Monday, July 21, 2014

Hot Monday

"Too Hot..." (photo by C. Fries)

It's a hot Monday here. After an unseasonable cold spell last week, the temperature is building into the upper 80's and will go higher throughout the week.

I'm like my dog Max in the photo above.  When it gets too hot, I don't want to go out and play Frisbee -- I don't even want to be outside.

So today, I'll stay inside and offer you  some hot blog updates.

Hot Newsday

A while ago, I experimented with a blog idea I called "Tuesday Newsday Two-Hundred."  It was a feature I would post on a Tuesday, where I'd take a recent news story and create a short 200-word story about it.  Not 199 words, not 201 words -- 200 words exactly.

I enjoyed putting them together, but as anyone who visits here a short while realizes, my posting is far too erratic to have a regular weekly feature.

But it doesn't mean I can't still do them, right?  No!  (...and there was much rejoicing...)

I'll just take the "Tuesday" part out and post them as the mood strikes me.  Well, the mood has struck.  So, today, I offer you "Burning Fear" -- a 200-hundred-word story about a recent news item.  I invite you to read the story below, and then click the link to check out the original news piece:

Burning Fear

Tom had a burning fear of spiders.

He couldn't stand the sight of them. He would rather stick his hand into a roaring fire than touch one of the vile things, even to kill it.

An all-consuming hatred and loathing that constantly smoldered, Tom's phobia threatened to blaze into full-blown panic at the mere thought of a spider.

It was one reason why he put off doing laundry. He'd rather wear dirty clothes than have to spend time in the basement laundry room of the house he rented. It was dark and dingy, with plenty of shadowy corners for spiders to hide in.  Tom's landlord used the basement for storage, and shelves of paint cans, bins of stray hardware, and dust-covered tools provided ample cover for spider nests. 

But he could put it off no longer.  Taking his overflowing basket of clothes down, Tom scanned every corner for any spiders.  All seemed clear as he set his clothes on the rickety table.  Until he saw a huge, black spider on the wall above the washer.  

Tom knew he had to kill it.  But no way was he going to squash it.

Then he got the spark of a bright idea...

Original news story: Man Using 'Blowtorch' to Kill Spider Started Fire

Hot Blog Hop

Dianne Salerni, author of many wonderful books including "We Hear the Dead," "The Caged Graves," and "The Eighth Day" has today named me to take part in the "Not So Accidental Blog-Tourist Hop."

I have to admit that I'm normally not one for blog-hops, tagging, or blogging awards. Not that I'm some sort of elitist snob who feels I'm above all that frivolity -- I don't.  It's just that my sporadic blogging limits the amount of time I have to devote to those kinds of things, so I generally say, "no, thank you."

But I respect Dianne and her writing, know her as a really nice person, and I like the idea of the blog-hop being short and simple and open to any kind of "Creative" work, not just writing.  Plus, I admit it -- I was flattered when she asked me.  Really? You mean you want me to take part???  This still-unpublished writer who dabbles in basement-recording? Uh, wow... Okay, sure. 

You can read Dianne's answers to the blog-hop questions about her current creative project at her blog HERE.

And then -- next week (July 28), stop by here to read my answers to the same questions, and to also see the three talented people I nominate to take part.  I'm not even going to give them a heads-up.  Because I don't want to them to feel obligated that they have to keep the blog-hop going.  I just want to recognize three creative people and perhaps get you to visit their blogs. 

Hot Blog-Hop II

In another nod to some former blogging activities, I'm giving some advance notice that I'm again going to take part in the Battle of The Bands blog hop on August 1st. 

I did several of these before, but then stepped aside.  It's the same old story -- no time, limited blogging activity, rarely post, eratic schedule, yada-yada-yada...

I may not take part every time the semi-monthly blog event is held. Heck, I may never do another one after the one I post on the 1st.  Who knows? I've given up trying to figure me out.

But after seeing some of the songs featured on the 15th, I've been inspired to feature a song that I've always loved.  It's like cool water on the sensitive skin that's been out in the hot sun for too long.

Stop back on the first to take part and vote for your favorite version of the tune!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Songs of Summer

Warren Dunes State Park (image from Michigan Science & Nature blog)

Lately, I must admit that I haven't been very social on the blogosphere. Because I haven't had much time to devote to it, this blog has been mainly a one-way street where I've made an occasional post and then disappeared, rarely getting out to visit other bloggers. 

But I've decided that in spite of my limited time, I do need to improve my on-line presence and interaction.  Taking part in a fun blog-hop is one way to do that, and so this is my entry in the Songs of Summer blog-hop sponsored by the bloggers The Armchair Squid, Cygnus, and Suze from the wonderful Subliminal Coffee.

The point of the blog hop is to create a five-song personal summer soundtrack, and so I've put together the songs below.  I will admit that my list is entirely subjective and personal -- rather than just being "about" summer, most of these songs bring back memories I associate with summer, like my fond memories of the time I spent at Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan (see pic above) during my summers as a teen.

But here's my list -- see if I hit any ones that you might have on your own soundtrack:

  • Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly and the Family Stone):  OK -- this first one IS indeed "about summer."  But as a kid, I remember hearing this a lot in the summer, and it brings back many happy memories of the times at my friend's grandmother's pool, listening to music on a small transistor radio.  It's a fun mix of mellow and funky, with some incredibly infectious bass, and it holds up surprisingly well for a song recorded in 1969 -- 45 years ago.  It's a song that just feels like summer. Here's a recording of it where the old original mono has been redone into stereo (yes, they were still recording in mono in 1969):
  • Stranglehold (Ted Nugent):  Ted Nugent's first, self-titled 1975 solo album after leaving the Amboy Dukes was a record that I played a LOT during the summer of '76, and this track was the main reason.  As a 15-year-old struggling, wanna-be guitar-player, I loved the power and vibe of the long, extended solo. The vocals and all-around bravado also appealed to my immature masculinity, despite my overwhelming introverted shyness and awkwardness. But man-oh-man, that in-your-face, screamin' guitar just called to me (and now I have the tinnitus to prove it how loud and how often it did, LOL!).  Here's the original studio recording:

  • Blue Sky (The Allman Brothers): This was recorded in 1972, but I didn't really discover the Allman Brothers until the late '70s in my later teens.  This song was on Eat a Peach, the album the band was working on in 1971 when Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24. The song was written (and sung) by Dickey Betts and has some of my most-favorite guitar playing of all time -- Duane's first solo, Dickey's second, and their harmonies are simply exquisite.  This song just oozes joy and warmth, and is such a perfect song for a lazy, sunny summer day.  Still a staple of the band's live shows, here's the original version from Eat a Peach:

  • Are You Going With Me? (Pat Metheny) -- Nine minutes of haunting, ethereal, and (eventually) intense playing over a simple, catchy groove, this is from my favorite Pat Metheny album, Offramp. Released, in 1982, right when I was really starting to get into his music, I completely associate it with summer because of one special night: July 12, 1983.  That's when I saw the Pat Metheny Group live at Meadowbrook  It was a warm, clear summer night at a gorgeous outdoor, wooded amphitheater on the campus of Oakland University in Auburn Hills, MI. The band's playing that night completely blew me away -- it was a magic event and still stays in my memory as one of the best concerts I've ever seen.  No "big production" -- just incredible musicians making amazing music in a beautiful setting. This concert had most of the pieces from Offramp, including the jaw-dropping Ornette Coleman inspired title track, the beautiful James, the groovin' Eighteen, and the moody Au Lait among them. Below is a live version of Are You Going With Me -- I still smile and get goosebumps when I hear it.  It's mostly keyboardist Lyle Mays in the beginning, with Pat coming in on his guitar-synth just before the 4:00 mark:

  • There are also several movies I associate strongly with summer, so it's natural for me to think of their theme songs as part of my "summer soundtrack."   The soundtrack from Caddyshack (summer of 1980 -- love the version of "I'm Alright" as used in the film's openings) and the soundtrack from Ghostbusters (summer of 1984 -- note the '80's synth drums and the low-budget cheesy early MTV video) are especially relevant here.  But after thinking about it, there is one soundtrack that stands out as having particular significance. So, from the summer of 1975: The Theme from Jaws, by John Williams.  No summer at the beach was ever the same after this movie.  For  years, even small ponds in Iowa had kids chanting this "duh-duh... DUH-DUH..." Jaws theme music when they went anywhere near the water:

So there you have it -- my personal five-song "Summer Soundtrack."  But I supposed I could also add a write-in sixth song of my own. How about my wikiloops jam, Summertime Smile? I think it's the most summer-y of anything I've done so far (click on the image to go to the jam):

So that makes my "Summer Soundtrack (+1)" -- what do you think?

Thank you very much for stopping by! I encourage you to visit all the blogs in this blog hop. You can see the linky-list at The Armchair Squid's blog:  HERE

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Name is Romance

Today, I'd like to offer you another musical piece in my evolving "Forgotten Voices" series, like my earlier Streak of Moonlight, which I shared back in April.  This is one I call My Name is Romance.  I've uploaded it to My Soundcloud Page and I eagerly invite you to take a listen either from using the link above, or right from this blog by clicking on the embedded widget below:

Like Streak of Moonlight, everything on this piece was performed by me.  I edited the MIDI Drum patterns and played bass, keys (including the keyboard melody), and many, many guitars.  The only things that were not me are the samples from a 1930's radio romance program -- vocals and some short clips of strings.

This took a long time to put together and went through several revisions.  I also changed my opinions as the piece was slowly put together -- I started out really liking it, then thought it was crap and set it aside half-finished, and then revisited it and thought it wasn't so bad.  Now I have come full circle to liking it once again. Nothing like the temperamental artist, huh? ;)

Now that it's finished, I enjoy the mix of moody, distortion-laden rhythm guitars, spacey echo fills, the keyboard melody, and the leads (including a backwards one that turned out much better than I thought it might).  All-together, including each vocal sample, there are over 30 separate audio tracks in this piece, many of them just little fills that come and go in the background.  This is not my usual recording method -- I'm typically much too impatient to let something sit and stew and keep slowing adding and revising over a long period.

Take a listen and see what you think!  And then feel free to let me know -- I'd love to hear your opinion.

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Be Who You Want to Be

Be Who you Want to Be*

"Be Who You Want to Be" is good advice, I think.  It's too hard trying to be someone you're not, and life is much too short to force yourself into someone else's mold of what they expect you to be.  The trick in following the advice is to first determine who it is you want to be, and then actually take the steps necessary to become that person.

OK.  Here's (one of) mine: I want to be a writer.

It seems like it only takes one step:  I need to write. 

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Yes... But there's a little bit more to it.  For one thing, there are varying degrees of "writer" -- I could fill boxes and boxes with random gibberish scratched on notebook pages and store them in my basement, and technically I'd be a "writer."

But that's really not what I want.  So I need to be a little more specific:  I want to be a writer whose work is read and appreciated by others.

Now it gets a little more complicated.  I not only have to write, but I have to write things that readers will enjoy and appreciate AND I have to find a way to attract readers and get my work to them.

Well, the good news is that I'm writing.  And I think I'm writing things that (given enough editing) might be enjoyed and appreciated.  However, that last thing is really the tricky part -- attracting readers and getting my work to them.  This is basically the whole publishing world in a nutshell.

Plus, I realize -- "attracting readers" is also one of the main reasons I fisrt started blogging. Having an online presence is needed to help readers discover your work, and to interact with them once they have.

So writing alone is not enough, and while I am definitely going to keep that going, I also think I need to return to a much more active presence my neglected blog. Heck -- even posting on a consistent once-a-week basis would be an improvement.  So, beginning today I'm going to shoot for that.

And to start it out, I'll offer a quick bit of writing and a musical piece that completely fits this post.


In the interest of brevity, how about some of my recent off-the-cuff submissions to the fun writing prompt site

Because I'm working on so many other things, I'm not spending a lot of time on the TypeTrigger site -- it's just a fun way to stoke the creative juices before moving on to other things.

I've discovered I like the 5-7-5-ish syllable Haiku-esque approach, and it's kind of surprising to see what comes out of my subconscious when I go off of a given prompt.  Sometimes it's humorous, and sometimes it's a little darker, and it's often-times not something I expected.

You can visit My Page on the TypeTrigger site to read all of my stuff, but here are a couple of ones I did recently that I particularly liked (the titles are the site-generated prompt words):

"actions speak"

Although actions speak,
Newton's Third Law tells us that
reactions speak too.

"tile floor"

Your Scrabble tantrum
subsides -- but our shag carpet 

is now a tile floor.

Be Who You Want to Be is also the name of a jam I uploaded to back in March.  Click on the link under the title or on the picture to the left to check it out.

It's an older piece, but one that I really like. It was built on an awesome track with drums by "MrAdamOnDrums," very cool bass from wikiloops founder "Dick", and vocals by the wonderful "Shi". I added a funky rhythm guitar and several multi-tracked lead guitars to it. 

I love the way this jam came together -- Shi's great singing gives it a very cohesive structure, and the "da-dat-dah" vocal breakdowns over Dick's bass line adds for a lot of interest.  I wanted to do what I could to have my guitar parts add to the song instead of overwhelming everything. I tried hard to stay out of the way of Shi's voice, and worked to double (and harmonize) the breakdown line rather than riff all over it.  The leads are a little looser, but even then, I tried to give them a structure that hopefully embellished the jam instead of just flailing away on "hey, lookit me!" solos.

Thank you for reading and listening! I hope you enjoyed my writing and music -- feel free to comment, even if you didn't.

*Image from

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Update: Upbeat about the Upswing

Writing Again...*

Wow -- it's been a while since my last post, hasn't it?  As happens far too frequently, I've once again left this blog to gather dust while I've been off doing other things.  But since this is a blog that is supposed to highlight my creative output, I suppose I should... um, highlight something or other.  Or at least give an update on what I've been up to lately -- if you're up for it.  So let me touch on my writing and musical activities lately:


The good news is that I'm writing again -- pretty regularly.  I'm quite happy about the upswing in the amount of words I've been getting onto the page lately. For one thing, I've revisited an older, oft-rejected short story, and have had some insights on ways to breathe new life into it.  I'm radically restructuring it, altering the story arc, and hopefully increasing the tension and conflict.  I'm also trying to give it more of a self-contained story feel.  While it could still serve as the introduction to what could perhaps become a much-larger science-fiction novel, I'm optimistic that this finished version will be better able to stand on its own as a short story.

I've also been busy heavily researching a detective mystery set in the 1940's Detroit area.  This is actually using an old serial piece I once wrote for the now-defunct Creative Copy Challenge website as its inspiration, but altering the timeline (1940s instead of 1950s), tweaking the characters, altering the plot, and expanding the story for a novel.  I have the basic story already set in my head and roughly outlined, and I'm eager to see it come together.  I've had two other novels that fizzled out before they were finished -- I consider them part of the necessary process of honing my writing skills. the time spent on both was extremely beneficial in helping me learn how to structure a novel and improve my writing, but I think my writing ultimately outgrew both stories before they were finished.  Someday, I may revisit them, but for now, I think of the many incomplete revisions of both to be like the stepping stones needed to get to this book. This novel could also serve as a launching point for what might very easily become a series of books, with a captivating character and a setting of the drama-filled time of WWII and the 1950s, in a city that was "The Arsenal of Democracy" and one of the most segregated areas in the country.

And I've also signed up for an online critique group with my good friend DL Hammons, whose WRiTE Club 2014 kicks off next week.  I'm excited to see how this group evolves -- I'm also hopeful that it will help keep my nose to the grindstone writing-wise.  I don't want to be the weak link of the group who never has anything to offer.  And by the way -- in case if anyone was wondering -- while I'm definitely looking forward to another fun year of WRiTE Club, I have not submitted anything myself.

Plus, I've found a site that is geared towards a quick dose of inspiration and a short burst of output -- the site Type Trigger.  It's evidently been around a while and appears to not be too heavily maintained, but it's a fun place to spew out some impromptu morsels of writing.  I'm posting there under the name of StratPlayer.  You can use the link to see what I've written so far.  It's kind of fun -- Each short prompt allows you up to 300 words, and the prompts come and go several times a day.  but once you submit, there's no going back.  You can't edit it.  I've missed typing in some words in a few prompts I've posted, and now they're stuck.  But still, the concept appeals to me.  It reminds me of what Bill Evans wrote in the liner notes to the all-time classic Jazz album Kind of Blue by Miles Davis:

"There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.

The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation."

Each prompt has a short life of a few hours:  You're faced with a limited amount of time to be creative on any given prompt.  Then what gets posted is locked -- erasures or changes are impossible. It find that it forces me to be in the moment as a writer (although I evidently need to hone my proofreading skills).   I'm not exactly sure why, but I've found that it somehow inspires me to dabble in Haiku-like responses, with variations of 5-7-5 syllable structures. Probably because others do it too, plus there's also that association with the "Japanese visual art" Bill Evans mentions...


Yes, I realize that it does take a certain amount of chutzpah to transition from a mention of Kind of Blue to my own music, and I certainly don't mean to suggest that my hobbyist recordings are on a level with Miles, but I would be remiss in not including some mention of my musical activities as part of a "creative output" update.

I haven't done much jamming at wikiloops lately, but I'm working on finishing up another piece in my "Forgotten Radio" collection, like Streak of Moonlight, which I posted here back in April.  However, it's not quite done yet.  I've also played in the worship team at church three out of the last four weeks, and that took a chunk of my musical efforts (practice Thursday, run-through and service on Saturday, and then run-through and three services on Sunday). Plus, this current piece I'm working on has undergone kind of a weird transformation -- several edits and revisions, and at one point, I nearly scrapped it.  But now, I'm liking it. We'll see how the finished piece turns out and how I feel about it then -- I'll post it as soon as it's done.

But I can't let you go without at least offering you something to listen to, now can I?

So here's a piece from several months ago that I call "Drone."

This was a quick piece I threw together back when I was just starting to mess around with my new bass.  The drums are just a basic beat loop, and the chord progression is just a simple two-chord drone.  But I like how the first guitar morphs into the rhythm and I think the distorted lead guitar worked out surprisingly well.  For much of the same reasons as I like the idea behind TypeTrigger, I like this -- it was done off-the-cuff, with no editing, erasing, or changing.  I hope you enjoy it also.

Thanks for reading and for listening!

*(Original image from Wikimedia Commons -- modified by Chris J. Fries)

Monday, May 19, 2014

WRiTE Club 2014 is Accepting Entries!

In case you didn't catch it, there was a recent returnee to the blogosphere:

After a hiatus to finish the draft of his latest novel, my good friend DL Hammons is back in the blogging world with a newly designed website.  No longer "Cruising Altitude 2.0", his blogging home is now -- effectively, but unimaginatively, named after his own name. But luckily, if you're still attached to the high-flying previous name, any links to that site name should still take you to his new one.

DL was one of the first online fellow writers I connected with when I started toying with the idea of becoming a writer myself, almost seven (!) years ago, give or take.  While my writing accomplishments over those years have not gotten much past that initial 'dabbling' stage, Don and I have stayed connected and I've seen his blog grow into a much-loved stop on many a writer's blog roll.

In late 2011, DL rolled out his WRiTE Club -- a writing contest featuring head-to-head bouts between anonymous writers. It was a tremendous amount of fun, and that first contest stretched into March, 2012 with a culminating win by Tiana Smith over Julie Dao.

DL expanded the competition in 2012 and took in 72 entries.  That year, I entered it myself and my anonymous writing samples under the pen-name "RavenClaw" managed to survive a marathon that ran from July to December, and included a win in one of 36 preliminary bouts; then one of 18 playoff bouts; one of 10 round-2 bouts with edited submissions; one of 6 round-3 bouts with second entries; one of 3 round-4 bouts; and then one of 2 semifinal bouts with edited second entries before battling Mark Hough in the finals. I lost 6-4 to him but never really felt bad about it -- his work was simply fabulous (and Mark, if you happen to read this -- I'm STILL waiting for the chance to read more of your excellent writing! But, no pressure -- at least the world gets to partake of your incredible hand-made violins.).

Lat year, DL honed the format and presented a tightly-fought series of competitions between 32 excellent, pre-selected entries. This competition ran from July through October and resulted in a final battle win by Tex Thompson over Jane Lebak.

Well, guess what? 

DL is once again hosting WRiTE Club -- the 2014 edition!  If you're interested, it just takes an anonymous entry of a 500-word writing sample.  I would encourage you to visit DL's site and check out the entry info HERE.

But even if you don't enter, be sure to visit DL's blog beginning in June to watch the battles unfold and to take part in the voting!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Summertime Smile

Summertime Smile*

It's been very busy lately (so what else is new, lol).  But I'm afraid that I've not had much time to make music or write.  But I've still been playing when I can, helping a very good friend with some chapter critiques, and have actually generated some new story ideas that I hope -- someday -- might actually get written.

Also, I did get a little free time over the last week or so, and I managed to put together another Wikiloops jam.  I found a track from last September with a very cool keyboard progression by wikiloops jammer Neddings, with some vocal percussion added by member Calle.  I really liked the mix of the electronic keys with the organic vocal percussive effects, and thought it would make a great template to jam over.

I added a bass track, and then several guitars, and the overall feel to me was of one of fun, warmth, a sense of a happy day in the summer, so I called the finished piece "Summertime Smile."

I invite you to take a listen by clicking on the link HERE.

If you've listened to some of my previous work, you know that there are times I like blending a lot of guitars into a piece.  I did that again here, but I tried to avoid cluttering up any individual section with a lot of conflicting lines.  This jam has a beginning section with a fixed melody line, and the overall structure is that of a jazz jam -- play that "head" melody line, trade solos over the middle, and then play the head again at the end.  I also tried to vary textures.  For example, there's a chunky rhythm guitar that drops out at the part where the delay-heavy, spacey guitar lead comes in.  For at least the first time through the progression in that part, the only guitar is that one, and only the original keys and vocal percussion along with my bass are in the background.

The original template track also had that cool bridge section with the chord changes and I think that really helps to add interest and change.  So while this is still a "jam" in that it has a fun, 'in-the-moment' sense, with the general "play-it-and-don't-worry-about-making-it-perfect" feel of a jam, I also tried to add enough structure to give it a 'finished' sense, too.  There were several harmony guitars added, doubling and contrasting lines played by earlier guitars.  The "head" melody has three guitars playing together, and I hope it adds texture without too much clutter.

Thank you very much for listening.  I hope you enjoy it.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts, suggestions, and feedback -- I'm always interested in your opinion.

*Photo by Chris Fries