Friday, October 29, 2010

One Way Ticket

Ah graduate school.  Ask most any professional in the sciences about it and they will recount stories of living off of ramen, a painfully atrophied social life, tap-dancing to the ridiculous beat of a professor's expectations, and long hours in a lab stacking atoms with tweezers.

Luckily, my grad school experience was nothing like that.  My wife and kids were marvelous, classes and research were engaging, my major professor was a marvelous mentor, and I even got play in a rock cover band (I did eat more than my share of ramen, though).  Our band was called One Way Ticket, and we played at church dances and wedding receptions for a few years.  We had the distinction of being the only band (that I know of...) consisting of a lawyer, a graduate student, an engineer, a hotel executive, and a steel worker.  Here's the band roll:

David Stevenson - piano, keyboards, lead vocals, melodica virtuoso
Monte Hansen - drums, vocals, attitude
Jeff Beeler - guitar, vocals
Ruth Stevenson - vocals, keyboard
Lee Davies - vocals, tambourine
Jonathan Laman - guitar wizard
Richard Moore - bass guitar, keyboard, definitely no vocals

Everyone was pretty busy, but we managed to get together and practice every week or two.  Through Monte's hotel and DJ connections, we even had a rather elaborate PA system.  I don't have a picture, but it pretty much looked like this:

Except in blue sparkle.  With our band name airbrushed on the side.  Being carried by Mr. T (our roadie).

We didn't record much of our playing, and we never really played original stuff while I was in the group, but we did record out of the mixer at a couple of the dances that we played.  Recently I dusted off a couple of the recordings and found one to share.  This is us playing Coldplay's "Yellow" back in 2007 or so.

OneWayTicket-Yellow by are.kay.more

Monday, October 25, 2010


When I got my first digital multi-track recorder back in 2002, I discovered digital reverb. It was to me as ketchup is to a two-year-old. I slathered everything in great gooey gobs of it. It took the thinnest plinky guitar sound from my Peavey plugged into the mixer, and drew it out into giant juicy washes of sound. Best of all, the reverb made it seem as though everything I played were echoing through some ancient cathedral in France.

 (Logan, pictured above, is who Google decided was the "messy ketchup baby" that I requested.  You can find him generally being cute on his baby blog here.)

Alas, it was a cheap thrill. Now I grumble whenever I pull up something that I mixed from back then with too many heavy, muddled effects, and a lopsided equalization, owing to the bad headphones I used back then. Here is an artifact excavated from those days. Muddy as it is, it's got a couple of lines that still tickle me, so I decided to share it.

Reverbariffic by are.kay.more

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Happy memories

This is a piece that I recorded several years ago, before I had cool computer software (robots) to fix my rhythm and pitch mistakes.  It resurfaced when I was doing some audio excavation on my old digital recorder.  I put it together in a happy moment not too long after Hannah (our first daughter) was born.  Our drafty apartment, which was home to the cockroach equivalent of the Roman Empire, was still a wonderfully peaceful and joyful place.  I guess other people might express those emotions with soft strings or female voices.  I used synthesizer, electric guitar, and electronic drums.    As usual, it's short, and hopefully sweet:

Home by are.kay.more

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Evidence that the robots do my bidding

So, . . . robots.

 You mention the word and everybody's got an image that comes to mind.  For some it's C3PO, for others it's Al Gore, and for some people it's even an overgrown hockey puck that vacuums/wanders your room and scares the dog.  Mostly everyone wonders "Why don't I have a robot to <insert least favorite chore here> for me yet?"

Well, the fine folks at Toyota have gotten quite mixed up.  After seeing Transformers, they realized that making cars is pretty much the same as making robots, so they decided that they should dabble in it.  But instead of making a proof-of-concept robot that will clean the rain gutters, sand dry wall, or move dog poop over to my neighbor's yard, they have made a robot that plays the violin:

The only problem is: people LIKE playing the violin.  That's like making a robot to finish off the bag of potato chips for you, or watch the football game so that you can spend that time on dog poop patrol.  I have to admit, they nailed the cool robot look: storm trooper white, with eyes that look like they could definitely shoot laser beams, but the guys who programmed him for the demo need to be flogged.  I understand the eye-lasers are probably a Japanese military secret, but they still could have shown him wrestling a shark, or something.

In any case, it is becoming less and less important that an entity have mechanical arms and legs.  So much of the world can now be influenced in computers and networks.  And people have what is equivalent to fairly low-intelligence, very special purpose robots working for them much of the time, bringing them world news, delivering bills from service providers, checking your credit card purchases for atypical behavior, finding out if there's a decent Italian restaurant nearby.

Well, one of the things that my laptop-robot does for me is help play music.  I wanted to try to write part of a woodwind quintet.  I played in a woodwind quintet for a bit in high school, and it was lots of fun.  The problem is that I don't play in one now.  So, instead of waiting sadly with sheet music in hand for oboe, flute, and F horn players to appear, I have put Ortsy to work (Yes, my computer has a name.  Yes, you are embarrassed that you know me).  I used a program to write write the five different parts.  Another program has a database of lots of instrument samples (here samples are recordings of instruments playing individual notes for several seconds at a time).  The second program takes the music I wrote, and essentially cuts and pastes from the database of instrument samples to produce a file that sounds like people playing the instruments (more or less).

I tried to write a fugue, which is one of the old music forms.  It's kind of like a round ("Row, row, row your boat . . ."), but when other instruments come in they don't have to keep exactly repeating the theme.  They can start to play with the rhythm and harmony a bit, but there are still rules about what notes can be played simultaneously and where you can move from a given note.  I only got about a minute done, since I found it tricky to keep all of the parts moving, while avoiding repetition or harmonic conflict.  It was still fun, though, and the results are nice:

Woodwind Fugue by are.kay.more

Monday, October 4, 2010

...and now for something completely different:

Well, there have been lots of demands for more weird instrumental music with digital effects and driving drum beats.  I'm afraid that's not what you'll be getting from me today.  Instead I'm posting a cover of an Indigo Girls tune that I recorded a few months back.  If you're not familiar with them, they're a folk duo that do some marvelous song writing.  They're also one of the best live acts I've seen, so be sure to see them if you get the chance.  This song is from their album Rites of Passage, if you get curious and want to know what it's supposed to really sound like.  Unlike the other stuff that I've posted, this is not a multi-track recording.  A battery powered recorder sat a few feet away from me as I played and sang this one on my most recent craigslist guitar (I did use the laptop to cut a couple of mistakes out of the recording before posting, though). 

It tickles me that the kids (except Josh) like to dance around as I play guitar and sing.  They even have a couple of favorite tunes that they'll request that I play from time to time.  Josh, however sees the guitar as a threat.  It's just another distraction that keeps Dad from paying full attention to him, as he ignores me and plays with something else.  At first I thought that he wanted to play the guitar himself when he came up to me and grabbed at the strings.  I realize now that he's just trying to get it away from me.  Enjoy!

Ghost by are.kay.more