Archive for the ‘The Stuff of Music’ Category

Colin Hay at Keswick Theater – Memorable Show

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Colin Hay performs at The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA. April 28, 2012.

Buying concert tickets 4 months in advance is not recommended. My fiancé, Cindy, ended up having to go on a business trip and I couldn’t sell the them. As it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t, read on…

I went to the concert with two tickets, expecting to sit next to an empty seat, not worried about recouping the loss for the extra. In my opinion Colin Hay is well worth the $70+. That’s about what I paid for both of them.

Here’s the story. I park by the venue and walk over to Plush, a nice little nightclub near the Keswick Theater, pull up a seat at the bar and order a beer. I introduce myself to a fellow sitting next to me, Dan, and ask if he’s in town for the Colin Hay show. He says he is, and I tell him about my plight with the extra ticket. He laughs and said he has an extra too.

He tells me he bought his tickets way back in December for he and his girlfriend, but they have since split up. I’m happy that my girl was only away on business. :)

We chat a bit more then I head over to the show, expecting to maybe see him later a few rows ahead of me or something. I find my seat at the show, in Orchestra Center row D. As seating goes, from that point forward we have C, B, A, then JJ through AA, then CCC through AAA, which is the very first row. There were an additional three rows of folding chairs set up between AAA and the stage for this show as well.

So I’m sitting there and I hear someone call my name. I turn and look toward the aisle and Dan is walking ahead to his seat in row CCC. He’s waving his extra ticket to me and pointing ahead, indicating that I should join him, so I get up and politely make my way out and move up, very cool.

Ryan Montbleau performs at The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA. April 28, 2012.

So we sit and chat about music and stuff, and watch the opening act, Ryan Montbleau. Amazing guitarist and singer/songwriter, with an unique style that blends soul, roots blues, bluegrass, country and rock, combined with a storyteller lyrical style. Quite enjoyable. After the show I bought a CD, “Live at Life is good,” met Ryan and he autographed it. Nice guy.

I considered getting an autograph or photo with Colin Hay, unfortunately the line was way long, forgive me if that sounds bad, but consider this…

After Ryan’s performance we headed out to the lobby for intermission. I waited on line for the mens’ room, lost Dan in the shuffle, and by the time I got back downstairs, grabbed a drink at the concession stand and headed back to my seat Colin Hay was already starting his set. I found our row, CCC and notice that our seats were taken, and Dan was nowhere in sight.

Colin Hay talks to the audience at The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA. April 28, 2012.

I was about to raise a stink and demand those people to move, because I had the new ticket in my pocket, then I heard someone call my name again. I look to my right, toward the stage and there is Dan, in the 3rd row, center stage. He waved to me and nonchalantly motioned to the empty seat beside him. No kidding. I headed up there, excused myself passed others in that row, sat down and asked him, “what the hell just happened, how did we get up here?” He looked over at me and shrugged, smiling.

I like a good mystery. Anyway, there we were. I sat on a folding chair, right down in front, thus the great shots I was able to get with my cell phone (no flash!). Colin Hay is a wonderful performer and story teller, really fun to watch and inspiring to listen to. I’ve been a great fan of his style, especially his voice, since my late teens and early twenties, and this rekindled that fondness.

Funny side story: My father met Colin Hay back in the late 1980s while he was in National Guard. My version of this story was completely inaccurate so my father emailed his first hand account, which you can read at the end of this post.

Upon returning home my father asked, “Have you ever heard of a group called Man at Work?” I said, “yeah, they’re awesome,” or something to that effect. He told me the story and my jaw dropped. Then apologized for not getting an autograph for my sister and me. At least we have the story.

Colin Hay performed many songs from his carrier, including a choice few from the Men at Work Days (it was nice to hear “Down by the Sea”), as well as songs from his 2011 release “Gathering Mercury.” Every bit of music and voice delivered beautifully. Hay is a delight to listen to, engaging, humorous and at times touching, whether he’s telling one of his anecdotes or singing one of his great songs.

It was a very entertaining evening and a great show at the Keswick Theater with Colin Hay, and Ryan Montbleau, enjoyed from some of the best seats in the house. Thanks Dan!

Update: My Father’s Chance meeting with Colin Hay and Men at Work.

I met Men at Work at the Syracuse, NY airport. We were there for a forced overnighter while flying up to Ft. Drum. The weather at Ft. Drum was bad so we had to spend the night in Syracuse waiting for the storm to pass. Our helicopters were buttoned up on the apron and the 4 of us who had secured them were waiting for transportation to the hotel, the other crews had gone ahead. We noticed that the chain link fence around the area where we were waiting was wall to wall people. Didn’t think it was for us. :-)

A four engine Vickers Viscount turboprop landed and taxied up next to us and a group of people came down the ladder. They walked over to us and started to chat, we did not know who they were. I did shake hands with all of them.They wanted to buy flight-suits and wanted to know where to get them. We could not help them but they did invite us to tour their airplane and partake of the cheese and fruit goodie trays they left behind. We watched as they got into some limos and departed. We then climbed aboard the aircraft and had a nice visit with the cute flight attendant who told us who they were and then had a tour and some nice snacks. I also remember a short Japanese photographer running around taking pictures, He stood out in my mind because he only had one hand. He would rest the camera on his stump and then snap pictures.

The guys who had gone ahead were sort of pissed since they missed out. The Viscount was closed up tight when we left the next morning. I read in the local paper that Men at Work had performed a concert at the Civic Center.



Digital Hoarding – Cell Phones are the New Shoebox

Friday, April 13th, 2012

As technology advances the amount of digital data we can store increases exponentially. Combine that with the various forms of data we are capable of receiving or producing with the myriad portable computer devices at our disposal and our hard drives become virtual attics full of shoeboxes with stored memories. But that’s okay, the technology will always keep up so it’s just a matter of buying more boxes and attic space.

It Began Innocently Enough
One of our worst digital hoarding problems has to be with pictures. In 1991 the Sony Mavica allowed us to take pictures and store them on a floppy disk. We could get about 6 to 20 pictures — low-res by today’s standards — on one disk depending on the resolution. However, like getting only 24 pictures per roll of film, we were limited by the storage capacity of the floppy disk, so digital wasn’t a distinct advantage then.

We used film cameras and collected our pictures in photo albums, storing the extras in a shoebox up in the attic. No problem, humans had been doing that since George Eastman gave us the Brownie Box Camera in 1900. Shoes came much early, so our original photo storage device was developed before hand.

Now — some 21 years after the Mavica, 112 years after our first snap shot camera, and who knows how many years after the first shoebox — we can fit thousands of pictures on one 8 gig SDHC Flash Memory Card, and we keep them all.

With film cameras we were more frugal. After flipping through our pics outside the Fotomat we threw the bad ones away, but now we take eighty-two pictures of everything because we can, and we don’t delete any of them, we just dump them all onto our home computers and go take more! The digital world is kind of invisible so the clutter isn’t immediately obvious, but in the real world we would need a bunch of shoeboxes to contain all of the pictures we take these days.

Not only do we hoard these digital photos on our home computers and portable drives, but many of us have duplicates of pictures uploaded to our Facebook profiles, Myspace, Flickr, PhotoBucket, and other social sharing sites. They all collect there too! We keep them and dupe them, but never want, or seem able, to delete any of them.

How about text messages? Why do I keep 200 texts from my fiancé on my Motorola DROID? Because I can of course, but also because I find it painfully hard to delete those precious conversations; like I would jinx something by deleting “I Love You,” or “Miss you hunny bunny.” That’s an example, she doesn’t really call me hunny bunny, I swear!

Is Hoarding Information a Problem?
Seriously though, many of us just can’t seem to part with the text messages or photos on our cell phones. Cell phones are the new shoebox we can carry around. Cards and letters, pictures; they are always with us. We can look at the photos or read the texts whenever we want to. Pictures become our phone’s main screen screen backdrop. Text messages remind us of days gone by, and allow us to relive those moments in memory. They are reminders.

There are people who find it near impossible to part with things in the physical world. They keep newspapers, books, garbage, toys, tools and other things, allowing the mess to just collect. They suffer from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) called hoarding.

How many times have you selected an item for deletion but found you just couldn’t do it? You couldn’t send that memory away forever. Could this be a form of OCD hoarding? It’s healthy to do a little spring cleaning so to speak. Sometimes we need to weed through the junk and get rid of it, clean house a bit, keeping the most important events and memories. It’s easier for some than for others.

I mentioned that the photos and texts we keep remind us of things. To that end, are we dumbing ourselves down by relying on technology that allows us to keep all of this stuff? Maybe our memories are getting worse because we don’t use our brains as much.

One Solution to Digital Hoarding
My goal of this post is not to examine psychological disorders. Regardless of why we have to hold on to stuff, technology makes it easy to do, so why do we need to throw stuff away if we can just buy more storage space?

My answer to Digital Hoarding: Move it to “The Cloud!” How many times have you delayed deleting an item because you were sure you had backed it up to another drive but wanted to check… then forgot to check, so now it sits in two locations?

Cloud services exist to streamline our lives by putting our digital content (that we now hoard on our home computers) onto a cloud server and making it available to us on any device, from any location. If we move everything to the cloud we can just keep hoarding our data there! Who cares!? It’s like collecting all of our junk in one guys garage, then our house doesn’t look so bad!

Those of us with real psychological issues like true OCD need to seek help and address the situation, then begin cleaning up and move forward. The rest of us can continue to hoard in the digital domain. Rent some “cloud” service, or just keep buying more backup drives. :)


Remembering Davy Jones and The Monkees

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

I found out on Facebook. That’s a testament to the times. Davy Jones has passed away at 66 years old. Sad news indeed. The medical examiners office and a spokesperson for Mr. Jones confirm that he died of a heart attack on February 29, 2012, in Indianatown, Florida, where he lived.

Davey Jones remembered

Although the Monkees network TV debut happened before I was born, and their show started airing during my first year, I remember them through re-runs, and I loved every minute of it. I even had a Monkees Hotwheel car.

The Monkees, from left - Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Miky Dolenz and Davey Jones.
The Monkees: Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Miky Dolenz and Davy Jones.

Each member of that Built-for-TV band was a unique character; each a talented entertainer and musician. As a young drummer and budding guitarist I was hooked on those shows. I don’t recall much of the story lines, but what I do recall is the feeling of fun and happiness I felt as I watched. It was okay, things were okay, we could have fun and be free; be ourselves.

Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith and Davy Jones each had an impact on me in some way, mostly musically and vocally, but some other traits of their personalities resonated with me and to this day I think of them each in a particular way.

Dolenz speaks to my free-spirited side, and experimental side. He had such a hectic, loose-ends type of personality, but at the same time you knew there was some sort of genius at work in there.

Peter Tork resonates with a folky vibe. He’s an accomplished, versatile, multi-instrumentalist, as well as a fun-loving type, and in that way he inspires my quirky musical side.

The Monkees, from left - Peter Tork, Mike Nesmith, Miky Dolenz and Davey Jones.

Mike Nesmith always seemed more serious. The straight man in the show a lot of the time, he seemed to be the mature, serious artist putting up with the shenanigans of the seemingly loose-ended wacky guys he was grouped with.

Davy Jones. Sad news of his passing. He had the clear, clean voice, soaring and delicate. The band as a whole had an unmistakable sound. Micky’s voice was very unique and immediately recognizable. Davey’s voice had a unique quality as well, and likewise, was easy to identify.

The Monkees developed into a special band of talented, fun musicians, each with a very unique personality. Davy Jones will be missed. He and the Monkees have a special place In the Heart of America.


Over Compression and The Loudness War

Friday, July 29th, 2011

While mastering the tracks on my latest CD release (shameless plug: It’s All Timing), I was doing some research on average loudness, in order to determine what I should be shooting for with the final tracks. I stumbled upon something called “the loudness war.” Basically the battle between audio aesthetics, and the benefits of compression and limiting.

Just because we have the technology to master music louder doesn’t mean we need to blow the windows out of the house. A lot of commercially available music has been ruined, in my opinion, by the ability of mastering engineers to push the audio signal level as high as possible. Balls to the wall is an understatement.

I love loud music as much as the next metal head, but when it’s so over-compressed that the dynamics are completely lost we’re missing something. The subtle nuances of an acoustic guitar part do not need to be the same amplitude as a drum solo, but that’s exactly what we get when these mastering tools are overused.

Why are things over-compressed? It’s mostly a result of having the technology to do it. Today’s digital audio technology allows us to push the signal level higher and higher. Basically, we can make quiet parts really loud while holding the louder parts where they are. That’s compression. To prevent clipping of the signal we can apply a limiter, which keeps signal peaks below a specified threshold.

It’s good to have this kind of control over the sound, it allows music to be appreciated at lower volumes, on various systems. A tool called an adaptive limiter can squeeze even more out of the song, and it’s used a lot in modern mastering to get the apparent loudness of the music even louder.

I remember the special note on the self-titled debut CD by Rush back in 1974. It said “For best results play at maximum volume.” The limitations of the medium (vinyl record albums), and the technology at that time preserved much of the dynamics of the original recording. Listen loud and it sounded fuller because you could hear all of those nuances and dynamics that you might miss at lower levels.

Compression and limiting became popular for radio stations because they could ensure a louder, more even signal output, regardless of the varying levels of records that they played. These technologies increase the average loudness of the signal, and allow radio broadcasts to be heard better on smaller radio sets and car speakers. The compression technology essentially sacrifices dynamics for loudness, but to what extent is entirely up to the mastering engineer, the band, and radio stations.

The advent of audio tape allowed for greater maximization of the signal. You remember Max Headroom? What the term headroom originally referred to is the saturation limit of the audio tape medium. Compact disc and digital technology provided greater headroom to expand into. Saturation distortion isn’t a problem on CDs, but over-compression can still lead to clipped signals, and clips create distortion.

Unfortunately radio stations of today completely over compress the sound and all dynamics are pretty well scrapped. The music can even seem unnatural, with pulsing effects, depending on the levels of compression and limiting used. That’s why mastering engineers tend to master the music with high compression and push it with limiting. The louder they make it, the less likely it is to be altered with when played over the radio.

But how loud is loud enough? Why push so far? I’ve looked at pro recordings in my audio editor and have seen incredible amounts of signal clipping. Clipping is distortion. Why would a commercially available recording be distorted? That seems to go against the “pro” in professional audio production.

So, on goes the loudness war. Some bands are choosing dynamics over loudness, and having their music mastered at a lower average volume. Still, others just like it loud for loudness’ sake. The problem is that the consumers end up having to turn their volume up and down depending on what CD they’re playing. But I guess even that won’t be a problem for much longer, since apps like iTunes can automatically adjust track volumes for a more consistent listening experience. Leave it to technology to smooth out the wrinkles created by technology. If that makes any sense.

I guess the purist in me argues to make it louder but keep the dynamics as much as possible. Push it a little, but don’t push it too far. But hey, what do I know? I’m no pro.


Trailer for Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage!

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

A trailer has been released for “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” and from what it shows I’m expecting the DVD documentary to be awesome. It’s loaded with commentary from other famous rock musicians, and jammed with great archival footage, the likes of which most Rush fans have never seen. This should prove to be a wonderful look into the origins, history, and phenomenon that is RUSH!

Gene Simmons of Kiss commented, “What’s Rush?… It’s RUSH!”