A couple years ago, I decided it would be cool to put all my Kotaku articles into a single post and update it regularly. If you want to look through a list of highlights from the last few years, you can find them here.
This list now starts with my final goodbye post from December 2018 and goes back through August 2016. Obviously, I’m no longer updating it. I’ve included dates with each article, though a couple of those might be “republish” dates, and not the date of original publication. (Those dates are always noted in the articles themselves.) In a couple of instances, I’ve inserted older articles I like into the chronological flow.
Hello, friends. Long time no see! I’ve been busy in my Kotaku-cave (Kotakave?) for the last couple of months, and have been doing so much writing that I haven’t had much time to do any blogging here. Today, that changes, and with what else but… a post about Kotaku!
Despite the fact that I’m writing and publishing more work than ever, I sometimes get the sense that my friends and readers maybe don’t have a firm grasp on what it is… that I do. I can’t blame them—fur flies all over the place at Kotaku, and unless you’re obsessively following the site or working there, I can’t imagine how a single human could keep up. In particular, some people seem to be under the impression that I “get paid to play video games all day,” which is a misconception so hilariously “mis” that I really do want to dispel it altogether.
When I was in music school, I was in a few saxophone quartets. At the University of Miami there is usually a freshman quartet, with the four freshman jazz saxophone principles assuming the four chairs in the group. It’s a great way to focus on intonation and blend. I’d never played in a “proper” rehearsing quartet before, and it was a challenging and exceedingly valuable experience.
My senior year, a group of upperclassmen actually put together an advanced quartet in order to tackle some really challenging music. The group consisted of me on tenor, Dan Kinzleman on soprano, Chris Shade on alto and Paul Roth on bari. UM Sax Prof Gary Keller directed us.
. We played a bunch of serious modern repertoire, including a Dave Liebman quartet that was as “out” as out can be. Lieb actually came down and listened to us play it, which was awesome and a bit harrowing. And in the spring, composer Jim Mcneely was the guest artist for the Concert Jazz Band, in which I was playing second tenor. Before the concert, our sax quartet took it upon ourselves to learn the final movement from a Mcneely piece called “Shadows and Whispers; Slash and Burn.”
We recorded it live at Gusman hall in early 2003. Every time I come back to the recording I’m struck by just how incredible Mcneely’s writing is, and how advanced the music was. His big band writing is equally cool, but something about the purity of the quartet really brings out what he does so well.
A (fantastic) student of mine named Ben is applying to UM, and Gary really likes his playing. Which is so very cool to hear. I saw Gary last week in New Orleans at the JEN convention, and we talked fondly about the Mcneely quartet. Gary went ahead and forward the recording along to Ben, so I thought I’d share it here, as well.
As you listen to it, bear in mind that there is no improvising in the piece – all of the notes were written. Check out how it goes in and out of focus, going from unison to harmony to rhythmic disjointedness and back. (Update: if you would like to purchase it, it is available via Advance Music.)
“Shadows and Whispers; Slash and Burn” by Jim Mcneely:
In addition to being able to carry more music with me in general, a side-effect of having increased portable music-player storage space is that I can finally take my entire They Might Be Giants collection everywhere I go. No more weighing various albums, going with older volumes just because they’re classic, cherry-picking songs from records… I finally have the entirety of my music collection’s giant-y goodness with me at all times.
I’ve had a really good time re-visiting their entire catalog, remembering what makes this band so special for me. Their music is so free, so unpretentiously groovy, but even more than that, their lyrics? Are amazing.
I thought I’d compile a list of my favorites from among John and John’s many amazing lines and refrains.
This past Sunday, my band at The Urban School of San Francisco gave our Spring concert, and it was, by all accounts, a crashing success. The group I direct there is the beginning group, dubbed the “Lab Band” – the idea is that students develop their skills in my band before graduating to the Advanced Band, led by Urban’s head jazz director, Scott Foster. This kind of hierarchical setup works really well, both in motivating students to improve, so that they can move up, and allowing those who are just starting out on their instruments not to feel overwhelmed in the early goings.
Part 1, detailing the gear in my looping rig, is here.
I’ve recently been working on becoming more self-sufficient as a performer. One of the great things about The Exited Door was how many brilliant musicians I got to contribute, but the flip side of that is that it can be difficult to perform the material without them! Generally speaking, I’ve always had the intention of performing with a huge-ass group, giving the tunes a literal reinterpretation of what’s on the record, but that kind of show is A) logistically hard to pull off and B) financially unsustainable. So, my plan had always been to come up with a way to perform solo or in small group settings – the trick was figuring out how.
Enter my loop pedal. Well, actually, Nervo’s loop pedal that he loaned me, but same difference. Using it, I’ve put together a pretty cool one-man band setup, as I detailed in a post a few weeks ago. It’s been a blast coming up with little “mini-melodies” and working out how to perform them. It didn’t take long to realize that, in addition to playing loop-specific songs, I could use the pedal to creatively add the flavor of the orchestration on the record.
However, as I began to implement this idea, I noticed a few things. For starters, my setup was taking up too much space – I had all my wind instruments laid out with my percussion on a separate chair, and four pedals in front of the amp… it was just a little too busy.
Another thing I realized was that while it would actually be possible to play a good number of the tunes from the record solo or with another guitarist, I’d need to get creative with triggering loops that I recorded using the melodica. What’s more, there wouldn’t be time for me to reach over and grab the melodica every time I needed to play a solo (like, say, the trumpet melody on “No Crow, Scarecrow”), so I’d need to figure out a way to have quick access to the instrument while playing guitar.
I’d been thinking about designing an arm-mount for my melodica for a little while – it always seemed like a natural fit for the instrument. That said, I’m kind of shocked that I actually pulled it off! All it took was one trip to the haight, where I picked up two matching big thick leather belts and some heavy-duty velcro.
After initially attaching the upper-arm band and the wrist band to my arm and threading the wrist-band through the handle on the back of the melodica, I attached velcro to the outside of the upper-arm band, as well as the underside of the melodica. It worked great for a bit, but after I started practicing with it, it became clear that I’d need a second strap around the top to hold the instrument in place. I was initially using string, but that was pretty flimsy; another trip to the hardware store and I found a 24″ velcro strap that was perfect. I attached another strip of velcro to the top of the melodica, wrapped the strap around, and voila! The thing wouldn’t fall off if I was chased by an angry mob. And, taking into account how awful it sounds when I screw up one of these loops, the possibility of that happening isn’t quite as remote as it may sound. Heh.
To detail how it was put together, I took a few pictures (a few used my mirror, so they’re inverted):
But enough pictures, time to show this thing in action! Without further ado, I give you the YouTube debut of my looping mini-composition “Happy Pants.”
I’ve spent a good amount of my life fairly certain that somewhere out there exists an evil version of me. It goes back to when I was in school – while at UM, just about every guy in my group of friends was assigned an “anti” version of himself. Anti-Kenji was this fratty Asian dude we always saw at the cafeteria, Anti-Russ was pretty similar to real Russ, and Anti-Kirk was this big tall guy who always wore basketball shorts and a visor, with his school ID card stuck into the brim. The theory was that if any of us ever actually came into contact with one of these dudes, we would cancel one another out and cease to exist, as well as possibly rip a hole in the space/time continuum. Needless to say, we kept our distance.
So here it is all these years later, and again I find myself confronted with an evil twin. It started yesterday, when Dan A. sent along this picture of a CD he found in his friend’s car:
AWESOME. Is it possible for this guy to be any more of an evil version of me? He’s like a checklist of evil-version characteristics. Facial hair? Check. Black leather jacket? Check. Unkempt appearance? Check. Vaguely threatening jewelry? Check. And then there’s the issue of his name. I mean, seriously. I can’t think of a more perfectlyevil variation on my name.
Dan also pointed me to his myspace page – which I feel I should note contains a bunch of great music – and I decided to friend request him. I sent the request along with a note explaining that we were clearly evil versions of one another, and that we should probably never meet, lest we cause all of existence to cancel itself out.
A couple of hours later, I got word that he’d accepted my request, and also that he’d left a comment on my page. I’m not sure I can find the words to explain what makes it so unbelievably effing awesome (in particular, the fact that it was obviously written by an auto-commenting bot) so I took a screen grab so that y’all could see for yourselves:
You’re welcome, Dirk Hamilton. I will visit your page often. Mainly to keep tabs on where you are so that we never accidentally run into one another.
After all, I’d hate to be responsible for the negation of existence as we know it.