25 Aug 2010

The Passing of Clouds: Track Archaeology

  The Passing of Clouds by pethu

All will be fairly quiet on the music making front for some weeks to come, I'm afraid. Sore limbs, family matters and full-on back-from-the-holidays-regular-autumn-panic att the office all conspire against me/us!

I have played around  bit, though, trying to fit some new music to titles I've already settled for. However and as usual, my projects tend to have a mind of their own. Suddenly, I played a sequence of chords that coupled with the autumn storms outside the window made me think an old number from the past (above). Now, the next new piece is likely to be "The Passing of Clouds Part 2", possibly involving an attempt to recreate the bass sound in the old tune on my modern synths.

In the 80's and 90's, I recorded about 8 "cassette tape albums" of some 10 tracks each. Some of the best stuff I recorded onto CDs before both tapes and cassette players perished, but the exact chronology and details of many pieces are not that well documented. It takes a bit of deductive reasoning to locate the proper place in history for a track like "The Passing of Clouds":

First off, the bass sound here is one of only two (2) sounds from the Korg DS-8 synthesizer worth remembering. It was a nice synth to play, but in general the sounds were pretty awful by today's standards!

All other sounds sound like they come from my Roland U-110 sample playback unit.

I can hear nothing that sounds like the later Ensoniq SQ-1, which was my first proper music workstation with a built-in 16-track sequencer. Further indication that it isn't a sequenced song but played live all the way through is that there is some heavy "pumping" of the sound related to the bass line, a sure sign of a DBX noise reduction system at work. The only piece of equipment I had with DBX was my second 4-track cassette tape recorder, a Yamaha MT2X.

In conclusion, this must be an "early MT2X piece", which puts it around 1989. Mission completed!

15 Aug 2010

Normal Service Will Be Resumed...

To cut a short story as short as possible:

Computer virus.
System re-install.

Almost everything is back online now with no more harm done than additional strain on my already overworked right hand and arm.

Anyway, I have finally got the message and invested in disk imaging software to back my entire system partition up — the next time something like this happens, I should have most things running again in a matter of hours instead of days.

Now I'm going to rest that arm for a bit, then we'll see what happens next!

8 Aug 2010

Obscure Inspirations #4

Many of my favourite groups have some things in common: An eclectic approach to composition, an inclination to experiment wildly with arrangements and instrument lineups over time, a fondness for percussion and esoteric instruments, a touch of minimalism and even a blurring of the lines between music and visual art where music becomes inspired by art and vice versa. All those elements are present in the Dutch group "The Nits", although the example here is a rather traditional number (and also their greatest hit).

They only had one album released commercially in the US at the end of their heyday in the 1990s, and they never received much recognition outside central Europe although they always stuck to English lyrics. They still exist and tour today, as far as I know.

"The Dutch Mountains", however, never existed; they are buildings, as you hear clearly enough at the very end of this song. It's all a metaphor for the crowded lifestyle of much of the Netherlands, big cities seamlessly connected with their suburbs (or so I think). That's par for the course with the Nits — There's so many interconnected metaphors and references in the lyrics that it can take quite a while to untangle them!

Obscure Inspirations #3

Andreas Vollenweider: Lots of percussion, loads of fun ethnic instruments and a Swiss harp player that threw the rule book out the window — lots to be inspired by here!

Oh, and on guitar... Janne Schaffer. (If you read the posts in the wrong order, bear with me until your reach #1.)

Obscure Inspirations #2

ABBA, anyone? In this case you're most likely familiar with the group, but if all you've heard or remember is "Dancing Queen", you are not that familiar with the minds behind it. Even in their most middle-of-the-road hits, there are lots of clever and often eclectic stuff tucked away inside. Not to mention the odd, bold diversion from the mainstream as in the epic, semi-psychedelic  "Eagle" above.

Oh, by the way: On the improvisational / effects guitar — Janne Schaffer. (And Lasse Wellander on the lead. He's not too shabby, either.) Schaffer played on about 50 of the ABBA tracks.

When the group split up, the songwriters (Andersson/Ulvaeus) went on to paint on an even  broader canvas in a couple of musicals: "Chess" and "Kristina from Duvemåla". Even on their earliest albums, you can hear that that kind of development was kind of inevitable.

(No, "Mamma Mia" does not count - that's just a rehash of old hits!)

Finally, we mustn't forget that Benny Andersson was one of the very few owners of a Yamaha GX1, the largest and most expensive synth ever made. The list went something like: Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Stevie Wonder (2 of them!), Benny Andersson, Jürgen Fritz (Triumvirat), Rick van der Linden (Ekseption), and pretty much noone else. Only about 6 were ever sold, although some of the above changed hands a couple of times...

(Looking at it these days, you'd think some of them would have been recycled as props for a Star Trek movie!)

Obscure Inspirations #1

"Obscure" can mean two things here: 1, obscure as in "you might not have seen that one coming", or 2, obscure as in "chances are you haven't heard of this before, especially if you live across the pond".

Between the definitions, I probably have quite a lot of my sources of inspiration covered. Particularly so because much of what I listen to most actually doesn't show up very much at all in my own music, so there is some distinction between "inspiration" and "favourites" in my case!

Anyway, on with it. Here's a piece of music that's lodged in the spine of every Swede, at least in those over 40 or so  (The title "Brusa högre, lilla å" roughly translates to "Sing louder, little stream".)

Recorded at a church concert in December 2009. The composer Björn J:son Lindh is at the synthesizer, and one of the world's most awesome guitarists Janne Schaffer is playing the... well.

I can't say I have actively followed Lindhs career or bought everything he ever made, this is more of a common heritage thing as I said. And if you had to pick one modern instrumental piece that embodies the Nordic mood and spirit, this particular one would be it.

As for Janne Schaffer, he's one of the musicians that often stay in the background; only after some research do you find that he has, in fact, been part of the background of pretty much everything for the last 40 years. This will be proven when he returns in next two posts as well. Wait for it!

7 Aug 2010

City Exit North: Jumping The Queue

  City Exit North by pethu

 Here's a tune that wasn't part of the plan at all one moment, then demanded top priority the next. I realised that starting the whole album with "Moving Mist", however logical, would skew people's perception of what the album as a whole is about — musically speaking. Hence this more bombastic piece to start the entire show off.

So, now we start off in the city and "escape" north into the countryside. In an attempt to emphasize this, I used different main synths in the first and second parts:

In the "city" part, there'a lot of Native Instrument's FM8 — a software synth originally based on the the first popular, mass-market digital synthesizer, the Yamaha DX7. FM8 is a much more versatile beast than its inspiration these days, but still has that digital edge to the sounds.
Also, the fast sequenced triplets in the beginning are designed to keep you off balance for a while!

In a (largely failed) attempt at added contrast and a more organic feeling, most of the sound in part 2 comes from one of the last great all analog synths, the Yamaha CS-80. Here in Arturia's software version, the CS-80V 2:
Properly handled, the brass and string sounds from the CS-80 can instantly transport you into Vangelis territory! (Not saying it does in this particular case, mind.)

Discontinued in 1980, a used CS-80 can still fetch upwards of $25,000: That's for a 30 year old beast that weighs 220 pounds (100 kg), is almost impossible to keep in tune and is in constant need of spare parts. Software has many advantages, although it may not sound exactly the same...

1 Aug 2010

Zodiac - Full album download

Time to make use of some of my currently excessive web site bandwidth! Here's my previous (2007) instrumental album "Zodiac" in 24 high quality MP3 files, including CD cover images and liner notes booklet. 136 MBs, so be prepared for a little wait...

Zodiac - Full Album

(This does not mean I'm stuck for new material ;) — I plan to have a new "Trek" tune more or less finished by the end of the day...)