WMNF Live Music Showcase

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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.

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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.

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The Current Rig (2016)

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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.

 


SoLocalPasco Podcast

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SoLocalPasco is a podcast in the Pasco County area focusing on the arts, culture, politics, and general news in the area. When print and broadcast media fails us, things like podcasts and Twitter take over. Greg Smithwick does an amazing job covering our area, and he understands how to ask the good questions. Here is an appearance on his show recorded last week, and airing today. Listen to Another Season of Heartbreak in this video.

You can also listen to the whole interview here, which includes the song Love Grande as well. This song is available on Julie’s 3rd CD, Follow the Muse.


My Favorite Ambient CDs

Ambient music isn’t for everyone, but it is a great way to slow the mind down. It is also so fun to play, as I an’t rely on ‘stock licks’ and massive amounts of gain. It all is very slow, and evolves over time. Here are my 2 favorite ambient releases, like, ever.

Brian Eno’s Discreet Music

Discreet Mu

This album comes in 2 parts, but what I really like is the composition called Discreet Music. Composed of super simple 3 note melodies (at the most) weaving and overlapping, this is not a constant loop. It is a slowly evolving loop over time, and this is what caught me, and set me using loops the way that I do. As these simple melodies come in and out, I could almost hear what they should be before they were played. A brilliant piece of modern composition using primitive synth tones, it takes time to understand exactly what is happening here, which is why I think it is so brilliant.

Fripp & Eno’s Evening Star

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Add Brian Eno’s ambience to Robert Fripp’s angular, sustaining guitar and you have a win-win from me. Side 1 works better for me than Side 2, but there were really no rules here about what this music should sound like at the time. Yes, there are some guitar solos here, but they are more beautiful than shocking. We can hear how how loops build up, and how Eno manipulated them as they were played. It is difficult to work with someone this closely who gets what you play, and is sensitive enough to lift the whole thing up higher rather than push you out of the way. We can hear this here. The cover photo is the perfect idea of what you will hear.

 


The Journey of Learning

Embarking on a lifetime with music isn’t for everyone. It takes discipline. It means realizing you will never be satisfied where you are, and more concerned with where you aren’t. It means making time for practice and creativity in our busy lives.

And it is a lot of fun.

Guitar players have it easy. It isn’t like the stereotypical piano lessons, with the stern teacher hitting your wrists with rulers if the hand position isn’t perfect. Modern guitar playing has no real methodology. For every ‘correct’ way of doing things, you can find 100 guitarists who not only have achieved some sort of success, but play very very well despite the fact that the way they play is ‘wrong’.

So, what is right?

Well, to me, what is right is based on the effort it takes to accomplish. I teach about economy, or, not working too hard. Guitar playing isn’t about strength, it is about dexterity. It is about moving only the amount you need to accomplish a task and no more. It is about recognizing where we hold tension in our bodies. And it is about the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

That last one, that is sometimes the hardest. We don’t like not knowing. Especially as adults, we don’t like feeling that we don’t know things.

That last point is a big one. Certain personalities are more suited to learning than others. Since guitar lessons (at least with me) are not always about playing a piece you have practiced, we have to be ok with making mistakes and learning from them.

No guitarist steps on stage or records without preparation. It is unfair to compare ourselves with what we hear or see. So, we practice. We make mistakes, and some terrible noises along the way. We get up, dust ourselves off, and one day realize that we make less mistakes than we did before. So things get better.

Keep that head down, take a baby step. Don’t keep wishing we are at the top of the mountain because we saw some rock-guy-flavor-of-the day who seems to be there (he isn’t). Funny thing, no matter how many years we put into it, we only realize that there is just so much more to learn. And we have to be OK with that, and even embrace it.

This kind of person makes the best students who will carry music and creativity with them forever.


It is the Parents that Make Children Better Students

It still amazes me about some parents who bring their children to lessons, that they haven’t fostered any type of appreciation for music themselves much less with their children. The children of these types of parents do not even know what a guitar sounds like, much less what it is capable of, or the rich history of guitar-based music. These are the hardest students to teach because they are not even quite sure why they are there. It is really the parents’ job to foster an appreciation for music throughout the child’s life, so the child really wants to be there. This can simply be having music on in the house or car a lot, to taking the child to see concerts and other performances, to regularly singing songs to or with your child.  In truth, all of it is important, and a child is more likely to work hard on something that they enjoy doing with their parent.
It is a great thing for a parent to be involved in as well, either sitting in lessons to understand what I teach, or to learn alongside their child. Then they have something they can do together.

Supportive, interactive and music-loving parents make the best environment for learning.


Generative Music Apps

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.

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.”

Scape

Scape is really my favorite one here. It learns, and reveals more of itself as you use it. You place geometric shapes on the screen, and twist them around. The more you play with it, the more shapes are available to use, and the more sounds you get. Each Scape plays for a time, them stops, but you can make playlists of your favorite Scapes. Beautiful stuff here.

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


Some 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.

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.I still own an M9, which I really like.

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: They never added it, and didn’t add it in their new Helix. Instead, I bought a Fractal AX8.

I also own a Boss RC2, 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.

Gradually I hope to move to using a computer-based system, using the VST Mobius, which is a very powerful looper. My initial experiments with Mobius were very positive, as it is like having 8 stereo Echoplex Pros.

Below is a simple acoustic guitar loop, with the Line6 DL4.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT7M2y_THbI&