This song I wrote in around 1996 - it has evolved very little since then. I composed this back then on a 61-key Ensoniq SQ-1+ synth
There have been a few iterations of this track over the years, with the somewhat undecided track title originating from my high school nickname of Wombler (long story) and the fact that I played in a metal band with some friends in which we wrote lyrics to this song and fully "orchestrated" it, titling it "The Sweetest Lullaby" in that incarnation.
I love that this is a very "linear" song, there are no repeating sections, but an adventure from start to finish through various tempos and time signatures. Enjoy...
This is a performance I've always loved. The particular version I listen to most often is the Mandolin Rain / Black Muddy River Medley performed on the "Here Come The Noise Makers" (Live Disc 2) album. A sample of a recent live performance of the medley from YouTube appears below. Why do I love this track? To begin with - Mandolin Rain.
I love the simple melodic intro to this track, piano, organ, followed by stripped back pad synths and simple piano as the first verse begins.
There's something about the longingness in the voice and the feeling behind the lines "Listen to the tears roll down my face as she turns to go" and "Listen to my heart break every time she runs away" that get me every time. Simple and heartfelt.
The references to the rain will always hold a special place for me. The rain is one of those sounds and atmospheres that I just love
In this medley the feeling winds down after around 5 minutes in, as the segway to Black Muddy River kicks in around 5:48. The response from the crowd is testament to the feeling this segway creates. Black Muddy River was originally performed by The Grateful Dead. Perhaps this will lose me kudos with some, however I prefer Bruce Hornsby's
particular take on this track. It is more stripped back and emotionally bare which for me seems to work better with the lyric. "
When I can't hear that song for the singer A
nd I can't tell a pillow from a stone"...
"I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own..."It is just such a reflective, bare, and heartfelt performance. The clip below provides a glimpse, however the live version on
"Here Come The Noise Makers" (Live Disc 2) is the version which really moves me. Enjoy.
, is a good choice. I have just replied and thought many other people could be wondering the same thing, as I did prior to making a purchase some time ago. The detailed specs for the piano can be found on Yamaha's website.
For those who are less interested in the numbers and specs, following is a summary of my responses to the questions I was asked earlier:
- Before I purchased, I had trialled the P-155 for touch and sound alongside some high end Kawai and Roland digital pianos and it stacked up easily as well (and in the case of the Kawai MP6
which is generally at a significantly higher price point, the P-155 sounded and felt better, more realistic, under the fingers).- Many years ago
I held the belief that keyboards with internal speakers were "low end", not as professional as those you have to plug in to external speakers. While sometimes a truism, this is not a solid rule. The quality of the internal speakers in the P-155 is fine, and part of the appeal for me with this model was the ability to sit down and just turn it on and play. Having played with synths in a studio environment for years, it is refreshing and more natural to have no need to put headphones on, turn speakers on, wait for the piano to boot up etc. It was closer to the experience of playing a real piano.- S
omething you wouldn't think of and most people wouldn't think to mention - when you use a keyboard of some substance which has internal speakers, because the sound is created inside the keyboard there is a slight vibration you can feel through the keys as you play them - a sensation which feels a little more natural like the resonance generated by the strings of an acoustic piano.- Like a wine, a car, or a restaurant meal, some people will judge an instrument's quality or lack thereof by price tag alone. This is a shame. Interestingly though, the Yamaha P-155 which retails in Australia for $2,199 actually uses the same
AWM Dynamic Stereo Sampling sound engine as the Yamaha Modus H11
which retails for $18,999+. In other words, the wrapper may be different but the sound you're paying for is exactly the same. As I did prior to purchasing, listening to and comparing clips of various piano performances on YouTube is a good way to get a feel for the quality of sound and sensitivity you can reproduce with various digital pianos. Hear the Yamaha P-155 put through it's paces further here. Happy listening.
I was recently asked via a contact on YouTube whether the digital piano I play, the
Last weekend I recorded a performance of my composition "Before April". In a strange coincidence, a few days later I read this post about the "Out Back Project"
, a 15-minute audio piece to be composed from the memories contributors have of their backyard. I immediately contacted the talent behind the project and am pleased to contribute my track as the score. The title "Before April" refers to the time shortly before the arrival of my first child.
At the time I was living in Sydney, in a unit, with a tiny grassed area flanked by a very tall graffitied concrete wall, the only thing separating us from the Gore Hill Freeway into Sydney.
I composed this track thinking of the complete unknown that lay ahead for us with the pending arrival, as I looked out to our very limited living space outdoors. That April we moved to Newcastle, returning to our roots, closer to family, in our first home with a large and varied outdoor environment for our little guy to explore. We have not looked back since, and the concrete wall I once saw from the window of my studio has been replaced with the top of citrus trees, rooves and an expanse of sky.With that, please enjoy the track via the YouTube clip above. If it connects with you, you can download the track in the format of your choice from here. Enjoy.
Last weekend the world saw the Eurovision 2011 final. Overall, I found the artists this year entertaining, but I didn't really connect with any of the performances.
Some people may find the idea of connecting with any Eurovision performance laughable, but this year's event got me thinking back to something very memorable from a few years ago.
In 2009 I was in love when I saw Iceland's Jóhanna Guðrún Jónsdóttir
. At the age of 19 she performed an incredibly strong song with confidence, power and a stand-out level of emotion. She was pitch-perfect, nailed the dynamics and just owned the arena. The stage backdrop and visual effects were tasteful, appropriate and relevant. And of course she looked gorgeous. It's astounding she didn't win.
The purpose of this post is simply to share my impression of how much I enjoyed that performance. Eurovision is often treated as comical fodder in the Western world. There are of course some great artists who perform on that world stage - though many, such as Jóhanna, don't seem to achieve recognition worthy of their talent despite such massive but fleeting exposure.
If you find a connection with a performance on any scale, spread the word. Let the artist know. Let others know. There are many undiscovered gems the world over.
I grew up learning to play on an old upright grand piano. Around 10 years ago I remember asking my great Uncle, who is now in a nursing home, if he knew how old the piano was, as it had been in the family for well beyond just my lifetime. To my surprise he stood up from his chair, and as quickly as if you'd just asked for a glass of water disappeared into another room, rummaged for a moment, and returned with the original receipt, dated 1923.
Amazing. That piano had some history.
As I grew up, the location of that piano shifted. From the front room in my early childhood house, to our next door neighbour's garage while that house was being rebuilt, to the back room of the rebuilt house, where it has stayed loyally for well over two decades.
A piano is not a very transportable thing. I once saw a busker towing an upright grand by bicycle in Sydney's Martin Place, but this is somewhat off the chart... When I moved out of home, that old piano was left behind. I started playing in bands, using synths and samplers, and after some time fell into a groove with music which demanded a wide range of sounds to be on-call, but piano was always passable from a 76 note synth which felt more like an organ to play than a piano.
Sure, I had a digital piano for a while there, which recreated some of the feel. I've recently upgraded my gear to once again include a great-feeling, great-sounding digital piano. But it's just not the same.
When you play a piano, you feel the vibration of the instrument through your fingertips. You feel the sound in your foot as you touch the sustain pedal. It makes the whole room sing.
That old Beale piano still lives in my childhood home. I've known it since I was too small to reach up to the keys. Some of the hammers don't strike the way they used to and the tuning has found its own way here and there. But with my parents currently overseas and a trip to the old house planned, I can't wait to make that back room sing with its sound again.
Muscle memory is an amazing thing. The process of repeating a movement so frequently that it is committed to your memory, such that you no longer need to think about the action, it can just happen.
I've often thought how great muscle memory is as a musician. When learning a new track you will listen to it over and over - in some cases hundreds of times - before you feel fluent in the performance, not needing to think your way from one note to the next. There's a real sense of freedom when you can breeze through a once difficult part of a performance, later reflecting on how much repetition went into getting it to sound so "easy".
Sometimes I'll sit down at the keyboard and without any effort play through a piece I haven't thought of in years. No sheet music, no accompaniment, no recent listening - just the action stored in the brain... and it can sound as good as it ever did.
Earlier this week a friend of mine, learning piano, commented on wanting to learn the track "Army" by Ben Folds. In particular he mentioned the left hand arpeggios playing so quickly at times (check for example 1 minute 15 seconds into the video below).
At first this would require a lot of conscious effort, but in time would be done with ease - as this performance shows!
Just today I was playing Dark Knight (below), a composition of mine well over 10 years old. The piece starts with a fairly complex left hand part, which continues regularly to keep the tempo well after the right hand melody joins in. Having not played the track in quite some time, this once tricky left hand line came out again with relative ease.
Muscle memory - a musician's best friend.
I was recently asked to prepare a piano and vocal arrangement of a piece of music as a gift. In order to do so, I had to work through a series of steps: learn the music by ear, record the music (in data form) and transform that musical data into sheet music. As this was a piece I had never heard before, something became evident when learning the music by ear - especially when playing my private recording of it alongside the original. There were slight but noticeable shifts in tempo.So what? Well, I believe there is something inherently human about music, and as you remove elements of "human-ness" you diminish the emotional connection with the listener - and in turn the appeal. I have written before about quantizing, a process often used in music to sharpen up the accuracy of timing. This can be especially useful in projects such as music notation where timing must be spot on to produce an accurate result.
This tool certainly has a value.However the process of quantizing takes away one of the human elements of music. As mentioned in my Auto-tune commentary, we are not robots and should not strive to sound that way! It is natural to
move slightly ahead of or slightly behind the beat from time to time when performing. A perfect snapping into the strict timing of the beat simply sounds un-natural.Take for example the song "Forever" by Ben Harper (below). The song generally sits around 83-85bpm
, however in some sections this becomes more swift, in a way not likely to be noticed unless you are clicking a metronome of some kind along with the track. These subtle variations help give the song life and help strengthen the connection between performer and listener. The listener is washed along with the song. Let your music have life.
I, like many other composers, have for quite some time been recording my tracks as they reach a state of completion. Over the years these recordings have changed format for me several times, from four-track cassette tape recordings on a Tascam MF-P01
, to digital hard disk recording on dedicated units such as a Roland VS-880
, to recording audio direct to computer via Firewire
. My primary synth workstation the Yamaha Motif XS
even allows on-board mixing and output direct to USB as a WAV file. These are just the means of recording audio that I have personally used over the years. Of course there are many more alternative
s...The point of this is that recording music these days is incredibly easy. So easy that much of what is heard in current popular music can be created readily in the home studio, bedroom or garage (read my blog post on AutoTune for more on that). The process of getting a composition idea from your head and into a recorded form is child's play. But what is the longevity of these recordings? I have many cassettes of original music I recorded only 15 years ago. I have 6 stereos in my home and none have a working cassette player. But I don't need one - I stopped listening to music on cassette years ago. So what of the music I recorded on that format? Some of it I have continued to perform over the years and could still sit at a piano and play now. Other pieces I vaguely recall while several more songs and song ideas have been lost to time.From cassette, to CD, to mp3 - the times will continue to change. The next generation of digital formats are just around the corner. Then what will become of all the music currently committed to mp3 or CD? Will that music's fate be the same as my old cassette recordings?Music notation - sheet music - however, is a relative constant.
The same music written hundreds of years ago, well before any form of audio recording was developed to capture the performance, could be performed today from sheet music. As well as longevity
, sheet music has an additional benefit. Many people long to read a great story in a book rather than be presented the story in film, allowing their imaginations to conjure the scene, characters' faces and surroundings. Music notation allows the performer to add his or her own interpretation to the music. This allows the music to truly live. After a recent request from a client to provide piano notation for his wife as an anniversary gift, I have a renewed commitment to score all of my own compositions. One day my great grand
children may pick up a box of old things and with a puzzled look cast aside cassettes, CDs and mp3 players - but I can image a feeling of pride when they see an ancestors' name printed at the top of some sheet music. They'll just need to find a musician to perform it...
Whether you are aware of it or not, we've all heard the use of Auto-Tune
. Many commercially released songs are tweaked using this technology to "improve" the vocal performance.
A commonly referenced use of the tool is Cher's "Believe" track
from over a decade ago. The un-natural sounding, almost robotic tone from the vocal undeniably made the track. It was an entirely new sound for commercial charts and made the ears prick up due to how unusual a sound it was.
Now, Auto-Tune is everywhere. The use of the tool as an effect has cascaded through the years from Cher, through to many "R&B" artists of today such as Usher, Kanye West and Lil Wayne. Smartphone owners can even download the I Am T-Pain
app to get "that sound".
Locally I was at first surprised to hear Guy Sebastian using Auto-Tune for its effect on his recent release "Who's That Girl
". I respect Guy as a very talented vocalist and songwriter - why would he
need to correct his voice? His use of pitch-shifting is testament to the fact that it is now used to capture the modern R&B style in an otherwise already-quality recording.
However the effect is no longer creating a unique sound, but a generic
sound to modern pop music. The ability to correct pitch to sit perfectly in tune has created a monotony to modern music. A single episode of Glee is proof enough of that (or if you need further reading material, Google the phrase "Glee autotune").
The issue seems to draw into question the reliance of this vocal correction tool to produce a good performance outcome, rather than recording the right performance (or performer) to start with. It's no longer being used to add a once-fresh flourish to a song - rather, many songs simply could not be made listenable without it.
But on the flip-side, I believe there is a value to Auto-Tune. It's hard to sum up my feelings on the matter any better than Recording Engineer Eric Valentine, discussing techniques he used in the recording of legendary guitarist Slash's solo album "Slash" (Audio Technology Magazine, Issue 76, August 2010, p40):"I actually get more honest performances from singers when I capture them in a computer. I can edit their performance, for instance tune a really cool performance, where the emotion is exactly what we want but it's a tiny bit out of tune in some places. I'll only nudge things a bit to make sure it's not distracting, meanwhile definitely making sure everything keeps sounding like real human beings singing... It just allows me us to use really great, unreproducible but slightly flawed performances".
This I believe is the key. Use Auto-Tune sparingly - and only to a level so that any minor flaws in an otherwise powerful performance are removed so as not to be distracting in a recording. Use of Auto-Tune in LIVE performance though? Hell no!
After all, it's the human-ness of a performance we all want to see in the live environment, right? Some duff notes and on-stage personality are part of the reason we go to live shows. To err is human and to share that experience can provide a level of connection and intimacy between the performer and audience that can't be obtained with intent.
To err is human. To rely on a corrective tool for your success is unforgivable.