How to Ban Debate and Dissent

September 16, 2009

It’s an age-old trick, most often used by those who are losing a debate.  When you use this trick, it makes your opponent defend something he never said or did, and takes the focus off of your opinions, proposals, or ideals.  It works even better when you can convince people that the ONLY reason someone would disagree with you is because they are prejudiced.

The most recent example, of course, is the now-common Democratic claim that people only disagree with Obama because he is black.  They want to convince the American public that anyone who disagrees with Obama is a racist.  Wow.  What sort of chilling effect will this have on public debate?  The Democrats won’t even have to defend their policies!  All they have to do, is point at someone and say “They disagree with us!  They are RACIST!”

There was even a Democrat representative from Georgia in the past couple of days who said if people are allowed to continue to disagree with Obama’s policies, then it won’t be long before people start putting on white hoods and burning down houses of black people.  WTF?!

Representative Hank Johnson

Many on the left are claiming that no other president has been subjected to the hatred and resistance that Obama has.  In reply, I give them two words:  Bill Clinton.  If you want to expand it a little, I could also give two more words: Janet Reno.  People apparently forget just how tense things got when those two were in office.  I could give two more words: Richard Nixon. 

This country, and indeed most legitimate forms of government, are based on the ability of people to dissent and express opposing opinions.  Once you remove that ability, you might as well institute a dictatorship.  Most long-lasting dictators effectively outlawed opposing viewpoints: Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, Mao, etc.  You might be tempted to say “yeah, but WE have a Constitution that protects us.”  A little research will show that both the Soviet Union and 1930’s Germany also had constitutions, with very similar protections.  When the full-force of a government is put to use depriving people of their rights, a Constitution is of little use, no matter how well written or fully featured it is.

When debate is stifled, and a constitution ignored, a government will run rough-shod over its citizens, and those citizens have no ‘polite’ recourse. 

Our Constitution wasn’t written by a group of people who all agreed with each other.  Far from it!  There were energetic debates and opposing viewpoints.

All it will take to get a law passed, no matter how bad the proposed law is, will be to have a black congressman introduce it, or for Obama to promote it.  Nobody will be able to speak against it for fear of being labeled a racist.  Public discourse will be repressed through fear of being ridiculed.  Anyone who does dare speak against such a bill would immediately have to defend himself against charges of racism, and the merits of the proposed law will never get a public airing.

But wait, it seems that I did hear some congresspeople claim that everyone who attended a “Tea Party” or the recent protest in Washington was a racist or a Nazi.

(NAZI= National Socialism = privatizing profits while socializing losses.  Hmmm, sounds rather like TARP and the auto handouts, doesn’t it?  Who’s the NAZI?)

This all will have a drastic chilling effect on free speech if left to continue.  Of course, we only have to watch what congressmen say about each other to guess at what would happen to us lowly citizens if we dare speak out.  Every person has the right to say whatever he wants, for whatever reason (with VERY few restrictions, mostly dealing with commercial restrictions, or public safety (The infamous ‘shouting fire in a crowded theater’))  The 1st Amendment exists to protect that right, and extends to unpopular speech.  Popular speech needs no such protection, simply because it is popular.  Who would seek to prohibit it?  This is called the ‘marketplace of ideas.’  The idea is that you can listen to everyone’s ideas, and their reasons for those ideas, and decide for yourself what you think of them.  If you hear an idea with which you disagree, or which offends you, you are free to speak against it.  Other citizens can then listen to both of you, and make their own decisions about who makes more sense.

Once you eliminate all forms of peaceful protest and dissent, all that is left are non-peaceful forms.

Trying Something New

August 11, 2009

In recording and pro-audio it’s all too easy to fall into a rut and never try new things. You have found a variety of mics that you like for certain instruments, particular pieces of outboard gear you always fall back on, and mixing techniques that you constantly use.

There are a number of reasons for that, of course. The biggest is probably time, which often equals money. In live situations, there usually simply isn’t time to experiment, unless you are fortunate enough to work with an act big enough where you can have technical rehearsals and full-blown dress rehearsals. In the studio, you are most likely working with a band who is under very tight budget constraints, and that is not conducive to being able to spend time trying different things.

When you have the time, though, it can be extremely rewarding, and can result in some stunning results.

There is also a trend started by some “how to” books to sort of ‘mix-by-numbers.’ They tell you that the kick drum should be at about -3VU on the stereo bus meters, and the lead vocals should be -5VU, or some such thing. Nonsense. Only your ears can tell you how loud something needs to be in the mix. There are some shortcuts you can sometimes take. For example, if you’ve mix a particular band often enough, you usually have a pretty good idea of where things are going to be panned, so it wouldn’t hurt to set the pan pots where you think they’ll end up. But, don’t be afraid to play around with those while you are mixing. You just might find a location for something in the stereo spread that works better for that particular mix. There are a lot of very stunning effects that can be accomplished with phase, delay, and panning, and you will never stumble across any of them if you don’t take the time to try something new.

Sometimes your mic selection and placement has gotten to be such a habit, that you don’t even consider something really different. The absolute best cranked Les Paul/Marshall tone I’ve ever heard was accomplished by a mic selection and mic placement that I NEVER would have tried. But someone took the time to try it, and found that it really worked.

Another, often ignored reason is that digital equipment makes it difficult, if not impossible, to do much “creative patching.” In the old days, you had a patch bay, with a number of mult points, and you could patch anything to anywhere, combining with other things or splitting the signal along the way. With a digital multi-effect unit, this is simply not possible. Most digital mixers and digital audio workstations impose rather rigid signal flow ideas. Beyond that, it is simply not possible to really explore parameters of the equipment that weren’t programmed into it by the developers.

But whatever your situation, try different things. The next time you are tracking a guitar, use your regular mic and placement, but also set up a completely different mic, and use a different placement. Record it on a separate track so that if you don’t like it, you haven’t cost anything, and compare the two. You might just find that it offers something you didn’t expect, and maybe something you can use alongside the other track in the mix.

Digital Doo-Dads

June 23, 2009

Every time I listen to a digital gadget at the local music store, I am overwhelmed by the mushiness of the patches. Or, maybe a better way to put it is that I am underwhelmed with the usefulness of the gadget. If you assume that the factory patches are the best that it can sound, you probably won’t buy it. Be assured that these factory patches aren’t representative, and are probably almost the worst that it can sound.

Plug a guitar into the latest whiz-bang modeler, select any of the factory patches, and you will assaulted by the combination of every effect known to mankind. All at once. With NO dynamics. How can the people who make these things go to all the trouble to “model” all of those vintage effects pedals and amps, and then have NO CLUE as to what they should sound like when you use them?

This holds true on the guitar modelers as well as digital synthesizers. I’m not saying that they CAN’T sound good. Some of them are capable of sounding very good indeed. It’s just that, if you expect to unpack the thing, select a factory preset, and have it sound good in your band’s mix, you are in for a big disappointment.

There are examples of this in all of them, but one standard factory preset on guitar modelers that seems to transcend brand name is the heavily distorted AND highly compressed patch, with a ton of fizzy distortion, always a lot of chorus, some reverb, and a really scooped EQ. It might sound fun in a music store through some little transistor amp played at 60dB, but it’s not going to work through a 4×12 cabinet, crunched tube amp, played at 110dB, and it’s CERTAINLY not going to fit in the mix. Because of all of the extra compression and time-based effects such as chorus and flanging they always add, there will be NO articulation and dynamics.

But, if you build your own patches from scratch, you can come up with some good sounds. Don’t expect them to sound exactly like your guitar through a cranked Marshall with a pair of 4×12 cabinets, for example, but you can create some patches that sound good in their own right, are quite useful, and will sit well in a mix.

The same holds true for digital synthesizers. You sit down in the local music store to try one out, and every factory patch sounds lush, rich, and full. And almost totally useless in a band setting.

However, if you take the time to learn how to build your own patches, you will probably find that the raw samples and waveforms are pretty usable, and some very good sounding patches can be built from scratch, which are extremely good, are more realistic, and will work well in a mix.

There is something else to consider in the synthesizer patches that claim to be realistic samples of real instruments – and that is that they almost always far less high end and upper midrange than in the real instrument. This adds to the difficulty of getting your instrument to fit in the mix. There are other limitations which, in my mind, are design flaws. One of these is the stubborn refusal by synthesizer makers to put effects in a logical place in the signal chain. A great example of this, and the one that is a huge limitation on Roland synthesizers such as the JV-1080 and XP-50, is Roland’s insistence that a Leslie is an “effect” rather than a “speaker.” As anyone who has ever played a Hammond Organ knows, a Leslie is a SPEAKER, and is therefore the last thing in the audio chain – AFTER the amplifier. The Roland Leslie simulator is not too bad, but by putting it so early in the chain, they’ve made it almost useless. It is such things that make building good patches a real challenge sometimes.

While you can get some patches that will, in a mix, sound “kind of like” another instrument, such as, say, a trumpet; there are some instruments which you will never get close to, no matter how much time you spend creating a patch. A great example of this would be, of course, guitar.

So, know the limitations of the technology and your equipment, take the time to build your own patches, and you will get some very usable patches. Don’t expect to fool anyone into thinking that they are listening to a real vintage synth, a real orchestra, or a real guitar. Just get sounds that will accomplish the same purpose, and that sound good in the mix.

After all, the mix is what’s important. Nobody cares what an instrument sounds like soloed, because nobody but you can solo it. Everyone else in the world will only hear it in the mix.

Property Rights?

May 10, 2009

Not in our nation’s capital:

But, you can LEASE your front yard from the government for only thousands per year!

When will it end?

Social Commentary in Music

April 22, 2009

I’ve been an avid listener to music since I was about 10 years old. My parents listened to Big Band music (Glenn Miller, Dorsey Brothers, etc) a lot when I was young, so it’s been a part of my life as long as I can remember, but when I listened to my favorite type of music as a teenager, I quickly noticed something: there was almost always ‘social commentary.’ I don’t mean ‘teenage angst’ or love songs, or party songs – those things were present in the Big Band music of my parents (they didn’t listen to Cab Calloway).

I liked rock music. Specifically, what we called “hard rock.” A good portion of that music talked about government oppression, but even more devoted itself solely to the war (Vietnam, for you youngsters out there), or to the draft, racial and gender discrimination, unjust laws, unjust taxation, an out of control federal government, and a host of other societal problems. In many of the songs, there was anger. In fact, in many of the songs, there was a LOT of anger. But it was focused. There were also protests – a lot of them. They weren’t usually polite affairs, with proper government-issued ‘permits.’ In fact, if you had suggested that they ask the government for permission to protest, you would have been laughed out of the room.

And things changed. People came to see the war in Vietnam as the injustice it was. Gender and racial discrimination were tackled. The draft was eliminated. When the war and the draft were no longer an issue, most of the people in that generation basked in a brief glow of satisfaction, and then immediately went on to other things, like having a life, raising a family, a real job, etc.

Fast forward several decades, and now we once again have a war on foreign soil (two fronts this time), there is talk of mandatory ‘national service’ ( a draft, by any other name is just as repressive, and this one will be gender-blind), global narco-wars, fueled by the enormous profits created mostly by US drug laws, which has made it so profitable that entire countries have been corrupted simply by the huge profits to be had in the growing, manufacturing, transportation, and selling of the stuff.

Where is the social commentary? I see a lot of young white guys driving BMWs blaring rap “music,” and singing along about how bad it is to be a poverty-striken black youth in the inner city. Of course, the white guys in the BMWs are usually pulling up in front of a GAP store to get a new pair of $200 jeans, but the irony never seems to sink in. I see teenage white girls singing rap lyrics about how thrilled they are to be a young black drug dealer who shoots other black guys for fun before raping his girlfriend.

What I DON’T hear is music expressing anger against the war in Iraq, or the war in Afghanistan. I don’t even hear music expressing outrage over 9/11. Why? I wish I knew.

My band did a “protest song” a couple of years ago. I don’t want to think that only a bunch of guys over 50 are pissed off enough to write protest songs.