Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ohio Valley Gathering 2009: I Grieve

It looks like the Ohio Valley Gathering has come to roost in Lexington, Kentucky. The festival used to alternate between Lexington and Owensboro, but the facility there was torn down so OVG will take place in Lexington next year as well. The Hilton downtown is a great location and the two days of workshops, concerts and jams went by too quickly, as usual.

I arrived early on Thursday afternoon and had a bit of a walk around before settling in back at the hotel. It was there that a call from my Aunt Loretta informed me that my cousin Paul's wife, Valerie, had passed away the day before. This threw me for a loop and I called Paul to check in with him and see how the boys, Chris and Darien, were taking things. After our conversation, I just couldn't get myself back into the usual festival state of mind, a feeling that persisted well into Friday night's open stage.

My heart was heavy for Paul and his boys. I awoke Friday morning and the tune that floated across my mind was Peter Gabriel's "I Grieve" from the album Up. Giving it a quick spin on the dulcimer, I decided that it would be the tune I performed that evening in concert. The video from that set is episode #115 of The Dulcimerica Video Podcast.

I Grieve
Music and lyrics by Peter Gabriel

It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
Nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did

This flesh and bone
It's just the way that we are tied in
But there's noone home

I grieve...
for you
You leave...
So hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
Said life carries on...
Carries on and on and on...
And on

The news that truely shocks
is the empty, empty page
While the final rattle rocks
Its empty, empty cage...
And I can't handle this

I grieve...
For you
You leave...
Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
Said life carries on...
I said life carries on and on...
And on

Life carries on in the people I meet
In every one that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...
Life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...

Just the car that we ride in
The home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
As life carries on and on and on...
And on
Life carries on and on and on...

Did I dream this belief
Or did I believe this dream
How I will find relief
I grieve...

I wasn't sure if the tune would be a buzzkiller or not but my gut said to do it. It was hard not to choke up all through the first half of the tune and I had to pull up short a couple of times. It was much easier to carry on in the second half, which picks up energy and mood, offering the hopeful refrain "life carries on." By the time the audience began singing along, it felt like the right choice.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, many came up and said they had appreciated the song and offered prayers and condolences. Val's funeral service is today and I'm regrettably unable to attend - so this post is serving as a dedication of sorts as Paul and the boys move into this next difficult chapter of their lives along with Val's family. Life carries on.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Too Much Of A Good Thing

UnHub Offers A Simple Way To Showcase The Online You
I’ll say it right off the bat: there’s a plethora of ways to bundle all your online identities (i.e. your social networking profiles) and share all of them using only one URL, so I know the one I’m going to introduce isn’t unique any way you look at it. That said, it’s lightweight, ridiculously easy and quick to set up, so you might want to take a look all the same.

The service is called UnHub and it was built earlier this month in just a couple of days, inspired by what sweets brand Skittles was bravely experimenting with using social media on its main website.

It's getting harder and harder to maintain an online presence across different platforms. Instead of saving time by employing these various applications, it just seems like you spend more time keeping up with all the enormous variety of portals available for your use. Could UnHub be a solution? If not in brand name, perhaps in technique and utility?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Spring is sprung; a song is sung!

The bush, lima and pole beans have peeked through the soil in our garden plot. Seeds are such a miracle; all of that life just sitting around dormant, waiting for the right combination of water, sun and soil to awaken and begin the cycle. These are heirloom seeds that I got from Victory Seed Co. and I've also planted some cucumbers and collard greens in one section of the field. The other side is being prepped for the planting of okra, muskmelon, onions and corn.

We got four tomato plants from Lowe's last fall and after an understandably long initial growing period, they began bearing fruit in early winter and are still kicking out some tremendous growth. It was my first tomato growing experience and some tasty salads and omelets came about as a result. There are a few mammoth fruits on the vine and the plants have thinned out to what looks like the end of the season. This is the shady part of the plot and they struggled to find sunlight, so I know not to replant in that area. Oddly enough, there are no trees on our property, but we are ringed by tall oaks and sycamores, so not only are there scattered opportunities for sunlight, we also have massive leaf and pollen showers that produce great mulch, but a huge headache for the garden and fish pond (literally, in the case of my allergies.)

The long-awaited departure of winter meant beginning the process of re-seeding, re-planting, pruning, trimming and mucking the pond (the fish were oh-so-happy.) Also, learning from my experience, I re-landscaped the planting mound next to the water in order to create a reservoir for overflow and rain. It also backed the mound away from the water's edge to prevent erosion from going right into the pond (the fish appreciated this too.) I leveled out the edge and replaced the old square bricks with some large pavers similar to the ones that lead from our deck. Jae bought a "gazing globe" that reminds me of a psychedelic Spaceship Earth and it looks just perfect rising from the reservoir with our kokopelli and kokopelmana stones embedded in the mound. I've planted some petunias and daisies along the ridge. A few more bags of river rock and we'll be good to go!

Gardening is what I do when I'm not pushing full steam ahead with the music and video - it's a beautiful way to get outside and enjoy what the Creator has given us. Not to mention activity bound to burn off fat gained by sitting on my rump in front of a computer screen so much of the time.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dive! - Day 5 through 8

I'm guessing at the days - it's been a blur. Basically, I got a trial version of Ozone 4 downloaded and have seven days to mess with it before it starts inserting periods of silence into the mixes. Can't afford to buy it at the moment, so I'm trying to learn as much about the program as possible. It's definitely a gem - but there's a steep learning curve here. So, I cheated a bit - uploaded a new file that overwrote the file from days 2 and 3, so if you didn't get to hear that - sorry. Progress is marching on.

The new version here is decidedly better, thanks to Ozone. I got the drums and bass sounding much more "in-the-front" - and re-recorded the vocals, though I will probably have at them again before it's all said and done. The mix is still rough, since I rebuilt it from scratch, but it's coming along nicely.

New Song

The third tune for the album, aside from "Dive!" and "Mia Cafe" is called "How It Ends" and I'm not sure what direction it might take, it's a mellower tune for certain. Here are the lyrics - and I'm working out an arrangement in 3/4 time:

"How It Ends"
Music and Lyrics by Bing Futch
Copyright © 2009 J.O.B. Entertainment Inc.

I need some time to clear my mind
hope you'll find the patience and faith
often when life pulls the lever
all you can do is wait - til' the wheel's stop spinnin'

you gamble hard and fall in love
not the holy kind, but that frail human stuff
and if the odds are in your favor
time to leave the machine and cash out your winnings


you say I'm naive, babe
for believing in miracles as if they exist
well, we got this far, didn't we?
what do you call this? of course, I might be dreaming

a paper boat, a plastic cup
let's pretend it's crystal and fill it halfway up
we'll drink to the bad times
and sail on

don't you know everything is an illusion?
so I must come now to this conclusion


this is our story - a real life movie
a tale of two lovers and friends
none of it made up, so what if we break up?
we get to say just how it ends

an open door, an empty hall
sometimes silence screams at the windows
we can talk about it or not at all
but when the wind blows, it speaks so clear

we do the dance and take a chance
go to our separate corners and assume the stance
take and break this heart of mine and I'll do the same for you
isn't that why we're here?

don't you know everything is an illusion?
so I must come now to this conclusion


this is our story - a real life movie
a tale of two lovers and friends
none of it made up, so what if we break up?
we get to say just how it ends

how it ends


I know - depressing, sort of, huh? Told you this album would be a return to some of my older material.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Looking For A Booking (Or Three)

In June, I'll be embarking on a month-long tour through 8 states! While most of the shows have been scheduled, I'm still looking to teach workshops and play either house concerts, coffee houses or pubs in the following cities on these dates:

• June 6th - Savannah or Augusta, Georgia (or nearby)

• June 8th - Winston-Salem, Greensboro or Charlotte, North Carolina

• June 11th - Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne or Gary, Indiana

I have a P.A. system and all the gear - if you're interested in booking me for one of these dates, please drop me a line at bingfutch@JOB-Entertainment.com or (407) 342-1447.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Art of Moving Sound

Despite one of the band vehicles getting a flat tire on the way up to Eustis last Friday, it was a great night. It'd been a while since we played with Gil Oliver on drums and he's been performing this material almost as long as I have, so he was very much "in the pocket" and gave us a solid foundation upon which to dance (though not too hard, because the stage wobbled like a bowl of jello shots.) Mohave has been really grooving in the jam arena and we had a couple that were pretty wild, including one that connected "Big Alligator" with a massive space-jam with Native American flute, djembe and solos from everybody. Afterwards, people began asking where they could get that on CD. Very interesting.

When I got back home, I checked out some mastering techniques on "Dive!" by one of the MacJams.com members, Andrew Mackle. Over the past couple of years, I've studied the art of E.Q.; equalization of tracks that you've recorded. From there, I've basically slapped it onto a disc and have had pretty good results. Andrew pointed out to me that I was missing a key element in the process, which is the mastering of those very same tracks. He explained it like this:

"Mastering is a necessary step in the production process, and a lot of things that you are trying to fix during mixing should be left for the mastering."

This was literally music to my ears. It took a while to understand the science of mixing and it's still alien landscape, but I've got a pretty decent map (The E.Q. Bible.) However, knowing that there was an entire other step in mastering, I shuddered to think about what that all entailed, other than the obligatory matching of volume across an entire CD release. No sir, there's much more than that!

"When mastering on a stereo 2-track recording the only way to get separation is through time delay between the left and right speakers. This has to be applied to specific frequency bands so all the freqs don't get stereo separated, just the ones that you want. You use a multi-band stereo widener for that. That is what is giving it a "bigger" stereo effect.

I also used mastering reverb over the entire mix to place everything into the same sonic "room", instead of a bunch of tracks playing at once.

I used compression (again multi-band) to focus in on the drums and bottom end (bass) to bring it up in relation to everything else.

I used Harmonic Excitation (again multi-band) to give the entire song more sparkle. This works by dividing the song into four distinct frequency ranges and adding varying degrees of even harmonics up the audio band in different amounts depending on what is contained in each band.

Finally, I used a multi-band dynamic effect, which works close to a multi-band compressor to focus in and get the levels right, including the added harmonics.

These are all commonly available effects, and most are available and sold as 'mastering effects' by companies like Izotope (Ozone 4)."

I thanked him profusely for explaining in simple terms what it was that my efforts were missing and downloaded a trial version of Ozone 4 this morning; ten days to experiment. That should be enough time to re-visit "Dive!" as well as play around with the next track that comes out of this journey, something I'll start today and will post about shortly. Though I'd like to go ahead and purchase Ozone 4, I've already layed down money on another very important utility for moving sound this week, one that I had been sorely lacking for quite some time: a P.A. system.

Sound moves naturally through the air when you're playing an acoustic instrument like a mountain dulcimer - but that's only for those in the immediate vicinity when the music is sent without processing. That's why when you start plugging the instrument in to record it, specific tools are necessary to get the right sound, as contrary as that seems. Likewise, when playing your instrument for 50 to 100 people at a time, amplification of the sound is required - but improper signal processing can make your nice, authentic, acoustic tone turn into an electronic garble that no-one wants to listen to. Anyone who has played through a bad P.A. or listened to an artist through one can attest to this. You just want to run and cover your ears.

I've been fortunate enough to know people who own quality P.A. systems, but it finally became obvious that my own little system was needed for the upcoming spring and summer tour. P.A.s for small use are quite affordable, and I was fixated on getting something that the whole band could use. Heavy lifting comes with a heavy price (and the gear is usually, well, heavy.)

So, off to eBay I went and after talking with Full Sail instructor and friend Jerry Waller, came to the conclusion that the Fender PD-150 would be the right system for the job. It's light (44 pounds), has 150 watts of power and a four-input mixer that includes a CD player, so you can pipe in music in between sets. On-board effects like reverb and delay are independent of each channel and there are two other nifty technologies that will certainly come in handy. One is the VIP (Vocal Input Priority) system which automatically lowers the background music when you speak into the mic. The other is feedback rejection circuitry, so that the speakers can be placed behind you (usually a no-no, as the microphone is pointing at the speakers, which can cause ear-drum shattering feedback) without any squealing or the need for monitors. This is key to hearing what the audience is hearing and allowing you to adjust the sound accordingly.

Suffice it to say that I'm pretty stoked and really looking forward to how this will "plus" the quality of my solo shows. I just booked the first of a series of house concerts for the spring/summer tour (in beautiful South Carolina) and will be posting details soon. In the meantime, recording continues on "Dive!" and a new world of exploration accordingly opens up.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Accidental History In Progress

Say it isn't so - Barenaked Ladies Message Board - All - Barenaked Ladies Message Board - Message Board - Yuku

I'm not a Barenaked Ladies fan, though I enjoy their music. Jae and I made plans to go with my daughter, Casey, and her mom, Kelly, to Universal Studios Orlando yesterday for Mardi Gras where the BNL boys were scheduled to perform. After the mardi gras parade, we walked over to catch the band and they seemed a little "off" to me. An old friend I hadn't seen in ages mentioned something about this too, and there was much allusion from the stage about "new chapters" and whatnot. I Googled the band on the way home and discovered that founding member Steven Page had left the group and that there had been a fair amount of drama over the past year or so.

So, basically, we were witness to the first show without Page this evening. Very interesting to read the fans accounts of the concert and also some of the discussions on various BNL forum threads.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dive! - Days 2 and 3

The next phase of working with this track involved some more re-recording and also wrestling with the sound levels. Vocals were getting buried under the wall of sound I was creating, yet the "punch" still wasn't quite there. Much E.Q. futzing and tweaking took place before I finally arrived with a mix that I could live with.

Next, the addition of a screaming dulcimer solo in the section that I left especially for that purpose. One of the challenges of writing in the studio is that you're not as familiar with a piece as you'd like to be - you truly have to pull the music out of thin air. After several runs at it, I laid out a solo that captured the mood of the track.

Finally, a few bits of atmosphere - a distorted dulcimer buzz at the beginning and doubling of the main riff and pre-chorus half-steps. I separated the "Dive!" call and response sections and put them on channels E.Q.'ed to have an AM radio voice effect, like the commander of a submarine. Finally, to punch home the whole visual, I found a pretty cool sub klaxon and split them into left and right channels with some delay. When this tune kicks off - it's a sonic assault, giving you a taste of the intensity to follow.

Now, I'll let it sit and simmer while I wait for the bassist to learn the part and then I'll be adding real bass into the mix. In the meantime, I've started working out the chords for the next tune - and will probably get around to recording sometime this weekend.


For now, though - it's off to Downtown Eustis for the First Friday Street Festival with Mohave (featuring said bassist, Tom Sharp.) Three stages of bands, lots of food, drinks and fireworks on up until 10 pm tonight. If you're in the central Florida region, we hope you'll come out and join the party!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dive - Day 1 (the next step)

If you haven't listened to the 1:50 snippet of the six-track "Dive", check out the post before this one. There, I had a finished drum track, though not mixed, and every other track was a "scratch track", or placeholder for parts. Doing this helps me to work with the drums and get them exactly where I want them for fills, accents, pushes and other dynamics.

The version above is still a rough mix, but the difference in the tune is night and day; you can hear the finished product beginning to emerge. I re-tracked the dulcimer twice - two separate performances with slightly different amp settings - and panned them slightly to the left and right for a fuller sound. I re-tracked the lead vocals and made a few passes before deciding to keep the first take. I then layered the harmony parts, four in all, and then doubled those tracks like I did the dulcimer - so I sang the same parts on a different track.

I then began the process of mixing, even though I've got a few more elements that I'd like to fit into the song. Mixing is the most laborious part of the process and it's nice to chip away at it slowly, adjusting levels and equalizing frequencies as you go. Then, once everything's in place, the final mix is not too far around the bend.

The harmonies are still too low in the mix, the vocals too "hot", the bass still needs to be tracked by a real bassist. I've got some "opening up" of the drums to do and there's a lack of definition in the repeated "Dive" chorus. That's going to take some fine tuning, 'cause I'm not going to re-record anything besides the bass. One of the things about the process - you capture the moment and the more times you do it, the more the original moment slips away. Sure, I just wrote this tune today, and will be more familiar with its possibilities somewhere down the road. That's when it begins to become a morphing musical organism in the live stage show. Right now, it's raw, honest, in-your-face, and I like it. Hope you do too!

Dive - Day 1 (a sample)

Here's a rough mix of "Dive" at the early stage. What you're hearing are the drums, bass, one track of dulcimer and four tracks of vocals. Everything but the drums is a "scratch track", which means it's just there as a placemarker and will be re-recorded.

I first wanted to get the drums situated with the right amount of push and emotion (they're Garageband Loops, but played by a real person on a real drum set.) Then I laid down the dulcimer track to get an idea of how the two would work together. From that combo came the "feel" for the lyrics and laying down of lead and harmony parts. This may not be the way it all ends up down the road, some parts may change. In fact, the bass is a software instrument in GB triggered by my playing of the Roland Fantom keyboard. To get the right feel, I will probably call in an actual bass player to do the track. You'll hear a little shimmering audio artifact with some of the higher frequencies (like cymbals), which is due to the type of MP3 compression that I used.

This is as raw as it gets and it's just a half-day's work, but it will give you an idea of the first steps towards taking an idea and bringing it around to a full-blown recording.

Dive - Day 1

It's pure coincidence that I've begun recording my next record on the same day that U2 releases its long-awaited "No Line On The Horizon." The plan all along, after the release of "Christmas Each Day" in late 2008, was to write, record and publish two new instructional book/CD combos to take on the road for spring 2009 festival season. "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band" books 1 and 2, along with 4 accompanying CDs, are now available and I feel like that work is done for now. It's been about two years since "Dulcimer Rock", an album that was composed of songs both old and new; relatively safe for the ears of dulcimer festival audiences and edgy enough to have found fans in all other areas of music fandom.

"Kokopelli Rising" was an intensely personal album, albeit one to showcase the Native American flute and mountain dulcimer, so there were parameters in place from the start. With a boiling need to purge some of life's residue and internal conflict somewhat relieved, the path towards making this new record was paved lightly with musical markers tied around trees.

And I've listened to the new U2 album twice through now; there are a couple of standout tunes that caught my ear and my breath like the shiny "Magnificent" and the confessional "Moment Of Surrender." Emotionally, there were peaks that I wanted to match in this new endeavor - a lot has happened since the last time a musical vein was opened in this studio, and that went mostly unheard for production quality reasons (the album was 1998's "Die Caught Ah Me!", which I've rifled, plundered and looted for material ever since.)

There's one song recorded prior to this day that might end up on the album (the world-beat romp "Mia Cafe", written for an Australia art exhibition), but everything else is being composed on the spot in the studio, attempting to capture the emotions and energy of the Now. The aim is to get below the surface of spirit and pare away some of the shadows; a scary thing to do - introspect in retrospect. For many years, I avoided listening to other people's music as I concentrated on developing my own unique style. Once that seemed secure, the soaking up of the many wondrous influences around the world has opened up a universe of tastes and styles, colors and textures. Not only that, but ideas about storytelling and song presentation - framing of ideas and feelings; bringing truth to the surface where it can once again itch and burn.

Likening the entire record to a plunge into dark waters, it's tentatively being titled "Dive."

The title track has been written and I'm now in the process of fleshing it out - what I'll be doing through this blog is shedding some light on the creative process and what it takes to bring an album from idea to reality.

Say It With Style

What came first, the chicken or the egg? The lady or the tiger? The music or the lyrics? In the case of "Dive", I wanted a balls-to-the-wall, three-chord rock assault to couch the lyrics that would introduce the theme for the album. Swore to God I wouldn't write this thing in sequence, but we'll see how that goes.

I ended up grabbing the Greibhaus solidbody and injecting it into a well-distorted amp, eventually crunching out a looping, insistent phrase that modulated between E5 - G5 and A5. I knew I wanted to make that the foundation for both the verse and chorus to keep the thing rockin', so breaks would have to be taken from that for dynamic's sake.

Though the punkiness of the music hearkens back to my Crazed Bunnyz days (that's me on guitar with Marc Plainguet on bass synth circa 1986), the album will bear lots of cross-genre touches, including classical orchestrations that come from my work as a film composer - so though some of the changes would seem standard, the idea here was to also throw in some cinematic elements that could either be recalled later or arranged for maximum effect. The pre-chorus bridge carries this weight, with a modulation between B5 and C5 with a flat 6th chiming back and forth, which really gives it a sort of sinister and dangerous feel. Maintaining tension - I break up the main riff (shared by the bass) with a wide open G chord that never resolves to the A. That comes later.

That's the nuts and bolts of it - it times in around the 3 minute mark and when I've got a demo ready, it'll be posted here. But for now, here are the lyrics to "Dive":

music and lyrics by Bing Futch
Copyright © 2009 J.O.B. Entertainment Inc.

floating on my back in the sunshine
gazing at the clear blue sky
thinkin' 'bout the time
before I lost my mind
and how sweet it was to live a lie


the weather here is always amazing
no-one rains on your parade
center of the earth
another virgin birth
Jesus Christ, you really got it made

when the sky turned black and the water chilled
and the hired guns arrive
looking for the killer of the man you killed
hold your breath, it's time to dive


it's murky in the deep blue under
forgotten memories, buried in the sand
wish I had a map
to relocate the crap
that I tossed down here from on the land

when the sky turned black and the water chilled
and the hired guns arrive
looking for the killer of the man you killed
hold your breath, it's time to dive



As you can tell simply from the lyrics - it's much darker than anything on "Dulcimer Rock" and certainly edgier. Much of the later Mohave material floated in this realm, tunes like "Planet Earth" and "All For One" with the difference being they were tunes generally sung in the third person; a safe place to be as a commentator or Greek chorus. When a tune comes out of a confessional place, the risk is huge.

I can't honestly tell you which direction this album is going, other than to say it's going to be "without limits." Though there is a lot of darkness to parse through, there is also much light and I do expect that there will be balance. But you know what they say (and *they* are usually right, I've found):

it's always darkest before the dawn.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Mohave: This Friday In Eustis!

Mohave will be returning to downtown Eustis for the 1st Friday Celebration from 6-10 pm on March 6th. It's a free street festival with lots of cool stuff going on, including music on three stages. For those of you wondering when the band is going to perform, here's a rare opportunity to catch us before festival season starts and I'm on the road again!

We'll be playing some new songs and old favorites. Weather should be wonderful - hope to see you there!