Saturday, December 28, 2013

Resonant (Mostly)

Now live (mostly) - the new website for Resonant Motion, Inc., the new not-for-profit organization of which I'm the Director of Communications and Social Media.  That's a mouthful, yes?  I was looking for the best way to describe what I do, and 'designer and strategy consultant' seemed a bit underwhelming.  Titles are elastic things, I find - I've never had one that adequately described my full role in any job, so why start now?

I won't bog you down with info about the content - it's primarily a vehicle for friend and New England jazz luminary Noah Baerman to further his work and social agenda under the umbrella of a broader organization.  If you want to learn more, take a visit and dig around… bearing in mind that although the site is officially live, the content is still being added to.

What I will note here is that the site is my first experiment with building a full site in Wordpress, in this case with a (mostly) fairly flexible theme called 'PressWork.'  Am I thoroughly satisfied with the results?  No.  Well, I am (mostly) from a pure design perspective - and thanks to Kate Ten Eyck for her art to dress up the site - but from a functionality standpoint, I'm still grumpy.

Partly I'm grumpy because there's stuff that I'd like to tweak that I could do in the space of seconds in straight HTML/CSS.  But Wordpress is based primarily on PHP, a language I only have enough of a comprehension to make broad edits, such as removing a comments section.  But there's enough about Wordpress that's a confusing tangle to me, and I end up resorting to end-run solutions for problems that I'd like to eventually be able to solve in the platform.

Additionally, there are all sorts of back-end things I'm not wild about - it seems like anytime there's a new PHP version and Wordpress version upgrade, something on your site breaks, and if the template you've chosen hasn't been updated by the designer, there's a chance that you'll have to scrap it and use a different template altogether.  And I'd like to say that's a worst case scenario, but it's actually happened to me a couple of times with previous WP experiments.

So, after all that kvetching, why did I go with WordPress in the first place?  Really, once you stop fighting with it, it's a powerful site-building tool.  And by fighting, I mean that you can generally find a workable solution to your problem by letting go of all preconceptions of how you would solve it 'by hand', as it were.

Still to come on the site:

  • a fully functional blog
  • forums for discussion of the types of things that RMI is about (music, art, social causes)
  • little cartoons on each page to break up the flow a bit
  • photo gallery (which will involve me finding one that works on WP)
  • more, I'm sure
All of which will be tackled in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime, I have to complete the final project and final exam for my CSS class, and start on the design and build for the site for a friend's video company, a project that's a good couple of years late.  And guess what?  I'm going to build it in WordPress.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Yarn Barn, Pt. II

Not really a full entry, here.  More like a status update that's drifted free of its Facebook moorings and ended up here by accident.  To wit: I managed to make the trip up to Middletown, so the plan to build the Yarn Barn is proceeding apace.  Work will commence (and most likely be completed) tomorrow, so   the next Rambler should be a bit more interesting.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Further Defense of Fort Phil

Several years ago, I wrote a brief Rambler about wanting to write a longer Rambler about Phil Collins. And the overwhelming audience demand has finally worn me down.

The impetus for this revisited expansion (expanded revisitation?) is a Genesis dedicated thread on a forum I occasionally participate in.  The forum is actually superhero comics-themed, so I guess the fact that a thread about Genesis runs 159 pages says something about the monoculture of the middle-aged white nerd.

Anyway, someone had mentioned that Phil Collins generally seems pretty depressed.  This is a bit of an understatement, since Phil has actually said in interviews that he strongly considered suicide and thought that to just 'disappear on a bicycling tour' would be 'nice'.

Now, obviously, a lot of what may be getting the guy down is what started his career as a pop icon in the first place - his divorce from his first wife in the late 1970's.  Rather than repeating the whole backstory here, I'm going to direct you to an episode of This American Life, of all things, where he's interviewed as the king of the break-up song.

TAL aside, Phil has a tough public image problem to surmount, although more in the UK than in the US.  It's not entirely unearned, but it's totally baffling how other artists can release a few subpar trifles and then be welcomed back with critical huzzahs.  I detected more than a hint of sour grapes at the surprisingly scathing comments Phil made about Paul McCartney that circulated a few years back.

It's possible that for Phil, the idea that he's a great drummer doesn't carry any weight for contemporary audiences because instrumental ability lacks the importance with mass audiences that it used to.  And he's got the additional hurdle of having the bulk of his technically impressive drumming be in genres that are largely considered passé - prog and fusion.

Leave that out, and what you have are new audiences that would possibly be receptive to his more mainstream music (particularly from the early 80's) that are going to hear about how lame the man is before they've heard a single note.  He's delivered to them as a punch line. He's become the Barry Manilow of the 80's, which is a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone, particularly one of my favorite all-time musicians.

And that's what Phil really is.  A drummer who was nearly universally acclaimed in his heyday, a Grammy and Oscar-winning songwriter, a singer with a very versatile voice, and a talent that could move convincingly between genres.  And, like seemingly all British musicians, a charming and intelligent presence.  And that's enough.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Then Comes the No Sleepums

I'd be interested to know exactly what combination of diet, mental and physical cycles leads to nights like this.  That is, nights when I'm perfectly sleepy when I get into bed, but then I get less and less sleepy until I'm wide awake again.

Unfortunately, there's nothing deep or interesting flowing through my thoughts at times like this.  I'd like to think that if my body/mind is doing everything it can to keep me awake, that it would have something to say.  But no.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Morning Becalms Electra

So how did we actually spend the day after the storm?  Pretty much a continuation of the day of the storm - stayed inside, finished the Christmas decor (which is lovely) and did little chores here and there.  Add to that a little shoveling and a trip to get bagels and to drop Frida back at my mom's, and that's the bulk of the day.

Well, not quite.  I also took a little time to do overdubs on the two albums I've been working on for the last year or so.  An average solo session for me goes something like this: grab all my computer gear and bring it downstairs; futz around with setting it all up; get my instruments, mics and cables connected and then spend a couple of hours playing terribly and hating everything I'm doing.  Eventually, my despair at my fumbling meathooks overcomes my enthusiasm for recording and I sulk back upstairs, where I whine to Yesenia that I suck, in a very matter-of-fact tone of voice as though I were commenting on the weather.

Today was no exception to this pattern, including the last act, several hours later.  This is when I get into bed and review the new parts, and suddenly everything sounds good.  This has actually been the pattern of the recording from the very beginning of the album.  Stuff that I thought sounded like screaming rabbits while I was recording it sounds great the next day, and stuff that I thought was a perfect stone genius take turns out to be an out-of-tune, ill-conceived and amateurish cacophony so far out of sync with the spirit of the song that you'd think I'd never heard it before.

For anyone playing the home game, here's today's progress:
  • Six string acoustic on Everyone I Know, which is a country-flavored number.  I never could play the part as originally conceived, so I decided to break it into two interlocking parts and hope the listener can't tell.  Of course, no-one else actually cares, but there it is.  I laid down the high-end strumming, but then got bogged down in the picking counterpoint, and dropped it halfway through the track, convinced it wasn't working at all.  Listening back right now, it sounds quite nice... until the goddamn guitar stops halfway through.
  • I wasn't really sure what else I wanted to add acoustic guitar to, but since the acoustic was on deck, I basically picked the song Flyover, by process of elimination.  Meaning that I thought the acoustic would suck the least on this.  Did the song in one take, which is impressive when you know that the song is almost eight minutes long, and not impressive in the slightest when you realize that the last five minutes are the same three chords repeated dozens of times.
  • Finally, I moved on to No Ghost, which is sort of an R.E.M. covering mid-period Wings tune (if you can imagine such a thing). Also did acoustic on that, then went ahead and laid down the bass, which I think means the bass on the album is all done, minus the random punch I need to do here and there.  I was holding off doing overdubs on this song for a couple of reasons - 1) it was originally a Tappan Sea song, and I felt kind of guilty about taking it back, but I figured if I did it differently enough, I could justify doing it in both projects.  Which is all well and good, except I used the Tappan Sea backing track, and 2) the actual backing track is problematic, since the left overhead drum channel had chosen not to record anything, meaning there's no ride cymbal whatsoever.  I've been intending to go in and do a ride cymbal track to fill it in, but I'm somewhat hesitant, since that's the type of thing that never seems to sound like a natural part of the recording, no matter how you pan it or mix it or effect it.
Anyway, that was my day.  And how was yours?


Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Yarn Barn, Pt. I

I had been planning to head up to Middletown this weekend to use the Wesleyan woodshop to start building Yesenia's birthday present - a thing I've taken to calling a 'yarn barn' (a name I'm certain I did not coin for this).  Basically, a wall-mounted diamond-bin rack that will store all of her yarn in an attractive and useful way.  This is important, because right now, the yarn storage system is spread out over many rooms, in bins and on furniture and on the floor.

Bear in mind, this is not me pointing fingers - my crap from any given hobby is strewn all over the house, on any available surface.  The impetus for the yarn barn came from me wanting to honor Yesenia's serious talent and dedication to the crafts of crochet and knitting.  I'm continually blown away by her creations, and wanted to reflect it in building something for her with my own hands.  

The artist modeling her shawl, 2012
A major epiphany for me in our relationship was that for years, I thought of myself as the artist with the need to create.  And one day, I realized that, well, I've written some nice songs and drawn some nice pictures here and there, but - truth be told - what Yesenia does is real art.  And it's art that actually brings people happiness.  From the simplest scarf to the most deviously complicated pieces she's done, someone is loving one of her beautiful, heart-felt and hand-crafted objet d'arts.  

I wish the recipient of these was me more often, true - I've got two awesome scarves in hand and a sweater coming down the pike.  But a genuine Yesenia is in high demand, and I can always console myself that I at least get to watch her make them.  Admittedly, everyone who shares her commute on the Hudson River Line also gets to watch her make them, but I'm the only one that gets to watch her make them in her pajamas.  I hope.

So, anyway, Winter Storm Electra - gah, why are they naming snowstorms, now? - has put the trip on hold until next weekend.  And I am champing at the bit to build this thing, in a way that's actually kind of surprising to me.  But I'll post photos as things progress.


Friday, December 13, 2013

The Gray is $10, the Red is $25

Today was a half day at the office, and then we outed for the office holiday party.  The soiree was held at a nearby country club, and the theme was 'Casino'.  To that end, we were all given a fake $500 bill with a photo of the founder and CEO that we could use to buy into the various tables.  The blackjack table filled up right away, so I found myself at the roulette wheel.

When it comes to gambling, I'm very good at maintaining stasis.  I can gamble every hand/spin and still keep my wallet at the same level.  I might eventually lose all my money, but only after a long time and pretty much out of sheer boredom.  

I did have one of my personality traits reinforced, today: I'm risk-averse, even to the point that I'm a conservative bettor with fake money that isn't even mine.  I spent half an hour at the roulette table and stayed on or around my original $500.  I gave excess chips to my colleagues who had lost all of theirs, and when the croupier took a break, I ended up giving the remaining hundreds to a friend (although this was admittedly after I halfheartedly tried my hand at Craps, a game I don't even begin to understand).

At the end of the party, they had a raffle prize giveaway, which (to be honest) was the only reason I had really stuck around.  The lure of a free 46" plasma TV will apparently keep me somewhere after I'm ready to leave for at least an hour longer.  In case you're throwing a party and want me to stick around, hint that you'll give me expensive consumer electronics at the end of the night.  The beautiful part is that you won't even have to give me anything.  Of course, in the far more likely event that you want me to get out, simply tell me you're out of chocolate.

So I didn't win the TV.  Nor did I win the Keurig, the gum ball machine, the Apple TV or one of the bags of money.  But I did think to bolt for the door as soon as the last ticket was read and I was definitively not a winner, so I could beat the rush at the coat check and avoid the inevitable bottleneck at the parking lot.

Oh, and it turned out the gambling did actually have one real payoff - the person who had won the most fake money was given a real iPad.  Or maybe it was one of those fake iPads with just the picture on it.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fifty-Nine Minutes to Midnight

A bit of a later day than usual, with Yesenia not getting home until around 8:15 and my father taking over two hours to get from Manhattan to my place to corroborate some math for me.  My own days are decently full, given that I now work about five minutes from home and can get all of the housework done (laundry, dishes, etc.) in the time that used to be eaten up by my commute.

But!  I did not manage my time all that well, today, so this is the length of tonight's Rambler.  See you anon.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Those Darn Cats

About three-and-a-half years ago, we adopted two kittens - sisters, from the same litter.  And for the first year, although there was some rambunctiousness and bad feelings between them, they were pretty tolerant of each other and could even be found snuggled together when sleeping.

That all changed when we started letting them go outside around their first anniversary with us.  The introduction of the outside with all of its other cats and prey and smells and whatever else it is cats get up to made their relationship much more… well, I was going to be fancy and say 'adversarial,' but a far more accurate description would be 'fighty'.  The larger of the two, a crazy calico that Yesenia named Frida, started developing lousy bathroom habits, peeing in corners and houseplants and generally acting out.  It was depressing, because she was otherwise a sweet and affectionate animal (albeit one with a quick trigger and unafraid to use the claws Cat Jesus gave her).

Finally, after about eighteen months of that, I took to putting her outside during the day even if she didn't want to go out, just to keep the house from constantly smelling like piss.  One growly day in September of last year, she went outside against her will and disappeared.  I held out hope the longest that she was okay, but after three weeks, even my hope (and crushing guilt) were pretty sure she was gone for good.  The nights were starting to get cold, to boot.

I did the rounds in the surrounding blocks, dropping off leaflets and asking around.   Frida had an excellent habit of losing her collar once every few weeks, and had shed her most current one a few days before she disappeared.  The neighbor actually found that one after she was gone, and we tacked it to the bulletin board.

Then one night in late September, I was standing in the kitchen and heard meowing out behind the house.  Even though our other cat, Georgia, was also outside, I had a rush of hope and went out to the front porch and called.  Sure enough, around came Frida - very enthused to be home.  I picked her up and brought her upstairs to show Yesenia, who was in the tub.  She started crying.

We decided to give Frida to my mother, and it's been an ideal situation for everyone involved.  My mom has a companion, Frida is an indoor cat and gets lots of attention and has big picture windows to look out of at all of the wildlife - and she's well-behaved and uses the litter box! - and Georgia now gets me and Yesenia to herself.  And anytime we go away or my mother goes away, one or the other cat is shifted to the other house and the two cats get to have a growly reunion.

My mom is in Paris right now, through the end of this week, and we've been hosting Frida.  So it's happy having her around, and she's thankfully keeping her goings in the litter box.  Knock wood.  Lotsa hissing and fighting, but also much calmer than things used to be.  Maybe it was just tough teenage years.  In fact, the only difficulty now is going in and out of the house, because we're paranoid that Frida will get out.  So unloading the groceries and bringing out the trash starts to resemble a weird cossack stomping dance, complete with slamming doors.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

What Time is It, Now?

Back in 2004, Copper Man - the defunct, quasi-eponymous band of which I was the bass player, lead singer and primary songwriter - had completed the recording and mixing of our one and only album, Selling the Downtown Dream.  The album represented several overlapping timeframes in my life: the time of writing and recording the album, which was approximately three years; the time of my early thirties when I still had some vague notion of pursuing rock stardom while being married, starting a career and attempting to start a family; the time in popular band-oriented popular rock music, as typified by acts like The Strokes and The White Stripes; and the time of my artistic progress.

In case you need it underlined, each one of those narratives was at odds with the other. And this doesn't even touch on the timeframe of my bandmates, both of whom had their own turbulent and involved lives that ran concurrently with mine.  Ultimately, I decided that the important things were the things that made me the happiest - spending time with my wife and dabbling in music on the side.  If the path to a musical career for myself hadn't seemed so steep, maybe my priorities might have been different. But in general everything about the act of creating music was pleasurable, but everything regarding promoting, selling, booking and all of the other stuff made me feel generally lousy.

I bring this up because I have found myself recently with a small fire burning to get up on stage and play music.  The last time this urge came upon me, I satisfied it briefly by joining a Pink Floyd tribute act (which you can read about on the Rambler in entries from 2008 and 2009).  That didn't quite scratch the itch.  And the random birthday party jams that I've either thrown for myself or have forced my way into, guitar in hand, have served to mostly stoke the desire, rather than quench it.

I also bring this up because this is my first Ramble in over a year, and the Rambler itself is like the canary in the coalmine of my creative self.  When I'm firing on all cylinders, the Rambler has lifted off the ground like an Apollo moonshot.  When I'm feeling down or off my game, the Rambler resembles some weird mash-up of the Hindenburg explosion and the Johnstown Flood, with a little Donner Party action lingering at the tail end for a few weeks.

So: I'm just going to try a little experiment, to see whether I'll be taking one small step for man or if I'm going to be taking a bite of roasted uncle (so to speak) - I'm going to Ramble every day between now and New Year's Day.  I can make no guarantee of quality or even of quantity, but if you happen to visit here once a day for the next twenty-or-so days, you will find fresh new Rambles.

Maybe think of them like Advent Rambles?  On the 25th, I'll put up a looped gif of the fireplace…