Saturday, March 12, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 4 Reviews

It's the final round, and this one's a Photo Finish! The challenge:
Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the Everett Leigh photo below:
The photographer (and subject) of the photo happens to be my brother.

As this is an "inspired by" challenge, with no set lyrical or technical requirements, it's a pure contest of songwriting craft and pretty much anything goes. And listening to the songs it occurred to me, not only that all of the composers belong in this final round, but also that I found it really, really difficult to rank them. They're all excellent! So, being at a loss myself, I turned to my good friend Vizzini for his opinion.

Vizzini is renowned for his blistering sharp wit and refined taste. I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florin, sharpening his stiletto. Being Sicilian, he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and hired muscle. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently the barmaid arrived to pour the wine. I motioned for her to leave the bottle.

Presently Vizzini turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

"I know," I replied. "I guess it must be as hard for you to rank them as it is for me!"

"Inconceivable!" cried Vizzini, "I already know who the winner should be!"

"Really?" I was impressed. "Would you enlighten me?"

"Of course!" he answered. "Let's go through them one at a time, in album order.  We'll start with the first entry, 'The Real Indiana Jones'. Jailhouse Payback, prompted by the appearance of your brother in the photograph, engages in well-defined storytelling concerning the movie character of his title. Within this, he incorporates other features of the photograph... clouds, sky, the sea, and the rocky shore. Coupled with a very catchy tune, infectious beat, and solid performance that includes an impressive guitar solo, clearly this entry must be my favorite!"

"Interesting!", I said. "So this is number one. What's your second choice?"

"Not so fast!" cautioned Vizzini. "I haven't finished describing my first place choice!"

"Alright..." said I, puzzled, "Do continue."

Vizzini continued, "Governing Dynamics' entry, 'Sound On Sound' has a very different feeling, much more melancholy and laid-back. Though the vocals may seem a little more shaky, we have to remember that this is a songwriting competition. And Governing Dynamics went beyond the image of the photograph. He did the sleuthing to learn of the actual location shown in the photograph and incorporated that into his song. That kind of detailed craftsmanship certainly earns him some bonus points. Plus, the guitar work in this number is superb. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"So," I ventured, "This is the best of the lot? You're ready to move on to number two?"

"Not even remotely! I'm just getting started! I haven't yet discussed Ominous Ride and 'Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand'! Though the band claims not to be proud of this mix, it's largely due to the same perfectionist attitude I bring to my own work!" Vizzini inspected his stiletto with a slight frown and resumed polishing the razor edge as he continued to speak. "This piece encapsulates the resonant sound that is the signature of Ominous Ride's previous work. It also displays a different kind of songwriting; one based in pure emotion rather than narrative. One image expressed in light prompts others expressed in lyric and sound. This emotion isn't lost even on an intellectual like myself! Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

I sensed a clear pattern. Despite that, I fed the troll. Then I turned back to Vizzini and queried, "I suppose now you're ready to move on?"

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! But I'm not some moron who leaves a thought unfinished! There's another entry to consider! Megalodon took a literal left turn with their entry, 'Stout Cortez', winding up on the West Coast instead of the East, describing a sunset instead of a sunrise. Such things are perfectly allowable when the image alone is your prompt. And according to the band, the photo prompt prompted a memory of a poetic prompt to prompt the music and narrative! Inconceivable!" It occurred to me that perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant, but I allowed him to continue, "Megalodon turns this into the story of an explorer on the Western shore of a vast continent. Not only is this highly imaginative, it gets whimsy points for putting your brother in a rubber room. It's also arguably the best produced song of the bunch. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"But that makes four favorites!" I complained, "How would you rank them?"

"I've already told you what I thought of each song!" snapped Vizzini. "A clever man can hold more than one thought at a time, and a Sicilian never goes back on his word! And that reminds me, I've been employed to kidnap a certain young maiden, and must collect my associates and procure seagoing conveyance. I'm on a tight schedule, so now I must take my leave!"

Vizzini began to walk away, then turned back to the table, sweeping the bottle of wine and two goblets into his pack before bustling out of the door.


Realizing that I had just wasted an evening and a good bit of coin without being any closer to a solution, I decided to call on my brother for his opinion. After all, he took the photo. It's only fair that he get a say in ranking the songs.

I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florence, sharpening the contrast on some images in Photoshop. Being a photographer he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and in-camera settings. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently our server arrived to pour the sweet tea. I motioned for her to leave the pitcher.

Presently Everett turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

A sense of dread coupled with deja vu began to wash over me. It quickly abated as he continued.  "The poetry in the lyrics for all were easy for me to relate to and I truly liked them a lot. But if I have to rank them, then here are my personal preferences, in order." He slid a piece of paper across the table to me. On it he had written his verdict:
  1. Jailhouse Payback - The Real Indiana Jones
  2. Megalodon - Stout Cortez
  3. Ominous Ride - Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand
  4. Governing Dynamics - Sound On Sound
I turned the paper over and realized it was the bill. When I looked up, Everett was gone.


Sadly, Vizzini didn't offer an opinion on the shadows, but here are my thoughts:

Jailhouse Payback - Steps And Regrets (Shadow)
To be perfectly honest, of the two entries from Jailhouse Payback, this one is the one that got stuck in my head. It's a lot catchier. Nevertheless the right song was submitted as the official entry, as The Real Indiana Jones captures more of the flavor of photo than this one. It's a little strange to hear "Up on the mountainside" when looking at a photo of the ocean. Lots of banjo goodness in this one, and it's earned a permanent spot in my MP3 player. This sort of song is why I'm a Jailhouse Payback fan.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Sunset (Shadow)
Ooooooh, this is a little darker than we're used to from the Dudes. They went with the 'sunset', and produced a solid ballad of regret. There's still a hint of what I call "BYD Mode" in the chorus, which makes it recognizable as a Boffo Yux Dudes production. I'm a bit distracted by the instrumentation, though. Are these instruments out of tune on purpose, by accident, or is it just my ears? If this were a piano, some of the notes might be found in the cracks between the keys.

Boffo Yux Dudes - The Color Of Invisible Light (Shadow) 
My high school teachers always said, "write what you know," leaving me puzzled as to why they consistently rejected my monographs on serial murder. Nevertheless, this advice seems to have worked out pretty well for the Dudes with their background in broadcast media. The first bar establishes that this tune is going to be in signature "BYD mode" clean through. They're playing to their strength in the same way that the Riddler is playing to his every time he sends Batman a postcard. It usually works out, right? The photographed colors of the sunlit sky led them to this pensive piece that notes that most of the electromagnetic spectrum is factually "invisible light" (which, as a former USAF radio tech, I truly find fascinating). Besides the fact that this has some really nice organ work, there's gotta be a prize for this line alone: "Listen to the song I sing, it’s pulled out of my rectum." I can't argue with that!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Made A Clarinet...

Since this pic was taken I've added a bell.
I made a clarinet.

Really it's started out a recorder with a clarinet mouthpiece, but it sounds a lot like a B-flat clarinet. In fact, I was going to make a recorder, but by using the clarinet mouthpiece I saved a lot of trouble getting the fipple (whistle mouthpiece) right. The clarinet mouthpiece and reeds bumped the construction cost from about $5 to $40.

Then it sort of went from being a modified recorder back to being a (keyless) clarinet, as I took a heat gun to a section of pipe to make a bell and added it to the body. Since the body itself is nothing more than a straight piece of CPVC and the mouthpiece and bell are easily transferred, I'm experimenting with different fingering arrangements.

Well... really they're pretty much just a CPVC plumbing pipe cut to lengths, with finger holes drilled in them, but they sound OK. In fact, they sound a lot better than I thought they would. 

After making it, I discovered that the clarinet reed/recorder fingering combination is sometimes called a saxinet.

In making the instrument I made some reference to The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments, by David Lapp to get the tuning right.

Item Picture

written by David Lapp
published by the Wright Center for Science Education Tufts University

SpinTunes 11 Round 2 Reviews

SpinTunes 11, Round 2. The challenge: "Write a song about your favorite guilty pleasure".

This round I'm looking for sincerity. We did say "your" guilty pleasure, after all. Now, there's no way we can check up on that, so I don't really care if it's your actual guilty pleasure or not. I'm looking for you to convince me that it IS with a marriage of lyrics and style. And hell, if you can make ME like your guilty pleasure, then that's just icing on the cake.

That's the part I write before hearing the songs. Now that I'm hearing them, I don't know what to say... once again, there's no way these should be spread into 16 slots, but them's the rules. So here are the rankings, top to bottom. And if you see less verbiage from me than usual, it's because you guys (and gal) seem to know what you're doing. So I'm just sitting back, chillin', and enjoying the songs this round.


Glen Raphael - Cadbury Shanty
You brought the troubadour in strength, Glen. Clever lyrics, a tune with nice contour, an addictive rhythm. And spoons. Yeah.

Jailhouse Payback - Watching "Lockdown"
C'mon... a band named "Jailhouse Payback" jointly writing a song called 'Watching "Lockdown""? A song with genetics like this cries out for a smokin' C&W sound with banjo? AND THE DELIVERED! What's not to love about this? A favorite.

Ominous Ride - Cheap Wine
There's that great sound again! I could go for Mogen David myself.

Mark Humble - Secret Desire
LOL. Mark, I never knew you were such a meme person. Heavy metal, sweat, long hair and cheezburgers. Meow.

Adam Sakellarides - Guilty Pleasure
JUDGE Judy -- GUILTY pleasure -- oh, you're killing me. I can't believe I'm putting this here.

Ross Durand - Uh Oh!
Oh, wow... This fun number is a callback to the classic commercial. It's also an effective defense of childhood comfort food. :)

Megalodon - Exact Change
Oddly enough, my mother had this same mania. She'd dig around in her purse until the entire queue was tapping their toes like Fred Astaire. Then she'd beam at the clerk, pleased with herself beyond all reason. I like this song. It's got a nice beat, it's easy to listen to. It doesn't jump up and demand anything from me, but it doesn't languish either. Good stuff.

"BucketHat" Bobby - Ode To Internet Explorer
I hate the browser. I don't know why I like the song. Maybe it's just that a little resemblance to "Under the Sea". Maybe it's the hand claps. Maybe it's the fact that I was never cool enough to use Piczo. Whatever. I still like it.

Governing Dynamics - Ireland Delay
When I heard the first line I could have sworn I had heard the phrase "City of Angels" from you before. It bugged me so much I went and Googled it. I couldn't find it, so I guess it's deja vu. It's the sort of phrase you can get away with once, so check it off your bucket list. Smooth rock, with more than a touch of U2's style. Oh, let's face it, you nailed the style. And a good pastiche goes far.

Edric Haleen - My Dear Wife
Candy Crush is addictive, or so I hear. I wouldn't know: as with heroin, I've never tried it. And here I am on the day before St. Valentine's, submitting a review of an Edric Haleen song in which he blames his wife for wasting his time. I hope Edric has a recovery plan.

Pigfarmer Jr - I Like p0rn
Everyone loves p0rn, even the people who are offended by it. And pleasures don't get much guiltier than this. The music outdoes the lyrics here. I guess that's not a bad thing... a friend of mine commented that it has an "appropriate" rhythm. Don't ask. Really. Just don't.

James Young - Love (Actually)
Really nice rhymes and near-rhymes. I was kind of getting into the schtick where you're calling out the actors for other roles, and I wish you'd kept that up. It would have helped with the awkward "Billy Bob Thornton" line. Musically, there's nothing *wrong* with it, but it doesn't grab me. I'm pretty sure the other judges are going to rank this higher.

Rob From Amersfoort - Girls In Leggings
This has a nice, quirky sound. I can't quite be as enthusiastic about the so-so lyrics. To make it up to you, here's a link:

Ellie Sparrow - Bathe In Media
I like the simple accompaniment, but the instrumentals still overrun the vocals. Not as bad as in round 1. Ellie... PLEASE... your voice is nice. We want to hear it. Don't bury it.

Emperor Gum - Electricity
I don't quite buy this as a guilty pleasure. I'm not even sure it's what we meant by "guilty pleasure". Congrats on the musical departure... this was a big change for you, and well done. It's particularly clever to bring the electric sound into a song about electricity... but I can't shake the feeling that it was soft on meeting the challenge.

Jon Eric - Candy Cigarette
Argggghhh... I hate it when this happens. I don't think this song meets the challenge. If I got it wrong, I apologize, but I've got to be able to say "challenge met". This kills me because the song is catchy and poppy, and very cool. It's as sweet as the lyrics. It's TITLED like it should be, but you're singing about the girl, and metaphorically compare her to the candy cigarette exactly once before comparing her to other candies. That's not what we asked for. You're supposed to write a song ABOUT your guilty pleasure. Now, the girl might be that, but that's not where the song went with it. It's doubly sad because this would have been PERFECT for Spintunes 9, round 2: "Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn't worth it." The first verse and refrain easily nails that challenge.


Brian Gray - Building An Orc Army (Shadow)
Intricate rhymes that would make Eminem bow out! Speedy delivery! Funky beats! If this hadn't been so long in the making and had been written for this challenge, you'd get another number one ranking from me. I'd even buy it as being a guilty pleasure. I mean, after all, Saruman *did* hide his dirty misdeeds as long as he could, and obviously took pleasure from his megalomania. But you didn't write it for this contest, so you'll have to content yourself with being the very best shadow of this round.