I’ve been spending a lot of time in the back office over the past few weeks.
Every line of work has its front office and back office. The front’s the shiny, sparkly stuff, the reasons people are originally drawn to he job. The back’s the unseen paddling below the waterline which keeps the whole show on the road. Not, in other words, the glamorous end of things, nor even – except in its own specific terms – particularly exciting.
In a musical life, the front stuff would be, of course, performing, recording, writing. Perhaps doing the publicity and interview rounds fall in there as well, along with the social media dance. One doesn’t have to take particular enjoyment out of doing this stuff for it to be front office (it’s all work, after all); but anything which involves the manifestation of The Artist’s Wonderfulness is out there, out front.
In the back office the numbers get crunched and more and more numbers are involved in the business of music. Obviously there’s basic accounting, there’s budgeting, there’s that whole bizarre guesstimate world of projected figures for sales and audience attendance. Usually these days margins are fine. A tour can stand up or fall down entirely based upon one single gig coming through or being cancelled and naturally commitment to a tour has to be made long before every element is in place.
(I haven’t, of course, been buried in tour spreadsheets in this period but they’re an important part of Back Office world….)
When it comes to preparing for records to come out there’s a whole welter of numbers which have to be created, sourced, entered correctly in order for the whole thing to run at all, let alone smoothly. Every song has to have a unique numerical I.D. in itself and another one to signify which physical medium it’s present on. It has to have a similar I.D. in the purely digital world. Any slips here – or in the various barcodes which have to be attached – and the downward slope beckons.
Most of the work isn’t numerical but simply organisational. Check and recheck – especially necessary with this ageing brain…. And of course – this is the modern world – wait in, seemingly endlessly, for collections and deliveries.
I don’t mean to whinge about this. I’ve been doing it for years and if I hadn’t taken on the responsibility many years ago I simply wouldn’t have had a career at all. It’s also true to say that it’s doing the back office work which leaves me free in the creative, front office one. That wouldn’t be the case if I was beholden to others.
One strange thing though: from time to time one can mess up creatively (in comparative terms) and still, as a rule, come back unscathed. But it only takes one major error of judgement in the Back Office for the whole house to come down, potentially permanently.
In any event, most of my office work is now done. Expect me to be back stage centre in a matter of days, thumping the tub for the upcoming new recordings….
I’m sorry to have to report that after a short illness my dear friend Stuart Gordon died late last night, 28th August.
I had so many adventures with him in music and in life and his loss is nigh unbearable.
I have no other words for now.
Naturally, it turned out to be a longer process than I’d anticipated but I did manage to complete the mixing of the new recordings by the end of June; or, at least, finished *one* of the sets of mixes of the recordings.
As will eventually become clear upon release this album is a multi-headed beast and each one of those heads has to present a subtly different sonic appearance. Any change in one potentially meant a necessary, subtle, adjustment in another.
So most of July has been taken up with intensive listening and then the process of micro-management. At this end of the operation a lot of the effort has to be devoted to coming at things afresh, as though knowing nothing at all about the pieces. It certainly hasn’t been a question of listening ot the same things in all-day-long sessions.
Rather, I’ve had to make my mind blank (in terms of what I think are really good and, conversely, potentially iffy, passages). Each time I had a listen-through, of course, I’d take notes but deliberately didn’t refer to them before the next run-through. Therefore the matters which needed to be addressed (of mixing, of ordering, of pacing) would only be those which showed up a number of times in the collected notes.
(As an aside, I do use up a lot of paper in the course of making a record; it’s a much more reliable, if time-intensive, form of record than notes made on a computer. And it’s always possible to backtrack on the paper trail. I *don’t* save any of this stuff when the project’s done though….)
Finally, now, I’m happy with things in all the forms in which they occur. The record’s done. Just the small matter of the cover, now, remains – and sorting out all the Biz stuff of release schedules and so on. So it’s not exactly about to be on your shelves in the next couple of weeks….
Sorry if I’ve seemed a tad mysterious about the nature of this release. All will, I hope, become clear in a later post, once I have a release date to hand.
Meanwhile, on the other wing of things, there’ll also soon be a live VdGG release, taken from our touring of last year. So I’ve also lately been spending some time going through incoming mixes from HB of all *that* madness.
Good clean fun….and more to come. Next week, a one-off solo show and a first visit for me to Romania.
So, as I intimated might be the case, I’ve finally managed to miss the month of May in terms of getting a Journal entry up here.
I have, though, been working towards – and meeting – a more serious deadline at the end of last month: I’ve now managed to do mixes for all of the pieces set for the next solo album.
As you’ll all know, this set of recordings has been under way for a long, long time and it’s really quite something to have arrived at a stage where they *could* be in a releasable state.
It’s been interesting to come back to all these songs for the mixing. Since they’ve been recorded over such protracted period (and in fits and starts) I haven’t held a definite memory of each one throughout the process and therefore haven’t really known what’s coming as I loaded each one up. There were *lots* of things which I’d completely forgotten about, many of them given cryptic (or no) names which didn’t really reveal much of a clue as to their nature in advance of hearing them.
In way this meant that I didn’t feel particularly precious towards any of the parts and so was fairly liberated in re-imagining what each piece should be made up of in its final form. In other words, fast decisions at the end of a long and painstaking progress. There’s been a degree of instantaneity of response in these mixing sessions which has made them very much of The Now.
Mixing’s one of the things which has changed the most in the entire recording process over the years. When I began making records it was very much a question of simply balancing the tracks which had been laid down. Reverb was restricted to (probably only one) Plate Echo and delay to tape machines. By the time VdGG was fully under way quite a lot more outboard effects were available. But because the resulting mix was going down to a single 1/4” tape it was still very much happening in real time and became in itself something of a performance. The more complicated the moves that needed to be made then the more pairs of hands were needed to make them.
That’s something which has disappeared over the years. First, automated desks came in, so that minute adjustments could be made, accurately and repeatedly. These days the advent of computer recording means that the moves can be made in software land as well as onboard desks. Often modern mixes are made “In the Box” – entirely within the computer.
I must say that I still miss something of the mix-as-performance, the feeling that This One is (and is going to be) the definitive version. Of course, I appreciate the fact that one can go back and adjust things and wouldn’t *really* want to go back to that Analogue path in toto…but I still try, at least in part, to act on impulse.
So as I’ve said I’ve now got *some* versions done of each track. It’s likely that over the coming weeks they’ll all be tweaked or, indeed, completely reworked. But another plateau of achievement in the process has been reached and, for all that a degree of thought, consideration, work remains, the end of the project is now in sight.
I’m just back from another trip to the Gouveia Art Rock Festival. As ever, it was a most enjoyable and civilised experience.
This time, of course, I was playing the music from “Otherworld” with Gary Lucas and I realise that I’ve said nothing at all about our live outings with this music.
We’d always been (quietly) confident in our ability to bring the spirit of the recordings to the stage, especially since there are never more than a couple of guitars each playing on the disc, rather than it being an orgy of overdubbing. Both of us, though, spent quite a bit of time prepping for the event before finally meeting up in a small London rehearsal room a couple of days before the Union Chapel show at the end of February.
As it turned out the rehearsals were very straightforward. The “songs” elements pretty well played themselves, apart from a couple of spots where we needed to apportion crucial elements of arrangement as one or the other’s responsibility. More surprising was the fact that the more open, sonic, improvisatory material also came through immediately in a strong structural sense. I only say it was surprising because, of course, all these pieces had been studio creations/accidents in the first place and nearly all had undergone considerable editing in order to reach their final shape.
Two days was plenty in preparation and we moved on to Islington in good heart. It’s something of an unusual venue but of course one with a great deal of history for me and it was good to be back.
From the earliest stages of planning Gary and I had decided to concentrate on the songs/pieces from “Otherworld” rather than spreading the net wider. At first we hadn’t been sure that we’d be able to play all of it but having managed that in rehearsal (and n principle) it meant that we only needed another couple of items to make up the set. Out of the many candidates from our respective careers we felt that in the end Gary’s “Lady of Shalott” and my “Primo” were the two which best fitted into the flow and spirit of the proposed set.
Away we went. Not without a few alarums and excursions but in a flash the show was done, to great satisfaction all round. As if we’d really needed to, we’d proved that the stuff was *not* some studio artifice but some genuine wonky two-man work.
There were nearly two months between the London show and the Gouveia one. Quite long enough to forget not only the tunes but also the effects settings and set-ups. So I believe both of us had a bit of homework to do in advance of our Portugal trip.
If anything this show was even more wild. For myself, I went severely off piste in a couple of places…but also hit some really good spots in others, especially from a singing point of view. In any event we were a long, long way from going through the motions….
Who knows when the next show may be? As of now I only know of one confirmed solo gig upcoming, in Romania in August. (Details can, as ever, be found at http://www.sofasound.com)
Strangely, though, there is the potential to continue what’s currently a three-sided career, solo, with VdGG and with Gary. We’ll see what emerges.
For now though, the decks are completely cleared. I really have to use my best efforts to finish this solo record in May….
Enough from me for now. Incidentally, I’m glad to have continued the tradition of posting an entry here in the very last hours of the month!
Many thanks for all the “Get Well” messages which came in after last month’s entry.
It’s been a slow and quiet month for me but I’m now back at work on the album. Which means, of course, that there’s very little to see around here that’s immediately newsworthy. Gradually, though, things move towards completion. Or at least, mixing!
You’ll note that I’m posting this entry, as so often in the past, on the last day of the month. When I began this journal I promised that I’d put something up on a monthly basis and remarkably – if by the skin of my teeth – I’ve managed it up till now. Usually I’ve had some idea bubbling away about what my topic will be but have left it to the last minute to do the actual writing. This hasn’t really been an imposition and I’ve enjoyed the discipline involved.
I’ve now decided, though, that I’m no longer going to guarantee an entry every month, so that the (this) last-minute dash will no longer be a feature..
In part this is because last month’s post-instead-of-a-post raised such concerns for my health. I have to say straight away that while this has been some way sub-par in this period I’ve *not* been in any life-threatened state. Inevitably, though, sooner or later, there’ll be something genuinely and immediately of Bad News. Simply put, as and when that happens I’d really rather that it’s not publicly tracked by the appearance or non-appearances of journal, twitter or website entries. If I fall publicly silent for awhile I’d like it not to have any greater significance than the blessed quiet that results!
In other words, the private life remains private. All of this near-public stuff is, in truth, playfulness and I don’t want it to become duty. In any event, I remain of the opinion that whatever I have to say is still best expressed in the work rather than these sometime missives.
Just as I’m *not* retiring from live and recorded performances I’m *not* saying that I’m going to stop putting up entries here. Who knows, there might even be more than one a month at times. (Unlikely, I know…)
But let’s face it, a bit of slowness really is in order for me at the moment. Then hopefully I can keep up the intensity when I’m fully engaged in the work.
Don’t worry, I’ll be back in due course….
I’ve been under the weather for a few days so find I’m not up to making a journal entry this month.
Apart from this: sometimes mind, body and spirit all need a Good Lie Down.
I hope normal service will be resumed imminently.
I spend most of my working life alone in a room and much of that is spent waiting for inspiration. Since there’s no-one else too consult or argue with I listen to the work in progress again and again, examining it from different angles to see what should be added or subtracted in order to make it right. My opinion’s gradually formed by the graduall accretion of listens.
As has always been clear, I’ve been keen to keep a certain element of chaos involved in the recording progress and that’s, actually, pretty easy for me to do. I don’t read or write music of course and, over many years, have approached recording in a way which evokes action painting as much as it does formal arrangement. Certainly, t’s rare for me to start off a song with *any* idea of where it’s going to end up. (At least, that’s the case in solo work – if I’m writing for VdGG I have the imagined musical voices of HB or Brain somewhere in mind….)
So, in fact, most of the time I have to guess what additions will contribute well to the current available musical space. Or, indeed, what will maintain the essential openness. I’ve never had any pretensions to virtuosity as a musician, so in turn I have to be aware of my technical limitations when it comes to what will be overdubbed. Blistering solos are rarelty the ideas which come to mind as being the best way to move a piece forward. Generally, though, I do have some idea of the sonic territory which I’m looking to expand on or into.
It has to be said, of course, that listening to any work-in-progress is heavily skewed towards whatever is the most recent musical addition. It’s this that’s presented in pride of place, even if, in fact, it’s *not* an essential architectural part. Always, though, there’s the knowledge that the final, finished, work will involve a degree of cramming together in order to find a coherent mix for the whole.
Most of my time, then, is gathered up in calm(-ish), gradual consideration. Sometimes, though, a lucky patch hits and I’m hurtled right back into the wonderful hurly-burly and instant gratification which is the real world of the studio. I had such a run a couple of days ago.
The piece I was working on was, to be honest, the one in the worst shape of any on this particular project atr the time. It had a guitar, a couplpe of pretty average and messy stabs at a bass pars and a gesture at lead vox…and, indeed, only rough lyrics. Such notes of prospective amendments as I had seemed to indicate redoing most, if not all, of these p[rts and beyond that I really wasn’t sure where to take it.
The timing was pretty sloppy too. I don’t mind that in principle – there’s always a bit of life in a straying beat – but in this case I’d started without any semblance at all main beat and hence it was all over the place.
So first I retrospectively added some various simple pulses. Having done so, fairly radical editing and shifting of the guitar part was in order. Suddenly it began to sound rather more promising. I even managed to salavage a coherent bass part out of the original efforts, by radically reducing the amount played. This was something of a result, as I’d imagined I’d have to start from scratch on the instrument.
I had enough now to feel much more confident about doing a proper vocal. It’s also the case (pretty obvious, I suppose) that when things are getting real in the L Vox stakes then the final lyrics are also forcing their way forward into the frame.
So suddenly the song was becoming a serious proposition.
So far, so normal, actually. What came in the next 48 hours, though, was really quite out of the ordinary.
I had an inkling that some B Vox might work and set to work in my usual fashion, experimenting with lines and positioning. Over a couple of hours I found a two-part harmony which ran right down the song, sometimes in agreement, sometimes in oppostion to, the main vocal. And in my normal way of working (this is one of the skills I *have* got) I tripled up each line. Very warm.
I also found a couple of places where the B Vox could go off completely on their own, both in the middle section of the song – which had been spectacularly empty up till this point – and in an extended coda, which was also completely new.
The piece was transformed and, perhaps more importantly, structurally sound.
Over the next day I had an inspired – or supremely lucky – period of recording. Every idea I came up with worked out spontaneously and immediately in terms of sound, instrument, approach. That’s prettty rare: usually one has to work through some erroneous first takes and misjudgements. Swiftly, I overdubbed sevral different parts, some purely sonic, using various keyboards and guitars. Each one of these was absolutely instinctive and improvisatory.
All of these dubs were in themselves fairly simple…the cumulative effect, though, was to make the piece fully complete. None of the dubs in themselves had totally altered the structure; but sometimes adding atmos and angle in the background ushers in major change in overall effect.
This is the wonder of recording. What had not been there at all two days before was now safe and complete. That’s why I still love and am fascinated by the studio process.
Still, after all these years, when I hit one of these passages I just keep hitting that replay button going “well, where did all that come from?”.
Yet there it is.
The year’s almost done and it’s only a matter of hours before we welcome in 2014.
Of course this also means that there’s only a little over a month before the release of my collaboration with Gary Lucas, “Otherworld”, which is out (on Esoteric) on February 3rd.
When Gary arrived at my studio in January we didn’t exactly have a grand plan about what we’d attempt. We were simply going to dive into some work and see what emerged. Gary had promised to create some dark guitar soundscapes out of improvisation and also had, in his words, some instrumental frameworks which might become actual songs.
For my part I’d prepped – in the most open way I could – for the project by recording some semi-ambient pieces using loops and long delays and I, too, had come up with a couple of loose song ideas. (These latter were, of necessity, some way away from the “current” solo album in style.) I also had a couple of basic beats which I thought might act as a springboard for other ideas.
Obviously we were coming at things from slightly different angles, since Gary’s a guitar virtuoso and I – though I can hold my corner in my own peculiar way – am decidedly not!
After the usual technical set-up stuff, we were immediately away into the first of several soaring improvisations by Gary, ranging from the ethereal to the fully unhinged. Wonderful stuff. Then he began on the “instrumental frameworks” – which turned out to be pretty fully realised backing tracks, impeccably performed over a couple of takes each.
Advancing to “my” pieces, Gary then overdubbed in a fully sensitive improvised manner.
We charged through the work in a couple of days and ended up with a whole load of material of wildly varied character. It was clear that not only were we on the same wavelength regarding the project but that we emphatically had the makings of an album in the bag.
For my part, I still had a great deal of work to do. The main task was to find the top lines and, of course, lyrics for the “actual song” pieces. There was also considerable editing to be done on the more spacey material and of course I also got to do my own overdubs on top of Gary’s parts.
Eventually the shape of the whole thing was there and Gary returned for a final couple of days of dubbing, this time somewhat more considered.
We’ve ended up, I think, with something quite strange but also strangely powerful. The music veers from some kind of roots territory to wild sound collages. All of it – bar a couple of pieces of found sound – is produced by our guitars and my voice (those beats, having served their purpose, were removed from the mix!).
It has, I suppose, some of the characteristics of a warped folk music…from another world.
Next, as a further challenge, we’ll be performing the stuff live, in a one-off show at the Union Chapel in London on February 21st. Very exciting and somewhat daunting!
Here come some links….
For a sneak preview of the music you can go here: fb.me/6CavaHkPR
To order a copy in advance: http://www.sofasound.com/misccds/otherworld.htm
To book tickets for the London show: http://bit.ly/IPqmA1
And with that I bid you all a Happy New Year. More, different stuff to come in 2014!
Move along, nothing to see here…
Just a chap getting on with recording his latest album. That’s exciting internally but as far as the outside world’s concerned…pffft!
It shows how long the process has taken this time that I’ve gone from having to have the fan going to cool things down to, now, having to put the radiators on well before I go in to start work for the day.
Things are now at the stage where if I were a writer of prose I’d be spending a good deal of time staring vacantly into space. In both that discipline and this one (of music) one has to wait for the right tone to be struck, the word to arrive.
Words (The Lyrics) *have* arrived in the current project and so have top lines, so there’s a semblance of lead vocal now laid down on all tracks. Whether they’ll all survive – or whether they need to be bolstered by harmonies or supported/undermined by B Vox – is, of course, a matter for the future.
So, it’s an album of songs, that’s established. But the nature of the songs here is a long way from conventional, even by my standards. I won’t go further than that at this stage, save to say that only a couple of pieces here come from what might be considered a traditional starting point.
Hence the staring into space. I have to look to fill in on what are already angular and/or skeletal structures. Generally that means deciding upon an improvisational angle to come in on – and, instinctively, finding a sound/instrument which will suit. Once those things are decided I’m doing my best to work quickly and in the moment. It’s the run-up to the moment that takes the time…
I’m not looking to myself for virtuoso stuff , naturally. But by now I’m more or less aware of my own capabilities and am comfortable enough in not having anything to prove that any attempts at showing off would be useless in any case. Economy of effort and of expression are ever more important to me.
As ever, once I’ve decided on a given course of action I go into record from the very outset. Often the first unknowing stab at a part will have a charm and naturalness which more considered efforts lack.
Well, this one’s still got another couple of months in the making, I reckon, by the time the holiday season has swung around. Doubtless it’ll be quite different from the current state of things as well in its finished form.
It’s now at that point where every song could go in a number of different directions and I’m free – and delighted – to follow each one. Later, things which I’ve spent hours on will be discarded. But they all have to be tried and tested to reach that stage…
Pauses, sits. Stares at the screens. Grabs a guitar….