The Piano Bug

I recently had a revelation, wherein I didn’t completely suck at the piano.

I’ve been playing keys in some form or another for over twenty years.  I had taken formal lessons for a few years toward the end of elementary school, but fell out of interest in the music I was given.  I played on and off in high school, lending my abilities to a smattering of events and jams.  After I graduated in 2007, I bought an electric piano for college, where the on and off playing continued, mostly due to the fact that I had to store my keyboard underneath my bed due to space constraints in the freshman dorm.

When I moved up the hill to my fraternity house in 2008, I set up my keyboard next to my desk so I’d had easy access to music at any time, and as a result my creative juices flowed like never before.  As school progressed, music took a backseat to my studies and other various activities, and once my senior year rolled around, I had once again stashed my keyboard under my bed.  My senior year apartment was (relatively) nice, but my cozy room had, again, no space for a piano setup.

Since I’ve lived in California, I’ve always had my piano out in full view.  In my first few apartments, I’d even set it up desk-adjacent, like the good old days.  My playing was relatively regular.  A few years ago, I started MIDI tracking some of my favorite songs as a gift to my mother.  It became an annual Christmas present… for two years; in 2015, after recording a shorter batch of pieces later in the year, I stalled indefinitely.  I’d moved to San Francisco and, thanks to the topology of my studio apartment, my piano was no longer within arms reach of my computer desk.  It’s ten feet away, directly behind it, which is a nearly intolerable distance when in the process of laying down MIDI tracks.  I’m only half kidding — the lack of immediacy did definitely kill some of my interest in the piano for a time.

That brings me to now, and the reason I’m writing this.  Suddenly, this summer, I’ve been bitten by some kind of piano bug and its effect has yet to wear off after several weeks.  It might have been seeing Hamilton that made me dive into the Hamilton sheet music book I’ve got here.  When you really get it going, the piano arrangements are extremely fun to play:

On the other hand, another catalyst for my new found addiction might be the time that I stumbled upon a new piano artist whose songs I found not only immediately gripping in their musicality, but seemingly simple enough that I could play them with little effort.

For example:

This is suddenly one of my favorite pieces of music ever.  It’s beautiful, the chords taken some unexpected and frisson-filled turns, and it’s not too complicated for my hands.  I bought the sheet music for this album from Germany on a whim not long ago, and I find it’s not that hard to play.  Granted, I’ve been playing it (and many others) over and over and over these past few weeks, and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve gotten better.  Funny that.  I am still working on that quick-chord part in the second half, though.

Between 2011 and now, most of my piano playing has been improvised, relying only on chord charts and my ears.  While fun, this doesn’t do much to help technique and skill.  It wasn’t really until this summer that I really cracked open my sheet music books and sat down to learn songs, slowly and painstakingly without shortcut.  I’ll tell you what, my hands got sore just from stretching and bending to previously unimaginable positions.  The fun part is, eventually some of these more difficult songs actually become possible for someone of my limited talent to play.  It’s a great feeling to finally nail a tricky bar or two, and an even better one to get through an entire song without a mistake or hesitation.  I don’t have a lot of those songs in my repertoire, but that number is slowly going up.

Additionally, I’d had another sudden revelation just this past week.  For years, I’d struggled with digitizing my playing due to the latency between the physical touch of the keys and the output of the MIDI-fied sound.  When you press a key and it’s a full half-second before the note is returned to the ears, it tends to make keeping tempo difficult.  However, for whatever reason, I stumbled across an, in retrospect obvious, fix that I would then quickly implement this past weekend.  I installed a new secondary sound driver designed specifically for low-latency musical input.  It worked (nearly) flawlessly right away, allowing me to play digitized tracks full of effects, backing tracks, without delay nor distraction.  I’m somewhat ashamed this idea never occurred to me in the last ten years, but it’s better discovered late than never at all.

The end result is that, beyond my rediscovery of the instrument, I’ve only managed to further strengthen my desire to play.  I’m even taking my newfound confidence to social media.  There’s nothing more motivating than putting my performances out into the public, where I’m not allowed to screw up lest I face the wrath of my fans.  Or, less dramatically and more realistically, I’m putting all of the pressure on myself to be perfect.  It works. (Especially when all you need is a flawless minute before you’re allowed to make a mistake again…)

Can't forget my favourite part to play! Only made a mistake or two. ūüéĻūüéĻūüéĻ #piano #thesims #jamming

A post shared by Jake Buckley (@jacobdbuckley) on

All of this is to say, I’ve fallen in love once again with the piano.  I can’t believe I let it sit idly for so long; I’m glad its back in my life.

Perhaps you could expect some new music out of me?  It’s been… a while.

Aural Impressions: Nine Inch Nails, Add Violence

It’s not been that long since we’ve had a new Nine Inch Nails release; just seven months ago, Trent and company put out¬†Not The Actual Events EP, which was a mixed bag of retro-industrial NIN and noisy, experimental-ish direction. ¬†It feels like an eternity ago, for various reasons. ¬†Now, with the shiny new¬†Add Violence EP, revealed in a surprise announcement barely over a week ago, they’ve basically put together a new full album since late last year. ¬†Like¬†Events, this one is kind of a hodgepodge of new and old, including a few eclectic new-retro sounds. ¬†You’ll see what I mean. ¬†Like the band themselves, let’s not waste any time getting to the new music:

  1. Less Than:¬† Holy 80s, Batman! ¬†We’re off to the races with bright synths and heavy drums equipped with spacey reverb. ¬†Nine Inch Nails has never really sounded like this before, even in the¬†Pretty Hate Machine days where their music was far more electronic. ¬†It’s slightly unnerving at first as the pitching slides around, but once the vocals come in things start to feel more typical. ¬†There’s a wandering bass synth, harmonizing vocals, and shrieking guitar noises filling out the background through the verses. ¬†At the choruses, a rigid distorted guitar squares in, giving the song a slightly more vibrant¬†The Slip-era feel. ¬†A bridge of noise leads into an escalating series of guitar explosions; the chorus repeats in a crescendo, then silence. ¬†Very energetic and driven by a solid rhythmic pulse, this is a great way to start a part-two EP.
  2. The Lovers:  In complete contrast, we start here with quiet mechanical noise and a low, galloping electronic drum beat.  Bleep bloop.  The hit of a hi-hat.  Half-whispered, half-growled spoken words.  A clean, off-key guitar comes in to remind me of the gloomier tracks on The Fragile.  Always building and growing, but never getting loud.  In fact, this is almost a perfect meld of all of the softer styles of Nine Inch Nails at once.  Everything is here: a dark piano, a somewhat dissonant, somehow uplifting chord progression, a lightly wailing chorus chock-full of falsetto.  This song hits me in a nostalgic, angsty, moody spot.  Something about it just feels right even as it tries its hardest to feel off.  This is my low-key favorite track on here.
  3. This Isn’t The Place:¬† This is a waltz. ¬†The grumbling of a deep fuzz bass, combined with the simple 3/4 beat makes me immediately think of Massive Attack and their 90s trip-hop ilk. ¬†These drums are extremely compressed, giving them a sharp attack as the music above begins to flourish. ¬†It starts with more bleep-bloops, but soon piano comes in and a pitch-shifting synth starts to wail beneath it. ¬†String-like sounds enter from the outer reaches of the soundscape, while vocals come in from the middle. ¬†Exactly halfway through appear the first lyrics, sung partially in a light falsetto. ¬†The smooth environment flowing between the steadiness of piano and drums continues to build and swirl as the vocal line fades toward the back. ¬†The bass pops up and down, in an almost Radiohead-esque way, while the piano turns into a single quarter note on repeat. ¬†Actually, this song sounds¬†very¬†much like a Nine Inch Nails take on “Nude.”¬† I kind of love it.
  4. Not Anymore:¬† Glitching, overwhelming distortion and dissonance bring us immediately into the next track. ¬†Aurally, it doesn’t bring much pleasure to listen to. ¬†There’s a plodding beat, sparks of guitar, and a chorus that’s a sudden, even harsher blast of noise, screams, and live drums. ¬†Toward the second half, we fall back into¬†Hesitation Marks territory, in a brief interlude reminiscent of the sounds underneath “In Two.” ¬†This isn’t my favorite, though at least it’s short and ends rather abruptly. ¬†I’d consider it a structured version of “Tetsuo: The Bullet Man” with lyrics, pretty much.
  5. The Background World: ¬†To close the EP, we’ve got the longest track by Nine Inch Nails by nearly two minutes. ¬†It takes up nearly half of the run-time of the EP alone, and begins with slow quarters-on-the-kick as syncopated electronics flutter and buzz. ¬†It’s very¬†Year Zero/Ghosts/The Social Network. ¬†The atmospheric pads moan and soar as they’ve done for years. ¬†Short, synth strings fill in the space between beats. ¬†As the song takes a new shape (one of several), a delayed percussive-sounding synth takes over the rhythm as the strings flatten and linger. ¬†Fuzzy bass pops in to bring us back around to the start. ¬†Then the darkest, deepest, crashing piano notes reverberate below. ¬†As we’ve heard so many times before, the steadiness is gradually overtaken by an ever-growing assortment of sounds, all of the previously introduced instruments and melodies forming into a maelstrom of polyphony. ¬† It cuts out briefly into an awkwardly moving fuzz, the sound of a cross between a nuisance bee and a weed whacker. ¬†It’s only there for a completely jarring second but it needed to be noted. ¬†The steady returns, but each bar is cut off by an extra half-beat of silence, just enough to completely ruin the timing. ¬†This is an interesting maneuver, as the song starts to devolve into static and fuzz over the course of the remaining minutes — the rhythm is broken and now the melodies are fracturing. ¬†Somewhere in the middle of this collapse, the sound quality hits a sweet spot that reminds me totally of the music of¬†Terminal Velocity, which is a soundtrack that had always stayed an arm’s length away from Nine Inch Nails in my musical spheres. ¬†Eventually, there’s no trace of tone or beat, just an ever unifying cascade of crashing noise. ¬†Naturally, it ends with a flip to silence, which is almost more disquieting after six minutes of noise.

Whereas¬†Not The Actual Events felt more like a revival of¬†The Downward Spiral amid a swirl of electronics and noise, this feels almost like an inverted take on the latter, while conjuring up the¬†The Fragile,¬†Pretty Hate Machine, and the styles of the early 2010s. ¬†Musically, there’s not a ton of cohesion here, like there hadn’t been previously, and taken together with Events¬†as a 10-track album, there’s even less. ¬†But that doesn’t matter as much. ¬†The sounds here are fresh, yet nostalgic, which is pretty much all that I want out of Nine Inch Nails these days. ¬†It’s somewhat more straightforward as a whole than the difficult-to-penetrate noise of¬†Events, but on the other hand the five minutes of extra length that it has on its predecessor is filled entirely by just that. ¬†It’s frantic, diverse, and solid. ¬†Given my expectations for more new NIN after the last release, I’m completely satisfied with this as a follow-up.

Adidas & The NHL: 31 Thoughts

The long-awaited Adidas NHL jerseys are finally here, having been revealed today, and, well, it could have been worse.  Some of my wishes, the ones I wanted most, failed to come true, but a few actually did, in a way!  First, a little history

The Adidas jersey technology (called Adizero) was revealed last year before the World Cup, touting lightweight construction and liberally deploying nonsense buzzwords. ¬†The World Cup of Hockey jerseys weren’t bad, but they also didn’t really look like NHL jerseys, given the general lack of waist striping, thick yet minimal arm striping, and only one traditional shoulder yoke, to say nothing of the added Adidas three-stripe motif. ¬†Lots of stripe issues, apparently.

For all of the Adidas cut jerseys, the most glaring new change is the collar. ¬†No longer does it rise above the shoulders and taper to a point at the base of the neck; instead it lays flat and is rounded, joining to the NHL crest from the sides. ¬†I need to see it modeled on players in full gear and/or during play action to really make a judgment, but my first impression is I’m not sure that like it. ¬†It feels less like a sweater and more like a shirt. ¬†In a way it feels cheaper. ¬†At least, and it was a touch-and-go for a while, they can support laces.

One more common thing to note: the logo crests and rear numbers generally appear quite a bit larger. ¬†I’m going to say that this is for the better. ¬†There are numerous tweaks to the fabric, crest construction, and stitching, but I won’t go into detail as that’s not really my area of expertise or interest.

So, here are my brief (mostly) thoughts on each of the new jerseys’ unique aspects. ¬†For fun, I’m going to assign a letter grade to each, based on my expectations, how they could (potentially) be better, and how they took advantage of or missed a once-in-a-decade opportunity. ¬†Alright, let’s go!

Anaheim Ducks:

In what will surely be the theme of the day, this looks basically like their old one. ¬†I must say, unlike most rose-glassed millennials, I think I prefer their current logo and color scheme to the Disney mask and bizarre eggplant and jade scheme. ¬†That said, this jersey still needs some work. ¬†The lines along the lower arms and torso remain weird, and I’d rather they went with either the original Mighty Ducks’ striping style, or their (former) third jersey’s, but that’s neither here nor there. ¬†These are merely adequate. (C)

Arizona Coyotes:

It wasn’t that long ago that the Coyotes debuted a shiny new jersey, so it’s little shock that they’re sticking with it, more or less. ¬†It’s decent, though I still prefer their original Reebok Edge set without black. (B)

Boston Bruins:

Can’t mess with a classic, though I must say the shoulder yokes look a bit weird in the new cut. (A)

Buffalo Sabres:

Still using navy blue. ¬†Still using front numbers. ¬†Still using silver. ¬†Sigh… ¬†At least they got rid of the piping, finally. ¬†The collar is no longer fully gold, with blue in front instead. ¬†Huh. ¬†I’m simultaneously let down and relieved. ¬†An intermediate step, I’m hoping — progress, however little, is still progress. ¬†Let’s see those Winter Classic uniforms ASAP! ¬†(B)

Calgary Flames:

No retro promotion. ¬†Sigh. ¬†The continued use of black. ¬†Ugh. ¬†Flags on the shoulders? ¬†Why?? ¬†They got rid of the piping but kept the side stripes. ¬†That de-italicized their nameplates? ¬†I don’t get it. ¬†They’re better, but not much. (C)

Carolina Hurricanes:

Whoa! ¬†Really did not expect this! ¬†The Hurricanes have reintroduced black into their jerseys, thank the hockey gods, but more importantly, the storm flag stripe is back! ¬†These are solid. ¬†A cleaner, but not emptied retooling of their original jersey, it’s got history, distinction, and modern simplicity all in one. ¬†Drastic rebrands aside, this is what the Hurricanes should have done in 2013, but it’s better late than never. (A)

Chicago Blackhawks:

As expected, nothing to see here. ¬†Hard to improve upon what they’ve got, even if I think it’s massively overrated. (A)

Colorado Avalanche:

Ohhhhhh baby, I see mountains! ¬†The Avs are back, and it’s only been ten years in the making. ¬†Can you believe that the Colorado Avalanche have gone¬†half of their team’s lifetime without this classic look? ¬†It just feels so right that it’s been restored. ¬†From absolute worst to near-best, Colorado is the winner of the Adidas redesign. ¬†Perhaps their team will chart a similar course on the ice? (A)

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Disappointing insofar as it’s not the cannon jersey, but I’m glad it still looks pretty sharp. ¬†The major changes appear to be that there’s no more white in the collar, and there’s a new (worse) nameplate typeface. ¬†Otherwise, yeah, again I didn’t get my wish. (B)

Dallas Stars:

Not much to report, which is great because the Dallas Stars reinvention in 2013 was one of the best rebrands in NHL history, at least from a jersey perspective.  Stick with what works. (A)

Detroit Red Wings:

Again, nothing to really see here. ¬†The simplest uniform set in the league stays that way, and we’re better off for it. (A)

Edmonton Oilers:

In April, I watched the Edmonton Oilers defeat the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center. ¬†During warmups, I shot photos of the teams, and I have to say, the Oilers looked¬†damn good in their road whites with royal blue shoulders. ¬†After suffering the worst of Reebok’s 2007 transition, management made the wise (easy) decision to go with the original 80s jerseys full-time in 2011. ¬†With the team finally resurgent this past year, it seemed to all be clicking into place. …And then they scrapped the blue homes for orange. ¬†Not the worst decision, given the WHA history there, but still a little weird. ¬†Alberta should be blue vs. red, but that’s not the main issue anymore.

For some reason, they’ve decided to replace the royal blue with navy in their color scheme. ¬†Huh? ¬†Navy simply does not go with orange. ¬†The Islanders tried it in 2002 and, surprise surprise, decided to re-adopt their classic colors as soon as they were allowed. ¬†But then there’s the new Oilers jersey itself. ¬†What they’ve done here is kind of a shame; thankfully the recently leaked jersey wasn’t quite accurate and the collar isn’t completely hideous, but it’s still not great. ¬†Those stripes, while faithful to the previous home/away set, don’t work with these colors — the blue looks black in contrast, and I’m worried about how the away jersey will look. ¬†This is a definite step backwards. ¬†Way to take a top-10 jersey and throw it right in the trash, Edmonton. ¬†(D)

Florida Panthers:

Having just completely rebranded last year, the fact that there’s nothing new on these is warranted. ¬†This is, in my opinion, the best the Florida Panthers have ever looked and it’s a relief they didn’t even go so far as to tweak anything. (A)

Los Angeles Kings:

No changes here. ¬†I wish they’d bring back purple in some way, however these have become another modern classic jersey — two Cups in three years will do that to a look, even if it’s not the best. (B)

Minnesota Wild:

Finally, we’re back to green homes in Minnesota, and as a nice compromise, they’ve taken the script M from the old (beautiful) thirds and put it on the shoulders. ¬†They’ve notably added a wheat-colored chest stripe, which is becoming somewhat of a trend thanks to the Panthers stealing from Montr√©al last year. ¬†In addition, red remains an accent around the NHL crest, as well as in a stripe nestled inside the wheat arm stripes. ¬†If the road jersey can finally match the home, the Wild will be one of the best dressed in the league. ¬†I am very pleased with these. (A)

Montréal Canadiens:

Don’t. mess. with. perfection. (A)

Nashville Predators:

Huh. ¬†While I’ll admit the old template (once shared with and worn more poorly by the St. Louis Blues) had its flaws, it added some necessary contrast. ¬†This one seems rather dull and empty. ¬†Thankfully, the piano keys and number strings remain, as well as the original typeface, but I am slightly underwhelmed. ¬†It’s a bit curious that the blue at the waist and arms was pushed even further down. ¬†I don’t know — that might be too much yellow. ¬†On the other hand, it’s minimal and clean, which is a highly desired quality in a timeless jersey. ¬†In retrospect, I might view these better. ¬†For now, they get a (C)

New Jersey Devils:

Here’s a look at the new New Jersey jerseys. ¬†New Jersey had their old jerseys for nearly thirty years; for the first time since 1992, New Jersey has new jerseys. ¬†I wonder if they didn’t want new New Jersey jerseys because of obnoxious people like me talking about their new New Jersey jerseys like I’m doing here? ¬†Or, maybe because the old New Jersey jerseys were such a timeless, modern classic, three-time Cup-winning uniform that it would be idiotic to change them? ¬†Well, it’s not a radical departure, but it’s different enough to feel wrong. ¬†The waist stripe is gone and the white on the arms is widened significantly, apparently to evoke the Colorado Rockies. ¬†One curious addition: a green inner collar featuring the three Cup-winning seasons listed. ¬†Was this necessary? ¬†No. ¬†I prefer New Jersey’s old jerseys to New Jersey’s new jerseys. (C)

New York Islanders:

Same classics as they were, except I’m going to rate them as if there were improvements because there’s no more black alternate. (A)

New York Rangers:

Like their cross-town rivals, the Rangers didn’t need to change anything. ¬†The only difference is the red from the NHL crest is much wider due to the Adidas cut. ¬†Looks weird, but there’s not much to do about it. (A)

Ottawa Senators:

Oy, Ottawa, what are you doing? ¬†It wouldn’t have taken much to make this uniform infinitely better, yet you do so little anyway. ¬†Somehow you’ve successfully converted one of the worst Reebok-era uniforms faithfully into Adidas form, albeit with a new number font. ¬†Wow. ¬†I don’t get it; a stunning new set would bring in so much money, and for a frugal owner, that would seem like a no-brainer, no? ¬†Disappointed. ¬†(D)

Philadelphia Flyers:

It doesn’t appear that the Flyers really did anything here, except perhaps thicken the white at the end of the sleeve. ¬†Can’t complain, I think their look is fine. (B)

Pittsburgh Penguins:

One of only two teams not to put out reveal teasers, probably because they’re busy doing other things at the moment. ¬†Also, there’s nothing new anyway. ¬† (A)

San Jose Sharks:

Look at that new Shark shoulder patch! ¬†I’m very happy to see this, and it looks great. ¬†Still rocking the minimal teal, I see. ¬†That’s fine, I love the color and it doesn’t make my Pavelski jersey too obsolete. ¬†I would have liked waist stripes, but what’re ya gonna do? ¬†Can’t win ’em all. ¬†(B)

St. Louis Blues:

The only major change here is a switch from yellow to white on the back numbers, which I think I like more. ¬†In addition, there’s a new hanger effect inspired by the St. Louis city flag that is quite welcome. ¬†Already one of the best jerseys in the league, it’s even a slight bit better now. ¬†(A)

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Toronto-south look lives on, unchanged. ¬†It’s alright, I guess, though I think I’d prefer it if they went back to black. ¬†(B)

Toronto Maple Leafs:

The other team not to put out teasers, it too makes sense as not a lot has changed from last year’s fresh redesign. ¬†And why should they? ¬†This is the look of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ future. (A)

Vancouver Canucks:

Come on Vancouver! ¬†What are you (not) doing? ¬†Your jersey is perfection¬†except for the one thing I asked you to change. ¬†We get it. ¬†You play in Vancouver. ¬†You don’t need to tell us with a wordmark. ¬†(B, but it coulda been an A)

Washington Capitals:

I’m not sure about this one. ¬†The Capitals have been rocking their look for a decade, and while it’s been symbolic of the franchise’s best (regular) seasons, as well as their consistently heartbreaking playoff runs, I’m not sure it really translates on this new template. ¬†It feels…off. ¬†Also, it should have been Weagle. ¬†(C)

Winnipeg Jets:

Yep, looks the same. ¬†I was never really a fan of the Jets look, yet it’s been six years now and that’s, well, how they look. ¬†(B)

And last but not least, the newest member of the National Hockey League, from T-Mobile Arena on The Strip in Paradise, Nevada, playing in its first professional season, please… welcome… yoooouuuurrrrrr……

Vegas Golden Knights:

Not bad, eh? ¬†As expected, there is red featured on the arms as an accent stripe, while gold plays a major role in the elbows and above a thick black hem line. ¬†I would have liked more red, but alas. ¬†Black also fills the arms up to the shoulders, similar to the Coyotes’ latest. ¬†The shoulders feature the secondary logo, which looks damn good here. ¬†Shame the aways don’t have a grey yoke, but those details in the gold are an interesting touch! ¬†Really, not a bad start, Vegas. (B)

And that’s it. ¬†Except the remaining 31 away jerseys will appear over the next few days sometime between now and the start of the season — many are already appearing out in the wild.

As for my overall impression of these, they’re decidedly above average. ¬†My final grades are as follows:

  • C: ANA, CGY, NSH,¬†NJD,¬†WSH
  • D: EDM, OTT

The Oilers’ leak had me spooked, but they’re by-and-large decent. ¬†I’ll get used to the collar change eventually, while most of the jerseys look so similar to their previous iterations there won’t be any adjustment needed at all. ¬†However, the missed opportunities will surely continue to haunt. ¬†Buffalo, Calgary, Ottawa, Washington, and Vancouver… try harder next time. ¬†Minnesota, Carolina, and Colorado? ¬†I appreciate what you’ve done. ¬†Thank you.