Palawan Trip – Day 02 – 02/28/2013

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I woke up around 6:00 a.m., feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep. It was relief from the horribly long travel time (7 hours) from Puerto Princesa to our lodging at La Casa Teresa, El Nido. It was the start of a new and exciting day of vacation sans electricity.

The thing about the resort/beach town of El Nido is that it has a somewhat crappy power supply. Power is shut down from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s a good thing that most people (I’m talking about travelers and tourists) are outdoors during this time, many of which go on island hopping tours (like what we just did earlier). After taking a bath, my family (my wife and son) and I set out for our scheduled island hopping expedition.

And so, what did we do on that journey? We swam numerous times at sea, exploring these breathtakingly picturesque places, the scenery of which is fitting for a hollywood movie in a tropical setting (something like “The Beach”). Per usual practice, we took lots of photos of ourselves and the scenery, and the we had lunch at the beach. The lunch, prepared by the boatmen themselves, included freshly grilled fish and pork belly, rice, cucumber salad, fresh watermelon slices, and bananas. Lunch was delicious.

Our last stop on our island hopping journey was a trip to this island which had a bar that served drinks at really steep prices (around USD 4.50 for a mojito, USD 1.25 for a bottle of Coke). I don’t really know about the mojito but the Coke was priced about 5 times higher than you would purchase it at Puerto Princesa. This is quite understandable as I imagine it to be difficult and expensive to ship bottles of Coke from the mainland to that island.

After the island hopping trip, we went to town to have a snack. We found this bagel place owned by a Frenchman. We decided to try it out. Each bagel sandwich was expensive, around USD 6.00 each. I ordered what they called a Brooklyn bagel which had bacon, mozzarella cheese, and lettuce, dressed in a sun-dried tomato and basil dressing (pesto). It was an expensive BLT but it was good.

And so now it comes to this portion where I’m now back at our lodging, having just taken a bath, feeling all nice and fresh, and typing this blog entry, effectively killing time while waiting for dinnertime to arrive. It feels really nice to do this with an overlooking view of the beach and the mountains. Life is good and I feel blessed to have experienced this vacation time with my wife and son.

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Palawan Trip – Day 01 – 02/27/2014

My son and I woke up 12:00 a.m. to get ready for the trip. We picked up my wife at 1:00 a.m. and we proceeded to the airport. The plane ride went well, except that the altitude change caused some degree of discomfort in the form of mild sinusitis. I was expecting things to go well until we landed at Puerto Princesa Airport.

The tour operator’s (La Attraccion de Turismo) driver picked us up, and I was expecting that he would then immediately drive us off to our accommodations. It did not happen. We had to wait for three other groups to show up. It didn’t help realizing that the van’s seats were built for ectomorphs only. The driver then drove us to the Puerto Princesa Coliseum to get permits for two other groups to get permits for the subterranean river tour. Rather than getting us settled and refreshed from our flight, the tour operator thought best to immediately send us to the underground river tour. It was the start of what seems to be one of the worst vacation experiences I was about to have.

On our way to the subterranean/underground tour, we stopped by a roadside souvenir shop. I got some snacks and chose to ignore the usual touristy stuff. It was an opportunity to stretch. We then moved on.

Upon landing at the port where we were supposed to take a boat ride to the underground river system, we had our buffet lunch. It was okay. My wife found it to be substandard. I liked the kilawing tangigue (mackarel ceviche) plus fried breaded assorted veggies. I also had the opportunity to have fresh tamilok (shipworm) served with lime juice, onions and chilies. It tasted like oysters with a hint of wood pulp. These clams are dubbed the termites of the sea in other countries. In Palawan, it’s finger food. So, if you want to get rid of your sea termites, hire a Filipino, more specifically a coastal Palaweno.

The underground river tour is perhaps the best thing that has happened today. It was a wonderful, majestic, and pristine looking place. The river was so clean and clear that fish were abundant, even in its shallowest portions. This must be probably due to the place being a protected area by the government. It also helps that the place has been dubbed one of the new seven wonders of the world via an online poll.

Our river tour boatman was wonderful. He functioned as the boatman, the tour guide of the underground river and cave system, and stand-up comedian. His jokes based on the cave’s structures and wildlife were spot on. Some of the other folks who were in the boat with us were half-wits, having questionable intellectual capacities. Anyway, I found the experience very fulfilling.

We drove back to Puerto Princesa for *sigh* another opportunity to buy souvenirs. Snacks were of higher importance to me, and so I chose to buy those, something that my wife did as well. Afterwards, we met another driver who then drove us off into our accommodations at El Nido. The five-hour drive was less than desirable.

Finally, we got into our room. It had automatic air conditioning beyond our control, had no power outlets for our gadgets, and no hot water. At least it was a place good enough to sleep in. Although this first day seems to be lacking in some spots here and there, I’m still thankful for this trip. It’s a privilege to be able to go and do so. I do hope tomorrow would be better.

Hundredfold For The Lord Music Festival @ UCCP-Ellinwood Malate Church on March 8, 2014

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Hey folks! It’s that rare time of the year where I get invited to perform at a concert. Rev. Ruth Billena invited me to play guitar with an ensemble for this year’s LCSMC concert.

Last 2013, the Lowland Cavite-South Manila Conference of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines invited me to perform at a concert entitled “Musicalitea in Unity” (I hope I got the title correct). Held last September 2013 at the Philippine Christian University Auditorium, I performed as a pianist for a trio (with Pastor Abong Romero on classical guitar and Chay Innocentes on vocals), covering the Filipino Christian classic “Hesus”. I also managed to squeeze in a solo piano performance of my composition entitled “Promises”.

This year, on March 8, I will be functioning as one of the guitar players of a stringed instrument ensemble organized by Rev. Ruth Billena. I will be performing with my usual musical co-conspirator, Pastor Abong Romero (steel-string Yamaha Silent Guitar), as well as with Pastor Joel Gervacio (classical guitar), and Edwin Mariano (violin). We will be performing at the “Hundredfold for The Lord Music Festival”, March 8, 2014, at UCCP-Ellinwood Malate Church’s main sanctuary.

Rehearsals have been great so far, and I am really excited about performing at this event since it has been more than 10 years ago since I last performed at Ellinwood. It’s been that long! Anyway, if you are one of those people who have stumbled upon my post and will be in Ermita or Malate, Manila on the afternoon of March 8, please drop by and enjoy a wonderful p.m. of music with our ensemble plus the rest of the people who will be there. Tickets will be sold at the door for Php 300. Bring your friends, family, and loved ones and, at the very least, realize how wonderful is God’s gift of music to mankind.

Cycfi Inc., Neo Pickups Coming Out…Soon!

I happen to be one of the few people who have tried out the prototype of Cycfi’s Neo Pickups, and so I have first hand experience of how awesome they really are. With its flat response, Joel (Mr. Cycfi Research himself) and I were talking about sculpting and shaping its sound to whatever we want, only to be limited by the capabilities of a parametric EQ and one’s imagination. I remember saying that one of the most basic things you can do with it is mimic an acoustic guitar. A few days later, we now have this video demonstration:

Notice that this guitar player is assuming a classical guitarist’s seated posture, playing Francisco Tarrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” on a Fender Strat, but it does not in any way sound like your typical quacking Strat! (I would know how a Strat should sound like because I grew up with one). Matter of fact is that it sounds eerily close to a concert classical guitar. I’ll be first to admit that (having had some classical guitar training) certain nuances like the sustain and attack of the notes would give away that it’s not a classical guitar, the timbre is very close that only classical guitar nuts (like some of the people I know) would be able to tell that it’s not. Perhaps there is some form of bias on my part that I know it’s not a classical guitar (having physically manipulated that guitar), but it would be safe to assume that a casual listener might not be able to figure it out.

This is a point that was proven in a blog post by Roy C (http://royconguitars.blogspot.com/) regarding the Neo Pickups. In this test, there are four clips and the challenge was to try and identify what sort of guitar and/or pickups were used in each clip:

Is it a MIDI guitar, a Martin, a Taylor, a Gibson, EMG 81s? None of the above, folks! It’s just a Fender Strat with Neo Pickups. Heck, the guitar could have been a cheap knockoff and it would have sounded like some of the most expensive guitars in the world with those pickups. I suppose it would be safe to say that what the E-Bow people call “string synthesis” could be easily done with Neo Pickups. Who needs MIDI guitars when you have these, right? And it is very obvious that I am GASsing for one of those that I already envision taking out the EMGs on my ESP LTD and replacing them with these. Without a doubt, I will soon write a composition utilizing these pickups (with the side effect of fulfilling one of my composition requirements at the university, hahaha!).

The Cycfi Neo Pickups target release date will be somewhere around March 2014. For more details, visit http://www.cycfi.com/projects/neo-series/.

Going Cold Turkey on Facebook

I have deactivated my Facebook account about two times in the past and last weekend was the third time. I probably am deactivating my account for good. Maybe I’d go as far as deleting in completely.

As Facebook went on to become the biggest social network, I have been constantly bombarded by ads that I could not get rid off to the point of major annoyance. Ads ranging from a variety of spurious products to things as despicable as softcore pornography coupled with all sorts of useless information have invaded my account. My privacy and my data are at risk over Facebook. It opens up the to door to so much temptation. This is one good reason to quit.

Out of the few 200+ Facebook friends I have, how many of those are really my friends? I would bet that only a tiny percentage. It is a meaningless demographic.

Facebook has also become a big distraction that it takes away precious hours that I could have used for other more purposeful activities. It is like the gossip column of your local daily newspaper, only bigger!

The last time I used Facebook, I was exposed to so much negativity that I decided to quit. Isn’t Facebook supposed to be a place where people share each others thoughts, ideas, and experiences? Apparently, this is a double-edged sword. It has become a space that is toxic with hateful and judgmental speech. I couldn’t stand it anymore because it has become such a depressing place. I feel like I’m devolving rather than improving when I’m on Facebook just because of so much hatred.

Because of Facebook, every person on the planet feels entitled to spew out random thoughts, some of them useful, some of them downright hurtful.  Tactlessness has become the norm, and because of this what little ties people have with one another become severed. One instance of this is that my wife and two of my friends whom I have grown up with now hate each other. Rather than connecting people together, Facebook has become a medium for people to sever ties with one another.  I could no longer stand how both of them exchanged such hurtful words.

James 3:3-10  reads:

3When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

9With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Facebook has indeed provided many with too much freedom to say what they want and express what they want. People have gone wild over that social network with their words that it does not in any way reinforce thoughtful conversation. Rather, it has become an avenue to slander each other. This I believe is my biggest reason why I have gone cold turkey with regard to Facebook.

Modes Made Somewhat Easy

One of the things that make many musicians scratch their heads are the modes. Let’s face it: They are so confusing yet in fact you need to learn and understand how to use them if you want to improve your musical skills and knowledge. We always hear how to use the modes in everything from writing songs to soloing over a complex jazz piece. In this piece, I’m going to show a couple of ways regarding how to understand modes.

Now, for us to understand this tutorial, we need to know what a major scale is and the names of the modes. Since we have seven notes in the major scale, we also get seven modes.

The Major Scale and it’s Relative Modes

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We have this nice graphic above that shows our C major scale and its relative modes. We can easily play the each of the major scale’s relative modes by starting the same major scale at a different note and then we name the mode according to that starting mode. For example, if I want to play D Dorian, I just play the C major scale a.k.a. Ionian mode starting at D as a root. Sound-wise, you will notice that by starting the same scale at a different note, you rearrange the order of intervals. Add to the fact that you now consider the different note as the root note, you will tend to return to it every now and then, making you hear a scale that is very different from your original major scale.

And so, to figure out…

…the Ionian mode, we start our major scale at the 1st note (it’s just the same major scale, duh!) (I).

…the relative Dorian mode, we start our major scale at the 2nd note (ii).

…the relative Phrygian mode, we start our major scale at the 3rd note (iii).

…the relative Lydian mode, we start our major scale at the 4th note (IV).

…the relative Mixolydian mode, we start our major scale at the 5th note (V).

…the relative Aeolian mode, we start our major scale at the 6th note (this also happens to be our relative minor scale) (vi).

…the relative Locrian mode, we start our major scale at the 7th  note (vii).

Easy, right?

Figuring out the Parallel Modes

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Figuring out how to learn and play the parallel modes (e.g. C major, C locrian, C Phrygian, etc.) is a trickier thing. There are a number of ways to do it. The technical way is to analyze our relative modes, check the order of intervals, and then apply that order of intervals to a particular root note. For example, I know that the Ionian mode/major scale follows the order of whole step (W)-W-half step (H)-W-W-W-H pattern of intervals. By looking at, say for example our E Phrygian in our relative modes section, we find out that the pattern is now H-W-W-W-H-W-W with a flat 2nd. So, let’s say I want to know what Bb Phrygian is, I figured out that it is Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab. I can do the same procedure for the other modes. Quite taxing, isn’t it?

What if we put it this way instead? We can categorize each mode as major (if it has a major 3rd) or minor (if it has a minor 3rd). By figuring out the formula for each mode, I now have this shortcut:

Major modes = Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian

Minor modes = Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, Locrian

All I have to do next is figure out which interval is different from that of our standard major and minor scale. Now, let’s assume that we already know that the major scale (Ionian) has a major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, and major 7th. Let’s also assume that we know our natural minor scale (Aeolian) as having a major 2nd, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 6th, and minor 7th. It’s time for us now to figure out how our other modes are built:

Dorian = Minor scale with major 6th instead of minor 6th

Phrygian = Minor scale with minor 2nd instead of major 2nd

Lydian = Major scale with augmented 4th instead of perfect 4th

Mixolydian = Major scale with minor 7th instead of major 7th

Locrian = Minor scale with with minor 2nd and diminished 5th

Still too difficult to figure out by this method? Okay, by doing it this way, it does involve some time to study. However there are easier ways.

We can use the relative mode order in order to figure out how to play a mode correctly. All you have to do is know what order does a particular mode appear to know the sequence order of the root note of that particular mode in a particular major scale. Confusing, right? Here’s a concrete example:

Let’s say that I want to play a D Mixolydian.  Now, from the study of relative modes, I know that Mixolydian is the 5th mode and so its root note is the 5th note of a particular major scale, which I find out to be G in this case. And so, all I have to do play D Mixolydian is play the G major scale but start with the D.

Let’s also say that I want to play Ab Phrygian instead. Since Phrygian is the third mode, Ab is the third note of the Fb major scale. Now, you might say, “What the hell, Mark! There’s no such thing as Fb major.” Relax, I’ll explain it for you. From a strictly music theory standpoint, there is. But for the sake of practical use, it is just the E major scale, and so now we think of Ab as G# and then play the E major scale starting at G# to get ourselves the Ab Phrygian mode. I think that this is the simplest way of learning and playing the modes.

As for actual use in songwriting, composition, and soloing using modes, there are plenty of resources on the web for that. Anyway, you can always drop a line or two at the comments box if you have questions regarding modes and other stuff. Thanks.