Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Acoustica... and onwards

A realised a few weeks ago I've released 4 album in 12 months as of June this year.

The journey started mid 2016 with the beat & loop orientated "Sojourn" and culminated in "Acoustica" a reworking of tracks from my back-catalogue, all re-recorded on a nylon string guitar at 432Hz tuning.

Acoustica was a great opportunity to reinterpret and experiment with existing songs. It was all recorded in Reaper and all came together relatively quickly.

So having had such a creative 12 months I've decided to take considerably longer working on my next album.  A few reasons, firstly I'd like to continue to explore playing acoustically.  Secondly I'd like to add some strings, synths, keyboards etc. There's some soundscapey ideas I started to explore with "Sojourn" that I'd like to take further.  I really haven't made an album in this way since my 2nd release "Montage (music for a quiet space)". Thirdly, I'm also using Cubase (Elements) as my DAW. I've only ever used it for mastering so I'm excited about using it for a whole album.

Next year also marks 10 years since the release of Heartland (all recorded on a 4-track Boss Micro-BR and mixed in Wavepad and Garageband). Things have come a long way since then. So while there'll be no 10 year Anniversary deluxe vinyl reissue, in the not-so back of my mind I'm mentally sketching out plans for a special 10 year anniversary compilation album, to include pieces from various albums over the last decade With some tracks I've found the original recording stems (on 1 & 2 GB SD cards), so I'm looking forward to remixing some of the tracks.

The other thing is that music is changing and I'm doing a bit of catch-up. While Bandcamp continues to serve as my primary source for releasing material, I've started to release a few things on CD Baby which also makes some of my material available on streaming services.  Works in progress will still appear on Soundcloud, but it is hard to ascertain how long that platform will be around given the rumours of its possible demise.

Stay tuned...

Notes on making Watching the Fading Light

Every album brings it's own challenges and happy accidents.

Time spent noodling on the guitar and playing around with guitar pedals within the last few weeks has given birth to a few new sounds,  new songs and a new album.  Completely unintentional.

Having produced my last album solely in Linux (Ardour) I wanted to still use guitar pedals for the sound but wanted to experiment a bit more with plug-ins for added effects (something I've tended to steer away from a long time).

As much as I enjoyed recording in Ardour (for the previous album) I decided I needed a slightly larger palette for this album.

So over the last few weeks I've experimented with a few well known DAW's and after some (free) trials and error I've decided to settle on Reaper.  I like the interface, the ability to adapt it and as I've discovered it's incredibly stable.  The effects have been great and I've been surprised by how just adding a few effects (reverse and reverb) can totally shift the feel and sound of a track.

Musically, the album takes inspiration from Rain Tree Crow, Michael Brook, Daniel Lanois and the b-sides and more experimental tracks by U2 circa The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. 2 tracks in particular became very soundscapey and cinematic. Although a handful of tracks were recorded in Ardour I've been able to transfer the tracks into Reaper where they've been tweaked, additional effects added and mixed. Although I was tempted initially to leave them off the album, there's something about their rawness and experimental nature I like.

The album went from go to woah within a few weeks. It's the quickest that an album has come together for me. I like the immediate nature of it but also some of the experimental things that happened. There's a few quite atmospheric tracks, Desert Ghost & Shallow Waters come to mind.  Soundcape for the Bilderberg Group came around out of an improvisation (most of my stuff does), the title inspired by reading a Jon Ronson book.

Some of the music came about from listening to Michael Brook and watching The Edge experiment with guitar (particularly around The Unforgettable Fire).  And for me it was a bit like a return to my early days and experimenting with music for the Heartland album. There are parts of this album that evoke a sense of landscape.   Also a nod to Devin Townsend. I watched some footage of him using his Ocean Machine pedal and using delay-reverb-delay. So I hooked up a few of my own pedals and experimented with the same effects chain. I certainly got some interesting effects. One of the other things I got to use more this time around was the e-bow.

There is little joy in recording an album that drags on for months or even a year or more.  And for all the hours that go into it, does anybody really care?  There's something about that initial spark or experimental or accidental moment that makes recording exciting for the musician.  It avoids making an album seem like a chore (and I've had a few of those).

The final mixing and mastering was inspired by the final albums of Talk Talk & Mark Hollis.
I read a few chapters of a book called The Spirit of Talk Talk and this influenced the final mixes and mastering.  There is definitely a sense of space and quiet within the album. Space for some nano-reflections. There's some incidental and possibly accidental notes and sounds.  There's also some deliberate sounds, sounds from the outback, streams and night noises.

The other thing I did with this album was think of it as a vinyl album with a A-Side & B-Side.  But what does that really matter. People can select particular songs, shuffle the tracks or make their own playlist.  What happens from here is outside of my control. 

It may be my imagination but it feels like the album gets quieter as it goes along. 

Perhaps part of that transition away from Apple to Linux made me consider what's important and how little I really need in the way of tools to make music (and album artwork).  So potentially my next album could be more more minimal and stripped back.