Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nice Weekend in Tucson

Had a gig Saturday night at El Ojito Springs in Tucson. This is the third time I've played for them, but the first time at their new location. The old space was quite nice, but there was not much walk-by traffic, while the new space is right, smack-dab in the middle of the arts and entertainment area of the city. There is also more room on the stage, and for the audience.

I was, for some inexplicable reason, a tad nervous for the first two suites of my set. There weren't many people there yet, which made it all the more mysterious, so I thought I'd blog about how I deal with nerves during a performance. First of all, in a two-hour set, I know I'm going to get over it, and knowing it's only temporary helps a lot. Second, it's not possible for me to be overly nervous if I... smile. Seriously. I'm not talking about an ear-to-ear, but just a little Mona Lisa smile. It really relaxes me.

By the time I got to the last piece in the second suite, Eric Johnson's Desert Song, I was in the groove and getting some positive feedback from the audience, so I was good to go from that point forward. By the time I got to Spanish Fly at the end of the third suite, I was rippin'. I even had audience members - guitar players, obviously - asking me about my sound system and fake nails after a while: Once I know I've "got 'em" there is no stopping me.

This simple trick - smiling when I'm feeling nervous - has been a huge help to me, so remember: Play Happy!


Peg, my manager, had found a nice area of southern Arizona near the border with Mexico that she wanted to show me, so I stayed over Sunday and we did a little sight seeing. The Nature Conservancy has a small preserve down there, the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, and we took a little hike... well, "walk through" would be more accurate. Saw a doe and spotted fawn, but I'm just unfamiliar enough with the iPhone's camera that I missed that particular "Kodak Moment"... and I missed the numerous grayhawks too. But I did get a go at a non-moving target.

There was an enormous cottonwood tree deep in the preserve. I didn't think they got quite this large.

The thing is truly huge. Here I am at the base of the tree - where I took the above photo - for some Hucbaldian perspective. Keep in mind that I'm 6'2"/200... OK, 215, but I'm working on it. I've gone from a 38" to a 36" waist this summer, and should be back into my old 34's by Thanksgiving. Sitting around practicing all day - even when you jog and Bowflex like I do - is no good when you're 40-something and have the metabolism of a sloth. Anyway...

It was a great weekend, and some high cloud cover gave us some protection from the notorious Arizona "Hammer of God" sun. I'm scheduled to go back for another gig in Tucson in December. Can't wait.

By popular demand, more of the Falconress, this time sans bird.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Unexpected Pleasures: The Whole Guitarist

When I was doing some research on Kazuhito Yamashita for the post I titled, Kazuhito Yamashita: Undeniably The Greatest Classical Guitarist Ever, I ran across the site of Australian guitar multi-stylist Peter Inglis, The Whole Guitarist. Peter had a great article about Mr. Yamashita, which promped me to write him a letter.

This was six months ago, so I had basically forgotten about it, but yesterday Peter answered and asked if he could add my letter to his site. What a cool guy! I said yes, of course, and so here it is.

The female guitarist I was trying to think of in my letter to Peter, who plays the Kazuhito Yamashita transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition, was Galina Vale, of course.

I couldn't find her playing Pictures, but here she is playing the Tarantella by Rossini.

Notice how small she makes the guitar look? I'm guessing she's nearly six feet tall. Her hands appear to be about the same size as mine, and I'm 6'2"! I know it's un-PC to say this, but many female guitarists - I'm a bit reticent to say this, but it's the truth - well, they play like girls. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course: I enjoy hearing pieces played from a feminine perspective. Point is, Galina does not have that feature in her playing: I've never heard a woman play with such bravura before. Yeah, I love her.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Interesting Critters in my Back Yard: Tarantulas

Back in this post, I told of finding a tarantula in my bathroom. Scared the snot out of me, but it was just the surprise: When I see them outiside, I'm perfectly cool with it.

I saw this fairly large one - about five inches in length - in my back yard yesterday, so I took it as a opportunity to whip out the iPhone and snag a pic. It's really not common to see them out in the mid-day sun, so this one must have been on a pretty important mission.

Don't worry, she's not going to hurt you. In fact, she doesn't want any more to do with you than you want to do with her.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

New Hucbald Page at MP3.com.au

I have created a new Hucbald page over at mp3.com.au. Like a lot of these kinds of sites, it has a lot of amateurish content - and there are the usual kinds of suspects trying to monopolize the place with gazillions of uploads - but the feature that got me to spend the time - several hours yesterday - to create the page and upload twenty-seven tracks plus artwork is the album download function. Instead of going to my .Mac downloads page and downloading the tracks from Fossils one at a time, you can now download the entire album with a single click, go get a cup of coffee, and you'll have it.

With the HQ album art, you'll also see the artwork on your more recent vintage iPod or iPhone when you play the tracks. In the case of the iPhone, the CD cover will show up in your browse window when you scroll through your albums.

As an aside, I find it interesting how I've gradually developed facility with computers over the years, despite not really trying to. There aren't a whole lot of HTML issues I can't figure out anymore, and I've bookmarked some sources that I can use as reference, should I need them. Since I graduated from high school in 1976, I missed the whole "computers in the classroom" era entirely.

Here's what Apple was selling in July of 1976, while I was going from bong-hit to bong-hit enjoying the summer between high school and college:

Nice, huh? 8K bytes of RAM! What would you do with all that memory? Ah yes, it "attaches directly to" the venerable, old "ASCII encoded keyboard." "16-pin 4K RAM chips"(!) were so high tech and cutting edge then. And, what did the future hold back in those days? Why, "[32K bytes on-board RAM!!]" is what.

Oooooo! "A fast [1 kilobaud] cassette interface" - presumably, to keep you from getting stuck with one of those slow cassette interfaces. Best of all? "Apple Basic is Free!"

BASIC was developed at Dartmouth, as were the Synclavier, and Synclavier II. So, the OS for the Synclavier was programmed in XPL-4, which was nothing more than an extended form of BASIC. So, I was actually - finally - exposed to basic by 1984. I also had a Commodore 64 at the time, so that was really the beginning of the "computer age" for me (Not withstanding that I had a required course in computer programming in college in 1978: It was FORTRAN 4 "with WATFOR and WATFIV, which we, naturally, called "Whatfor and Whatif." We used punch cards and an old mainframe!).

I didn't get my first real PC until I was a doctoral candidate at UNT in 1993: It was a Windows 3.1 machine, and I got it to run the Encore music printing program, and that was pretty much it. Well, there was the old Battle Chess program (Which I figured out how to beat on every difficulty level). When Apple came out with the Newton 110, I got one of those, loved it, and so I got an old, monochrome display Powerbook running Mac OS 7. It's been All Apple All the Time for me ever since: G4 Cube, iceBook, tiBook, and now a Mac Mini.

I've come a long way with this computer stuff.

At various points I've been into bow hunting, black powder hunting, bird hunting (shotguns), and regular long arm hunting, but I never considered falconry... until just now. She's not wearing a falconer's glove and the bird's talons are digging deeply into her forearm. I wanted to get that, but if I cropped any lower, it would expose too much of her, ahem, "tender parts." It's a great photo though.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Former Queen Guitarist Brian May Earns PhD in Astrophysics

Who says guitarists aren't smart? When May joined Freddie Mercury to form Queen back in 1970, he was already working on the astrophysics degree, but abandoned it to become a rock mega-star. Now, over thirty years later, he's finally finished it.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fossils 2007: MP3's from the CD

Just for readers of this blog and a few other lucky souls, I have set up a download page where you can get all 27 MP3's of the new re-recording of my CD Fossils.

Fossils 2007 is here!

These are solo classical guitar pieces I wrote between 1987 and 1999. I first recorded them as a demo in 2000, but I wasn't performing at that time, so my chops were very rusty. Not only that, but I was also using a Gibson Chet Atkins CEC electric nylon string guitar back then, which I could never get a sound out of that I really liked. So, I decided to re-record the entire CD with the Godin Multiac Grand Concert SA, and the results are satisfying enough. The sounds are perfect, but my playing, alas, never is. I think twenty years is long enough to spend on a first solo CD, though, don't you?

I was thinking about going for a third version, but then I realized I was just beating myself up - and I want to get on with Heavy Nylon anyway - so I just decided to leave it as is. No doubt but it's 100% better than the original demo, so that's enough.


The pieces on the CD are in two broad categories: Twelve Figuration Preludes and Eighteen Axial Studies. The Axial Studies are further subdivided into Six Studies on an E-Axis, Six Studies on a B-Axis, and Six Studies on a G-Axis. Three of the G-Axis studies are not on Fossils because they are in flat keys: They'll be on the second CD in the Irreducible Essence series - associated with the Figuration Preludes in their keys - which will be entitled Artifacts.

For the Figuration Preludes the idea was twofold: First to do some harmonic exploration on the guitar, and second to create some technical exercises that would use five-finger right hand technique (Using the "c" finger, which many classical guitarists today still do not employ). So, the texture for all of them is five voice harmony - no mean trick on a six-string guitar - and they are roughly progressive, starting with simple right hand figurations and progressing to more intricate ones. Tonally, they progress around the cycle of thirds starting in A minor: A minor, C major, E minor, G major, and so on. I also use a wide variety of time signatures in them: 2/4, 4/4, 5/4, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 9/8, 10/8 12/8 &c. I wrote the first of these in 1988 and the last in 1999. Formally, they vary quite a bit, but all are basically through-composed with some internal repeats in a few of them.

With the Axial Studies I had another set of goals: I was starting my contrapuntal studies when I wrote the E-Axis studies in 1987 and 1988, so I wanted to develop some facility with that, but I was also studying Schillinger at the time, and I wanted to experiment with some of his concepts. In fact, Schillinger directly inspired these pieces through his axis of melody ideas. I realized that if you use the open strings of the guitar as the zero-axes, some nice idiomaic pieces could be created, and so off I went.

The Six Studies on a B-Axis I wrote in 1990 and 1991, and they were, in fact, part of my Master of Music thesis about Schillinger. Naturally, they are more advanced and technically demanding than the earlier E-Axis studies.

Finally, the G-Axis Studies I composed in 1993 and 1994 while I was a doctoral candidate at UNT. One of these, the G-Axis Study in G Major, I think is a concert quality piece, and it really transcends the original conception I had stated with those seven years previously.

For the forms of these pieces I used an A, A', B, C, A layout almost all of the time in which the B is an interlude and the C is the "real" B section. The G Major G-Axis study, however, has two of the interludes. In the G-Axis studies, most of the interludes are in a different time signature than the other sections. None of them modulate, however.

Finally, there a few of these studies that require an extended technique I use wherein the guitarist must fret with the right hand "i" finger while continuing to pluck with the "p" and "m" fingers. This is hard to pull off smoothly, and you'll notice I have to slow down at those points. The move is so difficult in Track 25 that I've never performed that piece live, and despite several attempts to rewrite it, it stubbornly refuses to be rewritten.

This CD is basically the internal skeleton of my set. Each key group in the actual set I perform has one or more standard rep classical guitar pieces in it, and each one ends with one of the Heavy Nylon crowd pleaser deals.



Hard to get tired of her.