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17 February 2006 to 28 January 2006
I have just finished my second week of unemployment, and so might have expected by now to be able to say something about how that feels.  

For the first week, it felt a lot like working. Actually, it felt busier than working, for reasons that were pretty simple to identify. For the last year or so, my work has been following information-technology trends, learning as much as I could about every strange new acronym or product idea or standard, and staring into the middle distance trying to figure out what I thought it all was likely to amount to. You might protest that this does not sound like what most people mean by "work", in that its unproductiveness does not appear to be accomplished with quite enough mindless tedium or deliberately self-deluding idiocy. But it takes a lot of time and thought to do properly, and the last part is difficult.  

The truth, however, is that I was more or less going to do that stuff anyway. Possibly laying me off was thus actually an act of supreme cleverness on the part of my bosses, realizing that I was going to keep doing my job even if they stopped paying me for it. You might think that it kind of makes a difference whether I'm doing this stuff for them or me, but you would be wrong, since I more or less did not report my hypotheses to anybody. Left to my own I'll publish them here, anyway, where they will be far easier to find then they would be in any internal document repository (and, um, I worked for a document repositorifying company...).  

For the first week, then, I was still doing that job, and doing the easily full-time job of writing a new resume, organizing my contact list, sending out a lot of "Hey, now I'm really back in the market for interesting opportunities..." emails, and conducting a crash analysis of job-posting sites and the available tools for dealing with them. By the end of week one I had written no new songs, read less than .2 of a book, watched 3 movies and a soccer game, and, admittedly, spent a very satisfying amount of time trying to see if I could actually annoy our kittens more than they could annoy me. And I was still unemployed, but had one three phone interviews and one in person, and lined up one vaguely possible contracting gig and one more-likely one.  

Week two was a significant improvement. I followed up on a variety of work leads from week one, but spent relatively little time doing that. Instead I wrote two songs, did a remix, finished Gene Wolfe's Book of the Short Sun, spent a while pounding on my friend Pito's RSS reader BlogBridge and sending meddlesome UI suggestions, watched some more movies and some inexplicably compelling Olympic curling, and napped with the cats. That felt much more like unemployment.  

I originally intended my first unemployed act to be drawing up a master plan for my use of my unemployed time. That still seems like a pretty good idea, but I haven't done it yet, and maybe I'll do it next week but maybe I won't. This is my first unemployed period since college, and I want to find out what happens when my brain actually absorbs the idea that inertia is not going to drag me anywhere. Getting a new job might be a perfectly good idea. But there are other ideas, and some of them would require me to be the sort of person who doesn't immediately fill the smallest empty space in his time with lists of how it should be reloaded.
It took me an extra day, much of which was spent being completely incapable of singing it at its original slower tempo, and then chewing through a small pile of CDs making infinitesimally different masters, but here is my valiant Valentine's song for my amazing wife Bethany, with, I hope, enough love to make up for the weird way in which it sounds like Bruce Hornsby asphyxiating in a storm drain.  

To Nevada From Japan
The NIN rebuild was done entirely in GarageBand, starting from Trent's files and using only cut/copy/paste/move, pitch-shifting and a little extra effects-processing.  

GarageBand is sleek, but barely adequate for even this crude project. Its current fatal limitation for my own music is that it doesn't do any kind of MIDI out, and thus can't drive external MIDI devices. It's cool that it has its own software instruments, but they're toy sounds compared to my Korg Triton, which I have no interest in reducing to a glorified keyboard controller.  

I unloaded a lot of my old random bits of music gear in the big object-purge when Beth moved in, so my setup is now pretty simple: the Triton, a Tascam 788 hard-drive recorder, a guitar, a big guitar multi-effects board, a fretless bass, some microphones, and a pair of Mackie powered monitors. I didn't use the guitar or bass on the new song, so everything other than my voice came from the Triton.  

There are five different loops on the drum track, mostly played by hand and then touched up in the event editor. I initially played the piano riff by hand, but couldn't get it to be legato enough, so I ended up transcribing it and then recreating it note by note in step-record. The Triton has a great dual-programmable arpeggiator, so for the burbly bass-line I step-recorded a custom arpeggiator pattern and then played the trigger notes in real-time. Or, more precisely, I first tried to play this on my real bass, but it made my hand bleed, so I slowed down what I was doing and then recreated an even faster version in the arpeggiator. I think everything else I just played by hand, the most complicated bit being some weird ghost noises in the quiet parts that required the ribbon controller and joystick. Another advantage to sequencing this stuff instead of recording it as audio, obviously, is that you can do all the punching in and out you want without any risk of stop/start artifacts, which saves a lot of time in a song like this where most of the individual parts come in and out a lot. All the mixing and effects-processing for the instrument parts were done in the Triton, too. I think in the end I used nine sequencer tracks and nine different synth programs, but I'm not sure what maximum note-polyphony I hit at any one moment.  

All the Triton stuff was originally done with internal sync, to cut down on button-pushing, but for the vocals the Triton was then slaved to external MIDI sync from the 788. The switch could have been essentially transparent, except that I had insisted on using one drum-loop in 7/4, so I had to recreate a matching tempo-map on the 788.  

I then did vocal takes ad nauseam on the 788, switching among several recorder tracks to compare takes. I tried some "harmony" vocals, too, which sounded fabulously terrible, so in the end stuck to a single vocal track, from a single continuous take. The 788 has two multi-effects units of its own, so all the vocal processing was done there: EQ, compression, de-essing, some chorus, a little reverb. The Triton was slaved to the 788 all the way to the final mixdown, so the instrument parts didn't go through any extra generations, and more significantly, remained in fully-editable sequence form even after the vocals were recorded.  

The combination of the storm and Beth being away resulted in my violating one cardinal rule of recording in this process. When I went to do the vocals I realized that I'd purged not only my one bedraggled pair of closed-ear headphones, but all my 1/4"-to-1/8" headphone adapters, and thus I couldn't even use my iPod earbuds for monitoring. So I did the vocals with the music actually playing in the room, me facing towards the monitors and the microphone facing away. The directional pattern of the microphone (an Audio-Technica Midnight Blues) turns out to be excellent, and produced almost no audible bleed-through even when soloing the vocal track.  

Mastered to CD-R on the 788, trimmed and normalized in Sound Studio on the Mac, converted to mp3 in iTunes.  

There's not much else to say about the compositional process, such as it was. I did most of the drums first, including a little bit of diagramming on paper and a bunch of just pounding on keys. Once I had the loops I went back to paper to figure out a tentative song-structure, sequenced that, and then fiddled with it until it seemed workable. The deepest original philosophical premise for the music was that it be 3:20 long, which I revised to 2:57 because one section felt tedious and I couldn't think of a way to fix it. The rest of the instruments were overlaid on the drums one at a time, with a fairly small amount of iteration since there aren't actually that many places in the song where there's a lot going on at once.  

For the vocals I started with nonsense lyrics to work out the melody and meter. Possibly I ended up with some nonsense lyrics in the finished piece, too, but at least they're different than the nonsense lyrics I began with. Sometimes I already have a story in mind before writing anything, but in this case all I had was one word ("Tantalizer"), so it took several drafts before anything even vaguely coherent materialized, and although I know what I think the thing ended up being about, I can't really explain why it ended up being about that.  

I always think I could get better melodies if I figured them out on the keyboard instead of just improvising them by singing, but when I try to do that I come up with notes I want to sing but can't, which is unhelpful. Some vocal lessons would increase my options, but then so would virtually any kind of music training, production discipline, writing forethought, etc. But as the last long silence testifies, I have a much bigger problem finding the time and emotional space to make any music, and it's pointless to worry about how bad your music is when you aren't making it.
There's little better for artistic perspective than seeing the internal mechanics of somebody else's creativity. The next thing on my music list after writing a new song myself was playing with the files Trent Reznor put up in GarageBand format a really long time ago.  

After a few hours of that, I don't feel quite so sheepish about "The Foreverists". I have no easy way of getting the multi-track sources out of my Triton and 788, so you'll have to trust me that piece by piece there's at least as much to my song as Trent's. It would be wildly foolish to judge a song by its soloed tracks, of course, and the ability to put simple pieces together evocatively is much different than the ability to simply stack them up. But as snowbound amusements go, smashing things apart and stacking up the bits to look like different monsters isn't bad.  

Will You Stay (rebuilt by glenn mcdonald from Nine Inch Nails' "The Hand That Feeds") (1.1M mp3)
OK, apparently the necessary conditions for me to make music are that Bethany is going to be away on Valentine's Day, and I am snowed in.  

This one probably won't qualify as a valentine. I think it's a new low for me in compositional sophistication (when real composers talk about the "key of D", they don't mean just the note D), and the lyrics came out in some bizarre evangelical earnestness I won't bother trying to justify. The original idea was to write a dance track called "The Tantalizer", for reasons that now escape me. As usual, my attempt to transcribe the shreds of music in my head into audible form were a laughable failure, and this sounds absolutely nothing like what I began by humming. But the cats and I have been dancing around to it, and we got through the recording without them eating any of my equipment, or me dropping any of it on them, so I'm declaring moral victory.  

Anyway: The Foreverists.
Moki is of the strong opinion that Winged Migration is the greatest movie of all time.  

To be entirely fair, Moki is rather young, and as far as I know the only other movies he has ever seen are The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Hellboy, Rashomon, Spy Kids, Dinner Rush, Kind Hearts and Coronets, No Such Thing, Turn and Picnic. I'm not sure I agree that Winged Migration is clearly the best of these, but it's certainly in the top five. Plus, I myself thought the greatest movie of all time was Capricorn One until a rather embarrassingly older age.  

Luna tends to keep her opinions to herself, but she wandered off more than once during Hellboy, and seemed comparatively intent on Kind Hearts and Coronets, so in this as in many other things she shows signs of a quiet classicism.
This morning I turned in my badge, and I'm now neither required to turn up at the office nor, indeed, allowed to. Barring wholly unanticipated developments on Monday, this will be the first time in my entire working life that I've had more than a long weekend between one job and the next.  

I do not know what I will do next. I do not know what I want to do, maybe not even the shape of it. Obviously I have some lists to make, starting with the list of lists.  

But not yet. Tonight I am adrift. Tonight I have been released from abandoned loyalties and memories of good work long ago. Time to rest.  

And then time to start over.
My yearly statistical service to the music-critic community is up, with numbers just re-done this morning to take into account some corrections in the source data.
Here's how bad the spam problem has become: my kittens are getting spam.
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