Tuesday, January 20, 2015

story in progress

Daybreak. White sunlight slides through the cracks in my drapes and onto my bed. I rise with the sun, get dressed, and collect my hair into a ponytail. Ponytails in this town are like crew cuts in the military- a rite of passage in the hippie dream. I step out into the yard, which is yellow and green with bamboo shoots springing up along the perimeter, pull out a deck of Bicycle playing cards, and toss them one at a time into the air. I catch them as they helicopter back down. I look at each card as I do this and name each one for some ghost from my past. There is no doubt that my mind has slipped since yesterday.

I have been training for a memory competition for one year. I stopped taking pills for bipolar seven months ago. I stopped working my desk job around that time. Now I work at a pizzeria with a ragtag bunch of misfits, musicians and drop-outs. For the moment I am one of them.

The stage is set like this: The senior pizza chefs are tossing dough in the air, occasionally glancing at orders lined up, shooting the shit with the assortment of natives and transplants that happen by. I’m in the back kitchen, chopping ‘shrooms and making sauce. Black Nate, who’s worked there the longest, calls back to me “hey, Ben 10! Come help these people!”

I stroll up to the pizza case, smile at them all and tell ‘em it’s the best pizza on the West Coast. It’s an easy sales pitch since as far as I’ve seen it’s true, and I play up some sort of NY accent for effect. The people pay me a fistful of cash for the slices and go eat them upstairs in the lounge. Dietrich the night manager starts his shift and surveys the place. The guy is German American, but I say to him “You sure you’re not Italian, man?” He half-smiles at me and checks inventory.

In my mind I’m living several different lives. I’ve got the romantic me, who drove South along the coastline to sweep a gas station attendant named Maria off her feet. I’ve got the ambitious and delusional me, who’s gonna take the world by surprise by memorizing a deck of cards in 15 seconds flat on t.v. Then there’s the real, present tense me, who’s 35 years old and lowest on the totem pole at a pizza shop. At least it’s damn good pizza.

After my shift I ride my bike to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The waves are tossing pebbles and glass fragments at my feet. A woman is scavenging for garbage that washes ashore. As she walks past me she finds a plastic figurine Jesus on the ground and asks me if I would like it. I tell her, “No, you found it. It’s yours.” I sit on driftwood and meditate silently. After a while I squint for a prolonged period at the descending sun and begin to think that this will be my last time here. I have laid no plans to leave, but I feel a growing uneasiness in the air. The San Francisco tech boom has taken over. The city is overflowing with the ruthless efficiency of competition. This is the way of the world, but it is magnified here and it doesn’t suit me. After two years I feel a sudden, urgent need to leave.

On the ride back to my apartment I barely notice the palm trees and vibrant beauty of the city. I pass my friend Dan’s house. Once a week we meet there to play guitar. I occasionally take out my playing cards and do memorization demos for him. He’ll look at me with cautious eyes, seeming to fear that I’ve come a bit unhinged.

I arrive at my apartment. The first floor studio has begun to feel very little like home anymore. Robbers broke in and ransacked the place a few months after I moved in, the first indication that maybe California was not only the land of dreams but also harbored a few of the nightmarish sort. I stare at the Hindu engraving I’ve got hanging on my wall. It’s artificial gold, colorized tin. I bought it cheap in the Indian store down the block. The image protrudes from its frame, an androgynous peasant with one hand tied to the ground behind its back, eyes fixed straight ahead in a Siamese cat gaze. I don’t know what it means, but it’s come to symbolize my struggle. I strike a match and light a candle on the mantle, then sink into my couch and search for some semblance of inner peace. All I can think about is the approaching memory competition. I envision a sea of impatient eyes studying me. Bad nerves will fuck up my performance. I rifle through my cards the day’s last time. My eyes close as I give in to exhaustion.

I rise again with the work force and get on with the business of living.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How to String the Mandolin Harp

Believe it or not, I don't have an Internet connection at home and don't have many opportunities to write blog entries, but I'm finally getting in to a cafe to type this up. For a less detailed post and just basic stringing info, skip to the ** at bottom. 

 Over the past few years I’ve had several people request information on the stringing of the Mandolin Harp (Some people call it the Fretless Zither, but its maker named it the Mandolin Harp so I honor the person who built it). It is true that they no longer make strings specifically for the Mandolin Harp, nor do they build the instrument itself anymore. Due to these factors we’re forced to improvise when choosing the best possible strings. There may be subtle differences between your harp and mine, so I would recommend making your own adjustments when you see fit.

 The most important factor to consider is how it sounds. It should sound bright and ethereal, like a harp. Assuming your harp has no major cracks in the wood or other structural issues, you should assume that it will sound beautiful when strung properly (structural problems can and should be tended by your local luthier). I initialy had NO IDEA what to use to string this instrument, so I figured it would be a trial and error process- and it was. Juststrings.com was very cool. They let me return strings which I ordered and didn’t end up matching the instrument well. I explained what I was doing and they were very sympathetic to my cause. 

 One of my main goals was to get as much rust resistance in the strings as possible. Stringing the Mando Harp is not an easy task, so you want the job to last as long as possible. For the Melody strings (unwound strings) I made an obvious choice of Elixir Acoustic Guitar strings. This was based on years of playing them on my acoustic guitar. Their sound on the harp is completely different than a guitar sound because the tension is so much greater and the distance from bridge to tuning pegs is far shorter. They have proven to be a smart choice, as they have lasted several years without a diminishing of tone quality. 

 For the bass and chordal strings I used a combination of Autoharp strings and GHS Contact Core acoustic guitar strings. It is ESSENTIAL that the cores of the wound strings make contact with the bridge. If the wound part of the string contacts the bridge then you will most likely get a rattling sound that is very unharp-like. The string resonates at its core and must be grounded there. 

 **I've been digging up and reviewing some of my old purchase receipts. For the 4 Bass notes with largest Gauge strings I used Oscar Schmidt Auto Harp strings. I'm unsure of the exact gauge and you may have to troubleshoot that one on your own. All of the other wound strings I used were GHS Contact Core .26 Gauge. For the unwound string at the top of the chord I used a .14 gauge Elixir. For the melody strings I only used 3 different gauges: .16 and .18 and.22 , all unwound Elixir strings. Here is an excellent instructional video for stringing a zither. Though the zither is a different instrument, they both have the same type of tuning pegs that screw directly into the wood. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks1HqzwUcpw 

That's it folks! Best of luck to you. Stay creative and stay Yourself. ben

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Working on new art in the form of mental pictures...eventually hope to publish a book on the matter....music in the mean time as it comes. That's the easy part of my life

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

End of year Anti-List

In honor of all those musicians, artists, and poets who don't receive the recognition they feel they deserve, I'd like to declare my 2012 Anti-list right here. Keep doing your thing. Fame is a concept for the old folks.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Harmony & discord

Last night I went to a Muslim mosque for the first time in my life. I am not a religious person, and I never intend to be. It doesn't suit my need for individuality. But this was to observe a sacred dance and hear the accompanying music.
While listening and watching the trance-inducing ceremony I staved off any hypnotic effects. Such beauty in music and visuals can really tempt one to put faith in historical texts.
Then I began thinking about the very different scales played in Islamic religious music, as opposed to those played in Christian and catholic ceremonies. The intervals in the scales conjure such vastly different moods.
The long intervals and mysterious-sounding slides of the Middle East avert resolution and prolong the musical experience. Western music, with the half step at the end of the scale, seeks resolution desperately. Neither of these forms of music is better, and different people will have their preferences (probably based on what they grew up with and are accustomed to).
The presence of music in religion is profound. Musicians from antiquity supported themselves by composing for sacred institutions. This was dictated to them by law and necessity.
The music is the backbone of religion, and the conflicting harmonies and scales reflect a different ideology.
Eastern music eludes immediate gratification while western music may elude it- but it is seeking it with urgency.
I wonder how many of our world's wars and conflict are the result of this divergence in perception. People may not recognize it, as it may afflict them on a more subconscious level, but the stark contrast in harmony shows profoundly how our consciousness is shaped by the sounds we hear (or do not).

Sunday, November 18, 2012

like the mist rolls off the hilltop - Ben DLG and Aaron McCoy

hmmm...the new album-The culmination of 3 decades of hard work? 5 bucks aint too steep for that, though these are hard times they say, so who knows. That's like a gallon of gas or some shit. Buy the album if you want to, and i welcome all listeners. Like the Mist....