Hip Hop (Part 1 of X) : A Miner 7th Revelation

Okay – so I’ve got to thinking about hiphop. What is the nature of the art form and what are the fundamental differences between how it’s done in the US vs. the UK. What’s real what’s hype.

I’ve decided that this is a multi parter…..so this is one of X.

I got to thinking about all of this because hip-hop in the UK for me has been a circle leading back to the beginning. Music and culture styles and ideologies are a right old mix of things………

I got into hiphop in the early 80’s while a nipper growing up in Cowdenbeath. Cowdenbeath is a little place just outside Fife, Scotland and probably not even known about beyond the Scottish borders except for terrible football results. It appeared on government charts and was only ever statistical fodder on a spreadsheet to the powers that held sway over the loosely United Kingdom. Life was hard but regular and the work was predominantly mining and factory work.

Cowdenbeath back then even had enough work to spare and over the years Polish emigrants fleeing oppression began to arrive and pepper the towns surnames with things like Groncowski and Lesnik. Life was happy. Eventually a killer blow was dealt by the evil witch of the South when Maggie Thatcher swept down on her broomstick in the 80’s, hovering above the town square and put the ‘shut the industry down’ spell on everyone. Those get rich quick short terming bastards really put the boot into the old town. You see, those filofaxes only planned in terms of a year or so. These types never really thought 20 years down the line. ‘I want mine now and fuck the future’ would have been a good t-shirt to get printed up in those days. My dad became very politicised during this period and attended strikes, rallies and many running battles with the police. He’d relay the collective despair back to my mum while we listened and knew to shut our whining gobs.

The town was smirched as being communists by the ministers in the pockets of London when they desperately tried to band together and get some radical changes made. It wasn’t hard to brand them all dangerous lefties with all the Polish contingent in town. It wasn’t about politics for the town it was survival and the problems the town was having were in much quicker bursts than the slow and lethargic place of the ‘man’ in London. There were soup kitchens aplenty in the town. Cowdenbeath flailed like a stuck bull and nobody it seemed gave a shit. This wasn’t exclusive to Fife or even Scotland – the North of England got it in the neck too. I’m only telling what I saw.

Cowdenbeath began to look like those Cowboy towns that I had seen in the American movies. Tumbleweed blowing through the main street, pawn shops, lone men mumbling in anguish and pubs with regular fights outside them.

My mate Brian was the son of a pub owner and he lived along with me in Cowdenbeath or ‘Cowden’ as we called it. When the locals couldn’t get into The New Goth to drink on a Sunday afternoon we were allowed to have the keys to play pool and listen to the jukebox. The jukebox had all kinds of things on it and when I think of it that old jukebox really was my blinking tardis into a world into the different flavours of music. From Queen’s kickass rock of “Seven Seas of Rye” to New Editions electropop “Candy Girl”. Classic rock, reggae crossovers, folk and punk.

Brian never knew this but I used to nick records from that jukebox – it’s how I got my collection started. and I figured then, as I do now, that his dad could afford it … plus his dad used to make comments like “are we feeding the whole street?” whenever Brian and me were eating something in his kitchen. That just panders to my DickTurpin instinct….anyways alot of the singles in my collection had that telltale massive hole in the middle meaning it’d been punched out to fit in a jukebox.

If I hadn’t liberated those records then I never would have been able to obsess over one of the records that became my door into the world of America outside of Elvis and the movies. It was ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash. I listened to it over and over again until I knew all the words and not only that – the growls, roars and inflections.

Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs,
you know they just Don’t care
I can’t take the smell,
I can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out,
I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkie’s in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get
away, but I couldn’t get far
Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car
Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to loose my head

As the record was nicked there was no sleeve so I had to make one myself and before you knew it the pens were out and my first attempts at graffiti kickstarted and all my graphic design drive. The graffitti never went much further than nicking some gold spreay paint from Halfords and trying to do our ‘piece’ a bus stop in the dark. I did the whole bit and got the cardboard out – I had flipped over into obsession. Years later and I have jammed and recorded with countless DJ’s, electronics freaks, rappers, verbalists, MC’s and the like…. and recently did a record in Oakland, California with some mates called Elemental. Yes that is a plug.

I’ve been checking out DJ’s and rappers at some live shows in Manchester so my head is on all this stuff. When hiphop first hit in the UK in the early 80’s it took years for anything to transpire in terms of home-grown performers and culture – we were all punters. Everybody was too scared to rap and because ecstacy hadn’t ‘transformed’ the twitchy British youth people weren’t yet funky enough – the kinetic energy of punk was still buzzing in their body shapes. It’s the weather as well of course. In the early 80’s people in the UK got their underground vibes through mods and punks.

HipHop in the UK got better and better though in the 90’s after some daliances with DrumNBass (me included) and now I’m looking at it again in 2006 with Roots Manuva, Dizzy Rascal and The Dirty Diggers and it looks as healthy as it’s ever been and in no danger of stopping. UK oiky technology based music I think is fresher than the Americans – they’re jaded now that their icons that kicked it off have fallen so far like IceCube and Missy Elliot etc – serious lack of content in their products these days . In the UK people have reconciled that they can rap in their own accents and are revelling in it….admittedly the South London thing is bit literally hackneyed but the stuff up north is poetic. If John Lennon was around today he’d probably be rapping in the North of England somewhere.

All kickstarted by inspiration from the children of the children of those Africans……

Now I don’t mean the rich Africans in Africa that originally sold their kinsmen on for gold to the slave traders. I mean the poor ones that were sold. This terrible collusion of the African chiefs and the slave traders is one of the sharp points between powerful Africans in Africa and educated African Americans today – no bloody wonder. The whole how dark or white is your skin thing rages between Africans and Indians aswell – battling for either side as being the most righteous is again madness to me and just for the record I’m peach in colour.

In fact in 2006 the African lineage that was sold into America has a lot more in common socially with their similarly shat on brethren around the world than they do with the same lineage back in Africa. So I’m thinking that being African isn’t really the sole genesis of this whole hiphop gig. It can’t be cos ‘Africans’ got separated not just by geography but by class when those ships disappeared off into the terrible horizon.

The British goivernment outsourced most of the slavery to the colonies so the UK is nowhere near as ‘blended’ as the US. All the slave labour was kept in their native country and managed by a blend of locals and Brits. The geographic size of Britian was always smaller than it’s colony and ‘staffing’ ambitions and this is a HUGE difference in context between the UK and the US.

Then you look to the UK and you see that the hiphop that is really happening is happening in the North of England and Scotland. The divisions here are tribal enough but the only colour difference is that they people get a blueish white the further you go north. London, the epicentre, of the UK’s traffic has always had hiphop action of a sort and today the powers that be are all centred there. Dancehall offshoots and garage rhythms are a London thing but lyrically I’m finding myself responding to the folks up North. It might be grim but it’s real up north.

Do I have white guilt? Do I fuck. Does anyone have Irish Guilt or Indian guilt? What about Iraqui guilt? The list of who got fucked since time began is long and bloody – me and my people didn’t do it so I’m don’t feel on trial and would take particular umbridge at anyone trying to have that pop. For me it’s got to be a person to person thing and an event to event thing. Ask my my mum about equal rights and she’ll tell you about the signs in England and Scotland in the 60’s that said “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. They weren’t just making that shit up you know.

I empathise with poor people getting shafted and managed like livestock. I empathise with powerless victims of the violent PR techniques employed by right wing states. I empathise with creating something from nothing and rising out of your situation. Don’t play the black and white game like chess. We think we are playing the game and moving the pieces but in fact we are the pieces.…..

The truth of it as Melle Mel simply puts

It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder How I keep from going under….

It’s all shades of green in the jungle and it aint just the red things that are dangerous…

I might not have understood all the references at that age but Cowdenbeath was definitely a fine context to hear hiphop.

So I break it down like this for those that have skipped to the summary

  1. It doesn’t come with colour it comes with your story. That means you can only deal with ‘hiphop’ ideologies on a person-to-person basis – otherwise you are a lunatic.
  2. Stations or product streams called Black Music this or that are mentalists. How can a music wave or particle have a colour? Was Jimi Hendrix’s band one third black? Will these stations hive off into Beige Music and Dark Chocolate music in order to further differentiate the coloured demographic. Where’s my Peach Channel? A record made by Snoop Doggy Dog talking about cars and bitches…that’s isn’t African music.
  3. ‘Urban’ as a term increasingly means fuck all – half the world is full of concrete and computers and khaki green is all the high street stores – posh and otherwise. The grit-E urban reaLITee is in all modern composers work – it’s just different instrumentation and a cognisance of the role that it plays that differs. Urban is the term they use to give street cred to some bollocks normally.

That’s it – hiphop is contextual – that means “it depends” on who/where/when and it certainly doesn’t have a template or way of automatically being born into it.

Part Two next titled ‘Subverting Tools is Cool’.

Check out this great summary page of UK hip hop

Hip Hop (Part 1 of X) : A Miner 7th Revelation

Okay – so I’ve got to thinking about hiphop. What is the nature of the art form and what are the fundamental differences between how it’s done in the US vs. the UK. What’s real what’s hype.

I’ve decided that this is a multi parter…..so this is one of X.

I got to thinking about all of this because hip-hop in the UK for me has been a circle leading back to the beginning. Music and culture styles and ideologies are a right old mix of things………

I got into hiphop in the early 80’s while a nipper growing up in Cowdenbeath. Cowdenbeath is a little place just outside Fife, Scotland and probably not even known about beyond the Scottish borders except for terrible football results. It appeared on government charts and was only ever statistical fodder on a spreadsheet to the powers that held sway over the loosely United Kingdom. Life was hard but regular and the work was predominantly mining and factory work.

Cowdenbeath back then even had enough work to spare and over the years Polish emigrants fleeing oppression began to arrive and pepper the towns surnames with things like Groncowski and Lesnik. Life was happy. Eventually a killer blow was dealt by the evil witch of the South when Maggie Thatcher swept down on her broomstick in the 80’s, hovering above the town square and put the ‘shut the industry down’ spell on everyone. Those get rich quick short terming bastards really put the boot into the old town. You see, those filofaxes only planned in terms of a year or so. These types never really thought 20 years down the line. ‘I want mine now and fuck the future’ would have been a good t-shirt to get printed up in those days. My dad became very politicised during this period and attended strikes, rallies and many running battles with the police. He’d relay the collective despair back to my mum while we listened and knew to shut our whining gobs.

The town was smirched as being communists by the ministers in the pockets of London when they desperately tried to band together and get some radical changes made. It wasn’t hard to brand them all dangerous lefties with all the Polish contingent in town. It wasn’t about politics for the town it was survival and the problems the town was having were in much quicker bursts than the slow and lethargic place of the ‘man’ in London. There were soup kitchens aplenty in the town. Cowdenbeath flailed like a stuck bull and nobody it seemed gave a shit. This wasn’t exclusive to Fife or even Scotland – the North of England got it in the neck too. I’m only telling what I saw.

Cowdenbeath began to look like those Cowboy towns that I had seen in the American movies. Tumbleweed blowing through the main street, pawn shops, lone men mumbling in anguish and pubs with regular fights outside them.

My mate Brian was the son of a pub owner and he lived along with me in Cowdenbeath or ‘Cowden’ as we called it. When the locals couldn’t get into The New Goth to drink on a Sunday afternoon we were allowed to have the keys to play pool and listen to the jukebox. The jukebox had all kinds of things on it and when I think of it that old jukebox really was my blinking tardis into a world into the different flavours of music. From Queen’s kickass rock of “Seven Seas of Rye” to New Editions electropop “Candy Girl”. Classic rock, reggae crossovers, folk and punk.

Brian never knew this but I used to nick records from that jukebox – it’s how I got my collection started. and I figured then, as I do now, that his dad could afford it … plus his dad used to make comments like “are we feeding the whole street?” whenever Brian and me were eating something in his kitchen. That just panders to my DickTurpin instinct….anyways alot of the singles in my collection had that telltale massive hole in the middle meaning it’d been punched out to fit in a jukebox.

If I hadn’t liberated those records then I never would have been able to obsess over one of the records that became my door into the world of America outside of Elvis and the movies. It was ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash. I listened to it over and over again until I knew all the words and not only that – the growls, roars and inflections.

Broken glass everywhere
People pissing on the stairs,
you know they just Don’t care
I can’t take the smell,
I can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out,
I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkie’s in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get
away, but I couldn’t get far
Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car
Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to loose my head

As the record was nicked there was no sleeve so I had to make one myself and before you knew it the pens were out and my first attempts at graffiti kickstarted and all my graphic design drive. The graffitti never went much further than nicking some gold spreay paint from Halfords and trying to do our ‘piece’ a bus stop in the dark. I did the whole bit and got the cardboard out – I had flipped over into obsession. Years later and I have jammed and recorded with countless DJ’s, electronics freaks, rappers, verbalists, MC’s and the like…. and recently did a record in Oakland, California with some mates called Elemental. Yes that is a plug.

I’ve been checking out DJ’s and rappers at some live shows in Manchester so my head is on all this stuff. When hiphop first hit in the UK in the early 80’s it took years for anything to transpire in terms of home-grown performers and culture – we were all punters. Everybody was too scared to rap and because ecstacy hadn’t ‘transformed’ the twitchy British youth people weren’t yet funky enough – the kinetic energy of punk was still buzzing in their body shapes. It’s the weather as well of course. In the early 80’s people in the UK got their underground vibes through mods and punks.

HipHop in the UK got better and better though in the 90’s after some daliances with DrumNBass (me included) and now I’m looking at it again in 2006 with Roots Manuva, Dizzy Rascal and The Dirty Diggers and it looks as healthy as it’s ever been and in no danger of stopping. UK oiky technology based music I think is fresher than the Americans – they’re jaded now that their icons that kicked it off have fallen so far like IceCube and Missy Elliot etc – serious lack of content in their products these days . In the UK people have reconciled that they can rap in their own accents and are revelling in it….admittedly the South London thing is bit literally hackneyed but the stuff up north is poetic. If John Lennon was around today he’d probably be rapping in the North of England somewhere.

All kickstarted by inspiration from the children of the children of those Africans……

Now I don’t mean the rich Africans in Africa that originally sold their kinsmen on for gold to the slave traders. I mean the poor ones that were sold. This terrible collusion of the African chiefs and the slave traders is one of the sharp points between powerful Africans in Africa and educated African Americans today – no bloody wonder. The whole how dark or white is your skin thing rages between Africans and Indians aswell – battling for either side as being the most righteous is again madness to me and just for the record I’m peach in colour.

In fact in 2006 the African lineage that was sold into America has a lot more in common socially with their similarly shat on brethren around the world than they do with the same lineage back in Africa. So I’m thinking that being African isn’t really the sole genesis of this whole hiphop gig. It can’t be cos ‘Africans’ got separated not just by geography but by class when those ships disappeared off into the terrible horizon.

The British government outsourced most of the slavery to the colonies so the UK is nowhere near as ‘blended’ as the US. All the slave labour was kept in their native country and managed by a blend of locals and Brits. The geographic size of Britain was always smaller than it’s colonial and ‘staffing’ ambitions and this is a HUGE difference in context between the UK and the US.

Then you look to the UK and you see that the hiphop that is really happening is happening in the North of England and Scotland. The divisions here are tribal enough but the only colour difference is that they people get a blueish white the further you go north. London, the epicentre, of the UK’s traffic has always had hiphop action of a sort and today the powers that be are all centred there. Dancehall offshoots and garage rhythms are a London thing but lyrically I’m finding myself responding to the folks up North. It might be grim but it’s real up north.

Do I have white guilt? Do I fuck. Does anyone have Irish Guilt or Indian guilt? What about Iraqui guilt? The list of who got fucked since time began is long and bloody – me and my people didn’t do it so I’m don’t feel on trial and would take particular umbridge at anyone trying to have that pop. For me it’s got to be a person to person thing and an event to event thing. Ask my my mum about equal rights and she’ll tell you about the signs in England and Scotland in the 60’s that said “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. They weren’t just making that shit up you know.

I empathise with poor people getting shafted and managed like livestock. I empathise with powerless victims of the violent PR techniques employed by right wing states. I empathise with creating something from nothing and rising out of your situation. Don’t play the black and white game like chess. We think we are playing the game and moving the pieces but in fact we are the pieces.…..

The truth of it as Melle Mel simply puts

It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder How I keep from going under….

It’s all shades of green in the jungle and it aint just the red things that are dangerous…

I might not have understood all the references at that age but Cowdenbeath was definitely a fine context to hear hiphop.

So I break it down like this for those that have skipped to the summary

  1. It doesn’t come with colour it comes with your story. That means you can only deal with ‘hiphop’ ideologies on a person-to-person basis – otherwise you are a lunatic.
  2. Stations or product streams called Black Music this or that are mentalists. How can a music wave or particle have a colour? Was Jimi Hendrix’s band one third black? Will these stations hive off into Beige Music and Dark Chocolate music in order to further differentiate the coloured demographic. Where’s my Peach Channel? A record made by Snoop Doggy Dog talking about cars and bitches…that’s isn’t African music.
  3. ‘Urban’ as a term increasingly means fuck all – half the world is full of concrete and computers and khaki green is all the high street stores – posh and otherwise. The grit-E urban reaLITee is in all modern composers work – it’s just different instrumentation and a cognisance of the role that it plays that differs. Urban is the term they use to give street cred to some bollocks normally.

That’s it – hiphop is contextual – that means “it depends” on who/where/when and it certainly doesn’t have a template or way of automatically being born into it.

Part Two next titled ‘Subverting Tools is Cool’.

Check out this great summary page of UK hip hop

Robert Johnson, the Crossroads and Malkauns

These past few days I have had the strong image of Robert Johnston, the famous blues legend, waiting at the Crossroads to meet the devil and trade him his soul so that he could play the guitar better than everyone.

The legend goes :

“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”

In a directorial moment I have also been wondering just what are the possible soundtracks for Bobby Johnston sitting there at the crossroads? Other than the obvious strains of blues or wild heavy metal guitar. What melodies could be whispering through the trees and what rhythms are the tin cans blowing down the road? Hear me out on this one….


Indian music is not without it’s share of musical lore and one of the moody close cousins of the blues is the Raga Malkauns. Ragas, to be super brief, are musical scales with alot of rules attached to them and unlike Western classical music there is nothing written down in ‘lesson’ form. Ragas are passed from master and guru to student.

Straight out of the block you know Malkauns is a bad boy because it’s got the recommended time slot of between midnight and three in the morning. That should fit with the devils appointment that Bobby has.

Malkauns’ current manifestation, and this is shifting ground, has been traced back some 3-400 years. Connections with pre-history is that it was the very raga that Shiva performed the Tandava-Dance. At the starting point of all creation this dance of violent and divine energies was designed to arouse destructive energies and to work havoc on the foe; at the same time, it is the triumphant dance of the victor. It’s a rebirth thing and I’m feeling that Malkauns fits Bobby’s mood like a glove.

There is lots of voodoo surrounding Malkauns and superstitious musicians in India describe it as a raga with supernatural powers – believing that it can attract evil spirits. There is a definite danger and exotica associated with this raga and like all cultures it’s bad boy reputation means it’s popular. Indian Ragas often have pictures associated with them called Ragamala’s and they are a good giveaway of the story associated with the raga.

In ragamala paintings Malkauns is frequently portrayed as a heroic lord taking pan. Other depictions show him dressed in blue with dream kissed eyes. Sometimes holding a severed human head listening to music by maidens in the distance. Poets sing his praises. This cat is heavy and he’s coming to pay a visit to Robert Johnson sitting there under a tree in the night.

So other than the blues played by either Robert Johnson or the devil himself the I suggest that Malkauns is the perfect music for which to set that scene.

Check out a few wonderful raga Malkauns performances by the following artists :

Artist : Pandit Ravi Shankar Instrument : Sitar
Album : Sound of the Sitar

Artist : Hariprasad Chaurasia Instrument : Flute Raag : Malkauns
Album : India Night Live 88

Artist : Bismillah Khan Instrument : Shenai
Album : Malkauns and Dhun

Robert Johnson, the Crossroads and Malkauns

These past few days I have had the strong image of Robert Johnson, the famous blues legend, waiting at the Crossroads to meet the devil and trade him his soul so that he could play the guitar better than everyone.The legend goes :

“If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and your go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want.”

In a directorial moment I have also been wondering just what are the possible soundtracks for Bobby Johnston sitting there at the crossroads? Other than the obvious strains of blues or wild heavy metal guitar. What melodies could be whispering through the trees and what rhythms are the tin cans blowing down the road? Hear me out on this one….


Indian music is not without it’s share of musical lore and one of the moody close cousins of the blues is the Raga Malkauns. Ragas, to be super brief, are musical scales with alot of rules attached to them and unlike Western classical music there is nothing written down paper. Ragas are passed from master and guru to student. Straight out of the block you know Malkauns is a bad boy because it’s got the recommended time slot of between midnight and three in the morning. That should fit with the devils appointment that Bobby has.

Malkauns’ current manifestation, and this is shifting ground, has been traced back some 3-400 years. Connections with pre-history is that it was the very raga that Shiva performed the Tandava-Dance. At the starting point of all creation this dance of violent and divine energies was designed to arouse destructive energies and to work havoc on the foe; at the same time, it is the triumphant dance of the victor. It’s a rebirth thing and I’m feeling that Malkauns is still ready to roll for Bobby as he emerges from the other side as the victorious bluesman with new hands and ears.

There is lots of voodoo surrounding Malkauns and superstitious musicians in India describe it as a raga with supernatural powers – believing that it can attract evil spirits. There is a definite danger and exotica associated with this raga and like all cultures it’s bad boy reputation means it’s popular. Indian Ragas often have pictures associated with them called Ragamala’s and they are a good giveaway of the story associated with the raga.

In ragamala paintings Malkauns is frequently portrayed as a heroic lord taking pan. Other depictions show him dressed in blue with dream kissed eyes. Sometimes holding a severed human head listening to music by maidens in the distance. Poets sing his praises. This cat is heavy. This might be the same dude coming to pay a visit to Robert Johnson sitting there under a tree in the night.

So other than the blues played by either Robert Johnson or the devil himself the I suggest that Malkauns is the perfect music for which to set that scene.

Check out a few wonderful raga Malkauns performances by the following artists :

Artist : Pandit Ravi Shankar Instrument : Sitar
Album : Sound of the Sitar

Artist : Hariprasad Chaurasia Instrument : Flute Raag : Malkauns
Album : India Night Live 88

Artist : Bismillah Khan Instrument : Shenai
Album : Malkauns and Dhun

Online Music Collaborations


When that search for musicians in your local area is going a little slower than you’d hoped why not get your fix from a satisfying on-line collaboration in the interim?

I’m currently in the middle of my first online collaboration with a fella called Samasta from New Zealand. Didn’t know him from Adam before his email but we are now on our third track of demos and intend to have an album done by the summer. It’s a nice extra that neither of us expected and recieving the little zips of files or updates in the mail is great fun – we can work whenever suits us and the legistics (the one achilles heel of getting musicians together) is practically painless.

They way we do it is :

  1. Someone sends a file through with a simple idea consisting of two or three parts. Importantly there are no text descriptions with the package. Let’s be honest there’s no point in being precious…the other person is just going to do what they do.
  2. File bounces back and forth a couple of times with slight increase in text notes. No point in overworking it and anyway by the time it gets the the fourth version or so the collaborators will becoming slightly attached to the parts they have put in. Best get the butchery out of the way in the first few passes.
  3. It’s parked at the fourth round and left as a demo for a vocalist to work on next. It’s easy and it’s just one way of collaborating online as a musician.

Online music collaboration isn’t a new thing and there are albums out there at the moment made this way – one such example is Ben Gibbard of pop band Death Cab For Cutie agreed to an initial collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello, the track was such a success that an entire album was conceived this way, released under the name The Postal Service by the SubPop label. Of course I’m sure Brian Eno has already been collobarating remotely with the electrical resistance of snails in China via the internet for years….I suppose there really is no limit…

As we are using the same music software and it’s built in synths along with small snippets of sound the file sizes are small and not prohibitive to send. It’s also good for rigour that we don’t have the same plugins and fx meaning we don’t rely on tricks – it’s all mood, arrangement and flow. Of course the bandwidth and management issues can get more painful when you start adding vocalists or guitars but we intend to do that in my studio in the summer. So far I’m finding it an easy way to work and it is genuinely bringing out a new sound between both of us. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as being in the same room but this is something different – a different context.

…and it got me to thinking about the nature of on-line collaboration and it’s different forms. There are really two ways of doing this – live and non-live.

LIVE
What exactly does ‘live’ mean? It’s an interesting one. Without getting into discussions about the time it takes from the light to leave your middle finger and reach the drummer and the time it takes for the soundwave of “get stuffed!” to reach the singer we shall say that live is just like a rehearsal room – like wot we normally do. This is live in the analogue world of fag butts, cold rehearsal rooms and guitarists who have left their special pedal at home. Things happen immediately… or not..

Let’s look at the different flavours of on-line live collaborations

Live – Really Live – Instant
The holy grail must be where the drummer can finally leave his kit set up in his studio in Cowdenbeath and simply login to the rehearsals taking place on a server in California somewhere. Nobody has to smell his fart and he doesn’t have to smell the singers new perfume even though he keeps calling it aftershave. The drummer puts his headset on and he looks left and right to see the others looking at him…he counts in a 4 count on his sticks which they all hear at the exact same time through their headphones and they all come in bang on time for the first bar…..the guitarist isn’t even wearing trousers….

The name for this is transparent telepresence and is often defined as the experience of being fully present at a live real world location remote from one’s own physical location. Someone experiencing transparent telepresence would therefore be able to behave, and receive stimuli, as though at the remote site

I love this idea …..but it’s just not there yet and by a long way aswell…. something to do with physics. This is the stuff from Star Trek that they haven’t managed yet. Remember that Live TV isn’t really live – it’s delayed by a few seconds out of choice for bleeping profanities and then also by the physics of having to get the light and sound particles/waves off the stage in LA, down the screen and into your TV in Wolverhampton. Live TV is a one-way transaction….it’s just nowhere near as complicated as transparent telepresence.

Musicians need to be time-synced and able to respond in a manner of milliseconds to events if they are to be groovy and in the moment. Without transparent telepresence we will never be able to do this … at least in an analogue way.

Near Live – Publish Model
This is the compromise for live and here is how it generally works (screenshot of Emagic Rocket Network app below) :

  1. Users login to a live session or ‘studio’. This means a high-end server with good bandwidth and some special collaboration software.
  2. It’s a blank canvas so a drummer records a groove in a specific tempo and then uploads his contribution.
  3. The other musicians hear a ping or see an alert and it says ‘new drum part by Bob’. They update their ‘view’ in the studio to include the new drum part. This may only take a minute from Bob hitting stop on his record button. Remember that the ‘band’ are in different places all over the world.
  4. The guitarist and bass player both post parts after hearing the drums update but of course they haven’t agreed the key. It’s chaos. The singer quickly sends a broadcast message to all musicians saying make it the key of G because he sings well in that key (oh yeah)
  5. Old parts deleted and new ones uploaded.
  6. ….the song develops…

I joined one of the first versions of these on-line colloboration tools released by Emagic almost 6 years ago. I paid my £30 but the thing folded the next few weeks. It was ahead of it’s time and I’m not sure there are many other options other than something that ProTools make. I’m sure that these will slowly become more prevalant and that a unified platform will be developed in the same way that the Propellorheads software ReWire hooked up applications on the same computer…a remote protocol will come too…

Non-Live – Collaborative Composition
This is essentially PingPong back of forth of the track data until you are happy. It’s more like collaborative compositon more than anything. It’s the method that Samasta and myself are using. It’s free to do and there are no subscription charges for special servers or software and as long as you have the same music application all you need is the abilty to send an email to one another with an attachment. We are even working between Mac and PC without noticing any issues in the file transfer however the main drawback with this is the time between feedback from the other musicians. It could be 20mins or it could be a week. You don’t vibe off one another and bring the music into being dynamically instead you modify and build on what’s been done. The spark or excitment comes from that new ZIP in the post and the first listen back.

Top Tips for a Successful Remote Collaboration

Here are my tips, so far, on making your online collaboration/composition work out from a musical, technical and legal perspective.

  1. Name the jams at the beginning – even if you change it later on. You will both have different associations with the track so come up with a common descriptor otherwise you will enter the world of confusion that is “the second mix of the fifth track we did”.
  2. Don’t put anything other than the music files in the first few passes back and forth unless it’s someting tech to watch out for. Work on sound and music not concepts in an email.
  3. Don’t have too many iterations. I reccommend between 4-6. Anymore than that might make it stale.
  4. Be cool and calm. If it aint happening it aint happening – you’ll know. If you are an ego-maniac stay away from this kind of collaboration as you will have a hernia with the lack of control or ‘your bits’ being binned. Things change – sometimes the bit you thought was just an intro will become the verse and so on. Your loud and clear drum groove may now just be a pulsing sound coming through a filter….remember – it’s not about who did what bit – just whether it’s any good or not.
  5. Agree how the tracks are to be finished off and mixed. It’s likely that one of you will have better gear so they are the one to do the mix probably. Normal rules still apply for making good mixes – good track, an acoustically treated room, good speakers/desk and experienced brain and ears. Hey why not buy that plane ticket and eventually meet up and mix it together.
  6. Work with someone in a different style than you. Why not? You might never get in a room with a Goth and their bass gear but you might dig their bass playing. This is the beauty of the internet. Embrace the multiplicity of it.
  7. Two or three people is a good number – more than that can get complicated quickly. Remember when doing non live collaboration it’s more like a shared composition….too many cooks bro…
  8. Be Righteous Brothers and Sisters. Agree that the work you do is used only between you (unless specifically agreed) and the resulting tracks are to be credited equally for writing and arrangement. Otherwise you’re a scumbag.
  9. Pull your weight – if you are only twiddling hi hat sounds and the other person is doing structure, arrangement and chords…..chances are this might be your last collaboration.

The Future
Keep an eye on those gaming consoles. The reason that young folks are addicted to them is not just simply the shooting and violent power trip – it’s the feeling of telepresence they get with online games that really flips them from habit into obsession. Acting coherently online is very exciting indeed and this is the arena where most commercial on-line collaboration and virutal technologies are at the forefront – gaming consoles. Mobile phones and email are just the beginning of how we can collaborate. Of course we have physics to contend for telepresence solutions but things are changing fast.

Don’t be surpised that the Sony and Microsoft’s are working on fully pimping these gaming consoles – each successive generation of console has more power, realtime rendering and internet functionality. The interfaces getting hooked up to them are as weird and wonderful as they are the ones we connect to our computers and music programs. These computing and hardware giants are trying to make the silicon ‘crystal ball’ – but this time it’s not the future they are trying to look into – it’s the present.

Yeah I liked that ending too.

Drongomala

Online Music Collaborations


When that search for musicians in your local area is going a little slower than you’d hoped why not get your fix from a satisfying on-line collaboration in the interim?

I’m currently in the middle of my first online collaboration with a fella called Samasta from New Zealand. Didn’t know him from Adam before his email but we are now on our third track of demos and intend to have an album done by the summer. It’s a nice extra that neither of us expected and recieving the little zips of files or updates in the mail is great fun – we can work whenever suits us and the legistics (the one achilles heel of getting musicians together) is practically painless.

They way we do it is :

  1. Someone sends a file through with a simple idea consisting of two or three parts. Importantly there are no text descriptions with the package. Let’s be honest there’s no point in being precious…the other person is just going to do what they do.
  2. File bounces back and forth a couple of times with slight increase in text notes. No point in overworking it and anyway by the time it gets the the fourth version or so the collaborators will becoming slightly attached to the parts they have put in. Best get the butchery out of the way in the first few passes.
  3. It’s parked at the fourth round and left as a demo for a vocalist to work on next. It’s easy and it’s just one way of collaborating online as a musician.

Online music collaboration isn’t a new thing and there are albums out there at the moment made this way – one such example is Ben Gibbard of pop band Death Cab For Cutie agreed to an initial collaboration with Jimmy Tamborello, the track was such a success that an entire album was conceived this way, released under the name The Postal Service by the SubPop label. Of course I’m sure Brian Eno has already been collobarating remotely with the electrical resistance of snails in China via the internet for years….I suppose there really is no limit…

As we are using the same music software and it’s built in synths along with small snippets of sound the file sizes are small and not prohibitive to send. It’s also good for rigour that we don’t have the same plugins and fx meaning we don’t rely on tricks – it’s all mood, arrangement and flow. Of course the bandwidth and management issues can get more painful when you start adding vocalists or guitars but we intend to do that in my studio in the summer. So far I’m finding it an easy way to work and it is genuinely bringing out a new sound between both of us. Admittedly it’s not as much fun as being in the same room but this is something different – a different context.

…and it got me to thinking about the nature of on-line collaboration and it’s different forms. There are really two ways of doing this – live and non-live.

LIVE
What exactly does ‘live’ mean? It’s an interesting one. Without getting into discussions about the time it takes from the light to leave your middle finger and reach the drummer and the time it takes for the soundwave of “get stuffed!” to reach the singer we shall say that live is just like a rehearsal room – like wot we normally do. This is live in the analogue world of fag butts, cold rehearsal rooms and guitarists who have left their special pedal at home. Things happen immediately… or not..

Let’s look at the different flavours of on-line live collaborations

Live – Really Live – Instant
The holy grail must be where the drummer can finally leave his kit set up in his studio in Cowdenbeath and simply login to the rehearsals taking place on a server in California somewhere. Nobody has to smell his fart and he doesn’t have to smell the singers new perfume even though he keeps calling it aftershave. The drummer puts his headset on and he looks left and right to see the others looking at him…he counts in a 4 count on his sticks which they all hear at the exact same time through their headphones and they all come in bang on time for the first bar…..the guitarist isn’t even wearing trousers….

The name for this is transparent telepresence and is often defined as the experience of being fully present at a live real world location remote from one’s own physical location. Someone experiencing transparent telepresence would therefore be able to behave, and receive stimuli, as though at the remote site

I love this idea …..but it’s just not there yet and by a long way aswell…. something to do with physics. This is the stuff from Star Trek that they haven’t managed yet. Remember that Live TV isn’t really live – it’s delayed by a few seconds out of choice for bleeping profanities and then also by the physics of having to get the light and sound particles/waves off the stage in LA, down the screen and into your TV in Wolverhampton. Live TV is a one-way transaction….it’s just nowhere near as complicated as transparent telepresence.

Musicians need to be time-synced and able to respond in a manner of milliseconds to events if they are to be groovy and in the moment. Without transparent telepresence we will never be able to do this … at least in an analogue way.

Near Live – Publish Model
This is the compromise for live and here is how it generally works (screenshot of Emagic Rocket Network app below) :

  1. Users login to a live session or ‘studio’. This means a high-end server with good bandwidth and some special collaboration software.
  2. It’s a blank canvas so a drummer records a groove in a specific tempo and then uploads his contribution.
  3. The other musicians hear a ping or see an alert and it says ‘new drum part by Bob’. They update their ‘view’ in the studio to include the new drum part. This may only take a minute from Bob hitting stop on his record button. Remember that the ‘band’ are in different places all over the world.
  4. The guitarist and bass player both post parts after hearing the drums update but of course they haven’t agreed the key. It’s chaos. The singer quickly sends a broadcast message to all musicians saying make it the key of G because he sings well in that key (oh yeah)
  5. Old parts deleted and new ones uploaded.
  6. ….the song develops…

I joined one of the first versions of these on-line colloboration tools released by Emagic almost 6 years ago. I paid my £30 but the thing folded the next few weeks. It was ahead of it’s time and I’m not sure there are many other options other than something that ProTools make. I’m sure that these will slowly become more prevalant and that a unified platform will be developed in the same way that the Propellorheads software ReWire hooked up applications on the same computer…a remote protocol will come too…

Non-Live – Collaborative Composition
This is essentially PingPong back of forth of the track data until you are happy. It’s more like collaborative compositon more than anything. It’s the method that Samasta and myself are using. It’s free to do and there are no subscription charges for special servers or software and as long as you have the same music application all you need is the abilty to send an email to one another with an attachment. We are even working between Mac and PC without noticing any issues in the file transfer however the main drawback with this is the time between feedback from the other musicians. It could be 20mins or it could be a week. You don’t vibe off one another and bring the music into being dynamically instead you modify and build on what’s been done. The spark or excitment comes from that new ZIP in the post and the first listen back.

Top Tips for a Successful Remote Collaboration

Here are my tips, so far, on making your online collaboration/composition work out from a musical, technical and legal perspective.

  1. Name the jams at the beginning – even if you change it later on. You will both have different associations with the track so come up with a common descriptor otherwise you will enter the world of confusion that is “the second mix of the fifth track we did”.
  2. Don’t put anything other than the music files in the first few passes back and forth unless it’s someting tech to watch out for. Work on sound and music not concepts in an email.
  3. Don’t have too many iterations. I reccommend between 4-6. Anymore than that might make it stale.
  4. Be cool and calm. If it aint happening it aint happening – you’ll know. If you are an ego-maniac stay away from this kind of collaboration as you will have a hernia with the lack of control or ‘your bits’ being binned. Things change – sometimes the bit you thought was just an intro will become the verse and so on. Your loud and clear drum groove may now just be a pulsing sound coming through a filter….remember – it’s not about who did what bit – just whether it’s any good or not.
  5. Agree how the tracks are to be finished off and mixed. It’s likely that one of you will have better gear so they are the one to do the mix probably. Normal rules still apply for making good mixes – good track, an acoustically treated room, good speakers/desk and experienced brain and ears. Hey why not buy that plane ticket and eventually meet up and mix it together.
  6. Work with someone in a different style than you. Why not? You might never get in a room with a Goth and their bass gear but you might dig their bass playing. This is the beauty of the internet. Embrace the multiplicity of it.
  7. Two or three people is a good number – more than that can get complicated quickly. Remember when doing non live collaboration it’s more like a shared composition….too many cooks bro…
  8. Be Righteous Brothers and Sisters. Agree that the work you do is used only between you (unless specifically agreed) and the resulting tracks are to be credited equally for writing and arrangement. Otherwise you’re a scumbag.
  9. Pull your weight – if you are only twiddling hi hat sounds and the other person is doing structure, arrangement and chords…..chances are this might be your last collaboration.

The Future
Keep an eye on those gaming consoles. The reason that young folks are addicted to them is not just simply the shooting and violent power trip – it’s the feeling of telepresence they get with online games that really flips them from habit into obsession. Acting coherently online is very exciting indeed and this is the arena where most commercial on-line collaboration and virutal technologies are at the forefront – gaming consoles. Mobile phones and email are just the beginning of how we can collaborate. Of course we have physics to contend for telepresence solutions but things are changing fast.

Don’t be surpised that the Sony and Microsoft’s are working on fully pimping these gaming consoles – each successive generation of console has more power, realtime rendering and internet functionality. The interfaces getting hooked up to them are as weird and wonderful as they are the ones we connect to our computers and music programs. These computing and hardware giants are trying to make the silicon ‘crystal ball’ – but this time it’s not the future they are trying to look into – it’s the present.

Yeah I liked that ending too.

Drongomala