Wednesday, March 29, 2006

It's time to burn all 4-track cassette recorders

I offer no apologies, and hold my head up high as I admit to the following - I'll take a well produced Janet Jackson song over a low-fi Guided by Voices song almost any day of the week.


I know this is blasphemy. I know Guided by Voices is considered by many to be stark naked human creativity at its finest. I know that Janet Jackson songs are pretty much formula. I know that state-of-the-art production on a vapid Nelly tune is just lipstick on a pig. I know that the industry's finest producers are all out there polishing turds.


But see - I want to hear that kick drum pounding in my chest cavity, yo, not something that sounds like wax paper being spanked. I want to bask in the sound of an acoustic guitar that sparkles and resonates deeply through sweetly seasoned wood. I want to close my eyes and hear a well-sung vocal awash in rich, clean reverb that makes me feel like I'm floating in a beautifully tuned acoustic space. I want the backing vocals to sound FAT and the guitars to sound PHAT and the synth pads to sound fucking OBESE. I want quiet passages to sound so quiet I can hear insects in the room breathing.



This is why I became a recording engineer, because a kick-ass recording rocks my world like nothing else.

And also because I can't stand to hear tape hiss. Or tinny guitars. Or non-existant low end. Or any other such audio foppery.

When I hear that crap, I can't hear the music. I don't want to hear the music. It could be the world's finest lyric set to the world's most beautiful melody, but all I hear are fingernails on blackboard.


Yeah, I know - It's the songwriting, stupid. Fine. You got a good song? Record the fucking thing in hi-fidelity. This is the 21st century. We are no longer singing into Victrolas that scratch out patterns on wax cylinders. Pink Floyd recorded one of the finest sounding records ever - Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 and technology has been improving exponentially since then. Yet still today we have savants like Robert Pollard putting out recordings that sound like open ass.

ROBERT. DUDE. We have preamps built to specs that would make NASA engineers drool. And the stuff is cheap. There are kids in grammar school who have every digital and analog sound processor in the known universe in their bedroom closets. There is no longer any excuse for any recording to have a signal to noise ratio above .000000000000001%.

Look, I can wolf down and enjoy a Big Mac as much as anybody, but why bother if Chateaubriand is the same price? See here's where this analogy really hits home for me. I pay exactly the same amount of money for a CD that was beautifully and painstakingly recorded in a world class studio as I do for a CD of some smug, artsy dude who hasn't combed his hair in six months hocking lugies at a 4-track cassette recorder and touting himself as some kind of rock and roll purist. Sorry, bucko. You ain't a purist. You're a lazy fuck who is afraid to put in a little production effort because you're paranoid that it's going to wind up sounding sterilized. Well that won't happen if you know what you're doing. You say don't care how bad it sounds because the idea is to focus on the song and not the production.

What a crock. What a cop-out.

Here's what I say - maybe you have great songs. But there are other artists out there who have great songs and have taken the time to learn the craft of sound recording and production and apply it to make the bitches sound BETTER. In my book, their shit is BETTER than yours, Mr. Hockalugee. Mr. Behringer Hockalugee.

And yeah, there are plenty of artists who overcook the meat and ruin it. We used to call that "walking past the money". But this is not a reason to eat only raw meat. It's a reason to learn how to properly use a stove. As soon as I read a review where the recording is described as "raw", I know that's a euphemism for "recorded in a garage by a bunch of drunks".

To hell with that. I'll have mine medium rare. With a nice Chianti.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No Choice But To Kill Him

Check out this dude named Rahman.

Rahman used to be a Muslim. Now he's a Christian. Q'ran out - Bible in. In other words, Rahman switched comic books. He went from Marvel comics to DC comics.

So the folks at Marvel have to kill him.

I mean, it's written right in the bylaws of the comic publishers. If somebody stops being a Marvel comic guy and becomes ANYthing else, (especially a DC comics guy), the punishment is death. Death to Rahman.

Stupid Rahmen. After leaving Europe, where he lived for a while and converted, Rahman returned to his native Afghanistan and tells his family (who are all Marvel comic types) that he's converted to DC. Naturally, they turned him in. What else could they do?

They turned him in to these guys:

These are the Marvel comic clerics. Stand up guys, all. They confer, and say- "Rahman, renounce your belief in DC comics and you will go free." Rahman, standing firm in his conviction that he is a die-hard DC man, refuses. Superman is real. Aquaman is fake. He could no more deny this than he could deny that the sun rises in the East. DC comic folks the world over rejoiced and applauded Rahman's bravery. The clerics have no choice other than to behead him. It says so right in the bylaws.

Now, the folks over at DC comics have their panties in a serious bunch about this, of course. See, THEY changed their bylaws about 300 years ago. Used to be that if you were a DC reader and you read some other comic, you were put to death also. But not anymore. Now you can read any comic book you want, and no one's going to kill you. You can believe in Superman, or you can believe in Wolverine. You can even safely admit to reading R. Crumb, although you'll be considered a freak. This makes them civilized over at DC.

The clerics are barbaric, they say - admitting, in a sense that for 1700 years they too were barbarians. But now they're civilized. And it's time for the Marvel folks to become civilized too. Or else. Dontcha think?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This Week's Refrigerator Wisdom

All courtesy of Mrs. Sound:

His voice said yes, but the tree devil climbed another heart.

Manacle your puppet. Make it confess.

My funny friend...speak sweet memory and release music.

Monkey! I howl at your cold beauty. Go suck a lime.

Fear not. Love can only be explored.

Steam the holy pickle bald, boys.

(that one scares me a bit - SS)

Understand grammar him do.

I dream between blue.

Random dancing is never wrong.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Soundsurfr - Live at Cool Beanz

Last night I summoned up the courage to take my acoustic guitar into the Cool Beanz cafe in a local town here in NY and sign up for the open mike. This is the first time I've played to a live audience in a few years, and more relevantly, one of very few times I've ever performed solo at a public venue.

I'm not shy at all about performing with a band. I'm all over that. If you find yourself in trouble (break a string, forget a verse, embark on a coughing fit, whatever) somebody next to you is always on hand to bail your ass out with a Hammond B3 set to "stun" or a Marshall stack cranked up to 11. Not so when you're solo. And as a solo artist, screw-ups cannot be blamed, as is customary, on the bass player (sorry Viscount) unless you happen to be playing the bass. There are no harmony singers to cover your pitchy falsetto, range-busting chorus notes or the fact that your larynx has been torn to rags from a coughing fit brought on by a slice of pepperoni that went down the wrong pipe earlier in the evening.

When it's just you and your acoustic guitar, all eyes and ears are trained directly at you. Focus your gaze on any single individual in the crowd and you will find them staring right back into your eyes. The eyes say... here we are now, entertain us. The feeling is palpable and disorienting.

In the back of my mind, I know I have the potential to dish out a pretty good performance. At times when I'm practicing, I fall into the zone, where every note is sung effortlessly and clever stylized voicings are at my fingertips and it feels O SO GOOD to be playing for y'all thangyouveramuch. Like when you suddenly find yourself in the pocket during a tennis match or golf round and every shot seems to go right where you aimed it. The problem is summoning that calm, cool headed comfort and confidence on demand. For me this capability behaves like a cat. It never comes when I call it - it just appears occasionally out of nowhere when it's good and ready, and I just have to be damn pleased that it's there. When I absolutely need it, I can be assured that it will be off sniggering in some hidey-hole, leaving me to muck my way through the songs with something way less than aplomb.

Of course, I've created that perfect in the pocket performance a million times in front of the IMAGINARY audience. The great thing about that imaginary audience is how they all delight in noticing the minute licks and flourishes you've worked so hard to perfect and how they completely disregard flubs as if they did not occur. You can even stop a song in the middle and start over again, and they won't even notice. Gotta love that.

In the front of my mind, however, is the unsettling understanding that REAL audiences tend to behave in exactly the opposite manner. Any and all performance glitches will be duly noted, written down for the upcoming press release, video taped through zoom lenses for looped replay on MySpace, and discussed among the audience members via megaphone as I step down from the stage.

The absolute worst fear for the solo musician is the brain freeze. This happens to you. It's when you walk into a room to do something and you have to go back into the room you came from to try and remember what it was you were supposed to do in the room you just walked out of.

For musicians, this takes the form of completely forgetting the chord progression of a chorus you've just played twice already in the past 90 seconds, or the lyrics of a verse you've sung at least 1900 times in your life. The likelihood of this happening on stage is directly proportional to how nervous you are. And when it happens, every human being in the entire universe, including childhood bullies, ex-wives, forgotten relatives, former high school teachers and the guy you inadvertantly cut off on the expressway last night materializes in the audience, leaning forward through the awkward silence. Their collective ears will be cocked forward, waiting in intent canine expectation to see whether you've got the chops to recover gracefully, or whether you will spontaneously devolve into a pitiful, sniveling rodent strapped to a guitar.

What makes these "open mike" venues even tougher is that you only get to play one song. That's it. One chance to be paraded, observed, judged and sentenced. No opportunity to warm up, feel out the audience, settle into a groove, find your space, get in the zone, yada, yada. It's like trying out for a baseball team where you get one at-bat and your entire athletic ability is going to be judged based on whether you hit or strike out. And you know you're capable of both.

Just trying to decide which song to play is a nerve wracking exercise. Do I dazzle them with some intricate guitar playing? Not today man, it's cold in here and my fingers have taken on the dexterity of Idaho baking potatoes. How about the easy one that I know backwards and forwards? Nah, too safe. Doesn't show 'em anything - I'll be consigned to oblivion among the throngs of perpetual wannabees - career open mikers who have been doing the "one song" thing for years, hoping against all hope to someday be asked to perform a full set as the featured artist on a Saturday night. How about that jazz piece - some technically slick chord progressions and an unusual choice for a folk venue, but damn, the vocal is ever so slightly out of my range in the verses.

Baby Jeebiz, why am I putting myself through all this pressure? You'd think I was gearing up to play a Carnegie Hall date packed with A&R executives, when in reality I'm about to strum a few chords in some hole-in-the-wall, suburban strip mall storefront bagel shop patronized by about 32 characters, each of whom appear to have stepped right out of "A Mighty Wind", many of whom are probably tone deaf, and a few of whom may actually be deaf. Hell, the guy who went on before me sang so out of tune the potted plants were drooping.

And they were plastic.

And everyone applauded.

At that point I realized I could get up there in a Dick Cheney mask and mumble the Star Spangled Banner and these people would applaud.

So what does that tell ya?

Nothing. But I got up and did my thing and it was fun. As I suspected, I was not a nervous wreck, but I didn't step into the zone either. My voice was a little shaky, and I missed a chord here and a lyric there, but people listened, and they smiled, and they nodded along to the rythm of my playing in solemn appreciation and THAT, people, is why we musicians suffer through the all the performance anxiety and get out and play when it would be so much easier to stay home and bask in the safe, comfortable revelry of the imaginary audience.

Maybe I'll go back next week. If I can drum up the nerve.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Naked, Random And Obedient

This is a sentiment currently being expressed magnetically, on the front of my refrigerator. Don't ask what it means. You already know.
It means what it says. This is what I love about my new toy - one of those magnetic word jumbles.

I don't care if you think it's lame. You just don't get it. I am now obsessed with this process, and rightly so. I have gone so far as to practically require my family to provide new sentences for us to ponder every day on the fridge. I have become the word jumble Nazi. Hey - you want to live here, you gotta pitch in and do your share of the household chores, and this is one of them. Here are a few pearls that have graced the brushed stainless over the past few days:

Some of my furniture is conscious.

I know that chicken has been spying on me.

I love sleeping beneath your voice.

Naked, random and obedient.

My bosoms will make you understand.

Never dance with the brain puppet.

Yes, that tremendous black spider speaks perfectly.

Does he ask you how you bleed?

The curse of inspiration is almost understanding.

Fear is a cliche.

They use visible light to see truth.

Truer words were never spoken. And I can sit and trip out on any one of these for minutes at a time. So I do. Especially when I should be doing something else. The question is - what do we do with this stuff? We should write songs or create short stories around them. We can't just take them down and consign them to oblivion. They need to be logged and recorded for future generations. The answers to the mysteries of the universe are being systematically unlocked by these profound snippets of language.

By refrigerator magnets. How ironic. (Pun intended).

I know I'm out of control. Humor me.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Let's Get Real, Volume II

This is a poem by a guy I know from the internet. It helps to read it when some right wing religious fanatic is prosletyzing at you.

She is Revealed to All- by LGM

You do not have to be “perfect”.
You do not have to grovel on your knees,
in pretentious displays of repentance,
for simply being born human.

You do not need to banish your neighbor,
to an imaginary eternity of suffering,
for not mumbling your creed,
or performing your rituals,
or bowing before your jealous gods.

You do not need to pretend,
that everything beautiful,
is a gift from your god.
And that everything painful,
destructive, and bleak,
is a demonic spell of some evil spirit.

You just need to live…and strive,
and grow, and learn,
and love, and be loved.

You need to celebrate life,
respect her countless forms,
accept her endless cycle,
of birth and death,
and revere the awesome universe that is her home.

You must be satisfied to take your place,
and find your way,
and leave your small mark,
while this brief spotlight of time,
shines down upon you.

Tell me about your pain and sorrows,
and I will tell you mine.
Tell me how your god has saved you.
That he will someday take your essence,
to a place where life is always fair,
idyllic, and painless.

A place where justice prevails for all eternity,
and there is only light and love;
and where all life’s questionswill be answered.

I will tell you this is not life.
It is a sacred illusion,
of something else.
Then I will tell you,
how understanding,
accepting and revering,
the divinity of this world and life,
that I have found,
for what it simply is… me a sense of peace.

How this serenity has saved me,
from the countless,
incoherent illusions,
my fellow man invents,
to reconstruct his universe,
into one designed to make him,
satisfied, justified, and immortal,in his mind.

God is love and god is hate.
Fear and courage
Pride and humility
Knowledge and ignorance
Shepherd and sheep
Light and darkness
Proton and electron
A glorious sunrise,
and the hurricane’s wind

A long life of accomplishment,
and one cut short by painful death
God is paradox
God is balance,
and never ending change.

God is our reality,
we must learn to accept her,
understand her terms,
and respect her with our decisions.

For god is not hidden in the shadows.
She is not only foundin the myths of ancient men,
or serendipitous good fortune.

She does not come,
only in dreams and visions,
to a chosen tribe,
or an elected few...
God is standing right in front of you.

She is revealed to all living things,
in countless ways.
Open your eyes and caress her with your spirit,
explore her with your mind,
revere her awesome wonders with sacred love,

For you only have this chance,
to dance with her,
while the spotlight shines upon you.