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Category Archives: sound

Rap Content: subject matters


“Often, hip-hop lyrics focus on topics that can be controversial, such as violence, sex, drugs, alcohol, power, and money. These forces are sometimes said to have a negative impact on society, but artistically speaking they are inherently attention-grabbing subjects—which is why numerous classic hip-hop albums have revolved around them and will continue to do so,” from How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards.

Rap might have a reputation of controversial content but so does a lot of good poetry. For example,  American poet Charles Bukowski did not let controversy interfere with the unedited expression of his thoughts.

Controversial or otherwise, all art forms have a subject and rap is no exception. Depending on the artist, the subject matters range from real-life and fictional stories to conscious and controversial topics. Of course, some lyrics are written solely for the purpose of entertainment at clubs and parties.

The subject of hip-hop lyrics is expressed via various styles (or “form” as it’s know in hip-hop). A popular form is where MCs have a word battle by bragging about a specific topic.Other example of rap forms are conceptual, musical, abstract, and humorous.

In addition to the consideration of subject matter and form, rappers use poetry tools like imagery, similes, metaphors, analogies, slang vocabulary, wordplay, and punch lines.

Spawning from a tradition of poetry, rap uses many poetic methodologies to bring the spoken-word to the masses, something that Western poets have previously only been able to do by translating the spoken-word charm of poetry to songs.

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2011 in art, hip hop, lyrics, poetry, rap, sound

 

Flow: rap rhythm and rhyme


“It’s down to attaching flow to the beat… like Bruce Lee said, if the water is in the jug, it becomes that jug. If water is in that bowl, it becomes that bowl. That’s how I approach it,” says Sean Price of the hip-hop group Heltah Skeltah in the How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards. Like all musical genres, the rhythm and rhymes of rap are one of its identifying markers and are referred to as the “flow”.”

Without the right flow, the delivery of the song would lack charisma and the message of the poem would be lost because the audience won’t show up. “I’m a flow person, and without the right flow, subject matter probably won’t even matter. It’s all about style…If people can’t feel how you’re saying it, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying.,” says Havoc of Mobb Deep in Edwards’ book.

Edwards shows how rap music is coded into beats, bars, and rests. He explains how lyrics and beat coalesce, talks about types of rhyme schemes, and how rhythm is developed. These are all elements of flow.

Flow needs to exist in a hip-hop song but it’s not where the song starts. “Sometimes I might write a poem, a spoken-word poem, but then morph that into a rap rhythmically,” says Myke 9 of Freestyle Fellowship. It’s the flow of the song that leads to its evolution from a poem to a hip-hop song.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in hip hop, rap, sound

 

The Smiths, The Cure, Talking Heads… 80’s poets


In the 80s, my head was jammed into the alternative music scene, a place where many of the musicians inhaled and exhaled poetic melancholy. Some of the songs and lyrics that I remember:

The poetic metaphor of “I can feel the soil falling over my head…” from the song “I know it’s over” by The Smiths etched into my memory after the first time I heard it.

The haunting lyrics and melody of “Three Imaginary Boys” by The Cure can still give me shivers.

Talking Heads “Once in a lifetime” is a timeless pondering on the nature of time and it’s passage…

It was the poetic edge of the lyrics, the deep explorations of the human condition, in 80s alternative music which saved me from getting lost in the banality of top-40 music-as-commodity. The 80s alternative music scene resonated with my love for words and provided a music foundation that I will always cherish and I dedicate this song to that gift:

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2011 in 80s Alternative, art, poetry, punk, sound

 

If the doors of perception were cleansed…


“Listen, real poetry doesn’t say anything; it just ticks off the possibilities. Opens all doors. You can walk through anyone that suits you,” said Jim Morrison. The layers of meaning in Morrison’s poetic song lyrics have been examined for almost four decades. Many of the analysis attempt a literal interpretation and some open “all doors” and “walk through anyone that suits” them.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite,” said poet  William Blake. This inspired the writer Aldous Huxley’s book title The Doors of Perception which in turn led Jim Morrison to name his band The Doors.

Morrison died under mysterious circumstances at the age of twenty-seven and the doors to his personality and his lyrics (and even to the cause of his death) continue to be opened four decades later. I’m mostly interested in Jim Morrison, the poet. So, I’ve initiated this journey of discovery by looking at what he had to say about himself as an artist and about poetry.

“I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments,” are lines that resonate with me and provide a glimpse into who he was. As an artist myself, I also understand his philosophy “If my poetry aims to achieve anything, it’s to deliver people from the limited ways in which they see and feel. I like people who shake other people up and make them feel uncomfortable.”

I don’t know what I’ll find as I open more doors to Morrison and to his poetry but it promises to be an adventure.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2011 in 60s music, art, lyrics, poetry, song, sound

 

It’s just the wasted years so close behind…


The melancholy in Lou Reed’s Sunday Morning is accentuated by the melody and the mellow sounds of the instruments, which include ringing of bells.

Reed’s lyrical style was informed by the French poet Charles Baudelaire, the Beat Generation writers, and many other poets. As I see it, this poem is transformed into a song simply by the repetition of a few lines, the tone of voice, and the inclusion of a few musical sounds. The lyrics retain the emotional textures that the poem lays out for examination.

Sunday morning, praise the dawning
It’s just a restless feeling by my side
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s just the wasted years so close behind
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning and I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know
Early dawning, Sunday morning
It’s all the streets you crossed, not so long ago
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Watch out, the world’s behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all
Sunday morning
Sunday morning
Sunday morning

When I first came across Reed’s band Velvet Underground, in the 80s, I thought of them as an art-punk sound. I’ve heard various classifications since then, ranging from rock to punk to avant-garde (the band’s manager was Andy Warhol). Regardless of how he might be categorized, one thing is certain. Lou Reed’s songs are an artful combination of poetry and experimental sound that influenced many future generation of poets. “The nature of [Reed’s] lyric writing had been hitherto unknown in rock…he supplied us with the street and the landscape, and we peopled it,” David Bowie.

 

Amusia: an inability to process music


All music sounds like loud noise to her. She has no emotional reaction to music and does not perceive the rhythms and the melodies. It’s a condition called amusia. This is a true story. Many people have this condition at birth and sometimes they acquire it later in life.

Oliver Sack’s book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Editioncontains many stories of brain anomolies as they apply to the perception of music. In this video, Sacks tells the story of a woman who cannot process music due to amusia…

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2011 in sound, your brain on music

 

The NoBunny Effect


Before NoBunny sprang onto the stage, a  mellow, almost sleepy, energy floated through the club. It was just another Friday night at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco’s Protrero neighborhood. And then it wasn’t. NoBunny transformed us into a jumping slamming body-surfing field of bodies with their high-energy punk-n-pop sounds and the semi-nude bouncy charisma of the lead singer Justin Champlin.

[iPhone video by Josh Buchanan]

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in mosh pit, punk, sound

 

yellow mohawk, head banging, & more…


 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in dance, sound

 

To Serve Man


In High School, I’d stay up until past midnight (unbeknownst to my parents) to watch the Twilight Zone show. Now, at 40-something, I own many of the episodes on DVD and have watched them at least three times. One of the most memorable episodes is titled To Serve Man, a story that any TZ fan will certainly know.

But even more than the iconoclastic themes of the episodes, its the theme music of the original Twilight Zone that will resonate for fans.

Many years ago, when I was sharing a house in Boston with three other people, one of my roomates was learning to play guitar and the TZ theme was one of the first tunes that he learned. Two decades later, I’m sometimes reminded of him playing the tune when I hear it.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in sound, television

 

Social Ocarina


This is an Ocarina. This too is an Ocarina.

An Ocarina is a wind instrument that sounds similar to a flute.

Within 5 minutes of hearing about it from a friend, I am able to purchase an Ocarina for 99 cents and play it. It’s easy on the iPhone. I just blow into the microphone and touch the blue spots to vary the sound. I can also listen to someone playing in Lisbon, Portugal (and many other cities) by switching to a global listening view. That’s the “social” part.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in iPhone app, sound