Category Archives: new music

William Hollander

flying_cloud2
 
Sometimes music takes a long time to develop. Often, in spite of all our efforts to make something creative happen on demand, it just takes years for ideas unfold. That is very much the case with this song that I refer to as William Hollander.

Somewhere close to five years ago I was playing a seisiún at The Skellig in Waltham where I heard an Irishman named Tony sing a song. An amazing song. For ten minutes he sang for the Skellig patrons, entirely acapella. His voice strained as he reached for notes describing his childhood, his loving parents, becoming bound to a butcher, a merchant sailor, a slave trader, a pirate, a condemned outlaw denouncing piracy and whiskey. It was a sprawling song that wove a tapestry of imagery, some beautiful, some appalling. I was stunned.

I had to have this song. After buying him a pint or two I asked him to repeat the melody for me while I scratched the notes onto the back of a napkin. He kindly agreed to email me the lyrics the following day, which he did.

The moment I picked up a guitar to try the melody I knew what to play. That part unfolded quickly. But the lyrics were another story. Tony’s version had thirteen verses and some renditions have up to nineteen verses. Far too many for me to a) remember and b) be able to retain anyone’s attention. I had learned this lesson from another well known song that I sing called Arthur McBride, which has, depending on how you count them, eight to sixteen verses. That is a long time to keep people interested.

The original song, often called The Flying Cloud, has a mysterious origin. The real Flying Cloud is a famous clipper merchant ship that made a miraculously speedy run in the 1850’s from New York, around the horn and to San Francisco in 81 days and 21 hours. Her speed record stood until 1989. The song, however, speaks of piracy and slave trade, which is not part of the Flying Clouds true history. It is, therefore assumed, that the song grew like any great tale. The story gets bigger and better as time passes, which may account for the vast ground the song tries to cover. So many themes in one song are rarely found in modern music, especially without a repeating chorus.

So, I was faced with a dilemma. How do I distill the song down to capture its essence and do so in a manner where I am capable of selling the performance? For years I have mulled over this question. I have tried dropping verses and rewriting verses but have never really been happy.

The version that I’ve recorded here is my first real demo of it with newly revised lyrics. Like other projects that I’ve posted on baconworks, I expect that this is going to take on a life of its own and that this version will not be the last. And, true to the form of folk music, will continue to evolve.

…I was going to post the above earlier today, but before I got a chance my fellow musical Junkie Luke broke into my office, stole the track and worked his bass magic. Take a listen to how the bass changes to reflect the story of each verse, brilliant.

Also, there are already plans in the works to add Mustchio’s killer bouzouki part, and Beave’s bodhran.
William Hollander by baconworks

Sylvia’s Mother

guitar playing
 
For the last two months I’ve been musically focused on a project for work. We’ve been working on a MathWorks related spoof of an old Dr. Hook song. It was great fun to work on, had thirty overdubbed tracks of audio and an associated video. Last night I returned from a trip where we had the good fortune to show the video to a couple thousand receptive audience members. It was a lot of fun, but mentally draining. After traveling all day, tired and a bit melancholy that the whole experience was over, I found myself feeling restless. Kids were in bed, wife asleep on the couch, not interested in watching T.V. and not focused or awake enough to read I decided to retreat to the basement and just play some guitar. Just play.

While I was playing I decided to try my hand at another old Dr. Hook song that I have grown to enjoy during the last few weeks. This time there were no new lyrics. No spoof. Just a straight cover. Also, no multitracking. One mic, one track, one take. Just playing.

Thanks to Sylvia’s Mother, I can now move on.
Sylvias Mother by baconworks

Si Bheag Si Mhor

Just before the holidays I decided it might be good to dust off the fife and begin working on some recordings. More dust had collected on it than I had anticipated.

For a warm up I decided to go back to basics. Something easy. Something I’d played a million times. Unfortunately dust doesn’t care about basics and, sadly, it took a while to get the lip back. This recording was from those first few days so be kind.
 
Leitrim
 
The tune is called Si Bheag Si Mhor, which roughly translated means “The little fairy hill and the big fairy hill”. It was penned by Turlough O’Carolan’s and is thought to be his first tune. It is said to be about a mythical battle between the fairy inhabitants of two neighboring hills in Co. Leitrim. Folklore surrounding the hills tells of ancient warriors whose mortal bodies lie entombed within the hills. From time to time these spirits revive their quarrel. Not something I’d like to happen upon during a dusky evening in Leitrim.
 
thumb
 
The arrangement is one that I put together back in the early nineties. It is in two voices. Since it is slow and sweet, my buddy Joe and I used to play it for the ladies. We referred to it as our wooing the women tune. I can’t say it ever worked. In fact, one evening, as we were trying to impress, these young ladies turned the tables by playing the arrangement for us. Embarrassing. I think that may have been the last time we ever tried to woo anyone with music.
 
Si Bheag Si Mhor by baconworks

Jigs at Stones

The Session
 
Admittedly, I’ve been a bit quiet on baconworks for the last month. I blame it on holidays, a site crash and general laziness.

To get things going again check this out. I stumbled upon a set of jigs that I recorded at a Stone’s session two years ago. I don’t know the name of any of them but it is a nice set. You can hear the casualness of the musicians as they come in and drop out throughout the set. This is very typical behavior since the sets are loosely planned at best. In this case I would say completely unplanned. Consequently, as the set progresses from tune to tune, the other musicians stop to listen and ponder their next move.

Notice the smashing glass at the end of the set. The pint leapt off the stool in front of us. Happens all the time at Stones. After all the place is haunted.
 
Jigs at Stones by baconworks

Christmas Wish

I was looking through some old files and found this recording from a session that Unstachio and I did a few months back. It was the same session that South Wind/Out on the Ocean came from.

The tune was written by George and is called the Christmas Wish.
 
Christmas Wish
 
I recall, at the time, that we both thought we could do better and decided to move on. Again, with the rosey glasses of time, I listen to this now and feel pretty good about it. The one real problem with the recording is that there is an unfortunate hum/buzz. I’m not sure how that happened and I did my best to reduce its impact on the overall quality.

It wouldn’t surprise me if George and I come back to this one again at some point, but for now here ya go.
 
Christmas Wish by baconworks

Fox in the Bramble

The Fox and the Bramble
 

A fox, closely pursued by a pack of dogs, took shelter under the covert of a Bramble. He rejoiced in this asylum; and for a while, was very happy; but soon found that if he attempted to stir, he was wounded by thorns and prickles on every side. However, making a virtue of necessity, he forbore to complain, and comforted himself with reflecting, that no bliss is perfect; that good and evil are mixed, and flow from the same fountain. These Briars, indeed, said he, will tear my skin a little, yet they keep off the Dogs. For the sake of the good, then, let me bear the evil with patience: each bitter has its sweet; and these Brambles, though they wound my flesh, preserve my life from danger.

I was digging through some old recordings and found this track. I recall that as I was practicing one evening this tune just sort of fell out of the mandolin. So, I slipped into my studio, if you can call it that, and put it down for posterity. I never really did much else with it.

Before posting it today I had to give it a name: Fox in the Bramble

What does a fox, a bramble, and the above fable have to do with this tune? Nothing really. I just like the word bramble and I thought the fable was a nice reminder that problems, viewed from another angle, aren’t really problems at all. Instead, they are the things that add dimension to our lives, build character, afford us opportunities, and at the end of the day, give us a good story to tell.

Good lessons for crazy times.
 
Fox in the Bramble by baconworks

Growing a Tune: Crashing

Ship at Sea
 
The other day Luke summonsed me into his office. He had been working feverishly on a new version of The Marlin Spike with both of Josh’s new guitar parts. Once in his office he had me put the cans on to take a listen. But before doing so, he prefaced my first listen with his impressions of the tune.

The tune, as he described, made him think of an old ship, sails full of wind making headway through the vast ocean. He could hear the waves crashing against the sides of the ship. He could imagine the sound the ship would make as it pitched up and over the swells of the sea. And with that he decided to add some percussion. I listened. His descriptions came to life. As the tune ended and I was reaching to pull the phones off, I started to say that I didn’t want it to end. Then I noticed a gleam in his eye, he raised one finger and said, ‘wait’…

The thing I love about this recording is that it has taken turns that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done on my own. Luke does not come to this recording with the shackles of how percussion or bass is supposed to sound in Celtic music. It is just not part of his musical background. This is new material for him. Consequently, he, unknowingly, breaks some traditional rules and adds a new dimension, an entirely appealing dimension, to the music…and that is exciting.
 
The Marlin Spike (crashing) by baconworks

Growing a Tune: Mixing up Josh

Josh spent some time recording two new guitar tracks. One he describes as being a bit more traditional versus the other being a bit more chordal. I liked them both and decided to split the difference and mix the two tracks together. I can also tell you that Luke is working on another wicked pissa track, with a new bass line, that uses both of Josh’s tracks as well. I’m hoping to be able to post that track in the next day or so…Luke???

Also, there has been some interest by a couple of new musicians in recording some additional tracks. So, with any luck, we may soon have a fiddle track and a resophonic tenor guitar.

In the interim, I’ve created an image map of the various iterations below. This gives a nice visual representation of how much activity is happening:
 
Marlin Spike Map

Check it out.
 
The Marlin Spike (Josh mix) by baconworks

Growing a Tune: Not Finished Yet…

Luke on Bass
 
Luke is at it again.

This time, he has put a bass track to Josh’s first guitar track, which Josh thought of as a rough draft. Compared to my track this accompaniment has a much more jazzy feel.

Also, you will notice that the melody does not include the original flute and, instead, only features the penny whistle. This is an artifact of the impromptu process that we used to do the recording, which is illustrated in the highly technical graphic below:
 
Recording Process
 
One of the things going on here is that above all the music there is a process that we are learning about as we go. That process includes syncing and overdubbing tracks across multiple players who don’t know each other and we have learned that there are some steps that can be added to that picture to give us more flexibility in the future (as we will see in a subsequent post).

Another interesting phenomenon that I see unfolding in this collaborative recording experiment is that the distinction between what is a rough take and what is a ‘finished product’ has been blurred. Josh’s rough guitar track sits nicely with Luke’s bass and from my perspective the mix is a very listenable and arguably ‘finished’. But, I know that Josh was generally unhappy with the sound quality of the guitar track and, therefore, his perception of ‘finished’ is probably different than mine, which brings me to a very salient point: There is no such thing as ‘finished’ in the absolute sense.

The term ‘finished’ is a misleading adjective that we tend to use when describing our intentions. It is not, ironically, a very good word for accurately describing state. In other words, when I say I am finished with a tune or a painting or building a new deck, I am really saying that I have no intention of doing more work on that thing. However, given that humans are notoriously bad a predicting the future, it might not be wise to place bets on whether the state of that thing will remain stable in the future. After all, I may decide, many years later, to add more paint to the canvas. Is it finished then?

Why am I babbling on about this? Because the notion of finishing a recording, which is very often a goal of musicians, is just an artifact associated with the historically high costs of recording albums. While it is hard for many artists to get their heads around this, I’m here to demonstrate that it is time. Free yourselves from the shackles of that elusive perfect and printable recording. Instead, embrace the notion that the process, flaws and all, is just as interesting and is really the reason we play music to begin with.

The cool thing here is that the plummeting cost of recording and music distribution facilitates the phenomenon I’m describing. The Compact Disc is no longer a necessity and, therefore, does not need to be the final resting place, as it once was, for a musical idea. With the financial factors removed, the creative process, once again, can take its rightful place at center stage thereby giving freedom back to the artist to create as inspiration strikes.

I used to believe that waking up on the wrong side of the sod was the only sure measure of being truly finished. But in world where we allow others to expand on our ideas we open the doors for evolution, which is far more enduring and exciting than being finished.