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Throwback Thursday – Seventies Music and Sound Technologies

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My guess is that whatever music you listened to when you were growing up, coming of age or whatever is truly the soundtrack of your life. Since I grew up in the sixties and seventies the bands of those times feel like my bands. I saw many of them perform lives and I collected their albums. As those who have been following my blog for a while know I still listen to a lot of the music of that period.

Music and the ways it was recorded, mixed and presented evolved in the seventies. Although stereophonic sound started to appear in the late fifties it wasn’t until the mid-sixties that it came into common use. Even so, most of the music of the time was promoted on monophonic AM radio. Although FM existed until the late sixties most of the stations broadcast classical music. In the early seventies all that changed.

Although music format on AM radio persisted into the late seventies and early eighties, in most markets the common fare was Top-40. Some FM stations began Top-40 formats as well but in stereo. Despite the inherent bandwidth limitations and compression of the dynamic range for FM the music played gave the listener a much better idea of what the actual record sounded like. Album oriented formatting began to appear in the early to mid seventies as well and many rock groups whose music was not commercially viable as singles for Top-40 began to receive airplay. Without the transition to FM I doubt I would have ever heard many of my favorite groups from the era.

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Radios were optional equipment in cars as early as the forties it wasn’t until the fifties and sixties that they became standard. In the late sixties and early seventies AM/FM Stereo radios began to appear in cars. In an effort to make personal music collections mobile, and because vinyl records in a car was impractical, pre-recorded tapes appears, first as 8-Track cartridges and later cassette tapes. However, the two tape formats were inherently noisier than vinyl records. Though manufacturers though the problem was a non-issue at first, people sought higher fidelity in my cars, especially when van conversions became popular. Over the decade, after market “Car-Fi” evolved to the point that sound quality rivaled some home systems. Using noise reduction techniques like Dolby and dBx hiss that was always a limitation of tape recording was virtually eliminated. The use of cassette tapes led to personal playback devices like Sony’s Walkman that became popular in the early eighties, and “Boom-Boxes” or portable music playback systems that were prevalent throughout the eighties and nineties.

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The quest for noise reduction also led to innovations in vinyl recordings such as half speed mastering on virgin vinyl, a method used to reduce the surface noise produced from the friction of a stylus coming in contact with the record during playback. It was discovered that by mastering a recording by playing the tape at twice the speed while encoding the pressing plate at half speed the signal to noise ration of the recording was greatly improved. The compulsion to further increase dynamic range of music playback through noise reduction led to several early digital signal processing devices such as the auto-correlator that removed nearly all white noise from the background of the music during playback. Another method often used was decilinear compression and decompression, first encoding a composed form of the recording and then expanding it back to full dynamic range during playback.

Digital signal processing lead directly to experiments using laser to etch pits into a disc that would reflect a high frequency rate sampling of an analog waves. When played back the result would be a extremely close approximation of the original analog. The basic groundwork for the compact disc were created in the late seventies.

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Recording techniques used in the studio and during stereo mastering and post production evolved from instruments to the let of me vocals to the right that was popular in the 60’s to a wall of sound and finally a special approximation of what it would feel like to be sitting on stage with he musicians surrounding you. The latter desire drove the experimentation with Quadrophonic sound that would eventually evolve into digital time delays and finally multichannel surround sound.

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THX Sound often used in movie soundtracks was also pioneered in the late seventies by an audio engineer named Tomlinson Holman who worked for Advent Corporation, a New England based speaker manufacturer. Holman invented a preamplifier circuit that dramatically reduced low frequency feedback when playing back a record and the technology was incarnated into a small stereo receiver that many audiophiles purchased just to have the preamplifier driving their later amplifiers. In couple of years later, Holman left Advent and created Holman corporation to manufacture an updated version of his preamplifier – with additional features that catered to audiophiles. His parents were eventually sold to Phase Linear Corporation that was subsequently purchased by Pioneer Electronics. Holman invested in the development of a playback system specifically designed for film won the right to create the THX (Tomlinson Holman Extensions) used by Lucas Films for the second installment of the first Star Wars trilogy.

#70sMusic #THX #Dolby #dBx #FM #AM

 

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Nothing Is A Coincidence

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I’m convinced the most abundant thing in the universe is irony. That’s why we see so much of it around us. Perhaps it’s even the binding force science has been looking for that holds everything together. At the very least it proves there is a certain sense of humor built into creation.

You see, in anyone’s life, if you are sufficiently obsessed with ferreting out the connections, you can find the paths of causal relationships between otherwise seemingly random occurrences. That is why I have concluded that nothing is a coincidence and there are no accidents. Everything happens because of something else, whether or not we want to term that a reason.

Why I bring this up is something that happened yesterday to remind me, in no uncertain terms, of the complexities of the connections between all of us. As many of you know I speak Chinese. At least, I used to speak it fairly well. Having studied it over 30 years ago and barely ever used it in the past twenty or so I’m pretty rusty when it comes to using any of the things I learned. In fact I’m often amazed at what I recall whenever I hear someone speaking Chinese.

Yesterday an elderly Chinese couple were pulled over to the side of a street blocking the bike lane I use to ride out of my neighborhood on my way to work. The old man flagged me to a stop. In his hand was a hand-drawn map with some of the streets labeled and a path highlighted. The man spoke broken English but it was clear enough that he was looking for a particular street address and was lost.

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After determining they they spoke Mandarin, and the two of them getting over the fact that seemingly at random they had come face to face with one of the few Americans in the local area who speaks any Chinese, I provided them with verbal directions while using the map as a reference. As the place they were seeking was less than a quarter mile from where we were, I asked them, in Chinese, to follow me and I showed them to way – which was on my way – to the apartment complex they were seeking.

Afterwards I felt pretty good about helping them out. I mean – it was a darned good thing that I spoke Chinese, right? Even though I’ms less that fluent, remembering what I did helped. And as a result a couple of people who were lost were able to find their way. Figure the odds that we would meet as we did, though.

Then the thought occurred to me, as it usually does because of how my brain is wired as a writer, that I may have studied Chinese for 47 weeks over thirty years ago so that I could give those two people directions. Yes, I have done other things with my knowledge of Chinese over the years, including the job for which I was being trained when I learned it. And if I hadn’t lived and worked halfway around the world I would have never met my ex-wife and my kids would not have been born. But, what if, due to the undeniable presence of irony in the universe, the whole purpose for learning the language of the largest population group of humanity was so that I could give directions to a lost elderly couple.

There is a flaw in my logic, of course. There often is. But it could be something just that silly and humorous.

I’m reminded of a book that Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote called Sirens of Titan. As a story ancillary to the actual plot it is revealed that many centuries ago an alien crash landed on Titan many. And being unable to return home he looked for the nearest populated planet, which happened to be Earth. He limped his damaged space craft to Earth and found a primitive species with some potential. He aided humanity in advancing to the point of building large monuments that would provide a signal to his people on another plants to come rescue him. And so, all of human history served as a means for one Alien to, in effect, phone home.

Hey, it could be as simple as that. We over complicate things because we want to feel that our lives have more meaning than they perhaps do. Maybe the purpose in life that I was seeking all this time was served yesterday when I provided directions, in Chinese, to a couple of lost people.

#Chinese #Irony #Coincidence #KurtVonnegutJr #SirensOfTitan

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Saving Daylight For What?

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Okay, it’s over and done – and overdone. All the whining and complaining about Spring Ahead. It’s little consolation when you’ve lost an hour’s sleep that you will get it back come fall. You feel out of synch with nature because you sleep cycle has been interrupted and now you need to adjust your morning routine. We are creatures of habit and whenever something changes we don’t like it very much.

I recall my mother complaining about Daylight Savings Time when I was a kid. Despite the origin of the idea ages ago – I think Ben Franklin suggested it so the concept has been around for a while – for whatever reason when I was born there was no such thing as Eastern Daylight Savings Time in the State of Ohio. I guess the initiated that around the time I reached fourth or fifth grade. Anyway, Mom blamed businessmen and politicians for the whole thing, saying they’d conspired to create the thing int he interest of playing golf. As I stood outside in the dark waiting for the school bus to pick me up and whisk me off to school on the first Monday after the first time change it seemed odd to call to Daylight Savings Time. Obviously if it was being saving it wasn’t happening in the morning.

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And that is exactly the case. It extends the daylight in the evening, for whatever purpose. Maybe it was originally intended to entice people to spend more of their evening free time outdoors, but in this day of service industry growth more and more of us work jobs that are anything but 9 to 5. So, in fact, it does benefit exactly those who have jobs that would allow them to play golf in the evening.

It was more of a hassle int he past before all the computerized devices we use all the time. Every clock in the housed and every wrist watch and pocket watch needed to be adjusted. Even after the advent of computers in our homes, there are persistent digital clock that aren’t smart enough to adjust themselves. You know, the one not he stove and the microwave. There used to be that one not he VCR, too, that eventually you just gave up on and left flashing 12:00 because it was hard to recall the instruction on how to change it twice a year – and the other times the power goes out during electrical storms and such.

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I caught someone’s complaint in a post online, about why they change the time on a Sunday morning. Do they think no one will notice the loss of an hour then? Why not cut Friday afternoon an hour short instead? Too much disruption to the natural order of thing, you say? WTF? We are playing with this manmade thing called time, which does not actually exist until we start to measure it. We can say it is any time of the day we desire as long as we can get everyone else to agree with us, right?

Since I’m one of those service people in my side job I was outside last night when it was still light at a time which only the day before it had been dark. It was kind of nice to watch eh subset an hour later, I suppose. Still, this morning my body wanted it to be six AM so it could stay in bed when the clock claimed it was seven and time to get up and be about getting ready for the day. My son complained about it too, so it wasn’t just me. And out dog, Rocco, he is still on his own internal clock no matter how we try to tell him about Daylight Savings Time when the sun isn’t even up and we’re trying to convince him it is actually time for him to go outside and do his morning business.

As I don’t play golf I don’t understand, I guess. But how many holes can you get in with an extra hour of daylight? To me it seems like we’re into he summer before there is enough extra daylight time past five PM to matter much. There’s about a month or so around the summer solstice that it’s still light outside past 9PM. Imagine that! And the mornings are fairly light early on at that time of year as well. Do we suffer this Daylight Savings Time thing for a month or so of daylight hours extended into what, by all rights and tradition, should be night?

#DaylightSavingsTime #TimeChange #SpringAhead #FallBack

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Fried Windows Anniversaries

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There are a lot of three year anniversaries going on for me. One that recently past was February 22, the day I left retail management. The next is the day I quit drinking alcohol, which is March 13, next Friday. The following day was when I wrote a poem about being a kid and going to a carnival. I posted that to FanStory on the same day. The following day I began writing the first draft of a short story that would evolve into the first two chapters of Fried Windows.

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Three years ago was a period of transition and adjustment in many ways. It was a necessary break with my past and my previous career. One can play at writing and pretend to be an author but there is always a point of no return, isn’t there? There is the defining moment when the hobby that becomes an habit transcends everything else you do. Then it is your profession and all else takes a back seat to it. At least that is how it happened for me.

Certainly an writer can write without becoming an author. It was a formative stage that I went through. I suppose it could have been much shorter had I ever admitted to myself that writing was pretty much the only thing I have ever wanted to do with my life. Everything else I did was an interruption or a means of self denial. It is far easier to be something else than to admit to being a writer. Still writers will always write, finding some way to exorcise the demons.

When I don’t write it is a refusal to submit to the urge. I tend to have bizarre dreams. Some might call them nightmares, but, believe me, when I used to have nightmares they were much worse. I have not had a true nightmare – one of those wake up with terror in cold sweat experiences – in over thirty-three years. The last was in the afternoon of the twenty-fifth birthday.

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I’m not sure why I haven’t had nightmares since, except that I know how to wake up within a dream. It was something that, like Brent Woods in Fried Windows, I learned from my inner self. I wake up within a nightmare before it gets too bad, I guess. The foolishness ends, at any rate, and I move on to discovering other sleep-induced delusions. What I have learned, though, is that if I write a lot or at least regularly the strangeness of my dreams emerges into the stories and I do not suffer the experiences in my sleep. There’s a balance to be struck, of course.

Lately I’ve been working so much and writing so little that I have returned to having strange and vivid dreams. I’m sure some of those will find their ways into my writing. You see, I have recurring dreams. Some of related to other dreams and over time they connect into one another. It’s almost like my sleeping mind is piecing together a story and telling it to me before i actually sit down and write it. Granted, some of the stories are silly and after considering them I don’t bother with writing them, but certain elements of the dreams may wind up woven into this or that story. Other times the dreams are informative or illustrative of the complexities of what I perceive around me in my waking times. The other night I had one about the current corruption in national politics and how major corporations control our elected officials. No news there, really, just an understanding of how it works in a way I’d never considered quick so clearly as in my dream.

In dreams each of us is the star performer. I think that is why in some ways writing in first person is more cathartic for me. However, I used to write in third person omniscient all the time and that still tends to me my comfort style. In fact Fried Windows was an experiment for me, writing a series of first person short stories. The novel emerged from that process. Later on I wrote Becoming Thuperman, which is also told in first person. I have several other projects with he same style and authors voice, though none of them are finished at this time.

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When I posted to FanStory the drafts of the individual chapters of Fried Windows they were presented as installments over a thirty day period. As I have said before I fleshed out the nucleus of the story idea in a month. It was another year, in April 2013, before I compiled all the pieces into a novel format and another month, toward the end of May 2013, before I submitted it to my publisher as a manuscript. In June 2013 I signed a contract for publishing the book. And in May 2014 Fried Windows was released.

So, you see there are many anniversaries coming up for Fried Windows. Sometime later this year, the book will complete its exclusive period and be offered on multiple platforms. I’ll also be doing some signings and personal appearances in Orlando and central Florida to promote both Fried Windows and the other books I have coming out this year and next.

#Writing #Publishing #Dreams #FriedWindows #BecomingThuperman

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Throwback Thursday – Genesis: A Trick Of The Tail

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A lot of people wrote off Genesis after lead singer and songwriter Peter Gabriel, an original member of the band, departed in 1975 to pursue other musical interests including production and, later on, a solo recording career. Genesis’ cadre of loyal followers were accustomed to impressive theatrical stage performances – mainly due to Peter Gabriel’s flair and showmanship. Many could not imagine the group continuing.

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In 1974 the band had released its most ambitious project, Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, prior to Gabriel’s decision but in the process of making that album were the signs of the the musicians going separate ways. Each member of the band had contributed significantly to creating the band’s unique, progressive sound and yet on the Lamb project Gabriel was the principal composer, arranger and lyricist which left the other band members less than completely satisfied. It was while touring in support of the album that Gabriel announced to the other members that, upon completion of the tour, he was leaving.

The remaining members of the band, Steve Hackett (guitar), Tony Banks (keyboards), Michael Rutherford (bass and guitars) and Phil Collins (drums) auditioned for a new lead singers and tentatively selected one but, at the last minute decided his voice did not fit the music they had already composed for A Trick Of The Tail. However, since Collins had performed backing vocals to Gabriel’s lead on previous albums, he gave it a try and the album was completed and released in 1976. Many critics said that Collins’ vocals sounded more like Gabriel than Gabriel.

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Steve Hackett after Wind and Wuthering (1976), making Genesis a trio and resulting in the title of the 1978 album And Then There Were Three. In between Genesis released a live album titled Seconds Out.

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Although Genesis was a commercially successful band in the 70’s and by the end of the decade were playing sold out shows in arenas around the world it wasn’t until the 80’s and following each member’s work on solo projects that the band’s work began topping the charts. With the rise of Phil Collin’s solo career came Genesis’ largest commercial success, including a number one hit in the US, Invisible Touch in 1986.

Genesis is one of the best selling bands of all times and was admitted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

#70sMusic #Genesis #PhilCollins #PeterGabriel #SteveHackett #MikeRutherford #TonyBanks #ATrickOfTheTail #LambLiesDownOnBroadway

 

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What Ifs, Overcoming, and Writing

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Writers deal with what ifs. The source of the inspiration to write a certain thing may come from memories or observation, but generally something grounded in real life affects us differently than it might someone who is not inclined to write. Maybe the same is true of all artists, drawing inspiration from those things in life that others overlook or pass by, but in the peculiar case of someone who will write, there is desire or even desperate need to explore possibilities. What if I hadn’t been so uncoordinated when it came to playing sports? What if I had the nerve to ask the prettiest girl in high school for a date? What if I’d been born in a different time? What if I really was an alien infant left on my parent’s doorstep?

Anything’s possible – especially for a fantasy writer.

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I’m no different in finding inspiration in strange places. A lot of the things I have written borrow moments from direct experiences. In many ways Brent Woods, the main character in Fried Windows and several of my other books, is an alter ego. He is braver, more outspoken and a good bit more athletic and coordinated than I ever was but he and I think alike. You see, its safer as a writer to stick close to things you know. And who do you know better than yourself and your family. So I contrived a family for Brent that is somewhat like my own, and had him grow up in my hometown. Of course we share a several interests such as music and favorite books. We are intentionally similar, after all. And, Brent eventually becomes a writer. I mean – what else could he do?

Where Brent and I differ is that he is by far more of a doer than an observer. Some writers are like that. Many are not. However, when you read about his past and especially his first person accounts of certain things, as a reader you aren’t all that certain that Brent really ever did any of the things he writes about. After all, he enters fantasy worlds pretty much at will. But then, don’t all writers have that ability?

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Early on in life I was sheltered. My mother wanted to protect me from everything dangerous in the world. It was perhaps natural since she had lost her first son. I was the replacement more so than my two older sisters. I had to carry on the family name. My father wanted me to follow in his footsteps, taking over the farm he bought when I was eight years old. Mom would barely consent to allowing me to participate in any sports at school because of the risk of injury. However on the farm I was into a lot of things that were at least as dangerous.

In school overcame the label slow reader. My dyslexia made learning to read a challenge and, as it went undiagnosed, I was passed along in school because I made good grades in every other subject. You see, I remember almost everything I hear. So if a teacher told me what was in a book I didn’t have to read it to know the material for a test. Eventually, on my own and through determination, I devised a way of learning how to read. By the fourth or fifth grade I had pretty-much caught up with everyone else. Still, I was branded a slow reader, because I struggled to read aloud in class even though I could read several hundred words per minute silently.

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After I learned to read I developed a voracious appetite for books. In college I averaged more than a book a day. I don’t have the time to do that anymore – not with working a job, writing, editing and revising. However, I still read a lot and for most of the novels I read I write reviews and post them either in a blog or as comments on a site like Goodreads or on the author’s Amazon link.

My dad always told me to never quit and always believe that I could be anything I really wanted to be. The key word in that advice is “really”. As opposed to wishing for something to happen, imagining a what if into being, being determined to do everything necessary to achieve a goal is what’s required to succeed – even overcoming disabilities and the setbacks that others will label as failures along the way.

#writing #FriedWindows #BrentWoods #AlterEgo #overcoming