A Week in the Life

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I believe in climate change, and I know that our local weather is a blip in the overall worldwide picture, but this winter in Minnesota is turning into an endurance test. Two months of mostly extra cold, often subzero temps. I scan the weather page in the Sunday paper and see that Fairbanks, Alaska enjoyed a high of 32 above yesterday while we tumble toward an overnight low of -20 with the wind blasting out of the north. This week I am extra thankful that most of my work is done in my basement recording studio or teaching at the local music store, with the occasional trip elsewhere for gigs and rehearsals. A busy week it was:

Monday I teach 10 lessons, half an hour each, in the afternoon and evening. They range from 7 year olds to adults, and most have been with me for months or years and we have an easy rapport. A high school senior and I discuss how country music is adding elements of rap and hip hop, while rock and pop is favoring acoustic instruments and folk textures. Later in the evening I am back at my studio for a four hour session with Jeff Crandall. I wrote about Jeff in another post, and it’s the second session of his J. Briozo project. I engineer as Jeff carefully crafts acoustic guitar and vocal tracks which will see overdubs later.

Tuesday, another 10 lessons, but instead of straight through, I have a break in the middle of close to an hour. I spend it trying to make our health insurance more affordable by applying on MNSure, our state health care exchange. As a self employed person I have a big interest in health reform because insurance is very expensive and an unlucky illness could mean bankruptcy. MNSure is suffering from the same startup problems as the federal website and even with helpful guidance via phone, the system crashes both times I attempt to enter my info. I’ll keep trying, but I go back to work for now. After teaching I have a rehearsal with one of my bands, St. Croix Crossing. It gives me a chance to try out the latest version of my pedal board, which is a work in progress.

Wednesday morning I am just finishing scraping the latest inch of snow off my driveway when Jim and Bob arrive for a session. Both are recently retired schoolteachers and long time musicians and songwriters. They are working on a set of music I have dubbed “Sergeant Peppers” because the songs are lush and full of details. We do a drum overdub and start working on mixing a pair of songs they hope will be used in a celebration of their hometown. Just before 1 pm I look at the clock and realize I have just minutes to get to my lessons. I dash off, teach 14 students over 7 hours. I finish the day with 3 hours at the studio editing drums with Peter O’Gorman for our original music project, After Everything.

Thursday, it’s really cold outside. So cold the local schools are closed and two or three students miss their lessons because of car problems and weather issues. I spend the first part of the day recording Sandy’s mandolin parts for a demo we are making for our bluegrass/acoustic group North Shore Trail. After teaching I spend an hour or so listening and getting ready for Friday’s session.

Friday, the temperature has risen close to 50 degrees, about 30 above zero, and Brian Aamot arrives for a long day of mixing. We are back to his project after a long layoff and he has a list of changes to the mixes of his 14 songs. We work 10.5 hours with a lunch break in the middle. I would describe the music as melodic heavy metal and I am impressed at his ear for shaping vocal harmonies.

Saturday, Jim and Bob are back. In four hours we finish the mixes on the two songs started on Wednesday and everyone is pleased with the results. We go out for a late lunch and I spend the rest of the day working on recording my guitar tracks for the North Shore Trail demo.

Sunday I catch up on my blog and look forward to the new episode of Sherlock on public television. The current temperature is zero.

Pedal to the Metal

 

 

     Since we are now well into the 21st Century, the time seemed right to assemble my own guitar pedal board. It’s what all in-the-know guitarists are doing, and besides, my collection of very 20th Century pedals are dying off and need to be replaced. For the non guitarists in the crowd, a pedal board is a frame or platform to which you affix your collection of boxes that do everything from helping you tune to making your instrument sound like a gargling banshee. Typically you use Velcro to attach your pedals (the boxes) to the board, allowing for easy rearranging. To this you add cables  to connect them all together, and often some kind of power supply so you don’t have half a dozen AC adapters dangling off the thing. Put it together, attach a guitar on the input side and an amplifier on the output, and you are ready to rock…or jazz, country, whatever. Neat, clean, easy, or so I thought. Here’s what I have so far:

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     This project is full of decisions! I wanted a pedal board that was big enough to house a versatile setup, but small enough to move around. Since it will be literally underfoot when I’m gigging or rehearsing, there are ergonomic considerations. I chose a Pedal Train 2 with a soft carrying case, and it nicely fits the above criteria. For power, I bought a newish unit called Volto. It is a rechargeable lithium battery (your smartphone has this kind of battery too) that will power half a dozen pedals for 30 hours of use. The Volto is attached to the bottom of the Pedal Train and connected to your boxes with supplied cables, eliminating the need for batteries or power adapters-mostly. One pedal has to run on a 9 volt battery and my big blue Möbius has special needs. By that, I mean it constantly hums an A440 note unless it has it’s own separate power supply.

 

     Beyond all the technical and ergo stuff, your pedal board is an expression of your artistic flair and organizational skills. There are online forums where geeks post photos of their creations, and argue the merits of their setup versus others, like parents cheering on their kids at soccer games. The pedals themselves are carefully chosen the same way wine snobs or craft beer fans consider what crosses their palate. “This is an especially good vintage with fully distorted flavor and notes of Hendrix and Van Halen”. Sure, you can choose a cheap collection of Chinese diodes, but the world of boutique boxes calls out like a siren song. Why, just the titles are intriguing. Express yourself with pedals named Tim (straightforward, utilitarian), Euphoria (sounds like a fragrance) or, I’m not making this up, the Bag of Dicks (draw your own conclusions). 

 

     Pedal boards seem to be like guitarists themselves, never quite finished or totally happy with their sound or technique. I’ll be chasing this rainbow for a long time to come.

 

Welcome back, Jeff!

My blog is back with new title, “My Side of the Glass”. I plan to write regularly about audio recording and my life in music, plus anything I think is worthy of your consideration. First off, my name is Randy Gildersleeve, I own a recording studio, GilderSound, play and teach a bunch of fretted instruments, and perform in an array of bands and ensembles. I live in Minnesota, presently cold and snowy:

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One of the best parts of my work is the wide range of interesting people and projects I get to be part of. Tomorrow I begin recording the next album of my good friend Jeff Crandall. We’ve worked together on two full albums and an EP of his band Swallows, an album by his previous band Thinland, and a few other side projects. Jeff is a talented and prolific songwriter and a skilled musician and singer. Oftentimes we wind down after a session with a deep discussion. Music, creativity, politics, books, family, almost anything. How we got together is a story itself.

Back in the late 1990’s there was a jam band called Stew. I didn’t know them, but a mutual friend generously gave them some money to record and suggested my studio. The bass player in Stew was a fellow named Aaron Kerr. Aaron is also an award winning cellist and composer. Stew didn’t last long after we finished their record, and Aaron started playing music with Jeff, a recent immigrant from California.  Jeff’s songwriter friend Leigh Gregory, out in San Francisco, was recording an album called Mellow Drunk and wanted Jeff and Aaron to add vocals and cello. They came to me, we hit it off and have recorded lots of music over close to 15 years. So, thanks to the short lived band Stew, I started on a path that continues to this day. Welcome back, Jeff. I look forward to our next adventure.