Monday, June 18, 2012

New Song 1 Peter 6:6-8

Sus and I wrote a little piece based on 1 Peter 5:6-8 for the Verses Project that Joel Limpic and others have put together. The challenge was to write a song without any changes in the original bible passage. We fudged in one little place. Even though the arrangement and mix was done really quickly, this song can give you a glimpse into the sound of The Necessary Dark even though it isn't necessarily worship or devotional in nature.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Dose of Techno-Pessimism: The Problem(s) With the Smartphones

It's up online here.

I'm glad to get some of these thoughts down. I'm really interested in those who disagree with me and might be optimistic about these things. Please, please continue the conversation in the comments below or email me.

Kickstarter Soon For The Necessary Dark

It is six years this summer that we've been in Michigan and six years total that we began work in earnest working on a full length recording. I'll be putting up a kickstarter page soon, so you can help us get the funds together for mastering, artwork and manufacturing. It'll include links to early digital downloads and most likely options for CDs and vinyl along with other things like copies of one or both of Susanna's books, a signed broadside of the title track (originally one of Susanna's poems), a house concert and things like that.

Please check back soon or email me your contact info so I can keep you updated. 

Some factoids/reflections regarding the record:

Record Title: The Necessary Dark
Artwork is being done by Chris Cox

Most of the songs were started on analog tape, my 8 track 1/2 inch Otari 5050. I then transferred all that to the computer. Most of the mixing was done at home. Final mixes have been tweaked at the school studio.

Many great thanks are due to John K. Erskine, my hero.

I apart from Susanna though, I owe many, many more thanks to Dustin Ragland. He plays all the drums, some synths and synth bass lines. He also contributed some sequencing.

The shape of most of these song was established during that week of recording at my house in Oklahoma before we left. We were packing boxes and leaving the drums and mics up all over the place. It was a mess. I think working on those tracks was a way for me to cope with the pain of leaving. Justin Rice, Dustin, Susanna and Judson Thompkins all contributed various arrangement ideas. 

As soon as the basic tracks were in place, I had Brian Bergman add some synth from his Roland poly and a bit from Reason.

The record substantially took on a whole new life with these basic tracks and with Dustin's drum parts. I didn't know what these songs were becoming. It's taken me these years since to come to terms with what each song is wanting to become. It's not like I've been working on it each week for six years. It's been little bursts every few months for a few days or a week.

After our first year here, I flew Dustin and DM Stith (Asthmatic Kitty) to our new home. David arrived a day or so early and Dustin stayed a day later. We had drums in the dining room. The main control was setup in the basement. David had a little rig setup in his room upstairs. Dustin had his MPC and other gear in the breakfast nook. Susanna might be working on vocal craziness with David in the basement while I was in the nook with Dustin working on sequencing. I was so glad that David later asked Dustin to add some drums to a few songs for his (then) forthcoming record, Heavy Ghost. The song that made the cut is "Creekmouth." Check it! 

Once again, after that week in Michigan, I was left with an even larger sense that the songs had taken on a new life of their own.

Most of what Dustin added remains on the record. I usually would 'screw' his sounds up by adding distortion or filters or slowing the drums down.

Much of the time spent bringing the songs together is due to my insecurities of my mixing abilities but even more to do with the enormity of the sounds and layers of sounds.

Justin Rice played added some guitars on a visit back to OKC. Dustin also added some more synths and scant drum parts. Then Justin added more guitars and a little bass when he and Dustin were visiting back here in Michigan last winter.

Judson has a little vocal part on "It's the First Thing." I needed him somewhere.

A few students have added bits: Larry Figueroa (he probably doesn't remember...he was just messing around and I kept it) and Michael Reynolds (vibraphone and a small Rhodes part).

Surprisingly, I played most of the synth and rhodes parts on the record, but I couldn't remember how to play each one if I tried. But I could learn them since they're so simple.

The first song Susanna and I ever wrote together was "Here We Go." We wrote it over the phone. I was in OKC. She was still in Tallahassee.  We weren't married yet. I would strap the cordless phone to my head/ear with a scarf so I could play the guitar. I used a second phone as a mic in front of the guitar so she could hear.

I wrote the lyrics for four of the songs. 3-4 other songs are originals written together. The rest are adaptations of Susanna's poetry and one short story. 

I write the music but she is usually near or within reach to give me direction/encouragement. She can tell me quickly if something isn't working. There are lots of ideas between the two of us. Making music with her is a gift.

We can get into a fight while writing or while recording. You will probably hear/feel that tension in some songs. Even though the mixes have been worked over, I tried to avoid much editing. I often rely on 'scratch' takes especially for vocals. Those alway seem more real and immediate. With all the parts, I tried to keep a real performance in the core of the song.

Yes, I believe I'm in great debt to Boards of Canada. I don't think most people (even those familiar with BOC) would immediate suspect that, but I owe those two much...not just for the songs, but for a way to experience the world. I mention this mostly because I hope you'll go listen to them soon. 

I also owe much to DM Stith. His early, unreleased home recordings, The Ichabod & The Apple, has also had a great affect on me. He had borrowed a little interface from Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) because she didn't know how to work it yet and he had the time and a computer to hook it up to. He'd never fully completed a song before and was working on other projects...a novel and a children's book I believe. In less than two weeks he'd written and recorded something that is much better and haunting than what I've been working on for six years. I hope The Necessary Dark somehow does honor to that precious record and I hope somehow David will release it.

I initially conceived of the Ordinary Neighbors as a way to invite a long list of friends to contribute but I've not had the confidence to add many more 'voices.' The contributors already have left such enormous parts that it's been enough pleasure/work to not add any more people.

DM Stith recently added some of his signature vocal, choir-like textures and bass to "Ontario" [working title]. The fact that he would take time so late in the process means many good things to us. 

I'm elated and also sad to be finishing this big project. My main goal was to put together a record that I will want to listen to. And I will want to listen to this record especially after it is mastered, but I won't be able to listen to it in the same way once its finished. 

We won fourth place in Calvin College's FFM, band spotting contest. That little bit of love helped me want to finish this record. We'd hoped to have it done before June 15, 2012, Shepherd's due date. He came five weeks early, so that plan didn't work out. I'm now building a fence to keep Casper, our two year old, in. I also have work to do for the college, and I'm the head of the board for an urban farm. I really will get this finished. I will. I'm too excited not to.

I'm thinking about ending this blog once the record is out so that it isn't confused with the music.

This is a photo from (friends of Chris Cox) that inspired me to go with The Necessary Dark as a title. It will not be the cover though.