Saturday, November 9, 2013

BRAAAM 101


Three years after Mind Heist appeared in a trailer for the movie Inception, people still seem to be thoroughly confused with respect to "who created the BRAAAM".  A slew of forums and various online publications regularly seem to discuss and debate this issue.  So let's take a moment and clear this up.

BRAAAMs have been around long before Mind Heist and Inception, and they will be around long after.  What is a BRAAAM?  It's when a note (usually a low note) is performed by a large number of instruments very intensely.  Technically, you could call it a fortissimo in unison.  Non-technically, it's popularly referred to as a BRAAAM.

What differentiates one BRAAAM from another BRAAAM has to do with the nature of its construction and the context in which it occurs.  The BRAAAMs in Mind Heist and the other incarnations that have occurred in symphonic / film / trailer / electronic music are each comprised of various ensembles.  Some of the elements that make up the ensemble may be commonly used (e.g. brass), while other elements may be more unique (e.g. unicorn howling).  It's how these elements get blended together that gives each BRAAAM an identity.  Kind of like snowflakes.

But the most important distinguishing factor is context.  If Mind Heist were comprised of just the BRAAAM by itself, it would have been musical sound design rather than music.  But alas, Mind Heist is a song that has BRAAAMs, rather than a song of  BRAAAMs.  And if the song itself was not compelling, the BRAAAMs would not have mattered.  This is to say, the song's composition and production (melody, harmony, rhythm, orchestration, mixing, mastering) is what makes it compelling - the BRAAAMs were simply one feature, albeit a prominent one.  Kind of like when someone meets a wonderful woman, but only talks about her boobs.  Sure, Mind Heist has big boobs, but she's also got an amazing personality.  Hey, eyes up here.

Interestingly, the "breasts of Mind Heist" (I smell a remix) were made more prominent within the Inception trailer, partly as a result of trailer producers / editors / mixers that skillfully paired the visual and audio components, and partly due to the general 2 minute length of the theatrical trailer format.  While much library music conforms to that length, most songs exceed it.  This means that most of the songs that get used in trailers (including Mind Heist) get edited down by necessity, and thus, the Mind Heist used in Inception's trailer is actually an abridged version of a larger work (see Mind Heist: Evolution).

Now as for another commonly held misunderstanding regarding Mind Heist … I've never met, spoken to, corresponded, snorkeled, canoed, parachuted, finger-painted, or otherwise collaborated with the composer or director of the film Inception.

So what have we learned today?  That a BRAAAM is a musical device, used since time immemorial.  This musical device was utilized within Mind Heist and the Inception trailers / film, and although largely popularized as a result, was not invented therein.  There is no "creator" of BRAAAM.  There are only users of BRAAAM.  And some even say we are all made of BRAAAM and one with BRAAAM.  Deep.

Class dismissed!

bum, bum, bum, bum, ba da bum, bum, bum….BRAAAM


Thursday, September 19, 2013

MMA - It's A Fight, Not A War


There is a tendency within mixed martial arts to refer to amazing or epic fights as "wars".  Commentators, journalists, and dudes sitting in their living room are all apt at some point during an MMA event to exclaim, "what a war" or "this guy is a warrior" or "those two just went to war" or something similar.  Am I really the only one that finds this metaphor misconceived?  Call me crazy, but until tanks start rolling into the UFC's octagon, and combatants and spectators start wearing helmets to protect themselves from explosion debris and stray bullets, a fight could not be further from a war.  A fight takes place in a controlled atmosphere with rules, regulations, and a referee to prevent either fighter from getting seriously maimed or killed.  A war denotes armed conflict and entails the deaths and killing of many people.  Maybe you can get away with referring to a fight as a "battle"…maybe…but why can't it just be what it is?  It's a fight - is that so underwhelming?  

I fully acknowledge that I am making a big deal about nothing here, somewhat akin to pondering the existential implications of the question, "Got Milk?", but for whatever it's worth, I think it's healthy to occasionally ponder the innocuous things in life (and to that end, can one ever really have milk?  For if you consume it, does it not ultimately leave you?  If you cup it, does it not seep through your fingers?  Does it not go bad with time?  And even with respect to the gallon of milk that you "have" in your refrigerator, in reality don't you in fact have a gallon jug that has milk?).  

Now back to war.  Is MMA violent?  Absolutely.  But there is a big difference between a violent sport and mortal combat.  Are MMA fighters tough?  No question.  Can an MMA fighter have a "warrior's spirit"?  Sure.  But until Genghis Khan or The Last Of The Mohicans step into the UFC, let's hold off on dubbing the contestants "warriors".  We don't need to mythologize them, and we don't need to convince ourselves we're watching a modern day fight to the death inside the Colosseum - it's a goddamn fight, and that's all it needs to be.  

In truth, I think metaphorical use of "war" occurs without consideration of the word's literal meaning.  Consider the hypothetical use of the word "rape" in the same context.  Imagine a commentator exclaiming, "Wow, McCreary just totally raped that guy - complete domination!"  Or, "every time Oswald steps into the octagon, he rapes and pillages his opponents".  One could understand how it would come off as insensitive, distasteful, and just plain inaccurate.  I caution that we not repeat this same error in judgement with respect to the use of "war" in MMA.  

Now, it should be noted that there are some MMA fighters who actually have been in combat, or served in the military, or lost loved ones to the horrors of war - and some of these individuals have utilized the "war" metaphor - but their intimate familiarity with that word affords them the right  to use it however they wish, in my opinion.  I would also like to make it clear that it is not my intention to scold anyone for using this metaphor…I'm simply asserting that it's use is without merit.  Moreover, I think many trends of political correctness frequently suffocate communication, are ridiculous, and have been going on for far too long - people are way too sensitive about everything, and it needs to stop.  So I am not suggesting that the war metaphor is a plight on the sport of MMA that needs to be expunged, or that those who utilize the analogy are disrespectful people - I just think the metaphor is unnecessary and ill-suited (unless there is an MMA body count that I'm unaware of, or un-televised UFC drone strikes secretly taking place).

On a final note, if we really want to break it down, even using the word "fight" may be misguided to the extent that one associates that word with a no holds barred situation.  In this sense, UFC "fights" are really "competitions".  But even though there is a big difference between an actual street fight (where anything goes and the motivations and intent of the participants are without mercy) and a ring fight (that takes place in a controlled environment with rules and regulations), note that "street fight" and "ring fight" both contain the word "fight", and therefore, I think we can safely continue to call MMA fights "fights".

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What You Need To Know About Infidelity and Mate Selection


Discussions about human behavior are often rife with ridiculousness.  A good example of this is with respect to infidelity.  I can't tell you how many conversations I've been a part of where someone conclusively states that all men cheat (some just don't get caught, or don't have the opportunity, or whatever).  According to these specialists, male infidelity stems from a genetic imperative to spread their seed.  Although sexual drive in and of itself is biologically programmed, this has nothing do with who we choose to sleep with (or how many).  I think a far more likely explanation for male infidelity is that sex feels good and is quite enjoyable, inclining men (some men) to pursue it unabashedly.  Some men are addicted to alcohol, and some are addicted to boobs.  Of course, some view women as sport and appear to experience an unnerving high upon "conquering" a woman, as if they had just taken the beaches of Normandy or something.  However, I think the majority of unfaithful men just like to fuck a lot.  

But here's a revelation: women have an equal propensity for infidelity.  Yes that's right - women like to fuck too!  The stereotype of men following the whims of their penis while stalwart women are immune to the compulsions of desire is quite simply false.  Ashley Madison anyone?  I believe it was Albert Einstein who proved that it takes two to tango.

Some cheat because they don't love their partner (and maybe never have).  Some cheat because their partner is about as interested in sleeping with them as with going back to work on Monday.  Some cheat for the physical sex.  Some for the intimacy.  Some for love.  But some people don't cheat…maybe because the appeal of sex with another person is outweighed by the potential hurt their partner will feel upon finding out, or because of social stigma, or because sex with a stranger is far less gratifying in reality than it is in fantasy, or because they simply don't feel the need to have intercourse with everyone.  The point is that not everything comes down to genetics.

Similarly, consider mate selection.  It is commonly believed that a woman's primary concern in life is security, and consequently, that she will seek a mate that has either wealth, status, influence, or something else along those lines - someone who will provide a safe and stable environment.  This may very well be…for some women.  And guess what?  For some men too!  All humans feel vulnerable.  Despite the adrenaline-craving junkies of the world, no one actively strives to live in an unstable, inhospitable, uncaring, or dangerous environment.  Well, maybe no one apart from those depicted in the show Mountain Men, however even they feel secure in their way of life.  But make no mistake - some women prefer the mate that makes them laugh over the mate with the stable job, some prefer the amazing lover over the wealthy businessman, and some would rather struggle on their own than suffer the banality of their secure life with the snow globe salesman.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of variables that go into a person's makeup and behavior -  their thoughts, feelings, upbringing, moral compass, life experience, the presence or lack of a conscience (4% of people apparently don't have one), their innate nature and/or genetic proclivities, and probably a bunch of other things I'm not aware of.  In short, we're not all built the same.  So let's all agree to stop generalizing each other…except for blondes, because it's been scientifically proven that people with yellow hair really are dumber.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What You Need To Know About A Man's Shoes


I was once told that the first thing women look at on a man are his shoes.  This was said to me by a woman, just so we're clear, and according to her everything you need to know about a man can be discerned from this one item.  Apparently, a man's footwear is the summation of his entire being.  After she said this to me, I remember thinking "that's fucking stupid," but I didn't want to be rude so I remained silent.  Fortunately, at the time of receiving this insight I was actually wearing flip flops, so I was thankful to have evaded her penetrating analysis (or could it be that she was analyzing my toes???!!!???).  Regardless, now that many years have passed and this woman has long forgotten me, I think it's finally safe to come forward.

Here's what I think a man's shoes tell you about the man…nothing.  It's not that a person's shoes don't reflect who they are - it's that there are a multitude of traits and characteristics to which a given pair of shoes could potentially allude.  If a man is concerned with his image, his attire will certainly reflect that, and in turn, his shoes will probably look snazzy.  But then the question is, why is he concerned with his image?  Maybe such concern stems from his line of work and how he is perceived by his associates.  Or, maybe he's simply an ego maniac who is obsessed with his image.  So for those tempted to automatically conclude that a man with snazzy shoes is a respectable individual who takes pride in himself, always remember to consider the alternative possibility that he only cares about looking good and doesn't actually give a shit about you.

Taking another example, if a man is a complete mess in life, then his shoes may indeed be a mess as well.  But slow it down Speed Racer, because embarrassing footwear could also be indicative that he's got larger priorities in life - maybe he spends his days volunteering at homeless shelters and simply doesn't have an interest in looking spiffy this evening.  Similarly, don't discount the possibility that some may intentionally adorn a pair of shoes as a means of deception…that individual wearing Christian Louboutin red bottoms may not be as upscale as he appears, and for all you know those shoes may even trace back to a corpse in the trunk of a car somewhere (and this person is about to cut out your pancreas as soon as you get back to his place).

As a final example, if a man is wealthy, then he will very likely have nice and expensive shoes.  But don't start fawning when you see a man with nice shoes out and about - for all you know, the money he spent on his shoe collection should have gone to paying the child support.  How many wealthy scumbags can you think of?

I trust we all get the picture.  In case anyone thought otherwise, the above is equally applicable to female footwear.  And the same principle applies to suits, cars, and other items of status.  Things are just things.  Nothing more.  In and of themselves, they can't tell you anything definitive about a person's past, present, or future standing, and they certainly can't tell you anything about the content of a person's character.

FYI, when it comes to me personally, I buy a new pair of shoes once my current footwear begins to get holes in them.  What does that say about me?

 


Monday, May 27, 2013

What Are The Chances?


I'm not sure how many of you have experienced synchronicity, but I can tell you that when it happens, it's quite mind-boggling.  A classic example is that of the famous mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who after reading about the praying mantis opened up a window in his 14th floor apartment building located in New York City, only to find…a praying mantis staring at him.

As to if such cases of synchronicity are completely coincidental, or meaningful in a deeper sense, I cannot say.  Perhaps synchronicity is bound to occur, given enough time, within the complex interaction of laws, chance, and probability that blanket the universe…perhaps our very existence is the prime example of synchronicity.  Or perhaps there are unseen forces at work - forces which we may or may not contribute to, but to which we are nevertheless connected and influenced by - forces that shape and guide the trajectory of our lives like a hidden hand arranging life's puzzle pieces.  

I'm going to abandon attempts at explanation, and instead, simply add my recent experience to the annals of synchronicity.

My good friend Omead Afshari, designer extraordinaire and lord of the male belly dance, recently became a teacher at Carver Center for the Arts located in Maryland.  He's in the midst of his first school year, and since September of 2012 has been trying to persuade me to come to his school and speak to some of the students.  Well earlier this month, I decided to drive down to Maryland from New York and pay my friend a visit in his native land.  So of course, I also visited the school and spoke to a few different classrooms.  The students were all awake and attentive, so I must have been doing something right.

The school day came to an end, and as it turned out, a dance performance was scheduled to take place an hour later in the main lobby.  Sounded interesting, so we decided to hang around for it.  After two performances, the dance instructor invited everyone to the dance studio for additional performances.  Omead and I debated whether to abandon ship at that point, given we had an engagement to attend in less than two hours.  But we threw caution to the wind and proceeded to the dance studio, wherein we were handed a program that seemed to suggest there were going to be an additional 15 dance performances taking place.  Now we were seriously considering abandoning ship, but ultimately our interest endured and we continued to stand fast.

At the start of the 2nd to last performance, the dancer walked onto the stage and the music began.  Omead immediately turned to look at me, jaw agape. "Am I hearing what I think I'm hearing" he asked?  Yep.  It was my song "See What I've Become".  This confirmation sent him into a mental tailspin, and he stressed that he had nothing to do with it, and that the students picked their own music for these routines.  Then during the Q&A after the show, he stood up and let the cat out of the bag:  "I'm a teacher here and I just want to say that art has a strange way of connecting people.  In the 2nd to last performance, for example, the person who made that music happens to be a good friend of mine…and he happens to be here right now" [cue American Idol screams and applause].

So to my mathematics and statistics friends, consider this: I drive to Maryland from New York for an impromptu school visit, on a random day of no significance, a day in which there happens to be a dance performance taking place after school, a performance which I happen to choose to attend (despite two separate considerations of leaving), during which one of the performances happens to be done in concert with my song.  What are the chances?  I've never stayed in Maryland prior to this, nor had I ever spoken at a school before, and Omead had no interaction or communication with the dance instructor or dancers (located on the opposite side of the building)…moreover, I'm no Justin Timberlake with respect to popularity; my music is not on the radio, nor is it affiliated with a label or part of a PR machine, and my album sales are so far from platinum they ought to be considered aluminum.  Things get even spookier when you consider the fact that the dance students apparently received their assignment to choreograph and perfect a routine for this show about 2 to 3 weeks beforehand - which is just about when I had called Omead to tell him I would be visiting him in a few weeks.

Be on the lookout friends, for things are in motion.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More Room Treatment, Anyone?


At various points in my career, I've had the privilege of working in some pretty appalling acoustic environments - untreated rooms, un-sound-proofed rooms, even an untreated and un-sound-proofed studio with 8 windows, across the street from a major highway (yikes!).  Although such conditions unquestionably pose severe obstacles in the way of music production and mixing, I believe that where there is a will there is a way, and that the creative spirit can miraculously overcome such handicaps (provided the music ends up in the hands of a good mastering engineer).  That being said, working within an "accurate" acoustic environment immeasurably increases the effectiveness of one's mixing, and allows for a more informed decision process during production, since one can hear things that are actually present in the music, without being influenced by acoustic anomalies and illusions created from the way in which sound waves bounce throughout the room.  So every audio professional naturally seeks to take the room out of the acoustic equation.

Thus, when I built a new studio back in 2011, I was determined to make it as accurate of a listening environment as I possibly could.  My philosophy has always been to go big or go home - and seeing as my studio was located within my house, I was already home, which meant I had no choice but to go big.

Built from the ground up with my own two hands (along with those of a master carpenter, who actually knew what he was doing), my new room wasn't fancy in its dimensional layout, but it had an isolated ground and dedicated circuit breakers, so I was off to a good start - that is, until the first listening test made it clear that things were afoul, acoustically speaking.  So I installed some acoustic room treatment.  Then I installed more room treatment.  Then a bit more.  And then a little more.  I upgraded speakers, added a subwoofer, upgraded converters, lowered the noise floor, and replaced one kind of acoustic treatment with another kind.  The results were great, but my expectations were those of a mastering engineer's standard, which meant there could be no compromise.  So I bought a little more treatment.  I experimented with speaker placement, listening position, treatment layout, etc.  I took sound frequency measurements, calibrated speakers, compared results, and acted the part of a trained acoustician.  I measured physical distances with a tape measure and nodded contemplatively.  Then I expanded my studio with the addition of various mastering equipment and outboard gear…and then I bought more treatment.  I moved this there, and that there, and ultimately created a database of over a hundred different layout orientations with their corresponding frequency measurements for each speaker - then I had the lab tech (me) analyze the results.  

After extensive research and analysis, and countless listening tests, when it was all said and done I thought to myself, "damn, that sounds good".  Have a look at the pictures below - this may be the very definition of sexy (okay, granted it's not a multi-million dollar facility crafted from melted down platinum and gold records, but hey, sometimes it's the unassuming girl that turns out to be the hottest).

Now, it should be noted that too much acoustic absorption in a room can become less than ideal, depending on the size of the room and the type of absorption.  In this case, more than half of the treatment in this room is low frequency focused, which is to say, does not affect the high end (generally speaking, one can never really have too much low end absorption).  As such, this studio has a tight sound, but not a dead sound.  And with so many mysterious looking pillars, there's potential for some enthralling LSD experiences (acoustically accurate LSD experiences, of course).

It should also be noted that the term "accurate" is a bit misleading within the context of acoustics.  Theoretically, an accurate frequency response would be that of a flatline, with no frequency bumps or dips along the spectrum.  But as it turns out, actually getting a flatline is rather impossible; and what's more, you probably wouldn't even want it if you could have it, which brings up the non-technical side of accuracy…namely, that there is a degree of subjectivity to tuning a room, and that every room invariably has its own "sound" or "vibe".  So while one should chase the flatline in principle, all technical findings and decisions must be weighed against subjective perception and taste (making for an interesting catch-22).

Lastly, I'd like to draw attention to the thin piece of tissue hanging from the ceiling above the computer monitor.  This tissue paper is the single most important aspect of the entire room, the very corner stone of the studio in fact.  It does not serve an acoustic function, but rather, prevents the light source from blinding the person in the central listening position…because if there's one thing I learned in all my efforts to realize the perfect listening environment, it's this: when there's too much light shining in your eyes, you can't hear anything accurately.

UPDATE 10/10/14: The studio has been completely restructured - see here.