Archive for the ‘wordiness’ Category

Audiobiography (for Disquiet Junto)

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

My third (or fourth?) entry to the Disquiet Junto is a 2-minute narration that was uncomfortable to do. I initially resisted doing this “audiobiography”, as I generally dislike the self-consciousness that arises from talking about myself or hearing my voice, but as so many others in the Disquiet Junto have done it, I felt like I was cheating by skipping it. By the time I was finished, there were many things I didn’t talk about that contributed to the whole picture that didn’t make the cut : Indian music, analog synths, field recordings, Autechre, My Bloody Valentine…. but I was already several minutes over the allotted time when I started editing.

I also created a new SoundCloud account to post works from this site. I’ll be retroactively posting all the tracks from this blog soon.

background music: Chef Menteur – “Io” (edits)

More on this #60th Disquiet Junto project at:disquiet.com/2013/02/21/disquiet0060-audiobio

More details on the Disquiet Junto at: Groups – Disquiet-junto

More details on the SoundCloud “audiobiography” project at: blog.soundcloud.com/2013/02/06/audiobiography/

A brief history of Chef Menteur, part 3

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

The Farfisa organ was also part of the setup (where it remained and became my main instrument for years), running through Electro Harmonix phaser and delay, but the K2000 was eventually retired because manually playing back all the samples was too much like DJing– and not enough like playing an instrument. The other guy in the band, Jim, played mostly bass and tweaked loops that I’d programmed on his Roland drum machine.

When Mike from the Electrical Spectacle started playing drums with us, things really started to change into something that worked better as a live concept; I’d figured out it was better to loop synths as patterns in the Roland which freed me up to play guitar again. I’d taken a long break from playing guitar and found a way of approaching it that could avoid the clichés. Mostly, I stopped concentrating on chords (especially those I already knew) and started concentrating on notes, especially long, single tones and the harmonic relationship between them; not in any kind of intellectual way but in a purely intuitive way.

Of course I could have sat down with a music theory book, or even some simple Mel Bay scale books, but I was afraid of being led into playing scales that I didn’t really want to play, and my ear not being trained enough to know which ones I liked, I had no tools in my arsenal except the blues scales and the C major scale; which I avoided like the plague.

After playing many, many bad notes I realized I liked playing certain scales which sounded vaguely Arabic and surfy. That led to a fascination with music from that part of the world; really everywhere from Spain and Morocco, through the Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey) through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and of course India.

Many people who’d left the indie/pop world to focus on other aspects called their music, or had their music called “post-rock.” Tortoise, at least in our minds was the pinnacle of these bands, and almost all of them seemed to be in Chicago. We had many people tell us we needed to move to Chicago. Staying in New Orleans was certainly a bridge to nowhere. The live shows were fun, we had 40-200 people depending on the venue and the other acts, but we’d already hit the ceiling in New Orleans. That was OK with me. I didn’t want to tour; the live shows were fun but they were also stressful because of the complexity of the gear setup, and the unpredictable explosions that could be involved, and I wanted to focus on the recordings in the studio.

My friend potpie recommended that we try out his friend Chris on drums and he became our drummer for several years; my friend Bryan joined us on samplers and his very sweet custom-modded Pro-1 synth freeing me up to do more guitar work. The album We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire was culled from a series of mostly live improvisational recordings from this period; only three tracks were specifically tracked for the album. We did some live shows with both Chris and Mike on drums; the epic “Gilgamesh” was always a highlight for me as they played off each other brilliantly as Jim played the dubby bass line and I played my neo-Babylonian scales on the electric sitar.

Dan from godheadSilo, a good friend from work who was my partner in the electronica duo Time Promises Power, joined us after Katrina to fill in for Bryan on the Moog; a 6/6/6 tribute show to Black Sabbath conceived by potpie resulted in Dan getting behind the kit . Needless to say, if you know Dan and drums, you won’t be surprised to hear that he never left!

That show was also a turning point for me in that I felt I had achieved enough stylistic confidence in myself as a guitar player to no longer have to obsess about avoiding clichés. I had enough tools in my arsenal to pick the one that was appropriate and sometimes, when you’re playing psychedelic guitar, that’s going to be something very like a blues scale. I’ve never been a metalhead but I’ve loved early Sabbath since I was a kid. I could hear what was great about Tony Iommi’s guitar style without being led down the path of excess. As always, the subtlety, the tone, and the minimalism speaks far louder than a million Steve Vai notes per second.

With Dan in the band, there was enough collective concentration and patience to make a whole album’s (The Answer’s In Forgetting) worth of compositions that were based on more concrete ideas. The improvisational element was still heavy in some songs, but it was nice to build an album track-by-track, consciously, instead of waiting for the Muse and always having to have mics set up and the tape recorder ready-to-go whenever inspiration struck. It also enabled us to make some thoughtful chord changes (see the track “Exit the Thief” for example) in the arrangement; which in the past would have been against the rules for our minimalist drone outfit.

As before, with the track “Io” that ended We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire, we added a long ambient drone track, “Farewell Callisto.” I’ve been questioned before on the inclusion of such tracks, even by some drone afficianados, because the idea is that people who want to listen to such tracks want to listen to only them and those who don’t, don’t. That may be so, but I can think of at least one exception: me. I have found (thanks to the Internet mostly) that most of my geeky and obscure obsessions aren’t nearly as unusual as I thought they were, so someone else out there must also like the long ambient tracks?

 

Upon Discovering That Hollywood Really Is Making a Movie Based On the Battleship Board Game

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

[SCENE. Office, Big Hollywood Studio. Producer behind desk. Director stands in front.]

PRODUCER: What board games haven’t been made into a movie franchise yet?

DIRECTOR: Pretty much all of them have, I think.

P (gently prodding): All of them? Come on, think! What’s left?

D: Well…. there’s… there’s…. no I can’t say it…. it’s too stupid…

P (more loudly): Spit it out man! This is Hollywood! Nothing is too stupid here!

D: Well…. um…  there’s (gulps) … Battleship?

P: Battleship! Genius! That’s it. Now, how to make it zing? What’s that thing we always do?

D: Add aliens?

P: Someone give this guy 10 million dollars! Cause we’ve got a hit!

Create, Consume, Communicate, or Practice?

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

After hearing a well-known food writer talk about how he forces himself to write first thing with coffee every morning, I’ve been thinking about how much time a creative person should allocate to the following areas:

  • Create: For a writer, forcing yourself to put pen to paper. A musician: actively composing. An artist: paint must be on the brush—whether or not you are feeling the Muse.
  • Consume: Reading, listening, participating in the arts passively. It’s hard to think of an interesting musician without finding a person who listened to older records obsessively. Same goes for all other artists, with few exceptions, and most of the exceptions are liars.
  • Communicate: Talking to others about/within/around the topic; sharing stories; formal and informal meetings. Online communication is certainly a big part of it (What I am doing now with this blog entry in fact). Writers have retreats. Musicians have jam sessions.
  • Practice (This was gong to be “Learn” but “CCCP” was a better acronym): Includes all forms of active study, from practicing your instrument, to attending lectures, to reading instructional materials. It can even be watching TV or YouTube if it teaches you something.

It seems there must be some kind of balance, and I suppose it depends somewhat on the kind of work you do. Communication seems less important in most of the visual arts, and Practice is probably hard to do if you’re a writer unless you’re actually writing, and that puts you in the Create area.

I am curious to hear from anyone who’s developed an approach to this. As a self-taught musician, and a wanna-be writer, I used to believe that everything was in the Create zone. I felt guilty, even angry at myself when I was doing anything but writing. It’s taken me a long time to realize how important the other 3 areas outside Creation are important. I think I have got the Consume area down — now I could definitely could use more Practice in my life.

One thing I have noticed is that you need to understand where you are on the curve of learning vs the plateaus of inspiration. If you are finding it hard to be inspired, there’s a good chance that your energies would be better spent learning. Study someone whose work you really respect. Immerse yourself in it. Don’t worry about being a copycat—you’ll probably only retain 5% of what you learned anyway, and you’ll synthesize whatever you retained into your toolbox. The next time you try to create, you’ll have a new palette to choose from. That’s my take anyway, and I’d love to hear yours.

A brief history of Chef Menteur, part 2.

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

Here is part 1 of this post. 

I hadn’t played a live show in what seemed like ages, and the most technology I had ever used onstage was using a distortion pedal AND a delay pedal on my guitar. Now I was leaving the guitar behind and bringing a mess of pedals for three keyboards (Farfisa organ, K2000 synth/sampler, 1980’s Yamaha toy synth), going through a mixer. Fortunately it was “just a house show” at our friend Chris Crowley’s Flophouse® and there was minimal external pressure… but having come from a indie rock background I honestly didn’t know if we could pull this electronic thing off live.

Countless hours were spent loading samples and patches into the Kurzweil K2000. I had Mellotrons and Moog samples as well as keymapped snippets of pieces of Art Bell’s AM radio show “Coast to Coast” where he’s talking about aliens and the Quickening.

The Quickening by Chef Menteur

People weren’t really doing laptop live shows quite yet—at least not in New Orleans—but my work Powerbook G3 was used with a microphone and a borrowed projector to make psychedelic improvisations based algorithmically on the music, using a visualizer named MacCthuga. (We later moved on to a more advanced visualizer called G-Force, later integrated into iTunes) — this was before visualizers were commonly built into iTunes and WinAmp, so the idea that the projections could reflect the waveforms of the sound we were playing was quite revolutionary at the time.

The visualizers we used could be pre-scripted as well as “played” live to a degree, so that you could set it up to have a better chance of showing the kinds of patterns you wanted to see, and could use keyboard shortcuts to advance color palettes or animations to the next one in the list. I spent a lot of time practicing this, but in the end it was too difficult to pay any attention to the video and still make a half-decent effort at performing, so although we did get some help at shows from a couple of friends, essentially it ended up on autopilot…. but still interpolating from the actual music being played through the microphone, which was the main point. I wanted to have a video member of the band that was of equal import to any of the musicians—especially (a few years later) after seeing Stars of the Lid perform at the Mermaid Lounge, who not only did that but did it with vintage film equipment.

Our first show was a success I was told, although it was a total blur for me. Our next couple of shows we tested in real live local rock clubs: the Circle Bar and the Mermaid Lounge.

Another song that we played for the first few shows was based on a Chinese pop vocal sample from my friend Mack that we had improvised over, put to a club beat, recorded to 4-track, edited and looped:

Chun-Li by Chef Menteur

Before moving on to part 3, I realized I’d forgotten another gem from our pre-live days that should probably be in part one. Probably the most acid/house of all our tracks (thanks to the 303s) it nonetheless is really rooted more in dub:

Terra Incognita by Chef Menteur 

Stay tuned for part 3. Meanwhile check out the tracks above to see what Chef Menteur started out sounding like and how far we’ve come— and please, please consider supporting our Kickstarter project!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the Aural Dustbin

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I hope my friend Aubrey won’t mind me outing him here. He and I share many of the same tastes in both musical genres and acts that are out of fashion more often than not; and it’s rare to meet someone whose love for this music not only goes beyond a worry about what’s cool or hip (and not just stuff that’s ironically hip to love, like ABBA, or Yacht Rock) but is based on the music that truly moves or inspires you, even if it gets you laughed out of the room when you admit your secret shame.

He and his partner Shae run Citizen Objects, makers of fine quality art and music, and their under-appreciated record blog is a love-letter to music lost-in-the-stacks.

Check it out at the Aural Dustbin.

OM.

more food for thought

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

[preface: obivously, this blog is going to be about more than music, I guess, since I don’t really have a better place to write about this and I really don’t want to create another blog. ]

Last week after much procrastination, the wife and I finally saw Food, Inc, which directly assaulted something I’d been fairly ambivalent about for over a decade now.

Let me set something straight: I love eating meat. I love steak, hamburgers, fried chicken, bacon, pepperoni, you name it. In particular I love roast beef po-boys, Cuban sandwiches, Reubens and above all, North Carolina-style pulled pork. For this latter my passion was extreme: with my old band Shinola we went on several day tours, during one of these Barbequests™ in eastern Carolina we ate at five Q shacks in one day — and created the first N.C. BBQ resource ever on the web back in 1996. In the past few years I’ve had great times smoking pork shoulders in homemade smokers (a la Alton Brown) and homemade hot vinegar sauce made from peppers grown in my backyard.

But before that, as a late teenager and in college I was a vegetarian… not primarily for health reasons, but for all the reasons this film brought back to me. When I started eating meat again it was the result of going through some especially dark times that brought on a nihilistic phase, and while my family was probably relieved that I was eating like a normal American again, I felt like I had sold out somewhat.

And now, the food industry is more consolidated, more streamlined, more disgusting, more dangerous, and more cruel than ever. I don’t want to say too much more, other than you owe it to yourself to see this movie. (You might have to wait for it to come out on DVD at this point, depending where you live.)

It hasn’t made me commit to be a full-on vegetarian again, but it’s made me change my habits about where I buy my food, and not just meat either.

I’ve been researching places to buy meat that comes from cruelty free farms (preferably local), both for home cooking and restaurants. New Orleans, where I live, is a culinary Mecca, but not particularly green. I’m hoping that some of my favorite places to eat are thinking about getting on the bandwagon, if they haven’t already.

Otherwise, sad to say, no barbecue for me.

You say tomato, I say Con-agra: a true tale of farmers’ market scam.

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I was just at one of the local New Orleans farmers’ markets, to be specific the Mid-City Green Market that’s every Thursday in Mid-City. I’m trying to buy local more often, and support small farmers… those that have survived anyway after the assaults of agri-business and large supermarkets.

I was a little early and everyone was still setting up their tents and putting out their crates, baskets and baked goods in the brutal heat.

Having just come back from Western North Carolina, where I consumed some delicious peaches from the farmer’s market there, I went to the peach stand first and bought some peaches. The lady told me they were from Alabama, which seemed reasonable enough. I remember getting peaches from her before, and she telling me they drove in from Alabama.

Next I went to look for tomatoes, and there was a couple of guys—looked like a father and son team—putting out a remarkable assortment of vegetables. Tomatoes, corn, squash, cucumbers, peppers—a variety of vegetables that all looked beautiful, where most other vendors usually just had one or two varieties of produce. I had been under the impression from these markets in the past that either not too much grew in Louisiana, or that it was difficult to produce many varieties for small farmers, but these guys looked to have diversity and quantity, and from a superficial glance, quality. Maybe they had some really magic soil on their farm?

They asked what I needed and I said tomatoes, so they pulled some crates out and started filling the table.

“Where are these from?” I asked. “They grown in Louisiana?”

Folsom,” the older guy replied.

“Good. I’ll take a handful.”

“Get him a bag,” the older guy said to the kid, who looked to be about fourteen.

The kid pulled out a plastic grocery store bag, and I started looking at the tomatoes. They all looked good, but something was amiss. None of them looked bad, and none of them looked great. It was like looking at produce at the grocery store, and I started to wonder if these were hothouse tomatoes. The best tomatoes I’d had usually were less evenly colored, even less red in parts. I was about to ask, wondering if they had their own private hothouse on the farm, when my question was answered by a tomato.

Or rather a sticker on the tomato.

“Vine Grown in Arkansas” it read, complete with a supermarket PLU code.

It took me about 5 seconds to calculate the (un)likelihood that a supermarket sticker accidentally stuck itself to a farm-grown tomato, or that a tomato from a passing grocery store truck had bounced out on the highway and into their pick-up.

The kid came back over to see if I had made my selection.

“This one says it was grown in Arkansas,” I mentioned.

The kid snatched the tomato from me and looked at it, then quickly turned around and peeled off the sticker with his back to me as if I couldn’t see him and put it back in the crates. He then turned back towards me as if nothing had happened and his removing the evidence had returned the tomato to its farm-grown local status. Heck, it might have even been organic at that point!

He then nonchalantly (sort of) turned over a few more tomatoes to make sure the whole batch wasn’t spoiled then casually sauntered over to the older guy, who was unloading more crates at the truck. He looked back and I pretended to be still selecting tomatoes, then I looked up and I saw him whispering briefly to the older guy.

“Goddamn son of a bitch!” the older guy exclaimed under his breath but probably not at all as quietly as he wanted to. I suspect it was the kid’s job, or maybe his brother or sister’s, to remove the stickers after the dad bought them at Sam’s Club, and that the dad had told them repeatedly how important it was to remove all the stickers.

The whole thing, especially their reaction to my finding the sticker, was like a couple of small time crooks that got busted for heisting the March of Dimes jar, and I don’t want to make too much of it, but at the same time, I do want to support local farmers and the local economy, and if I can’t do this at the farmers’ market, then Wal-mart has already won.

In retrospect, I should have taken a photo with my iPhone, but I was too flabbergasted to think. There’s a part of me that thinks, maybe these guys are hard on their luck in this economy and they are just doing what it takes to get by. But at the same time, one of the main reasons we’re in this situation is people have put all their eggs in one basket (so to speak), and in the food world, we can break the cycle by buying local and breaking the chain with global food conglomorates who will ship you blueberries from Chile when they are growing in your neighbor’s yard, consuming more oil in transportation, working against diversification, encouraging large-scale use of pesticides, and many other reasons. I’ve seen the trailer for Food, Inc. and it looks like it will blow a lot of minds…

Radical Movement for Rebetiko Dechiotification and Bouzouki Detetrachordization

Friday, May 8th, 2009

http://www.rebetiko.org

rickenbacker suicide

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Of course guitars can’t really do themselves in, but it looked like my late 80’s Rickenbacker 330 12-string had done just that when i opened the case on Friday to find this:

broken rickenbacker

After getting over the initial shock, i realized that it was the “R” tailpiece that had broken, presumably during a hurricane evacuation or just being in storage in hot weather. But this guitar had been halfway around the world with me since around 1991, and I had never had this happen before.

Rickenbacker will replace the “R” provided that I send them the old one and buy the replacement as well. It’s a pretty old guitar, so I suppose that’s reasonable, but the replacement part is $100 which is not cheap.

No real answers as to why it happened either, but looking on the Rickenbacker boards it seems that there was some problem with the models of this era and hopefully fixed now. The extra tension on the 12-strings (versus a 6-string) is obviously a factor, as it doesn’t happen on 6-strings. And when the person at Ric customer service asked me about what kind of strings I had on it — I had Pyramids — he seemed to believe that these strings had a higher tension rating which may have contributed to the crack.

I’ve had this guitar for nearly 20 years and only ever had one issue with it — when a piece of later-discovered cat fur was blocking the jack preventing me from playing “Fearless” at a Halloween show where we performed as 1972 Pink Floyd — and excepting some screws that went rusty, have not had any reason to question the quality of their manufacturing process. It’s been a great guitar, and hopefully will be again soon, but I am really going to have to consider using different strings, or storing it differently, or something. Hopefully the replacement tailpiece will be of stronger stuff!