Kaia’s last day in studio

June 6, 2011

We had an intense but fun day in the studio yesterday. We began by re-recording Pata Pata, since our last recording of it was such a confusing mess. 🙂 We’d recorded the vocals first, then the percussion, then realized they didn’t match up, then tried to record the vocals again, and then Lara had a coughing fit and we all decided that was enough. 🙂

So yesterday was far more successful—Chip was able to sync up the percussion we’d already laid down with the new vocals we recorded. The wonder of technology.

I was antsy because I knew we’d need the bulk of our time to record Ergen Deda and Las Amarillas, but first we needed to do Lu Lops. It’s an intense song that takes immense concentration to get the emotional qualities just right. It’s in Occitan, which is a language sort of between French and Spanish, so there’s constant squabbling over the pronunciation of the Js (English J or French J? Blah blah blah).

More importantly, it tells this intense story of “The Wolves” who guard the prisons where, presumably, innocent villagers are held. The second verse tells of what the soldiers did when they attacked. It’s a disturbing account, full of blood and bones. “Watch out! They will jump on your bones like crazed people!” Translation always leaves something to be desired but we try to communicate the meaning even if only a couple hundred people in the world speak the language.

The third verse is our favorite—I think of it as the “partisan” verse. It starts out with “Venyez a mic” which is something along the lines of “To me! To me!” There’s a sense of planting a flag in the ground and calling to the oppressed to rise up. The verse paints a picture of freedom in the days to come, and ends by calling on comrades to stick together and help each other. It’s very stirring.

But then there’s this coda that repeats the opening of the song—the wolves are still howling. So did the villagers free themselves but they’re still surrounded? Or was the dream of freedom only that, a dream? The meaning is ambiguous. But chilling nonetheless.

It’s a lot to try to communicate, and it’s much easier done live when we can use our facial expressions and body language to get the point across. But we did our best in the studio. It’s not quite as tight as I would like, but it is good enough for this point in time. At some point we’ll likely get it recorded live, after we’ve had a chance to get it into our bones more, and it may be more powerful.

After Lu Lops came the challenge of Amarillas. As of Thursday, sistahs were saying they didn’t want to record it at all because they didn’t feel ready. I took on the unfamiliar role of cheerleader because I believed we could pull it off. And we did! It took about an hour and a quarter to record a song that lasts 3 minutes.

We recorded it in three sections, with a click-track to guide each one (it’s a very precise three-part piece where the parts rarely come together). We just recorded each section over and over again until we got the rhythm, pronunciation, and pitches correct. When I gave the starting pitches for the third section, we discovered to our horror that we had floated sharp by a half-step! This never happens—we are excellent at staying in tune.

So then a 10-minute period of discussion ensued as we tried to figure out what happened and if we could correct it. Long story short, we had to record the whole thing over again, this time with a tone (A) and a click track running through the whole thing. Chip quickly switched the click track to the faster tempos on each of the sections so we could stay in an Amarillas state of mind. 🙂 And then it was done! Almost.

We moved on to Ergen Deda, a new Balkan piece that people aren’t totally confident in. I think almost all of us were using our music or cheat sheets as props. It’s in 7/8 and there are a couple places where no one is exactly sure what the timing should be. We’re using a recording by the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus as a guide, but our version is slightly different. Though how different is still up to interpretation!

We had about 15 minutes to get that one in the can and it ended up taking about 20. Lara and Tristra sounded amazing on their duet—assuming you like Balkan music, it will knock your sox off.

The whole piece isn’t as tight as Bre Petrunko, our other Bulgarian piece, but it will get that tight, “knit” feeling over time.

And then! Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat more chocolate, we had another short break while Chip set up the mics for us to record the percussion on Amarillas. We talked Lara out of doing the stomps-that-aren’t-really-stomps, thank goodness, otherwise we might still be there. The percussion is claps, snaps, hand-slides, and side-slaps. And it all ended up being much more complicated than we expected. Took us about 20 minutes to record.

As we were wrapping up and dithering over whether we should record this part or that one more time, another band came in and that made the decision for us! It was hard to believe this journey of a year was finally over, but we quickly thanked Chip and got the heck out the door. Everyone was in good spirits, even if we still had the click track going in our brains!

Lara and I will be working with Chip this summer to do the mastering and mixing of everything. We still hope to have a CD release party in the Fall, though our schedule is getting so full I’m not sure if that’s going to happen. We all feel pretty good, though, at journey’s end. Many thanks to Chip for his endless patience with our singing, bickering, and fake Minnesota accents. 🙂

Today’s studio adventure

May 23, 2011

Wow. Today’s session in the recording studio kicked my ASS.

I spent the weekend with family in Chicago for my niece’s wedding, then hot-footed it back down to Bloomington to be ready in time. It turned out I woke up two hours early this morn and then kept falling asleep behind the wheel on the drive home. I am grateful for those raised bars on the sides of roads that suddenly bring you back to reality.

I had time for a nap, spine realignment, and episode of Glee before heading over to Rhino’s to meet everybody. It’s a hot, humid day which usually means tempos and pitches sag. Fortunately the studio was like a freezer so we snapped back up.

I had about 6 tunes I wanted to get in the can today, but I knew that was aggressive. We did a good job, though, nailing a couple in only three takes. But everything unraveled on Pata Pata. We can’t do the vocals without the percussion and we can’t do the percussion without the vocals. So we just kept trying to record things in fits and starts. By the end of it we were all exhausted and I have no idea if we have anything salvageable.

I’m a little concerned about recording Lu Lops. We nailed it perfectly when we performed it at the UU gig last month but usually we just can’t get it together. I don’t know what it is about that piece. I changed the arrangement at our last rehearsal to have everyone come in at the start of each verse rather than having just the mezzos lead us in. That made a huge difference in the sound—it’s much fuller now, which is great. But I don’t feel like we really own it yet.

Some people are still having trouble with the lyrics. There are some songs like that, that you just can’t get some piece of. I have never been able to get all the lyrics to Oi, Rano, for instance. Of course, it has six verses, so maybe that’s part of the problem, but there comes a point where the brainspace has to be devoted elsewhere. I made lyric sheets and we use them to cheat during performances.

Oh, I guess I really don’t have anything to say except, “I’m utterly spent.” That’s not so very interesting so we’ll leave it there for the night.

P.S. Big props to the sistahs for hanging in there today.

Kaia returns—UU gig

March 27, 2011

Friday night was the first Kaia gig in many months, since a Farmers Market last October. In the meantime, we’ve been hard at work on new pieces and working on our forthcoming CD, but man, have we missed performance!

We had a rough run-through last Sunday, which was made more complicated by the fact that two sistahs were out. Then had a white-knuckle rehearsal on Thursday where we screwed up every song, particularly our new song Lu Lops, where few people could remember the words. I was pretty concerned.

We met early on Sunday to do a cue-to-cue and run through our most problematic songs. Even then, some people sang the wrong lyrics on Lu Lops or didn’t sing at all. Not exactly awe-inspiring.

But when it came to performing, the lights were dimmed, a spotlight was on us, the audience was warm, and away we went! We had great energy as the adrenaline and endorphins kicked in. Unlike the night before, we ended up in one key on our opening number! A miracle! 😉

Lu Lops was placed after Pastevecke Helokanie, our Czech mountain holler. It’s a difficult transition to make. So I paused longer than usual before counting us in. And I think that really helped. It collected us and created a more somber mood. And boy, did the audience respond! Felt great.

I think Lu Lops is one of the most important pieces in our repertoire. The challenge will be to keep the interpretation fresh over time and not get complacent.

We also debuted Pata Pata, Miriam Makeba’s classic South African piece. Our version is really different, much more soft in feel rather than rockin’. Lara did a great job arranging it. I love the vocal percussion section she came up with. And the Sexy Quartet gets to do coordinated back-up singer moves! I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s so much fun.

We had the distinct pleasure of performing Monkey Puzzle‘s Marge with the writer and lyricist in the room! They were very complimentary and we shared some laughs after the show about how hilarious the song is. They were talking about how dated it was (“A car phone?? What does that mean anymore?”) and how they changed the lyrics even when they were performing it. Jane and I explained how we decided to keep the “voted Dukakis in ’88” line because it’s just so priceless—plus Jane actually voted for him! I may have, too—or that may have been the year that I wrote in Paul Tsongas. He may even have been dead at the time. I was trying to make a point. Well-noted by the election officials, I’m sure.

Anyway, came home on a performance high and couldn’t sleep for hours. Between that and the Trashion show last night, I feel like I’ve got a hangover and will never be rested again. We’re back in rehearsal this afternoon to start a very challenging Bulgarian piece and also start adding body percussion to Las Amarillas—eek! I’m intimidated by both. And too tired to be much use. Let’s hope for an afternoon nap! 🙂

Really glad to have such a positive performing experience, especially after last fall’s disasters where I was a zombie from being over-medicated. Light dawns!