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Flowing admiration and what you like about it.

I’m going to share with you an action, or a series of actions, that I did a few years ago that brought me some recognition, success, and friendships with regards to my music.

 

Back in 2007 there wasn’t much happening for me music-wise. I was getting over the death of my father and hadn’t really focused on much to do with my music. I was still writing of course, but a lot of it didn’t really seem to matter that much at the time. One evening, I was invited out by my friend Vince to go and see some DJs at a club in Glasgow. Vince was already recognized worldwide as a top DJ and “techno” producer. He had played all over the world and had released many records. But more importantly, he was my friend. He had been so since I was twelve years old. Despite his worldwide “superstardom” (that’s a joke by the way!) within the scene, he was still just Vince. 

 

Now before I go any further I feel that it’s important to point a few things out with regards to electronic music genres. 

Imagine that you’re a guitar player and that you play a little jazz, or some folk music, blues etc, but everyone assumes that because you “play guitar” it means that you only play death metal!

It would get a little frustrating having to keep explaining to people that you don’t play as loud as to burst eardrums, nor do you drink two bottles of Jack Daniels before going on stage, nor are you particularly fond of biting the heads off bats! I’m sure you get the idea. What I’m trying to communicate is that quite often when I mention terms like “techno” or “dance music” it is assumed that I’m referring to promiscuous people off their heads on drugs dancing to painfully loud, bass heavy music.

Techno is not that. It is not “EDM”, or is it “Trance” or “Hardcore”. It’s a style of electronic music which draws heavily from sci-fi ideologies, technology, futurism, and environmental soundscapes. It is often repetitive in nature but not always. The repetition makes it good to dance to and because of its subjectivity, techno tracks often find themselves in little parallel universes and being associated with some seemingly unrelated styles of music! (For example, I once got a fantastic review in “Blues and Soul” magazine for what was very much a techno track.)

It is not “drug music” either, although unfortunately, and like every other style of music, drugs often find their way into the scene. It’s important to point out though that many of the world’s most successful techno DJs and producers are very spiritual people and many don’t even drink alcohol never mind take drugs. I guess it’s the same for many “out of the box” thinking artists. I mean, to create other worlds and other universes with their art, they HAVE to be on drugs. Right?

 

Wrong.

 

It’s likely that their aversion to such substances keeps those “creative juices” flowing and keeps them from finding themselves IN the box.

 

Anyway, I thought that I’d clear that up. You don’t have to like the style but it helps to knock off some of the negative preconceptions, and to understand the art a little more.

 

Right, back to the story! So Vince and I were at some club in Glasgow listening to a few DJs from Italy, and from The Netherlands. After the show I was introduced to the two Dutch DJs. They were introduced to me as Stefan and Esther. Both were quite soft spoken and kind of reserved. They were friendly though and we chatted about music, Glasgow, The Netherlands, and the record label that they ran. We spoke for about 45 minutes and then, before going our separate ways, Esther handed me a cd of her music. 

 

I played the cd in the car the following day and enjoyed what I was listening to. Nothing overly dramatic or particularly “out there”. The tracks were quite simple in a way but they had just the right blend of rhythm, melody, and groove. The tracks had my hand gently tapping on the steering wheel – always a good indicator.

 

A few months passed when I received an invite from yet another “music buddy” to sign up to a new music platform online. The platform would allow producers, artists, and DJs to keep in touch, collaborate and listen to new music. “Soundcloud” was pretty new when I signed up and the first thing that I did was to look up all my music contacts and start following them. I included my two new contacts, Stefan and Esther. I then uploaded some of my music, you know, just to get a little feedback on what I was doing.

 

I would log on every other day and listen to a lot of different styles of electronic music. Some artists I noticed were more prolific in uploading music than others. I also saw that my own music was getting quite a few listens. The comments left were pretty positive. It’s always nice to get encouragement and although I had written a lot of new material over those past few months, I hadn’t really found a record label who would release the tracks. To be honest, I wasn’t looking that hard.

Then one day, Esther uploaded one of her tracks. This one I really liked, in particular I loved the percussion she had used. How did she create those sounds? What instruments, what software was she using? I thought I may as well ask her. I complimented her on her track and explained what I loved about it. I then asked her about her production techniques, inspiration etc. Her reply was not what I expected. She was so pleased that someone took the time to not only compliment her music, but to explain to her what it was that they liked about it. She was already quite an established DJ around the scene in Europe and like my friend Vince, she had played in many places and had released a lot of music but she pointed out something to me. Although she got a lot of people saying that they loved what she did, her music, her DJ sets, almost no one ever explained what it was that they liked about the music! And she was right. I looked at the comments on Soundcloud relating to her tracks. I then looked at the comments relating to my tracks. “Nice!”, “Great track”, “Love this”, “Love the vibe” etc etc.

I had honestly never noticed it before. I found it both kind of strange and amusing. Esther never did explain how she got those percussion sounds. I think that she was too caught up with the first part of my email. But she did ask if I wanted on the mailing list to her’s and Stefan’s record label. It meant that I would get these great tunes before the general public providing that I give “a little feedback” on the tracks. So I said “sure! Sign me up!”.

 

Every other week I’d receive a message in my inbox to click on a link to listen to the music. On doing so, I would be presented with the feedback form to fill out while I listened. Once I had submitted the form, another link opened for me to download the track. It was quite fun to do. As I had done before, instead of commenting with something like “great track” or “nice one!”, I chose to give a more in-depth insight to why I liked it. Even on the tracks that I wasn’t so keen on, I always focused on something that I did like about that particular piece of music and gave my feedback on that. I figured that these artists on the label rota put their heart and soul into their music as I did when writing mine, and I wanted to validate them for doing so.

 

A few days after submitting the form and downloading the track, I’d receive another email. This time it would be the promo for the release. I’d read through it and then look at the comments from the other reviewers’ forms that were copied and pasted onto the promo. My comments stood out like a book in a bowl of post-it notes!

 “Amazing track.”

“Definitely on my playlist.”

 “Nice!”

“The deep subterranean bassline throbs beneath one’s feet while reverb soaked percussion clatter in the background like distant locomotives pulling through rain.”.

“Love this track.”

“Gonna play in my next DJ set”

 

Can you guess which comment was mine?

 

It wasn’t long before Esther emailed me again, “Dear Colin. Myself and Stefan absolutely love reading your comments on our feedback forms. As you can see we always include them in our promo. We were wondering if you would like to work for us in writing the text for our future promo? We will pay you of course. Also, we listened to some of your tracks on Soundcloud and would very much like to release some of your music.” 

Now I was getting PAID to listen to music, and I had found my record label. This was amazing!

Amazing that by simply explaining what it was that I liked about a piece (and being a little creative in my explanations) I had created a little sideline job for myself, and that my music was now being played all over Europe. 

 

There seemed to be a kind of flow to it – admire, but not just “admire”. Take time to admire. Why are you admiring? Let the artists know what it is, then receive admiration and opportunity in return.

 

The next time you feel that you “like” something, ask yourself why. And if it’s a work of art, a story, a sculpture, a piece of music, and if you can, let the artist know what it is that you love about their work!

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Reviews – Michael Graves – Poet

Brilliantly life-affirming! I haven’t read anything like this since ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull!'” – Holley Stewart, Life Coach

 

Michael Graves is the real deal. He takes us into the poetic and philosophic life, good literature, and full relationships with gusto. He engages us thoroughly, often jauntily, with the full cooperation of his highly knowledgeable, metaphoric, rhythmic, and often comic, poetic mind. Very highly recommended!! – Carole Brooks Platt, PhD – author of “In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses”

 

 Michael Graves is one of the most truly gifted poets of our time. His insight, wisdom, reflection, optimism and positive thinking are a true pleasure to enjoy in every stack and stanza.” – Gunther Bedson, Poet/Composer

WEBSITE:  www.michaelgravespoet.com
Click on the “Projects” button in the upper right for  information on books.

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Music, Everywhere!

Do you ever listen to the sounds around you? I mean, really listen? For example, when someone speaks, “replay” their last few words back in your mind. Do you hear a melody?

Do you ever listen to the hum of a refrigerator and try to match the musical pitch? Have you then tried to harmonize with that hum? 

Drips of water, distant cars, birdsong, dropped cutlery, general background ambience even – there’s music everywhere, or at least, the basis of music.

 

In my last blog I explained that I found sound as important as the music itself. Perhaps even more important. I’ve been experimenting with sound for as long as I have been writing music and quite often when I’m out and about I carry means to record what hear. Once I get home, I import the recordings onto my computer where, if the recording is selected, I’ll use in one of my musical compositions. The usage can be simple or complex. It kind of depends on what “vibe” I’m in.

 

Simple uses include perhaps a recording of early morning birdsong placed gently under a chilled out piece. It sometimes gives a track a certain evocative “old National Geographic nature documentary” kind of feel. I’m sure you know what I mean. Public places like airport terminals, railway stations, libraries, shopping malls, are great to record in also. I love the general blur of lots of different voices, squeaky shoes on polished floors, distorted messages on the public address systems. Again, underneath my music, these give another kind of ambience like when you sit down in a busy place and watch the world go by. To me it’s like a frozen moment in time.

 

There is of course the more experimental side to using these recordings. Now this can be really fun, and interesting to me and a lot of cool “discoveries” have been made through experimenting with snippets of sound.

 

 Recently I used a recording of my cat meowing in a piece. Well, I didn’t just place it in a track, I first pitched it down so that he sounded deeper, I added a little reverb to give a more spacious sound, and then tweaked the recording here and there a little more until I realised I had what a prehistoric dinosaur might have sounded like! “Hey Batty!” (that’s my cat’s name), “You’re a diplodocus!”.

 

I was clearing out the kitchen last October when I dropped a few items of cutlery by accident onto the floor. Nice sound, so I got my “Zoom digital recorder” from upstairs in the studio, took it into the kitchen, and recreated that “accident” many times, with different amounts of knives, forks, spoons. I dropped them from near the ceiling and from barely above the floor, I put down different thicknesses of towels to dampen the sound. Anything to get out of actually cleaning the kitchen! Again I experimented with pitch, harmonics, ambience of the recordings and came up with some great industrial, but other worldly sounds – like huge steampunk trains clunking and clanking over points on the railway track. (Incidentally I once recorded a REAL train going over points, looped the recording, and sped it up considerably until it sounded like a kind of rhythmic rain!)

 

Currently I’m working on a piece of music in which I’m using a looped snippet of a recording from a table tennis match as the background rhythm. It gives a slight clumsiness to the track but in an oddly endearing way (read my previous blog about how imperfections can give an “honesty” to a piece of music.)

 

I love listening to the world around me. The sounds I hear IS music, and on a deeper, (kind of) spiritual level, it makes me feel connected to my environment. I feel more aware when I’m listening. It’s like my surroundings are playing a gig for me to enjoy and be inspired by, and if I really enjoy what I hear, I’ll record that “gig” and perhaps jam with it later. 

 

*While I’ve been writing this blog on my computer I’ve been made aware of the great sounds that my computer keyboard makes while I type. I guess that’s a track for the future!

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Honesty and Creativity

My musical journey started when I was around the age of three, I guess. My grandfather had an old out-of-tune upright piano in the spare room at my grandparent’s house, where I’d spend hours hammering the keys and generally making a racket. I loved the sound that it made. I have never figured out why until recently, but it sounded friendly, and even though it was, as stated previously, out-of-tune, it sounded “honest”. It was like someone who liked to sing just for the fun of it and didn’t mind their own limitations and imperfections.I loved that piano. It was one of my best friends. 

I’d spend timeless Saturday afternoons not only hammering out discordant versions of “Popeye the Sailor” (the first tune I ever learned!), but I’d lift the lid at the top, stick my hand in and scrape the strings with anything I could find – usually cutlery, much to my grandmother’s disapproval. I’d open up the front panel above the pedals and hit the strings with sticks from the garden. The stranger the sounds the better!

 

Then at the age of five my Grandfather let me listen to an album he had just bought. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s “Equinoxe” (if you have never listened to it you should check it out!) The year was 1978. Like most great albums on hearing them for the first time, it blew my mind. It was as if someone had dumped a whole pile of TNT onto that little flame that was my imagination. 

 

KABOOM!!!

 

The music was beautiful but it wasn’t that. It was those sounds! I had never heard anything like it. Immediately on listening I saw strange other-worldly landscapes, I visualized strange half-animal, half-machine beings who dived off high cliffs into purple oceans, or flew across green skies, or squelched around blue mud, or, or, or……my mind raced every time I listened to it. Those sounds! Sonic sunrises glistening on ethereal vapour oceans as metallic birds shot lasers off of high altitude clouds.

I’ll be forever grateful to my Grandfather for introducing me to my own musical journey in such a way.

 

Perhaps I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I had learned something very important. Well, for me anyway:

 

Sound is as important as the music it carries. 

 

Sure, this album could have been played by an orchestra or a rock band and it probably would have sounded good either way, but I doubt that it would have painted the same dreamscapes in my mind or evoked the same wonder. It was the synthesizers and their sounds that painted those particular scenes. Or rather, I used those unique tones to paint my own pictures!

 

Growing up, I listened to a lot of different styles. My Mum often played Simon and Garfunkel, or Joan Baez in the house, my Dad played ELO. Lots, of ELO! But again, I was always aware of the sound. S&G had a warmth, like a cosy blanket, ELO had a rhythmic energy that would shake me out of bed when my Dad played their records late at night. Even forty years down the line, I swear sometimes that I can hear THAT bassline to “Livin’ Thing” as I try to get to sleep.

 

Over the years, I explored many genres but  I kept coming back to that recurring idea – it’s the sound that I love. Of course I love the music also. But what I mean for example is, listening to recordings of someone like Woody Guthrie, there’s tape hiss in the background and audio distortions due to less sophisticated recording equipment back then. This is as important as his songs. The imperfections take us back. It’s like listening to an old memory – something you forgot that you ever remembered in the first place! And it sounds kind of honest. It’s not trying to be something that is isn’t. Mowtown wouldn’t be “Mowtown” without its own slight distortion (you can hear that often in the vocals) . 80’s synthpop would never be if it were void of its over the top “sparkle”. Heavy rock would sound…well, a lot less heavy without guitar feedback. These things that I speak of isn’t the music, but it IS “the music”! It’s the soul.

 

Melodies, basslines, harmonies, chord structures. Of course these elements of a song are vital. This is the communication of the song. The sound however is the quality of the communication. And I feel we’re often misled into thinking that by “good quality of communication” we mean a super clear, sharp, crisp, sonically perfect sound. Although we may find the principle of that appealing, in actuality it loses something. Take a listen to a lot of today’s music. There’s no tape hiss, there’s no microphone distortion – and if there is it’s deliberate. Everything, the drums, the guitars, the vocals, they’re all as “perfect” as they can be. Too perfect. There are many incredibly technically talented singers out there today with fantastic range and control over their voices. But when I listen to Johnny Cash (especially in the recordings he made just before his death), the gravel in his voice, his croak, his limited range (by today’s standards), the imperfections in his voice tell a story of a lifetime of ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures. It gives his songs soul. I mean REAL soul. He’s not trying to be anyone he’s not. The songs have “honesty”

 

I’m a recording artist, or a musician, or whatever. I normally tell people who ask that “I write and produce music”. That’s it. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to make money from my art, sometimes I’m not. I used to get really bogged down with searching for this “sonic perfection”. Mixing tracks would take days, weeks sometimes. I lost sight of myself in the mix. It was as if spending all my energy in eliminating the imperfections I was extracting my soul from the music. My creativity lost its sparkle. I started writing less music as I felt that ultimately I’d end up disappointed with the final product. So I stopped focusing on production values too much and took the approach that some things are just meant to sound the way they are. (I’m not trying to justify not doing a good job with my art. My production techniques are at least competent and I still strive to create a good product. I just decided not to get hung up on spending days on “perfecting” a high hat, or obsessing over the level of one piano note in a whole song.)

 

When I did this I found that my creativity not only came back, it washed over me like a tidal wave of ideas! I splashed around in eddies and rip-tides of creativity. Over one weekend I wrote seven pieces of music. I even put paintbrush to canvas for the first time in years and completed two paintings. I experimented with field recordings, used sounds that I hadn’t used before. The seriousness had washed away and the fun and excitement came back like bright sunshine breaking through grey skies. My music started painting pictures in my mind again. Like an aesthetic feedback loop, idea followed idea. I found myself again. I was being me, an artist and not a technician. The excitement that I felt when I was five and listening to “Equinoxe” with my Grandfather once more embraced me. My music was “honest”.

 

I guess that none of us are perfect and maybe those imperfections in our work is actually part of our identity, our spirit, our uniqueness. And maybe the obsession with perfection of production was in some way like standing in front of a mirror and being disappointed because I didn’t like my reflection. Whatever happened, I realized that creativity and art should be fun and exciting, and you should not feel self conscious about the beautiful things you create. Have fun, lots of it, and go make wonderful things!

 

Colin McNeil

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Wonderful Dreamscape Comments from 2019!

Flying Free Dreamscape by ILIA

Whenever I create a new Dreamscape, I post it on my Facebook page asking for feedback and name suggestions. I believe in 2019 I received the best feedback and the most wonderful acknowledgements – EVER! I’d like to share some here:

“Beautiful!!!!” DC
“Great colors!” LH
“This is my favorite so far! It evokes warmth and love and beauty. Really lovely gush of emotion!” RR
Voyager Dreamscape created by ILIA
“Oh wow that is awesome!” EW
“This image really spoke to me on a very very deep level.” PT
“I suggest ‘The Universe Within’ For within the universe that we share with others is a universe that is solely our own. In it, exist dreams and spaces privy only to ourselves; and it is from this universe that dreams spring forth. It is an awesome piece!” MG
“Wow! Beautiful and protected and infinite on the inside as all beauty is.” RP
“Your beautiful piece reminded me of a book by that title where a girl was magically transported to a place I imagined looked like this.” VL
Forest of the Fairies“Fabulous! You are a great artist!” TD
“I am at a loss for words with this one. I love it!” BL
“Beautiful. Have no name but WOW!” RVDF
“This is haunting – love the flows in it.” JH
“No name but it’s a glorious feeling in my heart. Splendid piece! TH
“Wowowow!!!! So Beautiful!!!!!!” EW
“It’s a very ethereal and beautiful work of art that speaks to me of something that’s not ‘something’” VL
“Gorgeous!” GB
“It’s beautiful!” JK
dreamscapes by ILIA“Your Dreamscapes are unbelievably aesthetic! I don’t know how you create these, but they are really, truly a work of art. I can think of many classical musical pieces that could be played while viewing these – your dreamscapes are soothing and pleasing to the soul, as it were.” LT
“Imagination, its realization, it’s an artist’s gift, and ILIA expresses her imagination beautifully.” MAS
“Thank you for inspiring people – especially me! Keep creating ILIA!! Your artwork is awesome!” CM
“ILIA’s Dreamscapes are mind blowingly beautiful, haunting, and impossible but there it is.” LDS

Thank you very, very much to all that participated with my Name it Game this year.  I sincerely appreciate the wonderful comments and amazing name suggestions!

 

You can find my Dreamscapes at my ILIA LIFE website.

© Copyright 2019 ILIA.
All Rights Reserved.

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Intro blog

Hi gang. I am L. D. Sledge, new to the group. I am so happy that Leigh-Ann created this little gathering of artists. This is truly needed and wanted in Clearwater and area to let artists meet each other and have discussions to help each other. I need lots of help. There is so much I want to know, from rendition to marketing. I am totally self taught, hit and miss, mainly miss, but have created many pieces and wasted lots of acrylic and paper and canvas and will waste more. I make a bust more times than not. So my trash can is overflowing.

I have an art site that recently got very ill and died, but someone doctored on it and restored part of it to life which helped but it is not like it was. However it shows my art enough to get the idea. www.artimaginationbysledge.com, and then there is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04R17Tamhcc, a youtube video of some of my stuff put to music by composer Dan Robinson of the NY Org. I am also a writer and here is that site: www.ghostwritersforhire.org. I have a lot going on. I hope to write some blogs FYI.

See you later.