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  • One Year in No Man’s Sky

    2017 - 08.08

    Well here we are on the cusp of the one year anniversary of the release of No Man’s Sky, a game which I’ve loved right from the get-go. There’s been a huge amount of buzz going on amongst the community due to an ongoing ARG building up to an update which could drop literally any moment now. I’m not going to recap any of that since it’s already been covered in exhaustive detail elsewhere. There are a ton of interesting theories about what will happen next but I’d actually like to look backward at the last year of space exploration.

    What pulled me in from the very start and what keeps me coming back to No Man’s Sky is very simple: the freedom to explore and be awed by the places you see. I have three close friends who also bought NMS; one refunded it shortly after launch and the other two lost interest after a short amount of time and no longer play. Then there’s me, a whopping 3,804 screenshots and 408 hours into it as of this writing. And I’m not sure if I can fully articulate why this game has such incredible appeal to me, but I do want to ruminate on it just a bit.

    Something about it keeps pulling me back. The zen. The quietness. The open-endedness of it, which seems to confound everyone, is central to why I like it. There’s nothing keeping you anywhere. You can set down and explore a planet very deeply; go discover every species of animal and search the caves, scan all the flora and search for rare resources… OR NOT. At any second you can just say, you know what, this place sucks I’m ghostin’, hop in your spaceship and boom, you’re gone and that whole world is probably never going to be seen by anyone ever again. The weight of that thought does something for me. The thought that the only thing holding you here is you own decision that you want to be here to try to see something awesome.

    And see awesome things I have.

    My Year One in No Man’s Sky

    I don’t know what’s next and I’m trying not to expect much since expectations ruin everything. But whatever awaits, I have relished the last year of getting lost and tinkering around in the infinite playground at my own pace. Of course it’s hard to say right now, but I do think NMS might go down as one of my all-time top 5 titles that I’ve really been obsessed with. We’ll see if I’m right back here in 2018 saying the same stuff. See you around explorers!

    Music and the MathMagic connection

    2017 - 07.20

    Okay so on a whim I searched YouTube for this video I loved to watch on VHS as a child, “Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land” and wow, it kinda blew my mind just how deeply this little half hour of cartoon imprinted upon my mind way back when.  I mean, the connection between music & math, the golden ratio, the way Donald wants to jam when he sees the musicians, and most ironically the inclusion of the Parthenon, aka the Acropolis which is the name of my band.  There’s so much in here that’s woven itself into the fabric of who I am today that it’s kinda eerie.  It goes to show how the right influence at a fork in the road can really stick with a person.

     

    This cartoon is actually part of a larger “Adventure in Color” program originally made in 1961 (wow!) but the video above is just the part that spoke to me personally.

    My YouTube channel and favorite recent video

    2017 - 07.02

    As reminder, check out my YouTube channel for lots more quality Electric Trumpet content!  Here’s the jam of 2017 so far that’s had the most replay value for me personally, a stretched out version of the Herb Alpert classic “Rise” which has great pacing and grooves:

     

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 3/4/17

    2017 - 06.11

    It’s been about a year, time for another update on the electric trumpet pedalboard.

    Here’s the current effects chain (photo from Breakfast 8):

    Boss OC-2 octave
    Eventide Pitchfactor
    Source Audio SA143 bass envelope
    Morley Power Wah
    Dr. Scientist BitQuest (rental)
    Damage Control Liquid Blues
    Moog Minifooger Ring Modulator**
    Saturnworks A/B splitter
    A chain:

    Maestro PH-1 Phaser
    Moog Bass MuRF
    TC Electronic Flashback delay
    Source Audio Lunar Phaser**

    B chain:

    TC Electronic Mimiq Doubler (rental)
    Damage Control Glass Nexus
    Strymon BigSky Reverberator**
    Strymon Mobius Modulation (rental)

    ** denotes a new permanent addition.  The BigSky Reverberator is quite magnificent and deserves its own post.  Lunar Phaser was so good I did end up buying one and it’s given me some great moments.  BitQuest is also a super unique pedal although I have struggled to make it sing since it’s control scheme is tough to dial in on the fly.

    Kanstul WB v2.0

    2017 - 04.20

    There’s an old saying that if you love something, send it to the factory where it was made and have them make it brand new again, and if it comes back to you, then you know it was meant to be.  I might have messed up the first part of that, but whatever, point is, my Kanstul WB trumpet is back in my hands and it feels so good!

    To summarize the work for my own later reference, I sent my horn to the Kanstul factory in Anaheim California for a replating, and the installation of Saturn water keys.  I’ve never liked Amado water keys so this was the ideal time to swap them out for something better.  Saturns are a pretty unusual design but I heard they are great so I ordered some from the inventor in Scotland.  Kanstul inspected the horn and told me it had “red rot” on the inside of the leadpipe and the crook of the tuning slide and both would need replacement since they refuse to work on instruments with this condition.  We discussed the acid bleed which was coming out of the inside of the bell lip/curl and they said once it starts, even if the horn is replated, there is no way of guaranteeing it won’t return again.  With that said, I told them to go ahead and put on a brand new bell, since the bell has to be removed during this process anyway.

    They completed all the work and I also bought an alternate tuning slide with an identical finish.  Instead of being D-shaped like the default one, this alternate slide has a C-shape and a solid-plate brace.  I’ve long been curious about the effect of a smoother bend in the piping right there, and I always thought solid braces look real cool.  My initial impression is there isn’t a dramatic difference however the D-shape feels ‘zingier’ and I think I prefer the original.  The only way to know was to try!  I think I will use the alternate slide now and then just for novelty’s sake.  Who knows, maybe if I invest enough time it’ll begin to grow on me or reveal some other characteristics I haven’t yet noticed.

    Kanstul WB with Saturn Water Keys & solid plate brace C-crook

    Along with the work on the horn I also got a copy of the book “Zig Kanstul: Last of the Great Masters” which offers a detailed lineage on where Zig picked up his talents before he had his own company.  It was a pretty interesting read if you’re a brass geek, especially the parts about brassmakers King and Benge.  My cornet is a King and it plays exceptionally well, so I found that link personally relevant.

    Speaking of the King cornet, it was interesting to play on the Kanstul for maybe 9 months, then switch back to the King while the trumpet was in the shop, and now back to the Kanstul again.  When I first got the Kanstul I knew it played better than the King but having returned to cornet and spent some quality time on it, I’m now realizing that the gulf between these two axes is wider than I had initially appreciated.  Either I missed having it around, or the replacement of leadpipe/bell actually improved it a bit; either way it feels noticeably zippier and more powerful.   A California supercar…

    Like I said back when I first got it, the horn is only as capable as the musician piloting it, so time for me to step up my fundamentals and deliver with my tools here.  When practicing recently I’ve caught myself thinking “trust the horn” when it comes time to strike into the upper register.  There’s definitely a give-and-take in terms of using too much effort to play a difficult note versus relaxing and having confidence that what you go for is going to simply come out.  Right now I need to play with mental balance between those two ideas, and concentrate my attention on accuracy, intonation, and “clarity” in terms of hearing a phrase in my mind as I execute it.  More than ever the limiting factor is just my own self and that’s pretty inspiring.

    My musical 2016 in retrospect (and pedals chronology)

    2016 - 12.27

    Well 2016 is drawing to a close at last and I think I can speak for many people in saying it was a downright lousy year, to put it nicely.  There’s a lot I could complain about but I’m trying to stay focused on the positive.  I’ve been playing a bunch of music and that’s been one of the best things going on in my life this year.  For my own clarity/later reference I compiled a list of the effects pedals I’ve been renting from Pedal Genie and I figured why not post it here.  The list is organized by the date of the shipment of the rental pedals, and includes the list of recording sessions I held during the time I was using those pedals.  I had 21 multi-track recording sessions in 2016 with the last 4 of those recorded in 24bit/96kHz which is something I’ve always wanted to do, recently enabled by a PC upgrade to the recording rig.  We also had 1 live show and 1 video shoot with a live cameraman.  From that video shoot came my personal favorite cornet performance of the year (in terms of expressiveness and execution), on “I Thought It Was You” by Herbie Hancock.  Check it out:

    List of effects pedals on rental and associated recording sessions:

    2/23/17 sessions: Breakfast 34 (Denver), 3/19 (Heterodyne) || Acropolis 4/23 (Rise), 6/11 ||
    Strymon Möbius Modulation Multieffects
    Dr. Scientist BitQuest (low-fi multieffect)
    TC Electronic Mimiq Doubletracker

    10/28/16 sessions: Acropolis 11/13 (Hang Up/96k), 1/15 (Ribbons, K.Cake) || Super Risky Clique 11/27 || Fistbump III 12/11 ||  George R. Brown
    Strymon BigSky Reverberator
    Catalinbread Heliotrope
    Empress Phaser

    7/7/16 sessions: Acropolis 7/17 (Instant Ice) || Stretch Coast 8/13 (Disco Fred) || POACB 8/14 (Fiddy) || Fistbump II 10/23
    DOD Gonkulator Ring Mod
    Source Audio SA241 Lunar Phaser
    Keeley Super Mod Workstation

    5/2/16 sessions: YVJ trio 5/14 || JJP trio 5/21 || Scalding 6/11 || Breakfast 6/25 (Brain) || Fistbump 7/2 (America)
    Moog Minifooger MF Flange
    Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser
    Dr Scientist The Tremoloessence

    3/2/16 sessions: Extraterrestrial 3/13 || Acropolis 4/9 (scrapped) || Breakfast 4/10 (Seahorse Carol)
    Boss TE-2 Tera Echo
    Moog MF Ring Mod
    Keeley 6 Stage Phaser

    12/4/15 sessions: Acropolis 12/6 (Fallbrook), 1/24, 1/31 (P-996) || Bok 1/17 || Breakfast 1/30 (Monsieur) || Phosphene 2/21
    TC Electronics HOF Reverb
    Source Audio SA126 Bass Envelope

    9/28/15 sessions: Antidote 11/15
    Walrus Audio Janus Tremolo Fuzz
    Electro Harmonix Bad Stone Phaser+
    Mad Professor Snow White Bass Autowah

    7/3/15 sessions: Acropolis 7/24, 8/9, 8/23 (Telemetry), 9/27 (dub)
    Chase Bliss Audio Warped Vinyl
    Infanem Small Echo Array
    Red Panda Particle Delay

    5/11/15 sessions: 100% Juice 5/15, 5/22 (Beatles), 6/27-28 || Acropolis 5/14, 6/11
    Electro Harmonix Super Pulsar Tremolo
    SolidGoldFX Funkzilla Envelope+

    4/3/15 sessions: 100% Juice 4/3 (RC), 4/25 (Hollywood) || Acropolis 4/23, 5/7  || Fresh Squeezed 4/18
    SolidGoldFX Apollo Phaser+
    Voodoo Lab Wahzoo

    3/2/15 sessions: 100% Juice 3/14 (Sunset Drink)
    TC Electronics Flashback x2 Delay
    Caroline Icarus Boost
    Fulltone Clyde Delux Wah

    Primo Vino Art: Black Hole

    2016 - 10.15

    Alright it’s been forever since I’ve done one of these, so here’s the bottle of wine I picked out to pair with No Man’s Sky.

    img_2261-v2

    Games I Like: No Man’s Sky

    2016 - 09.20

    My third ship in No Man's Sky, the Green Meanie

    I like No Man’s Sky. That’s right, I said it. I’ll go a step further too: I like No Man’s Sky right now, one month after the PC release. This is not a popular viewpoint so let’s unpack it.

    Expectations can make or break the perception of music, movies, or videogames. From the very start this game had colossal expectations placed upon it, and I think that’s reason #1 behind the largely negative perception of the game right now. As documented previously I definitely rode the hype train hard on this title, but having put in well above 70 hours over the last month, right now I’m feeling like I actually got what I came for.  (Note that all screenshots in this post are captures that I took during my playthrough.  All were taken in 4k resolution although some are cropped; click to view them full size)

    red mountains and blue seas in No Man's Sky

    Solar eclipse (and moon!) over distant mountains in No Man's SkyReason #2 behind the negative perception of the game is that there’s a lot of things which were shown in trailers and talked about by the developers that were simply not in the game at all. You could call that a lot of different words. Mine would be strange and disappointing. Disingenuous might be another. But before we get too bogged down in the name-calling which inevitably results from dwelling on this for long, let me just back way, way up, and look at this whole thing from a top-level, macro perspective:

    No Man’s Sky has delivered a universe-sized universe and it’s magnificent. The thing I want to focus on more than anything else is the aesthetic, because that’s what drew me in long ago when I first heard about the game, and that’s what held my interest when lots of other space games started coming out but I refused to play them, intentionally waiting and keeping my outlook fresh. The look and the feel of No Man’s Sky is what keeps me playing now and it’s what blew me away when I picked up the mouse and keyboard for the first time. None of the other space games that compete in this same genre have this stunning artistic style to them. Right off the bat when you start playing the game it’s magical. Most players agree with that. And importantly, in regard to the overall aesthetic, the final game we have now is exactly what was shown in the trailers.

    Sunset on some ruins in a lush jungle world in No Man's Sky

    One of my favorite friendly dinosaurs I've encountered in No Man's SkySo my individual perception is admittedly slanted. One, it was mainly the look, the feel, the style I saw in the trailers that I wanted to get, and I got that. And two, I haven’t been playing other space games or really that many games in general. Witcher 3 was the only other game I’ve been putting serious time into during 2016. Ironically the contrast could hardly be stronger between these two games. Witcher is story-driven with huge set-pieces, has a lengthy list of characters, and is hand-crafted in practically all aspects. On the other end of the spectrum No Man’s Sky has only two reoccurring characters and turns you loose in a randomly generated universe that essentially has no objective at all! Sure, there are things you can do, but really when you boil it down, those objectives are not what you’re playing this game for. (“Wait a minute… we’re not playing the game to try to beat the objectives…???”) And that right there is what I think totally throws 95% of people off about this game!!

    I’m going to come back to that idea in a minute but first let me say this: I do think the main criticism being leveled at the game (boredom) would be there no matter what. If they added randomly generated fetch quests for NPCs, if they made the overall upgrade grind thirty times longer and more complex than it is now, if they made the periodic table eight times bigger, if they populated space with twenty times more bounties/battles/traders/cruisers—if they did all that and more, people will always get bored at some point.

    The "Wild Spineyback" forages in the dense tall forests of Big Things 50% modded No Man's Sky

    Just another amazing vista in No Man's SkyLook at a game like Skyrim. It’s packed to the gills with scripted quests, books to read, skill trees to expand, or just broadly speaking, stuff to do that some other human being took hours and hours to create for you. And still people say they’re bored with Skyrim because they exhausted all that or did enough of it that they felt the underlying repetition even though new tasks remained. So people start a new character and “roleplay” within the world of Skyrim, imagining boundaries of what their character will or won’t do, what their personal goals might be, and charting their own specific path through the world. In my own playing, this mentality is how I’ve had the most fun in No Man’s Sky.

    I would say this Skyrim roleplaying behavior, especially when taken to the extreme, is somewhat of an anomaly in the entertainment medium of videogames. Almost always, a game is telling you where to go and what to do. Sure you have choices and probably many other diversions but these ten quests and these five ways to build your character, these are what you’re supposed to be doing. Games constantly remind us, condition us to expect this framework. Broadly speaking, “task-completion” and “character-building” are the very foundation of practically all video games. And we expect that games will acknowledge this progression with a constant stream of trophies and points and pats on the back. This is the nearly universal “gaming mindset”. I do activities x, y, or z and the game tells me good job. Sitting on the couch and inventing some other activity for yourself that’s not an actual part of the game’s checklist—that’s not a normal game-playing behavior.

    For instance, visiting the inn and staying five nights there, talking to every NPC and inventing lines of dialogue or jokes that your own character may have said to each of them, that’s not something Skyrim tells you to do. Sure, you can do it, but the game doesn’t interact back with you when you do that. It doesn’t give you an achievement, it doesn’t unlock any new items, and moreover the game isn’t even aware that’s what you were doing. But those kinds of behaviors are what keep Skyrim fresh to many players out there, the kinds of activities that demand input from the players own imagination and a willingness to accept there will be no positive reinforcement for playing that way.

    Nothing like the feeling of blasting through space and landing on an unknown planet in No Man's Sky

    No Man’s Sky is a roleplayers game straight out of the gate. In this game it’s the opposite of what we normally expect. All main quests are all optional. Developing your character is optional. Both of these things, things which are usually the pillars on which nearly every game stands, are only excuses to drive the true “goal” in No Man’s Sky, which is simply wandering and finding something you personally think is weird, cool, or beautiful.

    The game doesn’t acknowledge when you succeed at that. There’s no points rewarded for seeing something cool. And I kind of love that. It’s true to life and it’s true to great art as well. When Wee Bay throws the soda can in The Wire, there’s no musical cue or camera zoom to blatantly telegraph “hey pay attention to this, this was the special moment that’s more important than all those other inconsequential moments! We’re going to bludgeon you in the face with obviousness right here because otherwise we’re afraid you might be too dumb to follow along!” When you succeed in real life it’s often just quiet moments in solitude where you did something right, possibly not realizing how important it was until later. And when you succeed at finding something really neat in NMS, there’s not much, if any, reward built into that from a game mechanics or player feedback standpoint. Seeing something cool IS the reward.

    The Majestic "Struttin Werewulf" in his natural habitat in No Man's Sky

    Chock full of life and giant green sunflowers on this arid planet in No Man's SkyAnd the universe is huge. So huge. It’s so indescribably huge. And you’re so tiny and mostly alone. The universe does not care at all about what insignificant resources you’re trying to scrap together to fix some broken thing you’re stuck on today. To the universe it doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail in your small little goals, and when you succeed and raise your hands to the sky in triumph there’s just silence. You have to find your own meaning in things. You have to decide what matters to you personally and set your own goals. Then find your own motivation for completing them, and develop the ability to enjoy the good moments when they happen. The cosmos simply will not spell everything out for you. All that’s true to life.

    To me, the point of No Man’s Sky is to find beauty or majesty and capture that. With a screenshot or with your eye or with your sense of wonder. That’s my goal when I play. It’s an exquisite universe full of things worth seeing, no other game looks quite like it, and whatever you see is uniquely yours. Sure lots of other people will see very similar things but never ever will someone see precisely what you saw, in the context you saw it. It’s impossible! And that, like life, is what makes it special and worth experiencing.

    The No Man's Sky spaceship design aesthetic is just off the charts

    MASSIVE dogfights in modded No Man's Sky! 171 fighters in this battle!

    Would it be a better game if it had rogue planets in deep space, working portals, orbital mechanics, desert planets, binary stars, and all that other stuff people are clamoring for? Hell yeah it would be! But would those things change the overall feeling I get while playing, or drastically alter the moment-to-moment of what I’m doing in the game? Well, no, probably not. They’d expand the replay and immersion yes, but their absence doesn’t kill the feeling I have when I crest a ridge and see a forest of blue trees with dragon-like creatures flying above the canopy. Whoa. It’s that feeling that we’re here for to begin with. And I think it’s amazing how many people have glossed over this. We all want more replay, yes, but stop and appreciate this feeling that’s being created right now, as-is. It’s fantastic.

    At this moment in time the fan community is enraged, fixated on what’s absent rather than what exists. I understand the reasons why and I even agree with those reasons but obsessing over a hypothetical future and ignoring the present moment is the life-trap that Buddhists struggle to overcome. The present moment is sublime, if you can pause and truly see it. It’s like what astronaut Edgar Mitchell said about how our political squabbles seem so trite when you view the universe from a bigger lens, and how he wanted to take the political squabblers, “by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch!’” Look at it! The grandeur of the cosmos. Every time I hear some infant crying about lies or refunds or after 60 hours why they’ve given up on the game and it was only worth $20 I want to grab them by the scruff of the neck, show them the incredible screenshots and the wonder I have felt on my journey and tell them Look At That You Son Of A Bitch! They built a whole universe for you–a good one–and all you do is complain. It’s possibly the coolest-looking Sci-Fi random world generator ever made. In the words of Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction, “What we saw was a miracle, and I want you to acknowledge that!!”

    Spaceship #2, my favorite so far, "The Creamsicle" in No Man's Sky

    Starry skies on a "dark-space" system in No Man's SkyIt’s human nature to want more and to constantly be thinking of ways to make things better. It’s a strength that drives improvement but also need to be balanced against the knowledge that these tendencies are also handicaps that prevent us from enjoying what IS. By this point I’ve easily read 20 peoples different lists of what they wish MNS had in it or ways it could be better or features that they are hoping for. And I could make my own but I’m resisting that urge because let’s face it, Hello Games is 15 people, this is an indie game, and there will always be another list of “ten great features that could save No Man’s Sky”. Forget all that.

    So back to what I was talking about with expectations and the “gaming mindset”. People expect a firm list of goals, a questline, and a character expansion tree all of which will score points which are the end-all-be-all of playing every game ever. Before the game came out everyone kept asking the question “but what do you do in No Man’s Sky?” Many times the creators answered that question it was followed with the statement “Or you could NOT do that”, the subtext of which was that those proposed activities were not the real point of the game. Which turned out to be the underlying truth I think. The point is to be in the universe and to see it. To enjoy that.

    No Man’s Sky is sort of like the videogame equivalent of the movie Koyaanisqatsi; an ambitious, beautiful art piece that ditches all the usual tropes that bring people in.  No real dialogue, no real plot, no characters, none of that stuff.  It’s all up to you to find something for yourself within it.  Can a film be considered a great film if it’s purely incredible photography and practically nothing else?  Absolutely it can.  But if you walked into the theater to see Koyaanisqatsi and you were expecting a rom com instead, you’d almost surely hate it.  One it’s expectations and two, I think to even appreciate a film like Koyaanisqatsi you sort of have to know a little bit about what it’s trying to do and maybe even have someone else explain what you’re supposed to be getting out of it first.

    Dinosaurs surround my ship on a toxic mushroom world in No Man's Sky

    The underwater scenes in No Man's Sky can be quite striking tooPersonally, I predict that this game will be seen as a landmark title once the dust has settled and the years have passed. Right now there’s a ton of confusion over what it actually is, and that’s muddying the water. I think it’s going to be a lot like Mirror’s Edge. When that game came out it got lots of bad reviews in the game journalism world and negative attention in general, centered around how the combat was awful. But this was an intentional choice by the designers! In most games containing combat you’re supposed to do that, but in Mirror’s Edge combat is the quicksand that drags you down, something to be avoided unless it’s a last resort. So people took a long time to wrap their heads around that! People hated on it and hated on it until enough time went by that the haters just moved on to something else and the voices singing its praise won out. Maybe it’s a niche audience, maybe it was never meant to be grouped in with so many other AAA titles out there, maybe it’s just a little different and you need to go in expecting that to properly enjoy it… Sound familiar?

    Me, I’ve been loving my time in the Euclid Galaxy. I’ve seen more badass, sleek looking spaceships than I can remember, more strange dinosaurs, creepy insects, and peaceful forest animals than I can think of names for. The plant life is often times cooler than the animal life: vast meadows that flow in the breeze, space cacti, weird neon things that grow on toxic planets, giant 200 foot tall mushrooms, and all manner of trees from familiar to exotic. Then there’s the stuff that strikes you as you look around: the huge planet that hangs in the sky when you’ve landed on a moon, the sunset over a sea filled with schools of what look like banana-peels, the two spaceships which sail overhead as you walk out of a bioluminescence-filled cave, the feeling of sudden alarm as you jetpack over a deep ravine you didn’t realize was there. The visuals of No Man’s Sky are spectacular, end of story, full-stop.

    That feeling of safety inside a cave, and the cool view when you step outside it in No Man's Sky

    The wonder is real, and the Red-Dead-esque moments of captivation at the vistas are there. But if you’re pillaging through without slowing down to look around and smile at these little bits as you go along, too obsessed with 48 slots, too possessed by the grind, too hung up on all those video-gamey mechanics that prevent you from actually seeing what’s right in front of your face–you’re gonna miss the magic. That’s a fact, jack. First and foremost No Man’s Sky is a world generator, second an arcade-style space shooter, third a survival game, and lastly a resource-management trader/crafter/upgrader game. Sure, each of those categories could be more fleshed-out with deeper choices and consequences, but as it is today, it hasn’t stopped me from having fun.

    I just might be part of some specially-geared sub-set of players who always relished the exploration more than the explosions in GTA, or in the minority who felt “the map” was the true main character in so many plot-driven open-world adventures (yes, even Red Dead), but c’mon, the firehose of gorgeous scenery this game engine is delivering cannot be denied and that’s not nothing. If Hello Games can put their resources into polishing what’s here and expanding the busywork for players in this universe over the next year, I think history will still be kind to this intergalactic trip through endless book-cover scenes.

    On a verdant planet, goodbye from No Man's Sky

    Everything Matters

    2016 - 09.16

    A rousing bout of discussion among friends prompted me to search out a drawing I’d seen on the web sometime back concerning the “sad state of modern recording”. Basically it’s mocking the signal chain of recording artist to listener and I’ve created (ironically?) a more high fidelity version of this graphic for your enjoyment here:

    Modern Recording

    What is this saying from a musician’s perspective?  I guess that ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide what time/research/money they want to invest into music.  If a listener wants to be low-effort, they are free to do that although it really doesn’t demand that much money to get decently-good sound.  The image is mostly just for laughs but it does implicitly say something philosophical about the effort that recording engineers put into their craft of capturing something in exquisite quality.  I mean people don’t go tremendously out of their way to acquire just the right tools without knowing they’ll be rewarded for using them.  There is absolutely a major implication in the ingredients you choose when making food.  And a colossal difference between a carefully grilled steak versus McDonald’s.

    What touched all this off was the recent news that the iPhone 7 will have no headphone jack. I reacted to this news with laughter because it seemed so farcical, like a running joke that never stopped being funny for so long that it actually took wind and became a twisted reality. There was a time not long ago when I was interested enough in gadgets that I might have weighed in on this development with vociferous indignation but maybe I’ve stopped caring that much? It still does fascinate me that people will bend over backwards to rationalize this brazenly anti-user, anti-battery-life, anti-fidelity design choice. I mean I’ve got a few different sets of headphones which are each valuable listening tools for my own mixing/mastering projects and all of them would be incompatible with this “fancy” new phone without the use of a dongle. That’s just… bizarre.

    Apple’s had a long, rich history of incomprehensible design choices like the hockey-puck mouse, the elimination of optical drives, the elimination of USB ports, and the recessed headphone jack on the iPhone 1 which now seems like a strange foreshadowing. My friends were riffing that Apple had also done away with Bluetooth and replaced it with their own proprietary wireless format called “Courage” and it wasn’t until I searched the web that I could figure out if they were serious or joking. Turns out they were making a clever joke but I think Apple should do it. How far can they go? For the iPhone 8 they should eliminate the screen I think. Too many clashing colors and confusing aesthetics for the modern consumer. The next phone will be a chrome-plated egg shape to literally mirror the skeuomorphic designs of nature. It’ll have a single LED that communicates to the user via a system of colors and flashing patterns about Donald Drumpf’s latest assertion that kale is part of Obamacare and needs to be banished. Accessories will include a $37.95 polish iCloth to keep the chrome egg plating fingerprint-free (please stop touching it), and an optional dongle which connects the egg to an external iScreen, if you really are that old fashioned that you still need a screen, you curmudgeonly technophobe. People would be just frothing at the opportunity to defend those choices, I know it! I also do genuinely wonder if Apple has actually made their billions by trading the stocks of accessory manufacturers and releasing strings of products to manipulate the stock prices in their favor up or down.

    So that’s all pretty amusing but why do I care? I guess I don’t really. I’ve been content with Android for long enough now that whatever Apple does or doesn’t do has no effect on me so this rambling is all just for fun. And possibly part of my internal debate to answer the question, which is more stupid: continually voicing your unsolicited opinions on inane matters like what you’re cooking for supper, or continually saying nothing and maybe because of that having nothing to say? Of course the right place to land is somewhere in-between those two extremes but I feel I’ve been erring on the latter side too long so here’s a dishing in favor of the former:

    As the above graphic implies, there is a difference made with hardware choice. And everything matters. In my own music that I’ve been recording and mastering, I’ve been continually changing, tweaking, and improving my artistry, small step by small step. From stylistic choices about the philosophy of mixing (should all instruments be clearly audible or should a single instrument be firmly holding the “lead”), to technical choices about the mastering (how much compression on the overheads is too much on the mid-band) to hardware decisions (which mic should I use on trumpet or snare, what placement is best for upper Leslie horn), to the musical choices which happen during the moment itself—all of that plays a role in what comes out at the end.

    When I create music I am trying to get better at that for my own inner critic and my own inner enjoyment-listener. I do it to my own standard, or maybe more accurately I do it for the inherent accomplishment of having done it well. Never once does the sentiment “no one will ever notice” enter into my mind in this process because let’s be brutally honest here: hardly ever does anyone else even listen to begin with!! Besides my fellow musicians and maybe a random YouTuber now and then. And that’s ok. If I was creating music to please some hypothetical judge I’d be doing it for the wrong reason anyway. But my point here is that if the Sennheiser e609 sounds better than the Shure SM57 microphone when it comes to recording my friend Vince’s guitar, then I’m going to pick the better one because that’s what artistry is about: getting better at making your thing. A million different musicians all make choices like that every day and it all matters to them as individuals and to the overall quality level of the medium as a whole. If everyone gave up and said right we’re all using Fisher Price microphones going forward because why bother since the new iPhone wireless audio restricts the bitrate to 2800 baud or whatever, that’d be dumb as hell. And so it IS dumb as hell that Apple wants to get rid of cables which is indisputably a step backwards in terms of signal integrity, interference, and so on. Quality matters, end of story.

    I hope people vote with their wallets on this one because love em or hate em, Apple is a trendsetter. Maybe at worst this is the beginning of the end for the cult of Jobs, or at the least maybe a few die-hard loyalists might blink and realize that the world’s 2nd most valuable corporation isn’t a hip buddy who just wants to jam out with them over some cool tunes, they’re more of a malicious middle-man of sorts, who wants to water-down what’s great about music and take your money in exchange for the illusion of coolness that comes with this club that really just takes anyone’s $700 who’s dumb enough to hand it over. That’s right, iSaid it. Audio cables for life, people. Because music’s richness is in the fine details and as we firmly established, everything matters when it comes to that.

    Where the Magic Happens

    2016 - 07.31

    There’s been a few awesome milestones lately in my world of recording.  Let’s rattle em off:

    Electra MAXXED1. I’ve got “www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet”!

    My YouTube channel now has enough subscribers that I could acquire a custom URL.  Now all of my Electric Trumpet exploits can now be seen at the easy-to-remember address of www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet which is pretty nifty indeed (although the embedded link here takes you right to the full videos page).  I have continued to upload more content there and there shall be a steady stream to come as well so check it out both now and later.

    2. The size of my musical exploits is now crossing one Terrabyte in size!!

    As you can see by the hard drive properties in the screenshot at left, my recording hard drive is soon to be full.  The only thing on this hard drive is audio recordings I have made!  There is maybe a small bit of filler in there in terms of mp3s of songs I need to practice or other bloat like zip files of sessions to be uploaded and shared but it’s mostly jams, wavs, and things happenin.  It feels so great to see this.  It’s one thing to stack up a big pile of gear and spend a bunch of cash on the tools of the trade, but it feels a lot better to see the proof in the pudding so to speak, the walking of the walk in actually creating stuff.  There’s a ton of people out there who spend boatloads of money on expensive hardware, be it photography or music or whatever, but I always find myself internally asking the question, “Yeah, but what have you MADE?”  Here I am, earning the right to talk that trash.  Hell yeah.

    3. The input capacity of my setup has expanded to THIRTY!!!

    I’m pretty psyched up about the fact that I’ve now acquired enough gear to extend my recording setup from 16 channels up to 30!  I’m adding a sweet “The Moment Of Genesis” tag to this post for this milestone.  On the face of it, it seems like 16 channels should be plenty, right?  But as time has gone on I have expanded and expanded my methods of recording, and we’re now at the point that I’ve used the max of 16 channels for many consecutive sessions now, wishing that I had the capability to go higher.  If that seems unlikely, let me rattle them off: 1.overhead high-hat 2. overhead ride 3. snare 4. kick 5. electric bass 6. electric guitar 7. Leslie organ horn left 8. Leslie organ horn right 9. trumpet stand mic 10. Leslie bottom (15″) 11. trumpet pedalboard left 12. trumpet pedalboard right 13. trumpet clip-on mic (blended with stand for tone) 14. lower snare mic 15. room mic left 16. room mic right…  And there’s 16!  First thing I’m going to add over that will be 3 tom mics so that I can high pass the overheads, cutting the bass and the snare out of my overhead track without killing the life of the toms.  I have also been dreaming of adding an auxiliary percussion/conguero now and then, or having the ability to add other horn players, or a doubling of guitar or keys maybe.  So this unlocks all that capability although the main thing immediately is the addition of tom mics which I hope will clean up the low and high end overall.  Behold the glorious rack which will bring all that to life:

    recording rack setup 8/16