Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Energy of Spring

Like the magnetic power of a waxing moon, this springtime buzz has been slowly seeping into everything. Ready. Steady. Goforth. Walkin' on the balls of my feet again and smilin' for no particular reason. Has Spring got a hold of you yet?
It's so good to smell the earth - to sense its unfurling underneath you, sending waves of brown and green scents to dance and flirt with the air, lovely for the allergic and asthmatic, it's true, but what a great pain to have, huh?

The songbook is almost finished and while I continue to knock out pages for that, I'm simultaneously working up charts for the songs that Mohave will play at the Central Florida Fair on April 29th. It's their 95th year. I think it's our seventh. It's one of our favorite shows to play each year (how can you beat milling about between sets eating polish sausage sandwiches and grilled corn on the cob? or riding something puke-inspiring?) and we've got a great line-up assembled for this outing. Kristi Kief, who just recorded "Music" with us, will be on drums and steel pans. Mark Kring will perform bass guitar - I had the opportunity to share a jam with Mark and local guitar hero Roger Zimish not too long ago; he's a magnificent bassist. Our man-on-the-harp Charles Stansell will be there and I'm still looking to rustle up another utility performer - I've got a phone number that's got the dreaded tri-tone "the number you have reached has ceased to exist" message.

Did you get that "Music" rough demo? If not, it's gone. Been replaced by this.

The raw Pro Tools tracks arrived from Full Sail last weekend, so I imported the 648MB of filework into Garageband and did a quick mix. There were 24 tracks! In configurations that only the talented students of Group 16 and their intrepid instructor Paul Harlyn could possibly know, I guessed at some of the microphone placement to recreate the room ambience that they'd built so beautifully in the studio. With the multimillion dollar toys in every direction, it's no surprise to notice the incredible quality in the sound as compared to the tracks that I record here at the studio.

While I'm dishing out music, here's one that I wrote to be in the songbook. It's called "Seminole Solstice." Just mountain dulcimer and Native American drums (with a few cinematic effects).

Podcasting Stuff

Stephen Seifert played "Positive Vibes" by Mohave to open show #11 of his Mountain Dulcimer Folk Podcast. If you know about Stephen, then he needs no introduction. If you aren't sure who he is, visit his page and let it hit you slowly. Stephen stands out in the mountain dulcimer worldwide community as a tremendous talent and teacher who explores the boundaries of space as often as he kicks back in the groove of terra-firma tradition. And the boy smokes some dulcimer, sho' nuff. Burn it to the ground.

Also, thanks to everyone who has been subscribing to The Dulcimerica Video Podcast and downloading episodes. The response has been fantastic and it's been a lot of fun. Road-trips are going to be especially fun.

But mostly - thanks to you "Nowhere" blog readers. You know who you are.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together Pt.2

One of the worst phrases in the whole world has to be, upon arising from a deep slumber: "honey, what time were you supposed to be there?"

Needless to say, I made a few quick phone calls Friday morning to make sure that something would be happening for the Full Sail students besides a total absence of musicians. Charles was due to arrive at 9 am, so I dialed in and found that he was running slightly behind - with apologies to Michele, I jetted out of the house and got there as he was tracking. Big apologies to the students and to Paul Harlyn, the instructor, "no worries" came the response and we got on with the business of overdubbing. For all of my flustered tardiness, both Full Sail classes were quite professional, friendly, engaged and a good bunch of students, some of the best I've ever worked with at the facility.

As it stood, I left the dulcimer tracks as they were and added an acoustic track to "Ring-A-Ding" along with vocals and harmony. Kristi arrived and added tambourine to the mix, giving the song a real revival flavor. Quick. Done. Out of there.

After lunch, we began work on "Music", with its tri-vocal harmony and assorted percussion tracks. I also laid down a "bubble track" of burbling keyboards. All in all, it went just as smoothly as the previous day's session and by the time we were finished, I had a mixdown of "Music" with a promise of the ProTools tracks to follow on disc.

Here is the rough mix, which I'll keep up until I get the files for fully mixing the track. Dulcimer will come up in the mix as well as the lead vocal, backing vocals will be brought down some along with the bass. I don't remember if the tracks ended up dry or with reverb effect, but for a reggae tune, I'll probably throw a vocal slapback of some sort on there during mixing.

Again, it was just astounding to have actually met the rhythm section on the first day of tracking and sixteen hours later, we had two great sounding songs and two classes of students who were happy to be working with us and material that they enjoyed. As I stated with the titles of these two posts, "I love it when a plan comes together."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Went into Full Sail today to record for two different classes. For those of you who don't know, Full Sail is a state-of-the-art recording school and facility that educates aspiring audio and video technicians in their respective skill areas. I've been working with Full Sail since 1999 - recording arts in the main studios A and B, live sound reinforcement with video across the street from the main campus, artist sessions on a more intimate scale, lecturing to music business students on the skills of the trade -- I mean like this. Michele Bunker has always hooked me and the various projects of mine up. But this was the first time that I had NEVER played a live note with any of the people involved.

Early this morning at 9 am, I met with Kristi Kief, whom I had met through Bob King, a member of my dulcimer group. She's a world-class drummer and percussionist who also works part time as a gator wrestler at Gatorland. I had lined up a bass player for this session, but it sort of fell through; twice. So, upon a suggestion by Cheech, the manager of Hank El Diablo, I got ahold of Larry Nader, who drove down from Jacksonville to do the double session.

Keeping in mind that I had never played with either of these people before, I wasn't concerned.

We did two songs, "Ring-A-Ding" and "Music." The first being a staple Mohave tune and the second being also a staple, but extracted from the song "The Miner and His Music" which was a mixing of two songs written by myself and Bunky.

I had sent out chord sheets and demos to Larry and Kristi so they could get the hang of the tunes, very simple ones at that. When today rose in the sky, we were there at Full Sail making it happen. I had a peaceful easy feeling about the whole thing, and as it turns out, for a very good reason.

First off, Kristi is on. The girl knows her stuff. Having listened to her demos, I knew she would bring a lot to the session. Something about talking to Larry also put me at ease. He had the ineffable way of someone who has been playing for years in the biz, and a confidence that could not be faked. I knew he would rise to the occasion after talking with him.

We ended up doing two different sessions with two different classes of students, both under the direction of instructor Paul. Kristi played a drum kit for the rockabilly/boogie-woogie hybrid "Ring-A-Ding" while Larry played bass guitar and we knocked out the track in five takes, working through all the changes for the first time ever. It sounded so good, that it was delightful to tell the students at breaktime that we had only met for the first time that morning and had never rehearsed together before.

Afternoon session brought on "Music", with its reggae beats and Kristi's expertise on steel drums. It was a sure sign of success as we tracked the rhythms with the students nodding their heads in time with the music.

Tomorrow, we do some overdubs, having laid down what are known as "bed tracks." They are the foundation for the rest of the recording. Once you've got the drums, bass and main string instrument down (in this case, dulcimer), then you're ready to keep piling on layers until it really begins to erupt.

I did a vocal scratch track, meaning, we weren't planning on keeping it - just as a guide for the live performance of the scratch track. Tomorrow, I'll actually stand alone and record not only the main vocals, but also the secondary harmony and, in the case of "Music", three-part harmony. We're also bringing in my friend Charles Stansell to play harmonica on "Ring-A-Ding" and Kristi will be adding some more percussion to "Music" in the later session.

I found out that Kristi is moving to Australia to be with her boyfriend, who moved there recently for a computer gaming job. I'm happy for her at the same time that I'm frustrated, because it's been a long time coming to find someone so intuitive and talented in rhythms. I wish her well, at the same time that I bemoan the chance to work with her in the near future - not that we won't work together from afar, but damnit! The good ones always get away, don't they?

What can be said about today's session is that it was wonderful, magical, informative, spectacular, eye-opening and jammin' to the highest degree. We're all looking for a way to gig together before Kristi heads off to Brisbane, because it's not very often that three people who have never played together before can come together and create such beautiful music as they did today. There's something special in that kind of inspiration - and as soon as the tracks are delivered to us - I'll share them here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Beautiful Night

The gig tonight was wonderful - I love Scott Ainslie for his passion in not only playing music, but sharing it and educating others about the roots of the form. As soon as we arrived at Fodor's Grove, I met up with Scott and met his wife Barbara - and then we quickly launched into a fervent political discussion. I love his heart, his spirit and his dedication to truth. And he's an intelligent, well-read guy, to top it all off.

It was great to see Mark Fodor again and Barry Brogan of the Central Florida Folk group, both of whom were responsible for me opening for Scott. The Orange Blossom Blues Society had co-sponsored the event, so there were some familiar faces there - and of course, the potluck. Now, I don't really eat before a show, so I missed out on some good vittles, but there was plenty left after my set. Well, I missed Jerry's shrimp jambalaya, damnit.

My voice coach Judy was there and she was happy with my performance, as was I. Scott was amazing - as I've said, he can play the blues right down to the zip code, and he delivered once more some incredible songs and stories, shedding light on the origins of songs and providing background to events that may have otherwise been passed over. He also gifted me with a copy of his album "The Feral Crow", which has the fantastic song "Don't Obey" included. This tune is one of the many that are on Neil Young's "Living With War Today" site - and if you haven't heard it, go have a listen.

Another great night - and there were many friends there - along with George and Sheri, my brother and sister-in law, who are always fun to be around. I'm reviewing the video now and will post something on YouTube and MySpace soon.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Submerged In Song

After a hard-impact learning curve with the TablEdit software, I'm finally making some progress towards finishing the songbook. Once you get the hang of it, the going is easy. Getting the hang is not-so-easy.

In any case, much of the sheet music for tunes that I had created with Sibelius have been uniformly re-done and now the process of notating new and older pieces of music has begun. I'm not sure what to call this songbook, but I'm thinking of the title "Dulcimerica: All Over The Map", because it truly is. Style-wise, that is. Any songbook that contains the traditional tune "John Henry" as well as the theme to Steven Spielberg's dinosaur flick "Jurassic Park" is really stepping outside of conventional music boundaries.

It will be mostly an original songbook, with my arrangements of some traditional and not-so-traditional favorites. One piece that I'm having fun with is the Disney medley, which will include parts of songs from "Old Yeller", "The New Adventures of Davy Crockett", "It's A Small World", "The Little Mermaid", "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty." The licensing on this one will more than compensate for all of the original and public domain music that's on the CD, but it will be well worth it, absolutely the show-stopping final track.

At the same time that I'm tabbing out tunes, I've also been on the search for traditional Irish music, jigs, reels, airs and the like, just to get my fiddler's repertoire up. This week, I ran across a delightful traditional Irish tune called "Off To California" that I can't wait to play out live.

Mohave's got a recording session at Full Sail in two weeks, so I've also been charting out the changes for the players - "Music" is one of the tunes and the other one, I'm not sure yet. Perhaps "Neon Tiki" or something newer. I want something that's not too complex so that we can learn it, rehearse it, record it and have it under our collective belts. More word on that as the day approaches!