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Category Archives: sound

Where is the jazz?


A lone man stands against the wall, one foot up on the wall, knees supporting the saxophone in his arms. The next instant, a haunting sound floats out of the instrument.

The scene is so common in New Orleans that it has become one of the cliche images that represents New Orleans jazz in illustrations, paintings, and movies. It was a new experience, however, when I first encountered the sound as a 16-yr-old. I lived less than ten miles away in a suburb but New Orleans was a different world. The sax, the man, and the sound pervaded my senses and became my first memory of this city.

Jazz was also a different world. I filed away the man and his music until college where I briefly dated a trombone player who played in a jazz band, I went to all the touristy jazz places in the city with my fellow students at Tulane University in New Orleans, and attended sporadic live jazz and blues concerts. Yet, the spirit of jazz did not enter my music consciousness. I was obsessed with the poetry and angst of The Smiths, the danceability of New Order, the artistry of Laurie Anderson, the craziness of the Talking Heads, the other-worldliness of Cocteau Twins…

Over the years, I continued to participate in jazz but only as a social activity, never with any authentic passion. Recently, I was listening to a jazz orchestra at Yerba Buena Park in San Francisco. The music reminded me of New Orleans and brought back memories that I had not realized I had collected. I find myself intrigued, finally, by the sounds that blossomed only ten miles away from my childhood home but did not find a place in my heart.

Thus, I’m exploring jazz here for the next few weeks and approaching it with a beginner’s mind…

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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in jazz, listening, memory, New Orleans, sound

 

Writing to rap, out loud


When I write poetry, I don’t need to consider the power of my vocal chords. For rap, however, this is a key element. I need to be able to use my voice as an instrument. I don’t have to be an accomplished singer but I do need to breathe properly and enunciate my words concisely. I need to consider these factors even as I write the song.

For the rap that’s due on July 10th for my poetry group, I have an idea for a song. I have written the chorus and about four lines. I read the words out loud. Then, I write one of sentences in the chorus twice because it sounds better that way. In a poem, however, I rarely repeat a sentence. I haven’t moved beyond the chorus and the four lines yet because I’m still getting accustomed to rhyming and rapping.

Another option that I’m considering is to convert an existing poem into a rap song. This is even more challenging. My poem is in free verse and the first two words of my poem are translating to two sentences of hip-hop and the sentences don’t even rhyme!

This is turning out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. It’s my first time. So, I’m not sweating it too much… instead I’m listening to some experts for inspiration.

 

Next assignment: WRITE rap lyrics


My poetry group is taking on the challenge of writing rap lyrics for our next meeting. How do I start?

I have written about rap subject and flow in this blogspace so I know that these are the foundation and building blocks of the lyrics, respectively. As I write the words to express my subject matter, the flow (rhythm and rhyme) that I develop will be my signature style for the piece (not much different than if I am writing a traditional poem or fiction or essay, etc).

As a modern poet, I write free verse so one of my challenges is to rhyme. The other challenge is to find the right beat. I’ll use the traditional 4 beats scheme as a starting point and vary the beat as needed.

In addition to a compelling beat, I’ll need a hook for my song. This is usually the chorus which further expands on the subject matter and gets the listener’s attention, i.e., hooks them into the song. The verse forms the rest of the structure of the song.

As a newbie to the form, I’ll use How to Rap: The Art and Science of the Hip-Hop MC book by Paul Edwards as a reference for tips and tricks from him and from many of the rap artists that he interviewed for his book.

Last but not least, I need to listen to hip-hop if I’m going to imitate the style. If you have a favorite hip-hop song, I’m open to recommendations.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2011 in hip hop, lyrics, poetry, rap, sound, write rap lyrics

 

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