Pushing raisins under the fridge.

I thought I would try a little experiment today.

Last night I found myself writing some words that were kind of the opposite of what I’ve been writing lately — closer to poetry than lyrics, I guess, though I’m no poet. They were sparse in a way that appealed to me.

I thought it might be an idea to do something with them the next day. Something kind of weightless and arrhythmic. It would give me an excuse to pull out my oddly-tuned Fender Strat and throw a little dissonance in there.

Today I gave it a try, and it all fell together pretty quickly.

I put two mics on the amp this time — the usual SM57, and then I stuck a Neumann KM184 in there off-axis, farther back, coming in from the left. Thought I’d give that a try as more of a room mic instead of rigging up an LDC and see how it fared. I positioned the mics pretty randomly, so I wasn’t expecting the results to sound that great. And it did sound a little off at first. Then I flipped the phase on one of the mics (something I’ve never done before because I’ve never run into any obvious phase issues that made it necessary), and bang. There it was.

I’ve never captured an electric guitar sound this good in my life. It kills any amp simulator I’ve ever used. There’s this three-dimensional sound and a sensation of moving air I never knew I was missing before, maybe because my ears were younger and less experienced. There’s also a bit of hum there, mostly from the spring reverb. But I kind of like that there’s some noise on the track.

I recorded a few minutes of mostly rhythmless guitar, full of suspended chords that didn’t resolve. I added a second guitar for about half of the song, at one point bouncing a pencil on the strings for a different sound, recorded vocals, tracked the drums, recorded bass and a little more singing, and there was the song, more or less.

It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever done before. It sounds like I’m trying to ape late-period Talk Talk, but that isn’t the case. I just wanted to try doing something without a click track, with more use of space, silence (or near-silence), and dynamics. Something more improvised and unpredictable. Plus I wanted an excuse to play something more interesting than a straight 4/4 pattern behind the drums. I ended up making use of mallets, sticks, and brushes, all in the space of just over three minutes.

I’m not sure about the mix yet. The drums sound very room-y, and maybe I should have put some effort into getting a tighter sound. I guess they sound like drums in a room. Which is a good thing. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to hearing sound-replaced, over-hyped drums in scary pop music, so drums that sound this real occasionally come off as “unprofessional”. It probably also has to do with spending years using amp simulators instead of real guitar amps, and going through about a dozen different drum sounds because of changing equipment and mics/mic placement. Building and tweaking the “studio” over the years has been an interesting education, and it’s an ongoing one.

It took me a while, but I figured out that while certain pieces of equipment and techniques may be quick and easy, they don’t always yield the most organic sounds. I still can’t believe I spent so many years neglecting my guitar amps. I should probably be thankful I can still listen to all the things that were recorded using the POD and the Digitech effects box without wincing.

I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the songs outweigh the gear. Maybe because of the limitations I had at the time, I was forced to find ways of working around or through certain problems. Which is why it’s so strange to be getting sounds that I like so much now without having to put too much work into it. I’m sure having better gear helps. and luck has more than a little to do with it.

This is probably all incredibly boring to read, but I shall play on, undaunted.

I think the song still needs a little something before it’s finished. A few brief, unexpected moments of different sounds coming in, maybe. I’m not sure what those sounds should be. I’m thinking about looking for a dirt-cheap violin and trying to get some useable sounds out of it. I could do a lot of experimenting, but I’d rather get an idea in my head of what I want to do and then get it done, instead of messing around somewhat aimlessly like I did on that Papa Ghostface song.

Then again, aimless messing around could be the answer.

I don’t know if this is song a one-off or if I should try to keep going in this direction, but it’s certainly a change. I wasn’t even sure how I should sing to the music at first. I’d like to wait until I have a real piano at my disposal (which should happen in a few weeks if all goes according to plan) and throw a bit of that in, because I have a feeling it would add whatever glue I think I need, but I’m not sure I have the patience to sit on the song for that long. I want to keep the momentum going and work as fast as possible so I can start “releasing” albums again before the year gets too ripe. Of course, when the songs I’m recording are moving in about thirty six different directions, it’s difficult to know what to put where and how to organize or compartmentalize it all.

In other news, today is the one year anniversary of my Myspace page, which is only now finally getting some use. In the words of Tom Waits, “Hail, hail the eyeball kid.”

Tomorrow Adam is coming over and we’re going to try recording some piano/keys for some of his songs. I think it’ll be interesting. I haven’t tried playing a part in someone else’s music for quite some time now. Playing a show at Phog on May 1st with Adam and a drummer (also named Adam) should be interesting too. I told myself I probably wouldn’t play live again, but being more of a background character is a different story. The spotlight isn’t on me, so I think it’ll be fun. I’m long overdue to pop in at Phog as it is.

I had an interesting phrase come into my head when I was half-asleep, and I kept repeating it in my mind in an attempt to remember it, but I pretty much lost it during sleep. It was something along the lines of, “How does the lie make itself true?” But it was much more interesting than that.


  1. No live lap guitar for me this time out; I’m playing keys. More of a background/accompaniment thing, really. And it turns out the drummer isn’t playing with us, I don’t think…which makes sense, because without a bassist there would probably be some low end missing. I think it’ll be fun, though. All the nerves that come with playing live, but only half of the musical responsibility. Double my pleasure — double my fun!

    I can’t break out the guitar live too frequently, or people get confused. Last time I think I upset a young girl. “What’s he doing to that guitar, mommy? Why’s he playing it with his thumb? MAKE THE BAD MAN STOP, MOMMY! HE’S HURTING THE GUITAR!”

    It was painful to witness such a display of innocence lost.

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