Friday, January 27, 2012

Week 5 - "Damascus"

Lyrics:

I know as I travel on this path
that the road to Damascus is long.
The beauty and fragrance of jasmine I seek
And to hide my soul from the sin and wrong.

Echoing voices sing from the past -
There's a time for war,
Venom takes to its lance.
As footprints follow down the long path
To a time of peace,
For a time to dance.

My footsteps fall in the very place
Where the feet of the prohpets once trod.
I look to the skies and kneel to the earth
as I listen there for the voice of God.

Echoing voices sing from the past -
There's a time for war,
Venom takes to its lance.
As footprints follow down the long path
To a time of peace,
For a time to dance.

I know as I travel on this path
it will lead over the mountains and sea.
But I travel on though the perils and fear
For Damascus is waiting for me.


My first collaborative project of the year is complete!  My friend Gracie Steavns performed and recorded all four tracks (2 violins, viola, and voice) on my song "Damascus."  We collaborated entirely over the internet as we live over a thousand miles away from each other.  I composed the score on Finale and she recorded it with GarageBand.  I really enjoyed hearing the final project and I think you will, too!

A few notes about the composition:
I composed the music entirely before I wrote any of the text, which is unusual for me, as I normally work on both somewhat simultaneously.  My only thought was that I wanted to write something that sounded somewhat classical and with a folk-like melody.  When I was finished, I decided that I wanted the song to be about life but I couldn't quite decide exactly what to write.  Then I watched the film Lawrence of Arabia, which chronicles the life of E.T. Lawrence during World War I, a British military officer who helped lead the Arab people to victory in Aqaba and Damascus against the Turks.  As I watched this, I thought about what a rich history Damascus has - how Paul was spoken to by the Lord on the road to Damascus in the Bible - and I find it amazing that the city of Damascus still stands today.  I started to think about the innumerable people that must have traveled the road to Damascus over the millenia and decided that this would be a fitting subject for the song.  As I wrote the lyrics, I did not intend to write it with a particularly religious theme, but alas when all was said and done, that is what the song became.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Week 4 - "I Often Think of You"

Lyrics:
I often think of you, my dear.
Although it's been so many years.
I think of what we used to say.
Until I had to go away.

I miss the things we used to do.
Back when I was in love with you.
I'll always have the memory
Of all the things you meant to me.

But you and I had not forseen
That time and space would come between.
I said some things I didn't mean.
The words I spoke were unfair.
I'm sad it had to end there.
Please know that I will always care for you.

I won't forget your smiling face
I won't forget your warm embrace.
I'm sad, the way it had to end.
I wish I'd been a better friend.




I decided to record this one with just piano and vocals to give it a more intimate feel.  I also didn't put any reverb on the vocals to make it sound "true" (in an emotional sense).  I did add reverb to the vocals in the refrain to add intensity to the rising emotion there.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Collaboration

Full score of "Damascus" posted in Gracie Steavns' home studio.
Collaboration has begun on A Year of Song.  In chatting with my good friend Gracie, I got to hear about some of the home recording projects she has been working on.  Shortly thereafter, I asked if she would be interested in recording a new composition.  She enthusiastically agreed, so I composed a song entitled "Damascus" for violin trio and soprano.  Gracie has already produced some test recordings of it and suggested that the violin 3 part be played on the viola to provide a different color.  She recorded a version this way and I'm quite pleased with the result.  This is one of the things that I really love about collaborating - no matter how much a composer knows about music, the insight of the performer is incredibly valuable in providing information on how things actually play out.

I'm really excited by this collaboration, and I would love to get more of my musician friends involved.  I could, of course, return the favor by recording keyboard parts, etc. for your compositions.  All are welcome to e-mail me with ideas for collaboration!

Week 3 - "I Look to the Stars"

Lyrics:

I like awake at night underneath the starry sky.
I see no end in sight and it makes me wonder why.
I've never been the type to embrace reality.
But don't waste your time to pity me.

I've seen the universe and its beauty in my mind.
I contemplate the good and the evil of mankind.
Questions I ask, no one seems to have the answers to.
But that should be no surprise to you.

Why should you ever say that you think that I just didn't care?
Did you know that the cross that you gave me I just couldn't bear?
But you still want to know and you ask what the future will be.
And I look to the stars but I just can't really see.

I wonder when we'll know just exactly what it means.
I wonder when the hands of the sinner will be cleaned.
I see the end in sight but it's still so far away.
But when does it get here? I can't say.

Why should you ever say that you think that I just didn't care?
Did you know that the cross that you gave me I just couldn't bear?
But you still want to know and you ask what the future will be.
And I look to the stars but I just can't really see.


I experimented this week with doing a completely synthesized musical accompaniment.  Most of my work with musical synthesizing has been for the purpose of trying to make a demo recording of something that was intended to be ultimately performed with acoustic instruments.  However, in this song I used the sounds of pads and sine wave lead and square wave lead for their own unique timbres.  On the other hand, the bass and drums are meant to sound like the actual instruments, although they are also synthesized.  The accompaniment track was generated with the Roland XV-5080 sound module.  I used Finale to sequence the MIDI playback, which is not ideal, but at least it has pan control so that each instrument could have its own space.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Week 2 - "Big Bad Jim"

Lyrics:
I walked in the room and saw you sittin’ pretty.
Then we got down to the nitty gritty.
You wore a cheap suit and your tie was untied.
Your cheesy grin was just a fa├žade for you to hide.

Big Bad Jim, he was a liar

I thought that you were on my team and pulling for me
You filled my head with all the things you said I could be.
You made me sow seeds that you did not let me reap.
Made promises that you never intended to keep.

Big Bad Jim, he was a liar

Know I know that truth is that you’re really just a hack
Your friends and colleagues all are laughing behind your back.
No one takes you seriously and no one really should.
We all should stay away for our own good.  Big Bad Jim.

Big Bad Jim, he took my money all away


Here is song number 2 - "Big Bad Jim."  I had the idea to do a song along these lines and with this particular title several years ago but I never sat down to write it.

I experimented with the EQ on the vocals on this one, cutting out a lot of the bass frequencies to give it a tinny sound.

Also, I had kind of wanted the sound of a low floor tom for part of the song, but since I do not have room for a drumset in my apartment I had to use the only drum that I had, which happened to be an ocean drum.  I used timpani mallets to strike it.  When I recorded it, I didn't like the sound because it was not low enough, so I used Audacity to lower the pitch and I was pleased with the results.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Week 1 - "The More You Think You Know"

Lyrics:
The more you know, the more you say.
The more you say, the more you think you know.

The more I see, the more I hear,
The more my soul is filled with doubt and fear.

And when the time comes, I’ll see exactly what you know….
Then the day comes when it’s time for me to go…..

The more I live, the more I see
The more I ask, “Is this how things should be?”

And then I ask what life is for
And if I have the strength to handle more.

And then I ask you, “What is it that you want from me?”
“And what exactly is it you want for me to be?”

I don’t know exactly what you want for me to say to you.
You don’t know what I’m going through, my heart can’t figure out what’s true.
Maybe someday you could tell me what exactly I should say and do.

And when the time comes, I’ll see exactly what you know….
Then the day comes when it’s time for me to go…..
And then I ask you, “What is it that you want from me?”
“And what exactly is it you want for me to be?”


Here is the first song.  This was entirely composed on January 1.  It took a total of approximately 4 hours to compose, write lyrics, record the song, and to edit it.  Of course, the four-chord progression that makes up most of the song and the repetition of the chorus sections required a limited amount of music and lyric material, however this is fairly typical of many popular songs.

The form follows a pattern of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, interlude, chorus, chorus.  I recorded the piano accompaniment first followed by the lead vocals and then the backup vocals.  I then recorded the percussion parts.  As I am a novice with recording on the PC, I started playing with stereo pan space for the first time last week.  To give the recording some breadth, I put the piano the far left, lead vocals in the center, backup vocals to the right, and percussion to the far right.  I was fairly pleased with the results, especially when I listen through headphones.

I also added some reverb to the parts.  I still have a lot to learn about how to effectively use reverb, however.  For this recording, I simply used trial and error to test out different settings.  I'm still working on getting exactly the sound I want from it, but I have learned some.

Please feel free to leave feedback and constructive criticism.  I am hoping to continue to develop my compositional and recording skills, so I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

I have a goal for the year 2012.  My goal is to compose one song per week for the entire year.  The purpose of this blog will be to record my progress and to comment on the creative process.

The reason for this yearlong project is simply to create music.  I will not limit myself to any particular style or genre.  I plan to explore several different styles in the process, but with no preconceived notion as to which styles or how many different ones.  I plan to explore a number of different emotions with my music - happiness, sadness, anger, contentment, and even humor.  In fact, the songs will likely include very serious subjects as well as comedic ones, as I feel that Music itself has the power to express both extremes in incredibly gratifying ways.


I will present embedded recordings of the songs here.  The recordings themselves will not be high-tech by any means, but I do hope to expand my knowledge of recording software as the project progresses.  Currently, I am recording on a PC with the Audacity program using a Shure SM58 microphone, RD-600 keyboard, an XV-5080 sound module, an acoustic guitar, and some assorted auxiliary percussion instruments.  There may be other instruments and sounds from time to time as well as inspiration strikes and as availability dictates.  That being said, the purpose of this project is not to make polished professional recordings, but to simply create and share new music.

Please subscribe to keep up to date on my year of song!