personalized expeditions in music from a musician who doesn't matter

Momentary logistics

Posted by r on August 23, 2014

Comments have been shut down. Akismet is still doing a good job of keeping spammers out of my hair, but the spam-onslaught has become so vigorous and relentless that even the incredibly tiny floating-point percentage of spammers that are actually getting through are becoming a regular annoyance.

In general, I’m thinking about how to move back to a more personal, controlled-access sort of thing with my faux-blogging. This has been a good place on occasion to get some of my OCD ya-yas out, but it’s still not resulting in anything that is getting read nor I think anyone should read (and more frequently than not, I just end up removing the longer screeds that were posted out of temporary and ALWAYS totally futile anger with the limits of humanity at large; such posts are thusly questionable therapy absolute-best-case).

LiveJournal is still very much my model for what both personal blogging and social networking should be, but I guess this just means that I’m old.

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RCFA update 1: Turning mediocre images into ugly music via pretty colors

Posted by r on February 28, 2014

Much as I may believe in leaving room for some cough musical intuition, I like coming up with and using compositional processes of all kinds too. They can speed things up– although they invariably slow other things down at the same time. Mostly, though, they do accelerate decision-making for the horrifically-indecisive likes of me, and keep one from getting constantly lost in an infinite field of options (even as possibly narrowed down in scope by one’s cough musical intuition).

I’ve occasionally liked playing with ye olde serialized-pitch constructs, the kind you’d instantly think about whenever you see a picture of Arnold “Fun Machine Arnie” Schoenberg (provided you’ve ever been through any kind of formal concert-music study). Every couple of years I seem to do something old-school-serial in nature; it’s a fun system that’s ready to go off the shelf.

I thought heavily about using serialized pitch for my RPM now-part-of-my RCFA Challenge project, as I did want some kind of system to steer pitch elements somewhat out of my control. At the same time, though, I also wanted to be able to use a bit more arbitrary / systematically-unchecked personal choice than serialization in its usual form would really allow.

Besides, another thing I often dig is finding some way to incorporate “personal message encryption” into music – giving the finished product a “deeper” dumb meaning for me while totally obscuring that “meaning” for anyone else dumb enough to listen to the finished thing. I thought it might be fun to come up with a way to “encrypt” images into my pitch selection process for this project. Here’s what I’ve decided to go with.
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Posted by r on February 28, 2014

…or what I’ll just be calling #RCFAChallenge for short.

Musicians, here’s the deal. If something prevented you from completing the RPM Challenge in the specified February timeframe this year – like, say, despite your best “efforts” you honestly couldn’t figure out even the most basic things like even what style of music you’d like to do before 2/25/14, and when you finally decided on it it wasn’t going to be the kind of thing you could reasonably write and record in four days – you can take the RCFA Challenge instead.

The RCFA Challenge is just like the RPM Challenge, except:

1) Instead of requiring a work window of 2/1-28/xx, your RCFA work window will take place entirely within any continuous 28-day interval you’d like… preferably the first 28ish days of March, but whatever.

2) There’s no mailing in a CD somewhere by noon on March 1, etc.

3) There’s no central website for the challenge where your finished product will be posted, somewhere / somehow, and also at which no one will ever find / listen to your finished product in a million billion trillion years. (Actually, if I’m notified, I will give your RCFA albums a shoutout and full review here… and since I actually know of two semi-regular readers of my blog, your chances of getting heard by a single human being here vs. via the absurdly overpopulated RPM site may actually be much better!)

4) Here’s the single biggest difference between RPM and RCFA: Instead of having to start and finish one “album” (min of 10 original songs and/or min of 35 minutes of original music) in 28 days as per stated RPM Challenge standards, you must complete two (edit: see new “rule” below) such “albums” in the same timeframe. They must also be discrete, “separately framed ‘n’ named” albums– absolutely no double “albums” allowed.

This is, after all, an atonement challenge.

edit: Having slept on it, I think one “normal” RPM 10t/35m “album” and one separate EP of min 4 original songs and/or min 12 minutes of original music should be sufficient for atonement, so I’m going to alter the RCFA requirements to that particular combination of completed products. I mean, the Bandcamp kids these days seem to think 4-5 songs amounts to an “album” anyway.

Having failed to find any kind of meaningful inspiration / semi-directed motivation for the RPM Challenge until well into its fourth scheduled week, I started my RCFA Challenge project(s) / 28-day work window on 2/26/14. How about you?

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STEEL MY IDEAS PLEASE: Two theoretical advancements in steel guitars I’ll probably never be smart enough to build

Posted by r on February 17, 2014

A couple of proposed DSP-driven pedal-steel-substitute instruments courtesy of my thick head. This post could probably use some helpful drawings, but I’m not going to provide any, so there’s also that.
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Posted in Crazy, almost-certainly-invalid theories | 5 Comments »

DR. TWANGSLOVE, or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Telecaster

Posted by r on February 5, 2014

Although I’m still loathe to give new acquaintances this information until they know me well enough to understand I’m not a complete douchebag, I’ve played electric guitar for twenty-six years (…man, that is one terrifying number, and certainly not one that reflects my degree of “mastery” of the instrument in any way).

For most of the first 24-ought years of that time, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Les Paul Guy (or, at least, being a naturally contrarian anti-Fender / -Gibson snob in my instrument choices, I was a Les Paul-Derived Guy). In the last couple of years, I’ve had the sort of change of heart that most guitarists would consider on par with switching political-party affiliation overnight… that is to say, somehow, somewhere in my mid-30s, I woke up and found I’d become a rather militant Telecaster Guy.

It’s not just because I developed an obsession with trucker country and steel guitars half a decade ago, either (the Tele, of course, having the strongest association of all “traditional” electric guitar designs with country music). As sad an excuse as I make for a guitarist generally, I’m certainly no blazing chicken-picker makin’ jaws drop on a Nashville club stage.

But in the spirit of the listicle-times, here are the five most significant reasons why I’ve decided, in my old age and “wisdom,” that the “lowly” Telecaster– Leo Fender’s unabashed attempt to make the cheapest, dirtiest functional electric guitar that he could bring to mass market in the early 1950s– has an awful lot to offer over the Les Paul-style instruments that I thought were the end-all-be-all of electric guitar design for far too long.

1. No bourgeosie bullshit. The Les Paul and all of its sundry Gibson relatives are usually decked out with luxury accoutrements– carved flame maple tops, binding everywhere, scarf headstock joints (which are only too happy to come apart when the guitar falls off the stand), a comparatively difficult / expensive set-neck “architecture”– that look awfully funny if not outright garish in our new, economically-lean times in the West. The design frankly reeks of bygone rock excess. (Yet, when you try to strip some of the original bling away, as Gibson has recently done in trying to bring out more affordable versions of its classic instruments for players in our current thin-wallet reality, the result just looks flat-out cheap.)

At its core, the Telecaster has always been basically a rough-cut slab of any ol’ wood crudely bolted onto a neck, with the simplest of possible hardware to hold strings on and electrify the result. It is the tiny / Tumbleweed house of the electric guitar world.

2. Simple guitar = simple maintenance and repair. Anybody can slap together a playable Tele, as I found out myself a few years back. Changing strings, with the fixed-bridge design and the headstock tuners all very conveniently on the same side, is far easier / faster than on any other electric guitar design save perhaps a Steinberger. Unlike Gibsons, the wiring and cavities are all accessible from the top of the body, so there’s no flipping the thing over constantly during more “major” maintenance operations like pickup swaps or pot replacements.

Biggest plus of the bolt-on design (aside from the potential for easily building Frankenteles, which is a big plus from my vantage point): if you snap your neck / headstock or break the truss rod on a Paul, you’re in for a multi-hundred-dollar visit to the luthier and (probably) a serious downgrade in resale value thereafter; if you do the same on a Telecaster– which by nature of the design is actually much harder to do accidentally in the first place– just go get another neck for a few Jacksons and bolt the damn thing on yourself in five minutes.

3. Sounds as lean / mean as its build. A Tele with a carefully-chosen set of single-coil pickups cuts through a loud rock mix like nothing else. Dissonances soar through your distortion stompboxes unmuddied. In a band setting, you quickly learn with a Telecaster that you need far less distortion than you used to think you needed anyway.

4. Conventional wisdom about “correct applications” for Pauls vs. Teles is largely nonsense. The conventional wisdom I speak of: “Teles are thin-sounding funk-and-country-only guitars,” “Pauls have better sustain,” “…sound better / fatter for rock,” etc. Teles are crazily versatile / genre-agnostic instruments in a way a Paul could never be.

Undoubtedly, Pauls have somewhat better sustain – but not so much better that it matters if you can actually sort of play a guitar properly, and also at the cost of the clarity and additional expressive range the Tele brings to the table. With creative use / possible modification of electronics and/or careful control of your fingers, you can come “close enough” to the rolled-off, Les Paul-like rock tone with a Telecaster; good luck ever getting anything like the angry, glassy Tele “spank” out of a Paul.

5. Conventional wisdom about the “better” nature of set necks vs. the Tele’s bolt-on design is TOTAL nonsense.  I drank the Kool-Aid on this seemingly universal MI-industry claim for a very long time, but spending much more time with Telecasters due to all of the reasons above finally made it clear to me that the “set necks are better” cliche was a decades-long myth motivated by a desire to sell more (more expensive) Gibsons.

It doesn’t take much undue added weight / pressure on the neck, in the heat of a particularly aggressive musical moment, to make my set-neck Gibson-style guitars bend just enough to go “temporarily out of tune” while I’m playing them. And yes, I’m talking about multiple pro-grade set-neck instruments that have forced me to be super-careful to avoid inadvertently flexing the neck in live play.

The Tele’s bolt-on neck joint, being a less intimate connection to the body with some degree of built-in play in the system, doesn’t have this problem; feel free to flail-bash away within reason, the thing still stays in tune. I find even my beater Teles actually hold their tuning longer / better just generally, across the board, than any high-falutin’ Paul-clone I’ve ever had.

The other widespread belief about bolt-ons vs. set necks is that Paul-style set necks have a comparative “sustain advantage,” which I’ve already mentioned above – in my experience, nothing but BS, BS, BS. Maybe it would matter to a narcissistic lead player who wants to vibrato-hold a single note for eight bars while making the “O” face, and/or to Sunn0))). But for actual-listenable-music purposes, the difference in sustain between a Paul and Tele doesn’t matter much if at all in the majority of musical contexts.

None of which is to say I’m so over the Paul / selling all of my previous-favorite Paul-clones or whatever. I still love ’em, and there will always be a use for them, especially in my home recordings. But they’re definitely seeing a heck of a lot less play time these days, as Leo’s pine slab gets spanked over and over. Yes, I meant to sound like I was accidentally talking about masturbating, because what lengthy discussion of a particular guitar’s merits would be complete without some double-entendre-or-not phrase that read like a colorful description of the author’s personal time the first time through?

Note: if I ever end up writing this same sort of thing about the primary-guitar merits of thin-sounding, thin-feeling, pure-rock-douche-associated Stratocasters (or at least, Stratocasters in their original 3-single-coil Fender-conceived form) 20+ years from now, please send me to the nursing home with all due haste.

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Joint review, LSDj and LGPT: Therrrrrrre’s my chippy

Posted by r on January 20, 2014

This post is part of my ongoing tracker-app-reviews-from-slash-FOR-a-possible-tracker-newbie-perspective series. Next up: likely Klystrack.

I figure out absolutely everything backwards. The very first tracker that really piqued my interest in all this tracker-y stuff so “late” in life wasn’t Renoise, SunVox, or even some other “well-known / classic” tracker app for desktop machines. It was LittleGPTracker, aka LGPT, aka PiggyTracker, aka Piggy, aka The Pig.

I don’t remember how I bumped into this crazy app or the associated Hexawe netlabel-community. I liked much of the music I heard being made with Piggy, and was further fascinated by the idea of a robust music app designed to run on mobile devices with only gamepad input allowed for the end user.

LGPT was directly and openly inspired by a longrunning Gameboy music / tracker app called Little Sound DJ – LSDj for short. These two apps share more in common than their numerous interface / UI similarities; both are meant for use on mobile gaming devices or equivalent, and both have super-passionate fanbases actively making music with the things. Once you’ve got the basics of using one of them down, you’re pretty well ready to use the other as well. But there are some pretty significant distinctions between their approaches as well, particularly from a sound-generation angle.

I’ve played / worked much more with LGPT than with LSDj. While LGPT is available not only for several obscure mobile gaming dealies but also natively for Win32 (to say nothing of OSX / Linux / even RPi), I don’t have the requisite hipster hardware to run the Gameboy-only LSDj on a real Gameboy for the “legit experience” and have had to resort to using it in an emulator. But I’ve used both apps just enough at this point to feel comfortable slapping up a joint review from, again, the tracker-n00b perspective.

I have also used both of these apps enough to believe that some smart developer who might get serious about combining these two apps’ particular strengths with a somewhat more modern set of capabilities and UI could very much be on a direct route to The Future Of Mobile Electronic Music-Making. These apps are incredibly cool, and particularly in the case of LGPT, they’re useful for more than just chiptunery. Both programs have particular strengths in terms of workflow / input efficiency that eludes not only most other trackers, but nearly all other “modern” music-making apps as well.

Let’s get down to it.

But before we do – I’ll say more about “hardware requirements” at the very end of this review, but you should know upfront: these apps were meant to be used with gamepads or the equivalent. I would vehemently argue this does not mean you should take these apps any less seriously as music-making tools. You may eventually disagree, but try to keep an open mind.
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The myth of dynamic crowdsourced help (or, why we’re all well and truly FAQ’d)

Posted by r on January 13, 2014

The Internet is now approaching its third decade of mainstream acceptance. Available dynamic resources for the self-taught and continually curious have, in an on-paper sense, never been better. But in 2014, God help the thoughtful, rational individual who, having lurked endlessly in relevant places and having Googled / site-queried appropriately and having read FAQ upon FAQ, still has a question that falls between the cracks, and requires an intelligent answer from someone more well-versed in the topic.

The regulars in discussion groups and forums dedicated to specialized topics nearly always automatically assume anyone who self-identifies as “inexperienced” in a given matter, or who simply has a low post count, hasn’t done the reading.

The comic irony is that the responses from the regulars could nearly always be used as examples in a textbook on reading comprehension fail.

PRIMA: Hi, I’m new to Hobby X, and I have a question involving Plausible Condition Y. I’ve read the linked community-respected FAQs 1, 2, 3, and 4 on Subinterest Z of Hobby X, but while Situation That Could Very Easily Involve Plausible Condition Y is addressed in detail in FAQs 1 and 3, Plausible Condition Y itself is outright ignored in all four documents. Can anyone clarify?

SECUNDA: In addition to an obvious-n00b question, I see you have a zero post count and thusly I am certain that you have not read the FAQ. Read the FAQ.

[Before PRIMA has a chance to respond politely, the post has already been downvoted into oblivion and/or moved to the forum graveyard by a mod.]


PRIMA: I have read 900 posts on Topic A at this very forum over the last four months of daily lurking and constant forum refreshing. I have learned a lot, namely that everyone on this forum seems to believe that the optimal solution to Topic A is either Solution 1 or Solution 2. However, this seems to be a subjective matter of debate.

It seems to me that if someone performed Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z on both Solutions 1 or 2, the matter could be settled (for my own purposes at least). I have searched this very forum many times over the last few weeks and can find no evidence of Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z in any discussion. Has anyone ever performed Very Rudimentary Quasi-Empirical Check Z with Solutions 1 and 2, and if so, could you please report back with your results?

SECUNDA: This topic has been discussed a million times before and still comes up weekly here. Do a forum search.

TERTIA: Solution 1 is the solution. Everyone who has tried it knows it, including me. If you look at my forum sig, you’ll see I’m a professional. I should know.

PRIMA: Right, Secunda, well, what I’m asking is if anyone has ever done any kind of valid measurements on Solutions 1 and 2, instead of just going back and forth about how their Solution of choice is the best one. I know this is a hot and tired topic, but I’m pretty sure it would take 30 seconds of add’l effort from any given Solution-user to settle it for me, if not many others. However, I have yet to see anyone try such a measurement before despite, again, many efforts to find something of the like here. You seem like you are quite well-versed in the history of this topic here… do you happen to know of a thread where such measurements were presented?

QUARTA: Tertia is talking out of his ass. Solution 1 is only favored by the old and clueless. The world’s gone to Solution 2 now.

QUINTA: Oh, man, this question again. (headslap emoji) (popcorn-eating .gif)

TERTIA: The “old and clueless?” Quarta, this “old and clueless” ~PROFESSIONAL~ made dozens of referrals and mid-six figures last year using Solution 1. Care to share your new-fangled 1040, you hipster fuck?

PRIMA: Secunda / Quinta, yes, again, I know the question itself is tired, but I’m asking for specific information / tests relating to this topic that might help settle it for good. Or maybe Tertia or Quarta could help, since they both have Solution 1 and 2 on hand respectively, and the Quasi-Empirical Check Z I have in mind is really very fast and simple. How about it, guys?

QUARTA: Fuck you and your predictable condescension, Tertia. I’m tired of your constant shitting on Solution 2 in these threads. No one cares how much you made last year. Besides, I talked to four guys that hired you last year who all said you sucked.

[eight more thread-pages of ad hominem follow; neither Secunda nor Quinta ever return to thread]


PRIMA: I already know from extensive reading / lurking / searching that the usually-recommended approach to Problem X is Solution A, but for Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4, I cannot use Solution A. Is there something I could use in place of Solution A to solve Problem X?

SECUNDA: Sounds like Solution A is what you need. (link to promotional literature for Solution A)

PRIMA: Sorry, Secunda, as I said, I know about Solution A but it won’t work for me due to Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4. Is there any current alternative to Solution A?

TERTIA: Man, if I ever had to work in a place that enforced Good And Inflexible Reasons 3 and 4, I’d be looking for a job elsewhere.

PRIMA: That’s as may be, Tertia, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury right now, and Problem X really needs to be solved. Are there any alternatives to Solution A? Has anyone here personally tried Possible Solution B, for instance?

QUARTA: Have you ever heard of Solution A? I’ve used that and I think it would work great for your application.

TERTIA: Here is a site that might help you solve your REAL problem. (link to

QUINTA: I don’t know why anyone would want to try anything other than Solution A. We use it here and it works fine. No point reinventing the wheel.

PRIMA: Well, Quinta, except for Good And Inflexible Reasons 1 / 2 / 3 / 4.

QUINTA: Oh, jeez, you should have said those were part of your solution requirements upfront, then. (rolleyes.gif)

SECUNDA: C’mon, everyone’s telling you the answer is Solution A, but it seems you just don’t want to hear it. Why post a question in a forum if you already know you have another specific answer in mind? Mod, please close thread.

World, let’s all make it our 2014 resolution (if a couple weeks late) to actually read the questions posed to us, particularly if we’re the ones taking some kind of “personal responsibility” for educating or helping others in a public forum. The road we’re going down, have been going down for years now – that of valuing upvotes over actual answers, and even the smart among us allowing ourselves to have attention spans shorter than the max length of tweets – is a very frightening one indeed.

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FIRST LOOK REVIEW: Syntheogen 0.10.0 for Android

Posted by r on December 16, 2013

Developers of mobile apps for musicians have enough of a challenge set before them without having to consider the evolving nature of mobile-device input. Ten years ago, it was a world of hardware buttons and resistive touchscreens with fine-point styli. Now, of course, the mobile world is all capacitive screens, with no real usable buttons to count on… and if the end user DOES have a stylus, it’ll be fat, sloppy and imprecise at the tip, just like their fingers.

With each new fad in mobile-device input, devs targeting mobile devices have had to change up their approach. Apps like SunVox, originally built around the tighter input precision possible with a resistive stylus, may have scads of power but simply aren’t anywhere near as efficient or fun to use on a small screen in our modern capacitive / fat-fingered world. And while the mobile port of Nanoloop has fared quite well with careful work from its developer, most other well-known Gameboy music apps like LSDj quickly go from “total pleasure” to “total PITA” when the easy-to-locate hard buttons of the originally-intended hardware are forcibly traded in for fussy onscreen softkeys in an emulator.

As for the many music apps built from scratch for iOS and Android, developers are still figuring out the best approach to the interface. Most such apps, especially those built around the usual sequencer-DAW paradigm, are still trying to clone venerable desktop music apps too closely in their design. Speed of creativity and input often suffer noticeably as a result, even in the best-designed mobile music apps.

Maybe we musicians can’t have it all, and are bound to get totally screwed in one way or another as the world continues moving toward simpler / dumber / more portable devices. But I’ve still got to applaud any developer who’s still trying to reinvent this particular wheel in an effort to create a faster shirt-pocket-sized vehicle for musical creation on the go.

I see a great deal of this sort of attempted reinvention in Android semi-newcomer Syntheogen, which is stupidly cheap to purchase as of this writing. While the developer is still working, and big changes / important new features are surely to come down the road, I thought I’d make a case that smart musicians with Android devices should get in on the Syntheogen ground floor right now… or at least sit down for a couple serious days with the demo.

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Some tracker reviews before 2013 is out

Posted by r on December 9, 2013

Earlier– ok, much earlier this year, I of course made a big to-do about the merits of trackers and set out on a huge review set of tracker-style applications. I had a feeling I was potentially biting off more than I could chew, and I was right.

However, in March through May, I did dig sufficiently deep into a good subset of the trackers on my list, and started writing some pretty in-depth reviews thereof. I realized pretty quickly that what I was writing would be well into tl;dr territory and, despite the absurd level of detail I was pursuing, ultimately not helpful to would-be beginner tracker users.

So here are some much shorter reviews– again, oriented toward would-be beginner users– of my basic findings on Jeskola Buzz, LGPT, OpenMPT, Psycle, Schism, and SunVox – roughly half of my original list of trackers I’d planned to take on. I will probably still go back and get a few more of the ones from my 3/13 master list later on; in particular, I’m still interested in digging into FamiTracker, Klystrack, LSDJ and Renoise.

Along with that, I’ll shortly be doing a review of a semi-recent Android app called Syntheogen, which has a lot in common with the “tracker mindset” despite appearing a bit more like a traditional graphic sequencer. Syntheogen is neat stuff and deserves its own look even at this early stage of the game.

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Posted by r on December 6, 2013

ps – I haven’t forgotten about trackers. I have a few more words about that coming soon, at long last.

Top-of-2013 lists are coming in, as always, and making me feel more than ever that the world hears with ears very different from mine. I listened to that Chvrches album a couple times this year and scratched my head at all the hype, since it just seemed like a pedestrian, not-even-particularly-convincing retro-80s effort from end to end. The Arctic Monkeys album on “everyone’s” list was much more boring still (Squeeze at their least enthusiastic meets Nickelback, anyone?); Arcade Fire can go back in time to 2004 and fuck themselves with particularly dull and pretentious swords; etc.

So, without any attempt at ranking, here are some things I thought were worthy of re-mentioning as things that were released in 2013 and should probably be remembered longer than that. Some of them may even be things you haven’t heard of, particularly if you make a habit of ignoring my Twitter output, which is probably wise. note: this not-really-a-best-of list was courtesy the top of my head; I reserve the right to amend, if I think of anything else I’ll post again.

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