Archive for August, 2006

More on the DVD

Friday, August 25th, 2006

In the interests of continuing to involve you, blogsters, in the process, here are a couple more notes on the DVD we’re producing:

(a) Most of the footage comes from Martyr’s in Chicago. We do have footage from other shows, and some of it looks very tasty, but the Martyr’s musical performance is pretty good and we felt that was more important than glossy visuals. We also shot two nights there so there’s a few more choices, angles etc.

(b) I decided not to include my intros to each song from the show. However we’re planning to shoot a sit-down interview/chat in which I will talk about stuff in general, and each song in particular. Then when you watch, you’ll have the option of seeing just the music, or intros plus music. This is so that you can enjoy the songs without hearing the same story each time; and to break up the sameyness of watching me in closeup at Martyr’s for 1.4 hours.

(c) If there’s time I plan to make a ‘soundtrack-only’ CD, which will be more affordable than the DVD. That means the individual live tracks will also end up on iTunes etc. (and you can buy several to give away as Xmas presents!)

(d) As this will be a very cosy, home-made affair I plan to number and autograph the first 1000 copies as I did with ‘Forty’. This time we will try to come up with a fairer way for the first that come to be the first served. Suggestions welcome!

Johnny splits

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Mr Dekam took a plane back to his new home town Houston, TX this morning. We got an enormous amount done in a week and a half in the Shed. His easy-going, cavalier style of live mixing carries over into his FinalCut editing. We have a rough assembly of the whole concert, though the sound is currently mainly direct off the camera and ‘board mixes’, and I now need to go into the studio and mix the separate tracks against picture. Then we will reassemble it into a fine cut, do the DVD authoring, and get it off to Discmakers for pressing.

I didn’t learn FinalCut Pro as I had hoped, but from looking over Johnny’s shoulder it’s clearly not a lot different from ProTools. (And even more similar to its Apple cousin Garageband.) If push came to shove I could probably do my own project in FCP; I’m just a bit lacking in technical understanding of compression algorithms etc. I learned the finer points of film and video editing way back in the eighties. I can easily spot when a shot is a couple of frames out of sync, and I have a good advance sense of which cuts are going to work, and why they don’t when they don’t.

As with producing music, I accept that there’s not much objectivity when I’m my own editor. I’d probably end up with a better result in objective terms if I let someone else call the shots. However, there’s already way to much ‘perfectly produced’ music and film out there. But not a lot that’s actually interesting and makes a personal statement. So I’ve always felt that I should please myself, and not try to second-guess the marketplace.

This morning I was reading an article in Electronic Musician about record production. It said that Rule #1 is you need your individual faders lower than your subgroup or master faders. The article treated this as gospel, as if it’s something every professional engineer and producer learned on day 1. In the same mag, Russ Kunkel, who is also a musician first and foremost (or rather a drummer, which may/may not be the same thing!) was talking about mixing boards with a +25dB overhead.

Well, I’ve produced and engineered several albums myself that have sold gold or better, and I have to confess I don’t really know what a dB is. I certainly didn’t know about Rule #1 with the faders. I like to use old analog Neve 8068 boards and plug my keyboards into the mic preamps. The good thing is, if a board from that era gets overloaded you can usually smell it because the tubes start to fry. So I let my nostrils tell me where the faders should be. I rarely look at a VU meter.

I learned to direct and edit music videos because Steve Barron overslept one day and didn’t show up for a production meeting for the ‘Science’ video. But I fancied his sister so I suggested we continue with me at the helm. I learned to engineer albums because Bill Bottrell announced on a Friday that instead of starting Monday on a 3 months long project on my album ‘Astronauts and Heretics’, he was going to work with Michael Jackson instead. I was pretty incensed at the time, though anyone in the music industry would probably say Bill made the right career move. My point is, magic happens in the studio or it doesn’t–you don’t necessarily need to know what you’re doing!

TED conference online

Monday, August 21st, 2006

I haven’t talked much about the TED Conference, an annual event in Monterey California. I have been its Music Director for the last 5 years, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Up until now it was pretty inaccessible to mere mortals, given that the tickets are expensive and usually sold out a year in advance. I always found it a hard thing to explain to the uninitiated, but this year TED has begun podcasting selected sessions from the conference, so I recommend you check it out. You can now download clips of talks given by some of the most brilliant minds on the planet to an audience of their peers, with no constraints from government or corporate agendas. You can watch them on your computer or iPod. I even have a friend in LA who has never attended, but who has started throwing spontaneous TED parties at her place, where a bunch of friends or workmates come over and watch a few TED presentations on her plasma screen.

You can get the TEDtalk podcasts here.

The music I put together for the show varies from year to year. I try to be relevant to the topics we’re covering. I book talent to play live music in between the talks; sometimes it’s world-class acts, other times it’s complete unknowns I’ve discovered in my travels. We have a partnership with Joe’s Pub (the New York venue I played last Spring) that allows us to try acts out there and pick the ones we think would work well at TED.

In addition, I play original music myself to set the tone for each of the 12-some sessions over the four days of the TED Conference. Some years I’ve played a solo instumental piece to introduce each two-hour session; one year I had an excellent 4-piece house band; in 2005 I debuted my ‘sonifications’; and this year I performed with a pair of graffitti artists who painted the titles to each session while I built up looped tracks from scratch.

One of the presenters this year was Peter Gabriel, who was there to talk about a cause that’s dear to his heart. I’d met Peter before and found him very affable, so I took the liberty of sampling one of his most famous tunes and mashing it up with a new piece of my own. The session was entitled ‘The World Flattens’ so I triggered some sound bytes from my own Flat Earth Lecture. I think Peter was sitting in the front row when I played it. As TED is for a good cause I’m sure Peter won’t mind if I put a recording of my performance up online!

[Edit, Aug 22nd] 

However, after sleeping on it, I decided I don’t feel comfortable putting the MP3 up there, given how miffed I was when K-Fed essentially did the same thing to me. I don’t want to be a hypocrite so I’ve taken the track down. Those few of you that listened it yesterday or this morning–I hope you relished the experience!

Camera's docked

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

Here’s Johnny!


Shed Life is good

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Johnny Dekam and I are locked in the Shed, editing video from the Spring tour for the planned Fall DVD release. It’s astonishing to me that this footage he has was a bi-product of the live mixing he was doing on the tour. We didn’t have the luxury of an expensive outside film crew. Johnny had several cameras going each night, and he just casually recorded the output of them at some of the shows onto DVDr and DV tape. His friend Brian Dressel came in and shot one show close in with a handheld. Between them they got great coverage, enough to put together a whole performance. The options being limited means that it shouldn’t take too long to edit. I may even add some ‘extra’ chapters, maybe a commentary or some other goodies. I should be able to get it pressed in time to have on the merch table when I tour in November and December.

And no record company schedules to conform to! If this was a major label release, they would have already talked me out of releasing it so close to Christmas when I’d be competing for column inches with Mariah Carey and Coldplay. That would have put the tour in question. As it goes, I can make the DVD available as a special treat for fans at the gigs and from my web site, and hold off on any ‘physical’ distribution until early 2007.

I even have great photos ready to go, shot by friends who came to the gigs with a decent camera. For a small and welcome fee I am sure they will allow me use of the pics on my DVD. I can’t tell you how much better I like this seat-of-the-pants way of working, compared to the ‘proper’ Music Industry way, with the meetings and budgets and egos and huge bills to recoup!


Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

I love It’s like TV archaeology. Almost every piece of TV ever broadcast is on a someone’s dusty bookshelf. Make a giant archive of all of them, and you’ve got a priceless resource for searching and scouring pop culture around the world.

If I do a search for my name you get all my music videos. No big surprise. But I also get obscure clips that I’ve forgotten ever making. I must have shot hundreds of TV interviews over the years, but most of them I seem to have supressed completely. Especially the ones from the 80′s, which were a blur to begin with. I have absolutely no recollection of this Japanese interview that I must have shot when I went to Tokyo promoting my second album. I look completely spaced out having just got off a plane from the UK, and I wonder how much of the interview was ‘lost in translation’?:


… and I especially don’t remember ever wearing the short khaki trousers with the ultra-chic SOCK SUSPENDERS…!


What is Wapsi Square?

Monday, August 14th, 2006

Someone sent me this today. Can anyone explain what Wapsi Square is?

(BTW I never feel guilty appropriating material when that material was appropriated from mine!)

The Next Phase

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

I just returned from Europe where we had a great family vacation. We rented a little cottage in the Scottish Hebrides. It was pretty amazing. Here’s the view from our window!

I feel refreshed and ready to take on the next phase. Here’s my game plan for the next few months:

-Edit video footage from the Spring tour, and put together a live DVD in Final Cut Pro, with Johnny Dekam’s help.

-Play a few gigs in September and October including a one-off in Boulder, and four to five on the East Coast (including Boston which we weren’t able to fit in earlier this year). Check the tour page for details.

-Play 15 to 20 North American dates in November and December, perhaps including Canada and the Southern states, to coincide with the release of the live DVD. Hopefully these shows will include some new songs!

I don’t expect there will be any merchandizing available at the September gigs. That’s because there will be new t-shirts etc to go with the Live DVD. In the meantime, there are quite a few offers coming in of collaborations, productions, TV and movie work etc: I’ll consider them all, but I aim to stay focused on my solo projects at least for the rest of 2006. It’s great that people seem to know I’m back on the scene!