Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Now Is The Winter

Now is the Winter of my discontent, but as always, I'm content to keep trying. There are even some smaller triumphs to mention.

Roughly a week ago, I left from LA, CA to redeem my lost Winter-music itinerary by driving up rout 395 all the way to Reno, NV, to visit my mother and step father for the holidays. My plan was to take a few days drive, hitting all of the classic scenic spots along the way that define the mountainous 395 scenic experience, and I would create live ambient music at each location that I stop at. The rustic alpine nature of these settings is perfect for winter holidays, so the music always promises to reflect that. Last year I couldn't follow through with this plan because of a driving restriction, so I was prime to finally follow through now.

The drive itinerary:

1 - Mammoth Lakes
2 - Mono Lake
3 - Bodie Ghost Town
4 - Bridgeport farmlands and meadows
5 - Swauger Creek
6 - (possibly) Topaz Lake
(I've already done the Alabama Hills and Owens Lake Bed)

After arriving in Reno, the plan was to then spend another week visiting and recording ambient music at locations around it. Places like:

1 - Emerald Bay, Tahoe
2 - Lake Tahoe northeast overlook
3 - Donner Pass and/or Lake
4 - Portola
5 - Pyramid Lake
6 - (possibly) Walker Lake

So, I first left a day late because I was trying to finish something up for my band, The Stratos Ensemble. This band is important to me, being comprised of top notch industry professionals and even legends who believe in the band and my vision enough to play for free, so I make them a priority. 

Back to my late departure: I spent the night of Dec 22nd at Red Rock State Park, an extremely colorful and sculpted canyon along the 395 that appears during the last stretch of Mojave desert. After waking up under the canyon's magnificent walls, I cranked out a quick ambient track within roughly a half hour using only my Macbook Air, and in honor of the late Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream founder who used to love the Mojave). I then left to reach Mammoth and Mono Lake before nightfall, but I didn't get there. I wasn't hustling enough and I wasn't driving quite fast enough because I had gotten a ticket for speeding when I had driven up a month earlier for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, after all of that now-careful driving, I got pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt anyway. Classic. By the time I got to Bishop, the last big town, there was only an hour or so more of daylight. Driving forward, I ended up parking at a random spot in Mammoth and just cranking out another quick ambient piece with my Macbook Air in the car, next to a ski resort, in the very last glow of twilight. The day was gone already, a concept I've grown somewhat used to at this point.

The Macbook Air ambient tracks I made that day came out pretty well, but they are nothing like what I had intended. And even though they are cool, I don't think they came out quite as well as the two tracks I created later using only my iPhone, and that's still mainly for the novelty of having done them on a phone. Perhaps I'll let you be the judge of that comparison at some point, but for now, I'll just show you the iPhone ones.

First night arriving in front of a Mammoth Ski Resort.

And/but back to the trip, all was not lost yet, because I still had a couple of days to kill if I preferred  So, I planned on filming at Mono Lake, Bodie Ghost Town, and Swauger Creek the next day, before either reaching Reno or spending the night at Topaz Lake. I got a hotel room in the town of Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, and prepared for the next day of recording and driving. What could go wrong?

Often what ends up going wrong is a very large yet very simple detail that you were too busy with all of the little complexities to notice. What went wrong was that I forgot to check the weather, even days earlier. Turns out a major snow storm was rolling in that night, expected to cover everything with almost a couple of feet of snow. To make matters worse, my mother had actually mentioned this to me a couple of days prior, but caught me at one of those moments when I wasn't paying attention to her.

I emerged from my Lee Vining motel room to discover an arctic scene and a complete white out. There would be no Mono Lake visibility, Bodie Ghost Town was now closed, and chains were now mandatory for two wheels drive vehicles. I drive a Honda Civic, because otherwise I would hardly afford the gas money for this much driving, so chains were inevitable, and would inevitably slow me down to less than half my usual speed.  This meant I would also not likely make it to Bridgeport in a comfortable amount of time enough to salvage that part of the adventure either. The day was completely shot,b yet again, this time before it even started, and there was no sign of the storm letting up within a few days. Slightly moping, I bought the only $100 pair of chains available in that small town and I continued on.

Town of Lee Vining, Xmas Eve, where I had to buy $100 chains 
to continue on to Reno. This guy's look says it all.

Rather than messing with my schedule any further, I decided to just return back to the 395 someday in the near future, and in the meantime continue on to Reno for my locations there and my mother during Xmas (regardless of the fact that she is Jewish).

A church bench in Carson City, approaching Reno after the heavy storm.

In a nutshell, I've enjoyed my stay here with my mom and step dad Ian (he's British), but those snows have really changed almost all of my remaining plans. Everything has been closed: Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and even parts of Donner Pass. 

To make matters worse, cops have been friggin' everywhere this year, and they have hounded me at almost every stop, even out in the snowy mountains. I totally feel like I'm living in an Orwell novel. They have not failed to make the entire west feel like a machine. "What can I help you with today?" "Where are you coming from?" "How much have you had to drink tonight?" "This isn't a good place for you to stop. You should use campsites if you are going to stop somewhere." REALLY??? It's no longer "legally appropriate" for a person to pull over where there is a rest stop and get out and look around at beautiful nature??? Or even just to pull over and get some rest in their car? This obviously goes way beyond "protecting the environment" or "looking out for civilian safety." This is simply a policed and far more heavily regulated society than even white people realize has likely begun. You would think that the recent events in Baltimore would have loosened cops up, but actually now they're even hounding white people who are out in the friggin' stix! I'm still shaking my head in amazement, and I'm obviously frustrated about it. I'm out in the friggin' forest for God's sake. One police woman almost detained me at a Lake Tahoe rest stop just for being parked there with my iPhone on. I was parked! That was one of several encounters over the last week.

I know cops deserve our respect most of the time, because what they do is brave, sure, but when you start regulating that much of people's legal freedoms, no one will respect you no matter how much you think you're protecting them. I know this is hard for most people to believe, because most people prefer to be locked away at home where it's warm and fuzzy and they can watch TV without thinking about the real world outside other than through the news, but some people actually like to be in the real world outside, and all over it. And we have the right to be, because we are respectful people and we don't damage the environment the way the media has led you to believe all human beings do. It's just ludicrous. And the cops love it when people are that reclusive, because it makes their jobs easier in the process. We're heading towards a heavily regulated and completely inexperienced society if this keeps up, like so many science fiction books and movies in the world. 

I mean, this is one of those moments when I really do believe cops should be out putting their energy into finding real criminals and helping people who really can't take care of themselves. They should at least be trained with discernment skills, so they can tell people who are true threats from people who aren't at at. God, please make that happen soon. I might need a message after even thinking about this right now, because I'm so friggin' worked up, and I just got a message yesterday.

Anyway, excuse my little rant. I've just had a little too much of it recently. In a nutshell, I really have not been able to do the pre-holiday recording I had hoped to do, and now I have a date with some colleagues in Vegas from the 31st to the 4th. Off I go.

...However, this is not over by a long shot. Fooled you for a minute.

In light of these developments, I will come back here after Vegas in less than a week, around January 4th, and do as many of the originally planned locations as possible up the 395 and around Reno. By then, a good portion of these snows will have hopefully melted away. Rather than give up and go home, the way I have other times, I'm going to see at least half of these locations through before deciding that home is even an option.  

I'm done trying to make this work just before the holidays exclusively. It's kind of ridiculous. I was trying to exploit the beauty of the holiday aesthetic in there with Wintery locations and concurrent ambient songs, but the obstacles have begun to show me how silly and minute that is. I mean, being in snowy alpine areas is obviously more about communion with the Earth and the natural environment than anything else, but do you think the Earth cares one bit about Winter holidays, or the turning year that marks time for human society? Nope, it doesn't give a volcanoes ass about that stuff. I should just let it go. I was/am with family and friends during said societal events, so as soon as I'm done there, it will be time to do some real and serious Winter communing with nature (not sure why that looks so comical to read back). I'll just live on the road for a bit at that point, and at my mother's, off and on. I should return to LA after about a week and a half into January. Will report on everything at least one more time here before I'm done with this trip.

LASTLY, as I said before, I did manage to crank out a couple of interesting tracks using only my iPhone. I will share them here (below), and if you like them, you are welcome to download them. They are free. All you need to do is click the Soundcloud download icon in each player window. But bear in mind that I will be taking these tracks offline pretty soon, so get them now. They still don't represent my optimal outdoor performance, so I'm sorry, but I won't be keeping them online as slight misrepresentations of what I generally do. 

One of these tracks I created when twilight was falling as I arrived in the meadows of Bridgeport, and the other track I cranked out days later at a Lake Tahoe rest stop overlook after realizing that the road to Emerald Bay was closed. Both tracks were created in my car, running my iPhone through the car stereo system after pulling over. 

Each of these two tracks (below) were made exactly as their title suggests, and each concurrent photo associated with them is of the spot they were created and at the moment they were created:

Also, I've met some amazing people while here, so it's been a good trip on a personal level. Nothing is for not. 

Onwards and inwards.

The snow drifts near Bridgeport, Xmas Eve snow storm.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Winter Redemption, 2015

Before I get to the main entry here, I would just like to give you my promised update about two topics of that last entry: the mouse in my car, and the videos of my performance at the top of St. Helens. 

Basically, the mouse had completely disappeared. It was sly enough to sneak it's way into my car, so obviously it was sly enough to leave whenever it wanted. It came, it saw, it conquered, and left. I almost got the sense that, because it knew that I wouldn't hurt it, it just kind of served me up in a sense, like a rapper in a hip hop contest. It made me it's little b... 

And in regards to the St. Helens video that I promised, of me performing at the top, it's coming. I had to get a couple of things out of the way first, but it's coming. Just stay post either here, or to my Facebook walls. You will see it soon. Meantime, I've posted a couple of my other latest videos here, for you to see what else I've been up to creatively.

The Entry

Some of you were good enough to stay posted and read-up last year when I was getting ready to attempt a winter rout, 395, from LA CA to Reno NV, so I could make live ambient music at points along the way. I would like to thank you for showing that support and/or curiosity.

As you may know, that trip was cancelled at the last minute due to some last minute driving restrictions. It was a preverbal bummer, because I had lined up live sessions with the likes of George Sarah and Bruce Licher from Savage Republic. After the cancellation, I had planned on following through with the plan a month later, when my driving restrictions would be lifted, but I got caught up doing work for the Stratos Ensemble in an attempt to keep those band members. As it turns out, my band members ended up leaving anyway, so I had basically postponed the trip for nothing. 

Well, I'm finally getting back out there to do the trip, and this time it's definite, because I waited until I was definitely on the road before letting you know. So here I am, right now, currently in the town of Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, writing this blog entry from my motel room with the pale glow of the evening snow caps and the violent sound of the cold winter wind outside. I'm going to do the two main locations along the 395 that I haven't done decently yet, and then I'm going to do a few locations in-and-around Reno NV. The two immediate locations along the 395 will be Mono Lake and Boddi Ghost Town, and the ones around Reno will be Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, Virginia City Ghost Town and Donner Pass, among a couple of other things. It will be a ghost-town-Winter of live ambient music.

Unfortunately, Bruce Licher will no longer be joining me for my sessions here, but that's okay. I will do a thorough job this time. Also, if you remember, I had planned on broadcasting these sessions for you, live online, all along the way during that trip last year. I would love to say that I will still be doing that, but unfortunately it no longer makes sense to. The streaming service was costing me over $100 per month, and it would not even maintain a signal that could keep you all tuned in. Every time I would lose a signal out there, your streaming windows would just completely close, and I lost a lot of audience members as a result. So, rather than continue yanking you chain of sorts, and paying through the nose to do it, I've decided to just narrow things back down to the music tracks and the post-edited videos for the moment. We just aren't yet in a state of technology where wireless signals are solid enough for a production project like this to be completely live. Maybe someday soon.

I do promise to do a great job on the videos, whenever I make them. And also to make up for the stricken streaming, I will post up the music tracks for free download whenever I make something worthy of doing that. That is a new decision, and it's the least I can do to make up for everything change and/or botched. They will only be available for free download temporarily, but at least you will have that opportunity sometimes. And those same tracks will all likely be released in some form later, whether or not you get the chance to download the ones I post now.

So stand by for some of that soon.

And regarding the winter trip I'm on right now, I promise I will be able to post at least one song or one video from it within a week. Let you know which one before long.

My winter videos of recent past...

Lastly, I would like to suggest two old movies that are a good fit for the winter holiday season, one of which was exceptional for it's time.  They are Never Cry Wolf and Ms. Soffle. They were both famous film composer Mark Isham's earliest soundtracks, and Never Cry Wolf was the reason that I do what I do on the road. After I saw that movie, it changed me forever.  Give them a go. Here are two Youtube links to a couple of scenes.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Post St. Helens

A Brief Aside 

Recently, I received some input about this blog from a writer whom I respect. She dispelled some  myths and misimpressions I've had about the blog world, and about blog writing.

Up until now, I didn't realize I was supposed to actually treat a blog like a somewhat professional publication, rather than the mental sounding board it's become. Most of my entries read like my secret diary, made public.  I didn't realize that I didn't get a free pass on bad grammar or poor form. 

The funniest thing about this, which I feel I have to mention, is that I've been off-base about blog writing due to bad input through the years from people who aren't writers. From the moment I started my foray into the blog world, I received random advice about how to properly write them.  Even worse, somehow most of these people were of the opinion that a blog should be treated like a personal email, or text. People told me things like, "You should keep it personal by greeting us at the beginning." and, "Keep it light, man. Use Emojis." and, "Ask us how we're doing. Don't just talk about yourself." I figured these takes on blog writing were valid, because they came from average everyday readers, the type of people I ultimately try to reach.  

After explaining to me about proper content, my writer friend then showed me some examples of properly written blogs. They read like a good memoir.  They were inviting and conversational, without a single Emoji or vapid rhetorical question like, "How are you you?" Those blogs are nothing like what all the random people told me they should be. 

I've probably been a bit rusty when it comes to writing, and uninformed specifically about blog writing, so I'm going to change my writing approach. I've already tried it the less formal way, and I don't think it has been as effective as I would like. Writing is a craft, like any other, so I can only hope to keep improving.  This blog, which is still a rather new format to me, will presumably become a bit easier. 

The other lesson learned about this is: Trust your own instincts over most people, and if necessary  every person! Most of us are just throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks, but when it comes to our own personal work, we are best guided by our hunches, and if anything else, only people who are established professionals.

A drawing made for a Seattle paper article written about the Summit Music Project in 2011.

The News And The Update

The good news is: I indeed made it to the top of Mt. St. Helens a third time and successfully recorded myself performing an a cappella cover version of Black Hole Sun up there. And yes, I did say I climbed the mountain three times. I realize how crazy this may sound to a normal person. For more on that, read my previous entries here and here. The important thing is, I did it! I'm done with that mountain--for now. 

It was hard to do, against poor odds, but I stuck it through and it worked.  

While up there, I also recorded one more a cappella ambient piece, and I threw in a long vlog for good measure. I included the vlog because it was always a part of my plan to give a long talk at the top of each mountain peak. St. Helens is the first peak I've arrived at with enough time to actually do this, so I figured I would make it a little more personal. It will be my first official vlog when I post it, and I'm definitely taking a chance with it, because I'm sharing some strange philosophical ideas with you all that I've never shared before. I only hope you don't run screaming, or shouting profanity.

Overall, the important thing is that I have footage and a direct recording of me making this impressionistic music at the rim of Mt. St. Helens on a beautiful day, and, at least in part, I succeeded at pushing forth a new artistic medium. I will mix the music and edit it into music videos before long. So keep checking online for when that's ready and I'll make announcements about it.

For a sample of some electronic music I made on one of these visits to the rim of Mt. St. Helens, read this entry all the way to the bottom, which is where I've suggestively placed one of the tracks.

Sorted Details About The Last Week And The Last Climb

After getting back down from my 2nd St. Helens summit, I rented a room at the usual cheap Motel 6 in the town of Woodman. What many would deem a "sleazy motel room," in which they wouldn't be caught dead, I view as an utter paradise whenever I'm back from a long, dirty and trying hike. Being able to shower, lay equipment out, stretch out on a bed (any bed), and veg out on stupid American television you would never usually watch (Duck Dynasty, Law And Order, and other crap) after a nasty bout with the elements, is comparable to one of the most lush Club Med vacations on the Fiji Islands to me.

Whenever I'm in Portland, I can usually be found at my preferred java pit, called Coffee Time. It caters to vegans and even has a hipster man cave that extends towards the back--another paradise--after a cold and dusty trek. I often feel compelled to stay in my car, around the block, and frequent Coffee Time during opening and closing. Yep, the place is basically my office.

                                           Friends in Eugene on my birthday.

A few mornings later, I woke up on my birthday at the house of some old friends in Eugene. I hadn't seen them in a while, so they threw a brunch, but were busy in the afternoon. I took this as a clear sign that I should find somewhere else to continue celebrating, so I spent most of the rest of the day driving back to my friends in Seattle.  One of those friends is Jane, the widow of my old friend and ambient music colleague, Barry Craig, aka A Produce.  She is remarried now to her husband Wayne, and they live with her brother Larry. I arrived at their house just in time to miss dinner--by hours. They were glad to see me, even though they were basically going to bed.  They probably wouldn't have recognized me if I had arrived on time, anyway. 

 Guest room at the house of friends in Eugene.

I only realized at the end of the day that spending the day driving was disappointing. 

Within most of us, there remains a small portion of a child. Often, the child starts kicking and screaming about not getting a more obvious birthday celebration, until your bigger and more rational voice tells him to shut the hell up and calm down. We have much bigger goals and rewards all around us, and it's absurd how we lose touch with that--even a tiny fraction. It's amusing that such a little brat is still in there sometimes though, even in secret. What is a birthday, anyway? We aren't born the moment we leave the womb. We are quite alive and aware for a time before that. We aren't born at the moment of conception either, because it's not likely that awareness occurs at that moment. So, it almost seems futile to mark a single day as being the beginning of our existence when clearly it isn't. It's one mere event in our lives. Maybe it would be more appropriate to call it a womb exiting anniversary party.

But I suppose I'm kind of a birthday scrooge, so I'll get back to the story.

Jane's guest room has an amazing peace about it, which always leads to a great night's rest, and a comfortable, unintentional wasting of precious time.  The next day, I had planned on spending the second half of the day hanging out with Jane and her family, and the first half of the day in the guest room getting packed and set up for my final St. Helens ascent the next morning. Of course, not realizing how scattered I still was from the previous St. Helens ascent 5 days earlier, I ended up spending all day in the guest room preparing for the climb, and unfortunately not hanging out with anyone.  

                                                  Dean and Jane at Jane's house.

Stuff was all over the room, all day. I had to transfer footage, clear my SD cards, charge all batteries, organize clothing, pack my pack, and even better-organize my song files in Ableton (my live music app) which needed to be completely record-ready when reaching the summit. As always, my pack ended up weighing 40-50 pounds after fitting my equipment in there.  This was before packing meals and water.

The production-equipment list for this climb was:

For Music:
Macbook Air
Focusrite Scarlet 2 audio interface
AKG 414 microphone
Logitech portable laptop speakers
2 XLR audio cables
3 USB Cables

For Filming:
Panasonic G4 (video camera)
Sony AX100 (video camera)
Sony HDR-CX110 (video camera)
GoPro Hero 2
GoPro Hero 3
3Fly panoramic video camera
Audiotechnica ambient stereo recorder
2 mini tripods

Later, at the top, I would discover that two of those cameras didn't even work!

So, this packing endeavor not only ended up taking all day in that guest room, but it made me late, yet again, in departing for St. Helens at a decent hour. 

By the time I was done getting packed and ready, it was 8pm. From Portland, Mt. St. Helens is only an hour-and-a-half away, but from a far-north position like Seattle, the mountain is almost a 5 hour drive. I had planned to be on the summit trail by 3am, from the Climber's Bivouac. My chances now of getting any sleep before the climb were gone, and I still ran the risk of climbing late. The whole prospect was ominous.

                                   Guest room at the house of Jane and her family.

The weather forecast said all heavy rain would stop the next day, but that the overcast would remain in a partly cloudy form. Well, in the Cascade mountains, if you have any type of "partly cloudy" scenario, it means there's at least 50/50 chance that another storm can roll in without warning sometimes, and within minutes. That likelihood is year-round. In late October, it may as well be winter in northern locations like this. Outside, it was cold, damp, gray and windy--in the city. I would have been out of my mind to think the weather might actually turn in my direction on the mountain.

Furthermore, the top of Mt. St. Helens is an 8-9 hour climb. In order for me to get set up at the top with enough time to ask another climber to film me, I would have to set out on the trail by 4am at the latest. Any later than that and I lose the likelihood that other climbers will still be up there to help hold one of my cameras when I get set up to record.  Climbers don't like coming back down at night, so in general they tend to leave southern Cascade summits and head back down by early afternoon, St. Helens being no exception. My timing in these matters is important to get decent footage up there.

To top things off, I received a text from a friend telling me he didn't think it was a good idea to attempt this last climb. He wouldn't specify why, and he told me to call him so we could talk about it. Potential omens never help my motivation, so I skipped calling him for fear that he would talk me out of this idea, which was, for all practical purposes, foolish.

Regardless, I left Seattle and drove to St. Helens, stopping a couple of times along the way to pick up water and my usual vegetarian Subway sandwich for the climb. This is a meal I've now come to loath in my sea level life, because it's been relegated to the role of ideal, compact climbing nutrition now. I'm certain astronauts never dream of cold hotdogs while on Earth, either.

By the time I reached the Climber's Bivouac (the parking lot and trailhead for the summit rim of Mt. St. Helens) it was 3:30 am already, and I was ready for bed. The Bivouac was basically a ghost-town-parking lot, not a soul in sight. This was a first. It didn't appear that anyone else was going to be dumb enough to climb that mountain in that weather, and I would not likely have that camera help at the top.

Not only was I scheduled to set out on the trail a half hour ago, but I still had to pack some of the newer supplies, and it was still drizzling outside. I got packed within a half hour, but that still left the sleep issue. Two weeks earlier I had first done the climb with no sleep at all, so that was proof it would likely be fine again.  However, climbing a nine-thousand-foot mountain on no sleep at all had slowed me down before, and I needed time on my side now. Which option would save more time? Setting out early on no sleep, or leaving a little late with some rest. I decided to sleep for an hour, which makes me laugh now reading it back. That was a pretty dicey solution.  Still, I slept. 

About 45 minutes into my nap, I heard a rustling in my car.  "Not you again!" I shouted.

Yes, there is a little detail I did not mention before: 

When I had climbed Mt. St. Helens 6 days earlier, which was the second climb that month, I had gotten a little careless at the Climber's Bivouac. I had arrived at the Bivouac with only 4 or 5 hours left to pack  before my ascent. On these trips, my stuff quickly turns from being a thoroughly stocked vehicle of equipment, to being a mountainous pile of junk on all of my passenger seats. I've tried remedying this a couple of times, but the nature of this project is just too rushed and complicated for that. I wear too many hats to keep anything tidy during this particular brand of chaos. Take into account the second law of thermodynamics, and you can imagine the state of my car by this time in the trip. 

So, while packing at Climber's Bivouac 6 days earlier in the usual fashion, the doors all flew open, and with my pack leans against the car, I grabbed things one at a time from all around the vehicle. When I was done packing, and was all ready to head out, I put everything back in the car including myself, turned out the lights, and attempted to catch the next 4 hours of sleep before the climb. Two hours into it, I was awakened by what I imagined to be a subtle rustling in the car. I quickly turned the light on and--nothing. There was silence, and nothing was there. Over the next hour, it happened two other times, and one of those times felt like a brushing across my legs. On go the lights and... nothing. It's like my car was suddenly haunted by the ghost of the Climber's Bivouac. On the fourth rustling though, I switched the light on and saw a small tail duck behind one of my many pieces of junk. My mind flashed back to my first descent back down the mountain a week earlier, where before the rain started, I was feeding the cutest little mice that would scurry out from the rocks for my dropped grains of rice and egg. "YOU LITTLE F-CKER!" I yelled, knowing that one of those cute little mice had climbed my pack right into the car while I was packing.  I suppose the smell of my generic Subway sandwiches was too much for him to resist. 

With only a few minutes left before I was scheduled to head out on the trail, at 4am, I decided to leave. Not wanting the mouse to die in my car, I left one of the windows a crack open, and I even left some food out. After getting back down off the mountain later that night, the last thing I wanted to do was arrive back to a mouse in my car, especially after having botched my cover tune at the top. Well, not only did his dumb little rustling continue to wake me up when I slept in the car that night, but it persisted in there for days. I left the car doors open for almost an hour once, but I still heard him again afterwards.  I was simply in too much of a rush on this entire trip to bother with compassionate mouse traps and the like, so I just let it go. Before long, the rustling stopped, so I figured he either finally left, or I will find his body in there when I'm cleaning out my car in LA. 

-Flash back to the present moment at the Climbers Bivouac with roughly 15 minute left before I climb my last ascent:
Again, about 45 minutes into my 1-hour nap, I heard a rustling in my car. "Not you again!" I shouted, following with "Great. Thanks buddy. I live here too you know." I don't know how this little guy was still alive, but apparently he was, and he had been in my car all week. He definitely had no shortage of little caves and crevices to make himself/herself at home to in my car piles, a veritable mouse Disneyland (but I don't think this guy's name was Mickey). I looked down at the space under my seat, and saw him move into the light, plain as day, and look at me before casually disappearing again. Mountain mice are not like city mice, in that they are a little cuter. I'm not a cruel and heartless person towards animals that bother me. I wouldn't be able to kill something consciously without feeling my own life was somehow taken in the process. 

So I let out a huge sigh, and then pounded my vitamin pack, ate my breakfast burrito, left some out for the mouse, strapped on my 40-50 lb. pack, switched my headlamp on full power and went out in the cold cruel weather towards the trailhead. It was 5am, two hours later than planned It seemed over, but I plowed on anyway.

The Ascent
I don't usually like spending money on hiking poles when nature provides such great ones on every forest floor. Typically, I will do a little search at the beginning of every climb, where I locate and test fallen branches to see if they are light enough and strong enough to make the journey. Luckily, the same one I had used the previous week was still lying where I had left it.  A friend had given me one earlier in the week that had been lying in his yard, so that made two. This would be fine for a 6-thousand-foot elevation gain hike.

The air was cold and moist enough that the mist from my breath was thick enough to obscure my vision considerably. I was actually able to blow smoke rings with it. As I continued hiking up the trail, I told myself over and over to turn back. "You're crazy dude. You're going to get rained on again! Or snowed on! Or lost or injured because you're so tired! Something will happen! You won't make it back!"  After freaking myself out sufficiently, I came to my senses and realized it's Mt. St. Helens trail, for God's sake. Hundreds of people hike this thing every week, and have for generations. I think most of the big game wildlife in the region got the picture a long time ago: this is human territory. Stay out.

When I finally reached the tree line, I felt my usual relief about how much more doable things seem, and how in shape and energetic I now felt.  

But later, after reaching a little bit more altitude, my hope sank back into nothingness when first light revealed a storm that completely covered the sky and the top of the mountain. I was now basically hiking into a storm, a cold one. Cleverly, I told myself that even though the day might not be a success, it couldn't hurt to get a good workout in today by climbing the mountain.  This was only Mt. St. Helens, and unless they predicted an arctic snow storm would come, I wasn't going to be in life threatening danger.  All of this was basically the first smart and rational thing I had said to myself all morning.

With that new attitude, I zipped up the mountain with my monster pack and my dead branches for limbs, looking like some kind of aspiring wizard. When I got halfway up the mountain, by mid-morning, I found myself above the storm, gazing down on the clouds like stereotypical heaven. I would stop for trail mix and water, but maintain a steady pace the rest of the time. I had never been quite so in shape on this mountain. Clearly, having climbed it two other times over the previous two weeks had payed off. However, I was still apprehensive of the currently ideal weather. I had been tricked by it enough times before to not get hopes up. It was still just about the work out at this point.

Then, a miracle happened; I heard a voice, and saw a person climbing up behind me. This was encouraging! Even if that person was not going to help film me at the top, he was an indicator that others might be on the way as well. When I spoke to him, he confirmed my curiosities by telling me that there were indeed more people on the way up. This was great news! I new I could summit and set up right around the same time they would arrive up there. And that's exactly what happened. 

The first wave of people were teenagers who said they would help at the top. 

I arrived at the summit rim of St. Helens to find blue skies above us and heavenly clouds below. Warm. No more wind, at all. It was he absolute perfect day. I let out my usual primal howl before laying everything out to set up. I couldn't set up quite in-time enough for the teenage group to stick around because they told me they had to catch a plane in a few hours (people crazier than I am?). But they also said they would tell the last wave of climbers about me before those climbers reached the top.  

That wave of climbers was two men who turned out to be truly incredible people. They were father and son catching up on quality time together, and both in the military. The father worked for search and rescue in the Cascades, and the son was currently stationed in Hawaii and was studying to be a musician. Both loved music and were totally excited to help me film.  

After they heard me performing my a cappella cover of Black Hole Son, they said they had both been to a Soundgarden concert together, in nearby Seattle, where Soundgarden banged out that song. Grinning uncontrollably, I told them this was one of the reasons I decided to perform it up there at the rim. 

The other reasons for the song were a little too personal to mention in mere passing, yet in a way those reasons should be the most obvious to anyone and everyone who understands the song. You can even watch the official video for that song sometime and it will reveal the relevance as plain as can be.

When the song was over, we all agreed that weather-wise and otherwise, this day had turned out to be one of the best days we had ever experienced at the rim of St. Helens. Apparently, the father had once watched his friend slip and fall to his death right next to the spot where we were currently standing, so he didn't like to stay up there long due to the memories and fears. I assured him I would be careful, and we all exchanged info before they headed back down. 

As usual, I was the last one off the mountain. I stayed up there a while, and filmed myself giving a talk (or a vlog), as well as recording another vocal ambient piece before my laptop power ran out once again. But this time that was okay. I had gotten the bulk of everything I needed up there.


The Descent
I headed back down early enough in the evening to enjoy a long sunset during my descent. The clouds and the wind had pretty much completely vanished, and several times on the way down I simply stopped to experience a peace and silence that I rarely find even in the desert, which is actually saying a lot. To have that kind of peace thousands of feet up, with that kind of view, is rare. I relished, and relished...and relished, in quiet celebration of my personal accomplishment.

The classic part about that descent, however, was after night fell and I reached the last 4 or 5 mile stretch of it. Oh My God it S-CKED, as always. It just went on and on for ever and ever, with my damn monster pack on. I was yelling again on the way down, lots of profanity. That stretch is beyond grueling for some reason. It's nothing going up, when your adrenaline fires are burning for a climb, but coming back down it turns you into a "rotting slime oozing for dear shelter," to repeat what I said on the mountain. I laugh about it now as I write this, because I was so very blissful up there before that moment.

I was now obligated to be back in LA within 55 hours, to play a gig in downtown LA with the band Zen Land, run by my friend Mike Z..

For some reason, I had fantasized about BBQ during that last grueling night descent on St. Helens, so I stopped in Portland to break my vegetarian habit for a day at a known pit called Padnah's. It is crazy good stuff, but still a slow farewell for me. I just don't believe in regular meat eating anymore. It's kind of evil.

After my temporary meat orgy, and a shower at LA Fitness's Portland branch, I hit the road for LA. However, I was going to attempt the recording of one more song on the way; I was going to perform The End by The Doors at Crater Lake during sunrise. I got all prepared for it on the way there, but soon ran out of time to do the session. This was primarily because I missed dawn and, without any clouds, direct sunlight on Crater Lake is not that aesthetically pleasing for film or photography, thus not in person either.  I basically had to cut and run back home for the LA gig or I wouldn't make it, so I did. But I promised myself I would return to Crater Lake and record that song immediately after the LA gig with Zen Land.

Turns out that I still didn't get back to LA with enough time to perform the Zen Land gig the way I had wanted to. I had said yes to too many things, as always.  

Also, it turns out that I soon changed my mind about Crater Lake, which I've been discussing with people over the last two weeks that I've been back home in LA.

Perhaps some of you have figured this out already, but when I perform these famous a cappella cover songs at given locations, I usually choose the song based on how its subject matter poetically relates to the area where I plan to perform it.

Talking with someone about The End by The Doors made me realize that I should probably be at the edge of something when I sing it, so the Grand Canyon might be a better place than Crater Lake. I had originally chosen that song for Crater Lake because Crater Lake used to be a large Cascade volcano before it came to an end one day when it collapsed in a massive eruption. But I suppose that's not quite as obvious an aesthetic association as the Grand Canyon would be, so I will probably change the plan. Perhaps I will even take a small poll on it first before deciding.

Final Notes
Regarding the conclusion about the mouse in my car, I promise to fill you in about it on the next entry, if you keep reading this blog and checking in. I always post notices about new blog entries on my Facebook walls too.

Again, I will produce and post music videos of all of the songs I performed at the rim of St. Helens, including my vlog up there, but let's hope that's sooner than later. I think it will be sooner than later. Just stay posted for my links and notices about it on my Facebook wall(s) because they are the most updated. 

Even though my gig with Zen Land had issues, it still came out great and people loved it. But what excites me even more than that is how the bass player for that band, Doug Lunn, whom I've been a fan of all my life, had a session with MY band The Stratos Ensemble just a few days ago, and it looks like he wants to join up. The session was miraculous, and it was surreal having him and ex Happy The Man drummer, Coco Rousel in the same room together performing. Doug plays for many of the best musical minds in the world, as well as regularly for Andy Summers, The Police, Chad Wakerman, Dweezle Zappa, The Fire Merchants, and the one most important to me, Mark Isham. Having both him and Coco Rousel aboard The Stratos Ensemble will be a true honor. Additionally, the session we had the other day was recorded well, so I will post it online soon. Anyone who likes any music other than pop will probably like this stuff. (Oh my God pop music is so shallow and artistically corrupt, please don't be someone who doesn't like anything else.)

These things, as well as family and friends, are some of the the extreme rewards worthy of coming home to--every time. I only wish I actually had more time for the people in my life. Anyone I don't work with I see on average once or twice a year, sometimes less. This is due mainly to big projects like Summit Music. I hope this project amounts to more than merely the selfish experiences of an individual when all is said and done. Perhaps that remains to be seen.

               From top: Stratos Ensemble, Halloween party, pumpkin I carved at the party.

Lastly, if you would like a sample of some of the music I made at the rim of St. Helens during this last adventure, here is one that I recently posted on Soundcloud. It's actually the first thing I recorded, on the first day that I reached the rim out of three summit days. That makes this the first piece of ambient and/or electronic music ever professionally performed and recorded at the rim of Mt. St. Helens. Crazy? Well, you've got to admit that it's interesting at the very least.

A poem that Mt. St. Helens makes me think of...

"What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?"

-Langston Hughes

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stuck In The Goal

So, I did indeed summit the rim of Mt. St. Helens again a few days ago, for the second time this month. It was a perfect day, with the sun out, warmth, and very little wind.  

There were nice people up there, so I figured I could talk someone into holding the camera for me if I could just manage to stay at least somewhat socially pleasant.  

For some reason, staying socially pleasant is a huge feet for me when I'm trying to stay focused on a lot of technical things all at once.  I've just never had that ability, and the problem has made me late setting up and even breaking down for gigs and events and recordings. I've tried to get better with social multi tasking, but I just don't seem to have the hang of it.  

And cutting out socializing would be a completely acceptable priority system if it weren't for the fact that I often need people for things.  Most of the time people talking to me at a gig or an event are people who are in a position, and of an interest, to do good things for me: things like offering another gig, or offering a scoring job, or offering a discount on a BMW, or offering their daughter's hand in marriage, or in this case, offering to hold the camera at the rim of Mt. St. Helens.

It's a real trick for me to socialize under those pressures.  To do this, I kind of had to relax and get super-optimistic about my attitude up there.  I couldn't show any anctiousness or franticness, so I basically reverted to successfully convincing my inner-most self that I had plenty of time up there.


I maintained that non-crucial attitude even after I turned the computer on, which turned out to be the biggest mistake, among a few.  My Soundgarden cover was my most important reason for going back up there, but I had a couple of other things to do again up there as well.  Because of my forced cockiness about the time, I decided to do the Soundgarden cover last.  Between that, and the laptop power which ebbed away during my social trance, basically, the laptop power went dead right in the middle of my cover song.  That was it.  Just--bam--and the day was over.  Totally truncated.   

The hike back down at that point was probably the longest and most belabored one I've ever experienced. It just went on and on, all the while being nagged by that total botch I had experienced at the top.  Shouting on my way down the mountain, I realized that I would simply have to go back and do it one more time.

I know.  I know.  I make some of the stupidest mistakes imaginable on these trips and projects.  ;)) But mistakes in the practical world are nothing new for a mind like mine (artistically cluttered), and as long as I don't make any life-threatening ones, they are all learning experiences.

So, that's what I will basically do now--climb St. Helens a third and final time this month.  I am currently waiting out three days of rain up there, ending with a weather window on Tuesday.  I have a gig in LA on the following Thursday, so I will not be able to climb any later than Tuesday and still drive back from Washington state in time.  It's going to suck, and it will be back-to-back activity, but I don't really have a choice if I want that moment/footage/completion.  

Also, this weather window will not be warm like before.  I'm dealing with mid-autumn weather in the Cascades now.  There may even be snow up there at that point, for all I know.  It will not be easy to work the equipment in the cold.  But luckily, I only have that one song left now.  ;))  That's one thing in my favor.

I was originally going to climb Mt. Shasta with a close friend on the way back to CA, to accomplish at least two mountains this year.  So much for that idea.  Pile it on for the long list next Summer.

The last bummer of it: my Birthday is tomorrow.  I was supposed to be back by now so I could spend it celebrating victory with my loved ones.  Now I will be in a cold part of the country waiting in the rain to climb up a mountain a third time.  Most of my friends up here are working tomorrow so I will probably spend the day just catching up on work at my favorite coffee house in Portland again.  I love it here and was really happy to be back, but not for a day like that.   ;))  

Whatever though.  No worries.  Life is still good.  Blessed with health and personal wealth.  Biggest birthday wish--granted.

Will write again sometime after I've summited St. Helens and I'm back in LA.  It will probably be after my gig in LA on the 23rd, which by the way, feel free to stop in if you are around.  It will be free parking, a big perk for an art event in downtown LA.  ;))

Event page:

Band site:

Also, I may not edit that long previous entry that had heated content, as I partially promised.  ;))  We will see.  I recently read a great post from a friend saying he's been living life free from the bidding and morays of other and it's been working wonders on his psyche.  I might try it myself at this point, at least a little.  ;))  I may not feel quite as strongly right now about the ideas in that post, but I think the spontaneous feelings of that moment were valid at that moment. Also, for that reason, I won't bother editing most of these entries more than necessary either.  I'm sure you guys can read it fine enough to get the point, right?  ;))  Yarrrr!

Talk soon!