Sunday, July 29, 2012

Liquid Rehearsal (07.28.12)

You all should know by now that there are very few differences between what I do in the flesh versus the digital version of myself. Certainly, in each facet of my reality in every environment, music plays a big part of my daily life. While I've spent the majority of live performances over the last 5-1/2 years in the online world of Second Life, I've also maintained strong musical ties to that other weird and crazy world known as reality.

Last July, when (after a four year hiatus from playing in bands) I rejoined my old cover band Liquid for a reunion show, I told the guys that I was definitely up for playing again. While I wouldn't do anyone the disservice of signing up to be in a band full-time right now -- there are too many other things going on for me to make that kind of commitment -- I really do love the act of practicing and performing live music with other people. In the case of Liquid, it's particularly true.

A very short history
I first saw drummer Dante J. Silva while I was in 11th grade, around 1985, and knew immediately he was the best of the local teenage rock drummers by far. At the time, he was in a band called Black Dog, named appropriately for their Zeppelinesque sound, and I was in a pretty decent band myself called the Goatays. A few years later, I joined forces with Dante (along with our other bandmates Mike Long and Michael Gale) in a band called the Bad Boyz, and played about a million local shows with them in 1989 alone.

Dante and I continued to play together in various projects over the years, but I spent the second half of the '90s focusing more on my career than my music. In 2002, Dante asked if I'd be interested in being more involved in a band along with some guys he'd met, and the timing was good for me. That's when I met Randy Harmon, and after a string of bass players who weren't quite up to par with us, we found Phil Gilbreth, one of the best bassists with whom I've ever had the pleasure of rocking.

Zak gets busy
Liquid played a ton of shows between 2002 and 2006, but like most bands, we eventually ran into some differences in goals. Also, I'd regained interest in original songwriting and performing as a solo act (Liquid was and remains purely a cover band), and there are only so many hours in a day that I can devote to being a musician. So, Liquid went on an extended hiatus in 2007 which ended up lasting over four years.

Back in the garage. If not for garages, rock would have died decades ago. Here's me with my music brother Dante on Saturday, getting ready to set sail on the ship of Liquid once again.

Get back
Our reunion in 2011 was a blast and went really well, so when Randy contacted Dante, Phil, and I to see if we'd be into performing at a Labor Day event, we all agreed immediately. Yesterday, we got together in Randy's garage and jammed through most of our set list. Much like the proverbial bicycle, it's easy to get back on the Liquid machine and ride. It was pretty effortless playing through our set, consisting of covers by Zeppelin, the Who, the Doors, the Beatles, Stone Temple Pilots, Jimi Hendrix, and the like.

In any case, we'll be back rocking in the street on Saturday September 1, and I'm really looking forward to it. We have one more rehearsal in a couple of weeks to make sure we're tight and ready to rock, but as I said yesterday... even if we had to go on stage without any practice at all, we'd be fine. It's nice having musicians of that caliber to work with, and it's also great hanging out with old friends. Ideally, your bandmates should be people who are also your friends, and I'm lucky that Liquid is comprised of great guys who also happen to be outstanding musicians. That's a recipe for good times.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Ground Zero (07.26.12)

Yesterday morning, I awoke with a tummy ache. It happens sometimes; you overindulge in some kind of rich food and the next day, you feel like Muhammed Ali jabbed you eight times in the gut. Unfortunately, this one didn't fade as the day went on, and actually worsened. I was not a happy camper, especially because I was booked to perform at Ground Zero, the Second Life venue owned by two good friends of mine (TheaDee and GMetal Svartur).

Is it possible to sing and play an instrument effectively while feeling under the weather? Sure, and most of us long-term live musicians have done it on a number of occasions when absolutely necessary. Is it fun? Hell no, it's terrible. Performing live and putting on a fun show is enough of a challenge when you're feeling great. When you're ill? All you want to do is get through the gig, and that's not the best way to present yourself as a musician.

At one point, I did consider canceling the show, which I hate to do under any circumstances. But considering that a) this was a venue run by friends and b) two of my fellow artists in Maali Beck Entertainment -- Taunter Goodnight and Sassy Nitely -- were playing directly after me, I really wanted to be there.

Solution: compromise!

Enter DJ Zakky Clakky
While I didn't feel I had the strength or energy to sing and play, I was perfectly okay with the idea of sitting in my chair and playing back some tunes as a disk jockey. So that's what I did! I believe this was only the third time I did a show in SL as a DJ; the other two times were for special events, like when I originally released my album in December 2009. In any case, it's been few and far between, and it actually took a few minutes for me to remember how to hook up my audio system to play back tracks.

A rare photo of me sitting down while onstage... and not holding a guitar. Photo by Kat.

I take my front row seat for Taunter's set...

... and then stay there for Sassy's terrific show.

But it worked out just fine. Instead of just playing my own stuff, much like a live Zak Show, I combined my original songs with songs that I enjoy or find influential to my own songwriting.

Ground Zero DJ Set List...
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Life on Mars? (David Bowie)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Spatula King (Bunny Knutson)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
Driven to Tears (The Police)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Car On a Hill (Joni Mitchell)
The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
Peg (Steely Dan)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

Big thanks to everyone who checked out and supported the "DJ Zakky Clakky" show, and huge thanks to my fellow Maali Beck Entertainment performers Taunter and Sassy for doing great shows and bringing the fun, and to Thea and GMetal for allowing me to try something new at their great venue!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (07.24.12)

For being a generally optimistic guy about most things on this little planet of ours, I sure tend to go negative when it comes to predicting how my Second Life live music shows will turn out. It's not that I don't think I'm a good performer; I will gladly tell you or anyone who asks that I am pretty confident about my ability to sing, play instruments, and be entertaining for a crowd. Rather, it's the nuts-and-bolts aspect of how SL works. Very few artists have a fan base large enough to have shows on multiple consecutive days and pull in a decent-sized crowd to each event. And, at a time like 6PM where there may be fifty or more live music events happening simultaneously in SL, it's a realistic thought that it might be difficult to pull in a bunch of people.

So, having played rather unexpectedly the day before at Molaskey's Pub, I told my manager Maali Beck that I was fairly certain we'd be "playing to the staff", as we RL musicians refer to a show where the only people present are the bartender, waiters and bouncers (or in SL, the venue manager and hosts) at the Whisky A Go Go. However, I'd said something similar the day before, and we ended up with a really big audience.

I'm happy to report that right after the show, Maali and I had the following conversation:

[2012/07/24 19:05] Zak Claxton: Good show!
[2012/07/24 19:05] Zak Claxton: Surprisingly.
[2012/07/24 19:05] Zak Claxton: :D
[2012/07/24 19:05] maali.beck: see????
[2012/07/24 19:05] maali.beck: ya big goof
[2012/07/24 19:05] Zak Claxton: I am a big goof.

It turned out to be my highest-attended show at the Whisky so far, and making matters even more ego gratifying, I was the only act on the schedule, meaning anyone who was present was there for my show. The show itself turned out pretty cool as well; about an hour before I went on, as I put my set list together, a theme popped into my head and it actually worked out. Since it was Tuesday, I turned to the classic FM radio schtick of "Two for Tuesday", doing two songs by each artist.

Whisky Set List...
Mother's Little Helper (Rolling Stones)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Court & Spark (Joni Mitchell)
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Beatles)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)

Rocking my "twofers" at the Whisky. Photo by Kat.

There was another memorable moment to last night's show: for only the second time in 5-1/2 years of performing in SL, comprising hundreds and hundreds of gigs, I broke a string during my set! It wasn't a big deal, because I have my Shitar™ (the $49.99 backup acoustic guitar I can use for such needs) and switched to it for the last four songs. But -- cue Twilight Zone music here -- my friend and fellow performer Sassy Nitely (aka Barbie Horsley) had a show at the same time, and also broke a string... also for the second time ever in SL. Freakishly coincidental! But no minor thing like a guitar string was going to make last night anything other than great, which it was.

Big thanks to all who came to the Whisky, including the following who supported my show!
Triana Caldera, Diana Renoir, Bindi Byron, Christine Haiku, Sesh Kamachi, Fabio Sarrasine, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, Cicadetta Stillwater, my manager Maali Beck, and Whisky host Dmitri Polonski and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Molaskey's Pub (07.23.12)

Ahhhhhhhhhh. Molaskey's.

I could be wrong, but I believe that other than places where I've had a regular weekly show, I have played no single venue in Second Life more than Molaskey's Pub over the last 5+ years. And, while this is a subjective call, I seem to have done many of my best shows there as well.

I know the reason why, and I've probably said it before: it's the people. Starting with the Molaskey's owners and staff, and through the folks who seem to pop up at Molaskey's to see shows, everything there helps an artist like me feel comfortable and appreciated. In turn, I am able to feel open to being experimental and improvisational, and all the other things that seem to make some of my shows better than others.

What a pretty place to play live music. Photo by Kat (upper photo by Triana).

We had a large and lively crowd at Molaskey's, and it's hard to say whether they had more fun than me, or vice-versa. Photo by Triana.

Last night's show was a bit of a surprise, to me as well as my Zaksters. I'm pretty sure that my pal Maximillion Kleene was scheduled for that Monday evening slot, or at least that what it seemed to say in the SL event listings. I didn't ask for the specifics, but apparently Max couldn't make the show, so I was very happy to fill in for one of SL's most popular and entertaining artists. In any case, I didn't find out that I was playing there until that morning. Surprise! There are many venues that I'd turn down in that situation; when I'm not planning to perform, I usually have other stuff on my schedule. But for Molaskey's, I was happy to push that stuff aside and so a fun show.

And fun it was. We ended up with a great crowd, both in terms of size and fun interaction, and despite the whole thing having come together rather quickly, the show itself ended up being pretty damn good.

Molaskey's Set List...
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Go Easy on Me (Zak Claxton)
The Weight (The Band)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
†Coyote (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)

†It's been over two years since I did a live performance of Joni's "Coyote". It's a great tune that I should probably play more often.

Enormous thanks to everyone who came to see me at Molaskey's, especially the following folks who helped support my show!
Triana Caldera, AbbeeRhode, JJ Hoobinoo, Lizzy Nightfire, jp Chaplynski, Kat Claxton, Doofus Luckless, TheaDee, Thinkerer Melville, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Molaskey's great staffers Katydid Something, Stace Silvercloud, and Cicadetta Stillwater!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (07.17.12)

As a performing musician, the last thing you want to be is boring. Let me put it this way: I'd rather have people absolutely hate me than to have them fall asleep on me. With this knowledge, perhaps you can look back through the history of music and see many points where musicians went out of their way to shock their audience. While I am grateful for the fact that I can write music and perform on my instruments and voice well enough to bring people enjoyment, sometimes it's just not enough. Not necessarily for them, mind you, but also for me.

When I perform many times at the same venue, as has been the case for my weekly Tuesday night shows over the past month and a half at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life, I am especially cognizant of this trap. While I'm hesitant to tell any other performer how they should or shouldn't do their shows, I will say that no matter how good someone is, as an audience member I do not want to see the same show done over and over again. My fans are cool enough to come out and see me even when (as was the case this week) I have shows many days in a row; if I start boring them as a result, then I should hang my guitar up and do something else. Immediately.

I do try to be creative with my Facebook event images. This one got some extra attention for some odd reason.

All that having been said, I needed a theme to make last night's show worth attending. For my first month of shows at the Whisky, I was doing sets loosely based on bands that are associated with having played the real Hollywood-based Whisky club. But that only can go on for so long, and besides, I've got a much more diverse list of songs to play than those covered under that definition. So, on a whim, I decided to do a set of cover songs that were written and performed by female artists.

Other than my broad shoulders and beard, I look pretty hot in a dress. Photo by Kat.

The Whisky crowd has fun while I interject comments about being a dude in a dress. I'm sure I've had many better shows in terms of my singing and playing, but this one will stand out for the Zaksters nonetheless. Photo by Kat.

Once that decision was made, everything else fell into place in my twisted mind. I put up an event notice that had a poorly-Photoshopped photo of my face on an attractive blonde woman's body -- the more ridiculous, the better in that case -- and called the event "Zak Claxton's Ladies' Night". Then, I went into SL and for the first and possibly last time, went shopping for a dress for myself. Hats off to SF Design, who had a lovely black frilly prom-like dress available for free. And then I did my show.

Whisky "Ladies' Night" Set List...
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
†Sunny Came Home (Shawn Colvin)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
*Only Happy When It Rains (Garbage)
Hurting Each Other (The Carpenters)
Blue (Joni Mitchell)
Beyond the Blue (Martina McBride)
Help me (Joni Mitchell)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)

†My last performance of this Shawn Colvin tune was in 2007... so long ago, it predates this blog! I like the song; too bad it's too low for me to really sing.

*Indicates my first-ever performance of this song in SL

In any case, the show was a success... and not just because I was a guy in a dress. We had a good crowd, and everyone had fun. More importantly, among the hundreds of shows that many of these folks have seen in SL, this one will be more memorable than most. You can't do that all the time as a performer; being known as gimmicky is nearly as bad as being boring. But every so often, it's a great idea to do something that takes your crowd away from the ordinary. Now to think of something fun for next week's show!

Big thanks to everyone who came out to my "Ladies' Night" show, especially those who supported me and the Whisky!

Xerxes Ninetails, Diana Renoir, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, Cicadetta Stillwater, TheaDee, my manager Maali Beck, Whisky host Dmitry Polonsky, and Whisky owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Lavender Field/Feed-a-Smile (07.16.12)

Jeez, I've written so many press releases lately for my real life job as a marketing weasel that I almost began this blog post as such...

REDONDO BEACH, CA (July 16, 2012) -- Singer-songwriter Zak Claxton performed another successful event for the Second Life arm of the "Live and Learn in Kenya" charitable organization. Operating at the Lavender Field venue, the "Feed-a-Smile" program, run and administered by Brique Zeiner, has just finished its second year of international fundraising in the virtual world. Proceeds from the live music concerts held at Lavender Field go directly toward food and education for the children of the Rhonda Slums in Nakuru, Kenya.

But who wants to read shit like that? Instead, I'll tell you my real perspective. This is my third time playing at Lavender Field, and as a musician, I can't think of a more fulfilling gig. The reason why is simple: every penny you make goes directly to these kids who badly need it, without any huge bureaucracy between the donors and the recipients. So, while you're playing, you know that you'll have this direct and immediate impact on the kids' lives.

Small crowd, big hearts. Thanks for coming out, Zaksters. Upper photo by Kat, this photo by Triana Caldera.

As many of you already know from my last show there in December of 2011, I was just floored by the photos I got of the kids enjoying their "Zak Claxton Meal". I mean, I'm proud when I can scrape together a decent dinner for myself, Kat, and my son, much less a hundred hungry kids. By simply playing music for an hour -- something I love to do anyway -- I was a part in giving those kids a nice little feast. As I said then and continue to feel today, it doesn't get any better than that.

Last winter, I got the ultimate pre-holiday gift when the LLK kids drew me on their chalkboard (an excellent likeness, may I add). Photo courtesy of Brique Zeiner.

Today's show had a small crowd (Monday in the mid afternoon isn't the prime time for show attendance, after all), but we still raised some respectable cash. Quentin Whitman played before me, and I enjoyed his music while I got ready to play. Then I played my own shit and it went something like this, as Eazy-E once said.

Lavender Field Set List...
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Change (Tears for Fears)
Across the Universe (Beatles)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
The Crystal Ship (The Doors)
Daniel (Elton John)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Look Out for Me (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)

Thanks to everyone who came out and donated to "Feed-a-Smile" today! The kids aren't the only ones smiling... so am I!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Relay for Life 2012 Finale (07.14.12)

Performing at the RFL Finale in Second Life has been one of my favorite annual charity-based events I've done over the years. This year was certainly no exception. The pride I take in helping raise money for the American Cancer Society is a great reward on its own, and it's more than enough compensation for the hour I spend on a Saturday playing music.

The Finale event is, of course, where the actual namesake relay occurs, so while the participants cruised around the large digital trail made of many adjoining SL sims, there's a cool stage built in a central point where people can hang out and listen to live performances. I followed Eliz Watanabe, and had a really nice-sized crowd made up of both relayers and a good turnout of Zaksters.

My Kat takes a self portrait during my RFL show. Photo by Kat.

Sassy Nitely, my good friend in SL known in real life as Barbie Horsley, performed after me, and Kat and I hung out and listened to the entirety of her show. Without taking anything away from other SL artists, Sassy is in a small group of performers who leaves no doubt that she brings plenty of real-life performing experience to her SL gigs. It's always a pleasure when I get to hear her play, and it's great that she and I both share the services of a great manager, Maali Beck.

The event itself (and indeed, this entire season of RFL) was a huge success. Between all the various teams and events, they've pulled together L$84,634,319 for the cause this year. For you non-SL people, that's $338,537 USD... very real dollars coming in from virtual worlds.

It was excellent to have a great turnout and, more importantly, a generous crowd who really added some L$ support to RFL while I played. Photo by Kat.

I try and pick songs that work well within the theme of an RFL event... nothing too morbid, and leaning toward songs that have an optimistic or positive vibe. Kat and I, with our dark humor, have shared ideas for songs that would definitely not be a good idea to perform at an event such as this. I won't repeat them here, but take my word for it that we are both demented people.

RFL Finale 2012 Set List...
Pigs on the Wing (Pink Floyd)
Everyday I Write The Book (Elvis Costello)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
California (Joni Mitchell)
You're LIke a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Thank You (Led Zeppelin)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
My Heart (Neil Young)
The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog)

Many, many thanks to everyone who supported my show yesterday, and throughout the RFL fundraising season! I'm proud of all of you who helped make a difference!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Whisky A Go Go in SL (07.10.12)

It would seem that my residency at the Whisky A Go Go in Second Life is lasting longer than I originally thought! Owner Cameron Trenchcoat got in touch with my terrific manager Maali Beck, and much to my happy surprise, I found out on Monday night that I'd be back at the Whisky the following day.

Getting a crowd together at 6PM on a weekday in SL is always a challenge. There are often 50 or more live music events happening in that same time slot. Fortunately, I have a pack of loyal Zakster fans, and the Whisky is pretty good about rallying a crowd as well. So, we had a nice group of fun folks there, and it was a good time for all.

A quick side note: every musician I know has a different method of planning a set. When you play as often as I do, the last thing you want to do (in my not-always-humble opinion) is play the same group of tunes over and over again, if you have the choice. As every Zakster knows, I do my very best to not only mix up my set list so that every show feels unique in some way, but I also add new covers and original songs pretty often. It's an effort that's not only for my fans; it's very much for me as well. There's nothing worse than being bored at what should be an exciting time (i.e., performing live music).

The lovely Zakster ladies arrived early, which made me happy. Here's a little tip for fans who want to support your musician friends in SL: try to get to the show just a few minutes early. Having some people there before the top of the hour helps bring in other people when they're looking around for something to do. Photo by Kat.

Anyway, I usually pull my set together shortly before a show, while I'm warming up my voice to sing. My sets are influenced by a number of things: my mood at the moment, the level of confidence I have in my voice and guitar playing that day, how recently I've played certain songs, and so on. I try not to overthink it, and pull together the list pretty quickly, rarely second-guessing myself. For last night's Whisky show, I found that the first few songs I pulled out all happened to have titles that started with the letter "A", so on a whim, I decided that it would be "Covers That Start With 'A' Night". I also did the unusual maneuver of playing all my covers in one clump, and then doing the second half of the show with all originals.

Whisky Set List...
A Million Miles Away (The Plimsouls)
A Day In The Life (Beatles)
Across the Universe (Beatles)
†All I Wanna Do (Sheryl Crow)
Allentown (Billy Joel)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)

†I've only done this song once before, on December 31, 2007 at a New Year's event.

Big thanks to everyone who came out to the Whisky, including the following who helped support my show!
Annan Dreamscape, GMetal Svartur, TheaDee, Gideon McMillan, Alexis Fairlady, Cicadetta Stillwater, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, Whisky host Dmitri Polonsky, and owner Cameron Trenchcoat!

Friday, July 6, 2012

10 iPad Apps for Creative, Musical, and Somewhat Weird People

Kat surprised me with a new iPad a couple weeks ago (you know, the iPad that I swore up and down that I never wanted and would have no use for), and I've found it to be fantastic. The first mistake you can make with your iPad is thinking it's a smaller substitute for your desktop/laptop experience. Instead, you should look at it for its unique coolness in how you interact with the software it runs.

That software, of course, is collectively known as "apps", and at last count there were something like 75 trillion of them to choose from. I made that up, but there are way too many to just spend weeks browsing through the nearly endless halls of Apple's App Store. You also probably don't want to limit yourself to whatever crap-ass apps that are popular at the moment when you go app shopping. Also, if -- like most creative people -- you have little or no money, you'll be happy to note that many items I chose are cheap or free (though you will probably succumb to in-app upgrades and add-ons, as I have).

So, here are ten apps in alphabetical order that I think are pretty damn cool, useful, or both (as is true in almost all cases).

Alchemy (Camel Audio)

I certainly didn't have high expectations for a free downloadable synthesizer, but I'll be damned if Camel Audio's Alchemy isn't a really cool creative music tool with some very usable and tweakable presets. You can buy expansion sound packs, but it comes with a good selection to get you started (and you get 25 more free for registering). Two more things of note: first, it's a smart app in that it allows you to use the iPad itself as a controller so that tilting it will alter the sonic parameters in real time. Second, the Pro Upgrade (still cheap at $14.99) turns it into a full-fledged synth module with load/save capabilities, Virtual MIDI (so you can control it from other apps), sound layering, and much more.

iStroboSoft-HD (Peterson Tuners)

My experience with the original Peterson Strobe Tuner goes back to my days -- few and far between -- where I got to record in high-end professional recording studios. A few years back, while working on my album, my friend/audio engineer Phil O'Keefe pulled out his iPhone when it was time to tune my acoustic guitar. I wondered about the wisdom about using a cell phone for the essential act of tuning for a recording session, but it blew me away with its accuracy. While the iPad version of the iStroboSoft tuner is the most expensive app on this list at $9.99, the hardware version of the Peterson 490 tuner lists for $925.00... and as far as I can tell, the iPad version works just as well. Incredible!

Paper (FiftyThree)
FREE; In-App "Essential" Tools $6.99

Nothing could be more simple than an app that lets your tablet computer behave like a pad of art paper, with a nice little set of tools for sketching, coloring, writing, and so on. Well, the feel and vibe of FiftyThree's Paper is as good as any computer-based experience I've ever had at mimicking the analog vibe of a notepad. I bought the full "essentials" pack pretty quickly... you'll likely also want to access the different pen, marker, and brush tools, and the palette of colors. Would I like more colors and more tools? You betcha, and I'll probably be standing by when the issue the inevitable expansion pack.

Penultimate (EverNote)

You've already got Paper; why bother with Penultimate? Well, the strength here is pure note-taking. If you need to jot something down in a meeting, you probably don't want the subtle nuances of a paster watercolor. Instead, Penultimate (recently acquired by another well-known app company, EverNote) is great at tracking your handwriting in a fast and concise manner, especially if -- like me -- you get a nice stylus for it. I bought the Wacom Bamboo, which has a decent heft to it and so far seems to work very well with Penultimate. I also like the way that one can very easily copy/paste a photo into a note. All useful stuff in many situations.

Photoshop Express (Adobe)
FREE; In-App Filter Pack: $2.99

I've been a customer -- sometimes happily, sometimes less so -- of Adobe products for a long time. My professional use of Photoshop goes back to the early '90s; I'm so old that I remember when getting layers in version 3.0 was reason to bust out the champagne. I thought it would be useful to have a miniature version of Photoshop for very basic image editing when I'm out and about with my iPad. While Adobe makes a number of tools for iOS, Photoshop Express is the cheapest way to screw around with some images on your iPad, with zero expertise required to make fun and interesting images. I bought the filter pack ($2.99) to spruce things up a bit. People who need a little more of the full Photoshop vibe might want to step up to Adobe's new Photoshop Touch ($9.99).

Remote (Apple)

This one is a serious no-brainer. Remote turns your iPad into the biggest, baddest remote control for your Mac's iTunes (or Apple TV) you can possibly imagine. A side note: this also uses iTunes' "Home Sharing" feature, which not only lets you control your Mac's iTunes from your iOS device, but also allows you to access your entire iTunes library via your iPad. It's super handy.

SoundHound (SoundHound)
FREE w/ads

I'm giving this a top 10 award with some reservations. Let's start with the bad: SoundHound may be free, but it has a cluttered interface that seems more intent on selling you stuff than serving its one purpose. But that purpose, relegated to a small corner of the screen, is simply awesome: it will listen to any song and tell you the song's name and performer. It's just nuts in that it really works. I've sung some pretty esoteric stuff into the iPad and had SoundHound tell me precisely who did the original. It also got some points via my ego since it recognized every tune from the Zak Claxton album I played at it.

SoundPrism (Audanika)

I've been a musician for close to 40 years, and I'll tell you a secret: it's possible to grow bored with the interface of any instrument after awhile. That's one reason there are so many multi-instrumentalists out there; after a couple of decades playing keyboards, maybe bass would be nice for a change. That's one reason I really enjoy the vibe of SoundPrism, which doesn't rely on a traditional keyboard or fretboard interface. Much like Alchemy, SoundPrism has Pro upgrade ($15.99), but this one lets you use it as a very new controller for existing VSTis, synthesizers and sound modules. Wow!

Swords & Sworcery EP (Superbrothers)

I have to admit; I'm not a huge gamer these days, and I certainly wasn't expecting to have one of my favorite apps for my iPad be a game, but it is. When I was a kid about the same age as my son now, I spent hours immersed in the simple yet mind-expanding world of the original Adventure game for Atari 2600. Superbrothers' Swords & Sworcery EP is the first game I've played since then that brings back that same creativity-inspiring quality. I won't -- and honestly can't -- attempt to describe it, other than to say the art is amazing, the music by Jim Guthrie is fantastic, and there's a reason why most critics named it as one of the best games of 2011. Just get it.

Ustream (Ustream)

For a musician like me who enjoys doing weird stuff like broadcasting live audio and video from an impromptu show at a local coffee house to my friends/fans around the world, it's very cool that my iPad can now be my microphone and camera all in one little slab. I've been using Ustream for live video performances for years, so having an even more portable version for free isn't too shabby at all.

I am still finding cool apps every day; I'm sure there will be many updates to this post as time goes by. Also, some honorable mention goes out to some less fun/exciting but still useful apps I'm using: Apple's iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, $9.99 each), Gusto code editor/FTP client ($9.99), and Dropbox (Free) all add some excellent functionality to my iPad, especially when I have to use it for the very last thing I wanted it for.

You know. Work.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Beginning

It started on Saturday. No, scratch that. It started when I was a little kid, about four, and used to tap dance around the room. I was in a very small group of little male kids who liked to tap dance and didn't end up being gay, which would be fine if it were the case, although it's not, but I digress.

On Saturday June 30, I had a thought that was the fruition of thinking many other thoughts during the nearly 40 years between those moments of my tap dancing days and this last weekend. It's an interesting experience, by the way, when every thought you ever had coalesces into one focused, highly condensed beam of uberthought. I've heard of this happening before, but hadn't really experienced it myself, and especially not while being sober.

What? And Why U No Have New Music?
As most of you know, I came out with an album of music at the end of 2009. I like that album. It's a great representation of a certain aspect of my creativity. That having been said, I'll be the first to admit that it was an intentionally limited project. The boundaries I put up were simple and understandable: the album was entirely comprised of songs that I'd be capable of performing as a solo musician, using nothing more than acoustic guitar and my voice (and maybe a harmonica) during my live performances in Second Life. All of those songs, in fact, were written with those tools alone, and were all performed many times that way before fleshing them out in the studio with other instruments.

So that was good and well. And, as you'd suspect, since I enjoyed the process and experience of making an album of my own music (and had continued to write more and more new songs in the same vein as I did for that album), I immediately made plans to make another one. I even went back into the studio a few months after it was released and started recording some new stuff that I'd been working on.

(sips cup of now-cold coffee, contemplates getting more, decides against it for now)

Well, life isn't a straight, flat road for anyone. It has bumps and hills and curves and potholes, and you get flat tires and hitch rides and all that. Nearly all of my musical collaborators went through some rough shit between then and now. The studio where I used to work became unavailable. I half-heartedly started looking around for alternative places and ways to record my stuff, but I could tell based on my own tepid efforts that I wasn't really interested in that.

Why not? Well, it's a long story, and this is already a long story, but I hate it when people say something is a long story just to avoid telling you about it, so I'll make it short as possible. First, I have a musical background that goes in many different directions, and I felt a desire to explore some directions beyond what I'd done as a solo guy with an acoustic guitar. Second, we live in a world where music, as wonderful as it is, sadly doesn't seem to get the level of appreciation as an art form on its own as it once did. Third, there are amazing technological tools being used today that can offer people an experience that goes beyond passive reception of someone else's creativity. That's the shortest version possible. You have no idea how difficult that was to articulate in less than 20,000 words. Whew.

(I'm getting that second cup of coffee now)

So... Okay...
I've acquired this semi-disparate set of skills, almost all of which I stumbled into via necessity for my income-earning and casual interest rather than genuine desire (with the exception of music, which was entirely purposeful from the beginning of my life, though I don't know why). I can create visual art. I can write words (usually too many of them). I can produce sounds and record audio. I can make videos. I can create web sites and write a little bit of code.

So over the last couple of years that I've been going through this indecisive phase of, "How will I record the next album," I slowly became aware that perhaps recording a new batch of songs just like I did last time wasn't what I really wanted to do at all (though there will be a new album... but hang on, you impatient fool! All will be revealed soon enough).

However, I did want to create music and have people hear it. But why stop there? If making an album is too difficult, why not make something a hundred times more difficult?

Seriously, Will You Please Tell Us What You're Talking About?
Not yet. A couple of weeks ago, Kat got me an iPad, and I really like it way more than I thought I would. I immediately started setting it up with a focus on all the things that I enjoy... music, social interaction, artistic tools, and so on. I also got a couple of games, which I found fun. Fun is important to me, and hopefully is to you too.

On Friday night after I'd finished working, I looked into what kinds of adventure games were available for the iPad. There were lots. My enjoyment of those kinds of games goes back to the very original "Adventure" for the Atari 2600, from 1979. As I've grown older and time has grown shorter, I haven't been able to enjoy such a game in a long while, but as I looked into what was new and cool, one game caught my eye. It had the odd title of "Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP", and one of the main things I noticed was that it seemed to be both a video game and a delivery method for songs by an interesting musician named Jim Guthrie. That's when the very beginnings of the uberthought started roiling somewhere deep in my cerebral cortex, but it hadn't come close to fully forming. What I did think about at that time was, "Hey, this is a great way to get some music out there in a format that's more engaging than simply listening to a download on iTunes."

I told Kat about the "Sworcery" game and she was intrigued, so together we spent a good chunk of Saturday going through and eventually completing the game. We both agreed that it was a fantastic experience that transcended most of the other games we'd played for a variety of reasons (seriously, just get the game and see for yourself rather than listening to me try and explain it). That evening, as we discussed what was cool about the game, a bunch of things occurred to me at once. This is the part that I'm not going to explain right now.

What the Hell??!?!
Oh, you want a recap of the uberthought process? Sure. I thought that the evolution of humanity was clearly moving toward an era where one's data is what comprises one's "soul" (for lack of a better term), and that history is what defines culture and humanity, and that the act of capturing one's life is now being done on a much more individualized basis than ever via social networks, so that as time goes by, nearly everyone on the planet would have a long-term historical record of even the minutiae moments of their entire life, and that this record was put into data form and disseminated from day one, and that data itself was transferrable so that as computers and social networks and other technologies come and go, the data itself still exists, and if one could somehow reconstruct a life based on the moments of that life that have been...

Anyway, that sort of sums up the first part of the idea.

Whatever, Weirdo. I'm Going to Stop Reading Now.
That's fine. And it's not even a complete version of the uberthought. That's just the beginning. Just a snippet. You should be thanking me for not giving you the really confusing version.

Ultimately, for right now, I can tell you this: I'm going to attempt to make a thing, and the thing will be somewhere between a new album of music, a video game, an experiment, a book, a movie, and/or all of the above. Or barely any of the above; if the only successful thing that happens is that I end up with an album of interesting new music that I wouldn't have otherwise done, I'm certainly no worse off than I was before (and probably a good deal better).

I can tell you that there's a working title. I can tell you that I've started updating operating systems and looking into software and downloading development kits and the like. But that stuff doesn't really matter. What I'm mostly doing is writing a story that, heh heh, I'm not sure if I'm quite talented enough to write. But we'll see, all of us, together. Because I am going to need your help. If it comes out right, it'll be one of those things that you get to the end of your life and say, "Well, at least I did that." Or maybe it'll be mildly entertaining and give you something to do. We all need things to do. And time. Because while life is short, it can also be sweet. Or suite.

More to come.