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.
Alright… where to begin. The longer I don’t write the longer it takes me when I finally do. So I’m sitting here listening to Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ again and sipping a beer.
The days’ve been flying by lately while I was busy tying up loose ends in my songs and preparing for the gig. Last time I’d caught you up on things I’d been working on ‘The Tide’. Apart from some small tweakings it’s done. I managed to write the remaining lyrics and came up with a nice melody. I also recorded some real spanish-sounding handclaps and finished the arrangement. The song’s very dramatic and cinematic, I love it. Here’s a tasty bit of it without vocals:
After that I moved on to ‘Euphoria’, a song that I’ve been working on on and off. Maybe that’s why it’s been causing me a bit of trouble. It never seemed euphoric enough for my liking. And when it already promises that in the title you have to deliver, don’t you? I’m still not completely satisfied with the beats, but something’s giving Ableton Live the hiccups in this song, especially the beats have dropouts. I’ll have to figure that out tomorrow. Other than that I’ve finally solved the puzzle last night. I tried to play the song faster and with 8 BPM more everything just fell into place. It’s funny sometimes. Of course, I had to redo certain parts, but then I got into a working frenzy and added some lovely piano part in the chorus that sounds like sunshiny rain – if you know what I mean, kind of like the equivalent to the sun coming out after a downpour – and some very expressive strings. The last part of the song had been only a rough idea until I’d started rehearsing the song. All of a sudden I had some backing vocals and the melody when I tried out stuff with my looper. Sometimes you just have to give a song some time to work itself out. I guess the rest will be a piece of cake now. I might have to find a new vocal melody for the refrain, but it’ll come. Another morsel (the refrain):
One week before my gig at Mastul I started rehearsing. I’d been asking around for a cellist and even found two. One ended up not having time on that day, but we’re definitely going to try to work together. I think he might be the better fit of the two, because when he plays on his own he uses a looper and a Macbook. So he knows where I’m at with my live setup. The other one that accompanied me for the gig turned out to be a bit of a rocker. What are the odds? I had to thwart him somewhat and our only rehearsal was mainly to talk things over. Even though he’d mostly improvised to my songs it went down well with the audience.
Since the gig was my first feature-length one I had a lot of things to prepare. On the previous Sunday I downloaded some free MIDI translator programmes so I could build macros to both trigger sounds and operate everything in Ableton Live with my MIDI keyboard. After trying out a couple I settled for midiStroke that converts MIDI messages into keystrokes. To termine note and channel numbers from my keyboard I also installed IttyBittyMIDI, a dashboard widget for Mac OS X that monitors MIDI signals on the computer and is programmed by the same guy. After I got that working smoothly I moved on to hooking up my looper to receive MIDIclock from my Mac and that way play in sync. I must say I was surprised how swiftly I got everything to work, because I’d been dreading the usual technical problems.
The rest of the week leading up to the gig I spent relearning my new songs, figuring out how to best play them live. I only have one MIDI keyboard so far that I use for playing stuff live, looping things within Live, triggering sounds and navigating through Live so I don’t have to touch the computer within a song. This has proven pretty tricky, because quite often I need most of the keys already just to play and I have to assign different keys for all kinds of actions in each song. A lot of stuff to remember, requires much thinking ahead while I’m playing and singing and so on. Lately each time I had to rehearse for a gig the weather was freaking hot which doesn’t help concentrating (I kept thinking I want to go swimming). I felt like my head was fuming and my brain melting. Or was it the other way around? Now there’s more equipment on my list to buy: a foot pedal to control my looper and a MIDI controller of some sort.
Anyway, the gig went well. Not that many people there, because it was almost the last hot day and people in Berlin tend to sit outside cafés and enjoy a nice drink instead of being inside. The ones that came loved it though with calls for encores and everything. I even sold some CDs. This time I wasn’t that nervous either. The atmosphere was very homely and cosy, a bit like a living room concert. I played all of my new songs apart from ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Chaos & Order’, a couple of old ones and a cover version of Brain Eno‘s ‘By This River’ with my looper. As the last song I played ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ to which the cellist played exactly what I had composed for the song and after a while when I was singing on top of some looped vocals the sound engineer joined in doing some percussion and another guy started making up another vocal melody. Magic! Each time I do a gig I learn some more. The audience as the indicator of what works well and what needs adjusting. This time I felt like I’d achieved a new landmark in my performance. Sure, there are still some kinks to be worked out, but boy oh boy it’s really going somewhere now. I’m aching for more, totally hooked!
The next day, a Sunday, I spent blissfully hanging out doing absolutely nothing. I reckon I’d earned that and I was exhausted, too. Naturally, the way it always seems to be, there was a lot of cleaning to be done in my flat. I did most of that on Monday and decided to assiduously ignore certain bits for now. So my flat’s clean, but slightly messy. That’s the way it goes when you’re busy and I sure am. It’s going to be a tight schedule till the end of July. Still, I’m loving every single minute of it!
OK, so I’ve been absent for quite some time. Unfortunately I had a relapse and spent my days feverishly in bed. I don’t know what my body has against me or if it was just sheer bad luck. And remarkably bad timing since my voice is sufficiently messed up.
While I was sick and bored on my couch I listened closely to all my songs and took notes of things missing or not sounding good enough. And in the last week I slowly went through all of them. I spent some time working on a song called ‘Paperheart’. This song is a bit older already and for a while I didn’t feel that excited about it anymore and so didn’t know what it still needed. The beats are all made of paper apart from a little bell I recorded. I had the idea to make this sound into an ‘instrument’ that I could then play on the keyboard. I added some nice little melodic fills with it and it sounds really good. I also completed the string arrangement, adjusted the overall sound and finished the rough mix.
The next on the list was ‘Breathing underwater’. Another song that’s been around for a bit. For this one I again finally completed the string arrangement, also fixed some sound issues and mixed it. Most of the other songs just needed some tiny tweakings in the mix. Just ‘Chaos & Order’ needed more work done. Before I couldn’t figure out a fitting brass arrangement for the refrain, but I’m happy to report I cracked the puzzle now. Boy, that was a tough one – especially since the song has so many separate tracks it’s given my computer massive CPU troubles – but so worth the effort. And again I made the sounds sparkle and sit nicely in the mix.
Now I have 8 songs only waiting for my voice to be fit so I can record loads of warblings and do the final mixes. Then there’s this one still untitled song I admittedly have been avoiding because it’s such a pain in the bum and ‘Hearts first’.Worked on the latter today. Perfected the string arrangement, some beat refinements…I still have the nagging feeling that something’s missing though. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been trapped in my place for too long and crave for being out in the world, meeting people and listening to new exciting music. Anyway… When I got a bit frustrated with my progress today I ended up recording and extending a new idea that I had about a month ago. I’m gonna call it ‘Celeste’ for now for lack of lyrics. It might even stay an instrumental. Speaking of lyrics, I seriously have to go the park equipped with notebook and pen the next day it’s warm and sunny. Spring really put a spring in my step yesterday. Seems so much more inspiring than being shut in a room. Been there, done that for months now. It’s time to go outside again, experience things to have something to write about. And soak up some sun and see the trees in bloom.
So for anyone who wants to know what beats made of paper and a bell ‘instrument’ can sound like. Here’s a little preview of ‘Paperheart’:
I’ve been flat out for a whole week. After just having recovered from a cold I managed to get the flu, too. It came as the whole package: fever, chills, aching all over, extreme weakness… you name it. I sincerely hope that I’m done with being sick for this year. Especially since I’ve basically been coughing now for a month and that’s not exactly good for my vocal chords or my lungs. Definitely no singing yet and then I first have to practise again before I can record any vocals.
While I was sick I seriously started worrying I might not be able to finish the album before I have to get a job again. Panicking doesn’t help though. Just kills all creativity. It’s not that I have a specific deadline, but time is certainly running out. So I used the time to think up ways out in case… and maybe a little pressure might help me become even more productive. At least that’s the way it seemed this weekend.
In the last two days I’ve resumed work on ‘In Unison’. I’ve done 10 hours of work alone yesterday… I’ve had a real blast. It was almost as if it all happened by itself. I’ve automated the panning of the beats so they’re bouncing all over the place. I’ve played around with the flute I recorded and made some additional nice little bits out of it. I also added a flugelhorn as a counterpart to the flute. Had lots of fun creating and tweaking sounds. I start with some sound and in the end I’ve got heaps of great new sound gems. Quite often I don’t really know how I did it afterwards. And last, but not least I did the mix, some more automation to certain sounds, went through all the tracks and sounds seperately and polished everything so that the song shines and sparkles. The only thing that’s still missing is the outro. I guess it’ll come round all by itself once I can sing again.
And to make up for the time of non-blogging a sneak peek of ‘In Unison’:
Sorry for staying away without any further notice… I had a horrible experience last friday and it took me a while to regain my footing. Hence no music making and no blogging. It wasn’t my intention to vanish like that, but I needed the time.
I’m happy to say though that I’m back making music. Still working on ‘Hearts first’. Things are starting to fall into place. I always had the feeling that something was not quite right and whenever I played the final part I did it faster than the rest. Slowing it down seemed wrong somehow so I tried adjusting everything else. And voilà, much better. So the song is a bit faster now. Also I finally have the string arrangement for the beginning and the end. There are still a few kinks to be straightened out, but I’m getting there. Once I’ve recorded the piano the mixing and checking if anything else is missing will be much easier. A real piano sounds way better and I reckon the sound can carry a lot more than the fake one now which sounds a bit thin.
I also rehearsed playing the piano part to a click track with headphones on today. I arranged to record the piano on thursday at a friend’s and till then I have to be used to it. It’s probably gonna take enough time to set up the mics already. I’m not used to playing various pianos and they can feel quite different from each other. Also starting writing lyrics for a new song. Just fragments so far, but no pressure yet.
Last, but not least another long awaited sound snippet of said ‘Hearts first’. It’s the very beginning of the song and just a teensy appetiser:
Shocking how much time I can spend with one song. Although I must admit I’ve been a bit distracted today. It seems my friends’ve had enough of not seeing me and start demanding my reappearance. Can’t complain about that, can I? Spoke to my best friend and he’s okay with me ‘stealing’ his words. Thanks again!
Recorded some vocals for a song for Seahorse Appears. He’s hopefully gonna be my electronic live drummer when I’m playing more gigs.
So another day with ‘Webs’. I re-recorded flageolet tones on my classical guitar so there’s no unwanted background noise seeping in. I spend a lot of time making a nice ‘instrument’ out of it. It sounds absolutely amazing, but I finally had to realise it’d be too much. Ah well, it will probably turn up in some other song. Did some finetuning and bits and bobs here and there. Some vocals, premixing and effects. Tomorrow will be the last day before I move on to the next song. I promise. I won’t have much time for my own music tomorrow anyway. I’m meeting with a friend to talk about how exactly we’re gonna make the gig on April 4 happen.
A little teaser (bridge and refrain without any vocals):
Off to dream…
Took me a while to get going today. I felt like I was coming down with a cold, but no, it’s just my body thinking it’s being attacked by vicious tree pollen. So I’ve been coughing and wheezing. It’s no excuse though. I can’t just do nothing for weeks only because I drag myself around sneezing in the morning. I sure hope my voice gets used to it.
More work on ‘Webs’ today. I’ve sorted out the general arrangement. I had the feeling that something was off when I listened to it for the first time today. As it turns out it was pretty easy to solve. The bass line needed some adjustments and I’ve fiddled around with some effects for the rhodes. Together they already create a beat of some sorts now – sounds like a CD skipping. That’s what happens if you don’t cut a sound at zero. Usually this clicking sound is considered to be bad, but I like it.
My condensator mic got a bit tortured to get a sound for the bass drum. I tried to think of anything one does in the morning that provides a sound for that, but at least I prefer it rather relaxed just after getting up without any banging around. Hence the hitting the mic. Recorded the first attempts to the vocals to see if everything works the way I want it. Also recorded more little bits that will hopefully find their perfect place in time.
I need to find some clocks to record the ticking. I don’t have one that tick-tocks anymore. The grandfather clock at my parents’ would be perfect. Maybe next time I get there. I might ask around who’s got one or go to a shop…
This is the tiny snippet that inspired this song (sounds completely different already though):
I’ve had a dream about ‘Unspoken’ last night where I found the last missing piece and it fit perfectly. So I had to try it and it actually worked. I sometimes have dreams about the perfect song – haven’t had one in a long time, though – and even if I remember every detail of the chords and melody it always sounds really awful. Still each time I have one of those dreams I simply have to see if it makes sense. I must say I was quite surprised when I realised that this time it sounded good. It’s nothing much, but it adds a nice underlying scariness to refrain no. two and verse three. Details can make a song shine I believe.
And since I had the song open already I thought why not throw in another little sneak peek. This time of the last refrain (which is completely different from the others), also without any vocals. Here goes:
I’ve been pretty busy trying to finish ‘Chaos & Order’. The beats are mixed and automated. The rough mix is done, too. I realised though that I have to rerecord the vocals, don’t really know what I did back then. Some are too quiet and some distorted. And I can’t figure out a nice brass arrangement for the refrain. What I’m singing is in a pretty odd key. That’s what you get sometimes when you start with the vocal melody. Mmh. Might have to find a new one for the choruses then.
Well, here’s the new version (work in progress):
I’m off for the weekend to see friends and family. So looking forward to not staring at a screen all day. I might actually see some sunlight. But I’m not gonna take the whole weekend off of music. I’ve got this idea for a song and I still need to write the lyrics for it. All prior attempts have been futile. Well, let’s hope I’ll crack it this weekend. Also I’m gonna play a couple of songs with only my four-track-looper as a belated birthday present for my mom. Good for getting some practice, too.
Have a nice weekend, y’all.
I had some appointments in the morning and early afternoon and managed to go swimming in between in this great public swimming pool that was built in 1914 (Stadtbad Neukölln. Yep, that’s where I live, Berlin I mean, not Neukölln). Quite decadent and much more fun doing laps. It’s gonna be my chosen pool from now on to get fitter and ameliorate my lungs, twice a week I promised myself.
That’s what it looks like.
So not having a full day in the studio I didn’t make all that much audible progress, to be honest. I’ve recorded two sounds to be used in the beats. I’ve sussed out why the beats sounded so scrambled, fixed some sound issues and started putting the beats right. I will finish them tomorrow. Also I got some more ideas for ‘Chaos & Order’ that I’ll try out. Nothing else planned for tomorrow but music making… so I’m really hoping to make some headway.
Here’s the old demo version of ‘Chaos & Order’: