Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Busking Acoustics 101

I am at the library.

It is a bastion of knowledge which is free to the public.

A lot of homeless types and skeezers make the place their lounge, but the security guys are pretty vigilant about people falling asleep in the place.

One time I hadn't moved in a minute or so, staring out the window and daydreaming, or something, and I was tapped on the shoulder by one of them.

I am burning the music off of a CD that I had checked out for just that purpose, planning upon swapping it for the "Blogging for dummies" book on my way out, which will keep me at my 2 item limit.

How It's Supposed To Be Done

It is a Bryan Adams disc, entitled: "Tracks Of My Years," which is his remaking of songs that he loved as a kid in the late 60's and early 70's. And, hence, they are songs that I remembered liking coming out of my hand held transistor radio, with the antenna that you really only needed to extend to pick up on of the three or four FM stations that we had on the dial, back in 1971.

Within 10 years, FM would explode as a marketing vehicle for radio broadcasting. No static; stereo sound, seems like it should have been a no-brainer.
Coggshall Park. Please tear open the rings
of plastic six-pack harnesses before  throwing into water...

As a busker, I know that I always have in the reserve tank, any song that I loved when I was 11 years old, to fall back upon as an ace up the sleeve, when all other forms of motivation fail. It's probably just because they are etched into the memory alongside other childhood nostalgia. Ice skating on frozen Mirror Lake, in Coggshall Park in my hometown with "Precious And Few," by Climax blaring from somewhere of concentration camp loudspeaker sound quality audio, has notched that song onto the list of anything I could try to half-ass busk out and people would sense that I was "feeling it."

I have the Adams disc on my hard drive out of the crashed laptop. I am just about to order the little docking cable, so that I can turn that old hard drive into a dedicated music storage device -maybe even try to fill it with 80 gigabytes of music that would play for 3 and a half months without repeating a song.

I had to smile when I thought of myself, in this, my 11th year of blogging: "OK let me read the intro-to-blogging book; see how it's supposed to be done..."

Perhaps, from this day forward, this blog will become more interesting. I have my hands upon "Blogging for Dummies," at last. It took their 6th edition to catch my eye. It feels like kind of a surrender to me.

It is Wednesday, Ash type of Wednesday, and I am very curious about going to the Lilly Pad tonight, to:

A. Assure myself that Lafitt's has retracted their loud PA system, and that it is not going to be part of their normal routine, one that they just happened to have debuted during Mardi Gras.
I doubt that the residents would be tolerant of having their china rattled by "Bubble Butt," each and every night, butt, you never know...

B. See what kind of tippers people who came for the festival, but who are still here, perhaps wanting to enjoy a quieter experience, are.

C. I've actually missed the Lilly Pad, these few nights that I've been away.

On that last point, I did discover the intrigue that different playing spots hold, by moving around a bit after the Lilly Pad became awash in loud music.

There is the psychological factor. How a busker feels at a spot, which he may frame as the way the spot makes him feel, is very important.

I was once at the spot at Royal and Orleans, which a guy named Jake had kind of locked down in the same way I do the Lilly Pad.

The people who ran the gallery on that particular corner, were friends of his. All he had to do was to show up at their closing time of 7:30 PM, and any other musicians who might even be lurking nearby, would be told that Jake had their blessings to play there and that they didn't, technically, even have to allow anybody to play there. Jake usually left around the same time each night, and someone else could have the spot then.

Well, Jake died.

I was walking by his spot a week or so later, and saw it empty, as if all of buskerdom had written it off, because of that guy who "is always there."
I sat down, then, and played a few songs, in memory of Jake, whom I had been friendly with.

That was the way playing on Jake's spot made me feel.

The people in the gallery knew that I had been a friend of Jake, and all but told me that I could take over that spot from him, but I declined, mostly because I wasn't amplified.

It was then that the kid walked up and gave me the Takamine guitar that I now play, when I was playing my old blue Indiana Scout guitar and singing a tribute to Jake.

So, the way a busker feels at a certain spot can be a huge factor.
There was the consideration, on Royal Street of car traffic, which was very much more steady than on Bourbon Street where they have to inch forward through.

I was making about 15 bucks an hour in the 600 block of Royal Street, at the spot where John Patton, the classical guitarist frequented.

I actually felt a certain responsibility to play more "classically" when I was there; have the music make more sense and follow a certain order; but that was all in my head.

It comes from me having heard John talk about people who would stand on the balcony of the inn across the street and listen to his classical stuff, who would then come "all the way down" to the ground floor, walk over and tip him.

I had to hope that those Carcassi and Bach fans would dig The Carcass Song on guitar and harmonica.

Leslie in his former back yard; it all seems a blur now...

Last night, after discovering that the guy and girl and banjo and cat, had posted up across from The Quartermaster, and this at only about 9 PM, I moved even further down, to in front of the very same (1119 Bourbon Street) house where Leslie Thompson used to live, in the most modest of apartment in the back, by the garden.

The acoustics were pretty good, and I was in effect taking up the second post away from the loudness of Lafitt's.

The spot across from The Quartermaster is the first point, walking away from the bar where the decibel level is such that an acoustic musician becomes the prominent sound.

Leslie's former dwelling becomes the first point, walking away from the guy and girl and banjo and cat, where their decibel has dropped to the point where people within a radius of 20 feet would hear you clearly over them and vice-versa -about 100 yards, it was.

A lady had come out after about and hour and about 15 bucks, when I was playing "You Never Give Me Your Money," by The Beatles, and said: "I'll give you money if you'll go somewhere else, because this is a residence and....etc." and then threw 2 dollars on my case.

I then thought a bit about where to go, and the logical thing seemed to be to just go down a couple houses and try the patience of those particular inhabitants.

I did just that, being along the corridor that people walk to get to and from Frenchmen Street, the same people who would walk past me at the first spot would still be walking past me a few houses down.

There is an entirely different vibe on Frenchmen Street, and one that I am actually a more "natural" fit for, but it is just so loud there that the buskers stand literally 3 feet in front of people and wail away on some song for them.

A lot of my best tippers have been people who were bailing out of the Bourbon Street music scene, because it was just too pat and commercial, but mainly because the musicians are the types that have been playing those "commercial" songs every night for years, who could play them in their sleep, and who, in the opinions of those bailing out, are doing just that.

So, they head for Frenchmen Street where the up and coming, the hungry artists, the underdogs, bust their tails to make names for themselves (So some day they can sit in a club on Bourbon Street and play "What A Wonderful World" while texting with the one hand while the other keeps the snare drum going?).
Left: The Leslie Thompson that most of the world never saw. 

The one that is going to be a preoccupied, totally distracted, brooding, cantankerous bump on a log until he figures out how he is going to be able to drink himself unconscious by 8 PM that evening.

Notice the clenched fist.

...If only Mark would answer his phone, I'm going to cut his lawn this weekend, and maybe he can advance me at least 5 bucks, that way we can each at least get a Hurricane Lager...It's after 6 AM, the sun will be coming up soon, for Peke's sake!

Well, I lasted about another hour a couple houses down from Leslie's, before a second resident came out and, without even giving me a dime, asked me to move. A group of guys who had been nearby came over, with one of them asking: "Oh, did she run you off?" adding that they had been enjoying listening to me and gave me a few bucks.

I walked the couple hundred yards back to the Quartermaster to find that the guy and the girl and the banjo and the cat had been moved away also, from the corner where they had been. It didn't seem to matter because the banjo was laying down next to the prone figure of the girl, right by a whiskey bottle that was in between her and the guy and the cat. There would be no encore from her that night.

I then went (after midnight when the cops came through and "ceremonially" or "symbolically" cleared Bourbon Street of revelers, using sirens, lights, horses, and to a degree fire hoses, to rid the street of people, informing them that the festival was over and it was time to fast for lent; go home.

People leaked off the street and just found other crevices to gather in.

I wound up setting up across the street from the Verti Marte, which is famous for its sandwiches, and which had set up table outside to accommodate the over-flow of tourists.

I was right in front of the door right behind the tourists in the photo (left) and the wall across from me was fitted with tables and seating...

It went pretty well, and I had wound up making about 40 dollars for the night that had started at about 10 PM and ended around 2 AM.

There were a lot of young people there, and they all seemed to be children of the universe, or something; perhaps modern-day hippies might be close to describing them.

At one point a young lady wanted to play my guitar, which I let her do, and when some of her friends came around to listen to her, she go them to throw something in my jar.

I stand to do better money-wise now that the festival is over...


alex carter said...

Who's really going to know about acoustics is any professionally trained singer. There are places with good acoustics I know about, and that I need to get out and use, myself. The "resonating tunnel" across from West Valley Music in Mountain View, the spot at the corner of the theater in downtown San Jose, the spot in front of Johnny Rockets a hundred yards from there, and the spot in front of the concert hall in the "SoFa" district downtown, which is fenced off unless Richie Rich and his family are there to see the opera, but has a wonderful resonance to it.

Daniel McKenna said...

I was sure that you were going to mention the 4 or 5 spelling mistakes; which I am, of course going to correct, especially since I'm reading Blogging for Dummies...
The spot with the good acoustics (which is interestingly situated by a music store and a concert hall, as if the whole area might have good acoustics) probably adds a reverberation of the lower frequency ranges, so that what bounces back is actually giving your voice "bass." This would be similar to the "cathedral" preset in the Audacity editor which has a long decay and no high frequencies at all -those are reserved for lavishing upon the "bathroom" preset...
My apartment, with its 16 foot ceiling and hardwood floor, has "kind of boom-y" acoustics, and I'm better off dampening them with carpet on the floor and towels hung on the walls like artwork; the amount of time it takes sound (at 1,100 feet per second) to go up to the ceiling and then back down to the microphone is 3 milliseconds. That's ten times faster than the fastest human reaction times -found only in people who can snatch a pebble out of someone's hand before they close it- and so that isn't the problem, it's the fact that some of the waves careen off the walls on their way to the microphone, arriving maybe 3.8 milliseconds later, and some of the waves have come down to the floor, gone back to the ceiling and are coming down the second time, 6 milliseconds later, followed by the majority of the waves that are basically careening around like pinballs off the walls and floor and furniture, etc. The problem is that certain frequencies have a wavelength such that, when the vibrations from that guitar note are on their way back from the ceiling, they are just hitting the microphone in time with the next pulse from the guitar, which re-enforces that frequency, and its octave. But it also works to cancel other frequencies that are at the negative peak of their cycle at that instant. This changes the sound characteristics of the room and it is better for me to dampen sound, even if I have to build a little cinder block enclosure and line it with pillows...
That being said, people love singing in the shower because the reverberation is like an accompaniment something that can be harmonized with, even though the small room with ceramic surfaces creates more of a lingering white noise type of reverberation...the setting in Audacity is meant to be put on maybe one particular distorted guitar in the mix, to make it sound "raunchy"...
My guess is that "the resonating tunnel" resonates at a frequency of about 70 hertz or lower, which would make you feel like you have a barrel chest...

alex carter said...

I've told myself that your spelling and grammar, while horrible, are no doubt the mark of an unsullied genius, who was unspoiled and miraculously unaffected by the college degree, in English, you are always saying you have.

I'm not sure if all "good acoustic spaces" only emphasize the bass, but bass would certainly be a requirement, since a space that only emphasizes higher frequencies would sound weird.

There are probably tests for this but, if there's one thing I've learned from living here in "silicon valley" it's that for 99.999% of us, any "tech" of a level higher than an old beat-up pair of "dikes", an old tape measure made when Eisenhower was in office, and for precision weighing, and old postal scale that remembers postage rates from the Reagan era is as good as you're going to get. For measuring voltage, an old 1970s meter that you really have to know how to use, not autoranging, nope it was good enough for the last days of the moon program, it's good enough for us. If the weather's wet you're gonna get wet packages because I pack 'em inside, and some extra dirt and leaves inside let you know it came from the high-tech capital so they're high-tech dirt and leaves...

So whatever way they determined the goodness or not of a resonant space in the 1500s is about as high-tech as I'll be able to get.

alex carter said...

I mean, I pack 'em outside, but if I pack them inside, like when it's really pouring, you get cat hair.