Category: Notes in the Margin Project Notes
Deconstructing a really long song
By Dave on Sunday, August 15th 2010 8:15 pm
There have been a lot of great extended compositions & concept albums over the last 40 years. Many of these spend a whole lot of time in my CD player but my very favorite work of this kind is Echolyn's 2002 release "mei". A lot of concept albums are really a collection of songs that are tied together primarily with a story told through the lyrics. That is all well and good but mei is not only tied together with the lyrics but also with the music. mei is a single 49 minute tapestry of themes woven in many different shades and colors. While there aren't that many different musical ideas, the themes are varied enough that as it evolves it has a sense of oneness without sounding repetitious.
It is safe to say that mei has had a significant impact on how I think about composition in general and most certainly influenced my approach to writing A Poet's Talespin on my new album. While Talespin is divided into 5 tracks, of which at least some can probably be digested as individual songs, the larger work is built upon 7 different themes that continually appear throughout the piece. So while the individual tracks may sound very different from one another, they are tied together with these themes that reemerge.
My guess is most listeners won't pick up on the subtleties of the arrangement except for perhaps a vague sense that the tracks are somehow tied together. And rightly so, this isn't math or music theory class. But I thought for the curious listener it might be interesting to map out the arrangement with some sound files so you can hear how those themes are reused and varied.
The Anatomy of A Poet's Talespin
The mp3s below contain examples of how a single theme is reused throughout the piece.
Play Theme 1
This theme first appears in Part 1: Half-Slept Moments and restated in the instrumental section of Part 2: Soft Collisions and a variation of the piano part is the basis for one of the main themes in Part 4: I Write.
Play Theme 2
This is a companion theme to the previous one and also first appears in Part 1: Half-Slept Moments, is restated in the instrumental section of Part 2: Soft Collisions and is one of the key themes of Part 4: I Write.
Play Theme 3
This theme first appears with piano and vocals Part 2: Soft Collisions and is restated in Part 5: In the Shadows with guitar playing fragments of the vocal melody and a "sample and hold" synth patch replacing the piano.
Play Theme 4
This theme first appears in Part 2: Soft Collisions. A wacky variation of this is used to conclude Part 2 and it is restated in closing section of Part 5: In the Shadows with a Latin feel and slide guitar echoing the vocal line ("Steals our Shadows") from Part 2.
Play Theme 5
This theme first appears in Part 2: Soft Collisions and is restated with a very different rhythmic feel in Part 5: In the Shadows. The two different versions use the same harmonic progression but I'm pretty sure if not for the piano being used in both versions it would be impossible to tell.
Play Theme 6
This theme is first briefly stated in the instrumental section of Part 2: Soft Collisions and then becomes a central theme in Part 3: The Bridge. It is then restated twice in Part 5: In the Shadows, first with the guitar playing fragments of the vocal part from Part 3 and then as a basis for the bluesy guitar solo.
Play Theme 7
This is one of the main themes in Part 3: The Bridge and is later used for the drum breaks in Part 5: In the Shadows.
More on the new CD
By Dave on Wednesday, June 9th 2010 11:58 pm
While this isn't a really concept album there are certainly a couple of literature related themes that run through it.
The 5 part centerpiece of the album A Poet's Talespin has lyrics adapted from a couple of terrific poems by Amanda Joy. The first Three Part Tale Spin is story of a dream where a poem unfolds, and the second I Write tells about how the poet can examine the world around them and create a world that may bear very little resemblance to it.
Skating on Europa was inspired by a strange distorted and unintelligible phone message left on my answering machine. It had a quality that reminded me a lonely transmission sent by a doomed explorer who has just discovered life on Europa in Arthur C. Clark's 2010. Best chapter in the book - too bad it wasn't in the movie. FYI, a recording of the actual message left on my answering machine is used in the piece in a couple of different parts.
Know Again is one literal translation of Anagnorisis, which in Greek Tragedy is a key moment of recognition for the protagonist. I don't remember exactly why I was thinking about this when I finished writing Know Again and was searching for something to call it but I think at least a couple of the melodies really fit the concept.
The closing piece, a sort of pseudo-tone poem called Counted the Stars is named for a phrase in a Anne Sexton poem that early on in the writing process I hoped to adapt as lyrics for what eventually became A Poet's Talespin. According to the internets Anne was quite a fan of the radio listening all the time while writing and referencing the radio in a few of her more famous works, hence the old tube radio sound fx.
So quite by coincidence all these tunes have fairly strong ties to literature, so it seemed to me that the title and artwork should reflect that. Of course one of these things doesn't belong with the others.... But I found a tongue and cheek way to work that in on the back cover.
The title of the collection Notes in the Margin is a reflection of the fact that much of the process of making this record was really a struggle of rewrites and refinement. Examples? I created no less than 33 separate mixes of Skating on Europa. Talespin Part 3 was completely overhauled musically in the writing phase at least twice with enough sections discarded to write a whole other piece of music. Talespin was originally based on different poems I couldn't get the rights to use, then lyrics I wrote myself after researching the Dust Bowl for a month, then finally the ones I did use -- all of which had to be adapted to existing melodies. A song was added, then dropped, then replaced right at the end. I have a pile of sticky notes of things to fix on mixes an inch and a half high sitting here on my desk - that's just from the last week. I have a sizable stack of "coaster" CD-Rs comprised of work in progress so I could listen outside the basement.
And after all that there are still 100 different things I didn't get around to fixing or making better. There always seem to be more Notes in the Margin...
So with respect to the artwork. I shot both the cover and back cover photos with my Nikon D50 and the 35mm 1.8G lens and processed them with the HDR technique where you mix 3 different exposures. The process can yield some really visually interesting results and makes shooting a decent photo in a back lit environment a reasonable proposition. I thought an old manual typewriter would make a nice subject and I loaded it with some old violin sheet music for a visual twist.
The back cover features books related to the instrumental titles. 2010 for Skating on Europa, A collection Shakespeare plays for Know Again, A collection of Anne Sexton's poems for Counted the Stars and for Get the Hell off my Lawn... a book on organic lawn-care. A pencil and paper sit out of focus in the foreground referencing the lyrics in Part 4 of Talespin ("I encase them in graphite").
Note to me: Put a fork in it
By Dave on Wednesday, June 9th 2010 2:02 am
Back from a late night trip to drop the master CD off at the duplication place. Out of my hands now. Yay!
1. Skating on Europa (9:33)
2. Know Again (6:24)
3-7. A Poet's Talespin (29:35)
i. Half-Slept Moments (1:56) ii. Soft Collisions (8:28) iii. The Bridge (7:55)
iv. I Write (5:01) v. In the Shadows (6:15)
8. Get the Hell off my Lawn (4:18)
9. Counted the Stars (1:18)
Total Running Time: 51:22
Frank Basile Drum Kit
Annie Oya Vocals on A Poet's Talespin
Ian Cameron Electric and Acoustic Violins on Know Again
Me Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Guitar Synthesizer, Sound FX, and Programming
Death by mixdown
By Dave on Monday, May 3rd 2010 2:07 am
Mixing has been proceeding very slowly. In part this is because my day job has been creeping well into most evenings lately. I've found that if I'm already tired from work I can't get into the right mindset for mixing.
In addition, at least initially, I was really struggling to get a sound I was pleased with. Generally the mixes were coming out with a muddy and small/over compressed sound, or they would sound OK on the studio monitors or my headset but horrible in the car.
So I start hitting the google looking for tips, tricks and general advice on mixing. One of the articles I read suggested checking out HomeRecording.com a forum where you can post your mixes and get feedback. So about a week ago I posted the latest version of the Skating on Europa mix that I had been fighting with for over a month. Several people listened and gave me some terrific critical feedback (fav quote: "this sounds like it was mixed by the guitar player").
Thanks in no small part to the advice I received there I not only have Skating in good shape but also mixed Know Again, and Get the Hell Off my Lawn over the last few days.
I'm hoping I can take a little time off soon to tackle the big long epic.
Things happening fast now
By Dave on Sunday, March 14th 2010 11:32 pm
Last week the vocals were finished on the long piece and I received drum tracks from Frank for "Get the Hell off my Lawn". I spent the weekend reworking and recording the final bass tracks. I'm happy with the demo version of all the 6 string guitar parts so rather than re-track those I just flew in the originals.
I'm considering dropping the 5th tune I had planned to have on the album. This collection is long enough without it and I think it is compositionally a little weaker than the others, though it is easily the most complex of the lot.
If that decision holds, tracking is done and I'm officially in post production starting next week. Yay!
I also settled on a titled for the CD, "Notes in the Margin". I have an artwork concept that I have to nail down the details on and produce.
And mixing.... I've got a whole lot of mixing to do.
Know Again: Rough Mix
By Dave on Monday, February 15th 2010 3:33 pm
Here is a rough mix of "Know Again". I don't believe I ever posted the demo version of this piece so this is brand new stuff.
mp3: Know Again
Drums by Frank Basile
Electric and Acoustic Violins by Ian Cameron
Guitar, Bass, and Keyboards by me
I should post an A/B comparison of my demo of this one and the final version so folks can hear just how much the guest musicians bring to the piece.
The title comes from a component in Greek Tragedy called anagnorisis. This one was a struggle in all phases, from writing to arranging and recording. But in the end it came out pretty good.
I'm also working on a rough mix for Skating on Europa, I'll probably post that in a few days.