Philippine Democracy is a Farce: It is a Plutocracy!

“He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

I remember hearing this statement 11 years ago as part of my training as a medical transcriptionist. Back in those days, I was earning a rather miserable Php 7,000 a month, equivalent to about $160. At that time, I was fortunate that I was living rent free in a double-income family consisting of myself, my wife, and my 1-year-old son. Living my life as a so-called “Yuppie” during those days reminded me of a term that my wife uses to this day: “Corporate Slavery”. My wife and I had to slug it out in the harsh corporate world to earn some cash that barely covers our living expenses. I can only imagine how worse it must have been for my colleagues who had to pay rent plus have to support not only themselves but members of their extended family as well. Even as I rose from the ranks to gain positions of leadership, amounting to a somewhat better salary, it doesn’t help at all that around 30% or more from my gross salary would just go to taxes. Being somewhat well-informed, I then discover that my former line of work would earn at least thrice as much or more in developed nations. I began to ask myself why can’t we have the same thing here in the Philippines when we work our asses off as much as our brethren working in the same field for a lot more. Then it occurred to me that the Philippines is mainly marketed in the whole world as a source of cheap labor. Now the question is, who would promote the Philippine workforce in that way? It seemed to me the answer is none other than the oligarchs who own most of the big businesses in the Philippines.

Given that the oligarchs have priced the talents of the Filipino workforce in such a cheap way, many have resorted to going overseas as OFWs. We all know the reason for this: it is for none other than earning at least twice as much, sticking the almighty Dollar in their pockets in an effort to have the means to have a better quality of life back home. Now, is there any way that Filipinos can have a great paying job at home? In some way, the advent of freelancing websites like oDesk have made it possible, but only to a limited extent. The fact remains that it is only internet-savvy Filipinos who have the capability to do this, and I’m afraid to say if you take into account the general populace of the nation, they amount to only a small fraction. This is compounded by the fact that not a lot of Filipinos who try working from home via the Internet get great opportunities, no thanks to many Filipino freelancers who keep on driving the prices down to a miserable level. This in turn reinforces that Filipino labor is cheap in the eyes of the global community. I ask myself this: Has the Filipino been dumbed down by the oligarchs that even those who have set their sights on the global workplace would drive their rates down? The answer seems to be a big “Yes!”

It seems to me that one of the problems of Filipino society is an anti-competitive attitude coupled by mediocrity. The work ethic where “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) as a foundation results in — you guessed it — a cheap and mediocre product. Now, I speculate that the root cause of such thinking is none other than mind control by the oligarchs. For years, Filipinos have been conditioned to think that their talents and skills are cheap by local businesses offering 8- to 12-hour working days for miserable rates. The naturally persevering Filipino would then accept it as an inescapable fact of life they have to go through while muttering complaints under their breath about how miserable life is in the Philippines, so much so that they aspire to go abroad or go online for better employment opportunities. For the few who are successful enough like some OFWs and some online freelancers, they get to spend their money at home, purchasing products from none other than oligarch-owned companies and pay their taxes to the government. Since the oligarchs effectively use the government as its subordinate to strong-arm the people to their will, nothing changes: the economic playing field will always remain in favor of the oligarchs.

I suppose at this point one can see this vicious cycle going on:

1. Oligarch sets up business.
2. Oligarch employs local labor dirt cheap.
3. Local workforce continues to live under miserable conditions and aspires to go abroad as an OFW.
4. OFWs return home, some successful, some not-so-successful, but both will nevertheless spend money in oligarch-produced commodities and taxes.
5. Money goes to the oligarchs and the government, only for them to repeat step 1.

The success of this cycle maintained by the oligarchy relies on a number of factors, but the big thing is this: the restrictive, protectionist economic policy of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Now, I am no economist, and what I’m saying right now is my personal observation, but it is what we are experiencing at the moment.

One will be apt to conclude that the Filipino masses are effectively rendered a captive market of the oligarchs. If you see it this way, you wouldn’t be surprised that they are staunch opponents of constitutional reform. As things look the way they are now, the oligarchs will control government in order to keep the status quo by closing off great opportunities to many Filipinos. They effectively do this by keeping competition out of the equation.

Now what’s all this got to do with democracy in the Philippines? A whole lot. The oligarchs will start conning the masses into voting for political aspirants with ties to the oligarchs. Vote buying and control of local media amount to some of the biggest methods for it. The oligarchs and the government will also try and make the populace become more dependent upon them by slowly creating a welfare state, the biggest example of which would be the conditional cash transfer program. By controlling their minds, their emotions, and their stomachs, these oligarchs will continue to exert control over voter choices and behavior. The so-called excess freedom of the Filipinos described by the late Lee Kuan Yew is being used, paradoxically, as an control agent. Filipinos are given freedom to do the most mundane and stupid things one can observe on the streets in exchange for giving power to the oligarchs. Sounds kind of like the Philippine masses are being drugged into willful submission.

It’s safe to say (as it has been said by a number of individuals way before me) that the Philippines is under a plutocracy perpetuated by the oligarchs. This will continue to be the case until we Filipinos get to have the balls to shake things up, revise the Constitution, and create a Free Market society that allows investors from around the world to come to the Philippines and create better opportunities. Should this happen, it will level the playing field for both oligarchs and the masses and then ultimately address the problem of economic inequality. If such changes were to happen, reports of a booming Philippine economy wouldn’t feel like a big lie . It’s high time we get rid of the rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

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Morality in Music

It annoys me every time I read or hear one of these things:

  • Christian Rock is depraved.
  • Drums and electric guitars are the Devil’s instruments.
  • Christian Hip Hop is inconsistent with scripture.
  • Contemporary Christian Music is evil.

These and other statements have that air of bigotry and intolerance. I really want to ask such people these questions such as these:

  • If a hammer can be used to smash another person’s head to smithereens, should the serious Christian avoid using a hammer in carpentry because a hammer has the potential to be used as a murder weapon?
  • If a match can be used to burn a house down, should a Christian freezing at the mercy of wintertime avoid using a match to light a fire and keep oneself warm?
  • If a depraved person can use a fork or a chopstick to stab somebody in the throat, should Christians stop using forks and chopsticks because they have the unchristian potential to harm another person?
  • If Handel’s big hit “Hallelujah” from the oratorio Messiah features a 4/4 rhythm and features fast scalar runs similar to non-Christian guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, should Christians stop singing the song because it shares a lot of traits with the “music of the world”?

More often than not, people who appeal to such rhetoric are those individuals who tend to impose their own musical preferences on other people. If we were to accept the fact that the style of music found in traditional hymns is the only proper way to worship God through music, isn’t that just simply confining ourselves to a particular musical culture that came out of Europe? Are we therefore equating European sacred music as the only kind of music that could glorify God? Sounds very ethnocentric and bigoted to me. Such arguments fall along similar lines such as the Authorized King James Version is the only acceptable bible ergo archaic English is the only kind of language acceptable to praise God. Such is hogwash.

Every genre and style of music can be considered a particular language that reaches people both in the intellectual and emotional level. Do proponents of such a narrow-minded view say that only traditional hymns are acceptable music for worship? Doesn’t that eerily follow the same line of thinking that the Roman Catholic Church followed when they did not allow the Bible to be published in languages other than Latin? Do we mean to say that people from Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world will be in sin if they wrote and sung worship music in the particular style of their culture? I would strongly disagree to such notions. Where is it that we read in the Bible that we cannot use pentatonic scales, percussion instruments, drones, and other non-European musical techniques in worship? We read it nowhere! Matter of fact is if we read passages like Psalm 33 and 150, it seems to me that ancient Israel used music accompanied by stringed instruments, trumpets, timbrels, and dancing. Now tell me, does that look like a choir accompanied by an organ or piano? In my mind, it sounds more like a big band rather than your hymn-singing choir.

Psalm 33:3 (KJV) even reads, “Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.” It doesn’t sound like somber hymn singing to me. If we are to be really legalistic about this, then church should be burning their organs and pianos into one big bonfire and start training musicians how to play the kinnor and shofar and teaching the congregation to sing songs  in Phrygian Dominant rather than the more traditional major and minor scales. You sure can’t find in the Bible that organs and pianos are the only instruments allowed and that electric guitars and drums are the Devil’s. If you really are dead set on thinking that drums are evil, perhaps you should rearrange Handel’s “Hallelujah” in a way that the piano doesn’t sound so percussive. Oh, and if you have an orchestra that will play it for you, forget about using timpani too.  If you’re going to say that music that tends to elicit certain emotions is not appropriate for worship, why not go for something emotionally neutral like 12-tone serial music? I will be the first to tell you that is a ridiculous idea.

Don’t get me wrong: I love playing and singing traditional hymns and I play such music every Sunday at church. The fact that I have a strong disgust for are these people who brand themselves as Christians  imposing their own tastes on others and declaring that to be holy writ. Such bigoted declarations on music are the laws of men rather than the word of God and are bound to cause division rather than unity. I have always believed that music for worship should be composed in an appropriate way, matching the content of the words with the expression of music, using a delicate touch when being meditative and expressing power when proclaiming God’s magnificence.

I would go on to proclaim that music i.e. the arrangement of sound and silences in an organized manner is amoral. It’s about as good as a hammer can be when used to build a house and can be as evil as the same tool when used for murder. We can only attach morality to music depending on how it is used. You would never expect me to write music reflecting God’s omnipotence using a sweet-sounding flute and light string arrangements; It would be all out bombast with drums, brass,  and a distorted guitar to demonstrate that.

Want more info? Go to these links:

http://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-music.html

http://www.gotquestions.org/contemporary-Christian-music.html

Bassists Matter

People who ask whether bassists matter or not are just plain ignorant.

Again, I will repeat this: people who ask whether bassists matter or not are plain ignorant.

Every time you take out all the bass frequencies in any piece of music, it will sound bare. It’s as if you took out a person’s spine.

Some people try to further ponder upon the question, :Do bassists matter?” by examining isolated bass tracks. That is probably one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever seen on the Internet.

Here’s a better challenge to those who question whether or not bassists matter: Try to listen to tracks of any of these artists without the bass tracks:

  1. Rush
  2. Primus
  3. Iron Maiden
  4. Return to Forever
  5. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

Any person who would say that bassists don’t matter at all after hearing bass-less tracks of these artists are idiots.

Moving to an Apple-Based System

My frustration with Windows-based systems has gone up to an all-time high. It has become increasingly difficult to work properly with it. My current data management frustrations have just tipped the scales, and so now I have decided to get a Mac system. I’m not keen on spending money just for the sake of becoming up to date with the latest technology, but the situation has called for me to get an upgrade if I want to keep working properly. Yes folks, as of this point in time, I’m using a MacBook Pro to write this entry.

Last 2012, I discovered how difficult it was to use a Windows laptop for a live rig (even if it is loaded with a good amount of RAM and a top-notch Intel processor), the latency and audio quality (even with ASIO drivers) was just unacceptable. I performed every tweak I can think of, used an external audio interface, and a stripped down Windows XP installation, only to find out that it will conk out during a live performance. Had I been using a MIDI controller that had no internal sounds, I would have been toast.

On my Windows desktop, it is not unusual for me to experience a crash at least once a week whenever I’m working on a music transcription/engraving project or video game BGM (background music work). Those BSODs represent lost time and opportunities that aggravate me to no end. Add to that a failing hard drive and I could just scream mad out of frustration. I said to myself that I can’t afford to have something like this happen to me on a frequent basis, and so I purchased this Mac.

My initial test on this particular machine involved using Main Stage. I was blown away regarding how easy it is to use. I could easily cook up the keyboard rig of my dreams, connect this MacBook to one of my digital pianos, and start playing as if I was like one of those classic Prog Rock keyboard heroes like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (minus the cape, spinning pianos, and knives). Sibelius worked wonderfully on it. Logic Pro X took a bit of time to figure out, but it wasn’t as hard as learning Cakewalk as a newbie.

As a composer and musician, I would really want to focus on just writing and recording music. I don’t have the patience to tweak for hours on end just to get things working. I want to just plug in and have a go at it rather than frustrate myself further with going over system and software adjustments. The night that I received this machine proves that. I’m not surprised why there are many musicians who prefer Apple’s Mac over a Windows PC for their work.

So, should I keep my Windows system. Of course, I’ll still keep it. Matter of fact is that I’ve managed to get it to work once more. The only problem is that I can’t rely on it as much as I used to, so it will probably serve as a backup machine or a general, all-purpose home office workstation with a secondary function as a recording rig. As far as music-making is concerned, I suppose I’ll transition to this Mac in a number of days.

The Sobering Reality of a Life as a Musician

At this point in time, it’s pretty obvious I’ve become a Devin Townsend fan. Obviously, music has got something to do with it, but more than the music I get to learn a lot of things from the guy. I’m not a touring musician at this point but I sure understand how difficult it could be.

In this recent Devin Townsend interview, other than talking about Casualties of Cool (his new album and project), Mr. Townsend presents a picture of a touring musician who has the challenges of keeping a musical career while keeping things afloat back home (kids, aging parents, etc.). Perhaps, this is the sort of thing that Frank Zappa was confronted with before, being an independent musician and all.

One thing that I think about is would it be possible for me to go the same kind of route that Devin Townsend and Frank Zappa have done before. I got a bunch of compositions now that I will start recording some time this year. Maybe I can organize a band and then go on tour, but there will always be the questions regarding finance and logistics. How much money will it take? More importantly, how will I be able to establish a following that will allow me to do such things? How do you make it sustainable? Such are things that I’m learning little by little from people like Devin Townsend, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, etc. From what I hear, it’s so far off from the glamorous life that you get to see from mainstream artists who are on the radio stations. If Devin Townsend, an individual coming from a developed nation that supports the arts, is confounded with challenges that could get in the way of his music and livelihood, how much more will it be for me, an unknown musician from a third-world country, who is barely at Mr. Townsend’s level?

I ask myself now, what should I try doing next if I am to move forward and achieve some form of progress? After completing my studies, what’ s the next step? It’s something I have to plan carefully and, more importantly, pray about to the Lord.

To Shred or Not To Shred?

It’s been established that most of Devin Townsend’s work does not feature guitar solos. Case in point is that in the Strapping Young Lad album “Alien”, only one song gets a guitar solo. As you can see in the video above, Devin Townsend can shred (or, in his own terms, wanky wank wank), although the point of this video is sort of a mockery or a parody of the guitar hero phenomenon. In fact, in one of D’Addario’s videos featuring Mr. Townsend, he goes on to say that, “Anybody and his dog can play wanky guitar,” which I would think means that anyone can go on and play a gazillion notes without any semblance of meaning other than to impress people. So the question now is the title of this entry: To Shred or Not to Shred?

If Mr. Townsend would perform what can be called meaningful shred, it would be something like this:

 

It’s a medley of Devin Townsend songs with a title that let’s people know what his opinion is about shred guitar in general.

I remember reading that Mr. Townsend always puts the song in mind and that more often than not, wanky guitar doesn’t work well in a song (in his songs at least) and it does not add anything to it. It sort of echoes Claude Debussy who once said “The attraction of the virtuoso for the public is very like that of the circus for the crowd. There is always the hope that something dangerous may happen.” So, if we are only trying to communicate “danger” through shred, is that all there is to it?

Perhaps a sort of balance must be always kept in mind. You can shred as long as it will add something to a song or musically make a point, making shredding inevitable to the music. It would certainly be the case in other kinds of musical work. In other cases, we have to accept that shred will not work well. For example, in Dream Theater (a band known for shredding prowess) songs like “Lifting Shadows of a Dream” or “Disappear”, shredding on a guitar would be a worthless exercises because it will not add anything to the song. Clearly this shows that John Petrucci knows when to say “pass” to shredding even if it is one of his strongest points.

So, if we can forego shredding in music, then why even attempt how to do it in the first place. One reason is that there are occasions where it will work and it will add wonderful things to a song. I can’t imagine a song like “Highway Star” or Mr. Big’s “Addidicted to that Rush” without all that shreddy guitar work. Second, learning how to shred improves motor skills and reaction time in music. Steve Stine usually says in his instructional videos that the point of learning how to shred or play difficult stuff is not the goal itself. But rather practicing such things builds skills and confidence that will enable you to do things easier and more effectively. If you can play difficult material then lower level material would be easier to play. It builds skill that will enable any musician to accurately reflect what should be expressed. It’s kind of like functional musical gymnastics.

I remember my piano teacher, Prof. Richelle Rivera, saying something to effect like, “Playing fast is not the goal. We already know you can play fast. Producing a good tone is.” I am of course paraphrasing my piano teacher’s words but in essence meaningful expression is always more paramount than superficial flash. I remember getting a bit impatient about myself playing slowly on pieces by Bartok and Beethoven and so I decided to speed up a bit (especially on the Bartok Bagatelle I was assigned to work on), only to be reprimanded by my teacher who insisted that I play the piece at an almost dragging pace. In such a manner, I was again reminded that playing slow is actually more difficult than playing fast. Articulating the notes in a way that accurately represents what you want to communicate to an audience is harder than impressing an audience with a gazillion notes per second. To this day, despite no longer being a piano major, I still work on my piano skills as my teacher had instilled upon me.

So, to shred or not to shred? To shred, as long as it is done meaningfully and appropriately, the opposite of shredding as a means of self-indulgence.

The Joys of Using Contemporary Technology and Electronic Musical Instruments

In an ideal situation, I would have a perfectly soundproofred and treated recording studio with a live room, a vocal booth, and a dead room. I would have the drum kit of my dreams in its own booth mic’ed up properly, and I would would have another room for guitars, a grand piano inside the live room, a rack of synthesizers, an orchestral room (with instruments), etc. I could go on and on about what I would like to have. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints would not permit this. I don’t have a million dollars to fund such things. Thanks to latest advances in technology, I don’t need too much equipment in my home studio.

I actually make a living with an electronic piano from the ’80s hooked up via MIDI, a couple of guitars, a condenser mic, a multi-effects pedal with modeling, a tube amp, a number of VST instruments, scorewriters and a DAW, an audio interface (that I should replace soon!), and other bits and pieces here and there that make noise. That’s about it. Thanks to VST instruments, I have access to great quality sounds that about 10 to 15 years ago I would not have such as orchestral sounds, horn sections, and drums. Many thanks to the people who have made home recording a lot more convenient!

At this point, I don’t have the funds for acoustic treatment or soundproofing, and so I have to make do with recording acoustically using a number of workarounds such as putting a thick comforter or blanket over my amp and mic for recording electric guitar old-school style, recording vocals during the “dead” hours of the day (or inside the car using my Zoom H4n). So far, I have been successfully recording acoustic stuff this way, not the most ideal thing in the world. However, these workarounds will certainly fail if I were to record acoustic drums. Not only will I have a lot of difficulty finding mics (which I don’t have) or the quietest pieces of hardware around, I will also be in trouble with my wife (who will most certainly wake up to the noise of drums) as well as the neighbors. I had experienced getting a phone call from an irate neighbor once when I was rehearsing with Jacob’s Ladder (about 15 years ago!), and I’m not going to have that kind of trouble again. And so, the solution for that would be MIDI capable electronic drums. I found this video that will explain better how electronic drums are advantageous over acoustic drums, fully convincing me that this is the way to go if I’m going to do drums faster rather than programming those parts (a tedious process, BTW):

Speaking of workarounds, even highly acclaimed bands like Haken (my son’s current favorite) use such techniques to record their albums. The next video shows how Haken vocalist Ross Jennings records some of his stuff:

As you can see, you can record vocals in an attic with some blankets, duct tape, and a good mic hooked up to a DAW. Of course, nothing beats a professional recording studio for the job, but workarounds like these augmented with today’s technology can deliver results that are pretty much close at the fraction of the cost.

These things, dear readers,  are only a few examples of the joys of using contemporary technology and electronic musical instruments.