Album Update 2

I thought I’d post the email I just sent out to the list here and remind anyone not subscribed to the email list (which is different from receiving the blog posts by email) to do so. Just follow the link in the sidebar to the right in order to do so.


It’s been a pretty productive week in the basement this time around.

1) I practiced a lot of violin on my new violin which arrived on Wednesday. Hoping to squeeze some of my violin playing in on this album, but we’ll see if my playing is up to snuff in time for some very simple violin parts. I’ve been listening a lot to the Schindler’s List soundtrack with Itzhak Perlman — some gorgeous violin on that soundtrack.

2) I became obsessed with gypsy flamenco music, practiced a lot of flamenco guitar, and wrote a flamenco inspired song on the story of the giants that Anodos and his two friends the princes fight. The verses and chorus are written and recorded for the music and the lyrics are about a third of the way there. I’m loving the soundtrack flamenco music from the indie film Vengo which I’m trying to get a-hold of to watch… a harder task than it might at first sound.

3) I finished (I think?) recording the first track ‘Enter Faery’ which has an orchestra and a choir of me singing. It’s super epic. I’m tempted to release it to this email list as a sneak peak to the album. We’ll see.

4) I wrote most of the maid of the alder song and will be sending a rough draft off to Amy to record her vocal parts tomorrow (hopefully). It’s turning out pretty cool I think, and it will be a much more successful attempt at EDM than Death Be Not Proud, this time inspired by the genre of vocal trance as opposed to dubstep.

5) I continue to be stumped by my song ‘Rusted Armor’ sung from the perspective of the knight when Anodos first meets him. I have the lyrics and acoustic guitar written for it, but I can’t get instrumentation to the song to my liking. I like the song a lot as I’m playing it on my acoustic guitar, but getting it into a recorded song is proving quite difficult. Hopefully this week I’ll be able to get it down to my satisfaction.

Looks like I’ve successfully conqured my inherent lazy tendencies for another week and sent out an update. Until next week, cheers! (and thanks for subscribing)

The Phantastes Project

This is by far the most ambitious project I’ve taken on musically. I realize that more clearly 4 weeks into the composition and recording process. I had the idea quite a long time ago, and it’s been stewing in the back of my mind for a while now. I wrote the bridge to the song of the Beech tree shortly after reading the book for the first time, and then decided that I wanted to do a concept album on the book shortly thereafter. Whenever I had the opportunity to do another album, which happens to be now. Phantastes is an absolutely magical book, and I was completely enthralled the first time I read it (and the times thereafter). To me it is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature that I’ve ever read — the imagery, feelings, moods, characters that MacDonald evokes do nothing less than get me high on pure beauty.

It’s certainly a challenge to capture the magic that I get from reading MacDonald in music and poetry, though he makes the task easier by being so poetic in his writing. I’ve encouraged a number of friends to read the book, and oddly enough many have been baffled by the book. Maybe on deeper thought it’s not so puzzling that the book would not appeal to many, because MacDonald I will admit is not the best of writers in terms of style outright. But the underlying current of the river! On the surface it may not be much to look at, but the power with which it flows is to me amazing. One of my hopes is to make the book a tad more accessible by presenting some of the things that I see in it — interpreting MacDonald with a modern sensibility.

Writing an album inspired by a piece of literature has been quite different from my normal practice of introspective philosophizing, and there are parts that are both harder and easier about it. On the one hand, I don’t sit around for several days trying to pin down the theme or topic for a song, on the other hand, I have to try and craft the songs to match the story and fit the music into a semi-predefined structure. On the whole I think it’s a bit easier, as I can always go back to the book for inspiration, which I find helpful. I think the scope of the project has lent an epic sort of tinge to the music, which I find quite pleasing. I’m trying my hand for the first time at a pretty orchestral arrangement for the intro, and I am quite pleased with the results. Starhymn from Somewhere Along the Way was one of the most popular songs (along with Till We Have Faces) and I think the intro here takes a queue from the really big spacious feel of Starhymn. Except on steroids. Which is pretty awesome if you ask me. The choral part for the intro is turning out superbly epic and I think will do fair justice to introduce MacDonald’s story. In general I am loving the sort of orchestral approach to composition, and look forward to delving deeper into it in the future. I’m not sure how much more room I’ll have on this album to work it in, but at least for the ending as well as the intro.

Choosing the styles and genres of music to bring in for different parts of the story has been rather fun as well. I’ve always enjoyed synthesizing different styles of music into mine and this time around I’ve got a pretty great Delta Blues song, a pretty jazzy song (with a lot of cool major 7 voicings on the piano xD), an alternative rock song, and an electronic pop / vocal trance inspired song thus far on the tracklist. I’m trying to pull in a little bit of a middle eastern sound at some point, and I’m shooting for a prog / art rock Tool-inspired rock song for the Ash. There are also three songs with guest singers that I’m in the process of getting worked out. All in all, an experimental mish-mash per my usual.

I’ve also been seriously considering making this album into one track for a while. Not as much because I think my album should be listened to as a whole (though I certainly do think that), but because I feel that people are inclined to listen to music on a song-by-song basis. And to me that destroys ones ability to appreciate a truly great record. Albums in general should be listened to as a whole. You should take the time to sit down and carefully listen to a collection of music that an artist has compiled, because otherwise it just becomes background noise. And don’t get me wrong, I use music as background noise a lot, and I think there’s a place for that, but one should also take the time to sit down and appreciate music as art. And in order to do that you need to sit down and listen through an entire album as an experience. So, not as a statement not so much about my music in particular, but about a lot of artists music in general, I’ve been contemplating making my album into one track so that it’s not as easy to just listen to a few songs here and there. There are, of course, many downsides to this decision, and lately I’ve been leaning more towards going the traditional route of dividing the album into individual songs (which is the way it’s written). But on still torn on the matter. I guess I’ll leave that decision until I finish the album and I have to make a choice in order to get the thing printed. Ah well.

Well, there you have nearly a thousand words of me rambling on. I don’t suspect anyone will ever read this anyways (unless I become famous… but that will never happen because I don’t write popular worthy music), but there you have it.

On My Style and Current Project

I think that writing helps my creative process in writing this album, so I’m going to try and write a few blog posts to get some ideas out of my head and onto paper.

I had a lot of thoughts coming into this album project which I’ve been working on for 3 or 4 weeks now. First of all, recording albums (a process which includes writing most of the music and lyrics) are some of my favorite times in life. It’s not often that I get to devote all of my time and mind to a project which I’m in love with, and there’s something very satisfying about spending the whole day locked away writing music and lyrics, playing with mixing tools and ideas, learning new drum, piano, singing and guitar playing techniques, and all the other things that come along with this process. I find this single minded focus very fulfilling. It’s certainly not all roses, and there are days when I feel lethargic and uncreative, and it’s a struggle to get just a few lyric lines written. This time around I’ve been trying to figure out what affects my feeling creative, without much success so far.

One thing that’s been great about this process is that it’s given me the ability to listen carefully and critically to music again. I’ve found that in the past few years my ability to really listen to music has gone down hill quite a bit. But now that I’m in the creative process, everything I listen to gets picked apart in terms of mixing (what is that synthesizer they’re using in this song? Did they use a plate, spring or hall reverb? What sort of compressor(s) was used on these vocals?) and composition / orchestration (can I take something from this chord progression? Any interesting harmony going on? Maybe I can take that type of drum sound for the chorus I’m working on…).

In the past number of years since my last album (4 1/2 ish I think by now?) I’ve broadened my listening horizons significantly, and it’s showing in my composition. I’ve decided that when people ask me what genre of music I write from now on I’m going to say Experimental Pop. I came up with the term myself, but upon writing it here I checked wikipedia and lo and behold, there’s an article on experimental pop. After skimming it just now it actually sounds exactly how I was thinking of the term. What do you know, I discovered the genre of my music while writing a blog post about it. The reason I coined the (apparently) unoriginal term experimental pop is because my music at it’s core is indeed pop music. By pop music I don’t mean radio music — I use the term a bit more precisely and broadly to mean popular music in general, which would include much rock, radio music, rap, contemporary folk, certain electronic music, etc. Though I’m currently trying to move into the complex and intricate, my music has always been more or less simple and melodic. I’ve always tried to push my boundaries when it comes to drawing musical ideas from different genres, and that’s where the experimental part comes into my music. It’s highly experimental in that I’m always listening to different types of music and trying to bring their stylistic devices into my own composition.

(sidenote: So, while writing this I’m listening to some of the artists listed on the wikipedia page for experimental pop, and I’m not sure I would sound much like most of these artists, however, I still really like the term experimental pop and will from now on label myself that way)

I think that my attitude towards music in this way is a reflection of my general attitude towards a lot of things. I try to be as broad-minded as I can, always expanding my intellectual horizons and leaving room for questions. I don’t like to crystallize truth because I feel like my understanding of truth is something that should always be growing and maturing. Life isn’t crystal after all, but fluid. That doesn’t mean that my understanding of reality is always fundamentally shifting, but I hope that it’s growing in nuance and detail.

 I think I’ll write a separate post on the conceptual ideas I’m tossing around for this Phantastes album that I’m working on now, just had to get some rambling out of my system first.