Where WSFBPLAU equals (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding by Elvis Costello. As with all my covers, I chose this song for a few musical and other reasons. First off, although it’s not exactly a holiday song, it’s about peace love and understanding so it’s seasonal in a more abstract sense. (I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to convince my kids that Imagine is not a Christmas song, although it comes up right after Happy Christmas on our John Lennon album.)

Back when I worked at Fox Sports and built their Fantasy Football app, I’d do things when I was testing it like draft a team mode up of all guys names Smith, or of the players with the longest names in the NFL to see if it breaks the software. Similarly, with music I’ve thought for a long time it might be fun to do a set of songs with really long names, like Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More, What Is and What Should Never Be, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey, and of course the inimitable When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around. If nothing else, it points out the weakness of current technology, because (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding.mp3 doesn’t fit on the screen of my iPod, plus it’s out of alphabetical order and the non-letter characters come out all messed up.

The main reason I chose this song was to do a number with just voice and piano. I had attempted this with Making Miles on the last Buzzy Tonic album, but with that I ended up adding a rhythm section at the second verse and synth solo later. This one remains stripped down throughout. Usually the tendency is to go ballad. I once worked up a piano version of the Chili Peppers’ Knock Me Down that goes in that direction. But WSFBPLAU rocks out, thanks to a propulsive 8th note rhythm in the left hand.

I wanted to see how quickly I could make a song. I’ve been waiting for the MBox3 Pro to become available and did this song partly to fill the void. It took me four sessions of a couple hours each. The first session I set up the project and laid down a piano part. I hadn’t really worked it up, I just banged out the chords like when I sang. The next session I did the vocals, which went down after just a couple warm up takes. Then I went back and redid the piano part with a bit better voice leading and the aforementioned 8th notes in the left hand. The last session was to mix it and add effects.

So here you go. Happy holidays everyone.

Giant Origami Santas

My friend Brian Webb has one of his origami designs featured in a new storefront display here in New York. Brian sez:

If you happen to be in NYC, stop by the Uniqlo store display at 546 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 USA. There you will see huge versions of three Santa models. The display is based on Santa models by Edwin Corrie, Noriko Nagata, and Brian K. Webb (me).

The project was put together and installed by Mona Kim.

There are a few pictures of the display on my Flickr site.


Here’s a blast from the past: a friend recently posted this pic, an album cover from the band Tafari from the early 1990’s, of which I was a member. Tafari was a summer party band and we were only together for a few months, but in that time we gigged out a lot and even managed to record an EP of four original songs. The set was mainly Bob Marley and Steely Dan plus a bunch of reggae-influenced originals and a smattering of other stuff in the summertime party vibe. It was a large group consisting of a singer, drummer, percussionist, bass, two keyboards, two guitars and a three piece horn section. We were kind of an all-start lineup of the Kenmore music scene at the time. Led by Jim Parry, members included Bill Ross, Joe Quebral, Mark Colecchia, Chris Sierzchula, Matt Cline, Mark Hofschneider, Dan Jablon, Paul Bernstien, and your truly. I had thought Martin had sat in on a show but he says no. We pretty much used the money from every gig to buy beer for the next rehearsal.

We did the record Wiser Than Forest of Owls toward the end of the summer. Matt Cline and I did the cover art. Somehow I lost my copy over the years. If anyone has one, I’d love to hear these tracks again. From what I remember it came out quite well, and I even player clarinet on one song.

Music Update 4: The Question of Electric Guitars

So you wanna be a rock’n’roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
And take some time and learn how to play
And if you make the chart
In a week or two the girls will tear you apart

If you’ve been following this blog (it turns out both Captain Hammer and the LAPD read it), you know I got me an acoustic guitar about year ago and have good fun and success in learning how to play it. I seem to have settled into a mode of mainly the folk and rock songs that are good to sing and play rhythm to. I even wrote my first song on guitar a while back and want to put it on my next records. It’s called Rocket To The Moon, and is an uptempo pseudo-punk number (although it has far more than three chords. Eight or nine I think.)

So I’ve been thinking about how to record this song. At one point I had hoped to get it done by Xmastime to submit to NASA song contest for the final space shuttle flight, but that’s looking unlikely right now due to repeated delays of the ship date for the mbox 3 pro. In the interim I took a look at Reaper, the FOSS DAW, but ran into so many issues with the setup I decided to punt for the time being and go back to the original mbox with PT7 to record my last song on the old rig.

It’s a short cover with a long title. I’m trying to do a really stripped down arrangement with just voice and piano and get it done quickly. But it turns out it’s not so easy to have a simple arrangement and make it come across with power and emotion. So I’m kinda woodshedding it now. Still hope to have it done in a couple of weeks, and by then the new box will be out and it’s on to the big upgrade.

Meanwhile in guitarland, Martin lent me a guitar mutli-FX box and amp simulator. I have an old electric guitar and I hooked the two of them together and gave it a whirl. The box is fun and interesting, and has a lot of cool sounds. But the interface is obscure and I don’t have a good handle on how to do more than move thru the presets, adjust the input gain, and select an amp simulation. This gives a good amount of range in available sounds, but there’s a whole effects block I haven’t cracked, with reverbs and tremelos and wahs and flanges all kinds of groovy stuff. Martin is coming for a visit sometime soon, so hopefully he’ll have the time to show me how the thing works. The other issue I have with the effects box is so many of the sounds are heavy metal megadistortion. I’m mostly playing rhythm and strumming, so this is completely wrong. I just want to embiggen my sound a bit. I wouldn’t mind getting a kinda slinky 70’s sound like George Harrison or David Gilmour either.

My electric guitar is an old Guild with dual humbuckers,. It’s okay but not great, so I’ve been thinking of getting a new one. I was also thinking of selling it and thought I might get a couple hundred for it. Then I went on ebay and saw the same model listed at $450 up to $1100. So I guess I should try and find out how much mine is worth.

Picking out a new guitar is a daunting task, cuz it’s not really my area and there’s just so many choices. I’ve been looking online and checking out the guitar section every time I go to Manny’s to see about the mbox. I’ve divided the product space into three main subtypes: Gibson, Fender and other. They seem to go from $300ish to as expensive as you wanna get. One friend thinks I should check out a Telecaster and another recommends Paul Reed Smith guitars. I’m leaning towards a Gibson GS, partly cuz I like the look and partly cuz of the humbuckers. I really need to just go to a music store one day an play some guitars. I tied to a couple weeks ago when I had a day off from work, but I ended up going to buy a snowblower instead.

So for now I think I’m gonna punt on the whole electric guitar thing and record Rocket to the Moon on acoustic and build the arrangement around that. I have another song ready to go after that called Seven Is Magic, an instrumental which I’m gonna do with a sax quartet. I might rename it Sea of Tranquility (or Valley of Serenity) to fit in with the whole moon concept.

I also came up with a bass part for RTTM. Remember what I said about the bass being easy? Well the only thing that’s really hard for me is fast repeated 16th notes on the same note. This is not a pattern I usually favor, but it seemed like I should try it for this song. It didn’t really work so I said to myself what would John Paul Jones do? So the new pattern is based on a rotation of fast moving riffs, a la Good Times Bad Times or Dazed and Confused.

Practicing the Poetry of Curly Braces

For all the pressure and tumult at my job that last few months, here’s one good result: I’m writing the best code I’ve ever written. I feel like I’ve leveled as a programmer (this seems to happen every 6 mos. to a year with me as I integrate things I’ve been learning) and can now do up to 186 points of damage with a single line of code.

I just spent the evening finishing off a huge feature set that had been my main focus the last 2 months or so. Tonight it was just cleaning up code finishing off a few loose ends, but I was able to sit back and look at my code and say, woah, that’s beautiful.

It’s a bit like Denny Diaz says about the mu chord: you have to practice it until you can do it without thinking about it. So it’s been with me and lots of best practices and design patterns that I used to work hard to implement and now they just sort of come to me as my first idea on how to approach things.

A few specific things I’ve really been focused on down in the details dancing with the devil. One is to never repeat any code. Ever. Everyone copies and pastes blocks of codes, and I used to be much more tolerant of it. Now whenever I temped to do that, I look at the block and make it into its own method and call it from wherever I was going to paste it. The other thing is I’ve been breaking methods up and writing shorter and shorter methods. I’ve had as a rule of thumb that if a method doesn’t fit on a screen its too long. Now I’m thinking more and more that in many cases over half a screen is too long.