Friday, December 12, 2008

Takamine Jam: Birth, Death, and Rebirth.

This story begins with a birth and is followed by three more.

BIRTH ONE. During her first labor and delivery in 1993, my wife Marie lost focus. Her well-practiced Lamaze breathing went right out the window, her epidural didn't take, and things got --well, unpleasant. Five years later, in the winter of 1998, she was pregnant with our second child, and Marie was determined not to lose focus again or "people were going to pay", and since I was likely to be standing closest to her, I was equally on board with the whole "focus" thing.

This time Marie wanted something to help set the mood, and she thought music might help. One day, she mentioned how much she enjoyed listening to my brother Stacy play guitar, and that it might help to have a tape of his music playing during the delivery. She gave me some simple criteria: the songs would have to be acoustic, and the tunes should be simple but with repeating, relaxing rhythms.
I presented this idea to my brother and I could tell right away that it sparked a creative fire in him. He worked diligently over the next several months- laying down multiple tracks, coming up with new compositions, and trying out several new riffs. All of the songs would be composed using a special guitar called a Takamine, and he would use it's distinctive voice to canvass Marie with musical relaxation- no needles required.

BIRTH TWO. In December 1998 he presented us with his creation on a simple cassette tape. Takamine Jam, he called it. He previewed a few selections from it and Marie and I were very surprised at the quality of the music and my brother's incredible guitar work.

BIRTH THREE. A month later, Marie and I presented our creation; Hope Susan Denton, born January 29, 1999.

The music from my brother's tape permeated the delivery room that day. Several nurses asked about it, and all of them said they'd never heard anything like it. As far as concept albums go, Stacy nailed it. The songs were all simple repeating tunes with some variations and specific tags thrown in. He included his own compositions along with some classic guitar standards like Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight.

And it worked! The distinct, rich, deep cords and base line blended perfectly with the rhythm of the fine, sparkling, clear notes of the melodies. Marie kept her focus and remained calm, even when it looked like we might be heading for an emergency C-section. Through it all, the mood in the delivery room was one of peace, and the music helped maintain a prevailing certainty that everything was going to be just fine.
After the delivery I played the tape over and over; at home, at work- but as my daughter grew and our world changed from analog to digital entertainment, the tape ended up in my car where my only remaining cassette player resided.

Over time, I moved on to other interest and pursuits, but the cassette stayed put- right there in my car in the center console.

There are a few deaths in this story too. Sadly, a few years after Stacy had finished working on Takamine Jam, a flood destroyed his recording studio. Everything was gone: sheet music, original recordings, and the beloved Takamine guitar. Stacy was sure that Takamine Jam was now lost to the ages, and he called me soon after the flood.
"Do you still have that tape?" he asked.
I searched around and finally found it, but the Texas heat had worked it's damage on the cassette. The recorded songs now sounded flat and contained pops and dropouts- not to mention the hideous tape "hiss" that seemed to be louder than I remembered.
For the most part, Stacy's fears were founded. Takamine Jam was a bright memory and nothing more.

A few more years have gone by now, and I have been dabbling with digital music recording and I've learned how to produce my own music. Recently, I acquired the skill to take old audio tapes and make new digital masters from them. This skill was cemented only a few weeks ago when Stacy and I reworked a copy of a song on tape that he had made with a friend who committed suicide several years ago. The digital copy wasn't perfect, but he was satisfied with the results. "What about Takamine Jam?" he asked. "I'd really like to hear that again. I wonder if we could use this technique to save it?"
We had just made a digital copy of a tape. That was it. What he was proposing would be like raising a shipwreck off the ocean floor and making it seaworthy again. But, I could hear the yearning in his voice. He had given up his music career after the flood, and I realized that Takamine Jam represented more to him that just a recording, it was his Silmarillion; something that a master craftsman can only make once in a lifetime.
I told him I'd see what I could do...

BIRTH FOUR. Making a digital copy from an audio cassette is one thing- repairing and remastering a damaged source tape is a totally unique undertaking and one that requires commitment to a single firm principal; first and foremost, you must LOVE the music you are trying to save.
I copied, spliced, remixed, and remastered. I quit and started over. I rejected takes and eliminated files. Finally, after a week of struggle and frustration, I had digitally remaster copies of all twelve Takamine Jam songs from that ancient cassette.
Some of the songs still have a margin of dropout and a skip here and there, but the overall product is the best I was able to achieve. However, a few weathered the storm better than I would have hoped and have regained their shine and shimmer.

I can't wait to present the finished product to Stacy. And I'll do just that in a few weeks, but more so than the entire project, I am amazed at the timing.
Just as Stacy presented Takamine Jam to us on December, 25, 1998, I will now be able to present to him the new, digitally remastered version as a Christmas gift on December 25, 2008.

A ten year journey has now come full circle. And apart from the music, I now have a lifelong memory of one of the greatest Christmas gifts I have ever had the privilege to receive, or give.

Last night as I drove my daughter Hope to a Christmas program, I put the new CD of Takamine Jam in the stereo to make sure it was playing properly and to test the acoustics in my car.
"What is that music?" Hope asked. "That sounds awesome!"
I had to wipe at my eyes. "Let me tell you a story about this music," I said.
"This story begins with a birth..."
To hear two of the cuts from Takamine Jam, follow the link at the top right of the Blog to "Gary's Magix Music Page." You'll find the selections there along with lots of other great music!

Monday, December 8, 2008


If you haven't visited in a while, then let me introduce myself. I'm Gary Denton, a member of the Humble Fiction Cafe' and a contributing author to our group publishing project SPLIT.
I'm also famous in the group and elsewhere for my attempts to achieve something other than SECOND PLACE in a writing competition.

Second Place (Shudder).
It's not first- I don't care what you've heard, and as the famous Ricky Bobby once remarked, "If you ain't first- you're last."
So, I'm officially adding a blog entry that may undo some of that bad karma, because I finally WON something!

I participated in National Novel Writing Month in November and I won!
That's right!
And I have the cute little web picture to show for it.
It even has a ship on it.
I like ships.
Now, some of you may know very well that several thousand authors participated in NaNoWriMo this year, and a good portion of them also won by typing the requested fifty-thousand words in thirty-one days. Yes, that is 50,000 words in one month.
Some of them didn't make it, but a lot of them did.
And I'm one.
The Humble Fiction Cafe can boast of several NaNoWriMo winners both past and present in their ranks, and I'd like to invite them to post comments to this entry just to show off. They deserve it. It is an amazingly crazy thing to do, and an even more amazingly crazy thing to actually accomplish it.
So there. I won. I came in "Finished."
...And that is better than Second any day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Old Recordings- New Life

I love music.

Most of you know that I am an amateur composer and music arranger. There is a link to my music page at the upper right of this blog, and it's there because this blog is related more to my personal adventures in life and my pursuits in writing and editing.

The music side of me needed it's own page :)

I have read recently that old 1980's music groups and hair bands have found new glory and revitalized careers thanks to all of the new music oriented video games that are now available for systems like the PlayStation, X-box, WII, and even the handheld Nintendo DS. These games feature some new songs from contemporary artist, but the remarkable thing is that they include several old guitar standards from bands like Boston and Blue Oyster Cult, and guitar legends like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Hendrix.
All those old song catalogues have been hanging around for a while, growing old like the legends who performed them while they wait for re-issue in some newfangled future format, or to be picked up for Diet Coke commercials.

But then, a new wave of music games comes along and suddenly those old tunes are hot properties; making lots of new money for their old artist.

I'm all about bringing back those songs and introducing them to a new audience. My son Justin now has almost the same recall of 1980's music as I do, except he can actually get through the solos on Guitar Hero on expert, while I strum away on beginner.

Another cool thing about our digital age is that I can take old music that I recorded on cassette tapes back in the 1990's and bring them back to life.

Cassette tapes were okay for their time, but their biggest drawback is that they don't age well. Not well at all.
After I had upgraded all my music to CD's by the late 90's and phased out all my tape players at home; well the old cassettes just ended up in the car where I did have a cassette player. That wasn't a great place to store them. The Texas heat scorched and degraded them even further than the standard loss of magnetic quality they experience over time.

However, I just managed to convert some of those songs over to a new digital format. Some of them fared better than others and sound great, but others suffer from horrible tape hiss that I cannot completely eliminate because the source was already too far gone.

But I'm finding a revival of my own material very satisfying - thank you very much.

As I sit here enjoying my creative projects from nearly a decade ago, I wonder if somewhere Eric Clapton or Thom Scholz is picking their way through Guitar Hero and wondering how they ever managed to nail those solos at a live gig with all the smoke, amplifier noise, screaming fans, and all that hair.

All of it is long gone for us now- especially the hair.

(To hear the selections from my pre-digital recording past, click the link at the top of my page to visit my MAGIX Music files. They are all MP3 files that were added on Dec 8th.)