Carpe Diem – by RexT

Carpe Diem is my latest completed song. It has been a work in progress that started like many of my songs, just strumming around on my acoustic guitar looking for a melody. Once I had the melody, some lyrics came along and jumped in. (Lyrics do that you know, they hear a melody they like and they just move in.) It wasn’t until after I had the rhythm part recorded that I started getting some ideas about accompaniments. I’ve played with it for about a month now and I think it’s about ready.

On this song I started experimenting with drum loops and other computer generated sounds. I didn’t write the drum loop I used in this song. I downloaded it from a free loop site and fit it in. It’s the one part I’ll probably change when I can. All the music is written, performed and recorded by me. I play acoustic and electric guitar, use synth organ and base guitar and do all the vocal parts.

I tried to have some fun with this song, so I hope it’s entertaining.

Carpe Diem

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JoonToons – by Dylan Foley

Dylan Foley is an atheist/skeptic/humanist musician and author based out of Boston, Massachusetts who is involved in a myriad of projects ranging from gypsy jazz/ska/circus rock to free improvisation to surf to death metal. “JoonToons”, his latest solo project, is an album of children’s music designed to appeal to people of all ages. The songs of “JoonToons” are culminated from a variety of Foley’s early musical influences, such as Woody Guthrie and Shel Silverstein, as well as traditional sources of Irish folk and blues.

The arrangements of the songs are atypical of those found in children’s music, featuring organic under-production and real instruments, including voice, guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass and harmonica (there are no synthesizers on the album). Aside from its overarching tone of playful humor, the themes of the album strongly emphasize individuality and skepticism. One fan, a mother of three, has described it as “the album toddlers will hide from their parents.”

“JoonToons” was chiefly inspired by a close friend of the artist who recently began operating a line of home-made children’s clothing, which bears the same name as the album. First time customers of the online JoonToons store (here) receive a CD copy of the “JoonToons” album for free. The album is also available for free download here by clicking the CLICKHERE banner to go to the “JoonToons” page (or by clicking the link below). The music of Captain Pablo Presents, another of Foley’s projects, may also be found on this site.

Dylan Foley may be contacted at whatamoniker@comcast.net

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JoonToons

Book Review: Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain” – by Don Alhambra

musicNeurologist Oliver Sacks is well known for his ability to write about case histories in his own compelling lyrical style. Probably his most famous work is his 1989 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a fascinating and seminal exploration of the weird world of neurology. Drawing on his clinical experience with neurological patients, Sacks’ vivid descriptions of his patients’ behaviour and the realities behind the mask of ‘brain damage’ that society places on these people are fascinating and strangely humbling. It’s the kind of book you come away from and think: wow, the brain really is awe-inspiring, and incredibly mysterious.

There is no shortage of either awe or mystery in his latest book, Musicophilia. Subtitled ‘Tales of Music and the Brain’, Sacks makes a concerted attempt to understand another great mystery of humanity: why in the world do we like music so much? The book is wide-ranging and deals in part with the stories of neurological patients familiar from The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. For example: the patient in the title role of that book, a keen musician with neurological stroke damage, could only live a seemingly normal life when accompanied by music. Sacks comes back to this theme continually, noting that for many patients seemingly lost in their own worlds, music can be a real way for them to communicate and get back some of what they have lost.

Sacks notes that music therapy in particular, though largely ignored in clinical rehabilitation programmes, can be of great help to those patients who do not respond to other treatments. For example, Parkinson’s patients who are ‘frozen’ and unable to initiate movements can be trained to use a rhythmic beat to help them to walk and therefore regain much of their lost freedom. Music therapy is also known to be effective with certain aphasic patients (i.e. those who have lost the power of speech).

Other chapters focus on such topics as musical hallucinations (see this thread on the Heathen Hub), which while initially interesting and exciting to experience can soon become frightening and irritating. I was struck by how suddenly these disorders can strike, which brings home just how fragile our poor brains are, and how complex they have to be to go wrong in such interesting ways! Sacks also investigates such seemingly prosaic topics as earworms, tunes that get stuck in the head; literal bolts from the blue, such as the man who became a keen musician after being struck by lightning, despite having little interest in music prior to this; and the fascinating and almost alien abilities of autistic musical savants.

Musicians are known to have different-sized brain structures to non-musicians, so is it the experience of playing music from childhood that leads to these changes due to the plasticity of the brain? Or is it that people born with brains specialised for music tend to grow up to become musicians? The answer, surprisingly, is not as simple as one might think. Certain people have greater aptitude for music than others, and there are deficits (atonia and tone deafness, for example) that render either the appreciation or production of music impossible.

Most strongly of all, Sacks challenges the infamous pronouncement by Stephen Pinker that music is merely “auditory cheesecake” that piggybacks on the highly evolved linguistic capabilities of the human brain. Pinker’s thesis is that musical ability is not evolutionarily important. Not so, Sacks argues: music is bound up with the operation of the human brain, and is one of the things that separates us from other animals. No other animal shows such affinity, such natural rhythm and such appreciation of music as we humans. There must be some evolutionary reason why our brains impose patterns on our sensory experience, and an inherent sense of rhythm is one of the things that results from this. For example, we hear clocks going tick-tock, tick-tock even though the sound of both the tick and the tock is the same. It is as though we unconsciously impose a ‘beat’ on the world.

With so much of human experience seemingly dependent on the production and appreciation of music, perhaps that is what makes us truly human. Musicophilia is an excellent book, and I highly recommend it for not only musicians and neuroscientists but non-specialists as well.

Don Alhambra is a Research Fellow in Neuroscience at the University of Birmingham, UK. He can be found mainly at the Heathen Hangout and the Heathen Hub.

Melody Febble – by RexT

“Melody Febble” is my most recent tune, an instrumental much inspired by RnR’s very own Febble, (a.k.a. Lizzie) a very talented classical musician. Febble is an exceptionally calm and gentle person. I have come to admire her greatly. She sent me a piece of her own music and suddenly a piece I had been playing around with for awhile transformed into something with a slight classical tint, expressing a bit of how Febble makes me feel.

The piece uses acoustic rhythm and lead guitar, organ, pan flute, voice orbs and a bit of drums. I play both guitar parts and wrote the notes for the other instruments using a MIDI program and recorded the whole thing using a microphone and studio software on my laptop.

Melody Febble

In the Nuthouse – by Kim o the Concrete Jungle

In the Nuthouse is one of my very early songs. I wrote it when I was seventeen. I’d been playing guitar for about a year, and was just starting to get on top of it. (In fact, I was probably over-compensating, playing too fast to make up for my lack of technical skill.)

Now when you’re seventeen, sitting down in front of an ordinary tape recorder writing songs, you’re very conscious that the sound you’re getting isn’t anything like what you hear on the radio, or a professional CD bought from the store. In fact, it sounds flat-out weird. And if you’re anything like me, you conclude that weirdness must be your lot in life. That’s pretty much the theme of In the Nuthouse. Since I couldn’t play “normal” music, then I was going to embrace weirdness for its own sake.

Now, years later, my circumstances have changed a little. I’m more musically literate. I’ve got a lot more gear. I can record complete songs, with drums and bass. I’m pretty close to getting professional sounding results. What’s more, I’ve got all these old cassette tapes, which are unlistenable in themselves, but which contain literally hundreds of songs. I decided to remake a lot of those old songs — rewrite them and record them, using all the songwriting tricks I’ve learned since.

In the Nuthouse posed a bit of a dilemma for me. What on earth was I going to do with such a nutty over the top song, to tone it down and make it more sophisticated? I got held up for weeks pondering that question. In the end, I decided to leave it as it was, and just add bass and drums. The bridge section (with the guitar solo) is new, and the lyrics are a little better defined, but in every other respect, this is the exact song I wrote when I was seventeen.

In the Nuthouse