February 1, 2016 § Leave a comment
June 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
About 20 years ago, in the days of “post rock”, I had the idea of starting a music production company. The (still) cool aesthetic of analog electronic music and digital sampling that spawned Beck, Sea and Cake, Tortoise, etc. was also notable for pilfering “pop luxe” imagery and jargon, much like New Wave had done in the early 1980s. Rather new back then was the internet, which some of us had and some of us didn’t. Living in San Francisco where surfing the web was more of a thing, I actually knew somebody who could make a website. We sat in his apartment above the Orbit Room and, after listening to the Abba singalong midi files he had been posting for a while, we stuck some pictures up and a little bit of text about my recording career in straightforward HTML 4. At the spur of the moment, trying to dream up a name for the production entity, produtron – a cross between ‘production’ and ‘orgasmatron’ – burst forth from a beer bubble.
I don’t think we used it in the URL – one of those geocities or aol.hometown monstrosities lost to time (or somewhere in the oocities cache) – but ‘produtron’ was before the @ in my first-ever email address. It has stayed with me in various forms, as a site username, as an online identity, and most recently as a domain name.
Produtron is my ‘zine. A site dedicated to the preservation of ephemeral objects, music, and whatever else seems right. I hope to review a few things here and there, and to keep things fresh I expect some outside contributors would liven things up now and then. Volume One features an essay about book collecting, streaming audio ripped from mixtapes, scans of xeroxed band flyers and more. Digital preservation aspects aside, I hope we get to share a lot of cool old stuff.
January 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
Leonard Bernstein and the Replacements can both attest to a fatalistic notion that many music people share. Music in your mind can feel like a tight spring or a loose nut, like a warm blanket or an iron slab. It has every language in it, but sometimes it leaves you mute. I hate music because it isn’t everywhere all the time. If it could only just make the leap and become the medium of life itself, the universal process of understanding that it so closely resembles, instead of just a tantalizing possibility of mind/body/soul unification that hangs out there in our treacherous presence, hinting through a cheap speaker that there might be a better way to live than this, that there might be a human history that we ignore in favor of the prosaic and prescribed.
I “retired” from gigs two years ago, in the midst of a deep depression, thinking that I just needed to listen and gather and stop making noises. I played a set of songs that nobody had ever heard at the Make Out Room in San Francisco, packed up and went home. Since then I have scarcely thought about writing songs or even playing guitar. I practice my clarinet for fun and play ukulele and banjo for my daughter to dance and sing along to at home. She has the music gene without a doubt – already able to sing most of the Sound of Music. Her neighbor friend has turned her on to the Beatles (they are both 2 1/2 years old) so she sings Yellow Submarine too. We still don’t have a piano in the parlor, but when that happens I look forward to long nights of singing, dancing, doing. Doing music. That is what matters most.
Today I plugged in the Strat for the first time in at least two years – into the Magnatone Troubadour amp that a friend gave me – and jangled out “September Gurls” to see what would happen. Mom and JR were out of the house, so I could turn up and warble it out in a decent way, and it felt true and good. The neighbor came by to drop off some things and I stopped playing to answer the door. “That sounded great!” she said. “Nice little amp,” all I could say.
Today, if I had the great rhythm section that played with me in California all those years ago I could easily entertain the notion of playing a couple of sets in some divey pub, open with Parchman Farm, roll into a couple of originals, kick out some good R+B like we used to do. But that isn’t going to happen tonight. Instead I get to sit and think about it and wish for that liberating feeling that I know is possible, but not attainable, not without some serious wrangling anyhow. When JR wakes up from her nap, we can rock out then.
November 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
The next wave of social networking engagement is at hand: my wife just sent me an invitation to join Ello.
As an early adopter of Friendster, Myspace, Tribe, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and Twitter (of which only the latter three profiles are still maintained – and I know I am forgetting some others that were part of the web’s early yearnings for user generated content) I feel a duty to accept the Ello come-on. In its beta stage the service looks promising– the clean design and ad-free platform are attractive selling points, especially to those who recall the slow-loading clutter of MySpace. The Facebook dilemma of what to do about overzealous and obnoxious posters is addressed by the Noise / Friends portal structure. In short, a clean slate with a few improvements.
Did I mention you have to access this treasure trove of social engagement on-line, via computer? It’s true. There is no actual place called Ello. You have to be able to hook up a machine to a system of electronic data-carrying metal wires and have some kind of email address to join the fun. In fact at this stage you have to be invited to join. I will invite you if you ask me to, but it’s up to you to go to a library or someplace warm where you will be allowed to interact via the internet with others who are able. If you are someone who has a home with an internet connection (which I do, very thankfully) it might be easier. You still have to pay for the service, though, and the people who own the networks will turn your service off if you don’t send money. Most things in USA are like that, you know.
I think we should use money in other ways: feeding people, keeping people in homes, helping families in distress, ensuring that everyone is healthy, educating children. In fact, since the experts want to start educating children exclusively on computers, every family should have a computer and internet for free. Maybe some really rich people will figure out a way to make that happen.
November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
Having passed the half century mark I am subject to a few quirks and quarrels. For instance, it is now unlikely that I will ever be a professional sports follower. Also, I find video games to be stupid, cell phones unnecessarily ubiquitous, and Facebook mind-destroying. People shouldn’t drive when they can take a bus, or to rephrase, people shouldn’t drive. I think consumerism, greed, hypocrisy, and ignorance are all heads on the same monstrous body we know as commerce.
My opinions, especially at this hour of the morning, may seem draconian, but they are here for you to read. I’m just one person with one brain, wobbly sleepy synapses, having just gotten up after a bad dream about going to work at Starbucks and being put on frappucino duty, thinking about how annoyed I am that for ten seconds yesterday in the break room at work I watched an alleged journalist accuse liberal pols of sending the message that “voters are dumb”. I winced, but then I realized that among my thickly huddled beliefs is this little pipsqueak in the back:
American democracy has long been overtaken by corporate interests and, more specifically, the individuals who profit from them. Conservative politicians are only in it for the money, unless they are so naive as to think that they are actually fulfilling some moral manifest by foisting their sexist, racist, homophobic visions on a community that is actually trying to live and work together in harmony.
So, yes, it might be true that I think people who vote against gun legislation and for open carry, who deny climate change, who deny women their reproductive rights, who think only straight people can have a family, who continue to buy gas guzzlers – thereby maintaining the profit margins of oil companies who “own” the destruction of the planet, who view the ideals of liberty and justice as only pertaining to themselves, who teach kids that evolution is a lie, who feel a sense of entitlement so strongly that they grab and keep everything within reach and take it away from others, who do not want to pay taxes because “it’s my money”, who wish America was the way it used to be (when? in slavery days? before suffrage? when it was run by a bunch of rich white thieves? oh… wait that’s now…), who mistake media visibility for integrity, who mistake bully tactics for morality, who mistake racist propaganda for journalism, are dumb.
But that’s only my opinion.
November 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
I don’t usually shill, but I am excited to pick this one up. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (full disclosure: I worked in their archives for a few years – a dream job if there ever was) have taken the old idea of short form classics and released a new album full of them. The longest piece is the Mahler – go figure – at 8:28, but most clock in around six and a half minutes, exactly the length of your next student film.
The suits in the suites may not get it, but this would make a splendid box set of 7″ vinyl. The Mahler Cycle LP Box sold out – why not? It would also be a nod to the historical relevance of the format. The 7 inch “Extended Play” disk was a crossing-over point from cumbersome 10 and 12 inch 78s to convenient 12 inch albums.
The popularization of orchestral works we now take for granted happened in mid-century living rooms where people sat in front of furniture with built-in phonographs. No home was without at least one classical music album, and often that one album was a selection of short works or excerpts. The “sampler” was a standard marketing tool, usually available at a low price. Other compilations were programs, high brow mood music. Masterpieces in Miniature seems related to these types of releases, especially in light of the SF Symphony’s previous offering – a new version of the other album found on every 20th century hi-fi.
November 10, 2014 § 3 Comments
The underground music culture of mid-eighties DC is fondly remembered by its participants as a continuous spectacle of club shows as documented in the pages of fanzines and broadcast on WMUC. Everybody was in a band or at least had a roommate who was. Punk rock was the core of the scene, but it should be realized that punk was already becoming a legacy genre – the first wave – Minor Threat, Government Issue, etc. had already moved on. The Revolution Summer soundtrack was provided by Rites of Spring – they didn’t have a record out, but the cassette is around here someplace. Cool kids hung around Food for Thought and tried out new noise at DC Space. We read Truly Needy and WDC Period, fanzines that are now archived at the University of Maryland. I played in a band called Donut Safari.
I moved to DC from Richmond VA after a few months of hanging out with a band called Holiday – to even dip a toe into the lineage of that group would amount to getting dunked in the zeitgeist of the era I’ll save it for another time. Holiday cut one record that I know of and it was one side of a 45 that they shared with another band. I might still have it around here someplace.
That summer I washed windows with (Donut Safari founder) DJ Tommy B, listened to records and wrote reams of lyrics. I played guitar about as well as the next person – I was less of a punk anyhow and liked to listen to Television, Small Faces and Big Star – old bands. My housemates Neil Haggerty and Tom Rafferty had a band called Jet Boys of NW – this was the coolest band I had ever heard. They played about four gigs (one at WMUC where I got to play along on a de-tuned autoharp with a beercan slide.) Definitely influenced by Sonic Youth – they were the gold standard then – but certainly not a lesser entity.
Tom, Neil and his music/life mate Jennifer moved to New York I guess right after I moved to San Francisco. I had a couple of letters from them, and from DJ Tommy B, who is still my LinkedIn “contact”. One time Pussy Galore played at a club near my apartment, so I went to see them and Neil came over to hang out. I gave him a pair of pants.
Sometime after that, Tom, Neil, and Jennifer moved to San Francisco where we shared a place. Royal Trux had been their side project in NY – the record was mysterious and damaged – entirely unique – and they were bringing it to the coast. We booked studio time and played two songs I had never even heard before. Some kids in Chicago had offered to put it out on their new label, Drag City. Listening to it now is still a slightly disorienting experience.
Seeing some lukewarm reviews in Forced Exposure and other fanzines (where had the fanzines gone? SF was the shittiest excuse for a music scene I had ever lived in…) validated this effort so we continued on for a while – I’m not sure how long – before I quit the band. Well, I wasn’t really ever in the band. But we were friends and there are some fine moments captured on old cassettes around here someplace.