Wednesday, April 14

Tonight Sherry came all the way from La Crosse to lay down some harmony parts to three songs.  We were pretty damn pleased (and tired) by the end.  Two of the songs have catchy but unconventional melodies which makes discovering a good harmony a bit difficult.

One of the things I wanted for markhannan 2.0 was less harmonies overall. 
Blueprints for Descent was kindof like a bad diet at points... overloading on sugary harmonies with only an acoustic guitar to hold things down.  Like the foods pyramids we studied in 5th grade - only upsidedown.

This time around only about 4 of the tracks will feature harmonies (one of which plays around with various distortion techniques throughout the song).  I'm finding that I've grown to care much more about various textures and sound colors.  Harmonizing with yourself is about the most monaural way to go.  It's like the reason why choirs work; you have all these different pools of sound and texture that shimmer off of each other even when in perfect unison.  Well, at least that's what your momma said.
Tuesday, April 20

I must have spent at least three hours working on a mandolin part for
Fear (remind me to forget you).  The song itself is only 3 minutes long but I really wanted this layer of the song to be perfect.  Fear has such a perfect european waltz feel to it.  I think this mandolin part will really bring out a bit more of that "across the pond" culture.

I've been playing the mandolin now for about 3 years and it still amazes me how expresively it can be played.  Not so much by me yet, but I didn't have much choice... Peter Ostrousko was busy recording with Dylan again last night.  I'm hoping that Steve Books will lay down a really smoking mandolin track for
A Girl in your Town because I am truely running out of tricks on that thing.  Welcome home, one trick pony.
Thursday, April 22

Tonight was accordion for
Fear.  That damn instrument was clearly designed by a bastard.  First of all the thing must way about 20 to 30 pounds.  I've actually read articles that recommend you only play this instrument sitting down.  One web-site had an article that was entitled "Accordion Advice: Back Pain" and had links to exercises that will strenghthen the back and lower neck.  Natural comparison = the tuba.

Another reason is the 120 chord buttons (in 6 rows of 20) that litter the left hand side of the instrument.  These buttons are arranged in circles of fifths but have no distiguishing features making for one hell of a guessing game for those not familiar with Laurence Welk. 
Friday, April 23

Finally some advance for
On My Way Back To You. This is the one song that I recorded rather early on in the sessions and just haven't touched at all.  Not because I'm not excited about it but for lack of ideas.  I've spent entire nights agonizing about what could fill this song out.  It comes right after the album's most stripped down and emotionally stark song and it just never felt right leaving the two sole acoustic tracks right next to eachother.

So, after much deliberation its got a banjo part now.  I fiddled around with a second track of guitar for a while but then realized that I was playing the guitar like it was a banjo... trying to get that type of percussive/rhythmic picking underneath.  So why not just add the musician's favorite back porch instrument?  The banjo might just be the most over-stereotyped and under-used of modern instruments.  It's not just for the Stanley Brothers anymore.  Added insentive: my father's favorite Australian folk poet was called Banjo Paterson.
Bienvenue!  Velkommen!  Foon Ying!

You've made your way to the Studio Files corner of this wide web.  Here you'll find more details than you could have wished for on this new album I've been working on for over 2 years now.  This plastic gem has shaped itself into 14 tracks and will probably be called
Beating Cold Like a Heart or something equally morose.

If you're reading this and hating every moment you were almost lucky... I hesitated to publish this sort of a journal for quite some time because of three reasons:
1.  Talking about music is dumb and tends to distract from/diffuse the
       language of the music itself.
2.  The chances of someone actually reading this and caring are slim at best.
3.  The things just about done by now anyway.

But, as you've guessed, the ill-adviced ramblings won out in the end.  So here's what I've been up to.
Friday, April 30

I've arrived at some kind of crucial crossroads here and I'm not quite sure where I'll end up with this.  As of last Friday I'm at a point where all I can really add to the record is some small finishing touches.  It's a weird place to be in after pushing so hard, night after night, to take the recording to the next level.  Feels like a scretching halt.

I have a couple of people lined up to play on about 4 tracks so now it's time to play the scheduling game.  Area music mainstay Steve Books has promised to add some mandolin and blues harp to
A Girl in your Town and my friend Josh Brecht from Fuller Still is going to lay down some punk-ass djembe on two other songs. I'd also like to have a faux brass quintet (using trumpet and baritone) on the coda of Someonelse's Dream if I ever get around to arranging the parts for the two kids from my church.

So, as the next step, I've been looking for a solid mixing program but audio software is one hell of a confusing world.  I'd really not want anything to do with it if I wasn't so intent on making this project the best that it can be (which is odd considering I recorded my first album on the Cakewalk program).  I'd really like to do the mixing myself and then just send those off to get mastered... you know to keep as much of this project in my own hands as possible. 

I've been learning a lot about the wonderful world of Pro Tools lately.  I'll let you know how that goes...
Saturday, September 4

Seeing as my long summer sojourns are over I've gotten back to recording a bit here and there.  The album is still sitting where it was back in April... me waiting on a few special people to lay down a few special parts... but no rush.  Last night I recorded piano for the live favorite 4o Versions of Goodbye, a song that didn't make it on to either Blueprints or Beating Cold.  It just never felt right.  Well, I've been working on the piano part for about 2 months now and it sounds perfect.  Exactly the right medium for the song.  I also did some experimenting with playing the piano directly on the strings with various "tools".  There are four tracks of this harp/dulcimer type cacophony.

Today I was fiddling around with my new electric and various effects settings and one was so perfect that it basically wrote a song for itself.  I've been interested lately about song-writing in different ways so this was kind of an intentional experiment in writing the music first, completely on its own, with very little thought to the words or vocal line.  Just to let it be more about mood and where the music wants to go.  We'll see how this pans out I guess.  As to were these two songs will be used, I have no clue.  But you can expect to see them in the Audio Archive in the next couple of weeks... perhaps even with added increments...
Saturday, November 13

A little over a month ago Steve Books (formerly of Booker Mini and currently of the Blue Sky Band) came over and added his harmonica genius to A Girl In Your Town.  I knew that Steve was quite good on harmonica but I was blown away by his speed and musical feel on an instrument that most people use, and think of, as a secondary insturment.  You know, the "I'm a guy with a guitar and I'd like to add some variation to my set" type of thing.

Steve did some flat out John Popper style speed-runs!  I like the overall arc of the recording we did.  It starts out as a nice melody line, goes a little funky near the chorus, and then (just as the guitar starts to build) it breaks out into an all-out dash for the finish.  Steve said that he hadn't been playing for awhile and offered to run for a couple of weeks and then give it a try again... I declined.  I was more than satisfied.
Thursday, April 20

Believe it!  In the never-ending quest for a completed album, that I might actually feel good about... the beastly lumbering continues.  I realized on Tuesday night that the tympani from Easter Sunday were just sitting in our sanctuary crying out to be used.  So, I dusted of the old 4 track and actually did some recording.  I guess it's on a 5 month cycle.  By those standards I can expect to be finished with the project by early January of 2010.

Anyways, I spent Tuesday night mostly in front of the piano working on some parts for
On My Way Back To You.   It's some distorted melodic stuff on the chorus but more importantly some very staccato, punchy, almost banjo-like percussive strikes on the verses.  So far, I think I like it.  It emphasizes the rhythm before melody and is something I haven't heard too much before.  I guess that's part of what comes from a complete novice playing.  Sometimes a person's musical weakness is a strength.  I'm thinking of all those bands that play extremely simple music in an extremely simple manner.  It seems to allow more of their brilliance in other areas through.  Let's just hope I have some brilliance in other areas.

The tympani was fun and remarkably easy.  Nothing like a grand last chorus.  As it stands right now, the guitar, effects, piano, and tympani all cut out right before the coda leaving only voice and banjo to carry the song to its end.  Nicely unexpected.
Monday, May 1

Last Thursday was another night of spinning the reels (digital though they may be).  I haven't been able to shake the feeling that the middle section of How To Deal With Goodbye Tears was missing a little something something.  So, I broke my own rule regarding acoustic only on these recordings, brought out my newly strung electric guitar and did a couple of takes over the keyboards.  It's amazing being able to record with so much freedom using digital technology.  I was able to tell some of the takes weren't keepers right from the get go but I had about five that I just couldn't choose between.  So, I just kept them all, packed up my stuff and sorted through them when I got home. 

I can't imagine the techniques that would be available if I was recording at a "real" studio and not in this shoe-string cobbled-together manner.  I guess recording at your own pace, in your own space, has its price.  Luckily, in this day and age, quality will not be an abvious cost as home recording technologies continue to expand and drop in price.  It should be interesting to take this to the next level in the mixing and mastering phase.  I hope to do as little as possible to the base that I've got so far. 

The big decisions now are how far to go with the tracks that don't quite feel done yet.  It's a fine line.  I am very concious of space and the overall arc of these sounds.  It's amazing how the simplist of sounds can really fill a song out.  I guess it's just about finding that one missing sound and ignoring all of the other flashy possibilities that cross my mind.  Should be fun to see a completed project... someday.  Don't hold your breath though.