Sounds Like Now
A blog by saxophonist Brian Sacawa
Archive for November, 2009
There are more than a few Best iPhone Apps for Musicians lists floating around out there, but most of them seem tailored to the occasional musician rather than the professional one. As much fun as a virtual drum set or ocarina might be, they’re not really useful daily tools for a working musician (unless, of course, you happen to play in an iPhone Ocarina band). With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the four best and most essential iPhone apps for performing musicians. These are all things that I use on just about a daily basis and have found to be absolutely indispensable when I’m on the road.
1. iStroboSoft by Peterson – $9.99
In terms of precision and accuracy there’s really nothing that compares to a Peterson strobe tuner. There are a couple things that keep an actual Peterson prohibitive to many folks, however: cost and size. Luckily, now you can carry around a bona fide Peterson tuner in your pocket via the iStroboSoft application. I’ve not had any issues with the application and have been impressed by how sensitive it is. Plus, it just looks great. The only thing that would make this app better is if they added a tone generator. Actually, this could be the perfect app if they added both a tone generator and a metronome, basically making it an iPhone version of the V-SAM.
2. Tempi by Employee Five Systems – $0.99
Until Peterson actually adds a metronome to iStroboSoft, however, there’s Tempi. I heard about Tempi from a friend who replied to my tweet soliciting iPhone metronome app recommendations. People can be very particular about metronomes, myself included, but this one does just about everything I need a metronome to do. You can adjust the tempo two ways: by dragging the slider, which allows you to move in 1BPM increments or by using the ‘+’ or ‘-’ buttons to go between “real” metronome markings, which I prefer. There’s also a “tap” function, which allows you to tap in a tempo and find out the BPM. Click here to see a screen shot. The best part of this metronome, in my opinion, is the way it sounds. I’m pretty picky about the sound of metronome clicks, but for me, the sound of this one is just about perfect.
3. FiRe – Field Recorder by Audiophile Engineering – $9.99
I don’t think the iPhone will ever have a recording app that comes close to the quality of my Zoom H2, but if I don’t have the Zoom handy and/or don’t feel like setting it up just to record a short sample, you can’t really go wrong with the FiRe – Field Recorder. FiRe gives you a fair amount of control over many aspects your recordings, including gain, recording quality, and metadata. It also has a built-in compressor that will optimize the quality for a given delivery method, like a podcast. FiRe also allows you to FTP any file to your web server, which, for me, has been its most useful feature.
4. Dropbox – Free
Dropbox is a service that allows you to sync files online and across computers. Their free account gives you 2GB of space, which is more than enough. Once you upload a file (any kind of file) from your desktop into your Dropbox, it is available instantly on any other machine, via the Dropbox website, or on your iPhone. You automatically given a “public” folder from which you can share any file within that folder by creating links to send to those you wish to share files with. In addition, you can also create shared folders that invited collaborators can access via their Dropbox account. On a recent 40-day tour, I was able to give instant feedback on new tracks Erik was creating for a project we’ve been working on even when I couldn’t get online via my laptop because of being on the bus or in a hotel room with poor internet service. For long distance collaborations or for collaborating during travel this app is essential.
Some months ago, when Erik and I were sketching out a basic framework for Zodiacrobatic we kind of drew a blank on what exactly we wanted to do with the Virgo melody and how we wanted the track to sound. Last month, though, Erik hit the nail on the head with this beat layer. Though we had a basic idea for the instrumentation of each melody, when I heard Erik’s beat I immediately thought that a languid, straight-tone, upper register tenor sax would fit perfectly. Here are a couple repetitions of the vibe I imagined:
I get a lot of requests for this, so I thought it was about time I made it available. For my non-saxophonista readers, Klonos by Piet Swerts burst into the American saxophone consciousness in the late 1990s after being a compulsory work at the Adolphe Sax International Saxophone Competition in Dinant, Belgium. It endures today as a test piece for aspiring saxophonists wishing to display their technical prowess.
During my time as a graduate student at the University of Michigan (2002-2005) I played the piece. A lot. It was pretty much my go-to technical piece for any kind of audition situation. The track below was recorded live in concert in Britton Recital Hall at the University of Michigan on October 10, 2003. Wenli Zhou is the pianist.
Click here to download the recording.
I spent the day happily fooling around with Ableton. The original goal du jour was to start roughing out a framework for a looping saxophone cadenza that will segue between the Aquarius and Pisces melodies for our Zodiac project. Nevertheless, I got a little sidetracked and ended up just experimenting a little bit, getting a feel for some of the possibilities within Live. Anyway, here’s what I came up with:
Geek details: the toy bells and saxophone material came from the Pisces melody; I made up the bassline and drum tracks myself. Not sure if any of the ideas will make it into the final cadenza. I’m simply overwhelmed with the built-in possibilities of the software. I dressed up the saxophone lines with a little compression, and applied a couple beat repeat effects to the bell lines and drum tracks. I recorded the track you hear from the Session view. Gotta start somewhere!
With modern music, there’s
often (ahem) sometimes a discrepancy between what the music looks like notated on the page and what it sounds like to the audience. In some of these cases you think that the composer is either 1) involved in some cerebral game that makes them completely oblivious to what they’ve just vomited on the page, or 2) really trying to mess with you, the performer. But in other cases, you don’t equate a composers’ seemingly illogical way of notating music with a diabolical need to undermine you. That’s how I feel about Giacinto Scelsi.
For me, getting “off the page” with Scelsi’s music (more so than with music by some other composers, in my opinion (again, not a slight)) is the key to a really convincing performance. But Scelsi sounds so improvisatory I find it much more difficult to get to that point even though his notation rarely approaches some of the more exceptionally perplexing scores I’ve tackled in the past.
At any rate, I took on his short work for low instrument, Maknongan, last month on Mobtown Modern’s Low Art show. Below is the live audio from the show (thanks to Jeff Mewbourn for recording), including the live remix of the piece that Erik created immediately following the work’s conclusion. Enjoy.
(N.B. Here’s a link to a “studio version” of Erik’s Maknongan remix.)
Like Lee Hyla’s We Speak Etruscan, David Lang’s Press Release has also been on my Really Gotta Play That Someday list for a long time. It’s one of the rare pieces I’ve learned that I feel requires absolutely little to no extraneous music-making to pull it off—just playing the notes on the page works just fine. (That’s a compliment, not a slight, by the way.) Here’s a few minutes of the opening of the piece recorded live during a performance a couple weeks ago at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC:
Lee Hyla’s We Speak Etruscan for baritone sax and bass clarinet has been on my Gotta Play That Someday list for a long time now. And last month I finally had a chance to check it off that list on Mobtown Modern’s Low Art show. My accomplice was Jennifer Everhart, who sounded (and always sounds) amazing. Here’s the recording:
All the info:
We Speak Etruscan by Lee Hyla. Yours Truly, baritone saxophone; Jennifer Everhart, bass clarinet. Recorded live at the Metro Gallery on October 7, 2009. Many thanks to Jeff Mewbourn (a.k.a. The Baltimore Taper) for recording the show.
It’s been pretty amazing to watch Mobtown Modern grow these past two seasons and continue that trajectory into the third. I’m continually overwhelmed and encouraged by both the size and demographic diversity of the crowds we bring in. Lately, it’s also been extremely gratifying to get some local businesses to sponsor the series, including Metro Gallery (our amazing performance space), Localist (a cool Baltimore-based web-based social life organizer), Joe’s Bike Shop (the best shop in Baltimore), Eye Candy Opticianry (a sweet place for specs on the Avenue in Hampden), Robert McIver Photography (PRO photos), and Quintessential Gentleman (the classiest and friendliest barber shop in town). Thanks, Sarah, Myke, Joe, Cerrill, Rob, and Craig!
It’s never too late to get on board; visit the support page on the Mobtown site for information about sponsorship benefits and how to become a business or individual sponsor of the series.
Preparations for Zodiacrobatic have kicked into high gear recently. Erik and I have been communicating and collaborating via email, text, phone, Twitter, and Dropbox to make sure that we made good progress on the project while I’ve been away on tour. The results have been pretty cool. We’ve got a glut of new posts up on the Zodiacrobatic page chronicling the piece’s development. The goal is to have all of the beat-based tracks roughed out before I get back from tour so we can spend the rest of the time working on the live arrangements and playing with our computers. I’m really excited about this project. Plus, it’s pretty much an instant album and touring show.
Next entries »
A couple weeks ago, I was contacted by Jason Policastro, a freelance writer for the website BmoreMedia.com. He was writing an article about “young Baltimore innovators” and wanted to include me in the story based on the work I’ve done with Mobtown Modern. Flattering, to say the least! The story is up today and you can check it out here.