They say that those who can't do, teach. And those who can't teach manage and those who can't make music write about how lame the music other people make is. I've been guilty of all these maxims at one point or another, but I've never found something that made me feel so good about being a musically inept rock writer as a device I recently discovered called Beamz.
You don't have to know how to play music in order to write about it (though some would argue that it helps), but a few hours with the Beamz will make you feel like you can beat Timbaland at his own game. I've long been fascinated with any technology that demystifies the magical quality of studio recording — that breaks down the wall between the listener and the head-nodding producer sitting behind a giant, intimidating board covered in hundreds of knobs and dials.
Beamz is one of those devices. Deceptively simple, the upscale digital Theremin consist of a base, two U-shaped stands that each contain three red laser ports and some relatively easy-to-install software that loads pre-recorded basic tracks onto your computer. I set up my loaner Beamz on a PC at Thanksgiving dinner and had to fight off a group of teens and tweens who swarmed to it.
Basically, you click on one of the dozens of pre-recorded tracks, which run the gamut from hip-hop to jazz and spacey world music, tweak the BPMs and then start karate chopping the beams to add handclaps, vocals, additional drums, guitars, bass and sound effects. From the start, I was making what I thought were super funky remixes (which can be recorded) and having a blast air-scratching and firing off death-metal-worthy double kick-drum riffs with the flick of a finger.
I stuck with the generic genre tracks that came with the Beamz, but for $2.99 a piece, you can also download from a short menu of Beamz-ed versions of songs by Michael Jackson, Gwen Stefani, the Black Eyed Peas, the Police, Madonna and Bob Marley and add your own flair to them. If you're a super geek, you can even use the Beamz Studio software to edit your songs using your own MIDI and MP3 files.
The kids had long gone by the time I packed the Beamz up at the end of the night (wait, did I miss dessert?) and sent it back to the manufacturer. And I'm bummed I can't buy one of my own just yet (it doesn't work on Macs yet), but if you've got a spare $199.95 laying around (or $299.95 for the professional version with studio software to create your own songs), I recommend you Beamz one up.