Sunday, May 19, 2013

My affordable midlife crisis

I'm taking up skateboarding again. I don't remember when I stopped. I think it was because my deck got stolen out of my car when it was towed to the impound lot. There was no clear day or reason I put it aside.

Skating is risky. I have ankles I sprain regularly stepping wrong of flat land. I can't imagine commuting on crutches or touch typing at work if I sprain/break my wrists. I have a friend who got MERSA from road rash so now that is a possibility in my mind. I am older, much more bodily clumsy and totally vincible. Taking up skating again for me is a slightly foolish idea, but here I am again.

There are so many calming beautiful videos of longboarding on youtube. When I was an angst filled teen set on destruction (Destruction of property, me, time, society, what ever) the skate videos were all jerky, fast, trick filled and more often then not scored by The Offspring pre "Keep Them Separated". The longboarding videos are poetically slow and graceful totally offsetting the considerable speeds. My current favorite video has a singer songwritery plucky banjo thing going on. The whole package was so appealing. I could see my self just tooling around, lazily carving off speed from a shallow hill, not doing anything aggro that would compromise my ankles. Then a friend as a catalyst bought a board and I knew I had to be in too.

My new board arrived at work and I had to put it out of my head for the rest of the day, pretending that adventure wasn't waiting for me still boxed in the corner. I had to walk my new board from work to my parking spot near some public paths away from the downtown. I walked, occasionally giving the wheels a flick to hear the clean new bearings swish. I head into the park trying to find a flat spot away from embarrassing my self in front of the local teens. I push off, glide and bail. The trucks were shipped with the nut just on to hold the bushings in. I tighten them and roll off a bit further this time before I carve slightly, tip too far and my momentum is cut making me run it off. Tightening them again I give it another go and roll and roll and roll. I stiffly make it around with a few bails as a nod to valor (well, discretion). I am taught, every muscle is on alert as I cautiously head around the paths, but at the same time I feel really relaxed and free.

Later that night driving home from Murdercastle (the amazing BROS Rock Opera!) I stop at the lake and go for a ride. The path is smooth and I glide past the couples on dates, late night exercise enthusiasts using the playground equipment and the other elements hanging out keeping to them self. The warm, slightly humid, still air feels like a shirt out of the dryer and the only noise is the soft wheels on blacktop with the bearings hissing. I remember this from skating so many years ago but I didn't stop to enjoy it at the time.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

30 Seconds to Mars

I just re-watched the last few seconds of the Curiosity Rover landing. I saw it live the closing night of the Fluid Movement water ballet and I was staying up late relaxing from a good run of shows and having a private after party to watch history.

The landing it's self is a triumph of engineering and went off just as planned. The flight controllers literally could not do anything at the time of landing, with the distance at the time Mars takes 7 minutes each way. To take a reading and act on it is a minimum of 14 minutes. By the time we were watching the lander separate and head to the surface the whole event had taken place and either there was a million dollar wreck to sad scientists and an angry public or the start of a great adventure. In mission control they were there for the ride with the rest of us geeks to see how the story unfolds.

In real time I watched online holding my breath with the landing team not wanting to do anything  to disturb the moment and ruin the mission.  I find professional sports to be boring, but I had the same investment in this as any home town making the playoffs. Nerds! vs The Universe and Fate.

I didn't cheer out loud when they called "Safe" because I didn't want to wake anyone up. I was really wishing to hear at least one lone voice in the neighborhood yelling like I felt. Online my friends were posting short punctuated excited messages with no context the same as if there were a game or a good episode of a tv show. We were a community celebrating victory along with our team.

Watching the last seconds, several times in a row I came to appreciate some small things. Watch Adam Stelzner. He is a (literally) a rockstar. Watch him as a musician does their conductor or front man. As a leader he is there in charge to let his team shine. A few seconds away someone on mic lets out an involuntary excited sound. He lets it air for a beat and gives a little "Eye on the ball, team" sort of direction. Everyone is noticeably holding their breath. He stands up, cues someone by pointing them and then at another. The guy behind him stands up in expectation and pulls his glasses down to better see the answer. Someone in the back pumps his hands in the air victorious but Adam waits for an actual call out with the numbers. This... This is the coolest part. Adam makes quick eye contact, quietly asks a question with his hands (showing a 2 and a 5?) and with the reply in one subtle efficient motion taps the controller next him with a thumbs up to announce Safe on Mars and everyone explodes. He did it with a casual cool letting the moment be about the landing, the team and all the engineers off camera who got them there. And that is good leadership and storytelling right there in a few seconds.

I have an other favorite Stelzner moment from one of the other landings he directed just before the victorious press conference he is toasting his crew and then they swagger across the street to talk to the media. The swagger is my favorite part. You can see the excitement and everyone feeling exceptionally bad ass shine through. They are all exceptionally nerdy looking on the outside, people who seem to spend a lot of time inside their head. You can see at that moment in their posture they are feeling good having just kicked a planet's ass and you should step aside for them. It is an awesome moment.

And the takeaway lesson from this: Do amazing things but also have cool hair. Stelzner's pompadour and the flight director's mohawak with stars shaved into the side made them the media darlings. I am not so secretly hoping that my hair can carry my through life to offset my lack of a formal education.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Oops, I made an art.

For the Fluid Movement "Great Books" themed spring show I did a shadow puppet piece about John Glenn's flight as told by Tom Wolfe in "The Right Stuff". I am really pleased in how it turned out. The process had lots of setbacks, but when it worked things came together how I imagined they would.

Monday, March 4, 2013

I will invoice your management for the hug I did not collect on at the time.

I played with Amanda "Fucking" Palmer and the incomparable Grand Theft Orchestra at the big time venue where I saw all the greatest shows in my most informative years.  I had a lovely time. Luckily I didn't have a chance to make a fool of my self in front of AFP. If left on my own to converse I would say something entirely true and stupid like "I'm friends with Kyle Cassidy! You made your bed when you stayed over there and I make my bed when I stay at peoples houses now too!" or "The band I was in did a song for your Husband!" 

I'm sure you either read about the kerfuffle around this tour or just as likely have absolutely no clue who Amanda Palmer is. Just hit google and read up. I got put on an emotional roller coaster, refreshing comments sections reading well reasoned points on both sides overwhelmed by unfocused rage and vitriol. I argued with friends as friendly sparing to challenge and harden ideas and sometimes with uncomfortable and surprising malice. At some points I felt something almost related to slut shaming. I love music, I love to play and I did something fun and was indirectly made to feel bad about it. (How would it feel to take the other side of that and feel like a whore?) I was assured with almost condescending pity that no one blamed me for playing while they grandstanded their absolute declarations. 

I don't know if my position was sharpened like a knife or worn like beach glass, but at the end here is how I feel and this is my story. Amanda Palmer is a peer. The Dresden Dolls were playing in the same venues at the same time as Ego Likeness was starting to do travel gigs. I remember reading a blog post early on about her playing in a small town and venue that we recently played and being able to vividly imagine loading out in the cold. In her post she was talking about signing autographs and talking with fans until they had all left. At that time I was just getting over making any compliment paid to me an uncomfortable experience for everyone involved and I was better able to imagine just letting people love me and returning that as a performer. That to me is why I play music and do all the stupid things I do. It could never be my day job, but I do like to go there. So when I saw the call for "Profeshionalish" musicians I read through, understood what was expected and what was being offered and applied. I play in a couple of radical marching bands, I have a range of brass instruments. My "audition" tape was a youtube of me with barrage band noodling on a tune at an Occupy Wall St rally. 

The day before the show I got an email asking If I wanted to play. I downloaded the charts and bought the just released songs on my phone while riding the train down to DC. The guys from Ronald Regan: 80's Sax Duo lead me and an euphnium through a read through rehearsal when I got there. I briefly met the band as they came and went. It was a very chill back stage area. We played with the opening song or two. I am used to working with out a monitor so I trust I was in the mains, or if I sucked that they cut my channel, either way I love the sound at that venue so much and trust them absolutely. I went up to the rafters to watch the rest of the show. The tour was really well thought out. The set dressing was unified, stunning and very practical to break down and set up easily. AFP has a band that both showcases talent and perfectly supports the songs. They look great on stage and are having so much fun. The interactive elements of the show were not gimmicky and I think really made everyone feel invested in the performance. I went down to play the encores. Because my trumpet was on loan and I  couldn't get  it back on such short notice so I brought my flugal horn that night and got called on the spot to do a quick riff to the audience to show off the unusual brass. To my astonishment I didn't suck, maybe I wasn't turned off in the mains after all. 

The next week I went to go see Fire Water and was recognized in line as the flugal horn player. That always feels good. 

I risked little, was rewarded handsomely with being part of a really good show. If I had been offered what I ended up getting paid for the show I would have turned it down. It wouldn't be hard to get someone better at reading music than I did that night or to find someone that this would have been the absolute high point of their life. If I was a professional, the amount would have been on the token level. But hey, in the past I went on tour to Europe to play and be the only driver knowing there was no money, I was surprised and delighted to get $50 at the end as a thanks. Obviously it was not about the $50.

My takeaway lesson, the part in Full House where Bob Saget would hug what ever kid was featured in the story that week and recap what they learned is: Musicians are just people that make music. That is all. There is no reason you shouldn't be a "profeshionalish" musician. In all the internet debate there were fans who would have given anything to be on stage there.  Nearly everyone was offered the chance to learn the basic musical skills in Middle School and High School. Many have but didn't keep up with it as they grew older for what ever reason. You can go back! You can pick up an instrument for fun. If you play out take professional pride in what you do and show up on time, do a good job and say please and thank you and help out where you can. That is what professishism is all about.

Postscript: I held on to my payout for a while trying to find something good to do with it. I considered instrument purchases, repairs, lessons with people I know and am in awe of. What I finally decided on was passing off to a friend of mine and AFP fan who is going on a long, solo burlesque tour. He's thrown some work my way having me do sound/stage manager/bunny work with his troupe, taking me along on a short tour before and I wanted to say thanks with a little extra to keep him safe through his coming big adventure. I feel good about that, it will be kicked back somewhere else by inspiring someone to do something brave or even just knowing that there will be that many more smiles around during his shows. 

Post Postscript: I think the charts got corrected by later shows but I earned my money that night by correctly reading through Sibalius transposing in a single measure an A Bb A# and A natural incidental and other such nonsense. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Covering my earballs

I'm looking at my desk at work and I seem to have a little obsession. I have a lot of earphones.

With me today I have:

My comfy music listening bottom of the line studio monitor phones. They are just good enough to hear how bad things sound if not produced well or if the network is streaming slightly slower. I wear these on the bus because they are open enough I can hear enough of what is going on to not be dangerously oblivious.

Bluetooth stereo microphone. I use a voip phone app at work sometimes because I like to not crane my neck to hold the phone while typing, it's also nice to listen to music and not be tethered. Not a great sound but pretty convenient. I also commute with them because it's nice to not be tangled with the cord and I can pause what ever is playing from the buttons on the side.

Drummer Isolation Headphones. These are basically what construction workers wear with music piped in. I call them "21db of STFU" when my coworkers are being needlessly loud. Somedays I have to use a white noise generator to really make them all go away so I can get some work done. I can't wear them around because they clamp so tightly on the head it makes my jaw hurt and I get dizzy and jumpy walking around with out the audio cues of being near things. I would seriously walk into traffic infront of a screaming crowd and not notice.

Also with me is a set of military surplus aviator headphones. I love the construction on them, everything is adjustable, built to last but still accessible and replaceable. You could fix in a matter of minutes any part of them with stuff from Home Depot and Radio Shack. The drivers in them are made for voice so music sounds awful but podcasts and audible are really loud and clear. Some day I'll gut the bluetooth headphone and stick in there.

I still could use a set of earbuds again. The cats keep eating them or they don't survive getting closed in the car door.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Das Blinken Lights!

 Still a work in progress, I have the lights reliably blinking from the DAW. I wrote a little HTML5 that selects colors and sends them to a node.js app that pushes them into the local midi driver. You can play with it if you want, it doesn't do much with out the node.js server. The arduino code is there for you to look at too. I'll eventually include the node.js after I do a little clean up. Programming lights from a keytar is pretty much the coolest way to sequence lights.

The arduino is in a travel soap box ziptied to the back of the wreath. It's the best $1.50 case ever.

And here is a childish drawing that shows the basic hardware setup. I like to do silly drawings. 
I hope to have Wizards in Winter tracked to premier this week!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

GE35 MIDI Arduino stuff.

The nerdy details of my GE35 Midi control build v1. Each bulb is assigned a midi note starting at 0 (C -2 I think) and three CC controls to send Red Green and Blue values. I send the CC value, the controller stores the value for the bulb. When the Note On is received the controller reads the velocity attribute for the note and sends tells the string to turn on the associated bulb with the brightness set to the note velocity and the stored color values.

The DAW has the midi commands synched to the music. I have to put the CC commands in the tracker and then I am sending the notes to control the bulbs.  

For this build I set the power and midi data to go over CAT5 ethernet cable to power the string and an arduino to receive the midi and control the light string.

Here are some instagramed pictures to show that you plug in the midi and power in one box and the bulbs and arduino are at the other end.  Some thoughts on v2 after the pictures.

So, always seeing how things could be different, maybe better but perhaps not is the mind killer. I could fight my self on each decision or wait for a new material or technique I don't know but I would never finish anything. Next time:

Punch the light string directly into the keystone jack.

More lights! Addressable by MIDI channel.

Set the arduino up to connect as an USB MIDI device.

Figue out a better control protocol in midi. I chose what I did because I understood it, but it is laborious to input the control codes in Rosegarden. I need to find if Rosegarden or another DAW might have better options with scene or sequence triggering. Sysex might be easier to send color information or the color values might be packed into the velocity information. It would be nice to send aftertouch and set up a more synth like Attack Decay Sustain Release for brightness.

Make an arduino based hardware controller or use Processing or other software app for programing the DAW.

Replace the arduino with a RaspberryPi and use it to play the sounds and use GPIO directly to control the lights and custom software and app based control.



I'll have code and video up when I have something to show other than me pushing a note on the keyboard and a cat sniffing the bulb that just lit up.