Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The End of the Year of the Box

It's March, and the 2012-2013 fiscal/school year is drawing to a close.  Although there has been nothing like the tectonic apocalypse that marked the end of the 2010-2011 school year (at least so far), this has indeed been a very eventful one.  Actually, during the New Year celebrations last year, my omikuji (fortune drawn at a shrine or temple) said that 2012 would start out very badly but then get a lot better.  It also told me that God (or the gods, depending on your point of view) had my back.  I'd say it was very accurate.  For both good and bad reasons, I will remember 2012-2013 as the Year of the Box.

Pt. I  The Bad?

I'm sure my more loyal readers will remember that, a year ago, I was in a state of near panic.  Ye Olde Academy was undergoing a number of program changes for the upcoming new school year, all in accordance with the school's new vision, and it looked like I'd become a casualty.  Almost all of my most important roles, ones I'd worked hard at for years, had been either eliminated, given to someone else without prior warning, or stripped down and marginalized.   On the other hand, I'd also (again without much prior warning) been assigned to new roles I didn't really feel suited for...and I wasn't made to feel very welcome in them.  For all practical purposes, it seemed like I'd been "boxed" (to borrow a term from the rebooted Battlestar Galactica even though I've never seen it).  Even more troubling was the sudden news that they were hiring another, "highly recommended" American teacher, and that he was to train in all my former roles...including the ones I was still doing!  (He wound up not taking the job.)

As the year went on, there were even more aggravating developments.  The powers that be took every opportunity to talk publicly about the "revolutionary" year 7 English program.  However, a lot of the things taht were being boasted about as "new" were actually things I'd already been doing in my 7th grade course for the better part of a decade.  In short, my contribution had been completely ignored, and now its reincarnated form was being advertised as someone else's brilliant idea.  As if that weren't bad enough, there were a few occasions during the year when something was suddenly dumped on me with little or no warning, and I found myself having to juggle something that already seemed doomed to fail while everyone else bolted, leaving me holding the wreckage...and the blame.  I have to admit I was seriously wondering if I were being set up by people intentionally trying to wreck my reputation.

And yet, amazingly enough, everything worked out okay., it didn't.  It worked out EXCELLENTLY.  Although some situations have yet to be fully resolved, at least enough has happened to make me feel not quite so depressed.  For another thing, the new and not very promising year 8 course I was asked to make this year wound up being a surprising that even earned praise from outside the school.  Even better, although I wasn't able to solve all of those disasters that had been suddenly dumped at my feet, much if not most of the time I was somehow able to pull a rabbit out of my hat in the nick of time and come away with something unexpectedly good.  If people really were trying to humiliate me and destroy my image, they wound up doing quite the opposite; the box they tried to put me in apparently wasn't big enough.

Yes, the year started out bleak, but it got a whole lot better...just like the omikuji said.  I guess someone up there really does have my back.

Incidentally, my omikuji for this year said more or less the same thing...and I'm bracing for it.

Pt. II:  The Good?

Speaking of boxes, I bought a lot of them last year.  It seems to have been the peak of the recent overhaul of my music rig.  By the time December of 2012 was done, I had added to my collection 1 guitar, (an Epiphone Dot Studio hollowbody electric, purchased used,) a few good guitar cables, a few analog amp emulators, all manner of reeds and picks, and of course pedals.  LOTS of pedals.  I think I must have picked up around two dozen of them last year.  That included used pedals as well as new, and cheap off-the-shelf pedals as well as slightly pricey boutique types.  I won't try to talk about all of them here, but here are some highlights:

Most Valuable Pedal for Rhythm Guitar - That would probably be the Devi Ever Hyperion fuzz (a limited-edition Japanese design the Sorceress of Fuzz actually consulted my opinion on before selling). It's a damned good Muff-style fuzz with a lot of character despite its low cost and simplicity.  I've mainly been using it for rhythm and incidental work, though it can be used convincingly for lead, too.
Most Valuable Pedal for Lead Guitar -  I bought my Barber Trifecta fuzz specifically for lead work in April of last year.  I'd been eyeballing it for some time, and it does not disappoint.  Later in the year I finally broke down and bought an Earthquaker Devices Dream Crusher germanium fuzz to give me a kinder and gentler alternative.  Both of these fuzzes are very musical.
Most Valuable Pedal for Making Cool Noises - That would be the Earthquaker Devices Organizer.  It combines octave, delay, and chorus effects to produce a pipe-organ sound when everything is activated.  Of course, those individual effects can also be used separately to some extent.  When I first saw a demo video for this, I knew I had to have one, and I've used it in a number of different ways.
Most Valuable Pedal That Has Changed the Way I Do Things - My old Boss CS-2 compression/sustainer began to show its age, so I set out to get a new compressor pedal.  I wound up being torn between the versatile coolness that is the Guytone STm5 and the vintage goodness of the MXR Dyna I bought both.  Compressors were another class of effect I didn't use much before even though I had that very capable CS-2.  These things just add a whole new dimension.
Most Surprising Pedal Purchase - Behringer pedals are so cheap and toylike that they get plenty of scorn thrown their way.  Actually, all of them are clones of famous brand-name items, so even despite the cheap plastic boxes and iffy controls, there's nothing at all wrong with the electronics inside.  I grabbed a Behringer RV600 Reverb Machine for pocket change just out of sheer impulse...and it has proven extremely useful.  It is apparently a clone of the Line 6 Verbzilla that gives you pretty much all of the latter's capabilities for about one sixth the price.  Who cares if it's made of plastic?
Most Iffy Pedal Purchase - In one of the local second-hand stores, I stumbled on an Albit Cranetortoise HM-1 "Hebi Metaru"(The name is a play on "heavy metal" and the Japanese word for snake, hebi.)  Albit is a Japanese boutique pedal maker, and the pedal's graphics were extremely cool, so I went ahead and got it.  It had velcro attached to its bottom, so it was obviously part of someone's pedal board.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.  If its 2-position gain range switch is set to "crunch" mode (or heavy metal "off"), it has a very clean and transparent sound with only a little, Tubescreamer-like overdrive at high settings.  In "heavy metal" mode, the pedal sounds like a cross between a high-gain distortion and a fuzz box.  It's unique...and kind of strange.  I intend to play with it more and hopefully get to know it better, but for now I'm just not sure.

There were quite a few others, too, and I've been using them all.  These boxes of joy have certainly helped me when I thought I was being forced into a box of obsolescence.

Let's see what 2013 has in store!


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