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Entries in digital media (25)

Sunday
Feb032013

Last Plane out of Rolandia

I'm never an early adopter of technology. I don't particularly like the treadmill of replacing the stuff as things are supplanted by the latest and greatest models, either. It's quite maddening. I don't like comparing tech specs too much. It's bewildering trying to figure out how two models are so alike but different enough to force a choice. I was late in the joining the computer revolution itself, electing to not buy in until August 2001. The one step along the way that I did take was in using the Roland VS-880 virtual studio recorder, which I bought home in August of 1997.

vs-880 recorder in its glorious simplicityVS-880

The 880 was a great platform for helping enable my increasing creativity as a musician and sound artist. The ability to non-destructively edit audio was a major draw for me. A reduced need to bounce multiple parts thanks to some extra tracks was handy too since all my recordings up to then had some kind of permanent artifacts of tracks getting merged down and losing the discreet parts, or taking a bit of a sonic hit as tape generations mounted. So many great things about the 880 fired me up. One thing I didn't particularly need to worry about then was how I'd interface with the world around me. It wasn't a real problem at the time because the idea of having a home studio was to be self-contained. And since the 880 era coincided with my collection of instruments and desire to explore with them, I really was pretty self contained. Sometimes I had sessions with other players but in large part, I just recorded things myself and had fun.

Roland uses an audio encoding format called RDAC which is their own deal. So if you're in the Roland Universe and using Roland gear, you're golden. But they don't make it too easy to interface with the outside world using WAV or AIFF or SD2 format. A later model called the VS-2480 answered demands that Roland get with the program and open a door to users who would be interfacing with the prevailing trends outside the Roland universe. To do 24 track recordings means that people are not exactly tinkering anymore. People set up to record that much are going to be working at another level. Roland was known for being slow about accommodating that.

2480: more is lessVS-2480: more is lessWhen I bought a VS-2480 in mid 2001, I stayed within the Roland family because I'd had such a good time using the 880 and at the time I still had no computer. The larger 2480, with 24 track capability, was enticing but arrived on the scene as my most prolific studio times were waning. It coincided with an attempt to record more live group playing at the studio, so the 16 inputs were handy to capture things in full multitrack glory. Those sessions never turned up anything of lasting value and I found that I had a habit of making a quick mix and burning it to CD and scrapping the source recording. Only a few tracks of any workable quality were done during the year or so that I had the 2480. My Stick-playing and Pro Tools evangelist buddy Tom Griesgraber swore I should just get into Pro Tools LE on the Mac and be done with the closed system that Roland offered. Finally, in the summer of 2002, I saw the light of that and sold the 2480 at some rather acute loss and did in fact get the PTLE 5 and start to learn how to use it.

If you wanted the fuller story, you'd have to read a whole mess of material from a forum site called VS Planet, where I trashed the 2480 more and more as time went on because I found that there was an elusive but very annoying preamp distortion issue. I didn't realize it but I seem to have been the one dude who found that issue and sent the entire 2480 user community on a crazy pursuit of that, with people working out fixes and other workarounds. It's officially recognized by Roland. I dunno if I was the only dude who was baffled by it or not, but eventually many others got drawn into it. In the process of bashing the 2480, a lot of people came to regard me as a troll. It's legendary.

When I got rid of the 2480, I was happy to do so and since I did not get rid of the 880, it seems never to have occurred to me to do the work of using the 2480 as the go-between device to move the 880 era recordings into WAV file format which could be used by computers/digital workstations. I did export a few tracks that originated on the 2480, and that was it. At the time though I knew I was not going to be so clever with recording as I had been on the 880. I felt there was a learning curve and that I'd be a while before any serious work would be done.

With the 2480 reviled and then sent away, the 880 was left to fend for itself. And the work of transfering things was regarded as not that important or maybe in a case by case basis, tracks might be bounced to WAV by a MIDI-synched bounce, two tracks at a time via a digital connection. That was all the plan there was for recovering things, sad to say.

CD stack with archived vs-880 sessionsThe data CD stack

Then, all that life stuff happened and the years kept blowing past and the CD spindles with VS-880 data archives were periodically found and put away, found and put away. The 880 and its CD unit still work. The SyQuest drive that also served as a backup/archive was found to not work—even a decade ago. In a related precedent from last year, Kelli finally bit the bullet and did her text transfer work that required a chain of old machines that once were used to do this tedious work and could finally be let go of. And so, taking stock of what I have, what would be recoverable, and goals to publish my music on more contemporary platforms like Soundcloud or YouTube, I have been thinking of what a preservation effort would be like. But one thing was missing until November: the 2480. It would be just one of two known (and somewhat efficient) ways to do the work. The other would be to have a Windows PC and a special program written by Roland VS users that would directly read the Roland archive CDs. Not knowing if that would be anything I'd actually ever do, the 2480 was the last opportunity to collect my old stuff and escape the Roland RDAC prison.

Last Plane Out of Rolandia

Recovering data CD material to 2480Recovering data CD material to 2480

In recent times since moving to Escondido, I met a guitarist named Brian Calwell who has been part of the Celtic jams I've gone to since the summer. At some point in November he mentioned he had two VS-2480s and that he'd cut his records on those, and recorded live shows with one. He also said he'd mostly moved on from them recently. I didn't ask right away but it was too good a situation to ignore. With the holidays coming up, I felt it would be a great time to remix the Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music project. Brian let me come over to his place just a few miles away and spend some hours trying to extract the HHHTM material from the 880 data disks. That worked well and I did that project during December. While at his place I also was able to hear a couple other seemingly lost bits from the 2480 era and that fired me up. He was nice enough to offer the use of the machine, whenever

Just after Christmas, we were trying to work out a date for me to come do some transfer work and he just volunteered maybe I could just use it here for as long as I needed. BINGO! What a cool dude! So for the entire month of January, I had it and the CD writer on one side of my desk, and the 880, its CD writer, and the DAT machine on another side, and for a few weeks now I've plugged along at finally collecting all the recoverable material I can get from 880 data archive disks, DAT tape (not requiring the Roland units), and stacks of CDs. All that stuff is getting turned into WAV or AIFF files which I expect will be more durable since they are the working formats across PC and Mac these days. If nothing else, it will ensure that as much as I can make it so, everything will be in one format: uncompressed, non-proprietary 24 bit audio ready to be acted upon as needed, instead of scattered about on various formats.

DAT Hell

880 and DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven880 upon the DAT: the match made in Hog Heaven (studio)

The digital audio tape format plays two roles in this whole transfer scheme. The primary use for DAT is as a mixdown format, and I have about 30 tapes with various mixes and assorted scraps that maybe didn't warrant being kept in 880 format. DAT has been trumped by hard disk recording and CDs when it comes to a more playable 16 bit format. I have tried on a couple of occasions to play those tapes into the computer so I could have them to work with and be backed up before my machine totally ate the dust. The format now is largely regarded as dead. The last time I did a transfer, in 2010, I stopped the machine and made new files for each mix that played. That led me to some troubled DAT times where tape got munched or corrupted. So I put it down and hoped I'd find someone with a working DAT before more of my work was endangered. Some years later the situation has not changed for the better. I began to put in the lowest priority tapes and played them into the computer in real time with no stopping of the tape deck or the computer. I'll figure it out later. I kept spreadsheets of tracks and notes for things that took some more nuanced attention. Little by little this past month, I got those tapes played in.

880 archive on a DAT tape880 archive to DAT

There were just a couple other DATs that I had largely forgotten about. As I assessed where the 880 era material was scattered across formats, I found some DATs that were used as archive tapes, storing session data from the 880—mix parameters and all. Three tapes carried 880 copies of things that originated on 4 track cassette and that I thought it would be good to have in digital in case I ever decided to remix things or grab material to use elsewhere. Some of the ReCyclED stuff was on there, and a good thing too since there were a few core tracks that straddled that period of changeover from tape to hard disk. Importing those to 880 and then burning the archive disks got me to where all the other archive disks were—the point at which the 2480 would be able to import things, and in turn burn exported WAV files to CD.

880 capturing the DAT archive material.880 capturing the DAT archive material.

Lost? Yup. The flow on those DATs was like this:

4 track cassette source > transfer discreet tracks into 880 in 1997 > archive to DAT in 1997 (before the CD writer became available) > import to 880 in 2013 > burn to CD as workable format for 2480 > import to 2480 > export to WAV files on CD > import to Mac. Then the Mac of course will be able to use the material freely and will generate multiple backups.

Most of the transferring project started with 880 archive CDs done in 1998-2001. The DATs of course had that longer legacy. It was insane. The one DAT worked out that way. The other two? Well, they suffered from some unknown mix of garden variety DAT issues but somehow the 880 was not able to import them. That process was hit with various errors. I tried several times. Finally, knowing that those tapes were rather inconvenient copies of 4 track tapes (which still sit in a box here), I just destroyed them.

SyJet Crash and Burn

One last format was not so much an archive but a backup for works in progress. As it were, they seem to have last been used to backup the final mixes of Receiving from late 2000. The SyQuest SyJet was one of my first experiences with computer breakdown. It was a bit like a Zip drive but the disk was actually a removable hard disk instead of a floppy style in a plastic case. I had one go bad on me early on and the one I replaced it with (cunningly bought as an exchange with the old one put into the returned box, even months after it was bought) lasted long enough to do my best work, then it went on the fritz. Good thing I had left some notes on what was on them. After comparing that to other stuff I'd fetched on archive CDs and DATs, I gave myself licence to demolish the thing with a ball peen hammer. I kept the cartridges but the drive was toast. I found some online for $90 but that's not worth it if the evidence suggests I already have their contents.

Portastudio: the Final Frontier

I gave away my 4 track tape deck in 2005 when I was evicted and at the same time, music buddy Glenn Farrington was interested in recording something himself. I kept my tapes and to this day I have a good deal of stuff from about 1993-1997 on cassette in regular stereo and 4 track format. The problem is, these tapes rely on what might be an even deader format. I went to a pawn shop to inquire and we all had a chuckle about how they don't even see people bringing them in. I've seen a couple used ones online. But with all the magnetic, physical media, who knows what one might get. It could be money down the drain. But if I am ever to fetch my work from that period, that's the machine I need to get. Sure, I have mixes from that era, but the multitracks are here and ready if the machine appears. I doubt it's worth losing sleep about it.

One reason for holding on to some hope about it is that in 1996, when I did my original project bearing the name of The Artist Presently Known As Ed, I took it to a guy who did digital editing. He was a nice dude but somehow as we played my DATs into his system in real time, he did not pan them in full stereo glory. Somehow, we both totally missed the fact that the product I ended up paying for was summed to mono and when the CD he output was given to me, I found that it did not sound right. The problem really was that by the time I found that out, I had no recourse. I had him play the final product out BACK to the DAT tape I brought in with the mixes, and so my mixes were overwritten. So that project has never been heard in stereo since the day before I had it produced as an album. Recovering the source 4 track material would let me do that project some justice, not to mention I could use far less gimmicky EQ curves. I was young then...

Good Bye and/or Good Riddance

So there you have it. The task of trying to gather all my musical offspring back into one place after 17 years of changing formats. The Roland VS format is clever for capturing and doing some work but it's not too conversant. DAT is glitchy and is considered dead. Four track is more durable and resiliant but I don't have a machine. When this is really in the can, I can finally do as Kelli did a year or so ago, and get rid of some old stuff. DAT is off to eBay for some one else to worry about. The 880 and its CD writer are on the block. The SyJet already made it to the landfill by now. I reviewed material on my Sony Minidisc player and bounced just a couple things that didn't exist anywhere else. It's going to the thrift shop. The 2480 is going back to Brian. Now I will have a box of old cassettes to hopefully get to one day, but everything else is on the iMac and a few hard drives. I'll keep the DAT tape and CDs from the 880 for a while. The transfer process generated a considerable number of CDs with 24bit WAV files on them, so those constitute backups of session tracks, sometimes pared down to working tracks and other times littered with fragments. But it's all so much more available than ever.

WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.WAV on CD finally. Now just to import it to the Mac.

Where to From Here?

I can finally see a bird's eye view of my recordings, from all the solo work to stuff for Loaf, Mike Keneally, Tamara, Kelli and I, Magnificent Meatsticks, and a number of jams and short band projects. I have fanciful ideas of doing mashups of all sorts of things. Already I had thoughts stir in me that there has to be nearly an album's worth of ambient and sound collage material to release. I started all this in the hopes to remix as much of ReCyclED as I could, in some cases using material that, because of the limits of 8 tracks, had to be mixed out.

With a site like Soundcloud that makes it so easy to share and annotate recordings, it seems the time is right to get to the source audio, encode it robustly, tag it completely, and put it out there so people in Slovakia finally can discover the secret gems of the San Diego underground music scene in the late 90s. About my only reservation is that the track by track format doesn't let me publish things as I would on CD: tracks segued and overlapped or collaged into seamless running order. Physical media is dead for now, so it's sort of a thing to just face and roll with. In its place is the great possibility that stuff can be discovered and liked and shared without my micromanaging the transactions.

I am excited at the thought of seeing all my stuff presented well in one place. Because my recordings have been on so many formats, some in final mixes or in working mixes that just sort of ended up being the longstanding mix, there has never really been a consistent digital, web-ready approach. The mp3s on this site are more or less the same as they were as I added them over time, starting as early as 2000. They aren't tagged too well, and of course, hosting audio on a website like this is to be stuck in obscurity. So I have an idea that I should get a body of work together on Soundcloud, then rebuild this site again to feature players with my virtual albums. It might be a lot of work. I hope I can keep the focus because for so many years now I have really been shrugging off music creation and publishing as much as I was gung ho for it in the early days of my web design interests. It's about time the two finally meet and shake hands.

Listen to my Hog Heaven Holiday Theme Music from year 2000, done on the 880 in some haste, and remixed in Logic after being imported to the Mac via the chain of events chronicled here.

Tuesday
Oct302012

Leaving Tracks: the Advent of the VS-880 +15

This post isn't particularly tied to a single date or event, but rather a season of 1997 that turned out to really reinvent my life for some years to come. A few times in this journal there have been tales of my small but mighty VS-880 recorder and how the Hog Heaven Studio era played out. It's almost easy to forget a period that preceded that, but one that sowed the seeds of a rather hot and heavy period of recording.

pretending to pick my nose in a goofy shot of me up near my cassette deck mountain, 1995My mountain of cassette decks, numbering up to nine individual wells in three double and three single deck devices! 1995

You see, the VS-880 was my first digital recorder that promised me the aural riches of nondestructive, nonlinear editing. In 1997, when I got it, that seemed unimagineably mind blowing to me. These days we can't imagine doing anything on the computer without levels of undo and the ability to constantly move text, video, audio, and images around freely. Because I was a rather late bloomer when it came to digital life and computers, such options were far out for me. All my recording thus far had been on cassette tapes, mostly on the garden variety stereo-in-two directions type that anyone could record with gear from a home electronics shop, and then for a period of just under two years, I used a TASCAM 424 four track recorder. The VS-880 was a stratospheric leap from all that.

Enter the VS

I spent the spring and summer of 1997 watching my pizza delivery earnings pile up, and a relative windfall of $1400 when I sold my extensively reworked Pearl knockoff set. A lot of days were spent in the musical gear porn magazines MIX! and Electronic Musician, fantasizing about either a four track minidisk recorder or the more complex and robust VS-880, recording to an internal hard disk of (wait for it) a whopping 540 megabytes!  The thought of shelling out $1,800 made me dizzy but this promised to be worth it. The editing options offered the means to do things I had barely yet even thought of, but was bound to do eventually. At the time, I had modest expectations of being able to silence empty parts of tracks, collage things, and generally have more mix control over the eight tracks, which was a fantastic doubling of capability. Such a thing as the 64 virtual tracks led to fanciful thoughts unimaginable on tape where I'd been able to bounce two or three tracks to an open track, or if needed, bounce all four to another cassette and then if needed, back into the four track to add more tracks, and so on. Those days seemed numbered and fading into irrelevance. If there was to be bouncing, it would be in glistening, (nearly) lossless digital quality.

The machine, once I brought it home in mid August, was bewildering. Even with all the manual booklets, there were so many new terms that I did not know and some that I'd still not know even as I retired it four years later (maybe because I did not need MIDI or other synchronization features). I found the easiest way to start in with the new machine was to take my TASCAM and hook up the line outs to the corresponding four channels into the VS. That way, I was able to capture my current recordings and set about having something to work with while not exactly losing ground if nothing panned out for me. But that was of little concern for the most part, since I found myself doing this transfer on a lot of material in progress, and then really not looking back. The TASCAM's days were numbered. If anything, the only reason for using it was that it did something to the sound because of the noise reduction scheme. I can't say it was "the" analog sound but there is a character that I found pleasing for the time when both machines were in use, prior to Hog Heaven Studio's opening in summer of 1998.

ReCyclED

As it was, the project I set for myself was something that is still unfinished even these 15 years later, a thing called ReCyclED. ReCyclED was a recreational re-doing of a list of goofy and irreverent songs that I did with Matt Zuniga in the Rhythmic Catharsis days of 1992-1993, and intermittently since. After the dark and angst-ridden Hog Heaven from earlier in 1997, something downright stupid was in order, especially with the prospect of the TASCAM's four tracks letting me develop things a bit more than what Matt and I had the ability to do with drums, voice, and some percussive toys all captured to a couple cassettes and added mic inputs. I'd spent some time during the summer knocking out drum tracks, trying to recreate the old magic on my own, and when possible, adding guitar or bass-sounding low end with the help of a pitch shifter or a keyboard on loan, or maybe even a bass on loan for a short while. It was fun but the real fun started once the 880 came onto the scene. ReCyclED was the perfect project to put it to the test. And my apartment was a fine place to have some of the effects and editing features because I was on a rather austere noise diet at that apartment, with a stodgy and fussy family on one wall and a rather fussy roommate down the hall.

Drums in Exile, Redux

Not all the tracks could be done convincingly at home in that room. The entire founding story of Rhythmic Catharsis was one of being exiled from our suburban bedrooms into the underground or otherwise cavernous parking lots and garages in the commercial zones of town, playing drums and screaming on weekends and in the middle of the night, often as loud and indulgently as possible. Subtlety was not our thing. The godlike thunder of an untamed (unmuffled) acoustic drum set surrounded by concrete walls was our sonic calling card. It was a sound that is impossible to capture any other way, short of playing in an aircraft hangar. The nights spent outside doing this young men's ritual in the early 1990s were considered part fun and part therapy, hence the name we adopted as our moniker. There was something about the security of two sets of eyes out there during the middle of the night in places that were otherwise quiet and sometimes a bit creepy. I have done solo nights of this kind but I never liked to do so if I had to be extra vigilant about my surroundings. It wasn't too hard to imagine it being the perfect situation to be robbed of my stuff (my older drum set was sold in mid 1997, so I was now using my babies, my high end Premiers exclusively) by a few guys who could easily drive up with a truck while I was wailing away, unable to hear their approach, and years before I'd ever have a cell phone. So those nights were never so fun as when Matt and I were doing our duo stuff, even if he never really tried to do any of this with any true conviction.

The Road to Hog Heaven is not without Potholes

my drum set in a garage where I set up with my drums and recording gear to get some tracks for new materialDrums at Greg's place, with a bunch of percussion junk nearby, and the mixer rack off to my left

Art Pacheco, my roommate at the apartment, was a punk guitarist in a band called Frame 313 and his drummer Greg Benoit was nice enough to host my drums at his house not far away in Clairemont. (Coincidentally, it was right next door to a childhood foe of mine, Brad Tade, a tough Irish dude who once thought nothing of slogging me in the street on the way home from school and leaving me unconscious for several minutes. I later got an equally uneasy feeling around Brad when we both appeared at our 20th reunion last year. And also coincidentally, a neighbor about six houses up was recalled to be a drummer playing whatever garage rock his heart was set on back in 1983 while I was hot to trot for this cute girl named Christine Huggard who lived a few houses over. And now it was my turn, just down the road on the same cul-de-sac. I digress.) Greg let me in to play maybe a couple times per week for a few weeks that summer. I had my TASCAM there, fronted by my Mackie 1202 mixer, a few mics (a Radio Shack PZM for the kick, a cheap SM58 knockoff for the snare, and a couple authentic SM57s which I still use), my Alesis 3630 compressor, and a DigiTech Studio Quad multieffects processor. The rig was definitely on the low end but it did let me tailor my sound going in, and the degree of sonic precision available was high compared to the plain old cassette days with Matt Zuniga, even if there was no way to capture the godlike thunder of the drums in a concrete garage. At Greg's, I had the drums set up, miced, kick drum blanketed, mixer and small rack within reach, and I felt like a king.

I don't recall if I broke down the recording part of that each time, or if I just left it all up and ready, but eventually the Greg offer came to an end for some reason after a few weeks. Probably the usual noise complaints, or someone moving. Anyhow, all the gear eventually got absorbed back to my apartment, and with a few minor exceptions of my risking a very hushed drum recording in my room, or even taking the kit out to some parking garages and setting up my gear to play and record drums, I didn't really play drums again until the Hog Heaven days that kicked off in June 1998. I think I recall there being eight months or so that I didn't play drums. I just kept trying to use drum recordings in clever ways, using the delay hold function in the Studio Quad to appropriate up to 1.6 seconds of "loopable" drum material, or even playing in one noise or another and letting it build up. Of course, that was more desperate than just using jammed out recordings which were improvised with some feel for what I thought the lyrics required, and then using those two things as the basis for further work back home. As I was doing this, it was months before I even got the okay to start on Hog Heaven, and about four months more before it was ready to set up and use. Drumming was a luxury for that period. This in particular was a rich time for learning the VS-880 and messing with sounds.

Bad Cop, No Donut

One night in September 1997, about a month or so after I got the VS-880, I hauled the drums, mics, and small rack along with the new-and-still-largely unexplored VS out to one of the old garages where Matt and I often played during the second half of 1992. One song in particular, a tribal pounder called When The Elephants Fight, something that went back to the end of 1992 in its original form, was something there was no way to record except at full power. The vocal itself got into some loud, screamed passages. Since they were parts that were already more or less established from our earlier recordings, I set about recording each in a couple takes after getting a sound. (The early idea for ReCyclED was to do little more than current versions of old stuff, and maybe to spend six months on the project. All that went out the window when the digital options took over!) I thought that being out at this building in Kearny Mesa would be uneventful. It always had been. It had AC power, lighting in the garage, and enough cover to mask my location. What I didn't bargain for was that in the middle of the night on a Saturday, some clown would be upstairs at work. And that from his vantage point, he'd not hear the finer nuances of my vocal performance and my um, lyrical poeticism (ahem!). Instead, this joker called the cops and from nowhere came the cops in at least one car, maybe a second. They inquired of me about some complaints that I was screaming about raping children or something. I don't recall exactly what they said, but the caller just heard screaming and drums a-pounding and was scared and bothered. The thing is, it was more baffling to the cops because by that time the drums had been taken down and for no real reason but the messing with my new recorder and mics, I turned the overhead mics over to my open truck hood and I was recording the engine idling and revving up. This was just incongruous enough for the cops to wonder what the fuck was going on. I think I said I was just experimenting. From my upstairs apartment, I don't have any way to record my truck engine, et cetera. Dumb question, dumb answer. Of course, this was the end of the session for that night so I had to pack and go home. This might have been the end of the drumming for several months. Within a few months, the lyrics for Bad Cop No Donut took form, and in part chronicled the incident, and also another run in with the porcine patrol, the infamous Toss Panos/San Diego Streaker night from June, a few months earlier.

Bad Cop No Donut was one of the major productions done upon the VS-880, and was a project that had at least two primary versions with wholly different lineups and a lot of twiddling. It was emblematic of the VS era, but more so the digital era of always being able to dabble and fix and nip and tuck. A track like that was originally done around Bryan "Nucci" Cantrell's rather improvised drum part, done in a local rehearsal facility, and that I captured in stereo mix to DAT recorder in September 1997 with little more than a directive to play something disco like. So he delivered this loose and driving drum part that sounds exactly as it appears in the song. Then I took it home and eventually the song took some form as I added guitar parts, bass, even some keyboards, a lot of vocals, and then kept trying to find my balance. For the first time, I had to power to put too much in. The brilliance of the VS-880 for me was in those eight tracks there was enough space to get a lush mix and almost enough to get too much. A recording like Bad Cop No Donut, if spread out in full track count across a larger format tape (or moreso, across the nearly endless track capacity in computer based workstations), would have to reflect about six channels of Nucci's drums, my bass (with parts featuring a wah pedal), acoustic guitar, Todd Larowe's two rhythm guitars, and a few other guitar tracks for solos, effects like sirens, backwards stuff by Ron Sada, shredding and harmonized parts by Todd Larowe, and finally a shitload of my vocals—triple tracked lead for depth and fullness in the mix, quadruple tracked chorus backgrounds shouted repeatedly into one mic by Matt and I, and then some character voices too, done by Matt. If I had 24 tracks of 2" tape, I'd probably have filled it out. Instead, the arrangement cuts detailed parts in and out of tracks, bounces the more lush stuff to either a mono stem (all manner of guitar solo ideas cut a few bars at a time) a stereo mix of all vocals, and so on. The amount of stuff I wedged into the eight playback tracks makes me grin with marvel. Other similarly produced tracks done on the VS (and took a damned long time to record and re-record) include The Power of Disco (two very different versions exist and were done in this way, the first using a short segment of the Nucci track that ended up better serving Bad Cop), Zehdihm's Flight (with the Mike Keneally version ending up as a discard on account of tinny keyboard sounds that his one hour session did not allow us to work out), 8th Grade Report Card, Endless Cycle, Is God Trying to Make Me a Smoker?, etc.

New Tools, New Technique

The VS-880, in addition to providing lots of new track space to work with and to build out fuller mixes with more details, included some new tools to mess with audio. The nonlinear editing was huge to me. I originally got into editing so I could cut out some parts that were inherited from the TASCAM tapes, with bits that I'd mix out on that machine, but could precisely and permanently cut out on the 880. The ability to do the copying and pasting meant that I could use any source and draw something from it. Collaging things became easy since things could slide this way or that on the timeline with some great precision. The ability to set auto punch locations or to just use a bunch of virtual tracks prior to compiling the best parts of various takes meant that my ability to fix parts was greatly improved. This was important since it was during the 880 era when I gleefully bought, borrowed, or perhaps stole (not really) all sorts of instruments and devices and tried to wrangle sounds out of all of it, not always succeeding early on. Some tracks, like The Power of Disco (Compels You) or Bad Cop or The End of the Road for Missy the Cow, featuring cameos from a number of players and singers, afforded me the great chance to get some interestingly rich tracks together and to keep finding people who might work better for the track. Disco and Bad Cop took about a year each to nail down.

It took a bit less time to finish the tracks but no less a challenge to artfully develop an approach I used a few times: playing drum parts to establish a loop section, and then playing some live parts into the track, sometimes days or weeks later, trying to get a matched sound and feel that didn't sound weak (because looping drums automatically sets up a rather fixed dynamic for the song, and playing live will then not seem so consistent in volume and tone, even if done on the same kit, etc.) The two tracks that show off the approach best are The Power of Quim and Up a Dog is a Toy Experience. In each, I built the tracks off of looped material, then found I needed more drum activity and feel, so I had to set about playing in appropriate parts for a few bars at a time, and working hard to keep it sounding like they were single performances. You'll notice that the um, lyrical material on each is a bit peculiar. On The Power of Quim, I harnessed the Matt-isms that accumulated in the fall of 1998 when he'd come by and talk the oddest shit, and I later took snippets of it and kept morphing the details of what he was saying. Up a Dog is a bunch of random nonsense that turned out to sing well but was otherwise meant to sort of mock the San Diego poetry scene that Kelli was a part of then, as I witnessed it during a period when we hung out years before we became an item. I wrote it so I might go up and deliver it as a reading if ever prodded. Later on it turned into the loose and funky track once Todd Larowe left his JC-120 amp at my place for long enough that I put it to some use. Once I got my Mesa Tremoverb, the tinny JC was on its way back to Todd and I never used another amp at my studio except for single songs using someone else's gear if they brought it at all, or if I were to store it as part of my cartage/tech work.

Tom Griesgraber cutting the solo for a track on ReceivingTom Griesgraber at Hog Heaven in 1999, recording 8th Grade Report Card

A track like Farm Animals, a wacky thing that was only ever a drum/vocal screamer kind of thing in the old days with Matt, was one of the earlier things I did on the 880. I'd not yet been introduced to the word but the idea was known from listening to Frank Zappa: xenochronous recording. That is, combining unrelated musical parts done on different recorders at different times and places to achieve another piece of music. I had some drum bits that I'd recorded one day at one of the parking garages and had imported to the 880. Then, one day in late November 1997 and in a totally separate recording, a nice lad who answered my ad for Chapman Stick player came down and played some odd stuff in the name of a soundcheck or just some noodling. I kept recording the stuff then asked him to do some overdubs. It was all odd stuff and had nothing in common with the drums. But after he left, somehow I combined the drums and the various Stick parts, did a bit of copy editing to extend things to suit my lyrics, and then used the 880's absurdly wacky vocal transformer at the same time as I cut the track, the effect being printed as I went. Later on, the Stick player—a guy named Tom Griesgraber—and having only been using it for four months, progressed to be one of the leading Stick players, and a major promoter of the instrument, not to mention a peer among the Peter Gabriel/King Crimson players, having done albums and performances with Jerry Marotta, California Guitar Trio, and others. Tom appears in a slightly more serious player's role on 8th Grade Report Card, and again in the goofiest role as the bass player on Missy The Cow. There are a couple other tracks from the era that no one will hear anytime soon.

After getting a feel for the 880, another idea dawned on me. Earlier in 1997 I'd released Hog Heaven, a four-track sourced cassette release with me on nearly all sounds done at my apartment (except for a few odd bits where I used parts of a jam done elsewhere and with other people and either edited it or immersed it in a sea of effects). In those days, I always used digital editing as a way to assemble the final running order and flow. It was influenced by Mike Keneally and Frank Zappa. The thing is, I didn't realize that they were more likely than I to compose their songs with that in mind. So I did my version of it, assembling things that didn't always flow so well, and with studio time at $60 per hour, I could not afford to experiment much. And then a thing like Hog Heaven, which was rich in sonic texture and atmosphere and sound design, lent itself to the process. I did pay one guy to do it but had a hard time liking the result. The recordings were odd enough that I didn't need to feel that I missed my mark with the final collage work. So what I did was to go back to the four track tapes, import them into the 880, where useful, separate the parts that might have been punched into empty spaces on tracks, and other things that would help me control the sound more. I had the eight tracks, more effects, more EQ control, and some ability to re-compose things a bit to help the transitions. I ended up remixing much of the material and then using the 880 to then redo the entire running order with the tracks flowing far more appealingly. I used the opportunity to ditch one track that was filler and to put two others in. Then, once I had the entire thing remixed and playing as an album playing back as desired, I then took it to a new place for mastering. While it's never possible to totally disguise the relatively novice gear and performances, it was by far a nicer thing to hear in the second incarnation. It was also the first project I did that was released as a CD-R product, with all product being recorded at home. The cover art unfortunately was a dismal thing that probably moved four steps back for every step forward in the recorded part. The best part of that fiasco was that on the day I was printing it at Kinko's, a cute girl walked up and asked about it. Her name was Sarah. Oh, but that is a few other blogs' material...

Digital Heaven before Hog Heaven

That period of about a year from the time I got the VS-880, and into the new space at Hog Heaven Studio was the beginning of the magical period. It had its problems though. You see, it was the first computer device I ever had. I had to get my lessons in digital housekeeping the hard way. Did I know what "disk initialize" meant? Did I care? Well, I learned it pretty well when three tracks went to digital heaven in the days or so after Tom Griesgraber recorded our first attempts at Missy the Cow (with his guitar synth playing drums, I think), The Power of Disco (then named according to what I'd called it in 1993, "Disco Fever"), and another song. Well, that hurt. But Tom came down another time and we set about work on new versions or just other things. The 880, loaded only with a 540 megabyte drive, was not too dangerous, but the sting was felt when I lost those tracks. Around that time, I paid a whopping $375 for a new drive that would fit in there and serve my needs to the tune of ... THREE gigabytes! I got a backup drive, a 1.5 GB cartridge SyJet or something. One went bad. Oh, goody. Then I bought another, put the defective one into its box, and took it back to the store for a refund. That worked for the duration of my 880 era work but now does not work, so things on it are essentially lost unless I track down another drive like it. Less lost are the more incremental and hopefully mix ready CD-R session backups that must be brought to the 880 for mixing, and then if I ever wanted to bring them to a contemporary machine, I can play it out two tracks at a time with a MIDI machine synch. If I pick my work carefully, I could see doing it that way, but it's woefully inefficient. That's what I've come to hate about Roland. That was especially so when I got the VS-2480 in 2001 and found all sorts of proprietary issues that led me to sell that and get out of Roland's VS series (except that I still have my 880 and find that my fingers still know where to go pretty intuitively even years later). Anyhow, the 880 was my foray into digital audio, for better or for worse. I loved it until I had some kind of digital issue. Every now and then I found there'd be some corrupted file playback until I optimized the drive (defrag). Funnily, it took getting into actual computer based recording before I realized how good I had it on the VS series, at least in regards to how files were handled. That is to say, I had little control because they were behind the scenes except when it came time to do backups of whole projects.

Modest little room adorned in some goofy pig paraphernalia given to me by folks. Not a lot of gear yet, but it was growing...Hog Heaven, early 1999, with the VS 880 situated dead center

My complaints were generally few. By having a front end that fed mostly complete sounds into the 880, I found that I could use the onboard processing for getting a mix, rather than doing all the heavy tone-shaping. My analog front end evolved to include a nice and smooth Allen and Heath mixer, several channels of DBX or Alesis compression, a Behringer unit that widened my stereo spread and offered that kind of sweetening. I also had some evolving mix of effects processors. I'd mix my sounds (drums for example) on the way into the 880 where I'd almost never record anything but stereo mixes. A bass needing a flanger would be recorded with the effect. A guitar with an echo or lush chorus would get that before being recorded. Upon mixdown, I'd add more effects for the gluing effect, maybe to add stereo effects where the tracked ones had to be in mono to use track space wisely. The returns on the effects could be EQed and dialed in with the stereo widening device. All the high end on reverb would be rolled off on the mixer so the effect was more natural. That would be rolled back into the 880's returns. Listen to a track like Endless Cycle or Threads or Pearls Before the Swine from Receiving, and hear what a rich lush sound I got from my 8-track recorder with gear that anyone could buy from Guitar Center.

The Hog Heaven Sound Rules

When I listened to local recordings from San Diego studios, the ones known for being demo dens and other knock-em-out rooms where garage and clubbing bands would record, my mixes always sounded more cutting, more open, less chunky. I don't know whether it's that I love a good drum sound that isn't damped down with tape and pillows. Or that I spent more time dialing in complementary bass/drum sounds, or that I used a range of instruments that a guitar-slinging alt-rock band won't use. But I was very proud of my sound, all the more remarkable considering the VS-880 was never housed in anything more robust than an apartment room or a converted garage. The fact that Mike Keneally himself released some recordings that were done at Hog Heaven delights me, even though none of that is what I would have delivered if I knew he was going to use them. What still amazes me even today is that on that modest machine, I produced recordings of a kind of depth and completeness that even three subsequent digital platforms (VS-2480, Pro Tools LE, Logic) have not prompted me to learn and develop so fully. Granted, there has been a lot of other issues involved, but it's amazing to listen to the things I did on that "limited" machine, and to know I made stuff that amused me, or recorded for others, even getting an international recording credit.

Man, what button do I press in Logic to have that happen again?

Thursday
Jun072012

Proto-Blogging at TAPKAE.com +10

While my monthly archive might reflect a longer history than what I am about to write about here, the real beginning of this blog was on June 7th, 2002—still in the days before the actual blog technology existed (for me anyway). A small few entries have been added into the chronology to tell a story. Since I am just telling my own story anyway, they serve to fill in the historical record and it doesn't really matter if I play fast and loose with the entry dates, posting things into their proper place after the fact.

In the days before I discovered B2 blogger and later on, Wordpress, or still later on, Squarespace (which I now use as of 2011), there was no word "blogging." I just made a new HTML entry on the index page, and when it came time for a new one, I copied that entry over to the "archive" page and entered another on the index page. It was a bit lame but without a dynamic, PHP/database-driven site it was all I had. I didn't do it long enough to really get ridiculous. I've seen some sites that kept on that way and had to create archive pages that each carried oh, several months or a year's worth of entries, and then on to a new archive page. Only about two years of monthly posts accumulated that way and it wasn't too hard to manage the entries prior to discovering "real" blogging. I then started bringing stuff into the new formats in 2004 when my new hosting plan at Startlogic included something called B2 Blogger as part of the package. If I recall right, Startlogic offered a whopping 1 GB of space which dwarfed the 100 mb that my prior host Mavweb offered. I suppose Mavweb was state of the art a few years before when Mike Thaxton selected it and got me started in 2001.

But aside from all that, this blog got fired up in earnest on this day ten years ago. In many ways it was a simpler time and I didn't have all that much on my mind. Only a couple months before I had finished my year of school at Art Institute of California, so I was anticipating becoming a brilliant and high paid web designer (ahem!). Strike that. I was trying to get a couple crappy web design gigs with friends or friends of friends, and hoping my still-novice skills were up to the task if anything but pretty basic Dreamweaver-assisted HTML sites were needed. (Rockola's Mark Decerbo was one of the first to ever take me up on my work. Surprisingly, his site is still up, though a bit outdated as of 2007.) AIC turned out to be a rather disappointing place with regard to the proportioning of the subjects relative to the goal of a web design certificate program. The entirety of the web design courses included summaries of the Macromedia suite within 12 weeks. The other 36 weeks were broken into three 12 week blocks of Photoshop, Illustrator, and a CD-ROM production that included Macromedia Director and Adobe Premier primarily. But the web stuff was but one quarter of it all, and seemingly an afterthought. And above all, it was just a "design" emphasis. Never really learned coding there, and never anything with any real functionality. I recall being a bit miffed that I never was really showed stuff like Javascript or how to build CGI email forms and other stuff that really was, well... useful.

Getting out of school put me back into an unstructured world after a year. It had been a year of change, and not just because of schooling. In that one year from the start of April 2001 to that time a year later, my grandmother had died; I was in solo therapy for several months into the fall of 2001 in response to the family crisis around my older sister's big revelations earlier in 2001; I had entered kicking and screaming into the new age following my grandmother's death because my old man took over the house I lived in already for three years and ordered that I get two roommates; I got my first computer as just one way of blowing the inheritance I got (the rest was blown with an even larger display of gear acquisition for the studio); the notorious terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened and changed the work prospects for my industry of event audio; I finally finished Receiving; Kelli and I had gotten together during the winter and she had her car accident not long later; I was playing bass for a few months in an exciting trio with Dom Piscopo and Whit Harrington, and sometimes with the mighty Todd Larowe (listen: All Things Frippy and Return to Zero). Oh, those are the high points. Or low points. But in the midst of all that, I got the first drafts of TAPKAE.com done and then finally cut the first settled version loose on the world in May or June, and the first "blog" was posted. It is relatively brief because I had not yet embraced the long, detailed, and boring voice I have since attained here!

Rebecca Vaughan of Loaf, with Matt Zuniga's handiwork in the backgroundIt was around that time when I found that Hog Heaven Studio was bursting at the seams. The crazy influx of new gear during the summer before saw to that. With my grandmother gone, I took over the two rooms she called her own, clearing them out and painting them for the first time in perhaps all the years she and my grandfather had been there. One room was a bedroom with a bathroom attached, and the remodeling of that was one of the projects that was alluded to in the first blog. The other room, a rather generous 15'x17' space, was the room immediately adjacent Hog Heaven Studio. Together, they were two spaces carved from what was once a garage. Hog Heaven extended the garage street side wall some 6' more and so was split down the middle by a space that was on the flat part of the garage, and also on the sloped part of the driveway. Inside, I had leveled the floor but the beam through the middle indicated the old garage face. In the great room, I set up my living quarters in 2001 after the new rental arrangement was established. I got the entire wing of the house to do as I wanted, so I cut a mouse hole from Hog Heaven into the great room and went about using the band Loaf as my guinea pigs to try out the studio options that would result. I did two sessions spaced out by a year or so, but that first session with the whole band, I had the bass and drums in the studio with me (an odd thing that later was resolved with moving the control room into the great room later in the year), and then I used the great room for the guitars, keys, and Rebecca's lead vocal and percussion. I used upturned love seats and mattresses to provide guitar amp baffles. The Roland VS-2480, my then-new recorder, able to capture 16 inputs at once with no compromise, was relatively mind blowing after years of using the VS-880 and the four inputs it provided. At any rate, the new opportunities for using up to three rooms to record in was exciting. It was a whole new age for Hog Heaven Studio.

Kelli, later on in 2002One thing that is conspicuously absent from the site for some time (even into 2003) is any mention of Kelli and the fact we'd entered into a new relationship at the start of 2002. By the time we did that, we'd known each other for over 11 years anyway. I recall much of 2002 was a time when it felt like I was floating, particularly in that new relationship. However, it wasn't a feeling of being totally lovestruck. It's hard to say what it was, but perhaps because Kelli's presence put to an end the five year dry spell that preceded this new era, or perhaps that Kelli and I were old friends in a new role that seemed too good to be true and could have dissolved, or perhaps that her presence also brought with it a new feeling that I should get to church and start the process of grounding myself in something different than the years before. Hard to say. I didn't want to try to capture lightning in a bottle by writing about it. Kelli was talked around on the blog, usually mentioning "my girlfriend" during 2002-2003. If her name is in the entries from that period, it's because I redacted those entries to right that wrong in 2011.

I'm glad I have these few entries from 2002 because there is precious little digital evidence of my life from that first year or so of computer ownership. I had some problems with my data going off to digital heaven, particularly so with the folder that contained my Microsoft Entourage data. In one shot in the late summer of 2002, I erased about a year of my life's notes, calendar dates, emails. Bad move. Worse yet, I had not kept a parallel record in a paper calendar like I had for all years prior. So there's a big blackout during that period. And maybe things are as they are supposed to be, even with that giant flub. The period was one of transition at a deep level. Losing data was perhaps part of the exercise of getting lost in more ways than one, this time a way of losing control over things. And, since I have tended to be a keen historian and curator of my own life, a lesson might be gleaned that to overmanage things is of no use.

 

Tuesday
Apr242012

TAPKAE dot com at Ten

Ten years ago, sometime in the late winter/spring, the first complete incarnation of TAPKAE.com went up. Click the link there and you can see a fairly early version, courtesy of the Internet Wayback Machine. (Once at the view of the old TAPKAE.com you can click forward in time to see incremental captures of the site as it has evolved, though there are a few versions that don't appear.)

Picking a domain name was never a point of debate or hand-wringing. What else would have made sense for me in 2001-02 when I was thoroughly embracing my moniker, The Artist Presently Known As Ed? Of course, that is a bit of a drain on memory resources for people (and a bitch to type out), so the shorter form, TAPKAE, was a brilliant and available alternative in just six letters. In those days, the .com top level domain was still quite open, and even today, there aren't many TAPKAEs out there, at least in the English speaking world. Mike Thaxton ("Thax"), a major supporter of my movement into the web, reserved the domain name and got me a hosting plan (100 mb!) that lasted from mid 2001 until early 2004 when I really took the reins and tried new stuff.

I was drawn to all this web stuff because of the value it offered to a self produced recording artist such as I was then. As a guy who employed the studio space to capture various instruments and to record things from start to finish, the chance to craft a whole digital presence was alluring. The notion of standardizing what songs were presented in high quality audio was a major lure; this was the promise of not needing to have to dub a cassette or burn a CD and then shove it into a package. There was a cool distance from all that. Putting a bunch of material out for all to hear seemed a great equalizing device when talking up my tunes and asking people to hear them.

HTML Dark Ages

I went to the Art Institute of California during the year from April 2001—April 2002. TAPKAE.com was developed with the help of things I was learning there. It was actually my second HTML website, the first being a project that focused on the eccentric composer Erik Satie. TAPKAE.com was developed in nearly the same way with some additional bits: javascript menu, pop up windows for detailed pages, and a shopping cart system that cost me more than I ever made in sales. This TAPKAE 1.0 version was pretty complex for a first time out. Totally self indulgent. The menu structure was using drop menus with a couple levels to them. My bio was split over three pages—pretty crazy stuff, and it was only my music related profile. An attempt at an image gallery was arduous.

Without CSS, HTML had therefore not evolved into the rather lean language it is now. Without CSS, the thing was a bear to visually inspect and keep styled consistently. All those bolds? All those italics? One by one, page by page. Without the database-driven active pages we have now in most platforms, each page had to be copied to provide the basis for another, or I'd have to use a template (I never did). It was arduous trying to keep it all together. Deciding to change a header style would be an absurd amount of work, even in Dreamweaver—mainly because I didn't use the site caching for years to come.

In 2002, who really knew what social media was? Mp3.com was one site I used that was starting something a bit like Myspace became. Even the word blog seems to have not been on my ears then. Web 2.0? RSS? Podcast? The Cloud? Facebook? Wordpress? Stuff we take for granted now wasn't around then.

The first time I can think of when I knew I was looking at a blog was in late 2003 or early 2004. It provided me the clarity to know that the days of manually updating HTML and moving front page journal entries to "archive" pages was a hopelessly unnecessary act. Somehow I went in search of new hosting solutions and happened upon Startlogic, which I remained on from early 2004 until early 2011. And BAM! there was the B2 blogger platform ready to install. For a while in 2004-2006, the blog was a separate component that was not integrated into the site. And so it was that I had to essentially style the two separate entities so they looks enough alike.

But what the hell was this .php shit? And how in the world was I supposed to edit things when I could not see the whole page at once? Why were these blog sites so damned complex? I guess it took me a while to learn the part about how sites were leaving plain ol' HTML behind in favor of detailed and consistent styles with databases providing the content. My paltry education at Art Institute was made seemingly more so with the advent of all this new blogging technology. I was in over my head. But blogging was cool because it took care of the old entries.

The thing is, I came into this as a guy with some stories to tell, not as someone out to make money and to connect with other blogs. At various times, I disabled pingbacks, trackbacks, comments, and other things. I just wanted to put my stuff up, and all those extras just got in the way. Meanwhile, I heard about people blogging to make money. Journalists blogging to tell their version of the truth, sans editorial review. The rules had not solidified.

B2 & Wordpress: 2004-2010

After discovering B2, I tried out various other blogging platforms but remained on B2 for a while, and eventually in 2006 landed with Wordpress. And then I decided that Wordpress was mature enough in the late summer of 2006 that I found I could make my entire site within the Wordpress environment. But I always had my problems with Wordpress even though for a number of years it was the tidiest platform of all. While the Wordpress era was structurally more solid, the visual aspect was more limited since I didn't then know how to do a local testing server, so to change the graphic or other CSS related details, I painstakingly edited one thing at a time and resaved and uploaded. I got off Wordpress before I ever did a Dreamweaver local site to test and edit upon. The Wordpress years were a time when the major component was the blog itself, during a period of a lot of transformation.

In some way though, turning off all the social options at the blog gave me a needed period to let the TAPKAE online identity reform under new values. In the early days, I sabotaged things with certain newsgroups and music/recording related forums. The stuff is still out there for the looking, but there is now more stuff that bears my name and more of it is worthy material.

In 2010, after slipping away from publishing much to the web but for blog posts and pages, I found myself drawn toward helping Jubilee Economics Ministries, a small non profit that was in need of new methods to move their message. I had proposed podcasting, not even knowing much about the medium, and then to support that, I found it necessary to reacquaint myself with some things and to plunge into many others. What started as a podcast became a new website for JEM (using Squarespace, which I had just learned about as I was starting to actually learn Wordpress for JEM), and the typical social media accounts, and then organizational things like Google Apps and Mailchimp... It was all exasperating to me, and even more so to the others, who, being folks my parents' age, were blindsided by all the changeup, but grateful since they never would have unpacked it all.

Certainly I can't deny that several years of publishing to the web was handy, but as I have spent a couple years now with JEM and an ever-unfolding map of possibilities, I have read a lot of material about best practices for blogging, search engine optimization, social media, and all that. And sometimes it makes me feel pretty low. In some ways, I seem to have gotten it all wrong. I know that's a bit much to take on and that I'll never master the stuff.

The mind that generated this site probably does not connect with all but about four people out there in web land. My stats are shit at this site. Who but a few friends and curious onlookers are interested in this story? (Craig Z.?) Certainly this is just a labor of love, and a way to keep from seeing my own handwriting! My methods and approaches, a more-is-more kind of expression, is so counter to the prevailing winds of web publishing where blogging is supposed to be pithy and succinct. It's supposed to be nearly mathematically derived to squeeze every ounce of SEO value it can. No long paragraphs. Lists are always winners. Connect with readers and give them a reason to come back. Incentivize. Laser focus on a topic. In 2004, it was the wild west in blogging. I guess I wandered down one dirt road, maybe into a box canyon, while others built a freeway system.

The Squarespace Era: 2010-present

I pay for web hosting with Squarespace now that I moved this site over some months after finding I liked it for JEM. The rate was $240 for the first year, and thanks to a rate change, it's $180 now. It has allowed me a chance to be more visually creative than anything I did in the Wordpress years. I don't have to worry about that sick feeling associated with managing my own database at the MySql level. So I have been willing to pay for that. I've never run an ad here. This is just my channel to tell a story; a labor of love is all this is, a way to help untangle the spaghetti of life. Some people spend that kind of money on their booze or gambling in a few hours. Or in driving their car for fun. Or to go to Disneyland. None of that appeals to me. And, here, about a decade after my first foray into the web, the rate is perhaps twice what I used to pay, or less, but the potential to put up so much content makes all that a moot point.

I like that for once, I've managed to create an online album that reflects a mix of experiences, good and bad, and a mix of media to tell the story. Keeping busy with JEM such as I have, trying to find new things to move that message, I sometimes have to make a conscious effort to take some "me time" here at this site. Never mind there are just a few subscribers (thanks!). Never mind there are no casual users stumbling upon this site and bringing it to Facebook. Certainly there is more that I want to put up. More pictures, more scans, more audio. More video. There is only one of me though, and it happens that I allocate more time to JEM, sensing that promoting or even building this self-indulgent site is not as responsible a thing to do as developing the JEM platform. Last summer, I did plug in a good deal of content here that was never on any previous version of the site. Were it not for the bottleneck of the scanning process, I might have done more. The other bottleneck is that I am a loquacious, captioning freak, and it takes time to narrate things, particularly when a new photo gallery is put up! And since I got this site (and a new camera at about the same time), I've had a lot more photographic material to process. It's easy to get distracted.

Netizenship & Transparency

The web has changed a lot since 2002. I've changed a lot too. When I first got into it and didn't know about netiquette I went overboard and offended people, some of which were in-person relationships too. But overall, I've put that away and tried to become a better netizen. Blogging at least gives me the chance to soapbox in my own space rather than on other sites. And even that has sort of waned for me. The futility of trying to argue a point online is pretty clear. I feel this site got more interesting when I went inside and unpacked this person I've had to deal with all this time. Maybe no one else gives a shit. A few cheer on the sidelines, saying I'm doing something that takes guts. Others cringe. Others slip away nearly unnoticed. And then there are about seven billion others who don't even know this site is here. Sure, it might be a self-indulgent site, but it doesn't mean I am important. But who else will tell the story?

And that brings me to the matter of my approach to sharing information here. Presently I am looking for work, same as I've been doing for a year and more. (Unless I am applying to a web job that might call on certain aspects or technology or aesthetics that demonstrated at this site, I don't usually give away TAPKAE.com or social media links. I use a personal Gmail address.) I know no HR person is going to write me a courtesy note saying that they read a handful of posts on TAPKAE.com and decided to pass me over because they didn't think my family situation was going to lead me to be a good employee. Or that a post said I have struggled with depression. Or Wordpress. (There is some overlap at times.) The fact is, I don't really know how thoroughly I am disqualifying myself from jobs. And I sort of don't care. The places that won't have me won't have me. This site is a tool to help me feel that I know myself. And in the process, I might find that truck driving is not really my calling, and that while it could be an entry into an industry, I don't awaken each day, licking my lips at the prospect of piloting a few tons of steel down streets and alleys. Somewhere along the line, I embraced transparency in the hopes that it would win me more than it lost. Shutting doors to paths that I have no business on should be a better thing than not. I can say I've applied to jobs that I know I'm not interested in, and then it should be no surprise, website or not, that I don't get them.

Nothing is stopping me from making a go at a commercial site, doing things by formula and metrics, and leaving out the personal stuff for the most part. I don't exactly feel I have anything to share that warrants that, but I would like to develop community around JEM and when possible, other orgs or groups that have shared interest. I may or may not ever get that right. It may or may not ever be my thing. Lurking at the edges is TAPKAE.com, where it's okay to get it wrong, to experiment, to be transparent and unpretentious.

Tuesday
Sep202011

More Chrome Than Detroit In The 50s

I love Google Chrome because it plays seamlessly with Google Apps for my site, WWSIC, and JEM. Problem is, until some digging, I could only have one of those accounts logged in at once and found that for different domains and their separate logins sometimes it was easier to just open up every browser I had (Firefox, Camino, Safari) but then each of those is different and doesn't run the Google Apps stuff in quite the same way if at all—particularly with regard to extensions and apps and other stuff that an all-Google space does.

I found a hack that allowed a second Chrome space but it was a bit unpredictable and trying to match its config (extensions, apps, bookmarks) was a drag. I tried a little program called Fluid that purported to give me single-app windows but that was absurdly complicated when faced with the range of things that I usually open in a dozen tabs within one domain. Sure, I got a football field of screen space and employ the Spaces feature pretty heavily, and I even have a little program called Moom which lets me do preset window layouts by grid shapes, but who needs one more app to jump to in the dock? Or ten more? Beside, Fluid did not have the extensions and behaved even more oddly than the first attempt at cloning Chrome.

Finally I stumbled into Chrome's permanent Beta brother-in-Chromium, Canary, and did about the same thing but with Canary as the second instance of Chrome. Now I find that Canary, always in development, is pushing into a multi user space feature, probably in prep for Chrome general release. I fire up as many users as I want, but have to configure each separately unless I open the hood and do the following.

And, rummaging in the back space in the Library folder in the Finder, I figured out how to make all the user folders based on the same settings as my primary browser just by copying and pasting the contents of a folder that I want to clone. So now I can have identical workspaces that can have each account open for business at once with the same extensions and other preferences ready to go. Right now, this is great for keeping a discreet user space for TAPKAE.com, WomenWhoSpeakInChurch and Jubilee-Economics.

Definitely badass. I deserve a raise for my work.

Friday
Jul152011

The Curator

a few of my plastic tubs with archival boxes, courtesy of the DHL company that  used to stock the office I worked at.I keep my junk rather well classified and orderlyThe long unemployed days need to be filled with something once the hard work of job searching is over. This has been one of the longest unemployed periods yet, now just passing six months. Lee Van Ham has been on vacation, so there has been a lull in work for JEM for a few weeks. Add to those the fact that my high school reunion happened a week ago and all this has conspired to drive me to the personal archive boxes in recent weeks and months to find stuff to scan and transcribe for this site.

I have three giant tubs from Ikea, and a few older tubs that have not yet been replaced. They all contain photo albums, boxes of stuff classified by year (since 1992, first full year after graduating and getting off the school year), or by school year (high school mainly), or by groups of school years (everything before high school). I have all six yearbooks from middle and high school. Also stashed in the tubs are various documents, calendars, tape archives, journals, and so on. Over the years I have tended to make things easy on myself, periodically pruning stuff that doesn't hold lasting value. A lot of it is sill there: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There is stuff that makes me cringe now. I've transcribed a handful of journals from high school that are usually just horribly written, and the typewritten text is often no help because it was so bad due to these very documents being about as much practice as I ever got at a keyboard. My voice on these papers was trying to be funny, but it comes off as completely ridiculous and juvenile. I often carried on a conversation with my intended reader, and the amount of asides and parenthetical remarks just makes me cringe. Nonetheless, every now and then something worthwhile was written. Some of these things have been posted here already and dated so that they fall in actual chronological history according to their original dates of writing. Obviously, I was not blogging in 1989!

Ever since I moved my site onto Squarespace in January, I've found it appealing to use the flexible Lego-like options for building a site rich with content of various types. I've been writing for the web since 2002, and with at least a decade of journals before that, I've been telling a story of my life and times for two decades now. (And more if you count those lame high school era things!) Now that Squarespace is so easy to configure for the range of content I have, it has been fun adding things up and seeing a larger period of my life in one frame, so to speak. I've been feeding the galleries with new travel pictures, have been adding the proto-TAPKAE journals, and have also uploaded many of my key recording projects. Because I like to chat about stuff, most of it is pretty well documented.

It also helps that I've emotionally come to grips with a lot more stuff that is referenced in the archival boxes, and that now I see it important to tell a more complete story, warts and all. The current TAPKAE.com gives me a chance to integrate things, and to tell a more unified story than I ever have. Being able to post images with captions, or blog posts with pictures, or all the linking opportunities back and forth has made me see things with an eye to dismantling prior compartments of life. It has been an exercise in reclaiming previously disowned parts of me. As time allows, there will be more of that.

The thing is, most of my life was lived in the pre-digital age. I have lots of photo albums and plenty of photos in boxes that still want to be seen, but jeeze, a scanner is a miserable thing to deal with, even with newer hardware. One document at a time, three pictures at a time? Recoloring and cropping? Saving and uploading? Commenting? It takes time, and it is far from my intention to ever get it all up. So for now, the most interesting things are going up. Maybe another wave will come, maybe when life's twists and turns bring a person to mind, and all of a sudden the heart gets pulled in the direction of telling stories related to them. Who knows?

Thursday
May262011

If You Gotta Know

I've been turning out some videos for JEM and WomenWhoSpeakInChurch. I happened to find that my Canon S90 still camera captured some rather useful stuff the other night at a young adults gathering with Lee Van Ham as our guest. If I had turned a half dozen ceiling fans off and had control over a children's theater production going on in the hallway and neighboring rooms, the audio might have been nicer. But for a camera doing a second job, this wasn't too bad. I was happy to cut the footage into pieces for the sake of practice. Quicktime Pro is a handy tool for this quick and nasty stuff, saving a lot of workflow and extra file space for not having to reencode at so many stages.

Doing a bunch of social media cross posting has taken its time too. That much I do have plenty of.

Tuesday
May172011

May Gray 

I find it is still hard to get back into a normal life in Sandy Eggo after time at Red Mesa. I miss the structural element of having a job, but seeing how I am trying to develop my digital media abilities in hopes of finding something that calls on more than my ability to pilot a vehicle or move boxes, I am having a harder time finding work than usual. I've had a couple interviews but really it was a step backward from my time delivering the taters and onions. Resumes sent to organizations looking for media people have gotten rejections at best, and ignorance at worst. Not working gives me time to dabble in a lot of things, and for better or for worse, I have pressed on into the world of social media options, and yep, that stuff takes time to work on. I still have my reservations about it all, though. A year ago I wanted nothing to do with it all. Now for the sake of helping JEM or Kelli with the new WomenWhoSpeakInChurch site and its Facebook version, and the stuff I do to keep amused (with Buber the Dog's FB site, and one other that shall go unnamed), I am pretty much trying my hand at the various ways these things can be made to work together.

Since Kelli's ordination I've been messing with video programs and it hasn't always been fun. The couple cameras that captured footage both had breaks in the program, both during the same song that Kay sang, but at different points. So neither camera got unbroken coverage. An audio CD did get a pretty good mix off the board. (I did all the audio at my old church.) Trying to settle on a strategy for making the experience available to those not there that day, and to make it concise enough to put on YouTube (in shorter bits) has been a challenge, and I found myself needing to push into a couple new programs to get stuff happening. The material will accumulate at the WomenWhoSpeakInChurch YouTube site.

Red Mesa has made worship in a church seem kind of bland and uninteresting on the whole. The times I have gotten to church since my return I have been as likely to sort of drift out to another room to sit and be alone, or to wander back in for the sermon. Or not. I resigned from the Christian Education commission, which I felt rather useless at. I found that the things I do in the context of the young adults bunch seems to sustain my interest more and feel more effective in real time. No procedural meetings. Just contact that gives me a chance to periodically assume my role of teacher, but otherwise as fellow student, and just trying to create community among people who, about two years ago, were strangers, or not even involved yet! So I feel that has been quite a success, and actually, the togetherness and level of participation of this group has been rather notable compared to other upstarts from the same period of about 2-3 years ago. We're planning our own end of the world party for June 11. I call it the Post Apocalyptic Regressive Communion. Maybe Kelli, now fully ordained, can bless the scavenged food elements of Tang! drink and perhaps nuclear-safe Twinkies or Wonder bread. Fun!

Maybe it is the May gray, but I do feel down. Not being active for work has left me to stay home a lot, and frankly, I put back the weight that I lost while in my bike riding heyday. And I feel it. I just don't feel that I want to ride anywhere anymore. I don't leave the house too much but to walk the dog, go to church, errands, and such. I know it is the stuff that leads to depression, but I am trying to stay productive with my digital projects which seem to blossom even as I get them done. Ongoing ones like podcasts take a few days to get right; Photo work to present my trips is an ongoing thing; I blog once in a while; learning video is a new trick; editing my whole site a few months ago was epic; getting Google Apps set up for two domains was a big deal, especially when it came to transfering three email accounts; and then there is the social media stuff. Once in a while, it's time to look at manuals or tutorials online. At any given time, I've go plenty on my plate of jobs to take on. And not working is an unmatched time to get that stuff done. I hope it pays off as I push toward positions that might be more able to call upon my actual interests and enthusiasm.

 

Sunday
Feb272011

Sock Hopping And Tub Thumping

ed on drums with the broken strings at a church sock hop.

In all the hubbub of setting up and developing sites for Jubilee Economics Ministries or Women Who Speak In Church, and discussing sites with other non profits or small businesses or even talk about doing UCC work, I feel like ol' TAPKAE.com is left out in the cold a bit. It hasn't been far from sight, but with all the digital time spent doing other work, it is hard to come here and to let myself be creative. There is plenty of uploading to do since my hosing plan can store anything I throw at it. Uploading, captioning, blogging, and all that stuff takes some time. I just uploaded a few hundred pictures of our Death Valley trip from last November. I don't think I will caption each, and I will probably ditch a bunch of redundant ones for the sake of even a feeble attempt at brevity.

broken strings playing for the dancers.

Yesterday, I played drums with the Broken Strings at a sock hop dance put on by one of the local UCC churches. I get a kick from playing, even as unrehearsed as this was. It was fun for folks, and that's what counts. Just staying connected to music making is okay for me now. It isn't like this stuff pays the rent but on a good day, it might be just about enough to buy the new set of whip sticks I used for the gig, after the old set fell apart. Whip sticks are the only kind that I can use for this band, and even they elicit "too loud!" comments.

The nice thing about drumming is that it is not plugged in. Nothing to turn on or manage. The drumming world involves wood, steel, mylar, and bell bronze. It is the ultimate in tactile interaction. In other words, I get HIT stuff! For a while it is nice to just come off the grid to enjoy the simple pleasure of moving wood to ultimately move air. It just about doesn't matter to me that I don't know the music all so well. It comes reasonably easily once I get a taste of it. It is only oldies rock and roll, after all. It isn't stuff that I spent my time playing, but it is the stuff I learned first, even though I only knew beats according to certain dance names. It was stuff I was shown in 1984 that I didn't know I'd be playing in 2011!

One thing that is amusing to note was the cultural shift from when this music first made its appearance in the world. These days a sock hop dance event held at a church is a event made for family fun. Thinking back to my grandmother's amusing response to the whole Elvis/gyrating hip scandal—one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse for her—it is a quaint idea tht rock and roll was once the disruptive noise that parents couldn't stand. Some might even think of it as the devil's music! LOL! My grandmother had a scowling, coughing disgust at the idea of Elvis. For her it marked the end of the civilized life. And now, congregational churches such as the one she once held membership in are hosting the very stuff. And all the people who were once the "rebellious" teenagers in 1958 were there, doing what they always did—dancing to Elvis with one Ed Lucas at the drums.

You can read about the Broken Strings from founder Rev. Curtis Clare. A photo gallery of my musical history is for viewing here.

Saturday
Feb192011

The Ghost In The Machine

Having read all my years of blog posts in the last year I've noticed a bunch of digital bread crumbs I left myself along the way. They are the crumbs that help me find who I am across the longer period of time that the blog covers. Seeing all that in the short period of a few weeks has an effect on me. It reminded me why I got into this often bewildering and sometimes angering encounter with computers and their indifference to my life. But the underlying compulsion is to tell my story. When paper and notebooks were the media on hand, I used that to write in and to illustrate my life and interests in pictures. Recording too was always a matter of using whatever was on hand and trying to make something with it. About a decade ago the computer became appealing in the way it tied all that together. By then the programs were evolved enough that I was not required to be a programmer to achieve anything. (A reference to the dark ages in 1983-85 when I had my first encounters with desktop computers).

Technology is not really my strong suit. Trying to see life as meaningful is. Technology offers a chance to document it and share it. The evidence is already in my collected project of journaling that I would resort to hand typing stuff and cutting out magazine or product brochure images. My earliest produced recordings amounted to just that and those eventually matured into doing a production ready CD with real output (bad art printed well, I admit) and a glass master CD. My photo albums from about high school onward were affairs of taping pictures to paper and typing captions alongside. These days I see that in the galleries on this site. The endless journals in school notebooks, a project beginning on the day after I graduated from high school, is clearly the ancestor to the endless blog articles here now. You could say that this journal is really a 20 year project, and more if you dig farther back into the prehistory.

On a whim a couple years ago I subtitled the site "Like, the greatest story ever told, man..." I mean for it to be said in that drugged out Grateful Dead kind of way. I didn't know it at the time but the movie by that name was one about Jesus. Pardon any pretense on my part, I was ignorant of that. But I don't really shirk from the part. Not about being anyone's savior, but about the fact that Jesus is really the model human life of enduring rejection and suffering even to the point of death and coming out of the whole thing a new being. The greatest story ever told isn't just one of Jesus, the man who walked the earth all those years ago and who died and somehow carried on as some type of burning memory-consciousness in the hearts of some oddball followers. That is great, but the real greatness of the story is the spiritual victory it contains: that all the suffering and trials are formation measures to become something far greater.

Well, if that isn't a great story, what is? I happen to have lived my version of that and identify with it just fine. That kind of spiritual death and rebirth with a hunger to reach beyond oneself is the greatest story ever told. Dying to self to live for others is what makes it great.

TAPKAE.com now is more of a place to hold the tension between what was and what now is. I've decided to transparently embrace the confusing mix of who this Ed is. Oh sure, that can be dangerous stuff sometimes. Some of it will turn up in Google searches and might be grounds for disqualification or dismissal from jobs. The fact is, I am pretty exhausted from living in a house divided. Disowning parts of myself is bad spirituality and bad psychology. These days, the freedom to tell the story comes from within. I am only bound really by my attention to the details involved in sitting and writing or scanning/editing/uploading pictures or audio. I have my bursts of interest in the stuff. I'll probably never get done what I want to have done. C'est la vie. But I want to deconstruct the internal walls of this online box and make the place more spacious and less divided.