Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Recordings (Updated)

I've finally gotten into a groove on the recordings for the Heavy Nylon demo CD. I ran out of room on my old .Mac Downloads page, so I had to make a new one, which was just as well, because I can now have the MP3's all in one location. So the first seven MP3's (of fourteen tracks total) are posted at my new Heavy Nylon Demo Downloads page, for those interested.

I'm using the Godian Multiac Grand Concert SA with the RMC Polydrive hexaphonic pickup for these, and playing through a Lexicon MPX-G2 preamp and effects unit. That goes into a class A tube power amp, and then into ProTools LE 7 via an M-Box. I don't care if the M-Box preamp is by Focusrite, the highs on playback are brighter than what you put into the thing. As a result, these are a little edgier than I would like, but I don't want to re-EQ everything for a demo CD (I may be the only one in the universe bothered by this anyway), so I'm going to wait to tweak until before I re-record the Fossils CD in the fall.

The next few posts will probably just be updates as I finish these recordings.

UPDATE 1:27 AM (!!!): My manager alerted me to the fact that some of the downloads were failing to decompress. I traced this to the period I was using in the abbreviation "No." being an illegal character for the Zip program (It assumes anything after the first period is the file type). Of course, the period used in this manner is not illegal in iTunes file names.

This is why I hate computers. How hard could it be to fix a "feature" like this? I wasted HOURS figuring this out today. Ridiculous.

I also added Classical Gas and Desert Song to the page. Remember, these are initial versions: If I have time I plan to record three versions and pick the best ones, but the sooner I have preliminary versions done, the sooner the pressure is off.


Super-heavy-duty, armored and padded gloves for klutzy joggers who play guitar.


Now, back to the axe.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


After a full week with this gizmo, one thing I can say is I'll never go anywhere without this thing. It really is internet in your pocket. If you are at a WiFi hotspot, it will list the WiFi network automagically, and as long as it's not password protected, you can select it and go right to work. Pages load as fast as with any high speed connection. If no WiFi, you can use the cellular network, which is just as slow as an old dialup connection. Pages are surprisingly readable in landscape orientation (Being 49 I need reading glasses), and zooming in is as simple as touching the screen with two fingers, and spreading them apart.

Best thing to me, though, is checking email. Typing takes some getting used to - I'm still hitting an adjacent letter about 25% of the time - but it's not as hard as I feared it might be. I doubt I'll be composing any MMM posts on it unless I'm on the road though.

The camera has no flash, but it'spretty cool for catching friends off guard.

My friend Ricky: Musician's Institute grad and the hottest rock guitarist in Alpine. For some reason the camera focused on his shirt. Either that, or he was moving a little.


The wages of jogging in the dark:

Stumbled over a pothole. It wouldn't be so bad, but I bruised the heck out of my thumb. Bad enough I fear I might lose the nail. Not the thing you want to happen in the middle of recording a new demo CD for your manager. I didn't even cuss. In fact, after saying "ouch!" I actually laughed, picked myself up, and continued jogging the last mile and a half home... leaving a trail of blood, I'm sure. Oh, you should see my left elbow! Gross.


Yess; "Fall down, go boom." If only I had been in a hayloft instead the middle of 10th street. Oh well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The iPhone Non-Experience (With Update & Resolution)


Got my iPhone today. A full twenty-four hours before I expected it, which was nice. It was the only nice thing that happened from that point forward.

According to Apple, activation is as simple as plugging the iPhone into your Mac, which will open iTunes. Then, you'll be prompted through the process, and treated to the usual Apple Christmas Experience with your brand new Jesus Phone. Not if you already have an AT&T/Cingular number, you won't.

The first question you are asked is if you have an AT&T number, in fact. With that, your billing zip code, and the last four of your social, you're off and running. Then you choose a data plan, and the third and final step is the actual activation. Uh huh.

After that message, I got another that told me my current AT&T plan was incompatible with the iPhone, and that I'd have to call customer service. Waitjustaminut: How hard could it be to add another page to select a new plan? VUA (Very Un-Apple) experience No. 1.

So I call customer service. The call was answered by a human being in less than 15 seconds, with none of those infuriating automated voice menu atrocities. Well, the woman who answered was very polite and had a cheery nature, but she was totally incompetent. Had no idea how to do what was required. She said the system wouldn't let her in and to call back in a half-hour. I knew she was lying.

When I called back, I got another immediate pickup and another nice person, this time a guy. He hadn't a clue either, but I could work with the guy. He indicated that his system required the serial number for a SIMM for him to proceed. He didn't know mine, and suggested I go to an AT&T store, purchase one, and then call back. I could feel the muscles in my jaw begin to tighten: Never a good sign, because that means my "patience fuse" is almost burned down to the TNT.

We agreed that the iPhone certainly had a SIMM inside (After about twenty minutes of back-and-forth), and so I took a paper clip and popped it out. Whatdayaknow: It had the serial number right on it (I later found it ON THE FREAKING BOX, of course.

Well, he seemed genuinely amazed that his system accepted the info and was crunching away on the activation. Youdon'tsay.

I'm sure this isn't the end of it, because if you do a Google search on "iphone activation problems" you'll find a gazillion horror stories, but I think a tipping point was reached. I'll call back in the AM if I haven't gotten the "confirmation e-mail."

Oh, and I can't play with the iPod or the WiFi or any of that other stuff until the activation is complete. VUA experience No. 2.

If I could play with the rest of the thing, I'd be happily awaiting my activation instead of raking Apple and AT&T over the coals.

It is cute, though, and much smaller than I feared it would be.

Between my first generation iPod and my fifth generation video iPod: Slightly different aspect ratio, but basically the same size.

I don't usually drink beer during the week, but I think I'll aim a few Silver Bullets right at my brain tonight.

It's called "The Love Letter." I could use one of those about now, but I'd settle for a hug.



UPDATE ONE: As of 10:00 AM CDT I have not recieved a confirmation e-mail, and my iPhone is still an expensive paperweight. That makes it almost exactly eighteen hours since I started the activation process. My practice regimen for today should take until about 2:00 PM, so I'll call then if the iPhone still hasn't been activated, and/or I'll post a further update.

UPDATE TWO: At exactly 10:20 AM CDT, I recieved a call from the AT&T service center. A very nice young lady told me she called to resolve my problems, and that's exactly what she did. After varifying the various numeric codes from the iPhone box, she transferred me to an activation tech, and he also verified the codes, took the activation code I recieved in the initial e-mail, and after a restart of the iPhone, I was in Bee's wax. The whole process took about ten minutes. Right now, the iPhone is syncing to a selected set of playlists from my iTunes library (The entire library is far too big to fit in an 8 GB iPhone), and then I'm going to go out and play. Guess I won't be getting much practice done today.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Steve Vai: Whispering a Prayer

When I got to Berklee in 1980, Steve had just been snagged by Frank Zappa, so I missed meeting him, but he was already a legend. Here's why.

If modern rock guitar has a Nicolo Paganinni, Steve Vai is it. Oh, and he would have won that duel in Crossroads if it wasn't a cheap-ass movie.

I mean, give me a break. Ralph Macchio?! The Karate Kid???!!! Yeah, right.

You can't touch this.


Mmmm. Classical cheesecake. I could touch that.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Building, Rebuilding and Maintaining Long Sets for the Guitar

I've visited this topic before, but have continued to develop my methodology, and so a revisit is in order. This is another in a series of posts in which I have developed my approach to using the metronome to deeply memorize pieces and improve my technical execution of them.

Basically, the technique is to play a piece along with a metronome starting at the fastest possible velocity (Or, slightly faster than the performance speed), and then gradually slow the piece down each time through until you are playing it at half the velocity you started out at. This is far more difficult than it sounds: The first time you try this with a memorized piece it will fall apart long before the half-way point is reached. This is because the individual finger movements are not memorized on a rational level. This is the wrongly-so-called phenomenon of "muscle memory," which is in fact, subconscious memorization. Through successive attempts, however, the technique will be mastered, and eventually you will be able to go through the process in a detached manner while daydreaming. When you have reached this point, the piece will not only be profoundly and deeply memorized, but the choreography of the individual finger movements will also be worked out with great precision. At this point, each finger move will be in the conscious realm, and then the piece is really and truly memorized. There is no better technical practice regimen than this: Scale practice is a waste of time in comparison. In other words, if you only do one kind of technical practice, this is the one to choose.

Recently I have finished re-memorizing all of the pieces I wrote back in the 80's and 90's. This process took me thirty-four months. During that time, I assembled a set around those pieces - as they re-accumulated - with two other categories of works: Minor pieces by other composers (Traditional classical guitar stuff), and crowd pleasers from the twentieth-century rock and pop traditions. Now, I am memorizing the pieces I've written since Y2K, and so I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel vis-a-vis catching up.

Here is my current set:


I] Irreducible Sonatina: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

01] **(120-60 @ 2/4) I: Sonatina in A Minor
02] **(110-55 @ 6/8) II: Menuetto in B Minor
03] †*(90-50 @ 6/8) III: Alegretto in C Major
04] (NEW) IV: Trajectorial Variations in A Minor

II] A Minor Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

05] **(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
06] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
07] **(80-40 @ 3/4) Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
08] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 1
09] **(80-40 @ 6/8) Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani

III] C Major Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

10] **(100-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] *(120-60 @ 4/4) Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
14] **(140-70 @ 4/4) Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] **(140-70 @ 2/4-6/8) G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
16] **(180-90 @ 6/4) Guardame Las Vacas - Luys de Narvaez
17] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 2
18] †(No Metronome) Desert Song - Eric Johnson

IV] E Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

19] **(120-50 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 3 in E minor
20] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 6 in E minor
21] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 2 in E minor
22] †***(140-110 @ 4/4) Bourree in E minor, 1st Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
23] **(140-70 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 4 in E minor
24] †(No Metronome) Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

V] G Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

25] **(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 4 in G major
26] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 3 in G major
27] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 6 in G minor
28] †***(140-85 @ 3/4) Minuet in G major, Anna Magdalena No. 4 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
29] **(140-70 @ 2/4-3/4) G-Axis Study No. 1 in G major
30] †(200-100 @ 4/4) A Day at the Beach - Joe Satriani

VI] B Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

31] **(140-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 5 in B minor
32] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 6 in B minor
33] (NEW) Minuet in B minor, Anna Magdalena No. 15 - Christian Petzold/Attr. J.S. Bach
34] †(100-50 @ 6/8) Scherzo in B minor

VII] D Major Suite (Drop D Tuning): La Patrie Concert Cutaway

35] **(100-50 @ 9/8) Figuration Prelude No. 6 in D major
36] *(180-90 @ 4/4) Bourree II in D minor, 3rd Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
37] †*(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 23 in D minor
38] †(200-120 @ 4/4) Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Anastasio Dominguinhos

VIII] F-sharp Minor Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

39] **(140-70 @ 10/8) Figuration Prelude No. 7 in F-sharp minor
40] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 3
41] (NEW) Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins

IX] A Major Suite: La Patrie Concert Cutaway

42] **(100-50 @ 6/8) Figuration Prelude No. 8 in A major
43] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 5 in A major
44] *(160-80 @ 2/4) Etude VI - Leo Brouwer
45] (NEW) Irreducible Fugue No. 4
46] *(160-80 @ 4/4) Classical Gas - Mason Williams

X] C-sharp Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

47] **(120-60 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 9 in C-sharp minor
48] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 4 in C-sharp minor
49] (NEW) Heavy Nylon

XI] E Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

50] **(100-50 @ 12/8) Figuration Prelude No. 10 in E major
51] **(160-80 @ 2/4) E-Axis Study No. 1 in E major
52] †**(120-60 @ 6/8) Caprice - Rodolphe Kreutzer
53] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 5 in E major
54] (NEW) Fighter Pilots

XII] G-sharp Minor Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA

55] **(80-40 @ 4/4) Figuration Prelude No. 11 in G-sharp minor
56] †*(80-40 @ 2/4) G-Axis Study No. 3 in E-flat major
57] †*(140-90 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 4 in G-sharp minor
58] †(160-120 @ 4/4) Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

XIII] B Major Suite: Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA (Encore Pieces)

59] *(180-90 @ 5/8) Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B major
60] **(140-70 @ 2/4) B-Axis Study No. 1 in B major


* Slow-Play Regimen Complete (Additional stars= number of times regimen completed)
† Problematic piece (Stars= number of additional times regimen attempted)

42 Originals vs. 18 Covers


Pieces without attributions are my compositions.

Pieces with asterisks by them are pieces I've succeeded in playing from a starting velocity down to half speed. Two asterisks mean that I've completed the process twice (I may have done it more than twice total, but twice since I developed this system).

If there is a cross before the piece, it is a "problem" piece, and I have not succeeded in playing it from a starting velocity down to half speed. Additional asterisks denote how many more times I have tried to get the problem piece through the process.

Pieces I've memorized since the last time I've gone through this regimen are labelled (New), and some of the very rubato crowd pleasers are not playable with a metronome yet: I've basically arranged these on the guitar and in my head, and until I write them out, I'm not even goint to attempt to play them with the metronome. For these pieces, I just play them ten times through when I get to them.

The order in which I go through these pieces is: 1) Figuration Preludes, 2) E-Axis Studies, 3) B-Axis Studies, 4) G-Axis Studies, 5) Sonatina Pieces, 6) Minor Pieces, 7) Crowd Pleasers, and finally 8) NEW additions.

I alternate playing 1/3 of the set with doing a slow-play of one of the pieces, and I can usually only manage two slow-plays per day, so we're talking about a month-long - at least - process.

You can see the speed range for each piece before its title, and this whole system evolved out of a simple need to keep track of where I was at with each piece. This time, I have completed all of the Figuration Preludes, Axial Studies and Sonatina Pieces, and I'm about to tackle the minor pieces again.

For the individual pieces and the details of the process, we'll take a 160-80 piece in 2/4 time (Like the E-Axis Studies) as an example. I first play the piece free of the metronome to warm up to it, and then I play it with the metronome at the highest velocity (!60 in this case, obviously). Then, each time through I slow the metronome down by 10 BPM, so it will proceed 160, 150, 140, 130, 120, 110, 100, 90, and then, finally, 80 BPM. Gowing back up I proceed by intervals of 20 BPM, so it goes 80, 100, 120, 140, and then we're back to 160 BPM. So, total times through the piece in this instance is thirteen (This number will vary based on the velocity ranges, of course). If the range has an odd-even start and end point, I go dow by 5 BPM the penultimate and ultimate time down, and up by 10 BPM the first time back towards the top.

As I continue to develop this, the mechanical effeciency of the process improves, and so I can do more of it in less time. You'll notice, for example, that the Figuration Prelude No. 12 in B Major only has a single asterisk: That is because this was the first time I successfully completed the process with it. Previously, it had a cross and was a problem piece. So the goal this time is to 1) Remove as many pieces as possible from the problem roster, and then 2) Go back and play only the single asterisk and problem piecs until there are two asterisks by every piece. If I fail to convert any of the pieces from problem to a single asterisk, that ends the process, and the next time I'll start from the beginning (I only do this once or twice a year) after adding some more new pieces.

It's an amazing adventure, this, and my playing is better than ever as a direct result of developing this system. I've only been playing thirty-four months since a four year (forty-eight month) layoff, so I can't wait to see where I'm at after five years of this: I figured this would be a three to five year process, and it seems I was about right.

I found an online archive of guitar and lute related art. What are those things that cover the boots? They're spats. I had no idea they went so far back (16th century, in this case). I was born in the wrong time: I'd love to dress like that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Metallica Singer James Hetfield Investigated for Possible Terrorist Ties

MMM has never been a news and commentary blog, but I found this particular item to be craptacularly hilarious:

"Metallica singer James Hetfield was investigated by UK airport officials who believed he was a terrorist this week, it has been claimed. The star was barred entry to Luton airport on Thursday and questioned by staff who were concerned about his appearance. Fears that Hetfield might be involved in terrorism were apparently founded on his "Taliban-like beard", according to The Times. He was allowed to leave the airport after a brief interrogation, when he persuaded officials that he was a rock star. Metallica play Live Earth at Wembley Stadium in London tomorrow, before headlining the venue for their own show on Sunday evening."

This is not a joke. I ask you, does this man fit any terrorist profile you are aware of?

Jesus, Joseph and Mary. At least if they allowed profiling these brainless gits would have some guidelines to prevent embarrassing displays of abject stupidity such as this from happening again, as they doubtlessly will. These guys must have 75 IQ's and wear size 3 hats!

OK, I'll admit, the guy might seem terrifying to some, but would you in your wildest nightmares take this guy for a suicide bomber? Not if you have a functioning brain, you wouldn't.

They'd probably think this was a car bomb.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Creating Constructive Musical Work Environments

I don't believe I've ever heard anyone mention this subject before, but it has become increasingly important to me over the years. Perhaps the most significant operative word here is the plural of "Environments," as having more than one workspace - and having those workspaces dedicated to different things - is what I think is of paramount importance. Not only do multiple workspaces facilitate the various tasks - performance practice, technical practice, recording, &c. - but they also stave off boredom, which is important to me.

Secondarily, the quality of the space - what I call the "vibe" of the environment - is important too. Below is my performance practice space, for example:

As I say, this space is dedicated primarily to performance practice. This is my "Large Venue Rig," which consists of a Lexicon MPX-G2, which I run in stand-alone mode as both the preamp and effects unit, and a MESA/Boogie 20/20 stereo tube power amp. These run a par of high-zoot Turbosound TXD-081 monitors, or alternately I can listen through headphones for late night work. Power monitoring and conditioning comes via Furman's top of the line AR-1215 A.C. Line Voltage Regulator: The fundamental piece of gear for any pro audio grade rack system.

This environment also lets me hear what a front row member of the audience hears, so I also use this environment to program the patches in the MPX-G2.

As a contrast to that, here is the space I set up primarily for recording and technical practice:

This is actually where I spend most of my time, of course, as this is the main computer location. This rig also allows me to listen through a pair of the Turbosound TXD-081's, but what is more important here is the ability to monitor through a professional grade studio monitor setup: The Tannoy Proto-J near field monitors, which are run by the mythical and magical Bryston 3B-NPB stereo power amp (Watching DVD's on the Apple 23" Cinema HD Display and listening through this sound system is an awesome experience. Like I said, I spend a LOT of time here).

The guitar rig is fundamentally diferent here, however. Instead of the Lexicon MPX-G2 being run in stand-alone mode as the preamp and effects unit, this rack has a Lexicon Signature 284 All Tube Class "A" Stereo Recording Amplifier in place of the MESA 20/20 in the Large Venue performance rig. This allows for a tube preamp section as well as a tube power amp section via the Signature 284, which produces the most sparkly 3-D sound you can imagine: The perfect thing to record, which is facilitated by the 284's professional balanced outputs.

Those balanced outputs go into a DigiDesign M-Box, and I record in the Mac Mini with Pro Tools LE (Which I find just barely tolerable as a digital recording work environment: Still too complicated for just recording stereo solo guitar tracks). One thing I did do which helped a lot, was I got a MicroNet MiniMate 250GB external FireWire HD and FW/USB hub just to record onto. It gives a ton of space and works magnificently.

The beer is a Coors Light "Silver Bullet": My daily grog. Must watch my figure.


The last thing I wat to mention - and this is becoming more and more important to me as time goes by - is the concept of functional overlap: The ability to do all of your tasks in whichever environment if need be, or just for variety's sake.

Here is the secondary computer workstation in the performance practice space:

Once I realized that the MESA 20/20 tube power amp had an unbalanced pair of slave outputs, I got the idea that I could record from this rig as well. So, I set up this smaller workstation around a 15" PowerBook. The plan is to replace my old M-Box USB with a new M-Box II FireWire, and have the PowerBook use the old USB version. I also moved my printers in here, as you can see, allowing for the recording rig to go on the top shelf of the other Anthro station. Connected with WiFi via my Airport, when I'm at one computer, I'm at the other computer. I find myself spending more time here than I expected, and that will surely increase with time.

I swear, I thought God only gave me this warped imagination of mine, but Ballantyne evidently enjoyed suffered with the same affliction.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Celebrate Independence Day!

231 years ago today, fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence, which lead the the formation of the United States of America.

I rather enjoy being an American.

Indeed I do.