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53

I am fifty-three today.

53 is a weird number. It’s a prime number, so I can’t play the usual games like “I’m exactly twice as old as when I ____”. It’s not a nice round number age-wise, but now I’m old enough and this blog is old enough that I’m twice as old as when I wrote this entry, which is a bit weird to think about. But other than that, there’s no numerical relevance to 53. My locker in junior high was 153. My combination was 2-31-16. (Why do I remember this?)

Grasping at straws, this birthday is 35 years since I turned 18, I guess. It’s 40 years since my parents divorced, which means it’s 40 years since I got my first computer, the Mattel Aquarius. But as I start writing this, I can’t think of any other big even-numbered anniversaries or dates or anything else. It’s another year.

* * *

I’m loath to write about this, but I guess in the interest of full transparency, I should. That little cold I got when I came back from Wisconsin? Turns out it was COVID-19. I’ve spent the last three weeks out of commission dealing with that. And although it was not as bad as it could have been, it was as bad as most people say it is.

It’s stupid to have an illness that is so politically divisive. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it, and end up in an argument about how it did or did not exist. For the most part, everyone was nice about it, and the only unsolicited medical advice I got was that I needed to take it easy and rest. And that was correct, because I was horribly tired, and sleeping twelve hours a day was not enough.

The worst part about COVID was that I had to spend about two weeks on an air mattress in my home office, staying isolated so S wouldn’t catch it. (She didn’t.) And sleeping on the floor of an 8×10 room for weeks is a good way to put the zap on yourself, especially when you’re already depressed about your station in life and what you did over the last year, and are looking up at another big milestone.

So that whole thing was no bueno. And I am supposed to be in Las Vegas right now with the usual crew, but I had to cancel that. Physically, I’m 90% better. I’ve been testing negative for a few days now, and the symptoms are mostly gone. Mentally… what am I doing?

* * *

When I wrote this post for my last birthday, I basically said I wanted year 52 to be better than year 51, that I wanted to write more, do more, be more. Was it? I don’t know. I traveled a lot. I did another master’s degree. I published two zines. But I didn’t write anywhere near as much as I wanted. I was recently looking at the draft of Atmospheres 2 and I put a bunch of notes in it on the morning of my birthday last year, a laundry list of things I wanted to do, a punch list of what I needed to finish. I did almost zero on that. And it wasn’t because some other big project got in the way. I “un-quit” writing, but I haven’t gotten back into practice yet.

Year 52 was spent spinning my wheels on a lot of stuff, thinking about what I need to do, what I need to start, what I need to finish. Need is a bit of a dirty word, though. When I say I need to write a big book and I don’t write a big book, it just makes me feel bad or guilty. I should want to write a big book, then either do it, or do the prerequisite work or exploration or research. Ultimately this is all noise, because the era of fame and fortune from a book is about to end. I shouldn’t want to write a book because I need to keep a roof over my head or become a household name. I should want to write a book because I want to write a book.

I was emailing with my friend Michael about this need to create the other day, and I remembered a story from my childhood. I was maybe ten years old, playing with Lego, like I did for months at a time. And I must have seen the M.C. Escher lithograph Relativity in an encyclopedia or something, the one with the orthagonal staircases going off in different directions and opposing gravity wells. And instead of assembling the stock fire station or moon base or whatever you do in the instructions that come with Lego kits, I started randomly building this structure with staircases going nowhere and little side pods of houses in the air and catwalks going across them and walls sticking up akimbo, leading to towers and ramparts and pieces of vehicles affixed to turrets or cupolas. It was this endless mess of structure going everywhere and nowhere, eventually taking over the entire kitchen table until I was required to remove it. But what I remember most was just the joy of growing the thing in every direction with no plan or idea or concept, spending hours just creating for the sake of creating, and it generated such a wild out-of-the-box product. I thought about this a lot when I wrote Rumored to Exist. And now, I feel like we have unlimited Legos and an unlimited kitchen table to build on, and it’s all a matter of snapping those first bricks onto a baseplate and going.

* * *

So 52 was eh and 53 is no magical number. But I’m still here, and I’ve got a lot to do in the next year.

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New Album

I released my first album yesterday. Yes, album. And it’s not spoken word or audio book or anything else. It’s a first attempt at creating music and releasing it into the world.

The album (more of an EP really) is titled Ø. It’s five songs of ambient drone music, and just a hair over 30 minutes long. It’s available only on Bandcamp here: https://jonkonrath.bandcamp.com/album/0

Why did I choose to make an album? I have played around with both Logic Pro and Ableton Live for a while now. I used Logic to record my old podcast, and I’ve mostly done utilitarian stuff like make backing tracks with drum sounds to practice bass and guitar. But I’ve also messed with synth and drones and wanted to pull that together into something cohesive.

Back in 2015 and 2016 when I was mostly playing bass, I started piecing together an ambient album. I listen to a lot of ambient music when I write, and I wanted my own soundtrack for my writing. I think I had maybe half the EP sitting on my hard drive for almost ten years, and it was time to get it done and out.

I will admit this album is very much a learning experience. It isn’t anything complicated or highly musical. It’s mostly simple drones with basic production, and I have no idea what I am doing, but I’m slowly figuring it out. The album was entirely written and recorded in Logic Pro, and uses no analog instruments or outboard gear. I think the only plugin I used that wasn’t included in Logic was the Valhalla Supermassive plugin, which if you are doing this kind of stuff, you really need. (And it’s free!) I used an Akai MPK mini controller when I started, then moved to an Arturia Keystep. But honestly, I do a lot of edits and even basic composition using the keyboard and mouse on the Mac.

Just for fun, I’ll run through each track and give you a couple of notes on each one:

  1. Autumn Synthesis – This is silly and I don’t know how obvious this is, but the inspiration for the bright, lush drone intro for the album was actually the PlayStation 2 startup sound. This is the Alchemy synth and the Space Designer plugin at its finest. I also used the MIDI ChordTrigger plugin to build up the chords a bit.
  2. Sublispheric Waves – Here’s a good example of what Supermassive does; the low-end Alchemy synth has a loooong delay through Supermassive which gives it the warped-out sound.
  3. The Derision Bell – This has nothing to do with Pink Floyd; it’s just a snarky title. The low end of this was heavily influenced by the SleepResearch_Facility album Nostromo. The bell was subliminally influenced by the clocktower on the IU campus. The low end is the ES2 with some weird setup. The bell is a chopped up singing bowl sample in the sampler synth.
  4. Enceladus Lost – Probably my favorite song to put together. Once again, heavily influenced by Nostromo. The synth is again Alchemy going through Space Designer. The low end is two different samples, both fed through Supermassive. The more discrete samples are from NASA mission transmissions. The lower lush drone is from Aerospace Audio’s AeroPads.
  5. Inner Echoes – I know like every ambient musician messes with Tibetan singing bowls, but I think my direct influence was the David Ummmo track “Bowls” which is on Typewritten, Vol. 1, which was the soundtrack for the OmmWriter app, until it abruptly vanished from the face of the earth. The bowl is the Sampler synth, again. The low end is the Sculpture synth. The sample at the very end was something I recorded on my iPhone when walking at night in Mishawaka, Indiana in 2015. This is silly, but the decision to end the album with that sample was largely taken from the very end of the Queensrÿche album Empire.

So that’s my story. I don’t know how to sell music or “build a platform” as an artist or whatever else. My only next step is to keep playing and see what I can come up with.

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NYE, MKE, CA1

montara beachHappy new year. I managed to catch a cold on the way back home, so I’m running at diminished capacity for the day. S has the same thing and she’s about a day ahead of me on the symptoms, which means this should be 75% clear by tomorrow.

The Milwaukee half of the trip was pretty lax. One of my in-laws had COVID and we did not get to see them, except for a quick present exchange at distance with masks on. That was unfortunate, and it meant we had to scramble to figure out how to move things and spend the whole week with the other parent.

We stayed at a pretty unique new hotel called the Kinn Guesthouse. It’s a boutique hotel downtown, just north of the Public Market and Third Ward, and is a unique setup. Instead of cramming a hundred or two rooms into the space, it has 31 rooms across five floors, each room with high ceilings and great layout. What was cool about the layout though is that each floor had a large common area, with a full kitchen and long island to eat at, a living room area with a large TV, and a meeting room with a board room table and such. My sister-in-law also evacuated to the hotel due to the quarantine situation, and it was nice to be able to sit and eat breakfast each morning. The setup felt like a large SoHo office of a tech marketing firm, almost.

Most of the trip was family stuff. I did get a good walk through the Third Ward one day, and everyone went to the Public Museum one afternoon. Otherwise, it was lots of food and conversation and whatnot. Shot 600-some photos, but I am so far behind on doing anything with pictures. I still haven’t posted albums from that June 2022 trip to Denver.

Oh, one unique thing about Milwaukee was this heavy fog during most of the trip. I didn’t have the big camera, so I tried to capture it a bit, but there was this thick soup on the first few days, like enough that you could barely see a block down a city street. It started on the drive from Indiana to Illinois and into Wisconsin and went on for days. I’d never seen Milwaukee like this, so it was unique to me.

Trip back wasn’t bad. We stopped in Denver, which was a weird flashback to my trip in 2022, which I almost called “last year” but now it’s “the year before last.” Gotta get used to that. We stopped in the Amex Centennial lounge, which was decent but way too crowded. Got home just in time for a torrential rainstorm, which almost reminded me of the Singapore trip, albeit 40 degrees cooler.

Today I did a quick spin down Highway 1 into Pacifica. There have been some crazy waves down there a few days ago, thirty or forty-foot waves crashing ashore and flooding out roads and houses. I got down there today with no real traffic problems, and the waves were at about the usual level, maybe slightly bigger. Lots of people had the same idea, though, so parking was a problem. I ended up going down to Montara Beach and climbing down to shore. I had the big camera with me, but I got there after noon, so the sun was the wrong way. The camera had the 16-35L lens, which is absolute butter for wide-open shots. It has such beautiful detail and color to it, especially on a beach. I had trouble getting down to the beach, though; there were a lot of washed-out and eroded trails, and I had to walk about a mile to find one that got down to the shore.

I love the Pacific ocean. I mean, I liked looking at the Atlantic from the south shore of Iceland, but I can get to the Pacific in fifteen minutes. The first time I touched the water of an ocean was at the Oregon coast, and I used to walk to Dockweiler Beach every day when I lived in Playa Del Rey. And of course Hawaii is amazing. But there’s something about the coast on Highway 1 south of Daly City that seems to mix together aspects of all of these places. There are rugged slopes and cliffs like Seaside, Oregon. There are the same little beach houses and surf shacks you see along the LA coast. But there’s like this rugged individualism to the beaches below Pacifica. You don’t see wall-to-wall families camping on the sand with umbrellas and chairs and grills. If you go during the week, you can sometimes see almost nobody there, except for the die-hards in neoprene suits, fighting the big waves. Places like Mavericks can be downright dangerous, and aside from the occasional fisherman, you might see nobody brave enough to take on the big surf. But I’d rather be walking on a beach like that than fighting my way through Coney Island-on-a-holiday crowds.

Anyway. I’ve rambled on for 800 words here and you may be wondering if I’m going to put some big turn in here at the end. And I honestly don’t know, but the new year/new me energy always makes me want to blog every day and write every day, and it usually times out by January 5th. But there are a lot of big questions I want to answer. One is if I can simply keep writing on here without running out of stories or things to say. I forget what the current tally is here, but it’s something like 1400 published entries and a million words, so the odds of having some original thought and saying, “Hey, I should write about my old Commodore 64” – well, I already did back in 2003. So I need to figure out a way to keep the words going. Or do I?

I don’t know who reads this or how people find it or if there are any on-ramps to blogs anymore. I think people just doom-scroll and sit and spin on their favorite low-attention-span app on their phone. (I know I do.) Is this something I could change? Is there some alternative to blogs that scratch the same itch as blogs? I don’t know. I know I don’t need to old-man-yells-at-cloud about how blogs were so much better in 1998 and these damn kids need to get off their phones. That war has already been lost. I guess what I need to figure out is how to spend my time and do what I want to do and what I can do. I want to keep writing about nothing and everything, and try to see what gels. So, here I am.