June 3, 2011
It’s about time.
There are at least two events that occur in my life which regrettably put me into reverse mode, rather than the shark-like forward gear I usually prefer: doing taxes, and moving.
Taxes are an annual chore, and I may have blogged in this space before about my dislike for the process due to it catapulting me backwards 12 months and causing me to account (literally) for my sins and wayward ways like a girl in a confessional. Who wants to face that? Do I really want to see just how many orders my ruefully procrastinating self managed to accumulate from Amazon.com, when I could have been practicing those Mozart fingerings mentioned in my last post? Even when years go reasonably well, and thankfully, more do than don’t, I still loathe the need to look behind me (what, and learn from history? Naw…) when all I want to do is have some fun and keep chugging ahead (possibly with blinders on, which could explain some of those wayward ways).
Moving is a less frequent event, but when it occurs it means not only moving my personal life, but also my studio and office. In other words, it’s two, two, two moves in one! I’m doubling my exercise, if not my pleasure and fun.
Along with some backward glances, occasionally a freshly unpacked box comes with a discovery of something long ago forgotten; a small item, once of some use or value, that has rested in the same little drawer for a very long time, sitting quietly, never making a fuss, and thus, going unnoticed for years, its sole purpose now devoted to collecting dust and probably some cat hair. [A wistful aside: even kitties who are no longer with us live on in the presence of their intrepid hair, strands of which show up years later, defiantly clinging to something and eliciting a melancholy sigh that we who miss our furry companions know well. I melt when I occasionally come across one of Moses's unmistakable black hairs]. Earlier today I was organizing a couple of very small storage drawers in my studio office that hold all sorts of hardware trinkets that would be instantly recognizable to anyone over 41 years old who’s had many years’ worth of music project studios. 1/4″-to-mini plugs. Groundbreakers. Male-to-female RCA Y connectors. Banana plugs. And yes, a small reel of splicing tape. Splicing tape?? It’s doubtful that anyone under 41 has ever seen such a relic.
For several years now, my studio has been entirely virtual, meaning that all sounds are generated not from stacks of synthesizers and outboard effects units (aka, “rack gear”), but by sophisticated software run on a powerful computer. The result is that what used to look like a friggin’ impressive room of light-emitting-diode-enhanced gizmos that only a superior expert in their field could possibly understand (and thus wow clients with), has now morphed into something akin to a tax advisor’s cubicle. So sad. In fact, if one avoids noticing my pianos, guitars and hand drums for a moment, the sole object in my digital music studio that looks even remotely musical is what’s known as the controller keyboard. It looks much like any 88-note keyboard, and Yamaha uses the same keys for this puppy as they do for their uprights. Yet when one plays it, it doesn’t make a sound. Rather unmusical… until you turn the power on and boot up a piece of software that will tell it what sound to trigger.
So today as I cleaned off one of these little 7-inch grey-and-clear plastic storage units I’ve had forever, the kind you get on sale at the local hardware store that most normal people use to hold nails and screws and not XLR adapters and MIDI couplers, I opened a drawer full of little black items that I’ve owned for 27 years, used for 22, not used for the last 5, and hadn’t noticed for all that time since. Suddenly, I consciously saw them.
Rack screws. And their accompanying washers.
Rack screws are short stubby deals that, as the name strongly hints at, attach the metal side wings of studio gear to the metal or wooden side rails of studio racks. Back in the day, before I went All Digital, I had a room full of rack gear. We all did, in my business. Looked mighty cool to our clients, too. Fingering these little utilitarian objects this afternoon, it struck me that I would never need them again, even though they used to be something I handled constantly, as new gear got brought into the studio and gleefully added to one of my racks. It was a melancholy moment, a little like the cat hair moment: a backward glance to things I spent a lot of time touching, playing with, and enjoying (no, not that. Get your mind out of the gutter). By the way, the best account I can recommend of a composer’s process of yanking away from the late 20th-analog-century fully into the 21st century’s digital age can be found in this blog post by a hilarious L.A. composer named Scooter.
Which leads me to the next sentimental, “geez, Alex, you sure are turning into an old fart” moment.
A couple of weeks ago, in search of an economical solution to a non-aesthetically urgent storage issue, I drove to the local consignment/thrift shop halfway up the island in the Middle of Truly Nowhere. Which is saying something, since this whole island could be described by many as the Middle of Truly Nowhere. So just use your imagination and imagine where Nowhere’s nowhere is, and what it might look and feel like.
All sorts of things readily abandoned by one person await a good home at the creative hand of the next, and I enjoy the voyeurism of poking around other people’s lives as represented by the stuff they used to like. As I walked along the outside of a building that held the promise of cheap bookcases, my eyes caught something familiar. Very familiar. Alongside a pile of old, nondescript forgotten sinks, metal file cabinets, and faux wood dressers, there it was: a modern, black, now dust-covered melamine anomaly in the midst of these homey items, and the woods surrounding us all.
My old rack.
Right after moving up here four years ago, I completed my studio’s final transition from physical gear to a room of virtual instruments, and at some point soon after setting things up, I gave away my last rack to someone on the island who probably played an instrument or had some semblance of a studio himself. I can’t recall for the life of me what nice person this must have been, since I was knee-deep in renovating a house and trying to stay sane and create music on a deadline amidst the pounding of two-by-fours and the learning curve of new software.
To everything there is a season, and this rack has had enough seasons that if it could talk, it would have some great stories, I’m sure. Man, am I relieved that it can’t talk. The tape I used circa 1992 to secure a reverb unit was still stuck to a shelf, and the extra holes I’d drilled in the wooden rails made me smile as I was reminded that I never did manage to get them entirely straight (good thing my day job is being a composer, and not a carpenter). As with the stray cat hair from the past, my memory and heart were pinged. This rack held a lot of my stuff that recorded a lot of my music.
And all that stuff was held in that enclosure with those screws I came across today. Just like the cat, the rack and the screws and their washers have all had their day, and it was a damned good one. I bet if you looked hard enough in the bottom corner, a cat hair or three would still be lurking.
I rarely post photos of inanimate objects here on this naturalist-wannabe blog, but these things were near and dear to me and my aging history, so they get a place of honor in Kelpville.
Stay tuned for wildlife, next post. Or just stay tuned.