What do I like most about music?

For the record, I love when students leave me messages on my office door whiteboard. I’ve gotten some pretty creative messages and even some pictures. (I’ve been meaning to create an album to share them. One day…)

Anyway, here’s the latest message:

image

Before I get to my answers, I’d like to thank whomever posted these questions. When I first saw this message, I thought the answers were going to be pretty straightforward. Upon further reflection, however, the answers weren’t so simple. Surprisingly, these are questions I haven’t been asked very often, despite my career choice. I’ve gotten lots of questions about music theory specifically, what music theorists do, and why I chose this specialized field, but I’ve seldom been asked about music in general and my personal connection to it. It’s been a while since I’ve reflected on this. Here goes:

I like that music is a vehicle for expression. Regardless of genre, composer, or time period, the essence of music is its underlying humanity. In general, that’s what art is: the expression of what it is to be human. Through art, we can reflect on and share our experiences. Fear. Betrayal. Joy. Depression. Anger. Jubilation. Humor. Sarcasm. Longing. Desperation. Hope. Exhilaration. Confusion. Pride. Music, in particular, has the ability to reach people on a base, visceral level in a way that other media cannot.

I also like the fact that music connects people. It provides commonalities between people who otherwise would have almost nothing in common. When I watch concert footage of U2, for example, I’m amazed that there are thousands of fans who, despite speaking very little English (or even none at all), can sing every one of Bono’s lyrics. If I were to hum the opening motive to Beethoven’s 5th symphony, chances are someone within a stone’s throw will know something about that piece of music, regardless of their social background or musical experience.

Essentially, what I like most about music is that it’s multi-purpose. It can tell a deeply personal narrative or arouse public sentiment. It can be a call to arms or a reminder to reflect. It can set the mood for a scene or situation. It can be a distraction or an escape or a lifeline. It can be mentally stimulating, physically demanding, or emotional exhausting; many times it’s all three at once! It can be a communal experience or an outlet for individual expression. Music can be used to make a political statement or for pure entertainment, existing for the sole purpose of being enjoyed in the moment and nothing more.

I stay passionate about music through active engagement. Though I never had the chops to be a professional performer, I still enjoy playing the piano and singing. These activities help me connect with  music on a physical level. And when my physical abilities have reached their limits (which, admittedly, aren’t very high), the intellectual side takes over. That’s what attracts me to music theory in the first place: It gives the opportunity me to engage music from a new perspective. Theory allows me to be actively involved with pieces of music I can’t play and further deepens my understanding of the music that I can perform. Ultimately, my physical and intellectual engagement necessarily affect my emotional connection to music. Through music, my body and my mind help enrich my soul.

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Tone Deaf

Walking down the hall a few days ago, I overheard a student brusquely asking a professor, “I need you to show me how to do that again.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. My initial internal reaction was, “Um, excuse me little girl, but I need you to show your teacher a little more courtesy.” To be fair, said student probably meant no disrespect when she asked for some help, but her tone wasn’t nearly as polite she may have thought it was. And that’s exactly my point. She needed to be more aware of her tone. In fact, we all need to be more aware of how we say things to others, myself especially included. “Could you please show me how to do that again?” is a perfectly reasonable and respectful request. So is “Would you mind showing me again how to do that?” The whole interaction and my reaction to it reminded me of this scene from A Few Good Men:

Unfortunately, this is a lesson that many of us–again, myself included–have to learn the hard way. It has taken me a very long time and I have certainly offended more than a few people trying to learn how to regulate my tone and volume. Admittedly, I’m still a work in progress, but lately it’s been easier, and I think it has to do with how my wife and I speak to him and to each other.

We’re trying to teach our son to ask for things nicely. He sometimes resorts to squealing or screaming if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants exactly when he wants it. “Use your words” and “What do you say?” are common refrains in our household. In addition to the actual words, I’m making a concerted effort to speak more slowly and softly. Lately, instead of raising my voice, which comes naturally for me, I use a markedly lower volume and a deliberately slower cadence. Not only does this (hopefully) teach him not to yell or scream when faced with a frustrating or maddening situation, but it also helps keep my temper at bay. It’s a long-term win-win that is already proving beneficial for everyone on Team Endrinal.

Semester Preview: Spring 2015

Last semester was quite a challenge. But a new semester has begun, and that means new opportunities to be a better teacher, scholar, and colleague. With the first week of the Spring 2015 in the books, here’s what’s on tap for the rest of the semester, including some of the goals I hope to accomplish in the next five months.

Good Form

I finally have the opportunity to teach something outside the core sequence. Form and Analysis is my first upper-level teaching attempt, and I could not be more excited. Don’t get me wrong: I love teaching intervals and sequences and secondary dominants and melodic dictation as much as the next person. Really, I do. But teaching Form and Analysis gives me the chance to branch out and gain some much needed experience. Plus, I really like studying musical form, so teaching it should help my research.

As psyched as I am for it, though, I’m also a bit anxious. Despite my apprehension, I’m making a conscious and concerted effort not to stress too much about the preparation. For the sake of my other classes, not to mention my research and service commitments, I cannot spend too much time planning Form and Analysis. I’ve got to trust myself (and the colleagues to whom I most certainly will call upon for advice . . . again) to make the right decisions and not be too hard on myself when I recognize something I could have done differently/better.

The first week went pretty well, I think. The students answered questions readily and willingly, which is usually a pretty good sign this early in the semester. I hope that continues. So far, the text has proven a solid choice. The questions and exercises posed at the end of each chapter have come in hand as starting points for discussions, which has helped reduce my planning time.

Focus on the Focus

I really like my schedule this semester. The times that I teach seem to be favorable for balancing teaching preparation with research. When it comes to potentially having some time to research, however, my biggest issue thus far in my career has been actually getting to the research. Lesson planning and teaching prep tends to dominate my time at school, leaving little time for research and service commitment. This semester, I have at least two chunks of time each day that should help me balance the three academic tentpoles.

In an effort to maximize my on-campus productivity, I’ve been trying to stick to my to-do lists and calendar. I’m happy to report that after only a week, the method is already proving effective because of both a very structured schedule and my strict adherence to the timetable. I was able to achieve a nice balance of planning and research this week, and I’m hoping to build on that momentum and get even more done as I settle into daily and weekly routines.

I’m at a place called Vertigo

For my first doctoral seminar back in grad school, I wrote a short analytical paper on a Ligeti piano etude, “Vertige.” While not a great analysis in and of itself, I think it’s a solid foundation for a more detailed examination. Contour and graphical analyses (cartesian and possibly 3-D) are my methods of choice as I attempt to find 1) similarities between the “melodies” in “Vertige”; 2) the connection between these melodies and the semitone runs, if one exists; and 3) if these similarities and connections carry across to other etudes. I’m really looking forward to getting more familiar with these piece and to see if analyzing them is as fun as listening to them.

(That’s probably the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written.)

The Interverse, part 2: The Two-Part Interverse

Some rock and pop songs have an interverse that is comprised of two parts. While the relationship of those parts to the rest of the song is usually fairly easy to determine (independent/dependent, sectional/continuous), the functional designation of the two-part interverse as a whole becomes more difficult to determine because of the presence of two subsections. If each part has a different designation (e.g. independent continuous and dependent sectional), how is the entire interverse designated in relation to the rest of the song? Additionally, does the section’s overall designation alter the definitions of “independent” and “dependent” material, if at all? I’ve had this idea in the hopper for a while, so I’m trying very hard to get it on a conference program or two, which will force me to research the music and write the damn paper!

Reading = Writing

My father always told me that good writers read. A lot. He is a fan of the editorials and interviews because those were the most stylistically interesting pieces in newspapers and magazines. Despite his best efforts, however, reading never caught on for me as a primary hobby. Instead books, I’d always reach for video games, the TV remote, or my bike. Now that writing is a part of my job, I’ve discovered two things: 1) my father was right, and 2) I wish I read more as a child. But since I can’t change the past, the future is my focus, and that includes a lot more reading. My issue with reading is that I often feel guilty when reading non-professional things (e.g. novels, stories, poetry) because I feel like if I have time to read that stuff, then I should spend it reading for research (e.g. articles, books, dissertations). Like many things in life, though, it’s all about balance. Just like a healthy food diet is composed of a variety of foods, a healthy reading diet includes a variety of sources, . What I read necessarily influences how I write, both stylistically and procedurally, and since I’m looking to improve my writing, it only makes sense that the first step is to read more.

Writing = Reading

I’ve also realized that it works the other way. The more I write (professionally, creatively, or otherwise), the more I will read, and necessarily so. For research, I have to read what’s been written in order to write something original. The same goes for my personal creative writing. As my writing time increases this semester, I expect the same to happen to my reading time. Reading leads to writing, which leads back reading. It’s a cycle I hope to start this semester and sustain for years to come.

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

I don’t know a lot about many things, but I do know enough to listen attentively when smart people say things. With a lot of help from my wife, I now recognize the vast difference between excellence and perfection, chief among them is that the latter doesn’t actually exists. According to Stephen Hawking:

One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. . . . Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.

For a great majority of my life, I have been a perfectionist. While those tendencies have undoubtedly helped me achieve many goals, I have realized that aiming for perfection is choosing to go after an unattainable goal. And someone of my ilk likes to accomplish goals. I like checking items off a to-do list. I like finishing one thing so that I can starting something new, something fresh. Plus, being a perfectionist is exhausting. Seriously. When every little thing has to BE. JUST. SO. AT. ALL. TIMES, it’s no wonder why it was tough to get out of bed.

This semester I’m going to try to go a little easier on myself. Some methods/examples/lessons won’t be as successful as others. I know that. But what I need to do this semester is believe that wholeheartedly and truly be OK with that. Just take notes and try to do it better the next time. No one has it completely figured out. That’s why there are a lot of really good teachers who succeed using different methods. The common trait among these methods is the fact that they all are constantly being refined and tweaked. Just like mine.

Here’s to a great semester!

Semester Review: Fall 2014

The Spring 2015 semester begins today, so I figured what better way to get back into this writing thing than by taking a look back at what was, quite frankly, a fuckin’ bear of a semester and what made it such a challenge.

“Unexpectedly intense” is how I would describe the Fall 2014 semester. At first, I didn’t know why. The conditions seemed primed for a pretty run-of-the-mill semester: I was starting a promotion-track job teaching classes that I’d taught before in a place where I had already been for a year. Rather unexpectedly, however, I felt an intense amount of pressure. I never really found a grove. It was only when I had a chance to get away from campus for a few days for SMT that I figured out why the semester felt so pressure-packed. Fort Myers is a long way from Milwaukee, so I had a chance to reflect on the semester in progress. Ultimately, I concluded that the “unexpected intensity” wasn’t caused by just one or two things, but rather the result of a perfect storm of circumstances.

Technical Difficulties

Before the school year started, I got my very first iPad. This was a big deal for me. I’ve wanted one for the longest time, not just because they’re great devices in and of themselves, but primarily because I like to augment my teaching with technology. Now that I finally had an iPad, I could integrate its capabilities into my teaching workflow to help the classroom environment feel more modern and more engaging. Through an Apple TV and the classroom projector, I could wirelessly display not just a score from my iPad, but my annotations as well. Additionally, because of the campus-wide wifi network, I could also control music playback wirelessly from the iPad. That meant that I was no longer anchored to the document camera at the front of the classroom. With iPad in hand, I could lead my class through an analysis from anywhere in the classroom, thereby making the previously static (and often dry) task of in-class score analysis more dynamic. As an added bonus, it eliminated the amount of paper I needed for class. Hooray for sustainability!

But, as the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I didn’t want it to look like I was incorporating an iPad merely for the sake of using the latest tech trend. I’ve known teachers (hell, even school districts) who rushed this sort of thing, with predictably dreadful results in tow. I identified a clear pedagogical benefit to using this technology in my classes. The issue, however, was that I wanted to make the integration of the techology as smooth as it could be, like I had been using an iPad the whole time. For someone with perfectionist tendencies, that is a lot easier said than done, a fact I found out the hard way. There were unexpected issues like stuttering playback and weak/lost Apple TV connections thanks to building’s mediocre-at-best wifi signal. I found workarounds when necessary and (almost) always had contingency plans in place (paper scores at the ready; my iPhone or iPad plugged in… how 2009!). What frustrated me the most, though, wasn’t having to make contingency plans; that’s always a good idea. It was the fact that I had to revert to my contingency plans many more times than I should have.

Taking the Plunge

The iPad wasn’t the only the significant addition to my teaching workflow. Previously, I had used the learning management system (LMS) as simply a repository for a handful of digital scores, worksheets, and recordings. This semester, however, I decided to take the plunge and make FGCU’s LMS, Canvas, an integral part of my classes. Instead of in-class singing performances in Aural Skills, I had students record videos of themselves singing. No longer did I have a separate Numbers spreadsheet for student grades; I entered and calculated them directly in Canvas. I shared links, posted scores and recordings, made announcements, and asked questions all through Canvas.

At the start of the semester, I had hoped that leveraging Canvas’ capabilities would streamline the bookkeeping and administrative side of teaching (the side I refer to as the “necessary evil” side). And in some ways it did. The singing videos freed up enormous amounts of class time and was well-received by the students, not to mention that it was also highly effective. Once I got the hang of some of Canvas’ gradebook feature, it did make calculating grades a breeze. In many other ways, however, the system slowed me down. In my experience, the problem with LMSs is that the software’s potential far exceeds its execution. The learning curves are very steep, mainly because non-intuitive, visually unappealing UIs often make simple tasks more difficult. Slow on-campus network speeds and even slower website loading times compounded my frustration.

For Future Reference

I also made changes to the way I write and organize my lesson plans. The way I had been doing it was inefficient, and made referencing older plans more tedious than it needed to be. So, instead of each day having its own document, the entire semester’s plans are in one document, organized in a long table. Not only is it easier for me to see what I did last class or last week, it’s more conducive for taking notes about how the lessons went. For years, I’ve been trying my make myself do this more consistently, but for whatever reason(s) I haven’t been able to do it. This new system has helped me take many more notes about the methodologies and procedures in my teaching, which has already helped me improve. I can also envision it being much easier to reference lessons from previous semesters, which will go a long way toward being a more efficient and more consistent teacher in the long run.

Sophomore Slump

My sophomore classes weren’t progressing like I thought they would. The Theory III students were having a difficult time with the form unit while the Aural Skills III students (many of whom were also in my Theory III section) struggled mightily with dictation. I took their lack of progress very personally because most of these students had me for both theory and aural skills their freshman year, so I thought their preparedness and comprehension of the second-year topics (or apparent lack thereof) was on me. “Oh great,” I fretted. “My first year in the permanent position and already I’m screwing up. Maybe I’m not as good a teacher as I thought…”

Two ≯ One

Based on my recommendation, we switched music theory texts. This meant that, because we didn’t want our sophomores to buy another expensive set of materials, they continued using the old text while the freshmen used the new ones. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I use material from different sources all the time to supplement (or even replace) assignments/drills/examples from the primary text. The trouble was this: not only did I want the transition to go smoothly for myself, I wanted it to go well for my colleagues. It was the first decision I made as “The Theory Guy” at FGCU, so I wanted to prove that my choice of texts was a good one. I didn’t want my colleagues questioning my choices already.

Early to Bed, Early to Rise

In an effort to increase my productivity on the research front, I tried a new daily routine that included both earlier wake-up times (4-4:30 a.m.) and bedtimes (8:30-9 p.m.). Normally, I would get out of bed around 6:00 in bed any time between 9:00 and 11:00, depending on how much work I needed to do that night. But by October, I noticed that I was not getting much research work done. Because of the other changes I made to my teaching workflow and increased service commitments, I spent so much time planning and in meetings that it was difficult for me to get in research time while on campus. And by the time evening rolled around, after putting my son to sleep and having dinner with my wife, I was exhausted and had no energy left for anything, let alone detailed intellectual activity. Plus, I didn’t really want my evenings spent doing work. When I leave campus, I want to leave “Dr. Endrinal” there so that I can concentrate on being “Mr. Endrinal” and “Daddy” at home.

The routine worked. I was awake for the same number of hours as my 6 a.m.-11 p.m. schedule; the main difference was that by the time 8:30 p.m. rolled around, I had already done some research work. Even an hour a day is better than no time at all. Unfortunately, after SMT, I was so worn down from the semester that I just couldn’t get up before 6:30. The momentum that I had gained in the two weeks before Milwaukee had all but vanished.

Skip to the End…

I learned several lessons from that whirlwind of the semester, namely:

  • Change is good and necessary, but too many changes at once can be overwhelming, not to mention counterproductive, no matter how small they may seem initially . It was difficult for me to keep track of what was working and what needed improvement, and that leads me to my mistake: I assumed every new thing I was trying would work flawlessly. I mean, how could they not work? I mean, they were my ideas, so of course they were going to be successful, right? In Lee Corso’s words, “Not so fast, my friend.” My hubris was indeed my downfall.
  • I need to quit trying to prove that I belong and just do my job. I need to trust myself to do the job right. After all, that’s only way I know how to operate. I do belong here at FGCU and in the wider music theory community. And I need to always remember that I am extremely lucky to do what I love to do. Not everyone can say that.
  • Music is a hard subject, both to study and to teach. And necessarily so. I cannot expect my students not to struggle at times just because I didn’t struggle with music theory as an undergraduate. Beethoven is hard. Bach is hard. Form is hard. Dictation is hard. Music is nuanced and subjective and deeply personal, and I needed to be reminded that many most students do not just “get it.”
  • There’s no such thing as an “average” or “run-of-the-mill” semester. Every semester is different simply because new people are involved every time. The constant rotation of students (and even faculty) gives each term its own flavor. Because of this, I should expect to be tweaking and adjusting my teaching constantly, not just semester to semester, but month to month and even week to week. In other words, I need to roll with the punches.

The biggest takeaway from all this is that much of the pressure I felt was self-inflicted. I tried to do too much too soon and it bit me. Hard. But I’m recovered now. I’ve had a lovely holiday break and I’m actually excited to tackle the upcoming term and apply what I’ve learned and pass it on to my students.

Peace out, Fall 2014.

Keep Calm…

… And try not to lose your shit over the potential partnership between two of your favorite things: Apple and U2.

Or so I’m telling myself in the wee hours of the night before 1) I teach three classes, and 2) a big iPhone announcement that maybe-possibly-hopefully-prettypleasewithsugarontopI’lldoalmostanythingtomaketheserumorstrue involves U2. Much to my surprise, however, many U2 fans don’t share my enthusiasm. Here’s why this collaboration is good for both parties:

For Apple, it’s a product announcement involving the company’s cash cow: the iPhone. This event would get media coverage even if U2 wasn’t involved. But more than that, teaming up with U2 brings some added pizzazz to what promises to be an already big day for the tech goliath. Of late, Apple keynotes, while still the gold standard for tech announcements, have been a bit dry, due in no small part to the absence of Steve Jobs’ charisma and presence in front of an audience. Samsung (grr) paired up with Jay-Z last year. How much the hip hop mogul actually boosted sales numbers is irrelevant; what’s important is that it the event lent a bit of “cred” to Samsung’s image and created additional buzz for its newest flagship phone. No offense to Jay-Z, but U2 is in a whole other league when it comes to global visibility and marketability. Regardless of what anyone says about relevancy, the relatively “disappointing” sales figures of 2009’s No Line On The Horizon, or a lack of an album in more than five years, U2 is still the biggest band on the planet. I can tell you from firsthand experience that Apple doesn’t like to be outdone. Getting U2 involved with the new iPhone (and potentially the Beats music service) outdoes anyone, anywhere, for years to come.

For U2, it gets the band back into the public consciousness immediately. It’s an instant marketing campaign that will help promote the new album and (eventually) the accompanying tour. I can recall going to the an early 360 show and seeing the Blackberry ads all over the stadium and being sorely disappointed in that joint venture. Besides the signs at concerts and logos on merchandise, what did BlackBerry (then called RIM) do to help the band generate buzz? Nothing. In 2009, RIM was already on the verge of technological irrelevance, to say nothing of its social cache. A partnership with Apple would also assuage the second Bono’s two fears: U2 not making good music and not being culturally relevant. The first should have been allayed earlier this year when “Ordinary Love” was nominated for Oscar and “Invisible” launched on Super Bowl Sunday (which I think, despite lukewarm critical and chart success, is a great song; I wrote about the song for @U2). Not only is Apple technological relevant, but the company also occupies a front-and-center public profile thanks in large part to the ubiquity of iPhones and iPods.

Additionally, teaming with Apple shows that the band has (once again) embraced the latest trends in digital media. In the early 1990’s, that was the whole ethos behind the groundbreaking Zoo TV tour, albeit with an ironic twist. A decade ago, U2 and Apple worked together when the latter was the undisputed king of mobile digital music. Before the iPhone, the iPod was Apple’s moneymaker, and U2 was in on it. There were several iPod commercials and products featuring the band: silhouette campaign (here’s the extended version),  video iPod, and the special edition U2 iPod. Still need further proof that the Apple/U2 relationship is deep? Open up the Music app on in iOS and look at the “Artists” option at the bottom of the screen. Look familiar? Even through all the software updates and upgrades, it’s been Bono’s silhouette for years.

Bono:iTunes

 As for the issue of how the band will be involved tomorrow… well that’s a whole other discussion. In a nutshell, here’s what I envision for the partnership:

U2 is this announcement’s “one last thing.” Tim Cook announces a collaboration with U2 that includes a redemption code for the iTunes store. This code allows the new iPhone owner to download the band’s newest album (whenever that drops; I think October) that will feature digital content like music videos, interviews, and live performances. This would help boost sales figures, which would make both the band and the record company happy. Accompanying the new record be a new official U2 app that will be linked to a newly redesigned website that focuses on fan interaction. Behind the scenes footage, exclusive interviews and photos, unreleased tracks, digital wallpapers, along with a one-year subscription to the fan club, which will offer more goodies. The announcement ends with U2 playing a short set.

I’m trying not to get ahead of myself here, but the sheer excitement is making me thing crazy things. This is all “pie in the sky” speculation, of course, but it’s going on six years since the band’s last full-length studio record, so I think U2 fans will can be forgiven for getting a little giddy. All this conjecture does set us up for some massive disappointment, but such is the life of a die-hard fan.

This arrangement is a good thing, folks. It has the potential to be a game-changer. Odds are it won’t be the earth-shattering event my imagination has vividly outlined, but with these two global icons in cahoots, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Both Apple and U2 have been game-changers for their respective fields. Who’s to say it can’t happen again tomorrow?

Version 2.0

Welcome to the second iteration of this blog.

Why restart this site? And why now? It’s simple, really: I need to jump start my music theory writing. Allow me to explain.

Finding balance in life is proving a mighty challenge, especially now that I’ve got a family of my own. Family will always come first, but because I am the primary breadwinner in my family, I cannot afford to shrug off my professional responsibilities. And, as I am now discovering, achieving a balance within each portion of my life is also difficult proposition. With a lot of discussion, planning, and trial and error, my wife and I have done a great job so far at finding time to be husband and wife amidst the hurricane of being Daddy and Mommy. Professionally, however, I’ve struggled.

This summer was a wonderful and much needed break from all things professional. I’m thankful for the time off, but now I’m having trouble getting back into a research groove because I was checked out for so long. Professionally, I consider myself a teacher first and a researcher second. I’m fortunate that FGCU values teaching as the most important aspect of being on the faculty. But, no matter how valued teaching is, long-term career stability and mobility are difficult to achieve in the field of music theory without paying attention to the other two academic pillars: scholarship and service. At this stage of my career, publication is the name of the game. And, the thing is, I love analyzing music. There’s a bevy of analytical riches buried in U2’s music, just waiting for someone to discover them and write about them. It’s just that I’m so mentally exhausted after teaching and planning that I’ve put my analytical writing on the proverbial back burner. I’ve taught these class before, so I didn’t anticipate teaching and planning to be as tiring as it has turned out to be. We even changed textbooks to one with which I am quite familiar because I used it at my previous institution. But, the change in textbooks was my suggestion, so I’m nervous about the success of its implementation. In addition to the textbook change, I’m also anxious because I’m trying several new things this semester: integration of Canvas, the University’s online system, into the daily class flow; extensive use of an iPad in class; a new organizational system for my lesson plans. Nervousness at the beginning of the school year is normal, but the anxiety about my new workflow has stymied my motivation to do research. I’m finally settling into it, though, so now is the time to get back into research game.

Which brings me back to the reason I’m restarting this blog. When I was younger, my dad told me repeatedly told me that I could improve my writing by reading more and writing regularly. 25 years later, I’m finally going to start following my his advice. I want to use this blog as a creative outlet (sometimes, I need more than 140 characters) that will steer me back into a research routine. Hopefully, writing begets (good) writing. I figure that if I can get the creative writing juices flowing again at least on a semi-regular basis, then I can find the inspiration/motivation to analyze music and write about it. I’ve been thinking about getting back into this site for a while now, but never could justify the time and energy it requires. Not only do I want to write, I need to write. I’m hoping this blog will provide the impetus I need to finish the projects I’ve started and begin new ones.

Parking Courtesy Fail

What’s wrong with this picture?

Parking Courtesy Fail

If you don’t know or can’t figure it out, allow me a few seconds of your time to tell you.

Xan and I went to see Limitless yesterday afternoon (which was great, BTW), and decided to pick up some pizza on the way home.  As we walk into the pizza place, I look behind us as see this Hummer H3 pull into the parking lot and park RIGHT NEXT TO OUR CAR.  Now, while there’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, I think it’s a bit discourteous.  Why, you may ask?  Because as you can plainly see, there are literally a dozen other spaces in the parking lot NOT next to our car.  It wasn’t busy, so Mr. Hummer easily could have parked elsewhere.  What chaps my hide even more is that fact that he pulled into a spot that had our car AND a lightpost next to it.  So, it was probably the tightest spot available, and yet he felt the need to park his oversized SUV in this specific spot.  It blows my mind that simple public courtesies like a parking buffer (when applicable, of course) go unfollowed.  If this were an isolated incident, then perhaps I’d let it slide (OK, probably not).  But it happens far too frequently in Lowell.  GET.  AWAY.  FROM.  MY.  CAR.

Here’s why it bothers me so much: There are certain social protocols that need to be recognized and followed.  Plus, it’s discourteous, plain and simple.  I’m big into simple courtesies, like waving thanks to someone who let you into their lane, holding the door open for someone following you, or giving up your seat to an elderly or disabled person.  These acts aren’t law, but they’re NICE.  And there’s nothing wrong with being nice.  Like saying “please” and “thank you.”  It shows awareness, it shows courtesy, it shows respect.  Unfortunately, not everyone knows this.  But everyone should.

There, I said it.

NLOTH, 2 years later

U2’s latest studio album, No Line On The Horizon, came out two years ago this week, and it was just over two years ago that I posted my initial reaction to the album.  With that in mind, I thought I’d write another entry regarding that record, how I think it’s stood up over two years and its place in the U2 catalogue.

First thing’s first: NLOTH is a slow burner.  That is, it takes a little while to “get it.”  It’s a much more lyrically and musically conceptual album than the other two albums from this style period, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004) and All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000), which is good and not-so-good.

Nope: The so-so stuff first.  NLOTH doesn’t sound like any previous U2 album in terms of overall feel.  It’s got the signature U2 elements, to be sure, such as The Edge’s echo, Larry’s signature drums, and Adam’s pulsating bass.  Perhaps the disjointed feel has to do with the order of tracks.  I’m OK with “No Line On The Horizon” starting the record and “Cedars of Lebanon” finishing it, but I think several tracks in between are out of place.  “FEZ-Being Born” doesn’t feel quite right as track #8.  It’s a two part song, with the first half a slow, quiet cacophony of street sounds, some organ lines, and an echo of the “Let me in the sound” line that is first heard in “Get On Your Boots,” and the second part is a more energetic run towards its end.  I think “FEZ” would have made a great opening track, especially considering its two-part construction and the conceptual nature of the album as a whole.  It would have made the perfect introductory track.  As track #8, however, “FEZ” feels more like a non-sequitur that comes out of nowhere, especially following two rockers like “Boots” and the Led Zeppelin-esque “Stand Up Comedy.”  Here’s a revised track listing that I think would have helped the album’s flow:

  1. FEZ-Being Born
  2. Get On Your Boots
  3. Magnificent
  4. Breathe
  5. Moment of Surrender
  6. White As Snow
  7. Unknown Caller
  8. Stand Up Comedy
  9. I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
  10. No Line On The Horizon
  11. Cedars of Lebanon

With this track order, there are two distinct halves to the record, with the “O Come Emmanuel”-based “White As Snow” functioning as the dividing line.  This track order would give the record two distinct peaks (“Breathe” and “No Line”), and both halves would end with slow songs (“Moment of Surrender” and “Cedars”).  Radical, I know, but I think the order works to give the listener more of a literary exposition-conflict-climax-denoument impression than the scattered original order.

Yup: With all that being said, I think the record is a solid one overall.  The good tracks are really, really good.  Originally, I thought “Magnificent” would the next great U2 song, following in the footsteps of “Pride,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “Beautiful Day,” to name but a few.  But as I lived with the album, it wasn’t “Magnificent” that took the mantle, rather it was “Breathe.”  A song of hope (“Every day I / have to find the courage to / walk out into the street / with arms out / got a love you can’t defeat”) and defiance (“Neither down nor out / there’s nothing you have that I need / I can breathe”) and courage (“The roar that lies / on the other side of silence / the forest fire: / that is fear, so deny it”), “Breathe” is a rocker that I can easily play on repeat and not get tired of it.

“Magnificent,” while not holding up quite as well as I thought it would, is still a great song.  You want the trademark U2 sound?  “Magnificent” has it all: long, dramatic introduction; Adam’s rich, powerful, active bass line; The Edge’s signature echo; Larry’s driving drumbeat; Bono’s soaring lyrics about love; dynamic use of the stereo field; a wide open, spacious sound.  This is, perhaps, the most easily accessible song on the record.  That is, it would appeal U2 newbies (U2bies?) as well as longtime U2 die-hards.

The lead single, “Get On Your Boots,” got a lot of criticism, for reasons I can’t understand.  Listen to the song carefully: It’s “Vertigo Part II,” and I think that’s a good thing.  The texture, form, lyrical content (“Let me in the sound” is a perfect introduction to the artistic direction of this record) are all very similar to “Vertigo,” and that song rocked the house.

Hidden Gem: “Unknown Caller.”  This song is amazing, but it’s not for the uninitiated.  Like the record as a whole, this one took a little bit to grow on me, but after a while, and especially after seeing it live on the 360 Tour, I’m adding this one to the “Must Listen” list.  It’s a complex song, but the ambiguity reflected by the title is clearly represented in the music and lyrics.  What “accident” is Bono referring to?  Where is the protagonist?  We don’t know for sure, and I think that’s the whole message of the song.  It’s a conversation between the narrator and someone or something else (the devil?  his conscience?  an angel?) at some undisclosed, nondescript location.  He’s at a crossroads in his life and he’s searching for meaning.  This song could even be interpreted as a metaphor for the band themselves.  After such a long and distinguished career, U2 are at another crossroads.  Where do they go from here?  The uncertainty is never resolved: the song’s ending is harmonically open-ended, suggesting that there’s more out there for the protagonist (U2?).

Album Hero: Without a doubt, the hero of this album is Adam Clayton.  His bass lines on this record are simply amazing.  There is hardly a track on which Adam’s lines aren’t front and center.  His tone is big, thick, and rich, without being overpowering, providing the perfect foundation upon which The Edge and Bono can flourish.  Check out the chorus sections in “Breathe,” “Magnificent,” and “Unknown Caller.”  He give heft and gravity to the verses in “Get On Your Boots,” “Stand Up Comedy,” and “Cedars of Lebanon.”  30 years on, and Adam has never sounded better.

Must Listen: “Magnificent,” “Unknown Caller,” “Breathe,” “Stand Up Comedy.”

Overall impressions: This is a good album.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great one, especially in light of some of U2’s other efforts.  But it’s a solid upper-midlevel record.  The way I see it, it’s definitely not for U2 newbies.  But for seasoned vets who know what to listen for, this one has got some good stuff.

iPad (r)evolution

The new iPad 2. (image from Apple.com)

So, the iPad 2 was announced yesterday, and the internet was (still is, really) abuzz with specs and opinions and galleries of the latest product coming out from Cupertino.  If you’re not an Apple fan, then there’s really nothing I or anyone else can say that’ll change your mind about the device.  Same goes for the fanboys, too.  But if you’re on the fence about the product, allow me to throw my two cents into the ring.

Many reviews out there are calling the iPad an “evolutionary” update rather than a “revolutionary” one, referring to the fact that, while the device got a spec upgrade (new processor, better graphics, cameras, thinner design), nothing major about the device is new.  And a lot of those evolutionary reviewers are disappointed at that fact, as they were expecting major changes.  Here’s the thing though: Apple didn’t have to overhaul the device because it’s the industry leader.  The original iPad is still the niche-defining device, with over 90% of the market share.  Competitors are coming out with their first wave of tablets (e.g. Motorola’s Xoom, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab) and they’re supposed to be pretty good.  But none has yet matched the usability, form, and design of the first iPad…and now the second generation iPad is hitting shelves in about a week.  What Apple has done has improved the already class-leading product, so the gap between the iPad and the other tablets out there just got even wider.  As Cult of Mac has pointed out here, “The iPad 2 is pure Apple: it proves that Apple is its own most ruthless competitor…Apple’s competitors are dead in the water.”  The iPad itself was a revolution, and according to the sales numbers and customer stories I hear at work, the revolution is just getting started.  iPad 2, which physically an “evolution,” will continue to revolutionize how we stay connected and share information and get things done.

I’ll admit it: I was skeptical when the original iPad debuted last year.  I wasn’t sure how it would fit into my life.  It is, by no means, an essential device.  That is, it’s a gap-fill product, meant to bridge the gulf between perhaps the two most important electronic devices in most people’s lives: their smartphone and their computer.  That being said, with more exposure to it at work, and with one at home, I can see that it’s an awesome device.  I want one for myself (the one we have at home is Xan’s).  There, I said it.

For those who are on the fence about the iPad, go to an Apple store and check one out for yourself.  Seeing it online and reading reviews is one thing, but the way I see it, actually holding one and using one is an entirely different thing altogether.  It’s a device that really needs to be experienced in person.  For the “haters” out there, despite my scoffing at Xoom and Galaxy Tab commercials on TV, I really do hope your devices are great ones, if only because that’ll make future generations of the iPad that much better.  But I’m not holding my breath for you: you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Where’s Wilfred?

At the store meeting last night, these were the wireless network detected by my iPhone:

Yes, you read that correctly.  DIABEETUS.  Initially, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cringe, but eventually decided to laugh out loud about it, as did everyone else at my table.  The way I see it, someone spelled the name of the network like that intentionally.  Right?

Oh well.  Either way, it’s hilarious.