Monthly Archives: May 2007

It’s What You Do Right

… and yikes, do I ever need to work on some of the orchestra stuff. Once again, it’s the Broadway medley giving me grief. I know how the Les Miserables themes go, backwards and forwards. Maybe that’s part of the problem; this is an arrangement, and so it’s not exactly what I remember. Also, key changes from A flat major to F major to E flat major to B flat major to D flat major (probably B flat minor, now that I think about it) back to B flat major to D major to F major again to finally return to and end in A flat major are more than enough to reduce me to a desperate wittering fool. Particularly when it all has to be played in a sprightly, dissonant, or expressive mode.

I just have to play it over and over. And trust myself in the higher registers, as the celli play in the encore we’re working on. It’s hard to feel good about a beautiful piece when you’re massacring it the first time you play it through in rehearsal.

Scott and I were trading reassurances about our musical ears and playing skills yesterday, with support and reality checks from t! thrown in as well, and I thought of the subject again when I read this post from Matociquala this morning:

Book report #42: Richard Restak, MD; Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot

This is all right for what it is, I guess. I am more interested in the mechanisms of neuroplasticity than self-help books on how to be smarter, but hey, it did give me this little passage:

First, avoid playing over negative scenarios in your mind in which all of your worst fears are realized. As Freud pointed out in 1925 in an insufficiently appreciated paper, “On Negation,” the brain doesn’t deal well with negatives. If you concentrate on ways of avoiding a bad outcome rather than bringing about a good one, your brain will lock onto the negative. As every tennis player knows, the surest way of coming up with a bad serve results from energy wasted on avoiding gaffes rather than concentrating on the intended ace. Concentrate on your ideas and your goals rather than focusing on the bad things that could happen, or on how nervous you’re feeling.

Or in other words, it’s not what you don’t do wrong. It’s what you do right.

It’s what you do right. It’s so easy to say. But it’s hard to look at a piece of writing, or listen to a recording of a musical performance, or look at a drawing, and see what you did right in it, because we look for the errors in order to improve upon them. And that’s not a bad thing. What’s bad and self-destructive is when we can’t see the good things at all, or stress too much about the mistakes. Why do we expect perfection? The only entity who can manage perfection is God, and I’m not at all certain the Divine doesn’t fall short a lot of the time too. Why do we beat ourselves up over what could have been done better instead of celebrating the much larger percentage of what we did right?

It’s ironic, too, that we notice errors more when things are going well, because they jar us out of a sense of security and comfort. And why is it that as soon as you think, “Hey, this is going pretty well”, you trip? How can it be hubris to allow yourself to cautiously appreciate something you are creating?

Did I mention that the gig was fabulous, by the way?

Scratch Pad May 23

1:53:
I don’t know if there’s some sort of odd musical karma happening today, but when I set my entire mp3 collection to play at random while I work this afternoon I certainly didn’t expect to hear this much Random Colour from the April 2006 gig (AKA as the There Is No Fast show). Half an hour ago it was Hazy Shade of Winter; now it’s Insensitive. (Both of which were excellent, I must add.)

1:56:
Followed by the original Rock’n’Roll Radio. Heh. We play it faster. Also, we have a cello, which automatically makes it better.

2:45:
How is it that no matter how often I clean the bathroom, it’s dirty again a day later?

2:53:
And here’s Poor DeeDee from Invisible. Yes, this computer is currently plugged in to a giant music karma wave.

2:56:
Because the lilacs along our back fence were massacred in high summer, there are no blooms at all this year. I miss them terribly. However, every once in a while today, the wind drifts through the house and gifts me with the scent of someone’s sun-warmed lilacs down the street. It’s really lovely. I wandered all over the house tracking it down and opening windows as far as they would go to entice more of it in.

3:45:
And there’s ADE (Invisible’s version, that is). Something’s up, I tell you. I have over 20 GB of music (holy cats, when did THAT happen — I will have to weed it out, because I know there are doubles thanks to the odd crash last winter), over half of it classical and scores… and today I just keep hearing tracks from the April 2006 gig. In three hours I’ve had some solo cello, a track or two of string quartets, a symphony movement, some Enya, a handful of soundtrack pieces, three Rasputina songs, two Tori Amos, an Alice Cooper track, and five or six gig clips. It’s just eerie.

4:00:
Orchestra tonight!

Listening

There’s a difference between hearing and listening. Listening implies paying attention to specifics, whereas hearing suggests taking in a larger soundscape.

I have to keep reminding myself of this when I listen to recordings that involve me playing the cello. I listen to the cello, and thus hear everything that’s unpleasant: technical errors, timing, weak sound production, bad shifts, bow imbalance. Anyone else hears the overall product, the song.

I also have to remind myself that a recording is a sterile capture of something that’s larger than life. The recording equipment doesn’t reproduce the deeper tones of the cello; it grabs on to the higher sharper overtones. On stage in real life, the sound was much better. A live audience is also being swept by the sound; there’s no time to dwell on technical evaluation. It’s an experience. It’s why films made of stage productions rarely work.

Having said all that, my main response to much of the recording of Saturday night’s show was “Is the cello always that sharp? Why does no one ever tell me?”. I wonder if it actually is sharp, as in the intonation being off, or if I’m just not hearing the rest of the sound that is there in real life.

Deliberately putting that aside, I could appreciate the recording as it was transferring to the hard drive yesterday. I could hear how we were working with one another, how we moved and adapted and recovered from hiccups and the technical challenges, and I could appreciate the beauty of certain songs. We’re far from professional; we don’t have the time or the inclination. We do this for fun. And in the last two years, we have come a long, long way, and the band work I have done has informed my orchestral playing as well.

So now I focus on orchestra as we prepare for the Canada Day concert, and mess about with Zimmer and Badelt for fun throughout the summer. And I will allow myself to keep thinking about band and the songs I’d like to do in the future, and perhaps make the attempt at arranging some songs.

Scratch Pad May 22

Miss my scratch pads? Look what’s back. It saves me time, and also doesn’t terrify my gentle readers by presenting them with torrents of posts.

12:40:
I’ve begun transferring the gig recordings to the computer in order to pass them along to Scott, who will perform the long task of separating them into tracks and converting them to mp3s. I’ve been dreading this because I was terrified that the recordings didn’t take. Fortunately all three Minidiscs are fine, and everyone’s set has been preserved for posterity. Remember, these are for the bands’ use as learning tools, not public consumption, and so I must dash your hopes for copies, dear readers. Too many rights issues about recording and distributing other peoples’ music without permission.

3:00:
So here I am, back with the dictionary, doing another task for another purpose. There seems to have been some sort of issue that I wasn’t informed about over the past few days, as I’ve received a new version with fixes, but no idea of why they were needed. I’m just a subcontractor, and got things where they needed to be by when I was told that they were required (one in the nick of time according to the deadline I was given, but apparently that was too late as well, from what I can infer now). If no one checked my work until the last minute, assuming everything was okay, or didn’t check until after it was due, that’s beyond my control.

I was really looking forward to relaxing today, letting all the the ongoing/on hold writing I’ve been recently thinking about again brew in the back of my brain as I vegged and had a day off, but apparently that’s not going to happen for another week or two now.

3:41:
Ugh. Finding small things I missed in my many editing passes. Too late to do anything about it now.

3:54:
Right. Now it’s all coming back to me, how I couldn’t change things to make them clearer or more precise. Argh. Some of these are atrocious, and there’s nothing I could or can do. Right.

4:54:
When did Laura Secord chocolates become so tasteless, and of such an unappetising texture? Ew. They’re overprocessed. Gods, I hope the truffles are better, because I bought them as opening/closing night gifts for the rest of the band. (Some theatre customs you just can’t kick, and really, why would I want to abandon such a lovely custom in which I give things to people as a thanks for sharing time and energy, and to spoil them a little?)

5:53:
I’d forgotten how hard it is to work at home. I’ve done more cleaning today than I’ve done in weeks, in order to step away from the computer and clear my head. I remembered today that I had Magic Erasers under the sink, and scrubbed down all the walls that have been recently defying my damp cloth. I also cleaned mirrors, and a few windows.

Anyway: two down, seventeen to go tomorrow and Thursday.

8:03:
Just preparing to shut down and there are emergency emails. Terrific. So much for having an hour to myself tonight and getting to bed early.

8:20:
Erm… the fire they want put out doesn’t seem to exist. I can’t find the words they need replaced in the version of the file I have anywhere.

9:05:
Crossed wires, and formulas not accurately adding things up. Sigh. Clarification… except now things don’t match in a different way. I’m working in a parallel file for now, and flagging my edits.

9:24:
I didn’t realise how much I needed and wanted two days to do absolutely nothing until I couldn’t do it.

9:29:
A new version of the file received, and the work I was piling into a new sheet gets transferred quickly and efficiently. (Bonus: I can fix a handful of the little things I caught in passing this afternoon!)

10:14:
Done? I’ve asked it to be checked at the other end, but as far as I can tell I’ve responded to the emergency requests within two hours, including (and despite) technical issues. *pats self on back*

Gig Recap

Honestly, this has been the Best Gig Ever. It makes me wish we weren’t going on hiatus, and that’s a good thing: it means I’m looking forward to getting back together already. Actually, I’ve been feeling increasingly positive about band for the last couple of months, as our set coalesced and we just got better and better. As much as I’m excited right now and wish we could just keep going, I know the break will do us all some good.

I was thrilled that my parents and in-laws could finally come to a gig, particularly as this might have been the last gig Random Colour presented (it’s possible; after all, the original proposal was to stop entirely, commuted to a six-month hiatus before re-evaluating). I was also thrilled at the size of the crowd, even though about half of it left before Random Colour took the stage (your loss, people). I know Invisible is a more crowd-pleasing group because of the kind of music they play; that’s the sort of live experience people expect. It’s just a shame more people didn’t or couldn’t stay to experience something totally different and intriguing. It’s mildly annoying that we can’t seem to win: if we open the night people arrive late and miss us, and if we close the night people leave during the equipment change or halfway through our set. Anyway, the evening started out as standing room only, even with extra chairs being brought in. I loved the new venue: the stage itself, the sound, the lights. A heartfelt thank you goes out to everyone who came to share the evening with us. I even saw people I hadn’t seen in a year or more, which was a lovely surprise.

The sound check experience was covered very well by Mousme here (along with gig notes too). I may have been one of the only people who didn’t get a lesson on technique from Perry the sound guy, despite his efforts to reposition my pickup ( “No, I guess you were right, that does seem to be the sweet spot.”) Despite his scolding and pointing out our flaws and weaknesses, we all love him and want to annex him permanently as sound guy and manager. We didn’t get to actually start checking until after six, which was when we’d all expected to be finished, so I raced home as soon as Random Colour was released to change and eat and bring HRH back with me. The guys started about twenty minutes after their expected start time, and we danced and sang through their set. (Note to self: Don’t sing and scream so much, if you want to have a voice left for your own set directly following. It ended up not mattering much because I forgot to position my mic for the song in which I do backup vocals, and I couldn’t get it close enough during the song itself, so my lack of voice wasn’t much of an issue.) There were a half dozen or so originals mixed in with the covers, and the range of music they presented was eclectic enough to give Random Colour a run for their money. I am so glad the “notes guys” got the chance to do an instrumental, and the fact that it was what they refer to as the PPK medley (Peter Gunn into the Bond theme) was tremendously cool. I Blame My Woman was hilariously suited to the three vocalists who each took a verse. The Blue Moon medley was also absolutely phenomenal. And of course, the new original The Rocking Thing, written primarily for Mousme (but played for the whole girls’ band, we were assured) was thrilling and just plain fun. It was fascinating to see and hear how the Invisible sound is really settling into something unique.

I have been reassured that it’s not a bad thing that I want to throw myself at the lead guitarist’s feet when he’s onstage. Bandmates tell me that I am in good company.

Our set and presentation were solid, and this was absolutely the most secure we have felt going in to a performance. So naturally, there were technical difficulties, but they were all dealt with coolly and professionally and didn’t adversely affect the performance. (Hands up, everyone who saw my cello endpin slip multiple times!) I’m not going to describe it in detail, as both Mousme and Karine have already done so. I played with my eyes closed a lot, just listening to how the sound was blending, with that ten percent of my brain that provides a running commentary (the other ninety percent busy doing what it’s supposed to do) marvelling at how excellent the sound was. The speed and energy were ideal, except in two songs, J’veux pas viellir and Enter Sandman. I ended up improvising a cello solo around the bits that I actually remembered in J’veux pas viellir (which the rest of the band says was slower than usual and I know was actually a touch faster, being the one who has to keep up during the verses, but it makes sense that it would be perceived as slow because of how it’s positioned in the set list and because of the adrenaline of the final rehearsal and the gig) … but despite these two very minor things it was absolutely beautiful and I loved the sound. Enter Sandman had so much energy that it ended up being played much faster than we’d ever done it. We kept up with one another and aced it, however, and I’m really looking forward to listening to the recording to hear the crowd response to Sandman once the cello and the kick drum start and the song digs in, and again when the unison riff begins. Wheat Kings, First We Take Manhattan, Moon Over Bourbon Street — they were all smooth and beautiful, and I loved playing them. We made real music. And it was good.

What I really love about Random Colour is how we arrange songs. There are no songs that we can play without adapting and arranging them, because we’re never going to find a song written for the instruments we have (unless we write them ourselves, and yes, we have one, and at least one other on the way which has been on the way since May of 2006, but they’re for the future; the latter is now waiting until Jam Sessions is released for the DS, thank you very much!). We really, really nailed these songs, and one of the reasons they succeed the way they do is because our arrangements are fresh and showcase the songs in a completely different way. One of the bits of feedback I’ve been hearing from various people, particularly about Wheat Kings, is “How did they do that with those instruments?”. We have inventive and experimental musicians. Ironically, this is also one of the reasons why we have to take a break from the band. We have to invest a stupid amount of effort and energy from the very start in order to make the songs work, and it’s very draining. We cut an excellent song from our set list the week before the gig because it was an almost-but-not-quite-there song, and it broke everyone’s heart because it was very possibly the song we had put the most work into over a year or so. It’s challenging, being the band we are. We get cross with one another, and frustrated, and worse, we get really really down on ourselves individually for not being as good as we think we ought to be. We tend to forget that what we’re doing is incredible in the first place, that we choose really tough songs to cover, that some of us have only been playing for two or three years. Hell, we get up in front of people to do this. That takes guts, and determination, and a soul of steel. Nights like the one this past Saturday remind us of why we do it.

I will miss band a lot. The hiatus will be good for us. But I’m already sorting through the wishlist of songs I’ve been building up.

PS: Didn’t make it? Were you there and want to see things from a different angle? Check out the gig photos taken by Everyone’s Mother’s Favourite Guitarist!