Playing music for the purpose of music.

A couple weekends ago I went to Copenhagen to play a doom rock festival with Øresund Space Collective, the release for “Ode to a Black Hole”. It was a punk rock youth center, tons of doomy bands, really quite something. We played late, starting at 1am, but were well received by the punks and metalheads. I’m going to go out on tour with ØSC in Germany this coming week, just for a week of shows. I look forward to it immensely, I need to play more than I do, and play more to entertain both myself and others in the spur of the moment, in real time. Playing improvised space rock is good for that, it’s meant to exist in that time and space that it is being played.

Here’s the gig in Copenhagen, May 6 2016

Sound is good on the video, but I’m really loud in the mix—I don’t know if it’s the camera angle or the awesome Orange amp I was using.

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I think I got caught up in the idea of being a “professional” musician of some sort over the course of the past, oh, 35 or so years. What I mean by that is that I felt like every time I picked up an instrument, there had to be some reason for it, like if I were just playing it would be that I was working toward some goal or another. As in, improvising was for the purpose of writing a new piece of music. Even when I was just sitting playing the acoustic guitar, somewhere in the back of my mind was the voice asking “Is this something that could be used for a song?”

That was definitely one of the reasons why I didn’t have any intention of making a new album. Or two. I didn’t want to have to think that way, especially when the final product has become so devalued that it’s a losing proposition to continue to make music—if you are part of the 99% of recording artists, in any case. So it’s a good thing to go out and tour with ØSC where I just get to play, make sound at the moment, enjoying it for the moment, not worrying about anything being permanent.

I mean, I do write a lot of music. Or improvise a lot of music and work it into pieces. Or both. I have tapered off writing lyrics over the years, unless I have songs that just *must be* songs, in which case I am forced to actually write lyrics for them, which I eventually do, usually later in the process—not that I don’t know what the song is about nor potentially some of the lines, I just let them linger for days, months, even years. Literally years! I have some unfinished songs lying around from 20 or more years ago. But one of the things that prevents me from finishing writing is the unspoken obligation that I feel (toward the song? toward posterity? toward myself?) to record, mix and produce the final and paradigmatic version of the song.

As an example, there is a song on “Shine Out” called “Leaving Troy” that I must have started writing in 1990 or so, had ideas of how it sounded, most of the lyrics. (It wasn’t about Victor’s life, just saying.) When I was working on the songs for that album out in the log cabin, I just felt that it was time to finish it. Similarly, there is a new song called “Walking Along the Shore of the Ocean of Things Unknown” that I started maybe 10 years ago, but really had nearly no lyrics, then when I was in Roth Händle Studios last fall, I finally decided to record it, so I made up some lyrics. Later in the batch of things that Chris Pedersen played on, he played drums on it. However, it doesn’t fit with the “Superfluity” album idea nor the rest of the songs, so I still haven’t worked more on it. I expect to finish it this summer after I get done with all of the “Superfluity” mixing and everything else, and all of the Sista Maj “Series of Nested Universes” mixing and mastering and stuff. It will probably end up in the collection called “Superfluousness” which is currently growing and only available to my Bandcamp subscribers. (heh, see, I advertised!)

Indeed, a number of things were jettisoned along the way. Some of the instrumentals from recorded improvisations, some that were compositions. One of my initial ideas was to have a giant dream sequence in the middle of the record, somewhat about the passage of time and sleep, which had small songs interrupting it, but as I worked on the piece (“Phenomenon and On,” it’s called) I ended up dividing it into only three parts, the first of which is a shorter but jarring electronic music piece (entitled “Silent Notes”) the second of which is an improvisational guitar-based instrumental entitled “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers,” and the last part is a huge 23 minutes of electronic music. (Note: when I say “electronic music” I don’t mean dance music or techno or whatever, you know, I mean tape collage/outside synth/etc. in the tradition of 1950s-70s electronic music. I was deeply influenced by the rock band usage of this in the late 60s: Revolution 9, of course, …(which is referenced on Superfluity in a couple places, by the way) Zappa’s tape collages on the Mothers of Invention records, Jefferson Airplane’s “A Small Package of Value Will Come to You, Shortly”. I assumed every great album needed at least one (e.g. “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart” with the latter section of She Divines Water.)

And then when I went to the university, I actually got to start creating these things. That was back in 1981, I took my first real electronic music class from Gordon Mumma. Then got to work in the UCSC studios under him and Peter Elsea for several years. You can hear bits of my electronic music forays under the tracks leading into early Camper Van Beethoven recordings, like the beginning of the song “Cowboys from Hollywood” (1986), and then of course the second and the penultimate tracks on Storytelling (1989), “Prospective” and “Retrospective”. I’ve been at it awhile, and with computers it only got more intense. I do intend to write about that sometime, the whole computer music thing…!

Anyway, in the Superfluousness collection there ended up some other things as well, acoustic guitar finger picking, doom metal, 1960s-BBC TV-theme-style tracks. I intended to make a 1980s hair metal track too, but so far it only exists as a mini cassette snippet somewhere within “Phenomenon and On”.  A few are still unfinished, but I’ll sweep it all up sometime. You’ll see.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Music, recording, Touring

The continuing road to superfluity

I’d like to continue the story of the making of the (as-yet still upcoming) record called “Superfluity” because I am assuming all the people reading this entry have also read the previous 10 or 6 or at least the last 4 blog entries here. Right? You have, haven’t you?

After recording in various studios in April and May of 2015, I only had a couple of gigs before heading out to the countryside for most of the summer. My wife’s family bought an old farmhouse out by a lake about 40 years ago when the family inhabiting it had finally all emigrated to the US or to the big cities, as most people living in the Swedish countryside did by the 1950s and 60s. So most of the apartment complexes in the cities were built in the 50s through to the 70s, and most of the old country communities emptied by the 70s. This place is like a 16th century log cabin farmhouse and then a toolshed and a barn, to which is now added another log cabin room that was literally moved whole from a nearby location to our yard, and set above an older pit that had been a potato storage cellar.

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recording cabin

Additionally, they recently built a little shed that is supposed to be a hygiene house, with a shower and toilet, but so far it only has a dry toilet…which is actually more civilized than the outhouse, of course, but the running water thing hasn’t worked out yet.

Anyway, the second cabin is a single room, it’s used as a guesthouse and my wife’s mom uses it as a painting atelier. It’s all wood, so needless to say, I’ve been recording there every summer I’ve ever been there.

This particular summer, I had a lot to work with, so I brought my Stratocaster, Les Paul, an old Fender lap steel, a fretless Fender Musicmaster bass, a violin, my Princeton Reverb and whatever percussion things were out there left over from recording Shine Out. And I proceeded to listen to the recordings, letting them work into my brain. I started doing overdubs on the studio jams, to see if they were heading toward anything. This, for me, involves finding specific rhythms or melodies and figuring out how to bring them out of the mix by accentuating them. Making improvisations into composition, in a way.

The other thing I had to do was to finalize the mixes for the Øresund Space Collective album, the deadline for which was August. I was about done with the mixes, I thought, but being a triple-LP/double-CD, it was hard to make sure every pass. At this point I was sort of pre-mastering the mixes by taking my final mix and mixing two versions of it against each other, one through an analog tape emulator (UA’s ATR-102) and one through a stereo field enhancer (UA’s K-Stereo). This made very vivid yet heavy finals, which I was sending to Mr Sanderson at Gyroscope Studios to do the final mastering EQ and compression.

[of my own music] The jam sessions from Eastman Studios were the first things I worked on. Each one was around 15 minutes long, there were five of them. I realized pretty quickly that the last one where I played violin was just a series of endings, so that couldn’t go anywhere as it was. The fourth one was where I played bass and nobody played guitar, but my studio pals Nathan and Johan wanted to come in and they played piano and violin. This was a weird track, sort of floaty, never really getting to the melody that Johan kept implying. I left it alone also. #1-3 seemed like they had some decent parts. I started in playing guitar with the guitar parts, or violin or lap steel, figuring out which sections could go where. Of course, the entire first improvisation seemed good, taken as a whole—though with some accentuating some melodies and whatnot. Number 3, where I played Les Paul, was also pretty good, but needed a bit of editing, and not much more. Number 2 was odd, and needed to be cut up. And then I got into adding synths and things.

These first three ended up being tracks called “The Dying Stars”, “Confabulation” and “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers.” This will mean something in another half a year or so, unless you’ve been subscribing to my bandcamp site, in which case you may have already heard one of them. Number 4 became “Drishti”, after adding guitar and other violin parts later.

Over the next month or so, I went over the tracks recorded at Mattias Olsson’s studio, and the tracks that had drums from both sessions even, to see what to do. Some of these tracks were nearly ready as they were, only needed some lyrics or melody to go on, some were very raw. I had improvised with Mattias for several tracks, and as I listened to these, they also began to take shape in my mind. I started writing the lyrics.

Now, it really was not my intention to be all caught up in working on a new album. I wasn’t even sure what I was saying anymore, given the state of music and its place in the world. For me to make yet another album is useless. It’s so completely superfluous to life. What I was thinking about was the fate of the human race, really, in the long term. People always think so short-term—how can I survive this week!—so they can’t even have the extra brain cells to consider how their actions affect coming generations. What if everything you did was valued on a hundred or thousand year basis? Or longer! What if your forebrain didn’t actually filter out the passage of time as it does so that you can live comfortably in the seemingly-unchanging specious present like you do, but instead saw the consequences of actions, and the consequence of past actions that led to the moment you found yourself in?

Many of the songs started forming around these ideas, in different ways. One of the tracks we made up at Mattias’ became “Strawberry Sun”, a song essentially about how long the rocks, dirt, water, and light took to make that strawberry whose juice running out of a child’s mouth is creating a smile. That particular smile, a billion years in the making!

Others, after applying a Les Paul to an improvised baritone guitar take with Mattias on drums, started to feel like a multi-sectional prog rock masterpiece. This was going to take some work. And the lyrics would be more philosophical, on a human level. Some of the other tracks were actually songs to begin with, they just needed (actual) lyrics and organization. The entire project was looking very large.

On some songs, like “Sleep for a Hundred Years” and “No Backup Plan” (again, this shouldn’t mean anything to you yet. The record isn’t done!) I had tried to get Andreas to play drums at Eastman, then again got Mattias to do them at Roth Händle, but I wasn’t super happy with either on No Backup Plan, although I figured out a plan to use sections on “Sleep”, every section of the song would have different drums and different guitars, even some drum machines. But I worked out what was going to happen for the middle section of “No Backup Plan” and a general idea for the others, wrote a bunch of lyrics, played guitars and violins and what not all summer whenever I could work on the stuff.

I did finish the Øresund Space Collective mixes in time, they got them off to the manufacturers, who later called me from Germany to say that my CD master files were erroring out, and it took me a while to figure out that it was because of the Ø in Øresund being written in the CD-Text information. No odd characters, folks! The album title was changed to “Different Creatures” partially based on the amazing artwork that Mårten Smid did for it. A three-LP package is a lot of space to cover!

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In August I went back to the states to tour with Camper Van Beethoven, the original five piece version that has been playing lately which includes Chris Pedersen, our drummer, who lives in Australia. He was coming over with his wife and a son, and a cousin’s son, who were going to be merch sellers on a tour of the southwest and our Camp-Out festival in Pioneertown, California.

At this point I got the bright idea to ask Chris if he could drum on a few tracks, like “No Backup Plan”, and we arranged to do this sometime in the fall, he knew a studio he could record at in Sydney.

In the fall I continued to work on the songs when I could, wrote more lyrics when I could, did some overdubs, and mixed as I went along. Everything started shaping up, with certain pieces dropping out. In October I had the opportunity to take over Mattias’ Roth Händle studios for an entire week myself while he was on tour with Necromonkey and then with Akaba in the US.

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With that in cards, I thought I could finish off any overdubs, maybe make a number of acoustic-based tracks, improvise, set up everything… hell I could record a band. So I set it up to record Sista Maj over there later in the week.

I did a lot. I brought many instruments, played a lot of acoustic guitar and mandolin, made up whatever I could when the mics were up. Recorded overdubs of vibraphone, marimba, Hammond, piano, even pipe organ (on the proggiest of the prog, of course) and the IMG_3499Tenori-On that was there while Akaba was rehearsing before they left to New York to meet up with Mattias. I thought I might make a few more tracks for the album, but it didn’t seem like anything new was going to fit in. So there was just more. More that’s going into the Superfluousness batch of the Superfluity sessions.

 

When the Sista Maj guys came, Micke Tuominen and Andreas Axlesson, I had set up drums and bass and electric guitar, as we usually did, in hopes of capturing a rocking improv session. What happened was way more subtle, however. We started with Micke playing an upright bass that was there, and I played violin. The entire vibe of the session was very minimalist and droney (I was using my Electro Harmonix SuperEgo, which is a note-capture drone pedal…) On other tracks Micke played baritone guitar or electric sitar, or even an Asbury bass, these little things with rubber strings. There was definitely some space rock and hard rocking moments, but overall, it’s fairly somber. A very interesting set of tracks, more to stew over.

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Sista Maj, l-r: Micke Tuominen, JS, Andreas Axelsson

After all this, we actually all had a gig together, Øresund Space Collective and Kungens Män (Micke’s band) at the Melody Box in Stockholm. Alexander Skepp, the drummer from Gösta Berlings Saga, and Matthias Danielsson on pedal steel,who had played on the Different Creatures album both lived in Stockholm, so they were part of the band, and Hasse Horrigmore, the Tangle Edge bassist from the sessions came down from Norway. The rest of the band came up from Copenhagen, some of whom I was just meeting for the first time. KG Westman, who had played sitar, didn’t want to play, so his sitar teacher, Stian Grimstad, was going to sit in. It was a long night, a long amazing concert. I did lots of guitar, violin and even theremin. The “Different Creatures” album was out and we all got copies here, I got several so I could sell them at the Camper shows coming up in December. The next ØSC album scheduled would be “Ode to a Black Hole”, a doom piece we had recorded in that same session, mixed by Scott Heller, Dr Space himself.

So the Superfluity songs bubbled in the background now, nearly all recording done except some drums from Chrispy and some backing vocals. My wife, Sanna, who has sung on several of my (and even Camper Van Beethoven’s) albums did a few backing vocal tracks. I had asked a couple other people about doing backing vocals, and the most enthusiastic response came from Kelly Atkins, who sings with 20 Minute Loop, and with Kitka, the women’s choir. When I sent her tracks, she loved them, so she agreed to do parts for them in the near future. So I spent a bunch of my time mixing the Sista Maj tracks, adding a few bits, doing a few edits. Then it was time to go back to California for Christmas with the family, first time back for my wife and daughter since we left in 2011. And then, I had a week or so of shows with Camper Van Beethoven.

Normally I write on this weblog about touring with CVB. I haven’t been for this past year. Why not? I don’t really know. Ask me anything, I’ll tell you. I just didn’t feel like writing it all down at the time.

So, then in the past few months, early 2016, I finished up mixing the Sista Maj sessions. It’s going to be a double CD at some point, entitled “Series of Nested Universes”. And I set about mixing the rest of the Øresund Space Collective tracks from the same sessions as these other ones mentioned, with the same critical ears of Hasse and Scott, and I think they’re all done now, for release later this year or early next.

And then I got Chris Pedersen’s drums for ‘No Backup Plan’, some for ‘Sleep…’, and a couple others that are going to be finished later, not for this album.

And Kelly Atkins’ vocal masterpieces started coming in track by track—she was doing multiple parts! She was composing counterpoint to what was there already, incredible. I’m still messing about with late-stage mixes, but the album has sorted itself out into a sequence and nearly final mixes. Now I just need somebody to put it out! (literally. If you have a label, let me know.)

(I’m going to try to write more about the songs themselves as a potential release gets closer. Meanwhile stay tuned.)

 

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Guitar, Philosophy, recording, Violin

Part 4 – Punk as fuck.

The next weekend’s gig was an opening slot for The Dead Pollys, and then I would sit in with them as well. They are a punk band. Straight up, though a bit celtic-influenced. The singer, Niclas, or Nizze, is a big bald headed dude with a leather jacket, and could potentially be assumed to be dangerous or scary or both, if you didn’t actually talk to him, or perhaps see him with his family. And when he’s singing, he’s all energy, all that hugeness is also inside him, and he sings it out. The reason he’s a punk rocker is that he’s got a lot to say about inequality and fascism and shit, and it’s gotta be loud and strong. When I went with him on the train to Nynäshamn to record at the bassist, Juba’s, place, I got a good sense of him being one of the actually good people around, though he looks sort of mean in the picture I drew of him.

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I thought that for an opening slot, again all by myself, I would just borrow his guitar and play some of my older songs from my Jack & Jill albums of the mid-90s, maybe a couple newer ones. But I assumed it would be a punk audience, and I have no idea how they would like a solo long-haired singer.

The venue was Brother Tuck’s, I guess yet another Irish-style bar with a cavern below it, this time on Götgatan in Södermalm. I knew where it was, right across from Skanstull station, but I had never been there. Walking in, I could see it was a football bar, tons of people were wearing green and white clothes because of some football game. The cellar with the bands was all cement downstairs, typical crap sounding place. I soundchecked with the band, basically just plugging the violin directly into an amp and dialing back a bit of treble, no pedals. Sounded great with the distorted guitar, and I had rehearsed with them so I knew four or five songs.

I checked Nizze’s guitar to make sure I could play it, and as I thought, it was a little tough. He played a Telecaster with thick strings, high action. He’s a strong guy, me, not as much. But I could do it, I think. If I remembered the words to the songs.

We ate upstairs, and I saw more punkers showing up, I asked Nizze about the band name, because when I had been thinking about it earlier, I veered away from the obvious and got caught up in a dark corner of the world, and thought about Polly Klaas, a young girl who was abducted and killed in Petaluma 20 years ago. She had actually been Chris Pedersen’s kids’ babysitter, and that was perhaps the final trigger that sent his family away from the US and to Australia. Then later, in 2007, I had been working with the Theatre of Yugen doing a cycle of Noh plays and one was about Polly (the demon play, I believe). But Nizze assured me that it was a Monty Python reference, of course. (And The Plastic Pals band name is from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know. Some predilection for British humor over here!)

After dinner I went for a walk in the area and saw some nice murals on the sides of work scaffolding, and then saw Marty Willson-Piper inside Pet Sounds Records. I went over and he unlocked the door, he was closing up shop, apparently having taken over from the owner who was finally taking some time off after decades. Marty is always fun to talk to, he is obviously way into music and writes a blog about listening to records, mostly (or possibly always) from his own record collection. I told him I was sitting in with a punk band this evening and he said, “Refused?” I said, no, that would be awesome though, but he said that they were in fact playing a secret show that evening. Dang! He said he was going to go to San Francisco to play Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in the fall, and wanted to know if I knew where he could get some more gigs with that as an achor, so I got his email address and later tried to hook him up with the booking agent that books Camper and Cracker, I think something may have worked out. Hope so!

When I got back to Brother Tuck, I could see that there were all sorts of football hooligans and punks there now. All sorts of punks, meaning skinheads also, wearing flight jackets and shit. I know there are anti-fascist skinheads and two-tone skinheads and stuff, but it still freaks me out. We’re in Stockholm. Not as bad as in some other parts of Sweden, but there are fascists and ultra-rightist racists, they even have Nazi-type demonstrations. When I went to the bathroom to pee, I realized suddenly that the skinhead peeing next to me might see that I appear circumcised and think I’m Jewish (as opposed to simply being American. It’s a long story.) That is fucking weird, I had never once in my life considered the fact that somebody might see my dick and hate me. I mean, because of the way it looked. I felt rattled by this, and had to talk myself down a bit before getting ready to play. I had a set of song-type songs, again, mostly from Jack & Jill’s “Chill and Shrill” or “Fancy Birdhouse,” Pushing the Norton, Another Beer, I’m an Idiot, I’ve Seen a Goat, and then threw in a rousing “Hey You” at the end, just to see if they’d come with me. Some people did, though most of the punk audience was still upstairs watching the football.

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The rest of the evening was some hella punk, though again I had some moments when I couldn’t tell which way the pendulum was swinging, politically. Lots of songs about marching boots, oy oy oy, but I believe they were anti-fascist. And “Olof Palme’s dead” which may have been pretty punk to say in 1980, but politically it’s a bummer and has been ever since he got shot on the street. This show featured a band called Sighsten’s Grannar, which means Sighsten’s Neighbors (someone is going to have to explain who this is, I was never sure what the implication was,) who were a defunct band coming back to make one last show, so they had the big audience. The band after me was D.B.T.S., which was supposed to sound like “diabetes,” then Sighsten’s Grannar, Dead Pollys up after them, so I saw a lot of punk rock. They rocked it, most people stuck around. I played the shit out of the violin on a few songs, it was a total hoot to play heavy loud punk rock. Nizze is a really forceful singer.

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So now I’d spent the previous weeks with all sorts of music, jazz and rock and classical, prog and punk and improv. During the following week, the guy whom Nathan had originally suggested as a bassist, Jair-Rôhm Parker Wells, was in town and had a studio he usually worked at called Gyroscope Studios, run by a guy named Frank Sanderson who was a drummer, so we arranged to meet there. I took my guitar and violin, then when changing to the bus at Liljeholmen, there was a dude in a tweed cap with an instrument, and in fact it was Jair-Rôhm, so we rode together and he told me that he was an American who had lived in Stockholm for about 15 years, and then moved to Bangkok four years back and come back to Scandinavia to work on cruise ships and such. However, his background was heavy, lots of playing bass on everything from LA sessions to an awful lot of free improv. He was carrying a portable electric upright bass and a pedal.

He showed me the way to the studio, and we met Frank, who was yet another American who had been living here for years, and was a voice-actor for his day job. The studio was an apartment of several rooms, the first of which we entered was the control room with the mixing desk and computer and a bunch of other random Soviet Russian-made synths and outboard gear. In another little room were guitars and amps, and through there was the drum room, where he had his giant drumset set up and mic’ed in a permanent way. Pretty cool setup! He said that we’d essentially be able to play and listen in the control room to the whole stereo mix, so Jair-Rôhm and I set up on the floor there. I had brought my little pedalboard, but for some reason it was having a high pitched noise issue (power supply thing, I think, trying to power the pedals through the Boss tuner. No wonder everybody here uses those power bricks with isolated 9v outputs. Never had that problem in the states, even though the power supply wall warts all say they’re good from 100-240v.) In the end I gave up on my stuff because Frank had a big pedal board he had built with a bunch of Electro-Harmonix devices! Yum!

Jair-Rôhm had one pedal. He was pragmatic, it was a Zoom multi-effects device and looper, and his bass sounded like something between and upright with a pickup and an electric bass. We tested sound levels and I tested out some of the amps and eventually we were ready to play, so Frank started up the recording on the computer and off we went.

Immediately I could see that this was going to be great. For one thing, I had all these great effects pedals to play with that I didn’t really know how to use (yet), but for another thing, these guy were masters of their instruments, which meant that it didn’t matter if I even played anything and it would still be great. In fact my only job was not to fuck it up! I was in pretty good playing shape from all the recording sand listening I’d been doing, so it all seemed smooth. After a little bit of build up, Frank jumped right in with a groove, and Jair Rohm went in super rhythm, I found some good tones and we were off. At any given point there may have been two of us inside and one outside the groove, Frank or Jair Rohm changing things up as needed, I rarely took any rhythmic control and was happy to fly melodically around Jair Rohm’s harmonic space, on guitar for a while then violin.

An hour and a quarter or so later, we came to a stop. I guess that’s the piece? Nice! Time for lunch! We went out and walked a bit up the road to a cafe near Telefonplan, had a relaxed lunch and came back and played just another half hour more and decided we were done. This was some fun music. Frank’s “group” was called The Momentary Music Ensemble, so this was who this would be attributed to, though he also said he was going to take out bits and pieces to play with for other projects (one of which is this track, Dance Medicinale). I got a rough mix of the whole piece we did, now called “Bad News Spiderman,” and though I read that with a comma, Frank never put one there. (That is, somebody saying to Spiderman, “[Looks like] bad news, Spiderman,” not that he’s a ‘bad news spiderman.’) He claims it’s out soon… I can’t wait! I will definitely keep you informed…

It’s up on Soundcloud now:

The next gig I had was playing again with Håkan from the Plastic Pals, but this time as an acoustic duo opening for Chuck Prophet at Nalen. Nalen is on of those halls that’s been a popular place for a hundred years, the site of many great jazz performances in Sweden back when the great players all came here, and were actually appreciated.

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With all of this musical activity I felt ready to tackle the listening part again, so I spent a lot of the next month working in my home studio, sorting out my recordings and diving back into mixing the Øresund Space Collective recordings from the previous fall. The ØSC recordings comprised several hours of music, but by this point Scott Heller, Dr Space, had decided which tracks would be going on the release scheduled for the fall. The working title was “From Many Lands,” to somewhat relate the disparate origins of the players, though as we worked more on the release, and especially with the artwork from Mørden Smed, the title became “Different Creatures.” Two CDs, 3 LPs, including two pieces that had sitar, one that was more Hawkwind-like, one more MAN-like, two outside electronica and one 45-minute epic space jam. So I worked exclusively on mixing these tracks, going back and forth with Scott and Hasse (Hans Horrigmoe, the bassist on these sessions and long time member of Tangle Edge, a Norwegian band.) There’s a lot of information about this process here on Malcolm Humes interview here on Perfect Sound Forever.

The mixing went on most of the summer, as I moved my home studio out to the country and began working on overdubs for my recordings, and writing them into songs, writing lyrics.

At the end of the month of May, I finally did get together with Mikael Tuominen (who was the person who was supposed to play bass at Eastman Studios to begin with, remember?) and Andreas, and we played and recorded it. The day was the last day of May, so we ended up calling the ensemble Sista Maj, which I think is a dark joke as it is colloquial for “the last day of May” but could also potentially mean “the last May” ever. You can listen to some of this here on Soundcloud, so long as Soundcloud lasts.

The Momentary Music Ensemble, in an entirely different incarnation, played at Fylkingen in early June, this time with electric sitar and trumpet and saxophone, we were all arranged around the space!

So. The purpose of all of this writing and all of this playing and all of this listening is and all of this audio sculpting in mixing is… superfluity. The album I am working on now, completely superfluous, complete overflow, is superfluity. I did most of the organization during summer, I had no gigs until heading to California to play again with Camper Van Beethoven in August. In the process of arranging and editing the recordings I had, I wrote lyrics and played guitars, violin, whatever. I sang some. It’s a big project, it’s two hours long, about. Two CDs, if it ever is made into physical objects. One of the pieces is a 23-minute piece of electronic music called “Phenomenon and On,” a tape collage and whatnot, everything I know about music all thrown into the kitchen sink. It’s right in the middle (which would be the end of the first CD, so you could easily skip it.) There are songs that are rock songs, there are songs that are more complicated. There are some instrumentals that are improvised, some that are composed.

I started a subscription series on my Bandcamp page, you can subscribe and get this album when it’s done…And these subscribers are also getting the outtakes as time goes on. Yes, even as long as my planned concept album is, there are outtakes!

I will write more about it all as we approach its release.

Posted in Guitar, Music, recording, Touring, Violin

Part 3 – “Will and Representation”

For the show on The Partially Examined Life podcast episode 115 where we spoke about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, we read the third book of “The World as Will and Representation,” (or, “…as Will and Idea,” written in 1818, and then a revised and fuller version in 1844, so, from Beethoven to Wagner) specifically with respect to his take on aesthetics. A lot of the whole book is about trying to ascribe a “will” to the essence of Plato’s Forms without being theistic. It’s a tough call. The Will is somehow separate from the Form or Idea or Representation, which is isn’t the thing itself anyway, the Will is the thing-in-itself instead of its self in a causal world. And for the most part we only know of things through our senses, which means that we only know about their causality, (which would follow, from the Principle of Sufficient Reason, because anything you can see came from somewhere, for some reason, yeah), so even knowing the timeless Ideal Form of a thing, from your perspective as a human being, like the idea of “moose” as opposed to the moose you see over there eating a tree branch, involves your subjective understanding of moose given your own limitations of existence on a planet that has moose. So from Schopenhauer’s take on this, there’s an underlying level of is-ness to the moose, the will that is the objective thing that it is. But it’s unlikely that you can experience that, unless you have complete objectivity.

You know, like with Kant’s idea that to know a thing in and of itself outside of its existence in time and space requires a kind of knowledge that is not that that we obtain with our sense, but a direct knowledge of a thing, a transcendental knowledge rather than an immanent knowledge of something’s literal existence in the here-and-now. So how does a human experience transcendental knowledge? Via art, of course! Schope says: “What kind of knowledge is concerned with that which is outside and independent of all relations, that which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that which is subject to no change and therefore is known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas, which are the direct and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, the will? We answer, Art, the work of genius.” But of course it has a much to do with the self-consciousness of the knowing person and their own ability to objectify the world around them, separating their reaction from the knowing of the object/art/world. And he goes on about experiencing beauty (which ain’t good, as it’s sensual, you know, so non-objective) versus experiencing the sublime, which is the ultimate transcendental knowledge as it transcends our own individuality.

Well, as you can imagine, this goes on with examples and descriptions of what’s good and bad aesthetically. The will itself has motion and desire, so things that fulfill its desire and provide satisfaction don’t allow the self to transcend its own relationship to the object or art, so what you’d be after here is something unfavorable to the will and its desire that you could contemplate. So attractiveness, beauty and charm, that’s just tawdry. The sublime is reached when the will is transcended consciously. Pure will-less knowing. (And he goes on about how symbolism is crap, etc.)

Anyway, though he talks about how rhyme and rhythm are “aids” to poetry, he can only think so because of the direct connection to temporality in our human perception. They are a means of holding attention. What’s the real and true representation of the will, of course, is music, I’m guessing because it’s an abstract and is never literal even if it tries to be representational of specific things. He does say that great poets can present the thing-in-itself by understanding the inner nature of man and presenting it with adequate objectivity, but somehow he believes the music is a direct copy of the will itself, not itself a representation.

Really, I found a lot of his ideas to be contradictory, but what do I know about 200-year-old thought. He abhors symbolism but then classifies the parts of music symbolically, the bass being unorganized nature, the mass of the planet, which has to move in large intervals, the other tones the organization of harmony on top of that corresponding to animal life, then the melody is the great human being, the knowing guiding light. What a crock. I hate this Man-as-lord-over-the-earth crap. The whole dominion over the earth and animals thinking is what got us into destroying the planet we live on. It’s an ecology, we’re part of it. You’re soaking in it!

So anyway, the will strives, seeking fulfillment, and the absence of satisfaction is suffering (he had been reading Buddhist tracts!) Music is a universal language that expresses exactly this. Music is the metaphysical to everything physical in the world, and as the thing-in-itself to every phenomenon. We might as well say that the world is embodied music. He seems to have read a lot of theory about music, he knew his harmonic theory and mathematics of tuning. He had already gone off about the idea of the sublime in mathematics, (Germans are into that, as seen still in the Ritter Sport chocolate bar “Perfection in a Square”) and he goes off for a while about tuning ratios and how the physical world simply can’t even hold a perfect music because of the Pythagorean Comma and other deviations from perfect whole number tuning systems, saying how temperament is just the way our imperfect physical world has to deal with what would be otherwise perfection, and I suppose is perfection in the will.

I didn’t mean to write an overview of Schopenhauer here, but I get started and this is what happens. It was fun to read and talk about, you can listen to the whole podcast here, but you know where this kind of thinking goes, Nietzsche picks it up with the Will idea and goes for it, then more dominion-over-earth-and-people crap and then you get Nazis.

The fact that the passage of time disproves old science and old philosophy is ironic when you consider the intent in both is to understand the unchanging essence of the universe. Schopey had a lot to say about music and aesthetics, but music changed an awful lot after him, and went all abstract once the media technology could accurately represent sound (or vision: after the camera, painting got wild. That’s another essay…) One thing that stuck with me was his use of the word (in English translation) superfluity, which described the state of artistic genius, or art in general: the idea being that genius is an excess of knowledge that goes beyond just the needs to service the individual will, and can provide the genius with a “clear mirror of the inner nature of the world.” This is funny to me, as superfluity means overflow, of course, but we usually use the word superfluous, which just indicates that it is excess and unnecessary. So, art in general is superfluous. It is, indeed! It can only be there when the basic needs are taken care of, when the body is fed, clothed and sheltered. In fact, all art is superfluity. It’s overflow.

I’m one of those overflowing people, I recognize myself in this: if I’m fed, the next thing is music. And I acutely recognize the ridiculousness of making music in this day and age, when the very existence of our species is threatened by its own idiotic furthering of “individual will”. I mean, go back and read “Not a Tour Diary.

The next day was 4/20, dude, a Monday. Our family-friend Joa was singing Nielsen’s Third Symphony at Konserthuset, and I had a comp ticket, though nobody else could go (well, it was either me or Sanna, but somebody had to stay home with the child. I suppose it could have been the grandparents, but somehow none of this worked out. Nor did Joa’s parents come, for some reason.) This meant that I would be sitting by myself in the concert hall amidst all the Stockholm cultural elite. Best thing to do would be to smoke half a joint that I managed to procure from the previous week of studio activity. This is a much more difficult endeavor here in Stockholm than in, say, Oakland. Or anywhere else in the world, actually. Swedes think pot is a narcotic. It’s some weird cultural norm that all drugs are considered evil, even though alcohol use and abuse is rampant. Even when my wife moved to California, she was shocked that people smoked pot. Cannabis is severely illegal in Sweden. Well, that would make it unthinkable that I would just sit there and smoke it, right?

So I sat in Hötorget on the back steps of the concert hall with a hundred other people and ate a falafel, had a beer in a brown paper bag (bought from Systembolaget downstairs in Hötorget Hallen, so not cold. They don’t even make that easy*.) and then I went around to go pick up my ticket. I went around to the entrance to the concert hall and walked up the stairs to ask the ticket taker where to pick up my ticket, which was off to the side by the entrance, which was also the entrance to a coffee shop. After convincing the will call people that yes, this weirdo in front of you had a ticket left for him by a performer, I went back outside to smoke part of a joint. I figured standing there on Sveavägen would hide me in a crowd, so to speak. So I stood outside the coffeehouse and lit up. A black guy came out to talk on the phone, I offered him a hit, he looked at me like I was insane and ran back inside. Right, not Oakland, I forgot. I smoked about four hits, couldn’t hold on to it anymore, nobody seemed to figure out what was going on, so I threw the roach into the gutter and popped a piece of gum in my mouth and went in to go to the bathroom and wash my hands. I walked back up the stairs and handed my ticket to the guy, I just knew he knew I was stoned. Found the bathroom and waited in line with the well-dressed middle-aged men needing to pee before sitting through some classical music, washed my hands and face so nobody could smell the lingering scent and bust me. I felt like I was in high school. I made my way through the foyer with the exhibits about Sibelius and Nielsen and noted that I should check them out before the Nielsen symphony. Found my seat and sat down, luckily with nobody on either side of me.

Oh shit. I am really high. I’m so high I’m about to pass out. This is what you get for lowering your tolerance. This is a beautiful concert hall! Sounds amazing. I hope these nattering old ladies behind me don’t know I’m so high. Shit, my gum is not holding together, what the hell? Why would gum lose its consistency? It’s like strings of syrupy gunk falling apart in my mouth. Maybe it had some weird chemical reaction to the pot. Or the falafel. I have to get up and throw it away, shit. Ok, ok. I can do this… So I made it up and back to my seat, and then the orchestra people were coming out on stage. They are all dressed the same. In little rows. All those violins!

Right, they’re going to play Beethoven. Beethoven’s Third Symphony, The Eroica, 1805, the heroic symphony supposedly written for Napoleon and then rescinded lest the composer should subsequently lose a commission from a royal patron. Here they go.

Two hundred years have passed with this same classical language now being used to death to lead us by the nose in every movie score to indicate tension and release. Man, I’m getting tired of it. I’m tired of this theme from the first movement. I remember being so into Beethoven symphonies when I was young, but this endless drilling of melodies in diminished or dominant 7th chords, just waiting to resolve is awful! It’s endless purposeful tension—Oh! It’s Schopenhauer’s striving will. Right, his book was first published in 1818, this is what he meant by music. Shit. Right, let’s try to listen to this as the direct copy of the will.

The will is frustrated. And all those musicians all in lines, all wearing the same thing, sawing away, all playing the exact same thing. So fucking fascist. This music is fascist. And it’s about “heroism”. Right. I hate this symphony. Why did they choose to play this? Who the fuck put this on the program with Nielsen or Sibelius? The program says something about relating Beethoven’s Third to Nielsen’s Third, a hundred years apart. What the fuck. Was Nielsen writing about heroism? I doubt that.

Ok, ok, listen to the underlying will, the truth of people and reality back in 1805. Shopenhauer pointed out how poets presented history in more accurate ways than historians because they were free of the literal. This thematic material is being beaten to death. What do these people around me think? There’s a guy in a suit to my right in front of me nodding his head, he’s dancing a bit in his little way. The old ladies behind me are enjoying it. Or sleeping. Wasn’t there a movement of this symphony that I liked? I hope it’s the next one.

Nope, not the second movement either. The funeral march. That’s not super nice for Napoleon, is it? He didn’t die until 1821. At least is has some interesting fugal stuff. God it’s long. Right, it’s the will, endless, striving. Sweaty. Maybe it’s the third movement I liked.

Ok at least I don’t feel like I could faint at any moment now, and my adrenaline reaction to the situation and the fascist orchestra is dwindling a bit. Maybe I can begin to enjoy Beethoven. This movement has a funny thing in the totally gay Scherzo melody, it’s like the melody is presented, dit-dit-dah, dit-dit-dah, over and over, so dumb, then the response, and at the very end right before it’s supposed to end there’s a fragment, a little last turn of an appoggiatura, like fuck you, we’re leaving, but we just have this last thing to say. The fuck-you bit. I like that. Ha. Here’s the melody again, dit-dit-dah…and the responses, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da, bah-da… and there we go, diddle-dee-dit, fuck you. Have to remember that fuck-you bit. We’re going out, but, oh, one last thing: fuck you.

And now the last movement, finally. It sounds great in here, you know. I thought the way they had the violins with the first on the left and seconds on the right with the violas and cellos in between was gonna mean that the faces of the seconds were facing backwards and we wouldn’t hear them as well, but they’re some sort of reflective surface above and right behind the orchestra, so all parts are there. They’re all lined up in their tuxes, playing their lines all together. Like a good army. This movement is theme an variations and it never ends. Continuous tension in the only way we knew dissonance could be two hundred years ago, those tritones and dominant 7ths. And to think that people are still speaking this language, all the stupid film composers forgot the lovely dissonances of the 1940s and 50s films and went back to THIS. Let us show you to what you are supposed to feel! Shut up, Beethoven. Ok, it’s not your fault, but you started it. You and your trombones and piccolos. Oh wait, it’s only horns in this one. I think? Can’t quite tell, they are really blaring. And you guys are all sawing away on those diminished chords, let’s drag this out, and finally, finally get back to that big Eb. And Again!

Yay, you did it! The orchestra stands up and bows, sweaty. You did it, you guys, you played a Beethoven symphony. That’s what I think as I clap. You did it. You can go home and think, hey, we performed a Beethoven symphony, all the way through. What a feat.

Ok, shit, it’s intermission now. I’m gonna read the exhibit in the foyer and wonder why the fuck they put a Beethoven symphony on this week-long program of Sibelius and Nielsen, and why I didn’t get any Sibelius. Gotta maintain, here in public. Can I read? Oh yeah, I seem to be able to read, ok, I think I can do this. Maybe I can even buy a bottle of water.

Nice little museum of information in the foyer, I learned that Nielsen played folk music and that he was a violinist. I went back into the hall and listened to the sound of the hall. This hall sounded great. Some musicians were on the stage making little notes and sounds, people were milling about. The sounds from everywhere were available to me as I sat there on the main floor, back a ways but generally in the middle. I like the way they set up a reflection baffle directly behind the orchestra, but then there are rows of seats above that behind them with nobody in them. I love this music, the music of the random bits the musicians are playing and the sound of the reverb in the hall, and various little subdued conversations. Ahhh.

Eventually everybody has filed in and the conductor comes back out and the symphony starts. It’s obvious that the composer was a string player! This is very cool, open strings and melodies obvious to the left hand, with a harmonic language of big open intervals, fourths and fifths and seconds. This is from about 1910. Cool harmonic language, not exactly tonal but with melodies that suggest tonality, but move away from it, or move in and out of various tonalities. Very folk-music rhythmic. Why did they put Beethoven with this?

The second movement segues in and it’s fairly slow and static, then holds on a specific set of pitches and suddenly, hey, there’s Joa! He’s in the balcony row above the back of the stage to the right of the orchestra, like a little balcony. He sings a melodic vocalise over the static chord, maybe 32 bars. Now there’s a woman on the same level, stage right, she sings the same melody a couple octaves higher. Ok, that’s it, over and back to the orchestra jamming away on their folky melodies. That’s it? No more singing? He came all the way from Berlin to sing 32 bars? Wow.

When the concert ended, I was mellow enough to maintain, went outside and called Joa to see if he was going to come out or what, he texted back to say he was going to go across the street for a beer with a friend of his from school whose dad had been the horn player in the Royal orchestra here when Joa’s grandfather was the principal flutist. So I met them and we went over there, and asked them a bit about the program, trying not to be so obvious about that fact that I just could not comprehend why on earth they had put that Beethoven piece on there. Joa’s friend said, hey, ask my dad, he’ll be here in a second, he is the program director and this is his final program, he put together this whole Sibelius and Nielsen program. Oh shit! Well, dad came over, and they proceeded to eat dinner and we had some beer, and they talked about how horn players were great—and great drinkers. And about various conductors they had worked with and such, I tried a little to ask about the program idea, but couldn’t quite understand his concept beyond the two composers’ third symphonies a hundred years apart, but then I realized that he was a french horn player, and Beethoven really wrote the shit outta that part for this symphony, before he discovered the trombone. And there’s that part in the last movement where the horn precedes the main melody entrance, and they talked about horn players ripping it at that moment. Ok, so he had some special thing for this one. I guess it’s excusable. Maybe.

After this, Joa and I walked around and went over to the Glenn Miller Cafe, which is a small jazz club, to have another drink and listen to an entirely different kind of music. This place had Lagunitas IPA on tap, so I was happy. And Joa knew the bartender, she was a singer he had gone to school with also. There were about 4 people there listening to a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, who were good, not too inside, not too outside, just right for late on a Monday night. When they took a break, a couple sitting at one of the tables came up to ask Joa about his performance, (he was still in a tux and carrying a bouquet of roses) and it was obvious that they too were singers, the guy had the most huge low voice even when speaking. They talked a bit about the schools here and singing the Nielsen piece, which I commented was such a small bit for a solo for an out-of-towner, Joa said that was what made it critical! You were there to sing for less than a minute, at the right time with the right tone, better get it right!

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We tried to make it back to Hötorget station but were too late for the subway on a Monday night and had to catch a cab all the way home to Blackeberg.

I had some time the rest of this week to work on organizing and beginning to figure out what all I had recorded so far from both studios and try to think about where this completely superfluous musical addition to the world might end up, aesthetically. To say nothing of where it might end up economically, which was a foregone conclusion anyway. Plus I had one more gig coming up the following weekend with The Dead Pollys, a Stockholm punk band whom I had recorded a violin track for on one of the songs (“All the Gold in the Land”) on their new album, “A Bullet for the Wicked“, which this show would be a release party for.

(I ended up railing on Beethoven in the “after show” discussion on Episode 115 of The Partially Examined Life, a video chatroom where people discuss the podcast. And then discussing more about aesthetics and authenticity on Episode 118 with Victor Krummenacher there too.)

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*That’s on purpose. The idea is to make it harder to get alcohol (anything above 3.5%) by only selling it in state stores from 10am-7pm on weekdays and Saturdays. They even had ads on TV around the holidays featuring the ghost of Christmas present sort of thing to show how your life might have been if alcohol had been easier to get, how you would have wrecked your family life and your job by being a drunk.

Posted in Music, Philosophy, Violin

A full April, continued (part 2)

At this point, after a couple recording days, I had hours of audio to sort through, several pieces from Eastman and several from Roth Händle, though I had to wait for the files from Mattias Olsson because he likes to record on an old hard-disk recorder (it’s like tape, punch in or out, gotta know your part!) so he had to get the files from it and into Dropbox or somewhere where I could download them. So I didn’t get to dive in and start listening immediately to those, and anyway I had to reread Schopenhauer and think about aesthetics, and practice for an upcoming show where I would play solo.

I actually don’t like playing solo shows. It’s not because I’m more stage-frightened, although I guess I am, but it’s that it doesn’t sound like I want it to. I am into the sound of a band, the sound of electric guitars, and I like having the freedom of having a rhythm section so that I can be more fluid around it. And play lead guitar, of course. But here I would be opening for The Plastic Pals at the Southside Tavern in Hornstull, and then sitting in with them for a few songs on violin. I’ve played with the Pals many times over the past few years, they are a solid rock band led by Håkan Soold. They sound a lot like they stepped right out of the 1980s Paisley Underground scene in California (though with a few lyrical choices that might make it questionable as to whether they were indeed native speakers—not that the California guys didn’t perhaps sound that way as well), and as a result they’ve ended up playing opening slots for the existing folks from that scene, which has been sort of funny for me since Camper Van Beethoven had played with a lot of these guys back it the late 1980s. For example, since I’ve been sitting in with these guys, we’ve played with Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas and Dan Stuart separately, all of whom were in the band Green On Red way back when, and we also opened for the Dream Syndicate. I actually hadn’t talked to Steve Wynn since he and Dan Stuart were playing as Danny and Dusty and Camper played with them in London at the Mean Fiddler in 1987 or so. (That itself was a memorable experience for me when Steve and I started talking about living in Davis in the late 1970s and early 80s and how I used to ride my bike from my after-high-school job at Steve’s Place Pizza to the University to see him with the Suspects or see Alternate Learning or whomever…and we started speaking the flat-and-fast Northern California style of speaking and then realized that none of the Brits nor Scots around us could follow us! Ha! Just like so many Americans can’t understand thick Scottish or northern English accents!) At the gig in Stockholm at Nalen, I ended up talking with Steve backstage about Scott Miller and his passing. Weird, I guess that’s what old musicians talk about, either equipment or dead friends.

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Plastic Pals L-R: Olav on drums, Anders, Håkan, Bengt

This particular Saturday, April 18, as it happened, was “Record Store Day,” which meant that Pet Sounds Records had bands playing. I played there once on Record Store Day a couple years back, but to be honest it seemed like absolutely nobody there gave a shit about me playing, not even the people running the shop. They agreed to book me to play, advertising as “from Camper Van Beethoven,” but they didn’t have any Camper Van Beethoven albums in stock, nor have they since. This despite the fact that a few short years ago Camper was receiving huge 2-page reviews in the newspapers, we’d been entirely forgotten by the hip-oisie by the time I moved here. (The Swedish distributor for our stateside label didn’t even bother to put out our 2011 and 2013 albums here, they just did not care at all.) Also despite the fact that Marty Willson-Piper is now taking care of Pet Sounds Records! The record store crowd at the time that I played were really into some Swedish musicians from defunct bands, clearing out before I went on and then waiting patiently outside for the next batch while I played inside. This year, The Plastic Pals played a set promoting their new 7” single of Timing is Everything/I Want You Back (which I done a little engineering for) before going over to the Southside Tavern to load in, and at least 15 people were watching. I went down to watch and generally hang out, and then rode with them to their practice space to get other things and off to the Southside.

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…or go to TjejBoxning.

When I had first started playing with the Plastic Pals, they rehearsed in a tiny room near Slussen, now they had finally gotten a decent sized space, but what a weird location! This was like a hidden room behind a metal door in the lowest floor of the back end of an underground parking garage on the north part of Vasastan. You’d never know it was there, behind that random door. Who knows what’s behind other doors one might see in the cement walls of underground parking garages?

Then to the club, which, like many here, it seems, is some cellar below a pub. These places have narrow stages and sometimes low arched ceilings. The Southside Tavern is ostensibly an Irish pub. I think. Anyway, the people that work there are all English or Irish or Scottish. And the upstairs has a restaurant with fish’n’chips and burgers and such. I’ve played there with the Pals several times (and other similar places). Even though they actually have some decent beer on tap upstairs, the band gets a case of pilsner or some other cheap crap, and gets 25% off of food, or something like that. I had nowhere to go, so I stayed to eat, the other guys went to their nearby homes. It actually takes me about an hour to get to this area from my apartment, so rather than spend two extra hours on subways, I hung out and thought about what to play for my own set.

My wife’s family had met another local family in birthing classes when my wife was in the womb, and this other family has become, well, family. The kids all grew up together and the families not only have apartments a block away from each other, but they also have summer houses (like everyone in Sweden) right near each other. The younger of these two brothers is now an opera singer, and lives in Berlin, but he had come back to town to sing in a Nielsen symphony at the Konserthuset the following Monday, part of a series celebrating Nielsen (a Danish composer) and Sibelius (a Finnish composer). Both brothers came to my show to support me, which was great! But it did mean that I would be singing in front of a real singer. I’m not a good singer at all, though I like doing it. Like playing the violin: I managed to get into the University orchestra more on enthusiasm than talent.

I’m alternately happy and sad that I sound like I do. I really don’t want to sound like anyone else, but I tend to think that the sound or tuning of my voice alienates most first-time listeners. Or even long-time listeners, maybe. This is one of those things I think about often, the fact that so many popular singers in this past decade or two just sound like somebody else or some specific style or genre. It confounds me, how on earth did this happen? Originality is played down in favor of catching the listeners’ ear with the comfortable sound of the generic. Regardless, I certainly don’t sound like anybody who can actually sing, but I always believe in that balance point between ars and ingenium, one’s craftsmanship versus one’s innate abilities, that the balance point should never be equal: it’s always more interesting when it’s offset, even so much as to be about to tip. I love the artists that have so much inside that needs to get out even if the ability to play is underdeveloped. I also love the ones that are so technically competent that they can shine that little bit of genius through in the small touches.

For my set, I played an electric guitar rather than trying to be the standard acoustic-guitar singer-songwriter douche. As Seth MacFarlane accurately pointed out in Family Guy, these folks killed the guitar.

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solo set at Southside.

I played songs from my most recent albums with songs, Shine Out, All Attractions, and Honey: Can’t Help It, Turtles All The Way Down, Hey You, The Bolinas Witch, Listen, Örebro. It was short and sweet, not too much sweating. Joa (the opera singer) and his brother Ted said they thought I sounded great, though it was hard to tell with the rest of the small audience. Swedes, you know. Or maybe Stockholmers, they’re like the New Yorkers of Sweden: too cool to dance. Not that my songs inspire dancing. In fact, that’s not fair, I rarely dance at shows either, too busy thinking. About the music. Maybe everybody in Europe is just cogitating.

After my set, Ted, Joa and I got drinks and I sat with them during the parts of the Plastic Pals set that I wasn’t playing on; I only played about half dozen songs in their set. Which is as it should be, they are a rock band, adding a violin is cute and all, but it’s not necessary all over the place. The Pals have a ton of great songs, several from their last album, Turn the Tide, but many more newer ones that aren’t released yet. I sat in on a bit of both (I had played some violin on some of the newer recordings, and recorded Håkan’s vocals on several of them as well, but so far only two singles are out). Between songs, we drank more and I ended up meeting Donald Lupo, another American ex-pat who lives in Finland and plays the banjo. Apparently we had met 25 years previous at some Camper Van Chadbourne concert in Germany, though I had no memory of this. Surprise, surprise.

So eventually I packed up the violin and the guitar and headed to the subways station, where inevitably I had to wait 20 minutes for the next train, and then another 10 minutes at Slussen, two stops later, for the connecting train, so I got home at 3am or something.

I was a bit hungover the next day, which was probably not the best shape to be in to do the video chat recording for The Partially Examined Life on Schopenhauer and aesthetics

Posted in Guitar, Music, Philosophy, Sweden, Touring, Violin

…and a year later… (part 1)

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My last posts here were almost a year ago. I didn’t have any words. So I started recording music. Again.

Try as I might, I can’t stop recording music. I fully realize that it’s meaningless in this day and age to continue to hold onto this idea that there is value in recorded music, but it’s my passion and everything that I’ve trained to do during my whole life. The money and time it takes to produce a recording could perhaps be better spent on food or rent, but you know how it is with hobbies… Especially hobbies that were once professions. And I mean profession not like a job or “career” (as they might speak of referring to artists’ output) but more like one’s calling, I guess, the thing you do regardless of everything else. I know many people talk about how they can have separate lives, their work and then their “real” life, but I’ve never been one of those people that can separate myself from what I do. I am what I do. I’ve tried working just on the technical side, in studios or with computer work, but inevitably I become unsatisfied with working so hard on somebody else’s idea that I want to spend more time working on my own ideas. Even when I was doing film sound work in LA, it only made me want to make my own films. Or records. (Which I did, though the films were such crap that thankfully nobody will ever see them. The records (CDs, actually, but you know) were the second Dent album, “Verstärker” (1998) and what became my own “Scissors and Paper” (2000).) The technical knowledge of recording or computers or lighting or whatever is great to have to work on your own, but when you show that you can do it, you always end up helping everybody else, and the people who are creatives who have (or pretend to have) no technical knowledge always need help to facilitate their own vision, so anybody with technical knowledge is suddenly no longer working on the creative side of the production. If you know how to operate a mixing desk, you don’t get to pick up a guitar.

Last year I had some very severe misgivings about the importance of what I do (that is to say, being a musician and composer) in the grand scheme of life. Indeed, it’s tough to evaluate. Modern life is based on quantification, usually with money as the quantified unit, and to be sure, the qualities of things like music are rarely quantifiable. Especially in a world where there is no longer a sustenance level to being a middle-class musician as the economies become more and more neo-liberal, the small percentage of rich get richer and everybody else just gets poorer. This trend is systemic, and it’s destroying the human race’s ability to survive any long run scenario, which makes the idea of art irrelevant. I used to think that what I did was adding to the ever-growing spiral of human culture, but I have sincere doubts about culture’s (/life’s/the human race’s/the biosphere’s/etc) ability to grow any further. It never occurred to me 20 years ago that there might not be anybody alive in a hundred years to consider what the artists or musicians of my lifetime were doing. And this is without even considering the fact that what we make now is all stored digitally, so probably can’t survive another decade of format changes anyway. If people are around in a century, this era will be a dark age: no information will survive!

Well, so if it doesn’t matter at all, what have I got to lose? I might as well just continue. (Like Dorothy Parker’s poem “Resumé”). I spent most of my time in the first months of 2015 working on mixing a dozen or so recordings that I had played on the previous October in Copenhagen with Øresund Space Collective, each piece of which was between 15 and 60 minutes long. So that was a task, which I left unfinished. But then, in April of 2015 I started recording my own music again. Well, actually I started by being a technician again, but this time, I did it in order to get some studio time.

The week started with setting up some recording sessions at a studio called Eastman Studios at a study center in Vasastan, my friend Nathan, aka Diipak, wanted to record a bunch of Bob Dylan covers and so he hired a band to do the basics, and their pay was that they got the first day to record their own music. I came in as studio technician, to make sure the sounds got to tape (computer actually, they use Logic X. I don’t like Logic, personally, so there was some learning curve there) through the board, which was this awful 1990s digital mixer made for radio, which had a dead internal battery so that it lost its settings every night and all internal routing had to be reset before you started. Anyhow, after that struggle, this band started playing. What a riot! They consisted of two guys who spend all their time playing at local subway stations, one of whom insisted on using his little portable amp for his 12-string acoustic (it’s my sound, man!) and the other who was like a Mark Knopfler clone. The bassist was a metal dude, and the drummer was an American ex-pat who had been a child prodigy drummer so knew everything about everything and consistently played ahead of the beat. And what did they play? Bad blues-rock, basically. Though everybody got their own song in, so there was one sort of emo-metal track from the bassist.

Merlin

I have to say, this was a painful experience. I was doing this in order to get an evening of studio time, so when Knopfler would get picky with me about the amps there (which did sort of suck) or how much time it took to get drum sounds or whatever, I had to really hold my tongue. Not like I was being paid here. And so I did the best I could with this situation, at the end of which they did not understand why I didn’t have final mixes available for them to take home, and they were troubled by the fact that it was going to take 30 minutes to copy all of their basic tracks to their flash drives.

The next day was the start of tracking for Dylan songs. Nathan wanted to do each in some different style or genre, though basics all done here. This went generally well, though there was a lot of complaining by the band guys about whatever, how to do this, how the song should go, that sort sort of thing. They had thought that they would be able to listen to their songs from the day before perhaps. But they ended up playing some Dylan songs in the end. The day after, they weren’t there much and Nathan did some overdubs. My evening was that evening, and I had asked Mikael Tuominen to come in and play bass, he had suggested a drummer named Andreas Axelsson, whom I hadn’t met. Mikael played in a few bands in town (e.g. Kungens Män) and I had played with him with Einar Baldursson (from Gösta Berlings Saga) for Einar’s final concert at a music pedagogy program, so I knew Mikael was up for some improvising. At the last minute, however, he couldn’t make it (a sick child, I think. Can’t quite remember.) So no bassist. Hmm. Nathan tried to call one bassist he knew, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, but he wasn’t in town, so he suggested a guy he knew named Mats Burman who was a guitarist who worked at a guitar repair shop, who also played bass. Ok, I guess!

jesFramjandet

Andreas arrived early, and since we didn’t yet have a bassist (Mats said he could come in a bit later) I asked if Andreas would be willing to play drums along to some demos I had of songs that had click track or drum machine. He was fine with this, though he said he hadn’t really played rock music since he was a teenager. So I got a few takes of some interesting drumming for some songs I had been working on, or rather some ideas that were barely there, so having drums might help me try to figure out where to go with them. Then Mats arrived and we set up and I set up my guitar and violin with amps and everything and we started trying to play.

This was an odd experience. Nobody knew each other, nobody knew what type of music the others played. I tried to guide some things by playing, but it took a while to get into any sort of groove. The first piece took a while to develop, but got to some nice places. The second one was a little odd, and I got sort of frustrated and went off into abstract and dissonant Marc Ribot-style stuff for a while. For the third try I switched from Stratocaster to Les Paul, and still it was a slow build, though this one went more like Quicksilver Messenger Service perhaps. (At our best, anyway.) At this point I didn’t know where to go with the session, so Nathan and our friend Johan who were nominally at the controls came in and I played bass while Nathan played my violin and Johan played piano. This was really weird, very tentative, mellow, searching for a melody, it ended up sounding very ECM, or at least Nordic. For the last attempt, I played violin, again with Mats and Andreas. It ended up like a series of dramatic cadences.

Well, it was something to play with once I brought the audio home anyway. I planned to edit and go about my normal route of isolating good melodic elements and doubling them, or generally orchestrating the improvisation somewhat into a composition. I had one more day here of doing technical work and then I had a day scheduled at Mattias Olsson’s studio in Sollentuna, Roth Händle.

The last day at Eastman was just overdubs for Nathan and general cleanup (I could only carry some of my gear there or back each day, so it took two days to get two guitars, a violin and many pedals there, and then two to get them back). Copy off all the audio files to drives, go home.

Friday, I went to Roth Händle, with basically nothing: I figured Mattias had gear at his studio that I could use. I wanted him to play drums on a few things, including a couple that I had already had Andreas do, and then just improvise with him. We started with some of the tracks to play to, but after a relatively short time, we got sidetracked into making one idea into something else, and then sidetracked into making entirely new things. And then we ate lunch. And then we came back and I played baritone guitar for some improvising with Mattias on drums, and then I played some old thuddy bass.

Mattias.jpg

Now Mattias Olsson is a nutcase. I say this with the utmost respect: these are the sorts of people that I love. He started playing professionally as a teenager in prog-rock band called Änglagård, maybe 1991 or so. They were complex-style prog rock, not the usual “Progg” of 1970s Sweden which was generally more progressive politically than musically (though not all of it. It’s a huge subject, if you’re inclined to research Swedish Progg, it’s pretty amazing.) But Änglagård sort of spurred a renaissance of complexity in the prog rock world back in the 1990s, and some people still refer to Mattias as part of that. However, after that he went on to form a pop band with his wife Åsa Carild called Pineforest Crunch who were sort of post-Cardigans pop wave and incredibly popular in Sweden and Japan. And with that, he set up his studio, though he eventually had to move it to this room in Sollentuna where it is now, which I believe was once a furniture store. In any case, the studio is filled to the brim with instruments (at least 3 Mellotrons, 3 pianos, a Chamberlin, maybe 10 different synthesizers in functional shape at any given time, organs, numerous drums and cymbals, vibraphone, marimba and bass marimba, and then a bunch of odd guitars and basses hanging on the walls). Mattias has several musical projects going on at any given point, one of which is called Necromonkey, which is with David Lundgren, also from Gösta Berlings Saga (have you listened to them yet? Why not?) Necromonkey is instrumental music based on synthetic keyboards and perhaps drums, or maybe drum machines, but somehow sounds like it may have been either from 60s psychedelic-noir era film soundtracks or perhaps some guy from Kraftwerk who got locked in a studio in Mexico City in 1980. It’s hard to tell. In any case, it’s impressive. I saw them play live once at the Stockholm Prog Fest, (which itself was bizarre), and they killed it, they had two extra players (a bassist and another percussionist) and a wall of TVs behind them. Then after they played, Gösta Berlings Saga played, with Mattias and I sitting in playing very specific complicated—and fast—parts, he on glockenspiel and me on violin. I have never seen a person be so accurate on glockenspiel after 5 beers. And I could not tell if he was hitting on my mother-in-law or just being genial.

Anyway, playing with him in the studio was great, as we wandered off track and I got a little nervous about getting some “basic tracks” done for “an album,” but the side trips proved incredibly valuable. Our improvisational tracks have since become very intense songs (won’t he be surprised!) They sound incredibly composed. Ha HA! Almost all of it ended up being used on “the album” I’m making.

So that was a draining week. But this month wasn’t over yet! I still had to continue to read a ton of Schopenhauer, because I was supposed to be a guest on “The Partially Examined Life” podcast in an episode about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, specifically music (which was hard to be specific about, though I’ll get to that later.) Plus, I had two gigs coming up, one opening solo for and then sitting in with The Plastic Pals, whom I’d sat in with several times before, and then a week later the same thing with The Dead Pollys, a punk band I had recorded a track with.

Tune in next week.

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Posted in Guitar, Music, recording, Technology

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it.”

the '62 reissue, somewhere in Seattle. Photo by Ian Weintraub.

…as John Cage said.

So with that in mind, instead of writing a million more pages of words, like I did last time, I’m just going to put links to recent music here for you folks to peruse.

Here’s the latest, a number of etudes based on playing with echo and reverb. Each is one performance of a guitar track, no overdubs, with numerous different delays, pitch-tracked and these (sometimes incorrect) notes fed to synthesizers or electric pianos. Enjoy!

Here are my last few albums.
Shine Out, from last year.

and then All Attractions and Apricot Jam from 2012.

enjoy!

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Posted in Music
about.me
Jonathan Segel

Jonathan Segel

musician and composer

Jonathan Segel started playing guitar when he was about 7 years old. At about 10 he had a crush on a girl who played violin, so he thought he'd try that too.

Unfortunately he sucked at it.

That did not stop him, however, from later playing the violin in rock bands when everybody else played guitar. Sometime around 1983, while carrying a violin across the quad at Porter College at UC Santa Cruz, he was approached by some kids who had moved their band up from Redlands, CA. This turned out to be Camper Van Beethoven and the Border Patrol.

Well, what we didn't know then is that this association was apparently for life, as Camper Van Beethoven has now made records/CDs for the past ~30 or so years, and is still playing.

Through all the ups and downs of that band, Jonathan has continued to make his own records (../CDs/tapes/whatever... probably a billion of them so far) in a variety of genres ranging from guitar-based rock music to way-avant-garde electronic music and many other places in between..​.

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