Friday, July 25, 2008

Way too cool!

When I first began playing mountain dulcimer in 1985, there were three cassette tapes that accompanied me on the journey for the first 20 or so years. David Schnaufer's "Dulcimer Player", Michael Rugg's "Celtic Collection" and Neal Hellman's "Dulcimer Airs, Ballads and Bears." In the 80's, I had no idea about the west coast dulcimer scene, and had I known - might've headed out to see some of these guys play, maybe get some helpful hints on how to do wonderful things with the instrument. But alas, being the shiftless, feckless lad that I was - the path instead taken was one of solitary scratchings and wackings with the occasional light bulb moment that led to some kind of song or technique. In a way now, I'm glad for those days in the virtual musical wilderness; it helped me develop my own style. But still - what a joy it would've been to peek in on the Pacific Rim scene.

In any case - many years later, I'd finally cruise into the dulcimer world and it's been a huge game of catch-up ever since. I did meet the wonderful Robert Force, who literally wrote the book on playing "wild dulcimer" with his late friend Albert d'Ossche. What I didn't realize until I went back and looked at my three dulcimer cassettes, was that Robert had produced both Michael Rugg's and Neal Hellman's records. Sadly, I'd never get to meet David, as he passed away. But here I was, friends with Robert, knowing that Neal was still doing his thing and that Michael was probably out there somewhere, so I dropped Neal an e-mail to let him know of his influence upon my music.

Imagine my surprise when I got a response and a tip on a festival called Redwood Dulcimer Day. Neal sent me co-founder Janet Herman's e-mail and, before I knew it, I was being invited to perform and teach at this year's fest alongside featured artist Lance Frodsham, another guy who has had a big influence on my music. Holy Cow! Does it get any better than that? I'm afraid it does.

While at KMW, Robert had mentioned that Michael Rugg lived in Felton, which Neal confirmed. Michael now runs the Bigfoot Discovery Project on the site of his old dulcimer building enterprise, Capritaurus. Would I get the chance to meet two of the most influential musicians in my life? I guess the picture speaks volumes to that.

All I can say at this point is, the Great Spirit is amazing - and I'm having a blast even though the festival hasn't even started yet!

Bardstown Bound (a reflection)

Determined to have some pool time in Bardstown before Kentucky Music Week roared out of the gates Sunday evening, I got up stupid early and hit the road, ending up in Bardstown around 1:30 p.m.; excellent time made. After checking in, I went to El Camino Real (Mexican, natch) and then went back to the Quality Inn, leaping into the pool with great abandon. Rick joined me when he finally arrived.

Kentucky Music Week was my first dulcimer festival, the first immersion into this culture and it's got a soft spot in my heart for that reason, among many other reasons. It's part learning environment, part party central where the action literally does not stop once the ball gets rolling. As official videographer for KMW, I'm kept doubly hopping between shooting, jamming and teaching (wouldn't that be triply hopping? Is "triply" a real word? Am I parenthetically talking to myself?), so I was sort of glad that this would be the final stop on this insane month-long journey.

It's all a blur, really. Seeing a lot of old friends and meeting new ones, you know how it goes. A real pleasure to hang with Robert Force again and have deep conversations about life and religion. A joy to share the stage with Butch Ross again and lovely to sit down with Sam Stone, the bard of Henryville, Indiana, who was one of the first people to welcome me into the mountain dulcimer festival family.

After two years of attending the festival, once as a student, once as a teacher/videographer, I'd sort of gotten to know the routine really well. Sleep in a little bit, get breakfast (the Continental breakfast at the Quality Inn was sorely lacking in Continental allure) head down to the school where workshops were taking place, get some shots, teach my classes and then beat feet out of there to enjoy dinner before the evening activities. This year, J.O.B.-produced DVDs of KMW 2006 and 2007 were made available for the first time as I shot footage for the 2008 edition. And this is a bit of a commercial, but if you haven't seen what KMW is like, or if you haven't been, it's got great performances and a big eye towards candid moments that really make the festival so special. End of commercial. For now.

When all was said and done - it was me, Butch Ross, Stephen Seifert and Nancy Seifert at the Stephen Foster Restaurant, getting one last meal for the road and talking about what we were going to do with the rest of our summers. It's a beautiful life, this dulcimer world - and to think that I didn't even know that it existed for so many years. Guess this means that I've been catching up - and how.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Kokopelli Rising - Music, Words and Images
The new album from Bing Futch takes you on a tribal trip of rhythm, melody and harmony. Featuring all original tunes (one traditional) and an eclectic mixture of instruments, "Kokopelli Rising" is a spiritual journey that intertwines traditional vocals with Native American Flute, Appalachian mountain dulcimer, strings, horns and percussion from seven different countries. It's a melding of the old culture with modern ways showcased over the course of an hour through ten free-flowing tracks

Eventually, I will finish out my road trip blogs, but it's been a crush to wrap production on the new disc, which is officially finished here on this Monday.

"Kokopelli Rising" is a bit of a departure for me, but very close to home at the same time. While there's mountain dulcimer on four tracks, the rest of the album is mostly Native American Flute, percussion, vocals and keyboards controlling both software instruments and external synthesizers. Many people have asked me if any of my records had Native American Flute on them, and I'd have to say "no" so many times, I was starting to wonder "why not?" Time, or the lack of it, has been the main reason, so once I got off the road, the time became now and I got in gear to complete the CD, which was actually started late last year.

There are samples of the tunes at the link above.

Now, I'm heading off to Redwood Dulcimer Day this Wednesday and will be in California until Sunday. When I return, it'll be time to continue work on "Dulcimerica: Volume Two" and the as-yet untitled Christmas album that I've been planning for several years.

I'll probably catch up with the road-tripping blog while, er, road-trippin' this week.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Disneyland!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

GOBA, Roscoe and Me

The Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure (GOBA)

Roscoe Village - Coshocton, Ohio

Members of GOBA, The Great Ohio Bike Adventure, were present in Roscoe Village when I arrived ahead of schedule on Wednesday evening. A hearty bunch of folks with a penchant for biking long distances for kicks, I fell in with a small group of riders at a new place in the village called Uncorked .

Those bikers are party animals, I tell you. Good thing it was a short walk, and not a drive, to get "home", which was the Super 8.

Both Rick Thum and I stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast on the hill and were basically right inside the village at all times. It was great getting to know Rick (pictured here with me and Ray Sarchet), sitting up and discussing music and community after each day's festivities. We'd be making the trek down to Kentucky Music Week after all was said and done and had previously had some time to hang out in Morris for the Gebhard Woods Dulcimer Festival. You do tend to run with some of the same members of the pack on the dulcimer festival circuit, some more than others.

Attendance didn't seem to be as large as last year's 33rd annual Dulcimer Days, but the folks who attended seemed to be having a great time. The concerts were packed and the audience was very appreciative. I try to read the crowd's reactions to music on before me, to make an attempt and gauge what kind of tunes they like to hear. Then I mix that with something entirely different, just to keep a balance. For whatever reason, there in Roscoe Village Methodist Church, I charged fearlessly into a set that included a lot of progressive tunes, including some rip-roaring roadhouse blues numbers. It seems to have paid off, as I just about sold out of CDs after the concert.

Yucatan Mexican Restaurant, Coshocton, OH : Reviews of Yucatan Mexican Restaurant - Yahoo! Travel

We ended the entire thing by dining at El Yucatan (Mexican, again!) and by early Sunday morning, I was on the road, bound for Bardstown. The idea being: get there early enough, Rick, and we can take a dip in the pool at the Quality Inn and have a breather before the crazy week gets started. Rick thought it was a brilliant idea.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dulcimer Players News - Summer 2008 Edition

Dulcimer Players News - Current Issue
The Summer 2008 edition of DPN features our most daring cover yet. It was painted by award winning artist Karen Cannon. Read the Editor's Column for more on this action capturing illustration of a couple of our favorite dulcimists, Bill Robinson and Bing Futch. Between the covers you'll find the usual quarterly dose of music, stories, instruction and festival guides to keep you connected to the ever changing dulcimer tradition.

Contributors to this issue include Rebecca Askey, Ken Bloom, Chuck Boody, Christie Burns, Sue Carpenter, Heidi Cerrigione,Joe Collins, Gary Gallier, Nancy Garrett, Jeff Hames, Stephen Humphries, Grahame Hood, Marya Katz, Dan Landrum, Joshua Messick, Roger Nicholson, Butch Ross, Steve Schneider, Mark Shelton, Ralph Lee Smith, Neal Walters, Mark Alan Wade, and Andy Young.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

On Phoenix, Tron and Re-Birth

The sound of nothing is louder than the vast din that surrounds us. Even in the midst of swirling sound, we can reach up and flip the switch inside of our heads and hearts that activates the Great Reduction In The Sound, a.k.a. G.R.I.T.S. (Well, of course it's got to have a catchy acronym. How better to remember that it's there?)

It was with great relish, corn relish, come to think of it, that this switch got activated on many occasions over the holiday weekend. Floating in the pool, bobbing about with face up-turned to sky and administering the clickety-click of that switch. Click, interstate noise be gone, please. Click, Tom Petty song be gone, please. Click, worthless and stress-inducing mind-chatter, exit stage that-away. In its place, a welcome flood of stillness swept into the empty halls and streets of my being, washing away the distractions and leaving cool pools of liquid God twinkling around my brain and heart.

It's here in the silence of these flooded spaces that inspiration rises up out of the ashes of intent. It was a wonderful weekend of chilling with Jae, later on with friends, and then once again with Jae as we tick-tocked towards the inevitable week where duties pushed and jostled for attention on the front lines of Monday morning. Back to work. Tour's over. Gardening is mostly done. The stack of to-do items towers like a triple Dagwood sammich and me, on a diet.

Production Deadlines or How I Learned To Be Responsible Again

It's easy to screw off when no-one's looking. Much harder to do that when people are paying attention, so I've been producing weekly podcasts for almost four years now, starting in 2005 with AFI Radio, which I ceased producing in the fall of 2007 (the archives remain active) while concurrently creating The Dulcimerica Video Podcast which debuted in January of 2007 and ultimately led to my first (gasp!) paying podcast gig, the DPNews Online audio and video podcasts, begun in April of this year. Working for Dulcimer Players News has brought certain things into perspective, like deadlines, for example. Mine are all self-imposed. Editor Dan Landrum said, "you know, it's a weekly podcast, you don't have to have them there on Monday." But I've chosen to get each one of the audio and video productions out by the first business day of the week. Why? To establish precedent and provide a measuring point for expectations.

How many podcasts have you seen debut, then new episodes pop up with a fury, and finally - they wink out like a long-dead dwarf star, leaving you sort of deflated, especially if you really liked them? I think it happens more often than it actually should, which is why that won't be happening with either Dulcimerica or DPNews Online. No, if they wink out, it'll be for good reason, much like with AFI Radio; reason being - I was sick of begging artists for material and figured on spending that time each week doing something that would be received perhaps a little better.

Dulcimerica has exceeded all expectations and continues to be a surprise in that people really enjoy it. The music, the tips and techniques, the travelogues and interviews. It's actually a lot bigger in concept than when I first started and the struggle has been to keep it from becoming too "Big Idea-y." There's a lot of flash and trash on television and radio already.

But DPNews Online isn't my personal platform for making a musical statement; it's part and parcel of a much larger entity that's been around longer than I've even known the mountain dulcimer, so I step with care and am careful to present the stories and music from a place just off-stage. So far, so good.

The summer issue of Dulcimer Players News has just begun landing in mailboxes around the world and I'm quite honored to be sharing the cover with hammered dulcimer player Bill Robinson. I met Bill in Morris, Illinois this past June at the Gephard Woods Dulcimer Festival and he is a fantastic player and great spirit. Our presence on the cover is in support of the idea that traditions are things that you make your own. There are ongoing conversations in the dulcimer world, for both hammered and mountain dulcimer, that have to do with maintaining traditions while moving forward in progressive fashion. Some people resist the moving forward bit. Some shy away from the roots of traditional music. Like anything in life, moderation and balance is the key to true understanding and appreciation. I've been incredibly blessed to have found the worldwide dulcimer community; it feels a little like re-birth, for without this direction in my life, and I always tell folks this when I meet them at festivals and shows, I'd probably be dead right now. Though I play other instruments and venues outside of the dulcimer festival circuit, it's the connection with the dulcimer, preservation of its history and the promotion of its future, that keeps me firmly rooted in the present. That's pretty darn cool.

Phoenix Joins Kokopelli

Part of back-to-work week is continuing recording on "Kokopelli Rising", which will be a largely tribal album of percussion, mountain dulcimer, Native American Flute and whatever else slips into the mix. A rough mix of one track, "Phoenix", is now on this page for your perusal (I've already gotten some very nice comments on the tune - thanks, all!)

End Of Line

July 9th, 1982 - I stood in line for many hours to catch the debut of Walt Disney's "Tron." I was a geek. I have the 20th anniversary DVD and am going to watch it tonight. I'm still a geek. Like the man says, there are no problems, only solutions. God bless Kevin Flynn. And now, a handful of great "Tron" quotes:

Kevin Flynn: On the other side of the screen, it all looks so easy.


Sark: [paces back and forth on the deck of his carrier as he addresses his new recruits] Greetings. The Master Control Program has chosen you to serve your system on the Game Grid. Those of you who continue to profess a belief in the Users will receive the standard substandard training that will result in your eventual elmination. Those of you who renounce this superstitious and hysterical belief will be eligible to join the Warrior Elite of the MCP. Each of you will be given an identity disc.
[Displays his own disc to the crowd]
Sark: Whatever you do or whatever you learn will be imprinted on this disc. If you lose your disc or fail to follow commands, you will be subject to immediate de-resolution. That will be all.


Kevin Flynn: Look, just so I can tell my friends, what this dream is about, okay? Where am I?


Master Control Program: You're getting brutal, Sark. Brutal and needlessly sadistic.
Sark: Thank you, Master Control.


Dr. Walter Gibbs: Ha, ha. You've got to expect some static. After all, computers are just machines; they can't think.
Alan Bradley: Some programs will be thinking soon.
Dr. Walter Gibbs: Won't that be grand? Computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop.


Ram: I'd say "Welcome Friend". But not here. Not like this.
Crom: I don't even know what I'm doing here.
Ram: Do you believe in the Users?
Crom: Sure I do! If I didn't have a User, than who wrote me?
Ram: That's what you're doing down here.


Master Control Program: Mr. Dillinger, I am so disappointed in you.
Ed Dillinger: I'm sorry.
Master Control Program: I can't afford to have an independent program monitoring me. Do you have any idea how many outside systems I've gone into? How many programs I've appropriated?
Ed Dillinger: It's my fault. I programmed you to want too much.
Master Control Program: I was planning to hit the Pentagon next week.
Ed Dillinger: [Alarmed] The Pentagon?
Master Control Program: It shouldn't be any harder than any other company. But now... this is what I get for using humans.
Ed Dillinger: Now, wait a minute, I wrote you.
Master Control Program: I've gotten 2,415 times smarter since then.
Ed Dillinger: What do you want with the Pentagon?
Master Control Program: The same thing I want with the Kremlin. I'm bored with corporations. With the information I can access, I can run things 900 to 1200 times better than any human.
Ed Dillinger: f you think you're superior to us...
Master Control Program: You wouldn't want me to dig up Flynn's file and read it up on a VDT at the New York Times, would you?
[an image washes over the screen in Dillinger's desk. It is a newspaper with a photo of Dillinger plastered all over the front page. The headline above reads: Encom C.E.O. Indicted]
Ed Dillinger: You wouldn't dare!


Ed Dillinger: ENCOM isn't the business you started in your garage anymore. We're building accounts in thirty different countries. New defense systems. We have one of the most sophisticated pieces of equipment in existence.
Dr. Walter Gibbs: Oh, I know all that. Sometimes I wish I were back in that garage.
Ed Dillinger: That can be arranged, Walter.
Dr. Walter Gibbs: That was uncalled for! You know, you can remove men like Alan and me from the system, but we helped create it. And our spirit remains in every program we design for this computer.
Ed Dillinger: Walter, it's getting late, I've got better things to do than to have religious discussions with you. Don't worry about ENCOM anymore; it's out of your hands now.


Master Control Program: I've got a little challenge for you, Sark - a new recruit. He's a tough case, but I want him treated in the usual manner. Train him for the games... let him hope for a while... and blow him away.
Sark: You've got it. I've been hopin' you'd send me somebody with a little more guts... what kind of program is he?
Master Control Program: He's not any kind of program, Sark. He's a User.
Sark: A user?
Master Control Program: That's right. He pushed me... in the other world. Somebody pushes me, I push back. So I brought him down here... What's the matter, Sark? You look nervous.
Sark: Well, I - it's just - I don't know, a User, I mean... Users wrote us. A User even wrote you...
Master Control Program: No one User wrote me. I'm worth a couple million of their man-years!
Sark: But-what if I can't...?
Master Control Program: You rather take your chances with me? Want me to slow down your power cycles for you?
Sark: Wait... I need that...
Master Control Program: Then pull yourself together. Get this clown trained. I want him in the Games until he dies playing. Acknowledge.
Sark: Acknowledged, Master Control...
Master Control Program: End of line.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Yes, We Have Not Bloggedy

Well sir and well ma'am, got halfway through the month-long tour and suddenly, time sped up. That and connectivity continued to be sort of off and on throughout the Roscoe Village and Kentucky Music Week forays, so needless to say, I'm catching up with it all now. Sort of.

EverythingDulcimer Discussion :: View topic - Just A Dulcimer Geek Musing
So, I'm sitting here thinking about Dulcimettes and Eedie Beede's and other soprano mountain dulcimer creations and how little tiny they are - so cute - dainty things. Then I think about your bass and baritone dulcimers, always a little, if not a lot, bigger. I'd say honkin', even. And if you've ever played Mike Oliver's legendary bass dulcimer "The Blue Whale", then you've known that whole "bigger is better" thing rings true.

And then I started geeking out and thinking: "what about a super-big body for a dulcimer strung soprano?" Say for example, it's the same scale length and body length as a Dulcimette or Eedie Beede (am I spellin' that right? Dennis has got one, so that's what I"ve got pictured in my head), but instead of it being shallow - you extended the body straight down, like a platform shoe. You could even make it like a Sitar, where you have to be seated on the floor, and the amount of extension brings the dulcimer to a comfortable spot in your lap. Small scale, big sound box = I'm thinking, some kind of cool extra vibes that would open up the soprano dulcimer sound, like natural reverb.

I dunno. Just geeking out.

It was this thread that inspired Paul Conrad to explore the possibilities of a bigger, roomier soprano dulcimer:

EverythingDulcimer Discussion :: View topic - Just A Dulcimer Geek Musing
aaahhh, Bing you would have to go and mention something like this. Once upon a time, I had a train of thought very similar to yours and actually built a soprano dulcimer with a proportionally wider, deeper body. I ended up naming it Squeaky, and thought I was being pretty generous at that.

But the idea has taken root in the back of my mind (along with half a dozen other sorta non-standard designs I'd love to explore someday, when i get the time) and I keep thinking about it. I'm wondering what would happen if six strings were used and you went to the outer limits on the thinness of material. . .one of these days. . .

paul c

It was in Lisbon, Ohio this past May that Paul presented his creation to me, a soprano dulcimer unlike anything constructed, with a large voice box, floating fretboard, guitar bridge and six strings. It was a prototype, he said. "I'd like to build another one and let you take it for a test drive."

The prospect of being a test pilot for a new form of mountain dulcimer was high on the uber-cool scale, so I happily agreed. It was in Coshocton, not long after I finished my concert set, that Paul presented the instrument to me, wrapped in swaddling clothes that just happened to be a bath towel.

He had made some changes based on specs discussed at Dulci-More 14 in Lisbon; since I tend to anchor when I play, he lowered the fretboard and added a piece that allowed me to anchor comfortably.

It had the familiar Conrad wooden quilt design and an adjustable bridge. And odd-looking creature, but the sound was exactly what I thought it should sound like, what had inspired the muse in the first place. It's a much bigger sound than the usual tinny tone that comes from the small-bodied instruments, much more sustain and resonance. With the six strings, it bears an aural resemblance to a mandolin, but is unmistakably dulcimeric in tone quality.

It also has a L.R. Baggs pickup system installed and it's wired for sound. Since I just got home, the tests have only now begun and I'll post some sound samples here in a little while, but it's pretty cool - another great voice for the album.

Paul's website, Timbre Hill Dulcimers,
is filled with lots of cool eye-candy and a philosophy that comes with the manufacture of each instrument. I'm pretty stoked to be working closely with Paul in developing a new step forward for mountain dulcimers!

There's more to come from the road - such as the wildness of GOBA peeps and the week-long to-do that was this year's Kentucky Music Week, but I've got to get the DP News Online podcasts finished and posted before the night's over, along with Dulcimerica, and hopefully somewhere in there, a little practice and/or pool time if, no - not if but when time allows.