Tag Archives: SoundBox

work

I turned down work Sunday night. The circumstances were a little different from usual so I feel a need for some explanation. After Zach was killed, I really pulled my head in as far as the type of work I was doing. Prior to that, I was doing a lot of sound jobs. They were mostly at the Symphony but also around town in hotels. I enjoyed the challenges.

When I came back from Baton Rouge, I had a Soundbox right away but I also did a substitute day for one of the holiday pops shows in the main room at Davies.

I made it through Soundbox without any major problems but during the other job I made some mistakes that would have been uncharacteristic before. My response to this was to reduce the number of jobs I did on sound and concentrate on the substitute house electric job instead. The house electric job required much less initiative and was much more clearly defined.

About a year into this I realized that the spark that I had had for many years in the theater was gone. The desire for knowledge and to provide the best for my employers just wasn’t there any more. This is not to say that I suddenly was doing bad work. Except for the change in emphasis, no one really noticed.

But I did. And all the talk about retirement meant more to me than finding a better way to prepare for a graduation, for example.

So, while I kept in touch with the sound part of my business, I started letting all of that go. I stopped doing jobs on Hal’s crew (although I still work with him as house electrician). I gave up the Soundbox head job to Denise. I settled in to being JJ’s loyal lieutenant, working generally two or three days a week.

Now, the other part of all this is how I get my jobs. Back in, say, 2014 or 2015, I worked a lot at Davies Hall and I would essentially be hired directly by Jim or Rob or Hal. The Union office would sometimes be made aware of those hirings but they played no role in getting me those jobs. When I had holes in my schedule I would make myself available to the Local 16 office and they would often call me with work.

After Zach was killed, that all ended. Once in a while I would get a call, but I was usually already busy so I was able to avoid going to other places. Davies Hall was safe and a known quantity for me. Sometimes I felt bad about doing this because I wanted to support the Local by filling the jobs they needed to fill. But I remembered the mistakes I had made before due to lack of concentration and I didn’t want to jeopardize any more jobs that way. And the spark was gone.

So when the office called me Sunday night for a job today, I said I couldn’t do it. I had already committed to going down to Santa Clara to see Mom and Dad. In years past, I would have changed that. The other issue was operating a big digital sound mixer. I’m out of practice and I said so. If I had the spark, I would have pulled it off. Now, I just don’t want to.

The Local stood by me when I came back to San Francisco and I will be eternally grateful for that. But I have to be cognizant of my own health. I can’t do every job.

quote

Our last SoundBox for the season opened last night. Someone said to me, ‘Last of the year.’ and of course I had to correct her. Unlike this time last year, we do have a SoundBox scheduled for next December. This is an improvement.

For myself, I’m not sure if I will continue working SoundBox. I enjoy it tremendously but the thrill I’ve had for 45 years working in live theatre is diminishing and I have begun thinking seriously about my next chapter.

Sarah had been scheduled to play for the movie in the main hall but someone dropped out of the SoundBox orchestra and she got moved over. It was her first time playing in SoundBox. The music was difficult and there are only a few players so everyone’s playing is exposed. She handled it with grace and aplomb. Perhaps she was churning inside but I didn’t see it.

Aside from the fact of her continuing to get hired by the Symphony, the best thing about seeing her with this orchestra is seeing her interact with her fellow musicians in a friendly and relaxed way. They like her!

Now for my quote. This was posted about a friend of a friend of a friend on FaceBook but it caught my eye just before I deleted it. Credited to Daisaku Ikeda:

In the Buddhist view, the bonds that link people are not a matter of this lifetime alone. And because those who have died in a sense live on within us, our happiness is naturally shared with those who have passed away. So, the most important thing is for those of us who are alive at this moment to live with hope and strive to become happy. By becoming happy ourselves, we can send invisible ‘waves’ of happiness to those who have passed away.

sea change

‘Sea change.’ That’s the phrase that kept coming to me last week. Now that I put it down in black and white, I find I’m thinking about what it really means. I’ve been in boats but I’m not a sailor. I live by the ocean and every time I drive by the beach I look at the waves and think about what it must be like out there. Some days it’s flat and some days it’s wild.

But to imply that the difference between flat and wild signifies something important is kind of a stretch. The ocean is changeable. End of story.

But to me, the phrase means an important change and I feel that an important change has happened in me over the last few weeks. Part of it was my trip to Louisiana. Even though I haven’t done anything yet to follow up on my data gathering, I’ve found myself more able to look forward in a positive way. It’s hard to explain.

SoundBox was a professional opportunity that came my way in 2014. It was a tremendous challenge and has been on the whole tremendously satisfying. I’ve always thought of my career as being in live theatre. A live performance – music, drama, dance – has for me a power like no other art form. And, although we as stagehands are rarely visible, it’s a communal effort that has great meaning to me.

My colleague and friend Denise has been working with me in SoundBox as my assistant for over two years now. She ran the floor, moved the microphones and speakers around, kept track of the myriad details of every show. She’s taken classes and studied and for last week’s production she was in the ‘hot seat’. My original intention was just to let her gain more experience by participating in the pre-production meetings along with actually running the show, which she had done before but as I started the week as her assistant, I found that I was happy in my role. Far from being jealous of her position, I found that I was relieved that someone was there who could handle everything.

Although I had imagined telling her this in a serious heart to heart talk, in the event, it happened on our way out Saturday night in a rather casual way. I told her that I wanted her to continue in the ‘hot seat’ for the April set and furthermore, I wanted her to think about finding someone else to train in the system so that I could step aside completely.

This is my ‘sea change.’ That I have a challenging and exciting job in theatre and I’m ready to walk away from it. The prospect of playing music more, of having more time to help Mom and Dad, of being able to visit new (and old) places is beckoning stronger and stronger. I know it’s called retirement and many people do these things but it always seemed unrealistic. Now it seems less so.

post SoundBox post

I had a lot of ideas for posts last week as I was working SoundBox. My schedule wasn’t even that onerous. I had every night off except Friday and Saturday and Saturday I had the day free. Wednesday night I had a union meeting so I got home late.

But no posts got written. Sorry about that. Now I have a week (mostly) off so I’m hoping to catch up here. At the moment the well is dry, however. I’ll be back shortly . . .

update

Lots to say, but little of it organized. I got my monthly email from The Compassionate Friends today. Their monthly meeting is tomorrow night. This week is SoundBox so it is not practical to fight rush hour traffic to go down to Santa Clara then come back to work the next morning. I went and looked back at what I’ve written about The Compassionate Friends before and I think it’s pretty good. While my need for grief support has lessened in the last year, I haven’t yet achieved the strength to attend with the rationale of supporting others.

I have a phone consultation this morning with a person from TIAA. Mom and Dad’s retirement funds are with TIAA and I’ve been trying to understand how they all work. With my own retirement looming, I’ve been more motivated to do this.

I spent some time last week looking over my own funds. My broker says they should be balanced in a certain way, different from how they’re balanced now. Should I make changes? Precisely how and when get very confusing very quickly. Is the stock market a bubble that will pop soon? Aiee!

Speaking of SoundBox and retirement, I’ve found myself thinking in the last couple of weeks about giving up SoundBox. I never thought I’d feel that way. Being involved in the SoundBox shows in the last 3+ years has been a thrilling experience. I’ve been stretched physically and intellectually in ways that are really good for a man in his 60s, but I find that my interest is turning to other things. My friend Denise has – at my request – taken on the lead position for this months’ show and has shown that SoundBox audio is in good hands.

Having said all that, I’m not walking away. Denise and I will talk later in the week about who will do what for the April set. Funding for SoundBox is rather precarious so no one knows if there will be shows again starting in December. (Remember that the space is in use by the Opera from May through November so there is only the five month window every year anyway.) Symphony management has a lot on their plate, not least of which is the upcoming retirement of Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas. Planning for SoundBox is a bit further down the list.

Sarah’s quartet had a concert last Saturday night. The Symphony generously allowed me to borrow a few items from their sound inventory to support their performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains. I found myself worrying about technical things during the performance so I couldn’t relax into the music. The first half of the program, though, I found very moving, with narration about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s visit to Dresden after World War II.

The venue was The Hillside Club in Berkeley. I had been there before but hadn’t had the reason to work with the staff. Bruce and Araceli turned out to be very nice folks. I’m going to try to go back for some different concerts.

Tonight is jazz band. The confusion that bothered me last semester has been resolved and I’m having fun again. I’m still sharing bass duties with Steve M. who is good people. It’s a completely different head space compared to playing guitar. Guitar can be looser in big band so that’s a little more fun, but bass drives the bus and there’s nothing else like it. I have to concentrate more but that’s ok.

Next week Mom and Dad will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. Mom was talking the other day about doing something special but I haven’t heard any details. I’m planning to be down there.

SoundBox

Another SoundBox is in the history books. (Or what ever history is kept in nowadays.) We did our two shows Friday night and last night. The theme was family connections and we heard sons and daughters of Symphony musicians playing with each other in various short pieces. Despite – or perhaps because of – that theme, the selections were generally excerpts so musically it wasn’t as interesting as other shows have been.

The one exception was the only piece in the 2nd Act. It was called Sketches of Kazakhstan by Samuel Post. One of the members of the second violin section, Raushan Akhmedyarova, was born in Kazakhstan and her father was a famous musician and composer there. Mr Post took some of Raushan’s father’s themes and expanded them into a very nice piece about 20 minutes long for chamber orchestra.

In SoundBox, I have several responsibilities. One is to set the room acoustic for each piece with the Constellation system. I always try to involve the musicians and artistic staff in this but I also have my own ideas. I have found that it is tempting to put more ‘reverb’ into everything just because we can. In the case of Sketches, the original setting we tried was a preset designed for small string orchestra. As the piece was being rehearsed, though, I felt that a dryer sound would allow the individual instruments, and particularly Raushan’s solo violin, to be heard better. I was very pleased to carry the day on this. I thought it was the highlight of the program.

Simply put, each preset is made up of 5 acoustic parameters. Constellation users can choose among a wide range of settings for each parameter. A relatively small number of presets were created when we first received the system for general, non-SoundBox, use. I am not against using a generic preset if it sounds good, but probably 90% of the pieces presented at SoundBox over the 3+ years we’ve been doing it have been customized for the exact music being played.

The last piece on this month’s program was a father and son affair. Steve Paulson is the Symphony’s principal bassoon. His son, Greg, is a guitarist in a ‘progressive death metal’ band called Arkaik. Greg’s piece was a six minute track of slammed guitars and drums which he and Steve played off of. It was all written out. there was no improvisation. Greg had a seven string guitar through a Marshall cabinet that, oddly, was hard to hear. Steve had a contact mic on his bassoon that I ran through the overhead speakers. Playing back the track was my responsibility, as was setting up the links between my system and the lighting and video systems so everything played in sync. Greg certainly has fast fingers!

After the last three years in which we had a SoundBox set every month from December to April, we are down to only three this season. Our next one is in February and the last will be in April. the room is in use by the Opera from May to November so putting on SoundBox during that time is not possible. Those of us on the Local 16 operating crew understand how expensive it is to put on but we enjoy doing it and look forward to participating in future sets.

Denise

One of the great joys of being back in San Francisco to work is the people I get to work with. I apologize ahead of time to my colleagues in Sacramento. The reasons I did not enjoy my time there do not reflect on you, they are mine only.

Case in point is Denise. I’ve worked with Denise many times over the last eight years. She has a specialty within the world of sound people that dovetails with mine so we sometimes get on the same jobs. Today she told a story of her being told to slow down because she was working too hard. We all laughed, because it is so Denise. She is always thinking ahead and always taking the responsibility of action. I’ve been lucky to have her as my #2 in SoundBox for the last two years.

She had shown me her art quite a while ago. It’s not dramatic, it’s full of subtlety. She told me what ‘ATC’ meant long a go and I don’t remember now, but I think it means pretty small, like post card size.

Just a few months ago we were talking and she mentioned her web page. Web page?? You mean like a blog? Well, sort of. She writes a little, but mostly it is just images of her art. I invite you to take a look at it here.

annual physical

I had my long-awaited annual physical today. Long awaited because I had a bunch of questions that I’ve been holding on to for several months now. None of them were critical enough to call the doc but they were nagging. No, I’m not going to say what they were except that one was about the headaches.

Dr Amara did not seem worried about my recent spate of headaches. She re-upped my Maxalt prescription without a peep. She ran down the results from my blood work. No surprises. My cholesterol is a little high but my Vitamin D and my Iron are back in the ok range (I’ve been taking supplements). My PSA is low. I’ve lost a little weight since last year but I could lose ten more pounds. And get more exercise . . .

She referred me to a specialist a couple of years ago about my blood counts which have been low. That specialist is out of town this week and I haven’t seen that part of the test results.

Sometimes I think the headaches are more situational. If I’m busy at work it’s less of a problem. If I’m sitting around at home or not too busy at work, I feel that’s when the afternoon headaches creep in. Was I subconsciously worrying about this physical all last week? Or about Sarah being in New York? Or . . ?? I just can’t think of anything obvious. I know I think about writing in this blog a lot and yet I don’t do it very often. There’s some guilt there on slow afternoons. The last few weeks it seems that most of the posts I’ve done are often forced and not as good as I’d like. I put ’em out there because I want to put something out.

I have to accept the fact that this is a blog about feelings and I write about the feelings I have at that moment. Maybe after I do this for ten years or so I can edit it all down to a nice book. Sort of like the guitar solos we hear on records. They sound fresh and improvised but almost always are a result of much trial and error and practice.

SoundBox starts tomorrow for our last go ’round until December at the earliest. I had a meeting with the curator a week ago and hopefully there will be no technical surprises this week.

catching up

OK, it’s time to catch up on the last few weeks. Every time I think I’ve got some time free, something seems to happen. This week it was the headaches. Last week it was a couple of unexpected days at work.

Whatever. Let’s look back,

SoundBox was really awesome. The young German conductor of the SFS Youth Orchestra, Christian Reif, was the curator. Rather than trying to describe it, I recommend you all just read this review. It is of course a glowing review, but what I especially like about it is how it describes the atmosphere at a SoundBox concert pretty well. A couple of people that I spoke to afterwards who had seen many SoundBoxes were quite moved by this set.

From the technical standpoint, the only difficulty we had was amplifying the instruments in the Black Angels string quartet. I didn’t find out until after the fact that the full title includes the words ‘for Electric String Quartet.’ I had only been given a note that the (acoustic) instruments were to Be mic’d, which we did for the first rehearsal. Everyone seemed to like it expect the players in the quartet who now told us the sound should be distorted and loud ‘like Jimi Hendrix.’

So we talked it over and they agreed that they would bring in their distortion pedals the next day and we would wire them through the overhead speakers.

What they actually brought in was a motley collection of amps, none of which had dedicated distortion circuits. All we could do was overdrive the inputs and hope it worked. After much fiddling – so to speak! – we got something that they professed to be happy with. It wasn’t nearly the overwhelming loudness of Hendrix. Oh well.

A week later was my date with Loose Gravel at the Valencia Club in Penryn. At the last minute, I had traded with Tom singing Dizzy Miss Lizzy for Blue Suede Shoes. That one I had sung back in the April days so I thought it would be straightforward. It turned out to be a problem, though, partly because the vocal starts without any introduction. I ended up in the wrong key. It was only the second song of the afternoon and people were looking at me and the band as if wondering what they were in for.

It got better, though. A few songs later I got to chew on Big Boss Man, which I had actually sung a few times in the intervening years. That went very well.

The second set was the Chuck Berry tribute and I sang Wee Wee Hours and Memphis acceptably. In honor of Chuck I had brought my red ES-335 which I don’t play much. I had bought it from Vince a couple of years ago because he offered me a great deal on it. Afterwards we talked about it. He offered to take it back but ‘didn’t have any money.’ Ha ha, very funny Vince! I don’t dislike it that much.

It’s a beautiful guitar. Here’s a picture of it in front of Allen Frank’s Super Reverb at his Drytown Club right after I bought it.

The next day – Monday night actually – the Skyline band played a ‘Mid-Term Exam’ at the Last Stop Sports Bar in Daly City. They are nice people there, but fitting a big band into the performance space they have is just not happening. We guitars were stuffed in the back next to the drums with all the wind players in front of us and playing in the other direction. It wasn’t too bad until I got to African Skies when I was supposed to be playing a unison line with the tenor sax. I couldn’t hear him at all! The trading twos at the end was a little better because it was just us and Zack was counting and pointing to each of us on our turn.

Here’s a picture of the ES-330 I use for jazz band:

It looks similar but it is really quite different. I won’t bore you with the details unless you ask.

The last SoundBox is upon us. Next week will be the last program for at least 7 months. Whether we get to start it up again in December is up to the Symphony board. It was funded for three years and those three years are done. No one wants to see it go but we all realize it is quite expensive to put it on. Some of the ‘features’ like the lighting and video will be migrated to the main Davies hall but the custom sound system I run won’t be one of them. Stay tuned . . .

band update

SoundBox Saturday. We opened last night and close tonight. I’ve got the day free until 7 to rest. The week was not without challenges but all in all was easier than most. The only night I worked late was last night for the show. Everyone involved is very proud of doing something special but there is no funding for beyond the next set in April. The Symphony has made huge investment in infrastructure but admission prices do not begin to cover the costs. The Constellation System will continue to be used for orchestra rehearsals and the odd special event but the lighting and projection stuff will go into boxes except for a few times a year in the big room.

Meanwhile, I’ve been faithfully going to jazz band rehearsals every Monday. A couple of the charts we’re doing have exposed guitar parts and solos which require a lot more practice than I’ve been getting away with previously. We have sort of a mid-term coming up. Zack has a deal with a local Daly City bar for us to play a set there on Monday the 27th. Last week he assigned which guitarist – there is myself and one other – will play which charts. One assigned to me is African Skies by Michael Brecker where the guitar plays the head with the tenor sax. I’m doing my best to channel Pat Metheney who played on the original track. At the end I trade twos in (more or less) F minor with the tenor. That’s fun.

We’re also doing a version of Bags’ Groove with both guitars playing the vibraphone part, then we each get a couple of solo choruses. It’s fun but there are some tricky rhythmic bits in it. Zack has been very patient with his guitar players who don’t read that well.

After the first rehearsal in January, I emailed Zack to say I was having trouble picking up the guitar away from rehearsal. He was gently encouraging and I’ve gotten better. I just spent a solid half hour working on African Skies. That’s more real practicing than I’ve done in a very long time.

My other band, Loose Gravel, is playing in Loomis a week from tomorrow. They’re not really my band, but I’ve been allowed to sit in with them whenever I want. This time I decided a couple of weeks ago that I really wanted to go so I arranged my work schedule to keep the Sunday free. When Tom was down here he said he was trying to sing less with them so I thought I would try to resurrect my singing. He’s given me Big Boss Man, which I used to do back in the days of April and Dry Creek, and Dizzy Miss Lizzy, which was always his to sing. We’re familiar with The Beatles version which features John Lennon on vocals. I dunno, I’m no John Lennon singing. We’ll see . . .