Tag Archives: flute

The Nobel Train

A classic corporate metaphor for teamwork is the crew team. In college I rowed in the two seat of an eight man scull and I can attest to that fact that if you are not pulling the oars in perfect unity, the boat moves like a duck.
 
teamwork
 
The visual simplicity of the crew is one reason it lends itself nicely to the teamwork metaphor. However, the stakes are low if the team fails and in the best case scenario, the winning crew goes home with a medal and a warm happy feeling. Nice, but not the most griping example of teamwork.

Recently I was reading David McCullough’s 1776 and I was reminded of an example of teamwork that I would prefer to see on those motivational posters.
 
The Nobel Train of Artillery
 

As winter approached, in 1775, George Washington and his untrained, ill equipped rabble in arms were trying to figure out how to dislodge the kings mighty army from Boston. By all accounts, including that of General Washington, the situation was untenable and the obstacles look insurmountable.

It was during this dire period, with Washington’s army perilously close to destruction and the hopes of liberty for the new Americans in jeopardy, that a young man named Henry Knox approached General Washington with a bold idea.

Henry wanted to take three hundred men and march them to upstate New York where they were to appropriate sixty tons of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga. He and his men would then drag the cannons back to Cambridge, MA during the dead of winter using wooden sleds and oxen in what Henry described as a ‘noble train of artillery’.

Henry left for Fort Ti in early December and for the next two months lugged artillery over Lake Champlain, through mud and snow and ultimately arrived in Cambridge on January 24th, 1776. Washington then set all fifty-nine of Knox’s cannons on Dorchester Heights during the course of one night and pointed them down upon the British army. When the British awoke to see the deadly line of artillery pointing at them they thought better of retaliating and within a few days were boarding their ships in Boston harbor and preparing to evacuate. A major victory for the American’s and not a shot had been fired.

History is a great place, of course, to find good tune titles. This tune’s title is a nod to the teamwork and perseverance of Knox and his men during the most trying of times. I was really intending on recording a quick demo of the newly written tune…and then I got carried away with the instrumentation. It was one of those rare evenings where the recording session went smoothly (i.e. my furnace didn’t click on during the perfect takes!). As a demo, unfortunately, the recording is rather short. Consequently, I expect to rework it into a longer set at some point.

 
The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

Loudness Wars

While my contest has been plugging away, I’ve been doing a bit of writing and recording myself. A couple months back I posted a new tune called On the Mend. More recently, I wrote another tune to go with it called Blaze in the Barn. Before Christmas I spent some time recording the set and ultimately learning quite a lot about mixing and how sound works in a mix, or in many cases, doesn’t work.
 
Loudness Wars
 
In my experimentation with this new set of tunes, I discovered an interesting phenomenon. What I found was that anytime I added compression to an instrument, it immediately sounded better. It actually took some time before I started questioning why this might be true. Without going into lots of technical details, the net effect of compression is that it essentially allows you to make quieter sounds of a track louder but without making the louder tones louder. This gives the listener the sense that the track is more solid and it is perceived as becoming louder. And, apparently, louder is better. Also, as I soon found out, I was not really the first person to stumble on this phenomenon.

Back in the days of juke boxes, you see, record executives discovered that the records that were most frequently played were the ones that were recorded the loudest. Humans, for some reason, perceive the louder records as being better and, in turn, are more likely to stick another dime in the juke box, baby. Thus, record companies started to look for ways to make their recordings louder than the competitions recordings. What resulted was a loudness war that is still raging today and is killing the quality of recorded music.

Well, if we perceive louder recordings to be better, then why is it killing the quality of recorded music you ask? The answer has to do with dynamic range. By compressing music, which allows studio engineers to make recordings louder, they are also squashing the dynamic range of the recording. Dynamic range, in sound, is the distance between the softest tones and the loudest tones and it is used in music to impart emotion. So reducing dynamic range essentially reduces the emotion.

One everyday example of dynamic range that we have come to depend on is that of the human voice. When we speak our voices naturally fluctuate in volume as a means of emphasizing our emotions. If we were to take out all the dynamic range in our voice we would sound very monotonous. Now, imagine taking that monotonous voice and making it loud all the time. The effect would be that all our conversations would consist entirely of yelling. While yelling certainly gets peoples attention, it also gets tiring very fast. And this leads me back to my recording discovery.

What I found was that when I added compression and, in turn, loudened my recording I thought, ‘Hot spit! That sounds great!!!’ But the more I listened to it, the more it started grating on my nerves, sort of like yelling. I had inadvertently stumbled into the loudness war, which is being fought between record companies that want their music to catch your attention as you flip by on your new satellite radio and the sound engineers of the world that realize that the greatest recordings are not devoid of dynamic range but instead, embrace it.

Take a look at the following example:
 
Compression
 
What you are looking at is a mastered stereo recording of an ABBA song from 1981 and then remastered in 2005. The first set of sound waves show a track with plenty of dynamic range while the second set of waves show much more sound and, consequently, represent a louder track, but one with much less dynamic range.

With all this in mind, I removed much of the compression I was using on my new set and found that I enjoy the track much more now. Anyhow, here is a mix of what I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it is a final mix because there are other issues I’m trying to address, but those issues are probably the subject of another post.

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.

Castaway: Blackwater Tide / Licking the Moss

blackwater
 
Back it 2001 I was on a kick where I would go into a studio once a month and record. The one month interval was working well since it would give me time to both save money for the session and plan out what I was going to work on. After several months, however, I got a bit lazy and found myself unprepared for a session I had the following morning. Slightly panicked, I pulled out the flute on the evening before the session and was inspired to write the first of the two tunes included here. The first tune in the set I named Blackwater Tide. The second tune, which I wrote in ’99, is called Licking the Moss. This is one of those recordings that is part of the Castaway album.
 
bw1
 
Blackwater Tide seemed to be an instant hit. The Sudbury Ancient Fife & Drum Companie started a new medley, called Blackwater Indeed, with the piece. The Company of Fifers and Drummers included the tune in their latest music book with a drum part written by Dom Cuccia, a former Hellcat. Most recently the Bluff Point Quahog Diggers Fife & Drum is working it into a new medley that I think they are preparing for this summer!

It is fun to see a tune make some rounds.

For the first time I am publishing the harmonic arrangement for this tune. When I get a chance I will record the arrangement and post it here as well.

Amadán – Caledonia

Caledonia_img
 
Here is a song written by Dougie MacLean that I recorded with Amadán back in ’99 called Caledonia. Sarah Kennedy was our singer at the time. Just to avoid confusion, she is not the same girl that is in the picture of Amadán from my Amadán – Scotsman / Paddy Clancy’s post. She was a tough Somerville chick but I really loved her voice. We had planned on recording The Foggy Dew, which I once heard her silence the nÓg with, but when we got into the studio she changed her mind. Such is life.

Damon, our fiddle player, and I had never heard Caledonia, which is a romantic name for Scotland (thus the photo above from flickr), until that day. So, we improvised all the instrumental bits. For the instrumental break I asked the engineer to play the song while a worked out a flute part. Once I figured out what I wanted to do I asked him to roll tape. He said “I’ve been rolling all along, do you want to take a listen?” I did and decided my job was done.

Not long after this recording Amadán parted ways and I have not heard from Miss Kennedy since. Hopefully she is still singing.