For the last twelve months or so, I've been riding this big rig of musical energy that just kept moving forward, but it seems to have run out of steam. Future Imperfect sits on the hard drive, begging for me to finish up the drums which are only half-done, and I'm not able to push myself to do it.
My experience has been that if the muse isn't there, don't bother. I'm never happy with the results. So, as the new year looms on the horizon, I'm coming to terms with the fact that the revised schedule for completing album #1 is going to have to be, um, revised.
Still, that's what plans are for. Revising.
All is not lost, however. I've recently picked up the Bass again, partly because I discovered my nephew was getting into the instrument and I wanted to review some reference material I was planning on sending him.
Then I started playing with Guitar Rig 4, trying to emulate the famous Chris Squire bass sound from the Fragile era. Some success, too. After running through some classic riffs, I loaded up the Head in the Game project in SONAR and started playing along...
As you know, I hate re-doing material that is supposedly finished and complete (/sarcasm) but I think the muse might be telling me that I need to put a little bit of work in on this.
Oh, and the Tone is in the Fingers, people.
November was eaten up by being sick and taking a couple of weeks in New Zealand for a family visit. Then I got sick again.
Now it's back to working on Future Imperfect, re-recording the drums.
I'm so close, I can taste it. After finishing up Into The Shade, I moved on to Interlude #1, re-recording all the guitars and replacing the string pad with a string quartet (thanks to Dimension Pro).
I've left Slaying The Dragon as-is for now - but it is only 70% complete so I will have to come back to it eventually - and have jumped into Future Imperfect, re-recording the bass; revising the "trumpet" synth with CS80V goodness; and re-doing the drums with my current SPD-20 + Addictive Drums combo.
Oh, and Cakewalk released a new version of their flagship digital audio workstation software, SONAR X2. I didn't expect to adopt it (because I hated the X1 release) but I've been impressed with the changes - look out for my review/criticism write up in the near future.
One other thing: I've decided to give Strange But True another look. I think I rushed the process of review earlier this year, and when I hear it in context of other work I've finished recently, it's not holding its own. That's depressing for me (see the first sentence in this post) but I think it is worth the extra effort.
Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things aren't working out. For whatever reason, I could not get the drum, bass, and acoustic guitar tracks to gel. I got tired of tweaking to no effect, and decided it was time to shake things up.
- Mute the drums and the Chapman Stick.
- Activate the click track.
- And break out the Carvin BK5 and lay down an alternative bass track.
In my head I'd always heard the bass lines played on a Stick, and almost instantly, the feel of the piece changed, but in a good way. The change in feel is inevitable: a normal bass guitar lends itself to a completely different vibe than the Stick, but suddenly I was thinking of alternative cool riffs and laying them down in places where, before, magic was missing. This was a good thing. Sure, that one particular riff that kinda wanted to be a Stick riff didn't sound so cool anymore, but this was offset by all sorts of good stuff coming in elsewhere.
Once I had a good, clean, complete take, I moved to the acoustic guitar, and re-did any part where it wasn't locked in to the new bass line. Yeah.
Now it's back to the drums for the same treatment. There's some places that need tidying up, and the second half of the track never had anything more than guide drums on it anyway. So... it's progress. I wish it was faster, but at least I'm happy with the results.
Here's a teaser:
[mp3:http://spacefold.com/colin/ps/mp3/Into_The_Shade/shade_teaser.mp3] 256kbps MP3
Chapman Stick is all recorded.
The timing was getting a little sloppy with all the "guide" tracks, so I went back and created click track that was locked into the acoustic guitar, because that's a track I'm least likely to want to re-do... then recorded the Stick bass to the timing of the click.
Now, of course, I need to tweak the drums into line, and re-do a couple of places where I need to complement bass flourishes. Progress is good.
Yes, it's tracking time. "Into The Shade" has crystalized at 110 bpm after all, and the key signature resolved down a 4th from E to B.
For various guitar-related reasons, the middle-8 bridge section really wanted to stay in D (originally the same root as the choruses). I've compromised: it stayed in D. So now we have a nice little key signature change from the second chorus in C into the bridge in D, and then we stay up a 4th for the last verse and outro in E. This actually works really well, and makes the piece more interesting harmonically.
A side-effect of dropping the main body of the song by a 4th is dealing with the finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Obvious in hind-sight: Switching to Lute Tuning means that I can play with exactly the same fingering, one string down, and in the appropriate key. Also, it gives me an extra string at the top for added embellishment.
I've also learned my lesson: The first serious track recording has been the acoustic guitar followed by the vocals. So next up: lock in those drums and bass (Chapman Stick).
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.)
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.
[mp3:http://spacefold.com/colin/ps/mp3/BigBoys/playing_with_the_big_boys_hifi.mp3] 196kbps MP3
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!
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.