Monday, November 30, 2015

Have You Heard Of This Podcast Thing All The Kids Are Into?

I've never been into podcasts.  Don't get me wrong - I love the idea of podcasts.  It's hands free entertainment that allows you to move about and still be stimulated/engaged.  But it just never caught on.  I feel the judgments of millions of white bread folks like me when I say that "Serial" did nothing for me.  I walked away after an episode and a half.  Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast boasted some amazing guests, but I got so sick of listening to him interrupt his guests and dwell on his own neurosis that I couldn't make it through more than one.  He reminded me too much of fucking Richard Lewis, who drove me nuts with all his yammering.  Other podcasts had lousy production or a lack of energy - both traits are major deal breakers for me, even if the content is allegedly good.  Hell, I can't even tell you what those podcasts were because I only listened to them for a few seconds.  There was one podcast I thought was pretty good - the Kinsey Institute's podcast - but they're very short.  By the time you get settled in, they're over.  I stopped looking into podcasts after awhile.  It seemed like a genre that only hipsters and librarians could get into.  No offense to either of those crowds.  It's like the audio version of whatever introspective, sci-fi TV show that is popular at the moment:  it always seems pretty cool, but it just felt like after awhile you try too hard to like it.

I decided to give podcasts another shot when I agreed to help my brother move from his house in Florida back to Indiana.  I would be following the box truck he was driving in his car, a 2009 Chevy Malibu with a really kick ass stereo that would allow me to play audio from my phone or a USB drive.  After doing some Googling and soliciting input from co-workers, I found some great podcasts.  They were funny, thought provoking and entertaining - all critical things to keep me awake on a 21 hour trip with an average speed of 50 mph.  Here's what I listened to:

  • Hardcore History With Dan Carlin.  I've been listening to the "Blueprint For Armageddon" episodes, which are about World War I.  They are extremely detailed - I'm on episode two, and I've been listening to it for almost six hours already.  The sources Carlin uses are vivid, fleshing out a topic that can be pretty unwieldy and dry.  The motivations and action become clearer, and it's quite easy to draw parallels from W.W. I to what is going on today.  There are some things about this podcast I don't like - the episodes are way too long, and how Carlin pronounces the word "again" is distracting as hell.  I'm beginning to see that Carlin is a bit of a war fetishist.  War fetishism seems to be all that passes for "history" these days, and that really bums me out.  I'm willing to give him a little bit of a pass because at least he gives some attention to the human suffering of the war.  But so far, I've found his coverage to be a little one dimensional, yet still entertaining.  Definitely worth a listen.
  • How Did This Get Made?  "How Did This Get Made" looks at how shitty movies and TV shows - I mean exceptionally shitty movies and shows - ever made it out of the script writing phase, let alone the production phase.  Like "Mystery Science Theater 3000", HDTGM turns utterly forgettable, pathetic movies like "Tango and Cash" and a live action He-Man (starring Dolph Lundgren and Courtney Cox) into fodder for brilliant humor. 
  • WTF With Marc Maron.  Yep, he still interrupts.  He still yammers and puts words in his guests' mouths.  But I'll level with you:  Maron is easy for me to relate to.  He's a very likable dude.  He's honest about his own shortcomings without seeming whiny or self indulgent.  (Thus making him different than fucking Richard Lewis.)  He seems to genuinely like his guests, and it shows.  He is appreciative of their time and really seems interested  in what his guests have to say.  And damn if he doesn't get the best guests out there.  I mean, for God's sake, he interviewed Obama in his garage.  I listened to the interview with Elvis Costello as well as his "double header" interview with Richard Thompson and Lemmy Kilmister.  And if you were wondering, Lemmy is as cool as is public persona seems.  I've changed my mind about his podcast.
  • Because I have family reading this - quite possibly impressionable nieces and nephews - the other podcast I listened to shall remain unnamed.  It was a live contest that featured erotic fan fiction.  The winner of the contest was determined by the crowd.  Calling it "erotic fan fiction" was a little misleading - it was more like prepared stand up that contestants read.  It was really just dark, hilarious, sexual stories about people in the news.  Unless you've got pretty thick skin, this will probably be pretty offensive to you.  I found it pretty funny though.
There you go.  Check these podcasts out.  It'll show you that someone's doing podcasts right.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Excerpts From "The Greatest Of All Time: A Shared Journal"

On Christmas Day, 2004 I tore through some wrapping paper to find this, a gift from my wife:

It is a journal she had made for me called "The Greatest of All Time:  A Shared Journal".  I had to smile.  You see, she was poking fun at me for declaring whatever stroked my passions to be "the greatest of all time". Example:  "'Quadrophenia' is the greatest rock album adapted for the screen of all time."  Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly strongly about something, I'd throw in a qualifier like:  "(thing) is the greatest (type of thing) of all time; any artist, any genre."  Example:  "'Beyond The Sea' is the greatest song of all time, any artist, any genre."  or something like that.  She summarized the intent of the journal thusly in the card that was glued inside the back cover:
"December, 2004.  Merry Christmas, Matty! I
hope this gift appeals to your love of writing and
your seeming delight in declaring things 'the greatest
_____ of all time!'  These are 2 of the many aspects
of you that I love & admire a lot!  May 2005 be
as wonderful as each day has been since our
reconnection in Albuquerque.  I love you, your MB"

The journal was full of prompts that we'd both take a page to answer and give our respective views. It's a damn clever idea and a damned fine and creative gift.  I love it.  Some of the entries we've both done are:

  • The greatest movie of all time that made you cry  (I wrote about "The Razor's Edge", she wrote about "Terms of Endearment".)
  • The greatest beer of all time (I said Sierra Nevada Pale Ale; she wrote about Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome and Rogue Dead Guy Ale.  We've both grown a lot since then. . . .)
There are plenty of other entries that one or the other of us (but not both of us) has written about; and still many more unanswered entries that are thought provoking enough that we've both decided we'll probably start this journal again.  Some of the entries we've completed we'd answer differently now, but sort of the fun of going back and looking at journals is to see how you were "back then".  As this blog is about the reflections of all things sonic in my life, I thought I'd share a couple of sound related entries that we actually have completed.

The Greatest Camp Song of All Time:
(Background:  Mary Beth and I were both camp counselors; that's where we met.  Throughout the summer, you hear many of the same campfire songs.  Naturally, some become favorites.)
MB's Pick:  "Oowee"  (Known to those outside of camp circles as Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere") She says:  "I have to go with "Oowee" for this one.  Maybe because it's the only song besides "Ode To Joy" that I learned on guitar.  It's a great song and one as sang at campfire when I was a kid!
Matt's Pick:  "If I Had A Hammer"  I wrote:  "Reasons why "If I Had A Hammer" is the greatest camp song of all time:
  1. It's really fun to play on guitar.
  2. Bm chords separates the players from the cheaters.
  3. CYO Camp's (camp where we worked) version sounds infinitely better that Peter, Paul and Mary's.
  4. Great old skool activist lyrics may have influenced other great songs like "Put The Message In The Box" by World Party.  [Note:  not sure how I came to that conclusion, but there you go.]
  5. I really like it when the kids shout the words "SONG. TO.  SING." before singing the phrase "all over this land".
The Greatest Rock N' Roll Song Of All Time:
MB's Pick:  "Thunder Road" by Bruce Springsteen.  She wrote:  "Has to be something by Bruce.  I love songs with lots of words - lyrics that just stream on and on.  And I love songs that tell a story.  And I love Bruce!  I like the way he uses people's names in songs, like Mary, Wendy and Eddie.  I like that he gives away a lot of $$$ without a lot of fanfare.  I like that he's from New Jersey.  I like that he spoke out for Kerry and against Bush in the 2004 election."
Matt's Pick:  "My Generations" by the Who.  I wrote:  "Reasons why "My Generation" is the greatest rock n' roll song of all time:
  1. Greatest bass solo of all time.  (duh!)
  2. It's less of a song and more of a manifesto or "flipping of the bird"
  3. Unorthodox singing style
  4. The power chord freakout at the end.
  5. The fact that no one has adequately covered it is a testament to its "kick ass-ness".
There are plenty of other opportunities in this journal to sound off on music (and many other topics).  As we kick it back into gear, I'll report back with our respective takes.  What's your take?  Sound off in the comments section!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How Am I Doing? Revisiting My Audio New Year's Resolutions

We're hurtling towards 2016, man.  What happened to your New Year's resolutions?  How'd you do?  I wrote a bit about mine in January of this year.  These are my goals for 2015 in just the world of sound.  I haven't thought much about them, which doesn't bode well.  But let's double check - what's done?  What remains to be done?  Here's the score:
  • Buy a new, larger capacity SD card for the 4-track recorder.  Done.
  • Learn how to bounce tracks on the 4-track recorder.  Not done.
  • Learn how to master tracks on the 4-track recorder before exporting them to the computer.  Not done.
  • Get crack in the top of my ukulele fixed, or replace the uke altogether.  Not done.  This one bears further discussion though.  I did get an estimate for repairing the top from a local violin maker - $75.  Honestly, it's probably more than the uke is worth, but as that instrument was a gift from my wife on my 38th birthday, it means a lot to me.  I will probably go forward with getting it fixed.  Besides, I'm totally enamored with it - love the look, love the sound.  I look at ukes a lot, but really, I'm completely happy with the one I have.  I probably won't buy another one, at least not until I get my current uke fixed.  It means too much to me, and it's a decent, mid-tier ukulele.  I play it everyday, so it's worth it.  I just have to get it fixed.  So it is possible I could still take care of this one before we ring in a new year.
  • Make a cardboard upright bass from scratch.  Not done.  Oddly, I don't feel super compelled to knock this one out.  Maybe though.  It would be a fun instrument.
  • Record one ukulele multi-track a month.  Not even close.  'Nuff said.  It's funny - this is doable because I play my uke almost every day.  Oh well.
  • Learn the bass lines for every song on a given album.  Not done.  Still could be though.  
Wow.  I didn't get shit done.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that I kept busy with gigs (many of which I didn't bother to write about), I started a design collaboration of a fretless electric bass guitar that my brother Karl will build, I working on some recording projects (hope to be uploading some next month) and I've worked with some new gadgets and software (got my sweet USB mic to work with my phone).  I've also put some apps on my phone that allow me to use the mic to get high quality recordings (look for some Audio Scratch Pad entries soon) and even multi-track on my damn phone!  These are truly wondrous times in which we live.  I just need to take advantage of it and use my time better.