Category Archives: Music

A Springy Bass and the Humboldt Horn

big horn

People seemed to like the Harp Project last week, so I thought I’d lay a couple of my other new homemade instruments on you.

homemade creations

I built this electric bass from a hunk of 2×4 I extracted from a shipping pallet, and the cast-aluminum housing from a long-dead car-stereo amplifier.

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This bass uses vibrating springs, salvaged from expandable curtain rods, instead of strings, and additional sympathetic springs, concealed within the body, increase the instrument’s resonance.  More springs attached to the outside of the body increase the instruments sonic potential.

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This bass has two piezoelectric pickups, one designed to pick up vibrations from the long springs stretched over the neck of the instrument, and a second that allows the body of the instrument to be played like a drum. A single potentiometer allows the player to balance between the two.

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It’s really a very crude device. I had a lot of trouble getting decent sound to video, and I’m just beginning to explore what this instrument can do, but compared to, say a washtub bass, I think this instrument has a lot of musical potential.

I feel strongly about working with salvaged junk. I hate to see the natural world sacrificed to produce disposable consumer crap, but one distinguishing characteristic of our time is this abundance of exotic materials that would have been unbelievably rare, or completely non-existent only 100 years ago.

junk

We live in an age rich in garbage. All of the earth’s natural beauty, and life-sustaining abundance, has been ravaged, transformed, consumed, abandoned, and discarded. There it is, our stolen future, on the curb, in the rain, free for a generation of dumpster-divers.

dumpster-dive

Here in Humboldt County, this black poly-pipe waterline grows wild in the woods. I find it everywhere, along with chicken-wire, buckets, flower pots, tarps, water tanks, soil bags and worse.

pot grow garbage 1

These woods are strewn with the detritus of thirty years of guerrilla growing, including enough abandoned poly-pipe waterline to reach a grow on Mars. Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Prohibition may soon end, but the miles of black poly-pipe in our forests will last forever.

black poly pipe

“Let it sing.” I say.

singer

I made the Humboldt Horn out of waterline and a flowerpot.

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I cut the mouthpiece off of a cracked and discarded vuvuzela I found while cleaning up a property in Ettersburg. I reinforced it with a bit of electrical tape, and adapted it to fit the horn.  vuvuzela

I can vary the range of the instrument by substituting longer or shorter lengths of waterline. The flowerpot acts as a resonance chamber, and has an omnidirectional microphone mounted inside.

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Because the flowerpot is turned upside down and rests on the ground, the instrument is very quiet, but the microphone inside the flowerpot provides a strong signal to drive amplifiers, effects and/or recording equipment. While not particularly attractive, I find the Humboldt horn both expressive and versatile as a musical instrument. Give it a listen.


The HARP Project

haarp-facility

Many Americans, as well as millions of people around the globe have expressed their outrage at the top-secret experiments taking place at a US military base in Alaska. This nefarious program, code-named “The HARP Project,” builds on the groundbreaking work of Nicola Tesla, and seeks nothing less than complete control of global weather patterns through the use of high-frequency electromagnetic fields.

tesla

The HARP Project utilizes an enormous antenna array, and transmitters capable of pumping millions of watts of radio-frequency energy into the stratosphere. These transmissions create changes in the Earth’s ionosphere that extend around the globe, and the amplitude of these signals distort the shape of the atmosphere, and effect the Earth’s magnetic field.

haarp Strange_Clouds

The HARP Project remains shrouded in secrecy,

haarp_1a warning

…but this week, the LYGSBTD Center for Investigative Reporting acquired exclusive, TOP-SECRET video footage that reveals, for the first time, exactly how it really works. This video reveals the exact frequencies of operation, resonance gradients, harmonic characteristics, and radiation patterns of the energy field transmissions. This video allows viewers to see, and hear for themselves, the effect these energy fields have on the atmosphere. WARNING: This two-and-a-half minute video will change your life FOREVER!!!!!!

See, you are now two-and-a-half minutes older, and you’ve seen the newest addition to my growing collection of crude musical instruments made out of junk: The HARP Project. Technically, a musicologist would remind us, this instrument is a lyre, but I’ve called this instrument “the HARP Project” from the moment I conceived of this contraption, and I’ve only subsequently learned of the subtle difference between the two. For the record, a harp has only three sides, while a lyre has four.

harp_to_lyre

The voice of this instrument emanates from an aluminum bundt cake pan I found lying in the mud while cleaning up a property in Ettersburg. I knocked the mud out of it and tapped it a couple of times to listen to its ring. I thought it had a pleasant ring, and considered using it as a resonator on the guitar I recently built, but the geometry of the guitar just didn’t work that way.

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Still, I thought this bundt cake pan had a nice ring to it, and realized it would be easy to attach a piezoelectric pickup to it as well, so I started to look at it, and think about how I could best harness its acoustic properties. I checked a few books out of the library, and I looked up some stuff on-line. At some point, I found a picture of a harp made out of a roasting pan. I took note of how it was constructed.

roasting pot harp-559x419

created by Bart Hopkins to see more of Bart’s amazing instruments click this pic

Zither pins. Until this point, my collection of homemade string instruments has been limited by the availability of tuning mechanisms. I once got a music store to sell me a few old guitar tuning machines for a dollar each, but I haven’t come across a deal like that since. Zither pins sell for about a dollar each, new. With zither pins, I could build an instrument with 20 tuned strings, and stay within my budget of $30.

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I built the frame of the instrument from an old shipping pallet, and I found a piece of copper pipe just the right length for the bridge.

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You already know about the bundt cake pan.

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I made the strings out of a spool of stainless steel wire I’ve been carrying around for over a decade.

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The piezoelectric pickup came out of my Bratz brand toy drum machine that worked long enough that you can hear it on my last album, Um… Uh… Gum Eh?, but died shortly thereafter.

bratz drum fingers

I got eight great sounding piezoelectric pickups out of that toy, including this one, and the one in my record breaking guitar.

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I paid one dollar for it. A quarter-inch phone jack and a volume pot with a brushed aluminum knob complete the Harp Project, and make it convenient to amplify or record.

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I really like the way it sounds. Now I have to learn to play it.


4/20, a CIA Plot Involving the Grateful Dead

steal_your_pot

It’s 4/20 again, Oh boy! I’m not big on celebrating 4/20 as a holiday. I mean, if somebody hands me a joint, any day of the year, I’ll happily smoke it, but as a holiday, 4/20 comes up a day late and a dollar short, if you ask me.

a day late

April 19th is the day to celebrate. Think about it. The psychedelic revolution was born on April 19 1943. April 19 is “Bicycle Day,” the day Albert Hoffman first discovered the psychoactive properties of LSD, and took his famous bike ride home from the Sandoz lab in Switzerland. Also, the Battle of Lexington and Concord took place on April 19, the first major battle in the American Revolution. April 19th is a day to remember that sometimes revolution is a good thing, and some things are worth fighting for. That’s something to celebrate.

bicycle-day

What happened on April 20th that has anything at all to do with marijuana? Nothing. Nothing at all.

nothing

What did happen on April 20th? What is the most significant thing to happen, in the whole history of civilization, on April 20? Adolf Hitler was born. Remember him? What a guy. He cast his shadow over the entire 20th Century, and remains an iconic symbol of pure evil to this day. That’s not something I want to celebrate.

hitlers birthday cake

Hitler’s birthday should be marked by a somber day to remember the horrible things the Nazis did, and to remember that people did those things. April 20 is a day to remember that at one time, Hitler was a baby, just like millions of other babies, and his mother loved him and took care of him and sent him to school, and he grew up to become Der Fuhrer of the Third Reich, and to instigate the most ghoulish bloodbath of a blood-soaked century. April 20th is a day to remember that any little baby can grow up to become another Hitler someday, and that’s something every perspective parent should think about.

hitlers birthday guidelines

Anyway, the fact that Adolf Hitler was born on on April 20th hangs like a pall over the entire day, making it unfit to celebrate. Unless, of course, you are a fascist. Fascists love to celebrate Hitler’s Birthday. If you ask me, fascists are behind the whole business of celebrating April 20th as some kind of pot holiday. I think the whole 420 phenomena is part of a CIA CoIntelPro disinformation campaign designed to derail the revolutionary elements of the cannabis counter-culture.

CIA cointelpro

The whole 420 back-story seems pretty dubious. Supposedly, some Bay Area high-school kids concocted 420 as a code word for getting high, because it took exactly 4:20 seconds for them to walk to their favorite place to smoke herb. That doesn’t make sense because: A, Some kids are faster than others. B, Who times their walks like that? And C, Kids would compete to see who could get there faster, so 420 would eventually become 418, 415, or even 412. Within a few years, some particularly fast stoners would have whittled it down to 3:58.

fast times

Also, consider this: All over the country, people constantly coin new code-words for marijuana, ranging from “bass strings” to “turf.” all of these terms must enjoy a certain amount of popularity to be effective, but all of them lose their “cool” once you hear them on TV. Code-words, after all, have to be changed once the enemy has broken the code. 420 on the other hand just seems to get more popular the more banal it becomes. Speaking of things that get more popular the more banal they sound…

bland calm

Look at where this story comes from. Apparently, some of these apocryphal 420 kids were friends of Phil Lesh, the bass player for the Grateful Dead. Supposedly, 420, as a code-word for marijuana, arose within the Grateful Dead subculture. That story doesn’t check-out either. If you saw the Dead back in the ’70s, you never heard the term 420, at least I don’t recall hearing it when I saw them back in ’78, when I saw them at Music Hall in Cleveland, a great venue that only seats 3,000 people, and the show didn’t sell out.

gd cleveland nov 20 78-horz

But a few years later, the Grateful Dead sure did. At the height of Reagan’s War on Drugs, suddenly, this washed-up Woodstock era band of drug-addled geezers had a smash hit on MTV. Next thing you know, the Grateful Dead were the biggest tour on the planet, selling-out stadiums and arenas all over the country, and all over the country, millions of drugged-up, hippied-out, middle-class white kids started calling marijuana, 420. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

coincidence-I-think-not

I’ve never trusted the Grateful Dead since then, and I assumed they were a front for the CIA. Here’s why: First, they were the least revolutionary of the psychedelic rock bands. The Grateful Dead didn’t drop LSD in Nixon’s coffee machine, like Grace Slick did,

grace slick

…and they didn’t set things on fire, like Jimi Hendrix did.

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They just took drugs and played music. That made the Dead safe for consumption, in the eyes of the CIA. That’s why the CIA used the Grateful Dead to derail, demotivate and lobotomize the psychedelic revolution.

CIA Psychedelic_Intelligence

By combining pitifully low doses of LSD with excessive amounts of stoned-out bluegrass Americana music, the Grateful Dead turned America’s disaffected youth into mindless party animals incapable of original thought, let alone revolutionary action. The Grateful Dead offer nothing remotely revolutionary, original, or even interesting in their music. Instead, with the CIA’s help, they threw a huge wet blanket of blandness over the imagination of a whole generation.

cia lsd

The whole point of the Grateful Dead was to stop people from experimenting with music and drugs, and instead, make sure that whenever people found drugs, the CIA could drown them in a murky sea of rehashed country-western, bluegrass, folk-rock pap. The Grateful Dead Disneyfied the psychedelic experience, and Jerry Garcia was a stooge who, wittingly or unwittingly, helped the CIA control the minds of America’s youth.

garcia devil

Today, people all over America are celebrating Adolf Hitler’s Birthday by smoking a joint while they listen to dumb redneck music. That’s how effectively the CIA used the Grateful Dead to subdue and incapacitate the psychedelic revolution. You may think this theory sounds like delusional paranoia, but do you have a better explanation?

gd white community

I didn’t think so.

i didnt think so


That’s Entertainment

thats entertainment big

Awhile ago, I agreed to help a friend fix his washing machine. I’ve never fixed a washing machine before, but I was happy to lend a hand. As it turns out, a washing machine is a rather complicated mechanical contraption, and we found ourselves stumped by an inaccessible fastener. As we stood there scratching our heads, trying to solve this problem, my friend had a brilliant idea. “Hey,” he said, “Let’s go smoke a joint and watch a video.”

smoke a joint

That sounded like a great idea to me. As we filled the air with great frothy clouds of sweet cannabis smoke, my friend input the make and model of his washing machine into the search engine at Youtube, looking for a “how-to” video that would show us how to replace the agitator dogs on his Kenmore. That’s how I discovered this:

I don’t blame you for not watching it all the way through, but **SPOILER ALERT** there is no surprise ending. That video is a one-camera, 29 minute close-up of an open washing machine, going through one complete cycle. That’s it. No music. No special effects. No narration. I can’t even imagine what you would say to narrate a video like that: “Will you look at that! Someone has turned the knob on that ’86 Kenmore and water has begun spraying into the agitator drum. Get ready for a great show because it looks like someone is going to do some laundry.”

sportscasters

I would have never imagined that doing laundry could become a spectator sport. I mean, I would rather watch someone do laundry, than do laundry myself, but I’d rather not watch, or do, laundry, unless I had to, because I find it dull and tedious. Until the moment I saw that video, I thought that most people agreed with me about that. Apparently, I have no idea what constitutes entertainment these days, because Youtube tells me that that video has been watched more than 60,000 times.  62,290 views to be precise, at the time of this post.

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I don’t know whether 60,000 people watched this video once, or 10,000 people watched it six times each.  Either way, I find this statistic very disturbing.

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What kind of drugs do you have to take to stare at an open washing machine for a half-hour? Where can I get some? I’ll try them, whatever they are, because I just don’t get it.

i dont get it at all

I mean, I’ve seen some stupid TV shows, but this makes Duck Dynasty look like Masterpiece Theater by comparison, and it’s not just this one video. I’ve since discovered that this isn’t even the most popular open washing machine video on Youtube.

(over 190,000 views)

In fact, you can watch open washing machine videos all day, day after day, and never have to see the same washing machine video twice. The Kenmore Washing Machine Youtube Channel has 23 different videos to watch. The SpeedQueen Channel has 54 videos, and the Whirlpool Channel tops them all with 133 different videos of open washing machines, going through their wash and rinse cycle.

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Who watches these things? Autistic children? Nostalgic old ladies in nursing homes? Laundry fetishists? Please tell me. What is the appeal?

laundry fetishist

Look, I’m a musician. I’ve been making music for more than 30 years. I’ve made movies and TV shows, and I currently produce three radio shows, not to mention this blog. I pour my life into my work, because I respect my audience, and I believe in the transformative power of art. Meanwhile, people watch this.

That is a nine-hour video of washing machine noise, that has been watched over 360,000 times!  What does that do to people? Is this brain-washing? It can’t be healthy, but this is what people want. What are you going to do? I don’t know about you, but I’m going out to shoot some long videos of paint drying.


Advice for Adventurous Ears

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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

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…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.

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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

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