Tag Archives: Jazz

New video of a new original tune

After a several year dry spell, last year I wrote not one, not two, but three new songs. This one is the last of the three, and the second one I wrote since finally copping to the fact that songs don’t always have to be novels. Short stories are a fine art in and of themselves.

It’s based on the Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Think of it as a sort of open letter to whatever doesn’t kill me. In keeping with that, I have cleverly titled it, An Open Letter To Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me. It’s a very brief song… like the whole video, including titles, is only 2 minutes long. But its history stretches back to the mid-80s. I’m going to tell you 3 brief “sub-stories” before getting to the video itself.

So, if you’re a tl;dr sort, you can click the link above and go straight to YouTube to watch it. (But then, if you’re a tl;dr sort, I wonder what the hell you’re doing following me?)

(Before I forget to mention it, the joke behind the song is thanks to the Dunn Lumber at 93rd and Aurora in Seattle, who posted it on their reader board.)

I’ll have a few last words below the video.

Andrew’s Muse Story (sub-story 1 of 3)

In the mid-80’s I was heavily involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism–aka the SCA, a medieval re-creation group–and was living in an apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Seattle, WA. (In SCA terms, that meant I was living in the Kingdom of An Tir.) Besides me and my then ladyfriend, there were two other SCA folk in the building.

One of these folk was Andrew–and damn, I can’t pull his last name out of my head right now–who was, amongst other things, quite the poet. He’d been overheard (misheard, actually) by a passing knight, saying something that the knight perceived as dissing the ladies of An Tir.

Since Andrew has something of a game leg, he did not participate in the armored fighter part of the SCA. This made it impossible for the knight to honorably challenge him to a duel in the lists. So instead he told him, as penance, he had to write a poem praising the beauty, wit, charm, etc. of the ladies of An Tir and read it at the banquet of an upcoming tourney. Andrew said (at least, mentally), “Challenge accepted!” and set to slaving over it for the next several weeks.

Yes. Weeks. It was an opus.

When he finished he was understandably happy and he came dashing down to the apartment where me and the aforementioned ladyfriend lived. He read it for us and we showed the appropriate appreciation–because it was good, that’s why–and he went happily back to his place. Probably to get some much needed sleep.

But one line in the poem just sparked me. I took it, twisted it around, and within a ridiculously short period of time had churned out a poem built around it. It was only two stanzas of six lines each, not an opus. I was tickled anyways and dashed up the stairs to read it to Andrew.

He listened, blinked a couple times, and then said (at least half jokingly), “How dare you have a 10 minute muse?!”

KW’s Song Advice (sub-story 2 of 3)

Back in about the same timeframe my guitar guru, K.W. Todd, had made a complementary comment on one of my songs. I muttered on about how, yeah, I was generally happy with it and had been playing it at open mikes to good response, but I wished I’d done this or that bit a little differently. But now that all these people had heard it I didn’t want to change it.

K.W. said, “But, Hobbit, it’s your tune! You can do anything you want with it.”

OK. Yeah. I heard that, but didn’t really absorb it until later. Indeed, much later.

Phil’s Short Story Lesson (sub-story 3 of 3)

Here’s where the three sub-stories converge.

Back in mid-November, Phil Doleman, my online pal from England tweeted,

I surprised myself by suddenly writing and recording an EP over the last week. Sometimes it happens like that, and you don’t argue :-)
You can get it from Bandcamp, name your price (which includes free :-) )

My first reaction, of course, was “How dare you have such a prolific muse!” (Yeah, Andrew. I feel it now, bro.)

I went and listened to it and noticed that the longest song was on 2:18 long. I’d never written a song that was that short. But I have notebooks full of song bits I’ve come up with and not been able to expand out into what I would consider a full song. So why not try a short story song? Within a week I’d finished a song called “Hemoglobin Overload,” fleshing out a song snippet I’d had around for years.

So… thanks, Phil!

Check out Phil’s EP, Might Never Happen.

The Video At Last

(This has a NSFW rating because I drop an F-bomb. Just one, because it’s a surgical strike. Too much collateral damage happens when you carpet F-bomb.)

Oh No! Not Another Learning Experience!

I’m still learning the LumaFusion video editor, so the Picture-In-Picture stuff isn’t as tidy as it could be. Also, I somehow set the camera to “focus on faces” mode and every time I moved it changed focus and mucked up the lighting.

Last Words

If you’ve read this far, please do me a large favor and drop a little comment here, even if it’s just “Hi, Hobbit, I read the thing.”

If you like it, please share it, either via YouTube or the link to this post.

My new song

Firsts

So… the first thing you might be thinking is, “If this post is about a new song, why is it illustrated by a picture of a bunch of ukulele?” Gosh, I’m glad you asked!

It’s because it’s not only the first song I’ve completed in way too long, it’s the first one I’ve ever written on my Ohana sopranino. The sopranino is at the far left in the pic. It was the best shot I could find of the little guy. (Because I didn’t want to mess with taking another one, that’s why!)

In any event, I finished the song about 5 or so days ago, took the time to learn it (yes, they are two different processes), and got a recording of it. For you “tl;dr” folks the recording is just below, you can probably see it scrolling up by now. Under that is the strange, circuitous route I had to travel to get it out in the wild. I wrote it up for the rest of you.

(Though come to think about it, I speak in paragraphs. I can’t fathom why a tl;dr sort of person would follow me online in the first place. <shrug> )

So here’s my brand new tune, a light and hopefully humorous rant on aging. If you like it, please leave a comment and share it with your friends on the social media things. If you think it sucks, go ahead and leave a comment and then share it with your enemies on social media. It’ll serve them bastards right, eh?

The Process

I had decided that I’d do a Digital Demo Tape level recording, strictly using only program(s) I could run on my somewhat aging Samsung Tab E. I got one take several days ago, but wasn’t quite happy with the result. Turns out that the two apps I used for the actual recording had strengths and weaknesses and I needed to play to the former in order to make up for the latter. I reshot the vocal (the ukulele and harmonica tracks were saveable) so the process looked like this.

  • Record the tracks using the J4T Multi-track Recorder app
  • Export each track as a separate file (you can do it quickly and easily in one process in this app. It does more than the cassette 4-track I recorded my first release on, way back in the early 90’s. Further, that cassette unit cost me $400 back then, while a few years ago I picked up J4T for $3.99.)
  • Import them, one at a time, into the Lexis Audio Editor (a free android app similar to Audacity, which does not run on android.)
  • EQ and add any track-specific effects. I kept it pretty sparse, only adding a pale wash of reverb to the vox and harmonica, and a really spare slapback echo to the uke in order to “thicken” it a tad. I also normalized them so that I had some volume to work with whilst mixing.
  • Re-import the altered tracks to J4T
  • Mix down to one stereo track
  • Reimport into Lexis (Getting dizzy yet?)
  • Trim, add the fade-out, a light touch of compression, and normalize
  • Save it and import it into Audio MP3 Editor. Another free app which does several things including transcoding, cutting/trimming, making ringtones, etc.
  • Transcode from WAV to MP3 format and add metatags
  • Done. Raise a big cheer!

But wait! Now we come to the first of the tech bombs.

Tech Bomb 1

Now that I have a finished recording, I’m going to want to host it somewhere. Oh, look! I have an old and rarely used Soundcloud account. That’s the ticket!

Ummm… did I mention that nowadays I do the greater majority of my computing stuff on my tablet? ‘Cuz that’s going to be important real soon now.

I have both the Soundcloud app and access via web browser.

It turns out that Soundcloud, despite being all about streaming to mobile devices (for all you hip kids), does not allow you to upload a recording from your phone or tablet. Dafuq?

So fine… I pass the recording up to the cloud and fire up my one remaining “general purpose” computer. The problem here is that it’s a 10 year old Dell netbook, running Ubuntu 12.something, an OS upgrade that slowed it way down. Also it doesn’t like my browser.

Despite all that I manage to get the track uploaded to Soundcloud. From my earlier tries on my tablet I know that I can’t get the embed code except from the web version. So I copy the long paragraph of obscure HTML code and paste it into a text document on the Linux box and upload it to the cloud, something I’ve done tons of times before. Then I go to download it onto the tablet so I can embed the player here in WordPress.

Here comes the second tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 2

Despite all past history, neither Google Drive nor my tablet will open the text file, they’re all saying “I don’t recognize the file type.” OMFG! It’s a plain text file, ffs! Who’s Wheaties did I pee on to make the tech gods so angry with me?

Fine!

I’ll just open the file on my netbook and laboriously type it into a note on my tablet. (Using the stylus just so it’s an extra fussy process.)

Done!

Now I open up the WordPress app and start a new post, giving it a title, a brief bit of “lorem ipsum…” placeholder text, and copy/paste the embed code in. Then I save it as a draft post so I can view it to make sure the embed actually works.

Oh look. Here comes another tech bomb.

Tech Bomb 3

My WordPress app seems to be broken. It keeps giving me “you’re not permitted to edit nor save” errors. So let’s try it through the web interface. Broken. Instead of the WP login page, I’m getting an empty page with a popup asking for my login credentials. I don’t think so!

Luckily (?) this has happened before. Some eager young beaver at my hosting service has decided my security isn’t tight enough and set the permissions on the WP folder to clear that up. Locking me out in the process. They’re actually pretty good about fixing fuckups, whether mine or theirs, so this one was cleared up within a few hours of me sending the email.

Leaving me with one final tech bomb. (sigh)

Tech Bomb 4

Remember that vast paragraph of embed code from Soundcloud? Didn’t work. Fortuneately I remembered that WP has a shortcode for Soundcloud. It works. That’s why you can see the player up there and, hopefully, play my new song.

So here I sit, finishing up the last of this blog post. Please remember that sharing is caring! If you share my stuff around, it’s better than a dollar in my tip bucket. And it only costs you a few minutes time.

Thanks much for your patience. Hopefully my next song (or video or whatever) won’t be so long coming

New Video. Sorta. 3rd Time’s The Charm.

So. What’s this “3rd Time’s The Charm” thing all about?

Around ten years ago I wrote a song called Daisy Fraser. Shortly after that Snake Suspenderz was playing a gig at Egan’s Ballard Jam House and we put it on the playlist. Someone in the audience recorded a video of the song. I can’t for the life of me remember who right now (maybe my sweetie?), but the video turned out horribly. It was recorded on an extremely low end camera in a venue so dimly lit that out of the four of us, only Thaddeus and I can be seen. We look more orange than the Thing from the Fantastic Four but, worst of all, I completely vapor-locked on the lyrics. That’s right, the lyrics to my own song escaped me!

But, since I’d passed off several choruses to Thadd (on trombone) and Dean (who played bass with us then and also did a hella mouth trumpet), I decided to put it online anyway. Part as an homage to them taking up the slack and part for the same reason we get blooper reels. And there it languished for awhile.

Then about 3 years back I got to thinking about it again. I’m reasonably pleased with the tune, having after all both riffed on Shakespeare and channeled a little bit of the Dixie Chicks vibe ala Goodbye Earl.

By this time I had a bit better video editing capability, but the darn thing still turned out a wee darker looking than I liked. About the only thing to say for it was it’s (I think) the first time the humbone appeared in one of my vids. It’s pottered along and gathered about 200 views. *yawn* Which brings us to now.

With LumaFusion I’ve got the best video editing capability I’ve ever had, though I’m still learning the software. The video is still somewhat dusky. *sigh* Nevertheless, here’s Daisy again, this time done like I’ve been busking it recently, on my Ohana SK-21 Sopranino with a kazoo solo.

Daisy Fraser – Third Time’s The Charm edition

New Sound System + Extras!

Snake Suspenderz at Chateau Valley Center assisted living facility – 2/23/2018

The mighty Snakez have played at CVC a number of times. They hire us about twice a year. For a while we’ve been cobbling together a “sound system” that consists of two street amps and a few mikes. It has worked, but not real well.

Last December I had a surprise influx of cash. One of the things I did with it was buy a nice, portable, four channel sound system (a Yamaha StagePas 600i), suitable for use by a duo act like Hobbit & Hare (my most frequently booked act). While we have a wedding gig on the books out in mid-August, until the other day, had no chance to use the sound system “in the wild.”

Since I first bought it I had thought that it would be possible to “squeeze” enough space to hook up a simple quartet. When this recent CVC gig popped up I suggested trying it. So I pulled out a Behringer Eurorack UB1202 mixer that I’d had (and used) for a number of years and added it to the mix.

We plugged the three vocal mikes into the Eurorack and then fed that submix into one of the main channels on the Yamaha. We used two of the other main channels on the Yamaha to plug in my ukulele and Thadd’s guitar. That still left us with one main channel on each unit. Hmmm…

In a room this size we usually don’t have to plug in a mike for the tuba, as it’s pretty loud acoustically. Unfortunately, the sound system jumped the level up enough that Sketch, at the other end of the band from salamandir, was having a bit of trouble hearing said tuba. Oh well. Live and learn.

Because, in the main, it was a great success.

The picture was taken by Todd, the fella in charge of events such as this. They had decided that Mardi Gras was a month long celebration and this was a Mardi Gras party. Unfortunately, the angle of the photograph only takes in the backdrop they put up for us and misses some of the Mardi Gras specific decorations they’d put up.

You’ll only be able to spot one of the speakers from the sound system, over to the right amidst the balloons. The other speaker is just to the left of Sketch and his drums. The main and sub-mixer we used are both so small that they are entirely hidden behind me. That’s a good thing. That’s why I spent the lion’s share of the unexpected cash on the Yamaha.

Happily, it turns out I made the right decision there.

New Instrument

Harmony, the tenor guitar and Pierson, the soprano ukulele

Several weeks ago I received a gift of cash. It maybe wasn’t large to some of you, but it was more than I usually have all at the same time. Knowing how likely it was that I’d just fritter it away, I decided to quickly invest it into my act. One of the things at the top of my list was a tenor guitar. I’d been lusting after one for some time (and talking about it to get the idea “out into the universe”) so this seemed to be my chance.

So on Thursday, November 13th, I went to Dusty Strings and picked up a 1961 Harmony tenor guitar. I’d actually paid for it the night before, but it needed some setup work done to bring it in line with what I wanted. (I’ll get to that later.) In the picture to the left you can see Harmony–yes, I named her Harmony… so sue me!–with Pierson the soprano ukulele in the shot to give y’all an idea of Harmony’s size. And yes, I named him Pierson. It’s a convoluted science fiction/ukulele joke and if you want the whole story behind it, leave a comment and I’ll tell it there.

She also came with this spif retro chipboard case.

Right now some of you might be thinking, “Why does Howlin’ Hobbit, Ukulele Ace, want a guitar at all, much less a tenor?” In fact, some of you might be wondering what the hell a tenor guitar is. Well pilgrim, I’m here to supply the answers to just such mysteries. I’ll start with what it is and move on to why I got one.

(Oh… and here’s where the music geek talk starts.)

The first production model of a tenor guitar was produced by Gibson in 1927. They were made because the popular music of the day was starting to transition from traditional Jazz (Trad Jazz is also called Dixieland) into a more big band scene that would later become swing. Trad Jazz used banjo as their rhythm instrument but the proto-swing cats were all about guitar in its place. The tenor guitar allowed the banjo players to double on guitar without having to learn a whole slew of new chord shapes. Tenor banjo “standard” tuning is in fifths, like a viola, and standard guitar tuning is mainly fourths, with one third thrown in just to mess with you. It’s no wonder the banjo players wanted to stick with a tuning they knew.

If you’re going, “Dafuq is with the thirds, fourths, etc.?” don’t panic. It’s just a way to describe the space between two notes in a given scale. (Of course, “space” isn’t fancy schmancy enough, so the official musicianer name for these spaces is “intervals.”)

Returning to our story…

After a time the tenor guitar had spread around pretty well. All over the place there were guitar players going, “Well, ain’t that just as cute as a bug? I want one.” Of course they were also saying, “But fuck a bunch of this tuning! The chords are too stretchy on my hands!” So somewhere–one could assume Chicago for reasons that will soon be obvious–some unnamed guitar slinger decided to tune it like the highest four strings of the guitar (the highest musically speaking, not farthest from the floor). This ended up being called “Chicago tuning.”

See. I told you it would be obvious. Our circle is nearly complete. Stay with me.

Now they could play the cute little thangs with more or less the same shapes they used on the 6 stringed versions they were accustomed to. They simply omitted the two low strings from the fingerings they usually used. And it turns out that the tenor is happy in various alternative tunings so it was fit into various musical styles.

So 90 years later I’m pondering how to expand my act a bit. It’s really great to be able to switch instruments occasionally. This is especially true if you’re doing a longer show, like a house concert for instance. (I really want to do more house concerts!) It changes the texture of the sound, it changes the visual, and it’s just a nice change of pace to keep the audience’s attention. I had Harmony set up for Chicago tuning because it’s also baritone ukulele tuning. (For you fellow musicians, the string gauges, low to high, are 35, 26, 17, 13. Guitar strings are cheap, so I may try a lighter set before calling the matter settled.) But the upshot is I can use all of the chord shapes I’m used to doing, the music will just be in a different key. In other words, I don’t have to learn a whole new batch of finger stretchy shapes.

So that closes the circle. First, you had banjo players that wanted a new instrument without learning new chords. Than it was adopted by guitar players who liked the size, etc., but they didn’t want to learn new chord shapes either, so they changed the tuning. And now a ukulele player wanted a new instrument without learning new chords, but his predecessors had done all the work for him, except for the practice part.

I’m still having a bit of wrist pain on one of the tunes I’m practicing. It’s gotten better though as I rebuild the wrist strength needed for steel strings instead of nylon. I want to “go public” playing a tune on the tenor (even if only in a video) soon, so I better get back to that practice part.