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Of Frogs and Birds – the podcast turns 1, giveaway included!

Call to Ascension

In the very first episode of the Music, Meaning and Mystery podcast I interviewed Jazz musician, Su Terry. The podcast has a traditional closing question: “What should people listen to?” Su’s admonition was to return to raw sound. I thought about this but could not wrap my mind around how to be with an idea so big as “raw sound”. This month, our little podcast celebrates its 12 month-a-versary and Su Terry makes a second appearance on the podcast, again nudging us towards raw sound. This time in a more technical and instructive manner and expanding the concept with her idea about “vertical music”. Switching my primary musical practice from guitar to singing has helped me understand Su’s advice about the “verticality” of music. Due to my forays into throat singing, I’ve developped a more intimate relationship with the vocal cords but also with the diaphragm, lungs, skull, nasal cavity, lips and tongue. I now see my voice not just as a vocal cords thing but as a full upper body thing. My voice is my body. After some time playing with my body voice, I began to hear the verticality of notes. That is to say, I can sing a single note and by playing with variations of physical positions of my body I can overlay tones over the main note – I found I have a particular fondness for B flat which I’ve subsequently discovered is a very strange note that black holes are tuned to and it angers alligators.

What Su is trying to tell us is that we are making music with notes (horizontally) when we should be factoring in tone. I wonder if our immersion in media has a role to play in this. We read horizontally, including music. This may have programmed us to think horizontally. We even “see” time as a horizontal line. If I write down the idiom “getting from A to B”, is the image this conjures in your mind a horizontal line? Su says several times that exploration of the verticality of music is akin to “going to the source”. The invitation to vertical music is a call to ascension by way of vibration.

Birds in Bullet Time

In a simple turn of words, “vertical music”, there is a mystery. Even the most basic of questioning unveils deep meaning. Basic questions like, “how loud can a sound get?” lead to strange places. How do we even measure loudness? By the strength of vibrations hitting ear drums? It’s not so simple. Harsh sonic textures played at lower volumes than soft textures still sound louder. One answer to how loud sound can get is: 194 decibels. That is the upper threshold of hearability. Beyond 194db, sound can not be heard as it no longer travels through air, it displaces it and thus creates a vacuum between the sound waves. Above 194db is the realm of shock waves and acoustic weapons.

How about another “simple” question: how do animals hear sound? Different animals evolved not only different hearing apparatus but they live in different time dimensions. Yes, that’s a real thing. It’s called Critical Flicker Fusion Frequency and it has to do with the brain’s frame rate or something like that (hey, I’m not a scientist). A fly’s frame rate perception is high, and thus it has a short lifespan, a daredevilish flight skill and a very high dodge modifier. CFF also explains why if you move very slowly, you can catch a fly with your hand. A slow moving object to a housefly, appears motionless because they live in bullet time.

Elephant frame rate is low and thus all animals around them are a blur. This is ok for an animal with no natural predators. On the other hand, elephants see storms coming quickly. I wonder if this is why we have lore (and evidence) about elephants having long memory. A low reality frame rate would cause events distant in time to be squished closer to one another. To an elephant, something that happened last year has perhaps happened just a few months ago.

That’s not to speak of lizards and other reptiles who can switch frame rates. They blend into the plant world and spring into bullet time to catch insects to eat. We’re trying to answer the question: “how do animals hear sound?” and we end up at time-bending lizards.

This guy recorded bird songs at the frame rate of birds and then played them back in such a way as humans could simulate hearing those songs as birds might.

Video is cued up to the relevant part.

Makes you wonder what creatures exist just outside our reality frame rate, right there but not perceptible by fasties like us.

This focus on the materiality of sound is something for people who write papers for peer review. But it is useful knowing the mystery is there, that we can play with it in our living rooms and listen to birds wielding it with mastery. Mystery is but one simple question removed from us.

The Secret Song of Frogs and Birds

This reminds me of a concert I attended in the Knox Mountain Basin. I hiked up the mountain’s southwest face and went down its north side to a wetland. I was drawn there by the song of frogs. But upon arrival at the marsh, only the redwing blackbirds were singing. So I sat and watched them dance and play fight and enjoyed their distinctive trill. After about 15 minutes, a single frog began. He croaked a few croaks and stopped. He was answered in stereo, at the west end of the marsh. With eyes closed I heard the frog croaks slash across the marsh East to West and back. I listened to the ricochet slap back off the basin walls. I swear it felt like the sound was going at a speed I could follow. Did my meditative state increase my CFF and bend me to frog time? And then, a crescendo of dozens of frogs croaking. The bird section quieted down. A few minutes later, a crash of birds and frogs and wind. Finally the orchestra cooled down and the frog movement ended. The birds kept at it. The concert never ended.

In my appearance on Nightbird Radio I discussed my own personal experiences with “time travel”. I do not find the notion of entering frog time as strange as it might be. The big bang, the wind of change, the frog croak, all happening Now, a symphony for all time. All I had to do was climb a mountain and listen.

This anniversary of the podcast has me thinking about what should be my focus going forward. I’ve turned a corner in my project slash pilgrimage. It all started with the challenge of embracing change in my music career. I had lost my band whom I loved very much. I decided to accept this as an initiation into something greater. I endeavored to answer the big question: “what is the meaning of music?” That was 3 years ago. The majority of my approach to answering the question has been to annotate books and have conversations with people. I recently have had a bit of a distaste for the book research. I took a break from it. A booky approach yields thinky results. I’ve craved something more embodied, immediate, direct. As with a piece of music, change is necessary. You may notice a tonal shift in the podcast towards the granular, towards embodiment or the so-called mundane. You will hear an interview with a woman who practices the art of ornithomancy, an interview with a dancer, an interview with a radio DJ, wherein we mostly just nerd out about going to metal shows. I’m finding a place to land this heady enterprise. I’m coming down to earth. Discussion of the big ideas continues to excite me. But I want to remember that the deepest secrets of music are whispered by frogs and birds.


As a gesture of appreciation for you listeners I am offering a 12 month-a-versary giveaway. To enter simply use the contact page to send an email with the subject line “giveaway 2022”. I will announce the winner in September. In the meantime, please enjoy the latest podcast below.

A chat with Su Terry about vibes, why John Coltrane played so many damn notes, vertical music, Raw Sound as the Source and a story about Billy Taylor and Art Tatum.

This giveaway is sort of my answer to this podcast’s traditional closing question: “what should people listen to?” I am giving away an infinite piece of music. One of my favorite musicians, Brian Eno, created an app which makes music he calls generative. It plays ambient music which is always changing and never ending. It also has a feature that allows you to display infinitely changing lockscreen visuals. What is particularly brilliant about this piece of music is that its moods follow the rhythm of the four seasons. The great cycle. I think this is especially good for those of us with jobs that allow us to listen to music (or podcasts) all day. I find it also great as background music in the home while reading and doing house work. The app has a value of approximately $30 USD. It only works for iphones but if you are an android user, enter the giveaway nonetheless. I have a backup plan if you win. I promise I’ll give you something equally cool.

You can subscribe to the podcast at any of the platforms below.

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Freedom Convoy 2022 is a Musical Event

For nearly three weeks now there have been decentralized protests in Canada. The main focus however has been on Ottawa. It started as a convoy of transport trucks driving east from my current home province of British Columbia. This convoy’s destination was Parliament Hill in Ottawa and as it approached it picked up new vehicles, growing in size. Like a tsunami wave that is nothing significant until it arrives at shore.

The convoy was well supported by people in the towns along the route which perhaps emboldened new truckers to join in. This convoy grew so large that it was split into multiple convoys, the longest of which was estimated to stretch 120 kilometers. More convoys formed East from Quebec and the Maritime provinces and went West to Ottawa. There have since been other convoys converging at Coutts border, Ambassador Bridge, Winnipeg city and Victoria, BC. Dozens of countries worldwide have formed their own convoys in solidarity. Many of these convoys are designed to be semi-permanent protests. They intend to stay at the site of the protests until the reason for the protests is acknowledged and addressed. Supplies were brought on site and local supporters are providing additional supplies. There is so much surplus that a number of pop up shelters were created to feed the homeless and provide respite from the cold. The protests are there for the long haul. How long? Given the Canadian Prime Minister’s tone deaf posture, it could be very long.

There’s been much hemming and hawing about how many trucks actually arrived at their Ottawa destination. Let’s estimate. A single transport truck tractor measures approximately 6 meters. Let’s assume that there was an average of 6-10 lengths between trucks. That gives us about 16 trucks per kilometer. So that one convoy of 120 kilometers would comfortably fit 2000 trucks in it. This does not include regular pickup trucks and cars joining in support. So we can be reasonably certain there are thousands of trucks in Ottawa. This is corroborated by on the ground reporting estimating approximately 10 000. It is no wonder then, that Freedom Convoy 2022 inspired other protests in other cities and other countries and why we saw an innumerable crowd of foot protesters in support. The cold providing no disincentive. All the people I know who were on site report that there were higher numbers of Freedom Convoy 2022 protesters at Parliament Hill than there were pre-covid “Greta” Protesters and pre-covid Canada Day celebrations.

one of many convoys

This is a major world event. There’s been a lot of chatter about the politics. But I’m not a politician. I’m a musician. I see Freedom Convoy 2022 as a musical event. Here’s why.

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Something to Say “Yes” To: how I’m learning to like music again

I have a confession to make. I don’t like music.

I stopped listening to music and I stopped playing music when I decided to write about the meaning of it. The challenge of putting into words something I’ve only wordlessly known has been invigorating. But lately I have felt lethargic, frustrated and resistant about my project. This is perhaps a character trait or maybe a station in life.

I experienced something similar at my fight gym. I was doing great in beginner class. I knew I was the oldest person in the gym yet was starting at the bottom. I found the contrast amusing, motivating. After about 18 months a coach informed me I was to no longer attend beginner classes but was to move to “Advanced”. I was proud of my gold star. But in the months following, I felt a creeping realization come over me. There was never going to be anything beyond advanced class for me. I’m in my forties. I’ll never be a fighter. Competitive combat presents a risk of injury that I can not afford to take. The grind is an unavoidable plateau for me. I know that continuing to learn is its own reward. And I have had the pleasure of helping others new to the sport. Despite this, there is something in me that craves more. I remain frustrated with my martial arts practice.

I used to wonder why pro fighters don’t retire once they’ve reach the top. Why so many of them keep fighting past their prime. It’s not an isolated thing. Fighters retiring at their peak is a rare exception. Most keep showing up to take beatings. Each one worse than the previous. These fighters could have careers as trainers, some as pundits. But they want to fight. I no longer wonder why.

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Vessels of Ecstasy: Elvis and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Pentecost

Learned men, by imitating this harmony on stringed instruments and in song, have gained for themselves a return to this region.

Elvis leading his congregation

Elvis was asked where he learned his dance moves. The King’s gyrations had the nation in turmoil, especially the young girls. Watching his legendary appearances on the Ed Sullivan show, one can witness the charisma and erotic force wielded by Presley. Elvis answered that he learned these skills at his Pentecostal church.

I did some research into Pentecostal style worship to find if there were similarities between it and Elvis. And sure enough, I found the violent shaking of hands as if worshipers are zapping the air (and each other) Palpatine style. I also found the lowering of the body via wobbling of the knees and hips. The similarities are also hidden in plain sight. Those (mostly) buttoned up Christians are calling their spirit with the same genre of music Elvis called his. The demographic skews older at church but the audience exhibits a fervor for Rock ‘N’ Roll rivaling the teen-aged Elvis fanatics.

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Money and Music: dispelling the illusion

My brother Brian is an enterprising fellow, always has been. As a teenager, he learned how to turn eels into guitars. Brian loves fishing. He learned that his talent for catching fish was of value to others. So he caught eels and sold them. He accumulated enough money to buy an electric guitar. Brian wasn’t a fisherman, or a guitarist. He was an alchemist. Transforming slimy river monsters into pinch harmonics. This is the power of money. Cool huh? Well yes, unless you’re an eel. And that’s an important piece of the puzzle. In the eyes of money, nothing is what it is. Everything is everything else. Money flattens everything. It has 2-D vision. A tree, from the perspective money is only “good” because it can be transformed into lumber and paper. Which is counter to a natural way of looking at a tree. Because a tree is good in and of itself. Because it is beautiful. It doesn’t need to be anything else to be good. It just is good.

This is my thesis on money. For now. What happens when this strange force is applied to music?

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