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    Masterful Grooves from the Mastersounds at Bear Creek 2011


    2011 - 12.01

    And now, onto my favorite guys!

    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.

    *  *  *

    Thank you for perusing!  If you enjoyed this review, there is a high probability you will also enjoy this mix of semi/obscure 70’s funk I made from old records I found at the local store.  Alternately, check out all posts tagged “funk” for more Bear Creek and music coverage.

    Interview with Eric Krasno


    2011 - 11.21

    Last week I had the good fortune of being able to do an interview with Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno via telephone.  Our discussion is reprinted below, with my questions in black, his responses in red.  I’d like to specifically thank Kevin Calabro for getting this arranged.  I’m a pretty tremendous fan of this guy so it was a special treat to ask him about all things musical!

    *   *   *

    I want to talk about; musicianship, specifically about improvisation to start off with. Over the course of the last, idunno, seven years or so, I’ve caught many of your performances. Out of my favorite musicians who form the contemporary funk scene, I think you in particular seem like your approach to soloing has consistently and considerably been evolving. Every time I see you, I feel like you’ve gotten more and more in touch with whatever it is that sends the listener “over the edge” during a solo, so to speak. Can you talk about how your improvisation has changed over the years?

    I guess it’s about having more tools to expand. I listen to a lot of different stuff, a lot of singers, I listen to a lot of different types of music, I try to add to my toolbox I guess you would say. And I try not to think about it while I’m actually performing. I’d say most of the stuff that I play, I didn’t sit necessarily down and learn note for note off of something, but I’ve probably absorbed it from somewhere. As I evolve as a musician I get better at hearing things and translating them into my own language. Also just being around great musicians, and seeing their approach to things—I’ve been lucky to be around a lot of great musicians and see them in action. Every time I play with somebody great I feel like I catch a little bit of what they’re doing and try to hold on to it.

    Can you speak a little bit about what you do to shape your solos? Is it through dynamics, and the density of notes, or are there other things you’re concentrating on? How do you guide the intensity level of a solo?

    I mean that totally depends on the moment. That’s really a hard thing to explain. It has a lot to do with who I’m playing with, and people listening to the vibe of the moment—not to sound too cosmic—but it is kind of a cosmic thing to a certain degree. I’m very much affected by my environment. If the band is playing really loud, and the people in the audience are loud, talking or raging or whatever they’re doing, then I’ll just start from a higher point and go from there. There’s not maybe as much to go. Whereas if the band has much more of a dynamic sense, they’ll know certain times when I want to start really soft and slow and minimal and take my time building it.

    But I do feel that I’m usually anxious to build it in some way or form. Whereas some guys if they’re not feeling it they won’t do it at all. Which I’m starting to do more of. I’m starting to be a little more picky, and certain times if I’m not feeling like being completely aggressive, I’ll just stop before I get there. Although I’d say 90% of the time I get fairly aggressive at some point in a solo.

    But again, it depends on what’s happening underneath and what the groove is. If someone’s pushing me to take it there then I will.

    What is one thing that you’re working on right now that you want to improve upon in your playing?

    Seeing people like Scofield—I actually just watched this video of me playing in 2001 with Mark Whitfield and it was really interesting to watch what I was playing, and then what he was playing there. He was just killing this bebop stuff. I’ve never been a jazz, jazz player, but I feel like there’s certain elements of that I really dig. The way he was moving around the chord progressions was really interesting to me. For a long time I’ve been more into playing more like rock and roll and blues. Weaving between that—bebop and Stevie Ray Vaughn-like type of blues. Developing more of a combination of those things, being able to blend them together without being too obvious about it.

    Kind of a balance between the soulful and the cerebral then?

    Yeah, yeah, exactly, without overthinking it. That part of me has evolved, but there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement and finding new ways to do it.

    What were the most valuable things you did to get to the level you’re on today? Like practicing certain phrases in all 12 keys or transcribing solos that you really dug? Or was it simply playing as much as possible with the best musicians you could find?

    I would say that most of it is playing with the best people and playing as many shows as I can. Definitely sitting through and thinking about chords and combinations of notes. Being able to play the pentatonic in every key, in every position, is really important. And just to know where you are at all times and what’s possible. The way I think is less in terms of modes and scales, and more in terms of pentatonics as the home base and then all of the different ways to go off—there’s only 12 notes, really 11. You can simplify. I feel like a lot of people overcomplicate things, when really it’s all about hearing how each note feels against a particular chord.

    I guide myself by using pentatonic. Honestly a lot of the time what I’m playing is pentatonic. What I’ve worked on is knowing which notes within that will feel a certain way. I know where the pentatonics are relative to whatever chord that’s going on at any time; that’s what you gotta do. From there you play with tensions. And see how they feel against what you’re doing, and hope that other people hear it and respond.

    Do you have some favorite ways of doing that, playing with tensions?

    I do it differently all the time. When I practice, which honestly isn’t enough—Most of the time I’m playing I’m either rehearsing something or writing something—but when I do practice, I try different tensions and see. There’s no real format to it. Sometimes I like to take a chord and play triads against that chord, up and down the neck. That’s an exercise I like.

    Take the chords of a Lettuce song like “Breakout”, and play a triad at any position that works over those chords and never stopping with 8th notes or 16th notes—not stopping. Another good exercise, if you have someone who can play chords with you, is to have them change those chords, and you try not to stop. That’s a good exercise for your ear, to play 16th note arpeggios, never stopping and keep moving with different chords. It makes your ear work.

    That was one thing I noticed listening to that video where I was ten years ago: I was playing a lot more notes than I do now. At the time I thought I was gonna cry, because Mark Whitfield had played the best solo. Then I watched myself and thought, oh wow, I’m playing a lot of good stuff, but I’m not listening the way I listen now. You know, I was just playing as much stuff as I could, probably because one of the greatest guitar players in the world had just played and I had to play next. So part of me was anxious play a lot.

    I was honestly playing more proficiently than I do now, which is a little scary, but I listen a lot more now, and I’m a lot more choosy with my notes. I think that’s probably age. You watch BB King now and he plays like three notes, but they’re all very tasteful.

    I am not a religious man, but there is something undeniably spiritual about this music; where does that come from, or what is the root of that?

    I think it’s meditation. Some people go to church, and some people pray, and some people… play music. I think it’s a vibration thing. You connect with a certain vibration. Some people are more instantly in tune with that than others. When you vibrato, whether you’re singing or playing a trumpet or a saxophone, you connect with certain sound waves or vibrations that are around you—it’s powerful! People feel it. It’s definitely spiritual, but it’s somewhat scientific as well. There’s vibrations surrounding us at all times.

    What does it mean to “have soul”? It’s more than just playing with emotion—it’s also about connecting with your audience as well, right? What grants that label: soulful?

    I think that everyone’s soulful. Some people have more ability to communicate that soul. Or a way to kind of ride that. A lot of times it’s coming through whichever person. And they just have this skill or… the channel—that they can tune into that thing. Everyone can feel that. I don’t think anyone can deny that when Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Jimi Hendrix played, they were channeling something bigger than themselves. Some people are more in tune to it.

    I was watching John Scofield play, and his drummer Sandy Powell. And all weekend he had been watching all these drummers rip, playing all these notes. He got up there, and he was playing the most simple. Groove. Each thing he was played had such power to it. It wasn’t power like he was hitting hard—he felt every little thing he was doing. I think that’s partly him doing it, and I think it was him connecting, in a certain way. Like you said before it’s somewhat spiritual. Some people just have it. An innate ability.

    What’s the best way for younger players, coming up, to get in touch with that?

    A lot of it is just listening to what’s out there. That’s the thing about right now, you can go on YouTube and watch so much amazing stuff. That’s part of it. Part of it is playing. Singing what you play. That’s what soulful is to me—you sing what you play. I don’t mean physically singing it, not making notes with your voice, but rather than playing arpeggios and scales… that’s important, but when it comes down to it, that’s never made me a better player. It’s given me more technical proficiency, which allows me to have more vocabulary when I’m speaking. It’s really about playing as much as possible, with people.

    Or whatever your thing is. If you’re a person who plays by yourself, go play by yourself every day. If your thing is playing with a band, go play with your band every day. Or play with different people every day. My thing, I like writing, performing, composing, and producing with people. I can play by myself but that’s not my thing. So what I’ve been able to do is play with so many different people that now when I play with someone, I’m ready. I’m used to this, I’m used to feeding off of other people or supporting them when I need to or vice versa.

    I’d like to riff on the topic of ‘jams’ for a little bit. Both this year and last year I saw you sitting in at the late nite treehouse pick-up session at Bear Creek. I personally find that really inspiring; to see these extremely successful musicians still passionate about jamming; or more specifically, passionate about the magic of what happens when a hot jam slides “into alignment” if you feel what I’m saying—I mean that’s what got all of us into improvisational music in the first place! Right?! Can you talk a little bit about what motivates you to keep on jamming?

    That’s moment by moment. If there’s something going on right then that I feel like, “oh yeah, I can do something with this, I can really add to this right here!” I always want to do it. I don’t care if it’s people I know or not! And then there’s times when I feel like I’m gonna add anything. The jam this year, there was so much going on, that there was only a couple moments when I really wanted to play. Not putting down what was going on, it’s just there was so much going on. That it was like there was no open spaces. I like open spaces, that’s my thing, man. If I hear a groove that’s got a lot of open space in it, I’m gonna jump in there.

    So yeah! If you lose that—if you lose that then you’re kind of screwed! You gotta always wanna play, you gotta always want to play! Music is all about playing. It’s all about jams. For what we do, it’s all about that spontaneous moment. Even when we have songs—when Soulive performs we have tons of songs, and sure you like playing the songs—the fun part is when you find something new that’s never happened before. So when you’re in a room with guys playing that’s all there is—finding something brand new. And I’ll say whenever Lettuce performs, it’s all about finding those moments that are brand new. Whenever we show up to jam sessions and guys want to play songs off our record, I’m always like no way, man, that’s why we did that. We did that at the concert, now let’s just play. Let’s find something real.

    You can’t really force a hot jam. By that I mean, you can’t sit down your favorite musicians and say “right, we’re going to have a jam here, and it’s going to be the sexiest, phattest jam any of us have ever had.” That doesn’t work. What is it that makes a session come together?

    It’s gotta just happen. There’s so many elements. The comfort level, the respect for one another. It’s different every time I suppose, what makes it happen. Whatever makes up that moment. It definitely has something to do with who’s playing, their level, and their ability to listen. I think a lot of it is your ability to listen to what’s going on. At the level of the people who were at the Bear Creek festival it was pretty easy, because everyone’s on that level. All those guys have jammed together so many times, or if not together with so many other great people. Put those guys in a room—it’s gonna be great.

    Switching gears: recently you’ve taken some forays in to the world of DJing; what prompted this?

    Really it was the discovery of this program Ableton Live. I’ve been kinda DJing for a while, but more just like hanging around doing stuff. I’ve been producing beats and making hip hop for a long time, so I always had a turntable and a sampler and all that type of stuff. But then when I got into Ableton I was like ‘oh wow’, I do a lot of my own remixes and stuff, I need somebody to hear this! I’m not gonna put it out, because it’s someone else’s music essentially; I’m just taking the vocals and remixing it over different beats. So then I was like, oh I’ll start playing it out. Eventually I actually put a mixtape out. Which was a combination of some of my favorite music, all across the map: hip hop, rock, funk. People started hearing me do it and they were like, oh you should do that! I started doing some shows, opening for Soulive, then people heard the mixtape and started booking me for festivals and stuff. So it’s something I’m just totally doing it for fun, I’m not like extra serious about it, but it’s fun, ya know? I’m having a good time.

    What records would you say really influenced the way you want to play guitar? What did you hear made you say, I wanna sound like that!

    The first thing ever was Led Zepplin. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix, then eventually Stevie Ray Vaughn. Led Zepplin, Jimi Hendrix was what I grew up upon, really inspired me to play guitar. The first thing I ever learned was Zepplin. Over the Hills and Far Away, I think that was the first thing I ever learned. From there, that was it.

    Who out there is doing it right for you? Not people that you’re working with, but people that are inspiring you?

    As guitar players, definitely John Scofield, and Derek Trucks, there’s a guy named Gary Clark Junior who I love. He’s amazing. Definitely people are going to be hearing about him, for sure. There’s a group out of New York called the London Souls, amazing band. I’m always looking for new stuff.

    I mostly listen to songwriters. I do a lot of songwriting for other people and stuff. When I’m not on tour, I’m generally in that mode.

    How did you guys settle upon the name Royal Family for your collective of musicians?

    I don’t really know! When I was putting together a band with Nigel, which ended up being Chapter 2, we were going to call that Royal Family. As I started thinking about it I was like, oh, that’d be better for the collective, for the whole crew. We have so many musicians and bands in our crew, we needed an umbrella, so people knew where to find out what’s going on.

    I don’t remember exactly how I came up with that name, but it was when I was here—I’m in Florida right now. This is where I was when I thought of it. I used to stay at a different apartment and I was riding my bike past there with my girlfriend yesterday and I was like, oh that’s right, that’s where I was when I came up with the idea! I don’t know where exactly it came from, to be honest. It was like, Royal Family, that’s it!

    You guys have got your own festival now, the Royal Family Affair. That’s pretty rad. What do you hope that fest will grow into, or be known for in future years?

    Part of it is to make it a family vibe, people sitting in with each other. In the same way that Bear Creek is. I want it to be very unique from other festivals in that there will be a lot of collaboration going on. It’s also got an educational element to it, there’s going to be a lot of workshops, where people talk about their craft and their music. It’ll be like the fans’ portal into the world of these musicians to a degree. It’ll be more intimate than going to a big Bonaroo or something like that. We don’t want it to get that big, we just want it to be a real music-lovers’ festival, for the real music-heads.

    It bums me out that I was not there to witness those workshops, and I’m certain there are many others who feel the same. Are there any plans to document these workshops and make them available either on DVD or online for those who couldn’t make the journey?

    We documented these last year and we’re going to do it again. We’re already putting the ideas together for next year. I’m really looking forward to where it goes from here. I’ve been watching different edits of it, and hopefully we’ll have soon. In the next few months we’re going to be putting out pieces of it as promotional material for the next year’s festival. We’ll be dropping each segment throughout the next coming months.

    You play in billions and billions of different groups; what’s one recent gig that stood out in your mind as particularly enjoyable, for you personally?

    I really enjoyed Bear Creek. The Lettuce set—I mean, The Chapter 2 set actually on Saturday was awesome because Lewis was there and I haven’t been able to play with him for a while. So that was really great. And that was kind of a reunion because Nigel’s been on tour with Warren Haynes and Lewis has been on the road with Marcus Miller, so the four of us with Adam Deitch came together, hadn’t seen each other in a long time, got together and just… right off the top it felt amazing.

    That version of “Get Back” was just awesome. That finale with the half time swing; did you choreograph that in advance, or did that just kind of happen?

    Yeah! That’s happened before, but we didn’t talk about it that day. I remember getting to that moment—oh I remember we used to do this! I think we had done it at gigs in New York or something.

    Last question: You’re a driven man. What is it, when you wake up in the morning, that makes you keep saying to yourself: I wanna do this again, I wanna get up there tonight and I wanna make that funky shit happen! What is it about this music that keeps you always wanting more?

    At this point, I don’t know anything else!

    *   *   *

    To watch Sir Eric Krasno in action, taking a solo with Lettuce at the Bear Creek music festival, check out the footage I captured in the previous post.

    To read more about Bear Creek 2011, or read about FUNK music in general, check out the funk tag.

    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!

    Get Fired UP: GTA5 trailer one.


    2011 - 11.04

    There’s a NEW Grand Theft Auto! And it’s going to have stuff in it that’s never been in those other GTAs before! OMG!

    Alright, but seriously. Wait… I’m still not over it yet–Oh. My. God.

    Just check out this trailer.

     

    Aw man, GTA, how I adore thee.

    One thing I definitely look forward to is the launch night. For the past two releases in the series me and my buddy Roberto have made an occasion out of this with an all-night GTA binge. Last time this happened, we were so excited to go pick up the game that on the way out, I forgot to grab my keys… which I then realized after we were locked outside of my apartment building. And my apartment was on the 2nd floor. Rob was like, did you lock your balcony door? Answer: No!–and a high five! Boosted him up with my hands and he climbed over the railing, then came running down the stairs roaring triumphantly. I asked, “So did you get the keys?” and he was like, “Ummm, actually no. I thought I just had to let you back in the building door??” (my apartment door locks behind you!) Solid laughs right here. “So rinse and repeat on the infilitration routine, then?” Good times.

    Another amusing thing that we did was to set our own goals and just forget about the game storyline. For example, when San Andreas came out, the first place we wanted to go on the map was Las Vegas (aka Las Venturas). Sadly, this area is locked at the beginning of the game, inaccessible to even the most obsessed motorist due to barricaded bridges. Hmmm, what to do? Undeterred, we hatched a plan so crazy it just might work: find a tall truck, park it next to the barbed wire fence at the airport, climb the truck, jump the fence, and steal a learjet which we could then fly to Vegas!

    It took many tries. Every step of this process turned out to be more difficult than we’d anticipated. Including the unexpected twist that there were fighter jets that will shoot you down if you stray into locked parts of the map, which we had to evade! But lo and behold, after hours of trying and against the handicap of inebriation, we totally crashed a learjet into the Vegas strip. And it was pretty amazing really.

    It made me pretty excited to see the learjet at the end of the first GTA V trailer, just because it makes me remember our crazy, successful plot to cheat our way into places we weren’t supposed to go. And I also know that stealing this jet is also going to be one of the very top objectives when we get set loose in GTA V!

     

    If this article interested you, check out my winding yarn about what makes GTA so great.

    Only ONE more week until Bear Creek!


    2011 - 11.03

    Oh man. I am fired. Up. Fired up for the FUNK.

    Fired up for the press access, fired up over maybe getting to meet some of these musicians backstage, fired up to take a boatload of pictures, and fired up for the music festival atmosphere.

    As a recap, check out this post with the discussion of Soulive’s performance last year.  AWWW GIT IT!

    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…………..

    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! ;)

    ‘Late Nite Chill on the Lake’ downtempo mixset


    2011 - 10.09

    Servin’ up another mixset to add to the list of original content around here; I call it the “Late Nite Chill on the Lake”. This is another byproduct of the Bill’s Boat Cassette Project, only unlike the previous two “Cactus Vinyl Funk Mix” and “BOATCHASE!” this one is a descendant of the mix which was imprinted to ferromagnetic tape, labeled “Heady Downtempo”. The tape was version 1, this is version 5. Click on the image below to stream it from the music player on the navigation bar!


    This mix is intended to be something you’d put on after a long day of cruising around on the lake, tubing, drinking, goofing off, enjoying the sunlight and the fresh air. The sun goes down, you turn on the running lights, pop open one last brew (or maybe the second or third to last), and slip this tape into the deck. Or this could be what you put on the stereo after you get back to the lakeside house after a day on the water. In any event, it’s the soundtrack to the end of a long day of good times.

    Tons of artists suffer from the desire to keep tweaking their works ad nauseum, to the point where one begins to wonder, “Will it ever be ready”? This mix was suffering from the same nagging feeling that I could still improve it, but finally I decided to just shove it out onto the stage and say okay, OCD adjustments OVER, this is it. Some of the neat tweaks you guys might appreciate knowing about:

     the sounds of the Mediterranian Sea can be heard between tracks 2 and 3. I recorded these on MiniDisc in 2004. Finally I put them to use here.

     the very start of the mix begins with the sound of me taking a cassette out of its plastic case, opening my cassette deck, putting the tape in, closing the door, pressing the power button, and hitting play.

     the end of track 1 and the beginning of the last track were run through my Glass Nexus effect pedal, providing a large reverb and some delay. On track 1 the effect starts out light and gets progressively thicker; on the last track the effects start out thick and fade back into to clean. I tried using the software reverbs on the PC and they just weren’t cutting it–the Glass Nexus has an awesomely realistic ‘verb.

     some of the chatter (in French) before the last track I recorded at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris from 2005. There is also a really cool sound effect that I included, which plays through the airport preceeding any announcement over the intercom.

    update: the people have demanded a tracklist, so here she be:

    Tracklisting:
    1. Global Communication – “5:23”
    2. Leggo Beast – Bizzare Love Pentangle
    3. Tipper – Everything Is Everything
    4. Visit Venus – First Man On The Moog
    5. Tom Middleton – Astral Projection
    6. Blue Planet – Chaser
    7. Bonobo – The Shark
    8. Swag – Aug Munch
    9. The Karminsky Experience – Departures

    As with before we’ve got a 160 kb/s mp3 for download, and a luscious, rich FLAC file for your audiophile needs. Put this on after dark, and kick it.

    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!

    This JUST happened. 3 hours of starlight


    2011 - 10.08

    I’ve been up to my usual shenanigans tonight, which involve staying up till all unreasonable hours of the morning.  While doing so, I set out the camera and captured this sweet startrails image from 12:30-3:30am.  Saaweeeeet!

    Since the above image is actually composed of 800+ individual 10 second exposures, I also made this version which is only a short part of it; a good stretch without any clouds.  And just to keep things fresh, I flipped the canvas horizontally.  Because, ya know, why not?

    Note that clicking on either of these will unleash the 1920 x 1280 sized versions.