more music: from ilvin to innswood

the first site in the digital music project was the neighborhood technology center in roxbury, massachusetts, and the fruityloops star there is a kid named ilvin rivera, or "ill" as i like to call him (of course, to update run dmc's classic phrase--not ill meaning sick, but ill meaning good). ilvin seemed to take to the program immediately, whipping up a handful of whimsical and original tracks.

ilvin has a great memory for patterns, and once i showed him a few basics--some common hip-hop, dancehall, and techno patterns--he created banging beats in all of these genres, not to mention a few in styles he seems to have invented himself, bringing together all kinds of music and imagining new fusions. i especially like ilvin's approach to melody. he comes up with rapid, unpredictable, yet infinitely repeatable melodic lines. and his sense of form is pretty advanced, if a bit unorthodox. last summer, when i spent a month in kingston, i played one of ilvin's dancehall rhythms on jamaican radio and television. it received a positive response from everyone who heard it. the track became one of my best pieces of evidence for the success and promise of the digital music program. last night, i received an encouraging email from byron logan, my counterpart in roxbury, who tells me that the center is about to focus strongly on digital media production and that he has been developing a new curriculum, drawing on his now extensive experience with the software and incorporating some of the lessons i've put up (i just added a third). after reading b lo's email i checked out the website for the NTC and i was happy to see that ilvin's work is currently being showcased on the site. i especially like the first clip, "mix#1," which sounds like a mariachi band gone mad, a little tijuana techno, if you will. you can hear a couple more tracks from ilvin on the roxbury page.

in other digital music news, the students at camperdown high school continue to work prodigiously. a number of students have become quite proficient, visiting the lab with headphones on their own time and practicing with demo software at home. despite the challenging circumstances of their lab resources (overloaded and malfunctioning computers, faulty drives "locking" their music on a single computer, little speakers with no bass), they have been cranking out some bad rhythms (not bad meaning bad...) and clearly having fun while doing so. yesterday i snapped a few photos during our weekly workshop:

a student named jason, who goes by the stage name "fross," has been one of the most prolific and adventurous producers at camperdown. in just a few weeks he's come up with several rhythms, many of which, like "steal band" (an unintentional pun, i learned), match quirky melodies with driving, percolating beats, and fall somewhere between hip-hop, techno, and dancehall. see fross hard at work, speaker to ear hoping to squeeze some bass out of the thing:

today, because of technical difficulties, we only had a half-dozen functional music workstations. demand far exceeded supply. at one point, i counted 18 kids crowded around 6 computers. generally, the majority of students seem content to look over the shoulder of the person guiding the mouse. often two or three will work together, with good ideas rewarded by gun-fingers in the air and pounds on the fist. just today, for example, orlando (of "alien cooke" fame) collaborated with david and daenard to create an ominous piece they call "war." occasionally i had to ask a student to pass the mouse to someone waiting a turn. only once did i have to separate students who were fighting over a speaker. although i have had similar experiences several times now, i still find it striking that such a large number of students will endure less-than-ideal conditions in order to stay after school (!) and create music. with this kind of enthusiasm, i only wish that camperdown had resources like the neighborhood technology center up north. you have to make do with what you've got, though, and the camperdown students handle this reality with grace.

innswood high school will be the newest school participating in the project. becca and i took the bus out to spanish town yesterday to visit the school, do a demo, and talk about logistics. we are excited about working in a school outside of kingston, even if not very far from here. spanish town sits adjacent to kingston and constitutes a rather large city in itself. lorna rowe, of the JCS education foundation, picked us up at the bus-stop and drove us to the school, which is located a bit outside of the crowded part of town, surrounded by sweet-smelling cane fields. innswood had a nice feel to it: the grounds were clean and buildings airy and cool, the students cheerful and welcoming, the staff enthusiastic. the fruityloops demo usually elicits interest and excitement, but i've rarely had so many teachers come up to me with immediate projects to propose. the technology clearly can light up teachers' imaginations differently, but no less strongly, than it flicks-on students' creative lightbulbs. we met privately with the principal after the demo, who was quite encouraging, and the three of us agreed to begin next monday after school.

it is great to feel the project building steam in lots of different ways. i feel that we are approaching a critical mass. soon the remix page (which was inadvertantly clobbered during re-development) will reappear as a new module that will facilitate students sharing their work and remixing tracks put up by students at other schools and centers, from kingston to boston. before april is over, i hope to have an international song-of-the-month contest going, a growing number of showcase-homepages for schools and individual students, and remix threads traveling back and forth from kingston to spanish town to roxbury and back. i can't wait to hear a collabo between ilvin and one of his jamaican counterparts. that would truly be ill, meaning bad, meaning good.