The agonizing situation persisted with the tug-of-war of priorities between my need to have Chi out of my house and out of my immediate personal life, and the big-picture need to get as much of our vast repertoire recorded at broadcast quality; with the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head as to whether the Hawaii thing would actually come through, or if Chi’s criminal record for abusing me would send that sword crashing down on my head as my financial situation got more dire by the day thanks to Chi’s continued occupation of my balance sheet and concurrent failure to secure any sustainable employment.
Listen while you read to a scratch recording of an early read-thru of “Raining, Crying”. We have big plans for this piece! A cat fight breaks out around 8:15 (most likely Dusty and Laxmi). I plan on keeping that in the final version.
January – February 2014
Since we were still effectively in limbo with the Hawaii gig for Chi, or at least I hadn’t totally given up hope yet even though it was looking undeniably doomed, we spent January “dressing up” more of our pieces of which we had decent-quality guitar/violin parts already recorded with bass, drums and percussion and pitching for placements on Taxi.com. We also began tracking other pieces from scratch. My technique improved for capturing sound as I experimented with various approaches to mic placement, using one or two condenser mics and also going direct through the DI input on the interface, etc. I also began to explore learning how to mix.
As my understanding and skill level with mixing increased, it became increasingly maddening having Chi around when I was trying to mix anything. It was particularly infuriating when I’d just put together a reasonably clear, well-balanced mix for him to then start hovering over me demanding that I shove the bass fader up into the stratosphere, followed by the kick drum, then the toms, snare drum, crash cymbals, then the ride cymbals, etc., etc., until the whole thing degenerates into a muddy, bass-heavy, distorted, speaker-blowing pile of shit, or a classic case of “turn everything up until it’s louder than everything else”. During this time we also resurrected “A Shitty Day”, the piece we had begun working on with Steven a year earlier that was scheduled to be an anchor track for the “Victory Speech” album.
Although there was one early success of a piece being forwarded to a publisher for consideration, the rest of the pieces we’d submitted for various Taxi.com listings fell for various reasons despite receiving high marks for musicianship/performance and very positive comments. One thing that was becoming clear to me was that if we wanted placements, we would have to find a way to make our music less melody-driven by the too-conspicuous violin line since it competes with whatever it is supposed to be underscoring/supporting in the background if it is to be pitched for that purpose. We would also have to significantly retool our instrumentation if we want to shoot for the ubiquitous “indie rock” instrumental listings, and Chi would have to practice and dust off his chops on electric guitar, which he should want to do anyway given that we are going to need that instrument for the “Victory Speech” album, at least. There was also the problem that a solid 90% of the time, I hadn’t the faintest fucking idea what type of music the listings were asking for and when I listened to the reference tracks/artists, usually found them so incredibly uninteresting that I had no interest in making any such music.
One day while listening to the reference tracks for a call for “contemporary new age instrumentals” on Taxi.com, after initially wishing for the few minutes of my lifetime back that I’d spent suffering through the ungodly boring, simplistic first track, the second one was at least tolerable, and then the third one was apparently recorded by what by any standard would constitute a “real musician” with a bona fide musical background and artistic sensibility, i.e., someone who could competently play *real* musical instruments and compose a piece that makes musical sense and engages the listener. Suddenly, the light bulb switched on. THAT WAS IT!!
What I had just heard was a pretty, well-played, well-recorded guitar chord pattern with some tasteful other sounds layered in, i.e., some subtle, light hand percussion. A subtle few notes on upright bass. A subtle, transparent string pad. Chi could do this shit all day! He SPECIALIZES in creating pretty, engaging guitar chord patterns when he’s just noodling around with his instrument. All we have to do is miss out the prominent melody line he always sets to them which I play, and instead just leave it as a chord pattern and layer in a few notes here and there of other instruments, which we now have the in-house capacity to do without even really trying!
After dinner I played the third piece for him and told him about my idea, which FOR ONCE he was receptive to and eagerly agreed to! Nothing short of miraculous. But of course! Just as I had made the decision to give up on the Hawaii job and begin to execute Plan B, which would basically destroy everything permanently in grand “scorched earth” fashion. For the bonus point, I passed along an off-the-cuff suggestion from our former producer Steven in a comment he made to a FaceBook update I’d posted regarding the ongoing severe drought in southern California that Chi compose a “rain song”. Chi wrote a “rain song” the next afternoon while I was at work and we read through it that evening. It was very good!
The new “rain song” came together nicely over the ensuing weeks, and we also reworked “Lullaby For Terrorists”, a quirky tone poem he wrote and we had begun working on several months earlier but it got misplaced and/or put aside for some reason or other. This version is more lyrical and moody than the earlier one, and also somewhat ironically fit in perfectly well with the “contemporary new age-y”-type pieces we had decided to focus on for the time being. There was one more piece — a Japanese folk-like one — that he just remembered, wrote out a score and we began working on.
I get annoyed with Chi when he expects me to turn circus tricks, particularly when I am absolutely exhausted, such as read/follow badly written (inaccurate, illegible and/or nonsensical) scores, perform aerial acrobatics like playing transposed parts that are not written out an octave up, and selecting the part of the piece with the most awkward, counter-intuitive chord progressions as the passage for me to solo over. I know it’s a good thing for me to improve my ability to think on my feet and navigate obtuse harmonic structures on the fly and sight-transpose an octave up, but I still get annoyed anyway.
Progress with developing and recording the new repertoire got pre-empted by various things, the most pressing of which was Chi getting an agent for print, on-camera commercial and voiceover work for which I had to do the usual hoop-jumping of exchanging information, interpreting/ translating, negotiating, setting up various profiles, and mustering various media which in this case meant that I had to quickly work out how to take and edit a good recording of speaking, including adding musical cues/soundtracking to it, which I did quite handily with my recently acquired engineering skills. FINALLY, an agent that didn’t care if Chi isn’t able to sight-read English, and actually considered that a potential strength.
Chi ended up getting a fair bit of acting work through February which slowed but did not stop the work we resumed on the new pieces. “Raining, Crying” and “Lullaby For Terrorists” have particularly great potential for further development, and as we worked through them I began to understand the magnitude of effort and skill involved in creating a quality recording and properly developing, arranging and producing a piece of music.
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