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Archive for the ‘Home Front’ Category

Mechanical Music Machine- Felix Thorn

Yesterday we discovered that the addition of an M-Audio Fast Track USB interface makes recording the harps directly into my laptop alarmingly simple. It appears that Fast Tracks are marketed primarily to guitarists (basement wizards, patio maestros, etc) but work just fine as entry level audio/MIDI tools for any number of other instruments.  I don’t want to understand how the interface business works because music geekdom is extremely enticing and I can totally see falling down that particular rabbit hole. Yet another procrastination activity… 

So there I am tangled up in guitar cords (borrowed from patient musician husband) playing around with Audacity when the power shimmers off and on, the harps start to shake and I realize that, yet again, CA is flirting with the big one.  Rather than do what you’re supposed to like dive and tuck under something sturdy I stood in the middle of the music room with an arm over each harp watching everything around me sway and slide.  Of course the harps are fully insured (thank you Anderson Group) but nothing would make me sadder than losing them at this stage of the game. 

Sidebar– I’ve been through a couple of temblors (Nicaragua and Costa Rica) as well as 5 fires including one where we evacuated the orthopedic floor of an Ohio hospital (all those traction beds) and another in CA (Witch Creek).  For that one we crammed a 5 foot iguana, 2 turtles, 2 cats and about 30 paintings into a Honda CRV for mandatory evacuation and ended up camping out in my clinic office for a week.  Even though I think we’re pretty good at natural disaster yesterday’s 7.2 quake in Baja was scary.

All in all a very humbling weekend.  Had to hear a recording of myself for the first time fumbling along a well-known song (yikes cubed) and, in the big picture, bumped up against yet another reminder of how fragile we really are perched above the ocean admiring nature from the (illusory) safety of a solid home.  If it’s time to tumble down the hill into the sea clutching harps so be it BUT if that’s the case I sure hope my laptop doesn’t survive.  Do not want my musical legacy to be a fledgling version of First Arabesque played against a click track.

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No point in blogging my harp student experience without actually posting progress so to that end we installed a pickup on the pedal harp for recording.  This anxiety-inducing endeavor was the product of several days spacing out in front of the computer comparing prices (in other words– not practicing) because once I decided to spend too much I had to find the most discounted “too much” around.  Ended up buying a Schatten Design CH-3 Artistic Celtic and Pedal Harp pickup for 159.95 + 14.00 shipping.   

The manufacturer is located in Canada and the pickup is handmade so it’s actually kind of pretty. Looks like two whirly maple seeds connected by a brass stalk.  I recommend the vendor Blue Star Music in SoCal both for their pricing and niceness.  The fact that they’re located about 20 miles from me has nothing to do with it because they don’t have a store front.  Just really helpful people.  

Figuring out how to attach the pickup wasn’t difficult at all and that’s really saying something because as an unrepentant directional dyslexic anything involving diagrams and printed instructions can get out of hand pretty quick.  As it turns out, a clever 8 year old can managed this installation and would probably do better than my husband and I because small hands move more easily in a soundbox.

The wings of the main element need to straddle the string strip about a third of the way up which isn’t possible on the Aurora because of the bowed shape of the soundboard.   We had to go a little higher.   Supposedly the putty included with the kit is removable so we used it instead of the tape strips which are also included.

The other placement issue was where to put the preamp/battery unit so it would be reachable with an output cord.  The kit comes with a velcro anchor but I was afraid that any kind of force would tear it right off the base.  Nothing more annoying than when velcro mates so fiercely it pulls away from the item it’s meant to be attaching and clings only to itself. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Turns out the velcro stickum is totally reliable and there’s  no problem removing the preamp so connecting the output cord is a non-issue.  I can pull the whole thing out of the bottom sound hole, attach/detach the cord or change the battery and velcro it back inside.  No rattle– extremely secure, don’t need to find an 8 year old with tiny hands.   

 

So I got my first taste of electrified harpifying this afternoon while my husband fiddled with buttons and dials on his old Carvin SX-200 to strange effect.  Can’t say I’m much of a threat to Keith Richards but it was fun to play through an old rock amplifier.  Next step will be to see what an acoustic harp pickup can really do…

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When my almost husband asked me whether I wanted a ring or a harp there was only one answer… both!  With heavy emphasis on the harp part.  After all, everyone knows that a harp is just a naked piano, right?  Nope.  After playing the same measure eleventy times I can say with certainty that keyboarding is easier for this wannabe tunesmith.  So yes, we’re married now and the ring is elegant… and no the harpifying is not.  He forgives me for endless (aimless) practice and I forgive him for being such a splendid guitarist.  I imagine it must be a little like teaching someone you know how to drive only it’s music theory and my learners permit expired long ago. Fortunately for my husband I may not be able to parallel park  but I can read music and I ‘m a willing student.  Clearly we’re in for it! A lifetime of dueling strings… For better or worse.

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