Monthly Archives: January 2014

Glassworks

Glassworks Album Cover

I generally think of myself as more of a minimalist with a little “m.”  In other words, one who embraces a more spare, spacious approach to composition.  But I’ve also got a weak spot for the big “M” Minimalists like Philip Glass.

On a recent trip, I rediscovered one of his most popular works, Glassworks.  There’s nothing quite like the experience of looking out the window of a passenger jet flying at 30,000 feet while listening to the frenetic, virtuosic playing of the Philip Glass Ensemble as they tear through the six movements of the composition.  Maybe it’s his association with Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi film trilogy that reinforces the perception of things in motion.

Of course, this minimalism may embrace a relatively slower approach to harmonic development, but there’s nothing minimal about the rhythms and emotional power of the piece.  Interestingly enough, Glass intentionally composed Glassworks as a departure from the long-form, marathon compositions which made him famous.  The six movements range from about five to seven minutes in length, making them some of the shortest of Glass’s compositions.  They are a wonderful point of entry into the work of a great composer, and certainly exhibit all of the characteristics (aside from duration) for which Glass is famous.

On a related note, a colleague of mine stated recently that there’s nothing like listening to Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians while driving through Joshua Tree National Park.  I guess I’ll have to try that for myself someday soon.  I’m sure he’s right.

Modular Love

I spent an enjoyable Friday night with my 3-year-old son watching I Dream Of Wires, a documentary about the modular analog synth. The recently released “Hard Core Edition” clocks in at 4 hours! Highlights include a complete history of Moog and Buchla modulars, interviews with electronic music icons including Vince Clarke (of Depeche Mode, Yaz, and Erasure fame) and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), and a glimpse into the current state of Eurorack modulars. Also, happy to hear everyone in the film pronounce Moog correctly! (It rhymes with “vogue.”)

I was pleasantly surprised to find that my son was interested in the sights and sounds of these electronic beasts. We’ve got a Moog Voyager at home, which is basically a digitally-controlled Mini Moog, and he loves pressing the keys and twiddling the knobs and listening to the results. There was one humorous moment when he turned to me and asked, “Are these guys talking to us?” I suppose it’s an appropriate question for a kid who never watches anything but cartoons! A word of warning–there are quite a few f-bombs in there, so parental guide is definitely suggested.

Anyway, this was timely viewing for me because we’re currently shopping for an analog modular for the Music Tech Department at Foothill. We’re leaning toward a basic Doepfer starter system with a sequencer. Doepfer is the company that started the Eurorack movement and they’re still the 800-pound gorilla of the modular scene. You can check out Doepfer here.

Doepfer Standard System 2 with MIDI

Doepfer A-100 Basic System 2

New Year, New Start

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Sometimes, the only way to actually “finish” a project is to be faced with a deadline.  I know I’m not the only one who has a huge backlog of Pro Tools and Ableton Live sessions waiting to be completed “some day.”

This year I’ve decided to do something about it.  I’m planning to participate in two different groups that aim to help composers stay motivated:  Disquiet Junto and Weekly Beats.  They both have the same goal, which is to inspire participants to complete one new composition for each week of 2014!

Disquiet Junto is the brainchild of Marc Weidenbaum, aka Disquiet.  Junto is a Spanish word meaning “a club for mutual improvement.”  Here’s how it works:  each Thursday a new Junto project is announced. The project gives general guidelines or restrictions that act as a spring board for a new composition.  Participants are expected to upload their completed tracks to the group by the following Monday.  Here’s my track for the first project of 2014:

Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.

While Disquiet Junto seems to lend itself to more experimental work, Weekly Beats is a popular group for electronic music producers (or even songwriters) looking for the same kind of motivation.

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There aren’t any guidelines for each week’s project, the task is simply to produce a new track every week. I’m planning to use this as an outlet for combining my experimental tendencies with more typical EDM beats. Here’s my first track for Weekly Beats:

I’m curious to see if I’ll be able to keep up with the weekly projects for both groups. Here’s to a productive 2014!