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LFS Residency 1

 

These songs are the results of a four day recording residency I undertook from 18th to 21st August 2013 (with a few hours remedial work over the following weeks), under the banner of “Lo-Fi Symphonies”.

I finally found the time and courage to re-visit the recordings at the end of March this year. I’ll be honest it was really an excuse to try out an idea I’d had for a homemade space echo spring reverb. Each of the songs was kept in the state I had left them almost 3 years ago, and i mixed and mastered 2 signals from the 8-track: 1 outputted directly to Logic, and the 2nd routed to Logic via my homemade space echo.

I’ve released the four songs under the guise of Sylvania Electric (seeing them as a progression of a long-dormant pre-Miss Pain pseudonym Sylvania). I hope you like them.

 

 

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APPENDIX (Lo-Fi Symphonies Residency 1)
Rather than wracking my memory over a few overdubs and recording decisions I made 3 years ago, I’m just going to present the notes as a form of appendix – a long overdue full stop to this project.

REMEDIAL NOTES (Summarising work undertaken following the initial recording timescale)


REMEDIAL NOTES (Praying For Time)


MIXING & MASTERING NOTES

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06:30: I wake up with a headache. Must have been that second glass of wine I had last night. But I have at least had a proper night’s sleep.

The first task of the day is to ‘comp’ the guitar takes I did for My Heart Has Wings; then I record some crisp acoustic guitar for a bright, percussive edge; and another electric guitar overdub to add some extra oomph to the bridges and choruses.

We Didn’t Have Much Time has been re-named Praying For Time.

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That is the extent of my accounts for the day, as I spent just about every minute of every hour working. I will, instead, attempt to piece the day’s progress together from my written notes, song-by-song.

Praying For Time: at the close of Day 3 my notes show that scant progress had been made – just a click track and a pain-stakingly programmed and sequenced drum track in 6/8 time. As Day 4 went on this was fleshed out into something like what I can hear in my head. It went like this: delicately plucked staccato electric guitar (2 takes) > electric guitar takes mixed with EQ + compression > Morricone-esque Spaghetti Western fuzz guitar solo in verse 3 (2 versions) > in the absence of a bass guitar,  I ran an electric guitar through an octave pedal, which, after a bit of tweaking and practising, I was able to avoid too much stray ‘tracking’ and record 2 takes, which I comped into 1 good take > I could hear synth-bass in my head, so I added synth-bass > at 01:30 I set up a vocal booth in a small WC – I can’t help thinking Joe Meek would approve.

Water Closet = vocal booth

Water Closet = vocal booth

NOTES FROM DAY 4 (Praying For Time)

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00:30: The hard-disk on the trusty old 8-track is full. This is not good. I go through each of the 4 song recordings and delete anything that is surplus to requirements (unused takes; takes that have been combined and mixed with others; anything that I think I will either not need in its raw state, or that if it came down to it I could record again without too much bother ). I salvage 33 minutes 41 seconds of disk space. From now on I must delete as I go, as soon as non-essential parts have been mixed down – this is called burning bridges and I will have to do it increasingly as the project continues.

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My Heart Has Wings: having added a load of guitar overdubs in the early part of the day, I continued with the following: wielding a decorators paintbrush, I strummed over the faltering intro > next a lead vocal take in the live room, with an extra ambient mic to capture the room sound (this almost definitely done after 03:00 when there was a break in the planes coming and going) – subsequently deleted > another vocal take belted out through a different mic, recording the verses and choruses separately from the bridge parts to give me some space to breathe > a vocal overdub to fill out certain passages.

NOTES FROM DAY 4 (My Heart Has Wings)

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05:00 Day 5

05:00 Day 5

The Fledgling And The Moth: In the wee small hours of Day 5 (but actually at the end of a very long Day 4), I loaded up this song, and, feeling that my finger tips weren’t going to feel like they were being stabbed with hot pokers the moment they touched a fret-board, I ran through a few proper takes of the acoustic guitar with a single microphone running via my Joe Meek VC3Q compressor/equalizer. I played until I had a couple of takes I was happy with, but ended up keeping all of take 2 with just the very first chord of take 1 in place, mixed together with a touch of brightening EQ, and finished just as the sun had come up and the rest of the world had awoken.

I took myself off to bed at 06:30 – a full 24 hours work in the bag.

[additional note: When I rose from my slumber later in the morning, I had to do a quick overdub on the acoustic guitar middle-eight, where timing had gone awry on a chord change]

NOTES FROM DAY 4 (The Fledgling And The Moth)

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NOTES SUMMARISING DAY 4

I am painfully aware that my lo-fi symphonies project has ground to a halt, at least in the public eye. I have found a bit of time to work on one of the recordings to a point where I think it is complete, and I have made a rough mix that needs a couple of tweaks but stood up to scrutiny on the last listen.

I have just been diagnosed with opthalmic shingles, which ain’t the joyride it sounds like it could be. This is hampering progress. Also, there was a holiday, and there is work, and there is family life, and there is childcare. All of which mean that I can only work the odd stray hour or two when I have the energy to do so.

I shall soldier on, and post things when I feel they are ready for consumption.

02:45: Is it Day 3 now, or still Day 2? I drag myself out of bed, neck some breakfast and black coffee, close the curtains, then mic’ up and record a few takes of the piano for The Scars On Your Face; mix two takes together (more judicious cross-fading); then back into the live room for the vocals – recorded watching the sun rise across the field.

Day 3 sunrise 04:42

Day 3 sunrise 04:42

Then the planes started again, and I just about manage to squeeze in the brief verses and middle-eight vocals in the short gaps between take off.

NOTES AT START OF DAY 3
How are the recording notes looking as we creep loudly into Day 3?

I spend an interminable length of time creating 4 combinations of 6/4 drum patterns for We Didn’t Have Much Time, then painstakingly sequence them to fit the composition. I play along on the guitar to check everything is in its right place. Everything swings…

We Didn’t Have Much TIme (guitar/drums) take 1

14:45: A nasty electrical POPPING sound has me rushing into the live room. I unplug everything without any shocks and my heart is racing. I haven’t dared plug most of it back in yet, but there is no evidence of short-circuiting (melted plugs, burns, etc), so I have no idea which piece of gear it was.

I head off for a nap with the intention of rising later in the evening for another late night session.

16:15: I feel a little rested though I haven’t really slept. Might as well get on with some more work then.

One of the things that kept me from sleeping was the tragic sound of a lowing slide guitar accompanying The Fledgling And The Moth inside my head. That, and the aeroplanes and the caffeine. My first task on waking, then, is to lay down some slide guitar, which I combine with E-Bow to vicious, atonal effect.

E-Bow + Slide = atonal + vicious

E-Bow + Slide = atonal + vicious

That electrical POPPING sound I reported earlier: the only evidence I can find is a 9-volt battery which has blown up. I must say it was bloody loud for such a small thing, must have been each of the individual cells blowing…

POPPING battery

POPPING battery

After dinner, I’m back in the live room with the amp turned up to, er, 1, and I record two full takes of the wild west-style guitar, close mic’ed with another mic’ to capture the room sound.

I pack up, fingers sore, but pleased with myself. I phone my wife, poor another glass of wine and take myself to bed by 21:45.

NOTES AT END OF DAY 3

My fingers hurt. I am clearly not match fit for playing the acoustic guitar over and over and over.

After my late night, I spent the morning sleeping in (until 09:30), eating a hearty breakfast, tidying up loose ends from yesterday, and creating and posting content to Day 1.

I sit down at the old joanna with some chords and some words.

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14:00: I film a take of a piano-led dirge.

The Scars On Your Face (piano) – take 1

I start new songs, laying down click tracks and drums where I have them.

  • The Scars On Your Face
  • My Heart Has Wings
  • We Didn’t Have Much Time

That way I am ready to record mic’ed parts during darkness hours when the outside noise has died down (there’s an airport one side of me and a busy road on the other).

I practice some heavy-on-the-tremelo-arm wild west-style guitar along to the cantering drums of My Heart Has Wings, the resultant sound is brutal, reverb-y and mushed up. It sounds pleasing to my ears.

My Heart Has Wings (guitar/drums) – take 2

19:28: I save a tiny, helpless mouse from the needy cat. I stop for dinner and a glass of wine. Which kind of puts an end to work.

21:00: I take myself off to bed with the intention of getting a few hours sleep and setting the alarm for stupid o’clock when I will hopefully get up and do some work before the rest of the world rises and starts making noises.

NOTES FROM DAY 2
A paltry single page of notes from Day 2.

MISSION STATEMENT
To set up a lo-fi recording studio at a remote location and record over a period of 4 days*.

The intention is to work on a collection of dirges and ditties that have been drifting around my headspace over the past couple of years, working on a battered old digital 8-track and a limited arsenal of instruments.

There is no hi-tech recording console, and no software studio. Instead I have a digital 8-track recorder, which I find lends itself to a non-precious, back-to-basics working style – if a take doesn’t make the grade, I have to go back and re-do it again. And again. There will be no luxury of countless overdubs to 32 tracks in ProTools here!

*please note: this is not some “bourgeois artist-type wants to feel tortured and authentic, and so heads off to the wilderness to live in a log cabin for 3 months with just an acoustic guitar and a wax cylinder to record with” schtick. No, I just want to have a few days to myself to get some ideas on to tape, without the distractions of real life.

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So, you find me in the middle of nowhere, in the shadow of Gatwick airport. The nearest shop is a mile down the road and there is a bus about every 2 hours (if you walk a mile to the bus stop). There is food and drink, and internet (albeit very slow), TV and radio, but I am isolated enough that I shouldn’t have the urge to go to the pub, or the shops. I am also alone: just me and the sounds in my head with a load of equipment of various vintages and states of repair. (oh, and a needy cat)

Here is an overview of the equipment I have at my disposal

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10:30: SLIGHT HITCH

I have forgotten a pretty essential piece of kit – a data transfer cable – which I need in order to transfer audio to the computer. I am an idiot.

14:00: I have returned from a round trip to Hove by car, then train, then another train, then foot, then bike, then train, then bike again. I will eat lunch and get on.  Looks like it’ll be a late night tonight if I am to catch up on lost time.

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Rehearsing the 1st song, I thought I might as well film myself, so here I am bashing away at an acoustic guitar.

The Fledgling and The Moth (acoustic) – take 4

At some point, mid-afternoon, I realised the tempo of the song I am working on is a little too strident. It takes some courage, but I scrap everything I have done so far and start again (I do save the original recordings just in case). Working from the ground up, I create a click track (tempo 82bpm); record a guide track of acoustic guitar and vocal; add some swelling organ; sing an improvised three-part choral chord and sample each part; add two-part backing vocals (2 x mid-range, 1 x low); mix 2 organ takes, with a number of judicious fades, to make a (almost) perfect take.

I have no completed recordings to post at the end of play. I finish work at 03:52 hrs.

NOTES FROM DAY 1
Here are my notes from Day 1 – they will probably make no sense outside of the context of the recording. And even then probably only to me, being that I can’t read or write music and have my own set of codes and signifiers to help me piece things back together.

“Where are these lo-fi symphonies?” I hear you cry. Well, I am currently in the midst of day 3 of my residency, and as soon as a couple of videos have uploaded to youtube (no joke it has taken 2 days and lots of crashes so far!) I will have some content to post.

I am also enforcing some kind of experiment in jet-lag without recourse to long-haul travel – I’m off for a nap after lunch.

Ye Gods! Something electrical just started making a disturbing POPPING sound in the live room. I unplugged everything and I received no shocks. I’ve not worked out what it was yet, but it looks ominous.

Please keep watching this space.