Thursday, July 31, 2008

South Arapaho Peak Pt 2

This is the story of the second time I tried to climb South Arapaho Peak. The first time was discussed some while back and turned out to be a nice outing, but I made the mistake of taking directions from a random passerby who didn't know what he was taking about, and who put me on the wrong trail. The day was still interesting but I ran out of time before work and had to come back to Denver not having done the peak.

This time I did a bit more research first and figured out what was up. The goals of the trip were to make an attempt on Skywalker Couloir, and then make the traverse from South to North Arapaho.

An odd thing occurred however when I got to the fourth of July Trailhead late at night. There was an ambulance and a few official looking mountain rescue people standing around. I turns out two hikers had gotten lost and a search was sent out for them. Their story, and my comment on it, can be found here. They were found the next morning alive and ok, which was great to learn, but I didn't learn that till the night after this hike. That all cast a bit of dark, ominiousness over the trip!

I set off at sunrise

Mt Neva (peak on right) looked very pretty in the glowing alpine morning:

Most versions of the climb up skywalker from Summitpost make it look easy. All the photos they have show the couloir under conditions of heavy snow. Well by late July most of that snow had gone. What remained looked a lot steeper and less forgiving.

There was only about maybe 3 or 4 inches of snow on top and then pretty solid ice just beneath that. This made it less easy to stick into. You really had to hit your crampons in hard.

About half way up there were sections where the snow was gone:

A bit after that a pair of binoculars I had purchased from the Sports Authority decided that the nylon straps securing them to me ought to break. As a result of that particularly oppertune timing they fell and picked up a fast spin and probably made it several hundred feet down to the base of the peak. I last saw them spin up over a rock outcrop before they disappeared. After this climb I did meander down there to see if I could find them but I could not. So now I need to figure out how to get this warranty to work.

Maybe 65% of the way up to the top I decided that I didn't feel safe on this climb... the incline was very steep and with that little snow and that much exposure I decided to alter the route. I turned east and headed up a narrow rock gully to the summit. A lot of this rock was rotten and would fall apart of fall loose so proceeding was slow and careful. However it did feel a lot safer.

Finally I got to the top and was rewarded with a very beautiful view:

You could see all the Front Range peaks rather clearly, as well as all the way west to the Gore Range.

North Arapaho peak was right there:

And you could peer down into the very beautiful Arapaho glacier- which is one of the southern most glaciers in the US

The base of it had that beautiful blue glacier water color.

I started on the traverse but unfortuantely I felt compelled to stop and turn round... Heavy clouds were building and blowing in from the West; with rain just about to fall to the east. The traverse is only half a mile but it is very slow going due to the difficultly and steepness. I decided this was not the place to be if a storm came so I began the descent, this time down the much easier Arapaho Glacier trail.

Other observations were that there are A LOT of marmots here... I say maybe 15 or more all day. In one little area at the base of Skywalker I saw five marmots at once. They would stand on their hind legs and look up at you. There were also many smaller ground squirrels who would chirp loudly at passerbys.

Here's someone else much nicer looking pictures of South (left) and North (right) Arapaho peaks from the East:

Here's a page from NASA showing how much the glacier has retreated in the past 100 years due to global warming.

Well, it was a little frustrating to miss out on the highest peak in this wilderness for the second time, but it felt good to err on the side of safety... Getting back to Nederland was great though. I took a brief nap in the car in the parking lot of the grocery store and then called work to figure out whether or not I had to come it. It turns out I got the day off. It was starting to rain so I sat inside a small coffee shop made out of an old train car and drank some hot coffee, while wearing a jacket, and appreciating the cool, wet weather. It's been a bit of a heat wave in Denver lately so this felt really good!

Anyways... this climb was interesting for two other reasons... it sort of proved once more to me just how overrated '14er' climbing can be. So many of Colorado's peaks over 14,000 feet are very easy walkups. A lot of peaks under that height may have more interesting, and steeper, technical routes, which can make it a lot more of an accomplishment to get up.

Also, I've decided that while I do really dig tall mountains, I'm not as into the 'alpine' environment as some other environments. For whatever reason, desert mountains seem a lot more aesthetically pleasant to me. Fields of green and wildflowers emerging out of pine forests is nice and all... but the desert just seems a lot more interesting.... perhaps in a mysterious, menacing, and desolate sort of way. I need to spend more time in Utah or Nevada... or at least perhaps the western slope, or the Sangres...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Time of Innocence

Ever have one of those days where you feel like the crew in the Memphis Belle, and everything just keeps breaking.... and pretty soon you're just going to crash?

Well, I felt like that until Josh from AXS computers installed a new power supply in the desktop/music recording comp. I was then able to retrieve stuff I had written that was very very new and that I worried was lost forever.

One such track I just posted on the Savage Ideal site... It is called "A Time of Innocence", and it is about people who hide themselves in the past... often constructing their own, friendlier, idealized versions of it.

If you can, listen to it on decent speakers. There's a lot of stuff going on with the low end that you won't hear on your laptop.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Good Movie, a Bad Cinema, and a Great View

Work has been slow all month, due to the theatre not being open for July, as well as the fact that everyone's getting out of town enjoying their summer vacations. This is what I would be doing as well, if everything I own that is expensive or electronic didn't decide to break on me at the same time. This means I can't get out of town as much as I'd like, and it is a long, slow journey to fix things...

Generally I show up, get the place set up, and then just retire to my office to read for a few hours until I get sent home. Some of my coworkers are a little more productive I guess, and take better advantage of the oppertunities afforded by their environment.

We had some 'real' musicians come by and that gave us a little business. Can you imagine, musicians, staying at a 5 star hotel, and ordering nice food? Crazy.... I guess not everyone tours with a tent and a camping stove!

My friend Alexis from Trashwire got tickets to see a screening of Step Brothers

So we drove all the way out to the suburbian project of "Belmar" to a megaplex. This is one of these places that anywhere else would have been the final, terminal stage of gentrification, except it wasn't gentrified. The land was all just prarie out in Lakewood and then they just put up a big neighboorhood, all planned out from top to bottom, with the requisite outlets, starbuck's, etc... It's the kind of place you've been to before and then driven by again a year later and it's completely changed, seemingly overnight.

You can learn more about this place under "MASTER PLANNING AND MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENTS" here.

You know the scene in Star Trek IV where the Klingon ship is cloaked in the middle of the park? I think these kind of neighborhoods have that kinda planning going on. All of a sudden, they flip a switch and an entire community is right there in front of you, and it's just too late for you to do anything about it.

"Atlantic Station" (Do you want to live in a neighborhood whose official, marketing website is the first search result in google?) in Atlanta is a lot like that too.... but that place probably has more in the way of traffic congestion and egregious, in-your-face yuppiedom. Anyway, both places have a big theatre you have to drive out to for premieres, against perhaps both your better judgement and ecological sensibilities.

They made us wait in this line:

And then told us that they had given out too many tickets and there was not enough seats for the approximately 35 people waiting in line. The fact that my friend is an official film critic there to review the film did not get her in. The member of the Century 16 Belmar cinema staff who was guarding the end of the line smiled and laughed this off. When I asked if the theatre would pay for the gas we wasted driving all the way out there he jokingly said, "Well, they don't pay for my gas either!" The difference, of being invited by a theatre to attend a premire, and choosing said theatre as a place of regular employment, was lost...

All i have to say about that is that it's a pretty damn good thing we at least still have Star Trek to point the way forward through these dark times.

If you would like to Take Action to help put an end to the environmentally destructive practice of large theatres wasting your gasoline and time by giving out more free tickets to screenings than the theatre has seats for, please join me in calling the managment of the Century 16 Belmar Theatre at (303) 935-3456 and ask them to change their ways. Alternately, you can write them a letter and send it to:

Century 16 Belmar
440 S. Teller St.
Lakewood, CO 80226

So instead of seeing this poorly organized movie, we drove to the headquarters/Starz Theatre of the Denver Film Society at the Auraria Campus, and saw John Cusack's powerful and moving new film, "War, INC". I'd write a review of it, but someone else already did so I don't have to. However, you should make a point to see this film, and take someone with you.

This is also pretty ironic- while setting up the room to feed the party of chiropractors, I sustained a minor injury to the groin area from heavy lifting of tables. I did that before about a year ago carrying a giant thing of silver and I got some pain killers' for it from Wolf Blitzer's urologist. Well I still have some left and I've been eating them, which helps, but what sucks is that I have to 'take it easy' and not do too much excerise or running around outdoors for a while. With slow work, a hot summer, and cooler, beautiful mountains beckoning in the distance, this really blows.

However, with gas already being this high and repair bills piling up it's almost just as well.

One cool thing did get done though, before the incident with the groin... I went for a hike in the foothills off US-6 west of Golden and it was pretty and I could see very far.

I got the idea to climb a bigger foothill...

So I went to Golden Gate Canyon state park and did the coyote trail climb up to the top of Tremont Mtn. This isn't the most tall or challenging or whatever outdoor activity you can do with the Front Range but I think everyone who lives here should do it first before they do anything else. Here's why:

First, it's a nice hike, and a pretty park. The air smells good and there's an old moonshine distillery you walk past.

The trail gets steep and you have to climb to get up it

You can see pretty far in not too long. Here Mt Evans is the grey mountain on the left.

Near the top I went to go climb the summits. It was a bit fun and a little challenging.

I like doing this stuff near Denver because it helps me get in shape for when I really need it somewhere higher and further away. You climb up here near the top. It's steep near the summit cliffs and fun using your mind to figure it out:

I think mountain climbing, playing Tetris, or with Legos, are all great excercises for the mind. I highly reccomend them.

The top of Tremont has three different peaks of ascending height. This is from the top of the first (Southern) peak:

My plan here could now be implimented and it worked out great. From where I stood I could see the whole Front Range, from a dim outine of Pike's Peak way off in the distance, to Long's peak to the North. This view ecompassed most all the popular areas, and you could see from Mt Evans, to Gray's and Torrey's Peaks, to the James' Peak's and Indian Peak's Wildernesses, all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park.

I brought a map of the whole area, a compass, some binoculars, and a notepad and a pen.

For a mountaineering type person I think that here, not in any climbing guide, or online, is probably the best way to plan any hike in this area. From where I stood I instantly identified Torrey's East Face as one of the steepest and most interesting/challenging looking climbs. I saw the Dead Dog Couloir route (1, 2) and wrote it down, and studied the map to get directions to it. I might probably have never heard about this route otherwise. Also I could see the exciting climbing routes' on James' Peak, which I might otherwise have looked over, as a lot of great 13ers don't usually get enough recognition or publicity.

Mt Evan's too I could appreciate from the correct angle finally, as the view was of the traditional mountaineering route. This really helped it regain the proper place in my mind as a worthy climb that it otherwise tends to loose from all the hype surrounding the road up to its top.

Here's the panorama I took on a camera phone and put together in MS Paint. This is the first panorama I've ever tried to do and of course it's not perfect. The first images were taken where I'm sitting in the above picture and the last three images were taken from the second peak distant two images up (hence the different angles, and presence of more clouds). However, everything is aligned with the horizon so you do get the full image.

Click on the image to open it up in it's own window:

Here's the same image with a few labels of the different notable peaks you can see. I could easily identify Gray's and Torrey's visually and see their routes with binoculars but looking back at this slightly fuzzy cameraphone image now I'm less sure of which group it is.... whatever is highest between Evan's and James is it, so, somewhere in there.

That's that. If you like mountaineering and you live in the Denver area, do this hike and get some ideas!

Also, please note: yes, my camera isn't be best quality... but there's already so many great pictures of everything there is to take a picture of to be found online than it's really not quite necessary for me to invest in one. This page, for example, doesn't have the whole Front Range, but it has a lot, and the panorama it links to shows much better detail!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Democratic National Convention Protests Need Help

This is Jim's email. Jim is a local organizer with Alliance for Real Democracy, which I have also been working with the past two months.


Hi everyone,

As many of you know, for well over a year, I and countless others have been organizing the protests around the August 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. Many people have been asking me why I am protesting the Democrats as the belief is we need to do everything in our power to get them elected. Well, among many of the reasons I have for this, I can tell you I firmly believe history clearly shows us that if we want to see real progressive change in the United States and throughout the world, we must remain independent and speak truth to power. Thus, if we want to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, if we want environmental justice, if we want to challenge the racist criminal justice system, if we want to support immigrant rights, if we want equality for the LGBT community, if we want to truly support a woman's right to choose, and if we want to build real progressive social movements in the United States, then we must continuously challenge the Republicans and Democrats on their polices, or lack there of.

Therefore, come the middle of August I will be standing with and marching for real progressive change in our political system with a coalition of local and national organizations and activists called the Alliance For Real Democracy. This coalition represents some of the most powerful voices from Colorado and the nation, such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, CODEPINK, United for Peace and Justice, Veterans for Peace, Students for a Democratic Society, Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, the International Socialist Organization, Jobs with Justice and many others.

I hope if you can make it to Denver you will stand and march in solidarity with us. If you can not make it, I ask that you still help us build the event. The Alliance For Real Democracy is planning large-scale marches, innovative workshops, teach-ins, non-violent trainings and concerts featuring major musical acts. Of course it takes a lot of money to make an event of this magnitude successful. Therefore, we need to immediately raise as much money as possible. If you or someone you knows supports this exercise of free speech please go to

and use the chip in function on the front page to donate. If you would like to send a check, please send it to:

The Alliance for Real Democracy
P.O. Box 1156
Boulder, Colorado
80306, USA

(Checks made to Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice with ARD in the Memo)

And please remember what Frederick Douglass said in 1857:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will."

In Solidarity,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Case of Self-Delusion, Analytical Creativity

Near death experiences provide a rich appreciation of the powers of superstition. "There are no atheists in foxholes".

Well lately hasn't had too poingient near-death experiences, but there's been a bit of adversity and dealing with a lot of stuff breaking and work being slow. This has got me to think more about superstition, and how people get a need to look for a deeper meaning, such as the will of a divine entity, to give meaning to their personal lives.

For example, when the music computer, which has everything I've ever written musically on it decided not to power on anymore, that really bothered me. Especially because not everything on there is backed up- particularly the newer (and best) material. The last song written on there is probably one of my favorite songs I've ever written and it doesn't exist anywhere else except for that one hard drive.

It's at the shop now and I hope it can be salvaged. Maybe just a fuse burnt out... or maybe not!

Anyways, instead of blaming myself for not having a better paying job which would make it easier to pay to get things fixed, or instead of blaming myself for not having a better computer which never would have broken, I've decided to invent a sort of conscious musical zietgiest watching over and interacting with me. I've decided that I am being punished for hitting 'record' too many times and just improving, rather than writing parts out before hand and better planning songs initially. Now I am provided (though some would say, 'forced') an opportunity to take those bits of song ideas and actually tab them out, all the way, and practice them in their entirety, not just in their little half-formulated snippets. This will make recording a far richer experiance once it starts happening again.

It feels better, not to be alone in your music struggle, but when you have some conscious "fate" (what some would call, a god) watching over you. This gives you hope that maybe everything- including life and death- isn't just random, tragic, chance. Maybe it means, "Well, if only I do X, Y, and Z right, things will work out for me. Success or failure really is something I can control- it isn't just all random!"

Some would call this delusional, or self-deceit. But sometimes you need a little deceit. After all, we'd probably all be blown to kingdom come by the terrorists by now if George Bush didn't have the foresight to use deceit to get us into a war that we never would have supported had we been in full possession of the facts!

To use a more positive example, Ed Wood probably would never have finished directing all those movies he directed- which are now cult classics- if he had been really honest with himself about how things were going. Instead of conciously recognizing his lack of ability or resources, he kept trudging on, lying to himself, his wife, and his crews, that his "big break" was "just around the corner".

Unfortunately for Ed his subconscious got the better of him, and it slid him into a terminal decline of alcoholism. But that doesn't mean we can't appreciate his highly entertaining work no!

Well, I'm today advocating we not be afraid of a little self-delusion, or inflated hope, at times. If we only stuck to what's possible, and never really undertook big challenges that may or may not come through, we'd never get anywhere.

This isn't a veiled endorsement of Barak Obama, incidentally. For more on the self-delusion of voting for that guy, read this, or this, or this.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Antiwar vs Pro-Peace debate

During the organizing for the DNC protests here in Denver there's been a lot of practical and political debates between activists. These points I originally wrote as an email in a list serve debate over messaging. I think they're good points and I'm sharing them here with all of you.




The Antiwar vs Pro-Peace debate

How should the antiwar movement position it's messaging? Should be be as direct as possible, or is this "negative" and does it turn people off?

During the Vietnam antiwar movement, and in the contemporary movement against the war in Iraq, this has been an ongoing debate. Most notably it has revolved around whether or not we should say we are "Anti-war", or "for peace".

I think in order to stand out and really counter the euphemistic, fluff talk of so many politicians, we can't just say that we're "for peace". "Peace" is the double speak behind which militarists cloak their intentions. John McCain says he's for peace- he just thinks we have to kill all the "terrorists" first to get it. Barak Obama is also "for peace"- but he doesn't see that being contradicted by giving Israel $3 billion in military aid every year, or advocating that Jerusalem, where thousands of Palestinians live, ought to be the capital of Israel proper, or that we can't withdraw from Iraq to "hastily".

As if in any other burglary, property owners are concerned with using too much "haste" to arrest or expel the thief in their home! The same leaders of public opinion would castigate you as well with "withdrawing" too quickly after stepping on a nail. Surely, the flow of blood would follow! Better not to move, and remain impailed for a few more months!

From watching network TV, you'd hardly know a war was going on at all. According the editors of the big networks, in Iraq and Afganistan there are never any bodies, or blood, or buildings being blown up, or children with missing limbs, or dead American soldiers, or veterans with PTSD and substance abuse problems, or outraged protests of Iraqi civillians. Our job is to fight this censorship, and impatiently point out the fact that there actually IS a nasty, bloody, and terrifying war going on!

All the stalling crap (what else can you call it?) Democrats say about how "we can't leave *yet*", isn't undercut too well by just saying we're "for peace". After all, according to the advocates of the "surge" strategy, aren't our soldiers the ones keeping the peace in Iraq, and preventing all these violent Arabs from killing each other? Isn't it to "keep the peace", that Democrats don't want to "withdraw" too hastily?

What does really undercut the fluff is telling the truth plain like it is. If you haven't seen any of IVAW's Winter Soldier footage yet check it out ( ). It is incredibly moving, and cuts through the BS in a way that polite signs and gatherings of good will simply cannot.

For these reasons, I'm in favor of activists consciously employing "ANTI-WAR" messaging.


The Most Beautiful Place in America

After thurough investigation, I have decided that the most beautiful and interesting place in the United States is eastern Utah, just across the border from Colorado, Southwest from I-70 between the towns of Cisco and Moab.

Just a few miles into the utah border is the ghost town of Cisco. It's in the desert used to be a watering hole for train steam engines. Then there was some oil and natural gas but when that was mostly gone and the interstate past it the town was dead for good. But it's still got a lot of buildings and is a cool place to wander around.

The desert scenery looks like monument valley where the westerns were shot. It's similar but a little less well known.

Do an search for 'cisco utah' and 'castle valley utah'.

You can camp out on the banks of the colorado river and see river otters and red rock cliffs. There are also the strange natural arch formations there.

Also the La Sal mountains are right there and while they aren't alpine colorado 14ers they do go up to 12,700 feet and are fun, and not too deadly, to climb. Seeing them rise out of the desert with trees and snow caps is pretty awesome.

This is probably my favorite part of the entire united states and the most beautiful place in it that I have found. It's mostly desolate with just some rock climbers and mountain bikers around.

These are Camera phone pictures I took when I was last there in October 2007

Go to Utah.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hardware Manifesto

I was going through the inbox today and found this in a puddle:

"But I'm bothering to reply here because I was thinking that as a leftist you might want to consider that only with VSTs/plugins is there finally the possibility for everyone to write, record their own music. That's a good thing. And even though they don't quite sound as good (yet), as a leftist you using all that hardware is like hanging out at the country club all day playing golf. Personally I haven't bought hardware yet because I feel guilty that I can (finally) afford to when so many others can't. I'd much rather try to prove it can be done with free/cheap VSTs. That you only use hardware is fine. But maybe you should stop putting others down? You do come across as disgusted by people putting out what you consider to be inferior music. It comes across kind of ugly and elitist."

The person who wrote it is actually a cool person who does music... but the pointed attacks really fucking pissed me off for their ignorance.... after scars, after countless hours spent booking and driving and touring, countless wasted years at jobs I hate to make music possible... after living in a fucking car last month while working full time... and some internet guy who has never met me calls me the country club of golf of industrial music...

So I wrote a hardware manifesto and made it public. Because I couldn't have this inside of me. Had to get it out.

"Let us also not forget that the upper layer of the bourgeois third estate passed its cultural apprenticeship under the roof of feudal society; that while still within the womb of feudal society it surpassed the old ruling estates culturally and became the instigator of culture before it came into power. It is different with the proletariat..The proletariat is forced to take power before it has appropriated the fundamental elements of bourgeois culture... ‘Proletarian culture,’ “proletarian art,” etc., in five cases out of ten... represents a jumble of concepts and words out of which one can make neither head nor tail."

-L Trotsky

Did you ever read any of those debates (1, 2) about art in the first few years of the Russian revolution, specifically the 'proletarian culture' movement perhaps? This email reminds me of that... Basically, even though the first few years of the Russian Revolution coincided with civil war, intervention, blockade, and economic collapse, there was the space for some interesting artistic developments and theorizing.

Basically, there were people who said it's now time for 'proletarian art'... we've taken over the publishers and now can distribute the works of workers, not just the well to do writers of the preceding ruling classes. Some of the work they got out was interesting and very origional. But a lot of it wasn't too great. Just because someone is a worker, though they may have had interesting life experiences and perspectives, it doesn't mean they're inherently any better at expressing themselves than anyone else. In fact material reality stacks the cards starkly against this. The representatives of the former ruling classes had years of education, leisure time, and access to universities; during which they were able to assimilate and reflect upon the past artistic, literary, and scientific achievements of all preceding generations. They had years of writing essays and articles and teacher, peer, and professional review to hone in on their styles. Pushkin didn't write better than, say, the guy at Burger King taking your order, because God necessarily enamored him with better genetics. If Pushkin had to work at Burger King to keep a roof over his head he probably wouldn't have had the access to those influences which really opened up and began his writing career at all...

A materialist analysis recognizes that not because of any racial or genetic or otherwise unalterable difference, but because of a class difference (i.e., poor education and having to work long hours and having to privately deal with child raising which makes extra time for art or reading difficult), many new worker-writers approached the publishers with many less than stellar works. Some wished to ignore this and simply romanticized the various gnarled, dry, acidic fruits of such disadvantaged would be writers (not that there weren't of course notable exceptions, which there were). But I feel like anyone who tells a newer musician today that their first self release is "great", rather than really thinking about its production and composition and offering truly useful criticisms that will allow them to really develop more, is really performing the same disservice as those old Russian lionizers of "proletarian art".

With today's technology, notably software synths and cheaper PC prices that have allowed many people who ordinarily wouldn't have had the chance (or would have had to suck major producer dick and dumb down their music to get one) now actually can get their music on a cd or online and get people to hear it. That is great. You can work at Target, or as a barista, or a waiter, and produce good sounding music in your home, and start finding ways yourself to distribute it. That means bad things for the big label owners who are just looking for the next Britney Spears, but great things for actual music lovers.

However, just because you can do something fast, or on the cheap, doesn't mean it's going to be great. To explain this I will use a cinematic analogy:

When you make a film, you have two things that you can control. You can control how you edit the celluloid that's in front of you, and you can control what quality of shots you have on the celluloid in front of you. Contrast for a minute something like 2001: A Space Oddessy, and your favorite fast paced music video. The former is a great piece of art because, yes, the story and plot is interesting, but- every image you see is a spectacularly epic construction where the creator pulled no punches to create great sets, great costumes, great effects, cast great actors, etc.. etc.... These are great shots to watch. You can take most any frame out of that whole film and put it on a poster or a t shirt and you will have a great poster or t shirt. It is very hard to say the same about any frame picked at random from any music video.

Your music video may also be a great piece of art, but not necessarily because of the framing, acting, set construction, costumes, writing, or special effects. What really grabs you is the way the images are edited, i.e., juxtaposed- often quite rapidly. Quality of film and shot is usually an afterthought, but the interposition of context between many different images all interacting and splicing themselves in between each other creates its new, fascinating (attention grabbing), synthesis-meaning. That is also a great piece of art.

With home produced music, everyone can control this latter aspect. Everyone can be an 'editor', an arranger of notes. Usually, these are other people's sounds- Reason samples, drum and synth samples downloaded, or perhaps a softsynth whose spectrum and timbre is ultimately limited by the purely digital domain to which it is confined. Yes, it is a fantastic innovation I strongly support, that anyone can begin here... anyone can start learning about music, not in a dry, sterile, intimidating music-class way, but in a personal way, with personally appealing sounds and styles.

However, this opportunity carries with it a double-edge. When the 'composer' hits record; sound quality is limited and predetermined, and complexity/originality of technique, can be anything. See Johnny Depp's great acting in "Ed Wood" for an example of how only going with random bad material (stock footage, bad actors, bad sets, bad props, etc.) you are given makes a so-so editor's chance of producing something truely great quite impossible. That is an extreme example, but the principle is applicable more broadly. There is only so much you can accomplish when the "stock footage" (samples, soft synths, digital nature of computer circuitry) you possess is of a fixed and limited quality.

Two other areas are also jeopardized: live performance, and the development of the composer's own skill and technique. Live performance suffers because the writer will use visual midi sequencing correction to be able to write complex, 'flawless' parts, with no missed notes and the perfect attack on every key. These parts don't need to be practiced over and over (as they would be for a professional pianist in anticipation of a performance or recording) before they are recorded. This leaves the artist with music he will never be able to perform live. To get around this he might just play a few harmony parts, which generally require less energy or technique and thus deliver a less dramatic and impressive performance (there is a reason the spotlight is always on the solo of the 1st violin chair, who stands... second and third violin sections are relegated to the darker, amorphous mass of an orchestra's mid section). Or he might just improvise mush over the song which is just played back in its entirety. Or he might just stand in front of a laptop and sing without any band performance at all which may sound good but which is hardly interesting to watch (for ex, see my recent review of the Unter Null/CAT tour).

With regards to technique, if you have very little familiarity with the piano, but you just play a few notes quickly and they sound neat, so you sequence those, loop them, and hit record, in your rush to produce something fast you're attempting to 'skip over' the process of really learning your instrument, finding out different chords and scales, and training your fingers to converse fluently and naturally with them in their own language. This tendency results in a retardation of the composers' skill level, as well as a stunted conceptual growth in the ability to forsee and really *design* a song, before it is recorded, through the knowledge of familiar notes, chords, scales, and progressions. The product can at times be fresh- as in the way one who has not been taught over years that there is a certain way things must be played, and who finds it difficult to break out of this and discover new territory- but it is of little doubt that one who truely learns an instrument before attempting to record it will be able to compose things that one who doesn't know the instrument would never in their own brief recording session be capable of coming up with.

Ultimately, this level is thuroughly sophmoric. It's purpose is to raise the question of mastery. If you've ever thrown a net into the ocean and drawn up a few small fish, you then ask yourself, "What could I draw up if I really studied and learned where the fish like to live, and how to best throw the net, and what nets are right for each kind of fish?" You may be the one asking this question in a bedroom studio or on the seashore. The one who truly knows the answer is either the president of a multimillion dollar fishery, or a producer who sells thousands of records. Cast at random... or start to take things a bit more seriously...

It is interesting to note that the greatest theoreticians of editing (rapid cuts and dialectical context-synthesis) as a worthy film art of its own accord, came from the Soviet Union in the 1920s. I am speaking here of course of Eisenstien and Pudhovkin. Of course in the context it makes perfect sense that such an economically desolate soil would provide the terroir from which the theoretical depreciation of great sets, great actors, great shots, great film quality, great dialogue, and great plot (need we list, great budgets?) would arise. The Russian directors put all their thought and labor into editing because they had no budget for lots and lots of long shots, or great actors, or great writing, or great sets, or epic multi-location shooting, or any of the above.

A great example of this is the brief short "Man With A Movie Camera". Basically, a guy goes around town with a movie camera and films ordinary people, trains, markets, trucks, buildings, movements, himself; just what is around him. There is no use of (or money for!) "sets", or "actors", or "scripts". However, the film itself is a very engaging piece of art. The editing is fast and quite interesting, just like a music video. The Russians took the one thing they had left which they could control, and put all their thought and energy into it. For that reason, even though the rest of their resources may have been of questionable quality, they were able to create great art.

Our own contemporary "new-composers", often putting themselves through school, working low paying "new economy" jobs, and picking up Reason, Cubase, a Microkorg, a Behringer mixer and some M-Audio monitors in between loan payments and rent have re-discovered this principle. If you are familiar with laptop noise shows you'll instantly recognize the evident strengths, and weaknesses, of this approach.

Of course Russian societal and artistic development by the late 20s and for the next several decades was scalded and disfigured by a series of human disasters on par with the pestilence of Christian mythologies (footnote). What moving, passionate, incredible works might have been produced-by the originators and the students of this school (had funding been available)- we will never know. What economic resources were able to be devoted to art were of course stringently controlled and politically censored. Eisenstein continued to direct, yes; but he himself was directed far more strongly by a force far more powerful. His work suffered.

Today in the world would it be an exaggeration to say there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who are now able to fashion themselves musical composers, and who even 10 years ago, would have laughed at the proposal that such potential was within their grasp?

Is this not a great leap forward for humankind?

Yes it is. And I proudly support it.

But I do not lionize it. It is a condescension rather less than helpful to pretend that a good start is the same thing as a polished product- much less a stellar piece of art. We must all learn to crawl before we learn to walk; and have both mastered before we ever approach an Olympic committee as contestants for the 200 meter dash. It's right for a family to rejoice, document, and share the first baby steps. But it is to no one's surprise that corporate endorsements, prime-time live coverage, and the handing out of golden metals are all unknown at this stage.

Of course there are all sorts of motivations for writing music. With any kind of pop or rock, most of them are generally less than honorable, and are usually not spoken of candidly (i.e., to paraphrase Steve Jones, "I was interested in getting my dick sucked").

But what interests me, and what has driven me, for years further on what seems to be a downward spiral of financial unprofitability and questionable career decision making, is no less than a fanaticism, which I believe all truly great (and many not so great) composers share. It occurs when the love of music becomes the willing to sacrifice for it... I don't know about you but when I am in love, and we go out on a date, I don't even look at the checks... The experiance I'm able to share is worth more than any dollar amount... and to keep it going I don't care what I sign over. Some people might call this irresponsible, or even self destructive. Well, Van Gough cut his ear off, and Thomas Jefferson died hopelessly behind on his debts. Let's hear it for the irresponsible!

For those of us who grew up isolated in America on goth-industrial, we found a beauty, an honesty, an affirmation and a friendship we'd never have otherwise had. We often owe our very lives to music. The troubled student who was saved by the teacher who cared and made a difference will himself become a teacher. The patriot who believes his freedom was saved by his great-uncle on a beach in Normandy will himself proudly join the army and be quite (and perhaps too) willing to die on any beach. For those of us who were saved by music our reciprocation does not ask to be held to any less high a standard. The sacrifice of personal dedication is a privilege..

If you can relate to these sentiments, or even, say, 50% of them, you will undoubtedly already be aware, that you will die one day; and as this is the only life you will lead, and that as this is the only music you will ever write, you deserve, and the music deserves, not *excuses* of any kind, but simply, The Best. This doesn't mean it matters where you start out- it doesn't. Start with a kazoo and a pot to bang on. Start with a casio keyboard and a tape recorder. Start with Reason. But if you feel this is something you really want to do; and you do it for a long time, you should have an eye on where you'd like to see yourself, in 6 months, or a year, or even a few years, with regards to what tools you'd like to have to work with.

The Best is a cross hair of two factors. Composition / editing / training / ingenuity is the skill and half the battle. Purity and truth in the realization of sound and vision is the other. This is not so much a skill as it is a capability (though of course, craftsmanship does play its role). When these two hit it off, and everything has fallen just into place... you get something word's can't describe. You need DJs and a great system to explain it.

This means above all the best instruments. Or at least, it means the proper instruments.

The proper instruments are like the proper life partner, or the proper city to live in. It's something you find after years of experimentation. It's something you are able to love and integrate with totally because the motivation to wander is absent. You KNOW this is the best there is.

If you in it for THE MUSIC, and you have a sound spectrum from 20-20,000 Hz, you NEED access to all of it. Not just little bits of it. You need monitors to be able to hear all of it. You need cable that will not cheat out any of it. Like an alpinist who travels the world, in search of greater challenges, slopes, glaciers, rock, and peaks to learn and master; you require all timbres, or as much as your economic situation makes possible your access to.

For me this meant first the sampler. If there is a sound that can be produced by anything I must be able to capture it and manipulate it. I must have this freedom.

Then it mean the types of synthesis. Virtual Analog, Analog, Wavetable, Sample-Playback, FM, Low Pass, Hi Pass, Band Pass, Square, Triangle, Sine, Saw, Pulse, Pitch, Modulation, Roland, Yamaha, Moog, Akai, Korg, Ensoniq, Waldorf, Boss, Kurzweil... I had to be able to try it all, to find what was the truest to what I was trying to express, and what was the most pleasing to MY ears.

Regarding the Digital vs Analog debate I will waste few words. Suffice to saw there are two types of producers. There are those who have had access to playing with real analog synths on good systems, and there are those who have not. Science has always known that those who seek to learn and document and explore the truth; and those who are simply interested in their own product and their own ego; have both been published. Extensively.

On a cold day in a student hovel when I opened the packaging and plugged it in and played a Juno-106 for the first time it was like putting on glasses for the first time. Suddenly; everything was all clear. A brightness, depth, fatness, and a low end I had never known was now a part of my universe.

This was worth not going out, even to clubs where I could perhaps meet beautiful women. It was worth rail liquor, pinto beans, and cheap beer... Outdated, unfashionable clothes... Long hours in a thankless, soul-crushing service job... The concerned emanations of parental love and better judgment... The milk crate bed... The mattress from the dumpster... The bad room mates... The criminal and psychotic coworker... The bad neighborhood and self defense... Cooking at home... Buying generic, going without, living in a car... Hunger. Bills. Mistakes...

Reason is a beautiful process a brain conducts in response to the most varied stimuli.

Those who are content with being limited, who are not curious of just what does exist on the other side of any divide, who posses more charisma, or strategic talent, or marketability, or material comforts, than the present writer, may keep their Reason. For me, anyone content to go through life buying their "reason" out of a box and expecting to have it all provided for them by a computer is already a lost cause. How do you "reason" when your influence is predetermined, your cognition structured and finite, and your questions pre-set for you?

If that's how we're going to use our brains we might as well trust electronic voting machines to settle elections!

It wasn't until I had played every keyboard I was at all interested in, I had honed my efforts self releasing 7 albums and recording a few more, spent thousands of my own dollars, and visited every music scene I was at all interested in, that I realized there was no 'perfect' sound, or 'perfect' studio. Perfection is in diversity and the ability to incorporate any and every sound you want to realize the musical vision that your life experiance has taught your head to produce. Right now for me this means a lot of guitar, as well as the Moog... later on it could mean more wavetable... who knows. But THE POINT is to explore, to learn, to break the barriers and to discover the potential and the sonic combinations that no one else will ever discover.

Anything trying to sell you all of that in one box, or on one machine...

There are people who watch westerns all day long in New York City, and who dream. And they will die never having breathed in the dry mountain air, cooked over a sagebrush fire, climbed a burnt, rocky, jagged peak, or quenched a desert thirst with cool water.

There are people who've never set foot out of the place they were born.

There are people who've only dated one person and immediately got married to them.

There are people who've only worked one kind of job their whole life.

And there are people who only write with Reason.

Nothing good in life comes easy. For love, jobs, travel, dreams... it's a constant struggle. It's a struggle against the comfort of mediocrity and predictability. It's a struggle against a bad economy and the bill collector. It's a struggle to find the best sounds and instruments to write music with. It's a struggle to find yourself.

Long live the struggle.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Mount of the Holy Cross

Well I got a job an an apartment just in time to finish the most crucial car repairs and pay this month's rent, right before july happened. You see in july a lot of folks go out of town AND most of my work's business has to do with the performing arts complex where theatre is closed for a month. I have about 25 pounds of bulk discount meat in the fridge, a 20 lb bag of pinto beans. Some onions, potatoes, dry milk, and pasta, so I should be ok to survive for the next month even though business is slow. This means I have more time finally to focus on finishing the album and adventuring.

This week's adventure was to climb the Mount of the Holy Cross. There are many Holy Mountains, but this one is special because the snow on a face of it forms into a cross. However, erosion over the years has made this cross less prominent. Nonetheless, it is a very beautiful mountain located in a remote wilderness southwest of vail in the high country of central Colorado. This is what it looks like:

I got off work at 10pm on Sunday which was great because there was free parking so I could have everything loaded up and leave immediately after work. I made ok time and of course there was no traffic on I-70 but the the forest service road through the wilderness took some time to navigate and was about 9 miles all in first or second gear.

The Eisenhower tunnel was very pretty at night

There was brief sleep and then waking up at 4:45 am for a little breakfast (mostly pain au chocolate and croissants from the hotel I work at) and then hit the trail. This trail is tricky, because it is a 12 mile round trip. For each way you go you have 5,625 feet of up and down. This was probably the most physically demanding hike I have ever tried.

Before you reach the Mt of the Holy Cross you have to cross over Notch Mountain. This is the way the Holy Cross Wilderness looked at sunrise from near the top of Notch:

This is what Notch Mountain looked like from this side:

Very gentle and gradual; though from the other side it was very steep cliffs and scree.

From the top of Notch you can see this:

And you say, "damn that's beautiful".

Then you say, "I think that's a little farther away than I wanted to hike but whatever... and... hey, doesn't that mountain look a little different than the Holy Cross did in pictures?"

And you're right because that's not the mt of the holy cross. The mt of the holy cross is to your left and still obscured by the side of notch mountain. Finally you see it.

You descend from Notch and halfway down you have a nice view of what is in store for you:

You cross this stream. Then you begin to start up the Holy Cross.

There are a few different ways to go up it but I chose the exciting/challenging method of ascending via the steep couloir. A couloir is a narrow patch of glacier/snow/ice that crawls up a gully on a summit and provides steep access to its top.

Here's the route outlined in red:

There were two tricky parts to getting there. The first part was that there is still a LOT of snow on the mountain this time of year (my hike was on June 30th). This means that periodically the trail is buried beneath a snow drift perhaps four feet deep and 50 feet across. You have to either march over it, sinking up to your knees or more at times, or try and go around, and then hope you can find the trail again.

I didn't know this going up but from the log on the the summit I was something like only the 9th person to climb to the top so far this year. This means that there we'ren't a lot of other footprints through the snow for me to go by. However, the previous few climbers, all of who had been there just a day or two before, had left some footprints I was able to use as rough guide.

The other tricky bit was that while the rock was ok, to cross the boulder field was difficult because it was all very unstable and wobbly. However, I had trekking poles which made things a lot easier.

This is where I diverged from the main trail to attempt the couloir:

Walking across the snow mass:

Begining the ascent:

On the glacier:

Up the couloir

About 3/4 the way up I started to loose a crampon, but I was able to stop and tie it back on. This meant having to sit down in the snow and getting wet but it was better than crossing over to the rock with only one good shoe. Also, the other problem was that by this time the "water resistant" part of my hiking boots was becomming very clearly differentiated from the "water proof" character of boots I do not own. My feet were very wet and starting to get cold to the point where I was nervous and quite uncomfortable. Interestingly enough at the same time the light was blinding (good thing I had sunglasses and a hat) and I got a pretty bad sunburn on the part of my face that wasn't covered.

Welcome to Colorful Colorado, where you can get sunburn and frostbite simultaneously.

So I got to this small rocky outcrop and changed into a fresh pair of wool socks. Always go hiking with extra wool socks. However, I knew that these two would get wet and uncomfortable on the way down. So I cut a very small hole in the tops of both of my wet socks and tied them to the back of my pack so they would dry in the sun. On the way down, after I crossed back over the creek, I put back on these socks, which were now dry, and that trick definately saved me from what would have been some pretty bad blisters.

Also! Mercy, who gave birth to me, gave me some very nice toe warmer things last winter. I had brought one along and put it in the boot of the foot that was getting cold. That also helped. Moms rock.

Finally the couloir ended. About the time I had to change socks I decided this thing was just way too steep and slow, but it would have taken longer to go back than to go forward, and the rock on either side was too steep to switch to rock.

The last few hundred feet to the summit were all these large, table sized boulders that were fun to scramble over, though I had to stop a few times as the thin air was getting to me.

Finally though I made it to the top and sat down to rest for a minute. I think it was about 1pm or so.

The views were great, surrounded by different ranges.

Then I walked down the easier way

There were a lot of marmots and parmigons. I didn't even see the parmigons until I heard one cluck and then I saw it. They are very well camoflauged to their environment.

Can you see the bird in the center of this picture?

Finally after what seemed like hours of very difficult hiking (I don't think I brought along enough food and my energy level was kind of dropping off) I made it back to the trailhead just before a storm came in. I munched on some hotel pain au chocolate and then collapsed into a sleep for two hours. Then I woke up and hurried off to leadville to for microbrew and food at a restaurant that used to be a saloon where Doc Holiday once shot someone. That night I slept in the car on a nice quiet street in leadville and in the morning I fished early down the arkansas. I didn't have much luck with flies but I got a nice 14 inch and 10 inch brown off a spinner, even though using spinners is kind of like heresy around here.

I finally found the best fishing spot ever but then it was time to head back up 285 to Denver. There was a wreck just east of Bailey which took a while to clear because helicopters landed on the highway to evacuate people.

Then I got to work, where it was dead, and hung around for an hour or two and then got cut. Great!

In other news I started a denver hiking club called Denver Mountaineering. It's basically an email list where people can find rides/climbing partners for excursions. Everyone on it is cool, if you're interested in it let me know.