Volkswagen’s Fun Theory Reviewed Dec14

Volkswagen’s Fun Theory Reviewed...

A recent Volkswagen commercial demonstrates a lighthearted experimental process that they have termed the ‘Fun Theory.’ In the commercial, the Volkswagen team wire a set of stairs inside a metro station to become a piano keyboard that interacts with those pedestrians who choose to take the stairs. As the pedestrians travel up and down the newly refurbished staircase, they suddenly discover they are playing notes on a piano. The sensors in the key pads that pedestrians step on were programmed to create the sound appropriate to the note played by the relative piano key. In doing this, the Volkswagen team wanted to know if more people would take the stairs because they had made taking the stairs ‘fun.’ This social experiment brings art, architecture and music together in one sensory experience. The commercial demonstrates several reactions to climbing musical stairs and each pedestrian seems to have a different response to the idea of creating music on their way up the staircase. Piano music of a whimsical and fun nature plays in the background of the commercial, fading in and out at key points to demonstrate that people stopping to press a key on the staircase are also playing the piano with each step they take. The result of the commercial is spontaneous, warm and encouraging to the viewer. But what is the Fun Theory ultimately? Volkswagen’s team stops at the word fun as if fun is to be the only necessary element conveyed in the re-purposing of a set of metro stairs into a piano keyboard. Instead, let’s look deeper into what sort of purpose and pleasure the pedestrians might have been getting by the exercise (no pun intended) and, lastly, what does this say about music and the arts — about creativity itself?...

Introducing: Tim Totani...

Tim Totani is a singer and songwriter from McAlester, Oklahoma. His style is in the country/rock tradition of Bob Seger and John Mellencamp, and his new EP Back Home was released just last month. We’d like to thank Mr. Totani for taking a few minutes to answer some questions for us here at Musebreak. Musebreak: First of all, tell us a little about yourself. What is your musical background? How did you get started? Tim Totani: I grew up around music from my mom singing to me as a little boy to watching the band play at church. But I didn’t get started playing until junior high school where my music director John Wilcox influenced my passion for playing the most. MB: I’m assuming you play guitar. Do you play any other instruments? What models do you use, and what’s your favorite? TT: I do play guitar, and I’ve played many instruments such as violin, cello, mandolin, bass, drums, and piano. Recently, piano is probably my favorite. I play a Taylor acoustic guitar. MB: What is your process for writing a song? What comes first, the lyrics or the music? TT: When writing a song the process varies. Some days I have lyrics that pop in my head first that I write music for, and other time the music comes first. MB: I mentioned Seger and Mellencamp in the intro, which to my ear are the most stylistically similar acts to your work. What do you consider the most similar? What musicians do you go to for inspiration? TT: I have been compared to Brantley Gilbert on many occasions, and I could see that. And I listen to a lot of artist for inspiration such as Brantley, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Eli Young...

Ensembles: The Big Band Jan26

Ensembles: The Big Band...

In the 1920s, as recorded music became more common, there arose the beginnings of an ensemble constructed to appeal to a popular music audience. These groups contained trumpets, trombones and saxophones; supported by a rhythm section, and joined with a group of string instruments for a more orchestral quality. Such groups performed popular tunes and acted as accompaniment for vocalists. The jazz influence was minimal, with little improvisation; however, many period jazz musicians supplemented their incomes as members of such groups. Probably the best known example of groups of this type for contemporary listeners was Lawrence Welk’s orchestra which remained active for many decades. It wasn’t until the late 20s that we begin to see the big band really come into its own. Growing primarily out of New York, Chicago, and Kansas City, these bands dropped the string players, and adopted a musical style that allowed for much more improvisation. With a few exceptions (like Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer), these groups were primarily formed of black musicians and aimed at black audiences. The recordings were euphemistically referred to as “race records”, and were routinely dismissed as low quality. Still, talent will inevitably rise to the surface, and these groups began gaining larger audiences while crossing the race barriers. Black band leaders became household names and gained the respect of the musical community as a whole. The greatest of these would doubtlessly be Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra. Also, notable for this period is the fact that improvising soloists became nearly as famous as the band leaders themselves, many of whom would go on to form their own bands. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman were just a few who came from this background. As the 1930s approached, the big band...

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Piano Sep22

The Evolution of an Instrument: The Piano...

The pipe organ is called the “king of instruments”. The drum is probably the oldest and most widely spread instrument. In the world of popular music, guitars are ubiquitous. But when it comes down to it, nothing approaches the piano in versatility, popularity, or utility. The piano is so well-known, it would be pointless to spend time describing what it is or what it sounds like. Categorizing it is a bit trickier. If you judge it from what vibrates to make the sound, it’s a string instrument. If you judge it by how the sound is initiated, it’s percussion. If you judge it by the type of musician who plays it, it’s considered a keyboard instrument. Whatever group of instruments you put it with, it dominates. It’s used in everything from light classical music to boogie-woogie. It can act as a solo instrument in front of a full orchestra, or as an accompaniment for a solo from the quietest of instruments. It can be loud and brash, or calm and serene. It is played by some of the greatest virtuoso performers of all time, and by young children barely out of diapers. Where did it come from? The piano (full name “pianoforte”, which is Italian for soft/strong) has something of a split ancestry. If you go all the way back, you have the psaltery, which was an early version of a harp. It had a few strings stretched in a frame which could be plucked or strummed to produce music. Eventually this was mounted on a box that would amplify the sound, and the strings were hit with small hand-held hammers, creating the instrument known today as the hammered dulcimer. Probably at some point in the middle ages, Italians began producing the first harpsichords....

Rally ‘Round the Piano! Jul15

Rally ‘Round the Piano!...

It’s one of those indelible old-timey images. There’s the family in the parlor, or the hall, or in the living room, gathered around the family upright piano. One of them, usually the mother, is sitting and playing. One of the family members might have a fiddle playing along. And everyone else is singing along, smiling broadly. Granted it may be an exaggeration of the “good old days”, but in the time before TV and radio and even phonographs there was a tendency for at least one family member to be an amateur musician. If they were wealthy, they might have a grand piano and all the children would be required to take lessons. As the social status dropped, the instruments would become more compact and cheaper; violins, guitars, banjos, ukuleles. If the group were large enough, you may get some brass players and woodwind players. And of course, everyone could sing, frequently in harmony, at least a little bit; even if it were just songs from the church hymnal. In the days before mp3 players, and CD players, and cassette players, and on and on, if a family wanted music in their house they typically had to supply it themselves. The wealthy paid for their children to be taught music. The poor would sit their kids down and teach them what they knew. But come what may, music was part of everyone’s life even if it wasn’t being pumped straight down their ear canals with a pair of iPod earbuds. It’s tempting to go into rant-mode on topics like this, and ascribe the decline of musicianship among the masses to laziness. I don’t know that that is a fair assessment. First there’s the immense amount of things that a person or family can do...

Introducing: The Dick Peddicord Band...

My first memories of Dick Peddicord are from 1967, when I fell in with his band of gypsies which became known as The American Television Theater Inc., or T.A.T.T.I.  It was a raggle-taggle band, with several drummers, several bass players, and a small army of guitar players.  We soon became known as the band that changed at every performance, since our lineup was constantly morphing, and the loudest bunch in normally quiet downtown Davis, California. Later, I played lap steel with Dr. Dick and his Yolo County Road Show, featuring the Whole Earth Angels, a miniature choir of pretty young ladies under Dick’s watchful eye, and the metaphorical baton of choir director Jack May.  That led to some demo tapes, recorded in San Francisco’s China Town at the Roy Chen Recording Studio, which I produced.  Dick was so pleased with the demos that he hired my band, Osgoode, to produce an entire album of his songs in the relatively new 24-track format.  One of the high points of that album was a completely new version of “Oh Pleasant Hope”, which had already been recorded once by Blue Cheer, and became the title song of the album on which it appeared. Together we played in several other short-lived bands, and after a longish hiatus, started making music together again in early 2011.  We’ve been keeping busy with several CDs of the Dick Peddicord Band since then: first, Change Of Heart, then Savannah, then Castaway, and finally another one which has no name as yet, but is over half finished. Dick currently lives in Ashland, Oregon, and works for the U.S. Census Bureau as a field representative. Having retired from college teaching years ago, his time now is spent on music and family. After receiving a...