A Sound Thinking Poll

By Ah-Keisha McCants

SoundThinking_ETGreen

Designed by ET Green / Instagram

Just last month, Whitney Edwards, CAT CUNY Service Corps member and City College student, attended the Audio Engineering Society (AES) conference with our Sound Thinking cohort. She and Ah-Keisha asked attendees who visited their table at the Education and Career Fair to answer the question, “What does the phrase ‘Sound Thinking’ mean to you?”

The responses were sonically thoughtful and deep – as one might expect from audio professionals, students and sound aficionados. 🙂

Check out some notable AES responses below!

“The phase sound thinking means to me, that you’re always thinking zonally. You’re always thinking in terms of sound, even in terms of engineering, sciences, biology, you always relate everything back to sound. Everything comes in the way of sound, vibration, air, and moving.”

“I would say that means innovative ways of being creative with sound technology and pushing the limits, trying new things and not being afraid of the results.”

“When I think of sound thinking, I think of when you’re brainstorming with a clear mind and you’re really focused on what it is that’s on your mind, but at the same time not letting other distractions get in the way or anything else that could sort of take your mind off the prize.”

“I guess it means like your interpretation of sound and what it means to you as a person, as an individual. Sound Thinking is thinking in a whole different universe. You’re just floating on the sound meridian and you just are able to experience it in your mind.”

“Thinking more in-depth into sound and thinking with sound, in a way. Thinking more in depth and really listening to sounds and figuring stuff out.”

Sound thinking sounds like a solid thought process because it is sound.”

“I think sound thinking is a form of language, where maybe words don’t work but instead let sound speak it for us. It’s quite understated because we still can’t define sound into words that is easy for anyone else to hear because it’s complicated and it’s a language that we have to decode. It speaks to those who don’t know how to comprehend it.”

“I […] think that Sound Thinking is something that we need to improve on because my mom is a hearing aid specialist and she would always remind us that those who are blind, can still communicate but those who are deaf it’s actually a lot harder and they get overlooked more so that’s why Sound Thinking is another form of communication that we all need to be aware of, like how we listen and also what we see, and how we can use sound to help those who don’t hear us.”

“The phrase sound thinking means to me, contemplating audiosonics and the various amplitudes that you may hear when you think of sound, or emotion and ambience. Sound thinking makes me think of sound in various ways.”

We’re curious about your thoughts. “What does the phrase ‘Sound Thinking’ mean to you?”

Share your answer(s) to the question in the comments section below.

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Sound Thinkers Say ‘YES’ to AES!

by Ah-Keisha McCants

Last Friday and Saturday, October 19th and 20th, our Sound Thinking cohort attended the Audio Engineering Society (AES) 145th International Pro Audio Convention at the Jacob Javits Center!

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AES is the premier event for Broadcast and Streaming, Audio for Virtual and Augmented Reality, Live Sound, Studio Recording, Home Recording, Music Production, Game Audio, Sound for Picture or Product Development, and much more. It’s like an audio-engineering playground, with hands-on technology at your fingertips, and icons in engineering and music at your disposal! We’re talking the best of the best—the legendary Stevie Wonder even made a guest appearance!

Thanks to the folks at AES, and particularly Lori Jackson, their Membership Director, Sound Thinking NYC was gifted with free Exhibits-Plus badges! The group participated in a number of special exhibits at AES, including the: Broadway Sound Expo, Project Studio Expo, and Live Sound Expo! They explored informational panels: Know It Before You Track It – Guitar Literacy for Recording Engineers; The Special Sauce for Mixing a Hit Record; Mix-Masters: The Art of Mastering, as well as Platinum Mastering – Past, Present Future: Changes in Audio Mastering Technology/Aesthetics, to name a few.

Sound Thinking also had a table in the Education and Career Fair at AES on the Friday of the convention. We shared our Sound Thinking mission as part of their initiative to connect learning institutions from around the world with a massive audio, sound and music community of students, enthusiasts and professionals!

Check out a few of our cohort-member highlights from the AES convention!

“I really like the microphone section because I got to hear and experience different sounds they have and they’re each made for a specific time.” – Joanna S.

“I just liked having conversations with different kinds of people… Because it’s cool to see different peoples’ perspectives. And this is an audio convention, but they’re all coming with so many different backgrounds in audio. I think that’s cool. – Taysia F.

“Bianca likes… The networking as well, as Taysia said. Being 17 right now, a senior in high school, and having so many connections through Sound Thinking and all the things I was able to do outside because of Sound Thinking, makes me feel in a secure place. But also going out of my comfort zone is a really great thing.” – Bianca P.

“I liked walking around and exploring… The whole new experience of being around people that have the common theme of loving music.” – Annalise J.

“I liked the soundboards and just playing with them. I was getting a feel of how it was.” – Simone F.

“I liked that I was able to get a hands-on experience with the Cloudlifter Zi… And then I won the Cloudlifter Zi.” – Sharon A.

“What I really enjoyed from this convention is, first of all, the mixing boards. I never really knew there were different types. I knew there was for live sound, studio, but I never knew it was for TV shows and all. It really mesmerized me just walking through the exhibition, looking at all the different mixing boards. And having the experience from the Platinum Sound studio, and gaining a hands-on experience of being the audio engineer… That just really puts my interest in learning more about it, at a higher level…” – Angie R.

“I think I really enjoyed the aspect of just being able to hear people’s backgrounds. We met a really nice man. I don’t remember his name. I didn’t catch it. But he was at the Soundable booth. He was so inspired by women all his life, and so he was really appreciative that we were here and that we were actually taking charge to network and get out of our comfort zones, and being so young. And he really encouraged me and inspired me to continue.” – Celines H.

Ah-Keisha McCants
Project Director
Sound Thinking NYC

IN SOUND THINKING: Mrs. Butcher

by Keith Johnston 

keith_Mrsbutcher

young Keith

I was born and raised in Brooklyn NY to Cuban-Jamaican parents. We were exposed to a broad range of music during the 60s and 70s. The radio was always playing in our house. We listened and danced to everything from mambo, reggae and calypso to rock, R&B and Jazz. My mother played organ and sang in church. My siblings and I would sing in the youth choir, as I would hide behind choir members during performances. As an introverted visual artist, I spent most of my time drawing on everything. At nine years old my parents enrolled my two sisters and I in Mrs. Ray’s School for Music and Culture in Bedford Stuyvesant. Mrs. Ray was an extremely conservative dark-skinned woman. Her hair would always be in a tight bun and she dressed in navy blue and white old English attire. Her high-pitched operatic voice would really intimidate me as she taught us how to read and play music on the piano. She used a wooden ruler to smack our hands or to tap us on different areas of our back to develop effective posture and technique. It was a traumatizing experience for me. Every week I pleaded with my mother not to go but she insisted on raising “well rounded children”. After about six weeks of lessons every Saturday, and daily practice, I refused, cried and begged not to go anymore. As a way to get out of it I told my father I didn’t like the piano and wanted to play the guitar, so he released me from piano lessons.

For months I listened to my sisters practice and perform recitals playing “Moonlight Sonata” and other classics, as my father would take me to work with him. I couldn’t decide which was worse, Mrs. Ray or cleaning and mopping down a four story brownstone every Saturday. That Christmas my parents gave me a sunburst colored TeleStar electric guitar and amplifier. I was so elated, strumming the out-of-tune strings. Eventually the excitement deflated by the horrible sound and I went back to drawing in my sketchbook. My mother asked my father “How is he going to learn to play that thing?” My father said he found a teacher on Snyder Ave. The following Saturday, my father grabbed the guitar and we drove to East Flatbush. I was so excited, thinking about all those cool guitar players I’ve seen on TV or on my father’s albums, like Jimi Hendricks, Chuck Berry and Wes Montgomery. We pulled up in front of an apartment building with four rough looking teenagers, with headbands and Afros sitting on the stoop. In the window of the first floor apartment was a crooked written sign that read “Mrs. Butchers School of Music”.  The joy of my father taking me for guitar lessons faded into anxiety as we exited the car. Between the neighborhood and the trauma from Mrs. Ray I started to retreat. My father became annoyed, “Come on Boy! Don’t start! Carry this”. He handed me the guitar in a black plastic, vinyl-ish case.

As we moved toward the apartment building the teens moved out of our way. My father rang the bell and a woman with a big smile and round glasses looked out the window. She unlocked and opened the front door wearing a floral housecoat. I remember thinking “she plays the guitar?” She warmly greeted me, much different from Mrs. Ray who was very stern. “Good afternoon young man. I am your teacher Mrs. Butcher. What kind of guitar do you have there?” I proudly said “a TeleStar”. “Oh” she said, obviously not knowing what that was. Knowing my father it was probably the cheapest guitar he could find.

We entered her eclectic living room with shiny wooden floors, dim lamps and floral wallpaper. Her dusty old chandelier, much different than Mrs. Ray’s shiny elaborate one, provided a homey comfort. I was enthralled by the messy artistry; all the instruments around the room. Hanging on the wall was a big 36 inch saw with wooden handles on each end of it. The only furniture in the room was an antique couch with a plastic cover, a glass coffee table, wooden nightstand and two plastic covered dining chairs with a music stand in front of it. My father paid Mrs. Butcher for the lesson and book and said he would be back by 2pm.

After my father left I stood in the midst of the room amazed. Mrs. Butcher asked me to sit in one of the chairs. I sat staring at the different brass and woodwinds on the bookshelf and thinking, “Does she collect all these instruments or does she play them?”  In the right corner was an upright piano, in the left corner an organ; behind me was a series of string instruments, cello, violin, upright bass and a banjo in a corner next to a vacuum cleaner. “Are you ready?” she asked. I asked if she played all these instruments. She said yes, noticing how I stared at the saw on the wall. She asked if I wanted to hear it. I signaled “yes”, not really knowing what she meant by playing it. Noticing my distraction she removed the saw from the wall, sat on the couch, placed it between her thighs, grabbed a bow and began to play. It was the most remarkable thing I had ever heard. The saw sounded like a human voice. She made it sing. In that very moment I fell in love with the infinite possibilities of music. As a result, for the rest of my life, I never stopped studying and digging for the music inside me, living the musician’s endless journey of exploration and discovery through collaborating in this universal love language. From playing in bands at school, jam sessions, block parties and local clubs to recording studios, tours, recording artists and performing at Madison Square Garden, Rockefeller Center, and in front of thousands in venues and stadiums around the world.

Thank you Mrs. Butcher for those inspirational Saturdays of patient instruction, spontaneous jam sessions and a skillset that set me on a musical pathway to self-discovery and creativity.

Keith Johnston
Director, College & Adult Program
CUNY Creative Arts Team

Reflection: Blue Man Group

by Kailee-Jade Berrios

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STNYC & CAT Youth Theatre members, with CAT staff, post-Blue Man Group experience

First of I just want to say thank you to Ania Grzesik for inviting us to see The Blue Man Group. Ania was a panelist during our inaugural summer intensive Mentoring Friday’s event. I don’t have any words for this show; I was speechless. I’ve always wanted to see this show. Now that I finally saw it, it was definitely worth it. The thing that stood out most about this show was their use of sound. It felt like having our own jam session. The production used different types of instruments to create their sound. They used different colored paints with their drums — the drums had such a loud bass, I could feel it in my chest! When they used the paint on the drums, the paint bounced back when they played. The paint looked like little tiny colorful spots; it looked like something you would see at a fountain– they were really beautiful. 

They also used pipes to create sound. They used the pipes to make the sound louder — like when you roll up a piece of paper and speak into it, your voice gets more bass and volume. That’s what it reminded me of and when they connected the pipes; the sound was sooo amazing. I’m telling you it was like their own jam session on that stage, not only did they do sound but they used comedy. That show was HILARIOUS and every skit they did made me laugh. They even brought people from the audience onto the stage! My favorite part of the show was when the Blue Men went all the way to the back of the Astor Place Theatre and grabbed paper rolls and threw them at us to keep it rolling. Plus, their lighting design was amazing; it felt like I was at an underground club. It was the best experience and I recommend people to see the Blue Man Group for themselves. I would definitely see that show again in a heartbeat.

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STNYC Staff & Students

Sound Music Reviews

Hi, Clara and Jasmin here! We are two students from the inaugural cohort of Sound Thinking NYC! We decided to come together to create this column to share some of our favorite pieces of music to all of our readers in hopes of expanding your palate. With our reviews of production, sound and background information, we hope to help you discover new music and artists that you normally wouldn’t listen to. Music is a very large area of opportunities and we hope through this monthly column, we could make it a little easier to get to know some great artists to watch out for! Thank you for reading!  – J & C.

Review By: Jasmin Bota

waitress_500This month the album I’d like to focus on is the soundtrack to the popular musical, Waitress. Originally a famous movie back in 2007, composer and pop singer Sara Bareilles brings this movie to the stage with her raw emotion, and beautiful interpretation of this heart-wrenching journey. The show is a self-discovery story about a woman named Jenna who is married to an abusive husband. After one drunk night, Jenna finds herself pregnant and must decide whether or not to leave him for good after she gives birth. To cope, Jenna finds baking to be a sense of comfort and uses it as her creative outlet—throughout the show she uses baking to help her figure out her problems. As Jenna’s pregnancy progresses and Jenna’s pregnancy journey continues, Jenna begins to fall in love with her OBGYN and the two start an affair that will change her life. This emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt and re-discovery creates a story that has listeners on the edge of their seats from start to finish. 

Waitress is an award-winning musical and is the first Broadway show to have an all-female creative team. Waitress has also set the record for the most money earned in previews for a play showing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. This album includes powerful ballads by Broadway actress, Jessie Mueller, who plays Jenna and is mostly known for her role as Carole King, as well as appearances by Kimiko Glenn, Keala Settle, Drew Gehling, and many more. The heartfelt lyrics and emotion within this album makes Waitress a story to remember and with a band of very few, this music is as raw as its story. I would rate this soundtrack a 7/10 because of its storyline and plot as well as vocal richness. The only reason I will not give it a 10 is because Broadway shows are simply better in person. The magic of live theater is one that is well underestimated! 

Although streaming this album is a gift on its own, seeing the show with it creates an experience I’m sure every music lover would kill to get their hands on. 

Rating: 7/10
Album: Waitress the Musical
Composer: Sara Bareilles


Review By: Clara O’Connell

marmozetsmainimageIn late 2015 and early 2016, the vocalist of the British band Marmozets, Becca Macintyre, endured two intensive procedures on both of her knees, immobilizing her for months after the operation. Those months spent in solidarity launched Macintyre into a depressive spiral to the point where she considered quitting the band, something she had been working on since she was fifteen years old. But she felt as though the stage was where she belonged, and she could never give that up. Little by little she began to get back on her feet and find her place again. And so Marmozets, comprised of Macintyre’s brothers Sam and Josh on guitar and drums, respectively, and brothers Will (bass) and Jack (guitar) Bottomley, began recording for their second album Knowing What You Know Now later that year, 2016.

The album features dance-y songs like “Meant to Be,” big rock songs like “Habits” and “Suffocation,” and slower, more somber songs like “Me & You”. The sonic diversity of the record was a deliberate choice; “That’s the beauty of art; you can go in so many different directions,” says Macintyre to Rock Sound magazine. Macintyre’s vocal performance is incredible and impressive—switching from angsty rock sounds in songs like “Major System Error” to a strong, deep voice in songs like “Insomnia”.

Despite the variety in sound throughout the album, Knowing What You Know Now has a common idea running through it. It’s “about going through all the trials and the crap that life does bring… It’s about realizing and getting some sort of method to fall in place for you to be able to deal with those situations, when they come back around,” is how Macintyre describes it to AltPress magazine back in January 2018. In a sentence, this record is for anyone looking for an honest British rock album with a strong vocal lead and energetic band to back it up.

Song: Run With The Rhythm
Rating: 4/5
Album: Knowing What You Know Now (Roadrunner Records)
Artist: Marmozets

IN SOUND THINKING: On Listening / We Are Music

by Keith Johnston 

I believe we are all born with gifts, talents and abilities.  On our journey, we engage in the great unifier, “music”, but the question is, are we listening to the ebb and flow of what this life is offering? Regardless of race, gender, culture or nationality, music is central to the human condition. We are sound personified, vibrating at specific frequencies that define who we are as living breathing instruments.

Music is all about listening, affecting and being affected, feeling and experiencing the power of orchestrated sound. Whether we are aware of it or not, we listen with all five senses and then some. At the heart of all music is listening. Whether we are playing music, or even unconsciously exposed, we are transformed by the sound in some way. It doesn’t matter how good of a musician we are as much as how well we listen and respond.

Life is all about making music. In our everyday activities, walking, talking, eating or dancing, we exercise the three elements of music; rhythm, melody and harmony. Take notice of how nature has its own orchestration with a plethora of instrumentation through all life forms. Even when listening to people speak—the tone, rhythm and melodies of their native language create a unique musical exchange, a conversation grounded in rituals that are foundational to their identity.

The power of listening is evident in the most remarkable displays of music; an African drummer’s ability to calculate a dancer’s next move in a split second, a jazz musician’s telepathy or the ability to spontaneously spit rhymes in complex rhythms and melodies is an example of this high science from the cosmos. If we are fearless enough to study, practice and observe we can reach new heights through the sound of music. This universal language is essential to our health and unifies people as nothing else can. It is also an effective way to enhance our academic facilities; math, science, literacy, etc.

Anything that breathes is music, shifting the atmosphere, making a statement or raising a question. Sound is the source of all life. As we venture on our personal path, interacting in various ways, we are making music. Our individual journey is orchestrated by choices, circumstance and relationships composing an original piece.

Music is sacred in whatever way each individual might define that term. So, as we create, let us strive to harmonize or at least find relevance in the dissonance in this improvisational jazzathon called life.

A Reflection on the “Play” Jam Session and Documentary

by Nia Blankson

Two Fridays ago, I had the pleasure of receiving an invitation to an event that I could only dream about prior to participating in Sound Thinking NYC. Whilst in the middle of my vacation, an email appeared in my inbox stating I, along with 6 other members of the cohort were selected to preview an unreleased documentary by Dave Grohl, as well as perform in an in-studio jam session, all in Downtown Music Publishing Studios. My immediate reaction, of course, was to re-read the email a few more times to make sure I read correctly, but I instantly started panicking, as I realized I’d never actually played piano with other people before. The extent of my playing up to that point was playing extremely rehearsed classical pieces alone on a stage in front of an audience in a performance hall. Regardless of how daunting that seems, I was feeling more overwhelmed by the fact that I would have to play unrehearsed, among other people, and having to add onto what they were doing on the spot.

STNYC-Play-piano

Finally, the day arrived, and unaware of what really to expect, I headed down to CAT, then to Downtown Music Publishing Studios to meet the other 6 chosen. When we arrived, we met Max, who was going to be the bassist of the group, and we found out that he was seventeen, plays other instruments as well as the bass, and has had quite a bit of experience working in studios. After our friendly introductions, we were seated in studio to preview Dave Grohl’s short documentary, “Play.” The first part of the documentary featured Grohl talking about music, and interviewing kids who are a part of a music program where they learn how to play instruments in private lessons, as well as come together in a band to play through the same program. This was quite interesting to see, as the music schools I have attended, as well as most others I’ve heard about, have all been centered around teaching children how to be solo musicians, unless you’re playing in an orchestra, or an occasional duet with your teacher. It was quite inspiring to watch the kids working things out by themselves (of course under the tutelage of their instructor,) and get a glimpse into their lives in music, plus being able to relate to them in several ways as well.

The second part of the documentary included the 23 minute instrumental completely composed and played by Dave Grohl himself, in which he plays multiple instruments edited together to create a lengthy masterpiece. We all listened and watched in awe as Grohl’s instrumental took many twists and turns, almost experimenting in various genres, showcasing his multifaceted skill-set and expertise of every instrument. When the documentary and the giant, high quality speakers in the studio went quiet, everyone in the room followed suit, and you could almost hear a pin drop. It remained completely silent for a few seconds, everyone exchanging glances, before we all burst into applause.

STNYC-Play-guitar

If I’m being completely honest, strangely enough, my favorite part of the documentary was just before it showed the final cut of the instrumental piece, and there were scenes of Dave Grohl making mistakes, doing parts of his instrumental over and over again until he got it perfect. He would either mess up a part, or simply want to give it another go as he knew for a fact he could perform much better than what he just played. These scenes highlighted my personal favorite section that stood out as it showed me that no one is perfect, and a huge part of music is trial and error. Even a professional like Dave Grohl needed multiple takes in order to get his piece to a standard that was acceptable for him.

STNYC-Play-drums

After the documentary ended, we ate lunch, and got ready to play in the recording studio. I personally have never been in a setting like this, and I hadn’t a clue as to how things would work. For the most part, I played the piano, occasionally switching between the synthesizer and the keyboard, but I wasn’t as comfortable with them. However, as we came up with our first melody, and began to add on to each other, although I was extremely nervous, I was becoming more comfortable with playing, and was able to figure out what to play, and how to fit in what I was playing into what everyone else was doing. The whole experience was extremely fun, and it challenged me to think quickly and collaborate with others live, but I also found it extremely helpful when Keith Johnston (CAT Program Director) was giving us some advice as we were playing that enabled us to try new things and think outside of the box.

The fact that the guest bassist, Max, that was playing with us was a male was of no real importance to me. In fact, I was quite excited that we were going to be working with someone who was already experienced working in music studios, and we all got along with him from the start. Everyone had the same goal, as at the end of the day, were just 7 musicians working together creating songs from scratch.

From watching Dave Grohl’s documentary to actually playing in the recording studio, I feel there needs to be more of an emphasis on music education. This experience had a positive impact on me, and I feel that more people could easily benefit from music education as a part of the core curriculum. Not only did both the documentary and the experience itself give me a deeper understanding into the music world, but they both highlighted the importance of collaboration, trial and error, and trying new things. Having to work with others to spontaneously produce a song, making mistakes, and attempting new things were all very prevalent in our jam session, and these are attributes that should be given more attention when it comes to music education.

I was fortunate enough to be able to be a part of this experience first-hand, and my wish is that more students who are passionate about music have the opportunity to go through something even similar to this. Through watching the documentary, and being able to participate in a jam session in a recording studio, I was able to understand how important it is to sometimes just set everything aside, focus, and simply play.