Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pasquale Policelli - My Father

papa closeup 3.jpgPasquale Policelli, my father, passed away one month ago today. He spent the past two years prior to his death fighting hard - lung cancer, lobectomy, COPD and asthma - left him struggling to breathe at the best of times... a bout with pneumonia in the Summer of 2007 left him on oxygen, and two more bouts with pneumonia this Fall led to his passing... He kept his wits about him throughout and he never lost his positive spirit, even with all he had to face he was always there for my mother, my brothers and me, his grandchildren, and all his brothers and sisters...

My father was not an educated man, but he is the smartest man I've known and I will miss his love and support, always tempered by his guidance and wisdom. I hope even the tiniest bit of his spirit is embodied in me and that I can live up to his high standards. He never once complained while dealing with his illness these past couple of years. He never once asked "Why me?". He only asked that he not needlessly suffer, and his peaceful passing during the night, in his sleep, was an answer to that request.

Thank you for indulging this blog post of mine. I had to go into at least a little detail about him - he deserves no less...

I wrote the following verse some time ago from a song entitled My Papa's Clothes:

I want to wear my papa's clothes
I want to know what papa knows
The pistol dreams he once supposed
The barrel-chested man with the strength of gods inside him
His fear of life subsiding
Secure in the path he chose
I want to wear my papa's clothes

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Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...

Well, I'm still waiting to hear back from CTV as to when this show (Spectacle: Elvis Costello With...) will be airing in Canada. CTV is supposedly one of the owners of the show and made much fanfare in April 2008 that this series would be showing by the end of the year... well, there's like a day left to that...

When the series began a few weeks ago in the U.S. on the Sundance cable network, I emailed CTV and asked when we could look for it here in Canada... and I emailed again and a third time... not one response! They're not exactly making this viewer feel welcome...

But that's what Elvis' job would be if I was able to watch the show... I can't even catch the clips from the Sundance site (though a couple have been posted on YouTube) as they are "georestricted" (probably at CTV's request, no less, then they fail to put the show on here). Oh well, if you go to the show's site you'll see the list of guests (past, present and future) and see that there is a marathon of sorts tomorrow on New Year's Eve starting at 5 p.m... (hmmm... maybe I can find a grey market satellite to watch a couple of these episodes...)

Anywho, there's Elton John, Lou Reed, Bill Clinton, James Taylor, Tony Bennett, The Police, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, Rufus Wainwright and Diana Krall (I wonder if Rufus' and/or Diana's own Canuck families will get to watch the show!) and more... so quite a range and I'm sure it will be interesting, to say the least...

Come on CTV... let's get this show on the air! And may the Muse be with you...

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Copyfight in Canada

Precedent, a magazine about the "new rules of law and style" for lawyers in Canada, had an article entitled "Copyfight" in its latest issue. There was a bill (C-61) that fell by the wayside because of the last federal election being called. Various lawyers discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of C-61 which was assailed by its critics for making most of the public into "copyright criminals". As the premise of the article goes:

Not long ago, a copyright protest would have seemed like a piece of absurdist parody ("Actuaries of the world, unite!"). But the federal government has made it clear that it intends to rewrite Canada's creaky copyright laws, and in a world awash with media, everyone has something at stake. Creators want to be paid for their creativity, while consumers want to enjoy, share, and re-purpose it. Copyright has never been as clear as property rights, and deciding what's legal hasn't always been easy. In fact, it's turned into a very public, very bitter tug-of-war - an out-and-out copyfight.

One of my favourite writers/bloggers in the area of copyright/intellectual property matters in Canada is Michael Geist, a lawyer in Ottawa who is the "go to" guy for the media on these sorts of issues. I'll leave the last words for him, but I have that good old-fashioned contradiction inside of me on this issue - I certainly make "fair use" of many songs out there (if I own the album, I don't see why I can't download the mp3 version), but if I ever do publish a song, I wonder how "fair" it will seem to me then... Oh that I would have such a problem!

"We ought to recognize that copyright is not the only incentive to creativity," says Michael Geist, leaning over a table at a tiny, packed Second Cup on the University of Ottawa campus ("his second office," noted a colleague).

Geist isn't a free-everything activist (of which there are plenty on the Internet). But he has argued loud and long that overprotection can be as dangerous and innovation-stifling as underprotection.

Geist argues that users' rights to use copyrighted works for fair purposes shouldn't be restricted by contracts or digital locks. His vision recognizes that, like it or not, users are increasingly becoming creators in their own rights. With the advent of "Web 2.0," the technological barriers to accessing, altering, and rebroadcasting copyrighted material have evaporated. And, adds Geist, "what used to be a relatively small community of geeks became us. It became the Canadian public."

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Professor George Michael?

Okay, this article speaks for itself, so I'll only preface it with - Huh, what are they thinking? The concept is good (breaking street violence through encouragement of artistic endeavours) but I don't know if the practice works if George Michael is to be relied upon for seeing this through. No offence to Mr. Michael, but I don't believe that he has a reputation of being particularly reliable:

Anne Lu - Celebrity News Service News Writer

London, England (BANG) - George Michael's neighbors want him to fight knife crime. Residents and school officials in Highgate, north London, wrote to the "Faith" singer asking him to support a scheme designed to reduce knife crime in the area where he lives.

A source said: "In the interests on discouraging knife crime, a safer neighborhood group in Highgate has written to ask George for help."

The former "Wham!" star - who sponsored this year's Highgate Summer Festival - has been asked to get involved with a program that encourages children to express themselves through music instead of violent behavior.

The source added to Britain's Daily Star newspaper: "They're trying to get local children to focus on the challenges they face living in the area and express it in creative songwriting instead of violence. They've asked George to use his contacts ideally in organizing a songwriting competition in schools."

Since January, 65 British teenagers have died as a result of violent crime. Almost 60 percent were stabbed to death.

The 45-year-old singer - whose fans can download his festive single "I Dreamed of Christmas" for free on Christmas Day - is yet to respond to the request.

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Esther O'Connor on Songwriting

Emerging Scottish singer-songwriter, Esther O'Connor, provides some of her fresh thoughts on songwriting in an online article here. Faith plays a part in Ms. O'Connor's artistry and she is alive to its process in her songwriting and her performing, however, it's not only "praise and worship" music that she writes, as she's been described as "somewhere between Suzanne Vega and Sheryl Crowe" by BBC Radio.

"When I was about 14,15, I began to sing with my friends, writing songs and playing about on a guitar. I started to showcase for major record companies while I was still at school. I remember going away for a week and I was supposed to be studying but instead of studying, I took my guitar and wrote half a song. So I was definitely much more interested in music than I was in biology."

After some success in landing a publishing/recording deal with a major music company at 17, that led to nowhere, she did not give up, but perservered.

But despite the big publishing and record deals nothing got issued and eventually Esther was released from the contracts, seemingly another talent whose potential hadn't been realised. Then, in 2003, Esther decided to record and release an independent album. Under the simple billing of Esther, the singer/songwriter put out 'The Place Where We Are'. Explained Esther, "The album was recorded after I'd just come out of my deal. I was in a bit of a space that things had not exactly gone as I'd pictured or wanted. It was an album I enjoyed making. I felt it was a therapy thing for me, getting back into the studio and writing and channelling all the different experiences - relationship experiences, career experiences, spiritual experiences and channelling those things that you feel life is kind of teaching you into your art and into your craft. It gave me a great sense of fulfilment."

And on her new album, 'Right Here', can be found a lifetime of influence.

"It's an album that's got a lot of continuity and it's got an Americana-Celtic-y, folky, pop sort of feel to it and all the songs just sort of locked in together. My musical influences are reflected in it as well. I've got quite a lot of '70s stuff in my collection, people like Bonny Rait and Janis Joplin, James Taylor, Carole King and Joni Mitchell - these fantastic greats. Fleetwood Mac was another big influence."

To have been "developed" as a teenager and, to be melodramatic here, "cast aside" by EMI without any production (though there appears to be no bitterness in Ms. O'Connor's version of events), and then to still realize the dream on one's own must be wholly satisfying... it gives me inspiration (spiritual and otherwise) and confirms the Muse is with Esther O'Connor... and may she be with us all...

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Serena Ryder on Songwriting

Serena Ryder is featured in the Arts section of today's National Post (article: Supertramp finally gets its apologist) speaking about her upcoming album Is It O.K. The accomplished/effervescent Canadian singer-songwriter (can you tell I like her) discusses the personal nature of songwriting and of this upcoming album recorded in L.A. after the death of a close friend. Some poignant quotes follow:

"The title is about checking yourself when you're going through a lot of different things in life. Being human can be really painful; it's full-on. [The album] is about being inside of yourself through the whole process."

"All music is autobiographical," Ryder said. "I don't care what anybody says. Everyone shares a part of their soul in music ... regardless of whether a song is 100% factual."

I have to agree with Serena. We talk about the songcraft but I don't think you can ever separate the observer from the observed, or rather the songwriter from the song... The Muse is with Ryder... and may she be with you too...

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Ovation Arts - Songwriting Program for Teens in York Region

Ovation Performing Arts Academy in the Richmond Hill Centre for Performing Arts is offering a Songwriting Program for teens in the New Year. Click the link for more information. The program is NEW and appears to go through Songwriting 101 as well as taking the teens to the process of effectively linking music and lyrics into a successful song.

I wish the program all the best and use this as an opportunity to remind the local community of the Stellula program I posted about a few weeks back. May the Muse be with all the young songwriters...

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More from Daniel Levitin

I really enjoy Daniel Levitin's musings on music/song, and in particular "songcraft" and the "science" of listening to music. See my previous posts here and here...

Today, he appeared in an article in the Arts section of the National Post entitled "Hear My Song". As always, the remarks are insightful, illuminating and entertaining. On the issue of a person's desire NOT to learn too much about what is going on as they listen to their favourite music (in hopes of keeping the mystery alive), Dr. Levitin responds in kind:

"I've heard that from a lot of people before they start reading about music and the brain, that they're afraid of learning too much. I've never heard from anybody afterwards that they regretted it because they don't enjoy music any more. In fact, I think people are curious by nature. You go to a magic show, you want to know how the trick was done. Usually when people meet a musician they'll ask, 'What were you thinking when you wrote that song.' I think that understanding the complexity of it increases one's appreciation."

And from his recent book, The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature, the "music doctor" professes as follows:

"The brain learns music and language because it is configured to acquire rules about how musical and linguistic elements are combined; its computational circuits (in the prefrontal cortex) 'know' the rules about hierarchical organization and are primed to receive musical and linguistic input during the early years of development. This is why the child who is denied exposure to music or language before a certain age (believed to be somewhere between 8 and 12) will never acquire normal music or language skills - the pruning process has already begun, and those neural circuits that were waiting to be activated become eliminated."

Ah, it may seem so dry, but it is a basic building block... my daughter has been "writing" music since she was 3 - humming melodies and writing lyrics to everyday situations... and I can't remember when I didn't do so either... let the Muse be with us...

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Richey Edwards Songwriting from Beyond

The Welsh Rock Band, Manic Street Preachers, will be recording a new album of songs based on the lyrics of their now-declared-dead guitarist and songwriter, Richey Edwards. The story of the declaration of death hit the newspapers today:

Richey Edwards has been declared as presumed dead, 13 years after he disappeared, a spokesman for the band said yesterday. "There has been a change in his legal status," said the spokesman for the Welsh rock band, adding that his parents had been granted a court order to that effect. Edwards disappeared in February, 1995, when the 27-year-old musician's car was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge linking England and Wales. Despite alleged sightings of the guitarist since his disappearance, he is widely believed to have taken his own life.

The band's website (see link above) comments as follows:

All the songs we are recording are lyrics left to us by Richey. Finally it feels like the right time to use them... It's a record that celebrates the genius of his words, full of love, anger, intelligence and respect. We have to make this great. Wish us luck.

That's quite a task to take on... to bring your former bandmate's words to life when he is no longer around... May the Muse be with them...

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Songwriting Sheikh Suing Michael Jackson

It says something that the second son of the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Abdulla bin Hamad Al Khalifa (left side of picture), basically became involved with Michael Jackson in 2005 because he wanted to have the self-described King of Pop sing/perform the songs he had written. Now the shiekh is suing Michael Jackson for £4.7m and he claims he set up the singer with a studio in his ranch so he could record the sheikh's own songs. The full article is here.

Jackson is contesting the claim, insisting there was no valid agreement of repayment and arguing that the sheikh's case is based on "mistake, misrepresentation and undue influence". Bankim Thanki QC, representing the sheikh, told the court that his client set up a recording studio at the singer's Neverland ranch and sent him compositions he had written himself.

Jackson recorded one of the sheikh's songs the day after the pop star's criminal trial ended over child molestation charges in California, Thanki said. The song, which was to have been released as a charity single to help victims of the Boxing Day tsunami, will be played in court during the trial. "It shows the quality of Sheikh Abdulla's songwriting skills and that of Mr Jackson's voice," Thanki told the judge, Mr Justice Sweeney.

I can't wait to hear this song (can't find it anywhere)... and also, not to judge Shiekh Abdulla too harshly, 'cos if I had that kind of money, I'd be "buying" my songs into posterity... May the Muse be with us all... even shiekhs...

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Sir Tom Jones on Songwriting

Sir Tom Jones just released a new album, 24 Hours, earlier this week in the UK. The new thing for Sir Tom (one of my wife's favourite singers, btw) is that he wrote/co-wrote songs for the first time...

You can find the article here, but I've quoted a few essentials below:

What difference has it made being so involved in the songwriting?

I think it will make a big difference because the songs come from me, rather than somebody else writing them and then me trying to put them into my own style.

When I started this CD off, songs were coming which were not very good, I didn't think. So then it was suggested, well, why don't you do it yourself? So that's what happened.

I needed a songwriter to put them into words, but the ideas came from me.

Are you trying to recapture a classic sound?

I liked what I did on Decca in the '60s and I wanted to get that same feeling again, sound-wise especially. There's a retro sound, but I feel that it's still modern though. You know it's not an old '60s record, but the feel of it is.

Is that style of music ripe for a return?

Yeah I think so, with the Amy Winehouse record. I've been wanting to do this for quite some time. And then I saw the video for the first [Amy Winehouse] track, I thought 'that's good'. So I got the CD and listened to it, and I thought 'yes it can be done'.

It's great to see somebody like Amy Winehouse doing it with those arrangements and with the sound. It's refreshing and it gives you confidence to go ahead and do it. It's working.

Bono wrote a song for Sir Tom too... Anywho, it's Tom being Tom and being a songwriter for the first time, which makes the album a winner in reviews... Now the Muse is with him...

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Stellula Music In Schools Program

Click the banner above to learn about this interesting program available in Simcoe County. As per the website:

The Stellula Music in Schools Program helps children and youth create music and art through writing, photography, and making CDs/DVDs and movies. Students learn about creating music from professional musicians, filmmakers, animators and sound production people.

The Program encourages students to express themselves through songwriting in a safe and supportive environment while building meaningful relationships with other students, teachers and professionals in the music business.

Best of luck to this program and other similar programs (see the School Alliance of Student Songwriters site too)... the Muse is truly with them...

Chrissie Hynde on Songwriting

Musicradar.com interviewed Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders on a variety of issues, including the new rockabilly-themed album (Break Up The Concrete), the early Pretenders aura and, of course, songwriting. From the interview, here's some quotes on the latter topic:

On songwriting

Let's talk about your songwriting. Does it come easily to you? Do you have a process?

"I can go months or even a year without thinking about songwriting. I'm not very ambitious. Songwriting isn't my life; it's just something I do. It was a way for me not to be a waitress. [laughs] So when I know I have to make an album, I sit down and see what's in my head. That's it, really. No process. I'm not a tortured artist. I'm not even an artist."

When you do write, how do you demo material? I imagine you're kind of old school, just a tape recorder and you singing and playing.

"I don't even do that. I just remember the songs and play them to the guys live when we're in a rehearsal room. I have my lyrics sheet and chords written down and that's it. I don't know how people work all these computer programs and whatnot for songwriting. If it helps them, great. But for me, I go by memory."

That's very interesting... so many different "methods" (or lack thereof) to songwriting... Chrissie certainly turns all the "hit-making" song crafting philosophies on their head with that simple "No process" statement... But hey, one method isn't "better" than another... I think... so long as the Muse is with you I guess...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Of All The Things

A documentary to look out for as set out in IMDB:

The most unlikely comeback of the year. Dennis Lambert was one of the most successful and diverse songwriter/producers of the '70s and '80s, with hits like "Ain't No Woman Like The One I've Got", "Rhinestone Cowboy", "Don't Pull Your Love", "Baby Come Back" and "Nightshift". He had chart-toppers in almost every genre of music, and at one point four of his songs were simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, a feat previously accomplished only by The Beatles. That was then. Today, he's a 60-year-old family man selling real estate in Florida. But it turns out his obscure 1972 solo album is still huge... in the Philippines. A Filipino concert promoter has been begging Dennis to tour for decades, and in 2007 - thirty-five years after the release of his album - he finally agreed. "Of All The Things" is a hilarious and touching pop/rock/country/R&B documentary that follows Dennis on his whirlwind tour as he rediscovers his passion for music -- a two-week adventure that takes him from the comforts of Boca Raton, through the remote outer islands of the Philippines, to a sold-out show at Manila's famous Araneta Coliseum for thousands of fans he never knew he had. Some lives deserve an encore.

Well, this I have to see and I'll be looking for it in the theatre or on DVD... Let me know if you see this somewhere...

Of Montreal on Songwriting

Just some thoughts from Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal on songwriting from a recent Toronto Star article:

"For some reason, laziness is celebrated in music where it's not really celebrated in other art forms. Most pop songs are just riddled with laziness."

Some might bristle at Kevin Barnes's reductionist assessment of pop songwriting's verse/chorus/verse template, but at least the Of Montreal front man and increasingly proficient professional provocateur is backing those words up with the wildest musical ride he's ever put to tape on his latest disc, Skeletal Lamping.

I'm not so sure I agree... It takes creativity, even within "lazy confines", to compose a pop song that people can enjoy... A "formula" does not negate the creativity, and knowing the "rules" just makes it easier to break them... it takes a Muse...

USC Offers Pop Music Degree

The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article detailing the introduction of a Popular Music Degree at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. As described on the school's website: " USC Thornton is proud to announce a new bachelor of music degree in pop music performance, the first of its kind at a major university. The program, which will begin in the 2009-10 academic year, will provide a place for instrumentalists or vocalists whose passion is popular music -- be it rock, R&B, folk, blues or country."

And a quote from the LA Times article follows:

Students still will be required to study music theory, history and songwriting, but they'll also learn about entertainment law, record promotion, marketing, publicity and other fields pop musicians need to understand to succeed in the evolving music business.

"We built this program recognizing that the nature of the music business is changing," [Associate Dean Chris] Sampson said in a separate interview. "We're looking to create a broader number of opportunities for our students to successfully make careers in music. Turning out records that end up making the charts, that's the top of a broad pyramid. I expect other students might find their way into becoming music directors, arrangers and a variety of different roles.

"The whole idea is that we'll be bring it all together under one umbrella. . . . We are building a network of people in different disciplines, whether in technology, business or law . . . and within a college atmosphere, students will have some room to experiment."
May the Muse be with you...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Chris Martin Gets Songwriting Advice From Ian McCulloch

Chris Martin of Coldplay gets help writing his songs from Echo + The Bunnymen's frontman Ian McCulloch, and the pair are often texting each other with ideas.

"I think Chris is great," says McCulloch. "We text each other, like, 'Hello Mac-o! How do you write lyrics that are good?' I say, 'Either you've got it or you haven't. Do some crosswords, watch pornography.'"

McCulloch also revealed his input into the band's music: "When Coldplay was doing their second album I walked into the studio in Liverpool, where they recorded it."

"Chris said, 'Hey Mac! We're sampling The Cutter intro, but we're having some difficulty making it not sound like the Bunnymen. I said, 'Just f***ing use it.'"

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U2 - Stuck In A Songwriting Block Moment...

Even the best go through it... On U2's website, you can catch this video which shows the band, and producer Daniel Lanois, deep in concentration in their songwriting process... staring at blank pieces of paper and clicking their laptops... man, that sounds familiar...

Oh well... something tells me that these guys eventually break the block and write something worthy... it would be nice if they showed us that part in the video, but it may just come down to the fact that the Muse is with them...

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Again - Weeks Without Writing...

Well, back in May of this year, I was T-boned in an intersection and endured a painful recovery from those injuries... See my post here...

Now, a few weeks back, just as I finished therapy I underwent from that accident, I was involved in another accident and went right back to square one (or zero... or whatever)... Thus, I haven't been blogging or playing guitar or writing...

But, with the Muse as my witness, I will write again... (blog & new songs)

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Elvis Costello and Nick Jonas Discuss Songwriting and Crazy Fans

From the recent edition of Rolling Stone:

In the current issue of Rolling Stone, Elvis Costello superfan Nick Jonas sits down with his idol to talk about writing habits and handling fame. "As far as fans go: The only difficult thing is when they go in our house," says Jonas. "That's kind of odd for anybody, I think." Costello sympathizes, as he spent his early days as a pop sensation. "Around 1978, every single we released in England was a hit," he says. "It was hard to take seriously when it was happening, because I just thought it was so absurd. I was suspicious of the success." Check out the new issue for more on Costello and Jonas, including what pop records they've loved in the last ten years.

Maybe one day I can meet Costello... till then...

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brandy Alexander, Ron Sexsmith & Feist

John Lennon and Harry Nilsson and a night of Brandy Alexanders in 1974 led to Leslie Feist and Ron Sexsmith co-writing Brandy Alexander some 30 years later... Ah, gotta love your music history and songwriting stories... This is from a recent interview found in the Montreal Gazette:

Ron Sexsmith's songwriting collaboration with Feist would never have happened if John Lennon and Harry Nilsson hadn't had way too much to drink at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles in 1974.

The ex-Beatle and his raucous songwriting pal were downing brandy Alexanders that much-documented night, resulting in behaviour that led to their forcible ejection from the club.

When Leslie Feist saw Sexsmith drinking one of those cocktails at a party in Ottawa, she asked what it was. Sexsmith told her the story of the historic Lennon-Nilsson debacle.

"Three days later, I received anemail from her with this lyric in it," Sexsmith said in a recent telephone interview.

"And I was, like, 'Wow! Why didn't I think of that?' "

He took it to the piano, and a quick session later, Brandy Alexander had music.

"I'm a Luddite," Sexsmith said. "I don't have anything to record on, so I never had a tape of it to give her.

"About a year later, when I was in Los Angeles recording Time Being, I saw that Leslie was playing across town. So I took a cab and I played it for her in her dressing room. She recorded it on to a dictaphone."

Feist's hushed, sultry version came out last year on her platinum-selling disc The Reminder. Sexsmith recorded a more upbeat interpretation on his latest album, Exit Strategy of the Soul.

"I had no intention of recording it," Sexsmith said. "It wasn't until after I heard her version, which I loved, that I got to thinking that, in my head, I heard it as more of a party song."

There are significant differences in the lyrics, too.

"They feel, almost, like two different songs," Sexsmith said.

"But I did stick more faithfully to her original lyrics than she did."

Here's to finding your Brandy Alexander somewhere (wherever inspiration finds you), oh, and here's the recipe:

1 1/2 oz brandy
1 oz dark creme de cacao
1 oz half-and-half
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine the brandy, creme de cacao, and half-and-half. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the nutmeg. And May the Muse be with you...

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

John Hiatt's Race Car Garage Studio

John Hiatt has turned his race-car garage into a recording studio. There's a wonderful article in the Alabama Scene Blog that captures Hiatt's humour in discussing his recording process and in his friendship with Lyle Lovett:

The great thing about having a recording studio at his house, John Hiatt says, is he gets to work at his own pace. And on his own time.

"You can get up at nine o'clock in the morning and go out in your underwear and fiddle around with the mix that you left up," the journeyman singer-songwriter says from his home outside Nashville. "It doesn't matter. It's your place. I guess the down side is you can get overindulgent, I suppose, but so what?"

Although he's gotten rid of his race cars, the recording studio has given the 55-year-old Hiatt a new toy to putter around with.

"The one thing that keeps me honest in this particular situation is that my recording medium here is only eight tracks," he says. "It's a digital recording machine, so you can do a lot with the eight tracks. You can bounce them around without any loss of sound, but still it's functionally only an eight-track machine.

"So it's kind of like old-school recording in a way, where you have to make decisions and combine things early on in the process much like you had to do in the early '60s. I like that. I like that approach."

Hiatt's pretty cool and the Muse is with him...

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James Sherwood - Rules of Songwriting

Enjoy this comedy video by comedian James Sherwood on his "Rules of Songwriting"... From a review:

Sherwood sings a series of brilliant songs, and outlines his "rules of songwriting" by brilliantly spoofing everyone from Paul Simon to Guns 'N' Roses. He indulges in some brilliant pedantry concerning David Cameron's "appalling" use of grammar, and then he goes on to talk about how difficult it is to put hecklers down in song, before giving some brilliant examples of how he might go about it.

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And the winner of the Anthem Challenge is...

Click and have a listen to this bagpiping anthem... May the Muse be with us all for sending in entries to this contest to keep the faith alive... in hockey and in song...

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Hockey Night in Canada Anthem Challenge - Final 2!

Well, the Anthem Challenge to find a new theme song for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada is down to the Final Two selections this morning... No, I'm not one of them (go figure) but you can still here my "hockey song" in my ReverbNation Jukebox on this blog - see We're In The Game (Hockey Night).

Anywho, the final two are Canadian Gold by Colin Oberst and Sticks to the Ice by Robert Fraser Burke, all of 13 years old. You can vote here if you're so inclined (today only) and the winner will be announced on tomorrow night's HNIC telecast...

May the Hockey Muse (?) be with you...

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Night Windows = 2008 ECHO Songwriting Prize!

The winner of the 2008 ECHO Songwriting Prize, sponsored by SOCAN, is Night Windows written by Stephen Carroll, John Samson, Greg Smith and Jason Tait and performed by The Weakerthans. Congrats to the band... it's well-deserved, well-written and performed, and certainly has it's hooks... May the Muse continue to be with them...

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Let It Be - Beatles Songs By Canada's Finest

Let It Be is the new production of Beatles songs brought to life by a "crackerjack" Canadian band including singer Damhnait Doyle, Prairie Oyster's Russell deCarle, Triumph frontman Rik Emmett and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Craig. The show ran twice, once in Toronto and once in Ottawa and now it will be "wait and see" if it will become a full-time production.

Not that Rik Emmett needs the work. Some quotes from an Ottawa Citizen article follow:

Emmett, still best known as the frontman of Canadian hard-rock power trio Triumph, says he was interested as soon as he heard the other artists' names. "I thought this thing can't possibly be bad if it's got Russell's cool, calm presence," he said, also describing Doyle as enormously talented.

As for the material, virtually every musician enjoys playing Beatles songs, and Emmett is no exception.

"It's so great to hear all the Beatles harmonies fleshed out with all these people," he says. "Of course, we've all been in garage bands over the years when we were kids, and done Beatles covers in rehearsal or whatever, but it never sounds any good. But now, every part you want is there and it sounds great."

For Emmett, the project represents another tasty dish piled onto a plate already jammed with musical endeavours. After Triumph disbanded in 1988, Emmett went on to carve out a career as a solo artist, recording a half dozen or so discs of his own compositions, the styles ranging from jazz to singer-songwriter fare. A father of four children, now grown, the 55-year-old also teaches songwriting at Humber College and is active in the songwriting community.

Emmett is very active in the songwriting community, much to that community's benefit. May the Muse be with them all... and with the Beatles' songbook to work with, that shouldn't be a problem...

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Local Songwriting Brothers - Blueprint Songs

Jeff and Don Breithaupt are accomplished songwriters who had a selection of their songbook performed this past weekend in Toronto at the Canwest Cabaret Festival. The brothers, who grew up in nearby Mississauga (though originally from Sault Ste. Marie), were featured in this local Mississauga News article:

"We have been blessed to date - and we've only been writing songs together for about five years - with an amazing group of interpreters, here and in New York. (They are) singers who are at the very top of the jazz, pop, and theatre worlds," Jeff told The News. "The greatest thrill for a couple of old-fashioned song pluggers like us is to hear our work interpreted by others.

"In a sense, a song as it exists on paper is just the blueprint for a performance of it," Don continued. "It's like the relationship between a script and a live play. A good singer breathes life into a song, literally. Jeff and I have an embarrassment of vocal riches at our disposal and it feels great."

Jeff writes the lyrics while Don provides the music.

I like the quote about songs being the "blueprint" for the performance... Time to get cracking on "drafting" some plans of my own... May the Muse be with you...

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Music Computer Stolen - Important Works Lost

In Illinois, Lake Forest College's Department of Music suffered a serious blow when it's one and only laptop was stolen - read the full article here and a small selection follows:

Associate Professor of Music Donald Meyer, who chairs the department and specializes in use of the studio, called the incident "a devastating loss." Besides taking away important work by his students and himself, the theft has disrupted his ability to teach Songwriting this semester. Productivity in the class came to a halt, since the stolen computer was the only one students could use to record and compose in the department.

I don't know... I suffered the same fate once when my laptop was stolen, but I had most of my songs backed up (though not all). It seems to me that some precautions should have been taken - stolen or not, even a hard drive failure could have led to this outcome... but who am I to judge...

May the laptop be returned and may the Muse be with this songwriting program, professor and students...

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Songwriting Grad Signs Record Deal

Last year, I wrote about a songwriting degree offered by Bangor University in the U.K. (see post here). Last week, Bath Spa University in the U.K. issued a press release about the success of one of its graduates of its MA Songwriting Course.

Andrew Clark, pictured, is the worthy grad. The songwriting course is certainly interesting... selections from the news release follow:

Andy West, director of the MA Songwriting course, is also delighted about his graduate's achievement. He said: "Andrew has improved greatly as a result of his hard work and application during the course and fully deserves this rare opportunity. He was a really good student and innovative as a thinker and songwriter. These qualities will stand him in good stead in his professional career."

The MA Songwriting course is the first of its kind in the world and available only at Bath Spa. It was created by the University's School of Music and Performing Arts because no other institution was offering the chance for commercial music graduates to continue their songwriting studies.

The course, one year long for full-time students, was launched in autumn 2007. Andrew Clark is one of seven graduates from the first intake.

Well, Bangor and Bath Spa... and still I know of nothing here on this side of the pond, at the university level... but I will follow up on the Humber College songwriting degree program that just started last year... May the Muse be with you...

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Caribou Wins Polaris Music Prize 2008!

Congratulations to Caribou for winning the 2008 Polaris Music Prize for their album, Andorra! You can watch last year's winner, the band Patrick Watson, make the announcement here:

Patrick Watson (2007 winner) announces 2008 Polaris Music Prize!
May the Muse be with you... all you Music Prize winners...

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Tailor Your Backup Band - More Technology Coming

Another Listening Post Wired Blog post from Eliot Van Buskirk had me going today:

Amateur musicians should eventually be able to use similar technology to create entire songs using only a vocal melody and an idea of which band -- or mix of bands -- would sound right playing the accompaniment. Want a backing track for your "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" cover that sounds like a mix of Radiohead and Green Day? Soon, you could be able to click a button and make it so.

Pretty cool stuff... the program will take songs you "feed" it from a particular artist and become that band in style - they call it "Automatic Style Specific Accompaniment" or ASSA. You can see this in action in this video which shows the ASSA success rate of 82% in coming up with the melod of Creep by Radiohead after being given 3 of the band's songs (High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees and Airbag).

Who knows, eventually an artist/songwriter may license their "style" under ASSA? Will you be able to copyright a style? I guess if it can be analyzed and stripped to such a point that it can be copied and utilized to another songwriter's benefit, the answer may be "Why not?".

Right now the system is bits and bytes and MIDI-based, but theoretically, it should work on audio files as well in the future. As the author states in the article: "If all you need is a melody, lyrics and a concept of which band or bands you want your accompaniment to resemble, the bar to songwriting will be lowered."

Something to think about...

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Music's 'DNA' Decoded: Melodyne

Peter Neubacker, the music software engineer behind Melodyne, is interviewed online on the Celemony website here and I hope you take the time to take a look.

It's really quite incredible what his invention within Melodyne, Direct Note Access (DNA), has done for polyphonic sounds (i.e. guitar/piano chords). It allows the user to take individual notes within that polyphonic sound and "play" with them (pitch/decay/timing, etc...) - see image at end of post.

As Eliot Van Buskirk states in the Wired Listening Post blog piece on this:

While Melodyne enabled anyone to sing in tune, Direct Note Access' effect will likely be far more widespread. Any one of us will technically be able to create a guitar-based song by strumming all of the open strings on a guitar then editing the resulting chord to play whatever we want. Talk about your democratizing technology.

Celemony's Direct Note Access will likely lead to a revolution in how music is made, although purists are likely to scoff at yet another technology that downgrades the importance of virtuosic talent. Others will surely see this as a natural progression in the ongoing musical fusion of human and machine.

Remember to check out that demonstration (very cool)! And may the technological Muse be with you too...

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Monday, September 29, 2008

18 Year Old Songwriting Comedian - Bo Burnham and Judd Apatow

Bo Burnham is a web-based songwriting comedian with a strong YouTube and MySpace following (now with a record deal with his first album out).

Bo branched out into the real-world with a summer appearance at Just For Laughs in Montreal where he met comedy producer/director/writer extraordinaire, Judd Apatow, and Reuters reported last week that Bo will write the songs and perhaps star in Apatow's anti-High School Musical musical that he's developing. You can read the full article here and catch a clip of Bo here.

May the comedy Muse continue to be with Bo...

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Tilbrook and Difford to Squeeze Out Some More Songs

Thanks to Eric R. Danton's blog Sound Check for providing the news on the reunion of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze on the A&E network show Private Sessions, which is a fantastic show featuring artists in an intimate New York studio with host, Lynn Hoffman. This Sunday, October 5, at 9 a.m., watch the episode as Tilbrook & Difford "sit down for an in-depth interview with host Lynn Hoffman and perform their smash hit songs Tempted, Goodbye Girl, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell), and Another Nail In My Heart."

And here's the clip from Mr. Danton's blog as a quote from the interview by Tilbrook:

"In a weird way I was sort of happy with it," he said in a clip of the show provided by A&E. "I was happy with my solo world and Chris was in his solo world, and to an extent, we're continuing on with that. But it's so nice to have the Squeeze thing back together again. And also, it's nice to think that something we're going to do now, we are going to work together on a record, a new record, and start writing together again."

Damn, I wore out my ArgyBargy LP growing up... and I look forward to hearing what Tilbrook & Difford can do these days... may the Muse continue to be with them...

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Robin Thicke on Songwriting

Well, growing up in Canada (and with Growing Pains) I know Alan Thicke, actor and songwriter of TV Themes such as Diff'rent Strokes, Facts of Life and the theme to Growing Pains. Alan's son, Robin Thicke, is an accomplished songwriter in his own "write" (for Christina Aguilera and Usher among others) and now an up-and-coming R&B/pop star to boot. From a recent New Zealand Herald article come the following quotes:

"I've never written a song for myself that I've given anybody else. And I've never written a song for somebody else that I've kept. I write all my songs for myself now," he says, slightly shirty.


The song Dreamworld, a stand-out on the [new] album [Somethin' Else], references [Marvin] Gaye's tragic death with the line, "I would say Marvin Gaye your father didn't want you to die".

"It's just about how we all make mistakes. We can pretty much assume that his father didn't want that to happen."

And with the poignancy that Thicke puts into singing the line you have to give it to this white boy from California, he knows the power of a good song.

As for how he writes his songs the process is simple and always the same: "Follow your gut and try and come up with something that you love."

You know the drill... may the Muse stay with you Robin... though I'm not sure I agree with the Dreamworld line since Marvin Sr. was convicted of manslaughter and all...

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Canadian Radio Star New Songwriter Workshops

Yesterday, I attended the New Songwriters' Workshop put on by the Canadian Radio Star songwriting competition folks and supported by Astral Media, and sponsored by the Songwriters Association of Canada and Sennheiser. The workshop was staged at Metalworks Studio (very cool setup).

The topics included What's In a Song?, Music Publishing 101 and Writing for the Radio, along with a song review and critique session. Greg Simpson of Mindbenders Music was the host of the event and the presenters included songwriter Blair Packham, Wayne Webster, Music Director of Virgin Radio 99.9, John Alexander, Senior VP-Creative Affairs for ASCAP, and Vivian Barclay, head of music publisher Warner Chappell Music Canada Ltd. Don Quarles of SAC was assisting as well.

Much was learned and will be shorlisted to the following points:

  • Music is patterns, but you have to break those patterns to keep the listener engaged.
  • You're not a genius. Don't overwork a song, but re-writing it as a craftsman can and usually does make it better.
  • There is no rule to songwriting other than - "Don't be boring!"
  • Music is communication - the song should speak for itself and not have to be explained (my problem, big time).
  • Know your audience and listen with your audience's ear.
  • Your mother is not a music critic when it comes to your songwriting/performing abilities - she doesn't count (sorry Ma).

I brought my song She's My Favourite Place to be critiqued and boy, was it ever! I know it was a bad mix (my fault) but the production and the song itself did not go over well... That leads to another point from the workshop - Do your demo well! You may only get one shot so whether it's stripped down bare (just piano or guitar plus vocal) or with more advanced production, it has to work... if somebody is listening they're only going to listen for a minute before moving on and if you can't win them over, you get tossed in the "NO" pile... songs under 4 minutes and hook within 45 seconds...

I got some re-writing to do on some old songs and a new mindset to take into the new ones... may the Muse come to me!

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Some Songwriting Thoughts from Randy Newman

The Boston Globe ran an article featuring an interview with Randy Newman wherein he spoke about the State of the Union and the U.S. presidential election and other "unimportant" things, including some insight into songwriting as follows:

Q. When you sit down to write a pointed song about society's ills, what are you setting out to accomplish?

A. You know, I've been doing it a long time and I think my intention, vaguely, is to save the world. But I doubt I've changed one person's mind about inferior schools or racism.


Q. Is it a fundamental flaw of topical songwriting that you're perennially preaching to the converted?

A. Yeah. But I don't want to be booed and hated. I don't want to be abused. I'm too fragile for that. The Republicans don't want to hear me. That's just the way it goes. I mean, have you ever won that argument?

... and

Q. "Harps and Angels" had the biggest opening weeks sales of your career. Did that surprise you?

A. It's like being a blacksmith in 1909. The business is about to go. I'm not dismissing that this album is a success. It doesn't mean any less. The fact is it isn't going to pay the rent nowadays. The better thing is that I have the old catalog. It's still vital, commercially. It always has been.

Hmmm, comparing songwriting to blacksmithing... and the "business is about to go." Definitely some insight there from a talented/opinionated songwriter and performer... May the Muse be with you Randy...

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Liam Gallagher's "Singer vs. Songwriter"

I don't agree with the philosophy, but it's interesting to say the least and I think it's a bit of bravado considering the source and the publicity such statements make. Here's an article about Liam Gallagher's take on his brother Noel's singing/songwriting skills and the latest Oasis album.

Liam Gallagher hates his brother Noel singing on the new Oasis album.

The frontman said his guitarist sibling - who sings three tracks on 'Dig Out Your Soul' - should have left him to do all the vocals.

He said: "I'm a better singer than him, so I should sing them."

However, Liam claims his songwriting talents are not as impressive as his prowess on stage.

He explained: "I don't count myself as a songwriter. I'm a singer who every now and then stumbles across a few songs that people either like or don't like.

"I'm into writing songs, but I'm not going to freak out about it and go, 'Whoa, these songs...' I know there's all this spiritual nonsense that people go on about, but I'd be more worried about losing my voice than losing my ability to write a f**king song. I'm a singer man, that's it."

The 'Live Forever' star - who penned 'I'm Outta Time', 'Soldier On' and 'Ain't Got Nothing' for the band's new album - also revealed his biggest songwriting influence is himself.

He added: "I don't have subjects to write about - I just write about me, because I'm different, a one-off. I don't draw inspiration from music, I'm already inspired. "

Hmmm, may the Muse be with you... and may Liam stay with Liam...

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Norman Whitfield, Motown Legend, Dead at 68

There's a great Motown sound that owes a lot to Norman Whitfield, Grammy-winning songwriter/producer/arranger for Motown and for his own label. The hits are many, including I Heard It Though The Grapevine, Papa Was A Rollin' Stone, and Ain't Too Proud To Beg (all with co-writers).

The NY Times has an obit on Mr. Whitfield, but I'll take this quote from an interview he gave and provide it hear for its sheer bravado and insight into what you need to do sometimes to make a song:

In an interview with David Ritz for "Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye" (Da Capo, 1991), Mr. Whitfield recalled the deep influence of the new, hard-driving funk of Sly Stone, and how he tried to bring something of Mr. Stone's sound to his work at Motown.

"My thing was to out-Sly Sly Stone," Mr. Whitfield said. "Sly was definitely sly, and his sound was new, his grooves were incredible, he borrowed a lot from rock. He caught the psychedelic thing. He was bad. I could match him though, rhythm for rhythm, horn for horn."

It would be something else to "match" Norman Whitfield... time to feel a little soul now... R.I.P. and may the Muse be with you...

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Songwriter's Goals

Andrea Stolpe, professional songwriter and author of the Songwriter Career Blog, recently posted on the common-sense approach of having Short Term Goals For Songwriters And Artists. I'd encourage you to read the entire post, but thought I'd just include a snippet of her wisdom here:

Make sure your short-term goals are reachable. For instance, if you dream of performing two times a week and drawing a significant income from it as well as broadening your audience from that venture, start by breaking that down into smaller, reachable steps. Target some small venues in your area, and book a show a month. Devise an initial plan for promoting your shows. Make it a goal to talk to one new person a day about your gigs, and follow up with an email about the next gig. Target one business in that community you may pair up with to promote the show. Write and perform one new song a month to generate more interest in your shows. Think about the visual interest of your show, and add one new element to spice up the way your show looks. Attend one industry event, conference, or workshop every two or three months. Make it a point to network with two new contacts at that event and follow up by email. Maybe your first step is to carry your CDs with you wherever you go. Maybe it's to record a piano/vocal of one song and organize your lyrics and music in a folder that is easy to access. Maybe your smaller step is to make one cold call each week to a club you'd like to be booked at. Whether or not you get the booking, you've done the work of calling. Take charge of the day to day steps that are within your control.

Short term goals... me, I've got to get onto an open stage night to just get some songs heard by people... I've done that before, but it's been a while... may the Muse be with you...

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MuseScore v. Finale NotePad

Last week I wrote about the demise of the free version of Finale NotePad and advising readers to pick up the free 2008 version before it's too late. I received a comment on that post from David Bolton regarding the free and opensource project known as MuseScore.

Indeed, David provided a link to very helpful comparison of the features between MuseScore and Finale NotePad which I'd encourage you to read. It definitely is a great alternative, is well-supported and available for Windows and Linux.

May the Muse(Score) be with you...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The World In Six Songs by Daniel Levitin

Okay, now this book is hot off the press and I haven't had a chance to review it other than the sample that's availabel on Dr. Levitin's website. This book - The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature - "shows how six specific forms of music played a pivotal role in creating human culture and society as we know it. Levitin masterfully weaves together the story of human evolution, music, anthropology, psychology and biology from the dawn of homo sapiens to the present."

"Music seems to have an almost willful, evasive quality, defying simple explanation, so that the more we find out, the more there is to know, leaving its power and mystery intact, however much we may dig and delve. Daniel's book is an eloquent and poetic exploration of this paradox.."
- Sting

The "Six" are Friendship, Joy, Comfort, Knowledge, Religion and Love. You can listen to Dr. Levitin on CBC's The Current from this morning's show discuss the Six Songs. Here is the podcast which can be eloquently summed up as follows: Music makes us human...

Listen to Podcast:

Happy listening and may the Muse (and Science and the Six Songs) be with you...

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This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin

Well, I was going to wait till I actually finished the book to right about it, but since the author, Prof. Daniel Levitin, appeared on CBC Radio's The Current this morning (to discuss a new book of his), I thought I'd make my first thoughts on this "old" book known.

The book is - This Is Your Brain On Music - and it's a wonderful, thought-provoking achievement regarding the "science" of music. Don't get scared by that thought (re "science") as the book is lucidly entertaining, drawn from the real-life experience of the author as a musician/producer/scientist (don't see that combination every day).

Yes, the "raw" science of sound is analyzed - that path of sound vibrating air molecules and triggering nerve impulses in the listener. But "music", as opposed to just "sound", can bring simple yet complex analysis within the brain that delves into the timbre, pitch, tempo and other musical elements. And it's fascinating, without destroying the soulfulness or mystery of music.

As Levitin himself simplifies the book in his introduction to be: "what music can teach us about the brain, what the brain can teach us about music - and what both can teach us about ourselves". I'm finding that I out as I complete the book...

Listen to Podcast:

So have a listen above or download the podcast (from CBC's Quirks & Quarks, Dec/06) as well and know that his new book The World In Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature has just come out... see next post.

May the Muse (and science) be with you...

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