News and Updates

Some quick updates from what has been a busy spring/early summer.

  • Work continues on a looping/ambient CD, this time of normal CD length. I am exploring the idea of multiple unsynced loops at once. I am also continuing to research alternative ways of setting up my guitar synth/looping rig. Boomerang III? Triple Play? The Boomerang is stereo, which is amazing, and allows 4 loops at once, with their own decay rates. But it doesn’t have the Echoplex’s unrounded multiply function which I use a lot. I need 2 Echoplexes for stereo though, and prices are pretty high. I can’t do multiple loops at once on an Echoplex, either. As far as the Triple Play, I don’t want to bring a laptop out to gig with, and it is incompatible with the 13-pin out on my Brian Moore Guitar. Tracking is fast, and when recording, you have lots of sound options. But my goal is to have a simple, easy,setup for live playing, which is almost always in mono. This might leave me with all older gear, which isn’t always a bad thing. I hate mountains of wires, and a long setup time. This might eliminate my Fractal AX8 from my looping rig, though. Decisions.
  • Writing and demoing is happening on Julie Black’s 4th CD, and we hope to hit the studio this fall. No idea what form the CD will take…it might be something like digital downloads to start. Carrying around boxes of CDs seems ridiculous in this day and age, and isn’t the way most people listen to music. Plus, they are expensive to make. We are also working on studio issues, like fixing some wiring, organizing, and coming up with new ways to record.
  • If you are friends with Julie Black on Facebook (or me), we Facebook Live 1 song from rehearsal every Wednesday at 9pm Eastern. It is an interesting look into the rehearsal process, which is hidden a lot by bands. Now I am noticing lots of bands in the area doing something similar. Did we start a trend?
  • I am playing many shows with Julie this summer, check out the dates on her page. Solo ambient dates have been scarce as I rebuild my rig into something portable that gives me the options I need. Modern gear is great, but routing becomes a problem. I do have many solo acoustic shows this summer though, doing my improvised loopy stuff.
  • I will try to be using some downtime to work on my Facebook artist page, and this website, which take time to update and promote. Thing is, as an individual artist, you only have so many hours of the day. I wish I could ask an assistant to do this sort of thing, but in the end, that person is me.

Keep checking back. When recording starts for Julie’s CD, I plan on having a studio log, with pics and notes from recording. It will be her most ambitious recording yet, with music not easily thrown into a stylistic box (my favorite kind).


ABC-TV Appearance and New Ambient Track

First, the new ambient track was recorded in stereo with a Fractal AX8 and a Boomerang III, which is capable of recording 4 unsync’d loops that overlap and don’t line up rhythmically. This song is part of a group of demos for a new CD. I will be writing more like this for an upcoming CD. This one is called Here Child, Finish Your Nothing.

The next item is from a Julie Black appearance on ABC-TV’s Morning Blend show. We played one acoustic song (Majesty of Hope) that appears on her 3rd CD, Follow the Muse.

Check out our appearance here.

The green room at the ABC studios.

Our view across the studio

Projection on the floor of ABC-TV studio

Watch a clip of me recording the solo in the recording studio.

 

 


Playing What You Don’t Know

music-dunce-440-b06eb96e

Advancing as a guitar player is never seen as a slow and steady climb. It is more like a series of steps with pretty long spaces in between. While it might seem like you don’t get better for weeks or months at a time, one breakthrough can lead to months of inspiration. Those are the times I look forward to, and probably the reason I do this whole guitar thing. Modern ‘guitar culture’ sends us an endless stream of messages about what guitar to use, what to wear, how to look, what to listen to, and debate endlessly about gear. In the end, it is the player that has to push through all of that and not just reinforce what we already know, but be brave enough to venture into something we don’t. This article will help us along that journey, but only if we take the leap.

HOW DO YA LEARN?

OK, Far Beyond the Sun, from the top!

Far Beyond the Sun, from the top!

Traditionally, music was learned through direct connection: a master musician taught a student. Lessons got a little harder each week, and the student practiced hard and get better at a slow, steady pace. Traditional classical instruments are still taught in this manner, as well as some jazz programs at higher levels. However, modern electric (and much acoustic) guitar playing isn’t taught like this. Every guitar teacher has his/own method, and electric guitar is still so young compared to those older classical instruments, that it really hasn’t had time to establish a method that works for everyone. Besides, lessons aren’t for everyone. Not everyone wants or needs lessons, and with the internet, you can learn a lot on your own. Even reading guitar magazines helps so much these days, as you can learn many different styles, complete with sound clips all without leaving your home. All it takes is being self-motivated enough to sit down in learn them.

THE GUITAR PLAYER’S GUIDE TO INERTIA

McCartney doesn't seem to have this problem, so why do I?

McCartney doesn’t seem to have this problem, so why do I?

Newton’s First Law says that a body at rest wants to stay at rest. When applied to guitar playing, and learning new things, our natural inclination is to do nothing. That is easy! You already have a pool of knowledge, so it is time to draw from it! Problem with this is that if you write songs, at some point your 22nd song will sound a lot like your 3rd. Yes, bands and musicians have made careers out of recycling ideas over and over (put on your schoolboy uniform and think hard), but these days, the more you know, the better equipped you are to Tell Your Own Story.

CARRY ON AND MOTIVATE

3d-printed guitars are certainly outside the box.

3d-printed guitars are certainly outside the box.

The problem arises when we pickup up our guitars and immediately start playing what we know. Of course I do! It rocks! My hands know exactly where to go! Everybody thinks I am so cool because of my rockin’ licks! 

But this is the problem. If we always stay in our comfort zone, we never want to leave. Soon 20 years go by, and we are still the same player as we were 20 years ago. Same solos, same intros we play, same cool showpiece we practiced like crazy…20 years ago. If we want to be better players, we might want to start doing something now that stimulates creativity. The idea is that if we take ourselves outside of what is comfortable, we realize what we know is inadequate. And, if we don’t see a teacher who should regularly do this, we have to do it ourselves.

SHAKE IT UP, BABY!

New musical situations are challenging, but fun. Yeah, we feel like we are in 2nd grade when playing over an unfamiliar chord progression, or might not quite have our tone perfect for playing classic metal, but you will get there, and acquire more tools in the process. Here are a few ideas:

  • Play in unfamiliar keys. Blues in F, or metal in Eb (without retuning)
  • Retune your guitar to something different, or play in standard tuning if you always downtune.
  • Use the neck pickup and your tone control
  • Use the clean channel.
  • Set up your effects in a random order
  • Get a looping pedal and practice improvising over unfamiliar chords.
  • Try a different pickup than you would normally choose.
  • Listen to different music and find something you like in it
  • Write using a capo. Record parts on that song without using a capo.
  • Learn very basic keyboards- it will change how you view the guitar
  • Avoid riffs or power chords in the next song you write
  • Use conventional gear in an unconventional way
  • If you’ve heard it before, don’t do it
  • Take your influences and discard them
  • If you play something horrible, do it over and over
  • Learn the basics of scales and chords they are used over
  • If you are terrible at tapping, write a song using only tapping
  • Use a different guitar than you are ‘supposed to’ for the style you play
  • try to write a pop song, or a song for a commercial
  • No repeating patterns!
  • One thing, repeated. Precisely and quickly!
  • Pick up a slide. Play metal.
  • Play solos with nothing but chords
  • If your hands automatically do something when you pick up the guitar, don’t do that one thing. Ever. Again.

While not everything on the list is possible at once, it does give you an idea of what I’m thinking. If we are unhappy with what we play, we have to decide not to play that way anymore. Find things you like in other players, and then meld them with your own approach- you might find that someone will listen to you one day with the same sense of wonder. But only if we break out of the patterns that we have always relied on. Music should constantly evolve, and so should our playing. If we don’t constantly poke a stick into our own backs, no one else will.


Looping Devices I Use

Many loopers available allow you to switch between loops, so you can make an entire song over pre-recorded verse/chorus patterns.

This isn’t the way I use loops though. While this idea might be fine for a 1 man band situation, or rehearsing ideas, it is the live manipulation of the loop which starts the creative process for me.

Record some sound, add more to it, slice it up into pieces while playing live over the loop, fade and repeat.

I need loopers at least capable of fading the loops with a foot pedal. Sadly, many manufacturers of looping devices just see looping as an afterthought for many devices. That, or, they focus on the ‘backing track’ idea, where you are jamming over static loops.

I need a little more control than that. Ideally, you can have a ‘feedback’ control on any looper. This allows the original loop to fade slowly while new material is played over it. The whole loop morphs into something new as we listen- which is a lot more interesting than listening to static loops.

The Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro is a really, really advanced looper.

I use an Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro for this, which was the king of commercially available loopers, even before the current crop of looping pedals came out. The Echoplex allows you to record, reverse, slow down, sync, fade, multiply and split loops like nothing else currently out there. It is really an instrument in itself. I use this for all performances that are exclusively looping, since the manipulation of the recorded sound can be as subtle or as jarring as I want. The huge fault of the Echoplex is that it isn’t stereo…so for stereo use, you need 2.

For other looping shows, I sometimes use a Line6 DL4. This green delay pedal is a fantasic basic looper, which allows expression pedal control over the loop volume, so I can fade the loops manually while playing live material overtop. I have owned the Line6 M13 as well, which duplicates the functionality of the DL4 and adds a bunch of effects as well. Since another project I am in uses in ear monitors though, I had to sell my M13 for a Line6 POD HD500 which includes all the effects of the M13 with added amp modeling.

Sadly, they didn’t add any kind of expression pedal control to the HD500’s looper volume (even though it was in the DL4 and M13) so  I can’t recommend it as a live looping device for the looping musician. This continues to be a source of frustration, but I have been told it will be addressed in a firmware update. We’ll see. (EDIT: It never was, despite promises. I don’t buy any of Line6’s higher-end effects any more). 

I have owned a Boss RC-2, which is great for working out ideas, but doesn’t work for me as a live looping device because there is no way to fade the loop using your feet. It lacks a lot of control I need out of a looper. 

The Boomerang III allows control over the loop, and is stereo.

I am also using a Boomerang III as well. It has its own quirks, and I am still getting the hang of it. Copying a loop live (unrounded multiply in EDP-speak) is possible, but you don’t hear the results immediately. It is stereo, and allows 3 unsynced loops to play at once, so for now, it is a cool alternative to owning a second Echoplex. Some of the functions are convoluted (it should use the loop buttons to go right into overdub and erase), and requires some odd compromises. The Boomerang is unlikely to have any further software updates, and currently the company is up for sale.

I’d love the idea of a stereo Echoplex, but right now, it isn’t going to happen. Evoloop is currently vaporware, and the Looperlative LP1 is undergoing a redesign. The Looperlative might also be priced out of the range of most musicians at this point, as it is a 1 person operation.  

Below is a simple acoustic guitar loop from several years ago, with the Line6 DL4.


Generative Music Apps

screen_scape2

I love Brian Eno’s concept of Generative Music. Music that repeats, but never the same way. In other words, we set it in motion and it randomly generates. It usually focuses on a few keys, but it is something I can listen to hours. It is kind of like looping, but the patterns never repeat exactly. Several loopers playing a piece together might be closer to the concept, but doesn’t describe it exactly. Eno encourages musicians to use these music generators in their own compositions either on record or on stage, and I certainly intend to.

I love all 3 of the apps he offers, and I recommend them all. They are perfect for falling asleep (they include a sleep timer- yay!), or just on in the background when you read or work.

Scape

Using Scape, you drag shapes onto the screen. Their shape and position changes the generated sound. Over time, more shapes reveal themselves, so you can use them in your Scapes. I love this idea, and Scape allows you to save Scapes, or share them. Each Scape plays for a finite amount of time (about 20 minutes), so it is perfect for falling asleep.

Bloom

This is so hard for me to describe, so I will repeat some of the description from their website:

“Part instrument, part composition and part artwork, Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualizations.”

Trope

This is my favorite, because it is like artwork as well as a music generator. You draw on the screen, it makes music from your shapes, and it never repeats. From the website:

“Darker in tone, Trope immerses users in endlessly evolving soundscapes created by tracing abstract shapes onto the screen, varying the tone with each movement.”

Air

This is essentially some sort of ambient piano and voice music generator, although I tend to mix out the voice sometimes- it is limited to just a few notes. This is an interactive app as well that allows you to conduct the music, in a way. This would probably sound really awesome with multiple players playing at once, but it works well on its own, too:

“Air features four ‘Conduct’ modes, which let the user control the composition by tapping different areas on the display, and three ‘Listen’ modes, which provide a choice of arrangement. For those fortunate enough to have access to multiple iPhones and speakers, an option has been provided to spread the composition over several players.”

Read more about Brian Eno’s generative music apps here.


Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind

cover-reward-your-toil-b

Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind

This is a release I made that consists of 14 hours of music presented on a DVD. The DVD includes video, a recording blog, many pictures and details about the process of putting together such an expansive release. There are 14 one-hour pieces of music, with a few more mp3s thrown in the multimedia section.

The idea is to have an hour of sleep/meditation/relaxation music each day for 2 weeks, so no repeats. The music is performed on guitar, guitar synth, and loops, but I consciously avoided any kind of rhythms or repeating patters. The result is long, flowing passages without sharp transitions, and perfect for quiet times. A one-hour sampler was produced for those not ready to engage with 14 hours of music.

Personally, I’ve used music to help sleep in the past, but rhythms and transitions would be startling, so I decided to take those out.

The original DVD pressing is sold out, but I am looking at ways to digitally release at least the 14 hours of music as one package. Traditional online digital retailers are not quite equipped to deal with such a project!

toil-back


WMNF Live Music Showcase

radio1

This Friday, we were on WMNF-FM 88.5 Tampa radio for their live music showcase. When we were on the show last year, one of our band members couldn’t make the show so we had about a day to scramble and get a set list together. This time, we were ready.

radio12

WMNF’s cable wall. There are a lot of cables there!

This is the first radio show with our new bass player, and it was being filmed for the station’s YouTube channel as well as for live streaming video.

The show went well, and was a nice and relaxed interview and performance, as we know many people at the station. This was to promote a show later in the day at Tampa’s Skipper’s Smokehouse, which is a blues hotspot on the West Coast of Florida. We tend to get lumped in a lot with blues shows and festivals (jazz, too), but those descriptions are not quite accurate.

The gear in the cases before the show.

The gear in the cases before the show.

Waiting for soundcheck.

Waiting for soundcheck.

The gear I used was my Ernie Ball Silhouette Special, a Fractal AX8 amp modeler (direct in stereo) and an Ebow. Not a lot to carry, which I really like.

The 2 guitars used for the show. I only used the blue one. Note the Ebow.

The 2 guitars used for the show. I only used the blue one. Note the Ebow.

The Fractal Ax8, setlist, and WMNF's tangle of cables.

The Fractal Ax8, setlist, and WMNF’s tangle of cables.

The show later that night went well, and the Fractal AX8 sounded positively massive through the monitors on stage. We went ampless again, which I really like. I can control the stage volume much better, and my ears don’t ring for days. I also don’t have to lift heavy amps anymore.

On the road to the gig!

On the road to the gig!

Looking out from backstage.

Looking out from backstage.

My view looking down at the gig.

My view looking down at soundcheck. 

 

 

 


That time I was in Guitar Player…

Well, the first time, anyway. I was the last person to appear in Mike Varney’s Spotlight column, which was the springboard for many great players. I grew up reading Guitar Player, over all of the other guitar magazines. When I was young, an older friend gave me a stack of issues from the 70s and early 80s. Those were some  great sources of info. I learned a lot of music, and about a lot of guitarists I never would have known about (and no other magazines were covering). There were some really in-depth interviews, in a way that modern music journalism simply doesn’t do anymore. So the first time in the magazine was sort of a big deal for me. Here is the article.

guitar-player-aug-06


The Current Rig (2016)

scallop

I realized I don’t have many gear pics on this new site (though the old one was filled with them). I am going to concentrate more on what I use now, although if I am asked about what I used to use, I will certainly answer.

This article revolves around what I use for Julie Black as I will cover my acoustic rig and my guitar/looping rig as I get this site up to speed. This year, I have really made the move to working ampless, which is remarkable when you consider that most blues and jazz guitarists (the genres were are thrown in) are some of the most traditional in their gear choices. My decision has to do with the advances in technology, monitoring, and the fact my is that I need to protect my hearing and my back. I don’t miss carrying an amp around, and honestly I have never heard better on stage. But let’s start with the guitar:

Music Man Silhouette Special

My #1

My #1

This is my favorite guitar, and the one I use at almost all Julie Black shows. The most interesting thing about it is that it has  scalloped neck (see the title pic). The reason I love this was written about in another article I wrote for Seymour Duncan. Basically, it allows a really light touch with the left hand with very little tension. The pickups are a Custom Custom in the bridge, and an Alnico II Pro in the neck. The 5 way switch has interesting wiring, which I also did an article about. I will eventually do another article about it.

#2

#2

This is the 2nd guitar I bring to every gig. It is a USA-made Music Man SUB1, with a textured flip-floppy paint color called Cinnamon. It is made of poplar, and is a little heavier than the other Music Man, and has a very mid-focused sound. The pickups are a Jazz and Custom 5- both scoopy-sounding pickups to make up for the tone of the wood. The volume control has a hidden Fender S-1 switch that splits the coils of both pickups.

ax8

From the guitars, the signal goes to the Fractal AX8 Amp Modeler. It is a wonderful device which contains the amp models as well as the effects & looper. Currently, my 2 favorte modes in it are the Friedman Dirty Shirley, and the Fender Twin. The board is a Pedaltrain Fly, which is fairly rare (the soft case is amazing). I control the effects with a sadly discontinued Mission SP-2 pedal.

The signal goes (in stereo) to the PA system. I monitor with IEMs (in-ear monitors), which protect my hearing and block out the sound from the main PA or other monitors or speakers on stage. I get my own mix, and have my own volume control. To me, it sounds like listening to a CD. It is the best sound I’ve ever had on stage.