My DEVOlution

We lost another of the founding members of one of the most influential musical acts in my life. My love of DEVO goes back to my early adolescence.

Last year original DEVO drummer Alan Myers died. A couple of years before that DEVO released an album of new material.

Below is an (perhaps) ongoing compendium of some of my memories of DEVO.

The same DEVO album I bought way back when (detail)

My DEVOlution

» I first became aware of DEVO in 6th/7th grade-- Late 70s. Growing up in New England, a lot of it up a dirt road in a podunk town, I was fascinated by punk rock. Hadn't heard any of it but the pictures I'd seen in Dynamite magazine and Cream. I tried to image what they sounded like. A friend/classmate at an alternative elementary was into the 2nd wave of skateboard culture, and I thought he was pretty cool, so I got into skateboarding (as much as possible since I didn't have ready access to concrete. Skateboarding got into DEVO. Seriously, SKATEBOARDER magazine, to which I subscribed, was huge into DEVO, circa DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE.

» Not coincidentally DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE was the first albums ever that I bought with my own allowance/money. (I requested a couple as gifts before that). I was visiting that same friend in East Greenwich, RI, what I believe was the summer that album was released. (My friend was trying to talk his mother into letting him see DEVO as they played Brown College. I sorta remember that was going on.) I bought it in a record shop on Thayer Street while staying with my Aunt.

» For most of my adolence honestly I probably listened mostly to side 2. Secret Agent Man the focus of my attention; though even then in my heart I knew Red Eye Express was my favorite song.

» Part of my fascination, before they won my AM radio listening self over with their pop sensibilities, was how insane what they were presenting looked to a kid in New Hampshire. Especially in those early low-tech years.

» In my pre/early-teens DUTY mostly just went to the back my album stack while I listened to rock. And then later punk rock & hardcore. But I'm nothing if not sentimental, so I didn't throw it out.

» In my indie band late teen years, getting "prepared" for my shitty minimum wage job, I threw on DUTY, and I realized on a much deeper level how profoundly amazing that album is.

» Even when I wasn't grooving with what DEVO was doing, I never begrudged them their success or direction or choices. And there's great DEVO songs throughout their catalog.

» Go on a DEVO YouTube fest. They were a visual band as much as they were sonic. And live they just brought it.

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"I can safely say DUTY NOW FOR THE FUTURE is an album that changed my life. More than once. Alan's drumming on that record is a huge part of my enduring love for it. It is pure punk rock but with the precision and swing of an analog drum machine, and nuanced dynamics many drummers never get close to. DEVO lost the plot for a while when they phased Alan out for a drum machine and treadmills. Respect. Nice tribute."

posted by Puffer on February 18, 2014

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Well, that was weird.

I may write about that at some point in the future. But I honestly just don't give enough of a shit to get into it with some random bro from the interwebz. I don't have the time or inclination for drama, so lesson learned.

Side note: I have no analytic scripts, plugins or ads connected to this site at present. Some day I'll get around to setting up Google Analytic but since this is but a secondary concern for me these days, why do I need to know that?

Being right on the internet is a Pyrrhic victory at best.

posted by Puffer on February 13, 2014

tags: meta

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Theoretical Home Studio, circa '87/88, Pt 1.

Almost inadvertently I've managed to acquire the ingredients for what might have been considered a decent, consumer-grade home recording setup in the late 80s/early 90s. "Almost inadvertently" for 2 reasons. 1. Inadvertently in the sense that this wasn't the end-game. I didn't say to myself, "I want to have the home studio I might have had when I was 21(ish) if I had more foresight, money or discipline." 2. Almost in that the last piece I bought (and the next, should it come to pass), the DDD-5, was specifically purchased to meet this criteria.

Obligatory Gear P*rn Shot.

Back up here. First I bought the Fostex 4-Track Cassette a year or so ago. A dude locally was selling a working one, 50 bucks (I've since reconditioned it to the best of my ability, new belts). Seemed fun to play with; I was specifically thinking of recording beats to and from the MPC. Back in the 80s I'd mucked around with similar models but never owned one myself. Frankly, I was only marginally interested in recording. So I wanted to play with one.

I'd had the Sequential Circuits MultiTrak for maybe 5, 6 years, a trade for an Alesis desktop audio/midi interface. I bought the Realistic Moog a few years ago and, using the internet, restored it myself. The Casio SK-1 is one I picked up (mint w/ manual & case thank you very much, my nerd) for $15 at a yard sale. Not pictured Yamaha TZX8-1, which I believe meets the criteria.

All of this (save the SK-1 which I never really use and have designs to circuit bend at some point), I'd been using with the MPC1K (and my modern tabletop synths). But while trying to get my mind around the "workflow" of the Fostex, this notion occurred to me: that all I needed was a era-appropriate drum machine, and this could have been my home studio in an alternate timeline.

I took a quick pole on Twitter -- "So, if I was looking to buy a drum machine in the late-mid 80s, that would have been affordable at the time, I would look for a...?" i.e., not rare, not stupid expensive. I got a few suggestions. It was the ever-helpful C. Randall that mentioned the DDD-5. I saw there was one on eBay w/ a BuyItNow of $75, had some money in my PayPal, so why the fuck not? Like a 4-track, I'd only dabbled with drum machines during the era being discussed; always had a blast, but never had the wherewithal to own one.

So that's it. Now I am going to write an ep using nothing but this gear as the primary source.


Caveats for myself.

The purpose is not to fetishize the gear or stylistically ape the music of the era. I want to write songs, then use these tools to record and arrange them. They'll probably call to mind synth pop, goth, industrial, hip hop simply because of the pallet and my musical limitations. But I'm not setting out to make a synth pop (et al) song.

Likewise, I'm not getting all wound up about being completely, utterly faithful to the gear. i.e. doing some sort of low-rent Jack White-esque purity test. While I'm entertaining getting a MidiverbII, most of my peripherals are of recent vintage. The stereo compressor, the pre-amps, an analog delay pedal; for my purposes these are in the spirit of the endeavor. And that's the thing, it's more about the spirit than the specifics. So, ditto my Yamaha mixer. And frankly, I'll probably use my EH Digital Delay because, whatever, close enough. And, furthermore, my Casio digital piano, which is really stretching it but let me pretend I have access to a real piano. I'm undecided about guitar, bass.

This is an ongoing project, obviously with my limited time. I have some other things I want, need to work on. And I'll continue to see how I can use these things in other contexts. But this could be fun.

posted by Puffer on November 10, 2013

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On the Return of 90s-era Big Beat Electronic Music

I respond*,

When Randall says "The thing about Big Beat is that it wasn't really something you could make in your bedroom; to do it right, you needed more of a band presentation." I take that mean not so much having a full band in the studio and on the road (not unheard of). More, the production was the same as, say, SMG, Ministry, or even Helmet: big desks, expensive pre-amps, comps, slamming drum tracks, vintage synths programmed and recorded by people who knew what they were doing. I think that's right. -ish.

As one of the ppl who inquired about what defined Big Beat when he posted, I appreciate this. Back in the 90s I had a friend who was listening to a lot of this and while I was visiting friends in Leeds I went to a record store and listened to and purchased a big pile of vinyl on his behalf. Specifically I was instructed to get Big Beat. (Maybe trip hop but it was a while ago.) (I only name I can dredge up is Bentley Rhythm Ace. Maybe Spring Heel Jack.) I just hadn't heard the term used in so long.

If I over-think it -- not to invite unflattering comparisons -- my music gravitates towards this era of dance music, with a slathering of guitar rock. My tempos are too slow, not enough funk. How about "post-rock big beat"? That sounds pretensions enough to amuse me.

Anyway, this kind of thing, using the term loosely, is totally up my alley. Esp. as an old guy. I'm a soft touch for breakbeats, and punk rock structures, and now synths. I truly dig those early Micronaut songs. So, yeah. Do it up.

*edited slightly.

posted by Puffer on November 1, 2013

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John Lurie is Also Good at Twitter

Just recently I started following John Lurie on Twitter, a medium at which he is really entertaining, quickly becoming one of my feed favorites. He posts pictures of his paintings, makes oddball and wry observations and jokes, as well random comments to random famous people. (And basketball. He talks about basketball. But, whatever. Sports are a thing people like. Who am I to judge?)

But I did not come by Lurie recently. I was in my late teens and 20s during the era in which Lurie was such an important player. I was a post punk kid who worshipped indie film and underground art, a college DJ who liked outré music (tho' honestly, a lot of jazz at that time rather mystified me). I bought FISHING WITH JOHN on DVD when it was first released, and listened to the entire commentary track. I was (am) an amateur artist, writer, musician. And John Lurie was (is) the real deal. And he is funny. He exudes good humor.

So finding him on Twitter has lead me to go back through his work. Re-watched DOWN BY LAW, the doc BLANK CITY, tons of YouTube clips. Found the LP LIVE IN TOKYO on vinyl.

The question as to whether he was still making music or acting had crossed my mind. More than occasionally. But for the most part I've just been enjoying my rediscovery of what I dug about his work initially, and more deeply listening to his band. So it was kind of disheartening to read this Rick Moody piece on Lurie.

(I found this piece, so far after the fact, via something Lurie himself retweeted. I wonder how long I would have remained blissfully aware.)

Firstly, I appreciate and applaud Moody's celebrating why Lurie is a badass. And I was more distressed to learn about the Lyme Disease than anything. (If Titter is any indication he is doing better, so yea.) I've had friends and family contend with Lyme and it is no joke. As for that other shit. Well, it's lurid. But ultimately I could give a shit about some sycophantic leech; I know the type and they are the worst people. (Literally. Sociopaths are the literally--not figuratively--the worst people.) That New Yorker hit job seems the basest kind of wannabe rockstar journalism. Frankly I'm glad I didn't read it.

The author of the piece, Tad Friend, will only ever be ever known as a hack writer and forgotten by most who read him. Lurie has contributed to our culture in many positive and exciting ways, and collaborated with many other cultural giants, repeatedly. I'm happy that he has found in painting a vital, expressive medium for his humor and eye for the colorful. It sucks that he has been beset by such ignoble circumstances, and it is great that he is persevering with humor and focus.


posted by Puffer on June 15, 2013

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Kill the Spider

To mark my debut bandcamp release, BROOKLYN CIGARETTES, I made this video using video from The Prelinger Archive.


posted by Puffer on February 6, 2013

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31 January 2013

Digital Lo-fi - Brooklyn Cigarettes

Digital Lo-fi - Brooklyn Cigarettes

The "debut" album by Digital Lo-fi.

posted by Puffer on January 28, 2013

tags: metamusic

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Top Heavy Gear

On one hand, having all that screen real-estate would be super useful. On the other, one of the main advantages of the MPC1000 is that it's a brick--by which I mean its shape. Sure, invest a couple of hundred into upgrading a "blue" edition MPC1k and you'd have a a small sample based DAW with a intuitive, sturdy interface and great OS (JJOS). But you can also lift it with one hand and stack it on tight surfaces.

I don't know if I'd take that MPC in the video on the road without sweating it a bit.

posted by Puffer on January 8, 2013

tags: MPC1000

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I'm Into Something New

Good lord I needed to push that last headline down.

Minor doings afoot at DLF HQ.

Aiming to have the first, widely available Digital Lo-fi release in January. The final mixes are done, looking into mastering, then up on bandcamp. I have the cover production under way. So I should be able to pull it together in a couple of weeks.

Have some ideas about monetizing, as well as using it to begin to build an audience.

Also, at present, rearranging my work space. Ditching a few items, give more room to move stuff around. I post a few photos on Twitter, and will do the same here but I need to set up some sort of system for processing and sharing photos.

posted by Puffer on December 30, 2012

tags: meta

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KvR Developer Challenge

Back during the longest running iteration of this blog I was big champion of the KvR Developer Challenge. (I'll assume if you're reading this you have at least a passing familiarity with KvRAudio; if you don't, it's a message board community for audio software enthusiasts.) For the first few years that I was discovering software based audio production, I wasted a fair degree of time on KvR. I wasn't "top poster" or even a visible presence really, but being rather obsessed with software instruments and production it was a honeypot. As my taste and interests developed I rather quickly burned out on the site. These days I only go back when someone links to something of interest or it contains information I can't find anywhere.

Regardless of KvR's actual usefulness, the developer challenge is a worthy endeavor. You can read about it there, but in a nutshell, software developers submit freeware software and VST plugins, users donate money to a pot, companies donate prizes, everyone votes. The first year happened when I was at my most when I was at my most active on the site, and I tried all the entries (I started a track that was nothing to be composed using nothing but the competition software, save my host), and discussing them, and promoting the competition on The next round I didn't have as much time or inclination, so I only downloaded the plugins that were of interest to me -- I think about 6. Both years I gave a short rundown of what I thought were the top plugins, and I have to say I had a respectable batting average in picking what ended up winning.

One of the main things to keep in mind, that while the majority of entrants are Windows-only software, I would say that Windows users are probably a lower percentage of audio production enthusiasts, especially since Logic is Mac exclusive. So anything that is available cross-platform is going to garner more votes. Personally, though my DAW is a Windows machine, I don't pay much attention to anything that isn't cross-platform. For the same reason the competition is always heavily weighted to Windows software: there are a couple of development "kits" (SynthEdit and SynthMaker) that are Windows exclusive. By and large all the software that comes has a certain sameness. Not everything, mind you, just an awful lot of it. Both packages allow you to import your own raw code; but I get the feeling that an awful lot of the released software is strung together stock modules with a clever GUI.

Software that is cross-platform speaks to an understanding of base-level coding and DSP that gets me interested in software. It's a great democratization of development exists and some people do some pretty crazy, inspiring and slick stuff. I'm sure most of these developers put a lot of work into it It's just not that interesting to me.

A couple of things have changed since I last checked in. They opened up the competition to Reaktor ensembles, Kontakt sound libraries, loop libraries, and even synth patch collections. Which is cool, as the rest of the collection is still mostly Windows (and, guestimating, largely SynthEdit/SynthMaker) based.

So all that said, the following are the plugins/soundware that I downloaded and will be checking out over the next few weeks. This is not a prediction of what I think will or should win; it is merely the few things that caught my eye - I've yet to put anything through its paces. If I'm overlooking some gem I'm all ears. I encourage you to check out a few, kick in a few bucks to pot. I truly think this is a great thing that advances the technology and art of computer music.

Honorable mention for sheer weirdness has to be Inspiration by Musical Entropy: a expansion of the Oblique Strategies method of generating ideas and breaking out of creative ruts.

If you don't have the same ironic prejudice about Windows only software that I do, I would recommend checking out: ThrillseekerXTC by Variety Of Sound (people seem to love his analog modeled mixing tools tho' they've never really clicked with me); Sifft by xoxos (a SynthEdit developers who really uses the platform to do something unique and unexpected); Flame
by Martin Eastwood Audio
(Martin has previously developed a few custom coded Windows plugins that had a deserved reputation for quality.)

Voting closes in a couple of weeks, so get on it. I'll report back what I'm voting on.

posted by Puffer on November 23, 2012

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