Headbanging While Making Fire

July 16, 2009

The only things that would make this video more metal: a girl in an iron bikini chained to a tree, and an eviscerated boar hanging next to her.

Thanks to Mark Wm. Pino for the linkage.


July 14, 2009

From Flickr user -dg

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Manhattanhenge: a biannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan’s main street grid. The term is derived from Stonehenge, at which the sun aligns with the stones on the solstices. MORE.

Oh, the things I learn on the internets…

Shellac at the Great American Music Hall, SF CA, 06.18.09

June 23, 2009

I had the good fortune to see Shellac perform at the Great American Music Hall in SF last Thursday, June 18. The Chicago-based trio — Steve Albini on guitar and vocals, Bob Weston on bass and vocals, Todd Trainer on drums — doesn’t come around too often and they’re one of those bands that I woefully had never seen; it just hadn’t been in the cards for me until this time around I guess, and I’m really happy that it worked out. Not only is Shellac one of my favorite rock bands, but now I can count them as one of my favorite live bands too. I love their no-frills approach to a show, quirky/cool stage presence, musicianship, gear, tone, performance, and most importantly their music — one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. It suffices to say, a highly recommended experience. Here are a few pics I snapped…

All three band members set up next to each other on stage, with Trainer’s drums right up front. Albini wears his guitar strap like a belt around his waist, instead of over his shoulder. Albini and Weston both play Travis Bean guitars, boutique vintage instruments with a cult following. The amps and speaker cabinets look custom and sounded great.

For more on Shellac’s recent SF shows, check out my homie Audrey’s blog, where she posted a seriously awesome video of Shellac doing “Dog & Pony Show.”

The Death of Music Journalism at the Hands of Crowdsourcing

June 17, 2009

Christopher R. Weingarten is my new hero (and not just because he’s wearing an Ego Trip T-shirt in the video clip below). A music writer for Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, Decibel, Idolator and others, Weingarten took the stage at this week’s 140 Characters Conference in New York and ripped Twitter and crowdsourcing a new asshole. I could go on in an attempt to sum up the brilliance behind this rant, but you should just watch it for yourself. It’s amusing, intelligent, impactful and critical — everything a good rant should be. If you’re on Twitter (and who isn’t these days), you should follow Weingarten at @1000TimesYes, where he’s working on reviewing 1000 new records in 2009…

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Ovipositor Summer Update

June 14, 2009

Ovipositor is making moves…I mean, you know, for as many “moves” as we do make, which isn’t many, so any moves are big moves, right?  Anyway, check it…

Colin developed and launched an all-new web site for the band, complete with history, streaming music (listen to all three records!), and a pay gate to buy all three albums. Sweet.

We’re still working on the screen-printed packaging for the Oakland Minor CDs (cover pictured here), but you can buy it as a digital download or disc (we’ll get it to you in a special limited edition package of some sort) through the site, and we’ve also got some business type deals in the works that will land the records on all the major online retailers in the coming months. More on that soon.

In the meantime (and thanks to the networking prowess of drummer Mark Pino), we’re basking in the glory that comes with getting Oakland Minor reviewed in the latest issue of The Big Takeover magazine — Issue #64, with The Decemberists on the cover. I can’t find the review on the site, so here’s a scan of it:

Finally, one last note about shows…We don’t really have any booked right now. One of the three of us is out of town at any given time pretty much all summer, which has made booking shows particularly challenging. But we’re still doing our thing at Colin’s Beatnik Dungeon weekly, so the next time you see us live, you’ll probably hear a whole mess of new stuff. We’ll let you know when that happens. In lieu of live show news, here are a few songs from our last show at the Starry Plough in Berkeley back in March…

Ovipositor, “Burning Breath”

Ovipositor, “Intermission”

Ovipositor, “When I Die”

These songs were recorded with a Zoom H2 (captured as 320kbps mp3, using the 120-degree mic array), which was set in a mic stand afixed to the front of the sound booth. No effects were applied to the recording.

Bass Nerd Stuff

June 7, 2009

[I’ve been a horribly neglectful blogger lately — I just realized that I went to the entire month of May without a single post. Ouch. Sometimes life just runs away with all my time, but I’m really going to try to be better…even if it just means posting a shitload of TED videos and short music reviews, if that’s what I have to do to keep this thing moving.]

I’ve had bass playing on the brain lately. Ovipositor has been working on some new songs, as well as tackling a few covers — Gene Pitney’s “Last Chance to Turn Around,” MX-80’s “More Than Good” and Velvet Underground’s “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore” — and I’ve also been writing a little on the side over the last few months, churning out a handful of pieces for a noted bass magazine. I’ve been doing gear reviews, but I’ve got an artist feature on deck, and I’m currently auditing the bass certification courses at a reputable music school’s online program for a feature in the same magazine later this year.

Truthfully, I’m not totally pleased with the editing job on some of the reviews — I feel like my own voice has been squeezed out in favor of a more prosaic approach — but whatever, it’s not horrible, I’m happy for the side work, as well as the opportunity to expand my bass palette, and I’ve spent plenty of time on both sides of the editors’ desk, so I now how it goes. Anyway, here are links to some of my most recent pieces:

Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi. I actually kept this pedal after the review and use it quite a bit. I like it because I’ve spent so much time running though distortion pedals that are built for guitar, and end up sounding like shit on a bass signal. This one is built for bass, and nicely dials in the classic, gloriously fucked up Big Muff tone for bass frequencies.

Xotic X-Blender. This pedal was cool too, but I didn’t keep it when I was done reviewing it. I’m just not the type of player who would make use of it — it’s an effects loop bypass pedal, which is good for players who have a lot of pedals. I’m a bass player; I look and feel like a fucking tool if I show up somewhere to play with an array of pedals. Gimme a distortion box (maybe a low-pass filter) and I’m good.

Sterling by Music Man. I kind of regret testing this series of basses. Sure, I was unbiased, and yeah, they’re pretty nice basses. But I love my Jazz bass (Fender American Standard), and have spent a considerable amount of time dialing it in the way I want it to sound and feel. Playing other, loaner basses just made me want to play my own. I think I’m done reviewing basses.

Warwick Sweet 25.2 & Sweet 15.3. The editors sugared up this review a bit. Not that I hated these amps, but I definitely had a tough time with them. I think it goes back to what I was saying about those Sterling basses vis-a-vis review gear versus my own gear. In this case, I love my Ampeg amp rig. Anything less is…well, less. Still, I wrote this review from an unbiased perspective, and I honestly put these amps through their paces, and they’re decent little combos. It’s just that what I turned in wasn’t as nice as what ran. But that’s how the game is played.

Bonus Bass Nerdery: A few years ago, I was in NYC on business and had the opportunity to see and film bass player extraordinaire Victor Bailey do a clinic for a Bass Player magazine event at the Millennium Broadway hotel on Times Square. This particular clip blew my mind at the time, and has not yet ceased to amaze me. Bailey rearranged the Weather Report classic “Birdland” as a solo bass piece (with some vocal additions; Bailey played bass in Weather Report after Jaco Pastorius left the group), and his style, while not always inhumanly perfect, is so dope, and so totally soulful, whenever I hit the wall with whatever I happen to be working on, I watch this clip and am reminded that I have a long, long way to go and a lot of room to grow as a bass player:

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Watch the rest of this clinic — which is basically six clips of Bailey showing why he’s among the best — over at BassPlayer.tv.

Photo by Thug E. Fresh: me playing with Oviositor at Li Po Lounge, SF.

Ion iPTUSB: Record Rediscovery

April 27, 2009

I used to have a pretty beefy record collection. It certainly wasn’t the kind of impressive mass of vinyl that some DJ friends of mine have — the kind that requires specific insurance or an additional room in my house — but it was a couple thousand pieces, a decent collection by non-DJ, everyday-music-fan standards.

A few years ago, I sold off most of it. I had a fair amount of doubles, and a lot of stuff that I had also managed to collect on CD or digitally, plus plenty of shit that I thought was cool when I bought it, or that was purchased for some long-forgotten specific reason. I finally hit a phase of my life where less was more and I was purging a lot, so I poured through all the records and set aside a couple hundred pieces that I swore I would take to my grave, and put the rest up for sale. I let some DJ friends have first pick of the for-sale batch, and dumped the rest on Amoeba. I walked away with a tidy little stack of cash, a huge weight lifted (figuratively and literally), and a slimmed down, quality controlled collection — a few crates of nothing but greats.

Sadly, my record collection has continued to collect dust due to several reasons: accommodations (no room for records in the living room where the nice record player and stereo system are), life situations (fatherhood, and a girlfriend and baby daughter who aren’t necessarily always as interested as I might be in sitting around and listening to records), and scheduling issues (I’m fucking busy). Then, a couple months ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted a link to Woot.com, where the deal of the day was an Ion iPTUSB, a.k.a. the “portable vinyl-archiving turntable,” for a mere $50 (MSRP is $120, you can find ’em online for $80 to $100). ‘Shit, at that price,’ I thought, ‘I can’t afford NOT to get it!’ So I pulled the trigger.

Ion’s iPTUSB has a pretty basic feature set: The top face contains a switch for 33, 45 and 78 record speeds, a +/- 10% Pitch knob, Low / High Tone knob, and a knob marked Audio that controls the volume; there’s a single 2″ speaker for monitoring, as well as RCA audio outs, and 1/8″ and 1/4″ headphone jacks, plus the USB port with an accompanying Gain knob for fine control of the audio being sent out over the USB connection. There’s also a handy little Line In 1/8″ jack that allows or the piggybacking of another audio source — cassette, AM/FM radio, etc. — for digital conversion of additional media types. The unit’s top case attaches via two hooks on the back and a slide lock on the front; it’s not bullet proof, but it’s fine for basic turntable protection…as long as you don’t have to use the iPTUSB as a step-stool, or beat a potential crook off of your record collection with it.

The entire surface of the player measures just over 11″ x 11″, so with the lid on, it fits on a shelf designed to hold records. With the lid off, a playing record actually hangs off the side — due to the room taken up on the top face by the tone arm, the speaker and the audio controls — but is supported by soft felt covered bumpers that keep everything level and steady. The turntable’s main power source is an included DC plug, but it also runs on six D batteries, so if you’re one of those serious diggin’-in-the-crates guys, you can take the iPTUSB with you and try-before-you-buy at the record store.

Basic setup on the iPTUSB is bonehead easy: Plug in the turntable’s DC power supply, connect it to your computer (Mac or PC; in my case, it’s hooked up to the desktop PC in my modest home studio) via the included USB cable, and install one or both software options that come with the turntable: EZ Vinyl or Audacity. I already had Audacity on my PC, so I left it at that. Follow the setup and troubleshooting instructions — there’s an easy one-step fix to some common wonkiness with the audio codec / driver — and you’re off.

The only problem I had initially was that, while Audacity was picking up the audio input from the iPTUSB just fine, and the built-in speaker and/or headphone jack on the turntable allowed me to hear what I was recording, I was unable to monitor the true fidelity of mix from the PC. When I’m sampling or, in many cases straight-up ripping audio, I like to hear what I’m getting at the destination point. I couldn’t make that happen, but I found that the latency between the iPTUSB and Audacity is negligible, so I was willing to settle for a monitoring solution that at least gave me full sound AND the freedom of mobility as I converted records to digital…or at the very least, just a way to simply listen to records in the lab.

I hit up my local pro audio shop and picked up an RCA-to-quarter-inch cable, which I used to connect the RCA audio-outs on the iPTUSB to one of the quarter-inch stereo-in sets on my mixing board, a Phonic Helix 18 Firewire, which opened up a few nice options:

  • as I mentioned, the USB connection from the turntable to the computer does not allow me to monitor the mix at the destination point (i.e. the sound as it is being recorded on the PC), and the tiny built-in speaker is really flat- and small-sounding, so this setup allows me to hear the full spectrum of what I’m ripping without being tethered to the immediate area by headphones;
  • it also allows me to use the iPTUSB as a source for vinyl sampling, because the Helix 18 board also happens to be my PC’s default soundcard, so when I’m working in Ableton Live or Cubase (which, for whatever reason, will not recognize the iPTUSB’s USB connection as a valid Line In), I just set the DAW’s audio input to the stereo in channels from the mixing board and, voila, I’m jackin’ for beats;
  • and finally, because the studio monitors — a pair of Mackie MR-5s — are connected to the main audio outs on the Helix board, it allows me to just listen to records in the lab, even if the computer is off, because, though the mixing board is the computer’s default audio source, it can also run completely independently from the PC.

Ultimately, the iPTUSB is way more versatile than I expected it to be, and I can’t complain about the sound quality. What was initially a rash purchase intended only for the conversion of vinyl to a more portable and convenient digital format, has become a catalyst for renewed interest in my trusty dusty record collection…not to mention a wealth of new sampling opportunity.

Here are a few favorite gems I’ve rediscovered recently and ripped to digital so you can hear some examples of the iPTUSB’s output…

Bud Powell, “Idaho,” Bud! (Blue Note, 1957)

This record is among my most prized musical possessions. An original pressing bought brand new by my mom in 1957, it’s a bit scratchy, but still in great shape. Powell is on piano, with Curtis Fuller on trombone, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Taylor on drums. This is easily my favorite release from one of my favorite jazz pianists, and though this record was a rarity for a long time, it was reissued on CD by Blue Note in 2002.

Golden, “Titeshock,” Super Original Movement (Slowdime, 1999)

I bought this record (and a few others) from the band at a show The Blue Room Theater in Chico, CA in 1999, and forgot how much I love it. Originally formed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1993, Golden was a supergroup before any of the band members went on to big indie cred fame. Members included recording engineer and guitarist Phil Manley (Trans AM, The Fucking Champs) and drummer Jon Theodore (Royal Trux, The Mars Volta), as well as Ian Eagleson and Alex Minoff who are now half of the band Extra Golden.

beatnuts_40ozThe Beatnuts, “40 Oz.” 12″ (n/a, 1995)

This track is off the B-side of a white label 12″ for the song “Fluid,” a sorta hard-to-find record that wasn’t officially released on any label. This poppin’ little ditty rides on a sample from “Ekim” by the Michal Urbaniak Group — made famous by A Tribe Called Quest on “Steve Biko (Stir It Up)” — backed by a big boombastic kick drum, and the whole thing is absolutely murdered by JuJu & Psycho Les on the mic. The “Fluid” 12″ ranks among my top favorite rap music 12″s.

*All audio files ripped straight from the iPTUSB into Audacity and exported to 192k mp3 files with no additional effects applied.