Month: May 2014

Conduct me.

daniel oren is pissed

There’s a song Gord and I have been playing for almost half our lives. First we played it to explore its newness. Then we played it to add to it. Then we played it to make sure we wouldn’t forget all the different pieces of it. It’s an instrumental guitar piece that always sounded evocative to me, in a way that set it apart from anything else we’d done.

We never gave it a proper recording. We never knew where to put it, or where it wanted to go.

After years of letting our lives take us different places, we brought ourselves back together and found the spark we first created as teenagers was still there. It never left. He remembered pieces of the song but not the whole thing, so I jogged his memory a little, and we decided it was time to create some permanent record of the thing.

I’ve been playing bits of this song, with Gord and on my own, here and there, for twelve years. And when I sat down to record my part a little over a week ago, I couldn’t get it right to save my life. Somehow I kept getting in my own way. In all the years I’ve been recording music, this has almost never happened to me. Most of the time I get what I want within a few takes. This time it just wasn’t happening.

He went out on the porch for a smoke, to give me some privacy, but that didn’t do it. I tried changing the tempo. That didn’t do it. I swore a lot. That didn’t do it. After about ten failed takes I was sweating. It was strange. I’m not someone who sweats easily.

Gord came back inside after a while. I still had nothing to show for myself but sweat and frustration. I told him I would try one more time, and then I was giving up. So he sat and watched me try, and played air guitar, and in my peripheral vision it looked like he was doing something else. It looked like he was conducting me. In a weird way that encouraged me, relaxed me, and finally I got a take that was good all the way through, and we could move on to his part (which he nailed in two or three takes, of course).

I guess when things aren’t going my way sometimes I need to believe someone’s waving an imaginary baton in my direction.

After all these years the song still doesn’t have a name, but we’ll come up with something.

Kelly Hoppe is the man.

kelly hoppe is the man

I play the harmonica like Bob Dylan crossed with Bruce Springsteen, minus the skill. Kelly’s a different story. He plays the harmonica like a beast. I met him in a dream, in a grocery store. Then I met him here, yesterday, outside of sleep.

It’s refreshing to spend time with people who have talent sewn into their eyelashes but are completely laid-back and grounded. And to have them add some of their magic to some music you’ve written…that’s like some sort of gift from the music gods.

Maybe involving other people in this album was a good idea after all.

I’d never recorded a saxophone before, and the only experience I had recording harmonica was my own occasional playing. So I set up the Pearlman TM-1 in the middle of the room, stuck it in omni mode, moved it up and down a bit depending on what was being captured, and was reminded all over again how versatile that microphone is and how well it responds to high quality instruments played by insanely skilled musicians.

The image up there is a video still, because there’s video being recorded of some of these recording sessions, and at some stage I’ll edit it all into something pitched halfway between a progress report video (I used to make those things once upon a time, I think) and a very rough-around-the-edges DIY documentary capturing the process of making this thing.

A video with other people in it, aside from me and Elliott and assorted stuffed animals? I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. This could turn the world as we know it inside-out.


bed demos.

I’ve never really recorded proper demos, but I do like to get down ideas and songs-in-progress in rough form before I take them into the “studio”. My weapon of choice over the past handful of years has been whatever video camera is around at the time.

First it was a MiniDV camcorder. When that one went wonky on me, I started using a Flip camera small enough to fit in a shirt pocket. When that one filled up and I got too lazy to empty its contents onto a hard drive on a regular basis, I started using a Pentax still camera, which was the most lo-fi of them all but afforded the most recording time.

One night I had an idea for a song and nothing to record it on. Both Flip cameras (there were two by now) were full. The Pentax was full and its battery was dead. And it was four in the morning, so recording the thing downstairs wasn’t an option.

I remembered my new-ish laptop came with GarageBand already installed. I’ve never worked much with recording software unless I want to drastically alter the pitch of an entire song after the fact (which has only happened a few times), but I needed to make an exception here to preserve the idea before it grew murky in my mind.

So I used GarageBand for the first time ever. I was surprised by the quality of the laptop’s invisible built-in microphone. It didn’t sound nearly as awful as I thought it would. I recorded acoustic guitar and a lead vocal on one live track, added midi upright bass and fake Wurlitzer (playing the notes on the computer’s keyboard instead of lugging an instrument with midi capabilities up the stairs, which was about as weird as it sounds…I think J or K operates as the D key), threw in some additional vocals with a pitch-shifting effect to make myself sound like a lady (because why not?), and found myself with something crawling toward a song.

In the five or six weeks since, GarageBand has become the main tool I use for idea-capturing and, for lack of a better word, demoing. There have been about forty demos recorded in that time. It’s a little ridiculous. But it’s been fun, and useful, and in some cases the ability to overdub sketchy arrangement ideas in the wee hours has led to some interesting moments. Once or twice I even broke down and brought the laptop downstairs to record the real piano, sitting it down on the bench and messing with the angle and microphone sensitivity until it sounded about right.

Here’s that very first demo recorded on the laptop.

Somnambulist (demo)

It’s a properly-recorded song now, but I kept as much of the feeling of the initial 4:00 a.m. improvisation as I could, right down to the half-garbled singing. The fidelity is better in the final recording, there’s no midi anything, and there’s a bit more going on sonically, but I kept the pitch-shifting effect (because, again, why not?) and the words are still mostly gibberish. They felt like the right words and not-words to sing.