Monday, February 28, 2011

Album finished!

Well, another year of the RPM Challenge, another new album to show for it. Hidden Element is now finished and available for listening on my Bandcamp site.

It all came together nicely this weekend. I was able to add all of the guitar, synth, and wind solos to "Sati" on Saturday. It was so incredibly easy compared to the struggle I went through with the other 'big' song on the album, "The Shining Land." "Sati" is very funky, and I was almost sad when finished that I didn't have any more layers of stuff to add, because it was a total blast to record. I was groovin', baby!

Saturday night, however, I was listening to a mix of the album and was dissatisfied by how long both of these epic tunes seemed to drag on. My first instinct was just to mail it into RPM HQ as it stood at that point and then edit it and record additional material later. Sort of defeating the spirit of the Challenge, unfortunately.

However, on Sunday I was able to throw together a fun little jam called "Maharashtra Blues," featuring a frantic solo guitar performance using the string-splitting capabilities of my Roland VG-99 processor to split up the lead and accompaniment portions of my performance in the mix.

I now had enough material to be able to edit "Sati" and "The Shining Land" and still call Hidden Element a legitimate album. After editing down those pieces into something I was happy with (they're still quite long), I ended up with a nice 47-minute album. That is just about perfect for instrumental music. I'm not a big believer in throwing 70 minutes of abstract music at people all at once.

The final analysis: this album is, by far, the best work I have ever done. Last year's RPM album, The February Project, sounded a bit like something I rushed to completion. In fact, I have plans to do some tweaking to it soon. But this new album of mine is something I'm proud of accomplishing. It's truly a finished piece of work, which I never thought I could pull off in such a short time. It doesn't require any explanation or excuses, and that is always my goal as a musician.

The CD will be in the mail to RPM HQ this morning!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I will finish this effing album, somehow.

Just to make it a little more difficult for myself, I managed to catch a nasty cold this week. Boy, does that make the production process "interesting."

Despite my problems, I have managed to construct a nice Indo-funk jam called "Sati." It's a bit of a tribute to the groovy cosmic electric jazz of the early '70s. Not jazz-fusion, per se, but sort of its immediate, spacier predecessor.

I should be able to finish recording "Sati" this weekend, do a rough mix of it like I did for the other pieces, throw together a quickie album cover, and ship the bloody thing off to RPM HQ on Monday.

I think.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do you have 18 minutes to spare?

If you've got some time available, then take a listen to the new track I just posted, entitled "The Shining Land." It does go on a bit.

It's too long to post at SoundClick, but you can listen to it on the embedded music player at my RPM Challenge page.

It's a completely new thing for me. Not a single second of screaming, distorted guitar, and in fact only a relatively short jazz guitar solo towards the end. The rest of the lead work is all virtual woodwinds, courtesy of my Yamaha WX-5 electronic wind instrument and VX-70 processor. That thing is just way too much fun to play around with. I've got to get better at playing it, but I was able to create some decent fake saxophone, trumpet and flute with it. For future projects, I probably need to tweak the sounds a bit.

Also note the string trio playing the little antiphonal thingy starting at about 10:10 into it. That's pretty much the first real string writing I've ever done. Nothing too crazy.

Now, on to working on the last track for the album, another extended ditty I call "Sati." More about that later.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The difficulty of simplicity

A great local saxophone player named Kelly Shepherd has an album entitled "The Beauty of Simplicity." Which is undoubtedly a true statement when it comes to music. However, I also find simplicity to be a very difficult thing to achieve.

When you reach a certain level of technical ability on an instrument, the tendency is to play everything you know, all the time. Sometimes it's just to be a show-off. More often, it's simply taking the easy way out. If you play a zillion notes, the right one is bound to be in there somewhere, and you don't have to do any actual thinking while you play.

I bring this up because my penchant for overplaying almost caused me to give up on this year's RPM Challenge on Saturday. I had spent a whole bunch of time playing some hopefully groovy electric piano to go over the bed of tablas, acoustic guitar and bass on the piece "The Shining Land," which is 18-minutes long and intended to be the centerpiece of the album. Unfortunately, my "groovy" Rhodes part was too busy and turned the whole thing into mush, given the complex background created by the tablas.

There's nothing like realizing at 1am or so that you have spent hours just to create 20 minutes of pure crap.

Fortunately, I regrouped yesterday, worked to channel the spirit of Weather Report's Joe Zawinul, and laid down a much simpler, swingin' Rhodes part that caused to me to get a big ol' smile on my face. In fact, I ended up redoing the bass guitar to get even more swing into things. "The Shining Land" has gone from being a pale shadow of a sprawling Led Zeppelin acoustic stomper to being a very groovy (that word again), textured piece.

Since that breakthrough, I've been working almost nonstop on a huge musical buzz. I really believe this is turning into something special.

I have, however, arrived at the moment of truth. It is time to break out the electronic wind instrument and see if I can take "The Shining Land" into the stratosphere. And I still have another 15-20 minute epic waiting for the guitar/keys/winds trimmings. Yikes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The sound a blister makes

Can a blister change the sound of an album? Quite possibly.

Last night, in preparation for this weekend, I picked up my fretless and practiced bass for pretty much the first time since I finished my last album in April. Guess what? If you don't play bass very much for 10 months, the calluses on your picking hand go away!

I now have a nasty blister on my index finger that makes it impossible for me to play fingerstyle. It will turn into a nice callus, but maybe not soon enough. I was planning to put some tasty fretless on my piece "The Shining Land," but that might be out the window. Fretless sounds like crap when played with a pick. I may end up substituting some trebly progtastic fretted bass in its place using a pick. Think Chris Squire. Will it work on such a languid, meditative piece? Guess we'll find out.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Proof I'm actually recording an album

I just posted two brand-spanking new pieces to SoundClick and to my music player at my RPM Challenge page--the first two songs I've completed for Hidden Element.

Taking a few days off for a New York City vacation seems to have cleared my mental road blocks. I was able to nail the lead guitar part for "Ashoka" very quickly yesterday, and today after work I composed and recorded a little duet for violin and nylon-string guitar called "Pastoral Trance."

Click here to listen to "Ashoka" on SoundClick.

Click here to listen to "Pastoral Trance" on SoundClick.

Here is my RPM Challenge page.

The 'violin' on these pieces is actually a patch on my Roland XV-5080 synth module, played with a keyboard. I sure as hell can't play a real violin! The 'acoustic' guitars are actually my Godin electric played through Roland VG-99 processor. Not a microphone to be found in my little studio.

You may be thinking, "how is this guy possibly going to finish an entire album this month when it's already Feb. 18 and he's only got two songs done???" Well, friends, the other two songs on the album are between 15 and 20 minutes long, so I should be able to finish with little problem. Those songs are also heavy on the tablas, like "Ashoka," but they will feature atmospheric swirls of keyboards, woodwinds, horns, and guitars. One of them is already pretty damned funky.

I've already got the basic tracks for those recorded, and it's time to add the frosting on the cake! This three-day weekend is going to be very interesting...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sax appeal

Over my little four-day NYC vacation, I managed to see two great saxophonists in concert, Chris Potter and the legendary Gato Barbieri.

This brings up a larger point. I am now far more influenced by sax players than by fellow guitarists. Sax is a much more expressive lead instrument, if obviously not as versatile as guitar. It's gotten to the point where I've even purchased a Yamaha electronic wind instrument.

Seeing Potter in concert made it clear how far I have to go to be a wind player, even on the relatively easy-to-play EWI. Potter is possibly the most all-around gifted player I've seen. He can scream at you like Coltrane, but also pull out very subtle and beautiful shadings you might not expect--not to say that Trane was incapable of subtlety.

Gato, by contrast, is a comparatively unsophisticated player, but he has the most distinctive tenor tone on Earth. You might almost say he's the Carlos Santana of saxophone, except he's way better than that.

Me? I'm just trying to hit the right combination of keys semi-regularly and build enough lip stamina to play for more than 30 minutes straight. I did play clarinet as a kid, but that was during Reagan's first term, so not much technique remains.

Despite that, I'm already taking to the EWI, and it will appear on "Hidden Element." Not that I will fool anyone into thinking I hired Chris Potter for the session.

The key word for now is "atmospheric"...

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

How not to record an album

Since I am currently in NYC, approximately 200 miles from my home base, it's rather apparent I'm not getting any music recorded this weekend. That will change when I get home on Wednesday. Thank the gods for a 3-day weekend for President's Day, is all I can say! I have the basic tracks finished for all three major pieces (about 45 minutes, total), plus an idea of what I want to do for a short acoustic fourth piece.

I spent a whole bunch of valuable time last week struggling to record an extended guitar solo on my 'chops showpiece', entitled "Ashoka." I tried several different electric guitar sounds, and none of it seemed to click. I realize now that a nylon-string acoustic solo is needed, since the rest of the piece consists of steel-string acoustic, violin, and tablas. Electric sounds just don't feel right in that context. I also tried saxophone, and that was even more wrong!

When I get home, I will probably shift focus to getting the other pieces more or less finished before I tackle the "Ashoka" solo again. Frankly, my guitar chops need a little fine-tuning at this point.

Sadly, unlike last year, I may be turning in more of a demo to RPM Challenge HQ than a finished product. I am determined to make this album something special, and taking shortcuts just for the Challenge is not something I am interested in doing.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Another February album in the works

Well, if it's February, that it means it's time for another quickie album project!

As with last year's The February Project, I am participating again this year in the RPM Challenge, which is a giant thingy in which thousands of people see if they can record an entire album within the month of February. There are no awards or prizes, just the satisfaction of rushing through an entire recording project in too little time. Well, that and getting a good kick in the ass to start the creative process rolling. Which I badly needed. Since my last blog entry, I hadn't done a damned thing musically except think about it. Not anymore.

My RPM Challenge album this year will be called Hidden Element, and it will be a massive Indo-Fusion party. I've been listening to way too much John McLaughlin and Shakti lately, so I've got tablas on the brain. East meets West.

As the month goes on, I'll give more details about how the album is being made, and how far I've gotten. I also hope to post a rough mix of a track by the end of this weekend, though that may be optimistic. I've got lots of new musical toys that are coming into play for the first time with this project. Hopefully, it's not going to suck.