Monday, December 01, 2003

Sound of the Year: 2003 – Shock and Awe

The 2003 Critical Noise Sound of the Year belongs to 'SHOCK AND AWE', encompassing:
  • The sounds of the military manoeuvres in Baghdad (CNN). 
  • The heated and often convoluted debate leading up to the military exchange with Iraq.
  •  The fall of Baghdad: for some reason to rejoice, for others a deafening thud.
Q: But what is the sound of SHOCK AND AWE, or what do the combination of sounds sound like, exactly, one may reasonably ask.

A: It is the sound of large scale aerial bombing in tandem with reverberating befuddlement that results from a massive lapse of logic at a governmental level (or alternately, a brilliantly devised strategy of subterfuge, i.e. 'Weapons of Mass Destruction')

How else might a terrorist attack on America be leveraged to invade a sovereign nation whose leader, however despicable, had nothing to do with those events?

+ + +


The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

EXPERIENCE: Traditional Packaging Not Required

Apple launched iTunes in January of 2001. The product, it turns out, is a music supervisor's delight.

But in order to maximize its usefulness to me, I've had to rather compulsively spend inordinate amounts of time transferring media from one platform to another. Now, two years later I've finally burned through a life's collection of Compact Discs and DATS, and even digitized my old audio cassettes, so that I can access it all via the iTunes app. The net result is that as of today I've amassed one hundred and ninety seven gigabytes of audio, a collection that includes both MP3s and AIFF files. An even though I've been using computers for well over 20 years, I'm still amazed that how much audio can now fit on a single drive.

Here's a question: What am I going to do with all that left over packaging?

Along the way I came to the following realization:

In the past, the vinyl record and its jacket was not just a vehicle for distribution, but actually part and parcel of the entertainment experience. The same can’t be said for Compact Discs, which are about as experiential as a box of Tic Tacs. Once the Tic Tacs are gone, you don’t keep the packaging. So it goes with CDs. Once a customer has transferred audio from a CD to their hard drive, the disc, Digipak or jewel case it was transported in, all instantly become garbage.

The iTunes store itself has replaced packaging to some extent –as has each artist’s own website– and both definitely provide an experience. But given how digital audio is wreaking havoc on the traditional music business model, how will artists in the future reach a substantial audience? Because global awareness is one reason why an artist signs with a record label, right? Well, I think an artist can reach a worldwide audience –and significantly increase their market share– by accepting sponsorship and corporate patrons. Call it The Medici Music Model.

I am NOT suggesting artists accept traditional spokesperson-styled endorsement deals. Nor am I suggesting that performers tell their fans that they use and enjoy a sponsor’s products unless that is part of an overall contractual negotiation/obligation.

However, I do put forward that modern merchants can power up their branding possibilities by underwriting individual artists and entertainers beginning with the recording and distribution of an artist's works similar to the same way as Coca Cola does right now by underwriting Charlie Rose's talk show. That is, no explicit endorsement by the artist for the patron's product or service required or expected –just a public word of thanks by the artist for the sponsorship (unless otherwise negotiated by the sponsor). For artists (unattached to traditional record labels), such relationships can significantly increase their own market share or fan base by a tremendous margin.

Let's consider a future where songwriters and performers aren't signed –they're underwritten. And stars won't endorse products; they'll partner with the companies that make them. (I call such strategic partnerships ROCK BRANDS)

For individual musical artists, regardless of whether they accept patronage, it's arguably all about the experience; therefore there's no reason to insist on packaging your music on a Compact Disc, or in a jewel case. You can sell anything –oats, soap, flowers, swag, art, books, marketing collateral, tequila and collectibles of all sorts– and package the merchandise with a coupon redeemable at an online store for one's desired music. For ten bucks, do your fans prefer A) one CD, or B) one T-Shirt that comes with a unique code enabling a download of a complete album (or perhaps any ten songs from your repertoire) from your online site?

In the future, musicians may resemble entrepreneurs who sell not just songs, but are associated with an array of products, which will use the artist's own music to add value to a number of consumer goods and services. In tandem, the brand partnerships will serve as a distribution vehicles for the music and the artist's message.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Audio Koans: The Zen of Sound

Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part Spring/Summer 2003 AUDIO KOANS series exploring the relationship between zen wisdom and sound:

1. If a Tree Falls In The Forest...
2. Sound of One Hand Clapping?
3. Zhàozhōu's Dog

* * *

Like this topic? Explore five-part Winter/Spring 2002 MYSTIC AUDIO series, from the Critical Noise Archive, exploring the relationship between spirit and sound:

1. Glossolalia: Speaking In Tongues
2. The Ur-Song
3. Theta Waves, Mantras & The Lord's Prayer
4. Atomic Rhythms
5. Thai Drum Samples For Sesame Workshop

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Audio Koans: Zhàozhōu's Dog

Zen Monk Zhao Zhou (778–897) was asked by one of his students if even a dog possessed Buddha nature. In western terms, the question might’ve been: Does a dog possess a soul? Or: Is a dog a sentient being?

To which the monk reportedly replied, “Wu.”

“Wu,” is translated as ‘No’, but through the abstract prism of Zen logic the answer is universally accepted as ‘Yes’.

Personally, I don’t think Zhao Zhou said ‘Wu’, –not at all.

Why do I believe that?

Because ‘Wu’ is a very un-Zen like response; not because of what it means, but because of what it is: A straight answer.

I believe Zhao Zhou’s real answer has been corrupted over the years by chains of brains too brittle to belong to Zen masters.

So what did Zhao Zhou say when asked: "Does a dog possess Buddha nature?"

I think the old monk answered as though he were a dog, imitating its sound on behalf of all canines everywhere: He didn’t cry back ‘Wu’; he howled back ‘Ah-woo’, or simply 'Woo!'

As anyone who’s ever been to a zoo or wolf preserve knows, when wild dogs or wolves howl, it in fact sounds just like ‘Ah-woo’ (pitch ascends on ‘woo’), or 'Woo'.


Makes a little more sense, no?

Or you can scoff, grasshopper, but I'm still going with ‘Ah woo’.

* * *

Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part Spring/Summer 2003 AUDIO KOANS series exploring the relationship between zen wisdom and sound:

1. If a Tree Falls In The Forest...
2. Sound of One Hand Clapping?
3. Zhàozhōu's Dog

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Audio Koans: One Hand Clapping?

Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769), the father of Rinzai Zen, reportedly asked his students: “What is the sound of one hand?”

However, in modern practice, the question is often asked in the following manner:

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Apparently, Hakuin would have been happy with a simple demonstration of a hand being thrust out in front of the practitioner, as an appropriate response.

But in regards to the modern version of the question, I have my own less esoteric thoughts on the subject:

The sound of one hand clapping is not the sound of two hands clapping, because the movement of one hand can't be described as clapping at all. Clapping is the sound produced by smacking or slapping two objects together. Thus, one hand making a clapping motion in space is not clapping, but rather it is waving.

So the real question is:

What sound does a waving hand make?

And this is the answer: Well, depending on the vigor of the waver, a waving hand making a repeated waving motion can sound like anything from a soft pulsing heart-like beat or breath; to a slow moving fan blade; to a helicopter propeller chopping through the air.

None of these sounds are audible from afar. However, if you make these motions with your hand next to your ear, you will certainly detect them for yourself.

Call it clapping if it humors you, but it’s not.

* * *

Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part Spring/Summer 2003 AUDIO KOANS series exploring the relationship between zen wisdom and sound:

1. If a Tree Falls In The Forest...
2. Sound of One Hand Clapping?
3. Zhàozhōu's Dog

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

RIP Eve Frumkin

Eve Frumkin died in March of 2003.

We were not friends or even associates, but Eve nevertheless left a significant impact on my professional life. The official story will list her as senior vice president/director/producer at Ammirati Puris Lintas. Her clients included Burger King, Compaq, General Motors, Nestle, and UPS. But to me, she was simply 'Eve from Ammirati', and whenever the receptionist announced her presence on the line, I always knew that those words signaled a potential adventure was waiting.

The truth is, Eve was a woman whom I knew only as a voice at the other end of a line. But we spoke often enough that I not only knew her by name, but considered her as a VIP client, requiring more than a response, she required a real human connection.

I was a bit younger than her; her career was nearing its end when mine was just beginning. But I did everything I could during our phone conversations to engage with her befitting her accomplishments and status. If Eve had simply asked me for estimates and had I simply bid those jobs, I would not feel the loss I feel now. The fact is, she engaged me, and made an effort to connect to me, making sure that though our relationship was virtual, it was real.

As it happens, some jobs I won, some I lost. But as long as the work was world class and the paper work delivered on time, all was good with the world. In this respect Eve Frumkin taught this music producer an important lesson when I was still clawing my way into the industry:

You can do anything you want
As long as it's great,
under budget,
on time
and fulfills the marketing objective.

RIP Eve Frumkin! –with an exclamation mark! –Because I'm sure anyone who knows you, knows that you deserve it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Audio Koans: If a Tree Falls...

If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?


I have a feeling the Zen Monk who thought this was a mind bending cryptic puzzle was also a pot smoking fourteen year old who slept through Physics.

Those who answer ‘No’ invariably –an inaccurately– define sound as entirely a sensory response: the effect of electrical stimulus upon brain cognition by a vibrating eardrum. However, unless one is hallucinatory, human ability to sense sound is wholly dependent on an external source causing (air) molecules to vibrate. It is these vibrating particles that comprise sound, not one's ability to sense them.

To clarify, sound and the sense of hearing are two different things.

So, if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, yes, it still causes air molecules to vibrate and therefore makes a sound, independent of any individual capacity to sense those vibrations.

* * *

Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part Spring/Summer 2003 AUDIO KOANS series exploring the relationship between zen wisdom and sound:

1. If a Tree Falls In The Forest...
2. Sound of One Hand Clapping?
3. Zhàozhōu's Dog

Friday, March 21, 2003

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Advertisement for then state-of-art microcomputer based Computer Music Instrument, The New England Digital Synclavier II – From the back pages of the Computer Music Journal, Volume 7, No. 1, Spring 1983.

Needless to say, I wanted one!


Saturday, March 01, 2003

This Is Where The Story Ends

Here's the message, do you care about the medium?
Media has evolved, and instead of growing bigger, it has gotten smaller –along with our attention spans, I might add. As such, it demands shorter, faster delivery times.

It's as if there's hardly time to finish and you've only just started to say, 'Once upon a time...'

Therefore neither composers nor sound designers can continue take the same approach to the application of creative sound solutions to other media platforms as they have in the past with film and traditional video formats.

There is simply no longer any time to tell a STORY, only to convey a MESSAGE, and nothing conveys a message as rapidly or efficiently as a SYMBOL.

At the same time, the number of platforms on which to broadcast that message is multiplying. It is not just a convergence of technologies, but a convergence and deconstruction of communication delivery techniques, and our concept of Story will not go unchallenged.

In 1998, when I co-founded Blister Media, Silicon Alley's first interactive music and sound design company servicing advertising agencies, I initially found myself confounded in any attempt to define a narrative or story element in the new media and sometimes cross platform projects we began taking on.

One can certainly think of audio elements provided for an Interactive Interface or Electronic Game Play as 'helping to tell the story', but only if one loosely defines any framed experience as story.

Me, I'm a purist: There is no story without conflict or dramatic action.

In other words, Is Navigation Narration? I think only when it serves an objective purpose, i.e. when it represents a Journey. Clicking a link is not the same thing as experiencing a Story, although certainly, hyperlinking concepts and platforms do and will continue to contribute to Storytelling techniques.

High-order electronic games that deliver an interactive film-like experience, such as HALO, do indeed provide a story experience. But small electronic puzzle games, as often do not.

Additionally, many such experiences, such as a telephone connection tone or an audible response confirming an action or command on an electronic device, may only last a single second.

Some clients will remain happy with a set of stock clicks and bells, but others will develop or commission a proprietary family of sound and value those elements as brand assets.

What is required for such projects is neither a slow build to a dramatic statement nor any random selection of stock sound/s.

What they will demand from their creators is adopting a unique Philosophy of Sound for each individual commission.

Evolving Media formats require deftly executed audio solutions that clarify navigation, maximize entertainment value, and in the case of branded experiences, fulfill a communications strategy in the audible equivalent of a blink of the eye.

In short, as it is conventionally defined:

STORY IS DEAD, and the era of STORY IS OVER.

And I believe that we have now entered the ERA OF MESSAGE.

For audiences, this does not mean the end of all stories. Entertainment outlets will multiply and content demands will actually increase by an exponential order. But in a post post-production world, commercial creative artisans producing communication projects will need to possess a deeper understanding of a given client's brand strategy before they embark on development.

Increasingly audiences will share less and less of their time getting to know a brand. Even word of mouth may one day seem to take too long or just too much effort, but an individual consumer just might afford you the time to exchange the electronic equivalent of handshake. If nothing else, you will need to convey your message at first point of contact (with the user/consumer), because you may not get another chance.

And since my specialty is sound, one might reasonably ask how this will affect sonic artisans. Well, the bad news is now you have homework. Because if one can reasonably imagine that a message is to be conveyed using sound as the carrier, then one may also reasonably suggest that in addition to music theory and performance, some study of symbols and sound will be required of future sonic artisans. Thus, archetypes, memes and semiotics will be as important skills to our craft  as Harmony and Technique. The good news is an increased skill set should also result in higher value for your contributions.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Position: Creative Solutions For Creative People

Blister Media is history, and weirdly, I've been getting more calls from people who want to hire me as a writer and an artist, than for music production projects. All that work creating marketing collateral for Blister; writing Press Releases; and placing articles in the industry trades has garned me an added reputation as a marketing consultant. Go figure. But my most recent clients don't even know me as music producer.

As it turned out, a decade standing at the nexus of advertising, marketing, film, entertainment, game developers, PR executives and brand strategists has imbued me with a general understanding of promotions that's proving greatly useful as a free agent.

In January of 2003, Position Management was born, a creative consulting boutique swimming in a big sea of cool opportunities.

Of course, I hope to continue producing music projects in the future. It is true that I already miss the day-to-day affair of knocking out music jobs for Fortune 500 companies. But I also have to admit, I really enjoy the work that I’m doing now, as it offers both creative variety and strategic thinking.

I now say, the tools of my trade are Language, Art, Symbol and Sound. My job, in effect, is to be the artsy kid in class. In a way, that’s always been my job. You are who you are.