Auto Didact

Well I have no new creative output this week, but I do have some updates on this and that. After the last 3 weeks being so busy entertaining and all, we decided to take it easy of the Memorial Day holiday. At one point we were considering going for a day hike somewhere, but the weather got really hot (in the 90’s), so that was not in the cards. Ah well, the summer is just beginning, there’ll be another opportunity. Instead, we mostly hung around the house, made some barbeque, played outside, played videogames, went out to dinner, ran some errands, and did a bunch of shopping. We got Lizzy a new, larger bicycle and gave her old one to Michelle.

I did manage to get my ’67 Mustang fixed. After my regular mechanic was reluctant to look at it, and told me I’d need find parts on my own, I looked around for another garage and found a place in Bronxville, Ultimate Auto Center, that specializes in servicing, maintaining and restoring classic cars. After the carburetor blew out and started leaking fuel I was a bit hesitant to start it up, so I asked Jeannie to stand by with a fire extinguisher. Well the engine turned and nothing burned, so off I went to the garage, hoping I’d make it as the car sputtered up the big hill. When I got there, the guy who greeted me was smoking a cigarette (dude, indoors in an auto garage, not too smart!), so I asked him to step back a bit and then explained my problem.

The guys at Ultimate took good care, I’m happy to say. First they gave the car a complete looking-over for mechanical and other problems, and made recommendations (my car is solid, as it turns out). Then they took apart and rebuilt the carb, replacing the worn out accelerator pump and all the gaskets. They even steam-cleaned my engine and it looks like detailed the car too! And it wasn’t even too expensive, at least compared to what the mechanic at my regular garage said it’d be to acquire a rebuilt carb. Now it runs great, with more power and a smooth, satisfying rumble when it idles. Jeannie says it “purrs”. Ah.

While I was there, I asked them to give me an estimate on repainting the car. His figure was almost twice what I paid for the car in the first place! Yikes. It also was more than triple the estimate I got in 1999 in Palo Alto (I was all set to get it done then, but then Lizzy came along and we move back East and I ran out of time) and a good deal more than I really want to spend. So while I think I’ll shop around for a better deal on that, I’ll at least ask him to break it down so I know what that cost would include. I think he wants to take the whole car down to the metal, and I don’t think that’s necessary. In any event I’ll keep you up to date on how this project unfolds.

Here Wii Go!

In yet another weekend spent with family and out-of-town guests, my brother- and sister-in-law Denis and Sarah came to visit us with their little girl Carrie. They’re great people, and just as geeky as Jeannie and I when it comes to computers. We all sit around with our laptops when they come over; it’s pretty funny. Friday Jeannie bought a Nintendo Wii for us, and another for Denis and Sarah, as they happened to be in stock at Costco. So we had a big Wii party all weekend. Tons of fun. Even 4-year old Michelle got a few strikes at Wii bowling. “Up, ‘B’, back, Wiiiiiiii”. Great fun.

Sarah made me a hand-knit sleeve for my iPod, which is very nice. Thank you Sarah! She has a blog and a number of interests including photography and knitting. I don’t knit myself, but I have noticed some crossover between knitting people and origami people. Anyway, here’s a link to her blog. Enjoy.

Heat Wave Rough Mix

For all who are interested, the weekend was a great success. Lizzy proudly and joyously communed, we had a super party and saw a bunch of family and friends. Jeannie’s dad brought a whole bunch of Mexican beers. My parents came into town for the weekend, as did my brother Martin and his girlfriend Kathleen. Thanks to Martin for lending me his bari sax. I’ll be sure to put it some use before I return it. I can think of a song I have that would make a good bari feature. A sort of Duke Ellington meets Alice In Chains number.

The only downside of late has been the absolutely beautiful, perfect spring weather. Oh the irony! My allergies have been so bad that I’ve been measuring the time I spend outside. I gave up on trying to fix my car Sunday it was so bad. Even in midtown Manhattan, where you’d think nothing green is growing, I can feel it. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, which ought to bring some relief, and if past experience is any guide, it’ll be tapering off soon.

The main topic for the week is that I’ve posted a rough mix of my new song Heat Wave. You can listen to it here. It came out pretty good if I say so myself. At this point the tracking is done, except for maybe a wee punch-in here or there, and the levels and effects are roughed in. Still todo is the actual mixing — riding the faders to bring up and down the different parts, and finalizing the effects. The point of this is to sculpt and shape the sound, make the voices blend where they should and stand out where they should.

I might also add one or two more keyboard tracks. One would be to replace the synth part with a take that’s a bit more jamming. The other would be to add something like a clav part, to help fill in for the lack of guitar. But on the other hand, maybe the arrangement is thick enough and it doesn’t need that. I’ll give it a few listens and decide.

It’s a pretty fat mix as it is. I think I used twenty two tracks, plus effects buses. A lot of stuff is double tracked. The drums are on six tracks, with the kick on one, the snare doubled on 2 and 3 with two different samples, cymbals on 4, hihat on 5, and hand claps on 6. Since the drums are all MIDI, I could conceivably do it all on a single track, but this gives me the kind of control you’d have over real drums, to bring up and down and pan the instruments of the kit. I ran the bass guitar direct, and doubled it with a synth bass.

The piano, which anchors the tune, has a left hand part that doubles the bass at times, so there’s a good big heavy bottom. I layered the paino with two rhodes samples, one with more of an overdrive and the other more of a flange sound. I have a nice sample bank of rhodes presets, and I find doubling them up and adjusting the balance is a lot easier than running a straight piano thru an effects box.

I did a similar trick with the horns. The main tenor sax part is double tracked, and backed up by a synth horn arrangement (I had decided a real horn arrangement was a lot more trouble and not really necessary.) The synth horn is doubled and layered with two rather different sound patches to give a nice blend. I recorded the sax solo on it’s own track, to make it easier to pull it up front in the mix.

The lead vocal track was cut together out of 3 different takes done in rapid succession. I also cut a second vocal track to double it in the verses. In the choruses I’m doing full harmony, which is another 3 tracks worth of vocals. All the backing vocals and saxes (except the sax solo) are on the same effects bus to save CPU power.

So there you have it, enjoy. I have another song I’m ready to start on (a sort of ELP meets Kieth Jarrett number), but it looks like the summer is almost here, and I predict the amount of time I spend in the studio will diminish in the time ahead. Ah well. I’m hoping to do 4 songs this year. We’ll see how it goes.

Auto Motive

Well this week I’m in the middle of a lot of things. Kids parties last weekend and next (pictures coming soon!), and work has been really busy. I worked on Sunday, and on top of that allergy season is in full effect now, so it’s making me a little cobweb-headed. So I feel like it’s the wrong day of the week. Logical Thursday, but really Wednesday. Must keep it straight. Ah well, soon a big ol’ web site redesign to share with all y’all.

Sunday was a beautiful perfect day, and I decided to take my old car for a ride. You see I have a classic ’60’s muscle car, a red Ford Mustang. It’s 40 years old, older than me. I bought when I lived in Palo Alto, a little over 10 years ago. I’d been living there for about 6 months and commuting to work on rollerblades, and then I bought a bike because the trip was rather hilly and I thought, as I cruised down the big slope behind Hewitt-Packard approaching the speed of cars, that I really ought to get a mode of transport with a brake (I’d taken the brakes off my skates for hockey) before I spill and hurt myself. So I bought a bike, which was a big improvement, and rode that all summer. I noticed a little neon sign in the window above Palo Alto Bicycle Shop at the time that said “Google”. Hmmm, I said to myself, an internet startup. I wonder what they do?

At the end of summer (October out there) I knew the rainy season was coming, and that I’d need a car. The way it played out was that I only had one weekend to find a car, and didn’t have a lot of money to spend. So I bought a paper and started looking thru the want ads. My budget was only a few thousand dollars, basically as cheap as possible but still reliable, and there were a lot of 10- or 15-year-old Nissan Sentras and that sort of thing. But there were a handful of classic older cars in my price range, including some Cameroes and GTOs, and 4 ’60’s Mustangs. If you’re from the Northeast like I am it’s a bit surprising, but it’s just a California thing, all these classic cars still on the road. I decided to concentrate on the Mustangs and check them out. The first one I looked at was in good shape, no rust, sound mechanicals. It was red and with a V-8, the perfect image of what I thought that kind of car should be. It has some minor dents and the paint was pretty dead on the roof and trunk. The next one was blue, a ’66, in perfect shape. I mean absolutely beautiful. But the thing is, it was a 6 cylinder, so not that interested. Plus it was the most expensive of the group. The last 2 were in bad shape; one had a Lincoln Versailles engine and other franken-parts, the other was half bond-o.

So I went back I bought the first one, which was actually under my budget limit by a few hudred. It turned out to be a great car. I drove it every day for years, all around Silicon Valley and up to San Francisco for band practice and gigs. Replaced the alternator once, and some other minor repairs, but that was it. The engine, powertrain, etc., never had any trouble. I did replace the weatherstripping and, believe it or not, the driver’s seat. The main thing it needed and still needs is a new coat of paint, and I was all set to do that in ’99. But then we moved back to New York rather abruptly, baby in tow, so that got postponed.

I couldn’t bear to part with the car; it represented one of my favorite aspects of life in California. Moving it back east probably tripled its value, since cars like that are basically nonexistent in this part of the country. I ended up keeping the car in my brother’s barn in upstate New York for a couple of years. There was no point in moving it to Brooklyn; it’d just get stolen. And car insurance in Brooklyn is so expensive that our insurance premiums actually went down when we put the Mustang on as a second car parked somewhere else.

When we bought our house I drove it down here, where it sits in the garage, an anachronistic absurdity, still cool but mostly harmless. In this day and age of trendy hybrid cars it seems a bit, uh, decadent. Although to be fair, it’s fuel economy is not too bad, because the car is light and even though it has a big engine, it revs really slow. In any event, I still like it and drive it on nice days in the summer, and still dream of fully restoring it and driving down the road listening to ZZ Top on the radio. Of course real life being what it is, it’s pretty far down on my todo list. So I took it out Sunday, the second time this season. The first time was the weekend before, and it ran great. Except that it needed a jump cuz the battery had died over the winter. I was hoping a week later it’d still have some charge.

When I got it out on the highway, traffic was all backed up, so I couldn’t even get up to a cool 55. On top of that, I noticed the pickup wasn’t all that great, and it seemed to hesitate when I stepped on the gas. I got it home to look under the hood, and there was gas dripping out from the around the throttle lever in the carburetor onto the intake manifold and engine block. Oh no, potential fire hazard! After a few minutes it stopped and I cleaned it up, but from the look of it I really ought to get it fixed. I once tool apart and rebuilt a carburetor, but it’s not really something I’d do for fun nowadays. There is a great garage down the street from here, so I guess I’ll call ’em and see if they can do that kind of work on a car that old. I don’t think new cars have had carburetors in about 20 years.

But of course the episode brings up the whole existential question of the value of material possessions. Should I get it fixed or just sell it? If I sell it, it’d be worth more if I fix it up first, but then if I do that, there won’t be any point in getting rid of it. Round and round …

Meanwhile, the pollen from the trees has been so thick these days that my current practical-for-all-seasons-on-the-East-coast everyday car is coated with a sticky golden dusting. Trying to clean my windshield I discovered that my squirts were broken. I could here the little squirter motor going, but the windshield remained dry. But I open the hood and there was washer fluid dribbling under the car … the hose must’ve come loose. But it looks like a nontrivial operation to take off enough plastic to get at it. Still, it’ll probably be simpler than fixing a carburetor.

So dribbly automotive fluids abound. Ah well, I have Friday off cuz I worked on Sunday. Maybe I’ll have time to get it then.