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?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

What's the point?

Random thoughts

It really confuses me when people don't get subjectivity. Statements like "Song x is bad" or "Band Y is the best in the world" really mean "I don't like it" and "I like them".

Last night we rehearsed. It started off pretty rocky, ragged and out of time, mistakes-a-plenty. 3/4 of the way we settled down and things got better. At least that's what I thought. The first time I felt "Yah, we nailed that one." I looked around and saw my band mates shaking their heads in obvious disgust.

If the people who created the tune can't agree if it's shite, what's the point in making value judgments?

Friday, June 04, 2004

It's a conspiracy I tell ya

Current events

Didn't do anything last night. I spent the time after work running errands, working on my bike and suggling with the LUC. All in all a completely successful day in terms of basic needs.

Here's the thing: I have no reason to feel guilty. Sure, I should have listened to the takes from last practice, but even if there was greatness I couldn't do anything with it. I'm out of blank discs and broke 'til Monday.

And yet, the guilt.

I cannot figure out where I got this protestant work ethic from. The one that says your worth as person depends on your hard work. In some people it drives them to type A behaviour. In me it just creates anxiety.

I'd blame my parents, but that's passe. Hmmm, the government maybe?

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Hoo boy

Current Events

I set up the digital recorder last night and tried to do some vocals. A bit of a waste of time. When I wrote the lyrics I thought "Yah, this is great.", now I'm not sure. I've come to understand why egotists are so common among successful artists. Self-doubt is paralyzing. If you decided something's great and never waver, well, it might not actually be great but at least it'll be finished.

Relevant Backstory

I bought the recorder six months ago. I've been working on the same song since. I used to have a four track tape recorder and many, many times tried to record songs on it. I never finished any of them. Because of this I've been slogging away on this one tune when I really should move on. I need to prove to myself I can finish something. It went well at first, took me 3 days to write bass and guitar parts for the verse and chorus. Took 4 months to write a 4 bar bridge to connect them. Oh yah, I'm a genius alright!

CE continued

After giving up on the vocals I sat in front of the tv and practiced guitar. Because I can't get the volume of my thumb pick and nails to match, I've started to use fingerpicks. They're fun, a fist full kinda looks like ninja weapons, but difficult because you can't feel the string. This kind of practicing is just repetition, endless drilling to get the action into muscle memory. The next step is to do it to a metronome or a backing track. Not there yet so more bad tv for me, hoo boy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

E's left foot

Current events

A good practice last night. Everyone was in fine form. We didn't record anything as I forgot one of the mics.

The best part was during one of the faster tunes. I've been having trouble with it. I tend rush the last chorus, mostly because by that point I'm really into it and want to convey that excitement. Tonight for some reason I found myself staring at the drummer's high hat foot. I played the end perfectly; her left foot was connected to my right hand. She knew it too, and when I looked up after the last chord her grin was bigger than mine.

At this level you can't be living for the gigs as they're few and far between. It's these moments of musical connection that keep me going. Really, there's nothing like it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Yee Haw!

Current Events

The weekend was a write-off musically speaking. My cherished LUC and I spent it biking in the mountains. I rented a real mountain bike (a Brodie Hellion if you must know) and spent Sat and Sun slogging up hills and bombing down dales.

Some musical activity did take place however. I sang as I rode to terrify any bears down the trail. Well, I sang on the easier sections.(see below). Highlights of my bikey set: The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Teddy Bear's picnic, Bearies in the Night, Summertime (and the Living is Beary) and my favorite, If a Bear Shits in the Woods and There's No-one Around, Does the Pope Hear It? (sung to what ever tune happened to be in my head)

I've discovered that what I enjoy about mountain biking is similar what I enjoy about playing music.

To play well I need to shut off the inner voice that's always commenting on my actions. If I'm thinking too much I can lose the plot entirely. I'll be playing well and that little voice will start up: "Yah, this is great, wow!" and a second later I'll be playing the wrong song.

On the bike when it says things like: "Golly that's steep and rocky, should I go left or right?" bad things happen. Bloody, painful things. The really hard stuff requires trusting your skills and the bike, and just doing it. Somehow this is easier on a bike than on a guitar, I must fear embarrassment more than bruising.

The upshot is that both activities require a non-verbal yet active mental state, a state that I cherish because it's so hard for me to achieve.

Anyway it was a fabulous, fun weekend. Yee haws aplenty. I wouldn't have traded it for the world. A gig playing sideman for Elvis Costello maybe, but not the world.