strumzilla

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

Filtering by Category: Personal

Disconnecting

In a theme visited before, I’ve decided to break away from Facebook, at least as far as having a personal account. I find that at its best, it’s mostly a distraction. I don’t have anything significantly negative to say about it, just that most things related to FB are superficial and don’t provide long term value. I’m not condemning the superficial in general, I enjoy watching mindless movies and television (to an extent) that only provide the momentary entertainment, and will continue to do so. I find with FB that my hopes and aspirations are generally so self contained, that they don’t change through that lens at all. As Neil Peart so wisely wrote, “Sometimes our big splashes, are just ripples in the pool.”

That’s not necessarily bad, it’s just there’s such a disconnection between the amount of effort you put into a project compared to the typical feedback that it starts to dilute or obscure the value of your creative work. The long term value of anything I produce is admittedly only of lasting value to me, as much for the love of the process as the product. I had hoped FB would be a nice ancillary means of staying connected and socializing, but it just seems that for me I don’t typically get a benefit from the shared experience in that I’m either not interested in what people are posting, or I have a negative reaction to it. That’s totally on me, I’m not judging anyone else for what they post or care about, it’s very personal. I think it probably gets back to the fact I’m inherently a lone wolf by nature, and although FB was a nice controllable(ish) means of social interaction, it’s just never felt like it was enhancing my life. In fact, it’s mostly felt like a distraction that was taking my attention away from more important things with lasting value.

That’s not to stay I’ve sworn off FB completely. I have an anonymous account (friendless) that I use to stay up to date with bands, authors, etc. - essentially all the stuff I love that has a strong FB presence where they often choose to announce major events like concerts, album releases, etc. I’d hate to miss a presale announcement for someone I truly love just because I wasn’t checking in to FB in a timely manner. The nice thing about this account is that it’s purely for that, there’s no social interaction otherwise.

For my creative work, I’m obviously maintaining this blog and will continue to primarily use YouTube, although I may start posting more to Vimeo. No one really gives a shit, including my wife, so I’m just doing this for myself, which has always been the case in the first place. I’m already reaping some rewards in that I’ve been able to focus more on study and composition. I just started to flesh out another new tune after completing the recent “If Tomorrow Comes.”

Failures - the greatest teacher

A collaboration with another guitarist fell through recently. I think that ultimately the issue was one of communication. The other guitarist had suggested we work on a song together. Having not really collaborated with anyone, I was eager for a chance to see what it could bring. I suggested a cover song by a band that featured two guitarists in dual lead type roles so that we would both have a sort of chance to shine. Now, full disclosure, this other guitarist is advanced beyond my current abilities. He’s posted covers of Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Yngwie and many other great guitarists. I had no illusions going in that I was going to need to raise my game.

I suggested something by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy or some equivalent band, assuming the hard rock or metal genres would be more to his liking. He suggested “Bloodstone” by Judas Priest, I’m sure in large part because there are multi tracks available and we could use the original vocals and other parts as needed. So, we’ve been working on this project for a couple of months now. I’ve done all of the heavy lifting when it comes to the mix, and the video editing as well.

He had waited until I recorded drums before starting on his parts, since drums are typically always going to be the foundation. I finally recorded drums about a month ago and we’ve been slowly adding bass, rhythm and he had finished all his parts to include the entire solo. His parts sound great, he clearly has honed his cover game.

I had been a bit lazy in listening to the original track, as I've never really cared about getting a cover exactly note for note. Some may say that’s a cop out, and they may be partially right, but I know for certain that I just don’t care about trying to mimic someone else’s song to the nth degree. That being said, I do see the value in learning the most difficult parts, just to raise your playing to a level you apparently aspire if you like a song well enough to cover it.

So, as I started to record my parts, he quickly noted some problems. I was playing a rhythm part differently than him, and he wanted our parts to match up. I think he’s ultimately correct in this case, it probably does sound better for the rhythm parts to lock step. So, I fixed that in fairly short order as it was a simple oversight. But, it does start to illustrate where small fractures were forming.

Without ever discussing it specifically, I gather he assumed we were going for a faithful rendition of the original. Now, as I said before, that’s really not my thing. I honestly don’t get it, you’re never going to sound as good as the original and what would be the point? I get it as an academic sort of exercise, because you can learn a lot about the player, the recording and songwriting process in general. But, when I’m recording a cover I try to stay close, but I don’t sweat small variations.

I had been making regular comments and suggestions about how I would record my parts and I had stated early on that I wanted to divide the solos up, so that we both would have our chance to wail a bit. This song is like many Judas Priest songs in that both Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing have solos. The Glenn Tipton is the initial solo and it’s a pretty laid back and easy part. It’s followed by K.K. Downing, and his solo is “The Solo” of the song. It was my intention all along that we would divide both sections so we both would have part of the Tipton and K.K. bits.

The K.K. solo wails from the onset, and there are two fairly distinct parts to it. The first part is a single position sort of classic rock riffy bendy part and then there’s slight pause and a fast descending triplet bit. I’ve been working on the whole thing, but I knew I was going to take longer for the second half. I had said a few times that I thought I would divide it up that way, with him getting the bulk of K.K.’s solo including the descending bit and some other bits after before there’s this pedal ascending section we could play in unison.

Like always, I have to divide my time among many disciplines - guitar, keys, drums, bass, vocals, video editing, visual effects, cinematography, model building, etc. I don’t choose to spread my focus in so many directions, it’s just about following my muse. So, it had taken me awhile to finally get where I thought I had a passable version of the solo.

Another note is that I had been using tablature that although perhaps wasn’t note for note accurate, it was pretty close to the original. The original track is very noisy, and there are definitely parts in there where it’s a true challenge to hear what K.K. is playing. All that to say I wasn’t sweating getting it exactly “right”. I don’t see the point.

Well, I recorded my solos yesterday and frankly I thought my part of K.K.’s solo was my best playing on the song so far. I don’t mean it was the best playing on the song in general, I just know myself and I was happy with my take. I was a bit surprised when I very quickly got negative feedback from the other guitarist. I didn’t save the conversation but it was essentially “I don’t like it.” Now, in fairness that may be just be unbridled truth. I gather he wants to get it note for note and in that metric, it’s definitely going to fall short.

What I didn’t hear was what specifically he didn’t like about it. Tone, bends/intonation, rhythm, clarity, vibe, all of the above? He suggested I take the Tipton bits, he play the KK bits, and then we play the last pedal bit in unison. If we were in a JP cover band and we played other songs where I would get “The Solo”, the scenario would be different.

I think the fundamental problem here is that we both see ourselves as lead guitarists. I’m not trying to argue I’m of his caliber, at least not yet. My idea with dividing the tracks up was so that we both would get a moment to share the lead but I was still deferring more than half to him, and it’s the more challenging/impressive part of the solo.

Without saying it, I’m getting the feeling he’s always seen his role as the main lead guitarist and I was the rhythm guitarist who might chip in with a simple line or two. There’s nothing sinister about him feeling that way, it’s just not how I see myself. If he had suggested I work on the part some more and made specific mention of what he felt was falling short on my part I would have likely listened and made an attempt to get closer to his expectation. I still don’t see the point, but I was trying to be a team player.

All that to say, I felt the tone of our whole collaboration went demonstrably south when he criticized my part, suggested he play the whole thing without giving me an out to fix whatever the problem was. I didn’t ask for that, and maybe he would have been receptive if I had, but I feel like I’m right in assuming he wants the lead and has all along.

Which is totally cool. I get it. I’m cut from the same cloth. So, after all this very considerable rambling, I realize this project was probably doomed to failure from the start and I’m just as complicit. I’ve known that I likely would never want to be in a band with another lead guitarist. I know there are many great bands who have successfully achieved this relationship, but a big part of my assumed band role is going to be as a songwriter and I’m not likely to want to turn over guitar roles to another player. I have no problem with another instrument doing their own thing, but I want my own space dictated by me, not someone else.

I thought we could find a happy medium where we would both get a chance to shine, but I feel like he wants to be the Lead Guitarist in any scenario. I’ve learned that I will not likely function well in collaboration with other guitarists, at least if they see themselves as lead guitarists with an equal editorial say.

The only negative thing to come out of this is I think it’s probably put a strain on our friendship and that’s too bad. The blame is probably on me. If I feel like someone is being disingenuous (note, feel, not know) about something I just lose trust and it puts up a wall. Ultimately this is just a cover video, it’s not important in the grand scheme of things. But, I start to wonder at all the positive comments made in the past and how genuine they were and how genuine any in the future would be. I felt like I finally got the real opinions about my playing, and unfortunately they were distinctly different from all others before.

As always, failures are the greatest teacher. I have learned that I really need to work more on my playing, both for playing entire takes at a level adequate for recording audio and/or video and that I’m not at a level as a soloist that I want to be. I’ve also learned that before going into a project with anyone I need to ensure that roles are strictly spelled out. I doubt I’ll do a similar project anytime in the future. If I want someone to play on a track, I’ll likely finish all the other parts first and then let them know exactly what I need. I’m not saying I’ll never collaborate with another lead guitarist, but I’ll make sure I go in with eyes wide open next time.

Back to school

Back at the books tomorrow after a very long break. 2018 was a strange trip for many reasons. Drama on many levels, mostly external. A repetitive strain injury shifted my music focus for several months and its effects still linger, albeit not as limiting as before.

I’ve decided to accept that “Christmas Armistice” will not reach its final form for a long time. I think I have a path forward for a much improved version in the near future, but I’m putting my idealized version on the back burner as further study in new disciplines is required.

Ironically, the performance videos were once the “heavy lifting” part of these projects, but that’s now the easier component. It’s all the post production tasks that require an elevation of my skill set. My problem is that once I achieve one step in a project, my mind starts wandering and I get all these ideas that require a whole new set of skills.

 

Feels good man...

Perhaps in another episode of premature fowl tabulation, I'm just sayin' that it feels good to get back into the regular swing of things where I can wake up each day and prioritize my schedule based on my personal wants and needs, especially in the area of musicianship. I haven't received feedback on either of my final assignments, but I'm relatively confident I should be good for this semester. I received my grade for my final sight singing test, and although I didn't smoke it by any means, I was satisfied with the 86 I received.

This should ensure no worse than a B in that course, and although it screws up my lifetime 4.0 with Berklee (as well as being my first B since 1996), I'm not sweating it because as said before, this course was fairly contrary to my current musical goals.  Full disclosure, I had been phoning it in on the solfege and conducting portion since about the third week. I was basically faking that portion just to receive credit for the course knowing that if I did ever put an effort into those skills it would be further down the road. There were many assignments where I had the opportunity to raise the grade if it was less than an A but I never cared enough to bother. 

Despite this, I am endeavoring to forge ahead with ear training and I intend to make it a regular part of my practice schedule. I definitely learned something during this course and I want to capitalize on that instead of letting it atrophy like I did after the first ear training course. The big difference is that I can go at my pace, and at least for the time being I won't have to focus on the solfege and conducting like before. 

In other news, it feels great to get back into a regular practice schedule. It's not only part of my development as a musician, it's been an integral part of my mental health and well being these many years and I was sorely missing it. A short term goal is to work on audition for the Berklee Online Guitar Program. I think I've settled on "The Spirit of Radio" for the electric piece and "Letter From Home" for the acoustic portion. We only have to submit one example but I thought I would perform each of these and then put it up for a vote on social media (assuming anyone would bother to listen & comment). 

Drama on television or record is great, elsewhere not so much...

It's been a tumultuous couple of weeks at work and somewhat at school. At work we're hopefully near the end of a cycle that saw one of our doctors going off the rails. She was named an acting chief while they were looking to a hire a new permanent chief after the illness related departure of our former permanent chief.  To distill it down to a few sentences, let's just say she had a bit of a power trip and was butting heads and attacking several people in the clinic. 

We had been friends and supportive co-workers for many years but had a falling out a few months ago when we disagreed about implementation of the Gulf War illness policy. She's relatively new to government service and thought it was within her authority to implement the policy as she saw fit. It isn't, and she can't. But, in most cases we're willing to let individual providers rationalize their own opinions on cases as long as they understand they'll have to defend it if it's appealed or a complaint is filed. But in this case, and as part of her newly acquired (if temporary) authority, she decided the policy needed to change for the whole clinic and had directed our schedulers to change they way they scheduled these exams. 

This is where our big disagreement arose. She has this idea that if a claimed condition doesn't fit within a medical diagnostic criteria, then it's not valid. Something I've tried to explain to her for years is that our specific corner of government service is not strictly concerned with medical criteria. We work in disability claims and it's equal parts legal and even political. The entire philosophy of our claims is based on uncertainty. Our opinions typically include the statement "at least as likely as not", which basically says that if our determination of a claim is that it's fifty/fifty parts for and against the claim, then we grant the claim. 

Compared to what's happened between her and other people in the clinic, this has been pretty tame. Until she decided to go around me and accuse myself and our program analyst of inflating exams unnecessarily.  I have been a fee basis provider for over a year. This means that I am compensated by the exam. In the case of Gulf War exams, they tend to generate not only exams for conditions but also opinions for each condition. So, if a veteran claims four conditions, it results in eight total worksheets and I'm paid for each. The typical claim can generate from ten to twenty exams. Occasionally, that number can go significantly higher. 

I had an exam a month or so ago that was for around twenty claimed conditions but it also generated an equal number of direct opinions as well as fourteen or so Gulf War opinions. It ended up totaling fifty three worksheets. This is the highest number I've ever completed, and it's not typical by any stretch. A typical day for me is around twenty exams. I'm not sure if this is the exam which she questioned, but if not it was a similar one. I've had a few in the forties and many in the thirties. It should be noted that the FTE often don't reach these numbers in the course of a week, much less a day. 

My previous post history tells the story of the relative level of productivity among regular federal employees. Let's just say that they typically underachieve, at least compared to my levels. To make a long story short, she basically accused me and the program analyst of stealing money. Because she questioned the validity of the claims (going back to our fundamental disagreement of Gulf War), then she surmised that meant that any Gulf War related claims/opinions were invalid and shouldn't be billed. Like I said before, she doesn't have this authority. No one at our level has this authority. This is national policy and you're not allowed to take away from a regulation to suit your own needs. For what it's worth, my performance of these exams and opinions was directed before I was ever fee basis and had specific approval by the former chief (on more than one occasion), not to mention that the whole policy was directed by VBA personnel outside our clinic. It's a well established and approved policy that has been in place for a long time before she got here. 

All of this scenario is rather tame to what else she has been doing. To keep it short, let's just say she's accused others of outright fraud, abuse, and even having sex in the clinic. It's all bullshit and an attempt by her to discredit and destroy anyone who's crossed her path. I avoid psychoanalyzing in general, and also because I'm not qualified, but I think her specific pathology has something to do with growing up in an authoritarian regime which tends to encourage similar behaviors in those victimized or oppressed once they possess any power. She's demonstrated a feeling of superiority over others, including her own MD/DO peers. She has never understood that her authority as a doctor is strictly clinical. In the federal system, and in our country for that matter, we don't recognize social castes. Although we do have great inequalities in our country, we don't recognize our defer to people because they are part of a ruling class or aristocracy. She seems to think differently. Although some actions are still pending, it seems apparent they are going to remove her from the temporary position and her application for the permanent position would likely be dead in the water. Honestly, I hope she has enough personal shame to resign from the department if not the government as well. 

Although I know myself and our program analyst didn't do anything untoward or dishonest, it's still stressful to have those sorts of accusations hanging over you, because if they were true they would likely result in termination as well as a permanent black mark on our records. Mostly the stress derived from uncertainty to how far the accusation would go, and that the people passing judgement would be strangers who might be given incomplete and biased information. It appears that nothing will come of this for now, but it's still very troubling to face a sudden unexpected threat to your livelihood. As I have discussed with our program analyst, this was the ultimate betrayal and bridge burning offense from which a person will never come back. 

A year of freedom

This week marks one year as a contractor (fee basis) in my previous job. Fewer workdays, better compensation, and I'm almost exempt from the typical workplace drama (almost). Job security is lower in context, but otherwise there's really no downside. Our mid-range plan is to pay off the house and then we'll reassess. We may stay where we are, we may still pursue that house in the country.

This last year has seen the completion of several original tunes and videos. It's been a great year of development in most creative aspects. I'm not over the moon about anything I've done so far, but I would at least call all my projects successful in achieving what I had in mind in the beginning, and even moreso as learning processes. I expect my highly d̶r̶e̶a̶d̶e̶d̶/̶i̶g̶n̶o̶r̶e̶d̶ coveted creative efforts will likely only increase.  Not that I need more interests, but I've taken up drawing as part of my overall pursuit of visual arts. I hope to combine music, video and illustration in various ways. 

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. 

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. 

Midsummer(ish) Update

Work continues on the Life On Mars cover video. I actually had a "complete" version of all the music, and was relatively happy with it. But, in one of many learning points during this project, I gave a listen to the original (which I should have been doing more often) and realized my intro was just too fast of a tempo. I had tried various ways to approach the order in which I laid down tracks. I think drums first is still probably the best way, although in this tune they don't come in for the first minute. After learning that I really couldn't keep track of the drums while trying to play with the original, I tried using a midi version of the song with which I could include a click track and that seems the best approach. 

There are multiple ways to approach this sort of incremental song construction. Due to problems with latency, it was important for me to keep the recording setup between the drums and my DAW as simple and uncluttered as possible. Latency is a killer with drums and percussion if you're trying to record in time. I managed to get a version down that was close enough for my satisfaction. I did end up making some minor timing corrections, mainly for the occasional rushed kick drum on the "and" of 4.  

Probably the single biggest challenge of this project is that I'm recording to video.  Making corrections to timing mistakes and the occasional clam note is easy in a DAW, but trying to get that synced up to video becomes exponentially harder. There are ways around this with creative video editing, but it was important to me that the foundation of the video was going to be good performances on all the parts as the baseline. Although I'm mainly doing this for my own entertainment (and internet points, because, internet points), I have felt this might serve as a sort of audition tape that I could use as needed for bands, further academic endeavors, etc. 

My approach has been to keep attempting complete takes until I get one that's close to "perfect" (my version, not Rick Wakeman's). I then stop recording and know that I will use the last takes. In some cases this might be the 10th+ take overall. 

Once I looked at the rough draft of the video performances and had worked on the mix (I was on version 14 or so), I realized I just wasn't going to be satisfied with my version if it didn't have the same vibe as the original. I never desired or expected to make a perfect note for note rendition that would sound exactly like the original, but I felt like my version was too rushed and too produced sounding. It was lacking the dynamics and character of the original, and that's kind of the whole point. 

I resigned myself to have another go at the intro, as that was the biggest problem and I managed to have a "decent" go at the piano part yesterday. Although it was useable, I was suffering my version of a hangover after drinking four beers the previous day, and I wasn't giving myself the best opportunity for a good take. I also realized that my approach to the green screen needed some work. I've learned a small amount about videography, and one thing I've gathered is that your green screen needs to be as flat and "invisible" as possible and it needs to be lit appropriately. 

Looking at my various takes, there was a variety of lighting and screen real estate occupied by my green screen backdrops. I think for my project, the best approach will be one where the green screen completely occupies the background. There may be future projects where I have the green screen as a sort of object in the background that doesn't necessarily fill up the screen. 

All that being said, I need to re-shoot the entire thing so that I can have a consistent lighting and size for my green screen. I am learning to never see an individual performance as too precious. This is a growing process as I learn to accept not every take will be perfect, but become willing to keep trying until I get as close as I'm capable. I know when I've done my best, and that's usually when I'm just practicing or playing without the "red light".  The good thing is that I've learned to get over red light syndrome because you can always make another attempt. Part of the comfort level comes from really knowing the part well and having confidence that you can play it right. 

Tying in to that was finally settling on an arrangement from which I would build the song and giving myself time to practice it. I think I've decided on just playing the intro piano part independently without a rigid timekeeper and then locking in with the drums at the first chorus when they initially come in. I may tweak this as I discovered that the intro was fairly close to 113.5 beats per minute, but then it increases to 128 at the first chorus. It sort of slows down again at the end of the guitar interlude, but returns to that during the rest of the song. My dissatisfaction with the piano performance largely stemmed from timing and feel issues related to trying to play to a metronome/backing track when I had been accustomed to playing it more freely. 

Dealing with this tempo change has been instructive and it gives me some experience for the future as this issue will come up again. I'm definitely convinced that you need to ensure you practice the piece exactly the way you intend to record it. This seems obvious, but in this case I had been playing the piano part for so long that I didn't think this would be much different. And it wasn't really, but it was different enough that my playing become too mechanical and lost the vibe.

As mentioned, I'm also planning on tweaking the camera setup. My plan now is to use my GoPro and iPhone cameras so I have at least two angles of each performance. This just adds another layer of complexity, but I always enjoy performance videos with multiple angles (if done well) more than just the simple straight ahead shots. The GoPro is ideally suited for "neck cam" on the guitar and bass, and I'll also be able to get some alternate overhead shots as well as a shot of kick drum performance (this will be used sparingly, but I like this angle on drum vids).  

The ostensibly biggest obstacle in this project (famous last words) is getting the piano and drum performances down solid. These are the two that I tend to make the most mistakes (albeit few/small) compared to the vocals, guitar and bass. I find repeating takes of those performances is less arduous and time consuming than piano and drums. My plan is to approach it in this order - drums, piano, bass, vocals and guitar. My main reason to redo the bass & guitar is because I want the additional camera angles and I need to fix the way I use the green screen. I also need to help Aeyong install a window blind for our little half moon accent window which is still letting too much natural light in which can illuminate behind the screen and that's a problem.

Another impetus to repeating the entire process is that I've purchased my next equipment upgrade, which is the Slate Virtual Microphone System. This is comprised of a large diaphragm condenser microphone, preamp and a software based modeling system that models microphone, preamp, and compressor (as desired).  This system was announced a few years ago, but it's just now hitting the market. I've heard all positive reviews so far, but I don't know that it's hit enough of a market saturation to be certain.

Based on the microphone alone and considering its price point ($1K), it's a good upgrade from  Blue Baby Bottle (which is still a great mic) and should fill a niche for several years. Philosophically this system is the microphone equivalent of the AxeFx. As the technology has progressed over the years, modeling has narrowed the gap with analog gear, and most listeners don't know the difference. I've always embraced technology and I while I love analog gear, I also love the digital stuff for the flexibility, variety and power it provides. The three microphones it models (at onset, more will be added later) would be way beyond the wallets of all but the most successful (rich) producers. It models the Telefunken 251, Neumann U47 and Sony C800G microphones. Bought on the market (especially for classic versions), this three mic locker would likely run upwards of $50K.  Of the reviews I've seen so far, people are having a difficult time telling the difference between the original and modeled versions. I'm not sure how much I buy that, but for the price and what's a decent sounding (extremely flat) microphone it's more than worth it. It will be interesting to try this new mic out on the vocals for this project. 

There are more aspects to the video project to come, to include filming our dogs in various costumes against the green screen and the subsequent film editing and use of effects. These are all essentially new skill sets I will develop as part of this project. I'm always going to focus on music first, but an occasional video project is fun and a way to keep it interesting for the short modern attention spans (including mine). 

Hey Folks

And by folks, I refer to the singular. It's been a fairly action packed few months. I was really busy with school in the fall semester, especially near the end. I discovered that the workload and complexity of the courses as I proceed through my degree plan were increasing to the point that I was burning myself out. I managed to pull off the grades, but I felt I was sacrificing true understanding and deeper absorption of some really important concepts. So, in reaction I have decreased my courseload to two going forward. The heavier courseload was predicated by my (I think now, false) assumption that I needed to take a full courseload to receive all of my GI Bill benefits. I had actually been told that by multiple advisors at Berklee, but I managed to get the supervisor of financial aid to weigh in and he said otherwise.  Apparently taking two courses for 3 months would be the same as taking four courses for 1.5 months. I won't know for sure until I look at my explanation of benefits after this semester is complete, but I think it's accurate. It's a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I'm not taking these courses at Berklee just to check a box or get a certificate. I'm taking them because I truly want to learn this material. 

There's not much new to report at work, same behavior from the same jackasses. I compiled a DBQ report for October which essentially was unchanged from the report a year ago. Submitting this report to dickless did result in more maneuvering as expected and he actually endorses the idea of counting exams for providers in the interest of capturing workload. That being said, it's apparent that the same non-performers are being protected and given credit for "other duties" which essentially means they're getting a pass since he's unwilling to grow a pair and actually do his job. I'm not surprised, it's essentially what I expected from him. My only faint hope is that eventually when the contract supports runs out (if it does) he'll be left to explaining why the clinic can't meet the demand to his bosses. He probably already has detailed plans on how he'll tap dance his way out of that scenario if/when the day comes. I just can't bring myself to give a shit what he and the other oxygen thieves are getting up to. Life's too short.

On the homefront, we finally got Aeyong her new car, a 2016 Toyota Highlander. It worked out pretty well, and it's a really feature packed nice car. We traded in the Ranger, so I've got the Pathfinder now. We saw Patton Oswalt and Kathleen Madigan on back to back nights at the Majestic last month, and they were both hilarious. I got a cool one off poster that was made for Patton's Majestic show featuring him as various Star Wars characters. On that theme, I've mostly gotten all the concert and music posters framed and put up in the drum room as well as the upstairs living room. I bought four different framed artists renderings of Jimmy Page, David Bowie (as a statue head from the Man Who Fell to Earth), Kate Bush in a sort of airbrushed painting from the back photo of Hounds of Love (probably my all time favorite photo of her), and then an alternate view of Battersea Power Station (from Animals) in black & white with a small colorized flying pig. I think it's the same photographer who shot the album cover, just an alternate view. 

Continuing in the home decorating theme, I sort of grabbed the torch from Aeyong and attached jet packs to my feet before taking off. Aeyong had bought a Daenerys Targaryen doll from one of the local stores a year or two ago. We had incrementally bought these little pop figures (cartoonish versions) of the other GOT characters in the subsequent months. I had seen an article or video showing various Star Wars characters from The Force Awakens, and this led to more exploration into miniatures and figurines. I added several pop figures from TFA including Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. This led to further investigation, and long story short, I've ordered several miniatures from Star Wars, LOTR, and GOT. This includes premium versions of Darth Vader, C3PO/R2D2, and Rey with BB8. The pop figures are little rubber/plastic dolls and fairly cheap, but the premium format figures are made of quite sturdy material and feature multiple poses, articulations, working lights, etc. 

I have some cool versions of Tyrion and Arya that we've already received. Also coming is a miniature of Strider (it's called Aragorn, but he's definitely in ranger mode with this figure). I also have ordered some really cool Weta miniatures and artwork. The biggest is a huge miniature of Smaug laying on his pile of gold with a tiny Bilbo underneath. I'm also getting a miniature of Bag End, and I've got my eyes on Minas Tirith. We're also getting some lovely prints of various LOTR/Hobbit scenes - a wide angle Bag End with Gandalf at the door, a close up of Bilbo looking out the front door, a wide angle of the Argonath with the fellowship in canoes crossing the water, and a shot of the meeting pavilion from the Hobbit where Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman held their dawn counsel. 

The really cool thing is that Aeyong is into it, and actually wants to display the artwork and miniatures around the house. My first instinct is to keep most of it in the home theater area, but ultimately we're going to run out of room and it will naturally spread. I don't care if this fits with the better homes and gardens of vacuous assholes aesthetic. This is the stuff we're into, and we can do what we want with our house. It's a bit childish I suppose, but in a repeating theme for this blog and my adult life, I still like the stuff I liked as a teenager and I learned a long time ago to do what makes me happy not what meets other's approval. Stephen King made a comment in an updated preface for a comprehensive version of the Dark Tower series (which I've finally got around to reading, mea culpa) that his adult personality and tastes were basically established by age 19. I think that's essentially true. I know most of the stuff I really value was already present in some shape by that age. I've expanded my tastes a bit and I've accumulated a lot more music, books, movies, etc. in the intervening years, but I essentially still love the same stuff.  Continuing the geek acquisition theme, I got a really cool Marvel Graphic Novelish omnibus of the Dark Tower series that I need to hold off until I finish the proper series. I'm on the Waste Lands at present. I had gotten on a bit of a coffee table book kick in the last year which included Jimmy Page's photo biopic, the Kate Bush photo book created by her brother, a comprehensive three volume set of my favorite webcomic Ctrl - Alt - Del and several others. My geekdom spreads its tendrils like kudzu. 

I've gotten some new albums over the past few months. I especially love Beck's 2014 album (yes, the one Kanye had to interrupt the Grammy presentation about), Morning Phase. This is easily one of my favorite albums, and it's gone on the stress reduction anti-depressant album list (sharing space with the LOTR soundtracks, Zero 7, Metheny, Emmanuel and a few others). I've also added a few more Radiohead albums, and I really love Kid A.  I went back and got three Big Audio Dynamite albums as well as The Big Heat by Stan Ridgway. This was after Matt had posted several 1985 era tunes on Facebook. I had forgotten how much I loved that music. This isn't the complete list, but I also added Mozart's Requiem and Symphone Fantastique by Berlioz. 

The past few months saw some devastating losses, but one positive addition. In music we lost David Bowie, Lemmy, Scott Weiland, and several other key musicians. In my personal life, we had to have Bridget put to sleep in November. She was 15 years old, and the small benign growth on her abdomen had grown so large it was affecting her movement, breathing, and she was beginning to behave erratically.  We grew concerned that she would hurt herself, as she was doing things that didn't make any sense. Aeyong was finding her digging in the back yard for hours in the early hours of the morning. She just seemed confused and not herself in the past few months. She didn't seem comfortable or happy anymore and we had to make the hard decision. We had a similar experience with Lucy. Once they got to the point that their personalities changed and they no longer seemed comfortable, it was time to let them go. It's still the hardest thing we've had to go through. These are our children, and as much as I loved and miss my parents, their loss didn't hit us as hard as losing our pets. The silver lining is that we noticed our two other dogs were missing her (unsurprisingly), but we also have grown accustomed to a three dog dynamic since we first got April in 2007.  So, on that note, I charged Aeyong with finding us a new puppy. She looked at several shelters and eventually found our new chihuahua (mix?), aptly named Skittles. She could have also been called skittish or skitters, but Skittles seemed appropriate. She was a rescue and she still has some of that street mentality (she apparently wasn't fed well and has a predilection for plants, acorns and various other flora). She is a sweetheart and I think she knows she is a member of our family now. 

I would be remiss if I didn't further discuss one of the most devastating losses I've ever experienced as a fan of music and the creative arts in general. Two days after the release of Blackstar (on his 69th birthday), David Bowie suddenly passed from this world. Apparently well aware he had terminal cancer, David composed and produced this album as a sort of swan song and parting message, and it's proven to be an amazing piece of work. I can't give the album an adequate review in this space, and neither can I adequately express how much David and his work meant to me. I'll do my best in the future, through spoken word and music alike. For what it's worth, his loss has proven to be just as devastating for artists around the world of every age and genre. Almost anyone of note has expressed their immense sadness at his loss and the profound effect he had on their lives. The number of tribute songs and covers are too numerous to count. I have been working on versions of his music for years, and so a short term plan (which was already in the works long before he passed) is to put together a cover version of "Life on Mars" with me performing all the parts including vocals. This project derived from a desire to put together an audition for the Music Composition program with Berklee (I'm currently in the Music Production program, but want to dual major), but it's also been a long term goal to further my musicianship, production, etc. skills in being able to cover entire tunes by myself. Life on Mars was one of a few select tunes that I felt capable of not making a complete ass of myself in the process. We'll see. 

Rest in Peace Carolyn

Carolyn Bullock Hightower Laughlin was suddenly called home on Sunday, May 10th, 2015. She was surrounded by family and wrapped in love’s embrace in her final days. 

Carolyn was born March 4th, 1943 in Sayre, Oklahoma, the only child to Buford and Colleen Eastham.

Carolyn grew up in the panhandle town of Borger, Texas and then left home to embark on her life’s journey with high school sweetheart, Loal Hightower, Together they raised five children and were married for 39 Years. Carolyn worked in accounting for many years, a large portion as comptroller for a group of interventional radiologists. Among her many charitable callings was volunteering for children through CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a cause that she held dear. She was a godly woman that walked in faith her entire life and loved her church families just like her own. She later married Richard Laughlin, and they shared their last years happily in Tyler, Texas. 

Carolyn bore the burdens of marriage and motherhood for all of her adult life, raising all of her children with strength, grace and steadfast love. Carolyn never wavered as a Mother, neglecting her own needs over those of her children and grandchildren up until the day she passed. She gave all her love until she had nothing left to give, and then she let go. Her loved ones are her strong and proud legacy and they will live on in her honor, forever carrying her in their hearts.

She is survived by daughters and sons-in-law, Deborah and Larry Cano, Dianna and Scott Hamil, Danielle and Courtney Perkins; son Dennis Hightower, son & daughter-in-law, Darren and Aeyong Hightower; granddaughters Heather, Christina, Amanda and Jaesa; grandsons Chris, David, Adam and Athen.

Busy Busy Busyerington...

It's almost surprising I have found a few minutes to quickly update the blog.  It's been a very busy couple of months since I posted last. Between work, school and trying to practice I've been essentially moving non stop from wake until sleep every day. Ironically, the days I thought I would still get some good practice time (weekend) are often the days I don't find any time to practice. I've been saving my weekly assignments that are project based until the weekend, and these end up eating up big chunks of the day. My best practice days have ended up being Mon-Thu. I haven't been able to maintain my previous 3 hours a day by any stretch. 2.5 hours is a great day because it generally means I got 30 minutes on everything. 

I've had a few weeks where the scope of the work just overwhelmed my practice schedule in general. That combined with a few fix up projects in my studio (mainly installing acoustic treatment) wiped out a few weekends and several weekdays as well. Aeyong has been gone to Korea the last five weeks, so taking care of all the household stuff has really kept me moving at full speed. She comes home tomorrow, and it will be great to have her back. I essentially have 2 weeks left this semester and then the next day we start the spring semester. 

A big development has been the creation of the Music Composition for Film, Television, and Games degree track and I'm orienting towards pursuit of a dual degree with that and production. I will be busier than the proverbial one legged man in an ass kicking contest for the next four years. All that being said, the past two months have been fantastic for my development as a musician. I finally shared my original work with friends and classmates, as well as a brief cover of a Coldplay tune "Amsterdam" that featured me singing and playing all the instruments. 

I couldn't foresee a time when I was going to be ready to do that before, and now I've done it and it was no big deal at all. I've only had a few friends take the time to listen to it, but I've gotten positive feedback from all of them including one who I've respected for years as a musician. It's a small validation, but a really big deal for me. I've known I had something, but I always wondered if it would be enough for others to consider it worthy of the effort. Now I know that it is. Enough laurel resting, I've got work to do. 

Peeps...

Greetings from the great electronic wasteland to my audience of one. Things continue to progress towards the pending music production degree with Berklee. I've gotten approved and enrolled in five courses for the first semester. I've mixed a couple production courses (Pro Tools 101, Music Production Analysis) in with a few hopefully easier courses (Developing Your Artistry, Guitar Chords), and what is the least appealing, non musical but still mandatory (for me) course, Math for Musicians. I was one answer shy of testing out of the Math requirement, but it was mostly Algebra, Geometry and other math topics I've literally not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago. Apparently the math is considered integral to courses like Acoustics and others that may actually use math. I'm assuming it can't hurt, and I want to just get it out of the way now. The guitar chords course shouldn't be overwhelming although I'm sure I'll learn something. I managed to score well enough on the theory test to skip ahead to the 200 level courses. 

I got the full version of Pro Tools, and at this point I still prefer Logic, but I'm getting accustomed to how Pro Tools works as well. There are many similarities. Logic is just a better organized, intuitive, simple yet powerful DAW. Given the choice, I'll probably still use Logic, but Pro Tools is so ingrained in the professional community and Berklee has gone all in with AVID, so there's no avoiding it. I also upgraded some of my studio. I got Focal Alpha 80 monitors, a Blue Microphones Baby Bottle, an SE Electronics Vocal Shroud/Acoustic Isolator, and made a big upgrade by getting an analog preamp, the UAD 4-710D which is essentially a four channel mic preamp with dual transistor/tube capability.

I've got the Baby Bottle, my SM58, and the e906 and SM57 in the amp iso box hooked in right now. I haven't been using the iso box because I've just got the Port City OS 212 in my main room (it's a bit too large for the box). Eventually I'm going to get a 1x12 to keep in the iso box permanently and then the e906 and SM57 will get more use. I'll eventually get a Royer 121 to combine with the 57, but that's probably a few years away. The 4-710D is a great piece of kit, which is true for all the UAD stuff I own. I find I like the blend of the transistor/tube more than either one isolated. There are several UAD plugins I still plan on purchasing, but I need to space those out. My next big studio upgrade will be acoustic treatment for the main mixing room and the vocal closet, along with ARC room correction software to get it calibrated. That may be a Christmas present, or I may wait until next year. 

I still have a few textbooks to buy for the first semester, and I know down the road there will probably be some software purchases specifically for certain classes. I think the East West Symphonic VST  is required for something down the line.  I want to upgrade to Komplete 10, but it's not a high priority right now. I've been trying hard to maintain a daily practice schedule which remains (and will remain) a challenge with the five disciplines. I'm sure I will have to scale back quite a bit once school starts. The trade off is I will be learning other valuable music and production related skills and techniques (not looking at you, math). I'm going to find a way to at least maintain my chops if I can't improve them as much. If I have to practice in shorter sessions on alternate days, that's what I'll end up doing. 

Bloggery bloggington

Time for another infrequent update. What's happened since last I committed electrons to this dark, forgotten corner of the internet?  Of most significance is that I have applied for the Berklee College of Music (Online) Bachelor of Music Production degree, with an anticipated start date of January 2015. I'm not sure why I didn't previously make the connection between this course and my still valid (but eventually expiring) GI Bill benefits. I had looked at individual courses within Berklee and some other online colleges, but for whatever reason I didn't realize that there was actually a Bachelor's program in a Music related field that I was actually interested in that would be eligible for the GI Bill.

I won't know if I'm accepted until next month, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Firstly, since I have a reliable means of paying for the degree, and secondly, my academic records while not perfect, (I made a couple of Bs in PA school) are pretty competitive (3.8 cumulative GPA with two master's degrees).  What I don't have is any significant professional or academic music experience, but I'm hoping that since there aren't any specific prerequisites in those areas, that I will make up for in my enthusiasm for music. In my personal statement I related my lifelong love of music, my rekindled musicianship of 10+ years, my multi-instrumentalism and love for all things music production related. 

The course curriculum reads like all of my online self learning activities for the past 10 years. Looking through the entire course requirements and syllabi, I was amazed at how every course was something I was either interested in learning, or something I actually had already studied on my own. My dream scenario would be to channel this knowledge into a musical occupation that could pay the bills, but that isn't the only end goal. I know that regardless of whether I continue to need to work full or part time in healthcare, that the knowledge and experience I gain from this course will make me a better musician and I can't put a price on how valuable that is for me. 

My realistic goal is to continue improving my home studio as much as possible (without making structural changes to our current home), and eventually buying a home on a one acre lot and building a music studio from the ground up. I hope that with time and experience I can begin to attract clients and gain work through word of mouth and advertising. This is a path that some full time (and highly regarded) professional studio owners have followed. The other nice thing about owning/running a studio is that age isn't the limiting factor that it may be for musical artists that are just starting out. I will continue to be a musician, and hope that this knowledge and experience with facilitate opening new doors for me in that area as well. I just never get tired or bored with music at large. I may briefly run out of steam when I've been practicing a certain instrument, but that's easily remedied by picking up a different one, or studying an aspect of production, etc. 

It's hard to express how exciting these possibilities are for me. It's also nice to at least consider that it may be possible to earn a living equivalent to our current standard of living. Success as a musical artist can be a much more fickle target. I know plenty of world class artists who have their dedicated fan base but are otherwise ignored by the public at large. Success in music is often not directly correlated to talent and hard work (a small caveat in that the really hard working musicians who understand that they must do more than just write/record songs, often find a way to succeed through touring, videos & other merchandising).  

The true "If I win the lottery" (in a music sense) would be to build up a successful studio/operation as well as create my own music that might actually garner enough interest to release albums and even tour, if only on a small, regional level. Neither one of these is necessary for me to be happy in music, because I'm already there and I'm not making a penny doing it (quite the contrary, I spend quite a few pennies doing it). The greatest satisfaction would be in having the freedom to only need to "work" in music, and to have my own business that I can dictate the schedule, etc. I am confident that if I'm accepted to Berklee that I will be able to eventually build a free standing professional (albeit, not in the league of the Power Station or equivalent) studio and with the knowledge and experience gained in school I'll be able to record my own as well as others music in the best possible format. Maybe it will only be on nights/weekends when I have the time away from my regular job or maybe it will grow to a full time operation. I'm on board for the long haul either way...

Loaded and ready for action...

To quote Stewart Copeland from the heretofore best documentarish video concerning the Police (The Police Around the World).  

In this case, I think he was making a joke about his clothing choices, but in my case I'm actually referring to a firearm. After 46 years (including 23 in the Army), I finally purchased a handgun. It was disturbingly easy to do so. Since moving to Grand Prairie, we hear about more recurring criminal events that are closer to home (luckily our subdivision is actually pretty quiet and calm) and we were faced with the reality that despite a monitored security system, dogs, and door/window locks, we still weren't prepared if anyone ever broke in and was armed.  

I'm very familiar with both rifles and handguns, having carried and qualified on a regular basis during my 23 years in the Army. Despite this, I've always been philosophically against firearms in the hands of private citizens, since I can't see any justification for their possession other than to kill or harm. I'm a realist in that there's no benefit from outlawing guns at this point, because then it would just be the criminals with easy access to firearms. It is surprising that you can just walk into dealer, fill out a two page form, and within about 5 minutes you're the legal owner of a firearm. 

I'm hoping we only ever get to shoot it at the range, but despite being philosophically opposed to gun ownership, I'm even more opposed of the idea of my wife or myself facing down an armed intruder with a steak knife or a golf club. We got a Glock 19, which is a very reliable handgun and is widely used by military and law enforcement. It's not particularly pretty, but it gets the job down and it will deliver enough rounds to stop someone who decides to ignore the security alarm sign, the locked doors/windows, the security alarm itself,  and my dogs. 

I'll be taking Aeyong to the range and getting her comfortable with it. I'll most likely eventually buy a second gun for her and we'll probably get certified for the concealed handgun license. I don't see myself ever embracing the gun advocate/NRA lifestyle, but it's just the reality of our society that handguns are so prevalent, and if you're facing down a gunman, you don't want to be wishing you had a gun, because by then it's too late. 

Oh kids...

Another infrequent update. Spring is here, mostly. The official yard cutting season began last Friday and continues today. Relevant events since last: Queen is touring this summer and they'll be making a stop in Dallas. Other than a few opportunities back in the early 1980s, this will be the first time Queen has come anywhere close to where I live. Obviously the original lineup would be the dream gig, but they'll be touring with Brian May & Roger Taylor and they're two of my all time favorite musicians. Brian has always been a favorite of mine on so many levels: tone, songwriting, and just a general approach to life in his intellectual curiosity. He's an astrophysicist in his spare time, how many musicians (especially such influential musicians) can say that?  Well, one, actually. They have Adam Lambert of american idol fame, and he's done several gigs with them in the past. Based on what I've seen, he's a perfect replacement for Freddy, even if he doesn't sound precisely like him.  This is one of the all time most anticipated shows I'll ever see. Only Zeppelin or Floyd would rival seeing Queen.  

Another "first time" concert next week will be Alter Bridge at the HOB in Dallas. I've seen Myles Kennedy two times with Slash, and he's just as amazing live as he is on record. I'm looking forward to a band I've been listening to for four years now. I got into Creed primarily because I like Mark Tremonti's tone, even if I don't consider him a primary influence. I never liked Scott Stapp, he's the definition of a douchey lead singer, but I can generally ignore the singer if I like the musicians. It's really fortunate they had a falling out, because Alter Bridge is a superior band on so many levels. 

I also got tickets for Yes, who'll be stopping by at the Verizon GP in August. They're going to perform Fragile and CTTE in their entirety along with tracks from their upcoming album "Heaven & Earth" and some other hits. They performed CTTE on the last tour, but as far as I'm concerned they could do that every tour and I wouldn't get tired of it. The most unique aspect of them performing Fragile will be all the solo tunes. I'm pretty sure I've seen them perform all the group tunes on the album, but besides MFAD, I don't think I've heard the other tunes live. I'm looking forward to this new album. Apparently the newest singer (that position in the group has had more turnover in the past 5 years than almost any other spot) Jon Davison contributed to some of the songwriting. Steve Howe also contributed and I'm not sure about the other members yet. The went with a different producer from Trevor Horn this time with Roy Thomas Baker, who they were apparently supposed to collaborate with a long time ago but it fell apart for some reason. I think they wanted to try something where the band were the sole songwriters since on the last album the title track "Fly from Here" was largely an old Trevor Horn song from the Drama days. 

I also picked up the CD for another "new" band, The Winery Dogs. The band is composed of Ritchie Kotzen (of Mr Big, Poison, solo, etc. fame), Billy Sheehan (in my opinion, the equivalent of EVH on Bass, literally), and Mike Portnoy (previously of Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold, Flying Colors).  It's a unique blend of over the top musicianship (they are not afraid to engage in the fiddly bits) with a sort of hard rock/pop song structure. Tone wise they're somewhere between 70's hard rock and 80's pop metal. The songs are fairly pop in the construction, but they benefit from how amazing all three players sound individually and combined. Not to mention that Ritchie Kotzen is not only a monster guitarist, but he's an amazing vocalist as well. I knew he was a great player, but I had no idea he was such a powerful vocalist. Billy and Mike are great backing vocalists and there are some really interesting harmonies in these tunes. They're going to play the Granada in May, and I actually bought the concert tickets before I had heard the album, because I knew I wanted to see Billy Sheehan live and that if nothing else they would all impress as musicians. Now that I've heard the album a few times, I'm really looking forward to this one. 

I was set to get tickets for Fleetwood Mac who are touring with the complete Rumors era lineup since Christine McVie has rejoined the group. Unfortunately, they followed the whole corporate greed ticketmaster process and so the first presale was AMEX which means all the online scalpers got the tickets before anyone else. When I last checked individual tickets within the first 20 rows were running $450 plus. It's sad since were able to see them in 2004 with fan club tickets for $200 a ticket and we were 4th row center. We'll probably just look for a video after the tour.  I really prefer the approach that bands like Rush and Iron Maiden have adopted which requires the ticket purchaser to be at the venue when the tickets are scanned in. This essentially eliminates any online scalping. The couple of times I've had the chance to get tickets this way, I've alway gotten great seats. We had 3rd row center for Rush. 

On the musical gear front, I got the Roland V-Drums about a month ago and I'm slowly learning to play them. They're awesome to have and I'm trying to train my four limbs to keep time independently. As with any instrument, you don't become aware of the nuances until you play it. Keeping a basic 4/4 beat that will cover a huge amount of pop/rock music is easy enough, but real mastery is going to take years. Right now I've really got to focus on my right foot in it's role to keep the main pulse of the song going. It really has to have a mind of it's own so I can be free to play fills and move around the drum set without losing the beat. It's hard to quantify but I've been feeling that there has been a collective musical benefit from playing these various instruments. I know for certain that the physicality of playing bass has strengthened my fingers beyond where they were despite playing guitar for over 10 years now. I see it in my guitar and keyboard playing in that certain movements or chord shapes that were previously very difficult, have become easier over time. I also believe my ears have improved, ironically in that I've been just randomly picking tunes to play bass (heavy emphasis on the Police since the physical effort is generally easy enough, although the timekeeping is challenging since they play odd time signatures and really focus on the upbeat) lines with, and I've found that the more often I just randomly pull up tunes and play along, the quicker I'm able to latch on to the chord progressions. 

Aeyong and I celebrated our 24th Anniversary a week ago. She didn't really want anything specific, but we had a small financial windfall since we overestimated (on purpose) our escrow payments and I got a performance bonus at work. I used this to get her a nice 60in LED TV for the master bedroom. We had moved rooms around after I got the drums, because I was trying very had to minimize the sound transmission of the kit. Even though it's digital and relatively quieter than acoustic drums, there are still physical contacts being made and some of the low end sound really cuts through walls and floors. I built (with an assist from Aeyong) a drum platform based on designs seen online. It's two 3/4 in MDF boards with tennis balls in between and wrapped in low indoor/outdoor carpet. The whole platform sits on a 4 or 5 piece thick foam exercise mat system. It doesn't eliminate the sound transmission, but it does reduce it, and that combined with her being able to retreat to the master bedroom and watch TV has helped make my nightly noisemaking a bit more tolerable. 

Updates, mostly gearish...

The holidays have come and gone. Things at work have been fairly steady, although a certain unnamed individual's attempt to portray himself as a visionary may have backfired on him. Time will tell. Not a lot new to report on the home front. Aeyong and I struck a deal that means she will go to Korea next year with a bigger expense account as well as helping pay for knee surgery for her mother. We would have done that anyway, but she usually tries to only spend money on the traveling costs and tries to just spend time with family. That is probably what she'll end up doing anyway, but I told her to shop if she wants to. Knowing her, she'll spend money on her family if she spends any. 

I, on the other hand, have chosen a decidedly less altruistic path. I'm going to finally get the biggest (in sheer size and cost) item that I've had on my gear wish list for the past five years or so. Drum roll, please. No pun intended. Still scratching the noggin?

It's drums, I'm getting drums. My ultimate musical goal is writing and recording music for myself. If others ever get any enjoyment from it, great. But ultimately, I undertake this process for my own personal fulfillment alone.  I've always aspired to write the music that has most inspired me, and that generally has been heavily weighted towards bands with guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards.  Of those, keys probably open up the sonic landscape the most by virtue of synths and samplers, and If I want to go orchestral or soundtrackish, that's where the keys and synths come in.  That being said, I've always wanted to have a good handle on what I consider the four dominant instruments in popular music. 

I've wanted to learn drums so I could facilitate writing (regardless of the fact you can program drums to sound real or not), so I could improve my sense of rhythm, and just because I love the instrument and I've truly always loved the drummers in my favorite bands. If I were to make a top ten list (the creation of which I generally try to avoid) for guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and drummers, a healthy chunk of the roster would come from Yes, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Pink Floyd, The Police, and a few others. Of those just mentioned, Bonzo, Bruford, the Professor, and Stewart Copeland are held in my highest regard. Sorry Nick, I love you and wouldn't exchange you for another, but you're not in the same category as those mentioned.  

There are many others, especially in Jazz - the various PMG alumni (Antonio Sanchez, Paul Wertico, Danny Gottlieb), Jack Dejohnette, Steve Gadd, Billy Higgins, Peter Erskine, etc.  There are too many to count actually. Despite the august nature of those mentioned, I'm sure to avail myself of some less steep summits before commencing skyward.  Zeppelin will probably be a starting point, although it will take years to get to a level at which I won't be embarrassed, much less master the beats o' Bonzo. As with bass, guitar, and keys, I'll definitely put a few "unattainable in the near future" tunes in my practice list. One of my long term goals is to be able to perform and record all parts to certain tunes. While they're not as common, there are a few videos of people performing all the parts to songs out there on YouTube and the like (YYZ comes to mind).  

After negotiating with Aeyong, I talked her into letting me get what I consider the best electronic drums on the market, Roland's TD-30KV-Pro series.

http://www.roland.com/products/en/TD-30KV/

 I'm getting electronic drums for multiple reasons. One, they're relatively quiet compared to acoustic drums, and two, they're very powerful and flexible when it comes to sounds and recording. Not to mention all the percussion and drum samples I have on my computers that I can now trigger with these drums. And I anticipate being able to use these indefinitely without feeling the need to upgrade.  I didn't want to wait any longer since I'm not getting any younger, and I will need several years to really start honing my ability to a level I can use in recording.  

Troops...

I suppose it's been a bit. We're fast approaching holiday season here with Veteran's Day weekend starting tomorrow evening followed by Thanksgiving in a few weeks. Significant events since the last post?  Mostly purchases of stuff. Dining room table, what for the holiday eatage. The prematurely necessary upgrade (replacement) of the iMac and Aeyoung's further cracked iPad.  I was wanting to wait and buy a new Mac Pro when they went on sale in December, but I decided to try the mobile hotspot option with my iPad and Aeyoung's laptop and discovered I could have essentially full laptop functionality with the interwebs at work. Which is nice (without going into detail about said use of interwebs). Did I mention I started playing WOW again? No? Never mind.

Apple's most recent reveal included new macbooks and ipads. I bought the high end version of the macbook pro (from which I'm typing this) and the high end lte version of the ipad. I am fairly confident I would have waited another year or two for any of these upgrades if the imac's graphic card hadn't bought it and aeyoung hadn't delivered the killing blow to her ipad (I drew first blood with the thing a few weeks after we bought it). We've been trying to conserve the fundage a bit until we get the 401K replenished in another two years, but some of these things have a mind of their own. I've essentially stopped looking for concerts to attend, which is sometimes a significant part of the budget. There are a few artists that I will go see no matter what, but last I heard Zep and Floyd aren't due to tour anytime soon.

 Things at work are okay. We have actually had quite a light schedule thanks to our leaders in Washington and the furlough. The number of claim requests getting processed drop to nil since the regional office was affected by the furlough, but I expect the numbers will start climbing back up before too long. My last post discussed the unfinished game conundrum. So, with that in mind, I decided to jump back into playing WOW which won't help me complete any of those unfinished games and is just adding more time/money into a game that I've played around 40 days worth of. Yes, that was days.   WOW just has a special quality that always draws me back in. I'm leveling another mage this time, although I'm specced as a frost mage as opposed to my previous fire mage. And I can say frost is much more effective when soloing. I've been playing for a month and I'm just about level 73. I'm probably going to keep going and then upgrade to Pandaria once my character is ready for those zones. 

Most likely the new PS4 and Xbox will be released while I'm doing this. It's a veritable surfeit of gamage, my friends. I'm starting to think I'll never finish the PS3 and 360 games that are gathering dust currently. I've got a few steam games I'll play when I get around to them. I'm actually more interested in the new technology in these systems as opposed to any specific launch titles. The new kinect's higher resolution and ability to track not only individual limb movement but also the force of the movement means that the interactivity for the fitness programs is at a much higher level now.

 I watched a demo of a chubby game journalist (redundant?) trying to follow the Insanity workout and it looks very promising. It constantly tracks body movements and gives you instant feedback with various scoring metrics. At one point it was comparing his score to females aged 30-45 and he was falling short so he put a bit more effort into it to reach the goal. I gather there are all sorts of data to use like your former best, your xbox friends/family, all time records, etc. That's just the kind of geeky oneupmanship I like. Basically it's saying, "We know you know you're a fatass. But do you realize how much of a fatass you are? Didn't think so. Try harder, fatass"  It looks like most of the P90X workouts are on there as well and it also appears that all the kinect fitness programs (and there's a metric ton) will be free to play (at least for the first year) for xbox live gold subscribers. I think I may be moving my workouts up to the home theater in the near future. 

 

Hey there sports fans...

A bit of a gap since the last update, as it happens. I've been back to work for the past 5 weeks, after a 3 week "vacation" in which we moved into our new home. Everything went relatively smoothly with the move with no significant problems. Along the way we cleared our rental and managed to get our security deposit back. I also managed to get in a fender bender on the day before we cleared the house. Luckily there were no injuries and my truck only sustained minor damage (I had to replace the passenger side mirror). My only official wreck in 30 years of driving (I may have been pulled into the magnetic field of a parking lot light pole many, many years ago. But that wasn't officially recognized by any municipal authorities) (probably because they weren't aware).  

We spent most of the 3 weeks trying to get the house in running order. We made some furniture and other household upgrades to include a new living room sectional sofa (aka Aeyong's new bed), nice tool bench/cabinet for the garage, 3 new ceiling fans, a metric crapton of additional network and speaker wiring, and multiple landscaping upgrades (flowers, shrubs, trees).  We also bought a new refrigerator and washer/dryer. It's a good thing we got our earnest money back from the Royal Crest Conundrum (that's the official historical title, mind) because we burned through that and more. 

We still have many upgrades planned for the future, but it will be a process over many years. We'll eventually add a patio, pergola, and outdoor kitchen to the backyard, but that's probably several years down the road. In the near term, we have two years to pay ourselves back for the 401K loan we had to take out to sell the Killeen house. We also plan on getting a new car (the first in 8 years) for Aeyong and I'll take the Pathfinder for the work commute. We don't want to add the car payment on until we clear the 401K loan. We could afford the new car now, but we adopted a pay as you go (not counting the house sale) policy many years ago, and we try not to carry any more debt than is necessary. A mortgage and a car loan are about our comfortable limit, for anything else we pay in cash. Since we have the outstanding 401K loan, we'll wait on the car. This policy allows us to live comfortably and still maintain the lifestyle we are accustomed to living. 

Music wise I went to see Slash at the Gigantour in Dallas. Great show as usual, if a bit shorter than normal since it was a festivalish show. I also saw Device which is the singer from Disturbed and I think a dude from Evanescence. They were pretty good. I also saw Hellyeah ? which is Vinnie Paul's band. I regret wearing sandals and being against the front of the stage. Total rookie move, by the way, but most bands I go see don't motivate the mosh as much. Black Label Society seemed good, although I'll be damned if I understood a word he sang or could really hear what he was playing. I skipped out on the headliner, Megadeth. I have Peace Sells, but I have never really gotten into Mustaine's singing or the music for that matter. 

We also saw Rodrigo & Gabriel at the newish? ATT Performing Arts Center in Dallas. They put on a good show like the last time we saw them in Austin, although they had a bit more set dressing. The audience seemed primarily composed of the hoity toity who have the disposable income to see and be seen in the arts district. My concert t-shirt was decidedly below the expected (not enforced) dress code of the cognoscenti.  It is a nice theater to see a show, though. We're going back in November to see Harry Connick for the first time in ten years. He's touring his latest album, and we're hoping he'll actually throw in some old hits. We previously saw him on a Christmas tour, and that was all that he played. No hits or non Christmas tunes (not counting about 30 seconds of Sweet Georgia Brown on the piano). 

Speaking of artists we haven't seen in a long while, we're going to see Steely Dan for the first time in, wait for it, ten years tomorrow night. They're not touring an album, but seeing how seldom they tour, we wanted to make sure we caught them. We have total nosebleeds since I wasn't sure prior to the move if we would be going and waited until several weeks after they went on sale to buy them. We'll be taking advantage of the video screens I'm sure. 

There's more to update, but I'm already running out of electrons at this point.