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Friday, June 29, 2007

Memes

Sigh.

Not a big fan of memes, as you may or may not know. They're too bossy. It's like someone is arbitrarily deciding when and what I should write about.

MOC's hit me up for a pair. Since he's like one of my Blogfathers I'll try to respond:

Five Songs Currently Stuck in My Head

1. Lo Alecha (Me)
2. Concrete Bed (Nada Surf)
3. Night and Day (Frank Sinatra)
4. Adon Olam (Kabbalah)
5. Don't Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)


Extreme Sports Meme

Don't laugh! Let's just try it!

1. What is your sport?

I have no sport. I hate sports.

2.Why do you like this one?

I don't. I just told you that.

3. How long are you doing this for?

I've hated sports since at least second or third grade.

4. Most painful experience.

Consistently being the last person chosen for a softball team, and then having the popular kids team captains argue about who was going to "have to" take me.

5. Most memorable experience.

One time, in camp, I was at bat, and I hit every pitch the counselor threw to me. But they were all foul balls.

6. Add tall tale or new question to Meme.

I like video games. Can video games be sports? Hmm....let's try that:



1. What is your video game sport?

I like playing racing games on the Internet.

2. Why do you like this one?

I've always loved cars, even since I was a little PT in a stroller. My mom says that when she'd wheel me around the neighborhood, I could consistently name the makes of various cars we passed.

When I was a little older, I collected Matchbox cars. My favorite show as a tot was Speed Racer. It was only natural that I would gravitate towards games featuring exotic or cool cars.

As video game graphics got better, the cars started to look more real. This also coincided with my realization that I will never own a real stable of sports cars. Video racers became my outlet for my car passion.

3. How long are you doing this for?

I want to point out that the grammar in this question is really awful. What is this supposed to mean? How long is a race? How long have I been into racing? How long will I continue to play racing games? How long until I come upstairs for dinner? What?

4. Most painful experience.

I got tendinitis once, but in retrospect I think it was from playing too much bass guitar.

5. Most memorable experience.

A few years ago, I got into a regular group of players on XBOX Live, and we'd meet a few nights a week to play Project Gotham 2. We used headsets to speak, and got to know one another pretty well over time. We'd chat about our families or jobs while we raced. I remember The PT was sick during that time and they'd always ask about her.

Anyway, I do remember one particular race that took place on a track set in Stockholm, Sweden. It turned out that one of the guys we were playing with was IN Stockholm, and he was giving us a virtual tour as we sped around the track. Then some French guys showed up and refused to speak English. Definitely registers as one of my coolest online moments. The other was several years earlier, playing a WWII airplane game and having a dogfight over France with a guy who was actually in Germany. He was swearing at me in German.

6. Add tall tale or new question to Meme.

Define 'sport'. Does sport need to be a physical activity? Can any game be a sport? Does a sport need to be a game? Can Poker be a sport? Can hot-dog eating be a sport? Is aerobics a sport? Does a sport need to be competitive?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Kicking and Screaming into the Digital Age

Remember this post? Well, never mind. I am hopelessly in love with my iPod. It is the coolest invention on G-d’s Green Earth. In addition to storing all of my rock albums, in addition to allowing me to purchase and download virtually any song I can think of instantly, in addition to being a new repository for all of the Homestarrunner and Ask a Ninja video podcasts (and automatically downloading new episodes as they show up), and allowing me to finally listen to Jameel’s Purim Podcast (strong work, BTW), and in addition to the potential to use it as a high quality bootlegging device, it also allows me to gather up and listen to all the recordings I have done over the years.

And in my zeal to collect all of these lost gems, I realized there are a few that are still missing. One is the Gershon Veroba album on which I played bass (sadly, never released to CD). And the other is the Lo Alecha demo. Before you hastily click on that link, let me describe the background of that song, and what I went through in order to be able to place that link there (and hence, the title of this post).

I began recording music in 1985, and in those days, recording music meant renting time in a recording studio. If you didn't have much money, you went to a cheap 8-track place (meaning you could record and mix up to 8 different music tracks, a little more if you were creative), in someone’s basement. 8 tracks may not sound like much, but remember, Sgt. Pepper’s was recorded on a 4-track (I still find that hard to believe). After doing a few of those sessions, I eventually graduated to 24-track studios, where I worked on the Kabbalah album and a host of Lenny Solomon projects. These places were what the average person thinks of when he hears the words “Recording Studio.” Big sound-proofed rooms with a large glass window separating off a control room with a huge console, large speakers, and a comfy couch.

24-track studios were inordinately expensive, however, and after a while they were out of my league. When I decided to move to Wisconsin, I made the move to a home studio. Nowadays, when you want to start doing home recording, all you need is a new computer, some multi-tracking software, an I/O card to plug in your microphone or guitar or whatever so the computer can digitize it, and assorted mics, stands, cables, etc. And some ROOM to allow for musicians to perform. Some talent would be good too, but you’d be surprised how many recordings get made without that.

But back in the early ‘90s, this too was out of my range, so I had to settle for a cassette tape system (yes, the same cassette tapes you or your parents (gulp) have stored in the basement somewhere). My system allowed recording and mixing of six tracks simultaneously. Somewhere between Sgt. Pepper and Tohu Vavohu. Not a lot of tracks, but if you are creative, and you plan your sessions and arrangements well, you can do great things. Rock of Sages was recorded on this, for the most part, and most of my home recordings during the 90’s (and all of my quickie blog recordings). It’s actually a neat little system, but again, there’s not a whole lot of room for “grand arrangements.” Although what it lacks in track space it makes up for in portability, meaning it’s easy to sneak into the Med School auditorium in the middle of the night and record the 9-foot grand piano.

In the late 90’s, Rabbi T’s son approached me about recording The Rabbi as he sang some of his compositions accompanied by piano or guitar. I figured 6 tracks were plenty for this, and I recorded a bunch of songs. After they were done, The Rabbi Jr. said something like, “OK, now put in the drums and everything else.” It was hard to explain that, typically, for this type of multi-track recording, the drums and rhythm instruments were recorded first, then combined to two tracks, so that you have room for more vocal tracks. But it was basically too late, and we did what we could with the few tracks we had left. Incidentally, most people prefer this crude initial recording to the more produced second volume.

However, when it was time to record that second volume, I insisted on better equipment, and so I had them purchase a digital tape system with a professional mixing board. Computers were still not where I wanted them to be at that point, and hard drives were too small to record big arrangements, so we went with a Hi-8 based digital audiotape recorder that could record up to 8 tracks and had a slew of automation functions that made things like punching in (re-doing small segments of a track while leaving the rest intact) very easy. The mixing board, too, had a lot more dials and gizmos and with it a lot more versatility. And a LOT MORE COMPLEXITY. Basically, the fewer knobs you have, the fewer things you can screw up. That’s why my early recordings and the Beatle’s recordings were so great. As long as the performances were good, there was little the engineer could do to screw them up.

There were a lot of things that I could screw up with this system. It took me a long time to figure out just how to connect everything. How to get the monitors working. How to get the tape interfaced. How to get the reverb to mix in. Etc. But in those days I had more time, and apparently more brain cells, and I was able to figure it out. Which brings us to Lo Alecha.

After piecing the new studio together, I wanted to try it out. And the biggest issue for this recording was going to be drums. Live drums were the bane of my recording career. Drums need to be mic’d just right, and processed, and mixed, or they sound like crap. Up until this point, I had recorded drums in someone else’s professional studio, or used drum machines, which have all the mic’ing and processing and mixing done for you. But this, and future recordings were going to need live drums, and I had to figure out if I could make it work in two tracks, which was all I could spare. I could go into a long explanation of how you bounce 8 tracks worth of drum mics down to two, but I’ll spare you that for now.

Lo Alecha is a old campfire song and I've always loved it. It's melodic, easy to play, easy to sing, and easy to harmonize with. There are lots of great versions of it out there, but I've always been partial to Veroba's synth-heavy version from his first album, not coincidentally a home-recorded album and also out of print. It's about stepping up to do what you can do, but not stressing over things that you can't do. That actually fits very well with my personal philosophy.

But I chose it primarily because I figured it'd be easy to record. I laid down a drum machine track and some guitar and bass, and then I brought in Mike Bates to redo the drums with a live kit. I forget now if we used two or four mics for this take. I think it was four, and I later "bounced" down to two. Then I redid the bass (plucking, not picking, which is unusual for me, and if you're a good listener, I bet you can tell the difference), and an acoustic guitar track, and sang two vocals. Then I played with the mix-down functions and mixed those tracks down to a cassette deck.

I never finished the recording. We went on to do other projects. We did The Rabbi's second album (ironically, without live drums), and after that I focused on recording a bunch of new MSB songs. I always figured some day we'd add some other instruments, maybe an electric guitar, but I never got around to it.

As the band's focus shifted more and more to live performing, I stopped using the 8-track monster. It was much easier to pull out the old 6-track for a quick demo, and being portable, it was easier to move it to one of the computers and mix-down directly. The old DAT deck that I used to mix down the more professional recordings was a loaner, and I no longer had access to it. So the 8-track has sat, literally collecting dust, in my basement these last few years.

When I went back to retrieve and mix-down Lo Alecha, I had a little challenge. Firstly, I had to figure out where on the hours and hours of tapes it was located. Fortunately, I was pretty meticulous in my documentation in those days, and I had the tape position marked in a notebook. Then I had to relearn all the dials and connections and sliders and gizmos to make it work. Remember that picture up there? There are a LOT of them!

I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting any reverb (or echo) in the song. That was such a source of frustration that I had to pull out the original manuals for the mixer and pore through them once again. Until I finally figured out that the reverb module was unplugged. Oops.

Then, I had to decide what to mix it down to. See, the song, at this stage, exists only in the electronic bowels of the mixing board. The individual tracks reside on the multi-track tape, raw, unprocessed and without effects. They have to be amplified by the mixing board, and then I can adjust the EQ (treble, bass) of each track, and make it louder or quieter in relation to the others, and assign it a position in the stereo field (which is a lot of fun). Then I can process it with reverb or other effects. And then...I can just listen to it in the studio. Because as soon as I reset everything, all that work is gone. Unless I then take an output from the mixing board and run it into a new tape recorder, or a computer, and have it rerecorded as a two-track (left and right) stereo song.

So I didn't have the DAT deck, and that left me with either an old cassette deck, or I could disassemble one of my computers and shlep it into the Dungeon where the studio was, or I could surreptitiously borrow Fudge's laptop and use that. (Another option would be to use the ipod, but I'd need a special add-on for that).

Being that I'm basically a lazy person, I grabbed the laptop and brought it downstairs. I hooked the tape out jacks from the mixer into a headphone stereo adapter and plugged into the laptop. Much to my dismay, she didn't have a stereo line-in jack, just a monophonic microphone jack. That meant two things. One, the stereo effects with the panning from left to right (most noticeable in the drums) would be squashed down into one single track in the middle of the field, or that only one of the stereo channels would get picked up and moved to the middle. Two, the level of the signal coming into the computer would be too loud, because mic inputs inherently amplify the signal for recording (and line-ins don't).

Seemingly having both hands now tied tightly behind my back, I pressed on and began to adjust the levels to get a decent monophonic mix. That's when the reverb went berserk. I don't exactly know how this happened, but a feedback loop seemed to get induced in the unit, and it began to beat louder and louder with each second, until it seemed certain that it could end only in Global Annihilation. I finally unplugged it.

So there I was, listening to my final, dry, monophonic mix, and wondering if other JM artists had to deal with this kind of thing. And in the end, y'know...it didn't sound too bad!

So without further ado, submitted for your MP3 playing enjoyment:

Lo Alecha

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Near Drowning

I got word this morning that the less than 2 year-old daughter of a member of Ralphie and Doctor Bean's shul in LA almost drowned on Thursday. She's in dire condition on life support.

Please pray for

Batya Rafaela bat Hadassah

Thursday, June 21, 2007

My Summerfest Costume

I've been wondering what to wear at the upcoming Summerfest performance (on July 1st. At 3pm. On the Classic Rock Stage). I figure it would be tacky to wear that Homestarrunner tee-shirt again this year.

But I finally figured it out. Since we sorta cover Cream's Sunshine of Your Love anyway (it's the solo we play during Amen), what better way to go than to emulate the great Jack Bruce? Though I'm going to have to take up smoking so I can stick that ciggie into my bass-head.



Shtreimel tip, Drummer Dan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Guest posting by Neil Harris

I recently drove back from New York to Chicago (as it turned out I drove to NY first). It ended up being a very long 17 hour drive from the 5 Towns...much longer than the Maquest estimated time of 13 1/2 hours.

It was a really really long drive. My wife and our two oldest kids did fall asleep eventually and it was just me with our 8 month old daughter keeping me company.

When everyone is asleep I usually listen to Piamenta or Rav Moshe Weinberger, but when I get tired I usually pull out the classics.


Before I left NY I had borrowed my sister-in-laws' copy of the "Sand in the Vaseline" CDs (Talking Heads greatest hits). I have the original cassettes somewhere in a box in my basement and haven't listened to them for at least 10 years. Sometimes when you're driving into the night you need something to listen to something to keep you awake.

All of the sudden during "Psycho Killer" I hear a voice from the infant car seat behind me saying, "Fa Fa Fa". It was great considering that until now our baby has only really said:
Da Da Da Do Do Do
Ma Ma Ma

So I'm left wondering, is musical taste genetic? I guess my daughter is lucky that I was only listening to the Talking Heads.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Blogroll Maintenance

I've finally cleaned up my blogroll. Many of the links were dead or taken over by sploggers or sblotters or however the heck you call 'em. I just know because suddenly my Google Reader is being inundated by spam and foreign alphabet characters.

Also, the recent update thingie isn't working for blogrolling so I'm just going to alphabetize them.

If your blog still exists and I inadvertently deleted it, feel free to post a comment here and I'll resurrect it. Alternatively, if you frequent this site and feel you should be added, make a compelling case (in 200 words or less) and I'll be happy to add you. Remember, you always get a free link via the referrer log (assuming you refer people over here).

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Return of the Fish

I remember back when I was a little PT that I always loved to watch fish. When I was in elementary school, my sister and I would bring home goldfish in plastic bags from the Purim Carnival. My mom would dutifully wash out a jar for them. Invariably we’d find them floating belly-up by morning, and then we’d arrange a hasty burial at sea. After this happened a few times, I gave up on my fish dream.

Ten years ago, my kids came back from a Purim Carnival with goldfish of their own, and I decided the time was right to give it another try. So this time, I went with them to the pet store and bought a ten gallon tank, with gravel, a filter, a bubbler, a heater and a light. It made a Gawd-awful racket in the living room, but it was pretty and fun to watch.

The tank had all kinds of problems. It may be more accurate to say that I had all kinds of problems…with maintaining the tank. We had a big algae problem. I probably had it in a spot that got too much sun. We didn’t always match our fish correctly. A group of snails mysteriously vanished one day; all we found were bits of shell. There was high rate of fish turnover. One day, maybe about 6 or 7 years into the life of the tank, The PT, who was 2 or 3, dumped a whole canister of food into it. And that, as they say, was the end of that.

Fast forward a few more years, and now The PT is six, and wants a pet. None of us are interested in taking care of a pet. I’ve blogged about my not being a “pet person.” As far as I’m concerned, The PT served the function of “pet” all by herself. But The PT has a new method for getting us to do what she wants.

“Oh pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease please pleeeeaaaassssse????”

Frankly, I didn’t think Mrs. B was going to go for it, but she did. I had just gotten home from work, and dinner wasn’t quite ready, and she said something like, “well, that quiche isn’t out of the oven for another 25 minutes; I think we have time to go to the fish store.”

Thirty dollars later we were the proud owners of a new fishbowl with a perky little goldfish in it (and various accoutrements). The PT was so excited that she called up her Bubbie:

The PT: Bubbie guess what!

Bubbie: What?

The PT: Uhhh….I went to the zoo yesterday!

Mrs B (standing next to her): What? That’s not why you called Bubbie!

Bubbie: Oh how nice!

Mrs B: Tell her the real news!

The PT: Well…I think I saw a giraffe!

Bubbie: That’s wonderful! A giraffe! Was it tall?

Mrs B: No! Tell her what happened TODAY!

Bubbie: What happened today?

The PT: Er…well…there’s a water stain on the table…and it looks like an “8.”

Abba: Give me the phone!

Bubbie: That’s wonderful!

The PT: Yeah it’s pretty weird…

Mrs B: TELL HER ABOUT THE FISH!!

The PT: Oh, er, and we, uh, bought a fish.

Bubbie: What?

Well, you get the picture. She was…somewhat excited. By next morning, though, the fish (which she named Goldie) was not doing that well. It was hanging out on the bottom of the bowl and listing off to one side.

Over the next few days, discussions regarding Goldie went mostly like this:

Abba: How’s your fish.

The PT: Still alive.

However, I’m happy to report that Goldie seems to have rallied and appears to be his or her perky old self again. We’ll see how long we can keep this up.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Poor Choice

I went out to a Fundraising Dinner last night, the first since my father, OB”M, died. People who came up to me and remarked about how glad I must feel to be able to come to these functions again have totally missed the boat with me. I was not missing these things at all last year.

Anyway, they put me at a table with people who were total strangers to me, and I did not attempt to communicate with them for several reasons. One, I am antisocial. Two, the music was just loud enough, and my ears just shell-shocked enough from a band practice earlier in the day, that I couldn’t hear anything any of them were saying. Three, my voice was hoarse from the rehearsal so they couldn’t hear me without my attempting a yell (CAN YOU PASS THE MARGARINE? THE MAAAARRRRGAAARINNNEEE???). And four, I’m antisocial.

Fortunately, there was mixed seating at this event, so at least I could sit next to Mrs. B, as long as I didn’t have to walk out because I was being paged by the hospital (which was ALL the time).

This was one of those events where we were given an advance choice of main courses, and I opted for the fish, thinking that I always choose the meat so why don’t I choose the fish. Well, as soon as they brought it, I realized that it was a mistake. I love all kinds of fish, with the exception of baked fish, which is of course what they brought me. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to bake a salmon, you might as well save everyone the trouble and just dump it straight into the garbage. I’m just sayin’. Broil it, fry it, grill it, but bake it? Phshleh.

Meanwhile, the other people at the table were getting prime rib (which looked really good), including the guy sitting next to me who apparently never showed up for the event. So I had this plate of tasteless, textureless fish in front of me, and then a plate of prime rib next to me, saying “eat me”. But then, I’m at a table of total strangers and it might seem odd if I were to suddenly switch dishes while they stared at me. Plus, what if meat-boy actually showed up?

So I figured, what the hey, it’s only $250, I’ll eat the fish. It’s going to a good cause. So I ate it. And it was…eh. But I was still hungry afterwards. And the prime rib was still sitting there, beckoning to me.

And then I’m thinking…$250? I spent $250 on this meal and I’m still freakin’ hungry?? Whass up wit dat? Nobody’s eating that meat, it’s just getting cold. They’re only going to throw it away…

So I’m going back and forth on this, and I get paged a number of times and have to go out to the lobby to answer the pages, and then I come back and the plate is still there. And I think…screw this! I’m eating the meat!

But just then, the speeches start. And I’m sitting on the side of the table with my back to the podium, meaning that all the strange people at the table are facing me and looking past me to the speaker. And it’s totally silent at this point, other than the speaker. Nobody is even eating anymore. For me to pull this plate over, and start making tinkling knife and fork noises with it (and, G-d help me, chewing noises) would be very conspicuous. Not to mention…kinda low-classed. So I just kept looking at it. And it’s possible it may have been looking back at me.

I can only imagine what would have been going through its mind, assuming it had one. “What are you looking at? Eat me already! Can’t you see I’m just sitting here getting cold? Who do you think is going to eat me? What do you think they’re going to do with me? Nobody will be taking me for lunch tomorrow! Stop being such a wuss!”

I was about to make my move when…the pager vibrated. This then became a very complex mathematical equation. It went something like this:

(Bad Fish Dinner)+(Still Hungry)-(Conspicuous Consumption)-([Boring Speech]+[Good Excuse to Walk Out])-(Urgency of Hospital Page X Random % of Actually Important)+(250WTF) = Good Fodder for Slow Monday Blog Post

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking

I sponsored a Kiddush in the shul this past Shabbos, and I got up to say a few words. Since I, and most of the members in the congregation actually despise when anybody interrupts our munching and schmoozing with a speech, I tried to punch it up with a few choice clich├ęs, including the opening line “unaccustomed, as I am, to public speaking,” which is usually funny because the person uttering it is almost always known to be an unstoppable blabbermouth who needs to be forcibly yanked from the podium. Except in my case it was funny because I NEVER get up to speak. Period.

Still, I said my piece, and afterwards, quite a few people came over to tell me how much they enjoyed what I had to say. And one fellow in particular said, “I know you said you’re not accustomed to speaking in public, but you obviously speak frequently.”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure. I never give speeches.”

“But you sounded like someone who gets up and speaks all the time. It was a very well put-together speech. Did you prepare it in advance?”

And the answer was no, I didn’t. And I almost never speak publicly. I hate speaking. I hate bothering other people when they’re trying to socialize. I absolutely have zero confidence than anyone would want to hear anything I have to say about any subject.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve given a speech:

  1. My son Moe’s bris. But that was really just introducing Rabbi T, who’d flown to NY from Milwaukee.
  2. My son Curly’s bris. Apparently I skipped my son Larry’s bris.
  3. My father’s 80th birthday party. I did speak, but actually I got up to sing him “Those Were the Days, My Friend,” a song that he taught me when I was two.
  4. My father’s funeral. Again, less of a speech and more of an incoherent rambling sob-fest.
  5. This Kiddush.

And I didn’t exactly write a speech or prepare anything, I just went over a few salient points in my mind during the services prior to the Kiddush (oh, and I also did the Haftorah and the Mussaf service).

Of course, it was after the discussion with this fellow, and after another with Fudge, that I realized how unusual the whole circumstance was for me. It was only then that I realized what I had done.

I had treated the whole thing as a blog post. I did what I typically do before writing a post. I mulled it over in my head. I tried to boil it down to a few points. I envisioned a certain flow to it. And then I came back to it later and thought about it again. And the parts that I still remembered were deemed good and included. And then I delivered it.

It’s pretty clear to me that I would not have been able to do that prior to starting this blog. Over the course of 700-odd posts I may have actually learned how to organize my thoughts. Accustomed, as I am, to public blogging.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Who Is Rich?

The PT (age 6!): Fudge, did you see my rich picture?

Fudge (18): Yes it's very nice. Why is it the 'rich' picture?

The PT: Because they're happy with what they have.

Fudge: I see...what are these?

The PT: Jewels.

Fudge: And that house looks pretty big.

The PT: It's a castle.

Fudge: So they're rich because they live in a castle and have jewels.

The PT: That's why they're happy with what they have!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

This morning I woke up and took six pills. One for high blood pressure, one for reflux, an over the counter antihistamine and a decongestant for my allergies, and two Aleve because I woke up with right wrist tingling (probably from the 3 gigs I played this week). Is this what it's like to get old?

Halfway through Shacharis I realized that is was a mistake to take the Aleve on an empty stomach and I could barely wait to get home and pour some Cheerios and Milk into me.

The pharmacologist in me knows that some of these pills directly counteract the others. For example, I know that the decongestant is working to raise my blood pressure even as the angiotensin receptor blocker is trying to lower it. And the proton pump inhibitor is barely a match for the anti-inflammatory medication.

Still, there is a part of me that thinks it would be cool to observe the chemical interactions in my blood stream, like two sets of superheros fighting for supremacy of my body. The good guys duking it out with the supervillains. Who will emerge supreme? Will they join forces with one another? Can we get a Justice League of Medicine with Benicar and Protonix on the side of good battling the evil forces of Sudafed and Naproxen? And what side will Claritin take?

I think it would make for an interesting new TV series. Or at least a commercial.