Sunday, May 15, 2016

Noodles on my noodle we are. (Tap, tap. Looks down at floor, over at wall.) Yep. Back.
(Clears throat.)
(Coughs. Clears throat again. Deep breath.)
Guess I'll, About. Something.

Music? Yeah, OK, that's easy enough.

Work continues on the current project, "Noodles". Up to a couple of days ago, it consisted of three instruments- drums, Hammond organ, and nylon string acoustic guitar. I was going through and doing what is essentially a combination of editing and mix; each track put as close to even volume as possible, then adjusted manually a section, a phrase, or a note at a time, whatever's necessary. Panning is done at this point too (placement in the stereo field). Nothing' fancy going on there anymore- I usually just pick a spot for each instrument where it helps everything get heard properly and then I leave it there. That's especially relevant to this kind of project, where it's supposed to be as close to a live situation as a multi-tracker can manage. The idea then, trying to evoke a situation similar to a jazz session. (Or Paper Bag/Jugalbandi, etc.) It was a really cool recording session. The drum tracks were assembled first, left over from a few different sessions, including one with multi-instrumentalist/filmmaker Jeffrey Von Ragan on congas (and me playing his kit). I had the order set up, master at the ready; ran the headphones over to the Hammond, turned it on and let it warm up for a half hour. (It's a lot like an old car in that way.) And when it was ready, I got the recording rolling and improvised organ through the album in one go. When it was over, I ate lunch and set up for the nylon-string guitar, then did the same thing there, hit record and just ran through the whole album. There are five pieces in all.

Problem is, a few nights into the mix/volume editing, it hit me: this sucks. Not a pleasant thing to hit one, smack dab in the middle of the creative process. But I don't ignore these things when they come to me. And it came: this sucks.

Now, I was also not likely to just take this little realization, which was more of a snide remark by my inner devil's advocate, at full face value. It was late- really, really late- and I hadn't even made it into the studio before having a 15 hour day of child-rearing and domestic duties. I was falling asleep in my chair and couldn't really focus. So I knew better than to buy into this too much. And yet I also knew it would be dangerous, creatively speaking, to simply ignore it. So I stopped and decided to come back to it when time permitted, and when I was awake and as fresh as only strong coffee can make me.

When that time came, I tried the usual stand-bys to save things. Check levels; try changing the panning. See if some dynamic shifts were either ignored, buried, or not supported. Also, try taking sections of tracks out, muting them, to bring a more definition to things. You might think something with such simple instrumentation wouldn't need to be scaled back, but I played the hell out of every instrument, the result being the sonic equivalent of NY cheesecake in the stomach at 4 a.m.- dense nearly to the point of uncomfortable. I fixed everything I could, and it was better; but it was not enough. So now, it was time to consider adding to it.

I did not want to. It ran contrary to the entire concept of the album. The point of compromise would then be, keep it simple, as simple as possible. Maybe one instrument played throughout, as with the previous 3 tracks? What would work?

For the first piece, I tried piano. And it worked! Swung like a bad bitch! Really cool, I was relieved. Did some level balancing, found a proper place for it in the stereo field, which meant having to do some quick re-panning of the guitar and organ; but it worked. Phew.

When it came time for piece no. 2, however, it did not. It might have, had I been patient enough; but I was not. I started playing it against the existing tracks, and was immediately rubbed the wrong way. Meh. Next! What now? It was very late so I couldn't get  loud. I thought I might try a more exotic acoustic instrument, maybe a homemade. But the idea of waking people put me off. I tried various virtual instruments, and they were as unappealing there as the piano had been. And then at one point, my finger slipped and an instrument came up when I was not actually trying to turn one on. My spider sense got tingling- these kinds of 'accidents" were often auspicious. I played the default sound and right away felt this would be the case. The program was "Scandalous", and the default sound was pretty much pure sine wave, monophonic. I've always loved that sound, but in the wrong situation it can be boring as white on milk. Not so here! It was so different- even from the Hammond- that it sat both alongside the other instruments, and stood out from them, perfectly. The interface of Scandalous is so simple that it's really easy to tweak while playing. I did here as I'd done previously, play straight through. worked. Really well. In fact, with almost no work, the sound cut through yet did not obscure, and I was able to drop the volume significantly and have it fit in even better. Yuh!

I started nodding when I started reviewing track three, so it was time to pack it in. My memory, of what I was able to stay awake for, is that this one may just work as a three piece. If so, cool! If not, I will figure something else out. The format has changed from the originally conceived simple trio to "trio with a friend" TBA per track. This doesn't bring things too far from base. Breathing easier. This does not suck. It just needed some help. I repeat: phew.

I am still a-hankerin' to do a lyric/vocal/song-oriented album, as I was supposed to do at the start of the year. My urge to do so now is warming to the point where it may soon start burning a hole in me. The recent remix/remaster/release of "Darkland Express" has really stoked this.

More later! I'm going to try to make a habit of these, ideally doing more than one a day. And not skipping a year and half between posts. If I keep the focus on music, I'll probably do a lot more yapping, I can go on, can't I? And hopefully people find them all enjoyable like.


Manny LaMancha

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