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

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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.

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.

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.

Cultural Splits in Okinawa

Painting of Naha Port in Okinawa by Seikichi Tamanaha

Every college student in the arts and humanities learns this magical, essay-salvaging word: dichotomy. It’s the perfect basis for any legitimate or bullshit thesis statement, and professors eat it up. Webster’s defines it primarily as

1 : a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities

This word came to mind while researching for my upcoming trip to Okinawa, a small Japanese island in the southern archipelago of the Ryukyus. Long before Japan took Okinawa as a prefecture in the late 1800s, the tropical island had established a strong cultural identity that thrives today. But there is also strong Japanese influence; for instance, the native language has nearly been forgotten and replaced by that of the mainland. There is a split, a distinct dichotomy of cultures on a piece of land merely 60 miles long and at most 12 miles wide.

But Okinawa is much more than a dichotomy. A multichotomy, let’s say. Strategically placed at the center of East and Southeast Asia, Okinawa takes influence from all surrounding countries. Plus there’s the whole U.S. occupation for 27 years after WWII thing.

Okinawa imported a plucked three-stringed fiddle from China (along with their musical scale and notation system) and called it the sanshin. The Okinawans adjusted the instrument’s tone and structure, and it eventually made its way to mainland Japan, where it became the better-known shamisen (maybe you’ve seen God of Shamisen or Masters Musicians of Bukkake play electrified versions of this).

I will write much more on this later, but I wanted to tonight partly because I got to hear stories of this culturally confused haven at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis‘ presentation on Okinawan Art, Culture & Character: Past and Present Perspectives (one of which was my aunt’s), and also because, by wonderful celestial coincidence, it’s a quarter moon tonight, which covers Webster’s secondary definition of dichotomy:

2 : the phase of the moon or an inferior planet in which half its disk appears illuminated

September 26, 2009. Tags: , , . music. Leave a comment.