Early Evening at Cycfi Research, Inc.

Last Saturday, I got invited by the man behind the Cycfi Alpha, Mr. Joel de Guzman, to visit his facility somewhere in Quezon City to discuss ideas and possibilities regarding music as well as the innovative projects he undertakes. Realizing that this was one of those opportunities that I should not miss, I gave Joel my schedule and when I would be able to go visit. Fast forward to around 5:45 p.m. yesterday, I was with my son at the gates of what appeared to be a 21st-century-state-of-the-art residence, complete with tight security, a laboratory, and a properly built and well equipped studio. The first impression I got was he pushed the concept of SoHo to the extreme. The gate was opened and Joel welcomed us into his home office and conference room.

Joel de Guzman Cycfi Research Inc

(Mr. Joel de Guzman)

Joel de Guzman is one of those rare, forward-thinking individuals. He is an IT consultant, software developer, musician, instrument maker, and open-source advocate. It’s not off target to say that he’s the local Bob Moog. He strongly believes in give-and-you-shall-receive philosophy so much that he posts his designs and concepts freely on the web which include his hexaphonic pickup design and the carbon-fiber/glass truss rod. He is a living testimony of a person who has been blessed so much because of his belief in giving. One could easily see that the gates and storehouses of heaven have opened up for him because of his unselfish attitude in life.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly exciting and forward-looking ideas for making music. Right there and then, I realized that I was in a presence of a genius. The things we were talking about were mindblowing to say the least. Joel was particular about how he could use waveshaping to explore new timbres and techniques when using the full-range hexaphonic pickup that he has been developing. The math of it all was mind-boggling to me (being a person who has struggled with math) but I guess I had enough knowhow to understand how I could use it. The idea of synthesis using the guitar’s strings and pickups as an oscillator has been expored by a number of other institutions. Companies like EHX have played with the idea by developing the POG and HOG pedals and Moog Music even has its own guitar for that purpose, but Joel made me realize that you could do more than that with his full-range pickup, a parametric EQ, and a waveshaper. He also had the idea of hiring me as his child’s music theory tutor. Sadly, I could not accommodate his request, given the distance I would have to travel to go there and give lessons.

After discussing ideas about how we could work together, Joel gave us a tour of his facility. The Alpha prototype was in the process of a paint job so he was not able to demonstrate how it sounded like. We went into his recording studio and he showed me a Fender Stratocaster with the prototype hex pickup installed. The pickup sounded rich on a Marshall combo that the guitar was plugged into. More than that, the hexaphonic output of his pickup was also connected to his Logic Pro based DAW. How it sounded like was something I have never heard on any other guitar. It was phenomenal! Imagine having individual control over each string having its own excusive output routed to a dedicated channel. Andres Segovia once said that the guitar is an orchestra unto itself. Joel’s hexaphonic pickup pushes that to a whole new level. I was very fortunate enough to have tried it for myself.

Mark@Cycfi Research Inc 01-28-2014

(The author smiling like an idiot with Joel’s Fender Strat and the Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup)

It sounded crazy good with each string having a different position in the sound field starting with the low E string panned hard right and the high E string panned hard left. Since the pickup had a flat frequency response of 20 to 20,000 Hz, you could do all kinds of things with it and a parametric EQ. One of Joel’s intentions in developing this pickup is to disprove the idea that a full-range pickup is brittle sounding. Upon strumming my first chord on his guitar, I realized that he was right. Noodling with Joel’s Strat for a bit made me see all sorts of things that you can do with it. Some of the more basic things I thought I can do with it is faking an acoustic guitar with a solid-body electric (without the need for piezo saddles) and simulate any kind of pickup. That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Applying distortion to it while it is rigged in a hexaphonic manner was very interesting: full triads sounded very nice and very different. Rather than the aggressive high gain sound you usually expect from your typical humbuckers running into Marshall stack, it sounded more like a guitar orchestra. You could actually play your thirds with the gain all the way up to 10 without sounding harsh or dissonant. I could already imagine setting up six amps in a room or hall, surrounding both guitarist and audience, with each string’s signal going through each amp, exuding music like you’ve never heard before. An added bonus is that the pickup is so quiet even with distortion that the only thing a noise gate would do in this instance is to turn down the ambiance from the amp itself. Another thing currently in development is for this pickup to function as a sustainer. Once Cycfi Research finalizes the design of this pickup, I’m very sure that the serious musician will have to rethink about how to make a sound with a guitar. The question of single-coil versus humbucker would not matter with this kind of pickup. Rather than getting a pickup installed to give your guitar a certain kind of character, you can get the exact kind of voicing you want with this hexaphonic pickup by just using EQ.

Cycfi Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype

(Cycfi Research Hexaphonic Pickup Prototype)

To cut the story short, I was very happy and honored to have met Joel. I hope that this will be the start of a mutually beneficial working relationship. More important than that is the fact that I have met a new friend who has the same sort of passion that I have for something new in music, finding ways to make music that’s really progressive.

To find out more about Joel and his projects, visit http://www.cycfi.com.

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Acoustic Blues Guitar by Steven Dahlberg to be Launched January 30

Acoustic Blues Guitar

Steven Dahlberg is one amazing blues guy. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on the latest GuitarZoom course entitled “Acoustic Blues Guitar”. If you want to go beyond the very ubiquitous Mississippi Delta Blues style, you got to check out this course.

“Acoustic Blues Guitar” is a fingerpicking style course that intends to teach aspiring guitarists performing acoustic blues in a solo fashion. This is the sort of blues that you would hear prior to World War II. Steven teaches a variety of styles as used by blues legends like Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb and others.

This is a four DVD and sheet music package covered by GuitarZoom’s “Learn in 90 days or get your money back” guarantee. As usual sheet music transcriptions have been worked on by yours truly.

All I can say is expand your guitar playing horizons and get into the blues with Steven Dahlberg’s “Acoustic Blues Guitar”

Being Filipino: An Honor or Something to be Ashamed About?

I just found these definitions of “Filipino” at the Urban Dictionary:

http://filipino.urbanup.com/2315108
http://filipino.urbanup.com/1397824

I find these definitions to be hilarious. These also got me into thinking again of what really is a Filipino. Is it a state of being that I have to be proud about like many Pinoys would be? In a lot of ways I would not be. The damaged retrogressive culture that permeates into mind and soul of the typical Juan is something that I do not desire for myself.

Having vicariously (I say vicariously as I have never traveled outside of the Philippines) seen and experienced other Asian cultures, I would have to agree that Filipinos have little to do with being Asian. F. Sionil Jose even goes to proclaiming that the Filipino is not Asian. Culturally speaking, Filipinos have so much more in common with Latin Americans and the Spanish than with the Japanese, Koreans or even Thais. The sad fact is that Filipinos seem to have inherited everything negative about Spanish culture that keeps Filipino society from moving towards progress. Things like Mañana habit (procrastination), ningas cogon (the inability to finish what was enthusiastically started), advancement through connections rather than skill (Padrino system); the “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) mentality of mediocrity; the abuse of amor propio, delicadeza,and utang na loob (indebtedness); and the grip of Roman Catholicism all get in the way of progress of the Filipino society. Such culture has given way into the chaotic state that the Philippines is. Seems like the Pinoy is a creature and lover of chaos that is easily entertained and driven by emotion rather than the intellect.

If you go study the history of the Philippine Islands closely, you might arrive at the conclusion that the concept of being a Filipino originated from Creoles i.e. people of Spanish descent who were born in the Philippines. There are claims that these Creoles co-mingled with the dominant Tagalog tribe (and perhaps with some wealthy businessmen of Chinese descent), established their own government in defiance of Spain (getting inspiration from the French and American Revolutions), and placed their seat of power in Manila. Other tribes of the island could care less. There is one site in particular that goes to a great depth about this topic called “The Nation of Don Rafael Ibarra” if you’d like to read more about it.

It really appears that three centuries of Spanish rule have made Filipinos dumb to the point that there are claims of the Philippines having a collective IQ of only 87. It doesn’t really surprise me given the fact that during the last presidential elections, the Philippines elected a president based on sentiment rather than competence.

The lack of collective achievement as a people is bothersome. Apparently, this is due to having too much freedom with too little discipline, something that former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had said before. Having too little discipline is readily observable in the Philippines; just try driving at EDSA and the streets of Manila and you’ll know what I mean.

One aspect of Filipinos that continues to drive me crazy in this information age is the fact while Filipinos have admirable work ethic as a hardworking people, they do not appear to be smart about it. I am a freelance worker who’s registered at oDesk, and it appears to me that the trend amongst Filipinos is to drive prices down. It is what I call “nagtratrabaho ng palugi” (working at a loss). Granted that labor is supposed to be cheaper in the Philippines, should that mean that the Filipino’s way of competing with the rest of the world is just through low prices rather than competence? I believe that despite our flaws as a society, the Filipino in this global society are worth much more.

Allow me to give an example. I currently work freelance taking on music and audio jobs. Whenever I apply for a job, I occasionally look into profiles of other contractors. I have noticed that some of these other Filipino contractors price themselves at miserably low rates. I see Filipino freelance musicians at oDesk charging as low as $1.00 an hour for composing music or writing a jingle. This is lower than Philippine minimum wage! (around $1.50/hour) A service like writing music should cost much more than that given how taxing and mentally challenging the process is in the first place (plus the potential value of a jingle as intellectual property). How I thought that Filipinos are very proud of the fact that they are musically inclined! Shouldn’t they ask for more given the fact that they’ve got musical and audio production skills that can compete at the international level? Although it’s virtually unavoidable to take cheap jobs in order to gain higher feedback ratings (and higher rates eventually), why should such workers remain at such a miserable hourly rate? I’d assume that they don’t families to support and they’re still living off their parents. If you look into the salary trends in the medical/general transcription sector in oDesk, the rates are even more miserable.

Going back to those Urban Dictionary definitions, I would have to agree with one post that says “A hard working, industrious, and very strong family oriented people, but notoriously useless at organizing anything beyond chaos as a nation of people.” It hits the point right at home. As an example of that, take a look into Filipino fiestas. Many Filipinos would rather incur enormous debt just to host a party and look good in the community during feast days for pagan gods and goddesses, all of which have been draped with a “Christian” veneer as Santo this and that by the Roman Catholic Church. They’d rather keep on having sex and have as many as 10 children just right after hitting middle age despite lacking the financial resources to properly raise such offspring. No wonder that the Philippines has a collective IQ of 87. Is acting stupid a thing to be proud of? Apparently, many proponents of “Filipino pride” think so.

It’s very sad that Filipinos always think of themselves as small, the underdog so to speak that’s incapable of dreaming big. Despite all the negative things about the Filipino culture, I still would like to believe that Filipinos as a people should be capable of achieving greatness. Examples of these are the many Filipinos who have great individual achievements inside and outside of the country, all of which are mostly earned through a disciplined and frugal approach of living. My parents are a good example. Starting from virtually nothing, they worked their way to acquire assets that currently serve as financial security for themselves. I also happen to have an aunt who works two blue collar jobs in Australia, enabling her to invest some of that money into property and enjoy in the Philippines whatever is left over. Former waiter and security guard turned restauranteur Larry Cortez is another. My wife grew up from a below poverty state and is now making great strides up the corporate ladder at the moment. Why is it that such Filipinos are exceptions to the norm rather than the standard?

I would go to say that Juan has to change his way of thinking in order to succeed, to give value to competence and logical thought rather than emotion and mediocrity. I also do hope that some day this statement would true within the Philippines itself rather than just abroad:

“Most Filipinos are upper middle class. Day know how to budget der money and make lots ob sacripices like staying in da Naby por 20 years so day can get a retirement.” (source : http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Filipino&defid=2315108)

It’s unfortunate that this kind of Filipino is more readily observable in the United States, Australia and anywhere else that has become locations for the Filipino Diaspora. Outside of the gated community where I reside, I usually see Filipinos who are living below the poverty line, incapable of budgeting given the fact that many are in debt, unable to make sacrifices because of the addiction to parties and entertainment, and would eventually retire with a huge debt and a mentality of mendicancy. The Philippines is really home to a fractured culture of people who claim to be Asian yet Hispanic in thinking and afflicted by still existing tribal divisions and a plutocracy that doesn’t care at all.

In a lot of ways I would be ashamed to be a Filipino. I often feel that I lack affinity with what a typical Filipino would want. I’m not a fan of Filipino cuisine, and I have no taste whatsoever for the mainstream OPM scene. I hate Pinoy telenovelas and noontime TV shows simply because they promote stupidity, mediocrity and mendicancy. I don’t watch local TV channels. Call it colonial mentality or whatever but if something is excellent, I have great appreciation for it, and for the most part a lot of things found overseas are leagues away from what is found locally in the Philippines.

However, whenever I see and hear about exemplary individuals such as my wife, my parents, composers Angel Matias Peña and Jose Maceda, restauranteur Larry Cortez and others, I appreciate the fact that Filipinos can be capable of breaking away from the typical Filipino slacker mentality.

Getting Your First Freelance Job as a Music Transcriber

So, if you think you are qualified to be a music transcriber, the next question you will ask is, “Where and how do I get some jobs?” In many ways, getting a job as a music transcriber can be difficult. Given the advances on the Internet, however, it’s never been easier to promote yourself as a music transcriber and apply for jobs.

The Two Most Important Items in Applying for the First Job

The two most important items you will need in your attempt to bag a music transcription job is your portfolio and your resume. Your portfolio should contain a variety of samples of sheet music. You should have at least one of these:

  1. A piano score
  2. A lead sheet (For the uninitiated, a lead sheet only contains melody and chords)
  3. A full score
  4. Guitar notation + tab

I would consider these kinds of sheet music as the most universal. Here are some reasons why you need to have these kinds of

Piano scores can easily demonstrate your attention to detail as well as how well you can translate a way a pianist plays music into the written format.

As for lead sheets, I would say that they can be used by all sorts of musicians. Some groups (such as one of the organizations I’ve worked with named MSE Music Services, an entertainment/orchestra provider in the Philippines) even prefer lead sheets as they are faster to read along. I would call a lead sheet the Swiss knife of sheet music as any musician with considerable sight reading skills can play along, even if it’s just reading the chords.

Full scores tend to serve well in showcasing your transcription skills. It gives the impression that you are knowledgeable with writing and transcribing for a wide array of ensembles.

What I think is the most popular now are guitar notation/tablature and lead sheets. The reason for that is the guitar is a very popular instrument meaning that there are many guitar enthusiasts who’d want to learn how to play like their heroes.

As far as writing your resume, be honest. You don’t want to give your potential clients false impressions. Just show on your resume that you have the skills. If you have a degree in music, you can showcase that to attract clients.

Applying for Freelance Music Transcription Jobs

One of the best (and probably the safest) ways of applying for music transcription jobs is by setting up an account in a freelancing website like oDesk or Elance. Upload your portfolio, write a good description about yourself, set up a profile, look for music transcription jobs and then start applying.

When you start applying or bidding for a transcription job, remember to write a good cover letter. It should be brief but it should highlight your skills, experience and qualifications. Make sure to direct your potential client to your portfolio in order for them to see the quality of your work.

You can also put up your own website or place you ads as a music transcriber in online classifieds. You can get a few leads by putting in some time for that task.

Financial Matters Concerning Your First Music Transcription Job

You should expect that your first job would only have a price of about a few dollars. Remember that at this stage you are trying to establish yourself and so you will need to build up your reputation first. As your reputation improves, you’ll gain some leverage to charge more.

Despite saying that you should try out first some cheap jobs to gain experience, don’t work for free. If a potential client asks you to transcribe a whole song as a test, you need to get paid for the time you spent. If they’re not willing to pay for the test, bargain with them that you will transcribe perhaps a few bars as a sample. If they insist, tell them to take their business elsewhere. Working for free cheapens the profession and gives people the wrong idea that music transcription is easy. Music transcription is definitely not easy and you don’t want to be treated like a slave as they profit from the hours you’ve spent trying to nail those weird piano chords into standard notation.

Final Words

Do some research about transcription rates so that you can set up a competitive rate for yourself. In determining your rate, you have to establish one that will shoulder the costs of your operation and other things while providing the best price possible. In these times, you’ll be lucky to find someone give you a job that allows you to charge your hourly rate, especially if you’re a freelancer on sites like oDesk. There are numerous cases of clients getting ripped off by unscrupulous freelancers, so my advice is do not go that route. If you’re lucky enough to get a transcription job that pays by the hour, make sure to deliver your goods on time and with excellent quality.

That’s all of what I can think of for now on how to bag that first job. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

The Work-at-Home Homeschooling Dad

In this day and age, the Internet has made it possible for many people to work at home. Perhaps there already are a lot of people who know about the work-at-home mom. As a matter of fact, you’d get a lot of results for articles, job openings, opportunities and the like if you Google the term “work-at-home mom”. However, I’m in the opinion that the work-at-home dad is a less popular topic than a work-at-home mom, so I’m going to share you what a work-at-home dad is like.

In paternalistic, masculine, machismo cultures like the Philippines and Latin America, the concept of a work-at-home dad isn’t so macho at all. It effectively undermines macho tradition where the wife stays at home to do all that domestic stuff and the husband goes off out into the world doing all sorts of macho stuff, and that includes earning money. In a work-at-home-dad situation, I act as an entire office staff rolled into one person with parenting and other domestic responsibilities. If you think the work-at-home situation is as easy as slumping on the couch drinking beer and watching TV, you sure got it all wrong.

The concept can be best explained by illustrating to you dear reader my typical day. I wake up at 4 a.m. to feed the cats, wake up my son, and then go drive off to pick up my wife who’s working for a call center. I then drive home with my wife and son. As soon as we arrive home, I prepare breakfast, send my wife off to bed, and then eat the breakfast of champions with my son. After breakfast, I prepare for work while my son starts his going through his homeschool materials. I set up all my equipment, check messages, check my son’s progress every now and then, check the stay-out household help’s progress, and then start writing or transcribing music or whatever freelance job I got off or on the Internet. As soon as 11 o’clock hits, I then prepare lunch and have a meal with my son.

When lunchtime is over, I, the work-at-home-dad starts washing the dishes and and then start preparing my wife’s “breakfast”. The afternoon also involves going back to composing music or whatever freelance job I got and my son going back to his schoolwork. From time to time, I would check on my son’s progress. This also involves some verbal prompting on my part if I notice my son slacking off (which can be very stressful at times). There also are occasions when I have to check and grade test papers and do all of the administrative work involved in homeschooling.

As soon as my wife wakes up, I would offer her “breakfast” if I have prepared something. If I haven’t cooked up anything for her, we would then eat out just before I drive her to the bus stop where she would take the bus going to her office. My son and I then go home, eat dinner (if we haven’t gone out for it at that point), I resume work, practice piano and guitar (or whatever instrument I need to build chops for), remind my son to practice his violin, do other domestic chores and then go to sleep. As you would expect, the next day starts in the exact same fashion as described earlier.

On certain days, I would be interrupted from work when I need to drive my son to his Violin and Wushu classes. There are occasions as well when I have to drive and meet up with certain people for job opportunities, etc.

If you were patient enough to read all of this, you will know for sure that it takes a lot of balls to be a work-at-home dad. As a non-touring musician working at home, I’d have to live with the fact that I cannot afford to have an isolated studio space that separates me from the rest of the world. It just wouldn’t work. If I did, I’d be so lost in that world that I’d forget why am I working at home in the first place. It can be very frustrating for me having to deal with all of the other things surrounding me as I try to compose the greatest piece of music I can ever pull out of my ass.

Allow me to tell you though that my work-at-home-dad situation is worth all the trouble. I get to spend a lot of time with my son. I am able to directly supervise my son’s education and impart to him the Biblical values I hold on to. I am my own boss from a professional perspective. I am in complete control of my time, no matter how hard it is to manage. It doesn’t matter even if I just work wearing a sleeveless shirt and a pair of shorts. I also get to work on the things I am passionate about (this is very obvious).

Would I say that working at home would be a good deal for every man out there? Of course not. Working at home is not for everybody. But if you’re the kind of person with enough patience, dedication and the desire to have near absolute control over one’s life (Note: If you’re a Christian in the Biblical sense, God is in control of your life), then being a work-at-home dad may be a good option for you.

To cap off this piece, let me leave you with a relaxing piece of music I wrote a few months back called “The Water’s Embrace”: