Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Three New Mixtapes — Soulful Beats & Vintage RnB

Here are three new mixtapes for you to dance and party to! The tracks are a mixture of Funk, Soul, RnB, Hip-Hop and some pop-vibes. For anyone who heard the DJ-sets I used to do in the UK the blend should be familiar! I’m at my happiest when I get artists like James Brown, Alicia Keys, Q-Tip and Lion Babe to fit side by side like they were always meant to be that way. There’s something magical in crossing the boundaries of generations, style and time while maintaining an illusion (or a truth?) of musical ‘oneness’. One of my greatest joys as a DJ was when I managed to sneak one of my own tracks into a set while the dance-floor and party was ‘business as usual’ — made me feel like I would belong side by side with my heroes for a moment. My internal imagery shows pictures of people dancing on Soul Train when I work on these tapes. I know I sometimes go outside of their repertoire, but I still hope Don Cornelius would be proud!





Playlists are on the Mixcloud page if you click on the links. Hope it makes you want to dance and have fun!

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Photo Shoots for Musicians

High quality pictures are needed for anyone who is producing music or promoting an artist. This blog-post shows you the pictures from a recent photo-shoot, and I’ll share some reflections around the process. I initiated this shoot, and seen from my angle it had three components: an artist, sourcing a high-end photographer, and finding a visual expression that fitted the artist. The artist was Oda Kveinå Tonstad, and the photographer was Theodor Haltvik With (both might be familiar to regular readers).





Planning and process


1. The pictures from this shoot was for general use rather than for a song or album. This meant that we didn’t need to analyse any musical material to match with the visual expression. The pictures were to be used for professional online-use, and near-future music-releases should they come. The process was initiated with me compiling pictures of artists and styles that I felt represented Oda as I knew (and wanted to see) her. If I had produced a specific musical work (album, iTunes-single, etc.) I would have held on to the central coordinating role between artist and photographer (some music producers will want to give this process away; you’ll know for yourself). Theodor compiled my pictures into a mood-board while he and Oda both worked on their own compilations of images. Creatively this is where I left the process. Oda felt some of my pictures represented her while some were discarded. She came up with her own compilation of pictures that added new influences to what we already had. Theodor received our input and stretched some of them one step further, since he saw hidden potentials as a professional.

2. Oda and Theodor finalised the mood-boards and agreed on clothes, locations and a date. I believe a contingency plan was hatched in the event that the weather should turn unsuited for the outdoor-part of the shoot.

3. Photo-shoot. I rocked up for the studio-shoot; firstly, to make sure the key elements I wanted on film was captured, but mostly to create general mischief! :-)












Some thoughts on the process


- Oda is an accomplished dancer and some of the images are taken to capture this.
- Shots included both profile pics and whole-figure for different use.
- If you’re a management, studio or record-company working with an artist for the long-haul, it is useful to have a portfolio of pictures from the duration of the collaboration. Ideally, get the first pictures done as soon as you start working with the artist (perhaps even in the studio, practice room or in everyday settings). 





A selection of headshots for profile-pictures
 


Behind the Scenes/ 'General Mischief'


Yours truly having some fun with Theodor’s Smartphone :-)


In the 1930’s Oda worked for Walt Disney Company
under another artist name. Some of her old
friends came to visit her at Theodor’s studio :-)


 
Oda and Theodor at Work


I really liked the eye-contact between Oda
and this dinosaur!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

ICT in Education Conference

ICT and Education Conference at
Norwegian University of Technology and Science
 
 

Introduction


The National Conference on the Use of ICT in Education and Learning was held in the city of Trondheim, Norway, from the 11th to the 13th of May 2016. The conference took place at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)’s science and technology campus, Gløshaugen. The conference is an event for working teachers, pedagogy students, ICT companies, governmental offices, publishers and researchers/ speakers delivering a packed program of presentations. I spent most of my time looking through the stands, but also had time to attend a few presentations. In this blogpost I’ll highlight some of the things that caught my eyes. It won’t be a complete overview over the whole conference, but in keeping with this blog: the blend of technology and creativity, and also technical education-facilities will be central.

This blogpost will be segmented into two:
1. The post you are reading will deal with publishing, networking, trajectories and reflections around ICT in education.


Presentation: learning-design in context.

Trends in Publishing


Large Media Companies


National broadcasters NRK (Norway’s version of the BBC) and TV2 have taken a great leap into the education sector by creating online platforms that lets pupils and students tap into the companies’ wells of recorded material. Comprehensive new material has also been created to address the need of Norwegian schools. I have not yet used their platforms, but judging from presentation, TV2 seems to hold the leading edge. The companies are operating as publishers (as opposed to traditional media-companies) when delivering services in the education sector.

Using platforms where extensive video-material covers (at least in the long run) the entire school curriculum has obvious advantages. Topics like modern history and social sciences are perhaps the areas where these platforms are most self-explanatory. However, content for topics like mathematics, science and language also seems to be well developed or under way. I do however, feel that a word of caution is in order. Norway is politically a country that for many decades have embraced left-of-centre politics. This has trickled into its media-coverage, and it’s a well-known fact amongst media-researchers that the media in general covers current events with a slight left-bias. Looking back at my own education it took me many years of travelling and higher studies to un-learn many accepted truths from my school-years that were clearly politically biased, especially in social sciences, but also in history. I’m all for presenting both sides of the story from a neutral middle-ground and if I have one concern with Norwegian media-companies now educating minors, it is an accentuation of an existing political bias. I am not trying to advocate removing certain views from schools, but rather complementing them in a more neutral and holistic sense. Let’s see what the future brings, but for teachers who use these platforms this is currently something one should look out for! To end on a positive note, the tools that have been developed by these media-giants seems packed with interesting content. The companies express a work-in-progress attitude, which tells me there will be more development of content (perhaps also on the delivery-platforms) in the very near future.



Views from around the conference-
area, and the stands.



Other Publishers


BS Undervisning (translates ‘BS Education’) provides a platform for coordinating sales and use of both printed and digital media. They have over 1500 digital learning resources in their catalogue and sports some of the biggest names in Norwegian educational publishing as collaborators. Amongst other things they provide a service that lets you search and link to the online resources that your institute subscribes to. BS Undervisning is part of a larger corporation that provides goods and services for libraries and places of learning.

One of my personal favourites was Norwegian publisher Gyldendal’s stand. Gyldendal had resources, tools for teaching and assessment in one place through their SMART programme. What caught the attention of the music producer in me the most, was that they are now offering guitar-course videos through one of their online platforms. They don’t have immediate thoughts on developing their music-teaching content, but were very open to the idea. As a ‘Sound and Music Production’ lecturer I used Lynda and AskVieo/ MacProVideo for students in vocationally angled higher education. These are great resources as a supplements, and sometimes even as radical improvement from traditional printed resources! It is therefore really good news for the future of music education in schools to see creative and artistic content becoming available alongside theoretical topics. Gyldendal seems to be a publishing house to watch for this sort of development.


Professional Network for teachers
and Online Safety for students


Senter for IKT i Utdanningen’ is an organisation that was set up under the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Education in 2010. It can be translated ‘Centre for ICT in Education.’ The centre is there to help lift the quality of ICT use in kindergartens, schools and for pedagogy students. In addition to working with the quality of ICT-education, the centre focuses on internet safety and the training of pupils to exert good judgement in ICT-based interactions. They are one of the initiative-takers behind the webpage and printed material for http://www.DUbestemmer.no/.  ‘Du bestemmer’ translates ‘You Decide’ and is a resource that deals with healthy conduct, law, plus positives and negatives a person encounters when interacting across the internet. The ‘Centre for ICT in Education’ also provides research and initiatives that it goes outside of this blogpost to cover. These include development of regional leadership in the school sector and help with finding the right digital resources for use in education.

‘Klassetrivsel’ is a term that describes how pupils feel (positive or negative) about their class and their social interactions. It is an online tool for teachers that can assess how students feel about their every-day life and social interactions in school. It provides feed-back to teachers that helps them assess and address the experience of being a pupil in their class. It started as a project at a school in 2007, and is now a tool available for all Norwegian schools who subscribe to the service. Their webpage is: http://www.klassetrivsel.no/

Creative Software


Creaza is a platform where you can make mind-maps, video and audio presentations, and cartoons. Let’s say, the teacher shares a mind-map with the students. The students pick up the mind map and follow up with their own research. In the end a multimedia presentation is produced by the students over a topic given by the teacher. The tool is very well geared towards creative responses to assessments and incorporates ICT-skills in a fluid way. The video and audio editors looks familiar for users of Mac-software. I don’t believe tools like Creaza can take the place of reading and writing in a traditional sense, but it is a very diverse ICT-supplement. It is diverse in the sense that it covers all the bases of muli(ple)-media in óne platform — this should make it easier for the teacher, who don’t have to relate to three or four different software-packs but who rather can relate to óne. Creaza has won several awards and I encourage you to:
1) Look at their web-site, as the different tools included in Creaza is described in a very accessible way by clicking on the banners under the ‘Product’ banner. There is also a Creaza-blog that keeps you up to date on news about the software.
2) Look at Creaza’s YouTube user, which is packed with tutorials and examples.

In my own teaching experience, I’ve worked with higher-/ vocational education. We used softwares like Cubase and ProTools which are professional tools from the creative industries. Creaza, as far as I can see, belongs in primary and secondary education. The ICT-skills acquired from Creaza should be easy to transfer to professional platforms when pupils/ students reach a higher level of studies. I believe I would find it easier to train higher-education students who are familiar with platforms like Creaza on professional platforms. Apart from the obvious use in a modern classroom, I can see two other uses for Creaza:
1) Students who struggle to follow regular teaching for various reasons. Creaza is engaging and forces you to create, and not just respond like to a computer-game. It also looks particularly good at creating ‘narratives.’ Work with narratives is no foreign thought in pedagogy or social sciences. In 2012 I wrote about the research of Electro Acoustic composer Louise Rossiter, who explored the use of Electro Acoustic composition as a therapeutic tool for pupils from troubled backgrounds. The results were positive. Creaza is not an Electro Acoustic composition platform, but if used in similar ways I’d expect results pointing in the same direction.
2) Use for adult learners with limited skills, either in: 1) ICT, or 2) the topic of the class (including language). A good example would be for teaching immigrants with limited language and ICT skills, and limited skills on local society. Creaza would combine an intuitive ICT platform, and basic use of language in presentations; while allowing the learner to feel success in making a good product while still not in full command of the language. (As opposed to a presentation where everything is resting on language.) Examples of interaction and aspects of society can be animated in the simple-to-use Cartoonist application.

As this software caught my imagination I’ll add a quick YouTube video just to give you a visual idea of what it looks like:


Trajectories in ICT


New Media Consortium’s (NMC) Horizon Project has published a rapport about the trajectories the use of technology in Norwegian education. The rapport was published in 2013 and covers 2013-2018. It analyses the matter on three time horizons: one year or less, two to three years, and four to five years. The Norwegian rapport is a collaboration with The Norwegian Centre for ICT In Education. NMC have done rapports on several countries. Here is the link to the Norwegian rapport. NMC runs a conference and the website has a blog with their current news.


Is ICT The Way?


ICT is certainly a buzzword in education right now, but can we trust that ICT-tools really can take over for traditional learning tools? I think the answer is both yes and no. A future with more ICT and automatization clearly needs a workforce who is able to address the new tasks. But I’m also worried that we sometimes are over-emphasising the constantly changing technical aspects of the future at the expense of the not-so-changing human aspects of the future.

I guided in the Norwegian mountains for many years and I remember a study from the early 2000’s stating that children who attended ‘outback kindergartens’ (close proximity to outback, and much use of outdoor activities. Norwegian expression is: ‘friluftsbarnehage’) were better at a range of things, including problem-solving than children from inner-city kindergartens. Studies like these remind us that modern society is built on harnessing the potential that exists at the core of creation and of the human mind. Basic inter-human skills will not be addressed sufficiently through online platforms for collaboration, and the future will not be secure for job-seekers in decades to come just because they are proficient at today’s technology. With a growing number of companies not just addressing, but also helping to create demand for new technology in education we have to constantly evaluate whether we are developing the human potential in pupils and students as much as we develop our ICT-skills. I’ll underline this with an example from one of my own areas of study, Music Technology. I go to trade-shows and know several distributors and manufacturers of music production gear. Every year there are new equipment-releases and you’ll be constantly reminded you need the new products to really stay at a current professional level. However, most of the classic albums we teach in music-history classes are more than a decade old, and hence the technology is practically from the stone-age in the world of the technology-manufacturers. But tomorrow’s musicians, music educators and producers won’t be much effective if they can’t play low-tech wooden guitars, collaborate in bands and appreciate the potential in the tools at their disposal. To put it to its edge, I believe in a future where the most adaptable persons can chop down trees for fire-wood, counsel someone in trouble and write with a pencil; while operating technology, making global interactive collaborations and assessing the deployment of the tools they have available.

*

Thanks to NTNU for creating a meeting-ground for an impressive array of educators, researchers and ICT industry! This was more of a meeting-ground and an ideas-exchange, than an academic conference in a traditional sense. I’ll be going back!

ICT in Education Conference — Equipment



This is the second blogpost from the National Conference on the Use of ICT in Education and Learning in Norway, 2016. The first post deals with publishing, networking, trajectories and reflections around ICT in education. This post will deal with hardware and physical ICT-related facilities for education.




The event took place at NTNU's
Science and Technology Campus.

Hardware Electronics


Senter for IKT i Utdanningen had set up two rooms with new technologies that could be used in technology education. As a former FE College Electronics student I took special interest in the Arduino electronics kits. Arduino has made a lot of interesting electronics and a neat manual of circuits. The circuits could be wired to some unusual sensors, such as apples and bananas. The idea being that the fruit contains water, and by touching them you can make small currents flow from point to point by touching the fruit. My emotions about this are mixed. It is no doubt fun, but by the time students become advanced enough to understand electronic circuitry, they might be better off understanding how real sensors work — I have still to see apples and bananas wired up to hub-tops and security systems. However, the electronics was flexible and a good manual with circuits makes it easy to conduct exercises. Even if teachers were to have limited training in engineering.
 
Arduino's manual of electric circuits.
Two of Arduino's trainer-boards can be seen. The left handling
networking and peripherals.

Second Hand Computers and Gear-storage


Arrow Value Recovery had an interesting stand that caught my attention for two reasons:

1) as the name suggests, the company ‘recovers value.’ That is, they specialise in sourcing, refurbishing and re-selling used computer equipment. This means that you can buy well-specked second hand computers at a sensible price, and at a reduced environmental impact.

2) Arrow sells storage systems for tablets and computers. The GoCabby case for smartboards was on exhibition and provided a compact, safe and transport-friendly way of storing and hauling tablets around. This was one of my favourite items from the conference as it isn’t just focusing on learning and technology, but also on providing Teachers and Facilities Officers with good storage solutions.

GoCabby System.

AV-installations


Scandec Systems is a Norwegian company that specialises in sound and multimedia solutions. Their company name brings back memories for old sound-engineers like me as they were the distributor for large format mixers like the DDA Q2 back in the 1990’s. Scandec of 2016 offer AV-installations for everything from large venues to conference-halls and schools. Recently, they’ve added Panasonic’s professional screens to their distribution-portfolio. Other products include the Promethean ActiveBoard and the FrontRow Juno speaker system. They latter they are happy to lend to schools for a two-week period.

Africa


Microsoft won’t need any further introduction, but I was excited to learn about the ‘Microsoft 4 Africa’ initiative as I have a particular interest in creative technologies education in Africa.

Mathematics


Casio had a stand with a variety of mathematics resources and calculators. This is not my specialty area, but as one of my close friend’s work for them I’ll give them a shout. You can learn more from Casio’s education web-site.

*

Missed my main post on this conference? Read it here!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Recording Techniques for Acoustic Guitar



A good friend of mine, Oda Kveinå Tonstad, is just about to embark on Leeds College of Music’s Music Production program. She has called me ‘mentor’ for a few years — a title I didn’t request but am very happy to receive! Before departure she wanted to run through some recording techniques for acoustic guitar. We met at my project studio and had a limit of two hours before other obligations kicked in. We ran through four different recording techniques and I’ll give you a brief summary here. These are not meant to be ‘the four quintessential techniques for every engineer,’ but rather a selection of techniques that I like. Other articles may have slight variations over some of the techniques I’ll describe — this is where you should let your personal preferences be the guide.

The microphones we used was a small collection of typical
project-studio microphones.



The Techniques

 

 

1. Stereo Pair/ Spaced Pair


The only small-membrane pair I had available was a pair of affordable omni-mics. Ideally, I’d like to use a pair of cardioid microphones in, for instance, an X-Y configuration. There is little point in trying to use a pair of omnis in X-Y so we did a spaced pair configuration (but leaving out spacing-rules since we just wanted to build up some ‘vocabulary’ of techniques). We used a stereo bar, which roughly mimics the distance between someone’s ears. We placed the microphones about half a meter away from the guitar, just above it, physically pointing towards the guitar-body.

While the X-Y, ORTF and similar techniques work by literally pointing the microphones in different directions, omnis don’t ‘point,’ as it were. A spaced pair utilises the distance between microphones —the sound hits the microphones at different points in time and the combination of the two creates a stereo-image. In other words, the sound is delayed between the channels in your mix if the sound hits the microphones at different points in time. This also means that sound that hits at the same time will be in the centre of your mix. While reflections from the surrounding walls will arrive at different times. Sources placed at the side of the set-up will have more delay between the channels (the stereo-image gets wider or tilts to one side). But with sources placed at the side of the set-up you should look out for cancellations of important frequencies. The X-Y technique or other techniques where the membranes of the microphones are placed as close as possible does not have the same problem with cancellations. That doesn’t make these techniques better in themselves, but they might be better suited for certain applications.

For longer discussion on the spaced pair technique, I suggest this link.


2. Mono Big-membrane Overhead


This is technique where a big-membrane condenser in pointed towards a guitar from a medium distance. When I was sitting down with the guitar, the microphone was placed about half a meter in front of me and a little higher than my head. The distance allows the microphone to pick up the whole guitar, plus some of the room, and not just the relatively isolated sound of the instrument. –not unlike a person sitting in front of someone playing a guitar. The mix between the room and the guitar can be adjusted by moving the mic closer or further from the guitar, just like a pair of ears.


3. Mono — 12th fret


When we were done recording the over-head, Oda insisted that we lowered the mic and put it in front of the 12th fret. I had thought about dropping this technique because of limited time, but it turned out to be a great thing that we kept it. The mic was placed at about 30 cm. (or around a foot) away from the guitar. Perhaps the most classic mics to use in this configuration are SM57s and U47s (although they are very different). Placing a mic in front of the sound-hole can produce a lot of bass-rumble. Placing a mic pointing at the body/ soundboard of the guitar can produce a pleasant sound but with very little ‘bite’. Placing a mic in front of the 12th fret is a good way of capturing both the attack of the strings and some of the sound of the body — with just one mic. This is probably the most used recording technique for acoustic guitar in recording-history.

Graham from the Recording Revolution recently did a great video where he shows a variation of this technique:




4. Two microphones — 12th fret and body


This is my personal favourite. It involves two mics that capture two different parts of the guitar. We changed the condenser mic on the 12th fret to an SM57. This produces a sound with a bit more ‘bite’ and a bit less ‘body’. We then put the big-membrane microphone pointing towards the soundboard behind the bridge. We put it just off the corner of the guitar, pointing at an angle towards the soundboard between the bridge and the edge of the instrument. I tend to use small-membrane condensers (Oktava MK-012 and Neumann KM 184 are favourites). Small membrane mics have a cleaner off-axis response, which is something to take into account, especially when placing the mic at an angle. But a big-membrane or another dynamic will also do. One aspect of making the microphones blend well is to avoid phasing. To adjust the position if the condenser-mic, I usually put on a pair of headphones and move the mic around until I find a sweet-spot where the two microphones blend well. (Naturally, you have to hear both microphones in the headphones when performing this manoeuvre. They should not be panned out, but be dead-centre to reveal any phasing if you have stereo-listening.) We didn’t have time for this today and we ended up needing to invert the phase of one microphone in the mix. After applying the phase-reverse the guitar sounded heavier/ deeper and more focused. Using headphones during mic-placement is a couple of minutes well spent for optimising and focusing your sound. In the mix, the microphones are panned hard left and right, or to - 25%, + 75% according to your preference.

If the guitar has an internal mic or pic-up I usually add this as a separate line. It often turns out redundant, but it adds an extra back-up or option for the mix. In the mix it can be used for layering — panned out opposite another layer, or with processing/ amp-simulation if desired. Though if it is intended from the beginning to feature opposite another layer in a section of the song, I would usually record this track separately to get true double-tracking.


The two microphones used for this technique: one dynamic
pointing at the 12th fret, and one condenser pointing at an angle
towards the soundboard behind the bridge.



The Verdict


Assessing the recordings. Oda was the Pro Tools-operator for
today's session.


1. Spaced Pair


We found the sound to be a bit boxy and bright, which partially reflects the affordable home-studio microphones. We tried to soften, sweeten and focus the sound by gentle use of eq., compression and reverb. –but fixing things in the mix have their limitations. We both agreed that the clear, bright omnis would be a more interesting option if used as room mics in a multiple-mic set-up. Oda felt some bass was lacking. This cannot really be alleviated by moving the mics closer to the source (as it usually can), since omnis have no proximity effect.


2. Mono Overhead


The microphone captured the natural sound of the guitar nicely. Some of the room bled into the recording (which you may or may not like). I have had good success with this technique on bright and rattly guitars with tube-mics before. However, on this particular recording we felt that the sense of the guitar’s physical presence was not as strong as we had hoped for in the mix. So we muted it and moved on to:


3. Mono — 12th fret


This was one of our two favourites today! The sound was focused, large enough, bright enough and very-very mix-friendly. Processing and placement in the mix would have been the easiest to do of all the recordings. The result was a good testimony to how much you can do with a simple home-studio microphone.

4. Two microphones — 12th fret and body


This was the other favourite. The stereo-image is good, but in some mixes it can compromise a clear sense of the sound’s ‘location’ (this can be improved somewhat by finding the sweet-spot when placing the second mic as described above). Oda said that this was the technique she wanted the most to experiment further with, while we both agreed technique number 3 was the safest option to get good results quickly. An added bonus of this technique is that if the two channels are panned out in stereo, it helps to clean up the phantom-centre for vocals or other lead-sounds. But if you have a busy mix and you want the guitar to be exactly in one location, technique number 3 will be the easiest to work with. Technique number 4, on the other hand, can also be used as a mono-technique where the two microphones provide ‘bite’ and ‘body’, to construct a more complete sound. This can be bounced to mono or mixed down to a group-track on a mixer (that is, an aux-track in ProTools), and subsequently be placed in the mix in one particular location. –just like with technique 3.


* * *


To create the most amount of diversity between the techniques, in this article we have convered:

·      Two mono-techniques (respectively close and distant)
·      Two stereo-techniques (respectively close and distant)

If you’re starting out doing recording, my advice would be to get to know technique 3 first. The video from The Recording Revolution will show you a way to expand on this technique.

If you’re used to close-micing guitars in mono, you might want to try technique number 4, as this will broaden your toolbox quite a bit.

Alternatively, you could also experiment with adding a pair of room-mic or more closely paced overheads (or a single microphone for that matter), to the mono-technique you are already familiar with. This can add more depth and room to the sound, but this is also subject to having a nice sounding room. With more than one microphone you should stay on the look-out for phase problems. Also remember that room mics are a compliment to the close-sound and can be brought up and down according to the need, just like with an artificial reverb.

If you want some fresh thoughts on how to set up microphones in a way that plans ahead to the mix, see another one of my blogposts: ‘Mixing with Microphones’.

Have fun recording, and feel free to leave your own recording-experiences or questions in the comments below!


Me pretending to be a Greek Philosopher at the
university campus later the same day. (Photo: Oda)