Saturday, April 25, 2009


What a couple of weeks!

I've had the opportunity to attend or speak at three different events in the last two weeks. It started off with a performance by Noisefold (David Stout and Cory Metcalf) at the Gates Planetarium (at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). Fantastic waves of sound, beautiful transitions and eye-popping graphics. It was really good to see a live cinema show that showed taste as well as technology. These guys kick it out...

A few days later, it was the CommuniKey Festival of Digital Arts and Electronic Music in Boulder. I did an introduction of Max for Live that was really well received, and got a chance to sit in on a few other people's work. The weekend was messed up by the incredible storms we had: 48" at my house (in the mountains). I couldn't get home that evening, so I stayed with Mike Metlay - who promptly wired me up for a WonderVU live performance on This was one of our best sessions yet, and I hope to make the performance available for download Real Soon Now.

After spending the next few days digging out the family, I buzzed out to San Francisco for Cycling '74's Expo74. This was simply an overwhelming experience. 120 people all buzzing with Max-Love, and I got to do the second presentation of the first day. This introduced me to a lot of people, and made for a very social interaction with people. I also got a really nice reintroduction to Jitter shaders by Mr. Shader (Andrew Benson), and saw a ton of amazing work by other Max users. Also, during the Science Fair portion, I ended up getting sucked into the job of helping to show off Jeff Snyder's Manta device. I'll tell you what I told them - it is simply the best control device I've ever used as an instrument. It doesn't require active touches (like a Monome), but still has enought texture to be instrument-like (unlike, say, a Lemur). Brad Garton was showing off his Eddie Van Halen-like Manta/Max combo, while I did my little autoharp emulation. Eddie vs. Melonie - guess who won.

I'm exhausted, and anxious to get back to the mountains so my boys can jump on my chest for a while. But I'm buzzing with energy right now.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maybe I found an instrument...

I've had a very difficult background with musical instruments. My first was the piano, coupled with literally the worst piano teacher in the world. How can you take 8 years of piano lessons and not know the three notes of a C chord? Mrs. Kottke, you deserve a swift kick, you stupid hag.

Next was elementary music (with the Flute-o-phone) and beginner band. I really, really wanted to play the saxophone, but my uncle played baritone (basically a mini-tuba); my parents pushed me into that instrument because they wouldn't have to pay the $12/month for an instrument rental. I hated it, it took up the first two seats of the bus ride home (making me Major Hated Man), and the mouthpiece was big enough to fit over my whole head. Not a fan.

Next up was guitar (a Christmas gift - basically, the guitar shown here), and another inept teacher. I wanted to strum like the kids at summer camp, and I had a teacher that wanted me to do classical style guitar. Didn't work out too well on my Eko steel-string guitar. And it made me hate guitar.

The next summer, I was wasting time by reading the classified ads at the back of Popular Mechanics magazine when I ran into an ad for "Learn Bluegrass Guitar". I didn't know what the heck they were talking about, but I thought that maybe it was the stuff I heard on Beverly Hillbillies. Of course, I was thinking about banjo, but the book I bought taught me a ton about playing the instrument in a way I could enjoy. I ended up becoming quite the hot bluegrass guitar player.

Of course, being a decent bluegrass player didn't really fit a 17 year-old man/boy's concept of cool. Bought an electric, spent a lot of time on it and got moderately competent on it. Wasted my early college time playing the instrument, then toured with a group and got twisted up. Once I'd decided I could be better, I decided to go to North Texas State to study jazz.

What a freakin' mistake.

I ended up getting phenominal technique, but I was about as musical as a log. I also developed a horrible case of performance anxiety, leading me to drop out of school, music and a social life. Years later, I started playing again, but it just never spoke to me again. With the "new" MIDI software world, I got entranced by synths, drum machines and effects boxes. It fit my technical nature, but there was just not the visceral playing experience that I craved.

A few years ago, our local church needed a bass player. I decided to chip in, bought a bass rig, and started playing. It was a revelation; I found that I could "hear" the lines I wanted to play (rather than calculating an appropriate scale/chord/mode combo), and directly play them without excessive thinking. I started playing with any band that would take me, and have done a lot of gigs over the last few years. People appreciate my playing in a way they never did on guitar, and I'm a face-full-of-grins every time I play the thing.

Perhaps, after all this dorking around, I finally found an instrument that provide a personal voice, is fun to play, and provides the social "in a band" sort of interaction I'd been looking for. So where was this thing when I was 17?


Monday, April 6, 2009

Why I hit my TiVo unit with a crowbar this evening...

Ah, the finals of the men's NCAA tournament. The culmination of a couple of weeks of stress, all leading to this evening's game. March madness indeed.

Unfortunately, I had to watch the kids while my wife got beat up at a soccer game. But it's OK - that's why I have TiVo, right? I watched the first half live, then set the machine to record the second half while I put the boys to bed. After everyone was snoring, I flipped it on, started at the second half, and prepared to beg for the possibility that Michigan State could come back.

They actually made progress, although I hear that they lost. Why don't I know for sure? Because some dumb-head setting the TiVo schedule decided that the game would be a 2:30 match, and my machine dutifully kicked out after two and a half hours. Sadly, there was still 4:27 left on the clock.

I've had this happen in the past for football games and other sporting events - and I just don't understand how they could make this mistake. Given that after the game is done we just have local news and other goop, how about we say the game might last 3 hours? How about 10 hours?

This is a case of a massively screwed up value system that places "sort of correct" ahead of "not stupid". To the idiot at TiVo Central that decided a championship basketball game couldn't go over 2:30, I say this:

There is one game like this every year. One game. There are about 40 evening news broadcasts in the Denver market every day. The David Letterman show has been on continuously since the dawn of time, and is shown every day. Next time you need to make a decision about what is likely to bother me, you can fucking assume that it won't be "Oh no, I didn't get to see the Channel 7 newscast this evening! What about that kittie that got caught in the tree!"

I want to see the game. The whole game. As it stands, I feel within my rights to state that TiVo simply doesn't work if you are a sports fan that needs to time-shift your viewing. Until these chuckleheads can figure out relative value among programs, they are simply going to be targets for the nearest piece of iron I can get my hands on.



Why I love the mountains...

Here's a little picture explaining why I love living in the mountains - despite the limited access to modern conveniences. In the last week, we've gotten about 30" of snow, making things even harder to deal with, but a whole lot more beautiful.

This isn't a great place to live if you don't like snow, or you don't like extreme weather, or you want to live within spitting distance of a Target-anchored mall. But if you like beauty and quiet, it can't be beat.