10 February 2009


Real cutting and pasting

Pre-desktop-publishing nostalgiaGraphic designer Michael Bierut is more than a decade older than me, but still, his article in the New York Times (via Kottke) this week felt familiar. I realized that's because, even though I've only hacked around the edges of the business of design and layout, I've been doing it for more than 30 years in some way or another.

More importantly, I belong to what is probably the last generation to straddle the gap between pre- and post-computer design. In elementary school in the 1970s, we made student newspapers with pens on Gestetner mimeograph paper, reproduced on smeary blue-inked sheets just like our notices and test papers. (More than a decade later, I had a used hand-crank Gestetner in my basement to run off newsletters for my computer club the Apple Alliance—there's some irony, or at least foreshadowing, in that.)

By the mid-1980s I was printing out long columns of dot-matrix type to cut and paste (with actual scissors and glue) onto photocopy masters, while also using Letraset rub-on letter stencils for headlines. That was for student newspapers—but putting together our high school annual still involved typewritten text, printed photos, rubber cement, and grease pencil. The real work of typography and layout was left to the professionals we never met at the printing plant in Winnipeg. We had perhaps two or three choices of typeface.

A few years later, the Science Undergraduate Society at UBC had an IBM PC clone with Ventura Publisher, and then a Mac with PageMaker. The only laser printer available was downtown, so I took floppy disks down and paid several dollars a page to print out 8x10s, which we then lined up to assemble tabloid-style layouts on blue-lined layout sheets. I drove those down to the printer to produce some of the first issues of The 432.

By the early '90s, everything was digital until the presses rolled, and a few years after that even floppies or CD-Rs were passé in favour of email and FTP. This decade I've hardly done anything for print at all: what little design work I do is for the Web, or podcasts, or maybe a PDF file that might get printed. Maybe.

So for me, a desktop, rulers, pica scales, cut and paste, cropping, and so on represent memories of the real physical activities. My kids may do some similar things for art projects, and with their grandmother when creating cards and photo books in her crafting room in Maple Ridge, but I don't expect they ever will for publication. Why would they, when we have six Macs (and two laser printers) in the house?

Labels: , , , , ,

11 January 2009


The cool crowd

My friend Simon scanned some old photos and sent them over a couple of days ago. They're of me and some of my friends (him included) between 1990 and 1992. We look younger than we thought we did at the time. And yes, the '90s definitely had its own fashion sense, even if we didn't think so then either:

The cool crowd On the old couches Derek on the rocks Derek leaping
Derek n drum Derek and Simon Lunatic Fringe 2 Lunatic Fringe 1
Drummer to the right Get down baby Derek and the glowing cow Sebastien and geetar

The pictures include photos of The Love Bugs, the predecessor to my current band The Neurotics, which is still playing a pretty similar batch of songs more than 15 years later. If you'd been at the Starlight Casino in Queensborough, B.C. last night, in fact, you could have seen me playing guitar and drums just like in these images—but in a nice suit instead of a ratty t-shirt. Sebastien was there too.

Labels: , , , , ,

31 August 2008


Cool retro juke box gear that's older than me

Seeburg 45 rpm 100-selection jukeboxIf you're into audio gear, you'd like my father's house, especially his basement. Juke boxes used to be the thing, and he installed many of them in the '60s and '70s throughout British Columbia. My parents' rec room includes juke boxes for both 331/3 rpm LPs and 45 rpm singles.

Even cooler, my dad can hook up his MP3 player to one of them, and also route sound to some ancient but still great-sounding twin speakers, each of which comprises double 15-inch woofers (!) and exponential horn tweeters. Those can be extremely loud. Somehow I doubt that many people's current 5.1 surround sound systems will still be going strong in 40 years like these are.

Labels: , , ,

17 May 2008


It was acceptable in the eighties

Back in 1986, a group of kids from my all-boys' private school (St. George's School in Vancouver) and a couple of affiliated girls' schools (Crofton House and York House) took a Spring Break "art tour" trip to Italy, with whirlwind visits to Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Turin, and so on.

I have photos in an album somewhere, but Anne Pewsey Richards, who was also on the trip, has done much better. She posted a bunch of pictures to Facebook, and gave me permission to repost them at Flickr. If you thought my glasses were big the year before in my geekiest photo, check them out here with the accompanying sunglass clip-ons:

Derek's huge specs 1986

Anne's group shot also includes some prime '80s hair and fashions. (I'm on the far right, squinting—shoulda worn the clip-ons.)

Italy high-school art tour 1986

Finally, you can see that I was a camera nerd, with the Nikon, big zoom lens, and obnoxious camera strap, even then (again, I'm far right—guess I had the contact lenses on there):

High school kids at the Colosseum 1986

I'm sure there was no way at all that local Italians could tell that we were tourists. There are several people in her photos (Anne included—but she noted that she's lived in England since the early '90s) whom I have not seen even once in the intervening 22 years.

I also haven't been back to Europe since this trip.

Labels: , , , , , ,

02 May 2008


Metal, wood, and plastic

The Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum in Paderborn, Germany, bills itself as the world's largest computer museum. James Harton at Flickr has some photos of key elements of the collection, which include old typewriters and an Enigma machine.

Labels: , , , ,

26 April 2008


Ba-doomp, ba-doomp, ba-doomp, ba-doomp, bom bom!

Genesis Parc des Princes, Paris 30-06-2007 at Flickr.comSometime in 1983 or so, I got really into the band Genesis, after the release of their self-titled album of that year. I still look back at that record and its two predecessors from the turn of the '80s, "Duke" and "Abacab," as their best, where they managed to mix art-rock and pop deftly, without turning silly.

Yes, I turned into a pretty big fanboy: I went back into the old catalogue and bought the Peter Gabriel-era prog-rock sets too, and I enjoyed them. The later stuff, like "Invisible Touch" and "We Can't Dance"? I think I picked those up more out of duty than pure enjoyment. But I never tired of Phil Collins's drumming, whether on "Selling England By the Pound" or Gabriel's epochal third album or his own solo work. He remains one of the reasons I'm a drummer today.

I saw Collins play live a couple of times, once on the final pre-reunion Genesis tour in the '90s, and once at an arena tour with his solo band. He always put on a good show, with great lighting. At his solo performance, his then-teenaged son sat in on drums, despite having recently broken an arm.

It's not a huge surprise that Collins announced his retirement (via Paul) from recording and performing this week (although whether it will be a Cher/Celine Dion–style retirement or a more real one is an open question). He's been in the entertainment business for something like 45 years—as a child actor he was an extra in A Hard Day's Night—and he certainly has little left to prove.

He's taken his share of slagging over the years, especially when you couldn't avoid him during the '80s, and as he slid into mellow late-period Elton, Rod, and Sting–style music a decade later. But put on a track like "Turn It On Again," "No Self Control," "Misunderstanding," or, of course, "In the Air Tonight"—you can't deny something brilliant there. And he was a pioneer with drum machines and electronic percussion too.

One interesting thing about his drumming: his drum kits have always been set up left-handed. That's unusual even for left-handers like Collins, since so much in drumming requires a kind of ambidexterity. (Ringo Starr, conversely, is also left-handed, but has always played a right-handed kit.) In my case, with a regular right-handed set, I hit the main beats with my left hand, on the snare drum, and my right foot on the bass drum. My right arm handles the hi-hat and most of the other cymbals, and both hands work the tom-toms.

I'm not sure how Collins's reversed setup has affected how he plays, but it certainly hasn't hurt his career. If he doesn't retire fully, I wonder if he might return to his early foray into jazz fusion with Brand X (not that I would actually enjoy that) or something equally strange?

Labels: , , ,

20 April 2008


Out there havin' fun at the Vancouver Sun Run

As I mentioned a few days ago, my band The Neurotics played, for the 15th year in a row, at the Vancouver Sun Run, which as of this year appears to be the largest fun run in North America. There were over 59,000 registrants for the 2008 race.

As part of the photos I took downtown today, here's me behind the drum kit, with Swingy Neurotic (a.k.a. Doug Elliott) on bass:

Sticky and Swingy Neurotic

Thanks to Dilly Neurotic (a.k.a. Sean Dillon) for snapping that one. We all look a bit chubbier than usual because it was freaking cold for late April in Vancouver (just above freezing), so each of us had at least three layers of clothes under our costumes—I was wearing a T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, and a chunky sweater underneath my Union Jack shirt and glittery jacket.

Rock on, Sun Runners!

Labels: , , , , , ,

14 April 2008


Join The Neurotics for the Sun Run next Sunday

Sun Run 2003 - 06.jpg at Flickr.comBack in 1994, I was making a go of it as a full-time rock and roll drummer, and my cover band The Neurotics managed to snag a spot along the route of the annual Vancouver Sun Run, where we got paid a bit of money and had the chance to entertain tens of thousands of people as they ran 10 km through Stanley Park.

We were pretty silly (as we always are), and the runners liked us, so somehow the next year we were recruited to play on the scaffold above the starting line for the race, downtown at Burrard and Georgia streets. We've been the band there ever since (among numerous others along the route), and next Sunday, April 20, 2008, marks our 15th appearance at the Sun Run. (The band's lineup varies a bit each year, but for once the group of four musicians will all be guys who've done this show before.)

It's a strange gig, and one of the reasons the organizers keep calling us back is that we've honed our ability to play what guitarist Sean calls "heads-up hockey" up on the temporary stage. We have to show up before 5:00 a.m. to beat the road closures, haul our gear up some rickety scaffold stairs, do a very quick setup, and then go get some breakfast. Once we start playing around 7:30, it's pretty much a continuous performance until all 50,000-plus runners and walkers have gone by. That takes several hours.

But while we're up there playing much of that time, there are a lot of stops and starts, dictated on the fly by the race organizers and announcers on the platform with us—and we get little warning. Sometimes we only play 30 seconds of a song. Others we get 10 seconds (or less) of warning that we'll have to stop another, or just as much notice that we have to start. The mayor might speak, or other local celebrities. There are speeches and announcements, and each group of runners has its own starting announcement and air horn. A group of Fitness World aerobics types helps everyone get warmed up. We need to fit into the gaps, so we learned years ago that a set list does little good.

It is an awesome thing to see tens of thousands of Vancouverites thronging the streets below. It's also a huge load of fun. I was unable to play last year because it was early in my combined radiation and chemotherapy treatments. This year the timing is better, so while I'll be tired, I expect to be able to play the show without a hitch.

If you're in downtown Vancouver early on Sunday morning—especially if you're running by on Georgia Street in front of the RBC tower—look up, way up, and maybe you'll see me bangin' like Charlie Watts. But I'll probably be too busy to wave.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

15 November 2007


All acrylic deliciousness

I love Chris Reccardi's super-retro prints and paintings (via Music Thing).

Oh, and Lala from Tiki Bar TV is going to sell a lot of these calendars.

Labels: ,

03 July 2007


Some things never change

Here is me circa 1974:

Derek Circa 1974

Here is me last month:

Derek 2007

Thanks to my aunt and uncle for the top photo.

Labels: , , , , ,

29 May 2007


Building a fortress with medieval techniques

Jean-Hugues pointed me to this fascinating project in France, which he describes as...

...the incredible building site of the castle of Guédelon, in Burgundy. A non-profit organization is building a 13th century fortress, using only middle age technology. They started in 1997 and they hope the work will be finished by 2025. Around the building site, there is a little medieval village with the workshops of the craftworkers: carpenters, metal workers, rope makers, potters, and even a farm, with authentic middle-age pigs. Amazing!

The thought of taking nearly 30 years to construct a building is so antithetical to modern life—even the Empire State Building went up in little more than a year—that we forget that all sorts of big structures used to take that long.

Labels: , , , , , ,

26 May 2007


Tiffany vs. Debbie Gibson smackdown

Lee claims that, even today, Tiffany can kick Debbie Gibson's ass. Yes, a whole long blog post on the topic, analyzing both singers' careers over the past 20 years. Well argued too.

No really.

Labels: , , , ,