Piece for Piano, Guitar, and Typewriter

Finger March for the 4th

Finger March is played on a Martin Backpacker guitar box.

Division Alt Guitar & Junior Brown

Junior Brown

Junior Brown at Aladdin Theater Pic from Balcony

Junior Brown plays an inventive, alternative guitar: method, form, and style. Brown is a rockabilly virtuoso, as in jazz guitar, Joe Pass was expert, where skill matures into virtue.

Junior plays a custom designed and built two-neck guitar that he plays behind a stand rather than hanging from a strap around his shoulder. The setup looks like a piece of railway wheelhouse. The top of the instrument is a six string, Fender style neck that’s affixed to a body that melds below into an encased eight string lap steel slide guitar. He doesn’t exactly play both necks at once, though there may be some looping going on, but the two neck setup allows him to quickly switch back and forth from one neck to the other – seamlessly, is the word.

And he switches necks while singing a couple of octaves below Hank Williams and half hidden under a Tom Mix style ten gallon cowboy hat. If Brown simply sat in a chair and played, he’d be something like classical masters Segovia or Julian Bream, but Junior Brown is a showman.

Saturday night, at the aged Aladdin Theater in Portland, Junior was backed by a stand up bass, a drummer playing only a snare and a single cymbal, and an acoustic rhythm guitar. The instruments were miked through large vintage Fender amps and mixed through the Aladdin’s speaker system. The instruments were clear and not too loud, but Junior’s voice sometimes had that muffled loudness button on sound from a mike set too loud, but that could have been where we were sitting in the small hall, about six rows back eye to eye up from the stage left big speakers.

I’m working on a reverse bucket list. That’s a list of things I’ve done but don’t ever want to do again. High on the list is attending an arena big concert. And small venues should play like, well, small venues, which means turn off the loud button. Other things on my reverse bucket list include working a jackhammer, climbing up on the roof to scrape off the moss, and worrying about how my academic colleagues might judge my writing.

We arrived at the Aladdin as the doors were opening, double lines divided north and south of the alcove entrance beneath the marquee. We had just disembarked from Line 4, the SE Division St bus, having walked a mile or so south to pick it up and another 1/3 of a mile across the old train tracks and the new Orange Line Max tracks, past the dozen or so level grade crossing bars, along the new custom walkway through safety gates and fencing, following the pedestrian pavement guides, where SE 11th and SE 12th merge into Milwaukee Avenue, and crossing big Powell Boulevard, where traffic gears up or down for the Ross Island Bridge across the Willamette River. A kind of new dividing line now emerges in one’s understanding of the changing cityscape, signaled as the difference between old bridges like the Ross Island Bridge and new bridges like Tilicum Crossing, the 135 million dollar “Bridge of the People.” There’s no less friendly pedestrian crossing than the Ross Island (indeed, it’s not that friendly to cars and trucks crossing), while the Tilicum accommodates only pedestrians, bicycles, buses, trolleys, and light rail – no cars, no trucks. The Tilicum is like a giant sailboat compared to a tugboat Ross Island.

Division Street’s Line 4 is much slower than Belmont’s Line 15, people on and off at nearly every stop, the traffic on Division as slow as a mournful church pipe organ. If you want to see a neighborhood in transition, from vintage and standard to gentrified and cantilevered apartment-ed, from dive bar drinking dens to posh diva dressed restaurants where mayonnaise is called aioli, and where even the food carts serve amuse-bouche appetizers, and all a kid needs to feel amused is an outside bench and a tall-boy PBA, check out SE Division between 52nd and 11th.

Kory Quinn with full band opened the show ahead of Junior Brown. We were somewhat divided on our first hearing of Quinn, his songs, banter with crowd, and sound. I thought the band was tight, listening to one another, the songs well written and orchestrated, but the overall system sound mix did seem a little full at times, the lyrics difficult to catch hold of in the loud medley of sound, some subtleties overwhelmed. That may say more about my old ears than about the young band. But if you like standing on the rails, a train of country hill delta musicians coming down the track all rattling away at once at full speed and volume, this is your band. Sorry I didn’t get nor can I find all the musicians’ names, but we heard an excellent harmonica player, good harmonized vocals, great lead guitar work from Michael Howard, solid bass and drum foundation, plus pedal steel. Kory Quinn’s band was mulit-task-talent party on.

But speaking of party on, back on the bus back on Division Street, the last weekend of 2016 spring was in full bloom. Folks hopping on and off the bus, standing in line to get a beer, an ice cream, a meal, hang out, listen to some local live music. There were possibly more people in line for the new Salt & Straw ice cream scoop shop as we found waiting to get in to see Junior Brown at the Aladdin. LA Larchmont district here in Portland via SE Division Street. Not quite, of course, but hyperbole is close friends with curiosity. And what’s curious about SE Division Street these days is where it might be going, and what it might continue to divide.

Junior Brown puts on a show, and while he might mimic sounds and styles, he does not lampoon, though he is open to satire. Late in his show, he played a haunting and halting blues piece after which he named Albert King as his inspiration. And he played the surf medley and some “Apache,” though Junior’s version of “Apache” sounded not so much like the Joe Pass versions. Junior finger and flat picks at once, slides with a metal tube, winds his strings up and down for effect, coming back in tune every time. He fidgeted with one of the amps a bit, not sure why, gave the vocals over to rhythm guitarist Tanya Rae Brown, highlighted his snare-drummer and bassist, came back to a standing ovation for a lengthy encore of songs.

There was no encore on SE Division as we headed back east on Line 4 after the concert. Everything seemed closed, places all shut down, the sidewalks clear. We had thought of jumping off somewhere to get a late bite to eat. We walked into the Woodsman Tavern, but were turned away by a benevolent waitress who explained the kitchen was closed but suggested we try the Landmark Saloon up the road a piece. We walked into the Saloon to a full tilt bluegrass band. But what’s remarkable about Landmark Saloon is the open patio space with food cart, where folks were just hanging out at the picnic tables, in front of a tall-boy PBR, a sweet smelling outdoor fire keeping a group around a small pit warm and friendly. But alas, we were still a bit late for food from the cart. He was still open, but the list of things he was out of was longer than what he had left to still serve up. We enjoyed the patio for a few more indecisive moments, then continued walking east to North Bar.

I’m not sure why North Bar is named North Bar since it’s in South Tabor in Southeast Portland. Well, it’s north of Larchmont, anyway. And a good place for a brew, but probably not a late bite, so we headed north up 50th to Hawthorne, rounded the corner, and ducked into the Sapphire Hotel, where we feasted on late night salmon cakes and beer and talked about Junior Brown and Kory Quinn and SE Division and Line 4 and wished one another a happy father’s day as we realized we’d crossed the night divide.

We left the Sapphire and continued north thinking we’d get a lift on Line 15 up the hill. Didn’t happen. Walked all the way, crashing well after midnight, thinking of what an epic post the evening gig down and up Division to the Aladdin and Junior Brown might make.

 

Old Blue

An instrumental guitar version of the old folk song, “Old Blue,” recorded impromptu using Garage Band on the laptop, two tracks, each recorded using Telephone Vocal, then copied and pasted twice, for a total of six tracks, the pasted tracks each using a different Garage Band library voice (including Deeper Vocal, Dublin Delay, Surfin’ in Stereo, and Mystery Chorus). Check it out!

Flashing Lights and Random Noise in the City of the Brain

The ophthalmologist asked if I was still seeing the flashing lights. Rarely, but hard to predict. So the brain has gotten used to them, and is ignoring them, she said, and I immediately wondered why that same brain couldn’t ignore the tinnitus sounds also.

Sophisticated sound systems increase chances of distraction from random noise. If you must cough, wait until the crescendo is about to peak. Clarity of sound is valued. Increase pixels, dots, from cartoon to photograph. Whatever might muddy the waters is considered distraction. Clarity is a value that dithers. We must learn to connect the dots.

But what is distraction? And when might distraction be desirable? Rocks viewed through water look different after the creek dries out. The transistor radio is the perfect transmitter of the three minute basement tape composition recorded on a single track hand held device. Form may distort or obscure content so that we might hear, see, feel, smell, or taste what we might otherwise have missed, though the effort often fails.

Kindness, sense of humor, forgiving, joy of life.

Culture provides for cloistered clarity, photographs viewed through filters, the eye a sieve. The ear a strainer. We may not wince quite as much from scenes in a film when intoxicated from the smell of buttered popcorn.

“How do you know but every bird
that cuts the airy way
Is an immense world of delight,
closed by your senses five?”

Just so, but in any case,

“A fool sees not the same tree that a
wise man sees.”

(Two quotes above from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

I first heard of random noise working with some actuaries on multivariate analyses. In the context, noise is unpredictable and therefore unreliable. Random noise does not appear to correlate, nor can its causes or effects be accurately tracked or explained. Probability becomes problematic. The treatment is the same as for tinnitus, where smoothing or dithering renders the unwanted noise invisible. Random noise is asymmetrical, or anti-symmetrical, and expressed by numbers, sounds, colors, or any other output, a given sequence of random noise probably cannot be duplicated.

Things are rarely right on, but approximate; why then the need for clarity, for perfection, for proper grammar, pronunciation, spelling, punctuation? Prescription is an attempt to clarify, but description is far more accurate.

“Bright lights, big city, gone to my baby’s head” (Jimmy Reed, 1961).

Here is a four stanza composition, each stanza four lines long, expressing random noise in hexadecimal format. The piece can be played musically if each letter is expressed as a note and each number expressed as a duration (the absence of g might be noted, because the base is 16). There are no more instructions. The fewer instructions, the more random the results. Randomness may be the prefect solution for writers with copyright issues. Interested readers may reproduce the exercise below at the ANU Quantum Random Numbers Server, but no matter how many times you try, you will probably never come up with the same sequence shown below. Plus, each line below has been truncated from its original. Other arbitrary changes made to the original output from the server include all zeros removed, and spacing and line breaks added.

Dither # 1

1ee 9f 9f7454 cd2 a a77114 da a4
6f2 8eab 4fc1 bad b9a13 c8 d23
19f e3 5a 27bd 4c361 e8 dec c211
b3 6a f5 4645407 d85 9 fa 35 efcbbacb

86c c3 681 d5 f5 74bc c3a 8ee8 6 f2 92 c5
91 c5 1 b3 4 b7 f68793753 dd 38ba 34f1e2d
814 eff c6884 aa 30d4 e1 a8 dc5 6c 4b
182986 bfd 982 d5 805854 c7

fc6 6e2172 eab fb 2b5
74 4afef c8 40 c57 c9 4 bab 1
b86fa 8c 4 9a 39 ffba 99ac 89 bd5 be
97 b8 8c f79 477 a c5 7d 9d d 13b 2

53 79 53 d3 61d3b178c68882aa 6 cefbbf77
d8b449 efaf 73fa8917 bfb 473774ffc1 d7 d9dfe8
1d3c c8 99761685 c21cd9 2569935ca2de6b7 ebb
23513e76b828b a5 ac

And the lines below were copied from “The matrix” streamed live from the AUS Lab and pasted without changes, except to color – the original contains the matrix green flavor, but it wouldn’t copy, so I’ve approximated the color with a font change. As I read through the composition, I could find no distractions, but upon preview of the post, it appears that WordPress coding has been added, probably because of the change I made to the font color. I find the result distracting.

È[Õ‚‚ω9(C∫}¾„õ°v¸JËBؾ{ΨÉŠq®ψξ
.Ó½ïpÚ±/zò→‹πɲ˼ΦÏ‚óæ;MIÅ<9Ð9š֑±ªGæ↔Ñ
ïΧ8β)hDœa1tR˜Χε¯Š4∫ÈQ”R/Ì),¦êí‰f9õÚ¯Xîé:
#¿7{‘‡ÆÙ™κë‹g¡ÖÀoªyÖ‡ƒPiDë»öÝ√üÄΩ¹+∪ÊDγÌ
xKòÁNπ:∂t-Eh픉#.=φðρ—yœ9UR—λY¤ω→ÂZãé}:σ
öÝ=±¨Íθ*Ší%τ~νËÍ[&αζF7ÏòUœκ_λωW#θ‡ûqº•Ëã
ú‡LêμÞÑÖ2:λ∂F↓°ψÌ¡pΤ›e–à.N!ÎûƒûˆhqÔÏa?ƒ</span>
<span style="color:#00ff00;"> ↔ζÆ~8ΤºÇ!#∄8ÃLLØθ¡&amp;∪ß|cZk±xÁúο@∪ÏDÜþè'¡{</span>
<span style="color:#00ff00;"> ù’;θfÑÆÏ7ψμE„&lt;ºÙ∃’a√ÖΧŠΣσÕ¢¥æÆ5Æρ
ÄO“jJω

Readers often ask what a poem means. Usually, if nothing else, what poetry means, in spite of repetition in form and sound and sense, is that you can’t guess what comes next:

What is correct in quantum indeterminacy?

One year, we went to hear the jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles. But he was too loud, and we had to leave. I’d already had some hearing damage, forgetting my ear plugs at the Fort Bliss rifle range, working the jack hammer from the compressor truck without plugs, thinking I guess that I was born with immortal hearing. Should have known better; my father suffered from ear damage. The high school I attended, Saint Bernard, in Playa del Rey, sat next to the runways of LAX, the planes taking off often a welcome break to a hard-boiled lecture.

My father often heard what was said, but muffled, without clarity. He taught himself to read lips. He was a good listener, and an avid talker, in spite of a stutter. I suspect he stuttered because he was unsure of pronunciations, the result of his hearing difficulties. Or maybe because he could not hear himself talk. One year, hearing aid technology having improved, he had surgery on both ears, to clear out rotted bone and crud, and was fitted with new hearing aids. In no time, his stutter disappeared. My mother was sure this was a miracle.

We went back to the Ash Grove to hear the guitarist John Fahey. We were seated in front. John came out with his guitar and a giant Bubble Up bottle. He sat down and drank the entire bottle of Bubble Up in one long swig, its neck stuck deep under his duck-like protruding upper lip. He put the bottle down on the floor and began to play guitar. I thought maybe he might use the Bubble Up bottle for some bottleneck guitar, but he did not. He said not one word the entire evening, nor do I recall a single burp. In short, he was not too loud. I still have his “The Yellow Princess” in vinyl album format, the one where you can hear the door close and footsteps.

The ophthalmologist asked me if my eyes felt like sandpaper. She said one of my optic nerves was larger than the other. I told her I also had asymmetrical hearing, which she apparently considered a distraction. She suggested artificial tears for the dry grit in the eyes feeling.

The brain is a megacity of flashing lights and random noise, a conurbation of neighborhoods in various stages of going to seed.