The Production Notebook VI: Mixing “Ruin”

Saturday night mixing session.  “Ruin” is probably the song that needed the least work, yet somehow, thanks to Scott’s sonic compulsive disorder, it turned into all night mix session (not a bad thing to have a mixing engineer obsessed with auditory perfection, but at this point I’m ready to have things songs out so I can move on).

We spent an appropriate two hours before taking a break for coffee, but upon coming back we spent about five.  One of the first rules of mixing is to give your ears regular breaks.  By five in the morning, brains and ears were exhausted and, though I haven’t had time to do a side by side comparison, I’m afraid we’ve lost a few things, in particular the raw balance the song had.  The arpeggiated bass synth is giving us the most trouble at this point, trying to maintain its character and, at the same time, leave it as one of the primary musical elements in the song.  Scott brought some of the high end out in the vocals, and with a bit of work, gave it some of its missing detail.  The main kick is punchier, heavier, and though I didn’t want to make any creative decisions at this point, we ended up with three versions of it for different parts of the song.

As stated, I’ve not listened to it since Sunday morning as I need a couple days to recover my senses and listen again objectively.  I plan to do a side by side comparison of my previous mix and this weekend’s mix to see what is right or wrong still.  There was no objectivity or comprehension of the big picture mix by the end of the night.

What I can say with certainty is that, despite some areas of pronunciation I’m not completely content with, I am quite happy with the results of the vocals.  I tried a few things that I’d never done with vocal processing before, and am quite pleased with the results.  If all goes well, I will post a pre-mastered version on soundcloud before long.

Upcoming production work:  vocal recording and mixing for “Voices,” a new mix of “The Temptation of Saint Anthony,” and reviving an old fan favorite, “A New Man,” to round out Chapter One.

Scott at our mixing piano. Why, yes, the monitors are on a piano. What, that’s not acoustically sound?

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The Production Notebook V: John Beauchamp, Zachary Annett, and Lizzie Gask!

Just a quick one this time for the record, as well as a few preemptive thanks.

As mentioned previously, the creative stage is going well enough, while the production stage is virtually absent.  There are a lot of songs that reflect a broken heart (and perhaps this is one of many excuses not to work on the album), something I’d always hoped none of my albums would become.  Hence, Hijacking Your Fiction may be more therapy than art.

“Voices” is currently my favorite work-in-progress (with the increasingly frustrating “Ruin” right behind) so I feel the need to get everything just right.  I finally had a few ideas yesterday that might get me a couple steps closer to the production stage.  The lyrics are coming together (indeed, the lyrics for most of the songs are nearly finished) and I’m considering using Lizzie Gask, known around these parts for her work with The Dirty 30s, and who will likely be featured on at least one other song on the album, to help me close the song.

As far as using other people, I’d also like to give a quick mention (there will be longer mentions later, no doubt) to John Beauchamp (a.k.a. MusiM) who is doing an embarrassingly simple guitar riff for me, not because I’m incapable mind you, but because I do not at this time have an electric guitar in Seoul.  I did, but its disappearance is another story.  I’ve turned acoustic guitars into post-production electrics before, but in this case I’m going to need an electric to achieve the tone I’m looking for.  Also, my cousin Zachary Annett will be featured on drums for “Reconnect,” and I’m debating whether to hand him drumming duties for the album version of “Gate 36.”    Finally, a preemptive thanks to Scott Coward who, whether he knows it or not, will become my mixing engineer.  He may also, again unbeknownst to him, contribute some hand drums to “Sweet Victory.”

One final note, I may opt to work on The Recovery Project for a while, a digital noise side-project that I’ve had on the back burner for quite some time and have been hoping to use to vent some frustrations, instead of AllThisIsMeaningless.  I spoke of therapy, and right now I can’t imagine a better therapy than that.

The Production Notebook IV: Cafes, Guitars and Giving Up

I woke up late Thursday, and rather than getting to work as I said I would (nothing new there), I went over the hill into Itaewon (the so-called “foreigner district,” near my flat) for lunch and to go to a cafe.  I read a little, and studied Korean even less before sleepily going home, where I did manage to get a bit done.

More guitar work:  Worked on the rhythm guitar for “Reconnect” as well as “Where Are You?” (working title “Chimera”).  Also came up with a simple riff for “Electricity,” though part of what I liked about the song was its driving simplicity, so I’m not sure at this point whether or not I will use it.

Also for “Where Are You?” I put another effort toward additional percussion and am much happier with the result.  I may recruit a friend or two to add some good hand percussion, and I will likely make a third attempt.

I don’t want to do anything but sleep.  I feel I’m giving up.

One more week before I have to return to my job.

The Production Notebook III: Guitar, Gayageum, Actual Progress

I have done little to speak of this week, either too tired or desperate to get away from the computer and the apartment, returning exhausted from having spent the day in one of the most densely packed cities in the world.  But today, or last night rather, small progress at last.

The downside is that there is little to show for this progress just yet.  But there have been a few tricky parts I’ve been struggling with and trying to work out that I think I’ve figured out.  This is, unfortunately, mostly creative progress.  Creativity is the easy part – the actual work is when I start to fall apart.

The lead synth that’s been giving me fits on “Voices”:  I think I’ve managed to put together a patch on the Korg that might help beef it up a bit.  That would make the fourth Prophecy generated sound on the song.

Also on “Voices”:  Will try adding some guitar strumming and arpeggios to fill out the sound where needed.

The break, or third part, of “Chimera” (which will probably be called “Ruin”):  I think this will feature a bit of abstract gayageum and percussion.  I’ve kind of worked out a rough melody and need to flesh it out a little more.

An untitled piece that I’m determined to put on the track, but haven’t been sure where to go with it:  This is to be fairly up-tempo track, which may open the album or be the second song, after “Voices” (the more likely scenario).  There will be no drums, only acoustic guitar, synth, and a little DIY percussion.  This one has such a long way to go, it may not make it on the album.

A final technical problem:  The synth used for the bass in “Electricity” doesn’t want to work on my new computer, which means either finishing the song on my laptop or rendering the bass track, importing it on the new computer and hoping everything works out alright.

The Production Notebook II: More Futility, Finish First, and Going Out

There’s not much to report in the second installment of the Production Notebook.  I made a few minor tweaks to “Crush” and added additional synth work, some minor changes to “Chimera” (the working title) that I’m not entirely satisfied with, tried to replace (rather unsuccessfully) a synth in “Voices” that has been bothering me due to its thinness, and worked out a guitar bit for “Sweet Victory” (also a working title).  I attempted to add additional percussion to “Sweet Victory” as well, but it didn’t turn out the way I wanted.  Other than that, I’m finding myself obsessed with mixing rather than finishing the damned songs, which is pointless considering I’ll have to do more mixing when the songs are finished anyway, and especially futile given that I am uncertain of the acoustics in this room.

Finish first, mix later.

I also played around with a couple songs for side projects, and one that will likely be on the next album, but these are mere distraction at a time when I need to be working on Hijacking Your Fiction.

All in all, it should be evident that it didn’t go so well today, and I found myself getting overwhelmed with the number of things I need to do, unable to focus on one song.  I’m quickly losing interest, I’m afraid.

I’ve begun to fear that the songs are too simple.  They were meant to be that way initially, but as my musical and technical skills develop I find myself wanting to rewrite everything.  I can’t quite seem to get to the “good enough” frame of mind that is necessary for any musician.  I believe it was Michael Knott (among others, I’m sure) who said that if he ever waited until he was satisfied with his music, he’d never release anything.  This is why I’m in my 30s, and have never released anything officially, with the exception of the early releases on the C/Fe Records sampler in 2009.

On this subject, I’ve come across a fascinating article from Malcolm Gladwell in which he ponders the emergence of talent, particularly in so-called “late bloomers.”  I’m much too tired to give my thoughts at this time (indeed, I’m having difficulty forming full sentences at the moment), but I can’t help but to think that my relatively late start in the musical world has something to do with the way I work.  I will leave you, and this rambling but hopefully coherent entry, with an excerpt from the article which sounds entirely too familiar to me:

Prodigies like Picasso, Galenson argues, rarely engage in that kind of open-ended exploration. They tend to be “conceptual,” Galenson says, in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it. “I can hardly understand the importance given to the word ‘research,’ ” Picasso once said in an interview with the artist Marius de Zayas. “In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.” He continued, “The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. . . . I have never made trials or experiments.”

But late bloomers, Galenson says, tend to work the other way around. Their approach is experimental. “Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental,” Galenson writes in “Old Masters and Young Geniuses,” and he goes on:

The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective. These artists repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times, and gradually changing its treatment in an experimental process of trial and error. Each work leads to the next, and none is generally privileged over others, so experimental painters rarely make specific preparatory sketches or plans for a painting. They consider the production of a painting as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it; they typically believe that learning is a more important goal than making finished paintings. Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goal.

The Production Notebook: The First Entry, Power Supply, and Mark Bly

This is the first entry to the Production Notebook, so called with the utmost respect to Mark Bly.  Bly is one of a handful of people who have transformed Western dramaturgy in the last 50 years, and I can’t help but to think had I had the opportunity to study with him sooner, I wouldn’t be quite so disillusioned with the theatre and the graduate school experience.  The Production Notebooks (Volumes 1 and 2) are essential reading not only for dramaturgs, but anyone making a career in theatre.

My Production Notebook, on the other hand, is essentially a record of the futility of trying to make progress on Hijacking Your Fiction during my month-long vacation.

This first entry is late, and the evidence of said futility is already piling up.  I was quite fortunate to have been given a computer (thanks, Kittenita), a massive upgrade to the laptop I had been working on for the previous five years, which is now my Internet computer.  In the land of cheap computer parts, I was able to do a couple upgrades (4 gigs of RAM, a new Samsung DVD/CD drive and Firewire ports, installed, for about $100.  I spent the next three days setting the computer up to my liking, installing software, organizing, and transferring data from my laptop and various hard drives. 

Three days.

Then everything shut down.  And it wouldn’t start up again.

After a loud and curse-filled rampage which certainly disturbed my roommates, I settled down enough to come to the conclusion that, based on the computer’s behavior, the most likely culprit was the power supply.  The next day I took the computer in, again, and found that it was indeed the power supply.  My bank account a bit lighter, everything seems to be working again.  I also found it to be a good excuse to buy another external backup drive, to be used exclusively with the new computer.

I spent a good part of Tuesday finishing my setup, and now that everything is ready to go, the last thing I want to do is look at another computer screen.  One might ask why I’m writing this now.  Well, if I don’t do it now, it may not get done.  And rest assured, when I am finished I will be getting out of my flat for a while, probably to Sukkara, a cafe that makes the best organic soy chai I’ve ever had, and my favorite place to go in Seoul when I’m stressed.  My time will not be entirely wasted, as I tend to get a decent amount of lyric writing done there.

In other news, my Korg Prophecy finally arrived from the US last Friday.  As stated in the previous post, I had it shipped via FedEx for fast and safe delivery, only to have it caught up in customs for a week.  I also made a final decision on studio monitors, and decided on the KRK RP-6 due to budget, size constraints, and the fact that they are the same monitors I was using in the US (John, I hope you’re enjoying them) so they will take the least amount of getting used to.  But I’m not done spending money yet:  Due to the size of my desk (and the size of my room) I will require speaker stands for proper monitor placement, and I need a mic stand as well.  The speaker stands can wait, but the mic stand will be necessary soon if all goes to plan.

A (Brief) Love Song to My Korg Prophecy

When I returned to the States a little over two years ago, I had time to get reacquainted with my Korg Prophecy.  Analogue emulation notwithstanding, the pure digital noise this thing is capable of when pushed is incredible!

I have since used the Prophecy on my most popular song “Gate 36” (check the lead synth at the beginning and end of the song), “Hospital Girls,” and it will be heard in at least three other songs on Hijacking Your Fiction.  “Voices,” a song in progress, features the Prophecy in several places:  the bass, the wail, and the solo synth lead.

I’m quite looking forward to having her back (What?  Some guys call refer to their cars in a feminine sense, and I to my keyboards).  Now if only I could find someone to repair (or modify) my Juno 106.

Update:  She has come!  She’s in Seoul!  She’s caught up in customs!