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January, 2009:

The Musical Brain

I read an article in our local weekly about producer Vanessa Dylyn (pictured left with Sting at McGill University) and her latest project, “which mixes neuroscience and music [and] examines what music can tell us about the human brain and the what the brain can tell us about music.”

Dylyn came across the book This is Your Brain on Music by Dr. Daniel Levitin (see my previous posts). She knew it would make the basis for a wonderful documentary straight away and I have to agree (and can’t wait to watch it).

CTV will be airing the documentary, The Musical Brain, this weekend (January 31, 2009 at 7 p.m.). Here is CTV’s description:

Using the research findings of leading medical experts, including Dr. Daniel Levitin (This is Your Brain on Music), the documentary examines the physical, psychological and emotional responses to music through a variety of tests on children and adults. ‘The Musical Brain’ also features candid interviews with Michael Bublé, Feist, Wyclef Jean and Sting who share what they have learned about the power of music in their lives.

In addition to discussing his passion for music, Sting puts his own musical mind to the test when he enters an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine to have his brain scanned. Inspired by Dr. Daniel Levitin’s book, Sting undergoes tests to find out how music affects him on a physical and emotional level. Using state-of-the-art technology, ‘The Musical Brain’ demonstrates how Sting responds to various types of music – complex and simple – and what his musical brain reveals about him.

“Music is a gateway to emotion and memory, pleasure and intellectual stimulation throughout our lives,” says writer and director Christina Pochmursky. “‘The Musical Brain’follows Sting on his journey of discovery into his own musical brain, and also explores how music can define each stage of our lives.”

“This riveting documentary sheds light on the human musical experience and how science is teaching us more about it,” says Bob Culbert, Vice-President of CTV Documentaries. “The stories shared by the participating artists will resonate with viewers who understand the power of music in their own lives.”

May the Muse (and your brain) be with you…

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Akbar to Springsteen?

I read an interesting article involving a “guest” of a federal medical facility in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, who hijacked a plane and forced it to Cuba almost 30 years ago… He then discovered that he didn’t like Cuba and raised a ruckus there so the Cubans shipped him off to Miami in 1981 where he stood trial for air piracy and was sentenced to 50 years…

Muhammad Akbar, born Gerald Leland Marity, was an honourably discharged soldier who served two tours of duty in Vietnam (1966-67). He joined the Black Muslim movement upon returning to the U.S. but fell off the rails… he sought asylum at the Irani and Iraqi embassies in Mexico prior to his hijacking crime… they both turned him down…

Why is this in my blog… Akbar is suing (he does this a lot) the government and his caregivers for stifling his songwriting career. His claim?

“I’m a damn good Black Songwriter who happens to be a Muslim and an airplane hi-jacker (sic) serving a 50 year sentence,” he wrote. “I’ve decided to direct my Lyrics to Ms. Britney Spears, Pink, Bruce Springstein (sic) the best in the world of pop music. This has infuriated the staff here at the prison into breaking the law.

“So far,” he continues, “30 of my letters and songs have been delayed, tampered, and opened for the obstruction of justice by the defendants and not reached Ms. Spears, Pink, or Springstrein (sic) and I want it to stop immediately.”

“And I want these three entertainers notified as to what’s going on by the courts,” he demands in his petition. He says that when he complained to the warden’s office and others, “I was told that I was paranoid and having dilusions (sic).”

Akbar wants a judge to investigate his claims, and he also says he wants $50,000 for pain and suffering, although it appears from his filing that he initially valued his pain and suffering at $30,000, then upped the value and wrote a “5” over the “3.”

Enough said… sometimes the Muse is NOT with us…

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Musicshake… and Musicshare!

The Musicshake website declares “Music for Everyone, Created by YOU”. TechCrunch featured the site in an article published earlier today.

The free Musicshake mixing program (Windows platform only, see interface screenshot below) “lets users create personalized, professional sounding music using a variety of modules and pattern-combination methods, which is quite addictive once you get the hang of it (takes about 10 minutes and there are templates to help get you started). You can convert music you make to mp3 and download them to your computer, or convert them into a personalized ringtone. You can also show off music you create to your friends and place it in charts to promote your work to others.”

Musicshake then lets you monetize that creation on its website and share the proceeds with you 50/50. So budding composers, why not check it out. Here’s a video of the proggie in action:

May the Muse-icshake be with you… now go create…

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HitLab Dynamic Hit Scoring

A Canadian company, out of Montreal, was featured in an article by Roberto Rocha of the National Post yesterday discussing the DHS (Dynamic Hit Scoring) software featured on its website: HitLab.com.

From the article:

“We see this as the future of music,” said Eddie Wenrick, chief executive of Hitlab.com,a Montreal startup that aims to be the big new platform for farming musical talent. The company is a blend of MySpace– the social networking site popular among bands –and Canadian Idol. Members create profiles and add their songs for all to hear and buy. But for $30, they can get Hitlab’s software, called Dynamic Hit Scoring, to analyze their music’s hit potential. If they score highly, they increase their chance of signing a record contract.

Every three months, the four Hitlab users with the highest DHS score are invited to a talent show before a panel of industry honchos. The winners get coupled with managers and hopefully ink album contracts.

Hitlab would get a cut of the deal and publishing rights, and fame-seeking virtuosos get the exposure, Wenrick said.

“It’ll be a springboard to kick-start their careers,” he said. “We like to say we’re a baseball farm team before they go to the major leagues.”

Wenrick, a veteran of the music industry — he was an executive at Columbia Records and Epic Records and ran several talent management firms — understands that letting a robot pick new talent is exceptionally inhuman in a human-driven enterprise. This is why he also invites another top four members, as voted by other users, to the showcase.

“This is for users who don’t have a hit song, but have a large following and show potential,” he said.

And from the website on how DHS works:

To analyze music, the system breaks down the sound frequencies of a song into 78 variables such as tone, pitch, tempo, etc. If a song has very similar patterns to a song that was at the top of the billboard for a long period of time, the DHS score will be high. On the other hand, if the song has a moderately similar pattern to a song that was low on the billboard charts for a short period of time, the DHS score will be lower. By comparing a song to the database that holds the recent trends in music, we can evaluate how appealing the mathematical patterns of the sound frequencies are to the human ear, thereby evaluating a song’s hit potential.
Step by step:

  • Each MP3 song is digitized and parceled into tens of hundreds of short audio files.
  • A set of unique features (78 isolated variables) of the audio contents is extracted from each segment.
  • A full set of identifying features is created for each piece of MP3 content.
  • The complete set is then stored in the database.
  • Each MP3 is ranked according to its peak position in the Billboard compilation using the algorithms and stored in the database for future analysis.

I don’t know if something like this actually works. I guess it would for “pop” songs that may have many similar characteristics. My concern is whether a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, who didn’t sound like the prevailing pop at the time, would make it threw this type of screening…

May the Muse (and technology) be with you…

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Write for Queen Latifah

On the 2009 People’s Choice Awards, host Queen Latifah announced that the organization, along with her, was looking to the viewers to submit a 60 second video containing a new musical work that she would include on her forthcoming album, Persona. I’ll let Queen Latifah speak for herself in the embedded video below and you can read more about the contest here.

May the Muse be with you…

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Microsoft’s Songsmith

Microsoft Research has made a trial version of its program, Songsmith, available for download here. Here’s some info from the website:

Ever sing in the car? Maybe in the shower? You know who you are. Admit it, you like to sing, and you like music. Ever thought of writing your own music? Most people never get a chance to try… but we want to give everyone a piece of the songwriting experience, so we’ve developed Songsmith, an application that lets you create a complete song just by singing! Are we going to turn you into an award-winning songwriter overnight? Of course not. But Songsmith will give you a way to create something authentically musical and authentically yours, even if you don’t know the first thing about chords or music theory.

Just open up Songsmith, choose from one of thirty different musical styles, and press record. Sing whatever you like – a birthday song for Mom, a love song for that special someone (they’ll be impressed that you wrote a song for them!), or maybe just try playing with your favorite pop songs. As soon as you press “stop”, Songsmith will generate musical accompaniment to match your voice, and play back your song for you. It’s that simple.

For songwriters, is Songsmith going to replace the craft of songwriting? Never. Could it be a super-useful “intelligent scratchpad” for exploring new melodies and ideas? Definitely. If you’re a songwriter, you’ve probably had the experience of coming up with a melody and finding the nearest object with a “record” button on it just to get your idea down. Imagine that first quick experience also letting you explore chord progressions, styles, even basic arrangement ideas. Then of course you’d work with other tools, other people, your instruments, and your own musical intuition to really develop a song. But Songsmith can be a great tool that lets you quickly explore new ideas in places where you couldn’t before (on the go, on the bus, in the airport, etc.). And Songsmith works great with instrumental input too!

Of course, Songsmith’s ideas might not be exactly what you want for your song. It’s music after all, and there’s no single right answer. So Songsmith not only comes up with music for your song, but puts you in the driver’s seat by letting you customize the chords and arrangement for your song, even if you’ve never heard of “chords” before. Move the “happy” and “jazzy” sliders around to get the chords you want. Lock the chords you like and let Songsmith change the ones you don’t. Set up your own custom band. Make it your song!

I have to admit this sounds intriguing and fun… My daughter loves to make up songs, so I think I’ll see how she does with something like this and if it helps make a song… Looks like the Muse is becoming a computer program… Watch the video of the program in action.

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Review of Sonar 8 PE by CakewalkNet

Songwriter, Rick Paul, has drafted a rather detailed, “thumbs up” review for Cakewalk Sonar 8 Producer Edition that can be found here on the CakewalkNet website.

Here is Mr. Paul’s bullet list of enhancements from the latest version:

  • New features, optimizations, and workflow enhancements: Loop Explorer 2.0, dedicated instrument tracks, performance optimizations, user interface optimizations.
  • Editing enhancements: clip selection groups, aim assist cursor, split and mute tools, free edit tool.
  • Recording enhancements: live effects and softsynth rendering, anytime recording.
  • Mixing enhancements: exclusive solo mode with solo override, bus inputs QuickGroup command, mono hardware inputs.
  • Control enhancements: transport updates, control surface enhancements, Track View and Console View sync.
  • Additional enhancements: enhanced sample rate conversion, Vista audio, QuickTime 7 import/export.
  • Workflow enhancements: insert send assistant, updated ACT presets, drum maps, and plug-in presets, new drum patterns for the integrated step sequencer.
  • New instruments: Beatscape loop performance instrument, Dimension Pro, TruePianos Amber VSTi module.
  • New effects processors: TS 64 Transient Shaper, TL-64 Tube Leveler, Channel Tools, Native Instruments Guitar Rig LE.

So, if you’re into Sonar (I have version 6) then check out this great review and you can even download a trial version from Cakewalk’s website here.

(M)Use the technology for the Muse…

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