Tag Archives: psych-o-delic

The Truth is Way Out There


A recent Newsweek cover blared: “In Search of ALIENS.” I have a suggestion where to look.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve known (and know) a number of engineers, and though they’re brilliant, funny people, they tend to be rather linear. Metaphors don’t work that well when building suspension bridges.

That said, I also know a bunch of lighting and sound designers, who are also brilliant, funny people, but they often have an abstracted, opaque air about them, as though they’re existing on a very slightly different reality plane than the rest of us. During a group discussion, for instance, they’ll sit quietly while all the extroverts blather and fulminate, and then they’ll ask a question that no one has an answer to because it’s never occurred to them before. And everything stops.

Somewhere between these poles live stompbox designers.

For those not versed in flangers and pitch-shifters, stompboxes are little electronic gizmos that you plug your guitar into. They get their name from their foot activation buttons; when one steps upon one of these, your guitar tone stretches out wide, buzzes, twists, echoes, trembles, or turns into multiple copies of itself so it sounds like two or more guitars are playing. They are, in short, serious fun and thoroughly addictive. Which is why last night, I could blow off a very long day by playing a overdriven minor pentatonic scale with cascading echoes-es-es and jet airplane whooooooshes and other psychedelic nonsense that sounded really, really cool when I slid notes.

*pause to reflect*

Here’s the thing though: to build these suckers, you have to understand sine waves and how electronics shape them, which involves complicated schematic drawings and soldering things together, and you have to know how the humbucker on a Les Paul sounds really bitchin’ when run through an overdriven tube amp, man.

How many types of heads are involved here? Who are these people? Where did they come from?

I mean, I’m glad they’re here, and they cook up some delicious sounds, but…what are they?


More Weird Music

Here’s Blonde Redhead’s “23”…a new current fave. Who says psychedelia’s dead?


Glacial Progress is Still Progress…or Butchering the Classics

So July is, mercifully, over. I knew it was going to be one of those months, given that I’d be wrapping up the End of the Pavement festival and participating in JAW. I did not know I’d being going half-mad and buying a guitar, but these things happen. The good news, for me–maybe not for the world at large–is I’m writing again. It just seemed like a few lines scribbled here or there, but I took stock today and realized I’ve written 40 pages on a new play, tentatively entitled “A Great Fear of Falling”; plus I started work on another, for the moment to remain secret, project.

The lonesome guitar strangling continues apace, but I’m happy to say that I’ve practiced every single day since I bought the damned thing, mastered a number of chords (even if I haven’t mastered changing smoothly from one to another), and last night I very tentatively played the lead line into the Stones’ “No Expectations.” That was satisfying. I love that blues-slide shit. It’ll even be more satisfying when I can actually play it.

Less satisfying but fun was playing perhaps the worst version of the Stones “Respectable” ever put forth. If you can imagine “Respectable” with psychedelic phase shifting played to a country beat…well, please don’t. But at least I hit all the chords and it actually sounded like the song, even if the song was never meant to sound that way.

That’s originality, right? Innit? Hello? I’m having much better luck playing the blues, which is what I bought the thing for to begin with. This week’s addition of an effects pedal has greatly broadened the palette of sounds with which I have to play, and I can now make godawful screeching noises that could paralyze cats and cause sparrows to stiffen and fall from the trees.

Like I said: progress.