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

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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 +

The Transformation of Music

Hi friends,

I hope you are enjoying our slow-release journey through the songs of Year of the Nightingale. It has been incredibly heartwarming to receive your messages over the last two weeks and to know that you are enjoying the songs.

With 3 songs still to come, I wanted to invite you a little deeper into my musical collaboration with Kelly Snook by sharing with you an example of the transformation that a song can go through when in the hands of a producer with as much musical sensitivity and creativity as Kelly.

Below is a live acoustic rendition of a song called Seek No Other (recorded in a garden not far from Kelly’s studio).

This is the song as it was originally composed for voice and guitar.

Tomorrow the studio version of Seek No Other – produced by Kelly and featuring Diane, Ian, Adam and Anwar – will be released. It is one of our favorites on the album and we deeply hope that you enjoy it (and perhaps even learn to sing it yourself!)

Personally I find this transformative musical process absolutely thrilling. A great producer knows how to breathe new life into a song and that’s exactly what Kelly does.

Look out for the studio version of Seek No Other tomorrow at 6:15am, Tehran Time – on the Facebook Event.

Luke

 

Turn Thy Face

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Direct YouTube Link:
https://youtu.be/c_XXc3ve7AQ
Learn More at the Facebook Event:
🎉 Year of the Nightingale – Album Release 🎉
+ One New Song, Every Other Day, Mar 1-19 +

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


Reckoning

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Direct YouTube Link:
https://youtu.be/XKo1wvkVGZc
Learn More at the Facebook Event:
🎉 Year of the Nightingale – Album Release 🎉
+ One New Song, Every Other Day, Mar 1-19 +

Producer’s Notes 5 – The Sign of Love

Year of the Nightingale Producer’s notes Vol. 5

by Kelly Snook

Song: The Sign of Love (release date 9 March 2017)
Words: The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, Part 1, No 48
Key: B minor
Meter: 3/4
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/jrbk1RztX4w

I almost don’t know what to write about this one. This most gentle and patient of songs seems to embody perfectly the dark but encouraging message of this Hidden Word: “For everything, there is a sign. The sign of love is fortitude under My decree and patience under My trials.” This sentiment was real and present for everyone during the making of this song, as all of us experienced significant trials in our lives at some point(s) during the process. The slow, steady tempo with the brushed snare and harmonic plucks of the guitars and mbira could be thought of as representing how slowly time can move during difficulties. Like “Garden of Thy Heart,” the oscillation between three chords, this time the VI, VII, and i, creates a floating sensation, but this one feels more like floating on an undulating, deep, dark ocean rather than in air. Also like “Garden of Thy Heart,” this one is in two parts, with the first part introducing the idea that for everything there is a sign, and the second describing the signs of love. The signs themselves are also split into male and female echoes, drawing attention to the idea of balance of masculine and feminine.

Patience is rewarded in this song. The first time through the passage, attention is focused on the two vocals with only guitars, pizzicato upright bass and snare for apparent support. The second time through, the rich, low strings, layered mbiras, and more rhythmic snare and cymbals enter as if they had secretly been there all along but we just weren’t able to hear them yet. It’s almost as if they come in to say there’s much going on around you in your patience and fortitude if you are able to trust it’s there, and eventually it will become clear and manifest.

This song has a sense of dark torment and struggle without crossing the line into hopelessness. It has a certain “sprezzatura” – that quality that makes something difficult look easy. One almost forgets, in this song, how challenging it is to set the Bahá’í Writings, or indeed any prose text, to music effectively and artistically. Or if one has never tried to do this, one simply wouldn’t be able to tell from listening to this the level of painstaking detail that went into it. Luke’s songwriting hits complex emotional and spiritual marks quietly and simply, without being overwrought. His and Diane’s voices are absolutely perfect, “like butter.” Luke’s string arrangement here makes me feel that it is OK to plead longingly for patience and fortitude knowing that I will almost always fall short, but knowing that wherever I find those, I find love. The hanging 4ths and 9ths in the melodies and harmonies, as well as the long notes interspersed with rapid ones represent to me fits and starts in the face of uncertainty.

Production-wise, this was another elusive mix because of the number of layers at the end and all of the voices and instruments that needed to be balanced without being distracting. I love recording with Luke because he has complete mastery of his music. He can record an entire take on the guitar with very few mistakes, then record it again another ten times almost exactly the same. This makes it possible to use two separate, almost identical guitar tracks in the left and right ears, creating a dynamic stereo field and a feeling of being hug-patted and enveloped by guitars.

I guess this producer’s note is a bit of a love note about this song and everyone who contributed to it, which seems appropriate. It’s a bit mushy, I’ll admit. But The Sign of Love makes me feel that way about everything and everyone until it’s over and time to hit repeat. Posting these on the off days gives me a chance to read a bit of peoples’ reactions and I’m happy to see I’m no longer so alone in my obsession with its beauty.

Direct Youtube Link: https://youtu.be/jrbk1RztX4w

Flint Barn, former home of It’s Not Rocket Science Studios, Lewes, UK [BEFORE]

Flint Barn, former home of It’s Not Rocket Science Studios, Lewes, UK [AFTER]

YouTube Video

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