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Moar Dabbling

19 October 2014 in [blog]

Part 2 of my dabble session with Jill is up at ClassyMcGraceful.  (Part 1 here.)

Rather than rambling about it here, why not just go read it?  Jill and Sandy to a great job with these posts, and it was fun to hang out, snack snacks, be interviewed, and sketch.

Still can’t parse the bangs, though.  -h

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mr|ten Originals and Covers, Part 1

12 October 2014 in [blog]

mr|ten has inspired some of you to go back and check out the original versions of the songs we covered for our 10th birthday.  In this series I’ll put the originals and covers side-by-side with commentary.

Am I Getting Through To You

To kick us off, here’s White Air’s “Am I Getting Through To You” from White Air:

  • I love the drum programming, and the weird, off-beat way it launches the song
  • This tune has a lot of background vocal layers, and semi-improvised guitar parts.  These posed a challenge for a solo acoustic version
  • The arrangement is basically variations over the main bass line; it’s pretty static, harmonically.  This was a second major challenge for the cover

Here’s my cover, as Sally Ride:

  • After learning the bass line and some of the guitar hooks, I tried to come up with several different options for the same main part, with different levels of intensity, to give the arrangement some ebb and flow
  • Without the crazy backing vocals to weird it up, I aimed to just play and sing with a lot of energy, kind of on the edge, to try and get some of that slightly un-hinged vibe
  • I recorded this track with a reference pitch of A=424, which turned out to be awesome for my voice.  This was the first vocal take!  (Though it’s only one guitar and one vocal track, I recorded them in separate passes)

Break This Dollar

Mars Lights’ original:

  • Tim actually wrote the original vocals to this track!  He’s featured on backing vocals in the recording, too
  • I couldn’t understand all of his lyrics on his demo, so the lyrics here are a combination of his originals (including “Break this dollar!”), my mondegreens of what I thought I heard him singing, and me writing some stuff around the edges, a line here or there, to fill it out
  • Matt and Drew brought some awesome edge-of-chaos punk energy to the recording.  I kind of anchor it

Timothy Scahill’s cover:

  • This was the first track I got back from an artist participating in mr|ten, and it really amped me up
  • Tim recorded all of this on an iPad!  Incredible.  I love the nutso drum programming
  • Tim captures the rushing-forward feeling of the original, while actually changing quite a bit and adding things – guitar parts, vocal hooks, arrangement details, the whole coda – of his own.  Very cool

Clockblocking

Robot, Creep Closer! from Real Awful, Real Quick:

  • The band holds the loud rock-out bit off until the end; this was unusual for R,CC!
  • This tune is really built on the rhythm section; bass riff and off-beat kick against the 1-2-3-4 snare on the verses, then the interesting drum part and guitar wacka-wackas on the chorus.

D-Rockets cover:

  • Derek nails this; he took a song that I’d never expect to hear an acoustic version of, and makes it his own, and makes it beautiful
  • Cool details; the slightly flamenco guitar riff, the chorus vocal harmony, the shaker throughout
  • Somehow, the verses become even creepier and sadder than the original (to my ears, at least)
  • Because it’s layered and doubled subtly, it doesn’t draw attention, but by the end I think there are at least three guitar tracks, four vocal tracks, and the percussion track happening at once

Those are my thoughts.  What jumps out at you between these originals and their covers?

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Dabbling with Jill

4 October 2014 in [blog]

Last Saturday I hosted Jill for one of her Share-With-Me Saturday sessions.

I know so many gifted professionals (in Kansas City, back at home in South Dakota, just all over this crazy country) that I thought it’d be fun to get outside of my own head and go into their heads for awhile … I’ve created a 10-item survey (that’s all I could get free on Survey Monkey) and have asked over 50 artists/business owners/lovely people to complete it. Within the survey, I ask them questions about life, the work they do, and if I can come “dabble” with them sometime. If they say yes, I’ll go spend some time in their element, whatever it looks like, and I hope they’ll spend a little time sketching and feeling feelings with me.

Part 1 of her blogging about the auspicious event is up today.  I had forgotten how real those survey questions got.

Dabbling so hard

Dabbling so hard

DSC_0746

Jill makes bass face!  Este Haim, you are on notice.

Just a couple of the photos, all by the wonderful Sandy Woodson.

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An Artist’s Purpose

30 August 2014 in [blog]

A proposition, for discussion and reflection:

An artist’s purpose is to create the things only they can create.

On one hand, it’s absurd to propose a normative purpose for art.  Art is many things to many people, to the point that it’s very hard to define what is and isn’t art.  (Perhaps the question “What is art?” is a mysterious question, to be dissolved into questions like “Who made this”, “What were they trying to say,” “How to audiences tend to perceive this,” and so on.)  On the other, perhaps the proposition is a way to make more concrete the nebulous idea of originality in art.

Originality is always a matter of degree; something that was literally entirely original, making no connection or reference to anything in our experience, would be incomprehensible.  Art always mixes originality – something unique which could only have been created by the specific, individual artist who made it – and tradition.

Artists chase originality, but “be original” or “do something new” are such abstract maxims that they are impossible to follow.  “Be original” makes me think of standing in front of my amplifier, dumbfounded, trying to play a note that no one has played before.  I’d be standing there a long time, without writing any songs.

“Say something only you can say,” though, seems to give me some direction.  It spurs me to look around for something in the world or in others that only I’ve noticed, or that I have a perspective on that’s never been offered before.  It pushes me to not only express my emotions but think about them, searching for what makes them mine and not anyone else’s.  Raw feelings are universal, but the conditions that provoke them and the choices we make as a result of them are specific to each of us.

Looking for inspiration?  What chords would only you think to put together?  What fresh metaphor blew through your thoughts in the shower yesterday?  What unusual spices do you want to try in a classic dish?  What underlying colors do you see in the world that others miss?  What story are you in a unique position to tell?

It’s all been done before… until you give us your take on it.  Forget convention for a minute; why not make something only you would think to make?

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Tim Scahill (Rent Money Big, Knots, Irkutsk) Releases “Overthrown”

17 August 2014 in [blog]

Our friend Tim’s new solo joint, Overthrown, is up for streaming on SoundCloud!  Check it out below.

I think this is a new high-water mark for Tim, and I’m really digging this.

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The July of Experimentation

27 July 2014 in [blog]

I’ve tried a bunch of new things over the past couple weeks, all of which are worth playing with if you’re interested.

  • Harmonica – With the help of some great YouTube videos, I’m finally learning to bend notes on the harp in preparation for a specific overdub I want to do on Cory’s solo record.  As one of the videos said, it’s kind of like mimicking Darth Vader’s breathing, but with a harmonic in your mouth.
  • Funkbox – A really fun vintage drum machine emulator and then some for iPad/iPhone.  I’m trying it before dropping semi-serious money on a VolcaBeats for a back-burner project with Drew.
  • Slide guitar – If by “slide,” you can imagine “a Sharpie held awkwardly in my left hand.”  It’s gone well enough that I probably need a real slide, though.  This is also in anticipation of some overdubs on Cory’s album, in concert with…
  • Open G tuning, also known as “how Keith Richards plays.”  All those brilliant Stones riffs that are nigh-impossible in standard tuning?  No problem in open G.  Differing slightly from Keef, I’m using the top 5 strings for open G, and tuning my low string down to D so I can still play two-note power chords on the two lowest strings.
  • Tilt/Slant EQ – This simple but underused approach to EQ takes a center frequency and boosts treble / cuts bass (or vice versa) with a very even response, just like it sounds (more details here; the link is about a specific product, but does a good job of elaborating on tilt EQ generally).  It’s best used at lower levels, up to +/- 6 db or so, to brighten or darken sounds very naturally and transparently.  I’ve been testing it on an overly dark bass track to lighten it up a bit, with good results, and I think I’ll be using it a lot on future mixes.  Dedicated Tilt/Slant EQ hardware or plugins can be hard to find (there are some VSTs out there that I haven’t tested), but you can make your own by combining high and low shelf EQs with the same cutoff frequency and lower Qs.  Center frequencies typically range from 600 – 1000 Hz.

Have you tried anything cool lately?

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Pyramids, Crystals, and Nazis

5 July 2014 in [blog]

What do they have in common?

If you dig into what’s been written on reference pitch (which I’ve posted about before), you’ll encounter all kinds of strange alleged connections; that the Great Pyramid in Giza resonates at a certain pitch (it must resonate at some pitch, though the idea that it was designed for a specific pitch stretches my imagination), that the Nazis standardized A=440 Hz as a subtle means of thought control (actually it seems to have been piano tuners in New York in the ’20s), on and on.

Ignore it (or choose to be amused by it).  What matters is how the music sounds.  After recording yesterday with a reference pitch of A=424 Hz for the first time, I’m convinced 424 Hz is musically superior to 440 Hz as a standard reference.  424 Hz is a little over a quarter-tone (62 cents, I think) flat from 440 Hz.  For reference, using A=440 Hz, the Ab immediately below A would be at 415.30 Hz.

A=424 Hz is easier for me to sing in.  My acoustic guitar seems to resonate for longer, with richer harmonics.  Hopefully you’ll start to hear it as we release new music; the new Mars Lights EP is being recorded at A=432, and the songs I did yesterday will appear on the MR|Ten compilation in September.

pedalNot many tuners will let you adjust your reference pitch that far down.  One that does, that I use, and that also happens to be a great, true-bypass, chromatic tuner is the Snark SN-10.  I paid full price for mine, and am entirely happy with it, especially when using the trick of rolling back my guitar’s tone knob all the way to better let the fundamental frequency through the signal.

Have I convinced you to experiment with your reference pitch yet?

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Check Out Song Exploder

21 June 2014 in [blog]

Stereogum linked me to the Converge episode of the new-ish Song Exploder podcast the other day, and it’s well worth a listen. Their tagline sums it up; “where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made.”

I was surprised to hear Kurt mention a Boss metal pedal, since their reputation is generally poor. He might have been talking about one of the Hyper Metal pedals, and not the Metal Zones; anyone know for sure?

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Back in November,

3 June 2014 in [blog]

I didn’t know why Jill asked for the lyrics to “Make Our Sound.”

Over the next few weeks, I forgot about it entirely.

When I found out what she’d been up to, though, it all made sense.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100I accept the gentle teasing about getting Ventura done with gratitude; to me, it means that it matters to someone, and I love having a piece to remind me of that, and of the friend who created it, every time I pass by it.

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An Autumn Psalm by Clyde DeWitt

28 May 2014 in [blog]

Below is the poem “An Autumn Psalm” by Clyde DeWitt, who I knew through St. Peter’s.  The poem, published in his funeral bulletin, inspired the song “Make Our Sound” on Ventura.

Omnipotent and omniscient God
who alone can truly comprehend time and space without end;
We who are in the autumn of our lives on this tiny planet
give thanks for the gift of what to us
has seemed a long and fulfilling life.

We give thanks for the chance to see the beauty of nature –
the earth, the water, the skies, the trees, the flowers –
and to observe nature’s creatures.

We thank thee for the gift of love
reflected in the love for us from those here
and from those parents, kin, and friends who have gone before us,
and the love we have for mates, for children, for their children, and for friends.

Oh Lord, let them feel this love as the autumn of our lives
becomes the winter,
and even when our bodies turn to dust.

Lord, grant us the wisdom to live our autumn years with grace,
being forever grateful for the joys of life
we have already been granted.

May we share with others the bounties we have been given
and our fleeting insights into your wonderful wisdom.
Give us the courage to face the aches and infirmities of these autumn years.

And let them never keep us from beaming with our thanks
for the great joys you have bestowed upon us;
and when our mortal time draws to a close
let us depart with grace,
knowing it is simply a part of your holy plan,
and that the spirit of life and love will continue without end.

Amen.