Friday, March 23, 2007

Next, please

First of all, "Xenochronous Requiem For A Head Laying In A Field In Butler" was used to open this week's Spellbound show, with host David Vesel commenting on the unlikelihood of chart success if Casey Kasem can't even pronounce the title. That's a relief, then.

I've finished mixing all the music from our last session. Most of it is just for our own use as demo reference for future practices, but there were also some new instrumental pieces for use in the Stockholm soundtrack. One of them is available for download over at The Lunacy Board site. It is based around a simple evolving, echoing guitar riff, with synth textures, found sound samples (including some yobstick) and a meandering rhythm backing.

The big one

We're working towards a new extended piece to fit in with the repetoire we've already built up. Since we first started this project, we've been throwing ideas around towards a longer song which touches on a few topics we feel are linked around the area of evolution, mankind's journey and definitions of good and evil. I've recently come up with an idea to link these topics within a narrative setting that has the potential to be our 'big number'.

It's still in the early stages, so I can't give too much away, but the aim is to have a piece that both covers the topics of interest and also lets us demonstrate all the aspects of what we are as a band. It will have an evolving instrumentation, so we'll start off with two instruments at the start of the piece and swap around between guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, theremin and whatever else we come up with. The sections of the song will deal with different characters and reflect that in the instruments chosen and the style of the section. This will let us cover everything from ambient soundscapes and avant garde rock to upbeat pop or country and western - anything is fair game. It's going to take a while to put together and get it working fluidly, but we'll start on it at the next session and hopefully will have a clip or two to post on the web site in the not-too-distant future.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


One of Zappa's favourite tricks around the "Joe's Garage" era and beyond was the practice he called "xenochrony" or "strange synchronisation". This involved him taking a piece of music (often a studio backing track) and overdubbing it with a totally unrelated (usually a live guitar solo) track from a completely different song. After some fiddling about, the result was a melody that would play what appeared to be insanely complex polyrhythms over the top of the new song. It's something I've always wanted to have a shot at, but lacked the source material to work with.

Then I came across a beautiful bass solo written by Doug Boucher over on his MySpace page. It's called "Requiem For A Head Laying In A Field In Butler" and is dedicated to the very wonderful Mike Keneally. I really enjoyed the piece and tried playing some haunting theremin over the top, some of which came together quite nicely, and other parts of which were less successful. I then tried putting the piece together with some of Sean's drumming for (I think) The Winning Smile - two unrelated bits of music coming together to form something new altogether. To this new hybrid track I set about playing guitar and theremin, with pretty good results. There are places where the bass and drums drift apart to give a very laid back feeling, and others where they synchronise exactly, including some where the drums and bass reach a crescendo at the same time before gently tailing off.

As usual, you can find the track over at The Lunacy Board site.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Moving Along...

We've had two more LB sessions recently; one short acoustic practice throwing ideas for songs around and a long and productive studio-based session. In the first of these we considered some ideas for possible inclusion in any live set we may do in the future. We have a fair bit of work ahead of us to get to the position where we'd feel ready to do a live gig, but it is a possibility that we might consider a short support slot at some point.

Our current feeling is that we would feature our own material, but have a few cover versions on hand to whip out according to the audience - e.g. for a dedicated progressive audience we might include a Jethro Tull or Rush cover, but for a more general audience we'd maybe think about something that has had some more airplay like Gabriel, The Who or Marillion, though still keeping within the progressive genre, more or less. We'll probably try out a range of possible covers over the next few practices we have, but don't want to get too bogged down in them when we have new material to play with.

The studio session was VERY productive, lasting all day and covering a total of 5 new songs, 1 old song, some more soundtrack work and Stockholm dialogue.

We started with The Man in the Boat, which is an old song of mine from years ago that we've stripped down and rebuilt. It deals with the temptation to play it safe and end up missing out on actually living life. It is a bit more downbeat the The Unofficial National Anthem, with an extended instrumental section in the middle which has a bit of a Pink Floyd feel to it. At the moment we've only done drums, guitar and vocals, but the structure is coming together well - we just need to practice it some more before committing it to a proper recording as there are some switches in the dynamics of the song that need to be tightened up.

We then moved onto Fairytale Propaganda which is a brand new song I've been working on over the last couple of months. It asks the question "what would fairytales be about 500 years later, if the characters written about were living now?", casting a critical eye over the less than noble way our 'fairytale' characters of the present day conduct themselves. The song builds slowly from a quiet instrumental introduction into our most outright rock song to date.

After these two fairly long songs we switched over to do some improvisational music with a view to including parts in the Stockholm soundtrack. Starting with a drum and bass backing we layered various solos, textures and effects over the top using guitar, keyboard and samples (including an old sample of the yobstick I came across). The results were much more avant-garde than our previous improvised music, closer to Zappa than anything else we've tried. It will need a fair bit of editing to make some of the layers work together, but there is definitely some unusual and interesting music in there.

After a bite to eat and a blether, it was back to work on some shorter songs, kicking off with Morning Rolls, which is a short song about bereavement (or traditional Scottish fare at the most literal reading of the lyric). It came together quite well with just vocal and guitar, though it is still in its early days and may change a bit in time.

The Parallel Curve was next up. This is a song about careers and insanity that doesn't really have any music yet, so we tried a few things out, mainly around a march-like rhythm and slide ebow guitar - kind of a rising and falling pulse over which the lyrics were half-sung, half-spoken. The idea being to have a number of non-fixed pitch instruments including the theremin and slide guitar and bass all providing a constantly shifting backing. Parts of this worked well, though some verses simply didn't come together properly, so it will need further work. The version we worked on was significantly different from my original demo attempt, and I suspect it will change as much again in future iterations.

A quick run through of Jim Crow was next - we tried this a while ago and it mutated from a choppy, almost Buddy Holly, style into a more laid back doo-wop number. This time around we went straight into the doo-wop and after a couple of false starts it was a nice bit of fun. I have some ideas for additional verses for it (it currently only has two which are repeated), and we need to agree on the backing 'oohs' and 'aahs' to make the vocals rock-solid as they need to be for this style of music.

The final song of the day was one I wrote for my better half earlier this year, called The Winning Smile. It's a happy little number about the power of a smile in a World with too few. I originally recorded it as an acoustic piece with just guitar and vocal, but we tried it as a full-on power ballad and it worked a treat.

To finish the day off we recorded a big chunk of Stockholm dialogue which I'll be working through over the next few weeks. The first part of the film (of the three episodes we have split it into) has been 'filmed' and is ready for dialogue and music to be added, so progress is good and it looks like we could have the first part ready for viewing in a month or two.

So, a good day all round, with plenty of things to take forward. I'll be putting a bit of the soundtrack work up on the website within the week, so keep an ear out for that.