Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SOUND KRAYONS: Copier Counterpoint

Tonight, I'm engaged the repetitive, administrative side of being a creative person.

Tonight, I'm my own administrative assistant. Nothing glamorous about it. Just plain old mindless work. I'm printing, copying and collating handouts for a workshop I'll be teaching at a conference in a few days.

I staple together sets of worksheets. The printer and copier chug away in the background. I count aloud, lifting sheets from their piles, "one-two-three" K-CHUNK (that's the stapler), "one-two-three" K-CHUNK in counterpoint to the poly-rhythm of the office machines.

One runs out of ink. Another has a paper jam. We are musicians in rehearsal. I am their conductor. I stop to fix a problem, then we pick up where we left off.

This is the work of creating. Though it doesn't feel creative, the machines and I are bringing something new into being -- the means to communicate ideas beyond the confines of this small room.

©2006 Kay Pere - Effusive Muse Publishing

Friday, August 25, 2006

SONGWRITING: Raw Materials

This is where song ideas turn into songs, here at my piano, with a pile of freshly sharpened pencils (Papermate American Naturals unvarnished wood) and lots of notebook paper on pads.

American Naturals are my pencil of choice for all writing. Some are better than others, even though they're labeled as being same the brand. The best ones are very smooth and made of a reddish wood. The others are made of a lighter wood, not sanded as well and have smudgy erasers. When I've gotten those by accident I've gone over them with a fine grained sandpaper before using them. It's just one of those things. They don't feel right.

Last time I found the good ones in a store I bought up all they had. Spent about $20 on pencils. I should be OK for the next couple of years. :-)

I'm very possessive of my song writing pencils. For some unknown reason they seem to grow legs and disappear into an alternate universe along with all the singleton socks, coat hangers, winter gloves and guitar picks.

Here's a link to a blog for Dave in NZ who also has strong feelings about his pencils, in case you're interested.

During a songwriting session, I rip the pages off the pads and spread out them out all at once across the piano, so I can see the ideas as they develop. I'm working on an upright piano where the individual sheets have a tendency to slide off onto the floor if they're not secured in place. I've use a long strip of cardboard sitting on the piano's music rest and 8-10 bankers clips over the top edge of the cardboard to hold the music in place.

I've come to these preferences through experimentation.

The bare wood pencils are part of my desire to feel more connected with the natural world, to simplify my life, and to have my creative work flow from that place. Besides, they feel good in my hand.

The cardboard-and-bankers-clips setup developed as a solution to accompanying singers while playing from multiple sheets of photocopied music. This idea carried over into my songwriting.

By using my creativity to find solutions to problems in the environment where I do my creative work and discovering materials that fit with my values, I've added another dimension of meaning to my artistic work processes.

I encourage you to find creative ways to make your materials, methods and working environment a supportive reflection of your own artistic impulses.

RECORDING: Process & Meaning

I'm in the early stage of writing a book about the creative process. In preparation for organizing my material and bringing the project into better focus I ordered a pile of used books through about creativity. I wanted to see what had already been written and how these other books were organized, so could be sure that my ideas will offer something new and different.

This reading has been good for me, both artistically and personally. After a long time way from the studio, I've started recording again. I don't have much to show for it yet, but I'm on my way.

The process of recording a song is much more than sitting down at the piano with a microphone and pressing the record button. Although I use this simple method, on a minidisc (MD) recorder, to capture ideas and develop songs in progress, much more is needed to produce a radio ready recording. Even more will be required if the finished recording is to reflect my vision of the sound I want for my music.

So first thing in the morning, I've spent 2-3 hours each on Wednesday and Thursday this week moving a few tiny steps closer to a recording I'm ready to release. After 6 hours of work, I've completed STEPS 1-4 below for a new song B and I wrote back in June called "So Little Time (Time at the Table)". I'm hoping I'll get faster at all this with more experience.

I start by working in MIDI using MOTU Performer on a Mac. Here's my process:

STEP 0 - Practice, arrange, and visualize in preparation for performance and recording.
STEP 1 - Make a rhythm track that works with the feel of the song. This is a temporary placeholder used to set tempo and provide a grid.
STEP 2 - (could have been STEP 1) Make a chord sheet for the song so I'm not working from memory, not chancing chord and structure mistakes while the record button in armed. This is also essential for communicating the song to others involved in the process.
STEP 3 - Record a rough piano part.
STEP 4 - Enter markers into the conductor track to show beginnings of intro, verses, chorus, bridge and outro.
STEP 5 - Record and quantize piano. Cut and paste together if necessary.
STEP 6 - Record bass track, pad or organ track, lead instrumental track.
STEP 7 - Hand it off to my recording partner. Record a rough vocal to use as a reference while he's detailing the arrangement. Work collaboratively until the results are on target.
STEP 8 - This depends on the nature of the project. Ultimately, for my next CD, many of the MIDI tracks will be replaced by acoustic instruments. This may involve sessions at various locations with hired musicians, then combining audio tracks back in our studio.
STEP 8 - Record final vocals.
STEP 9 - Mix and master completed song.
(Repeat STEPS 1-9 for each song)
STEP 10 - Master completed CD project.

Beyond this, I design my own artwork and graphics for the packaging, make duplication decisions, arrange for band rehearsals, handle distribution and booking, do publicity. I've put off recording because all of this takes time away from my first love - writing a new song.

The joy, for me, is in the process of writing of a song then bringing it live to an audience. Recording is an artform I am learning to love. I see it as a vehicle that carry songs from the intense, solitary environment where they were written out into the marketplace where they may catch the ear of someone passing by. To go through this, I have to believe there's something of value in what I'm doing, at least on some small scale.

Selling my art and recordings to raise money for hunger relief and social services through LUNCH is a part of creating meaning through my creative work. Just as important, for me, is the ideas of using art and music to create an awareness of our deep connectedness as human being.

Like my Sacred Shards pottery and the Gaia Luna garden, the songs I record are tangible manifestations of my solitary creative experience, things I can share with you.

When I create, I dive deep and bring back meaning from ancient dream places. Beauty in simplicity, values of family and the natural world, stories of ordinary lives lived in extraordinary ways, and mythic tales from the shadow world. I know the value this holds for me. Beyond that, I'm only guess.

So, I record. I make things. And I bring these things to the marketplace, where I'll chat with whoever stops by to look and listen.

©2006 Kay Pere - Effusive Muse Publishing

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

GAIA LUNA: Toad Abode

If you build it, they will come.

No, I haven't been hearing voices in a corn field, but I did find an old broken terracotta flowerpot in the barn. I've read that they make good houses for garden toads, so I built this little toad abode, hoping I would find someone to come live in my garden and eat the bugs there.

I spent most of the day on Tuesday (my day without lessons to teach) weeding and mulching the strawberry bed and surrounding ring of lambs ears at the center of Gaia Luna.

Late in the afternoon, as I came into the house get a drink of water, something unusual caught my eye. Just inside the screen door, sitting crouched in the corner of the door jam was little gray frog about two inches long, like a gray stone with shiny black eyes. He looked a lot like this.

Gray Treefrog© David Liebman (from first link, below)

At the time, I didn't know he was a frog. He looked to me like a toad, warty lumps and all, so I carefully picked him up and took him out to his new home, confident that destiny had brought him right to my doorstep. We occasionally see frogs, toads and salamanders in the woods, very rarely near the house. Never inside!

After my new amphibious friend was comfortably settled into his custom-made accommodations, I came inside to to see if I could discover his true identity. While I was carrying him out to the garden I'd noticed that the under sides of his hind legs were bright yellow. This helped me to identify him. He was a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor), not a toad at all. Here's another link where you can learn about Gray Treefrogs.

When I came back to check on him the next morning, I was not surprised to find that he had hopped off to find a more watery habitat in the wooded wetlands at the back of our field.

My initial impressions were colored by what I wished to see, hindered by my inexperience identifying local amphibians.

How many women have had this experience when their Frog Prince turned out to be a toad instead? I'm glad my Quiet Little Life already includes someone with whom to share it. I don't have to worry about the treacherous world of the Lily Pond of Love.

Meanwhile, the Toad Abode waits for a more permanent occupant.

©2006 Kay Pere - Effusive Muse Publishing