Receiving (1999-2000)

Receiving coverReceiving

My only "properly" finished, commercial-ready CD that summed up several years' worth of sonic and musical experimentation.

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For a while there it was what saved my life a few times. Little else gave me focus, little else gave me meaning in that year spanning the summers of 1999 and 2000. In the year when relationships were strained or broken, I worked on it whenever I could and often that meant doing guitar, bass, keyboard and other overdubs in the wee hours after midnight, some nights until even past the crack of dawn. Hog Heaven Studio got a good workout during that period; the tiny bedroom sized box of a studio space was my universe for a time where I had the walls lined with instruments and accessories and where I almost desperately applied myself to my work, often not even having anything but tenacity to work with. But I mustn't ignore that, at times, I was more of a conduit allowing some musical current to pass through me.

In the late summer of 1999, I string of recorded improvisational tracks and their overdubs, or even whole songs in some quick order and somehow began to trust they were okay as they were. Upon sharing some of those early cuts for Mike Keneally, he wished me well, and that I might "keep receiving" the music. Thus came a title which focused my work to come for about the next year. Receiving. The album is just short of 70 minutes which I do realize is quite pretentious for a nobody. But I like listening to albums as whole pieces and the tour they lead the listener on. At that time, I was only beginning to hear about the mp3 format and its influence was far from being felt, in terms of how people would listen to individual songs instead of whole albums. (I was quite under the influence of Mike Keneally then, who made CDs that were so full of content that the pressing plants could barely assure him non-defective disks.) I just knew my little vignettes of sound were dropping out of me at a new and delightful pace for some reason, and that they were sharing a theme of melancholy, wonder, angst and beauty all at once.

Some were delivered almost whole in a few takes: the opening title track was about one hours' work to record from improvisation and Tired was recorded in about a day, on the following night! Others like Zehdihm's Flight took nearly the full year to get in their final form, involving shifting players and wholly separate recordings of the three main sections. Somewhere in the middle ground lie the tracks like New Ex Girlfriend and Suburban Silhouette, which took about a week each. In some odd way there is a balance of the spontaneous and the polished work; the balance of the stuff that has a more or less precise and considered choice of notes to achieve a desired aim, and those pieces where I know there are some "bad" notes that really had to be left in to sonically illustrate the risk involved in this kind of music.

In late 2000, Richard Meltzer, the salty veteran of rock music criticism did a favorable review of tracks that featured on Receiving. He doesn't like anything that comes out of the usual music mills, so for what his opinion is worth, this is quite something to say, even that he bothered to spill the ink. He dubbed me the best purveyor of musique noir in San Diego. Dunno about that but I like the term and I've adopted it willingly. I don't know that my music actually suggests film noir (I had never really seen the stuff by then) but there is a moody and atmospheric, psychologically unbalanced edge to it. There is risk in the note choice; there is some steep contrast in mood and texture. And furthermore, there really is no resolution according to traditional musical convention of harmony. Frankly, it is because I never really exposed myself to learning the stuff either from love of the blues or detailed study of harmony. I don't think there is one actual dominant-tonic resolution on the whole thing. Just as well because my life at that time knew nothing of stability and comfort, at least not emotionally and spiritually. So the chords go wandering with no sense of key structure, suspensions and dissonance rule, and in a few cases, the climax of certain tracks is a collision into atonal chaos.

Similarly, certain solos feel like they are going off the rails, and in the case of Todd Larowe's playing, they come back to their senses fluidly. I won't kid you; a lot of stuff is riddled with genuine mistakes. Sometimes they were simply left there in good trust, other times they were subject to fixing if possible, but in a case like Todd's lead over Pearls Before the Swine, an extra seven takes did nothing to improve on his first take as he was just feeling out the unfamiliar chords and their totally non-conventional progression, so we went back to the first take and all its little funny notes. I've since decided those notes tell the stories of these pieces better than a more calculated approach.

Maybe Richard Meltzer gave my music a nod because it so clearly is an honest attempt at making honest music. My friend Mike Thaxton offered me the criteria he used to establish whether he liked music or not: does it sound and feel like it needed to be made? Whatever the case, for me, it needed to be made or I would have been unmade. At the time, I was working exclusively as an audio tech assistant, keeping totally unconventional hours. There was in-town work, and other times when I was on short jaunts to San Francisco or Tucson or Los Angeles. I worked around a lot of different musicians in various capacities—most of the time it was working on the main audio system at a show, but at various times I rented my drums, did stage managing, guitar and keyboard cartage and stagehanding, etc. All my time on stages got me into conversations with people about what I was doing (because every tech and assistant out there is really a wannabe with their own project too, every now and then a Billy Howerdel breaks through). Hence the roster of players who figure into Receiving's credits:

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The Players

Most notably for me at the time, Marc Ziegenhagen, who then was playing in Mike Keneally's band Beer For Dolphins. In fact, the Rhodes and Minimoog keyboards he used on Zehdihm's Flight are on MK's Dancing CD because both were recorded in the same week, and my payment to him was to borrow, cart or loan or otherwise gather the keyboards he needed to do the recording in San Diego (he's from Minneapolis). Ziegenhagen actually played parts that were sonically and aesthetically more satisfying than the guy he replaced on that track: Mike Keneally. That was a major thing for me then of course, since MK was like the knowable face of god then for me. But really, I didn't like what he played, and so I let it go in favor of his sideman's playing. Marc was exceptionally cool to work with. He also appears on (of all things!) my song The End of the Road For Missy The Cow from a couple years earlier.

Todd Larowe was sort of the Hog Heaven Studio house guitarist for that year as we worked on a lot in 1999, including Receiving and my other goofy songs from ReCyclED, stuff for a certain Girl Singer, and other bits. We met at Sea World as he was in the tech services department that I had to interface with when we did summer music series for a few years in a row. Todd had a great ear for picking up the almost random nature of my music, and had the dexterity to play more nuanced stuff. Still, he blew a few notes too, but he could usually find a way to bring it back in, and that suited my style. Any guitar playing on this CD that isn't mine is his. Some of the electric sitar is his too, as is a few touches of percussion.

Mike Bedard is a friend from high school, who for a while there used to come by to jam and shoot the shit. He was working as a professional drummer by this time and he always played this role for me that somehow gave me something new to work toward. A couple tracks here are from a single improvised recording of he and I (I'm on bass). He has this musical intuition and masterful delivery that delighted me, often leading me and being ready to follow in the off chance I ever had a good idea. He later came by and totally saved my ass on the third recording of Zehdihm's Flight, the track that never seemed to happen right until magically, Mike and Marc and Todd all put in their parts—scattered by weeks and even months—and brought out the most distilled and aggressive version of that track. Mike's ability as a live drummer is enhanced by his studio experience. I find he can acoustically create some neat sonic textures one associates with the heavily processed audio in electronic music. For my purposes though, he was a delight to jam with and a lifesaver when my drumming was a dead end.

Dawne Forderer and Rebecca Vaughan (Frazee now) were friends from their band Loaf, with whom I worked as a live audio guy. I was recording some Loaf material at the same time as Receiving, and so one day I asked them to see about some vocals for the song Tired. They obliged, and in just a few minutes, they were done. (You can hear a good Loaf song featuring them, me on percussion and some guitar, and the most developed version of my studio here.) Some people think that the whiny girlfriend character on New Ex Girlfriend is one of the girls. Not so...

Aside from these players who offered some uplifting parts, it is my playing and vocals unless you count the jokingly credited phone call from my usual employer at the time, Mitch Grant. There were some others who had a hand in earlier tracks or some editing, like the aforementioned Mike Keneally, guitarists Dave Stark and El Brando, and Mike Thaxton who had the gall to chop up Pimps and to make it even weirder than it was originally! I found at the end of things that I played all the bass parts except for Todd playing a bass part identical to his guitar part on The Frank Briggs Syndrome (the one with Mitch on it).

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All of Receiving was recorded and mostly edited on my Roland VS-880, an 8 track digital recorder that afforded me enough space to be more elaborate in my arrangements than a 4 track, and less so than a 16 or 24 track. It was something that made me think out the more complex arrangements but also to ditch stuff that didn't need to be there. This CD is filled with tracks that go from rather straightforward band-in-a-studio type arrangements and track counts to arrangements with doubled drums, doubled bass guitar, various synths, and so on—the effect being that you might expect a lot more tracks of "tape" being involved. By the time of Receiving though, I had already been doing two years' of recording on the 880 and had some practical methods for combining, bouncing, comping, and other digital manipulation so I could mix with 8 tracks only. While my outboard components changed a lot during the Hog Heaven Studio era, the 880 was the center of things until after Receiving was finished. Tracks like Zehdihm's Flight got digitally edited together in whole submixed sections but each section was fairly involved as its own recording, or at least some of the earlier versions pushed the envelope, even if the final mixes were a bit simpler.

Some tracks began as drum improvs that were cut and looped into the basis for a track. Others, like Purque The Insidious Goat Hustler, and the opening of Zehdihm's Flight, were really just a bunch of free improv and random tracks that got cut and shaped into form, with me constantly moving back and forth between instruments as new ideas flowed, often within a single session. Purque is a joke title based on the fact that the original storage media were marked with "Perc-y" —that there were some percussion tracks that didn't have a name, and they sort of sat there till one day they were paired up with equally odd keyboard parts. Tracks like Pearls Before the Swine or Pimps were led, form-wise by improvising on keyboards and then filling in other parts with subsequent digital editing. The title track was an improvised drum performance that was made more interesting by the business of simultaneously playing drum kit and operating a mixer with my left hand, feeding different drum channels into the echo effect. That performance was improvised in one shot, unedited, just as you hear it, effects and all. The guitars came moments later, and then I mixed it that night!

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The Dual Recto

I had just bought my first tube amp in August of 1999, and I have to admit that that had a lot to do with the creative streak. I had only recorded a couple amps before in Hog Heaven, but this one got my juices flowing. All the guitar sounds here but for a few on New Ex Girlfriend came through the Mesa Dual Rectifier. Such was its influence! I really got off on how it was able to rumble the guitar in my hand, and the feel and sensitivity of it was delightful. Part of the joy of the performance on 8th Grade Report Card and Endless Cycle came from the pure sound of the guitar through that amp, set on the edge of feedback. I only used two of my own guitars, but Todd used a couple more of his, and I think I borrowed a couple, including the electric sitar. At the same time as the amp, I got a new guitar, a Carvin with a Floyd Rose vibrato, and a wild array of pickup switching options that made it handy in the studio. The combination of that guitar and the amp did a lot to usher in the recordings here—the first two cuts feature these exclusively, and then eventually I get around to using my Strat. Hah.

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Stepping Up to the Mic

The CD is instrumental except for five songs. I typically didn't mind giving my voice to lyrics that were not too revelatory. Much of the stuff preceding Receiving tended toward humor and sarcasm. But this was different. For reasons probably more technical than artistic, I somehow masked my voice with some effect or another here, in most cases. Not being a born singer, nor being one who particularly wanted to occupy that role, the songs on Receiving typically popped out in pretty much their final form, and typically late in the process. I suspect by that time, they had to be given voice.

Tired came first and its lyrics sprung out of me one "night" almost in one lump with the music happening the following day (remember, I went to bed at about 5-6 am then). I vaguely remember taking some influence from Kevin Gilbert's song Fun (from Shaming of the True), something in the telephone distorted voice and relentless groove with a kind of dark theme. I remember doing a mix of a different performance of the vocal, but on the whole, this one went down pretty much in one shot.

In the case of New Ex Girlfriend, that is indeed me doing the vocals through the VS-880's voice transformer. That was pretty much a quick run down of some of the things I'd been hearing from my not-quite-girlfriends of the few years prior to that, so I'm sure it didn't take too many takes, and not much of it is an embellishment on reality as I knew it then.

Joytown is an apology for Kevin Gilbert, the songwriter who took me by storm in the fall of '99 and whose spirit graced me during the entire time I worked on this CD. The lyrics evoke a song of his, Joytown, which imagines all sorts of odd pairs together which might coexist in a perfect world. My song expands on that by including that in such a world, an artistic genius like him might never be taken advantage of like he was by Sheryl Crow.

The next song, Crazy Boy, is more like a couple pages torn out of a journal of mine from that era, painfully aware of some self destructive behavior, and the do-or-die nature of some of the decisions I had to make. It is cast like an argument between these two natures.

The final song, the one that reveals a voice nearly free of any technological gizmodification (except for the vocoder chorus) is Suburban Silhouette. I had just read James Howard Kunstler's book The Geography of Nowhere just a year or so before, and it resonated with me in a big way, and ultimately proved to be the first dose of consciousness that led me to where I am now. This song came together in a very quick way, all from nothing to complete in about one week. The lyrics too were never so much as sketched before I started working on this recording. It was like a ripe fruit on the branch and was a great illustration of the receiving concept.

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I finished the music when Suburban Silhouette was completed in mid-August 2000. I was getting burned out on the solo recording method and had my interests turning toward working in a band context for the first time in years. I had the various mixes on my VS-880 where I assembled various running orders and spent a month settling on that. I took it in to DLI Studio (Dan De La Isla, Natasha's Ghost, et al.) to be mastered in mid-September, using the 880 to play the mixes into the studio's ProTools rig in real time. By that time, I had settled on levels and track spacing (or segues) and such, so I just had alternating tracks on two stereo pairs and got half my mastering done that way. The rest was the usual stuff—compression, EQ, spatial fixes. It took a few CDs to get it dialed in, but I signed off on it a few weeks later.

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Meanwhile, the art was a different kettle of fish. That was the anti-receiving. That held up the progress for a whole other year beyond the year spent recording it. I don't even know all the twists and turns now, but suffice it to say, there was a guy who was doing a somewhat admirable job in the end of 1999, using images of radio telescopes. I didn't know they were called by that name, so I referred to them as satellite dishes. What I really wanted was a vast and panoramic shot of the Very Large Array in New Mexico, but I didn't know the name of the complex and I didn't even know about how many of the telescopes there were. (I was influenced by the Dire Straits cover of On the Night, but upon researching this right now, I rather like Bon Jovi's album cover on Bounce. Bastard!) This was in the dark ages of search engines and I was not online myself, so I was dependent on what this other guy could round up. Later on, after several trips to his house, and hours of photoshop tinkering later, I still had nothing tangible. And later still, he blackmailed me and ended up destroying the files because he and I worked a show (he on video, me on audio) where a camera he was using got damaged. I contended that it was his own fault for placement on a high and perilous perch and sloppy wiring, but he just wanted to sock it to me for the repair bill. So, he held the artwork ransom and then that all crashed and burned.

So, for a while, I adopted a theme of a similarly desolate image of an observatory in Hawaii. I can't remember what happened with that version, helped along at the house of a friend who was letting me dabble in Photoshop on his computer. Finally, in the spring of 2001, after about a year of this stalling and setback, I had entered a school where I was learning various digital art programs, and so made the current cover as a project. The thing is, I really hate it now because it was not nearly as well considered as I intended, and not well executed. If I had my druthers, I'd redo it and get my Very Large Array pic to return to the very image I had in mind almost as early as when Keneally was providing me with the title. C'est la vie!

Finally, the art did get done in the late summer of 2001, and I sent all my materials off to be pressed in Canada. At the end of October I had ten boxes of 50 disks each arrive on my porch. YOW! I knew I wanted to go beyond the CD-R approach, but this was a shock. I had them made commercial ready with bar codes and the like, but only as a precaution just in case I really stepped up to that. I have an Excel spreadsheet that chronicles the first couple hundred and where they went to, and how much they sold for, if they sold at all. Most of them were put directly in the hands of people I knew already. I always had a box in my truck. I probably made a nuisance of myself. After having self produced the whole thing I had to self promote, and I hate promotion. Still, I ended up building the first versions of around Receiving and the stuff one would need to know about me. I had it equipped with an early E-commerce service that probably cost me more in setup cost than I got from sales. I haunted websites and message boards and USENET groups. I got into web and digital arts in order to self promote as a musician, but then I found I was doing more of that than making music. Oh God, what a despicable time.

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The actual production costs of mastering and then the pressing came to about $2000—about $4 per disk. I called them "my $4 business card." But how does one calculate how much really went into it? I bought gear all during the process. I paid to go to school to "learn" the graphic arts end of things (paid off years later, even!), I kept redoing bits of my studio space. Where does the accounting start and stop on this kind of thing? After about 100 copies went out in the early months, the pace slowed a lot until it was about 250. Then I had about that many left in my closet for years. And of course, drifting away from music like I was, it was no longer exciting to talk about or pitch to people. Moving house a couple times pushed those extra five boxes into obscurity even more. Finally, I got them all out late in 2009, about eight years after I got them finished, and began the process of literally giving them away willy nilly. I mean, I took them on my delivery routes, dog walks, trips to the store. I gave them away to people at work, planted them on random signs or even vehicles in parking lots, even on my tour to New Mexico and the Trinity nuclear test site. I left them on random windowsills of businesses in well-traveled districts. Yep, I wanted them GONE finally. The previous investment was now an abstraction. The dead weight of the CD boxes was a pain to move and store, but more of a pain to look at and be reminded that I had done nothing as ostentatious since. I have always felt that it was an albatross on my neck, with regards to being able to move on and do more music. When I started the creative spell that became Receiving, I had a bit of a pattern established that some of my creative periods were white hot and then were followed by a cool period of a couple months when I would do nothing.

Having decided early on that Receiving might be worth treating like a "real" CD (glass master pressing, etc.), I anticipated that I might need a good six months to "recover." That was an understatement. Here I am, ten years after the pressing was done, and nearly some more since the music was completed, and I have done nothing of this caliber or greater! I await the time when this reverses course. I have enough gear to make something. I dabble in playing. But... I don't like to think of Receiving as my swan song, but it has brought that to mind. The good news is that I have, since the free and random giveaway spell of late 2009, felt more like having my gear set up, and sometimes going and learning some songs, or documenting some ideas. Still a long way from the wild and intense sessioning that I did in the 1999-2000 era but there is a pilot light flame in there somewhere. I've felt better about shedding that extra bunch of disks. It has been liberating to just distribute them indiscriminately. I wonder where they are, who got them, who threw them out and who cherished it. I don't have a contact link on this site (call it laziness), and the email address on the CD is for my old Hotmail account which I didn't check for years but was able to reclaim once I started to give the stuff away in hopes that it might elicit some response. But I think someone could figure out how to get in touch. Where did all those disks go? Did you find one? TAPKAE (at) TAPKAE (daht) com.

Now that the music to this is ten years old and now that I have no more actual physical stock to sell or give away, the only thing left to do so that people hear Receiving is to do what I am doing here now, making it available for download. Something a little closer to what I envisioned, 2011 draft I'd like to recraft the cover art to better represent what I had in mind at the time. (Maybe that will show up.) I still take a listen to Receiving sometimes, and more so since the great giveaway. I do still remain proud of it because it certainly took a lot to get it done. For a while I withheld it from new friends so I could finally break the trend of endless self promotion that accompanied its completion. I consider it honest artistic output, but now I think of how lopsided it is in favor of the tortured artist effect. It isn't that I don't like those cuts; I do get a laugh or a surge of emotion in replaying the songs. I was pleased to find out how much of the song Tired still stands for me now. But I'd prefer to have more balance to things, and I guess I have not found the way to do that yet in music.

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Receiving on SoundCloud

Here you can do the dirty deed and download the entire album and some extra goodies that missed the bus the first time around ("De-ceiving"). Each of the 15 album cuts are encoded in AAC .m4a format—pretty generous on the quality (and file size), you see. SoundCloud now hosts the music for download and the song-by-song liner notes, so go check it out. Click to see the earlier version of this page with all info in one place.


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