Rick's Rap - January 2003
Eric had booked jobs with his other band on both new year's eve, and then again on the afternoon of new year's day. Unfortunately his guitar player had a last minute problem with new year's day, and I covered for him. The job went well except for the weather. When it was time to load out, it was raining heavily. We tried waiting it out for about an hour, hoping for a break, but to no avail. We got thoroughly soaked and chilled loading up the vehicles.
Played our first Lounge Lizards gig at the Wheaton American Legion. There were a few technical difficulties, and the performance was a little rough in spots, but overall it went pretty well. We opened the last set with a dead medley that was surprisingly well received. I doubt that anyone in the audience had ever heard any of the material before, but it got 'em up and dancing. My guess is they showed up that night with the intent to party, and they weren't going to let something like unfamiliar tunes get in their way.
Something I've wanted to do for quite a while now, is come up with a practical system for routinely making decent quality live performance tapes. I've discovered that boom boxes with built in mics, or stereo cassette recorders with two external mics, can indeed make some fine recordings, but the results are not consistent. Room dynamincs are a major factor, and of course they vary with each particular set up. Mic placement is critical, and may vary during the evening due to changing crowd density and background noise. In addition, the limited dynamic range of cassette recorders mandates that someone has to be monitoring the record levels pretty much continuously.
The need for continuous monitoring, and accomodating the varying dynamics, can be alleviated somewhat by using a 4 track cassette recorder with one track dedicated to the vocals, and the other three tracks for floor mics located at stage left, stage middle, and stage right. Then if each track's record level is set low enough that nothing ever clips, the tape can be pretty much left running unattended for the entire set, and the tape can be mixed down to a pretty decent mono recording at a later time. And therein lies the rub. The post performance mastering is so time and attention consuming, that it tends to not get done, and what you wind up with is a pile of un-mastered multi-track tapes, that you eventually lose track of, and interest in.
Experimenting with ways to facilitate this process, Barb and I have been digitizing a rough stereo mix of the cassette tracks onto the hard drive of our pc, where we use scriptable audio processing software to perform automated fine tune mastering to mono tracks, which we burn to a cd. This has been a major improvement, but it too has some drawbacks.
Barb and I have been bouncing ideas off of each other, and kind of drew up a spec list for live recording setup:
So we get this flyer for The Guitar Center which I'm about to throw away, and Barb notices they've got a Mackie sdr24/96, rack mountable, 24 track, digital hard drive, recorder on sale for considerably less than anything else we've been able to find. I downloaded the operators manual and assured myself that it would do what we want. Then I did some web surfing to come up with an estimate of the cost of the required peripheral equipment, and the amount of work necessary to assemble it all. We tossed all this around for a while, and decided What the hell? Let's go for it and hope for the best. Barb called the store, verified that they had it in stock, and bought it.
Lounge Lizards job 2. Back at the Wheaton AL a week later.Rick's take on things:
During the 1st break Eric told me that since I was finding a bass player to try out Sunday, I should tell him that he will have to leave early so we can talk about him. I wasn't feeling all that great about the 1st set, so although I agreed, I believe I did so in the midst of making some surly comment.
01/12/03 - Practice 9 ...
The bass player
During the 1st week of November, Barb and I were setting at a local bar, quaffing various forms of tequila, and chatting idly about Jerry, the Dead, and the upcoming DSO show at the State Theatre. Some young guy (I've reached an age where anybody under 30 looks like they're about 17) trying to crowd up to the bar to order a couple of drinks to take back to his table, spontaneously joined in the conversation. Now in some social circles, such a thing might be considered impolite, but amongst deadheads not only is it polite, but failure to join in might rightly be considered rude, or at the very least an affront to the cosmic consciousness.
So we chatted for a while about this, that, and the other thing, and at some point Barb mentioned that I was seminally at the point of attempting to resurrect an old dead clone bar band. He mentioned that he felt that was indeed a laudable past-time, and that his name was Justin, and that he himself was a musician. I said that if things go roughly according to plan we would be looking for a bass player after new years, and did he perchance play bass, and if so would he be interested? He said sure to both, and so we exchanged e-mail addresses. I took this as an example of synchronicity, and a good sign that things boded well for the once and future Rock Creek Band.
A couple of days after the 2nd AL job I emailed Justin and extended an invitation for him to show up at Eric's on Sunday. When he got there, it seems that Bob had been fooling around with Gommorah, a Jerry tune (from Cats Under The Stars) that none of the rest of us had ever heard, let alone knew how to play, so we naturally kicked off with that, and then just ran through a string of other Dead tunes without giving him a chance to do anything except play along. Then per my previous agreement with Eric, I asked him to leave so we could talk about him behind his back.
We all liked him, and liked the way he played, and agreed that he should be in the band. I, in fact, think that he's just what we need to round us out both with respect to music and psychic energy. Synchronicity is just not something to mess around with.
When I got home I sent him an email saying that if he wants the job he's got it. He replied that he wants it.
Onward with building the tape setup ...
According to the Mackie operators manual, easily transferring the individual tracks from the recorder to the pc requires either Windows XP or Windows 2000 on the pc, and we're running Windows 98. We decided that we would isolate our normal household activities from our band stuff by installing another hard drive, which we will dedicate exclusively to audio processing, on the pc. The plan is to install Windows 2000 on the 2nd drive and access it via dual boot. We ordered a hard drive, and Barb said As long as we're taking the cover off, we might as well get more memory, so we ordered that too.
After some thought, we decided that 8 tracks would be a good starting point for the recording setup. That'll give us 5 individual vocals, and ensemble stage left, middle, and right. I spent several days cruising the web looking for the best prices on the various cables, adaptors, and connectors required, and ordered them. After we get them, and after the pc is appropriately modified, we can check out the basic recorder, and then (if it still seems like a reasonable idea) continue assembling the road gear.
Bob just reminded me that the tune we kicked off with was Fennario, not Gommorah. What's worrying me here is not that I forgot Fennario, but why did I think of Gommorah? It's not a tune I'm familiar with. Have I progressed from sporatic forgetfullness into random hallucinations?
Eric called just before rehearsal and said Justin couldn't make practice. We bagged it, and rescheduled for the 25th. This upset Doc, and we agreed not to make unilateral decisions about practice schedules again.
The pc hard drive and memory, and all the ancillary cables, connectors, etc., for the recorder, have been delivered. We installed the hard drive and the memory, and checked that the bios recognizes them correctly. Hopefully, next weekend we can start figuring out how to do the dual boot configuration.
Eric called and said he has booked us for a Dead gig, at the Out Of The Way Cafe in Redland, on the 10th of May. So before then, all we have to do, is come up with a flyer, and, oh yeah, 4 sets of material.
Justin sent me an e-mail, and said he has to work on the 25th, but he thinks he can get to reheasal by 3:30.
So right now I'm just sitting here waxing philosophically, and trying to decide what it is I like most about putting together a band. I think it's pretty much a toss up between the administrative stuff, and loading equipment in bad weather.
A couple of days ago, Barb pointed out to me that the e-mail link near the top of this page, only worked for people that have Outlook set up as their mail handler. I dropped the "mailto:" tag, and wrote my own message sender. It seems to work fine now, no matter what your mail handler is (in fact it works even if you don't have a mail handler). Note to the guys in the band: this is not the same e-mail address that we use for corresponding amongst ourselves about band business.
Yesterday we started our formal rehearsals as the Rock Creek Band with what will be our regular line up. It was kind of like a trip to the dentist. We just kept going over and over the material, trying to hook into some kind of a flow and catch it on tape well enough to be able to be useful as an individual practice aid later. Personally I got really discouraged early on, but as we just kept grinding away at it, there were glimmerings of some kind of a group consciousness tentatively emerging. Hopefully that will continue, and pick up speed. I've just posted the basement tapes from that session, and while they're not what I'd hoped they would be when we started, they're also not as abysmal as I felt like they were when we were in the process of making them.