After our run of gigs during May – June finally wound down, I rolled up my sleeves and had a go at trying to set the Salvation rig that our former producer Steven had given me back up so I could begin the process of trying to learn how to do music production/audio engineering on my own since Chi sacked Steven. What with all the new music Chi has been composing lately, I couldn’t just leave that lying on the ground and throw him out. Since we were so close to being able to do real recordings at home, that became my mission over the summer.
Listen while you read to the five tracks we recorded with a new producer on July 28, 2013. The first three are slated for the “Victory Speech” album and the other two will be placed on other projects.
March for the 21st Century
I’m On The Run!
I set the computer up on top of the piano — as much as I hate to use instruments as furniture — because that was the only available space in the whole room, and began plugging things in after hunting all over hell and half of Georgia for the various gear and chingaderas I needed to get up and running. For whatever reason I was not able to get any output sound and after a couple days of faffing around with settings and whatnot, got frustrated and switched to the Mac running Garage Band to have a go at that. A good friend and fellow fiddle player who had stayed at our house in early June while he was doing a west coast tour had given me a quick tutorial on Garage Band as had another production-savvy friend a year or two earlier, so I at least had half a clue as to how to open and set up a project with that program. The monitoring worked fine on the Mac…or so it seemed to at first.
Since we were eager to further develop our music by adding other instruments since we couldn’t afford to rent a studio to track kit drums and I erroneously believed that having a MIDI controller was essential for programming drum parts, we bought a little MIDI controller (Korg Microkey 37 – reduced key size and only 2 octaves) and I began by playing around with existing recordings and figured out how to add new parts to them with virtual instruments in Garage Band. I fairly quickly worked out how to wire in the Zoom field recorder as the audio input device running a condenser mic into it to record a single track as we had done with Steven into the PC rig running Acid Pro7 and we began experimenting with that.
In mid-July Chi got an odd job driving and working as a schlepper for a Japanese vendor and his wares from somewhere in Orange County to Arizona for almost a week and I used the time to tinker around with the recording rig and begin my ascent up the steep and extremely frustrating learning curve for programming drum tracks. Chi came home with a brand-new piece he had written called “Arizona Cloud”. This new piece was a bit of a departure from Chi’s conventional approach to melody, and was quite challenging. Right about that time the new producer we were going to begin recording with got back in touch with us and set a date for July 28th.
It’s been incredibly frustrating as since May, even though Chi and I were fighting constantly, he’s been in a strong, stable creative phase, writing lots of good music and even beginning a visual art project. Nevertheless, Chi still being in the house constantly was really wearing on me, and even though we’d been getting along somewhat better once the secondary occupation of houseguests went away and the run of gigs went well and we learned the new music and moved toward actually getting it recorded to the point where I was moving away from my push to dislodge him, the reminders kept coming that he has to go. Nothing is worth having to suffer like this.
In the meantime we figured out how to mic the metronome and run it through the bass practice amp so we could hear it while playing, and worked out tempo settings for some of the pieces we were planning on recording on the 28th. We were both very pleased with the pre-prod session, and I was frustrated as shit that for some perverse reason I couldn’t get the Zoom to work as a simple quick-and-dirty recording device anymore. Did it get confused from having been used for so long as a MIDI interface or was it a user error? I had wanted to record us practicing w/the metronome, both to capture trials at various tempi and find where I was rushing or dragging, and also get a reading on how much salvage work I needed to do over the next couple days with my intonation, plus capture any good bits of improvised solos so I can remember them.
Chi got out his 12-string and worked out some new overdub parts for “Majesty”, so I set up the rig to record them. Unfortunately the same frustrating problem occurred with the monitoring again even though I thought I’d worked that out — not so — along with other maddening bullshit such as stuff that ought to be stupid-obvious but isn’t, eg., “Where the fuck is the “output level” on this thing?! (spends several minutes hunting through online manual) “Right here, but they call it ‘master level.’ Duh!” WTF?! It was also quite stressful trying to get gear set up and working with Chi hovering over me doing his petulant toddler act the whole time. His totally non-reality-based assumption that every fucking thing is always supposed to work out absolutely perfectly and conveniently right out of the box is…well…NOT reality-based and very distressing to have to deal with. We did end up getting something we were pleased with (at least at this stage) in the can, and also a video of us doing it, which motivated me to keep at it.
While at the day job the next day I worked out a sketch for a click/drum track for “Majesty” and also figured out one more layer of crazy complicated shit I have to figure out with respect to our ongoing problem of getting an adequate input signal level into the recording program — gain staging — but that will have to wait until after the recording session on 28 July. It is extremely frustrating having all of my productive time and energy burned up by having to slog through a menial day job every day. Listening to the playback of the recordings we’re working on inspires me with loads of ideas I want to play with when I get home, but having to sit in an office all day freezing my ass off bored out of my mind leaves me so psychically desiccated and mentally petrified by the end of it that I no longer have it in me by the time I get home to even try, and then there’s Chi and all his infinitely wearying bullshit to contend with on top of it all.
At least with this job, people for the most part leave me alone, although it is a bit toxic and distressing being tolerated as a functionally necessary evil rather than liked. Not that I have done much to make myself likeable, so it’s entirely self-inflicted. My life has just been such a fucking mess for the past decade or so that it’s incredibly difficult to put on a happy face and gladly adopt a zombie robot persona and try to look like I fit the narrative. Apparently my acting skills need improvement. Whenever anyone asks what I do, I have trouble finding anything to say other than “precious little”. Most of the time I am simply a prop: a figurine hunched in a chair at a desk in front of a computer in case there is anything to do, and when there is, I often struggle to find the motivation to do it. Call it extreme burnout or whatever, but it is getting more and more difficult to force myself to slog through the tiresome and utterly uninspiring bullshit that comprises my day-to-day existence.
Well, the weekend of the long-awaited recording session with the new producer finally arrived, but as expected, Chi tried his best to sabotage it. We’d spent all day Saturday preparing, playing through a lot of repertoire, selecting pieces to record, setting tempos, etc., and went about it unusually peacefully. Even BBQ/dinner went without a hitch, but at the end of the night Chi, who was drunk by that point, began yapping at me to translate some nonsense rock song lyrics for him that I could barely make out myself and threw a tantrum when I refused since I didn’t have the energy to bother with a pointless hassle like that. He came shuffling into my office room where I had retreated to harass me some more. I have no memory at all of whatever the fuck he was going on about. His sole purpose may very well have been to pick some stupid fight just so he can jones on the trauma-drama of it. Whatever. It was just annoying and distressing, and I told him to just shut the fuck up/go the fuck away/leave me the fuck alone, but he persisted, then demanded that I cancel the session, yadayadayada, so I literally threw him out of my office into Cat Shit Corridor where I think he may have landed on his ass in the cats’ litter box, and tried to slam the door shut and lock it, but it came off its hinges in the process. One more idiotic mess I have to deal with.
By some twist of fate, the next morning we received a random booking request that I locked in, and also that same morning Chi received an expression of interest from a decent-sounding commercial print/VO/etc. talent agency (it turned into an interview set for 8/8, our wedding anniversary), so I forged onward and succeeded in cajoling him into follow through and do the recording session, and it’s a good thing I did since it went spectacularly well and we ended up getting five pieces recorded (although I was kicking myself for not finding the time to do the woodshedding I so desperately need to in order to get my chops in decent shape)! The sound quality exceeded our expectations.
A conversation with our erstwhile producer Steven following the session:
SDM: I hope the session today went really well.
BKSS: It was tremendous! 5 new broadcast quality recordings, incl. 3 pieces slated for the Victory Speech album!
SDM: Well done. *applause*
BKSS: Thanks! Well, as expected, Chi did try to sabotage it.
… (describes incident)
So the moral of the story is that it IS possible to get quality output out of Chi, but it almost always requires having to put up with endless amounts of childish nonsense in the process, and my patience is wearing very thin….
SDM: I am so sorry to hear this. Just grin and bear it until a great album is ready to be released. After that he can leave. It amazes me that he can be so ungrateful for all that you do for him to get his exceptional music heard. He really is very selfish in his commitment to self-destruction! I am looking forward enormously to hearing the finished material.
BKSS: It really is something to get to hear our music through *good* mics, especially some of these “signature Panache pieces” we perform all the time and only have audio tracks scraped out of videos w/crap sound of, and to see Chi’s face light up when he finally gets to hear his music rendered in some approximation of how he originally envisioned it (we did some overdubs this time).
I know there will inevitably be grinding gears and sparks flying at times, but I think Chi (and I) are genuinely engaged in the process, especially now that we’re really getting traction, and I am committed to seeing it through, although I may end up having to be committed by the end of it!