Posts tagged “music”

Learning from kids interviewing bands

Kids Interview Bands is a series of videos of, obviously, kids interviewing bands. I propose these videos as a lightweight teaching tool for interviewing as it’s curious to see what goes well and what doesn’t.

The different kid interviewers are coming with a set of stock questions which they ask one after another, with practically no followup. So they never become an actual conversation and the amount of insightful revelation is low. But the kids are real, as little kids, and many of the band members respond to them in a real way.

I first came across this interview with Tom Araya of Slayer as an overall bad example, but I found it incredibly charming.

These people have very little in common, and perhaps limited skills in overcoming that gulf, but Araya never talks down to them, he never plays up his persona, he just does his best to connect with them, never forgetting they are children.

In a slightly different vein, I also liked this interview with Pustulus Maximus of GWAR who absolutely stays within the bounds of his horrific persona, but is kind and entertaining with the kids. He manages to work within his character and the context of the interview, and even though he plays a sort of monster, he doesn’t act like one.

In some ways, the limitations of these interviewers (they are just kids!) highlights other aspects that can contribute to a good interview – participants that take on some of the labor of establishing rapport and making that connection with the other person. And even if the kids don’t ask good follow-up questions (or any), their naturalness serves as an invitation to the musicians to meet them in that state.

Dollars to Donuts: Behind The Music

My new Dollars to Donuts podcast features a nifty bit of intro and outro music. In the podcast you just hear snippets of the song, written expressly for the podcast by my brother-in-law, Bruce Todd. I’ve long been an admirer of Bruce’s songwriting and playing and overall musical thang, and it was an absolute thrill to have him create a piece of music for me.

Now you can hear the whole piece!

Since we’re all about digging into creative processes, here’s Bruce’s explanation of how he developed this music.

This song came to light through questions and (heaven forbid) assumptions about what Steve was looking for or better yet – listening for. Based on some email conversations and musical examples, I had a rough idea that the music had to be relatively fast-paced, rocking and attention=grabbing. Since Steve had some alternatives there was no pressure for me to actually produce anything and this allowed me to experiment and take a few small sound risks. Most of this recording was completed through digital amplification or direct line inputs which allowed me to work quietly and at my leisure (everything except vocals). Often when recording instruments with microphones you need a quiet peaceful environment which I don’t always have access to in my (non-soundproofed) home studio.

I began by finding a drum track: a simple upbeat 4/4 rock drum track which I had used on a previous recording (having exported the tracks from a master file and imported to my Tascam DP 32 Portastudio). Then the fun began. Knowing that the end result would be used as a short clip, I laid down about 2 minutes of drums and then pulled out my Fender Telecaster and began to experiment with a riff. This came pretty quickly as it is quite a simple progression in the key of F-sharp. Next, I plugged in my Vox DA5 (5-watt digital amplifier) and located an overdrive sound I liked and added a small amount of delay. I recorded two tracks with the same guitar sound and panned the tracks left and right, which results in creating a thicker overall sound by doubling the part. After the rhythm guitar tracks were completed I worked on the bass part. I ran the bass also through the little digital Vox and added compression which brought out a punchy bass track (this is a discovery I have been using on my other recordings ever since). Once drums, guitar and bass were complete I left the recording for a few days so I could revisit the idea when I was ready.

Coming back, I wasn’t too sure I liked what I had. If this was a more serious venture I would have probably scrapped the idea. Given that I wasn’t overly convinced that the song idea had much merit I thought I would have my young daughters (Talia 8, Arianna, 4) join me and be exposed to the recording process. Regardless of what the end result was I was sure Uncle Steve would get a kick out of his nieces being involved. Talia has a small electronic keyboard which I plugged into the Portastudio, and I gave her some headphones and had her play along with the guitar, bass and drums. Her first track was a keeper as she found a funny sound and played a part that complimented the space that the guitar riff left. Then Arianna played a part with a toy instrument of hers (in the end this track did not make it on the recording). The girls also helped me do a little vocal improvisation which also didn’t make the master mix but helped me get to the next part of the recording.

recording-1
recording-2

Several days again went by until I felt ready to listen to the song and see what was there and what else I could add. I went back to my guitar and found another overdrive tone which I overlaid with the auto-wah pedal sound setting on the Vox DA5. This was a lucky choice as I think it is what gets the attention of the listener at the beginning of the song. The track is pretty much one big lead guitar riff which from time to time stops and echoes the rhythm guitar tracks. This was a fun part for me as was the final vocal tracks. For the vocal tracks I ran a Shure 57 through the Vox DA 5 flanger setting with a lot of flange and overdrive and experimented by saying “Talk it Out” and by making other weird sounds. I mixed the song and sent it digitally via email to Steve – and to my surprise received a very nice response.

And that is how Dollars to Donuts found its music.

Sometimes I feel…

Back in 2012, this video appeared on YouTube, with disc drives playing Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love (did you know it was a cover?).

This sort of thing does go back decades; some folks got an IBM 1403 printer to play pop songs in 1970 (check out the actual songs here).

In a delightful twist, Marc Almond of Soft Cell recently came across the video, and decided to add his vocals to the disc drive music!

I’m reminded of when Gotye created his own remix (on YouTube) of the ubiquitous covers (also on YouTube) of Somebody That I Used To Know.

Platforms like YouTube enable the collapse of the separation between consumer and producer and it leads to interesting and surprising outcomes. These small examples highlight the disruption that is occurring today.

Just a song that I used to know

Back in 2005, I wrote The More The Merrier for Core77, exploring how consumer and producer continued to blur. Of course, that trend has continued, and even accelerated.

Meanwhile, for my next interactions article (coming out in November) I’m thinking about the creativity that can emerge from the massive libraries of data we now can access.

So here’s something astonishing that builds on both of those themes. Gotye, the musician behind this summer’s omnipresent song Somebody That I Used to Know digs into all the covers (and parodies and so on) of this tune on YouTube, and remixes them into a new cover. Of his own song.

Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of Somebody That I Used To Know seemingly taking over their own area of the internet, I couldn’t resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.

Check it out, it’s pretty great example of something very much of our moment.

Notes: Gotye acknowledges this video for inspiring his remix; he has blogged a complete catalog of his sources; and I was pleased to see he included this parody video which addresses the song’s ubiquity in a funny and relate-able way.

This Week @ Portigal

Monday is well underway and the week is filling up with meetings and work sessions! Away we go!

  • Last week we kicked off a super-rapid project. We didn’t know we were doing the project at the beginning of the week and by the end of the week we had started recruiting research participants. This week we’re lining up our participants and figuring out what we’ll do in the field.
  • I’m calling it “collaborative listening” – thanks to our officemate Olly, we’re experimenting with some networked speakers that lets us all listen to music together instead of individually over headphones. This will mean sorting out some social norms around volume, phone calls, and musical tastes. But so far, so good (oh yeah, because we’re listening to my music right now!)…
  • We’re hosting our first event later this week. We’ve invited a small number of folks for a discussion and will be sharing more once it’s all over. But we’re actively discussing our catering options right now!
  • More conference submissions to prepare, more conference acceptances to announce, and more conference presentations to start getting together!
  • This week we’ve begun reaching out to potential new teammates, partners, and collaborators. We don’t know where we’ll end up but the journey is sure to be an informative one.
  • What we’re consuming: A Visit From The Goon Squad, The Firestarter Sessions, Pizzeria Delfina

This Week @ Portigal

You can tell just how busy things are by the dearth of non-This Week postings here.

  • We’ve synthesized, organized, and otherwise pummeled our data into a story. Now comes telling that story!
  • For one client, we’re creating the final presentation, honing ideas, getting feedback, finessing the wording.
  • With another client, we’re nailing down the core of the story and thinking ahead to editing video.
  • I’ll be sharing some stories and pictures from a wonderful trip to Austin.
  • What we’re consuming: Waco Brothers, Cosentino Winery Cigarzin.

To be who you are, practice being someone else

Back in June, Rush drummer Neal Peart was interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos, discussing the recording of their classic album Moving Pictures (now 30 years old!)

He relates a curious and cool aspect of their creative process, evoking the role-playing techniques (including informance) that we use in user research, facilitation, design, and more, whereby taking on characters can free oneself from a current constraint, including one’s own identity.

One of the tricks that we were already using then – that we still do – is that we make up other bands. “Today we’re not Rush, we’re The Fabulous Men.” That was our new age band, or we have an ongoing edgy kind of rockabilily band called Rockin’ F so when we want to bring out a different persona we say “Okay, make this part Rockin’ F.” That’s something we still use.

Also see previously: Eminem, Will.i.am and Jack White

Siri’s rising star

Siri, the scene-stealing voice-activated command center of the new iPhone 4S, has created quite a stir, inspiring at least one love song and a Tumblr documenting her pointed witticisms. She is certainly gaining on Autocorrect in popularity and possibly in perceived utility, if not hilarity.

Conceptually, voice interface holds great appeal. In our research, when we talk to people about their gadgets, voice is frequently suggested as the imagined ideal interface. People picture immediate interactions that eliminate pesky thumb typing and don’t distract from critical tasks, such as driving. But when we think a little more deeply about the concept of voice-command with people, it’s clear that this kind of out-loud interface is not the interface for all times and places. Even the voice interactions that have been around for awhile are out of favor. People prefer texting over voice-calls for privacy and expediency, and despise talking to automated systems.

While attending a conference over this past weekend, I personally overheard a man tersely exclaim, “Not NOW, Siri!” in the middle of a presentation. This suggests that relationships being formed with Siri are progressing beyond infatuation at an accelerated pace. We’ll be keeping an eye on how Siri’s use plays out in real-life situations over time and where the real value lies, as her undeniable charms wear off.

A couple of recent articles with interesting perspectives on Siri’s limits and potential impact:

Is Siri artificially intelligent or just a robot? [macleans.ca] – How does Siri come by her pithy attitude? This article suggests that it’s much the same way that Crispin Porter + Bogusky set up the hilarious Burger King marketing campaign 10 years ago, Subservient Chicken, in which a man dressed in a chicken suit seemed to respond to even the most ludicrous typed commands via a “live” interactive webcam set up in a shady-looking apartment. This was accomplished by staging clips with pre-programmed responses to a large enough number of imagined inquiries that verisimilitude was achieved.

The key to AI is the ability to creatively solve a problem. There’s no denying that Siri’s ability to recognize and translate voice plus grammar into usable data or actions qualifies. In that sense, Siri possesses what seems to be a good level of artificial intelligence. However, with the sort of stuff showing up on the websites…a good portion of Siri’s capabilities are likely simple programmed responses. It’s doubtful that even IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which not too long ago whupped human butt on Jeopardy, could construct such creative and funny responses as, “No comment, douche bag” to questions such as “Are you menstruating?” In such regards, Siri is more of a programmed robot than a thinking entity. Somebody somewhere-or more likely, many people somewhere-have spent a good deal of time anticipating and then programming Siri with potential questions and their respective answers, humourous or otherwise.

How Siri, the Apple iPhone 4S’s ‘Virtual Personal Assistant,’ Could Transform Music [billboard.biz] – Apps are just solutions to problems; this article suggests that, if uptake is significant, Siri might potentially eliminate the need to access specifically branded apps to get stuff done. Implications go well beyond music, obviously.

If an iPhone user asks Siri what the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey are, many people won’t care much whether TuneWiki or any other app fulfills the request. All that matters to them is that their request gets fulfilled in a timely manner, and that they’re soon happily singing, “Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world.” Similarly, if a user is seeking concert listings for the night, which match up to the songs on their iPhone, they’re unconcerned whether Songkick, Bandsintown, or Ticketmaster produces the results as long as they get them fast and accurately. Siri fundamentally changes how iPhone users think of apps, which is the point…Shazam and Pandora aren’t just apps; they’re features. To use them, a person should only need to know that they want to identify a song or listen to a custom radio station and-like magic-the desired process should occur. Siri can be the genie who makes it happen.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Mermaids poised for their mainstream splash [SF Chronicle] – Here’s an emergent trend that we’ll all want to get in front of, whether it’s cultural literacy or presents for friends and children, or perhaps cashing in before it the bubble bursts.

Mermaids are about to swamp vampires and zombies as supernatural rainmakers in popular culture. Photographer Mark Anderson is releasing a book called “M: Mermaids of Hollywood,” that features Anna Faris, the Kardashians, Kristen Bell and others in tails. Carolyn Turgeon, author of “Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale,” has agreed to run a new magazine, Mermaids & Mythology. The true beneficiaries of the mermaid bull market are small-business owners who cornered the mermaid market before there actually was one. Eric Ducharme, who lives near Tampa, makes about seven latex tails a month for $500 to $700 and since December has created 25 silicone ones for $1,600 to $5,000, including one for Lady Gaga. The Weeki Wachee Springs Underwater Theater, also near Tampa, started its mermaid shows in 1947. In danger of closing just a few years ago, it’s now hosting sold-out camps for adults who want to swim with tails.

Masked Protesters Aid Time Warner’s Bottom Line [NYTimes.com] – The mask wearers have been seen here in the Bay Area recently, in protests against the BART transit system preemptively disconnecting cell service in advance of a protest. There’s clearly a market for knockoff masks, which may lead to some corrective corporate actions, which may in turn lead to more protests and indeed an entire economic turnaround.

When members [of Anonymous] appear in public to protest censorship and what they view as corruption, they don a plastic mask of Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century Englishman who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Stark white, with blushed pink cheeks, a wide grin and a thin black mustache and goatee, the mask resonates with the hackers because it was worn by a rogue anarchist challenging an authoritarian government in “V for Vendetta,” the movie produced in 2006 by Warner Brothers. What few people seem to know, though, is that Time Warner, one of the largest media companies in the world and parent of Warner Brothers, owns the rights to the image and is paid a licensing fee with the sale of each mask.

Come On, Feel the Mud [NYTimes.com] – This interactive feature has some lovely, if muddy pictures, but mostly I was struck to learn that there’s a Polish Woodstock. If nothing else, we are clearly a decades past the dawn of political correctness where that phrase could only be the punchline to an offensive joke.

The original Woodstock festival was known for both its music and its mud. Although it is no relation to the American festivals, the Woodstock Festival in Kostrzyn nad Odra, Poland, does its best to recreate the experience by building giant mud pits in which thousands of young Poles writhe and wrestle to a hard-driving beat. Now in its 17th year, the Polish Woodstock mixes older Western rock bands like Prodigy and Helloween with popular Polish acts like Laki Lan and Enej. Despite the aggressive music, the vibe in the mud pit is much more summer of love. “We are moshing, we are throwing sand and dirt, but it’s really friendly,” said Michal Knapinski, 16. “When someone falls, there are hundreds of hands pulling him up.”

Discomfort, reframed (almost)

Two examples of hotels in noisy environments, where they each acknowledge (and try to reframe) the situation in order to provide the solution (earplugs).


Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel

Railroad Development in the Puget Sound Area is much more than just steel tracks and cars, but rather the network that helped lay the foundation for Seattle, the modern trading metropolis you see today. The lights, the tunnels, the tracks and cars are quintessential reminders of Seattle’s charm and history. Enjoy your stay where it all began…

Should the sounds of the passing trains disturb your sleep, please take a pair of earplugs, on the house.


Austin’s Hilton Garden Inn

Thank you for choosing the Hilton Garden Inn when staying in Austin the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

While we cannot control the music we would like to provide you with this complimentary amenity to help ensure a good nights rest.

We hope this will make your stay more comfortable.

This is a design challenge we often encounter: in order to present a solution, you have to raise the possibility of the problem. Perhaps you wouldn’t even know about the problem if we didn’t tell you about it! In Seattle, I never heard the trains. In Austin, I did hear the music late late into the night.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t sleep with earplugs in, so the actual solution is limited, but the gesture towards the solution is definitely interesting. The four-star-ish Edgewater hits the history hard as if somehow you – with all the supposed noise – are connected with that. The Hilton Garden Inn, bad punctuation aside, takes a straightforward, three-star approach, but still reminds you that the reason you even need the earplugs is because of the experience you are part of. Hilton does better for relevance, but Edgewater weaves more of a story.

What you don’t see here is the presentation at the Edgewater. The card and the little box of earplugs were tucked away on a bit of molding such that I thought for at least a day that it was some sort of item left behind by a construction worker doing room maintenance.

The earplug packaging can be kinda ugly and both hotels are ceding total control of their presentation to their supplier. See Method on Virgin here for a related exmaple.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] The Art of Design Research (and Why It Matters) [design mind] – [Lovely piece by Jon Freach on what design research brings to design and innovation.] And sometimes design teams don't have the patience to see the value in dragging out a study in an effort to make it scientifically or statistically significant. We're just not wired that way; we prefer to make and experiment and then analyze later. So what is research good for? 1. Learning about people's behavior; 2. Understanding and analyzing culture; 3. Defining context; 4. Setting focus…Design research is not "a science" and is not necessarily "scientific." It gives designers and clients a much more nuanced understanding of the people for whom they design while providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process. What is the correct product or service to design? What characteristics should it have, and is it working as intended? "The research" won't necessarily provide cold hard answers. But it will generate some good and feasible ideas.
  • [from steve_portigal] CBS Radio Tells Its D.J.’s to Name Titles and Artists [NYTimes.com] – [Tying together the fortunes of radio and record sales?] Last week the head of a major radio company felt compelled to instruct its programmers to identify more of the songs played on the air, by title and artist name…at some indeterminate point in history ­ the mid-1980s ­ song identification began to vanish from the air as programmers struggled to squeeze out anything considered “clutter.” “You were always conscious about the amount of talk you would put on,” he said. “But the truth is that people tune in and tune out, and it was probably underestimated at the time how much people really wanted that information.” For record companies, having a song’s title and artist’s name mentioned on the air ­ especially if new and unfamiliar ­ is crucial marketing…“At one point in our culture there were well-schooled retailers who could help people figure out what that song was, because they wanted to buy it,” said Greg Thompson, VP at EMI Music. “In this day and age that doesn’t exist.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] New record label hands decision-making over to fans [Springwise] – [This is exactly what Devo did in 2010 with their Devo 2.0 initiative which we blogged about extensively. Love how rapidly an experiment/social commentary becomes a "straight" idea in someone else's hands] Crowdbands is offering users the chance to become record label executives from their homes. Established by Tom Sarig and Peter Sorgenfrei, the Crowdbands label has already signed LA-based band The Donnas. By signing up as a Crowdband member for USD 25 a year, users are entitled to vote on major decisions in The Donnas’ career, from which songs are included on their albums, which artists they should collaborate with, where and where they tour, and even ideas for album cover art. In exchange, not only do members get to see their decisions implemented, they also receive the band’s releases before the general public.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Crewspace – a social network for roadies – [The Internet provides a regular reminder of surprising or niche communities, connecting people that might otherwise remain disconnected, and revealing that these seemingly fringe groups can have significantly large membership. But how does a specialized social networking site differentiate from Facebook or LinkedIn? Do users inhabit both? How will all of us manage the different facets of our lives? How does a site like Crewspace adapt to its users in its user experience? Plus, how can I get backstage tonight?] Crewspace is the private social network for professional road crew (roadies) in the music industry worldwide. Membership is by invite only, so no time-wasters! Anyone who tours can become a member of crewspace (crew space) – tour & road mgrs, production mgrs, audio engineers, sound engineers, LD's, light techs, electricians, backline techs, road crew, catering, carpentry, riggers, security, transport, roadcrew, merch, wardrobe, make-up, crew, roadies.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] LCARS Standards Development Board – [Library Computer Access/Retrieval System is the name of the operating system used by ship systems on Star Trek. As fan sites and other bits of consumer-developed tech emulate the look and feel of interfaces from Star Trek, this site is an effort to create a set of UI standards around colors, fonts, animation, sounds, and other interactive elements.]
  • [from steve_portigal] How Kanye makes his musical sausage [Kottke] – [If you've been enjoying our recent examples of inspiring or provocative thoughts on creativity from performing artists, here's another one] Interesting piece on how Kanye West's latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, got made. Lots of good creative process bits

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Music and speech share a code for communicating sadness in the minor third [Scientific American] – [We unconsciously employ culturally-imbued musical cues and tonal differentials with each other to convey emotion, sadness being one. This seems so obvious once it's stated, and so important to our methodologies, as we search for emotional response and connection.] The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn't a facet of musical communication alone—it's how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language. Since the minor third is defined as a specific measurable distance between pitches (a ratio of frequencies), Curtis was able to identify when the actors' speech relied on the minor third. What she found is that the actors consistently used the minor third to express sadness.

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