Glowbugs. And why I will stop buying Computer Music Magazine.

So, inspired by getting a whole two comments in the last couple of weeks (on a blog that has lain mostly dormant for over two years), I decided to write a post.

About 3 years ago, when we were still living in Arizona, with still a year to go before we moved back here to Helsinki, I bought my daughter a little yellow ukulele. I would pick it up occasionally, finger random chords (too lazy to learn properly) and strum. After a few times of doing this, a piece of music began to emerge and when I played it, my kids would dance. It continued to evolve gradually over the next year or so, developing a relative minor section and a couple of little (I rather arrogantly thought) Beatles-esque baroque runs on the top string.

I continued playing it and my daughters continued dancing to it and enjoying it. I began to try to think of lyrics and a melody but found nothing that would match the music. I then decided that maybe the ukulele part could stand on its own two feet without vocals. Especially without my vocals.

So I made a tune out of it. I recorded the ukulele part into Garageband, then began layering other instruments on top. First some drums, then some electric guitar (heavily processed) and some synths. I then added a bass-line. Here is the result:

I picked the title ‘Glowbugs’, or ‘glowbugs’ as for some reason (over-weaning humility?) I don’t like to use capitals in my track names, because it suggests prettiness, childhood, dancing. Referring to my daughters whom this little tune originally entertained. I used Poolside’s cover of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon (a favourite of my wife’s and my daughters’) as a reference track, especially to set tempo and the drums.

The track (by which I mean my track, not Harvest Moon) to me sounds unfinished. There is little escalation through the 4:21 of the track, it basically just repeats itself, with only the major/relative minor contrast to leaven things. The drum track doesn’t even really have any fills.

But even if I spiced up the arrangement, there would still be lots of mistakes to fix. For example the bass has some timing mistakes and a lot of fret-rattle.

Then I could get onto a proper mix. This would involve me learning about mixing. I have a couple of books on recording and mixing and of course the web is full of advice. I am also a sucker for Computer Music and Total Music. The kinds of magazines that come with a DVD including 6GB of samples and some new effects plug-ins, then tutorials in the mag on mixing and mastering. I am pretty tech savvy (with a degree in electronics engineering that even involved taking some DSP courses), so I always think I could be a pretty good audio engineer if I set my mind to it.

So sometimes I sit down at my computer and think, OK, let’s start improving my mixing. I open up a track and then start going through the process. And then I get bored. Trying to optimise a track that already exists at some level bores the shit out of me. It feels too much like work. It is incredibly time-consuming and detail-oriented. Within 10 minutes of starting I am checking Facebook or surfing the web.

I like playing guitar and creating music. I don’t like cleaning up tracks and mixing.

So that’s why Glowbugs will remain as it is and why I will never again by Computer Music magazine.

I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to

One of my best friends in the world is very fond of the line above from Eric B and Rakim’s I Know You Got Soul. It seems appropriate for this quick revisit of the old url.

For some reason, I haven’t been blogging in over a year. My last post was about moving back from the US to Finland.

A shit ton of stuff has happened since then.

We’ve settled back into life in Finland pretty well. The relocation was very stressful and we miss Arizona very much sometimes, but it has been good overall. We made the right choice.

On the musical front I have been very lazy. I still have the bug itching at me, but I have not been playing. I put one song on Soundcloud last year, but I took it off after a while. Everything on was written and recorded in the US.

I have no calluses on my fingers, which is shameful.

Big news? The kids are getting older, my lovely wife is dangerously close to finishing her masters’ thesis and I have a fantastic new job. I don’t like to mix in too much detail about my personal or working life into this blog, but let’s just say that the job I have now could perhaps be the best job I have ever had. It’s early days, but all the ingedients are there.

Well. TTFN. I still enjoy writing, so maybe I *will* do some more blogging. Let’s see.

In the meantime, “run long and taper” :)


Polar Bears of Helsinki

So,  here we are… 2013 and all that.

The last few weeks have been mainly taken up with upping sticks from Scottsdale, Arizona (in the middle of the desert) to Helsinki, Finland (in the middle of the sub-Arctic winter). It is dark, freezing and frankly has been a tough experience all round. Major culture shock for us and the kids. We’ll adjust, but these first couple of weeks have been a grind.

I have also had to say goodbye to my guitars for a few weeks. They’re on the way from the US in an air shipment that arrives on Monday. But I was reunited with my old 1994 vintage (?) Japanese Strat! It has spent the last two years in a mate’s basement. I cracked the case, picked it up and although the trussrod clearly needs tightening it is in really good shape. It was even in tune!

Sadly, I won’t be doing anything musical for several weeks or even months yet. The immediate priority has been getting us and the kids over jetlag That’s just about done. The second priority is to organize our living arrangements. In Scottsdale we had a 120 square meter, three bedroom, two bath apartment. In Helsinki we have a 58 square meter one bedroom flat. In the long run we need to move out of the city and get more space, but we probably won’t be able to do that for a year or so. So we have a lot of organizing to do.

When the dust has finally settled (around Easter?) I’ll really be looking forward to playing guitar and writing some more songs.

$100 Guitar and 30,000 Miles

This is a cool story. In October 2010, two east coast guitarists, Nick Didkovsky and Chuck O’Meara bought a cheap guitar together and then proceeded to record  a song and then send it out to other guitarists to do the same. It’s now been through the hands of 60 musicians and finally made it’s way home.

Each guitarist was allowed one week to practice, compose and record before sending it on. An album of these songs will be released in the New Year and will include some famous names, such as Nels Cline of Wilco.

Such a cool idea.

Original story on the NPR Blog.

Thanks to Paresh for drawing my attention to this!

Bugera V5 Update

Well, I’ve been living with the Cheap Choob Bug now since Monday. I am nursing a slight cold today so, working at home. While Mrs ATG took Nipper 1 to school, with Nipper 2 in tow, then I had my first opportunity to switch the power attenuator to full power.

Earlier in the week I’d played it on the lowest attenuator setting (0.1W output) and the tones, though crunchy, were not that impressive. Similarly with the headphone output, they are a little uninspiring. The overall feel was muddy and dark, even with the tone control wide open.

Since playing it for half an hour on the night I got it, I have been mainly playing through my iPad with JamUp pro and headphones.

Today, with the attenuator turned off, is a different story. I tried it with both my Tele and Agile AL and really enjoyed the crunchy, over-driven sounds that come out of those tubes. The Tone control also begins to function. The cleans lack the sparkle of a nice Fender, but the dirtier tones are really satisfying.

And it’s loud. 5W of tube power easily competes with 20W of solid state (it’s to do with the way tubes distort and how that distortion is interpreted by your hearing). This would easily be OK for louder jam sessions and possibly rehearsing with a drummer (although that might be pushing it).

Overall I am pretty happy and look forward to firing it up again for a proper workout when I again have the apartment to myself.

Over one year of blogging…

I just realized, I have now been blogging here for over a year. Wahay!. During this time I’ve written a fair few articles about guitars and tangentially-related stuff.

By far the most popular post I wrote was about Bradley Wiggins and his guitar collection. Posted just as he won the Tour de France, this boosted traffic from less than 10 hits a day to several hundred, at least in the immediate aftermath of the tour. Until recently this probably still brought in half the traffic. If you Google “Bradley Wiggins guitars”, then I’m not the top hit, but I am on the first page.

My other greatest hit was just some pictures of my new Agile AL-3010SE Les Paul style guitar, which at just over $300 new is just staggeringly good bang for the buck. I linked to that post from the Agile Guitar Forum. Hundreds of folks have been to check it out — including several hits from Korea, which I like to think could be the manufacturers. If so, then I’d just like to say “Hi Guys!” and “Thanks for making such an excellent guitar!” and “I hope that you pay your craftsmen and women a decent wage!”

Other pages, frankly get little or no readership. But I still think this has been a worthwhile pursuit. I enjoy writing and this gives me an outlet.

In the second year of ATG, then I resolve to

  • Write more about playing and music, less about guitars and gear (after we move back to Helsinki I will have to anyway tame my GAS)
  • Try and be more interesting. Perhaps prepare more instead of just rambling (like this)
  • Branch out to other, tangentially related topics, or just other stuff I find interesting e.g. coffee, live music, Finland, whatevs

If you’re reading this, I thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving