Sunday, August 3, 2014

Songs without words Part I (but thankfully no pretentious post-modern Mahleriana, but exactly what it says on the tin: songs without words)

These tracks will not play in Opera. I don’t know why, but they won’t. And please turn up your bass. These tracks need it.

As the title, and the simple reasons these songs are without words are several. In no particular order: not only do I lack the confidence to sing, but even when I am alone I get peculiarly self-conscious trying to sing. Then there is the question of key: you, I and everyone else will suddenly find it far easier to sing a song if the music is in the right key for your voice. The trouble is that when these pieces were ‘composed’, establishing the right key for my voice wasn’t only not one of my priorities, it never even occurred to me.

Whenever you (or I, of course) sing along to a tune and what comes out is crap is not necessarily down to the fact that you have a crap voice and can’t sing, it is also because the music is in the wrong key for your voice. So you strain along, unable to hit the higher notes (or the lower) notes and the result is a dog’s dinner. Each of the following tunes is, in fact, most definitely a song, and although I haven’t written, let alone added lyrics, is in a sense, neither here nor there. I know exactly what each song is about and how I should like to sing it were I ever to get that far (note the pertinent conditional tense).

For years and years and years I have buggered around on guitar and the result was never, ever very good, although I have always had ideas for songs, knowing what kind of drumming I wanted and what other instruments I should like to have as well as the guitar. Only latterly have I put a little bit more effort into my guitar playing by learning scales and, by playing those scales, gaining a certain dexterity (though not much).

Then along came computers and recording software, and that’s how I started. But first another admission: each of the three ‘songs’ below is at least five years old, and I have done very little since, although that is for several quite practical reasons. They were – I won’t say ‘composed’ but will describe it as ‘constructed’ as that is a little more honest – on an desktop Apple Mac runing OS 9.1. The software was Steinberg’s Cubase 5. Well, things have moved on since then, I no longer use that old Apple Mac, and although I still have the Cubase on a hard drive since added to a Power Mac, other circumstances have changed so that I don’t really any more have the facilities to ‘record’.

These songs were all constructed on a set-up on what was then the utility room which my very basic ‘recording studio’ shared with the central heating boiler, a chest deep freeze a fridge and loads and loads of other shite. The advantage was that as it was all at the end of the cottage I live in, no one could hear me and I could sit there till I don’t know when in the early morning piddling around, always, not usually, polishing off at least one bottle of wine. That uitility room is now my teenage son’s bedroom, the computer set-up has been shifted to the living room at the other end of the cottage (which is by no means big) and I simply can’t do what I then did.

The ‘construction’, by which I modestly mean ‘composition’ almost always followed the same routine. Cubase allows you to ‘play’ drums and add bass, keyboards, strings, synths and the rest. The, very limited, guitar playing is live, but there again it isn’t in so far as Thank God For Copy And Paste (which should be immediately apparent to everyone who has done something similar). That meant that I could edit whatever unmitigated crap I played, deleting forever the really bad bits, and using the useful usable bits judiciously. Once I had a rhythm going and almost immediately a bass line (I love bass lines, which we rarely hear but which can make a break a track), I would get an idea and, crucially, very crucially, stick to it and develop it.

All the keyboard parts – all except the sequence on a track called I Fucked It which I shall post in a few days time – were labouriously input not by bloody note, until I got what I wanted. But for that reason they, I’m sorry to say, lack dynamics and personality. They are horribly artificial in a sense, and you will know what I mean. After that it was honing, adding, taking away, editing, till I got what I wanted. Then it was: stop. Don’t fuck around any more and ruin it (more modestly, make it worse than it is now).

As I say, once I had, very early on, decided what kind of track – song – I was going to attempt to do, I focused on that and stuck with it. Oddly, keeping things simple in that way made it easier. I was hopeless at wiring up the guitar. I used an effect box, a very useful one, but even then it all went into the computer via a tiny 1/4in jack and the sound quality suffers. Boy does it suffer. But I do believe that it is the final result which counts.

NB These tracks need to have the bass on your desktop or laptop turned UP. They will sound rather tinny without good bass, and as I said, I like bass. I do have a bass, though I bought one several years after these tracks were made, and none contains any live bass, but if I were ever in a band, any band, bass would be my instrument. Oh, and I shall post another four tracks in the next few days.

. . .

This first track is called The Little Bugger. The singer is reflecting on an abortion a girl had of the foetus he and she created and, many years on, thinks that the child, whether man or woman would now by grown-up. There is a certain amount of guilt involved in – well, I know this is contentious, but it is my view – taking a life. The singing, were it ever to be added, would – should – be anguished in the way many black gospel singers can achieve, and one or two white ones.

Here it is:

The Little Bugger

. . .

The next one is called Let’s Split Up. It’s about a mindless, well-off yuppy couple (I always imagined them having a ‘weekend place’ in The Hamptons, though I’ve never been there) who are both having affairs and decide it it time to go their separate ways. The song is about them discussing what of their various possessions – the Volvo, the Porsche, the various properties they have – should go to whom and to decide amicably to save as much money as possible. (‘We don’t want the lawyers to get all our fucking dough’.) The sticking point is: who will get the young childre, about six and four, because both want to start new, unencumbered lives and neither wants them.

Here it is:

Let’s Split Up

. . .

The last one in this particular blog post is called Jesus Loves Bush. It started life as a rolling, blues format piece, but while I was doing it, I remembered George Dubya’s road to nowhere and reflected yet again what a complete prat he was (is). And then I remembered how much of a song and dance he makes about ‘Jesus’ and how he would challenge folk to ‘pray with him’. The guitar is unadorned:

Jesus Loves Bush

Incidentally, if I have one gift, it’s an ear for cliché. Must be all the years I spent, man and boy, before the mast toiling for our wonderful free press. (In fact, the umbilical cord is still so much intact, I am tempted to refer to our free Press. But only you, Pete, will get that particular joke.)

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