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2.5.08
there's something really cool that happens when i get to the destination on a music trip. usually the two days prior to departure are spent getting everything ready and all that and there' s not much practice time. the travel day is typically pretty long.

when i get where i'm going, after grabbing a bite, and resting and catching up on emails and stuff, out comes the banjo. i get kind of overwhelmed with thankfulness as i tune it up in some distant place, all by myself in a hotel room. dust it off and put on new strings and get it all intonated and warm up a little bit.

i've been working on playing a banjo for thirty six years, and it feels so comfortable and familiar in my hands. the way the fifth string comes out of the side of the neck and the way the strings feel. at this point, i can review some of the music the job will require the next day. my suitcase has music books and practice materials in it. that all comes out. pick quietly for an hour or two in the hotel silence. metronome clicking away.

it's a real thankful, peaceful feeling. i'm very glad things turned out the way they did and things are the way there are.

the way hotel rooms are with the neutrality, it's cool that you can make your own space in there. i don't mind living in hotels. about a third of my life is spent there. sometimes more sometimes a little less.

if you're in the room next to mine, i hope you like banjo music.

Here's some thoughts on how to amplify a banjo.
These are just ideas and my intention isn't to come off as a know-it-all, but just to toss out some concepts. If you are already getting a sound, you don't need my advice, but if you are having trouble, think about the following.

My theory is that if a person puts a pickup on a standard bluegrass style banjo it won't sound very good. One of the reasons is that the flat head style tone ring, and the acoustic sound most of the regular bluegrass type cats are going for, has this cool hollow open type sound. That's a really cool tone alright but really hard to capture with a pickup. In my experience, it's too complex a waveform to read and it confuses FX and samplers and stuff.
Also if a person plays a banjo with a pickup on it, with the same attack as they do playing acoustically in a bluegrass type band, it will sound like an icepick in your head. Also if the musician is unclear on the concept of how the EQ works good tone shall elude.

I've had success with Rob Bishline's wood rim banjo. The wooden rim produces a nice fundamental tone that can be read easily by electronic gear. It doesn't confuse electronics and modules because it gives such a fundamental tone. Also the slightly shorter scale allows you to run heavier strings which fatten up the tone. The wood rim has a fatter tone as well. This has worked very well for me. Rob worked with me on some ideas I had, and we came up with this set up. It allows me to play funky sounding stuff acoustically because of the thick tone.

So here's what works. Put a pickup on this type of banjo. What type of pick up you may ask? Well, it's best to try different ones because different banjos react differently to different pickups. I like the ones that mount in the bridge, but that's just me. Also make sure the wire from the pickup to the jack is shielded. If not your are going to get RF interference. Use a nice pre-amp that has sweep-able mid-range. The Treble Mid Bass thing doesn't dial in frequencies that well. A phase reversal switch is a good idea too. It's like a get out of jail free card. Experiment with your EQ and get good at it. You won't be able to set it and forget it as each night in a different room on a new system, the settings will change.
Here are some things to look for. The honky kind of icepick thing is somewhere around 2.5K or 3. The real high brittleness is around 6K. The woofy low end thing that sounds like your banjo is hooked up to an industrial shop vac tends to be around 200 or multiples of that 400 etc.
Find a chart on the net that has the notes that correspond with the frequencies. If a certain note "takes off" into feed back, you can find it on the EQ and attenuate it a couple of db. Or have your trusty sound man do that.
It's not cool to squish the heck out of everything and have a too many frequencies attenuated or boosted, that changes the phase of everything and makes the banjo sound funny, plus you can kind of fight yourself by squishing a bunch of stuff down and then turning up the gain and doing it all over again. You only should have one or two things cut or boosted probably. And usually only a couple db or one db. Maybe three. Don't get too drastic with the EQ. If you find you must, you probably have some other problem.
Learn to play to the pickup. If a person just blasts away like they would with the acoustic band, the sound will be thin and too crispy. A lighter touch is needed. And also since the electric stuff is an amplifier, remember that 1X2 = 2, but 2X2 = 4
Where 1 is the input, X 2 is the amplification and the sum 2 is the output.
If we raise the input one increment to 2, but we go up two increments on the output. So for an increment differential of 1, we get an output change of 2.

The point:
You get more out of slight changes in your volume electrically than you would acoustically. A very small dynamic change on your end comes across as a bigger change out of the system.

Also the acoustic sound is like a vector shooting away from you. It's very easy to be playing to banjo too loud to begin with.
You may have to move your hand in a little bit towards the neck. And play lighter. Listen and adjust. With different systems, things are going to change. This is good and not bad. Visualize a good tone and then close your eyes and move your hands around until it sounds good.

If you find yourself in a really loud situation, use in-ear monitors. It takes some getting used to but you can totally crank the banjo in your phones and play very lightly and not have to dig in. The sound guy can have your solos smoking out front. Wireless in-ear rigs are very inexpensive. The sound is consistent from night to night.

In extreme cases one could stuff the banjo, but I've never had to resort to that. Also if you know the material really well, it's ok to play where you can just barely hear the banjo. It's a good practice. I just saw an old Black Sabbath video and they had no monitors at all in the early days, and the same with the video I saw of David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars. So it's possible to play quite well in that format. For a long time, nobody had monitors. Decades.

Resist the urge to dig in and try to get more volume that way, your technique goes out the door and the sound gets all gnarly. And yes it will never sound like a loud acoustic banjo really, but hey...so what. My job is to re-contextualize all this stuff anyway so I'm off the hook. Also this never seemed to bother Sugarcane Harris!

Have fun.
Music is Good.

Danny Barnes 12.28.07

First, I want to say thanks to Barnes for suggesting I post something; he's always a good engaging guy both with his music and his mind.

I was hanging out a concert the other night and I ran into an old friend of mine. He used to perform with a band that had since split up, and ended up continuing his education at the New School in New York. We talked about what each other was doing for a little while, and it wasn't long before we got into talking about what he was working on--I don't know what to call it exactly, but I'll just say social theory, post-modernism, you get the point. Anyway, he brought up this documentary by a guy named Adam Curtis, who works with the BBC, called Century of The Self. I found it on the web, ordered it and got it in the mail a few days later. I watched the four hours and afterwords was pretty blown away by some of it's points of view, which went something like: ever since WWI, the maladministration of psychology has played an importantly understated and powerful role in changing consumers from an economy of need/essentials to an economy more located in the realms of desire/emotion; moreover, this misuse of psychology has been used more recently and insidiously in the political sphere as well. Not so overtly as in the past, but more along the lines of issues like V chips and so on. I thought is was a fantastic and broad examination of what the purchasing public views as paramount. Also I think I'll be heading to the library to check out some of the theorists mentioned. If I suggested you buy it, it would be too inconsistent, so If you can, rent it.

Introduction to metaphysics by martin heidegger

they give away paperback books of this type in used book stores. the best books ever written. it takes about three readings of a book like this for me to begin to grasp things. one of my fave things in here is how he analyzes the verb "to be." his thing is that "to be" has lost meaning, we say something is or isn't and we don't even really think about it. one of his ideas is that the verb "to be" initially had a component of endurance. to exist entails endurance. i read over that a few times and cut way down on my complaining. if we live, there are things that must be endured. it's a component of living. there's much more here, that's just one thing.

alchemy
an introduction to the symbolism and the psychology
Marie-Louise von Franz

written by a co-worker of jung, this book bridges together the ancient ideas of alchemy with more modern thought. sample:
" If through fighting and meeting the unconscious one has suffered long enough, a kind of objective personality is established; a nucleus forms in the person which is at peace, quiet even in the midst of the greatest life storms, intensely alive but without action and without participation in the conflict. that peace of mind often comes to people when they have suffered long enough: one day something breaks and the face acquires a quiet expression, for something has been born which remains in the center, outside or beyond the conflict, which does not go on any more as it did."
page 169
i think that frozen moment the author describes there, is what poets and songwriters have been capturing or trying to capture. so many of the songs i love and have tried to write have attempted to deal with that moment. when something better starts happening, almost of it's own accord.

the bhagavad gita

a few years ago my friend jim woodring sent me a copy of this. if you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and read it three times. i usually always have a copy of it on me in paperback when i travel.

sample:
" action imprisons the world
unless it is done as a sacrifice;
freed from attatchment, arjuna,
perform action as sacrifice."

a treatise concerning the principles of human understanding
george berkeley

eyvind kang told me about this book. again, i had to take quite a few gos at it. berkeley has such an interesting take on human experience and develops it in a way that can be understood, even if you don't agree with him.
i do agree with him.
it's funny to see berkeley bash locke soundly about the head and shoulders.
after dispensing with matter on page 81 things get really interesting.
in the introduction he shows the implausibility of abstract ideas.
try this one on:
"Qualities as hath been shewn, are nothing else but sensations or ideas, which exist only in a mind perceiving them; and this is true not only of the ideas we are acquainted with at present, but likewise of all possible ideas whatsoever."
some of berkeley's ideas reminded me when say for instance you are going to a foreign country, and some know-it-all will say, "well here's the deal with THAT place." and you go and it's nothing like what mr. know-it-all said.

things only exist in their particulars.

like when people say, "well in the south here's what people do." and you go there and it's nothing like that.
that happened to me over and over and i could never understand that function.
so i was glad to get ahold of berkeley.

i just finished bertrand russell's abc's of the theory of relativity, and it seems that berkeley posited many of the things einstein had to say three hundred years earlier, about relative motion and such. russell made no mention of the western dudes that hinted at those theories centuries earlier. why?

introduction to logic
harry j. gensler

this is a textbook so it's kind of dry. a funny thing happened after i studied about halfway through. things people would say didn't make any sense any more. it kind of messed me up because the weird things that people say that don't make any sense...well they stopped making sense. you hear things all the time that don't technically make sense, or contain a logical fallacy. i wasn't used to questioning on that level. gensler presents a system whereby you can take a statement and give the words symbols and then work through the equation and evaluate it. i came to the conclusion that almost nothing makes sense really.... headlines, things people say as common wisdom, lines in movies, yikes. it got kinda bad, and you can really piss people off if you interupt them and say, "what you just said doesn't make sense and contains a logical fallacy."
i have since read emails from friends that had some weird logical leap in there and i restrained myself from writing back, "you know there is a logical fallacy in your statement here and if you find it and cop to it, i'll send you fifty bucks." or something like that. but i thought better and let it pass.

i kind of dig that folks tape shows. if the idea is to get music out there, taping helps! most of the tapers i have met have been very nice and freaky music fans. as far as i'm concerned, tape all you want, just eat all you tape!

my feeling is that if you are concerned about losing money on letting someone tape your show, you are in the wrong business. and don't let your knucklehead friend that's an armchair music manager tell you otherwise.

it took me quite a few years to understand this concept.
i wasn't aware of how the economics of the system actually worked in real time. i'm a slow learner and it took awhile for the empirical evidence to mount up. tape away tapers! send me a copy so i can study my own work.
give a copy away to anyone you think would dig what i'm doing.

do certain people steal music? of course
is there anything that can be done? no sir
are the majority of folks pretty cool about the whole deal? yes

also, giving stuff away is a sure fire way to cut down on stealing. you can quote me on that one!

consider this:
if an artist is under contract, there is a proviso to take money from the artist and pay for sending out music promotionally. in my experience, very little of the product sent in this way produces very much. yet the artist pays for all this out of their end...well EVERYTHING gets charged off to the artist so never mind the significance of that. the point is that typically one has to pay quite a bit of money to send out stuff in bulk that more often then not either winds up in the trash or in the used record store.

taping gets music out at no cost to the artist.

also if you ask me, dude, if you don't hassle me up, and come to see a show, i don't care if you build a doghouse out there! taping is the least of my worries jackson.

i asked my friend mark burgin to write a little about what he thinks about taping, why he does it and stuff like that. he's a friendly, knowledgeable funny cat. it's great when you load into a show and you see him getting his gear out. he's a good friend to have around. you know that one guy at least is going to be really into the music. and if you need an extension cord or a mike stand or something, he can be a lot of help. it's inspiring when he's there because you want to do a good job since lots of folks listen to his tapes.

DB: Why record shows?

Mark Burgin: I record because I truly enjoy live music and I want everyone else to enjoy it too. To preserve a series of moments in time. In my case, that would be an auditory representation or documentation of those series of moments. Like a photographer will document a single visual moment in time or a videoagrapher will capture a series of visual moments in time, we document the auditory side of history. To review those series of moments in time to bring back other memories of that moment, day, week, month and year of my life, the people around me at that time, and the experience had. Why document live music, or tape? Because live music is alive! No two performances are the same and each performance has it's moments of genius that will forever be lost if not documented. Something magical happens on stage in a live setting that can't be reproduced or captured in the studio. I think it's important to document the creativity of humanity. Some people don't really care about music but I think it's one of the most important creative outlets that humans produce. It elicits such a strong response from so many people and it's so easy to make a connection with it. When I go to a show and there is something amazing happening on stage, I like to know that the "amazingness" of it is captured so people can listen and re-listen again and again. When I listen to a show that I attended and taped, it's almost like I invented a time machine.

DB: Why do artists allow you to tape show?

MB: Many reasons why bands allow us to tape. Several of these would be the free promotion that this creates to furthering their own fanbase by free circulation of performances. To keep fans interested by having each tour documented and in trade friendly circulation. By entertaining the fans by allowing them to take home a memory of that performance. The band also gets an aural document of their chosen profession. Just a few reasons, I'm sure the list is limitless.

DB: How does the taping/trading community act to regulate the illicit sale of recordings?

MB: By self policing our own and shutting down known bootleggers or reporting them to the appropriate powers that be for future shutdown. I think the main way that tapers regulate bootlegging is to educate people. At 95% of the shows I tape at, I have at least one person ask me why I'm taping and if I'm making any money off of it. It's so foreign to people that someone would spend their own time, money, and resources to record a show and then not try to turn a profit on it. As a taper, I think it's your duty to explain the paradigm of taping to people and what the spoken and unspoken rules are. I usually tell people "The cardinal rule that you never want to break is that 'money should never exchange hands'."

in the later part of 1996, i was producing, writing and recording the bad livers album hogs on the highway. there was quite an epiphany during the process of making the song Falling Down the Stairs with a Pistol in my Hand, and it felt really good, as though a whole new world of ideas was opening up to me.

prior to that, roughly the idea for me in regard to recording, was to try and get a good natural sound, as though the listener was hearing a real band playing. even though the tracks on most of the records i had worked on previously had been put together in layers (overdubs), usually, the goal was to try and create a band type sound.

with this track, i just started getting sounds down and chasing that around and seeing where that would lead. much like i envisioned Jackson Pollock, or other modern painters might have worked, throwing some stuff on there, and then developing it. this was the beginning of my Folktronics approach. the rough idea of Folktronics is to hear all of American music at once. it's a combination of scratchy old music from the beginning of the physically recorded medium, and contemporary editing techniques. the cool thing is with just a few parameters, like a binary code or the light and shade of chiaroscuro, there can be infinite variation.

many times in listening to modern "bluegrass" or "acoustic" music and the like, my feeling is that the production is kind of dry or bland. kind of like an old school documentary. it gets the point across but it's time to smash the mold. i just don't get the relevance of imitating bill monroe. himself an innovator. (i grew up with old country music in the house and didn't have to embrace it, or discover it later in life, the more usual story for much of the contemporary listeners... turning onto it later in life i think tends to make one more of a zealot. my mother said the other day, "people talk about how much they like country music now, when i was a kid they made fun of you for listening to country music." she heard the opry back in the day and listened to the light crust doughboys and stuff like that in the early morning. )

my Folktronic approach is an endeavor to bring sonic interest into these forms of music. i lost the relevance of making records that used the same blueprint as the stuff that came before. why try to make a song sound like an overdone copy, which is a copy of something else? why not bring contemporary editing and mixing procedures to this music? what if the aphex twin played banjo?

so Falling Down the Stairs was a song that saw that flower of an idea bloom in my mind. here are some things that set the stage for this concept in my brain at that point in time:
Lee Perry records. Butthole Surfer records. classic experimental music from the twenties (and on) from my history of recording classes. Charles Ives. riding around in vans for years with music freaks and listening to strange music. electronic music. punk rock. experimental music.
so from that song, sprouted the idea for Blood and Mood, a cd i worked on a couple of years later. (Falling Down the Stairs was strangely never really mentioned in the media reviews, however music freaks to this day write fan mail about that song....so it wasn't an economic or commercial prestige thing that got me excited about that piece, but the fact that i got away with it!) in the process of researching new stuff i came across this roni size vinyl record called Brown Paper Bag, and it had a phrase in there where the vocalist said, "new configuration, new riff and new structure." and that has been my catch-phrase since then really. from there, came my cd Oft Mended Raiment, which was entirely sample based and created on an MPC sampler.

around this time i had moved to the seattle area and came to know and work with bill frisell, wayne horvitz, buell neidlinger, and eyvind kang. all of these musicians opened my eyes to the possibilities of music. it is so far-out to be able to listen to these master musicians discuss the methodologies of cecil taylor, igor stravinsky, charles ives, captain beefheart, stockhausen, morton feldman, john zorn, autechre, and hundreds of other important figures in the development of this thing called music.
i became interested in contemporary composed music, freer forms, electronic music, philosophy, esoteric math, rosicrucianism, poetry (specifically william blake), noise music, plato's timaeus, george berkeley's treatise concerning the principles of human understanding, gnosticism, martin heidegger's introduction to metaphysics, symbolic logic, meteorology, ornithology, immanuel kant's introduction to logic, ......Folktronics is my attempt to meld my own style, combining these elements.

my recent cd is called Barnyard Electronics and it represents my latest efforts in this regard. i'm very interested in a Post Modern, Post Structuralist vision. i just got off the phone with my good friend Jim Woodring and described this idea to him and he said," well i think you nailed it." for me this is the greatest glory, to have another artist that you admire, let you know they appreciate what you are up to. i can work for years on a compliment like that.

the way that oscillators are used in synthesized music, as a basis for sound, is a way that the banjo can be used, or other folk instruments. as a waveform generator that can be used to make these epic pieces. and with sampling, we can re-contextualize sounds and make new configurations and architectures of music.

the old records have already been done. they were/are really cool, but i don't think i can compete with them, nor do i want to. no matter how old the music is, somebody thought it up. i'm more interested in that moment when someone said, "hey, what if we did this?"

another way to look at my work is as re-purposed obsolescence. i relate to visual artists, and also the type of artists who make things because they can't stop doing so. this era is so perfect for this type of endeavor. cheap plane tickets, cheap gear. people that are interested in music. places to play, computers. everything has really been leading up to this in my view. and it's a great thing. there exists more great music being done now than ever, and more great gear to work with. Yikes. welcome to my folktronics site.

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