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    Also, this happened yesterday


    2011 - 11.27

    The latest and greatest Mars rover, Curiosity,  lifted off successfully for the red planet.  I’m guessing all my fellow space geeks were abundantly aware of this already, and knew that this puppy has a footprint the size of a humvee, carries 10 times the scientific payload of any previous rover, and has more sophisticated analysis tools than any previous mission to mars.  This baby is the biggest, baddest, and sexiest rover ever to depart for another world.  It’ll be landing in August of next year.  That’s pretty friggin exciting.

     

    The Highlight of Bear Creek 2011: Lettuce 11/13/11


    2011 - 11.24

    Lettuce is like funk made with unlimited resources. Take the hardest-hitting drummer who plays the most bombastic fills, the top guitarist who solos with soulful yet jazz-infused quick fingers, a bassist who plays exceedingly fast and clean, an organ player who’s always holding down those high notes and banging on the clav with hands raised above his head, and a horn section of two shredding saxes with a trumpeter who could shatter glass with his high notes–that’s Lettuce. If Lettuce were a recipe, it would just say “EVERYTHING. And double of it.”

    Walking out of their show on Sunday night I said to my buddy Bill, “Honestly, if god himself made a funk album, I don’t think it could be any harder-hitting, or bigger, or nastier than Lettuce.” He erupted into laugher, thought about it for a few seconds and said, “Yeah, I think you might be right.”

    The performance itself on Sunday night was top notch.  Their Saturday set saw them coming out guns blazing, but after the first maybe 4 songs, I felt like the setlist delved into their B-catalog to fill the time.  Not the case on Sunday though.  They dropped a bevy of new tunes which were monumentally brazen in attitude and cleverly composed orchestrations for the large ensemble.  One particular highlight for me was their relentless version of Squadlive; a favorite tune of mine as I used to play in a band that covered it.

    If the band does miss one thing, it would be dynamics. True they do play some tunes that bring the energy way down low, but it’s almost like those sections are there purely to enhance the all-out full-tilt onslaught of sound when it hits again. They could use a couple numbers like “Happy Friends” by Greyboy Allstars or “Road to Fuji Rock” by the New Mastersounds. Or maybe they’re not even capable of a mid-level grooving-yet-relaxed type of jam? Nothing about Lettuce is really relaxed. For that reason I don’t think I’d ever call them my “favorite” band.

    And yet, their Sunday set was probably the highlight of the fest, simply because it was an extreme; they came out raging so hard it was not really possible to sit and passively take it in. You HAD to get up and dance, you HAD to be knocked over by their deluge of everything. Bassist Erick Coomes wore a tall wizard hat with stars and moons on it, along with a pair of those gigantic joke sunglasses. His clothes were both an both an artifact of the absurd carnival-esque ambiance of a music festival like this, and maybe a winking self-parody of the musical sworcery occurring onstage. There were a few sections where he and Eric Krasno doubled each other on some stupidly fast phrases that raised my eyebrows and dropped my jaw. It’s undeniably impressive to watch a finger-style bass (as opposed to slapping or picking) player like Coomes who can move with such speed and dexterity.

    It was a pleasure to watch Deitch in action on the drums as well. That guy is like some kind of prodigy. I really don’t understand how he kept up the schedule he did at Bear Creek either. Especially on Saturday where he performed at 2pm with Chapter 2, 8pm with Lettuce and then again at 3:45AM with Break Science (plus whatever sit-ins inbetween). Power naps, perhaps? You can tell he’s just one of those guys who has it naturally. A lot of musicians have to work hard and ‘woodshed’ to get to an impressive place. Seems like Deitch is the gifted type who just hears it and plays it. It’s entertaining to watch him when he gets the chance to take a drum solo–at first he seems relaxed and casual, but as he goes on you see this look of determination come over him, as he turns off the autopilot and starts figuring out what he wants to do with his own personal space.

    Listening to the Lettuce horns is also a treat, particularly the bombastic Rashawn Ross on trumpet. Dude’s got some serious skills when it comes to power in the upper register. I saw him years ago in Chicago and since then he’s lost a very significant amount of weight, like at least 50 pounds. Although he’s a much smaller guy now (I even wondered, is that HIM!) he has retained his powerful and cutting sound. When he solos, it’s essentially a slow build toward a climax of high notes, which does leave something to be desired in terms of clever phrases, although it certainly succeeds in getting the crowd fired up. When the horn section comes together on some tight phrases, Rashawn’s searing brass on top of the whole ensemble definitely makes the hairs on my arm stand up. In all the right ways!

    I do have one more video of these guys to share, which I captured on Sunday night. As a reminder, hit the 1080p option if your internet is fast, it makes a big difference.  Enjoy!

    Krasno, doing what he does so well


    2011 - 11.20

    As some of you may already know, I will soon be publishing an interview I did with Soulive/Lettuce/Royal Family guitarist Eric Krasno.  I’ve been watching this guy ply his trade for many years now and he never ceases to entertain.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check out this footage I caught while hanging out in the photo pit at Lettuce on 11.13.11.

    I wish I were able to film more of this stuff.  Because it’s freaking awesome.  But I only had three songs to take pictures before the security guys will kick press members out of the pit, and I wanted to get still images too, so you get the highlight of the song on video, rather than the whole number.  There is a second installment of this which will be posted in the near future, showing a good portion of the second track they played.  You’re witnessing the ending of their opening number here.

    Sweet!

    As I fly off to catch the funk, some fly beats from the underground to get it groovin


    2011 - 11.11

    We were riding the subway in NYC when we pulled up to the West 4th street stop and there was this kickass drumming going on when the doors slid open. I listened for a split second and then said to my brother & girlfriend, hey let’s get off for a minute and check this out. My bro was like … YEAH!

    So we step on to the platform and I pull out my admittedly huge camera and the dudes kinda trailed off. They looked at me and said ‘hey we gots to get paid or else we can’t play!’ So I dropped some jazz millions in the collection bucket and told them to keep it rolling.

    True story.


     

    Star Party Timelapse


    2011 - 10.24

    This weekend I attended a Star Party (aka an astronomer hangout session) with the North Houston Astronomy Club and took along my timelapse setup.  I got to meet some cool people who are way into the stars, and got in some solid time staring at the heavens during the Orionid Meteor Shower.  I’m pretty psyched about the resultant video below because it combines a whole bunch of techniques and tricks that I have never tried before.

    Public service reminder: hit the 1080p and fullscreen it.  We’re looking at stars.  They’re small!

    For anyone who’s wondering, those 4 tall poles in the timelapse where the sun is still going down are actually a radio telescope, set up to listen to the sounds of Jupiter as it passes southernly-overhead in the middle of the night.  Bonus points for exotic telescopes!

    I had done “star trails” images before by using this simple, free program called StarStaX, but I hadn’t realized that the same program can save a picture at every step during the composite-making process, which gives these really neat star trails videos.  I also found a photoshop actions file as blogged about on Owen Scharlotte’s site that let me do the fading-startrails effect. This is my first time using either of those techniques. (UPDATED…TWICE!: Owen had a broken link, which is now fixed! His actions are now more sophisticated as well, so click here to download the version I used, which I’ll leave posted as it was requested of me via email from a reader. Please note: I can’t provide technical assistance with this actions file. You’ll have to read Owen’s website and figure out on your own how it works. You should check out his site anyway, as it’s good.)

    As with my last attempt, I did a batch process on all 1,145 photos before compiling them into the video.  I figured out how to remove hot pixels from the dark parts of the sky (using a subtraction layer on a noise reference image), but I still haven’t mastered removing them from lighter regions near the horizon.  There’s definite room for improvement.  Another very cool thing: I learned a few neat, new tricks with Shadow/Highlights in Photoshop as well as Curves; two functions I use all the time.  Hah!  And I arrogantly had assumed I knew all there was to know about these functions!  Enlightening and humbling in the same moment.  This whole deal was certainly a beneficial learning experience.

    But stepping back from the technical aspect of all this, and speaking of humbling, have a look at those stars.  Wowzers.

    Something that really knocked me out that night was seeing “the great nebula in Andromeda”, aka M31, aka the Andromeda Galaxy.  Maaan.  I mean… every star you see in the sky is an incomprehensible distance away from us.  Jeez, really I can’t even genuinely comprehend the distance from Earth to Venus, let alone the distance from Earth to Proxima Centauri…  But holy %*#^ Andromeda, that’s 2.5 million light years from Earth.  And you can see it with your naked eye if the sky has clear “seeing”.   Hanging out with a bunch of astronomers and having them point out all these fascinating things in the sky was really inspiring.  There’s certainly more sensational things to be seen in the sky (Jupiter and it’s four Galilean moons was truly a sight to behold) but looking up and spotting another galaxy, well that blew my mind.  I checked it out through both binoculars and a pretty excellent telescope as well.  No matter how you see it, it’s dim.  But it’s there, and one of the top mind-boggling sights of  my year.

    You can see it, as my camera saw it on the left.  I drew in purple dashed lines connecting some of the nearby stars in the Andromeda constellation that make it easier to spot.  The galaxy itself is circled in green.  As you can see it’s not much more than a faint blur.  But man oh man, did those photons ever come a long way before, by sheer random chance, happening to land upon the image sensor of my camera.  At the time that those photons left the Andromeda Galaxy, the genus Homo had literally just begun.  Homo Habilis was the species.  Definitely still very very ape-like.  By contrast, Homo Sapiens emerged 250,000 years ago; an order of magnitude more recently.  Wow.

    Even though there are fantastic pictures out there of such objects as Andromeda, it’s still so very powerful to see it with your own eyes–to have your own retinas collect some photons that traveled 2.5 million years to reach them.  Seeing that is ….. well it’s breathtaking.

    —-

    Meeting other people who are jazzed about the sky was a highlight of the evening as well.  One thing I had hoped to do was learn a bit about telescopes since it’s somewhat of a long-term goal of mine to acquire one.  I met a guy named Rusty who had just gotten a brand new Orion model off eBay.  It was his first real night out with it, so he was still getting things dialed in, but overall he had it in pretty great form.  Seeing his excitement over the new instrument was infectious and definitely made me want to go do some further research.  But talking to him at length also made me realize that I have 100% no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to ‘scopes.  It’s going to be quite some time before I know enough to even consider a purchase.  In the meantime, I think I might invest in a good, lightweight, comfortable pair of binoculars.  I had read people saying that this was a great first step into astronomy online, but I sort of scoffed at the idea, thinking, naahh, what I want is a badass telescope!  And yes, that IS what I want, but still, a good pair of binoculars is certainly a fun, portable, and instantly-maneuverable way to check out the sky.  I think I will be getting a pair.

    That, and a 75mW laser pointer! ;)

    3 hours of night sky in under 30 seconds


    2011 - 10.09

    A short timelapse video I made, showing the night sky from 12:30am-3:30am.  I used 830 images to make this, and you can see the corresponding startrails images in the previous post!  Don’t forget to hit fullscreen and 1080p on the video.  A tiny preview doesn’t do the stars justice!

    I’ve wanted to get into making timelapse like this for a long time, so it’s rewarding to put one of these together.  I did a batch process on all photos in Photoshop before compiling into a video, which was an awesome idea; definitely want to do more and get better at all of this.  Check out that SKY!

    Neon Indian “Mind, Drips” live


    2011 - 10.02

    Caught Neon Indian, one of my favorite low-fi indie acts not long ago and managed to capture some cool video with the new camera.  Unfortunately the lighting in the venue was positively abysmal, even going OUT completely for the majority of their opening tune.  Not sure what was up with the power that night, but the performance was enjoyable.  See for yourself:

    This is truly inspiring: masterful timelapse


    2011 - 09.30

    Today I was derpin’ around on the timelapse subreddit, and I found a link to this video.  There’s a lot of badass timelapse out there, but wow, this compilation really has it all. I wanna do stuff like this…
     

    Sweet, Sweet Funky HD Video


    2011 - 09.12

    Oh man. So in case you didn’t pick up on it, I like funky music a lot. On my recent trip to Wisconsin, I extended my stay so that I could catch a concert that, when I first heard about it, made me exclaim, “Wahaaaaaaaaat?!”

    It’s the jazzy funk organ trio WRD aka Walter, Roberts, & Deitch. For anyone keeping score, that’s Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds on guitar, Robert Walter of the Greyboy Allstars on B3 organ with basslines, and Adam Deitch of Lettuce and Pretty Lights on the drums. Holy. Crap. Let’s get right into the videos, taken from the Jazz in the Park concert series in Milwaukee Wisconsin on 8/18/11:

    While most people will just appreciate it at face value for what it is, I gotta say for those of us who follow the modern funk music scene, this trio is 1. a total dream-team and 2. a pretty fascinating confluence of different vibes from within the same overall scene. Adding to the interest is the fact that they embarked on a 5 date tour, with no future dates yet announced. So get it while it’s hot, and you best believe; it’s HOT!

    Let’s break down who’s who, and what they each add to the mix:

    On drums, Adam Deitch has put in a lot of time with Lettuce, bringing his really tight, on-tempo, in-your-face school of beats from New York City. He’s also played with jazz great John Scofield and acted as producer for some legit hip-hop albums from Talib Kweli and 50 Cent. His sound is hard, flashy, bombastic. The overpowering, explosive records from Lettuce owe a lot to Deitch’s style. He’s also a young guy! It’s pretty cool that the relatively older Roberts and Walter decided together that this would be the right guy for forming an organ trio.

    On the flip side of the spectrum we’ve got Robert Walter, a keys player who’s helped redefine the meaning of boogaloo for the modern generation. This cat hails from San Diego and now lives in New Orleans–sorry, Nawlins. He’s loose, and I mean that in all right ways. For many years he’s been a cornerstone of the Greyboy Allstars. He’s also played in a jillion other settings it seems like, from his own groups–the 20th Congress and the Super Heavy Organ trio–to the Stanton Moore Trio and gobs of other one-off delightful combinations of hip musicians. I saw him with Stanton Moore in New York about five years ago and it was a treat to hear him play basslines. Same deal here. In fact I sort of feel like he’s gotten better with them… or maybe he was just getting into it in Milwaukee and performed exceptionally well. In any event, this guy is a giant on the B3 organ, generally with a laid back feel, ahead of the beat, behind the beat, around the beat–and pours it on masterfully.

    Lastly, there’s Eddie Roberts from Leeds in the UK, who’s known for his main gig with The New Mastersounds. As with the others, he also has a mile-long list of side collaborations and projects. Eddie is the top chef when it comes to Deep Funk, serving up a signature stew of meaty rhythm guitar wah-comping, rippin’ solos seasoned with Wes Montgomery style harmonized licks, and an increasingly tasteful sense of when to escalate the energy level with his trademark bursts of quick-pickin’ or let the feeling simmer while he marinates with some soulful strummin’. Roberts typically eases into a performance, taking at least a few tunes to really get situated before he hits you with the secret sauce that makes you smile, but here with the WRD Trio, he came out swinging hard. I’ve seen him play at least ten different times now, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen him come out immediately so strong. A pleasure to watch! Out of all the guys playing funk guitar out there today, Roberts is the top of the heap, in my eyes.

    In their own ways, you can make a solid arguement that each of these three guys are at the forefront of their respective veins of today’s funk scene. It’s pretty exciting to see them teaming up like this, and you can tell both from the playing, and the facial interactions between them, that they’re having a good time!

    – – –

    To switch gears for a minute here, this was sort of the first major outing with my new T3i video DSLR, and it was a learning experience. Probably the most major thing I immediately took away from these videos was the importance of holding the camera steady. What seems like minor fumbling on the 3″ camera LCD I watch while filming, turns into jarring and distracting earthquakes on the 24″ LCD at home! Lesson learned!! I got a little wild with my quick zooms at times, which sometimes worked awesome (like right at the beginning of a solo), sometimes seem a bit kitschy but still cool (zooming in along with the beat), and sometimes overdone (too much ranch will ruin any salad).

    Note that anytime you can see the keys on Robert’s B3, I’m holding the camera up as high as I can over my head, with the T3i articulating screen pointed 90 degrees down so I can keep things in frame. Boom. There you go–paying extra for the T3i was justified afterall.

    Walking sideways and/or *slowly* moving the camera around on an otherwise steady shot turned out to be cool techniques that somewhat capture the excitement of “being there”, instead of the clinical feel of a documentary. I want to experiment more with those in the future. Rotating the camera to odd angles in order to fit as much interesting stuff into the frame as possible was also a good idea. Those shots that tightly frame Eddie’s head at the left and Adam’s drums on the right were cool. I want to try doing more of these so-called “Dutch Angles” in the future.

    I also learned that with 1080p at 24fps, it’s a waste of video footage to do any really fast pans, like the ones that sweep over the audience rapidly. With this framerate and quick camera movement, the subject just turns into mush. Finally, another big takeaway is that I need to improve my skills on quickly refocusing with the manual focus ring, specifically by always rotating it in the correct direction. If I want to be able to master moving between subjects and not having moments of blurriness (which can admittedly be sort of cool in limited amounts) I’ll need to develop some better ability for wrangling those rings more responsively! Maybe even DURING a pan between subjects…

    There’s room for improvement!

    Something I like to do for fun…


    2011 - 09.10

    … is play along with my favorite bands.  In this case, it’s a recording of Soulive from Bear Creek in 2010.  I actually jam out to this little 2 minute segment a LOT.  I call this activity “home run derby” where I just kinda try to hit it as hard as I can, so to speak.  It’s an okay session of HRD here, although I know for certain I can top this.  I might delete this video and replace it with a cooler one in a few weeks.  Maybe, maybe not.  Anyway, here’s a 2 minute jamout!

    coming off of my recent string of awful youtube-centric videos, this could be considered the third entry in the series. This time the genre is “check out me screwing around on some musical instrument!” This one is actually semi-cool. I think I might record more of these in the future.

    Filmed with the Canon nifty fifty f/1.8 at 1.8! Should have backed up the focal point just a touch. Next time.