170626 – my first distortion pedal

i suspect it waa somewhere around 1989 that i bought my first distortion pedal. 

it wasn’t my first pedal. 

or even my second.

(first was a flanger. second was a delay.) 

the boss ds-1.

i have been using it for 28 years.

ive used it to go gnarly. ive used it as a clean boost. ive used it for zz top grit. ive used it on guitar. ive used it on synths. ive used it on bass. ive even thrown it on a drum machine or two. 

like my first guitar, ill never let it go. 

hey kid, you rock. 

170615 – the art of practicing mistakes 


what is a mistake?

by definition, it is an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

now, if i took anything from my education (which had a particular slant on postmoderist language and theory), i would have to start by saying that this definition is acutally a mistake.

see what i did there?  wait, im not being cute, but it kinda leads me to where this is all going.

the reason i believe that it is wrong is that it treats a ‘mistake’ as a closed action.  it is a thing that happened, as opposed to something that happened, followed by something else.

i have this midi splitter in my studio.  i can use it to route a midi signal from one device to up to five other devices which i would select by pressing a button (or five).

(for non musicians, midi is a common language shared by electronic musical instruments, which for example lets me play a keyboard by one manufacturer and to dend a signal to manufacturer’s device.  The second device recognizes the incoming electronic signal and outputs sound based on the keys i am pressing on the first.)

when i first got the splitter, i plugged everything into the rear of the device, set it on my shelf and got to work.  i figured, ‘ill just remember what is plugged in where’.

of course, within two days, i forgot.

mistake.

so i took a bit of green painters tape, put it along the bottom of the splitter under the buttons and wrote which buttom corresponded to which device.

learning.

a few weeks later, leaving the midi cables plugged into the devices, i had swapped around a few of the keyboards.  i pressed button three, expecting to hear a particular sound, but instead, i got some kind of crazy squeal from another keyboard, because i had forgotten to update my little taped legend.

mistake.

the funny thing was that the new sound was more interesting than what i was originally shooting for.  this was a pleasant unintended consequence.

learning.

a few weeks after that, i was switching keyboards around, and i got two adapters mixed up.  both of them said korg, and looked identical to the naked eye, but as it turns out there was a slight difference in the voltage they provided.  as a result, one keyboard worked just fine.  the other died a horrible screaming flaming death.  (actually, it was much sadder, cause it just never made another sound.  sniff.  sniff.)

mistake.

after sitting dead on the shelf for months, i realized the control surface on the dead synth still worked.  hmm, what if i could use the control surface to control the still functioning synth’s parameters, which i never do, because the latter’s interface never makes sense to me, while the former’s feels completely natural?  bingo.  combined the two to create an even better tool.

learning.

everyone of those ‘mistakes’ presented me with an opportunity to learn.  i could have continued doing what i had.  instead, i chose to take that ‘mistake’ and turn it into something else.

a music lesson i once took posited that when playing a solo, if the note you are playing seems disharmonious to the rest of the arrangement, shift what you are playing up by one semi tone.  its a lesson that has served me well and taught me that by degrees, the space between an unpleasant outcome and a pleasant one was one note.  one step.

a mistake does not mean an end.  mistakes mean a new beginning.  mistakes are a way of discovering an unintended consequence of actions, which can either be ignored and repeated, or as an opportunity to learn and try a new approach.

170614 – balance

scales are about balance.

they are a binary proposition.

its a thought, that despite being scalesofangels for years only recently occurred to me.

i like binary propositions.

yes or no.

up or down.

loud or quiet.

fast or slow.

what are the binary options within scales?

beyond the above examples (do i touch the filter?  yes or no) there a number of interesting binary propositions i have

considered as i have been performing more often.

electronic devices or a guitar?

looping or live?

analog or digital?

synthesis or sampling?

and that last one got me thinking.

music performance is rife with binary propositions that seem designed to incite argument amongst musicians.

fingers vs pick.

writing on an acoustic guitar vs an electric guitar.

live drums vs programmed drums.

digital distortion vs the electroharmonix big muff.

verse/chorus/verse vs verse/verse/verse.

(and dont even get me started on bridges)

and recently, i’ve noticed that there seems to be a divide in electronic music between the concepts of analog vs digital.

analog is sometimes seen fetishistically by its devotees as superior to digital (in the same way that vinyl junkies scoff at the mp3) while digital practicioners champion its flexibilty and cost as collateral benefits while offering a greater degree of options to generate sound.

i certainly am not the first person to think this, but why do analog and digital need to occupy adverserial places in the

spectrum of music and sound creation?  i have in the past consciously made music that sought to put analog and digital in the same space (i.e. deliberately using an analog synth and a digital synth in a sort of musical arranged marriage), but i realize now that i have also done it in inadvertent ways.

a few months ago, i was recording guitar tracks for a project i was working on.  prior to that, i had been recording keyboard sounds, and the lead from the keyboard was running into a korg kp2.  the kp2, or kaoss pad, is a digital effects/synthesis tool, that uses a graphical touch screen interface to modify parameters of the sound.  i often use it with keyboards to add delay, filter or any number of effects.  but rarely had i used it on guitar.  so, lead plugged in, i scrolled through the effects bank to see if anything interesting might happen.  sure enough, i found a granular synthesis patch that made the guitar sound distorted, and created a unique stuttering effect.

the guitar?  analog.

the kaoss pad?  digital.

the more i thought about it, i realized that in order to create that analog/digital hybrid, it didnt mean i had to have a minibrute on one track and a roland gaia on the other.  it could be running a bastl kastle through a digitech df7 distortion factory.  it could be running a dave smith mopho into an ehx memory man deluxe.  it could be syncing the rhythm track on the akai rhythm wolf with the sequencer on the roland mc 303.

somewhere, the blend of sampled waveforms and digitally modelled filtering crosses over with wires and pots and capacitors.

it need not be contrived.  it need not be an ‘us vs them’ relationship between the past and the future.  if my goal is unpredictability, and reacting instinctively and improvisationally the surprises that occur in composition, the place between the predictable and the unpredictable is the ideal eye of the storm from within which new ideas can explode.

where analog meets digtal, both are changed, and if done right, balance the scales

170613 – motorize


be automatic

don’t think

just act

i don’t like this

way of doing things

the man

turned the lever

for 35 years

but never knew why

consume

don’t create

the things they

are telling you

are not truth

but subscription

i didn’t dream

of this growing up

replace it with a robot

they don’t have souls

but neither do the open wounds

begging for more

you wear it

like a bullet

be manual

don’t act

just think

170612 – ALTERNATIVE ROCK SNOBBERY (and what you can do to fight it) 

i was reading the music news this morning, and one article in particular jumped out at me.

 in the interview with jonny greenwood of radiohead, he says “when we were at school, we hated and distrusted anything that was successful on a large scale. We just associated it with bands that did guitar solos with big hair. it’s already such a preening, self-regarding profession.”

(preening?  seriously?  when i think of the word ‘preening’ i actually think of jonny’s hair)

he follows that with “I’ve always hated guitar solos. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone cautiously going up and down the scales of their guitar.  You can hear them thinking about what the next note should be, and then out it comes. It’s more interesting to write something that doesn’t outstay its welcome.”

sigh.

lets be clear.  jonny has played solos.  ‘just’ has a great one.  ‘Paranoid Android’ too.  so his objection to solos must be specific to solos of a genre, likely one that preceeded him, and one that he feels he is not a part of.

so, when he complains about big haired people cautiously going up and down the scales, is he referring to cc deville from poison or robert smith from the cure?  both have pretty big hair and like to play up and down the scales.

i’m going to go with the former, because what we’ve got here, if i may paraphrase strother martin’s warden from ‘cool hand luke’ , is a failure to accept anything that doesn’t fit into the cool kids’ bucket, also known as ‘ALTERNATIVE ROCK SNOBBERY’.

what is ‘ALTERNATIVE ROCK SNOBBERY’?

‘ARS’ (as i will refer to it going forward) is the younger sibling of the late 70’s ‘I HATE PINK FLOYD’ mindset, wherein the cool kids of that era declared that the music that had preceeded theirs was bloated notey garbage and that ONLY their amateurish chuck berry recidivism was of any value.  ‘ARS’ posits that following the birth of ‘alternative’ music’, anything that preceeded it (particularly the 80’s, more often than not on the rockier side of the musical spectrum) too was to be derided and dismissed as nothing more than self important egocentric neanderthal shredding.

to be fair, jonny’s not the first person afflicted by ‘ARS’.  i recall a chapter in dave navarro’s ‘don’t try this at home’, in which he documents a debate (i say debate as opposed to dialectic, since the author (navarro) is clearly pushing his own agenda, and not really looking for a common truth) with a friend over the merits of steve vai.  his contention it seems is that vai’s instrumental music doesnt have the feel or soul of other styles of music.  he casts him as a technician as opposed to a musician.

and what of that entire ‘nu-metal’ movement, in which guitars were omnipresent, but the guitar solo was set in the corner and avoided like herpes.  metallica’s ‘some kind of monster’ captures an interesting counterpoint to that period of time in music history, in which guitarist kirk hammett calls the band on ‘st anger’s’ lack of guitar solos.  he astutely points out that there shouldnt be a rule for or against guitar solos, but to say ‘no guitar solos’ ties the album to the era of its creation.

which brings us back to ‘ARS’.

i will admit, that given the choice between listening to every solo ever performed by jimmy page or listening to every solo ever performed by robert quine, i’d probably go with quine, but contrary to most afflicted by ‘ARS’ i wouldn’t a) disrespect page’s work and consequently b) disrespect the people who do listen to and enjoy page’s solos.

the problem however is that ‘ARS’ demands an almost fanatical need to reject and look down upon anything that doesnt fit into the ‘ARS’ mandated ‘bucket of cool’.

(in order to assist in your understanding of the ‘ARS’ ‘bucket of cool’ i have added a quick reference below:

pavement = cool

guitar solos = not cool

obscure references to french movies = cool

the stooges = cool

vintage equipment = cool

heavy metal t shirts worn ironically = cool

loverboy = not cool

heavy metal t shirts purchased at the actual concert attended = not cool

skid row = not cool

television = cool

metallica = not cool

the pixies = cool

fela kuti = cool

april wine = not cool

fender jaguars = cool

black flag (pre rollins era) = cool

black flag (rollins era) = not cool

ibanez destroyers = not cool

headbands = not cool

references to getting loaded and doing it = not cool

there are many more examples i could cite, but will leave it at this, as this is just a quick reference)

so, what is my point here?

to paraphrase d. boon, music is what you make it to be.

you don’t have to like everything that you hear.

not everyone is gonna like what you like.

and that is okay.

music can be widdly and stupid and crass.

music can be chaotic and genre defying and tasteful.

whatever it is, it is never better than anything else.

it just is.

now get off your high horse.

and solo.

 

DISCLAIMER : i have been guilty of ‘ARS’ but i like april wine, so there.

170611 – translate what you dont know into what you do

you sent me a letter
in another language
the words didnt fit
when i translated them
but beautiful

i played the guitar
took what i had done
played it on the keyboard
it was strange
but beautiful

i spend my days
doing things i know
instead of the things i don’t
it would be chaotic
but beautiful

translate what you dont
know
into what you do