Monday, October 29, 2012

Remixing songs and playing live

As my throat still won't allow me to sing - there are times when I can barely talk, either - I haven't been able to create very much music lately. What I have been doing whenever I feel the urge to be musical is to take a previously recorded song and remix it. This remixing can be at any one of several levels
  • Changing the balance and effects on a recorded vocal to improve the final result
  • Running the vocal tracks through a very clever program which can autotune the vocals. I am very happy when this works, but I have noticed that in some cases, the tuned vocals are worse than they were before. In such cases, I leave the vocals as they were.
  • Changing the music track slightly, normally by syncopating some notes, but also by changing parts slightly
  • Creating a new music track
A song which I mentioned before, 'The road to Antibes', underwent the first three treatments and now sounds even better than it did before. Unfortunately, some of my older work was not backed up correctly, meaning that I don't have separate vocal and music tracks. No separate tracks means that I can't remix them.

I played a gig on Saturday! A friend (who has a beautiful voice) was arranging her father's 75th birthday party and asked me to accompany her and her family on some songs. In the end, I played six different songs and attended several different rehearsals. It was really good playing live again - this time, I used the semi-acoustic Washburn guitar which is easier to hold and easier to play than the acoustic Ovation. My amplifier also helped in the process - I added chorus and a slight delay in order to produce a fuller sound. My friend asked at the beginning how I was managing to sound as if I were playing two guitars.

To my slight surprise, I fingerpicked all the songs: I even left the plectrum at home! Some of the songs were picked and some strummed, but somehow using the plectrum didn't feel right. I also took a leaf out of the Robert Fripp school of guitar playing and played sitting down.

It was very interesting to look at the songs that I played from a harmonic point of view, as opposed to my songs. The chord sequences were fairly straight forward: one lovely song had either a minor i-iv-v sequence or a major I-IV-V sequence, where the minor was the relative minor of the major (in other words, Em-Am-Bm and G-C-D). Another was also based G-C-D, but then had a familiar B-Em-Am-D sequence. One tune was a jazzy waltz based on the chords Bm-E, but this too had a sequence of dominants (from E to A and thence to D, also C#-F#-Bm).

My songs, on the other hand, tend not to have dominants at all; to an extent, this is done on purpose, but it tends to happen automatically. I prefer 'chord streams' - Em-F#m-G-F#m or rather stranger sequences.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Friday is cooking day

I almost always eat fish for lunch on Friday: I'm at home and can cook myself something nutritious. The meal has undergone a few changes over the years: at first it was a grilled fillet of hake along with chips and salad, stuffed into a pita. I cut out the chips after my daughter pointed out that it wasn't good to eat chips if I was supposed to be dieting, and shortly after I cut out the pita, for the same reason. I stopped eating salad after I managed to spill the olive oil from the salad dressing onto my shirt, something which happened a few times, before I realised that I had better find a replacement for the salad.

In the last month or so, I've frequently been preparing antipasti - a mixture of red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, tomatoes and onions, all cut into strips, over which I drizzle olive oil. The vegetables are then baked in the oven (175 degrees Centigrade for 30-35 minutes). 

On the left is a slightly blurred picture of the vegetables prior to their being placed in the oven. I find it best to place them on a sheet of baking paper as this keeps the tray clean.

After the thirty minutes is up, I then place on top of the vegetables a few hake fillets and spray them lightly with cooking oil (this stage may be unnecessary as I'm not grilling the fish) and put the tray back in the oven. After about five minutes, I turn down the heat in the oven - the food keeps on cooking but of course I save on electricity. 

After another ten minutes, I take the tray out and serve the fish and vegetables (see picture below).

Completing the cooking theme, here is a picture of my new slow cooker, filled with vegetables and chicken pieces. The vegetables are underneath the chicken and so can't be seen. This picture was taken very early on in the cooking process, which is why there is no steam nor water droplets visible. My daughter doesn't like spices on the chicken which is why the pieces are 'naked'; I could add parsley or paprika to make things slightly more interesting, but to be honest, I too prefer the natural flavour of the chicken and the vegetables (onion, courgette, carrot).

Friday, October 12, 2012

A new season, a new team

A new season began last night in the Euroleague Basketball Tournament and Maccabi Tel Aviv opened that season with a new team. It used to be that each season Maccabi would keep the core of its team, replacing two or three players with names new to Europe, but in the past few years that tradition has no longer been maintained. 

From last year's team, only three Israelis and one American remain; the rest have gone due to retirement (two), enticement by larger contracts (two) or simply let go (two). As a result, an almost completely new team has been constructed this summer - I don't write 'built' for the players have yet to coalesce into a whole, the team has yet to be built. And of these new players, whilst some are new to Europe, there are two who played for other teams in the Euroleague last year whilst at least one other played in a lower grade European tournament. As it happens, the American who remains from last year underwent an operation in the summer and has yet to make an appearance in any of the practice games. Thus Maccabi opened last night with four players who I've never seen before; unsurprisingly, the three Israelis made very important contributions.

These constant changes, including faces who last year were opponents, makes building a team identity very difficult. Of course, there are problems on the professional side but I'm not really writing about that but rather about the difficulty of an average fan to identify with his team. As I have written before, I am an armchair fan of Maccabi and there have been times when I have preferred to spend my Thursday evenings doing something else than watching an Israeli team being taken apart. But on the whole, Maccabi manages to supply teams whose performance exceeds what one might expect from their dry statistics, and these performances can bring a little joy into my life.

As per last the last few seasons, Maccabi opened with an away game in Spain (Malaga), but this time managed to win the game; towards the end of the first half, they even had a 16 or 18 point lead, which unfortunately evaporated in the third quarter, only to be partially restored in the final quarter. Such is the nature of the early stages of the tournament that this away win may be enough to secure Maccabi the first place in their group: most of the other teams (bar Malaga) are minnows and Maccabi will be expected to beat them. Thus beating the strongest other team in the group in an away game will be the 'something extra' needed in order to achieve first place. 

But this year, the structure of the Euroleague top 16 stage has been changed, adding more games; thus finishing first in the first stage has less meaning this year than it has done in previous years.

Don't worry: this is not going to turn into a sporting blog; I doubt that I will have any more to write about Maccabi for the next few months.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Blues for S

I'm currently in one of those periods when I can't really concentrate on anything; I think it's due to the fact that Israel is in the high holiday period. We work a day, have four days off, work three days, have four days off, work three days, have two days off. I have all this time in which I could do anything but I don't seem to do much. This blog entry itself is going to be a bit of a hodge-podge in itself.

Last Friday, my trusted slow cooker developed a leak - I became aware of this when I smelt something burning. It turns out that there was a huge crack down one side, through which were leaking the juices of the chicken pieces I was cooking. The leaked juices were heated by the heating element and burnt, hence the smell. Whilst the food that I was cooking in the pot turned out ok (slightly underdone by my standards), I realised that there was no option but to throw the pot away. I have bought a new one but have yet to use it.

We had our first rain on Sunday evening; all day had been humid and by mid-afternoon I wasn't feeling too well. The weather as usual has been affecting me and I've been coughing much more in the past few days. I am considering resuming acupuncture treatments, this time in the hope of improving my immune system. Apparently, people who have had whooping cough are more susceptible to simple colds and chills, and have stronger reactions. That's not very good news for me.

I did a certain amount of programming - playing around with adding items to the system menu and discovering how I can sum a column in a query's result set without either iterating through the result set or using a separate query. I needed this technique in a few places in my programs but discovered that it didn't always work - it seemed impossible to sum a column which is in itself a calculated column. The answer to that is here.

Of course, I devoted some time to studying: I have completed my first pass through the 'Introduction to Business Research 1' text and have now started the second pass.

About the only thing that I did in the past week of which I am proud is that I managed to record a new instrumental! I was fiddling around on the guitar, playing a slightly unusual chord - F#m7add11; this name sounds weird but it's a simple guitar chord, played (from the bottom) x44200 - an F#m chord with the top two strings left open. Picking this chord in a simple arpeggio, combined with the effects setting on my amp (a small amount of phasing), produced an interesting sound. I started playing around with possible chord sequences and melody lines and evolved an interesting piece which seemed partially derived from a 12 bar blues sequence (although I doubt that anyone would guess this). I then went to the computer, sequenced the guitar arpeggio (with a certain amount of randomness) and continued from there - bass, drums and tune. I found an excellent guitar patch in Reason, which really 'makes' the track.

The piece itself is slightly strange as 'verses' 1, 2 and 5 differ from 'verses' 3 and 4 in their length (3 and 4 are elongated) and chord sequence (1,2 and 5 have a Em6 chord leading to C#9, whereas 3 and 4 have C#9, D9, C#9), although I don't know how many listeners will pick up on this. As befitting a jazzy-ish piece, the 'tune' undergoes a certain amount of development, along with changes in the instrumentation.

I had been listening to Miles Davis'  'Kind of blue' a few weeks ago and I think that some of that seminal recording's influence had rubbed off on me, for the main instrument in my piece is a muted trumpet. Of course, the 'playing' is somewhat stilted and nowhere near as fluent as Davis and his sidemen.

The piece is called 'Blues for S' and can be found at my SoundClick page. I hope that you'll listen and enjoy it.