Victory Hearts

In the home studio realm, I’ve been leveling up on electric guitar and learning alot.

My guitar is a semihollowbody, a Joe Pass edition Epiphone Emperor II which I picked up used, and is actually very nice guitar. Very playable, excellent feel and sound. It’s great great for a clean sound, and perhaps surprisingly, heavy rock too. It’s first electric guitar I’ve ever had that I really like playing, that feels natural to me. I’ve been practicing every day, getting it all together with control over my tone, effects, amp feedback, and which strings I strum, mute or let ring.

Now, every electric guitar player I know has a pedalboard. No two pedalboards are alike. Guitarists spend they’re whole lives tweaking it, taking it apart and putting back together, adding, removing and rearranging the pedals. It’s a personal quest for their true tone, the outer sonic expression of their inner self, much like saxophonists with their reeds and mouthpieces already.

Naturally once they’ve perfected this singular, super-advanced electronic system capable of such a vast range of tones, moods and sounds, they settle in to two or three presets for ninety-five percent of what they play.

I cut to the chase and use just one box, with three knobs and two buttons, but capable of producing all those sounds in a single pedal. I spent some time playing my Vox StompLab pedal thru my amp and trying out all the different sounds, looking for the one true preset, and narrowed it down to a handful of contenders.

I’ve mainly just been woodshedding one song so I can record it. It’s The Story Lies, originally written by Martin on the guitar. And although his setup is pretty different (he plays a 12-string), he’s been giving me guidance on how to craft my tone and improve my technique, at least as it applies to his songs.

My first attempt at recording I came out of the back of my giant Roland JC amp. The sound was awesome but the amp is super loud and super noisy. I couldn’t hear anything else when I was tracking, even if I used headphones. And the feedback which I wanted to capture turned out to be impossible to control. If you accidentally let the E string ring it just dominated everything.

So I took the amp out the equation and re-patched. I now have the guitar going DI into input 1 and thru the stompbox on input 2. Without the additional drive and chorus from the amp I dialed up the preamp in the stompbox to make it suitably nasty. This soon began to look like a reasonable approach.

It’s amazing just how much sustain the FX adds; t’s like playing an organ vs. a piano and really changes the way you approach the arrangement. I laid down a really good take of my part, only to discover that it clashed with the keyboard part in the verse, with both instruments competing too much for the same space. Which is ironic, since I changed around the guitar part to try and make it fit better, giving it more space and chakka-chakka. I came up with a new part that’s closer to Martin’s original part and it fits much better. I laid down a solid take tonight. One small victory, Woohoo!

Martin of course has lots of great songs, and I tend cover about one every album I make. It’s good to do other people’s songs from time to time cuz it makes you try out new ideas in recording, sound, instrumentation, arranging, themes, moods, everything really.

Meanwhile, he’s been busy with a recording project of his own, and he’s been exploring and branching out too. He recently mixed a number of songs he’s been working on the last couple years. Martin’s songs tend to be guitar-oriented rock featuring his overdriven tenor sax. Some songs are almost power pop, others lean towards prog and are challenging in surprising ways, and his lyrics are thoughtful and clever, sometimes fun and sometimes serious.

Since he’s been putting time and effort into his mixes, he’s leveled up at that, mainly by backing down the compression and reverb and riding the faders more. You can hear his latest collection of songs at:

Folding Time

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about origami, but I’ve been pretty busy with origami stuff since I got back from Spain.

First off, going back to the new year, I’ve been doing work for Origami USA, taking over the scheduling function for the annual convention. This involves several activities, the most important being to create the schedule of classes for the convention. This is supported various kinds of software, whose maintenance and authoring I’ve taken over.

On the OUSA web site there’s forms for teachers to put in the class the want to teach, with fields for class level, availability restrictions and lots of other things. Then there’s a app built in MS access to take the teacher input and construct the schedule, with helpful validation. The pipeline is convoluted and idiosyncratic, reflecting a history of changes over many conventions. Serena, the previous Schedulemiester and creator of the Access app, has been very helpful with training and handing things off. Of course now the convention is on hold and surely soon to be cancelled, so in a sense the whole effort is moot.

Of course eventually the plague will run its course and we’ll all be able to play outside again. My first thought when I saw the Access app is that we should convert it to mySql and have it run on the web site. I talked to Robert Lang, our webmaster, about this. He said it’s already on the roadmap for 2021, and if I want to jump in and take the lead on it, I’d be more than welcome. I felt I needed to come up to speed on the existing workflow first, so we came up with a plan to use the current system for the New York convention in June, and try and do the migration in time for the Chicago convention at the end of October.

Along the way, the convention committee started asking for changes in the app to reflect changes in the organization of this year’s convention, so in addition to Serena’s training I started hacking into the guts of the Access app. At this point I’ve pretty much grokked the whole thing, and I might as well reach out to Robert and see about starting the migration.

And if the time is not right, I have another project in the offing … dusting of the Foldinator!

Second, in Spain I learned there’s an active international origami community on Instagram, so I created an Instagram account to follow other artists and promote my origami. My handle is zingorigami. Check it out. I’ve been posting three times a week. Right now I’m going thru my extensive backlog of photos of models I’ve already designed and folded. Hopefully soon I’ll get around to photographing some of my new stuff and posting that.

Third, I’ve been working on a new origami book. It’s going to be Classic Origami from Air and Space. This is sort of a sequel to my last book, which also had a theme around aircraft and spaceships, but was a kit book aimed at a beginner to intermediate audience. The new book will feature mainly advanced models, notably my classic Rocketship, U.F.O., and my newer Blimp, as well as my Hot Air Balloon and a handful of other models. The notion is to sell it as a digital download from the OUSA web site, since everybody sitting at home these days is gonna want new stuff to fold. Mostly OUSA downloads are diagrams for single models, or sometimes a collection. I’m gonna put a bit of production values into mine, with a cover and and intro, good photography and all. Hopefully down the line I can publish it as a print book.

I started a while back by putting my anchor models into InDesign to do the page layouts and figuring out how I wanted to present things. This was basically copying them from the diagrams for the individual models. I realized I had somehow never finished diagramming my Rocketship. I know I taught it some years ago; it must’ve been from a CP. There were just a few steps to go, the part where it’s 3-D. So I started folding one to get up to the point where the diagrams ended. When I went to make it 3-D I discovered an unnecessary fold that was interfering with a new fold I need to make. I ended up redesigning and re-diagramming the whole model, making the paper usage slightly more efficient, the proportions slightly more elegant, and cutting out about ten steps from the folding sequence. Now the Rocketship, U.F.O. and Blimp are all done. It’s just a matter of rounding it out with few more less complex models, doing the photos, and putting it all together. It’ll probably eight to ten models total, 32 t0 40 pages in all.

Stay tuned for future announcements.

Nothing’s Gonna Change My World

Today was the start of social distancing all over New York City and elsewhere to try and prevent the spread of the plague. I’ve been working from home since the beginning of the year, so this doesn’t affect me very much. The biggest thing is that activities outside of work, mainly gigs, rehearsals and jam sessions, have all been suspended.

So I’m getting deeper into my home studio recording project. At the moment I’m practicing alot of electric guitar, in addition to the usual sax and keys. I’m finally learning how to play thru and amp with effects and get control of my sound.

Spring is just around the corner, so it’s getting nicer and nicer spending time outside. I guess I can do things like hiking and biking working in the yard just fine, and probably whatever shopping is necessary.

Jeannie and Michelle are both working from home now too. Well, Jeannie is working and Michelle is attending high school remotely. Meanwhile Lizzy decided to stay upstate for spring break, even though her classes are all online thru the end of the semester as well. Jeannie had a crazy week last week cuz she works doing IT in a publishing company, and was up to her eyeballs in setting people up with VPNs and laptop computers. Luckily, we all have enough space here to not get on each other’s nerves, at least so far.

As I said, it’s day one. It should be interesting to see how things unfold in the weeks ahead. Things are far from normal, even if they don’t feel like it right now, and it’ll be a long road back.

Spain Pics

It seems like everywhere you look these days there’s alot of gloom in the air. Here’s something cheerful: pictures from our trip to Spain last month. As usual, the galleries are under password, so ping me if you want login credentials. Enjoy!

When The World is Running Down You Make the Best of What’s Still Around

A couple weeks ago I got word that friend Mike K., who was the singer and guitar player way back in my first band in high school, had died. He was right around my age. I haven’t seen him in many years.

Then Friday my friend Gus died. Gus was the drummer in several of the bands I’ve been in, going back to when I got back into playing music eight or nine years ago. First was The Relix, and then Left Hook, which we formed when The Relix folded. Gus was in his early sixties. I last saw him about a year ago.

So I’ve been thinking about how bands come and go, and more generally, relationships and situations in life. Everyone is in it for their own reasons, and you never know when things will end, even if everything seems fine. Then you stop seeing people you were close to because everyone is always busy with their lives and goes their separate ways, and one day it’s too late.

Then Saturday Eric, the drummer for my jazz group, abruptly quit. Apparently he got a job playing with a big band in Manhattan, and it’s a better gig for him. The next day Rich, the piano player, decided he’s leaving the group too. Jay, the bass player, looked at the situation and declared it to be the end of an era.

This all caught me by surprise. I guess there were signs the group had plateaued, even as I’ve been focused on continuing to improve my own playing. I think Gary and I, as the two main songwriters, were still keen on honing our songs. I thought we had another album in the offing, indeed we had a bunch of great songs; it was just a matter of lining up the studio session. But those guys were beginning to loose interest. Ever since I got back from Spain it felt like one or the other was missing rehearsal, and several times we had to cancel.

It was a good run for sure. We had a quite a few great gigs and recorded an excellent album. When we started playing together, I brought in a few of my songs, and this inspired everyone else in the group to start writing too. We were together about three years, and we came out of a jazz circle that went back a few years before that, also to the time I started playing again. It was probably the best of group of musicians I ever played with, and I improved alot in that time. So it’s really too bad.

Now it’s back to square one, starting over. Sometime a new group emerges from an old one, sometime not. I’m asking around. And this while I’m trying to get a new rock band off the ground too. Ah well, we’ll see how it goes.

Living in the Limelight

The gig Friday night at the Bean Runner Cafe went great. Nice to have a venue where they know and like you. The group sounded relaxed and comfortable. We played ten of seventeen songs we had prepared, mainly because we stretched out the solo sections on a few tunes. We had a few more standards than usual, including Stolen Moments, Bye-Ya, Jordu, Ornithology and Four on Six. After who knows how many years, I played a solo on All the Things You Are that I was really satisfied with, relaxed and flowing, spontaneous and in the moment. We also did a good number or our originals, and I was happy with my perfromance on Lift Off, my tribute to John Coltrane, which is very difficult to play. I guess all my practicing has been paying off.

In the home studio realm, my two current songs, The Story Lies and Who Speaks on Your Behalf are coming along. I got the bass part for the first song done a week or two ago, and the second one is there except for one riff. The Stories Lies is a groove number and I gave it a fun, funky bass line. Once I started practicing, I really wanted to nail the whole track in one take, to capture all the dynamics over the course of the song and really focus on the phrasing. I got pretty close. I ended up with a very usable take, and did only minor editing. In one section I was rushing a little so I pulled everything back a fraction of beat. You can’t push a click track like you can a human drummer.

Meanwhile I have most of Who Speaks on Your Behalf tracked, but there’s a riff at the beginning and again in the middle of the tune, a twisty run of 16th notes that just kicks my ass at that tempo. At first I couldn’t play it all; now the challenge is to do it cleanly. I don’t know how other bass players do this kind of thing, but I laid out the fingering to take advantage of open strings, and used a few hammer-ons and pull offs rather than striking every note with the right hand.

I’m still trying to get the new rock band off the ground. I put out an ad for a guitarist who sings and writes, and this dude Joe answered. He sent me some demoes of his songs. Good stuff, I like his lyrics and the way he creates drama in his songs, and he can certainly sing and play, although he doesn’t really know jazz harmony. We got together for a rehearsal a couple weeks ago with Ken on bass and Steve on drums. We did a couple of my songs and a couple of Joe’s, and some plain ol’ jamming. The vibe was pretty good. Ken and Steve definitely grok my songs, although Joe was hearing them for the first time and didn’t really get the chords, and we were all learning Joe’s songs new.

Tonight Joe came over to my house and we got alot deeper into learning each other’s songs and talking about our influences and what we want out of a band. It seems like a good fit. He learned my song Ghost in the Machine pretty readily once I broke it down and explained the chords. We were supposed to get together with the full band later this week and I was feeling pretty psyched about it.

But then our bass player Ken had to bow out out temporarily. He’s the director of crisis communications for a major international bank and so his day job has been crazy the last few weeks because of the caronavirus epidemic, and it looks like things may well get worse before it gets better. Ah well.