combine digital piano & fake xylophone, and what do you get?

the answer is something that would sound ridiculous if said aloud, i’m sure.

i know i said i wasn’t going to put any more new songs up on spyspace for a while, but what the hell…i’m not sure what i’m going to do with this song, so here it is for at least a little while.

this track had a bit of an odd genesis. i recorded the (digital) piano way back in may of 2006 and then didn’t record vocals or any other instruments. the lyrics were already written (one couplet came from a dream) and i had a pretty good idea of what i wanted to do with the song, but the piano had been recorded through the mic preamps i was using prior to the revamping of the studio and i thought the new preamps might be too hi-fi if they were used to track the rest…and i didn’t want to go back to using the old preamps just for the sake of this song. still, i kept meaning to work on it, but i just left it alone. so technically it isn’t a completely new song.

yesterday i thought i’d dump what there was of it back on the mixer for fun, to get back into the piano mindset in anticipation of the real piano that will soon be here, and i ended up finishing the whole thing without really intending to. the teisco once again decided to get a few shots in…i swear that electric guitar has a mind of its own. to my surprise, the digital piano sounded better than i remembered and wasn’t too difficult to work with. i know a real piano would sound infinitely better, especially in the places where chords are just sustained and left to hang in the air for a while, but in this case there was a lot of improvisation involved in the original performance and i would never be able to capture it quite the same way again—the fact that it’s something i originally played more than two years ago would make it even more difficult. this means the end result probably isn’t going to fit in very well sonically with the songs i’ll be recording with the new piano, so i’m not quite sure where it’ll end up, but i kind of like the way it came out. i ended up dumping a few verses worth of lyrics even though i liked the words, because i preferred the second half of the song left mostly instrumental.

three funny things about this song:

– i’m generally good at remembering ideas even if it takes me a long time before i get around to recording them, but at one point i forgot the last part of this song and it wasn’t coming back. everything else was there, but it was as if my memory of that one little piece of music had been wiped completely clean. i sat at the keyboard for a little while and tried to will myself to remember what i had lost. to my amazement, it worked, and after messing around a bit it came back to me completely intact. later, after i had recorded the piano to my satisfaction, i realized that i had forgotten to insert a brief part i intended to play at the very beginning of the song…but at that point i wasn’t going to mess with it any more, so i left it as it was.

– the pitch of the piano changed ever so slightly a day or two after it was recorded, and it must have been some odd digital fluke because this isn’t something that my mixer normally does to me. but for whatever reason, the last two and a half minutes are much closer to being in tune than the rest. in an ironic little twist, that’s the part of the song that sounds out of tune because you get used to the pitch of what comes before. i had to change the recording speed a little bit to record the vocal, guitar, bass and drum tracks (they call me “the accidental purist”), and then change it back again (there’s that tricky sampling speed issue again), so in the end the pitch of the song is a hair off from being exactly right; if anyone ever tried to play along on piano, it would probably sound pretty ugly. i did try to correct the pitch after the fact, but it’s not so easy given what a tiny increment of pitch it is that needs to be altered…i’ve given up and just left it alone for the time being. hopefully it doesn’t sound too wonky. anyone with perfect pitch will probably have to stop listening almost immediately in order to avoid feeling nauseous.

– ever since i first recorded the piano part, i felt the latter half of the song should have an insistent kick/tom drum pattern played throughout. i still felt that way yesterday, but apparently my drums didn’t. i don’t know what it is…ever since i picked up the brushes again while i was recording the last cd, i find myself preferring them to sticks most of the time. they seem to make me think more creatively behind the kit and it becomes much easier for me to get out what’s in my head without actually thinking about whatever it is that might be in my head, assuming i have any percussion-related ideas to begin with. for some reason i feel more connected to the drums when i’m playing with brushes, and i don’t think that was the case in the past. i never reached for them that often before. i also just really like the sound of drums that are struck with brushes, and i’m still digging the R88 in that application without any close mics anywhere. with sticks i couldn’t quite seem to get the sound i wanted yesterday, even after trying a few different passes; once i grabbed the brushes, on the other hand, i just played through the song once without really thinking about what i wanted to do, and i got what i wanted, more or less. i prefer playing that way, recording cold without “rehearsing” or devising drum parts beforehand, and limiting myself to one or two takes. it’s a way to get close to something akin to that old feeling of playing with other musicians and improvising collectively, keeping yourself a little unsure of what’s coming next, and in general i don’t like to let things get too studied or comfortable. but i’ve been saying that for years now. it seems to be the common thread that runs through everything i do—an intentional lack of polish. nail polish, however, is always a welcome addition. but that’s a different matter.

in other news, i’m still on CJAM’s charts. that’s three weeks in a row in the top ten, and once again i’m on the folk/roots/blues chart as well. this has never happened to me before. it seems i was pretty far off the mark when i predicted that no one would like the new album and it wouldn’t get much attention from anyone. wonders never cease. i’m going to try to get at least one more album of new material finished before the end of the year, along with that tricky little misfits compilation. gotta keep the momentum going, now that i seem to be more or less back in the swing of things.

2 comments

  1. I will listen to your song tomorrow and know it will be Nostiagatious!!

    I am not surprised by your latest CD staying high in the CJAM charts because that Chicken Angel Woman has been using her triangle to awake people up to your music. She strikes it softly and with a unique rhythm so that each song slowly seeps into the vascular cortex and cerebellum matters. Medically speaking, it is a successful breakthrough for all humankind. Congrats Dr. West!!

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