Monday, June 19, 2017

The Inspiring and Musically Powerful World of DIY Instruments


What is a musical instrument? It is an object that creates sound for the purpose of creating music. The definition of  “music” is a topic for another post, but for our purposes here let’s assume that we all know what music is, or at least have our own interpretation of what constitutes music. Regardless, musical instruments have been a vital part of human culture that dates back to the dawn of human history. There are reports of flutes made from mammoth ivory found in Germany that are dated to be close to 43,000 years old. These early DIY musicians had a different means for securing instruments than we do today: they made the instruments themselves. In contrast, in today’s world, many of us think of musical instruments as products made by a manufacturer in a factory, or meticulously crafted with the highest quality tools and technology in a professional workshop. They are consumer items that we consider products to purchase from music stores or bought used from other musicians. However, we must remember that for the majority of human history, instruments were handmade, and most likely by the musician themselves.  Below are three impactful instruments assembled by the musicians themselves that create stunning results, ranging from the simplistic to the complex.

DIY Percussion: Power Through Simplicity

Very likely the first instruments created by man were percussion pieces, as they require little effort to produce.  Anything, really, can be used to create a drum. Related to this, my personal favorite DIY instruments are percussive as they can be so simple and yet used to create incredible rhythmic performances live and in the studio. One drumming set up that deserves recognition is the construction-bucket drum sets that are used in cities throughout the world by street musicians. They are used on streets throughout Washington DC in the United States and traditionally have been used by street musicians to play DC “Go-go” beats, a rhythmic music that originated in and is special to that particular city. These drums are made from buckets that originally held paint or plaster and have been tossed from construction sites, coupled with the orange cones used for caution during road repair and construction. Ingeniously, a player mounts two buckets atop the cones by simply draping the metal handles over the top, one on each side for balance, and voila, a drum set. Different sized buckets produce different tones, and often the players use pieces of wood instead of traditional drumsticks in the true DIY spirit. In addition to this set-up, I have also seen  “bass drum” accompaniment in which a drummer simply uses an upside down massive plastic trashcan. Generally, shopping carts are used to move the set from location to location. This may seem simple to create, but often the beauty of genius is its simplicity. Furthermore, the beats that the players produce can be top-notch.




This following video must be included as well, as these Chicago street drummers take DIY to its most basic level, simple and awesome, one bucket each.



Pipe Guy: Unique Flair with Techno Intent


Related to percussion instruments are mallet driven instruments such as the xylophone and the marimba, glockenspiel, and the vibraphone. A musician named Jake Clark, who goes under the moniker “Pipe Guy,” creates a similar type of instrument, but with his own unique flair. And, his mallets are flip-flops. He uses PVC pipe to build elaborate multilayered instruments, beaten with flip-flops, to produce dance music, which is astoundingly sonically similar in tone to synth sounds used in traditional house and techno music. He began on the streets of Adelaide, South Australia, and has since moved to the stage. He has a presence on Facebook under the user name pip3guy and seems to be constantly building new set-ups. His creations are difficult to explain so viewing this video is the easiest way to understand.



The most impressive element of Pipe Guy’s instruments is the original way in which he plays them as dance music instruments. Pipe Guy’s use of PVC pipe is in the vein of a multitude of DYI instruments such as flutes, xylophones, rain sticks and more that can be created with PVC pipe. But Pipe Guy personally takes the material to a higher level of complexity for DIY instrument creators and carries it into a specific music genre: techno. Now, it must be stated, there are similar and more massive instruments created by the producers for professional outfits such as the Blue Man group, easily found on Youtube and wildly impressive. However, Pipe Guy is one-man-show, a true DIY musician.

Clearly, Pipe Guy has tuned his instruments to use a minor scale, common in traditional techno. Essentially, he uses the same physics of sound employed by anyone creating an instrument from piping, regardless of material. Basically, making music with pipes occurs through creating pressure waves by beating on one end of the pipe. The length of the pipe determines the note, as different lengths of pipe create different wave lengths. Interestingly, the width of the pipe changes the tone of the sound, but not the note. The thickness of Pipe Guy’s choice of PVC affords him the deeper tones and most likely his choice of rubbery flip-flops affords the buzzing electronic sound he is creating. A drumstick would create a higher faster popping hit, whereas the flip-flops provide a softer punch and perhaps allow the pipes to reverberate more.  Here is what happens when Pipe Guy’s PVC instrument meets a street bucket player called “Techno Hobo”:



Mark Applebaum: The Ultimate Level of DIY Musical Complexity

The third example of DIY musical instruments requires the high technological know-how and the creator is a PhD and an associate professor of music at Stanford University, named Mark Applebaum. He is a renowned composer and has made significant contributions in orchestral, chamber, operatic, choral, and electro-acoustic music, which has been performed throughout the world. He states that after learning and mastering different types of musical instruments he becomes bored, and therefore creates new instruments. While there are many examples of fresh new instruments, it may be that Applebaum’s creations take the cake. He specifically states in the below video that “boredom,” not lack of funds, or the need to build something, is the catalyst for his creations. In other words, he is inspired by his boredom and makes incredible creations as a result. He is tired of traditional instruments and music from the traditional cannon, such as Beethoven and therefore has created in this instance a musical instrument that is, simply, incredible. This instrument, called the MOUSEKETEER is demonstrated at 4:42 in this video:



As shown, his fantastic conglomeration of objects constituting the Mouseketeer includes a massive array of items such as door stops, combs, whistles, strange pieces of metal, wood, and plastic, bells, as well as a live bank of electronics that the somehow influences the sounds emitted. The instrument appears to be a one in all entire orchestral percussion team. It is more than that, in fact, it produces both musical sounds as well as sound effects. He can play this with mallets and a bow, and most likely in many other ways. The mix from the instruments apparently is fed through the electronic sound bank.

As he states, humorously, he is the “world’s greatest Mouseketeer player.” Which is true if one considers this interesting statement. A DIY musician is truly the greatest player of their instrument in the world as their instrument is unique and they are the unique creators. They are inventors, as Applebaum calls himself. Musicianship and invention go hand in hand because what is original music, but a fresh invention of sound. Musicians and sound designers are inventors. They are designers of material and sound. 

Whether simple or complex, all three examples in this post are impactful, rather through their raw musical power such as the bucket drums and drummers in the first example, the novelty and originality and unique presentation/vision of Pipe Guy, or the complex technological design of Mark Applebaum. All three are DIY, though of course Applebaum’s takes special engineering and knowledge of electronics. The point is, music can be created in an infinite multitude of ways for an infinite number of purposes.  Any object, or set of objects, coupled with a unique vision and the intent and motivation of the inventor/musician will result in new musical creations.  Surely in the future we will continue to see people make fascinating new combinations of materials that create never-before-seen instruments. Only the imagination of the human mind limits the possibilities, and the human imagination is unlimited. 


Friday, June 16, 2017

Full Sail University and Point Blank School: Real Alternatives to Traditional Post-Secondary Education

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Traditionally, post-secondary education in Western culture for years has been hinged on both parents and students desiring education that “rounds out” the student’s mind, ie a “liberal education.” This concept of the liberal education still commands the trajectory of many high-achieving students who graduate high school in the US, and gymnasium in Europe. The goal, as many still believe, is to then attend an expensive college or university to learn the higher concepts of Western academics: philosophy, literature, history, and the social sciences. However, as the world changes based on obvious technological advances involving computing, the internet, and digital production, there are now new choices for those students and families who choose not to adhere to the beaten path.

Simply put: there are now more choices to post-secondary education and one path is sound and music and media production.  This is a good thing.


Two schools, one in the United States, and one in the United Kingdom, exemplify this forward motion into the future of post-secondary education by emphasizing education based on media production, and de-emphasizing traditional courses in Western philosophy, for example, Shakespeare. The two schools covered below offer real degrees or certificates and more importantly, practical career benefits upon graduation. They differ somewhat in their approaches, degrees, and course selection, but are similar in their intent: to provide pragmatic post-secondary education to talented and creative young adults who are intent on pursuing creative passions while earning real incomes after graduation.  The two schools covered below are Full Sail University in the United States and the Point Blank School in the United Kingdom and this article simply intends to lay out the presentations and claims of both for any student seeking a higher education in sound and media production.  The contrast between the two is rather striking. However, both are sound, no pun intended. Simply put, for readers heading toward a career in sound, music, and media, both schools are worthwhile, high quality, and have a track record of success among their alumni.


Full Sail University is located in Winter Park, Florida in the United States and bolsters an interesting and vibrant history. The inception of the school began in 1979, as a recording workshop called “Full Sail Recording Workshop” in Dayton, OH, by a Mr. John Phelps. Throughout the years, driven by student interest and teaching success, the school now commands a 192 acre campus with 49 degree programs and 2 graduate certificates which include nearly every form of digital media production avenue available to future digital media content providers. They provide degrees in music and recording (including studies in sound recording and design), games, art and design, technology, media and communications, art and design, and media and sports business.

There is credence to their degrees. They are licensed by the Commission for Independent Education (Florida Department of Education) to offer Associates through Masters degrees.  They are also accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), an organization that is recognized as a national accrediting school by the U.S. Department of Education. Meaning, and this is very important for students who desire a valid BA, Full Sail provides degrees that will be recognized by other schools in the United States if a student may want to achieve a Masters Degree in Sound Design or other media discipline at another university or college in the United States.  In addition, their Bachelor programs are efficient and can be completed in 20 to 29 months. Programs begin monthly and therefore there is no need to wait through semesters of time to begin studying. Many of us perhaps remember slogging through low paying jobs during summers waiting for school to begin. This waste of time does not happen at Full Sail. Graduation for the hard working student can come in half the time of a traditional 4-year college. This will give any graduate an edge in entering the workplace at younger age than their peers, ready and prepared for their career possibilities of the future.

In addition to their massive array of course offerings in multiple media disciplines, Full Sail functions as a proper university, providing financial aid and housing options near the campus. Upon graduation, they provide assistance for career development and work on job placement. They use a unique combination of technology such as networking with classmates and easy access to instructors online, continuous technical support, video conferencing, the ability to create via laptops from anywhere at anytime, and the use of cutting-edge media creation software to teach multi-media production. They couple this effective use of technology with the traditional model and rigors of a 4-year bachelors, requiring many hours of study and a wide array of courses needed to earn a degree. In all, Full Sail appears to provide a solid education in a wide array of media disciplines and the school and staff work diligently to aid their students in careers after graduation. One quick glance at their Alumni page attests to the success of their graduates, who work in film and sound capacities with the top media production firms throughout the world. This school is a valid option for students passionate and interested in media production.


The second school mentioned in this post, is the Point Blank School, an Electronic Music School that teaches music production and performance skills and techniques in London, England, Los Angeles, US, Ibiza, Spain, and online.  At the onset here, one must agree that it would be hard for anyone interested in music production not to salivate at the possibility of attending a campus to study electronic music on the island of Ibiza. This would be a young DJ’s heaven. On the island of Ibiza, specifically, it appears that students study by day and then at night are given the opportunity to rub elbows with highly successful DJ’s and are afforded the opportunity to perform at internationally renowned nightclubs on the island. This sounds like a win-win for those who can afford to attend.  Regardless of the three locations, it is clear that Point Blank is a successful electronic music school that attracts globally successful DJ’s and producers as instructors and most likely is helping to create the next generation of electronic music producers. On an academic note, Point Blank School has a an affiliation with Middlesex University, which validates their Higher Education classes and those who complete the Point Blank set of courses receive a certificate and award upon completion. Middlesex apparently also “validates” the BA Music Production & Sound Engineering program.

To sum it up, both Full Sail and Point Blank provide top-notch media production education. The location in which you live may determine your preference. Clearly, if you are in the United States, then Full Sail is more accessible and if you are in Europe then Point Blank is the closer option. Full Sail has a longer history and a vastly larger set of course offerings. They have managed to achieve accreditation as a “four year” university that bestows actual BA’s that in theory will transfer to other schools. The programs are steeped in a wide array of disciplines and many of their students move into the media industry with great success. For the youngster graduating high school in the US, or those willing to trek across the pond and can afford it, Full Sail is a valid, excellent alternative to the traditional liberal arts education and provides not only electronic sound and music production, but video arts and other media productions fields as well. They also have, which has not been mentioned yet in this article, a massive film set/lot where Hollywood sized films can be created. They command one singular massive campus with a four year college degree experience.

In comparison and contrast, Point Blank is equally passionate and active in their own realm. Their realm is more singular however, catering to the world of elite DJ-ing and production and focusing on electronic music production and performance only. Clearly, the school has succeeded in attracting excellent talent to instruct and built campuses in three of the most illustrious places in the world (London, Los Angeles, Ibiza) to be an electronic music artist. Clearly their combination of talented instructors, course layout, and very importantly the exposure for current students to the club scenes of their various locations, are all major pluses. It depends on what one’s goals are as an aspiring sound/media artist and the degree you would like to have upon your graduation. Full Sail will give you legitimate academic credentials, serious professional contacts, a community, and support. On the other hand, Point Blank will give you expert skills for rocking dance floor, a certificate and perhaps a BA. Mostly, though, it seems it will give you high level contacts and experience in the world of globally recognized DJ’s. Both schools rock. Hats off.
 
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Monday, May 29, 2017

A lovely movie with music supplied by Shockwave-Sound

Our customer and movie director Christopher Robin Collins has launched his film "Little Thief", which is now available to buy or rent through Amazon.

Little Thief, Amazon U.S.: www.amazon.com/dp/B00GQAXO2E

Little Thief, Amazon U.K.: www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071RYZQB1

"Little Thief" is a a touching drama about the complex relationship between two misfits; Hyun, a lonely Korean man and Martina, a young orphaned girl - set in Sydney, Australia.

The movie itself as well as the trailer (available to view at the above Amazon links) feature music licensed from Shockwave-Sound.com

Trailer now available at YouTube:




Thursday, March 30, 2017

Polish Folk Music focus at Shockwave-Sound.com

Polish folk music performers
From the monumental Tatra Mountains in the south, through Lower Silesia on the west with its large number of medieval castles, Lesser Poland with the great City Of Cracow and Magic Wieliczka Salt Mine,  Lubelskie Region on the east with hop fields spreading through the region,  to the Mazovia with its Lowland, the capital city Warsaw, and the oldest city in the region - Płock, and further - Podlachia with its woods,  Masuria with lakes, Pomerania at the shore of Baltic Sea and Polonia Maior on the west ... Poland offers the great heritage of regional culture, customs, food, beverages and of course - traditional music.

The history of folk music in Poland has its roots in the early medieval era. It has evolved from Slavic tribes in its own specific way and differently in every region. Music has been the companion of every daily activity, work, rituals such as weddings, courtships and harvests. And of course, it's full of love songs, folk dances and religious songs.

It was influenced by and mixed with music of other countries and cultures like Czech, Slovakian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Hungarian, or Jewish and Gypsy.

The traditional instruments have also evolved. The basis were string bowed instruments with traditional drums and vocals. At the turn of the 20th century the accordion established itself as a the main instrument.

In fact, Poland has long traditions of building accordions. In the late 19th century their constructions were small, like up to 10 sounds on the melody side, and 2 or 4 on the bass side.

Harmonia Trzyrzędowa - Three-row harmonium
One unique instrument in the accordion family was a Polish invention - "Harmonia Trzyrzędowa" - which can be translated as "Three-row harmonium". It has three rows of melody keyboards (could be compared to the three or more keyboards like on church pipe organs) and from 16 up to even 140 bass keyboard buttons! It become very popular from the beginning, and was produced through the first half of the 20th century. There were several dozens of manufactures all over the country, most notably - Bogucki, Mejer, Mościcki. With time, the constructions got more complicated, and the embellishments got more sophisticated.

Another Polish invention was the Pedal Harmony (polish "Pedałówka") a type of accordion with a pair of pumping pedals attached below. The instrumentalist was able to pump air into the instrument with by pedaling their feet. Firstly, these instruments were much louder, and secondly, the performer didn't get as tired as a regular accordionist, and could play for many hours. That's why - because of loudness and the unique pumping system - these instruments became popular and were often used to play at weddings, which in Polish tradition could last for the whole night, and even into the next day!

Pedałówka - Pedal Harmony accordion
Through the years, the constructions became more and more regular, and modern accordionists use regular accordions. There are some enthusiasts who work on renovations of old Polish instruments, and it is possible that some of them will try to reconstruct vintage Polish instruments.

Today, these traditions are cultivated, and in fact still growing. Young people want to know the customs of their ancestors, as well as their way of living, working and having fun. There are schools that teach playing traditional instruments. Krakow Music Academy gives students a chance to study and practice traditional instruments.

Also, the great contribution of the Polish artist Maria Pomianowska in researching and reconstructing playing techniques of old type string bowed instruments can not be overrated. She is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and pedagogue who educates young students of traditional music.  Her work includes research and curation of instruments from Europe, India, Japan, Iran, China and other parts of the world. She has collaborated with the famous Yo-Yo Ma while living in Japan (where she used to perform at Imperial Court in Kioto).

Maria Pomianowska

Maria Pomianowska has reconstructed many Polish folk songs and melodies using the notes from Henryk Oskar Kolberg, a Polish ethnographer, folklorist and composer who lived in 19th century. The greatest work of Henryk Oskar Kolberg is titled "Lud (Dzieła Wszystkie)", and it is a compilation of folk traditions from all of the Polish regions. It contains 12,000 folk songs, tales, proverbs, etc. The Heritage of Henryk Oskar Kolberg made the foundations for today's Polish folk ethnography.

Henryk Oskar Kolberg
The  traditional  folk music has strong position  in today's modern Polish society.  It can be found at every level in every situation.

Today's modern Poland sees a trend of searching for the roots of Polish culture -  including music, of course. Many young people are fascinated by it. One of the greatest old roots traditional musician and violin player, Jan Gaca, died in 2013 at the age of 80. He started to play in the early 1940's as a young boy and he performed until his death. He educated many young musicians and became a legend of Polish folk music.

We need to mention also the Warsaw Village Band (Polish: Kapela ze Wsi Warszawa), founded in 1997, who tend to combine traditional Polish folk music with modern elements. They have popularized  Polish folk outside the country, and were nominated for the "Newcomer" award in the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards in 2003, and won it in 2004.

Most popular are of course adaptations of traditional music and folk sounds  as a source to popular music.  It can be found at different levels in the music of many bands and artists. For example, Golec uOrkiestra, founded in 1998 by twin brothers Paweł and Łukasz Golec. They are mixing folk music with rock and pop. At the time of writing, they have released 11 albums and sold over million copies.

Jan Gaca
There is also scene of Polish Folk Bands mixing Folk with hard rock or heavy metal - which is sometimes called Polish Pagan Metal.

Polish traditional music can be heard in many places and situations. It is often used at state celebrations, traditional fests like "Dożynki" - a Slavic harvest festival at the end of harvest season.

It is also quite popular to hire folk bands to perform at private parties.  It's even possible to arrange an entire wedding in folk style with traditional decorations, clothes, food  and of course, music.

There are many festivals, like "Festiwal Wszystkie Mazurki Swiata"  or "Skrzyżowanie Kultur" growing year by year.

Folk music at Polish wedding
Traditionally, the lyrics of Polish folk songs tell stories about love and romance, and daily hard work. They are full of descriptions of beautiful and distinct landscapes, fauna and flora. With our album made exclusively for Shockwave-Sound we would like to invite you for a musical journey through the beautiful regions of Poland.

We've  prepared these songs and dances, in traditional arrangements, with authentic instruments like:

  • Suka Biłgorajska (reconstructed from the 19th century watercolor painting),
  • Fidel Płocka (modern Fidels are based on the original 16th century instrument found during archaeological research near city of Płock),
  • Violins (instrument used  in our recordings is over 160 years old),
  • Frame Drum (original folk drum, made with selected wood, and membrane of sheep skin),
  • Accordion,
  • Female Vocals.

There are 13 songs and dances, and every one of them has a following origin:

Chłopaku - it is a love song, girl is singing about how happy she is to have a boy, and his closeness gives her strength for living.

Polka ferajna  - traditional Polka with the vocals in middle part that gives feel of  "Warsaw street music”.

Lipka -  beautiful song from the Lubelskie Region. The story tells about three brothers who fell in love in one girl. Eventually girl is forced by her parents to marry other man.

Obertas -  traditional dance, played mostly on weddings, and folk feasts. This one is specific for Radomskie Region.

Karczmareczka -  from the Karpatia area in the very south of Poland. Tells a story about  love, family life, marriage, and at the end reminds - not to lose it, because these are most important things in life.

Opocno - traditional dance from Region Opoczno.

Tokaj - influenced with Hungarian culture, the story about wine drinker and lover, who surely knows well how to live life to the fullest.

Kresowa Polka - Polka in the style and mood of east regions of Poland.

Idzie Dysc -  epic and sad story  from the Polish Tatra Mountains, this is the cry of a woman waiting for her man to come back from war,  but it will never happen...

Polecka na Łoberka - traditional mix of two styles - Polka and Oberek, frequently used at weddings to make guests more hungry and definitely more thirsty after dancing,  and finally to make wedding guests party even harder :)

Komu dzwonią -  traditional song from the streets of Warsaw, the story of heavy drinker who after his death doesn't want a regular funeral, but just want people to drink at his grave.

W moim ogódecku -  from the Lubelskie Region  -  a love song, about courtship, flowers, and feelings.

Polka Przytkana - traditional song from the east of Poland.

These songs could be the "soundtrack of life" through the years of traditions in Poland, but still there’s much more to discover in Polish culture and heritage. You can find it out by visiting any of the beautiful regions of Poland and experience Polish hospitality.  Meantime, please take a while and listen to the music that flows straight from the heart of Poland.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Incredible scenery from Norway set to our music

Talented and hard working videographer Jan Inge Larsen has produced an impressive nature video in 4K resolution, from the Helgeland district in the north of Norway. In this beautiful video you can see amazing northern lights and the beauty of the wide open landscapes and fjords of Norway over 4 seasons.

The video is set to our music track "Knights and Saints", composed by Rafael Krux.