Archive for February, 2009

23
Feb
09

Triple-09 at home, live at the Queen Bean

I went out to an open mic at a coffee house this evening. I was the only person there over 30 years old, I’m pretty sure.  Most everyone else was a teenager.

Music-wise, there were the usual singer-songwriters with guitars, and then there were the rest of us techno music geeks with our laptops, MIDI controllers, and weird vocal effects.

I was also probably one of the few straight people there.  The sound guy and his partner were also musicians, and they were really nice to an old guy like me.   He said his name was David, “or Mary Louise.”  It turned out that was his stage name.  (The name of the coffee house was the Queen Bean, btw.)

The stage was outside under the big tent on the deck, but it didn’t really feel too cold out there.  The two lattes I drank kept me warm, and I’m still sort of buzzing from the caffeine.

My name got pulled form the hat first, so David asked if I would go first.  I said, “oh, okay, that way if I crash and burn there’ll be plenty of time for the evening to recover.”

This was the first time I was going to try vocal looping live, after all, and I was kind of nervous.  I had decided earlier in the day to sing something easy and familiar, “Don’t worry, be happy.” So, I started singing:  I laid down the bass line, then the rhythm parts, then the high falsetto harmonies.  Then, I sang the lyrics over that, with slight alterations to make them current.

(For example, when the lyrics were:  “Landlord says your rent is late, he may have to litigate,” I changed it to “Mortgageman say he take your house, sheriff came and kicked you out. . .Don’t worry. . .be happy.”)

They loved it.  I suspect it may have been because they were amazed to see a guy over 35 years old who knows how to use a computer for more than word processing and email.  At any rate, they were very gracious in their response, and I will definitely go back there again (maybe on March 15 – so beware!).

And I met one guy in particular who gave me some pointers on some software I might use with my looping.  He played original ambient electronic music, using a MIDI controller, his laptop with his own drum loops and pre-recorded synth loops.  It was definitely the highlight of the evening, and he mentioned that he thought my vocal loops were the highlight of his.  We may collaborate on some music in the future, I hope, if he needs any vocals.

It’s strange, though, that I might feel most at home with musicians so much younger than me, with such a different life orientation.  When I got home this evening, I asked Laurie if she thought I was completely crazy to be pursuing this musical exploration.  She said, “Yes, but that’s why I love you.”  What can I say?  All I can do is echo the words from one of Billy Joel’s earliest albums:  she’s my home.

In another sense, though, since we’ve moved back to California I’ve been on a gradual  coming-home journey in my creative life.  I was born in California, and my family is all here in the area.  That should be enough to make me feel welcome, I suppose.  But, since I’ve been making more music lately, the sense of coming home has been increasing.  I think it’s also related to the fact that I’m getting older, and less concerned about what people think about me, and more concerned about expressing myself creatively in an authentic way.

I mentioned in a previous post that I spent a week at my parents’ house working on learning the looping software.  I didn’t mention that at the end of the week, I gave my parents a little demonstration.  When I was done, my father, who is very pragmatic, had this to say: “Besides your own personal enjoyment, what possible use could that have?”  Bless his heart, his gifts lie in more practical pursuits.  My mother, who is more of a mystic, said, “Wow, think of all the possibilities!”  And these are the tapes I have had looping  in my head for almost 40 years now, two terminals on a continuous line:  the practical and the creative, the realistic and the remotely possible, and my dreams unrealized somewhere in between.

And, once again through some bizarre expression of God’s cosmic sense of humor, I was living out my dream with those wonderful “kids.”  You know, they wouldn’t let me sing at the boomer jazz club I visited a few weeks ago, but at this open mic event was my chance to integrate those old looping tapes in my head, practicing the creative, making possibilities and dreams become real.

Not bad for an almost 40-year-old.  I’ve tried to come up with a stage name for myself as a looper.  It finally came to me this evening.  From now on, call me Triple-09.  (On 09-09-09, I turn forty.)

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19
Feb
09

blah blah blog

Well, as it turns out, tomorrow will be an extremely busy day.  It seems that I’ve got a lot of work to do, unexpectedly.

Computer repair, music production, all coming together at once.  Yikes.

So, this is just a blah blah to let you know I may not blog for a few days.  See you on the other side. . .

15
Feb
09

Self-employment

It’s good to be self-employed. 

When you’re self-employed, you are your own boss.  So, if you don’t do your job, the only person you can fire is yourself.

But then, once you find out you can’t get by without yourself, you can hire yourself again.  And, you can demand a raise from yourself, or threaten not to come back. 

And, if you have a problem with your management style, you can have a confidential, internal conversation about it in a professional manner.  No need to file a complaint or a report of any kind.  It’s all very informal.  No need to unionize or organize – just have it out with yourself and get over it.  It’s all rather freeing.

Since my wife has benefits, I have been working on developing several income streams to contribute to the family household income.  They grow from my diverse interests in music and computers.

Musically, I’m giving voice lessons, writing and producing music for clients, developing an a cappella jazz group, and looking for a regular church position in music. 

Computer-wise, I refurbish laptops and desktops, and provide them for friends, family and churches who need a nice computer but not the top-of-the-line model.

Some people say music and other creative arts are right-brained, and computers and other technical fields are left-brained.  I’m not so sure.  I studied music theory, which balances the creative and the technical sides of music.  And, my computer pursuits began in sixth grade, when I bought my first computer after mowing lawns all summer long.  I learned to program by reading the manuals over the weekend, and was soon writing programs to create graphics that looked like balloons and snowflakes. 

So, I guess maybe that makes me center-brained. 

I’m also managing the sale of my wife’s textile arts.  She’s really talented, but really busy in her ministry (did I mention she’s a minister? oh, and so am i.).  Today, for example, she did a funeral for a church member who was really dear to her heart.  Ministry is a tough job, so I think knitting is one way Laurie can relax and create something completely from her own vision. 

So, we’re both self-employed, she and I.  And its a good thing, because we could never stand to be one another’s boss, or employee for that matter.  Nope, we work a lot better as partners.

09
Feb
09

Don’t worry, be loopy

I returned on Friday from a music retreat, where I explored some looping software that I’ve wanted to learn how to use for along time.  And, I’ve been practicing something that is not likely to ever produce any income whatsoever.

As a vocalist, I’ve always had a dream of singing all the parts at once.  I sight-read music really well, and have a pretty broad vocal range, so it’s sometimes hard for me to wait for other singers to “catch up” in learning music.  Lately, I’ve really been enjoying singing jazz, and improvising.  In FACT. . .

The other week, Bobby McFerrin came into town and gave a concert.   I had hoped to go, but had a Martin Luther King,  Jr., celebration event that my family committed to attend.  I was disappointed, but knew that going to the event would be meaningful for us and a great experience for the boys.

On the way there, at the very end of the two hour trip, Peter, my five-year-old, threw up all over himself and the back seat of the car.  We pulled into the church parking lot, then spent at least a half hour cleaning him up, cleaning up the car, cleaning up the books and toys on the floor of the car in front of him, etc.  Luckily, there was a hose right there near the parking lot, so I could rinse everything off.  (I refrained from hosing down the boy, although it would have been quicker.)

Laurie said she thought we should probably drive home, rather than attend the service.  I didn’t argue too much, and casually mentioned, “Well, maybe when we get home, I could see if there are any tickets left for the Bobby McFerrin concert.”  She said, “I guess that would be okay.”  Did I mention how much I love her?

There was one ticket in particular that I had my eye on for a couple of weeks.  It was a second row center seat.  I had this crazy idea in my head that if I bought a ticket up front, he might open things up and invite audience members to come up and sing.  So, I thought that might be my chance to 1) sing with Bobby McFerrin, and 2) get some exposure as a singer in town.

But, my “realistic” self thought it must have been a pipe dream, until 1) Peter puked, 2) we had to drive home, and 3) I walked into the lobby and the seat was still available!  So, yes, I bought the ticket ($50!), and yes, during the concert, he invited singers up, and yes, I stood up, and jammed on a 12 bar blues pattern with Bobby!

First, he sang bass and I soloed over him, second we harmonized in the middle, and at the end I switched to bass and he soloed over me.  It was amazing!  And the crowd of 5000 or so seemed to enjoy it as well.  The more people I sing in front of, the less nervous I am.  I guess I’m funny that way.

It was just the kind of kick in the pants a nearly-forty-year-old  guy like me needed to get motivated to spend a whole week learning the hardware and software for beat box (or is it beat boxing?  that sounds too violent.) and vocal looping.  I really CAN sing all the parts!  My little laptop seemed to handle it pretty well, and soon I’ll have a firewire interface all set up.  Man, this is awesome.  I should be able to do this on stage in a few weeks.

01
Feb
09

Bowling Together

Yesterday, Isaiah and I went bowling for the second time.

We went a few weeks ago as a family and he fell in love with the game.  Then, he got in trouble for fighting with his brother, so we used bowling as a carrot to get him to behave better.

Isaiah sometimes has trouble fighting on the bus, too.  In fact, the bus driver was so frustrated that she said, “It doesn’t matter what seat I put him in, or who I sit him with, he’s going to hit them.” Personally, I think its because the other kids tease him sometimes.

Now, it’s a parent’s job to believe in their kids no matter what, so I was really disappointed that the bus driver had apparently written my son off as a lost cause.  I thought about it for a couple of days, and finally decided I would write off the bus driver as a lost cause and talk to Isaiah.

I said, “Isaiah, I really don’t like the way your bus driver talks about you.”

“What did she say about me?” he asked.

“She told me that no matter who she sits you with, you’re going to hit them.”

“Well,” he said with 7-year-old indignance, “she is mistaken about me.”

“I think so, too, son.  I think you can make better decisions to not hit.”

“Yeah, she shouldn’t have said that about me.”

“Well, then it’s your job to prove her wrong by not hitting.”

“Okay,” he said with a determined voice.

Since then, he hasn’t hit anybody on the bus, and the bus driver says he is like a different kid.  Of course, I know that he’s not.  I just chalk one up to positive parenting, if I may say so.

And since he had done so well with that, and had limited punching his brother to once or twice a week, Laurie and I decided I could take him bowling again.

Since he was born very early (at 23 1/2 weeks gestation), he has some cerebral palsy and physical developmental delay.  He can do all the things that kids do, just a little more slowly and with a bit more challenge keeping his balance.  So bowling isn’t the first game I would think he would gravitate towards, but there are a few things that work to his advantage.

Of course, he bowls with the bumpers up so it’s impossible to get a gutter ball.  Also, he uses a 6 pound ball for kids.  Consequently, he feels great about his bowling.  He actually beat me in two different games yesterday.

Now, I admit that I am a terrible bowler, but under normal circumstances I would still able to beat a 7-year-old who has only bowled twice in his life.  But for some insane reason, they only allow bowling with bumpers for people 10 years and under, so I was at a distinct disadvantage.  The bumpers came up for him, and went down for me.  I could swear that they must have also magnetized the gutters, and that my ball must have had an iron core like the earth’s. My ball was often mysteriously drawn to the far left or right, to travel uselessly down that long, straight road to insignificance.

The other advantage Isaiah had was that since his bowl was so light, it failed to activate the sensor behind the pins.  He sometimes got three, four, or even five bowls per frame instead of just two.  He got several spares and even a few “strikes” in the game. He’s so competitive, and has faced so many challenges, that it felt really good to see him feel proud of his bowling prowess.

I’m also proud to say that he only beat me by less than 10 pins each game, and we both broke 100 twice.  I guess I love bowling, too.