Monday, June 27, 2011

3 More Concepts for Facebook Newbies

Last post I outlined the three basic concepts newcomers to Facebook should be aware of. Here are three corellary concepts that might help you have a more enjoyable Facebook experience.

Concept 1: Don't play the numbers game.

The Who get to the heart of the matter in a track from their aptly (for our purposes) named album "The Who by Numbers."

How many friends have I really got?
I can name them on one hand.
How many friends have I really got?
That love me, that want me, that'll take me as I am.

When you first join Facebook, it's natural to want to connect to all your friends -- and the sooner the better. But don't be driven by numbers to collect as many friends as possible. The total number of people you're connected to is no real indication of your status, popularity, or personality. If you go for quantity, you lose quality. Sure, friending everyone at work may boost your total, but do you really want the weird guy from IT to know where you're going to be this weekend?

The same is true of "Likes." I personally reserve my likes for things I'm passionate about -- not everything I sort of like (or don't mind). To me, it makes the likes more telling, because I don't distribute them freely.

Engage in Facebook for social reasons -- not statistical ones. Your interactions will be much more meaningful talking with ten friends rather than 10,000 strangers. (If you're trying to sell something, that's a different story, but I'm just talking about personal usage here)

Concept 2: When sharing, context matters

YouTube and other sites make it easy to post videos and stories to share with your friends on Facebook. And that's great -- your post might be someone's first exposure to that cool/funny/insightful thing you've discovered. But if possible, provide some commentary of your own. Because it's the post plus your thoughts on it that make it important.

This isn't a new concept. When  some of my friends got their email accounts back in the day, all they did was forward stupid jokes and Internet chain letters. Some of them never -- over the course of several years and thousands of emails -- ever sent an original word or thought. These were the email addresses I had no problem blocking.

If you post a music video on Facebook, give me some reason why I should watch it. You don't have to write a big treatise, just a little something to explain why we should pay attention to this.

In memory of John Lennon, on the anniversary of his death.

I've had this silly song stuck in my head all day. Now it's your turn.

Just heard this song again today. I used to hear it all the time on the radio at summer camp.

Think about it. If you were with a group of friends and you wanted to share a song with them, would you just start playing the music? Probably not. You'd say something first to set the stage. Same concept here. And when you do, chances are more of your friends will actually watch that video or read that story that you're sharing.

Concept 3: Playing games is fun. Hearing about them isn't

One of the most exciting things for new Facebook members is the plethora of games they can play. Some are solitare games, or single-player games, but most are social. These cooperative games can be addictive, as many are both simple yet multi-layered.

And they're fun to those in the game. But  not everyone is.  Be aware that, unless you say otherwise, social games like Farmville will send out notices to everyone on your friend list every time you need something. There's an innocent aspect to it: your fellow gamers will want to know what your score is and if they can help you get that cow (and score points for themselves).

But for people not playing the game, it's just so much noise. So be careful who you send the notices to (the default is set for everyone). Don't be like a member of my family who does nothing on Facebook but play games.

You can block posts from certain people -- which I didn't want to do with my relative. Not everyone knows that you also have option of just blocking notifications from particular applications. So every time my relative started a new game, I blocked the application. I stopped receiving any notices from her about two years ago -- because automatic game solicitations were the only kind of posts she generated.

And that's sad. Not for her, for course -- she's having a blast in Frontierville, et al. But I'm sorry for the lost opportunity for meaningful communication.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

3 Concepts for Facebook Newbies

I've had a lot of friends who have never done much online beside a little emailing and some modest web surfing sign onto Facebook. Watching their experiences (and fielding their questions) helped me articulate my own thoughts about the social network and the various ways I choose to use or not use it.

If you're new to Facebook, please read on! And if you're not, I invite you to read on also, and let me know via comments if you think I've hit or missed the mark

Concept 1: Welcome to the party

Facebook is a social media platform -- and the operative word is social. Just like any real-world social gathering, your enjoyment depends greatly on your participation. It's all about interaction -- especially conversation.

Your Facebook experience can be very much like your experience at parties and other gatherings.
If you stand in a corner and don't talk to anyone, no one will talk to you. I always know who these people are. They get a Facebook account, don't post anything and then complain "I don't see what all the excitement's about." Well, looking at their news feeds, I don't either.

It's not you, it's me
So interactions important. But what kind? Again, think of what you would do in public. One of my friends (who hates the Internet) rails against Facebook and other social media. "Me! Me! Me!" he storms," It's all about me!"

Well, he has a point. If the only thing you post about is all about you, then that discourages interaction -- just like it does in a real conversation. I've been in situations with such people. I endure their company and their endless litany of accomplishments until I can tactfully excuse myself. Online, it's easier -- I can just defriend them.

So how can I get into the conversation?
I just showed you. The best way is to ask a question. Sharing information about yourself is fine -- it's a great conversation starter.
"I'm really happy that the Shamrocks won last night. How about you?"

"Am I only person who thinks Buster Keaton is hilarious? Just watched 'The General' again. Genius!"

"Where to go for dinner tonight. Thai, or Italian?"
Yes, all of the above statements are technically about you -- your sports team, your favorite comedian, your dinner plans. But there's an opportunity for others to respond, and to add something to the conversation instead of just hitting the "like" button, or saying "Yeah!"

So what kind of party is this?
Some people use Facebook to further an agenda. They share their political positions, their religious convictions, or tout their businesses. There are places for all of that, of course, but it's important to remember the context.

Facebook is like a class reunion, office party, neighborhood gathering, family reunion, Friday night get-together and a special event all rolled into one. You might tell your friends over dinner that your boss is a poopy-head, but you probably wouldn't share that at an office party. Politics might be the key discussion among your family, but maybe not something you share in other gatherings. You may consider your neighbor's avocation silly, and say so to coworkers, but not to your neighbor.

In real life, we can compartmentalize our social groups. What's said in the home can be kept separate from what's said at the office.

But Facebook rolls it all together. And that's an important concept to keep in mind. So that if you say your boss is a poopy-head, all of your family, friends, coworkers, former classmates, fellow church members, and club members will know it -- and potentially all the people they've friended will, too.

Which leads us to concepts two and three:

Concept 2: Pay attention to your privacy settings

Facebook as a company has a goal: to make everyone as connected as possible. I'm not going to go into the nuts and bolts about the privacy settings, as they change frequently, but I will say this: never accept the default settings. They're always set to share as much of your information as possible.

Go into the privacy part of your profile and take a hard look at everything there. What things do you only want friends to see? Friends of friends? Everyone? (and remember everyone can potentially include that creepy guy you avoid at work). Remember to look at the clause about pictures. Unless you say otherwise, your image could show up in an ad on Facebook.

It's usually best to err on the side of caution with privacy.

Concept 3: Assume there is no privacy

This seems to contradict what I just said, but it's a good policy. Remember, Facebook is all about connections. Have you ever told someone something in confidence and they passed it on? In real life, it only impacts one of your social groups. On Facebook, it can affect them all.

Hate your job? Facebook isn't the place to share that information. Even if you have your privacy setting locked down, if you're friends with anyone at work, they know it, too -- and they can pass it on.

Got some images of a wild party? Better have that photo album set for friends only. But if there were other cameras at that party, those partiers might not be so discrete. Pay attention when you get a notice that you've been tagged in a photo -- it might not be a photo you want to be identified in!

Wow. Do I really want to do this?
Sure you do. Any new social situation can be scary, until you get in there and try it.

Just apply the Golden Rule. Post the things you'd like others to post for you to read. Not sure what that is? As you add friends, pay attention to what they post. The items you enjoy reading are the type that your friends would probably like to read from you. Find a certain type of post annoying? Then keep that in mind and try to avoid sending similar posts out yourself.
The bottom line is this: everything you share on Facebook is a reflection on you. What my mom said still holds true. If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all (especially about other people).

I've enjoyed my time on Facebook. I've had some great conversations, learned some things, reconnected with old friends, and had some fun along the way.

And now it's your turn.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Hilos" Presents a Tapestry of Gabriela Frank's Music

Frank: Hilos (Threads); Danza de los Saqsampillos; Adagio para Amantani; Quijotadas

ALIAS Ensemble

Gabriela Lena Frank is an up-and-coming composer who's really made a name for herself in the realm of chamber music. The latest collection of her work features four recent chamber compositions with a common theme. All, in some fashion, draw inspiration from Latin and South American music traditions.

It's an impressive recording. The CD starts with "Hilos" (Threads) , a 2010 work for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano. Based on Peruvian elements, the work works and reworks various instrumental combinations, creating the sonic tapestry the title refers to. Frank composes with a strong rhythmic feel, using sparse melodic and contrapuntal lines that make the work accessible while sounding like nobody else.

The "Adagio para Amantani" seems more influenced by academia than Andelusia. This haunting work for cello and piano presents small repeated note motifs that seem to hang suspended in space, punctuated by chord clusters. But this isn't just an intellectual exercise. The music has a forward motion and a logical progression to it that makes it work.

The "Quijotadas" for string quartet is similar, but has a much stronger Latin feel to it. To me, it's the most musically substantial composition on the album. While I enjoyed it the first time I heard it, I know repeated hearings will reveal more of the complex structure of the work.

My favorite track was the "Danza de los Saqsampills" for two marimbas. It's a uniquely Frank work, but if I had to describe it in other terms, I'd call it a Latin-American Steve Reich homage (which only hints at what the work sounds like). A better description might be that this is simply six minutes of fun.

The works are performed by the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, a group Frank has worked closely with. The ensemble know and understand Frank's compositional language, which really adds to the performances.

I have to admit I didn't know a lot about Gabriela Frank before getting this recording. But now that I've listened to it, I'd like to explore her music further.

If you're looking for a fresh compositional voice (especially if you like chamber music), then I highly recommend giving Hilos a listen.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Berlin: City Sounds Truly Astound

City Sounds: Step 1 - Berlin
Various Artists
Naive Gaiety

It's a tossup as to whether I'm more excited about the concept or the execution of this new series from Gaite Lyrique.

The concept's a great one: document the growth of a city's musical scene by collecting examples of all the stylistic threads that make up that city's "sound." Get tracks from the bands that started the scene, the groups that followed (or in some cases reacted against) them, and then present some forward-looking bands that suggest where the scene might be going. Do that, and you have a look at the past, present and possible future of a musical scene. The concept's solid, and the label promises that this will be part of an ongoing series of urban musical portraits.

OK, the concept's cool, but what about execution? City Sounds: Step 1: Berlin answers that question -- it's pretty good. The collection breaks down the past/present/future music scene of Berlin into six categories, each with their own CD. The set starts with Krautrock a la New Wave. It then moves to two discs of Indie Electronica, and Experiemental. Discs four and five take us to the present with Electro Clash and Performances, and Techno, House and Minimal respectively. The final disc is simply titled "Berlin Next!"

Whatever happened to --?
If you're into any of the styles represented, you might have some quibbles with the selections. Kraftwerk and Can, for example, are conspicuously absent from the Krautrock disc. I'm willing to chalk up any high-profile omissions to licensing issues rather than oversight, and consider what's there, rather than what isn't. With this set, no one track makes or breaks the collection. In a way, they're all points on a graph (or rather dots in a pointillist painting). It's the totality of all the tracks combined that give you the whole picture.

Krautrock and New Wave
The origins of the Berlin sound begin (according to this collection) in the late 1970's/early 1980's. Nina Hagen, Malaria!, Fad Gadget provide the solid New Wave base, and Nick Cave is represented on two tracks. Liasons Dangereuses presage many of the elements that later evolved into techno. All in all, a good place to start.

Electronica and Experimental
The second and third discs cover electronica and experimental music, the first CD spans the years 1997-2004, while the second runs from 2004-2009. No surprises if you're familiar with these genres, but if your not, check out Rhythm & Sound and Errorsmith with their clouds of sound and minimalist grooves. Super collider sounds like Prince via Vanilla Fudge (kudos if you get that reference), while the Puppetmastaz do a techno rap that could only be European in origin.

The third disc sounds more modern, as it should, and it's easy to hear the connections between bands - like Rhythm & Sound (1997) and Rechenzentrum (2003). Two standout tracks for me on this disc were Richard Davis' "Honest With You" and Jason Forrest "War Photographer," a 2005 track that's an uncredited pureed remix of BS&T's "Go Down Gamblin" with a little bit of their "Spinning Wheel" and "Lucritia MacEvil" thrown in. And Pole is represented with their track "Achterbahn."

Electro Clash
Probably the most famous name on disc four "Electro Clash & Performers" is Peaches. Although most of the music comes from 2001-2006, stylistically it sounds closer to the Krautrock than the later electronica. But that's what makes this collection so valuable. It makes it easy to hear the relationships between artists and artistic movements (and sometimes there are some surprises). Of course there are strong connection between many of these artists: Jamie Lidell, Gonzales, Peaches, Mocky, and Chicks on Speed are all related in ways way to complex to outline here (save to say there's a lot of musical cross-pollination). I especially dug Stereo Total's "L'Amour" with it's Dyanlesque changes, and the UK's Jamie Lidell's Motown-inspired soul.

Disc five, "Techno house and Minimal" owes more to the earlier Electronica and Experimental artists on discs 2 & 3. Of course, it also covers pretty much the same time period, 2003-2008. It includes standouts in the scene such as Ellen Alien, M.A.N.D.Y (with "No Stoppin'" rather than their club hit "Body Language"), Richie Hawtin, and Modeselektor with Thom Yorke, but to name a few.

Berlin Next!
The real prize is the final disc, which is Berlin Next! Many of these artists (including Seth Troxler, Moderat, and Pantha du Prince) seem to pull together many of the stylistic threads contained on the previous discs. Perhaps it's a sign of the times that several of the artists on this disc, such as Barbara Panther and Tama Sumo & Prosumerand don't have label credits -- just websites or MySpace pages.

This collection builds up a composite picture of the Berlin's musical scene spread over the last thirty-five years. I'm not sure I could listen to an unfamiliar track and say that it was definitely recorded by a Berlin artist. But thanks to City Sounds, I could tell if the artist was influenced by the Berlin music scene. This is a great collection - especially if you're a fan of any of these subgenres. You'll find a lot to like throughout the set, and probably discover some new artists to follow (well, at least I did). Gut gemacht!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Review: Glazunov Complete Concertos -- Completely Enjoyable

Glazunov: Complete Concertos
Russian National Orchestra
Jose Serebrier, conductor
Warner Classics

Jose Serbrier's taken some time off from his recording cycle of the Glazunov symphonies to do this two-disc set of the Russian composer's concerti. Being well-familiar with Glazunov's works, he leads the Russian National Orchestra (who have an affinity for music by their native sons) in a series of well-defined, sympathetic performances of these works.

Glazunov composed concerti for a variety of instruments, so there's a host of soloists featured as well. Chronologically, Glazunov straddles the beginning of the 20th Century. He studied under Rimsky-Korsakov, and mentored Dmitri Shostakovich.

His first piano concerto (1911) is full of rich, romantic-era orchestration, and sounds somewhat like Rachmaninov's first concerto, composed around the same time. By the second, though, Glazunov had a more distinctive compositional voice. Pianist Alexander Romanovsky plays with fire and conviction without pushing the solos into theatrical pyrotechnics.

For me, the Violin Concerto (1904) is the crowning jewel. Rachel Barton Pine brings out the warmth of the melody, lightly skipping around the technical passages without breaking a sweat. If you like the Brahms concerto and haven't heard this work, you're in for a treat.

Also included are Glazunov's cello and saxophone concerto. Like the violin concerto, his work for cello exudes late-romantic lushness with just a hint of Glazunov's Russian origins. Of more interest, though is the Concerto in E-flat major for alto saxophone and string orchestra.

Written just two years before his death in 1936, the concerto shows Glazunov at his most adventurous. It may have been his maturity as a composer, but I also think it was the still-new saxophone's lack of repertoire and performing traditions. It gave Glazunov a blank slate in which he wrote as free of the influence of his mentors and peers as he ever got. It's a very appealing, although somewhat different work, then the other pieces on this recording.

Serebrier rounds out the recording with some short works for solo instruments and orchestra. For those of us who are familiar with Glazunov, it's instructive to hear these works one right after the other. For not familiar with this Russian master, this disc is a great place to start.