. The drums were mixed at the board and tracked in mono. What was I thinking?! But it worked and it was a good start. Hell, I released my first acoustic album in 1999 on cd and tape.

Still, the 'make an album-build local fan base-play shows-get signed' model was still the norm. It was pretty much an all-or-nothing idea. You either broke big, even for a short while, or you languished in obscurity and faded away. MP3.com and other early online avenues were just a little extra, a new way for indie bands to reach people but not to break out big. All the mp3s were 128k bitrate, I can't recall if you could do any better. By the time we released Anomaly in 2001, CD Baby had been established and it was a great way for indie bands to sell cds. Napster was around 1999-2001 (before its shut down and subsequent resurrection) but I never saw the point in using my dial-up connection to download crappy sounding mp3s from really popular bands I didn't like. Whatever you think of the fallout from Napster and all the lawsuits, the period of the late 90's and early 00's marked the beginning of the end of the industry as I knew it. Cable internet and faster DSL use spread. Some indie musicians figured out the best ways to capitalize on this but as far as I can tell most of us were still thinking of the internet as an add-on to the old ways of doing business. The internet was like TV. Consumption was passive. There wasn't even much real advertising then. You just put your web site up and hoped people would find you. And they did. But that was about it. I think in 2001 we were only slightly more likely to get an email from a fan than a phone call or a letter.



The INDUSTRY (worthy of all caps here) was already jumping all over this, like they do with any new technology. (sarcasm) Like the good gatekeepers they are, they stepped into the hero role once again to defend helpless but creative bands, gullible but well-meaning consumers, and the thousands of people whose jobs were at stake from the record producer to the guy sweeping the studio floor (/sarcasm). First recordable cassettes would doom the industry. Then it was recordable cds. Then mp3s and file sharing. It never occurred to them to examine the way they were doing business. Were they releasing good music? No, they stumbled on Nirvana and then signed every other band in Seattle that wore flannel shirts. Somebody manufactured a hit with Brittany Spears so they went out and signed every young woman they could doll up like an All-American Lolita. Did they think that maybe $15 or more wasn't a good price for a cd? No. (Food for thought: a mass produced cd costs $2 or less to make. Most major label deals pay less than $1 to the artist after recouping costs. Where is the rest of this money going?). So they drag their heels, kick up a fuss, and blame everybody else for their perceived woes. The truth is, the music biz was still doing pretty good in the early 2000's. But, the music biz emperor had no clothes. Instead of trying to figure out how to use new technology to their advantage, they tried to kill it. And then came myspace. And iTunes. And Rhapsody. And bit torrents. And Facebook.

(to be continued)



Friday, December 11, 2009

Prog Muggin'

Just thought I would share this one...

A month ago my son asked if I could write a list of some of the bands I like.

Then yesterday I was presented with the mug shown in the picture. It is not a work of art, but considering who made it, I will definitely be using it.

For your notice, the text has been burned onto the mug, so it is wash resistant.


If I was drinking coffee, I suppose I would be drinking Progolatte from now on.



Sunday, December 6, 2009

The 5th Season - a diary, Day 2

Rememberance is a "soft skill", especially on such a weekend. I know that some things are in different order as they happened, but I can't bring the proper order up anymore. Anyhow, it was a great day!
Dutch readers who are proud about Dutch food, better do not read the part where I'm eating a burger. That may be misunderstood as an offense, although it is not meant to be one. Some people might have a laugh reading it.

Hello world...
...
hello room...
...??
...what room are you?
Ah...
... hello progpower!
It's cold in here... Ah, yes, the broken window...
I better get up slowly... well that works good, no headache it seems. Good. Ah, Dario found his bed last night. 10:30 am already, I bet I'm gonna miss the progpower breakfast. Bummer.
Hmm, shower. ... we don't have a washroom in here, there is a shower room at the other end of the corridor. Going down a hotels corridor in shirt and pants is a new experience. I turn on the shower and wait for hot water. And wait. And wait. Oh no! Cold shower! Yikes! In '07 we've had boiling water, that was ok, but cold??? That won't get my body started. Ok, after shower's done, I go back to our room with the same mess of a brain as before, and do the rest of my personal hygene there, as quietly as possible. I'm glad I took my little electric espresso maker with me. Though the Dutch coffe is way better than the German one, espresso is even better anyway.



I can't manage to control my body properly, I'm unconcentrated on everything, can't focus on things... Where and when did I find Gary and Simon? But luckily no headache. :D
We're walking around in the little "park" and check it out a bit, while Gary starts picking apples from a tree and eating them. We decide getting some food and a coke at the supermarket in Barloo for breakfast. Gary takes an apple with him, seems he's found a new love. In the supermarket I'm feeling misplaced. Us among so  many normal people that do normal things in life. Back at DeBerckt we find a nice place and start 'breakfast'. Breakfast and coke on the table, Gary adds his apple. Suddenly a bottle of Jack Daniels is there. This is the reason for getting the coke. Why not? That may help on my hangover, so I blend my coke with it. Staff seems to have an office behind that door there. A man comes along, looks sceptically at us and enters the door. He didn't say anything... thanks god. I get out in the courtyard again for a cigarette and walk around a bit, walking on clouds... A few proggers are hanging out, in a small circle. I notice that there are no "normal" people there. There used to be families making vacations in the last years, but not now. Seems like the castle is all ours. Hehe! A van is standing there, and on the drum cases inside there are A.C.T. labels. A band's bus. ...Wait... A.C.T.? Just a moment... they're not on the schedule. Strange. Anyway, I'm too lazy to think about it. Or better, I can't...
We decide that it's already time to wake up Dario and prepare for "the walk". Waking up Dario was easier than expected. He gets an espresso and Gary's beloved apple.
The walk to Baarlo is refreshing, and soon I'm touching ground again. We go the new way the other regulars showed us yesterday, through the park, where Gary starts picking up nuts from the ground and eating them. No wonder that he grew so big.


When bands are loosing it

I think most of us regularly go through the motions of eagerly awaiting a new release from one of your favorite bands, just to find it to be a rather moderate achievement or an outright disappointment. Sometimes we loose patience with a band and more or less give up on them, expecting nothing from them that would deserve our attention.

Why write about this topic? Don’t we just get over the disappointments and get on with it? There are after all plenty of other bands we can depend on to deliver what we need.

It is true that we turn to other sources, but if you are like me you never really get over the past. Once awed by the talent of “your band”, you tend to crave more of the same, and if you don’t get it, you wait, hoping for the day when they will take themselves together and bring back the “sound” of their former glory.

Reality check: Are the bands in question really getting worse in means of quality or did something happened to our perception of them?

Yes. Most bands are getting worse, either for real, or in relation to our expectations.
It is a known fact that great quality and innovation instills equally great expectations, expectations we tend to let grow regardless of how well a band keep churning out good quality music. We always expect or at least hope that “the next” album will give us as many, or even more, exciting moments as its predecessor. So, for a band to stay “on top of the game” they constantly need to outdo them selves. Maybe this seems unfair, but that is just how it works, music is above all entertainment, and if it doesn’t entertain its existence is moot.

So basically there are 2 ways a band can “loose it”:
1. The quality of their music it truly getting worse
2. Their talent has stagnated, enabling them to keep the level of quality, but produce nothing new that challenges or surprises the listener.

To back up my line of thought, lets look at some examples.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Music Without Borders - Interview: Farzad Golpayegani

Farzad Golpayegani is an Iranian born musician, composer and visual artist. His music seamlessly blends progressive metal and rock with the traditional sounds of the music of his home country. He is also a visual artist and graphic designer. He has released 3 cds so far and another is in progress. Due to the difficulty in getting his music to the wider world from Iran, all of his music is available for free on his website. Farzad has also just relocated to Istanbul, Turkey. Hopefully this will give him more to share his music with the world. He was kind enough to do this email interview with me just after his move. Please be sure to visit his website.



• Your music blends Iranian influences with western-style prog and metal. Was this natural for you to do?

It had been my idea since I started to compose my own songs. Personally I enjoy many different genres and I have tried to blend my favorite styles including Iranian traditional and prog metal to achieve my own style. I won’t say it hasn’t happened before but I’ve tried to give an Iranian taste and spirit to this type of metal music.




• What is the reception of your music in Iran like?

Unfortunately there is no space for musicians like me. Because metal music has been totally banned in Iran for years. I have had some concerts and releases in Iran but they were about 5 years ago. Even though my songs are instrumental and also have Iranian elements I still don’t have permission to release or perform them.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Blog Layout

If you are reading this you would have noticed that I have changed the layout template of the blog. The new design is easier to maintain and expand and also looks more clean. It features 3 columns (except at the top of the page), which means you don't have to scroll so much to see the links and other stuff in the sidebar.

Hope you like it.

If not, let me know in a comment to this article.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who do you think you are?

Progulus listener Zaii recently commented in the forum:

Does anyone else get bored of new Prog Bands saying things like "for fans of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Opeth"? It's always the same few massive Prog bands and most of the time they actually don't sound anything alike. It would be nice if they named a band they actually do sound like. I have become so disillusioned by people saying such things that when a band claims to sound like DT, yes and PT for example I immediately become very skeptical and assume they are a not particularly talented group who are just trying to draw in as many listeners as possible by claiming to sound like the biggest band they can think of. When was the last time someone said "sounds like Karmakanic" for example???
This got me thinking again about the difficulty of finding your own sound and also finding a way to tell people what you sound like. You want to be accurate, but you don't want to confuse people. Zaii also made reference to a band that's been spamming the Progulus tag board. Spamming will make people mad to begin with, but they also claim to sound like Dream Theater, Rush, and Genesis. They aren't even close. I think it's bad form to try to ride someone's coattails in a deceptive way. If you say you sound like Rush and you don't, I probably won't take the time to find out what you so sound like. I'll probably forget all about you.

Sometimes descriptions of bands are written by their label or promoter. In this case you'll probably hear an accurate comparison, but it will also be of the biggest bands. This is pure marketing, meant to catch the most ears. This isn't necessarily wrong either. I think you do need to speak your audience's language. Once after a Strange Land show one guy in another band (a well known guy in this area) said "Man, you guys have that Kansas thing down!" I know it was meant as a compliment, and I took it as such. But I also said to myself "Huh?!" I'm the only member of Strange Land that listens to a lot of Kansas, and they really are a generation before us anyway. But the guy who gave us the compliment was a little older and probably stopped listening to anything remotely prog in 1980. When people hear something unfamiliar the brain needs to find a place to put it. Sometimes the closest match isn't that close at all. Do we sound like Kansas? Well, more than we sound like Barry White. When I have to describe Strange Land to non-prog fans I'll say Queensryche, Rush, King's X, maybe Living Colour, maybe Dream Theater (if they're metal fans). Listeners of commercial hard rock radio will know some of those bands, and the comparison isn't inaccurate. If I start talking about Pain Of Salvation and Fates Warning I usually get blank stares.

Another problem in describing my band is whether or not to talk about influence vs. inspiration vs. emulation. We are influenced by Devin Townsend, Echolyn, Dead Soul Tribe, and Nevermore but I don't think we really sound much like those bands. Sometimes I want to make the comparison though because I've been inspired in some way by such a band even though I'm not copying their sound.

So, back to Zaii's point, and knowing your audience. If I know I'm talking to the prog crowd I can mention all of the above bands and more obscure ones. It's hard to make the comparison to the lesser known bands, there are so many and such variety. Strange Land is influenced by Fates Warning, but its later material. We are influenced by Queesnryche, but mostly Rage For Order through Promised Land.

It is a mistake to compare yourself to someone you don't sound like. I think it's also a mistake for younger bands to say "for fans of" when they aren't ready or are not up to snuff quality-wise. If I say "Strange Land sounds like Symphony X" and we don't, you'll be annoyed. If I say "we're influenced or inspired by" then we still might grab your attention. There is too much emphasis on being the next [fill in famous name here] that bands are unwilling to let time and word of mouth work. I find it better to sound like me than to not sound like someone else but say I do. Unfortunately, in the marketing world, "I sound like me" doesn't cut it. So many bands try to say they sound like whatever you like.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Be A Pro


There's nothing like good customer service. I even think it's worth paying a little more for great service. In the world of the performing musician, good customer service is contained in being professional. And by professional I don't mean making a living at it. I don't mean any particular level of technical prowess on your instrument. I mean common courtesy. I mean doing what you say you will do. I mean not behaving like a dumbass. One definition from Merriam-Webster: following a line of conduct as though it were a profession.


For the second time this year Strange Land ventured south of the border to Illinois. We played on the north side of Chicago at the Redline Tap. Cool place, good food. Big thanks to Progulus listeners Iceman and Falcon and their friends and family for coming out. 


For the second time this year, a show in Illinois was partly hosed because other bands didn't show up. Click here for the scoop on the previous show. This time there were five bands booked. One cancelled a few weeks before the show. Two more were total no-shows. No call, no excuse, nothing. We were expecting to play a 30 minute set. We played for an hour. The other band that did show, Seeking, was cool. Glad to meet them.


But what kind of a moron do you have to be to just bail on a show with no notice? I've seen other examples of not being pro. Chewing out the sound guy. Wrecking the venues property. Being rude to the other bands and to the staff. Getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. Sorry, but acting like a "rock star" doesn't make you one. I know I'm weird but I've never thought it was cool to behave like a typical rock star. The closest I think you can be to getting away with it is when you actually are a rock star with millions of dollars and a team of lawyers. Even then, I'll still think you're an ass and your behavior isn't cool. You'll just be better equipped to not care and get away with it. 


We are probably the most punctual band in the state of Wisconsin. I feel bad if I show up five minutes late. We treat the sound guy with respect. We thank the venue and the other bands we play with. We thank the people who came to see us. That's pro, and that earns us the respect of venues, sound guys, bands and fans. That gets people to buy cds. That gets us invited back to the venue. That gets us invited to open for national acts. That gets other bands to trade shows with us.  And that is why we are entering out 11th year as a band. One measure of success in my mind is survival. We've made it 11 years, 3 albums, and dozens of shows because we've outlasted so many other bands. One of the biggest keys to our survival is our commitment to being pro. 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The 5th Season - a diary, Day 1

While writing this I find out that it is quite a little Lord Of The Rings what I wanna tell about just 3 days. Well it is indeed a 'shortened' version and I decided to do one article per day. But I want to bring this down to "paper". So, if you're really bored one day, feel free to actually read the whole thing. :-) Well, here it is:


Friday morning at 7 am. Into the car.
The box of Oktoberfestbeer is there, good.
Promised it to the regulars.
One hour later, at the other end of town we pick up Dario (aka ProgressiveLunatic, aka LordPL) and FluffyGuts. Could have been 30 minutes to go, but some Al Qaeda guy was mumbling something about not wanting beer and an Oktoberfest in Afghanistan, so half of the city, around the Oktoberfest, became a high security zone. We had to go a long way around that... Anyway, we're at the highway now.
At the end of the road, our road, a weekend with 15 progmetal bands and people from 15 nations are waiting! Though the line up is a bit weaker than on the last two festivals, exitement has already taken control over me.

Fluffyguts is a girl from Australia, she popped up at the ppe forum, looking for assistance to trip from Munich to ppe. There was a free seat left in our car.
Gerhard (gdantell) said he might show up on short notice when his business trip will allow it.
Robert (Atomic) was checking out if he could join some 10 days ago, but found out that he hasn't any more work-free days for this year. Bummer.

German highways are a mess, half of the entire way is under construction and it takes us more than an hour longer to cross the border at Roermond. We tried to avoid the Friday afternoon rush in Venlo and decided to hit Barloo from the south, and find the road to Baarlo filled with a massive traffic jam. We leave the road and take the long way around it, navigating with a map on my lap. That's not easy in the Netherland, they have a rather strange idea of where to put signs on the road and where not. If we had to rely on the signs I guess we would have ben completely lost. Fortunately the truck in front of us is from Venlo, and considering that it's Friday afternoon, we guess that guy is heading towards home. The roads we pass sometimes are so small and designed in a way that we're expecting a dead-end several times, even though they're labeled as main road in the map. We find a road sign that leads to Baarlo - thankfully.
It's a quater past four when we reach the castle, our accommodation. Casteel DeBerckt is kind of a hotel and they have a deal with progpower, everyone who orders a package deal for progpower also books bed and breakfast at the castle for a pretty fair price. And it is indeed 'bed', not 'room'. They simply fill their rooms with progpower people, noone has his own room there. If you come alone, you'll end up sleeping in a room with absolutely unknown people, unless you told the progpower staff who you wanna join rooms with. We did that.
When we enter the courtyard, a couple of black t-shirts are already there, sitting in a circle around some beer and an ipod with speaker application, with - of course - Devin Townsend playing. The regulars. When they gather, they are mostly always making a circle. They see us coming, with the box of beer, and welcome us, shouting out "It's the Geeermaaans", raising their beer cans.

At the entrance of the castle they have exposed a room plan this year, but the lady who welcomes us still is confused because Fluffyguts is in a different room than Dario and me. We help her in pointing at our names on the plan. I should mention that they don't have a reception at the castle, you just get in and wait on the corridor until some staff comes along. Something like the castle would be impossible in Germany, a hotel without a reception, only functional furnishing that lacks any kind of design, no bar. I know, Dutch hotels are different to the ones I've ever been anywhere else. But still, the castle is a great place.
Entering our room we find Gary (Cyberfloat) and Simon (jimmyjoint) hanging out, just as expected. The Brits always go into their room and only get out when they're leaving the hotel. Ok, Let's hug! It has been an entire year. Before I can pull off my jacket Gary is holding a bottle of Jamesson under my nose. Ah dammit, let the party begin!
Wait, six beds in our room? Weird... looks like they've messed up the reservation and we're having spare beds. And one window is broken. Wait... there were two people in the room, a window is broken, three empty bottles of beer at the table. Not two, not four, but three. Hey guys did you....?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Identity Crisis

I've been thinking about my identity lately. Specifically, should I have chosen a stage name years ago when I started playing out after college? I'm not getting mobbed by fans and I have my privacy. But there is obviously a conflict between my life as a musician and my personal life away from the stage. Lately it seems the more I express my private life the more damage I do to my music life.

I am a guitarist, bassist, singer, and percussionist. I am a composer. I am a recording engineer. I am an artist. I am a designer. I am a traveller. I am a friend. I am a son, a cousin, and a nephew. I am a skeptic. I am an atheist. Did those last two taint your view of all the previous ones? I wonder if there are some parents out there who would complain to their kid's schools if they new that the music teacher was using music in the classroom written by an atheist. Probably a few, never mind that I've only had instrumentals published so far and I wouldn't advocate atheism in a song to be bought by a school.

Still, I am who I am. People will either accept me or not. If you decide not to like my music because I'm an atheist, well, I can't change that. Music is music and I've found many religious songs beautiful. Especially in the classical world (like Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod). Creativity will find its way in the world, filtered through each artist's experience.

I think instead of separating the private from the public, I'm going to be bringing them closer together. Music is my life. I've never felt like I needed to do something as compulsively. I breathe, I eat, I play music. It's not something I can't do. I feel like I should focus on that and just shut up about everything else. I have to be 'me' to the fullest to be satisfied with my music. But music is not my life. I am more than just little black dots. I can't be creative without experiencing life. I think Neil Peart of Rush said it best:

Back in April of this year, just before the Snakes and Arrows tour, I did a TV interview for the Canadian music channel, MuchMusic. The cameraman placed the interviewer and me in the rehearsal hall, in front of my drums, where I had been laboring for several weeks by then. Some of the interviewer’s questions seemed to angle toward a certain starry-eyed view of my work, especially the touring side of it, and I tried to explain to him that I didn’t consider touring, or even drumming, to be my life.
He seemed perplexed, and to appraise me as clearly jaded and cynical, because his next question was, “When did you start to feel that way?”
I paused to think for a couple of seconds, then was glad to feel the mental light bulb illuminate a true and clear answer. I was able to answer honestly, “About a month into the first tour, in 1974.” That really was when I started to feel that touring was “not enough,” and turned to reading books as a way to make more use of the days and nights.
Partly out of sheer contrariness, but partly out of a desire for context, I often refer to playing the drums, with deliberate disrespect, as “the job”—hitting things with sticks. Obviously it means much more to me than that, and has been a central focus in my life. But still, it seems rather sad to hear anyone say that their work is their life.
Not family and friends? Not reading and writing? Not hiking or cross-country skiing or birdwatching or motorcycle riding or swimming?
Just work?
I don’t think so.
Thanks Neil.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Catharsis

subject: CD Baby loves you

"Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.
A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing.
Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.
We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, August 25, 2009.
We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Sigh...
We miss you already. We'll be right here at http://cdbaby.com/, patiently awaiting your return."

This is the standard confirmation mail of CD Baby when you order something there. One month later I send them mail, I thank them for all the love and ask where my cd is. - Nothing... no answer...
Money gone but no Strange Land CD for me, just a love letter....
Put my picture off the wall guys. You don't like the way I look at you and I hate staring at you while walking by and laughing in my face.


Edit:

Day 35 --- an e-mail came in, almost a week late. They messed up the shipping adress. I wonder who's gonna pay for the second copy. Me or my Strange Land. I wouldn't have a problem with a second purchase, just for supporting Sean's band. (for any other purchase it would make me angry of course...)

note to self:
That's not fair, stringray. Every other band would have to give out another hardly produced copy! Treat them all equally and support any amateur band fully!!! grrrr...

Edit 2:

Day 39 --- another shipping has been confirmed by e-mail.
Sean has found out that they revamped their web site and some things still seem to operate improperly. Well, bugs happen....
The global 3 letter shipping company does not report non-delivered mail and seems to simply thrash it. That's a new no-service to me.

Edit 3:
Day 70 --- nothing arrived. I give up.
I'm going to do a second purchase once Sean has the cd available at the German independent distributor. They never annoyed me.
Sean was so kind to provide me with mp3s in the meantime, so I can at least listen to the music whenever I want.
Great cd Sean!

Edit 4:
Happy ending!

Guitarsean did send me another copy. And some extras, a magnet with the cover on it. You know those magnets you put on the fridge or something. They also managed to sign the booklet even though the cd was sealed. Those wizards!
I love reading the credits and Seans thanks - section. I'ts an ode to the progulus listeners...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Teaching my kids some (musical) values


Da-da-Daa dada daDaa da-da-daa da-daaa


If you didn't already guess it...this is my 17 months old son mimicking a famous guitar sequence of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". Apparently he picked it up while his older brother (9) was seeking out all versions of this song he could find on YouTube. I don't know how he got to hear this song, and I'm not much into this band, but it made me think...maybe this could be the start of something wonderful. Yeah, I know that statement is kind of cliche, but nevertheless I feel that I am on to something here.

Let me explain...My son has had a MP3 player for some time. Initially I put 15 good, somewhat popular songs on it, that he listened to for a while and then probably forgot about. Then he asked me if I could put 'Smoke' on it so that he could listen to it without the computer, cause his mother was getting a little enough of co-listening to it, and was thinking that his computer time was getting a little excessive. I told him "sure" and suggested that we also found some more material, since he was already bored of the 15 songs already on the device. What I didn't tell him was about my "evil" plan to slowly introduce him to "real music". This is something that has been in the back of my mind since I got kids; to "help" them discover music that is inspirational, entertaining and appreciated rather then just being the background noise of their lives.

Now, given the task of filling a MP3 player with music, what would you put on it? If the only requirement is that it should be good music, should you choose the things you like yourself or would it be fair to choose from all kinds of genres in order to give the potential listener more choice? Well, I'm not ashamed to say that I will try to instill in my son a taste for the music I prefer listening to, and I don't find that selfish in any way. You see, something that can bring people together more than anything else...is music. And I can think of no better cause than cultive the relationship with my son. If his potential love for jazz or classical music is to suffer because of that...so be it.

So I accidentally copied 2 songs onto the player with the names of Mystery Train and Sunrise on Mars (by Transatlantic and Threshold). Only 2 since I didn't want to scare him too much with unknown songs. You know the thing with kids, you just have to listen to the popular stuff to be cool. His reaction? Well he didn't care much about Threshold, but surprisingly he thought that Transatlantic was "way cool". Sad for the Thresholders, but great for my son. I like Threshold, but I still consider them to be only a few "measures and signatures" from mainstream. Transatlantic is on a completely different level. It is true that Mystery Train is not the most complex song made by the band, but it is a supreme display of greater musicianship compared to what "normal" people listen to these days.

To come back to the statement I made earlier about jazz and classical. It is actually a bit contradictory. I have found that prog can be the doorway leading to great discoveries in music. Before I got into prog I was completely anti jazz and classical (including opera), but now I'm open to both categories. Because there are no rules in prog, anything can be incorporated into it. Sometimes the result is bad, but a great many times the result is purely amazing. Just a side remark here: if you hate jazz and start liking The flower Kings...you are doomed to eternal schizophrenia.

Before I end this, it is time for the million dollar question...

What should I put on the MP3 player next?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A proggers 5th season - the fever's already begun

It looks like so many people have their 5th season. The people in the Cologne area have their carnival. They stop working and just hang out drinking. Drinking a LOT! In Munich we have the Oktoberfest. Since travelling the world became so affordable, it's mostly tourists who drink. Drink a LOT! Well what would you do if you travelled half the globe for attending the worlds biggest 'drug' fest.

Fortunately I can escape the Oktoberfest for a weekend for the europroggers 5th season. Not to far away from Cologne, in the Netherlands there's the little town Baarlo, and they've established the best music festival in the world, progpower europe. 3 days, 15 bands, and what will we do? We will drink. Drink a LOT! But hey, how would a progger drink? Right, not without hearing 3.743.712,07 notes a day, played live.
But not just that, a proguli meeting par exellence it will be, meeting cyberfloat, Jimmyjoint, gdcantell, and of course PL already ordered tickets and I hope more will come.
The big deal of the festival is that most of the audience and bands will stay at the same accommodation and many bands just do the same like us folks, enjoy the festival and see the others play. It's like a big family. There is no "you audience - we band". It just happens that you're chatting with some dudes, go for another beer and you can't find them anymore; the reason for this is mostly that these guys just prepare for stage and gonna play in 20 minutes. That's how you spend the afternoon and half of the night. After the headliners have played the party starts at the bar in the basement. That's where you meet the Threshold drummer, guitarist Marcel Coenen, etc. Once you have enough beer and go your way to the venue, another crowd happens to hang out, someone brings some beer from somewhere and you talk to Zero Hour among others before falling into bed. In the morning you even don't notice the hangover, at breakfast, Pathosray on the left and Cynic on the right of you, you prepare for the next massive note attack.
But definately all people you meet there are great guys. If regulars or just some who only come once, all are nice, friendly and helpful. There even are no doors locked at the accomodation, and people share rooms who have never met before. They say that there never was anything missing in the end of the festival (except a beer or two...).
And they seem to come from all the world, no matter if Australia, Korea, Paraguay, etc, no place in the world seems to be too far away.
Bummer, still 6 weeks to go...

Last year I intended to post my very personal impressions of the festival, but ended up being too busy to do it. I Promise I'll post them this year.

A very deep thank you goes out to Rene Janssen and his team for organizing the festival for the 11th time now, and to the nice and kind citizens of Baarlo for bearing the invasion of the black t-shirts so patiently. Be prepared!

A personal note for Jana:

I promised to provide you with a ride from/to Munich, as the car is going that way anyway. Would be a shame if you'd jump over to Munich from Australia and not head to the festival.
I'm leaving a second trace here, if I intended to do you any harm, I'd be traceable not only via the progpower team, but also through the google server.

Edit: If there's some space left I'll bring some Oktoberfest-beer!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

That is why I do this


Strange Land had a show last Friday at a place that shall remain nameless here. I am the diplomat of the band after all, not that you can't all go to the web and find out where it was. It was out first show at this venue and our first within about 70 miles of this place. I thought we made this clear to the venue. We're interested in expanding our territory and reaching new people. Details were sketchy about the show until a few days before. Then, it looked like we were on a bill with five other bands. The whole show started at 6, we were told to be there no later than 10. Ok... looks like we're last. No biggie, with 5 other bands there should be a decent number of people hanging around.

Ah, but it's never that easy. From 6-10 it was an all ages show. We were indeed last and the band that was supposed to be before us didn't show. I thought, fine, we'll go on around 10:30 then. Promptly at 10 all the under 21 people were booted out. The band on stage at the time finished their set with a pretty good crowd still there. But for some reason the venue made us wait until 11 to start. In that time almost everyone left while the cover band got started upstairs (don't even get me started on cover bands. I'll lose my diplomatic immunity). Since the band we we're booked with didn't show none of their people were there. So most of the night we had five people. We managed to snag a few others in passing from upstairs. Add to that, the sound guy was pulling double duty due to an emergency. He was running up and down the stairs doing sound on both stages. He loved us though. Sound guys seem to like us because we don't sound like every other band they have to sit through. At one point Brad's vocal mic behind the drum kit was feeding back and he just unplugged it. We didn't have Brad singing for most of the night. Such is the nature of live shows. Shit goes wrong and you either roll with it or you collapse.

All that said, this was one of the best shows we've had in a while. We played well. We had fun on stage. And the crowd that was there was engaged. I have so much fun when I can interact with people from the stage. We cracked jokes. I got everyone to introduce themselves. We laughed. I may take my music seriously, but I don't take myself seriously. It wasn't my show. It wasn't Strange Land's show. It was our show, band and audience together.

I've played a lot of shows for many different kinds of crowds. I'll take small and enthusiastic over large and indifferent any day. I'm they guy in the band who isn't gung ho to play out. I prefer writing and recording. But for shows like this I will always come out and I will enjoy playing on stage. All I need to do to be successful is reach one person. To make one person laugh. To know that one person understands what I'm trying to do. For one person to feel like I understand them because of a song we wrote. We got lucky, we reached more than one last week. And that is why I do this.

Special thanks to Progulites Iceman and Falcon for coming out. It's cool to meet hardcore prog fans and to put faces and real names to the chat board nicknames.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Music is Music

A friend of mine asked me today why people thought it was weird that he listens to Iron Maiden, Eminem, and Ziggy Stardust all in a row. Apparently it's not acceptable to have wide-ranging tastes anymore, and people are supposed to be defined by their musical genres of choice. Metal, classical, jazz, prog - all of these carry stereotypes as being very elitist and condescending towards anything that's not part of that particular genre.

Now personally, I enjoy a huge variety of music myself, but I rarely find myself listening to something other than prog or metal - occasionally rock, pop, jazz, or classical, but rarely. Not that that's all I enjoy, that's just what I enjoy most. I mean, I guess it is considered strange that someone would listen to such a variety of music, but it shouldn't be. Because people like different types of music. Some people like Pantera. Some don't. Some people like Coldplay. Some people like Suffocation. Some people like Pink Floyd, some people like Koyaanisqatsy, some people like Consiorzoacquapotabile, some people like Metallica. Different people listen to different things for different reasons. As for me personally, I enjoy to various extents all of those bands. PF, Suffo, CAP, and Koyaa in particular more than the others - and this is just the rock/metal/prog end of the equation.

Although I really, seriously fucking hate it when people (especially girls) say that "they listen to everything". No they don't. The spectrum of music is NOT just the modern rock/hip-hop/pop from the second half of the twentieth century that you hear on the radio. I can honestly say that I like (or at least can appreciate) almost all types of metal (black metal's a bit tough), extremely different forms of prog, folk music, the blues, showtunes, avant-garde music, various types of jazz, "classic rock", modern hard rock to a limited degree, funk, hip-hop, bluegrass, soul, gospel, zydeco, polka, mariachi, a LOT of classical (which really composes about 99% of the music ever written), psychedelic rock, disco, post-rock, REAL pop (not bubblegum pop), and I'm even warming up to country a little bit. I don't make the claim that I actually listen to each genre on a regular basis, but I at least like them all. Music is music, and there's really no point in trying to find "the best and only the best", because it's all a matter of personal taste. I'm not really picky at all. I'm like that with hanging out, with video games, with deciding what clothes to wear, with music, with food, whatever. Whatever the choices are, I don't care - I'll find at least some enjoyment in each of them. That's not to say I don't have preferences, because I definitely do, and there are some bands/genres/foods I really don't like at all.

But if somebody says "I listen to everything", you best give me your favorite folk metal band, your favorite funk band (and which era too, most funk bands had a LOT of revolving members), your ideal jazz sextet, be able to distinguish between the genres of classical music, discuss your favorite instrumental timbre, which era of technical death metal you like better, define "post-rock" and "djent", your favorite minstrel singer, enjoy the accordion, and be able to have an opinion on whether serialism is really music or math.

^ THAT's listening to "all types" of music, not the fucking bullshit that people claim it is. Remember kids, not all music is on the radio, by a long, long shot. Granted, some music on the radio is good - some music on it is GREAT. I'm not at all ashamed to admit I'm a fan of Creed, Coldplay, Alter Bridge, Muse, T-Pain, and a number of others. But for some reason people are always afraid to try out new music if it doesn't fit in their preconceived notion of simple 3 minute pop songs. Or their preconceived notion of UBER BROOTUL HEVY METLZ, or of long, atonal, complex 20 minute epics.

People are just too unwilling to think outside the box just for one second and try to appreciate music for what it is, rather than trying to slam it for what it's not. I can't tell you how many times I've facepalmed reading reviews that say "I usually listen to really obscure death metal like Destroyer 666 and Lykathea Aflame, but this Sigur Ros album sucks, it's all 'pretty' and not heavy and it's not TEH BROOTULZ". And it's the same on the other side of the coin. "Death metal sucks blah blah, that's not even music just random shit and noise." Death metal is one of the most complex musics out there and to blatantly INSULT it like that is just fucking WRONG, as in both morally and factually incorrect. The same thing with ignorant prog nerds who think that everything popular is automatically shit and that songs have to be long with 6453524 million time signature changes to be good. No. That's not how it is. Hell, I'm sure most prog bands don't even think that way. I'm sure for the most part Dream Theater don't go into the studio thinking "this part has to be in 7/4, this part has to have a G#sus4add9 chord, the melody for this part is too catchy, let's change that..." No, I'm pretty sure they just head in the studio, jam out on some riffs and try to construct a song that sounds good - whether it's "truly progressive" or "breaking new ground" be damned. A good song is a good song.

But not everybody is open minded. People will have likes and dislikes. And personally, almost nothing gives me more enjoyment than recommending people music they haven't heard before and them enjoying it. But there's a responsibility that goes with it, you can't just introduce a casual listener to a band like Sigh, and you can't just introduce a death metal listener to polka music. Small steps, and that's what genres are for. But music is music. And even if you're a death metal listener, you can't expect growls and blastbeats in your polka album. Because there's a fucking huge variety of music out there, and to expect it all to fit within your little preconceived notions is stupid.

I'm not saying everybody should be super-open minded all the time, and I'm not saying that all music is automatically good, but there's a give and take with it that needs to be acknowledged far more often. If you enjoy Daft Punk, Eminem, Count Basie, Iron Maiden, Sigur Ros, Mr. Bungle, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Koyaanisqatsy, and Ziggy Stardust at the same time, awesome for you - you've got an appreciation for well-crafted, well-performed music, no matter the genre or what anyone expects of you. More people should listen to music the like that, and actually I think a lot would, they just haven't been exposed to things that would really challenge and intrigue their ears. Remember kids, music CAN be entertainment, and that's fine - but it can also be an experience, whether a song be 3 minutes long, 6 minutes, 12 minutes or 50 minutes. A lot of people forget that.

Update on the sabbatical coming soon guys. :] Rant over.

"There are only two types of music - good music, and bad music" - Frank Zappa

Sunday, July 5, 2009

An elision of purpose


So, the new Strange Land cd is out. Special deals are selling now, the general distro will start in a week or two. It's been a too long process to get this one out. The reasons are varied, from our own procrastination to major personal issues, to playing too much of the waiting game. Nonetheless we are pleased with the results and we thank everyone who has stuck with us. When we picked the title we didn't think we'd actually be having a cathartic experience making it.


So what happens next? Is this the end of a process, the beginning, something in the middle? It all depends on what kind of band you are and what you want out of your career. Some bands just love making new music, so the release of a cd is pretty much the end. You finish the album, get the word out that its available, and move on the the next one. The amount of promotion you do I guess depends on how much energy or money you have for it. Once you've told people it's available you get right back to making new music.

On the flip side the album release is just the beginning. You get it out there, push the promotion, set up a tour. You play as many shows as you can hoping to collect some new fans along the way. I suppose the bigger you get the more this second option is what you do. Bigger bands have the resources to mount full scale tours. For the most part bands in this mode don't even think about recording for a year or two.

I think we'll try to hit a mark somewhere in the middle. As part of growing as a band I think the balance shifts around. We can justify more advertising but not a full scale tour. Hopefully more shows but we won't be putting off writing and recording new music to make time for shows. I'm sure we'll find a balance. I know for a fact it won't take 5 years to release the next one.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Going and going, with fictional borders...

The following is an essay I wrote for my English class. The assignment was to pretty much interpret and give meaning to any song (and I cut it down, originally I wanted to do a 25+ minute epic ;D). Enjoy!

-----

"My New World", by Alex Ricard

Most bands would consider a 16-minute long song exploring different musical territories and building up over a variety of themes a massive accomplishment, but this is just the order of the day for prog-rock super group Transatlantic. From their two albums, only three of their songs are under 15 minutes long (and simultaneously, they have three songs over 25 minutes long). “My New World” from their first album SMPTe is, comparatively, a concise and focused effort from the band that explores the limits of pop and rock music over its duration, lyrically telling the complex story of two unlikely lovers in the 1960s as a metaphor for the state of America during that time period. Overall, “My New World” uses this love story, combined with the musical flow and structure of the song and the positive energy from the music itself to create a rich, vastly layered atmosphere.

In alternate verses, the two main characters are introduced through the lyrics. “Days in the sun she's seen by the river/reading a book, feeding her dreams,” Roine Stolt sings, illustrating the female as a peaceful hippie type who “hiked up to Woodstock, she got high in Frisco …painting and poetry filled up her mind.” The male character is also introduced here, as “the boy, the pride of his mother” who “took pride in serving his country/went off to war, no more than a child.” The chorus is a thematic break from the story to feature a first-person perspective with “my new world was spinning me around,” alluding to rapid changes both in society and in a personal connection as the main focus of the lyrics. Throughout the song as the love story progresses, the differences between the two characters (representative of the diversity of the American people) are further explored: the line “now she’s a loner, now she’s a stoner, no one can touch her” is repeated throughout the song, while a verse dedicated to the boy states “disappointment struck him hard when he found out/there was no ‘lucky Stars and Stripes’/they set it all on fire, while Jim and Janis got us higher”, showing a shared experience in troubled times, such as in a relationship or a period of massive social change. By the end of the song, however, the differences are resolved with a final chorus stating “my new world is spinning me/and time is not my enemy/my new world is ahead of me today/and all things pass away,” underscoring the peace and contentment perfect for a happy ending. However, as implied in the chorus and title of the song, the “new world” is a complete change, due to the troubles and triumphs that occurred during the ‘60s.

The music itself begins with a slow, sweeping melody played on strings. Guitars then quickly come crashing in for a bombastic exaggeration of the same theme before the song settles down for a Beatles-esque piano shuffle in irregular 5/8 time for the introduction of the characters. The song slowly builds up to the chorus which features four-part harmonies with an uptempo beat, giving off a happy feel. “My New World”, over time, becomes very atmospheric and soft and then fluctuates between loud and soft sections, creating an episodic story. The overall structure of the song is very linear: throughout the work, many melodic themes are revisited, modified, layered, and constructed in a way similar to leitmotifs in classical music. This structure helps to further the storytelling nature of the work, while helping the emotions reach their full fruition because the song is not bound to a traditional verse/chorus structure.

“My New World” modulates through various major keys, which gives it a “happy” feel. The chord progressions and rhythms used give it a very Beatles-influenced sound, combined with the influence of bands such as early Yes and Genesis, who also had their start in the sixties. The fairly brisk style imbues the song with a slight sense of purpose - even the solo sections speak with unique voices. Rather than being an all-out rocker, “My New World” is casually restrained, remaining polite and pleasant, yet still with an attitude. The song carries with it the peaceful and idealistic attitudes of the ‘60s and contrasts it with the harsh realities of the violence of the period, functioning as both a timeless love story and a homage to the entire time period.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bright Ambassadors Of Morning stole my trebles

Pure Reason Revoluton, I like them mainly because of the clever vocal-arrangements.
When they cancelled their gig at Progpower Europe I was quite disappointed, but now I had the chance to see them at a local venue. Knowing not much more than their debut album, I didn't expect much, as the cd sounds rather plain and sort of easy listening, and I did not expect them to pull off the same vocal work as on disc.

The bigger surprise it became!
Starting the gig with some early to mid 80's sounding keybards and keyboard bass, the show seemed to be something like a positve and 'happy' version of Depeche Mode. Soon the guitar came to a more prominent place in the music, more agressive parts got played like Steve Wilson does in Porcupine Tree, the vocals raising to their full power, all the fine harmonies and canon style achived live, wow! 20 minutes after the show started I realized that I got tears in my eyes, couldn't stand still, had to groove all the way through. The show started quite solid and increased to full power in about 35 minutes to full fire works, volume at 10 (11 would be too much, I prefer to still hear the drums...), then they switched back one gear and played tunes with more complex sound structures. One should mention that the band is sort of a gathering of multi-instrumentalists, lead singer-keyboardist-guitarist, female vocalist-bassist-keyboardist, guitarist-vocalist and drummer.
In the meantime the guitarist plays his solos kneeing on the floor for adjusting the knobs of the many effect processors live. Again, like Steve Wilson did back in the days.
I'm not annoyed that, including encores, the gig was only 90 minutes long, knowing how young the band is, and the few people in the audience. however, I felt like a Shikansen hit me and took me to Berlin, sticking on its very front, in that time. All those landscapes flying by at lightspeed...

They truly have the potential to become big! A formula like: {positive depeche Mode x Porcupine Tree + self}  comes to mind.

Back home I wanted to end the night with one more beer and a bit of the most recent PT recordings. I gave up. No trebles, it has been gone. I didn't notice what an earbleeder the gig was.... ok, one beer, no music anymore.

wishes for the band:

1. a second microphone for the lead vocalist. It simply is a time-waster to always adjust the tripod when switching from keys to guitar and back.

2. a better stage clothing for him. Complaining about that warm lamp while wearing the most tasteless leather jacket is stupid.

3. Bring that dynamics of your live sound to disc! Whenever somebody says it is too exhausting for the common listener, tell him you're not about to do easy listening.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Have a Cigar, dear boy, and listen to The Sound of Muzak.


Back in 2007 Hanson (yes THAT Hanson) released a 12-part documentary filmed during the making of their album "Underneath" which saw them leave their major label Island/Def Jam due to frustrations with the label in the making of the album. In the end the band started their own indie label and have been releasing albums on it since then.

The documentary is a warts and all detailing of trying to make an album in the major label environment when the label wants to exert pressure on the band to make a "radio hit". It's VERY revealing and candid and even if you HATE Hanson (and fair play, I don't like them either) but if you ever wanted to see the ugly side of making a record for a major label and just the making of an album this is worth a look.

Part 1 of 12 is down below. I'm only a few "episodes" in, it's really great and quite revealing. I really hope nobody here (or anyone, really) never have to go through that....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arfx4i-050I

Also, for a class of mine I had to create a "protest poster" (see above) about any particular issue. I chose the music industry. The documentary I linked above is a great example of all of the shit and horrible things that happen in the industry. Personally, I'm of the belief that the major labels need to fall and hard. Call it karmic justice, but their insistence on sticking with outdated business models and their tendency to rip the artist off for 80, 90 percent of the profits is just flat-out wrong. It really disheartens me to see these pigs in control of the music industry. Pink Floyd said it best 30 years ago - it's a machine, and always has been. Now, I am not at all advocating downloading music illegally. Supporting artists, especially small and independent ones is the right thing to do, without question. But when buying CDs and going to shows is only supporting the middle man, how can we support bands? With the current recession, the boom of downloading, the "loudness war" and the mp3 trend, increasingly manufactured pop music with Auto-Tune all over the place, it's no wonder how the industry got to where it is today. It needs to fall so it can be rebuilt from the ground up. Maybe in 50 years we'll see the same cycle, but for right now we cannot allow this to continue. They said home taping was killing music, and that downloading was killing music, but it's not killing the music, it's killing the industry. And the industry is killing music.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

We do abuse music

I decided to post this as a new article though it is a direct reaction on Sean's because this is to strong in my mind for just doing a comment:


Do you remember those news printed on paper everyone used way back? I still use them because you can read them wherever you are, without the need of a monitor or display and internet connection.
One or two months back I read in a small article in one of those that the company Muzak went bankrupt. That company's product has the same name; aka elevator music or warehouse music.
It is said that music makes people friendly, peaceful, yet happy, so playing music in a warehouse lightens up the customers mood and they'd purchase even more - was their claim.
This is a tragical simplification in my opinion, because nobody ever had the idea that one's mood might turn bad if he doesn't like the music he hears.

Back in the 80ies, when I once purchased some car spare parts and queued up at the cash point I realized at a certain moment that my spirit was slowly changing into bad mood. I realized that I wasn't the only one whose mood was darkening, a couple of other people were doing the same thing. I was a strange effect to me and I was wondering about that for about 5 Minutes. Then I noticed that a speaker was dabbling out the most crappy Bavarian folk music at an almost inaudible loudness. I said to another - in the meantime quite angry - dude: "Hey I think it's that almost imperceptible music torture that makes me so angry. It took a bit to find that out." That guy stared at me, froze for a moment or two and smiled at me when saying that "this really is the worst music I ever had to bear!" Luckily the emotion in our part of the queue was back to positive, now that we had found out the evil that happened to us.

Back a few years from now, the warehouse music wasn't a single event anymore but a pestilence, we went for some speaker cables to an electronic shop. Still being in a rather good mood - emotionally dumb for sonic pollution - my friend said to the salesman: "That indeed is some nice crappy music you guys have playing there." The salesman switched from good manners to aggression instantly. "Yes and it is in here ALL FUCKING DAY LONG!!!" we were trying to be nice guys but man, that went wrong....
So much for the general music-does-people-good idea.

Well so, folks, look around, errr... listen around! Music is everywhere. Everywhere!
I mean, when I was a teenager it was so unimaginably cool to have that walkman playing music while cycling through the city! But that was long ago.
Today wherever you go there's muzak. If McDonald's, Burger King, SFCC, any store, SUBWAY STATIONS!!! TV jingles, sweepers, shows, serials, documentaries, - even news! movie, games, yet websites.
Really, what would a website of a warehouse chain be without muzak!! http://www.hertie.de
Where else... wait loops, cell phones, ipods, car radio, car docking station, wifi, itunes, the list seems endless.
I fear opening a can of beans, muzak could be inside!
Do I need a psychiatrist?

Isn't it any wonder that one blunts about music? It is a sonic pollution, yet violation today how music is abused and sprayed at us. How can something so omnipresent be of worth for the common man? Even gold would be nothing of worth if it were available everywhere endlessly.

I'm no more one of those people carrying an ipod everywhere, ripping cds to itunes and using the computer for listening to music.
I want my gems stored in shelves (that's what they are for - the shelves of course...), grab the jewel case, open, insert, play, sofa, listen, read/watch booklet (damn is this font supposed to be read? What's the song title???), be happy!
I tune in to progulus when I actually want to listen to random prog goodness.
I refuse to have music playing right now because yesterday we've been at a great Asia gig ( where 150 - 200 progulus flyers went away, not one ending up on the floor!), and a little session afterwards - because silence is golden.

Sean, the Cartasis demo is great! Hope to hold the cd in my hands soon!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How do you use music?

It's always the lament of the independent prog musician that you can't get people to pay attention long enough to even like or dislike your music. Prog, like jazz and classical, takes more than superficial attention to appreciate. We often blame the industry for aiming for the lowest common denominator. We blame the fans for not making any effort to find new music. We blame the bands that make the music we find superficial. I'm sure we can blame ourselves for something too. But maybe it's more than that, more than finding someone specific to point a finger at. We proggers make music that is a little more 'adult' or mature in nature. We're aiming for audiences tied up in bills, kids and jobs. Even the teenagers we might find an audience in are swamped with both day to day activities and by entertainment choices. I don't have the time I used to to throw on a disc and my headphones and just lay on the floor and absorb new music. I used to do that and pour over the liner notes. There are many older albums that I know all the song titles to. Now most of my listening is in the car, at work, or while I'm out walking. There are cds I've had for 3 years that I can't name a track on.

Is music becoming something that doesn't stand on it's own? Is music now something found in movies, in tv shows, in video games, in your ring tones? Is music something that has been so omnipresent in the background of electronic entertainment that we're numb to it? Prog has nearly always been a niche. Is all of music become a niche in the vast swamp of everything that we have at out fingertips for consumption? I heard an NPR story the other day about tv shows finding an audience. About 10 years ago a hit show had 20 million viewers weekly. Now a hit has under 10 million. Has the overall world of entertainment become to fractured and diversified that we only have niches? And now, since it's so easy to make your own music or movies or art, every niche is getting very crowded. If everyone is making their own music, who's listening to mine?

Maybe it's just the nature of change. Maybe we are at a point in human history where the very nature of music consumption is changing. Once upon a time music was about the only form of entertainment available. I'm under no illusion that we can or even want to go back to the days of Bach's church employment and rich royal patrons. I have long been aware that there are a lot more choices out there for entertainment. There are more ways that ever for everyone to create their own entertainment. But lately I've been thinking lately it may be more of a cultural change. We now consume music like potato chips. It's always there, there's always more, and there are almost too many flavors to choose from. Inundated with so many choices we find a handful we know we like and never deviate from those choices. There is limitless music available. We can buy it and keep it forever. We don't need to go see it or buy sheet music and play it ourselves. We don't even have to go through the hassle of putting needle to vinyl anymore. For those of us who do want a lot of variety it's hard to keep up. I have been putting all of my cds into my iTunes library. As of today I have 830 albums in my itunes. I have nearly 30 DAYS of continuous music. I'd be willing to bet that I spin less than half of those more than once a year, and I still have about 100 cds to go.

It is an interesting time to make music in. Like the tv industry has seen and the music industry is struggling with, I think the superstar is on the decline. You'll see less and less new bands achieve the status and longevity of bands like Rush or the Beatles or Madonna. I feel like I'm right at the start of finding a new way. A way to keep making the music I need to make, for myself, and finding new ways to share with people. Hey, I do have some ego. I wouldn't put out the effort I do if I didn't want other people to like my music. I can say I make the music just for me, but I'd be lying if I said that was enough. So, if you're bored and looking for something a little new and a little different come visit my niche of a niche of a niche.

A Death Metal Sabbatical

I will soon temporarily leave the world of Prog in the very capable hands of my colleagues here at Progulus and Progrockin'. Over the course of my musical exploits in the past few months (years, even), I've grown tremendously as a musician, even just as a guitarist. My rhythm technique and soloing have especially improved, and my improvisation continues to impress even myself in say, an acoustic folk-blues setting, or melodic vocal harmonies. But in the past few weeks, I've gotten back into metal in a big way. If anybody reading this has a Facebook, they can find me as a fairly prominent member of the groups "Lifer: A Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Forum", "Metal Heads", and "DO NOT USE THE HORNS UNLESS YOU ARE METAL". Really thrusting myself back into the internet metal community has sort of given me a new perspective on prog, and it's weird to listen to bands without keyboards again, haha.

I've come to realize that my musical ability to write metal has grossly stagnated. I really don't know how to write a good riff anymore, and this saddens me deeply. I was given a stong dosage of death metal, tech-death, black metal, and a little folk, old and new: Atheist, Death, Lykathaea Aflame, Agalloch, Gorguts, Desultory, Incantation, Immolation, Immortal, and many more. I've put them all in a massive playlist on shuffle, and so far have gotten way back in the swings. Tonight I am enjoying my last night of prog with some Kaipa before I enter a "death metal sabbatical". I will listen and enjoy death metal again for the first time in years. I love what I've heard so far, and really, it's not as bonecrushingly brutal as I remember. I get the same feeling from something like the extremes of jazz-fusion as I do this. It's actually kind of a nice, comforting feeling, simple and agressive and straightforward in its aggression. I love it.

To kick off the festivites, I spun Atheist's "Unquestionable Presence" today and wondered why I ever left metal. Don't worry guys, I am a progger first and foremost, and will always be. But sometimes, it's just nice to go home.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Road to Life and Progressive Rock Part V

Phase 6

Graduate through a new "door".

"Computerized clinic, For superior cynics, Who dance to a synthetic band,
In their own image, Their world is fashioned, No wonder they don't understand!"
-
Natural Science/Rush

A "Late" Graduation and the beginning of a Love Affair.
The Senior year would add something to the radio waves . . .
"The Spirit of Radio" by a band called Rush. Another band I couldn't take in yet,
I didn't know what to make of it. It had such weird time changes that the only
thing I could compare it to was my creative "whistling and humming" in the
shower! I'd make up weird melodies, odd time changes with beats (sort of "Beat-
Box" like sounds waaay before the Rap community would find its use, we're talking
70's thru the 80's here!)- So I was emulating Drums and Guitar SFX- like I said, I
was
weird, I used to imitate instruments, celebrities, cartoon characters, sound
effects, etc..

So Rush was a mystery to me, and Geddy's voice was REALLY different, I didn't
know
what to make of them.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Juv5Ifs2fFY


As I mentioned before, In my last years of high school would see the days of
New Wave, for the most part I wasn't interested, with few exceptions (see
previous story). But many of these bands would be another link.
Bands like these would influence Prog to come (its my contention that if their
were no Flock of Seagulls, U2 and Ultravox, there would be no "Grace Under

Pressure" by Rush in 1984, in sound, that is) and was just another re-birth for
the genre.
But for the most part, I heard less musicianship and more "push a
button and
it plays a melody", programmed, tweaked sequencers making music.