Disquiet Junto Project 0476: IAH Forecast

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Beyond the Fog

The Assignment:
Here’s your next single’s cover (pictured above). Now record it.

The result:
First and most important objective: capture the essence of the fog. The result: the dense chord sound around :32. Then the melody came to be. An introspective rumination.

The longer you stare at the tireless highway, the more the cars become a blur. Memories descend over your mind like morning fog rolls into the city. Conversations and laughter drift up from other balconies, but soon fade. Spacing out has become an accidental deep focus session. The cars from yesterday are back today. And will be back tomorrow.

But you’ve slipped out an exit. One nobody noticed. The cars shrink smaller. Rushing by in slow motion. Like toys controlled by your mind. You want to relinquish control but you can’t. There’s something controlling you. Something you can’t see. Even from this raised vantage. “The fog will lift when I’m ready to see beyond,” you suppose. 

This song exists because of an inspiring prompt courtesy of the Disquiet Junto music community project.

Learn More about Disquiet Junto

More on this 476th weekly Disquiet Junto project at: https://disquiet.com/0476/

The image that is the source of this project is by Robert Boyd (www.thegreatgodpanisdead.com) and has been used with his permission.

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0476-iah-forecast/

Here’s Why Your Spotify Wrapped Stats are Wrong

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Spotify Wrapped: Your Top Songs of the Year
Or are they?

Sharing your Spotify Wrapped results is fun. But it also leads to some questions. Is this really the song I listened to the most? How is this artist I’ve been binging *not* in my top 5?
But it must be right. Isn’t Spotify wrapped a report of my year’s listening activity? Well yes. And no. Let me explain.

Here’s my top 5 on Spotify

And here’s my top 5 from Last.fm

Similar, yes, but wouldn’t you expect them to be identical? So what’s the difference? 

Here's the Issue

Spotify isn’t super transparent about its tracking. But on Last.Fm I can watch every track stream in real time. 

So we can trust Last.fm is an accurate baseline. Therefore, I looked to Spotify’s tracking methods to discover a reason for the discrepancy. And voila: this moderator post on the Spotify Community board reveals the answer.

What date range does Wrapped cover?

January 1st to October 31st, 2019.
Any listening after this won’t be included. This gives our teams enough time to assemble everything.

In other words, the songs you play in November and December are not counted in your Year Wrapped stats. Now we can see why people are sometimes surprised by Spotify’s top picks. The songs you’ve been listening to lately, those in most recent memory, aren’t considered at all. 

It also makes sense that there’s a cutoff date. Spotify has to prepare the data and create the slideshow. And of course any listening that happens after the Year Wrapped is released won’t count. But then why do it at the beginning of December? Why not make it a New Year’s tradition? Also, why does it take 2 months to prepare data that Last.fm tracks in real time? I can go there any day of the year and get an up to date report of my listening history for any date range I want. I’m sure there are perfectly reasonable answers to these questions, I just don’t know what they are. Feel free to enlighten me!

Right now you may be thinking, okay big deal. Your top artists and songs were almost identical anyway. True, but mostly just by chance. In November and December of 2019, I listened to a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers, according to Last.fm. Too late for 2019 Wrapped and too early for 2020 Wrapped, so RHCP didn’t appear on my Spotify lists at all. But check it out – they’re actually in my Top 5 Artists over the last year!  

And just for fun, let’s see my top 5 songs over the past full year: 

Now, 3 out of the top 5 songs are different than what Spotify displayed. How much do you think your top 5 would change if all your plays were counted?

Bonus Reason

If you only listen to music on Spotify, this reason won’t affect you. But there’s a lot of good music on other platforms that’s not on Spotify at all. If your listening habits also include listening on places like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube, etc then your results will be even more skewed. Obviously, none of those songs will appear in your Spotify Wrapped. But Last.fm tracks listening from all of those places too. If one of your favorite albums is only on Bandcamp, those songs could easily be in your real top 5. Unbeknownst to you and anyone who only sees the Spotify Wrapped post you share at the end of the year. 

Recapping What We've Learned

  1. Your Year Wrapped from Spotify isn’t as accurate as you think
  2. Mostly because it’s based only on listening data from Jan-Oct. Songs played in Nov-Dec don’t count towards anything. 
  3. Last.fm tracks all your listening all the time. You can use their charts to see your “real” stats for comparison. 

What is a Musician?

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Autechre is an electronic music duo. One of the foremost artists of the genre since they formed in 1987. Today marks the release of their 14th studio album, SIGN. So for over 30 years, Autechre has been making world renown music. And yet, in a recent New York Times interview, Sean Booth says “I still don’t feel like a musician.” Here’s the excerpt with that quote:
Booth and Brown are both from Rochdale, a town near Manchester, England, and they started collaborating on mixtapes and electronic music in the late 1980s. Neither had any formal music training; Brown studied architecture at art school, and Booth spent six months taking courses in audio engineering and electronics.
“I still don’t feel like a musician,” Booth said. “I don’t know what we are, because we came from messing around with other people’s records on tape. You just learn this stuff by listening to a lot of records and then having the equipment. Most of my training early on was equipment manuals.”
This would sound completely outrageous if it did strike me as so relatable. Not that I’m comparing myself to Autechre. Because there is no comparison.
I started playing guitar in 2007. I began writing music soon after. During that time, I’ve dedicated more time to music than anything else. Yet, I still don’t feel like a musician. The label feels so detached from the act of playing an instrument. That’s all I’m saying.
At what point does one become a musician? Surely, not everyone who’s ever picked up a guitar is a musician. So where is the line? But then, what does it matter?
I enjoy experimenting with sound. When I hear something I like, I record it. Then I’ll play something else over that. If it sounds good I might record that too. This layering process is the primary way I write music.
But surely, I’m not a composer. Not in the classical sense of the word. I haven’t formally studied music theory. I’m not really big into Beethoven, Bach, or even The Beatles. Yes, I’ve written many songs. But not everyone who strums 3 chords around a campfire is a composer, right? So where’s the line?
Does it really matter?
I guess it matters if you’re going out for the Philharmonic. But I’m not. And I’m sure those ladies and gents of the Philharmonic would be astounded by all that I don’t know about music. So I won’t offend them and their lifelong pursuit of musical mastery by giving myself the same label as them: musician.
Then again, isn’t the culture around “proper” musicians a bit stuffy? A bit exclusive? Exclusivity benefits those who are inside the club, but doesn’t do much for anyone else. Maybe that was part of the enthusiastic fervor behind rock n roll music, then punk music, followed by hip hop, and eventually electronic music. People like being included. Being a part of something. And by definition, not everyone can be part of the elite. So while a select few are diligently practicing scales on their violin, thousands are chopping samples into beats and telling their story one rap verse at a time.
But let’s emphasize that neither approach is wrong. Of course preference will be determined by someone’s individual values. Some people favor tradition, order, diligence, scholarship, even elegance. Another might be more of a free spirit. The type that doesn’t like to be told what to do. Is inspired by experimentation and not having rules. Free flowing, unscripted expression. Can you guess which type of music each of these very stereotypical and hypothetical people might like?
The point is, there’s no reason to be so exclusive about music and musicianship. If someone wants to record a capella rap music on their iPhone and call themselves a musician, fine. That doesn’t take anything away from suits that can sight read symphonies. In fact, it may even add to it. People who appreciate “real musicians” will appreciate them even more in comparison. Today though, a lot more people have iPhones than violins.
There are valuable life lessons hidden within the pursuit of music. I don’t see why those rewards should be kept behind a paywall. Whether it’s the price of a of a cello, or piano lessons, or a Master of Arts in Music Theory. Learn from those who inspire you. Make work that inspires you to see it to completion. Try something new and you may inspire someone else to start on their own path. These are just a few of the traits that define Autechre. If they’re not musicians, neither am I. But hey, the label isn’t all that important anyway.

Disquiet Junto Project 0455: Inner Invertebrate

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A Day in the Life of a Jellyfish

Objective: Compose a piece of sound/music that summons up what a moment, or an instance, or a day in the life of a jellyfish is like to the jellyfish.

Process: Set the scene by building vast openness. Long, slow evolving notes. With long attack times on the volume envelopes. No one is in a hurry here.

Project bpm set to: 8.000.

Add subtle water sounds to give the feeling of being submerged.

With the atmosphere set, time to add the jellies. They mainly open and close while drifting along.

So I added constant side to side panning drift to my top layer synth. And a filter that slowly opens and closes as the note sounds.

Then added another layer over that with different notes and panning. Sometimes one jelly passes by. Sometimes a few.

Sometimes they’re in unison.

And sometimes they’re not.

Discovering Disquiet

Last week I discovered and subscribed to the Disquiet Junto Project. Then I get the first prompt and it’s to channel my inner invertebrate. Such moments are the definition of the word serendipitous.

This project is exciting in several ways. Getting a writing prompt externally instead of digging one out from within is a big change of process for me. I like the idea of having a topic to make a sound sketch on every week. The condensed timeline keeps the pressure down on the spontaneity up. Whatever happens happens. I imagine if I keep at it there will be times when I fail completely and that will be just fine.

I’m used to building ideas off of improv. Playing around until I hear something I like and then running with it. Having a prompt given to me gave me stops and starts that I don’t usually experience. I’d write a part with jellyfish in mind, but when I played it back it wasn’t quiet right. But I also had limited time to work on this song this week. The deadline forced my focus. And no time for perfecting. Endless tweaking? Not an option.

If this project gives me practice working with such focused forward momentum, then it’s worth it for that alone.


To Become Water [disquiet455] (permalink)

Learn More about Disquiet Junto

More on this 455th weekly Disquiet Junto project, Inner Invertebrate (The Assignment: What does a moment (or a day) in the life of a jellyfish sound like to a jellyfish?), at: https://disquiet.com/0455/

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0455-inner-invertebrate/

A Droplet of Inspiration: Pt. 2

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For most people, cliffhangers are the worst. But you know what? I don’t really mind them. So for a moment, forget about the water key (Can you?).

Who is Sevish?

Sevish, is an electronic music composer based in London, UK. The song, Droplet is on his 2015 release, Rhythm and Xen.

Rhythm, that’s pretty straight forward. But what is Xen?

Xen is short for Xenharmonic music, a way to write music “with new harmonic relationships that humankind has never heard before.”

So how does that work?

Think of a guitar, or a piano. They all have the same notes:
C D E F G A B. These are the white keys on a piano.

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti.

And then you have the black keys:
C# D# F# G# A#

Thus, we arrive at a grand total of 12 notes. If you live in the Western world, there’s a good chance every song you have ever heard was created from these 12 tones, and only these 12 tones. This tuning and it’s harmonic relationships are deeply ingrained. It’s become second nature. It doesn’t take a musician to tell you when a guitar is out of tune. Your ear just knows.

But technically, wouldn’t there be other notes in between the “real” notes? This is where using color as a metaphor comes in handy.

Let’s say you have a box of crayons. It’s a 12-pack. So you have 12 colors to work with. You can mix those colors together to make other colors. Some of the combinations are nice, others, not so much. This is similar to how notes are combined to make chords in music.

But an artist, a master painter for example, doesn’t use a 12-pack of crayons. Rather, they are experts at mixing colors. They can mix their paints to get those 12 colors, and every shade in between. And combining the in between shades will make more new in between shades. Which can then be combined. And so on.

So why do painters have access to the full spectrum of color while musicians are stuck using the same 12-pack of notes over and again? For now, we’ll just say “because, ‘tradition'” because the real answer involves recounting history outside the scope of our focus here.

The idea of limitless new note combinations is intriguing. And incredibly daunting. That’s where Sevish comes in. He’s made it his mission to not only compose xenharmonic music, but collect resources to make writing Xen music more accessible to everyone. I am especially grateful for his work. Because for me, it has unlocked a new universe of creative possibility in music composition.

So Droplet, the water key, grants access to xenharmonic music, the water world. A place where boundaries are redefined, if not removed altogether. A place where shapes, sounds, and textures have shifted slightly and become a little odd. A little curious. In some cases a little more refined. And in others, a little more challenging than we’re used to.

A treasure seeker who finds a chest will wish also to find its key. To open the chest, seize the treasure, and complete the journey. But a key is not always a means to an end. When we’re lucky, it’s a means to begin. A way into a previously inaccessible area. A chance to explore the unexplored.

A Droplet of Inspiration

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One day, I found a song called Droplet. By this artist called Sevish. I’d never heard of him. But the song was immediately pleasing. A peaceful intro with a lone synth. It’s texture as a smooth as glass. Then, bass. The sound was transporting. I was on a summer hike at dawn, when sunlight starts to peek through the fog. There was a sense of dreamlike familiarity. I could see my feet moving, one in front of the other. I knew this path because I’d hiked it before. But it felt different, just subtly. Like the sun was shining from the wrong direction. 

I saw the ground sparkle in an unusual way. My previous line of thought evaporated. What is that? I bent down slowly, careful to keep my eye on the spot where I saw the reflected light.  It looked like a key. But it was nearly transparent. The sun must have caught it just right. How many people before me must have walked right over this mysterious object?

I turned it over, passing it back and forth between my hands. It really looked like a key. But it’s material? It almost seemed to be made out of … no. I don’t understand how it could be that.

The shape of this object was unmistakable. It was a key. 

But it seemed to be made out of .. out of water.


How can a key be made out of water? 

But the shape was clear. It is a key. I know what a key is. And now, the material was clear too. Water. No doubt. 

Fascination replaced disbelief. I watched it’s flowing appearance change naturally as the key moved in my hands. Like water swirling in a glass. Except there was no container. Nothing I could see that would be responsible for holding this water in such a defined shape. 

I noticed my legs had resumed their operation. Now at a faster pace, as if closing in on a destination. But where? My hike had begun leisurely, with no particular destination in mind. Now, leisure was replaced with a sense of purpose, a mission. And yet no more direction than before. 

The fog had since retreated from it’s standoff with the sun. And my eyelids began a defensive against oncoming beads of sweat. Thank you eyelids, for keeping my vision uninterrupted right now. My eyes focused on the edges of the trail, alert for any additional abnormalities. 

What did I expect to encounter? A water lock for my water key? A water safe, full of water jewels? A water doorway into a water world?

 Of course. A water world. Absolute purity. No hard surfaces or sharp edges. And just think, when light touches anything? Rainbows abound. Millions of colors. Cascading, combining. Maybe forming new shades, never before seen by humans.

My eyes flickered their focus back to my hands, confirming that impossible key remained in my possession. Yes. 

Now, eyes up. Back to the search. 

To be continued…

Enlightened Legislation: Laying the Groundwork for Today’s Social Injustice Issues

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This isn’t the sort of song I’d normally choose to write. So you’ll understand when I say it wasn’t my choice. The song chose me.
I was working on something else entirely. An unrelated song. I had an idea for a voice sample I felt would tie the song together. A quick little message to wrap things up. I perused the internet and found a potential candidate. I listened to the first 30 seconds and decided the tone would indeed fit. The whole clip was 7 minutes long. So I hit record and went for a snack.
Upon returning, I cut out a few phrases from the first 90 seconds or so. It felt like plenty, so I didn’t even need the rest of the 7 minutes. As I was about to trash the rest of the recording, I realized it had recorded not 7 minutes, but about 15. Another clip must have auto played after the one I chose.
Of course, I was curious. I began clicking through the second recording, just to see what it contained. I’m glad a did. These messages were provocative. Even more so than the ones I had chosen. Provocative and painfully relevant. I could hardly believe the serendipity.
In fact, take a listen for yourself.

It felt like this material was delivered to me. It was impossible to ignore. I had already been working for hours. And I thought I was wrapping up. But now I had to sample this message and bring it to life through music. I had to dig in while the inspiration was so fresh.

The next hour was a sprint. I placed the voice in a new project. I programmed a beat around it. Added percussive layers. A bass line. And finally some sparse, sampled instrumentation. I worked as fast as possible. I wanted the entire creation to be born within the context of the original feeling. The feeling I got when this mystery broadcast first played back through my headphones.
The entire process took at most, 80 minutes. Now, the feeling is captured in music where it will live on indefinitely. For whatever that’s worth.

But what was the message exactly? You are no doubt wondering this. And with a hint of frustration, if you skipped the demo and haven’t yet heard it for yourself.
It is a New York Public Radio broadcast. The host announces the passing of new legislation that allows policemen more leeway in their firearm use. Before, she says, an officer was only permitted to fire his weapon in self-defense, or on behalf of the safety of a third party. She mocked the old rule for its obvious lack of sense.
Now, the officer may discharge his weapon at his own discretion.
A welcome change, according to the host. She mentions a situation “last September” in which a perpetrator escaped due to the overly restrictive old law. She begins as if she’s referencing a specific event that actually occurred. But by the end, it’s clear that she’s invented the story of the “rapist, or strangler, or what have you” to make her point. And what is her point? She believes that restricting a police officer’s firearm use is active encouragement to rapists and murderers, or anyone else that may be considered a threat.

Our collective safety depends on an officers ability to fire his gun at anyone he “knows or believes has committed a felony, or has a gun, or any other kind of deadly weapon.” 

The officer does not have to wait until he is in danger to use his weapon. He only has to *think* he is in danger. Combine that leeway with the systematic racism that has been programmed into white America to see people of color as dangerous criminals, and you begin to see the problem.
The broadcast went on to talk about the new “no sock” law “which enables an arresting officer to make it a felony if a person physically assaults the policeman in an attempt to resist arrest.” Even in the case of an illegal false arrest.
Again, the host is relieved. “It is heartening to note that the legislature has responded to the public’s wish for more police power and protection at a time when, according to the latest FBI reports, the incidence of crime and violence continue to rise at a rapid pace.”
By citing the FBI, she meant to add credibility to her otherwise unsupported claim that violent crime was on the rise. But the FBI’s motives were notoriously dubious during the late 1960s. For example, recovered Bureau documents “revealed directives that required FBI field offices to watch African-Americans wherever they went.”
“These people were enemies of the state, and in particular Martin Luther King [Jr.] was an enemy of the state. And Hoover aimed to watch over them. If they twitched in the wrong direction, the hammer would come down.” Hoover, for those unaware, refers to J. Edgar Hoover. The director of the FBI from 1935 to 1972.
And the hammer did come down on King. Hoover’s spying escalated. He “had his intelligence chief bug King’s bedroom, and then sent the civil rights leader a copy of the sex recordings.” The blackmail package included a letter in addition to the sex tapes. It’s anonymous author described King as “evil,” a “fraud,” and a “dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile.” It concluded by telling King he was finished and “flat-out suggests that the leader commit suicide.”
King ignored the threat. 
When he was later assassinated, the FBI understandably fell under suspicion. To this day though, no proof exists in their involvement in King’s murder. 
That’s not to say the FBI never murdered any Civil Rights leaders in their attempts to disrupt the movement. Internal documents show the FBI proudly took credit for killing Black Panthers member, Fred Hampton. A heavily armed team of police raided his residence in the middle of the night. Mark Clark, also a Black Panther, was on security duty at the time. The police shot him in the chest upon entry and he died immediately. When they found Hampton, he was asleep in his bed. They shot him twice in the head from point blank range. Chicago police were found to a have fired over 90 shots inside the apartment. One shot was fired by the Black Panthers. When Mark Clark died, his gun felt to the floor and discharged once into the ceiling. 
“At a press conference the next day, the police announced the arrest team had been attacked by the “violent” and “extremely vicious” Panthers and had defended themselves accordingly. In a second press conference on December 8, the police leadership praised the assault team for their “remarkable restraint”, “bravery”, and “professional discipline” in not killing all the Panthers present. Photographic evidence was presented of “bullet holes” allegedly made by shots fired by the Panthers, but this was soon challenged by reporters. An internal investigation was undertaken, and the police claimed that their colleagues and friends on the assault team were exonerated of any wrongdoing.” source
The raid would not have been possible without the FBI. One of their informants, William O’Neal, provided the floor plan of the apartment. He organized the raid. He drugged Hampton so he’d be incapacitated at the time of the murder. The FBI rewarded his successful mission with a bonus. He later admitted his involvement and committed suicide. 
Right now you’re thinking, how did we even get here? You’re right. That was quite the tangent. So let’s recap. 
Once, the law stated that a police officer may fire his gun only as self defense, or to save a third party. 

In 1968, new legislature permitted an officer to fire at anyone he thought was a felon or armed. 
New York Public Radio invited their listeners to celebrate the change. Because according to the FBI, violent crime was on the rise and these laws would help keep everyone safe. The host aligns this point of view with her identity as a proud Republican. If you disagree, you’re encouraging rapists and strangers to run rampant in your community.
But the FBI’s real objective was, in part, to disrupt the Civil Rights Movement. And new legislation gave room for law enforcement to pursue anyone they wanted, as long as they could provide an explanation for it later (and they would be investigating themselves). The story on the radio just secured public acceptance for a more draconian police force. These measures inflicted disproportionate damage on communities of color.

And they still do today.

8 Lessons from Music that Apply to Any Field

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Here are 8 universal lessons I’ve learned from my work as a musician. Inspired by this thought provoking twitter thread by David Perell. 

  1. An instrument is only as good as its player.
  2. Great work can be boiled down to a formula. But following a formula will not yield great work. 
  3. If it sounds good, it is good.
  4. Tension and dissonance can arouse intrigue for a moment. But they quickly grow tiresome. 
  5. Flow comes when you let go.
  6. People view your work through the lens of your persona.
  7. If you’re not unique, a better version of you already exists. Be yourself and you will be unique.
  8. Practice makes perfect. But perfect is not relatable. Emotional connection goes further than demonstrations of sheer skill.  

If I missed any good ones, let me know on twitter, @jromejko

So, that's all for now...

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