Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Summit Pondering Project

I just recently found a minute to read back my last two entries on here.

Firstly, I would like to reassure any friends whom I spent time with this year that I was not speaking poorly of you, or complaining about hanging out with you. I was only complaining about my own imperfect ability to prioritize and be firm. I never meant to be ambiguous about that, if it seemed so. And I'm not being too hard on myself either. I suppose I have enough friends out there that some of you will simply bleed through the cracks at the most inopportune times. (Wow... that sounded weird... but I like it.)

Secondly, I just want
to state, for the "overall" record, that I'm fine and having a
good time. :) What I really mean is, I've seen destitution in corners of the world that are far too dark for me to ever forget that I'm thriving and toiling in paradise. When you've seen a lot of the world outside of US borders, the words "God Bless America" take on a new meaning, one with far more substance than blind, fundamentalist, American patriots will ever have. I am happy just by being a member of this society. Anything I do here is worlds easier to accomplish than in most other countries. Sorry if anyone disagrees. That view is based on my experience. Handle it. ;)

(But that should be the extent of my own patriotism for the year.)

That said/established, I'd also like to reserve the right to address "the challenges of paradise." Sure, I'm thriving and toiling here, but sometimes I would like to talk about the toiling part. It helps me to figure things out, "things" being the rather large details of my goals. In short: if I seem like I'm complaining a lot on this blog, I am. ;) But that doesn't mean I'm not generally happy in life also. I am.

Something else in regards to reading back my other entries on here: yeah sure, they are cute, but I still have the other eye open. Namely, I know I'm a great writer, but you would never be able to tell by reading this blog. When it comes to any craft that is compositional, aside from a very personal and specific form of jazz that I participate in, I simply cannot work fast.

Writing is my third (maybe fourth) talent, so I'm not so quick at it that I can scribble a bunch of crap about my travels and within days have it published as the most profound travel log of all time like the Kerouacs of the world do (save how I might be able to do even better than some of them if I did have the time). But it takes me a while to create something brilliant, no matter how small or short the work is.

The main reason I'm bringing this up is to briefly express how I would love enough time to craft these entries into bouts of acute and profound literature, but at this point that may happen very rarely, at least on this project. From now on, I must try to keep these entries either short, and/or unedited, and/or long with combined time zones (like this one) if I am to spend most of my efforts trying to make the project(s) at hand succeed. The fluidity and lyricism of my text on here will sway according to how much time I have allotted to each entry. As a gage, you will be able to tell how busy I am at any given moment according to that.

For this entry I will try to, again, keep things chronological. And as usual, it will be filled with a peculiar mix of joy and failure. An important note about the failure: I picked the worst possible
Summer for The Summit Music Project, considering that this year has been breaking records for precipitation around the country.

How Robert is truly Rich:
My/our stay with Robert Rich was as nourishing as always.
Lisa met him for the first time and, just as anyone I've ever introduced him to, she loved him. It's rare of me to give irrational amounts of praise to one of my mentors, whether they are a friend or other, but at this point Robert is a bit overdue from me. As little as I've seen him through the years, he has remained a dear friend, extending gestures of friendship that would be rare even for certain members of my family.
Aside from the musical and professional assistance he's been known to offer me, in a variety of ways, he was even one of my shoulders to cry on during a massively difficult breakup I went through 10 years ago.
The odd thing is, he never really shows much indication that he actually remembers any of that. He only seems to remember that he is my friend.

But Robert is one of the more interesting people I know, possessing a constant flow of serenity, clarity, sociability, grace, constitution, insight, confidence, talent, worldly knowledge and certain forms of deep understanding that all manifest into his daily actions and gestures. Such is the music and living environment that he summons. For this reason, I never really mind much when it becomes mostly about him while in his presence. That's okay for me. There is something delicate, articulate and different about his passion. It's educational in a way that suggests something greater than the knowledge being emitted. For years now, I have even likened my visits with him to something the equivalent of a short-term visit to Eastern-religion Monasteries. It does something for my sense of "how well a person can live and drift in constant, quiet reverence of 'the mystery'." His is one of a few types of living environments that I've often gravitated to in my own life, so I consider friends like Robert replenishing to that specific practice.

When I think about how long I've known Robert personally, I think of how he may have influenced me in positive ways that I can't quite manage to take inventory of yet. Where most celebrity musicians I've known and/or worked with take on a general public attitude of "What do you want from me?" or "What can you do for me?" Robert takes on the attitude of "What can I do for you?" Perhaps this sentiment is engendered by echoes of his preference to Sufism over other dogmatic schools of thought and feeling, but I tend to think it's more of a human-nature call than that.

And I feel very lucky to have known Robert as a friend, while at the same time, it is a positive indication that my artistry is not too alien for this world, considering how many years he seems to have respected it. Regardless of his giving nature, Robert still holds standards about people deep down, just like the best of us. If he respects you highly, as a colleague or other, you will know him. I try to prioritize my life with those same standards, but perhaps I'm just not quite as good at it. ;)

Aside from his qualities as a person, Robert's qualities and standards for refinement as an artist need no introduction--which is an important part of what I'm leading up to. He is one of the key figures in the development of the entire "ambient music movement," and yet sometimes it becomes easy to forget that I was a fan long before I was a friend.

Don't get me wrong, I have my criticisms about Robert, too (as few as they are), him being a member of the human race and all, but I only mention that to give you a sense of my grasp on reality while praising him. And besides, perhaps I will save that kind of contrasting flesh for a biography of some sort someday? ;) Not sure if I will ever end up the most qualified for that job, or the most available, but it's a nice thought. Honestly, I guess I could go on and on about Robert, which I'm obviously starting to do right now. With that in mind, perhaps I will actually write something lengthy about him at a later time, but for now I will stick to the main topic of this blog.

We spent a total of two nights at Robert's house, which was pushing our schedule to meet the team at Mt. Rainier, but was something I saw as a powerful priority. I hadn't seen Robert in years, we had never collaborated before, and now I had plans to incorporate him into my project. More on that in a minute...

Among other worldly pursuits, Robert is also a fine-food and libation connoisseur, thus, to stay with him is to be somewhat engulfed in that love. He also makes his own award winning wines, rendering visits to the cellar, and constant
tasting, an irresistible pattern at the Rich household. It turned out that this brief lifestyle shift
actually did seem to take a small toll on our game, and our fitness for Rainier.

We spent our one full day with Robert catching up, and recording him playing his gliss guitar. The plan: later, when I get to the top of Mt. Hood with my laptop, I will import his gliss guitar track into Logic Pro and then proceed to build an entire song around it using the many synthesizers that come with that same program. It's basically our first time collaborating, and I guess we're using Logic Pro to do it.

The next morning we left Robert's home, in the Silicon Valley area, and made a straight shot for Portland within a day's time. I set up my speakers on the dash and during the entire drive I practiced my A Cambient music delivery (A Cambient is a form of ambient music performed a-cappella with a single voice) using Ableton and a mic while Lisa drove; that way I would be musically prepared for the top of Mt. Rainier. It was kind of humorous, like giving Lisa a live concert while she drove through the state of Oregon. And the practice didn't sound too horrible (I recorded it) but I was still fairly unprepared by the time we arrived. The drive went in a flash.

We arrived that night at my friend Nigel's house. In the small-yet-beautiful, countryside town of Mosier, off the Columbia River Gorge, Nigel lives with his wife Ruth and two boys, Liam and Rory. Their house is gorgeous, and they, too, have an Earthly appetite for the good things in life. Lisa took to them instantly,
but our first night here was spent only to pick up some equipment
we had shipped, talk to Nigel about the climbing ropes,
and situate our gear for the Rainier attempt. The next morning, we headed out for Mt. Rainier, already a day late for the climb and now hours late for the designated training day.

To be honest, I'm not sure how much detail I'm ready to
share about our Rainier attempt, because it happened to end up
one of the most humiliating experiences of my life, and I've had a lot of those. I will probably write about it with more
detail later, but lately I've been thinking about the possible consequences I might pay for continuing to be so honest on this blog, and therefor constantly make myself look bad. ;)
Until I get some real victories under my belt, I'm going to need all of the help and support I can get from you all, so going into
detail about my mistakes and failures seems counter to that idea after a while.

But I will describe this much:
A storm rolled in and covered the entire Mt. Rainier during the last day that our team had available to climb it. No team made it to the top that day, so it was obviously mostly the mountain's fault. ;) We didn't have a chance. But aside from that, we probably would not have made it to the top anyway, due to a few prep miscalculations I made. Our team was made up of three other members: James, Art and Emma. They were in their early 20s and were some of the nicest and most mature people I've ever interacted with. Unlike me, they were totally ready for the mountain, and of course this makes me feel horrible.
I made my apology clear to them, but that's never enough when
you've inconvenienced someone to that extent. Regardless, somehow the three of them were extremely big about the whole thing. There was very little anger from them and they were extremely helpful to Lisa and I while on the mountain. I would have really liked to be their friend off the mountain, but after what happened, that just doesn't seem practical.

But before I make this sound like I'm getting too down on myself for not being prepared enough again, let me continue with a few more facts. Mt. Rainier is the most massive mountain in the lower forty eight states; so serious a climb is it considered that some people make it their last training stop before the Himalayas. I attempted it last Summer with a guided team, but was stopped at Camp Muir due to altitude sickness and exhaustion. On top of my preparation mistakes, this year is reported to have record precipitation all over the continent. It was actually snowing on Rainier when we were there last week. This is very rare weather for Summertime, even here in the Pacific Northwest. I really have chosen the worst possible Summer to be here attempting these summits. Perhaps I sensed this, deep down, when I let myself get distracted over the last few months, but no matter. It is what it is.

Our day was a beautiful climb, complete with cloudbursts everywhere, and majestic moments, and group glissades downhill that were fun-as-hell! ;) Points given.

Also, as usual, somehow I have absolutely no intention of giving Rainier up. I'll get there.

Thus... meanwhile, back at the ranch: after Lisa and I returned from Rainier, we had a few good days to spend with Nigel and his family. They are another great household, but in a different way, personifying everything harmonious and highly functional in the best of American family life. Nigel is a doctor in a Portland emergency ward, and Ruth is a glass-and-tile mosiac artist. I met Nigel a year ago, through another close friend of mine, Fred B. Jones. I met Fred at a hostile/hotel in London, 2003. Since then, he has become a good friend and, possibly even more important to me, has been an extremely appreciative fan.
Because Fred recently went from world traveller to family man, he couldn't join me for any stretch of this project last year, so he told Nigel about me instead. Nigel immediately expressed interest in The Summit Music Project, and since then has become an extremely helpful friend. Nigel has an extremely generous nature, and living off the Columbia Gorge for so many years, has become somewhat of an authority on recreational sports in the region. Plus Nigel is situated smack dab in the middle of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Both he and his family came along at just the right moment.

Oddly enough, this year Fred and his family came to visit Nigel the same week Lisa and I were here, so we all hung out for a little while. :) It was a trip (pun intended) seeing everyone together. I had quite a few profound moments inside myself, deeply in my consciousness, while spending time with everyone here. And of course, I think they really liked Lisa.

Fred and his family left the other day and earlier in the week I dropped Lisa off at the Portland bus station to grab a bus back to LA in time for work. After that, I stayed in Portland a little while longer to train in the Skyline hills west of downtown (love that town) and look for equipment. Also, driving back and forth between Portland and Hood River and Mosier, because of hard drive buying issues, has not helped either.

But yes, basically, I am alone on this trip/endeavor again. Aside
from the fact that I miss Lisa, I can't help but assume that it may actually help me to focus better without her around. Make no mistake, Lisa has been so helpful to me that there would literally be no project without her, but now that
she's done such good for the project, the ball is basically in my
court. This task will require a strange kind of focus in order to do it successfully and safely.

And I've been training again, but staying in Mosier or any town in-and-around Portland is even more libation-tempting than Robert's house. This part of the state is practically the beer and wine capitol of the country, so that seems to bleed through the cracks, too. ;) But just a little. And my God the reds and IPAs are amazing here! If you've never been here, you should come by and see what mean. Wrong place to come to if you're on a strict diet.

But the real training will be the mountains themselves, and suddenly after days of overcast we seem to have another open weather window. It's actually kind of like a heat wave all of the sudden. Although I'm not fully prepared creatively, I'll have to just wing it and make my Mt. Adams attempt soon. Shouldn't be too bad ("he says"). I'm hoping to leave late tomorrow, but we'll see. If I have to depart early the next morning, then so be it. I have a plan that may help a lot if the storms roll back in again. (More on that below.)

I've had constant issues with the hard drives I'm buying to back up my previous files, which entails driving back and forth between towns for refunds. On top of that, I'm still doing work (although very little now) to launch my label before the Summer is over, and I'm scraping the very bottom of my project budget. The nice house I'm staying in helps, but I need to make this all work with my last few hundred dollars before the next small ASCAP check in mid August. ??? But I'll figure something out.

Nigel and his family just left for Canada today, leaving me alone here in both houses. Before that starts sounding weird and lonely, first off, it's nice to be able to yell things here that I wouldn't yell in front of anyone else, ;) and it's also helping me to focus on my practice for the mountain. I plan on performing 5 songs on each summit: two a-cambient improvisations, one pre-composed a-cambient piece, one a-cambient cover tune, and one improvised electronic synth piece. That should do it. ;) I've gone through lots of different configurations for the track list at the top, but I think that is it. And yes, I must practice them while still on the ground, and still in a quiet environment. The last thing I need at the top is to sound bad, or have to suddenly tweak things more. God knows what the weather will be like up there and/or how much time I will have.

A friend of mine back in LA didn't seem to understand this when I was explaining it to him. He wanted to think of me as simply arriving, whipping out my axe after not having prepared at all, and then letting 'er rip out of nowhere. In the type of environment that exists up there, I can pretty much guarantee that if I was lucky enough to get my software working, I would then sound absolutely horrible. I'm not going through all of this craziness for that. And besides, all I'm doing ahead of time, aside from the composed stuff, is setting up the audio. Outside of that, the music will be totally wing-it-style and in the moment, with the addition that it will actually sound good. My friend will probably get the picture after he sees the footage, or hears more perilous stories yet to come. This is kind of dangerous stuff, baby.

Also, if all goes according to planned (;) I may not be here at the house much myself either. My plan now, for Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, is to live at the base camp elevations (Lunch Counter for Adams, Hogsback for Hood) until I get to the top of each. The trick is to get to each summit without a storm obstructing it, so it may require this exact waiting tactic. I must try to force my way up there now, and this is the only way I can think to do that. I will probably hike back into town for supplies on days that are too stormy for attempts, and then back to camp before each night. It's Summer, so I shouldn't have to worry about massive Arctic swirls coming in.

And even though that elevation is a little bit exposed, and winds are really thrashing around outside right now, luckily, all of the traveling and climbing I've been doing over the last two years has made me a lot more resistant to the cold, so it may not be too bad living at that elevation. We'll see.

But yeah, after everything that's happened, I get the feeling I will have to do some drastic things in order to break my chain of failures and all of the mental hand-holding that's been going on. Something needs to happen, and the last time I looked, it wasn't anyone else's job.

Nigel told me he would be happy if I even just climbed an ant hill for now. Maybe I'll try that if I don't make Adams. ;) Anything will do I guess.

See you at the top.

P.S. No black berries are growing here yet but the cherries are totally exploding and awesome. I'm almost sick of them. Almost.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On Our Way

Caught up and did some beautiful work with Robert Rich in regards to this project. He recorded himself playing gliss guitar for me to, at a later time, bring to the summit of Mt. Hood and create a piece with up there. Looking forward to that.

Meantime, a bucket of nerves and stress mixed with a hint of depression makes a juicy coctaile--ours. We are out the door right this very second to meet our team at the Paradise Trail Head, at the base of Mt. Rainier. At this point, with my lack of experience, and the fact that I'm the team leader, it is likely we will not make the summit, or even close. But we are ready to try--and we will.

See you at the bottom! (Whether or not we ever leave there!)


Sunday, July 10, 2011

Leaving Again for SMP: "A Year Has Passed Since I Wrote My Note"


Hello everyone,

It is now July 8th, 2011, and I am already/suddenly scheduled to depart again for Washington today (July 10th), in another attempt to summit the Cascades. Before I deem that the only moral to this story though, I would like to express my regret in not keeping this blog updated throughout the past year. You see, I've had many ups-and-downs, and as goes the nature of anything extravagant that one may find themselves trying to accomplish in life, there have been far more downs. Still, we all know how in fashion that is for me, considering how Murphy's Law seems to come extra crispy for Dean's life pursuits. So, I decided to plow forward as much as possible rather than sit and dwell, publicly, for long periods of time. In hindsight, perhaps that wasn't the best idea either, considering how many negative aspects I'm left to recall now in one shot. ;)

Now that the trip has arrived, it will be crucial that I keep each one of these blog entries short if I am going to succeed with the project--but this entry will be excluded from that rule. I have a lot of catching up to do here. Also, the only way to really update you (this blog) on what has happened up to now is to basically vent a lot of frustration, due to the negative nature of my present circumstance, but I don't want any readers to take this the wrong way. I'm not writing about all of this because I'm being apocalyptic, I'm just updated you on what is happening, internally and externally, in the most honest way that I can. And again, I'm not keeping this journal to entertain, nearly as much as I'm keeping it as a record. This is a project, not a pretty travel log. ;)

But if you really can't stand my negative musings, just skip past it to the bottom where I briefly touch on the positive aspects of my coming voyage.

So basically, the last time I was getting ready to write an entry on here, I had just finished living a mini lifetime, staying with a Navajo family for six weeks during the Best Of Both Worlds Project in October-November, 2010. So much happened during that six week period that I'm sure I subconsciously sabotaged myself from writing about it because of how ominous and/or difficult a task it might be to express successfully. A lot happened, and it was quite miraculous actually--but that's definitely not the full story.

I WILL write about it with more detail and give it it's own entry as soon as I'm done with my Summer objectives in the immediate. In a nutshell, regarding the Navajo project: Don (the native flute player) and I went through hell and heaven during my visit, trying to successfully complete our project together. We went through serious danger and hardship, and through it all we managed to succeed--only to have all of our efforts destroyed at the end of my stay when someone broke into my car and happened to steel the one bag that held all of our footage.

We were all devastated. Practically a whole community of us. But as that very community is learning about me, these types of events are never an invitation for me to give up. I'm a stubborn bastard for good ideas. That may even be my undoing someday.

So, as it stands, I will be going back next Spring to do it all again with them, this time for a far more compressed period, considering that it will be a part of my bigger continued adventure, Travels Rendered. TR was another thing I had to put off this year, because it would have gotten in the way of my prep for the Cascades this Summer. So I will now be driving all over the Southwest one more time next year for TR, making music in both strange and familiar places, thus it's important that I try to finish the Washington cascades this Summer to make room.


Thus, I've been prepping for this stupendous task, The Summit Music Project 2011, where I will attempt to summit Mt. Hood, Rainier, Shasta, Adams, and St. Helens and make live ambient music at the top. The only problem is, my worst character flaws have gotten in the way of this, again, and as a result I am not NEARLY as prepared as I should be. I just can't seem to outrun my knack for distraction. Not only is this scary, but I'm starting to experience the same self-loathing I began feeling last year after realizing that I hadn't put enough effort into my prep for those summit attempts. I mean, this is getting ridiculous; I've had a whole year to prepare, and I'm looking at myself right now and shaking my head. I am physically ready, but there is still tons of creative and organizational work to be done, and now with only days left to do it. Impossible. I simply can't do within a couple of days what would usually take at least a couple of months to do. I simply can't.

Still, I don't want to get too down on myself about it, considering how many factors occurred over the last year that were out of my control. After the theft of my drives last Fall, I returned to LA only to experience a hard drive crash with my backup drive here at home. Having now completely lost two years of work (and adventure), I took measures to recover that data, which required time and money. Then, when the new year rolled around, I hooked up with friends and colleagues whom I would usually work with, not realizing that taking even one of the remaining 5 months I had was going to be detrimental. I even spent a considerable amount of time setting up a music tour for Vic Hennegan and I, which I thought would take much less time than it did.

Plus, the long-awaited relaunch of my record label, Fateless Music was more eminent than ever before after acquiring two new artists who were friends of mine that I respect artistically.

Next on the list was some added pressure of a long personal/family-drama issue I was having.  That didn't help with time much either.

And to cap it all off, my laptop hard drive finally died a few months ago, completely (which I had been previously unaware was a common and acceptable occurrence in the world), and with it, some of the music I was working on and all of the software I was dependent on for music and video production. Some of that crucial software I had bought, but the rest was mostly stuff that I got from friends, legally, with the exception of a few cracks.

It was disaster, and to make matters worse, Macintosh took four times longer than they were supposed to because every time I got the laptop back from them something else would be wrong with it that wasn't wrong before. Six some-odd weeks later the WHOLE laptop was fixed, but now I had to deal with replacing the software. That took easily another month to do because of the red tape of having to re-apply for the serial numbers to my previously owned programs, and having to transfer ownership of my newly-bought-used programs. Now I'm finally set up again with Logic, Reactor, Ableton, Modul8 and SnapzProX, but just in time to leave. NOT good. I've had hardly ANY time to set this stuff up for the trip, and now here I go.

It really ticks me because here I am, a single individual who's expected to be punctual about all things important to him, and because a few huge, reputable, corporate entities whom I depend on can't be punctual with me, I'm being screwed up and made to look bad in the process. And the worst part about that is how I seem to look even worse just talking about this... because, who the Hell am I to talk like this about huge corporate icons that we all worship and rely on?

Regardless of said external frustration, I still can't deny that the biggest obstacle I've failed to overcome here, is me; this has been for the age-old reason that I just can't seem to cure myself of the disease of having an inability to prioritize.
I mean sure, hanging out with people who don't really care about these projects doesn't help, and neither does all the corporate indifference I experienced, but the bottom line is that I let myself get distracted--again. It's like a nightmare I can't wake up from. And these mountains are way too hardcore and unsafe for me to be risking my life just to do something ill-prepared at the top. That's just absolutely friggin' preposterous! But if I fail again this year, I will have to try again next year and go through the whole thing again. At this rate, I won't be able to have my life back until years from now. The thought really s-cks! I will be uprooted, in transit, and practically transient, way past my genuine inspiration for the whole thing. Yay! ;) But whatever... that's cool...

And that said... THE POSITIVES:

All doom and gloom aside, I'm still looking forward to a Pacific-Northwest Summer spent with friends and mountains and forested places and new faces and musical expressions of it all. It will be filled with color, and both new feelings and old memories will be summoned in the process. So Hallelujah on that!

My first stop will be to visit a good friend and known musician, Robert Rich.  Lisa and I will stay with him one night and then off we go to the PNW.  I've actually even figured out a way to incorporate Robert into the project as a music collaborator.  It should prove interesting, if it works.

Lisa and I will do Mt. Rainier first, in less then a week. I've assembled a team of 5 for this, and Lisa will be one of the members. That does worry me a little. We'll be roped up and everything, because of how hardcore a mountain this is. It's the biggest, most dangerous and most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states. But considering how compressed all the prep got got, we ran out of too much time to be able to do any other mountains first. We now have one day to train before our Rainier summit attempt starts on the 15th. Ouch. We will take 3 days to summit, and I have an acclimation tactic that should guarantee us a successful attempt, if nothing else gets in the way. The bottom line is, if I sense any unusual danger, which is apparently typical on Rainier, I will turn us back.

But if we make it to the top, and I create music successfully up there, this will be a REALLY BIG DEAL. It will be a true lifetime triumph, the likes of which few have ever experienced, even those who summit often. We are attempting the biggest achievement first, so wish us luck!!!

I'll let you know as soon as we are back at base level, which should be on-or-around July 19th.

Until then! Thanks everyone!

All the best,

P.S. Oh, and I forgot to mention: a few days ago I did my last training by climbing Mt. Baldy again and trying to make some beta-testing music at the top.  The mountain was beautifully awesome, but the music I made came out horribly, just like the first time I was there.  This shows me how much time I still have to make for sound tweaking and set-up prior to arriving at Rainier in 5 days.  Not only that, but while I was there I decided to make my training more rigorous by following an aesthetically pleasing stream most of the way up to the summit; as a result, I twisted my ankle, badly, and then on the way back down I twisted it two more times.  It is now something short of sprained, and I hope it will heel considerably in 5 days.  I'll keep the hot and cold presses coming.