Rock and Roll Concert

Finally visited Mr. Smalls “Funhouse” to see my brother play with the Cobbs tonight.  Their set was pretty damn fantastic- it’s kind of great to see a band play a tight, short set, full of dynamics and really conscious of their sound.

Smalls is your typical mediam sized rock club, kinda dingy but not gross, built into an old church.  The weird part is that it is literally in the middle of a very residential neighborhood in Millvale, but I guess they have good soundproofing.  It is extremely rare that a band I like plays there, so I doubt I’ll be back any time soon.  Interesting experience anyway.

Well versed

I was trying to explain to a game playing coworker of mine today that Dragon Age: Origins really didn’t seem all that different from Torchlight.  As little I played of DA:O, I’d entered a dungeon and fought some giant spiders.  Basically ditto for Torchlight.  Both have similar inventory management and icons placed around the screen to quickly access spells and tools.  I suppose they both owe something to World of Warcraft, or Diablo, or etc etc.

Dragon Age

He felt they were nothing alike, many games use this relatively common interface.  The only thing I could think of was listening to a techno fan from the 90’s try to explain the various permutations of Drum’n’Bass to me, someone who’d only heard “the good stuff” in passing, or even a Phish fan explaining why this part in this individual performance stood out from the hundreds of concert recordings he’d listened to.  There is a whole language you learn as you become familiar with media, and on the outside it can all seem incredibly similar.  My take has usually been that the minutiae of any musical culture were likely not as important as what “floated to the top,” but in retrospect I’ve probably missed out just in not being able to examine the entire breadth of such things.  Not the case with Phish, I guarantee.

Time goes by

I sometimes roll out the guitar, although these days it’s mostly to keep Max occupied.  It is kind of crazy how long I’ve been noodling around and how little I’ve learned.  All it would have taken was some concentration, maybe some structure, and I may have gotten a bit better.  Granted that when I was playing routinely and playing with people, I picked up a lot from the talented folks around me, but I don’t think I ever really took the time to build on it, or I let it fall away as I directed my life away from creating music.

Looking back, I think I spent a lot of time obscuring my lack of talent by using an effects pedals (although not nearly as many as most people, I do have some sense of pride in squeezing as much as I could out of my crappy delay).  We were able to get some pretty sweet sounds going, but I think I should have had some more fundamentals.  Back in the day we’d argue till morning about the value of traditional musical education versus “pure” expression of creativity and I still believe that each has its place, however in retrospect a lot of those types of music look more to me like youthful exuberance and naivete both on behalf of the listener and the performer.  Again, they have their place too.  The bottom line is when I pick up an acoustic guitar I really wish I could do more with it.  Maybe when I get some time I can do something about it, but probably not.

Things That Happened in 2009: RIP Jack Rose

Jack Rose 02

2009 saw the loss of a tremendous talent and one of the few artists whose music I would buy upon its release.  Jack Rose was a songwriter who rose out of the experimental indie scene but took the legacy of guitarists like John Fahey and made it his own.
There really isn’t too much I can say about him that hasn’t already been said, but I am glad to say I watched him grow into a world class artist.  In the late 90’s my band had the opportunity to perform on a bill with his band Pelt and I remember talking to him for some time, he was gracious and enthusiastic- especially when it came to the music of John Fahey.

He never stopped expanding his musical horizons right up until his unfortunate early demise.  His music managed to find its way into the hearts of every generation of my family, so beautiful it was.  Jack, you will be missed.

Shouting Out to Project 52

` Glitter and Stone

Corey Layman, the songwriter behind the project Developer, has been active in Pittsburgh since the 90’s and he’s always been one of my favorites.  Early on he fronted the band Hovland, who were one of the few local acts I really followed out of not just a sense of kinship and community but because I thought their talent could reach far beyond Pittsburgh.  Like so many acts with a lot of potential, they made a big push and then things seemed to slowly fall away.  But Corey has been plugging along since, writing and performing as Developer (both as a full band and solo) as well as playing in the legendary local act the Karl Hendriks Trio and myriad other projects.

He started Project 52 in September and it is awe inspiring.  The plan is one song a week for an entire year and so far he’s made good on it: Week 18 just went up.  He’s also managed to compile the first 13 weeks into an album, appropriately titled Project 52: Volume 1 and put it up in all the usual places.

The music itself is definitely of a mid-90’s indie rock vintage; guitar driven and emotional with vocals that are almost plain spoken until he invokes some melody and puts a soaring harmony on top of it that strike right in the heart . His best songs are nostalgic and almost mournful, with a really solitary vibe and there are no shortage of his best on Project 52: Volume 1.

Check it out and buy it, and make sure you read his blog posts about each song- each entry runs down not only how you might go about creating a song a week but the tools he uses and the limits he’s constantly got to push against.  Signs the world has changed: The majority of recording is being done on his iPhone!

Well done, sir.

Your Personal Soundtrack

So my Shuffle broke again this morning and I was forced to walk to the gym without the luxury of information flowing into my brain.  I’ve become so accustomed to jumping out of bed and walking up to the gym with the headphones on full blast that walking around my neighborhood without them at 6:45AM became an almost surreal experience.  I suddenly remember so much more of the walk, for one thing.  Without the headphones I observed so much more than I usually do.  The sounds of people unloading bakery supplies, the pollutive city buses.  The surprising number of people out and about.

Working out became a far different experience as well, as suddenly I was forced to hear the dance-pop on the gym stereo but also the assorted grunts and other sounds made by the other weightlifters.  All typically events really, but again I’ve been so accustomed to my own internal soundtrack it was absolutely alien.

Is it a good idea to constantly stream information into my head?  At high volumes?  All these times when I’m exercising or walking to work I could be thinking, instead of consuming.  It seems I consume so much information I may not have time to process it.  And of course there’s the issue of my hearing loss, which Dawn will tell you is very real indeed.

Evolving Ears

As I was jamming to the new Shins’ album this morning, I reminisced about hearing certain albums for the first time.  When I was in high school and consuming as much music as possible, I remember picking up Slanted and Enchanted, Vampire on Titus, watching a Sebadoh song (off of Bakesale) on 120 Minutes and borrowing the first Velvet Underground album from a friend.  Why do I remember them so distinctly?  Because with each one, the first time I heard these albums they seemed incredibly weird, and actually kind of bad, to me.  S&E     had a tinniness to it that drove me away.  VoT was (it is still in many ways far from my favorite GBV).  Skull too seemed too scrappy, like a half a song.  I simply could not process the VU.  The relatively low fidelity, the viola, Nico.  It was another world. Why did the Shins bring this up in me? They seemed utterly underwhelming to me until I really *listened* to them.

Coming from a background of hip-hop, relatively well known thrash metal and…Rush, it took me quite some time to finally understand these records.  How did I acclimate?  Repeated listening?  Why did I listen to these things that didn’t sound good to me?  Because I’d read they were good?  They were so odd that I stayed intrigued?  I think in some ways tuning into the indie rock of that era was harder for me than picking up on jazz and experimental music, because at least with those I was able to place myself into a context where I had no preconceived notions of what they should sound like, whereas with indie rock, I was still expecting…rock.  And of course in some cases context is literally all you can bring to a music.  Not that that makes it good music, or that it is a good way to evaluate music.

Now there are some records where the listening evolution simply does not occur. Ear candy as it were. Frequently these are albums that lean heavily on pop structure and melody, though there are also types of music that at this point, seem to be “mine”- music that defined my interest for so long and so strongly I automatically gravitate towards it. Ear candy could include anything from the new Deerhoof to practically anything that drones (or whooshes).

I guess the bottom line is that you can like music for a variety of reasons, and hear it for a variety of ways. Any larger conclusion? Not yet.

Black Moth Super Rainbow

Extra Points
I generally consider myself pretty well informed when it comes to local music- I don’t really go to local shows any more, but I try to stay on top of the bands, their records and of course I mainline message boards all day long. The myopia induced by not looking outside of the axis upon which the nevertellmetheodds board sits revealed itself to me in the existence of Pittsburgh’s own Black Moth Super Rainbow. These folks have been around for a few years, and it could very well be that like many artists who don’t revolve around a somewhat rockist, sloppy and aggressive aesthetic that tends to dominate Pittsburgh independent and experimental music, BMRC simply sought recognition elsewhere.

They’re playing tomorrow night in the city and I’m going to try and catch them if possible.

Apparently they play all of the music live, which is surprising because although people have compared them to Spacemen 3 (I would say Spectrum) I see a lot of Boards of Canada and some of the Ghost Box material in there. From their bio:

Their sophomore record, “Start A People” (2004) was about recreating the sounds of childhood public broadcast televison and applying them to the Black Moth Super Rainbow formula.

Now if that doesn’t reek of BoC than I don’t know what does. What makes them special though is that they do this kind of music (which they refer to as psychedelic pop) very well and that they’re doing this out of Western Pennsylvania- a place not often known for melodic, electronic pop. The music itself is comprised of lots of fat synths and off-kilter melodies that conjure up a warm, hazy vibe.

Hear for yourself:

Or stream their whole new frickin album (a collaboration with Austin’s Octopus Project) here:
Full Album Stream

Pitch Project

So I’ve decided to try and train my ear to recognize different pitches.  I’m not entirely certain why I’m doing this but mostly it is because I continue to live by the strange notion that I play music.

Training consists of the following:

  • Record each note individually using my keyboard (5 octaves only) at about 3 second intervals.
  • Record me singing the name of the note after each is played.  
  • Split the wav into individual tracks- each representing a single note.
  • Convert split wavs into MP3.
  • Dump into itunes
  • Create playlist.
  • Copy playlist to iPod. 
  • Shuffle Playlist.
  • Listen to shuffled pitch files when walking around and at work.

The question now is “Will this work?”  We shall see.

Microsoft indemnifying Zune Users from Piracy Lawsuits?

NYT Link Here

I am trying to find the specifics of this agreement between Universal and Microsoft, which includes a royalty to Universal on every Zune player sold.  They are basically trying to recover royalties they would have received had the AHRA applied to hard drive based music players.  Does this mean I can listen to any music on Universal-owned labels, regardless of how I acquired it?

Radio 9-11 Mondays (Including tonight)

1. Mew – The Zookeeper’s Boy (4:43)
2. Rundgren, Todd – Just One Victory (4:58)
3. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – The Drummer (4:56)
4. Arthur Russell – The Platform On The Ocean (8:04)
5. Bark Psychosis – A Street Scene (5:35)
6. Fallen Angels – A Horn Playing On My Thin Wall (4:22)
7. Harper, Roy – She’s the One (6:57)
8. Helium – Baby Vampire Made Me (5:50)
9. Hukkelberg, Hanne – cast anchor (4:15)
10. Jack Rose – 2 º Cross The North Fork (7:26)
11. Kraftwerk – Tour De France 03 – Etape 1 (4:27)
12. Nels Cline Trio – Pants (for Polly Jean) (6:17)
13. Relay – Safe (2:53)
14. Scatter – smokinEdit / smokinEdit (5:35)
15. Seam – Sweet Pea (3:33)
16. Six Organs Of Admittance – Bless Your Blood (5:57)
17. Thompson, Mayo – Horses (3:14)
18. TV on the Radio – Staring at the Sun (4:01)
19. United States of America – Love Song for a Dead Che (3:27)
20. Zombi – Sessuale (3:39)
21. Vincent Gallo – Her smell theme (Reprise) (2:21)
22. Vashti Bunyan – Here Before (2:05)
23. My Bloody Valentine – To Here Knows When (5:31)



WPTS 9-11-06

  • Archer Prewitt Way of the Sun Wilderness 
  • The Gentle Waves Hangman in the Shadow The Green Fields of Foreverland 
  • Peter Jefferies Scattered Logic electricity
  • Alastair Galbraith Bone Idle Morse 
  • The Foundry Field Recordings Assembled Hazardly prompts/miscues 
  • Mastadon The Wolf is Loose Radio Sampler 
  • Guvner Almond Roca Hard for Measy for You
  • The 3ds Philadelphia Rising The Venus Trail
  • The Bats Halfway to Nowhere Silverbeet
  • The Dead C Head Tusk
  • Bailter Space EIP Robot World
  • Jesu star silver   
  • The Killers When You Were Young When You Were Young   
  • Thee Speaking Canaries Any Three Days Songs for the Terrestrially Challenged  
  • Burning Star Core Nylarthotep The Very Heart of the World    
  • The Sea Like Lead interlude 1/last vestiges of rust s/t  
  • Sufjan Stevens The Henny Buggy Band The Avalanche    
  • The Clean Tally Ho! Compilation   
  • Mew The Zookeper’s Boy And the Glass Handed Kites    
  • TRS-80 The Lights Are On Mystery Crash    
  • Go Betweens The Wrong Road Bellavista Terrace    
  • Small Factory A Suggestion The Industrial Evolution    
  • The Cakekitchen Prophet of the Underground The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea
  • kaki king jessica  …until we felt red
  • bonnie “prince” billy cursed sleep cursed sleep

Nothing to point you to this week, unfortunately.

WPTS Playlist 7-24-06

    1. Four Tet – Pockets (5:02)
    2. Dub Trio – Illegal Dub (3:18)
    3. Girl Talk – Friday Night (3:12)
    4. Jackson (Of Grand Bufffet) – Only The Good Cy Young (2:20)
    5. Gnarls Barkley – St Elsewhere (2:30)
    6. Stereolab – Plastic Mile (5:11)
    7. Matmos – Semen Song for James Bidgood (5:02)
    8. Ms. John Soda – A Nod on Hold (2:44)
    9. Belle and Sebastian – Song For Sunshine (4:06)
    10. Mia Doi Todd – Norwegian Wood (2:56)
    11. Phoenix – Courtesy Laughs (3:14)
    12. THOM YORK – Black Swan (Clean) (4:49)
    13. TV On The Radio – I Was A Lover (4:23)
    14. Zombi – Digitalis (4:38)
    15. Jesu – Silver (6:46)
    16. Don Caballero – Mmmmm Acting, I Love Me Some Good Acting (5:54)
    17. Natura Nasa – Bad Phone (6:01)
    18. Mission Of Burma – Nancy Reagan’s Head (4:35)
    19. Verlaine, Tom – Eighty Eights (3:35)
    20. Vale And Year – Balcony (2:25)
    21. beirut – the bunker (3:13)
    22. Destroyer – Painter in Your Pocket (4:10)
    23. Developer – Canada Day (2:36)
    24. Phil Boyd – The Axeman of the Glass Forest (3:37)
    25. Richard Bishop – Romany Trail (5:00)
    26. Daniel Johnston – Man Obsessed (1:18)
    27. Lisa Germano – Too Much Space (2:53)
    28. Sonic Youth – Jams Run Free (3:52)
    29. mark lanegan & isobel campbell – black mountain (3:10)
    30. Neko Case – Margaret Vs. Pauline (2:52)
    31. Robert Pollard – Island Of Lost Lucys (2:34)
    Imix Here.