Monday, March 30, 2015

Businesses Discriminating on Religious Grounds Should LITERALLY Occur on Religious Ground. Alternate Title: Gov. Leslie Knope of Indiana Wouldn't Have Signed It Into Law.

I could be wildly inaccurate concerning the content and consequences of a recently-passed Indiana law, but as far as I have heard, any Indiana business can discriminate against any potential customer, if that customer somehow infringes on the religious beliefs of the business owners.

For example, a baker is the sole proprietor majority shareholder of a bakery in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. That baker is also a Christian who takes the book of Leviticus and the epistles of Paul relatively seriously, as far as mainstream evangelical Christianity goes: He will eat bacon cheeseburgers, is ambivalent about tattoos, is apathetic about fabric, and is against gay marriage.

If my interpretation of the recent law is accurate, then the bakery has the right to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because it goes against the majority owner's religious beliefs.

I have two potential solutions to this issue.

1. The baker should bake the cake for the paying customer. It's just a cake. No one gets hurt directly, except maybe for sugar-related health reasons. In exchange for the cake -- money! That's how capitalism works, and any other "free" market system, like bartering. Don't be a cake douche. (Also: Bacon cheeseburgers are both delicious and a doubly non-Kosher, with its pork content and intermingling of milk and beef.)

2. Amend the law, so that the only businesses that could discriminate against its potential customers, are businesses that are 100% owned by religious corporations, i.e. churches and other houses of worship. The aforementioned hypothetical bakery must be owned by a single church/denomination/chapter -- Christian or Muslim or Reasonabilist or any other -- 100 percent. Not 51%, not 67%. Any discrimination of a customer, on religious grounds, must be unanimous. And it must literally occur on religious ground, being that a single church must own 100% of a discriminatory business.

Of course, with any simple solution, there will be a multitude of complex, consequential problems. If the Reasonabilist bakery's cold cakes sell like hotcakes, and turn a massive profit, what is a non-profit religious corporation to do? What of the tax-exempt status of the Church of Reasonabilism?

May Zorp have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Popular Music Songwriting = Lyrics + Approximation of Melody. Everything Else Is Arrangement.

I find infringement / plagiarism lawsuits involving songs in the popular music format (verse-chorus-verse, et al.) to be fascinating -- and unnecessary. If I can relay what I've read more-or-less accurately without looking it up, the case involving "Blurred Lines" is currently in favor of the Marvin Gaye estate. Apparently, the jury found that the rhythm section, bass and percussion, of Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' production of "Blurred Lines" had a very similar vibe as Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." Musicians who have analyzed and compared both songs have found that the bass line, while having similar rhythms, are actually using different modes -- basically scales, without getting too much into the nitty-gritty of music theory.

The jury, it seems, has created a precedent in which genre conventions -- e.g., funky basslines and more cowbell -- can be grounds for copyright infringement. I am certainly glad that the birth of rock 'n roll, in the 1950s, wasn't so litigious. If you haven't heard enough '50s music, there were basically three ways to write a rock 'n roll song:  (1) 12 bar blues with a boogie woogie backbeat, (2) a waltzy doo-wop with a I vi IV V chord progression (e.g., C Am F G, or G Em C D, etc.), or (3) a properly composed pop song.  But really, early rock 'n roll was about the 12 bar blues and/or the doo-wop progression. My point is that almost every '50s song sound like a plethora of other '50s songs.

I think an overlooked problematic area in "Blurred Lines" was that, according to what I've read in the song's composition process, it was basically cobbled together in the studio. It seems like Thicke and Williams, and perhaps T.I. too, were jamming with keyboards and drum machines and computer loops and vocal riffing. They created the backbone structure of the song to have the same groove as similar songs in the ballpark of a genre -- funk / pop / or whatever. They then brought in session players for the rhythm section, if they didn't want to track it themselves, and the entire envisioned vibe came to life.

They might or might not have done this, but the writers of the song should have written the song itself on paper, and not just lyrics. Ideally, one of them -- or their assistant(s) -- should have taken the, I'm guessing, Pro Tools session and lyric ideas, and transcribed a lead sheet:  Tempo approximation at the start, chords on top, treble clef melody in any key with meter in the middle, and lyrics on the bottom layer -- all the way through the page.

That should, in my learned-by-trial-and-error, yet somewhat idealistic view of music, show whether or not a song infringes on another song. In fact, the song itself is really only the lyrics and an approximation of the melody. In the previous paragraph, I listed the basic elements of a lead sheet:

Tempo
Chords
Meter
Key
Melody
Lyrics

... and four (and a half) of the six are fluid parts of the song, and can be changed in process of arrangement, especially when an artist is actually performing a rendition, or cover, of another songwriter's song.

Tempo: Speed it up, slow it down; it really doesn't matter. The song will be the same, no matter what pace.

Chords: Every major chord/scale has a relative minor chord/scale, and vice versa. Every riff implies a strummed chord, and vice versa. A diminished chord is basically a dominant seventh chord without a root note, and the reverse can also be true, depending on the key. It is a basic skill for any musician to substitute chords, while maintaining the integrity of a song.

Speaking of tempo and chords, compare the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" with Devo's cover. It's the same song at heart, no matter the delivery.

Meter: It might feel a bit weird at first, but a backbeat rocker can easily be transformed into a jangly or romantic waltz, and vice versa.

Key: Any key can be transposed into another key. Next ...

Melody: Due to artistic choices or perhaps physical limitations, a cover song's melody can still be in the ballpark of the original intent and still be a cover. Compare the major key electric "Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden with the minor key, darker, grittier acoustic cover by Zwan. Substituted chords also affect the melody.

Lyrics: A musician covering a song might change a word here or there (e.g., Frank Sinatra covering the Beatles' "Something" or Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt"), if most of the words are the same, it's a cover. If extremely similar lyrics are not admitted as such, then it's plagiarism.

In my opinion, genre conventions shouldn't be grounds for intellectual property infringement. The only focus on these types of lawsuits should be in the areas of melody -- and I think I've given a large ballpark on what can be considered a cover, so that might be applied to similar melodies -- and lyrics. And even in regard to melodies, there are only so many combinations that are accessible to any given culture.

So I really don't know, do I?

Friday, March 20, 2015

How to Record A Power Trio, Circa 1975, with a 2015 Super-Low Budget

On a personal level, new music recordings are just not exciting. This sentiment might even transcend all forms of popular music. But let's talk about rock music, in its purest form: A band consisting of guitar, bass, and drums, with a singer who either plays one of the instruments or does not -- the power trio.

For established bands, either popular since last century or currently receiving record company advances and marketing, recording is no problem. They just need to spend X amount of dollars at a well-equipped, acoustically-treated recording studio with isolation booths and lots of space. They can record on actual tape, with a legendary recording console, etc.

For fool-hardy, no-name, upstart bands -- the modern-day, low-budget recording process is awful. They can either noodle with their computer(s) at home, or go to a $20/hour recording studio, but the process will likely be similar: Record one instrument at a time, recorded with a click track, then quantized and Autotuned to sterility. (Been there, done that; not my favorite thing in the world.)

After decades of trial and error, I think I have a low-budget process (a couple thousand, tops?) that takes the idealism of 1970s-style recording with the relatively "ethical" parts of the Pro Tools era. The conclusion of the recording process, a rough mix, will unfortunately sound quite sterile but it will feel human.

For this situation, I assume that the band is a power trio (guitar, bass, and drums), and the lead singer is either the guitarist or the bassist (or the drummer). I also assume that the recording space is one room, with no isolation booths whatsoever, and with no acoustic treatment.

The first thing to do is to record the band, live. You'll need a decent computer with multi-track software, with enough RAM and hard drive space to handle a maximum of 16 tracks simultaneously. That will be your "tape machine." You'll also need a hardware interface with inputs that can handle all instruments: One for guitar, one for bass, one for kick, one for snare, one for floor tom, one for mid tom, one for high tom, one for hi-hats, one for ride, one for one crash, one for another crash, etc. Since this recording happens in one room, with no isolation booths, you'll have to direct input from either the guitar/bass to the interface, or from the amp to the interface, no mics. Since the room wouldn't be ideal as a drum room, you won't traditionally mic the drums with stereo overheads. Every piece of the kit should be mic'd because, in the end, you will have to replace the drum recording with samples, unfortunately. There is software that can analyze the velocity of each hit and the output digital "notes" will have relatively similar variation.

The alternative to mic'ing all drumkit pieces is to use an electronic drumkit, and plug that directly into the computer or interface. The end result -- the use of samples -- will be the same. Then you really won't need 16 inputs, if you're using an electronic drum kit -- two should suffice for the guitar and bass.

Record the band live, with no click track. The push and pull of the rhythm is basically what makes the performance feel human. You're going to have to record multiple takes, until the drum performance feels right. (You'll want to keep the quantizing and Autotuning to a minimum, if any.) With the best take, punch in to correct any bum notes for the bass and guitar. Let the guitarist record overdubs, extra rhythm guitar, lead guitar, guitar solos, as necessary. You'll have to go somewhere else, with great mics and a good-sounding room, to record the vocals. Or lean a mattress against the corner of the room and use an SM58 -- that might sound okay.

Since no mics were used in the recording process, other than as ad-hoc triggers for an acoustic drum set, to be replaced by drum samples, the recording will sound quite sterile -- a little too perfect. Using studio trickery to, ironically, dirty-up the sound will happen during the mixing process. (Don't go crazy with the overdubs and additional instruments. Get someone else to mix it. Or if you're mixing it, don't muddy up the mix. And don't fight the loudness war when mastering the mix.)

Performance-wise, assuming no quantization or elastic timing fixes are used, the musical feel will be human. Underneath all the overdubs, you will still have three musicians playing off one another's vibes, with a solid but not perfect performance, and that is something that cannot be replicated by any machine.

Yet.

Well, one can always program a drum machine to play at 100 beats per minute, then 99.7 bpm, then 101.1 bpm, etc., but that really isn't the same.

These days, recorded music is cheap. MP3s are low quality. It's free to stream if you can find a particular song. It's cheap to buy, but who buys? Long ago, concert tickets were cheap because they promoted relatively pricey albums (remember $17 CDs?). Now, cheap-to-access music is probably the promotional material for expensive concerts (for big bands) or band T-shirts at small shows (for smaller acts).

The moral of the story for upstart bands: Be good, don't use a lot of trickery, but don't break the bank.

I'll probably repost this rant at Chord du Jour, with links to purchase some equipment. That site should have the money-hungry affiliate links. This blog, not so much.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

St. George's Day Should Be a Party Holiday Like St. Patrick's and Cinco de Mayo

St. Paddy's Day is a couple of days away. Last week, a discussion among friends in a Facebook group discussion thread had me thinking about American (and elsewhere, too) drinking holidays, like St. Paddy's and Cinco de Mayo and New Year's Eve, et cetera. I blogged about this before, but I've made an amendment to my proposed April drinking holiday.

I facetiously suggested that either Easter or Passover could be the partying holiday that bridges the gap between St. Paddy's and Cinco. Realistically, neither would catch on, since the masses probably wouldn't want to commit some sort of blasphemy in at least two religions, Easter involving Jesus and Passover involving Moses. Of course, St. Paddy's is also a religious holiday, commemorating the Catholic Saint Patrick, but we party regardless, which is mostly heresy-free.

My dog Kate's birthday is in late April, but she isn't entrenched in pop culture enough (yet!) to warrant a food-and-drink holiday.

I propose that St. George's Day, on April 23rd, should be the holiday that bridges the aforementioned March and May party nights. St. George is the patron saint of England (south of Scotland, on the island of Britain, if you haven't heard of it) and was quite the dragon-slayer. If everyone's Irish on Paddy's, and everyone's Mexican on Cinco, then in the spirit of inclusiveness, everyone's English on George's Day.

An actual English person in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion suggested that curry and chips should be the equivalent to the corned beef brisket and cabbage on this holiday. (The use of corned beef was apparently an improvisation by Irish immigrants in America.) Apparently, french-fried potatoes with curry sauce is extremely popular among the English today. In my limited knowledge, I suggested either fish and chips or Sunday roast (roast beef and Yorkshire pudding). And ale, oh yes, ale. I don't know if Newcastle or Bass should be the mass-market equivalent to Guinness (or green-colored beer, which is out of the discussion). In any case, I'll have to track down curry and chips, soon.

On St. Patrick's, people tend to wear green. Per the suggestion of my English friend, we'll have to wear red and white for St. George's, with either a red or white rose, depending on the side of the War of the Roses you choose: House Stark or House Lannister, err, the House of York (white) or the House of Lancaster (red). Since this is an English holiday, and everyone's either honorarily or actually English, then please, no Union Jacks on clothing. Then again, I suppose we'll have to spell words like colour and limit the x-treme American use of the letter z. And pronounce that flexible metal as aluminium.

There should be a knight slaying a dragon somewhere during this holiday, because dragon-slaying is pretty cool. Here's a photo of my dog Kate with a knight on her back, from Halloween 2013:


In conclusion, St. George's Day, where everyone's English for the day and (k)night, should be a thing. As a postscript, let us look at the year for a party day/night every month:

January: There seems to be no party holiday! New Year's (hangover) Day is too close to December's party holiday. Epiphany is too intertwined with Jesus and Christmas to truly be a St. Paddy's-level revel. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has a feeling of civic sacredness, the civil rights equivalent to high holiday days like Easter and Passover. We'll have to get back to January's party holiday.

February: Mardi Gras / Fat Tuesday usually happens in the month of February. During years with March Mardi Gras, we'll have to come up with a suitable substitute. Hint: It probably won't be Valentine's or President's Day. Of course, in the spirit of inclusiveness, everyone's a Francophone on Mardi Gras!

March: St. Patrick's Day on the 17th.

April: As proposed above, St. George's Day on the 23rd.

May: Cinco de Mayo on the 5th.

June: We'll have to get back to June's party holiday.

July: The Fourth of July, on the 4th, because U-S-A! U-S-A! Hashtag: 'Murica.

August: We'll have to get back to August's party holiday.

September: We'll have to get back to September's party holiday. Labor Day? Maybe, maybe not.

October: Halloween on the 31st. Everyone's something else on Halloween!

November: Thanksgiving (USA) on the fourth Thursday of the month. It's not quite a party holiday, per se, but it involves a massive amount of food and drink.

December: New Year's Eve on the 31st.

We'll have to figure out party holidays for January, sometimes-February, June, August, and September. In the meantime, I hope you all have a fun and safe St. Patrick's Day on Tuesday! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bedtime Stories (for Dogs)

Several years ago, I tried to turn this blog into a webcomic. I drew some scribbly images -- a woman with a shotgun, some zombies, a few vampires, and other miscellaneous freaks and ghouls -- and it was kind of awful. If I recall, there was some sort of unstated plot to the images, but I kept repeating the same sequences of events with different thought bubbles every day, like a wannabe Dinosaur Comics.

I eventually got bored, and I stopped "writing" those webcomics.

A couple of years ago, I wanted to write a more focused visual adventure (okay, another webcomic, but better!), but instead of trying to draw each panel, I would use photographs featuring LEGO bricks and minifigures. I went on Bricklink to buy all sorts of parts, "cast" my main characters, and outlined how I wanted to present my ridiculous tale. It was supposed to be "bedtime stories for dogs" because one of the heroes was an anthropomorphic version of my dog Kate, with a silly supporting cast, and an epic scope that pretty much rips off Doctor Who. Sort of. It was a fantasy-comedy-type deal, and all those things pretty much sum up to being Doctor Who-like. Or Supernatural-like. I was going to have each episode / webcomic / installment on my Tumblr site, A Terrible Realm, because I had hoped that the Tumblr community would dig this kind of stuff, and it would be a successful webcomic.

I had to stop, before I even began, because I didn't have the time. I didn't make the time. I took naps instead.

I want to try again. I have the LEGO, enough to make child-me jealous of older-me, and I have since acquired a fairly decent DSLR camera. I'm going to continue developing what I conceptualized two years ago. There's a "Mary Sue" of my dog. In space. On a spaceship. There's going to be an ersatz Doctor Who Doctor, but not a direct copy/plagiarism. Hopefully. More like an homage. Or a satire. A parody, really. There will be a silly swordsman and a badass gunslinger. It will take place in different time eras, but time travel won't be used, I don't think.  I just have to come up with snappy stories with the right tone, good enough to be a series of bedtime stories. For dogs.

Instead of Tumblr, I will post these adventures here. On this blog. Maybe YouTube. Motion comics? What are motion comics? I will definitely not attempt stop-motion for this series. It took hours to photograph and compile 13 seconds of useable frames, at 15 frames per second. I had to loop the footage have a 15-second video for Instagram. I mentioned this video in previous blog post(s):


A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on
That's all for now. Hopefully I can start posting these adventures in the immediate future. If not, at least I can type a sort of status update on this thing. Cheers!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees," Parts 1-18 of 18

I finally finished presenting all 18 parts of my cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18). One of these days, I'll have to stitch all 18 parts together and upload the entire thing on YouTube, or somewhere like that. Since I really have nothing else to write about on the 5th of the month, I will quickly muse on what exactly inspired/possessed me to produce the final six short videos for the song. The first 12 were covered in my previous post.

13. Turn and run, from the lyrics. I videotaped my dog Kate running toward me. I stitched together two shots. The first was filmed later, at 60 frames per second, so I could reasonably use slow motion on a 60 fps shot than a normal 30 fps shot. The second was filmed before, at 30 fps, but I liked the ending of my dog licking the camera lens area. I added some effects to almost look like she's running from a story book and breaking through to the real world, or at least that's what I think it looks like.

14. I don't usually take selfies, but when I do, they're as weird as hell.

15. It's Big Blue, the daytime sky, with the clouds rolling by, in fast-motion.

16. If I could be who you wanted, from the lyrics, with a bad pun with the imagery. In late January, I parked my car near some bushes, with a hive of worker bees gathering nectar and pollen. I had a camera with a relatively long lens with me, so I took about 100 photos. This pseudo-stop motion quasi-animation used up most of the photos.

17. This was a less-weird video shoot with my dog Kate, with the same basic lighting setup as my weird selfie video (part 14).

18. This was basically everything before, repeated twice, with a trippy mirroring effect: The first 25 frames are the first 17 parts in fast-motion, the next 25 frames is part 17 in fast-reverse, the next 25 frames is part 16 in fast-reverse, the next 25 frames is part 15 in reverse, and so on, and so forth -- if any of that makes sense. It's just a summary of the previous parts of the song.

It was an interesting experiment in Instagram filmmaking, and I might do it again sometime in the future. Some videos proved more popular than others; it might be the hashtags I used, the still-frame used to represent each individual video, how well/not well I played each section of the song, or the time of day/day of the week I posted any given video. In any case, here is the order of popularity for all 18 parts, as of this posting, which is worth investigating if one is to identify potential target audiences:

Part 8: LEGO Surgery (57 likes)

Part 4: Puppy Laser (42)

Part 14: Weird Selfie (38)

Part 7: Burrito (37)

Part 18: Trippy Summary (36)

Part 17: Dog "Selfie" (35)

Part 13: Dog Run (33)

Part 12: LEGO Concert (32)
Part 1: Watering Can (32)

Part 5: Pouring Milk (29)

Part 3: Freeway (25)

Part 15: Big Blue (24)
Part 6: Drum Machine (24)

Part 11: Cookie Splash (23)
Part 10: Diablo III (23)

Part 2: Fake Bass (22)

Part 16: Bees (21)

Part 9: Traffic (19)

If I wanted to get this down to a formula, I would have to investigate the day of the week, the time of day, the hashtags used, etc., as mentioned earlier. In broad strokes, it seems that hard work with fun toys -- stop-motion LEGO animation -- has a large target audience. In fact, at least one other Instagram user has taken this video (without my permission, but at least linking back to me with the @ protocol), and has received hundreds of 'likes' and dozens of comments. Cute puppies doing cute things seems to be popular, as well. Weird, shirtless selfies are bronze medal material -- why, exactly? Food is a close fourth place.

My next video series will probably have a combination of LEGO, canine cuteness, artsy narcissism, and food porn. Hopefully people will tune in, and if not, at least I get to say that I can record complete, competent (?) cover songs with the set-up pictured above -- one take, all instruments at once, no overdubs, no Autotune, and no personal computers (okay, a little bit o' reverb, busing, and mastering later on).