Influence and Confluence 

It's been about 7 months since my last blog and once again, a lot has changed for me.  In late August of this year I returned to the IT field, a field which I left 11 years ago.  It was a necessary change both for my family's sake and for my sake as well.  My interest in the IT world has been thoroughly recharged with the new goals I've set for myself in education, training and certification.  I want to accomplish a lot over the next 3-5 years or so.  But you should know, music is a part of me to my core.  It isn't something that I can lose or give up.  It's going to be a part of my life for as long as I live so this website and the various musical outlets it represents aren't going anywhere.

That being said, I've been thinking a lot lately about the music that's influenced me over the years:  the genres, the people, the stuff that leaves a lasting impression.  There have been full-blown revelations, things that I didn't even realize about how my musical tastes developed.  It wasn't until I sat down in the quiet moments and followed the breadcrumbs back to my childhood that I understood what shaped my love for music.

This blog is about those moments, as special or as boring as they may be.

Here we go, itemized by genre:

General Rock Appreciation:  Pretty sure I got this from my dad.  When I was in grade school, my dad used to take me and my brother in the car with him to run errands on the weekends.  Up to a certain age, we were only allowed to listen to the Beach Boys because they were squeaky clean and my parents didn't have to worry about the content.  I remember clearly that my dad had a carrying case for all the Beach Boys cassettes we would listen to together.  But from time to time, I noticed that there were one or two other carrying cases under the car seats that had music I didn't recognize.  Stuff like Van Halen, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and on and on.  One day I asked if we could listen to "some of that other stuff" and Dad said no.  As we got a little older, he would occasionally play us some of the safer tracks from those albums.  But nothing stopped me from trying to find those songs on the local radio stations and making my own recordings.  Two of the songs I can remember trying hard to record on my own were Van Halen's "Jump" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It".  I couldn't sit still when those two songs were on.

Years later, when my dad came to visit me at Virginia Tech one weekend, we were driving around in his car listening to Van Halen's "1984" album and the opening drum part to "Hot for Teacher" came on...

...he still fast-forwarded through the song, just like when I was 6.

Funk, Disco and Soul:  This was one of those revelation moments I was talking about earlier.  For years I mistakenly thought that my love for Funk, Disco and Soul only went as far back as high school and that it stemmed from my appreciation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Starting to learn bass at that time I was impressed with Flea and, in the process of studying his style, I began looking back through his influences to help improve my connection with the bass.  It led me to guys like George Clinton, the Ohio Players and many others.

But in a conversation with one of my students this past summer, it dawned on me that the true source for my appreciation goes back to grade school... and Saturday morning cartoons.

Every Saturday, I'd watch the morning cartoons.  Probably just like every other kid in my generation.  My brother and I would skip around to the different networks depending on what was on at any given time.  One of the last cartoons we'd watch every Saturday was on CBS and when it was over, do you know what came on?

Soul Train.

As a kid I remember catching glimpses of the show and being thoroughly fascinated by it.  Everyone was dancing, smiling and having a good time.  I wondered, "Woah.  What IS this and how do I get in on it?"  Of course when Soul Train came on, it also signaled the beginning of the afternoon and my parents would usually come by to tell us to go outside and play instead of wasting the day sitting in front of the TV.  Despite being shooed away from the TV in the beginning or middle of a given Soul Train episode, those infectious songs, carefree attitude and very active basslines stayed with me to this day.

Progressive and Instrumental Rock:  Living in southern California in the late 80's/early 90's was an interesting time.  Radio stations still played the glam stuff and were starting to push grunge when it came on the scene.  I still have the perception that the radio stations back then were more versatile with their music selections... or maybe they just had more freedom to choose what to play without fear of penalty.  Whatever the reason, in 1992 I heard "Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater on a local radio station and I was instantly hooked.  This was one of the first albums I bought on my own, with my own money and it marked the beginning of a time where I started to stretch away from my parents' musical influences.  I bought the "Images and Words" album on cassette and played it non-stop for maybe 3 months straight.

Also getting airplay around the same time, I'd occasionally hear these wild guitar songs with no lyrics, and I liked it.  It was like there was more space for the music to move.  There was no more verse/chorus/bridge structure, and I liked the idea that music could live and thrive outside of those industry-imposed boundaries...even though I didn't know what all that was back then.  I just knew what I liked.

Things started clicking when Sony aired this commercial for their new Discman:

That little title block in the lower left corner pointed me to Joe Satriani.  Satriani is legendary as a player AND as a teacher, having taught Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett of Metallica, Larry LaLonde of Primus, Alex Skolnick of Testament, Charlie Hunter and many other famous guitarists.

Between the prog rock of Dream Theater and the instrumental rock of Joe Satriani (and Gary Hoey), my eyes and ears were now open.  These guys and their music were HUGE influences on me well before I even thought about picking up a bass.  Epic, guitar-driven songs held my interest 20 years ago and they continue to do so today.

Metal:  This comes from my brother.  In high school, as I was delving deeper into learning about funk and how to play it on bass, my brother was (and still is) fully into metal.  In fact, I used to make fun of him for listening to it.  My thoughts were basically like anyone else who happened to look at the music without deeper analysis:  "I can't understand what he's screaming about."  And that was where I tuned out.  I couldn't find anything appealing about it musically, certainly not when it came to the basslines which I always thought were too low in the mix or absent altogether.

While my family was on a trip in the mid-90's, I was unlucky enough to have the batteries in my discman run out at the beginning of the trip so I had to listen to my brother's discman.  One of the CDs he brought with him was Pantera's "Vulgar Display of Power" album... you know, the one that has the album cover of a guy getting punched in the face.  The first track was "Mouth for War" and at the end of the song, around 3 minutes in, there's a build-up into the fast ending.  I remember rewinding the track back to that part over and over and over again until my brother asked for his Discman back because I was hogging it.  I can point to that moment as the source of my love for metal.  Over the years, I came to appreciate metal in a big way.  The guitar and drum work in metal music is virtuoso and if people weren't turned off by the screaming vocals, I think they would recognize it more as the art form it is.

That's it for now.  It's 3:30am and it's time for bed.

- Mills

A Case for Atonal and Dissonant Music 

As a musician and music teacher, I purposely seek out new and different kinds of music. It's an important part of my livelihood.  Many people I've met, musician or not, like to make this claim as well, be it during an intense debate about music with a friend or in small-talk with a complete stranger.  But this claim has widely varying degrees of truth to it.  Sometimes people are as sincere about the statement as I am: they are constantly looking to be challenged and/or expand their musical horizons.  Other times, people make this statement hoping that 1) they are acknowledged to be as sophisticated as the company they are in or 2) that they are not forced to defend (or worse, quantify) what it is they enjoy about the music they claim to listen to.



No doubt this is at least in part due to each individual having a unique definition of what "new and different kinds of music" means and that every individual places different levels of importance on the music in their lives.  Some spectra of musical tastes are narrower than others.  However, I'm concerned about the large number of people whose arrays of musical tastes reside wholly in popular music.  I'm even more concerned about those that vehemently defend said pop music... because there are entire universes of music they will never know.



So, I'm writing about it.



In this essay/blog/quasi-rant, I aim to make the case for a mainstream shift towards more dissonant and atonal music and away from pop music.  I will attempt to explain in mathematical and practical terms why pop music (and by extension, most strictly tonal music) is actually holding back our individual and collective imaginations. I will also explain why this shift is already slowly happening.



Depending on who you are, your perspective on music and your current state of mind, you may think I'm just an old dude who's complaining about what the kids are listening to these days.  Or you may think I'm a young guy who's talking about crazy things like atonal composers whose music sounds like noise.  I'm both these things.  But the purpose of this writing is to point out the serious problems with today's music and to suggest a personal course of action.  So please consider what I have to say and then decide for yourself.  After reading through this, you'll at the very least have a window into how I perceive music even if you choose not to agree with me.



To eliminate confusion, I'll be using the term "pop music" going forward as a generic for all mainstream music found on the radio or TV (rock, country, hip-hop, alternative, commercial jingles, etc.)



Why does it matter what people listen to?  Music is culturally, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually important to people.  It's helped significantly shape world cultures throughout history.  It brings people together from different walks of life. So why then is music treated like such a disposable commodity today?  Why are there no more classic songs, albums or artists?  Why does everything seem like a "flavor of the week"?  Why do so few artists today have staying power in the industry?  Certainly the sheer quantity of music we're exposed to plays a part in this trend.  The fact that anyone can make an album and put it online for the world has opened the floodgates for real talent to be obscured.  But this path also serves as a way for musicians to bypass the antiquated major record label model and to make sure their music is heard, despite a lack of marketing or financial backing.  Unfortunately, record companies have responded to the digital music revolution with lawsuits instead of innovation or even the willingness to change their horribly outdated business model.



Is part of the reason for the decline of pop music due to today's music simply not being that good or that memorable?  And if that's the case, what's the reason?  There can be little doubt that major record labels have played a large part in the degradation of popular music.  Their emphasis on visuals over musical ability has led to the rise of AutoTune, quantization and even more lip-syncing.  The fact that any self respecting artist would use these crutches to any great degree should send up red flags that something is very wrong with the state of music today.  It seems as if record labels only look at an artist and don't ever actually listen to them.  This is a critical problem rooted in the very mindset of both the A&R types and the artists they sign:  "Can't sing?  Oh, we can fix her pitch in the studio.  Can't play to a click track?  No problem, our engineers will quantize your beats so the audience can't tell the difference. Can't write a song?  Don't worry; we have a team of songwriters working on your first hit right now."



And really, that's what it comes down to:  pulling the wool over the eyes (or ears) of the audience.  Fooling them.  In most cases this is usually easy, especially with younger audiences.  One scam the record industry has been pulling for years has been to repackage old pop music in new, exciting ways so that each subsequent generation of listeners is, at first, oblivious to the fact that the music they're enjoying has already been done before in some form or another.  Now, this doesn't strictly apply to all music that uses samples, but examples would include P-Diddy or Will Smith's music, which blatantly uses other artists' entire songs for significant financial gain, all under the guise of original music.  After the kids wise up and realize what happened, they're older and have already paid considerable money to strengthen this system.  That money is then used to fool the next generation, and on and on the dilution of original content goes.



Looking at this from another angle, take the Axis of Awesome's video, "Four Chords" shown here:



The video walks through 47 songs that all share the same chord progression.  Contrary to the name of the band, this concept is actually NOT awesome.  They have, perhaps unintentionally, demonstrated how shallow and uninteresting most pop music is at its core.



But is that what pop music is supposed to be?  The lowest common denominator?  The race to find placating music that in no way challenges us or our current definition of what good music is?  Is it only a money grab by record companies that uses music as bait to see what resonates with audiences, regardless of whether or not it's been done before?  Record companies don't care if you have a sincere, genuine connection to the music they're pumping out.  They're out to make a buck and it's all business to them.



I think there's something inherently perverse about an art form that seeks validation through money, or measures success by how many units sell versus how original and meaningful the art truly is.  I have a hard time understanding how anyone who calls themselves a musical artist would be happy relegated to playing the simple, predictable, unimaginative music of the status quo.  I'm pro-business and pro-art but when these two things come together, they turn into something septic.  The need for success drives most businesses and creativity drives most art.  You'd think the record industry would be in the "business of creativity" but they're more about the "creativity of business" to keep you listening.



This is one of my biggest gripes with popular music and personally, why I never had any interest in becoming a "rock star" at any point in my music career.  There is no sense of exploration or musical ambition in pop music because those ideals are interpreted as financial risks by the powers that be.  There is only formulaic, tried-and-true, oversimplified music that plods through the same chord progressions, the same melodies and the same mindsets.



This has to change for everyone's sake.



The human spirit will always be intertwined with innovation, imagination and exploration.  These ideals can rarely be attained in the pop medium anymore and it's time to consciously move away from pop music as it currently exists. 



There's certainly room left for the exploration and creation of original tonal music.  Especially due to the extremely large number of rhythmic permutations for melodies and harmonies to reside. But pop music does nothing to encourage that exploration or creation.  If anything, it punishes and alienates the truly original while rewarding the predictable.



To be clear, I'm not saying, "Stop listening to pop music now and forever."  I'm saying don't ONLY listen to pop music.  I enjoy certain classic pop gems as much as the next person, mainly for nostalgic reasons.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  But listening exclusively to pop music and nothing else is the equivalent to eating candy 6 times a day:  it's not really doing you any good.  You wouldn't only watch movies that have a G-rated, feel-good theme to them would you?  Of course not.  Otherwise genres like drama, suspense, comedy, documentaries, etc. would never thrive if that were the case.  So why doesn't music get that same treatment?  It's high time to listen to things that you wouldn't normally listen to and be open to the originality and creativity that comes from real music, not the industry-generated fluff that's pushed on us daily.



Another strike against pop music is its unwillingness to utilize all of the dimensions available in music.  Music can be categorized into 3 elements (melody, harmony and rhythm).  But most people forget that there are also 4 dimensions to each note:  pitch, duration, timbre (tone) and dynamics.  Unfortunately, pop music does very little to incorporate dynamic variation.  In the early days of rock, one of the things that set it apart from the other music of its time was a constant, often loud, dynamic.  There were no fluctuations in the dynamics and this has contributed to the predictability of pop music over the years. There are exceptions to the rule but now we have songs that very rarely ever change in loudness, tempo, time signature or key signature. 



Pop music is in a rut.



Here comes the math.  This video discusses in detail the topic, "Will We Ever Run Out of New Music?”  It even makes reference to the "Axis of Awesome" video mentioned previously.  Take a moment to watch this from beginning to end:



If you're unable to watch, I'll list a few of the key points brought up in the video: 



1)  There are roughly 211,000,000 bits used on a CD to capture a five minute song.  This means there are 2^211,000,000 possible different bit states that can be represented during that 5 minutes span, each representing unique audio.  The digital format for songs is in absolutely no danger of ever being used up.



2)  As astronomically large as this number is, it is a finite number, not infinite.



3)  This number is 63,000,000 DIGITS long.  Not the number 63 million.  Think of it as the number "1" with 62,999,999 zeros after it. To put this in perspective, the number of atoms in the Earth is only 50 digits long.



4) The number of unique measures using one octave of all 12 notes with combinations of whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and 32nd-note durations is 123.5 * 10^33 (or 123.5 decillion) which is 36 digits long. Putting this in perspective, the age of the universe in seconds is only 18 digits long.  Keeping in mind that it usually takes 2 measures to form a short, memorable melody (and sometimes upwards of 4 or 8), 123.5 * 10^33 would then be squared or raised to the 4th or 8th powers depending on how long the melody is.  That's how many unique hooks or melodies you could derive mathematically and if you use notes outside of a single octave you're looking at even bigger numbers.



Pop music simply isn't trying very hard to inspire you or spark your imagination.  It doesn't care if you look at it in wonder or mystery.  It only serves to meet your immediate need to hear simple, comforting (possibly nostalgic) music and to keep that specific appetite sated for as long as it can.



These numbers should be incredibly humbling. The gentleman in the video almost entirely proves my point, but ends up doing a 180 at the end of it. He surrenders to the notion that the commonalities between music are more interesting than the mathematical possibilities left to express future music. 



And this is where I disagree wholeheartedly with him.



He also throws in a little tidbit at the end that tries to link our like or dislike of certain music to how easily the music can be compressed.  If it's too simple (a rising scale) or too complex (white noise) and we're not interested.  Personally, I refuse to believe we're slaves to this phenomenon.  If one day human intellect can perceive the music in white noise, I'd say that's a proud day for humanity and not something to ever shy away from.  In fact, white noise sometimes creates EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) which is partially caused by the tendency of the human brain to recognize patterns in random stimuli. Plus, white noise is already used in electronic music to create percussive sounds like snare drums and hi-hats.  Bottom line, our minds want to make sense of complex patterns (even if only on a subconscious level).



If total music potential were shown to us as the available and unavailable space of a computer hard drive, then what the human race has filled it with so far is a fraction of a fraction of its full capacity.  There's a LOT of blank canvas left for musicians to explore.



How do we unlock all that extra space?  An individual gut check is required for that step.  You have to challenge yourself and your personal definition of music. Realize that every new song you listen to could potentially be something that redefines music for you.  You have to move away from the happy and comfortable and listen to things that are frightening, sad, angry, etc. That's what it means to be human.  We're not static creatures locked in a single emotional state.  We experience many different feelings and the music we listen to and create is a reflection of that.  We reflexively push away music that doesn't automatically meet our personal criteria for "happy".  This is not good for us emotionally, intellectually or spiritually.  If you listen to something and are mildly turned off or worse, extremely repulsed by it, stop yourself from judging.  Ask, "If I don't like it, why do so many other people enjoy it?"  And try to find the answer before passing judgment.  Because passing judgment says more about you and your unwillingness to listen to "new and different kinds of music" than it does about the music itself.  When I hear someone putting down a style of music they don't know much about, I truly think it's some kind of Pavlovian response.  They've been conditioned to like pop and anything that's a subset of it.  Which begs the question, "Do you like it because it really has meaning to you or do you like it or because someone told you this is what you should listen to?"



And if you're a musician reading this, then please take this as a musical law:  "If you can't play it or don't understand it, then you can't knock it."  It's something I try to instill in all my students.  You'll be a better musician for it.  Trying to find the appeal in music that doesn't instinctively appeal to you is very valuable.  It does wonders for your empathy, it will help you grow as an individual and you will more than likely learn something new in the process.



The empty space that represents music potential is where the future of music is.  Because if you're going to stick with tonal, pop music, you're going to be covering that small sliver of used hard drive space, over and over again, listening to things that have already been before, things that aren't genuinely original and (if you're a musician) things that don't really qualify you as an artist.



We either need to shift our own personal focus away from tonal, pop music or somehow infuse pop music with dissonance and atonality to add variation to our musical palate.



Technically, this shift already began at the turn of the 20th century.  The Second Viennese School (Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern) and composers such as Claude Debussy, Béla Bartók, Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky began writing music that has been described as atonal.



And you can't really blame them.  What preceded their rise was hundreds of years of tonal music dating back to medieval times.  Think about that for a moment.  Tonal, diatonic music only uses 7 of those notes at a given time. These 7 notes comprise a key, a grouping of notes to be used over and over again.  Strict diatonic music does not make use of all 12 notes like the composers above were attempting to do in new ways.  The more notes used means the more combinations of melodies and harmonies and more possibilities.  These composers realized the inherent limitations of a 7-note tonal system because they were already bumping up against them.  They likely also realized that harmonic progressions and resolutions would become extremely predictable because the large body of music that existed before their time had already covered that ground.



Luckily, music in general is moving (slowly) in an atonal direction.  Arnold Schoenberg put forth an important idea called "the emancipation of dissonance".  Here are two timelines that illustrate the concept:






These timelines show the periods in music when intervals that were previously considered dissonant actually broke through to mainstream use.  All 12 notes are fair game in a composition today and should be fully explored.  This realization in part led to the rise of jazz and the development of improvised music.  Other composers have looked even deeper and explored micro-tonality with quarter tones or other divisions between pitches, like a note existing between B natural and C natural (there actually isn't one in western music).  Unfortunately, the dawn of atonal and microtonal music created a schism that still exists today because it continues flies in the face of the established music practices.



Little by little, this is changing though.  Atonal music occasionally intersects with pop culture.  A perfect example is Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" which uses 6 of Krzysztof Penderecki's compositions.  This music was not composed for the movie but existed beforehand.  Kubrick made the decision to cut the scenes around the building tension in those pieces.  And it works very well.  The music in "The Shining" is terrifying and sets the tone for the film perfectly.  Can you imagine if Kubrick only listened to and chose music from the 10 most popular songs of 1980?  Here's the list in case you were wondering:



1          Blondie                         Call Me



2          Pink Floyd                    Another Brick In The Wall



3          Olivia Newton-John        Magic



4          Michael Jackson           Rock With You



5          Captain and Tennille      Do That To Me One More Time



6          Queen                          Crazy Little Thing Called Love



7          Paul McCartney            Coming Up



8          Lipps, Inc.                    Funkytown



9          Billy Joel                      It's Still Rock And Roll To Me



10         Bette Midler                 The Rose



Somehow, Jack chasing people around with an axe doesn't work too well with the Captain and Tennille...



And that's the essence of the argument:  If you only listen to pop music, your musical point of reference will be extremely narrow and your appreciation of all things musical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and cultural won't extend beyond the scope that the record industry has pre-defined for you.



I'll finish this very long statement by offering one more perspective on listening to atonal and dissonant music:  Pop music is new and exciting for infants and young children because EVERYTHING is a new experience for them anyway.  And it's fine for teens too because most teens usually find their musical identity as a part of adolescence.  They will take their first steps away from pop music during this process.  For adults though, pop serves as link to the past and it's very easy to get caught up listening to old music over and over again.  I really think this is why so many adults get "stuck in the 60's" (or 70's or 80's or 90's) or even on current music that reminds them of that time.  Unlike infants, children and teens, adults have many more obligations to contend with and they tend to stop growing musically, emotionally, spiritually and culturally if the search for "new and different kinds" of music comes to a halt.



Thanks for reading,






What's been going on 

Between the birth of my son and the madness of rental season at the music stores, I haven't had a lot of time to work on my music. Clearly, family and work are more important and will always take precedence. And sleep… I want to add sleep to that list until I can finally catch up on it...

The two EPs I'm working on are moving forward, albeit at a snail's pace. The first EP is 4 tracks of psytrance inspired by "Infected Mushroom" and other groups in the genre. The second EP is 4 tracks of Brazilian and flamenco music that I've wanted to do for about a year but couldn't put aside work on "Volition" to make it happen… so it gets its own space.

I have also started the monumental task of compiling my notes from roughly 12 years of teaching private music lessons and have been organizing it into a book that's part method, part memoir and part…zen? I don't know how else to describe this project. I want it to be something accessible for both novice and veteran musicians and don't want it to come off as another dry, boring method book. This has been something I've wanted to do for awhile and since my private students have had great success thinking about music the way I think about it, organizing it all into a book seemed like the next logical step. 

So...even though I have my doubts as to whether this book will actually see the light of day, the chapters are outlined, the handwritten content is being typed in and both diagrams and pictures are being scanned when I have time. Lots to keep track of. Maybe too much to keep track of... I'm still getting an idea of what I want the final product to look like, both in content and design. But... just like it's never been easier to make your own music and distribute it worldwide, the same is true for writing your own book and publishing it.

On that note, it's time for bed and I'm half delirious (insert John Candy reference here). Thanks to everyone for continuing to be a member of this group. Reminding you that my music is available on iTunes and Amazon. Go buy it if you haven't already done so. Good night!

Volition is complete! 

 ...finally!  It's almost 4am on 6/10/12 and I just now finished hammering out the small problems in a final round of mixing.  I'll post the tracks up here shortly for everyone to buy.  The album will also be available through iTunes, Amazon and other online distributors within the week.  For those of you that want a hard copy of the album, "Amazon On Demand" presses the CD with artwork and packaging.

I hope you enjoy "Volition" as much as I do.  And while you're buying it, make sure to pick up my other album "Burn" if you don't already have it :-)

Good night!

May 2012 Update 

Quick update: The last 2 songs are each about 50% complete. The other 8 songs are in the bag and ready to go after a final round of mixing and mastering last week. I've been working pretty hard the past 3 weeks or so to finish everything. If I can keep the pace up, the album will be ready by the end of this month or beginning of June.

Volition Progress Report 

I've made a few more name changes to the tracks to keep with the theme of the album.  "Mobilize - The Hypocrisy of Order" has been changed to "Mobilize - The Erosion of Order".  "Mobilize - Destabilize/Disrupt" has been shortened to "Mobilize - Disrupt".  "Invention" has changed in both title and style.  The new title is "The Rise of Asymmetry" and instead of a classical piece, it's now kind of a modern film-score piece which is far more interesting to me.

I've been focusing on "The Rise of Asymmetry" by working on it almost every night for the past 2 weeks.  Very happy with the progress I've been making.   After this song, there are only two more tracks to complete and the album will be ready to go (finally).  In terms of the writing process, I definitely saved some of the more difficult songs for last and that's part of the reason it's taken me so long to get this album finished.  I have a feeling that "Mobilize - The Erosion of Order" will come together pretty quickly as most of the pieces for that song are already in place.  I plan to work on that next however, "Enlightenment" is still far from completion and I'm planning to hit that last so I can give it my full attention.

I've also recently come up with a great finger-style bassline that I'm thinking about adding into "Tomorrow, Innocence".  I don't want to force it if it doesn't work, but I'm still exploring that possibility.

As of this posting, no one except my wife knows about  Even those of you reading this are probably doing so after the fact.  I'm hoping to have the site populated with more features by the time I let people know of it's existence.  The official announcement for "Volition" will come in the form of a video trailer showing a behind-the-scenes look at the recording process for the album.

Looking to the future, there's an EP and a double album currently in the planning stages.  But, one thing at a time...  Look for "Volition" sometime this summer.

- Mills

Van Halen + Kool & The Gang: Concert Review 

So here's my first blog ever. I'm aiming to update this at least once or twice a month. We'll see how things go :-)

I don't know about you, but finding gifts for parents is difficult. My dad's birthday was at the beginning of Feburary and I wanted to do something special rather than the standard birthday card + gift card. I got wind that Van Halen was coming to the Verizon Center in DC and thought it would make a good gift. I don't recall my dad liking much popular music in general after Van Halen's "1984" album was released but I knew he had that album in his collection and was at least a moderate fan of the David Lee Roth era. So I took the day off from work on 3/28, drove in to DC to meet my dad at his office, grabbed some food with him and then headed to the show when the doors opened.

The opening act was Kool & The Gang and they were great. An 11-piece funk band which was every bit as entertaining and dynamic as you'd expect them to be live. Some people might think they were a strange opening act for Van Halen, but Kool & the Gang succeeded in getting the crowd warmed up. It was surprising to see how many rock fans were digging the funk, R&B and soul that Kool & The Gang are known for. They played a lot of their hits: "Jungle Boogie", "Hollywood Swinging", "Ladies' Night", "Too Hot", "Celebration", "Steppin' Out", "Get Down On It", "Fresh", "Cherish" and didn't dive into too many obscure songs. It was about crowd-pleasing. Their set was about 45 minutes long and when they started, the arena was less than 1/3 filled. But by the end of their set, the whole place was energized and ready for VH.

So leading up to this concert, I purchased VH's new album with Roth called "A Different Kind of Truth" and was very impressed at how good it sounded. I think this album, though heavier than their other stuff with Roth, would fit in perfectly with the rest of the albums of that era. You could drop "A Different Kind of Truth" into a playlist with only VH's DLR songs, shuffle them up and things would blend pretty well together as one cohesive unit of rock songs. Yeah. The album is THAT good. After Kool & The Gang finished up, we saw the roadies for VH putting down 8 large squares of what looked like hardwood floor. They made sure it was taped/secured to the stage and then spent about 15 minutes sweeping the panels. I put two and two together and realized that Dave was going to do some fancy footwork as seen in the trailer videos on the VH website which promoted the album and tour. Sure enough, the house lights abruptly go out, the riff to "Unchained" starts and DLR comes out in white socks (possibly slippers) and does his thing: slipping around, spinning and sliding on the hardwood floor. He spins the mic stand around like he's handling a bo in a martial arts movie but his sequin pants (and later, sequin jacket) make him much less threatening and far more ridiculous (in a good way). Alex, Wolfgang and Eddie were all on point for the entire concert. There were no mistakes on their part and everything sounded perfect. DLR forgot the words to "I'll Wait" and after pausing for a moment said, "I forgot the f*cking words! I'll meet you back in the chorus, c'mon!" Apparently, DLR forgetting the words to songs is a common complaint among VH fans but it didn't bother me. It's one of those moments when you just shake your head and say, "Oh that Dave..."

The band ended the show with "Jump" which featured two confetti cannons blasting red, white and blue confetti into the air high enough to hit the lighting rig. It was awesome. While the confetti was raining down, DLR grabs a gigantic, black and white checkered flag and starts waving it onstage. This was the finale but I was a little surprised there was no encore afterwards. The band lined up at the front of the stage, hand-in-hand, bowed, turned around and walked off stage. Then the house lights came up and it was over. It was 90 minutes of solid rock.

A great show all around by both bands.

I like all of Van Halen's music and have all their studio albums (except for VH3 with Gary Cherone...) so I have nothing against Hagar, but even with Dave's mistakes, I'll still take VH with DLR off his game over VH with Hagar at his best. That's just me. As corny, goofy and fallible as DLR is, he still embodies the spirit and attitude that made Van Halen famous. Part of what makes this reunion so special is that it's more than just great music and great musicians. This is stuff that ties directly back into my childhood and influenced me before I even thought about picking up a bass. It helped shape my approch to music as well as my love for it. So yeah, DLR might be the real life Dr. Rockso (a.k.a. "The Rock and Roll Clown" from Metalocalypse) but his part in VH will always be special to me and to the tens of thousands of people that are going to see them on tour this year.

- Mills

2012 Volition Update 

Two of the track names have changed. "Status Quo" is now "Volition". It's the opening track to the album and it felt right to rename it as the title track based on how the song turned out. "Blood Blister" is now "Zenithal". After looking at the rest of the track names, I decided "Blood Blister" didn't fit the theme.

Lately I've been trying to finish "Zenithal" at night after work. Writing the piano, guitar and drum solos for this funk/fusion song has been a lot of fun. Overall, I'm happy with how the album is shaping up. Trying to stick to self-imposed deadlines is pretty much impossible because the scope, orchestration and arrangement of this CD is bigger than anything I've done before. After I uploaded "Burn" to iTunes a year ago, I thought I could get "Volition" comp
lete within a few months. Looking back on that estimate... well... it's just laughable.

I've decided not to do any further track previews/updates through Soundcloud for this album. I'm close to the finish line and I'd prefer to keep the final tracks a surprise. Soundcloud makes it convenient to give people a snapshot of how a work in progress is going, but I think listening to too much stuff that is "almost done" diminishes the impact a finished album should have on the listener. So, I'll continue to use Soundcloud as a way to preview tracks on future albums, but I don't want to continually upload revised tracks until people are sick of hearing my music...

I've also decided to hold off on re-releasing my first album from 1999 and any subsequent music I made before 2005. Spending time cleaning up old tracks is tedious and uninteresting right now. If anything, I'll re-record the tracks I really like and release them at some point down the road. 

I have tentative plans for an EP and a double album following the release of "Volition" but will have to see where things stand after "Volition" is done and out the door.

Last thing, I would like to start updating my youtube channel with videos on a consistent basis. Monthly, weekly... it doesn't matter. But it's been a long time since I uploaded anything. If you guys have ideas for cover songs you want to hear or music lesson/theory/technique/
improv stuff you're curious about, let me know and I'll make it into a video. For those that want to check it out, my youtube channel is here:

Thanks again for sticking with this group. I appreciate the support and feedback.

Volition Update 

Hello everyone,

So I've posted 7 of the 10 tracks from the new album in their various stages of completion. At this point, I'd say the whole album is maybe 60-65% complete. I'm still in the process of writing "Blood Blister" (track 2), "Mobilize-The Hypocrisy of Order" (track 3) and "Invention" (track 6) as well as finishing up the tracks I've posted here today. 

I'm pleased with what I have so far, but I'm a perfectionist when it comes to this stuff and, as you can probably tell, it takes me a long time to be satisfied with how a track sounds before I move on. For example, "Fragment Into Nothing" was the first track I worked on for the new album and I started that back in 2007...2007! It's radically different from what it first sounded like, but it went through 3 separate, full ite
rations before I settled on this one. 

But there's a lot to consider when making music: the instruments to be used, the arrangements, the effects, the mixing and mastering, spending time referencing how the songs sound in headphones, in the car, on a stereo and then going back and adjusting the mix accordingly, and on and on and on.

I seem to be putting out albums at a pace of every 6 years and that's way too slow. However, I'm hoping that when people listen to the first album (coming to iTunes soon), the second album ("Burn") and to this brand new one ("Volition") it will be obvious that my musical ideas, recording techniques used and the overall quality of the songs have advanced over the years in leaps and bounds. I started doing serious recording on a Tascam cassette 4-track at VA Tech in 1998 and moved through various digital recorders before finally jumping to computers. I've learned a lot in those 13 years, and I think it shows in my work.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for sticking with this group, putting up with the emails from all the updates to this group, being patient and checking out my songs. Even if you don't like one, two or any of the tracks, I appreciate you guys taking a listen and, where possible, providing feedback :-)

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