Live music: the venue, the crowd, the energy, the ridiculous volumes, the performance, the vast difference in emotion when compared to a recording… In other words, the vitality and soul of music.

There’s nothing quite like going to see a live musical performance. It doesn’t matter if it’s a symphony or a blaring rock concert. When you find yourself in the same room, be it a massive arena or a smokey bar, with flesh and blood musicians, unique energies manifest that can never be achieved with a set of speakers and a recording.

Before delving into the Panda Bear concert, check the following link (and accompanying video) out if you don’t believe me. The world is taking more and more notice and working towards a day where we may always get to experience music in a “live” setting.

Dr. Walker: Making Dead Pianists Come Alive

Now back to the concert:

I have been quite lucky in my concert experiences: Paul McCartney, The Who, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Jack White, The Polyphonic Spree, etc.

However, you may notice a pattern: rock ‘n’ roll all the way. If you don’t count the symphonies and other classical events, every concert I have ever attended would land in the world of rock ‘n’ roll (if you zoomed out far enough and ignored sub-genres of course).

So when I saw that Panda Bear would be performing at the Granada Theater in Dallas, I jumped at the opportunity to branch out in my live music experience.

For those of you unfamiliar with Panda Bear, he is one of the founders of the experimental band Animal Collective. If that doesn’t ring a bell either, do yourself a favor and try out Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion – their newest, most accessible, and best album (in my opinion).

Panda Bear, AKA Noah Lennox, specializes in using all sorts of beats, samples, and other effects to create a whirlwind of hypnotic sounds that would seem to go on and on and on if it were not for his gift with melody.

Take “Comfy in Nautica,” one of his biggest hits, for example: the entire song is one chord played over and over again, but the sincerity and evolution of the melody keeps the listener ensnared from beginning to end.

Now we arrive at the concert itself. Normally, when entering a venue, one of my first actions is to analyze and take in all of the gear onstage: the amps, the guitars, the keyboards, the effects, the setup, etc.

Panda Bear has a slightly different setup than your standard guitar, bass, drums, and mics.

From where I was standing, I saw a bunch of effects pedals, a single guitar, a bizarre mixer of sorts, and a number of other unidentifiable items strewn out on a table all held together by dozens of different cables flowing to and fro all over the stage.

Last but not least, I’m proud to say that I own the exact same synthesizer as Panda Bear: the Moog Minimoog Electric Blue Voyager:

The iconic blue lights caught my eye, and there’s no doubt that it was up on stage rocking hard and true.

As far the show itself, I have two main words: hypnotic and loud.

Let’s start with the former: for all I know, the show could have been a few minutes or a few hours. Once it got going, you found yourself along for the ride. You might have no idea as to what words were being said or where you were at in a song, but it didn’t matter since the melody, as mentioned before, would carry you along up and above the beats and the madness as though you could look down upon it from high above.

And the latter: those beats I just mentioned? So incredibly loud – as in making your whole body shake and resulting a difficulty breathing. I will never go to an electronic show again without ear plugs. Why would one guy on stage be louder than an entire band you ask? I have three theories:

1) No acoustic instruments: with the exception of the guitar, everything was some form of synthesis or samples, therefore everything could just be turned up and up and up in volume and intensity.

2) Harmonics: the timbre, or tone, of every acoustic instrument (including our voices) comes from something called the harmonic series of overtones. By activating different groups of these harmonics, we get different types of instrumental sounds. It’s the reason a trumpet sounds like a trumpet and not an oboe. However, in the world of electronics and synthesis, you have control over these harmonics, and, if you feel so inclined, you can turn them all on, thus creating walls of huge, deafening sound. Effective but so loud.

3) Making up for not having a band: part of the joy of seeing a full group is their stage presence. Seeing a group of people rock out and totally lose themselves in the experience is incredibly powerful. When you’re one guy, alone on a stage with some gear, you need some extra oomph and power to convey the same feelings and message.

All in all, a swell show to be sure. In general, I’ll happily take my rock ‘n’ roll bands, but variety is always welcome.

And, last but not even close to least, who was at the Granada that same night? The Flaming Lips frontman: Wayne Coyne. If you don’t know him, this picture will give you a good idea of his awesome personality.

People would see him in the crowd and run after him in a frenzy. They would return moments later and scream in utter joy (to whoever would listen) that Wayne had hugged them and told them that he loved them. You don’t find many people who command such a wonderful effect on those around them.

That said, Panda Bear and The Flaming Lips: now there’s a concert waiting to happen.

-Spurrier

 

Ear training: the bane of so many music majors existence.

Why though? Ear training, when properly learned and acquired, completely transforms the way music is heard, analyzed, and appreciated. One would believe that any musician would greedily and quickly absorb as much of this skill as possible.

It boils down to this one main problem: the methodology in which ear training is taught. Now, before I continue, I must point out that I am not aware of how every music department in the nation (let alone world) instructs and conveys ear training. I speak from my personal experience and the experiences that have been passed on to me through friends, colleagues, mentors, teachers, etc.

At UTA, our primary ear training activities boiled down to six tasks:

  1. Interval training – This means that our professor would play an interval (anything and everything between a half step and two octaves once we reached the most advanced level), and we would have to identify it using only our ears. Certain tricks were employed to make this easier (i.e. the first two notes of “Here Comes The Bride” dictate a perfect fourth while the first two notes of the three note NBC theme reveal a major sixth).
  2. Chord identification – Different triads and seventh chords would be played in different shapes and positions, and, again, our ears would have to provide an answer.
  3. Melodic dictation –  A single voice melody would be played multiple times, and we would have to dictate this melody onto staff paper using the interval training, from above, to help guide us through the process.
  4. Harmonic dictation – A series of four note chords would be played, and we would have to identify the types of chords (in relation to the given key signature) as well as the highest and lowest pitches of each chord (the human ear is naturally most drawn to high pitches followed by low pitches – any pitches in the middle are easy to lose and difficult to identify).
  5. Rhythmic dictation –  Our professor would tap out a rhythmic pattern on the lid of the piano while we would write it down.
  6. Sight singing – This required us to sing a short melody (just with our professor in his/her office – luckily not with the rest of the class) in solfege (Do Re Mi, etc.) with only the beginning pitch as a reference.

Now I have nothing against these six features of modern ear training. I do, however, have two suggestions.

First, hold the students to a higher standard. Ear training, by far, required the most effort on my part, but that effort only went as far as to achieve an A. I find myself wishing they would have forced us to go farther while we were still in the school, so the real world would be that much more open in terms of how we perceive it.

For those of you who have been (or are) in ear training, you are likely cursing the ideas in the previous paragraph. “Harder ear training?!? Never!” I understand your reservations. This is where part two of the modified equation begins.

Second, give us some context. Everything in ear training, at the moment, revolves around Do (the tonic or first note of a scale). This is all well and good in practice, but go to the real world and suddenly Do carries a lot less weight.

Here’s a short example: in class, Do to La (the first two notes in the NBC theme from earlier) might come quite naturally. Major sixths seem like a piece of cake. Then one day, you listen to a song and want to figure out a riff or solo. That riff or solo might have a major sixth in it, but it might not be from Do to La. If that first note isn’t a Do, then you suddenly have lost all of your grounding that has been repetitively beaten into you back in class.

For those of you who would like a less theory intensive example: imagine you’re learning a foreign language. Ear training would represent the process of learning single words and phrases. Helpful, but it won’t get you very far in when you travel across the seas to a new land when you need to carry on entire conversations and survive.

So how would this extra context work in ear training? Simple: have the students play along with other music. This could come from one’s personal music collection, the radio, or even as an assignment from a professor (i.e. go home, listen to this sonata, and try to play along as best as you can).

Going back to the foreign language comparison: it would be the same idea as moving to a foreign country and completely immersing oneself into the language. People always say that that’s the quickest and most successful method in becoming fluent. Why couldn’t the same be said for training one’s ears in a musical fashion?

So, if you find yourself in an ear training class, do yourself a favor: turn on the radio and start jamming. You’ll be thankful you did.

-Spurrier