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Repair Shop B comes through! January 8, 2011

Posted by bernie87fl in Music.
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My computer stinks no longer.

Over at Repair Shop B, they actually observed the glitch I have been talking about all this time, the one that makes my computer slow and unstable but goes away whenever I take it in for service. Well, now I can say:

Yay, I’m not crazy!!

They made the problem go away by running disk-repair software. But after we discussed the history of this glitch, we agreed that this fix is only temporary, that the hard drive has been gradually corrupting my system files, and the glitch will return.

So they replaced the hard drive. Unfortunately, since Repair Shop B had not installed the bad drive, I had to pay them to replace it. Yeah, I probably should have just paid them for their testing time and taken the machine back to Repair Shop A, but I guess I got impatient. After all, my machine was sitting right there on their bench, fifteen minutes from a real fix … and I’ve had enough Murphy’s Law lately.

Poor Repair Shop A is now returning my original drive under warranty. I guess I will end up with an extra drive—I can always use it for backups—or maybe they will trade me for a new battery. That would be nice. This battery is almost kaput.

So I got the machine back home yesterday morning and started over with a fresh new hard drive. So far, I have only installed the OS, and I am only using it to browse the web. That may not sound like much, but I had gotten that old glitch twice on similar clean installs, within 48 hours of use. Waiting, I am, for that glitch to return, but it has not, as we pass the 24 hour mark. Keep those fingers crossed! After I feel sufficiently confident, I will copy over all my files …

and THEN …

I get to install my new software!! Logic Studio and Ableton Live, that is.

Very excited.

Roadkill on the information superhighway January 6, 2011

Posted by bernie87fl in Music, Resource.
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My computer stinks like a flattened ‘possum carcass sizzling on the pavement of a Southern highway.

It’s been almost six months since I attempted to make it awesome by adding more RAM and disk space. It was going to become my portable creative multimedia studio. I actually needed the disk space, to hold some hefty audio software I had just bought (Logic Studio plus Ableton Live, for a total of some 70 or 80 GB). The RAM, I was hoping, would let me edit big audio/video projects with snappy response.

Instead, my computer got sluggish. You know, click the link and wait while the hard drive makes noises and the cursor spins. Spin, spin, spin …. spin … then load the next page. Forget complex multimedia projects; this happens while surfing the web or typing an email.

I finally gave up on Repair Shop A after they looked at it four times (or was it five?) and found nothing. In their defense, the problem comes and goes, and it tended to go away just before I brought it to them.

Now I am on my second visit to Repair Shop B. Last time, they found trouble with my logic board and replaced it (free under a recall program from Apple!). I was really excited about this, but the sluggishness returned quickly. The good thing about Repair Shop B is that they are more interested in a proactive, unit-testing approach. If they cannot find anything wrong this time, we will discuss a strategy such as switching out the hard drive to see if it affects the problem. That way, we will learn something even if there is no smoking gun on the test bench.

Had I known up front that it would take this long, I might have considered buying a new machine back in August. The cost so far has not approached anywhere near the cost of a new MacBook Pro, but five months of delay is certainly worth some dough.

We will see what happens. For now, I am working on the kids’ iMac in the family room. Again.

Re-winging it December 1, 2010

Posted by bernie87fl in Music.
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Last night, I rerecorded the rhythm guitars in my “E swing thing” wing-it. If you recall the painfully out-of-sync recording of Nov. 7, I had been unable to hear the click-track much of the time. After I had finished winging the third guitar track, compounding the timing errors of the first two tracks, the rhythm was gyrating around like a … like a … lopsided … thingamajig. Like a break-dancing wildebeast. Or something. Other than that, I really liked the tune.

Well, I thought I would take the opportunity to (a) practice not being a perfectionist and (b) practice some digital editing. I tried hard, I really did. I spent several long mornings editing those dang quirky, misaligned tracks, and I continually resisted the growing urge to just plug in the guitar and do it all over. Though editing made the lead track somewhat better, the rhythm tracks needed a ridiculous amount of slicing and dicing, hours of tedious clicking and dragging and “splitting” and “joining” and “snap to grid”-ing—and what does that have to do with music anyway? Finally, as the whole process grew less attractive than paying household bills and changing furnace filters, the project did that ultimately dreadful thing that projects do:


So last night, I finally just plugged in the guitar and did it all over. All except the lead track, that is, ’cause believe it or not, when I played back that edited lead track—just for a laugh—I actually liked it.

E swing thing, rewinged

As you can see, I had a little too much fun with the drums, and I am still experimenting with rhythm track arrangements. I do like the rhythm guitars starting and stopping rather than droning on the whole time, but the version I’m posting here sounds too sparse to me.

Thus, things will change a bit, but this is the general idea.

And then what? Mix it for tiny speakers, I am thinking, and turn it into a ring tone.

I’m back November 7, 2010

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission, Music.
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Apparently, I needed a year off.
My boss is nice. He gave it to me. Nice boss!

The Good

I have been in the studio almost every day since the summer, doing Guitar Aerobics and studying the Fretboard Workbook. It is paying off, filling in the gaps in my self-taught education. I was pretty darn good at certain things, but let me tell you: there were gaps, baby!!

My non-musical ideas have also begun to take shape, in Zebrascape’s brand-new online store at Zazzle.com!

The Bad

My trusty laptop computer, my would-be awesome portable design studio, continues to suffer from growing pains. Long story, but since May I have been through quite a process of shopping for upgrades (from extra RAM to pro audio software), hesitating about what to upgrade, waiting for money to upgrade, installing and testing the upgrades, running into glitches that disappear when I take the computer to the shop, and still today getting glitches. Drat!

The latest opinion, after a trip to the nearest Apple Store, is that all the trouble boils down to a flaky hard drive. Probably. I will go back to the shop that installed it and try to get it swapped out.

The Ugly

Meanwhile, while practicing, I find myself playing certain bits and pieces of things that might develop into “real” music but then forgetting all about them after three days.

So instead of forgetting about them, I’ve decided to record and share them as rough drafts. Very rough drafts. I call them “Wing-its.” Chock full of potential, ideas, raw spirit … and errors. BIG errors! But who cares? If I grow attached to one, I will rerecord it or edit it to digital perfection. Think of it this way, if music is a gift, isn’t it really the thought that counts?


Blues Jam: a wing-it

A blues piece that happened while I was working on a fingering pattern with descending fourths. There is also a bass track that probably won’t be audible on standard computer speakers.


E swing thing: another wing-it

Another blues fragment. I clicked the “Texas Blues” setting in GarageBand, heard how it sounded on my guitar, and immediately found my fingers playing this. Not that I’m such a huge fan of blues per se, but it’s an easy format for messing around. The rhythm here is terribly, horribly off, but that’s just ’cause, umm, I want to practice time-line editing in Logic Studio. Er, I mean, ’cause I don’t want those dang web-surfing kids ripping off my mp3’s to use as GarageBand loops. Actually, I couldn’t hear the click track very well while recording. No bass here, just a few guitars.


Remember, it’s the thought that counts!


Spring Rhapsody, a symphony of loose ends April 19, 2010

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission.
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… or perhaps a can of worms. In any case, the project I started at the end of 2009 has mushroomed, streamlined, spread, focused, accelerated, and—umm—trickled.

Sorting through a decade-plus of household junk somehow resulted in an overhauled family budget. Rearranging my desk and moving it to the other side of the office yielded a new and better system for tracking all those distracting day-to-day projects. The aforementioned junk is back in the basement again but much reduced and compacted. None of this has resulted in any studio time or new recordings, though I still periodically jot down random thoughts at the piano, adding them to the growing stack.

Part of me wants to keep doing this until I run out of loose ends and my life is thus unbelievably simplified and efficient, my mind glroiously uncluttered, begging to be filled with creative work … but how long will this take?

When will I give in and start creeping back into the studio? We shall see.

Progress for 2009, Hopes for 2010 December 13, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission.

I’m quite pleased with 2009. I learned a ton about studio techniques, and I proved to myself that I can make the kinds of recordings I want to make.

I also proved that my meandering, multidisciplinary path through college coursework was right on target. The music theory, the electrical engineering signals, the computer programming, differential equations … every bit of it has application in my studio. Somehow, I knew what I was doing back then!

Not that I’m programming computers to solve differential equations while I strum the guitar—yet! But that is coming when I start writing audio plugins. I’ll explain later.

The biggest difficulty, believe it or not, has been pursuing this within my current work-at-home lifestyle. You would think having a studio in the basement would make it dead-easy to get tons of work done, but I have found just the opposite. I do not tolerate loose ends well (very distracting!), and since we moved here with a toddler and immediately had two more babies while I started a new job and we started driving children to school every day, there are a lot of loose ends still about! For a decade, we have gotten used to stepping over these things and working around them, but I have been underestimating their impact on my ability to start big, thoughtful projects. It is like living inside a giant to-do list whose items are trick birthday candles that never blow out. I still don’t even have a real desk in our office!


But that is already changing. My first studio goal for 2010 has begun, and it involves everything but the studio: finish moving in to this house, and finish establishing a solid family budget. In July, Linda and I began working hard on the budget, to make the monthly routine more efficient, more accurate, less prone to end-month emergencies. We have come a long way, and it has freed up a lot of my time and energy to handle the house.


Then, right on cue, Divine Providence intervened by flooding part of the basement! Not the studio part, mind you, but the corner clear opposite the studio. And not enough to ruin anything important, but just enough to make us remove every single unsorted item, down to the last LEGO piece, obsolete kitchen appliance, and 1980’s high school text. The stuff is now consolidated in a few terrible spots, where we are handling it piece by piece. Slow going during holiday season, but I am willing to burn all of January and February on this, to see the light at the end of that tunnel.


Next, the time and energy freed up will go into the studio’s acoustic makeover, meaning that its walls, ceiling, and possibly certain corners of the floor will be covered with acoustic materials for better recording and mixing. And then … with the studio in its final structural form, I will be able to get real furniture and storage, making it much less makeshift, more ergonomic, easier to configure my equipment, and easier to work for longer hours. So, you see? It’s all connected.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the holidays!

Gettin’ Logical November 11, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission.
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Logic Express 9 arrived today. It is the “lite” version of Logic Studio, which is one of the premier professional recording software suites available today. I am excited to get started with Logic and then upgrade to the full version in a month or two.

It is amazing what you can get nowadays for a few hundred dollars!

Zebrascape, LLC: web site in progress November 4, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission.
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In 2005, I created Zebrascape, LLC to pursue creative work. I ended up having to put it on hold for a few years, but when I started assembling my studio last August, Zebrascape, LLC began to wake up again.

First, I created a silly placeholder web site pointing to this blog. It sat like that for months while I worked on the studio.

Then, a friend tipped me off about the movie It Might Get Loud, which I went to see in September. The moment that struck me most was when Jack White called himself and the other musicians “storytellers.” I thought about it for over a month before I realized why it intrigued me.

It turns out, “story telling” ties together all the scattered ideas I have been jotting down for a long time, if you look at it right. When that became clear, I began writing this half-baked prototype of a web site.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Newest mp3’s October 30, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Mission, Music.

Latest audio from active projects:
Dec. 1: Rev 2 of “E swing thing” wing-it!
From last year, before The Big Break:
Oct. 30: Final mix of “Symbolic Dog Blues”!
Sep. 16: Full instrumental recording of “Green Mountain”

There’s more: my whole collection of mp3’s goes back to 1984.

All material copyright (c) 2008–2010; portions by B. G. Jackson; Zebrascape, LLC; and others.

Final Mix of Symbolic Dog Blues!! October 30, 2009

Posted by bernie87fl in Music, Song.
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At long last, here is the final mix of my first song! It’s called “Symbolic Dog Blues,” and it has been my learning project all year, a sort of self-guided senior thesis in audio engineering. It’s goofy and silly, and not typical of my other ideas, but that’s what it takes to keep me interested for twelve and a half months

The featured solo instrument is an electrified kazoo that I call the “Kazooka,” and you will hear character voices chatting about it overtop of the song.

New in this final version: drum fills throughout the last half of the song.

Symbolic Dog Blues, final mix

The purpose of this song was to learn how to record and mix a diversity of sonic elements:

  • acoustic guitar
  • electric guitar
  • electric bass
  • keyboard (rock organ sound)
  • Kazooka (ordinary plastic, played like a sax, processed like an electric guitar)
  • bottle clinks (tequila and Mexican Coke)
  • handmade drum (bought at a tai chi festival, played with bare hands)
  • spoken character voices
  • singing voices
  • programmed drums

I wrote and performed all parts of this song on the above instruments in my mostly-soundproof studio in my basement. All the sounds are from live, actual instruments (as opposed to loops or computer sounds), except for the programmed drums, since I don’t play the drums.

Recording equipment used

  • Shure 57 microphone
  • RØDE NT-1A microphone
  • Apogee Duet FireWire interface
  • MacBook Pro laptop computer, running Mac OS 10.4
  • Apple’s GarageBand ‘08 recording software

Educational sources for recording and mixing techniques

  • The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, by Bobby Owsinski
  • Acoustic Design for the Home Studio, by Mitch Gallagher
  • EQ Magazine
  • Sound on Sound Magazine
  • prior experience playing in bands and getting frustrated with poor recordings
  • prior experience with signal processing concepts as an electrical engineer

Other blog posts on this song