Monday, 31 August 2009

September's free game

September's game of the month has moved here temporarily while I sort out my PC and try to recover several lost files, including a more finely crafted version of this very game. As well as providing other benefits it is a perfect back-to-school game, allowing you to learn the names of a new class and giving the children the opportunity to remember and reinforce their class identity. Oh, and don't forget to check out the new free music games page on the website.

Who's calling?
Duration: 5 - 10 minutes depending on numbers
Age: 6 - 13
Players: the whole class

This is designed for children sitting at desks. Itis not a prerequisite but it is perfect for getting to know a new class and if the children are stationary rather than moving around it can be easier to remember their names. It's very similar to other voice recognition games but is easier because the direction from which a sound comes gives a clue as to its source. I make three claims for it:

1. You will get to know the names of the children.
2. The children's awareness of the others in the class will improve
3. It will improve listening skills

Make sure that any new children are known to the rest of the class. You will need to decide what form of names to use. I suggest the names the children are normally known by in school. (Children from other countries with names that are hard to pronounce are often known by nicknames or the closest local equivalent.) Make it clear that any name-calling will not be tolerated.

· Choose one child to be the first listener. Offer them a blindfold if you like but at any rate they must close their eyes. Select another child to be the first caller. Do this by pointing to them.

· The caller sings the name of the first child who must identify the owner of the voice. If the listener guesses right then they pass the blindfold to the caller. If they guess wrongly the caller sings their name again. If, after three calls the listener has failed to identify to caller, that caller is 'safe' (for the time being at least) and you must choose a new caller.

· When a caller is identified they become the next listener.

· Continue in this manner until everyone has had a go at either calling or listening, if not both.

Tips: A confident child who enjoys high status will make a good first listener, is more likely to wear a blindfold and will set the tone for the rest of the game. However, they may make a poor first caller unless they are confident singers because they will fear losing face.
Although the children are relatively safe because they are seated, it is worth stressing that harassment of anyone wearing a blindfold is completely unacceptable.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The buzz on the street

'Cars hiss by my window' sang Jim Morrison. It occurred to me yesterday that it must have been raining when he wrote that. It has been a very dry August in my neck of the woods so when it rained I noticed the difference in the traffic noise drifting across the gardens from the main road. The dry whoosh to which I had become used had taken on a wetter note: this hiss alluded to in the song. I may have been slow getting there - it's forty years since The Doors released LA Woman - but I was pleased with my realisation.

A friend and I were discussing the sound of wind in beech trees recently. They have thin, flexible leaves with an emphasis on quantity rather than size. Morrison compared his cars to 'the waves down on the beach'. Beech leaves have a similar quality to waves over sand but drier, if that makes any sense. It occurred to me that before the massive deforestation that has accompanied agriculture and industry mankind would have been very attuned to what we now consider subtleties. A forest is, to use a phrase coined by David Toop, an ocean of sound constantly providing information for all who can read it.

I used to consider the sound of traffic as merely noise; the audible equivalent of the electromagnetic fog that some believe has contributed to the decline of bees. Whilst I would still prefer it gone it is part of the environmental soundscape and I have to make the best of it. Knowing it's been raining , even before I open my eyes in the morning, is a start. What use I can make of knowing there's a boy racer working off his testosterone or that the police are going somewhere in a hurry I'm really not sure.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Music game - Wobble

Not a 'back to school' game - you'll have to wait for September's Game of the Month for that - more of a holiday relaxation.

Duration: 10 minutes
Age: Consenting adults
Players: Any number of pairs

By focussing their attention elsewhere this activity relaxes the participants' throats and so warms up their vocal cords without straining them. The exercise came from a butoh workshop and is intended both to ground and centre the members of the group.

The 'consenting adults' suggestion is because the players have to touch each other's legs, albeit through clothes. Adults are not immune to self-consciousness but they are usually capable of getting over it. Of course if your players are used to physical contact you'll have no problem in that regard.

· Divide into pairs. If your group is new, or unused to physical touch, you may like to pair men with men and women with women. At the very least be sensitive to people's attitudes to being touched by someone of the opposite sex, especially where cultural taboos exist. If in doubt check you have even numbers of both genders before initiating the game.

· In each pair one person, the receiver, puts their weight almost fully into one leg and presents the other one to their partner, keeping that foot on the ground and using to retain stability. Both knees should be unlocked.

· Their partner, the giver, kneels in front of them and, starting at the upper thigh, uses both hands to wobble the flesh of the leg. They work slowly down the receiver's leg towards the ankle and when they reach the foot they press firmly on the upper surface as if trying to push the foot into the ground. While they wobble the leg they sing into the flesh in any manner they feel appropriate. Their voice may wobble too or it may be a constant tone. The pitch and timbre may or may not vary. There is no right or wrong. The receiver joins in with the singing, either in mimicry or response.

· Do this twice more on that leg and then the receiver shifts their weight into the leg that has been worked on and presents their other leg. The giver wobbles the second leg in the same manner three times. Then the partners swap roles and the giver becomes the receiver.

Tips: This activity is best done in loose, comfortable clothing such as track-suit trousers. It is easier to work a clothed leg than a bare one.
Join in yourself and, vocal-wise, lead from the front.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sauna acoustics

I have mentioned a rather special building in the past. It is a sauna constructed primarily in plywood in the shape of an icosahedron. I have spent many happy hours in there over the years and have heard speech, laughter, chant and song within its walls (sides?). On my last visit I was treated to some very atmospheric didgeridoo playing late one night around the full moon. This prompted me to try out the acoustic with my clarinet.

I visited in the morning, when it was cool, and set up my recorder. I then began noodling on a folky theme in (concert) D dorian which allows me to drop down to what is, for me as a Bb clarinetist, known as bottom E. A few snaps, some fun in Windows Movie Maker and result awaits below.

From the point of view of the musician I found the acoustic supportive while playing but with a very rapid decay of any reverberations. Parallel surfaces are avoided when building recording studios as they prevent standing waves from making echoes, all of which are added later to give the required sound characteristics. Although the plywood that makes up the sauna is reflective, very little of the surface area is parallel to any other side of the structure. So, unlike most indoor spaces, it has no sympathetic resonances reinforcing the volume of certain notes. Most producers and recording engineers would agree that a sympathetic natural reverb like this is preferable to one applied solely after the event. And the vibe in a studio is unlikely ever to match this sauna. I could have added a flattering 'atmosphere' but prefer it like this.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Free Game for August - Fish and Chips

I love gigs within cycling distance and last night I played at Will Giles' Exotic Garden, a fabulous place near the railway station. The event was a party for Norwich's Green Party which, never having wielded power of any kind, are still considered cute and cuddly and immune from the opprobrium that is traditionally heaped on the spenders of public money. Ironically I had a puncture on the way and, looking for a safe place to put my bike on a Friday night, left it outside the Plantation Gardens, another favourite haunt.

There was enough stone and brick-work at Will Giles's place to make for a good acoustic. It's built on the side of a steep hill so there's a sense of being in an amphitheatre when playing. Although amplification was technically forbidden Andy still managed to sneak his battery powered Pig behind a palm leaf to enable a reasonable balance with the clarinet. Our mix of klezmer and jazz usually hits the spot and this was no exception.

I have just posted a new Game of the Month for August on the website. Fish and Chips was taught to me by a group of ten year olds earlier this year but I believe its appeal is universal by both age and geography. In case you are wondering, chips are deep fried lengths of potato, roughly equivalent to North American fries and what the French call pommes frites. By all means substitute a food item with which your players will be familiar. If you are playing in Spanish please try the word 'paella' and let me know how you get on.

The game is perfect for bonding as the individuals in the group have to listen closely to each other. I hate to say it, so early in the holiday season, but it's a perfect 'back to school' game.

Talking of holidays, this is my last post for a couple of weeks. I'm off to a couple of camps to play live music for various dance forms and will tell all on my return. May the sun shine on us all but especially on my tent.