All the gain.

I’ve lately been enjoying the YouTube channel of “Scottish guitarist and luthier” Colin Scott, who seems to have a unique take and respectable presentation style about a number of both connected and disconnected subjects of interest.

And I keep coming back to this clip, because it keeps on making me giggle.

There is a followup, in which he actually does a demonstration that makes the point rather well.

“All the gain”.  The instructor in me just loves how powerful and memorable that imagery is.  Not likely to forget that point now!

Lots of other good stuff there, too.  I thought I’d leave a bookmark here for my own reference.  🙂


Herbie Hancock, on attitude.

One of my Crafty contacts shared this video, hosted on Facebook, of Herbie Hancock, talking about attitude.

The clip is a treasure.  Hancock relates a story from his Miles Davis days, in which he hears himself play a chord “…that was so wrong, I thought I had just destroyed everything, and reduced that great night to rubble.”

In short, Miles, without blinking, saved the “wrong” chord with his own playing, and it took Hancock years to figure out how that had happened.  What at first seemed like pure “magic”, he eventually sorted out this way:

Here’s what happened.

I judged what I had played.

Miles didn’t.  Miles just accepted it as something new that happened.

There’s more, and the clip is worth seeing in toto, but that’s the crux.

Marvelous.  So marvelous I’m not sure it in any way diminishes the “magic” to realize how Miles did it.  (Actually, I’d argue that you can hear that, in Hancock’s humility, as he tells the story.)  And what a great reminder that any musician’s greatest tool is and always will be his ear.


Toumani Diabaté.

Recently at a friend’s house for dinner, the background processing part of my mind quickly picked up on the background music station that was playing on Pandora.  The general aesthetic was often beautiful, and on several pieces I picked up a sound that was clearly not a guitar, not a harp, not a hammered dulcimer–and yet reminiscent of all of these things.

The sound was mesmerising.  It bore insistently into the part of my hindbrain where I live, and I kept trying to figure it out.

Oud?  No.  I’ve never heard an oud played like that;  I’m not sure it would be physically possible for a single player to do it, even if highly skilled in harp-style playing technique.  It didn’t sound like an instrument that is played lute-style on a fingerboard, but the string sound was clearly in that category nonetheless.

Koto?  The string sound was close, but it just didn’t seem right.  Koto was my initial guess, but again I’ve never heard koto played like that, and koto players almost always employ at least some of the string-bending articulation that goes with the traditional styles.  Whatever this was didn’t seem to employ any of that.  No, it was something else, and I simply could not figure it out.

So, in the interests of not wanting to be unsociable in this nagging quest to test myself (I love my friends), I just asked.  And that is how I became introduced to the Malian kora, and to Toumani Diabaté.

Holy virtuoso, Batman.  How crazy is it that I have gone this long without hearing this man’s work?  It’s not like I’m alien to west African music–but then again most of my interest has been in the magnificent drum rhythms, not the melodies.

Very well then.  I’ll consider myself both humbled and delighted for the discovery, however late.  (Things like this make me wonder:  what other loveliness might I stumble over tomorrow?  And that makes me smile.)  Needless to say, I’ve now got a Pandora station seeded on Toumani Diabaté, and thus far I am extremely impressed both at the general aesthetic of where Pandora has led me therefrom, and also at Diabaté himself, who appears to be both technical wizard and master of feel. Check this out as just one example:

Even among all the other obvious awesomeness, his muting really stands out, to my ears.  Wow.  And for an even clearer view of the playing style, watch him here with his father Sidiki:


Had to dish a bit here, and lay the bookmarks.  Yes, add all this to the short list please!

Dagnabbit, there goes John Zorn again.

I’ve said before that John Zorn is an enigma among enigmas for me.  In a nutshell, I just love most of what I’ve heard from him, but apparently when I trigger any sort of endorsement for Zorn in Pandora’s player, the “learning” engine gleefully and completely misses the point, suddenly forgetting (again) what I have repeatedly told it for some years:  that no, I do not now want to hear an endless procession of jazz piano trios because I liked something from John Zorn.  (Nothing against a good piano trio, of course, but this automatic and pervasive association–it doesn’t happen with anyone else–seems so utterly ignorant of the bulk of Zorn’s work, if not outright lazy in simply lumping anything the engine can’t understand as catchall “jazz”, as to make me wonder if it must somehow be willful.)

(Sorry, pedantic vent again.  Pandora’s been a useful thing for me for a long time now, and maybe I’m just “lucky” in the Chinese-curse sense, but this “learning” engine, sometimes…simply doesn’t.)

Anyway, today I heard Zorn’s “The Middle Pillar” from The Gnostic Preludes, and…man, it is so Zorn it just reaches right into me and starts ripping at insides with full abandon.

It needed a bookmark, and a thumbs-up in Pandora…which (sigh) probably consigns me to a few weeks of piano trio whac-a-mole.

For me, though, Zorn is worth that.  What a marvelous gift to music.


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.  🙂

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.