I learned today of the death of Craig Davis, a truly talented and prolific musician, songwriter, and artist. My history with Craig is long and complicated.Continue reading…
Cerebral Flotsam And Jetsam - My Mental Maelstrom
Last night I dreamed that a bunch of folks were at my friend, Darin Murphy’s house (a totally fictional house as I’ve never seen his actual house). I remember it being quite large and roomy, very open with high ceilings and the main living room area was huge with a pointed “A” shape ceiling. It was getting late and he said any of us could stay over if we wanted. He told me I could stay in the spare bed in his son, “Fred’s” room. Then, in “Fred’s” room a small cursed doll of a creepy girl with white skin, black eyes (the kind Quint talks about in Jaws) and stringy black hair, dressed all in black came to life with a pair of scissors (very “Trilogy of Terror” inspired). I was on one side and a few other people were on the other. Somehow I knew that she would choose a target and everyone else would be safe. She chose me. A chase and struggle ensued. At one point I got the scissors away from her. I eluded the doll and was going to get to my car. As I went through the living room, Darin and a few others were there and kind of laughed and he said something about how they had all got up early to start their cars so their cars would be safe from the doll but I hadn’t. At that point I knew that I would find my tires slashed. I cautiously backed inside the house again and saw the doll trying to sneak up on me from outside the door.
Then thankfully I woke up, shook it off and listened to some Eckhart Tolle to get back to sleep.
I’m super excited and honored to have been part of this amazing international virtual collaboration with such incredible artists. When my friend, Andrés Ayala asked me to provide the vocals, I immediately said yes, jumping at the chance to once again work together. I met Andrés when we were both hired for the same band for a 6 month contract on the Carnival Liberty cruise ship, so I already knew he was a virtuoso guitar player as well as a really great person. He gathered this group together as well playing guitar and mixing the audio. I’ve never met any of these other rock stars, and yet here we are all coming together to make some great music. You have to love the power of music as well as the power of the internet and technology!
Guitar and audio mixing: Andrés Ayala
Bass: Josué Hermart
Drums: Carlos Rojas
Keys: Vincenzo Lizzi
Video Editing: Lucia Mendez
You’ll never see this so I don’t know why I’m posting it other than it feels good to get it out of my head and into the universe and my page feels like a safe sanctuary where I can do what I want, while also knowing that likely no one will see it. Also if by chance you do ever see this, I know it’s by your own choice and not because I somehow forced these words upon you. I don’t know why you suddenly decided to block me after all this time, but I can only assume it was because of a post that had nothing to do with you and only to with my own brain being an asshole to me. Just in case that was it, I edited the post for clarification. Regardless, I’m sorry for whatever the reason was that made you feel it necessary to get me even further out of your life (which I didn’t even think was possible). I understand, I’m sorry, and I hope all is as well and happy as it seems. Welcome back to Austin. Goodbye. I love you and wish you a truly great life, even if I can’t be a part of it. You deserve all the love and happiness it has to offer. #SayWhatYouNeedToSay #PostForOne #ThatOneBeingMeItTurnsOut
I have used Reaper as my Digital Audio Workstation software for about 15 years now and absolutely love it. Recently I decided it might be nice to get a physical control surface to use with it. I initially got a Korg nanoKONTROL to dip my toes in the water. It’s a decent little surface, but I very quickly realized that if I was going to go this route I wanted to go all the way and actually have motorized faders and all the bells and whistles, so at the suggestion of many other users I got a Behringer Xtouch. The Korg unit had taken a lot of setup and tweaking to get it working with Reaper. The Xtouch works right out of the box though with only basic functionality mostly. I thought I’d document my journey for posterity in case I ever need to remember what all I did or in case it can help anyone else.Continue reading…
Summary of this post: inane geeky technobabble about reverse engineering a “skin” for VLC media player. Ye have been warned.
I use VLC as my media player. Like most folks, I wanted a dark skin for it (which they have supposedly been working on a default one for years now). There are lots of user created skins you can use. I have a very specific taste in what I want. Dark, minimalist, compact, I want to see the actual volume percentage, and I want the progress bar to display current time/time remaining. Most of the skins, I couldn’t stand. I found one that almost met all my needs though. Darklounge. The only thing was it had a progress bar that displayed current time/total duration.
I looked into how to edit skins. There is an official skin editor that is ancient (as are most skins). I figured changing that one thing should be pretty simple. I downloaded the editor. Oh, it needs Java Runtime Environment. Ew. This is too much trouble for my tiny change. I find lots of other skins to try. Jump through hoops to download them. None fit the bill. I decide to bite the bullet and try and install JRE just to do this and then I’ll uninstall everything. The skin editor still thinks I don’t have JRE. I read somewhere about setting a JAVA_HOME environment variable in Windows settings. I do that. Hey the editor starts now but I can’t for the life of me get it to even open the skin I want to edit. Again I abandon this project and try every possible other skin to see if any are good enough. Nope.
More research. I discover that the skin files (.vlt files) are actually just .zip archives. I change the extension. Windows can normally open those by default, but not this one for some reason. So I fire up 7zip which CAN read the archive. It’s just a bunch of .png files and one .xml file. So what I need HAS to be in the .xml somewhere. I look up the variable that skins use. I find the “$D” variable for “Duration” and change it to “$L” which is the variable for “Time Remaining.” Save the archive, and BAM! Perfect! I finally have my dark, minimal, compact VLC skin with volume percentage and that displays current time/time remaining. I do a highly satisfied victory butt dance in my chair. I’m practically Neo in The Matrix*
*That is sarcasm as, while this wasn’t necessarily “simple,” it’s fairly elementary amateur tech stuff.
Tonight in the shower, which is where I seem to have so many important thoughts, I was thinking about my journey as a singer. A lot of the things on my mind were things I detailed in my post summing up my 7 month adventure as a singer on a cruise ship. One particular lesson rose to the top though. To put it very simply, the thought that singing higher isn’t singing better.
I started singing somewhere around age 16, and at first I was timid, shy, and not very good. I still remember my first real public attempt at singing. I was auditioning for a local musical and we needed to bring a piece to sing. I had a little Casio keyboard with these music cards you could slide through a reader and it would play that song, so I picked one (“You Must Take The A Train,” which I was completely unfamiliar with other than the Casio rendition) and practiced it. I brought my keyboard to accompany me and auditioned for the Music Director, Mrs. Kosztolnyik and the director. I was nervous and horrible. I did not get cast.
Eventually I developed my voice, and more importantly, my confidence and became known as a “power tenor” who could belt Journey songs and rock a mean falsetto on “Kiss” by Prince. While I’ve been lucky enough to receive many compliments over the years, I’m fairly positive I’ve received the most by far on being able to sing high and powerfully. The Journey thing really sticks in my mind as that was a very common comment. “Whoa! I can’t believe you sang Journey! You sounded just like the record!” or other similar things. This common feedback trained me like one of Pavlov’s dogs to “value” singing high and powerfully. It conditioned me to think that it set me apart and made me special.
While on my cruise ship adventure, I was singing 6 nights a week, battling cruise ship air and circulating colds and such, and trying my best to be a good vocal athlete and keep my voice in shape, but much to my frustration, I feel like most of my contract was spent performing well, but sub-par to what I knew I could do. Somewhere along that journey (no pun intended) I learned the concept of “Fach,” which, to put in overly simple and possibly not entirely accurate terms, is the sweet spot of your voice. I had noticed that singing so much had really honed my tone and accuracy and there were nights when I would think “Hey, my voice sounds really good in that sweet spot range when I’m not trying to perform amazing spectacles of vocal daring!”
I’ve always appreciated emotion and soul more than anything else, but this was a deeper epiphany than that and it has stayed with me. I still love that feeling of being able to belt out something impressive and sound good doing it, but I can equally appreciate singing something that feels effortless to me just as much for other reasons. There are so many singers I love who don’t necessarily sing anything technically impressive or set any records for sustained high notes. I guess I’ve finally learned that those vocal highs are like those crazy flashy guitar riffs that make someone seem like they’re from another planet. I can appreciate and be very impressed by the technical prowess, but I can be just as moved or more by someone who can play one note in just the right way, in the just the right place and knows just how much silence to leave between it and its neighbors to reach inside you and pull out an emotion like pure magic. I’ve learned that, yes, many times those high notes will get more comments, but that’s ego singing. That doesn’t actually mean anything or impart any more inherent value. Another example I always remember from my days on the ship is that I sang “Take On Me” by A-Ha which has that last really high note in the chorus, but it’s falsetto and for me it is almost completely effortless. In my mind, there is absolutely nothing “impressive” about it as it’s “easy” for me, and yet that note, on multiple occasions on the ship got spontaneous applause from the audience, something that I don’t think has ever happened to me before or since. Smoke and mirrors. Illusions. Show business. I also had some of my worst nights ever on that ship. Fighting to get anything worth a damn to come out of my throat and while feeling absolutely mortified and wanting to curl up and die, yet for the most part, no one else even noticed. “Great show! You were great!” they’d still say.
So I write this mainly to remind myself but also for anyone else who needs to hear it: singing higher is not singing better. As with every area of life, a lesson I learn again and again is that literally everything is made better by getting the ego out of the way. Find your Fach, and revel in it.
John Mayer made a TikTok of a short song called “Ravioli Shoes” and I liked it so much that I wrote a verse and added bass, drums, and a harmony.
Sure most people are probably asleep at 6:40am. Some are even getting up or already up. Me, I’m laying in bed trying to sleep but instead getting an idea for a very silly song about having a crush on the Prop/Costume Diva for #MST3K and singing it into a voice memo in bits and pieces so I’ll remember it the next day. Quite probably the most niche song I’ve ever written. And that’s saying something.
I then also decided to record a full studio version and video for that version in all it’s power pop glory!