Sunday, March 30, 2014

Your Sunday Squirrel

This week, the squirrels were damp and twitchy.  Just about every morning I went to Denny Park it was raining.  Here are a few shots from the week before.  They were drier, but every bit as twitchy. 

Poker?? I Don't Even KNOW Her!

Well, this weekend it was time for the grand annual Hold 'Em poker tournament put on by the organizers of what I used to call "the doctor game." This was because so many participants were doctors.  It was in contrast to another game known as the "stoner game." I called it thusly for obvious reasons.  Since I'm not in that circle anymore, there is just one game, so forget I said anything about it.

Anyhow, it's a day-long game that offers a pretty hefty payout.  Two years ago, I won it.  Last year, I did not.  In addition, it was absolutely no fun.  There were more than a few "serious" players present, so table conversation was at a minimum.  The mood was grim and competitive.  It was a drag.  I made it clear that I wasn't interested in attending if it was like the previous year.  After all, if I'm gonna pay $200, I want to have a little fun in the process.

This year was quite different.  It was a smaller group, people were much friendlier and, at times, it was very lively.  I didn't win again, but I did finish 5th out of 16.  If it wasn't for one little nasty 4, the results would have been much different.  Bill knocked me out.  He had my number all day.  But I managed to knock a few guys out and that's always fun.  You know what's really fun?  Getting a straight flush.  Here is a dramatic recreation of my cards:
Although big hands are exhilarating, it's often very tough to get people to bet into you, i.e. enticing them to part with their money.  I only won a little bit on this hand, because it was just one other person and me.  But this is the first straight flush I've even gotten in competition.  I've gotten four of a kind, also known as quads, many times.  When you have that, it's really hard to get people to bet, because everybody pretty much knows what you have, so once again, the payout can be minimal.

This particular tournament had three phases: singles, doubles and tournament proper.  Singles are generally rapid fire.  You can play two hands a minute if you feel so inclined.  I like to slow things down a little.  Doubles is this really wacky configuration where you have a partner, but only one of you can play the hand at a time.  So if your teammate is a shameless and aggressive bluffer and your play is tighter, you can drive each other nuts.  But it's pretty useful to harmonize styles.  The tournament proper is just one of those big-table affairs.  We started with eight guys each on two tables.  And if you don't bust out, it continues for hours.  A lot of people aren't in shape for that kind of time commitment and end up making very wacky bets that end their evenings.  You can always tell who they are, because they go all-in on every hand.  Or bet heavy with junk hands and then play them poorly.  Like I said, I played the tournament well.  I chased a few things, but nothing that got me into any trouble.  I put together my nice straight flush.  I made it to the final table, won more hands, knocked guys out and busted out around midnight.  It was really not bad.  The company was pleasant and the chairs were comfortable.   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Your Sunday Squirrel

Here's a fellow from yesterday.  I realize that he's not entirely in focus, but just the fact that I caught this pose is something of a miracle, as there was another squirrel in the vicinity.  Squirrels are ordinarily very twitchy by nature, but factor in another of one them and they're constantly in motion.  This is usually the pose that I miss, because my focus-bot takes around two seconds to work.  Which is why I'm always taking pictures as fast as I can, even though focus-bot is groaning under the strain.  So this one almost worked.  It's almost calendar-worthy.  But alas...

News Flash! Spring Is Here!

The best blooms are at the Grange Gardens at 2nd & Cedar, what with the Fuji cherry trees gone on Battery & Bell between 5th & 6th, but I have quite enjoyed watching the pear trees on my block unfolding.  Very nice.  And nice weather also seems to have brought out hordes of beggar-folk, not just in Belltown but in downtown, as well.  Or is that my imagination?  I'm pretty sure it isn't.  Many a corner has somebody on it with a sad sign.  Some time ago, guys used to ask for money.  These days it's all signs.  

OK, so spring is here.  I look forward to it, but I'm really gonna miss winter.  I quite enjoyed it this year.   

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Yes, Master...

What the heck is mastering anyway?  It's sounds kind of kinky, first off.  Well, it has nothing to do with any of that 50 Shades of Grey nonsense.  It's actually the last step in recording, where all your levels are evened out and your stuff gets final tweak and a bit more compression.  It's a crucial step, because it makes the music sound professional - or at least less unprofessional.

Now, it's not like mixing.  If you ask your mastering engineer to make the slide whistle louder, he can't really do that.  But he can bump up the equalizer range where the slide whistle is.  This will also make everything else in that range louder, too.  Be careful what you wish for.  More importantly, all your instrument levels should be dealt with during mixing.  I know, I know, some things sneak past you; that organ is too damn loud and the bass is playing the wrong note and the drummer is speeding up.  Mastering can't help you with those things.

Last Monday, I had my Day of Mastering.  In my previous efforts, I've sent my tracks to a mastering engineer and he's sent them back to me, I listen to them, make notes for changes and he sends me more versions until the thing sounds normal and acceptable.  This process usually takes a few weeks.  He's mastered three albums for me and I still haven't met him.  Don't get me wrong, he's done a great job.  But I wanted to witness the process.  And the fact that I would have to hear any given track just a few times and make suggestions was a little daunting.  I mean, what if my ears didn't hear something right?  With the old way, I could listen to any track a bazillion times and pick out even the tiniest of errors.  This time around, it was just a bit overwhelming.  Luckily, the guy I worked with was great.  His has a very professional ear, so he knows what to bring out to make a recording pop.  He did a tremendous job.  I was mostly just this approval machine, because his decisions were all very much in line with what I wanted.  There were only a few things that I wanted to bring out and even fewer things that needed revision.  The session was on Monday and by Thursday, I had something that sounded great. 

The long and short of it is that the album is done.  It's off being manufactured right now.  It should be done in a few weeks and it's being released and radio promoted at the end of April.  It should do well with young persons as it does include much of the rock 'n' roll that they crave.  Meanwhile, I'm busy writing tunes for future albums.  As always, I'm worried that I won't be able to top this effort.  It's kind of strange, I was quite unsure about this album.  There were a lot of variables that would only be made definite in the studio, as I was hiring a lot of live musicians.  I tell you, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  But before I began recording, I was sensing disaster.  The opposite happened thanks to incredible musicians and a wizard of an engineer.  I have similar concerns about this upcoming album.  We're going to record it in August.  That should be interesting.  I'm currently writing two or three tunes for it.  I have a little less than five months to bring everything together and I'm already sweating the details.  If this last album is any indication, it should go well.  And everybody will have fun.  And then in six months, I'll write another post about mastering.    

For No Reason at All... is a giraffling.  This was last month, so he's probably taller now.

Your Sunday Squirrel

Here's a fellow from a few weeks ago.  The squirrels at Denny Park have been keeping a low profile lately, what with the bad weather and the work crews with their leaf blowers.  I know that squirrels really don't like two things: crows and leaf blowers.  Whenever they're in use, there are no tree rodents anywhere.  Speaking of squirrels, I went to the Arboretum this week.  There were quite a few squirrels around, but they were super-unfriendly.  They'd just stare at me and then make for the nearest tree.  They didn't care that I was offering yummy hazelnuts.  They were unimpressed.  So even if Denny Park squirrels are sometimes uncooperative, at least they're not unfriendly or paranoid. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Your Sunday Squirrel

It's turnaround squirrel!  OK, so his tail is out of focus.  That's not important.  He's very much calendar-worthy.  This guy was extra-twitchy, so getting any shot was pretty difficult.  I ended up getting three nice shots.  They might be forthcoming or perhaps not.  It all depends on what I get in the future.  Till then, enjoy. 

Richard Mixin'

Behold, partially in-focus recording equipment!  Well, once again I've neglected to post for quite some time.  I have a good excuse.  I was finishing up with the recording.  This will be my fourth album.  And, as in the aftermath of the others, I usually write a ton of music.  Yes, I've been doing that.  It's a good thing, because my fifth album is going to be recorded in August.  I write lots of music and I want to record it.  I'm feeling the clock ticking.  If I don't get this stuff in the can soon, my efforts will begin to look pathetic.  See, I'm not young.  Sure, I'm still mobile and I've got my original hair and teeth and so forth.  But past a certain age, making pop music is just a ridiculous prospect.  OK, so it begs the question: why didn't you do this when you were younger?  Answer: I did, but I was playing jazz.  I loved every minute of it, but it became unfeasible.  The gigs went away and certain key players moved to greener pastures or otherwise transformed themselves into rock players.  I got the memo a little late.  I tried denying that the landscape was changing, but it did anyway.  Oh well.  Last night, though, the whole clock-ticking scenario was driven home courtesy of The National on SNL.  I had never seen them before.  But man, they looked so old.  Especially their lead singer.  It's weird; he looked almost exactly like Walter White.  It was nearly ridiculous.  Yeah, and he's six years younger than I am.  OK, so I'm not a big fan of theirs, but that one detail really stuck out.  Of course, if I was a sax player, none of this would matter.  I could play till I was 100 and everybody would think it was swell.  Pop music is a different animal.     

I did, however, eventually make the change.  And it has actually been pretty terrific.  It is true that my sales are perpetually dismal, but that's beside the point.  It has to be.  If it wasn't, it would make everything seem futile.  The truth is that recording is just the best thing ever.  Have you ever heard tales of great upheaval and drama when a band records an album?  So have I.  That doesn't happen when I record.  It is always a wonderful experience.  And with each album the feeling becomes more profound.  I'm to the point where words can't really describe what it's like.  I'm pretty positive that vast amounts of endorphins are being released during the entire process, because it's almost like someone is giving me all the very best drugs.  And when everything is done, I want it to happen again.  I'll get my chance again in August and although it's still five months away, I can't wait.  Honestly, I can't wait for this to happen.  All my music is written and I'm ready to go.  Of course, I continue to write music, so some tunes may replace others, but I am really, truly ready to go right now.  

Waiting a year to record an album is exactly that - waiting.  I'm hoping for a bit more positive response with this one.  Maybe I'll get it, maybe I won't.  I'd like to record three albums next year, but the truth is that if nothing happens with these two albums, I might have to modify those plans.  The prospect of recording five albums in two years is almost unimaginably exciting for me.  Just working with the tremendous musicians on this album is something that ranks as one the best experiences of my entire woeful life.  The thought of repeating that four more times in the next two years makes me want to run around the block like a maniac.  Did I mention that I'm old?  By rock/pop standards I am.  But I'm pretty determined to get all this stuff done before I look like I'm trying to recapture my lost youth.  Here's something: when I was young, I wasn't young.  With each album, I feel like the clock has been turned back five years.  Suffering for one's art is for suckers.  It's a myth.  Certainly, nobody buys or listens to my music.  It doesn't bother me, as long as I can keep recording.  Once again, although writing music is at times difficult, it all seems to turn into a magnificent experience.  So there.