Producer’s Notes 10 – Dominion

Dear friends,

Happy Naw Ruz! While I’m looking forward to the year ahead, I’m a little sad that today’s post is Kelly’s final installment of her Producer’s Notes from Year of the Nightingale. It’s been a very special time sharing these songs and their stories with you. Thank you for reading, listening, supporting! Luke x

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s Notes Vol. 10

by Kelly Snook

Song: Dominion (release date 19 March, 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 14
Key: E major / C# minor
Meter: 4/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/pVCkc3n9DOA

The sun rose without fanfare this morning over the east coast of Tasmania, starting this New Year off with quiet confidence. I sat on the beach and reflected on Dominion, wondering how I could possibly fit everything there is to say about this song into a blog post. We have known for a long time that we wanted to end the album with this song – we can’t imagine what could come after it.

Nearly every moment of the recording of this song, which spanned eight years, was imbued with an indescribable sense of potency and magic. The original piano and vocals were recorded live at 3am in the atrium of the MIT Media Lab on the historic Bosendorfer piano, with mics placed several stories up inside the huge space to capture the reverb. Luke did several takes – each different and each at its own tempo, free from any kind of metronome or click track. This live-recording technique combined with subtle differences in mics, room noise, and other variables, meant that we knew from the outset that it would be very difficult and time consuming to try to edit different takes together. So I was listening extra carefully during the recording process. I remember so clearly the moment he played this take! All my hair stood on end and every synapse in my brain seemed to fire at once. I knew instantly that this was the one!
It wasn’t perfect – there were extraneous piano noises caused by the very MediaLab-esque machinery that had been added onto the piano – the first every MIDI-controllable piano. There were giant air compressors just behind a thin door there in the basement. There were people walking through the space. Nevertheless, this was the take that we had to use, and the one that all other instruments were recorded to.

The Atrium at the MIT Lab

A year or two later there was an epic snowstorm in Washington DC. People still refer to that storm as Snowmageddon. What it meant for us is the most blissful possible recording environment in my second story urban loft that usually suffered from inescapable city noise pollution, the worst of which was the McDonald’s trash trolley that rumbled down the alley under my windows every couple of hours. But not on this magical day! It was on this day (if memory serves me correctly) that we recorded, among other things, Jason Rafalak’s gorgeous detuned bowed bass and all of the experimental, fragile bridgework that was only possible in such silence.

Towards the end of last summer, Luke and I decided we needed more of a build in the middle of Dominion. We added 23 layers of trumpets for just one moment in the song! I captured a bit of this during a fit of present-moment-nostalgia, knowing this would be his last trumpet notes recorded in the barn.

23 Layers of Trumpets

The recording complete and mostly mixed, but a huge problem still plagued this song. There was so much noise in the original MIT piano, vocal, and reverb mics that we realized we wouldn’t be able to use it unless we were able to clean up the noise. However, there were 6 mics with variable phasing issues and multiple edit points that made any sort of automated noise reduction, such as what you’d normally use with audio editing software, impossible. I realized that cleaning up this audio was far beyond anything I’d ever attempted, and I had little confidence or hope. I sent Luke home one evening and kept at it, but each time, if i was able to remove the noise, too many other artifacts were introduced and the piano/vocal sounded terrible. Broken-hearted and panicked, I briefly had a go at re-recording Luke’s piano part note for note, because the vocal mic wasn’t as noisy as the piano. If I could just get a clean piano track, all would be well in my world. Several hours later, even though I’d played the notes exactly the same as Luke, the magic wasn’t there – something intangible that was absolutely impossible to recapture or recreate. When Luke came back the next morning, the problem still wasn’t solved. I remember there being many tears. We consulted about what to do – we even, in our desperation, considered starting from scratch, but it would have been impossible to time it with all the other instruments, and even more impossible to reach the perfection of that original take. We consulted about leaving it off the record.

But I couldn’t let it go. I HAD to fix it. I’d created the problem with my way-too-fancy experimental recording techniques, and I couldn’t bear the responsibility of killing it. Even though we were ridiculously pressed for time, I asked Luke to give me just a bit more time.

So then I summoned ALL of my rocket science powers – all of my prayers and hope. In the studio there were photos of two women, always looking over us: Martha Root and my grandmother, Wilma Lowell. Luke and I often called on them, with our own special nicknames for them, to assist us in moments of tests. Across the room was a famous photo of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá holding a young girl. I literally, out loud in the studio, begged them all for help, and then I leaned in to the science. Track by track, moment by moment, I manually lined up all of the phasing problems. I bypassed all the noise software settings, delved into the intricate details of the physics and tried several trillion different combinations of parameters. I don’t know how many hours it took, but the next morning when Luke came back, our tears were of joy and relief!

The irony of our utter fear and panic at the possible premature death of this song (“wherefore fearest thou thy perishing?”) wasn’t lost on us. But, science wins again! This song literally takes my breath away every time.

Thank-you again to all of you for following along in our process. I am forever grateful to have worked on it.    I will miss these reflections! I can’t wait for the next record.

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/pVCkc3n9DOA

Dominion

Dear friends, today’s song

– the final song from Year of the Nightingale –

is dedicated to

John Vincent Rafalak (1951-2017),

Beloved father of Jason, Ian, Lua and Joe

dominion-thumbnail

Direct YouTube Link:
https://youtu.be/pVCkc3n9DOA
Learn More at the Facebook Event:
🎉 Year of the Nightingale – Album Release 🎉
+ One New Song, Every Other Day, Mar 1-19 +

Producer’s Notes 9 – Paradise

Hi friends,

While the CDs of Year of the Nightingale are flying around the world into the mailboxes of the Kickstarter Supporters, Kelly is also on a journey around the world – She is currently on a multi-stop music trip to Tasmania via Boston and Qatar but she is still kindly sharing with us her Producer’s Notes while in transit. This post has some really lovely insights into both the recording process and the spirit of Year of the Nightingale. Thanks Kelly! Luke

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s Notes Vol. 9
by Kelly Snook

Song: Paradise (release date 17 March, 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 6
Key: G major
Meter: 4/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/ZmUAg0sQ5gA

I’m writing these notes into my phone as I sit so near the original Garden of Ridván (Paradise) that my heart aches for the fact that this is the closest I will probably ever get. As we flew down between Iran and Iraq, I watched as all the familiar cities from the history of the Bahá’í Faith appeared below me. Tehran and Shiraz, the cities of the Births of Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, the Twin Founders of the Bahá’í Faith, off to the east. Baghdad and its Garden of Ridván to the west. I wonder if I will ever be permitted to visit these sacred places. So close – just 41,000 feet! But so far away.

Luckily we have another Garden of Paradise to visit – this song! It is lush and deep and full of beautiful sounds to explore, from the beautiful clusters and voicings in the Rhodes to the intricately layered cellos, the music reminds me of the way the gardens around Bahjí encircle it and the vocals stand so beautifully at the center like the Mansion and the Shrine side by side.

Recording with cellist Vyvienne Long

This song is one that features quite a lot of layering using a technique that I love, which involves a musician recording many individual lines, either improvised or coached, that are then sculpted, edited, and mixed to create complex textures and movement. In this song this layering technique was used with the Rhodes, the cellos, the trumpets, and a bit with the guitars. It is a lot of work to mix, but almost always worth the effort, we think! Some of the other songs to which you can listen for this technique are Seek No Other – saxes; Beauty – vocals and saxes; Healing – trumpets, pianos, and mandolin; Sign of Love – mbira and guitar harmonics; and Reckoning – saxes, guitar harmonics and violins.

Back in Paradise, I always imagined Diane’s voice surrounding Luke’s on both sides in this song. When she was able to go into a studio in LA and re-record the vocals on gorgeous microphones, we went a bit Diane-crazy and started doubling her voice everywhere on all the songs! We called this the “butter sandwich.” At one point we also tried doubling Luke’s voice, as well, which then created the “double butter sandwich.” However, in the end, we decided that we would keep just Diane’s butter sandwich special for this one song, so this is the only time it is featured. You hear it the second time through the Hidden Word, and it is especially buttery in headphones.

One more little note: this song was originally only half as long, and I found that to be unnecessarily cruel. So we doubled the length and added a wee breakdown in the middle, so now it’s one of the longest songs on the record. I think this is appropriate because of the importance of this Hidden Word in Luke’s process of investigating the Bahá’í Faith. Better to pay it a bit more attention and adorn it as beautifully as possible!

OK – I leave you now as I continue my journey on to Tasmania. Only one song remains! Thanks again for following along in this release process.

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/ZmUAg0sQ5gA

Paradise

paradise-thumbnail

Direct YouTube Link:
https://youtu.be/ZmUAg0sQ5gA
Learn More at the Facebook Event:
🎉 Year of the Nightingale – Album Release 🎉
+ One New Song, Every Other Day, Mar 1-19 +

Producer’s Notes 8 – Seek No Other

Hi friends,

Today Kelly is sharing her Producer’s Notes on Seek No Other – a song which was especially enjoyable to work on and features exquisite instrumental contributions such as Ian’s rippling bass patterns and Adam’s multiple saxophone lines.

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s Notes Vol. 8

by Kelly Snook

Song: Seek No Other (release date 15 March 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 17
Key: A major
Meter: 3/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/YKpyDm2Hk1w

This song is a meditation.

In the context of the album’s song order, this Hidden Word follows on perfectly from the one in the previous song, which has a similar theme and message. Musically, though, they take very different approaches. Whereas the previous song is filled with spaces, as if waiting patiently for the listener to turn their face, this arrangement provides such consistency that it can actually be used as an active exercise in focused meditation. The song consists of just two chords alternating with only a couple of breaks in the two-chord pattern. The slow pace is perfect for very slow inhales and exhales every four measures, so breathing can be matched to listening.

Astonishingly, there is one note – the root note A – that the guitar plays on the 3rd beat of every single measure throughout the entire song without fail. If you focus your attention on that note coming in every time, you will notice it never changes, never diminishes, never increases! It arrives reliably and unfailingly with absolute regularity and constancy. To me this note represents the covenant of God with man, that guidance is always there, no matter what may happen that seems to obscure it. And that even if attention is diverted elsewhere sometimes, it can be instantly refocused on that presence.

The song opens so gently and calmly that the brushes on the snare drum feel like someone lovingly and slowly stroking my hair or scratching my head. This is, of course, one of my favourite songs for this moment. There is nothing to challenge, nothing to upset – just one hundred percent comfort!

As the song moves along and more instruments enter, each comes in with a sweetness and an innocence that invites attention in new directions. The bass chords are marvelous, and the sax movements are particularly sparkly and alluring at first, and then increasingly confusing. I view the saxes in this song as the things of this world that demand our attention. As they become more insistent and cacophonous one starts to feel tensions and stress. Where is that calm from before? Oh…there it is…there’s that guitar note in there – everything’s still OK!

When all of the chaos of the world clears away, everything relaxes back to that one magical horn line at the end. The horn sounds like a trumpet, but it is actually still Adam’s sax, almost finding a new identity in the clarity. And that persistent A that had been so buried by the world becomes absolutely obvious again.

Direct YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/YKpyDm2Hk1w


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

Seek No Other

seek-no-other-thumbnail

Direct YouTube Link:
https://youtu.be/YKpyDm2Hk1w
Learn More at the Facebook Event:
🎉 Year of the Nightingale – Album Release 🎉
+ One New Song, Every Other Day, Mar 1-19 +

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