Thursday, September 22, 2011

My initial reaction to "Death of a Turtle"

Now that we're all lovely jubbly and released, I can reveal this video showing my initial reaction upon hearing Sam and Julian's song product over my "Chelonia mydas" backing track. At the time I was unaware of Sam Berry's contribution, so I'm sorry for not mentioning it then. The video is sort of funny. I hope you like it. Towards the end I look a bit serious, but I was only concentrating. I really liked it and now I love it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Just finished my Kakapo vocals!

I had a pretty tough time writing melodies for this one -- and the one melody I really liked turned out to be way too high for me to sing, so I made up something else on the spot. I tried to resist adding background vocals, but to no avail -- I did, however, manage to keep the focus on one main vocal line which was mostly unprocessed. I know Barney wanted a more "live" type vocal, and for the most part I used big chunks of 2 or 3 takes. So I was somewhat successful there.

As for the lyrics...pretty soon after I was researching the Kakapo, I discovered that there are only around 86 left, and all of them have names. I knew that was my angle right away. I came up with the idea of a kakapo family reunion, having just attended a family reunion of my own. Then I added some half-clever bits about regurgitation and mating calls. I did procrastinate a bit on the lyrics so I wish I had some more time to tweak them, but overall I think most of it works pretty well.

I finally got to use my new mic on this recording, too...I don't hear a huge difference from my last one, but hopefully it sounds good to you guys!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Circle Of Life

Well that was a lot of fun. Where do you start with the axolotl? In talking to Will Betts who provided the backing track he let slip that the name is derived from a Mexican deity. Bingo I thought. A quick word with Mexican deity afficianado Birdman's Nick and I was led to a short story about the Axolotl by Julio Cortazar. You can read it online if you're interested, it's a cracker. Anyway, without giving the story away, the song follows the main premise of the short. I think the finished track with all its inherent subtleties works in its own right but listeners will find new and exciting hidden depths by first reading Cortazar's choral catalyst. Enjoy! For those interested, due to constraints the writing recording and mixing process had to fit into 2, 2 hour sessions. Cramming like this was an absolute blast and led to some creative ideas which may have otherwise slept in the dark caves of the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.

Monday, August 15, 2011

So long and thanks for all the fishing...

SPOILER ALERT: lyrics provided at bottom of post.

I'm just about finished with the production of the song about the Coelacanth, on the backing track and subject provided by Mike Weber. I'm glad for the extra week. It was only on the 13th that I realized the deadline had been extended. I'd been scrambling. I'll use the remaining few days to pick at and fuss over the mix at my leisure, but we're really getting out the super fine grade sand paper at this point. I haven't yet decided on the title, but here are the lyrics. Please ignore if you don't want spoilers.

I am the living fossil discovered in a lump of rock the year the bicycle was born.
And I am the Lazarus taxon. You thought that I'd expired 80 million years ago,
but you were wrong.
A hundred years later I was hauled up from my underwater home.

The Paleozoic's been good to me,
and every age from then to now has let me be.
Oh, you don't know what you're missing.
I've got a hinged skull and a hollow spine.
Before you came along I was doing fine.
Well this may be your last chance to see...
So long and thanks for all the fishing.

I am an eco-warrior. Sleeping in the cold caves helps to conserve energy.
And I use my lobed fins to drift the currents when I need to feed.
You could learn a thing or two from me.

Well the Paleozoic was good to me,
and the late Cretaceous failed to put an end to my tree.
Oh, there's been some hard times it's true.
But now the sun is setting on the Chalumnae line.
If you fish us from existence will it weigh on your mind?
These pre-historic creatures are one helluva find.
So long and thank you.

Just think, I was the missing link
between the fishes and the creatures who emerged from the drink,
until a young museum curator discovered me
among the catch of the day of the trawler Nerine.

I'm not pretty to look at, not good to eat.
I can sometimes reach the mighty length of five or six feet.
The fishing boats snag me accidentally.
They used to throw me right back, but that's before they knew me.

You see, every damned collector wants to put me in glass,
tour me round the world - yeah, make some good cash.
The thing that made me such a curiosity
will result in my extinction eventually.
It makes me wonder how many others are just like me -
assumed to be extinct but really just out of reach.
Now this really is your last chance to see.
So long and thanks for all the fishing.

I've spent the last couple of weeks in rural France but at the same time I've been immersing myself in the Himalayas to write a song about the elusive and beautiful snow leopard. I read Peter Matthieson's 1978 travelogue The Snow Leopard; ultimately an unsuccessful search for the cat itself but a highly evocative piece of writing describing his inner meditations and outer journey trekking through the Himalayas - a wonderful piece of scene setting (and made me feel more sympathetic towards my old teacher of Himalayan architecture at Uni whose lectures were utterly dry but I guess he must have had similar adventures to Matthiesen so standing in a campus classroom would have been in dull contrast for him). Yesterday I watched a couple of natural history docs which have given me some insight into snow leopard behaviour and their apparently solitary lifestyles, though they do maintain constant hands-off (paws-off?) contact via scenting certain points in their trail - seemingly a way to keep in touch as well as warning each other away and for most of the year they are generally a week apart from each other at all time. Joyfully, I woke up this morning with a sketch of a song in my head so I'm on track to keeping to the deadline (I think).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Working with Kelly on Layla's Golden Tamarin backing track. Been listening to lots of John & Yoko recently, and I think I'm going to encourage Kelly to try some Yoko-style primal singing! Its a mesmerizing backing-track, so I think we're going to try some experimental rhythmic vocals.

Just finished a rough vocal on Julian's backing track - the subject is the incredibly endangered Red Slender Loris, whose Sri Lankan forest habitat has been chopped down to make floors. The poor little buggers are also hunted to make 'medicine' for stupid people's eyes. There seems almost no hope for the Red Slender Loris, but upon reading about them, I found them to be such fun-loving mules I found it hard to write anything particularly maudlin. Jules' awesome backing track is suitably cheeky and upbeat, so I took a lighter approach - somewhere between Harry Nilsson, Simon & Garfunkel and Randy Newman (now I've got to try and sing half as well as those guys!)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Lazarus Fish

I'm flying to the US tomorrow and so I've been scrambling to write the song and sing the vocals to go with Mike Weber's excellent Coelacanth track. I don't want to lug recording equipment around in suitcases. Well, I got the lyrics done Monday with a few tweaks occurring yesterday. I think they're pretty good. At any rate, it was the best I could do in the available time. I did a bunch of recording over the last couple nights and I'll do some more tonight, but I nearly have all the tracks I need. Then when I'm away I can do the mixing almost at leisure. Still plenty of time. I haven't decided on a title yet, but it may feature the Lazarus reference. I'm chuffed that I've managed to get in some Douglas Adams. The choruses finish with "...last chance to see. So long and thanks for all the fishing." :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It is also not easy to be Purple.

Just uploaded my Purple Frog backing track.

For whatever reason, as soon as I heard we were starting up again, I became determined to write a J-Pop track. Well, not J-Pop exactly, as I looked up some J-Pop and it sounds nothing like what I did. I've just been playing a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog, and wanted to do something like THAT. I especially loved the music in Sonic's all about speed but it's very colorful at the same time (also why I picked a "colorful" animal). I've always been a fan of those really cheesy high-pitched bells that are all over Japanese game music. They also usually have hyper-quantized, hyper-produced drums, so that's what I tried to start with.

I really tried to spend some more time mixing this one than usual, but I'm not sure how much it shows. I just can't seem to push my recordings over the edge into "pro" territory...there's always something missing that I can't put my finger on. I am definitely still improving but...slowly. It doesn't help that I usually choose very dense genres rather than just focusing on a couple instruments...maybe that will be the plan for next time.

Anyways, hope you all enjoy the track!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's not easy being Green (Sea Turtle)

I've had a sort of stop/start time of it with my backing track project on the theme of the Green Sea Turtle. I'd wanted a heavily layered fiddly acoustic guitar track, but I found that it has been difficult recording acoustic guitar in my setup. I had only a USB condenser microphone on a desktop base with no way to mount it on a stand (nor did I have a stand, in fact). Playing to a microphone sitting on a table is really tricky. It's hard to get comfortable; therefore, I found the performance lacking. The difficulties really slowed me down and made me reluctant to get stuck in.

As a result of this, I decided to add more electric parts than I had planned on at the start. This changed the feel a bit but worked wonders for jump starting the project again. Then last weekend I went to a music shop and bought the bits I really needed for successful acoustic guitar tracking. I actually bought a new condenser mic (analog) and an audio interface to run it through. And I bought a boom stand to hang it from. Big improvement. Another neat little device I purchased is a monophonic pitch to MIDI converter. I've used it to play a realistic sounding upright bass part with my electric guitar as controller. I will be using this quite a lot in the future.

We're in the home stretch now. There's a bit more recording I need to do. Just little bits and pieces. Mainly I just have to get the production in shape. It's sounding good. As I was first coming up with ideas for this piece I made a couple of videos, which you can find embedded below. I intend to make another when this is finished showing the production environment at work. Looking forward to the end product.

Friday, July 8, 2011


I've been writing and rehearsing my tune for a few weeks now and have recorded it a number of times in different styles but it's finished up as an unedited live performance of solo piano. I might do a few more takes and try and introduce a few more dynamics into the performance. I like the idea of the music being unaltered by the vocal recipient and potentially even challenging the vocalist to do a single vocal line in an unedited take as well? There are imperfections in my performance but I like that. This way the finished the piece would be like a live duet. Just an idea, I had fun approaching this track with a live feel in mind, might be nice to take the concept further.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A trip to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago yesterday has inspired me to

write a bit about my selected species, Latimeria chalumnae, also known as the Coelacanth.

Although not as pretty to look at as some of the other endangered species posted on here, the Coelacanth has a rich and exciting history. The first living specimen was discovered in 1938, and up until that time they were thought to have gone extinct about 65 million years ago with the dinosaurs. It is highly debated, but many researchers believe the Coelacanth to be the closest living link between fish and land-walking creatures.

Still no idea what style of song I'm going to go for here, but there is a lot of songwriting potential in this animal, for sure...

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Purple Frog

"The sole surviving member of an ancient group of amphibians that evolved some 130 million years ago, the discovery of the purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis) has been described as a ‘once-in-a-century find’ (3) (4). This frog has a highly distinctive and somewhat comical appearance, with a hugely bloated body and short, stout limbs (2) (5)."

Arguably purple, arguably a frog, definitely a weird-ass animal who needs a theme song.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Golden Lion Tamarins

These gorgeous red headed tree dwellers are now one of the most endangered mammals in the world thanks to naughty humans coveting their beautiful coats and destroying their rainforest habitat. Their total wild population exists in a tiny protected Brazilian enclave where there are estimated to be around only 1000 left. Despite this depressing statistic my backing track is pretty upbeat as I reckon these little primates have fun with a full range of Latin percussion in the forest.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I've opted to write a track for one of my favourite animals - the macaw. The bird in question is the Blue-Throated variety that hails from Bolivia, where habitat destruction (due to the coffee industry) has dwindled their number to around 100. That's right - only ONE HUNDRED birds leftl!!! That makes them CRITICALLY ENDANGERED!

These dudes build their nests in palm-tree clusters (not in the forests) and they're running out of places to nest. They're pretty easy to breed in captivity, and are common pets in the West, where they live in people's bathrooms.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Head f*ck

In search of the Kakapo and suitably inspirational video I stumbled across this classic scene screened in the recent "TV adaptation"of Douglas Adam's Last Chance To See.

This is quite useful for me as I've been thinking that the song of the Kakapo should be a yearning jazz fusion/Herbie Hancock affair designed to ensnare a mate. The Kakapo in this video takes a more direct action than digging a bass-binesque trench by simply jumping Mark the photographer. Now, as always with IML projects, I'm setting out with a personal musical brief way beyond my abilities or time at disposal but I always like to aim high to start with. So Herbie Hancock/Funk workout meets a soulful flightless love-bird serenading a potentially absentee mate it is.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Chelonia mydas

I've decided to compose my contribution to this album on the subject of the Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas. The species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. This video swayed it for me. It shows ten specimen being released into the Atlantic last summer from a beach in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is my favourite place in the world.

The Green Sea Turtle is a slow and relaxed creature which appears to fly gracefully through the water by flapping its fins. I have an idea for the music which is similarly relaxed and peaceful. The piece will probably be arranged quite simply with finger picked steel string acoustic guitar featuring dominantly.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


OK, I might have a bit of an unfair advantage on account of having an insider tip off for the next album theme but I couldn't resist putting my hand up for the Kakapo first:

I first read about it in Douglas Adams' wonderful book "Last chance to see" which quite frankly should be required reading for, well everyone, but specifically people joining this IML project. The book documents a journey around the world to visit species on the verge of extinction, and this chap was the star of the show for me. Its ritualistic attempts to find a mate involve digging a trench to enhance its already impressive sub bass, and yet, in some cases there is no mate to be found.

I want to know more about it, hence choosing it as my subject, it will force me to research. I'm really looking forward to the assignment and I hope that whoever gets my backing track finds the beauty in this wonderful creature as well. More soon ...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blogging for the Intercontinental Music Lab

So, we've made *checks for details* 6 albums so far and it's about time we thought about album number 7 isn't it? Yes, that's right, that lucky not so difficult seventh album. Looking through the history of the musical entertainment system we can discover the various bands that split up after making just a paltry 6 albums. By entering our seventh multi continental studio album, we are therefore more grown up than ALL of the following bands:

The Doors

Yes, that's all I could find through my avid googling. The phrase that manage to garner results in the end was (with the aid of boolean quote marks) "they only made six albums". I have attached a photograph of Jim Morrison to this post to really bring this fact alive, but also, more importantly, so we can see what our new blogger template looks like with some real content added to it. Watch this space for more updates in the next few days.