Tag Archives: mandolin

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

The Blacksmith

I heard The Blacksmith on the Celtic Sojourn the other morning. Man, what a cool song. It is an old classic by a band called Planxty. After hearing it on the radio I realized I did not own the Planxty album this was first heard on. Had to fix that problem right away.
 
Planxty
 
Here is a great video, probably from ’72 or ’73 of Planxty playing The Blacksmith. Though our modern ears have grown accustomed to the sounds that Planxty created, it is worth noting that nobody had really heard bouzouki in Celtic music until Andy and Donal came along. And those strange Eastern European melodies…forget about it.

Planxty:
Dónal Lunny on bouzouki
Andy Irvine on mandolin
Liam O’Flynn the uilleann pipes
Christy Moore on harmonium and bodhrán

In almost forty years no one has done it better. Check out the Balkan inspired weirdness at 3:24. Mighty.
 

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.