Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Hypnotic Jamboree

Just as I had a short story in mind of the Snail's encounter with the Manic Widow while I was putting together Progress Report, there's a story that The Hypnotic Jamboree is telling, or reflecting, in its songs and their ordering. While Pentacental was a departure, mostly to start moving away from recycling Progress Report, Jamboree returns to the Snail to tell a story of another event in the overall journey.

A story that has yet to be told is that of the Snail's travels with the Bagman, a being who is on his own journey, a hobo-ish character traveling only with a sack of bones slung over his shoulder. It is with the Bagman that the Snail encounters the Dusk Devils and first witnesses their curious activities, wondering, "What are they delving for?" I mention this story because it leads directly into The Jamboree which opens with "They Delving 1.11"

This version of "They Delving" is an experiment on my part, one that I share with a lot of reticence. As you may be aware, "They Delving" is written to have vocal tracks, which were originally omitted in "1.0" because I felt I didn't have the proper means to record them. With "1.11" (so subtitled as a nod to the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, of which I am a fan, in case you were wondering), I let impatience get the best of me. I very much wanted this EP to open with "They Delving," but I didn't want to directly re-use any songs on this EP. Each one is at least a never-before-heard version if not original to this record. So I decided to experiment, using an iPad for a mic and the Ford Fiesta that often functions as my sound studio for a sound booth, and recorded myself singing at the car's ceiling with the iPad in my lap, or hissing with all the volume I could muster directly at the tablet. There is no vocal distortion or effects aside from "reverb" and "echo" used, so the scream-whispered chanting you hear is entirely my voice. Doing that actually physically hurt my innards. Belting the other vocals, or going falsetto for other parts, I had to do at top volume as well, to accomplish a sound that wasn't that of an obviously damaged esophagus and larynx.

For those not in the know, I had an extended stay in the hospital due to near-failure of my liver, and a lot of damage was also done to my esophagus. It's been full of tears and occasionally bleeding veins for a very long time, though steadily healing over the past fourteen months. Prior to all of this, I was a very proud vocalist, but my singing voice will probably never be the same again. Still, it is getting better. However, another problem of using these methods was that I had to be wearing noise-canceling headphones while recording, and I couldn't hear myself singing I at. I had to sing what "felt" right rather than what sounded right. Then, the playback of the vocal tracks had be turned way down, for even singing at the ceiling with the iPad down in my lap, my voice was way too loud.

I tried to dress up these recordings with the reverb and echo options, and turned the tracks down to the point where I felt they could barely be heard (in the end, they maybe could have been turned down even more) and I included them on this EP. They work better in "Vainglorious Wrath" (though you don't even want to hear what I almost uploaded before deciding to go re-record those vocals after I had done several takes for "They Delving"), and I think what I had in mind is conveyed, but I'm hyper-aware of how off-key they are and how amateurish the recording quality sounds. I'm either going to need better equipment or figure out a better set-up before I include vocals on any other tracks. And I'm going to need more time to heal.

The vocals were the biggest experiment. The other was to include a track of a completely different style on the record with "Hell Is For Reels." For what the Dusk Devils unleash is revealed to be, of course, an otherworldly and wildly diverse Jamboree that comes straight from a subterranean doorway to what some might call "hell" and it's characters "demons." It's definitely not a Christian concept of Hell, but it is a subterranean otherworld that is unleashed, nonetheless, and springing forth from it are creatures jamming Celtic-style reels. This song was written long before this concept, though it definitely fit. I guess now I know why I gave it the title "Hell Is For Reels" now, as I certainly didn't when I originally wrote it. The song was basically complete already, but had yet to be wrapped up with an ending or included on a record, as it has been my plan for a long time to re-record the fiddle and cello reels as they're obviously somewhat lagging and squealing due to my inability to keep up with my own writing. I'm quicker and more dextrous after months of regularly playing and recording music, but I'm still intimidated by this song. However, it felt right to include it as part of the Jamboree, as the Jamboree's actual opening number, in fact, so I went ahead and wrote an ending and included it on this record as a demo version. Someday I may actually feel adventurous and determined enough to try my hands at those reels again.

To express the diversity of the music and characters of the Jamboree, I next included "Trip-Hop Thing," which had been recorded for this release, but had also been an experiment for my own amusement. There are times when I sit down to write and I don't really have any ideas or goals in mind. I just fiddle around with beats or melodies and build off of what speaks to me. For this, I intended to fiddle around with some synths, tweaking them in new ways or ways that had recently appealed to me, such as in the "trip-hop solo" in "They Delving," and see what I could come up with for a trippy rhythm-and-beats section, or bass & beats. I got some interesting sounds out of the synths, and had a decent rhythm going, but everything that I tried to layer on top didn't sound very appealing. After putting the experiment on hold and returning to it the next day, I listened to what I had and scrapped all of it straight away, except for the violin part that had taken me several takes to record. When I built my bass & beats off of that, everything else started to fall into place. I started to have a lot of fun and the song started to speak to me quite clearly. We ended up building a relationship of very clear communication and the result is a song that is several rather simple layers built in a complex way. This has ended up being likely my favorite song on the EP. It makes me smile every time I hear it, and I just want to groove along with it and long for my favorite dance partner to join me.

I've been playing around a lot lately with remixes, as evidenced by "A Waltz For Giger," started by my first attempt, the Whirlwind Mix of "Dusk Devils." This has carried over into complete makeovers and new renditions of old songs. The first song I actually wrote that was intended specifically for this release was "The Snail Plays Piano."

Actually, if we're going to go back to the conceptualizing of this record, it began with "Waltz With Lilith," imagining the title of the song taken literally and putting it into a context. That context became the Hypnotic Jamboree, and I knew shortly after completing "Lilith" that she would be included, as a song and as a character, on my next EP. When I began to imagine other things that might happen at this jamboree, the amusing idea of the Snail taking center stage and rocking out on the piano came to me. How the Snail accomplishes this with no arms or hands is beyond me, but just take my word for it that it happens, and what it plays is a piano rendition of what could be called its theme song, "A Determined Snail." So the idea for the song was born, and when I went to work on it, I basically just took out the leading synth in the song and replaced it with piano, complementing the melody with a few chords. This soon developed into creating new riffs and melodies and complementing these with cello, and at one point I replaced the piano entirely with cello. The guitars no longer fit the song very well, so I removed those. I had begun with writing new drum tracks, but decided halfway through that the original drum track was essential to the song remaining, "A Determined Snail" at its core, so scrapped the new drum tracks I had written, in fact most of the new material I had written except for the piano and a few lines of bass and cello, and inserted those directly into a copy of the original song. Then I reworked all of the instrumentation around the new material I had written, wrote more new material, rewrote the ending of the song so that it no longer developed into the beginning of "A Minor Distraction," and the whole thing became its own entity: still very much "A Determined Snail," but a whole new rendition of it, as I had planned.

Though I had not intended it, something similar happened when I tried to remix "Glory and Wrath." The song refused to be remixed, and as I tried to expand certain piano parts that I loved in the original, they no longer fit into the rest of the instrumentation of "Glory and Wrath," and I ended up rewriting the entire song, from beginning to end, from the ground up, and cannibalizing elements from the original. The result isn't at all a remix, or even really a new rendition, but a whole new song that swallowed the original along the way. Thus, "Vainglorious Wrath," was born.

I've said in various social media posts that the Nocturnal Dervish Mix of "Dusk Devils" is pretty much the Whirlwind Mix with a few instruments rewritten, but that was before I listened to the Whirlwind Mix again after writing and releasing this. While the Nocturnal Dervish Mix also aims to be a metal/trip-hop blend piano ballad, I hadn't realized just how different the changes were. The drum tracks in the Nocturnal Dervish Mix, for example, are rewritten entirely from scratch, whereas the Whirlwind Mix simple sped up the existing drum tracks and added another. The synth and electric guitar tracks are also entirely rewritten, with different notes, chords, and riffs all the way through. As a result, I think the Nocturnal Dervish Mix is much more successful at what I was trying to accomplish with the Whirlwind Mix. Their aims are the same, but with the Nocturnal Dervish Mix I had started over entirely and even rewritten some of the original song, to more satisfactory results.

A note on the title and the resulting character of the Nocturnal Dervish: I wrote this mix in one night, a dark and stormy night, actually, when I had drunk way too much coffee. It's named after me on that night: I had become a nocturnal dervish, flying around the house over-caffeinated and working on this song with intense, manic glee. What I imagine of the Nocturnal Dervish is that he is an extremely similar creature to what I became that night, and I have also crowned him the king of the Dusk Devils, though I'm not sure he is the same manner of being...

This, of course, leaves "Waltz With Lilith," who gave birth to this EP and whose role in the Jamboree has already been explained. All that's really left to say about this song is why I altered it, and that is because I initially had wanted Lilith as a character in the Jamboree, but I was more attracted to the Step Softly version of "Giger's Lullaby" as a good fit for the rest of the tunes, mainly because there was a beat throughout the song, though the beat of Step Softly didn't turn out quite the way I had wanted it to. It...lumbered. I wanted something less slow and heavy. What I came up with for this version of "Lilith" suits the purposes of this EP much better, I think, and took only a few minutes to write and record, as it's looped until it gives way to the original drum track. I had also given some thought to having "Lilith" at the beginning of the EP, welcoming everyone to the Jamboree, and I had also thought of having an obnoxious demonic MC as a sort of narrator in between tracks. Instead, I settled on something more intimate: a waltz at the close of the Jamboree, with, "I'm so glad you came," whispered in your ear.

Because I am.