next to of course god america i (MP3, lyrics) is the second song I’ve recorded with lyrics from e. e. cummings. (The first was anyone lived in a pretty how town, which I need to re-record.) So far I've written four songs. I expect I'll eventually have a whole album's worth. I like e. e. cummings’ poems, and I find the songs are easy to write. It’s also more fun to listen to songs with lyrics someone else wrote. I don’t generally like listening to my own music, but I don’t mind with these e. e. cummings songs.
Two songs in one day! This one, Wishful Thinkers (MP3, lyrics) is brand new. Freshly written today, I’ve only played it a few times. And if the freshness alone isn’t enough to interest you, it has not one, but two literary references. The first is to Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning, which I haven’t read, but Jessica has and she told me the story from which the title comes. The idea is that there are fishermen who are trying to save fish from drowning, but they’re always just a little too late, as the fish die shortly after being saved. I thought it was a funny story and a good analogy for solving problems that don’t exist and confusing hurting with helping, two forms of wishful thinking.
The second is the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, which I don’t think I’ve ever read either, but it’s a common enough story that I have a rough idea of how it goes. It’s a desperate failed attempt to overcome problems by cleverness alone, another form of wishful thinking. This one killed a person instead of fish.
I don’t think wishful thinking is a bad thing. I like to imagine myself a wishful thinker (hence the lyrics of "We’re wishful thinkers," not "You’re wishful thinkers"). But I’m increasingly noticing wishful thinking going too far in situations where "it’s not gonna’ help this time." For example:
Three Words (MP3, lyrics) is a new song, about language falling short. An interesting part of working in a buzzword-heavy industry is watching as words become meaningless, by "too many people, saying too much, saying nothing at all." The term "AJAX," for example, meant something more than "DHTML" for maybe a week before it was thrown carelessly into so many sentences that it lost all meaning in common use. I think the same thing happens with all words (e.g.), though not often as quickly.
I have a rough plan to split this website, randomchaos.com into three different sites. A while back I bought typewriting.org, and I think I'll put my weblog, music, and other types of writings there. It will look simple and artsy like Oblivio or Letters to an Unknown Audience. Surely muted earth tones will improve my writing. I'll probably put the music at music.typewriting.org, write more about it, and have comments on it. I expect I'll stop hosting music for other people. The other people have never seemed very interested in my hosting their music. I think maybe I had a fantasy of starting a record label or something, but that's clearly not going to happen.
Today I bought MakeDataMakeSense.com, which I think is a nice description of what I like to do with technology. I plan to move my more tech-oriented projects there. The microformat aggregator, the graphing widget, the Greasemonkey scripts, the regular expression debugger, it all tries to make data make sense. So that site will focus on those projects. It will look like a software company's website, maybe Panic or Ranchero, but still free. Surely fancy icons will improve my software.
With everything else moved to the other two sites, I'll make randomchaos.com a games site. It will include fastr and other games I've been playing with and need to finish. It will look like kurnik or Yahoo games. Surely extensive white space will improve my games.
There are random projects throughout randomchaos right now that don't clearly belong on any of the three sites: typewriting.org, MakeDataMakeSense.com, or a new games-focused randomchaos.com. The photos? I'll either just stop keeping a separate photo gallery, or write more about photos and put it on photo.typewriting.org. The computer-generated poetry? That could probably fit in on either typewriting.org or MakeDataMakeSense.com. I'll pick one. Anything I can't find a home for is probably not worth keeping.
I expect one such thing will be the source code viewer. I don't think I'm going to make any of these three sites open source, though I will continue to make specific projects open source. I've been running randomchaos.com as an open source website for a few years now, and I think it's been a wasted effort. No one has suggested a single improvement on any of the code I've written. And the only people who have actually used the code elsewhere have first asked me if they could despite the license clearly granting them this permission. If I'm going to be interacting with people using my code, I might as well just email them the files and not have to worry about maintaining an automated open-source website system that no one ever uses.
I'll post notes and redirect everything as I move or remove it, but that's my plan so far: out with the old, split up the new, stop trying to boil the ocean, and drink more tea.
It's been a long time since I've posted a new recording. In the meantime, I've acquired a new mic and audio input box. I've also been teaching myself how to do multi-track recording: playing with a click track, re-recording specific sections without redoing the whole song, adding filters, fades, etc.
I have a lot left to learn, but I think I'm comfortable enough now that I can sit down for a couple hours and end up with something that doesn't sound altogether awful and could be easily improved in the future. For example, a song I did today called "Better Bye," in MP3 and lyrics. I wrote it in the car after listening to a song by Jackie Greene. I think the original recording was on my cell phone. This is version one hundred and something. I have a fantasy that someday I'll record and post songs the day I write them. I'm not there quite yet.
So I took my newly acquired recording skills and applied them to a song I wrote way back in high school, Emily (lyrics, MP3). I'm pretty sure I recorded it previously, but I can't find any recording of it, so I made a new one, and added a new verse on the end that totally changes what the song is about. (Before Emily was the antagonist — now she's the protagonist.)
I'm sure there's more I could improve, but after spending over two hours on one song, I'm done with it for now. I could have played two dozen songs in that time and instead I just played the same one over and over and over. This recording stuff is hard work. I guess that's why pros pay other people to do it.
I don't think I significantly slowed the song down, but it ended up over seven minutes, so hopefully it's not awful, or it will be a whole lot of awful. I probably went overboard on the instrumentation: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, drum, harmonica, and voice. It's hard to listen to it after playing it so much, but I think it turned out okay. In any case, it's good practice, and maybe the next song won't take so long.
It's a twelve string (with only six strings currently) Framus, which is a brand I'd never heard of before seeing this guitar. In the picture, you'll note some holes in the front of the body. That's where the pickup knobs are going to go once I have my soon-to-be professional luthier friend JJ put them in and do some other repairs to it.
I never had a pickup put into my six string Ibanez guitar because I dropped it in Taiwan, ironically while exiting the airport after a long trip spent worrying about my guitar getting damaged on the plane. So now it has an unrepairable dent in the back, and even though it plays fine it seems a waste of money to give it a pickup.
After I get a pickup in the new Framus, I'll just need a mic and I'll be ready to play out somewhere. And then I just need to find somewhere out to play. I recently discovered the Ritual Café in Des Moines, which is unfortunately lacking a website of any sort. It has vegetarian food, wifi, and according to Google, is host a lot of musicians I like. So that's my long-term music goal: get the guitar fixed up, get a mic, and get a gig at the Ritual Café.
Meanwhile, I have a bunch of songs to record. I just figured out how to use Tracktion to do real-time editing or whatever you call it where you twiddle the knobs and sliders while playing through the recording to have different volume or other settings in different parts of the song. So that should improve the quality of recordings a bit. Now I just need to learn how to keep time with a click track. I think I'll Ask MetaFilter about that.
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I think Most of Mine (MP3, lyrics) is one of my best songs, if I do say so myself. Which makes it all the more embarrassing to admit that it was largely inspired by an episode of Will and Grace. It's the one where Harry Connick Jr's character and Grace are getting back together after he has cheated on her. That said, I hope the song has a bit more depth to it than a typical episode of Will and Grace.
Last night I learned how to play Say Hello, Wave Goodbye, a song I've only heard by David Gray, but which was apparently written by Marc Almond of Soft Cell. After that, I noticed a Bob Dylan song by a similar name that I'm not sure I've ever heard. So I played along with the chords doing my best Dylan imitation. Then I started writing a new song. Last night it seemed very Dylan-esque, and I was quite pleased with myself. I seem to have lost a bit of the Dylan this morning, but I think it's still a pretty good song.
This time I managed to play along at a steady tempo for a scratch track, so I recorded it in three separate tracks. I think the timing of the three may be slightly off due to a software buffer in my recording setup, and I think there are a few hiccups as I had other software running at the same time. But I think it's pretty good nonetheless. I even figured out how to make my guitar sound like both a banjo and a bass, so I can now imitate a three piece bluegrass band.
I'm sure I could spend all day improving it, but I say it's good enough for now. The song is called Melted All Away (MP3, lyrics), and I think it's sort of written from the perspective of one of the main characters in Dharma Bums, whose philosophical perspectives act as a convenient buffer against reality.
I just posted another song to the music server, Twenty Cents (MP3, lyrics). If I'm not careful, this could become a habit. This is another rough track done in one take. I don't think the vocals and guitar balanced quite as well as they did on the last one, and you can hear a police siren in the background on the second verse. But that just gives it an "authentic" sound, right? I spent a while trying to make a real scratch track by keeping a consistant tempo with a click track. But then I gave up and just recorded it, which took about half as long as fiddling with the tempo. And it was more fun. I have five or six more songs that I've never recorded before I have nothing better to do but improve the recording quality. Or write more songs.
if you don't have an account on randomchaos.com (and you don't because only i do), you may have tried to create one by clicking on that "[Register]" link at the top of every page. if you are one of the hundred or so who did that, you found that it didn't work. it said it worked, but then you couldn't login using your new account, because it didn't really work. sorry about that. next time something like that happens, let me know and i'll fix it. but now it works, so you can go make an account and then add your name to your account and then when you go to leave a comment on the weblog, it will automatically fill in your name whenever you're logged in.
i discovered this because my friend jj wants to use my otherwise unused photo album tool to publish some of his photos, and i had to create an account for him so he could do this. so if jj does his part, some day soon the photo tool will be full of photos.