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  • Posts Tagged ‘The Moment Of Genesis’

    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

    FTM: The Kanstul Wayne Bergeron / Model 1600 Trumpet


    2016 - 04.20

    This month I acquired something of supreme importance in my own little world: a new (to-me) Trumpet.

    actual reaction quote: "Ughhhh its so beautifulll"

    It’s been amusing to share this news with my musical cohorts and hear their reactions. Several of them commented “new toy!” or “playing with new toys is always fun!” which is true… however I think that players on non-wind instruments don’t grasp what a leap this is for the core of my musicianship. Unlike pedals or other musical accouterments, to a horn player a new axe is the foundation of the sound, the origin of everything. And build quality changes a lot. Sitting in front of a new keyboard or a different drumset will certainly inspire a different result, but a better brass instrument is something even more powerful. Many instruments won’t affect the actual technical facility of the player… but this, this does.

    Trumpet playing has been a constant in my life for close to three decades now. I’d say it’s maybe not the “main” quest in my life, but it’s the top side-quest. One with a sprawling cast of characters and a gigantic outlay of time invested. A lot of the time when you practice you’re working to improve some aspect of your capabilities; range, speed, clean attacks, tone, accuracy when doing lip slurs, etc. Well my level in all of those little skill-tree branches just jumped up, some of them significantly. That, and it all “feels” more natural and nimble as well. It’s super incredible!!

    The Kanstul Wayne Bergeron aka Model 1600For twenty years I’ve been playing on a Bach Stradivarius model 37 ML bore. This is the “gold-standard” trumpet, the one that can be found in any bandroom almost without a doubt. And for good reason. Bach horns are respected for quality. Since they are hand-built in relatively large numbers, when you buy one of these you need to try several out and find the one that feels best to you. I tried probably close to a dozen before selecting mine as a teenager. I believe I chose wisely and the instrument has served me excellently for a long, long time. We went on some real odysseys together. Then two years ago a cornet showed up and changed the way I saw things.

    My 1960s King Master Series Cornet built in Cleveland Ohio was bought for $120 by my mom at a farm auction. It had presumably sat in a closet for a very long time before being auctioned off. When I got it, for some reason it refused to play in tune. So it sat for a while longer before I took it to a professional for full chemical flush, and a complete servicing. After that was done, wow, it opened up my eyes to how a good horn could feel. My range instantly went up several steps, my sound seemed clearer, more focused. Everything felt just… better and easier. Suddenly the strad was second fiddle in terms of pure fun.

    But a cornet is still a cornet. I’ve had a killer time playing on the King and I will still keep playing it. But the intonation on a cornet is never going to be as good as a trumpet, something which has become painfully clear to me when I tried to use it to overdub more parts on recent recordings. When I begun listening for it, I found lots of intonation problems. In the crazy melange of sounds I’m shooting for with all these electronics, the basic fundamentals of musicality still apply. The cornet, as bright as it may be, also doesn’t project and ‘zing’ the same way a trumpet can. And in the end I want to be a trumpeter, not a cornetist. It’s time to get back to home base.

    Looking into an upgrade for the Strad seemed hopeless at first. One, the Strad is a venerable horn and the list of horns that would play better than a strad (on paper) is far smaller than the list that plays worse. What’s “better” is often times wholly subjective so researching this in text format is somewhat of a fools errand. Really if want to upgrade you should travel to someplace like Woodwind Brasswind in Indiana and spend a whole day (or three) trying different models and comparing them back to back. Then you’d probably spend about 2 grand at a bare minimum buying whatever you liked better. This all sounded prohibitively expensive and would involve a trip and a hotel on top of it.

    D-shape tuning slide and 3rd valve heavy capSo I started reading around on the web and slowly looking older horns, thinking that certainly there have to be hidden gems out there like my King cornet. You just need to know what model to look for, what serial numbers and what years. That’s somewhat guarded knowledge among those who do know, but you can find out a bit by asking around. In the end though it still does comes down to luck finding a horn that somehow miraculously plays well among lesser instruments of the same make/model. And rarely do people ever get rid of something that’s excellent.

    A name that kept coming up over and over though was Zig Kanstul. I won’t rehash his impressive biography here, but suffice it to say he has been a lifelong master craftsman at building trumpets. You can trace his career path by noting the models of older horns that are still well-revered despite their age: The Olds Ambassador & the Besson 609 are two, both designed or built by Kanstul in his younger days while he worked for those companies. In the 80s he founded his own company and they’ve been steadily producing small numbers of superb instruments.  If I were to buy a horn without being able to try multiple copies of the same instrument to select the best one, I’d want it to be from a manufacturer who had the highest level of consistent quality.  Which sounds like Kanstul from what I know.

    As far as my own personal needs, I’m a jazz player, roughly speaking. Mostly small group fusion jazz, solos and melodies within the staff, but I do tear off on some high note overdubs now and then.  Listening back to my own playing I hear two main technical flaws that stand out. One, loose intonation as a whole, and two, too many chipped notes or “fracked” pitches upon the initial attack. Ideally whatever I get should help me with those shortcomings.

    Ebay seemed impossible. Too many people watching, too hot demand. So it was Craigslist to the rescue. In Dallas Texas a band teacher had listed a used Kanstul WB for around a third of the retail price for a brand new one. Here we go!!  I began researching on this particular model and instantly loved what I was hearing about it.  Perhaps most exciting was the fact that this model is a custom “artist” horn.  That is to say Kanstul designed it for trumpeter Wayne Bergeron and when it was complete they decided it was appealing enough that it should be a production model, not just a one-off.  Below are a few snippets from reviews and comments from players who talked about using it which I’m compiling here for my own easy future reference:

    side by side bell comparison of the Strad 37 vs Kanstul WB“I have played for 35 years including Bach, Benge, Holton and Schilke (4 of them) … this is the absolute best horn I have ever played. The tone and intonation are superior as is the slotting (particularly in the upper register). The valves are fantastic. The slotting is phenomenal. The horn has a heavier feel to it (than the Schilkes & Yamahas); however, has a laser beam tone in the high end along with a rich beautiful tone in the low end. This horn has a very unique brushed lacquer finish with some nickel as well. I traded a custom gold plated Schilke in for mine and am very very happy with the Bergeron Kanstul”

    “Picked up this horn about 2 weeks ago and I couldn’t be happier. The slotting is amazing, a joy to play.  I can play anything I want on it, jazz, lead, classical you name it. EXTREMELY versatile horn.  Sounds very mellow playing a 3c and can light the room on fire with my Monette b5L.”

    “I drove up to WWBW not intending to buy a new horn and absolutely fell in love with this trumpet. It is absolutely beautiful; the craftsmanship is superior and the sound is fantastic. It plays very open and the slotting is magnificent in the high register. The appearance (finish) is very unique. I’ve played Bach, Holton, Benge and Schilkes, and this is the best all around horn I have ever played.”

    “It’s great to hear all you trumpet players have discovered this great horn. I have sold more 1600WB trumpets to more elated great trumpet players than any other. It is truly multidimensional in the hands of an experienced player. It’s the trumpet to audition if you are looking for one that has the potential to do everything including lead work above high C.”

    “slotting is very good for me. not to tight/not too loose. More core to my sound than on my 75 LA Benge and slots much better for me above high G.”

    “One of the things I like about it is that it sounds nice and fat in the staff but when you go up above the staff it brightens up nicely (not too edgy though). What’s really cool about is if you give it some push you can actually feel this baby reverberate in your hands.”

    “Oh yeh, don’t push your blow too much through either. Lay back and let the horn do the work. You follow that advice and you’ll catch on real fast on how to control this axe.   One last thing, you’ll love take’n it above the staff and listening to the after burner kick in! I always wondered how Kanstul could put an after burner in one of those 1600 “WB” and keep it so light????”

    “If you are looking for the best projecting horn out there… Call it Superchops. Great lead horn!”

    “Kanstul just makes an overall higher quality product than most other brands I’ve played, including Yamaha. I’ve auditioned the 1600 and love it. I can play literally any style of music I want to on it. The versatility is unmatched by any other horn I’ve played (including Bach, but they’re always in the game)…  absolutely incredible horn.”

    “I was flippin’ Amazed how much improved Larry’s live sound was! Lots of color, and nuance, and a much improved presence all over the horn. I heard Larry a few days after he got it- he’s always been a masterful jazz player to be sure, but on the 1600 it was as if somebody from above had said “Hey, this guy’s playing some serious stuff here, let’s give him The Sound to go with it”.”

    “But without a doubt the Kanstul WB was one of the finest trumpets that I ever played. In my opinion for Big Band, and especially jazz combo, it’s awesome. One way I would describe what I thought was that it had a very “CLEAN” sound… And this is coming from a guy that normally doesn’t play or like any horns made past 1964. The Kanstul was an exception. A great made trumpet.”

    the WB and her new colleagues

    Wayne Bergeron is perhaps best known for being the lead trumpet player in Maynard Ferguson’s band, although his full biography is far more wide in scope than just that.  This horn was designed to his needs as a lead player and soloist.  It has a reverse lead pipe and a lightweight bell which is supposedly modeled after that of a Bach model 72, a very bright trumpet.  As some trumpet-savvy readers may know, Wayne Bergeron switched endorsement to Yamaha a while back, although some say it was purely because they’re a huge company with deep pockets that can give free promotion to their artists.  For that reason, the WB is currently sold as the “model 1600.”  However TrumpetHerald users also dropped this information:

    “I was with Wayne yesterday and got to play his Yamaha with his new GR mouthpiece. I like the mouthpiece but I prefer his/my 1600. I got Charles to make me a rounded tuning slide for mine, it made a big difference with the resistance for me. I love it! The best horn I’ve ever played for every style in every situation.”

    “The old “WB” horn had a heavy bottom cap on 3rd valve.  “1600” has all normal caps.  Wayne used heavy caps on 1st and 3rd valve when I met him(few years ago).  He said 1st valve heavy cap has a better slot for D.”

    closeup of that scratched lacquer finish; I've never seen another instrument with quite this lookSo far I’ve had two sessions with the horn and I’d say I agree with the majority of what the reviewers had to say.  My immediate reaction was one of  joy, freedom.  This Kanstul just feels so easy and fun.  I think of a phrase and I play it with no fighting, and it sings out however intensely I choose.  If I want smokey and dark, I can get airy and contemplative.  If I want bold and melodic, this horn can be positively searing when you push it.  The versatility is real.  The horn is exciting, the same way it is to drive a car with a ton of horsepower.  You just push it and it goes.  It’s very cool the way you can feel the sound vibrate the instrument, more than any other brass instrument I’ve played.  This is probably due to the fact that the WB is designed with an unusually thin bell which keeps it light in terms of weight and allows the bright, brassy sound the WB can have.  This has the awesome effect of making it feel alive in your hands when you ‘push the accelerator’ and make the horn light up…  Man.  Super fun to play.

    This Kanstul really is a phenomenal axe. I can’t get over it. Maybe my Strad is in need of a valve alignment or something? When I went to try it out (a five hour drive each way) I was hoping it would be a clear, obvious difference over the Strad and indeed; the jump to this instrument is quite significant. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I do all my practicing on a mega open-blowing Holton Cornet from 1911 with a large 1X mouthpiece, but I don’t feel like the WB is a dauntingly open horn the way some people have characterized it. Stacked up against my Holton, the WB does offer some resistance.  Perhaps the best feeling about this horn, to me, is that I feel like I’ve truly “leveled up” to it.  I put in the years, I invested the time to where I knew the difference right away and had built up enough skill that this upgrade felt earned not just bought.

    On all sessions from 7/11/14 until 3/13/16 I played almost entirely cornet, and it’s been a year and a half of great sessions for sure. That first session on 7/11/14 yielded some glorious cornet “moments” that I still look back upon fondly. Similarly, the session on 4/10/16 was one for the books. That excitement and “freshness” is back, even more with the Kanstul. The King added range and zip, but the Kanstul, properly piloted, adds accuracy and speed, which is even more electrifying. That, and the vibration of the horn itself is a real treat.  My 1960s King Master cornet is a surprisingly responsive instrument and a pleasure to play. It’s easy to jump between dynamics/timbres/ranges on the King but I always felt dissatisfied with the intonation and the overall tone. Over the past year and a half on cornet I have been struggling with the acoustic sound, not liking what I’m getting (and for that reason favoring the wet signal more). However this Kanstul is giving me a beautiful brassy tone straight out of the gate, and sounds full even when I lean heavy on the stand-mounted Sennheiser e609 which always felt thin and abrasive with the King. In terms of the “dry” trumpet mics I am feeling positively thrilled with what the Kanstul has given me, which is why in this latest session from 4/10 I leaned heavier than I think I ever have on the acoustic signal. I see that trend continuing.

    Below is a video of a brand new tune, first time I’ve ever played “Red Baron” by Billy Cobham, and my first new posting with this magnificent instrument:

    So one, the tone, and two the speed of the Kanstul is really popping out to me on the recordings. The King is not that far off from the Kanstul in terms of ease and upper range openness, but where the Kanstul pulls away from it is in the dexterity. Sure the valves are very quick but when you combine that fact with how strongly it slots, even within the staff, the Kanstul is really lightning fast. The real limiting factor on speed is mental clarity. You can hear what I’m talking about in the phrases at 5:33-5:42 in the video. I knew what I wanted to play right there and it comes off clean and crisp. Shortly after that I biff a few notes and that’s because I wasn’t mentally committed to the phrase as it was happening. So if I can keep up, mentally, in the moment as the improv is happening, I see a lot of really ambitious and intricate phrases being within my reach which is very exciting for me.

    All this isn’t to say that the Kanstul won’t be limited by the shortcomings of the performer. It can still frack and play out of tune if I drive it poorly, a fact I’ve already proven to myself. I still need improve my skills in all 12 keys and always focus on the fundamentals of intonation, attack, phrasing, mental clarity, and timbre. All the rules still apply. But. The ceiling of what’s possible just jumped up and I can feel that. If I can play up to the ability of the instrument, there are a series of new magical things awaiting me that weren’t unlocked until just now.

    Liquid Light Show visuals: unlocked


    2016 - 04.06

    Ever since seeing it live on a gig in college at this tiny bar in La Crosse Wisconsin called the MouseTrap, I’ve always been interested in learning how to create Liquid Light Shows.  These are the psychedelic oil and water mixing of colors which often accompanied music for videos in the 60s and 70s for many rock and roll acts.  So with a bit of internet searching and the aid of this incredibly helpful tutorial video I saw on youtube, I’ve created my first attempt at visual art in this medium.  It’s nothing masterful but it’s a first step and sometimes that’s the hardest part.  I hope to do a lot more of this.  It’s pretty fun.  The music that goes along with it is a recording from my most recent recording session as of this writing and has some excellent moments with improv, ring mod,  Jungle Boogie, and the Mission Impossible Theme.  Enjoy:

     

    Great things have small beginnings


    2014 - 10.18

    So since I gave the green speakers to my brother, I’ve really been missing the sonic sweetness of their tweeter, the ScanSpeak D2606.  It’s part of their discovery series line, which aims to set some aggressively low price points for ScanSpeak drivers which are typically audiophile-expensive.  Pretty big deal to me then, that I’ve decided to construct a new set of speakers using the same tweet, paired with a 5.25″ Midwoofer also from the ScanSpeak discovery series.  It’ll be a small-sized bookshelf with an f3 of around 80Hz.  Not impressive in terms of bass extension but these will be paired with a powered sub eventually and 90Hz or so is a good range for the low end to be taken over by a fat power amp.  More details on this project as I progress.  This post is the genesis…

    ScanSpeak D2606 & 15W/8434G00

    That New Propellerhead Thang.


    2013 - 02.24

    Here’s an awesome milestone in my electronic music-making pursuits: this Thursday a copy of Reason 6.5 showed up on the doorstep!  Having used every update back to 2.0, it’s very exciting to have my own legit copy of the latest and greatest iteration. Probably the best part about Reason 6 is that it added support for recording external sounds directly into the program to layer them on top of your tracks; the lack of this was the single biggest downfall of previous versions. They’ve changed several other things and added some new devices which I’ll need to explore as well… it’s time for me to spend some quality time here and do some learning. PUMPED UP!

    Proud new member of the NCE DCC scene!


    2012 - 12.11

    DCC: That thing which turns your train layout from single player into multiplayer. I now have this technology, as well as two wireless throttles to control the action from anywhere! This is the best thing to happen to the trainset since…track. Very excited about this.

    Also, check out that awesome boxcar kit I built. For those so interested, it’s a Branchline Blueprint series model. Excellent details. Got four more like it to build up.

    But yeah. DCC. Wicked.

    I have a Model Railroad! And have been reminded: This is a PROCESS.


    2012 - 06.24

    Okay, so ultra-huge “The Moment of Genesis” tag here: model railroad construction has begun! Last week I started building benchwork, and this last weekend I went out and got plywood, cut it up, put it together, and just last night, finished a bare-bones loop. That one sentence right there is a TON of work. Although it’s not much to brag about at this point, have a look at the progress thus far:

    For benchwork, I used plain old pine 2x4s and bought a gigantic box of 3″ tan-colored screws that will blend in with the wood. Seems like it worked out great so far. With the track plan I have in mind, the layer that’s been put down right now will eventually be almost entirely unseen, serving as a reversing loop on one end and hidden staging yards on the other. I established the height of the layout based upon where I visually estimated the height of the next layer to be. My thinking was to make the 2nd level (which is the visible level where all the action will happen) eye level when sitting in a chair. Already I’m wondering if I didn’t set the first level too low. It’s 30″ above the floor, which is exactly eye level if you’re sitting (straight-upright) on the floor. Raising the height of the whole layout might happen in the future, however I need to build the second layer before I’ll know if that’s a good idea or not. To be continued, many months from now…

    For my main construction material, I decided to use plywood instead of MDF (medium density fiberboard). MDF doesn’t warp, is quite sturdy, and absorbs sound better; however it’s also heavy… and when you cut MDF it generates a literal cloud of superfine sawdust. Sawdust that contains formaldahyde, a carcinogen, which will settle everywhere, over everything. I know this because I made the mistake of cutting MDF indoors when I was in high school, and afterwards I was finding dust from it for years. MDF definitely has major advantage in terms of planarity and acoustics, but I knew that I would need to make many cuts to the railroad boards in situ, and that superfine sawdust was a major no-no for a room that can’t be sealed off from the rest of the house. That, and MDF will totally eat sawblades like candy, and I plan to use my jigsaw to cut curves and special shapes. Plywood, despite the downside of warpage, will have to work. At least at $16 per 4’x8′ sheet, plywood is also cheap!

    I’ve been asking myself the question, “how am I going to build this layout so that it can disassemble in the future?” The solution I came up with was to use plywood sheets as a base that will attach to the benchwork. Any risers, subroadbed, and extra layers above will attach to the plywood sheets, rather than attaching directly to the benchwork. Any screws which attach the benchwork to the plywood base will come in through the bottom, so that by unscrewing those, I can lift off the layout in sections for removal. I won’t learn if this was a smart idea or not until I start building extra layers. Hopefully the answer will be yes. I suppose that all hinges on how securely I attach everything to the plywood base.

    On Saturday I pushed hard for most of the day and completed essentially all of the round one woodworking. I was really hoping to throw on some track and get a train running before bedtime, but then I went to search for my track spikes and they were… absolutely nowhere to be found. I tore open every box and looked twice. Nothing! No spikes, only exasperation! So Sunday I visited a local hobby shop and picked up what I needed. When we got home and I started working on the track I was reminded of a few rules of model railroad construction that I had completely forgotten about:

    1. for every track spike that goes in nice and easy, there are 5 that instantly get bent up in 7 directions and are totally useless. Somehow you delude yourself into thinking “hey, I can still save this, I can make it work!”
    2. old flex track loves to destroy itself if you try to force it into a curve while partially nailed down or constrained; the plastic ties snap off and you’re left with a broken section that has to be cut away
    3. anytime you cut a piece of rail, it will fly across the entire house, ricocheting off every wall and landing who knows where
    4. soldering a stretch of flex track together while straight, and then attempting to bend it into a curve later is a bad idea (see #2)
    5. brand new rail joiners are, like, impossible to get on. Anticipate raw thumbs.

    Alright, so now that I’ve remembered those rules, maybe life will be easier going forward. I got my loop built and broke out my awesome new MTH Bipolars for a victory lap! It was at this point that, as the title of the post says, it occured to me that there is no single moment of triumph, because a well-running railroad doesn’t just magically happen. It’s a process to get there. I could get the Bipolar to run around a couple times without derailing, but the trackwork, even with its very wide curves, had minor imperfections–and minor imperfections in 1:57 scale are actually not just minor imperfections. Track is FUSSY. For Serious.

    I got out the Hiawatha and attempted to run that, and got another rude awakening: A single bipolar can pull only about 7-8 cars around a 24″ radius curve. And this is on level ground, nevermind all the hills I’m about to introduce. Super Dome derailments started happening where nothing else came off. Okay, time to add a rerailer–I don’t know how I thought I could get away without one of those in the first place! Fixed the one problem spot… found a new problem spot. Then I started getting uncouplings due to track passing over two adjoining sections of plywood which weren’t exactly matched in height. Ahhhh, it’s all coming back to me now, the trials and tribulations of fine-tuning and troubleshooting the tracks!

    The track problems are not such a big deal. Every layout will need to overcome those. And of major responsibilty for this is the fact that I was rushing to get it built, rather than taking my time and being mindful to create smooth, perfect joinings between sections. I should know better than that. So those problems can all be replaced, reworked, and overcome. But I’m a bit more concerned about the Bipolar’s inability to pull much on level track. If I double-head them, that’ll increase the power but I’m not sure by how much. There are a few other options such as adding lead weights to increase locomotive traction, and a product called Bullfrog Snot (seriously), which adds grip to the wheels. But if it turns out that even two Bipolars can’t haul a 9-10 car train up the grades & curves I’m planning, well, that’s a real bummer. Time will tell.

    Also somewhat of another setback, the E1 with the cool paint scheme seems to have some kind of issue. It runs sort of jerky. Going to have to look into that. I’m sure it can be fixed, but just another thing to take care of before I can relax and enjoy the empire as I have dreamed it… Well, this is step #0001 I suppose. There’s a whole lot more to do!!

    The Pacific Coast Extension. Stage ONE: Dream It.


    2012 - 05.15

    “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. It’s YOUR empire. Build it the way YOU want.”

    That’s sage advice… about the hobby of model railroading, given to me by a good friend who also runs trains. Soon there’s going to be a brand new model railroad in my life. It’ll be my second serious attempt–Version 2.0–and I’m ultra-excited about this fact. This is the first in what is sure to be a long, ongoing series of posts, describing the joys and tribulations of this new railway. We’re going to delve deeply into the minutia of the microcosm known as Model Railroading.

    Oh heeeeeeells yeah. Put on your engineer’s hat and blow the whistle because here we go, people!:

    Model Railroader magazine has a series of DVDs about the hobby entitled “Dream it. Plan it. Build it.” I’d go one further to say there’s a 4th stage, being “Run it.” But right now we’re definitely in the “dream it” stage. All those other stages are still just a distant airhorn, far off on the horizon.

    A little historical background: my great, great grandfather was a conductor, and my great grandfather was an engineer, both working for the (now long-gone) Milwaukee Road, or the Milwaukee, St. Paul, & Pacific as it would have been known. Both of them worked on the Milwaukee’s pacific coast extension, which connected Chicago to Seattle. I intend to model the western-most end of that trackage. Number one because of the family history aspect, but also equally because the trains that ran over it were super cool looking, and third: the terrain itself is mountainous with lots of bridges and pine trees–picturesque! It’s got all the ingredients.

    I learned a lot from my previous model railroad, and I definitely want to apply those lessons:
    1. Have a loop. (aka continuous running) Some people hate it, others love it. I’m in the latter camp, and love being able to just chill out and watch the trains roll by.
    2. Have a computer there. Or in other words, have some other reason to spend time hanging out in this room. You’ll be there more often, you’ll look at the railroad, and be reminded of what you want to do on it next. Having other reasons to hang out near your railroad forces you into working on it more.
    3. Use wide curves. My last RR had a harrowingly-tight 14 inch radius. That was the single worst aspect of the pike. Originally I had intended to run only steam-powered lumber trains. Then Walthers came out with the Hiawatha passenger cars and suddenly I had the chance to run my favorite trains. Prior to that, they had only existed in brass ($$$$)–which pretty much meant to me that they didn’t exist. Goes to show how new products can change what your operating interests are. Wide curves will support all matter of engines and rolling stock.
    4. Build it out of wood. Some people will laugh at this, but my last layout was made chiefly of styrofoam insulation and foamcore board. Those are great materials for mocking things up, which was the idea… then I got lazy and just never upgraded to wood. Probably because my radius was so tight that I had to have the track in just the perfect placement to stop derailments from happening, therefore I was leery of ripping up something that was just barely working. Even when you glue it and support it well with shims and filler material, foamcore is inherently unstable, and the tracks never quite stay in one place. Never again, foamcore, never again. All track, I don’t care how inconvenient, will have wood under it this time. Lesson learned!
    5. Don’t just loop: Get wireless DCC. I never did on my last layout. It was small, sure. But I think not having it made me spend less time doing realistic train operating–assembling trains and moving them from A to B–as opposed to just looping all night. Having a wired DC throttle means you’re stuck in one place, physically, AND you can only run one train at a time. With a wireless DCC throttle, you can have multiple trains doing different things, and you can walk around to monitor tricky maneuvers up close.

    Okay, so those five lessons right there, those are great guidelines! And we still have RULE #1: “It’s YOUR empire. Build it the way YOU want.”

    The first question I asked myself about this new railroad is, “what year should it be set in?” I started doing a lot of research and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I don’t think militant (or even rigid) historical accurancy is for me–at least not in the aspect of “set in the year____”

    New goal: Be historically accurate to the point where things look like thed did in the photos. But don’t be so historically accurate that you can’t run the trains you want to run, or have fun.

    What do I mean by that?? Tune in Next Time to find out! This is JB, signing out on the Model Railroading tag for now…

    Transitions Between Epochs ~ The Novation Impulse 61


    2012 - 02.29

    As of about a week ago, I have an awe-inspiring new arrow in my artistic quiver, and one that I really should have acquired ages ago: a USB keyboard with knobs, drum pads, and sliders. Specifically, the Novation Impulse 61. I’ve had a full-size 88-key digital piano for many years and it was a superb instrument for learning keyboards, and to a limited extent, producing with Reason. The problem was that no matter what I tried, I could never seem to overcome the problem of MIDI latency (ie lag between a keypress and the actual sound). Over 3 or 4 different computer builds and windows installs, there was always some kind of latency. Which was a real bummer, because it meant I could play chords and figure out notes for a melody, but I could never input any rhythmic passage into Reason; be it a drumbeat, a synth line, a bassline, a chord stab, anything.

    At this stage in my musical life, I don’t see myself sitting at a piano and leaning to master it purely with no accompaniment. However, I do have a whole ton of fun making tracks in Propellerheads Reason, and this is definitely a way that I see myself growing more comfortable with the keyboard and maybe even learning a pinch of music theory as well. Having a USB keyboard with no latency is a huge, huge advancement toward that end. Plus, having those assignable buttons, knobs, and sliders to tweak Reason in realtime is über-schweet.I may even call this the beginning of a new epoch in the compositions I make for fun, and by extension, my overall musicianship.

    Going forward, my goals here are to use this thing pretty much as often as I can, and also to try to post more music online with it. Historically, I always seem to obsess too much over having a track be ‘perfect’. This also leads to the tendency to start things but never finish them. There’s literally hundreds and hundreds of Reason tracks on my hard drive that started out real cool but then fizzled, as I couldn’t figure out what direction to take. I want this new epoch to be the end of the ‘beat graveyard’ so to speak. I’m really hoping this keyboard will be an impetus to break me out of the same ways of thinking, to get me more in the habit of following through, and just finishing compositions a whole lot more. This will need to be a change in mindset as well.

    All that said, I intend to start posting a lot more musical “sketches” on here–Reason compositions that aren’t “polished” but can be called “good enough”. I have this mental resistance to the phrase “good enough”… like it’s giving up on how good things could be. But you know what? “Good enough” is a whole lot cooler than “nothing”!! Here’s to turning the page, people!

    The Viaduct at Mine Creek – Chapter One


    2011 - 10.26

    I love it when I can make a post using the “Moment of Genesis” tag. That in itself is a tiny triumph. I think this one qualifies:

    In the mail a couple weeks ago I recieved all the little bits of plastic I’ll need to construct an HO-scale replica of the steel viaduct at Mine Creek. This is a giant trestle along the Milwaukee Road mainline in the Snoqualmie Valley of Washington state, and indeed my replica will be GIANT as well.  Check out the whole setup below, with the locos and some inspiring artwork seen in the background:

    Someday I dream of being ‘that-guy’ with the huge attic empire of a sprawling model railroad. To help that dream come true, I plan on building smaller dioramas or set-pieces which will someday become the focal points of a large sized train layout. This huge bridge will most definitely be one of these!

    I will probably still need to pick up a few more minor pieces to model the top deck, the railing, and the catenary posts (those parts that hold up the overhead wire), but the major pieces are all here now, which is very exciting. Micro Engineering, the company who manufacturers these bridge kits, is one of the best companies out there. When this bridge is done, it will be spectacular indeed! Also, it will probably be a very non-trivial endeavor to build it! These are advanced-level kits, not intended for the faint-of-heart. Oh boy.

    Anyway, it will probably be a while before I actually break all this open, airbrush it, cut it from the sprues and then build it. There’s a house move in the near future and all this stuff is a can of worms to be respected. But still, it’s here, and I see the potential in it. This thing is gonna be AWESOME.

    To be continued…………..