Filed under: myLifestyle, myNews, myTech | Tags: adobe illustrator, amplifier, angel, bronze, buttermilk, byrds, cad, cemetery, chiseled, composer, craftsmanship, de-boss, dehumanization, democratic, fingerpick, gerber plotter, guitar, headstone, humanizing, jazz, john coltrane, jvc, kern, laser printer, marantz, monument, monument maker, ornette coleman, quadraphonic, receiver, record, roger mcguinn, sandblast, sansui, stones, synergistic, technology, typesetting, typestyle, typography
Part One—The first visit
What can you think of that is made today and could last for hundreds of years? What sort of endeavour is there that combines and employs modern technology with ancient craftsmanship? From the stone age to the computer age, here is a look at how technology and craftsmanship work together in the monumental task of producing a headstone for a grave and how it can be a deeply humanizing experience.
Meet Dan Bellan. Dan is a Monument Maker. If you don’t know what that is, you are probably not alone. Most people these days don’t have much interaction with the person who makes the marker for a grave.
This is the story my wife and I visiting Dan the monument maker, the process of producing a marker for the grave of my wife’s parents and finding an amazing combination of technology and age old craftsmanship in a beautifully humanizing process.
My wife had arranged for the stone with the cemetery and we headed out early one Saturday morning to arrange for the inscription. Arriving in East Vancouver, notorious for drug infested areas along with various industries, shops and studios. We arrived at 8 am to meet Dan. We walked into the rustic studio and into the back where numerous stones were either in production or complete, ready to be shipped. A few were obviously being kept as examples and there were several photographs and work samples on the walls.
I, being a curious one, began to poke around and ask a few questions. Dan didn’t seem to mind and jumped effortlessly back and forth fulfilling my wife’s needs to get the design done and being quite pleased that somebody was not only curious about his work, but also had some reasonable questions. We quickly established some common interests and he seemed interested in my ideas that stem from my work toward the book I am writing about technological change and dehumanization. I could even say that we were building on each other’s ideas. This is not only creative, but synergistic.
The process of producing a marker for the ages begins by examining the roughly shaped stone, selecting a side for the text, then discussing things like whether to polish and taking some measurements. “Here, I can show you what it will look like and we dashed to the front office where there was a computer connected to a Gerber plotter. Working quickly, after some consultation about typestyle, Dan dove into a program I noticed, by peering over his shoulder, was called Composer. I asked if it was like Adobe Illustrator and he explained that it is a combination of something like Illustrator and CAD (computer aided design).
Having done typesetting during my days in the printing industry—an aspect of my background that helped Dan and I to connect—I have an affinity toward the delicateness of typography. I watched Dan quickly take full control over the composing, not letting the computer have so much as a single kern (space between characters). I saw a keen eye to detail employing a humanizing approach that I could clearly see was coming from years of setting type in stone. I realized that the very imperfections of stone dictate a need for a sensibility that no computer could produce. The computer typesetting had to be humanized. After all, it is to last for hundreds of years.
Now, I must explain that this was not a straight-forward process. We were jumping around looking through books, checking samples, trying ornaments and in the midst of it all, I noticed an old Marantz receiver/amplifier in the corner. “I like the warm sound,” Dan stated. “I remember that amp,” I replied and told him about my days as a jazz record collector, my JVC and our family’s Sansui quadraphonic amps, all from the same era.
Soon Dan had printed the text out on a laser printer and was cutting a rough, roundish shape around it. We headed to the stone and he taped it on for us to see. We all stood back to admire and critique. At first, there was an idea for a cross in the upper left corner of the stone. After perusing some books, my wife asked about an angel. “My mother liked angels,” she explained. Within moments, Dan had a very cute bronze angel that was just the right size. “There are lots of great grandchildren who will like this angel,” my wife said. Dan held it in place, experimenting with the angle a bit.
The face of the stone is going to get hand polished. The text that has been typeset on a computer and manipulated through the eye of a craftsman, will be cut into a rubber material with an adhesive back (called buttermilk, as I recall from years ago) by a computer driven Gerber plotter. The material will be placed on the stone and sandblasted. The rubber withstands the force of the blasting sand while the rock gives way leaving a de-bossed image of text. This same process is often used in making wooden signs that look hand carved. Around twenty-five years ago, I investigated setting up a sign business around a Gerber plotter.
If one would care to spend considerably more money, Dan can produce hand chiseled work. I told him that he needs an apprentice. He explained that nobody wants to do this sort of work. He has tried a few fellows, but their dedication to the craft was lacking. We talked quite a bit about things these days having a disposable nature to them—even music. Dan listens to FM radio stations of quality music on his Marantz.
Recently my journey into discovering ways to humanize our appropriation of technology into our lives has led me to investigating how jazz music might teach us about a more human approach to life. I explained that I felt the process we experienced around the design of the marker stone was very much a jazz-like experience. Dan got it right away. Nothing we did was in any particular order. We had been driven by inspiration and creativity. Everyone had participated. We had explored and invented, jumping from idea to idea, in a very democratic way bringing about a monumental statement of humanity for hundreds of years.
Part Two—The second visit
A jazz inspired lifestyle is not easy to find these days with people driven by their gadgets. It can be an inhumanly automated world we live in. Seeing life done another way is refreshing. Not necessarily a life devoid of technology; a life where technology is appropriated into other human activities.
It was another early Saturday morning visit to see the finished stone. It turned out just as Dan had described. I felt it looked cute. Small, but not so small it would get lost and not big, or too bold. We spent some time talking about how it would sit on the ground. We looked at a stone that could be a footing. We also talked about flowers. As usual, Dan had to field some of my questions of curiosity about his shop and processes.
We headed to the front office to do the paperwork. I noticed a guitar case siting on the table behind the plotter. “You play guitar?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “What do you like to play?” “I like to fingerpick a little jazz.” If you have been reading some of my other blog posts, you will understand what happened next. Yup, we diverged into conversations about jazz music, more about my ideas of a jazz lifestyle and my recent fixations on the music of Roger McGuinn and The Byrds (see my recent article).
Dan’s jazz interests lie in the more modern styles of jazz. Mine, of course in the 20s to 40s. I mentioned how often I find people influenced by John Coltrane, even Roger McGuinn. Moments later, he had Coltrane CDs in front of me.
I asked Dan about his style of guitar playing. He doesn’t play any particular style, he just likes to play. I mentioned that jazz usually just takes a melody, chords and a beat, however, Ornette Coleman worked on moving away from even those bare elements. Out popped a CD boxed set of Ornette Coleman. If we had more time it would have been a listening session and an exchange of ideas and musical interests.
I hope to see Dan again someday. We have much more to discuss. I see him as having some aspects of a jazz lifestyle. His work is unique and some of it may not get passed on unless he gets an apprentice. Living in a technological society and working to make crafted items for people who have suffered the loss of a loved one: this seems to me to be important work. Dan brings the stone age and the computer age together and touches it all with a jazz feel.
Filed under: myCulture, myLifestyle, myNews, myWhys | Tags: a hard days night, banjo, bobby darin, byrds, camilla, chad mitchell trio, chicago, chiris hillman, christian, country-rock, david crosby, elvis, folk, folk den, folk rewind, folk-rock, gaene clark michael clarke, grand ole opry, guitar, heartbreak hotel, herb alpert, jaohn sebastian, jazz, jim mcguinn, john coltrane, john lennon, lp, martin, mr. tambourine man, my back pages, old town school of folk music, pbs, pop-rock, popular music, psychedelic-rock, rickenbacker, roger mcguinn, skiffle music, the beatles, tijuana brass, troubadour, turn, twelve-string
It is really strange. Three songs, Turn, Turn, Turn, Mr. Tambourine Man and sometimes My Back Pages as recorded by The Byrds have been going through my head—constantly for over a month now. Why is this?
It is certainly rare for any song to so constantly occupy my mind. Over and over and over, they go on and on and on. Waking in the morning, I find one of these tunes roaming my consciousness. Heading to bed, my mind runs through portions of these songs. I do not grow tired of this, but become more fascinated each day as to the meaning of this experience in my life. I have even listened to whole albums on YouTube by the Byrds.
It all seems to have started, or perhaps was re-energized, when I stayed up late to watch once again John Sebastian’s Folk Rewind. It is a great show of music I more or less missed because of my interest in Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The show has aired on PBS several times and I always find the performance by Roger McGuinn as the highlight for me. I don’t really know why. Perhaps I am on a journey to discover why and hopefully something new about myself.
Roger McGuinn heard Elvis’ Heartbreak Hotel and decided he wanted to play music. Beginning in the folk revival era after having the opportunity to study at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, Jim McGuinn, his real name, must have been in the right place at the right time and was able to get work with major artists, including The Chad Mitchell Trio and Bobby Darin. One day he discovered The Beatles and recognized they were using folk chords; probably filtered down to them through the skiffle music movement that had originated in America, only with a new beat. He began playing folk tunes with The Beatles beat and is now attributed to having inventing the folk-rock genre. He soon teamed up with David Crosby, Chris Hillman, Gene Clark and Michael Clarke and fronted the band called The Byrds. The Byrds literally invented a variety of music genres from folk-rock to psychedelic-rock to country-rock.
An important characteristic of the sound of The Byrds was the jangly sound of McGuinn’s guitar. The story told by band members is that they went to The Beatles movie A Hard Days Night and took notes. They outfitted themselves with the same instruments that The Beatles members were playing. McGuinn noticed that the electric guitar that John Lennon was playing seemed to have a second set of tuning keys when turned sideways. It was a twelve-stringed electric Rickenbacker and he had to have one. He practiced eight hours a day and developed a unique style blending rock picking with some banjo fingerpicking. During a recording session, it was felt that the guitar sounded a bit “thuddy,” so the engineer for the session heavily compressed the sound; thus the signature McGuinn Guitar sound was born. A sound that I can’t seem to stop thinking about.
A quick note here about the guitars of Roger McGuinn. While he did play banjo and the twelve-stringed guitar, he also had a special version of the Rickenbacker and a seven-stringed Martin acoustic. The Martin had an extra G string.
To me, it seems the Byrds fell into many of the awkward experiences of popular music of the time that resulted from the introduction of the LP record. They had folk roots and quickly saw that folk could merge with rock. From there they got into drugs and experimented; even with eastern music styles and with jazz. McGuinn was heavily influenced by John Coltrane and Coltrane’s influences can be heard in some of his guitar solos. The LP ushered in a new form of recording. Instead of songs standing alone as singles on one side of a record, they melded together thematically and stylistically. Thus, The Byrds had forays into country that nearly infuriated country audiences; getting booed at The Grand Ole Opry, and confusing their folk-pop-rock followers. With each new recording came a new sound. The backstage issues the band experienced were just as confusing.
I guess I would sum up the legacy of The Byrds by first saying that, as with most popular bands, they chased commercial success. However their musical experimentations meant they gained only modest numbers of top hits and many middle charters in both the singles and album categories. Therefore their greatest legacies are the influences they left on music and other bands. Notably, The Beatles said The Byrds were the only band to influence them. Interesting, since it was The Beatles that originally influenced the Byrds.
When folk-rock, psychedelic-rock or country-rock are discussed, the Byrds are usually attributed as among the original creators of those styles. As I was writing this, I decided to read the lengthy Wikipedia entry about the Byrds. It pretty much confirms what I think. As for Jim ‘Roger’ McGuinn, he says, “no way” about doing anymore Byrds reunion stuff. Perhaps because he is a Christian and wants to distance himself from the epic monumental contributions he made to popular music. The Byrds today are considered to be among the top half dozen groups that transformed popular music.
I’m still on this journey to discover what my fixation is with those three tunes, the band, the man, the guitar and the style is all about. Since I was somewhat absent from the birthing of this music it is now intriguing to me. During the sixties, I was learning to play the trumpet, I can recall hearing people comment about the new controversial music as having little musical substance, sometimes played by young people who learned three chords and played this simplistic music of little lasting value. To many, the electric guitar was simply used to make a lot of noise.
I went from devotion to The Tijuana Brass to early jazz and swing with only a short attempt to indulge in the pop music of my generation. I always knew of other musical genres of substance, but always found a reason why they were not for me. Country was too twangy, folk was too simple, etc. I had reasons, particularly when I was considering myself a record collector of early jazz and swing from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Then I was purist.
Over the years, I have become much less snobby about music, however, I still have obstacles toward pop music from the eighties on. Something happened at that time and it may have originated in the disco movement. That is another story I may look at one day.
Roger McGuinn is still active and touring. After 50 years in the music business, I can’t imagine how many times he has played those famous notes and chords to the three songs. I have often wondered what if would be like to always have to keep reliving past times playing the same hit tunes over and over. I know this happens for McGuinn, however, he has moved on and returned to his folk roots. He runs an excellent website called the Folk Den. His wife Camilla writes a great blog about their travels. McGuinn is still a mover and shaker in the music business. He seems to be living his dream of being a troubadour; traveling the world, playing music, story telling and writing. He gives his voice to several causes such as literacy charities, music downloads and recording royalties for musicians.
It could be that I need to re-think my ways of listening to music, that is, music with lyrics. I have always said that the lyrics really don’t matter much to me, that they simply become part of the phrasing of the music. Most people probably think of a song as saying something through music. I think of a song as something said as a way of phrasing music. So, I don’t really pay nearly as much attention to what a song is saying as I should. Folk music has story content and meaning. Perhaps I need to dig into some folk music.
Roger (Jim), if you ever find this writing and music confession, please know that you are playing; playing some yet to be identified part in my musical journey. You may even play a part in some discoveries I may make one day. Until then, I say thank you for your massive historical contributions to music.
Filed under: B.O.B.s
As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will ever so perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.
— Wynton Marsalis
Filed under: myNews
As I wrote last month, I have been busy working on a book. It is a growing project that has been opening my eyes and teaching me much about what is happening in our world. The truth is that, in recent weeks, I have not actually written much in the book, but have been on this journey of discovery. I keep finding more to add into the book. It is not that I have not been writing, I do have a coach and write a reflective journal everyday about my day and about my journey along the path of writing the book. I also regularly record and subsequently transcribe notes as ideas come to mind or a run across something interesting.
Today, I realized that I need to get back to my blog more often. Duh! I’ve done little here for months. It occurred to me that, since I try to keep my writing here informal and easy (fun?), some of my book writing journey might be interesting to write about here. I also have other things to write about. This blog has provided some of the initial content for my book, so it makes sense to get back to it and see if it can generate more content.
As the days, weeks and months roll on, I shall grab snippets of my reflective writing, coaching session notes, thoughts I record and transcribe and E-mails to various people. I’ll describe some of the nuggets I discover on my journey and try out some ideas that I might add to the book. I think I am at around 36,000 words in very rough form and have a long way to go. I may even decide to post a few chapters.
I may also write about some completely different things and add to my photography work on my photography blogs. Perhaps, I may be able to increase the number of people who read my blogs. If you are interested in what I am doing, perhaps you could make a comment or two and subscribe. In the future there will be many tasks for us to work on together. For example, how to deal with too much E-mail, how to make your Internet surfing more private (Wait until you read why!) and then a big one, protecting yourself from identity theft. I have a recent experience to tell you about.
Filed under: myNews
Perhaps you have noticed that there has been a bit of silence around here. No, I have not given up on my blogs. In fact, I will have more to come as teasers for the book I am working on that is turning out to be a lot of work. I am also working toward determining if I have enough stunning photography to do some sort of exhibit. As I paw through them, I shall certainly have some to post on my photography blogs.
What is the book you ask? It has been mentioned over on the left in the sidebar for months now, however, here is a more detailed explanation:
My first book, tentatively, The technology dilemmas—how we can strengthen our humanity and live in the technojungle. I am looking at technological change and dehumanization as a boomer who grew up hearing about all the promises that technology would bring us in the future. The dilemma, the future never arrives. At least not as promised. We don’t have leisure time created by machines doing our work. Quite the opposite. The more I delve into this, the more concerned I have become. The horse is running wild, we truly do need to take ahold of the reins, or we shall be thrown.
My views, as I have discovered after grabbing a few books from the library, are not the lonely shouts of an alarmist, others have been ringing the bell for years. Some have written some nearly shocking ideas that seem to make sense according to my observations.
My goal is to have an easy to read book that will appeal to a broad audience, although boomers are my target, and provide some general observations that will give the book some shelf-life. Through short chapters, I clearly define the foundations of what I mean by ideas like, what does it mean to be human, and what is technology. Then I look at major technological trends from my observations, provide a few insights, and then turn toward beginning the journey of looking for some solutions to the dilemmas and how we can maintain our humanity. I ask my readers to join me in the journey, as I tell a few personal stories along the way, and learn to critically think through the technology dilemmas we all face and to discover ways to strengthen our humanity so we can all live in (what I call) the Technojungle.
Yes, I am still grinding flour in our Vitamix and making bread, pizza, etc. I am trying to find time to get a few pots of edibles growing for the summer.
Yup, I’m busy, but the blogs are not lost. Stay tuned.
Filed under: myBooks, Technojungle | Tags: adapt, adopt, beliefs, belonging, cd, change, citizens, climate, culture, digital, environment, evolution, globalization, groups, identity, internet, language, lp, mp3, music, nickname, north american, online, people, record, religious, society, spam, spiritual, technology, values, virtual
Culture seems to be what a group of people do, along with other notable characteristics, that distinguishes them from another group of people. This might include language, art, various other activities that are not necessarily unique to them only. Culture is part of what they do as a collective group of activities, expressing what is unique about them.
Culture is constantly changing and evolving. Here the word evolution can be applied appropriately. Technology is one of the greatest causes of cultural change. Technology has a way of helping to define aspects of our culture.
What is acceptable in one culture may not be acceptable in another. However, as the world shrinks due to globalization, more cultures are becoming westernized. So, eating a particular way in one culture may no longer be unacceptable in another culture. I’m not sure if it is still true, but burping at a meal in some cultures was considered acceptable.
Culture is more than what people say or do. The roots of a particular culture are probably in beliefs and values. Spiritual and religious beliefs and values can drive a society to develop a culture that may be quite different from even a close neighboring society.
Individuals and entire groups of people may belong to more that one culture, or sub-culture. Take a group who like classical music and another group who like soccer. Within each group could be found some who may also like both classical music and soccer. These groups each will have some cultural aspects and those people who belong to both groups will have a shared culture. A large portion of these groups, world-wide, may also belong to a much larger group belonging to North Americans and share in the North American culture.
Culture can define who we are as a human being and what make us unique and individual, but also part of a group. It is the shared activities, beliefs and values, and faith. While we do attempt to think individually, we are actually thinking more commonly within our group and culture. In other words, the culture of our society, group or tribe tends to influence how we think; to think outside of that becomes very difficult.
As our culture changes, we change. We try to adapt. We take on different approaches to life. We try to organize how we want to live within the constructs and structure of our society and our culture.
If you are a traveler, perhaps you understand what it is like to go to a culture where everything is different. Language, beliefs and values, art, music, clothing may be different. And yet the people in these other societies and cultures are human beings. You may look to find that which you may share in common that you can identify with. There can be many drastically different societies and cultures in the world that we can visit. The people may even look different.
There are many facets to what culture is and what contributes to or influences the creation of culture. Location and climate can influence how people dress and how they make a living, for example. Environment, such as city or country, can influence culture. Power in forms such as education, politics and economics can create a sub-society of upper class citizens with their own culture.
Does technology create culture, or does culture create technology? Probably both, with each influencing the other. Perhaps technology may have the greater influence. Once we had the beginning of technology like MP3 music stored in digital format (a digital file format for storing audio), players became popular; they began to change culture and to drive the development of more advanced technology for delivering and managing music. I remember advertising that was depicting, through music, dance and imagery, this technology fitting into North American culture. As the technology became integrated into the culture, with more people buying products, more technology could be developed.
Let’s take a closer look and just one aspect of how changing music into a various formats changed culture. Originally, recorded music was a single performance on a disk with grooves that could reproduce the sound. Soon, a record could have a recording on both sides allowing for complimentary music to be coupled together. Early records were recorded and played back without the use of any electrical process.
Fast forward to the age of the LP (long playing) record. With the ability to couple multiple songs together in an album, a record could take on a theme, such as all romantic music. The next step was to produce a digital version of the album called a CD (compact disc). The organization of the music, and therefore the theme, remained the same. When music began to be distributed in MP3 format, the file could be sold individually or rearranged. This caused the disruption of the album theme.
Culture can tend to create a separation of those who are in control of money and power from those who do not have much money and therefore power.
In the end, when it comes to culture and being human, we have the desire to belong. We have the need to have a sense of belonging to groups and to the culture they share. We will seek to find the groups that suit us and their accompanying culture.
I should be using the term sub-culture more because we are born into a culture; that culture may be difficult to shed to become something totally new. Some aspect of our identity are not possible to change, such as skin colour; that establishes a certain sub-culture that is difficult to change.
There are certain cultural aspects of us that we have been born with. There are others that we adapt or adopt into to help define who we are as individuals—our identity. Human beings seem to have a great need for this individuality and personal identity.
What about culture online in the virtual world of the Internet? Is there an Internet culture? Do the characteristics of culture apply in the online world as they do in the physical world? Users join groups; some of the groups seem to have a group culture that is shared. People want to fit in. There are certainly cultural norms, that is, behaviour that is considered normal. For example, some groups want users to use their real name. In other groups, nicknames can be used. Throughout the online world, typing with the Caps Lock key on, creating text in all upper case, is considered shouting. Sending messages that are not wanted by the recipient is considered spamming. These are all examples of cultural normative behaviours.
We are building an online world that imitates and is culturally reflective, in many ways, to the real world and in other ways is different, perhaps even less human. The online world does have its own culture; in fact, there are many cultures and some are shared, just as in the physical world.
Some people are said to be cultured if they have been well educated and well brought up. They are seen as having a good, perhaps even distinguished and better, culture.