Day: April 17, 2020

Steeper and steeper.

I’ve finished this film-like thing that digs into the making of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK (and a whole lot of other things too). For a minute there I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say that.

A few days ago, when I was getting deep into the home stretch, I tried to join a bunch of WMV files with Steeper so I could see how things were shaping up. While everything worked fine when there were seven or eight things I was trying to glue together, it didn’t go so well now that I had twelve of them. The command-line interface would show the joining process progressing without a hitch until the very end. Then it would hang on “indexing output file” forever. If I tried to save the file at this stage, the program would freeze up. If I tried to save the file at some earlier point in the process, the same thing would happen. If I was lucky I’d come away with a file that was partially playable but incomplete.

When a program freezes up on me and it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to unfreeze, my impulse has always been to force it to close so I can get on with my life. Johnny Smith suggested leaving it alone and waiting to see what would happen. It took five or ten minutes, but eventually the indexing process finished. So then I tried saving, thinking the indexing couldn’t happen until Steeper knew where to put the file. The program froze up on me again.

I thought I’d try one more time and let it freeze during the saving process. Maybe if I didn’t force the program to quit I’d get lucky and it would take pity on me and unfreeze at some point. And wouldn’t you know it — that’s just what happened.

The output file I was asking Steeper to deal with was much larger by now than it was when I was putting together rough assemblies a week or two ago. What was once a few hundred megabytes had grown to a few gigs. It makes sense that it would take a little longer to index and save all that information. I could have saved myself a bit of anxiety if I’d allowed that simple idea to make its way into my head.

Maybe it’s a good lesson to learn about impatience creating the illusion of a problem when there isn’t one.

As I like to say, all’s well that ends with sixteen files joined together as one. I spent a good chunk of yesterday combing through the whole thing and making a few last-minute changes. It’s funny what you miss when your head is buried in something so involved. Most of the time it was a messy edit here and there, but in one case I forgot to insert a bit of text letting the viewer know who a musician was. Pretty glad I caught that little oversight before it was too late.

I’m supposed to be finished by now. I’ve been working on this every day for the past few weeks. I was doing preliminary editing work on some of the musical segments as far back as 2014. And still I can’t escape the feeling that the end has snuck up on me a little. It’s going to be strange to wrap my head around not having any more editing to do.

In a lot of ways this little homemade documentary completes the work done on YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. The two things are meant to live together and illuminate each other. There’s a ton of music on the album that isn’t represented in the film, but that’s because it wasn’t feasible to film every piece of music I recorded, and I wanted to be able to put together a final assembly that was less than ten hours long (which I managed to do!). I also wanted the film to emphasize the work that involved other singers and musicians. I think that’s the most interesting stuff to watch, even if it might create the impression that the album was less of a solitary mission than it really was. I can set up a camera and film myself constructing songs on my own any time. Bringing other people into my music like this isn’t likely to happen again. I’m glad I was able to document some of that as it happened.

I couldn’t fit in everything I wanted to. I had an embarrassment of raw material to work with — more than fifty hours of self-shot footage, fifteen hours of archival footage filmed by a handful of friends over the years, hundreds if not thousands of photographs, and I made use of twenty-seven different public domain films ranging from experimental animation to unintentionally hilarious educational films, vintage cartoons, and even a cigarette commercial from the 1940s. I had to make countless small and large decisions about what to show, how much of it to show, how to cut it, and where to put it.

It took well over a thousand edits to suture all those choices. I know this because I counted them.

One of the things I enjoyed most about constructing this thing was working out what music to use and how to employ it. Even when the music isn’t the focus, there’s very little narration that doesn’t have music behind it. With only a few exceptions, everything you hear is period-correct. When I’m talking about the early cassette recordings, almost all the music on the soundtrack is sourced from those recordings. Same deal when I’m talking about Papa Ghostface, GWD, and any number of solo adventures. I knew I’d recorded a lot of instrumental pieces, but it was pretty neat to discover I had access to any mood I wanted without having to reach outside of my own catalogue. I managed to incorporate more than sixty songs, from one of the first things I ever recorded in 1994 to some piano noodling I recorded last week. I even got to pull out a handful of things that haven’t been released in any official form.

It was a challenge to shape all of this into something with some amount of rhythm and cohesion. It was also great fun, and more emotional and cathartic than I thought it would be. I’ve never put so much thought or work into any video-related thing I’ve done, and I think it shows in the final assembly. It ain’t a high-definition experience, and it won’t be screened at any film festivals, but if I start to feel self-conscious about that I remember the Daniel Lanois film Here Is What Is. Some of the footage in that documentary looks like it was filmed with a potato. It doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch.

Just as there’s a lot of music that’s specific to the album, the film touches on a number of things that aren’t SLEEPWALK-related. In a way it serves as the last word on what I do and why I do it the way I do. I wasn’t expecting to dig into all of that. It just happened. One thing I was expecting: you get to see my expanding waistline in all its glory, along with vivid evidence of Maximum Beardage (2017-2019) and Maximum Beardage Jr. (2014-2015). The relative gauntness of my face in a few bits I filmed breaking down some song elements at the mixer over the last week or two is pretty striking. I don’t miss carrying that spare tire around, either.

You know you’ve lost more than a bit of weight when you can wear a sweatshirt that hasn’t fit you since 2008.

Here’s how old this hoodie is — it’s from a time when CJAM was still situated at 91.5 on the FM dial. Pretty freaky.

And here’s something else that’s freaky. YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK has a total running time of two hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty-five seconds. Its video accomplice? Two hours, thirty-three minutes, and thirty-one seconds. They’re within four seconds of being the exact same length. That’s a margin so thin it almost doesn’t exist. And it’s pure coincidence.

Once I figured that out, I was tempted to make a few fades or transitions a little longer so the length of the video would match the length of the album stroke for stroke. But it felt a little too cheeky.

Working on this video project has been engrossing, and I’ve been surprised almost every step of the way. I’m a little sad it’s over now. One of the most amusing surprises came from my eleven-year-old Acer laptop, of all things.

The S key stopped working years ago. I was able to squeeze a bit more life out of it by ripping off the plastic key cover and pressing down on the sensor, but that only worked for a few weeks, and then it was dead. After that, whenever I needed an S I had to copy it from an existing document or a file and then paste it where I wanted it to be. This is the computer I use for duplicating CDs too, so you can imagine what a treat it was when I had to input the song information for SLEEPWALK. I found the only way to avoid losing my mind was to copy and paste a lowercase and uppercase S next to each other so I’d have easy access to whichever one was necessary at a given time.

While I was messing with all of this video stuff, the laptop started coming out of sleep mode on its own at random times. A single letter kept repeating over and over again in the field for my login password, as if an invisible finger was pressing down on it. It wouldn’t stop until I hit the backspace. It was the letter S.

This happened maybe half a dozen times. Then it didn’t happen anymore, and the S key started working again. I guess it wanted to announce its rebirth to me.

I have to hand it to this laptop. I’ve asked an awful lot of it over the past few weeks, and I’ve worked it hard. Aside from Vegas crashing on me a few times, it’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since I stopped trying to edit it as one big project and broke it up into smaller pieces. Acer the Aceman took everything I threw at him and held up just fine. If anything, he seems to run a little better now. Try figuring that out.

It’ll be at least a few days before the video shows up here. I need to add some more content to the blog post it’s going to be attached to. But it’s a-comin’. I’m going to try to have that all squared away by Monday at the latest.