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Entries in Music (13)


John Coltrane: Impressions Music Sketch

John Coltrane: Impressions SketchLast week, I had to get my mind in a logo sketch groove after working on the computer most of the day.

To do this, I sometimes choose a music-driven exercise to get into the rhythm of sketching.

Music Sketching
Pick a fresh page in your sketchbook, then queue up and listen to a piece of music, while expressing what you're hearing and feeling on the page.

Don't worry about making it "right" because it's based on how you feel at the moment. Because it's open and free, this can relax you to enjoy the feel of pen or pencil on paper.

This process really helps me focus in on the music, loosens my hand up and gets me in the right frame of mind for sketching.

Above is the sketch created while listening to Impressions by John Coltrane, a wonderful piece which itself helps me loosen up for sketching.

Give it a try sometime!

Related Links
Music-driven Moleskine Sketches


Sufjan Stevens: Illinois

sufjan_illinois3.jpgAfter recommendations from several good friends, then hearing an NPR interview with Sufjan Stevens, I picked up a copy of album Illinois from the iTunes Music Store.

I had an idea from what I'd heard that Sufjan's work was a bit eclectic and unusual, but I wasn't prepared to experience such a wonderfully addictive album with catchy melodies and complex, thoughtful lyrics.

Sufjan's work is very unusual and difficult to describe or even categorize. My best description would be the vocals of Paul Simon over a blend of They Might be Giants, Paul Simon, Steve Reich, Vince Guaraldi, Bluegrass and Folk bands, with Schoolhouse Rock tossed in for good measure. Instruments include piano, strings, brass, oboe, banjos and glockenspiels. Quite the mix!

As I replay the album, it becomes more and more attractive... it's one of those works which grows on me, revealing new aspects with each listen. Illinois is the kind of album I find myself coming back to, never tiring of another listen.

The 22 song album features song topics which range from UFO sightings in Highland Park, and a sad ballad about John Wayne Gacy Jr., to the Black Hawk War, Superman, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln. Illinois also features songs about Jacksonville, Decatur, and Chicago. The iTunes Music Store version includes 2 additional tracks: a remix of Chicago by jongalloway and Avalanche, an out-take.

This is actually the 2nd installment of Sufjan's "States" album series. some have had the idea he plans to do an album for each of the 50 US states, though this is not confirmed. The Michigan album, was the first in the "States" series. That album is next on my list. Here's a complete MP3 of Holland from that album.

If you're an adventurous music lover, willing to experience a quirky, haunting, stirring, and very unique album, check out Illinois from Sufjan Stevens.

You won't regret it.


Pandora & Rohdesign Radio

For the past several months I've been playing around with a free, flash-based online music service called Pandora, which has you choose a favorite song or artist and then builds a music stream based on it. The stream is displayed in a browser window, or may be "minimized" to its own browser window, as a pseudo-standalone player.

Pandora is a very interesting use of flash, and is based on the Music Genome Project, setup to have musicians identify and categorize all sorts of music so that streams could be created using this information.


This flash-based player shows the station you're listening to, the album, artist and song info, volume levels and more. In addition to showing what's playing, you can also have impact in what is played in your "station" by providing feedback. This is done by clicking the album art and selecting, "I like it" or "I don't like it" which then impacts what will be played as you continue streaming tunes.

Just last week I thought it'd be nice to enter more than one artist or song to my stations, so that the stream would be built with a more comprehensive selection of music sources. Turns out this is was a feature of Pandora already — I was able to click my stations and enter multiple artists and songs. Very nice!

Further, I was able to rename one of my stations to "Rohdesign Radio" and then share the URL via email, with friends of mine who might also enjoy hearing the station I'd created. My station plays various artists, covering 80s New Wave, 90s alternative and other more recent music of this style that I enjoy working to (Snow Patrol, New Order, Radiohead, Travis, Stars, Doves, Switchfoot, etc.) . Here's the link:

Rohdesign Radio

I like that Pandora starts with and plays music I already enjoy, yet continues to present new music I may enjoy and may not know about. So far I've discovered several artists such as Stars, The Stills and Feeder. Of course there are tunes I don't like as much, so I've just "disliked" them in the interface — and as I've done this more and more, the tunes seem to get closer to my taste.

Feel free to check out my station, or create your own! You can't beat Pandora for free (if you don't mind the ads) or you can buy an annual ad-free subscription for $36, or 3 months for $12.

UPDATE 2006-04-04: I've now added two more stations playing Electronica and Classic Jazz for the different moods I have when I work. Check 'em out!

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Three Cool Music Sites

This week I was reminded of one great music site I'd found a year or two ago, a second found about a year ago and a new site I've just found this week. All three focus on independent artists, provide real earnings to those artists and offer lots of samples to hear the music before you buy.
I cam across Epitonic maybe 2 years ago and I forget just how. But when I found it, I was excited with the idea. Here was a site created by music lovers, with a wide variety of tunes to check out. I was particularly interested in electronica and alternative music, but if I had interest in other music styles, they were there too.

What I most liked about Epitonic was access to the music. They have several options for streaming albums by a specific artist, or tracks in a genre of music. The even have little introductory streams of description and tunes for each sub-genre, in case you want to know more about them.

I especially like Epitonic's approach of offering MP3 streams of albums or genres, since I often want to hear variety in a genre of music without the hassle of checking every artist's page for tracks to sample.

Lastly, they even offer MP3s for free download, that you can listen to locally. I've grabbed several tracks for personal listening, and if I choose to buy a CD from the artist, I know exactly where to go. And it's cool stuff. :-)

Some faves include Dune, David Duriez, Brendan Costigane, Llorca and Imperial Teen.
Grassroots Music is a site I found about a year ago or so, focusing on Christian oriented folk, rock, electronica, etc. Basically, good music on many genres with lyrics focused on praising and worshiping God.

The site focuses more on folk/acoustic tunes, but also provides a nice selection of other genres as well, particularly alternative and rock. Samples are offered on the site for each album they offer, and they have a nice MP3 page where you can download selected tracks from their artists.

I need to email GrassRootsMusic about establishing a nice SHOUTcast or other streaming server with samples from their artists. They offer streaming of certain albums with Real Audio, but I'd prefer something closer to what Epitonic offers — streaming by genre. I think this would be a great way to showcase the work of their artists.

I've already located some nice stuff here, like Tree63, The Maccabees and Trent Monk which are on my list of artists to buy CDs from this year.
This week I came across the Magnatune site via my iTunes 'Radio' selector. I was in the mood for some ambient music that doesn't get in the way of my work, and chose a Magnatune stream. I noticed in the info that they also had a site, so when I had a break, I took a look. I was impressed!

Magnatune was created by a husband and wife team (John Buckman and Jan Hanford) who were fed up with the music business and artists getting a pittance from their contract deals. So they started the site and offer 50% of all profits from album sales back to the artists.

Magnatune has a nice selection of music, also heavier on electronica, classical and world music, and they offer streaming of albums, tracks, and genres.

If you like an artist's work, you can buy the CD online immediately with a credit card or PayPal. What's interesting is, you can choose the value of the album, generally between $5 and $18 (from what I saw). You're encouraged to be generous, as a full 50% of that payment goes right to the artist. Very cool.

As for delivery, it appears to be primiarly by download — once the album is purchased, you can immediately download the full fidelity WAVs, MP3s, Ogg Vorbis and other formats from the site. The site suggest that a cable modem downloading an average WAV formatted album, zipped, is about an hour.

Some faves from Magnatune so far: Very Large Array, Solace, Kemper Crabb, Cargo Cult, Belief Systems and DAC Crowell.

Overall, I find this approach to music distribution really refreshing — seeing websites like Epitonic, Grassroots Music and Magnatune working direct with the artists, providing decent cash for an artist's hard work, and offering me great tunes.

So, if you're up for exploring some new musical sounds and artists, check out one or all of these three excellent music sites. Hopefully you'll find some interesting new music and will reward a musician for their art. :-)

Have a great weekend!


Koss Porta Pros Rock!

Koss Porta Pro HeadphonesFunny thing happened today at the cafe. As I was writing in my journal, listening to some Miles Davis, another customer tapped me on the shoulder to talk. I initially thought he wanted to take the spare chair at my table, but turns out he had noticed my Koss Porta Pro headphones and wondered where I'd bought them.

Turns out he once had a pair like mine, but (I assume) they were either lost or broken. I probably should have asked, in retrospect. Anyway, he'd replaced them with some new ear-clip style Koss phones, but had been unhappy with them.

We had a nice little discussion about Porta Pros, and where to find some (I suggested a Google search for "Koss Porta Pro") and how we both preferred over the ear headphones to ear buds. I thought it was quite cool that he approached me about this... I was now in the Porta Pro Club. ;-)

Now, you might think it strange for someone to approach me like this to ask about headphones. But really it wasn't... to me it seemed quite natural, knowing how much I love my Koss headphones. In fact, whenever I travel or bring music to the cafe, my Porta Pros are always along for the ride.

Why am I such a fan of these headphones? Well, first off they sound superb. The wide dynamic range and excellent bass response make them a great phone for any type of music. Secondly, they can be folded up into a relatively small package for travel. Lastly, they're open, over the ear phones, which allows me to hear my surroundings, making them much safer for walking.

Porta Pros aren't cheap (about $50 a pair) but are well worth it for their quality and lifetime warranty, which I exercised once years ago for an intermittent jack. The two I have were actually gifts from Koss, given to me while I did design work during my days at the print design firm. But if I lost both phones today, I'd be happy to spend the money to buy a new pair because they sound so good and work so well.

Bottom line is, if you're unhappy with your current phones or are considering a change, check out Koss Porta Pros. Once you hear your music through them, I bet you'll fall in love with them too.