La Semana

Last week I remastered the 2004 album La Semana and am listening to it as I am writing this. It was an important album for me, an album of a lot of firsts:

– the first time I engineered an entire album my myself, including the mastering
– the first time recorded with the Negra Flamenco guitar made by Lester DeVoe
– the first time Jon used his brand new black Lakland fretless bass
– the first time I recorded my guitar playing by myself
– the first (and last) time I created a Limited Edition package

La Semana 1
The design of the Limited Edition box won a couple of packaging awards. I don’t remember which associations gave out the awards… they might be in a box in my garage somewhere… The La Semana box turned out to be expensive to make and was released at a time when everyone seemed to have decided that music should be free. The demand simply wasn’t there and, instead of putting the boxes on sale, I packed them up and, you guessed it, they are also in my garage somewhere.

I hadn’t listened to the album in a long time and enjoyed reacquainting myself with the music. While La Luna is the most popular song on the album, I discovered I really enjoyed some of the other tunes, like Spring Rain, Cave In My Heart, and Evening (Languid Pace).

Cocteau remains one of my favorite pieces and it was also a first. La Semana was recorded before I acquired a wireless remote control to operate the computer from the room where I play guitar. I had to set up the software to start about twenty bars before the music began to give me enough time to open and close four doors, sit down, put on headphones, take the guitar and check the tuning, get ready… Because this was so cumbersome I set up the recording to keep looping the section I wanted to play on. Cocteau was the song where I did this for the first time and the song kept looping and I kept playing. After a while I forgot what I was doing and just had fun. The room fell away, the studio no longer mattered, the recording process was forgotten… I was just playing. There was no other person in the studio whose presence I might have been aware of. I was playing guitar by myself somewhere, and it felt like painting or drawing by myself. I loved it and knew this was the way I wanted to work from then on.

Check out Obo Cocteau, a story by Lawrence Russell based on the song Cocteau. It’s a pure fictional evocation of the composition’s moody Moorish atmosphere… and associations made from the title.

I will live with the remaster for a few more days and then I will upload the album to Bandcamp. It will be the first time that the album will be available as a lossless download, instead of mp3s.


Regarding my post about Guitar History JaneParhamKatz commented:

I liked the sound of the very first NF!

I have, of course, heard comments like that one a lot of times. A lot, a lot, a lot.

First I have to unpack the statement. What is meant by the sound of that album? Is the statement about the overall sonic quality of the recording? About the sound of the guitar? Or is it, perhaps, about the arrangements, the interplay of bass and guitar, the compositions?

Beauty is absolutely in the ear of the beholder. A sound creates a feeling and we cannot argue with feelings. I suggest that most of us also can’t separate the sound from the experience that accompanies it. If we experience something we like while listening to a piece of music, that music becomes a memory aid to return to that experience. In addition I believe that something that sounds unique, which is what NF was at the time, it will create a positive experience that is stamped into memory.

Here is the story of the sound of NF. The guitar sounded okay, passable. The studio wasn’t great. The microphone was pretty good. The chair squeaked. The reverb box was a cheap unit that didn’t sound great, but was the only thing available.

The mastering was done by the record label, Higher Octave, in the beginning of 1990. The label had found a lab that promised to make the CD louder than anything else, and their hope was that this would make the music stand out and be noticed. I often heard from Radio DJs who played NF in 1990 that the album was so loud that they had to manually turn down the output on their console each time they played a song from it, or the radio signal would become distorted. Wow! Many radio stations kept a sticky note on the album cover that reminded the DJ to turn down the volume!

Perhaps the loudness of NF did contribute to the popularity, but I imagine it wasn’t a big part of it. But, then again, I know next to nothing about marketing. It doesn’t interest me much and I am not good at it.

Tree Upon Tree

Very cool.

Daisugi: Creating a Tree Platform for Other Trees:

Sometime in 15th century Japan, a horticulture technique called daisugi was developed in Kyoto. Written as 台杉 and literally meaning platform cedar, the technique resulted in a tree that resembled an open palm with multiple trees growing out if it, perfectly vertical.

Aging is an Art

1. A lovely post on aging can be found here.

Then, the face smiled, and I recognized it as my own. Laughter lines can change the way we look as well as the way we feel and how others see us. Laughter doesn’t recognize age. I think that my first impression of shock at looking into the mirror was because I was wearing the eyes of a young woman. Deep within my subliminal, is a perpetually young girl. It was me at 17 looking at me at 77 and not recognizing myself.

2. The Age-Well Project has a lot of great posts about aging. It’s been in my RSS reader for a long time.

Jon told me that the great pianist Keith Jarrett revealed that he’s had a series of strokes since 2018 and that his left hand is pretty much out of the game permanently. Here is an article about it that I found in the NYT.

The Köln Concert happened while I was in high school. In 1994 I got to experience Keith Jarret at the Blue Note in New York, with his trio… It was an amazing experience that I still cherish.

Jon then reminded me that I once told him about a Japanese master calligrapher who was in his 90s and said he’d like to live a little longer because he was starting to get it.

We agreed that we could both identify with that statement. I do think that Jon is at the top of his game at present, playing better than ever. I also like how my work is progressing. The last two records sound great… my hands may hurt occasionally and my hearing may not be quite as good as it used to be but I am making up for that with my understanding and with my imagination. And we still have a way to go until our Nineties!

Guitar History

In the fall of 1986 I visited my parents. During that short stay I bought a student model classical guitar in a shop in Köln. I think it cost me around $300-500. During the first recording sessions for what became NF, in January and February of 1989, this was the guitar I used. The first phase of recording for NF included these pieces: Barcelona Nights, Heart Still/Beating, Waiting 4 Stars to Fall, Road 2 Her/Home, and several more. I have never actually sat down to listen to the difference between, say, the guitar sound of 2 the Night and Barcelona Nights, which were played on two different guitars.

In late Spring of 1989 I bought a guitar from Lorenzo Pimentel, in Albuquerque, that was used during the second phase of recording sessions for NF, in May and June of 1989, as well as to record Poets + Angels and Borrasca.

Sometime in 1991 I bought a guitar from Eric Sahlin that was first used on Solo Para Ti. That guitar, a Blanca Flamenco model, shown on the cover of Solo Para Ti, was with me for a long time and can be heard on every album released between 1992 and 2002.

In 2003 I started using a guitar made by Lester DeVoe and I have played his guitars ever since. I played a Negra model 2003-2014 and since then I have been in love with a Blanca model that was built in 2005 and that I still play today and which can be heard on Fete and vision 2020.

Blanca Flamenco guitars generally have cedar tops and cypress sides and back. Negra Flamenco guitars utilize rosewood sides and back instead of the cypress.

  • 1986-1989: Nameless Spanish Classical Guitar
  • 1989-1992: Loranzo Pimentel Negra Flamenco Guitar
  • 1992-2002: Eric Sahlin Blanca Flamenco Guitar
  • 2002-2014: Lester DeVoe Negra Flamenco Guitar
  • 2015-Present: Lester DeVoe Blanca Flamenco Guitar

While those were the main guitars I also used a Midi-Flamenco Guitar by Keith Vizcarra, first played on the song “Lush”, on The Hours Between Night + Day, and a Negra Flamenco by Keith Vizcarra, used on Leaning Into the Night and several other albums.

What can be learned here is that the value of a guitar does not determine a successful album. NF clearly sold more copies than any album I have recorded and yet it was recorded on a very inexpensive guitar in a tiny studio with a 1/2″ 16 track analog recorder – when industry standard at the time were 1″ 24 track machines. Sometimes the idea is more important than the material used to convey the idea.

I have often used surfing analogies, despite never having surfed in my life. For example:

In order to catch a wave you have to be in the ocean with your surfboard. In other words, you have to create in order to, perhaps, catch a cultural wave of recognition.

Even if you are out there, waiting for a wave, it doesn’t mean that a suitable wave comes along. You can produce work after work, but it may not gain traction with an audience.

Sometimes you are in the ocean AND a suitable wave comes along AND you manage to surf it as far as it can carry you… and then you have to make a second and third album! As my friend Al Masocco, my product manager at Epic Records in the Nineties, liked to point out you have a lifetime to create your first album and about a year or two to create the second one.

The Rise of Bullies

It’s been very interesting to watch how people react to the pandemic in general and to mask-wearing in particular. This year has shown us a lot about people. There is the amazing and selfless care that so many nurses and doctors continue to give. Too many of them pay for that with their lives. There is also the careless and egotistical behavior of those who endanger others on purpose.

We don’t wear a mask only to protect ourselves; we also wear it to protect others, in case we are unaware of being infected. People in Asia have been doing this for decades. If you’ve ever visited Japan or Hong Kong, you will have noticed people wearing masks in public, especially on crowded trains. Most of these mask-wearers either have a cold or another infection and wear the mask so that they don’t spread their illness.

Somehow we have allowed people to hold the belief that wearing a mask is equivalent to being afraid. Wearing a mask whenever I go outside does not mean I fear the virus; it means that I want to protect you as much as myself. I also want to protect some of the people closest to me, one of whom has diabetes and another, asthma. If I myself get the virus don’t bother with ventilation…just give me morphine until I die and then throw me in a dumpster. It’s not me that I am worried about.

Experts continue to tell us that if everyone were to wear a mask in public the virus would be gone within five to eight weeks. Just imagine… the pandemic could have been over months ago if everyone had actually done this!

The other day, I was grocery shopping when I saw a young man approach the store without a mask. A person working for the store, counting the people entering the store and checking for masks, asked the guy whether he had a mask. He pulled a bandana over his mouth and nose and was let into the store. Immediately upon entering he removed the bandana and started walking up and down the aisles of the store at a fast pace, mumbling to himself. The young man appeared to be homeless. He continued to run-walk around the store mumbling threats. Eventually, I saw him escorted from the store by a security guard.

I realized that what I was witnessing was an act of bullying. This person, most likely homeless, probably feeling powerless, entered a store that required the wearing of masks and proceeded to run around without a mask, talking and spreading potentially infectious droplets of his saliva.

This pandemic is offering bullies a golden opportunity through which they can flaunt their disdain for masks and watch people shy away from them. The sense of power! I am fearless! No, perhaps you are stupid, you act like a bully, and you are endangering yourself and others… all in order to give yourself a little jolt of power.

I think bullies have always been around, but they didn’t have the massive opportunities they have right now. Yelling at people who speak a different language, beating up a Japanese musician in the subway in Manhattan because he looked Chinese, marching around with weapons, not wearing masks… it’s a golden age for bullies.

My thoughts return to the homeless man in the grocery store. Bullies tend to be people who feel powerless. One aspect of bullying is called Radfahren in German. I don’t know whether the expression is used all over the country but I have often heard it used in Köln. The word literally means bicycling. This particular meaning derives from the position of the cyclist in the saddle kicking down into the pedals. Radfahrer bend their backs to receive the kicks from people or institutions above them and in turn they kick down to someone they perceive as less powerful than themselves. And perhaps this is what we are really learning now. Too many people feel helpless, powerless, uncertain, and not in control of their lives, and some of them derive a false sense of power from bullying others.

Our world is evolving rapidly and not everyone can keep up with the changes. People feel left behind, excluded and ignored. Inclusivity also means including the bullies and, perhaps in time, they will cease to be bullies. Bullies, like racists, aren’t born; they are created by society.

Bandcamp Messages

When I published the two new versions of “Dance 4 Me” to Bandcamp yesterday I added a brief message to one of them.

I asked several musicians to create versions of “Dance 4 Me” (the original was released on the album “vision 2020”) and here is the first one of these versions.

I would like to know whether the message only appears under the community heading of my page or whether Bandcamp also sends out an email to followers or subscribers. Please let me know in the comments.