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Tag Archives: music

Alternate Music Timelines

This is an idea I’ve had for quite some time but it was not really big enough to really write about.  You know, some things are more Twitter-length, but if you don’t want to get sucked into multiple social broadcasting/publishing platforms, what can you do?  So, I just held on to the idea.

Then I had another of the same idea.  Now I’m up to two and it’s almost enough to make a post about.  All I need is a few paragraphs of intro/filler material (right here!) to describe the origins of the ideas so I can pad my word count.  But then, I had a third idea.  Now I was really set to go.  All I had to do was make sure I had enough words for each idea.  So, here’s the post proper.

You know sometimes when you hear a song, you think, “That sounds like this other band.”  Well, like everyone else, I get those thoughts too, but I think it happens less frequently, but more intensely with me.  Giving it some consideration, it’s not so much that one song sounds like another band did it, it’s more that the song would sound better by the alternative band because the song in question contains elements that that this other band does naturally.  I’ll try to explain how this applies for each song. 

So, for the 1000+ albums I’ve listened to, it might be strange to only come up with three cases where I would love to hear a one band’s song done by another band.  And if some of my reasons seem somewhat tenuous, you do have to consider that there’s a lot of music that sounds like other music and I don’t have a list of 100’s here.  To only have three instances must account for something.

Circle In The Sand, by Belinda Carlisle, performed by Fleetwood Mac.

This is actually part of a bigger “fantasy” of mine.  Fleetwood Mac was a little lost after Stevie Nicks moved on to her solo stuff and eventually separated.  This led to their album, Time, with Bekka Bramlett instead of Stevie Nicks, which was not well received.

I thought Belinda Carlisle would be an excellent replacement for Stevie Nicks because they both had a trademark vibrato in their voices and they both loved the fuck out of cocaine.  Not to mention, Fleetwood Mac was part English and part Californian, while Carlisle was Californian but grew some European sensibilities by moving to France.

In this Van Hagar-ish mashup, I would imagine Fleetwood Mac throwing a couple of Belinda Carlisle songs into their live set to give her something to sing comfortably, and one of those songs should be Circle In The Sand.  Fleetwood Mac has a real gift at creating moody atmospheres, like in Rhiannon and The Chain.  If they could apply that sort of mood to Carlisle’s song, that would sound incredible.  In my opinion, of course.

Sensurround, by They Might Be Giants, performed by Rush.

I’m sure that’s about at WTF as you can get.  Where would I even get that idea from?  Quite simply, the guitar.  Sensurround is a guitar-heavy song, a style featured on many TMBG tracks, but the playing on this track is unlike others that I’ve heard.  There are a few style elements that stand out to me in the song.  First is the use of very dense chords.  Another is the staccato chords used in the verses, reminiscent of Rush’s Natural Science.  The other is the arpeggiated chords in the chorus similar to those in the chorus of Tom Sawyer.

Maybe that sounds like a stretch to only have elements from two Rush songs validate an idea that Rush could have done the song, but that’s only the genesis of the idea.  To imagine how the song would sound with the drumming and bass work of Neal and Geddy would be awesome.  And Rush are no strangers to quirkiness.  Although they don’t have any silly songs to their credit, they do show a sense of humor in their live shows.  So maybe make the lyrics a bit darker and more serious, Peart-style, and it’d be complete.

Give A Little Bit, by Supertramp, performed by Yes (circa 1970).

I recently purchased a Supertramp compilation CD and although I’ve heard this song before, I didn’t know who had done it.  As I listened to the song, it reminded me of some jangly Yes songs, particularly, And You And I.  The vocal line seemed to be well within Jon Anderson’s range and even the lyrical subject was similar to something he might write, maybe from the Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe era.


Bringing It Back

A couple of months ago, I picked up a new keyboard at a thrift shop.  As the holidays were approaching, I only had a few moments to spend any time with it.  I did a quick cleaning and test of the device and found it was… weird.  Something was really odd sounding about the patches when I played them.  I don’t have perfect pitch, but I can hear well enough to know when something is out of key.  And that’s what the problem sounded like.

The phenomenon was very weird, because as I would play songs that are completely familiar to me, I would screw up while playing them.  Not because of any sloppiness or difference in the keyboard action, it was because my ears were hearing a different pitch than I was playing on the keyboard, so my fingers would try to compensate for that and stretch to the wrong next key.  Like I would play a C and know the next note is a D, but my ear hears a B and my fingers think I have to stretch over an extra key to get to the D.  Just a mess.

I did try some repair on the keyboard a little bit afterwards.  After opening it up, I found the pitch and mod wheel cable was disconnected, and it looked like something had been spilled inside.  I pulled the keys that looked like they’d been affected by the spill and cleaned them.  The contacts looked fine.  And then, right in the middle of that procedure, the holidays came back, so I had to close the keyboard all up and store it again.  Along the way, I found I had lost 4 springs for the keys I had cleaned.  Not lost, but they had fallen out.

The other night, I pulled the beast back out and set about some trial and error troubleshooting.  During a previous round of testing, I had discovered there really was a pitch problem and my primary suspect was the aftertouch ribbon.  So after I replaced the missing key springs, I did a quick test with the aftertouch cables disconnected.  Perfect sound!  I reconnected the pitch and mod wheel cable and it still worked fine.  Things are looking up!

I considered the restoration project a success.  I had a functional 88-key keyboard for $100.  Who could complain about that?  Well, maybe I could complain that I had nowhere to set the thing up.  And having this massive electronic device made me miss the even bigger electronic device I nearly gave away.  That one was a real monster:


Maybe one day I’ll write about the experience of trading this killer keyboard for a little tiny mixer.  Maybe it’ll include the confrontation with the sales guy at Guitar Center.

I have some desire to do some music.  To have all these devices and not make use of them is a shame.  And  ridiculously, I have some desire to recollect my original keyboards, maybe in rackmount form, so I can have my original inspiring sounds.

Things were different back then.  Things were more simple and also more difficult.  But the difficulty didn’t matter at the time because there wasn’t any other option.  You had to be daring and involved and willing to expend effort.  Now, expending the effort is rather a big deal.  I have a lot of software to set up, some hardware to configure, patches to configure, and eventually some audio routing will be needed.  These things aren’t conducive to creativity.

As I’ve been rebuilding my playing stamina and relearning some of my old compositions (which I’m very saddened to find I’ve forgotten a lot), I’ve been debating putting some of them online.  I actually have some old video of my playing from 2009 but I doubt it’s usable.  Production values have skyrocketed since then, so I’d probably need to record the video and audio separately, then mix them together to get the best quality.  More setup, more effort, less creativity.

Additionally, I’ve got yet another future audio project that is going to require the full recording setup effort, so maybe it’s happening sooner than I think.  Here’s to 2018 having a more diverse creative output.

Let It Be

In the early programming days, back when the language was called BASIC, there was a instruction that has since become deprecated.  That command is called LET.  Because language parsers were simpler back then, there needed to be a way to identify assignment of a value to a variable.  Nowadays, you just say x=1 and assignment is understood.  However, saying x=1 could imply comparison, resulting in a true or false value.  To avoid that ambiguity, in the past, you had to say LET x=1.

I started off with that little history lesson to say that I was listening to a recently purchased CD and a song title was “LET X=X”.  Since I was driving while the song was playing, I couldn’t really make out any of the lyrics, but the title gave me plenty to think about.

A programming statement like that is pretty useless.  It changes nothing.  And that thought is somewhat powerful.  Telling someone “LET X=X” could be saying “Leave things alone.” or “Don’t change a thing.”  Or you could be a bit more philosophical about it, applying a Que Sera Sera viewpoint to it – whatever happens, will happen.

So I looked up the lyrics and to me, they don’t make any sense.  But whatever, that artist rarely makes any sense to me.  But I got my own meaning out of the title, and I think that makes up for any confusion.

He Who Controls The Spice

This weekend, I picked up a couple of other CDs from my prime musical era: the 80’s.  It would probably be interesting to poll people and find out what they consider the best music of their life.  Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it would be the era in which a person became an adult, about when they were 18-21.  But that’s not really the point of this post. 

The thing I have discovered is that although we have all these eras of music: 50’s/oldies, 60’s/hippy, 70’s/classic rock, 80’s/glam/pop, 90’s/depression, and onward, each era has so much more than those generalizations I just assigned to them.  And even when you explore those other genres, they are still consistent with other genres of that era and also different than the same genre in other eras.  For example, Jazz in the 70’s sounds different than Jazz in the 80’s.  But Jazz in the 80’s still has that production sound of pop music the 80’s.  So the point I’m trying to make is that you can explore many genres within your prime musical era.  The amount of music just within your preferred era is staggering.  Believe me, I’ve been getting more and more daring and buying artists I only had a faint memory of.  The best way to describe the result of that effort is like filling in a puzzle of the entire musical landscape of the 80’s.  You see (hear) each album all in context and relation to the others and the era as a whole becomes more defined.  But that’s not really the point of this post, either.

I had to put those thoughts out first because I am curious abut the future (and a little about the past).  The 80’s could be the premier music moment in recorded music history, all due to the creation of the CD.  Because of the mad rush to upgrade past recordings to CD, then because of the eventual low cost of CD production, there is an overwhelming amount of music physically available on CD, both past and present (present meaning 80’s).

However, as we know, streaming is becoming the new standard.  Proponents of this format claim that it will encompass everything, where any music ever made will be available at a moment’s notice.  But will it?  It’s been shown many times over that an artist can simply refuse their catalog to be offered on a streaming service.  Not only an artist, but maybe an entire label.  If a label goes bankrupt, where do the rights go?  The music is only available when everything is working perfectly – and I wasn’t even meaning the technical bits working perfectly.

With our massively analytical society and our ROI-driven corporate environment, what are the odds that a streaming service would look at some particular music and see it isn’t being accessed enough or isn’t generating enough revenue, so it is just removed from the service.  It’s no longer available.  It’s not lost, just unavailable, which is pretty much the same thing to an end user.  I have seen news that some albums are no longer being released on a physical medium, therefore there is no way to own a copy of the music.  If this pattern accelerates, then there will come a time in the future where music can be lost.

Of course, none of this matters to me, because I’m still filling in the gaps of my era, but future generations will end up having a very spotty image of what music was like in their prime.  That would be a shame.

Grow On…

A while ago, I had done a mega-run on thrift stores (28 of them!).  Last Saturday, I made another full day of shopping – 8+ hours.  Unlike my previous run with netted 4 CDs, I ended the day with, oh… 35.  Ok, wait.  Let me explain.  Of those, I really only wanted less than 10.  The majority of them were purchased for their cases.

The CD jewel case is, in my opinion, a wonder of industrial design.  The fact that its design has gone relatively unchanged in 30 years is testament to its perfection.  However, it has changed over the years.  The primary change has been to make it lighter by using thinner plastic.  A modern CD case is pathetically thin and brittle, which does little for the case of presenting a CD as a premier product.  The thin, cheap case instead affirms that CDs are cheap and disposable.

Early CD cases were heavier and instilled a sense of quality.  You can identify these cases because they have smooth sides instead of the ribbed sides of cases today.  Of course, you could also easily tell just by picking up a case.  It is a noticeable difference.

So, that’s what I was after.  The first stop was a pawn shop where I found a couple of CDs I would enjoy.  I asked how much they were. “25 cents.”  Well, that changes things.  I’ll take every smooth-sided CD there, including Willie Nelson and Ray Stevens.  That was all of $2.75.  At a later thrift store, I pulled out 10 smooth cases, mostly of classical music, for $1 each.  I was a little bummed because they offered 50% coupons on a mailing list and I didn’t have one.  Maybe next time?

The final stop to end my day was at a non-thrift store – my local used record store.  I treated myself to a collectible CD, a 24k gold disc for $20.  You usually can’t go wrong with these because they typically sell for $$$.  This CD has two current listings online for $94 and $133.  They haven’t sold for that amount (I’m not dumb), but still.

Sunday was spent cleaning cases and swapping out some of my more prized CDs into smooth cases.  My fingers are so sore from using my nails to pry apart cases.  Then the ripping and cataloging… My new CD tower from not too long ago is filling up at a dangerous pace.  Soon, I may need to bring the old one back into service.  And, I also need to start selling the CDs that have been replaced or upgraded to better editions.  I must have about 30 of those.

Not What I Wanted, But…

In my last similar post, I picked up a cheap “vintage” stereo system. It was going to just a holdover until I released the major funds for a new full stereo system.  That release is probably being held up by the future planned redo of the living room.  And that’s a few rooms later, where I’m currently stuck in the master bathroom.  But anyway…

The new cheapo stereo ($28 to buy and $30 to repair) gave me radio and cassette tape capabilities.  To get any use out of it, I had to start buying cassettes.  That’s not really something I wanted to get into, but there I was.  I really wanted a CD player and had been looking for one that would match the style.  It needed to have a silver face to match and ideally have plenty of buttons.

That search was not as fruitful as I’d hoped, so I compromised and said I’d pick out a stand-in player until I found what I really wanted.  Today, I finally made that purchase.  It was all of $10, the same price as the tape deck.  It was a brand that I’d heard was well respected in that era, but one I’d never experienced before.

This is my new-to-me Onkyo DX-701, circa 1992.


I have to say, when I first powered on the CD player and the display panel lit up, I grinned like an idiot.  It had been so long since I’d seen old-school digital displays like that.


That might have even exceeded my fascination of playing cassettes and staring at the level meters.


But, back to the CD player, the thing is built solid.  I’m sure everyone is used to the CD tray in their computer, a flimsy piece of crap.  The CD tray on this device is smooth and wobble-free.  It’s substantial.  The whole player was a little dirty, but I cleaned the heck out of it.  I took the cover off and found the insides to be completely dust free.  This was not a neglected piece of equipment stuffed in a closet or garage and I’m glad to give it a new life.

One little thing of note is that all three of these devices have physical power buttons.  You know how everything now is a soft power button – push it and it toggles the power, no tactile difference between on and off?  These devices all physically move metal contacts in a switch to toggle power on and off.  You feel the detent when the button is on (it remains in) and you feel it spring back out when you power it off.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s also something you don’t experience anymore.  It feels like quality.

Sonically, it’s incredible.  If I plug into the headphone jack on the player itself, dead quiet.  My MCS amp has an audible noise floor, but to its credit, I can’t turn the volume past about 5% without serious discomfort.  With great power comes a great hissing noise floor, apparently.

So, at this point, I can relax and wait for the right silver-faced CD player to cross my path.  And, where can you get a full stereo for under $100?

Prognosis: Guarded

As I previously mentioned, I bought a vintage stereo and one channel in the receiver was dead, which made having a stereo that couldn’t play stereo pretty worthless.  But I had only spent $10 on the receiver, so what.

Well, I contacted my local vintage sound establishment, selling vinyl, CDs, 8-tracks, even reel-to-reel music, as well as old stereos and speakers.  They have a repair tech on staff, which is pretty awesome.  I explained my situation to him and what I had done so far.  He said if my initial diagnostics were correct, repairs of that sort usually ran $75-$125.  Hmmm.  There’s a bench fee of $25 whether or not I choose to fix it.  Hmmm.

So here I was in a position that could have me spending over 10x my purchase price to have a functional stereo receiver.  Hmmm.  I have a small problem with admitting defeat, especially if success is attainable.  I like the stereo quite a bit and admittedly, I have the funds I could spend on it.  But that’s exactly why there is a word called “spendthrift”.  Blah blah blah, ROI, foolhardy, 10x expenses.  But I like it, doesn’t that account for anything?  And what of waste and our disposable society?  Shouldn’t I make an effort to repair instead of replace?

To convince myself… actually, I was already convinced.  To make myself feel better, I thought up an analogy to my situation.  What if you found a kitten and took it to the vet.  The vet charges you a bench fee to look at this kitten, then says it looks like your kitten has worms.  If it does, you’ll need to spend about $100 in meds to get it back to health.  What are you going to do, put the kitten down?  Throw it away?  It’s perfectly repairable and would provide years of happiness.

Yesterday, I took my kitten to the shop and today I got the diagnosis.  It was just a blown fuse – a cheap fix.  Totaling about $30, nearly all of which is covered by the bench fee.  The doctor offered a warning, though.  Fuses usually don’t blow without a reason, but being a 30-yr old device could play a part.  Fuses guard electronics against larger damage.  So a blown fuse may indicate a bigger problem, which may manifest in the coming months of regular use.  If that’s the case, it will require further troubleshooting.  Or, I can just keep changing out fuses until I get sick of doing that.

So, hooray for me.  Now I begin the hunt for an aesthetically compatible CD player.  I have a couple options, one of which I just saw yesterday.  If it’s still there, I’ll snag it until I get a better one.  The other, better-looking choice is much less common.  I’ve seen it on Ebay for $100, but I can hold out for a cheaper opportunity if I have a workable system for the near-term.

What I Wanted, Not What I Expected

On a thrift store run, I had a disappointing experience searching for CDs – nothing of interest at all.  On the way out, I dropped in to the electronics section of the store.  I scanned the shelves for nothing in particular until a cassette deck caught my eye.  It was totally vintage, probably from the 1980’s.  It had buttons and switches and analog level meters.  Very cool.

I’ve planned to get a stereo for a while and I have picked out the stereo components I want already.  But for a while, I had considered going the vintage route.  Not so much for the sound quality, which could be hit or miss for its age, but for the aesthetics.  It’s an early era of “wow! technology!” that originally morphed into visual insanity before being left behind in favor of minimalistic design (thanks, Apple).

While I was ogling this vintage tape deck, I realized, I didn’t have anything to plug it into.  And, I only had one cassette tape in my house.  So, why bother.  I put it out of my mind and kept on scanning the shelves until my eyes bumped into a stereo receiver – the matching component of the tape deck.  That device was even more vintage looking, with rows of buttons and sliders.  This receiver solved the problem of having nothing to plug the tape deck into.  Soooo, after verifying I could afford all this equipment, I bundled up both pieces, paid for my treasures (a wallet-busting $18), and cheerfully packed them up in the car.

Before I made the purchase, I did a cursory check as to whether the components were even worthy of owning.  The brand is MCS, an acronym for Modular Component Systems, which is a house brand of JC Penney.  The internet indicated a small appreciation for MCS because the components were manufactured by reputable Japanese brands of the era like NEC and Technics.


The receiver I picked up is an MCS 3237, which seems to be made in 1986 or after.  It’s got a digital AM/FM tuner with 16 presets, seek, and scan. There’s a good number of inputs: phonograph, tape, video, and auxiliary.  It’s got buttons for High filter, Low filter and Loudness, and sliders for Bass, Treble, and Balance.  It can drive two selectable sets of speakers, which is neat.  This supposedly is a 35W amplifier, which sounds weak when you hear about 800W home theater systems now, but owners report a very good sound from those watts.


The tape deck is an MCS 683-3543.  It doesn’t have any fancy features like auto-reverse and only has Dolby B noise reduction.  But it does support Chrome and Metal tapes, which I would think elevates it above the lowest consumer decks.  However, more research shows that it suffers from poor speed accuracy.  Entry level specs at best.  Luckily it’s not meant to be the centerpiece.  I’m still sticking with CDs.

Without any speakers, this stereo will be used with headphones, which should be a pleasant experience.  I should be able to find a silver-faced vintage CD player to mate up with the system to complete the setup.  I won’t be getting into vinyl, so I have no need for the phonograph input.  With a planned budget of a little under $1000 for my future stereo system (that doesn’t include speakers), it’s kind of ridiculous that I can get some sort of satisfaction for under $20.


I get the devices home and do a thorough cleaning on them.  They’re in pretty good shape.  I plug them all in and grab a set of headphones.  It took me a while to find the only cassette tape I had for testing.  All systems go!  Wait, no.  One of the channels is dead.  No sound from the left side.  Output meter is indicating nothing.  Also, it seems the tape deck is dropping signal on one channel randomly.  Ugh.

I don’t have electronic contact cleaner, so I grab a can of CRC Mass Airflow Sensor Cleaner and shoot all the switches and dials and buttons.  (MAF cleaner is pretty much the same thing)  The volume knob is amazingly smooth now, but it made no difference to my output problem.  I’m not a person who can troubleshoot electronics, so my choices at this point are pay to have it fixed, or pitch it.

I ran the tape deck through my mixer in my office (I guess I did have something to plug it into) and got no channel drops for the entire duration of my test cassette.  Very odd.  When I was listening though headphones, the output dropped and the VU meter fell, too.

I guess I’ll start with the amp.  At least get a quote and see how much more than $10 I’ll need to have a working system.

Being The Best You Want To Be

On a forum I frequent, a question came up wondering why there are people who do not aspire to find and appreciate the best sound quality possible.  The answer is probably obvious on the surface – it’s just not something that interests them.  Like some people don’t have a care for paintings or photographs, or interior design, or anything else a person could be passionate about.

But on another level, on my level, what about people who do like music, but don’t like crappy sounding audio systems?  There’s a few sub-questions in there, like: Why don’t you have the best-sounding stereo possible?  Why don’t you own the highest-rated-in-terms-of-sound-quality CD for each of the albums you own? Why aren’t you into vinyl?  Why aren’t you also up in arms about people settling for MP3 and earbuds or playing music through their phone’s speaker?

Because I used to own a dedicated stereo system and because I plan to own one in the coming future, I felt that I needed to consider this question.  There is a certain “floor” of quality I insist on, but as far as a “ceiling”, I can’t be sure.

Regarding playback systems, I am not compelled to buy $3k speakers or $6k amplifiers to get the sound quality I require.  At the same time, I can’t really tolerate a $100 sound system either.  I swap out the stereo in each car I get, always to an improvement.  Despite having sound systems at the house, none of them are really satisfying.  My home theater system is a booming, bass beast – not good for music.  I have a couple small speaker docks that are ok for background music, but not for listening.  My best sound system is my computer running through my Event studio monitors.  Next year, I’ll get my listening system for the living room.

When I do buy my stereo, I’ll be buying what my budget allows from a quality brand.  For a true audiophile, this wouldn’t be satisfactory.  Consumer brands have lots of quality problems, and they would be able to identify what they are.  I wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t be able to tell by listening either.  After all, I don’t have any opportunity to compare systems, since I don’t have any friends (with stereo systems). Neither do I have the money to swap out components to try and make small to moderate improvements that I may not even notice.  So, what I have is what I hear and what I will enjoy.

As far as listening goes, I’m not sure I have the ear to be an audiophile.  I can identify obviously bad sound (like my theater system), but after a certain point, I can’t identify differences.  I can say that I don’t like it, but I wouldn’t be able to explain why.  More discerning people could say it was because of compression or eq or “presence” and some of the best could say it was because of speaker placement or wiring or the amp’s power supply.  I can’t do that.

The last piece of the loaded question is why not take the time to evaluate different masterings of albums to have the “best”?  My current stance is to own a version as close to the original as possible.  Before, I didn’t really have a position.  I’d just buy whatever was available.  I’ve decided that the original mix/mastering is the authority.  That’s what people liked.  A remaster is not a re-release.  It’s not like an album from 1986 is going to re-enter the charts because it was remastered.  All remastering is for existing fans.  It’s like version upgrades of software.

More Space; Going Vertical

Well, as I last mentioned, it’s time to grow the CD storage.  It cost just as much to buy a new storage tower as to build one, so I went the pre-built route.

After the new tower arrived, the first step was to clear out the old tower.  Surprisingly for me, I gave some thought as to the stacking of the CDs so I would be able to put them all back into the new tower in order.  Unload from Z to A, then reload from A to Z.


The new tower has shelves that are pretty much the same width as the old tower, but there are two additional shelves to work with.  Those, times four sides, gives me 8 more shelves worth of space.  Compared to the old tower, the new one is quite impressive.


Replacing the CDs, I was able to leave space on every single shelf, and even with that, I had almost two free shelves at the end.


In all, quite a nice upgrade.  And if I manage to fill that, I have the old tower I can start using again.