Saturday, June 30, 2012

"My Own:" the new track from out of nowhere (MP3 streaming)

Today I woke up and build a track from the ground up, with no planning prior to today. I started out with a couple of speech samples that were then gargled, reversed, and "mammutized." Combined with a kick and snare, they formed the basis of the drum track. A couple of synthesizer overdubs later, and here it is:

But now there is a problem. The tracklist for the album "Hydrogen" is already set. Even though most of the album is yet to be recorded, it's "written in my head" so to speak, and this new track I recorded today doesn't fit inside the tracklist I have already set. This new track is menacing, but sterile, whereas I intend "Hydrogen" as an album to be a little more warm, and a little more personable. So now what do I do?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Studio Outtakes: Part 1

So I just did some recording and for some reason I had a very serious case of the giggles. Not sure why, but here is the documentation:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Sing Free:" the track that insisted on re-writing itself (with MP3 sample)

"Sing Free" is the first track from the album "Hydrogen" I began recording, and it's the track that was giving me the most hell. Perhaps that is because I was trying too hard; trying to make the beats too aggressive, trying to sing too high, trying to drown the whole thing in too much electricity.

So after a month of ignoring the half-completed track and letting it sit on my hard drive, I decided to turn it totally upside-down. I've heard other musicians say they sometimes like the results they get when they totally strip everything down, so that's what I did. And here is a snippet:

This snippet is far from perfect from a performance standpoint, but in a way I think that's part of its appeal. When I originally thought to record "Hydrogen" I said to myself "this is the album that will be more perfect and precise than anything I have done before."  This turned out to be nonsense. Of course, nothing is ever perfect unless it is generated completely by computer (and that right there can present its own set of problems).  So what I now realize is that "Hydrogen" will be appealing for the mixture of the organic and the exact, and hopefully I will be a skilled enough musician to keep up with the exact. So far it's been a tad questionable.

Another issue I've been having recently also emerged here. For some reason, my singing voice always tends to record better and richer when I'm playing guitar along with it instead of overdubbing the voice over a pre-recorded track. I still haven't figured out why this is so. It could have to do with feeling more connected to the rhythm of the piece, but that is all speculation. As a general studio rule, vocals should usually be overdubbed and not recorded live with other instruments, so I'm breaking that rule here for the sake of getting a recording that sounds "real," whatever that means.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Inspiration Problem

When I was in school I took composition lessons from a really wonderful composer named Michaela Eremiasova.  One of the first pieces of musical wisdom she gave me was her belief that one's supposed lack of inspiration was a problem that could be overcome simply by hard work. If you don't like the ideas you're coming up with, continue to write anyway, because you won't get anywhere by sitting around and waiting to be inspired.

No one likes to hear this, but it really is good news.  Why?  Because when you take this principle to its natural conclusion, you can make the argument that all of our assumptions about the concept of "inspiration" might be thrown out the window.  If Michaela is correct, and I believe she may be, then excellence is something that is far more attainable than any of us realize because we don't want to admit to ourselves that it will likely take a great deal of effort to get there.

In popular imagination, there tends to be a desire to see "inspiration" not as something that can be acquired, but as a gift bestowed upon its recipients by the cosmic forces of the universe.  This is comforting for a great many people because it says "if you're not a genius, that's really ok."  And, of course, it is perfectly ok to not be a genius or an inspired person in most areas.

But this view also allows us to let ourselves off the hook.  The film, Amadeus, is one example I can think of that really promotes the idea of God-given inspiration.  In the film, the character Antonio Salieri cannot understand why God would withhold the gifts of musical inspiration from such a loyal servant as himself, and instead grant them to a scoundrel such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  The film, while great entertainment, hangs its entire narrative on what may be a flawed premise: Mozart is inspired, Salieri is not, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that.

Of course, Mozart did possess a great deal of natural musical talent, but some have argued that it was just the result of deliberate practice undertaken from a very early age.  That's not to say that practicing 10 hours a day will turn a person into an inspiration machine, but it certainly helps your chances.  Composers are creative people, and you cannot just churn out greatness, but the more deliberate practice you have under your belt, the greater your arsenal of musical language.  We all lack inspiration at times, but if we have a solid foundation, we can somehow manage to fill in those gaps.

Could we all be great at something if we really wanted to?  It's hard to say, but what I do know is that if you take something by the horns, you're more likely to get where you want to go.  We don't like being told that we need to work through the problem.  It's much easier to stand back and wait for the light bulb to turn on, but most of the time, the problem doesn't go away on its own.