False memories of music start to playback in my mind after I’ve been working on a particular piece of music for a long time. After hearing it over and over again, it starts to sound slow, monotonous, square…retarted, even. It’s as if I’m hearing my favourite song on a walkman with dying batteries as while starting to fade into unconsciousness during a bad acid trip. (And no, I’ve never actually had this exact experience. Have you?)
Until last night I simply interpreted these false music memories as a warning sign to move on and find new music to enjoy. However, last night as I stood in the shower waiting the full five minutes recommended by the Body Shop for their hair treatment to take effect on my unruly curls, a different realisation appeared a few centimetres below somewhere inside my cerebrum. What if this were more than a warning, but an defence mechanism against brainwashing? In other words, the false music memories are actually false music rendered harmless by heuristic antibodies.
What I am really trying to say with those $100/hour words is simply that I am in the habit of being wary of the difference between music that is familiar and that I genuinely enjoy. I savour the latter so much that I avoid repeated listening to preserve the magic of music I love, like Stevie Wonder’s Innervsions album. Unfortunately, an occupational hazard of being a musician is the having to listen and/or perform a piece a sickening amount of times for the sake of transcription and study. This is exactly what I was doing before last night’s shower and hair treatment.
What I think my mind is really doing, is isolating the emotional content from the more tangible linguistic and academic elements. Even a jingle made for soda commercial has some emotional content which makes it appealing to the listener. However that comes from the creator’s love for their work, rather than the the contractor’s love of sugar-water profits. Once I asked a session musician friend how he could tolerate having to play terrible music devoid of any integrity?
His answer was that his sincere performance as a musician would gives it the integrity missing in the concept, if only just a little bit. So while the performance contains sincere emotional content, the actually message in the musical concept is something entirely different. Obviously, in the case of a soda jingle, the message is, “Buy THIS soda!” Repeating this message as often as possible is a crude attempt at mind control. Hence, my mind is rejecting the music because of the intrusive nature of the message, and process is to strip the message of emotional power of the music. That’s why I seldom drink soda pop, and then only Pepsi. (Better taste, better logo, better commercials.)
I’ve always been paranoid about some cabal of DJs and record producers crafting the music they think everyone should like, and then conspiring to saturate the media with it until enough people buy it to recover their investment. As a fiercely individualistic individual who rarely tolerates sameness, it makes sense that my mind would have defences against similar attempts at such behaviour programming by the free market, government, school or even my own workplace. It’s so extreme that I even question whether this compulsive rejection itself is not the effect of some liberal education I’ve received from watching so much PBS.
Case-in-point, the tune I was working on last night was an arrangement of the old pinball number count from Sesame Street for my band. The objective of this song’s non-musical content is teaching kids (like mine) to count to twelve. After hearing it maybe hundreds of times in my life; first on channel 13 as a kid, then on Youtube, my iPod, my sheet music software’s GM sounds, and played on my own guitar/bass; my own version of the song in progress my old TiPBG4 has passed the repetition threshold. My mind’s response is to conjure Patrick Stewart, commanding, “Halt! Come ye no further! You’re educational message shall not penetrate the sacred inner sanctum of Adam’s mind!”
Captain Picard then sets phasers to stun and bathes the mnemonic sound analogues in pure energy, rendering them an impotent stream of integers. This time, the reaction is in error, though. I can already count to twelve. I embrace the message of educational content, and this song has already penetrated the inner sanctum (the soul) long ago…aeons ago…from the beginning of time even because music is timeless. The music that moves us is merely a code releasing something trapped inside us that has existed from the beginning of creation so it can reconnect with its source. Every time I hear this song, and think about the people who made it (including the creators of Sesame Street who contracted them), I marvel at the creativity. The results of their efforts probably totally surpassed everyone’s expectations for what was supposed to be a little ditty for teaching kids to count.
Weekends typically find me taking my son to karate and then and window shopping at the local instrument retailers to kill time. This weekend was subtly different because I actually bought something. Normally music stores don’t have anything gear that I’m really interested in using, and usually don’t have the best prices, but this time I wanted to get a multi-plug cable to replace the Ibanez DC3 (daisy-chain) which won’t fit in my Buhwah AC jack, and doesn’t reach my Barber Tonepress from my pedalboard’s Eneloop power supply. I saw one of these, and paid about 500yen too much for it, instead of waiting to search Yahoo! Auction for a cheaper price.
I also saw a used Korg NanoPad2, and got it for 2000. Both were impulse buys, but both were something I really needed. Now I can neatly power all the pedals on my board, and make original beats in realtime with software (once I midi-map the NanoPad to Live.) Also, that trip was almost the last one I made there. My kid’s karate class schedule is changing to weekdays meaning I won’t be able to take him anymore. However, I saw a bunch of cool used pedals that I could potentially covent this time which brought me back on Sunday with my guitar for a test.
Just when I got there the next day, a ukulele player was giving an in-store concert, so I sat down and listened to him and the piano accompanist close their set with a very slow rendition of, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Then I went to another part of the store and plugged into a Roland JC-77 to try the pedals. Then the ukelele player started a group lesson on “Happy Birthday” so I couldn’t play too loud, or at least would have felt like a guilty asshole if I did, probably because I’m there talking to the staff almost every week. Last time, the girl at the register gave my son an egg shaker! Some skinny guy in a necktie kept buzzing past me, ready to pounce if I did, anyway…and anyway, that amp was overpowered. I tried asking if I could try the pedals with something smaller like the 1-watt Blackstar HR-1R, but the answer was no.
The first pedal I tried was the Xotic Robotalk. My friend and local guitar hero Peter Montgomery said he wanted one, which piqued my interested. Turns out this is just a dual-envelope filter. The features and sound are great, but not really any better than my Guyatone Wah Rocker, and harder to tweak. I never did get a satisfactory envelope after adjusting the sensitivity, input and decay. The resonance and direct controls didn’t really do much to improve the basic sound. Still, there is some potential here. I’d like an envelope filter with a boost for solos and this one’s definitely got that. So I might give one of the other versions a try some other time.
The next pedal was a Fulltone ’69 fuzz, my first experience with germanium transistors. It took a while tweaking the input (HIGH) and contour controls (low) to find a sound I like, but again, it didn’t sound better than my Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz — just different. It’s definitely a warmer, softer and more dynamic sound, but I like the extreme compression, overtones and almost synth-like sound of the silicon based pedal. The ’69 had less gain, and harder to tweak the other parameter. In otherwords, I’m happier with a cheaper fuzz. I also tried an old Boss Hyper Fuzz because David Gilmour uses one. That sounded REALLY cheap, but in a cheap way — not such a cool way.
It also has a massive clean boost which didn’t sound as nearly good as the Fulltone Fatboost (FB-1) I tried there that day. It sounded just as good as I imagined, and boosted the signal enough into the Roland’s “low” input, so I didn’t have to use the “high” input which is way too loud even at “1” on the volume knob. The Fat Boost warmed the amp up, and enhanced the round tone of my GB-10. All the controls were very easy to use, and I think I could even get some nice low-gain overdrive from that box. The price they were asking was very competitive, too. I guess they either don’t realize the value, or don’t want to discourage someone spending more on the newer FB-3.
I might have even bought one of those pedals if I wasn’t so constrained by the ukulele demo, and amp better suited to wedding gig than trying pedals in a store. This reminded me why I rarely try gear out in a store. It’s usually better for me just to order it by mail, try it at home and then sell it on an auction if I don’t like it. That saves a lot of time and embarrassment, if not money. Back home in the den (I need a better name for that room), I fixed my AKG headphones, and G&L Legacy’s TBX pot (half of it, anyway) but couldn’t figure out how get the Nanopad to work with Live. It works great with Garage Band, though. So I guess I will follow Yosuke’s advice, and start making beats with that instead.