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2021, whatever it takes
Thu, 14 Jan 2021
Here's an odd thing about 2020: at the beginning of the year I planned to do a number of things for self-improvement. I subscribed to Masterclass and intended to watch several dozen of their offerings; I purchased an online piano course and intended to learn how to actually play this thing; I wrote out a schedule for books I wanted to read over the year.

Then the pandemic hit, and suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands. My work commute is just about an hour, so already I had two extra hours. Plus I get really tired on my way home (perhaps a combination of walking for 25 minutes, riding a train for 15 minutes, then walking another 20 minutes) so I usually go right to sleep when I get home, losing another... whatever amount of time. So given all the extra time, how did I score on my 2020 goals?

With Masterclass I watched about twelve courses, eight of which were in the last two months of my subscription because I just didn't do it. I did do an hour of the piano thing daily for two weeks, and I got to a place I'm really happy with, but I do want to continue. The book list? I stayed pretty much on schedule until about September, then stopped.

Which is not to say I spent the entire year sleeping (though I did a lot more of that than ever before; I should get a medal or something). Shezam took on a very ambitious production schedule, I joined the stage crew of an online show, and I established relationships in two new social circles. Not a bad thing at all.

So I guess what I'm getting to is: plans are just ideas. It might feel bad to fall short, but there's always something else to fill the time. As long as it never feels wasted in the moment, it's all good.
Chameleon in a Kaleidoscope [25th Anniversary]
Fri, 10 Jul 2020
Picture it: Cincinnati, 1996. I'm in high school and at just the right age to find the music that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Obviously The Residents come into play here, as well as They Might Be Giants and Neil Innes, but there's also a debut album this year that will prove just as inspiring as those well-established artists: Chameleon in a Kaleidoscope by Mailbox.

The album opens with one of the highest words per minute lyrics I've encountered (you get a sense of this from the title alone: "The San Antonio-West Virginia Energy Malaprop Incident"). Within seconds it becomes clear that I am hearing something that will stick with me for a long time. Each song provides something new, yet it all feels like it belongs together. There's a strange sci-fi story in there, children being awful and getting punished (perhaps too severely), and a murder with the only clue being an irresistibly catchy melody.

Intelligent, funny, memorable, and unafraid to try something different. This is everything I want in music, friends, and myself. This album became a mainstay in my life, and I grew to know it inside and out. I had found a kindred spirit, and due to the good fortune of the world growing ever more interconnected, I was able to become friends with Adam Rabin, the man behind Mailbox, and we've worked together several times over the years.

Now it's 2020, and thanks(?) to the pandemic, Adam finally has time to revisit this album. Due to some technological shortcomings (mostly to do with MIDI patches), he's forced to recreate some of the original sounds, and sometimes that means an approximation as opposed to a perfect replica. And that's where I come in...

As someone who spent a lot of time with this album, but from a fan perspective, I am in a great position to help balance the desire to improve it but also stay faithful to the original. The process was initially Adam sending me new versions of songs and I'd call out what parts stuck out to me as being different, based entirely on my memory of having listened to the album so many times. After that I could re-familiarize myself with the original version and find other bits to tweak.

Sometimes, though, I'd find that my memory was a little off. For example I'd remember a real low-pitched sound, but it turns out it was never there - it was the emotion of that part of the song, a sense of foreboding, that put the extra layer in for me. So in a couple of places we tweaked the sound to better elicit the feeling that would come from multiple listens. So we have a mixture of sounds that closely match the original, some that are further off but acceptable because they're just better (I'm looking at you, drums), and some that are noticeably different but have the right feeling.

I didn't work on the original album, but I am proud to have assisted in the remix, and honored that Adam asked for my input. His willingness to share control is a credit to him, but not unexpected; though it appears as a one-person project, Mailbox has always had collaboration in its core DNA.

The album is working its way to various streaming sites, but Bandcamp is the only place you can get all the bonus tracks:
Always Room for Love in the World of Magic
Sat, 24 Oct 2020
So you may be wondering where I've been hiding myself away these past few months. Well, obviously, in my apartment (only been out three times since March), but surely I can do something online, you say. (I'm assuming you say that - because you're the intended audience for this post. If you didn't say that, move along to some other website.)

Well I've been a busy goat, up to my ears in audio for Shezam, which began its third season this month. As of this writing I am kind of almost two months ahead of schedule for this weekly podcast, and I hope to keep it that way. We've got some really great guests this season, so if you care about performance and what it means to connect with an audience and not alienate them like a monster, do check it out.

I've also been part of the virtual stage crew for Lucy Darling's Zoom shows, which are being hailed as the best out there. The secret? Realizing it's a new medium (sort of a hybrid of live theatre and television) and bringing the language of film to a magic show. I of course had nothing to do with that - I'm just there to mute audience members when they start yelling at their dog in the next room. But it's fun and you should see it.

Things have been pretty quiet with The Residents, which I've come to know over the years means something big and time-consuming is about to land. I'm sure some of you are thinking "oh Chris knows something and he's hinting at it obliquely" and though you still won't believe me I'll repeat that I normally only learn about things about a day before you do, and that's only because I've been told to spread the news. They're mysterious, don't ya get it?

But sometimes... sometimes I get pulled in earlier and am given a job. I feel like that's about to happen. (And, again, NO, I don't know anything right now. I just have a hunch.)

MP3 Of The Undefined Time Period
Goofing a bit on the song from The Who's Tommy.

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