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. 🙂

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All Around The Kitchen

April 5, 2009

On Friday I had another recording session with Kevin and Lara, this time to focus on “All Around The Kitchen,” an old Woody Guthrie tune. As usual, Lara’s funked it up with a jaunty beat and Kevin’s rockin’ acoustic guitar accompaniment. 

My part is to sing a counterpoint harmony and remember the bloody words! It’s one of those “put your hands on your head, put your hands on your shoulders” kind of tunes and I keep forgetting that hips exist. 

We had about 40 minutes to throw it together and it’s possible that the last cut was a keeper. We’re using the Zoom H2 (enthuse, enthuse) and it really picks out Every Single Thing you sing. I finally cupped my ear to make sure I could hear myself and hit my notes more squarely.

We end with this funky “all around all around all around” bit that I came up with and then Lara smacks the drum. Am hoping we nailed it to her satisfaction. I love these stolen Friday lunch sessions. We’ve got about 10 more songs to go and so little time to do them in!

Kevin’s tidbit for the day was that he knows a woman whose sense of pitch is so keen that, even if his guitar is not perfectly in tune, if it’s tune to 439 instead of 440, she’s in agony. I also have a dog’s sense of hearing, but this level of tuning is a curse rather than a blessing! 🙂


When is it enough?

March 1, 2009

Kevin and I finally made a recording of “Redbird” (AKA “Deadbird”). Actually, we made four recordings, the third of which I immediately thought might be “it.”

He sent me a copy a week or so ago and I’ve been listening to it. This is a mistake. The more you listen, the more imperfections you hear. I’m now at the point where I’d like to record it again but it’s really up to him, since he’s managing it all as a favor to me. 

I keep remembering my recording session with Sam Lowry, where he was reluctant to re-record any of my lines. His belief was that recordings should carry a little of the imperfections of live performance. You obviously don’t want to include clinkers, but a little waver here and there adds texture and personality. Otherwise you run the risk of sounding like the Robert Shaw Chorale.

I get that on an intellectual level, but what happens if (gasp) people think I can’t do any better than what’s on the recording? What if they think that I can’t hear what’s not perfect? When is enough enough?

I have no answers. Just a song that I love and that I want to share with people who might actually care.


Speedy crawdads

December 6, 2008

Today we started recording Lara Weaver‘s children’s songs album. She, (her husband) Kevin MacDowell (AKA Kid Kazooey), and I clustered around a righteous handheld digital recorder and learned/ran “Fishin’ Medley” 3 times.

In the meantime, I’ll say what a treat it is to work with Lara. She is so open and vibrant and ready for anything. She has a vision for each piece but also allows it to grow organically as others give input. I have no idea how she so graciously makes it seem like everyone’s piece equally when it’s really hers, but it’s truly a gift.

For all his clowning elsewhere, Kevin is a professional when it comes to studio work. He wastes no time in fluffy conversation. He gets his equipment tuned and ready to go, and stays focused throughout the session. He’s there to make music, and it really makes you want to step up and give your best.

For my part, I felt a bit unprepared and tried to get into the groove as quickly as possible. Lara handed me a new (solo) verse when I walked in and then let me completely change the tune — indeed, I changed it every time I sang it, since I had no idea what I was doing! I love singing with Lara — we have a very similar New Orleans jazz feel on some pieces — but I admit I am stymied by the word “crawdad.” She has a particular pronunciation that I haven’t quite nailed yet. “Crawdad.” Hm.

It’s fun singing backup with the lyric sheet right in your hand. There’s lots of repetition and little pressure. The worst part every time is listening to the playback, since all you do is pick apart every slightly off-pitch note and brain yourself for being an utter loser in the face of this other talent. 🙂 

We got a pretty good recording last time through but the balance was a little off on “my” verse, so next week we’ll record once more before going on to the next song. I’m doing some Leon Redbone-sounding trumpet sound effects on one piece in the medley and I hope to perfect the lip-buzz so I’m not spitting quite so much. This is quite the groovin’ sound, unlike any kids music I’ve heard before, and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey. Apparently Lara’s already got us a gig with Sophia Travis in February, so maybe I’ll need to learn the words by then!

Crawdad.