All posts by NemesisVex

From Acadia to Zenith / 四重奏

Cedar and oak allergy seasons happen back to back in Austin — from January to May — and I’m usually a basket case at that time. So I’m not tempting fate by going into the studio. That leaves me with free time to contemplate what’s coming up for Eponymous 4.
A number of weeks back, someone on Metafilter posted a link to an old Harpers article by Dorothy Thompson, titled "Who goes Nazi?" A single phrase jumped out at me — "from Acadia to Zenith" — and I feel compelled to work that into an Eponymous 4 project. I’m thinking it’s going to be the title of the next album, but I’m not sure what that album is going to sound like.
So we’ll see how From Acadia to Zenith inspires me.
I’ve also been listening to a lot 20th century string quartet repertoire. Before I announced the annual shinkyoku moratorium, I considered recording an album of string quartet music for NaSoAlMo 2007, an idea I’ve had for quite a while. I’ve been wanting to do my homework first, studying scores of other string quartets. But I haven’t really gotten around to acquiring many scores.
For now, I’m just absorbing all the different ways composers have approached the medium. I listened to all of Dmitri Shostakovich’s quartets in 2006, and I delved into Béla Bartók’s quartets last year. I’m revisiting Terry Riley’s Salome Dances for Peace, and I even sought out the Samuel Barber quartet from whence the Adagio for Strings came.
My first string quartet, which I wrote when I was a teenager, wears its Shostakovich and Barber influences on its sleeve. (I had just discovered Kronos Quartet around that time.) I would like this next string quartet (or two) to sound more like, well, myself. Whatever that means.

Be it resolved, 2008 edition, or the non-resolution resolution

My New Year’s resolutions in the past have pretty much been inclined to creative endeavors, something I’d like to continue for the foreseeable future. They were terrific resolutions to make at a time when I wasn’t doing much creatively, but in the past five days, I recorded incredibly rough — no, make that incredibly ROUGH takes of vocals. I got through about 26 songs, and I still have about 19 to go.
In short, I don’t need a New Year’s resolution to spur me to work — I’ve got more than enough. Yes, I could make a resolution to get through that work, but last year, I made one which was immediately sidelined by a pinched nerve. I know the work needs to be done, and no amount of resolving is going to change the fact it’s going to get done.
Rather, I prefer New Year’s resolutions that challenge me to try something new, like when I took singing lessons for a month or learned how to play bass guitar. If I were to make a New Year’s resolution, I would probably start with forming a band.
If the exercise of laying down vocal tracks is any indication, I am not a singer. Even my sister said I need singing lessons. I think these songs need more than my meager voice to do them justice.
And even though I’ve recorded everything with keyboards, most of the songs I’ve written are really geared for live musicians. I just don’t need a singer — I need guitarists and a rhythm section as well.
But I’m not resolving to do form a band in 2008. I have this perception of a band as being a life-turning commitment — once it’s formed, I have to spend a number of years making it work. And like any kind of relationship, it requires time and money. The former, I probably have too much of it. The latter, not so much.
Of course, just because I don’t make a New Year’s resolution to do something doesn’t mean I won’t end up doing it.

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Introducing … the Spreadsheet!

The Spreadsheet

This past summer, I managed to record vocals for 10 songs, and I was actually pleased with the results. It took helping someone else to record a song to teach me how to do it for myself, and I’m much more comfortable knowing that most of the limitations of my voice — and there are many — can be "fixed" in production.
Thus inspired, I went through all Eponymous 4 songs requiring vocals and noted the highest and lowest notes of each. My most comfortable range is from low C to D near middle C. Every song was categorized in relation to that range. If the lowest note was a B, it was considered too low. If the highest note was an E-flat, it was considered too high. In reality, I can hit those notes but not as easily as anything within range.
Songs that hit the furthest acceptable ranges — low F for bass, G near middle C for tenor — were flagged to be transposed in such a way where the extreme note would be near the comfortable range. Songs with an extremely wide range — the folly of a writer who isn’t a singer — posed the most problems. Two songs in particular were more difficult rhythmically than melodically.
And after all that analysis, the Spreadsheet was born! It really should be called the Eponymous 4 Vocal Schedule, but I’m calling it the Spreadsheet.
I’ve used the Spreadsheet in the last few days to figure out which songs I’m going to tackle first. My first inclination, like all lazy people, was to do the easiest stuff first and save the harder stuff for later. Then I dove straight into the most complex song to record — "Hear the Wind Sing". I wanted to get a benchmark of just how much work would be required to do the more challenging stuff.
When I realized it wouldn’t be that bad, I decided to go against inclination and tackle all the difficult stuff first. If I get it out of the way now, they won’t be around for wild procrastination later.
See that section of green? Those are songs that have some vocals done (not necessarily final draft vocals). The goal is to make that green section as large as possible. Not pictured is a blue section, which signifies the songs that fall in the comfortable range. The yellow sections, of course, are the more difficult songs, with the darker shades being more difficult than others.
All this organization isn’t very rock ‘n’ roll, but I’ve been putting off recording vocals for a long, long time now. I needed a picture of the work I’m facing, and the Spreadsheet illustrates it nicely.

Shinkyoku moratorium, part the third

It seems right around this time of year, I initiate a shinkyoku moratorium, when I promise to write no new material till after a certain time.
Most shinkyoku moratorium are attempts to curb my overproductivity, but this time, I’m calling one to take care of something not related at all to music. I need to get my weight under control, so I’ve started to walk the treadmill every night. It’s sufficiently time-consuming to cause potential conflict with any future creative spurts.
So I’m not going to work on music from now till after the start of the year. At that point, I’ll see how much progress I’ve made on the health front to determine whether shinkyoku moratorium needs to continue.
I’m also making the decision not to participate in NaSoAlMo this year. If I were to participate, I would want to spend every spare moment writing and recording. Right now, the weight issue is more pressing. I’m also dodging a bullet with this decision — I was seriously going to write a string quartet album, but I haven’t really studied any scores yet to prepare.
During those hours I’m not working out — or researching about losing weight — I’ll be concentrating on works currently in progress. I have far too many vocals to record, and now I have the environment to finish them.
So we’ll see how this shinkyoku moratorium turns out.

Is that what I really sound like?

It’s usually a weird feeling hearing the sound of your own voice played back to you, but it’s probably more disturbing to hear that same voice sing.
It is for me.
I’m not a singer, so I fall into the trap of comparing my untrained vox with people who can sing. Regardless, I’ve spent the last few weeks recording vocals for a number of songs. If it weren’t for extensive editing I couldn’t sit through hearing myself.
First off, I have a hard time staying in tune. I never seem to hit a note right on, and in some cases, I can be slightly more than a half-step off. I don’t stay steady on long notes, and the nasal timbre of my voice could be considered an acquired taste.

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Knob twiddler

I’ve been procrastinating on recording vocals because so far, it’s been nothing but an exercise in frustration. But it took recording someone else singing for me to reach a few epiphanies about how it’s done.
About a week ago, OmarG asked whether he could use my studio to record some parody tracks for a Latino Comedy Project show. I gave him some disclaimers about my ability to record vocals, but he was looking for cheap, and I was free. So we took a stab.
We had a 3-minute karaoke track that had to be cut down to fit some substitute lyrics. I didn’t know if it could be done, let alone whether I could do it. But with some creative splicing and cross-fading, it was done.
Then came the vocals.

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The fifth unfinished Eponymous 4 EP

After using the solo violin sample in Reason’s Orkester pack, I revisited a string quartet I wrote before I started college. I rerecorded it last year using some of Reason’s other string samples, and I never really liked the results.
The Orkester samples aren’t exactly the Vienna Symphonic Library, but they’re not bad. They are far and away better than the Kawai K4 arco string patch which I used when I first wrote the work. I was even reckless and bought the Reason Strings Refill. The viola in the Refill doesn’t have the same quality as the solo violin and cello in Orkester, but at least now I had something close to a real string quartet.
So I made another mix of the quartet with the Orkester samples and really liked what I heard.

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The fifth full-length unfinished Eponymous 4 album

I still have one more track I’d like to record, but I think I’ve got the bulk of the next Eponymous 4 album demoed. In June, I wrote 10 or so lyrics, which I added to the five or so I wrote over the past two years. I wrote music for 12 of those lyrics, 11 of which I’ve put on the new album. Early on, I got attached to the title 「健忘症」 (Kenboushou) because it means "amnesia" in Japanese. If Onitsuka Chihiro can title her album Insomnia
I recorded one outtake, 「光がない」, which was a bit more in the style of Revulsion than any of the other new material. I may use it in a future project, or I may relegate it to a b-side or something. I’m saving three of the lyrics I wrote for another time. The music they call for doesn’t quite fit this album.
I didn’t set out to write in an alt-country kind of style, but when I wrote two songs in that mold, I figured it was sign. But I think it was the violin and cello that dictated how the writing turned out. I liked how they sounded, and I wanted to use those instruments as much as I could. This album is also the most guitar-driven of the Eponymous 4 works. There’s maybe an organ and piano on some tracks, but there’s an acoustic guitar on just about every track.
Given the country sound of the songs, I probably shouldn’t use the Japanese titles I used for the lyrics, but I like the incongruity.
Most of all, I’m just glad there’s a new Eponymous 4 album recorded, because I was kind of getting tired of all the previous albums.
By the way, this album is the first completely new material I’ve written. Nothing on this album was commandeered from an unfinished sketch or material from the archive. That’s kind of important to me because I don’t want to keep reworking things I wrote in the past.

All I’m missing is some serious twang

I think I’m writing a country album. No, really.
On Thursday night, I recorded music for "What I Deserve". The reverb on the guitar makes it sound like New Order, but the distorted guitar in the chorus keeps it from diving too deeply in New Wave. But what does it really sound like?
The following night, I did the music for 「」, and it felt like something familiar — not exactly Caitlin Cary, but that was my first instinct. As it turned out, I was channeling Camper Van Beethoven’s "Sweethearts", and 「今」 became a country song. Hearing it together with "What I Deserve" put the latter song in a new context.
And that violin sounds kind of nice. So now I want to use it when I can.

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The difference between breaking a resolution and defying it

Approximately six months ago, I made big noises about holding off on writing new material till I’ve completely finished everything I’ve done thus far.
Well, guess what …
I blew the New Year’s resolution when I came down with a pinched nerve at the start of the year, and as for that shinkyoku moratorium? Total history. In short, I have begun writing the next soon-to-be unfinished Eponymous 4 album.
Go me!

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