Friday, December 30, 2011

David Axelrod - Song of Innocence

Here's a longtime favorite from producer David Axelrod, who worked with Lou Rawls, Cannonball Adderly, the Electric Prunes and others as well as producing a pretty consistent string of solo albums through the late 60's and 70's.  This album and its 1969 follow-up Songs of Experience are notable for being based on the poetry of William Blake and being sampled by quite a few hip hop artists.  While the suite's sound is undeniably 60's, I always enjoy how Axelrod managed to take bits and pieces of several styles and make something that really has no stylistic equal that I've heard.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the album title (and keep in mind I have no familiarity with Blake's poetry), but to my ears the "innocence" of Axelrod's compositions here is manifest in the simplicity of the riffs and themes (especially in comparison with this album's follow-up).  Most of the songs are built on repeating two-note riffs or ascending and descending scales in deliberately-paced quarter notes, delivered by the orchestral instruments--sweeping strings and a lot of swelling brass.  The creepy string fanfare that opens "Urizen" definitely sets the tone, which is often dark but always groovy.  In my mind's eye I always picture the orchestra facing a rock trio, blasting out the dramatic and cinematic themes while the bass and drums lay down some visceral funky beats and the guitarist (probably the main reason this album gets tagged "psychedelic") cuts loose with distorted soloing.  Bridging the gap between the orchestra's lofty sounds and the drive of the rock instrumentation are a few really well-placed and arranged jazz instruments--piano, organ and vibraphone manage to tie the album's disparate purposes together and enhance the lounge-like atmosphere, as well as provide some of the best details--like the vibraphone breakdown right before the two-minute mark of the oft-sampled "Holy Thursday," which builds into one of the album's most tremendous climaxes.

It may take several listens before the album's melodic cohesion stops sounding like homogeneity, like the subtle twist between the descending two-note riff of "Holy Thursday" and the ascending two-note riff of "The Smile," and subtle shadings like the groovily baroque harpsichord start to poke out.  While it's still pretty far off from the joyousness to be found on Songs of Experience, "A Dream" breaks the album's minor template with lovely restraint.  "Song of Innocence" is an example of one of the best-realized longer tracks of the album, blending some truly sick drumming with dissonant tension in the strings, an uncharacteristically clean volume pedal guitar solo and a dizzying orchestral conclusion.  "Merlin's Prophecy" develops the album's themes with more energy and complexity, progressively pushing the tempo as the track concludes, while "The Mental Traveler" closes the album with a forceful return to the earlier minor textures, including a righteous Morricone-like guitar melody and a dynamic false ending before the strings eerily bleed out into the beyond.

When I share Song of Innocence, it often provokes laughter--it's true that the style is pretty schmaltzy and our ears are conditioned to treat strings and horns as movie soundtrack music, but I find the atmosphere here really great and the session playing rivals many other jazz-pop crossovers of the late 60's--it's easy to hear how influential Axelrod continues to be from trip-hop and beyond.

Get it here.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This Heat - Deceit

It's clear from the get-go that Deceit displays some very apparent differences from the group's debut of fractured tape collage and dark, noisy and mostly instrumental rock.  Indeed, with Deceit, This Heat presents us with an album of songs, jumping from one stylistic experiment to another, sometimes with only the thread of bold adventurousness to connect the two--needless to say, I'm into it.

Deceit is an album where the Eastern harmonies and droning dream rock of an opener like "Sleep" can and do sit immediately and comfortably adjacent to a 6-minute experimental rock (comparative) epic like "Paper Hats."  The latter is one of the album's grandest statements, blending punk-direct, Frith-like guitars (drummer Charles Hayward would later join a re-formed lineup of Massacre) with a hypnotically flowing structure and some really cool production techniques (check out how the riff simultaneously slows down and the miking shifts from direct to ambient room sound around the five minute mark).  The tension between pop instincts and crazy experimentalism is constantly present here, rearing its head when the shambling victory march and strained harmony of "Triumph" gives way to the upbeat post-punk of "S.P.Q.R.," which ironically lists the virtues of the Roman empire, allowing the listener to draw any desired connections to modern nation-states.  Then, only a couple of songs later the group is onto something completely forward-looking with "Shrink Wrap's" pounding tribal beats sounding like some sort of mutant precursor to M.I.A. 

Of the modest number of post-punk cornerstones with which I've become acquainted, this one seems to fuse punk's do-it-yourself spirit with an ambitious avant-garde mission best.  It's funny--saying "I don't know how to play guitar, but I'm going to pick one up anyway and bang out 3-chord rock because I'm PISSED OFF!" is one thing, but picking up the same gauntlet only to throw it down for a purpose this complex and challenging is another thing entirely.  Not that the group is completely untrained, but listening to the dense vocal arrangements of a song like "Cenotaph," it's clear that This Heat doesn't really possess a strong lead vocalist, but that doesn't stop them from crafting multi-part harmonies that slide between consonance and dissonance with liquidity.  Where there's a will, there's a way, and the fact that the power of This Heat's will far outweighs their vocal limits means we get to hear the working-class accents and unruly sneer of classic punk rock over a much more sonically adventurous framework. 

If there's a common thread that prevents Deceit from sounding like a confused mess when the songs jump from filthy lo-fi punk (the end of "Makeshift Swahili") to the Eastern folk rock and brilliantly sarcastic use of historical-text-as-lyrics in "Independence," it's got to be the group's seething rage.  Yes, Deceit is an extremely political album, often focusing on the fundamentals of injustice rather than the contemporary specifics of injustice (the recipe for timelessness, if you ask me).  The epic scope of the group's experimental palette only serves to make their vision of modern governmental oppression even more nightmarish, though their angst does occasionally come across as an anguished howl into the wind.  While not every track blends the group's sonic purpose with song form ("Radio Prague" and "Hi Baku Shyo" are pretty much straight-up collage/tape experiments), Deceit is likely to satisfy fans of both post-punk, modern experimental rock, and even 70's progressive rock and Rock In Opposition for its satisfying blend of energy, composition and musicianship, not to mention a wealth of ideas that regularly manage to outstrip the similar sounds the group's contemporaries were making.  It's easy to see why this album is still hailed as a mainstay of the original post-punk scene.

Get it here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lee Morgan - Search for the New Land

Though I'm gaining more and more of an appreciation for it, I still find jazz to be one of the most difficult genres to critically evaluate.  Since I'm not a jazz musician I have very little knowledge of jazz-specific theory, and though it's easy to tell when a soloist has particularly good chops from the speed, fluidity or emotion of his or her playing, if jazz albums were to be rated on the soloists' skills alone, there would be a lot of 5-star jazz albums out there (though learned jazz musicians may contend that there's a whole lot of space between "good" and "bad" in terms of soloist quality).  So, in evaluating jazz albums with a critical ear I tend to do so both from the perspective of my experience with other types of music and theory, but also more in the way that non-musicians evaluate most music--based on intuitive reactions and emotional response.  Though today's crop of conservative jazz élite probably feel differently, what I'm looking for isn't a theoretically-sound rehash of the same museum-piece territory that was first explored 50 years ago.  Like with most genres, if I'm interested in established ideas, I'd rather go straight to the source and experience them in their original form and hope that any new music I check out has something new to say to make it more worth listening to than the ideas' palpably exciting genesis in the aforementioned classics.  Right now I'm mostly fascinated with the birth and heyday of avant-garde jazz and free jazz in the 60's, and Lee Morgan's 1966 album Search for the New Land is probably a pretty good one to illustrate an album that features fine playing from a number of jazz greats but leaves my emotional and intellectual responses feeling a little cold. 

It's hard to pick holes in this album's lineup, which includes trumpeter Lee Morgan (close off the heels of his commercially successful The Sidewinder), Wayne Shorter on tenor saxophone, Billy Higgins on drums, Herbie Hancock on piano, Reginald Workman on bass, and Grant Green on guitar.  Based on the intensely arty portrait on the cover and the title's provocative title, this should ostensibly be Morgan's foray into the "out" beyond.  Unfortunately, aside from the title track's majesty and moody atmosphere, there's little on here musically to indicate Morgan is interested in abandoning the comforts of hard bop.  For anyone who owns several mid-60's bop albums, the only real draw for this album is "Search for the New Land," which presents a mysterious melody with stately flourishes only to re-state the same melody with a speedier, boppier energy.  I dig this idea, especially since the melody's a good one.  What I don't dig, though, is that Morgan proceeds to show us that his idea of an epic track is just to repeat the same slow melody over and over, interspersed with solo sections for four of the players.  While the music is well-played, there really isn't a whole lot that happens in the track's 15 minutes, especially not in terms of development.  Guitarist Grant Green's solo is pretty simplistic--dare I say boring--and he's so poorly integrated into the arrangement (the only other thing he does is textural octave tapping in the melodic section) that it almost seems like Morgan just included him because "having a guitar seems out."  Hancock and Shorter both deliver enjoyable solos that fit the song's mood well, but I can't help but be reminded of Hancock's own "Maiden Voyage," which delivers a similar feeling with more of a natural feeling and compositional flair.

Aside from the opener, the rest of the album is a pretty straightforward bop affair--"The Joker" is finely-played but unmemorable (at least Green is better integrated into the ensemble and contributes more to the accompaniment and turns in a more interesting solo), while "Melancholee" is the stereotypical obligatory ballad that's easy to pass over unnoticed.  "Mr. Kenyatta" is one of the best tracks to my ears, subtly tense and edgy while at the same time laid back and swinging--exactly the type of composition I think the phrase "post-bop" applies to; not quite in and not quite out.  The closer, "Morgan the Pirate" is similarly satisfying, contrasting some Andrew Hill-like piano riffing from Hancock with a nice, bouncy bop melody. 

While there's far from anything objectionable about this music, it's neither a great hard bop album nor does it deliver on its implied promise to plumb some uncharted depths.  In my nascent attempts to try and articulate what separates a workmanlike, well-played jazz album from a really great one, this album is a god example and reference point to show that sometimes a great lineup doesn't quite click with the magic that elevates the best albums to those rarely-reached heights.  The great thing about jazz, though, is that even with a relative disappointment like this album, it's still a pleasure to listen to and achieves a pretty sizable amount of the pleasure that comes from all well-played jazz.

Get it here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Supersilent - 1

Though I've written a fair bit about free improvisation, I've only written about a couple of groups (mostly AMM and related artists).  Here's something different from a more recent group from Norway called Supersilent.  1 is the first disc of their 1997 debut 1-3, which I've decided (after no small deliberation) to break up into three parts to review despite the fact that the albums are all grouped (like each of Supersilent's numbered releases) in one single-colored package and since each disc is over an hour long.  While it took my ears a while to grow accustomed to the synth-heavy sounds on these albums (I'm used to the comparatively organic sounds of groups like AMM), the music here has eventually become the kind of paradoxically noisy brain relaxant that I've come to look for in the best free improv.

The fact that Supersilent's music is related to free jazz is immediately apparent here--"1.1" opens with 2:30 of drums before the first synth statement.  The drummer's jazz chops is probably one of my favorite aspects about the group's sound--often the longer tracks come down to layering extended synth tones over the top of the kit sounds, which keep things interesting and remind us that there are indeed humans making this music.  The first track also demonstrates the group's interest in both sampling wordless vocals and throwing a little bit of trumpet into the mix, which deepens the connection to free jazz (though the trumpeter's chops aren't especially jazzy).  Things also get satisfyingly twitchy in the first track's second half and in "1.2" when repeating bass synth tones start to contrast the drum beats. 

"1.3" shows the group's interest in both treated sounds (with synths that undergo brilliant changes in timbre and texture) and the power of volume, with densely layered soundscapes made of shrieking synths and pounding drums.  I like how the group manages to keep things kinetic in these places--it's the judgment to ensure an energetic beat (no matter how fractured or buried by abrasive sounds) that (for me) separates this noise from just anybody out there with a keyboard and a big amp.  The final track, "1.4" finds the group toying much more with dynamics, using a repeating minor trumpet melodic motif as a backbone and running past it with a series of percussion and comparatively gentle synth improvisations.  Though the band rarely manages to use silence as an effective tool on this disc, the shift in volume dynamics is a welcome and arguably necessary one (if you're going to try and make it through all three discs at once!).  The melodic fragment is effective but repetitive and predicts the group's later, much tamer forays into more melodic, tonally-anchored improvisations.  While it's definitely a more accessible sound, I prefer the group's more distinctive and energetic early work, but I understand that it sure must be tough to try and achieve success playing such harsh-sounding music.  6 seems to be the group's most popular release, but I appreciate the edge that's present here on their earlier material, which inhabits a niche in the free improv realm that I haven't heard anyone else quite fill.

Get it here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dark - Round the Edges

Time for another installment of Know Your Enemy--this time it's not the band or the music, but the consumer attitude surrounding the album--excessive hype.  One of the interesting facets of underground and obscure music hunting is that hype is often as common and potent in its ability to mislead as it is when it's found in relation to mainstream music.  Dark's sole 70's release Round the Edges is in my opinion the perfect example of this phenomenon.  It's not that Round the Edges is a bad album, it's just not worth the thousands of dollars that record collectors are apparently willing to pay for the original vinyl run.  There's something about the power of rarity that will always make people certain people say "this is great" or make other people say "I know somebody told me this wasn't that good, but people are paying thousands of dollars so maybe it actually is." 

When you actually get your hands on a copy (probably digital or CD reissue), you'll find that this album isn't some sort of mold-breaking visionary masterpiece, but rather something very much of its time.  Its six tracks are relatively long and the focus is on dual guitar interplay with plenty of fuzzy distortion and the occasional wah solo.  While the songwriting isn't particularly developed or notable in its creativity, the long songs have their moments--my favorite is probably the opener, "Darkside," which boasts a few interesting and distinctive sections including a tom-and-guitar intro, a spacious jazzy section that pits the left channel's open riffs against the right channel's reverbed lead lines, and some faster riffing that morphs into a beautifully crunchy bending lead line.  It's also one of the songs where the vocalist's dour-but-sort-of-jazzy-at-their-best vocals seem to mesh well with the music.  At most other times the singer's smooth, emotionless Eric Clapton delivery seems at odds with the guitars' grit, or at best the vocals just fall behind the much more interesting guitar sounds.

The drum/guitar interplay of "Darkside" returns quite satisfyingly on "R.C.8." but its impact is dulled by some less impressive song construction and shudder-inducing lyrics ("everybody loves a little baby/don't you tell me now that that's a lie") that are even worse than the ones that mar the otherwise dreamy soundscape of "Maypole" with confused attempts at cleverness by likening some chick's appearance to Michael Caine's...yikes.  Fortunately, the album ends pretty strongly; "The Cat" represents a common occurrence with early 70's bands like Dark--when they run out of weird, proto-progressive ideas they always seem to fall back on their late-60's blues roots.  Luckily in this case it's one of the most energetic tracks for the ensemble, giving the drummer a chance to channel Mitch Mitchell and it's even got a spacey middle section so it's not too different from the rest of the album's vibe.  The closer, "Zero Time," is also one of the album's strongest tracks--though there isn't a particularly large amount of intricate guitar work, the main riff makes for a sense of drama and spaciousness that doesn't quite come together in the rest of the album, and the way the vocal melodic refrain bleeds across the beginning of the riff is an awesome idea.

It's clear that Dark was onto something here--there are bits and pieces of good ideas in all the right areas (atmosphere, playing, songwriting) but the common Achilles heel of an insufficient vocalist combined with the album's distant, garagey production hold this one down firmly in the second tier, for me at least.  Not that that's a fatal flaw--a lot of great early 70's hard rock bands required a few years and so-so albums to shed their origins and blossom creatively--but unfortunately Round the Edges is the only Dark memento we've got and the band wasn't able to continue in its promising direction.  In my opinion as a moderate fan of this kind of music, it's good enough to seek out if you're a big fan, but there are quite a few similar albums I'd recommend first that don't require nearly as much barrel scraping for those with a casual interest.  Excessive hype, you are not our friend!

Get it here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz

Though he'd already been prolifically recording for a few years by 1961 and had already thrown down the free soloing gauntlet with The Shape of Jazz to Come in 1959, Ornette Coleman's 1961 Free Jazz album continues to stand as a peak among peaks in Coleman's celebrated early discography and as one of the earliest and most fully-developed statements that would define the loose but enduring free jazz movement.  For me, the thrill of Free Jazz is the feeling of looking into a petri dish as something utterly unprecedented happens for the first time.  The album's form intersperses lengthy solo sections (Coleman's saxophone solo is the longest) with rhythmically-composed atonal horn fanfares, a typically labyrinthine Coleman-ian 'melodic' head and a closing duet for each rhythm section duo.  The double quartet (Coleman on alto, Eric Dolphy on bass clarinet, Coleman stalwart Don Cherry and Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Scott LaFaro and Charlie Haden on bass, and Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell on drums) is arranged in stereo, with one quartet on each side.  The result makes the bass interplay much clearer (the bassists decide, for the most part to stick to different octave registers to stay out of each other's way), but for some reason the drums are difficult to discern--reaffirming my usual opinion that dual drum kits are a concept that sounds good on paper but usually comes across as excessive in real life.

This tension between concept and practice is what's most exciting to me about Free Jazz; clearly Coleman thought out the large pieces of the puzzle quite well, but it had still never been done before.  He exhorted his side-men to contribute whenever they felt the urge and play as expressively as possible without connections to any recognizable pieces of music or styles, but the end product swings like a mother and Coleman's instructions didn't stop Hubbard from quoting "Jingle Bells" at one point ("don't pour salt in your eyes, don't pour salt in your eyes").  What always captivates me when listening is the range of development in "freeness" that's on display.  It's almost like looking at that classic image of human development; Coleman and Dolphy had both already reached a comfortable level of freedom in their playing (which is still extremely melodic [at least in Coleman's case] and fluid if idiosyncratic), and Don Cherry isn't far behind, no doubt aided by his tenure in Coleman's quartet.

Of the horn players, Freddie Hubbard is undoubtedly the weak link in terms of freeness, which might be the most interesting in terms of historical context.  His inability to really wrap his brain (and chops) around Coleman's concepts are evidenced in his tentative stop/start soloing which ultimately owes more to the theoretical constraints of bop than any sort of previously uncharted territory (it's particularly evident in the CD reissue "first take" bonus track, where Hubbard's feet are audibly cold and his solo's conventionality comes across as the equal and opposite reaction to the excitement and hurried uncertainty of the song's "first go").  It's funny to hear Dolphy pedagogically prodding at Hubbard during his solo, mimicking the trumpeter's ideas with repeated derangement, throwing in squawking vocalizations and wonky riffs--it's as if he's saying "let it go man, try it like this."  Dolphy's accompaniment might be even better than his formidable solo--when he and Hubbard start team-riffing to Ornette's solo, things get really fun, and though his bass clarinet seems to be miked really poorly, the character of his atonal hooting not only accentuates Coleman's soloing, it pours directly into the raucous, party-like atmosphere that's central to this session.

Finally, and in a more meta sense, Free Jazz is a reminder of the areas of "out" and free jazz that had not yet been explored.  While Coleman's compositional framework abandons many of the classic tropes, it's also still pretty close to jazz tradition in terms of solo vocabulary (compared with some of Sun Ra's stuff, for example), rhythm (compared with, say, Spiritual Unity), and overall composition--Free Jazz still paints (though in broader brush strokes) a quite clear picture of dedicated solo sections and sometimes leans on obligatory building blocks like the extended bass and drum sections (compared with something like the impressionistic structures of something like Peter Brötzmann's Machine Gun) in a way that suggests automatic impulse in place of a well-considered original idea.  These are just historical/theoretical observations, though--people who argue about how Free Jazz isn't really free seem to me to miss the point.  It's not about trying to pursue only freedom, but to show how much the jazz idiom opens up to new directions, ideas, and expression of emotion if players and composers start casting off some of the conventions that have become stale.  Sure, this album is cacophonous and not always easy listening, but its richness in ideas and energy remain undimmed and helped catalyze a movement that produced some of the most interesting music made in history of jazz.

Get it here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

James Brown - Hell

One of the popular music phenomena that most fascinates me is when an artist (almost always in conjunction with a label) attempts to recreate a successful album with a follow-up that attempts to in some way recreate the magic of its predecessor.  Harry Nilsson's Son of Schmilsson is definitely one of those albums, but his willful merry prankster approach seems a deliberate (and artistically sound) attempt to undermine his label's hopes for a repeat hit album in comparison with this, James Brown's rapid-fire follow-up to his early '74 hit The Payback.  Sure, it's not an attempt to completely duplicate The Payback's 20 minute grooves, but the fact that it's another double album with a bunch of indelibly funky jams interspersed with a bizarre and jarring segue (this time it's a blaring gong instead of a bunch of background singers going "zzzzzzzoooooo!") makes the comparison inevitable.

If anything, Hell is probably best described as an overreach.  While the quality of the funk is indisputable on tracks like "Coldblooded" and the title track's chainsaw delivery, it's easy to get the sense that the stripped-down essence of Brown's earlier funk masterpieces has become lost in a proliferation of instruments and experiments in eclecticism.  For example, there's the bizarre Latin treatment of the early Brown hit "Please Please Please," immediately followed by the even more bizarre funk-cum-proto-disco treatment of "When the Saints Go Marching In" (which finds Brown pleading cringe-worthily to be "in that funky number").  There are less egregious offenses, like the awkward attempt to update the blues classic "Stormy Monday" and an uncomfortably slick and square update of another classic pre-funk Brown tune in "I Lost Someone" (don't worry, you won't be inspired to throw away your copy of Live at the Apollo).  And then again, there are some guilt free moments in the Parliament-esque (and huge mouthful) "Dont' Tell A Lie About Me and I Won't Tell the Truth About You" and the ideologically confused but utterly on-the-one "Sayin' and Doin' It" (the CD reissue liner notes' attempts to credit Brown with social awareness on the level of What's Going On or Curtis based purely on "Hell," the cover art and a couple other tracks are valiant but laughable).  When the time comes for Brown and his crew to stretch out into some longform funky jams, the results are both tight ("I Can't Stand It") and solid but strangely ho-hum ("Papa Don't Take No Mess"), but never sounding quite as natural as the long tracks on The Payback.

When it comes to assessing the overall strength of this album, it's easy to pick holes in its particular (and ultimately relative) failures, but what keeps me coming back is the experimentation and, of course, Brown's ability to use his voice as an inimitable instrument even when singing the most inane nonsensicalities imaginable.  As I've probably said before, hearing someone try and fail at something uncharacteristic can often be just as rewarding as hearing them succeed at what they already do best.  Brown and company's attempt to prolong the hit magic may not be a complete artistic success, but at this point in his career (as evidenced below) he was on such a roll that any 80 minute double album was guaranteed to at least get your booty shaking--and that's always been the point, right?

Get it here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cheap Seats Part 1: New Album Go!

The time has come--I'm fresh off my first two days at Cloud City Sound Studios in Portland, OR starting work with engineer Justin Phelps on my next album.  Though I've been working on demos for a few months, this week marks the official start of the album as a professional production.  It was an interesting and activity-packed couple of days with plenty of progress made--we tracked rhythm guitar for eight songs and vocals for four.  Although there will be numerous other instruments on the songs, getting a tight and accurate base skeleton of one instrument and vocals is one of the most crucial parts of the process.  Less quantifiably, I'm really glad to get the learning experience portion my first professional studio days behind me--the differences between demoing and recording (my last album was all home recorded) at home and in a professional studio are huge.  On the one hand, at home creative control and patience for perfectionism are absolute.  On the other hand, though, the ceiling for perfection is much higher at a professional studio, and the technical and creative input of a professional engineer like Justin are invaluable.  After I started getting through the jitters and self-consciousness of having to take and retake certain sections over and over, Justin and I were able to get in a good groove and the benefit of his professional experience became apparent--not only does it help to have input from someone who's approaching my songs and arrangements with fresh ears and a well-developed sense of taste, it's also helpful to have someone there to say, "Hey, that take was great, let's keep going" when I would probably continue trying to get every performance detail perfect (in my ears) before moving on.  Most of all, it feels really good to work with someone who is taking my vision and goals seriously and is investing himself creatively in the project--I know it'll be much stronger for it.  Having someone besides myself treat the project as something worthy of that investment is immeasurably boosting to my confidence.

As I continue to create this album I'm planning to continue this "Cheap Seats" series to both document my experiences and in hopes of providing people I know and all of you music "sharers" with an insight into what goes into the production of an album like the one I'm making.  I'd like to dig deeper into some of the unanswerable questions relating to modern music and the life of an independent musician like myself.  These questions include: What is the measurable value of music and music recordings?  What is non-commercial music and what's its purpose?  Is it reasonable for a musician to attempt to make music a paying career, or should music only be pursued as a hobby?  Will more or less great music be created if musicians are poorly compensated financially?  How has modern technology impacted the creation and distribution of music recordings?  What are the reasonable responsibilities of a music consumer?  What does it take to be heard?  While these questions probably sound like the setup for a bitter rant, they are all complex issues with many sides and I'm hoping to get feedback from both musicians and music fans alike.  I'm just as much (or more) of a music fan as I am a musician, and consequently I think these issues are relevant to more than just independent musicians trying to make it big.  If anything, the goal of the pieces will be to show that there's much more to that MP3 or concert you just listened to than meets the ears and eyes.  Welcome to the world of an unknown independent musician and the process of recording a contribution to the vast abundance of music this world has to offer--you've got the cheapest seats in the house!