Saturday, March 25, 2006

The longest week ever.

I almost never ever make purchases just for I rarely get an item that will do much for me and my music. As somebody pretty poor and married, I really can't justify that kind of purchase. So when I decided to build a computer last week(in the face of the awful grinding noises mine was starting to make and my refusal to put a dime in a 4 year old computer) I decided to buy a new one. Heres what I've learned has changed since the last one I built:
Theres no more AGP slots, theres no more IDE hard drives, FSB speeds are insano, processor speed has not changed that awfully much, and things are really, really cheap. My last computer was a steal when I built it for about 700-800 without a monitor. This one cost about $750 with a gorgeous black 19" LCD display.
I finally got the rest of it in the mail this monday and got it all together with the help of a good friend on AIM. Then in my upgrading spree I flashed the BIOS and suddenly lost all visibility on one of the hard drives. So its been a frustrating process trying to work the kinks out of XP but I think I've gotten everything running hard loose and clean. of course I say that this week.
Now I'm totally burdened with school work just in time for the first weekend with my new computer...its gonna be hard. I'm also wondering if I'll regret getting a good video card- because Unreal Tournament 2k4 now looks so amazing that its cutting into music time.
I talked to my advisor at school, who was new, and completely unsure of everything she was telling me, but I was given a projected graduation date of Spring of 07- about 13 months from now. So my school schedule is going to be insane for every semester till then so I can get out and make the kind of living that will finally allow for me to buy myself some stuff for music, like a vintage monosynth, a good digital mixer and an analog mic preamp...and maybe a desk that doesn't make me seasick when I type.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Endangered Species Alert: Synth Wank Records

I tend to think about music like an ecosystem. Certain records precipitate or "cause" others to be born. Thus, its extremely important that diversity be preserved now, so that future diversity will also exist. Not that we're in some grave danger of losing all musical diversity...but just bear with me here for the sake of argument.
Synthesizer wanker records. What makes them? You need two elements. 1. A wanker- must be either totally rich or just so dedicated he buys gear instead of retirement or a girlfriend. 2. Lots of gear and gear obsession. Thats really the whole point of synth wank records.
Black and white is a popular theme in art, pictures of the "composer" (they are never to be called a musician or keyboardist) are a near requirement. Also, song titles should be something really pompous.
Take this Jean Michel Jarre (perhaps king of this genre) Record: Equinox. You can't read it from this picture so just trust me: every song is called "Equinox Part x." Underneath that is a list of synths I'd estimate to be the only one in the world almost as expensive as Vangelis's (truly a synth wanker) setup. That makes this a synth wank record - no question!

Let's now consider this next synth wank record: Synergy- Cords. Take a look at that presentation! They saw fit to make this one a gatefold just to include a grainy gel print of some art of the artist -in sunglasses. Just to let you know that the record isn't printed in black and white for lack of money? This record was also printed on translucent vinyl. What a budget. Synergy has another key element of a synth wank record: prog rock involvement. You didn't think they came up with this level of self importance on their own did you?
Synergy was a solo project of a guy involved with Peter Gabriel and guess what else... "a multi-artist space rock opera." If that doesn't say it all, I'm wasting your time. Apparently this dude's got quite a pile of keyboards too... He was involved in the development of a lot of electronic equipment during the time. Like guitar synths. Does that make him the Yngwie Malmsteen of keyboards? I'd have to meet him and see if he's really obnoxious to make that decision. Since this is the internet though, I'll just say he is.
On the subject of prog rock wankers, I'd like to present for you another grand product of synth wankery. Anthony Phillips was the guitarist of Genesis. That's instant wanker points. He's had the most prolific solo career of any of the members, producing over 25 records by my count. This particular record is 1984 and it's a real synth wank record jem. Featuring only 4 songs:
"Prelude '84" – 4:23
"1984 Part 1" – 19:00
"1984 Part 2" – 15:26
"Anthem 1984" – 2:27
Even when James Brown does a song over 10 minutes it starts to get annoying...but at nearly 20 minutes long you've got to really have a lot faith in your audience's willingness to believe you are as great a "composer" as you say you are. And to top this record off, its a synth record by a guitarist. I'm going to have to award Anthony Phillips the title "The David Chastain of Synth Wanker Records."
To me, records like this are nearly as funny as rock opera because the people that make them want to have it all at once. They want to be seen "seriously"(take a look at Jarre's brooding expression) and academically(like naming things 'two part invention,') but they also want the rockstar identity. But that sort of drive is sorely missing from the musicians I see today, and I have to question just who the modern equivalent of these guys is. As an electronic musician, I know a lot of modern synth wankers, but only a couple of this calibre of wankerness. Maybe software has just neutralized this genre of record/composer by making us all victims to the level of overchoice and equipment saturation that these guys faced.

Now in the other end of the 1970's synth record spectrum are the guys like poor Leon Lowman. A google on him brings up nothing, a google on the record brings up nothing, and yet his equipment list and photo looks like he spent a fortune. He doesn't seem to have any prog rock involvement, and he's got something that none of the other records mentioned have: he actually uses a short enough attack on his patches that I can tell he can play a keyboard! I have to give the guy credit, his record is a lot better than the others I've mentioned. Leon, I hope you find this when you Google yourself.
I'm not a fan of synth wank records in general, it's like the more stuff these guys get, the more inflated they and their work becomes. Most of it is pretty slow- none of it features the frenetic pace so popular throughout the 90's and the turn of the century. It's also totally melody centered: the drum work is pretty lame on most of it. It's like making these records was a lifestyle for the composer- the equipment would take up such huge amounts of money and space, require so much time, etc. It's no surprise to me that you don't see many ladies mentioned in the the long 'thank you's these records featured. Except poor Leon, who appears to be mentioning his Mom.(and I've got to love the guy for having the humility to thank his parents- it's pretty un-progrock to think your mother may listen to your record.) These records sound like electronic music NPR would reccomend, or maybe play on that show where the guy is always saying "so and so fires up his modular synthesizer for a night of ethereal blah blah blah."
I have no difficulty seeing records like this playing an important role in inspiring the electronic musicians who were productive around the time I became interesting in their music (about 1993-5) and thats why I keep them around. They point to a past in which I would never have been able to afford to justify being an electronic musician and married. ("Honey, I need another ARP 2600 for this song") They also serve as a cautionary tale- removed from the context of time and scene they are exposed as pretty boring music. As the vision of one person alone they also highlight the errors in judgement that can come from musical isolation.
Tune in next time for more reviews of records you can't buy.

Honorable mention:
Frankie Goes to Hollywood-Two Tribes(Annihilation)
Too late for consideration (1984) -also sounds like across between Jarre and a Yellow Record. Also features more than one person.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Groceries

"Please do not wash hands in fish tank" says the sign at the K&S World Market where I get my groceries every once and awhile. The market caters to every foreign demographic it can grab: middle eastern, asian, hispanic, and every possible variation therof. It's also one of the few groceries in Nashville that actually employs a butcher, making it a popular choice because foreigners can get every strange cut or part of an animal known to man.
I like getting my groceries here for a number of reasons: I see weird a fat, sweaty man came up to the register carrying only a bag full of maroon colored octopus tentacles. It's kind of a wild one can understand each other, there are people just reaching in and grabbing freshwater eels and crabs with their bare hands, and whats in a package could be anything- fried bamboo caterpillars or pineapple you have to see the picture. I always get inspired about cooking when I go. Mostly I like it because their produce is cheap and still has the dirt on it.
I also love to see what people buy. It's somehow a "great moment in American-ness" to see Nashville immigrant community start to branch out. I'll follow a Hispanic family through the market and watch them pick up plantains, avocados, jalapenos, and bok choy. It's also nice to see the domestic community starting to mix in more and more at places like these. Follow a bleached blonde white lady in an oversized Titans tshirt and a cellphone headset as she picks up basmati rice, doritos, some kind of asian instant shrimp soup, and a Kirin Lager. I'm hoping its because they like to be entertained when they get their groceries. It's like cheap tourism to see duck embryos or chicken feet by the pound. It's also cheap luxury items: I bought a pound of kalamata olives for under $4.
It's nice to see a part of town like the area between Murfreesboro Pike and Nolensville Rd be as successful as it has been. My guess is that there is more local business in that stretch of the city than in the entire greater nashville area combined. Definitely more places to get groceries in 5 miles than there are in my entire city of ~50,000. The immigrant community has revitalized a pretty nasty area of Nashville into a thriving and colorful area. Gas stations and banks get painted yellow and made into busy taquerias with great big barrel smokers and a collection of cowboy hatted hispanics and young black kids on bicycles.
I guess where I am going with this is: the immigrant community in Nashville is what makes me happy about living here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

From Josef Albers to Enoch Light

Throughout most of the last 8 or so years I have aggressively collected as much of the Command Records catalog as I possibly could. I was drawn to the drama of the art, to the drama of the arrangements, and to the amazing quality of the recordings themselves. It's not that competitors like Phase 4 were necessarily bad, Exotic Percussion with Stanley Black is still probably the best exotica I've ever heard -Stanley Black makes me wonder how Martin Denny ever made a living.

The paintings on the covers of records like these are still interesting to me because they so accurately describe whats in them. And to me, thats where the Bauhaus comes into play. Josef Albers did the majority of the paintings for the Enoch Light/Command Records, theres the rest of the Bauhaus connection. The paintings submitted for the Enoch Light records would have been gorgeous had I ever seen them connected to the records or not. But seeing them serve such a brilliantly descriptive purpose and integrated into my life really makes them all the more valuable. Furthermore, the Command label began life at the stereo point of sale. A lot of records did. A lot of really awful records. Ping Pong percussion comes to mind..."bongo left, timbale right...::awkward arhythmic edit::begin pretty boring weepy strings of a Jerome Kern showtune." Enoch Light's recording sessions clearly spent a whole lot of time on mic placements and acoustics, and a lot of time on balancing the arrangement in the stereo field. Their level of workmanship on both the recording and and arranging level, coupled with the polish of their packaging, makes them some of the most professional and listenable "music as a product" that I've ever heard. They drift around at thrift stores all over the country in small numbers these days- or at least nothing near the level of saturation I met when I went digging for records as a 16 year old on some of my first trips driving myself.
I can't really say whether bins were that much better then, or whether they just seemed that way because I was so optimistic having found records like "Other Worlds, Other Sounds" and having my mind blown by hearing them the first time.

Friday, March 03, 2006


I finished surgery at about 1:30 Wednesday. 2nd Stage Ossicullar Chain Reconstruction. So my prosthesis is in place. This surgery has been 100% easier than the last one to recover from. No incisions had to be made in my ear canal, and I kept my existing ear drum, so I didn't have to buy the $150 ear drops that I did last time. I stopped taking the painkillers today, I went 14 hours without noticing any real pain except for a headache from hell, so I figured I don't need them any more. It sounds like a deafening ultrasound is going on in my right ear.
I was prepared for a lot worse surgery, last time I was on the table nearly 6 hours, and it took me a week before I was comfortable leaving the house for any extended period of time because of exhaustion and vertigo.
My hearing has made some improvements so far, especially in my ability to localize sounds and to listen to a stereo recording and sense things like phase and direction. But its too soon to tell much, because I'm packed full of gauze and gel for the next 2 weeks. Once its all out, though, I should have pretty decent hearing in that ear according to my doctor. He considers the operation a success. I'm cautiously optimistic.