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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Banana Suit Sound Guy


My radical idea to become the first truly universally known sound engineer. Call me crazy, but let me propose a scenario. You are at a large-scale outdoor concert with your friends and are excited to see your favorite band. You get to your seats, sit down, and wait for the concert to begin. You occupy the time by texting and talking to your friends. The concert starts, you sit through the whole thing, have a great time, see your favorite musicians live, then leave.

But wait, you missed something. That's me, the sound man. Face it, who ever pays attention to the guy running sound? It is viewed as a menial task and no one really stops to consider how complex the job is to keep every instrument and microphone precisely at the proper volume to ensure a good total mix. The reality is that the job is hard, and sound engineers across the country do not get the recognition they deserve for a job well done. I have run sound at countless concerts, and things do go wrong.

When they go wrong, they tend to go very badly wrong. This results in the entire crowd becoming disgruntled with you, the sound engineer, personally until you fix the problem, and they will probably continue to vent about how the sound was terrible long after the concert. This is unfair to sound engineers because, especially at small benefit concerts and such, sometimes sound systems are pieced together from a lot of various equipment which is not as professional as it should be. Things do overheat/break/cut out/stop working mysteriously and sometimes it is not an easy fix. This is the hardest part about being a sound engineer. Most of the time everything is wrong, but when Murphy's law rears its ugly head, all hell can break loose.

Anyway, back to my scenario. Picture the same concert over again, but what if this time, the sound man is wearing a banana costume? This is an idea I had at some point for a sound engineer to gain recognition. As far as I am aware, most outdoor concerts are relatively informal events and there is no set dress code for the sound engineer. Engineers are chosen based on their job skill, not their appearance (which admittedly at times is rather unkempt). Concerts are supposed to provide a fun atmosphere, and how would a sound man donning a banana costume not add to that? I mean come on, it would be hilarious.

So I would like to hear feedback on this idea. I really do think I could gain universal recognition by going on different tours with the classic banana suit, and I could even switch it up with different fruits and objects if I wanted. I could be the first truly famous sound man and strike it big with major deals all because of a simple cheap banana suit and the comical aspect. So what do you think?

P.S. Please don't steal my idea!

The Recording Studio as a Creative Outlet

I mentioned in my last post that I could never see myself working in a cubicle or traditional office, or even in the three-piece-suit-corporate-business world at all. After all, "park avenue leads to skid row!" in the words of the now infamous 80s band Skid Row. Anyone feeling particularly anarchistic should look up their song "Youth Gone Wild".

Anyway, to get back on topic, I picked the recording industry because I have always been fascinated with complicated technology and the technical aspects of music. To me, a recording studio is more an outlet than a workplace. I find that when it comes to traditional business tasks like reading paperwork and working in a highly structured environment, my mind simply does not want to work. In contrast, I could sit at a recording console literally all night (and have before) without getting bored, as every little thing that happens provides a new and exciting outlook on the project as a whole.

This image is borderline pornography to me. I could only imagine what it would be like to personally own such equipment, and I hope to someday. I have always been told to do what I love for a living, and I truly am pursuing that in a degree in Audio Engineering.

I'm not in it for the money, and definitely not for the fame. Average recording engineers do not make very much money, and face it, who EVER pays attention to the guy doing sound at a concert unless something goes wrong? It is actually this tough aspect of the job that I find pleasure in. A recording studio allows me to convey my emotion in the most powerful way known to man: music.

Even if I am not the musician being recorded or playing live, the simple fact that I have the creative control and artistic license to turn knobs, move faders, and apply sound processing tools, means that I have complete power to alter and mold those sounds however I see fit. Nothing compares to this feeling, and it is why I can't wait to get in the studios at college next fall!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Thoughts on the Modern School System

A lot of the people who currently know me or have ever known me personally, at least in a school capacity, would tell you that I am not big on school. As an 18-year-old about to graduate high school and move on, this is pretty much normal. However, even my early teachers would tell you I have never been enthusiastic about school. Perhaps I am different. Perhaps I am one of few very specific individuals who does not find schooling an effective way to learn. But I don't think that's it.

I think something is fundamentally flawed with the way learning is done in our schools, because I don't think there is actually much learning being done. There are select few who embrace the system and make it work to their benefit, but that requires a rare type of student. For the rest of us, we are merely forced to live by it whether it is effective for us or not. I just can't see a model in which one teacher who has merely studied the material, sometimes only a few more years than we have, can be seen as a universal authority with the power to command students on a whim.

The fact that modern Western schooling consists mostly of brute-force memorization also contributes to its lack of effectiveness. Mostly all of my fellow students study material not to learn, but to pass a test on it. While I do not think grades and tests are inherently bad, their overuse and exaggerated importance in our society truly has formed a generation that dislikes learning.

Ask any of my classmates, for example, if they read for leisure. I personally used to read more than most people will in a lifetime in months or even weeks, and that occupied most of my free time. The simple fact that I have been forced to sit in a room and be tested on material by teachers who do not find it interesting has sparked a deep-set dislike for learning and reading to me, which I do not think is right.

I am not entirely sure what system would work better than our current one, as I am more a thinker than a visionary, but the way things are being done right now is not working. I have grown up in private schools all my life, where the importance of learning is stressed over and over by parents and teachers, but it is all to no avail. The students grow tired of having information force-fed down their throats without any justification, and this causes them to simply abandon the pursuit of knowledge.

I find that I am personally interested in a wide variety of subjects, but literally none of them involve classroom learning. Kids need something more fun, more hands-on, and more interesting. After all, that is what they are: kids.

I am pursuing a career as an Audio Engineer because it has several appeals for me. First, I have always been drawn to music as an emotional form of art, and Audio Engineering allows me to create and collaborate to form new songs and even new types of music. Second, I like the idea of this career because it stems away from the traditional business person route taken by most. I could not picture myself sitting in a cubicle all day; that would only be an extension of the boredom and suffering I have found in school. A recording studio presents a fresh atmosphere that I can express myself through.

The only thing modern schools are good at is working to proliferate this endless rat race we run; they train students not to think by having a universal authority (the teacher) teach material and the subservient (students) simply memorize and recite. This creates a system in which someone else is doing the thinking for us. I genuinely believe schools need reform in order to teach man to unleash his full potential and think for himself. I have not bought into the school system in a long time, and this is why.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Vinyl: a dying tradition

What I'm listening to right now: The Clarke/Duke Project original vinyl press.

I am sure all of you are familiar with the age old standard of vinyl records, used originally before the invention of the CD and digital audio files. Early sound engineers needed a medium to release music to consumers on, and vinyl became that medium. It took a while for one size and speed vinyl record to gain universal use, but in 1931, the RCA record company (still one of the top international labels) invented the now-traditional 33 1/3 rpm standard for albums, and the 45rpm standard for singles. The vinyl record revolutionized the way music was made available to consumers and the music industry, and it immediately caught on as virtually the only option for commercial releases.
In 1950, all record companies agreed to use a standard of equalization called the RIAA curve. This essentially means that any acoustic material pressed onto the record would have certain low frequencies  made louder and certain high frequencies made quieter based on a standardized equalization curve. Record players were built based on this curve as well, except they worked in reverse to negate the effects of the curve upon playback. Vinyl as a material has the tendency to produce hissing and clicks on the needle used to play records, and this curve targeted frequencies where the noises were commonly found in order to provide smoother and more acoustically pleasing playback.

Keep in mind that the vinyl record was an offshoot of the gramophone, and thus was around long before the magnetic tape player. This rendered it the only viable option for record companies to release music with, and it remained so until David Bowie's complete discography was first converted to Compact Disc (CD) in 1985. Thus began the age of a new standard, but that is another story for another day.

This huge time gap, though, meant that vinyl was THE only commercially used standard for music releases  for a span of 54 years. Many of our parents and grandparents grew up with vinyl, yet it somehow possesses an air of familiarity even to those born long after the technology became obsolete.

Why bother to keep vinyl around if there is a newer and better standard, you might ask? First off, it has been scientifically proven that vinyl records sound better than digital files or compact disks. Ask any self-professed audiophile which medium has the best sound and you will unequivocally hear "vinyl". This alone is enough evidence to some people that vinyl is superior.

For those who are less convinced, however, I will offer a faith-based argument. The era of vinyl was an era in which the listener was physically connected to the music he or she was listening to, from putting the record on the turntable, to putting the needle down, then flipping the record after that particular side had ended. This is a very distinct experience that the CD and MP3 have never and will never provide. There is a reason top DJ's around the world still use vinyls. There is a reason that even today, with the vinyl record being virtually obsolete, that musical artists who produce silver, gold, and platinum records are presented with vinyl records in the respective colors by their record labels.

So if you have access to a working record player, I urge you to go find a record store that still sells vinyl records. I'm sure you'll find some familiar bands and artists, and it's also a great way to discover new music. Vinyl may be more expensive than digital, but it's oh-so-worth-it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Blog Assessment

2. My readership has definitely improved since Q2, mainly due to the increased amount of posts. I have made several more posts than I did all of first semester already. Another thing that changed was my addition of media (video/photo) and addition of controversial and deep subject matter. These all mixed together to form what I believe is a solid blog and I hope to get more viewers in the near future.

3. My most popular post was the post about individuality. I believe this is because I put a lot of thought into it and it clearly showed in the exhaustive blog post. I also think the fact that I hyped it up in school and convinced people to read it helped a lot because without anyone knowing about it in the first place, no one would know to check out my blog to read it.

4. My referring sites were not any legitimate websites except google, and I did not have any search keywords because I do not have enough viewers yet. I believe that the addition of tags and keywords to my latest posts helped a lot with the view count.

5. I think as of right now, the best step for me is to just work to get more viewers and continue posting on a regular basis to give followers something interesting to read. I need to make sure I do not slack with the blog posts. I would assign myself somewhere in the B range for this quarter.

6. I have learned that the audience plays a crucial role in writing a blog, especially because you feel more compelled to write if you know someone is reading it and might comment with his or her individual opinions. I have learned that I can write exhaustively and convincingly about any topic I feel passionate about, but I find that I have trouble writing about things that donʼt interest me.

Authority vs. Equality

Our modern civilization as a whole spends so much time getting caught up in working, watching tv, surfing the internet, etc., that we barely leave ourselves time to think about true issues going on. I'm not talking minor issues, such as what to have for breakfast or that work/school deadline coming up. What I'm referring to are the true underlying issues in our world today. Relating back to my last blog post, many people just simply accept the opinions of others rather than thinking a situation through, either due to lack of time or lack of concern. However, there are certain fundamental and undeniable issues in the world we live in that many people do not take the time to address.

One such issue is that of authority. Many people do not even question the authority of police, the government, and other officials because they were raised to respect authority and simply accept the truth that people have authority over them. Others, however, see authority as completely immoral and against human nature.

Authority does not present a significant problem to most until it affects their lives directly. Take, for example, the presidential and political elite in any country. They have the ability to directly influence the lives of those under their control on a whim, if they so desire. The American Congress and House of Representatives has the authority to propose and ratify any federal law they wish to approve, within the general guidelines of the Constitution. They also have the ability to declare war against foreign nations and mobilize armed troops. Members of the armed forces in a given country during a period of armed conflict or war may simply be seen as pawns or statistics to these upper class politicians.

This brings me back to my original debate regarding the morality of authority. Who gives one set of men the authority to send another set of men to a foreign nation and possibly to their deathbeds? Who gives police the right to detain and arrest someone for a petty crime in a "free" country? The answer is government.

I am not trying to suggest that government is unnecessary, because, frankly, I think there are a lot of people in the world who crave order and do not wish to think for themselves whenever possible. It is merely my goal to point out that when you view other people who are biologically and physiologically almost exactly the same as you as elite and in-power, you are relinquishing control of your own life. It was constantly stressed to me growing up that I am not better than anyone else and no one else is better than me.

Some people are born wealthy and empowered, and some are not. Some have the means to overcome the odds, and some do not. Why, then, do we look down on those who are viewed as "lesser" to us in society? People are merely labeling and objectifying themselves if they truly believe someone has real authority over them.

While society has guidelines and rules set to keep life running smoothly (for most people), it is impossible to say that the rules and beliefs of one set of people from one particular time period can correspond exactly to the rules and beliefs of a majority of people decades or centuries later. In a free society, as the United States was intended to be from the start, the governing principles should always represent the needs and views of the people.

Government has truly become a sort of controlling elite in modern times. People look up to politicians and, though they may disagree with elected officials, there is practically nothing they can do once these people are in office. This presents a huge disconnect in logic, at least in my eyes.

Authority and power are two very different things. Power is the capability to make others, whether through force or through persuasion, to do things they would not have done on their own. Authority, however, is the moral right to exercise power. While these governmental officials may have power over the people, who is to say they have the authority to use it?

The Declaration of Independence was a major milestone in the worldwide view of the USA as an independent nation. It states that three inalienable rights given to the people are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our political system has become so corrupt with the wealthy elite and those with selfish and immoral desires that it is impossible to see all these rights protected. The Declaration of Independence also asserts that government was instituted merely to protect these freedoms, not to limit them. One of the most debated phrases in the entire document comes next. "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government".

Could you truly imagine ringing the White House doorbell and telling President Obama that, in your personal view, our government is inhibiting your rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness? Even more absurd, could you imagine telling the wealthy elite and those in governmental positions of power that the government has become destructive and you are going to overthrow it? You would merely be dismissed as insane, or thrown in jail if your actions became drastic enough. I am not saying the government needs to be overthrown (although it surely needs to be reworked), however this is a good example of a fundamental right which has been relinquished by "the authority" merely because they do not want to lose power. Power, whether physical or fiscal, is one of the most alluring prospects to people in our modern, materialistic world.

Politicians have become so wrapped up in their politics that they forget we are merely guests on this Earth. It existed long before we did, and will continue to exist long after we die out. Our trifling governments and petty issues are of no concern to the near immortal nature of the planet we inhabit. Take a look at every other animal on Earth to see that humans are clearly doing something wrong. Every other species maintains an equilibrium with its environment and respects forces greater than itself. Humans are a much different case, however.

Our superior intelligence is the very thing that entraps us in this world. It causes us to greedily crave power and always race in an attempt to outperform all other people. We practically sell our souls to become rich, famous, or powerful. This cardinal flaw in the current human mindset causes us to view every small task as a race. We strive to be better than everyone else, when intrinsically we are all the exact same.

I want this post to serve as an outcry, both to those in power and to those suffering under it. Some degree of authority is always necessary to prevent complete anarchy, but the level of greed and corrupt power seen today is absolutely ridiculous. I try to see "authority" figures as merely equals, and while I know that it is highly unlikely they will do the same, I still work to show them genuine respect (if it is deserved). It is not a selfish ambition to deny that others have authority over you; in fact, it is your elementary right as a human. In my mind, while I answer to some of those in power simply out of respect or to avoid conflict, no one truly has authority over me, and that alone is one of the most liberating realizations one can have.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A total loss of individuality.

If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it? Probably not. If the President of the United States told you to jump off a bridge, what then? Most likely, you still would not. If the Pope told you the same? What then? Unless you are some sort of religious fanatic, the answer is still an unrelenting no.

So grave of an example is proof that people are not always bound to follow the leader. However, given man's natural desire to be social and form communities, more and more people are falling into the trap of blindly accepting the information they receive from various sources.

What does the term "groupthink" conjure up in your head? The traditional definition is that of a faulty thinking process spurred by a desire to fit in with a group, or the unwillingness to think decisions through merely in order to reach a hasty decision on which all members of a group agree.

This process can be both unintentional and purposeful. It occurs naturally when members of a group decide the same thing based on coincidental circumstances and the harmony an easily-reached agreement can bring to a community.

There is a more sinister side to the groupthink theory, though. Those attempting to gain power or stay in power over other people can use this flaw of human psychology purposely as a tactic to gain followers. Because of the social nature of human interaction, we are often influenced to agree with our peers without asking questions, but this is a critical mistake.

A country where political dissent is frowned upon by both the government and most citizens can be a perfect formula for groupthink. To me, total and unrelenting dissent of accepted political views would be a bad thing because it would lead to ultimate revolution and anarchy, yet a complete lack of dissent would also be bad because it relegates the founding notion of our country: freedom.

Ever since the days of the founding fathers, the United States of America has been a poster-child for freedom and equality. However, more and more people lose track of what it means to be an American, and instead just accept the truths of their lives without further examination. There are times when dissent and disagreement with the popular opinion can be the only way to make a change for the better, even though one of the most powerful ways to influence people is by threatening a loss of social acceptance.

Sometimes, though, we must step aside and reexamine an already-accepted notion or concept. Not too long ago, people believed the earth was the center of the universe. People were burned at the stake for disagreeing with those in power, even when there was scientific evidence or proof of their claims. Perhaps it is because man is afraid of change, or perhaps because leaders do not look kindly upon challenges to their power, but in any case, everyone can agree that man has the capability to make mistakes (and frequently does).

This constantly occurring folly of man can be overlooked if we all contribute toward making a change for the better. The gradual loss of ability to think individually has negatively affected our society recently. It is my desire to see a world in which views are not necessarily just adopted as being right or attacked as being wrong right away based on preconceived notions of what is or isn't true, or prejudiced thinking processes. There is never just one approach to a problem.

Modern day media, politicians, schools, and other sources of information and ideas constantly try to get members of their respective communities to adopt their ways of thinking. These habitual ways of thinking, if followed too closely, eventually lead toward the demise of individual thought within the community. Once individual thought is gone, the capacity for dissent and the voicing of individual opinions goes with it.

So, essentially my argument is, the next time you hear someone spout off an opinion, whether it be a politician, an analyst, a news anchor, your next door neighbor, or your local neighborhood priest/school administrator/government official, don't just blindly believe what they say. My intent is not to discredit these opinions, as a lot of them are genuine and true, however it should always be necessary to take the time to process these opinions. Don't just go along with the crowd, formulate your own opinions and react based on them. Americans as well as the rest of the world are losing the capability to think individually, and I have no desire to go down that path.