Los Angeles Welcomes Year of the Dog

The Year of the Dog is upon us. Living in Angelino Heights, the annual Chinese New Year Festival is always just a brisk walk away.

Unlike the astrological zodiac, which changes monthly, the Chinese zodiac changes each year. It consists of 12 animals that cycle in the same order. The 12 signs are the Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, and Rooster. Friday, February 16 marks the beginning of the Year of the Dog and Saturday is the day for the public celebration that closes downtown streets.

The city of Los Angeles will host the Chinese New Year Festival and Parade for the 119th time this weekend. The event promises a full day of entertainment and cultural appreciation crammed into a few blocks along Hill and Broadway streets.

The vendors and activities will be located at and around Chinatown’s Central Plaza on both the Hill Street and Broadway Street sides. Performances will include traditional dances and martial arts demonstrations along with more contemporary musical acts. Artisan booths will be onsite offering face painting and calligraphy services.

Food is a large part of Chinese New Year customs and there will be no shortage of food and drinks at the Plaza. A craft beer garden will offer a variety of brews including selections from Stone Brewing and Bear Republic. The food selections cover a wide range from the L.A. staple Kogi Truck for Korean taco aficionados to a pop-up booth run by Chef Royce Burke (Secret Lasagna).

The star of the day will undoubtedly be the Dragon Parade. Hill and Broadway will be closed for most of the day as the parade kicks off at 1 PM and travels through Hill before turning the corner at Bernard Street. It will then travel south down Broadway Street and culminate at the Dragon Gates of Broadway and Cesar Chavez Avenue.

Join the festivities this weekend: eat great food, enjoy some music, and take in a magical parade in the center of our metropolis.

How Modular Synths Rekindled My Love of The NAMM Show

It’s strange how even something you are passionate about becomes boring and tiresome as it transforms into part of the monotony of life. The NAMM Show in Anaheim had become this way after many years of participation. Working for one of the exhibitors, it became more about the work needed to pull off the show as the years passed. Even walking and experiencing the show felt like an elephant migration, taking the same route through the aisles each year.

My first NAMM Show was in 2009. Being new to the company, my main purpose was to shake hands, meet sales reps and customers, and answer product questions. This left ample time to gaze at surrounding booths and walk areas of the show during lunch breaks in lieu of eating a meal. As years passed, responsibilities increased and the wonder of NAMM faded.

Three years ago I began doing research on modular synthesizers for a new project as demand for accessories for the Eurorack modular synth format increased. While it successfully led to a new product line for the company, it also sparked a new personal musical interest that grew as the research and development progressed.

The concept of modular synthesizers requires some explanation. When not in use, modular synthesizer rigs can be confusing. When they are in use, they are a chaotic combination of metal, knobs, lights, and cables. They can simply be overwhelming at first glance.

Thanks in large part to the 80’s, the average synthesizer image that comes to most people’s minds is that of an electric piano with some additional knobs to control the sound you hear. Modular takes the all-in-one synthesizer and breaks it down to its various components. Manufacturers then modify each component to create something unique to their sonic ideals.

Electronic musicians and enthusiasts piece together a synthesizer rig consisting of various components, or modules. Patch cables are then used to make the physical connections between these modules. The sound you hear is the result of painstakingly building and adjusting sound waves, sequences, and signal paths—the essence of music synthesis.

Perhaps the ultimate thrill of modular synths is the lack of permanence in the process. The golden age of audio recording gave the world wide musical experiences in spite of—and possibly as a result of—the limitations of analog. Recording depended on things like microphone placement, editing by splicing tape, and bouncing tracks to record various instruments. As digital recording improved, those teachings were slowly lost. Tape machines were relegated to the corners of tracking rooms as symbols of a more “difficult” time. Today, studios large and small wield unlimited tracks and effects. The danger of analog recording is gone. And with it, so is much of the experimentation.

Modular synthesizers are a lot like those older days of recording. After spending hours perfecting a piece, it’s imperative to record it or risk never getting it back again. Accidentally pulling one cable or tweaking a knob is all it takes to permanently change what has been created.

It was at the 2016 NAMM Show that my excitement levels began to increase. That year, I spent most of my free time within the growing area of modular synthesizers. It was the first time I got to witness players showcasing their abilities and novices (myself included) getting their first taste of patching these perplexing instruments.

It was that same year that saw Moog take modular to a new level. Their booth was transformed into a sort of cactus garden where you used nature and Moog synthesizers to relieve stress. The folks at Moog deemed it the Island of Electronicus (This concept was topped in 2018 when Moog took their booth off-site and created the House of Electronicus).

There were multiple stations on the floor with pillows for visitors to sit and play. While a few different Moog synths were present, many of the stations were devoted to their latest release: the Mother-32 semi-modular synthesizer. It was Moog’s first product designed specifically for the Eurorack synth crowd.

The Mother-32 is the ideal introduction into modular because while it includes a patch panel, it functions like a small Moog synth when cables are avoided. One can simply turn up the volume, hit a key, and hear a sound. The patching ability then becomes a new level of depth for a Moog synthesizer. It also means the Mother-32’s various components can be used in combination with other Eurorack modules should the player decide to expand.

Moog is an iconic symbol of electronic music and owning one was always a dream. The question of how to begin experimenting with modular had been answered. I spent the rest of 2016 learning about modular in my free time and finally picked up a Mother-32 after NAMM 2017.

With the 2018 show upon us, my company decided to put together a few demo units for the show. One of these demos was to be a Eurorack rig. Assembling, understanding, and utilizing the rig became my project. I was able to take the rig home on the weekends to familiarize myself with its components and capabilities. Each morning at the show, I implemented a simple patch. Visitors then had the ability to play with the rig as they came by to check out our products.

My love for music creation and sound manipulation had finally returned—as did my excitement for NAMM. The show was again a space for creativity within a business environment. The week was filled with not only musical ideas but also ideas for future products. I was renewed at both a personal and professional level. The wonder of that first experience in 2009 had finally returned.

 

CES 2018 Review: AI Will Change Our Lives (for better or worse)

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is always an extravaganza. It’s a show designed to amaze visitors with life-changing products and technology that may never see the light of day. There has been a shift over the last few years to present smarter, more realistic visions of the future. Don’t provide an Epcot view of the world: A glimpse of the future with only imagination powering the concept. Instead, give us the best theory of a distant future using current technology along with the tech in active and advanced research.

But not everything at CES is far-fetched tech. Many manufacturers also present products to be released within the next 12 months. This year, some big names made major impacts at presenting mostly existing products while creating a new experience for the crowd.

If you’re a musician or otherwise tied to the music industry, you are undoubtedly familiar with the Gibson brand. The iconic company behind the classic Les Paul shunned the upcoming NAMM Show (the music instrument industry’s preeminent trade show) in favor of a massive CES tent in the parking lot outside the convention center. Gibson’s official statement is that CES is a better show for them to shift the focus to the pro-audio brands the company has been amassing recently.

Upon entering the Gibson booth, you notice a live stage at the end of the tent with a performing band. The wall adjacent the front door is lined with electric guitars and continues this way to the side wall. Following the trail of guitars leads to the corner of the performance stage and the now-famous Gibson guitar throne: A Game-of-Thrones style seat that’s become a sort of traveling guitar shrine. Visitors line up by this mythical chair and have their picture taken as they unveil their best Ozzy or David Lee Roth impersonations.

Gibson_Throne
The Gibson Throne: Who is Worthy?

The left wall was strewn with bass guitars to finish the loop of the tent and bring you back to the main entrance. The center section consisted of various demo stations. The first half of the stations was devoted to the Phillips audio brand. There were earbuds and headphones (wired and wireless), and a few different models of portable, wireless speakers. The remaining tables were guitar demo stations where each visitor could sit down and choose from a group of instruments and play them through Philips headphones.

Gibson may claim their goal was to shift focus to their pro-audio brands but it felt more like what they were trying to do was posit Gibson guitars as cool consumer products that fit in any entertainment room equipped with premium sound and a 4K television.

Google was another company intent on making a grand appearance. The tech giant has skipped CES since its rise to stardom, opting to hold independent product releases and parties instead. This year was a different story due in large part to the impact Amazon’s Alexa assistant made at last year’s CES. Car companies, home electronics corporations, right down to smaller experimental companies were touting Alexa compatibility at the 2017 CES.

Google was not about to let Amazon take the AI spotlight two years in a row. LG, Kohler, Kia, JBL, Sony, iHome, to name a few, all had products advertising seamless integration with the Google Assistant. Of course, compatibility can vary from the technology recognizing and working with Assistant to it having the AI built into the unit. Regardless of the level of compatibility, it led to Google having more mentions that its closest competitor.

And then there was the booth. Like Gibson, Google opted for an outdoor space at the show—and they used it to do what Google does best. The easygoing company created an experience that was as much about imprinting the Google name on the minds of users as it was about showcasing their products and abilities. The booth had the longest lines of the show with users eagerly waiting to traverse the three-story, two-structure adventure and see the various ways Google affects their lives. The tour culminated with a rooftop café and tunnel slide back to ground level. It was clear Google was determined to win this year’s battle for best invisible technology.

That brings us back to the main theme of the show. As you walked through the booths to see the latest innovations in televisions, kitchen appliances, smart homes, cars, and transportation in general, it became clear there was one unifying decade. The technology we were treated to was looking over thirty years ahead at the year 2050. This is apparently when experts believe technology will control every aspect of our lives in a seamless interaction between human being and artificial intelligence.

The vision relies on one main aspect: autonomous transportation. Self-driving cars eliminate traffic jams as they weave in and out of lanes seamlessly without slowing the flow of other vehicles. Since we no longer need to be in control of our vehicles, there is little need to own them. Vehicles become a service that picks you up and delivers you to a destination. Parks replace parking lots. The car itself becomes a mobile office where you can prepare for a meeting or presentation as you commute.

CES_RideSharing
Where’s the driver?

In addition to the self-driving car, the smart home will become aware of its inhabitants and work to keep them comfortable. According to Panasonic, the house of the future will not only know and adjust to your habits but will also understand when you are feeling ill and adjust temperature, humidity levels, and other characteristics to care for you.

It was not too long ago that I sat in a technology seminar and was told experts were unable to see beyond 2045 and in fact were concerned of what lay ahead based on the learning rate of our present tech. This year, CES was encouraging us to instead welcome all these changes fearlessly.

Technological advances always pique my interest. Without our efforts to improve technology, we would not enjoy many of the things we live with and take for granted today. Would you like to go back to a world before the Internet, before microwave ovens, or before refrigerators? Yet, it’s also important to remain vigilant about where our new products are taking us as a society and who or what we may be leaving behind.

As someone who’s spent the equivalent of several years on the road thanks to living in Los Angeles and previously having a stint as a sales and merchandising rep, I’ve seen the various minor human errors that lead to accidents. I welcome autonomous transportation and think it will do wonders for our sanity. That doesn’t mean I wish to relinquish all control to computers or that I want Siri or Alexa determining the temperature of my bedroom and prescribing drugs to me because I sneezed inside my house.

CES is a fun show to attend. You get lost in the glamour of a scintillating future with shiny new products. The purpose of the show is to get consumers excited but I can’t help but feel like an ulterior goal may be to desensitize consumers and reduce their fears of technology that grows smarter each year. As a result, we grow closer each year to a future of friendly robots promising to make our lives better. We are more attached to our machines than ever before and one day soon, we may find ourselves unable to distinguish between human and machine interactions.

Live First, Write Second

NotebooksThese days, everyone with a computer and an Internet signal writes about the food they eat, clothes they buy, places they visit, places they dream of visiting, and people they wish to meet. Some do it for fun but others may believe this to be a stepping-stone to a writing career.

We all know there are writing jobs in Los Angeles. We hear of people who write screenplays, television shows, magazine articles, books, and much more. But realistically, this is a small percentage of the city’s population. And if you ever want to be part of that subset, you are battling existing writers protecting their own careers along with aspiring writers like yourself. This is why having a “day job” in the city is so important.

When I graduated high school in ’97, I began looking for retail work that would allow me to go to college. I had been working part-time but wanted a few more hours now that I had some freedom with scheduling individual classes.

While in college, life began to happen, as it so often does. I fell in love with a girl, got married, and had a child a few years later. As time passed, work started to become a higher priority than school until it eliminated school altogether.

After a few years away, I did eventually go back to school. In 2008, I graduated from Cal State University of Dominguez Hills. About a month after graduation, I took a sales & marketing position with a family-owned manufacturer of musical instrument accessories. I attribute the quick find to being a recent graduate with real work experience.

Over the last ten years, I’ve modified myself within the company to do the things I enjoy doing. I get to travel, visit trade shows to experience products before they are available, and help develop our own new products. But the key activity that I get to complete at work is to write. I write almost everything the company requires before it gets edited with the entire creative team.

It’s this job that has enabled me to write without guilt. Our bills are paid each month and my family has food, shelter, and a few extras. I’m afforded the necessary freedom to write independently. Without this job, I don’t believe writing would currently play such a major role in my life. Providing for my family will always have a higher priority than putting words on a page unless those words are a source of income.

I’m sure the preceding words may seem like heresy to aspiring writers who may be reading this. If that’s you, I first thank you for taking the time to read this far. Second, allow me to explain why the act of writing should not be the top priority in a writer’s life.

I believe a writer must carry out three activities often. The first is simple: read. Reading will improve grammar and help young writers understand the balance of art and skill that is writing. Turn off the television and read; read often, read about different topics, and read works of multiple authors.

The second activity is writing. If you think that writing is something you want to explore, start writing. Do not think about writing jobs or your future as a best-selling novelist. Simply grab a pen or start your computer, and write. Use whatever spare time you have to write. Even if time is limited, you should want to write every day. If you love it, you will gradually spend more time writing until it becomes a daily escape, therapy, or even a drug. It should never feel like a chore. If it does, congratulations, you just realized writing is not the career for you and are one step closer to finding the one that is.

The final activity essential for every writer is the most important and the one most often forgotten: living. Regardless of your writing topics, every writer must be able to express thoughts and feelings through words. It’s imperative you experience joy, sorrow, envy, lust, and all other pleasures and pains of life. Ignoring life around you as it occurs will lead to dry, empty writing. It’s the many twists and turns of life that mold the writer and provide the courage and skill necessary to put your soul on a page.

So get out and let life happen. Go ahead and fall in love, go to school, get jobs, lose jobs, travel, have kids, meet people, fight, protest—live. Let life give you a reason to write rather than pausing life to make time to write. Pursue writing with an equal passion for life and you may become one of the lucky few who make a living writing in Los Angeles.

Goodbye, 2017

The year 2017 is officially behind us. It was not a particularly great year but it’s always an achievement to survive the year. After all, it was certainly an eventful year. The Trump Presidency became a reality and began to unfurl as expected but also in surprising ways. My oldest daughter turned 15 while my youngest had only her first birthday celebration. Finally, after many years of self-doubt, Los Angeles Noise became a reality.

Financially, the year was a struggle. Much like the years before, I went in with blind faith that I would set money aside to pay down debt. As weeks passed, I realized not only would saving be impossible but that we were bringing in less money than we were putting out—a frightful realization.

I made it through but this year will require additional revenue. If I can’t find it through writing, I will set writing aside in favor of Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and any other opportunities I find for extra cash in my spare time—not that there’s much.

On a more positive note, my teenage daughter turned 15 in 2017. To celebrate, we took a long weekend escape to The Happiest Place on Earth. Even as a teenager, Disneyland remains one of her favorite places and she had never had a multi-day experience at the park. She enjoyed every minute of the event as we made her the center of attention. Her smile flashed throughout the weekend as the magic of the place unfolded before her. She screamed for her life on the Guardians of the Galaxy elevator ride in California Adventure, burst with laughter on the Tow Mater ride, and bonded with her baby sister while traversing the Haunted Mansion carriage ride.

Her baby sister had a milestone of a different kind: Her first birthday. It’s a young life only beginning while her sister is gearing up for college and her parents are still trying to figure out life. It’s playtime at all times and in any place. During the darker personal periods of the year, it was her smile that brightened up my world. Much like her older sister did 15 years ago, her life has brought new perspective to life.

2017 was a year of focus. The best example of this is this very website. Its concept was conceived in 2008, my final year of college. Since then, the purpose of the site morphed but never disappeared. Over the years I constantly reviewed the necessary steps to start the site but always stopped short. There was perhaps a fear of rejection or worse, being invisible in a virtual world where everyone with a computer is a critic, a producer, a musician, or a writer.

The website was a result of a dramatic increase in writing that began in 2016 and continued to manifest in 2017. I’m writing now more than ever before. Even if writing never becomes my main profession, it will always be a love and a passion.

Along with the increase in writing, my love for manipulating sound has been revitalized. Through a few projects at work, I immersed myself in the modular synthesizer world. The NAMM Show is quickly approaching and we decided to put together a Eurorack modular synth demo this year. With the help of our social marketing specialist, we connected with many synth manufacturers and acquired modules for the demo.

I was tasked with putting the rig together, learning how to use it, and preparing the demo at the show. Since putting it together shortly after Thanksgiving, I’ve been able to take the rig home with me each weekend. Even with my limited time, it was a reminder of why I pursued a career in audio when I went back to college after leaving it behind to start a family.

Now that the year is over, my hope for 2018 is simple: write, create, earn, and still find time for family. I think I reached the 100,000-word milestone in 2017. I aim to surpass this mark in 2018. In true creative form, I will continue my exploration of modular synthesizers and create for eyes and ears. I plan on continuing internal growth at my current job while simultaneously finding additional revenue, preferably through words. What time remains will be spent hiking, reading, or just hanging out with family. This will serve as needed recharges for the mind, body, and soul.

And with those thoughts, it’s time to let 2017 slide into the past and begin 2018 with a positive outlook. If you’re reading this, I hope you do the same.

Real Cars at the Mecum Auto Auction

MecumSign.JPG
Mecum Auto Auction and Dodge Thrill Ride, 2018

Between work, play, and family, Las Vegas is like a second home. This time around, work brought me to the City of Sin a week before Thanksgiving. I flew in Friday morning to walk a stage lighting trade show that day. My job requires I walk shows in search of new markets or product ideas. I landed early but was able to check into my room at about 9 AM at no additional cost. The show didn’t open to the public until 11 AM and after waking up at 4 AM to make the first flight out of Long Beach, I decided to take a nap.

I woke up around 10:30 refreshed and ready to catch the monorail to the convention center. I’ve made this trip so many times it’s become mundane but things were about to take a positive turn on this trip. As the train approached the convention center station I could hear revving engines in the streets below. Being from L.A., I simply assumed someone was flooring the gas pedal at the green light. The blasts continued and grew louder as we reached the station and the doors slid open.

I stepped outside and looked all around to figure out where the commotion was coming from and noticed barricades and traffic cones in a parking lot. The train and other station structures obstructed the view. Then—like a wildcat jumping out to ambush its prey—a neon green Dodge Challenger leapt out of hiding and onto a makeshift racetrack. The car drifted through two figure-8 patterns while plumes of smoke escaped from between the pavement and burning rubber tires.

After only a few moments of staring at the scene below, I had lost all interest in walking a lighting show. I made my way out of the monorail station and stood atop the escalators for a few more minutes getting a full glimpse of the action. In a partnership with the Mecum Auto Auction—a traveling auction for car collectors—Dodge had built this drifting track for all visitors.

I stared at the makeshift track for a while but eventually pulled myself away to go walk the show that brought me to Vegas in the first place. I needed to finish the work before I got down to playing in Las Vegas. I knew I would find my way back to the cars at some point that day.

It took a few hours but I did eventually make my way back to LVCC South. Approaching from the other halls made it easy to spot the crowd lined up for the Dodge Hellcat Thrill Ride. I walked over and parked myself at the end of the line.

The line moved quickly and the drifting action kept everyone entertained for the duration of the wait. There was also a Dodge emcee that kept the crowd engaged giving away small prizes for answering car trivia. He would also sprinkle tidbits about the cars in the demo—none more interesting than the tire facts. The demo went on nonstop from the start of the show until sunset and each set of tires lasted about two hours. They were running through 10 sets of tires per day and this was only day two of a four-day show.

Tires
Tires: Before and after

My turn came up and I hopped into a beautiful Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The driver introduced himself and proceeded to the starting line as I buckled up. He asked if I was ready as he approached the line without ever coming to a complete stop (what we Angelenos recognize as a California stop) and hit the gas!

The car pushed out of the starting position without hesitation and immediately made a hairpin turn to the left. It quickly exploded again through a short straightaway before the real drifting began. The Hellcat maneuvered through the turns in a matter of seconds. Each turn tossed me off to one side while the driver remained still and in control. Coming out of the last turn, the driver smashed the gas one last time to push the car to the drop-off point. The last growl of the beast subsided to an impressive purr as it came to a complete stop. I exited from the demonic feline under an adrenaline rush and made my way to the auction entrance.

Hellcat
The Hellcat

The south hall of LVCC had never looked this large. There were cars as far as the eye could see, each asking to be ogled, caressed, and driven. There were dripping wet hot rods, freshly waxed GTO’s, pristine Camaros, and mint-condition cars of the 30’s and 40’s.

My biggest car obsession has always been the Ford Mustang. The infatuation runs so deep that I find every version of the car exciting—even the 80’s compacts with lackluster power. Every decade, every generation of the famed pony car was represented inside the building. My mind drifted. I could see myself driving from Buena Park to Echo Park each evening in one of these horses. The irritations of the daily traffic jam dissipated with a Mustang engine at my command.

Mustang
A better way to navigate L.A. traffic

I spent a few hours perusing the aisles: taking pictures, feeling leather interiors, and daydreaming. After making it to the end, I worked my way back to the center of the action. No visit to an auto auction would be complete without pausing to witness the spectacle. There were rows of seated collectors waiting for the right car to be pushed through the red carpet before them. As the sought-after vehicle approached, they waited patiently for the auctioneer to introduce the features of the car before seamlessly transitioning into the signature rapid-fire auctioneer vocalizations. He’d throw out a number, point to the hand in the air, and move to the next bid up and continue the process until hands stopped going up. Hands went up emotionless, like poker players refusing to reveal their hand.

Once the bidding stopped, the car was pushed away from the viewing area. A worker would hop in the car, start it up, and drive it back to its designated parking area for the remainder of the show. The car then sat marked “sold” until the buyer claimed it at the end of the weekend.

The sounds and smells familiar to car enthusiasts were everywhere. You could hear a Corvette roar to life, see a Plymouth Superbird cruise through the halls, and spot a restored Model T shake and rattle its chrome components. The aroma of gasoline permeated throughout the hall. In today’s world of the silent Prius, self-parking Fusion, and self-driving Tesla, the Mecum Auto Auction was a reminder of how driving a car should always feel.

The Power of Fear

Fear is a powerful emotion. Under the right circumstances, it makes us better and pushes us forward. Under the wrong ones, it stops us from moving in any direction. In many ways, the most meaningful characteristics of our lives are results of how we reacted in moments of fear.

The human brain is what sets us apart from other species. It has the ability to solve the most complex of problems and create the most stunning expressions of life. It is also our biggest obstacle. When we have doubts about an unknown situation, it is our brain that gets carried away and focuses exclusively on the worst possible outcome of the fearful situation when instead, as logic would tell us, it should focus on the likeliest outcome.

Fear keeps us from opening doors and accepting new opportunities. It is what keeps us in bad situations because “the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t”. We remain stuck because we are afraid. It took a long time to realize this but I made a personal vow as an adult that I would not let fear guide my life. I am not always successful in following this advice but being aware of it has helped me throughout the years. Even the decision to start this site required I overcome my own fears and doubts.