Producer’s Notes 3 – Garden of Thy Heart

Hi friends,

Here’s the third installment from Kelly’s Producer’s Notes. Hope you enjoy!

Producer’s Notes Vol. 3

by Kelly Snook

Song: Garden of Thy Heart (release date 5 March 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 2, No 3
Key: F major
Meter: 4/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/glfwDjWibvI

This Hidden Word of Bahá’u’lláh is another that is widely memorized and set to music by Bahá’ís.

This song was a late addition to our album, but no less storied! For various reasons, at a very late hour, we decided to pull two songs we were originally planning to include, leaving us with just eight mixed songs for the record. Luke was in Ireland and I was in the UK executing an epic international move of my studio from the beloved barn in Lewes to my new studio in Portland, Oregon. Luke made a bold decision to embark on arranging and recording a brand new song for the record in Ireland, which he executed very quickly. Whereas we had been crafting the other songs for years, this one had a different, much shorter gestation and maturation, so it has a delightfully straightforward, sweet simplicity that features Luke’s exceptionally strong songwriting, arranging, and music production skills and the musicianship of his Irish colleagues – Dave Mooney (bass), Niall Woods (percussion), Vyvienne Long (cello), Cora Venus Lunny (violin & viola) and Dublin-based sound engineer Antimo Kelly Puca.

Luke explains that the song is composed in two main parts, reflecting the two sentences of the Hidden Word. According to him,

“The first part consists of the sentence ‘O Friend! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold.’ This section has a free, rubato quality, representing the organic nature of the growth of a seed into a flower, and the uninhibited flight of a bird. The word ‘love’ is gently highlighted by a momentary entrance of strings, hinting at the possibilities created, and the potential unlocked, by love. The strings step out of the picture again, waiting to return later.

The second part – consisting of the sentence ‘Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly’ – shifts from the organic, rubato feeling to a steady walking pace, representing a person’s journey through life, shaped immeasurably by the relationships he/she forms and the company he/she keeps along the way. The guitar now takes on a steady pattern, oscillating at first between the IV-V chords, creating anticipation of the journey, and then the ii-iii-IV chords, creating feelings of both melancholy and hope. A ride cymbal and bass gently mark time. As this walk through life progresses, the strings become fuller, more guitars join in harmonising as ‘companions’ with the original guitar and, when the sentence is complete for a second time, the strings come to the fore. The melody of the violins, doubled in octaves to create a feeling of assurance, simultaneously represents ‘the rose of love’ coming into full blossom, and the mature, confident song of ‘the nightingale of affection and desire.’”

The song then ends with a short reprise of the first section – a reminder of the simple, essential message given at the beginning of the song. Unlike Healing, which features massively satisfying resolutions throughout the song, this song never really resolves. Even at the end when it sets up for a familiar ii-V-I, it skips the I and instead ends on the IV, creating one of Luke’s signature floating feelings.

In terms of spiritual symbolism, the warm simplicity of the music is perfect. The quote encourages us to “plant naught but the rose of love,” so even if we’d had years to develop this, we would have chosen not to clutter it with anything unnecessary. Whereas Beauty and Healing (and many others on the album) are like walking a well-worn path through a dense biodiverse forest with different colors and textures and species everywhere one turns, this one is like a neatly planted, organized rose garden with straight paths and bright colors.

So, my role on this song was mainly to decide which parts to keep and how to polish them quickly to a level that would match the other siblings on the album while preserving the song’s integrity. One aspect of this was to make the strings sound as epic and cinematic as possible. For this, I made use of a plug-in worth talking about, because we came to refer to it as “the butter.”

butterI had learned about this tool, called Pro-Q-2 by Fabfilter, from engineer Paul Finan when recording cellos with Luke and Vyvienne in Dublin for another song earlier in August. Once I started using this amazing EQ, I wanted to go back and remix everything on the rest of the album, but I mostly resisted the temptation. Anything we put through it could be sculpted to perfection, and sounded “like butter.” The EQ curves sometimes even looked like they were dripping with butter. Whereas the butter had been elusive and hard won prior to this discovery, it was now much easier to score! Winning!

I wanted to include this detail to try to convey the sense of humor with which all of this work was conducted, lest we sound too earnest in our notes! In trying to describe the pursuit of excellence and attention to detail in our process while negotiating some of the biggest changes in our lives, I didn’t want to fail to describe just how much time we spent doubled over in laughter. We will try to let you in on some of the inside jokes that ran as threads through our production. This element of humor and ability to poke fun at ourselves made it always a joy, always something to look forward to every time we were to be in the studio.

garden-shed-lewesIt the process of moving, I decided to keep back a small portion of studio equipment, my old back-up Pro Tools rig, my UK speakers, and a bare minimum of cables, which I installed in a tiny shed behind a house in Lewes. It was a difficult process to split one studio into two in a way that would leave both studios functional, and it added great complexity to the most complicated move of my life. I was also, incidentally, moving offices at work and moving house from one house in Lewes to another. But this little “Studio B Cabin” is where Garden of Thy Heart (as well as the other “new” song on the album) was mixed, and where all the final mix tweaking during the mastering process was done! As any mix engineer knows, the perils of final mixing in a new, , tiny, boxy, untreated, unfamiliar space made this a very risky decision, indeed!

inside-shedNevertheless, we did our best and persuaded friends to help with extra critical listening to mitigate the risks. I kind of love the fact that Garden of Thy Heart was mixed literally in a garden shed. In the end, we managed, and added yet another studio to the long list of studios utilized in the making of Year of the Nightingale.

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/glfwDjWibvI

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