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50 Things We Learned About David Lee Roth From VH1, by the inimitable John Ryan Gallagher.

Enjoy.

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Calvin Harris actually calls it the Humanthesizer. Whatever. It’s a synth, and it’s got bikini models. What more could one ask for. I wonder when the home version is coming out.

Check out the making of video too, it features a bunch of smart cats from the Royal College of Art.

I love this.

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The Acme Siren’s Top 10 Free Music Downloads of 2008 – #2

If you haven’t seen THX 1138 you must do so immediately. George Lucas’s first movie, in my opinion, is his finest. No Skywalker or Boba Fett sadness in this piece. A strange story of self-control, love, and exploration featuring a very young Robert Duvall. Made with an almost non-existent budget (the film actually almost bankrupt Zoetrope Films) it shows Lucas’s ingenuity back when his genius was first emerging. But enough about the film let’s talk about the music. The download includes the complete score of the film WITH complementing dialouge and foley from the film. This is NOT the official soundtrack, it is many times better. Also included is a conversation with Walter Murch, the sound designer for the film, who talks about creating the sound and atmosphere which played such a large role in making this film not just good, but great.

Walter Murch – THX 1138 – 1:46:15

This music is good for: talking trash with film buffs.

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The Acme Siren’s Top 10 Free Music Downloads of 2008 – #3

Rarely does one find a cache of music this large on the internet. While not all of it is new, and not all of it is good, a whole lot of it is really good to have. This is a three part mix titled “Summer.” The parts are named Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité. As a mix it’s a great start to that all day mix you need for your barbeque or beach house party (although you might want to remove the Autechre and put it in the “Winter” mix. I’m not sure how it got in there.) The Summer Mix is something to put on and forget about, allowing you to enjoy the friends, food and fun of summer. Never mind that it’s 40º (which in February can feel balmy here in Minnesota), or that it’s raining, or that you live in a landlocked state with no access to an appreciable beach. Just put on the “Summer” mix and some sunglasses and you’ll be fine.

Summer Mix – Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité – 3:55:22

This music is good for: Barbeques, the beach, driving to the beach, picnics, backyards, bocci ball, trying to throw the frisbee further than the dog can run, flying kites with friends in the football field of your old junior high school, sun, swimsuits (one, and two-pieces, but especially two-pieces), bon fires, s’mores, and clambakes. Enjoy.

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Another gem from Cat and Girl.

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This Is Spinal Tap Blu-Ray Edition! From the sounds of it it’s gonna be sweet. Amazon is taking pre-orders now for the March 17, 2009 release. Extras include: deleted footage (a byproduct of the improvisational nature of how the film was shot), music videos, early sketches, TV commercials, and a game where you create and customize your very own rock band!

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It’s my first full day in Memphis; Monday, October 13, 2008.

1. Walking in a new city is the best way to get a feel for it. I actually learned this when I was traveling in Europe. Granted European cities tend to be more pedestrian friendly than American cities, but I still think it’s the best way to really see what a city is all about. I believe this for two reasons; one, I already spend so much time driving around in a car when I’m in my own city it just doesn’t feel that different if I spend to drive around in a new city. And the differences are what’s important, they make it feel like a vacation. Two, when you’re sitting in a car the world moves around you. There’s less of a sense of you moving through the world. Probably because it’s/you’re behind glass, and because you don’t pay attention to the world as much when it’s zipping past at 30-40 miles an hour than if you’re out for a leisurely stroll. You get to see some of the details in the city. The signs. The condition of the sidewalk. The frequency of auto-body shops (Memphis has more auto-body shops than any other city I’ve been in) If you pay attention to these details you can construct a mental picture of the city that’s more than just the photos in the tourist brochures and GoogleMaps.

That being said I headed downtown. In taking a quick stroll around the downtown area I realized that there’s not much to the Memphis downtown area. A few sandwiches shops 2 sports stadiums and Beale Street, and that’s about it. I headed east away from downtown through a light industrial area which included a Wonder Bread and Hostess factory with some rather tired and uncommunicative employees on smoke break out front. They wore white smocks and hairnets and looked as if they wished to be somewhere else. I also came across a bar by the name of Kudzu’s. It wasn’t open but they had a board with the live music schedule posted out front. There was no music that night but I made a mental note that if they had live music it couldn’t be that bad and I should stop by later in the evening.

2. If you want to find local music you first need to find the local record shop. I walked and walked and walked, marveling at the handmade signs on Madison near the hospital, and kept on walking until I got to the midtown area. I stopped for a burger at t local bar and kicked myself afterwards when I walked past a BBQ joint literally a block further down Madison. I wasn’t that hungry but I stopped for a pork sandwich anyway (with slaw of course). I kept walking until I got to Shangri-La Records. It had been reccommended to me by my friend Brian who urged me to go there and pick up the Kreature Comforts, Low Life Guide to Memphis. The place did not disappoint. They had a very impressive selection of 45s and old show posters, of which I purchased several. I also got a good tip on the local music scene. Just around the corner was the Hi-Tone. I had seen it listed on some of the old show posters and was eager for directions. The clerk also pointed out a place called P&H Cafe on Madison. I had walked past it on my trek to Shangri-La. (it was just west of the Piggly Wiggly) “You probably didn’t realize it was a bar. It usually looks condemned during the daytime. Or at least abandoned.” Thanks!

3. Graceland has weird hours in the fall. I got back to my hotel around 3pm and urgently needed a shower (I got caught in the rain on my way back from Shangri-La, and had shielded my new show posters with my body as best I could but they still got a little wet.) After a quick shower (I’ll spare you the towel story) I grabbed the brochures I’d picked up in hotel lobby, and tried to decide what I’d do next. Sun Studio? Stax Museum? Graceland? And it was then that I realized that Graceland was only open until 4pm on Mondays in October and was CLOSED ON TUESDAYS!!! If I was going to see it (and how can you go to Memphis without seeing Graceland?) I had to leave immediately!

I made it just in the nick of time. Paid my 28 bucks (AAA members get a discount) and got in line for the tour. Now, in the months before I left for Memphis I had a conversation with my buddy Neal about Graceland. “Don’t get the VIP tour.” he cautioned me. “All it is is a different bus that drives you across the street to the mansion. It’s not worth the extra money.” He was right, I’m glad I just bought the platinum package.

4. Graceland is small. It’s the size of a single family starter home. I guess I was expecting something as grand as The King’s hallowed persona. I enjoyed Graceland but wasn’t overly impressed. I’d still recommend it even for non-Elvis fans. I must also pass on a few questions to ask the staff while you’re on the tour of the Graceland mansion (these were passed on to me by my friend Wendy) 1. Continuously ask who did the interior decorating. “Who pick out that monkey statue?” “Do you think this carpet goes with those drapes?” When the security staffer answers “I dunno.” relpy: “I bet Elvis did.” 2. Ask where you can TCB (Take Care of Business). 4. Ask about the divorce (it’s not mentioned at all on the tour).

5. Tapes rock. After completing my Graceland experience I swung by the Am Vets Thrift Store (which was recommended in my Kreature Comforts guide) to do a little record digging and general thrifting. I found the record section and pulled a few good ones out, Sugar Hill Gang (beat to shit), Munich Machine, and a few religious records. Right next to the record section was the cassette tape section. It was at this point that I remembered my fucked up iPod and my lack of driving music. I quickly found a Sam Cooke/Ted Hawkins dub which became my savior and soundtrack for the rest of the trip. I also found Sir Mixalot’s first album, but I didn’t listen to it as much. I started to think about how this tape (the Sam Green one) had been kicked around for so long and had actually survived pretty well, even without a case. I was impressed with the stability of the format, and the even sturdier format of records. Needless to say this greatly informed my view of digital music evidenced in What I Learned In Memphis, Day 0, and is something I’m sure to return to in future postings.

6. Always know the difference between an uncomfortable situation and a dangerous situation. Uncomfortable situations are good. Dangerous ones are bad. But often times there’s little or no distinction made, or we confuse the two. One of the great things about traveling is forcing yourself into those uncomfortable situations. Eating new foods. Seeing new sights. Going to new places. And often times it’s a little uncomfortable. But you always come out of it glad that you did it. It’s even great to get uncomfortable in your own city. There’s bound to be stuff you haven’t tried before and places you’ve never gone.

I used to be really good at this. Living in a foreign country for a year kind of forces you into being uncomfortable. But lately I haven’t been doing enough new stuff. I’m not uncomfortable enough. And I actually miss it. On the way back from Graceland I passed a BBQ joint by the name of A&R BBQ. I had read about it in my Memphis guide and was eager to eat as much BBQ as I could. But as I drove by I made all the excuses for not stopping. “It looks dirty.” “There’s some homeless people hanging out in the parking lot.” “They might be closed.” “The neighborhood is pretty rough.” 2 blocks later I make a u-turn and head back. “What kind of chicken-shit excuses are these?” I ask myself. This is what traveling is about. So what if you’re uncomfortable, it helps with personal growth and other bullshit! So I pulled into the parking lot, walked in, and ordered a pork sandwich with slaw, a side of potato salad, and a Sprite. And it was pretty damn good. I didn’t die. I didn’t get sick. I didn’t get mugged. I was just a little uncomfortable for while.

7. Mondays suck for live music. There just wasn’t anything happening. There was a show at the Hi-Tone that I wanted to see, but I wasn’t planning on going down there until 10. So I watched a documentary about Nixon for an hour or two at the hotel.

8. Always know the difference between an uncomfortable situation and a dangerous situation. I know I’m repeating number 6 but it’s relevant to another situation. (Keep in mind this is all in the same night) After I got bored with Nixon I headed out to Kudzu’s, the bar I had passed earlier in the day. I pulled up and parked the Buick right in front on the deserted city street. Emboldened by the A&R BBQ experience I walked right up to the front door and tried to open it. It was locked. Hmm. Maybe this place really was closed. There wasn’t even anyone inside. As I was walking back to the car the front door opens and a guy pops his head out. “Hey. You wanna come in?” I guess they were open. As soon as I got inside the guy locks the door behind me, and in an instant I replay “A Bronx Tale” in my head, specifically the scene where the bikers are getting rowdy in Sonny’s bar and he asks them to leave. And when they tell him to fuck off he locks the front door saying “Now you can’t leave.” and eight mafiosos barrel out of the back room with baseball bats. The guy at Kudzu’s must have read the expression on my face because he tells me, “Don’t worry. It’s just a precaution. A few of the bars in the neighborhood have been robbed in the past few days.” Sometimes that line is so thin you don’t know where the uncomfort starts and the danger begins.

They guy at Kudzu’s turned out to be a really cool dude. He was a studio musician and recording engineer. Said he’d done a lot of work at Sun Studio. We talked music for a while before I headed out to the Hi-Tone.

The Hi-Tone kind of threw me. It LOOKED exactly like what I was looking for, but wasn’t really what I was expecting. It was only open until midnight. I got there at 10.30 and walked in during the middle of the headliner’s set. I did get a break on the cover charge because they were almost done but it was still 10 bucks! I think on a weekend it definitely would have been the right place to be, but not on a Monday (See item 7).

So I ended up at the P&H Cafe. The guys there were super cool, but it was open mic comedy night. Enough said. (The best joke of the night: “So I just found out I have cancer. I decided: fuck it, I’m going to keep it.”)

BTW, you can find all the pictures from my trip on my Flickr set.

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It was just a few days ago that I discovered this organ next to the dumpsters of a church down the street from Acme Siren Headquarters. I was parked near by and already late for work. I decided to snatch the organ while I could. At first I tried to jam it into the back seat of the Buick figuring I’d leave it in the car while I was at work and bring it home with me when the day was done. After a few unsuccessful (although humorous) attempts I realized I wasn’t going to get it in the back seat. The trunk being full of other found goodies was also not an option. So I grabbed it in a bear hug and started back to Siren Headquarters.

My grandmother had an electric organ which I never heard her play. But as a child I was always impressed with the array of multicolored switches and dials. And the tempo beats! Samba! Rock! Cha Cha! What fun!. Many a time I would sit down with those over-sized earmuff style headphones and bang away. In more recent history my good friend Mr. Snead purchased an organ of the Craig’s list a couple summers ago (it had a really kickin’ bass sound). It the two of us an hour to haul it up to his thrid floor attic apartment. With this in mind I was surprised with how light my new organ was. Work would have to wait, I had to try this thing out.

I plugged it in as soon as I got home. It worked! That’s all I needed to hear and I rushed off to work.

It was a day or two later when I finally got around to really messing around with it. I wasn’t so enamored with the sound of the keyboard, but the chord box was amazing. What magic! To play a chord with the touch of a single button. And to have 18 of them! Hours of fun. It would have been if one of the reeds hadn’t gotten stuck open resulting in a continuous drone of B-flat. So I decided to open it up and try to fix it. I had never done anything like this before, and I have almost no knowledge of electronics. But If I broke it even more, so what, it was free. This is where the story gets interesting.

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The first thing I did was take the back masonite panel off. There wasn’t much back there. Actually there wasn’t ANYthing back there. Now, Silvertone instruments were sold at Sears and have been known to have been the bottom of the barrel in musical instruments. The instruments were made by various manufactures, and were often made of low grade materials. So I wasn’t very surprised to find nothing behind the back panel.

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With the back removed I was able to see that the keyboard and the rest of the important stuff was all one piece. And with the removal of a few screws I was able to pull it straight out from the rest of the cabinet.

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Next I set about removing the various panels from the housing trying to locate the stuck reed. I first removed the housing from underneath the electric motor. It was then that I realized that this thing was entirely mechanical. Not a single circut in the whole thing.

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Then I removed the cover from the keyboard reed assembly. The cavity was lined with foam to absorb the sound, just like how old speakers are made. Each individual reed looks to have been filed and/or weighted individually. I assume this is how they are tuned. The reed assembly itself is made of oak and is in great condition. But my problem didn’t lie in the keyboard it was in the chord box.

With a little poking around I figured out that the chord box was attached to the housing with only 3 screws. With their removal and a little jostling the whole thing popped right out. No wires, no strings, no nothing. The reeds sit insde a separate cavity from the rest of the reeds, but use the same air flow from the same fan. The engineering of it was pretty impressive. And this is an entry-level instrument, just step or two up from being a toy!

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There was another cover to remove after the chord box had been removed. Underneath it was the really impressive stuff. The guts of the chord box. A mass of levers which served to operate multiple reeds with the press of a button. It was easy to locate the stuck reed lever, and I gently pushed it back into place. I gave the buttons a once over to make sure they all worked properly (and just to see the levers move some more.).

Re-assembling all the pieces I counted a total of 16 screws. Only 16! I didn’t even have any pieces left over. I decided to ditch the cabinet and just keep the main keyboard component, that will save some room at Siren headquarters. I have also officially dubbed this organ The Acme Organ.

Who knows what will happen next with it. I’d like to replace all the springs with some that are little tighter. Just to tighten up the action on the keyboard and add some attack and release variability overall. I’ll keep you posted on any other developments and modifications.

To see the full photoset, plus videos, visit my flickr page.