thoughts on music, design and literature

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Skyline Studios: NYC

Skyline Studios: NYC. Spent two days recording some fantastic singers here: Anonymous 4, and Jia Ruhan. Back to LA in the morning, with less than a month left before my mix.



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts On Instrumentation

It dawned on me the other day about the importance of instrumentation to the promotion of music. Many times the instrumentation that you select for a song--whether it be solo piano, orchestral, or pop--will make your listener decide immediately whether they want to continue to listen to your music. Here's what I mean...

If you're flipping through radio stations, catch a quick ad on TV, or even stumble across a user's MySpace page on the internet, the first thing that you'll hear when a piece of music starts playing is its instrumentation. Even before you hear lyrics, even before you hear a melody, even before you can figure out how fast a piece of music is, you'll immediately identify what's playing it. You may not know the specifics--is that an oboe or English horn? Nylon string guitar or finger-picked acoustic?--but you'll immediately get a rough sense of what's producing the sounds that you hear. And based on that snap judgment, chances are you'll immediately know what genre of music it is, and based on your existing biases, make a decision whether you'll want to keep listening or not.

In this day and age, most music is stumbled upon--that is, you casually came across it in an iPod commercial, or an episode of Grey's Anatomy, or even a video game. So what if the choices that you make in instrumentation are SO powerful, and SO compelling, that the moment someone hears the combination of instruments that you use, they're compelled to keep listening? That would be a powerful tool.

There's not a lot of music out there with instrumentation this compelling, however. If you work within a specific genre, a lot of times your instrumental choices will be made for you--acoustic instruments for country, electronic for electronica, beats for hip hop, orchestra for classical, etc. So to find stuff like this, one probably has to turn to more crossover artists. To give you a few examples, the first time I heard Bjork was a revelation. The way she would mix delicate timbres like a music box with heavy electronic beats in 'Pagan Poetry' was inspired:

I was not a huge Sting fan, but the first ever single I bought of his was his duet with Cheb Mami on the song 'Desert Rose', which I first heard in a Jaguar commercial. The mix of commercial production with Arabic vocals grabbed my attention, and I went and bought the track:

Peter Gabriel's 'Passion' soundtrack was a huge inspiration for me. Talk about fusing world music elements with synths... Peter Gabriel rewrote the rule book on this one.

My friends the On Ensemble do great work like this as well--fusing traditional Japanese music with hip hop and electronica:

And let's not forget all the excellent African music/pop fusion that's been done out there, by the likes of Paul Simon in Graceland and Hans Zimmer for The Lion King, perhaps the music that 'Baba Yetu' gets compared to most often. (Personally, while I love Hans' music and admire him as a composer, I don't think Baba Yetu and The Lion King are really all that similar. Most people make the comparison because it's the closest cultural reference they have to anything that's an African choral hybrid, but neither of us were the first to fuse African choral music with orchestral writing, and hopefully neither of us will be the last.)

Labels: , ,

Friday, July 24, 2009

DJ Spooky + Sussan Deyhim = Azadi (The New Complexity)

My friend Sussan Deyhim (also featured soloist on my upcoming album) just released a track with DJ Spooky. Check it out!

Labels: ,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Village Recorder: Gap Commercial

I took a few days off to work on an ad campaign for Gap--and on Wednesday we hit the studio with a small band consisting of Matt Cooker on cello, Bernie Locker on guitar, and Greg Ellis on drums (Greg had previously played drums and percussion for me on my album). My assistant Alex laid down some bass from the control booth.

Elwin Goh, a photographer I had met last month at Video Games Live, stopped by and took a few pictures of me for a photo series he's putting together about people who work in the video game industry. Check them out!

_DSC1314.jpg _DSC1286.jpg _DSC1274.jpg

Chris Owens was the engineer. He had also previously done some engineering for me on my album.

_DSC1264.jpg _DSC1133.jpg _DSC1075.jpg

You can see Greg and Matt in this one. Bernie's in the iso-booth off to the left.



Friday, July 3, 2009

The Kids Are Alright!

Earlier this year, Ms. Shannon Jones of Trinity Springs Middle School wrote me an email, and told me that her choir was learning Baba Yetu. This was followed by a bunch of emails from the students in the choir, asking me if I was going to come out and hear the performance! Unfortunately I couldn't make it out to Texas, but just for fun I put together a little video to say hi to the choir:

I think it went over well!

In any case, the choir sent me a DVD of the performance, which was much appreciated; most choirs don't even tell me they're performing my music--I just stumble across their performances on YouTube (even the big professional ones don't warn me in advance!). I'd honestly go to more of these performances if I could--especially the ones in Los Angeles.

At any rate, the kids of Trinity Springs did a GREAT job with the song. Hopefully someone over there will figure out how to post it to YouTube someday, but in the meantime, if any of the choir members from TSMS are reading this, BRAVO!!! :) You guys were a delight to watch, and you all sounded great--from the chorus, to the excellent soloist, to the orchestra. And great job putting it all together, Ms. Jones!

Hope you're all having a great summer vacation! :)

Labels: ,