Who controls the 8th string?

Written by peterkienle on November 18, 2014
6 strings - perfect!

6 strings – perfect!

A few years ago I started playing seven string guitar. It’s only an added B string below the low E. And while I am practicing quite a bit, composed several pieces for seven string classical guitar and adapted J. S. Bach’s 15 Two Part Inventions and all of the Well Tempered Clavier for the instrument, only now do I start feeling somewhat comfortable. Sure, there is the issue of smaller string spacing on my seven string electrics. Then there is my habit of using the note on the low E string as sort of an anchor point for the notes on the other strings. And then, maybe, the extra neurons needed in the brain to add control over that added string may not grow as quickly in an older person.

add a low B string and make your brain grow new neurons

add a low B string and make your brain grow new neurons

To add insult to injury, this past summer I found a really nice eight string guitar on eBay – and when I pick that up my musical-guitaristic instincts are once again of no help. This time however I seem to experience it from a more neutral observer. As long as I totally ignore any of the strings on the bottom (let’s say the low E, B and F#) I can just pretend it’s a normal guitar. When I then try to incorporate the E and B strings I “know” what the notes are called and I see the patterns they form with what I play on the upper strings – at least to a certain degree and when I am not looking at the fingerboard but imagine where my fingers are in my head.

But now I get to that eighth string. That F#. As long as I play by ear and just extend the scales downward to the eighth string I am fine. My fingers know where to put themselves. But when I try to play chords based off of that eighth string I notice that I have to “calculate” the note name just like a beginner – relative to the open F#. It doesn’t help that my brain also thinks that the lowest string is a B.

add a low F# string feels like a new limb

add a low F# string feels like a new limb

The funny thing about this effect is that the low F# string feels like an added third arm might feel. It’s there but there is no software in place to control it. Just like when you hook up an external device (printer, hard drive, etc) to your computer and there is no driver installed – the computer might notice that something was connected but it has no idea what to do with it.

Like I mentioned, I went through this process after I started the seven string guitar thing. I realized that over about 35 years of playing guitar there were so many patterns, shortcuts, good and bad habits, chord and scale shapes (and much more) in my brain that I was never thinking on a note by note level. Almost as if certain chord voicings were attached to practice sessions or gigs where I discovered them. Or whole musical passages where associated with a specific person or date. Adding an extra string seemed to require to rearrange many of these associations or make new ones.

Now, as I am going through the eighth string learning pains, I observe from a third person perspective. While I am playing I can almost “feel” the blank spots of my guitaristic brain as I torture that new, unknown string. It feels a lot like stepping from firm ground onto an ice sheet. Somewhat dangerous on a gig but a lot of fun. And it also includes some personal research into how I learn.

The Parabola of Life

Written by peterkienle on October 28, 2014

Around 2006 I read a book by Ray Kurzweil called “Fantastic Voyage”. Somebody had recommended it. There are many recommendations in there about how to lead a healthier life and how to live long enough to get in on the “singularity”. Kurzweil is part of a group of people who believe that technological developments will rapidly accelerate towards a point when there will be true artificial or machine intelligence and, more specifically, when it will be possible to upload a complete human consciousness into some sort of electronic brain – this is referred to as the “singularity”. As I was reading that book I did get sucked into the idea, although I admit that I liked the possibility of living a radically extended healthy life of 150+ years better than being stuck in a computer.

This whole idea has a lot of critics and many books (science & science fiction) have been written which point out that the practical application of such longevity could be full of social, medical and technological complexities. No doubt about that. The funny thing is that during the time I fully bought into the “singularity” I started living healthier. One of the takeaways in “Fantastic Voyage” is that in order to get to the “singularity” as healthy as possible you better start now. So I lowered my calories and carbohydrates. Added fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables whenever possible. Cut any ice cream and cookies and started exercising. Since then I have lost around 20 pounds of waist line and I have been feeling healthier than in the past 30 years.

Soon after I finished reading “Fantastic Voyage” I started making attitude changes in my life. Really unconsciously at first. I started thinking about my “new” 150+ year life. Would I want to stay in the same house, the same city for 150+ years? What about my so-called career as a musician? The idea came to me that maybe now would be a good time to actually go to college and get a science degree. All of a sudden all these possibilities popped up. Ideas that had flared up at some time or another but rapidly flickered out again because there was a perception that the time was just too short. In the months after the Kurzweil book I did become much more skeptical of the “singularity”. At the same time I noticed that it had really improved my life in many ways. Now, my thinking was, chances are that I would die somewhere on the upwards leg of the parabola of my life and not when it plateaus or starts descending.

Or, in other words, if I would live to be 80 years old I would die on the up-slope because it would only be a little more than half my life-span of 150+ years. Of course you could ask “What good would that be? It wouldn’t change the facts.” Sure, but it would change my attitude towards the facts.

And it’s an interesting exercise to imagine to live twice as long. How would you change your life right now if that was a fact?

Another such thought experiment has to do with money. We are not a poor family by any means. But in our yard money doesn’t grow on trees and the prospect of paying for our kids’ college education fills me with fear. Now imagine: What would you do if there were no money problems in your life? How would you change your life? But, maybe that’s a topic for another day.

The morning-after-blues

Written by peterkienle on October 26, 2014

This past week I was brutally reminded why being a musician is so hard. It’s not because of the need to practice (although you have to do that.) It’s not because you basically starve if you have no other job, or your spouse loves you very much and has a good gig with health insurance. It’s not really because it often sucks hunting down gigs and then often end up playing at venues that are “wrong” for what you play – although we are getting closer now.

This past weekend blatantly displayed to me the stark reality. The story started about two years ago when my friend Lothar, who lives in Tübingen, Germany, mentioned that he just started a big band – called the Wüste Welle Big Band. He asked if I had done any creative arrangements they could play – just something different from the ordinary fare. Well, I hadn’t. And I never had arranged for big band before and I wasn’t going to either. But Lothar kept bringing it up again and again. He was especially interested in music from my “fusion”, i.e. BeebleBrox years. Somehow that did ring a bell. Over the course of two years I arranged a handful of music for big band. And, believe me, that was like pulling teeth! Although I am proud I did it.

After two concerts with the big band in the summer of 2013 Lothar went for the high hanging fruit and applied for the opening slot of the “Jazz & Klassiktage Tübingen 2014.”  At first it looked like they were going to play my tunes and my arrangements with their regular guitarist but then it turned out that I was going to be the featured guest!

Due to all sorts of time and budget constraints my trip was only four days long. I left Bloomington on Thursday morning. Arrived in Tübingen for rhythm section rehearsal on 10am Friday. Full band rehearsal late afternoon and evening. Short night sleep. Breakfast with my mother. Dress rehearsal and soundcheck. When we started playing the first tune I was running on adrenalin. Some excitement was added due to the fact that I was tasked with making announcements! Apparently they weren’t too bad, or at least entertaining enough as people were laughing tears. The gig went by, the playing was great! More compliments and people coming up afterwards to shake hands than in all of the past decades. Short night again. Sunday return to Bloomington and then……

Monday morning. All the magic is gone. No more big gigs on the books. It’s the Monday-after-the-big-weekend-blues.

It’s not that I haven’t experienced these before. Back when we were trying for “bigger” things and actually got as far as opening for acts such as “Tower of Power”, Yes, Santana and then some. Every time when the big gig is over and Monday rolls around you realize that you are at the bottom again and will have to climb up that mountain for a quick but exciting dash down the hill – lift tickets are not available. I guess over the past ten years or so I have played so many background music gigs that I kind of forgot. It’s like climbing the mountain only to discover that there is no snow!

And yet, that up and down seems to be a very essential part of an artist’s life.

Also, my mom was at the concert.


Restoring my first electric guitar

Written by peterkienle on September 1, 2014

Last week I finally finished the restoration of my first electric guitar. A Framus S370 – basically a German Gibson SG copy. I didn’t quite find out when this was built – probably very early 1970s. I bought it used from Musik Ecke in Albstadt, West Germany. When I opened the rear cover I found the original invoice which dates my purchase to November 1974.

Original invoice - found in the back of the guitar

Original invoice – found in the back of the guitar

This guitar was in great shape when I got it. Then, a few years later, I decided to replace the stock neck pickup with a DiMarzio humbucker. This is when the onslaught started. The measurements of the pickup openings and placements of the screw holes are not standard and to my shock the DiMarzio upgrade was not as easy as I thought. Having no access to tools other than a pair of scissors, a screwdriver and a soldering iron I “adapted” the opening and through the ingenious use of molten polystyrene plastic (left over from some Revell model airplanes) I added the proper mounting holes to the pickup. A little more here.



My SG and me – Alabama, 1990

All the markings, stickers, dirt and gunk was added to this instrument when I was a teenager. The stickers are a normal thing as I just learned from my daughter Melody who coincidentally got her first electric guitar, an Epiphone SG copy, a while ago. Brand new, and it already has stickers all over. What turned out to be an enormous headache in the restoration was some sort of “metal-protection” spray a friend had recommended. Essentially all metal (or chrome) parts received the treatment. I guess that’s what made all the gunk stick to the guitar.

Before surgery

Before surgery

After de-gunking, front

Stripped of all hardware. Oh weh!



This guitar has appeared on many of my recordings. It was tuned in minor sevenths for a recording project in the early 80s. When I was experimenting with my Chapman Stick it was tuned in all fifths to emulate the bass side of the Stick – the lowest two strings where old strings from a bass.

I ordered a pair of new pickups from Stewart McDonalds guitar supplies and some other hardware. When I took the guitar apart to start the process the body looked fine and after some acetone application to remove the grime things started looking up.

The real problem were the plastic covers. The small one covering the electronics in the back and the pickguard. I just didn’t find a way to remove the stickers without scratching the plastic. Also, the pickup openings and screw holes didn’t agree with the new pickup dimensions.

Plastic covers!

Plastic covers!

A good first “real” job for my Fireball V90 CNC machine, I thought. I didn’t have the V90 very long and little experience. Never done anything more complicated than some wood working. It took some time to actually establish a pipeline to get the dimensions and shapes into Cambam plus (which makes the control code for the machine.) The first pipeline (Adobe Illustrator to trace the scan, Cinema 4D to make it into a 3D model and then Cambam to make the gcode) somehow shrank the shapes just enough that it wasn’t visible on screen. That was frustrating. The solution was to keep it 2D and bypass Cinema 4D. It took two sheets of ABS plastic to finally get everything correct. The fourth cut was it. I am not doing this professionally!

V90 in action

V90 in action

...in my sunny driveway workshop

…in my sunny driveway workshop

After much cleaning, filing, polishing, soldering – and after almost 40 years of abuse – the neck needed only a little truss rod adjustment. This guitar has always played very well. Framus necks from that era are a bit beefy but I like it that way. Also I really like the huge rectangular fret markers. Most other guitars I own are very frugal in that regard and on a dark stage it is often hard to glimpse where your hand is on the neck.

That was a very satisfying project and I am very happy I invested the time and effort. I can’t wait to take this “new” 40 year old guitar on a gig.

all done!

all done!

The Cooking/Composing Analogy

Written by peterkienle on September 15, 2012

This is one of the many things which I only discovered a little later in my life.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading through a book called “Cooking for Geeks” by Jeff Potter. Amongst many cool recipes and cooking related interviews it contains tons of scientific information about what is happening during food preparation.

If you asked me today when I started to cook I would tell you that I always loved preparing my own food. That is of course not quite true because obviously my mother was the boss in her kitchen and only once I moved out at the tender age of 18 was I confronted with the need to think about what to eat and how to make it. Since my hometown was pretty devoid of any interesting places to get lunch and I was notoriously short on cash that only left the choice of somehow learning how to prepare food myself.

Naturally I started out trying to recreate my favorite dishes from home. But I wasn’t very successful. Most kinds of meat are very unforgiving if ill prepared and I quickly turned into a vegetarian because at least most vegetables can be eaten raw. Some of my favorite home-foods, like Maultaschen (literally “Mouth Pockets” – some kind of huge ravioli) were far beyond reach because creating them required complicated procedures. You could buy those ready made but they just never were as good as Mom’s. So, very slowly, out of the necessity of pickiness, I developed some things I could cook and actually liked to eat.

When I moved to the US in 1988 the availability of Fast Food at every corner was shocking. Still a vegetarian, though, choices were limited. And I guess what could be seen as the main attraction of franchised fast food joints turned out to be one of it’s main turn-offs: A Pizza Hut pizza tastes the same where ever you go. After about a decade of being my own chef switching to eating manufactured food didn’t work. So I kept cooking my own food.

Fast forward to 2006. After reading Ray Kurzweil’s “Fantastic Voyage” (which is about a lot of other health stuff besides food) I became obsessed (at least that’s what my wife and kids called it) with eating healthy. It turned out that spaghetti and tomato sauce isn’t necessarily as healthy as I thought – I still have to convince my kids, though. Surprisingly, our bodies don’t always crave what’s good for them. Due to increased exercise and more conscious diet I lost a few pounds and all of a sudden needed belts for most of my pants. A few years later I found out that my blood pressure was a bit high. That really sucked. I worked around with my diet (less carbs, increased potassium through fresh spinach and cantaloupes, watch that salt!), started jogging, and bought an exercise bike. It actually worked – at least something did, as the blood pressure went to normal.

And what exactly does that have to do with composing music?

Since my humble beginnings as a guitarist at age 14 or so I liked to compose. The music I did like to listen to was never prefect. Even the epic “Dark Side of the Moon” had some sections I could do without and other sections I would have liked to be longer. So I think I started to play and write music to make it just the way I wanted. In the process noticing that this is just not that easy. You have to learn about your ingredients. You have to have a way of writing down your ideas. You can’t get sucked into your music so deeply that you lose your bearings or some kind of objectivity. (Now, improvising is a bit different because I want to be sucked in. It’s almost schizophrenic because your are the maker of the music and also the emotional recipient).

These days I feel I am able to write much better music with much less material. I used to write fusion tunes with lots of notes just as I used to make soups with lots of spices. That kind of experimentation is all good but in the end the simpler stuff rules. That totally complex C13#11b9 chord will stick out in a mostly basic triad-based tune. Now I feel I can actually let the music speak for itself just as I don’t need to cover up a perfectly good lentil-chickpea soup with all the spices from my spice rack.

The medium makes the message

Written by peterkienle on July 12, 2011

If you read many of the posts on this blog you’ll notice that I have been a musician for most of the past 30 years or so. Specifically, a “Jazz Guitarist”. Many knowledgeable folks have tried to classify what “jazz” is or what qualifies a certain piece of music as “jazz”. I admit that I actually don’t know or care – I just like to improvise. And not in the sense of playing a ’solo’ but making up music alone or together with a band.

Lately I have been playing a lot of solo guitar gigs and much of my practicing consists of improvising music just on guitar alone. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I throw all harmonic rules out. Most often I start out with a standard jazz tune or an original but since I am by myself I can go wherever I want. I don’t have to stick to the ’chorus’ (which of course is utter blasphemy when playing with other people). In principle I take material I know how to play (and what it sounds like) and try to stick it together in a hopefully logical and musical way. This material can be small melodic fragments or interesting chord sequences unrelated to a specific tune or piece of music. Or I take larger chunks from music I have played before (the famous introduction to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” comes to mind). Often, just trying to play the bridge of a well known standard in a different key will introduce a new dimension and risk, leading you down unexpected alleys. And then there are random unintentional notes (call them mistakes) which often play the role of ’genetic mutations’ where the basic idea is good enough to be repeated and each repetition sounds less than a mistake – clearly a kind of evolution. This sounds easier than it is but after a few ’normal’ tunes a certain flow develops and I start playing differently. The result may not sound all that different to a listener – after all I am still using the same material – but to me it seems to come from a different source. The music mostly comes out by itself. The two hours of my gig usually just fly by.

I have often tried to find patterns and rules to explain to students how I do this (actually one of my friends, who is a cognitive neurologist, is also interested in this). Some people have called this process ’stream of consciousness’ or ’channeling’. And here comes the 78 degree turn: Many years back I had a great fondness for the books of one Jane Roberts. Roberts claimed that she channeled an entity called Seth. In the beginning the channeling happened through a Ouija board and later verbally through Roberts. At the time when I read these books I didn’t care where that material came from. I just found it very fascinating since it dealt with a lot of things I kept thinking about, such as UFOs, alternate realities, weird stuff from various holy books, the works. It was like reading a novel. The common explanation for action with an Ouija board are involuntary movements of the operators’ finger muscles. So essentially, the information that is produced comes from the participants. I guess it’s a version of facilitated communication which has been pretty much proven to be a hoax.

Moving on to Roberts’ verbal delivery. While delivering for the Seth entity she used a different voice and her husband Robert Butts often asked in-context questions. Do I think Roberts actually delivered messages from Seth? No. I think she was improvising. She was, in other words, telling a story, made up from material she had picked up, knowingly or unknowingly, from many sources. Naturally the material was blended with original ideas (Roberts was after all also a Science Fiction writer) and it seems some ideas pop up again and again over her channeling career, mutating and evolving.

One can of course argue my conclusion but I think Roberts did the same thing that I do when I improvise music on my guitar only in her medium. Nothing ’supernatural’ about it. The medium makes the message.

Gullible? Me?

Written by peterkienle on June 8, 2011

The two people who drop in on this blog every once in a while might have noticed that recently (March 2011) the subtitle changed from: “Keep an open mind but not so open that your brain falls out” to “exploring Deep Reality”. WTF?

When I started Mr. Gullible in 2008 I was on the height of skeptical rationality. I was (and still am) a regular listener to such podcasts as “The Skeptics’ Guide To the Universe“, “Skepticality” etc. In addition I thought about going to college to study Astronomy. This blog was supposed to be an outlet for my own skeptical musings. Every time somebody mentioned UFOs, out-of-body experience or god I would cringe. Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” was on the top of my to-read stack.

But something funny started to happen. Almost with horror I noticed that I was still interested in the fringes of reality. It also dawned on me that many of the things that motivate me as a musician, the process of composing, the semi-controlled randomness of improvisation, are actually quite irrational – and to top it off, that irrationality was one of the main attractions for me. Now, equipped with a big portion of skepticism towards paranormal claims, my own strange experiences, politics, skeptics and reality itself I started appreciating the weirdness all over again.

While I absolutely agree with the statement that woo-woo beliefs and practices hurt and sometimes kill people (“whatstheharm.net“) I also tend to think that ‘strange’ experiences, claims and ideas are real and therefore a part in the continuum of our reality. If I believe in aliens visiting Earth in flying saucers there may well be no material substance to the aliens or the saucers but my believe is still real.

And this is where Deep Reality comes in. If reality is the continuum which represents the material (in whatever form, function or shape) – the hardware – then Deep Reality would be our (and all of life’s) experience of that continuum – the (gasp!) software. This will undoubtedly make the woo-woo alarm go off in many skeptics. It smells of para-something, mind over matter, etc. And yet, our reality is not nicely divided into the scientifically provable, the rational, testable vs. the loony, unprovable claims and personal experiences. It seems to be a continuum where all too often the newest theoretical physics sound like science fiction.

This is why Deep Reality really interests me. Like in music, where a C major chord by itself is as innocent as an F# major scale played by itself, yet when you play them against each other a whole other reality emerges.

Floyd – a strange detour

Written by peterkienle on December 31, 2010

How could I ever try to become a jazz guitar player? I tried, hard, for quite a while. But, unnoticed by me, at first, and in the last few years becoming more and more obvious, I drifted away from what I thought I had wanted to be. People blame the strangest reasons for picking up an instrument. Over all, my reasons weren’t all that weird.

I never had any inclination that I wanted to play guitar or become actively involved in making music of any kind before age 12. On the other hand when I received my first cassette tape recorder and was able to record the few songs that drew my attention off the radio I used the music as backdrop to the LEGO sets I was building. Strangely, the songs I recorded were not the ones most of my friends were listening to. No Rolling Stones or Beatles. I gravitated towards instrumental stuff that sounded mysterious and that had a certain cinematic or SciFi quality.

Just around that time my friend Klaus introduced me to “Dark Side Of The Moon” by Pink Floyd when I was about 13. After he had made me a cassette copy of his brother’s album copy that became my sound track for a while. During that time we wanted to make a science fiction movie. At first “Dark Side….” was to be our main musical material (screw copyright). In the process we noticed that we didn’t want to use the parts that had vocals which of course narrowed the usable material down somewhat. Eventually we decided we would not only make our own movie but also record the music to it – not withstanding the fact that Klaus only played some classical piano and I had never played any instrument at all.

In the research for music to use for our movie we had stumbled upon earlier records of Pink Floyd. In particular the double album “Umma Gumma” which changed my life forever. When you read what the critics said about this strange collection of live and studio tracks you would probably skip it. For me the disc that contains the four live tracks was an eye (or ear) opener of the third kind. The song “Careful with that axe, Eugene” has no lyrics, no hook, no chord changes, just a barebones bass line. It doesn’t even have a melody as such. All it does is slowly build up to a loud scream of Mr. Waters followed by a haunting guitar solo by David Gilmour in which he sings along with what he plays. After ten minutes or so the song just quiets down and ends. But for me this was music to paint pictures by in my mind. There was so much texture and to me it sounded so ‘organic’ and not forced into a form. Each time I listened to it different stories played out in my mind. Admittedly, the fertile mind of a teenager. But still, other music just would not have that same effect. Vocal music just seemed to stifle the imagination because the lyrics told you what to think. One of my other favorite bands from that time was “Yes”. While there were lots of lyrics in their music the words seemed to have a rather different purpose than those of the Top Ten tunes of the time. And for a budding guitar player/musician there was lots of interesting material in the music of “Yes”. But “Careful with that axe, Eugene” had an emotional arc which I have been searching for in all the music I have listened to since but it is a rare quality. And of course it became my prime motivation to make that music myself – except that I seemed to be the only one with that desire in my hometown.

Instrumental music? No hooks? Just really strange music? Lots of it improvised? Not where I grew up!
And what is ‘Instrumental’ and ‘Improvised’ often associated with? Jazz! And so, slowly at first, but with growing guitaristic abilities more and more I began drifting away from my fantasy of playing in a “Careful With that Axe….” way. Not surprisingly I found my way into jazz through the unmarked backdoor of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and other less traditional recordings that for me had that “Careful with that axe” feel.
As mentioned before, the property that most attracted me to music is the ‘blank canvas experience’. Where this comes from I don’t know. But early on when I started taking photographs I always got criticism because my shots seemed to look at landscapes, buildings, scenes but rarely people (which was of course very annoying in pictures taken at family gatherings). Also, a big portion of SF books I own I bought because the cover art appealed to that same instinct. There were big mysterious cities, spaceships drifting in space, or other awe inspiring  scenes – perfect backdrops to imagine a story. The other ‘music’ (and I have a hard time calling it that sometimes) that was sort of fascinating to me at that time was the emerging branch of electronic space music, specifically Tangerine Dream. Although that interest faded relatively quickly – only to re-emerge decades later with the accidental discovery of a ‘space musician’ by the name of Steve Roach.

But remember, I was already a guitar player and most young guitar players are pretty competitive. It seemed almost natural for me to become interested in bands like Weather Report or Mahavishnu Orchestra whose leading members came straight out of the “Bitches Brew” corner. While Mahavishnu fascinated me with a totally alien, otherworldly musical language Weather Report provided the danceable funky grooves and memorable melodies. I didn’t know back then that this music was called jazz (well, ok, jazz-rock). Until somebody dragged me to see a ‘real’ jazz concert – which happened to be the Modern Jazz Quartet. I must have been 16 or so. It felt more like a classical recital. I knew it was well played, good music, and I could certainly appreciate it at that level but it didn’t touch me at all. At that time I did go out and see many live concerts, though. One of my favorite live bands at the time was the German rock group Embryo. My first ‘big’ concert was Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. It was very groovy – I always liked drummers and Fender Rhodes piano. A year or so later I saw Weather Report in Munich and the show just blew me away. It was everything that Modern Jazz Quartet hadn’t been. And yet, the people at Jazz School Munich told me one was real jazz and the other just a cheap ripoff (although every bass player I knew had a Fender bass with the frets removed in a back room somewhere).

And so I gradually drifted away from my “Eugene” inspired beginnings. Driven by the ambition to become such a good guitar player that everybody would call me to play in their band and by the non voluntary recognition that my earlier vision of how I wanted to perform music was a bit unrealistic. Over the years I became a reasonably capable jazz guitarist and composer. After our move to the US I even started to work regularly in clubs and with many different people. But that “Eugene” spark has always come through on my recordings. The resistance to ‘just’ record a few standards with long solos never went away. And then, just a few months ago, I listened to a live version of “Careful With That Axe” on youtube. Of course I knew that this stuff is out there today. But it’s a bit like thinking about “Dark Side Of The Moon” – I just think of it and I can hear the music in my mind. Emotional impact. And yet, that youtube version of “Careful…” was a little different. Same mood, same basic structure but also some different chords on the keyboard, Gilmour’s solo is different – in short, it sucked me in just like 35 years ago. It also reaffirmed my suspicion that I really never wanted to become a jazz player.

Culture Orbital animation, version 2

Written by peterkienle on May 7, 2010

Science Fiction may not be everybody’s thing. But when you pull yourself away from mainstream SF movies like Star Wars and seek out some contemporary Science Fiction literature you might be pleasantly surprised. For me Science Fiction has always been more a literary thing, simply because I was reading books before I watched any SF on TV. I was in my early teens when I slipped into Science Fiction. The early 1970s. The Americans were still in the middle of sending men to the Moon via Apollo. In Germany, where I grew up, at that time SF was only very reluctantly coming to TV. The original Star Trek series, the british UFO series, the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”. My first exposure to SFdom. I didn’t see any SF movies at that time that were based on Science Fiction books. While reading Science Fiction you always had to imagine the alien landscapes, the space ships, the aliens. The first movie I watched based on a Science Fiction story or book was “Perry Rhodan”. I only dimly remember that even back then I was utterly disappointed because the movie did not show at all how I had imagined the characters, the spaceships, etc. Of course most people will not count Perry Rhodan as literature (although the writing gets better later in the series.) To this day SF movies made based on Science Fiction stories often don’t work for me. Notable exception is Kubrick’s “2001”.

On the other hand of course there are so many Science Fiction stories I read I wish they made a movie of. If only because the story is written in such way that you can really see the ’movie’ play while you read the book. For me, one such book is “Consider Phlebas” which I had picked up because of the cover art (here’s a picture of the edition I read.) This was my first exposure to Iain M. Banks’ Culture universe.

There are so many giant and cool gadgets in this book that my inner movie screen became hyper-active. Space ships, 30km long. An extended train chase underground. And then the Orbitals! This is a place I wouldn’t mind moving to. You can read all the details at the Culture link earlier but the rationale to custom build a structure to live in space rather than terra-forming a planet makes sense to me – even when it is ever so out of our technological reach. Orbitals are big wheels, about 3 million km in diameter, put together from 1,000km square plates. Think Niven’s Ringworld, except there is not a sun at the center.

Anyway, recently I started building a scale model of an Orbital in Cinema 4d. It’s in the beginning stages because the size is staggering. This little video shows a first crude camera swing. Except for the first plate and its neighbor there are no details filled in. The yellow squares are the plates. Each 1,000km square. There are 4,500 of them in the model. As the camera follows the narrowing band of the Orbital it will zoom in on a small blue-green sphere. That’s an Earth sized planet, in the center of the Orbital.

The dimensions of this thing are staggering and Cinema 4d gets really hard to navigate once you deal with such large structures.

Watch version 2 of the animation (with music from my tune “Pink Floyd”).

There is more of my music here, just in case

And the pizza spoke to me

Written by peterkienle on May 6, 2010

My kids like their pizza with cheese – nothing else. I, on the other hand, love veggies and last Sunday at the dinner table I randomly threw some garlic and a handful of broccoli sprouts on my slice. I was just about to take a bite when this face was staring at me!

“The Virgin Mary!”, I cried out to my two daughters’ despair, even though I am not religious and have no clue what she looks like. But I seemed to remember that images of the Virgin Mary like to appear on US food items. “Looks more like Jesus to me”, said my oldest although she claims to be non-religious and has no clue what Jesus looks like. Jasmin, my youngest, said it looked like one of her friends from school. I don’t know. After a second look it appeared more like an Al Capone with hair. The pockmarked face and all. Well, I’ll put it up on eBay and see how much it’s worth. People sell cheese sandwiches with much less expressive facial features……..

Copyright © by Peter Kienle