Saturday, January 20, 2018

Expecting to Fly

         Dishwashing disc today was "Bufallo Springfield/Retrospective". When "Expecting to Fly" came on at the end, it took me back to a dream I had, shortly after moving to Portland.

The move had felt a bit like crash-landing; we'd made it but now we had to keep making it, and there wasn't much to work with. We were broke monetarily, and somewhat broken psychologically. All three of us had extensive baggage, if you know what I mean. And I believe at this point, my physical and psychological ailments had hit me very hard, and I was in a fight, and I was in trouble.

I try not to play "the blame game" with other people. "If they'd only done (x,y,z), they wouldn't be in this position." It's hard not to sometimes. But the person I've usually hit hardest with this is myself.

I have spina bifida. It's a birth defect, you're born with a hole in your spine. Many people with it are paralyzed from the lesion down, some are brain damaged, the list of concurrent ailments is considerable and unpleasant. I got lucky, and was not hit with many of those, and for the most part, it wasn't even visible. This is good, but there are drawbacks. People can expect more of you than you may be capable of. If you're me, you try anyway, and do everything possible not to show any difference.

If someone tells you that you are somehow "lesser than", even if it's through no fault of your own, you only hear that first part. You can be told over and over, as I thankfully was by my family, that I could do anything I put my mind to. But there's always a subtext traveling beneath the words, showing through eyes and posture and slight nuances of vocal tone: "believe that because we love you, we think you are great, but something really is wrong, and we know it. You know it, but hopefully we can help you not to focus on it." You can't get away from that. Also, if your body malfunctions in a nasty way on a daily basis, you can't get away from that either. But you can try.

So I spent a lot of my life refusing to let a birth defect define me. To call it an uphill battle doesn't cover it. It's a case of compartmentalizing, splitting off the part of you that deals with it every day from the part that won't dwell on it except in the most mechanical way. On the surface, you can make this work. Beneath, it's a war every day, with your psyche as the battleground.

When I was very young and still believed in God, I would wonder why I was made this way, was there a purpose, was it a sick joke, etc. One day- and a bad day it was- I started cursing to the ceiling, and suddenly realized that was exactly what I was doing. I was at the end of 6th grade, 11 years old.

After that, I went through a period of internal drifting, being sad, trying to figure out what I was going to do because my way of dealing with my disability was coming to an end, and I had no idea what would come next, or if I could deal with the suggestions that finally did come. There came then a period of stubbornly refusing to move on, a  halfway return to a sort of arrogance I'd had a year or two earlier when I had succesfully been cruising on the belief that I was some sort of superior kid. It didn't last the year, and when it finally came crashing down and I was left scraping bottom, I had to fight my way out. That took a couple of years, and the method I hit on was a kind of self determination. It was a decidly psychotic, mutant self-determination for a number of years after that. I was about 16 before I fully realized my progress was up to me, and nothing beyond that. And I still wonder.

But: enter the the late '70s, early '80s, and all the self-help everywhere stressed: you are the captain of your ship, it's up to YOU! I'd already been on that road for a long time, although my head seemed much clearer by this point. But things kept going wrong. I couldn't handle college, I dropped out. Job after job made me feel like I was losing my sanity, depressed me, made me feel useless. But it was always MY fault that this happened, you see; the weakness was mine. Other people did these things every day. So what was wrong with ME? I'd heard that far too much where my disability was concerned, and I wasn't having it: nothing was wrong with me, or if there was, I wouldn't let there be something wrong with me, I had to fight it and win. If I lost, it was my fault and that was that. If I couldn't make it in the world, then I was too weak to be here. Every failure in my life, everything I'd ever wanted and didn't get, was down to my own weakness. I had talked myself into this and couldn't see any truth outside it.

But after moving to Portland and trying to get a new life going here, I hit a wall hard, and I couldn't get around it. And I was having to deal with finding another way to make it, and I felt very, very weak, and very "lesser than". And there was no way I could feel otherwise, at least not consciously. I'd been reduced to asking for help. That sat very badly with me.

I'd skirted the law when I was 15 to get my first job. (You're not legally allowed to work in the States until you're 16.) I'd paid, ultimately, for my own musical instruments, sometimes working dirty and even dangerous jobs so that was possible. I didn't ask for help. And yet here I was having to do it.

The circumstances that led me to this are probably best left as a story for another time. But I had reached the point where if I didn't fight for some kind of relief, I would make it permanent. One night I sat with a sharp piece of my father's bones, which had somehow survived his cremation. While divvying up his ashes in summer, I took it for myself. Here I was in winter, maybe six months later, and was about to slice my wrists with it. And then I thought, there's one more thing I hadn't tried- asking for help. It was not an appealing thought, but it kept me alive. Meanwhile, the bone was still mine, and if it failed, I could always come right back to this and finish the job.

Nonetheless, I couldn't escape feeling really lousy about myself- weak, without any qualifiers. I couldn't make it on my own and it was my fault. It had to be, there was no other reality.

And then, one night, to bring us back to the song that started these words off, I had a dream. It was a flying dream, or should have been. I'd had them before. Your body becomes airborne, you can rise into the air and fly where you like. I kept trying to take off, and every time doubt crept in, I fell. And after a somewhat visible start, I simply couldn't do it anymore. And I blamed myself, I was angry at myself. And then suddenly, this song was everywhere, coming in on one line in particular. I thought about my spina bifida, as though from the outside, and all my head troubles. And it came through: you've been trying all along, but you couldn't have helped these things. They are not your fault. Forgive yourself, you did nothing wrong. And the line in the song was, "I tried so hard to stand, as I stumbled and fell to the ground". And there wasn't a drop of falsehood I could discern in what was coming through to me. I couldn't argue with it, it felt undeniably true. It said, Look! Take a good look! These are things you did not choose. These are things you could never be at fault for. You cannot be to blame for this. Accept that. It's true.

This is something I'd never wanted to see, because of its negative side. I'd run from it because I'd never wanted to take the easy way out. "I couldn't help it". Because then, I'd be defined by it, "the poor little handicapped boy", and I couldn't stand that. Can't do it? I'l fucking show you what I can do. So I shoved that all into the background until I could no longer recognize any validity to it, I would not allow it. And yet it was still real and it was still true. And I suddenly knew it was all right to forgive myself for not having done better, I really did have some seriously heavy shit to deal with that others did not. Even typing this now, I find the idea hard to accomodate. But in that dream, it was undeniable and real. It comforted me as only a truth you cannot face consciously can do, when suddenly it comes and insists you see it. I felt a lot better in my sleep. I woke up with tears on my face and the feeling was still there. It wasn't all my fault. It was a relief I deserved to feel. It was OK.

If I told you not only what I dealt with on a personal level, the kinds of things I saw as a kid, many of them on a daily basis, I suppose I could make a better case. In my elementary school, I saw almost every birth defect you can imagine, disabilities from parental abuse, or from horrible accidents. Or kids simply not showing up one day and you didn't know if they were transferred, got better, or died. Then there was all the family stuff- so much, a parade of stories with harsh lessons. There were really things in my life that I had no choice but to experience, truths I learned early whether I was ready for them or not. There were genetic time bombs all set to go off in my psyche as soon as I hit a certain age and certain types of stressors triggered them- my father suffered with these terribly. Again though, these are other stories for other times. Now we're talking about a song and a dream. I can't hear the song without thinking of this, even though I know that's not what it was about. The experience was a bit of wonder, a valuable gift, maybe from one part of me to another, whatever the case, I don't know. But I'm glad it came when it did. I'm glad it came at all. Because I'm still here, and that might not have happened otherwise.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Confession of a Metaphysical Atheist

I'm not sure if that title is quite right; but I'm not sure how else to say it. In just about any conventional sense you can frame, I don't believe in God. Nor then, do I believe in Satan; this should go without saying, but there are people who've convinced themselves they can somehow have it both ways. Why don't I believe? It's not for lack of societal pressure, I can tell you. It's simply that it doesn't really make sense to me. I don't believe it because I can't.

Regarding larger cosmology: the idea of a universal being or mind which is solely or primarily concerned with us is preposterous to me. The universe is just too big for us to be of primary concern to something in charge of running all that.

I could see the possibility of a more localized non-physical (not matter-encumbered) system somehow looking out for us or keeping things running smoothly; but to think that we actually understand the workings of such a system, based on our limited and one-sided knowledge of what it might be, is equally preposterous to me. I would say it makes a lot more sense to start with sociology and history, and understand reasons why belief systems might have taken the forms they did, reasons which have more to do with immediate earthly influence than with what may have been at the core experience of their prophets and saints.

Mystical (contemplative) experience is one thing; religion is another. And religion is essentially sociological. It is the product less of a mystic, and more of a social response and resulting framework for the mystic's observations. It is always destined to depart from the meaning of mystical experience, and head in directions never intended by its core observer. Internal and external methods of governing are incompatible. Where one flourishes, the other inevitably declines.

Because religion involves the social, and as such is not particularly mysterious to me; and because it is near and dear to a good number of people in my life who are very important to me, I have chosen to not go further into that than I have just done, and I'm not interested in ridiculing or tearing down belief. People's beliefs are their own business. Belief only becomes my business when it impinges on me. My friends aren't like that. Were they to become like that, they would not stay my friends for long. Understand also, that by stating my lack of belief, I am not "going after" my friends or family or anyone, really. It is not my business to tell anyone else what to do or think, if they are doing no harm.

As I have said elsewhere, I believe the word "supernatural" should be thrown out of the dictionary. It too does not make sense. There is nothing above or outside of the natural world. It either exists or it doesn't. It may fall outside of our knowledge, but that's different. There is the explained, and the unexplained. Unfortunately, there is also the "explained away". And it's there that this article will soon go, because I have a big problem with this. It's a problem that has everything to do with science and nothing to do with "belief".

I forget who said "Belief atrophies the mind", but it's a good quote. You may remember the poster in the office of the show "The X-Files", the one with the picture of a UFO on it, and underneath it the words, "I Want To Believe". Here's the thing: I DON'T want to believe. I don't need to believe. I want to KNOW.

Throughout my life, seemingly through no fault or intent of my own, I have run face first into odd things. Over and over and over again. I am convinced that many of them have explanations beyond the simply psychological, and beyond coincidence. Because my efforts to ignore such events, and thereby make them go away have been unsuccessful, I have spent years studying what literature was available to me. I have paid very close attention to the details of my own experiences, in an effort to learn and understand. I don't "believe" these things happened. I know I experienced them. On what level and to what extent they are physically real, and not a product strictly of psychological processes, it has not always been easy to say. In order to explore that, I have had to be both objective and open-minded, willing to be self-critical as well as having a critical eye on my sources. This is not an easy way to go, but it's a must. It is uncomfortable to lay a trap door under yourself-" I know x, y, and z, but I may be deluded just the same and everything I know may be wrong and I might be nuts".  I see no other way to keep one eye always open for the truth. That said, you would have to prove to me how and why I am not in my right mind. The interest alone is not enough, nor is the sense that real things happened.

Some people may be critical of my insistence on the validity of subjective experience. I believe all science and knowledge and exploration starts there." Observation! It's what's for breakfast". But because observer will almost always have some effect on what is reported as observed- in other words, acting as a filter of the objective experience- I do not believe you can get by entirely without taking the observer's psyche and biases into account. These things don't always influence the observation. But they can, certainly, and need to be figured in, to form as complete a picture as possible. This is especially important when dealing with things that can't be physically observed at will, repeated in a lab setting, etc.

It also means that the unremitting bias of many skeptics must be considered as important as that of any starry-eyed believer. Unless you can treat an unknown as just that, you are at a huge loss when it comes to having what it takes to find the facts. I was disappointed to discover that the SPR (Society for Psychic Research) had an agenda to go along with their telepathy experiments: they were searching for proof of the soul. Feh! Just focus on establishing facts! One thing does not establish anything else, that's a different set of experiments and proofs. It did the entire field a disservice and cast a very bad shadow on what was otherwise some really useful and good work. On the other side of things, you had the French Academy of Sciences denying the existence of meteors all the way up to late 1700s. This, despite massive physical and observational evidence; or medical science's initial resistance to recognizing the existence of micro-organisms and the need for sterilizing techniques before surgery. It seems very real and natural now, but the idea was first met with much derision by the medical and scientific communities.

Often, criticism will come regarding these "unknowns": they make no scientific sense, there are no known technologies which can do such things, etc. Such criticism ignores a very simple fact- we don't know everything. If something is observed repeatedly, by people all over the world, people with different cultures and different sources of influence, and have been observed in much the same way for centuries, I contend it's not wrong to assume there is some basis in fact for it. It does not disprove anything to say that we do not currently understand them. And it proves nothing to say that because we have no proof such things are possible, that such things cannot happen, and the observers are all liars, delusional, or dishonest. How then, to handle such things? Examine the extant reports and theories. Collect and report new data. And theorize anew, because we know more know than we did, say, a hundred years ago. Know where the line is between speculation and something repeatable under controlled conditions, and act accordingly. And remember that things which are now proven were once speculations too. Last, never, ever, get so attached to one explanation that you become unwilling to keep an open mind to new info.

So it is the non-religious, odd experiences that interest me. Telepathy, precognition (and other time-related phenomena), remote knowledge/viewing- these things have all seemingly happened to me at various times. My experiences have forced me to theorize, because they were intense enough that I could not simply let them go. I hold out no hope of converting anyone, but if I open a mind here or there, that would be nice.

UFOs interest me. I had a sighting in 1979, and it was not a high-flying amorphous dot of light in the night sky. It was very visible, and very obviously not any kind of conventional craft open to common knowledge. I do not have an explanation for what I saw. I have speculated a lot, as is natural when faced with an unexplainable experience. I do not automatically equate UFOs with space visitors. I honestly do not know what they are, and feel good in stating my lack of knowledge clearly. I wish others would do the same. A guess is not proof. The one thing I detest more than automatically assuming these things are from outer space is that they are all hoaxes, misperceptions, or the products of overactive imaginations. Read the literature amassed over the last 70 or so years- the best of it, the rest of it, as you like- and you will see: something has really been happening something beyond the psyches of the witnesses. We don't know what, but that doesn't mean anything beyond itself. There are definite patterns, some of which have never been particularly obvious, in an "everybody knows those stories" kind of way. There are almost as many theories as there are theorists.

A parting, summarizing note now. Not believing in God does not mean I believe we know everything. We most certainly do not. I think a realistic approach to things formerly and wrongly painted with the brush of "unreal" is a worthwhile thing. I do not want to believe. I want to know; to the best of my abilities, limited though they are. I'm fine leaving questions open until thoroughly answered. That's exactly as it should be. That does not remove the questions. It only challenges us to keep looking for answers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Noodles on my noodle we are. (Tap, tap. Looks down at floor, over at wall.) Yep. Back.
(Clears throat.)
(Coughs. Clears throat again. Deep breath.)
Guess I'll, About. Something.

Music? Yeah, OK, that's easy enough.

Work continues on the current project, "Noodles". Up to a couple of days ago, it consisted of three instruments- drums, Hammond organ, and nylon string acoustic guitar. I was going through and doing what is essentially a combination of editing and mix; each track put as close to even volume as possible, then adjusted manually a section, a phrase, or a note at a time, whatever's necessary. Panning is done at this point too (placement in the stereo field). Nothing' fancy going on there anymore- I usually just pick a spot for each instrument where it helps everything get heard properly and then I leave it there. That's especially relevant to this kind of project, where it's supposed to be as close to a live situation as a multi-tracker can manage. The idea then, trying to evoke a situation similar to a jazz session. (Or Paper Bag/Jugalbandi, etc.) It was a really cool recording session. The drum tracks were assembled first, left over from a few different sessions, including one with multi-instrumentalist/filmmaker Jeffrey Von Ragan on congas (and me playing his kit). I had the order set up, master at the ready; ran the headphones over to the Hammond, turned it on and let it warm up for a half hour. (It's a lot like an old car in that way.) And when it was ready, I got the recording rolling and improvised organ through the album in one go. When it was over, I ate lunch and set up for the nylon-string guitar, then did the same thing there, hit record and just ran through the whole album. There are five pieces in all.

Problem is, a few nights into the mix/volume editing, it hit me: this sucks. Not a pleasant thing to hit one, smack dab in the middle of the creative process. But I don't ignore these things when they come to me. And it came: this sucks.

Now, I was also not likely to just take this little realization, which was more of a snide remark by my inner devil's advocate, at full face value. It was late- really, really late- and I hadn't even made it into the studio before having a 15 hour day of child-rearing and domestic duties. I was falling asleep in my chair and couldn't really focus. So I knew better than to buy into this too much. And yet I also knew it would be dangerous, creatively speaking, to simply ignore it. So I stopped and decided to come back to it when time permitted, and when I was awake and as fresh as only strong coffee can make me.

When that time came, I tried the usual stand-bys to save things. Check levels; try changing the panning. See if some dynamic shifts were either ignored, buried, or not supported. Also, try taking sections of tracks out, muting them, to bring a more definition to things. You might think something with such simple instrumentation wouldn't need to be scaled back, but I played the hell out of every instrument, the result being the sonic equivalent of NY cheesecake in the stomach at 4 a.m.- dense nearly to the point of uncomfortable. I fixed everything I could, and it was better; but it was not enough. So now, it was time to consider adding to it.

I did not want to. It ran contrary to the entire concept of the album. The point of compromise would then be, keep it simple, as simple as possible. Maybe one instrument played throughout, as with the previous 3 tracks? What would work?

For the first piece, I tried piano. And it worked! Swung like a bad bitch! Really cool, I was relieved. Did some level balancing, found a proper place for it in the stereo field, which meant having to do some quick re-panning of the guitar and organ; but it worked. Phew.

When it came time for piece no. 2, however, it did not. It might have, had I been patient enough; but I was not. I started playing it against the existing tracks, and was immediately rubbed the wrong way. Meh. Next! What now? It was very late so I couldn't get  loud. I thought I might try a more exotic acoustic instrument, maybe a homemade. But the idea of waking people put me off. I tried various virtual instruments, and they were as unappealing there as the piano had been. And then at one point, my finger slipped and an instrument came up when I was not actually trying to turn one on. My spider sense got tingling- these kinds of 'accidents" were often auspicious. I played the default sound and right away felt this would be the case. The program was "Scandalous", and the default sound was pretty much pure sine wave, monophonic. I've always loved that sound, but in the wrong situation it can be boring as white on milk. Not so here! It was so different- even from the Hammond- that it sat both alongside the other instruments, and stood out from them, perfectly. The interface of Scandalous is so simple that it's really easy to tweak while playing. I did here as I'd done previously, play straight through. worked. Really well. In fact, with almost no work, the sound cut through yet did not obscure, and I was able to drop the volume significantly and have it fit in even better. Yuh!

I started nodding when I started reviewing track three, so it was time to pack it in. My memory, of what I was able to stay awake for, is that this one may just work as a three piece. If so, cool! If not, I will figure something else out. The format has changed from the originally conceived simple trio to "trio with a friend" TBA per track. This doesn't bring things too far from base. Breathing easier. This does not suck. It just needed some help. I repeat: phew.

I am still a-hankerin' to do a lyric/vocal/song-oriented album, as I was supposed to do at the start of the year. My urge to do so now is warming to the point where it may soon start burning a hole in me. The recent remix/remaster/release of "Darkland Express" has really stoked this.

More later! I'm going to try to make a habit of these, ideally doing more than one a day. And not skipping a year and half between posts. If I keep the focus on music, I'll probably do a lot more yapping, I can go on, can't I? And hopefully people find them all enjoyable like.


Manny LaMancha

Friday, May 13, 2016

Well goodness me....Been a while, hasn't it? I will attempt to post more often than every year and a half. Famous last words, I know. But here we are. So what's up?

First of all, I have been doing a lot on Facebook. If you want to chat, get the latest news, see pictures of babirusa pigs and the like, go there and look me up and say hi. My news travels fastest there, even faster than on my website. Certainly faster than here!

Lots of stuff to mention since 2/15. Albums: quite a few. I think by that time the "Building" album with Bret Hart and Bob Jordan had come out. But if memory serves, "A Handful Of Ashes", my first solo outing in 8 years, did not come out until March. That one has vocals and lyrics and songs and whatnot. Then I fired my first volley of fusion interpretation in the form of "Beauty Sleep". Doesn't really sound like fusion, but has a jazz influence. Also classical, also avante-garde, also rock, etc....If I've done it right, it won't sound quite like anything you've ever heard before. That came out...June '15. Followed up late August '15 by "Skeleton Parade", another one in the same vein as "Beauty Sleep". Cut ahead to January '16 and out comes "Moving", more along the same lines...then in mid-February, "Energies Coarse And Fine", my all-synthesizer album- always wanted to do one of those. Finally in late February came "Birds", an hour-long piece of natural bizarreness featuring a synth that only mimics bird sounds, used with music concrete techniques. And during this time, I was remastering and releasing things to my bandcamp site ( So yes, been busy, getting back into the saddle.

My urge to communicate through writing never left, of course, but time is not always easy to make. I have done a fair amount of work on Facebook (!) some of it postworthy for  a blog; Hard to make time. I now have a machine that's devoted solely to my creative work, so I'm going to hope that gets me here more often. I'd like to not just rejuvenate this blog, but make it the kind of outlet I'd always hoped it would be.

So, hope to blather at you again soon. Maybe even tonight!

Speaking of tonight, the great Charles Rice Goff III has a radio show, an hour if memory serves. He usually plays a variety of underground artists. Well tonight, he's doing a show on my work! Very cool! It will be on 12 midnight pacific time tonight (AKA Saturday morning) here:  Thank you, Charles!

Find out more about Charles' music here:

See you round the ranch, kids!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Found Percussion

Found Percussion: a guide for Jeffrey Von Ragan's film and the found sound enthusiast by Greg Segal

Why "found percussion"?

The name isn't exactly precise; it's not always "found", as in by the side of the road, or in a dumpster. It can be; but there are cleaner options. They aren't free, but they can be dirt cheap. Anyone can see the appeal in that.

Beyond the term itself then, why?

With the exception of cymbals, of which no two are ever exactly alike, store-bought percussion is very close to standardized. You know when you buy it you are getting roughly the sound you've heard elsewhere, and presumably that's what you want. Under many circumstances, this is desirable. Few people want a drum with head sizes you can't find, which would have to be custom made. You could simply tune microtonally or in some eccentric way. You could put things on the heads when you hit them, or hit them in unusual ways or with unusual strikers. So standard is good. Standard means maintanence is not usually problematic.

For many drummers and percussionists, there's no reason to look any further. They don't play, or have interest in playing, music which requires anything more. In fact, anything else might get in the way.

There are those of us, though, for whom unique sounds are really important. Percussion offers almost limitless possibilities for unique sounds. Percussion is a very large field. Essentially, it's anything struck. (By this definition, the piano was originally considered a percussion instrument, before the more general "keyboard" definition came into use.)

Where is a good place to start? For me, anyplace I can get my hands on metal or wood objects as inexpensively as possible. Other materials are certainly not off limits, and I'm open to them. But they are often more fragile than metal or wood, or not loud enough. Bamboo is probably the best exception to this. Some people like glass or ceramic objects. Personally I find them too fragile, and while I would be fine to record special projects with them, using them as routinely struck objects makes me nervous.

Cheap objects are most easily found at thrift stores and garage sales. How much you want to pay is up to you. I am a cheap bastard and want to pay as little as possible. But some objects will sound so magnificent they make you gasp, and for those, sometimes you have to cough up the cash. Otherwise you'll be cringing for years to come, every time you think about passing on buying them. At least, that's what happens to me. So there's a ratio here of desirability to price.

When you first start out, there will be lots of sounds you want. Let's start with pot lids. Every pot lid is a little different, and ones with nice, bell-like tones will hook you. And this is good. Eventually though, you may find yourself at the end of what you can do with those, and pot lids will suddenly seem less desirable. My advice here is, don't give up yet. Other than those bell tones, you can find some really odd metal sounds. You'll be buying fewer pot lids, but when you find something new to you it will make you want to jump around a bit and let out some yelling sounds, scaring your fellow shoppers. If you're shy, try to abstain from that. If you're not, go for it! Enjoy your discovery.

If you are of a boy/girl scout mindset, by all means Be Prepared and bring some strikers. I usually don't bother if I'm going to a thrift store. I'll grab one or more things to strike with from the kitchen utensils section. Wood is usually easy to find, metal too. Hard plastic makes a good compromise, and can also clue you in as to what hard rubber might sound like. If you like using soft mallets, you may have to bring those. Also, be on the lookout for unique strikers! You may find some good things to use. Be open to them.

Other than pot lids, likely objects from the kitchen section include: the pots themselves, roasting pans (both sections), baking sheets, and so on. You will begin to recognize which objects are likely to offer the best possibilities. I could go into it in detail, but unfortunately I wouldn't be doing you a favor. You are better off using trial and error, because even objects which seem unlikely can surprise you. Conversely, some things you think of as tried and true might not sound good. So the best thing to do is get familiar with the basic types and your basic assumptions about them, and find a way to move quickly and effectively through whatever sized stack is in front of you. If time is not a problem, there is no need to worry about it. But for most people this is not the case. Don't get paralyzed by a fear of missing something spectacular by rushing through. Most strong, striking sounds make themselves known on the first or second hit.

Moving right along for more metal, check out the section with candle holders, housewares, chatchkes, etc. You can find some spectacular stuff in this section. So far the two best things I've found in this section have been made of pewter, a metal I'd previously dismissed as too soft. If it's thick enough, it can be strong, and will often give a gorgeous clear sound that will ring for a long, long time. This said, I would still be careful of striking too hard. I believe pewter is kind of brittle. This would account for the tightness and clarity of the sound but also the possibility of shattering. Yes, I said shattering. It may not be like a water glass, more like safety glass. But if the metal is thick enough and you use your wrists to strike, rather than your arms, you will hopefully never encounter this.

On to the wood! Usually there will be a wood section in housewares. Wooden bowls, boxes, and all sorts of things can yield good sounds. Most importantly, your chance of finding an actual instrument placed in a wrong section by mistake is probably greatest here. I have found an African slit drum (which was being displayed as a knife rack, with knives stuck in the slits), wood blocks, guiros, flutes, wind dulcimers, thunder just goes on and on. Also, interesting strikers, like ridged sticks.

Further into the tchatchkes and keepsakes and seasonal items: jingle bells; ornamental bells; decorative trumpets (as long as the tubing goes through from the mouthpiece to the bell, they're usable as long bugles.

The toy section might have electronic toys and noisemakers; toy instruments; little metallic xylophones...again, there are more possibilities than you might imagine. 

Among the tools, you might find saw blades, rake tines, interesting jingly things...many possibilities.
Let's not rule out the obvious: you may actually find some musical instruments which are not hiding, but sitting out in plain sight. Even  non-working instruments can be used for parts, or conversion into some other kind of insttrument.

Thrift stores are funny. You may find overpriced garbage; or you may find hidden gems for next to nothing. It's a hunt. It's a quest for cheap music makers. To me there are few things as exciting.   

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lulu Brings Back The '80s

As many of my hapless Facebook friends know, Lulu has taken to a couple of '80s music compilation CDs with a vengeance, and plays them daily. Certain tracks get played over and over and over and well you know.

It's been a mixed blessing for me. This is music I spent that decade trying to avoid. I was mostly successful. I was too busy making my own music to have to deal with much of it, I usually had command of the radio in my car, and when I couldn't keep it out, I would shiver and marvel in disgust. Why? A lot of it was the production. It's not reverse snobbery, honestly, the sound was just an instant turn off. Like biting on a saccharine tablet. To people who don't feel the same way, I have had a very difficult time explaining exactly what about it drove me up the wall. But it did. And I actually like some synthetic sounds. Wendy Carlos, Synergy, early Tangerine Dream, Bowie's Berlin trilogy, '80s King Crimson drum and guitar sounds, etc. But the majority of '80s pop stuff...uh uh. Perhaps it was the combination of production with a lot of insipid writing/marketing/image, etc. My opinions have mellowed, or my nerves have deadened (more likely the latter, but hopefully some of both). And I have actually found more to like. This is a good thing, or life around here recently would have been intolerable.

My FB friend Ric Parnell will be amused to know that one of the discs opens and closes with Toni Basil's "Mickey"- once in English, once in Spanish. (Ric played drums on this.) I have many alternate lyrics which I try to keep to myself, but as I tend to mutter under my breath and the girls have caught on to this, I am frequently unsuccessful at being discrete. One section suffers the most from a "fill in the blank" treatment: "You take me by the heart when you"
"take me by the gland"
"take me to Japan"
"call me Ray Milland"
That last is the only one that still makes me chuckle because it's completely absurd, but the other ones keep spilling out of my mouth out of decades of habit. Oops.

Each disc comes with a big fold out with a little picture of each band. Lulu keeps this open to learn more about each one. A huge favorite for the last few days has been Limahl's soundtrack tune, "The Neverending Story". (I told her the song was for a children's movie and she got even more excited.) She searched through and found Limahl's picture. She wanted to see more of him. I told her, "If you've seen one, you've seen Limahl". She didn't get it.

Back in the early'90s, the poet Vivian Wallick gave me a very cool blank book with a hand-decorated cover as a gift. Several years ago I started keeping prospective song titles in there. I've been keeping lists of these for years (as has Hyam Sosnow), and they do come in handy. The girls have been very good at bringing me funny titles like little gifts, sometimes intentionally, often not. Today Lux warped a title from one of the '80s songs, and "Living In A Box" became "Living In The Bobs". Yes! Grab that book! It's a done deal!

I was never a big Culture Club fan. Nothing to do with homophobia, I could care less about him being in drag. Just didn't really like the music. "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" would come on and I would shout "Yes!" at the radio. Which I didn't, but the song irritated me. There was one exception with them, "Church Of The Poison Mind". To me, that's a really good R 'n' B song, and the performances are wonderful. So I've been enjoying hearing that one again...and again...and again...well maybe I could have done with a few less repetitions. But I like it. Nonetheless my Norm Crosby gene snuck in, as it will do; and it became "Church Of The Poison Mime". Hmm. Interesting. Has possibilities. A mime as a sinister villain. Sure, why not? You know, the makeup, they don't talk, it's kind of creepy. But then I thought, no, a mime is bound to be ineffective as a predatory killer. They're always getting into problems with unseen forces. Here's your killer, he's stalking a frat girl or the guy who just screwed the frat girl or the mime who stole his act, whatever. And he's creeping up behind, creeping, creeping closer- and suddenly he's trapped in an invisible box! And the intended victim gets away, never knowing how close he was. Or he's coming up on someone, the knife gets raised- and suddenly he's stabbing against the wind! And he can't make it, he keeps getting blown back! It's sad, really. Pathos.

Finally, after ten reps of "Neverending Story" and another return visit to a hit by T'Pau, I'd had enough and told Lulu, "OK, daddy's turn, time to listen to something daddy wants". She protested loudly, demanded to know what I was going to put on, and I told her the truth- I didn't know but it wasn't going to be the other '80s disc. Eventually I found something that floated my boat and I put it on. "What is it, what is it?" I said, "Something I've been playing you off and on since you were a baby. I think you like this. Anyway I like it and I need something like this for a few minutes, you'll live, just listen." And then "Dance To The Music" came on and she said "I know this, what is this called?" Sly and the Family Stone's greatest hits dear. Enjoy. And she did! She wanted to take the cover and look at it, which she did; asked me who was who in the picture, which I told her to the best of my recollection; told her what the songs were called as they came on. The nicest surprise was Lux, who was sitting at the table with me, eating apple slices and goldfish crackers. She was DIGGING HARD on it! Closed her eyes and shook her head around blissfully and danced in her seat. Nice! As for me, some of those arrangements, 45 years later, still make the hairs on my arms and legs stand up. "Everybody Is A Star", "Hot Fun In The Summertime" Soul with a capital "S". Do I care that it doesn't sound like the '80s stuff? Yes! I care. I'm thankful.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ready or not! Here I come!

.....and that is why I am known to the Greeks as Testicles (TEST-ih-klees).


Oh hello! Look who's back after a year! Good to see you again. Glad you could join us. It's me who's been off galavanting. I have been spilling my thoughts on Facebook rather than here. Facebook has the advantage of a providing an extant dialogue platform, whereas this is more like a lecture. EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!

There are some things I'd like to write that don't lend themselves to a more or less short format like FB. I find it much too easy to abuse that forum when what I should be doing is writing such things here. It is both a disadvantage and an advantage to have a platform like this to turn to as an alternative; heaviest on the scale is that it is a courtesy to my friends not to swamp them with word tsunamis, when they may have come to FB for quick chats with as many people as possible. So the quandary ends and here I be, matey.

ONE: Same Old Blues

I want to write far more often than I get to. I am reminded of a woman I met when I lived in Los Angeles. She lived alone, had no phone, no television and no personal life. Why? Because she was a writer and did not want to be disturbed. I asked her if this was lonely and she said no, not most of the time. Her work was the most important thing in her life and if she was writing she was happy. Everything else to her was a distraction. I found her fascinating, and her intellect and devotion to her art were a major turn-on. But she wanted none of that, because it would interfere with her writing.
You would think my memory of her would be full of pity, or fear of ending up that way. But in fact I have often thought back on her with admiration and envy. What dedication. What strength. I have had long stretches of involuntary solitude at various points in my life, and have learned to not just make the best of such a situation, but to excel. Nonetheless I have friends and family and like it that way, hermit's life for me.

Nope! I have opted to try to have it all. If that sounds pretty much is. Time spent away from my creative work can be hellish, full of anxiety, compulsiveness,and strong feelings of deprivation and overload. However, time spent away from my girls gives me a feeling of sadness, of their short childhoods and sweet little selves slipping away from me. As if these two competing feelings weren't bad enough, my mother is aged and ill, my siblings are all nearing retirement age, my friends keep dying or developing disabilities that take them out of music, reminding me that time is slipping away for me too....You begin to lose track of how many directions you are pulled in.
My everyday life taking care of kids and household keeps me so busy that any activities outside the immediate require a bit of effort, and most likely, careful scheduling. I am lucky to have a spouse who is aware of all of this, and who does her best to help me with the juggling act. Nonetheless she is at least as busy as I am with domestic matters, and can only do as much as she can do. Most of the time for us, it's just a matter of keeping the ship running and seeing what's left of our energy and time when opportunities present themselves, or can somehow be made. 

I am told by many people that things like spare time will return, and I'll be glad I spent the time the way I did; and so it most likely will be. Still, most of us wag a finger at ourselves sometimes, with pretended wisdom about how we might have done things better. Perhaps, let's say, this would have been easier if I'd had children earlier. Then I might have felt less under pressure to produce creative work- before I found myself, through threat of age and/or infirmity, potentially unable to do so.

There are two problems with that idea.

One, I'd have been a crappy father if I'd been one earlier. I was not patient enough, I was not mature enough, and I'd have been hell to live with. It would have ended badly and no one would have benefitted.

Two, the spectre  of death has been standing by, drumming his fingers and pointing at his watch since I was born. Because of a birth defect, my parents were told that I might make it to six months; then I might make it to a year; then two years; then hopefully five; and that if I made it to ten, then it was anyone's guess. My parents being worriers, and my father being morbidly obsessed with his own mortality anyway, there was NEVER a time when I wasn't aware of life as something which could end quickly. Every day felt like living on borrowed time. As if to reinforce this, I went on to see examples of quick disability and mortality all around me during my first 12 years of life.

Everything has two sides. Being drilled with a sense of mortality from earliest memory has had advantages, among them having a natural sort of 'carpe diem' mentality. The down side is that it made the usual trappings of settling down seem like having a heavy wet blanket thrown over you shortly before you're shot. My view on this only changed when I was at an age where, presumably, I should have started "having a life"; and people my own age, who had done more in that direction than I had, started dying.

Now you see, I'm a contrary guy. If I have a guardian angel, it's certainly bald by now, having long ago torn out its hair in fits of frustration, given the thankless task of trying to steer me right.(I'm sure Chrissy feels this way with some degree of frequency.) But I eventually come around, if it seems to me there's something to come around to. I'd always wanted to be married. I'd always imagined that some day I might settle into my version of what settling down might be. And, surprise surprise, I'd harbored paternal urges for years. But for the reasons outlined above, I wasn't really keen on pushing too hard in that direction. Still, when the time came that I really felt it was imperitive that I do so, I did it with everything I had. The result is the life I have now, which, all told, is pretty amazing. But mind lodged in a meat bag is a limited reality, and there's only so much you can actually accomplish in the limited years you live, no matter what you think when you're younger. Some things are so demanding- rewarding too, but that's not the point- that they require large chunks of you for you to have them. They move in, they take up room on the pie chart, and other things must be moved, stored, or let go of. And that is rarely anything but painful. At first.

I don't believe in absolutes. I'm a 'percentages' kind of guy. I believe there's a really good chance I'll manage to do a decent job with all of the above, including the biggest longshot of all, keeping myself happy and not needing to bitch quite so much. And with that in mind, let's move on.

TWO: Where'd I go? Oh There I Am

Over the last few years, I've experienced a level of disinterest in a lot of my old favorite passtimes. It feels weird, but I know it's logical.

I used to love to hit used book stores. But for a number of reasons it's become pretty unimportant. For a start I have almost no time to read. Sad but true. Given that, I have a very large number of books. Some of the topics I used to collect are of less interest to me now. I have much less room than I used to. And I have a need for cash. So starting soon, I'll be whittling down the collection yet again to help me put some money towards musical endeavors.

When I go into thrift stores now- which isn't very often anymore- I am extremely conservative, and it's unusual for me to leave with much. I went through my phase of buying metal and wooden objects for percussion. I still check, but there's almost nothing to get that isn't in the same ballpark as what I already have. Unless it's really unusual sounding, which rarely happens, I leave it.

I don't buy videos or DVDs. I have no time to watch anything. Really.

I do have to stay away from "record" stores. It's the one habit that's still with me, or would be if I allowed it. Can't afford to, but the desire is still there. I have found a lot of new music through the library, and as of last year, Pandora. Used properly, online services can be a way to find a lot of new things that really float yer boat. This is good and bad. Now I want all the Broadcast CDs and all the Besnard Lakes CDs and a lot of Porcupine Tree and a fair amount of other things besides. Reissues with bonus tracks and boxed sets and....Oy. If I was plopped down at Music Millenium with a couple o' grand and told to spend every penny of it, there and nowhere else, there would be no problem. Not likely to happen but it's a nice fantasy. I will retain my composure while things are real and see what happens. The fact is this: the only time I manage to listen to anything is when I wash. Limited time equals limited use equals lower priority and so, less interest. But where this is concerned, still bubbling away on a back burner.

THREE: Do You Wanna Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star


I'm fifty. I've got a pretty obvious gut. My physical problems are worse than they were when I was in my twenties; no real surprise there. The part of me that wanted to travel and have adventures has gone the way of many other interests, swirling down the sucking drain of life. Meh. In its place, enjoying the forward position, my writerly, painterly, crafty side has settled hard into its seat and shows no signs of leaving anytime soon. That may sound boring, but I'm excited. I have so many ideas for projects of all kinds that I'm actually more afraid of not getting to do them than I am of being bored. Creating things, if even for the sake of it, is the breath of life for me. 

Also, in the decades I've been at it (or not), the nature of celebrity itself seems to have changed. I know that in the past, long before I was here, it wasn't unusual for the falsehoods, facades and expectations of stardom to drive many people who'd achieved it to despair. And yet the lack of rights of celebrities to be private people seems to have grown. The Altamont moment, for me, was the death of Princess Diana. Despite there being an outcry over paparazzi going too far, not much changed, and the vultures only became more bold and sure of their place in the food chain. "They wanted to be famous, they shouldn't complain." While given the types of things I do, I would most likely never have to worry about fame of that kind, I still am not interested in pushing it too awfully hard. American Idol doesn't want me and I don't want them. I want to make the kind of music and art and writing that I'm interested in, and then find a way to get it to people who like it. For what it's worth, I am reasonably sure such people exist. This way seems like the logical procedure to me, rather than not being myself in the hope of someday being myself, then hoping that the people who liked me for not being me will follow when I am. You know?  

FOUR: The Write Stuff Baby, The Write Stuff

I always enjoy writing, but there are some minor things and a couple of major things I am extremely keen to get working on. The problem of course is time. But perseverence and practice have helped me keep things moving on most fronts during this seemingly bench-warming time. I have not given up on the idea of possibly making some money off my writing. I have also not given up on the idea that for many projects, the ideas and execution follow the lines of imagination first, rather than commerce, and are presented for sale afterward. I don't believe that anything I have to offer as a writer is so far out or abstract that I will be writing only for myself and scholars of the unknown. It should all be mainstream enough. Then again, that's what I thought about "A Man Who Was Here". We who make things, don't always know.

Still to be written, or currently partially written: I have a dark Western; a futuristic/utopian/dystopian anthology with framework; lots of musically-based essays; and lots more besides, but those three seem to be the starting lineup. I figure I'd put 'em up for sale as e-books, or with companies who print to order. I'd be an idiot to bank on selling a whole bunch. But you never know, and I believe it's worth doing.

One of my concerns has been to not step on M.'s toes, or into his territory. He has been working on some writing for a while, and I believe he's pretty close to doing something with it. I've played with the idea of psuedonyms again, the most recent of which, Craig Segall, is a joke based on the most common mispronounciations of my names. But maybe we can be like the Brontes or the Huxleys or the Bensons or the Winters, etc. If it's all good- and I have reason to believe both parties would deliver the goods well- who cares? Good is good. Mark has a really distinct voice and approach as a writer, and despite similar interests our styles are easily told apart.

FIVE: Hmm, Very Nice. Are We Done Yet?

Just about. I would love to get back here before next year. If you like reading my stuff, hey- maybe we'll both get lucky. Salut!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Recreated Post

Yesterday, Hal McGee, a great and prolific musician, did a Facebook post with a photo of a book,with a quote from him in it. I found it very inspiring. I first thanked him on that post,in the comments section. Then I shared his post to my page. Then I tried to write my own response to it. Hell, I DID write a response to it. I must have had a moment when the writing fairies came to me, because I was flying by the time I finished writing it. I was feeling so good about it that I tagged a ton of people, including many artists I wouldn't normally bother with such things. Then I hit the button to post it. And it disappeared.

And I bitched, and I moaned, and my head hit the skids, hard. Depressed in a big way for the rest of the day. Chrissy tried her best to help, and help she very much did; but got mentally banged around a bit for her troubles too. Sweets, I love you. Don't know how you put up with me.

Anyway, she wanted me to try again, so I did. I didn't entirely care for what I wrote, so I went to sleep depressed, and woke up that way too. Took care of the kids while she slept this morning. But when she woke up she wanted me to try again. And this time I think I've come up with something worth posting. Not the same magic or heavenly choirs upon reading it, but it functions and doesn't make me want to retch or throw the computer against the wall. With that ringing endorsement, here it is.

While I agree with the general tone of Hal's post, some things are of course different for me. Music is not the only thing I live for, and actually never has been. More generally, creating things- and giving new life and new purposes to old, discarded or orphaned things- is what I live for, on this particular level. These have made up my main purpose, the path that has sustained me through tough times, the way that has given my life a sense of meaning and my self a sense of value. When I am making things I am lost in the action and living for that moment and it feels really, really good. When I am reusing or repurposing things in my creative work, I feel good on so many levels it's hard to describe. It's a little bit of animistic love that projects the idea of not wasting things, of finding use in the apparently useless; salvage, or from probably the same linguistic root, salvation. Salvation in a very hands-on way.
Of course, in the old days I could have just lived for that, but now I have a family. My kids bring a different and deeper level to my life. A parent has two choices: attend or neglect. Every day is a little tug of war between those two poles. I'm not saying you have to hover over every little thing, but you have to at least be aware, even if you're hanging back and letting them grow. Which makes it kind of hard to take time to create in the way that I'm used to. When what you do is dependent upon a level of concentration which demands that you shut everyone and everything else out while you work, it becomes more of an all or nothing proposition when it comes to choose how to spend your time. This is especially true if you and your wife ARE the support system, and can't afford too much child care. There isn't the choice of taking a break, playing with the kids, then going back to work. Running
opposite to this, pulling hard in the other direction, is the reality that childhood moves quickly. If you are busy you'll miss it, and there are no second chances. With that in mind, Chrissy and I have been trying to spend as much time with our kids as possible. That shouldn't feel painful to me but it does, because what I'm putting in the background is an entire way of life. It is a living part of me, it's my connection to the world and feeling like I even belong in it, it's what keeps me sane. I am not active in it to the extent that I need to be. And I mean that for me, on an inner level, not in any concrete way. The world can do quite fine without my work. But I can't. Nonetheless, my kids need me, my wife needs me, and I need me to be there with my kids, for me as well as them. I will sometimes spend all day waiting for a moment's peace or time to work, then find myself feeling so much love for them at night that I miss them and want to wake them up and hug them. This is not a black and white, easy, simple situation. 

Something I liked about Hal's post was that he refuses to be put off by some of the uglier thoughts you might face when your work is done for the sake of doing it, not for a paycheck, and not, horrible though it is to say, because there are necessarily even many people waiting for it. He's proud of how prolific he is (as I think he should be). He is not at all concerned with other people's concerns about too much audio getting out there into the world cluttering up people's choices- he seems to poke fun at that whole notion, to laugh at it. Good. I needed to hear that. I needed- seriously NEEDED- to hear someone say that.Thank you, thank you, and again, thank you.

This brings up an important point about creating that seems to have eluded many people: living as a creating person is a process, and cannot be about goals or projects. Those are what give you the traction to stay on the road, the guard rails, even at times the gas. But projects end, goals are realized (or not), and you are....where? If you are not living the process, you're in trouble. And if you're constantly questioning things like if you're doing too much art (? seriously), are you getting paid, is it worth your while....something will rot right out from underneath you. I seriously dislike having my state of mind constantly undermined by this crap. I'm going to have to stop listening, it's simply bad for me. Yes, I deserve to get paid, damn straight. But I deserve to create without having to worry about that too. I can be bought, but my creativity is priceless to me. Of course I want to be heard; but if I'm so busy worrying about that that I get depressed and stop creating, no positive purpose is served. It is becoming clear to me, with a little help from my friends: full speed ahead, as blindly and blissfully as need be. Let the rest sort itself out, or deal with it as you can. But keep going- for the right reason: because it feels right to do so.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I Hear Martians

A couple of weeks ago, this was almost ready to post. Then life intruded and, eh.....


Not literally. Ever have one ear plug up or get enough pressure in it that the natural pitch you hear is changed? The result is two ears hearing in different pitches, and sounds something like ring modulation or detuning. Anyone familiar with the narration on the track "Legacy" from "Darkland Express" knows the sound. You would think, with my background and interests, that this would be really interesting and that I would enjoy it. That is true some times, but those are in the minority. Overall, it's pretty annoying, especially when the girls are running around and screaming as they play, seeing who can laugh most shrilly and loudly. (This usually happens during tub time, when the sound is amplified by the tub walls and glass doors- which pegs my meters, bounces my eyes around in their sockets, and inadvertantly gnashes my teeth together in a lock-jawed grimace. Ah, parenthood.)

The first time this happened to me, many years ago, I found it more interesting, despite that it still was annoying, and in fact the pressure making it possible was painful. I remember standing in line at a local grocery store and listening to music at the checkout, and finding the weird harmonies produced to be very educational and fascinating. But all the voices sounding so garbled definitely got on my nerves after a while.

Sometimes I will fall back on not actually listening, but letting my brain interpret the dialogue and songs around me. Sort of an autopilot function, it keeps me distracted and occassionally amused. Lulu will start singing a school song with the melody of"Frere Jaques", and my semi-idle grey matter will chime in: "Hairy jock strap/ Hairy jock strap/ Dormammu/ Dormammu/ Where is Talky Tina/ Where is Talky Tina/ On the stairs/ Giving glares."

I'd like to get my hands on an actual ring modulator, it's one of the few things missing from my tool box. Of course right now I would't be able to tell what it sounded like. Or, it would sound like everthing else. Or twice as bad. It would be like checking out cologne or perfume if you've got a cold. Of course these days all efforts and funds for the Airship are going into finishing up the studio. I hope to be finished with this sometime before I die, so that I can gaze upon it once before going into the promised land of the eternal jam session, where free grub and free love combine with free expression, and home for my free Willy will be transient yet serially eternal.

Sorry, daydreaming again. Need a cello still, of course, that's actually number one on the list. I recently read the liner notes to the remaster of the first ELO album and took heart from Roy Wood saying that the cello on "10538 Overture" and the rest was actually of the cheap Chinese variety. So as I've often suspected- what I can afford will probably do the trick just fine. I have plans to build something for "long string bowing" (meaning, deeper notes than violin), but getting to that may take some time. Anyway.....Other equipment thoughts....I have been in need of a better drum throne since shortly after getting the one I still use, and that was in 1980. I have this crazy scheme to build something that will mimic the height and angle of the passenger seat in our car, which affords me perfect flexibility and thrust. I don't know how it would work with the actual height of my bass drum though. I think it would be too short. I'd end up looking like a shriveled old lady behind my kit. Of course I could give a crap what I look like, but if I have to play way up over my head, like I'm driving a chopper with ape-hangers, I'm probably in trouble. I may measure the height from the floor to where my butt would theoretically rest, and try to replicate that in front of the kit before I build anything. The ape-hanger routine would be especially problematic considering I have quite a few nice additions to the kit and am trying to build (or buy, if somehow that would be cheaper) a setup to include them. Example: a local hardware store had a huge range of cowbell sizes. They aren't as sturdy as LP bells, but I'm not going to be smacking the crap out of them on a nightly basis either. I think the total, with my oldest and largest LP bell Mark got me 30 plus years ago, will come to around 8 bells. You know what this means; however I manage to mount them, I will have to put up a sign saying "More Cowbell". I have thought about stacking them all vertically on a single rod, possibly fanning them out bit for greater accessability.

The cowbells, then, don't necessarily make for trouble in ape-hanger city. (Take that sentence and say it out of context in conversation, preferably within a group of people; if it's in public, perhaps at a restaurant, or at work, even better. Don't explain yourself; at most, be cryptic and hint mysteriously.In fact, the stranger your bullshit explanation is, the better. Tell me in detail about the event and I'll post it here and send you a free CD from the PA catalog, your choice. Seriously.) But I have also been collecting, and making, various chimes to hang over my head. In the old studio setup, the beams above my head were exposed, so I could hang them from nails and just reach up and hit them. (The best examples of this currently on CD are scattered throughout "A Play Of Light And Shadow".) I intend to add to this, not just more chimes but eventually a set of woodblocks and all sorts of other things. So some kind of cage setup will almost certainly become necessary. Ape-hangers...cage...maybe it's destiny appearing in the form of linguistic kizmet. Huzzah!

Seriously, I have boxes and boxes of stuff I've been collecting- mostly cheap toys and percussives and incredibly cheap stringed things- that have just been stored, waiting for a time when they can rise and bring their ancient evil to a sleepy little northwest town. I had to move around a bunch of stuff to clear the studio to work on it, and got a fresh look at some of it. Makes me salivate in a way that only thoughts of Thai food and certain cunning linguist experiences have before.

EPILOGUE: The hearing eventually cleared up. It took the better part of a week though.

The autopilot song distractor has kept me very busy over the years. It provides me with all sorts of possibilities for mishearing language, and has been an invaluable source of inspiration for my little book of potential song titles. I do hope you'll get to meet some of them later. This will of course mean me producing more music for public consuption, so...Like I said, I do hope etc.

I'm still not much further ahead on settling the apehanger drum quandary. I measured the passenger seat: if I were to recreate it as a drum throne, my ass would be approximately 10 inches off the ground. Don't see how that would be possible playing a 22 inch bass drum, with toms over that and cymbals over the toms.I can solve lots of mounting problems without too much hassle; maybe just build a rack/cage out of threaded pipe. But how to solve that "sittin' low" problem.....I'm as stumped now as I was when the thought first occurred to me.

I am no closer now to a ring modulator or a cello than I have been in ages. I occasionally think about selling some books, but when I go to make the cut, I vaporlock and stall out. As I get older, more crotchety and have less time- WAAYY less time- old dreams of reading every interesting thing I picked up cheap are starting to give way to sardonic realist assessments wherein I choose the most utilitarian or enriching tomes and axe the rest. It's like getting the itch to hack off a big head of hair and just enjoy the simplicity and coolness of a buzz cut. (I have just recently done this, in fact.) This particular dream is a bit of a leaky boat, 'cause I keep buying books. Just not as many, or as often. But the books are different, and hair grows back, It's taken a few decades but I'm almost where I want to be in terms of creative tools. The list is getting shorter all the time.

How was that entry? Was it informative and fun, or more like watching paint dry? Please send your answers to 1-800-UBITEME.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Musical Amphibians

I use the term amphibian here as Aldous Huxley did in a wonderful essay called "The Education Of An Amphibian". He used it to refer to a being at home in two (or in the case of humans, many) worlds. In this case, I am referring to myself and certain fellow musicians who have this habit of making music in both abstract and song forms. I will be taking the liberty of speaking for us, without having checked or cleared anything beforehand. This is something I normally would not do, and I hope I don't misrepresent anyone's views. 
We are surrounded by categories: specialization and niches and pigeonholes into which we, and our activities, are routinely expected to fit. Not doing this can be viewed as suspect or just plain weird by people unused to that level of artistic diversity. Those of us acting in this way are not doing it out of indecision. On the contrary, we have made a very definite decision that no such division is acceptable to us. We try to make good music, whatever form it takes. We like a range of forms; we produce in a range of forms. We deviate from those forms, and combine them, as we see fit, to match what we want to put across. Many musical judgments and conventions taken for granted in the world of commercial music, and in traditional musics, may not be adhered to; for the simple reason that to experiment with these boundaries may produce interesting, entertaining, and artistically satisfying results.

It is also not unusual for us to be multi-instrumentalists, poets, and visual artists/designers. We're not showoffs, we're just having fun while taking care of the necessities of making things to share with other people. Again, it's about not limiting yourself. You're not supposed to do those things yourself? Who says? Why not? What a silly restriction. Who came up with that one? 

In a previous blog entry, I made brief mention of a few of these fellows. I'd like to add a little more detail now.

Don Campau (pronounced "Comp-O") has been at this probably the longest of any of the folks I'm going to bring up here. His use of multiple forms goes back into the late '60s, early '70s, to the best of my knowledge. In many ways he epitomizes this musical polymorphousness. Experimentation with any and all possible instruments (and combination of instruments), acoustic and electric/electronic sounds, field recordings, poetry and singing, melodic songs and noise, he's basically done it all. And yet even for those of us who've been listening a while (I first heard Don back in '85), he continues to come up with surprises. Let me tell you about a few things he's put out recently that come immediately to mind. One of his recent releases, "Moldable Head" was made of record skips from classical records, along with a few very subtle bits of added instrumentation, mostly synth. This could have been a fun bit of noise only; but Don manages to make it thematically interesting, melodically involving. I thought the whole concept was refreshing, but what he managed to do with it raised it well beyond novelty to the point where I was more focused on it as good music, and that was a very pleasant surprise. Further into the abstract realm is the wonderful "Lilly Pad", which features two long tracks of atmospheric music, sculpted from diverse types of sound- all sorts of instruments conventional and unconventional, field recordings and short wave radio, and so on. This is the type of album I used to hunt for back in the old vinyl days, when I was discovering how huge the world of music could be, and a find like early Tangerine Dream or early Ralph Lundsten or Popol Vuh could change the way you heard things forever. A warning though: this is not new age lite, with breathy synths and tinkling piano. This sounds like something alive, in all its complexity. Last, I'd like to mention Don's most recent compilation, a "best of" from 2000-2009. Here you get to meet Don the song writer. He's a great lyricist, and often has a strong and sardonic sense of humor to his words. Titles such as "I Nailed Sarah Palin" and "I Wish I Was Suave Like Peter Jennings" tell a bit about that. There's a hilarious L.A. metal parody, "Stop Don't Go". And just a bunch of imaginative narratives with great music. Don's website is Those three releases I mentioned are seriously just the tip of the iceberg. If you're not already a fan, check him out please. 

Charles Rice Goff III has done plenty of solo work, and also work in various projects, such as The Magic Potty Babies and Turkey Makes Me Sleepy. He's the only one I'll be mentioning that I've actually met in person, back in 2003. He came out to visit his friend and ex-bandmate Eric Matchett, who lived within a couple miles of my old place. I was in the middle of recording so we were having trouble scheduling; but the night after I recorded "Planet Of Garbage", he and Eric and I met up, went for Thai food, and talked for hours. I had a wonderful time. Since then we have stayed in touch, and have listened to plenty of each other's work. Among CRGIII's many releases is the excellent "Songs For A Blacksmith's Apron". This is his take on country music, and it is wonderful. Does it sound like country music? No, not especially. It sounds more like country music than Loren Mazzacane Conners sounds like blues. It sounds like...well, like something only CRGIII could do. The first track is about seeing William Burrough's house and the locals being disinterested and ignorant of its history; it mentions "my friends in the good ol' avante garde!", which gives you perhaps a better idea of its country cred. He does an old traditional song about Quantrill's raiders, and explains that Quantrill was a psycopath who, with his raiders, went around during the civil war slaughtering non-combatants (men, women and children) for living in the wrong place. The song, however, was written as a celebration. It gets the treatment it deserves; very creepy.I could go on; I'll just recommend it very highly instead. For a bit of CRGIII's more abstract work, you might try some history and check out "RE:". It's a collection of early pieces that is good and solidly interesting straight through. Check it, and tons of other stuff, out on the Taped Rugs site.

The work of Bret Hart covers many different song formats, and like the rest of us I'm talking about here, the vision for the music is primary, and the consideration of "format", unless it is specifically chosen ahead of time, is something best decided afterwards if at all. You can hear a lot of different influences: country and blues and folk, screaming hard experimentalism, industrial avante garde. One of the main elements creeping in to gently tug at the direction of things is Korean music; Bret lived and taught there for years, and became familiar with the instruments and the music. He has his own highly inventive and inspired take on it, of course. And of course no combination of the above-named elements is off limits. Bret has solo releases, a whole series of excellent duets albums (I did two with him and had a blast), work with the band Hipbone, and a lot more. Like Don and CRGIII, Bret is an immediately recognizable musician. His approach is simply unique. When he sent me his tracks for our first duets CD, my first thought was, "I've never heard anything like this." Which to me is almost always a good thing, and in this case, definitely. By turns whispy and harsh, it sounded like someone scratching pictures into the air with a magic bone. What could I possibly mean by that? Listen to his stuff and find out.

Now, my apologies to all three gentlemen mentioned here; I had tried initially to do something more in depth for all three, and ended by doing progressively smaller paragraphs. I also need to do some street preachin' for my friend Eric Wallack, who is one of the most amazing musicians it's ever been my pleasure to work with. My excuse for stopping here is that after starting this entry months and months ago, I'm finally at a point where I might be able to get it finished and posted, and I want to make sure that happens. I suppose it shouldn't be difficult; but because I'm not just spouting BS and have to actually THINK about what I'm writing, and maybe even go look at CD covers and take good care with things like titles and facts, it increases the difficulty factors, under these circumstances, by about ten. Can't trust my memory, I'm getting daddynesia; then, it's so difficult to find time here these days....blahblah etc. But true. I now sleep less yet accomplish less of (potential) cultural value than I have at any time since I started trying to make art as a pre-teen. I have reason to hope this will improve as time goes on. I'm counting on it.