Saturday, December 15, 2007

I've Got a New Complaint

My complaint is this: Horror is just not that scary.
I love horror movies, and I love horror stories and novels even more, but the last few years I seem to walk away from them maybe a little grossed out, but that's about it. Even the recent ones that I've really liked, Gary Braunbeck's The Keepers for instance, have entertained me, but not scared me.
So imagine my surprise when I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom about a week ago, took one look at the dark expanse I was going to have to cross to get there, and decided I could hold it 'til morning. I was afraid. I kept imagining there were people in my darkened living room. People with scribbled out eyes. And it was all Joe Hill's fault.
Now maybe you are the type of person who thinks this would be a bad experience. Maybe you wonder why on earth someone would want to scare themselves. That's a different discussion all together, but if you are like me, if you like the thrill of imagined terror, allow me to introduce you to Heart-Shaped Box.
I'm not going to give too much of the story away. Just the setup, and it's a good one. Jude is an aging rock star who lives with his much-younger girlfriend, the latest in a series, and his two dogs, Bon and Angus. He also collects odd and rare items like a used hangman's noose and a signed confession from the Salem witch trials. One day, Jude's assistant mentions an unusual auction on the internet. A woman is selling her stepfather's ghost. And, of course, Jude can't resist bidding.
A thriller, a ghost story, a touching tale about the healing power of music, Heart-Shaped Box is all these. If you like a good scare and a great story, head down to the local book shop and get yourself an early Christmas present. Just don't go after dark.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Plugins To the People!

Back in my days of working at music stores, there was nothing I found more alluring and mystifying than the expensive and complex world of rack-mounted effects units. I would scratch my head as a I saw some guy dropping $300 for a used Lexicon reverb unit, thinking to myself 'Um, doesn't he know that $75 Peavey Rage comes with reverb?' At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if these long, thin pieces of gear held the key to why my four-track recordings sounded so thin and lifeless. But it was all theoretical. I mean, I was a college kid and any money I had went straight to beer or guitar gear. These things were way out of my pay-grade. Even the physical racks they screwed into were expensive!
Lately, I've found myself falling headfirst into another expensive and mystifying world: Computer based home recording. Learning and experimenting with new techniques is like crack and I need another hit! The world of computer recording is full of outrageously priced toys, but one thing that surprised and gratified my wallet is the world of free vst plugins!
Here are the same styles of effects and tools I drooled over long ago in their rack mounted versions, but now they are free for me to download! Some are samples put out by the manufactures to entice you to buy packages of other plugins. Some are developed by software designers for fun or to prove their skills! No matter the cause, we home recordists are reaping the benefits big-time!
Like so much on the internet these days, music, blogs, podcasts, you have to wade through a lot of drivel to get to the good stuff. Not to worry, weary traveler, I have made it my mission to find the greatest free plugins on the web! Here's a few of my favs so far, and I apologize in advance for gushing like a gear geek over these plugins:

Despite what young PT thought, having a great studio reverb unit is essential. And finding a good free one is anything but easy. I've downloaded quite a few bad ones. However, I was eventually referred to the Ambience Reverb, and I haven't been disappointed. Quality stuff! Get it here!

These were among the first free vsts I downloaded and I still use them all the time. Kjarehus is a company that makes high end plugins, but their 'Classic' series is available for free! Their free Classic Chorus is considered by many to be one of the best available, free or otherwise! I also use the master/limiter quite a bit. Check 'em out at: is my latest discovery, and I'm loving it! The Fish Fillets pack includes a sublime compressor, a desser, and an expander/gate. They are all good. They also offer the Endorphin, an excellent master channel compressor.

JMan introduced me to the Studio Devil vst Amp simulator over on the Another cool free set of guitar plugins can be found here:
It includes sims of:
- Boss DS-1 (Distortion stompbox)
- Boss SD-1 (Super Overdrive stompbox)
- Tube Screamer (Overdrive stompbox)
- Oberheim PS-1 (Phaser stompbox)
- Univox Univibe (Modulations stompbox)
- Fender Twin 1969 (Guitar amplifier)
- Marshall JCM900 Dual Reverb (Guitar amplifier)
Not bad! And I'll say it one more time: All free!!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

They're always after me Lucky Charms!

I know it's a little weird, but I spend and unusual amount of time thinking about ad campaigns: who comes up with them, who approves them, why they stick...
Like this guy right here. Who had the brainflash that created this, and, more importantly, who had the balls to present it in a meeting. I guess we'll never know, but in my mind, it went down something like this:

Bob couldn't take it anymore. He really truly couldn't take it. It wasn't the long hours. And it wasn't the accounts, though he'd much rather be designing copy for General Motors than General Mills. Still, he was playing in front of a national audience, and he couldn't complain. No, what really bothered Bob was the triviality of it all.

It was a given that in advertising, no one really knows what they are doing. That was just part of the game. But lately? Geesh, it seemed like the pitches that made it and the those that didn't were separated by nothing more than mad whim. And so, Bob had taken all he could take. If whim was good enough for the bosses, it was good enough for him. This time, instead of slaving over the campaign pitch for two weeks like he normally would, he hadn't even looked at it. He didn't even know what the product was, other than the name on the folder. Sure, it had been hard. There had been a few moments of temptation over the last fourteen days when he had glanced up from the Raymond Chandler novel he was reading and almost opened the folder. But his will had won out over his curiosity. He was determined to go in to the meeting completely blind, and see what he could come up with.
So, Friday morning, he stepped into the conference room, sat down across from Glen and Chuck and opened the folder.
Hmm. Lucky Charms, the breakfast cereal. And a single request that the ad campaign revolve, naturally enough, around a leprechaun.
Bob took a deep breath and looked at his two bosses. Chuck was leaning forward, eager to hear what Bob had and get on to the next thing. Glen, Chuck's boss, was the picture of ease, relaxed and ready for some good clean brainstorming fun. Chuck would do all the talking, Bob knew from experience, but it would be Glen who would have the final say.
Bob cleared his thought and wiped his sweaty hands on his pant legs. It was go time.
"Okay, so, Lucky Charms," Bob began. "Of course, the campaign will revolve around the leprechaun... Lucky. "
Chuck raised an eyebrow. "Lucky Charm's mascot is named Lucky?"
Bob hurried on. "And of course, his interaction with children. The mystic of Luck Charms is that the marshmallows are shaped like magical... artifacts or whatever-"
"Artifacts?" asked Chuck.
"So we really want to engage the kids through the way children interact with Lucky and experience the magic."
Chuck was nodding now. Glen was still the portrait of immobility. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," said Chuck. "Just what I was thinking. The kids will be failing a test or sucking it up on the basketball court or whatever, and, er, Lucky, shows up and uses his magical powers to help them."
But Bob was on a roll now. "No, no, your missing it! Just like in the stories, people are trying to steal the leprechauns' gold, in the commercials, they are trying to steal his cereal."
Chuck frowned. "So Lucky's the bad guy?"
"No, he's just trying to defend what's his! Keep his cereal! But they're always after his lucky charms!"
"So the kids are the bad guys?"
"No, man, that's not it either! Don't you see?! The cereal is too delicious! The kids can't be held responsible for their actions! Both sides are innocents, drawn in by the dark and mysteriously tasty allure of Lucky Charms cereal!"
There was a long silence in the room. Chuck looked like he wanted to say something, possibly 'you're fired', but could quite get his mouth moving.
Finally, Glen leaned forward. And he smiled. "I like it. Get the art team in here! I want this ready to roll by Wednesday!"

At least, that's how I imagine it went down....

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eric is Derek?

This won't come as a shock to anyone, and it' probably a lame way to start off this blog, but I'm gonna say it anyway: Layla and Assorted Love Songs is an amazing album.
Last week I finished Clapton: The Autobiography. It was an odd book, both moving and reaffirming of the limited perspective anyone can have about their own life. Clapton is pretty fearless in his transparency about some of the darker times of his life. At the same time, Clapton chooses to focus on odd details, like a joke he played at a party one night or the first time he saw a certain hair style, and he glosses over some things of seemly greater importance, like say Cream's recording sessions. But the book did spark my renewed interest in both the man and his music, and I went out and picked up a few of the 'Clapton Remastered' editions of a few albums: 461 Ocean Blvd, Slowhand, and the afore mentioned Derek and the Dominos album. Wanna guess which one blew me away? As well regarded as this album is, it may actually be underrated.
Let's start with the cover. Rarely has artwork so closely fit the feel of the music dwelling inside. Take a moment to look at it: The layers! The girl, the flowers, the birdy-thing, the closer you look, the more you see. And yet, probably the best way to see its beauty is to step back and let your eyes see it as a whole, not focusing on any one detail, but letting the sum be greater than the parts. Just like the music within.
This is my favorite Clapton. Not preachy about the purity of the blues like on his early albums, and not burdened with carrying the torch of the blues into the future like on his later albums, this is Clapton just surrounding himself with great musicians and letting his emotions rule. And if there is one defining characteristic of Layla, it is that emotion trumps all. The voices soar, more concerned with being honest than with perfect harmony. The guitars seem to moan along with both classic and unexpected phrases. And listening to this album, really listening, can tear you up. Here's a few of my favorite moments.

Bell Bottom Blues: The simple fact that a song called Bell Bottom Blues could have stood the test of time is amazing in itself. When the twin voices rise in the chorus of 'Do you want me to crawl across the floor for you?', it's maybe the first gut-wrenching moment of many that will follow.

Have You Ever Loved a Woman: Two-thirds of the way through the album, and it's like they just couldn't hold the blues in anymore. And boy does it shine.

Little Wing: I'll be honest; I used to kinda hate this version. After hearing the SRV cover of the Hendrix classic, this one seemed like an odd departure that completely missed the point of the original. The truth is that both SRV and the Dominos capture the intent of Jimi's beautiful tune, they just do it by tapping into completely different veins. And I love both of them.

Layla: What can be said? Unrequited love; accept no substitutes.

Thorn Tree in the Garden: Out of left field come this quiet beauty that rounds out the album in an intense and fitting manner.