The Incomparable Christmas Special

Jason Snell’s The Incomparable podcast featured its second series of radio plays in the recent Christmas Spectacular episode. And, as with the show’s first foray into radio drama, I was asked to contribute theme and incidental music. Here’s a bit of background on that work (as always you’ll find downloadable versions of the pieces on the Music page—suitable for ringtoning and other non-commercial uses).

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Another day, another podcast theme

Just quick fast like rabbit: 

I threw together an opening and closing theme for Clockwise, a new podcast from TechHive. You can find a copy on the Music page.

Only thing worth comment is that the original version had no drums. That was a problem as it wasn't grounded or driving enough—too airy fairy. I left it in that state over night and then got up the next morning with fresh ears. The need for drums was then obvious. 

Sometimes sleeping on it helps. 


The worst gig ever

Some recall San Francisco, July 1984, as the heady month in which the first woman—in the form of Geraldine Ferraro—was nominated for Vice President of the United States in that same city by the bay. I, however, can testify with complete confidence, that in that convention week I experienced the worst gig of my life. And, worse yet, at the hands of one of the presiding members of the Democratic Party. 

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Two in the Bush

Before there were geeks, there were nerds. And before nerds, the sand-kicking crowd satisfied itself by mocking an equally unhip group of individuals: birdwatchers. Caricatured as binocular-sporting, sky-scanning, baggy-pantsed ornithological eggheads, birdwatchers couldn’t be more square. And while nerds have indeed had their revenge, birders still find themselves classed as oddballs by the rest of the population.

This explains my reluctance when, one day some 20 years ago, my wife announced, “My father is coming over this weekend and if we don’t want him hanging around the house with his nose in a book, we’ll have to go birding with him.”


“We. Get some comfortable shoes and dig out your dad’s binoculars. There’s a bird guide on the shelf. You’re not worming your way out of this one.” Pun intended or not, I was on the hook.

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Instant Eno: Ambient music in a moment

I’m old enough to have spent a lot of time with reel-to-reel tape decks—everything from the 2-track machine my dad purchased when I was a kid to a 1-inch 16-track deck my band acquired for our studio. And in all that time I’ve been fascinated with the idea of multi-tracking—recording something on this track, overdubbing something else on another, bouncing those tracks to yet another tracks, and on and on until—not unlike building layers of paint on a canvas—I’d created a rich soundscape.

The idea of tape-based performance entered my teenaged consciousness when the guitar player in my band-at-the-time (The Fabulous Sandblaster) purchased an Echoplex EP-3. This was a tape-based effect that recorded what you’d played and then played it back in real time. If you ran the tape quickly you’d hear the delayed signal pretty quickly. If you instead used a slower speed, it could take quite a while for the previous sound to play, which provided you the opportunity to play over that recording in such a way that you could accompany yourself. The EP-3 additionally had the ability to record each take as you played, so after several passes you could create a mountain of sound.

Later, in college, a trumpet playing friend did a portion of his master performance improvising over a tape loop that worked similarly. In that performance I learned an important lesson in regard to this kind of performance.

Better vague than wrong.

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I hope DirecTV lives to regret this…

Normally I don't expect to use this blog to link to technical pieces I've done, but in cases of high emotion I might occasionally do just that. In this instance it's about DirecTV's fear of set-top boxes. I completely understand why it doesn't support Roku or AppleTV. After all, there's money to be made by forcing your customers to purchase your set-top box rather than one made by someone else.

Still, it's shitty. 

You can find my thoughts in HBO Go on Apple TV a No-Go for DirecTV Customers

Update: Huh, I guess if enough people yell loudly enough, things can happen. @DirecTVService just tweeted that HBO Go is coming to Apple TV soon.

Chris Breen: Wedding Planner

You’ve likely heard the old wheeze: To become truly proficient at Skill A you must spend 10,000 hours doing it. Naturally, upon careful examination this theory falls apart entirely. Over the course of my life I’ve spent 11 hours shucking walnuts and yet I’m damned good at it. In fact, among my acquaintances the aptness of my shucking is considered to be without peer.

That said, there are certainly cases where experience counts. Before rummaging around in my workings, for example, I’d prefer to employ a surgeon who has spent a lot of quality time turning other people inside-out. Along these same lines, when plotting a course for your upcoming wedding, you might appreciate the advice of someone who has witnessed well over a hundred of the things. Someone who knows the templates, traps, and turmoil of such events. 

Someone like me.

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The Incomparable project

The fact that you’re brushing your eyes over these words hints that you’re here because you’ve read one tech piece or another that I’ve written. And therefore it’s just as likely that you’ve heard of Jason Snell’s The Incomparable podcast—a pop-culture-for-geeks program for which I composed the opening theme. Last March Jason approached me about putting together some musical bits to accompany the April Fools episode. The hook was that it would be presented as a series of old-time radio dramas. “Maybe,” he suggested, “you could do a variation on the original theme that fit the genre.”

How could I resist?

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Master of Band Administration

Browse through the curriculum of any good business school for which you spend the equivalent of Kurdistan’s gross domestic product and you’ll find courses in analytical thinking, financial accounting, leadership, managerial skills, and organizational behavior. At the end of your two-year hitch you’ll have the theoretical foundation to join the ranks of a first-world nation’s industrial titans.

But theory is hardly practice.

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