Hello my friends!
One of the curious things about the way covid has overturned everyone’s normalcy, all at once, is that many of us have been reminded about the value of pleasure and creativity, as a mentally and emotionally positive and stabilizing force. The news keeps banging-on endlessly about the trouble retail business is having attracting workers, but the fact is that workers have had benefits and dignities stripped away from them for decades, and now that we have all been forced to think again about our lives and values, many have decided that the old deal just wasn’t worth it. Quite rightly, too (there is a vast and often unappreciated difference between humble hard work old-style – and modern industrial-scale sadism toward tens of thousands directed not even by a madman, but by cold vampire mathematics).
I know several friends who have, like me, rediscovered the fantastic fun to be had making art – not for a market, client or goal, but in order to learn a little more than we knew the day before, and prove to ourselves we are still capable of novelty.
With the crazy speed and pressure of the world, it isn’t hard for us to grind away in harness for so long we actually forget that challenge doesn’t have to come from outside, along with threats and inducements – and the challenges we set ourselves – without any external draw or pressure – can often bring us special levels of growth and satisfaction.
Go Big Screen and CRANK IT!
As an old analog guy and a lapsed technician (still have six different analog and two digital tape systems in the house), I have a strong bias toward the smell of warm transistors and the special unpredictable wonkiness of physical components. And just for the record – when you train up and read that sticker “Warning, No User Serviceable Parts – Authorized Repair Technicians Only” and realize you ARE authorized, your imaginative involvement with ‘gear’ does get deeper – in a funny way, you almost empathize with it, rather like the way a doctor sometimes winces when they see an athlete pushing their capability – because they know.
My primary job is caregiver – and it’s a job I am very pleased to do, to be sure – but it isn’t terribly compatible with gigantic tangled messes of wires, trip hazard instruments and mic-stands that take over the bedroom for days. On the other hand, the years since I have been away from the bench have seen astounding transformations in the world of audio and recording. Not only have many of the old complaints about the harsh sonic qualities of digital been overcome, a whole generation of software technology which was once professional quality (and frighteningly expensive) is now cheap and easily available, options and price points ranging all the way from completely free to the latest pro grade stuff, which still (somehow) manages to be ruinously expensive.
By watching for sales and saving my treat money, I have put together software versions of several electronic instruments I always hoped to be able to try, but could never afford (or find space to deploy) physically. This means that rather than missing my old setup, I’m excited to play with a whole new studio in the digital realm. But this also means tons of new learning for codger-boy (additional pleasure, to me). You know what computers are like – you are sure that the thing you want is in there someplace – but where have they hidden it, and what on earth did they call it? ;o)
I swear I had no intention to get back into writing screwball pop songs, the way I did as a teenager, and again for awhile in my late thirties. But as I get older, I’m also beginning to laugh at myself, for my funny attitudes toward my own working output. I study and swoon over fine art, but draw at least twice as many silly cartoons as ‘serious’ drawings. I read the finest literature and then write crazy doggerel verse and eccentric short stories.
I especially adore music with the deepest artistic intentions and purposes. But though I love making art music with my friends – when I’m alone, experimenting in my studio – analog or digital – I almost always end up making screwy offbeat pop. Then again, have we actually seen it proven that toe-tapping is déclassé – or do we simply accept this as an inherited condescension? ;o)
This is my eighth finished piece since covid hit – all of which came from sitting down to learn something new, and then letting myself get carried away in the fun of it. Finally recording with the theremin Graham leant me was a distinct and overdue pleasure, and I was very happy with the swing of the lyrics as they came together. But I was most surprised to find myself singing in a whole new way for this song, just by changing the angle of my spine, my breathing was different, and my vocal production outright surprised me. Not the prettiest vocals I’ve ever done – but some of the most heartfelt, I think (your call, really).
Anyhow – what I really mean to say to you isn’t anything nearly so specific – but just – grant yourself permission to play! Whether it is popsicle sticks construction paper and mucilage, a dusty Stradivarius in the corner, a sketchbook you always meant to fill, or a journal which calls to you.
The boss, the landlord, the taxman, the teacher, mom and dad – whichever combination of authorities we carry around on our back, emotionally – can sometimes get us caught up feeling we are bad, and don’t deserve that joy. DUTY FIRST! YOU HAVE TO EARN ANY PAUSE FROM SUFFERING!
I’m not going to lie – yes we are all a little bit bad – humans are like that – but we need our joy all the more, so we can remember why and how to do better.
There is some stuff here for my most rigorous ecological and political friends, and also some for my dear friends of deep and abiding faith. I’m tired of waiting for the emergence of a culture around which we can all gather as family again. Figure I’ll just start making some of it myself!
Love to all. Sincerely hope you enjoy this latest offering.
The visuals are all from Pixaby.com – which lets people from around the world contribute some material to the public domain, and offer other material for sale. I was overjoyed to be able to make this video so international, and did my best to credit every clip used (though this is not obligatory) and even a few I cut at the last minute, because they were still so very inspiring (and I’ll probably end up using them for my next video, anyhow).
For fellow recording geeks – a few things of particular excellence. From Waves – the Abbey Road NX mixing plug-in is INSANELY helpful. Using psychoacoustics, they simulate the mixing room at Abbey Road studio, with Near Mid and Far speakers, to check your stereo image. Just as with my last tune, this mix was a complete hair-pulling mess by the time I had it all cut and arranged. Finding a place for everything can really drive you nuts, when you have so many timbres in the same general tonal space. This room is imaginary, but the value is extreme (for 30 bucks, and works great even with thirty year old ‘cans’).
I also just got the Schepps Omni channel – which is what I used to track the vocals for this piece. Superb all-in-one – with saturation and de-essing, as well as three kinds of compression and a flexible EQ section. Nice big VU meters are a plus for a fogey like me – even better, you can magnify it for your aging eyes!
And yes – after years of favouring clean vocals (as an arbitrarily chosen difficulty and false-purity aesthetic), I finally decided to get a vocal synth (so cheap and powerful now – and so freakin’ cool). Ovox is recent – loaded down with options and stupidly fun. Get it and you won’t stop giggling for days.
Cherry Audio makes my favourite soft-synths. Their version of the MS-20, the 2600 and the Juno (all cheap, great sounding and very easy to voice), all feature prominently on this track (along with several of the free synths I mentioned in my write up about my song “One Won Family”).
Finally, I am so grateful that I have to mention the Frontier Adaptive Limiter again – because it is free, I have had it supervising my master output bus since the day I downloaded it, and you can pretty much slam anything at it – and it somehow finds a way to crunch the whole mess down to go under the limbo bar, while still preserving astonishing levels of detail – almost a harmonic/saturation sweetness. Try “Potent Mastering” mode. Seriously – you will never turn it off again!