Learning the Mandolin

I am teaching myself to play the mandolin. I have been toying with the idea of learning a new musical instrument for a while now, but I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to latch onto. I was confident that it would be a stringed instrument since that would be completely foreign to me. 

Megan has stated that she has wanted to learn how to play the violin, ahem, fiddle, for quite some time. One idea I had was to try and find a potential companion instrument, with the hopes that we could one day play together. 

Various instruments ranging from violin, cello, viola and banjo have all been under consideration. All would allow me to play some folk music and some Irish music as well for Megan. 

The mandolin emerged as the top contender a couple of months ago. Not only is an entry level mandolin dirt cheap, but I was surprised to find the wide range of music that the mandolin can cover. Being in the lute family the musical repertoire ranges from medieval court music, to just about every folk genre you can find. It seems to have a particularly strong presence in Italian, Irish and American (Bluegrass) folk music. 

So, mandolin it was. My first couple of days with it were productive, but also a real challenge. My form needs a significant amount of work and many of the notes get a metallic "twang" to them, I think due to my bad finger positioning. Through the book I have purchased and also a fantastic website called MandoLessons.com, I have been able to get down the basic notes, understand the basic fingerings and learn my first three chords. 

I hope there is a lot more to come. 

Légère Artificial Clarinet Reeds - I'm Never Going Back to Cane

Anyone out there who is a woodwind player knows the nightmare that is having to deal with reeds. They are expensive and finicky. You are lucky if you get a couple in a box of ten that are good. At one point I used to be one of those individuals who would sit there an sand my reeds, tweaking them to try and get them to be better. It was a pain and it honestly never worked. 

I have had my eye on various artificial reeds now for a while. Reviews are mostly positive about them, but you always see purists who just won't have anything of them. I noticed that someone in my section was playing on a Légère reed a few weeks ago and she said she loved it since she picked it up. That was it for me after dealing with another night of a sub-par feeling Vandoren. 

I ordered a Légère the very next day. It was not cheap, around $30 on Amazon. When it arrived two days later I put it on my clarinet and the different was noticeable right away. It was immediately responsive when playing and I knew right then and there that I would probably never play on a cane reed again. Why had I waited so long to get one of these? 

Now, playing on the Légère does feel a bit different than a traditional reed. First off, the surface is incredibly smooth and my bottom lip was sliding all over the place. The overall reed characteristics are also different than a normal reed. The tone is for the most part excellent, but if you aren't careful with your embouchure, the open holed notes like the middle G, A and Bb can sound very "plasticy". The rest of the notes above the break and in the low register sound great though and with a little bit of careful playing the open tones sound fine as well. 

I initially had some trouble playing the high register notes well above the staff, like the high E, F and G. I think I may have been biting down on the reed too much, causing it to stop vibrating. I think most of that will just come with some time on the reed. 

I'll also have to see how long the reed really lasts. Will it last a year? More? Less? We'll see, but I am super pleased with my initial impressions.  

New Album: Songs of the Solar Empire


I'm proud to announce the release of my latest album. It has been four years since I last released an album and a lot of work has gone into this latest work. The music here is once again an eclectic mix of tracks ranging from ambient to techno to even dance. The opening track, "Lowered Fog" was featured on the Ambient Collective vol. 5 compilation about a year ago. 

Once again, all of the songs were composed on this album utilizing only hardware. After taking some time off to look at new synthesizers I picked up a Waldorf Blofeld for leads and pads and also complemented by Korg EA-1 with a Tech 21 Flyrig 5 to give it a grittier sound. I think those new sounds come across nicely in the tracks.  

All of the tracks were recorded in 24-bit audio and you can download all of the tracks from bandcamp in lossless audio. This is the best sounding album I believe I have ever done. 

So please enjoy, and share.