June Update

Yup, it's been quiet around here. That doesn't mean nothing's happening, but it does indicate a certain lack of progress. See, I'm working on "Into The Shade" which is a track we haven't recorded before, and didn't really have lyrics. What we did have was a great instrumental middle eight, and a rough idea about what the song might sound like.

Since the great reset, I've been working through the tracks on Album #1 sequentially, and now there is no excuse. This track has gotta get done.

One thing: I've written the lyrics and I'm almost happy with them. This is important, because although we all like working on the music and the arrangement, it doesn't mean a thing if you can't sing the words in the same rhythm and key as the music. So, having the lyrics ahead of time? Useful.

Which brings me to now. I tried 100 bpm and the drum track seems too sluggish, so I tried again in 110 and it sounded better. Then I sketched out a full backing track (and yes, spent a little too much time on that infamous middle eight) and burned it on to CD so I could play it repeatedly in the car on the way to work. This lets me sing the lyrics in private and figure out melodies.

I thought it was going to work, but this weekend I tried recording a take and two things became clear that didn't reveal themselves in The Car Sessions: 1) 110 bpm is too fast for the lyric, drums or no; and 2) I have to lower the key by about a fifth.

For now, I've given up on trying to sing in the car. Apparently, I only find out the cold hard reality when the little red light is on. (I mean the one on the sequencer, not the dashboard.) 

Strange But True

196kbps MP3

Notes

This song opens "side two" of the album, and provides an introduction to the suite of thematically related songs and instrumentals that follow. Well, they are musically related, if not lyrically.

The main concept here is to have the second half of the track be much more natural, acoustic and "organic" in nature, after the heavily electronic reverberating introduction. As such, I added "real" shaker, tamborine, and doumbek to the percussion track. 

For those of you who may be familiar with the second compilation CD from the alt.music.yes newsgroup, Second Attention, you may recognise an earlier version of this track as the opener. I think this new version is much improved!

Instruments

Lyrics

You stare into the mirror, it's
a window on a world you can't define
wishing you could get away, but 
wondering how you'll ever find the time

    Reach into the strange but true
    a secret deep inside of you
    a dream of past experiences
    memories that you can not remember

You learn of myths and mysteries, 
moving through forbidden zones you find
of how to make the great escape and 
face the worm that hides inside your mind

    Listen to the strange but true
    the truth is almost clear to you
    written out upon the pages
    realise that nothing lasts forever...

music & lyrics © 1990 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls

From the archives: The Evolution of a Track

(These tracks have been taken from a series of very old cassette tapes on which we used to record all our ideas, many years ago.)  

Early Stages 1989

96kbps MP3

Walter came up with the main keyboard riff for the verses, then a bit later on I used the awesome power of the M1 sequencer to create the intro section. The first "early stages" keyboard sound is actually an Akai X-7000 sampler loaded with a few seconds of a sustained violin note from a Nigel Kennedy's Let Loose CD. Alas, we no longer own the Akai which is a shame, because easy-to-use 8-bit samplers are coming into their own these days.

Strange But True 1990

96kbps MP3

Enter the Korg M1. The fast, repeating piano riff in the second track was a complete accident - I think we accidentally set the playback tempo of the sequencer on 300%, and realised it sounded cool. I love the sounds of the old Korg Polysix in part two, as it fades out...

Retro-activity

Last weekend I did what I promised myself I wouldn't do, and went back and tweaked a previously "finished" song:

The clavinet in Playing with the Big Boys now shares time with a Rhodes electic piano. 
Both instruments are provided by the superb PianoTeq Play v.3 VST. 

Yamaha GC172SF "Bianca"

Satin finish, flamenco-style classical guitar. Sounds great, records well, very happy with this one. One day, if I get really excited about playing flamenco, I may find I need something higher quality, but for now, this satisfies.

Strange April Update

Time for an update. Since finishing up Solo Flight, I've turned my attention to the next track, "Strange But True". There's not a lot I wanted to change in this piece. As per my usual habit, it's already been re-recorded a couple of times, but in accordance with my master plan, I wanted to replace the electric guitar with the Gibson L6-S, and go over the acoustic guitar tracks to see if there were any glitches I wanted to clean up. Oh, and also I wanted to replace the sampled Doumbek with a "live" recorded track, and the drum loops with XLN Addictive drums, again played "live" on my SPD-20, with sticks.

So, actually quite a lot of work needed doing.

Whilst re-recording the nylon acoustic guitar tracks, I noticed an unexpected problem. Since I've started using Dad's Zoom H2 for recording the Ovation steel, I've realized that I am not happy with the sound of the Godin. I can no longer get a recorded sound that I'm happy with, either from a microphone or from the piezo pickups, or in any combination. I guess my tastes have changed.

Well that brings me to the next post. A new addition to the arsenal comes to the rescue! 

Solo Flight

192kbps MP3

Notes

This peice evolved out of a jam session we had, many years ago. We've tried rebooting it several times - see below for a complete evolutionary tree.

For the longest time, this remained an instrumental, but recently I noticed when I played it in the car on my way to work, I was humming a different melody and lyrics started coming to mind. So, it got revamped, and I think it's the best thing I've done so far. 

I think this marks the 50% complete point of the album. Yay!

Instruments

 

Lyrics

It was the day that Terry took me flying
Drive the Great South Road to Drury field
Outside the car we stand and watch the gliders
See a flash of sunlight from the keel

A month ago, I tried, but could not end it
Howard Jones was on the stereo
Bailing out before the song was over
She trusted me to never let her go

Feel the vector from the tow-rope's tension
The cockpit lurches with the winch release
Cast aloft in limbo, wind suspension
The breath of God above, the scars beneath

Indicates a left and checks the rear-view
The white Ford changes lanes, the traffic passes
Hands fixed to the wheel, at 10 and 2
Tears refract the light behind her glasses

   Stop! Let's roll the backup tape, restore the memories
   That's it; the moment that I broke her heart

And for a while, we share the ride with angels
See them smile, and think we've found a home
Dragging at our feet, the Earth is calling
No wings to hold us up, we're falling down

Falling
Falling Down
Falling
Falling Down 

music © 1989-1993 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls, lyrics © 2011 Colin Nicholls

From the archives: The Evolution of a Track

(These tracks have been taken from a series of very old cassette tapes on which we used to record all our ideas, many years ago.)  

Solo Flight 1989

96kbps MP3

I don't know where the rhythm sample came from. Possibly an Icehouse or Mr Mister track. In delicious 12-bit resolution, looping on the Akai X7000 sampler by taping down the low C key. The bass is definitely another sample, I'll assume a note from one of my acoustic guitars. Ethereal pad from the Korg Polysix; drones from the Roland Jupiter 6. Then we jammed for 8 minutes. And then we did it again, only this time we pressed RECORD on the tape deck. It was impossible to stay in time with the looping sample... but somehow, it didn't matter.

I have nothing around today that can emulate those luscious tones from the Polysix... I really should invest in the Korg Legacy VST collection.

Solo Flight 1990

96kbps MP3

Once the Korg M1 showed up, we gave it another go, using the sequencer and multi-timbral features to best effect. The Roland D-50 lent it's unbeatable "Glass Vox" patch to the mix. But somehow, something was lost in translation. On the plus side, the piece gained a new middle section.

Solo Flight 1993

96kbps MP3

With multi-track recording at our disposal, I gave this piece another try, using Chapman Stick, guitars, and sequenced drums to push it in a new direction. 

And here it stayed for 15 years.

Solo Flight 2008

96kbps MP3

I remember loading up the TruePianos VST, and experimenting with digital delay effects, playing around, and suddenly I was playing the Solo Flight chords... and sometimes that's all it takes for inspiration to hit. 

Changes

In a fit of energy I re-arranged the layout of the studio slightly. Keyboard against the wall; desk facing the window. The custom-designed-and-built studio furniture unit is unchanged positionally except for sliding a foot to the right.

Reflections from the window are reduced. Mission accomplished. On the other hand, when I'm working at home in day-job-mode I now have my back to the door which is not great. On the gripping hand, I can look out the window as I daydream work.

The Prodigal Dad: 1929-2011

My Dad passed away 2 months ago, from cancer. 

I know Dad was proud of the musical activity of all his children, although as far as I know not much of my personal creativity appealed to him. However I do know that every CD of our music that I burned and gave him was in his CD rack.

There are many treasured memories to choose from, but one in particular might be appropriate for this forum: Many years ago, I was living at home, and I raided Dad's toolbox for a pair of wire cutters to trim the ends off the new strings on my guitar. Of course, the hard strings notched the gentle wire cutters, and of course, Dad noticed.

Instead of getting angry, he went out to the garage and came back with a newish looking pair of Knipex wire cutters, handed them to me and said, "This is the right tool for the job".

I've used this pair to trim my guitar strings ever since. (no sign of notching, yet.)

 

In September I travelled to see Dad when he was in hospital. I played him an unfinished version of a track i was working on, which did not have a title, and I think he appreciated it. It's hard to tell with Dad sometimes.

Inevitable, this piece is now associated with Dad and therefore it now has a title, "A Sample of One", which I will not explain here. This month I completed the track, recording the acoustic guitar using one of Dad's Zoom H2 units.

Painting Abstracts On Location

192kbps MP3

Notes

Chorus in 7/8 time, verses in 4/4. Pulsing guitars, sustaining keyboards, offbeat bassline, jazzy middle section. Walter and I collaborated on the chorus lyrics, which are perhaps a little too busy. In the last couple of years I threw out the mediocre verses and replaced them with new ones that actually told a real story. Much improved.

I am very proud of the jazzy piano in the middle section, it took a lot of practice. Walter could have played something more interesting in just a few takes, I expect, but he wasn't around to do that.

Instruments

Lyrics

Across the room I saw your face
You caught my eye with a hesitant smile
I took you home, showed you the place
I remember your words, you said:

   I'm painting abstracts, on location
   faking a picture and signing my name
   Painting Abstracts, no salvation
   from the painful pictures that collect in my brain

   Painting Abstracts, my creation
   is the one way I know, and it's never the same
   Painting Abstracts, one solution
   is disolving the memories, and forgetting the shame

Under your sleeve I saw the scars
You told the truth and not the usual lie
a secret wrapped inside the past
a line was drawn, I turned and looked away

Across the years, I lost a friend
Not suicide, but a stupid disease
I should have seen you at the end
Regret is a stone, in my head

   We're painting abstracts, on location
   ignoring reality and enduring the pain
   Painting Abstracts, on probation but 
   we're robbing the bank to keep playing the game 

   Painting Abstracts, our protection is
   the color's so vivid we don't have to explain
   Painting Abstracts, on location
   we're taking a remedy, that is keeping us sane. 

music & lyrics © 1990/2011 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls

From the archives: Early Stages

(These tracks have been taken from a series of very old cassette tapes on which we used to record all our ideas, many years ago.)  

The first relic features a Roland Jupiter 6 and Korg Polysix. I don't own the Jupiter anymore (stupid, stupid...) but I think Walter has the Polysix in working order still. The second relic demonstrates the power of the Korg M1 sequencer, if not the talents of the guitar player... for dedicated fans only, I'm afraid. The chord sequence of the middle section is the same, yet completely different.

Coming up with the riffs (1989)

Taking Shape (1989):

 

A Sample of One

192kbps MP3

Notes:

This little instrumental was hiding inside my Yamaha nylon-string guitar in 1989, and took shape in 1990 when the relatively new Korg M1 sequencer allowed us to throw some strings, drums, and acoustic bass at it.

For the longest time this piece was "Untitled" but recently one seems to have become appropriate.

Finally last year I re-recorded this track, but I was having trouble settling on which guitar to use. I couldn't record a version that had the same quality of sound that the original demo had. 

Most recently I completed the track this month, using my Ovation Balladeer, recorded using a Zoom H2 portable recorder as a stereo feed into my computer. 

Instruments:

music © 1990 Colin Nicholls