Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Listening to Tone Poems as mp3s: Heightened vs. Diminished Experiences

Tomorrow night, ITAV's Peter Richards will be appearing on 88.9 FM The Impact's local music specialty show "The Basement" to discuss the 3-Way Singles Series, preview some tunes from the forthcoming Volume 4 of the series, give out some download codes, talk a bit about the Independent Musicians Fund (IMF), and maybe some other freebies and fun stuff.  Tune in between 8-10 PM, if you're outside the Lansing area you can stream it here.

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On August 13th, Stargrazer performed live for the last time -- at least for a while.  As performances go, I felt really good about it.  I was relaxed and the songs flowed out of my fingers and my bass without the clunky notes or missed phrases that plague me when I'm not fully focused.  For once, I spent some time on a detailed soundcheck, and I even noodled around and improvised a multi-layered loop before I began my set using the innards of a music box that played "You Are My Sunshine" over a highly abstracted bass ostinato.  It got applause.  I nearly changed my mind.

However, the decision wasn't ever really mine to make.  Or maybe it was, somewhere way back in time when I could've had better posture, or been more diligent about warm-ups and practicing with proper hand position, or more conscientious at the computer with proper typing techniques.  It all began in March, with a persistent knot in my shoulder that wouldn't let up, no matter what I tried: a new pillow, backrubs, exercise.  Soon, it became a numbness in my thumb and forefinger accompanied by waves of pins-and-needles that would travel up and down my left arm from elbow to fingertips.

I kept hoping it would go away.

Finally, I went to the doctor.  "Classic symptoms of carpal tunnel," she said.  I asked if it ever went away and she just looked at the floor and shook her head.  She recommended I buy a wrist splint to wear at work and when I was sleeping.  I took some sort of $500 diagnostic test that my insurance wouldn't cover, and the conclusion was the same:  CTS, a catch-all diagnosis for repetitive stress injuries to the medial nerve -- the one that passes through the narrow tunnel of bones in your wrist and connects your thumb, forefinger and middle finger to your spine.  Since I am right handed, the presence of CTS in my left hand seemed to indicate that the culprit was fretting my bass.

I would rather have my hand amputated than not be able to play bass.

Other than surgery, the only solution is rest, with rest being defined as not using your fingers, wrist, or elbow.  So, in other words, impossible -- at least for anyone who needs to work for a living!

I've done a lot in the last few months to change how I play bass.  I've tried holding it differently and I've become much more conscious of what I'm demanding of my wrist and fingers.  I've started taking B vitamins (apparently, B vitamin deficiency alone can bring on CTS).  I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory.  I got the first-ever professional massage of my life (highly recommended!)  I realized much too late that I've been demanding a lot from my body for years but not giving it anything back.  My eleventh-hour efforts have improved the symptoms a little, but I still get woken up in the middle of the night by pain and tingles.  It sucks.  One of the things I enjoy the most in life, and that I feel I can offer something artistically with, is being taken away.  Unchecked, it will lead to more intense pain and loss of finger strength.  I'll start dropping things.

I'm not willing to let that happen.

So, Stargrazer is on indefinite hiatus, at least as far as performing live goes.  I have hundreds of songs to document, and I plan to keep recording, both in the studio with Eric Merkling and at home.  I have a couple farmer's market gigs to honor in September and October.  Part of me is saying "you're not a real band until you go on indefinite hiatus," but the other part can't parse the sarcasm -- in fact I am genuinely depressed that my body is in revolt against my head.  The condition of my wrist is placing a dam on the river of my creativity.  Just when I was getting somewhere, it's all being taken away.

So this is a downer of a blog entry, no?

What I want to put down "on paper" is that I'm not giving up.  I'm taking a break to get healthy, and I plan to do everything I possibly can to rest, recover, and eventually strengthen my wrist.  Being a graphic designer/bassist/writer/bookseller is going to make that a challenge, but I am highly motivated and in the interim ITAV will persist in its focus on exposing great music through the 3-Way Singles Series and some of our other exciting upcoming releases.

Stargrazer as a live unit is done, for now. 

Stargrazer as a recording unit will remain active.  I'm just getting the hang of my home recording set-up, and the full-length album I'm working on with Eric is something I am very excited about and very committed to completing.  I am also fully committed to releasing more great music by my comrades-in-arms in the independent music scene.

I had a fantastic time playing out with Drinking Mercury (who will release their own full-length debut September 3rd at Mac's Bar), Calliope (who are one of my inspirations in the local/independent scene), and Gnome Village (who I spent the latter half of the summer gigging with and who I look forward to collaborating with, one way or another, in the future).  I look forward to many more great evenings of music, pain-free, when that pain-free day arrives.  See you in the funny papers.

Until then, look for much more graphic design output from the ITAV studios (I just re-vamped the "Posters/Album Art" page of this blog), sporadic Stargrazer studio works, and an ongoing commitment to the 3-Way Singles series.  Sit up when you type, don't rest your wrists, pay attention to your posture, eat right and take care of yourself.

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