Maiden Alaska, alive and well.

“Daddy!  Yaah!”  The urgent joy in (3yo) Murray’s outburst was obvious.

I adjusted the rearview mirror down to have a look.  The grin on the kid’s face was absolutely ear-to-ear…but you could only see it between the wild, rhythmic bobs of his head.

Wait…surely this wasn’t related to what we were listening to, right?  As part of the girls’ ongoing musical education, I’d been spinning Iron Maiden’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, and what had just gone by was the dramatic stop after the first anthemic guitar figure, at 1:37 on the timeline, into which jumps Bruce Dickinson’s belted-out a cappella first verse…wonderfully dramatic, really, but of course that’s me talking, not the kid, right?

But his sisters both confirmed it:  the boy was actually headbanging.

I wish I could have captured what I saw:  whatever it was that moved him–and I swear, based on the timing alone it must have been that big changeup and Dickinson’s delivery at the first verse that did it–my just-turned-three-year-old was all-in and ready to rock.  When I asked him about it later (“Murray, did you like that music we were listening to?”), he nodded vigorously and said again, “Yaah!”.

Well, all righty then.  I might have to scare me up a copy of the “Maiden Alaska” bumper sticker I’ve seen around here a few times.

As a point of order, the girls (9yo and 6yo) really seem to be digging it as well;  neither quite have the words for it but I think they like the galloping rhythms, the neoclassical writing and orchestration, the operatic vocal style..and the energy.  Bless them both, they seem to like a lot of what I’ve put in front of them so far, but even among the favored set there are a few names that they seem to go out of their way to request, in a way they don’t do for most others.  The biggest ones seem to be Sam Bush, Weird Al, Yes…and lately it seems that Iron Maiden may be shaping up to join that short-list as well.

Very well, then, kiddos.  For what my ear is worth, you could do much worse.  And so it seems appropriate to bookmark “Hallowed Be Thy Name” here, to mark the occasion.

And live:

So 1982…and yet pretty timeless as well.  🙂

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Proof of concept.

This is mostly a note for myself, just so that I won’t forget what I did here.  There are still many more questions out of this than there are answers, but this was truly an interesting experiment.

Components

  • Strat guitar, tuned C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, strung with flatwounds
  • Behringer UMC404 audio interface
  • MacBook Air laptop, running Tracktion 7 DAW
  • Morley ABY pedal
  • Boss ME-70 multi effects pedal, running “clean” amp at about half gain and 3/4 preamp output;  master out for unit set at about half
  • IK iRig 2, set at max HW input gain and set “thru” for amp out
  • iPhone SE, running AmpliTube with a high-gain amp model

Signal path

  • Strat direct into input 1 of the 404, instrument level with 20dB pad engaged, gain about halfway up.
  • Hardware insert set up on input 1.  Send signal went into iRig guitar input.
  • iRig amp out (set to thru) went into ABY pedal to be split.
  • “A” leg of split went to the insert return.
  • “B” leg of split went to ME-70 unit.
  • Output of iRig went to channel 2 in the 404, set as Line level without pad, gain halfway up.
  • Stereo output of ME-70 went to channels 3 and 4 in the 404, set Line level without pad, gain halfway up.

DAW settings

  • Channel 3/4 treated as stereo pair.
  • Levels tuned to slightly favor clean signal by 1-2 dB.
  • Levels brought to peaking at between -10 and -5 dB.
  • Saturation and reverb plugins used on “direct” guitar signal.
  • Channels 2-4 used no processing or plugins.

Observations

  • Took a while to get input levels matched.  Still need to understand this audio interface better, and the exact difference between the “input” and “playback” sources on the “Mix” dial.  Also, it seems that using the hardware insert may cause the input level meter in the DAW not to report input levels.
  • Interesting that the 404 could, conceivably, be used as a hardware-only interface here.  The way this was set up, the mix was available entirely at the “inputs” end of the “Mix” dial;  in this case you’re using the preamps, line/instrument level and pad selectors, and the channel inserts are like a serial effects loop.  May want to look further into how to use the assignable and main outs with this in mind.
  • This wound up being, then, a single signal from the Strat, split into 4 channels:  1) dry signal, 2) wet signal from AmpliTube, 3/4) wet signal from ME-70, all in parallel.
  • The idea of “tricking” Channel 1 with the hardware insert seemed to work well.  Signal degradation from the send to and return from AmpliTube was frankly better than I’d expected.
  • The Mac must cause some sort of ground loop, as there is definite noise added when the power adapter is connected.
  • I like this idea of the parallel signals.  In this case it was interesting to hear the initial signal with the high-gain amp sound, but then the delay repeats coming from the ME-70 were clean, not dirty.  Likewise, having a clean signal in parallel with the dirty one definitely helps note clarity.  It will be worth doing more work on this.

 

A successful experiment.  Now, to figure out what I want to do with this idea.  🙂

Tommy Emmanuel, ‘Morning Aire’.

Nearly incomprehensibly beautiful.

For all his wizardry (and that of course is no joke), he has a touch and a feel that is breathtaking, even among the giants with whom he belongs.  Seriously, it would not surprise me to see a Jimi Hendrix, a Robert Fripp, a Stevie Ray, … reduced to tears on hearing him.

And YouTube does provide.  This clip does rather capture what so moves me about the above performance on the “Live One” record.

Daang.

Craftygrass logo, take one.

I got some time on the airplanes to work on a suitable Craftygrass logo, and in the meantime learn a few things about how to operate the LibreOffice drawing tool.  I’ve never really studied a vector-drawing package before, and to the extent that this one is representative of the breed, my initial thoughts are a blend of “cool!” and “well that seems clunky”.  As usual, I suspect that with a few dedicated sessions to actually learn the proper -fu (as opposed to hack-fu), I’d find it’s far more powerful and even logical than I noticed here.

Anyway, here’s a first stab at a Craftygrass logo, suitably reviewed by the cute 6yo sitting next to me on the plane.*  Note that the following is in .gif format;  apparently it takes a bit more planning to do SVG natively, but I’ll figure that out too.

Craftygrass logo
Copyright 2018 Craftygrass, LLC. All rights reserved.

There may be more work to be done, but in general I like it.  I suspect there are automation points available of which I am unaware, that might let me more easily change colors and better manage layers and object groupings, but this got me what I was after:  an iconic representation of the tripartite idea, vector scalable, reasonably well grouped, and reasonably easy to color-permute.

So, more to come.  Stay tuned.

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* I’m a little more proud of my efforts when I consider that much of this was done with the seat in front of me reclined, my own seat unable to recline, machine essentially held in one hand to allow any hope of simultaneous screen viewing and touchpad manipulation with the other…and randomized, repeated impact nudges of the whirling dervish sitting next to me.  It’s…challenging, to make fine movements with rubato drumming on your elbow.  🙂

John Renbourn, ‘Caroline’s Tune’.

Another piece to which I was some-time-ago introduced by Pandora radio.  As it comes up again today, I realize it needs a bookmark.  Lovely and contemplative, and a great example of The Awesome that was John Renbourn.

There’s a YouTube clip of course, but the sound quality seems noticeably worse than what Pandora plays;  please forgive that and just listen to the playing.

One of the things about Renbourn (and the late Bert Jansch, for that matter) that I remain both fascinated and impressed by, is the overtly “raw” sound of his acoustic “lead” playing.  Sometimes (and there are examples in “Caroline’s Tune”) you can just tell that the “boost” of the solo or lead part is entirely in his hands;  he just plays harder when he wants the notes to stand out.  And here, I’m not just making the standard reference to someone who understands dynamics;  there is a difference between just playing louder, and playing harder, and I hear Renbourn and Jansch both as playing harder for many such passages.  Choosing that*.  These guys were clearly good enough players that this choice must have been a willful one.

As I learn more about audio processing, my developing ear wants to hear those timbres, which sometimes start to sound quacky, plinky, and harsh, as something to mitigate or otherwise smooth out.  These days it would be pretty simple to use a gain booster pedal to achieve that, to bring up the volume and allow a softer playing style;  likewise a saturation boost (quite possibly provided by the same pedal) could help to inject an extra urgency or fullness to the tone without changing the playing style.  But these guys seem to have done that with their hands alone, and somehow it seems too simplistic to say that it would have been better to inject technology into what could have been a purely acoustic performance.

Food for thought, at least for me.  One way or the other, I’m glad Renbourn and Jansch did it that way, because 1) I noticed, and it made me think;  and 2) it sounds plenty awesome to me regardless.

 

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* At least in the studio.  I’d guess that at that time, other options for pulling such things off live were a great deal more limiting than they are now, and with some of the pioneering sounds that Renbourn was trying for (especially with Jansch in Pentangle), it may well have been the only way to get there.

Iron Maiden, of all things.

So I dropped the family off at the Anchorage airport, and starting at 4am, had four hours in the car for the return trip.

During this time I became a fan of Iron Maiden.

ironmaiden_numberofbeast

The backdrop is random enough.  See, just recently I’ve started going through all the recorded music I have, and happened across a collection of “80s metal” that a Colorado friend put together for my education.  He gave it to me oh, probably 2004 or so;  it’s not like it hasn’t been sitting idle for over a decade!  I don’t recall ever actually going through it before, until now.  I saw it, remembered the context, and thought it would be cool to reconnect with some names I haven’t really thought about in some time:  Van Halen, Metallica, AC/DC, etc.–none of which I’d really paid too much attention to before.  And it’s been eye-opening, too:  I have a very different ear now than I did back even in the early ‘oughts, to say nothing of the Eighties;  more of that stuff holds up well than I’d have ever guessed, and I’ve been having a ball with what one internet buddy calls the “retro-education”.  Now I’m starting to move on to names I didn’t pay any attention to at all at the time.

First up was Judas Priest, which I’m still working out for myself.  There seems to be much to like in there, and particularly I’ve got to hand it to Rob Halford as a fairly astonishing vocal stylist, but thus far the group is still a bit of hit or miss;  what I really need is a couple of good listening sessions in a better audio environment than the acoustic mess that is the Jeep.

Today, I decided to spin the collection’s anthology of Iron Maiden for the trip home.  It’s not that the family car’s acoustic environment is good, per se, but it’s “good enough”, miles better than the Jeep, and of course with such a drive my full attention was available.  The anthology was essentially 2-3 tracks each from the studio albums of the 1980s.

In a word:  wow!

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but what I heard was impressive.  Probably I was still suffering from a good deal of latent musical snobbery from my own past;  you know, the stereotypic sort of “this metal stuff is all the same and not that interesting”, “not as high-class as the more progressive stuff I like”, and above all, the notion that any act that concerned with its theatrical, visual image simply can’t be taken that seriously.  Which makes it right and proper that I should have such blasted right out of me by actually listening honestly.  (My own history is certainly replete with eye-rolling moments I’d rather forget, but have to own.)

Regardless of where I may wind up on Judas Priest by contrast, Maiden spoke to me immediately, and in a variety of ways that really stuck out.  The part of me that’s learning a bit about audio production noted the really excellent separation and clarity of instruments in the mixes, even during really heavy-sounding passages, on most of the records.  Too, I was repeatedly struck by the crispness and inventiveness of the rhythm section;  with both drummers, these guys are really good at driving the beat with the syncopated parts of the subdivisions, and yet no matter how adventurous they got with doing different things in the blend, not once in what I heard did they fail to rock.  Both the tone and style of the bass jumped out at me right away as well, along with a number of examples of harmonic movement (in the bass in particular) I would not have expected from blokes simply thrashing about;  somehow when I went later to do a bit of summary reading on the band, it was totally unsurprising to find that bassist (Steve) Harris is a principal writer.  (I’m still new to bass guitar signal processing, but I’m starting to really appreciate this notion of an aggressive and distorted note attack on a bass guitar, which then blooms into a much cleaner note, just saturated enough to stand out in the mix.  Harris may become a specific item of study in that regard!)

I thought the writing was quite good;  the tunes never bog down in monotony, and really there is always something quirky and defining going on, even when covering otherwise well-known musical territory.  As well, it seems to me like I can actually hear joy in the way the group plays with rhythm;  given the topical territory it sounds odd to hear myself using that word, but still, that’s the way I hear it.  With more time I’ll have to pay some better attention to the words themselves;  as usual I’m listening to the music first, the voice as instrument second, and only then the lyrical content of the words themselves.

Needless to say, I had figured I’d probably gain an appreciation I hadn’t had before;  I’d heard from several friends over the years that the group was worth a listen, but had never got around to doing it properly.  I wasn’t quite prepared for how much so, though, and once again am happy to admit my error in not giving a proper test drive sooner.

More retro-education to follow!

 

Adam Neely, monster of observation.

I’ve spoken of Adam Neely before, and I keep up with his channel pretty regularly, but frankly this effort just seems like required posting.

Good lord, so many wonderful observations in there.  Clearly I’m going to have to get my hands on the Bernstein “Young People’s Concert” series, about which I’ve heard a little bit before, just for my own kids’ sake.

And this is a great illustration of how solidly Neely seems to have found his niche, too.  He seems to have started primarily as a “bass guy”, but has grown his work gradually into the advance-vanguard observationist role that nobody else does quite the same–nor as well.  Others of course have their moments of great observation, but Neely has grown essentially to live in that space, and at this point I understand implicitly that this is why I go to him in the first place. “New Horizons In Music”, indeed!

And what’s further interesting is that I realized , with this video, that this sort of content is what modern, Internet-age television can be.  I mean duh, that sort of seems obvious in hindsight, but still, a fair epiphany for someone who has seen a world go from “thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from (choose from…choose from…)”–to “fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”–to the truly geometric explosion of the open Internet, in a remarkably short time.  I think this makes it both all the more notable, and all the more inevitable:  in a way, as the signal-to-noise ratio goes down further and further over time, the dreckening seems actually to leave more room for this sort of excellence;  the trick of course is often simply finding it.  (And that obtuse notion really warms this nonarchist peacenik’s heart.  🙂  )

One other point of seeing happened as well, watching this:  I think I would now feel comfortable making the case that Adam Neely is now a fully formed heir apparent to Leonard Bernstein.  Somehow, just watching each one, in the same video, the idea just jumped off the screen at me, and the more I think about it the more convinced I am.  Not only are their presentation styles remarkably similar (adjusted slightly of course for their respective moments in historical time), but they both radiate the wonderfully childlike (and humble) instructor-joy that the best instructors in any discipline do.  The irony there of course is that trying to describe and deconstruct that comparison–beyond simply observing, “just watch–you can see it if you look”–would require the same sort of skill that Neely himself has in that regard.

And I’ll not even attempt that.  🙂