Thin Wall Holds Everything Back

Thumbing through my mental notebook on reasons why my music project suffers as much as it does. It occurs to me that the sound is dull, lifeless, muted. A song could be full of big sound, and I could be using the fullest extent of my mixing and mastering skills to date, but the final product is flat, smooth, without breath. Sure, it might be pretty, but it seems the more energy and care I pour into the mix, the deader it is.

My song “Cine Ratto” was done in one, maybe two nights. One single instrument with as little production on it as possible. Fixed a few notes here and there, but the tracking and mixdown was done as fast as possible; it was only supposed to be a musical idea, after all, not a real song. And yet it is my loudest, brightest, shiniest piece of work. I just didn’t care as much; as long as I didn’t blow the 0dB levels, pump it.

But what about the rest? What about “Parting Moments“? It’s a pretty song, and I actually felt strong emotions while writing, tracking, and mixing it. But the final mix when played on a typical consumer stereo? Dull as children’s scissors. I tried like hell to get it as loud and bright as possible, and I succeeded in some sections. But in order to not hit the 0dB wall where clipping occurs, I used compressors and limiters all over the place to raise the volume and increase the decay tones, but all that did was chop off the snappy impulses and muddy the mix. The overall result requires the use of nice headphones or a pro-grade stereo system (and a quiet room) to get the nuances and breath.

So why are my songs so quiet, so muted, so pretty? There’s no noise, no bombast, no life. Why? Because I’m timid. I have an excellent pair of studio monitor speakers, a beefy amp to drive them, but I hold back on the volume when I’m monitoring and mixing, usually opting to use headphones. I play nice long chords. I seldom use the drum machine because that’s noisy even with headphones. I don’t want my neighbors to hear it and complain. I’m compelled to make music, but abashed that other people will have to hear it. What I’m doing is going belly-up, being the bottom dog, and the music I make suffers unbelievable indignations because of it.

I’d love nothing more than to resolutely stand my ground, swing my swagger, and pump the music for hours when I’m working on a piece, but the reality is a lot more shameful. I want to be blameless in the neighborly-noise cold wars that are part and parcel of apartment living. So I timidly hold back.


Not sure if you guys have figured it out, but I’m an introvert. Thought I should share that. More a confession, really, but a confession in the way that a congregant confesses his sins to a priest who already knows the congregant commits sin on a daily basis. I require plenty of time alone to process the stimulation, and I’ve been getting a watershed of stimulation this week. I need to vent, but I don’t need the quid-pro-quo of normal conversation. Extroverts call that sort of behavior “selfish”, but there it is.

Tonight, during my solitude, I watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about education killing creativity. It’s a true fact (yes, I watched it). STEM is only half the picture; there’s an entire set of humanities and kinesthetics that’ve been overlooked. Maybe I’m more physical than I thought; certainly find myself thinking more clearly and creatively after a walk. Education in this country is designed to produce not smart and engaged people, but industrial workers and college professors. Professorship is the high-water mark of education, and this is wrong.

I was highly creative once upon a time. Eventually, I was cured of that. Now I require the excesses of alcohol and solitude to let it return. It’s a terrible shame.

I want a culture that celebrates the variety in culture before I’ll allow myself to stare at a window and daydream without worry that someone will think I’m slacking off. That’s more important to me this week now that I have a new job and a new manager who works near my desk. Even at work, I require downtime to let the wetware in my head put two and two together to create new ideas and a sense of purpose. Hopefully his heavy workload and high stress won’t color his perspective on my activities. Best I can hope for is the right metrics to speak well of my performance.

Smart Monkey

Second day of my return to work. Back at my old company as a contractor. Once again, I’m a smart monkey.

It’s not super-exciting-omg-yes, but it’s work. New lab, new team, new job functions: somewhere in the company, somebody wants to know how the data buses leaving the CPU behave electrically, and it’s the job of my team to use high-cost test equipment to find that out. I’ll be doing some of the actual execution of the work, at least for the short term, but during the downtime between product cycles, we’ll be planning ways to automate a large chunk of the test flow. My job during those periods will be to help write the code to manipulate the test equipment automatically so the not-so-smart monkeys can set it up, click Go, and have data by the morning.

Although I’ve been at the company in some manner for over five years, the learning curve in this lab is still a bit steep. I’m still battling with getting my badge to work on the doors, waiting for my login info so I can actually use my computer, and I still have to get all my email and work profile and all the other onboarding stuff done before I’m established enough to learn who’s who and where I fit in. First-week blues. And I know there’s a lot of work ahead of me, so I’m not really celebrating. I’m just relieved. Once I have a few paychecks in the bank, then I’ll consider letting my hair down for a moment (but only for a moment; I have to retire to bed early now).


Silver Tongue

If the Devil himself confronted me and told me I could have one superpower in exchange for my soul, what would that Satanic superpower be? It would be language. Language. Like being able to speak and understand any language known to humanity, to be able to convince and sway. To communicate with any and all. The silver tongue.

When I saw “The Devil’s Advocate“, what impressed upon me most was the Devil’s ability to speak to anybody. The confrontation with the aggressive Chicanos on the subway; he got out of that by speaking fluent Spanish, omnisciently describing the color of the sheets the assailant’s girlfriend was cheating on. In the lounge, his whispering convinced the girl sitting with him to go down under the table and give him service. He was able to speak to anyone and have his way. He understood humanity, and his ability to talk to them in terms they understood gave him power.

Tonight, as I sit watching the horrible English dub of the excellent Swedish production of “The Girl Who Played With Fire” (part 2 of the “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series), I’m wishing that I could communicate in fluent Swedish, that I could enjoy it in its original tongue without having to read subtitles or listen to any out-of-synch translations with phony-sounding voice actors. I wish I could enjoy any movie, any song, or join any conversation in the speaker’s lingua franca and not miss a beat.

Language is a powerful force. The variation in languages serves to divide us from the Others and serves to unite us against the Outsiders. It is both a community-builder and a world-destroyer. Anybody who can leap from tongue to tongue like a Satanic goat who leaps between rocks on the mountainside, anybody who can transcend any language and cultural barriers that separate us, anybody who can sway and convince and enjoin, that man is a force to be reckoned with.

That is why I want the power of language.

Personal Again

Now that Google has announced they’re bringing Google Fiber to Austin, I wonder how many of those subscribers who have websites will move their web services into their house where they have complete control over the box. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years, but Time Warner’s upstream cap of 98Kbps has prevented me from fully-hosting my sites and domains at my own home (plus, if they detected I did, they’d slap a fee on me and upgrade me to Business Class).

Once enough of the broadband market increases to the higher symmetrical speeds provided by fiber, I visualize a larger demand for home-based cloud solutions. Enough with putting your files somewhere out there in the ether for someone else to maintain and snoop. Tell me true: if you could buy a device off the shelf, put it on your home network, install an app on your laptop / tablet / phone so you can access your own files and your own computers at your own house from anywhere, would you do it? I’d certainly do it if I didn’t have the ability already (which I do). It’s remarkably handy.

Now that “PC”, meaning “Personal Computer”, is a dying term, could “PC” soon mean “Personal Cloud”?