Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trowar Report: 25 October 2013

We did another gig at the same venue (Pete's Bar & Grill) in the same town (Carnation, Washington) for the same reason (to get our chops up) on Oct. 25th.  We were the first of two bands to play.  The second band did not know until they arrived and saw our gear on stage we were playing first.  If they were pissed, they did a great job of concealing it.  Although I didn't interact with them too much personally (I was able to catch a ride home pretty early - don't really like hanging out after shows), they seemed like a real nice bunch of guys.  This was a pretty good sized crowd and they were primed to celebrate on this, the last weekend before Halloween.

I'm proud to say this was our strongest gig to date.  Vocals were the main priority for this gig, esp. Fred's lead vocals.  He did great.  He was plenty loud enough and he stayed on the mic.  Anytime there were any rough patches, he was back at it - he didn't let the less-than-stellar moments stop him from persisting on his singing efforts.  And to be honest, I don't remember any less-than-stellar vocal moments.  We were able to overcome the awful acoustics in that bar and nail our harmonies.  This is thanks in large part to our vocal coach Emily, who had worked with Fred and I earlier in the day.
This is the view I wake up to.  Looks like a damn
Russell Chatham painting.  Awesome.
We provided an interesting contrast to the second band.  We were loud and play aggressively, doing only originals, dressing in street clothes.  They did covers in the rockabilly style, completely kitted up as pirates and zombies and whatnot for the Halloween crowd that had gathered.  I noticed more crowd involvement this time - I saw some head bobbing, clapping after the tunes and even a little hollering between songs.  Usually the praise is directed at us after we tear down our gear; it was nice to get some love while we were still on the stage.  There was a lot more dancing for the second band, but creating "danceable" music is not high on our list of priorities.  
Obligatory gear shot of the T-20 and the
Ampeg SVT-350.   Tone and volume have
been a struggle with me in this band.  I'm
hoping to address this soon.  I've got ideas.
As usual, it was not a perfect performance, but with each gig, the confidence, precision and wealth of improvised ideas popping up in the music get better.  Areas for improvement:  continue working on vocals (lead and harmony) and keep them high in the mix, and work on eye contact/interband communication during tunes. The rest is fine tuning what is already there.
Grafetti on the box truck we use to haul gear, courtesy of an
unknown artist.
Some notable differences in this trip (beside some difficulties on the travel home - sux when you arrive on the flight before your luggage's flight):  It was a short weekend.  As a band, we only had time to rehearse the day of the gig.  We ran the set as a band, took a break, and camp back and did a concentrated rehearsal with Emily focusing less on the song structures and more on the vocals.  In a way, I like this abbreviated schedule forced us to focus on problem areas to make sure they were ready by evening time.  It also didn't give us enough time to succumb to the pre-gig head games.  This was key.

Smart advertising on our part, you gotta admit.
That's the trip in a nutshell.  There's probably plenty I've forgotten to mention.  But I'll have some other Trowar news coming up soon.  I will update when the details are finalized!

Landing in Indianapolis

Random Musical Memory

I remember seeing/hearing this video, hanging out at Bill's house on Stull.  Doors open, warm breeze coming in the front of the house.  Lying on the floor, reading (and not getting) a "Love and Rockets" comic, getting a deep crush on Luba.  And of course, smoking ciggies - probably Winston Lights.

I remember having mixed feelings about this song and video, which I had seen on MTV's "120 Minutes".  With the totally new, mostly synth based sound of  the "Ideal Copy" album, I wasn't sure if Wire had jumped the shark or accelerated their musical evolution.  The album - and their new sound - eventually grew on me though I'll always be partial to what I consider their ground breaking, unappreciated and unheralded work of the 1970s.  Don't believe it's awesome?  Go buy a copy of "Pink Flag".  Go rent the "Wire on the Box" DVD.  Wire's modern, minimalist sound and song structure of the 70s era still feels very ahead of it's time.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thumper Thursday: Saying Nice Things About A Phil Collins Song

"If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all!" - Thumper, "Bambi" (1942)
"Thumper Thursdays" might become a semi-regular feature in which I try to say something nice about a song, artist, or noise that I generallly loathe.  Let's start with Phil Collins.  Yeah - that "Su-Su-Sussudio" motherfucker.

Let's get one thing clear from the outset:  I've never much cared for Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight", but I've never actively hated the song either.  I grew up with that tune and it got heavy air play.  Like Phil Collins' hairline, it pretty much faded into background for me.

That is until recently.  I heard it somewhere - I can't recall where for sure, but I think I was in the car - and was struck by it's sparse simplicity.  It starts with that cool canned drum beat, then a low key organ part with  an occasional a distant sounding guitar peppered in.  That combination, plus the foreboding lyrics (made all the more intriguing by the urban legend surrounding them) create a great, grim air.  This is definitely an atmosphere piece, and I'm impressed with how well Collins pulled it off.  Remember that P.C. was coming from a band (Genesis) known for their elaborate, bloated, proggy records and live shows.  "In The Air Tonight" marks a significant departure from that vision.  Even if a sort of minimalism was the creative direction P.C. was heading (and I'm not sure he was), the song stands out all the more because of the era it was from (written in 1979; released in 1981) and the era it was released.  I think you can safely generalize popular rock acts of the 1970s as pretty Baroque if not in the studio, definitely live.  The 70s witnessed the birth of arena rock; and the subsequent decade (1980s) saw the rise of a pop music that was a frenzied storm of synthesizers, drum machines and samples.  In comparison, "In The Air Tonight" stands as a model of stark simplicity and solid song writing - and I'm not the only one who noticed/appreciates it's moodiness.  Well done, Philly!

But I'll probably still never buy this tune.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Music Of "The Cool Folder" (So Far)

You probably don't know it, but History Lesson Pt. 2 has a sister blog (again!) on Tumblr.  It is called "The Cool Folder" - check it out, yo, and let me know what you think.  But because the focus of this blog is narrowed down to contemplating the sonic input in my life, let's check out some of "The Cool Folder"'s sonic offerings.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Way More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Upright Bass Strings

Of late, I've become discontented with the action and sound on my upright bass.  Or, more accurately, I've not been satisfied with the set up for some time - like a year.  The action is high, the notes are buzzing at certain points on the fingerboard, and the hand strength it takes to play the bass is pretty limiting.  I've been reluctant to do anything about it because addressing such issues takes money.  Also, I wondered how much of it can be addressed by simply practicing more.

I've got some gigs coming up (actually, just had one - a fund raiser for the Exotic Feline Rescue Center - photos here) that I really want to make sure I'm doing a decent job.  I really want to make sure that bass sounds great and is as easy to play as I can responsibly afford.  I took it to Bloomington Stringed Instruments for a consultation.  The harsh truth is that with a bass of this calibre (an Englehardt EM-1), costs of set up and repair can quickly exceed the actual value of the bass.  It's not worth it to get too crazy with a new fingerboard and/or new bridge.  I was relieved when Lucas (the luthier) suggested that a $100 fingerboard dressing would take care of most of the buzzing issues.  This involves scooping out the middle of the fingerboard in such a way that the strings will not vibrate against the fingerboard.  It's kinda hard to explain.

Anyway, after I got the bass back, the buzzing annoyance had improved but not disappeared.  At this point, the only "financially viable" option is new strings.  I use quotes around "financially viable" because strings for an upright typically cost between $100 and $400.  While it's true that upright strings seldom need to be changed, I decided it was time for mine to go.  In addition to the high string tension and the buzzing at certain points on the fingerboard, the windings on the strings were beginning to break.

The short version of the story is this:  after consulting with an old bass teacher, I narrowed my choices down to Thomastik Spirocore strings and Innovation Silver Slap strings.  Spirocores have a strong following; but on the strength of my old maestro's recommendation, I opted for the Silver Slaps, medium tension.  (I thought low tension would sound "plasticky", artificial and floppy.)  I was hoping to have a solid all around string - something that sounds good when playing pizzicato (that's plucking with your fingers, gringo) which is 99.9% of what I play; but something that would also allow me to begin working on my slap bass technique.  I've been dying to bust out my instructional DVD, and I didn't want to wait any longer.  So would these strings lower the action, the string tension, both or neither? Would it eliminate the buzz on the fretboard?  How would they sound playing pizz? Would it help me become more agile/precise with my runs? I felt that at $145 for a set, this was a bit of a gamble.

Here's what I found out about Innovation Silver Slaps (medium tension):
The disadvantages of the Silver Slaps compared to my old strings:

  •  My old metal wound strings are louder and have a bit more sustain than the Silver Slaps.
  •  The older strings have a bit more warmth to the sound.  There is a nice little "mwah" sound that the old strings make when sliding into a note; the same "mwah" that happens as the notes decay and resolve.  You can hear what I'm talking about on the first note of this tune.  That's not as evident with the Silver Slaps.
  • You can't really bow Silver Slaps because of what they're made of; but hell, I don't even own a bow.  So no biggie, but I wanted to mention it.
The advantages of the Silver Slaps compared to my old strings:
  • The pizz sound of these strings is great!  Very organic sounding; similar to how gut strings might sound.  My old strings were pretty bright sounding, the Silver Slaps are pleasantly mellower.  The attack of the notes starts with a nice little "thud" that I like so much.  Again, hard to explain.
  • I'm not sure the action is lower - it might be. But the string tension is a lot less!  But it's not so low that the strings feel floppy under my fingers.  I can be very physical when I play, and I like to wrestle a little with my bass. So some string tension is good, and Silver Slaps have just the right amount.
  • The buzzing is gone on the fingerboard.  This alone makes the purchase worth it.
  • These string are great for slapping.  They make the proper "ka-thunk" sound instead of the loud snap and pop of my old strings.  And, as advertised, they sound great for jazz as well.
  • I think my stamina is a bit better playing with these strings.  Sometimes muscles and tendons in forearms and hands are killing me when I finish playing; not with these strings.
  • For some reason, the Silver Slaps have given me the courage to attempt soloing.  I'm not saying I can solo worth a damn.  Yet.
The verdict is that these strings kick much ass!  Ultimately I will go back to metal strings.  In fact, I'll probably go back to the Obligatos, but I'll probably get the lower tension of those strings.  To me, metal strings are just how an upright should sound.  If you don't have that warmth, then it's just not the same.  In the meantime, because of the Sliver Slaps, I can't wait to play my bass these days.  They will do just fine for the next few years.

Those last lines sound so fucking corny I feel obligated to mention that Innovation strings is not reimbursing me in any way for my endorsement of their strings.  However, if they wish to, a representative from that company should leave a dollar amount in the comments section below.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Wayback Machine: October 2012

It might be a lazy cop out to do so, but let's see what I was thinkin' about a year ago at this time:

Full October 2012 archives here.

Take a look and let's remember these entries together, shall we?  And if you want to go waaayyy back, you can check out the October 2011 archives as well.