Author Archive

February 25, 2010

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…’

by George

Have you ever listened to silence…complete and utter silence.  You might think that you have, but you haven’t.

This is nearly impossible on earth because we do not live within a vacuum.  Even the slightest vibration disturbs and propagates through airwaves enough to defeat silence.  But this is not a science lesson.

And while there is no sound in all the vast reaches of outer space, there is a lot of sound about space; it even has its own sub-genre if you wanna get picky about it (see Space Rock). And despite being a completely silent place itself, we are so intrigued by this unknown world that we have created sonic representations of how we imagine the galaxies to sound.

Any unknown, whether it be a person, place, etc., makes the best theme for a piece of music because there are no boundaries; it’s not something that everyone knows, has seen, experienced or can define.  It leaves itself open to for the utmost personal interpretation and does not limit creativity with harsh reality or preconceived ideas.  Space, to some degree, represents and defines the limits of our human understanding: we describe something/someone out-there as spacey; we space out when not paying attention.  Anything beyond the boundaries of normalcy must be from outer space.

While all music can be an escape from everyday life, there are certain compositions that offer an even farther refuge from this world…one Beyond the Infinite.

So what does rock and roll sound like in space.   It varies slightly depending on which artist you ask, but generally speaking HUGE.  It appears there are few subtleties amongst the stars.  Large, sustaining notes that stretch far into the stars; unlimited reverberations and echoes of sound from a distant planet; an intoxicating, lush swirl of sound; droning loud & distorted tones; a sputtering sequence of synthetic and alien bleeps and blurts.

Each of the instruments used to create this cosmic symphony serves a purpose: the percussion propels the listener’s vessel into deep space like a steady rocket; you feel the pulse of the bass and sub-low frequencies as you climb farther into darkness and then, you see the vivid and colorful guitar and vocal tones and textures of melody and harmony, like the bright astral bodies that litter the galaxies and pass by you on your interstellar voyage.

Pink Floyd, while speeding through the cosmos in Interstellar Overdrive, decided to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and took a few albums to come back to self-reflective reality here on Earth.  ‘Surely’, said Hawkwind, ‘Space is Deep‘ as they rode along in their Silver Machine until they heard Earth Calling.  Blue Oyster Cult is another well-versed student of Astronomy.  Even Black Sabbath have travelled Into the Void and beyond to Planet Caravan.

It’s liberating to listen to these sounds and mental place oneself outside the world as we know it; to carry only your imagination with you and be transported from reality.  I doubt that any record made about the confining atmosphere and gravity of Earth would be nearly as exciting.

Put on something ‘spacey’ (preferably on vinyl so that you can hear the hiss and pops), turn off the lights (lava lamps can stay on) and climb aboard.


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February 10, 2010

“This thing really boogies!”

by George

The Mark series of amplifiers has been the jewel in Mesa/Boogie’s crown ever since its inception in the 70s.  Starting with the Mark I and continuing until the present, these amplifiers are known for their vast sonic capabilities and their almost endless supply of creative mojo.

This line of amps, in all its many incarnations, has not only been utilized to create the tones heard on many landmark records, it has been, in part, one of the creative forces to shape them.  Listen to Carlos Santana’s singing and smooth lead tone from the MkI on his Abraxas record.  Or delve into the MkIIC+ on Master of Puppets; a mighty sound that became the standard in defining the absolute fastest, tightest distorted guitar tone ever obtained by man.

In it’s two latest incarnations, the Mark series amps have been the last word on tonal versatility and for this reason, it has mainly been championed as a studio player’s amp.   No matter what session you’re working on, these were easy choices as go-to amps for their flexibility and quality of tone.

Now, on to the Mark V…

I’m reviewing the 112 combo, which looks small but sounds like this…

At first glance, you will either become flustered and giddy like a schoolgirl, or immediately annoyed and unsure of yourself as a person.  This is because the front panel of the MkV has no less than 35 controls…on the front!  In comparison to most amps, this is insane and seems most unnecessary.  Ahh, but the rewards of mastering these controls are sweet; if you are brave enough to travel through the labyrinth of knobs, switches and sliders there is a world of tone waiting to be discovered and, dare I say, created.

Like most modern amplifiers, the layout of the MkV is divided into three channels, each covering a different tone range.  Typically, moving up each channel provides an increase in gain and tonal extremes, but that is the wrong way to look at this amp.  Generally speaking this is true, but perhaps a better way to think about the three channels is more like tonal ballparks, each having their own unique range of gain.  Each channel has three ‘modes’ that alter the impact of the basic controls (master volume, gain, presence, treble, mid & bass) over the sound; for example, within the same channel, increasing the bass in one mode may add punch and girth, but in another, result in a flabby, un-controlled tone.  Also selectable by channel is the power rating (10, 45 or 90 watts per channel).  Dropping the wattage can quickly overdrive the amp and yield some sweet and crunchy rock tones.

This all goes, finally, to the graphic equalizer (if you don’t know what that is, look to your left), which lets you fine tune your sound by boosting/cutting select frequencies.  Applying the classic V here yields the signature high-gain sounds of some of the most iconic rock music in history.  If you don’t want to custom tailor the shape of the gEQ, you can set a preset amount of V to be used with a preset knob unique to each channel.  All of this is footswitchable, of course.

So no one gets lost, here’s a more visual layout:

  • Channel
    • 3 Modes
    • Power Selection
  • Graphic EQ

The back panel is mostly boring, so we’ll skip that.  The only features back there worth mentioning are the Reverb control, which allows you to set different levels of shimmer and spank on each channel individually, and the effects loop, which allows you to insert effect pedals/processors before the amp’s power section.

The footswitch for this monster of tone is the size of a small barge and controls channel switching, reverb, EQ, a sound mute for tuning, the effects loop and a solo boost (a volume boost used for when it’s time to melt faces!!)

Next post, we’ll set sail on the sea of ROCK!!!!



February 2, 2010

Playing Covers

by George

Sure…you buy an album (record, cd, download, whatever you call it) primarily for the sonic content held therein (I opted not to say ‘music’ so as not to offend anyone on either side of the “you call that music?!” argument).  But one of the most vivid and memorable aspects of an album can be the artwork.  Whether on the cover or inside the booklet/gatefold, many would agree that a deeper appreciation for a record is possible with the right artwork.

You may not remember the title of every song on Dark Side of the Moon, but you immediately think of the prism and refracting light against a black background. You may not even know the names of all the Beatles (and shame on you if that’s true) but you can pick out the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from a mile away.  These covers represent one sensory medium with another: masterful sound through iconic imagery.

This is especially true with a concept album – think of almost any rock album made in the 70s that explores the concepts of dystopian visions of the future, the ills of society or the spectrum of human emotion.  These are all topics that artists have explored on some great concept albums.  And along with these thematic musical statements, we are often presented with bold visual artwork.  Yes (the band) are a prime example…the same degree of complexity and epic nature of their songs is paralleled on the other-worldly covers of their albums (thanks to artist Roger Dean).

I’m so drawn to cool artwork that I’ve contemplated buying many a record based on the fact that the album cover is so hypnotic…which I do not advise on principle alone.  It’s beautiful idea though, isn’t it?  The complete package…you sit in front of your stereo, listening a record, looking through the artwork, absorbing every molecule of magic held within that physical material of wax, plastic and paper.

But think, for a minute…the attraction and association of artwork to a piece of music is an interesting concept.  What if the Stones swapped album covers on Beggars Banquet and Exile on Main St.?  Or if Zep put the cover of Houses of the Holy on Led Zeppelin 2?  Would these records sound any less powerful?  Would they be any less revered and influential?

That last paragraph was a lot of questions, I know.  Go put on your favorite record, look at the artwork and get back to me.


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January 26, 2010

Sonic Ritual

by George

We all believe.  And we each have our own way of practicing our faith.  Precious minutes each day, devoted to worship…precious minutes, each day, when we can remove our conscious selves from the physical world and become enveloped by our deities.

Or maybe it’s just me…

For those like myself who hold a particular reverence for the awesome power of music and sound, putting in earbuds, popping in a CD or putting a needle to vinyl and pressing play can be an almost religious experience…a glimpse into the divine!  It can enhance or detract; construct or destroy; amplify or mute.  To we who believe, it can give solace just as easily as it can bring on discomfort.

I’m sure you’re reading this and thinking that I need to get a life…possibly true.

But you cannot deny that you too have, at some point in your cognizant existence, been influenced by and acted under the guidance of these moving waves…that even for the most brief interval of time, been transported from your physical surroundings into a world created by your mind.

Not only are these sonic rituals a window into our minds, but they are also a means of time travel.  The physical compression of air in certain patterns and frequencies that we interpret as sound is transformed into electrical impulses that activate certain areas of your brain, where they have the ability to continue on and trigger memories.  Despite our (supposedly and arguably) massive intellectual capabilities as human beings, our limited ability to control our thoughts is rarely more evident than when song and lyric carry your mind away to another specific instance of time.

Reality is limited by perception.  As sound is one of the distinctions that defines reality, I like to think that the structure and organization of its elemental units (music) is one of the ‘bridges’ that links our reality with a world that we don’t have the means to perceive; all the frequencies, from the lowest bass to the highest treble and those in between, are essential to further describe and understand our surroundings.

And at the same time, we create it…at the very least, we are vessels by which it is conveyed.

So, my fellow believers, as you go off and bathe your mind in sound, peace be with you.
wall of fuzz

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