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This site is really about my take on a number of media, technology and music business issues as I smack into them in my life and my business. Among them are: The challenges of running a small record label in the Music 2.0 (sorry) world, audio and music technology and business, learning and instructional technology and media, and just being a 40 something desk jockey with (now - gulp) 10 year old twins. (Sheesh - kids just keep growing and getting older no matter what you do!)

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Coffee Cup

IMG_0881.JPGI hear that coffee is the new wine - whatever that means. I will say that I have really gotten into coffee this past year. I am no barista and I probably don't even qualify as a coffee geek, but I have put some time into pouring a good cup of joe while supporting fair trade distributors. Currently I am brewing/drinking what so far has to be my favorite source of coffee; Counter Culture coffee. Very fresh, Fair Trade and Organic offerings - check out some of their micro lots. Mmm-Good.

Other good ones: Global Libations in Kutztown Pa, I like their Costa Rican La Amistad, and Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee Wi, thier Dark Sumatra - strong stuff but mmmm good.

Don't forget Joe's Coffee Bar in Philidelphia. Excellent fresh roasted beans and fair trade too!


Something to Share - a Reflection in Sound

Well here we are, my latest attempt to jump-start this space.

I have something to share. It comes form a convergence of discussions, workplace-life and reflection over the last couple of months. Its a bit long winded, but there is a prize. ;)

Recently in my Twitter network I got into a discussion with @marklearns around this post regarding the impact of DIY (Do It Yourself) on the creative/artisan and by extension the knowledge workforce. This little discussion was a kind of spark.
L-R Morton Subotnick, Me (yes that is a mullet), Burton Beerman (teacher and mentor), Mark Bunce (dear friend, partner in AMP Recordings) 1989 or 90
My background is in music composition, specifically electronic music and music technology. My career path has taken me through teaching music technology and recording techniques at the college level into musical instrument and technology sales (during the first digital disruption of the 90s ADATs, DA88s etc.) to part owner of a multimedia production company and an eLearning specialist to my role now which includes corporate learning and multimedia communication and digital marketing and brand strategy. 

Through that journey, my composition fell by the wayside. I think 1999 was the last year I actually sat down and composed/created for sound. I love sound. Always have. I used to stand by the tracks when a freight train rushed by, - the sound washing over me, enveloping me. It was an event - a sound rush…

So, what is this all about, and what does it have to do with the impact of DIY?

In my job over the last few weeks or so, I’ve started to feel like I have been working by rote - going through the motions. I want that to stop that as soon as possible. So I started thinking about a quick project that I could do that engaged me creatively and that I could “put out there” with the vulnerability of a composer - will it connect or fail?

I decided to tip toe back into electronic composition. I wanted to create a little sound story or poem to share.

When I was an active composer, I mostly composed for an event. A live performance with big high-end speakers and live performers in a great space that really pushed some molecules around. Big enveloping sounds experienced communally. I had racks of hardware at my disposal (I sold the majority of my rack gear in 2003, when the kids were born)

Now, usually in my past when I was getting ready to create I would come down with a case of GAS - Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I have to admit that I had to fight off GAS this time. And this is where DIY comes in. I fought off GAS when I read a quote from Frank Filipetti at the AES conference in NY in October (via twitter from @RandyCoppinger as I was unable to attend this year)

“Be really gear agnostic.” “There is no piece of gear that you have to have to make a record.” “It’s not the gear.” There isn’t anything you could buy for even $100 that couldn’t be used to make a great record.”

Well that is great quote and can be applied to all the artisan fields that are effected by and fear the move to DIY. And it helped me frame this little sound project.

Instead of using this as an excuse to go out and get Ableton or Logic with a bunch of new virtual instruments or even hooking up with iRig gear, I decided to create my sound story with just my iPhone and the apps that were currently on it and Garage Band. My phone and Garage Band have nearly if not more synthesis, sampling and recording power than my old rack of gear that included and EMU sampler, a K2000s controlled with a Wavesation EX and WX7 (still have those 2) and several racked effects processors. How's that for DIY disruption (and progress frankly).

The Sound Poem

I have a fair amount of trees in my yard compared to the rest of my street. On my birthday September 1, the 17 year cicada’s winding down their call and response combined with the usual song of crickets chirping really created a sound piece all its own. I went out and sat down and let the sound wash over me. I noticed sometimes though that the stress of the daily grind would come creeping into the peace attained by the sound trance. The sound would waiver and become mechanized and horrific until I could collect my thoughts and relax again.

I wanted to capture that in my piece. So I decided to start recording the sound environment with my iPhone. I manipulated the sounds I recorded with an app I already had on my iPhone, Moog’s Filtatron. I transferred the sounds to my computer and shaped the piece using Garage Band.

To me, this piece wants to be a 6 - 10 minute ambient piece, multi channel played over high end speakers loudly - cuz that’s how I like to experience pieces like this. But this time out I needed to make it short enough so you would listen to the whole piece - most likely on your mobile device. I attempted to master it so that it tells the story effectively through basic ear buds. I strongly encourage you to listen to it on full range headphones. Admittedly it does not work well over mobile device speakers or computer speakers. I offer it as a free download with Creative Commons share with attribution. So, with all this talk I fear it will disappoint. But here it is. Cicada Drift.


The recording app I used is Fire, which has been acquired and is now distributed by Rode Microphones. The app provides an FTP to share recordings. I recorded 3 minutes of ambient crickets and several “close ups’ of cicadas in the yard. You can hear me walking around.

Filtatron has a feature that lets you import sounds to use as samples. I imported both the crickets and the cicada recordings and used them for sound sources to which the resonance filter was applied and used as a control source for filters and oscillators. The app allows you to record your output on the phone and export via FTP.

On the left is the Fire app. A great app I've had on my phone for years dating back to my 3Gs. The rest are screen caps of the Filtatron app, which I love and my wife can't stand, mostly because I tinker with it at times I probably shouldn't.I created a number of sounds to use as the colors for my canvas. Garage Band was the canvas. I brought all the sounds in to Grage Band and listened to each of them all the way through. It took some getting used to Garage Band’s limitations but ultimately the automation of volume, pan and the effects on each track really works pretty well.


Performance Ecosystems - A Discussion

My pal Mark Britz (@britz) turned me onto this paper by John Hagel, III, John Seely Brown and Duleesha Kulasooriya published by Deloitte University Press on January 1.

Performance ecosystems

A decision framework to take performance to the next level


The paper’s objective is to present a “clearly defined taxonomy” that provides executives “a decision framework to take performance to the next level” using ecosystems.

Now, what does this mean to those currently working in the Learning and Development field? Or even to the knowledge worker/learner? Is this a framework to use in our own departments or is it essential business knowledge to leverage as we move from creating courses to building support networks (ecosystems?) that empower learning in the workflow?

Well that is something we would like to talk about! And by “we” I mean me, Mark, Mike Taylor (@tmiket), Rory Francis (@PDRory), and dropping in for a bit Janet Laane Effron (@jleffron). Learning from our network has become an essential part of our work lives and what better way to wrap our collective heads around this framework than talking it out?

So if you are interested, please read the article and plan to join us for Google + Hangout to discuss. Let me know if your interested and we’ll add you to the circle (first 10 only of course).

We plan to meet and chat for just an hour on Friday, February 15th at 12:00pm EST.

See you there!


Reflecting on Creativity

There are no answers here.

It has been a (long) while since I have written in this space. This is my attempt to get back into writing for myself as a practice of sense making and reflection - learning.

Creativity and innovation are understandably big topics for both business and the campus. Seeking the new, taking risks, being willing to fail and learning from that failure in order to create something original and/or of value are all keys to innovation. These are also all keys to the creative process.

That's me prepping for the premiere of my piece "Three Sketches" for trumpet, flute and interactive electronics. That's an Apple IIe and DX 7. The piece also included synched slides. 1986. The analog boards on the floppy drives blew just before the concert. We went with the 2 "sketches" that didnt use the computer. "Should of just used tape" Naw - I got it performed a few months later.I guess you can say that I have a “creative” background. My degrees are in music composition and in the past I was a somewhat active composer. Much of what I think are the best qualities that I bring to the table when helping to provide “solutions of value” for businesses, wether through media, marketing or learning development, I developed through my “creative” background. I have to admit that I thought I had the notion of creativity all buttoned up. “Dude - I gots degrees - I know creativity” (Those pesky silos, ya try break them down, but yet they sometimes creep back into the psyche)

But a series of tweets from what is a Social Media life time ago really got me to thinking and reflecting on the nature of creativity, fostering creativity and being creative on a daily basis and what that means for me now.

Here is an excerpted Twitter convo with Aaron Silvers - a thinker and an instigator, one of many that I connect with and am better for it.

Now these represent a brief interaction most likely long forgotten by Aaron, but for some reason it stuck in my brain and I have been ruminating on it for quite some time. This is not an attempt to define creativity. I am not looking to quantify it or subscribe to a particular theory.

For me the creative act, the drive to write, compose, sculpt, paint, draw, scribble, film, code and so on, is a Need. It is an itch that must be scratched. It is not always a pleasant or or joyful process trying to satisfy that itch. It can lead to mania and be frustrating, lead to tears, deprivation.
It is a quest. A search.
It is why when I was younger I would sometimes go 40 hours without sleep searching for that right solution, that "something" - the just-right filter on the just right sampled-string sound, the perfect image to evoke the right question, whether in your mind or in the participants mind (Art requires participation ya know - another discussion). To me, that is the search for meaning. And the creative act is a journey to attain meaning both for the creator and the participant - and thus my quick response to Aaron’s provocation.

But here is where this little exchange got me to thinking.

My description above I think is more a description of artistic drive born of the quest of the masterpiece.  This is different than creativity.

There is no doubt in my mind that creativity is born of the quest to solve a problem. This includes being able to frame a problem and then search for a path or paths to a solution. Searching for the right filter settings on that string sample was a creative act, a step in the ultimate quest. After a little sleep, a revisit to that sound would reveal that it wasn’t The Sound*. A failure. So started the tweaking - what was good about it, what was bad about it, and then remake it until it was right - or abandon it if it wasn't the right fit.

That, I think, is an example of creativity.  The daily search and resulting epiphanies that lead to value.

And here is where meaning comes into play. I was thinking of the artist searching for the big meaning behind their quest, their search, the answers at the end of an artistic vision. But, the quest for vision is their meaning. The purpose behind their “convergence of energies”. That meaning, the one where what you do makes a difference, brings a change and moves you, your team, your network forward.

So now we get into the context of creativity in the work place.  

If the meaning in one’s job is simply to be present between certain hours, and complete tasks through rote process, there is likely less of a chance that they will be creative in their work. If there is meaning to what one does, the more likely I think they will be to take the risks to seek the new or original solution that provides real Value. This of course ultimately leads to increased performance. Isn’t that how we want to approach what we do? Isn’t that how we want the people we team with to approach what they do? To feel comfortable and be willing to seek the paths to solutions, without fear of failure?
We are now in Dan Pink’s territory for sure.

But environment and culture alone are not the sole incubator for being creative or working creatively. There is a responsibility of the individual to make necessary changes to perform at their creative best. It can be easy to fall into rote processes to push items out the door and get to the end of the day.  I have experienced this. Culture can be an obstacle to creative productivity. In this case, as hard as it may be to not just blame “them” or “they”, it may be necessary to create and foster your own meaning, or seek to change the culture. Working with meaning despite obstacles makes a huge difference in creativity, productivity and satisfaction.

Understandably, many seek this satisfaction outside of the job, playing in music groups, photography, gaming - you name it. And that is great. But a key I think is to seek that satisfaction in your work. In our ever growing flattened and networked business world where work is learning and learning is the work, it is also true that work is creating and creativity is the work.

So after some months of thinking and reflection, I think that I am in agreement with Mr. Silvers; “The meaning that you give to something is the performance that you live. Perhaps changing performance requires changing the meaning.”

What do you think? Have you considered creativity and the role it plays in your everyday life, your work?

*Music Tech Geeks. I wish I had that sound to link and play here. I am looking through old DAT tapes and floppies (if they are any good). At the time I was working with the Emulator III and an old Digi program Turbo Snyth.


Reflecting on Tech and Tools

There has been a fair amount of discussion in my twitter stream and blog-o-sphere regarding the tech and tools we use to develop and deliver things. Things? Well the discussions I picked up on were in my eLearning universe, but the discussion applies to the tech and tools I use in my music, video, and multimedia worlds as well.

Here is the gist:

My 7 Year old son showing tools from the tool boxThe Man: “We should adopt this tool to:” -Or- “Purchasing this tool will enable anybody in your organization to:” -Or- “This tool is blocking or limiting our ability to:” manage – deliver - create effective, engaging _______ (elearning programs. multimedia programs, video programs, websites, online games, meetings, brochures, signs etc.)

The developer, artisan, artist: “Hey Man, tools do not create and design effective, engaging _______; creative, innovative developers, artisans, artists do.

And then the endless metaphors start: “Getting a power saw to replace a hand saw does not improve the design of the house” etc.

I, like many, have been thorough a lot of these tools and tech debates. The first eLearning (CBT) program that I produced was developed with HyperCard stacks. I clearly remember the discussions at my media production company in the late 90s - “why would anybody want to watch small choppy video on line?” And then the Avid vs. Media 100 followed by the Avid vs. Final Cut camps (still out there).

On the audio and music side – whew, Analog sythns and 30 IPS ¼ inch tape w splice blocks to MIDI (amazingly still around) & the Amiga (heck that was on the video side too – the video toaster!) to mixing and creating “in the box” with Pro-tools, Logic, Albeton Live etc. or even Garage Band for that matter.

Now I can really create something!The evolutionary cycle in technology and how people consume information is ever changing. As a result, we developers, artisans and artists need to constantly assess the tools in our toolbox to be sure that we can “ship our art” (to quote Seth) through the appropriate distribution channels.

In the early 90’s as we migrated from analog to digital, the emergent lesson I (and many) relearned (from the renaissance artists?) was this: Conceive, design, and create your concept, your story - your art. Identify your distribution channel or channels. Then identify and employ the tools required to produce and deliver.

Nothing earth shattering here. Simple. Yet we have all fallen into the trap of either becoming overly comfortable or even dependent on our tools, or the opposite; the habitual early adopter, grabbing the latest and greatest for the sake of having the latest and greatest.

The tools you use to create your art should be comfortable and appropriate for the task. The danger is becoming too comfortable. When you start creating by rote based on the tools you are comfortable with, that should be a warning sign.


A classic example of this is the recent dust-up regarding PowerPoint.

How PowerPoint is used, or misused, is the real issue. PowerPoint is a tool that has seeped into our collective “think” - our culture. Many have become so comfortable with PowerPoint that they begin to create and think based on their comfort level with the tool, both as creators and consumers of information. The reality is that some concepts are more complex than a single slide info-graphic followed by 3 slides of bullets. This was as true with overhead transparencies or six synchronized slide projectors as it is with PowerPoint. Many have let the tool dictate the art and the distribution channel, instead of utilizing the tool to serve the art and access the channel.

The Learning Management System

In the eLearning world one of the hot discussion points this month regarding tools and tech has been the future and even the usefulness of the LMS (Learning Management System) for providing effective learning in the enterprise. Below are some highlights. Take the time to read them (if you haven’t already). No matter your stance, whether you are an executive or L&D professional or don’t even know what an LMS is, these discussions apply to enterprise 2.0 and any effective management discussion.

What is the Future of the LMS? and A Transition Path to the Future - Jane Hart

LMS is no longer the Center of the Universe and Identifying a Collaboration Platform - Harold Jarche

A case for the LMS? - Clark Quinn

A Defense of the LMS (and a case for the future of Social Learning) - Dave Wilkins

Stand alone LMS is Still Dead - Dan Pontefract

My 2 cents: Learning management systems were initially designed as enterprise facing systems, to schedule, deliver and then track who attends or views training or learning events. For the person looking to learn, the LMS is often a hassle and the butt of jokes. But corporations need the data. In compliance, for now and the near future, those check marks are needed. I think the LMS will rapidly evolve to be a tool that both collects the data for compliance and is a learner-facing platform that includes social and networked learning. But very often an LMS is an example of an expensive tool that is implemented for the wrong reasons. The majority of the time, the clients I work with do not need an LMS.  Nicely designed web sites utilizing an existing SharePoint platform, or setting up a site with something as straightforward as Wordpress would be a far more effective and efficient way to deliver their learning programs.

Flash vs HTML 5

This discussion has been fun to view and participate in and is relevant across all online communication worlds. Here are some great discussions from the eLearning POV

The Begning of Long Slow Death of Flash - Tony Karrer

HTML 5 Let the Games Begin! - Craig Weiss 

Is HTML5 Ready for eLearning Development?Yogesh Agarwal

My 2 cents: This has to do with distribution channels. Mobile is here to stay. That is a fact. In my opinion, this is an area where the developer, artisan, artist has to be nimble and ready to move. I am not going to defend Flash to the end, and I am not abandoning it. HTML 5 is gaining traction so we need to get on board. But also be ready to develop native apps for mobile devices that pull content. This is not a situation to wait and see what is left when the dust settles. The music industry taught us a great lesson. If you keep getting angry and saying wait, you are going to get left behind wondering how some other industry defined how you deliver your art.

I don’t think there is a winner here yet. But no matter, one of your favorite tools will evolve to export to either Flash or HTML 5 (or what they may evolve into).

Just don’t be too comfortable and wait.


Filtering – Clearing and Breaking through the Clutter. Part 1

When I was the co-director and instructor for a High school recording studio camp, one of my favorite topics when covering the “Art of Mixing” was using EQ and dynamic filters to shape the sound of the project. Filtering out the unwanted frequencies and boosting the frequency ranges that help bring the sonic image to life.

This came to mind when reading Tony Kerrar’s blog post Top 10 eLearning Predictions for 2010 waaay back in January. For his 10th prediction he asked for reader input. On that list of possible # 10’s – Information Overload: “In a world of full connectivity to all information and all people, how do you handle filtering?”

Well this took me down a very fulfilling personal learning path.

Up until January, my personal information filter consisted primarily of RSS feeds and portals like eLearning Learning and a personal portal I set up on Alltop. I boosted key information “tonalities” by following the recommendations from blogs that I learned to trust.  In this way I followed the itch in my brain regarding filters and discovered some additional, and now trusted thinkers that have expanded my personal knowledge network (PKN). Linking from Tony’s blog I found more great posts on the topics of knowledge filtering, crowd sourcing and more.

First, I came across the Innovation Leadership Network blog, written by Tim Kastelle, John Steen and Mark Dodgson. Tim Kastelle’s post Filtering, Crowdsourcing and Innovation lead me to another one of Tim’s posts Personal Aggregate, Filter & Connect Strategies – which led me to Harold Jarche’s excellent blog and post PKM: aggregate, filter, connect. I’ve included Harold’s graphic from his post.

These series of posts really helped me focus both my thinking and my approach to my personal knowledge network or learning e-space. (Thanks all y’all!) Changes I have made include engaging twitter as both a filter and for connecting to others of similar interests - and of course, starting to blog again. I have not yet seriously explored using social bookmarking sites yet – that’s next in the list to see if it works for me.

When using audio filters to shape the sound of your mix, often those filters need to be adjusted as the mix progresses. One technique is to “sweep” the frequencies for either an offending tonality that needs to be removed or magic tonalities that lift the mix from the speakers to the sound space that envelopes each listener. I have found that this technique is also required in my personal information filtering process. The filter needs to be adjusted and tweaked so that you can find new tonalities and remove the ones that are clutter.

Now, the filter topic affects me and many of us working, creating and living with media from another side, how do we gain access to “filters” to get our ideas and creation noticed? This is an obvious issue for my micro label, and is a big topic in marketing and publishing. And this will be the subject of Filtering – Clearing and Breaking through the Clutter Part 2.

What are some of the techniques you are using to clear the clutter as you aggregate, filter and connect?


Shout outs

I mentioned Harold Jarhce’s blog, Tim Kastelle’s blog and Tony Karrer’s blog in this post. If you haven’t already, go check them out and follow them on twitter. You’ll be glad that you did.

I also mentioned the recording camp I used to co-direct. This camp is still being run by my dear friend and business partner Mark Bunce. It is an excellent opportunity for high school students to perform, record, produce, and often write as many songs as they can pull off in an intense week in a studio equipped with the latest Pro Tools rig and one of the best microphone collections in the Midwest. The kids not only get to work on both sides of the studio glass, they learn even more through creative collaboration writing, performig, recording and mixing the tunes.