Random NVDT “Standards” and a Writerly Concerns Update

Standards are supposed to make life easier. Devices from different manufacturers should talk to one another. My favorite was the original “plug and play.” Not. The same may be said of “class compliant” USB, leading us to believe drivers aren’t needed. Display to multiple monitors? Well, there’s 1.1, or 1.3 or 1.4. Which HDMI? If there were standards, blades or other accessories from one blender or mixer or coffee pot would work with others. “Standards” are set in place to make sure things are “standardized.” Like #2 Pencils whose lead varies widely. Number #2 Phillips screwdrivers. Some are deeper and pointier at the tip, some are more robust. Some are magnetized. Forget all that, lets get to something important. Like synthesizers.

The little white MXR box in the photo – I’ve had that since 1975. I still have it because I know standards are baloney. Several years ago, I decided to back out of the computer and get myself some gear with knobs again. There was all this noise about “euro rack standard” for inter-connectivity. More baloney. I bought a Moog Mother 32. I was so proud. I sold some stuff I liked to buy it, and it cost too much for what it was, but I knew Dr. Bob from way back. It sounded like a Moog. Sort of. I won’t go into why I sold it, but I did. For a combination of reasons. Not so “Standard” factored large because it wasn’t. Just like it wasn’t in 1975 when I went on an adventure from couch surfing in OKC all the way to Garland Texas, home of Arnold and Morgan Music. I bought an Oberheim SEM from Charley Lowe. I called first to be sure they had one. They did, off I went. A cold front blew through while I was gone, and back in OKC I walked from downtown, in my hippie moccasins, in the slush, to where my gear was stashed. I didn’t die. It’s all down to youth, not diet or exercise or clean living.

What? I couldn’t trigger the OB with my MiniMoog? Hold on. I saw Jan Hammer do it. That’s why I…A custom cable? Cinch-Jones shorting trigger to 3.5mm mono +5. Huh? I took the schematic for the cable to the tech at the high end stereo store who always brought my Flame Linear power amp back from the dead. He laughed when I said I thought there were standards, because I’d read about them. Nope. Volt per octave pitch tracking, maybe. The rest? Hah! He built the cable for me, and later a tin project box that did it better. Fifteen bucks. And I had to listen to loud Rolling Stones and his screaming baby when I picked it up from his house.

Then came the synth mess in my gravatar. Four Moogs, an Arp, an OB module and an OB sequencer. That was my fake T-Dream video soundtrack and band synth rig. Without the MXR and a snake nest of cables with transistors inserted in them it would have been chaos. Rather, uncontrolled chaos.

The MXR was designed to take a signal and amplify it, sans coloration. The intended job being to sit on the output of a guitar, gain it up and clip the input of a guitar amp without altering (too much) the guitar’s tone. I stuck that bad boy on the output on the trigger signal of whatever was the boss, cranked it and popped the trigger inputs open on whatever needed to listen. Forty-three years ago. And I’m doing it now? How sad is that?

I worked for the guy who pushed for and developed MIDI to stop all that crap (backstory). But – Sequential and Roland, the two companies who adopted MIDI first? Is 1 zero or is zero zero? Program change 1-128 or 0-127?  Standards. MIDI does work, though. Thank God. Even if it doesn’t require a gazillion colorful cables to do the same thing.

My MXR is still there if I need it to wake up a Moog with a Korg because trigger and gate are the same thing, different names. They’re “standard.” Only they’re not. I like my knob stuff. I like patch cables and all sorts of crazy sounds. I also like program memory, and foregoing that, at least pitch range selectors tied to a tuning so I have a short path back to reality. Even if that is a moral dilemma to some modular synth purists. There’s an old joke, when looking at a big modular synth draped in patch cords and some arteest going all artsy and talking poly rhythm modulations (baloney). The joke was was to elbow the person next to you and call out, “Okay, great. Now quick, tape’s rolling, get us a French horn.”

Which is why I sold the Moog. One oscillator, no range select and bunch of 3.5mm patch points that talked to each other and some of them to the outside world. And one very important one, the gate/trig, that required the MXR to function with certain external devices. Michelin money for a trailer tire? Baloney.

I solved a lot of the “standards that aren’t” with the Arturia Beat Step Pro sequencer. It sends out three sequences on three channels, or a butt load of gate/trig with enough voltage to blow open the most stubborn modern and vintage gear. The old “if they don’t understand you, talk louder” routine. But why should I have to buy another piece of gear to make the children behave?

Next up – power supplies. The MXR was built before wall warts were even imagined. There is no jack for one on the unit I own. 9V batteries only. There were days where it was buy batteries and play, or eat. The first time I saw a Radio Shack 9v wall wart with 9v battery terminals on it I freaked. It might have been $19. Ridiculous at the time. But it beat batteries. I borrowed a rat tail file from the guitar tech at Rock World and cut a hole in the MXR for the wire to escape. And even now wall wart jacks are various sizes, various voltages. Different barrel sizes on the supply, center + or -. Jesus. In my garage I have an old, beat up drummer’s trap case on wheels with years worth of power supplies. When I’m about to get rid of them a use pops up. How crazy is that? Gear does not communicate with each other, cables of different types and specs are required, power supplies are specific, active or passive, got a battery? My kingdom for a battery! My old bass player’s last girlfriend bought him a fistful of rechargeable batteries and a charger to keep him out of homeless shelters just keeping the active pickups in his basses functioning. This is about musicians, people. No wonder any player with money has a tech and IT runs any business with more than three people.

***

Retraction. “Switching on the lights, I trudged downstairs etc…” just reads stupid to me. I have been informed that it is a participle phrase that modifies “I”, the noun, not the (in my mind) associative action verb of trudged and is perfectly “legal” based on the position of the comma and “I”. As you wish. For my .02, that sort of thing, like Garlic and Cumin, starts to own whatever it’s in and a little goes a long way. It gets worse when they are used to modify the subject of a weak verb like “is”. Elmore Leonard sits in the back of my mind repeating, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Follow the action, don’t sort it. Like Deepthroat. “Follow the money.” “Following the money, crooks you will find,” or “you will find crooks” sounds like Yoda, doesn’t it? Stilted? Regardless of my opinion, the one big takeaway is – Do not leave your participle hung out to dry or you will be arrested by the grammar Nazis for exposing your dangling modifier!

Here you go, “ing” as a noun modifier and not a weakened verb.

http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/participlephrase.htm

 

Painted Ladies

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped the heel of Jackson’s fist from landing on the warehouse door for his third set of bam, bam, bam. The locks continued to rattle against the galvanized door, up the left side, down the right, then the middle. The rattles stopped, nothing happened for long enough he considered announcing himself to see if that would help. An electric motor behind the door started grinding, the door split in the middle and rolled away across the front of the almost waterfront warehouse. Three mid-twenties Art and Dance grad school girls in loose clothes, all sporting a tangible air of caution, were spread out across the opening, the two on either side holding three-foot long steel pry bars. The middle one looked right and left down the alley with no name, waved to a forklift driver two buildings down before she turned back to him.

“Jackson?”

“Yeah. I –”

“Who was your ref again?”

“Audrey. Boriman. Atlanta Bal –”

She pulled him inside, the grinding commenced, considerably louder inside than out, and the doors came together behind him with a boom that seemed to reverberate forever.

“Sorry.” All three of them frisked him. “Weirdos. You never know.” The one who’d pulled him inside left them, lifted several industrial breakers and flooded the space with light.

Old welded angle iron and pine-plank bleachers like the ones at high school practice fields were arranged in a loose horseshoe in the middle of the warehouse. He knew by heart from reading the seat bottoms when he was a kid they’d hold “approximately 105 adults or 3, 250 lbs.” On the floor in the center of the horseshoe was a twenty by twenty-foot pad resembling a boxing ring. Its edges, the floor around it and the first couple of rows of the bleachers were splattered with paint.

“Aja,” the middle one, introduced herself. “Hope Audrey knew what she was talking about.” She stripped down to her flip flops. “Hard to find good help these days. Everybody can talk, nobody can do.”

“Uh…” Jackson eyed the other two still gripping their pry bars. “The ad in the  practice hall said ‘Painted Ladies Dance Troupe seeks non-derivative sound artist.’ There wasn’t anything about, um…Clothing being, optional?”

“Are you high?”

“No, but I –”

“Excellent.” Naked Aja grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him across the warehouse while she talked. “What we do is totally dependent on a high level of intuitive interpersonal communication. We can’t…No, we won’t have the integrity of our work disgraced by tainted sensory reception.”

It was getting weirder, but art and dance majors all talked a stream of crazy shit most of the time, with or without their clothes, and he could hang right in the middle of it with them.

Aja marched him to the far, open edge of the splattered pad, lifted the lid on a good sized wooden shipping crate and proceeded to pull out a wide assortment of junk and toss it in his direction.

Jackson caught a few of them, had to let others clang and bang on the floor. Juggling metallic kitchen utensils and construction site junk in a “surprise, I’m naked!” interview wasn’t what he expected.

Aja continued to toss until she was satisfied with the mess of debris at his feet, dusted her hands. “Make us some music.”

He squatted, went through the chunks of pipe, enameled wooden boxes and paint sticks, kitchen spoons, stainless steel dog food and salad bowls, sheet aluminum, a bowling ball with a chunk missing, a small galvanized flower pot with French writing on the side and other junk.

“Lots of it, but not much to work with.” He held up a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, thunked it on a bowl suspended from a banana hanger, got a dull bunggggg for his effort. “Short term interesting, not very good percussion is the only possibility for most of this. The wash basin and some marbles would make a decent groove. Nothing lyrical. I’m not sure what you expect here.”

“You’re the ‘Sound Artist.’ Make something wonderful happen.”

He knew they were waiting for him to fold or build a drum set out of dog food bowls and fold even harder. He looked past the two expressionless security girls leaning on their weaponized pry bars, scanned the warehouse.

“That.” He pointed to the far corner where a version of every church basement and grandmother’s house upright piano sat, adorned with a psychedelic multicolored paint job and partially draped with a splattered canvas painter’s cloth. “I need that.”

“It will never be in tune. Piano players are like gum under church pews, and Piano Man is not who we…” She stopped, weighed his enthusiasm against her cynicism, waved in the piano’s direction. “We let you in.”

There was something unsettling in a naked girl with her fists on her hips in that “You’re wasting my time” way watching him push the piano across the warehouse, the ancient brass casters screeching on concrete.

He scattered the pile of junk with his foot, spent a few minutes modifying the piano with odd bits and pieces, set a chunk of steel on the damper pedal. At first he coaxed some eerie, metallic drones out of it by scraping the strings with a steam basket, ringing occasional dissonant bells from the top end with a medium sized aluminum serving ladle. He looked up and all three of them were naked, rolling all over the mat in and out of what he recognized as modern dance poses. He abused the strings and soundboard with other objects from the floor, monitoring the ‘dance’ out of the corner of his eye and adjusting his output to their activity dynamics as best he could until they folded into each other. He smashed a raspy, banged strings-on-aluminum-strip from the upper middle of the sound board and stood, eyes closed and arms wide while the warehouse’s huge natural reverb decayed around them.

“Cool. The room lets you stand inside it.” He absently set two metal ladles on top of the piano along with several lengths of galvanized pipe. “I need an egg beater like I used with Aud. More dynamics.” With the steel block still resting on the pedal he played a slow, out of tune arpeggio that rang through the warehouse like distant church bells on acid.  “Man. I could get up inside of that with one and –”

All three of them, naked and slightly sweaty, hugged him. They helped him toss the excess junk back in the crate and dressed before they led him to a glassed-in upstairs office that overlooked the small arena and handed him a steaming pottery class cup.

“Honest to God fresh roasted coffee.”

His first instinct was to refuse. After his last three girls and their Timothy Leary’s Gatorade in New Mexico he liked to watch his drinks being mixed. But they were all drinking from the same pot. He might die crazy, but not alone.

Aja pulled a chair away from an old, metal, paint splattered like everything else in the warehouse work table, pushed a box of donuts his way. “I was afraid you were another Bartok tone cluster wannabe. But…” She looked at him with clear, appraising eyes. “That was amazing. Magical.” She checked in telepathically with her two partners who had left their pry bars downstairs. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” one of the ex-pry bar girls laughed. “Thanks for being the most disappointing real piano player in L.A.” A comment that in any other context he might have found disturbing.

***

“You got a gig doing wha?” Dash had to set the bong on the counter while he coughed. “Sheee-it, my man. Fine, nekkid women rollin’ around in paint? However much they payin’ you be too much. As you have piqued my interest, what is the entry fee to witness this creative endeavor?”

Jackson loaded and fired the bong. “Two-hundred and fifty dollars.” He blew a series of smoke rings. “Fifteen hundred in the paint splatter zone. I figure they have to gross close to a hundred grand for a full house.”

“Call me Sambo, slap my momma, order pizza for later. You shittin’ me?”

“Nope. The canvas auctions start at twenty grand. Unless they find something artistically disagreeable on one or it won’t fit in the buyer’s space and cut it up into smaller pieces that add up to more money. I’m going to a show at some Warbucks’ pad in Malibu on Sunday. I have to be ‘Rasputin’ for a while, but you can hang if you’ll play my awestruck, culturally underprivileged token sidekick.”

“Depend first upon what a Rasputin be. I refuse to be seen in such an enlightened environment wearing a Sunset Boulevard at midnight bulldog collar.”

“None of that. I’m supposed to blow my hair up crazy, take kitchen utensils out of the host’s drawers and gently abuse the inside of their grand piano in a cocktail piano version of what I do at the paintings. While they all eat shrimp cocktail and talk art and admire their wall size naked chicks in paint art.”

“And what do you say as you peruse their drawers for these magical implements of sonic construction?”

“Nothing. I grunt, but not too dangerously, and if pressed I guess I’ll tilt my head with an air of quizzical seriousness, like a dog that doesn’t get it.”

“Sheeee-it. It is my assumption, as your friend and confidant in this affair, they be payin’ you way too much for that artistically suspicious activity as well?”

“Mama said stand up tall when confronted by a truth.”

“Then you are an artistic fraud of the highest order.”

“I prefer carefully constructed poseur.” Jackson raised his hand, wiggled his fingers like a magician. “An elaborate accessory to the festivities.”

“Fraud by any other name. I am down, my brother. For shrimp and a rich white people in Malibu tableau I will become the epitome of Buckwheat and suspend belief in any creative photography degree that bears my name.”

Looney Lunes #137 2-Fer

There’s Obviously Nothing About ‘Easy’ In That

From Our Lady of Sorrows Church Bulletin

Evenings at 7 in the Parish Hall

MON    Alcoholics Anonymous

TUE     Abused Spouses/bi-lingual

WED   Eating Disorder Support Group

THU    Say No To Drugs

FRI     Teen Suicide Watch*

SAT    Soup Kitchen/Homeless Breakfast

SUN – Homily “Our Joyous Future in Christ”

*as written that’s a little creepy

Part Two – No Fishing

Seriously. I want to get a big no fishing sign and put it on the front page. The graphic in the header came from someone who stole it from somewhere else who followed my “most superiorly and knowing blog”. Really? That person will never read, or be able to read, anything I write. Ever. The never ending quest for blind follow-backs. Always replete with stock lingerie photos or read this or I’ll shoot the depressed poet who is me, or have a “superiorly” nice day with the feel good Jesus. The big three. Sex, guilt and Jesus. Maybe they can monetize if they get to 60k. Like writing a bad song and getting the BMI check for 18 cents because nobody in Israel listened to the station that played it. But it felt good for about 1/3 of a second. Hey. God Loves Me. And I’ll bet she can spell.

Random NVDT- Writerly Concerns

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

A few weeks ago, I injected something totally random on this site. Not a WP follower harvesting “stick with a plan” thing. Nope. I wrote about a phone app of the musical instrument that changed my life. Back pedal – I changed my life, the synthesizer was the way forward. Writing is the same. I dropped out of college as part of that change. I didn’t believe they could teach me how to write by regurgitating some tweedy old fart’s thoughts on Henry James and Melville. Frankly, thoughts on Melville, to me, would be time better spent thinking about the variances in cottage cheese curds. Personal opinion only.

Today marks another Friday of randomness, which will become a regular thing. I suppose that punts the randomness, save for content. Writing, electronic music, whatever drops. Today? Writerly things. I read a book. Yeah, yeah., seriously. Check this out. Again

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

Why do I bring this up? As written it is completely devoid of linear logic. Funny how your brain will drag you right through that literary quagmire like it wasn’t awful. Published awful. The author bagged that verb ing followed by action thing throughout the book. Nobody at (publisher) caught it. The critics who raved about the next big thing in formulaic detective fiction missed it. Fair enough – It was written in the Eighties by a successful gentleman who has written many follow ups. The book I read came from the Plano Public Library very cheap book sale. I probably paid a quarter for it. Maybe a dime. Regardless, I buy old and new detective pulp to learn things. How to, how not to. How things have changed.

Like – The author drags out fight scenes like bad TV. You know, till you want to put it down and go feed the dogs and hope it’s done when you get back. The Detective and the bad guy, both well drawn clichés by the way, dance and swing and kick and poke and jab while the Detective does one of those every detective and Perry Mason/Jessica Fletcher/Miss Marple et al bits laying out the case against the bad guy. For like four pages. While they spar. The speculation gets reworded three or four different ways. Okay, we get it already. You say it, he denies it. Rinse and repeat. Fight and talk and fight and talk and fight some more. Whew. After the good guy passes out almost dead and wakes up the nasty end of the bad guy gets narrated, sans anything but a “Well, you know. Gross.” Yeah. Four pages of fight and talk. Yep, he’s gone, call your girlfriend.

Certain old Western pulp writers would do that. Good guy rides into town, gets his ass almost beat to death whipping the town bully. But the whole spaghetti western thing, the quick cuts between the players in a Mexican standoff? Doesn’t drop on the page very well. Even with a lot of call and response dialog.

The point there was violence is boring. Repetitive dialog to wind up a nutcase is boring. Wind it up, blow it up, hit it and keep moving.

Back to that gross end. I mentioned to George F that I have never been able to smack a woman around in fiction or anywhere else. I can narrate it like news. She got beat up. I can describe how beat up. I can’t go beat her up. I had one of those “show don’t tell” a-hole dipstick “editors” push for that in a scene where I had a beat up woman on the floor of a bathroom. What sort of sick f*ck wants to read a blow by blow of how she got there? All that brings me back to the bad logic in –

“Switching off the lights, I trudged downstairs and walked to the door. (Character’s) (car) was gone.” Written after the first person private dick took a shot to the head. Maybe it got to the writer. That was facetious and unkind, and as I mentioned, that crap was all through the book. Why am I harping on this? It looks okay to you? Really? Read it. As written the light switches were along the staircase. Our brains took us to the parking lot, not the writing. Yes, readers are allowed to make logical leaps, but lines like that make your head spin for a fraction of second putting them together. Like Phonics, or horrible spelling. Okay, the verb ing and the comma, we can still derive the intent, but we have to slalom along in the author’s brain to get there.

“I switched off the lights, trudged down the atrium stairs, staggered my good shoulder into the door and pushed. It took most of the energy I had left to focus and scan the parking lot. (Character’s) (car) was gone.”

Logical. Continues the descriptive. I would have put more in, but I’d hate to get busted re-writing two pages of a guy’s book in four lines. As re-written, they are the separate acts, each following in order. Not, as written, a simultaneous Timothy Leary moment to be sorted. These are how I see action co-mingling verb ing modifiers –

“Laughing, Bob tied his shoes.” “Crying, she shoved the runny pecan pie down the disposal.” “Shaking with fear he grabbed the ripcord and prayed.” Hey, that was three-fer! Any points for that?

The ing descriptive is generally used to convey an act that is part of, or to modify, another act. Not for a logical progression of activity, or activities unless what is modified by ing follows or precedes LOGICAL intent. Now this ing –

“Trudging down the stairs, switching off the lights under the starving artist prints that lined the wall as I went, I still managed to find the lobby floor in the darkened atrium. The hard way.” Okay. Trudging and switching. But “Switching off the lights, I trudged down the stairs.” No. It makes my head hurt. It, and its many kin populated a published (many times) author’s work. Come on. If I were to run that past The Editor’s Blog or any number of other legitimate editing resources I’d get basted.

Do yourself a favor the next time you doubt your writing. Pick up a published book while you wait in line somewhere. If you think it sucks, as a writer good for you. When it’s time to move, remember to pick your jaw up before you switch off your brain and trudge on it. (See? Poorly written. What is being trudged upon, the jaw or the brain? It’s a never ending process.)

That was random. And now it’s over. Next week – why “standards” are not. Maybe.

A good resource for formulaic fiction is here

A good resource for well explained grammar rules is here –

My grammar rule follows Elmore Leonard’s advice. Grammar rules shouldn’t get in the way of a story. (Bad grammar, as we’ve seen, often does). And – If it reads like writing, re-write it.