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On the basics of Twitter

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

You have 140 characters of text to get your message across. You can choose to reference people or topics directly through “tagging.” You can include links to photos, videos or web content. The name of the game is Twitter.

As with most new developments in social media, Twitter was quickly adopted by younger individuals and second-guessed by many others. “Honestly,” some argued, “who really cares if you just enjoyed a cinnamon raisin bagel for lunch while listening to Coldplay?”

Soon after the launch of Twitter, marketing professionals and a few keen individuals began to realize the potential of this new form of social media. Twitter grew from a means of sharing your dietary habits to sharing information, communicating with other members of a community and marketing yourself.

As with most forms of social media, Twitter allows users to “follow” other users, similar to “friending” someone on Facebook. As soon as you start following another user, all of their “tweets” show up on your Twitter feed.

Users can reference each other, regardless of whether or not they are following each other, by simply including a username preceded by the “@” symbol. As a result, the tweet will appear in that person’s feed. This makes direct communication quite simple. Users may also make use of direct messages, a private form of the previous technique, by including the username preceded by the letter “D” and a single space.

In order to broadcast tweets to a greater population of people, the “#” symbol is used directly before specific pieces of content. This is called “hashtagging.” Tweets related to a certain physical location often hashtag the local three digit airport code. Users can search for tweet based on hashtagged content.

In the fast-paced environment that we live in, it’s difficult to tell whether communicating in 140 character soundbytes is bringing people closer together or further apart. It seems that people are more apt to respond quickly to a tweet than they are with an email, especially when responding to a stranger.

A variety of Twitter applications can be found for mobile devices as well as personal computers. TweetDeck allows users to view content from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn in a simple column-based browser. Columns can be added for a wide variety of specific content within each network. Short pop-up notifications alert the user to recent updates. TweetDeck checks for updates in content every 60 seconds.

While many may choose to dismiss Twitter as a passing fad for self-indulgent individuals with far too much time on their hands, those who learn how to incorporate this form of social media into their lives will likely benefit from the increased connectivity that it makes available.

The Racquette can be found on Twitter as @Racquette.

In Review: Pat Metheny’s Orchestrion

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

Pat Metheny’s latest album, Orchestrion, bares the distinctly recognizable footprint found on previous work by the jazz guitarist/composer, but there’s a hidden twist; what sounds like an entire ensemble of musicians is really a carefully orchestrated performance by Metheny alone.

Through his exposure as a child to a player piano owned by his Grandfather, Metheny was inspired to find a way to control other acoustic instruments rather than trigger pre-recorded samples. He worked several engineers to realize the solenoid systems for each of the instruments he wished to include in his next album.

Through the use of solenoid transducer technology and age-old Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology, Metheny is able to trigger a wide variety of instruments ranging from drums and cymbals to marimbas and pianos through the use of his guitar and a MIDI controller.

While one might expect the musical result to be incredibly mechanical or robotic, Metheny manages to make it groove beyond comprehension. It’s quite possible that even an experienced musician would have absolutely no idea that the accompanying ensemble wasn’t comprised entirely of human musicians.

Orchestrion is comprised of five tracks ranging in length from the 7:45 closer, “Spirit of the Air,” to the 15:48 opener, “Orchestrion.” The first track serves as a bit of an overture to the album, displaying the timbral palette from which the rest of the album will be painted. Metheny’s use of harmony lines and doubling among the accompanying instruments creates a rich sonic texture, which is often characteristic of his compositions. A breakdown section featured double runs with guitar, piano and the uniquely designed “guitarbots” displays the technical capabilities of the engineering work.

The rest of the album features different instruments within the Metheny arsenal and covers different vastly different moods. “Entry Point” is a mysterious ballad full of cymbals and other metallic atmospheres that builds in orchestration until the climax where it cascades back to the sparse introduction.

In contrast, “Expansion” has a faster, straight-ahead groove while the melodic lines are quite syncopated. The tune quickly transitions to a quick bop feel while Metheny takes a solo (on his own guitar, that is.)

All mechanical and electrical design aside; Orchestrion is an incredible album that fits nicely into the Metheny discography. Die-hard Metheny fans are likely to enjoy and younger listeners sure to be drawn to the modern sound and contemporary orchestration.

Paul Winter celebrates the Earth through music

(Media credit: Ben O'Brien Smith

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

Soprano saxophonist and composer Paul Winter performed in Hosmer Hall on April 21 as part of the SUNY Potsdam 2010 Academic Festival.

Armed with nothing more than a soprano saxophone, some backing tracks and a metallic shaker, Paul Winter entertained a well-sized audience by performing works inspired by his travels of the past few decades. The concert was essentially comprised of Earth-inspired fusion music performed on soprano saxophone with recorded accompaniment. The backing tracks helped fill out the sound by providing a bed over which Winter wove melodic and improvised content.

The pre-recorded accompanying tracks were a combination of studio performances mixed with field-recorded samples of various animals, which were triggered by sound engineer Greg Hanawalt. The integration of recorded accompaniment and live performance was impressively seamless. Hanawalt helped broaden the sonic environment by adding various amounts of digital reverberation to the saxophone performance.

With low, dramatic lighting and ethereal sounds filling the hall, the atmosphere was quite relaxing and enjoyable. The key to this show was keeping an open mind and absorbing as much as possible from the music. Simply closing one’s eyes and sitting back was all it took. The sound of the hall helped create a very calming environment as opposed to the unwanted slap back often experienced during other musical performances in Hosmer.

The first piece performed included samples of whales recorded with underwater microphones in the Atlantic Ocean. The studio tracks harmonized the melody of the whales while Winter interacted with the melody in a call-and-response manner. The result, though it may sound contrived in text, was astounding.

Winter made a point of providing back-story for each of the pieces performed during the concert. From Colorado River raft remote recording sessions to interactive nighttime conversations between saxophone and elk in Yellowstone National Park, Winter managed to capture the music of the Earth in a very organic manner.

Though many of the field-recorded samples used in the backing tracks were left in a mostly raw format and included with studio content, portions of samples included digital delay, which detracted from the natural sound of the environment.

After a short intermission, Winter returned to the stage with a much shorter second set which included more storytelling and simply listening to recordings. Though this may have turned off some people who were expecting an evening of performance, the insight offered by Winter was important in appreciating his art.

On the basics of blogging

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

When I first heard about blogging I was under the impression that it was simply a narcissistic public journal fad, intended for people with nothing better to do with their lives.

Years later, I have a far greater appreciation for blogs and bloggers. I’ve started my own blogs and subscribe to many others via RSS feeds. My first impression of blogging was only a narrow snapshot of what the general blogosphere is filled with.

There are blogs about everything. Chances are if there’s a book for it, there’s a blog for it. There are plenty of people writing about boring day-to-day activities but there are far more writing informative posts on a multitude of topics.

Some people are actually professional bloggers. They often maintain more than one blog or have one very successful blog utilizing advertising space in the margins of their page. Many popular blogs have multiple writers focusing on individual segments of content.

If you manage to find a niche in the blogosphere, in which you have a certain amount of expertise, you may find that many people visit your blog on a regular basis. If this is the case, it’s actually possible to monetize your blog by offering advertising space. Businesses related to the content of your blog are likely to be interested in advertising, depending on the amount of traffic your blog receives.

Bloggers often use “tags” to classify content within individual posts. These tags make searching for specific content in the vast array of blogs online much easier. Correctly tagging posts can mean the difference between content being viewed by ten people or one hundred.

In addition to appropriately tagging specific posts, linking directly to related content and similar blogs can help increase traffic and connect a blog to other sources. This helps to build reputation and awareness.

The key to establishing a successful blog is maintaining the notion that you are contributing to a community. In order to connect a blog to a community, techniques such as developing relationships with other blogs and making yours easy to find are very important, but offering content that is new and interesting is paramount.

There are four main types of blogs: Personal, corporate/organizational, genre-based and media. Blogging is something that anyone with Internet access can do at no cost. Blog service websites such as WordPress.org and Blogger.com allow users to create fully functional blogs with customizable themes. Users can keep track of analytical data related to their blog from a central “dashboard.” It’s possible and relatively inexpensive to register .com domains for freely hosted blogs to provide a more professional looking web address.

It is often recommended that, if you plan to maintain a high quality of standards for your blog, you create an outline-or even a business plan of sorts-to organize the structure of your blog. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and forget that quality content is what counts.

There is a wide range of benefits associated with blogging. Blogging can help connect people who might not normally have been aware of each other. Writing blog posts can also help you maintain your writing skills when you’re not in school. The key is to treat every blog post as you would an essay for a class: fact check, edit, spell check, et cetera.

Blogs do not necessarily have to focus on text-based content. Many people maintain photo, video, and design blogs which simply showcase their work and the work of others.

Goo Goo Dolls pack Cheel for Clarkson Springfest

(Media credit: Ben O'Brien Smith)

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

The Goo Goo Dolls made a stop in our humble town of Potsdam on April 16 to headline the Clarkson University Springfest concert with the band Rocket Summer opening at Cheel Arena.

People began lining up for the sold out show as early as 1:00 p.m. in an effort to get as close as possible to the well-known rockers from Buffalo, NY. The doors opened at 7:00 p.m. and concertgoers began to stake out their spots in front of the stage.

The Rocket Summer, fronted by Dallas Texas native Stephen Bryce Avary, opened the show just after 8:00 p.m.. As the band took the stage, the crowd on the floor roared with approval, despite the fact that many of the people present were not familiar with the band. The band played for about 45 minutes and then left the stage as crew members changed over the equipment in preparation for the Goo Goo Dolls.

After a brief stage change, the lights came down and the members of the Goo Goo Dolls stepped out. The audience erupted with noise as the stage lights came up and the band launched into “Sweetest Lie,” a track off of their soon to be released album Something for the Rest of Us.

Frontman John Rzeznik and bassist/vocalist Robby Takac wasted no time standing still. In between lyrics, both ran around the stage as if to take in every square inch. As a result, a glowing vocal microphone was setup on either end of the stage, in addition to John’s center stage microphone, just in case he happened to end up on the side when the lyrics continued.

The band played through well-known singles “Slide,” “Here is Gone,” and “Black Balloon” followed by two more songs off of their forthcoming album. Rzeznik announced that they would be playing some new material and the crowd was quite receptive. The audience clapped along with “Home,” a new song about wanting to get back to your roots that sounds oddly familiar.

It was obvious that Rzeznik was toning down the vocal lines for live performance compared to the album recordings but the crowd didn’t seem to care much. They sang along with all of the hits and many of the deeper cuts from albums spanning the bands 20 plus year existence.

Many of the song arrangements seemed to be cut shorter in order to maximize the amount of the material covered throughout the night. It’s possible that Rzeznik may have accidentally left out the bridge to “Here is Gone,” as there was a moment of tension among the band where a transition should have existed.

The obvious favorite of the evening was the rock ballad “Iris,” off of the band’s triple platinum album Dizzy Up the Girl. Rzeznik aimed his microphone at the crowd several times, leaving it up to the audience to sing many of the vocals.

After much cheering and chanting from the audience, Rzeznik returned to the stage to play the solo acoustic song “Sympathy.” The band joined him for the last two songs of the encore, “Flat Top” and “Broadway.”

Though some questioned the music per dollar value of the concert and age of the band members, the show had an obviously successful turnout. The Clarkson Union Board (CUB) did a fantastic job of putting on such a successful event. The security was well-run and logistical elements were simple and organized.

Revision plays last minute show at Java Barn

(Media Credit: Ben O'Brien Smith

(As published in the Racquette newspaper)

The Ithaca funk/rock trio Revision announced through Facebook that they would be performing a last minute show for April 15 at the Java Barn.

Many students from SUNY Potsdam made the trek over to St. Lawrence University for the late night Thursday show. The performance got underway at 10:30 p.m.. The crowd was relatively large by the time the band finished their first song.

After several tunes, keyboardist/vocalist Jon Petronzio announced how thrilled they were to be back at the Java Barn. The crowd echoed their feelings about having the band back on campus.

Though members of the audience may not have known every lyric to every song, it didn’t stop them from dancing all night long. The hippy filled crowd was kept on their feet by the infectious grooves of drummer Devon Reehl.

The funky clavinet intro to “Maverick,” a song off of their latest album, Jekyll and Hyde, had people hooting and hollering. Everyone was right there with them as the band launched into the song.

After an hour-long set, the band took a break and some stepped outside for some fresh air. Members of the electrified crowd continued to dance to the house music and sang along to the Warren Zevon tune “Werewolves of London” during the set break.

The second set was just as energetic, if not more so as people continued to pile into the small venue. Despite the coziness and heat inside, the atmosphere was still quite enjoyable.

At the request of this reporter, the band performed an awesome cover of the Radiohead song “Paranoid Android,” which was met with great approval from the crowd. The band followed up with the catchy original tune “Tear Drop Room” off of Amplification.

Though the band seemed to announce early on that they had just two more songs left, a double encore left them playing for an hour more. The band had the audience on their feet and screaming along with a roaring cover of “Killing in the Name of” by Rage Against the Machine.

Revision has been playing shows at the St. Lawrence University venue for quite a few years now and even made the trip over to Potsdam to perform at Hurley’s last Fall. They have established quite a following throughout the North Country and the rest of the Northeast.

Third annual Record Store Day is a great success

(Media Credit: Ben O'Brien Smith)

The third annual Record Store Day took place on Saturday April 17 at independently owned record shops across the United States.

The day, which was thought up by some creative record storeowners back in 2007, is celebrated from coast to coast at record shops of varying sizes. The idea behind the day is the need to celebrate independently owned record stores and the people who are still buying vinyl and compact discs. To qualify for registration, record stores have to have a physical location, at least 50% of their business must be music related and at least 70% of ownership must exist in the state of operation. This rules out any major corporate music retailers.

In a time where iTunes song downloads and internet radio are beginning to take rule over the record industry, it’s important to remember to support shops that focus on the sale of hardcopy recordings. The owners of these shops tend to be some of the most knowledgeable people in the community when it comes to recordings and musical artists.

Strawberry Fields Music is the only record shop dealing in vinyl records that qualifies to officially participate in Record Store Day here in Potsdam. Though the shop wasn’t participating this year do to a recent change in management and logistics, there was still a flow of customers coming in to check out the new and used selection of music on compact disc and vinyl.

Pure Pop Records in downtown Burlington, VT celebrated the day with a variety of new special releases and signing with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in support of their new live EP. Not far away, Burlington Records celebrated with similar releases and in store spinning with local DJ A-Dog.

On a national level, Seth Meyers of Saturday Night Live mentioned Record Store Day during the Weekend Update segment of the show. The day has been growing in recognition and can only help to benefit the continued survival of independently owned record stores.

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