Archive for November, 2013

the biggest hurdy gurdy ever built

Seriously, that’s what this is, more or less. Da Vinci took a hurdy gurdy and designed a huge one that goes all the way down to cello range, and set it up to be shaped like a harpsichord. He called it a “viola organista,” but it’s basically a giant hurdy gurdy.

Da Vinci never built his design, but Slawomir Zubrzycki has:

That’s… pretty awesome, actually. ^_^


When recording Dick Tracy Must Die, I had not the most idea in the world of what I was doing. I knew about comps, but not comp sheets. Most of you know about neither! Comping is the process of taking multiple takes of some instrument or vocal part and editing together the Best of All Worlds version; the result is called a “comp” take. It’s short for “composite,” and it’s standard and has been for decades now.

Comp sheets are timelines, basically, where you listen to a particular part in a song, and making notes as you go in time. So if there’s something you don’t like at 1m30s, you put a note there, as the song is playing. Very straightforward, really – but they didn’t occur to me, so most of the time my approach was to keep going until I had a track I thought was pretty damn close to perfect to start with, then just re-record the imperfect bits until I got them, too, all as part of the mixing process.

That screaming you hear in the distance? That’s every competent audio engineer in the world hearing what I just said. It’s kind of like inserting important ingredients – like, say, sugar, or flavouring – into the cake after you’ve put it in the oven.

Anyway, it’s also very much taking the slow boat to China, as I learned while working with Leannan Sidhe on her Mine to Love. Now I know better! And me being me, of course, that meant YAY TIME TO DESIGN A THING! So I have!

Version Zero (click to enlarge)
It’s the only legal (sized) thing at Supervillain Studio, ar ar ar ar ar

I was smart enough to print one copy and try to use it, because I’ve already thought of like five changes I want to make. And the hard part about that is making myself not stop and make new changes every time I think of one.

Because hopping christ on a pogo stick, comping is boring. Oh god it’s boring. It’s the line editing of music, and it is farking dull. I’ve been called a fantastic editor by people who’ve seen me work, and I think I deserve some of that rep (assembling “The Diesel-Driven Eight-Dimensional Jet Car Blues” out of bits and pieces from a movie soundtrack was a pretty good educational experience), but it’s still a bit brain-melty with all the tediousness.

And easy graphic design improvements to a tool/form I actually need? CAN DO SPORT.

But I’m being good. I’ll finish this track first. Then I’ll need to print a new one anyway, so I’ll make the improvements then, and test that. Because I can make all the BASK IN THE GLAMOUR OF MY PAPERWORK FORMS jokes I want to, but this really is part of making the music. Not every day gets to be heat rays and kilotesla magnetic fields; just the really good days. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration – I’d maybe quibble a bit with the numbers, but certainly not the concept. That Edison guy may’ve been a bit of a bastard, but he pretty much got that idea right.

voice acting

I did a little voice acting work from my studio this weekend, the first creative work I’ve done since all this emergency eye surgery started up. It’s a new field for me; I’ve done a little stage acting, but no voice acting ever before. It’s very exciting! I did two character voices, all for elements of five short scenes, and gave two readings – a primary and and alternate interpretation – for each scene in each voice.

I got back mail about it today:

This is BEAUTIFUL work. I’m elated with these takes! Thank you!

I don’t know how much of it they’ll use, but they like it! I’m so excited. 😀 The production in question will be coming out next year sometime; I don’t know when. Of course, I’ll point at it when it comes out if they use my work.

Similarly, I’ll eventually point at Leannan Sidhe’s Mine to Love, when that comes out. I talked to Shanti about it recently about why it’s not out yet – I mean, it’s finished, why not? But basically, she really wants to do a proper release show, which is kind of difficult now that her fiddler lives in Wisconsin. So she’s trying to figure out if she has any way of making that happen.

Oh, about that eye thing, an update: still recovering, and more quickly than after the last surgery, even if it feels longer – that’s just because I never finished recovery the last time. Less pain now, but not zero; sleeping badly, but not all the time; listening to Night Vale, a little too often. Anna’s also recovering on schedule; she’s going to try to work part of the day this week, from home. Good night, dear readers. Good night!

looking up

I’m allowed to look up again, by which I mean horizontally and not at the ground.

It’s makin’ me dizzy


wait what just happened

The Night of the Doctor, a six-minute mini-episode:

I have to say: five minutes – five minutes of screen time, and I am weeping for the missed opportunity. My gods, it would’ve been great.

I also have to say: Holy hell! That list of names… Doctor Who Big Finish Audio Adventures companions are now screen canon, motherfuckers! O.O n/

Goddammit, Moffit, why you make me gotta hate you less? This is wonderful. Why can’t you’ve been this good the last few years?

20 years and out

So Séan McCann the Shanty Man is done, leaving Great Big Sea at the end of the current tour. And with that, an era is over. Even were the band to carry on in name, that’s half the original lineup gone, and more importantly, a big chunk of the soul of the group.

I can’t say I’m surprised. The last couple of albums have felt more like collections of solo work than Great Big Sea; The Hard and the Easy was the last album to feel like the whole band. Then the hiatus year followed by a notable lack of new material made the GBS XX box set sound mostly like a curtain call. I told Anna at the time: this is a farewell tour, announced as such or not. Bands have lifespans, and Great Big Sea ran in original lineup for one decade, then mostly-original for another; one hell of a run by any standard.

I owe a lot to GBS, musically. They’re why I know what an Irish bouzouki is, much less why I play one. They’re why Anna formed Three Good Measures (later Twelve Good Measures), and dragged me into it as a moderately-resistant flautist, and how she got that mandolin she eventually gave me. People say your first band should be a cover band; we were, largely of Great Big Sea, and it’s in that band where I started hearing music in songs that hadn’t actually been written yet, and started to play it.

I remember the first four bars I wrote, live, just while playing, in practice, and Kathryn, one of our vocalists, spinning around pointing with both hands saying, “THAT! Do THAT!!” and it felt like suddenly I could see through time.

And maybe that would’ve happened eventually in some form somewhere else, with other people, for other reasons – it didn’t really start to unlock for another few years, even as it went – but in the world I have, this is the where, and the when, and the why it did.

It hasn’t all been good; so much of doing music – or, indeed, any art – is about learning to deal with being ignored and rejected. And with my history of abandonment issues, those are particularly difficult lessons. Worse, I’ve never found anyone else who writes the way I do; the elfmetal community of artists consists, let’s be honest, pretty much of just me. CFoE was always supposed to be a band, not a solo act; only now am I occasionally getting to realise any part of that.

But none of it would even have been started – certainly not then, and not for a while – without Great Big Sea showing up, and despite my substantial frustrations, I’m still glad it did. It may’ve been Alexander James Adams who told me, “hey, you really need to be doing this,” but it was Great Big Sea who had me carrying around that flute in my backpack to begin with.

Without them, no N>=3 Good Measures, no Supervillain Studio, no nwcMUSIC geekmusic festival, no Crime and the Forces of Evil, no touring, I wouldn’t know half the people I do today… and, honestly, who knows what else? The knock-on effects scatter both far and wide.

And thus, here we are, at the end of an era. Oh, sure, a sort-of GBS could play on as the Alan Parsons Doyle Project, but that wouldn’t be the same, and besides, Bob has bands to manage and a bar to run. We close one era, while still hoping to see another start.

So thanks, Séan, Bob, Darrell, Alan, and latecomer Murray – guys, it’s been great. No; it’s been amazing. I hope, someday, I can return the favour – or, if not that, pass it on, casting a little magic myself. Maybe someone will catch it, and throw forward a bit of their own. The least I can do, I think, is try.

staring at the floor

One thing that happens in eye surgery is something called “positioning,” where there is literally a bubble in your eyeball that you keep in a correct spot by controlled angling of your head.

Which is why I’ve been staring at the ground since Friday, and why I’ve been movement-restricted since the first, unsuccessful go at this.

I knew this would be boring. I did not realise how painful it becomes over time. I have vicodin to take the edge off, but fuck, this hurts. Crying-from-the-whole-body-pain hurts, without the vicodin. Not so bad, with.

The good news is that tomorrow should be the last day, for the most part. There’s still phase-out and no lying on my back for another week and I won’t have full vision for a few more weeks, but…

yeah. Painful. Hell, Anna is in way less pain than I’ve been, and she had an organ out! At least so far. She’s still surfing the percoset wave at the moment.

I’ve ordered that ribbon microphone kit I’ve been wanting, as a bit of retail and DIY therapy. With some luck, next post can go back to talking about things like that instead.

But, of course, I’m mostly terrified of having to go back in for round three. Right now I don’t know how I’d do it.

OH: if you got any geekgirlcon pics of the show, send them in? Several people took photos and I handed out cards, but so far, no joy. I found one hall shot (sadly, angled and blurry, and really late, I look as exhausted as I was) on the Flickr stream, but that’s all. Thanks!

day three and day zero

Day three of recovery from round two of emergency eye surgery. The eye feels okay. The back and neck, not so much. Being positioned appropriately – face straight down as closely to full-time as possible for days on end – hurts quite a bit after a while.

Meanwhile, Anna is finishing up a few things, getting ready to go to hospital; she has to have surgery too, today, for cancer avoidance. This isn’t a surprise; it’s been planned a couple of months, unlike mine.

Hers will suck more than mine. Mine’s just injury, albeit old; hers is round five of tumour adventures, otherwise known as the worst kind of adventures. I can’t even be there, I have to stay home useless and in pain mostly face-down until at least Wednesday, with whatever happens being relayed out through someone else’s Facebook wall.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful Dejah can do that, but I’ve had a lot of reasons to feel pretty upset and horrible about things which have happened over the last ten years, but this one is downright special. I can handle a lot of shit except helplessness and dependence. Those are, for me, the real mind-killers. They’ve always led to horrors in my experience, for real, and I’ve spent lots of my existence working hard to avoid any shread of either of them. But right now, here we are, innundated.

I should probably have something lighter and braver to say about all this, but right now honestly, I just don’t. Hopefully in a few hours, or tomorrow. But not right now.

not at orycon

As a few of you may notice today: I am not at Orycon as planned. I am instead getting ready for another around of emergency eye surgery.

Basically, Dr. Saperstein said there was about 10% chance they’d have to go back in and do more work. Last weekend, I noticed an effect much like a meteor going across the sky, in the upper visual range of my right eye, the one they operated on two and a half weeks ago. I called in and got the on-call doctor, who said these things happen all the time from a million different reasons, and I shouldn’t worry about it.

I called in again on Monday, and was promised a return call by the surgeon’s assistant, but that didn’t happen; then I was too busy on Tuesday and Wednesday due to insurance company insanity (not medical; business and home, and they have also failed to call me back) and then some other day job things which also were kind of crazymaking.

So I finally called back on Thursday and said, “Look, this thing is happening, I don’t like my peripheral vision in my upper right eye, I’m about to go out of town for three days and then my partner has cancer-related surgery, I need it looked at.” And it took a couple of tries, but I got to see the on-call in Bellevue, all the external tests were really apparently quite good, but they dilated my eye and the on-call looked in said “Yep, this looks fine, this looks…” and started dictating numbers.

Pro tip: when the retinal surgeon stops saying fine and starts throwing numbers to the nurse assistant? That’s when something’s not right.

It’s not the previous retinal tear, either. It’s one of the two other areas of latticing (also from physical trauma) which Dr. Saperstien said would eventually fail, so he was going to go ahead and fix them now. Maybe he should’ve left well enough alone there. Or maybe it would’ve failed with the other work. No way for me to know.

Regardless, now another around of emergency surgery. Basically, the last three weeks get re-run. I really wish the on-call had taken me seriously last weekend and/or the office had called me back on Monday like they were supposed to; maybe we could’ve got this patched up on Tuesday, and I’d still have a shot of a reduced schedule at Orycon before Anna’s surgery, and at very least, maybe I wouldn’t be looking at not being able to be with Anna at the hospital during her surgery on Monday.

(This is a real possibility; it depends upon the post-surgical reaction. I just don’t know right now.)

So. This was kind of horrible the first time, but I made the best of it, I think. Honestly, that’s a little harder to do this time around. Hopefully I won’t have to be in a weird head position for weeks. I won’t know until Saturday. Wish me luck; at this point, we really appear to be needing it.

working but not hard enough

Working. Mostly catch-up of daily life paperwork, but also some annoyances (like oh yes, our house and business insurance exploded again, because kill everyone, and I’m not giving more details because in one case my next call may have to be to my lawyer), but some on music too.

Clicking enlarges

Working on the flute track for this piece and it’s all SORRY I FORGOT HOW TO FLUTE. Which means, my embouchure is really, seriously out of shape, and that matters because I need it for this track. Ah, well, I’m working on it, and it’s improving. But damn.

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