Month: February 2009

How quickly can you oscillate?

I’m all over the place in the new issue of WAMM. It’s madness, I tell you. Who knew I was “famously tongue-in-cheek?” Who knew I was famous? Who knew I had cheeks? Who knew these subliminal messages I’ve been implanting in my songs would take effect someday?

But seriously, is that a cool cover with Tara on it or what? And don’t say, “Or what,” because if you do I’ll hunt you down and force-feed you spicy pickles.

I think it’s pretty neat that the Arp Omni-2 got a mention in an article that takes a look at how electronic elements have been seeping more into local music over the last little while, in some pretty unexpected places. This got me all wistful, and my wife began to flash before my eyes. You know…my imaginary wife. She sure knows how to slow-dance in the dark.

The Arp Omni-2 came into my life back in 1997. My on/off/invisible piano teacher (“Dust in the Wind”, as we so fondly refer to him around here) was selling it, and I thought it might be kind of cool to have. At the time my equipment consisted of the Clavinova that served as my go-to digital piano for ages (and it’s still here today, with plenty of life left in it, even if the real piano has relieved it of some of its duties), a cheap Sony tape recorder, and a stopwatch. That was the entirety of my “studio”.

I didn’t know a thing about analog synthesizers. And though I managed to coax some interesting sounds out of the thing, after a while it seemed pretty limited and not very tweakable. I was much more interested in digital synths that did most of the work for me. Before long the Arp’s place on top of the Clavinova had been taken by a Yamaha W-5. Aside from a few brief appearances here and there (the title track on SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP, “Light in the Terrace” on LIVE AT THE NAKED GIRAFFE THEATER, and “Rippin” on YOU’RE A NATION, all from 1999), it served as a glorified shelf for almost a decade, often submerged beneath backup CDs and dust, and rarely was there electricity running through it for any length of time.

A few years back I decided on a whim to dust the thing off. To my amazement I found it was capable of making a lot more sounds than I thought it was. Turns out I just needed to know how to better manipulate the VCF, LFO, attack, release, decay, and other such slide-y things. After years of exclusively working with digital synths, I also came to realize the Arp was capable of a certain warmth you just don’t get from digital synthesis.

Since then I haven’t made nearly as much use of the thing as it deserves, but it does have a bit of a spotlight moment on the second half of “The Ass, Enchanted with the Sound” on the newest album, and there’s a non-album track that showed up on Myspace back in the summer called “An Avalanche in Hell” that’s nearly all Arp Omni-2 all the way through. I guess I just don’t want to overuse it.

When it fits, even in a supplemental role, it imparts something no digital synth can. I’m not sure how to describe what that is exactly. It’s got a certain funkiness to it. The bass section has a wonderfully lo-fi thing going on too, and I need to find more ways to incorporate it into songs. One of the keys no longer works, I’m sure the guts could use some servicing, and there’s a dissonant drone that will develop sometimes depending on what keys are played (you can hear it happen near the end of “The Ass…” right around where the synth in the right stereo channel drops out), but on the whole it’s still in good working condition. The one note that isn’t available to me anymore is easy enough to work around, and I kind of like that drone popping up occasionally at unexpected moments.

Now I just need to get a Prophet-5, a Juno-60, and a Jupiter-8, and I’ll be set. Not that I have any room for more gear around here.

Still, between the Arp Omni-2, the Korg Triton LE, and the Yamaha w-5 (the last two of which haven’t been getting much love lately), it might be an idea to get back into making synth-based music at some point. I’m not sure it would come out sounding much like GROWING SIDEWAYS did, since at this point I’d have a hard time not throwing in other, more organic sounds, but it could be fun to spice things up a bit. Maybe it would be an idea to not limit things sonically to one synth per album. I mean, NUDGE YOU ALIVE was a W-5 affair, GROWING SIDEWAYS and WHO YOU ARE NOW were completely Triton-centric, and the Omni-2 just pops up for brief cameo appearances here and there on albums that are not very synthy at all. Maybe it’s about time they all learned to play together.

I didn’t know this, but apparently sometime in the 1970s Arp made what they called a “Matrix Edition” of the Omni-2. Only fifty were ever made, so they’re pretty rare. I think they look nifty.

the "matrix" version

On a different subject: it might seem like I joke a lot about the studio being dusty and chaotic. But I assure you the dust ain’t no joke. I actually didn’t realize just how serious it was until people started drawing faces and things on my drum shells. Dusting needed to be done. It was long overdue. But before that happened, I thought I should preserve the dust drawings for future generations to enjoy. I’m not sure who drew what here. Katie might have drawn one of the faces. Or maybe it was Nik. Or Anna. Or Kiwi.



I left my own little message mere moments before recirculating the dust and wiping it out.


The next album is starting to come into focus a bit more. I guess you could look at it as the third entry in a loose trilogy. Not that there’s anything thematic connecting the albums or even running through them individually, but I think there’s a certain aesthetic that’s been developing over the past little while, beginning with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. It seems to broaden in scope and mutate a bit with each successive album, but I think after this one it might be time to do something different altogether. Then again, what I plan on doing and what ends up happening are often two different things, so we’ll see what transpires.

There are a lot of different ideas in the works, some of them longer-term projects than others. The list of potential albums I outlined in my first-ever post here has grown and changed quite a bit over the past twelve months. The main thing is I’ve got my focus back after the “lost year” that was 2007 and the subsequent fallout that threw everything off-balance for a while. It’s nice to be accomplishing things at a somewhat reasonable pace again. Almost like old times.

Happy birthday to you. Are you one of The Trews?

and so, an inebriated jesus invented the birthday celebration as we know it today. and all was well.

Break out your party whistles and fancy lingerie — today this blog-site/thing turns one year old.

Alright…so its true birthday is tomorrow, if we’re going to be precise and stuff. But I’m an impatient person. So I’m celebrating today.

In that year, I’ve gone through periods of hyperactive posting activity, and there have been months during which I’ve had very little to say. There have been more visitors and comments and views than I ever expected to get. I’ve written a whole lot of stuff that probably hasn’t interested anyone at all, because half the time I’m kind of talking to myself on the internet.

But you know what? It really does help. And it feels pretty promising that I’m still doing this after close to a hundred posts. My old website from years past never got anywhere near as much love, from me or anyone else, and after a while it just faded away.

While this started off as a lark and I didn’t expect I would be in it for the long haul, I’m not sure I would have been able to get myself back on track musically if I hadn’t started using this blog as tool to try and force myself to become motivated and productive again. Life has sent several more curveballs and shitstorms my way since the crack house hell of 2008 that derailed everything for a while, but with my current stable of construction paper prostitutes and a bacon juice brewing operation on the side, I feel confident enough to walk around with mismatched socks on Sundays.

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for when you boil it down? No? Well, I tried to level with you. I can’t help it if you don’t share my depth of feeling for Choclair chocolate bars. They never should have stopped making those things. A piece of my heart died the day production ceased.

Anyway. I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone who has read my ramblings, commented, listened to stuff, looked at stuff, and/or sent some exotic internet confetti my way over the past year. I aim to make 2009 as special as a skinny dipping excursion with a pack of silent dogs. And that’s pretty special if you ask me.

Now, here’s a blast from the past — Jamie Greer interviewed me way back in 2005 for the now-dormant (but still accessible in archived form, I think) Windsor Scene website. It just made an appearance from beyond the grave on his new blog to remind everyone how long-winded I can get when you let me off the leash. It was true then, and it’s still true now. I am Ramblesaurus Rex. Hear me ramble and roar.

Thanks to Jamie for being interested in talking to me back when not so many people were, for the kind words, for letting me ramble until my charred little heart gurgled in a way that seemed to tell me it was content, and for giving the interview new life in this brave new age of blogetry.

Reading it again after all this time got me thinking about how your attitudes and opinions can shift in the space of a few years.

I think some of my answers would be pretty different today. For one thing, I wouldn’t call Rode microphones sparkly and wondrous anymore. Not after running something like the NT1 through better mic preamps. I’m not sure I’ll be pulling out that mic again for the rest of my life. I also ended up reneging on my public promise to myself to never to write a conventionally structured verse-chorus-verse song again under penalty of death, and that fills my small intestine with sorrow. The talk of those three different albums I was working on during the last third of 2005, well…we all know where that went. It all got swallowed up by The Great Studio Revamping of 2006 and 2007. And then it was digested and redistributed by the crackheads as a loose, fragrant bowel movement.

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with all the songs and ideas I accumulated during that time, while also trying to keep track of new things. The struggle might never end. I lost a lot of time there and got pretty far behind. In some ways I’m still trying to catch up with myself.

And the thing I said about feeling “indifferent” about the local music scene could probably use a bit of context.

It was true at the time. I didn’t feel like I was a part of the scene, because I wasn’t. I was denied entry by the gatekeepers who didn’t think I was cool enough to let in. And though I had a much more active social life at the time of that interview than I do now, I didn’t feel compelled to do much digging into the music other people were making in Windsor. I guess I kind of felt like an outcast, and I’d given up on the whole networking thing. It’s nice when a few people start listening to your music for a change, but when someone you hang out with on Friday nights who’s supposed to be your friend keeps talking about all the things they’re going to do to help spread your music around, and then the phone number they give you turns out to be out of service and they don’t end up doing anything at all to help you because they’re just lips without hips, and that’s pretty much the extent of what “networking” gets you, well…it doesn’t do a whole lot to drum up much faith in people and the hot air they spew.

Since that time, different people have come into my orbit, friends have been made, music has been shared, and I can honestly say I think there’s a lot of great music being made here in Windsor, and a lot of great people making it. The breadth and diversity of talent in this city is kind of staggering, when you really think about it. Reading that interview now is a bit like reading someone else’s words, the same way listening to things I recorded in years past can be like listening to someone else’s music. I recognize that guy, and I remember him well, but I haven’t seen him in a little while. I hope he was able to grow that beard he wanted at some point.

But I stand by the rest of what I said — except for that bit about keeping “what little sanity I have”, which was kind of sarcastic/exaggerated (because, as you know, I am the sanest person you’ll ever ingest in the form of a time-release capsule). In fact, I don’t just stand by it. I lean against it seductively. Look at me lean.

Things have been pretty busy around here over the last little while. As usual, there are several things swirling around at once vying for attention, but I think I know what I need to be focusing on. My goal is to get another new album out there by the end of April. I’m not sure how realistic that is, but we’ll see how it goes.

I’ve also been picking away at something pretty ambitious in fits and starts for a while now. It’s hard to say when/if it’ll be finished and release-ready, but I’m going to try my best to get it there before the end of this year. The wait will make sense once it’s out there. Assuming it makes it out there. And bundle up, people…’cause it’s cold out there.

Finally, I decided to bite the bullet (at least for the moment) and put more than one song up on Spyspace. I think there are now eight somewhat random tracks up there, each of them drawn from a different album over the past few years, housed in a spiffy new MP3 player. I’ll probably end up mixing it up again at some point, but for now, no more works in progress. Only “officially available” stuff. It felt like I should do something a bit more conventional, even though Spyspace isn’t really my thing.

Now watch me get rid of all those songs two weeks from now and post a slew of “unreleased” tracks in their place…

Happy Venereal Disease Day.

Today is Valentine’s Day! Here is what I think of Valentine’s Day.

That’s a middle finger, in case you can’t tell. And a rather long one at that. Right. I’m glad we got that out of the way.

In less romantic news, at long last I have a turntable worthy of my growing vinyl collection. Big thanks to Liam at Dr. Disc for recommending a place in Tecumseh called Audio Two.

It was one of the only experiences I’ve ever had where I said, “I know I could easily spend an insane amount of money, but I’d like to get something good while avoiding the need to scream profanities when it hits me how much money I ended up blowing,” and the person I said that to didn’t even attempt to sell me something more expensive than what I was looking for. I’ve already invested a considerable amount of money in a good stereo system, and I think it was well worth it, but I wanted to try to find something I could incorporate into the existing system without things getting ridiculous. I’ve heard of some people spending upwards of eight thousand dollars just for a turntable/stylus/cartridge combo. Eight thousand. Dollars. That doesn’t include speakers, a preamp or anything else.

Those people must have a shitload of money to throw around.

Anyway, I had my heart and libido set on a Technics SL-1200 MK2. Alas, they’re not so easy to find around here, and while I imagine there are more than a few DJs who have one or two of them kicking around, I doubt they’ll be looking to get rid of them anytime soon. Putting aside their reputation for striking a good balance between price and performance, they also have some serious sex appeal.

technics SL-1200 MK2

I ended up getting this thing instead.

thorens TD 166

It matches up aesthetically with my system much better than the Technics would have, so that was a nice little accidental acorn toss. Better still, I ended up getting a turntable, stylus, cartridge, preamp/phono stage, and even a record cleaning kit, all for less than I was expecting to spend on the turntable by itself. You say direct-drive, I say belt-drive. Either one can drive just fine as far as I’m concerned.

It was an eventful day. I also ended up picking up a few harmonicas and a triangle, among other things. Obviously, the triangle is going to have a profound influence on my music from this point forward. But that goes without saying.

If you’re in Windsor, you should pick up a copy of the new edition of The Lance, because I’m in it. What more you need? You need no more. Thanks again to Cristina for wanting to write about me. She wrote some mighty nice things. My head began to inflate while reading. Luckily I always carry thumbtacks so I can deflate myself during those moments.

It looks like my mug will also be in the paper in the next week or two. I can’t remember anymore which day the Scene section runs. But whatever day that is, that’s where I’ll be. Whenever I show up. Yes. I’ll let you know when it happens.

It’ll be interesting to see how the article comes out. The night I was interviewed my brain was pretty mushy, so I’m not sure I gave much of any useful information. I would also warn you to avert your eyes from my picture, for I am the least photogenic person who ever lived. But I think you’re well aware of that by now.

In keeping with the spirit of sharing diseases and other things too, I put a rough mix of something new up on Spyspace. It’s been a little while since I’ve done that. I’m not sure if this track is any indication of what to expect from the next album, but it’s the first time I’ve pulled out the Fender Strat in quite a while. It’s also in 6/4, which is an interesting time signature to play in. I don’t know if I should add more window dressing to the song or not. I kind of found myself wishing for some plucked viola notes at odd moments, and I might have been able to emulate that sound to some extent using the ukulele, but instead I threw in some bugle flatulence and improvised piano bits.

Still can’t quite get away from relative austerity. Maybe that’s as it should be. Who can say?

Keep your dreams in a paper cup, and when you’re thirsty…drink ’em up.

behold, my wooden gun.

I have a wooden gun that shoots rubber bands.

See? I told you there would be exciting news coming soon!

But seriously. Suddenly I’m everywhere you wanna be. Just like Visa.

There’s a review of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN over here, thanks to Meryl, and there will be an article about me (me? me!) in the newest issue of The Lance, thanks to Cristina. I also may be appearing in the Windsor Star next week.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this might just be too much print about me for the universe to handle. But big thanks and whipped-cream-enhanced hugs go out to all who have deemed me worthy of writing about. I gave some pretty long-winded answers to the questions Cristina asked me, and she was left with the unenviable task of having to shave them down to something that wouldn’t put readers to sleep. Reading-induced narcolepsy is a tragic thing, particularly when I’m at the helm of it. Oh, the stories I could tell…but I won’t, because I wouldn’t want to make you weep.

One somewhat unexpected new development has been recording the music of someone other than myself for a change. This is something I haven’t done in any capacity in something like five years now. I’d forgotten what it was like. I should have taken pictures or filmed some video footage during the initial sessions to put up here, but that thought didn’t even occur to me until it was too late. More news about that as it develops, and envelopes, and sells cough drops. If you can fool people into believing Halls lozenges are actually barbiturates, you’ve already won at least a third of the battle. My heart goes out with you. Then it breaks up with you. Then it tries to win you back, but you’ve already moved on. There just ain’t no winnin’ way.