Wed Feb 22 2023 20:54:20 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
tags: pdx snow weather volunteering
These photos were taken about 3.5 hours and 10 miles apart:
Weather changes pretty quickly in PDX! We were still cold while volunteering at the community garden down in Milwaukie today, but it wasn't snowy. The drive home took much, much longer than it ever should have...but now we have a TON of snow.
Tue Feb 21 2023 22:29:13 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
tags: noise audio piezo microphones
Finally starting a process of building a small collection of ACTUALLY USABLE diy contact microphones.
The ones pictured here will have some strain relief before being plasti-dipped.
I've built these over the years, but never of any decent quality. In fact, I think the one I made
back in 2005 when I made the
Liar's Rail recording just had some exposed solid-conductor twisted pair wire hanging off it (recycled phone cord or ethernet I think).
So any time in the last couple of years that I've reached for one in the parts bin it seems to always be screwed up and doesn't work right. That frustration plus a small surplus of discs remaining from Wacky Willy's days provoked this process.
It's purely an aesthetic choice, but I now totally love cables with nylon sleeves over them now. This is my first time actually hacking/reusing some cable like that. I think maybe the right thing to do is to buy the sleeving separately, but I got lazy and hurried into buying a longer prefab cable for reuse. It's fine and totally workable, but some cable does get wasted due to fraying. If you look carefully in the photo above, one of the mics has a larger black piece of heat shrink covering some area where the sleeve didn't stretch as much as I had expected. I think it won't matter much once it's dipped, but there's a learning process here for me.
Tonight was also my first attempt at recording directly from the contact mics with the Zoom H2n. The default mic power was enabled, and the sound was very clear and loud. Stoked it worked so well.
I intend to also build some other formats, like:
Sat Dec 31 2022 22:59:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
I don't normally like to do the whole "End of Year" review that everyone does, but given the pandemic, I've reflected back on 2022 and realized that, compared to the prior two years, it was quite a busy and exciting time.
So why the hell not. Let's do this.....what did I get up to? AKA "better late than never" AKA "here are all the things I didn't blog about during the year"...
Well, the new year started off with a continuation of the virtual biweekly (and sometimes weekly) Cult Movie Night I've been hosting online with a handful of friends. This became a tradition in the middle of 2020 during the wild times of early covid. The process involves me selecting some gory or bonkers underground psychotronic film to watch, transcoding it, and then spinning up an ephemeral cloud instance for a few hours in order to run Owncast, a self-hosting video streaming service. The centralized streaming allows us to do a coordinated screening without having to distribute files to folks in advance or to synchronize playback.
I've also continued collecting cult movie trailers that I play before the movie starts. I've gathered more than 380 trailers now. If played back to back, it would be more than 12.5 hours!
I learned about the existence of some awesome online classes with Atlas Obscura and found one called "Composing Experimental Music (with Jaime Stewart of Xiu Xiu)". I've been a fan of Xiu Xiu for more than a decade, so this seemed really interesting. From the course outline, I wasn't 100% sure how much of the techniques/materials would be new to me, but I liked the idea of using a class to provide a regular cadence for creative sessions and deadlines for doing homework as motivator.
And it worked! I made several recordings and blogged about the process back in February. It was really pretty fantastic and I enjoyed it. My intention to assemble some of the work into an official Infiltration Lab release did not happen, though. Oh well.
Check out the blogs here for more details and delicious sounds: 1, 2, 3, 4
In the middle of February I dragged a dozen friends out into the cold to ride around on bicycles and celebrate my birthday. Coincidentally, this was also the end of the Portland Winter Light Festival and our route took us to a bunch of different public light-based art installations.
This was also the final days of the 2022 Midnight Bicycle League challenge, which is a fun/relaxed challenge related to riding bicycles at night during the winter.
Here is a photo of me before the ride, and a drawing I submitted in my journal for the MBL:
This was the most fun I've had on my birthday in a VERY long time!
Walla Walla is a real place, but I had never visited. I discovered that Vicki Bennett/People Like Us (a cut-up/sound/video/multimedia mashup artist whose work I appreciate) was doing a solo show and weekend of events in early March at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. After a couple of years of being cooped up at home, not traveling, not doing things, I decided to say fuck it and decided to go on my own. As much as I love my people, it was nice to not coordinate plans and to just escape with myself for a while.
The weekend was awesome! On the artistic front, there was a screening of Nothing Can Turn Into A Void, a documentary about Vicki Bennett's work followed by a Q&A session with Wobbly. The following day was a screening of "The Mirror" and a live performance by Negativland with Sue-C doing live visuals. And on the last night was a live broadcast on the college radio station. All of these were super friendly, accessible, and had a right-sized kinda college art program feel. Loved it!
The gallery show was a force of nature. In a small space, it gave the viewer a glimpse into the depths of Vicki's collection and exposed some of her creative process. In addition to the physical printed paper MIND MAPS were a couple (few?) screening rooms showing a selection of her films, some with headphones, some without. Sometimes the audio bleeding between screens was just amazing. There was also a very nicely done larger wide-format installation (and I think edited excerpt?) of "The Mirror".
I also used the opportunity of being in Eastern WA to go snowboarding at Blue Mountain, a short drive from Walla Walla. It was my first time on a snowboard in about 15 years, and I managed not to die nor get too banged up. It was also my first time snowboarding with a helmet. :) The conditions were damn near perfect, I got there right as they opened, and because it was a random weekday it was not crowded all morning (and I never waited for the lift). After 6 or 7 runs, I was pretty exhausted and wrapped it up not long after lunch. But look at this freshly groomed run:
While in Walla Walla, I also made a point of visiting the Museum of Unnatural History, a dadaist/surrealist one-man gallery of oddities and strange peculiarities. I was in awe at the scale and density of the place, and I have an affinity to Dadaism. This spot felt a lot like the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, but with more "wow look at how this has been cultvated over 50(?) years"!
The very elderly owner was nice (not as grumpy/playful as some visitors had previously reported), and he chatted with me for quite a while while I browsed around, and at one point asked if I liked the gallery enough to buy it. He said that he'd been trying to find some person/group to continue it because he's too old, but was frequently hitting friction due to the sexual and racial content (exploitation) in more than just a few of the works. No shit.
Apparently the museum is now permanently closed, which is a shame, and I'm fortunate to have visited while it was still around.
On the way back to Portland, on a beautiful day, I made a short stop along the Columbia river to hike up the Twin Sisters.
In the Spring, there were a variety of shenanigans...
After 10 years of tolerating the childlike teal color of my home office (came with the house), I finally decided to paint something of my own adult choosing. I was inspired by a video walkthru of Guillermo Del Toro's "Bleak House" and loved the wall color, so I straight up matched it. I love how it turned out and just how much more comfortable and warm this room seems now.
Sadly, my friend Chris died unexpectedly from heart problems. It was especially sad for me because even though I had met him for coffee a few months prior, we had plans to play some tabletop games a few weeks later. There was a nice military funeral at the national cemetary on Mt. Scott, and the only upside was that I was able to connect with some distant work friends from the FlightStats days. I miss you, Chris...you were one unique kind of weirdo, and we made some timeless memories.
In April, I got to see Asuna perform "100 Keyboards" at PICA. In this work, the artist has a large mandala style arrangement of 100 keyboards that they turn on one at a time, each with one or two keys pressed with clips or sticks. As you can imagine, the process is not rapid, and it takes time to build up all 100, during which time the audience is able to explore the space and find interesting points of sonic intersection. After all keyboards are finally sounding together, the process is reversed, and one is sequentially turned off again. I enjoyed it tremendously!
Also in April, I took a short trip to San Jose to meet with some of my work colleagues, none of whom I had yet met in person. This included the engineering director who hired me (based out of New Hampshire), and also my boss, who is based in Poland! It was nice to have some true IRL face-to-face time finally with colleagues from a highly distributed team. As far as cities go, San Jose mostly sucks and I wouldn't really recommend it unless work is involved. :) We made the most of it.
In May, I saw Frontline Assembly at the Hawthorne Theater with my friend Nick (Sun Tunnel). And then just a few days later I got to meet the legendary LLOYD KAUFMAN at Portland's historic Movie Madness. Mr. Kaufman signed my VHS copy of The Toxic Avenger and later that night we saw a screening of Shakespeare's Shitstorm at the badass Hollywood Theatre. Wow, that's a day not soon forgotten.
At the end of May we enjoyed a waterlogged camping/party adventure on my friend Chad's property in Rowena along the Columbia River Gorge. The place is absolutely beautiful and Chad and Andrea are unmatchable hosts. We ended up only staying one night, but managed to catch up with friends we hadn't seen much of since the pandemic started, and I stayed up all night. The tent got flooded, the boy slept in the car, and I found out like 2.5 days later that I had a tick lodged in my back. First tick bite for me that I know of, and actually kinda stressful thinking about Lime disease...but Stacy removed it safely and I had a follow up with doctors who didn't seem worried. For now. :-/ Maybe one day I'll morph into a superhero and get a friend named Arthur...
And then already June was here. Pedalpalooza got underway, I got to see America's funny man Neil Hamburger perform live, and I potted some spicy pepper plants: Serrano, jalapeno, birds eye, habanero, and ghost pepper.
I'm sometimes rolling around with a group of friends and work colleagues (nerds) on bicycles. We're loosely assembled into a goofy/fun/ragtag group of morons that rides bikes, with or without purpose, and we sweat it out and try to have beers after. Like other pandemic years, we also hung out a lot this year and did quite a few rides together.
Some memorable ones (and others not mentioned!):
The summer of 2022 was a fun and long one, filled with an extended dry/hot spell and finishing up with some smoke from forest fires (which has apparently started to become the norm). In spite of all that, we had a good time. Some highlights to follow:
The Monitorama conference was back in Portland in person this year, and I attended in early June. It's a great, single-track, grassroots conference centered around software observability and monitoring of software systems. It was my first in-person conference since the pandemic started, and even though all-day masking wasn't super fun, the conference was great and I made some new friends. My grandboss came to give a talk, and I reconnected with my friend MJ, who I worked with at Adidas. I also ran into my buddy Derek, who I worked with at the startup Qsent in the early 2000s, and I also met some OpenTelemetry folks in person. I was especially impressed at the skills of the in-person realtime sign language interpreters...it was amazing that they were able to keep up with the rapid-fire jargon.
Great conference, I highly recommend and look forward to going again (next year?).
I took 2 trips to Seattle this summer. In late August, Elijah and I took bikes on Amtrak and checked out two Mariners games in two days. When not at the ballpark, we played pinball at Shortys and slept at the classic Moore Hotel after heckling Hanson fans coming out of the venue next door. We missed out on the Ichiro bobble heads (not that we wanted to haul them around on bikes anyway!), but we did manage to catch a bunch of the pregame commemoration and got to hear him say some words, so that was pretty sweet.
For the second trip in September, I drove up with my friend Alex and met up with friends Brian and Debbie to see Portion Control play at El Corazon. I thought the set was good but was surprised that the turnout was so small for such legends. Overall, I think we might have been a little underwhelmed, but the opening band Chrome Corps. had some pretty fun/odd energy with some solid industrial beats. Worth it. We got back into town in time to see our friend Eric play a synth set in a backyard.
Sadly, Portland doesn't have a pro baseball team, but we do have our very own Portland Pickles, a fun mostly college-off-season team. I only managed to make it to one game this season, but it's super fun and I want to try and go more next year!
When I was growing up and discovering my love of horror/grindhouse/psychotronic films, I spent a lot of time reading reviews from Joe Bob Briggs in the local free papers and watching Joe Bob's Drive In Theater in the '80s and '90s. I was stoked to learn that Joe Bob was doing a lecture and screening a double feature at The Hollywood Theater. This was the second time I had seen Joe Bob lecture at the theater, but only the first time I got to actually meet him. After the screening, I scored an autograph and Darcy ("the mailgirl") also signed it!
Some friends clued me into Nine Inch Nails playing at Edgefield, an outdoor venue in Troutdale, OR, and Jared was so nice to buy me a spendy presale ticket! It was my 3rd time seeing NIN (the first being 1991 Lollapalooza), and because so much time has passed I was pretty excited but honestly had pretty low expectations going in. I mean, NIN is almost certainly "dad rock" now, and some of the newer material doesn't work for me, but once the first song lit up and I followed my friend through the crowd to just a few rows away from the stage, I really had an amazing time. First large-scale show in a LOT of years! NIN really sounded fantastic, and even tho we're all older and production quality and values of course change over time, Trent is a professional who puts on a great show. NOT the low-energy phone-in I was worried about at all. They played all the hits and some surprises for sure.
My twist on "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is "When life gives you climate change, grow spicy peppers in the Pacific Northwest". As mentioned above, I started some peppers from store starts in the spring: Ghost pepper, habanero, jalapeno, bird's eye, and serrano). All in pots. I blogged earlier this year about the first yield of serranos that I turned into sauce. It was a classic but heat-forward taco sauce which I really loved. The birds eye and jalapeno also did very well, and the habanero went BONKERS! In addition to just munching on peppers and putting them in everything, I cooked quite a lot.
With the first harvest of birds eye peppers, I made a peri-peri sauce. This is a sauce that was new to me, but it sounded sooooo good that I had to try it. It originates from Portuguese + Africa, and is made mostly with charred/roasted red peppers and tomatoes, gets its heat from African birds eye chillies (peri peri), and is SUPER citrus forward via lemon and zest. I guess it's often used as a marinade that can crust up nice on a grill, but can also just be eaten as a condiment. I did both and shared some bottles with friends and I thought it was great. I saved one small jar for grilling in springtime. I think there's a lot of room for experimentation with this sauce, so I'm stoked to try it again. I used the late bumper crop of birds eye to make a sichuan crispy garlic infused peanut oil.
I tried making something spicy, delicious, and more long lived by upping the acidity of a habanero pineapple sauce. I was really happy with the sauce and had so much that I was able to bike it around to gift to friends. I am still eating it here in December....tho it might be a bit tingly, perhaps it's fermenting a bit. :) A bunch of the other habs I dehydrated and turned into power/flake for later sprinkling.
This ghost pepper, though. Sheesh. It was a wildcard to begin with, I suppose, but I took care of it and it grew into a beautiful plant...one that yielded exactly TWO fruit. One of them was pecked (and ruined) by birds (not sure if crow or chicken), and the other one limped along to ripeness at the very end of summer. What do you do with one single stupid Bhut Jolokia? Well, you just eat it, I guess. After lunch one workday I washed, chewed, and ate the ghost pepper. Even as someone pretty well versed in the spice, this was pretty hectic. Apparently the ghost pepper can vary, but this tasted like perfume sprayed on soap, and it was a pringley pokey kind of stabby-hot that continued growing in intensity not dimension. It's fine, but do not recommend. I might try and grow them again sometime, but honestly, I don't know what I'd do if it yielded 50+ fruit like the epic habanero did...
Toorcamp is the American hacker camp. Inspired by the Dutch and German hacker camps, it's an outdoor camping festival for hackers of all kinds. Toorcamp has been running every 2 years since 2009, and like everything else, got fucked up by COVID-19 and delayed and delayed and finally made it work again this year. I've been to them all (including the virtual one in 2020), so this was a nice and cathartic reunion for the cabal. This one was again on Orcas island off the peninsula of Washington. It's beautiful up there!
In prior years, we had hunkered under the DorkbotPDX moniker, as a group of like-minded nerds hacking on junk and experimenting with art and tech (our conjoined siblings include The Church of Robotron and Futel). This year we were "House Of Pong", bastard children of #503 and loosely thinking about retro tech and analog videogames. Small and disorganized, or rightly sized and pragmatic. I dunno. Fucking oppressive zeitgeist -- We made it work anyway, brought way too much gear, surprisingly enough beer, and had an awesome camp.
Jesse and I taught an intro do Pure Data workshop and had a modest turnout. We've done several workshops on Pd over the years but this was the shortest (others were like 3-4 hours?) and the environment was super diy/ragtag (fighting for equipment/support and noisy neighbors and so many things). People were interested and engaged and I liked our demos a lot (props to jmej on the lights!).
The NightMarket was awesome, and it was fun to play with ShadyTel's expansion into bullshit currency and payment systems to foster a fringe-ass economy. It's a travesty that their focus on profit and status has almost completely shadowed the consumer's ability to actually get basic service provisioned. We greased palms, we worked the bureaucracy, none of it mattered, and by the time we got working copper pair service the camp was almost over! Heh. This really does amplify the importance of competition in the hacker-camp-twisted-pair-phone-service marketplace.
Other memorable points include the amazing computers set up by the Unix Haters group (and an arcade!)...and the Voight/Kampff testing facility, where you might discover if you're a replicant (I'm not telling!). The Psychoholics "Side Quests" was quite well done IMO and they made it both human and fun.
Time distortion has carried over from the COVID-19 quarantine days, so it's still challenging to piece together a sensical timeline. I guess these are the highlights...
My friends Cameron and Molly got married in September. I was lucky enough to join in Cameron's bachelor party, where we did the goofy-yet-fun bicycle barcrawl thing (you know, the big table with pedal seats), hit some karaoke later on. I bought the first suit I've ever owned, and Stacy and I went to the wedding. Those two sure know how to put on a show and have a great time.
In addition to a couple smaller/underground shows, I also saw The Legendary Pink Dots, a unique band that's been doing their thing for a very long time. Edward Ka-Spel still has an amazing voice, and although it'll never be the same without The Silver Man or Niels van Hornblower, I liked the set.
In support of my employer and some work I do with the OpenTelemetry community, I traveled to Detroit for KubeCon NA and for OTel Unplugged, an unconference. It was great meeting several of my work colleagues for the first time face-to-face, and other folks from the OpenTelemetry world. It was my first time in Detroit, and it was fun to poke around the city when not doing work stuff. I ate Detroit style pizza while in actual Detroit. We walked thru the GM plaza on our way to the restaurant one night and saw a bunch of concept cars. The riverwalk downtown was just awesome, looking out across the river south to Canada! My hacker friends put me up for a couple nights after the conference, and they showed me the real Detroit. We got a Coney (dog) at Duly's Place (apparently world famous!), visited the Heidelberg Project and walked through a graffiti park near their neighborhood. For dinner, we hit a taqueria in the Mexican part of town and the food was sooooo goooood. Some board games, homemade schnitzel, and time in the hot tub just to round things off! Thanks!
Jesse and I sourced the boards, parts, and enclosures to build and assemble this patchable drone synthesizer called The Recursive Machine. This is a patchable synth by The Human Comparator (THC), a Swedish designer. What's pretty great about the Recursive Machine is that it sounds great out of the box with no patches, due to its internal default routing. It's "recursive" in that it has many layers of feedback paths, to give it a really deep/rich drone sound through the filter, distortion, reverb, delays, etc. It took several nights of soldering to complete the build, and then a couple more to troubleshoot and discover that some ICs I bought from China (on eBay) were counterfeits and don't work. Ugh. Fixed that up and now it sounds great! It was a challenge to mount the boards in the case, the fit is way way too tight (tolerances should be dramatically increased). I've spent a little time playing it, and look forward to using it more next year!
And then below I blogged about taking part in Inktober, a friendly challenge to create an ink drawing based on a prompt for every day of October. It was nice getting back into sketching, and I'm looking forward to doing more of that in my free time (hah!).
We spent Stacy's birthday at a lovely cabin in Rhododendron, OR. It was very peaceful and we feasted and played board games and card games and read books. There was snow on the ground, but it was comfortable to hike in, so I took a nice long walk and made a 1 hour field recording (which I haven't yet released).
During the holiday break, I studied up and got my technician class ham radio license. I was required to get one as part of my college studies, but I let it lapse long ago.
Something I never did when I was younger, that I find joy in now, is volunteering. It's really been rewarding to put a little bit of myself into projects that benefit a larger cause.
I've been working with Futel for several years now, and this year was awesome. We installed a couple new public payphones in Portland, we helped to decommission deprecated hardware in the field, and I continued sometimes hacking on the usage software. It's not great, but it's improved slightly this year and I am looking forward to continuing making it better next year. We also helped expand the reach with a silly Futel themed Pedalpalooza ride.
In addition to supporting the Community Cycling Center with donations, I also volunteered time to walk around and sell 50/50 raffle tickets at a Blazers game. This was at an odd time when people were just barely starting to get back into public events, but it was definitely not full swing, and it was honestly a little hard to sell people on raffle tickets while masked. We had a decent night, and though I forget the final number, we did raise a good chunk of money for a good cause. I also brought together a crew to participate in the scavenger hunt, all for the benefit of the CCC.
Using volunteer days through work, I organized a day of removing invasive ivy from a Forest Park trailhead. I think I managed to get got 5 or 6 of my (remote) colleagues to show up in person too get messy and work their arms pulling this gnarly ivy. English ivy is everywhere, and although it seems overwhelming, every little bit helps, and it's fun to be outdoors making the park a nicer place. By the time we finished that day, it was VERY noticeable how much of an improvement we had made.
I also brought colleagues in Portland together to volunteer at Free Geek, a nonprofit that specializes in recycling and equitable repurposing of technology. In addition to keeping tech junk out of landfills, they also build inclusive education programs and have excellent community support. Again, I think I got maybe 5 or 6 colleagues out for a day of volunteering, which took various forms (for example, I tested and categorized a shitton of HDMI switch boxes). I was particularly impressed by FreeGeek's secure data handling protocols and how serious they treat customer data privacy.
Anyway, that's it for 2022...it's been a good one. See you in 2023!
Tue Nov 08 2022 19:00:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
Just a short update. I took part in Inktober this year. What's Inktober? A loosely organized effort to get people to practice their ink drawing skills. So there's a predefined prompt every day, and every day you do a drawing based on that prompt.
Here is a link to my 31 drawings.
It was fun getting back into drawing...I really hadn't done much of it in the last 20 years. I'm my own biggest critic, but I'm happy with how many of them turned out. And I appreciated the chance to try some new things and improve some technique.
Looking forward to doing it again next year!
Sun Sep 11 2022 21:08:54 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
I took advantage of the miserable climate change situation to grow some hot peppers this summer. I grew 5 kinds of peppers, just planted from young starts into pots around the beginning of summertime. The ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) plant was quite a failure (only 2 fruit on the entire healthy plant, which don't seem to want to ripen yet), but the rest did quite well...especially since I'm such a novice and I've only grown peppers maybe once or twice before.
First up, a very modest and reasonable harvest of serrano chili peppers. I have been picking a pepper here and there not sure what yet to do with these, other than throw them randomly into foods. Finally decided to make some hot sauce!
Here's the first main harvest, along with some additional ingredients for the sauce (water/vinegar/salt/spices not shown):
There are still maybe 5-10 smaller/younger viable peppers on the plant that I'll wait a bit longer to harvest.
The mostly followed this recipe but I quadrupled the garlic and I used half an onion instead of a quarter and I used Italian oregano because we didn't have Mexican oregano on hand (I know, I'm sorry, I am a monster). This is a vinegar-based sauce, but I'm not sure the pH is high enough for long term storage.
I bought a case of "woozy bottles" locally from FH Steinbart in Portland and managed to make just under 3 bottles.
I'm quite happy with how this turned out. The taste is flavorful... and hot! Next up will either be a peri peri sauce from the birds eye chilies I grew, or one or two types of habanero sauce. Stoked!
Sun Mar 13 2022 20:00:00 GMT-0700 (Pacific Daylight Time)
Last week was the fourth and final week for the experimental music course I've been taking. Due to being busy with other things, I had put off the "homework" for a week and got back to experimentation this weekend.
Last week's lesson was all about synth techniques. What a doozy! I feel like that's a very difficult subject to cram into a 90 minute session. Even if you can be certain that people have some exposure to basic signal theory and techniques, it's really difficult to describe a patch and there's definitely some problems around expecting people to have access to specific modules (are formant and shepherd filters that commonplace? lol). As an exhibition, it was very cool...but as a teaching/learning session, I think it was a bit of a stretch.
I did 3 or 4 different patches, one of which was strongly inspired by one of Jamie Stewart's example patches in the class (although I made a couple small tweaks). I took some of the session audio and arranged it into this rough track:
Direct links to files here: flac mp3
Honestly, in a pretty dark place while making these. Stoked with how they turned out, but the mix could use a lot of love, something that I'm not going to put time into right now though.
Sun Feb 27 2022 21:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
tags: music noise percussion audio sound
This week's "homework" for the experimental music course was pretty deep and had 5 possible assignments. One of these was to compose and record a short piece of music using only percussion (using techniques covered in class).
I'm not really a percussionist, so this seemed like a good challenge. Here is the final recording of what I ended up putting together this afternoon. Give it a listen while you read about the process below.
I think I remember my brother telling me that he was in the music program at the University of Oregon with Ches Smith, and that Ches used to gig with a sawblade used as a crash or a bell or something. Since much of our course material involved really nice shiny percussion instruments that I definitely do not own, I figured I would still give it an honest attempt starting with this sawblade as inspiration. I had an old/used skill saw blade around, and started by suspending that from the rafter.
Initial experiments showed that it sounded pretty good and had a nice ringing bell sound. When a playing it close to the microphone, however, the swinging and spinning made it pretty hard to capture the sound. I ended up adding a second tie to prevent it from rotating, and that helped a lot.
I also suspended a piece of sheet aluminum that have cut up previously for making eurorack faceplates. I didn't want to drill holes in it, so I first tried to compression fit two nuts on a bolt on either side. That failed horribly and quite dangerously. :) I instead used needle-nose vice grips and suspended it via that. The rich gong sound from a simple flat rectangular piece of aluminum was pretty surprising (to me)!
I also had the brass frame from a decorative air plant holder that a friend had gifted me several years ago. That was already hanging in the shop, so I used that as well since it had a nice triangle sound.
I think I recorded like 14 or 15 tracks and ended up using these final 11:
The track breakdown is something like this:
Aside from some pretty flagrant reverb on the sticks and a couple level adjustments, everything is just as I recorded it -- no edits, all timing mistakes are mine to own. As such, it is raw and could certainly using some mixing/equalizing at the very least, but I'm really happy with how it turned out.
Future improvements -- with more time, I hope to do some more experimentation with the sawblade, perhaps figuring out how to mount horizontally more like a cymbal. I will also experiment with adding loose screw/nut combinations to the blade to add some rattle or odd dampening. I think there is a notable lack of low-end bass in this work, and I've long wanted to experiment with tubular bass cannon type drums...so that would be another future experiment.
It was also clear from this experiment that the microphone I've used is wrong for this type of work. It's much much too directional and lots of tone was lost as the instruments changed their position or rotated. Something with a broader direction could have compensated for and possibly maintained some of the interesting tonal changes that were happening as things moved around (this was lost in process).
That's it for now. More homework later this week or next week!
Tue Feb 22 2022 21:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
As I mentioned in the last blog, I'm taking a zoom course on Composing Experimental Music, we have optional "homework" assigned -- which is really a set of flexible techniques to experiment with and explore timbre.
In class, Jamie demonstrated several means of exploring amp feedback width stringed instruments (including the immediately recognizable autoharp!), and I really don't have any viable stringed instruments right now. I really wanted to make one out of scrap wood and rubber bands, but time didn't afford that this cycle (I hope to revisit sometime soon). It occurred to me that the springs inside the spring reverb tank might behave a little bit like oddly shaped "strings", so I performed some feedback experimentation.
In this experiment, I left the reverb tank input open, so all sound was internally generated through mechanical vibration of the springs -- either through externally tapping with hand or drumstick, or by the speaker vibrations resonating with the coils. This is what I had really hoped to explore.
I absolutely LOVE the industrial echoing machinery sounds of the spring reverb, but I wasn't going for that this time around.
I got some interesting resonances by playing with various effects settings and modulating the position of the tank and riding the effects controls (mostly volume).
From this experiment, I have put together one rushed/stupid video and one clip of excerpts.
I later set the amp on its back and had the tank sitting on the mesh facing down/vertical. This allowed me to adjust positions while being more able to monitor the effects controls with two hands. I worked with several varied effects modes, but mostly used the downward pitch shift in hopes of getting a lower frequency bass response and reducing the high-pitch static feedback tone that everybody can picture in their head right now.
It was a much longer session, but here are several edited excerpts:
Direct link is here: Homework 02b
I am pleased with the resonant tones/outcome of this experiment, and I believe that additional exploration with a bass cabinet or feeding back through a transducer (possibly through mechanical linkages of odd varieties) could yield even more interesting timbres.
Sun Feb 20 2022 00:30:00 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
I'm taking Jamie Stewart's course on Composing Experimental Music, and it's already halfway through and I'm enjoying it tremendously. It's blazingly fast paced and is covering a TON of ground on so many varied topics really quickly.
All of the "homework" is optional and this course is just not for credit or anything, but one of the reasons I wanted to take it was to be exposed to some new possibilities and to nudge myself to do some more experimentation.
For the first assignment, I decided to dust off a synthesizer I built 20 years ago, the triwave picoswash. I ran it through a modeling amplifier that was scrounged from a dumpster that I later repaired (tho it's still fucked up, only one of the digits on the display is working). Jamie covered a little about frequency beating (not a new concept, but one I haven't explored much recently), so I decided to spend some time de/tuning the two sides of the triwave into giving some interesting beat patterns.
Of course, the triwave always sounds better when patched through the noise swash, and then I ran the amp in a reverb/delay mode with the parameters up basically all the way (tho it's hard to be sure with the broken display, heh).
So here's a brief clip from that session, just recorded on a phone:
The second class gave several assignments, and one of them involved capturing a field recording and then turning it into a composition using the DAW. It was a rather slow and mostly quiet Friday afternoon in my neighborhood, but I managed to get some sounds recorded and turned them into this piece here:
Here is the direct link to mp3 here: Homework 02a
I'm pleased with the way it turned out! I wanted to make some musique concrète while keeping some aspects of the source material clearly audible. I wanted it to sound like a field recording, but with some enhanced editing/mixing/structure/interest.
There are several more parts to the "homework" (all of it is optional, for fun/learning/experimentation), I have a bit more to finish up and share. More to come in a following blog entry.
Fri Jan 14 2022 22:04:03 GMT-0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
In the fall of 2007 I was working at a job that took me out to the Portland suburbs. I sometimes commuted in a car with a coworker and sometimes I took public transit -- both seemed to take around 45-60 minutes each way, and neither was super pleasant. The trip on TriMet was fine (but slow) and I had to transfer twice which made the travel time less stable.
A colleague suggested that I should try commuting to save some time. I thought they were insane -- no way could riding a bike be faster than cars, busses, or trains, right? The idea was to ride from home to the Goose Hollow train stop and then take the train the rest of the way. I didn't own a bike at the time (and hadn't for more than 10 years!), but I was into experimenting with this commuting idea. I wasn't exactly a stranger to bike commuting (I rode a beach cruiser to the next town when I was in college in Texas), but this was going to be different. I found a viable old steel bike on Craigslist, paid $90 for it, and started bike commuting.
The bike was a mid 1970s Raleigh Record, 27" inch steel wheels, steel frame, original cotter-pin cranks, built in England. I was able to use the stamp on the bottom bracket shell to date it to 1975 (I think).
Even though I was not bike fit, I was able to make the 6.5 mile ride each way to the train station, and surprisingly, it did shave about 15 minutes in commute time each way. Mainly, it was a gazillion times more enjoyable!
It didn't take long to sink a few hundred dollars in upgrades (new cranks, ditched the steel wheels, cables, cassette) and start riding somewhat regularly. I stuck with the bike commuting and before long it was the main way I got to work most days. I think that bike helped me to get to 4 other jobs over the following years, and I also took it on quite a few group rides in the city.
Sadly, in the summer of 2016 (less than 10 years later), a strange creaking sound developed and it wasn't long before the steering started feeling funny. Somehow, and not suddenly, the front fork had fatigued and cracked. It's unknown if the fork failure helped cause it, but the downtube also had a noticeable (albeit slight) bend. The fork was destroyed and the frame was bent. I got a few opinions and the consensus was that it wasn't worth fixing....so it was time to let it go.
According to Strava, I clocked 3,462 miles on that bike. I suspect that the actual number was probably 50-60% higher.
I had already pulled most of the interesting parts off the bike, but last weekend I finished stripping the old bike down just to the frame. I chose to mount the frame on the ceiling of the workshop as some garbage decor and to remind myself of this classic bike that served me so well and got me back into bicycling.
It was a good bike!