Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Look after your hearing!

Once upon a time I used to drill, angle grind, circular saw - you name it - with scarcely an item of safety gear on. After two incidents where I put small fragments of metal in my eye I learnt to wear safety glasses, but it wasn't until much later on I finally heeded the advice: "JAW, wear hearing protection."

Suffice to say, for quite a number of years now, I won't even pick up a hammer without having safety glasses and hearing muffs on. But, damage to my hearing had already started. Irreversible damage. Yes, I have minor noise-induced hearing loss and minor tinnitus (a "ringing in the ear when no sound is present").

Hey don't feel bad for me, it's very minor comparatively, I only hear the tinnitus when the background noise is very low. The hearing loss only affects me when there is a lot of sound coming from all around and I'm trying to listen to something specific. Just take note: if you are doing something - power tools, listening to loud music, that sort of thing, and you come away with a ringing in your ears then that was too loud. Keep a few pairs of ear muffs around the house and a few rolly squeezy type inserts on hand and turn it down. That ringing in your ear, which goes away after a day or so? My tinnitus is very similar to that sound, except it doesn't ever go away...

Noise induced hearing loss, well, let me try to describe it. You might actually have it and don't realise. Now would be a good time to stop it getting any worse if you do. What, you are fine, you can hear a pin drop? So can I. In the quietest of quiet rooms I could hear a flea on a mouse squeak. That's not how this type of hearing loss happens. However, if you put me in a room where several people are talking, and someone is talking to me - right there, right in front of me - I can't understand a word they are saying. Why is that?

As it was explained to me, which makes a lot of sense, it's the high frequencies that are lost first. High frequencies are where the data is. Think about wireless data, or radio transmissions: the higher the frequency, the more data you can fit in it. And even though the main component frequencies of the human voice are generally lower than 1kHz, the "sss"es, are up as high as 8kHz. That holds more information that you'd think. Let me see if I can simulate noise induced hearing loss for you.

First, here is me saying something Ocker. Yes, I am a bit "nasal", that's why I don't sing:

Now here is the same thing with everything above 1kHz removed. It sounds "mumbly", but you can still tell what I am saying:

Here is me saying the same original thing again this time with a crowd of JAWs all saying Ocker things. At about the 3 second mark you can hear me pretty clearly over top of those other noisy JAWs:

Same thing, except the talking over the top has everything above 1kHz removed again. You can still hear me, but it is more difficult:

And that's where the problem is. In a noisy environment, you can't "hear" (where "hear" means "understand") the important stuff - that high frequency data is lost. Apparently people with this sort of hearing loss, as it progresses, may start to withdraw from crowds, perhaps leading to other psychological problems.
But like I said I'm not too bad. I do struggle in a noisy environment, and yes, I don't go into a loud music environment. I do ask people to repeat themselves quite often, and will get up close to hear them. I notice people get a bit annoyed if you ask them to repeat themselves for the third time...and if I still didn't understand them I smile, nod my head and play along like I did hear them. Ah the social techniques and strategies of hearing loss...

Bottom line - protect your hearing!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

What's happening June 2013

Welcome to the Pilbara!  This is my home two weeks out of three for the foreseeable future. It is an area in Western Australia responsible for about 20% of the worlds iron ore production.  I've been working in the iron ore mining game on and off for 20 years, and have spent the last couple of years engineering software for an expansion of an iron ore port facility at Cape Lambert.  Now it is the pointy end of the job - where we commission the facility, which means a lot of time away from home.

(Here is the Birrabira camp where I am staying, and here are a couple of stackers in the facility I'm working at.)

What this all means is that since I don't work more than 12 hours a day I get a bit of free time between meals and sleeping...which I have been filling with guitar playing.  I've been running through my set list most nights to several mates who are happy to listen, and I put in time working out new songs.  Good news for guitar!  Not so good news for my family.  But, it is the nature of my work, good pay in return for being away from home.  Make the most of it me thinks.

I decided I'm not going to take the Esteve on the plane up and down every roster, so I looked in the classifieds for a good classical banger that I can leave up here.  I think I have mentioned I have a soft spot for 70's and 80's Yamahas.  Probably because that's all I had for the first ten years of playing.  I found a nice example of a G-55, circa 1974 vintage, so pretty much the same as my first guitar.  It was in fair condition so I grabbed it for $AU100 (2013).  I ditched the strings and went to take out the saddle for a looksee...which I discovered was glued in (sheesh) and when trying to pull it out shattered in my hands.  Lucky I have spares!  I cleaned up the saddle rebate, filed a new one down and popped it in.

Although the neck is ever-so-slightly bent in giving an ever-so-slightly high action, it plays fine and sounds great.  I think my audience is surprised when I tell them it is a $100 banger that I'm going to leave up here forever!

(Note, if you are interested in old yamaha guitars - when they were made, out of what - Yamaha's excellent "Guitarachive" Guitar Archive was closed but has found new support here:  http://yamahavintagefg.boards.net/thread/8/yamaha-acoustic-guitar-archive)

I'll let you know of my progress.  It's overwhelming what to tackle first!  One of my mates who'd like to learn to play said "can you play Lean On Me?"...quick internet search for the chords, quick improvise...then an hour or two later in my room and I have made a really nice fingerstyle version.  I think you will like it but I didn't bring any recording equipment...this time.  But since I mentioned it, here, have a quick look at the main riff:
Note the strum/finger flick indications on the bottom of the tab section.

Anyway, I'll be in touch! :)

Monday, 29 April 2013

What's happening April 2013

Another poll finished, I tried to predict the results on this one, let's see how I went...For "Is this your first visit to this site?" I said:
75% Yes
15% No
10% I don't know

The actual results:
63% (87 votes) Yes
35% (48 votes) No
1%  (2  votes) I don't know

It would seem that most people know where they've been and I have more regulars than I thought - thanks everybody, okay, I should write more!

I've still got my Thursday night gig, I'm still enjoying it. With the colder weather I'm playing less outside and more inside, and the number of patrons is shrinking. Maybe it might soon end for the season, I'll see what the boss is thinking.

I volunteered for a gig at a different place Sunday afternoon, this one was part of a fundraiser for Teen Challenge (an initiative to help people to get out of bad places - drugs, alcohol, self harm, those sorts of bad places.) It's a good cause and I was happy to be part of a lineup of 8 different performers. This gig came about through a friend mentioning me to a friend.

Since I've been gigging for a while I'm pretty comfortable with any sort of gig "at my level", that is, somewhere between 1 and 50 people in a small venue. This venue was another cafe style place. So I just grabbed my guitar and amp and headed in. It was all inside, with a lot of concrete, although a lot higher roof. I was concerned that the acoustics would be poor, I was in for a surprise!

The organiser had a PA setup - two very big speakers and a little 2-channel mixing table. They saw my amp and said "ah, okay, you bought your own gear" and I said "Whoa, yours looks heaps better, I'll use that!" I fumbled around with the mixer for a while and got a sensational sound out of their system. So clean, clear, true to the sound of the guitar and full, solid. It is hard to describe - the sound from my little amp is clean but it doesn't have the "presence", that big solid sound this thing had. Not loud, just solid. That represents a problem...now I am very dissappointed with my amp!

I had previously tried a modular PA system in a music shop and I knew that is the next step, but whoa, yeah thanks for the reminder, I don't need reasons to spend more money!

The guy who brought it down for the event wasn't there to set it up, which is a shame, he is a sound engineer apparently and I would have loved to talk to him. It also was a problem because the two speakers were pointing away from me so I couldn't "hear" what the audience was hearing. I needed a little monitor speaker pointing at me, I was playing mostly on the acoustic sound I was getting just from the guitar being in my hands. I was aware that there was a solid soung being projected, but the lesson is you need to have some of that sound coming at you. At my normal gig with my little amp I sit myself so that the amp is pointing a little bit at me, so I can hear the sound being projected. That wasn't possible here.

I also noticed the bass E string felt overly boomy - out of balance from the other strings. As if someone had wound up the bass EQ way too high. When I thought about it, I suspected the resonance of the room was causing that. The room happily reflected deep bass but mids and trebles didn't reflect. That's I guess what sound engineers are for - listening and tuning the sound. Even when you have a monitor speaker pointed at you you won't know what the sound is like for the guy in the back...when you are by yourself you just have to suck it and see, hope for the best, go with experience (which is low for me!)

(I asked the audience a few times "Is it too loud? Is it too quiet? How is the equalisation, does that bass sounds boomy? It the response flat? How are the dynamics? Do I need to ease off on the soundboard pickup and stick more to the undersaddle transducer? Do you think I should switch the pickup to phase invert between the two pickups?" Okay, I didn't really ask those questions but I wanted to. I need to play a venue where a sound engineer is in control - and see what they do! :))


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Talk me through a night at the gig JAW!

Thursday afternoon, 28th Feb 2013, as per usual I leave work early so I can have dinner with the family and still get to the gig on time.  After dinner, and giving the wife and kids a kiss, I put the guitar and the amp in the car.  I leave two instrument cables in the car at all times, and one power cable, but I always take the guitar and amp out at the end of the night.

I wear the same as what I wear to work, nice trousers and dress shoes but keep it casual with a polo shirt up top.  This time of year (summer) the trousers can get a bit hot, but I don't want to be seen in shorts :)

When I arrive about quarter to seven (I'm always on time), I can lug the amp and cables in one hand and the guitar in the other to the gig, no trolley needed, one trip only.  The amp is just a buskers amp so it isn't big, but it is heavy because it has a big battery in it.  I run it plugged in however.  It has a very clean and crisp sound, very true to the natural sound of the guitar, and has enough oomphf for the venue.  I play outside, the maximum capacity is about 50 people, I want there to be enough volume that people can hear me, but they can still have a conversation without having to shout.  Next amp will be a PA...a subject for another story...

There are regulars on Thursday night - Steve, Barry and Ian are there almost every time.  Steve and Barry both love Whiskey and pour me two or three...I think they use me as an excuse to have a drink :)  Not a problem though, they are educating me on whiskey and are very generous with it!  They often invite other blokes down for whiskeys, Ian would be there every second time and he always puts some cash in my guitar case.  Great guys!

The shopping centre "caretaker" loves to come and listen, I often ask her what is the favourite song I play, she always says "any of them, I'm not fussy!"  I must learn her name.  I make it a habit to learn as many names as possible.  This is a good life skill for anyone for anything!  Mal is the owner and his wife Liz is often there.  They have a friend Vivian, who is often there, she calls me "Jason the engineer".  Mauricio runs the kitchen and is a really friendly guy.  He and his wife came over from Brasil and just a few months ago he had to spend some time in Bali, out of Australia, waiting for a new visa.  He's back now, which is great, he cooks me a fantastic wood fired pizza every Thursday!

All of the staff are great - sweet baby voiced Hannah...Milli, Korina, Troy, Das, Adam - staff do come and go, but it's good to get to know them.

I plug in, I put the amp on a limestone wall that borders the venue, I've learnt that having the amp more at ear height is better than on the ground.  I like to have it pointing towards the crowd and having me sit off to the side, but slightly in the direction the sound is coming from.  That way I can easily monitor the sound - you want to be able to play to the sound.

I tune up, have a bit of a chat to the regulars, and start with a few warm up songs.  Something easy, but catchy.  Retune after the first song as your body will have warmed up the guitar and put it out of tune.  There after, tune every now and then, but mostly if you've been playing hard and can hear it is out of tune!

I play a few crowd pleasers, I generally stick to themes. I'll play a few rocky songs, then a few quieter ones; or I'll play a few Beatles, then a few Pink Floyd.  I get a feel for the crowd, which changes week to week.  I get a few return visitors (for me or the cafe, who knows?! :))

A mum comes over with a young daughter, about 9, for a photo.  A mature aged lady, passes by and then sits down for an hour and a half listening and talking occasionally to me.  A younger couple stays to the very end; surprisingly, the maybe 20 year old girl knows almost every song I play.  A dear old lady as she is leaving comes up to me all smiles and thanks me for the music.

I play a few "work in progress" when I'm down to about 10 people left, I try to keep the tempo constant so even if I muff it, which I do, it still holds together for the casual listener.

I generally don't stop, except to pour myself another glass of water.  I've got more than 2.5 hours of material with only around 2 hours of gig time.  My fingers don't hurt, but my butt can get sore so I stand up every now and then.  Yeah, I know, playing non-stop isn't very professional, but I want to be able to play as much as I can, for me it is practise!

Since I'm a Pink Floyd nut, I always want to go through all my floyd...but if I detect that nobody is "getting it" I ease back on too much floyd.  Probably 45 mins of my set would be floyd.  But, play to the crowd!

By nine pm the staff are packing up, most of the customers have left, so I pack it in for the night, collect some money and a pizza, all done until next week!

* * *

Look, it took a while to find something like this that was "compatible" with me.  I didn't want a big wild gig, something cosy and small is what I wanted.  I didn't want a weekend gig, although they would prefer to have me on the weekend they let me go on a Thursday night.  It took about 15 potential places before I stumbled on Mal who wanted to "liven" up his cafe with live music.  Good on him.  He now has me on Thursday, Ben plays Friday and a Jazz trio plays Sunday.  I think it probably costs him money, but he is looking long term - to try and establish his venue as a place for live music.  I'll tell you what he pays me if you want to know, you might not be impressed though.  Some nights there might only be fifteen people all night, some nights there might be seventy.  You have to charge, you can't work for free, even if like me you have a day job.  There are too many struggling musicians out there.  Okay, he pays me $60, and pretty much as many pizzas as I want.  It is cash, I'll let you decide what that means.

Nervous?  Nope, after more than six months of doing this gig, I don't get nervous.  Bored?  No, it is still a highlight of the week.  Time consuming?  Only if you want it to be.  Most weeks, I don't even take the guitar out of the case between gigs!  I'd like to add some more songs to the set, but my life it already too full.  One day.

I think it is a great gig, it was a bit of effort to get it established (35 years of playing guitar and a year of talking around) but it is doable.  Give it a try!


Monday, 4 February 2013

What's happening February 2013

Results from the "confirmation" poll, "Do you play guitar?" are in. From 185 votes we had:

139 (75%) Yes
45  (24%) Just Starting
1   ( 1%) No

Well this is a guitar site after all, so not surprises there. But the ratio of Yes to Just Starting, of one in four people are "Just Starting" tells us something. Okay, maybe it tells us nothing. What one person considers "Just Starting" will differ from the next. And even then, if we said that once you can swap fluently between strumming G to C to D you were no longer "Just starting", there is still no real information in that statistic. One of the trickiest parts of polls is that your information is already in a subset of people who click on polls! :)

One day I might have enough information from polls to deduce something; for now it's just kinda fun.  I've popped up another simple poll - let me predict the results right now:  "Is this your first visit to this site?" Yes will be 75%, No will be 15% and "I don't know" will be 10%.  Let's see how I go!

On the guitar front, I'm in the steady state of not much going on at all.  I'm still playing for 2-2.5hours at BBar every Thursday night and am still enjoying it.  I have a few regulars that I see every week or every second week, and a few people that I've seen before once or twice.  Mostly they are all new people, when I chat to them the common response is "I really enjoyed that!" It might be true, or it might be standard Aussie politeness.  Us Aussies aren't very good at criticism, which isn't good, we need to learn how to say what we feel.  Aussies criticise with their feet - that is, they leave, say nothing, and never return.  Nobody gets to learn from that response!

I'm comfortable enough at BBar now that given the right "mood" (both the audience and my mood) I will play stuff I haven't perfected.  Yep, that's right, practising!  Even if I'm fumbling around with it.  Not much though, I still want to seem professional, but a bit of "raw edge" isn't scorned upon.  The trick seems to be to make it look like you aren't practising - so play through your mistakes, don't pause, if you are going to repeat a section because you muffed it up and what to try again, do it, but on beat.  A few new pieces and some old forgotten ones are finding their way back in.  My set is now 2.5hrs long, so I normally don't get to play the entire thing.  This is good, it means I can tune the set to meet the crowd.  It's also bad, because I don't freshen up my songs every week.

What gigging does mean for my guitar life (which is still very limited due to work and family commitments) is that the gig is everything at the moment.  In the last three weeks I have only played guitar three times...so although I'm enjoying the performing (and polishing/practising my set list) I'm not creating anything new.  Which is all I used to do.

Times and seasons.  The season at the moment is performing to audiences, and seeing as I haven't spent much of my guitar life doing it, I'm happy to keep it just at that for now!