Rotator Interview with Drupal engineer and San Francisco Musician / Artist / Writer Cheth Rowe by Willi Paul
Rotator Interview with Drupal engineer and San Francisco Musician / Artist / Writer Cheth Rowe by Willi Paul

"Hey Willi, I ran out of energy last night; but all the changes have been completed now.

The search function works too. Searching for "greater" pulls up my fictitious job post.

The problem with searching we encountered last night turns out to be another side-effect of Jodi's disappearance. The search function relies on indexes that are rebuilt every 12 hours (I'm not entirely sure if this is the actual frequency--it might be every 4 hours, or every 24) when the cron process runs. This is the same process that sends out e-mail notifications. This cron process has not run since the lights went out in OK. Fortunately I can manually run this process. After I manually ran the cron process, the "greater" search worked. Note that it is not just job postings searches that had a problem; searches on regular posts have also been looking at old data only for some time now.

See you in a few hours!" Launch Day, 4/22/09

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What are the technical lessons so far in the Drupal tech-build at

Identifying lessons may seem necessary, but tends to be error-prone while the war still rages. I speak of the abnormally large number of serious crashes has experienced. If the causes were all known, perhaps lessons could be drawn. Right now the greater likelihood is that more crashes are in store.

Drupal has proven to be a malleable canvas for the PlanetShifter painting. The hand-drawn sketches fleshed out well. Skinning was relatively easy. Sophisticated concepts functioned immediately.
On the other hand, the uneven reliability of third-party modules is a problem. As the core Drupal product is inadequate, sites are forced to slog amongst hundreds of add-on modules to build capable systems. It is commendable that so many enthusiastic developers have produced so many fancy extensions, but the multiplicity of sources does not make the product more robust.
Although Drupal has caused us grief, it seems that most of our problems have come from hosting companies: the apparently defunct GoGreenHosting, and now, MediaTemple.

Had we known our first host would fold we would never have started a business relationship. Recently we have learned that MediaTemple wants to double our bill in order to give us an only occasionally working database server. So, one clear lesson is: choose site hosts well.

What is your favorite instrument? How do you select electric or acoustic instruments for your compositions?

My favorite musical instrument is voice. No instrument moves me as much as the human voice. But I am not a singer. I play piano-acoustic piano. I especially love my 1917 Mason&Hamlin upright. Its politically incorrect ivory keys and rainforest Mahogany are unequalled for playability and tone. While grands have a gravity-assisted edge in action, and are almost always considered the superior instrument, uprights have two advantages: their string length is long, often longer than the common parlor grand, giving a much better bass, and I admit a fondness for the in-your-face sound that uprights slap back at the player. Nonetheless there are great grands such as Steinway B's and 9' Baldwins. I just don't happen to have one of those. I personally find Yamaha's too mechanical, and believe Bösendorfer went too far by adding three keys. Pianos should have 88 keys, it's a much more mystical number.

Selecting instruments is generally a matter of practicality; what is available? Sometimes lack of availability leads to creation of a new instrument to fill a perceived need (see 2K3pinky).

As far as acoustic vs. electric instruments, a few months ago a knowledgeable punk rock guitarist questioned me on my piano preference, asking, "I've heard of acoustic guitar, but what's acoustic piano?" I told him the difference between acoustic piano and electric piano is far greater than the difference between acoustic and electric guitar. An electric guitar is still, essentially, an acoustic guitar. Even unplugged it makes sound. An electric piano, such as one buys at the mall for a well-rounded education, is a collection of integrated circuits, diodes, capacitors, and components, with no ability to function unless continuously supplied with 110 volt alternating current. More properly these are electronic pianos. Electric pianos, like the Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Hohner Clavinet, are much like electric guitars, acoustic instruments able to be heavily amplified. Electronic representations of pianos, those things at the mall, are a different animal. No, they aren't animals at all. They haven't that much nuance.

Hero. Define yours? Are you a hero?

Heroes: humans whose accomplishments inspire. I think of Ada Lovelace, the world's first programmer, Nicola Tesla who gave us transportable electricity and celebrated eccentricity, John Lennon who believed in love. Am I hero? Not yet.

What are the sounds from pre-history? Do you sample Nature? The City?

Perhaps the most significant sound from pre-history is the cosmic microwave background radiation, that relic of the moment when the universe cooled enough to suddenly become transparent, estimated as 380K years after the Big Bang. The sound of this rending of the veil of the heavens is not directly hearable, of course, being largely confined to microwaves, but it is observable, and is one of the strongest supporting evidences that the Universe is really a giant musical note, an unimaginably complex overtone of the one Big Bang.

Is the era of sustainability a form of religion? The end of a world? What?s next?

The era of sustainability is unlikely to last as long as, say, the era of Christianity, nor does it offer as much in the way of a supreme Creator-its industrial creators are reviled not deified-but it is clearly a belief system, which may be enough to earn the label of religion.

I do believe mankind needs something to believe. Here at the end of the age of Christianity we are looking. If neither Islam's 72 virgins nor establishing new human outposts on Alpha Centauri seem reasonable, then one must be a post-collapse citizen of planet Earth.

What effects does commercial music and television have on our well-being?

Media enabled the cultural revolution of the sixties, and, at least partly in fear of that overwhelming "success," media subsequently has promoted a milquetoast culture of consumption and America first. I doubt that media will willingly encourage the next revolution. At some point, they may report it.

What are some of the creative or spiritual initiations that you have went thru? Still working on?

Yesterday I had food poisoning. Almost twenty-four hours of repeated prayers to the porcelain god. Sadly there were no hallucinations or illuminating fevers, just the repeated emptying of what was already gone. Perhaps this is metaphor for our spiritual and economic woes, the repeated emptying of what is already gone.

Many are talking about a major collapse in the world economy and a catastrophic period of anger and hunger. Do you see this near-term scenario? In not, what is your perception of the next 2-5 years on the planet?

Prognostication is ever-popular, especially the doomsday kind. George Orwell's 1984, computer date failures at 2000, Clarke's 2001, and the soon upon us Mayan long count rollover on December 21, 2012 have all spawned copious texts full of millennial dread and warnings. I can read Tarot cards, tea leaves, and cast the I Ching; they will entertain, and may tell me something. But the Tower and the Devil have already afflicted Earth. If there is something more coming, the cards in the fortune teller's deck probably don't go far enough.

Strangely, I'm optimistic. I believe Man will survive.

Money won't be the biggest problem. It may not be global warming either. I'm struck by the fact that the sun has gone lame. It's lost its spots. Sunspots are at a hundred year low, and show no clear sign of returning. As a consequence, and somewhat paradoxically, the sun's is radiating less heat. Previous periods of sunspot disappearance have been marked by unusually cold temperatures. The Maunder Minimum, from 1645 to 1715, was known as the Little Ice Age. The lesson here is that the actual dangers we face are seldom the ones we plan for.

How are you a Shaman?

By programming computers and by performing music I am, in a sense, a shaman, able to communicate with the secretive spirits of good and evil that wiser folk choose to leave alone. It is thrilling to have such power, to wield a well-placed object-oriented overloaded polymorphism-well, thrilling when it works. More often programming efforts fail. It is only by repeatedly trying again and again that programs slowly become usable.

With musical performance it is somewhat different. Failures still occur, but they become part of the product. With live music whatever one does is. It's too late to make it any more perfect. But it is still the same channeling of the secretive spirits.

Define myth. What myths are critical to your spirit these days?

Myth: viral story [proving humanity]. The bracketed part of the definition is, possibly, optional. A common myth of the computer age has been that automation, the information age, would make us free. One is not immediately sure whether the computer-freedom myth proves or disproves our humanity. Ray Kurzweil claims we face a future where our machines will be the planet's brilliance, rather eliminating the "proving humanity." I subscribe to the myth that humans are infinitely resourceful; a myth that clearly proves humanity.

"The 2K3pinky is a fat, three oscillator wand built into recycled water pipe. This machine has a definite macho attitude in both sound and appearance." What sounds have come out of this thing for you? Are there samples in your work? What's the price?

The public debut of the 2K3pinky punctuated a performative theoretical exposition of the connection between the magnetic iron sands of San Francisco's Ocean Beach and the city's famed population of crazies. The performance was video-taped, but, in spite of numerous attempts, I was never able to obtain a copy. The device itself is named for its two knobs, three oscillators, and, in a nod to the sustainability movement, its pink housing: a reclaimed plastic pipe whose initial purpose was to transport recycled, non-potable water. A noteworthy attribute of the device is that it is illegal. The pink pipe was stealthily removed from a discard pile at a former military base now repositioned as a for-profit national park, but the illegality is its use of mercury tilt switches. Like thermometers, tilt switches are no longer allowed to use hydrargyrum, the fleet-footed watery silver element number 80. Perhaps this prohibition is for our own good; but I still feel cheated and choose to rebel.

As for the price-it is there in the title, 2K3, two thousand and three dollars.

Where is Studio MARS?

Studio MARS is wherever Matulich and Rowe Set up. The physical location changes. Soundproofing, standing-wave annihilation, and similar studio preparations are not always possible. But wherever we can, Andy (Andrea Matulich) and I make music.

I want to electrify my new viola ? really! How do I get the most distortion from each connection or sub-system? Think John Cage, Nirvana and Metheny.

Viola? Really? Those who choose viola are quite a rarity.
Getting the most distortion is not the best term for the goal. While it is true that some distortions can be gorgeous-in particular that of overdriven vacuum-tube guitar amps-most distortions are not. The distortion of one's face on one's driver license is a prime example.

John Cage's prepared pianos, with various items attached to strings and hammers, created interesting mechanical distortions. However I think Cage's more seminal contribution was his employ of aleatoric, chance operations to determine compositional variables. Nirvana and Metheny both exploited the richness of tube amp saturation. All used the scientific method, experimentation, to find a sound they loved. Even Cage's espousal of chance was experimental. That's my answer: Experiment. Find what you love.

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Cheth at Cheth dot com

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"Improvisation is, for me, a favorite way to perform. The danger and unpredictability of improvisation forces an aliveness and connectedness that audiences love. Improvisation works equally well whether playing piano or explaining arcane principles as I frequently do in my art performance practice. Improvisation does not mean being unprepared. In fact considerable preparation is often required. Rather, to me, improvisation means being so prepared that one can roll with whatever unexpected things might occur." CR