Thief

This is perhaps Ryokan’s most famous poem:

The Thief left it behind –
the moon
At the window

Compare these two stories, the first one from Zen monk and poet Ryokan and the second from the Sufi Idries Shah:

One night a thief broke into the Five Scoop Hut on Mount Kugami. Finding nothing else to steal, the thief tried to pull out the mat Ryokan was sleeping on. Ryokan turned over and let the thief take the mat.

From Sky Above, Great Wind by Kazuaki Tanahashi

A thief entered the house of a Sufi, and found nothing there. As he was leaving, the dervish perceived his disappointment and threw him the blanket in which he was sleeping, so that he should not go away empty-handed.

From “The Way of the Sufi” by Idries Shah.

Sunday Afternoon

There is much happening right now that I will share with you soon. Bare Wood 2 is finished and I am very, very happy with it. It’s been a beautiful weekend. The light outside is incredible. It’s been raining a little every day. It’s all good.

I also came across the following video and would love to hear what you think of it.

Honestly, when I listen to this I am convinced that men are an evolutionary dead end. For more context and background read this post at Music Technology Policy.

Now I am going to bake my bread and make risotto for dinner. That’ll set me right.

Balance

Grammar gives us the structure of language but doesn’t help us figure out the story we want to tell.
Music theory teaches the rules of the musical language but not what to say.

Keeping that in mind we need to strive for a balance between training the understanding of the rules and structure on one hand and the development of our own message, our emotional story, and our vocabulary.

Do we want to write an essay that has perfect structure or do –
we
want to
write poetry?

Maybe somewhere in between is the place to be, is where the balance lies.

You may have heard the cliche: the classical musician who performs the notes in front of him perfectly, but cannot improvise; the self-trained musician who can’t read music but who play his instrument beautifully. There are jokes about it, like this one:

How do you get a pianist to stop playing? You take away their sheet music. How do you make a guitarist stop playing? Put sheet music in front of them.

Most musicians are a combination of the two varieties. I can read music, but can’t sight-read. I read haltingly like a second grader reading a story. I remember telling Jon, who can sight-read his way through a whole performance, but also improvises as well as anyone I know, that I wanted to study music theory – this was sometime in the Nineties. There was a pause and then he simply asked why? I think I replied that I felt there were a lot of rules I didn’t know and that learning them might make me a more well rounded musician. Jon said something like, but it’s working for you. I felt he could be right. What if I wrecked the secret sauce of my music?

It’s all about the balance. What is enough structure and what is too much? Perhaps it is the tension between the feeling we want to convey and the structure that we express it with that creates beauty?

Capturing the Guitar

I have written about my guitar sound before. Here is a post from 2010 and here is a post from 2019. This will be a more comprehensive post with more photos.

The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be, should it be accidentally moved.

The microphone is a Neumann M-149, which I have used since 1999 – following the loss of the previous Neumann. As you can see I tend to stick with something I like. I don’t feel the need to experiment and am rather loyal to things that work. I own only two Flamenco guitars, which is very unusual, and have only used one of those two for the last five years. I generally prefer depth over variety. I would rather be very intimately familiar with one guitar than be vaguely familiar with a hundred.

One photo shows the back of the M-149 which shows that the bass roll-off is set to 40Hz. There is also a photo that shows the mic pattern setting on the front of the microphone. 

From the microphone the analog signal travels to a Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp. Sadly Martinsound no longer makes the MSS-10, but luckily I have two in case something happens to one of them. In 1999 we rated a number of mic pre-amps and I wrote about that test here. The MSS-10 is by far the nicest mic pre-amp for the flamenco guitar that I have ever heard. When we listened to it the three of us – Jon, engineer Gary, and I – immediately preferred it over all others tested. From the MSS-10 the analog signal travels to the Digidesign 192 HD Interface that converts the analog signal to a digital one. I use the DigiDesign Reverb One plugin on the guitar, preferring a dark, but longer reverb. I put an EQ on the reverb, removing much of the lower frequencies of the reverb as they muddy the waters in my opinion. The guitar EQ is a GML (George Massenburg Labs) software plugin. I use it to dip out a frequency of my guitar that sounds boxy and to add a very small amount of presence. 

That’s it. The analog equipment – microphone and mic pre-amp – is expensive, but the digital side is not. I just looked up the Reverb One plugin and it retails for $300. The GML software EQ is no longer available. 

When considering a guitar sound one should not forget the guitar itself, the type of strings, the player’s way of holding the guitar – some players choke their guitar by holding it too tight – and, of course, the nail treatment and how the strings are struck. There are so many variables that it is good to go step by step.


Today, Saturday, I added four screenshots to the viewer. The first screenshot shows the EQ setting for my Blanca guitar when playing a melody. The second shows the EQ setting for my Negra when playing rhythm. I start with two EQ settings for each guitar:
There is a setting for playing rhythm – anything that’s not the main melody. This setting only removes a low frequency that every guitar has when one places the microphone relatively close. This becomes a problem when playing multiple rhythm guitars because that low-end builds up. A second setting, for the melody, removes a little less of the lower frequencey and adds a little bit of a high frequency. I look for a sweet spot where I can add a little bit of treble that sounds smooth and silky. Over time I collect more EQ settings for each guitar because the guitar can subtly change according to string wear or humidity.

The next screenshot shows one of the EQs for reverb that filters out much of the sound below 150 hertz. The last screenshot shows the One Reverb setting I prefer for all of my guitars. It is called “Dark Concert Hall” and I have used it for two decades.

Poetry

A man walks through Japan. He takes photographs and sometimes he pauses to explain what he captured.

https://craigmod.com/huh/s01-18/

What he wrote sounds like a long poem to me. You can subscribe to it here.


At 0240 I woke up and it didn’t seem as if I could go back to sleep. So I picked up “The Overstory” and finished it. This one will stay with me for a long time. At 0500 I got up and poured myself a glass of cold brew coffee—a new habit I started about a month ago—and waited for the day to break.

Yesterday I downloaded the last percussion and upright tracks for “Bare Wood 2” from Dropbox. In the studio I added them to the songs. Just a few guitar lines left to do then the album is done. The music speaks of longing and sadness and of hope and joy. The usual human stuff. :-) Hopefully it will sound like poetry to you.

Discovering Wang Wei

I know no good way
to live and I can’t
stop getting lost in my
thoughts, my ancient forests…

You ask: how does a man rise or fall in this life?
The fisherman’s song flows deep under the river.

That is a poem by Wang Wei I found in The Overstory.

Wang Wei (Chinese: 王維; 699–759[1]) was a Chinese poet, musician, painter, and politician during the Tang dynasty. He was one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his time. Many of his poems are preserved, and twenty-nine were included in the highly influential 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.

(Wikipedia link)

Later I found another poem by Wang Wei, a reply to Subprefect Zhang, that is of a similar nature:

Now in old age, I know the value of silence,
The world’s affairs no longer stir my heart.
Turning to myself, I have no greater plan,
All I can do is return to the forest of old.
Wind from the pine trees blows my sash undone,
The moon shines through the hills; I pluck the qin.
You ask me why the world must rise and fall,
Fishermen sing on the steep banks of the river.

The tone is familiar and reminds me of Lao Tzu and Hanshan.

The biography of Wang Wei speaks of many ups and downs. Promoted, promoted, demoted, promoted, demoted, demoted, imprisoned as a suspected traitor, promoted and then Deputy Prime Minister.

I discovered Ryokan when I was 22 and then Hanshan, also many decades ago. It informed how I tried to live my life and, perhaps, saved my musical life. You are the greatest, you are the worst. Okay. You can say what you like and I will just continue making music.

I’ll add Wang Wei to the list of people I will read whenever I am wondering about the affairs of humans:

Ryokan,
Hanshan
Chuang Tzu
Lao Tzu,

And, believe me, human affairs baffle me much of the time. :-)

Why a Tree Is the Friend We Need Right Now

I suppose one has to celebrate the little steps, for example when Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has an article about the value of trees that haven’t been cut down.

Why a Tree Is the Friend We Need Right Now – WSJ

Trees have a lot to teach us. They know a thing or two about surviving harsh years and thriving during good ones—they can show us the importance of taking the long view. They’re masters at resiliency, enduring fallow periods every winter and blooming anew each spring. They’re generous—they share nutrients with other trees and plants and provide clean air and shade for the rest of us. They certainly know how to age well.

And trees provoke awe—that emotional response to something vast that expands and challenges the way we see the world. It’s the perfect antidote to the way we’re feeling right now—a pathway to healing. Research shows that awe decreases stress, anxiety and inflammation. It can quiet our mental chatter by deactivating our brain’s default mode network—the area that is active when we’re not doing anything and that can get absorbed by worry and rumination, according to Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and faculty director of the university’s Greater Good Science Center, who studies awe. It can improve our relationships, making us feel more supported by and more likely to help others, more compassionate and less greedy.

Bare Wood 2 update

Bare Wood 2 is nearing completion. Jon finished recording upright bass for the new pieces and he really sounds on top of his game. I have to complete a few melodies for one of the pieces. There are percussion parts for three or four pieces to be recorded during the next couple of weeks and then I need to finish mixing and mastering the album. I am planning to release Bare Wood 2 at the end of this year or in the beginning of next year but, of course, you will hear some of it here first.

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