Tabla Breakbeat Science

Update: we’re working on an album. Listen to it here.

Last semester I did a project for my psychology of music class that studied the way people clap to funk/dance music. I was testing to see whether my subjects knew to clap on the backbeats or not. I didn’t give them any prompting as to how they were supposed to clap, and most people did their best to clap to the beat one way or another. The most interesting response came from my buddy Shashank, a classically trained tabla player from Bangalore. There are plenty of Indian musicians at NYU, but most of them are culturally very western — a lot of them play metal, and you’d think they were from suburban New Jersey if you didn’t know otherwise. Shashank, on the other hand, has had close to zero exposure to western music. He attempted to clap tabla patterns over the beats in my study, with strange and interesting results.

After the project was over, I thought it would be cool to hear Shashank improvise on the tabla over various classic breakbeats. We did a couple of recording sessions, and they were a lot of fun.

Tabla Breakbeat Study recording session

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Where I’m at

Update: I now have a functioning prototype of my thesis app. If you’d like to try it, get in touch.

Hi internet friends. Just wanted to give a quick summary of what’s going on with me at the moment, if you’re interested.

The most important thing going on with me is, of course, my son Milo. He’s starting to eat solid food now, grabbing and holding onto things, and generally lighting up the universe with his radiant adorableness.

Waiting to board the plane

The other big thing is that I’m graduating from NYU’s Music Technology program this December. I’m done with everything except for my thesis and a little light mopping up.

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My top five SoundCloud tracks

The internet has spoken! These are the tracks of mine that you like the best, in order of listens. It comes as no surprise to me that three of them involve Michael Jackson, and two involve the Beatles.

Wanna Be Startin’ Something megamix by ethanhein

Bitter Sweet Symphony Megamix by ethanhein

Human Nature Megamix by ethanhein

Prudence Never Can Say Goodbye by ethanhein

Na Na Na Na by ethanhein

How do you have a career as a musician?

The odds of your making a living performing your own material are small, vanishingly small. But there are a lot of ways to make a living in music. If you do succeed at the singer-songwriter path using the tips listed in the other answers, mazel tov. In the likelihood that the singer-songwriter-musician thing doesn’t pay the bills, ask yourself which aspects of the music world you like and which you don’t. That will help you broaden your options and make it likelier you’ll wind up doing work you enjoy.

I have one friend who’s a full-time professional singer-songwriter, touring on the lesbian folk circuit. She puts out albums once in a while but those aren’t a major source of revenue; they seem mostly to serve as souvenirs from her gigs. She supplements her touring income with some freelance non-musical work around the sides. Her life is possible because a) she’s just unbelievably good at what she does, b) she’s well-connected to a warm circle of fellow singer-songwriters who form a mutually supportive scene, and c) she doesn’t mind living on the road for long spans of time. I did a little light touring with a band that she was also in, and it just killed me. I couldn’t take it, even for a few days at a time. I need to be close to home. So no touring musician life for me.

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Blues for the Jews

December is always a complex month for half-Jewish mutts like me. When pressured to self-identify, I usually just go with “Jewish” for the sake of simplicity, but this is in spite of not having being bar mitzvahed, not knowing any Hebrew, having only the vaguest idea what all the holidays and rituals mean, and having no relationship whatsoever with God.

My mom is Jewish, so that’s enough for the tribe to have welcomed me as one of their own, but it’s a complex question as to what that membership means. Wikipedia has two separate articles for Judaism and Jews, to distinguish the religion from the ethnicity, and I definitely belong to the ethnicity more than the religion.

My most significant personal connection to the tribe, aside from family Passover seders and Seinfeld appreciation, has come through music, specifically klezmer music. I may not know my way around the Torah, but I know my harmonic minor modes inside and out.

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Muppet Silly Songs

For my 35th birthday, my sister gave me a CD of Muppet Silly Songs, a favorite of ours when we were kids. It’s been out of print for years and last time I checked wasn’t even available on the web, legally or not. We unearthed the vinyl at our mom and stepfather’s place when we were there over Mother’s Day, and Molly converted it to digital with the help of our friend Leo.

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Blue Christmas

Christmas makes me depressed. I would like it not to make me depressed. I want to have kids, and I want them to at least have the option to enjoy this time of year. In order for that to happen, I need to learn to enjoy it. I remember enjoying it when I was little. I can’t exactly pinpoint when I soured on it, but by late adolescence, it was mostly an occasion for dread, and in my adult life it’s mostly been an occasion for sadness. I’m hoping that some autobiographical writing will help me get a grip on the whole thing.

A big part of my sadness is due to the early death of my dad, who loved Christmas and celebrated it with a total and unironic enthusiasm. Among his fellow investment bankers he presented a Frasier-like highbrow persona, opera-going and cosmopolitan. But he showed his midwestern roots in his lifelong devotion to Garrison Keillor, his love of fireworks and especially his fondness for Christmas kitsch. We stopped going to church after Grandma died. Dad didn’t inherit any of her religious fervor. Or did he? He took Santa Claus and the tree seriously. He loved to play Santa at office Christmas parties and signed half the cards on gifts to us “from Santa” into my college years and the one December past them that he lived. As a little kid I thought it was terrific, but the older I got, the more difficult it got. The holiday ritual I liked the best was the Elvis Christmas Album.

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Don Draper and my dad

Spoiler alert: don’t read until you’ve watched to the end of season three.

Mad Men is well-made television, but so is plenty of other television. Why is this particular show so compelling to me and so many of my buddies? I think it’s that watching Mad Men is like watching a documentary about our parents and grandparents. In particular, Don Draper is a window into our emotionally inaccessible fathers. For me, the generations don’t line up exactly right – in 1963 my dad was only 21 – but it’s close enough for some intense emotional resonances. I feel like I’m looking through a magic window into events that the old photo albums only hint at.

My dad and Don. There’s so much overlap. Both were authority-resistant guys disguised by suits and corporate jobs. Both underwent name changes and had complex parentage. Both earned a lot more money in New York City as adults than they grew up with in middle America. Both were divorced parents of young kids.  Here’s a more detailed rundown of the similarities and differences.

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