Articles in Category: Audiophiles

In the Groove #273

In the Groove with Vince Lovegrove

 

Because of the pro-active enthusiasm of the Village Journal’s new editor, I am extremely chuffed to answer her call, and proceed to write a piece in each month’s edition of my local magazine.

I have been involved in the arts & entertainment industry most of my life, and look forward to delving into new, exciting, and diverse events in arts and entertainment for this area of the culturally rich Northern Rivers.

I hope we can take you to places you may not have thought about going, something new, something stimulating; like this debut piece, for instance, as we delve into the exotic world of belly dancing, an ancient art form that has taken on new contemporary shapes, and is taking the region by storm.

A few weeks ago I had to be dragged by two very special friends to an evening of modern belly dancing, held in Ocean Shores. They won’t need to drag me there next time.

The evening’s event was a concert of sorts, each individual dancer taking us on a rhythmic, flamboyant journey of transitional belly dancing, but with an unconventional twist.

There was the industrial-cum-punk version, with the tattooed exponent of the form sharp-shooting her staccato moves in time with the jagged contemporary music of the day, taking us to the edge of sensuality, the tats bending and moving as she jingle-jangled her hips with structured abandon. This was belly dancing with an edge.

And there was the heavily pregnant comedienne, who did things with her belly that defied logic…and description. Her physical contortions must’ve given the baby-to-be a roller coaster ride that could only enhance his/her slide into the real world, surely only a few weeks away. She had the audience in stitches as she teased a couple of males whom she had dragged from the audience for her props.

Speaking of males, there were very few in the audience - mostly women were watching the belly dancers, and from my male perspective, that made the evening even more visually enhancing, not to mention exhilarating.

The belly dancers were from across the region, some from Byron Bay and other surrounds, but the flash of the night for this little belly button watcher was the troupe from Lismore, The Barefoot Gypsies.

This group of earthy belly dancers was the bomb as the femme troupe swished and swayed in time with the drumming-led rhythms of Flamenco-tinged, upbeat Indian music - not at all from an old world, totally contemporary in feel and look.

Bellies sank inwards, then pushed outwards and magically sideways as these beautiful women stretched their midriffs, arms reaching for the sky, seemingly led by hands outstretched and gently swaying as if being blown by a gentle breeze.

Colourful Gypsy-styled clothing adorned with gentle sounding bells added to the decidedly passion-filled atmosphere.

The dance style of the Northern Rivers’ very own Barefoot Gypsies is American Tribal Style - earthy and feminine.

The Northern Rivers’ Barefoot Gypsies have been around for two years, and are arousing interest from many women keen to keep fit and have fun with a touch of exotica thrown in for either good measure or healthy stimulation.

Director and teacher Ms. Danielle Sansom is the founder of the troupe, and is offering classes for beginners. She can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

See for yourself why this is becoming all the rage, at the troupe’s next show, the Wild Honey Dance Festival at the Channon Markets on March 11, from noon, as part of the anti-nuclear action on the anniversary of Fukushima’s nuclear disaster.

Next month I’m going to take you on a wild, wild ride of the new female roller derby craze currently causing a ruckus across the Northern Rivers.

If you have any suggestions of events you’d like us to explore, discover or take part in, contact me here -

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Audiophiles #270

An Ode to Bands

Alice Blu Live

The recent demise of REM has got me thinking about the power of a good band. I saw REM at the Hordern Pavilion in 1989 and the gig still ranks as one of the best I’ve seen. Individually they weren’t the greatest musicians but put them together and they made a marvellous racket. There are many other examples of great bands that are certainly more than the sum of the individual parts. The Triffids, Cold Chisel, The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, Radiohead, Wilco or most of Miles Davis’ bands, just to name a few of my other favorites. The mysterious alchemy that is conjured up by certain collections of individuals is truly remarkable.

Bands have often been compared to marriages. Asked recently if Oasis might reform, Noel Gallagher said to the interviewer – “would you go on holiday with your ex-wife?” To which the interviewer replied – “no, but then again you didn’t make great albums with your ex-wife”. A nice reminder of where the band/marriage analogy stops, but then again there are plenty of couple/band stories, Fleetwood Mac surely up near the top of the list.

From the inside, as a musician, bands can be both torturous and transcendent places to be. Offstage, relationships can be as cold as ice yet onstage the music making can feel sublime. Lose one member of a band and the whole edifice can crumble - a lesson I learnt very early on and part of the attraction I felt for a long while toward the ‘hired gun’/lone jazz musician model. However I am always drawn back to the collaborative band model. Bouncing ideas off someone else invariably leads to stronger music. Really listening to other people’s ideas makes for an openness that can produce fascinating results.

Apart from the internal politics, there are lots of obstacles in the music industry to the viability, let alone success of a band. Try putting a tour together for a five piece band and you’ll quickly be faced with the financial realities. I’m sure that’s why duo acts and loop pedals are so popular these days. Not that I have anything against them, I just lament the lack of opportunities for bands to work together and build their own sound over years.

At the Northern Rivers Conservatorium (where I’m currently Acting Head of Music) we have been running new Certificate IV and Diploma of Music courses that have a major focus on bands. Students have been put into groups and had to write and record original songs. There have been plenty of issues, as you’d expect when you combine a drummer interested in death metal with an indie-folk singer. How the groups resolve these sorts of conflicts develop the sorts of skills that are at the core of making a living in music – namely communication and collaboration. (Skills that readily transfer to all sorts of situations, like airline disputes perhaps).

Anyhow, (insert shameless plug here) the bands from the Con will be performing live at the Tatts Hotel in Lismore on Friday 18 Nov, starting at 6.30pm. On the bill is a young band, Alice Blu, who will also be appearing later in the month at Mullum Music Festival and are soon to launch their debut EP. I predict big things for this band; I hope they stay together because they certainly make a marvellous racket when you put them all in one room.

Audiophiles #269

Audiophiles

Sara Tindley – Time

Audiophiles

The Art of Backing Vocals

The first time I met local singer songwriter Sara Tindley was when I was making an album with Red Belly Black. I was recording her doing some backing vocals on one track and I was struck by (a) the ease at which she found interesting harmonizing notes and (b) how she sang them so flawlessly in one take. All up this particularly recording session took about one hour, which could be broken down into 50 minutes chatting, 8 minutes of my fumbling with the computer, and 2 minutes of recording time. She clearly knew a thing or two about backing vocals.

Backing vocals are a tricky thing. You have to get the right combination of when, what and how. When - choosing the right place in the song to have the backing vocals is crucial. Harmonizing a hook line is a pretty safe bet but it is easy to overdo it by adding colour to every clever lyric in you’re song. What - the wrong choice of notes can smother a good melody. Get the right note and the phrase can jump to life. How - unblended phrasing or an unblended vocal sound can stick out like a sore thumb. Being a good lead vocalist doesn’t necessarily mean you can sing backing vocals for someone else. Singing your own backing vocals (i.e., overdubbing on a recording) generally means the phrasing and vocal sounds will blend well. I’ve transcribed a couple of examples from Tindley’s latest album – Time. On this album backing vocals are used very sparingly but whenever they appear it is always with great effect.

Eve’s Garden: The chorus of this lovely slow ballad begins with three voices in the first bar (on the word “all”) and then no backing vocals until the last phrase is doubled in unison (“light as air then they disappear”). Very sparse but very effective.

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Country Girl: This is a good example of effectively harmonizing the hook line. Tindley highlights the key lyrics – “rain doesn’t’ come”, “farm’s turned to dust” - before reinforcing the hook. Notice how she doesn’t just do a parallel harmony (a contour that follows the main melody). Instead she crosses over the main melody in the first two phrases and then holds one note (the high E) while the main melody moves around on the “country girl far…”

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There are plenty of other great examples on the album, I can recommend the parallel harmonies on the rollicking Highway or those on the dark and evocative Water Ran Red – but you’ll have to check them out for yourself.

Audiophiles #268

Rethinking Royalties

 

One of the first things they tell you about in any music industry course is APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association).

Their tag line is “Bringing music creators and consumers together”. They collect and distribute license fees for the public performance and communication of members’ musical works. To put that another way, APRA collect money from venues and broadcasters who use music and distribute it to people who write the music. APRA exists because of the Australian Copyright Act that gives songwriters certain rights in relation to the use of original music. To share in the distribution you need to register as a member with APRA. When you write a song, you register the song and when you play it live at a gig or the recorded version gets played on the radio or in a fitness centre or even on a CD player in your local post office, you are entitled to a royalty payment. I don’t want to go into too much detail about that here, instead I’d like to look a little closer at who benefits.Firstly, some facts*. There are over 67 000 composers, songwriters and publisher members of APRA. APRA distributed a total of $196 million to writers in the last financial year. They collected a bit more than this in license fees, the difference going into their administration costs, award nights, grants and such. 0.33% of writers registered with APRA made 39% of this money. By my calculations that’s about $76 million distributed amongst 222 writers. If you divide that evenly that’s a healthy $345 000 each, in just one year. 87% of writers get $1 - $1000. Time for a Marxist revolution I say. What about distributing the $196 million evenly amongst all writer members? Working with the 67 000 figure that would work out at almost $3000 each. Or we could be a little fussier and make songwriters meet certain criteria - they get peer reviewed as to their quality and quantity of songs they write each year. If we whittled the number of songwriters down to 10 000, each could get a healthy $20 000 a year.

To put that money in perspective, the Australia Council for the Arts gave out just over $160 million across all art forms in 2009-10. In that year they supported 895 individual artists. Take out the $50 million they give to orchestras, a measly $12.3 million went to other music projects. With my new royalty distribution proposal you could abolish the Australia Council music grants altogether. The best they can offer is their Creative Fellowships, two per year at $100 000 each. Save that money and build some refugee housing with it.

But back to reality, the problem lies in the fact that APRA royalty payments are calculated on the basis of audience size and the number of plays. A big audience, for example, getting one of your songs played on Home and Away, will get you a big share. Furthermore, Home and Away gets shown all over the world. Each time it does the lucky songwriter makes more royalties. (As it happens the Chairman of the APRA board runs a production company that provides music for Home and Away). Good play on JJJ radio can get you about $15 000 in a year. The theory is that a good song will get played more and therefore deserves more royalties. But I would contend that for each track that makes it on the Home and Away gravy train there would be hundreds of others that would do exactly the same job in the context of the show. Need a catchy well produced pop song to play in the background of a café scene? No problem, hundreds of those made each week round the country. What about radio play? The mainstream FM stations play stuff we’ve all heard a thousand times before. The sorts of tracks that win APRA awards like “Most Played Australian Work” (in 2011 - Seventeen by Jet) or “Most played Australian Work Overseas” (Highway to Hell, ACDC). The question I ask is does the current royalty system foster creativity and a vibrant musical culture or does it just end up supporting a handful of artists and their publishers for whom the music industry fairytale has come true?

(*The information in this article comes from the APRA and Australia Council websites and Chris O Neil of APRA Writer Services who spoke at the Northern Rivers Conservatorium last month)

Audiophiles #267

Getting started is often the hardest thing about writing a song. For some songwriters the title is everything, they can’t start until they have a good title. For others it might come from a bunch of chords or a riff. David Bowie was fond of cutting up words from the newspaper and reassembling them at random until something interesting arrived. I read once that Prince would have songs come to him while he brushed his teeth. This month I’d like to demonstrate another approach that Peter Martin (ex SCU lecturer) suggests: recomposing an existing song. It involves a simple step by step approach:

1. Start with an existing song
2. Keep just the rhythm of the vocal line, change the melody
3. Rewrite the lyrics (make the song about something else altogether)
4. Change the chords
5. Change the key
6. Change the tempo, rhythm and overall feel and style of the song

I liked the look of this approach, especially if you’re not feeling particularly inspired but want to get on with it, so I thought I’d give it a go myself. After much deliberation about which song to start with I was finally jolted into action when my 5 year old daughter came home from school singing Sherman and Sherman’s classic 1964 song:

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough You’ll always sound precocious 
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Step 1 done. For step 2 I needed to use the very repetitive vocal rhythm:

Audiophiles

Step 3. I have trouble with lyrics, I like to work with some chords. So I’ll jump forward to steps 4, 5 and 6 and come back. The original uses just the I, IV and V chords in a bright and cheery major key manner. I’ll slow it down, and make it a darker with this repeating 2 bar chord progression in the key of A minor:

||: Amin C | Fmaj7 E/G# :||

The darker mood feels a world away from Julie Andrews’ jovial disposition. I feel it’s now safe to go back to step 3. As I played the chords on guitar I started singing nonsense syllables to the set rhythm. After an hour or so teasing these syllables into words with some meaning I had this:

Audiophiles

I had to tweak the rhythm of the melody in one place to fit all the syllables of my new lyrics and I extended the chord progression to make it an 8 bar cycle. However after following the steps I felt I was now onto something. Just one verse so far but as far as getting started goes, the recomposing method seems to have got me on a roll.

 

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