Interview on My Spilt Milk

July 5th, 2012 by alec

Former Offbeat magazine editor Alex Rawls was kind enough to sit outside in the heat and talk to me for an hour about psychedelic music, krautrock, Terry Riley, generative music, Murmur, and what’s going on with Chef Menteur.

Listen to the podcast interview on his new music site My Split Milk.

Oops, forgot to mention…

May 24th, 2012 by alec

I just realized I never mentioned my latest new iOS app. It’s codesigned by Josh Warren, who I worked with on the Aquarium 2 app. It’s interesting enough visually and user interface-wise to mention here, and we made our own custom alarms (I made the “Ascending” and “Descending” alarms using Ableton Live.)

The app is what we’re calling a “personal sunlight assistant” and the official app is titled Sol: Sun Clock. You can read more about it at Juggleware.

Or just go straight to the App Store. It runs on iPhone or iPad.

mixtape for india, or people that like music vaguely related to india

May 5th, 2012 by alec

I’m one of a revolving cast of characters stranded on a virtual island populated by turntables…. Here is my first contribution to the BPR podcast series for 2012:

“Episode 9 – East of the West & West of the East – Part 1: Illusions of India”

“Episode 9 - East of the West & West of the East - Part 1: Illusions of India”

Roland Juno-60 and TR-707 with junky analog drum module

April 9th, 2012 by alec

Here’s my first successful attempt at getting the Juno-60 to sync with the Roland TR-707 sequencer. Kick and snare drum sounds provided by a junky old Tama analog drum machine that appeared out of nowhere many years ago.

TR707 + Juno 60 + Tama TechStar

A brief history of Chef Menteur, part 3

March 1st, 2012 by alec

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

December 6th, 2011 by alec

[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!

Great Artists Steal…

September 3rd, 2011 by alec

…but what about Tom Petty?

You be the judge. Here’s a song called “Here Comes the Night” by the Irish band Them (featuring Van Morrison, and much more well-known for their B-side “Gloria”) from 1964 (wikipedia page).

Here Comes the Night” by Them

And here’s the well-known Tom Petty song, in case you’ve forgotten.

Here Comes My Girl” by Tom Petty

Some might say that karma got revenge on Tom Petty, in the form of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ take on his “Last Dance for Mary-jane”, the contemptibly unlistenable “Danni California.”

 

Create, Consume, Communicate, or Practice?

September 2nd, 2011 by alec

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.

July 23rd, 2011 by alec

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!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chef Menteur new videos, kickstarter, shows, etc!

July 6th, 2011 by alec

A lot has been going on in Chef Menteur world, as we try to get our album made.

Two new videos this summer (so far) featuring songs from the album, and we just announced another show.

http://chefmenteur.org/blog/

(I’m not gonna duplicate too much info across blogs, you can follow what’s going on over there.)

BUT…. Please support our Kickstarter project!