Of Limbs and Kings

Just having my first listen to Radiohead's latest album, King of Limbs and I'm having some thoughts...

  • I never like new Radiohead records for the first month or so; this one is no different, right on schedule to be my favourite in the April/May timeframe
  • it is really cool the way this record introduces the sorts of noises made by my fellow electronic composers and me to a more mainstream audience
  • it will definitely not be cool when somebody hears something of mine (or somebody else similarly DIY) and they say, "hey, that sounds just like Radiohead."


Hardware Sucks

Today disaster struck. I started unpacking a guitar and my looper (which had come with me to my guitar lesson) plugged it all in and was met with silence.

Debugging led me to determine that my looper (Digitech JamMan Stereo) was the problem. It was seeing signal but not passing it. More time lost determining that the metronome function was working but only coming out of the right channel. Plugged headphones into the headphone jack and found that the metronome was in full stereo.  Guitar was coming through the headphones but only on the left side. wtf?!?

It's a weekend so Digitech's support people are enjoying their time off. But I'm way behind in my third RPM Challenge. I need this like a hole in the head.

Lucky for me, I have a computer. With a host of looping plugins and apps. It's a pain in the ass but I'll find a work around.

So all the guitar players that swear by their stomp boxes and poo-poo all things digital... I've seen tube amps just stop working onstage, I've watched guys frantically trying to debug problems with their pedal boards. And I'm wondering, and admittedly I'm a complete beginner here, but why the fuck do you put up with this shit. Cause right now, I got a $300 door stop (maybe I'll get some warranty relief, we'll see) and I'm pissed and distracted from what I want to be doing, which is making music.

Update: I've taken it into Long & McQuade (a large Canadian music equipment retailer) and to my chagrin they're pursuing a repair.  Bummer.  A replacement/loaner would have been preferable but then I'm not a hissy-fit kind of customer (yet).  So hardware still sucks and I now I can't even hold the door open.


Taking Note

When I first started making music with my friend Ralph all those years ago, the recording process (8 track Fostex for those tuning in late) was onerous to the point that we didn't really take many notes. Our songs were scribbles describing sections on a single sheet of paper which as far as I know got lost just as quickly as they were scribbled. But then we were kids. Our ideas of rock and roll did not include taking notes.

Then when I started making electronic music I had a brief desire to take notes but I soon realized that pretty much everything is in the DAW session. And when I graduated from Garageband, I found that the "pro" DAWs had some kind of note taking facility. Which, frankly, I rarely used aside from noting some chord info since re-figuring out chords from MIDI piano rolls is tedious (but even that is gracefully handled by some DAWs).

Had I stayed electronic and entirely in the box the story would probably end there. When the guitar came, things changed. Sessions failed to capture chords, pickup switch settings, stompbox settings and so on. Then there was the issue of practice. I'm still not comfortable using guitar player and my name in the same sentence. It didn't take long before I wouldn't bother firing up a DAW for practice. Of course then I would tire of practicing and slip into exploring musical ideas and chord progressions. Ideas would get lost. Or they would morph from one day to the next because my mood would be different or I couldn't remember the exact rhythm I used the day before.

So I started keeping a notebook. And every now and then I would stop everything and scribble some notes. Of course, this can be hugely disruptive and you have to invent a language for yourself (it's one thing to write down Cm7 but quite another to write down a specific voicing and picking pattern and so I ended up leaving coded hints to myself).

Then I got a looper pedal. And my explorations would become multi-hour affairs where little to nothing got written down. Worse, I could not remember the first 4 or 5 layers of the loop I built. I was certainly enjoying myself but my recorded output went to near zero because there were no notes and because there was no time left (real life calling).

Many suggestions were offered but none seemed to really stick. My friend @sudara suggested video'ing my sessions. Put a camcorder on a tripod and give 'er. Mmm, good idea but I never did it for the usual host of reasons. Then one day, he tweeted about using Photobooth to record the video. Genius! For those that don't know, every Mac comes with a built in camera and an app called Photobooth which everybody uses for a little while to take some goofy funhouse style pictures of themselves until the novelty wears off. Well it can also record video too. Huh.

Today the RPM Challenge started and this evening I set out to work on what will be my third RPM album. I did not really have any ideas that I was working on and I was short on time so I figured I would just looper noodle. Before long, it was going and I suddenly realized that I should be at least taking video. So I fire up the Photobooth app, start recording and return to my noodling. After about 12 minutes I checked and the result was brilliant! Not only did I capture the sound (from my audio interface, so reasonably good quality) but I caught my playing visually too so that I'll be able to later see what I was doing even if I don't take written notes (which I did as well).

My process is still far from ideal (one improvement, filed under someday, will be to figure out how to add a mic to my setup) but this very simple hack will help me to take note of the notes. Very stoked.

Thanks @sudara!

The video above is a few minutes of the 12 or so I shot.  I missed the creation of the loop and I'll probably frame it better to focus on the hands more but hey, was my first time.

Cranial Vapour Lock

When I was younger I used to "roadie" for a bunch of local musicians who were busy on the wedding and corporate party circuit. While I was overworked and underpaid I did get a bit of an education. One of the things that I learned was that sometimes a good song was made great by an inspired performance. And while the players that I worked with were all phenomenal musicians, the sublime performances were rare and special.

Fast forward to my own performance Sunday at our twice yearly "recital"... To date, each time I played in front of the students and other family of my music school I have played something new. Typically built on a musical idea from the very week of the performance. This time, I decided to repeat. Of course, I very much wanted this performance to be better than the first one.

Instead, I got what what retired CBC hockey commentator called "cranial vapour lock." Early in the performance, I had trouble "seeing" the scale shapes that I was soloing from. At one point, after flubbing a transition, I even couldn't remember which buttons on the looper pedal to stomp. I don't think the performance was a disaster but because of the brain freeze, the bad has been maginified to biblical disaster proportion and the good? Was there any?

Explaining this to my friend Sean, consumate professional musician that he is just smiled and said, "just like golf."

I would end on that but for those that don't play golf, the lesson is this.  Golf can be a fun game even if you lack skill right up to the point that you start really trying.  Then it can quickly become maddening.  In short, just relax.

And so I take a breath and wait for the damning evidence to appear on youtube.