Month: November 2011

Random post is random.

Modern “country music” is, much like most modern popular music in general, so thoroughly homogenous, sterile, soulless, insipid, and completely devoid of anything even resembling personality or interesting ideas, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time there were puveyors of this thing called country music who weren’t just lame cliché-peddlers. Here’s a reminder of what used to be, for you and for me.

If I ever see anything half that good on CMT, I will defile my pants in a profound movement of stunned fecal servitude.

Elsewhere, something went wrong with WordPress this morning. The display size of about 80% of the pictures here were altered in such a way that they were almost all too large by more than just a hair. It took me a few hours to go through almost four years of archives and every single album page in order to re-size the images to look the way they did before. I’m hoping it was just a fluke. Leave my pictures alone, blog gods. They never hurt anyone.

Tomorrow, unless my blog traffic suddenly drops off completely, I will crack one hundred thousand hits. I feel a tingling in my loins. My eyes are leaking silver coins. I’ll celebrate down in Des Moines.

The serpentine dance.

Hey, look — another kinda sorta music video.

This one was made using pieces of silent films dating from 1894 to 1900, alternately titled Danza Serpentina and Dansa Serpentina. I wasn’t able to unearth much information about any of them, aside from one fascinating tidbit: because of the limitations of the equipment available at the time, these films were hand-coloured one frame at a time with aniline dyes. Wrap your brain around that for a second.

There’s something almost surreal about these little films. They’re jerky and grainy but somehow vivid at the same time. Some of the images created by nothing more than dance movements (pioneered by Loïe Fuller) and fabric are more visually arresting than a lot of the computer-generated effects we’re capable of now.

I’m assuming this stuff has fallen into the public domain, since it’s more than a century old. If I’m wrong, I’ll whisper a feeble apology on my deathbed.

The song is “Insomnia Kick”, still one of my favourite things on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART. As usual, there are some weird moments of audio/video synchronicity that weren’t planned or manipulated. I guess ancient film of women dancing (with occasional lyrics fading in and out) is a bit of an odd visual accompaniment to a song like this, but it feels appropriate to me. I have no idea why. It’s one of those things that transcends reason.

For the second time now, I find myself thinking there’s no point in making a video progress report video for this month. There isn’t much to talk about, and a seven-minute progress report is no progress report at all. Like I said the last time I was in this situation, I’m not going to make a habit of skipping months. I’ve only skipped out on two of the past eighteen. Every once in a while there just isn’t much to say. Next month it’ll be a different story.

Soft realism.

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.

The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of colour, form and design. The term “life” used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it. Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.

— Edward Hopper

I think those words apply not just to painting, but to all art forms. The only art of any kind that’s ever truly great is that which is an honest expression of something the artist knows, believes, sees, imagines, or feels a need to say in a way that’s unique and specific to them.

Thanks to Ray Carney (yes — that Ray Carney) for suggesting I investigate Hopper’s work.

It’s a beautiful day for an outdoor wedding.

The other day I made a Tumblr, found an interesting picture, and married it to some lyrics for a song I wrote that seems destined to remain stalled at the recorded-but-not-quite-finished stage. I thought about slowly building up a slew of posts featuring words, images, videos, and maybe the occasional song.

A few hours later I deleted the entire blog.

I can’t say I don’t know what I was thinking making it at all. I thought it might be worthwhile to have a more anonymous place to post random things on a more fragmented and frequent basis. But it also struck me that there’s a social networking aspect built in, not far removed from what eventually led me to deactivate my Facebook page. Why would I want to be easier to find?

Besides, I don’t need the distraction of trying to fill up a whole new blog with content that’s of a high enough quality to justify the blog existing to begin with.

Thus ends the short tale of how the most short-lived tumblelog there ever was came to an end before anyone knew it was there.

Shortly after the death of my Tumblr, I finally hammered down a song I’ve been messing with for more than three years. I’ve made at least six different mixes at different times, re-recording and altering just about everything but the piano and vocal tracks that make up the meat of the thing, and I never arrived at a mix that felt quite right. Spent a lot of time trying to nail the right approach behind the drums, only to hear the song really open up once I gave up on the drums altogether and added a few very simple textural touches.

Funny that such a simple song would take so long to get where it was supposed to go. I think this is one of the unexpected perks to taking such a long time to finish this particular album. The temperamental songs are given ample time to mature, so when the thing does hit the finish line, nothing on it will feel like it’s only halfway there. Where normally I would just throw a song on the out-takes pile if it didn’t seem willing to work with me beyond a certain point, these songs get to sit in cryogenic stasis until a random epiphany or a happy accident comes along to cure what ails them.

Speaking of Facebook, now that it’s gone I find myself doing other things with the “nothing time” I used to fill up by floating around on the Book of Faces. For one thing, I’ve been scanning a whole pile of handwritten lyrics and putting them up on album pages where there used to be typed lyrics. Even if you can’t read my handwriting, which varies pretty wildly in style and neatness, it’s fun throwing that stuff in there.

I think it’s a shame there aren’t more artists with blogs who go to the trouble of posting images of some of the physical components of what they do — not just lyrics, but brainstorming sessions, rough track lists, random notes, rough sketches, and the like. Seems to me it makes things more personal and a lot more interesting to look at.

I had a friend once who said she could almost tell what a person looked like just based on their handwriting. She felt it revealed a lot about their personality. I always thought she had something there. Still do.

It goes on.

My rough sequence for the first disc of THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE has started to shift as more songs I thought were shoe-ins have revealed they need some more time in the oven, while songs I thought were troubled or not worth tackling have surprised me.

After I do a bit of work on two different songs I should have a new rough sequence in place. Then I can see how it flows and go from there. I considered releasing the album in four separate shots as the discs are finished, but I think that would be more trouble than it’s worth. I would need to take care of packaging and cover art for four albums instead of one, and it would render the whole thing a little more accessible and easier to digest…which would kind of miss the point.

I think getting this first part of the album in more or less finished form is a little like winning the first set in an important tennis match. Once it’s in the bag, the work that remains will seem a good deal less daunting.

We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, I just deleted every possible thing i could from my CBC Radio 3 page, including all the music, pictures, video content, and any useful information there ever was about me. I would delete my entire page, but they don’t seem to allow you to do that, and I don’t feel like sending an email to someone trying to explain why I want to erase myself from existence. I guess it’s good enough to know anything that could have once been of interest to anyone is gone now. Right on, brothers and sisters. Right on.

Is it just me, or does almost every single hit song produced by anyone now follow the I-V-vi-IV chord progression? I honestly can’t remember the last time I heard a pop song that did anything else. As for the last time I heard a song with this chord progression that was actually any good, it was probably “With or Without You” by U2. And that was recorded in 1987.

I’m not saying all music has to be harmonically complex to the point of insanity. I’ve written my share of three chord songs. But you’d think there would at least be some variation here, and I’m not hearing it. I find it a little sad that most people probably keep eating this stuff up because instead of “lazy and repetitive” they hear “comforting and familiar”.

Really. Everyone knows I – V – vi – IV = -14. How about some different arithmetic for a change? Just once, I’d like to hear a modern pop song where the math adds up to -35.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder.

I thought I’d heard just about the worst modern music had to offer. I was pretty positive “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO was officially the most pathetic piece of shit ever to call itself a song, single-handedly lowering the collective IQ of the universe just by existing.

Then I heard “The Bitch Came Back” by Theory of a Nickelback.

It goes beyond misogyny, beyond stupidity, and beyond musical mediocrity. Truly it shatters all boundaries. Check it out on YouTube at your own peril. A piece of my soul and a small part of my brain died when I listened to it.

A VJ on MuchMusic was talking about how much he was looking forward to a new movie because it featured one of his favourite actors. He expressed how excited he was when he learned said actor was “on the helm for this”.

I’d like to know how anyone can ever be on the helm for anything. It was my understanding that you’re either AT the helm OF something, or you’re not. No on’s or for’s about it.

It seems I was wrong. I was also wrong in my assumption that you need to have at least a tenuous grasp of the English language and how to speak it properly in order to get meaningful work as a television personality.

Non-defective copies of the Laughing Stock vinyl reissue still haven’t appeared. The eponymous Mark Hollis album arrived, and while it isn’t similarly defective, it’s disappointing how noisy the pressing is for such quiet and delicately-recorded music. I don’t know what the fuck the Pitchfork reviewer who called it a “remarkable vinyl mastering job” was listening to. The only thing remarkable about it is its shittiness.

To give you a bit of perspective, the new Tom Waits album was pressed on 180 gram vinyl. It sounds fantastic, and it comes with a huge booklet of lyrics and pictures along with a copy of the album on CD. It cost about $18 before tax.

Mark Hollis was pressed on standard-issue 140 gram vinyl, there’s no booklet (the lyrics are provided on the sleeve that houses the record), and it sounds pretty decent beneath all the pops and crackles, but I’ve bought decades-old $3 records that are quieter than this. It cost $24 before tax.

Needless to say, I won’t be buying any more vinyl from the label responsible for these Talk Talk/Mark Hollis reissues.

But enough complaining about stupid crap. Let me tell you about the Joshua Jesty show you missed on Friday.

It was one of those performances where the lack of a good turnout somehow gets twisted into an asset and makes for a better show. Everyone became a part of it, and the whole thing turned into something of a dialogue between performer and audience, with a lot of laughing. I ran up to sing unplanned, unrehearsed harmony on a song I’ve always felt close to, because I knew I would regret not doing it. Didn’t matter that there weren’t many people there to hear the harmonizing. It was something I felt a need to do for myself. Josh later dedicated a song to me called “Never Date Crazy” (wise words worth heeding) and sang a tune about Frank Sinatra’s ability to mentally slap people.

It was a lot of fun, and if you weren’t there you missed out. Now go stand in a corner and spank yourself with a limp piece of asparagus until you weep with shame, because if you’re reading this, you probably weren’t there.

It’s a little surreal meeting someone in the flesh when you’ve been friends for a good few years but have never…you know…met in the flesh. It’s surreal for me, anyway. I’d give you my metaphorical explanation, but you’d probably just laugh and say, “It’s not like that at all. You’re weird.” And then I’d take my socks off and ask you to dance with me.

That’s just how I operate.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how I went twenty-eight years without ever hearing After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. I’ve been a fan of Neil for at least half of my life, and I admire the way he continues to try new things, refusing to keep force-feeding fans the same music over and over again (even if his restlessness can sometimes lead to albums that are…uh…less than stellar).

Maybe I never got around to giving Gold Rush a listen because it was consistently held up as one of the best Neil Young albums, much like Harvest. And to be honest, I’ve never thought Harvest was all that great. There are some good songs there, but on the whole it just never grabbed me like On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Rust Never Sleeps, Zuma, and Sleeps with Angels (which can sit at the table with any of the great albums from the ’70s as far as I’m concerned). It seemed too staid to me. There was no bite. no edge. Some of my favourite Neil Young songs are the ballads like “Pardon My Heart” and “Ambulance Blues”, but those songs feel like they have a ragged, imperfect heart pumping blood through them. With Harvest, at least for me, it’s tough to find the pulse.

A few days ago I played a 45 on my turntable, only to be reminded that this belt-driven Thorens doesn’t much like 45s. It’ll play the record just fine, and then, when you decide you want to play a regular old 33 1/3 rpm record, nothing happens, because somewhere in the space between the 45 ceasing to spin and leaving the turntable to return to its sleeve the belt has come loose. When this happened before, I readjusted the belt and all was well. This time, after fixing the belt I could tell something was wrong. Every record I played sounded just a bit off. The pitch was a hair too high.

Now I had a turntable that was running too fast. It was driving me nuts, and no amount of fiddling with the belt seemed to get me back to the land of proper pitch. In a last ditch effort, I thought I’d try a repeat of what caused the problem in the first place.

I played a 45. As expected, the belt came loose after it was finished. I readjusted it again. Everything started playing at the right pitch again. Hallelujah.

To celebrate, I’ve been pulling out some records over the past few days after a period of mostly neglecting my vinyl collection. I came across a copy of After the Gold Rush I forgot I had. I thought I’d throw it on while I was brushing my teeth and getting dressed, just for the hell of it. And I found myself thinking, “Now that’s a Neil Young album.”

It’s kind of like what I always felt Harvest could/should have been. There are some really pretty, folky, laid-back songs, and there are also some ragged rockers (“When You Dance I Can Really Love” sounds like a promiscuous cousin to “Cinnamon Girl”, in a good way). There are some really cool short songs that are almost fragments — something you don’t hear too often on a Neil Young album. And it all works together really well. There isn’t a bad song in the batch.

Even better, it’s all new to me, because the only track on the album I’ve ever heard on the radio is “Southern Man”. It’s a great-sounding record, too — one of the more expensive used records I’ve bought outside the realm of jazz, and worth every penny, given how quiet and pristine the vinyl is.

Score yet another point for happy surprises. And hey, maybe someday I’ll give Harvest another listen and it’ll magically grow some teeth. You never know.

Give your dead evil brother a hand.

This video progress report is showing up a little later than usual for a few reasons.

For one thing, Dead Men Walk is an awful, awful film. The bits I chopped up and used to break up the talking work well in the context of this video, I think, but man, did I have to dig deep to find them. It was a chore to even watch the movie to the end. I think it’s the first time I’ve watched a public domain film and thought to myself, “There’s a good reason this thing is free.”

The summary on IMDb tells you all you need to know about the story: “The twin of a kindly small town physician returns from the grave for vengeance against his brother, who secretly killed him because the twin served Satan”. Some of the acting is just brain-melting in its hideousness — especially that of Nedrick Young, who apparently was just fine in other films but here manages to make a desk look like a brilliant method actor by comparison. At least George Zucco does a serviceable job as both the good and evil brothers.

For another thing, I had some trouble getting the video to render after I finished editing it. Long ago I settled on WMV as the best file format for any videos I make. It seems to offer the best balance between keeping the file size reasonable and not sacrificing much of any noticeable audio or video quality.

I’ve never had a problem with WMV files, and ever since I started using Sony Vegas a little over a year ago I’ve never had trouble rendering a video. It was a very different story back when I was using Windows Movie Maker for the first few progress report videos.

This time I found I couldn’t render the video as a WMV file because I didn’t have the necessary audio codec. Or so Vegas told me. I assumed something must have gone wrong with my version of Windows Media Player. Maybe I accidentally deleted the relevant codec while getting rid of unnecessary cobwebs on my hard drive. Nothing I tried fixed the problem.

After a lot of frustration and fruitless troubleshooting, I took another look at the rendering settings and noticed a surround sound option was selected. When I imported Dead Men Walk into Vegas, it came bundled with a number of different audio options I had to collapse into mono for the best sound. When it was rendering time, Vegas decided I wanted to publish the whole video with surround sound. The trouble is, I don’t have a surround sound codec, because I would never have cause to use it.

I switched back to the normal stereo mode, and all was well.

I also spent some time trying to find a better-quality clip of “Out of Touch” without a logo at the bottom of the screen. All the really nice-looking logo-free versions on YouTube must have some sort of encoding that prevents them from being downloaded. Even my old friend Tubeminator couldn’t help me there. So I had to settle for lower quality and a stupid logo. The passion still comes through, anyway.

I think the intro “music video” segment here is one of my favourites out of all the different ones I’ve put together so far. Tim Fort’s kinetic art is wicked-cool, “Knee-Jerk Howl” has always had an autumnal feel to me, and somehow the two things work together, with some strange moments of music/video synchronicity that weren’t planned or manipulated. The only editing I did involved shortening a few things to fit the length of the song and then speeding up the video a bit for the reprise at the end.

I’d forgotten how much I like the song off of WHO YOU ARE NOW… that plays over the end credits, too. It doesn’t sound like anything else on that album. Now it almost sounds like an embryonic precursor to a few of the things I would be doing on CREATIVE NIGHTMARES four years later.

As mentioned in the video, my friend Joshua Jesty is playing at Taloola on Friday, November 11th, at 8:00 pm. If I hadn’t deactivated my Facebook page (a decision I’m not regretting even a little bit), I would be talking about it over there. If you’re in the area and are looking for something to do, you should come out, grab some tea, listen to some good music that you may not get to hear in Windsor again, and support a touring musician.

Elliott’s tender moment in this video is one of the shortest segments he’s ever done, and there’s a marked difference in tone from the rants he tends to go on lately. I think he’s still a little miffed that I haven’t recorded a new intro song for him yet. Still, I think on the whole the video moves at a pretty good pace. There’s even a little callback to a joke that was buried at the end of the second progress report video (if anyone catches what it is, I will bow before you in awe).

At this point I’ve fallen into a pretty comfortable groove with these things and settled back down around the twenty-five-minute range again. Be warned, though, that when I do finish THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE the accompanying video progress report will be suitably long-winded. And I’ve got something big planned for the one that should be showing up around Christmas.