A voice crying in the wilderness

Posts tagged ‘Music’

Learning to keep my mouth shut

Cross posted from Josyf
I have a bad habit of speaking before I think, or perhaps thinking with my mouth. Only once the idea is out in the world and exposed do I realise that it is a stupid idea and I’ve just managed to offend a great number of people.

In the same way, I have a habit of announcing big ideas before I’ve thought them through properly – or that I won’t carry out in any time frame deemed relevant to normal people. Be it a music demo that has been in planning for 21 years now (and is still in “vague concept” stage), drum lessons or a plan to move 400km to be closer to my parents.

I have other ambitious plans but I’m going to keep them a secret so I stop embarrassing myself. Such as opening a hipster café and a small community church.


One idea that has been sitting quietly in the background for the last 7 years is setting up a multimedia company that could permit me to earn a living out of my diverse range of hobbies – my music, writing, photography and even my limited artistic skills. Two years ago I took a break from playing guitar and bass at church in the lead up to my wedding. A change in logistics and increase in volunteers mean that other people took over and my assistance was no longer required when I returned. Consequently, I put my instruments aside and stopped playing altogether until recently. A burst of creativity has inspired me to not just start playing guitar again but also get those drum lessons I’ve been talking about for ages.

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing this year, mainly editorials like this but also working on stories as well. I’m adapting a manga I developed into a novel and am resuming work on another that I was endeavouring to release chapter by chapter but was disappointed by the lack of response after I showed it to my test audience. I feel the need to continue and complete the story now and challenge myself a little. My argument when I stop writing is that I get frustrated because I write like a 12 year old but I still write like a 12 year old because I get frustrated and stop writing. I’m not allowing my style to mature.

Learning to draw again is scarier since after a long break, my style changes – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Again, its a matter of sitting down and practising, challenging myself again and again. I’ve tried to engage other artists to work on my stories only to have them attempt to hijack the story. All the main characters turned into artist proxies. They’re supposed to be author proxies!

Another small task I’m trying is getting my graphics tablets working under Linux – I bought a couple some ten years ago but they came only with Windows drivers, but there are ways of making them cooperate – sometimes not very elegant or practical ways, but workable. When I started developing an interest in art during my high school years, I became fascinated with surrealist art. I found a certain joy in the abstract style as well. I’m not much of a painter as I don’t have a very good eye for colour so I usually work in pencil alone. Rather than wasting paper and water colours, if I can learn to work with my tablet all I am really wasting is my time.

Maybe on my next day off, I should dig out my paints and revisit some old skills from high school. If the weather is up to the task.

But I’m going to take my time in all these things. I write during my lunch break and during flights, I practice my music when I’m home by myself. I review restaurants and hotels during the evening and practice my photography whenever the opportunity arises. There’s no hurry or pressure.

Its not like I have any other deadline than the one God sets. I work for Him.

Content, not the container

I’ve decided to do away with my collection of records and cassettes. Truth be told, I haven’t listened to them in years or I’ve obtained CD or MP3 versions that I play through computer, media centre or mobile phones.

I used to be fascinated by all the old formats but reached a point where I started running out of space for them. Sorting through my cassettes last night I realised that have digital versions of three quarters of them and most of the rest I likely never will listen to again.

I find the same with my collection of video games and books. There are a few books I will like to keep in a physical form but many I will only have as an ebook, particularly one I will only read now and again, or reference books.

As there are only handful of games on each platform that I enjoy, I don’t want to have consoles upon consoles around the house.

Emulation of these systems is an ideal solution – the original games can be played on one system pretending to be another. The controllers may not be “authentic” but the experience is largely the same.

I frequently play games from my childhood using Commodore 64 and Amiga emulators, sometimes arcade machine emulators as well. On occasion, I will acquire a remake for a more recent system (in the hope that the remake is faithful to the original and not a “reimagining”). The original is often crafted to create an atmosphere that makes the best use of the host system, remakes often are a mechanical imitation that copies the look without recapturing the feel.

There is further justification for emulation as well – as equipment gets older, it starts to fail. ROMs develop what is known as “bit rot”, the chips losing or corrupting the information stored on them.

With eBooks, it pays to shop around if you are using a tablet rather than a dedicated ebook reader – even then you may be able to access books from different purveyours. Try, if you can, to source your books in an unprotected epub format. With the apparent exception of the Kindle, all readers are able to read these, along with PDF. The concern with eBooks is that the publisher may remove books from your collection without warning, apology or compensation. Of if they cease trading, as has happened a lot in Japan recently, you may lose your books when your devices stop functioning.

Show the past a clenched fist

Since I obtained my classical guitar a few months back, I’ve tended to carry it around with me rather a lot, usually taking it with me when I go to JAFWA on a Saturday night – there’s quite often shows on that don’t capture my interest.

Out of curiosity, I decided to play some songs I used to perform back in the early Nineties when I was in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”. The band didn’t last long but it showed a lot of potential.

Or so I thought.

As a four piece band – Barry on drums, Steve of lead guitar, Jason on bass and myself on rhythm guitar (though we often swapped instruments for certain songs) and we preferred to do mostly original material. If we did a cover, we played it how we thought it should be done – never mind what the original artist thought. We also split in to two songwriting teams – Barry writing the lyrics and I composed the core melody, whilst Jason and Steve would share duties. Arranging was generally a group effort.

When the band split after six months, I took my songs with me and wrote new lyrics for them. As Barry had ambitions of being lead singer as well, he had a tendency to keep his lyrics to himself. I usually had little idea how they went. Though I did do several instrumental arrangements as well (you’ll find a couple of them under the High Voltage SID Collection).

So as I sat outside JAFWA one evening fighting off the mosquitoes, I tried to recall some of the material written by the other band members, such as “Mother” or “Dove”. My parts were generally pretty easy, usually only three or four chords. Steve wrote songs to demonstrate his guitar technique, not mine. Easy but dull, so I developed a more intricate playing style incorporating different techniques that I’d picked up over the years – arpeggios, tapping, slapping and plucking (usually used on bass guitars), four note chords (when most people would use three) and using my little finger to play a melody around the chord. All of this designed to make my part of the music sound much bigger and more interesting.

I struggled to recall the arrangement of the music, but it came to me after a while, along with some of the lyrics. Its funny how the mind sometimes distorts experiences, exaggerating certain points. What I recalled as powerful, soulful imagery proved to be a whiny, immature and incoherent tirade as told by a spoiled, bratty teenager. Seriously – cheer up, emo kid.

I had a similar experience many years ago when playing back some of our recordings made at the Fremantle Music Centre – I wanted to show some of the material to the lead guitarist from my then current band (we never really settled on a name, though we had narrowed it down to “Electric hooligans”, “Hooligans with guitars” and “Fastidious rabble”). I remember playing some of my best guitar ever during that recording and yet we ended up with a ghastly cacophony of twangs, out of time drumming and squeaky, pained vocals – I only retain the tapes to stop them falling into the wrong hands (they are hidden away with my collection of Ringo Starr LPs).

So I’m thinking it might be time to walk away from the older material – put the worthy material down on disc and recycle the rest before it pollutes the environment. Whilst I still want to get a band together again, I have two main projects on the go now – the folky (or filky) concept album inspired by BlackSylph and a new electronic suite inspired by a conversation with a friend the other night (for those of you wondering what “Ybeq Rexl” was all about). And that game soundtrack I’ve been promising since 1993.

Three! Three mains projects. And that music demo that I formed Project: Synthesis for.


I’ll go sit in the corner now…with the soft cushion…

Leo Kottke looked at my guitar!

I’ve had my first out of body experience.

February 23rd, 2008, Leo Kottke performed at the Perth Concert Hall. My brother and I had been waiting for this concert for some four months, having purchased tickets in November as soon as we had heard news of Kottke’s impending arrival.

We were a little bewildered at first when two people walked out of stage – Bridget Pross and her bass player. I hadn’t been aware of a support act so I was a little surprised – first thinking that he had a support band, and then wondering if the concert had been cancelled and this was Kottke’s substitute.

Pross, a folk singer and guitarist from Tasmania had been touring with Kottke for the last couple of weeks. Six songs from her new album, “I wanted to” were performed. Now it must be said that Pross has an amazing voice, powerful and resonant, and it quite a capable guitarist. Her songwriting, however, leaves something to be desired. The melodies were quite well devised, if overfamilar (one of the last songs she played had a melody disturbingly like a song I had written back in 1992 when playing in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”), but the construct was repetitive and her lyrics were very weak. Although she might have been writing from life experiences, she hadn’t put a lot of consideration into how she was communicating the idea – and once you’ve heard her sing the chorus six times in a row, it starts to grate.

Her inexperience as a live act showed clearly as well, she hadn’t created any kind of script for introducing her songs or explaining the origins, and didn’t seem at all comfortable talking with the audience, her speech pausing often and hesitant. The word “Umm” seemed to make up the greater part of her vocabulary. Hopefully she will grow as a songwriter and entertainer in time. The CD was for sale in the foyer after the show.

After an intermission of 20 minutes for the audience to empty their bladder, or refill it at the bar, Kottke finally came out on stage at 9:30. A six string guitar in one hand, 12 string in the other. With nary a pause for introduction, he started of into three instrumental pieces on the 12 string.

It was halfway through the second piece that I suddenly realised that I was floating some distance above my own body, what felt like 15 to 20cm above the seat, so enthralling was the music. It appears that I was not the only person to have been carried away so. Amusingly, around halfway through the show, Kottke was playing a slow, moody and deeply atmospheric piece that seemed to suddenly taper off two thirds of the way through. A pause, then Kottke said “Sorry, its supposed to end more like this…” and started playing it again from the middle. Kottke had gotten so caught up in the music that he’d forgotten that he was the one performing it.

Kottke certainly puts on an entertaining and enchanting show – during the forty or more years he has been perfoming, he’d not only honed his guitar playing techniques but also his manner of communicating the audience, explaining origins of the song and telling anecdotes about the authors and artists he has worked with. Many of the songs performed required different, often very unconventional tunings and a 12 string guitar often takes some time to retune – Kottke would joke and tell stories in a manner not dissimilar to Steven Wright, even in the same, deep, dry, husky voice.

Kottke has released over thirty albums since 1969 so there was a lot of material to choose from each show, many of them previously unknown to much of the audience, although when one of the more famous and familar songs (such as “Louise”) started, the cheer rising from the audience was deafening.

The concert itself lasted a little over an hour but seemed to go on for ages. After 10:30, the concert ended and Kottke left the stage to a well earned standing ovation – the applause and cheering seemed like it was never going to end. Kottke returned to the stage for an encore, performing one more song before retiring for the evening.

I’m not sure how soon he will return to Perth but I’ll certainly be looking out for him. After the show, our group of attendees filed out of the hall into the car park, each of us with a dazed but very happy expression on our face.

Bridget Pross was still promoting her CDs in the foyer – I wonder how many she sold?

Leo Kottke official website and Wikipædia entry

Bridget Pross official website