Category Archives: Music

Dance Party!

In one week, my family will be throwing our Spring Equinox Dance Party. This has settled into something of a tradition. On a quarterly basis (give or take), we have a dance party. You’ll find me on the decks, playing loud music loudly. Flashing lights, bubbles, fog…the whole nine yards. There’s an open bar and drinking and celebration. People stay up too late, talking about things profound and frivolous.

It’s a deeply spiritual thing, really. But perhaps I should explain.

In 2010, music saved my life.

It’s February. We’re just coming off the initial impact of the house fire that made us homeless for a month. Depression has me deeply in its grip, and I couldn’t shake it loose. Crystal was at a loss.

And DJ Hero was available for the Wii.

At some point, i’m going to talk about Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and DJ Hero as part of the “My Life with Games” series. For now, I’m just going to note that part of the appeal of these games is wish fulfillment. Most people want to be rock stars. That’s their wish fulfillment. For me, I wanted to be on the wheels of steel. Mixing and scratching seemed much more appealing than shredding on a guitar. No doubt this is the result of having been more connected to trance, techno, and other forms of dance music more than rock or metal.

Playing DJ Hero reawakened these desires.

Crystal saw what was happening. She knew that I wanted to begin to explore this new hobby. She knew that I was agonizing over the expense. She also knew that I was tired and lonely and depressed and struggling. So she did everything in her power to make this a reality for me. She researched color-changing LEDs for our front room. She pulled together funding for stereo equipment for me for my birthday that year. She pushed and encouraged me to pursue this new thing.

She wanted me to be happy.

I already had a significant musical collection that I’d built up over the years. But I started paying even more attention to the music around me. Somewhere in here I discovered dubstep and other bass-heavy music like Sub Swara. I brushed off my old trance tunes. I started casting the net wide and seeing what I could find.

And one night, we threw a dance party at our house.

I don’t remember the exact genesis of the first party. I do know that it was just the people living with us at the time. It just kinda came together. I played the music, and everyone else danced. Glowsticks were probably involved at some point, because the local dollar store has a constant supply, and, well, glowsticks!

It was a big hit. My children loved it and demanded more. And so, periodically, we would. Some of my children began to explore breakdancing, the better to bust out their moves at the next party. I ended up discussing music and the theory of DJing with a couple of my children. Traditions began to emerge, like ending every set with “Go to Bed!” by the Beatnik Turtles. Anthems began to develop, like “Eastern Jam” by Chase & Status, “Fireflies” by Owl City, “Jump Around” by House of Pain, or “Scatman” by Scatman John.

And then, the fateful day: we invited some people from outside the family to one of the parties. It went smashingly well. So, we started making it a habit to invite other people. And the guest list seemed to grow, and grow, and grow….

Each time we run this party, we experiment with a new tool. We added a moonflower light, a fog machine, and a bubble machine. This time, I’m going to see if my computer can play the music and run visualizations. That should be way cool if it works.

And each time I play out, I plan out the music I’m going to focus on. I assemble a pile of music that I will theoretically work with. (Like any good plan, this often goes out the window quickly as I try to adapt to what the people on the dance floor want.) In particular, I plan my opening and closing tracklists carefully. Starting off well is important. Ending well might be even more important. Besides, there are themes I’m wanting to weave into the music, and that’s where they usually live.

You see, I look at each of these parties as something deeper than just getting together and making noise. Each of these parties is a celebration. A celebration of being alive.

Each of these parties is another milestone on the long, slow climb out of the rubble of my former life. Each of these parties is a reminder, to myself if nothing else, that God has been good for the last season and that He’s still going to be good for the next season.

And so, every time, I’ll play the songs that express these truths to me. Songs like “Still Alive” by Lisa Miskovsky, “Meteor Shower” by Owl City, “Oh! Happiness!” by David Crowder*Band, or even “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz or “We Found Love” by Rihanna. Songs that tell me to rejoice that God is good and full of grace, that He brought us this far and that He will take us the rest of the way, that I should cease my striving and rejoice in the life that He has given me.

And when I say “rejoice”, I mean shaking the house with the bass while the room fills with people who showed up at my house to celebrate the same thing, whether or not they know it.

Our dance parties aren’t about drunken carousing. They are about declaring joy and celebrating life. In other words, they are about embodying the Gospel to anyone who wants to see it.

And if you can’t see the Gospel in a room of joyous people, you’re doing it wrong. Oh so wrong.

I’ve really been looking forward to the next dance party. The winter has been long, and I’m ready for spring. I’m want to jump around and celebrate, and I’m excited to be able to continue sharing this joy with as many as I can.

The party starts at 7:00 on March 22. And yes, you’re invited.


On a passing year and the beginning of the new

I’m writing this, because I need to exorcise this from my mind. I’m writing this in one take because I refuse to give too much time to the dark. This year is different.

I’ve loved “A Long December” by the Counting Crows ever since it came out. In 1996, it was my theme song. December of 1996 was my long December, and I haven’t forgotten. “A long December and there’s reason to believe/that maybe this year will be better than the last”. But, you know, sung without the level of confidence that such lines should inspire. There’s less of hope in that song and more of a desperate clinging to hope, that the worst is behind us–must be behind us–or else it’s too much to take.

Last year, God gave me another song: “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.

They say that things just cannot grow
beneath the winter snow,
or so I have been told.

They say we’re buried far,
just like a distant star
I simply cannot hold.

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

And in the music video, when the flower dies, and I wept when I saw it, because I was the flower, and was there anything left. And last year I played this song for my daughter, and we wept, and I promised her that it would be better. That this year would be better. That there was reason to believe that maybe this year would be better than the last. It was a desperate clinging to hope.

But it has. 2012 has been a better year.

And I look ahead to 2013, and there’s reason to believe, that maybe this year will be better than the last.

And that’s all the introspection I’m going to allow. It’s time to make the kaldomar and celebrate the coming of my Savior, who makes all things new. The dark is past; the light has come. Merry Christmas, everyone!


Alex Clare

Guys! Guys! Guess what I found!

Alex Clare–Too Close

First off, there’s kendo in my music video, so you can stay.

Second, after the epic swell at the beginning of the track, we settle into pop music/singer-songwriter territory. Which is fine and all.

Until 1:16. Then, suddenly, there are BASS WOBBLES IN MY SINGER-SONGWRITER!

And kendo!

*bliss*

Ahem. That’s all. Wanted to share the joy.


Dubstep and Bass Music

INTRODUCTION

So, a week or two ago, my sister Adiel did a brave thing. On Facebook, she admitted that she liked dubstep. So, I did the only reasonable thing.

I welcomed her to the dark side.

Some of you may not know that I’ve taken up DJing in my spare time. (Spare time, heh.) No, I’m not playing gigs to stadiums of thousands or anything like that. Mostly, I play little house parties that we put on at my house once a quarter. It started with just the family. Then, um, it expanded a bit. I think there were probably thirty people at the last party.

Dubstep is one of my favorite genres. I don’t get to play it as much as I’d like, because it seems to be a specialized taste. But dubstep is some of my favorite music, and I wish I could convince more people to give it a go.

So, when Adiel made her confession, I told her that I’d offer some recommendations of artists. And then, since I was going to have to write it up anyways, I figured that I’d share with all of you.

A couple of notes before I begin. First, although these links are to Youtube, I own every single one of the tracks that I’m going to mention, and I like all of them. If it’s here, I think it’s worth hearing. Also, there are a lot of debates about what is and isn’t dubstep. I honestly don’t care. Genres mutate over time and influence new genres. In my collection, honestly, I label all these tracks as “Bass”, because it’s really how I think of them. So, if you know more about the genre than I do, that’s cool! Let’s all share our enjoyment of this music and not waste our time complaining about whether or not a given track is dubstep, glitch, bass, two-step, or whatever. Cool? Then let’s get started.

SOME DEFINITIONS

When discussing dubstep, a term that comes up a lot is “bass wobble”. This is the characteristic “wah wah” sound that ends up in a lot of dubstep. Check out these samples, starting at 0:30. That sound assaulting you? Those are bass wobbles.

Though, some of you might be wondering, “Yeah, but what is dubstep?” Well, here’s the Wikipedia article on the matter, but I generally prefer Ellaskin’s definition, which you’ll find here. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. Just start at 1:15 and play to 2:04. I laugh every time I hear this description. Alternately, you can check out this video of Elders react to dubstep. Which brings us to…

SKRILLEX

Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Skrillex is dubstep. He represents a certain branch of dubstep known as “brostep”, which is pretty much what most people think about when they hear “dubstep”. Brostep tends to be fairly aggressive music, highly discordant with the bleeps and bass wobbles and the like. In a lot of ways, brostep is the heavy metal of the dance music world. Given that Skrillex comes from a metal background, it makes sense that he would gravitate towards brostep.

Skrillex is something of a polarizing topic. He’s been successful in the mainstream, even winning a couple of Grammys. Therefore, to some people, he is dubstep, and to others, he is the destroyer of dubstep. My opinion: as I read somewhere, you don’t get to pick your emissary to the mainstream. Skrillex is who we got, and we may as well embrace it and work with it. Also, after having listened to the Bangarang EP, I rather enjoyed it. It was surprisingly melodic, which is unlike much of the brostep I’ve heard.

The best intro to Skrillex is the title track off his current EP, “Bangarang”. I’ve provided a link to the music video, which is kinda nifty, actually.

It’s a distinct sound. Pretty upbeat, hip hop influenced, with a hook that’s hard to forget. It’s quite a ways from where dubstep started….

CLASSIC DUBSTEP

If I try to recite the history of dubstep, I’ll just butcher it. So I’ll point you to that Wikipedia article instead. Here’s the important thing to note: dubstep comes from experimentation with dark music. More brooding music from an industrial core than party music. It was originally the kind of music that you’d expect to hear in a dystopian urban science fiction music.

For example, here’s the track “Memories of 3rd Base” by Skream. This is a great example of the classic dubstep sound. Brooding, unsettling, dark. And, did you notice what’s missing? That’s right. Bass wobbles. There’s definitely a bass line, but the now-ubiquitous bass wobble is completely absent. In fact, a lot of classic dubstep has a lot to do with creating those open spaces in the music. You can hear the same kind of space in “The Gift (Tek-One Remix)” and “Could This Be Real (Joker Remix)”, with the slower kick drum on the half beats. “Could This Be Real” makes for an excellent case study. Listen here to the original track and compare to the remix that I linked above. Bass wobbles are present in both, but the dubstep remix is slower, more deliberate, darker, with more space.

As an aside, I really like “The Gift” remix that I linked to. It’s probably my second favorite “classic” dubstep track that I own. What’s my favorite? Well, I’ll tell you later. But since we’re talking about things I like….

DUBSTEP AS METAL

As I mentioned earlier, certain forms of dubstep are kinda like the metal of dance music. So, it makes sense that the kinds of things I like in my metal, I’d also like in my dubstep. In this case: female vocals and intense strings.

“Rain” by Klaypex (featuring Sara Kay) is one of my “play loudly in the car and sing along” tracks. It definitely has that aggressive brostep sound to it, but the female vocals well up from within the track and, in time, soar above it. I love it!

Between Two Points” by the Glitch Mob (featuring Swan) lives at the downtempo end of the world. I’d say that this is my favorite track off their album Drink the Sea, but I’d be lying. They’re pretty much all my favorite. If I’m looking for background music, Drink the Sea is frequently my go-to album. (As a bonus, this link includes the music video!)

“Burning” by Ashes & Dialect is another example of female vocals in dubstep. And, in this case, the female vocals are Imogen Heap! (Sampled from “Just for Now”.)

As I was prepping for this post, I tripped over a video that I’d forgotten about and realized that I didn’t own the track. That’s been remedied so that I could follow my rule about owning all the music I referenced in this post. Because, well, I really wanted to share “Crystallize” by Lindsey Stirling with all of you. (The linkage includes the music video!) The music is great all by itself, with the beautiful violin soaring over the bassline, but the video is also lyrical and worth watching.

So, apparently dubstep can mix well with other forms of music….

DUBSTEP MEETS THE WORLD

Okay, so let’s be honest. “World music” is a terrible label. It means that the music doesn’t originate in white European musical styles. Well, that’s nice but it doesn’t really narrow it down, does it? So, if I said that dubstep mixes well with world music, it might not be as descriptive as we’d like.

So, how about I say that dubstep mixes well with Indian drumming (“Koli Stance (David Starfire remix)” by Sub Swara), Bollywood (“Eastern Jam” by Chase and Status), and bellydancing (“Spiderbite” by Beats Antique)? Does that work better? I think it does.

By the way, “Eastern Jam” is my favorite “classic” dubstep track. The video that I linked was my introduction to that track, and it contains some amazing dancing, which is worth your time to watch.

So that’s all well and good, but how well does dubstep mix with pop music? Well, it depends on what kind of pop music….

DUBSTEP REMIXES POP MUSIC

I really enjoyed the video game Mirror’s Edge, warts and all. But, even more than the game, I loved the soundtrack, especially the theme track, “Still Alive” by Lisa Miskovsky. (No, not the Portal song. It’s a completely different thing.) In fact, I’d have to say that this song have been my theme song for the past couple of years.

So, when I discovered a dubstep remix of “Still Alive” by Mt. Eden Dubstep, I was all over it. And somehow, it captures the intensity of the original without sacrificing the melodic nature of the track. Awesome!

Or, to be honest, I first encountered Ellie Goulding through Bassnectar’s remix of “Lights”. (You’ll notice that I didn’t link to the original. It’s because I don’t own it. Following the rules!)

Earlier I mentioned Imogen Heap. How about a dubstep remix of “Hide and Seek”? Probably didn’t think it was possible, eh?

But one of the weirdest, coolest, most fantastic dubstep discoveries I’ve made is this one: a dubstep remix of “Come Together” by the Beatles!!! No, seriously, this is the most respectful remix I’ve ever heard, and the breakdown and drop starting at 1:40 is simply incredible. Instead of guitar solos, bass wobbles!

And if that doesn’t prove the flexibility of the genre, I don’t know what will. Well, maybe this….

DOWNTEMPO DUBSTEP

In all fairness, we may be out past the strict boundaries of dubstep at this point. But no one here cares, right? Good!

I was reading an academic paper on bass-heavy dance music (no, I’m not making this up), and it made a fascinating point. Our first exposure to sounds consist of bass. No, not at birth. Before. In the womb. Higher pitched sounds are filtered out by our mothers’ bodies. Only bass would pass through to intermingle with the steady kick drum of our mothers’ hearts.

There’s something very comforting about bass. So it’s not really surprising that there’s chillout music centered around bass.

Of the tracks I’m going to discuss in this section, “Only Fair” by Ill-Esha (off the Elusive History is the most upbeat, which isn’t saying much. Again, the female vocals. (What can I say? I’m a romantic at heart.)

For the truly downtempo, check out “Speaker Box” by Nico Luminous (featuring Reva DeVito). This isn’t dance music for an upbeat crowd. This is music for chilling. Slow, seductive, groovy, to be enjoyed with a beverage in a martini glass.

And I’ll wrap up with Thriftworks. When I’m not listening to Drink the Sea by The Glitch Mob, I’m listening to Raki Taki or Rainmaker by Thriftworks. (I like these albums so much I’ll actually link to them for you.) Here are just a couple of my favorite tracks: “Mother Raki” and “Pillow in the Woods”, which gets an honorable mention for best use of a koto sample in an electronic track.

And here we’ve come so far from Skrillex that we can barely see him from where we’re standing.

But why do I like this music so much?

WHY, SETH, WHY?

Beats me.

No, really, I haven’t actually thought about it until right now. So, I’m going to give this a shot, but I reserve the right to change my mind later.

I think that it’s music that suits my personality. There’s strength and passion and tenderness and power all rolled into one. It’s music that I can lose myself in. It’s music that I can feel literally. It absorbs and embraces me when I listen to it. It makes me happy.

And it gives me a reason to turn up the sub-woofer.

P.S. Adiel, hope that this was helpful.

P.P.S. Also, dubstep gave us this incredible thing.


A Shameless Shill for Mr. J. Medeiros and Some Thoughts on Indie Marketing

It’s no secret that I like Mr. J. Medeiros. I was first exposed to his “Constance” single a couple years ago, and I’ve been listening ever since.

So, when I heard that it was possible to get a download of “Holding On”, I was thrilled. And when I read the details, I was impressed. Medeiros will give away a copy of the “Holding On” mp3 plus a bonus track in exchange for a link to the video from a blog or social networking site.

See, as an independent artist myself, I understand the difficulty of getting solid marketing exposure. And sure, everyone talks about creating a grassroots buzz, but that’s so very hard to do. There’s a lot of clutter out there, and it’s hard to cut through it.

But this idea is fascinating. You leverage your existing fans by offering them a free sneak preview of something they were already going to buy. I mean, the kind of person who is going to post up a link to the new Medeiros video is probably already going to buy the new album. You know, like me. As it is, I’ve played the video a number of times, just because it’s such a pretty song. Sure, I was already planning on buying this album. But that means that I’m also the kind of person who would be eager to get my hands on some of the new material early. And, really, what does it cost? Just a link from my blog.

I think that the indie game design movement needs to give some consideration to how to employ similar methods.

So, yeah, this post is a shameless shill for Mr. J. Medeiros. If you’re looking for quality, clean, socially conscious hip-hop, then you really should check him out. And, as mentioned earlier, here is the link to “Holding On”, his newest single.


Passing the word

Let’s see.

Independent Christian rap being distributed for free.

Yeah, that seems like a bunch of stuff that I care about, all intersecting at the same place.

And check out this explanation:

Our music is purposely released independently. This guarantees that our message is not tampered with or compromised by those whose financial interests form the basis of their decision-making. We are committed to providing Christ-centered, excellent music that stays true to the authentic, rugged hip-hop aesthetic that we love while bringing glory to God -and at an affordable price. And when we can, we will give it away for free. And that’s the case with “The Grassroots” CD. You are important to us. We are convinced that a loyal few is better than a fickle multitude. Our hope is that you will enjoy our music, pass it along to others, and allow us to serve you again in the future.

That’s great for so many reasons.

(FYI, if you end up on a splash page instead of the download page, click through to LampMode.com and look for the Goodies tab. The album is called the Grassroots EP.)


A crazy coincidence

So, I’m sitting here, doing some work (Integration Services for SQL Server 2005, if you’re curious…oh, you weren’t) and listening to Leaderdogs for the Blind (aka Leaderdogs). My brother bought the Lemonade CD years ago, and we listened to it a lot. (So, um, yeah, this is the music of my teen years…)

My brother works at the same place I do, so I IM him and say, “I’m listening to Leaderdogs!” Because it seemed like the right thing to do.

He then tells me that Lyndon Perry (one of the creative forces behind the band) lives in Peoria. I do some digging, and he’s right. Turns out Lyndon Perry moved to Peoria after the Lemonade CD was released, and now he is a worship leader at RockChurch, which is just a few blocks from where I type.

It is a small world.

P.S. The MySpace page includes a player with music. If nothing else, listen to “Lemonade”. Um, and “Yellow and Black Attack”.


High Hopes

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been listening to a lot of Nightwish recently, thanks to the generosity of a coworker. (Thanks, Meg!) So, today, I stumbled over their cover of “High Hopes”. I hadn’t realized that it was a cover, mind you, but I recognized it as soon as I heard it. Originally, it was a Pink Floyd song, from their post-Waters period. I happen to have really enjoyed A Momentary Lapse of Reason and Division Bell, and I think I’m generally of the opinion that they don’t get as much attention as they should.

That being said, I haven’t listened to either album in years. (It’s becoming less strange to me that I can say that.)

Anyways, “High Hopes” was the song that I remember from Division Bell. It’s the kind of song that works for me. Kinda mournful, but with great guitar solos. So, when I heard it today, I tracked down the lyrics and took a gander. (You can see them in the sidebar of the YouTube video.)

The loss of innocence and the failure of dreams is a common theme these days. Once upon a time, it seems, we were young and filled with hope, but the times now crush our spirits. It’s too big. It’s too big, and so we give up.

And songs like this mourn for those lost days of wonder and innocence, when the world was fresh and new, when nothing was impossible. The endless summer of possibility, before the cold winter of reality took it all away.

Or is that really true? I never did get around to writing about No Country for Old Men, which seems to fit here so well. I could sum up that movie with a single verse: “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. ” (Ecclesiastes 7:10 ESV)

Were our “days of innocence” really as wonderful as we remember them?

But still, there remains this longing. This sense of something missing. A beauty and wonder and majesty in life that seems constantly to elude us. To quote Pink Floyd:

The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
With friends surrounded
The dawn mist glowing
The water flowing
The endless river
Forever and ever

Something sharper and cleaner and more joyous than the sewer that we wade through.

And some of us still search for it through hobbies or politics or sex or various substances that we ingest. And some of us have a long train of discarded attempts behind us, as we cast about for something else that might satisfy. And some of us…some of us have altogether given up. Was there ever that shimmering Summer Land? Perhaps only in our dreams, and maybe not even there. And maybe it’s all a lie that we tell ourselves to stay sane in a world that is slowly crumbling around us.

Broken wanderers in the dust of ages, seeking a promised land. Seeking, but never finding.

Augustine understood this, when he wrote in his Confessions:

Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.

There is no Summer Land behind me, no joyous innocence. Yet, before me, there is the final reunion with my God, in Whose presence I will find rest forever. Peace, true peace, awaits, beyond the smoldering rubble of this world.

And, even greater, He has gathered His people in the wilderness of this life, and He has commissioned us to build His tabernacle. And as we walk through the wasteland of this life, He walks with us and brings with Him the foreshadowing of that blessed peace that awaits all who stand with Him.

Those are high hopes. Hopes that will not disappoint.

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently staring at the rubble. I also need to remember the glorious temple that God is building in the wilderness, from which the healing streams will issue, bringing life to this barren land forever.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.


Tim Eriksen on fiddle, accompanied on chopsticks

Yeah, you think that sounds weird. But it’s actually weirder. And very cool.

HT: Vincent Baker


Pilgrim

I’m working and listening to Cordelia’s Dad, when I came across this song, from their “Spine” album. According to their liner notes, it was originally penned by Samuel Stennett, an English Baptist.

Pilgrim

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand
and cast a wishful eye,
to Canaan’s fair and happy land
where my possessions lie.
Oh, the transporting, rapturous scene
that rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
and rivers of delight.
There generous fruits, that never fail,
on trees immortal, grow.
There rocks and hills and brooks and vales
with milk and honey flow.
O’er all those wide extended plains
shines one eternal day.
There God, the sun, forever reigns,
and scatters night away.
No chilling winds, nor poisonous breath,
can reach that healthful shore.
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
are felt and feared no more.
When shall I reach that happy place,
and be forever blessed?
When shall I see my Father’s face,
and in his bosom rest?
Filled with delight, my raptured soul
can here no longer stay.
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
fearless, I launch away.