sábado, 19 de julio de 2014

A Critique of Vandana Shiva

Recently I came across this article, which has been getting a lot of attention on social media. I would like to bring to light its inconsistencies and faults.

We Are the Soil
by Vandana Shiva

'Creative work in being stewards of the land and co-creators of living soil is not an “input” into a food system, but the most important output of good farming,' writes Shiva. (Public domain)

We are made up of the same five elements — earth, water, fire, air and space — that constitute the Universe. [We’re already off to a bad start. Why bring up a medieval cosmology here? Isn’t matter and energy in spacetime good enough?] We are the soil. We are the earth. What we do to the soil, we do to ourselves. [This is the basic premise of the article and its title. The way we treat soil is linked to our health.] And it is no accident that the words “humus” and “humans” have the same roots. [This is interesting! The word “humus” comes from Latin, for earth or soil, from Indo European *dhghem—“earth”. Human, comes from Latin humanus, relating to human things, and seems to relate to the word homo, which interestingly might come from the same root, but with the sense of earthling; from earth.]
This ecological truth is forgotten in the dominant paradigm because it is based on eco-apartheid, the false idea that we are separate and independent of the earth and also because it defines soil as dead matter. [I would like to know more about this so-called ecoapartheid. The idea of soil being considered dead is a strawman argument—like many specialists in agriculture know, it is very hard indeed to kill soil and impractical. As is explained in this article , the argument of dead soil is very common, but is unscientific and ignores how impractical it is to begin with. It also flies in the face of agricultural knowledge.] If soil is dead to begin with, human action cannot destroy its life. [A farmer who thinks soil is dead is an ignorant farmer.] It can only “improve” the soil with chemical fertilisers. [Strawman. Soil is not dead, it’s hard to kill. We can certainly make it easier for plants to grow in it however.] And if we are the masters and conquerors of the soil, we determine the fate of the soil. Soil cannot determine our fate. [The strawman argument continues. Not everybody thinks that soil is dead, but some who do believe agriculture kills it. People, regardless of their use of chemicals, must be able to put the soil to productive use if they want to make food. If soil determines our fate, we’ve picked inadequate soil or failed to approach growing food on it intelligently. This is not about dead soil or not.]
"The claim that the Green Revolution or genetic engineering feeds the world is false. [And again, another strawman argument. The idea that one single technology is the cure to all problems in the world is obviously impractical. Is organic the only solution? Not likely, for the same reasons. Like most intelligent approaches to complex issues, the answer relies on more than one solution.] Intrinsic to these technologies are monocultures based on chemical inputs, a recipe for killing the life of the soil." [Again with the death of the soil! Soil is hard to kill. First Vandana says that thinking that the assumption that soil is dead is false, then states that monoculture kills soil. Is it dead or not then? The author could look for more accurate ways of describing the effects of these chemicals too. On the other hand, it is true that monoculture systems have flaws. As other systems do too. The problem lies in picking the perfect context for a particular method of agriculture.]
History, however, is witness to the fact that the fate of societies and civilisations is intimately connected to how we treat the soil [For this very reason, we can hope that the collective knowledge of disasters and successes can further improve our current techniques, organic or not. Side question: was the Irish Potato Famine caused by chemicals, or just monoculture?] — do we relate to the soil through the Law of Return or through the Law of Exploitation and Extraction. [I admit that Vandana brings a fair ethical point about our relationship to the environment, where humanity must find a way of recycling its products back into the food chain and reduce the environmental impact. It is true that a lot of practices are not long-term sustainable, but
1: this is an area of constant research and development worthy of looking to, and
2: switching to preindustrial techniques (which might be what Vandana advocates), is not a serious solution either considering the number of people on Earth that need food and current land constraints.]
The Law of Return — of giving back — has ensured that societies create and maintain fertile soil and can be supported by living soil over thousands of years. [In terms of simple thermodynamics, the law of return is an equal input of energy into a system as the amount taken from it. In terms of soil, it means that the necessary nutrients that plants take from the soil be replenished for the next crop, which is what we do anyway. What we might be missing, which Vandana has so far not mentioned at all is the petrochemical industry.] The Law of Exploitation — of taking without giving back — has led to the collapse of civilisations. [Yes. And so have climate change, drought, war, pests, bad economics. Sometimes nature takes back regardless of whether you use chemicals in the soil or not.]
Contemporary societies across the world stand on the verge of collapse as soils are eroded, degraded, poisoned, buried under concrete and deprived of life. [If societies worldwide are about to collapse, it wouldn’t be because we are covering soil under concrete. Cities are high-density areas of human settlement, meaning that while in a spread-out fashion we might cover much more soil under concrete and roads, we can save more land for good use by moving in close to each other. And yes, yes, yes, industrial agriculture at its worst has detrimental effects on the environment, but not all of these effects are part of the industry she talks about. Some, for instance, are related to soon-to-be-obsolete industries such as coal-based energy and the automotive industry.] Industrial agriculture, based on a mechanistic paradigm and use of fossil fuels has created ignorance and blindness to the living processes that create a living soil. [This ignorance, apparently, is shared by certain activists who write that we are the soil and we are killing it. It shows poor understanding of the biology of the soil. Yes, schools should inculcate children on the composition of soil and all the microorganisms living in it, it is important. And again, YES, fossil fuel dependency is an issue. It would be great to commercialise renewable alternatives. This should not be a critique of a “mechanistic paradigm” but rather energy resources. Turning mechanism into a dirty word betrays ignorance: there is a large number of people on Earth. We want to feed them all. Mechanisms are designed to reduce waste and increase productivity. Avoiding these “paradigms” is like saying that we should not strive to be efficient. Why would one not want to be efficient? Should we be even more wasteful?] Instead of focusing on the Soil Food Web, it has been obsessed with external inputs of chemical fertilisers — what Sir Albert Howard called the NPK mentality. Biology and life have been replaced with chemistry. [Another misleading statement. A good biologist, and particularly botanologists worth their salt will assert that plants require more than just Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorous; that certain plants need certain minerals, and that NPK is outdated. Biology has not been replaced by chemistry, what is this nonsense? Proper understanding of both is needed. And of course certain plants grow on only certain soils.]
External inputs and mechanisation are imperative for monocultures. [Scary word mechanisation is scary. Unlike abused immigrant farmers picking strawberries by hand and breaking their backs, that is familiar and nice.] By exposing the soil to wind, sun and rain, monocultures expose the soil to erosion by wind and water. [Again, another strawman argument. Agriculture is a science that learns from past mistakes. No-tilling is actually practiced in response to soil runoff. Vandana implies that a whole science and a whole community of people do not adapt to changing circumstances to suit environmental and production needs. She also implies that other methods of agriculture are completely blame-free from exposing soil to erosion, therefore presenting the best of one side and the absolute worst from the other.]
Soils with low organic matter are also most easily eroded, since organic matter creates, aggregates and binds the soil. [Yes. And this is why one replenishes soils. Or grows plants in it. Or chooses not to till it.]
Soil is being lost at 10 to 40 times the rate at which it can be replenished naturally. This implies 30 per cent less food over the next 20-50 years. [This is a serious issue worth looking at more in the future. I would like sources for this claim. Is this globally? Incidentally, is this only in agricultural areas, or in general, as in through droughts and climate change? Does moving away from mechanistic agriculture to other methods necessarily imply that soil loss will decrease? Does mechanistic agriculture present workarounds to preserve soil integrity?] Soil erosion washes away soil nutrients. A tonne of top soil averages 1-6 kg of nitrogen, 1-3 kg of phosphorous, 2-30 kg of potassium, whereas soil in eroded land has only 0.1-0.5 per cent nitrogen. [Vandana just compared kg of substances per tonne of soil, with percentages in soil. These numbers mean nothing by themselves. If it means less, then how much less?] The cost of these nutrient losses are $20 billion annually. [What does this number mean, compared to loss by other causes?]
"Soil, not oil, holds the future for humanity. [And the soil’s future relies on the sun, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, other minerals, water, and a plethora of biological processes.] The oil-based, fossil fuel intensive, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture has unleashed three processes which are killing the soil, and hence impacting our future." [This again.]
Fertile soils contain 100 tonnes of organic matter per ha. [I don’t understand this number, because an hectare is a unit of area, and does not tell me the volume of soil in that area.] Reduction of soil organic matter by 1.4-0.9 per cent lowers yield potential by 50 per cent. [Organic fertilisers exists for a reason.] Chemical monocultures also make soils more vulnerable to drought and further contribute to food insecurity. [This is a restatement of the previous paragraph. Is monoculture or polyculture really the one thing to blame? It is the tilling of land, which many have abandoned. It is climate change, which changes weather patterns. It is soil mismanagement. (Remember you said we must not control soil? Let it dry then and lose organic matter!)]
Further, eroded soils and soils without organic matter absorb 10 to 300 mm less water per ha per year from rainfall. This represents 7 to 44 per cent decrease in water availability for food production, contributing to a decline in biological productivity from 10-25 per cent. [Answer: put organic matter into it.]
No technology can claim to feed the world while it destroys the life in the soil by failing to feed it on the basis of the Law of Return. [Misleading. If we have designated a plot of land to grow food, our concern should be that it grows that food, and that the soil does not run off. And that we do not prevent future growth by putting toxins in it, which I infer is what Vandana implies, even if considerable research goes into finding eco-friendlier ways of managing soil.] This is why the claim that the Green Revolution or genetic engineering feeds the world is false. [A false claim, that one technology is the silver bullet to all problems, is false because while it actually helps feed people because Vandana feels that it somehow is not being replenished before we grow more. Or something like that? This straw man argument is dragging on... More meaningful would be to advocate for renewable alternatives to such industrial methods, right?Intrinsic to these technologies are monocultures based on chemical inputs, a recipe for killing the life of the soil and accelerating soil erosion and degradation. [I think I read this same sentence twice before already.Degraded and dead soils, soils without organic matter, soils without soil organisms, soils with no water holding capacity, create famines and a food crisis, they do not create food security. [Soil degradation is serious. It must be avoided, for it is wasteful and hard to fix. And any technology that can hopefully reverse this must be looked at seriously. Vandana: please!]
This is especially true in times of climate change. [Except when it isn’t true, such as previously unusable soils becoming fertile for food growth. Northern Canada and Siberia. Not that I think this is good, but it means that not all climate change “kills soils”.Not only is industrial agriculture responsible for 40 per cent of the Green House gases contributing to climate change, it is also more vulnerable to it. [YES!!!! Thank you for this important point. This is a pressing issue. And so is the percentage of carbon emissions due to concrete production, coal and petrol, and all sorts of other processes. Would Vandana support me if I went about installing solar panels and batteries on all the machinery used to grow crops, even the tractors and tillers? And solar panels on the factories creating the chemicals used to sustain high growth in soil?]
Soils with organic matter are more resilient to drought and climate extremes. [This is another repeated sentence. My attention span is not that short.And increasing organic matter production through biodiversity intensive systems, which are in effect photosynthesis intensive systems is the most effective way to get the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, into the plants, and then into the soil through the Law of Return. [Wait wait hold up! Biodiverse or not, photosynthesis still will happen where there are plants. Do you want to know what part of the planet might possibly best represent the Law of Return? The Midwest. NASA used fluorescent light from satellite imagery to create a detailed map of world photosynthetic levels and discovered that while tropical rainforests are the most productive year-round, the bloody Midwest, during the north’s harvesting season, is the brightest spot on earth, everything else paling in comparison.]
Soil, not oil, holds the future for humanity. [Repeat this mantra with me, again. Yes, oil is a primitive energy source, and if aliens saw us, they’d say we are very primitive, burning dead plants as a source of fuel. Come on already, Vandana, let’s keep the best of both worlds: mechanisation and efficiency, with sustainable resources!The oil-based, fossil fuel intensive, chemical intensive, industrial agriculture has unleashed three processes which are killing the soil, and hence impacting our future. [This sentence was lifted verbatim from a couple paragraphs above. Notice how she only lists two things below.]
Firstly, industrial agriculture destroys living soils through monocultures and chemicals. [Looking at this closely with the previous paragraph, it reads like: We are killing the soil in three ways. The first way is by killing it (with monoculture and chemicals). Circular argument. Second, an oil-based paradigm intensifies fossil fuel inputs and creates a false measure of productivity which presents an unproductive system as productive. [Let’s follow the logic here, statement by statement. 
A: Fossil fuels are used.
B: Fossil fuel emissions go up.
So far this is logical.
C: This system creates a lot of food because of the energy we get out of nonrenewables allows us to.
D: High food production means systems are productive.
E: This system is not actually productive, because... it is not?
Merriam Webster says that unproductive means “producing inferior or only a small amount”, or “producing no results”.
So, these are possibilities:
1—Producing a lot of food, but undercounting it and thus perceiving inefficiency? I would argue this based on the (unrelated to this article) habit that people waste a lot of food.
2—We are actually producing very little food considering the amount of fossil fuels that go into making it. This is interesting, because as much as I’d love to see no more fossil fuels used, we could say that as long as we are using them, we might as well be as efficient and unwasteful as possible. So in effect, we are indeed presenting an “unproductive” system as productive.
3—Vandana is making a logical fallacy and I am trying my best to make sense of it and put it into a wider context.]
The trick lies in reducing creative productive work to “labour “ as a commodity, counting people as labour as an “input”, and not counting fossil fuels as an input. [Hard work in agriculture should be respected and paid its due. If this is commodifying it, then let it be. A lot of immigrants in the United States take up farming and it pays extremely low. I don’t know what point Vandana is trying to make. Fossil fuels are indeed counted as inputs. Where did she get the idea that they are not? For further info on fossil fuels in agri-industry, click here. This is worthy of examining.] Intensive fossil fuel use translates into more the 300 “energy slaves” that work invisibly behind each worker on fossil fuel intensive industrial farms. [What are these quote-unquote energy slaves? Since this article was about chemicals in the soil and I perceive this part to stray from Vandana’s central argument, let’s take the example of the chemical industry, from which farmers buy products. Where do these chemical industries get their products from, and who is a slave in the process? Very important question to look into, if it’s true; unfortunately it’s one sentence in what could have been a meaningful paragraph.]
People as an input means the less people on the land, the more “productive” agriculture becomes. [The less people working on anything, the more people can pursue bigger ideas and help others. What is your point, Vandana?] Farmers are destroyed, rural economies are destroyed, the land is emptied of people and filled with toxics. [This might be a bit luddite and hints at the idea that the farmers should remain confined to the land, that there must be more people working on preindustrial farmlands all day long. Toxics is not really a word in any case and by confusing all chemicals with toxic substances, the author shows weak understanding.] The creative work of farmers as custodians and renewers of soil and biodiversity is replaced by deadly chemicals. [I do not understand why there seems to be no middle ground, where farmers can use the latest knowledge, technology and experience from a worldwide pool of people to be the guardians of soil and biodiversity they want to be. This is a fallacy of the excluded middle.]
Creative work in being stewards of the land and co-creators of living soil is not an “input” into a food system, but the most important output of good farming. [The most important output of good farming is good food. Followed very closely by an intelligent and careful relationship with the environment. This talk of input and output hardly makes any sense. While it would be great that people bought a product such as a farmer intelligently managing the soil (business idea anyone?? A bit like Eco-Insurance or something?), what does it mean that it is not an input? What is then?] It cannot be reduced to “labour” as a commodity. [What is it then? If people want to pay for food, how is it not labour? What if a farmer decides to just grow food at his whim and without regards to what people around him/her need? “Nah man, I don’t work as a commodity. I don’t feel like making food today.” People need food, and the market will make sure it comes from somewhere, regardless of meaningless platitudes like “we cannot reduce it to a commodity”] Land, too, is not a commodity. [I agree that owning a piece of planet Earth is iffy and strange, but this is a philosophical point, and most human beings indeed treat land as a commodity. Saying it is not is like saying that people don’t treat it like so.] Creating, conserving, rejuvenating, fertile and living soil is the most important objective of civilisation. It is a regenerative output. [Civilisation 101: Learn the laws of thermodynamics.]
Third, displaced farmers flood cities. [And displaced factory workers flooded suburbs once.] This is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon. [Yes, and cities need better ways of integrating incoming people. It is a serious problem.] It is part of the design of industrial agriculture. The explosion of cities buries fertile soil under concrete. [Cities are some of the most dense settlements on Earth. What would a person who obviously wants the least amount of concrete burying good soil want? Cities.] The equivalent of 30 football fields are consumed by cement and concrete every minute. [I just realised that this is maybe an American problem. In other countries, cities are planned so that most important things are at reach. In the United States though, people have been living in sparse settlements so long that they assume it’s normal to build and build in the middle of nowhere.]
The Save our Soils (SOS) movement, of which I am a patron, has been started by many organisations including FAO, IFOAM, Nature and More, to wake humanity to the soil emergency, which is also a human emergency. [That is commendable. The author, however, should assume the role of responsibility if she really is patron of SOS. She should know what she is talking about, these are no light matters and the way she made her case in this article is iffy.]
We need to measure human progress not on the basis of how much cement buried the soil [Human progress is not measured that way, firstly. Roads and indoor floors are places where cement goes, but on the field? With crops? How is this even related to your point, Vandana?], but how much soil was reclaimed and liberated. [This is a good start, but no, not the soil liberation, but soil detoxification, and our ability to prevent soil runoff. And our ability to use technology wisely to keep feeding what will become 10 billion people. Not this stupid idea that concrete should be removed, maybe from inner city parts, to grow food in. That urban soil needs cleaning up beforehand anyway, with all the lead in it. THAT’S SERIOUS STUFF. This article misses great opportunities to make points like that.] This is what “saugandh mujhe is mitti ki” should mean. Living seeds and living soils are the foundation of living and lasting societies. [I just feel like I read a bunch of nothing, with fallacies used as icing. There is so much important stuff to talk about, and this article does little to address these issues.]
© 2014 Asian Age
Dr. Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist and eco feminist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology. She is author of numerous books including, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate CrisisStolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food SupplyEarth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development. Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad as well as NGOs, including the International Forum on Globalization, the Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the Third World Network. She has received numerous awards, including 1993 Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize.

viernes, 2 de noviembre de 2012

The Light-Year Long Plank

A while back I stumbled across the following video, and the conundrum in it resurfaced in my thoughts later and I presented it to a few friends. It provided an interesting hour or two at the college cafeteria for discussion, and tons of disagreements.

One person in particular suggested the following:

The speed of the information traveling through the plank would approach the speed of light (c) as the bonds joining the atoms in the plank become 'stiffer', and if you had a completely rigid atomic structure, the plank's other end would move nearly instantaneously as the information traveled faster than light. The whole structure would move in unison if we reached complete stiffness, as there is no room for contraction waves and every particle moved at the same time.

The first part of this is correct as described in the following formula for the speed of sound:

c = \sqrt{\frac{E}{\rho}}\,
E is a coefficient of stiffness, the bulk modulus (or the modulus of bulk elasticity for gases),
\rho is the density(from Wikipedia)

The speed of sound decreases with density p and increases with bulk modulus (stiffness), which in solids is Y, Young's modulus.. The question then is, what is the highest that E can be?

The transfer of this movement through the plank is a pressure wave that moves the atoms within. When an atom is pushed, its electrons create a force against the electrons of the neighbouring atom, moving it and causing eventually the whole system to be displaced when the movement reaches the end of the plank. Diamond, the hardest bulk material known to man, has a speed of propagation of 1200 m/s, as opposed to air's speed of about 340. Diamond is not very elastic at all and it has the density of carbon. However, dealing with a theoretical material with total stiffness, we run into a problem.

Faster than light or near instant?

Can infinitely high bulk modulus allow sound to surpass c, the speed of light? Is this property possible? Firstly, atoms have a limit on their bonds' rigidity; and there are reasons why infinite bulk modulus does not make sense.

A completely rigid system would mean that the initial atom would not be able to move in relation to the one next to it, with no relative change in distance between them, and no push exerted. This means all the energy would be absorbed and none would be transferred onto the next atom. Clearly this is a problem. It might seem counter-intuitive but the idea of completely stiff atomic bonds does not make sense since atoms need at least some degree of movement in order to act on nearby atoms.

The idea is a lazy one because it doesn't explain how atoms could transfer energy to each other. Infinite stiffness does not make sense and could allow one to decide its outcome as anything because it is undefined. Dividing infinity by a finite number and taking its square root will give you an undefined answer.

This model ignores the restrictions of our current model of the universe, and therefore the current model of the universe cannot tell us anything useful about it. Ok, so if instant movement does not make sense by definition, we need to consider the next issue issue: the possibility of information traveling faster than c, the speed of light. Tachyons are the only exception to this rule and as far as science has seen, yet they do not exist. Furthermore, other areas of astronomy can shed some light on this, as this passage I quote from here, about the largest theoretical size of neutron stars before they collapse into black holes:

Since the conditions in a neutron star are very difficult to duplicate on Earth, nobody is exactly sure just how big a neutron star can be. One indirect argument is based on the fact that as a neutron star becomes more massive, it must become stiffer to maintain itself, and the speed of sound through the star increases accordingly. Above six solar masses, the speed of sound exceeds that of light, which is ruled out by Einstein's theory of relativity. 
Six solar masses is only an upper bound on the size of a neutron star. More practical calculations estimate the upper limit as three solar masses. No objects confirmed as neutron stars are known that are larger than two solar masses; the mass is typically about 1.35 solar masses.

In effect, it seems that neutron stars collapse under the gravity of their own mass before they can reach a density and bulk modulus that can violate the laws of physics.

At the speed of light, or below?

Once we discard the possibility of faster-than-light sound-waves, one begins to wonder; what is the speed of a force? This might sound strange, but firstly, the energy is transferred from one end of the plank to the other through electromagnetic force that, as mentioned before, keeps atomic and subatomic particles apart. According to the standard model and the theory of relativity, forces travel at the speed of light, so the weak and strong nuclear forces, gravity and electromagnetism are not instantaneous as may be perceived in the small scales in which we might perceive them.
What is the maximum speed of sound? Theoretical and observed?

 In the link above, the following possibilities are explored by some people:
  • Plasma: matter in this state goes by slightly different mechanics, and bulk modulus would be the energy associated with electron degeneracy, and the guesstimated speed would reach about
    500,000 m/s. (100 times slower than light).
  • Neutron stars: electron degeneracy is followed by neutron degeneracy which makes matter collapse onto itself. This causes the bulk modulus to rise exponentially (as predicted by my friend). To quote the result:
"At that point, information from the center of the star can barely reach the edge, whether it's light or sound, so the local speed of sound at a neutron star just about to become a black hole would probably be just about light speed.
References: I used no references and I also don't know what I am talking about. Please do not substitute this answer for medical advice."
The distance the electromagnetic forces communicate movement through is not the space between the atoms (atoms are mostly empty space); it's the space between the electromagnetic fields of the electrons that interact with each other. That space is VERY CLOSE to a light year long in our experiment. The whole process of movement includes this space plus the distance particles (which can't be completely rigid) must travel to influence one another. In theory, as long as the formula used to calculate it does not provide undefined answers, none of the parameters stray off the current model of the universe we understand and the answer reaches c but isn't equal to it, there would be little reason to dismiss claims of the possibility that some materials may be able to transmit at almost such speeds. The best example I could find was in this following paper that concludes that evaluating equations at different densities for neutron stars all yield values for the speed of sound inferior to c.

Wait a minute! What about black holes?

Most of the theory before this deals with matter before it collapses into black holes. Most mathematical models explaining spacetime and force break down when they deal with black holes since they consist of matter that has collapsed further than a neutron star would have and has become so compressed it ceases to have actual volume. Despite my research I could not find much on the topic and the little I did points to the idea that a non-rotating black hole is completely stiff (has no adiabatic compressibility rate) while a rotating one has properties closer to neutron stars (see more: Compressibility of a Black Hole). While this tells us the possible properties of the matter in a black hole we have little idea (as far as I know) of how waves of sound would behave as they enter its event horizon or travel along its surface. A couple threads on StraightDope briefly touch this but it seems that sound doesn't travel at all because an infinitely compressible medium does not allow it to (as touched before when E becomes infinite in the speed of sound equation) or also because there is no space to travel the idea does not make sense.

Also, how would a plank-black hole structure be like?

More info:
Why is the elastic modulus relatively insensitive to changes in chemistry/heat treatment(...)
The Nature of Sound - The Physics Hyperbook
The Superluminal Scissors (similar Gedankenexperiment)

sábado, 14 de enero de 2012

New album for 2012

What perfect time to clear some cobwebs on this old blog than by announcing a new album?

What?!? That's right! I've been working on this one for a while, and now present you with:

Mainly a crossbreed of drum & bass, dubstep and breabeat with bits of rock, jazz, metal and other things showing up now and then.
Get your bass speakers on max!
With the exclusive performance of MC T-Tym.

domingo, 25 de septiembre de 2011

Songs about hawkers

There's probably no surprise to the idea that people who sell stuff on the streets of the Latin America are something common. I personally find it interesting how hawkers, peddlers, or however you want to call 'em are big parts of Latino culture, and so, it is interesting hearing songs about them in popular styles of music from several countries. So far I found songs from Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, and Paraguay, but I'm sure that if I dug a bit deeper I'd be able to find references to them in songs of just about every Hispanophone country. So, without further ado:

Oscar Padilla - El Tamalero (from Mexico)

Pedrito Altamiranda - El Buhonero (Panama)

Banda MS - Cacahuates Pistaches (Mexico)

Juana Fé - Callejero (Chile)

Radio Rochela - Adiós Buhonero (Venezuela)

(this last one reminds me of Saturday Night Live with its air of parody).

martes, 18 de enero de 2011

2010 Music Competition!

Towards the end of last year, I signed up to Boyinaband, some sort of magical place where you can find resources and tutorials and stuff on electronic music, and jokes. It just happened that there was a competition going on, courtesy of this guy here, so I decided to give it my best shot (although I only had 5 days left), so I began working on a track and although I didn't think it would win, it was all done with having fun in mind. Anyway, this was my entry:

Badunka Funk by SkinsVideos21

Perhaps I shouldn't have gone wild with the entry and experimental but I was just having so much fun putting a dembow here, a 2-step drum & bass beat here, some chopped-up royalty-free funk samples there and a goddamn wobble bass smack in the middle and again after. And a hip hop interlude too. People who read this might be aware that I'm interested in merging d&b with more Latino rhythms (something that will show up in a future track too).

Anyway, I didn't win and it's okay. It was fun. I think the winners totally deserved their places and mentions, so here are the rest of the contestants (last three are the winners, leaving the best tracks for last (not saying the first ones are the worst though)).

(whoops, Sirena by Medik has dissapeared D:)

Alarm Bell by petermennitirecords

Srsly by vyryl

Black Magic by Archdemon XIII

Classology by Biastate

Transformers by ShokeyPokey

Srsly (BIAB Competition) by vyryl

Outer Space by Vikt0r

There are a few entries that received honourable mentions, like the gosh darn funky

Timothy Law Snider - Uncle Wiggly (there's a small playlist there but no way to embed the song)

Toxic Energy - Blast by Toxic Energy

and also...
CHNK - Trance Chug (I couldn't find it anywhere... oh well)

Now, the finalists:

In third place, is this clever guy here who won't let me embed his :(
JKR ft. Bettina Reuterberg - Revolve

In second place, we have...

Jz - Rated 17 - Boyinaband Forum by Jz.

And the winner of the BoyinaBand competition is...

Backlash (V.2.0) by Mizuki's Last Chance

A banger I say!

It seems that the winners will get their tracks on a release by Housefly Records, that will be nice. Also, there's this double release with dubstep and drum & bass that was linked in BiaB, but I'm not sure why. It looks good though.

miércoles, 29 de diciembre de 2010

A Couple Reviews for my Album & Advice for Beginning Musicians

A problem with releasing my online CD, I found, was that getting feedback on it wasn't always easy until you specifically asked. Recently, I just went straight to the point on a post on DeviantArt and, hooray, a couple people gave me some wonderful, hilarious, silly or smart, very helpful or not comments. All of them brutally honest, as I asked them to. Down below I have selected some of the things that have been said, and, to be honest, I totally agree with the criticism I've been given. Reading these has helped me focus on what areas I need to improve and which are my strong points, so when I begin working on the next CD, I will know how to take my music as far as I can (well, at least a bit more, thank you all for commenting!)

So.. oh yeah, comments and reviews (by people I know and by total strangers):

this has to be one of the weirdest things I have heard all year. Congrats, you managed to combine annoying and boring in a completely new way.
– Morthax

very tight songwriting
it should sell
but I’m afraid its not poppy and simple enough
- ttwoo

Oh man, I think I'm sold. I'm not even halfway through the first track, either. Very nice!
– napalmpotato

First off, this music really isn't my thing, with that said, I enjoyed it for a bit...it was very creative.

The mix on your first track seems to be overdriven a bit, were you going for that? It was distracting.

I liked the MJ samples in Bricktop, I didn't like Itchy Bitchy Spider at all, but the mix was decent on those two songs.

I didn't bother listening to the rest because I had lost interest at the 3:30 mark of IBS after the solo (which was appetizing). Good work though
– Arkayem

love the first song, LOVE the drum quality

Lets a goin down remix is SOOO good

your music
cept for the videogame metal
all amazing
videogame metal was a fail in my opinion

like how u mixed both michael jackson and old 40's jazz
[this] music is good study music

u sound like goofy in the daniel song
what the fuck were u thinking about when u wrote the lyrics?

love the break downs of the song song

Jamón Serrano is sooo good
I think I’m addicted [to it]

I just realized
Ur voice sounds like Sean Paul
Mixed with the singer of Rammstein”

I love the vocals for Crazy With the Hues

eni-mini-miny-mo, catch michael jackson by the toe??
– D. T.

from my point of view ur music is very complex and extended. i rlly like it that way. its enjoyable when i wander off and get into the music.
– B. T. (no, not the DJ)

Just checked out the first song - so far, it sounds nice. I would have mixed the drum/percussion samples a bit further back myself, might just be a matter of preference though (I'm a drummer, the beats got me air drumming :D I like snares in those nonstandard places)...

The beginning of the second song reminded me a bit of Autechre, always good as far as I'm concerned... I'll have a corn muffin or three or four and get to it and the others on a fuller stomach...

I'm on Any Day Today, which would, should, and absolutely wants to be a great song, maybe somewhere between Pink Floyd and Modest Mouse vibewise, tarnished greatly by too many effects on the vocals... your voice is solid, don't be afraid of your voice! Don't get in the way of the listener connecting with the most human and accessible part of the music! Some compressors on the vocals to control dynamics should be plenty...

The first two songs and the last three songs (especially Bricktop Breakbeat and Any Day Today) are solid, the album bogs down in the middle for lots of reasons - sometimes stuff repeated more than it had to (The Big Blue Eye), sometimes the distorted guitars were in serious need of mids and volume (Itchy Bitchy Spider), some songs just weren't up to par with the others at all (tracks 3 through 7)... the odd beats and folky Spanish-y (is a lot of that style from being in Chile? If so, awesome! :D if not, still awesome!) guitar style are your really strong points, and your voice sounds good with no effects (I wouldn't mind more vocals, actually)... while your at it, get or make an abstract painting and make that the new album art, the best of what you made deserves a better cover.
– woofwoofl

Get someone to mix that better.
- pyro-tom

Not sure what else to say. They're damn good songs.
- anonymous

Seriously, your music is probably the best stuff i've heard posted in these threads.
- anonymous

So, with all that said, I realise the follwing key points:

  • While the music may be really different and original, the ordinary listener gets bored, specially because it repeats more than it should sometimes, or it's complicated.
  • When I made the music, I was sorta reluctant to include vocals because... I'm shy 'bout it. I know that by masking the vocals under tons of effects and crap I was probably losing my chance to connect with the listener (The human voice is the most versatile of instruments, and yet, I don't exactly feel comfortable using it... I'll practice more!)
  • The mixing, in general, is crap. I'm sure that if I did it now, it would be a lot better, but hey, I'm surprised that what sounded okay-to-acceptable back in October sounds grating on my ears now at the end of December. I guess I got my game on after working on it...
  • Now, am I making something so that it becomes a pop hit, or am I making 'extended' music that delves into progressive grounds, for me to explore? I think I'll take the arduous path, discovering 'experimental party/pop/ music'. Hmmm, how might that work?
I recommend all starting musician to do this... I'm not exactly a beginner but I'm not an expert or a very experienced musician either, so this kinda stuff helps me understand better how other people might hear what I make and what they think and feel about it. My problem sometimes (as might be with a lot of beginners and well, lots of people), is that I tend to criticise my own work and always think it's not good at all or stuff like that. So, I'll keep improving and on the way I'll ask for feedback. And that's one way to grow.

miércoles, 22 de diciembre de 2010

Pirated & Shared Music and the Artist Who Wants To Make it Big

I would like to begin this post with the following video, by the Canadian rock band Shocore. The video accompanies their single, 'Bonecracker':

I discovered this song ages ago; back when people still used KaZaA to share poorly encoded mp3 files of popular music with millions of other people around the world- the golden age of extremely compressed and muddy sounding mp3 files. It all started when a friend of mine asked me if I could burn for him a CD with music he liked and eventually that led me to finding out new and interesting music by myself through Kazaa initially.

Without the internet, I would say that there's no way I'd be listening to the music I'm listening to now, there's just no way ever I'd find out I like an album such as Tough Guys Don't Dance, or Blood Sugar Sex Magik. So through Kazaa I was able to discover Shocore's rather infectious breed of disco beats, funky basslines, hypercrushed guitar riffs and aggressive rhymes- and for a couple years I really really wanted to find another band playing a rap-metal as well made as this (I liked Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit a bit for a while but nowadays I can't really stand them... gack!), and I guess that desire to see people getting two very different genres and sticking them in a blender and making something one part each really shaped me as a musician, and that's why my music hops between musical styles and blends them.

Now, without going off topic, I also introduced with this video because I rediscovered it a few months ago, and commented on the video, wondering what happened to those dudes and their catchy music and why they stopped making music (I heard some other songs by them and Shocore seemed pretty varied to be honest). I wasn't expecting an answer, but a fellow user left me this comment:

Simple . Downloading. Everyone bitches about how there's no good music anymore, well thats why. It actually costs money for someone to get a song out and you get ZERO back, so FUCK IT! I write music for myself, and I wont release it as long as people expect it for free. And I had a hand in writing this song. Just the truth. People are going to get more and more crap because they wont pay the damn 99 cents a song.

Underfunded bands and artists have it tough. Making it big means extraordinary work. I appreciated the answer he gave me (although I was somewhat sceptic of him actually having been involved in the songwriting of Bonecracker, you can't take anyone on the web seriously often), so I left him the following personal message:

Hey mate, thanks for answering. Did you really have a hand in the writing of that song? Kudos (although because, you know, the whole internet anonymity I can't be 100% sure). I can certainly imagine how the band felt, investing hard money and work into the music just so that it doesn't sell, ripped across the internet. I'm sorry to find that they stopped playing because of that.

I compose and record music independently and so far, I've just been giving it away for free. I don't know, maybe it's because my circumstances allow me to, even though I'd really love to make a living out of it one day, and because I genuinely believe that getting the message out, with or without cash in return is better than locking away great music and not letting the world ever hear it. I know you will probably disagree, but hey, it's just my opinion.

Anyway, thanks dude. Keep rockin'!"

I had been thinking for a while before writing that message, there was a lot he gave me to think about. Also, since I've been giving away my music for free in Bandcamp and now in SoundCloud for a while now and spreading the word of it (without much attention from the web so far) I've had to consider this myself too; I worked my ass off on most tracks and being still a newbie in the world of recording and music in general, I'm probably not gonna get many sales in the short term.

I didn't expect him to answer again, and I totally forgot I wrote him that message for a few months, until one random day I decided to check my inbox in Youtube and find the following by him:

Hey thanks! Yeah, I wrote the bass line and then they added guitars and the synth and the rap. And I ended up getting pretty much dick all for it. Pretty frustrating when it was on Ford commercials and Xbox games and I wasnt getting a dime.

Back then the primary source of income was still CDs, and the label was charging 25 bucks EACH for one! I was like, who is going to pay that for on song they can get off Napster? The label was not smart.

I dont know what to tell you about your situation, except make sure you love what your doing, because doing it for money or fame never works out. I still write all the time, but I think the only decent chance of making a little money is at scoring or jingles. They pay, you only have to play it once, and the company you sell it to cant download it from you for free.

I went back to being a carpenter, which is fine. And I play now what I want (there were a LOT of compromises in being in a band, and if you get any success, the compromises pile up even more).

I wish you luck, send me some of your stuff if you want- [insert email address here].

Regardless of him actually having a hand in the writing of that song, I thought, I still felt guilty for contributing in a way to the band's downfall, somehow, even if it's to an infinitesimally small degree, by downloading the song illegally more than 5 years or so ago.

Also, I never considered that; writing jingles and scoring certainly seem to be safer and better at giving you a chance to earn a buck (although when I think of jingles I imagine Charlie Harper stitting next to his grand piano, getting drunk).

But more importantly, I'm grateful for the kind words there and the advice and experience. I better watch out and make sure I get my royalties if I ever do!

Apart from that, I'd like to link the notion of harm through illegal distribution. I am NOT saying that the unauthorised distribution of copyrighted music does not harm the artist in any way, but I have here two articles I'd like to quote on how it can actually help:

New Music Strategies: Should I be worried about piracy?

The distinction between distribution and piracy is made and then these (in my opinion) important points are made, among others:

"2) The fluidity with which your music can pass from hand to hand is not an impediment to your success, but a technological advantage that you can leverage to your own ends. The overwhelming cry from the independent musician twenty years ago was ‘How can I just get my music out there?’ Problem solved. Now what are you going to do?

Now, of course, this raises more questions than it answers — and of course, things are far more complicated than I’ve laid out here — but as a general principle, it’s worth considering that rather than fret about unauthorised copying and expend time and energy in the fruitless task of preventing people from engaging in it, that time and energy can be better spent elsewhere....

...And here are three more things to consider:

1) People who share your music are recommending you to people who respect their taste and opinion;

2) The vast majority of people who have unauthorised copies of your music would not have ordinarily paid for it anyway;

3) Do you really want for people who cannot afford your music to be prevented from ever hearing it?"

1,000 True Fans

"A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author - in other words, anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans."

Ultimately, I think, the way technological, social and human developments are going, information of any kind, when stored is bound to end in the big collective knowledge of humankind (unless a massive disaster occurs that could bring about the information age to an end). A person who truly appreciates what you do will buy what you do at least once. I understand where this guy who was involved with Shocore comes from, but I have to say that I would have never even known who Shocore were if it not were for people distributing a song by them that they considered great and catchy and worth the time putting there for everybody else to hear. What does the person who shares it get in return anyway? He's giving away bandwidth anyway. It's people who sell someone's work without permission who are the real pirates and the music industry needs to wake up.