Monthly Archives: October 2007

LP: On the Mend

drive
 
For quite some time now I’ve wanted to record and album. The problem used to be that the cost for studio time was so high that I could only afford it in small doses. With the advent of low cost, high quality digital recording equipment, however, that problem has been virtually nullified. In addition, the distribution of music once required the pressing of an album. However, as we are well aware, the internet has also change that paradigm. So, here is the question I wrestle with; Is there any value in recording an album? Is the concept of an LP dead? After all, the lag time between recording a track and publishing is now trivial. Why stamp out any CD’s at all? The record industry, of course, is feeling the affects of this seismic shift first hand.

On one hand the album, a product of commercialism, feels out of place in todays vast digital world. On the other hand, I am compelled by the idea of sequencing a set of tunes in a way that carries the listener along as if on a meandering summertime ride on a wooded country road. I am well aware, however, that once the tunes make their way onto your iPod and in shuffle mode, the concept behind the sequencing is lost.

While I don’t have a good answer to my own questions, and while there are plenty of good reasons to move past the traditional album format, I am not willing to entirely abandon the notion just yet.

I guess that is a long winded way of saying that I’m gonna give it a go. I don’t know what the end result will look like but I have made one important decision already. As my ideas take shape and the music evolves I am going to blog about my creative and technical process of creating the album. The thing that I find both exciting and a bit daunting is the notion that the public critiquing process can happen as the recording takes shape instead of after it is complete. I am hoping that your critical feedback will help shape a better result. I am, therefore, urging you to offer your thoughts on what you hear or would like to hear.

As a first offering, I am including a recording of a jig I wrote last week. This is a test track that I intend on re-recording for a variety of reasons, the first being that I really did not know how to play it cleanly at the time of the recording since it was authored only minutes before. Also, I have been having trouble with some buzzing on my guitar, which affected the bass notes. Going forward, I am considering coupling the banjo with a mandolin in addition to centering the banjo, which is currently off to one side. I would also like to write another tune to go along with it but am finding that I just can’t force it.

The tune is entitled ‘On the Mend’ and was named for my friend Eddie Marshall, who was recently under the weather and unable to play music for a good month or so. I was happy to finally hear him say that he was ‘On the Mend’.

Facebook traffic and Reverb Nation

I noticed, oddly enough, that I was getting traffic from facebook.com, even though I had not set up a profile there.
 
facebook
 
Well, I figured, if it is going to send me traffic…why not set a real profile up. So, without further ado, you can now check out my new facebook profile and become my friend.

While I was at it, I set up a profile at reverbnation.com, where I can promote myself as a “band”. Cool. Watch out Rolling Stones.
 
reverb nation

Blackbird

Blackbird
 
I was listening to Eleanor Rigby off the Revolver album on my iPod. After the intro chorus, Paul’s voice is panned entirely to the right speaker. Gutsy move and interesting choice. Take one of the most instantly recognizable voices in pop music and isolate him to one speaker while the double string quartet takes center stage. That is, until Paul’s voice suddenly fattens up and pops into the middle for ‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?’. It then immediately returns to the right speaker.

I love listening to the Beatles on headphones because I am always intrigued by how they decided to mix things. It is on that Revolver album that they first used a technique called Automatic Double Tracking (ADT). This technique allowed them to record two identical tracks with one take. The second track would be played back a few milliseconds behind the first to fatten up the track such as the one heard in Eleanor Rigby when Paul’s voice suddenly jumps to the middle.

That is cool stuff that I gotta try. So, I did. In this recording, of a traditional old set dance called Blackbird, I decided to try a number of different recording techniques just for fun. To start, I placed my guitar inches from the microphone. I then recorded as I played flute into the mic while the strings were sympathetically resonating. Second, I did the equivalent of ADT digitally and doubled the flute track, setting the second a few milliseconds behind the first as seen below.
ADT
 
Once that was in place I decided I wanted to put a drone under it. I have an old fiddle lying around and, in spite of my complete lack of fiddling ability, decided to try and record one single note. It sucked. So, I doubled it up, which you might think would make it twice as sucky. But it did not. Instead it improved the sound as I had hoped.

I then wanted a deeper tone so I pulled down my guitar and recorded one deep note. I took that one note, cut off the pluck by fading in and then put it into an overlapping loop to produce the effect of one really long bass note. I did the same with a whistle. Below is an image of two tracks working together to create the one long bass note. Notice how the wave is the same in each section of the image. That is the the note I recorded on guitar and then copied.
 
repeating bass
 
Lastly I added a double delay to the whole track, which gives the flute the sound of being played somewhere down deep in a reverberant valley. It is no Eleanor Rigby, but it was fun.

Leaf in a Stream

Leaf in a Stream
 
In every endeavor there are pivotal moments. These are the moments where we decide to either proceed or halt, push forward or go back. Sometimes it is obvious, as the moment unfolds, that they are important and that there is a decision to be made. Other times those pivotal moments slip by, like a leaf in a stream, quietly and unnoticed. No course correction is made and you quietly slip into the next moment traveling the same path you started on. It is only on future reflection that you can look back and realize the value of that moment.

I was thinking about this as I was recording a great little tune called the Concord Police the other evening.
The Concord Police
 
The tune and words were written by my good friend and former fife instructor Dan Moylan.
Dan Moylan

Dan, the only true music instructor I ever had, is a man of great energy and passion and truly has a love for fife and drum music. Such a passion that, as his grown son once told me, he would play a form of Reveille on his snare drum in the mornings to wake his children for school. Apparently, this was a regular occurrence in the Moylan household.

When I was first learning the fife I would make a weekly trip to Dan’s house in Sudbury, which, incidentally, was walking distance from the Wayside Inn, and hack through the ten tunes I needed to have under my belt before marching with the Sudbury Ancient Fife and Drum Companie. Not long after learning the required ten tunes I had an opportunity to play with an auxiliary group to Sudbury called the 85ème Régiment de Saintonge.
 
Saintonge

The Saintonge was a sharp looking French unit and I was excited to play with them for a parade in Boston on Bastille day. However, when I arrived it quickly became apparent that I was the only fifer and Dan the only drummer. Given my total lack of experience, I was, to say the least, petrified. To make matters worse, as we marched down the street a man and a woman were shouting obscenities and throwing bottles at us. I assumed they didn’t like the French and to get them to stop I wanted to yell out, “No, Bacon…that’s not French!”. It is the first time, in all my fife and drum/reenacting experience, where our militia unit actually had to protect us (there was an incident in Ireland years later but that is a different story). I recall that several of the guys from the unit flanked out with their bayonet-affixed muskets and kept the antagonizers at bay. All awhile, I was bludgeoning the tunes I was supposed to be playing while Dan did his best to follow my cacophonic improvisations. Then, as we turned the corner, the TV cameras showed up. I was mortified into playing worse.

That evening, Dan drove me home. I sat sullenly in the passenger seat gazing out the window hoping he would not bring up my wretched performance. When we reached my driveway, I got out, quietly thanked Dan for the ride, and made my way to the house door where my mother had affixed a note that said “You’re famous! You made the evening news on TV! Hope you had fun! Love Mom.” Now I was certain that I was going to crawl into a dark hovel and never come out. I seriously contemplated quitting this whole fife thing. Why should I continue doing something, where, apparently, I am risking life and limb, I suck, and I get the opportunity to be humiliated on TV?

Now, you might be questioning, “where is the pivotal moment here?” Was it the jackass launching bottles at you? Was it the pitiful performance? Was it your face on the evening news as you were wrecking everything that is good and joyful about fife and drum music? No. Instead, the moment was as the leaf on a stream. It was that long quiet car ride home.

I was embarrassed and figured he thought I was a horrible student. Had he said something as simple as, “well, we have some things to work on”, I am quite sure I would have been too ashamed to show my face at his home for practice that next week. Hang up my britches and call it quits. But he didn’t. And the moment passed. And I moved forward. And I showed up for practice. And now I look back and think about all the wonderful things I would have missed had I naively decided I wasn’t good enough. And, funny enough, that is one of those lessons that I’ve found useful again and again as life keeps rolling. The idea that moving forward, in spite of your fear, is the thing that will pay dividends.

So Dan, thanks for being passionate, for being my instructor, and for driving me home.

Skip Healy Concert Review

Skip Healy
 
Over a few pints in the local establishment Skip, Mark and I watched as the Red Sox failed to deliver the go ahead run in a critical playoff game. As frustrating as that was, the evening of Celtic music that preceded it gave me plenty of positive energy to make the late night drive back from Connecticut where the three of us played together for a very appreciative crowd.

This was our second time playing together and it felt like a reasonable improvement over the last time. Instead of amplifying our show we opted to rely on the natural acoustics of the hall for the Company of Fifers and Drummers, which is in Ivoryton. Skip Healy, a true entertainer, played not only a beautiful variety of traditional and original jigs, reels, marches, aires and hornpipes, but also mixed in his own unique form of humorous storytelling, sprinkled with insightful commentary on the music he plays.

As we were reflecting on our performance over that aforementioned pint, Skip shared with me his thoughts on performing by reminding me of a quote by John Ringling: “The public would rather be entertained than enlightened.” Well I certainly felt, as I was playing next to Skip, that he gives you a bunch of both.

Here is one set from our show. This is a brand new set of tunes that Skip authored. The first tune is called the Gotha Swale and the second is The Taxes are Late and the King is Still Dead. You’ll just have to go to his next show to hear the story behind those names. It will be worth your while.

Skip Concert #2

Skip Healy
 
Skip Healy, Mark Bachand and myself will be performing, once again, at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Hall this coming weekend. We played there a few months back, as you can see.
 
Skip & Friends
 
You can take a listen to a recording of that evening below.

This Saturday’s performance, as before, is a benefit concert for The Juniors Fife & Drum Camp at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Hall, 62 West Main St., Ivoryton, CT (just up the street from the Ivoryton Playhouse). They are asking for a $10 donation. The concert is on Saturday, October 13th and starts at 7:00 PM. For details, contact ccorduan@fsc.edu or call 978-342-7802.