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Heather has taken my laptop, ostensibly for video editing, but now for spreadsheets. Here’s where I notice the limitations of the Chromebook. All I want to do is FTP and emacs (there are Mysteries as yet unresolved on a couple of servers). And what do I get? Facebook. Slow-loading news sites (not the Chromebook’s fault – the hotel wifi sucks this morning). BORED.

Oh and the entire Internet is boring today because, aside from a few cleverly done stories (“Setting the Clocks Back at Avebury”), most of the April Fool’s stuff is crap. GRUMP!

Beginning Russian

Arbitrary Russian text

No I don’t know what that means. Why do you ask?

Some of you might not know that one of my hobbies has long been languages.

Like most Canadians, I grew up with at least a modicum of bilingualism (that’s right – I’m a Deschamps┬áand I also speak English! ­čśë ) Then in high school I had the option to take German… which I didn’t do. What I did take was a bit of Russian, as we were hoping to go on an exchange to the Soviet Union (yes I’m old shuddup shuddup). Then I got to university, where I took Greek (yay!), Latin (argh!), and eventually wound up teaching myself Old & Middle English, Old French, Old Norse, some literary Chinese and a certain amount of Moeso-Gothic one particularly boring afternoon. In short, I collect languages.

(I came back to German because it was necessary for a Classics degree, and my German TA was the spitting image of Debbie Harry. Mmmmmmm.)

So for no good or convincing reason, I’ve started studying Russian again. I’ve got some books (chiefly the Penguin Russian course, thanks Julie!) and some audio courses, and I’m enjoying every ┬áminute of it. It’s a┬áhard language. I mean, I’m down with inflected languages, and different script systems, but Russian has some evil complexity that I just love. (Prepositions without vowels? Right on!)

So today I’ve made myself a schedule, a syllabus of sorts, to try to keep myself on track with this adventure. It’s ambitious, but so is the whole endeavour, so why not, right? I’m looking forward to reading some Russian stories (maybe not Zamyatin and Solzhenitsyn just yet) and watching Russian movies (yay depressing death-filled apocalypses!) in the original sometime soon.

PS note to self: when switching the keyboard to Russian, remember to switch it back to English before editing the metadata for a post :S

Stage Tuning Thoughts

Tuning onstage can be the bane of my existence.

If you’ve seen me onstage, you know I use a┬álot of different tunings. Generally I’m using a different tuning each song. I’m pretty obsessive about the tuning, and Heather is also a bit… um… fixated on tuning. So I take care to tune well past what most of the audience is hearing, based on the assumption that I play better when I feel like I’m actually in tune.

But on tour, there are many variables to consider with tuning. Every day we’re in a different climate, and there are variables of humidity, temperature, light levels… the usual prescriptions of “just put a humidifier in the case” are about as useful as any prescription that starts with “just”. Add to that the fact that I’m often keeping 20 or more strings in tune (6-string acoustic, 10-string cittern, 4-string fiddle… sometimes an extra electric, and a mando… it adds up!) and it becomes a bit of a nightmare. Most important of course is a well-maintained and well-set-up instrument (and I’ll have a few things to say about this later too). But there are a few considerations that I keep in mind to make tuning easier and faster:

1. Think about which tunings are coming up next, and consider which strings you want to change first. When you lower one string, the rest of the strings will tighten slightly in response, and vice versa. I often start by tuning strings down (to keep from increasing the overall string tension too much, which can stress the instrument’s neck) and then tune any strings that need to go up, up to pitch. The one exception is if I’m tuning to CGCGCE (Fille du Roy, Ten Feet Tall) when I tune the B up to C, then tune the lower strings down.

2. Remember you’re going to have to tune at least two times, possibly three times. Again, this is because changing the tension of one string impacts the overall tension of the system. This is even more the case with any kind of floating bridge. When I use my lite-ash Strat, which has its bridge set up to float (so I can pull up and push down), I have to tune several times to change tunings, because not only does the system include six strings and a neck, but also three springs in the back. (I don’t change tunings on that one often, because frankly it’s a pain in the backside.) So do a rough tuning, then go back and adjust each string.

3. I often find it’s best to tune the strings alternating from one end to the other – for example, E – E – A – B – D – G. This helps to keep a floating bridge from getting pulled to one side.

4. Consider what the song you’re tuning to will contain. If I’m tuning to DADGAD for a song with lots of drones, I’ll make sure to keep the strings pretty closely to their tuner-dictated tunings; but if I’m playing EADGBE and in G or C, I’ll often tune my B string very slightly flat, as that compensates for the slightly wide fifth of the G chord on the B string. (I’ll come back to the subject of compensated and tempered tunings, and the nightmare that is the guitar’s tuning system, in a later post). When I tune to CGCGCE, the E gets tuned about 2 cents flat to widen the major third in a C chord.

5. Tune your higher strings slowly; even tuning down from E to D too quickly can make a .012″ string go spoing (as I’ve discovered twice on this tour!)

6. When you’ve tuned the guitar, strum a few chords and listen carefully. If the overall tuning doesn’t feel right, trust your ears over your tuner.

I hope this helps a bit. Let me know what you think – any problems you encounter or tips & tricks you’ve learned over the years? ┬áMaybe your tips will help me tomorrow night in San Diego… ­čśë

Nothing is quite as therapeutic as a beautiful spring morning spent throwing axes. We had a great show in Santa Fe last night (and I think I’m gonna move here!) but it’s been topped off by a morning of genteel projectile violence. Now we’re going off for lunch and the obligatory used-bookstore hunt. Got any favourites in any of the cities we’re visiting on this tour? I mean, aside from Powell’s in Portland, of course, where I intend to blow every dime of the indiegogo fund ­čśë

Great gig tonight in Round Rock, TX. One of those weird gigs where you know objectively that you’re playing a house concert, but it kind of feels more like you’re onstage with Iron Maiden, and all the punters are singing along with every word, and even singing the guitar solos. Texas fans are┬áhardcore yo. There were 70-year-olds there who have all the records, AND the t-shirts, AND who sing along with all the words. There was a 16-year-old girl there who had skipped out on her main event at an equestrian contest to be there, who was basically in tears when Heather sang “Hunter”. ┬áThere were even people there who got my weird recherch├ę Rush jokes (although only one person got my obscure French pun, and she’s in the band). Anyway, if you ever wonder why we tour in Texas so often, there’s the reason. We’re leaving tomorrow and I can’t wait to come back already.

Lyric archives

On a whim I decided to crack open my ancient lyric files. I’ve been writing lyrics, off and on, since the mid-80s. They are generally… hm. How should I put it? Eccentric. Yes, I think eccentric would be a good word for it. (I know, you’re shocked). The thing that surprised me is that the working files on my computer (which do not include the many, many archive files on other hard drives, nor the boxes of paper files) are more than enough for an album. Possibly two.

There are, of course, a couple of problems with that. One, thematically it would be more like 12 albums… there’s no sensible cohesion to them (that’s what comes of having a fizzy brain); two, I’d have to either sing them (augh!) or get someone else to sing them (good luck with that, right?). ┬áThree, I’d have to persuade someone to listen to them. That used to be the big killer, right there.

But now I’m in a weird place. Now I know for a fact that there are probably hundreds, even thousands, of people out there who would actually listen to my insane weird songs. They range from people with nothing better to do (“Hey sure, it’s gotta be better than Shark Week!”) to people who actively seek out the strange in life (“I wonder if he has any songs about┬áfungus?”). And a big chunk of the people would be filkers, and one of the things I like best about filkers (aside from them only very rarely throwing things at me when I sing) is that they are dedicated to hearing what people have to say, and evaluating a song based on its merits as a song, rather than solely on its production values, or its glamorous cover shot, or its “Featuring: Annoyingly Wealthy Rapper!” tag.

So in other words, not only do I have an entire instrumental album basically ready to drop onto tape, I had forgotten that I have dozens – possibly hundreds – of songs that I could do with my own rambling, half-mad lyrics. And I have a couple of albums worth of material from The Korea Project that I have to lay on you folks too. Brace yourself: weird is coming…

First Porch Morning of the Year

OK, admittedly this wasn’t┬ámy porch, that’s still covered in snow, but I managed to borrow a porch here in Plano, TX this morning and work there for several hours in the sun.

For those of you who don’t know, I far, far, far prefer working outside to inside – even my relatively comfortable office inside is situated right beside the windows so I can see out. I find I get way more done when I’m sitting outside, and somehow have fewer distractions (except during Summer Jogging Season, but that’s a whole different thing!). So it was with great joy that I got to sit out on Jim & Fran’s porch and catch up on some of the correspondence for Celtic Avalon (almost 90% funded! woo!) and even put some new widgets up on HeatherDale.com.

And now it’s brunchtime. Then – HALF PRICE BOOKS! Woohoo!