Producer’s Notes 6 – Reckoning

Hi friends,

In today’s Producer’s Notes, Kelly shares some profound insights into the making and musical symbolism of Reckoning…

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s Notes Vol. 6

by Kelly Snook

Song: Reckoning (release date 11 March 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 31
Key: E minor
Meter: 4/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/XKo1wvkVGZc

Parents aren’t supposed to pick their favourite children, but Reckoning stands out for me as my favourite song on Year of the Nightingale for pure listening. In the context of the album, this song comes at just the right time, bringing me out of the calm and warmth of Sign of Love (after I’m done repeating it however many times) by punching me gently in the gut and slapping me lovingly in the face with reality, calling me to action.

This song delivers the urgent, clear, and direct warning of the imminent possibility of death with some sort of magical beauty that inspires confidence and bolsters courage. Its music at first seems simple and straightforward, yet it is so complex that there’s almost too much meaning here to address in a reasonable number of words.

From the very first, gently bold opening harmonics and clear,
bell-like tones over the layers of slapped, syncopated, rhythmic acoustic guitars, it’s a wake-up call, reminding participants that time isn’t waiting! This is a song that one involuntarily participates in – it’s almost guaranteed that some part of one’s body will move or twitch, especially when the drums literally kick in. And, OH MY GOODNESS, these drums are genius – Anwar! But, ultimately, despite the massive accompaniment in the process, it is a solo vocal with only eerie echoes and hints of others, just as accountability for one’s actions is a solo effort no matter how many people are around. Luke is singing very high in his range – extended notes that require relaxed stretching out of his comfort zone.

As one of the oldest songs on the album, this is one whose component parts received multiple re-recordings and layerings – I think there are 8 or 10 layers of guitars, for example. One thing that sometimes happens when you layer sounds is that the combination of harmonic structures and extraneous noises in the tracks can create entirely new sounds that don’t actually exist except in our perception. That is, the sounds are not physical or real – they’re phantom sounds! This song is full of phantom sounds, especially audible in the intro. If you listen REALLY carefully on very high quality headphones you can hear what sounds like a person whisper-growling or whisper-moaning in a kind of foreboding way between the 6th and 7th higher plucked guitar harmonics. Phantom! Then, after the 8th plucked harmonic you can hear kind of like a person imitating with mouth sounds a butterfly fluttering against a cardboard box. Phantom! After Luke’s first “Bring thyself to account” *just* before his second “Bring”…this is probably the most noticeable phantom sound, audible even on laptop speakers, which is a quick triplet sound like someone slowly grinding a piece of hard plastic along a wire-wound piano or low guitar string. I’m trying to be very specific because these sounds can’t be isolated for demonstration – they’re not really there! Luke and I would be sitting there, listening to a mix and I’d snap my head over to him – WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT? I’d search and search through every track, search the delays and reverbs…it doesn’t exist unless all parts are playing. Have a listen…I know it’s not really fair because how are you to know, out of the tens or hundreds of sounds that are hitting your brains in every beat of this song, which ones we actually played and which ones are phantom? You’ll just have to trust us, or come visit the studio…For me, this is part of the magic of sound to illustrate the power of unity in diversity bringing about something entirely new.

But there are so many real sounds to talk about, too! One of my favourite intentional sounds was a late addition – the clave coming in on the word “reckoning.” If you weren’t already feeling the slap of the guitars as a ticking clock, this brings it into even more literal focus. I love how it and the saxophone trills move across space from left to right, creating a sensation of searching left and right while running. The rhodes piano is always going to be one of my favourites. In this case, it offers a simultaneously menacing and hopeful vibe with its alternating 9th+10th clusters and more open voicings. There are the dissonant, counter-moving, panned pizzicato strings adding to the action. There is one of those thunder-making percussion instruments with the spring that hangs from a small drum head at one end of a hollow cylinder. Nobody can quite remember who played this part on the recording- – there’s an outside chance it could have been Nazaneen. Even when the drums go wild, the bass stays solid and absolutely regular. To me this represents the solid foundation that a practice of accountability each day creates, determined action in the face of fear.

When mixing devotional music, I often assign specific roles to the different instruments. Perhaps I listened to too much of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf as a little girl, but this song lends itself to a musical story arc and especially well-defined characters. Please allow me to introduce them to you in order of appearance in the story in my head, as we move quickly through our protagonists life from birth to death:

– Plucked guitar harmonics notes = Life events – birth is the first note of the song, as time begins for our hero

– Slapped guitar chords = Time – fast and regular – the whole first verse is simple like childhood with time passing and rare life events

– Lead vocal = Consciousness of the Word of God – introducing the concept of bringing to account at a time in life when it’s not too much more than a concept

– Rhodes piano chords = The voice of Authority defining Good, Right, Truth – the warning and promise of justice. The Rhodes entry represents the first awareness of consequences of choices. It cements the first of two descents down to the 4th, representing the most serious warnings of the unexpected nature of death

– Thunder percussion = Death – first comes in on “ere thou art summoned”

– Clave percussion = Urgent time = on the word “reckoning,” urgency sets in and doesn’t stop from then on, like time tapping incessantly on our hero’s shoulder

– Background vocals = Conscience/internal voice = the voices whispering in our hero’s ear echoing the Word

– Drums = Individual Rhythms, Personality, Choice = the drums show the joy of individual choice and experimentation as we enter the instrumental break that represents adolescence and early adulthood, flitting around the beats of time with endless energy and creativitiy

– Saxes = Finding our own voice = Trying many things, seeing what works relative to the context of authority and the Word of God. lots of life events happening now, too as we move into full adulthood! almost too many to count, joined in by higher bell notes in the rhodes, and more voices of conscience getting slightly more urgent sounding

– Pizzicato Strings = Increasing urgency of middle age and responsibility, family, work – so much stuff is happening to juggle and keep track of – life events coming all the time, everything clashing and moving

And then it just ends.

And now, to bring myself personally to account here: This mix was the first to reach that special moment when you know intuitively that if you do anything else to it, you are likely to ruin it.
In pursuit of perfection, I often pass that point and then spend months trying to recapture the magic of that earlier mix. This mix contains some fairly big mixing and editing errors. For example, there are a few moments where I’ve made Anwar accidentally flub the timing of some hits. That wasn’t him! It was me missing a couple of edit points. I’m sorry, Anwar! And there are some notes that are too loud or too soft (sorry, Diane!). And some EQ things I would tweak. And I accidentally left my own voice in there mixed in with Luke’s mix – I hear it every time as if I’m giving myself a good talking to! But actually, I *love* that this is the song with the most mistakes. It was done when it was done, before it was perfect, like each of us will be, but it is also strong and beautiful, like all of us can be now. And it exudes excitement borne of the possibilities of a very different society characterised by justice when everyone is engaged in this level of personal reckoning.

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/XKo1wvkVGZc


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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Denis McQuade
    Mar 13, 2017 @ 05:15:34

    With Best Regards

    Denis Denis McQuade

    Sined0601@yahoo.co.uk 07941 941114

    >

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