Purchase “Experiencing Rush”

Please purchase a copy of Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion
(October 2014) at Rowman & Littlefield (the publisher), Amazon.com (or a non-US Amazon, such as in Canada or the UK), Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, or another book retailer. Thanks!

Experiencing Rush - full cover

Experiencing Rush – full cover

“Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion” – full cover

Please purchase the book now. Thanks!

Experiencing Rush - full cover

Experiencing Rush – full cover

Please purchase the book now. Thanks!

P.S. Today is Geddy Lee’s 61st birthday AND the 40th anniversary of the day that Neil Peart joined Rush.

Rush – Vapor Trails (2002) and Vapor Trails Remixed (2013)

I finally got around to a “Pepsi Challenge” re Rush’s album Vapor Trails (2002) and Vapor Trails Remixed (2013).  The original version was widely-discussed for being exceptionally “loud,” but I never really knew what that meant.

I can hear now that the 2002 version keeps too many of the various, heavily-layered multi-tracks (guitars, drums, bass, and background vocals) across the front and centre of the mix.  It’s almost as if someone set all songs on the album with a kind of preset to keep 80% of the composite tracks very close to the same position and volume.

Vapor Trails Remixed uses more of the stereo field, as well as wider dynamics.  One can now hear individual parts (and even instrumental and vocal effects, sometimes very quiet ones) that were almost completely buried before.  Also, many things aren’t centred nearly as much.  The lead vocal of a song is now usually the main thing that’s front and centre.  Incidentally, the songs “One Little Victory” and “Earthshine” were already available in remixed form on the Rush anthology “Retrospective III” (2009).

I listened through the two albums by interleaving them by song: AA’BB’CC’… — taking into account some of the differences I heard, but without making any specific notes.  Then, I wondered if I’d be able tell which song-version I was hearing if I set the playlist to shuffle and listened to the first minute or so of each song.  The challenge turned out to be quite difficult for me, because I can hear things like melodies, rhythms, and other structures much better than I can hear things having to do with mixing.  The former elements were not really changed at all in the remixed versions, in the same (“album rock”) way that Rush’s live song versions are very similar to its original, studio versions.  One would first have to get very familiar with the aural qualities for the “loud” version of each song on Vapor Trails, before confidently hearing the differences in its “remix” version.

The remixed album generally “sounds better,” in terms of how things are balanced.  However, I think it would also be fairly difficult for most other people to hear and explain exactly why and how that’s the case.  In any case, these are not “remixes” in the sense of substantially-revised interpretations, such as with newly-introduced material.  For Rush, the term just means “mixed over again.”  Many other musicians, though–ranging from classical string ensembles to death metal bands (and everything in between)–have re-worked Rush’s music more substantially than the band itself has.  I’ve written about that elsewhere.

Fantasia on Themes by Rush

The Royal Conservatory presents: “Fantasia on Themes by Rush”
with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony

Saturday, November 9, 2013  8:00 p.m.
Koerner Hall – TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning
273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON

Tickets start at $30 – SPECIAL OFFER: 25% OFF TICKETS! (Use discount code: RUSH25KWS)

This spectacular concert features three incredibly skillful and creative composers who defy every rock/classical music cliché. Hear Nicole Lizée’s “2012: Triple Concerto for Power Trio and Orchestra” (Fantasia on Themes by Rush), two new pieces by electronica genius Dan Deacon, and a stunning orchestral showcase by Bryce Dessner of The National.

More Information

Buy Tickets

Career Archetype Test

On the Career Archetype Test, my top categories were Sage (81%) and Revolutionary (75%).


The Sage never stops learning and has a desire to understand everything.  This understanding doesn’t necessarily mean a desire to act on that truth, which can sometimes keep the Sage a dispassionate observer in his or her own life.  If Sage is dominant, you will feel most comfortable in a learning culture where people are valued as much for their knowledge and expertise as for the amount of work they generate.  Strengths: Discovering the deeper truths in situations means that the Sage is less likely to get caught up in an emotional reaction to short term problems.  You may have a capacity for critical analysis and tend to be a good strategic thinker.  Traps to avoid: The Sage can study issues forever and never act.  There is also a danger of getting caught up in a particular way of studying an issue, shutting out new or revolutionary ways of doing things. (from Sage)

By comparison, and in contradistinction to the end of the previous section,

Revolutionaries are unconventional risk takers with a tendency to do things differently just to be different.  Revolutionaries are rarely content with the status quo and will create new ways of doing things, even when the old ways are working just fine.  If you have a strong presence of the Revolutionary archetype you will feel comfortable in a work environment that encourages innovation and gives people the freedom to be themselves.  Strengths: Revolutionaries are innovators.  The innovation applies not just to products and process, but also culture and thought.  If you are a Revolutionary you are comfortable taking risks and usually don’t care what other people think about you.  Traps to avoid: The Revolutionary needs to avoid change for change’s sake.  Anarchy and chaos can overtake the reasonable order and discipline it takes to get everyday tasks accomplished. (from Revolutionary)

Those sound about right, but the only job types both in Sage and Revolutionary are Education and Science and Research, with IT-type things (computer software, hardware, and executive/consulting) also under the former category and Arts and Entertainment also under the latter.  My next three categories were Explorer (68%), Creator (68%), and Magician (62%), which certainly also explain my: (1) adventurous, but chaotic and unfocused, self-reliance, (2) inspiration, vision, and single-mindedness, and (3) over-complicating desire to redefine the issues in order to meet a new situation.

None of that is much help in my job search, though, I have to say!  Indeed, the fact that my highest “grades” on these scales are not actually very high underscores the issue that my diverse background (Ph.D. in musicology, academic research, university course instruction, professional choral singing, arts admin, IT studies and work, website and web content development, small business programs, etc.) has not actually coalesced into an employee profile that makes much sense in the “real world.”  I guess the results do motivate me, however, to think more about the idea of writing digital-only e-books on music-related subjects (for students and lifelong learners) and maintaining a related purchase, media-clip, and discussion-hub website.

Cosmos (TV series, 1980)

Growing up, I never saw Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (PBS, 1980).  So, I’ve just been watching it (and reading the book) and pondering its approach and contributions to the popularization of science.  I’m doing this partly to help myself think about the implications of “public science” for “public musicology.”  It doesn’t surprise me that in 1994 Sagan (1934-96) won the National Academy of Sciences’ Public Welfare Medal (its highest honour), while simultaneously being denied membership in the Academy.  Numerous scientists didn’t like his media activities, in the same way that many of my fellow musicologists aren’t going to like my ventures into books for non-academic presses, self-published e-books for the public, and a collaborative community website for music history & culture.

The parts of Cosmos I like the best are the historical ones about the ancient Greeks and Ionians (the size of the Earth, the library at Alexandria, the scientific method), Kepler (elliptical orbits), Champollion (the Rosetta Stone), and so on.  On the other hand, there is surprisingly little in the 13-part series about Copernicus, Newton, and even Einstein.  Sagan and the other creators of Cosmos probably concluded that certain figures had already been covered at least adequately in such other places as high school and college textbooks.  I also like the 1990-92 updates included in the 2000 DVD edition.  For example, through updates of red-shift research, physicists have (since 1980) been able to model that the galaxies emanate outwards in a sort of plume shape (and, yes, thus away from each other at varying speeds) from a single point.  On the other hand, I have mixed feelings about the DVD edition having made obvious changes to the images of the 11th episode in order to add such things as 1990s’ computers, the World Wide Web, and so on.

Cosmos gets rather more into science-fiction towards the end, with the second-last (12th) episode a bit of a subtle plug for Sagan’s movie screenplay (1979) and eventual novel (1985) Contact, which was later revived as a major motion-picture (starring Jodie Foster) released in 1997.  Also, although it is not at all surprising for something from 1980, the last episode is quite pessimistically “cold war”-oriented.  For example, the last lines of a hypothetical, future Encyclopaedia Galactica entry about the Earth read:  “Communications Interrupted:  Neutron and Gamma Ray Doses approach lethality for dominant organisms.”  If the series had been done thirty years later, they probably would have spun those aspects to be more about such ecological and sociopolitical issues as global warming, natural disasters, the excess uses of energy, oil spills, controversies over acquiring and delivering energy, and rogue nuclear states.  However, the series (even the pessimism) holds up very well.  The last episode has the great line (still VERY applicable today):  “We accepted the products of science; we rejected its methods.”

I’m not a physicist, but it seems to me that everything we can model from the most distant galaxies happened billions of years ago.  So, what if everything that far away has already either turned into black holes (as happens with the largest stars) or (as might happen with neutron/pulsar systems and even white-dwarf systems, like ours will be) been sucked into their gravitational fields?  Maybe everything eventually disappears:  black holes into other black holes, probably, and perhaps even everything reaches a balance and the whole universe reverse big-bangs almost instantly!  Either way, the 4th-dimension (space-time, the best three-dimensional analogy for which has been that it’s “curved”) connects everything back to the singularity.  Done and done (closed universe).

Now, to music, since I am a musicologist!  It should be said that the credits of the series don’t list any of its specific items of music.  However, even on a cursory first pass, it is clear that Cosmos uses such accompanying music as recent electronic instrumental music, especially by Vangelis (such as from his 1975-76 albums, Heaven and Hell and Albedo 0.39), but also an electronic adaptation of Bach by Isao Tomita and several other pieces.  It also uses such classical works as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Holst’s “Mars” from The Planets, Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Rimsky-Korsakov, Mozart, Bach, Pachelbel’s “Canon,” Vivaldi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons, and early music and world music (for far away times and places, but Earth-bound ones).

Some of the music comes back too often (especially Vangelis’s mellow “Alpha” and “Heaven and Hell” excerpts) and some choices are too obvious (e.g., the “Martian” Holst).  However, there is also a much bigger problem in the idea that European 18th, 19th, and early-20th century classical or “art” music and 1970s’ pseudo-classical instrumental music is the “big music” most suitable to accompany “big questions” about the universe.  It’s not surprising that the series was made and developed in the late-1970s, just after the era in which Leonard Bernstein’s public lectures about classical music (1973) became well-known on TV, video, and in book form.  I wonder what choices the creators of Cosmos would have made if the series had appeared in 2010, instead of 1980?

A re-boot of the series is underway for 2014, to be hosted by science populist Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-written with Sagan’s two co-writers.  So, it will be interesting to see how the new, internet-age series compares to the original one.

Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion

My chapter outlines for Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion are going very well.  For my proposal (I have two weeks left to complete it), the folks at Scarecrow Press really only want one paragraph per chapter.  I can easily focus on what I want to cover, because I know the topic extremely well.

The book and the proposal both need to be in short, accessible sentences and without any kind of technical or academic jargon.  The trick will be to translate some of my more powerful song-discussion ideas from my UCLA musicology dissertation into “normal” language.

Another part of the proposal involves a writing sample of a page or two about a specific piece of music.   I need to sneak selected lyrics directly into my prose sentences, otherwise permissions would be a nightmare.   However, I might opt to include a short table that summarizes the main aspects of the structure and textures of whichever song I choose.

I should be able to write the entire book very quickly.  I need to, because I have other things to do, and I’ve mostly moved on from this topic anyhow.

Music “Trivia” for Musicians

We had an enjoyable Grand Philharmonic Choir annual dinner last evening. However, there has to some kind of better after-dinner activity for a bunch of mildly-inebriated musicians than the sort of “Name That Random No. 1 Hit” type of trivia contest that hundreds of millions of non-musicians also enjoy and at which they undoubtedly do just as well.

How about actually performing some songs? (Duh!) Start with a fake book and a piano, and give out prizes for people who remember and/or figure out suitable introductions, best approximate synth patterns, vocally replicate riffs and guitar solos, add bass lines, bang out some drum fills on a table, get the vocal harmonies right, and so on.

I would REALLY prefer to engage with more than the first three seconds of each song! I can play “Name That Tune” whenever I want with my own iTunes library and with tens of thousands of songs—as opposed to a handful of former top pop hits. Musicians should certainly be able to deal with things other than “lowest common denominators.”

How to Sneak Cultural Musicology into Church!

I’m looking forward to performing my church’s Lenten theme song, “Ashamed No More” (by Valerie Wiebe), this Sunday. Musically, it’s going to be something like Ray Charles performing “Amazing Grace” (but not like his sweeping version with orchestral strings) meets the Beatles’ “Let It Be” (i.e., mostly piano). I’ve R&B-ized the song a bit with some extra 7ths, substitute chords that work better on piano (especially this killer, I must say, diminished 7th in the bridge), and gestures (e.g., melodic thirds) that show the mutual stylistic derivations of R&B and country music—which Ray Charles, and to a lesser extent the Beatles, obviously explored. Cultural musicology in church!

Carmina Jehanna

Carl Dreyer’s silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) combined with Richard Einhorn’s cantata Voices of Light (1994) was a quite memorable and moving experience in which to sing. I think it could also have been called Carmina JehannaSongs for Joan – with (as in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana) often-fortississimo choral Latin, olde-tyme versions of one or more modern languages, and, according to the programme notes, Joan’s personal associations apparently being less “saintly” than one might have expected. I also think the cantata (or at least several key parts of it) would have worked just as well as a “progressive rock opera.” The performance featured not only our Grand Philharmonic Choir and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, but also my early-2000s Elora Festival Singers’ “peeps” and others in the TACTUS Vocal Ensemble, all conducted by Mark Vuorinen.