Saturday, December 18, 2004


Completely uninspired lately. You see the LUC is Australian and she's finally decided when she's moving back. Yup, I've got another 10 months or so in this cold city. It's scaring the hell out of me but I'm trying to see it as an opportunity.

I don't believe in geographical cures, no matter where you go, there you are.* But a big change like moving to the other side of the world can be a fine starting point for other changes.

My plan is to re-define myself. Make my life and behavior align more closely with what I want. That's going to take some work and I'm not sure what the list of things I want is going to include. Gigging regularly will be on there. Completing the @#$@% original tunes I start will be on there.

I'm not sure I want to be in another band anytime soon. Songs are power and I want to be in charge of my own musical fate. I think I'm going to wait until I have a bunch of my own tunes complete before I go looking for others to play with. Sigh, I hate most singer/songwriters, but I guess that's my fate for the next little while. If anyone in Oz sees me going strum, strum, strum, warble, warble, warble just shoot me 'kay? Loud and passionate or not at all dammit.

Here's where keeping this blog anonymous is going to pay off. I haven't told anyone at work or in the band yet. Partly because I'm a coward, saying it out loud is too real. Partly because the actual timeline isn't firm yet, and partly because I'm afraid of what it'll do to the band. We teeter from boredom to joy almost weekly and I'd hate to have the others give up just cause I was leaving and told them at the wrong time. Anyway, let's keep this our little secret right?**

*Thank you to Buckaroo Banzai

**Yes I realize my steady readership is all of two. MJ: If I promise to write about my defining moments as a musician (a great idea BTW) will you keep this on the down low? Esther: What can I say? Now that you're a big star an' all I'm sure you've the resources to out me. Good thing you're going to be too busy basking the glow of your new celebrity. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004


This weekend a local bike store had an expo of all the 2005 gear. They had reps from a lot of the manufactures there as well as draws to win stuff. One of the draws was for a virtual trainer. You put your bike on the stand, put a TV in front of it, hook it all up to a computer and pedal away. You steer the bike on the screen and it keeps track of how you do around a virtual course. I did the 1.6km course in 2:15 for an average speed of 42.6 km/hr. The top guy did it in 1:55 for an average of just over 50 km/hr.

When I finished I totally spent; I could barely walk down the stairs. My lungs, throat and gums hurt, I suspect I was a bit dehydrated before I even started. Keep in mind I didn't have to ride that hard. The idea was you try the trainer and get entered into a draw to win it. Didn't matter how fast you went. But no, I had to go all out.

This is the reason I don't compete: I want to win. Giving it my best effort (which I really did) isn't enough. Not participating is better than losing. In this case there was no way I was going to post the best time. The top rider was a competitive road racer who stopped by in the middle of a training ride. But still, I feel stupid for not winning.

The strange thing about all this is that I don't feel this way about music. I walk past hundreds of gig posters every day. The ones that annoy me have photos of smug, young hipsters with trendy hair and pseudo-rebellious cloths/piercings/tattoos/whatnot. The image that this conveys to me is one of superiority. "We're cooler than you" seems to be the look they're going for. Or put another way: they're winners, in their own minds if nowhere else. Which of course implies that there must be losers.

I hope that no one ever gets the idea I feel that way. That somehow I'm better than them because I play in a band. Music should be about inclusiveness. While I'll admit that in the past I've felt smug in my obscure musical knowledge, I've outgrown that attitude. My favorite musical conversation is one where I can share what I know with others and in turn learn something myself.

In performance inclusiveness is also the goal. The bass player and principle song writer in my old band used to intro us with "We're the Blah, Blah, Blah's* and you're not!" I hated that. Musical experience is the sum of the performers, songs and audience. All are equally important. A philosophical question: If a band makes music in a forest and there's no one around to hear it, are they just masturbating? It sure feels that way sometimes. Not always of course, sometimes there's joy simply in the doing of it. But like all things it's better with people watching... er, I mean...yah, abandoning that metaphor and moving on...

I'm having trouble reconciling these two aspects of my personality. How can I be both competitive and not? Is it because I've defined the goal of music to include more than myself? Is it that simple? Or is it because I'm a mess of contradicting impulses and ideals just like everyone else? Or a bit of both?

Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself;

(I am large—I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman

Maybe I should take this approach, seemed to work for him.

*not our real name

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Well, not exactly final

Sure, you think you've done a good job. You think the new part you added to the melody of R ubber D ucky is pretty interesting. Then you play it for your band mates and there's an awkward silence. When pressed, each of them say they thought you'd played it wrong or perhaps added the wrong track during mixing.

Yah know, I thought these folks were musicians. I thought that maybe I didn't need to explain beforehand that there was a new part. If I'd known how they were going to react I would have warned them. In soft tones, with soothing gestures to belay any confusion or fright they might have at the thought of something different.

In my mind I had pictured them hearing how the repeated figure goes subtly out of key as the chords change underneath. Their faces light up with understanding and delight as they realize this conflict of keys drives the tune towards the bridge.* But no. Their immediate thought is I've done something wrong. Fuckers.

To be fair we've been playing this tune the same way for a long time. But I kind of hoped they'd trust me enough to believe I wouldn't play them something that wasn't ready. Certainly not when I intro it with: "I'm pretty happy with this."

To me being a musician isn't just about listening, it's about hearing. My fellow tinnitus inflictors listened to what I'd done but failed to hear what it was all about. It's a small but disappointing failure on their part, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

It often feels like I'm surrounded by people who don't think. When I see or hear something unexpected the first thing that comes to mind is: "Why did they do it that way?" I like to come up with at least a plausible explanation for myself. It's fun in a mystery novel sort of way and helps prevent hasty misunderstandings.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of examples of my own mental failures. I don't think I'm a misunderstood genius or anything; the possibility exists that I'm the only person on the planet who would enjoy what I've done. On the other hand, I'm prepared to defend my artistic decisions. Odds are pretty good I'll have better arguments in favour of it than they have against.

Gah, not a good night.

*Bridge: a short section that connects two larger sections of music. Used to add variety and sometimes to smooth over transitions and key changes between sections. By going out of key (a few notes clash here and there) with the underlying chordal structure of the tune my new part creates tension. That tension resolves when the two parts return to the same key in the bridge.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Finished an acceptable demo track of R ubber D ucky! Damn, but that feels good. It's not perfect, certainly not radio-ready but it will do for.......? Hmmm, what is it for? We've never talked about it. I guess it might be time to get some paying gigs. It's been a while since I've been in a working band, be good to get back at it. If nothing else I'll be able to buy some new strings with the proceeds. Ah yes, such ambition, hope it doesn't go to my head.

As a bonus I mixed a pretty good version of F ranky and J ohnny. This is the tune where we show off our secret weapon: the fabulous E, drummer without peer. People are always saying how great we are, such good musicians. I think they're responding to E's musicianship. She really is the best of us and because she's the drummer most people don't notice why we sound so good.

F & J is designed to make E stand out. Fully half of the song is drum solo with the rest of us doing chord shots a la Wipeout. I find myself screwing up on this one when I listen to the drum part. Her innovation and execution blow me away and sometimes I forget to count the rests between shots.

Watching me standin' there like a slack-jawed idiot, drooling on myself, thinkin' "Wow!" as I miss the shots? Man, that'd be some entertaining for a paying audience. Maybe we're not ready for a real gig.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Time is on my side, yes it is?

Still working on R ubber D ucky. As I go along I keep changing my part, improving it I hope. Unfortunately it slows things up a tad. I get these great ideas then I have to learn how to play them. It takes time.

One of the new parts is a repeating figure that's quite tricky to play accurately. I must have repeated it for 3 hours trying to get it right. The whole time I was working on it I was cursing myself for being such a poor guitarist. I mean, I've been playing for decades now, I felt like I should be able to nail it in no time.

The subjectivity of time is a strange thing. As I repeated the same phrase literally hundreds of times my personal timescape became smaller and smaller. The world was reduced down to those tiny fractions of a second that define the difference between playing it right and major sucking. To give you some idea of the time scale: the tune runs at around 180bpm* I was playing 16th notes so the correct duration for a note is 1/12 of a second. Holding the note for 1/13 of a second would be a mistake obvious to even to someone who doesn't listen to a lot of music.

When I'm focused that narrowly the time passing disappears. I was really shocked to look up at the clock and see that I'd been at it for two hours. The time just flew, and yet my inability to get a good take made me feel like I'd been playing guitar forever. At least in the sense that I'm not a novice. It feels like it should come easier considering how much of my life I've spent playing music.

This ping-ponging perception of time is really messing my head. I keep expecting to turn around to see a muttering rabbit with a watch running by.

*bpm= beats per minute. The rate of the basic pulse of the song. A 16th note in this case is 1/4 of a beat. Sounds odd, but trust me on this.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Remembrance and illusions

On Sunday the LUC and I went to our first opera of the season. I love saying "the season", like I'm the sort of person who has seasons. For me there's two seasons: slick tire zippy bicycle for dry pavement and studded knobby tire mountain bike for snow and ice. And for the record: I ride a bike year round because I choose not to own a car. But I digress.

The opera we saw was a special performance. It was The Emperor of Atlantis by composer Viktor Ullmann and librettist Petr Kien. It was preceded by a play about the creation of the work. In short, the opera was composed in the Therisienstadt Jewish ghetto during world war two. Composed in the kind of desperate squalor that we in the west today can only imagine. The authors didn't survive, they ended up in Auschwitz. On the stage floor and back wall the show's designers had placed a list of all the ghetto suicides from the time period of the play. For some, the conditions they were forced to endure were too much and yet for others those conditions produced art.

The opera is a satire of the nazi regime. No big surprise there, the surprise comes in that they seemed to have expected to actually stage it. It didn't happen although no one knows if the Jewish council of elders in the ghetto stopped it out of fear or if the nazis found out first. Having seen the opera I have to say that showing it where the guards could see would have been foolish. Possibly fatal.

Their act of defiance wouldn't have changed much even if they'd been allowed to stage it. It wouldn't played anywhere outside that ghetto, and certainly wouldn't have stopped the brutalities of the nazi regime.
But it was an act worthy remembrance.* They not only defied their captors through satire but the creation of the opera was a profound act of defiance in and of itself. In a world were destruction reigned they created.

I have these illusions about myself. I say "illusions" not because they're false but because they haven't been tested. I like to think that I'd be one of those who would create despite the dangers. I have no evidence of this, it's just something I like to believe about myself. Indeed, I let little things like a bad mood or indigestion stop me from even practicing guitar let alone composing.

In the defense of this belief I offer my willingness to step up when needed. A few years back I was sitting in my apartment (in the pre-LUC dark ages) watching tv when I heard a woman screaming. I didn't live in a very good neighbourhood, screaming women weren't that unusual. Most of the time it was someone having a fight with a boyfriend/husband/whatever, but this was different. I hesitated for a couple of minutes then grabbed my coat and went out to see what was going on. I was too late. Halfway up the stairs
there was a guy cornered by two others and the screaming woman was naked in the bushes. It turned out that the guy was the one the press were calling the river valley rapist. He ended up getting convicted.

I did the right thing. I went to help, but waited too long to do any good. That still bothers me. If I'd been the only one to respond it would have been too late. I might have caught the guy but not before he'd raped again. The distress I still feel lets me believe that in the situation Ullmann and Kien faced, I might have done as they did.

Illusion? Perhaps, but one I can live with.

The shows producers tried have the opening night on the anniversary of Kristallnacht but didn't manage it. They also tried for remembrance Day but still weren't ready.

Spell check is insisting that I capitalize nazi and tv. I think not!

Right here, right now

This very moment I sit at work and feel great. I feel like I can create great music, music that would touch people the way music has touched me. I'm 4km and 4 hours, 45 minutes from home and my guitar, it won't last that long. I wonder how people maintain that belief in themselves, for me it's such a fleeting feeling.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bunch O' Blogs

Once again the Mistress of My Urban Kvetch gives me a blogging first, thanks for the link Esther! Thanks also for forcing me to figure out how to add links to my page. It turned out to be easy, who knew?

These "Daily Reads" caught my interest and kept it. They all feature one, or more, or all of these things: beauty, humour, honesty, insight, goodcrazy, passion and great writing. Indeed, I could have found examples of each of these traits in any of these blogs.

Go check 'em out.

What are you still doing here? Go already!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Double standard time

So, the recording the band is making is intended to be a demo. What we're going to use it for hasn't been determined, but never mind. Demos don't need to be perfect, they can even have outright mistakes. The point is to show a prospective booker, record flak or reporter what the band is about. It should be no more than four songs and your best one should be first. Other than putting your contact info on every available surface, including the CD itself there aren't any rules. Right now I'm working on the melody line to R ubber D ucky.

The next level up in recording is the Stage Sale CD. This is the product you flog after gigs to get beer money and/or gas money to get to the next gig. These recordings don't have to be perfect either. There shouldn't be any obvious mistakes but little things like finger squeaks or the occasion less than perfect tightness* is ok. The people your selling to are usually friends and family, they'll forgive you.

The last level is the commercial release. This should be as perfect as you can make it. Perfect doesn't mean slick and over-produced, it means that everything on the album is intentional. If you're even a little out of tune then you'd better have a good reason for it.

Last Friday the LUC and I went a fundraiser for the local opera troop. I sat next to a woman who, surprisingly enough, loved opera. We talked quite a bit about music and I tried to explain why I love punk music. [I love opera too, but for different reasons.] She said to me "Aren't they just not very good at playing?", an oft heard refrain. The point isn't that they're not technically adept, but that technique isn't important. The most important thing in punk music is passion. If you're giving it your all, sincerely and passionately, then you've succeeded.

I think classical music can use a little of this ethos. Too many classical recordings sound like they're done by machine. Note perfect beginning to end. Music is a human thing. Perhaps the most human of all the arts because it happens in time. At a live performance you get what you get, perfect or not, just like all human interactions. Humans make mistakes and eliminating them entirely makes things sterile. I'm not saying I enjoy watching people who make nothing but mistakes. What's compelling to me is to watch people push their limits.

Be it opera or punk there's nothing more exciting than a performer who's teetering on the edge of disaster. I end up pulling for them the way you would a tightrope walker swaying in a sudden breeze. "Come on, you can do it! Just a little further!" In punk the limits of their ability are much lower and so you often see performances where this happens. The performers get caught up in the emotions of the moment and the song, and quickly reach their limits trying to express it. Very compelling.

To review: mistakes are ok on demos, indeed they're kind of expected. And, I truly believe that mistakes, especially ones made because of passion, are ok. So why is it that I can't record a melody track for R ubber D ucky that's acceptable to me?

Musician: thy name is double standard.

*tightness is defined as how rhythmically together everyone plays.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Possessed by the Eagles

The band plays a minimum of two gigs a year: the bike-fest and Halloween. We didn't play the bike gig. We didn't play Halloween, damn it! Once again K bailed. Halloween is a great gig, no pressure, all fun. K decided that he wanted to see Cheap Trick instead. I can't think any band I would pass up a gig to see. Not Tom Waits, not Elvis Costello, not even a back from the dead Clash. Making music is always better than listening to it.

I did get to play, the second party the LUC and I went to was a quiet little affair. Just a few people and a couple of guitars. Three of the four women were music theater types, good singers and not at all shy. None of them played guitar particularly well. I snagged an instrument in a moment of inattention and didn't let it go. Keeping it wasn't hard, all I had to do was keep playing. A task made easy because all the songs used the same four chords. This kind of improvisation is fun because the harmonies change so little there's lots of room for experimentation. Mind you, playing under a singer requires a subtle touch. You can't get too out there or you'll throw them.

The LUC gave me a hug from behind while I was playing, and that my friends is why I'd rather play than listen. No, not because of the sex. Well, not entirely.

It's about connection. I know people who find community in shared experience but I'm not really like that. For me the act of appreciating music is a solitary one. It's too subjective, I'm always wondering if what I heard was the same as what my companions heard. It's too hard to explain after the fact that interesting key change or whatever, and too annoying for everyone to point it out at the time. Forget about trying to describe the emotions the music inspires, every time I've tried I get bemused and embarrassed looks.

But when I'm playing there's one less level of interpretation, at least I don't have to wonder whether I heard things correctly. I'm probably kidding myself, we're all trapped in our brain bubbles and who can really know if our perceptions are the same? But at least it feels like a conversation rather than a debate. There's an exchange of ideas between me and the audience rather than an after the fact discussion of a third party experience.

It might be all an illusion but I love the feeling of connection when people are really listening. Unfortunately the only time that happened was during Hotel California. Man, I haven't been able to get it out of my head! It was a good one for me because it has a guitar solo so I got to step out a little. P and his partner did a drunken vocal interpretation of the solo and despite that everyone still listened to me. How do I know? Because it went on for twice the normal length and only stopped when I gave up trying to drown out the intoxicated stupidity happening behind me. But I digress, I was talking about hugs.

What is a hug? I played well and with passion, and she heard and appreciated it. In this case it was concrete proof of a connection and that rocks.

So: a pretty good Halloween despite not doing a real gig, now if only I could get that demon song out of my head.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Because I had to

This isn't a political blog, you'll hear no more about this from me.

I don't think things would have changed that much under Kerry. But I do think that things will change under Bush. Change for the worse.

Now that he has what could be perceived as an endorsement, what's he going to do? Will he try to reconcile the split in the American people, ease his "us and them" stance? Or will he push forward, full steam ahead to a brave new world? A world where rich, straight, white Christians reap all the benefits of the immense power and wealth of the United States? Where laws are changed and freedoms curtailed to fit an agenda that benefits a very narrow definition the term citizen?

World opinion before this election was that the Bush White House was a thing to be feared. This election is a clear reply to that fear: the people have spoken and they said "We don't care."

Read this, it's the most lucid and rational argument against the W that I've read.

I'm going to put on Glenn Gould (a good Canadian) playing the Goldberg Variations (1984 version) and try to forget all this.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


There I was all proud that I was in the top 15 hits on Google for tintinus. Turns out it's spelled tinnitus. Poor spelling is another side effect of exposure to loud noises, really.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Shringy and Flooby

I spend a lot of my time in imaginary worlds. I inherited a love for fantasy and science fiction from my father. Indeed, I still hold a subscription to Analog magazine that he began back in the 60's. These types of books rarely talk about music and the ones that do usually aren't very good. I'd recommend Kim Stanley Robinson's "A Memory of Whiteness" and "Synners" by Pat Cadigan but that's about it.

Lately I've found myself wondering what the music of these created worlds would sound like. The answer depends on how good the writer is. If I'm getting a sense of the world as a whole then it comes quite easily. Music is an outgrowth of culture and if the writer has done his/her job then that culture has been made clear. Mind you, I tend to hear in my head the music of the real world culture that most closely resembles the book's.

I've read descriptions of alien music and most of them fall flat. Part of the problem is the lack of sound specific words in English. We tend to borrow words to describe sounds. I've mentioned this before. Dang, only 30 odd posts in and I'm repeating myself. I don't think we'll ever create those words. In this age o'information description isn't necessary, not when the actual item is available with just a few mouse clicks.

I used to think that email and blogging would restore the art of descriptive writing. Didn't think about hyper-links, it's so easy to create a link to an example, why wouldn't you? This worries me a little. It seems symptomatic of a deeper problem.

It appears to me that as a culture, the west is loosing it's imagination. Popular music, movies and television all seem to be rehashing the same themes using the same styles. It's not that interesting innovative stuff isn't being made, but that society at large doesn't seem to value it. When one's livelihood is dependent on one's popularity it literally doesn't pay to create unusual works of art.

For this reason and my slightly left of center political views (blame being born in Canada) I don't have any problem with government money going to experimental artists. The more controversial the better.

But I digress. We live in a strange time. One that hungers for novelty, witness how fast bands come and go, and yet shuns originality. Green Day wasn't particularly original when they first broke and Good Charlotte isn't particularly original now, despite their popularity. Maybe this has always been the way of it; I don't know enough history to say for sure.

In the interest of reversing the trend I'm going to go home tonight and put some really weird sounds on the track I'm working on. I'm also going to invent some words for that sound. I think I'll shoot for a shringy guitar tone with maybe a just a hint of floobiness.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Who's in charge here anyway?

Sunday night I dusted off the song I've been working on since I bought the digital recorder. I did some good work. I added a piano part and some found percussion.(1)

I'm especially pleased with the piano part. I miked it in stereo and ran it through a phaser and a panning digital delay. (2) The sound is almost exactly what I'd hoped it would be, recognizably a piano but mutated enough to be interesting.

I'm not the kind of composer who can hear the piece in his head and then write it down. I usually start with a very intellectual idea and get progressively more intuitive as it goes along. For this one the theme is about falling so I wrote a chord progression for guitar that steadily descended. Then I wrote out a bass line on paper using my music theory knowledge, tweaking it just a little after hearing it. Actually I wrote a whole bunch of bass lines but only one worked. The second guitar part I wrote about half of it on paper and improvised the rest. The piano was straight improvisation, made more random by the piano being tuned down a half-step from concert pitch. (3)

I'd stalled out on this tune partly because of all the mixing work for the band and partly out of frustration. I like the chord progression, the arrangement and the verse lyrics but I can't for the life of me think of a chorus.

Normally I think of verses as being where you talk about whatever your subject is. They answer the question: "What do I have to say about that?" The chorus is where you distill the "that" down to a few phrases. In a perfect world the chorus would always be pure poetry: concise, imaginative and evocative.

On this tune coming up with chorus lyrics has been impossible. It doesn't help that I'm trying to be at least a little ambiguous. I have a tendency to over-explain (surprise!) and that isn't good art. There should be room for people to find their own interpretations. I'm having trouble articulating what I feel this song is about without hitting people over the head with it. There's also a problem in that the song could be taken as an endorsement of suicide. Treading that line has been interesting but each re-write has made it less likely to be seen that way. Very few people will ever hear this tune but even so I'm not comfortable with the possibility of anyone taking it that way. I keep wanting to put blatant "It's stupid to kill yourself." slogans in the chorus. Not good.

I've written other pieces that have an instrumental chorus but I didn't want to go that way with this one. It's looking like I'm going to have to this time. I hate being forced into decisions like this. I mean, who's in charge here, me or the song!? Oh yah, it is the song. And that's really how it should be, doing whatever the piece requires rather than sticking to arbitrary decisions I made before starting.

Just another place in my life where I'm not really in control, sigh.

Geek stuff

(1) "Found" means I looked around the house for things to hit rather than using real drums.

(2)A phaser is an electronic device that takes the signal put out by a mic or electric guitar or other electric instrument and manipulates it. It creates a whooshing sound that pans from one speaker to the other. The digital delay does what it implies, delays the signal. The setting I used created a slap-back effect. It sounds like the sound has bounced off a wall and come back to the listener. In essence a really quick echo.

(3)Because the piano (on semi-permanent loan from friends) is old and cranky it's been tuned to a slightly lower pitch than normal. This relieves some of the tension on it, hopefully prolonging its life. It's really hard for me, a non-pianist, to figure out which note is which. This is great for true improvisation because it's hard to intellectually tell which notes are in the key. A half step is the distance in pitch between a white key and the next black one on a piano. The smallest division of pitch in the western tradition.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Inspired by "The Motorcycle Diaries"

Does one believe that people are inherently good or evil? It's a question that has caused religious schisms, persecution and strife over and over again in human history. We don't think much about it today, I can't remember ever discussing it even during drunken college philosophy bull sessions.

I haven't resolved my opinion on this. I don't believe that we're born with sin, no baptism needed here. I look around me and see people living their lives as best the can, causing as little harm as they can. Sure there are some pretty bad people out there, the one who cold-cocked me from behind in broad daylight because "He's bigger than me." springs to mind. So does my drunk father standing in the door of my bedroom, saying to my 8 year old self: "You don't love me." But for everyone one of those you meet there are thousands or hundreds of thousands who just walk past you in the street or shield their children from pain. So I guess I'm leaning toward the inherently good camp.

One of the reasons is because of music. Specifically making music with others. I don't claim any metaphysical connection with the people I play with, but there is a feeling of non-verbal communication.* It can also happen in a good conversation with likeminded people. The feeling that the ideas are bigger than any one of us but together we can hold them. A sharing of understanding that seems to be deeper than the spoken words.

I have to believe in the innate goodness of my bandmates. Even when they're pissing me off by not showing up to practice or whatever. If they are inherently bad then the feelings I get when the band is really clicking are false or at least inaccurate. I couldn't really live with that level of self deception.

And yet I also believe that everyone, myself included, is capable of enormous evil. To take away that capacity is to deny free will and I believe we are nothing if not self determining.

I guess this is another question about which I shrug my shoulders and say "I don't know."

I'll have to add it to the list that includes: "Is there a God?" "What happens after you die?" and "Why do I love Monster Garage so much?"

*For the record I'm a skeptic philosophically and an agnostic religiously.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

It all changes

Did some overdubbing yesterday. We're trying to record live off the floor as much as possible. Not only is it faster, but there's an esthetic to it that we like. Unfortunately we got some really good takes where my lead line was the only part that sucked. In the interest of getting it done I decided to overdub.

It's a weird process sitting in your living room and playing along to a band that isn't there. A process made weirder by the dreaded "Recording" syndrome.

One of the nice things about overdubbing is that you can do as many practice takes as you like. The bass player isn't going to get bored, the drummer won't lose focus and throw you off. Essentially you're in complete control and no one's going to get annoyed.

I played through the tune maybe 10 times and was playing better than I've ever done in a live situation. Until I hit the record button. I know it's all in my head. Nothing changed, the sound in the headphones was the same, the guitar was still in tune, my hands were still attached at the wrists. Nothing changed except the knowledge that this was for keeps.

Not even for real keeps. There's no one waiting to use the studio nor a producer reminding us how much studio time costs. And yet it was different. It goes back to the ability to get out of your conscious head. With the recorder running it's much harder to slip into the state where it all flows easily.

I used to poo-poo people who told me that even if you've lived together for years being married is different. My mother once told a couple who'd been shacking up of 9 years "Why spoil a good thing." when they announced they'd be getting married. I guess I'm going to have to rethink that.

PS I just got an email from P. He says that my overdubbed take was the best he's heard so far. He wants to do more me-less backing tracks. Dang, I knew this was going to backfire. We're going to end up doing a track by track recording and take years to finish. Ah well, it's been years already.

Sunday, October 10, 2004


I've been thinking about possibilities. I dwell a lot on the future and all it's attendant dangers. I also dwell a lot on the past and all the shitty things that have happened. What I don't think about is all the possibilities in the past.

I'm really good at seeing the negative in everything, a trait that doesn't make me happy. But I've just realized that the past is full of missed catastrophes. Of all the things I've worried about a stupendous majority of them haven't happened. I like to think that I'm reasonably realistic in my concerns. I don't waste much time worrying about invasion by carnivorous aliens for example. So here I sit, healthy and happy and I realize that I'm so very lucky to be that way. If the world is as dire as I imagine it to be then every day should be a victory celebration.

This is a convoluted route to get to an appreciation of life, but hey, I've got a convoluted brain.

I've said for years that I want to be able to create music that has joy in it. I'm really good at writing about the trials of life, some would call it whining. I think I've just taken a real step in the direction I want to go.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Man, you talk about death and everyone just goes away. Hmmp, anyway back to our irregularly unscheduled whining.

I spent last weekend in the mountains with the LUC. She's on a non-profit board and they had a weekend retreat. This meant I got a free ride to the mountains, well the foothills anyway. Got some quality mountain biking in, just the thing I needed to clear out a little of the grief. Nothing like 2 hours of moderate to frickin' steep climbing followed by a half hour of hair raising descending to get your mind off things.

I've decided I'm too polite to be famous. We stayed at a hostel and part of the hostel experience is gathering in the common room. I'd been hiding in our room practicing so as not to disturb anyone, but the LUC insisted that I play for everyone. I really didn't want to do it. That sort of demonstrative act always feels like showing off. "Lookit me, lookit me, I play guitar!" Bah. Fortunately my travel guitar is very quiet. I don't think I annoyed anyone, only one person got up an left after I started, but who knows?

I want people to hear me play but I hate the idea of putting people in a position where they have to listen. As far as I was concerned the people sitting in the common room were entitled to the peace and quite they had when they sat down. On the other hand a few people stopped to listen and the LUC enjoyed it.

My other concern is, well, drool. Yup, if I really get into it I kinda forget to swallow. I enjoy improvising and as I don't know any recognizable covers I always improvise in these situations. It also has an advantage in that no one can say you played something wrong. The drool only happens when I'm improvising or practicing intensely. To the best of my knowledge it's never happened in public and I want to keep it that way. I won't let myself be caught up in the music the way I would in private so it's not as fun, nor is it as good. If I get to the point of slobbering on myself I'm so far gone that the only thing in my head is what I'm playing and what I'm going to play next. It's the point where hands and ears are working together perfectly and musical thoughts are expressed without conscious effort. If I could keep control of my saliva I'd love to get to that place in front of an audience.

Last night at practice I had a great moment. I was playing a rhythm line that has a lot of stops in it. Less is more is a concept that I'm still struggling with and I recently changed my part on this tune. My new line ends on the first beat of the last bar of the phrase. The idea is to let the drum fill to push it into the next phrase. I was startled to hear my line being finished without me! It really sounded like I had played the line through to the cadence like I used to. The even more startling thing was that the cadence came from the drums. [a cadence is a sequence of chords that resolves harmonicly to the chord around which the key is based]

Most people don't know this but drums sets are tuned. The various heads are tightened to different pitches and good drummers will put them in tune with each other. Watching someone do this is a bit like watching them trying to level a table. It's a fiddly, time consuming process that's never ending. E, being an excellent drummer, keeps her drums in good tune and whatever she hit was a perfect ending for my line. It was really like I'd played it myself.

When the band is clicking it's like 8 hands with 1 mind and that's great feeling. Now if we could only push that symbiosis to the point of group drooling....

Saturday, October 02, 2004


This is hard, and it's not about music. My boss for the last 16 years has died. She had lung cancer that spread to her spine, not surprising considering she was a lifelong smoker. Her death was a surprise however, she was such a fierce, vital woman that I never imagined her dying.

We didn't see eye to eye on many things. Politics being the foremost. I've often described her of being to the right of Ghengis Khan, but that's harsh. Let's say that she was a conservative and I'm a little left of center. Our relationship wasn't a friendship exactly, but it was more than an employer/employee one too.

I didn't like her politics, but I did respect her. I was even a little afraid of her despite all the years working together. People with focus and drive are intimidating to me. How can they be so sure they're right? I've never had that kind of confidence. She did.

I grew up in this company, I was 22 when I started and still learning who I was. Some of the qualities that I'm most proud of came from her. Whatever sense of loyalty, perseverance and duty I have came at least in part from her. Those things will live on in me.

I'm going to miss her.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Sucking and putzing

We rehearsed last night. First practice in a week with all the band members present. I've rhapsodized about how great it is to play with others, but ya know, sometimes it sucks. Nothing worked, we were ragged and un-energetic.

The band dynamic is a delicate system. The personalities and moods of everyone involved affect the experience. It's only been a week since we last got together but it sounded like we'd had a 6 month layoff. The problem wasn't lack of practice, it was mood.

I started the downhill slide by saying I was sick of putzing around with the recording. Because I own the 16 track recorder and the mics I end up doing all the mixing. On Wednesday I deleted almost 2000 megs of unusable material and really only scratched the surface of what's there. I have other projects that I want to spend some time on.

We've got the sound quality up to the point that all we need now is a good performance. I suggested that we pick a tune to record next and practice it a bunch. I also suggested we practice it individually at home and record it next time. The horror! The heresy! By the reaction I got you'd have thought I'd suggested baring Janet Jackson's breast while drowning kittens. live during the Tour de France. Ok, it wasn't that extreme but K made faces and stopped talking. I mean come on! Would it kill him to pick up his bass and run through it a few times?

Then it was P's turn. He said something that was extremely lacking in tact. E has a nightmare story in her background, the kind of thing that makes my emotionally abusive alcoholic father look like Mr. Dressup. The kind of thing that's so beyond the pale you can't even joke about it. P reminded her of it. Not intentionally, just a figure of speech gone wrong. I didn't notice anything but P thinks it affected her. It certainly affected P. He got all tense and quiet. Arrrgh.

Even when I was in a regularly gigging band, one that always got paid, I still didn't call myself a musician. It took me years to be comfortable with that. I never, ever called myself a professional musician. Not just because I've never made a living at it. To me a professional would have been able to overcome the distractions and focused on creating music.

I can't blame E, if she was flashing on her background all I can feel is sympathy. But the rest of us? Professionals or not, we have no excuse.

Good music is about the moment, if you're feeling anything it should be the emotions of the tune. Even an angry or sorrowful tune can take you away from your present concerns. Isn't that one of the best reasons to be making music, to escape your everyday baggage for 3 or so minutes at a time?

Time to sign everyone up for Method Acting classes and hire Ilsa the Nazi-Nanny. She'll make them practice or it's the wooden spoon and off to bed without supper!

Can't wait!

I know I said I didn't want to widen the focus of this blog, but, but, but....
I just got a call from a co-worker in another store, she found a VHS copy of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. For me! I've been waiting 7 years for this, literally, we keep records. I'm. So. Excited!

Ya, ya I could have found it on-line but it's only going to cost me $5.10 and that's Canadian dollars. Did I mention excited?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In which the author blogs about blogging and begs for comments

Well, here I am four months into this blogging thing. Prompted by my first comment by a stranger (thanks Esther!), a quiz by Karol and the arrival of autumn, it's time for a review.

When I started my intention was simply to motivate myself to practice. I thought that if having a record of my achievements had already inspired me, then placing it in a public place would be even more motivating. Initially it didn't matter to me if anyone read it, I mean why would they? A bald list of things I've done wouldn't be very compelling reading.

Even as soon as my second post that began to change. Confronted with a blank screen and an ability to touch-type I started blathering, writing out my thoughts regarding music. I think a lot. Really. It never stops and drives me crazy because it usually isn't anything useful or insightful. I found that writing it out channeled those thoughts into something more concrete, forced them to some kind of conclusion. Those conclusions fascinate me, they aren't always what I expect. What a twisty little brain I have!

At the same time I became interested in seeing if anyone was reading this stuff. After some soul searching I added the Sitemeter counter, lo and behold, there are a few who do. (Thanks folks!) Ya coulda knocked me over with a feather. It shouldn't have been such a surprise, I do leave my site address when I comment on blogs. I tend not to follow those links though, and assumed that was true for everyone.

Does it really matter if people read this? In all honesty, not really. The act of organizing my thoughts enough to write them down is very useful. Do I want people to read it? Hell yah.

On Karol's quiz a number of people answered that the reason they blogged was because they had something to say that was worth reading. The tone of these answers was often one of self-deprecating irony. I can understand this. I don't believe that I'm creating deathless prose here. I don't even believe that my thoughts are particularly original. But I do believe they have some value, at least to me. I also believe that other's opinions will be of benefit to me.

What I'm hoping is that someone will make a comment that will nudge the mad, whirling wheel-o-death of my thoughts. Something that will send them off on an unforeseen tangent. What's inside my head surprises me, but other people surprise me more. So if ya got something to say, speak up.

I think the blogspot comment interface puts people off. You don't have an account to comment, just hit "or post anonymously" and lay it on me. Include your email or site links in your text if'n you so desire.

The only question I'm struggling with now is: Do I want to gain a larger audience? It's really yes and no. I don't need one to get something out of this, but the more people reading the more chance of insightful comments. Do I want to broaden the focus of this blog to gain that? No. Do I want to post more often? Kinda. It takes me quite a while for things to jell enough to put it in coherent form. I'd rather not rush it. Ah well, practice may make me faster.

Well, I guess that about covers the self-justification and blog-navelgazing. Usually people wait a year to do this. What can I say? I'm a precocious.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On a related note...

...I just realized that this blog isn't going to give me the validation I crave. I simply don't post often enough to get a real readership. Ah well, that wasn't in my mission statement anyway. :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Money, that's what I want....?

The Whiteboard
I've been on holidays. The perfect excuse to forget what I did when. I did practice. Sitting in a hotel room strumming my travel guitar, felt like a rockstar.

The Commentary

I met quite a few new people on this trip. Not being one to waste good stories my musical life came up a few times. The one question that never gets asked is: "Why do you bother?" I can tell when people are thinking it, usually after I make a statement like: "Nah, we don't make any money." There's lots of good reasons to play music outside of financial ones, I've mentioned them before.

On the flight home I was thrown a curve by my seatmate. She called the band a hobby. I was a little miffed by that. To me a hobby is something one does for the entertainment and nothing else. It implies that one isn't serious about it, and not being serious the activity isn't essential. I'm not sure I could stop playing music and still be happy. Hobby isn't the right word, maybe obsession?

It really shouldn't have bothered me, I like to tell people that I've given up the dream. I don't expect to ever make a living in music. But somehow the word hobby rubbed me the wrong way, in part because of the financial implications of the term. If you make money it's not a hobby. Why do I associate musical worth with monetary worth when I know the two have only a tenuous relationship?

It might have to do with music being a spectator sport. The audience is an essential part of the experience. Making music can be satisfying even without an audience but is so much more with one. Audiences however, are expected to pay. In North American society financial judgments of worth are so ingrained that it takes a conscious act to notice them. When was the last time you went to a free performance expecting to hear something good?

I wish this association was more motivating for me. A classic type A person would use such a thing to push themselves until they were making money. Unfortunately I'm a type Z, a lazy whiner who doesn't value the talent he has. Mistakes I make in performance and composition make me want to bury the results rather than work at improvement. Why I don't give up is something of mystery to me, but that's another thought for another time.

I'm going to have to do something about this. The financial unease I feel about my musical life doesn't motivate me. It only makes me feel bad and causes occasional fits of rudeness to perfectly nice airplane strangers. I'm afraid it goes deeper than just some latent capitalist tendencies. I suspect that it's part of a larger issue involving validation.

I don't have any real internal validation. I always feel like what I do is crap, even when I know intellectually that it isn't. The problem is that external validation doesn't work for me either. At almost every gig I've done at least some of the audience have said good things. I've even been complimented on my playing by musicians I really admire. Doesn't make me feel good, and, in a startling lack of respect, I usually dismiss such compliments. Whinge, whine, moan, poor, poor pitiful me. There, the pity-fest is over.

So what the heck am I going to do about this? I need a way to truly believe that my musical endeavourers are valid. Gobs of money aren't going to do it. On the other hand no one's ever offered me stupid mad cash. Hmmmm, the ad could read: One musical soul for sale, slightly bruised but in reasonable working order.........

Then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The Whiteboard

A little guitar practice.

Practice for a couple of hours whilst watching the Olympics.

Band practice. Last one before Saturday's gig, went really well

A couple of hours practice.

Played Ka and A's wedding. Possibly the most fun gig I've done.

Helped two friends move but still managed to put in a half hour of practice.

Band practice. K was absent but we played a few things anyway.

The Commentary

Well, who knew a garden party would be such fun to play? (Actually I did, the 4 0r 5 outdoor shows I've done have all been good.) It was a wedding gift from me to the happy couple so we didn't get paid. Despite being in a cover band of sorts, this is the first wedding I've played. All these years and I'd never done the staple of starving musicians everywhere. I'm not sure whether to be proud of this or not.

I was looking forward to this gig, really looking forward to it. The thing I love about weddings is that they bring together people who'd never normally associate. Not only are these disparate groups, usually the bride and groom's families, hanging out but they're drinking too. Fun, in a sociological sorta way. For the band it meant that we'd be playing to a new crowd.

You never know how that's going to go. The usual way to get to a new audience is to open for a well established act. Just as usually that audience ignores you. Mind you, that's probably because I've never been in a band neither good nor accessible enough to really grab people's attention. There also seems to be a "cool" factor at work, a sort of herd mentality. No one wants to stand out by enthusing about a band that their friends aren't already enthusing about. The wedding audience was mostly old enough for that not to be an issue.

I got some really good compliments. One woman said that she had been practicing her "That was really......interesting" speech and was really glad she didn't have to use it. A bit left-handed but a nice compliment anyway. The audience also seemed to get the joke of the band. A few people said that they enjoyed how they recognized the tunes but couldn't place them. Must be the same sort of folk who enjoy crosswords.

Playing in broad daylight is interesting. You can see the audience. In a club with any stage lights at all only the audience at the front is visible. Applause isn't an accurate way to judge attentiveness, people will pause in their conversations to applaud when they hear others clapping. Outdoors in daylight you can see where they're looking. For the most part they were paying attention. There were a couple of tunes in the middle that lost 'em, I wish I'd been paying enough attention to tell which ones.

You can tell a good gig by how fast it goes by. The bad ones last forever. The good ones are blur. This one was in-between, and yet I had real fun. That may be because I didn't play all that well but wasn't bothered by it.

I'm beginning to get a handle on something my college guitar instructor said. He was trying to get me to stop correcting myself when I played a wrong note. He said, "Music happens in time, if you play a wrong note just move on." I didn't really get it. I hate screwing up and when I do I have to fix it. This makes me a pretty good employee and/or friend, but a less than stellar live performer. It took him a month or so of constant badgering to stop me apologizing out loud every time I played a wrong note.

In my teens I was one of those people who apologize for everything. I'd even apologize when someone told me to stop apologizing all the time. To this day I still get a gut-twist when I think about mistakes I made years ago. I guess it should be no surprise that this carried over into my musical life.

The most memorable moment at the gig was when I flubbed a three chord sequence. At the last practice I deliberately made the same mistake. Well, sort of deliberately. I noticed that I was in the wrong position before I hit the first chord and did it anyway as a joke. Trouble with jokes like that is that everyone assumes that you simply messed up. Sigh. At the gig I didn't notice until I played it. It went like this: {sour chord}...crap...{another sour chord}...dammit! (getting a little rattled)...{right chord but poorly held}...FUCK!...then I look up and saw the drummer laughing at me. I lost it, all I could do was laugh too. Fortunately I had time to gather myself before the next phrase. It was a good moment that really made the rest of the set go well.

Live music happens in time, mistakes are gone as soon as you make them. I think I might be beginning to truly understand this.

Life happens in time too, it's just a little more complicated. Sometimes you can let a mistake go and sometimes something has to be done. I'd like to learn how to let things go when it's appropriate. Hopefully, for once life will imitate art.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Shifting focus

The Whiteboard


Nothing but a 20 minutes or so practice while watching some Olympics.


Nothing. Went on 4 hr bike ride featuring: roots, mud, rain, great company, more mud, lunch at a historical hotel and a little more rain.

Nothing. Do I really have a gig in less than a week? You'd never know by how hard I'm working.

Band practice. Ran through the whole set. Not great. Came home and edited 3 tracks in an hour and a half.

The Commentary

The last time I tried to mix Bicycle Built for Two (actual title: Daisy Mae) it took me 4 or 5 hours over two days to come up with something listenable. Last night I did 3 times the material in around 1/4 the time and it sounds better. Hmmp.

I suspect that first effort helped the later one. A lot of the extra time was spent button pushing and knob twiddling. What does this effect do? What happens if I drench it in reverb? And so on. In essence, though I didn't realize it at the time, I was practicing with the recorder and its mastering software. Just like guitar, practice is essential.

But there's more to it than that. I find I have two levels of listening. There's hyper-critical and focused, where each part of the sound is serially the center of attention. Then there's a wider approach, where the whole is considered. Last night I was able to move between the two without effort. Usually once I start listening critically I can't stop. All I can do was shift my attention through each instrument and hope for the best. I'd listen to the final mix again after at least a night's sleep. The theory being that given enough time I'd hear it more as whole. Doesn't always work. The same problems or concerns would stand out front and center, and really, why wouldn't they? After you've invested a lot of time and energy on them it's hard hear anything else.

Last night was different. I was under some time pressure. The LUC is using these tracks as a background for a visual presentation. (She designed a Rails to Trails project that won an award and is presenting it at two conferences.) I've been dawdling and suddenly it was crunch time. Crunch time without crisis, not my usual state of affairs.

I think there are two reasons it went so well. The LUC was sitting across from me as I did the mixing. I've been trying to maintain my shit as much as possible around her. I tend to over-react to just about everything and it's time to stop. The other reason is something that Ridley Scott (director of Alien, Black Hawk Down etc.) said in the commentary for Matchstick Men. Apparently he likes to work quickly, decisions are made right now and things are kept moving. He trusts his instincts and I'm beginning to realize that the only way to learn to trust yourself is to actually do it.

Last night I found myself listening to the track as a whole without any agenda. The decision to change something was based on a feeling: did it sound "right". If it wasn't right I'd narrow my focus: how's the bass, what about the drums, is the lead too loud etc. The first thing I noticed as being wrong got adjusted then the process would start over. I wasn't conscious of any of this at the time. I'm really hoping that by working out what happened I'll be able to repeat it.

So, the formula would appear to be:

An unhealthy respect for a Hollywood director.
+ A strong desire to avoid the disapproval of a loved one.
+ A procrastination produced need for speed.
= A better way of working.

Hmmm, I wonder if this'll help me file my taxes on time?

Friday, August 20, 2004

In which I compare myself to a rockstar

The Whiteboard

Good band rehearsal

Did 3 hours or so mixing on Bicycle Built for Two. To be used as a soundtrack for the LUC's video about an award winning project she designed.

Turned out the results of Tuesdays work were crap. Back to the mixing board.

Excellent band rehearsal.

The Commentary
Ya better love practicing if you want to be a musician. Until you're uber-famous and gigging every night you're going to spend a great deal of time in an unhealthy environment with just your band mates for company. Sometimes it's the best place in the world.

On Tuesday we had a normal rehearsal with one abnormally good performance. We've been working up a latin version of a Gordon Lightfoot tune. Very jazzy, almost lounge. It's been a struggle, this is not a feel that any of us are particularly familiar with. Something clicked on Tuedsay and suddenly it was right.

The feeling is hard to describe. It's a little like being on a date that's going well. You're looking across the table and suddenly realize that she really wants to be there. She wants to be there as much as you do. The fact that you've just eaten an unhealthy amount of animal protein and she's a vegetarian doesn't matter anymore, something's clicked. Your heart speeds, things become sharper, the little voice that nags "don't screw this up" falls silent. It's not love, you don't really know her, and it's not quite lust because your mind is still in charge. It's a vast and glorious feeling of rightness and potential.

Playing in a band when things are really clicking is just that. You're in the moment, a moment that for whatever reason feels right. The moments ahead are sought eagerly because they extend that wondrous now. It's bigger than just you. You can feel, and hear, that your band mates are getting it too. The fact that you've been breathing smoke and mold laced air for years to get to this point doesn't matter anymore. Nor does the tintinus that sometimes keeps you awake at night. It's right, it's now and it's glorious.

The next time you hear a mega-rockstar say that the money doesn't matter, they're still doing it for the music's sake, you might want to hold off on the eye rolling. Consider this: I've been playing in one band or another since around 1990. I've never even come close to making a living at it. Although I've played hundreds of gigs they're the exceptions in my musical life. And yet I still do it. I still slog up the hill twice a week, and in winter it's a real slog, to practice for no pay. Why? Because the feeling I'm seeking is all about the moment, it's independent of external considerations including money. It's addictive, and we all know addicts will do anything for a fix. Think about the moments you've had like the one I've described above, wouldn't you try and recreate those feelings if you could? Isn't it possible that someone who's been payed a lot of money over the years to play music would still be searching for that feeling? Seems likely to me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Having it both ways

The Whiteboard

Dang, I'm really, really lazy. Once again I can't remember what I did when. There was some practicing and of course the regular band rehearsals.

We did play a gig of sorts. Our first (and bestest)* bass player was in town for a couple of days and we ended up playing at an impromptu party for her.

The Commentary

Have you ever been a captive audience? I mean truly captive, where the alternatives are to listen to the show or throw yourself out of a moving vehicle? I had this privilege a couple of weeks ago on a vintage train. It was a stag of sorts for a friend with a train fetish. The trip out was fun in a low key sorta way, most of the enjoyment was provided by the company rather than the event.

On the return trip however, we were given a floor show. No, not the usual floor show at a stag, these folks kept their clothes on. Oh, and what clothes they were! He had a shiny lime green stripped vest with matching bow tie, hat and spats. She had a belt and shoes of the same material and hat with a large feather in it. Yup, these folks were "Entertainers".

"5 foot 2 Eyes of Blue" and "I'll Be Working On the Railroad" were the only parts of the set to stick with me. The latter because we were encouraged to sing along and if caught not singing were glared at and mocked by Mr. Shiny Hat. He did a lot of mocking and flirted with the pensioners, it was....awkward. Now, to be fair they were pretty good singers and worked really hard, especially in the face of the vast indifference and/or outright embarrassment of a goodly portion of the audience.

I've been trying to figure out why it bothered me so. I know music is subjective and just because something isn't to my taste doesn't mean it's bad. I suspect that I was feeling embarrassed for the performers more than I was hating the music. Arrogant no? I mean, who am I to judge someone who's actually making a living playing music? For all I know these folks truly enjoyed the music they were presenting and don't harbour secret fantasies about writing the first successfully Goth-opera or whatever.

We played our "gig" such as it was a week or so later. I'm always uncomfortable playing for the people who'll love us no matter what. They deserve our best, not that paying customers don't also deserve that. It just that I don't want to let anyone down and I really don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of them. Also these folks, well, for the most part they're musicians. Some of them are great musicians and that's intimidating.

I felt that it sucked, we're really not in gigging shape. But as usual, people told me how great we were. One told me we were....wait for it....entertaining! She gave me a funny look when I said rather abruptly that I didn't want to be entertaining. When asked what I'd rather be I told her "moving". Silly really. This band isn't meant to be moving. We play instrumental covers with overtly humorous intent fer Weird Al's sake. No wonder she looked at me funny, I was responding to something internal.

There's a local band called The Floor who are getting a lot of buzz around town. They're decent musicians and have interesting arrangements, can't really tell what they're singing about, but that's par for the course. They're really quite good in a Cure-ish sorta way. I love The Cure and by all rights I should love these folk. I don't. In fact I found them almost as irritating as the performers on the train. Every time I've seen them I've left early thinking "Stop trying so hard."

I don't think they inhabit the song very well. The best performances I've seen are by people who are simply in the moment. They're method acting, reaching inside for the feeling and then expressing it. The Floor seem like they're telling me "Feel this!" rather than showing their emotions and hoping I'll come along for the ride. They also don't seem to snap out of it between songs. Part of truly being in the moment is that when the song's done you're in a different moment. Carrying the song's emotions into the break is over-selling it.

I have nothing against being entertaining. I have nothing against being emotional. The trick is to be both. Like always, I can see the problem but have no idea how to fix it. The way the current band is set up it'd be very, very hard to have any more emotional depth than we already have. Maybe if we all wore matching shiny spats....?

*MJ, I'm not saying this because you're my one and only reader. You're the only bass player we've had that would actually listen. Not just to what the rest of us were playing but also to what we had to say about it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Pee in this cup

The Whiteboard
It's been what, 17 days since I've posted? I'm afraid I've lost track of what I did. This is not unusual. Back when I used a physical whiteboard to keep track of my musical progress there were week long gaps here and there. At least this time I have the world's greatest sporting event as an excuse.

I did accomplish at least one good thing in the last couple of weeks. We finally managed to get a good take of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights. Good enough to use on a demo at least. The performance is interesting and enthusiastic and the sound is probably the best we've achieve to date. Little by little I'm learning how to do this. Recording that is, I'm not sure I'll ever figure out how to play guitar. :)

The Commentary
I mentioned performance enhancing drugs in the last post. An odd bit of coincidence that. It came up in this year's Tour (surprise!) and, despite my resolve, it spoiled my enjoyment. It also came up at rehearsal. No one is shocked to hear that drugs are kinda common amongst musicians. Even at this level. The first bass player in the 10 year project got hooked on heroin and ended up getting tossed, despite being good friends with the band leader. Pot and booze aren't even considered drugs, or so it seems. I've always found that I enjoy playing more when I'm straight, but then I've never really been one of the cool kids.

We were talking about when your internal voice says "That's great!" just before you screw up. It happens to everyone. There's even a book called The Inner Game of Music that describes the problem. I've never managed to get through the chapters about dealing with it. I really struggle with non-descriptive writing, but I dirgress. Until this conversation it never occurred to me that self medication can and does help with the "That's Great!" syndrome.

I spent several years in a basement band with my roommates, gettin' stoned and makin' noise. There were no songs, it was supposed to be totally spontaneous. The fact that the same riffs and changes came up every time, often in the same order, was lost on me until I quit smoking dope. I thought I had a handle on the question: mess your head up and the music sucks. I couldn't understand why bandmates would say that they needed to be intoxicated to play well. I assumed it was a case of self-deception aggravated by the chemical suppression of critical thinking. I had ample evidence for this belief, by the time you're obviously polluted your playing has been off for a while. Of course the Bob Marleys of the world make a case against this, but he was a genius and shouldn't count.

The surprise for me was the realization that suppression of critical thinking was the point. Shutting up that inner voice helps. The problem with this coping tactic is that the line between not enough and too much is pretty thin. I don't drink much anymore because there's only about a half an hour where I'm drunk enough to let loose before it starts to make me tired. The time between a "mmmmh that's nice" stone and feelings of paranoia is even quicker, I rarely bother anymore. The musicians I know who "need" their poison of choice to play follow a similar pattern. Their playing is stiff until it kicks in, play well for a while then become less and less able but don't seem to notice. There's also the constant re-teaching new material. Every practice it's "How did that one go again?" But that's another rant.

Seems to me that using drugs and booze to help play are like using a sledgehammer to turn off a radio. When you're not playing you want to be able to turn your critical functions back on. How else can you figure out how to do it better next time. It's a matter of finding the switch rather than disabling the system entirely. Damned if I know how to do this, but I'm trying.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Starry-eye Sangfroid

The Whiteboard

The Tour! For those of you bicyclically challenged that's Le Tour de France. Watched two stages on tape and practiced guitar during the second. Two hours of practice, felt great.

Half hour practice.

Band practice. Not great, but we did record a couple of takes of our hillbilly version of Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.

The Commentary

I find the Tour inspiring, not just as a cyclist. It really is an incredible feat of strength, training and willpower. Three weeks, 3360 km and an average speed of around 40 kmh, it boggles the mind. The riders spend so long in the saddle and deplete their bodies so much that they lose measurable bone-mass in their spines. Yup, I enjoy people suffering for my entertainment.

But it's more than just entertainment. I've said before that I intend to outlast the better musicians around me. The Tour reminds me just how strong humans can be, it reminds me that finding the energy to pick up a guitar is not impossible, regardless of how tired and out of sorts I am. If Tyler Hamilton, the 4th place finisher last year, can ride the whole Tour with a broken collarbone then surely I can play guitar for a half an hour a day despite a sore wrist.

The Tour always provokes talk of doping and I'd be surprised if some of the riders weren't awash with chemicals. It's unfortunate that we let that kill our sense of wonder. We live in a cynical world and I'm far from the least cynical person in it, but sometimes being a little starry-eyed is the best way to go. So, from now till it's done I'm going to be in awe and hopefully that inspiration will help keep me going.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Architectural fishiness

The Whiteboard


A little guitar practice. No improvement.

Worked the propaganda table at Smilin' Jay's Happy hour. No practice.


Tore down gear at practice space. No practice.


Entertained LUC's out of town friend. Did repairs to practice space door. Attended Campus and Community Radio Conference party at practice space. No practice, but free beer.


Spent the day with the LUC and friend. Ate good food, watched tape of Tour de France and saw Spiderman 2. No practice.

Band rehearsal. Went well, we didn't record which always feels like work. Ran through the set once and well, it's a good thing the bike-fest gig fell through. A little rough around the edges we are. Fun though.

The Commentary

Frank Zappa once said "Talking about music is like fishing about architecture." Taken in context Zappa was right, English has very few words specifically for describing music. We tend to borrow words, soaring melody, crunchy guitar sound, driving backbeat and so on. This doesn't stop me, I love talking about music. I'm not sure what he'd have thought about sitting at a table and talking about a not-for-profit music society.

I'm good at it, but it feels futile. I sat at a table in a long hall and tried to propagandize people on their way in. I make it amusing so they stop and listen, most of the time they even take a brochure. Does this do the society any good in the end? Dammed if I know.

I got involved with this society because of the great practice space it gave the band. I stay involved because I believe in community. Groups can achieve things that no individual could possibly obtain alone. What this group is trying to achieve is a bit murky and yet there I was, explaining it to the public. All I could do was outline the small things we've achieve so far: a regular live broadcast of local bands and a compilation CD of previous performances. I also painted a picture of what I hope it will become, a rallying point for some kind of musical community in this clique-ish town.

The Saturday party was inspiring, afterwards I went home and listened to my song in progress for the first time in weeks. The source of my inspiration was a friend's band. Shitstorm (whata name!) is very similar to my band. They're instrumental, the members are around our age and they're not trying to make a living at it. The difference is they're great musicians. Truly incredible. Abrupt time and feel changes, elaborate arrangements and a sense of humour. The party was for conference delegates, music geeks, every last codder and shiggy. The perfect audience for a band who's songwriting strategy is to make it as hard on themselves as possible. It felt really good to watch friends get the recognition they deserve.

I'm really not sure why it was inspiring. I guess I want that recognition. Which is strange because I view with suspicion any praise that comes my way. I certainly would love to have people enjoy themselves as much as that audience did. Maybe that's it.

Or maybe worrying about motivations has a slightly architectural fishiness to it and I should just get on with it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Power and doubts

Currentish Events

Had a pretty good practice. We ran through the whole set in preparation for a gig on July 10th. A gig that's not to be. K bailed, apparently he has an obligatory family reunion.

Very, very disappointed. Pit of the stomach clenching, wanting break something disappointed.

The LUC is one of the organizers of this bike-fest. It's held in a downtown park and we've played it the last 2 years. The power for the amps and PA comes from a solar panel covered trailer. I'm enough of a tree hugging, bunny patter to find that gratifying. Great fun.

Relevant backstory

The first time I played a gig where my amp was fed into a PA I nearly wet myself. Soundcheck begins with each instrument playing by itself. When I got the nod I hit a chord and was floored to hear it slap off the far wall. I was gigantic, it gave me goosebumps! The bikefest is that times ten. Hearing sounds you've created echoing off the high rises is amazing. Godzilla watch out!

Back to the plot

There's talk of getting substitute bass player, but I'm leery. I know how I felt when the were going to gig without me. If K really is fine with it then ok, but otherwise I'm opposed even though it's really important to me to do it.


Prep for a 70k bike camping trip. Forgot to pack this, so no practice this weekend.

Biking and camping.

Museum visiting and biking. The LUC had been invited down to see the stored collection of antique bicycles and she had to juice to get me backstage . Hopefully the bike-fest will have a display. Very cool.

About 1/2 hour of fingerpick practice. I'm beginning to doubt the usefulness of doing this. It's so much easier at home. Fluid, fast and getting easier all the time. At rehearsal I'm awkward, out of time and occasionally hook the strings and pull one of the picks off.

Not sure what to do about any of this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Keeping at it

Currentish Events

Did nothing at all, no excuses, just laziness. I even bailed on going to a dance performance with the LUC.


Began hand to bike combat. My utility bike, the one I use to haul groceries and whatnot, needed a new bottom bracket. It should have been replaced at least 2 years ago but somehow I never got around to it. The price of my tardiness was the rust that kept me from removing the old guts. Even the biggest wrench I own with a meter long cheater bar attached wouldn't budge it. This wasn't really a surprise. Nor was I taken aback when the environmentally friendly penetrating oil didn't make any difference. I was a bit concerned when the incredibly toxic bolt loosener didn't help, but not to worry I had a plan:

The instructions on the nasty penetrating oil said to tap the parts whilst applying. The vibration is suppose to help it work in. I laid the bike on it's side, filled the bottom bracket with oil and duct taped a vibrator to the frame. I left it that way for the rest of the day, occasionally applying more spray. This visual image still makes me smile.

By Sunday afternoon I'd pretty much lost hope. But that evening just before bedtime: success! It was just a matter of not giving up.

In the end I didn't do anything musical the whole weekend. Most of the time my hands were covered with oil and toxic chemicals, not the best for handling guitars. Or LUCs, bocchi balls and small children for that matter, but what they don't know won't hurt them.

Band rehearsal. Well, that was the plan anyway. K called P a couple of hours before to say he was in British Columbia. P didn't manage to get a hold of me as I was out buying a new bottom bracket.

Because the xtracycle was out of commission I had to hand carry all my gear up the hill. Grumble, grumble, if god wanted us to walk he/she wouldn't have invented bicycles, grumble.

We used the time to get the drums right in stereo mics. It's a matter of moving it a little, recording, listening carefully and moving it again. Very tedious for anyone not directly involved in the moving or hitting aspects of it. This is the way recording was done before mutlitracking was invented. It's time intensive and not very high-tech but if you get it right the recording will sound like a real band playing in a real space.

Days like the last few feel like treading musical water. No forward motion but no loss either. It's a bit discouraging but bikes must be fixed and the non-musical life must be lived.

I've often felt that if I couldn't outplay the better musicians around me, I'd outlast 'em. It's just a matter of remembering to not give up.

Friday, June 18, 2004


Currentish Events

Wow, I'm what 2 weeks into this blogging thing and already I'm getting lazy? Hmmmp.


Had a band rehearsal. We didn't play very much because I bought these. I was a little late getting there and set up took a while. I must say that they sound pretty good, much more natural than what we've been using. Of course this means that I have to start over again in terms of mixing. We're now using separate mics for each guitar amp so I'm mixing 5 sources instead of 3.

Practiced guitar for a little while, maybe a 1/2 hour or so. Didn't accomplish anything.

Practiced for almost 3 hours. Made some noticeable improvement. It felt really great, until I stopped that is.

Relevant Backstory

I broke my left fore-arm last year. It was bad enough to require surgery so now I'm the proud owner of a stainless steel plate. It's bolted to the bone with 4 screws. This was a pretty hard time for me. I couldn't play, I couldn't ride my bike and I was in constant pain for months. It almost made me quit the band. We had a gig lined up in October, I had the accident in August. I went to one rehearsal whilst still in the cast and felt just like the kid I used to be. You know, the one who's picked last for softball and spends whole game sitting on the bench. I didn't go again.

I was feeling pretty miserable and the possibility that I'd never play guitar again was real. But then a friend suggested that I try playing slide guitar. Holding the guitar on my lap and using a steel bar requires much less bend of the wrist. I was saved! I went to practice, about 2 weeks before the gig, to show off my new skill and to tell them that we could play the show. I wasn't greeted very enthusiastically to say the least. In fact they seemed put out that I was there. It wasn't until after we finished practice about 2 hours later that they told me that they'd decided to do the show without me. I was informed that I could participate, but "Just don't f@#k us up.". I'm not sure I've every been more angry. In the end there were apologies all round and a general clearing of the air; it all worked out. I worked my ass off getting ready for the show and acquitted myself reasonably well.

Back to the Plot

It still hurts. I can't rotate my wrist quite far enough to play in proper position. The mountain biking a couple of weeks ago aggravated it and I'm back to taking ibuprofen and icing it. When practicing I don't feel, or perhaps don't notice, the pain. But when I stop and let my arm relax into a more neutral position, well, it speaks up. I'm going to have to deal with this for a long time to come.

It still hurts. Most of the time I don't think about it, never when we're actually playing. But every now and then, mostly when I'm tired, I have to ask myself "Why are you associating with people who treated you that way?". I know I've been hard to get along with at times and they've had to make allowances for that. But really, in any other part of my life with the possible exception of work, I'd have walked away and never looked back. I'm going to have to deal with this for a long time to come.

Is this why so many musicians get hooked on pain-killers? Good thing I don't really live the "rock n' roll" lifestyle.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

PJ and me

Currentish Events

A weekend of very dilettantish practice. The fingerpickin' continues to improve, albeit in fits and starts.

Friday night I spent some quality time in the tub with PJ Harvey. Well, her new album and I anyway. I don't think it's her best work but it was inspiring; one of the quietest songs on it has noticeable tape hiss.

I suspect that most people have forgotten, or never noticed, that one of the most profound changes digital recording and playback brought to music was real silence. Tape and vinyl can't provide this, the hiss is always lurking underneath, waiting for those quiet moments.

So why am I happy to hear it on a PJ Harvey album? Because it means ol' P J has to make the same esthetic choices I do. Ms. Harvey is a professional, she must have access to some very good equipment. There's no reason for her songs to have tape hiss, indeed, none of the other tunes do.

So why did she do it? It could be that she had some artistic reason. Maybe it was an attempt to tap into a nostalgia that was suitable for the song. I don't think that's the case, the song doesn't seem to warrant it. There's also a liner note that implies that it was unwanted. Or it might be that she recorded a demo and never managed as good a performance in the studio. Either way, it was a brave choice to include that particular take on the album.

It all comes down to choices. I struggle with the desire for perfection. I'd hate it if a quiet tune I'd written had tape hiss and probably wouldn't release it. And yet here's PJ, a far better musician than I, releasing something that has just that.

Technical perfection versus artistic, when does one cancel the other? I need to learn how to make these choices because apparently they never go away.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Never Ever

I just want to promise my (nonexistent) readers that I'll never post anything about Ronald Regan's death and what it means to me....Oops, er, I mean...uhm, never again, Dang!

A Little Vitamin Arrrrrr!

Current Events

It was a serendipitous sorta evening, rehearsal was canceled. K (the bass player) couldn't make it.

So I did nothing, nada, zip, bupkiss, zero. Unless you count eating a great meal, watching Pirates of the Caribbean and snuggling with the LUC as some kind of musical accomplishment. Which, I must say, I'm inclined to do.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Laying down on the job

Current Events

Last night had just a minimal amount of guitar practice. Maybe 20 minutes or so. The fingerpickin' didn't come as easily as the day before. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

That's not to say nothing was accomplished. On seeing a person laying in bed, headphones on, eyes closed, book face down, with perhaps a little drool in the corner of their mouth, the uninitiated might think that this person was asleep. Not so. If that person was me last night, I was hard at work. Yup, indeedy.

The LUC bought me new headphones for my birthday. My old ones were getting a bit dodgy and were never great to begin with. I use headphones to mix recordings and these new ones are designed to do just that.

*Geek Alert*

Mixing involves balancing the volumes of each source. It also involves tweaking the EQ, adding reverb or delay, and other subtle adjustments to the sound. The point of all this is to make it sound good. This is, of course, subjective.

Most headphones have a bias of some kind. They make the sound more bass or more treble and so on. In the case of higher end models this is deliberately done for a "better" sound. If you know the bias of your headphones then it can be taken into account when mixing. My old ones had a significant bass roll-off. If I mixed a track so the bass was perfect in the headphones it would be too loud on most stereos.

My new headphones claim to have a flat frequency response, which means that they don't change the sound at all. The idea is that hearing exactly what's there will let you mix it properly. While I believe that they're as flat as Audio-Technica could make them, how we perceive that flatness is subjective.

So, laying in bed last night listening to my favorite CDs was research. I was trying to understand how music that sounds good to me is portrayed by these new headphones. I'm trying to understand their bias.

Yup, I was hard at work enjoying some good music. The drool, well, what can I say? I like some tasty tunes.

Money making opportunity?

Currentish Events

Tuesday June 8th.

Practiced with the fingerpicks again and made some progress. Enough progress that I spent most of the time working out a new pattern for one of our older tunes. Sometimes it goes like that, you pick up the guitar and things just work. In this case playing with a much lighter touch made all the difference.

Relevant Backstory

My formative years as an electric guitarist were spent in a very loud band. A band that grew in numbers to a ridiculous degree. By the end we were a nine piece: three guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, violin and french horn (don't ask me, wasn't my idea). I got involved in this band by chance. I knew the guys working in the store below mine and was going down to visit. They were coming up and on seeing me, C says to me "Speaking of guitar players, A here needs to get laid would you like to be in a band?" With an offer like that, how could I say no? To the best of my knowledge in decade the band was together it never got A laid.

I had no knowledge of how to play in a band and had owned an electric guitar for less than a year. All of my training was playing solo classical guitar. The other guys in the band gave me plenty of advice and very little support. As a result I played very quietly, barely turning up my amp. This was a problem. I couldn't hear myself and instead of turning up the amp I hit the strings harder. This went on for years, by the time I recognized this was a problem we had another guitar player in the band. B is a fine guitarist, way better than me, but he likes to be the loudest thing in the room. Every time I turned up to hear myself he turned up even louder. And you thought I was kidding about the tinnitus.

The point is that I developed a really bad habit. I'm still fighting it. It's easy to correct when you're sitting on the couch and much harder in a band environment. Soft hands and a loud amp is my mantra these days: I wonder if I can get some kind of hand cream endorsement?

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The devil's in the drummer, er, uhm, I mean the details

Current events

Last night's practice was nothing special. It was short as our drummer has to get up at 4:30 am for her "day" job. 4:30 in freaking the morning, what kind of musician gets up that early!? Go to bed then, sure, but get up? Actually, this is not the only evidence that E's not your typical musician and certainly not your typical drummer.

She's considerate, prompt, easygoing and the best musician of the bunch of us. Until I met her I assumed that in order to master the 4 limb co-ordination needed to drum you had to sell your soul to the devil. How else to explain the havoc caused by drummers? This isn't just bad joke fodder. The last full-time band I was in went through 4 drummers before settling for one that talented enough for us to put up with his, er, eccentricities.

Anyway, we did some recording so now I have some mixing to do. My job has been made easier by our new "instant veto" policy. Any band member can stop the recording at any time if they feel they've screwed it up too badly. It really reduces the number of takes I have to go through.

relevant backstory *geek alert*

We've been recording live off the floor to two SM-57's set up in the ORTF stereo pattern with a DI for the bass. This means that we all play together, no overdubbing.

This has it's advantages, the band really sounds like a band, at our level multitrack overdubbed recordings can sound quite lifeless. It's a real skill to be able to keep the energy level up when each instrument is recorded separately. This method is also very quick.

The disadvantage is everyone has to get it right at the same time. Hence the instant veto, no point in wasting time playing the song to the end if you've messed up the first bridge.

It also takes careful placement of the mics and amplifiers. This means that your amp might not be where it's easy for you to hear it. Moving an amp or mic even just a few centimeters can also have a profound affect on the overall sound. It has to do with comb filtering and other really technical stuff that I only half understand. It's a tricky process and well, the devil's in the details.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The finest kind

Events, Current and Not So

Nothing accomplished on Friday. Except eating, oh the yumminess! Went here for a joint celebration of birthdays.

Saturday was spent riding over hither and yon. Rode out to see the LUC come 5th in her mountain bike race. There's nothing sexier than a woman who kicks ass on a bike.

Musical events included being re-elected to the board of directors. The not-for-profit society I'm involved with puts on live shows on local radio. I don't do much, but hey, it keeps the band in a great practice space. Think natural light and a full kitchen.

I also bought some thin brass finger picks. Liking them very much. They have less skritch and feel much more comfortable.

I did manage to practice a little. Just some noodling with the finger picks. No improvement, just maintenance. Which also describes Sunday's work.

Did have a good moment with the Sunday noodling. I have a little tradition. The last thing I play if it's late at night is a nocturne by Robert Benedict. It's a beautiful, almost spooky, little piece and is the only thing I remember from my college repertoire. As I was playing it the LUC came in and hugged me from behind until I was done. Rather distracting, but positive reinforcement of the finest kind. Indeed, possibly the reason I learned guitar in the first place, but let's not go there, hmmmm?