Book Review: Mirror Sound

Rock and Roll Book Club | The Current

The very first songs I ever wrote and then recorded were done on a little Tascam Four-Track machine that a friend (Murph) borrowed from another friend (Eric), and we set it up in a basement room in my house. We were teenagers. We used a microphone to record some Casio keyboard drums, and layered other sounds, and added vocals (ack), and the magic of the moment when we had a “mix” of that first song was … amazing.

You can even take a listen (because I try to keep everything). The song is called Follow That Dream. It’s hard for me to listen — the lyrics, the voice, the mix … but you can hear some of what we were trying to do with our production as beginners. What you can’t hear is how excited and focused we were, to be recording songs we had written.

That memory has been lingering in my mind as soon as I began reading Mirror Sound (A Look Into the People and Processes Behind Self-Recorded Music) by Spencer Tweedy, Lawrence Azarrad and Daniel Topete.

In this oversized (and pricey) table book — full of cool photographs of underground and independent musicians across genres and genders — the three men (Tweedy is the son of Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco, but an accomplished drummer and producer in his own right) dig deep into what makes music makers creative, and how a home studio format (either simple or complex) helps these artists to chase their musical threads.

I found every page fascinating, even though I barely know any of the artists in this book. What struck me was the articulation of the creative mind at work, and the desire to make music and follow your paths, for yourself first, and maybe the world, second. These musicians are driven by the need capture the sounds and songs they hear and feel, with little regard for audience (at least, in the making of music part of things).

While some of the discussions went technical (about microphones and set-ups and software), Tweedy always seems to ground the discussion to the creative mind, and to the motivation, and to what it is about recording your ideas on your own that keeps the flame of making songs alive for each of these artists. The first section of the book is mostly photographs, intimate shots of people’s bedroom studio spaces (sometimes, it’s just a bed with a laptop and a guitar), with some enlarged quotes, and the second half is packed with interviews with the people. I enjoyed both parts, and the book itself is a beautiful piece of visual art.

After my friend, Murph, and I recorded those first songs, we were able to “steal time” at night one summer in another friend’s garage where he was slowly setting up recording equipment. We’d tinker in there, and make some tapes, and sit and listen in the car.

Later, I saved up and bought my own Tascam (which, reading here in this book, was a revolutionary product for many musicians, for its affordability and its ability to layer four tracks, or more, if you bounced tracks down) and I spent countless hours in my room, by myself, playing around and experimenting. (Murph, my friend, later went on to build his own recording studio as a business.)

These days, I mostly use an online site  to record and layer tracks, although I have an old Tascam in the basement and a cardboard box full of master tapes somewhere (probably gone bad with time).

And I am still mostly writing for an audience of one — myself, and the hope that I will stumble upon something interesting, and follow that path into a song. When it happens, there’s nothing quite like it. That’s what Mirror Sound captures on the page — that sense of wonder and magic of making music.

Peace (the muse sings),
Kevin

When In The (Re)Wild … Explore the Trails

My friend and collaborator Terry Elliott has been on a “re-wilding” learning adventure, an internal and creative ‘hike’ of art and remix through words and poems and stories and media, and as is his nature, Terry has often invited others along.

Yesterday, he shared a poem and invitation for “trailblazing” and a phrase in his invitation to make something struck me: “… creating a chord on a piano that you don’t know how to play ..”

So I did.

I pulled out my keyboard and plugged it in, found an interesting sound, and then with my left hand, I just sort of dropped it on the lower keys. It’s possible my fingers knew how to find a chord on their own (not that I am a keyboardist but I can do some basics) but the dissonance reverberation of where my fingers landed spurred my right hand to find a note, and then another, and soon, I had a melody developing. (Later, I wondered if I had pirated that melody line from somewhere else … it arrived so easily that I figured, maybe it’s not mine.)

I began to shift my left hand, too, moving the pattern of hand-drop around a bit, but intentionally not paying attention to where my fingers were landing. Eyes closed now. My attention was on the sound, and the small gaps where dissonance and tension opened up into something clearer, and my simple melody lines of my right hand continued to dance over the top of those “chords” of my left hand.

This took me all of about ten minutes to complete, with no planning and very little thinking and the record button “on” and, you know, I liked the results very much. I added the music to an image rendition of Terry’s poem. Trailblazing is always worth the time.

Peace (and keys),
Kevin

Upon Further Remix: Gift of Peace v3

I’ve been having some remix fun with an original song that my friend, John, and I wrote and recorded and share out this time of year. The other day, I did a more classical instrumentation remix (see below) and then, I went in another direction entirely for this one (see above). I tried to give it a little more funky beat. (And played around with the image cover).

The first remix:

And the original (recorded in a studio, with video produced by my son):

Peace (to the world),
Kevin

Music Remix: Gift of Peace

I was doing something else on my guitar when I realized I was remixing our song, A Gift of Peace, and then that remix suddenly drew me in with full attention to honor the original but at a slant. In the end, I went in an entirely new direction than where I started, but I like this instrumental version of our song.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Tuned Into Open

(The Slice of Life Challenge in March is hosted by Two Writing Teachers as way to encourage teachers-as-writers. You can join in, if you want. There is also a monthly call for Slices on Tuesdays. You can write then, too)

I will often have stretches where I am writing lots of songs and the ideas are everywhere. Then there are the fallow times, when nothing seems to be flowing in any certain direction. I’ve learned to be patient — that the songs will still come. But I have also developed some strategies — pick up another instrument, try a new loop pack, or tune my guitar into another key.

That’s what I was doing yesterday — exploring open tuning on my guitar and this little sequence of riffs began to play out. I like open tuning now and then because of the space it creates on the fretboard.

This piece is short but long enough to remind me that music is all around, even if sometimes you need to approach it, slant (as Emily D might say). The title is merely a hopeful gesture of wording  …

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Music: We Won’t Be Missing You

I wrote and recorded this song – We Won’t Be Missing You — over the summer, as part of a larger Pandemic song collection called Notes from a Quiet Corner (listen over at Bandcamp, if you want).

I wrote it after watching Trump tell lies after lies about Covid when he was still trying to lead the daily briefings, rambling on about the spread of the virus, about the impact on people’s lives, and how he would then pivot the conversation to its impact on himself and his own businesses.

It wasn’t pretty. It still isn’t.

Now that the foot has nearly kicked him out the door, I figured I would share this song again.

Here are the lyrics, if curious:

We Won’t Be Missing You

I hear a whole of talking but I don’t see a change out here
You might be on the screen but we don’t have to hear
I see your mouth still moving and reality disappears
If you listen to the whispers – the whispers are everywhere

We don’t surely know
where this is gonna go
When you’re gone
We ain’t gonna shed a tear

I know you got a lot of money and you think that makes you cool
then you turn your back and you act so frickin’ cruel
If I had to find a reason – I might resort to fool
But all those people listen so what are we gonna do?

We don’t surely know
where this is gonna go
when you’re gone
we won’t be missing you

I got my own news station playing inside my head
it’s got static and its tragic, to hear what it is you said
the world’s gone crazy and all you wanna know instead
is if the hotel’s standing and the money flowing again

We don’t comprehend
how this is gonna end
when you’re gone
we won’t be missing you
(bandcamp link)

Peace (shouting it),
Kevin

Music Monday: Whispers in the Flames

The last few days, I’ve been working on finishing up a song that has a little more rhythmic kick than the last few songs I have worked on. I wanted a bit of rock and roll in the mix. This one rocks more in headphones, I think, as there are some instrumental nuances to the sound.

The lyrics are reworked from a song draft I had done previously, and the music was a mix of live instruments and Garageband loops. I think the Hammond organ parts really give the song some personality.

Peace (in whispers),
Kevin

MusicMaking: SnowWalking (In Seven Movements)

I came back home the other day, after walking our dog in the woods after a snow storm, and noticed the different kinds of walking I had done — short choppy steps, long strides, happy walking, long breaths, etc. And then I decided to try to capture those rhythms of stepping into an instrumental beat song. This is it.

It’s best heard with earphones, I suggest, as the layers of sound are mixed in and experienced best with it close to your head. The tin cans of computer speakers won’t do it justice (in my opinion).

You can also listen here as a regular music file

Peace (listening in),
Kevin

My Holiday Song: ‘A Gift of Peace’ to you

A few years ago, my good friend, John, and I went into a local recording studio to put down tracks for a song we had written (years before that) as a holiday gift of song. Each year, I try to share it out and hope our Gift of Peace brightens your day. The video was shot and produced by my eldest son.

While it was written as a Christmas song, I hope its message of passing the peace to one another might resonate whatever your beliefs might be, religious or not.

The song is on all streaming sites, and I got a kick the other day of hearing it again on Pandora. If you search A Gift of Peace (for Christmas) by the Lullabyes, you should be able to find it.

Gift of Peace on Pandora

Peace (in the world),
Kevin