Category Archives: Music

Advice for Adventurous Ears

ear to bell

It’s been a very busy week of radio work for me, so I don’t have much of an essay for you, but I strongly encourage you to listen to my latest radio show featuring a really great band from Arcata called Medicine Baul.

This will be the official debut of my new music-themed public affairs radio show called The Adventurous Ear.   The show will highlight music of exceptional originality, and focus primarily on musicians in our local area and region.  The Adventurous Ear will air on KMUD on Thursday, March 26 at 5pm, and on the fourth Thursday of every other month, alternating in that time-slot with my other public affairs show, which I co-produce with my partner Amy Gustin, called Wildlife Matters.

wildlife matters radio show-kmud

You may recall that I wrote this review of Medicine Baul’s performance at Jambalaya last year.  If you haven’t heard Medicine Baul before, you’ll get a chance to hear their music and listen to them talk about how and why they make it.  Every Medicine Baul performance sounds different because the band composes their music on the spot at each venue.  I recorded their performance at Synapsis in Eureka, CA on Dec. 13 2014, and interviewed them after their performance at Siren’s Song on the previous Nov. 3.

medicine baul 9c

Besides creating amazing music, I found the members of Medicine Baul I talked to,  Willoughby Arevalo, Ishan Vernallis, Vinny DeVaney, and Laura Corsiglia, all to be articulate, interesting and thoughtful people.  From talking to them, it is clear that they each bring a highly evolved sense of intent and purpose to their work, but they don’t compete with each other for control.  Instead, they value each other and honor the moment in a spontaneous collaborative effort.  As a result, the music is bigger than all of them, and encompasses the audience as well.  To fully appreciate their music, you have to be there to share it with them as they create it.

medicine baul 7c

Still, I think you’ll enjoy this episode of The Adventurous Ear.  You’ll hear a range of sounds from Medicine Baul’s 75+ minute set, interspersed with snippets of interview.  In one half-hour show, I offer listeners a pretty good introduction to the band and their approach to music.  I hope you’ll tune in.

medicine baul drummer4


My Record-Breaking New Guitar

record-breakers

I just finished building myself a new guitar. In itself, I don’t think that sets any new records, except perhaps for some personal records for myself. For instance: This new guitar, with four strings, has more strings than any instrument I’ve built so far. I don’t expect that record to last long, because I’ve already begun work on a crude electric harp. This is also the first stringed instrument I’ve built that has a fret-board, although I didn’t set the frets, and it’s the first electric stringed instrument I’ve built that has a built-in amplifier.

personal record

Aside from these personal records, I can’t even claim to have recorded any new records with this guitar. I just finished building it, after all. I’m just getting to know the instrument. I wanted to build an instrument with a unique sound, and I’ve achieved that, but I expect it will take a while before I learn to speak its language fluently enough to compose music for it. Although it has a unique sound, I can’t say it’s uniqueness breaks any records.

unique2

You could see my new guitar as a kind of phoenix, rising from the ashes of an older, if not unique, at least unusual guitar. My new guitar began with an listing on the SoHum Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook page where I let people know that I was looking for junk guitar parts, especially tuning machines. Felix Omai responded to my ad by generously offering to give me the remains of an old Harmony brand arch-top, four-string, tenor guitar. I was delighted to receive it.

pheonix

The guitar was in pretty sad shape. It’s arch had fallen, the back of the body had come off, the front of the body detached from the sides, and the fret-board fell off of the neck. One of the tuning pegs turned to dust between my fingers as I tried, for obviously the first time in many years, to turn it.

crumbled tuning peg1

I googled the guitar online, and found a nice picture of what it must have looked like in its heyday, and I have to admit that it was a pretty sharp-looking guitar, considering that it retailed for $79.00 in the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Even in 1962, that was a pretty cheap guitar.

harmony_tenor_guitar

The online reviews, however, all panned the guitar’s sound as “muddy,” “undefined,” and “bottom-heavy,” so I didn’t feel bad about salvaging the parts I could use to make a new and unique instrument. After I reattached the fret-board to the neck, and replaced the broken tuning peg with a little slab of deer antler, I salvaged the whole neck assembly, as well as the tailpiece and part of the rosewood bridge.

headstock tuner-horz

I replaced the body with a crude rectangle of wood I salvaged from a shipping pallet.  I built an electric pickup of my own design using an upcycled mint tin, a piezoelectric disc I salvaged from an electronic toy, some compression springs I got at Scrap Humboldt, and the rosewood string saddles from the bridge of the old Harmony. This unique acoustic-electric bridge pickup, with built-in spring reverb gives the guitar its unique sound, at least partially.

mint tin pickup

My new guitar’s other secret weapon is its on-board amplifier, with a speaker mounted directly beneath the strings. I built the amplifier around an LM386 8-pin amplifier chip, and powered it with a 9-volt battery.

lm 386 amplifier

The amplifier has an on-off switch, input volume, and gain control, which allows me to play it as an “acoustic’ instrument, that is, without plugging it into an external amplifiers, and to overdrive the amplifier producing distortion and feedback, whether it is plugged into an external amplifier or not.

DSC_0005

Still, I did have to break two records to build this guitar, and no one will ever listen to this copy of Iron Butterfly’s 1960’s rock anthem, Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,

inna gadda da vida

or Billy Crystal’s hit single You Look Marvelous again.

you look marvelous

Instead, you can listen to to me play them like this:


Wildlife Matters #5 Debuts Today, Thursday, Feb 26 @5pm PST

Sea otters

Today, Thursday, February 26 at 5pm, KMUD Redwood Community Radio will air the latest installment of Wildlife Matters.  On this month’s show Amy Gustin and I will talk about Sea Otters, and the crucial role they play in maintaining healthy coastal ecosystems.

sea otter hurray

We’ll hear from sea otter biologist Dr. Jane Watson

dr jane watson

…and noted ecologist Dr. James Estes.

dr james estes

They talk about sea otters’ peculiar adaptations which allow them to flourish in the chilly waters of the North Pacific.  they’ll teach us about “trophic cascades,” a fancy word to describe the consequences of eating habits on ecosystems, which explains how sea otters can turn a barren sea floor inhabited by nothing but sea urchins, into a lush kelp forest teeming with biodiversity.

sea otter eats urchins

Wildlife Matters airs on the fourth Thursday of the month on KMUD, and is available to all Pacifica Affiliates through audioport.org.  In the future, wildlife Matters will alternate the fourth Thursday at 5pm time-slot with my other new radio show called The Adventurous Ear.

ear to bell

Next month, The Adventurous Ear, a radio show highlighting music of exceptional originality, will bring you the music of Arcata based improvisational ensemble Medicine Baul.  I hope you’ll tune in today at 5pm for Wildlife Matters, and March 26 at 5pm for some wild music on The Adventurous Ear.  Just remember the fourth Thursday at 5pm as the time for something wild on KMUD Redwood Community Radio, or listen online at http://www.kmud.org

kmud-logo


What Can We Learn From 2001 A Space Odyssey in 2015

2001 aso

I recently revisited the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. You remember how it goes: We see a desolate landscape, almost Martian. Some early hominids, actors dressed in Planet of the Apes era costumes, huddle in a dark cave. They look stupid. They grunt like apes, and walk on their knuckles They freak-out at the sight of a monolith in their camp. Then we see one particularly dumb looking hominid pick up a bone. He drops it. Then picks it up again and hits the rest of the skeleton with it. You can almost see the light bulb appear above his head, and he starts excitedly whacking the rock with the bone.

2001 bone whack

Then, the Hollywood hominid throws the bone, and it turns into a space ship, while we hear the opening fanfare from Richard Straus’ Thus Spake Zarathustra. Classic, right? Iconic even. This famous scene has become a part of our cultural mythology, and it tells us a lot about how we think about ourselves.

bone-and-satellite-

I realize that this movie came out in the 1960s and, like almost everything from that era, feels dated when you watch it, but for our culture, this movie encapsulates where we think we came from, and where we think we are going, as a culture. Leave out the mysterious floating slab, and you have the creation myth according to the Church of Popular Science. Sure, it’s a great movie, but we should remember that 2001 A Space Odyssey is also a very dated piece of fiction.

2001-a-space-odyssey-poster-001

Think about it. The world looked very different in the 1960s. Back then, we all thought that space travel lay in our future. We expected to build floating cities in space orbiting the Earth We had plans to colonize the moon, and eventually mars. We had big plans for space, and we spent big money to get there. If you asked a kid from my generation what they wanted to be when they grow up, at least a third of them would have said, “an astronaut.” If you ask the same question of today’s kids, they’ll probably say something like, “professional snowboarder.” Even they know that there’s no future in space travel.

20o1no-more-spaceshuttle

Arthur C Clarke envisioned a future year 2001 in which space travel had become routine, and computers were huge and dangerously intelligent. Today, in the real year 2015, space travel is nothing but a quick roller-coaster ride for the ridiculously rich, and computers are tiny and maddeningly stupid. Clarke could not have been more wrong about the future, and Kubrick’s depiction of our hominid ancestors in 2001 A Space Odyssey couldn’t have been more wrong about the past.

couldnt be more wrong

Our hominid ancestors were not clumsy or stupid. They knew what they were doing. They would not have survived otherwise. Our Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal ancestors were probably smarted than us. We know they had bigger brains. They may have been better conversationalists and had more charming personalities than our contemporaries. We know they had music. Archaeologists have found bone flutes among their remains.

neanderthal flute

They must have walked the surface of the Earth with the easy grace of a lion, or a leopard, or any other top predator. They had keen hunting skills, could read their surroundings, and each other. They knew which plants were good to eat, which were good for medicine, and how to encourage their growth. They laughed and told jokes. They sang and danced. They fell in love, had bitter disputes, and fought, but when they fought, they didn’t fight like the idiots in Kubrick’s film. They had weapons, and they knew how to use them, but they also had strategies to avoid conflict, and to minimize its impact.

neanderthal man

Really, when you think about your hominid ancestors, don’t think about “cave men.” Forget all of those stereotypes. They have no basis in fact. Those ideas come from a cultural mythology that tells us that civilized human beings are more advanced than our “primitive” ancestors. Because of that cultural myth, we always imagine those ancestors to be like us, only dumber. Probably more people now believe the story of the dumb neanderthal, than take the story of Adam and Eve literally, but they’re both wrong. Whether you believe the fundamentalist Christian lie or the fundamentalist Church of Popular Science lie, you’re still wrong.

still wrong

In the middle-ages, Christian people found fossilized ammonites They decided that these fossils must be the devil’s discarded toenails, and sited them as evidence of hell.

ammonite fossil

Modern scientists discovered that our ancestors lived in small groups, and had very few material possessions, and because of their cultural prejudices, leaped to the conclusion that our ancestors must have lacked the intelligence to improve their miserable condition.

dumb cavemen

The evidence tells us they ate well, had nice clothes (real fur is real nice) and didn’t have to work very hard to get by. We assume they didn’t work harder because they didn’t burn with curiosity like us, their more advanced descendants. So, even though they ate well, dressed well, and enjoyed a lot of leisure time, we believe that their primitive brains prevented them from unlocking life’s riddles and finding new ways to work themselves to death in ugly synthetic clothes while getting fat on junk food.

fat guy snacking at work

In the 1960s, when 2001 A Space Odyssey first came out, the future still looked cool, and the prehistoric past looked harsh and brutish. Today, 50 years later, the future looks harsh and brutish, and the lives of our prehistoric ancestors look pretty cool. In other words, watching 2001 A Space Odyssey in 2015 should remind us that it is time to update our cultural mythology.

the astronaut


An Unexpected Debut

UnexpectedArrival

Today, Thursday, Jan. 22 at 5pm KMUD, Redwood Community Radio will debut a brand new radio show that I produced.  The show is airing today because the hard disc crash that took my computer out of commission, also took out the newest episode of Wildlife Matters, the program scheduled for that time, that my partner Amy Gustin and I produce together.  Wildlife Matters will be back next month, on the fourth Thursday in February at 5:00pm.

wildlife matters

Instead, KMUD will air the first episode of The Adventurous Ear, a show that highlights music of exceptional originality, and profiles the artists who create it.  This debut episode features the music of Willoughby, performing The Sex Life of Mushrooms live at Siren’s Song Tavern in Eureka.

magicmushrooms

The Sex Life of Mushrooms is a musical, mycological excursion into the private lives of our fungal friends.  Willoughby uses many homemade and circuit-bent instruments to create his music, which he records onto cassettes with a 4-track tape recorder.  He then mixes these tracks live, while speaking into a specially wired reishi mushroom.

reishi

Willoughby’s performance blew me away the night I heard him perform, and The Sex Life of Mushrooms is exactly the kind of outside-the-box originality I hope to bring to KMUD’s listeners with this new series.  I had hoped to hype this show a bit more before it aired, but I hope you will tune in today, Jan. 22 at 5:00pm on KMUD.

kmud-logo

If you live outside of the KMUD listening area, or just want to hear the show right now, here’s a link to an mp3 vesion of the show:

http://www.mediafire.com/listen/1vjasa1k04witl9/Adventurous_Ear_1_Willoughby.mp3


Year End Clearance Sale!!!

clearance sale

This year I found way too many amazingly stupid products, many more than I could find space for in my Holiday Gift Guide. THIS WEK THEY’RE ALL ON SALE!!! We’re talking deep, deep discounts, 20%- 35% 67% even 82% off on some items, not that they’re worth having at any price, but this week, you can buy them for less.

Clearance sale 75 percent off

Whether or not you want to buy them, marvel at these wonders of our material culture, and think about what they say about the society that spawned them. While you survey this collection, remember that in 2014, roughly 150,000 species of plant and animal, went extinct in order to make space for warehouses full of these marvelous products.

plant ans animals disappearChristmas may be over, but it’s still wintertime.  Here’s some great prices on cold weather accessories:

smoking mittensSmoking Mittens Just because you have to stand outside to smoke, that doesn’t mean you have to get frostbite.  Save money and save your fingers while you commit slow suicide in exile.

handerpantsHanderpants  Get a few pairs of these.  You may wear your smoking mittens all winter, but you’ll want to change your Handerpants every day.

bread lovesBread Gloves  Because… fuck, I don’t know, but we have some AMAZING knitted crap to keep you warm this Winter and EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!!

brain hatBrain Hat  At least it will make you look smart.

beard hatBeard Hat  Wear this hat and you’ll look like me, which will help me avoid arrest.  I don’t see an upside to that for you.

penis underwearPenis Underwear  which combines with:

boob pillowBoob Pillow to complete the costume.  Once you look like me, you’ll want to get really drunk, so tuck your boob pillow into this:

the-wine-rack-flask-braWine Flask Bra  You’ll need a really stupid looking sweater to cover it all up.  Try these:

pooping-reindeer-sweateror this:

toilet-santa-sweaterCrappy Christmas Sweaters  Now that’s what I call fashion.  Here’s an idea for couples who both want to look like me:

couples pb-and-j-beardPeanut Butter and Jelly Couples Beard  It keeps your neck warm, and keeps you from getting separated in a large crowd, but maybe looking like me isn’t the look you’re looking for.

snuggie-20Knitted Snuggie  This will keep you warm, and no one will know who is inside.  or perhaps…

taillight pantsTail-light Pants  Not only do they light-up after dark, they go “beep…beep…beep” whenever you step backwards.

youll pay for this outfit…but maybe you’ve seen enough clothing.  Smart phone remain popular with stupid people, here are some stupid phones for SMART SHOPPERS!!!!

denture phoneDenture Phone  With this phone, you can chew your own ear off, while you do the same to your friends

The-French-Fry-PhoneFrench Fry Phone  Maybe this is for your Denture Phone to eat while you talk.

cheeseburger-phoneBurger Phone  Because you’re too busy to take time off for lunch.  With this, you can eat your phone while you close the deal.

cassette phoneCassette Phone  This phone automatically adds hiss, attenuates high frequencies, and after 45 minutes of call time, you have to wait five minutes for it to rewind.  Speaking of rewinding…

dvd rewinderDVD Rewinder  With this, you’ll never have to pay a rewind fee again!  …and we’ve got low low prices on other high high-tech items as well.  like these…

face massagerFace Massager  Wear this when you go down on her, and she’ll think she’s getting cunnilingus from C3po.  It don’t get any more high-tech than that, except maybe this…

karaoke microphonei-Toungue  French kiss/oral sex app for i-phone.

chicken-foot-usb-driveChicken Foot USB Drive  Why didn’t the chicken cross the road?  Because its foot was stuck in your computer.

bongzillaBongzilla Hi-Tech Beer Bong  How many time have you thought to yourself: “I sure do love drinking beer from a funnel. I wish I could funnel this beer RIGHT NOW, but that other guy is using the funnel, and it’ll be another 6 seconds before he’s finished. I wish there was a way we could pour all of our beer into the funnel, and all six of us could drink from it at the same time?” Not many, I’ll bet.

future bassoonFuture Bassoon  This great new high-tech musical instrument plays like a bassoon, but it has a fretboard instead of keys, which means that nobody knows how to play it.  Sure looks cool though.  Speaking of looking good…  SAVE BIG on these health and beauty products:

Hana-Tsun-Nose-StraightenerNose Straightener  Whatever is wrong with your appearance, you can be sure that no one will notice as long as you wear this.

nose soap dispensorRunny Nose Soap Dispenser  Makes cleaning up as fun as rubbing snot all over your body.

masl12_stupid_giftGo Golfing or Go Girl Personal Pee Products  If you live around here, you know why you need this.  No public restrooms in town means I’ll empty my golf club on your fucking lawn.  …and we’ve got GREAT DEALS on sports equipment too!!!

potty-putterPotty Putter  Drop a load off of your handicap, while you drop a load.

baseball mit chairBaseball-Mitt Chair  You’ll always be “Safe”  when you let this chair field your balls.  …and we’ve got unbelievable kitchen gadgets at UNBELIEVABLE PRICES!!!

muffin pantsMuffin Top Muffin Makers

egg-separatorRunny Nose Egg Separator

karate chop lettuceKarate-Chop Plastic Knife Finally, a knife you can give to that special someone, that you know won’t be used to stab you to death in your sleep.  Speaking of people who want to kill you… your kids need stuff too.  Like these great toys, at GREAT PRICES:

dora dildoDora the Expora Self-Lubricating Dildo  Kids can explore their own budding sexuality with this educational toy.

eye little ponyEye Little Pony  That’s exactly the expression your kid will make while trying out the Dora the Explora Dildo.

bad taste bears1Teddy Has a Woody  Kids love teddy bears.  Here’s some more:

bad taste bears

Bad Taste Bears  What do you want, bears with bad taste, or bears that taste bad?

stuffed-std-toy-044Plush STDs  It’s never too early to teach your kids about STDs, These toys will make them seem cuddly and fun.

hello kitty machine gunHello Kitty Machine Gun  This is no toy!  Get your kid a REAL Hello Kitty Kalashnikov.   Maybe you don’t trust your kids with real firearms.  Instead, try this:

batman squirtgunBatman Squirt-Gun  I’ll bet your kids can figure out how to make Batman squirt.

Wolverine inflatableWolverine Inflatable  Your kids will love blowing-up this inflatable bath toy.

sponge junkieSponge-Bob Needs a Fix Plush Toy  Who doesn’t these days?  If you’re smart, long ago you decided that you’d rather spoil a pet than raise a child.  We’ve got GREAT PRICES on EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO SPOIL YOUR PET!!!:

pet umbrellaDoggie Umbrella  Umbrella for human not included.

cat box scoopCat Shaped Litter Box Scoop  Like your cat gives a fuck.  Finally, how about gifts for the writer in your life?

butt pen holderButt Pen Holder  The chain is completely unnecessary.  Believe me, no one is ever going to steal that pen.

cat pencil sharpenerCat Pencil Sharpener  Is this for cat lovers, or cat haters?  I don’t know, but if you are really looking for a gift for me…

theremin badgerBadger Theremin  This is an electronic musical instrument built into a taxidermied Badger.  I WANT ONE!!!

…and with that, we’ll stick a fork in in, and call it done for 2014.

Stick_a_Fork_in_it

See you next year.


Medicine Baul Live at Jambalaya in Arcata

medicine baul 1ba

All Photos in this essay by Bob Doran, some, like this one are stills from his video Medicine Baul Live at Bummer Fest 2012. Other pics from his Medicine Baul photo album on facebook

Amazing! Astounding! Wonderful! Wow! Wow! Wow! If you read this column regularly, you know that I’m a cynical old coot who loves to make fun of people. Not today (sorry to disappoint you). Today I feel rejuvenated, recharged and re-energized, because last night I experienced Medicine Baul live at Jambalaya in Arcata.

medicine baul 9c

Medicine Baul played inspiring, original music. When I say “original” music, I don’t just mean that they write their own songs, I mean that they don’t do anything normal. Medicine Baul didn’t even play anything you could call a song. Instead, we heard one continuous, collaborative, improvised composition that spanned the duration of their set.

medicine baul 4a

They had some normal instruments, like a concert bass drum, a trombone and a hammered dulcimer, but Medicine Baul didn’t play anything normal on them. They had some decidedly abnormal instruments, like a homemade, cello-sized, one string instrument, a mouth harp and an electric hurdy-gurdy. They didn’t do anything normal with those instruments either. They hit things. They plucked strings. They held twisted brass tubes and other strange devices to their lips, and they fiddled with many contraptions too small to see clearly from the audience. They produced a great variety of weird noises.

drum banjo trombone1

At the center of all of this instrumental madness, one tall slender dark-haired woman of artistic demeanor, not brassy, not seductive, but serious, concentrated, reserved, but with a playful glint in her eye, stood alone in front of the microphone at center stage in a long striped indigo dress. Her vocalizations, sometimes soaring and melodic, other times dark and guttural contained no discernible lyrics. Flanked stage left by by a man wearing coveralls, knee-pads and a hardhat, crouching low to the floor amid a pile of instruments, and on stage right by a seated man wearing a red flannel union suit playing what looked like a hillbilly cello, Medicine Baul looked positively surreal.

hillbilly cello2

Projected on a screen behind Medicine Baul as they played, scenes from documentary films, probably made in the 1970s by the look of the film, depicted life in remote tribal villages. The images began with people navigating white-water rapids in dugout canoes while standing up, each using a single pole to steer and control their tiny boats. The music began as a low murmur, crescendoed to a mighty din, climaxed in a cathartic release of energy and concluded as peacefully as it began. Medicine Baul both defied and exceeded expectations with their spontaneous composition.

medicine baul drummer4

Medicine Baul has at least six members. I find it hard to count higher than that, but there were a lot of people up on that rather cramped stage, and they all had something to do, pretty much all the time. Clearly, they all listen to each other. I don’t think anyone would say, of Medicine Baul, that they were fantastically talented players, because none of them were show-offs, and they did not play music for show-offs. Instead I will say say that Medicine Baul is made of fantastically talented listeners, and that together they compose brilliant original music.

medicine baul 7e

You really should experience them for yourself. You will have a chance to do that on November 3. Medicine Baul will perform in Eureka on Monday, November 3, at Siren’s Song, along with Willoughby, starting at 8:00pm. We’ve already planned our next Eureka trip around it, and so should you.

medicine baul 6b

We have an obscene amount of music shows here in Humboldt County, and most of them them are more party than concert and involve music drawn from well-trodden, commercially proven, genres. That doesn’t interest me. I want to hear something original, and I like it that much more when the artists have the guts to challenge the audience’s expectations rather than pander to them. That’s what makes music interesting. That’s what makes music powerful, and that’s what keeps music alive.

vinny plays bugle2

Art matters! Parties, not so much. We need original art now, more than ever, because at the core of our current cultural collapse lies a colossal failure of imagination. It’s going to take a lot of imagination to reinvent the future. Original art is to imagination what business is to money. An abundance of art promotes a wealth of imagination. Medicine Baul is a perfect example of what I mean by “original,” and listening to them could change the way you think about music.

aftermath2


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