It’s past time for an update on Studio activity for album#3, I think. I haven’t settled on a final name, yet, but the working title of the album is “Circles”.
As described in the last diary update, I had lyrics for five or so songs, and some melodic ideas. Lyric notebook in hand, I took a couple of long walks up the local hill to find some solitude away from the studio equipment and distractions, and tried singing the verses and choruses at various tempos and pitches, until I found something comfortable that “worked”. Then I recorded them into my iPhone voice memo recorder, for reference. In the process I re-wrote a lot of the lyrics to fit the “right” meter.
Back in the studio, I listened to the results and translated them into a simple piano arrangement with two or three tracks for chords, bass, and some melody. I find a Rhodes electric piano patch is best for this process.
(Okay, I realize as I review what I just wrote, that this is not particularly insightful. It’s not Rocket Science, and represents a typical songwriting process. I’m not special, I get that.)
For the last two months I’ve been working solely on one specific track, taking it from the linear “Idea Bucket” project and building it out to a full sixteen minute epic, with four or five movements. The piece is called “Annulus” and it is based on a 2017 trip we took with a friend to Oregon, to view the total solar eclipse.
At the risk of getting way too conceptual, the five movements map to the five phases of a total eclipse: First and Second contact; Totality; followed by Third and Fourth contact, as the Moon’s disc passes and overlaps the Sun.
The corresponding musical sections are: Departure I; Arrival; Aperture; Circles; and Departure II.
These sections were all sketched out and re-arranged in the form of pure MIDI tracks of bass, piano, and percussion. Using MIDI instead of trying to record audio allowed me to play around with tempo and arrangements, and even some transposition, as I prepared to record the vocals.
Happy with the arrangement, tempo, and pitch, I recorded all the vocals, lead and harmony. Done!
(This is so different to how I used to create. I would spend hours and hours on the music before ever getting near the microphone to record vocals, only to discover that much of what I’d done had to be removed, or replaced, or rearranged to make space for the vocal lines. I’m going to try and avoid that way of working, in the future.)
To be honest, prior to recording the vocals, I had spent a lot of time with various piano patches and a LOT of reverb, working on some of the instrumental sections.
With the vocals done, I practiced and recorded fretless bass and chapman stick. Then, having built up both a familiarity with the music and also some callouses on my fingers, I wiped what I’d recorded and re-recorded the bass parts, better.
Next, drums. I find that bass followed by drums is best, because I’m much more likely to develop an interesting rhythm part as the bass part is refined, and then if I’ve already invested time in the drum tracks, I have to go back and re-do. So, bass comes first.
And now we’re caught up, because I “finished” the drum tracks this weekend. I solo’d the Bass and Drum buses and it all sounds pretty locked up.
I have a tendency to overplay (really?!?!) and so I know there will still be some refinement required, mostly removing unnecessary rhythm parts. But it’s a good place to stop for now.
Just for fun I took the Cakewalk project and shrunk it down to show the full extent of the project in full-screen:
There’s no guitars, and not much in the way of synths or other fairy-dust adornments. Just Vocals, Bass, Drums, and half-finished Piano tracks.
I’m thinking seriously about breaking up that 16 minute monolith into separate projects, for safety and simplicity and speed. I’m not sure where the breaks go – there are short instrumental bridges between each of the major slabs of composition and so I’d have to allocate them appropriately. Some thought required.
I think I’ll move on to recording guitars. Some of music currently realized as piano notes will have to come out to make room. There are some parts I hear as “hammond organ” in my head, so that’s coming up at some point. And definitely some more synth-y fairy dust.