Here’s a collection of photos I took at the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association conference in Yakima Washington. These pictures have been up on Flickr for quite some time now although it occurred to me that I never linked to them on here. This is a 120+ shot slideshow of cool railroad stuff I saw along the way, so, you know, only railroad buffs are allowed past this point…
Click on the image below to see the slideshow, then click on any image twice to see it full-size:
I’ve also got this 35 minutes of video footage I shot along the Milwaukee Road right-of-way between Easton and Cedar Falls Washington, also known as the Iron Horse/John Wayne trail which I rode on a rental bike during that visit. It sure is pretty scenery out there!
So I’m very pleased to say that on January 31st, my band The Acropolis of Soul got together along with a friend Scott Birch and shot a whole ton of videos. I have been working on the multitrack audio with an unparalleled amount of perfectionism and my guitarist comrade Vincent has been editing the videos. Here is the 1st tune from that session, an improvised jam that I named “P-996 Lazer” after the fighter jet in GTA. I feel like improvising or maybe playing music in general is, to me, all about trying to get up and do something spectacular, something bigger than your normal everyday stuff. Hopefully it’s exciting and electrifying, hopefully you take risks and in the end do something sweet. Which also sort of describes trying to steal the fighter jet and blow up some unsuspecting fools back in LA from GTA! Anyway, check out this jam and Vince’s great video editing and effects work. There’s soon to be a lot more and I’ll post them here in a playlist.
So I actually made this a long time ago but am just now getting around to posting it. It’s a short video of 4 timelapses that I shot on my infrared-converted Canon XTi. One really important trick which allowed me to do this easily was told to me by the guy who did the conversion for me: take a photo of green leaves or grass, preferrably blurred out. Then use that image as the source for a custom white balance. Now if you take a photo using that custom white balance, it looks exactly as you see in the video! No processing required, no color shifting. Now that is a convenient tip!
There’s also a color night sky timelapse from the T3i in there, shot on the night I proposed to my wife. Obviously pretty special to me! The sky looks really awesome in that IR landscape shot. I want to do some more timelapses like this with moving clouds since the sky shows up so contrasty and dark in IR.
Ok, I lied, there are more awesome videos from Bear Creek. In the clip below, I set the player to start at 7 minutes in (you can do this by adding &start= and then the number of seconds to the embed code), so it jumps straight to the awesome part with the wicked star filter action. Feel free to rewind if you dig these styles! Man! Just look at that guitar! It’s magically delicious!
I’ve been quietly revamping and improving things around the site, many of which are not really visible to most visitors. First off I’ve remastered the videos section, adding on new sections for Timelapse, Live Music, and others. In keeping with my antiquated technology theme, have a look at the video homepage, which sorts these categories by VHS cassettes.
There is now a page describing and linking to my book, entitled The Gigantic Spaces of Your Playgrounds. You’ll find the link just below the Poetic Table, which also has seven new elements as of this week. One of my new years resolutions is to write a poem a day, and it has been paying dividends. That table has been sitting dormant for a long time, and I want to make some real progress on it. Incidentally, with 118 elements to fill in and 59 pieces now present, I’m at exactly 50% completion! This is a milestone I’ve been hoping to reach for a long time. Just visually looking at the table, it seems like more than that. I guess there’s a lot of those inner transition elements remaining. In any event it feels good!
This post is going to be a wild mashup of things, all of which I’m pretty excited over.
The fangled contraption below is something film geeks will recognize as a “slider.” Not a slider in the White Castle sense, but a smooth rail that moves a video camera from one point to another.
As it is shown above, the slider is equipped for video use. I’ve built a set of legs attached to ball-head tripod mounts which allow it to be positioned in a wide variety of configurations. There is also a shoulder mount, and an extra grip for one-handed wrangling. This is essentially a customized version of the DIY slider described at ZaZaSlider.com, meant to be an improved version of the Glidetrack Shooter slider. Any filmmakers who feel inspired by these shots, you can create the same thing yourself by reading up at the ZaZa website and ponying up maybe $250-350.
For anyone who’s curious, I’d comment that this thing is somewhat impractical for shoulder-mounted use. Yes, it works; the hand grips are comfy and the shoulder padding keeps it from getting fatiguing. Yet… it’s just heavy and big. Even made of lightweight aluminum, a one meter slider is a lot of bulk to double as a shoulder rig, and on the flip side of that coin, anything smaller than a meter is getting into the territory where it’s not enough length to get a decent looking slide. So can you have it both ways, a slider AND a shoulder rig? Eh, sort of.
Shoulder rig ho-humming aside, the slider does work great. The following video shows it in action at Bear Creek, which was the first time I put it to considerable use. The video also shows a good amount of Steadicam footage, shot on a Steadicam Merlin which I rented for the fest. It was a terrific amount of (photo-dweeb) fun to use these both!
These shots are a compilation of cool videography from the festival grounds and miscellaneous shots that wouldn’t logically fit into any of the New Mastersounds or Lettuce videos I posted before. I still have more stuff to sort through… I haven’t even posted the Soulive yet!
I learned quite a bit in doing these videos. Number one lesson was slide SLOW. It’s best to push the slider from its base, and keep hands off the camera itself. Wind can also jostle the camera around. A tougher ball head on the carriage itself may address that issue. Right now I have a pistol-grip Sunpack head on it, which certainly isn’t the paragon of build quality. As for the Steadicam, I was surprised to find that the Merlin was not nearly as well constructed as I expected it ought to be. For $800, I assumed it would be a piece of finely-crafted, impeccably-machined precision. It was not. Given, I was using a rental unit, which probably had been subjected to rough ‘n’ tumble treatment, but still, the joints had wiggle, the bottom counterweight could be bumped or moved in and out, easily throwing off the balance, and worst of all, the quick release plate only loosely held onto the steadicam itself. In the wrong situation, I could see a camera getting dropped by that quick release. Yikes.
I also learned that 30fps is NOT fast enough for quick pans or fast steadicam moves. I defintitely regret not shooting in 720p/60fps, as some shots were blurry messes at 1080p/30fps. I believe it is due not to the framerate itself, but more to the fact that each frame of your movie is actually an exposure of 1/30th of a second when you have low/medium light and video autoexposure is enabled (you could shoot manual but that’s a lot of monitoring and adjusting, when you could be thinking about framing instead). 1/30th of a second is not really fast enough to prevent camera blur, even at wide angle. If you had very bright light, you could might get away with 30fps modes as the autoexposure would be forced into a faster shutter. This is something I need to remember, moving forward as a videographer.
It was super fun to use the Merlin, and it did pop out some mondo-sweet footage. When it works, it SINGS. But after seeing this thing up close and in action, I don’t think there’s any way I’d pay more than the price of my SLR for one. Maybe in 2012 there might be a DIY Steadicam build. But that’s looking far ahead. I digress. Back to the slider:
In addition to duty as a hand-powered video slider, I’m also planning something very ambitious for it. There’s a section on OpenMoCo.org (short for open source motion control systems) called “Project Chronos”. It adds a stepper motor’s super slow motion capability to the slider so that you can do timelapse while your camera moves, like they do in all those super sexy timelapse videos–only for a fraction of the price compared to commercial systems that do the same thing! When I saw this existed, I knew I HAD to build it. This is going to require a lot of soldering, troubleshooting, emailing, and above all, patience. I’ll do some periodic updates on the progress as I go along.
For the boldest and most tenacious of readers who may be interested in attempting their own Project Chronos, mastermind Chris Field has pictures, videos, circuit diagrams, Arduino code, and finished product samples all online for your consideration. I have also began a build thread of my progress over at Timescapes.org for anyone who wants to read the gory details. At the moment I have built two PCBs as pictured below. The blue one is actually a kit with very comprehensive assembly instructions online which made its construction relatively simple. The green PCB is the Chrono-specific circuitry and still a work in progress. More posts on this as it develops.
Also, soldering shit in my free time makes me feel like a badass. Maybe it’s the smoke, or maybe it’s the hardcore nature of building your own circuits. Busting out my resistor collection and putting it back to use felt really good. I said to my girl; oh yeah, these resistors aren’t just going to sit inside a box forever, these have got a cooler destiny… ultra-sweet timelapse!
When the New Mastersounds took the stage on Saturday night, Simon announced he was “rather cross” that they had just arrived that afternoon, missing out on the previous 2 or 3 days of the fest. He almost seemed worried like the action had been going on without them, going on to say, “well, there’s really only 24 hours left, we’d better make the most of it!” Maybe this contributed to the sense of urgency, as the fellows from Leeds proceeded to deliver an excellent performance that night.
But, as I’m terrifically excited to tell you, you don’t have to take my word for it!
As a public service reminder, remember to hit 1080p to see all the nose hairs and sweaty follicles in their unbridled-tears-of-joy-inducing-funky-ass glory. Yessir, I filmed all that, edited it, and synced it up with the audio captured by a sweet taper who goes by the handle “kluyfrtliu”, as available for your own listening pleasure here. The audio in here also has my own little secret sauce on it, because compressors. QED. There may be more on the technical side of compiling all of this in the future… But for now, onto the music.
One thing that took me off guard about the Mastersounds–even despite the fact that I’ve seen them, I don’t know how many times now, more than ten–was that Pete Shand’s bass playing seemed positively fast and ferocious. Maybe it was the soundsystem at Uncle Charlie’s Porch Stage? As a side comment, I have to note, this stage is one of the best-sounding stages I have ever listened to, indoors or outdoors, anywhere. I remember in 2010 being completely blown away by the sound quality there. This year it seemed absolutely top notch, but maybe not quite as good as last year? Perhaps high expectations took something off the top?
On Sunday evening’s show Simon Allen was wearing silver shirt covered in sequins and skintight shiny gold pants. Pete Shand was wearing jeans and a navy blue sequin-covered tube top. Perhaps he had lost a bet or something?? (Or maybe Simon just gave him that and said here, wear this. Those guys are silly guys.) Joe Tatton had on a sparkly silver cape with a little red top hat and Eddie Roberts was dressed curiously normal.
Marco Benevento came up for a rawkus guest appearance on the organ, in which he pounded on the keys with hands raised high, doing some neat rhythmic comping and trading solos back and forth with both Eddie and Joe who came back on stage towards the end of Marco’s stint. I’d give that my vote for best guest appearance of the fest, just for the fact that he came on stage and just *took over* for a good 5 minutes or so with that wildly energetic outburst. When the tune had finished Eddie leaned over to the mic and opined, “That was fairly ridiculous.”
The tunes from their new album “Breaks from the Border” incorporate a lot of group vocals, and work well at the live show; better than they do at home on the stereo I’d say. They played an extended and enjoyable version of “Can You Get It?” which felt great when the refrain came back in at the end. I was hoping for the afrobeat-flavored “Walk in These Shoes” but no such luck. It would have been cool to see Eddie take that afrobeat-style solo in which he uses this crazed, thin-sounding guitar tone, typical of afrobeat but out of character for Roberts. Maybe they used special equipment to achieve that sound, and avoided it in concert for lack of the right gear.
I admit, sometimes I wish they would throw me for a loop more often: by putting in a key change at the peak of a solo, or slipping in more choreographed, seamless transitions between their songs, or by changing up the form and adding new sections to their old compositions, or just by crafting compositions that are slightly more complicated. I do have to be careful what I wish for here though: The Mastersounds sit on an excellent piece of real estate between the extremes of “soulful” and “cerebral”. They’ve got plenty of little syncronized rhythmic toss-ins and unison hits to keep the structure comfortably away from a bland 12-bar groove formula (maybe I take these for granted, simply because I know when they’re all coming?) but they keep things playful and simple enough to just relax and enjoy, rather than overly-complicated phrases of through-composed musical pedant-ery that practically require drastic musicianship on behalf of the listener to really even grasp–that’s the cerebral extreme, as embodied by any number of advanced jazz cats. There’s absolutely a place for that in my music collection. But I GET the Mastersounds. I can explain what they do and my ear can follow right along as they go. That’s part of the appeal. There’s no musical snobbery here , but neither is it pedestrian. Thinking myself through it out loud here (and guilty of indulging in exactly the kind of pedant-ery I was just disparaging!), that’s pretty much right where I prefer my tunes.
In any event, I’d say the Mastersounds still retain their crown as my favorite band, and this two-night performance was another reaffirmation of their excellence. Their silly stage banter remains endearing, Eddie’s vintage-sounding guitar tones range from smooth enough to groove mellow on “Fuji Rock” yet boisterous enough to get crazy at the apex of “Thermal Bad” while his wah pedal wizardry, improvisational dexterity, and unique picking style provide plenty to study; Joe’s Rhodes and DL4 spaceouts put me in a blissed out mood, while bursts of quick finger work on the B3 can perk up my ears to dig inside those dense phrases; Pete’s bass playing is speedy and right on time, providing some infectiously danceable breakdowns when guitar and organ drop out; and Simon has an impeccable sense of swing, coupled with a deep bag of catchy fills and relentless reserves of energy to keep driving the jams ever onward.