News & Editorial Archives, 2015-2014


Thank You, But No Nominations Necessary
July 27, 2015


Since releasing my WEAK Polka Pontoon CD last year, a number of professionals in the polka music industry have asked me if I wouldn't mind them nominating it for various polka music awards. I answered them by saying that, while I appreciate the compliment and the consideration, it would be best to nominate another musician's or band's CD. And here is my explanation:

Imagine a pie baking contest at a county fair. Fifteen contestants bake their best homemade pies and submit them to a panel of judges for judging. In a normal pie-judging contest, all of the judges will taste each of the fifteen pies and judge them accordingly. But, in this case, the judges only receive a written list of all the contestants and the pies they baked. Some of the judges have sampled a few of the pies, but not all of them. Some of the judges haven't sampled any of the pies at all. And now they are being asked to pick the best pie from the list.

It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Well, this is exactly how music awards work. The voters charged with choosing the best CD have not heard all of the CDs from which they're choosing. Some of the voters will have heard a few of the CDs or just one or two songs from a few of them, and some voters may not heard any of the CDs at all. And yet, these people will be picking the winning CD. So what happens is they'll pick from only the CDs they've heard, or from only the names they recognize. Some voters will pick a CD they've never heard based on their assumption it's probably the best one.

Winning awards this way doesn't appeal to me.

About ten years ago, the president of a fledgling polka organization and I hashed out ideas for laying the groundwork for their future awards program. One idea, about which I was adamant, was that they forgo the way all other polka awards programs are run—instead of allowing volumes of people to vote, they restrict voting to a small panel of qualified judges and make it easy for all polka bands and musicians to get their CDs into the hands of every one of the judges. Then, and only then, would winning be worth anything, because every CD would judged equally. Furthermore, the winning CD would be chosen strictly based on the quality of the content, and not the popularity of the musicians.

One of my ideas – the name of the award – was adopted. But my proposed method of voting was voted down by their board of directors in favor of allowing unlimited numbers of people to vote... just like every other polka awards program. So now we have yet another awards program in which the judges are choosing the best pie without tasting all the pies.

While I support polka organizations and their efforts, and while I am always honored whenever someone considers my work as award-worthy, the awards themselves don't hold any actual merit. They're great for bragging to people who don't know better, and they can make a résumé look impressive by adding bullets, but they do not define quality. Many other industry professionals agree with that, but choose not to state it publicly.

For every musician who understands the inauspicious nature of music awards, there will always be a musician who doesn't. Perhaps he feels that winning an award is the highest validation he can receive for his efforts, or perhaps he just likes collecting bullets on his résumé. Regardless, a nomination for me would be a wasted nomination, because it would better serve the desires of any number of musicians out there who need the validation. Your compliments, words of encouragement, or just a thumbs up will always have a greater meaning to me than any trophy or plaque.



I Am NOT Affiliated With the New Wisconsin Polka Music Website
February 22, 2015


It was recently brought to my attention that a new website has been created which uses the domain "wisconsinpolkamusic.com".  I  once owned that domain and ran a website on it from 2005 to 2014. In October of 2014, I discontinued the website and allowed the domain to expire.  An expired domain can be acquired by anyone.
 
Someone did acquire the domain, and they also created a website on it to promote polka music. That's great, except that for a time, they made it look as though I was still running the website! My name, photo, and quite a bit of my original site's copyrighted material was published on the new WisconsinPolkaMusic website without my consent or approval.

I want to make clear that I did not authorize the use of my likeness or any written material for the new website. I am not affiliated with the WisconsinPolkaMusic website in any way.

I contacted the registrant of the website to request the infringing material be removed. He was very kind and understanding of the situation, and removed the material right away.
 


Virtual Polka Instruments Store Now Open

February 7, 2015


If you're a polka musician who's into computer-based music production, then you already know how impossible it's been to find virtual instruments suited for polka music. The instruments themselves exist, but they're made for other types of music.  For example, you can find accordions, but they're made for French cafes or Brazillian tango halls. You can find tubas, but they're designed for marching bands or symphony orchestras. I've experienced this same problem, and I decided to do something about it. After months of sampling, editing, and coding, I am proud to begin offeing a library of virtual instruments created exclusively for the Polka genre.

No other virtual instrument manufacturer has ever dared invest any time or resources into creating polka instruments, probably because the demand for polka instruments is, no doubt, a fraction of the demand for more "universal" world instruments. But that left a gap in the virtual instruments market. I discovered that gap one day while searching for a virtual polka concertina for one of my studio's productions. Needless to say, no such virtual concertina could be found, so I made my own from a Hengel concertina.  It was a success. From that point on, I decided to boldly go where no VSTi manufacturer has gone before — into the world of American polka music.

So far, I have seven instruments being offered: Hammond Solovox, Hengel Concertina, Karpek Polka King Accordion, Meinl-Weston Tuba, Melodija Button Box, Old German Concertina, and Stradivarius Concertina. With the exception of the Old German Concertina which is offered as a free download, the rest of the instruments are only $14.00 each to download.

The instruments I create are not complex by virtual instrument standards. I don't sample them in multiple mic positions and articulations like you'll find on $60+ instruments. I give my instruments only the amount of samples and adjustable controls they need to get the job done, and that allows me to keep their cost very affordable.

Please check out the
virtual polka instruments at Polkasound Productions.



Annual Kittling Brusky Memorial Fundraiser Ends With a Record-Breaking Year
December 20, 2014


Last night's dance at Kochanski's in Milwaukee brought in over $425.00, bringing this year's fundraising total to just over $885.00!  Many area musicians stopped in, and several jammed with us on stage — Jeff Winard, Jason Goldsmith, Billy Micale, BB Carter, and Gus Krueger.  Lynette Weidner, president of the Cat Network, one of the fundraiser's two non-profit beneficiaries, made a special appearance to offer words of gratitude to all the donors.

I would like to extend my own gratitude to the musicians who donated their time and talents last night, Dan Tutsch and John Gostomski, and to Andy Kochanski for donating his hall for this fundraising effort.

I am also grateful to everyone who showed up to support this event.  Besides all the musicians who were there, family and friends from all circles were in attendance as well, including a high school classmate, a fellow tennis player... even an ex-girlfriend!

I want to thank everyone who donated this year and in previous years.  Since December of 2009, over $2,300 has been raised and donated to local cat rescues.

The whole purpose of this annual fundraiser was to honor Kittling.  I don't consider myself a "cat person", but I do know the joy that cats bring to people every day.  Kitty brought me happiness for seventeen years, and I feel that is worth recognizing.  This fundraiser honors her by helping keep other cats and kittens happy and healthy until it is their turn to bring happiness to other people's lives.

This week, I will have the privilege of presenting the Cat Network and New Life Cat Rescue with checks for at least $442.00 each.  On behalf of all the cats and kittens currently residing at these rescues, thank you for your support!



Finally... Virtual Instruments For the Polka World
March 14, 2014


When I upgraded my studio to a digital audio workstation last year, I installed an advanced software program on my computer that allows me to record the sounds of other instruments, and then play those sounds back as "virtual instruments" using any MIDI controller – most commonly a piano keyboard.  The technology, known as sampling, has been around for a long time, but personal computers have now become so powerful that they can handle the loading and playing back of the most pristinely-sampled virtual instrument libraries, which can be several gigabytes in size.  The result is an unprecedented level of realism in virtual instruments.

In the old days, the quality of virtual instruments was limited because computer processing power and memory was also limited.  Commercial sound library manufacturers had to compress their samples and often used artificial means (digital synthesis) to build the sounds in their libraries.  But now, since computer power is no longer an issue, sound library manufacturers no longer need to be mindful of the size and quality of their samples.  Instead of recording 88 samples for a grand piano, for example, a sound library manufacturer can now meticulously sample all the fine details of the piano, such as each note at ten different volumes, the noise of the foot pedals, the sympathetic resonance of the other strings, etc.  A single software-based, virtual piano may be created from as many as several thousand samples, literally making it indistinguishable on a recording from a real acoustic piano.

The sampling software I installed on my computer allows me to create virtual instruments of stunning realism, because I can sample every single note of an instrument in high-quality, 24-bit audio, and assign each note to a key on the keyboard to be played back.   I can also sample each note of the instrument at various volumes and assign each volume sample to a velocity range on each key of the keyboard.  With this capability at my fingertips, I am embarking on a project to do something that has never been done before.  I'm building a library of sampled instruments specifically tailored to polka music.

So far, I have three instruments in my library: a Meinl-Weston rotary-valve tuba, a Hengel C concertina (compliments of Ed Hause), and a Bb Stradivarius concertina (compliments of Joe Fojtik).

To create a virtual instrument takes both time and patience.  Each individual note of the real instrument is recorded into a sound file.   The notes are previewed and manually processed as needed to achieve relative volume and equalization continuity from the instrument's lowest note to its highest.  The notes are then saved as their own, individual files with their start and end points carefully edited for conformity.  Finally, each note is assigned to its corresponding key on the keyboard, and then the entire instrument's envelope parameters  are globally adjusted to mimic, as closeley as possible, how the instrument naturally responds when it is played.  The process of creating just one virtual instrument can take an entire day to complete.

Concertinas and accordions exist in the virtual instrument world, but the samples are not suited for polka music.  They are suited more for "universal world" purposes, such as playing tangos or strolling in French cafes.  I'm going to change all that.  Since
I understand what an accordion, concertina, and button box is supposed to sound like in a polka band, my reed instrument samples sound a little different than the ones you'll find commercial libraries.  The virtual instruments I'm creating have a faster attack, faster decay, and even a faint touch of button noise on some notes for added punch.

A lot of commercial sound libraries have virtual tubas, but, like the accordions, the samples are not suited for polka music.  A virtual tuba for polka music must have a full range of velocities, from a simple "puff" to a brassy "blat", and all of the samples need to have a hard attack plus sustain since polka tuba players often preceed a staccato note on the 1 beat with a legato note on the preceeding 2 beat.  Since I am a tuba player, I know how to sample each note so that it will give a virtual polka tuba the most realism, and have created the most comprehensive virtual tuba you'll ever hear coming from software.  It uses approximately 150 recorded samples.

In the weeks to come, I will be sampling a Solovox, the monophonic electronic keyboard made popular by Frank Yankovic in the 1950's (compliments of Grant Kozera).  I also have plans to sample my own accordions, a button box, a Wagner tuba, and, when I am feeling ambitious, my mom's 100-year-old Chickering grand piano.




New Cat Is Doing Well
February 22, 2014


Just a few weeks after losing both ears to frostbite, Viola is doing well. All of the scar tissue is gone. Now that she is so far along in her recovery and has comfortably settled into her new surroundings, her intelligence and unique personality are really starting to shine through.

Unfortunately, she cannot be around other cats. To say that she hates other cats would be putting it mildly. When I introduced her to Snickers and Arthur, she screeched at the top of her lungs and chased them down at full speed, then cornered and attacked. So the three cats will not be able to live in the same house. Snickers and Arthur live with me, but Viola will have to remain living at my mom's house.

Other than terrorizing Snickers and Arthur to within inches of their sanity, she's the most affectionate, innocent angel of a cat. She's not too keen yet on playing with toys or chasing the dot from a laser pen, but, like all cats, she can't resist a piece of string.


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