strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

WBU is finished, on to the next song...

I posted a lyric video of my recently a̶b̶a̶n̶d̶o̶n̶e̶d̶  completed song, Widow Black Unweeping. I decided to leave it as is, and although the mixing/mastering could probably use another set of ears I'm leaving it for now so I can focus on new music. I'm wondering if I'll eventually revisit some of these tunes in the future and re-record them from scratch. Possible, but not sure I want to go to that much additional work. I need to just keeping churning out new songs because I'm learning the process for all steps, not just the core of songwriting. Considering the end result, this song took entirely too long. I've heard Steven Wilson remark that if he can't finish a song in one day, he loses interest. That's an oversimplification since he's not talking about a completed song ready for release, but I imagine his demos still sound pretty amazing.

I'm going to strive to streamline my process. I decided during the last song that I want to try the writing/recording on Studio One and then send it to Pro Tools for mixing and mastering. Part of this was frustration with the Pro Tools interface and monitor management. Ironically, I've settled into a decent workaround for those issues that doesn't take too much effort so it may not be as critical. I'm still going to give it a go for the next tune and weigh the pros and cons after. I'm a fan of Studio Ones monitor management and that it can be altered for each song. There are still so many DAWs out there I haven't tried. I've wondered if Ableton Live, Cubase and a few of the other major players would offer me something I'm missing. My feeling is no, but the grass is greener, yada, yada, yada. I tried Reaper and it just wasn't working for me. Granted, I didn't put much effort into learning it. I really did like Logic and Final Cut on the mac, and if Apple releases a compelling desktop next year, I'll definitely consider using them again. Luckily PT and Studio One are cross platform so I could continue using those. 

Crimson musings

I finally got to see the legendary King Crimson led by the steady hand of the venerable Robert Fripp in Dallas this past Saturday. I waxed a bit poetic on el facebook:

A theater unto itself, a King Crimson concert is a humbling display of power, precision, and passion. At times subtle and delicate, but unfailingly relentless and implacable all the while. I sat in bewilderment, my attention passing quickly from musician to instrument and back again, barely able to keep up with their performances.

Moving from joy to sadness, from confusion to clarity, from gobsmacked to gleeful, I was blown away by this night. These world class musicians were a sight to behold and brought a wondrous spiritual rhapsody, of a kind I've never quite witnessed before. Thank you, gentlemen, thank you indeed.

Set 1:
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One
Pictures of a City
Cirkus
Neurotica
Fallen Angel
Epitaph
Discipline
Red
Islands
Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

Set 2:
Drumson Outbreak of Wonderment, Joy & Bliss Arising
Easy Money
Indiscipline
The ConstruKction of Light (Part I)
Lizard
Moonchild
The Court of the Crimson King
Meltdown
Radical Action II
Level Five
Starless

Encore:
21st Century Schizoid Man

It was truly one of the most powerful shows I've ever attended, and judging from the audience response (a standing ovation after nearly every song) they felt the same way. I managed to sneak my way into Tony Levin's blog post about the show as seen in these photos. 

 

 

Revisions and Additions

I've had a few days away from "Widow Black Unweeping" (the song formerly known as Languid Licking Lollipop) and I've decided to revamp the vocals and some of the rhythmic elements. I'd say the proposed changes dials it back to about 80% complete because I'm not planning any other big changes. There are parts where the vocals and the rhythm seem to work against each other and some of that is predicated by how wordy the song is. I'll try and simplify some of the rhythms in the more wordy sections and see if that helps. If not I may trim down the lyrics as well. 

The vocal melodies in both the verses and choruses are just not powerful enough (from an emotional standpoint, but that could probably also be said about the delivery). I need to work on some sort of slamming chorus that really notches up the energy level and it's probably going to overshadow what was the original riff idea. That riff is okay on its own, but it doesn't seem to work as the main energy of the chorus. The verse melodies might not need as much of an overhaul, but they need some work because I don't sound comfortable singing them and they need a little more emotional energy. 

As I've stated in the past, I really learn the best lessons by first doing things wrong or at least inefficiently. Before I invested any time into production and mixing, I should have really focused on core song structure and made sure that it was connecting emotionally. I'll have to develop a workflow for more efficiently demoing tracks before I invest too much time in recording and producing them. It seemed to work out okay with Rascal's Refrain, but maybe it was just a better song and maybe I just got lucky. 

I've also begun work on another tune that had been lying dormant for several years. It was also born of a riff, and I had previously put together an entire song structure minus lyrics/vocals. I'm still thinking I want it to have vocals, but I'm not sure what they're going to be about. Instead of working exclusively on one track,  I want to mix it up a bit so things seem more fresh when I come back to them. I'll still likely finish WBU first, but I want to give myself breaks from the monotony of one song. 

A new domain, a new semester and Father John Misty

Sauntering into October, and fall can't be more welcome. The news cycle is a continuous barrage of gloom, doom and cheeto in chief's continuous upstaging of the last unbelievably stupid and callous comment or decision he made. It's impossible to process in real time, so I disconnect. Luckily I've had some great music by which to achieve this, including one of the better shows in a long time, Father John Misty at The Bomb Factory. I went with a group of friends including the brothers Garrett who originally turned me on to him. He's an old soul, wrapped in beautiful nihilism laden with gallows humor in a sumptuous sonic feast. Some of the best new music I've heard in years. No rest for the weary music fan as I begin pre-loading for prog titans King Crimson in a few weeks. 

I'm hoping for an email from a domain registrar to offer my long sought after domain for pyramidgrid.com. I've been trying for a few years since the name occurred to me and it's about to come available. I'm not sure how the current registrar got my information, but I received an email indicating it would be up for sale soon, so I'm trying to complete the purchase. This will be my ostensibly prog group name/page, not sure exactly how I'm going divide up my songs as an artist at present since I don't have enough of a catalog of songs to really worry about it yet. A concern for another day. 

I just started the fall semester at Berklee last week and it's already proving fruitful. I'm taking a harmony class as well as acoustic guitar techniques. We jumped right into alternate tunings the first week and it's proven inspirational for composition. Our first assignment was to post an original song using the tunings and I had already jotted down a basic idea while noodling. It's a short song in open D tuning that I plan on developing further in the future. A good week. 

Nut Cutter

Nut Cutter

 

Chorus
When you pull up on those jeans and they're bulging at the seams
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you’re cruising at the mall and your jeans are way too small
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Verse
When your Wranglers are too tight
And your crotch a bulbous fright
Why you need a belt god only knows

Peacocks spread their feathers wide
Up that crack the jeans will ride
Feathered hair, concert tees and camel toes

Chorus
When you're walking through your school and exposing all your tools
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you're sitting there in class with a bulging pelvic mass
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Bridge
Alex Lifeson wrapped in silk
Ivory slacks flowed like milk
His samite streams forked below the belt

Derek Small in more than name
Form fitting jeans revealed his shame
Until a cucumber would save the day

Chorus

When your kibbles and bits are giving people fits
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When your one eyed trouser snake triggers the shakes
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When you go to the show with a raging camel toe
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
It's really not that nice to wear a denim vice
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

When your splitting at the seams and the girls start to scream
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter
When you show your wedding tackle and the ladies start to cackle
Nut Cutter Nut Cutter

Not quite the end of summer

August is winding down, but we're still stuck in the middle of the sweltering season. Here in the south that typically runs year round with a few months break that we affectionately refer to as "Winter" but can include temps in the 70s and even 80s. At some point in my lifetime, this is probably going to just change to Summer Light as we will have done away with any temperatures remotely resembling winter. 

I got the 65 Amps cabinet and installed it in my now nominal amp iso room (closet). I don't have the setup totally settled just yet. I'm putting an iso pad like I have for my subwoofer in the home theater to minimize the low end. I'm debating whether to place a few of my bass traps in there as well.  I need to engage in some cable management for that room as well as where I have the amp head in my control room. I gave the setup a few run throughs and my basic impression is that it sounds wonderful. I just very basically placed the two microphones and haven't taken the time to adjust their positions to find the best sound. I'm getting a Dynamount system to make this process much easier. 

The Dynamount is a "robot" controlled mounting system for microphones that allows you to move the microphone through 2 or 3 axes depending on the model. You can mount it horizontally or vertically and this gives the choice of horizontal, vertical or proximity as well as rotation. I'm probably going to go with the proximity option (you have to choose between having the robot system flat or vertical and this determines if you'll get the vertical or proximity option).  My 65 Amps cabinet is a 1x12 so I'm pretty sure I'll get more tonal variety out of proximity than vertical. Right now I've just gotten the one system and I plan to use it for the Royer 122. I'll likely add a second system in the future.  

https://dynamount.com/ 

 

Checking In...

No huge developments since the last post. I'm at the end of my week off, and we're going to see Australian Pink Floyd tonight. I willingly skipped Fleet Foxes last night. A combination of feeling a bit worn out and being ambivalent on the band, especially considering the likely indie crowd at the Bomb Factory. The last show with a similar demographic I saw there (Sigur Ros) was about 30% people who apparently just wanted an air conditioned spot off the street to get drunk and run their mouths. Not a great combination for concert enjoyment. 

I've made a bit more progress on Languid Licking Lollipop. I'm trying to deliberately set aside time at the beginning of my practice day to work on the song. I've had a recurring issue lately with fatigue and headaches which although not severe, has been just enough to suck away my creative will and shorten my practice days. I'm trying to prioritize those days so I can at least get some work done before calling it quits. I know myself well enough that if I'm not feeling well, I'm not likely to have a productive practice or writing session. 

I'm still figuring out workflow both from a physical/studio space standpoint as well as how I approach song construction. I've made some changes to the vocal booth to facilitate using the computer while I'm tracking vocals. I put my little M Audio midi controller (25 key) in there so I can sketch out melodies as I work on a song. I'm not that competent of a vocalist and writer of vocal melodies that I can just go in an wing a vocal and have it sound good. I usually hear the basic outline of the melody in my head, but it takes a few iterations of trying to sing it and then figuring out the actual melody on the keyboard so I can record a basic midi version as a pitch reference. I've also taken to using Melodyne for the same reason. I laid down some scratch vocals and then pitch corrected them to use as a training tool. It also allows me to experiment with moving the melody around to get an idea of how it will sound. 

I used Melodyne on Rascal's Refrain to figure out harmonies and I think I will continue to do that. I also had a small eureka moment (I'm setting the bar very low here) when I remembered I still have the TC Helicon vocal processor which will automatically create harmonies and other cool vocal effects. I'm not sure whether it will be good enough to use for final takes, but this will allow to quickly record harmonies and other effects to a separate track which will give me more options during mixing. I needed some more TRS cables to run from the Helicon to the UAD Apollo, so I'm waiting on those. 

Speaking of waiting, my 65 Amps cabinet was finally delivered to Sweetwater and was supposed to come this Monday. As luck would have it, it's showing as out for delivery by FedEx today, so I'm now waiting for the truck to show up since it requires a signature. The last time we had a signature delivery was also a concert night and I think we missed the driver by less than thirty minutes. There's a good chance this will happen again if he comes after 6pm. Once I do get the cabinet, it's going in my amp ISO closet where I've already run the cables for the Royer 122 and SM 57. I had bought a bookshelf several weeks ago and that's where I'll put the Hughes & Kettner amp head. This will give me another tonal option as well as hopefully providing a bit of a buffer for the loud electric guitar noise. 

High Productivity is Celebrated...until it isn't.

In an ironic twist to my elevated productivity as a fee basis examiner, I had his supreme indolency take the trouble to drop by my office and let me know that my increased numbers (which had necessitated a salary waiver as I had hit my max after five months) had raised a few eyebrows. Although he was attributing it to "someone pretty high in Dallas" (high, he he), I'm sure most of it was coming from him. 

I reacted immediately (as I usually do, sometimes to my detriment) by telling him that I would welcome anyone who wants to take a close look at any of my work/exams and let me know what's lacking or inappropriate. I know my exams are complete by VA standards and I also know that I don't perform exams unless they're requested or justified in the case of a recently discharged veteran who requests to add a few more claims. 

As I explained to dicktug, I'm preferentially getting these bulk Gulf War exams which typically include 10+ actual claims and then an equal number of medical opinions for each claim. This can very quickly run my daily numbers to 20+. He made some sort of brief comment about his ability to generate those numbers which I just ignored because this jackhole was one of the examiners that weren't breaking 40 exams in a month. I've done more than that in one day. 

I also explained to him that I often take on other examiner's work because they call in sick or because they can't be bothered to complete opinions or equivalent. Our admin staff preferentially asks me to do these types of exams because I don't argue with them or make them feel bad for asking. Many of the regular Federal employees are downright adversarial to the people who are just trying to do their jobs and help veterans. 

When I was a regular Federal employee I had the second highest (out of 20ish examiners) productivity in the clinic. Now as a fee basis, I think it's possible I'm the highest, but I haven't been looking at the clinic numbers anymore. I'm definitely generating higher per day numbers as it's not uncommon that I get 25 or more exams in a day. I assume part of his problem is that my elevated productivity makes the glacial examiners look even worse by comparison. 

I'm not sure if the current scenario can be sustained, but I'm hoping things will move slowly as they do in the Federal government. I'm also hoping that we'll continue to have our minimal producers occupying full time slots which will in turn keep the demand up for fee basis examiners like myself.

I think he is offended by the situation in which a lowly PA like myself (in his eyes) can earn an equal income to his while working significantly fewer days and not having to deal with a lot of the regular federal pain (actually my total is probably greater considering my other incomes). I've met several doctors like him in the past that seem to think they have earned a perpetual income just based on their diplomas and not based on any work they're doing now. The good doctors (most of them) judge other providers on their own merits and don't make assumptions based on degrees held. We've never heard them express concern that we have doctors earning huge salaries while doing little to no work. The VA has a prevalence of these types, I think it's one of the primary attractions to the job. 

Making Time for Writing

Time management is a challenge for us all I suppose. Even with a significantly reduced work schedule, it's not uncommon that I feel the weight of competing demands on my available time. I've had a long history (going back 13+ years since I resumed guitar) of practicing most days (typically a minimum of six days a week, with a rare break usually because of some other significant commitments).  For the longest time I was content with this schedule as I was just trying to get better at my instrument. 

As the years have passed I've added instruments (piano, bass, drums, vocals) and so practice time has gotten increasingly precious. Since starting at Berklee I also have the competing needs of schoolwork. This can occasionally be all encompassing when it's a big project. I've usually reconciled with lost practice time in this case because I'm still learning something of value towards my ultimate goal of becoming a better musician, songwriter, producer, etc. 

I've now had the taste of "finishing" a complete song. This is ultimately what it's all about for me, the ability to create something that only I can create. I've always been a creative person and it's in these moments of creativity that I get truly lost and can't measure the passage of time. However, the work of songwriting through to the finished song can also involve much of the technical and this can become tedious at times. 

On to the point. I've given myself a goal of trying to "finish" a song a week. Considering my total output up to this point, that's very lofty I know. I don't mean ready for public consumption, necessarily, but at least to rough demo form where the song structure has been finished and I've recorded working versions of the various parts. Experience is the best teacher I've found, and if I want to get better at songwriting I need to keep doing it as a regular part of my schedule. 

My desire is just keeping cracking at it and I'm confident with time that I'll be able to streamline more of the technical and focus more on the creative. I often refer back to a quote I heard from Brad Paisley that he attributed to a Nashville songwriter (can't remember the name but he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame), and that is "the first two hundred don't count."  While that may seem extreme, it's an absolute truth that if you write two hundred songs, number two hundred and one will likely be significantly better than your first. 

My plan going forward is to start treating songwriting like I treat my practice or even a job. I can spontaneously come up with ideas on a regular basis, but to finish a song requires some elbow grease. I'm hoping that by making it a required part of my daily schedule that I can start moving that song count towards the goal of two hundred and more. 

Learning NEW MATERIAL

A repeating theme I've learned over the years of practicing is that learning new material is one of the most rewarding aspects to musicianship. This is especially true if it's something I'm learning by ear. One of the biggest challenges has been to sound out harmonically complex piano music. I'm guilty of always looking for a sheet music version of something but there are still several tunes or at least versions of tunes I love that have never been offered as sheet music. This is especially true on live arrangements by artists like Rick Wakeman and other improvisers. 

I'm trying to make it a regular part of my practice to incorporate learning new material by ear, at least on piano and guitar. These skills only improve through repetition, and although it's very incremental and almost impossible to discern at times, I do notice a gradual improvement. I suppose this would be ostensibly for the ultimate goal of becoming a better and more rounded musician, but I've also always felt immediate satisfaction for even the smallest bits of a new song I'm learning. Learning a new song for me feels like tapping into the mystical, almost. It's the muggle equivalent of learning a new spell. 

Learning from Mistakes

It's really the most effective way, in my experience. The errors of the past are the things that stick in your memory and typically bring about the most change. This particular episode was my very simple and ostensibly easy Guitar Scales assignment 3 this week. I thought I'd be clever and convert the sheet music over to Sibelius and then import that into Guitar Pro so I could practice along with it before recording myself playing the assignment. 

The problem was that I didn't proofread it, probably because I was in a hurry and it's a pretty simple piece of music that I honestly didn't think Sibelius (via Photoscore) would screw up. Well, I was wrong. Got a B- on the assignment because I played it wrong - the imported version got several note values and positions wrong. I'm not sure what the instructor really thought, as he just commented that I had played the wrong note values. It almost sounded like he thought I had just performed them out of time. Regardless, the grade was fair because I failed to play what was on the sheet. I can just imagine the tone of a professor in a more rigid program a la Julliard or the resident Berklee classes. 

I frankly think he was diplomatic about the whole thing. I'm going to re-record it and submit, although I'm not sure he'll change my grade. I'll explain that it was my error for not proofreading and see how far that gets me. Lesson learned - never assume these technical tools can't make mistakes. Which, I normally don't, but when you're in a hurry it's easy to make stupid errors like this. 

More frequent blogging here

I took a brief hiatus from Facebook. In a periodic reassessment of my life's priorities (a process I engage in every few months to years), I've found that FB for the most part was not adding much of value to my life. At its best, it provides an easy portal to engage in actual conversations with people who share similar interests or otherwise are friends/family. It seems for me that the overwhelming amount of time I spend on there is just reading through a bunch of meaningless posts, getting the same "news" regurgitated by various pages/people, and at best getting a random "like" for anything original I post. Unfortunately, there is still the occasional nugget of valuable information (I wouldn't have found out about King Crimson coming to Dallas until too late without FB) and I'm subscribed to a student group through Berklee where there are occasional important notices.

When I first started posting "original" content (including covers), it was nice to have at least a small audience from which to receive feedback. I greatly appreciated the friends and family who would indulge these efforts because I know I'm the worst about wanting to watch or listen to something if I'm not in the mood. 

The problem became that over time, FB becomes this self perpetuating process where you feel validated by the completely trivial "likes" you receive, even if they only reflect a mouse click. How much effort does a mouse click take? I know I'm pretty generous in giving them if someone posts anything I find remotely entertaining. I'm not complaining about the people on FB, everyone has their own lives and honestly probably don't even see the majority of stuff that any one individual is posting. 

So, all that to say this is where I'll be posting more of my occasional ramblings. I had been using FB for that and it was a nice convenient means to quickly document a thought or picture that others could comment or interact on, although that was rare. I'll still use FB but I'm learning to divest myself from any expectation of feedback or outcome. It may eventually be an artist portal for my various creative works in the future, and in that case I may setup a separate page. 

Hans Zimmer

 

We had a great time and really enjoyed Hans Zimmer last night at Verizon. We managed to get front row seats through the regular ticket sales (without any VIP upgrade nonsense) and it was nice to have an unobstructed view of the entire show. I'm not sure of the exact number, but there were probably about fifty musicians and choir on stage. The primary players included Guthrie Govan on lead guitar right in front of us, so that was quite cool. He had several solos. There were about fifteen "lead" players who were featured at various points and they were all amazing. The Gladiator medley was a highlight, but really the entire show was phenomenal. So cool to see film soundtrack music live, a pretty unique experience for us. Aeyong really enjoyed the show as well, which is always a bonus considering how many shows we see that are more my taste than hers. In the past few years, I've deliberately only bought her a ticket if I think she will enjoy the show. There are several shows that I know will probably be a negative experience for her (gen adm standing, really heavy music a la Opeth, etc.). It's great when I feel like we both equally enjoyed a show, and this was one of those. The set list is an approximation I think. It's taken from a recent show, and I'm not well versed in Han's music to the point I'm fully confident in its accuracy. It's pretty close to what they played though. 

 

 

Driving

Discombobulate

Rescue Me / Zoosters Breakout

Roll Tide

160 BPM

The Wheat

The Battle

Now We Are Free

Chevaliers de Sangreal

Circle of Life Intro

King of Pride Rock

This Land

Circle of Life Reprise

Jack Sparrow

Marry Me

He's a Pirate

Intermission

You're So Cool

Rain Man Theme

Thunderbird

What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?

Is She With You?

The Electro Suite

Journey to the Line

Why So Serious / Like a Dog Chasing Cars / Why Do We Fall?

Fear Will Find You / The Fire Rises / Gotham's Reckoning

Aurora

Day One

No Time for Caution

Stay

Encore - Inception Medley

Half Remembered Dream

Dream Is Collapsing

Mombasa

Time

Languid Licking Lollipop

A work in progress. Again born of a riff that I think heard while running one day years ago. This will sort of fall somewhere between EDM/metal unless the song leads elsewhere, as it sometimes does.

The lyrics are deliberately alliterative and chosen as much for prosody as relevance. The genesis was finding phrases to fit the rhythm, nothing more grandiose than that. The grandiosity always comes later. As JRR said, the tale grew in the telling. A bit pretentious (understatement of the week) in its execution, but I don't care because I'm in this for my own entertainment. Not to be taken too seriously is all I'm saying.

Here's what I have so far, edits are likely. I don't have a name for the tune yet, although I may go with the title of this post. This will make slightly more sense when put to music, and the structure of the song is mostly complete, although that will likely also undergo further development as I record it. 

__________________________

Languid Licking Lollipop💃

Him

Intro

surreptitious schemer
chuckle chortle chatter
lambskin latent lupine
tickle tailored tatter

Verse 1

slipping slinking foot pads
drowned out by the noise
bacchanalia ballyhoo
garish girls brainless boys

stare slowly sweeping
focus coalesce
sneaking snicker sweetlings
aggress and possess

Chorus 1

languid licking lollipop
brashly braying bebop
furtive glance commence dance
sugar sweet soda pop

Her

Pre Verse (intro 2)

maiden meekly modest
demur delicate
duplicitous drapery
simulated celibate

Verse 2

dark path descending
concealed crimson cape
purity pretending
trace hint of lace

stare slowly sweeping
chance opportunity
cocksure closer creeping
ensare with impunity

Chorus 2

red riding randy
deadly deeds dandy
silken thighs conceal surprise
covet carnal candy

Verse 3

raven black hair
world weary eyes
aristocratic air
admirable prize

cocksure closer creeping
comely coquette
paradoxical prey
concealed crimson corset

Chorus 3

beastly bilking milkshake
craving carnal cupcake
bombshell sweetmeat sells
no foot on the heartbrake

Verse 4

too late the tell
madness in her eyes
wariness awoken
wolf in sheep's disguise

cocksure captured sleeping
now fully ensnared
widow black unweeping
victory declared

Bridge

tickle tailgate truncate
primitive the primate
monopolize the mandate
prognosticate prevaricate
consecrate and consummate
intoxicate then copulate
obfuscate and confiscate
propagate then dominate

Verse 5

dark fate befallen
sadness in her eyes
another foe defeated
sixpence none the wise

sowing precedes reaping
longer grows a list
widow black unweeping
silhouette fades to mist

Chorus 4

languid licking lollipop
lupine transform lambchop
game of chance blame romance
sugar sweet soda pop

languid licking lollipop
rock until the ball drops
hidden strings deadly sting
sugar sweet soda pop

__________________________________________

The rest of these are leftovers that I liked but couldn't find a specific use. They work with the music but otherwise don't make particular sense in the narrative. Not that the previous lyrics made a lot of sense either.

mango bongo dingo
the postman’s name was Ringo
he leashed a pink flamingo
mango bongo dingo

freaking leaking tweaking
flying through a window
sneaking creaking squeaking
cagey clever widow

Mabel was quite able
to clean up her table
her mink coat was sable
her thoughts unstable

powdered feathered scattered
thoughts are all akimbo
glassy trinkets shattered
slipping tripping limbo

speculations fabrications
plots run amok
machinations conflagrations
design or dumb luck

brazen battered hardcore
choking cloaking bedsore
thunder crashes nevermore
brazen battered hardcore

kilgore bangalore manticore
he knocked upon the wrong door
they nailed his head into the floor
kilgore bangalore manticore

The Edge of Summer

The sun has been shining, the grass is green, and summer is in the air. We're still in that magical window when it's nice to be outside for most of the day without fear of withering from the heat. The press of the last few months is just about to see its release. I've got a long weekend and then I take my board exam next Tuesday. I feel pretty confident about my readiness, but I'll still crack the books daily til Tuesday. 

The transition to fee basis at work has essentially completed and my schedule has normalized itself for the most part. It's really nice to have a three day workweek at the most. It's funny how quickly that became the norm for me. The default schedule should be three days for three weeks and then a week off. I'm working half as much and bringing home more than double my Federal pay (with consideration for no increase to my pension and no 401K matching).  It's really the perfect work scenario for me and my capabilities. I can complete exams more thoroughly and faster than any of the people I have worked with so far. I'm sure there are others like me out there, but we all have a fairly unique skill set that gives us distinct advantage over other examiners. Nearly thirty years of continual Federal service including the twenty three years of active duty has definitely paid off in my current job.

I haven't really been able to settle in and take advantage yet because the last few months were occupied with the end of the Berklee semester and then the beginning preparations for the board exam. Thankfully, the board schedule is transitioning to a ten year cycle after this.  My goal is that by the time I take the next board, we'll have paid off this house, built or bought our house in the country and I'll be well ensconced in my bespoken home studio.  That mostly depends on a steady state for my current work situation. I'm relatively confident that the C&P program in general won't go anywhere soon, and I'm mostly optimistic that the role of the examiner will stay the same as well. The prevalence of laziness, incompetence, and ambivalence in the Federal service actually plays to my advantage. There's no shortage of work for me, and this allows me to maximize my time/salary in a way that's really unmatched anywhere else in the job market that I know of. 

Rascal's Refrain Reprise

So, I "finished" this version of the tune. I started to work on a video with After Effects but quickly became mired since I don't know the program yet. I decided to throw together a basic lyric video and post that to Youtube and share on Facebook. I'll start watching some AE tutorials here shortly once I finish this semester's homework and finally get around to filing my taxes. I plan on revisiting the tune in the future. There are definitely things I want to add as well as things I'll likely re-do, mainly the guitar solo. I'll probably let it gel for now and start working on another tune. I think some time away will give me a better perspective on the tune. I plan on restructuring the ramped up intro and adding some small electric guitar accents to the later verses. I also still wanted to double track with my Les Paul or something different from my strat just to add some more color. 

 

A busy two weeks

It's the Saturday after I completed my first two weeks as a fee basis (contractor) examiner for the VA in essentially the same job I was performing previously. I worked a total of seven days over two weeks and completed a record (for me) of 161 exams. This will result in a take home pay of about four times what I typically make. I don't necessarily think this workload will be typical, and I don't plan on working any more than three days a week going into the future as I was on the verge of burning myself out after four straight days of full speed ahead. I think it is feasible I could maintain an average of 60 a week with one week off a month for a monthly average of 180ish. Doing the math, this would put me right at the max salary for a year. I could earn more, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't authorize any more.

At this rate, I think it's completely feasible to pay off the house in five years and move forward with our plan to have a home on 1-2 acres on the outskirts as well as getting my dedicated music studio built. This will largely depend on a continued steady supply of exams from work. The proposed presidential budget, as corrupt, lopsided, and tunnel visioned as it is, does allow for an increase in funding for the VA, so at least for the near future work should be plentiful. I'm hoping I may look back at this post some day in 5-10 years to confirm my projections were close. It's possible the timeline could be even shorter if they keep supplying me with exams. In the present environment, I'm not having any problems getting extra exams. I was even turning down a few every day last week because I was already swamped with 20+ exams each day. The lazy and ambivalent federalistas in my department are now a source of extra income for me, so as long as they stay around I should have no problem keeping my dance card full. 

Rascal's Refrain

I'm taking a class called Recording and Producing in the Home Studio this semester. The course centers around developing a song from scratch until it's ostensibly ready for commercial release. I chose a song that had come from a guitar riff and chord progression several years ago. I had come up with it while noodling (as you do) and fairly quickly had an idea of what the song might be about. I never got around to developing it because I didn't think I was ready and then when I eventually learned about this course I decided to save it for that. In the past several weeks I've created a rough draft of the tune and it's gone through a series of re-writes based on the instructor's feedback. So far the response has been pretty positive and he's made some good suggestions.

I had penned scratch lyrics to this a few years ago and then once or twice I had re-visited them for a bit. I've come up with nearly the finalized version, although changes to the song arrangement are still possible and that might necessitate more editing to the lyrics. I posted the lyrics to Facebook and got some positive comments from a few friends. This was nice as they are part of what the song is about. It's a nostalgic nod to the high school and pre-Army years in which I spent all of my free time listening to music, partying, and trying to attend as many live shows as possible. Not much has changed. Here's the current version of the lyrics as of today:

 

Rascal's Refrain

Smoke filled Pontiac traveling east
Fleeing the suburbs, evading police
Another world in that little car
No haze could obscure a sky full of stars

David’s hunky dory when London calls
We’re Miles ahead when Wichita Falls
Kate’s running uphill hounds in tow
After work we'll catch a show

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
then fall to the ground

Clearview, Arcadia, Bronco Bowl
Seeing every band, our only goal
Smoky clubs and raucous crowds
Take heed now, it might get loud

Pat & Ornette on New Year’s Eve
A Caravan of Dreams departs the scene
Stumbled down an alley, fell in a hole
Late for work with blood on my clothes

Raise your glasses
To the boys

Wanderlust
We thus entrust

Smoking, Drinking once again
They stagger around
Then fall to the ground

Skippy’s was just one mistake
Out of many they made

Vagabonds and wastrels
Derelicts distasteful

Blackout driving
Devils walking with a grin
Their feats will astound, no one in this town

Raise your glass
To yesteryear's past, dead and gone

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

This rascal's refrain is all that remains

Back to music centric posting...

I finally posted my Life On Mars cover video (version 3.5) to youtube and shared it on facebook. I decided to just post it as is in the weekend before I resumed my studies at Berklee. I knew I wouldn't have the luxury of time once classes got rolling. At the time I had a few run throughs of the mix, but planned on re-visiting the audio mix at the end of the semester. That's still the plan as of now. I've already learned a lot in the past few weeks so I'm confident I can obtain a much better result at that point. 

I'm not happy with the musical performances, but they do represent what I was able to create given a short window of time. I performed most of the parts on individual days (I think I performed both the drums and bass on the same day?) and then worked on the audio mix and video edits on subsequent days. My approach for videos has been to keep performing entire takes until I get one that is acceptable and stopping there. I'll have to figure out tactics for punch in type approaches for video. Recording myself performing the music on video/audio is a complicated process and that's when I'm capturing complete live takes. If I were to attempt to capture punch ins like I can do with audio, that would add just another layer of complexity that I'm not really ready to take on for a cover video. I might consider this for my own music in the future, but then I would likely not try to present the performance as a continuous unedited take. 

The response was generally positive from some close friends. I think the ones who actually took the time to comment were doing out of friendship as much as their actual enjoyment of the performance. I still appreciated it though, my overall ego is fairly bullet proof but my artist ego is a delicate flower at times. The musicians and musicophiles from whom I was hoping for feedback gave it the standard facebook "like" but didn't comment. I'm assuming that's their diplomatic way of telling me I need to keep working on my craft. And I appreciate that. My ears are good enough to know my version isn't going to make it on any top 100 Bowie Covers lists, for that matter it wouldn't make it on a top 100 Life On Mars covers list. But it's a work in progress and this represents a moment in time. A few short years ago I wouldn't have been capable of putting together, and I would have been lacking in the confidence to share it with anyone. 

It's February, do you know where your posts are?

Some personal updates - the biggest event in the past few months was a brief cancer scare (I know that's so overused but it's actually kind of fitting) for Aeyoung over the past few months. She had been having some intermittent swelling and pain in her neck and a CT scan had showed some concerning calcifications. After much hoop jumping between the imaging center and our insurance (which saw her finally request the study get performed at a different clinic), she underwent a PET scan a little over a week ago.

It took us nearly a week to get the results, but we were thrilled there was no sign of any hypermetabolic activity anywhere in her body. Not only did that clear her of cancer in the area of concern, but it basically gives her entire body a clean bill of health from a cancer standpoint. This was a big weight off our shoulders. The past several weeks have been like 1997 all over again. There's nothing quite as demoralizing as a cancer diagnosis. You no longer know how much time you have and what the quality of that time will be. We were facing the possibility that we might only have months together, and they might be progressively more miserable for her. 

In the days before we received the results, all I could think about was if I could have one wish it would be for her to remain cancer free. That wish came true and we can return to a sense of normalcy for what lies ahead. My hope is that with a change to fee basis we can accelerate our mortgage payoff and give serious consideration to getting a 1-2 acre parcel of land and having a home and a free standing music studio built. Lots of miles to cover before then, but the horizon is wide open and the future looks bright.