Sound Philosophy

This article was originally published in the December 2009 issue of The Express, Sacramento City College’s student newspaper.

In a digital age when 2,000 over-produced MP3s can be stuffed in a pocket-sized iPod connected to cheap earbud headphones, there is a haven where music is not just a plastic commodity — and it’s right here on campus.

Tucked away above a music department auditorium, a control room cramped with only seven people blasts the music of Lyle Lovett and Tom Waits. The instructor and students analyze the songs’ production, dissecting the slightest discrepancies in sound, unrecognizable to the average listener.

Read the rest

February 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . music. 2 comments.

The Beast of the Ball

Last night I DJed at a private Sacramento high school for their winter semi-formal dance. I thought it would be my chance to be a cool kid at prom, spinnin’ records with a pretty dress and headphones on, instead of the shy girl chatting it up with my English teacher chaperone and not dancing.

But kids are mean! I felt more pressure last night than I did when I was actually in high school. I got dirty, condescending looks and comments from dozens of teens (and one teacher!) because we didn’t have their Top 40 requests. I literally heard “boo”s when throwing on certain songs. I even watched one guy point me out to his friends and then yell, “You suck!”

I was going to say that the main difference last night was that I was finally okay being the uncool kid at prom, but the truth is I was proud to be an offbeat at that age. I gracefully accepted that social standing long ago.

The difference is that now when I’m the uncool kid at prom, I get paid $100.

Eat that, jock!

January 16, 2010. Tags: , , . autobio, music. 3 comments.

Traveling at Weather’s Whim

Now that we’re a couple weeks into official winter, I want to revisit the issue of weather. More specifically, I would like to address my desire to hibernate for three months and inability to wake up before noon if it’s not sunny.

So instead of hibernating or sleeping all day, I am escaping this admittedly mild winter for a tropical island whose temperature rarely drops below 70 degrees. In a little over month, I’m flying to Okinawa, Japan for a family/research adventure. Near-equatorial weather aside, I’ll be among people who are just pushed and pulled by climate as I.

Cathy Davidson says this about weather in 36 Views of Mount Fuji:

The Japanese expect connections between external conditions and internal ones. If the rainy season, for example, comes too late or lasts too long, everyone starts acting strange; it becomes almost a national obsession. The national meteorological service feels compelled to apologize publicly for the disruption.

I get anxious when the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow. I get cranky when I’m cold.  I let external conditions affect my own, but Davidson continues:

In the West, our usual impulse is to deny that anything as significant as the ego could be influenced by mere nature.

But isn’t it easier to blame nature than ourselves for any faults of ego? Nature, weather, rain is the perfect scapegoat for the fact that I’m still in bed at 1 o’clock. Maybe in Japan I could get away with that argument, but with a warm forecast I won’t have to.

January 6, 2010. Tags: , , , . autobio, travel. Leave a comment.

A Slice of the Sacramento Scene

As a lifetime Sacramento region resident involved in the music scene, I’ve seen a trend of local bands denouncing their town. So many great bands abandon the River City, thinking they can do better in San Francisco or Portland, only to get lost in the over-populated scene sea.

But our flagship rock band Cake never gave up on Sacramento. They proudly call it their hometown, even though frontman John McCrea now lives in Oakland. They make references to the city in songs. They even maintain their studio in Sacramento, and recently retrofitted it to be totally solar-powered.

But most importantly, they show their loyalty to Sacramento by offering these cozy secret shows every year or two. The first time I saw them was Christmas Eve 2001 or so, for free at the old Capitol Garage. Last Tuesday I got to see them again at the Blue Lamp, their second show there in the last month. They played old favorites and tested out new material for the upcoming album – all of which, I’m happy to report, is dope.

So be proud to be from Sacramento! The scene may be smaller than the Bay Area’s, but I say it’s sweeter.

December 27, 2009. Tags: , , , , . music. 2 comments.

An Open Love Letter

Happy anniversary, KDVS and me! Five years ago on this very night, I timidly entered a Wellman classroom and for two hours sat entranced by DJ Rick‘s storytelling. Here is what I wrote in my journal that night:

“KDVS meeting tonight, music history chart of hip-hop and prog/industrial all over the board. So cool! Learned more there than in English 1. So I’m an official volunteer now, they seem like cool people.”

When I ventured into that first meeting as a mid-quarter newcomer, I didn’t know I would find a welcoming, stimulating community in a matter of weeks. The catacombs of KDVS became a home base, a refuge providing warmth in the winter, AC in the summer and good sounds year-round.

When I performed my first volunteer task for Joe Finkel, scanning images for the next KDViationS, I didn’t know that for three glorious years my name would be at the top of that masthead. I, too, got the distinct pleasure of ordering hours-hungry minions to do my bidding.

When I first heard Big Sammy‘s radio show, I didn’t know that I could like hip-hop that much, having only heard KSFM’s garbage until then. It was the first of many revelations about new kinds of music, a series that altered my own radio show until unrecognizable from its original form.

So thank you, KDVS and all my fellow DJs, for five fantastic years. I never dreamed I would find such a love.

Yours,
Elisa

December 15, 2009. Tags: , , , . autobio, music. Leave a comment.

Slow Media Movement

The recent trend of consuming local produce is not just true of food. We are learning to seek out regional goods in grocery stores, shop more at farmers’ markets, and this awareness is reflected in our consumption of local media.

Everyone knows print newspapers are on their way out — they simply cannot compete with the immediacy and accessibility of online news. But many believe the dominance of e-news accompanies the resurgence of locally oriented publications. “Community journalism” sources like The Sacramento Press covers “hyperlocal” stories that The Bee would never get around to, and the community is responding positively.

Glossy magazines are suffering the same fate as newspapers, according to this article, with many going out of print. Localism will prevail, though, if small-time rags like Midtown Monthly and Sactown continue to succeed. I’m probably not alone in having more respect for those publications than for Playgirl and Teen Magazine (RIP).

This other article claims music is coming to a dead end. “The bigger the audience gets the more the ‘message’ has to be watered down,” so the answer is simple: Intimate audiences are optimal, organic. The author insists people only want to listen to old music since new music isn’t evolving, but some local musicians are currently making the most innovative and engaging music I’ve ever heard. Who needs the music industry?

All these shifts toward localism are welcome and necessary. I don’t think the term “slow media” will catch on, but the idea certainly will.

November 30, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . journalism, music. 1 comment.

A Shift from Thrift

shirts

The Bee’s article “Placerville seeks to slow growth of thrift shops” (Cathy Locke, Nov. 5) explains the Placerville City Council’s recent 45-day moratorium on thrift stores. During this period, no second-hand shops can be established, expanded or relocated.

This is sad news for me and my friends, a community of toy-instrument bands and crate diggers.  We’ve reveled in the recent rise of thrift stores, but there is no doubt, the article points out, that their success is due to the failing national economy. Now, city officials believe the shops are hindering local economy. It’s a vicious cycle that benefits college students and low-income households — not to mention the nonprofits these shops often represent.

But with three new stores in the last year and two on the way, Placerville is hurting from the lack of sales tax. I think the city is embarrassed to have so many second-hand shops on main streets, complete with unattractive drop-off piles. Their storefronts aren’t classy like some Midtown boutiques, but their contents are so much more sensible, in this economic time or any time.

The City Council decision came as a result of Snowline Hospice‘s plan to move into an old auto dealership. Even though it’s been vacant for two years, the city would rather a regular retailer occupy that “prime commercial space.” Doesn’t it look worse to have a giant building vacant for so long? Isn’t second-hand business better than no business?

But it’s not like the city is closing all thrift stores, so all these people can chill.

November 11, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . currents. Leave a comment.

The Ta-da! Moment

homemade

Every interview I’ve read or conducted about a teacher mentions their “A-ha! moment.” Apparently it’s this magical epiphany when a student finally understands the concepts a teacher has been driving at all along. It’s proof that their work is not for naught.

Well, I’ve never delivered an A-ha! moment, but I have executed many — what I will call — Ta-da! moments.  This came to mind tonight as I concluded my screenprinting class at the UC Davis Craft Center. The Ta-da! is the epiphany when a student realizes he is capable of amazing things.

Ta-da! You can silkscreen any image you want onto a T-shirt and wear it right out of the classroom, without going to a professional printer!

Ta-da! Your hand-scrawled poetry has been printed 6,000 times in a magazine and is being distributed all over the country!

Ta-da! You can record a song in your bedroom at night and hear it played on the radio the next day!

I remember my first Ta-da moment delivered: In high school I booked my friends’ band, Red Sauce, to play a concert in our auditorium. When I brought to lunch a copy of Alive & Kicking that listed their name in the events calendar, the guitarist ran through the quad yelling unintelligibly and flailing the paper around. That’s when I decided I must find more ways to say, “Ta-da!”

November 5, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , . autobio. 2 comments.

Journalism of the Future

Art by Josiah of the Future

According to The State of the News Media‘s 2009 Online Journalist Survey, we journalism students have some things to worry about. Not only is the format of our chosen area of study changing from paper to web, but apparently our journalistic ethics and values are changing, too.

The survey polled employees of the Online News Association and found that 45 percent believe journalism is heading on “the right track.” The 54 percent who said we’re on the wrong track had better just hop off now, because the future of journalism is what it is. There is only one track. We cannot reverse the advancements in technology that have lead us to this age of digital media. We cannot ignore the fact that the internet is the most accessible medium to our generation, a generation of (hopeful) future journalists.

As for our ethics changing — mostly for the worse, according to the survey — an expected decline in accuracy is the trade-off for faster breaking news, a greater array of voices heard and the potential for interactive, multimedia coverage. There have always been inaccuracies in the news, but there has never been so much opportunity for future writers, reporters, photographers, artists, designers, web techs, on and on and on.

However, all these wonderful progressions cannot happen without revenue. The survey shows that only 61 percent of news websites are making a profit. I guess it is what it is.

October 29, 2009. Tags: , , , , . journalism. Leave a comment.

War of the Music Worlds: Western vs. Gamelan Orchestras

A couple weeks ago I saw this gamelan opera called A House in Bali. It was pretty wack. I wrote a review of it for my music class, so if you want to read all about how it failed, you can follow the jump.

Jump to review

October 17, 2009. Tags: , , , , , . music. 2 comments.

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