Archive for the 'transience' Category


recordings, and Flatland

Lately, I’ve been recording an album for a friend.  This has me thinking about the recording process, and how it’s similar to photography… namely, that both are very limited representations of the event they are trying to capture.  Obsessing over “accuracy” when making recordings of any sort is somewhat irrational, because recording itself is so relativistic.  What, exactly, constitutes “accurate”?  Put two different microphones in front of a guitar, get two different sounds… and neither sounds the same as listening to the guitar in the room.  Likewise, what the guitarist hears is different than what a listener hears!

In photography, the distortions and misrepresentation are more obvious, so I think they’re a little more tolerated.  But audio recording?  Why does anyone think this sounds “real”?

The residents of Flatland had no idea that they lived on a two-dimensional plane in three-dimensional space.  But we do, sort of.


blast from the past

My first electric guitar was a heavily modified Stratocaster, purchased in 1987.  It had three Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickups.  That guitar had spent several years in prison with its previous owner, so the pickups were probably among the first Quarter Pounds made.  They were noisy and I didn’t like their voicing, so I pulled them and started a quest for a quiet, clear Strat pickup.  Eventually, I sold that guitar, and the pickups, which were basically broken, sat in a junk drawer or got used as refridgerator magnets.

Fast forward to 2007.  I bought a Squier ’51, a nice retro-vibed Fender with a Strat-style neck pickup.  Great guitar, cheap pickups.  Rather than seeking out a new neck pickup, I dug out one of those old Quarter Pounds and had it rewound by OC Duff, who worked with me to get a voicing that matched my playing style.  Last night, I got it all together again, and had a blast with my new/old pickup.  It sounds terrific and looks great too! 

I mated it with a GFS Bigmouth bridge humbucker, which is a nice visual and voicing match (and a great pickup all around).  I also lined the pickup routs with aluminum tape and grounded them to reduce noise, and replaced the annoying rotary pickup switch with a DP3T on/on/on switch.  It’s turned into a very nice-sounding and good-playing guitar… I’ll have to haul it out to the next Stagner/Lovan/Scherr gig.



One thing the music and photography hobbies have in common… Gear Acquisition Syndrome, aka G.A.S. (sometimes known as Guitar Acquisition Syndrome in music circles, but it means the same thing). It’s also a verb… for example, right now I’m GASing for a ribbon microphone. I don’t really NEED a ribbon mic. It’d be nice, but there are things I need more. But it’s G.A.S.  Meanwhile, I’m having minor GAS for a prism focusing screen with grid lines for my Nikon D40.  I’ll probably sate that with a $25 Chinese Ebay prism screen, rather than springing $95 for a custom one with grid lines.  It’d actually be useful to have 35mm-style manual focus support, considering the shortage of affordable AF lenses for the D40 and the many exciting used MF lenses for those of us who aren’t afraid to do our own metering.

The online communities for the photo and music hobbies are basically just big GAS parties, and the magazines are worse. It’s very seductive, the temptation to think that next lens or a new guitar will solve your artistic insecurity.


idle hands

I haven’t touched my camera in days.  I’m not even sure the whether the battery is in the camera, or the charger at the moment.  This, after the Fringe Festival/wedding binge where I shot nearly 10,000 photos in a month. 

It feels weird, when I think about it.  On the other hand, I’ve spent a couple of evenings up to my elbows in my music recording stuff, which was being ignored while I was shooting so many photos.  So I guess it’s not that my hands are idle, so much as I only have two of them.


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. 



Science fiction author Bruce Sterling coined the phrase “blobjects”, to describe those little gadgets that litter our modern lives, small chunks of molded plastic and electronics such as cell phones, iPods, etc.  Blobjects are characteristically disposable, meant to be used for a year or two and then unceremoniously abandoned.  They are usually rugged enough to withstand daily use, but not as rugged as technology meant to last.

They often annoy the heck out of me.

I find most blobjects to be deeply unaesthetic.  For one thing, their disposable design makes them little more than glorified garbage.  That shiny new cell phone lasts only slightly longer than a styrofoam cup, in the grand scheme of things.  Yet we’re pulled the other way to think that they are not garbage, that they are important (and expensive). Therefore, we’re wont to keep our blobjects even when they’re obsolete or broken.

Another problem with blobjects is the overall poor design and construction quality in so many of them. The shells may be weak in some way, or the electronics buggy. Here’s an example… to turn off the ringer on my Motorola RAZR cell phone, I have to turn it down to off – each step down making noise.  So if I find myself in a situation where the phone should be silent but isn’t, I can’t make it be silent without making noise!  And due to the prevalence of blobjects, it’s hard to trust brand names – a company may make one that I love, and then make something else I hate. Consistency doesn’t matter, because it’ll be obsolete in a year anyway.

Yet another problem is feeping creaturitis, a tendency to load the interface down with software “features” that very few people want or need. It has gotten to the point where we can’t visit someone’s house and operate their television without instructions!

And as long as I’m listing off problems, blobjects are basically unrepairable. If they break, you get a new one, which may or may not be similar to the one that broke. They’re assembled under near-laboratory conditions by robots, and cannot be understood by human minds or repaired by human hands.

I’ve been trying to adjust to living with blobjects. For a long time, I resisted getting a digital SLR, because they’re all blobjects and guilty of disposability. My friend Rob gave me another angle to consider – “Think of them as film”.  Film is, of course, basically disposable. Treat the digital camera as disposable, use it like film, and don’t cry when it breaks or becomes intolerably obsolete.

Regardless, it’s a difficult relationship.  But it’s one that is unlikely to end, so I may as well learn to enjoy the benefits.