Archive for the 'music' Category



Last night, I returned to DADGAD tuning on my acoustic guitar, the first time I’ve played significantly in that tuning for some time.   It was like coming home… I played through my old arrangements of Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood”, Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”, Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control”, and some of my original tunes.  I was surprised and pleased that I could get through all the old arrangements so well.

I’ve been neglecting playing acoustic guitar for its own sake lately.  I should get back to it, in my copious spare time.


scarcity in the marketplace

Much has been made of the decline of the record industry over the past few years, particularly the major labels.  And a lot of this discussion revolves around the impact of online music downloads, both legal and illegal.  But I think there’s another limiting factor at work.

I consider myself a pretty avid music listener, and buyer.  I spend $50-100/month on recorded music – I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s over $1000/year.  But honestly, I could afford to spend more.  My limiting factor isn’t budget.  Rather, it’s how much time I have available to listen to music! 

There are a couple of factors at play here.  First, I don’t like to buy music and not listen to it.  Although I’m a big music fan, I’m not at all a record collector in the classic sense.  I like the content far more than the physical object.  So I don’t buy records for the sake of buying records… I want to LISTEN to them after I buy them.  Second, I own a large and constantly growing collection of music, the result of 30 years of avid music purchasing.  Over those years, I’ve found many of what I call “lifetime albums” – pieces of music I will be listening to for the rest of my life, at least off and on.  So new music listening time must be shared with lifetime music listening time. 

Because of these two things, there is a real, practical limit on how much money I will spend on new music, no matter what its price is or how much I like it.  So in economics terms, my time is the scarce resource, not my budget or the supply of music available.  There’s far, far more music available that I want to hear than I will ever have time to hear.



I spent much of the day sunday cleaning up my studio.  It was a mess, junk all over the place, no places for things.  I also spent some time reorganizing some music software, and spent some time over the past couple of weeks organizing photos.

As a media artist (photos, recorded music), there are two key points where organization matters.  First, there’s the organization of tools, so I can create easily when inspiration strikes, rather than looking around for the instrument or camera or sofware I need in order to create. Second, there’s organization of the products of my work, the media I produce.  That includes both final products and works in progress.  And since it’s mostly software at this point, I need to concern myself with backups, long-term software compatibility, and other annoying technical issues.

Aside from these, there’s environmental organization – making sure I have a pleasant and effective place to work.  And there’s schedule organization, so I have time to work.

And then there’s organizing the mind, getting ideas in order so I can produce and improve my craft deliberately.  I need to meditate more.


share and enjoy, aka two great tastes that taste great together

guitar'n'bass abstract

(Edwin Scherr and me onstage at the Acadia Cafe, 4 Sept 2007)

Last night, the nameless improv trio I’m in (with drummer Ryan Lovan and bassist Edwin Scherr) played a gig at the Acadia Cafe in Minneapolis, as part of the ongoing improvisation series there.  I brought my camera along and photographed the other two groups that were playing, but couldn’t photograph while WE were playing, of course.  A friend of Ryan’s who knew his way around a camera agreed to shoot the show for us.  Although the camera itself was unfamiliar to him, he understood aperture priority and manual focus from using 35mm, so I handed him the camera in aperture priority mode (Nikon D40, 50mm f/1.8 manual-only lens) and hoped for the best.

Being unfamiliar with stage photography, he soon learned the pain joys of trying to focus correctly and limit blur with low stage lighting.  But this inspired him to experiments that I wouldn’t conduct myself, using very slow shutter speeds and panning the camera.  I really liked the results, as you can see here.  I wish I could remember his name to give him proper credit!


Not the marrying kind

Here’s a track by Navigation Without Numbers, a sadly short-lived music project with my friend Jamie Jean Maertens. Jamie is a songwriter of marvelous clarity and directness. The chorus is simply, “I guess your mama was right about me all along”, repeated twice… a really profound statement of hindsight and regret.

I played the steel guitar part on a $50 Artisan lap steel, just weeks after getting the instrument and starting to learn it.  The engineers did a marvelous job capturing the sound.  In hindsight, I could now play something technically more complex, but I don’t know if I could play anything more musical or appropriate for the song.

Likewise, Jamie’s acoustic guitar part is a lovely example of unintentional simplicity.  She’s a very functional guitarist – she plays because she needs to play in order to write and play songs, not for the sake of the guitar itself.  Technically, I’m a “better” guitarist, but I can’t play this song the way she does to save my life.  The whole guitar part is the result of her limitations as a player, from the simple fingerpicking to the “cowboy F chord”. But as a whole, it doesn’t sound unskilled – just clean and simple. 


newfound freedom in the Kingdom of Thud

I play drums in Felahi, a Middle Eastern dance music group.  Middle eastern music is largely drum-driven, so everyone in the band is a drummer, although a couple of us occasionally play melodic instruments as well.  The sound of the music is defined in part by contrasting timbres among various drums.  I mostly play “bass” drums… either a large Turkish-style doumbek, or a large frame drum played with bare hands in the Glen Velez style.  The strong doum sounds and soft, muted teks on those drums put me in the timekeeper role, playing simple parts that are then decorated by sharper-sounding, higher pitched instruments.

Charlie, the bandleader, just got a “dhola”, which is basically an oversized Egyptian-style doumbek.  Although it has the sharp sound and bright teks of a regular Egyptian doumbek, it is louder and has a much more powerful doum.  This drum has liberated me!  Rather than being stuck playing all the doum sounds that define the rhythm, I can play higher, faster “lead” parts on my Turkish doumbek, while Charlie plays the bassline on the dhola.  And we can alternate, so he plays lead while I hold down the rhythm.  The soft, round tone of the Turkish drum contrasts nicely with the sharp sound of the dhola.  The combination gives us much more flexibility to improvise and decorate the rhythms.

And my inner electric guitarist is happy to play “lead” some more, too.


warts and all

Last weekend, I participated in a recording session with my friend Eric Coleman, who is recording a new album. Four of us were involved – Eric, his producer Isaac Norman, and Andy Anda on fiddle and mandolin. We also recorded a couple of tracks for Isaac’s next album.  Rehearsal was saturday, and recording was sunday.  Everything was tracked live, and we managed to record six songs in just four hours.

What really stood out was how relaxed and comfortable the session was.  Recording can be very stressful, pushing very hard on musicians’ insecurities.  We hear mistakes, think “one more take” will make things better, wonder if we’re committing something to posterity that we’ll be ashamed of later.  In this case, though, a number of factors overcame our fears.  First, there was the comfortable environment – a beautifully decorated basement belonging to another of Eric’s friends.  Second, we were recording live with an audience (there was always at least one person sitting out).  Praise and encouragement, not to mention honest and critical ears, gave each of us more confidence in our takes. It’s a lot easier to live with imperfections when listeners you trust are telling you how good the take was.

And ultimately, the positive, comfortable environment snowballed into a can-do atmosphere as the session wore on.  The last tracks went well in part because the first tracks went well. Success built on success.

 I’m SO looking forward to hearing it!

The Wall