Posts Tagged ‘Recording’

Zero RPM

It’s about this time of year I start thinking about the RPM challenge (make an album of 35 minutes or 10 tracks in the month of February). I’ve been doing this since 2012 and it’s become a staple part of the year for me.

But not this year.

RPM has become a habit – a good habit of course – but it is just a habit and it’s not compulsory.

My main reason for not doing RPM this year is simply that I’m not well enough. I’m not giving out details here but I just don’t have the capacity to write*, record, mix and master an album at the moment. I’ve thought about this long and hard and my time is best spent on getting myself better.

I also have other music projects on the go that need my attention and that have actual audiences to satisfy. There’s the usual orchestra concert on the 16th February, a solo gig in early March and a CSMA one at the end of March. That’s more than enough to be getting on with.

I will do an album this year, but I’ll take my time over it and try and make it as good as “It’s not a game” – which I am immensely proud of. It’s just not going to all happen in February.

*OK, I often improvise my RPM albums, but not always!

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It was Winter 2011 when I started on Leaving Rome – at least that’s what the computer files tell me. I have recordings of Karen playing her various triangles dating from that time at least.

She had asked me if I could write something for triangles, an odd request to say the least but I like a challenge and those recordings were the start of the project that has spread over three years! From this distance in time I can’t quite remember what I intended to do with the recordings of Karen playing 4 different triangles, I do remember she lent me a book on how to play triangles (yes, such things exist) so that I might learn something of the techniques involved and the possibilities of the instrument.

After much research and even more gluing of bits of paper onto other bits of paper, that piece took shape and became Leaving Rome. It’s a hybrid piece of narration (from Juvenal’s Satire No.3) with instrumental backing with a fully instrumental section following each, based on the content of the preceding text. While the all-instrumental parts were scored normally, the narrative bits looked something like this:

Leaving Rome extract

Leaving Rome was performed live by Midnight Llama at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield in September 2013. Karen had semi-staged her reading parts so it was quite a fun thing to watch. As Midnight Llama make a point of not doing repeat performances I thought that was that. When Karen suggested making a film of the piece I thought this was not only an exciting new project but also a chance to revisit the work as I blogged last year.

And now the film is done! This has been one of the longest-running project of any of my pieces, the film itself has taken 15 months of work (off and on, mostly off) and I joked that it would have been quicker to do a stop-motion animation of it.

I learned a huge amount making this film, although Karen decided almost all of the visual content and narrative I had to learn to handle a video camera and to edit using Final Cut Pro, and also to tell Karen that I couldn’t do what she asked or, more likely, to find out just how to do it anyway – Karen doesn’t like getting ‘no’ for an answer.

Even though the piece wasn’t filmed in linear sequence I think it’s obvious which are the later parts and which the earlier (more primitive) ones – you can learn a lot in 15 months. Looking back at it there are things I know I could do better at, and also I have a shopping list of things I would like to buy before attempting the next video project (yes, there will be one) chief of which is a heavier tripod (Yorkshire is windy!) with a motorised pan and tilt head to avoid the terrible wobbliness of the pans in this film!

Still, I think we did a reasonably good job and I look forward to making more films as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Here’s the finished film:

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This year has been a busy (relatively) one for recording sessions. I’ve recorded for three albums for other people at recording studios and three more, for different people, at home. I’ll blog more about those as they become available, record companies can take time to get releases sorted out and I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to talk about them at the moment.

One of the more different experiences, for me, was that of recording a Christmas single. Yes, I know. It’s hardly the avant-garde or progressive rock I mostly specialise in, nor is it an orchestra recording, but I like to think I’m versatile 🙂

I got this job by accident, a friend on twitter wasn’t available that day and passed on my name to the guy who was organising the song and sessions and, being me, I was available.

So, I toddled off to the recording studio on a Sunday afternoon with my violin, just the four-string acoustic, not really knowing what to expect. I had been sent a demo of the song the day beforehand but wasn’t really sure what was wanted of me.

What was wanted of me was a full string orchestra! I recorded 4 versions of 4 different string parts (all made up on the spot by the producer … they are talented people) for the choruses and a further set for the final big chorus. Several of these were pitch-shifted down to give more tonal range and make it sound more like a large string section. With two microphones on me (one at the top of the stairwell, and one at the bottom, where I was) that’s 32 tracks of … me! Such a scary thought! The whole thing took about an hour and a half and I went off to the Midnight Llama meeting afterwards feeling I’d already done a days work.

It was fun doing a ‘pop’ song for a change, and this is a fun song. It’s not a saccharine Christmas song, more Wakefield’s answer of “Fairytale of New York” (but with a LOT more strings!) than … actually I don’t know any saccharine Christmas songs, I erase them from my memory as soon as possible.

The finished single will be released for Christmas on the 9th December. It can be pre-ordered on iTunes or Amazon and there’s the obligatory promotion video (luckily NOT featuring me, apart from in the music) on YouTube:



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