Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Music Is My Rife

...or at least my life tends to be rife with music...
...and stress...

And then there are teenagers...

My daughter spent the last few years saying she couldn't wait to get into junior high school so she could be in a real school band. To emphasize the point, she came to as many performances of the Ye Olde Academy music club as she could and even came with me to the school on occasion so she could help with music club activities. She participated actively in the few music-related events her elementary school offered. She practiced both the piano and the recorder intensely at home so as to get her musical ability up to par. When she finally took the entrance examination for Ye Olde Academy, she named our music club as one of her biggest reasons for wanting to enter the school. Even when she failed to get enrolled, she wasn't particularly disappointed; after all, the band program in the local public junior high school was in danger of being terminated due to lack of membership, so my daughter saw it as a personal mission to save it. She signed her name down on the recruitment roster for the band the day she first visited her new school. She then started pestering me to help train her on clarinet to get a head start, so I made some purchases and preparation toward that end. It was clear that she was both dedicated and very serious regarding her musical endeavors.

Imagine my surprise when I overheard her telling her friends (while she thought I wasn't there) that she had decided to join the handball club instead. A few days later I overheard her telling her mother the same thing (again, when she thought I wasn't there), and she freaked out when she realized I'd heard.

Her excuse? "But the girls in the sports clubs look so coooooool! Besides, a girl I hated in kindergarten joined the band!" Actually, it probably has more to do with the fact that her worst control freak friend (who has been nothing but trouble the past two years) has also joined the handball club, but whatever.

So I've wasted my time and money and now face the prospect of having my daughter going to the only junior high school in this part of the prefecture that has no band (mainly because she flaked out on it at the end, or so its director is currently saying)! NO PROBLEM!!!!!

If you want to know why I've been so testy lately, this is reason #1. Reason #2 has to do with circumstances at work that I probably shouldn't talk about. (Reason #3 was the meddlesome individual who showed up unannounced and uninvited a week before the Big Concert, listened to a rehearsal of the big encore number I'd arranged for the orchestra, had a look at the score, and then said, "Now, there are some parts here I'm going to have you rewrite. These just don't work musically." I might not have minded so much (since I had already listened to...and taken...others' advice in the matter) except that, after he stopped spewing all kinds of esoteric terminology and a few words of Italian in a vain attempt to impress me, the ideas that he gave were just plain daft. It was clear he was only looking at the individual measures without any thought about the tune as a whole. I got even more irritated when he showed up at the dress rehearsal with a couple of sheets of Finale score paper and said, "Here...I've rewritten the first part for you." Maestro Ogawa and I both politely declined...surprisingly enough considering I was only a few centimeters from throttling the guy.) 

I'd planned to get my daughter a learner-model clarinet for her upcoming birthday. Scrapping that, I got something for myself that was a whole lot cheaper. What did I get? Glad you asked!  I got a couple of new guitar effectors!

It was actually kind of an odd purchase.  Since late 2004 I've relied almost solely on my Line 6 PODxt for my guitar recording.  It includes emulations of not only a whole bunch of famous amp models, but also of a number of effector pedals.  (I actually own a couple of the pedals it includes, and the sound is quite authentic.)  My effector collection wound up collecting dust for the most part, sad and lonely in a case under my keyboard/studio racks.  I don't know why, but recently I started taking an interest in that collection again.  Maybe it was because I realized that I was getting close to the limits of what the POD's collection could do.  Maybe it was because I remembered some of the cool things I'd done with those pedals in the past and wondered what new things I could come up with paired with the POD's amps.  Maybe I just heard them whimpering and felt sorry for them.  Maybe it was because I had a look at the unbelievable mountain of effectors (and amps) Kevin Shields (one of my biggest guitar heroes besides Steve Morse, Alex Lifeson, Martin Barre, The Edge, Billy Gibbons, Glen Tipton/K.K. Downing, and Ace Frehley, not necessarily in that order) has been using in the recent comeback tours of My Bloody Valentine.

Most of my pedals are of BOSS (Roland) make.  BOSS pedals are best known for their wide selection and their reliability; it's said you could probably play baseball with one and it would still work (though I wouldn't recommend trying it).  When you buy a BOSS, you know there are probably effectors out there that are more capable, but you are getting at least a very good average that can't go wrong.  I was also lucky to get Zoom Distortion 5000 distortion and Zoom Choir 5050 reverb/chorus pedals, both of which are now rare and much sought-after collectors' items.  (I happened to grab them in a tiny CD/music shop in Itako because they were the only effectors they had in stock at the time!)  I also have a few pedals made by MXR, Ibanez, Yamaha, and a couple of obscure makers I can't recall.  So what did I get this time?  MARSHALL!

I was specifically looking for the Reflector (RF-1) reverb pedal based on some recommendations I'd read.  One of its features is a "reverse reverb" mode, which is unusual among reverb units.  Kevin Shields apparently uses reverse reverb a lot (mainly via a Yamaha reverb unit which is no longer made), and the Reflector is said to be the best way to get a sound like his.  Unfortunately, when I told the store what I wanted, the head clerk there told me he wasn't sure what I was talking about and therefore assumed it was no longer available.  Disappointed, I instead asked for Marshall's "Guv'nor" (GV-1) distortion pedal, which is also widely recommended.  As it turned out, when we looked at the catalog, not only was the Reflector available, but there was also a "Guv'nor Plus" (GV-2), and both were far, far cheaper than I'd expected.  I did the logical thing:  I ordered them both.  And now I've used both.

The Guvnor Plus is fun.  It's apparently designed to produce a sound similar to the JCM-2000 amp and even includes some of its special tone features.  All I know is that it can produce a nice, fat, hard-distorted sound which isn't quite as compressed as what tends to come out of the BOSS (MT-2) Metal Zone pedal (which I have, and which is still a good pedal).  In other words, there's a bit more tonal integrity.  To be fair to Boss, however, both pedals offer a wide range of tone colorings, and I prefer BOSS's switch.  (The Guvnor also weighs a ton even though it and the Boss pedal are about the same size!)  I can't say I've really run the pedal through its paces yet, however, so I can't yet give it a reliable judgment.

Speaking of reliability, next I'll talk about the Reflector.  I made the (stupid) mistake of looking at online user reviews after I'd already ordered it.  Professional reviewers have been unanimous in their praise of the Reflector, and rightly so.  It is a wonderful piece of equipment in terms of capability.  Reliability is another story.  There have been an awful lot of complaints about it suddenly malfunctioning or even conking out, sometimes after only a few days of use.  One guy apparently had his die on him completely after only an hour.  Whether it's a flaw in the digital programming or a mechanical failure of some kind, Marshall doesn't seem to be willing to acknowledge the problem.  People who have sent their ailing Reflectors back to the manufacturer have tended to get them right back again with a note saying, "We can find no evidence of a defect, so no repair or refund."  Well, I've used my Reflector, and it does sound excellent...but I ran into some problems very quickly.  The first time I practiced with it before recording a track I started getting telltale hints of digital distortion (a commonly-reported symptom of the malfunction), but when I dialed the level down and back up again it cleared up and worked fine.  A few days later I practiced and prepared to record another track, and the same thing happened.  This time I fixed it by quickly unplugging and re-plugging the input daisy chain cord.  It worked fine after that.  (Recently I've looked on online forums, and pros are generally recommending the same thing:  disconnecting and reconnecting the Reflector usually fixes it, which makes me wonder if maybe the problem is static buildup or something.)  The bottom line is that this is a wonderful piece of hardware for studio recording, but it would be problematic onstage.  Marshall would do well to try to figure out what's causing the problem and fix it before this becomes a blight on the company's reputation.  Besides, I really do like this thing, and I intend to use it!

Hopefully I'll have a new tune or two to share soon.


  • I have some pedals too inclucing the Metal Zone distortion, which was about the best I could do with out a tube amp. However, instead of pedals, I have mostly used rack mounted modular effects. This can be a problem if you want to shut an effect off but I generally don't change them that much.

    The first rack is an Aphex Aural Exciter. Next, a compressor limiter, a reverb multiple effects processor, and finally an equalizer.

    Generally, only the EQ is needed , however, sometimes I set up a suboctave circuit. This basically makes the guitar sound really deep and bassy.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 3:16 PM  

  • DaveI mothballed my few rack-mounted effects (Alexis MIDIverb, Aphex (I think) compressor/limiter, Yamaha reverb, Yamaha guitar processor) when I switched to the Sonic Cell and Sonar setup. Both the Sonic Cell and Sonar include scads of built-in effects, so I didn't see the need to have the racks continue taking up space. I'm not sure I'm satisfied with Sonar's reverb "units", however, so I may put something back.

    I ask again: have you ever really done ANYTHING with all that gear of yours?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 4:00 PM  

  • Speaking of esoterica, I'm afraid I got lost among the pedals and amps and tones, but I get that you are excited about a new area of your music -- a welcome relief from the stresses of your daughter's decision and the disruptive invader that you and Maestro Ogawa rightfully rebuffed!

    Sorry, that was rather a long run-on.

    Meanwhile, I'm envying your 17C as we are headed for twice that today. And since I work in a mostly industrial area with mostly concrete and asphalt, the temps will likely reach 40C.

    Roomie, whom you visited recently on her post about Minou, is learning to use some sound software: ProTools, Audition, and Garage Band and is enjoying learning about making music electronically.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 1:14 AM  

  • As you may remember, my husband is a musician. Our daughter played trumpet in elementary school and junior high school and was pretty good at it. When she entered senior high, she suddenly dropped it and turned to journalism, eventually becoming the editor of the school paper. When she dropped music, my husband was very disappointed. But believe it or not, some eight years later, she's picked up the fiddle.

    By Blogger San, at 8:07 AM  

  • NikkipolaniSorry I got on an esoteric musician's rant...

    I've been visiting your blog and read about the insane heat you've been getting there recently. Meanwhile, San down in Santa Fe (New Mexico) got snowed on! Olivia over in D.C. got rained on! And over here our temperature keeps bouncing up and down like a yo-yo!

    I'm not familiar with Garage Band or Audition, but Pro Tools is quite famous. It's a bit more expensive and probably better than what I'm using (Edirol/Cakewalk Sonar 7).

    SanThanks for sharing. It's hard to predict the way things will turn out.

    My daughter is still pestering me about music. She says she wants to join the Kashima Philharmonic even though she doesn't play any orchestral instruments yet! (She says she wants to learn as she goes...which I'd call impossible under the circumstances.) Either that or she wants to take lessons in either violin or clarinet. There aren't any teachers near where we live, so the only option I could think of is to have her take violin lessons at Maestro Ogawa's house or take clarinet lessons from me.

    It still rankles to be given something of an indirect guilt trip by the band director of her school, however. They were really counting on my daughter joining, and her suddenly not doing so has put them in a bind (rather than a band)(Ar!).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:16 AM  

  • As I have found out independently, kids often telegraph one set of desires while having another. You are probably going to have to accept the setback, but realize that in this world of distractions, you need to point out reality over and over and teach independence over and over.

    I can't say we are a big success, but we question our daughter continually about whether her choices have any lasting value. We don't force her to do other things, but when she chooses, she at least gets a dissenting opinion when we feel she is going against good judgment and/or hides from responsibilities she should be growing into.

    Hopefully we hear the effects of those effects soon on Los Guitarras.

    I don't remember Dave signing anything saying he had an obligation to produce music because he owned musical equipment. Sometimes it is just a way of getting away from a less than rewarding work-a-day job.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:08 PM  

  • Snabudon -

    Yeah, you've got a headstart on me with this "parent of teen" thing, so I'm sure you've got a mountain of useful advice for me.

    I don't remember Dave signing anything saying he had an obligation to produce music because he owned musical equipment. Sometimes it is just a way of getting away from a less than rewarding work-a-day job.You're right, of course. But that doesn't necessarily justify the way he keeps trying to portray himself as an authority on the subject and talk down to me as if I were a total rookie (especially since, unlike him, I actually have experience working with professionals onstage and in the studio). Plus, since he really has gone to so much time, trouble, and effort, it's a shame and a waste for him not to have something to show for it! I for one would like to hear what he has come up with! I mean...a rack-mounted Aphex Aural Exciter? Bring it on, man!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:54 PM  

  • Sorry, Dave, the BOSS heavy distortion pedal I have is the Metal Zone, just like yours. I got confused because an older version of the same pedal was called "American Metal", and that's what I was looking for when I bought it.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:52 PM  

  • I don't have any authority, I just like arguing technical minutia. In fact, I have a song I have been farting around with, but my imagination keeps generating musical passages I can't actually play. And, its going to be a loud tune which would annoy the neighbors. But finally, it has lyrics, which, if you remember I had some difficulty singing. So until I get up the courage, you'll just have to wait.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 11:19 PM  

  • Dave-
    I hate it when that happens! Well, I hope you'll have something done sometime soon.

    I don't claim to be an expert, far from it in fact. You probably know a lot more than I do about rack-mounted effects, for example, since I haven't worked with them much. However, that comment of yours a few posts ago that my amp is "obviously transistor-based" (because I intentionally used a "dirty" sound) followed by a patronizing lecture about tube amps and how to record them would be the equivalent of me saying, "Your truck obviously has an automatic transmission," and then explaining what a manual transmission is together with a "There is a third pedal on the floor known as a 'clutch', which you push when you shift," level of description. I think you would be irritated by something like that. I most certainly was.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:10 PM  

  • friends, especially controlling ones, can have a big influence in our lives... crazy how it starts sooo young and continues on thru adulthood, sometimes.

    your daughter may regret her decision later... but she may not. maybe she'll decide that she likes sports better.

    looking back... i wish i had studied music. my cousin took piano lessons and my aunt was always pressing her - she hated it - and later stopped playing altogether.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 4:40 AM  

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