Wednesday
Jul232003

« Sad »

It didn’t come easily but it came nonetheless. About a week and a half ago, I took my old studio room apart and put things in cases, bags, boxes or on hooks. The newer room that I had been using as control room and lounge also had part of the gear stripped out and put away, though there are some lingering things that really don’t have much of a place to go otherwise. But all that once was a relatively simple plug-and-play set up has been disabled. The only thing I intend to leave right in front of me is my old acoustic guitar. Funny, I never thought of myself as a guitar player, but if music is going to speak to me, I hope it can be done on six strings for a while.

Why did I do it?

Endless frustration on so many fronts relating to music, production, politics, family (real and imagined) and more. I had a fear of this as far back as the days in mid 2000 when I was working on Receiving. I knew that I was upping the ante a lot by commiting to a production pressing of CDs (500, but it's a real glass mastered deal, not some CDR run with an inkjet printer). I just felt that the CD was an end of an era for me. It took a year and more to record, and another year to see it done to the point where there were ten boxes of the thing on my doorstep in late October 2001. After finishing the music over a year earlier, I had some delays regarding the cover, money for pressing, and some life issues to clean up. With the exception of about 15 minutes of music I recorded for the holiday season in 2000, there have been no other real pieces of music that I call “done.” I have some tracks gleaned from about four different band combinations that have played since late 2000, but most are undone. Only one is multitracked to the point of being a pretty complete musical statement, listenable from start to finish. There have been endless hours of jams, short demos and other fragments, but nothing has panned out. I’ve had different players assemble into different bands, some with more promise than others. I’ve done some solo work but just couldn’t muster whatever it took to finish (or even start) recordings. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in search of gear that might make things easier, or better sounding, or more productive, etc. I’ve changed out studio rooms for a bigger more lively area in which to work. I’ve tried to get better on different instruments and in more situations. I’ve learned a lot and passed on a lot from any of a number of online forums about gear, techniques, trends, etc. I’ve also changed my main recording platform twice in the time since Receiving.

The year 2001 was critical for me. It started off disastrous. Lots of family drama to start with, followed by the death of my grandmother (it's her house I live in, now owned by my dad). I began to go to school for all this multimedia stuff around the same time she died. I remained at the house but had to rent rooms out, an odd thing to be living around 20-somethings after three years with a 90-something, and more changes. I got an inheritance that I spent on a mess of gear, most of which I thought I wanted and would use, but half of which was returned, sold or traded after some time, finding it was not as I had thought. I also felt sort of put on the spot by roommates. Previously, my grandmother was mostly oblivious to my music making. I worked in a small windowless room and I could do whatever I wanted and was free to be as loud and obscene as I wanted to be. But young roommates could hear stuff and frankly, I self-censored things. I also didn’t work at all hours of the night. So my environment changed around me. I wanted to play bass in a band of my design, but little came my way then. School was getting me into other things, and I sort of allowed my creativity to be channeled that way, into visual arts. I also got the computer that summer. It changed everything.

I discovered newsgroups and bulletin boards. I wish I hadn’t now. I knew a decent amount about gear and audio before I joined in on that world. Now I recite that shit in my sleep. It's fun for a while, but it's a drag. Same shit, different day. I got the troll label on some groups, got kicked off three times so far on another, and on and on. I don’t know what to say, but the mind numbing repetition of most of that material has done something to spoil the fun. And it also took a lot of time away from doing the art that I should have been doing—recording. For a long time, I didn’t want to use my computer for audio, but I buckled and got into ProTools LE last year. That made me need to sit in front of the computer more than ever, so even if I wanted to escape the online groups, I barely could because I needed some real help, and the recording world and online world were both accessed from the same machine!

Another thing that has been at work is that I am simply trying to be a better player. I was focusing on bass for a long while, then in the last several months, a lot more time has been on guitar. I had always leaned on effects, multitracking and other gimmicks to make music. And, in the post-Receiving world, I simply felt compelled to not do that. My studio, as it would appear now, is very light on gimmicks. I could do a lot in ProTools if I want, but instrumentally, it's a place with guitars and amps, basses, drums and a Rhodes piano. I have done away with the synthesizer, electronic drums, sampler, and most of the effects that lingered. It's really pared down to instruments and recorder. There is just a lot of it, and it's able to do a whole band. My recording chains are streamlined, my mixes are cleaner, and all that. It's more naked. The thing is, I don’t want to work as a solo guy. The spark isn’t there to do all that work. And the band side of things has been a rollercoaster ride. So it's hard to expect to get any keepable tracks from band players because no one is in it long enough to make anything happen. I just got fed up with flaky players, and depressed even more because I reconfigured the studio environment in such a way that band work was easy and solo work was not. At least not the way I used to work. And now, the way I used to work doesn’t work for me. I got separation, I got channels, I got tracks, I got nice monitors, I got a tidy and spacious place to work, but I don't have what it takes to do what I used to do—lock myself into a studio and make noise, music like my life depended on it. To do it like I was the only one left to do it. To speak truth to hard drives, to battle demons, and all that. I find it not even a surprise that I did better art with 4- and 8- track recorders in a windowless box with a few mics, a lot of instruments (often borrowed) and nothing but fire in me to do what it took to prove the world wrong. To prove to my grandmother who, when watching me try to play some really basic tunes (even badly) as a young piano student, commented on my playing “maybe you aren’t meant to be a musician.” Or to prove to my dad that not all musicians are drug using losers that can’t get anything together for more than a few sleazy gigs. Or to prove to my friend Matt that Rhythmic Catharsis was just the beginning of a process, or to prove to Mike Thaxton that I could do something with the musical punch of all that art rock we love, and the emotional punch of Kevin Gilbert. For whatever reason, I just lost the fire for the solo work, and the next stage was the band thing. And that, as we all know, is not the shortest path to a sane life.

So, for a long time, I have been frustrated. All dressed up and ready to go. There was somewhere to go, even. But it was paralyzing. On one hand, a significant goal was achieved in finishing the CD. I knew that raised the bar. The next place to go was to prove myself as a musician. Sort of did that. I get more and more compliments, and that is nice, but I don’t want to just play. I want to record and see things get done. I went from hiding behind effects on most everything to playing the guitar in my own band, sans effects, in more cases than not. Me, the Strat, the Mesa and some gain pedals, and a fistful of volume. And some of the stuff that the most recent band was playing was really sounding good. Not tight, just good. I’m a sloppy player, but the stuff was exciting. So the fire is there.

So what now?

I don’t know. It's sort of like when Robert Fripp turned in when King Crimson just put out their best album to date, back in 1974. Sometimes, it all needs to be stripped down and rebuilt. Fripp allows himself time to let “the future present itself.” I have been interesed in visual artistic expression for a while, since early 2001. I do the digital stuff and photography, and in doing so, it reminds me of the earlier days of music recording, when I just did what I did, and didn’t really know better. I listen to my old stuff and it's messy and flawed as hell, but there was a creative spark in it that just is too elusive in my musical endeavors. Music became too rigid for me, too black and white. Visually, I have only instinct and some coaching, but not years of expectations behind me, so I can enjoy it. I might throw together a collage a day for half a week, just like I did with recordings in 1995 or later. Also, I am more interested in things that have nothing to do with being an artist. I have some sheltered youth side effects to chase away. I have some movies to see, books to read, people to meet and so forth that didn’t happen earlier and somehow are demanding to be given time now. I’m almost 30 and half my life has been chasing the muse with music. Not all bad, but not all I need. There has been lots of grief due to family and world events that just needs time to be reflected upon. Music used to keep me in a small world of my own, and its not working out now. Something about the post-2001 world: nothing seems to work the same as it did before then. I had been talking about selling all my gear and going to a monastery (another King Crimson reference) and just really reexamining things. A certain spiritual side is itching to be honored, and that might lead me to interesting things. (I promise I won’t join a cult or become a Taliban guy.) I guess I’ll keep my stuff locked up out of sight for a while. Music, musicians, gear, and all that (but the joy of playing on a good day) just took me down too much in the last year, so I have to park it for at least a while. I think I need a piano and guitar. If I can’t say what I need with that, I should hang it up. I have less and less interest in hearing other music, and when I do, I almost regret it. I have a lot more in me on the topic of how music permeates our lives, but I’ll spare you. The thing is, I need to turn it off to make it special, and I hope that doesn’t backfire. I don’t know what to expect, but it's a safe bet that there will be more art work to peruse here in the near future, as I indulge myself that way.

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