Saturday, October 31, 2015

When You Sigh My Mind Inside Just Flies

If you're new in town, Unorganized Hancock are my children. One is 20, the other 12. The 12-year-old is currently being homeschooled by my wife. He is interested in computer programming. He has memorized the scripting language for an ancient FPS game called Doom that used to run in MS-DOS, booted from a floppy. If the game sounds stupid to you, you're not paying attention. It was an amazing piece of programming for the time, and the method the authors used to project 3-dimensional space as you pass through it, using only a few lines of code, is as elegant and clever as Brunelleschi's version for drawing on paper. I have no idea why he leaned to do that. He just found it interesting.

He gets bored. Playing the drums is just something he does. He's not all that interested in it. I have maintained publicly that he is the best drummer in the world at his age range for over three years now, but have been mostly misunderstood. People see professionally produced videos of youngsters playing drum solos with no songs attached, or playing along with moronic metal songs from mom's boyfriend's Metallica library, but those children are not musicians. They are performing data entry. They hit the drums at a designated time in a designated order. They are not making music with anyone, whether or not the source material is even music at all. When my little boy was nine, he was playing with another person (his brother) for three, one-hour sets, for money, in front of hundreds of people. That's a musician. He has been the best 9,10,11, and now 12-year-old drummer in the world because he's been the only one.

As I said, he gets bored. We're poor and live in an isolated place. He has to amuse himself a lot. He asked his brother to find some free software he could use to make animations. He has been drawing animations in MS Paint, because it came with his computer, but it's so laborious as to defy description. His brother found a free version of Flash, which is very primitive, but it does allow you to actually animate things. Big brother loaded it on his computer, and he suggested he make an animation to go along with a version of the Beatles It's Only Love. The boys had recorded it some months ago and didn't know what to do with it. The recording sounds orchestral, but it's just singing, an acoustic guitar, and a bass. Those boys can twiddle some knobs, though, can't they?

No one showed the little guy how to use the software. Homeschooling teaches people that learning is an approach, not a curriculum to be memorized. He just found what he needed on YouTube and then got underway. He worked entirely by himself with no input from any of us. He laid out the sort of little visual story he wanted, drew all the cells with his computer mouse, and aligned the music to the visuals. It only took him a few days to get it all done. When I first saw it, I asked him how he was able to get the mouth shapes to align perfectly with the words being sung. He said he looked up some form of encyclopedia that showed pictures of mouths as they form phonetic sounds, and memorized it.

I asked him how it was possible for him to do all this. He said, "Well, I've had the program for almost a week now."


[Update: Many thanks go out to Saul J. from Warwickshire, UK, for his generous contribution to the boys' equipment fund via the PayPal button. It is very much appreciated]
[Up-Update: Many thanks to our friend Chasmatic from the Land of Enchantment for his continuing generosity via our PayPal button. It is very much appreciated]

Sunday, October 25, 2015

More Unorganized Hancock at the 2015 Fryeburg Fair

Here's Unorganized Hancock performing Blister in the Sun by the Violent Femmes at the 2015 Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg Maine. It's the largest agricultural fair in Maine, and it's also the last major fair of the season.

The kids were lucky. It turned out fairly warm that day, around 60, and the sun came out about five minutes before they began.

Man, that Titleist V8 amplifier sure puts out a rockin' tone. 

Friday, October 16, 2015


Reader and commenter Larry Geiger made a little checklist of things he noticed about the video of Unorganized Hancock performing at the Fryeburg Fair last Sunday. Larry is a good notice-er, so I'll use his list to save me trouble:
1. Like an episode of MASH. Did Radar lose his Teddy Bear?
2. Some craftwork go into the new amp box/stand? Nice look.
3. Did the boys have fun with cutting tools, PVC cement, etc making the new banner? Nice!!
4. Sound was very good. Best sound yet for one of your live concerts! I like it.
That's pretty comprehensive, actually. Mr. (or Ms.) Anon also wondered where we got a six-foot tall, one-quarter-inch thick bass player. That's Laverne. She had her first gig with the boys in August. She's quiet and doesn't eat much, and she's willing to travel to the show by lying on top of the equipment in the back of the van. I was a bass player in my youth, and my band used to treat me the same way.

Anyway, back to Larry's loverly list. It illustrates that the kids are making progress of a sort. Larry noticed that progress in particular. Other people just instinctively reacted to it. The kids are... different-looking than before.

Notice I didn't say they were different. Only their veneer is truly different. I can assure you that they were just as good a year ago as they are now. Their ability didn't cut any mustard with anyone. Their talent still required the audience to do mental arithmetic, and audiences, both live and on the Intertunnel, are incapable or unwilling to do mental arithmetic.

When Unorganized Hancock made videos as best they could in the circumstances they found themselves in, people discounted their efforts because the finished product wasn't shiny. The days of people making allowances for poor production values on the Internet are over. Don't get me wrong, viral videos are all made with the phone held the wrong way while the videographer is shaking like a nursing home inmate, but my kids will never have a viral video because they don't suck. If they sucked, sucked, sucked, if they fell over halfway through the song, if they started fighting with the audience, if the little guy fell off his drum throne and started crying, they'd be a sensation. They don't mess up, and they don't have the budget to have videos that look shiny, so the general public pretty much ignores them.

This is the way of the world, and we must live in it. When I mentioned that the kids finally are presenting themselves in at least a low budget version of the image they want, that's what I'm talking about. Fake it until you make it. They don't have the resources to appear shiny, so they must come up with the DIY version. That's what you see in the picture.

Like an episode of MASH. Did Radar lose his Teddy Bear?

Larry is referring to the drum set. The boys used the money they won in the hockey anthem contest to purchase a new set of drums. Until now, my spare heir has been playing my old set of drums. We loaded the bass drum with stuffed animals. Everyone assumed that it was simply because it was cute. It was cute, but it was also self-defense. Those drums are way, way too loud. Everything everywhere is always too loud. Every kid goes to the music store looking for too loud with mom's credit card. Drums are designed to compete with heavily amplified guitars, which is beyond stupid, as electric guitars were invented to compete with the volume of the drums in the first place. L'il Garrett was forced to practice with a set of my woodworking headphones on his head, using wooden brushes instead of sticks, even though his drums were entirely filled with plush toys. The drums were so big that he was hidden behind them, too. No one could see him playing, which is a shame, because he's kind of wonderful.

When the kids played at the hockey tournament, the rink hired a sound man who put an octopus of microphones on the drums and amplified it anyway. The volume level was almost lethal in front of the stage. No one would come within 50 feet of the bands, and children put their fingers in their ears. I told the kids that if they won we could make a jungle drum set, or buy one, and get the volume under control. That's what you see. The drums we purchased are less expensive than what they replaced, but they are fundamentally better. They also fit the color scheme. Everything must look like a fifties cartoon. Black, white, chrome, with a dash of yellow or red.

Some craftwork go into the new amp box/stand? Nice look.

That's the Titleist V8 amplifier. The heir and I designed and made it. It's a fifties coffee table we found at the dump, adorned with the leftover scraps from Laverne and a piece of amplifier grill cloth left over from a bass cabinet I made in the 80s. The V8 sign is from the auto parts store. Chevy, I think. The knobs are golf balls. Miles' actual amp just sits inside it.

Did the boys have fun with cutting tools, PVC cement, etc making the new banner? Nice!!

Miles designed the new logo to fit in with their Intergalactabilly style, and we made the backdrop together. A band needs something behind it. We can't afford a real backdrop, so we went to the lumber yard and bought four pieces of plumbing pipe and some fittings. The backdrop itself is a piece of Typar housewrap left over from a house I built in the early 90s. The back of it is pure white, and we painted on it. We laid out the design using Michelangelo's pounce bag technique for enlarging things, and I showed him how to paint it with artist's colors and house paint left over from some job I did twenty years ago.

Sound was very good. Best sound yet for one of your live concerts! I like it.

This is pure self-defense. I told the kids that they should never play anywhere they don't have control over their sound anymore. The kids own a PA system. They bought it two years ago with the money my generous readers gave via the PayPal tip jar. My readers did the mental arithmetic I mentioned earlier, and supported my boys, and we're very grateful.

We hid the mixer and amplifier behind the backdrop. There is always too much equipment on display on a regular band's stage. Ideally, there shouldn't be any. There are six microphones on the stage, but they're all unobtrusively placed. We also had a tiny MP3 device that played music we selected for effect during their breaks.

Their image, which they describe as "The Ed Sullivan Show on Saturn," was finally coherent. The reason Larry noticed the sound is because we had control over it. We didn't use the ambient microphone feed in the camera anymore. The six microphones were mixed properly before going out through the PA speakers at a very controlled volume, and two feeds were recorded on a small digital recorder. One was everything, and the other just the voices. We threw away the second track; it wasn't necessary.

So, did it all work? Did they improve their presentation? Make an impression? Maybe. Larry Geiger noticed.

Miles (the guitar player) went into a coffee shop yesterday with his sweetheart. It's located 50 miles from Fryeburg, and 35 miles from where we live. Out of nowhere, the person behind the counter said, "Loved your show at the fair." Then someone in the seating area yelled, "HANCOCK!"

[Update: Many thanks to Russell D. from Bethesda, MD for his generous contribution to the boys' efforts via our PayPal button. It is very much appreciated]
[Further Update: Many thanks to Patrick Y. from New York City for his generous support of our children via the PayPal button. We are very grateful]
[Continuing Update: Many thanks to Kathleen M. of New Milford, CT for her constant support of our boys via the PayPal button. She's a peach]

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Unorganized Portion of the 2015 Fryeburg Fair

If you're new around here, those are my two sons. They call themselves Unorganized Hancock. One is twenty, and the other is twelve. What you see here is their vision of themselves, not perfected, but somewhat realized.

This video is part of a 3-hour stint at the 2015 Fryeburg Fair. It's the third year in a row they've played there. In Maine, agricultural fairs are considered plum jobs for working musicians. There are nighttime shows with sort-of name acts, and dozens of daily performances here and there around the fairgrounds from all kinds of entertainers. There was a wandering bagpiper standing near us while we set up the equipment, and he was louder than a rock band. There are folkie-strummy bands, novelty acts, blues bands, and above all, country bands.

People from away figure Maine is like an LL Bean catalog, but only about ten zip codes look like that. Maine is like a frostbacked Alabama in every other burg and township. Mainers bomb around on motorcycles, wear cowboy hats and feed caps, and everybody listens to some version of country music. The bands and audiences make a million distinctions between the types of country bands, distinctions that are entirely lost on me. The bro-country crowd won't settle for truck-driving' country. Countrypolitan bands can't play at nu-grass shows.

Our kids can get a flutter with the devotees of the Lubbock sound when they blast through Oh Boy!, but then the train leaves the station. They're the Ed Sullivan Show on Saturn, and so must blaze their own trail out here in western Maine.

The audience liked them a lot. They just couldn't figure out why.