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Chariots—Theme and Variations, 1986 June 3, 2009

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This recording was my most challenging of the high-school era, though the C-sharp Bach debacle runs a very close second.

It’s just me in my room playing three instruments in turn into my standard dual tape deck & mixer setup. What made it challenging were the three separate passes, the lack of any rhythm track, and making up most of the details as I went.

Chariots of Fire, Theme & Variations, 1986

(Come on admit it, you too thought Chariots of Fire was kind of cool back then.)

The instruments are a toy CASIO keyboard (beefed up with my guitar flanger), my trusty Phoenix Electra electric guitar, and a piano (Yamaha upright, with a $25 Radio Shack mic dangling inside). To keep a steady rhythm, I played the CASIO to a metronome, whose clicks were not recorded on the tape. Then I made a second pass to record the piano. The CASIO’s ethereally flanged tone turned out to be quite good at concealing the rhythm, so to keep the piano steady was a dangerous business! When the CASIO had finally dropped out of the recording, I continued the piano, keeping the tempo as steadily as I could by hand. In the third pass, I added electric guitar.

You’ll note that the CASIO does not return once it drops out. Due to the metronome technique, it can’t! Otherwise, the piano’s tempo would have had to match exactly in order to line up on the tape. Likewise, when the piano drops out, it too is gone for good. The guitar, going last, gets to do whatever it wants.

“Jimmie Jackson” hits the scene, 1984–1985 June 3, 2009

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It was sophomore year of high school. I had not heard Jimmie Hendrix’s guitar-solo version of the Star Spangled Banner, but I liked the idea and wanted to try it. I practiced the main part for about a week, and then the ending is all ad lib. At this time, I was branching out from the mere playing of notes, learning to control things like feedback, string resonance, pick harmonics, and other such effects. (Gosh, can you tell?) 😉

To record just one guitar, all I had to do was plug the amp into the tape deck. Audio buffs will notice the lack of “cabinet” sound, giving the guitar a thinner, squeakier quality than normal. This is because the easiest way to get a line-level output from my amp was to disconnect the speaker and plug the pre-amp straight into the tape, while I listened through headphones and wondered why it sounded “a little different.”

My Jimmie Hendrix tribute, 1984–1985.

“Brand New Day” with Jeff and Mark, 1986 May 24, 2009

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This laid-back, bass-led instrumental was recorded at my house with high-school friends Mark and Jeff. Mark had programmed his Korg synthesizer to play a flute-like pattern, and we all ran with it.

The synth starts us off, then my guitar comes in, followed by Mark on drums and Jeff on bass. Jeff has the lead, while Mark and I provide structure. We are all improvising within a sketchy overall plan, which included keeping the chord changes loose and independent for a carefree feeling. Mark is playing his drums into a single $25 Radio Shack mic, and Jeff and I are playing through $40 stomp-box effects.

Brand New Day, 1986

I have always loved this track. It’s 1986, low tech, low budget, live, straight to tape. There are glitches for sure, but the groove is priceless!

My First Recording Ever May 23, 2009

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Age: 14 (1984)
Musicians: my little brother (Jon, 10), my neighbor (Michael, 14), and me
Instruments: three electric guitars and a 1981 toy CASIO keyboard with drum patterns
Recording method: through a four-channel mixer, live to tape

The big birthday gift (or was it Christmas?) of 1984 was my first “real” electric guitar. Adding it to my $60 starter model, we had two guitars in the house. My brother, Jon, was ten—the same age as my son Jake today—and Jon had logged enough hours on the starter model to play eighth notes on its low E string.

Our neighbor, Michael, had no guitar experience, but by convincing him to cajole his parents into buying a guitar, we had increased our arsenal to three. Add to that our toy 1981 CASIO keyboard with built-in drum patterns (and tiny plastic keys!), and you have enough gear to make some smurf-sized trouble.

I came up with this E-minor / G-major theme that matched our combined lack of experience. Michael had two easy chords (including my trademarked super-easy thumb version of G major). Jon had a three-note bass line, and I doubled Jon or played a “lead” by wandering up and down the pentatonic scale I had recently learned. The CASIO provided the rhythm, but it would only start if you pressed a piano key, thus the “boop” when the drums kick in. We practiced for an hour or two, then made it all the way through with no terrible mistakes, and now it’s an MP3!

Ancient Audio: a Bach invention on guitar and piano April 1, 2009

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It’s the second installment of our “Ancient Audio” series!

This one features a guitar (electric, clean) playing the right hand of a Bach invention, with a piano playing the left.

I recorded it in my room while in high school, by jury-rigging a couple of tape decks. There was a problem with mismatched tape speeds, so I ended up having to play the piano in C-sharp instead of C. What a pain! But it worked out okay.

Ancient Tape Cassette Unearthed With 1980’s Audio! April 1, 2009

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That’s right, I found an old tape. THE old tape. All of my treasured music projects from ages twelve to seveteen made it onto this tape. That’s 1982 to 1987.

This first one (“Kuan-Yin’s Mission”) is a rock instrumental recorded at a local professional studio with three high school friends. Eric is playing rhythm guitar, Jeff is on bass, and Mark is drumming. I am playing lead guitar. I can’t believe we made this at age sixteen!

Kuan-Yin’s Mission

It’s an old cassette, so you’ll just have to deal with the tape noise. I did some quick cleanup to it, and I’ll be able to do better when I buy more software.

There are more gems on this old tape, and I’ll upload them from time to time.