Mark! Silver

musings on music, linux, and whatever else comes to mind

Think now if you will about the magnificent size of the biggest technology corporations, or perhaps what the names of these companies are.

Google certainly comes to mind. On the surface, a simple little search engine that can pull in billions of results at once. If you want to be anybody on the vast landscape that is the information superhighway, you will generally employ something called “search engine optimization” to make sure you can be found through this and similar services, which further expands their power. Google is probably the most popular search engine out there, as it is the most popular email service. Gmail has over one billion active users, and it's fairly easy to see why. Having a Gmail inbox (and by extension, a Google account) gives you access to more convenient services that the big ol' G provides. Ever heard of Google Drive? Don't lie to me, yes you have. For no monetary cost (what we call “price” in economics), you have access to fifteen gigabytes of storage and a collaborative office suite all in the comfort of the “cloud” (Google's servers). But that's not all. Ever heard of YouTube? Stop lying to me, you absolutely have. That's Google too. The Android operating system on the very popular Samsung phones? Yea, Google did that too. Those laptop-wannabes that infect government schooling institutions known as Chromebooks? You get the point.

But before I go ahead and make my point, let's talk for a second about Facebook. Whilst declining in popularity with my generation, it is still very relevant in society today. Does the concept “Fear Of Missing Out” sound familiar to you? That would be the greatest argument for adopting Facebook into your browsing habits. “Everyone else is on Facebook, so why aren't you?”. And even if you don't use the titular service itself, Messenger and Instagram are both popular offerings of theirs that many people still use.

And what about our good buddy Amazon? Absolutely THE name in online shipping... and audio-books via Audible... and a formidable streaming service in the form of Prime... and the proud owner of Whole Foods.

Ok, so enough beating around the silicon bush. Our Internet consumption nowadays is generally consolidated to a few big websites, rather than many smaller ones. That sure is convenient, don't get me wrong. If you could get more done with fewer pages, you are being technologically efficient to some capacity. In fact, if you are using Google, Facebook, and Amazon on a regular basis, you are among millions of people who are, in this sense, technologically efficient. Emphasis on millions. These companies have millions of users' data.

Say what you will about privacy policies and companies' statements with regards to privacy. Most if not all of the software powering how we interact with these organizations are proprietary. We can't say for sure what data is being collected, what third party websites are being connected, and how your information is being used once collected. The more you interact with these and similar websites, the more information about yourself they receive. Your location via the IP address you log on with, your interests based upon posts you like & videos you click, what you buy, who you know and interact with (and the conversations that transpire), et cetera. But these sites are so damn convenient.

Just for the record, I'm not stating anything that isn't common knowledge or proposing any revolutionary solution to what I see as a problem of centralization. But consider the following: All three of the companies mentioned have invested interest in IoT (Internet of Things) technology (in the form of Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Facebook Portal) which is meant to be always on and out in the open. Again, we don't know the inner-workings of their software, and we can't say how much of our conversations are submitted back to these companies.

Also, do note that the US Government, among others, has their own surveillance interests, namely in the form of the NSA (whom could at the very least do us all a favor and change the 'S' in the acronym to surveillance). Surely they know of the data that big-tech has access to, and how it could assist their malicious intentions. Look y'all, I'm not saying, but I'm just saying.

The Beach Boys are known best for their sun-shiny pop tunes, covering subjects ranging from surfing all over the country to love songs fantasizing about the future. I acquired their “Sounds of Summer” compilation in the summer of 2017, and I thoroughly enjoy each of its thirty tracks upon every listen, including right now as I'm writing this article.

You saw the title, so I'll cut right to the point. The Beach Boys' discography is plastered in vocal harmonies that bring much of the charm that Brian Wilson & his crew are known for. I would like to spend some time today talking about how I've been learning to use vocal harmonies in my own recordings, and providing examples for how these techniques are used the best with analogies to Beach Boys tunes that you've probably heard.

The Floating Melody

I believe there are two ways in which harmonies are used best. There are probably actual terms for them, but for the sake of transferring my thoughts into words, I'll be calling these the “floating melody” and the “distinct melody”. I'm not a master of the English language, but I can articulate what I mean.

In the Beach Boys' “Surfer Girl” when the first verse kicks in, there are three or four different parts singing the lyrics at different pitches, building solid chord tones right out the gate. It just so happens that this song's melody is the highest in pitch of these vocal parts, so you could say the melody floats atop the mix as per my silly analogy. Generally when multiple parts are singing the same exact words, our ears tend to gravitate towards the part that is highest in pitch. In this case, since the melody is in fact at the top of the vocal mix, we are able to decipher the melody clearly while still enjoying the full sound of the underlying harmonies.

I can attest to this being a good strategy with a personal anecdote from when I didn't abide by this technique. My song “Mainstream Media” from my self-titled LP starts off with a melody, but then I layered harmonies onto it that were singing along & all above it in pitch. This caused the melody to be obfuscated by the chords of the song, which ultimately makes the song less memorable than it could've been. If you want multiple parts singing the same words at the same time as the melody, use the melody's pitch as a cap for how high they can be.

The Distinct Melody

Correctly employing the “Floating Melody” strategy will indeed make the melody distinct. But there are other ways to use harmony that steer clear of the melody.

The harmonies of the Beach Boys' “Good Timin'”, for example, are all noticeably above the melody during the verses. But said harmonies are singing “ooo”s instead of the lyrics. The melody is doing something completely different from the harmonies that accompany it, so there's nothing for it to unintentionally hide behind in the mix.

This is probably my favorite type of harmony to record for myself. Listen to “Candy Corn Nothings” from my upcoming second album if you so choose; I layered three vocal harmony tracks over the two melody tracks, but likewise to the Beach Boys' “Good Timin'”, these parts don't clash with or obfuscate each other.

Something Like That

I'm just articulating what I've learned about vocal harmony through the medium of a band that has perfected it. If you aspire to record your own music and implement harmonies, I do recommend considering the strategies I've mentioned here. Whether floating or otherwise distinct, using harmony effectively will only enhance your melody.

Also, go listen to some Beach Boys; good stuff. ;P

I've been using the GNOME edition of Solus on the same installation for over 2 months now.

When I started using linux in January or February of 2016, I hopped around quite a bit between different distributions. The sheer volume of options available all over the Internet gave me a lot to experiment with in the form of different user experiences created by different teams of people. The novelty of that was exciting as I was still figuring out quite what I want for my workflow.

There's a thrill to the variety that the linux world has to offer, but at a certain point, I kind of grew out of it. It became apparent to me a few months ago that I need my linux workflow to include the most up-to-date software whilst still being stable. Ubuntu-based distros are stable, but some of the software is a bit antiquated for my tastes. Arch-based distros are super bleeding-edge, but I ran into some stability issues towards the end of my most recent arch install.

Ubuntu and Arch are both excellent operating systems for different use-cases, as are the likes of openSUSE, Fedora, and even dare I say Gentoo. And I think it's healthy for everyone to give different distributions a try. Hopping around is how you develop your personal tastes, and perhaps eventually find an operating system to “settle down with”, so to speak.

Solus is cool; you should check it out. ;P

You really don't. Cellphones are only a recent part of our history. People lived for thousands of years without them, able to still form meaningful connections.

I'm not here to write an editorial about “how cellphones are killing us all” or “how cellphones are fucking over human connection”, as much as I believe both of those things.

I'm not here to morally grandstand about how much less addicted to technology I am, because I'm not by much. Even though I typically leave behind my laptop when going out, I'm still guilty of wasting an amount my free time checking up on websites that I'd already checked earlier on the same day instead of putting work into creating music. Granted, there should be time set aside for consuming content, but I don't think Twitter really counts.

I am here to tell you what I know, and how I live. “Lead by example instead of by sermon”, as someone wise may have said somewhere to somebody.

So my website's domain probably indicates that I'm a musician. All of my recordings are done through my laptop, because laptops are the most convenient devices through which I can pursue this passion of writing and recording music. My laptop also enables me to communicate with people whenever the need strikes. If a member of my family or one of my friends from assorted locations on this continent wants to contact me, they know how, and I'm generally good about giving a quick response. The Internet is a great way to communicate with people whom you don't live near.

My friends who do live near me are fairly easy to reach face-to-face, as one might expect. Being on a college campus presently, it's often the case that I'll be able to meet up with at least one person for lunch and dinner on the weekdays, and if we want to schedule to hang out beyond that, we have the means of figuring that out right then and there. It is true though that I miss out on occasional spontaneous events that are scheduled last minute over group chats, but as would anyone who may be busy at that very moment. When time for planning is allotted, I'm still invited to things and am able to have a good time with cool people, I'm not concerned with this whole “fear of missing out” thing as a result.

It's fairly easy to argue that owning a cellphone may be useful for safety purposes. If I ever got into some hi-jinks, it would certainly be convenient to have a way of reaching law enforcement. I suppose I'm risking something by not owning a phone, as I suppose I'm risking falling every time I take the stairs or risking choking every time I eat food. As long as I surround myself with trustworthy people and/or don't make stupid decisions, it's pretty easy for me to avoid being in an emergency situation. Heck, I've been in college for two months now and I'm still alive!

The bottom line is that a cellphone is not a necessity, as widely adopted as the technology is. It's literally as simple as that. Go ahead and get one if you're so inclined though; I'm only judging you profusely. :)

So the goal is to commit to writing something at least once a day. I am admittedly terrible at maintaining blogs, but I've been fairly productive with making music as of late, so maybe this won't be too hard?

I've got some new things in the works that I'd like to detail very soon in the future, so stay tuned...