Red Burns

Red Burns, a prominent multimedia pioneer and educator, recently passed away. Red was the founder and director of my grad school program at NYU, the Interactive Telecommunications Program. I haven’t seen her in many years, but her legacy looms large, both on me personally, and on the NYC tech and creative industries and communities. Here’s one of many articles going around about her:

The Relix

So my new band has a name. They’re (we’re) The Relix, and they’re/we’re billed as Westchester’s premiere party band. Alright! We also have a web site:

where you can learn all about us, including our upcoming gig in October. More on that as the time grows closer, but for now it’s about getting up to speed with the group and performing.

Tonight was my second full rehearsal – last week I got together with the guitarists and went over arrangements, which was very productive. Immediately the singer asked me to sing lead on a few songs, to see how I sound. I wasn’t particularly prepared or even warmed up. I’d just given them a list of songs I thought wouldn’t be too high or too busy playing parts. But of course the rule to just go for it, so I just went for it. I guess I did pretty good, because he asked me to sing a few more. I learned that Gimme Some Lovin’ is too high for me in the original key (G). I also sang backing vocals on a number of songs and we started working on vocal arrangements. Eventually we got to Oh! Pretty Woman, and for that I’d learned the harmony part. He loved that, said we finally got the song right.

On the keyboard front, I’m thinking it’s time to get a new amp. Normally I practice on an actual piano or run my keyboards thru my PA, but recently I’ve switched back to running thru my amp. My current amp is from the 80’s and is starting to die under me, plus the tone is a bit muddy. Tonight I played thru a Roland Jazz Chorus, and gave me a great sound. Sparkling, even. The sounds I’m using in this group are pretty much all Fender Rhodes and Hammond Organ, so an amp that has some tremolo and reverb is a great asset. It also has a great clarity of tone, with enough power in the bass and enough definition in the treble. So now I’m thinking that’s the amp to beat. I came home and googled keyboard amps, but they all seem to be designed as mini-mono PA’s with multiple inputs and pre-mixers, and no thought to given to enhancing the tone. So maybe a guitar amp is really better for my style. I have a few weeks to think about it, cuz the gig isn’t until October. Watch this space to see what happens.

Penrose Tessellation in Origami

You may recall that I started working on a new Penrose tessellation back in June at the convention. This turned out to be a really interesting challenge for a number of reasons. First, my initial attempts at a pattern for the tessellation were wrong because they didn’t go together according to the rules. There are lots of ways of joining the tiles the look correct at first but really aren’t once you start to grow the pattern. I learned alot about how to join Penrose tiles.

Second, I needed to systematically work out the widths of all the pleats. I discovered they came in at least four different widths. The ratios of the widths are all the golden mean, which I guess is not too surprising. More surprising is that the wide pleats tend to separate groups of tiles into clusters, like avenues, streets and alleys, or maybe branches on a tree. The groups are usually five tiles, sometimes ten, sometimes two or seven, and then these aggregate into larger groups.

In fact the whole pattern is fractal. I made a series of Penrose tessellations with 10, 35 and 70 tiles. For each one, you begin by precreasing the pattern of the previous tessellation and then subdivide it. This happens in an interesting way, since each tile subdivides into approximately 1.6 tiles, with the edge of parent tile forming the diagonal of a new tile.

I worked all this out when I was on vacation last month in Albany and Lake Placid. After that it took me a few weeks to actually fold the models. I’m satisfied that the approach can be taken to an arbitrarily large number of tiles. The next level out would be at least 120 tiles; the further out you go the harder it gets to find a logical stopping point. I might do that eventually, but for now I think I’m going to fold a 70’er out of good paper and declare victory. I suppose I ought to document the crease pattern too. But after that, I’ve been focused on pentagram-symmetry subjects long enough. It’s time to move onto other things.

Like compound polyhedra with a color change!

Classic Rock Rhythm and Blues

Tomorrow will be the first day I see my boss in almost three weeks. All the senior people at my company are using all the vacation days they have saved up, before the company changes its vacation policy in September. I’d imagine productivity is down, but hey it’s August. Anyway, I don’t have to worry about that until tomorrow. I had a long weekend, the first of the whole summer without travel or other commitments. I spent a lot of it learning new songs. I must say learning new music has gotten a lot easier with the internet and the iTunes store. Gone are the days of putting together mix tapes and figuring out the chords by ear.

I’m doing this because last weekend I auditioned/sat in with the aforementioned classic rock party band. It went really well. They sound good, particularly the lead guitarist and the lead singer, who also plays harmonica. They do an interesting mix of songs. One whole set is old soul music: Sam and Dave, Wilson Picket, Otis Redding, the Temptations and that kind of thing. Most of this is great music to play sax on, so bringing the horn really brings the whole sound up a notch. Another category is sixties rock with an R&B influence. Stuff like Gimme Some Lovin’ and Hush. And closely related to this is more sixties rock by groups like the Zombies and the Doors. I’m rediscovering a lot of great pop songs I haven’t thought about in a long time.

I ended up playing a ton of organ. This is kinda funny to me because I’ve spent years working on piano playing, to the point where I tend to think of organ as a separate thing, and something I don’t really do. In fact I never even learned my way around the organ presets on the keyboard I bought a couple years ago. But hey, when you’re on the stand you gotta go for it. Luckily my keyboard has a lot of great organ sounds, just right for the occasion.

The band said I nailed Light My Fire, even though I only really learned the opening riff. For the solo, I copped what Ray Manzarek did. I call this the Ray Manzarek thing. Start the solo on a particular scale tone, and riff around for a while and then after eight bars come up to the next higher tone of the scale. This builds the intensity and lets you take a long, laid back solo that seems to have some direction. He does the same thing on Riders on the Storm, btw.

Anyway, the band has a lot of songs. They also have an 80’s set and a surf medley. Not all of them are particularly interesting for keyboard, but even those have good harmony vocals. This next rehearsal I want to start drilling down on getting the harmonies tight.

I had decided before I showed up that I want to sing lead on a song or two each set. When I got there, I wondered how that idea would go over, since they have a full-time lead singer. Before I had a chance to ask, the singer asked my if I’d like to do a song or two a set, explaining that by the end of the night his voice can get pretty shot, so it’s good to have a break in the middle of a set. So now the question is what to sing. They asked if I knew any piano songs. Probably too early to lay some of my originals on them, but I suggested some Steely Dan (of course).

They also asked if I know any Billy Joel. I know a few of his songs, and they’re all in my vocal range. As it happens I’m sort of in a Billy Joel phase right now. It’s been creeping up on me, having played a few of his songs in various musicals the last few years, and coming to see how popular he is around here. A hometown hero, like Rush when I was growing up. Then Billy played the concert after Hurricane Sandy last fall and blew everyone else away. I’d seen him a couple time live back in the day (he’s Jeannie’s favorite band) but he never came close to this level of performance. Somehow, after fifteen years of retirement he’s entered the ranks of the all-time greats.

Finally Michelle asked me to play Vienna for her, and that’s one song I can’t do justice to just by googling the chords. So I went to the store and bought a couple of books of his sheet music. I made sure to get the actual piano arrangements so I could learn his voicings and all, the full intro to New York State of Mind and everything. There’s a lot of great music in there. Still, the problem with Billy Joel is a lot of his hits are ballads, so I don’t know how it’d go over in a rock club. The only thing I have down now that’s uptempo enough is Miami 2017. Meanwhile playing all that organ inspired me to learn A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Toot Toot!

I couple weeks ago I finally got around to putting a new horn knob on my Mustang (I got the part last summer). The old one was yellowed and cracked on one side from years of sitting in the sun. While I was at it, I tightened up the screws that that hold the horn assembly in place. It’s a good thing too; today I took the Mustang out and had to use the horn three times!

Camp Rock

Just got back from a great weekend camping in the Catskills. The kids have been really excited about this for weeks. They brought along a couple friends, so it was six of us in the car plus all our food and kit. Packing went better than unusual this time, mainly cuz we did the bulk of it the night before. Also we only brought one cooler and planned on buying more beer for the second night.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip was one night Jeannie and I went for a midnight walk under a clear, starry sky. There was no moon, and you could see the milky way and everything, all shining very bright in the woods. We walked out to the lake where the view of the sky was the best. The mountains were silhouetted between the sky and a lake so smooth you could see every star in the whole starfield reflected in the water. Just then a shooting star appeared. Magical.

Another highlight was teaching Nick and his cousin Andy a little bit of guitar. Nick’s son Geo has been taking guitar lessons for a couple of year and has gotten quite good. Nick and Andy are raw beginners. I was able to teach them A Horse With No Name, the simplest song I know and probably the first song I learned. Rock on!

Strike Up the Band

Now that I’m done with origami deadlines for the time being, it’s time to try and move forward with the music thing. (I still haven’t gotten back to recording for a few weeks, but that’s in the offing too.) Last year when I got into crunch mode on my book, I kinda let jamming with Erik slide. It was a great experience, and it definitely helped me focus and improve my playing. I’ve kept on practicing and can now play eight or ten of my own songs, plus a bunch of covers I couldn’t before. But the thing I crave now is human contact with other musicians. Getting a band off the ground from zero is hard work, and my main problem now is that I don’t know a lot of musicians around here. I really need a bass and drummer to make my music work.

So I figured I’d see about trying to join a band. At least I’d be meeting musicians who are into getting together to rehearse once a week. On the downside you have to fit into someone else’s vision, not the other way around. I looked a couple times on Craigslist over the last few months, and it’s really amazing how many kinds of music and musicians are out there that aren’t really a good fit for what I want to do. And how full of egos and hustlers the New York City scene is, even the classifieds! But I looked again last week and found a couple promising leads.

One is a straight-ahead jazz combo looking for a sax player, because, you know, the easiest thing for me to do is just show up and blow. I went and played with them last night and it went great and was a lot of fun. There was a trumpet and a tenor player, and a piano, guitar, bass and drums. I was playing alto. I haven’t really played alto in years, so I brought my tenor along too just in case. They were mainly doing stuff from the Real Book, and they sound good. After the first tune it was pretty clear I remembered how to play and was fitting right in, so after that I began to relax. The other sax player had a couple really good solos, and the bass and drums grooved together really well.

I had a couple good solos too, and started see how the group responded when I tried to influence them in one direction or another with my playing. It’s funny, I remember when I was in ninth grade or so and realized I could play with incredible speed, doing Eddie Van Halen riffs on the horn. Now my style is much more melodic, to the point where when I catch myself playing fast, I soon realize I’m mainly relying on muscle memory, and usually slow it down to play something more meaningful. Nevertheless I did an entire chorus in double time at point, just cuz the notes kept flowing and it sounded good. Another song I really concentrated on using space and rests.

Toward the end the bassist brought out some horn arrangements he’d written. It was good to see they’re open to experimentation. They also talked about doing some Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears rock numbers. So a good first impression.

The other ad was for a classic rock party band, heavy on the Motown and R&B, seeking a keyboardist/backing vocalist. They sent me a set list and it’s all stuff I can handle, nothing too complex. I’m jamming with them one night next week. Gives me some time to google the chords and listen to a few records for specific parts. I mentioned that I play sax and it would sound good on some of the soul numbers. Dude liked the idea of that alot.

So if one or both of these pan out, then I’ll start seeing about introducing some of my own material into the sets, first some covers I like, then hopefully some of my originals. I think reasonable goal is to get the point where I have a solid group that has a few good sets, a combination of covers and originals, and is playing out in bars or whatnot semi-regularly. Both these groups are comprised of guys who are about my age, so they’re doing it more because they want to make music and have fun than because they want to become the next big rock star. They’re also both in the early stages, rehearsing more than gigging out. Should be fun to see where it goes.