MusicMaking: The River Rides the Beat Beneath Us

This is a Loop Composition, inspired by a recent trip to the Delaware River Gap, where I tried to pay attention to the rhythm of a river that cut through the section where we were staying and working.

Along with the various waterfalls, where the sound came crashing down, there were calm sections, places where the water bubbled over rocks, narrowed gaps where the stream zigged and zagged.

Each of those sections of the river informed sections of this composition, as I worked to layer sounds and loops and beats together to capture my remembering of the riverway.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Open Songwriting: Bad Weather Blues Demo

Bad Weather Blues collageEvery now and then, I get bored with traditional tuning on my guitar, and try my hand (uneducated as it is in this vein) with open tuning. I’m not quite sure what I’m often doing as I tweak the knobs on the guitar, so I aim to make sure the open chords sound OK in a certain key (often D). On Saturday, that’s what I was doing and then this song emerged from the rubble of my mind, thinking of climate change and political inaction, so I began writing (Give Me Shelter) Bad Weather Blues.

The photo collage above shows how the lyrics moved from notebook sketches, to a more structured draft of the song, to a sort of final version (some changes were later made). There is a purposeful reference to Bob Dylan’s Shelter from the Storm in there.  I have no idea why I used red pen for revision, other than it was handy and nearby.

I then recorded the song yesterday with Soundtrap, with just guitar and vocals, less than 24 hours after writing it. I mulled over adding some drums and other instruments, and decided it needed to be simple and somewhat raw for the intentions of what I was doing with it. This visual tracking (three stages of the song) of writing is helpful for me, as it helps me remember to curate my creative endeavors with making music.

And I think the song came out OK for a demo. Give it a listen, if you have a moment:

Peace (and shelter),
Kevin

A Whale’s Lantern Collaboration 4: Portraits

Photobooth Song Arc CollaborationThe fourth iteration of A Whale’s Lantern — a musical collaboration on a theme with random partners, mostly from the Mastodon social networking space — has just been released this weekend, and a song I co-wrote/co-produced with my partner — Bobbo — is the track called Photobooth. The theme was “portraits.”

I wrote about the construction of the Photobooth song from idea to final track here.  But now you can listen, too, to what we ended up making together:

And the entire album of music is on Bandcamp — along with all the other three Whale’s Lantern adventures, which I also have tracks from partnerships — for free, although you are invited to pay a little if you download the tracks.

Peace (in the listening),
Kevin

 

 

Photobooth: A Collaborative Song’s Construction

Photobooth Song Arc Collaboration

I am just wrapping up (but not rapping up) a fourth round of a inspiring collaborative song project called A Whale’s Lantern, which has roots in the Mastodon federated networking space. In each round, participants are randomly partnered with others, and all pairings are given an overall theme to work with as a connector thread, and then, the partners have extended periods of time (usually a few months) to get creating something.

I have been fortunate in each of my pairings to connect with collaborators who have been easy to work with (maybe this is an inherent quality of those who volunteer for the project and reach the ending point). Although each partnership has had a distinct and different feel to it, and my role has been different each time, each round has really pushed my abilities as a songwriter and musician. In the latest collaboration — the music tracks will be released in a few weeks after they get mastered and gathered and posted at Bandcamp — the overarching theme was “portraits.”

My partner, Bobbus, is someone who I had interacted sporadically with on Mastodon, and I know he is a talented and thoughtful musician. We hit it right off the bat in our emails, both of us expressing gratitude for the chance to try to make music in a different format than we are used to and both of us expressing an openness to try any idea the other pitched, and both of us open to a starting point.

With this mind, I sent forward a song to him that I had started on acoustic guitar after thinking a bit on the theme of “portraits.” The proposed song — Photobooth — captured a pining by the narrator of an old photo album of a relationship that is long since gone to dust. The “portrait” might be a picture taken in one of those box photo booths, where you put coins in and an image pops out.

Draft Lyrics Photobooth Song

Bobbus thought the song could work for us (although we were both open to starting over if it didn’t), and the chart/map/graphic at the top of the post here shows some of the ways the song was woven over a few months time, particularly as he used his skills as a sound engineer and solo guitarist to create the song’s sonic landscape, adding unexpected (to me) chord changes and suggesting other parts to break up what began as a pretty traditional pop song of verse/chorus.

On a technical note, we used PCloud storage as a way to share many audio files back forth. I would send him raw music that I was making and he would do rough mixing, and share it back, asking for comments and feedback, and so the revisions would flow. We also used a writing app called Turtl for sharing written notes, lyrics, chord changes and more. I was not familiar with either of those platforms, so it was interesting to try to collaborate with different technology tools. Both worked just fine for us.

My challenge with the recording process, as it is always, was with the vocals, and he did as much he could with effects to make my voice work for the song, although there are points where .. well… I’m not sure I hit the notes I wanted to hit. I did like the way he created the ending section, where I recorded three saxophone parts that he mixed under his guitar … there’s a sense of the world kind of coming apart that works well with the song’s theme itself.

I am grateful and appreciative of Bobbus as a musical partner and collaborator, and for the chance to make more interesting collaborative music and art with the Whale’s Lantern community.

Anytime anyone has the opportunity to make something out of nothing — to pluck melody and harmony and rhythm out of thin air and transform it into something that someone else might hear and maybe even appreciate — particularly when this magic is done with someone from somewhere else in the world connected only by a federated space, is a cause for celebration, and experiences like A Whale’s Lantern provide a powerful counterpoint to so much of the failure of other networking spaces to live up to the promise of a world made better by connections.

Peace (inside the booth),
Kevin

 

Song Demo: Friends We Can Believe

I wrote this song for some friends and then realized that while some of the lines are specific to my group of close friends, the message of friendship is wider. I include friends in my networking spaces, like CLMOOC in this idea of finding people you can trust. I put the “demo” label on a lot of songs recorded quickly like this …

Peace (to all of you),
Kevin

 

Writing a Song about Watching a Writer at Work

I was working on this song yesterday — called She Opens the Book (I Dive In) — about watching a writer working on a piece over time, working on a story or a poem, or maybe a song.

The lyrics came pretty easily and I like the slow quality of it, the laziness of the pace. This demo captures the spirit of what I was going for. I recorded it with my voice right next to the microphone, closing the distance between words and recording. You can hear the breaths between phrases as a result.

I really liked the second verse, with the reference to pen and paper and font to capture a writer’s style:

I watch every line — it’s fine — her writing hand
the heartfelt design — the way she holds the pen
They say we write
the way we feel
Each swoop of the hand
each moment, we steal
She opens the book and I dive in

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Gift of Peace

(I often write about my teaching life here for Slice of Life, but I wanted to share this musical gift. Slice of Life takes place over Two Writing Teachers.) 

My songwriting friend, John, and I worked on writing and recording this song as a gift for family and friends, and others, for the holiday season. We actually wrote it years ago but then we went into a local recording studio earlier this year to do a more polished version.

Meanwhile, we hired my eldest son to produce a short video to go along with the song, and he did a fine job of crafting a story of the gift that moves along from person to person.

Here, then, is a gift of peace to you, my connected friends in Slice of Life, and CLMOOC, and beyond.

If you just celebrated the Hanukkah season, or if you celebrate some other holiday — or even none at all — I hope you still accept this gift of peace as a token of friendship and that you pass it on to others.

Peace (in song),
Kevin

 

Ridin’ It Underground: Where Music and Sound Take You

I was working on constructing a song the other day and I began to imagine and remember riding the underground subway systems (I was thinking of New York, Washington DC, Boston).

As I built the song out of loops, I wanted to purposely create a sonic landscape of the experience of the subway transportation systems in my memory and imagination.

I tried to capture:

  • The rhythm of the train lines themselves
  • The walk down the escalator into the underground
  • The sounds of buskers, playing music
  • The mingling of the voices
  • The act of keeping on eye on other people
  • The echoing and pounding footsteps of the crowd on the move
  • The slow fade of the subway as you depart and leave the station behind you

This approach — capturing a sense of place through a piece of music — is intriguing because I found myself really approaching each sound, each loop, each beat, with a highly focused ear. Did it help me capture the essence of riding the rails? If not, I didn’t use it.

You can be the judge of whether my attempt was successful or not

Peace (going underground),
Kevin

You Are Heard Out Here (Song)

You Are Heard Out Here

I got into a songwriting mode yesterday morning, thanks to an empty house and an acoustic guitar with the capo up the neck, making my guitar sound a bit mandolin-ish. This song’s lyrics revolve around those people we don’t really know, but whose presence is a regular in our social media feeds. They flash by, with stories and sharing. Sometimes, with joy. Sometimes, with sadness.

The second and third verses of the song captures this piece of online interactions:

Sometimes it gets lonely
living on the screen
It’s easy to fall apart
when no one hears you scream

I’m send out a lifeline
A song with just a voice
To let you know the world exists
and you have a choice

Even if we don’t “know them,” we can still sort of know them, right? Right?

The theme of the song — You Are Heard Out Here — connects to thinking I’ve been doing in EL30 and UnboundEq recently around identity and online presence, and the ways we can and cannot connect to one another, and whether there is meaning in those connections that we do make. I am an optimist. I say, yes, there is connection and meaning and caring.

We all want to be heard.

And if not us, then who?

Thanks for taking the time to listen.

Peace (in the knowing you),
Kevin