JIM DORAN

RPM Challenge, 2019

RPM Challenge 2019

I’ve followed the RPM challenge for a few years, but I’ve never successfully completed it.

What is this? And I quote:

RPM launched 14 years ago, and in that time, more than 80,000 songs have been created by tens of of thousands of musicians from all over the great orb of the world. Fourteen years is also how long it has taken the New Horizons spacecraft to pass through the great disc of our solar system, and both it and the musicians of RPM now stand poised to begin exploring the great unknown that lies beyond. We’ve all learned a lot along the way, but will it be enough to prepare us for the strange new discoveries that await us in the deep space of our souls?

The RPM Challenge

That’s 10 songs or 35 minutes of original material recorded during the month of February. Go ahead… put it to tape.

It’s a little like National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWriMo.org) where writers challenge each other to write 1,700 words a day for 30 days, or the great folks over at February Album Writing Month (fawm.org), who encourage artists to write 14 new songs in February. Maybe they don’t have “Grapes of Wrath” or “Abbey Road” at the end of the month, or maybe they do—but that’s not the point. The point is they get busy and stop waiting around for the muse to appear. Get the gears moving. Do something. You can’t write 1,700 words a day and not get better.

Don’t wait for inspiration – taking action puts you in a position to get inspired. You’ll stumble across ideas you would have never come up with otherwise, and maybe only because you were trying to meet a day’s quota of (song)writing. Show up and get something done, and invest in yourself and each other.

Anyone can come up with an excuse to say “no,” so don’t. Many of you are thinking “But, I can’t do that! I don’t have any songs/recording gear/money/blah blah blah…” But this doesn’t have to be the album, it’s just an album. Remember, this is an artistic exercise. Just do your best using what you have in order to get it done. If you have a four-track, become a four-track badass! Use your iPhone, your ’80s cassette recorder, that program on your laptop, a Pro Tools rig, or just borrow something – use it. Do your best. Use the limitations of time and gear as an opportunity to explore things you might not try otherwise. If you can afford time in a studio, fine, but let’s be completely free of any lingering idea that “good” records can only be made in a studio. If that were so, then all the old scratchy blues records or Alan Lomax field recordings that have changed the world’s culture wouldn’t still resonate with us today. Springsteen’s haunting classic “Nebraska” was a demo he did at home on a crappy machine. That album is fricking awesome. What label would put those recordings out now? (See: who cares) There are a million examples of this kind of stuff, but the fact will always be: Well written, honest music is compelling and undeniable no matter what it was recorded on. So put it to tape.

February will come and go whether you’ve joined in or not, but do you really want to be left out?
To recap:
• This will be fun!
• Ten songs or 35 minutes of recorded material.
• Recording can only be done in the month of February – no prerecorded songs.
• All material must be previously unreleased, and we encourage you to write the material during February, too.
• Participating bands get their own page on the site, which you can blog to as much as you want. You also get access to the band-only discussion board, where you can swap ideas, resources, etc., and the ability to e-mail and private message with the other participants.
Write some instrumentals, split up the songwriting duties amongst band members, form an RPM side project, write songs on the piano or clarinet instead of your primary instrument, make that metal album you’ve always wanted to – buy a ukulele! Just do your best to make the best album you can. Be unafraid.
What if every musician you knew put their music first for 28 days?
What if you recorded the best song of your life?
What if the world was never the same?
What’s stopping us? Nothing. February is Record Production Month. You have no reason to say no, and nothing to lose.

You, too, can play along: http://www.rpmchallenge.com/

I’m going to do it this year, for a few reasons.

  1. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar lately, and I have some ideas to develop.
  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about foley for animation, and
  3. I made a new home on the Web for my music…
The Dead Chicken Ranch

I’ve written about the Dead Chicken Ranch previously. It comes and goes, is stationary and mobile, and always present in my mind. I’ll share more as I post new audio to the site.

Fishbone

It’s a great honor and privilege to introduce my daughter to the hardest working live band in the world – the mighty Fishbone. At the Baltimore Soundstage. I told Angelo it was Coco’s first Fishbone show, and he kissed her on the cheek.

Coco, Myself and Angelo Moore

fishbone 3 18 17 Baltimore

 

Bucket Cello

Continuing from last year’s STEM project, Leezle and I used the remaining neck from the guitar roller coaster project to make a sound projecting instrument. The main requirement was we could only use stuff we already had on hand – nothing could be purchased.

Leezle is passionate about cello, and if I may say so, has become quite accomplished. She wanted to make something resembling a cello or bass.

playing

 

Alice the pitbull’s  favorite toys are buckets. Luckily, there are extra buckets on hand.

luss

Leezle made “F” holes, which ended up being “I” holes.

i-HOLE

We used two bolts to make the neck and bridge nuts.

brige-nut

neck-nut

It actually works – the next only has 3 tuning pegs, so it’s a 3 string instrument.

it-works

 

The Green Lantern

Here’s a cool thing!

I came into this B.C. Rich Warlock for $40 though a combination of goodwill, generosity and luck (thank you, thank you, thank you 99¢).

It was in very good condition, with the only issue being a ding on the 7th fret that catches when I bend the B string. That’s not a big deal. It adds a little character.

Character is exactly what I was hoping for in a guitar. I wanted a laboratory instrument that I could hack and modify. Some features that I especially like about this guitar:

  • The price and condition
  • It’s heavier than the cheapie Stratocasters that are coming from India (or where ever) – it’s solid!
  • The neck feels good in my hand
  • It stays in tune
  • There’s no tremolo mechanism
  • It’s so weird
Step One

I bought a really, really cheap single coil pick-up on Amazon for around $2.00 and swapped out the neck position humbucker.

single-coil

fat-charlie-lends-a-paw

Fat Charlie ate the neck Humbucker. He eats everything.

wiring

At the time, I didn’t have an amplifier, so I tested it through a POD. Oh, and I added strap locks, too. It helps with the body shape.

bich

Since then, I found a Line 6 Spider IV 15 15-watt 1×8 Modeling Guitar Amplifier at Goodwill for $20. It’s easily the best small amp I’ve ever played through  – better than any of my old Fender Champs, or anything I’ve seen at this size. Best of all, it has a button labeled “INSANE.” We all need that.

Line-6-Spider-IV-15-15-watt-1x8-Modeling-Guitar-Amplifier

Step Two:

I strung the guitar with four .012 gauge “E” strings (on the low “E,” “A,” “D,” “G” strings).  I often drop the low “E” to a “C,” and I envisioned the typical tuning of these four string to be that of a cello.

cello-tuning

Listening to my Leezle practice inspired the cello tuning idea. I love alternate tunings. I love cello. I love bass and lower playing in lower registers. I thought that this tuning might make an appealing guitar for her, too.  The added tension of the three heavier strings is the reason I wanted a tremolo free guitar, as intonation can get wonky. The tonal interactions between four string with the same gauge is interesting. Back in the noisy Bazooka Joe days, Jeff “Guppy” Caplin and I spent many hours exploring dissonance, overtones and seeking harmonic resolution. I still find that fascinating, but perhaps without quite so much distortion.

So far, so good – the guitar plays well and has offered some great musical possibilities. I would like to do some recording with it. Soon.

Step Three

I am inspired by the work of Yuri Landman. In particular, I would love to have multiple line outputs and a denser pickup array under the strings (See below).

yuri

So, the next step is add outputs and more pick-ups.

Here’s a recent-ish TEDx talk from Mr. Landman.

More soon, stay TUNED (omg).

SHANK

Back in 1995, my pals in Blister Freak Circus and The Sick contributed some music/acting to a 1970’s inspired exploitation movie called “SHANK.” I’d forgotten completely all about it until I stumbled on this clip just now  (the movie was never released, as far as I know).

The Dead Chicken Ranch

I recently had to reinstall Windows on most of my computers. While I was at it, I turned my old Dell desktop into a dedicated audio workstation. It’s isolated from the Internet, which means it is secure, distraction free and only contains recording software. It also means that it’s ready to record at a moment’s notice.  I’m excited!

I began recording stuff in high school with my brother, Loco. In college, I bought a used Ross 4-track from our pal Will. Will’s dad worked making software for Yamaha or somewhere and they had a nice tape 8-track studio in their basement. We were very fortunate to have access to all this stuff, including video recording equipment. I learned  great deal about music, recording and composition – a fine thing to have at a young age.

The discovery of DIY Punk Rock in high school offered freedom from the unreachable production values of Rush, Iron Maiden, etc. and even the brain numbing MTV. During my senior year in high school, it occurred to me that Hondo guitars and Peavy amps were good enough – if you had a mic and tape recorder, you could make something. One could even run a tape label out of a high school locker.

Tim Cookson gave me a mix tape of punk music (which he got from his brother,  J Cookson) that had “Lady Sniff” by the Butthole Surfers, and that song made a huge impression on me. Again, very freeing. I didn’t see it as a gag song, although, I can see how it could make you gag. It got me thinking about noise and rhythm what music can be about. Tim and I recorded the song “Whisker Biscuit” as our two man band, The Infected, in my basement and kitchen the summer before we left for college, and Lady Sniff’s influence can be heard in that song.

Eventually, I’d compost Ornette Coleman, the Amphetamine Reptile bands, Captain Beefheart, Curlew and the crazy shit that comes out of the Knitting Factory in NYC in my brain, along with what I learned about composition in college.

After graduating from college, I had had access to several used record stores and an endless supply of used recorded material. As such, I was able to fund and complete my first real studio, the Dead Chicken Ranch, which lived in the basement of my row home in Hampden, Baltimore.


The first Dead Chicken Ranch

This room was amazing – none of the walls were parallel to each other in order to reduce standing wave forms, and none of the walls touched the existing structure of the house, which made it virtually soundproof to the neighbors. It was a great space. Yet, if I had it to do all again, I would have made the room half the original size, as this took up most of the basement. I also would have spent more time tuning the room instead of making it completely dry with Sonex™. I recorded several records in this room, some of which were released commercially. My favorite is Pet My Kitty, Mr. New York City by Diana Froley (Skoda Records, 1998).

Diana Froley, Pet My Kitty Mr. New York City

Which brings me to the point of this post – what started out as a tidy Alesis ADAT studio 18 years ago has become a mash-up of handheld recorders, cheap software and miscellaneous effects processors rack mounted on a wheeled bread dolly that I found in a parking lot. The wall mounted monitor lets me view the screen from behind the drums or any corner of the room. It’s all very mobile and easy to use.

I think that one of the best records ever made is Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. I consider this to be a perfect record. The songs are wonderful, and it likes to be heard as an album. But there’s also a story about this recording, where they set out in a fancy studio and just couldn’t capture the spirit of the songs. So, they moved the stuff into the boiler room and SNAP! it all clicked into place. This collection of parts feels like that to me.

I have an appreciation for low-fi production, and what appeals to me might not work for the next home studio enthusiast. I’m just so happy to have these parts reassembled.  My plan is to start posting new music here on this site, in whatever form the songs end up taking. As with previous sketch projects, there’s never enough time to complete everything and I’m going to try applying my working principle to this:  “record quickly, post often.”  Hope it works!