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Archive for the ‘Journal Entries’

Journal Entry #6: The Industry

The music industry as a business have really grown to be a more complicated than before, especially now a days with all the copyright battles and lawsuits. Donald S. Passman’s book “All you need to know about the music business” was very helpful for me because it really broken down all the numbers for this business. I never knew much about it but now I definitely have a good understanding for it. But one problem that all these things run into is the fact that alot of people leak songs on youtube and also leak digital album copies online for download. From the numbers of the artist royalties I see, it can definitely hurt them. It is already hard as it is to be a songwriter, especially if you are constantly finding inspiration to write songs that will appeal to the public. Which brings up my next topic of composition. When I took my composition classes in the Aaron Copland school of music, alot of things were actually very theoretical and had some skill and meaning behind every note we write down on staff paper. Other than that, we also had to make the music appealing, not in a sense of beat or rhythm but by the way the notes relate to each other melodically and harmonically. However, composition with modern pop songs seem to be quite different. It’s not that it doesn’t take any “skill” but the fact that there is only so much you can do with the same 3 or 4 chords that after a while, you start to realize that all music sound the same – but not. The only varying element is/are the rhythm of notes and its repetition.  Some do it well, in that the rhythm and repetition creates a strong composition, some don’t do so well and rely solely on repetition to drill the music into our brains.

Another issue I see is the budget and funding problem. The artists are given a set amount of funding, and new artists are usually given less. After seeing the possible numbers for creating an album I can see why most people use programs like Pro Tools and make it digitally themselves. Although technology does greatly benefit our society, I feel at the same time that most people have gotten more lazier and forget of their musical history and origins. I feel as a musician that we need to know what we want to use in a song, but how will we know what to use if we don’t even know whats the difference between how a bassoon or a clarinet sounds like? But I guess that is why we have Pro tools to thank, most of the sounds don’t even exist as a physical instrument yet we use it in our music. At the same time, musical instruments such as the ones I’ve mentioned seem to be out-of-date in today’s society. It is good to have cool sounds created by technology, however I feel that organic sounds are just as important in composition. Technology is not only replacing old media but also all of our instruments.

Journal Entry #5: MTV and Technology

In order to understand Music Television, we must understand the uses of the Television as a medium at home. Television, unlike going to a theatre and watching a movie, was about glancing compared to where movies were about gazing into a big screen in a dark room. Music Television, back when I remembered it, was a way for me to be able to listen to music at home with the TV on while I was doing something else. The idea of glancing is that MTV provided a way of background music around the house while people were doing chores or whatever it is. And because music videos don’t require a massive amount of focus like watching a movie, we are able to glance over and catch bits of images while the song was playing. It was also a way for artists to create visual elements to accompany their music and it was always part of social culture where people would ask me “Hey did you see so-and-so’s music video?”

Through music television, people were able to identify artists through their musical creations and also visual creations. An example of this would be some of Evanescence’s videos, where some of it regarded more “dark/gothic” subject matters. Sometimes the music video would show a visual story while the music took over as a type of narration – but that was how Amy Lee was able to project the image she wanted people to associate with her. She was not the typical pop singer but rather a more dark and more rock-like female singer that touched on subject matters such as depression and loneliness. For most artists, MTV provided a way for artists to create visual art that was based on their music. The idea of incorporating music and visual narratives were all made possible by the creation of music television and it also made artist promotions possible.

Millard touched upon many new technologies that significantly changed our culture and way of watching and listening. An example would be how Television has changed since the 50s where television was a way of uniting a nuclear family in the living room to TV stoves for stay-at-home housewives, to plasma, hi-definition and now using the itouch or iphone as a portable handheld TV. New technologies would surpass older ones and old mediums needed to re-invent themselves. And now, digital technology has made it possible for people to download or stream songs and videos via the internet. This, however, has brought different types of media that isolated to the individual in my opinion. Music, back in the earliest days of western art music, was heard in a community setting where individuals came together for it in order to hear a performance. Now, music has come to the individual where we are able to simply turn on our ipods, plug in our earphones and we are already in our own world. I believe this type of technological advancement has caused people to isolate themselves where music and movies is about an individual experience rather than a group experience. In my opinion, I appreciate live performances more because we are able to experience it with a group of people where we can offer feedback and have some kind of interaction. Recorded music on the other hand becomes less authentic as we are able to play it back the same way, over and over, through a new technology / medium. However, there are also most positive aspects of new technology in that we are able to take it anywhere with us because it is convenient and portable. Therefore, new technologies make it easily available (to some extent) to more people and music becomes more intimate and involved in our daily lives.

Journal Entry #4: Hip Hop

In Rose’s article she brings up a very elaborate background about the Hip hop culture for us. She associates hip hop with its local identity. Hip hop came about during economical shifts. Artists faced problems getting a job in their field of study and some of them leaned towards entertainment. breakdancers, rappers and graffiti artists were all part of the hip hop entertainment events. It had become a very competitive genre in that people want to prove their success and prestige. Artists are able to use their creativity to make their own styles and were known for them. Hip hop fashion depicted the “power of consumption” where they use alot of jewelry to show their royalty, designer brands, and “baggy” clothing.

Rose also explains the importance of one’s identity in the hip hop culture. For one’s status to elevate, he/she needs to be innovative and creative in making their own distinctive style that can make a big impact.  There is an emphasis on flow and layering in break dancing, graffiti art and rap. Especially in rap music, flow and rhyme plays a significant role in creating a musical message. It also needs to have abrupt distractions in music that have a certain rhythm to it.  What is interesting about rap is that it isn’t a continuous melodic pattern, instead it emphasizes the artists’ spoken language, almost like speaking a poem, in a certain rhythm. Unlike a lot of other genres, rap is one genre that stands out because of this element – it digresses away from typical melodic form of a song and brings in the spoken aspect of it and emphasizing the beats or rhythm.

Hip hop culture was very concerned with one’s identity. Graffiti artists create their art on public walls, break dancers had their signature moves that were distinctive from the rest and rappers create their own beats and tend to communicate to its audiences about their own experiences and reflections of the world around them. Therefore, I believe, the hip hop era brought about a lot of innovation, art and creativity for the African American community, especially since one’s “status” was in direct correlation to his or her own ability to bring out “style”.

Journal Entry #2: Bebop

In Eric Porter’s writing he attempted to define the origins and influences of the bebop movement that developed during the 1940s. He describes bebop as “rapid tempos, dissonant chords and melodic lines, tritone and other chordal substitutions, extensive chromaticism, offbeat piano accompaniment, walking bass lines, polyrhythmic drumming … and a focus on extended, improvised soloing on the front-line instruments.” Coming from the end of World War II, African Americans felt that they needed equality especially since some of them have served for the country over the war period. Music, then, became a way to protest and also a way for one performer to speak to his audience about the changing times.

Porter viewed the era as “a product of collective orientation, if not a cohesive movement”” because bebop had defied the social trend of the blues and added intellectuality along with artistic approaches.  It became an aesthetic development, meaning it had beauty that was related to the high art category. It also reflected the black life, attitudes and politics that happened during the period. In Porter’s work, he brought in many names that had once tried to define and interpret Bebop, stating that it was an uprising from the African American community that opposed to the normal “jazz came from Africa” idea.

Bebop musicians did not want to fit into the stereotype they had created bebop that lets soloists freely improvise and play on the music. This creates a sense of individualism where the soloist stands out highlighting his or her musical talent and virtuosity. This idea reminded me of how bebop is heavily related to classical western music as well – music during an earlier time also had emphasized improvisation. During the Renaissance some singers actually improvised along with other vocalists, especially in secular music – that is, music that wasn’t related to the church or the liturgy. During the time musicians sang in groups and in certain cases some vocalists had to improvise on the spot as they performed in the public. From then on, Mozart had also done a lot of improvisations on older works and he was able to improvise on the spot while he performed at an early age displaying his genius which ultimately led to his father’s investment in his musical talent and put him on tour all around Europe. Concertos were created so that soloists of a particular instrument (i.e. Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, etc.)  are able to show off his or her virtuosic talent. Although parts where soloists performed in concertos were previously written by the composer, it also – in a sense – demonstrates the composer’s ability to take a musical idea and develop it – adding alot of technical difficulty for the soloist. The musical term cadenza is when a soloist is able to play on his or her own freely – and improvise – usually before the conclusion of a piece. Cadenzas are present in concertos and dates way back into the days of J.S. Bach and his famous Brandenburg Concertos. Not only were cadenzas only present in classical instrumental music but it was also present in some of the Arias that are part of opera pieces.

It is interesting to see how Bebop ties in with early classical music – the whole idea of improvisation and the display of high technical talent of the performer. This emphasis on the individual rather than just a bunch of musicians playing in an orchestra or band is significant as it represented social transformation for a group of people but can be viewed, much like in classical performances, as the emphasis and stress on the individual. The difference other than the eras was that during the classical age it was not to protest (like the bebop era during the 40s). But both are similar in that the soloist is able to send a message, musically, to its audiences through his or her own spotlight.

Journal Entry #1 : Folk Music

In both Filene and Kyriakoudes’ article, folk music had been a way of identifying the American heritage from the 1920s to the 1930s. They both touched upon the subject of “authenticity”, but in different ways.  Kyriakoudes’ article focused on minstrelsy and vaudeville entertainment whereas Filene focused on creating a conflicting image of the artist to attract people. John A. Lomax had devoted his life to collecting American folk songs with the help of his son Alan Lomax. In their attempt to document folk music, Lomax had not specified a political agenda however his music did show the diversity of the American people. He had gained positive feedback from the Communist party’s Popular Front policy, which tried to unite the world to fight against fascism by defining the American culture and diversity. Lomax had much more concern with the African American culture and praised them for creating distinctive folk songs. He also adopted a moderate political view so that he was able to appeal to a bigger audience with his collections and music.

They made many trips to different places recording music. One of the first was an African American singer and guitarist named Huddie Ledbetter, who is also known as “Leadbelly.” They’ve discovered his musical talent when they were searching for African American “work songs” in Louisiana’s Angola Prison. Leadbelly had incredible virtuosic qualities playing his 12 string guitar and his ability to sing a wide range of songs had impressed Lomax. The Lomaxes took Leadbelly with them on their travels and also brought him to New York City where they promoted him as an icon of America’s folk-song tradition. What is interesting about the Lomaxes was that they were not only collectors and preservers of folk music but also promoters and, in a way, re-creators of the artist’s image. Although the Lomaxes’ conception of American folk music was heavily limited and relied on their personal preference, they were considered the first American folk song collectors. The Lomaxes were determined to promote Leadbelly because they liked his music and by doing so they also created a false public image for him. They’ve made Leadbelly the voice of the people in folk music and created an image for him like that of a “savage, untamed animal”. However, Leadbelly is just the opposite. They depicted Leadbelly as a common man but also an outcast and although these two ideas a highly contradicting the public was attracted to it.

In Kyriakoudes’ article minstrelsy had raised the question of authenticity. George D. Hay had made a radio program which southerners could reflect and project about their urbanization of the south during the late 1920s. The Grand Ole Opry was a response to anxieties about modern life and new technology because it included blackface and other forms of minstrelsy that addressed the issues of modernization by praising and also rejecting the changes in technology and society. It turned to mostly “old-time music” which had become popular with the southern audiences during the 1920s. Musicians such as Uncle Dave Macon sang about his reaction towards change, especially that of new technology such as the automobile. He would mostly reject the automobile because it threatens to change the traditional community and would change their historical roots. Minstrelsy allowed for white southerners to address their fears of rural social change. Blackface had attracted big crowds in the south as country artists, blackface singers, dancers and comedians all were appealing and entertaining to those in the southern areas.

Hays used racialized humor, that is, humor which were re-creations of African American dialect, acts and ridicules on their misfortunes. Blackface duos Lee Roy “Lasses” White and Lee David “Honey” set up comical acts and parodies to popular songs. They’ve applied the southern anxiety of modernization and culture into these acts which had drawn many people. They were popular to both white southerners as well as black southerners. The issue of blackfacing, therefore, was sensitive to the issue of being “authentic” where they needed to be real enough to appeal to the audience but at the same time sympathetic also. The Opry’s musical programming had assured the true white southern identity would not be altered by the rapidly changing times and modernization and they’ve stressed the importance of African American tradition and figures in their music.

All the fabrications made in folk music based on these two articles have raised the question of what exactly is “authentic”. In our society today, many things tend to bend towards that same problem from photo manipulation to video editing and even music. Since the advancement of technology we are able to manipulate many of the “original” to produce an effect that we believe would be best, however, wouldn’t changing the ‘work of art’ take away from the original meaning and intention? In relation to folk music and the Lomaxes, if the goal was to preserve heritage, history and roots I feel that it’d be better to have left it the way it originally intended to be, even with all the “rough edges” because that is what defines that specific piece of work to be unique.

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