As I posted at the beginning of February, I decided NOT to do RPM this year, and instead to finally record all of the saxophone and clarinet parts for the jazz album I started working on nearly a year ago.
As of today, it's done! I've posted the whole thing here:
it shows I'm logged in yet tells me I'm a guest...oh well
... Finished it Saturday, Mailed it Monday, finally got it uploaded to the Jukebox today... Awkward Paws is calling RPM 2015 done for the year!
CD has been received... and with just the ritual of uploading to the jukebox to complete, I guess that's it for this year.
So that's officially my 5th RPM album done and dusted.
Links to Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Alonetone, Facebook, Twitter on my profile.
Congrats to all that completed... now I think I've got some ideas brewing for 2016.
My 2015 submission is in the mail, mp3's are uploaded, and I have the day off tomorrow. I can't find anything else to do with myself; it's a strange feeling after a month of frenzied creativity. Some friends of mine headed south to get away from the cold. I, on the other hand, was right where I wanted to be; the rpm was my vacation. I feel like I've learned a great deal this month: I've learned more about recording, I feel that I've become more focused as player, and I've even learned more about the role music plays in my life. So I figure what better time than now is there for a retrospective?
The Technical Details
I began sorting out all the technical details of drum recording in late January. It was the only part of my record I completed off-site, at one of our rehearsal spaces in North Waterloo. It wasn't really the ideal arrangement, but the results exceeded my own expectations. Our jam space is located in a building used primarily for an industrial water blasting operation. While it had the advantage of permitting me to be as loud as I needed to be, it came with the drawback that the day-to-day workings of the company would often interfere with completing takes. I had to stop in the middle of takes just to wait for trucks to be gone or compressors to be shut off. On the drum tracks I did use, I'm pretty sure I can make out workers yelling at each other from across the shop.
I didn't have the luxury of multi-track drum recording, so I simplified my approach and adopted a Glyn Johns-style set-up, with a large-diaphragm condenser over the snare, and a ribbon mic to the right of the floor tom. I added a bass drum mic for that extra little it of umf. Mike, our guitarist, was kind enough to give me free reign of his gear. I then ran the mixer into a Roland CD-2e recorder which allowed me to save the single tracks as wav files on an SD card. Since I make dick all at my job, and I haven't bought a new computer in over four years, I lack the hardware necessary for most basic home recording. I know for a fact that my dinky HP net-book is far from having the necessary processing power (running a trial version of Ableton was enough to make it shit its pants). The solution was, I shit you not, an iMac G3 which ran Logic. My roommate Greg, acquired it from Long & McQuade when they were upgrading their system. I'm sure Apple fanboys are just dying to say "duh," but yes, it's still a solid machine. Of course, it doesn't take SD cards, so I had to transfer my drum tracks from the card to a USB stick to the iMac. It was a minor nuisance, yes, but definitely worth the effort.
Bass parts and synths were all DI'ed into a Tascam US-122 interface. The interface is, in this case, my own. It might sound like a pretty rustic set-up to the more seasoned home-recorders out there, but I've completed the RPM with a set-up even more ghetto than this. For instance, when I participated in 2010, I didn't even have an audio interface; I just plugged my mic directly into the eighth-inch jack on my laptop. Hell, I didn't even have the option of recording my own drums; i had to use the drum loops on a Digitech BP-200.
I used an assorted of different effects pedals, the majority of them belonging to Greg. In fact, I spent so much of this month asking him questions and molesting his equipment that I felt the need to credit him as a technical advisor in the album's liner notes. I used his Whammy pedal, his Boss DS-1, and his Yamaha DDS 20-M delay pedal (which is a kick-ass delay pedal, by the way). I used the same pedals in various combinations for vocal effects.
For the synth parts, I primarily used my own Kawai K4r and Greg's Roland MKS-7. I used my Monotron for a few parts where I wanted some dissonant noise.
Easily the song with the most straight-forward pop sensibility to it, it was the only song on the album where having a low voice was actually an advantage. To me, it sounds quite derivative of Death From Above 1979, which is why the lyrics are an attempt to parody their aesthetic. I mean, come on, it's a four-on-the floor track with a pronounced bass hook, and fuzzy synth drones (performed with the MKS-7). How could the lyrics not be about sex? I'm particularly fond of the line that leads into all the choruses: "Eat me out again, it's the bee's knees."
Test Pattern Theta Seven
As the name suggests, it's really just a test track; specifically, it was something I came up with while playing around with the K4r, with the organ preset. Of everything on the album, it's the most elegantly simple of the lot. I just droned on a few chords along to a beat, and made everything else around it. I was surprisingly pleased with the vocals for this one. In fact, it was the only song where I got a vocal take that I was happy with on the first run; I owe a great deal of this to the fact that I sang it through whammy and delay effects. This song also holds the distinction of being the only song that uses synthetic drums. I developed a certain fondness for it upon completing it, since I initially just considered it a filler track. It makes me think of the Knife or something from Radiohead's Kid A
This is the song that might make some think they're listening to a different album altogether. It's a departure from weird electronica to raunchy garage punk. It's the only song on the album that features any guitar, since I don't play guitar. My band-mate from Hellen Keller was good enough to provide his services. The title of the song was initially a double entendre on mitten strings and how stupid I thought the composition was (i.e., something a complete moron would right on a four-stringed instrument, as I compose most of my material on bass). Lyrically, it took on a life of its own, developing into a parable on passing superficial judgements on a person's intelligence, when they could very well be operating on a level beyond your comprehension. The verse features a speaker ridiculing the addressee for their "simpleton's strings"; the chorus features the response, "You're not so bright yourself. After all, it's just one string." Idiot String[s] was the last in a series of songs I completed at the beginning of the week devoted to vocals, when, as a courtesy to my neighbours, I wanted to get the loudest, nastiest vocal parts out of the way first (the others are South Paw and Major Cashin). On the recording, you can tell that I'm already exhausted from the previous two tracks. At one point, my voice cracks in a way that makes me sound like a dinosaur.
Major Cashin clearly derives from a sludgy, stoner rock aesthetic. It is, indeed, quite Killdozer-ish in composition and style (I used the DS-1 on the bass to give it a bit of a growl). It's also the closest thing on the album to a "political" song, although I hesitate to designate it as such. The samples are taken from the proceedings of the Newfoundland National Convention, with some strong words from Peter Cashin against confederation with Canada. Many might be quick to interpret the track as championing vulgar, idiotic, Newfoundland nationalist sentiments. Really, it's intended as an exploration of enduring Canadian attitudes towards Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Specifically, it addresses how arguably legitimate political grievances are dismissed in the most patronizing and belittling manner possible. "They're complaining about their deal with Quebec? Just remind them that they're better off anyway. Also, for good measure, remind them that they're such nice people who live in a beautiful province." Scroll down to the comments section of any National Post story about NL to see what I mean.
Although simplistic in a compositional sense, it's certainly the densest recording on the album. I recorded two synth tracks (one each from the K4r and the MKS-7); I couldn't decide which I liked more so I tried them together, and kept both. It features my girlfriend Wendy on violin as well. I even recorded a guide track for her on bass; I decided to keep most of it in since I liked the extra bit of droning at certain parts.
Lyrically, Berlin is the most introspective, personal, and verbose of the lot. The lyrics were the result of an early morning vocal session, when I still had the apartment to myself. The thematic basis of the lyrics is a quote from Goethe:
I am the worm that writes in dust; see
As in the dust it lives, and seeks to eat,
It's crushed and buried by the passing feet.
I wasn't sure what to sing for the middle break, so I just repeated the lines in a normal speaking voice as if they were some self-effacing mantra.
Persecutioner is a filler track, plain and simple. I realized, in the third week of the month, that I was three minutes shy of the 35 minute minimum, so I laid down a drum track, not really knowing what to do with it. I recorded a simple bass line the very same evening, after which I added synths, and some wanking on my Monotron, which I ran through a whammy pedal, and a multitap delay effect on a Boss VF-1 effects unit. I was too pressed for time to bother with vocals at the beginning of the song, so I used a sample from a Karl Jung interview.
Yeah, I'm just ripping off Lighting Bolt with this one. Oddly enough, I didn't even use anything like Brian Gibson's actual effects set-up on this one. Instead, I used my BP-200 effects pedal just for ease of use. I used the same pedal with a slow attack string effect for the violin part I played. The vocals I just ran though a multitap delay effect again (I haven't overused something this much since I first discovered Sriracha). The drums aren't as solid as I would have liked them to be; I didn't count on my right foot cramping up on me halfway through the song.
Clearly the nuttiest thing I've ever recorded, it was also, understandably, the most time-consuming. I used the DS-1 again for the bass, and the MKS-7 for the synth part. It's perhaps my favourite of the lot, just for how it changes so abruptly from one part to the other. I've been told that it's kind of like technical punk or math rock (like NoMeansNo for instance). I would suggest The Locust as another suitable comparison. As for the vocals, this song is undoubtedly the reason my neighbours hate me now, or just fear for their safety on account of the lunatic living in the adjacent apartment.
Pig Farmer isn't really a song as much as it is a form of auditory trolling. For good reason, I kept it short. The sample picks up from where it leaves off at the end of Major Cashin. There's not much too it, really. It's just a drum loop with a large room echo effect applied, and the Joey Smallwood being drowned out by pig squeals. I'd say I had some kind of message in mind, but really I just wanted to know what pig squeals would sound like through a whammy pedal.
That's all for another year. I don't know if anyone will bother read this, but I don't know if anyone will bother listening either, yet I still made. Certainly, mixing and mastering were the weak points of my work; I still have a great deal to learn. The vast majority of my energy was dedicated to the performative and compositional aspects of recording. I'm looking forward to taking a running start at it all next year, so I can do it better still.
So I am trying to do a little remixing now that RPM 2015 is in the can and off to the denizens of HQ. Some of the mixes sound a little brackish and harsh, others aren't as well balanced as they could be, and one I realized I sent off with the wrong bass track. I knew it was wrong because it has a nice number of mistakes in it. I remember rerecording that bass, sans errors. Ugh.
That's ok though, since it's all part of the RPM fun.
But what is interesting, and a little sad, are two things actually.
1. I couldn't get ANYTHING to sound right tonight. Nothing, nada, nyet, nicht, zip, and I couldn't figure out why. Well, it was when I turned my head right I noticed I could hear this high pitched sound. When I turned it back to center or to the left, I couldn't hear it. I tested this a few times. The high pitched sound was my computer's hum. I could hear it with my left ear, but not my right. It then occurred to my addled brain that I have a blocked up right ear from this low-grade cold I seem to have come down with in the last day or so. The reason everything sounded so off was because my right ear isn't hearing properly. That's a lot of mixing effort and frustration completely wasted. Nice work, Fox. ;)
2. I kept testing MP3s in my player to see how they sounded on my machine and other speakers. This also meant I kept remixing and loading those MP3s. You can probably see where this is going, which is more than I can say for me. I noticed after another load that I was in the player on the front page. Then I noticed I was all over the player. And then I remembered, the player isn't doing it's usual random fifty songs, it's playing the last uploads. And I thought "Nice work, Fox." So, I am sorry if I messed up your album debut in the player since I was messing with my mixes, oblivious to the world around me.
Looking forward to seeing (hopefully) a lot of you at the Portsmouth listening party at the end of the month.
a is for apathyb is for burntc is for cuntd is for destiny (rpm 07)
e is for everything (rpm 08)
Faithsg=gonehardest blowice castles, ice castles (rpm 09)
June(un) Kind (rpm 10)the LakeMurakamiNoelOrangePenance (rpm 11)Que Vive!
Respite (rpm 11)Sunny, sorta...Trials & Tribulations of a Long Term RelationshipUniform (rpm 12)the Vulnerary SongsWitch Twins Cat Ax (rpm 13)xChangeYield (rpm 14)ZEROAngie Fights Crime (rpm 15)
5 Years of RPM – A Review
It’s done. I’ve just completed the RPM Challenge for another year…that’s “35 minutes of recorded music or 10 songs during the month of February”. This year’s entry, entitled ‘Hector & the Hellcat’ makes five times I’ve done this exercise recording under the band name ‘Alive Underground’. I started back in 2008 with ‘Migration Song’, followed with ‘Still Kickin’ in 2009, ‘Cowtown Blues’ in 2011 and 2014’s ‘No Time (for Dreams)’.
‘Migration Song’ was a compilation of songs I’d been writing over several years beating the shipbuilding trail around North America; songs that gradually impressed upon me that I really enjoy turning a phrase. It’s something I’ve done my whole life kind of without even realizing it; muttering lyrics that came to me as I was doing other things. Every now and then a particular line would move me to jot it down. As time went by (as, thankfully it still does, I had a growing file of ‘Snippets’, as thankfully I still do) phrases & ideas became songs.
The subject matter of my writing has always been my experiences, my stories, my way of dealing with life and all its ups and downs. ‘Migration Song’ captures some of my first experiments in writing from the heart, from the first song I wrote specifically to learn a few guitar chords (‘Holes’ took about 25 or so years to get the last verse) to one I wrote entirely on the day that Dermot O’Reilly died (‘Old Irish Wake’).
That album was my first real experience recording my voice. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with how I sound on recordings but I’ve come to accept it. My friends tell me that really is how I sound so I suppose I’ve got to live with it! Suffice to say that I am no songbird. Nor, even after many years banging away on guitars, have I become a musician by ‘musician’ standards. Another thing I’ve come to accept. However, the snippets still keep coming so on I go. I couldn’t stop them if I tried.
‘Still Kickin’ came about from my having realized the world didn’t end as a result of my taking part in the Challenge the previous year so I included songs that I’d been working on (‘Outside, Looking In’, ‘Picture Me on a Highway’) plus a jumble of jams and things, singing lyrics direct from the Snippets pages freestyle and the appearance of my [then] young children having fun with microphones and instruments.
‘Cowtown Blues’ evolved at a low time in life. I was away working a contract in Calgary when my marriage fell apart and I was standing at an emotional crossroads. I was missing my children and pondering what was to come. I’m glad to say that my life has improved greatly since that time and although the album is probably the darkest I’ve done, It also has a couple of my favourite songs included on it (‘Train I Ride’, ‘The Wind’). Another item of note is that this album is when I got a little more focused on music production and bought a copy of Studio One DAW software. From here on there’s been a steep learning curve in the use of plugins and effects. The evidence of experimentation and my acceptance that this songwriting hobby is now becoming a calling of sorts is exhibited in all that comes afterwards. So far I’m not very good at the art of Recording Engineering but I take some pride in that I’m learning and that from every disaster there’s a lesson I’m taking away.
‘No Time (for Dreams)’ is a continuation in experimentation but I’m noticing a theme coming about in my writing; the rise of songs around a concept. I envisioned how the cultures of the indigenous peoples of Labrador (where I grew up) may have mixed with the settlers of European decent (‘Naskapi Dream’, ‘All the way to Sept Isles’). Also on ‘No Time…’ is a kind of anthem to live by (‘Something on my Mind’) and a straight ahead Blues number (‘Buy Them Just to Drive Them’) although that one doesn’t feel finished yet…not happy with the last verse. There’s the first introduction of the ‘Hellcat’ on this album as well, in ‘Watcha’ Gonna Do Boy?’. This one came about from trying out some of the drum loops on the DAW.
‘Hector and the Hellcat’, this year’s effort sees more theme oriented writing in ‘Eric’s Theme’, an uncompleted song that I’m working into a reoccurance where Eric represents the settler to the new world from the West Country of England. This mirrors my own family history as my early relative moved from there to Trinity in the 1700’s. I see ‘Eric’ popping up over time/history as a sort of ghost commentator in the story of Newfoundland & Labrador’s populating…in songs still incubating! This album is also the official debut of the Hellcat as a songwriter with ‘Who Said?’, a soft contemplative story of love not working out. ‘Leaving the Lovely Young Ladies’ is probably my best song yet in my mind. It’s the story of William, a boy coming of age joins the Blue Puttees and goes overseas to fight in the Great War. This is woven into a tale including the Canadian Fighting Forces as well, a tip of my hat to those who protect us. The cause of our veterans then and now is incredibly important to my psyche and cannot be understated. Although I’ve not been in the Forces I have met many that I call ‘friends’ as a result of personal experiences and my time in military shipyards and design offices.
So…this has been a little long winded but I think a good summary of the results of having the gumption to accept the RPM Challenge. It has helped me focus, gain confidence and grow as an artist. I’m now working on songs, new and old in an effort to assemble a ‘real’ album of original works to offer up for public consumption. I will continue to write, sing, paint and draw as I have always done. Hopefully meeting more talented people, telling stories, having a laugh and ultimately enjoying life as long as I have left, and as always, keep moving…it’s harder to hit a moving target!
Snowden March 2015.
Shockingly, mailed two disks yesterday.
Spent the last two weeks getting 3 hours of sleep a night, then two for a few nights. Did not fail to help the girl next door move and watch the Downton Abbey season finale (we host a little watching party every Sunday night for it) and also attempt to mix some songs.
As it turned out, I had as usual a huge number of song snippets - although with only two weeks of hardcore songwriting/creating/recording, I had an advantage over previous years in that at the end, I had only like 10 to 15 hours of tracks for sifting through instead of a whole month's worth (30?) so it was much more manageable. Still with shaky unprofessional mixes and performance, it was a thrill to actually have two disks worth of isolated "tunes". And for the first time I got to do some simple art and sleeves for them, before sending!
there was a thread about concept albums - I had not planned to do one but at the end, (say, Friday) I had about 3 songs with the moon in them, and some I could coax that way with some lyrics, and some that were instrumentals, almost all featuring my *NEW* $49 mandolin, which I ended up getting a kick out of playing since I don't necessarily like/listen/play countryfied bluegrass sounds at all, generally. So one album is 10 songs of moon influenced, acoustic heavy songs with a large amount of mandolin.
The other one is 15 kibbles and bits I could grab at the last minute to avoid being the mandolin moon guy. Some of them are still bounces from the first round of sketches earlier in the month… some new ones I liked too though, and no moon references, or heavy mandolin.
I most regret the 20 or so that I really still like and hope to refine. There are some great ones (imho) influenced by listening to all the RPM jukebox acts, everyone was sooooo good and diverse. I like the few loud poppier ones the best, and regrettably once I got doing the "La Lune et L'etoile" theme, I focused on scavenging acoustic songs for that instead of the louder or electric ones. Anyhoo, it is my most close to being "done" - which I certainly was not - to any RPM year ever. Pretty psyched about it… now eventually to see what I can do about the other ones, for a belated disk 3 of 60's and 70's psychedelic / BÖC-Foghat/powerpop perhaps. It was a fun year! Now off to listen to the player….
Here's what I did instead of RPM this year...
by Room 34
cant seem to start a new forum topic (for review)
...and that's done.
by Awkward Paws
It got there...
by Mac McIntyre
The Month in Review
by Stephen Aylward
That's Interesting, And A Little Sad
by Gary Fox
All of the Angie Fights Crime albums
by angie fights crime
5 years of RPM - A Review
by Alive Underground
by Christopher Booth
Shockingly, mailed two disks yesterday.
by Atlanta Trash Collective
Redefining The Rough Mix
by The Retarded Potentials
Eleventh Hour Guitar Heroics (some reflections)
by Pet Me
Seattle listening party for 2015
by Jim Kuenzer and John M Flores