effects pedals videos: the ultimate addiction

I think it’s a good thing, from time to time, to indulge your obsessions, and what musicians often refer to as “gear lust” has certainly affected me from time to time.

but these days, that very general lust for guitars, keyboards, amps, and all kinds of music gear, is also now joined by a very specific new affliction; the endless watching and listening to of, effects pedal demo videos.  On You Tube, of course.

as with all new phases (if you will pardon the expression) of internet development and the progress of content, it started out small, as the occasional demo of a pedal to show us what the pedal looked like, what it sounded like, in case we might then wish to buy it for our own pedalboards at home.

from professionally produced by the established old world pedal manufacturers – your Boss, your MXR, your Electro-Harmonix, your Digitech, and so on – to videos by the boutique crews – your Earthquaker Devices, your Chase Bliss, your Catalinbread, your Z. Vex, your Robert Keeley – first came videos that were mostly about sales, but with generous helping of sounds, too – but ultimately, were on the whole, made with sales in mind.

finally, now, another type of pedal demo has arrived – the artistic, creative demo – and these seem to be non-commercial, not sales-oriented – but instead, they focus solely on the sounds that each device can make, and what a creative musician might do with those sounds.

A good example of one of these creative style effects video makerscreative style effects video makers, would be You Tube artist ‘Knobs‘, who tends towards more in-depth analyses of effects units, but using a unique artistic style – found objects, arranged around the device in a very careful way – combined with a fantastic, verbose, humorous set of titles (a veritable barrage of typed information, instead of verbal narration) and explanations, interspersed with jokes and bizarre video snippets, anything goes, but “Knobs” has a brilliant and consistent artistic style – and I NEVER ever feel like he wants me to buy any particular pedal.  He just wants me, and the rest of the effects pedal world, to HEAR how brilliant each pedal is, in exquisite detail, providing both highly useful technical information alongside humorous vignettes of all types – you never know WHAT might happen in one of his videos.

I have been through a lot of these videos, all types, and I seem to have settled on a few favourites from both camps.  For the ‘quick overview” type of video, which might run between 4 and 8 minutes in extreme cases, my very favourite vendor is “Andy” from Pro Guitar Shop (and Tone Report weekly magazine – the most brilliant magazine ever dedicated solely to effects pedals – and it’s free, every week!) – Andy is an extremely proficient guitarist of some experience, and his skill at showing each pedal he demos off in it’s best light, is undeniable – but, it is usually a quick demo only, just to get an idea of what the device in question sounds like.

Generally speaking, they don’t get into a lot of detail, or do in-depth videos, except in a few extreme cases.  So for the quick overview – I always turn to Andy first, and his videos are always in heavy rotation at my house – plus, over time, I’ve watched him grow from a good guitarist into a great guitarist, and I really enjoy his playing, regardless of the subject songs or snippets, or what pedal he is demoing – he is just a good, good player.

My other (new) favourite has to be “Knobs” whoever he might be – his videos are always well in-depth, and he tries very hard to describe clearly and in great detail, what each control does, exactly, and, how the controls interact, and what combinations of controls you need to set to achieve certain musical goals – all typed out in his inimitable style.  But – be prepared to keep your eyes glued to the screen – the titles go by quickly.  Having the no-nonsense explanations of how an effect’s controls affect what sound you acquire, is extremely useful (to me) and I really appreciate both his attention to musical detail, a well as his remarkable sense of humour which has to be read to be appreciated!

Some videos favour verbal narration along with guitar sound, others, use titles as “Knobs” does, to explain what the pedal is doing (which allows the music and therefore, the sound of the pedal, to go undisturbed by narration, others, such as our friend Andy from Pro Guitar Shop, intersperses narrated sections with undisturbed musical sections to demo the sounds he has just discussed, and I’ve even seen videos where there are no titles and no narration – and the pedal, and where it’s knobs are turned to, has to tell the entire story without any supporting titles or narration.  Those kinds of videos, while interesting, are probably a bit less informative than the other types, but really, no matter what the content, no matter whether they are short form, long form, or no form – I enjoy them all.

I would say that during the last two weeks, I’ve easily spent six or seven hours watching (and listening to) guitar effects videos, usually on YouTube on my television, but often, on YouTube on my tablet – either way works for me.  It is becoming an addiction, and for example, today, a lazy Sunday, I started watching Earthquaker Devices videos from the moment I got up, and now, a few hours later, I have to admit – the videos are still running while I am typing this blog.

And I was watching them yesterday, too.  Hmmm.  I am sensing a pattern here.  It started out, with a few Pro Guitar Shop quick overview with Andy videos, at night at bedtime – and then it started to move onto the real TV during the day, and today, I was even watching them during my lunch.

Another aspect of this that is good, is the musical ideas presented by the various musician-presenters, and you get some extraordinary guitarists demonstrating pedals, from Pete Thorn who has a massive collection of effects and pedalboard related videos, and onto other ridiculously talented guitarists hired by the big guns to demo their products, like the amazing Alex Hutchings who does demos of very complex Roland effects units.  So becoming addicted to effects pedal videos does have some very positive side effects – one of which is learning about some of the amazing professional players out there, as well as learning about a whole new group of home or small business musicians, who are equally talented and are often extremely interesting to listen to.

I’ve even learned guitar techniques, riffs and other guitar content, just from watching these demos, they are often quite inspirational, and often, after I’ve viewed a set of guitar effects demos, my tendency is to then go into the studio and play some guitar, and use the pedals that I do have, to try and create some new ideas and uses for them.  So watching these demos, and hearing how other guitarists put these very musical tools to use, is also very inspirational for my own development not just as a player, but also, in how I use the effects I have, to create unique and hopefully, amazing-sounding guitar sounds.

Mixing and matching different effects pedals (often called “stacking”) is yet another kind of pedal demo video, and there are endless demos where one or many devices are “stacked” to hear what the sound outputs of various interesting pedal combinations are, what is possible when you plug pedal a into pedal b, and then into pedal c?  These are some of the most amazing videos, because the sounds that can be achieved via stacking, even if it’s just stacking two pedals, are often astonishing in themselves – from incredibly powerful, distortion based stacks, to eerie, spacey, ambient wonders – amazing combinations with endless musical possiblity.

Finally, there are the “versus” (or “vs.” or “v.”) effects pedal videos, which range from comparisons of different manufacturers’ pedals that perform similar functions, or, between reissues or clones, to the “original” pedals from the 60s, 70s, 80s and so on.  Does the new version sound as good (or better) or not?  The “versus” videos answer all of these questions and more –  which fuzz tone sounds the best, which overdrive is the most transparent, which reverb has the most ambient possibilities, which ring modulator gives you the most insanely distorted and warped sounds?? – I am a big fan of the “versus’ style of effects pedal videos.

As time has gone on, I’ve become very interested in certain pedal manufacturers, and this is probably the last category of video I will mention today: the “about the manufacturer” video.  For the lines I’ve become interested in, after exhausting the majority of their videos for their actual pedals, I recently branched out still further, and started learning about some of the people behind the products – beginning with a pedal manufacturer that I really admire, Earthquaker Devices, and while I so far, so not own any of their pedals, I am very interested in some of them, because – well for two reasons, really, they are all hand-made in Akron, Ohio, and, they often explore sonic territory that other manufacturers’ pedals do not.  So I wanted to learn more – and boy, was there ever a lot of content available about Earthquaker – their history, the bands that their employees are in, and so on – absolutely fascinating to watch, and after doing so – it just makes me want to go out and buy my top ten EQD-wanted pedals – which would set me back a few thousand pounds that I do not have.

 

But – these videos do allow for one thing – I can dream.  I have a want list, that changes almost every week, one week, I am wanting EQD pedals, the next, I am looking at Strymon pedals with my lustful effects desiring eyes – and so on.  I dream of building special pedalboards, using all of the strangest sounding Earthquaker Devices pedals, in a special all-EQD board – probably containing an Arpanoid, a Space Spiral, an Afterneath, a Transmisser, and an Avalanche Run for starters (as the imaginary pound notes start to fly out the imaginary window…) which is huge fun – and while I probably won’t ever be able to build that imaginary EQD board, what I can do, is go into the sound libraries of my Eventide H9s, and see if I can emulate the strange and wonderful sounds that EQD pedals make, with the Eventide Algorithms and settings for individual voices.

That is then, giving me ideas for my own guitar sounds, which happen to be Eventide-based, but that is not what is important – getting new ideas for new sounds is always inspirational, so I think that this new addiction to effects pedal videos, is absolutely one of the healthiest addictions I’ve ever had the joy to experience, and I recommend it highly to both musicians and non-musicians like, and in particular, I think that visual artists and anyone who appreciates art, would enjoy some of the content in the more creative series of effects pedal videos.

I cannot recommend the experience of tuning in to You Tube for a morning of video enjoyment, preferably with your theatre speaker engaged so you can experience the subtelty of tones that the guitarists bring to us in these amazing, informative, inspirational videos – I think they are brilliant – please check them out on a tablet or a TV set near you.

 

And now, I am off to turn on my own pedalboards and see what new sounds I can coax from it, after a day of being very inspired indeed, by hearing what modern sound technology can do to the sound of a guitar or a keyboard or even a voice – these effects pedals have come so incredibly far from the early days, when if you had a pedal board at all, you were unusual, and it would normally have two devices on it – a Vox wah-wah pedal, and an Arbiter Fuzz Face.

A few players might have a third device – a primitive Octaver like the one Jimi Hendrix used to use – but for most, it was a wah-wah pedal, a fuzz tone of some sort, or if you were really lucky, both – no matter what, you learned to use those primitive devices make your guitar sound better…and nowadays, you have not hundreds, but thousands of different effect pedal designs to choose from – a mind-boggling assortment of sound-creating machines, designed by musicians for musicians – with making amazing sounds the goal – and so often, these manufacturers not only hit that goal, but they exceed it, producing devices capable of a stunning diversity of incredibly musical sound…it’s amazing how far these devices have come over the relatively short period of time from let’s say, 1963, to today.  Simply astonishing technology.

I started out with just a Vox Wah-Wah, and that was my main pedal for a long, long time. Then gradually, I ended up with things like an original Echoplex, which I absolutely loved, primitive, monstrous, tape-driven delay – I also used my two-track Sony reel-to-reel as a delay, with a reel running in record mode so I could then switch on the delay whilst playing live.  It wasn’t easy to do, but it sounded great!

Over time, I went through many Stompboxes, then onto rack mount devices (controlled by MIDI and switches and expression pedals – and then back again. I can tell you – it’s all good.  I managed to make good music with every pedalboard I ever built, and I am glad to have been able to experience a wide range of musical products over time, and it’s made for the creation of a lot of very interesting music – from very loud and distorted, to as ambient and quiet as I could get – I am interested in it all.  I think maybe it’s more of an addiction to amazing sounds, than the actual videos – I just love the sound of guitar effects!

 

It all sounds good to me 🙂

 

have fun!!!

 

peace,

dave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

studio diary 20170705

well somehow time has really gotten away from me, and I’ve not managed to write a blog for a couple of months now.  I have an excuse (of course):  I’ve been busy.  Mainly, working on the new pedalboards and guitar system (more on that shortly) but also, still trying to “keep my hand in” by working on music in the form of a very, very large collection of new tunes created in Garage Band.  I would venture to say that over the past few months, GB became a bit of an obsession, to the point where my iPhone overfloweth with Garage Band songs and drafts, sometimes, just one or two versions, sometimes, six or seven if a particular song needs a lot of detailed work.

the net result of that, is that actually, both my phone and my favourite tablet, are currently overflowing, and later today, I will be offloading completed tracks, and also, completing incomplete tracks and then offloading them, and then, making sure I have final mixes of all unpublished tracks…so that finally, I can master them and upload them. Normally, this would be a handful of tracks, but if I am not mistaken (and this number might not be exact) at the moment, I have no less than 16 NEW Garage Band tracks to sort out and add to my Garage Band Eternal Album on Bandcamp.

Sixteen new tracks!  Now – I have been working pretty exclusively in Garage Band over the past several months, and not working so much with real instruments, etc. in the studio – and that is because when I have had time to work in the studio – I have had to dedicate that to working on the guitar system and pedal boards (plural).  Those have now grown to four in total, and in fact, just yesterday, I worked out a brilliant new system, for accessing the different sounds – I am using a very simple device, a “pan pedal” which is made by Ernie Ball, to allow me to “move” between my main studio set up (which currently is comprised of two pedalboards, which I call “Pedalboard 1” and “Pedalboard 2” (imaginative names, I know) and a third board, which, surprisingly, is named “Pedalboard 3”.  So I can be playing one sound via PB1/PB2 (which are currently chained together) and then I can “switch” over to take a solo on PB3 where a completely different sound is waiting patiently for me.

Having the pan pedal, also means I can “blend” the two sounds – and hearing that, you can get some amazing “stacked” guitar tones – because for the first time, I am actually running two complete stereo set-ups, through two separate guitar systems – and, I have the output of PB1/PB2 going to the board direct, while the output of PB3, is miked with two Shure SM-57 instrument microphones, and those are going direct to the sound card. This then means when I record, I can record two tracks of the direct sound on PB1/PB2 and two tracks of the miked sound of PB3 on two OTHER tracks which means I will then be free to mix and match however I want – using as much (or as little) of each of the two completely different-sounding stereo feeds.

I haven’t yet mentioned the fourth pedalboard – it has an incredibly imaginative name, which you will probably never guess – Pedalboard 4.  But – it does have a distinct sub-title, unlike the other three – it’s the Guitar Synth board.  It’s quite simplistic, but it is a viable very different sound source, and it can be easily chained to PB3 or otherwise incorporated into the mix since it’s also tied directly to the mixer.  So the Guitar Synth library of sounds is also readily available now – directly out of the mixing board.

Also – with just a very quick change of cables – I can re-route the pan pedal to move between PB1/2, and PB4, or, back to PB3, or if I really wanted – I could have it pan between PB1/2 and PB3/4 chained together.  Talk about sounds…that would be a lot of sounds.  Right now, I am pretty happy with my PB1/PB2 combination, panning to the little PB3 board which is great for distorted soloing.

Getting all of that set up and working, and finalised (for the moment, of course, until I change my mind again, or, more likely, until I think of a “better way” to do things) has taken up the last several months’ time, meaning that I have not had time to work with real instruments in the real studio, except to test sounds and boards – and I’ve been doing a lot of that.  I have successfully re-programmed my Ground Control MIDI controller with 200 awesome sound combinations, and successfully done a sysex backup of that new set of sounds.  So that challenge was finally sorted out after quite a bit of trouble…I have, however, finally cracked MIDI Sysex – which for a long time, was a mystery to me – no more, now, I know how to backup, and restore, the entire contents of my Ground Control…it’s fairly easy to do, if you are patient.

I do have one other aspiration, which I actually got this idea from Vernon Reid (a great source of guitar ideas – he has helped Eventide with a lot of their distortion algorithms – so I offer up my thanks to Vernon wherever he is!), which is to stop doing ALL of my effects in series, and do them in parallel (to be honest, I also remember the late, great Allan Holdsworth, describing the same idea in a guitar workshop) – running effects in parallel.  Vernon has discovered a nice little DOD Resistance Mixer (the model AC-240, to be exact) which allows you to run four in to one out, and he uses a few of these in his live set-up (which I saw on YouTube, of course!).  It’s brilliant, and I do plan to look into that when time permits.  For the moment, out of necessity more than choice, I am doing it “old school” – in series.  Given that I am running a lot of hardware in series, it actually is all sounding very, very good now.

Note:  later on this year, we are going to see Living Colour play live in a Glasgow venue, so I can’t wait for that – one of my guitar heroes – Vernon Reid, I will finally get to see and hear Vernon play – I can’t wait!  A great and greatly under-appreciated band, Living Colour.  One of my personal favourites…it”s going to be amazing. I am very excited about this concert!!

Anyway – based on the work I’ve been doing, I have decided that once I finished processing the outstanding 15 or 16 Garage Band tracks (which I plan to begin work on this afternoon) that I will no longer spend as much time working in Garage Band, or, if I do, it will be probably for ambient projects, rather than my endless exploration of Apple Loops mixed with “real” content i.e. bass parts “played” by myself, and instead, go back to working on real music with real instruments – primarily, the electric guitar.

I think that my obsession with Garage Band has finally run its course, but, the result of it is an already very interesting catalogue of music, but, once I mix and master the next 16 tracks of completed Garage Band music – it will become apparent what a brilliant tool it has become for music creation.  It is pretty amazing what you can do with it, and I’ve been working more with matching tracks up pitch-wise and timing wise, so, matching a “real” bass part to an Apple loop, for example, or pitching different tracks to fit better with other tracks.

It’s amazing how well it all works, and, I have had an absolute blast creatively, it is endlessly fascinating to me what you can do with a stack of pre-made loops and a little bit of crafty bass playing.  I’ve found that to be key in most of the compositions I have worked on – I might create an entire piece out of Apple loops, but then, to humanise it, I play a “real” bass part – and that does it, that suddenly makes the track “pop” – it’s weird.

For a while, another technique I would use, would be to have the first two thirds of each piece, be entirely artificial; all made from loops, and then suddenly, during the last third or quarter of the piece, bring in a “real bass” part and the effect is really dramatic – it really makes the tracks sound so much better, even if there is already a synth bass or whatever – having that wonderful, plain, “Paul McCartney” bass there makes the tracks irresistible.

I have spent a ridiculous amount of time perfecting some of those bass parts – which are often played on the fly in one take, and then close-edited later to sharpen them up – taking a wild, on-the-fly live performance, and custom-fitting it to the existing song.  It’s a lot of work – but it’s so, so worth it, because it just brings the pieces full circle, and the artificiality that the loops create, gets seriously negated by the humanness of the Paul McCartney plays as “played” by yours truly.

So when you finally get to hear the next 16 Garage Band uploads from me – please listen especially to the bass guitars – because I have indeed, worked really hard on those bass parts – which you will find in most all (but not all) of my Garage Band work.

I should also mention the other “star” of the Garage Band tracks, which is the Korg IWorkstation synthesizer, with it’s two dozen different sets of presets – if you search long enough, you can always find the perfect sound, and since Garage Band’s Inter-App Audio is so well implemented, it’s easy to bring in a powerful synth like the “iWavestation”, and I use it extensively, on multiple tracks, on almost all of my Garage Band material.  So those are my two secret weapons, really:

  1. Apple’s “Paul McCartney” bass, in “Note” mode, which I play like a real bass, then close edit later to “perfect” the bass part
  2. Via Inter-App Audio, I call up the “Korg iWavestation” synthesizer which can provide an absolutely astonishing universe of sounds from any kind of synth sound; any kind of beautiful, spacious pad sound, to drums, basses, whistles, you name it, it’s in there – one of Korg‘s most amazing products, ever.  It has become my “go-to” synth whenever I am recording in an app that offers IIA connectivity – the first thing I do, is bring in an instance or ten or the iWavestation – I cannot recommend it highly enough, it’s a great synth and workstation, too – absolutely amazing and sounds great.

The third and uncredited star, is of course, those amazing Apple Loops – without them, none of this amazing catalogue of work would exist, and I can’t believe how this incredibly diverse set of music, where every piece is completely different, where each time, I try to find a new approach, a new sound, to make it utterly unique, and, importantly, different from the last piece I did – and if you are doing this across dozens of tracks, you end up with a diversity of music that is almost indefinable – I could literally, not describe the different genres, types, feelings, grooves, systems, concepts – I just can’t, the only way to describe it is to say, go to the Garage Band Eternal Album, and listen to it from start to finish – and then try to describe in words what you just heard.

And when I add in the next 16, which feature some of the most diverse and weirdest, most out-there compositions so far – that will make the above experiment even more interesting.  If I were to continue with this, the madness of being addicted to Garage Band might send me right over the edge – I don’t know.

I am going to take a break, I am extremely happy with both the catalogue “so far” (note, as of this point in time, 20170705, the Garage Band Eternal Album contains 24 unique tracks) or to date, as well as, I am very excited about the next 16 tracks – which will close out the catalogue in the short term (bringing the total number of tracks to about 40 – which in itself, is amazing), because I am (with some difficulty, I admit) going to slow down or stop producing so very much Garage Band material, and return to working on real songs with real guitars and keyboards, and I am going to give the amazing, easy to use, fun to use, Garage Band – a well-earned rest.  Because if I am honest, I have spent altogether too much time working on Garage Band songs, and not giving my other musical outlets a chance!  Of course – that wasn’t intentional, they weren’t ready – but, now they ARE ready – so – I am ready.

 

It’s also my hope, to return to making ambient music, and in particular, ambient music made with applications.  I still have unexplored areas that utilise ambient tools that I have had for many years, as well as some newer apps that I also have not spent enough time with – so I hope to rectify that situation, and in the process, hopefully, add some new ambient tracks to some of the catalogues / eternal albums up there on Bandcamp.

 

I am hoping I have reached, or nearly reached, the “cut-off” point, where the total obsession with Garage Band ends, and a new practice of music-making begins, which involves using real guitars and my new pedalboards and guitar systems plural.  That is the idea, anyway – and that is why I have also spent the last several months trying to get everything ready for this day – and after extensive testing, and spending a lot of time creating 200 amazing and beautiful guitar sounds in my Ground Control Pro MIDI Controller – finally, everything is ready, and I have now, at my fingertips, a huge and diverse array of guitar sounds that I can use in my new compositions!  It was a lot of work to get to this point, and I am beyond pleased with the way my guitar is sounding – and that is not something I’ve said very often in my life.

Of course, Komplete will still be there to play it’s part, since I don’t have the space for a physical drum kit, and, I’ve never had the opportunity / chance / space / time to learn how to play a real drum kit – I still depend on Komplete to help me set up my real guitars-based tracks – mostly, with the drum tracks.  I also, often, will use Komplete to do basses – and certainly, I use it for keyboards and synths, along with other softwares like the M-Tron Pro mellotron software.

When the urge takes me, I do sometimes play real bass instead of Komplete’s bass, but using Komplete is truly tempting because it does contain toolsets like Scarbee’s amazing Rickenbacker bass samples, and I just can’t resist having the sound of a Rickenbacker or a Fender Jazz bass or a Fender Precision on my tracks – I love those basses, and being able to “Play” them, even via a MIDI keyboard – is heaven.  My cheap throwaway bass cannot compete with those sampled basses for tone – it was so cheap, that I actually paid nothing for it – a good friend of mine, and an amazing musician, too, Michael Dawson, actually gifted that bass to me – which I have subsequently used on certain tracks, one of which was the tribute to the late John Wetton – “Wettonizer” is the one main track I remember using the “free” Washburn bass on.  It is actually, a lot of fun to play (it’s tiny, and I am not!), so maybe I will add in some “real basses” as well as using the amazing Rickenbacker and Fender samples available via Scarbee via Komplete.

In essence, in the studio, Komplete is my “band” – they come up with the bass and drum tracks, and if needed, keyboard and synth tracks – and then, I am left to play real guitars on top of those created tracks.  It’s as close as I can get to having a real band to play with at the moment – and again, I don’t have the space available for a real band anyway, so at the moment, the Komplete “band” does me more than proud – and you can hear exactly how well they do, by listening to a couple of my larger works, where they are heavily featured – in particular, on “the complete unknown” “planet obelisk” and “day seventeen” – these are examples of the full Komplete band – drums, bass, keyboards – supporting me, the man of many guitar parts :-).  It takes weeks or months to get the drums, basses and keys in place on tracks like these, and it’s not uncommon that three months might pass, before I get to play a single note on the guitar.

(Note: all of the tracks noted above, are all taken from the dave stafford “progressive rock” eternal album – please have a listen on Bandcamp).

 

Of course, it does take time, creating drum tracks, and bass tracks, and keyboards and synths – but it’s worth the time, because I want the best possible backdrop for guitars – and with Komplete, I get the best there is.  For example, depending on what kind of era I want to emulate, I tend to use the Abbey Road drum kits, and I can choose from a vintage 50s kit, a 1960s kit, a 70s kit, 80s, kit or “modern” kit – and each one has it’s own character and options, and they sound absolutely amazing – so I tend to mostly use those, although there are many, many other drum options within Komplete…Abbey Road drums are my current favourite, and they can be heard on a lot of my works.

I have also favoured the Scarbee Rickenbacker bass, using different pickups and presets, for a lot of my pieces, and I think Scarbee is an absolutely amazing company, the care with which they create their instruments is exquisite – the details are absolutely stunning.  I can get so many amazing tones out of that Rickenbacker bass, I could just about not ever use any other – except of course, when I do need a Fender bass for a deeper, more traditional sound – and then, I turn to Scarbee once again – and in many cases, they even offer an “amped” version – so you can have just the bass, or, the bass sampled through amps – it’s amazing – I am totally spoiled for choice.

After a lot of hard work, especially the programming of 200 custom preset guitar “sounds” on the Ground Control Pro, I am ready to play some serious guitar – but, serious guitar with the best tones possible.  I have really chosen a bit of a strange path, over the years, I have mostly stayed away from “guitar amps”, instead, using a plain power amp, and asking either software, or, my pedalboards, to be the main source of “tone”.  Now I am in a hybrid set up – I am using an amp, or actually, two amps – one is a solid state guitar amp, which has a line out to the mixer, and the other is my plain power amp, where I am miking my two 1X12 guitar cabs direct to the sound card.  The “tone”, however, is the tone of whatever guitar I am playing, plus, what sound colourations are available from the pedalboards – which of course, include the many-faceted Eventide H9s – each of which contains a massive library of absolutely astonishing, high-quality sounds.

When I think about what is possible with just the H9s (ignoring all other pedals for the moment) I kinda wish I had more than 200 slots in my MIDI pedal, but the truth is, by combining different H9 algorithms, the number of possible insanely good guitar sounds, is not just 200, or even 2000, it’s probably more like 200,000.  Seriously – and, Eventide keeps adding in new algorithms, too, which just increases, exponentially, the possibilities, to basically, limitless – the latest new algorithm, “Pitchfuzz”, contains some amazing new distorted and / or pitch-shifted sounds, which are out of this world, and, of course, I have incorporated the best of those into my 200 presets.  Using the H9s in multiples, makes it possible to create combinations of effects that are truly lush and incredible sounding – you have to hear them to believe them.  Exquisite combinations of beautiful, individual sounds…

I did spend a bit of extra time on one particular sound that I truly love, and I got this idea straight from Allan Holdsworth (may he rest in peace) – on the first of several occasions where I was privileged to see Allan play guitar, he had this amazing “swell” sound, where while the bass and drums played a kind of “drone”, he would “fade in” or “swell” these beautiful, clean chords, which were drenched in layers of delay and reverb – and I never forgot how beautiful that sounded live.

During the Bindlestiff years, I even tried to emulate that sound, by fading the sound in manually with a volume pedal, into a huge reverb “room” – close, but not quite.  But now – in the land of H9s – I can have auto-swell, at any time setting I want, and it’s brilliant.

I took this opportunity to create some special Dave Stafford auto-swell settings; starting with a short auto-swell (1900 milliseconds), then, medium (3100 ms) and finally, the “Allan Holdsworth” series of auto-swell (my “long” swell at 4000 ms or 4 seconds) – and I made several variations of that basic sound, running the swell through various different Eventide Space reverb sounds, and in one final example, through a beautiful Eventide delay and then into a beautiful Eventide Space sound.  The result is a mini-bank of amazing “swell” variations, and I am so glad I took the time to work out the programming for those sounds – taking care of details like that, gives me an edge, it gives me something unusual, not stock – but with my own personality – these 200 sounds are Dave Stafford Guitar Sounds, regardless of whether they are “stock” or “custom” – they are my choices and juxtapositions – and it’s so nice to have such an amazing library of “algorithm meets algorithm” possibilities.

This afternoon, then, will be dedicated to downloading (and, clearing off, thank god) the 16 new Garage Band pieces, trying to first get the final mixes just right, then, the mastering, and finally, probably starting in a few days’ time, uploading them – and once uploaded, the Garage Band Eternal Album will have reached about 40 unique Dave Stafford compositions done over a relatively short period of time – months – but, in terms of sound, and quality – it’s a huge, huge sound – and, a catalogue of which I am both very proud and very fond of – I have really enjoyed my “time of Garage Band”.

You should try it – drop everything else for a while, and just create with Garage Band – a piece every couple of days was usually my method, although some of the more complex pieces might then stretch out to a week or two until I was happy with the final version – and then, immediately, start another one – preferably, something that sounded COMPLETELY different to the piece just completed.

In a week or two at most, you will be able to hear all 40 tracks, and these should give you a good glimpse (at least) – if not an amazing view – of what this creative and innovative Apple tool – one of the oldest “computer-based” music making tools (now, mobilised on the iPhone and iPad, of course – in the Apple way) can do; and, with it’s latest updates, it has become one of the most fertile, stable, and unique grounds for growing musical ideas.

Anyone can have a go – drag some Apple loops into your song, and you are away – dream up any kind of music you like.  Just do loops if you don’t want to play, or don’t know how – you can still create, using the magical Apple loops, if you do play an instrument, then you have the opportunity to add in some keyboard based or drum or bass content of your own.  It’s easy to learn, and endlessly expandable, you can add many, many bars and create very long pieces, or create three minute pop masterpieces – it’s all there with Garage Band.

 

And now – to mix, download, master and start getting those new tracks uploaded – I can’t wait !!!

 

 

peace and love

 

dave 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the joy of kaoss

I have to admit, of all of the few unusual instruments I have run across, the Ibanez RG Series Kaoss model guitar is one of the best in so many ways.  It’s simply fun to play, and what you can do with one electric guitar that interfaces with one set of 100 (yes, that is One HUNDRED) kaossilator effects to give you one of the most tactile and hands on guitar to synth “instant treatments” experiences since Brian Eno ‘treated’ Phil Manzanera‘s guitar on stage with Roxy Music back in the early 1970s.  No longer do you need to run your guitar through a very large and very expensive VCS3 synthesiser, but you can do the ‘treatments” by yourself, as you play – and the sounds you can get out of it are simply amazing if you just work at it….

What more could I ask for?  What more could any guitarist who also happens to be a Kaossilator Pad player, who also is a synthesist – ask for?  This is the inexpensive way into a Kaoss-pad-controlled-by-a-guitar or rather, by-a-guitarist – you.

Before I try to describe the experience of playing this unique instrument, I should probably approach the negatives – of which there are one or two – depending on your viewpoint.  The guitar is deliberately built down to a price, it’s possibly, the cheapest Kaoss guitar on the market – and that is possible the way Ibanez and Korg wanted it – who knows?  So some of the features you might expect in an expensive electric guitar simply aren’t really here in this guitar.  Like super low super easy action.  Not here – you have to work to play this guitar.  I am going to need to take it in, and see what can be done about the action – which is less than ideal.  I end up thrashing the fingers on my left hand every time I play it – but I am determined, so I don’t let something as unimportant as somewhat high action bother me – I just play anyway, and ignore it.

One alleviating factor or solution I have found, is to go to an extra light gauge of string.  This DOES help a little bit, when the guitar you are playing has action that is too high – for me, it seems to help on the higher strings, but no so much on the lower strings.  It was strange – I hadn’t tried an .009 on my high E since I was about 13!  But I find it helpful to switch from, in my case, Regular Slinky, to, Super Slinky – with a .009 top rather than the .010.

The other thing that I really miss, is a whammy bar.  I think that alongside the awesome distortion circuit built into the guitar, that a whammy bar would have been just the ticket – switch on that fuzz and start yourself a crazy whammy solo….but not this time.   So – two negatives; it’s hard to play, and, no whammy fun – but I can easily forgive both – there are actions I can take, I can get the guitar set up, I can put lighter strings on it, I can even get the neck fretted or shaved – I mean, there is room to improve the action, that is for sure – but it needs investment, and a good luthier too.

Getting over the whammy is easier, for one thing, you have 101 on board sounds to replace it with, the first being, the very usable on board distortion circuit which I really like, it isn’t the most amazing distortion box in the world, but, it gives you plenty of sustain when you want a sudden kick-ass solo – and so easy to switch it in!

So that is the 101st effect, I would say, and then what you have is 100 more on the kaoss pad, to make up for that missing whammy.  For example – may I suggest, voice 16, “vinyl break” – that gives you the ultimate dive bomb, and you can have it at any speed imaginable – very quick indeed, or, very very slow…taking a high note down to a low note that my 12 inch guitar speakers have trouble delivering it’s so lowl!

Or really, instead of thinking of it as 101 effects – the built-in distortion plus 100 Kaoss sounds, you could actually look at it as 201 sounds – the built-in distortion is 1, then you have 100 kaoss sounds with clean guitar, and, 100 kaoss sounds with heavy distortion – and some of these Korg sound respond very well to clean or distortion, and, behave differently depending on what is chosen.

So now that I have got through the tricky stuff, I can go on about how much fun it is to actually PLAY this guitar – and, you have to understand, the kaoss pad that is built into it, is not like the kaoss pad “synths” (like the little hand held pink synth kaoss pad I started out playing a few years back) you buy to play on stage – it is instead, an “effects” kaoss pad, a “Mini-Kaoss pad” – and it’s been made into part of the guitar’s circuitry – it has actually been embedded into the guitar’s DNA – being at the end of the guitar’s audio output.

I think that learning how to play this guitar effectively is something that has to be learned over time, and each time I pick up the Kaoss guitar, I learn a little bit more about what is best in terms of technique – and a lot of the sounds aren’t totally suited to using them like a normal effect, they actually seem to work the best as sudden events in between notes, or, at the end of phrases.

Vinyl Break, good old number 16, is suitable for either, and I had a blast just suddenly DROPPING a note, a millisecond after playing it, down a few octaves, and the real beautiful of the Kaoss pad becomes apparent in the amount of control you have over the timing of that event, of that note drop – if you do it at the “top” of the pad (i.e. the edge nearest the strings, rather than the edge near the edge of the guitar’s body) the drop is incredibly fast, and you are at that low, low tone so fast you can hardly believe it.

If you drop it in the centre of the pad, it drops substantially more slowly, but still at a pretty good speed, and you can learn to “time” these smoother, more elegant drop curves to suit your musical taste…it becomes quite an art, can I make this note drop really smoothly down to it’s lowest tone and then still hit the next note in my solo or improv at the “right” moment, and most times, I can.  It’s a huge amount of fun, trying to control the duration of a note drop event, and get it to work in a really musical way.

Finally, if you choose to drop at the bottom of the pad, well then you are going to get the longest drop of all, possibly a bit too slow to be very musical, but just as useful – and everywhere in between, you get all the different speeds. So to put it into phonographic terms, it can be like dropping from 78 to 16 rpm in a millisecond, or from 78 to 16 rpm in a second, or maybe take five seconds to get there – or, you can stop the process anywhere along the way, so maybe you might just go from 78 rpm down to only 33 1/3rd rpm, instead of all the way down to 16 – it’s entirely up to you.

The pad is physically pretty tiny, and you have to learn to use it … sort of… “in between” your notes, or, at the end of a series of notes – it CAN be used while you are playing, but that is hard – it’s possible, with some of the more standard sounds, like a jet flanger or a nice phaser, you can hold a finger on the pad while you are strumming or picking, but – it’s a difficult act of co-ordination, and really, you would be a lot better of concentrating on playing your notes properly, and using your stomp box flangers or phaser, and they very probably will sound better – and, they stay on, too, until you shut them off, whereas, the pad stops working as SOON as your finger or fingers lift off of it – and that makes it tricky to use as a “regular” effect (whatever THAT means lol).

However, the real strength of the Kaoss guitar, isn’t the more “standard” effects, but the ones that work well when used in between notes and in between phrases, like my best friend the vinyl break, but also, the large selection of various loopers are truly useful and give you some remarkable effects if used well.  It’s tricky, but, it’s do-able.

There are different ways to approach it, and I keep trying new things, or picking one of the 100 voices I am not as familiar with, and trying to see what I can do with it over a longer period of time – high pass filter, low pass filter, mid filters, you name it, it’s all there, there is even a decimator, which is an amazing patch – I absolutely love the decimator, it’s a brilliant sounding effect.  Most of the effects sound really good, but some of them are hard to use in the sort of “momentary” way you need to use this guitar to it’s best effect (no pun intended).

One trick I have found helpful, in making sure I co-ordinate playing a note or chord, and then, immediately applying the pad (before the more or chord fades away so much that the pad then does NOTHING to it – very embarrassing!) is by likening the pad to a whammy bar in your brain – a whammy bar used, of course, in the more usual way, where, at the end of a phrase or chord, you use it – well, the Kaoss pad works best that way.

Just as with the whammy, of course, you CAN whammy WHILE you are playing – but it is more difficult to do, and the results might not always be consistent.  So if you tell yourself to use it in the same times you might use your whammy -and if you are fortunate, it will work well – although there is no guarantee.  And that’s where you can have surprising and dismaying failures – let’s say you’ve worked out a part where, you stop playing and then do a move on the pad, a really dramatic move like a drop or a pitch shift of some kind, and you do it say, for four bars in a row, once each bar….and on the fourth one, you are a tiny bit too late on the pad – and out comes….silence.

That can be embarrassing, and even disappointing, because maybe that fourth amazing Kaoss swoop – should have been the most flamboyant and remarkable of the four in a row – but instead, you play three good ones, and the fourth one – just isn’t meant to happen.

So you lose an entire perfect take, because you timed your Kaoss sound off by nanoseconds – and that resulted not in an error, but instead, in a fail – a silence when your audience would clearly be expecting some kind of fantastical Kaossilator effect – and that is annoying!  I have lost solos and takes because of one failed or less than spectacular Kaoss swoop.

The remedy for that, of course – is more practice, and, of course, the more you practice, the less likely these time-based mishaps will haunt your kaoss playing.  No one said this would be easy – but sometimes, it is pretty easy to make the pad sound good, on other occasions, not so much so – but if you work at it, you can play some truly extraordinary and more importantly, utterly unique chord patterns, notes, guitar solos and sound effects – I mean, with 100 sounds to choose from, you have an enormous palette of high quality Korg effects with which to modify your beautifully clean or very distorted Ibanez guitar – and that to me, is a winning combination.

King Crimson – September 5th, 2016,  Friar’s / Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury, UK

Monday night, and it is the last of three (in a row, no less!) King Crimson concerts for us, and for the band, the last show on British soil for a while, after tonight; it’s off to Europe for the rest of the tour. But before they go, there is the remaining matter of the last of the three Aylesbury gigs, on a cool, cloudy Monday night at the Riverside Theatre.

Being the third show in as many nights, the kinks in the performances are starting to work out now, and the band is settling in to the routine of playing, the dealing with of cues and counts and stops and starts, pedals and programs, guitars and basses; allowing the players to relax just that little bit more, which made it possible for some interesting improvements and a bit more improvisation when compared to the previous two concerts.

Speaking of basses, we observed something last night that was interesting: Tony Levin has too many instruments! Mel Collins has no choice but to bring several instruments, for example, he plays baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, so that’s three right there that he has no choice over – he has to have those, to be able to replicate all those very different sax parts from those early albums in particular. A selection of flutes is inevitable too, and I would not say a word if Mel turned up wth seventeen instruments…because each one would have a specific purpose for a specific song or songs.

Tony I think, could actually get by with fewer instruments, because his function nominally, is bass player. Robert has one or possibly two, guitars. Jakko gets by with just one guitar, his beautifully painted PRS electric. But Tony has a veritable arsenal of bass-related weaponry:

Stand-up fretless

Chapman Stick

Yellow Three Of A Perfect Pair 5-String Bass

Pink 6-String Bass

…and maybe a fifth bass

Note too that except for the fretless,they all have more than four strings!! This makes me believe that over time, Tony has become more of a frustrated guitarist to some degree (as you would do in the company of Jakko and Robert) than an ordinary “bassist”. He’s now graduated from 5-string to 6-string basses, which sound great, but aren’t actually “basses” by strict definition.

It may be more a matter of orchestrating the changes to minimise the number of changes required, but sometimes it seems like every time I look towards the centre of the stage, I see Tony Levin changing basses yet again, and again. It’s a tiny bit distracting if I am honest. OK, to be fair, Mel is changing instruments multiple times during many songs, but he has no choice, he can’t play a flute line with a baritone sax. And when he changes instruments, it’s subtle, quiet, you barely notice that he is doing it.

Tony, being Very Tall and also, standing basically at Centre Stage – cannot in any way disguise or downplay the swapping of one bass for another….over and over again.

Tony however, can get bass notes out of any of the basses in my slightly incomplete list of his basses, so why all the fuss and constant back and forth from Stick to Fretless to Yellow to Pink and back to Stick again? I get that songs that require Stick, require Stick, but songs that require bass, do they require 5- and 6- string basses? Not really, in my humble opinion. I love Tony and the way he plays, I just wonder if he can minimise the visually distracting bass changeovers by reducing the number of instruments. If he has any spare basses, I could sure use a good bass 🙂

But that is just an observation made over three days and an observation that first started really gelling on night two, last night, and tonight I’m happy to report that the bass-changing has settled down a bit, thanks in part to changes in the set list, but overall, I didn’t seem to notice it as much – so that is a win.

Also noted on the previous two nights, were instances where it appeared that Robert was playing something, but zero sound came out, so we could see him playing but not hear it, and in one case we got complete silence for a moment before the sound kicked back in and the audio then supported the visual, instead of RF strumming away with no sound emerging until he got things under control.

But these observations really just prove that this band of superhuman players, are really human after all, and in the main, the sound you hear from those seven instruments, whatever combination they are in, is 99.8 percent perfect if you compare it to just about any other band.  

Each player knows their space, knows what has to be played, while still leaving open what might be played…and it’s in those moments, when one or more of the players just grab the bull by the horns and move out into previously uncharted territory, that’s when the live “Crimson magic” begins.  

It happens with Mel in almost every song, sure, he plays his parts, but then, he loses himself in the moment and is soon soaring on a high-flying improv that proves that he was and still is, the most innovative horn player in rock music (and you can’t forget his history either, of working with the Stones and being in Camel and of course, being in King Crimson for albums two, three, four and five), if you count “Earthbound” as the fifth album (I do). Mel has been around the block in terms of playing experience.

It happens to all the players in the band at some point, although the better the improviser they are, the better their ability to transcend an ordinary “part” and play something truly extraordinary instead. Mel and Robert do this almost constantly, while Tony and Jakko must stick to the script more, so opportunities to improvise are fewer, and for the drummers, probably only they themselves or the members of the band are aware when they do something amazing, although I feel that the drum section have produced both rehearsed and slightly improvised music each and every night – they are so well co-ordinated, but each also has his own style and their own series of wildly improvised and very astonishing percussion moments.  

What a trio they are, and when you combine that three-man percussive prowess with Mssrs. Fripp, Collins, Jakszyk and Levin…you get the “Crimson magic” – and every night, you will hear this, to a greater or lesser degree, if you listen with your ears open. Sure, they are “playing” the songs; but there is also opportunity for the occasional amazing riff or chord or entire solo or other Amazing Accidental Musical Moment In Time (AAMMIT).

By the way – in one of the silences someone shouted out “Happy Birthday Mel!!” which got an enormous cheer from the whole audience as well as a huge grin and sweeping wave of thanks from the man himself.

Before I go any further, here is the full set list:

Soundscapes

The Battle Of Glass Tears

Unknown / New Song (Instrumental – featuring two guitars) 

Pictures Of A City

Cirkus

Fracture

Hellhounds Of Krim or Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row (Drum Trio)

Easy Money

Meltdown

Epitaph

Red

[INTERMISSION]

Devil Dogs Of Tesselation Row or Hellhounds Of Krim (Drum Trio) 

Level Five

Suitable Grounds For The Blues

The ConstruKction Of Light

Vrooom

The Letters

Sailor’s Tale

One More Red Nightmare

Starless

[ENCORE]

Banshee Legs Bell Hassle

Heroes

21st Century Schizoid Man

The only band I’ve seen recently that can even come close to King Crimson 2016, was King Crimson 2015 – who we were fortunate enough to see three times in three different cities last year – and those shows were brilliant.

This time around, after a little time, I would say that the first of the three shows was overall winner, because the band was more relaxed, and the setlist was amazing – and despite some technical teething problems, it was a superb performance that I will not soon forget.

The second night was sort of in the middle for me, it was nice to have “The Talking Drum / Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part 2” back in the set, but not really at the expense of “Sailor’s Tale” which made a very welcome return tonight.

Tonight, the band opened with the eerie and beautiful “Battle of Glass Tears” my personal favourite new / old track, which was just sublime, so atmospheric, and you could hear a pin drop at this point – followed immediately by that new song, minus it’s 2 chord intro, and of course, the audience had NO idea what was going on at this point…  That came to a slightly uncertain stop, and finally they launched into “Pictures Of A City” and all was well again.

While I have awarded the “Friends & Family” show as my personal favourite, there are of course, one or two exceptions I should note. Tonight’s show got off to a bit of a shaky start in that, the audience didn’t know whether to applaud or not after the second piece – so out of politeness, they didn’t applaud, so it wasn’t until the end of “Pictures Of A City” that they could let their hair down and scream and shout for the return of the Crimson King. The show only got better from there, and some particular highlights for me were, in no particular order:

“Fracture”, which was fantastic, and in my opinion, by far the best version over the three nights (so, as far as this song is concerned, THIS was the best version – even better than night one’s version). Robert and Mel were right on form, Jakko’s “mock violin” was incredible to watch and listen to – and the rhythm section simply smashed it along with Tony – a rocking version, and really tight – I loved it. Out of all of the new / old songs, I welcome “Fracture” back into the setlist with the most joy – it’s been a long time since KC tackled this twelve minute musical monstrosity – what a great tune, and the new arrangement is fantastical – really beautifully done.

It was great to hear “Cirkus” for the third time, it was consistently good each night, and in some ways, Mel’s solo in this is probably one of the best solos he has ever done, so to get to hear and see him play that beautiful, beautiful horn solo, for three nights running, is an incredible privilege – and, the saxes on “Cirkus” are amongst the most beautiful I have ever, ever heard, in any context or in any song – it’s an absolutely sublime, lovely solo – and I got to hear it three times in a row – so beautiful!

“One More Red Nightmare” – “Red” was great, every night, but this was better, and another “welcome return” to the setlist. A brilliant vocal from Jakko, indescribable ensemble work from the drum team, and just a blast of fun, all about a cool riff, with sinister saxophones and Jakko’s distorted auto-Wah sounded absolutely astonishing at the end – a great guitar sound! This track totally rocked tonight…in fact, the whole second half of the show was really exciting, and the section containing “Vrooom”, “The Letters”, “Sailor’s Tale” and finally “One More Red Nightmare” very nearly changed my mind about which concert was my favourite. Very nearly, but not quite 🙂

A stunningly beautiful “Starless” followed, which did bring the temperature down quite a bit – but then, we get to that amazing end section, with the fabulous guitars sliding up and down and the bass ripping a la John Wetton (Tony did really well on this version of “Starless”, I have to say – and it’s not an easy bass part to play!).

“Heroes” was pretty much a carbon copy each of the three nights, I still think night one has the edge, although tonight’s version got a very very good reaction from the audience, as did the final number, “21st Century Schizoid Man” including the aforementioned New Standard Tuning tasty jazz chords from Mr. Robert Fripp.

I noticed that sometimes during one of Mel’s longer tenor or soprano sax solos (and since we are talking about this song already, one prime example of this tonight was the final encore, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, which is possibly Mel’s longest solo of the night); that as soon as Mel settling into his solo, wherein he will absolutely be screaming away at speed – that Robert starts comping along to the solo, playing what he might call “particularly tasty inversions” of jazz chords, and that’s been an interesting thing to hear – Mel is soloing his heart out, and Robert starts slipping these fantastically lovely “jazz chords” into the tiny spaces that Mel leaves open in his solo – and how RF can select and play a series of interesting, jazzy chords to comp along to Mel’s insanely good sax solos is actually, beyond my musical understanding.

I wish I even knew those chords, and then I would worry about when to play them. And of course, they are all now in the new standard tuning, so over time Robert has relearned his 11th and 13th and 9th/b5th chords, and knows them well enough in NST now, to confidently insert them into the spaces left by one of rock’s master musicians, the extraordinary Mel Collins.  

The resulting sound, with the whole band in full on jazz swing mode, is nothing short of extraordinary. Mel is the not-so-secret weapon, who can be called upon almost on demand to produce a honking or screaming or deadly smooth slinky sleazy sax solo, with Rock’s best jazz guitarist Robert Fripp comping along with the tastiest of chords. What a sound that is. He may also have been doing this during Mel’s soloing in “Pictures Of A City” – but I am not sure about that, I can’t actually remember if “Schizoid Man” was the only time Fripp did this astonishing, clean jazz chord work – it blew me away.

Prior to Mel’s selfsame long solo in “Schizoid Man”, Robert took his solo, but it was different this time, to any of the previous shows – including the three shows we saw last year – I’ve only seen / heard this happen one time out of six shows, and that was during this guitar solo – he started it out with one of those impossible high-speed three-note trills (a la “St. Elmo’s Fire” by Brian Eno, where Fripp plays impossibly fast three-note trills over and over again) and also, the solo was quite a bit longer than on the other nights, and it included some more brief “exhibitions of reckless speed” in the lead guitar arena – he was really going at it, and it was a great little solo – and then, he handed it over to Mel as he always does – who then proceeded to attempt to out-do what Robert did – and that is when Robert changed over to a lovely clean sounding guitar, and did the chord comping I described previously.  

What a great, great version of “Schizoid Man” – I loved it, if only just for the little extra bits of stunning Fripp guitar – that really added a lot to the experience for me – so again, of the three nights, that’s my favourite version of this particular song – but overall, I still think I preferred the first show out of the three – except for “Fracture” and “21st Century Schizoid Man” which were both definitely better tonight – they were absolutely brilliant, and along with the two tracks from “Islands” plus the two tracks from “Red” – there was a lot of very hot music going on this evening!

Here and now, in September 2016, for us, having the absolutely unique experience of seeing King Crimson play three gigs over three nights in the same elegant, beautiful theatre – and, each of those shows had its own individual “feel”, while at the same time, the three taken as a whole, gets you a really good overview of just exactly what this band is capable of…all I can say about that, is:

Europe, be ready – the great Crimson Beast is lumbering towards you (in an odd time signature, of course) so I hope you are ready, this band is going to change the way you see (and hear) live music forever, with its amazing “front line” of three incredible drummers, and it’s impossibly talented and experienced “back line” full of virtuoso strings and horns – and just 30 seconds worth of “Level Five” will melt you right into your seat! 🙂

Thanks for listening!

Dave

the damage is done… (long-lost blog draft #1)

March 6th, 2016:

Sometime back now, I attempted to compare the two different versions of the Sylvian-Fripp live masterpiece,”Damage: Live” more commonly known as “Damage” – the live album record of one of the most remarkable musical collaboratations of the last century – “Sylvian-Fripp” – the band.  I’d owned the Robert Fripp mix/version for several years, when I then had the opportunity to pick up David Sylvian‘s mix/version, released some years later.

I then sat down and listened to both records, first, in linear fashion, then, as an “A-B” – i.e. track by track, where possible. The differences are interesting – it’s not often that you get the chance to compare the “ear” of two such brilliant musicians, and it is interesting to hear how they interpret the same live show into a finished disc.

Anyway, from the first of the “long-lost blog drafts’, I now present to you, “the damage is done”, my freshman attempt at comparing two different versions of the same recordings…wish me luck!!

 

Additions, edits, and final proofing done on March 6, 2016.

 

 

Unfinished Blog Draft #1 – last edit (until today) was December 21st, 2014:

 

TRACK: “DAMAGE”

“Damage” (song) is the opening track on the RF (Robert Fripp)-produced version of the “Damage” album, whereas, on the DS (David Sylvian)-produced version of the “Damage” album, it’s moved to fifth position.

That’s not the only difference, however, it’s the only position change.  There are the omissions, one song omitted from each disc – the RF disc is missing “Jean The Birdman”, while DS has included that track; and the DS disc is missing the 10.47 “Darshan (The Road To Graceland)”, while RF has included that track.

To me, the omission of “Darshan” really harms the DS version, and I can’t imagine what the reason for not including what is surely one of the highlights of the concert – the super long and full version of amazing-Fripp guitar, “Darshan” – I couldn’t believe it when I first realised that the DS version did not contain it !

For RF to omit “Jean The Birdman” is not nearly as distressing, it was, supposedly, the band’s “single” if such a thing could be, for a band like Sylvian / Fripp.

Doing an A/B compare of the two records is very revealing, but, it’s tricky, because of advances in technology, the DS version is much “louder” than the RF version, so each time I switch from RF to DS, there is an increase in volume, punch, bass – everything.  I basically am trying to ignore that, and consider the content itself – the music.

Both versions of (title track) “Damage” are very, very beautiful, I can’t point to anything about either of them that I dislike, it’s just a beautiful, beautiful song, and OK, possibly, the vocal might be a tiny bit louder in the DS mix; and the guitars may be a tiny bit louder in the RF mix – but I would expect nothing less – the vocalist wants to hear the vocals, the guitarist, wants to hear the guitars.

Out of all of the tracks on the record, the two versions of the song “Damage” are probably “the most alike”, hence, I haven’t really said much about them, or their differences.  They a

As for the poor bass player, well, he just has to hope that the mix will be kind to him – and in this case, both mixes are, when Trey (Gunn) comes in finally near the end.  On the RF disc, “God’s Monkey” is track two, but on the DS Version, it’s the opening track (due to “Damage” being moved from track 1 to track 5 on the DS version).  Now, I don’t know the reasons for this radical change to the running order, except to say, maybe DS is using the real running order, and Fripp used some artistic license in placing the two “quiet” songs as bookends of the concert – and DS wanted to make a point by restoring “Damage” to its rightful place in the centre of the concert – I do not know.

 

TRACK: “GOD’S MONKEY”

RF’s version of “God’s Monkey” starts with Trey’s distinctive bass riff, and the bass is nicely up in the mix, as are both Robert’s (Fripp) and Michael’s (Brook) guitars (not surprising, again – a guitarist is mixing the album!) but you can hear the vocals fine in this mix, maybe just because it’s the “familiar one” but I really like the way this is mixed, the vocal is up, the bass is up, the drums are good, and the guitars are powerful or quiet as required…it’s very well balanced.

Even Trey’s harmony vocal on the chorus, is very clear and concise, and having that vocal harmony reproduced live, is very helpful to the overall feel of the song, which ends in clouds of harmonizer / soundscape loop guitars from Robert, and a piercing, beautiful solo as well, with Sylvian and Brook supporting him beautifully – Trey is simply a rock on the bass at this point, as RF shreds his way up the octave doubler – fantastic speed and clarity, an awesome solo – then back to that great chorus, replete with Trey’s lovely harmony – you can’t go wrong with this mix, and Fripp is way up front during the final solo – but not annoyingly so – it’s just right.

Then, we have the DS mix – with all trace of the audience removed at the start – unlike RF’s mix, which starts with audience reaction to Damage still going on.  So it sounds almost like a studio track, because of the removal of the crowd sounds – in the intro, the guitars seem quite loud, and there is some nice stereo Fripp, too.  The vocal is clean, clear, and not any louder than in RF’s version – in fact, the balance between instruments is not terrifically different, I would say that possibly, you can hear the Sylvian and Brook guitar parts a little bit better in this mix, but other than that, they both give a satisfying reading of the awesome triple guitar attack of Sylvian / Brook / Fripp – I was lucky enough to catch their performance at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California, in the early 1990s, so I got to see and hear first hand, what a powerful triple-guitar-entity they could be.

When you add Trey into that mix, you really almost end up with Trey representing the fourth guitarist, as a lot of Stick or Warr guitar does involve multiple tapped parts that are not necessarily all in the “bass” range – so sometimes, it’s a FOUR guitar attack.  The main guitar interlude sounds fantastic, Fripp’s ambient loops sound great, it’s really not that different from the RF version, except for the strange, slightly sterile EQ that makes this undeniably live track, sound a little bit more like it was created in a studio – which it absolutely wasn’t, but just the act of removing the crowd sounds from the track’s start, makes a huge difference in perception.

The final guitar solo, is mixed in a similar way to RF’s – Fripp is definitely featured, but the helper guitars from Sylvian and Brook are a bit louder than they are in the RF mix, or so it seems, but again, it’s just, in both cases, coming up with a sound balance and a “sound” for each track as they hear it, as an engineer, it’s surprising, I would have thought that these mixes might be radically different, and there are some audible differences, I think EQ and other treatments may have been used by either or both parties, to “improve” the sounds of any of the instruments, and there are some sonic tonal differences that are hard to pin down, even with an A/B test.

TRACK: “BRIGHTNESS FALLS”

“Brightness Falls” is our next victim on the table, in our dissection of these two disparate mixes of one of the best live albums of all time, “Damage” by Sylvian-Fripp – certainly one of the very best collaborations that Robert ever involved himself in.

I loved “The First Day” (“Sylvian-Fripp’s studio debut album) when it came out, it was amazing to hear Fripp’s guitar and compositional skills behind the ever soulful vocals of Sylvian, it just sounded great – that is, until “Damage” appeared a year later.  It blew me away; on “Damage”, the songs from “The First Day”, were already transmutated from iron into gold, already transformed And wonderfully mutated into amazing live musical experiences by this remarkable band – there’s never been another band quite like this one – a wonderful compilation of individual musical characters, who’s sum was much greater than the parts, always. The live versions by far transcend “The First Day” as a whole, “Damage” is quite simply light-years ahead in terms of song development.

It’s almost as if “The First Day” was a test pressing, a musical sketchbook to sketch out the songs in a basic, crude form, but then, in rehearsals and in performance, on the tour,mine songs blossomed and grew legs, arms, feet, tentacles,and became immortal versions of those primitive sketches.  I still to this day, struggle to listen to “The First Day”, if I should, it would be immediately followed by “Damage” to set the record straight. “Damage” shows the definitive versions of all of these songs, which just happens to make “The First Day” fade away into nothingness…

 

Along with revitalised tracks from “The First Day”, played with explosive excitement, there are also tracks from both Sylvian’s and Fripp’s back catalogues, including some where both musicians played on a track together – such as the tracks taken from “Gone To Earth”.

The RF mix has a lovely, lovely ambient outro, “Brightness Falls” live was incredible, with Robert building up an amazing live loop, which made the track more and more ambient as it went along, with the band keeping time beautifully with a lovely slide guitar part from Michael, and a constant and steady riff from DS himself.  The song fades into just Frippertronics, or rather, a soundscape, and gradually disappears – until it suddenly transforms into a track originally on the “Rain Tree Crow” album, “Every Colour You Are”.

But we still have the DS mix of “Brightness Falls” to contend with, this time, I would say, all four guitars have been EQ’d or treated, and the lack of crowd sounds again, gives a sterile and studio-like sound that is both brilliant, but slightly disturbing – it’s almost as if there is too much detail revealed, I would say in the case of this song, DS’s mix is definitely a bit “clearer”, the definition between the three guitars and bass, is stunning, really, it sounds great – and when Robert takes a short solo, it’s just amazing – it sounds fantastic – panning madly across the stereo field – and then, back to the quiet, four guitars in perfect harmony mix level – as the vocalist works through the chorus again.

I think in almost every song here, that maybe, the vocals are a little louder, a little clearer, on the DS mixes, whereas on the RF mix, there may be some murky moments, and sometimes, the balance between the 3 guitars and bass, is not as clean and definite as it is in DS’s mix, but – to Fripp’s credit, DS had both, better, newer equipment, and – more time, probably – to tinker with the album – and in the case of “Brightness Falls” that tinkering has truly paid off – I am hearing things leading up to the middle section, that I have never heard properly on the RF version – the found voices that David was triggering from his synth, are much more audible here – really clear and nice.

The long outro with Soundscape, is just as beautiful as in the Fripp version, or maybe even a little nicer, because you can hear the samples a little better on the way out.  It’s such a lovely, long fade down, you can’t really go wrong, it just sounds great in BOTH mixes – no clear winner here, although the DS does seem a bit clearer in terms of the guitars to bass balance – it’s clean.  But RF’s mix is no slouch, either – Fripp’s mixes are as they always are, accurate, precise, and, with Fripp pretty far up in the mix ;-).

TRACK: “EVERY COLOUR YOU ARE”

So we now get to “Every Colour You Are” from the “Rain Tree Crow” – which was, of course, an unofficial “Japan” reunion – they (all of the members of Japan) all play on the record, but, they didn’t want to call it “Japan” – so, because this was a new band making a new record, they became “Rain Tree Crow” for this one album.  It spawned a number of great new David Sylvian songs, and it’s great to hear the S/F band interpreting them on the live “Damage” album – now available in two delicious flavours.

Some slightly wonky delay slide guitar from Michael is mixed down a bit to try and distract attention from it, but he soon gets things together, and then that same slide guitar becomes a crucial component of the song – and there is then, that amazing drum roll from heaven, when Pat Mastelotto makes his presence known suddenly – that no one expects – right there in the middle of that beautiful solo – and then, the song settles back down to the two chord motif, and that amazing verse about the family man, who puts a torch to his house and warms his hands by the fire…remarkable.

I haven’t spoken much yet about the contribution of drummer Pat Mastelotto, because it’s just one of those things that you sort of take for granted, and maybe that’s the easiest thing to say – that he is solid, reliable, spot on, but still capable of lots of percussive surprises. He’s the perfect drummer for this sadly short-lived monster of a band, unobtrusive when he should be, powerful, precise and utterly, utterly focused on the beat, and on the song…and doing what is appropriate every single time.

I think Sylvian’s voice is equally compelling in both mixes, and despite some differing EQ’s and treatments on both records, it’s consistent and strong throughout, on both mixes.  On RF’s, it’s mixed up well, along with the solo guitars, which are just beautiful – Fripp plays a blinder of a clean solo up to the insanely cool ending – I love that ending !  Dissonance shown as beauty…only Fripp can pull that off successfully (courtesy of that amazing, high-pitched, 2 octaves up reverse guitar) – and he does, indeed, pull it off, with the remarkable ending of this track.

This time, the DS mix does contain audience sound, but it’s the sound from the ending of “Brightness Falls” which abruptly ends, “Every Colour You Are” begins, again, with it’s odd EQ sort of studio-sound, which is then confused by an eruption of spontaneous crowd noise when they recognise what song it is – a lovely, very real moment, and both mixes include it – it’s a nice moment, and it works within the context of the song, because this song has a lot of space in it.

TRACK: “JEAN THE BIRDMAN” (DAVID SYLVIAN MIX ONLY)

Now, we have arrived at the point where the discs differ, in this case, RF Mix does not contain the next track, which DS mix does – the live version of “Jean The Birdman” – I can understand why Sylvian wanted this track, it was the single, and I think he wanted it to do better than it did (there was a single release of it) and to be fair, it’s actually really, really beautifully done, with sparkling guitars throughout, including really beautiful reverse guitar solos from Fripp – a great live version of a much-underrated song.  Unfortunately, I can only comment on the DS version, according to Wikipedia, “Jean The Birdman” “replaced” “Darshan” from the earlier Fripp mix – but no reason is given.

In a way, it’s a bonus, because now, in a way, we get two unique live tracks – if you only had one of these discs, you would only have one of those two songs, so, it’s worthwhile having both mixes – if just to get “Jean The Birdman” live, if nothing else – it’s very, very well done.

TRACK:  “FIREPOWER”

Now we are back in comparison land, and it’s “Firepower”, another track that started life on “The First Day”, but is utterly re-vitalised, featuring a killer, exciting, vocal; fantastic drum rolls popping from Mastelotto’s snare; Trey’s bass is supercharging the rhythm section, while the Sylvian / Brook / Fripp “Axis of Guitar Power”, continue to dominate, Fripp playing another blinder of octave up distorted guitar solo, followed by an incredible, dissonant solo with some very odd goings-on, samples from David’s keyboards, a lot of fabulous detail in the background – with Fripp’s guitar definitely in the foreground!

A snappy ending – that isn’t an ending; the song then starts over, with a Fripp Soundscape, Trey’s beautiful bass riff, and a nice, extended outro that is really, really lovely – just a great mood, Pat is steady, Fripp’s soundscape is being built brick by brick, Michael makes strange guitar sounds periodically, and David has his many samples – odd to watch him, in concert, holding down one key at a time, to trigger samples – but, that’s how it works.  More ON FIRE guitar from Mr. Fripp, really beautiful Digitech Whammy II high pitched guitar work – this was also, for many years – my pitch pedal of choice, it’s not perfect, but, if you work at it, you can make it sound quite good.

The DS mix of “Firepower” – while perhaps, a slightly thinner sound, it comes blasting in, guitars a bit more up front, Fripp razor sharp guitar sounding even more razor sharp, the fabulous guitar solo, the dissonant section that follows it, sounding great – a bit cleaner mix maybe, and again, Fripp’s awesome high-pitched guitar melodies just buzz through the atmosphere – and at the end of the solo, a part that I don’t remember being on the RF version, just before the  famous “false ending” (at 2:58) – a great riff (at 2:40 to 2:44) that brings the track down to its outro just beautifully – a very heavy and very precise riff, bringing perfect closure to both an amazing Fripp guitar solo, but also, an amazing guitar trio – especially the dissonant part of it – and it seems like the main body of the song is ending, but, instead, after 3 minutes of “song with guitar solos” we now move purely into the instrumental realm – “guitar, guitars, and more guitar!” – for another four minutes; with a lazy, beautiful rhythm from Trey and Pat, over which Fripp gets to stretch out once again with a very long, very lovely solo.

The long outro after that false ending, with Fripp’s beautiful sustained solo, could not fail to sound great no matter who mixed it when, and it sounds just as wonderful in the new DS mix as it does on the “old” RF mix – both are great renderings, they really are – and, a great performance of the song, too, from the whole band – that certainly helps :-).

And during that outro, be sure to check out what Pat gets up to, he reminds us, gently, of the power and majesty that he can inject into the proceedings at any time – and he doesn’t do so often, he is very careful never to overplay – always, subtle appropriate drumming – which he does so well – so when he does cut loose for a moment, here and there, it’s even more impressive than it might normally be – so, restraint much of the time, but, bursts of incredible drumming, with a rhythmic musicality that only Mastelotto can provide – he is unique, and I love his drumming style.

TRACK: “GONE TO EARTH”

Next comes a somewhat oddball song, “Gone To Earth”, which must take incredible concentration to sing, it has the oddest melody; and the oddest guitar parts, I hear it start and all I can think is, “what a weird, difficult, odd yet wonderful song!” but it has that beautiful vocal refrain, and the found voices over Fripp harmonics – wow, that’s just so beautiful…an oddity, yes, but I am so glad they dug it up, the title track of one of David’s most famous albums, and it’s mostly famous for its roll call of amazing guitar guest stars, Bill Nelson, Robert Fripp (on the same album – I mean, wow!) and Fripp is on a decent number of the tracks on the album – so he is able to reprise his parts as well, with better guitar technique, and more experience and technique of his own.

The DS mix of “Gone To Earth” differs a bit, the vocal is definitely higher in the mix, with Robert’s unique guitar intro comes flying in, quite a bit louder than on the RF mix, his distorted stereo lead guitars clearly to the fore in the very beginning of the track.  The found voice samples are also a bit higher in the mix, which is great, I think in this case, despite my usual complaint about slightly weird EQ in the beginning of the songs, this may be superior to the RF version in some ways – although I love both versions.  Sylvian’s vocal is particularly good on this track, and I don’t know how he gets his pitch “live”, but he does a beautiful job of performing this often-overlooked mini-ambient masterpiece from “Gone To Earth”.

TRACK: “20TH CENTURY DREAMING”

Now, we come to the fabulous, riffalicious “20th Century Dreaming”, one of my favourite tracks, originally from “The First Day” – as David sings – “social, economical, spiritual – I’m moving to the House of Love…” and he sounds very convincing.  Fripp’s mix is very clear, bass and drums throbbing in the centre of the mix, while the three-guitar attack is blazing away in glorious, confusing stereo in the background.  There seem to be three rhythm guitar parts during the verses – and then of course, Robert begins his ominous, low-pitched solo, and it suddenly moves into double time, razor-sharp, biting, beautiful, and intense in that way that only Fripp can be intense – one of his best solos, and in this live rendition, it rivals anything he ever played under the name “King Crimson” – I was so excited by this band, that when I saw them, I walked around for months afterwards saying that Sylvian-Fripp were very nearly as good, or possibly, better than King Crimson (I know – a moment of madness) – but, there is some merit to that opinion.

A fantastical Frippertronics soundscape underpins a long, ambient “non-solo”, with quiet vocals, quiet guitars, quiet bass and drums, the whole band sinks down, but, still playing with intensity, which then, once the vocals pause – builds in intensity again – “dreaming….dreaming lying down”… and Pat starts in with the most constant snare drum you ever heard, until suddenly, all hell breaks loose as David is moving, moving, moving to the House of Love – and Fripp and co are literally propelling him there – with some of the most amazing music I have ever heard.  This song is so difficult to describe with mere words, the ambient parts, the soundscape is so incredibly beautiful, and Fripp soloing away, even when the drums and bass have silenced themselves, so it’s Fripp playing lead guitar, and reverse guitar, two octaves up, along with his soundscape…and suddenly, silence.

The David Sylvian mix of “20th Century Dreaming” again, has a different guitar sound, the stereo image of the guitars differs from the RF mix, which does make them feel fuller – not sure what adjustments were made, but, Sylvian’s mix does sound “different” – but it’s never “bad different” – it’s always “good different”.  This song is a very, very long, very detailed piece of music, with a lot of elements to it, and capturing those elements, and mixing them well, was certainly a challenge, moreso than some of the shorter, more straightforward songs.

The Axis Of Guitar Power, that triple-threat of electric guitars, with two masters and one very capable rhythm keeper, young David Sylvian himself, it’s just the most astonishing sound you could imagine; Fripp, ominous, capable of blinding speed, and amazing displays of speed and musical accuracy, while Michael Brook provides anything from second rhythm guitar, on up to lead guitars, sounds, infinite guitar, ambient guitar, and just plain strange guitar, which compliments David’s very straight parts, and Robert’s intense solos, but, of course, there are really a couple more guitarists here, in the form of “loopers” – so Robert has his Soundscapes, which are used a lot on the album, and also, here in live performance, they are a critical ingredient to the success of the music played on “Damage” – it would NOT be the same without them.

So really, you have a quartet of guitarists, one of them, a beautiful, musically complex Soundscape loop, played over by our three heroes.  “20th Century Dreaming” gives all three of them a workout, and Sylvian’s vocal is really beautiful here, the guitars and Soundscapes flying around in stereo around his head…a miraculous mass of music that should be overcrowded, but instead, just sounds perfect – in either mix, I love them both, no contest, this is such a good track, that you could just about NOT mix it and it would probably STILL sound amazing.  A lot of work has gone into both mixes, I can tell, and it’s paid off, because there IS a lot of great guitar detail to bring out, and Fripp’s performance on here is just stunningly good – one of those where you shake your head and think “how on earth does he do that?

TRACK: “WAVE”

Now we return to the “Gone To Earth” album, for one of its loveliest songs, “Wave”, which features what can only be described as an “Heroes”-like, long sustained guitar riff, which makes repeated appearances, alongside various other guitar solos using various guitar sounds, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Fripp use so many different sounds live, in one song – he is changing his sound mid solo, even – but it sounds great.  The Fripp mix is excellent, the lead guitarist is again featured, but, never overpowering the singer, it’s great to witness that in both mixes, Fripp never drowns out Sylvian’s vocal, and Sylvian never drowns out Fripp’s guitar – so there is obviously, mutual respect for the musicianship of each other there.

This is almost straightforward as a song, when compared to some of the very complex songs preceding it – with a few long verses, followed by Fripp’s “two different voices” solo, it begins with a strange harmonizer patch, then switches back to the trademark distorted, high-pitched, sustained guitar sound – a beautiful solo, and then back to David’s impassioned vocal, I am always surprised by “Wave” – “I’ll never let you down” – is followed by the most astonishing, “St. Elmo’s Fire” style Fripp “spinning guitar” at speed, and during the last few solos, Robert is absolutely scorching, wiping the floor with his guitar, I love this solo more than almost any other on the record – it’s just sublime – and, it takes us right to the end of the song.

Moving now to the DS mix, the drums in the beginning, sound completely different, and, it sounds almost as if vibrato has been added to the guitars in the intro.  Fripp’s guitar, volume and tone, seems identical to the earlier RF mix, but boy, those drums sure sound odd in the beginning!  In Fripp’s mix, they are mixed down to almost nothing, and their volume only comes up when the guitars start, in Sylvian’s mix, he has cranked the four bars of solo drums intro, up so far that it sounds like a different song at the start!  Personally, I like the fact that I can now hear what Pat played in the beginning of the song, and I am not sure why RF would have turned it down so far !

David’s mix otherwise, like Robert’s before it, is true to the spirit of the original song as it was on “Gone To Earth” – in fact, all of the songs taken from “Rain Tree Crow” or “Gone To Earth” have all been faithful reproductions of the original studio works, with of course, better and more interesting vocals and guitars – particularly, Robert Fripp excels in the live environment, so what sounded good on “The First Day” – sounds GREAT on “Damage”; and at the same time, what sounded good on “Gone To Earth” sounds GREAT on “Damage”…superlative improvements plus live guitaring.

So in the case of songs from “The First Day” – there are changes, there are improvements, the songs are MUCH better across the board, on “Damage”, whereas, the songs from “Rain Tree Crow” and “Gone To Earth” are much more faithful renditions, sounding pretty much exactly like the originals…but better.

BRIEF INTERLUDE – (OUT OF SCOPE):

“Exposure”, which they also played at live shows, also sounded much like it did on Robert’s breakthrough album “Exposure” – except with David Sylvian singing the song instead of Terri Roche.  Or, Peter Gabriel, as the version of “Exposure” on “Peter Gabriel 2” has.  I loved hearing Sylvian sing that, and play the “E”, “X”, etc. samples from his keyboard, while Fripp reprised his loops and guitar – it’s such a shame that no take of “Exposure” was deemed good enough to put onto the “Damage” album – a real loss, as for me, at the live show I saw in Los Angeles, it was a huge surprise, and, a real highlight.

Note: there are bootleg recordings of Sylvian-Fripp concerts that DO include “Expoaure” the song, unfortunately since that track does not appear on either of these official releases of “Damage” that we are comparing here, it is outside the scope of this discussion.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>Return to album comparison>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

TRACK: “RIVERMAN”

So from “Wave”, we move to another track from the same album, “Riverman”, beginning with a very strange, ambient section, which then gives way to the song’s lovely, swaying two note bass motif, and wonderful, strange guitars in the background, Michael plays rhythm guitar and slide guitar, while Fripp plays high-pitched notes which become Soundscapes; Trey comes in with a lovely vocal harmony on the chorus, an underrated singer, I think he harmonises beautifully with Sylvian, and that is no mean feat, as David’s voice is utterly unique, and probably not easy to sing along with!

After the first verse and chorus, Fripp takes a very intense, heavy solo, that seems almost too heavy for such an otherwise quite gentle song, “run with me, holy man…” quite dissonant, a beautiful solo – then back to normal music – it works beautifully, it’s dead serious, quick, intense – and then, back to beautiful, super-high pitched notes being dropped into a loop.  And then comes another short guitar solo, distorted, low pitched, with reverse elements, sounding just right – and again, back to the Soundscapes from heaven…drift away on clouds of ambient guitar.

This is the “slow moment” in the concert, or one of the “slow moments”, most of the band’s songs are uptempo, so it’s nice to have something that’s at a lower bpm, so we can hear this group of musician’s playing at something less than the speed of light, on a few tracks.  Fripp is just great on this track, filling in the areas between the verses with powerful guitar solos, and then falling back into those atmospheric sounds, the wonderful high pitch notes that appear and then group together in a loop, then fade, then return…really beautiful guitar work, and, loops at the same time – an immaculate process, and Fripp really knows how to work these live-built soundscapes into a piece of music.  An almost “Elephant Talk” two-note-Fripp-guitar calls a halt to the proceedings – and “Riverman” is over.

David’s mix, well, the intro is mixed up a bit more as usual, so you can hear the strange elements that the beginning is made up of, a bit better than you can discern them on Robert’s mix. Sylvian’s voice sounds more “present”, as if he has moved closer to us, which could be the result of almost anything in the studio, simply upping the vocal level, changing the stereo field, applying EQ – I don’t know what he does, but he always make his voice sound great, and, I also feel, he makes his three guitarists sound great – he manages to crank up Fripp and Brook, even more than Fripp cranked up Fripp in his mix, and that’s unusual, normally, Fripp’s mix would ALWAYS have the loudest guitars, by default, because he is a guitarist, of course, but not here, I think Sylvian likes these guitars so much, that he really cranks them up so he can enjoy them!

The solos in “Riverman” are brilliant, it’s yet another great rendition from the “Gone To Earth” album – in fact, the tracks presented here from that album, demonstrate that it’s a quality record that stands the test of time – and it really does.  It’s probably my favourite David Sylvian album of all, although I am also very fond of “Brilliant Trees”.

TRACK: “DARSHAN (THE ROAD TO GRACELAND)” (ROBERT FRIPP MIX ONLY)

Then we come to our second anomaly, another song for which there is no comparison, in this case, we only have Fripp’s mix, and, it makes me feel very happy – this is the almost eleven minutes of “Darshan (The Road To Graceland)” and all I could think when I saw David’s running order did not include “Darshan” – I could not believe my eyes, or my ears.  Removing that song…well, to me, it borders on sacrilege; because it represents Sylvian/Fripp at their most bleeding edge, testing the limits of a live groove with flying shards of screaming Fripp “Sailor’s Tale” or “Hendrix” style guitar, Fripp pushes himself, and this song, through an almost exhausting, and terrifically exhaustive, set of long, amazing distorted chords, delivered at speed, sliding up and down the neck with aplomb, bouncing of the fretboard – playing with it, pushing his own boundaries.

The band, is in an amazing groove, that runs pretty much without stopping, for the entire length of the song – giving both Sylvian and Fripp, plenty of time to do their individual singing and soloing.  Sylvian is great on this song, I love his vocals, I love the chant of “Darshan” and “leaving on the road….to Graceland” that recurs many times, whilst Mr. Fripp is almost in a world of his own with his super extended impossible sliding chord exercise / solo.  It is remarkable to hear, and, if you don’t have the Fripp mix, at this point, you should put DOWN your David Sylvian mix, and go order the Fripp version, so you can HEAR THIS SONG.   That’s the best endorsement I can give, it’s absolutely worth it, to buy a whole CD, to get this one song.

At 6:45, there is an incredibly “interplay” solo between Michael Brook and Robert Fripp, that is just sublime, there are so many great moments of guitaring on this record…this particular back and forth is just awesome!  Brilliant guitar work from both Fripp and Brook.

It should also be noted, that if you just have the Fripp mix, you should avail yourself of the Sylvian mix, so you can get a most excellent version of “Jean The Birdman” – which Fripp did not include.

But “Darshan (The Road To Graceland)”  – is an absolutely remarkable song, and this performance, available on the RF Mix of “Damage” only, is a must-have recording if you love the music of Sylvian or Fripp, or both (as in my case).

TRACK: “BLINDING LIGHT OF HEAVEN”

Moving now toward the end of the disc, we come to a personal favourite of mine, at the time of the original Damage coming out, Damage was the only record in Sylvian’s canon that contained this next song, the incredibly beautiful and semi-erotic “Blinding Light Of Heaven” – which to me, is a real highlight on this record, it has some wonderful guitars, although nothing can top the aforementioned “Darshan” – Fripp’s solos in “Darshan” are absolutely off the scale, especially the final one – which you have to hear to believe….

But, back to the “Blinding Light Of Heaven” – it starts with a rocking beat from Pat, and a two note “Hendrix” hammer-on, some sliding guitars, and then, it acquires a great disco (really, I’m not being funny here – it’s really cool!!) rhythm guitar courtesy of David Sylvian, while Robert and Michael play great guitars in the background.  “I’m in the shade, she’s in the blinding light of heaven….” And “…now she stands before me opening the buttons of her coat….I found myself, wrapped in the open arms…of heaven”.

It’s deceiving, it has a funky beat, with an almost-disco guitar, but to me, it’s a strange and wonderful piece of almost prog guitar work, especially when the second verse ends, and Fripp takes his first solo, which includes him TAPPING, and it’s just the most amazing, ripping solo, with those amazing trills, that slide right off the top of his top note on his top string – astonishing solo.

Fripp’s mix is very good, the guitars are getting louder, Sylvian is well audible but not up as much as in the DS mix, and now, here comes the second Fripp solo, this time, using the octave up pedal, and the tapping again, then – song over.

A great, great and sudden ending from Robert, such a concise little wonder of a song – “The Blinding Light of Heaven” indeed.  The Blinding Guitars of Robert, more like.  Now, to David’s version, his mix starts the same way as Robert’s (well it would, wouldn’t it) but again, the stereo on the guitars is better, Sylvian’s guitar has been re-EQ’d a bit, and the sound overall is a bit different, I think Fripp’s guitars may have had some stereo chorus added to brighten them up, otherwise, the vocal is a tiny bit higher, but not criminally so, if anything, Sylvian’s mix features loud, loud guitars, maybe louder than on RF’s mix.

This vocal, this vocal melody, is one of his best, and I think now, finally, you can get a “studio version” of this song, but I haven’t done so yet, because…I love this live version so much, so, very, very much, that I am not sure I want to HEAR any other version.  Great bit in the middle, where the two note Hendrix hammer-on happens again, DS just cranks it up, it’s right before Robert’s even-more-impossible second guitar solo.  And I love that sudden ending – it’s just brilliant!  Great song, great performance – two great mixes, you can’t lose, you really can’t.

TRACK: “THE FIRST DAY”

Finally, we come to “The First Day” which is mainly a vocal piece, with sparse keyboard and soundscape backing, some short, long low distorted notes from Robert, the simple piano melody the perfect backdrop for one of David’s most heartfelt lyrics – the RF mix, was always lovely, and Sylvian’s vocal on this, the way it ties in with Robert’s very careful 2 octave up volume-pedal guitar, David sings “bring out the stars….on the first day” – and after the word “stars”, Fripp plays four descending notes, up high, that parallel the vocal rhythm of “bring out the stars”… and it’s just the perfect moment, it’s why these two work together so well, because ultimately, both of them live to serve the music, to serve the song, and this lovely Sylvian ballad is even nicer than the title track, in my opinion, I love Fripp’s clouds of soundscapes here, and Sylvian’s understated keyboards – both supporting that gorgeous, honeyed voice “on the first day…the first day” – which is a great way to end an album, with a song about the very beginning.

The first verse ends, and a beautiful piano and soundscapes section follows: a frozen moment of pure music, until David’s warm, warm voice comes back to melt the frozen moment, and then – a beautiful, beautiful high register piano sequence, with the most beautiful soundscape in the universe behind it – those little interludes between the verses just knock me out, they are very, very beautiful indeed, and this is truly a “Sylvian-Fripp” song, for me, it really represents the co-operation of two great artists, and Robert’s final, massive, distorted one note ending is simply sublime. And, yes, I have over-used the word “beautiful” in this paragraph, but it was the only way to properly describe it: truly beautiful.

The David Sylvian mix, as always, is a few dbs louder overall, as the entire mix is louder than the original RF mix, and while I suppose that’s “progress”, I am personally a fan of CDs that don’t blast your socks off, this quiet meditative song, isn’t improved by being louder, in fact, my instinct is to turn it down, so it’s closer in level to the RF mix that I just heard, but I refrain, I let it play out at volume, and it’s no less beautiful than Robert’s mix, if truth be told, those musical interludes between the verses are just as beautiful, the vocal is so present, so real, so central to the song, and this beautiful live performance, is yet again captured in this new mix as a beatific moment trapped in time, capturing the spirit with which Robert and David approached this project, as a team brought to life to give this music life, and this song, possibly above all others, is the perfect example of co-operation, bringing only what is necessary for the song to the song.

This mix does sound different, I can hear what must be Michael Brook, making some swooshy sounds with his guitar, that I didn’t really hear in RF’s mix very well, as always, the “guitars” mix in Sylvian’s mix seems to be a bit different, but in a good way.  Since Trey and Pat don’t play on this track, you can hear the two guitars very well indeed, and especially in David’s mix – it sounds really lovely.

One thing I do love about David’s version of “The First Day” that is missing from RF’s version – is the very loud, very long applause that occurs after the end of “The First Day”, a very polite applause, respectful, which for some reason was removed from Fripp’s version – there is just silence after the track ends on RF’s mix.  So it’s nice to hear the audience’s reaction, if for no other reason than to confirm that they saw a similar show to the one I saw, and I get all the confirmation I need from that applause.

CONCLUSIONS AND COMMENTS

For a long, long time, after see Sylvian-Fripp play live, I walked around saying to everyone that seeing Sylvian-Fripp live was almost as good as King Crimson live – blasphemy!! – but in some ways, it really was superior – more human, and, Fripp’s guitar playing is absolutely on form, particularly on the “loud” numbers (i.e. the whole album, basically, since there are really only two or three “quiet” numbers); the quality of the soundscaping is brilliant; and the guitar solos, from the amazing “Darshan (The Road To Graceland)” to “20th Century Dreaming” to “Firepower” to the not-present-on-either-mix “Exposure” – Fripp just excels, and also, the inclusion of earlier Sylvian works, in particular, the sublime “Gone To Earth” album, as well as Fripp’s back catalogue in the form of “Exposure” – that really rounded out the performance – the core of which, was the new material from “The First Day”, but mixing in a Fripp classic like “Exposure” (and, getting to hear David Sylvian SING it !!!), plus a few of the best tracks from “Gone To Earth”, plus, a “Rain Tree Crow” track – what a great set list, totally involving, and featuring an incredibly broad spectrum of truly remarkable music from across the distinguished careers of both David Sylvian and Robert Fripp.

So, it’s odd but interesting to get this David Sylvian “version” of “Damage”, I had no complaints whatsoever about the Fripp original, none, but, in hearing another vision of the album, it’s really fantastic, actually, because David “hears” the vocal mix and the guitars mix, a bit differently to the way Robert “hears” the mix – so you get some fascinating variations of guitars, especially – but in the end, all it means is, I’ve now got two very personal, very brilliant mixes, by two of my favourite musicians of all time, of one of my very favourite live albums EVER.  Normally, you only ever get to hear one version of a live album, so it’s just double the pleasure, if you ask me.

So – a great set of music, if I had to make a complaint, it would be David removing the essential track “Darshan” from his mix – I really don’t get that, unless he was truly unhappy with the track from some strange reason – and for my second and final complaint – the omission from both versions, of the band’s live rendition of Fripp’s “Exposure” – which was a highlight of the live show, at least for me, because I never dreamed in a BILLION TRILLION years that I would see and hear Robert Fripp playing the song “Exposure” – live.  I just – never thought it could happen.

And then, there I was, at the Wiltern Theatre, in Los Angeles, California, 1994, with Bryan Helm of the Dozey Lumps sat beside me, and suddenly, that two note guitar riff started up – and “Exposure” was underway.  So those two “complaints” would be my only criticisms, otherwise, I’d say, if you like this band at all, you should absolutely buy both of these, because for one thing, that’s the best way to get the largest “set” possible, buying both gives you BOTH “Darshan” and “Jean The Birdman” – so it’s well worth the extra expense.

In conclusion, I absolutely enjoyed both mixes enormously, hearing them side by side, I could hear distinct differences, and wonderful similarities, and both Robert and David did an excellent job of representing one of the most amazing concerts I’ve ever seen, on one of those great, unknown live albums, “Damage” for me, is an absolutely brilliant live performance, and now, I can listen to it in two completely excellent mixes – more music, more different viewpoints – a nice addition to the very small “Sylvian-Fripp” section in my CD library – but, very unexpected, I didn’t even KNOW there was a David Sylvian-mixed “Damage” until I noticed it on the Burning Shed website.

A great band, a great performance, and one of my top ten live albums of all time – maybe top five, not sure, as I have never written down my top ten favourite live albums.  Get them both – you won’t be sorry !

 

 

So – bring out the stars…      on the first day

 

on the first day.

“islands” and other extraordinary albums…

I came to the music of King Crimson in a fairly random way, I simply started buying their albums, without any knowledge of their running order, the players on the discs, or anything.

I think the first one I bought was “Red”, which I liked very, very much.  Then, it was “Larks Tongues In Aspic” which had a huge, huge impact on me…and then, I bought “Islands” – which I thought was absolutely terrific, but clearly, cut from a different cloth than my first two acquisitions.  After that, I have no idea what I bought, perhaps “USA” – because it was live – and that was another amazing disc – my gut feeling was, I like everything this band does (but everything this band does, is SO different) – from the remarkable and incredibly jazzy “Lizard” to the heavy prog of “Larks’ Tongues” and on up till the end – the live “USA” disk – strangely, with re-dubbed violins – we never really understood why that was.

Getting these remarkable discs out of order, willy-nilly, was probably as good a way as any to get into the band.  Because it arrived very early in the rotation, “Islands” got played a lot, and I took a huge liking to it’s very honest song craft, with that AMAZING saxophonist (Mel Collins, of course!) as a guitarist, I was allegedly getting into King Crimson because of their remarkable guitarist (Robert Fripp, of course!) but I found myself really liking the bands that played behind Fripp, and not knowing what was going on at all, I could recognise the funky combo that performed on “Islands” as a remarkable working unit – a real band, which was clearly, very, very different to the african percussion and ambient percussion present on “Larks’ Tongues” – I could tell that “Larks’ Tongues” was indeed, by a very different King Crimson than “Islands”.

 

Of course, as time went by, I began to read the history of the band, and began to understand who it was I was listening to, was it the original “King Crimson”; the Crimson of the Big Red Face, that only existed for a mere 11 months, or one of the strange hybrids that followed on “In The Wake of Poseidon” and “Lizard”, finally settling down to a working combo for “Islands”.

And I think like many Crimson fans, I did, in the main, favour the triumvirate of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”, “Starless & Bible Black” and “Red”, all with the well-known four piece of Bruford-Cross-Fripp-Wetton, and for “Lark’s Tongues”, it was slightly unique in that it featured a remarkable percussionist who left the band in the middle of their first tour, Jamie Muir.

Once you understand the chronology, it all starts to make some kind of sense, although it’s quite difficult to assimilate the “first four” or the “first five” if you add in the live, and very rare and “Import Only” “Earthbound” which I had to special order from a specialist shop to get.  By then, I had everything else – so “Earthbound” with it’s absolutely searing sax from Mel Collins on “21st Century Schizoid Man”, was the missing link between “the first four” the “last three”, if you will.

It’s interesting, I think, I always call it “the first ten” because that’s the classic package, of the band that existed roughly ftom 1969 thru 1974 and then called it quits.  But if you think about it, Fripp did an unusual thing – he book-ended the two different eras with a live album.

So you get the “first four”:

In The Court of the Crimson King

In The Wake of Poseidon

Lizard

Islands

followed by, with some difficulty, the live album

Earthbound

 

Then you get the “last three”:

Larks’ Tongues In Aspic

Starless & Bible Black

Red

followed by, with some difficulty, the live album

USA

It’s an odd pattern, to say the least. Four studio albums, one very rare and hard to obtain live album, three more studio albums, followed by a brilliant live album.

 

That’s my classic “first 10” and for many years, that was all we had – the only other live material available was on expensive and shoddy bootlegs, and you were never quite sure about the information on such records, was it really at that venue?  Was it really on that day?

Then, Fripp introduced the beautifully-covered “A Young Person’s Guide To King Crimson” which gave us a lot of answers, it had an amazing booklet in it, where every gig the band ever did was listed by city and date – so that became our Bible, the only reliable, Fripp-produced list of gigs – and it was a really nice compilation, too, containing a rare demo version of one of their earliest tracks, “I Talk To The Wind” that featured Fairport Convention vocalist Judy Dyble on vocals – who was at that time, the girlfriend of one Ian McDonald.

It was a lovely compilation otherwise, a beautiful piece of artwork, but musically it didn’t present anything much that was new – it was definitely a look back.

So I guess that is the eleventh disk of my “original ten” if you will.

Once King Crimson reformed a few times, and Fripp started releasing better-quality bootlegs of the band, the full picture of King Crimson came sharply into focus.  I could revel in any number of remarkable “Islands” bands shows, including one where they actually play the title track, something they very, very rarely ever did.  I could hear this very funky quintet (the firth member being lyricist Peter Sinfield, who operated the VCS3 from the soundboard) and Ian Wallace’s mighty VCS3-altered drum solo became a huge highlight of the tours.

The “Islands” band was literally a group that could play from a whisper to a scream, Mel would put away his saxes, and play the flute, ever so beautifully and gently, and vocalist Boz would sing lovely Crimson ballads from the first four albums with real intent – I love his live performances of these classics such as “Lady of the Dancing Water” or “Cadence and Cascade” – Fripp disavows them, he felt that Boz was not a good singer for the quiet pieces; but that he excelled on the rocking ones – my own opinion was the exact opposite, I’m afraid.  Sure, I love to hear this band roar through “Schizoid Man” or “Pictures Of A City” as much as the next guy, but when they turned down, and Fripp consulted his personal dictionary of tasty jazz guitar chords – Boz could do no wrong, if you ask me.

So after only having “Earthbound” to represent the music of the “Islands” band, for many, many years, it was a huge deal to suddenly be able to either buy CDs of their live shows, and / or downloads – a huge deal, because the limited view of what they were capable of “live” given to us by “Earthbound” could finally be laid to rest, and we learned very quickly that this band was a stomping, kicking beast of a rocker, but it was also capable of incredible, gentle beauty, as found in the two quiet tracks I mention above, along with rarities like the live version of “Islands” itself, which is an incredibly brilliant rendition of a truly beautiful song, and features even better guitar than on the studio version.  Why they removed it from the running order so quickly, I will never understand, because it was so incredibly beautiful.

I would, at a guess, think that it might have been an issue with having just two mellotrons to try and recreate the orchestral mood of the studio track, but I think they do a splendid job, with an improved guitar part, and a great vocal from Boz, too.  Again – RF has said that Boz “did not convince” on the ballads – but I do disagree, I think he had a beautiful voice for both rock and ballads alike, and that his voice was a godsend – he was the perfect lead singer for that band.

In any case, they may have stopped playing “Islands” live after just a few attempts at it, but they did continue to play ballads at almost every show, and some of those recordings are incredibly beautiful – because Fripp carries the tracks with his incredible, concise guitar arrangements, while Mel just plays really beautiful flute solos and the rhythm section plays quietly and accurately – it’s really about Fripp’s guitar and Boz’s vocal (and bass playing too, I should add).

So if you do get a chance to pick up some of the live CDs by this band, I highly recommend that you find ones that include a ballad.

Back in 1978, or whenever it was – out of an entirely random series of purchases, I would buy a new Crimson record each week, I somehow fell in love with “Islands” because, perhaps, it was so, so strange, with the incredibly jet-lagged guitar solo from “Ladies of the Road” to Fripp’s vibrant harmonium playing on the title track.  This album also includes one song that the band never did perform live, because it was an orchestral piece written by Fripp to serve as an instrumental introduction to the final piece on the album, the title track – so what you hear is first, “The Song of the Gulls” which is orchestral/instrumental, followed by the vocal piece “Islands” which, I should add, contains one of Peter Sinfield’s most beautiful lyrics ever – I love all of his lyrics on “the first four” – but I have a special place in my heart for the lyrics to the “Islands” album in general, and the song “Islands” in particular – it’s truly beautiful imagery, and Boz’ gentle, quiet delivery makes the lyrics hit home so hard, just really gently and beautifully sung – there’s no other song quite like it in the Crimson canon.

It is, after all, the end of an era, because Earthbound, while it does have an outrageous version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” on it, is somewhat of a disappointment – it’s not in my top ten concerts by the “Islands” band.

I think it must have been an almost random selection, let’s just pick an “average” show, one of those ones where Mel is really kicking ass – and that’s what they did.

But – there is a lot more depth and beauty to be found, if you explore the world of live shows now available from this band – in particular, I recommend the earliest shows, where they have literally just come from the studio, and the songs much more, resemble the album versions, whilst over time, they began to stray wildly from the original forms, so if you want to experience the truest approximation of a perfect Islands band live show – stick with the earliest shows – the double CD at Brighton springs to mind as a good one, but you really can’t go wrong.

Even “Earthbound” has it’s positive moments.

For me, it was really, really nice to see King Crimson not once, but three times on their most recent tour of Britain and Europe, and to see that thanks no doubt to the ministrations of young Jakko Jakszyk, that Robert has indeed, made his peace with this record that at one point, he didn’t want to think about or look at every again.

So much so, that they now play two tracks from the record live, which is an astonishing and almost impossible feat – I couldn’t believe my own luck, I was not only going to see King Crimson play repertoire from across their career(s) but I was going to hear them play two songs from Islands as well – “Sailor’s Tale” and “The Letters” – and for me, that really felt like full closure – both Ian Wallace and Boz Burell have passed away, but Fripp in this way remembers them – and brings their amazing music to King Crimson fans via the 2015 incarnation of the band.  I think that is absolutely brilliant!  And the other player from the Islands band – is IN the new band, and it’s so, so lovely to hear Robert and Mel playing together again – Mel is an incredibly gifted player, and having him in the band has been absolutely brilliant.

I think that everyone knows and loves “In The Court Of The Crimson King” but then after that, doesn’t really know how to form an opinion of the band that made those next three records – “In The Wake”, “Lizard” and “Island” – each with different singers, different musicians, where only Fripp is the constant.

If we set aside the legendary first incarnation of King Crimson, and look at what happened afterwards – how the band changed in the studio – but that last incarnation, with Boz being taught how to play bass bv rote by Robert – he was originally just their singer – they couldn’t find a bass player – so he became the bass player! – they got it right, and the album they made, in 1971, still stands up today as an odd masterpiece of jazzy, blowing prog like no other.  if you are not familiar with “Islands” – I cannot recommend it more highly – in some ways, it’s my favourite King Crimson album.

It moves between so many moods, the lyrics are outstanding, there are great guitar parts and guitar solos, there are great sax and flute solos – the combination of Robert Fripp and Mel Collins, both of them mellotron-playing soloists – was a very dangerous one, and one that created a remarkable record with an incredible edge – “Islands”.  The record then travels through chaos until you reach the last two tracks on side two, when peace and beauty are restored in an incredible way – a truly gorgeous way.

 

 

 

“Islands hold hands, ‘neath heaven’s seas…..”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the making of an epic prog rock “monsterpiece” – part two

So – the stage is literally set, I’ve at this point, got the majority of seven months’ of work behind me…

My last blog, recounted the first seven months of the project in a fair amount of detail – that was part one – but here in part two, we are looking at the final few days of work – the last four or five days in December, 2015 – that’s our “part two”:

 

The drums and bass have been locked down (except for final level setting, of course) for many months.

The keyboards are all locked down, and the intricate middle section has been completed, encompassing acoustic guitars, birdsong, ipad, and ambient electric guitars (the infamous “Hackett Guitars” – courtesy of the new Eventide H9 multi effects unit – that occur just before the second half of the song re-enters).

All that is left is – more work (on the second half only, after the new “middle section”) with the guitars, a few needing solos, and a few, needing some rhythm guitars.

I decided to use some of the extraordinary sounds from the Eventide H9 multi-effects unit, which only arrived in the final days of work on the song, so using it as my main guitar effects unit, that enabled me to do, for example, the ambient “Hackett Guitars”, as well as some of the rhythm and lead guitar work in the final section during “part two” – so I would characterise “part one” as being the main build of the song, plus, the first part of the guitar overdubs; while “part two” is two things, finishing touches – all done on guitar – and mixing, mixing, and more mixing.

I had originally thought that I would play a series of different guitar solos over the second half of the mix, but things happen…plans change.  And in this case, it was one of those weird accidents that you just can’t deny, that you have to go with – because you hear it, and the sound of it just says to you, you know it in your heart: “you know this is the right thing”.

I sat down to play the first of many solos, which, by my cunning plan, would have filled the end of the main track from the end of the middle section to the end of the song, bit by bit, a short burst of one guitar sound, a short burst of the next, and so on. The first solo, was to be an ebow solo.  So I got a nice sound for the ebow from the H9, and started making takes.

But what happened was something I never expected, as the track kept playing, after the section I was overdubbing – I kept going, I kept playing after the first section went past…and then the next, and then the next…and suddenly, I could hear the very end of the song approaching – so I went for a crazy, major key ascending scale that could not possibly fit at the very end of a really, really LONG ebow solo – and of course, almost as if it had planned that way – it fit just right, ending right alongside the existing “fast-Leslie” organ solo…

I listened back, astonished – because I never meant to play right through, I hadn’t imagined finishing the entire track with one very long, multi-key energy bow guitar solo – but that is exactly what happened.  At first, I thought, well, this creates a problem – what do I do?  How can I play different sections of lead guitar now, with this really nice solo filling up the entire second half of the track?

The answer, of course, was “you no longer need to”.  So instead of doing piecemeal solos, using different guitar sounds, etc. (as I did in the first half, as planned…) the second half now features one long, long ebow solo (which, to be fair, is actually in five sections, edited down from the best three takes – but if I had not told you that, you would not have known – it sounds like one solo – well, it is one solo, just, from the best three takes!) – it was quite a feat of editing, but editing ebow solos is one of the most amazing procedures out there, because – well, because a recorded ebow sounds, looks and acts like a pure sine wave, fading it in and out is never an issue, at a microscopic level (zoomed) or even at a normal level (not zoomed) and “switching” from one solo to another, from one take to another rather, at any point, is almost always very easy, because the notes are usually quite long, and, whether they are long or short, they have distinct silences in between – the perfect space to switch between take 1 and take 3, for example.

The editing task then was not that difficult, but I did spend quite a lot of time on it, as I wanted this final solo to really bring the whole piece together, and once I got used to it – I realised that it was the best idea all along – because it’s the only opportunity, really, for a nice long guitar solo – and there is nothing on earth like a nice long ebow solo – it’s the best! – so…I took that opportunity.  Accidentally “on purpose” 🙂

So while unintentional – that “accident”, of me just carrying on playing that ebow solo, not stopping when I should have – going on and on to the very end of the song – changed the whole planned character of the second half of the song, and gave me a glorious, long and lovely ebow solo to take us out to the final moments of the song.

I did some work with panning towards the end of the piece – I boosted the level of the existing “fast Leslie” organ solo to match the ebow solo better, and I gradually moved it from the centre to one side of the stereo image, while at the same time, in the opposite direction, I gradually moved the ebow solo to the opposite side of the stereo image, so it moves from being a homogeneous centralised pair of instruments at the beginning of the second half, to two distinct instruments, one on either side of you – and I love that slow, slow stereo spread of the two solos – it works for me.  In headphones, it’s very nice indeed.  On speakers, you might not really notice it as much, but it’s an important point – I wanted the solos to end, with them split, one hard left, the other hard right – and that is indeed, what I ended up with.

I think at that point, I breathed a huge, huge sigh of relief – because, except for a very few finishing touches – this long ebow solo meant that the song was “DONE”!!  At long, long last, and just before the year ended, too – it had always been my goal to complete the song in 2015, to allow it to then become, pureambient’s first release in 2016.  So I am happy to report that I did indeed, with just hours to spare, meet that goal.

So – what finishing touches? Well, I added in a few rhythm guitars, where I felt that solos needed some chord-based support, but overall, there is not a lot of rhythm playing in this song – being a prog song, all of the players (i.e., me, lol) love to play solos, they all think that they are master of their own instrument – so you have a whole band full of soloists!

But the lead guitarist (again, that’s Dave Stafford, lead guitar), can be, and did indeed, allow himself to be persuaded that some rhythm guitars (well, more than he had originally done or planned for, anyway!) would not go amiss.  One of those rhythm guitar parts, a simple chord played once and left to ring, for four bars, sounds nothing like a guitar, but rather, some mellifluous dream electric piano from the stars…a beautiful H9-produced sound.

I added some lovely chords in the second half of the piece, using the H9 to get some beautiful new clean sounds (and the modulation section of the H9 is simply the best – better than any effects unit or software I have ever owned – it is the best, for those of us who cannot possibly, ever, afford an “Axe-FXII” – this is just as good or better!) so I am really pleased with the last few guitar contributions – because the H9 makes them sound really, really good!

I also realised that so far, I had not woven any reverse guitar into the fabric of the song, and I love reverse guitar – I’d always meant to do a reverse solo – but I hadn’t done any so far in the song (a huge oversight, surely!) – I mean, come on, this is prog – so in the style of King Crimson circa 1970, I thought of “Prince Rupert’s Lament” (or rather, the “Lizard” suite) I decided I would add some reverse guitars in that style, clean and nice – so – how could I now incorporate it?  Where there is a will, there is a way – I recorded a few different takes of reverse guitar (again, courtesy of the remarkable H9 pedal) and then mixed them into the closing section of the song.

That took some getting used to, in fact, all of the changes to the second half took me some time to acclimate to, because for so long, it had just been, you know, drums, bass, keyboards, mellotron.  No guitars.  No rhythm guitar.  No reverse guitars.  So the second half evolved, and the more I worked on it, the happier I felt – I really felt good about this piece of music, and despite how long it took, and the many, many long hours and long days I had to put in to get it there (the weeks spent on the drums and bass alone ate up the first two months!!!) and there were times when I thought – “I am never going to get to play the guitars on this song….never!” – but, the day finally did come, at the end of November actually, and I really went into it with a happy heart – finally, I am working out guitar parts, to go with the long, long-existing bass, organ and mellotron parts.

Playing guitar along to the finished backing track was an absolute joy, and I could just jam along to almost any of the sections, because I know them so, so well by this point – I could just about have played the guitar parts LIVE really, once I’d rehearsed them.

I did go back, too, and “try again” on some of the toughest solos – I spent one entire day, “seeing if I could do better” – and in almost every case, I found that I could, so I ended up with some very natural sounding, very “live” guitar solos – where previously, in the initial final mixes (I know, that sounds odd, but, it’s the only way to describe it) I had kinda, pieced together some of the more difficult guitar parts.  No more, though – now, they are played live, as are most of the solos – the final ebow being the one exception to that – but, it’s very, very long, and it’s not likely that anyone could play for that long, without some imperfections – so I did have to fix a few touchy moments in the long solo.

Mostly, the guitar parts kinda “wrote themselves”: there were areas where they simply join the bass for a ride-along; and other areas where they do not, but instead, they mesh or interact with the bass – and there are some spectacular bass v. guitar “battles” in the first half of the song that could not have come out better had they been planned (and, they were NOT planned – it just worked out that way – when I added the guitar parts, the bassist was RIGHT THERE, answering me – it was amazing! – the guitar would play a riff, and suddenly, there was the bass, ripping off a super quick “tiny-space”-filling-run, at impossible speed (that’s our bass player, Dave Stafford, again!) – and it sounded like both the guitar and the bass had always been there, that the interaction was totally planned and totally natural…when in fact, it was yet another “happy accident” – but the joy that it brought me the first time I heard it play back – wow! Listen to THAT, was well worth it – the guitars and the basses are totally working together, playing off each other as if it’s a live track!

Sometimes, you are very, very fortunate.  I was really fortunate with the way that the final overdubs, the lead guitars worked with the drums, worked with the bass, worked with the organ, and worked with the mellotron – and in fact, the mellotron came and went with the eeriest perfection – perfect timing every time, arriving right when I needed it.  As if they knew what the guitar parts would be (when I clearly, did not!).

I think then, that the reverse guitars were the last significant thing that was actually played on the track; after that, the last two or three days of December, 2015, were spent on the final mix, which I sorted of re-built from scratch – I’d had a “working mix” the entire time, but rather than just carry that forward and build in the new parts, I decided to create a brand new, fresh mix, which gave me the opportunity for example, to ensure that the bass and the drums, could compete with the masses of guitars, and the intense keyboard and mellotron washes – I wanted to be able to hear everything as clearly as possible (obviously!).

Getting a nice clean mix when there are this many instruments can be tricky, but I just approached each one, first, separately, and then, in relation to the other instruments, until I reached a point where I felt happy with everything.

I also stripped out a lot of “individual” reverbs and other effects that I had quickly thrown on during production, and consolidated them in the output section – I created a full set of additional stereo bus outputs, so that every set of instruments had an overall level control, and, consistent, high quality, reverbs and effects – made at the output stage rather than connected directly to the track.

Certain tracks that were created early on, were just too complex to move to a bus, so I left them alone with their track-specific sounds – in one case, a complex arrangement of Waves GTR and Waves Stereo ADT – used for an extremely strange “guitar” track that slowly, slowly fades in during the first quarter of the song.  That was left alone, along with the bass which was sent out directly without any effects whatsoever – I wanted it to be dead clean.

I didn’t mess with the drums too much, either, I probably would have (I do love adding phase shifters to hi-hat and cymbal hits and similar…), but I didn’t want to add another two months to an already somewhat overly long-production schedule!  So I kept it to some bespoke panned sections (which I really, really like, because they appear so seldom!), and just little touches – the drum track is pretty basic, and the bass is just bass – in this case, the tone of the Scar-bee Rickenbacker is so perfect, I couldn’t see putting any effects whatsoever on it – so – it’s dry and clean!

So really, mixing was quite easy, mainly because I was so, so familiar with all of the component tracks, and with the individual stereo buses for guitars, organ, mellotron, bass, drums – getting relative levels was easy!  I had expected an agony of mixing hell – and the song surprised me – maybe because to some extent, I kept it simple (well, simple when compared to something like “wettonizer” (taken from the newest eternal album, the first of 2016, “progressive rock” by Dave Stafford), I suppose!).

Note: “wettonizer” was originally included on the gone native CD (which is still available) and download, but is now also available on the brand new 2016 eternal album collection “progressive rock” – alongside the brand new track “the complete unknown”.  This is comprised of a set of prog songs taken from gone native, along with  “the complete unknown”.

The very last part of the song, after that energy bow climbs up to the top of that unlikely major scale, and then SLAMS down into reverb with an odd but lovely sound of wonderful completion, the song then almost comes to a halt, the keyboards are pretty much all that is playing, until suddenly, the Rickenbacker bass and the Hammond organ, join the drums for their final flourish – and then, a long, pure bass note is held, to remind us I think, of purity, of the beauty of just one note – and then, the drummer plays a few bars of precision military snare roll, and the long bass note and the snare drum, disappear forever into the complete unknown…the song is over.

I really, really enjoyed myself on this project, my only regret is that by becoming so involved in it, I was really unable to work on much of anything else, so other areas of my music suffered.  But that will change in 2016, I have an enormous amount of new music in the planning stages, including still more eternal albums on Bandcamp, and I hope to present more musical material, both old and new, in various formats, including hopefully, a return to video as well as audio only work.

We shall see!  But in the meantime, if you fancy a bit of old-style progressive rock, this could be the 17 minute long song for you – “the complete unknown”.  Give it a listen – it will take you right back to 1974…

 

Peace, Love and Groovy Mellotrons,

 

 

dave

pureambient hq

january 17th, 2016