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.