Studio Rebuild

It seems like for quite a while there in the late winter I was feeling under the weather, but in the last few weeks as spring has arrived I’ve been feeling more myself again. The last few weekends we’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors, doing the spring cycle of work on the yard, house and cars. Last Saturday it was warm and sunny and we washed and waxed Jeannie’s car. This weekend it was too cold to do my car, so we took it to the car wash instead. The kids were thrilled. We’ve also done lots of weeding, trimming, lawn mowing, planting the garden, and putting down fertilizer and new mulch. Probably one more good session and the spring cycle is complete.

But the weather has been inconsistent, so we’ve been doing stuff indoors too. Last Sunday it was cold and rainy, and I was working in my studio with Michelle on her new song “Now”. She wanted to play the piano part on my new synth, so I had to do some re-patching. This led to all kinds of problems with wires, hum and noise, gear not working, and finally furniture breaking. Michelle was a great help dealing with that stuff, but we never got any recording done that day. That night I was working on laying down a bass part on Black Swan, but the groove was just not happening.

I decided I needed to tear down and rebuild my entire studio. The main motivation was the need to move my rack cabinet so I could access the back. This cabinet is basically an open shelf with some x-braces, one of which snapped. It used to hold our TV, until Jeannie got a new TV a few months back, and I swapped it for my old rack cabinet as the new TV stand. The thing is, there’s tons of wires, and I just lifted my rack onto the new cabinet, and ever since there’s been a hum and occasional noise in the system. In order to move the rack cabinet I needed to move my studio monitors too. One thing led to another, and it was pretty much a full day of moving furniture and plugging things back in. Michelle was very helpful again, and in the end I wound up with a freshly organized studio, free of hum. Plus the monitors are now centered on my computer where I do most of my actual mixing work, rather than mixer, which was the center when I fist set up the space years ago, In their new orientation the speakers sound better and fill up the room better too.

As for my bass, that needed some attention too. At one point I was thinking of giving up and shopping for a new bass, but then I figured if John Paul Jones and Joco Pastorious can get an amazing sound from a Fender, I should at least be able to get a decent sound. That’s the kind of sound I’ve been going for all along anyway. Plus my bass has always had good action, intonation and feel. I’d never taken apart a bass before, so I knew I was in for some fun. Among other problems, there was noise in the tone and volume controls, and the strings sounded really dead. Someone once told me you can boil bass strings to bring them back to life, so I thought I’d try it. Then I removed the pick guard to clean the volume and tone controls. I discovered that the nuts that held the potentiometers to the pick guard were made of plastic, and broken, and the knobs were just kinda floating in place. I cleaned the pots and used rubber bands to hold them in place temporarily. Today I went to the music store and got some replacement parts including metal nuts. Meanwhile last night I put everything back together and tried it out.

It was a world of difference. The strings were shiny and sounded amazing. Good bright attack and sustain. Also, cleaning the pots got rid of the noise problem. I was able to turn up the gain on my MBox and record a hotter signal too. So the result was excellent, and I now have the bass part down for Black Swan.

Origami Video

I’ve been experimenting with making demo videos for some of my origami models. Instructional videos for origami are increasing in popularity and offer the advantage of being able to directly show complex folds that are difficult to diagram. There are a couple reasons for me getting into this now. One is for my upcoming book the publisher has requested an accompanying DVD. I’m planning on using higher-end camera for that, but for this I just used the built-in camera on my laptop, and it came out pretty well. Gives me a chance to see what works and what doesn’t. The other reason is, believe it or not, I was recently contacted by some TV producers about an origami TV show. My impression is it’s centered around giant folding completions. They asked if I could provide some video of me folding something, so here it is. I don’t know if it well ever amount to anything, but hey, you never know.

And the Beat Goes On

I’ve been continuing to jam with Erik every week or two. The whole winter has gone by and spring is here, and it’s sounding really good. I’ve definitely gotten better at singing, and at singing and playing piano at the same time. Every time we get together we do a few new songs. This week the list included The Battle of Evermore (since Erik had borrowed a mandolin), Kid Charlemagne, and Don’t Take Me Alive. Last time it was Just Like Starting Over and some others. We also have a set of songs that we’ve done enough to consider to be in regular rotation and gig-ready.

The best news is we also have six originals worked up, three of his and three of mine, with more in the pipeline. Originals take a while, and we’ve been pretty focused on it. Erik’s songs are Before the Fall, Time Passes By, and Snakes and Lairs. They’re all very good, taken from a Floyd/Genesis-esque concept album he’s writing. Mine are from the last two Buzzy Tonic records. We’re doing Get On Back 2 U, Ghost in the Machine, and Heat Wave. GOB2U and particularly Heat Wave are hard to play live, much harder than Erik’s songs, because they use weird jazz chords and I’m always doing little things with harmony and rhythm. GOB2U has a tricky middle section with a phase jam, while Heat Wave is very uptempo and in an odd meter (7/8), and I’m singing lead and covering the bass part with my left hand. In fact I had originally thought Heat Wave was too hard to try to do live, but Erik really liked the song and asked me to teach it to him. Now I’m a better musician now for having worked up this song. And it’s totally worth it, since it’s a great song.

Now we’re looking to start going to open mic jams as a duo, so watch for that soon. I still have it in my mind to try and add a rhythm section. I know some guys who play bass and drums, and we’ve had the bass player jam with Erik and me, and the drummer and bassist jam with me alone. But everyone is busy with everything else in our lives, so it’s been hard to get everyone together so far. It’s okay because it’s taken time to get this far with just the two of us. Everything is happening. Patience, precious.

Oh, and I’ve started working a new song in the studio, called Black Swan. It’s a longish, darkish, proggish Steely-Crimso kind of number. Liberal use of the jazz altered (7#9) chord. Some big bass parts. Looks like it’ll be about seven minutes long. It’ll be good to close out an album side. I also have a new partly written song called Your Dancing Shoes, that has a sort of classic soul/R&B vibe, maybe kinda Van Morrison.

Meanwhile, if you like lists as much as I do, you many enjoy this:

Originals we have down:

Get On Back 2 U – JS
Ghost in the Machine – JS
Heat Wave – JS
Before the Fall – EB
Time Passes By – EB
Snakes and Liars – EB

Covers we have down:

Breathe In the Air – Pink Floyd
Dig a Pony – Beatles
Watching the Wheels – John Lennon
Show Biz Kids – Steely Dan
Pretzel Logic – Steely Dan
Daddy Don’t Live In That New York City No More – Steely Dan
(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding – Elvis Costello
Cheap Sunglasses – ZZ Top
Burnin’ For You – Blue Öyster Cult

More originals of mine that I’ve been practicing to teach Erik:

Making Miles – MS
Checker Cab – JS
Fine Red Wine – JS

Songs we’ve jammed once or more that sound pretty good:

Midnight Rider – Allman Bros. Band
Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More – Allman Bros. Band
I’m Bad I’m Nationwide – ZZ Top
Wild Horses – Rolling Stones
From Hank to Hendrix – Neil Young
Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
Roadhouse Blues – The Doors
Spirit In The Night – Bruce Springsteen
Tenth Avenue Freeze Out – Bruce Springsteen
Subdivisions – Rush
Peace of Mind – Boston
Don’t Let Me Down – Beatles
One After 909 – Beatles
Strawberry Fields Forever – Beatles
Just Like Starting Over – Beatles
Take It Away – Paul McCartney
I Wish – Stevie Wonder
Pearl of the Quarter – Steely Dan
Kid Charlemagne – Steely Dan
Don’t Take Me Alive – Steely Dan
The Battle of Evermore – Led Zeppelin
Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin
The Rain Song – Led Zeppelin
Since I’ve Been Loving You – Led Zeppelin
Tiger in a Spotlight – ELP
Turn It On Again – Genesis

The Origami Whiz Kids

Today I taught an Origami Special Session at the museum. I actually taught two, a morning session and an afternoon one. The subject was animals, and it was all new diagrams from my book-in-progress that needed test folding. The list included my Moose, U.F.O., Inchworm, Fox, Walrus, Elephant Seal, and Frog. In the morning it was supposed to be intermediate models and in the afternoon complex, but I let everyone fold whatever they wanted. In the morning class there was a very sweet and bright girl named Elliot, about eight or nine years old, who went straight for the Dragon (100 steps!) and did a great job.

The others in my morning class were at a more intermediate level, and were challenged to fold the Fox and Walrus. They didn’t always read the diagrams and didn’t know (for example) what a Stretched Bird Base is. Still, I want the book to appeal to folders at this level (there are a lot more of them), and hopefully help bring them up to a higher level of folding. After all I learned to fold by working my way thru books. So I’m looking to see where I might need to make things clearer, or redraw a single step as several steps. I’m also thinking of adding a section at the end of the book for explaining some of the more complex combo folds that recur in my models. Things like slide-squash, sink-squash, and double reverse folds. Maybe even a quick tour of the classic bases. I suppose I could also do a bit on 30 degree geometry, and a section on sculpting and finishing a model. Or I could work these in to the intros to the various chapters.

At lunchtime a went for a walk around the neighborhood and thru Central Park. It was the first really nice day we had in a while, so the park was crowded. The museum too. The whole city had an atmosphere of everyone coming out to enjoy the springtime.

After lunch was the complex section, and again I let anyone fold anything. It was much fuller and half the class were kids. Elliot returned, and several boys turned up. One of them folded the Dragon in less then an hour, and out of ten inch paper, with all the claws. This group folded the Moose, Frog and other complex models quite handily, which made me feel better about the level of the models. I brought along a model of my Armadillo, even though the diagrams aren’t complete. They were all so admiring of it that I ended up teaching it to the group in the last part of the session. It was a big hit. All in all a great teaching session and I got lots of good feedback on my new models and diagrams.

Oh, and only an hour or so after my last post complaining about my slow progress dealing with my publisher, I heard back from him and cleared up more than half of the outstanding issues with the contract.

D&D Campaign Notes – The Saga of the Orphan Witches

Back in the day when we used to play D&D online my friend Nick set up a pretty comprehensive wiki that included character information, maps, and campaign notes. For a while he even recorded audio of our sessions and made them available as podcasts. I’m not doing that, but I am keeping campaign notes. Tonight was the first night we played in a while, and it’s nice to go back and see the story unfold. So here are my notes so far. I’m continuing to flesh out the world, but it’s funny because at the beginning I had all these big plans for backstory and stuff, but now that we’re into it I’m at the point where I have what I need in my head and I pretty much wing it from session to session.

The World:

Europe in the Dark Ages, historically and geographically grounded (So I don’t have to make very many maps) with a fantastic D&D twist.

The Players:

Joy Holly (Mich): H W; orphan witch, good with potions
Emma (Eliz): H W; orphan witch, good with scrolls. E&M are like sisters
Zoë (Jne): H R; rogue w/ a heart of gold (CG)

NPC’s (so far):

Grimli Redshirt: D F, LN; stout and dour, grey beard red hood
Glumli Redshirt: Dw F, LG; quiet and brave, black beard blue hood
Chumli Redshirt: Dw F 1, NG; round and jolly, red beard green hood
Perrywinkle: Half-elf Druid 2-3, NG; acolyte of Ehlona, the Unicorn goddess

The Back Story:

Emma and Joy are orphan witches, being raised in an orphanage for young witches. One night the orphanage is burned down by an angry mob. The girls are out on their own in a cruel, cold world. But they can get buy on their wits, some magic, and some help from their friends.

Each young witch has a magic amulet, one in the shape of a sun, the other a moon. The two fit together. Although they don’t know it, they are related, the last survivors of a once powerful house of Wizards that was split in two by jealous infighting and powerful dark magic. The girls were hidden away as infants, and its their destiny to reunite the family and restore the rule of good magic to the kingdom.

But that’s a long way off. Right now they have survival on their minds.

Campaign Sessions:

10/29/11 – Joy and Emma are driven from home, the witches’ orphanage by an angry mob with torches and pitchforks. The orphanage’s headmistress, Anniella is captured. Joy and Emma run away. They meet up with Zoë and get out of town. After a couple of days on the run they encounter a merchant’s party coming back from the Keep on the Borderlands, to the northeast. The party hears tales of treasure and adventure and decides to venture out to the Keep.

11/5/11 – Party encounters 4 goblins on the road the keep. Killed three, 4th ran away. First combat.

12/27/12 – Party arrives at KotBL. Meets company of Dwarves – Grimli Redshirt, son of Groin, and his kin Glumii and Chumli. Spends a night at the Inn of the Drunken Duck. Sets out for the Caves of Chaos the following morning. Arrive at the caves in the late afternoon. Decide its too late to go a-dungeoning and spend the night camping nearby. Return to caves the following morning. Enter cave “D”.

1/21/12 – Party enters cave D. Encounter wandering Goblins – killed all six. All three Dwarves wounded in combat. Chumi drinks his potion of healing, Grimli too. End session with Gri: 13hp, Glu: 7hp, Chu: 6hp. Treasure: 24 sp, 5 sacks of food (12 person/days worth). Goblins from areas 17 and 18 heard the melee and will rush out to attack next turn.

Party Roles: J – treasure, L – initiative, M – maps

1/28/12 – Encountered and defeated Goblins from room 17 and 18 (6 each), plus the Ogre from 22. One Goblin from 17 escaped. Used up 6 more potions of Cure Light Wounds, only two remain. Treasure found: 250 GP on dead Ogre, 17 SP & 33 CP on Goblins, magic dagger, magic short sword. Party current HP: Grimli: 16, Glumli: 10. Characters awarded 1050 xp; everyone goes up a level.

2/18/12 – Explored Ogre lair, discovered treasure incl. gold, a keg of brandy, some cheeses, and a scroll w/ 3 spells. Encountered and defeated 10 goblins in room 19. Women and children ran away. 30 sp. 250 XP @.

2/25/12 – Hid treasure in Ogre cave. Zoe scouted ahead, encountered 4 Goblin storeroom guards; killed them. Encountered and killed Goblin chieftain and 3 bodyguards. Let the women and children go. HP: Zoe 4, Grimli 20, Chumli 3. Treasure: 18 gp, 2 pp, 36 ep, 284 sp, 321 cp, silver cup (90 gp), tapestry 900 gp. Returned to Ogre cave. Met the Elves Perrywinkle and Elvis (and a pony). 250 XP @.

4/14/12 – Went back with Elves to their camp. Elvis taught Emma and Joy some new spells, and identified the spells on the scroll (Burning Hands, Flaming Sphere and Fireball). In the middle of the night, Otterbears try and steal their cheese, party fends them off. The next morning Glumli and Elvis go off, but Periwinkle joins the party. They take the pony and treasure back to the Keep. Party returns to the Caves of Chaos, and enter cave “A”. Chumi and Emma fall in a pit and six Kobolds appear.

Book Blues

As you may already know, I’ve been working on my origami book. I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months, largely because I’ve had interest from a publisher. Now we’re in contract negotiations, and it’s been going back and forth. There’s a bunch of points, none of them huge but all need to be worked out. It’s a bit frustrating because in general they’re slow to respond, so I’m just kinda waiting to hear back. I’d like to get it all squared away because once we have a deal, the first thing I want to do is go out and buy a nice camera so I can do the photography.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing lots of diagramming, since that’s the major part of the work. Since the new year I’ve diagrammed my Inchworm, Fox, Walrus, Elephant Seal, Frog, and I’m more than halfway thru my Narwhal and Armadillo. I’ve finally perfected the Armadillo. The key detail was the head, particularly the ears. I have only a few models left after that, but one is my Turkey, which maybe my most complex model. I’m teaching this coming weekend so I can test all the new diagrams. I hope to be done the rest by the end of June so I can bring them to the convention.