Killen and Marotta

Participants in Play With Your Music were recently treated to an in-depth interview with two Peter Gabriel collaborators, engineer Kevin Killen and drummer Jerry Marotta. Both are highly accomplished music pros with a staggering breadth of experience between them. You can watch the interview here:

Kevin Killen engineered So and several subsequent Peter Gabriel albums. His other engineering and mixing credits include Suzanne Vega, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Bobby McFerrin, Elvis Costello, Dar Williams, Sophie B. Hawkins, Ricky Martin, Madeleine Peyroux, U2, Allen Toussaint, Duncan Sheik, Bob Dylan, Ennio Morricone, Tori Amos, Rosanne Cash, Shakira, Talking Heads, John Scofield, Anoushka Shankar, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Stevie Nicks, Los Lobos, Kate Bush, Roy Orbison and Bryan Ferry.

Kevin Killen

Jerry Marotta played drums on all of Peter Gabriel’s classic solo albums. He has also performed and recorded with a variety of other artists, including Hall & Oates, the Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, Sarah McLachlan, Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, John Mayer, Iggy Pop, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Cher, Paul McCartney, Carly Simon, and Ron Sexsmith.

Jerry Marotta

The interview was conducted by NYU professor and Play With Your Music lead designer Alex Ruthmann and UMass Lowell professor Alex Case. Here’s an edited summary. Continue reading

Repetition defines music

Musical repetition has become a repeating theme of this blog. Seems appropriate, right? This post looks at a wonderful book by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, called On Repeat: How Music Plays The Mind, investigating the reasons why we love repetition in music. You can also read long excerpts at Aeon Magazine.

Here’s the nub of Margulis’ argument:

The simple act of repetition can serve as a quasi-magical agent of musicalisation. Instead of asking: ‘What is music?’ we might have an easier time asking: ‘What do we hear as music?’ And a remarkably large part of the answer appears to be: ‘I know it when I hear it again.’

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Constructivist learning and Scratch

Brennan, K. (2013). Best of Both Worlds: Issues of Structure and Agency in Computational Creation, In and Out of School. Doctoral Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I had the very good fortune to attend a fancy elementary school run on solid constructivist principles. In sixth grade I got to experience the “hard fun” of Sprite Logo. Similarly fortunate kids today are learning Logo’s great-grandchild, Scratch.

A Scratch block

Karen Brennan’s doctoral dissertation looks at the ways people teach and learn Scratch, and asks how the study of programming can help or hinder kids’ agency in their own learning. Agency, in this sense, refers to your ability to define and pursue learning goals, so you can play a part in your self-development, adaptation, and self-renewal. This is interesting to me, because every single argument Brennan makes about the teaching of programming applies equally well to the teaching of music.

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Experience designers design experiences

Hassenzahl, M. (2010). Experience Design: Technology for All the Right Reasons. Morgan & Claypool.

For this week’s reading on experience design for music education, we moved up a level to think about experience design generally. A lot of design theory tends to boil down to “Design things better!” Marc Hassenzahl’s book falls into that trap a little, but he does have some useful specific ideas. His main thesis is that designers of technology aren’t just designing the technology itself. They’re designing the felt experience of using the technology (intentionally or not.) People care less about the technology itself and more about how they feel while using it.

Are You Experienced?

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How to promote flow in music students

Continuing my research into the use of games in music education, I found this:

Custodero, L. (2002). Seeking challenge, finding skill: Flow experience in music education. Arts Education and Policy Review, 103(3), 3–9.

The best music education happens in states of flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: the feeling of energized focus brought on by total absorption in an activity. Flow is more or less synonymous with happiness. So how do you bring about a state of flow? The key is to balance challenge and ability. Too much challenge for your abilities, and you’re anxious. Too little challenge and you’re bored. In between lies the delightful state of flow.

Flow

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Teaching music with looping

Saville, Kirt. Strategies for Using Repetition as a Powerful Teaching Tool. Music Educators Journal, 2011 98: 69

When a student brings a recorded song to me that they want to learn, the first thing I do is load it into Ableton and mark off the different sections with a simple color-coding scheme: blue for verses, green for choruses, orange for instrumental breaks and so on. This enables even non-readers to grasp the overall structure of the song. I then loop a short segment, usually significantly slowed, and have the student repeat it until they’ve attained some proficiency with it. As the student progresses, the loops get longer until they encompass entire sections. If a particular phrase is especially troublesome, I can send the student home with an mp3 of that phrase looped endlessly to practice over.

Mashup in Ableton

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Eric B and Rakim

In 1987 I remember having my ears grabbed by this thing on the radio called “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS.

Now that mashups are so common, this track doesn’t sound particularly remarkable. But in seventh grade it was startling to hear a house music track full of random samples. “Pump Up The Volume” was part of the same UK dance music movement that spawned the KLF’s “Doctorin’ The Tardis” and “Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite. I wasn’t enough of a hip-hop head in 1987 to recognize where the phrase in the title comes from, but now I do, it’s from “I Know You Got Soul” by Eric B and Rakim. Listen at 0:43:

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How to write something long and complicated

I find myself in the new and delightful position of writing for money. So I needed to step up my game in terms of workflow and file management. The last time I tried to write something long, I was in college, using Windows 3.1 and good old Wordperfect 6. Then the Microsoft hegemony set in and I switched to Word, along with the rest of the industrialized world.

Word started off pretty useful, but each successive version was a bigger and bigger drag. There were more toolbars and menus and animated characters giving unwanted advice. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I followed the geek example and switched over to plain text editors and HTML.

But this year I wrote a book proposal and some other long-form, complicated stuff. It got to be difficult keeping track of which thoughts were in which text file. Then I read a blog post by Steven Poole called “Goodbye, Cruel Word” that hipped me to Scrivener, and I’ve never looked back. Continue reading