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Entries in calabrese west studio (6)

Thursday
Jan182007

Downsizing

Well, after some deferred action due to much agonizing hand wringing, I decided to finally be good on my word and sell some shit and take the loss so that I might feel my overall load of material stuff is lighter. The most significant sale was my Warwick fretless bass which sold for precisely half the price I paid for it about five and a half years ago. I don't know what is more saddening. Is it the ridiculous sale price that eats at me? Or the fact that I had to fess to not being Jaco Pastorius or Jack Bruce (who plays a snappier version of the Warwick as I had)? Or is it that I really have lost my muse and it doesn't matter what I sell now because it all feels like having vestigial limbs or rolls of fat after a gastric bypass surgery?

The year 2006 was a year of really evaluating what is dear to me, and in the process, I watched as my musical gear and other household stuff just ate at me, even at the thought of its very existence, and for being under my roof. Sometime in the coming months, I will have to move again, and I really can't see dragging all this stuff around, while not using it like I thought I would. Glenn (Cheekymonkeyfunker musical buddy from 2005) tries to talk me out of selling stuff, but the last piece of music remotely worth signing my name to was done with him back in May of that year. All of 2006 came and went with not a single piece of worthwhile music emerging. So I feel that maybe I shot my musical load. So I hit Craigslist hard this last couple weeks to try to clean out the shit that is most redundant or underused. I still have more of that stuff, even before I slash into the core of things, but I am not really clear how I want to progress. But some things are obvious. I blew out a small collection of old, cracked, or otherwise unused cymbals today. Other stuff is on the block, including my first G4 Mac and the monitor that goes with it. I don't know whether I should sell my Pro Tools stuff or not. It is handy just as a sound card, but the presence of it drives me mad, considering how useful it would be if I worked the way I did back in 1995-2000.

I often talk about just heaving shit off a cliff and being done with it. Or heaping it onto a bonfire. Or just smashing it in the driveway. I've had many a thought about how I worked hard in the late 90s to be able to afford that stuff, with it often being a way to fill a void in my life that somehow I feel has been filled by being in a relationship and now married. Other gear was bought with inheritance money from my grandmother, and not insignificantly, I have realized that the shopping spree of 2001 was a huge mistake. The spree was the final blowout of my effort to replace a need for something wholesome in my life with gear that would permit me the means of channeling my fear and anxiety and frankly, hatred for the world into something meaningful. But when I go that far, I say, why would I want to make music now? Why spend all that time? Who cares? I played music for friends in my heyday and they pretended to like it. But now who are my music buddies? Who gives a shit? With mp3s and all the devaluation of the art of music and lack of respect for musicians, how could I ever even pay back my investment? Am I good enough somehow to even call myself a musician? Or am I just a guy who owns a lot of shit that has the potential to make music if someone with talent and vision picks up those tools?

Recording for me was always a very isolated thing. Rare were the days when I actually jammed with people, or actually collaborated. The studio was small, windowless, hidden in many ways. The world outside was harsh. The world inside was freeing. But I had to be very isolated, and I just can't do that anymore, at least not that way. I have a responsibility to Kelli to be present in the marriage, and frankly, the time I spent in the studio has always been well fed by a persistent hatred for how the world works, and the depression that follows. I just can't see returning to that type of life. Other things are too important.

I still pick up a guitar or bass or hit the drums some, but it's just not there. The spirit is just not in me to do that stuff in an original music setting, though I have fun poking around learning something now and again from other music. But it doesn't take my once-significant investment to have the tools to do music at that level. I miss having a keyboard of some sort, and I find myself longing for an acoustic piano again—after selling one in 1996, and also having sold over the years two subsequent electric pianos, and a synthesizer. I don't know why. While in exile in my apartment in late 2005, I found myself longing to have my studio put together again. Now that I have it and everything is ready to work with, I don't use it. All I have is a museum of who I used to be, or so it seems.

Friday
Jul142006

Hell?

They say that in hell, the damned are condemned to do the same thing over and over for all eternity, while not ever learning another way or coming to true understanding of their place in the scheme of things.

Well, it's with mixed feelings that I reassemble parts of my studio, wiring things up again, even though I've done this sort of thing a handful of times in the last three years. In fact, it was about that long ago this week when I closed up my studio and took everything apart to symbolize the end of my involvement in all that. And for the most part, it has almost been just that. With the exception of the three tune fragments that Glenn and me recorded, hardly anything has come of the last three years. Sure, I've put things together and torn them apart in disgust a few times. Each time, I feel more and more distanced from either any ability to play, or even an ability to think in musical terms. When I am away from gear and studio environment, or at least not doing any music-related work, I have pipe dreams of picking up where I left off after I finished Receiving or one of the more complete things I've done since (Race To Judge, tracks with Glenn, the stuff I did with the quartet and trio, the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music). But then I just basically drop it all and go check my email. Glenn was the best collaboration partner in a long time who actually led to anything seeming to get done, but he's so busy with his life after last year's meltdown that it's a rare day when we even get to meet up.

I guess there just isn't any button to push or drug to take which would put me back in the manic recording mode I was in back in '98-2000. So far no amount of listening to Mike Keneally or King Crimson has jostled me to really try to do what I used to do. Bah. Time to sell all this shit and get my mind clear.

Monday
Mar272006

For Those About To Rock...

First you gotta change your strings.

Man, I was doing some neat jamming of these bits that never found a home in the last few years, and some newer adventures on guitar. I felt bad-ass. I felt the stage lights on me and all the fans banging their heads with their sweat being slung around like a lawn sprinkler.

Then I broke a D string. Fuck!

Monday
Mar202006

Of Sublimation And Guilt

I have it again. That nagging feeling that materialism is keeping me from being something far greater than I feel I am now. I have been plagued by this off and on for about three years now in particular, and it usually comes in the form of a profound insecurity about whether or not I have any use for my musical gear anymore. Most of my time with this equipment has gone essentially useless and frustrating. I peaked in my materialism in 2001 when I inherited about $26,000 from my grandmother who had just died earlier in the year. I spent most all of that on new gear—primarily music and recording gear, but also my first computer and some of the things that accompany that. Most of this stuff has been sold off in a long and slow process of downsizing to get to what seemed to be a core of items that would allow me a wide range of options while not having the redundancy that I had in 2001. But now, the core itself seems to be a cancerous lump, and I am having more and more thoughts that it's just time to ditch most of it and get clarity. This would of course mean that I would essentially cease to be a musician, but most of the time now it is almost all frustration and self doubt when I try to do anything in music. All the little things I've tried, and all the big things I've tried have not really ignited a fire under me to work with the dedication to my recording and composing craft like before.

Last summer, when it was time for Kelli and I to move on from the house that I had hoped to live in for many years, I was confronted with all the gear I had, all the furniture, all the books and other household junk that accumulates when you don't have compelling reason to clear it out. Add to that all the similar stuff that Kelli has, and it was a total nightmare of trying to prioritize what to keep and what to toss. I'm sure we could have bailed on more. But specifically, the music stuff was like a dead limb for me—a vestige of some life I'd led four or five years before. It's not stuff that should just be thrown around willy nilly in a shed, or at a storage space. It's still useful in every way as if it was new. It still could be used as a great tool to provide diversion to my life, or to change the world. It's not junk in the least. But it's a lot of stuff to move around, all the while not knowing what to do with it. But the thought nags still! I could get rid of it but then would I soon realize what I had done, feel some loss, then mourn a decision which could not easily be reversed? If I hang on to these things, I have them. They are ready. They are within reach. They won't have to be bought. But if I ditch them, they will be gone and not available to me, and I'd have to spend money to get that sort of experience back, or borrow stuff.

And the greater thing than the fact that maybe I'd put myself out of a guitar or bass is that I am essentially not a musician who plays music solely for the fun of it. I don't know anyone else's songs, I barely know my own anymore. No, I have always used guitar and bass essentially as something to use to record things, sort of like a painter uses brushes or sponges to place paint on a canvas, and the recording for me is the art which sits on the canvas. So for me, or at least the me that I recognize, musical involvement is more than just strumming some Eagles songs on the couch. It's a far bigger thing. But it's a headache to move this stuff—now twice in the last several months, and likely again within the year since my current space is available for that period, with a general expectation that it will end when Adam returns from Brazil. It's a headache to move it all around, get it put together, make it work, relearn how to use things. I am growing ever shorter of patience with regards to gear, technology, material items. I find most of it just tormenting sometimes, quite like when I was seven and took my entire bike apart for fun but was ordered by my grandfather to put it back together, and I was just crushed because I knew I could never really do that.

Essentially, the lofty ideas I had in 2000-2001 about being a cottage industry of music production and promotion has just been a miserable failure, essentially because I gave up the devotion to music when I got on the computer and was sucked into that world of options. Now I swear it all drives me bonkers and furthermore, with my married life on a basically good track and being removed from some of the unnecessarily empty pursuits I ordinarily engaged in, it's just odd to choose to lock myself in the studio environment in hopes that somehow artistic greatness will flow from me. I do dabble on guitar, bass, and drums (all I have left for instruments—no keys or other things), and some of the things don't suck at all, but my ability to turn any of this into art is just lacking. It doesn't happen. My old reliance on "throw shit on the wall and work with the stuff that sticks" is fruitless. I'd prefer to totally erase all signs of an hour long jam if it means sifting for 10 hours to find the good stuff, yet I am not really in control of making good stuff at will. It's maddening. So I frequently storm out of the studio, frustrated, angry, and saddened, often with the idea that I will just turn back around and go to Craig's list and put up a hundred ads for all my shit.

I recently had an odd idea come to me regarding what would have been my muse back in my "main sequence" back in 1997-2000. An odd parallel hit me, and the question is more whether I am attributing too much to the coincidence, or not. Really, it revolves around this non-relationship with Shelby, a girl who I knew I would never ever really get with, but that for some reason, she was the target of my passion. She had primarily been out of town for most of the time I knew her, but I longed for the times she was in town. One time, there was a period of over two and a half years when we had no contact whatsoever. Then, in a total coincidence of me being called to work in La Mesa on a day off from the Pizza Hut, and only being asked to come in at will before rush hour, and making a 20 minute drive to do so, I happened into this Shelby in the lot right as I walked in. It was the first time I'd seen her in two years and eight months. We hugged and it was like angels singing on high for the rest of the day. We agreed to stay in touch again. It was on August 10th. Three days later, I was at a music shop where I bought my VS 880 recorder which was the hardy little machine which I used to record everything on for a few years, and historically now I see it was the best stuff overall.

Anyway, Shelby was on her way out of town soon after our meeting though maybe we met another time or two to reconnect. She was off to Louisiana where she was in school. This was after time in Alaska (where I had seen her last just after the start of 1995), and northern California, and before that back in San Diego, where we had originally met at my church in 1988. Since she was back in my life, I had this overwhelming desire to finally get with her, and was just nuts over trying to somehow get her to come around. I wrote long and charming but still tentative letters to her. I told her all sorts of things that I hoped would make her feel wanted. Blah, blah, blah. My other outlet was recording. If I wasn't somehow focused on this girl and our future relationship, most of my time was spent recording all sorts of things with my new toy. First it was at my apartment for about ten months, then finally at the old Hog Heaven studio at my grandmother's place. The spring of 1998 and the summer to follow was time when I was utterly beside myself with gaga for her. It also happened to be a very lucrative recording period. See, the big fuss was that she was coming to town, leaving Louisiana, and coming to stay at her mom's for a while, and maybe going into the Peace Corps. So of course, there I was licking my chops at the promise of a new period to work on this project with her. Blah, blah, blah.

The summer of '98 was incredible, not because anything actually did happen between us, but because I believed even to a fault that something would happen. She ended up going into the Peace Corps and going to the eastern part of Africa. This lasted for all of two years and more—basically the same period of our total silence, but this was not going to be a total blackout. I was like an eager teenager too choked up on the stagefright to actually say anything that would destroy our friendship, so I always tippytoed around my real feelings, though they had been batted down rather harshly back about eight or nine years before in the earlier days of our knowing each other. The reason I had to tippy toe is because I knew full well it would happen again. But I had hoped that maybe all those intervening years took some of the edges off.

After she left for the PC in September '98, I began a rather prolific two years of recording. I had the space, the gear, the time, and apparently the muse to do that. Oh, I was just head over heels about her, even though I realized that nothing would ever come of it. I continued my letter writing, each time trying to evoke something that would make her come home to me, blah, blah, blah. All through 1999 and 2000, I was recording my own stuff, and things for Loaf, Tamara, Mike Keneally, Mark Decerbo, and others. That little 880 got used like mad.

In the last half of 2000, right before this Shelby was to return to San Diego, giving me another giddy spell of anticipation, I had finished my CD Receiving. In the few days before she actually returned in December, I engaged in a mad flurry of recording activity while I spent about a week recording what turned out to be my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music CD which I originally made because of another girl who had entered my life: my four year old neice Kaitlin. Kaitlin and I met only before Thanksgiving when I launched another period of relationship with my mom and her family, most of our lives estranged from each other. Anyhow, I had recorded 15 minutes of music in about a week and was excited to have done it, despite being essentially creatively drained after mastering the Receiving CD in September and having worked on it for a year before that. I finished the Holiday CD on the 21st or so. Shelby returned on the 22nd.

To make my already long story shorter, let me say that our "relationship" that I had so patiently tried to cultivate came crashing down in a single day on the 22nd of December—the day she returned and when we met for lunch and some errands. Total wipeout. I knew my worst fears of it failing were coming true, but in my effort to salvage it one last time, I wrote a long letter with the exact feelings that I'd never revealed to her—good, bad, ugly. I told her of all the times I hung on to this relationship like there was nothing else in life. But I was ready to let it go. I delivered it by hand to her mom's mail box in La Mesa. After that, we barely exchanged a word. By that point, it was in the email realm and I don't think anything exists between us since March of 2001.

The odd thing that freaks me out is this. In the same way as the most prolific recording period of my life started in the very same week as she and I started a new chapter, I am just now catching on that it ended in a similar way, in reverse. I've said for some time that the Holiday CD was the last good thing I recorded that actually got finished. It's the last thing that was done in my usual production style, and to my usual standard. It was the last whole project that started and ended. It was the last one that was done exclusively on the 880, before I went in search of other possibilities with all the gear I bought in 2001.

I'd hate to give this broad more credit than she deserves, but the story has baffled me for a few days now. I already knew she had worked on my psychology for a long time—I already knew I was sublimating a feeling for her and turning it into musical art. I just had not really realized how the times were linked—the new recorder and her reappearance in my life triggered nearly two and a half years of mad recording, and both the recorder and the artistic streak came to an end essentially in the same week as this broad made her final exit from my life.

So now I wonder what my muse really is. Shelby isn't around to mess with my head and drive me to record, and nor should I want that. But what does drive me to record now? I've had some great emotional pain from moving house, or dealing with my psychotic old man. No real music to come of that. I spend my time entertaining notions of civilizational collapse and environmental destruction. No music to come of that. I love my wife, we do things together. No music to come of that. I am aligning myself more and more with the Christian model. No music to come of that. What gives? I find myself asking 'what button do I push to get something out of myself, musically? Who or what is my muse anymore? What the fuck is the hold up?'

If my muse is gone, and I don't get off just playing Eagles and Stones music on a guitar just to pass the time, I find myself wondering what in the world all this gear means to me any more? I have a nagging feeling that maybe $26,000 could have been placed elsewhere, or not spent at all. Who knows what killed my muse? Who can blame me if I find that I'd rather have dinner or a talk with my wife, and not isolate in my little box? Who can hold it against me that maybe I now have what I was so desperately pining for all those years? I don't know that anyone is holding a gun to my head expecting to hear my new music. I guess I just don't feel the need to do this, or to do it the old way. What I keep insisting would do me good would be to find a band and channel my energy that way, but it's hard—I've tried that too, on somewhat my own terms, but it's such a hassle to find people who can work together for more than a few weeks. Even Glenn is too busy working around the clock. I have a shifting schedule. It's hard to make the time for this if people are going to be let downs. That is why I worked solo for so long—to avoid being the victim of letdowns. I've asked Kelli to take part in recordings too—we did one in 1998/9, but to no avail.

So I don't know what to make of it. As gear is concerned, I get crazy messing with options. I get neurotic. As art, I generally have relied on lots of paintbrushes and other applicators to do my painting. As an investment, it's still useful if it's called upon. I got rid of most of the completely gimmicky stuff. My gear now should enable me to make a durable piece of music using the time honored guitar/bass/drum formula, if I can coax ideas from them. I'm just lost.

Saturday
Feb252006

It's Not Vacation, It's Part Time Employment!

One of the things about working part time in the world of event production is that even more than it is the case with full time cats, it's feast or famine. For a couple weeks there, it was 30 hours a week with totally odd hours thrown in with totally normal banker's hours. Then it was 21 hours. Then this calendar week, I worked precisely no hours at AV Concepts. And next week, it appears that there will be the 30 hour plan due to a death in the family of one our drivers. And, the shifts are equally well messed up. There is talk about two drives on consecutive days up to LA, which in itself isn't too odd, but the timing is just fucking over the top weird—load IN and load OUT each at two in the morning! It's plenty whack, sez me. The following week looks like it will have a trip to San Francisco, which at least puts me in the league of maximum part time, with some per diem pay which makes up for a few "lost hours."

Ah, so what does my week turn into when there is utterly no work? Well, part of it is the continuation of my moving house project—more things find their intended nooks and crannies. Or, on a day like Tuesday, I get to enjoy doing the morning Bible study with some church folks. I hardly ever get to do the stuff unless I am unemployed, and would far prefer to leave my life open for stuff of that sort. On the same Tuesday, there was another midday church organization that met and I was able to attend. Tis also a rare thing to take part in. I got to learn about Panama and Costa Rica from one of the fellows who took a tour and shot some video, then, since I was carless after having Kelli drop me off, said fellow asked me to help him take his TV back to the house, which I did, and got my ride home that way. Also, later on that same evening, Kelli and I went next door to Phil's Urantia Book group reading which we usually do every other week. It's more stimulating material and it's always nice to share life with Phil and Nancy next door, especially now that they really are that close.

Oh, then there is the studio stuff. I finally got to do more stuff in the studio. It's feeling more and more normal to me now, though instruments are still there to remind me how long its been since I played. But overall, it's nice to be able to at least operate in an environment that is conducive to making music. After the apartment, it is nice. No more tiny apartment, no more loud annoying neighbors, and all my gear and office like stuff is in one place. I spent some time sorting out all sorts of audio files on the computer, trying to clean house on a bunch of shit that never got dealt with from the hours of jams that end up being done and partially worked with. It's led to some amazing discoveries of things I thought lost, or bits of stuff that when edited down to the potent scraps seem to make music. I put up a second video monitor today for the benefit of ProTools primarily where it's easier to operate with both of the primary screens filling their own monitor space. My acoustic guitar is out with Glenn, but I finally availed myself of one of Kelli's guitars which had been right around for a couple years now but I never touched it except to restring it maybe three years ago, only for it to get funky and green again. Well, I shined up the frets and oiled the board, and it's like new. Comparable to my old Fender, this is a similarly modest Yamaha. The discerning ear will notice I hardly ever record acoustic guitar. I like to mess with it because it's a sweet thing to hear chords on, but I am not really a guitar player who can make it sing. So it sits for months between short bouts of intense dabbling and experimentation with alternate tunings.

I also spent some time cursing and swearing at some web design projects of my own, and on the site I do for my church. I recently got into a position where I am the sole designer and maintainer of that site. After a terrifically long time of slow indecision in a not-quite-cooperative partnership on that project, the other person resigned. At least now the pace can pick up. We never properly announced the site to the church, though of course folks know it's there. In a month or so, the proper announcement will come down, and I want it to sit there looking like a new Camaro when I talk about the features it has, so I am combing it and trying some new stuff that will make any improvement I can make, but often by way of a really fucking frustrating exercise in tolerance of Dreamweaver and PHP.

okua the wolf dog sitting rather queen-like under a treeOkua the Wolf DogOh, then what else do I do on my not-quite-vacation? Well, Okua the wolf dog is as mischievous as ever, and this time, she knows the neighborhood. After all, this is her turf now! Oh, she can jump the fence with no problem then run in the no man's land behind our house, the school and the neighboring houses on the street in the canyon below us. She follows the mostly fenced corridor that runs along the school fence then somehow gets into the school field. She likes to hang out and get in some sniffing since the field doubles as a regular park when school is not in session. She cuts quite a figure; a blond wolf/shepherd of strong build comes walking in from nowhere and is all about the school. Sometimes she just goes and sits, but mostly she just likes to get out and run. She sets her own schedule in that regard. All it takes is a short moment of inattention if left unattended and unleashed in the back yard. The entrance to the park is close enough that I could walk, but I've used her recent escapades as an excuse to use my bike, and that is something I should be doing more of.

Ah, my boring life. Hopelessly chasing the dog on a piece of turf she knows since a pup. Working around the clock one day then not at all the next. Bible study with old people and my wife. Pulling hair out at web design. Next week it's all work and I will long for the days of doing all this. Push, pull, push, pull.

Friday
Feb102006

Calabrese West

Despite being a working fool for the last few weeks, I've been able to carve out a few minutes or hours here and there to start to put my studio together at the garage in the new house. It's mind boggling how many times I've moved all of the stuff in this room in the month or so since I've been here. It's been a game of musical chairs without music or chairs. Mostly musical desks. Or musical mic stand bases. Anyhow, everything in this room gets bounced from one side of the room to the other as I've tried to get things to the essentials and into place.

my drums set up in Calabrese West studio, the garage at the calabrese compound, western annexI am now getting the drums put together, which is a pretty clear sign of progress. I don't really consider stacking guitar heads on cabinets as getting things together, but the drums are a major thing to get done, and a good thing to indicate that it's coming together. I don't even worry about acoustics; the acoustics are always shitty in places like this. For me, it's more like this: are the drums in the right place for me to play if I just spin around in my desk chair and get on the drum throne? The lesson I learned from the days of the REALLY BLOATED studio of about 2002-2003 was that I really stopped recording my own drum parts if I couldn't operate the recorder from the drum chair. So it's been a point to make it so I could do that while still being situated well enough to let a trio configuration play and see each other.

I took Adam's Mesa 4x12 cabinet out of storage and put my 2x12 on it with my Heartbreaker head on top of that. They are all finished in the same black leather and grillecloth style, and the stack of them looks formidable! I might mic the two cabs and just try to see how they work together maybe with hard panned tracks even on the same performance.

the new studio space at calabrese west, in a garage at the calabrese house. Another couple days or so and I will put the recording stuff together. My rack has been put together for a few weeks now but stands waiting to be hooked up to the computer, which itself was waiting for some modifications to the massive steel desk I got from Ikea. The desk had a good deal of configuration possibilities, some of which lent themselves to studio work, so I spent a few hours making it ready for the job. After a few weeks of twiddling with networking and other possibilities across all the three computers Kelli and I have, the computer is situated and ready. All I need is time.

But I am still moving stuff, now for our incoming roommate Suzanne (a friend of Kelli's). For a person with disabilities, she is a pretty active but still, the work of moving desks falls to guys like me. Actually, we wanted her to move in so we sweetened the deal by offering to do her moving. It really means that all my studio stuff gets put on hold while I do that, or do laundry, or fix some of my furniture that got damaged in the move, or do some crazy mixed shifts at work. But Glenn and me are licking our chops at the idea of having a place to play once again after over half a year of studiolessness. I hope I still remember how to do any of this!