Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The 10 Elements of Music

Bass guitar virtuoso Victor Wooten performed a clinic (view it on in which he taught that there are 10 elements of music that you should know how to use. (in no particular order):

1. Notes
2. Rhythm
3. Feel
4. Dynamics
5. Technique
6. Tone
7. Phrasing
8. Listening
9. Articulation
10. Space

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Quiet Your Rehearsal Space on the Cheap

Build your own acoustic tiles for under $100

(This post is aimed at improving a band rehearsal space, but could also apply to a home studio or home theater)

Have you ever jammed in a room that just seemed disagree with every instrument? The vocals are difficult to make out, the drums seem too loud, and you're constantly battling the sound board to keep feedback at bay. If this sounds familiar, you've probably experienced jamming in an underdamped room.

Bare walls can cause excess reverb, and lead to a host of problems- feedback, bad equalization, and other poor conditions that make it difficult to get any work done. The easy way out is to hang a crappy old rug on the walls... And while you're at it, why not break out the cheap beer and a Playstation for the full dorm room effect. However, if you want to do it with a little more style, you'll want to use 2'x4' or 2'x2' panels. While the pros will charge you upwards of $500 for such acoustic panels, you can make them yourself for about $90.

Assuming you have a carpeted (if you don't have carpet on the floor, at least put down a large rug), unfurnished 200 sq ft. room being used for general rehearsal needs, you'll need 80-100 sq. feet of coverage for general rehearsal use. This is about (10-12) 2'x4' panels.


$65 100-120 sq ft. of commercial carpet (10x12) - cheaper if you can get used or damaged carpet
$20 (16-18) 2x3" studs
$5 (100 or so) Finishing nails or brads
$5 (500 or so) staples

Mitre Saw
Tape measure/pencil
Nail gun
Cushion back cutter
Carpet knife
Duck-billed napping shears (regular scissors will work)
Safety Glasses
Safety gloves

First you'll need to obtain the carpet. You can use second hand or damaged carpet if you don't care how it looks. The only stipulation is that you'll need the smallest pieces to be slightly larger than 2' x 4'. I suppose you could use other types of carpet as well. I purchased brand new commercial carpeting from Home Depot for about $65.

Making the 2'x4' frame

Using the mitre saw, cut (2) 2x3's and assemble them according to the diagram.

The crows foot pattern on the studs will give you the correct angle, as well as allowing you to make 2 cuts at a time, without having to reposition the wood. Be sure to mark these on the wood, and don't rush, so you don't reverse any angles by accident. You should be left with one extra 4' piece, which you will use for the next frame.

When you're finish, nail them together at the corners. I used an air powered finishing nailer. If you don't have one of these, you should get one. Otherwise, use glue, or buy some small L brackets ($2 a piece) and use screws. I don't recommend trying to hammer this together. The joints should look a bit like this when you are done:

Making a 2'x2' frame

You can make a 2'x2' panel the same basic way, just do all 2' sections, instead of two 2' and two 4'.

Putting the carpet on the frames

Ok, now it's time to carpet the frames. Here's the tools you'll need:

You can obtain these tools at most hardware stores. The carpet tools can sometimes be rented. If you are patient and have a helper, you could probably get away with a utility knife.

Lay the frame out on the carpet to be cut, leave about 1-1.5" of extra space around the frame near the edges of the carpet.

Cut the carpet around the frame, again 1-1.5" wider than the frame.

Next, lay the frame down, and place a couple of scrap wood pieces in the center, to keep the carpet from sagging in the center while you staple it.

Lay the carpet on top, and do your best to align it so that the extra overlaps evenly on all sides.

Put a staple on of each of the four corners. Try to pull the carpet tight as you do, to minimize sagging in the center. If you want, you can remove these staples later, for cosmetic reasons.

Now you can stand the unit up, which makes it easier to work on. Snip 45 degree angle cuts so you can fold the corners down...

And staple away. I found 2 or 3 inch spacing sufficient to keep the sides relatively flat. You will use a lot of staples.

When you get to the corners, fold them over and staple as shown.

Here is the finished product:

To hang them, I used sheetrock anchors with the screws screwed halfway in. You can then hang the tiles on the screws like a picture. This allows for adjustment and easy removal, should the need arise (cleaning, etc.)

Enjoy! Your ears, PA, and singers will thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hydrogen is a widely misunderstood fuel.

Often I'm asked why I'm a proponent of vegetable oil as a fuel, rather than a fuel that doesn't emit CO2, such as Hydrogen.

Carbon neutrality is more important than to zero CO2 emissions at the tail pipe. Hydrogen is no more a fuel than are the batteries of an electric car- you put energy (electricity) in to make it, and it's then just a carrier of that energy for a vehicle. If the Hydrogen was produced using electricity from a nuclear power plant or coal plant, you still contributed new CO2 to the atmosphere.

Using plant mass as a fuel, however, is carbon neutral. When plants grow they convert CO2 to oxygen- the same amount that will be turned back into CO2 when it is used by cars. Thus, you could accurately say that a veggie car is, in some cases, less of a CO2 contributor than a Hydrogen car.

The promise Hydrogen offers is that of a better fueling infrastructure: one that will centralize energy conversion (and thus any CO2 production) to one location and source. Right now every single car is a separate problem, even if there really was some other choice (for the masses) to use instead of gasoline. When we convert fuel sources to clean energy carriers at one centralized location, the problems with those fuel sources become much more simple to deal with. For example, a hydrogen plant could, at any given time, be fueled by contributions from any or all of the following sources, based on supply, demand, and other various factors:

(carbon neutral)
Solar, Wind, hydro

(not carbon neutral)
Coal, Oil

So, while Hydrogen offers a lot of hope for improvement in the future, the CO2 impact of using hydrogen itself is not really comparable to using vegetable oil to power your car. Furthermore, the benefits of Hydrogen are still a *long* way off.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mike Watt - Hardest Working Bass Man in America

I never intended for anyone to become my hero. As a bass player who is trying to further his self, one of the most important companions to creating music is studying other music - all of it. The good, the bad, the popular, and the unprecedented. Mike Watt and the Minutemen helped shape the early American punk movement in the late 70's. Traveling all over in a beat up Ford Econoline van, setting up their own tours, and conveying their own message, they "jammed econo".

What do you do when your best friend and musical soulmate is killed in an accident? For Mike Watt, music was his life when D. Boon died in 1985. Hanging up his bass guitar and calling it quits would have been equivalent to suicide- and I'm sure the thought crossed his mind during that dark time. Instead, he did the only logical thing to him, and has everyday since then- he gives himself to the musical world, in the name of his fallen mate.

Mike Watt gives his energy to us in several ways. Besides the gigs that he plays almost every night with one of several bands (The Stooges, The Missingmen, Banyan, Dos, and other projects), you can listen to his regular podcast, The Watt From Pedro Show. It's a three hour presentation featuring Watt's philosophy, interesting special guests from different areas of his life, influential music, and new music from around the world. He's been doing the show for almost 6 years, with well over 100 shows archived. That's 300+ hours of mind expanding material for your listening pleasure. It's kept this side of overwhelming thanks to Watt's careful attention and faithfulness to a consistent show format.

Watt is also very good (considering the challenges involved) about "writing from the road" He posts his experiences, thoughts, and memoirs in his blogs on The Hootpage, his personal website. Thanks to these gifts, it's not hard to learn what kind of person Mike Watt really is... a hard working, caring, and real person- who has become a hero of mine.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Why did SpeedTV dump WRC in favor of NASCAR?

I don't watch much TV, but there was a time when my roomies and I used to enjoy catching the weekly recap of the World Rally Championship, on SpeedTV (formerly Speedvision). For those of you who are unfamiliar, auto rally racing competitions are THE most hardcore, adrenalized motor sport, for both the participant and the viewer, on the planet. Sport compact cars with unbelievable power-to-weight ratios are dropped into the most grueling road conditions (snow, mud, you name it) and run the stages as fast as possible, with in-car cameras. The competition is on real, treacherous roads (no tracks!)

...And these cars turn left AND right, NASCAR fans.

The cars go so fast that they have a dedicated course note reader so the driver is prepared for the turns. See this video to get an idea of what it's like. The road conditions change rapidly and the team has to decide quickly and finally what tires to use, etc. The cars run one at a time so they don't have to worry about hitting each other- no yellow flags, red flags, no stopping. The only rule is get your car across the finish line as fast as possible, no matter what condition it's in. And believe me, these cars can be in pretty rough shape and keep going. Cars have been known to flip several times, land right side up - and it's game on.

Anyway, while the coverage was admittedly sparse, at least it wasn't non-existent. Over the years, NASCAR coverage continued to further dominate the programming on Speed, and finally in 2005 they dropped WRC all together. In fact, at this time, there is NO way to watch WRC coverage on TV in the US. This is amazing- an actual quote from a NASCAR fan on the VW Vortex forums: "I like NASCAR too, but I can't watch it 24/7."

If Rally racing is even slightly appealing to you... If you feel like you could be one of the millions of Americans missing out on some of the most exciting motor sports out there, I urge you to take 1 minute and Sign this petition to get other events besides NASCAR back on SpeedTV channel.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Timbaland rips off a Demoscene artist

I knew this day would come. The new Timbaland/Nelly Furtado song "Do It" uses a song made in 2000 by Finnish demoscene artist "Tempest" (Janne Suni). It's a 4 channel .mod (the ripoff is from a playback using the C64 SID soundchip). The song was hosted on's servers (the main repository for all everyones demos and tracked music, etc.). As you might expect, no permission or royalties were paid to Tempest.

Just to clarify, we're not talking about some kind of coincidence here. There is no question that this track was used to create the song "Do It".

In an interview, Timbaland tries to downplay it, saying things like "he sampled it from a video game". (This track was not written for a video game- it was actually written for the 2000 demoscene music competition, in which it won 1st place). Regardless, he basically claims he has no legal obligations because it's just like all the other pop artists that sample other music. The difference is that those artists get royalties even when other artists sample their music. Anyway, when you here the song, this is a little more than a "sample". Tempest deserves some compensation.

That being said, this is a very interesting situation. Timbaland has the legal power of Geffen Records behind him, and Tempest has his one lawyer. No one has heard of the Demoscene, so he's going to get screwed, and all of us who have written and submitted tracked music to repositories popular among the Demoscene could be next.

There is such a huge difference between the worlds of pop music and demoscene music. In the pop music model, the music is highly "accessible" (simple assed writing, CD's that sell in retail stores, played everywhere you go, etc.) and the artist generally receives revenues (and fame). In the Demoscene, because of the nature of the way the music is "programmed", the music can be complex and intricate, and often uses sounds not heard in the pop world because of the computer architecture that is used in playback. The music is awesome, but obscure. Most importantly it's always been freely shared. For a big pop artist looking to do something revolutionary with their "sound", this is a wide open door. All you have to do is throw away a little thing called "ethics".

When the pop and demoscene worlds are mixed, everything breaks down. The precedence of this case is really important because there's a fricking ton of incredible music out there in the demoscene that could fall "victim" and be used to make money for someone else, and the outcome of this will decide whether there will be any royalties paid to those artists if their music is used.

To make matters worse, he apparently already used this piece of music to make money in 2005, in a ringtone "written exclusively by Timbaland":


Here's the entire C64 playback of the original (mp3 format)

Here's the Timbaland/Furtado song:

The first post in this thread does a good job of explaining what happened:

Timbaland, in an interview answering to the controversy: