Groove

Some quick thoughts on groove.

What is groove?  I’ve spent the last two years dealing with drums.  Sometimes it feels like 90% of the recording process involves minimizing damage from these giant obtrusive gunshot machines.  Drums are nothing but transients, atonal spikes of noise in the beautiful song.  They are difficult to control to say the least.  A guitar takes one microphone (zero if you go direct) and sounds fun no matter what you do to it.  A drumset on the other hand can have up to twelve mics (I’d say my bands average around ten).  Luckily, I work with killer musicians.

Anyway, I’ve thought a lot about groove, and what it is.  In our digital-bias culture, the obvious answer seems quantization.  Pop it in the music machine and get those hits on the exact correct beat.    Most of the time people quantize to the beat or attempt to tighten things by putting them right on an exact grid, the tempo of the song.  But the specific mechanism of groove truly eludes me.  There’s something interesting with time and the brain happening, clearly.  The human mind is a genius at calling out bad rhythm.  We’re pattern recognizers.  We love the snare kick, snare kick, snare kick pattern.  We get the beat, we get the concept, and our brain gets near orgasmic as it extrapolates this rhythm outward in musical imagination.  So groove then is pattern recognition…. but the brain is smart.  Copy and paste a snare and bass to a grid in protools…. listen to the horrible sound that comes out on loop.  The brain immediately knows the difference between something naturally imitated and an exact copy.  It turns out that an exact copy is mostly distracting, and not at all groovy.

So the observations I’ve made so far – groove is human.  This obsession with the click and putting things on a grid is not musical.  This idea that music is ever at a constant tempo…. I think kind of absurd and limiting, actually.  But also useful, I mean, I do it all the time, and sometimes I love that daft punk trance thing you get with perfect electronic precision.  So I’m not coming down all anti-tech, but for real.  I think having this grid system integrate into our entire musical culture mostly just doesn’t even make sense.  I KNOW that if some enterprising pop producer did a record with great musicians and no click track, it would really stick out in our current atmosphere of quantized noise.

But the guys that really groove, ya know.  Lennon could groove with his vocals.  It’s bass and drums often, yeah, but it’s everything.  And there’s hit.  There’s groove in every note, it’s not all just contextual to other notes.  A good drummer like plays one note and it grooves somehow.  What is that “somehow”?  Well, part of it, as I see it, is really getting a great attack on the instrument.  Drummers who groove know how to play to drums EXACTLY together.  It also has to do with waiting for that elusive ONE.  If you can hit that one beat, you can kind of get a little loose and comical in the middle.  Groove also seems to intensify when there is a deviation from the perfect grid.  Someone like Bonham or something knew how to do this to almost a godlike level.  He would push or pull on the tempo to compliment the mood and feeling of the song…. sort of push or pull within the measure, but consistently, with perfect ones, and it creates a very groovy loop feel.  The imperfections become cool and make character if they are consistent.  My first piano teacher always said, if you make a mistake, just do it again.

Anyway.  I couldn’t find much online about this, so if anyone has thoughts or resources on pinning down groove scientifically, please keep me informed!  Thanks!

Szukalski

How did a human being make these things?

Stanislav Szukalski (1893 – 1987).  Find out more about him here!

 

Shaw ‘Nuff

Recently, Cruise Elroy had the pleasure of working with Chris Shaw on the mixing side of the new album.  Check out the epic stuff he’s made a reality!  True classics and all around great records (Nada Surf’s The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy one of my favs and super underrated I think…)

Don’t miss Cruise Elroy’s upcoming EP2 and the finished album soon.

Screenplay: A Topiary by Shane Carruth

I thought I’d share an unrealized screenplay written by Shane Carruth, called A Topiary (script link). Carruth has directed two masterpieces, the mind-bending sci-fi film Primer and his brand new, strikingly gorgeous and visceral Upstream Color.

A Topiary was, a few years back, Carruth’s prize script, and he apparently tried really hard to get it made.  In summary, from what I can gather, lots of Hollywood sharkies said “awesome”  ”great”  ”let’s make this happen” but no one had the guts to actually do it, or even to say “no” to the poor guy.  I’m only half way through, and it’s absolutely mind-blowing.   If you’re a fan of Carruth like I am, I highly recommend checking out his script for A Topiary.  (note: I found this public and online, but if there’s any problem with me linking to it lemme know…)

Carruth makes films about reality; he almost seems to approach from a mathematical and scientific perspective, using fascinating intellectual concepts as a jumping-off point to inspire a sense of mystery and wonder.  His movies are enigmatic and charming, expertly crafted, and hit on something so universal and true that it can almost be scary.  He seems to want humanity to stretch beyond it’s current paradigms.  He seems to know that reality is difficult and above all, odd, and that rooting out delusion is an imperfect, messy affair but…. well, you still have to try, right?

I highly recommend Primer and Upstream Color.  Watch ‘em twice.  And then more.

sketch

I love going to Jim Woodring‘s blog and seeing the occasional sketches and inside peek…

Don’t be afraid, this stupid little demo is brain-massage certified!

Cruise Elroy – Hey Bulldog

Cruise El Roy at rehearsal – jammin’ on some Beatles classics!

Cruise Elroy – “Hey Bulldog” by the Beatles from Cruise Elroy on Vimeo.

WOMEN I HAVE A CRUSH ON

Ladies who inspire inscrutable, passionate desire in my man-brain.

 

 

Tapes!

Late Night Demo

Here’s a quick twenty-minutes-or-so demo from the wee hours last night.

I often start with a hyper-quick demo. My goal is to just get the musical idea down as quickly as possible. It’s like quantum particles or something, you can’t quite pin down the location or the mere act of observation changes it. My strategy is to just get something down so I at least have a reference to the original soul of the idea.

Most of these demos get thrown out. But the ones that stick with me for a while or stand out stand a chance of being developed further.  ”Developed further” means I play them over and over and over and change them slightly until I have something better.  Lyrics usually come last.  The final act of finishing lyrics is like doing homework… nothing gets you out of just sitting there staring at a piece of paper for a couple hours, playing mad-libs with yourself.

Shortcomings of a Visual Medium

To my friends, those unlucky, patient bastards who get to hear me rant about my most recent introspection, it may be no secret that I’ve entered something of an anti-digital phase fairly recently.  It’s not that I don’t love technology – clearly.  I’m coming off a technology-will-save-us-all phase.  As an example of my hopeless nerdidity, I’ve logged more time as an adult playing super nintendo emulators than I did as a child playing real super nintendo.  (As my 5-year-old niece said over Christmas, “isn’t that game supposed to be for kids??”)  I’ve grown up surfing the net.  My brain is forever attached to Google.  In every general sense I’m living on the grid and loving it.

BUT. It’s the odd cultural death that perturbs me.  I’m more and more repulsed by the nature of our social media culture, and the conversations AROUND technology.  I often find the conversations to be biased, self-righteous and lacking in humanism, lacking in depth.  Many ideas about digital technology in this era have certain undertones… almost superstitious, with hints that social connectivity dwarfs any previous technological jump, that it’s somehow more important.  That we’ve bridged the gap.  That we’ve saved ourselves, and our art, and probably solved the dark problems of sickness and death and war.  It’s this voice, this Singularitarian voice, which I find intellectually offensive.  My reasons are subtle and difficult to express without annoying people, but I’ve thought about this lots and lots.

But putting aside the bigger philosophical problems I see with America’s relationship with technology, I was thinking about a simpler challenge for the musically-inclinded human artists of today – the fact that the internet, by it’s mere nature, has an overwhelming bias towards visual forms of media.  A challenge for today’s genuine musical artist is the progressive skewing of pop and sub-pop towards the visual.  Yes, it skews towards the fast, the shallow, the over-produced/underwritten, and the inoffensive and safe, but more practically, the visual.  I bring it up because it seems like a clear shortcoming in our computer experience, yet we never really talk about it.

The internet is primarily visual.  The visual content of the web and streaming video takes precedence.  That’s nothing strange – communicating on the electromagnetic spectrum, in two dimensions (mostly), is easily the most efficient way to exchange huge amounts of information.  It’s discreet, not linear, enabling the viewer to jump around and find what he wants.  This is a contrast to musical expression.  The rock record, for example.  Music is an art form that exists primarily in the dimension of time (plus a other linear dimensions like frequency and amplitude), is mostly continuous, and in my opinion, is still having an awkward time finding it’s place on the grid.

Music is projected through the medium of thin air (incredibly).  Disturbed air pressure waves radiate out and are received in a binary fashion through the fourth dimension of time.  The visual part of the experience is implied by the music and the soundscape, and constructed in the mind of the listener.  That’s important I think!  A profound and divine musical experience, in my opinion, is listening to a long-form musical creation (like a record) without visual distraction, or at least with unrelated visual distraction.  I’m discounting some other great musical art forms here, of course, but I’m merely sticking up for if not the most pure, certainly a valid way to experience music.  The emphasis is on the songs, the world, the forms within that say what can’t otherwise be articulated.

So music, as I see it, exists ideally as a non-visual (besides in the mind of the listener) exchange that happens in a comfortable chunk of time, ideally in a bubble of non-distraction and presented loudly.

Something like a film has a much easier time marketing itself to the internet.  A film preview makes sense to present online.  Does an album preview work?  Hardly at all.  Literature and writing lend themselves to online marketing.  Comics.  Paintings.  Photography.  Design.  Making anything that CAN be photographed.  These mediums lend themselves to successful online marketing, social media jibber jabber, reviews, whatever.  People invest heavily in state-of-the art visual displays, but mostly use cheap, tiny, complimentary speakers or headphones.  A blogger can throw up a cute picture.  Do people pass around music in the same way?  Do people post many non-visual links to songs on social media (compared to visual-centric things, even modern music videos, which are usually just short films now)?  Does anyone listen?  I mean, compared to a video called Top 10 Animals That Reminded Humanity How To Love I think a deep, intelligent new 4:00 rock track would be practically ignored.  The most-used option for sharing music is through visual streaming services like YouTube, and it isn’t a great one.  Music, in my humblest of opinions, is a time-expensive and physical investment.  Point blank.

So music has become the sidekick of the visual.  It tends to accompany.  It’s part of a film, a video game.  The production norms of music, in turn, have been skewed towards what I call “ear candy”.  It sounds buzzy and glitzy and pumping, but just not deep.  In fact, often the music has to be extremely simple and sort of get cheap emotions when it’s coupled with video or other media.  It’s just pragmatic.

It’s potentially awkward, is what I’m saying, to use the internet as a grass-roots music marketing platform. We’re trying to force feed the visual onto the musical – not on purpose – but because that’s what we’ve made viable through our culture.  It’s gotta catch the eyes to have any life.  And now the musical artist, with fewer resources than ever, spends his time worrying about everything BUT the damn record.  And that’s really my biggest problem with all the “music biz” talk going around.  Most of it ignores the fact that the final goal, in a culturally aware society, should be to give the human (important to remember…. humans…those fragile, emotional beings who need money and get sick) artist room to create.  To create different.  To create weird.  To be clever and dark if she wants.  To spend time on like, you know, the song.  To bring us into her world, not always the other way around.

I find that posting a song on Facebook without visual accompaniment feels strange and awkward.  People don’t know what to do with it.  They’re impatient.  A four-minute song, which might take a few listens to appreciate, just doesn’t stand a chance next to a cheap, sexy meme.

These are just some of my observations as a musician in the internet age.  I point this out only to encourage a balanced criticism of our current culture, not to say the internet sucks, or that technology sucks, or music sucks now because I don’t like it.  Point blank, it’s awkward to present deeply crafted musical creations online.  Despite my many other issues with social media’s ideas on digital music, this is an issue which I haven’t seen discussed very often, but that I find very real. Thoughts?