Tag Archives: array mbira

vBlog #1

The first vBlog is up. Hurray! The first of a long series. I’m already halfway into the next EP and album, but you can watch some of my previous work in progress in webcasts as well.

In this first vBlog I’m playing you bits of my new songs Live & Learn, Audacity and Together. There’s crazy kazoo, trumpet, array mbira, a strange whirly and of course vocals. I hope you enjoy it!

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Stock-taking

I’m sitting on my couch, listening to the state of the songs I have so far. This is the second attempt at writing a catch up post, but the last was swallowed by WordPress for iOs. Again. Anyway…

As the year nears its end, I feel like it’s time to take stock, look and listen back of where I got this year. I didn’t quite get as far as I wanted, but I love the new songs. Moving into a new place has been part of that, but it’s taken up some time as well. Right now I have 8 songs in various stages: ‘Audacity’, ‘Live & Learn’, ‘Too Soon’, ‘In Time’ and ‘Patchwork’ more or less roughly mixed, ‘Together’ and ‘Afterglow’ as rough demos and last, but not least ‘Aurelia’ somewhere in between. So about halfway there. Not too shabby!

Compared to ‘Minutia’ there are more live instruments on the new songs that give it a sort of live feel. I got more instruments since finishing the last album and my boyfriend, whose studio is next to mine, has even more. Working in tech support at Ableton has me staring at Live without making music. This made me crave the tactile feel of tines, strings, keys and so on. As an act of deviance against all the MIDI, editing and goggling the screen, I guess.

In the last few days I’ve made a list of all the things that need to be done before a release besides the music. I had set a deadline for mid February ages ago, but it’s dawned on me that it has become pretty much impossible or I’d have to rush things too much. So I’ve decided to instead release an EP in mid May and the album in late August or so. This way the wait is not too long. Sound good?

Webcast

If you want to have a listen to the progress on the songs of my sophomore album… I’m doing a fortnightly webcast and the previous videos are available to watch. Wanna hear the songs emerge? Or watch live from now on? The next one is on New Year’s Day at 9 pm CET, then Sunday every other week.

Bass, Minimoog, mbira, glass harp, kalimba, metallophone, tom
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Closeup No. 1: In Time

There are always people asking what sound is what somewhere in my songs. So how about a little making of blog post for each new song here? For now written, maybe later as little video blogs. Enough, let’s dive right in:

In Time

I don’t think I have to say anything about the subject matter. We’ve all been there and even though I don’t spell it out in the lyrics I think it’s quite obvious.

The piano part of In Time has been around for quite some time. Whenever I have time for it I just sit down and play and when something nice emerges I quickly record the idea (yes, I have quite lot of those sketches and hopefully some of them will turn into fully fleshed out songs in the (near) future). I also already had a vocal melody (they usually come all by themselves), but if I don’t have matching lyrics songs tend to be tough to work out. It’s synergetic thing for me.

The dark – or as a friend called them – psycho sounds at the beginning and end (in between as well) and the cello-like bits are me playing my Epiphone Les Paul (electric guitar) with a violin bow, partly pitched down an octave (don’t have a bass which would have been better). All the small ‘electronic’ sounds are actually made from array mbira or piano. Then of course there’s the mbira. I didn’t use it much on Minutia, because by the time I had the money together and got it, most songs were already more or less finished. You can expect quite a lot more mbira on the next EP or album from me though. I just adore this instrument. The darker sounding beats are made by stomping on my wooden floorboards. The ones that sound like brushes are eggbeaters on a canvas bag filled with paper strips, very closely micced.

So apart from the piano (I don’t own one yet) everything on In Time is made with real instruments or field recordings. I’m planning to re-record the piano parts once I have enough new songs with piano passages and found a good one to record them on. An idea I’m having for the next release is using no MIDI instruments on it as the real thing always sounds warmer. If a song asks for a full orchestra though I won’t be able to make that happen. We’ll see.

I don’t know when I’ll have the next release finished. If I do it the usual way – release it as one body of work – I seriously doubt it will come out this year. A possibility I’m toying with is to do a subsciption-based release. Different packages starting from 10€. Subscribers would get a new song each month. Even then I’d have to have a few finished before the whole thing could start as it takes me about 2 weeks from start to finish for a song and there’s always so much else to do as it’s just me. What do you think (comments here are welcome as are tweets or emails)?

x,
Mads

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Bloomy news

Finally there’s time for a day off and an update of all things bloomy.

As planned I recorded some mbira for ‘A Little’. I came up with some really nice melodies, but they made such a huge difference to the whole feel of the song that I ended up having to change the bass line and parts of the vocals. The end part has a new vocal melody and I sampled my voice and played it as chords in the choruses. Very happy with the song now.

I finished the rough mix for the remaining songs: ‘A Little’, ‘Breathing Underwater’, ‘Euphoria’, ‘Hearts First’ and ‘Unspoken’. After that I made rounds at friends’ who are either sound engineers or music producers and had a good listen to the album on proper studio monitors to figure out the weaknesses in the mix. Aaron, a friend of mine, also gave me a quick crash course on how to EQ my songs to make them sound professionally and well balanced. Luckily there’s not that much to do. Just some polishing!

Next up (musically speaking) was a remix of my friend Mr. Bobby Starrr’s house track ‘Loaded Up On Pluto’. My first remix ever, but it was surprisingly easy. You can listen to the longer version on his myspace page. It’s gonna come out on vinyl sometime early next year and he will do a remix of ‘A Little’ for me in return.

As you have probably already read, I took part in the Hobnox Evolution 2 competition. At the moment you can listen to 10 of my new songs in the rough mix there. In the last two weeks I made to no. 2. Close, but no cigar! But there’s still the jury picks so there’s still hope. Thanks to all of you who voted for me, by the way! Anyway, no matter if I make it into the finals or not, taking part has brought about new and exciting prospects. I was asked if I wanted to write a score for a short film, got tons of nice comments and got to know interesting people. It really shows I’m on the right track with my music. And maybe even best of all, I found musicians who will play on my album. Cello, violin and upright bass. Brilliant! I will record them in the next week or so.

Yesterday I played and recorded the grand piano in Kino Babylon, a movie theatre here in Berlin. A friend of mine organised it for me and Aaron did the microphoning and recording. He used 5 mics and it took two and a half hours to properly set up which left just an hour to record all the piano parts. Quite exhausting! Tomorrow I will mix the parts in. Really curious how it’ll sound in the end. I just hope the sound of the U-Bahn passing underneath the theatre won’t be a problem.

I might have found a booking agent. He’ll come to my next gig and check out what I do live. And last but not least, the planning of the booklet design and accompanying photo shoot is making progress, too. More on that soon (erm, really!)

x

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Deadlines & Lifelines

I’m here at my parents and since there’s nothing much to do here tonight I thought I’d finally catch you up on what I’ve been up to. I don’t want to apologise for not writing for so long… I’ve been busy finishing the album and living my life. If you want to know what I’ve done you can check my Twitter page that I’ve updated regularly.

I’d completely underestimated the amount of time it takes to finish 12 songs. I don’t use a compressor nor a de-esser for the vocals because I can’t afford good ones for now so I have to adjust the levels manually. Neither do I have a DAW controller so I can  only use my mouse for the mix instead of faders. Not having those things admittedly slows down my recording and mixing process. I was stressing myself to get everything done quickly until I got to a point where I didn’t enjoy anymore what I was doing. I made stupid mistakes, my vocals sounded strained. And  then I thought: What am I doing? I’m supposed to savour this experience. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. And how am I supposed make the songs sound great if I don’t enjoy working on them? So I took it down a notch, started calling friends before they forgot I existed and just lived a little. That really helped. Now there’s seven finished songs and I reckon I’ll be able to finish the other five within the next week. Finished are ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’, ‘Zero Tolerance’, ‘Paperheart’, ‘In Unison’, ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ and ‘Webs’. I’m really happy with these songs now.

Once I’m done with all the songs I’ll go and visit some friends, play them the album on their stereos and takes notes of possible weak spots in the mixes. Actually I’ve already started doing that. It’s a good thing to do because everyone’s stereo sounds different and you want to make sure the mix sounds as good as possible on anything from an expensive home system to a car stereo to a cheap boombox. Also two friends of mine are sound engineers and they’ve both happily agreed to listen to my songs and pinpoint me to how I could perfect the sound.

I’ve also found a photographer who’s gonna take the pictures for the album artwork and some press photos. He’s a friend of mine. I’d never seen his pictures until I asked him round to my place, cooked a lovely dinner for the two of us and looked at his portfolio. I’d suspected I’d love his photos by the conversations we had about photography and art. And I really do. I won’t have to pay for the pictures either, but design him a new logo instead. He asked me what I had in mind for the artwork and I realised I hadn’t really thought about that yet. After mulling it over for a couple of days I’ve still only got a fuzzy idea, but I’ve got a few ideas about the clothes I want to wear. I’m gonna design and sew them myself. At least partly. More on that once I’ve got a better concept.

Also I’ve got my lovely array mbira for over a month now and I love it. I guess it’s my favourite instrument. I can already accompany a couple of my songs, but I’ve yet to learn how to play fast intricate patterns and melodies. I’ve decided to add some mbira in ‘A Little’ next week.

I’ll try and add some snippets of the songs over the next few days and also a picture of the mbira. That’s it for now. More soon. Hopefully!

x

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Warblings

Been a busy bee singing singing singing. Then listening back and editing. I’m starting to get sick and tired of hearing my voice all the time. One day I love what I’ve recorded, the next I don’t like my voice. Major mood swings. For the next album I have to remember not to record all vocals in one big chunk. Anyway. Still love the end results.

Edited the vocals I’d recorded for ‘Hearts First’ and ‘A Little’. Recorded tons of vocals for ‘In Unison’ which took me two days including editing. Some parts had been pretty sketchy before what the vocals should be like. I changed the backing choir melody which now consists of four different layers. Makes the song sound sorta sacred with a twist. Added a brand new ending, too.

Also got the warblings for ‘Paperheart’, ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’ and almost all for ‘Zero Tolerance’ done. Screamed on top of my lungs for the latter for some effects. I’m surprised that no neighbour came knocking. That leaves ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Webs’ and some missing bits in a few other songs.

One more thing. Last night I got a message that my friend Taylor is gonna pick up my spanking new mbira today and he’s gonna be here with it by the weekend. Maybe even Thursday. I was so excited I found it hard to fall asleep. At the same time I can’t imagine it’s really happening after dreaming about getting one for years now. Taylor’s gonna stay at my place. That’ll make it harder to just work so I better hop to it now and get as much finished till he arrives.

Off to the microphone.

x

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All over the charts

After writing last time I gave myself a four day break from my music. Spent the days cleaning and tidying up my flat (couldn’t stand the mess anymore), clothes shopping (it’s sale after all) and visiting my grandparents for the first time in ages. Taking time off helped getting some distance to see more clearly what still needs more work. So I’m going to do the same thing for three days again starting tomorrow. I’ll have a nice little holiday at Usedom together with a friend. Getting away from the heat of the city seems a good idea already. Might be the only holiday this year for me.

I haven’t been only lazy though. On Monday I started recording the vocals for ‘Paperheart’, just to realise that the song needed to swing. Made the song so much better, especially when I speeded it up a tad. Of course, that meant that I could throw the vocals in the bin. I also had to readjust the beats, but I’m very happy with the way the song turned out. Here’s a little bit of it (by the way, all the beats are made of paper):



On Tuesday I’d planned to record the vocals again, but the guy from the hostel opposite got his power tools out and kept being a noisy bugger until today. So noisy in fact that the sawing and what not kept bleeding into the mic recordings. Gotta be flexible, I told myself and finally got around to recording all the piano parts for the songs. Namely ‘Paperheart’, ‘Breathing Underwater’, ‘Hearts First’, ‘Zero Tolerance’ and ‘Euphoria’. Makes such a big difference it’s incredible. It’s as if the songs have finally come alive. I think I know now what ‘Hearts First’ still needs and it is less then I thought.

I must admit I haven’t recorded any vocals this week in the end. The way ‘Paperheart’ seemingly worked itself out was just to tempting. Although I at least edited the vocals for ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ today. I really love the choir created by layering my vocals on top of each other. I checked all the songs in detail. Muting and soloing tracks. After while I sorta lost track of what I’d already done and what not. Last night I started drawing up a big chart to have the progress of each song in black and white and did bits and pieces here and there – everything that didn’t take that long. Quite a few boxes already ticked off. Good feeling. I guess the chart is also gonna be a good motivation tool to make it through the finish line with the album. I can almost see it by now.

I have finally decided on an mbira which I will get in only three weeks. Very excited. Patrick, who’s doing the customer service, is such a nice guy, extremely helpful. He’s sent me a picture of the mbira I’m gonna get. Still a bit unfinished. Looking lovely though. It’s made from African Sapele. Here’s the pic:



Gotta start packing for the trip and then bed.

x

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More loose ends

This week I’ve arranged two songs for other people in the same project as me with the music producer. This time he’d given me great songs that I’d listen to anytime. So it was pretty easy to come up with something. As long as I can be passionate about something I can do it. Today I met up with him and he really loved my arrangements. If the girls who wrote the songs like them as well, they’re gonna be on the compilation like that. What a thought! I’d mentioned in an earlier blog that he’d done a radio edit of ‘Chaos & Order’ that I wasn’t too fond of. On Monday I’d finally gotten around to it and done it myself. The song is originally 5 minutes 30 long, but needed to be 4 minutes tops. I managed to get it down to 3’58” without feeling as if I’d cut out something important. All the parts are still present, some just shortened so people with a short attention span won’t lose interest. He loved it. There’s still a few little details to adjust and he wants to get me a trumpet player to add some nice bits here and there in a professional studio. He might use the song to get sponsors for the compilation, which boiled down to the essential means he thinks it’s one of the most promising songs so far. I also played him ‘The Tide’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’ as possibilities for the second song to go on the compilation. Initially I wanted to write a new song especially for it, but time’s running out. When he heard ‘The Tide’ he said he had whole movies running through his head which is such a huge compliment. I always try to tell stories with the music so that people understand the emotion even if they don’t get the words. I guess my songs are like short films without the pictures, where the score already tells the story and the pictures appear in your mind, everyone having their own personal movies.

When he heard ‘Zero Tolerance’ he instantly went for it. Not too surprising because even my parents favour it. So it’s gonna be song number two on the compilation. Kinda funny since it’s my reckoning with some people who’ve been treating me like shit (pardon my french) to let it all go and move on. A good way of self-therapy, I guess. In the beginning the music producer was like: ‘Yeah, that’s good.’ and after a couple more bars: ‘Really good.’ So that’s settled. I wasn’t too worried about the second song anyway. I already had the feeling it’d work itself out.

I must say I’ve been showered with compliments about my music lately. I’m not gonna let it go to my head, but I have to say it’s great to get some reassurance to go on on my path and after toiling in the studio for half a year. It might be a long way still till I can fund myself with music only and such nice words keep me right on track and working hard for my dream. The music producer said today that he believes I’m gonna be successful and find my niche. Also it looks like I’m gonna be one of a few chosen ones to play at a festival in late September with some big acts he organises. Furthermore he encouraged me to try and get work as a film score composer. Apparently a friend of his who had a new book published this spring is negotiating with some big film company and the music producer will then get the job to compose the score and wants me to collaborate with him on it. Sounds pretty exciting to me. It’s all a bit hush hush at the moment so I have to be so vague. Sorry about that, but I don’t want to trip myself up. More news once it’s official.

If you’re still reading on… either you’re really interested in what I have to say or really bored. Either way, thanks for being so patient. I’m sitting here typing for way more than two hours now.

Last, but not least, on June 28 I happened to come across the live webcast of the concerts of Sigur Rós and Björk that tried to achieve an awareness of environmental issues in Iceland. A good cause and great concerts. Absolutely amazing even through a screen. At the same time I was chatting to an Icelandic girl on the web who apparently is the youngest array mbira player in the world. I got to know her when I was asking around for advice on the purchase of an mbira. She’s been very helpful and since we’ve learned a bit more about each other. She even listened to my music on myspace and thought it was great and would do well in Iceland. So I got my first Icelandic fan while watching the concerts. Funny coincidence! Tomorrow I’m gonna meet up with a friend and we’re gonna plot how to get to the Melt! Festival on Sunday and back the same night. Björk’s playing the only gig in Germany there. After the webcast I really can’t miss that.

This Tuesday I got an email from a friend in London who still owes me saying I should try and get hold of a ticket to the Radiohead concert even though it was already sold out and he’d cover whatever the cost. I snatched the last one on Ebay and went. It was absolutely brilliant. Fantastic lightshow, great performance, the whole package. In fact, it was so good I didn’t mind the rain one bit. Thom Yorke apologised about it and said it was ‘a Radiohead thing’ and thanked all the musicians in Berlin for making ‘such great shit, especially Modeselektor’ who were opening for Radiohead. Thanks, Thom! And also thanks, Jon for giving me one of the best presents ever. Life’s sooo good!

Phew, this is me breaking a record. My longest blog so far. That might teach me to write more often. Four hours straight. Quite tipsy by now. Gonna cook a tasty dinner now and then a bit more of making music.

x

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I don’t like Mondays… and computers

Been busy trying to rearrange some of my new songs so I can play them live. I wasn’t expecting it to take soooo long, but it does. Ran into some problems today when I realised that on my Macbook VST instruments don’t appear in the plug-ins folder in Ableton Live even though everything’s set up correctly. I wish I could just throw a fit, but that doesn’t help since I’m running out of time. Found a workaround for now which isn’t perfect. Who cares! For now. I’m getting a bit anxious that I might not be so well prepared after all. So much fine-tuning left and rehearsing all the little bits… gotta be done, so it will be done. I guess it’ll all gonna come together tomorrow.

The heat in Berlin is shocking. I don’t wanna moan. I like summer, especially when I actually have some time that I can spend outside. Preferably by a lake. For now I’m stuck inside my flat at close to 30 degrees Celsius. I’m so looking forward to Thursday. Finally going to a lake and spend an afternoon writing lyrics, swimming and having a picknick. That’s going to be my treat to myself. It’s always good to have something nice to look forward to when you’re slaving away while everyone else seems to be out and about having fun. Oh, and going to the Camille concert tomorrow.

Something great though also happened. My friend in San Diego contacted me to confirm he’s definitely coming in early August and he’s gonna bring my spanking new Array Mbira with him. Yay! Funny, I’d had just dreamt of playing one even though I never have. Gotta make up my mind soon how exactly I want it to be, because they’re custom-made and it takes about 4-6 weeks.

And now a little advertising: all who read this and live in Berlin, please come to the gig on Wednesday at Schokoladen. I’m gonna start playing no later than 10 pm so please come early.

Dinner now (I’m starving), then a huge pile of dishes and then back to rehearsing until my eyes fall shut.

x

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