Tag Archives: penny-whistle

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.

Growing a Tune: Josh Jazz

Guitar
 
Now things are getting interesting. First Unstachio sent along his idea for backing. Then, with Luke’s help, I recorded a completely different track. Now Josh has sent me a rough mix that is much more jazzy than the first two. All of them are great and it is really fun to see how the same melody can be interpreted in a variety of styles. The best part is that I don’t think we are done yet!

Growing a Tune: Power!

I got power!!!
 
I got power
 
Not the superhuman kind, nor the political kind. Just the kind that makes my mics work again.

Now that I’m back in business, I took a few minutes to record a practice track of my new and still unnamed tune. From here I will start testing it out with other instruments, name it and maybe even write it down so that it is legible. Also, I’m hoping Unstachio comes up with a brilliant accompanying bouzouki part.

In the next few days I will attempt lay down a flute track I like and send him the wav files. He will then overdub his mighty bouzouki part. It is good to have a plan.

South Wind / Out on the Ocean

Two Old Stones
 
A few weeks back I convinced Unstachio (formerly Mustachio) to swing by and record a few tunes. We had been talking about doing just that for some time but the stars had never quite aligned. We had no real plan other than to just play through some things that we play on Tuesday evenings over at Stone’s.

We did all our recording together, he on bouzouki and myself on guitar. The next day, as I began to play with the tracks, I found that they were super-easy to overdub. It is amazing how playing music with someone else results in a track that is much more musical than anything you can do alone. It is that relationship between musicians that is the real magic dust and it is what transforms notes to music. I feel like we captured some of that here and, at the very least, it was a whole lot of fun.

This track is a combination of two traditional tunes. The first tune is called South Wind and is one we just started playing. The second is a popular jig called Out on the Ocean. I love how the bouzouki (left speaker) just seems to lick around the guitar melody (right speaker). Incidentally, I’ve added this track to the working album title called Two Old Stones (George, did I tell you we’re making an album?)
South Wind Out OnThe Ocean by baconworks

Franklin’s Harem

Franklin in France
 
Benjamin Franklin, aside from being a founding father of our country, the ‘discoverer of electricity’, a diplomat, an inventor and the guy that first formed public libraries and fire departments, was also quite the ladies man. In the recent HBO series, entitled John Adams, Franklin is portrayed in a less-than-iconic and promiscuous light while performing his diplomatic duties in France. I suppose when you’re a guy that can tame lightning and create counties your gonna have the women fawning over you.

In reference to Franklin’s escapades in France I entitled my most recent tune Franklin’s Harem.

In this recording the tune actually comes behind another tune that I recently posted called The Nobel Train. It has three parts. The first two are in 9/8 and the last part is in 12/8. So, I guess it is a slip jig sort of. You can find the sheet music here.
 
The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

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.