Producer’s Notes 7 – Turn Thy Face

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s Notes Vol. 7

by Kelly Snook

Song: Turn Thy Face
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 5
Key: B minor
Meter: Various
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/c_XXc3ve7AQ

Dear friends, I’m sorry for the slight delay in sending these notes out! I had typed up a nice set of notes and then Google docs seems to have eaten them. This is the modern equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.” So I will try again!

We are to the point in the album now where every song that comes on makes me think, “This one is my favourite!” Then the next one comes on and it’s my favourite. There is something about this one that is exactly what I need after Reckoning – it calms me down and gives me space to reflect in the pauses between invitations to turn my face. It is a simple directive and a gorgeously simple arrangement with stealth meter changes that make it feel like God is waiting just one extra beat for me to obey. The song does not groove. It does not tick along. It issues the call and waits for a silent responsive action. And then it calmly tells me that even if I were to search the entire universe for ever more for a better solution than simply turning my face, my quest would be in vain. It is very matter of fact – the guitar part exactly mimics the melody and all the musical elements are lined up in time and space, giving a sense of musical clarity and simplicity to the message.

The recording of this song, however, was truly rocket science. Often it’s the simplest, most stripped down arrangements that can prove the most difficult to mix because of how exposed each sound is. We had tried recording the guitars on this song four times in three different countries and on several different guitars and had given up on it, removing it from the record after the fourth failed attempt. If you try playing the chords of the song on a steel-stringed guitar, you will hear why. The shifting of fingers from one chord to next in this song produce unusually loud finger squeaks on the strings! There are many different techniques producers and engineers can use to reduce the squeaking sounds and we tried them all. None of them resulted in a sound we were satisfied with. So we moved “Turn Thy Face” into the discard pile.

On the VERY last day that we were in the barn in Lewes, we were preparing to pack up the last remaining bits of studio gear that had been left behind by the movers. The live room was completely empty and we couldn’t help but notice how beautiful it sounded. By this point we knew there would be a second album because of the generous contributions of people to our Kickstarter. I had a radical idea for an experimental technique to record the guitar for Turn Thy Face. I thought at least we should try to capture the sound of this new guitar in this space through this gorgeous mixing desk in these last precious moments. The idea I had was to play each chord in the song individually, without moving to the next one so there would be no squeaks, and then we would squirrel away the audio for revisiting in 2019. We were doubtful that it would work, but we thought it couldn’t hurt to try.

So, 8am on the last morning in the barn Luke went into the live room and we set up a single mic in the middle of the room. We then went through the song about 25 times, each time with Luke just playing one of the chords at precisely the time it should be played and with the precise duration, articulation, and release that it would have in context. I just have to say – I know VERY few musicians, including myself, who could execute this without practice – nonlinearly hitting every instance of one of any given chord of the song with almost no mistakes. Luke never ceases to amaze me with his talents! When we’d gotten through all the chords, without listening back or editing it together to check anything, we simply closed the file and loaded out. We didn’t expect to return to it for years.

I mentioned in the notes for Garden of Thy Heart that, at the last minute, two songs were pulled from the record and two new ones were added. Garden of Thy Heart was one of the new ones, and for the second one, we decided to resurrect Turn Thy Face from the discard pile and see if our last-ditch recording experiment had actually worked. By now, I was in the little garden “cabin,” without my usual arsenal of tools and ergonomic comforts of the barn, so Luke and I would find ourselves doing tasks seemingly unrelated to music, such as assembling the new office chair and trying to create sound baffling out of found items.

But we did science to the individually recorded guitar notes and if I hadn’t told you this secret of how it was recorded, it’s possible none of you would have noticed! We are so happy it worked! 🙂 Science FTW!

So if you are one of the lucky ones who is receiving Luke’s excellent songbook and you are playing this song and wondering why your guitar is squeaking so much, don’t feel bad! Just for fun, pick a chord in the song and try to play it each time it happens in the song, and you will develop even more admiration for Luke’s genius.

Thanks for your patience while I retyped these notes, and thanks again for giving us an excuse to record some of these anecdotes. I’m absolutely giddy with excitement for you all to hear Seek No Other!

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/c_XXc3ve7AQ

Click to Play

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