The Palouse

Whenever I am asked to write a song for a company (or in this case, a nonprofit), I usually compose to an existing video. I enjoy the challenge of reacting to something that is not my own. But I get particularly amped when someone asks for my help with music and a song I’ve already recorded (and only played for Brangien and our cats) leaps to mind as a perfect match.

That’s what happened with the music I contributed to the new Seattle Arts & Lectures Podcast series “SAL/on air,” which features talks with writers who have visited SAL over the past 30 years. (Episode 1 is out now—more episodes will be released soon and you cansubscribe here). Associate Director, Rebecca Hoogs, asked for my help with a tiny a theme song (aka “bumper”) to use as an intro and outro for each episode. I’ve attended many of these lectures and knew the music should have a sense of inquisitiveness and possibility.

The Palouse is the region where my dad grew up, on a farm near Colfax, WA. It’s also the name of the song that I immediately thought of for SAL/on air. I have always loved driving through that area of the Washington/Idaho border. It’s where I used to visit my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Walt in their solitary farmhouse plopped down in the middle of a shag carpet of wheat. Pigs and apple trees mingled within a few strides of the concrete patio. And the most alien feature for a kid from Anchorage, Alaska was the chorus of crickets—simultaneously soothing and unsettling.

The song is spacious and rolling. To create it, I played the instruments of my youth: trumpet, piano, a Roland synthesizer I bought in Anchorage in 1984 (which remains in my studio today), and drums similar to the set my mom rented for me in the late ‘70s. (I wonder if she realized how annoyingly loud drums would be in the hands of an untrained minor? Thanks, Mom.) Much like the fields of The Palouse, the song keeps shifting in small ways. If you listen carefully, you might hear the wind in the wheat and the chorus of crickets as the synth dips in and out of the mix, with the piano and drums driving through it all. Near the end, you can hear the creak of a piano bench. I need to get that fixed.

The Architecture of Trees

My father designed the split-level ’70s home where I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and to this day, it still houses my mother and sister. It’s a modest but comfortable home, but what usually gets noticed by new visitors upon driving up are the two entwined trees in the front yard, which wrap around each other like husband and wife. My dad and mom used to playfully remark to us kids that the trees were much like them: in love.

Recently my neighbors have been buzzing with the news that Build Urban is planning to remove three 100-ish year-old trees from the northwest corner of 37th & E. John in the interest of adding a new home on the property. Right about here is where I’ll hit the pause button—I’m not out for blood (or sap). I just completed a 3-year remodel on my own house two blocks up the street. In the process, I had to cut down a few trees (one was dead, the other plain ugly). And in the last year I’ve watched several surrounding neighbors’ small homes get purchased by developers who demolished them and built new homes—removing trees in the process. However, in all of these cases the biggest, oldest trees were left standing. It was as if there was an understanding that in The Emerald City, an emerald landscape would be appreciated by neighbors and future buyers.

That’s what makes the news that these three gentle giants are slated to be removed particularly sad. The trees all sit close to the street and are truly beautiful specimens. Given the choice, I imagine future buyers would value having such notable trees lining the street of their new home. Trees as grand and long-standing as these become a sort of architecture—the kind that can’t be designed or constructed by a crew. Only through a century of growth and stewardship can they stand sentry at the leafy pocket of 37th & E. John, a corner I (and others in the neighborhood) intentionally drive friends and family past, in order to wow them with old-growth, Northwest appeal.

Please leave the trees. The home you build will shine in their emerald glow, and every day, future homeowners will appreciate your choice to let them live—not to mention the whole neighborhood community that lives under and loves their exquisite canopy.

On the chopping block or part of the street appeal of future homes?

On the chopping block or part of the street appeal?

100 years in the making ... damn, that's pretty!

100 years in the making … damn, that’s pretty!

Halibut Cove

Here’s a recent song that I wrote and recorded in the basement studio. Brangien invented (and sang) the main vocal line. This marks the debut of the acoustic piano that Thaddeus gave me—I’m recording the 1960s Melodigrand with two SM57 microphones and it’s working way better than I  expected. The plan is to keep family recording a fun priority. Some people have movie night or a trampoline or a swimming pool—we have a recording studio-ette with a real piano and drums to bang on.

Our songs tend to be short, mostly because we don’t know how to write long songs.

Braniel Studio

Braniel Studio

P.S. Mix/master Michael Cozzi put the final touches on the song.

Braniel under Obamacare, Part II

Neither the sticker shock (my initial research had me believing we’d pay $3,000 more a year) nor the promise of heady savings of Obamacare (it looks like we’ll pay $360 more a year for our 2-person household) has panned out.

We started the application process for health insurance under ACA on Tuesday, October 1. Today is Friday 10/4. Here’s the week’s condensed drama:

  • Monday — site was DOA
  • Tuesday — site was still DOA
  • Wednesday — site was on life support, but basically down
  • Thursday — improved vital signs, but site threw an error upon final submission. I was ready to die at this point. (Up side: this would save us 50% on our premium.)
  • Friday — works! Our application is accepted and I am now comparing plans.

I’ll dig into the details later, but here’s what I’ve gathered:

  • $479/month / what we currently pay Regence for our 2013 coverage—not through an employer (it’s private insurance).
  • $510/month / what we would pay under WA Health Benefit Exchange in 2014 for a Bronze plan that covers our current doctors (Polyclinic)
  • $580/month / or, we could go direct with Regence’s Bronze plan in 2014

The coverage appears to be better under ACA, but with slightly higher annual deductibles. On a related note, I’ve had two separate friends tell me that they’re applying for health insurance for the first time in their adult life. They are 30-ish and 45-ish and will most likely qualify for government subsidies for their monthly premium. Brangien and I both work and that pushes our household income past the government subsidy level. So, my totally unscientific, passive poll of friends tells me that we will pay a little more for better coverage and uninsured friends are jumping on the insurance train for the first time. Go society! On the honesty front, I would have been fine sticking with our current Regence coverage at $479/mo plan.

A few notes:

  • This confused me at first: WA Health Exchange is the board that runs the insurance exchange for the State. WA Health Planner is the administrative arm where you actually apply for coverage and compare plans (they’re like the clerk and the Exchange is the shop owner). It would clarify things for applicants if there was just one website.
  • If we go with WA Health Exchange, will the price go up or down over time? If rates increase, will they increase at a slower rate than our current coverage? (example: my portion of our current Regence coverage increased from $139/mo in 2012 to $164/mo in 2013)
  • Will the ACA encourage better insurance options from employers? If so, we may switch to an employer-based plan if a bronze plan is less expensive.
  • Dental insurance still seems like a scam to me (unless your employer pays for it).

I’m adding to this post with some more comparison information. Here’s how my current 2014 options compare:

$479/month / my current 2013 Regence Evolve HSA plan

  • $3,500 deductible, $5,000 max out-of-pocket (per person, so double for Brangien and me)
  • We pay 50% co-insurance from $3,500 to $5,000
  • Regence pays 100% from $5,000 to $2,000,000

$510/month / 2014 WA Health Benefit Exchange Premera Blue Cross Bronze plan

  • $5,250 deductible, $5,250 max out-of-pocket (per person, so double for Brangien and me) *
  • Premera pays everything above $5,250 (there is no annual limit)

$580/month / 2014 Regence’s Bronze plan

  • $5,000 deductible, $6,250 max out-of-pocket (per person, so double for Brangien and me) *
  • I pay 30% co-insurance from $5,000 to $6,250
  • Regence pays everything above $6,250 (there is no annual limit)

* note: if we go to out-of-network doctors or hospitals, the deductible doubles and we pay 50% co-insurance for everything after the deductible is reached (yikes!)

Dec 4, 2013 UPDATE
Regence sent us snail mail with updated (lower) rates for their Bronze plan. Our new monthly rate is:
$560/mo (that’s $279.48 /each for 45-year old non-smokers)

We have contacted an ACA Navigator who is gathering final figures on Bronze plans through Washington Health Plan Finder. The site is still buggy enough that I couldn’t complete the final plan selection process.

Pigeon and Pete: not covered under Obamacare.

Pigeon and Pete: not covered under Obamacare.

Braniel under Obamacare, Part I

I thought it would interesting to record our household’s current health insurance rates and coverage, compare it with new rates under Obamacare and revisit the numbers in 2014 to see how the cost and coverage pans out over time. Every time I switch insurance carriers, I gain a ton of knowledge in a short period of time, and it inevitably leaves my brain a few weeks after the switch occurs. Insurance is confusing to me (and I would guess to other people) so here’s my attempt to keep it all straight in my head.

Our Regence plans as of September 29, 2013

  • $315/mo Brangien + $164/mo Daniel = $479/month

Plans offered by Regence (as part of ACA)

  • $419.79/month Gold Plan x 2 people = $839.58/month
  • $366.98/month Silver Plan x 2 people = $733.96/month
  • $291.24 /month Bronze Plan x 2 people = $582.48/month

Plans offered by Washington Health Benefit Exchange (estimates as of October 1, 2013)

  • Silver Plan for 2 people = $667/month
  • Bronze Plan for 2 people = $480/month

I’m self-employed. Brangien’s employer currently offers limited, expensive insurance so we decided years ago to pay for our own insurance. It looks like Washington Health Plan Finder may be our most cost effective replacement for our current Regence coverage.


  1. Will the $480/mo rate for the Bronze Plan hold (I’ve read that final rates won’t be available for a couple months)?
  2. Will our preferred doctors be in-network with the Exchange plans (specifically, the Polyclinic)?
  3. Will it make sense to pay for dental insurance under ACA? It has never penned out in the past—we’ve always paid dental out-of-pocket.
  4. Under ACA, will Brangien’s employer offer more cost-effective insurance with better coverage?

Okay … off to see if is up today (it was crashing on opening day).

Team Braniel in Portland, OR September 2013

Team Braniel in Portland, OR September 2013

Flow Labyrinth … finally!

Back in October of 2012, I created 3 music videos for the Hugo House’s literary series. I’m a better musician than a filmmaker, so when it came to creating visuals I turned to the only motion program I know: Keynote (if you’re a PC user, Keynote is the equivalent of PowerPoint). Suffice it to say that exporting a Keynote deck into a viewable video was next to impossible. I did finally manage to get a herky-jerky version of the Flow Labyrinth music video out of Keynote and uploaded to Vimeo. I’m working on exporting the other two music videos created for this same show … stay tuned.

Thanks to Brangien for singing along and to my dad for creating the Flow-Lab!

Synth You’ve Been Gone

In September of 2012 I attended Marfa Synth Class in Marfa, Texas with Brangien. Every part of that sentence is exceptional: September (my birth month), Marfa (location, location, location), Synth Class (what’s not to like?), Brangien (my very own Syntherella). So, it was with great excitement that upon my return to Seattle I ordered a handmade Mochika XL “Dark Side” edition analog synth from Atomosynth in Lima, Peru. The Mochika was deservedly featured and praised by Brian Lebarton at Synth Class, but synthappointment was soon to follow … the Mochika never arrived in Seattle.

Many emails, Facebook conversations (with promises of a synth) and $314 later, I’ve yet to receive a shipping notice or even a written confirmation that the Mochika has shipped. See excerpts below.

I’ll be attending the Pacific Northwest Synthfest 2013 this weekend in Seattle and, as such, felt it my synth duty to let my fellow synthesizer enthusiasts know that as tempting as an Atomosynth may be, it’s not in your best interest to order a synth from Atomosynth as it may never show up. There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about my order (no changes, or payment issues) … it just never arrived. Alfredo at Atomosynth has acknowledged the issue, but never offered a solution.

I’m always willing to change my opinion of Atomosynth if Alfredo and his crew are able to deliver on my purchase, but for now Kelly Clarkson says it best …

Here’s the thing
We started out friends
It was cool but it was all pretend
Yeah, yeah, synth you’ve been gone


Reverse Balding

Bald at 44

me today (after a light morning shave)

A dozen years in, I thought I would take stock of my alopecia universalis and ask a few questions of my fellow Alopecians. I actually love being bald—given the choice I’d do it all over again.

I went totally bald in 2000. The last 2 months of my haired life went quickly—I developed bald patches at the back of head that looked like cheetah spots. They quickly expanded and when my brother Greg told me to “shave that shit”, I did so once and then never had to again. That is, until recently. My bald stages:

It started in 1999 with a small bald spot on my otherwise full facial hair. I assumed I’d cut myself shaving. It remained like that for many months, then the spot began rapidly spreading across my face. Soon after, bald cheetah “patches” appeared on the back of my head. The last two months my hair was jumping ship with increasing speed. This included my body hair. One shave of the head and all the hair on my body was gone, seemingly forever.

Seven or so years of smooth swimming where I could not find a single hair anywhere on my body. Nothing. I described it to people as “smooth and hairless like a dolphin.”

Tennis Ball
A few years ago I developed very light blond, short, wispy baby hairs in small patches on my head. Almost undetectable unless the sun shined from behind my head. It’s slowly increased over the last four years, roughly coinciding with my courtship and marriage to Brangien. I describe it as “tennis ball hair.” It’s patchy, light and if I let it grow it’s not fully-realized hair. Recently I’ve even developed a few whiskers on my chin and cheekbones. Not enough to grow anything useful, but a few desert outposts of scraggly cacti. Still no moustache, beard, eyebrows or eyelashes. I used to have very full chest and body hair (which was completely dormant during the dolphin phase). I now have small communes of light-duty body hair—unnoticeable at a distance, but you would see it if we were, say, barbequing together in Hawaii. For a few years now I’ve been shaving the patchy tennis ball hair off parts of my head.

So, that’s the state of my bald-ishness. I’d be interested in hearing from other longer-term Alopecians to see if they have experienced similar patterns over time.

My Music Revolutions

Last night I presented three new songs in the form of music videos at the first installment of the Hugo House 2012/13 Literary Series. The theme was ¡Viva la Revolucion! and as the musical guest I chose three tunes that reflect three revolutionary phases of my musical upbringing.

Elaina EllisMatthew Zapruder and Steve Almond were FANTASTIC! Many thanks to Brian and the Hugo House for inviting me along for the ride.

I have a vivid memory of a school assembly at Northern Lights Elementary in Anchorage, Alaska. Our school music teacher (a fella with a salt-and-pepper beard, recessive hairline and glasses) pulled together music instructors from other schools in the district to perform the song Popcorn by Gershon Kingsley. First off, it was a surprise performance: we had no idea the music teacher would be playing, let along bringing other music teachers (who at that age, I basically equated with a bus load of rock stars) to play for us kids. Secondly, they played Popcorn which I’d never heard and sounded like space music. But most impressively, they were playing what the adult me now knows to be Mini Moog synthesizers. My mind was officially blown. You could have rolled in R2D2 (who didn’t yet exist) and it wouldn’t have been as exciting to me. When they finished the final synth-laden moments of that tune, the crowd screamed with delight and I was officially sold on whatever those crazy keyboards from the future were up on stage.

Here’s the full version of the song with intro vocals:

When I was about 14, my parents took a trip to Los Angeles, CA. To a kid born and raised in Anchorage, this seemed like an exotic trip. My dad asked if I wanted him to bring anything back to me and I told him an electric guitar, figuring he would NEVER actually deliver the goods. Upon their return, they presented me with a 1980 Fender Lead II. I couldn’t believe it. Someone I knew at the time gave me a 100watt Fender Bassman head and another friend gave me a 4×12 cabinet. I had no idea at the time that the Fender Bassman is one of the rockingest guitar amps on the planet. I wrote about this amp a while back. Over the coming weeks and months I turned that amp and guitar to 10 and began a livelong love affair with loud, distorted guitar. Welcome to the club, I suppose.

I say “soul-ish” because I’ve never been in a traditional soul band, but most of the bands I’ve been in have veered toward the soul end of the spectrum. A typo sent me off on my soul-ish musical adventures.

Go Toto!

I’ve been Abdulaziz’s “Big” (and he, my “Little”) through Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound for the past 3 years. During that time, we’ve had weekly lunch at Bailey Gatzert Elementary with his friends, played lots of kickball and basketball, learned the card game Set, played acoustic guitar, and I showed him the techniques of air drumming (he was already a natural at beat boxing). Abdulaziz (aka “Toto”) graduates this Wednesday and heads off to Washington Middle School. I know he’ll do great things as he’s super smart (his math skills exceed my own), a natural leader and he has a great family.Thanks for hanging out with me, Toto, and showing me good times. You are awesome.