Lush

Started playing Lush on the guitar yesterday. Hadn’t played it in more than fifteen years. Might be an interesting tune to re-arrange and resurrect. I find that the version on the Wide-Eyed + Dreaming documentary is perfect. I also like the Steve Hillage remixes of that piece. Of course, I was using a MIDI guitar then… but that’s just a challenge to come up with something different.

Damn, the late Carl Coletti sounds good on that recording! We had been touring a lot and that shows.

Last Night’s Twitch…

Sometimes simple is better. Last night’s performance had no technical difficulties. Perhaps I was taxing my aging laptop too much by trying to use two additional USB cameras. It did work once and then never again.

For the slideshow that has come to bookend my streaming performances I picked images from a tour in Japan in 2009. Travel has become difficult, if not impossible, and I thought some virtual travel was in order. Traveling without moving. Armchair travel. The slideshow progressed towards photos that were very impressionistic and all about the color and the light. Here are a couple of samples:


I have always enjoyed the color photography of Ernst Haas and Arthur Meyerson and in these photos I think I was able to express a little bit of what moves me about their vision.

Since the photos of the slideshow were taken in Japan I drank tea instead of wine. The cup was designed by the Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi. The tea itself, however, was Chinese Pouchong tea. I love that tea and have been drinking it since I discovered it at Ten Tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown around 1992, or so.

I hope you enjoyed the evening. There will be another performance on Tuesday morning at 11:30am, Santa Fe time, and then I will take a break from live-streaming. I will be back, but I don’t want to set a date for it. Maybe it’ll become more of a surprise thing… just some morning or afternoon or evening that I feel like playing on Twitch. If you follow me on Twitch they will inform you when I start streaming.

Mercurial

The guitar is an instrument that is mercurial enough, without having to struggle with open source software that “forgets” settings.

I remember reading a blogpost years ago where someone had asked Paco de Lucia about playing guitar. The post was taken down later, perhaps because it wasn’t an authorized interview, perhaps because of the language Paco used, not knowing this would be published. I will always remember it though because it was true. Here is part of it:

I could not live without the guitar, but at the same time this is no way of life, because it is such a difficult instrument, so ungrateful; you dedicate your whole life to it, hours and days, and suddenly you come up on stage, and that day you feel in perfect shape for playing, and still you don’t hit one single string right, and you cannot figure out why… it depends on so many things, on how long your fingernails are… I am talking about tenths of millimeters, and you ask yourself. What is going on? Where am I failing? And it could be a badly polished nail…

Well, yesterday I was looking forward to perform and my nails seemed to be in good shape. At 7:30pm the slideshow ended and I started playing. A couple of minutes later I was informed that no sound was being transmitted. I stopped and put my guitar down. Computers and software are clearly as mercurial as guitars are.

The open source streaming software’s meter showed that sound arrived at the computer, but somehow it didn’t make it out to the upstream. Instead of trying to search for the problem I quickly created a new sound source for the broadcast. It seemed to solve the issue and I started playing again. In my hurry I forgot, however, to add the new sound source to the other two cameras and when subsequently switching to either of the two additional USB cams the sound dropped out. We had to use one basic camera for the entire broadcast.

I work hard to make my performances look and sound as professional as possible. Touring with Luna Negra I know that the band sounds great and that our engineer Stephen Coler is doing an excellent job of translating that sound to every kind of venue. So it was very frustrating to stumble yesterday. When I was younger my temper was such that I surely would have destroyed a few things, that’s how upset I was…

I am going to look into streaming software alternatives after next Tuesday’s performance. Yesterday afternoon I spent an hour trying to get the software to “see” the USB cameras I was plugging in. To be fair it could have been a mercurial USB port on my laptop or something with the USB hub I have to use because streaming requires three ports and my laptop has only two. After plugging and unplugging different configurations, and restarting the computer multiple times, it suddenly started working.

I still believe in streaming over making videos because there is something about live performances that just feels right to me. It’s a unique challenge and when it all comes together it is magical. I am hoping Tuesday will be magical.

About Last Night

What I learned last night:

  • the software did not crash… a few days ago it crashed multiple times during testing, so this was a relief
  • I was told the guitar sounded good… there is nothing more important to me that this
  • when I spoke it wasn’t picked up well, because I relied on the guitar microphone… I am looking for an unobtrusive microphone with a silent on/off switch that I can use for my voice. In concerts I use a Shure handheld mic for this purpose but it would be nice to fid something smaller. (((the reason for the switch is that if the mic was left on the entire time it would pick up some of the guitar and muddy the sound)))
  • it was interesting not to get immediate feedback because a live-stream audience is silent. I didn’t mind this because a live-stream should be different from a concert and will never replace the feeling of a concert

So what’s next? I want to do two performances next week, one midday (((evening in Europe))) and one in the evening. I need to inform the folks on my mailing list and add a donation box to my Twitch page. I am eying the roof of my house for a future sunset performance. It would require carrying a lot of stuff up a ladder, but it could be fun – IF we have one of our glorious Santa Fe sunsets that evening.

This is the simple setup I used last night:

The set list was:

  1. Bombay
  2. Indigo
  3. Butterfly Dream
  4. Twitch
  5. Shadow

I hadn’t played Bombay, from The Hours Between Night + Day, in ages. Really enjoyed playing that piece again. Indigo is from last year’s album Fete. Fete is now available for streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and many others.

Silence

My mobile hasn’t rung in over a year.

A few years ago I posted about the need to rethink mobile phone rings – link.

Last year, at the beginning of Spring, I was in California to play a private gig. I wondered how I would keep track of time during the performance. I had stopped wearing a watch, because mechanical watches feel too heavy for my wrist, and I am too shortsighted to be able to see the time on a phone at my feet. When I perform with the band we all wear IEMs and I would sometimes ask our engineer to speak to me between songs to let me know what time it was, especially in venues that have a second show or a curfew. I have been to concerts where a musician on stage obviously checked their watch – I have heard that jokingly referred to as the musician salut – and felt that the act of looking at their watch ruined the idea that the experience of music should take us to a timeless place, a little journey outside of time.

Until the end of 2017 Jawbone made a bracelet that counted steps and tracked sleep. There was no display of any kind on the bracelet, but with the Jawbone phone app one could set up alarms. It worked well, the bracelet secretly vibrating at a set time to let me know that my performance should come to an end, but the Jawbone bracelets never lasted very long. I think I went through six of them in three years, and my last Jawbone UP had broken a few weeks earlier.

In the morning, while I drove around to find something to eat, I noticed an Apple store in the vicinity. I decided to drop in and to check out the Apple watch.

The watch is light, much lighter than a mechanical watch, and I never notice it while I am playing guitar. The vibrating alarm fucntion didn’t work for me because the alarm is persistent, meaning that one has to physically turn it off – the Jawbone UP alarm only vibrated for a few seconds and then shut itself off. I discovered that the calendar reminder function of the watch worked better than the alarm… just one little vibration.

In addition to minding time on stage the Apple watch also changed my relationship to the phone. My phone has been silent for the past year. When I get a call or a message my watch vibrates. Nobody else notices it. If I want I can see who is calling me, without pulling the phone out of my pocket. How civilized! It’s also so much easier to ignore a call now. The world could me a much quieter place…

Guitar Microphone

This Earthworks SR40 is the microphone I have been using on my guitar for over a year now. I haven’t used it for recording in the studio yet, but it’s handsdown the best microphone for the stage I have ever used… and I have used a lot of different ones!

We are often asked which gear or tricks we use to ensure the guitar is loud enough, especially since I refuse to use a pickup on my guitars – I haven’t used a pickup on my flamenco guitars in at least a decade and a half.

Let’s face it, classical or flamenco guitars are puny and quiet instruments when compared against electric bass guitar, drums and keyboards. With this microphone we always have enough level and we don’t have to worry about feedback.

Of course sound level isn’t everything, the quality of the sound is just as important. I feel that this mic gives me the truest guitar tone and makes hearing what I’m playing a pleasure. And that is something we guitar players cannot take for granted.

Here is what Earthworks writes about this microphone:

You’ll love what the Earthworks SR40 high-definition cardioid mic does for your recordings and live performances. Its 30Hz-40kHz frequency response means you’re capturing a far wider range than most mics can touch. The result? Better depth and a truer sound that includes more high-frequency overtone content. You’ll also appreciate how well the SR40’s true cardioid pickup pattern rejects outside sources, and how it gives you impressive gain before feedback.