Achtung! White Men Over 60 With Glasses: The Enemy!

Jesus Fucking Christ! What is it with fuckin' white dudes over 60! They all start to fucking run together! Fuck! Hope I die before I get (really) old.

Is it something in th' fuckin' prostate pills? Huh? These fucking polesmokers couldn't be more dangerous and more harmful to the rest of us if they were made of fucking ricin! Shit!

And what is it about them all fucking looking the same? They're well-nigh fucking interchangable! Woah! Be afraid!!

What is it about this, huh? Is it that when you hit 60 your inner fucking Robber Baron Scumbag No-Bid Motherfucking Inner Felching Lockheed Boeing Carnegie CEO comes to th' front? Huh? Even if you're Stanislaw Lem? Even if you're Robert Heinlein? Huh? Even if you're Robert god damn Byrd?

Jesus Christ. Jesus fucking Christ. They all look the fucking same to me. Maybe it's so I only have to adjust the scope ON MY FUCKING REMINGTON JUST TH' ONCE!!! Hadn't thought of that!

Remind me, my friends, that when I hit th' Age of Fucking Veneration (like any of these fucking infant blood drinkers deserve anything but scorn and disemboweling) to a) fucking shoot myself or b) at least get some fucking contacts so I don't have to look like motherfucking Clive Davis.

Jesus Christ. I hate these old white fuckers. They're going to drag us down th' path to perdition, citizens. Fucking old coots. Jesus Christ. You show me one god damn old white dude with glasses and I'll show you a fucking sweat shop waiting to happen. I'll show you a fuckin' melting ice cap. I'll show you sadness and squalor and the magic alchemy that turns youth and joy and fucking into curdled fucking piss and stinging acid cum.

Fuck these old pricks!!!

Anatomy Of A Song #9: My Brown Guitar

I've lived and breathed "I Could Try" for dozens upon dozens of hours and this evening I promise myself I'll take it easy. No such luck. This afternoon and evening session comprise another 8 hours of effort as I attempt to get my instrumental tracks close to done. Another exhausting Soulfinger mini-tour awaits as well as another set of sessions on the Jack Douglas project this weekend. The sessions should be interesting but the Soulfinger thing is becoming an intrusion that I resent. It's beginning to reek of clock-punching and I've come to look at it as something I'll ride through the busy season.

Tonight we sit down and plan out and record "The Broken Music Box". I use various filters and effects to make the music box part sound lo-fi and I pull some sound effects off the web from this cool site to put together my little collage.

The music box does its music-boxy thing with the first three chords of the fake chorus. During the third chord a grinding begins which escalates in volume until a spring breaks. Then a short running-down sound occurs and the notes go random as a short drum fill ushers in the final chorus. It's extremely subtle. The music box plays for about 4 seconds and the breaking takes place in about 2 seconds. No sense getting all War And Peace with this kind of shit- it has to be over almost before you know it to be effective.

Yeah, this will be nutty in the final mix.

Next up we fire up the Yamaha electric guitar and use a nice clean amp tone to track. At this point in the game further instrumental overdubbing has truly become a fight for real estate and taste must (hopefully) be exercised to a great degree.

The approach I take is to roll through the song and bolster other rhythm parts, i.e. piano, Rhodes or organ passages. I do this very sparsely with maybe three or four little passages. I don't allow any of the voice leading, counterpoint or contrary motion that I've so carefully set up to become obscured. I then spin through the song again and select a few ad libs in sections that can support them. I record in mono with a mind to pan the guitar opposite wherever the organ end up for the sake of clarity and separation.

I print a few ad libs and decide to keep about a third of them. I will make a rough mix of the instrumental tracks and listen to it over the next couple of days to decide which I like and which I can live without.

Now all that remains for instruments at this stage are a few stereo touches with the guitar run through the Leslie rotating speaker simulator. These will be informed by the stereo acoustic piano the way the electric converses with the mono organ and will, again, be very sparse. I imagine I will wind up with 4 or 5 passages throughout the course of the song.

After the vocals are done the final concern will be horn passages on the instrumental section and an acoustic piano solo yielding to a Rhodes solo over the playout. With any luck I'll start vocals early next week; I will have to wait for my voice to recover from the fatigue of gigging which, as I say, I resent somewhat. I don't like to have my important work interfered with.


Anatomy Of A Song #8: Pieces Of A Dream

I like the arrow.

Tonight's session for "I Could Try" begins with firing up the monitors and throwing up a rough mix of all the elements we've tracked so far:

-drum loops
-massed handclaps
-three different "ghost note" snare sounds; stick, brush and loud brush
-backwards and forwards cymbals
-Rhodes electric piano
-flatwound muted tube-pre'd bass guitar
-roundwound-strung bass guitar recorded direct
-guide vocal
-music box and sound effects

It has been a long and arduous (if wholly enjoyable) process thus far but we've enjoyed the best of both worlds in production: a tight, specific vision for the song and some happy accidents brought about by looking at the song from a variety of angles. We've considered structure at great length, vacillating several times before deciding on what should prove a dynamic flow, a story in music as well as in words.

I like it a lot so far. In terms of sheer craft "I Could Try" should be fairly unassailable. I don't like music that demands too much of and subsequently tires the listener's ear. My music is complex enough and I can't take chances with any sort of fatigue on the part of the listener.

Anyway, this evening I've prepped some clips to illustrate some specific points of the arrangement of "I Could Try". Each section will contain two clips: one rough mix of the section and another with the instruments in question soloed up for ease of explanation. Hopefully these little liftings of the curtain will help some readers get past my relentless tech- and theory-speak. Music should never stray far from the realm of sheer emotion, but the making of it demands a balancing of the technical and the emotional quadrants of the spleen that can often result in dry discussions of frequency-dependent compression and double bifurcating splanges, to quote George Martin.

Section 1: "Placing" Percussion Elements In The Soundstage:

A few sessions ago I spoke about performing a sub-mix of percussion elements where I would use panning and reverbs to arrange them in a series of distinct "spaces" that would permit them to be differentiated and heard when they are in competition with a thick mix. Example 1A shows us a passage from "I Could Try", specifically the break between the first chorus section and the third verse.

Example 1A

In 1A we hear handclaps yielding to sleighbells, congas and timpani as the organ interjects a little funk for the old dears. At the end of the short break the verse is ushered back in with a little jazzy brushed-snare drum phrase. I've placed the handclaps, rather dry, over to the left and the congas on the right side have been doused in some thick plate reverb to shunt them off into the distance a little. Our sleighbells, also quite dry, are hard-panned to the left and right speakers, defining the periphery of the soundstage. Balancing the congas are the timpani that provide a little flourish over to the left and when the brushed snare comes in it's panned to the near left to place them to the right of our timpanist.

Care to hear it a little more clinically?

Example 1B

This provides a decent example of a mix that uses stereo placement as much as arrangement to keep instruments defined and uncluttered. In the days of mono recording Spector et. al. could only position their players further away from or closer to the microphones to achieve this. One or at the most two reverbs (one a chamber, one a plate) could be integrated into the mix to place things at various removes. Today we have stereo and surround audio that allows for easier, clearer placement but brings a whole new set of demands to the engineer.

Section 2: A Little Tone Sandwich:

We hear "counterpoint" spoken in hushed and respectful tones but the second you start slapping an acoustic guitar and singing you're using it like a champ. Chord changes are by their nature counterpoint, and complex counterpoint at that. I use all sorts of counterpoints in my arrangements, more often than not building them off the bass line. Here we have a pretty little passage of music, which I I'm pretty sure is from the third verse:

Example 2A

It certainly seems driven by that electric piano off to the left smacking those chords out, don't it?
And yet listen what happens when we pull out all the instruments except the organ and bass guitar:

Example 2B

Hear how the real musical story here is the conversation between the organ and the bass? Each sits comfortably at opposite ends of the frequency range but do you hear the interrelation? How they're playing the same line in harmony? Who would have thought? And when you go back to 2A the organ almost seems to disappear into the tapestry. But oh, it's there. Is it ever there. It's just serving the supporting-actor role of making the bass line uninocuous, a vital part of the progression. And that, dears, is dead counterpoint, if not exactly baroque in nature.

Also important in this audio example of single-line motion is what happens at the end of the snippet. If you listen to 2A at the 8-second mark we hit a series of chords in half-notes that signal a crescendo. Now we throw a little contrary motion into the sequence to "lift" it. The bass and the Rhodes (over to the left) move downwards and the organ plays chords over on the right side that rise in apparent pitch. You see, parts can differentiate themselves not only by volume, stereo placement and depth placement but also by the directions in which they move vertically, musically. In this case they moving apart in a manner that suggests a crescendo. They are like two hands that open slowly to catch the low little rolling piano figure that arrives at the top of the phrase.

Section 3: Au Contraire: More Contrary Motion

Example 3A provides another, more obvious implementation of contrary motion, this time between the electric piano and the acoustic piano. The electric piano walks down to the left and the piano chords slide upwards with the exception of the fourth chord. It's pretty, isn't it? It's really music-ey as an A&R guy at Rykodisc used to say disdainfully.

Example 3A

Want a clearer shot at that one? Of course you do. They dance apart and on the last chord the acoustic piano says "fuck it" and pushes the Rhodes over on to the couch, inverts her and shoves his E root into her D chord. His tongue tastes of tobacco, bitter. In th' words of Mario Puzo.

Example 3B

Seriously, though- we do actually end up with a big D major with an E at the bottom which will bring is seamlessly into the somewhat perverted cycle of fifths that comprises the instrumental section.

Section 4: Eine Kleine Countermelody Musik:

We bring this evening's audio analysis to a close with the much-touted magical countermelody of the latter choruses of "I Could Try". After all, it is 1:45 AM and there's plenty of guitar to record.

This audio example is from the final repeat of the chorus in Db major. In the final product this section will be virtually saturated with vocals so we're careful to keep the motion simple save for a little syncopating in the Rhodes electric piano to our left. The piano is doubling the countermelody in single notes so it's a perfect place to illustrate it without vocals in place. The bass guitar has slipped away from the funky, dotted-quarter note feel that characterizes much of the song to straight quarter notes on the beat. Hear the piano playing the countermelody up top? Ain't it just Bacharachlicious?

Example 4A

Are we digging that harp-like glissando at the end? Does it make you want to be in a dream in a black 'n' white sitcom? The ability of modern keyboards to transpose into any key mean I'm able to shift into a key where the black keys (the pentatonic scale) are consonant with D flat major and thus lull Lucy into a dream by sweeping down the keyboard double-handed as the final chorus ends.

So now that you've inhabited this strange world of motion and placement and theory with me, let's give a listen to the final snippet and you tell me what's going on. When we pull out everything but the piano countermelody and the bass what is the resultant crazy voodoo?

Example 4B

My friends, truly they are the top and bottom slices of Wonder Bread in one hep music sandwich, are they not? And yes, you're right- it's counterpoint. A+ for you, dawg.

I ask you! Are we making music like MEN and WOMEN here? Is this that crazy stuff like they used to have? Are we making instruments converse and support each other or are we dropping a loop of some old Fixx song and breathin' heavy and Airfucking on top of it?

Is it easy? Is it instant? No, dear hearts. No.

I would say conservatively that "I Could Try" is about a third of the way to completion.

You going to make it? You going to hang in? You gonna go all American Karaoke Idol on me or are you going to keep the artist company during more long, dark nights of the green-eyed soul?

See why they do it all on dictaphones now? Oh, it's hard. You have to get dirty. For the real stuff. And ah, it's so lonely in the night. The children now, they don't understand the beautiful, long, lonely night. The landscape of dreams. Of dreams.

Th' Decider

Th' Inside 'er

Th' Onetermer

Th' Fergetter


Th' Forgiver

Th' Recorder

Th' Recorder
Th' Recorder
Th' Recorder
Th' Recorder
Th' Recorder
Th' RecorderTh' RecorderTh' RecorderTh' RecorderTh' RecorderTh' Recorder
Th' Recorder
Th' Recorder

Anatomy Of A Song #7: The Broken Music Box

This evening's session for "I Could Try" has been fruitful and painstaking. My plan was to post a couple of audio snippets that would illustrate points of arrangement and composition that I have referred to on several occasions during the project. These will have to wait until tomorrow as I've used up my entire schedule with overdubs and in the conceptualization and partial creation of a playful little conceit that will hopefully provide "I Could Try" with an interesting little moment of theatre.

First our overdubs: tonight began with some organization and tracksmanship to prepare our aural canvas for the next few coats of paint. Yesterday's Fender Rhodes and bass guitar overdubs have been consolidated and combined. I've done some minimal comping and editing and I've thrown up a rough mix to make sure that I'm not cornering the real estate in certain frequency ranges that will need to be carefully fenced off for vocal overdubs, guitars and solos. The Rhodes is a wonderful rhythm instrument in that it has an extremely mellow, thick tone that never competes with a vocal in a mix. As detailed in last night's entry I've recorded this take of Rhodes with a bright, bell-like eq that hypes the upper treble in the 10,ooo hz range and I must be cautious not to overwhelm the top end of the mix with it.

Controlling treble is a fairly simple game; in the analog days I used to record certain sources with very hyped-up treble. This gave me the ability to dial the treble out in the mix which had the effect of dialing out tape hiss. Handy. The slightly exaggerated treble of the Rhodes piano will have to be watched carefully, especially since a stereo mix will be done in the next session or two which will lock the rhythm instruments together for the duration.

I proceeded this evening with a couple of time-consuming overdubs, beginning with organ. I used a vintage sounding, almost Chamberlin-ish organ patch, running it through the computer and PatchMix DSP's beautiful Leslie speaker emulator. I worked the Leslie on the fly, switching from Off to Slow To Fast for different passages. I worked piecemeal with the organ overdubs as I was essentially composing the part as a I went. I forewent organ in sections that will be thick with background vocals so as not to obscure them, as organ pads and vocal pads share many of the same frequencies and can argue amongst themselves to the detriment of the soundstage.

After this I spent a few hours composing and overdubbing piano. I used a dark, dry piano patch and equalized the typically hyped tone of the digital piano down to sound less "ideal". Piano is a cantankerous instrument in the analog realm and the tone typically contains a "push" in the midrange that digital emulations tend to smooth over and tame. Hence, unless judiciously eq'd (always being careful not to create phase cancellations over the stereo image) digital piano can sound like unmitigated ass.

Not so this time around- the piano goes down big and pushy and thunky and imperfect, the way it should be. The parts turn out very cool; I've mostly bolstered the Rhodes part and accentuated key passages and widened chords. I've recorded just enough extemporaneous fills and chordal hooks to make it interesting, still playing towards the goal of a rhythm bed that never fights the lead vocal but rather supports, echoes and answers to it.

I have an odd habit of "casting" a recording: at the beginning of the process I decide who of the musicians in the "ensemble" is the singer and perform "his" instrumental overdubs with this in mind. In the case of "I Could Try" our singer is playing piano and hence is never complicated during vocal passages nor moves in ways contrary to the vocal.

Anyway, I'm very happy with the piano overdubs. They should sit quite comfortably with the Rhodes, re-inverting and "lengthening" many of the chords in a rich and agreeable way.

Tonight I hit on "The Broken Music Box". It's an extremely cool idea. I've spoken of "stuttering" into the chorus modulation from A major to C major a few times in previous posts, and while it was always highly conceptual I knew I would hit on the "right" way to do it as the song came together. I had thought of recording the four-bar "fake" chorus that precedes the big modulated chorus as a bit of an old 45 with comb-filtered eq and record crackles, but discarded this as overdone.

I decided instead to emulate an old music box playing the four chords of the "fake" chorus" and overdub the vocal with an old-timey tone. I arranged a music box pattern (my Alesis QS6.1 has a great music box patch) that sounded authentic to my ears and recorded this as two separate lines. This was lovely but too smooth- it lacked the "stutter" I keep hearing, like an engine skipping as it approaches 4th gear. It's difficult to describe; I wanted a brief falling sensation to preceded the glorious key change like a twin-engine plane hitting some bad gas and losing altitude before righting itself. Ringo would understand.

Then it dawned on me: what if the music box were to break as it reached the conclusion of the two-bar phrase? Eureka! And Eureka again! The Third Wall crashes down! Artistic nirvana! So what we end up with is a sprightly little motif struck up on a little Swiss marvel but at the second beat of the second measure a spring snaps dramatically and the motif goes haywire, distressing and speeding up and dying with a clunk and then BANG! The big chorus in C crashes in!

It's never been done! This will be "I Could Try"'s little burst of "I Feel Fine" feedback and if all goes according to plan it will be seamless, a fun little Smile Moment.

Tomorrow I will post these snippets that will clear up some points and terminology for the un-studio-savvy. I'll use a site that is typically accessible by Mac and PC platforms.

And now to bed. The final moments before sleep are some of the most fertile in musical arranging when no worthwhile worries present themselves. Strange, when I'm in sunk deep in a worthwhile recording project my ever-present insignificance and overall lackingness are backburnered. To sleep, perchance to dream. About naked sylphs and suchwhat.


Anatomy Of A Song #6: Fixing A Hole

Returning to "I Could Try" after a couple of days in the field I pull apart the infamous modulation section yet again. This had been left as a false chorus stumbling artfully into a real chorus up a major third from the home key. However, an opportunity for even craftier craftiness has presented itself: the real chorus will now be a minor modulation to the key of C instead of to Db and will finally, finally at the very last chorus repetition sweep into the Db home plate.

All stops will be pulled out here harmelodically. The long, long countermelody in half-notes will at long last assume the melodic throne to which it has pretended in the previous chorus(es) and the lead voice will veer away into controlled ad lib. The now central countermelody will pick up another harmony with each measure until the final resolving cadence of Eb diminished/A to Gb/Ab is a five-part harmony that races upward in volume and abruptly ends a la "Season Cycle", leaving the lonely lead voice to sing the final hook phrase.

Final melodic and key decisions having been made, I'm ready to print the next generation of guide Rhodes piano and vocal. Contrary to my plan of getting the makings of a keeper vocal I end up with a so-so vocal and a keeper Rhodes track. I've run the electric piano through a Dynacomp compression pedal into a tube pre into its channel and boosted the highs in the 10K range which accentuates to "bell" harmonics of the Rhodes and it sounds close, dry and glorious. With a tone as vivid and clear as this the inspiration factor is high enough to blaze a final track down against the percussion bed.

A few fixes here and there to the electric piano track (I punch in the new modulation section somewhat piecemeal as opposed to spending hours learning it) and it's a keeper. I will return to this later as more overdubs go down and pare it down a bit, leaving spaces here and there, always keeping in mind the goal of an uncluttered and pointillistic soundstage.

The utterly crucial bass guitar is worked out and printed tonight, an effort that requires about 5 or 6 hours. In addition to recording time I pull out and listen to Peter Baldwin's superlative bass work with King Radio with an eye to approaching his saturated, vintage tone. For the verses and instrumental sections I arm my bass guitar (fretted Peavey Foundation) with flat-wound strings and a tissue-paper mute between the bridge and the bridge pickup. These sections are extremely sparse and bouncy and admittedly a shameless Carol Kaye pastiche. Between the bouncing, tube-ey bass, the timpani and the sleighbells I have indulged myself greedily in '60's revisionism. Fuck it- I'll cut my Deep House song some other time.

In contrast to the Ocean Way/Bacharach/Funk Brothers collage of the verses we have the choruses which are underpinned by a neo-soulish drum loop and thick counterharmonies. For these I switch to roundwound strings, remove the mute and go direct with the bass. I cut these sections with the same arrangement approach, playing sparsely but forcefully and leaving big holes. Doubling these sections enforces a simple approach; more than likely I will use the double subsonically if at all but it's a great trick to keep the parts simple and distinctive.

Session end arrives at 2:30 AM and I'm very happy with the results. We now have final drums and percussion, final Rhodes and final bass tracks. My first job tomorrow will be housekeeping; I've spread these parts over several channels for ease, speed and safety and will have to combine them to end up with a stereo mix of drums, one final track of Rhodes and two of bass. I may fall in love with particular piano or bass passages and paste them over less inspired sections; maybe not. Further overdubs may reveal busy-ness in certain sections and I may substitute less busy passages by cutting and pasting. If need be I will reapproach certain sections of the bass track with instrument in hand once again if they sit less than comfortably with subsequent overdubs. I'll try to avoid that but won't let expediency guide me.

Next on this evening's agenda is, well, collapsing. Recording instrumental overdubs is far less tiring than the constant battle of the will. The little voice inside insists that the entire exercise is futile and will provide nothing of value, simply another lovely bauble to reside on a shelf. While this is likely true we do not let such thoughts stay our hand. We remind ourselves that beauty is an end in itself and that creativity is a divine energy. We remind ourselves that the gift of talent is to be enjoyed greedily, sensually, and that it is, like all that is sensual, a thing of the moment. We do not disparage the talent. And above all other concerns, we remind ourself that we are a machine of the universe, designed to take in carbon and process it into beauty. A mill does not question the validity of grain; a printing press does not question the worth of books and we do not pretend to understand our place in the scheme. We simply appreciate that it is good to occupy it and that it is a priviledge and a gift of unimpeachable generosity.