Sunday, August 18, 2013

HDR

This is a shadow for the 4th round of SpinTunes #7.  It was a “Photo Finish” prompt. Although this time the judges are allowed to shadow, up to now I didn’t feel comfortable doing that while I was ranking other people’s work. As that onus is removed from me this round, I feel comfortable about shadowing, and have done so. Sadly, I probably won’t have time to properly produce it.

My fellow judge Brian Gray made the thought-provoking implication that “inspired by” pretty much gives the contestant carte blanche to submit just about anything so long as it results from a train of thought originating with the image. 

So let's look at the image. You can click on it to get to the photographer's Flickr page and select other resolutions.


I took Brian’s comment as inspiration to write, not about the subject of the image, but about the image itself. This choice was informed by the recent tendencies of many of my friends to take up digital photography, and in particular, HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Now, when done properly, digital manipulation results in some really epic work. When done poorly, this can look like really, really bad plastic surgery on a formerly beautiful woman. Keep in mind that I’m not saying this was done poorly. After all, I'm one of the folks who selected this image! What I’m saying is that the presence of manipulation here got me thinking about a general tendency of beginners to over-manipulate. They’ll force too much contrast, super-saturate the colors, and over-compensate the exposure of the various parts of an HDR image so that it’s very obviously a photo-manipulation.

Lyrical and musical notes after the lyrics:


HDR

I've got a digital eye
I bought it from a guy
Selling excitement in a blue shirt at Best Buy

I'm gonna capture me
Bits of eternity
I'll freeze some life so I can have a life for all to see

The world is so drab and boring
Hey, but not for me,
'Cause I've got god-like powers,
A telephoto lens - a Photoshop license key

And I know how to HDR
Don't have to deal with things as they are
Supersaturated hues
I've got the bluest blues
In a sky that looks like the sea - yeah
It looks just like the sea - yeah

[instrumental bridge]

I'll make a day-glo sunburst morning
It's my ticket to a new world dawning
I'll recreate the world I see
Electronically, electronically, yeah!

And I know how to HDR
Don't have to deal with things as they are
Supersaturated hues
I've got the bluest blues
The bluest blues!
Yeah! 
The world is mine, I'll seize it!
You'll see it as I please it!
With every masterpiece
My Flickr fans will worship me.
Yeah!
The world is mine, I'll seize it!
You'll see it as I please it!
With every masterpiece
My fans will worship me!

Yeah...

They'll worship me!

Yeah...

I've got a digital eye
They’ll worship me!
I've got a digital eye
They’ll worship me!
I've got a digital eye
They’ll worship me!



LYRICAL NOTES:


I used the phrase “digital eye” because I wanted that organic connection. The photographer doesn’t think of the camera as equipment separate from himself. Rather, it’s an extension of himself.

Whenever I think of a salesman in song I always imagine Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Can I Put You On”. So I used "in a blue shirt" to identify my modern interchangeable Best Buy salesman in the same way that Taupin uses the Trilby hat to identify his peddler.

I didn't consciously think through the "selling excitement" line... I've just taken it for granted for many years that this is what salesmen do. My brother often says, "A man doesn't buy a drill because he wants a drill; he buys a drill because he wants a hole." In the same way, I say a person doesn't buy a camera because he just desires to possess a camera: A camera is a “time net”, and you use it to trap moments. He buys a camera so he can trap the really great ones. Without a camera you get to experience that moment once. With a camera you get to relive it over and over. I think that's what I was trying to say there. I know... it's a lot to try to fit into two words, and it goes by pretty quickly. It’s not the sort of thing you want someone to think about. Instead, you hope the audience gets it subconsciously.

I am having a fun little dig at the fictional photographer here...  he's so absorbed in his hobby that his life is reduced to those moments that he has captured.  Those images he takes are things that are happening to other people. But he captures them, and they're now his. Between the frames he has no life to speak of. This is pretty much to set up the concept that this guy lives inside his camera; that's his "real world", of which he is the master.


From this point on it’s a pretty mundane exercise of the metaphor I’ve chosen... that of a man who is dissatisfied with the world as it is and who wishes to create a “better” world to replace it in his memory. “Better” here is really subjective, and as the photographer in this story is an amateur enthusiast, it consists of gilding every lily he sees. All the clich├ęs... too much contrast, color saturation, and HDR, typified by an image that resembles any frame of the movie 300 and exemplified by that intricately detailed sky in the challenge prompt, reminding me of the sea.

As he gilds his lilies, our amateur photographer experiences the rush of power conferred upon him by his expensive equipment and Adobe Photoshop... and he also is confused as to which is the “real” world. An HDR artist will either tell you that the images produced expose the “real” world that you cannot see (that is, a reality that’s deeper than your vision can perceive) or that he’s capturing in the camera the world as you actually see it, and which “normal” photography can’t. The latter might be true if great restraint is used, but usually in HDR we see hard contrast and color definition that counter-intuitively combines in a way that yields a glowy soft-focus impression that is immediately recognizable as being unnatural, and which therefore cannot possibly be the world as perceived by the human eye. I therefore choose to cast my fictional photographer as a mini-god who re-creates the world in his own image.


The line “It’s my ticket to a new day dawning” recalls the fact that the image is of a ticket booth and sunburst, and is a reminder that this is in fact the image that inspired the song. But it’s also a reminder that this “new day” occurs in the world of his creation. As in Genesis, “the evening and the morning were the first day”.


MUSICAL NOTES:


There’s not much to say here. I gave next to zero thought to musical theory when composing the music. Instead I thought about the broad strokes and the story I wanted to tell, like so:


Even though Photoshop and HDR are recent inventions, I wanted this song to sound very grounded in the early 1980s. That was the moment of the “me-generation”. It was an era of excess, and excess is what these lyrics are about. So I wanted to push the excitement mentioned in the first verse with short, choppy chords. These would open out in the “drab and boring” verse to form a hook on which to hang the concept of the photographer’s “god-like powers”. This ends in the word “sea” in a really drawn-out over-emoted crescendo, which would come into it’s own when re-used on the “worship me!” line at the end.


If this were produced the way my brain hears it, the end result should be to the ears what a supersaturated image is to the eyes... just subtly “too much” in every respect. It should evoke images of "80’s hair", glitter in the makeup, colored lights and a disco ball. I’m pretty sure that someone judging the song would despise it for the very same reasons that would in my view make it an artistic success. Of course, I’m hopeless at such production, so you may have to settle for just a piano and my voice.

Artwork Note: I needed a replacement photo for my Bandcamp track art, so I asked my brother Everett for a really bad one. None of his were actually bad enough to really illustrate the issue, so the one I did use has been further saturated and cropped by me. His photos can be seen on his Facebook page.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It Came To Pass

Notes after the lyrics:



It Came To Pass

In a little town in the country
Far away from the crimes of man
Was born one day a baby
Soon to be talk of the land.

His promise outshone his poverty
By the distance of nations each mile
Though the prophets may forecast the future
no one forgets this child.

He walks through life so serenely
Though misunderstood and unknown
Though his friends say the all will stand with him
At the end he is standing alone.

And it came to pass
They began to ask
Who is this only son?
What is his name?
Where is he from?
What has he ever done?

He said we're a nation of brothers
Look well on the things that you do
Take care you do only to others 
The things that you'd have done to you

He spoke out of love and of kindness
Of the meek who'll inherit the Earth
It angered the elders to find this
So they fought back for all they were worth

He was taken before courtrooms of many
From township to jail he was tossed
Then they found him so frighteningly guilty
They nailed both his hands to a cross.

And it came to pass
They began to ask
Who is this only son?
What is his name?
Where is he from?
What has he ever done?

[Update! There's a third section now. Keep reading]

And it came to pass
They began to ask
Who is this only son?
What is his name?
Where is he from?
What has he ever done?

What has he ever done?


Notes:

Writing a hymn is tricky business. It's tough to get it so it doesn't sound cheesy or trite, or warmed over from two thousand years of previous attempts. When I got the lyrics from William I wanted to make sure that this one was done sincerely, and also that it would be something that could be enjoyed by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Musically, I hear this in my head as being very "Irish". In fact, I'm consciously trying to keep the "Irish" out of my voice when I'm singing it, and I'm not entirely successful. Other folks have told me that it doesn't sound like a particularly Irish tune to them, but I'm telling you... I personally cannot hear this in my head without a fiddle and a bohdran. When I sing it in private it's in a horribly pronounced and probably very bad brogue. Which is just as well... I bet God just loves Gaelic music. I do, too, and if I had my way, that's how it would be produced.

A few things didn't make it into the lyrics here... no healing of the blind and crippled, and I left out the police arrest and most of the politics. Those things that I did change are all universal (I think) though based in scripture. The fourth verse (first after the first chorus) is a straight rephrasing of Matthew 7:12. Of all the potential teachings I could have chosen for the next verse, I chose "blessed are the meek" for its potential  to trigger the ire of the establishment.

This isn't the first time I've taken a stab at this song... the original lyrics (which these are very close to) were written around 1980. About 15 years ago I did an extensive re-write which attempted to answer the question posed rather than leave it unresolved. Big mistake. It was heavy-handed and preachy and way.... too much.  It sounded militant and in-your-face, and 100% not what Jesus would do. I'm glad I didn't finish that one.

I think of this as the "short version" of the song... I think of the "long form" as being three sections, each ending with the "And it came to pass..." chorus. One for the birth, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus. But I don't have lyrics for the third movement, so the short form is all we have at the moment.  

In the stead of the third movement I simply repeat chorus and the line, "What has he ever done?"

Update: The third section is now written, and the lyrics are as follows, with a great many thanks to JoAnn Abbott of Menage A Tune for helping me finish it up. These should be inserted where indicated above:




In a tomb cut from rock he was buried
But for him even Death had no power
Resurrected, He greeted dear Mary
On the third day at morning's first hour

Do you love me? he asked those who followed
Go forth, let the world know I care
You've a place in the house of my Father
And a life everlasting to share

[break]

So won't you let Him be your portal?
Open up, and embrace a new start!
Believe and He'll make you immortal!
His Spirit will live in your heart.

And it came to pass
They began to ask
Who is this only son?
What is his name?
Where is he from?
What has he ever done?




Notes for the 3rd section:

I found that I couldn't let go of the idea here that, not only should this section be about the Resurrection, but the three verses should be about the Resurrection, the Great Commission, and an Invitation, so that's what you see here. As with the rest of the song, there are a great many details not said, but this is a song, not a biography.

There are a number of scriptural references here. Notably, "Do you love me?" is found at the tail-end of John, where Jesus asks it of Simon Peter three times (and you'll note the prevalence of threes in this song: three sections (birth, ministry, resurrection) of three verses each. The song itself is in 3/4 time... 3 beats per measure)

The first line of the Invitation is my way of expressing the idea of Jesus as a portal... based on His statement that no man gets to the Father except "through" Him. I carried that expression forward as a metaphor. However, Jesus is never actually named in the song, to keep the questions chorus relevant. This is an invitation to read and think about it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Those Crazy Alien Friends of Mine

Song bio after the lyrics


.
THOSE CRAZY ALIEN FRIENDS OF MINE
=================================
They arrived one night quite secretly
Out of the mist of another time
Walked for miles through the desert sand
And quietly crossed over the borderline
They settled in next door to me and then I heard no word
'Til accidentally on purpose one day I overheard
They spoke in a language foreign to me and seemed bothered by the sun
It's pretty clear they're not from here- they're illegal aliens

Then curiosity
Got the best of me
So one night I went to spy.
One of them cornered me
In the peonies
So I looked him in his eye
(Busted!), I introduced myself
From what I understand
They're from Ceti-Alphaville - a far and distant land
That ain't nowhere 'round here - it's as far as they come!
I knew it! They're illegal aliens!

And every evening by and by
I catch them staring at the sky
And if I ask them why - they just shed a little tear
From that single eye just underneath the ear

I got to know them fairly quickly - they're really very kind
But they'll take in the trash and put out the cat, those alien friends of mine
And nuclear reactors ain't a dime a dozen but they've got a dozen in the garage
Hmmmm....

Then curiosity
Got the best of me
So I asked them to explain
About Astronomy
And Relativity
And why they carry a second brain
We fixed their rocket up
I helped them stock it up
With chocolate, beer and krill
'Cause you can't get food like that in Ceti-Alphaville

And every evening by and by
I catch them staring at the sky
And if I ask them why - they just shed a little tear
From that single eye just underneath the ear

I got to know them fairly quickly - they're really very kind
They opened up and told me they just came here to unwind
And that I'm welcome to come visit if I really wanted to
For a friend of the family it's the least that they could do

Then one day a nosy neighbor with too much time on his hands
Dropped a dime to the I.N.S. and he sped up our summer plans
We had to take off rather quickly amid fear and consternation
Now it's off to outer space for a heavenly vacation
I've never been so far from home, but I'm sure that I'll be fine
With those crazy alien friends of mine

And every evening by and by
They catch me staring at the sky
And if they ask me why - I just shed a little tear
I didn't know the world would look so small from way up here.

Yeah...
I didn't know the world would look so small from way up here.




Notes:

William wrote the core of these lyrics on December 12th, 2001.  For the past twelve years I've been brushing past them without a second glance... or if I did glance, it was accompanied by a snort.

Two days ago that changed, and I don't know why.  I just looked at them and said, "Yes, they're silly, but I'm going to do them anyway.

A few people have told me now that the song sounds like it ends, and then keeps going, and then it ends again, and then keeps going... That's because it does... about five times. I'll explain:


The original lyrics were a lot more ambiguous than these... except for the name "Ceti-Alphaville" and the fact that they had two nuclear reactors, there wasn't much to identify these folks as being space-aliens. They could have been from Mexico.  And even "Ceti-Alphaville" doesn't say much, as I once lived not too far from Jupiter, Florida. The Ceti Alpha part of it was a nod to "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan", but only William knows what possessed him to put a "-ville" on the end of it. The end result sounded a bit "Ray Stevens" to me. The thing is, a Ray Stevens song would resolve the ambiguity into something really ridiculous, and it would be interminably long.


I added the goofiness about the single eye and ear, and the bridge, and turned the INS call into a conflict. Originally they just took off happily on vacation. I was also wrestling a bit about the best way to describe whatever it was they took off in... which conveniently just wasn't mentioned in the original. So I considered all manner of "space-ship"and "flying saucer" until I just said screw it and went with "rocket", both because it's ridiculously unbelievable already, and because I have always loved the fact that Ray Bradbury always used the word "rocket" no matter how far away another planet was. I mean... who cares that it's not really a rocket? You don't actually "dial" a phone, either.  The chocolate, beer, and krill were simply answers my children provided to the question "what foods don't go together?"


NOTE: If I were to record this again I might change "chocolate" to "toothpaste". Aliens.

So I'd add a verse, then realize there was a little more story, then I'd re-arrange a verse, or resurrect some of the original lyrics, then I'd do it again. When all was said and done, I realized that there was a perfect opportunity to re-visit the bridge with the roles reversed. So I did that, and the song ends with the bridge... so it keeps going every time you think it should stop, and the stops on the one occasion where your head says it should keep going.


Yeah... there's probably a rule against that, but I really don't care.


I'm still thinking about doing another version of this, only the aliens are from Canada. Now those are some strange folks. ;)