Jelly Band Rocks!

It takes a really genius app to appeal to both adults and children, and Jelly Band, by Infinite Dreams accomplishes just that.

On its surface, Jelly Band is a music creation app.  Children and adults alike can use it to create one of two songs by layering different instrumental loops together.  The downside is that, if left to their own devices, you, the conductor, may get bored too quickly.

Or, you may be drawn in by the smooth graphics, the infinite possible combinations of musicians, the cute little jelly players, or the catchy tunes you create!

Jelly Band is one of those open ended kind of games, and yes, I suppose, some people need a little direction in their lives (if you are one of those people, be sure to stick around until the end of the post, and I will help you out with that), but the beauty of an open ended game like Jelly Band is that, yes, the possibilities are indeed endless.

Jelly Band!The play is simple.  First you pick one of the two stages (each stage features a different song) and you are then confronted with around 20 jelly musicians, ready to play their alien instruments (many of which children and adults will recognize as being guitars, pianos, percussion, or wind instruments.  or, on stage 2, a rubber duck.  each stage features a few singers as well).  You can then pick which jellies get to perform by tapping on them and sliding them to a spot on the stage.  The closer they are to the front, the louder their loop is heard; the further to the back, the quieter they are.  Stage 1 is pretty heavy on the guitars – there are six jellies who play various stringed instruments, mostly guitars, to only one keyboard player.  Stage 2 is more evenly matched, there are three guitarists and four keyboardists.  Both stages have a decent amount of percussion and wind instruments, plus a few crazy alien instruments thrown in for good measure (one looks like a car exhaust pipe, one looks like that “Simon” game that some of you adults may remember from the 80’s).

When you come up with a combination you really enjoy, you can record it within the app, which is a plus, but only for about two minutes, which may or may not be a plus, depending on your preferences.  Another downside (or a plus) is you can only record up to five songs at a time.  You can also tap the button with a picture of a die, this will put a random jelly player into the mix.

The one real downside of the app itself (I am trying to focus just on the app and not on a user’s possible lack of creativity, haha) is that the balance could use some tweaking.  Remember before when I mentioned that jellies in the back are softer while jellies in the front are louder?  The difference between the back row and the front row is only about ten decibels, yes I checked.  If you have multiple jellies playing, or if you are in a room with some environmental background noise, you may miss out on this subtle distinction.  The app has also recently added the ability (although I was playing this just a few weeks ago and this feature disappeared and reappeared again a few days later) to play along with the jellies on these green crystals in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.  The crystals each play a different note in the chord that the jellies are currently playing, so there’s never a chance of a wrong note.  Unfortunately, if you have a full stage of jelly players, you will just barely be able to hear yourself.  Truthfully, if you have the wrong combination of jelly players on the stage, you will not be able to distinguish what you’re doing from the rest of the bunch.  Hopefully the balance issue is something that can be worked out in future updates.   Something else that might be nice to see in a future update – a slow song.  I know that the music is apparently based on one of their other apps, a game called Jelly Defense), but having a slow song to counter the two very upbeat selections currently offered would be a nice addition.

For those of you who are bored after 30 seconds of play, or who want to help their children get more out of the app, here are a few suggestions.

  • Choose only jelly players from one instrument group.   Your choices include vocals, percussion, winds, strings, keyboards and miscellaneous (although most of the wacky instruments could be categorized into the other instrument families as well, and that on itself could spark some interesting debate with your youngster or your inner child).
  • Choose by color.  Each Stage has a different variety of colors.  Choosing only yellow jellies will not really be interesting no matter where you are (one stage only has one, the other has two), but you could create a nice small ensemble by going for only the blues, only the reds, only cool colors (blue green, purple) or only warm colors (red, orange yellow).
  • Choose by how many eyes the jellies have.  Many jelly players only have one eye.  One has as many as eight!
  • Choose by combining two of your favorite jellies with one of your least favorite.
  • Choose a small number of jelly players (no more than 5 or 6) and play around with the balance by putting only one or two in each row.
  • Choose up to 4 jellies and put them in the back row (making them as soft as the app allows).  Jam along on the crystals at the bottom of the screen.  I find this works best with a combination of percussion instruments.  Experiment with brushing your finger across all the crystals as quickly as you  can (as if you were strumming them), or with playing each individually.

All in all, this is a great app.  It allows for quite a range of creativity and open ended play, but does require a little guidance on your own part or on the part of a parent or teacher for your child.  If you are a regular teacher or specifically a music teacher, this could be a great app to use as a reward for good behavior or after a performance.  Or, if using this with a group of students, you can save a few songs by a few students each week and have the rest write reviews of them – not just critical reviews, but commentaries on their composition and the instruments featured.  This is a great app for anyone with kids… or who is still a child at heart.

Get the app here:

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Chris Cornell

consider this a mini post, a thought really, or a teaser.

i don’t know why, but this week i was inspired to add to my collection of music involving chris cornell. i’ve been a fan since high school – i’m sure somewhere there still exists in my house a cassette tape of the album superunknown.

(i was really really into my walkman in high school. if you give me a moment, and another post to do so, i could probably recount to you every single cassette i owned. there was just a small window of time between when i got my walkman and started buying my own cassettes and when CDs became popular).

i followed chris from soundgarden and temple of the dog to audioslave. i only recently took the time to get into his solo album, euphoria morning, which i think happened because i expected it to be more along the lines of “sunshower” from the great expectations soundtrack, and it wasn’t.

i kind of like the idea of being able to track an artist’s true musical identity through his or her body of work, especially when that person has been involved in more than one project.

one could do a similar study on maynard james keenan (tool/a perfect circle), tom morello (and anyone else from rage against the machine/audioslave), anyone in crosby, stills, nash and young, eric clapton (almost too many to list), scott weiland (stone temple pilots/velvet revolver), damon albarn (blur/gorillaz/the good, the bad and the queen), jimmy page (also, almost too many to name). and maybe some day i will. but for now, i’m not even doing that kind of study on chris cornell, just talking about it.

what does strike me about chris’ voice, is that it doesn’t change, really. if you zoom in on just his vocals in a song like “sweet euphoria” compared to, for example, “hypnotize” there isn’t that much of a difference in the quality of his singing. his singular voice is captivating whether it’s layered over tom morello’s crazy guitar work, or over cornell’s own single acoustic.

listening to a number of groups an artist has been in, particularly in chronological order, is a real treat for the ears, almost a game, especially with a prolific catalog to sample. not only do you hear the artist grow as the years play on, but you get to hear their influence in the various bands that they perform in. right now my chris cornell playlist is 7 hours long (and i’m sure it’s far from complete).

another fun thing i like to do from time to time is start my ani difranco playlist from “anticipate” (the first track from like i said: songs 1990 – 1991) and go all the way to “red letter year reprise” (the last track from red letter year). this is a great activity for long winter days when you are snowed in to your house, when life stops completely, because my ani playlist is just over 20 hours long.

the difference between ani and chris, though, is that i’m sure the projects chris has been involved in have always been more collaborative than almost anything ani’s ever done. when you listen to ani, you always know that that’s her, through and through. a chris cornell playlist is like playing hide and seek. sometimes he’s right there, not really hiding at all, sometimes he’s wearing camo and hiding half in shadows. you can always find him, and the game of doing so is a joy.

across the universe

Trying to weave so many Beatles songs together to make one cohesive story is a daunting task but Julie Taymor succeeds with Across the Universe.

Some of the cutting from scene to scene is a bit choppy in the beginning as all the characters are introduced, and the psychadelic drug trip scenes in the middle are a bit over the top (as I suppose psychadelic drug trips should be, but throwing together random and absurd images and trying to make it work is a bit of an art and i think they could have just done better on those scenes) but overall the story created is a good one, and an intriguing one, that will engage the viewer not just in a game of “what beatles tune will they cover next,” but “what will happen to the characters?”

Before I sat down to write this, I looked up the movie on IMDB, just to see what they said about it over there. Now, all of the main characters take their names from Beatles tunes, Jude, Lucy, Maxwell, Prudence, Sadie, Jojo, and, oddly, Sadie is a visual reference to Janis Joplin while Jojo pretty much looks like a dead on Jimi Hendrix impersonator. In addition to this, and this is something I didn’t see mentioned, I have to wonder if Jim Sturgess was cast 1) because he has a wonderful singing voice but also 2) because he looks like a young Paul McCartney. because HOLY CRAP. i think it’s a little uncanny.

Also, in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them roles, Bono as Dr. Robert (reference to Ken Kesey I think), Salma Hayek as a nurse, Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite and Joe Cocker as a random bum/pimp/hippie (he appears in one song as three separate people).

As for the music itself, I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever. First of all they chose good vocalists. Secondly, the songs were arranged beautifully. If you go on iTunes to get the soundtrack, you have to have to have to check out the mostly a capella arrangement of “Because.” It’s stunning. Songs arranged for Sadie and her band were done well. I also really liked what they did with While My Guitar Gently Weeps – they tone it down and it’s quite melancholy – it’s played right after Martin Luther King Jr. is killed.

I didn’t really get “Let it Be,” sung by a little kid who gets killed in what I will just term as racial violence towards the beginning of the movie. On the one hand I can see how they wanted to include it in the overall movie because it is set during the 60s when the civil rights movement (along with the war in Vietnam) was going on, but on the other hand, it is one of those scenes at the very beginning of the movie that just seemed cut together kind of quickly. As my mom commented early on, “I feel like we’ve just been watching music videos.” And she did have a point.

Overall, though, if you are a Beatles fan, like my mother and I are, or just a dork about music in general, you will find this movie to be really enjoyable. I also really liked this for the same reasons that I liked Moulin Rouge, and the way they cut all those random songs together to make them tell a story. Incidentally, Across the Universe starts with Jude singing “Girl” in this really haunting arrangement with very sparse instrumentation supporting him… very a la Nature Boy from Moulin Rouge.

If you haven’t seen this yet, you should at least rent it. Getting the music from iTunes may be more accessible, but I feel that if you don’t first see the movie, you won’t have quite the same experience just listening to the songs without the visuals to reinforce the story line.