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L.A. Beat

The world as we know it

Singing in the Brain

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Do you ever sing in the shower? I know I sure do, much to the chagrin of certain ex-roommates and even one neighbour. There is just something about the falling water and the acoustics in the shower stall that motivates me to belt 'em out at top volume - half the time just making songs up as I go along.  I am also the type of person who whistles and hums, plays drums on tabletops and tap their toes to the rhythm, even if the music is only in my head. To me - music is much more than just the sum of its parts.

Music is emotion, it is art; it is support and love.

Music plays a key role in my existence. Without it I am lost; a ship without a mast floating in an ocean of dark reality.  Therefore, it goes wherever I go, be it on CD, MP3, or just buried somewhere deep down in my soul.

I also read a lot; reading everything I can get my hands on; be it the sides of cereal boxes, two or three paperbacks on the go at one time, or articles and journals that seem to be interesting. Some of these readings focus on people like me - musically oriented individuals that seem to have little need for peace and quiet.

Two books I have read over the last few years were 'This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession', written by Daniel J. Levitin and 'Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain' by Oliver Sacks. Both of these books, written by renowned neurologists and academic scholars, examine how the human mind is affected by music. Just as intriguing, they study how music is interpreted by different human minds in different human ways.

Certain people love jazz music with its unrestrained nature allowing it to morph instantly from one 'mood' to another. Others resist jazz music for these very same reasons. Levitin and Sacks however, note jazz lovers seem to have the ability to shut down those areas of the brain that regulate inhibition and self-control, while jazz haters tend to favour strict controls, consistent rhythms and rigorous structures; essentially lending themselves more towards blues-based rock and roll or predictable pop.

These two neurologists imply there are links between music and brain activity. They use examples of music being shown to have the power to soothe infants, trigger memories, temper pain, aid in sleep, and cause changes in heart rate.

Music can alleviate the symptoms of disorders ranging from autism and dementia through depression, stroke and hypertension.

In one of his chapters, Daniel Levitin infers through music's ability to influence our emotional state, we improve our health unconsciously just by listening to it. When we are relaxed and calm, we reduce our stress levels and our hormones find balance. We breathe more deeply, digest our food more smoothly, and engage in natural conversation with others more fluently. Oliver Sacks backs up this idea in his book, which applies a more moral argument to the idea. He justifies music as being integral to the human race; essentially claiming that our responsiveness to melody and music is imbedded in the human brain itself; with receptors and regions that are flawlessly evolved for the sole purpose of embracing music.

These books were both very interesting so I would recommend them to anyone. They are written so the average layperson can easily understand them. Just this afternoon however, I came across two other works that took the ideas of Levitin and Sacks to entirely new levels.  The first of them even took music one step further.

In Jeffrey Masson’s book 'When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals', he examines the stigma science maintains against anthropomorphism, or the idea animals have complex systems of feelings just as we do - pain, pleasure, love, loss, grief, sadness, impatience and more. If we were to assume animals can feel just like we can, what would happen to our entire system of farming, in which we kill animals for their meat, their fur, their fat, horns and tusks? We may have to re-examine everything that has happened since Darwin first implied animals have feelings - an implication that was shunned and rejected.  


Cell phone madness — whatever happened to lighters?

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It is official. Cell phones are truly a force to be reckoned with, and one that are not going away.
I was busy rockin' away in my own nerdy way the other evening, while my eyes searched the Slice, observing all the quirks of evening life.  It seemed that at nearly every table, someone was involved in texting or was otherwise engaged by a portable device, their faces alit by a mild green glow. Meanwhile a sweet indie rock band was blasting away just metres from us all, playing their hearts out and hoping to make a few bucks to cover their motel bill, while a dozen people were far more fascinated by these little pocket secretaries. Some of these toys are named after sweet little fruits, acting like pocket laptop computers, while others feature upper-case I's and can do things unimaginable just a decade ago. All of them are instant portals to a limitless world of information; offering access to the world's inner sanctum at the touch of your fingertips, even when you’re out at the bar.
So I found myself thinking, 'if I was on stage - the only reason I would want a cell phone in my field of vision, would be if it was attached to some adoring fan poking it in my face like a camera.'  Yet here we were, all surrounded by musicians, patrons, fellow music lovers and other night-dwellers -  and we are seemingly oblivious to these little gadgets; so imbedded in our consciousness and societal fabric,  that they often seem to be extensions of our arms.  

No sooner had the house lights gone down when I noticed four young ladies, all sitting together but ignoring each other, otherwise engaged in their phones and their social networking. I’m playing air-drums, rocking out a few tables away,  mindlessly swaying to the chords of  these musicians sweating on stage, and these girls are somewhere else completely.


… And you’re calling me a crook? The ups and downs of downloading

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A few of my friends give me a hard time sometimes, regarding the fact that I download music onto my computer, and then make my own albums and collections on CD, even going so far as to putting three albums from one artist onto one disc - my own condensed and homemade greatest-hits package. They will pressure me to admit that it is stealing, that the artists are making no money because of people like me, and that I am missing out on the artistic and graphic elements of the albums that I listen to.

  The only thing I can do is nod and smile, accepting their criticism and hoping that they'll shut up - before I return to my computer to continue making my discs.
The fact is, I know it is wrong and I know their argument has merit. However, in Lethbridge it is difficult to find albums by the artists I like.

If I liked Britney Spears and Nickelback, I would head right over to Future Shop or HMV.
Scratch that - I would go to Wal-Mart, where they seem to sell albums by big name artists for like seven dollars.  Which makes me wonder - if I buy the new Foo Fighters album at Wal-Mart for $7, how much money does Dave Grohl actually make?
 Is it one dollar? Two dollars?  I would bet it's more like 15 cents.
Now don't get me wrong - I like the Foo Fighters. I've seen them live twice, shelling out big bucks to giants like Ticketmaster.  
However, when it comes to a band like the Shout Out Louds, who hail from Stockholm, Sweden, I can't find them at Wal-Mart and I can't go see them live.

Yet I like them. I could pop in to my favourite little store downtown, Blueprint Entertainment, where my buddy Mike could special order their CDs in for me, but he'd be forced to charge me $23 per album, just to make a dollar profit off the deal for his store, covering shipping and handling charges and the like.
Therefore, I wait. I own all their albums, even if they're not official.

I listen to them, I play them for others, and I recommend them when people ask me what's new and what's good. And I think that has to be enough,  at least until I find their albums somewhere for a reasonable amount and can then replace my homemade versions, which I then give to someone else to enjoy.


Jazz legends gone, but their influence lives on

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 All of our modern music stems from those deep roots tracing back to the legends of jazz, blues and soul. These pioneers of the 30′s through 50′s created the standards of 4/4 time, the three and four note chords that we still hear today. Without their original melodies and harmonies, verse and chorus structures, boogie-woogie gospel rhythms and accentuated backbeats, we would have no Elvis, no Buddy Holly, no Chuck Berry and no Bono. We would have no Britney Spears, no Nickelback, no Lady Gaga and no Kanye West, were it not for these architects of musical history.

It crossed my mind the other night after reading a tribute to one fallen icon; that many of these pioneers have begun to disappear. The typical life expectancy in North America ranges from 77-87 years, meaning many of the notable musical heroes that were born in the Lena Horne.20′s and 30′s are now octogenarians.

This month we lost both Lena Horne (b. 1917) and Hank Jones (b. 1918). Horne began a renowned career in 1933, was an American singer, actor, civil rights activist and dancer, who was beloved around the world, though she retired in 1980. She was associated with Duke Ellington, Sammy Davis Jr. and Billie Holliday, and recorded albums for seven decades for MGM, RCA Victor, United Artists and Blue Note.
Hank Jones was a pianist and leader in the Bebop and Jazz genres.

A musician, composer and bandleader who was active from 1944 until the day he died, performed with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Nancy Wilson and Charlie Haden, other legends for Verve, Savoy, Epic and Capitol.
In March, we lost Herb Ellis, an American jazz guitarist born in 1921.
In 2009 we also said goodbye to Al Martino (b. 1927), Les Paul (b.1915) and Koko Taylor (b.1928) – artists whose influence is still heard to this day.

Martino opened doors for modern crooners like Michael Buble and Jason Mraz.
Les Paul’s electric guitar sound gave rock and roll a jumpstart. Koko Taylor’s powerful female vocals and Chess blues stylings paved the way for Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and more.

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