the new bryan helm / dave stafford album

moving on now back to the world of audio, I am listening this morning, as has been my tendency of late, to the rough mixes of the entire bryan helm / dave stafford album – as yet untitled – and I am very, very excited about this music, it’s such a far, far cry from anything bryan and I have worked on before, and it touches on so many different musical moods – one moment, it’s serene, intensely beautiful, floating triumphantly across the speakers or headphones, the next, it’s dark, challenging, frightening, moody – strange sounds appear briefly, then fade away, some musical events seem looped, others, random – but over it’s 13 different sections, an amazing set of different sound sculptures drift in and out of your consciousness, and you are almost unaware of time passing – the songs don’t change abruptly, they morph and glide and drift into each other, and then out again… I am very, very encouraged by how good the rough mixes sound, and I believe that when this album is fully mixed, that it will be one of the best / most ambient works that I, or bryan, have ever been involved in.


I am still trying to get to the point where I can sit down and say to myself “right, let’s mix this” – because each time I sit, as I am this morning, and listen to the rough mixes – I just get overwhelmed, how can I make THIS….sound better? I realise, that of course, by properly setting levels, balancing, normalising, equalising and so on, that I will indeed be able to make the sounds clearer, and more well defined, but the problem is not getting swept away – every time I listen to this record, I just end up…listening to it, not working on it! which I think is a fantastic thing, even in it’s raw, unmixed state, it has enormous capacity to engage the listener – in this case, me. so while I am meaning to analyse it mentally, to think about what it “needs” in terms of mixing and arranging – so, I set out to analyse…and I end up just listening!


I think that is a good thing, a good sign, and it bodes well because I often find that if I really like a record, then other people do too…and this is an eminently likable record. curiously, too, I did not “loop” once during this record – I just played the mellotron live, and always a full track at a time – nothing piecemeal. so this is so atypical of dave stafford: no ebows, no guitars, no guitar synth, and no loops – what is the world coming to? I think sometimes it’s a really good idea to break with tradition, to NOT follow a winning formula – for example, when I first began work on this record, I tried out playing ebow guitar along with some of bryan’s sketches. and it just sounded completely…wrong.


so I went away for a few days, came back, and it hit me – use the mellotron. because I’d recently completed the very successful “sky full of stars” album, and the m-tron pro mellotron had served me very well there, with it’s very beautiful and compelling voicings – so why not try it in the collaborative environment on the record with bryan? and that proved to be it – from that moment forward, the sessions were a dream – everything worked, and there was no more awkwardness as there had been when I tried to follow the formula of our previous work together – ebow and synth – but, curiously, the moment I broke that tradition – everything fell into place musically and sonically.


unfortunately though, it is going to have to wait in a small queue before it reaches the mixing desk, this is the price I pay for trying to work on and mix three albums by three different musical entities, at once. but it will be worth the wait – there are some very surprising pieces on this record, some of the more non-ambient pieces are quite “in your face” (for lack of a better term) and they really grab your attention in a spectacular way. and then, after these bursts of furious ambience…peace returns, another beautiful sinuous synthesizer or mellotron drifts into range, and once again, you float gently on waves and waves of beautiful sound…


so I guess you could say that the new helm / stafford album is coming along nicely!

the ongoing work of music

it’s been a very busy weekend indeed !

reviewing the rough mixes of the new helm / stafford album, parts 9 through 13, I am very, very encouraged – more good raw musical material for the upcoming mix sessions. I am particularly pleased with the final two tracks, parts 12 and 13: part 12 is a dark, powerful, loud, active loop not normally associated with the ambient music of bryan helm or dave stafford, while part 13 achieves a gentleness and beautiful ambience that all ambient looping musicians hope for but rarely achieve.

the speed with which I created the new parts also pleased me greatly, working with the m-tron pro mellotron software is such a joy, and despite using it for over two years now, every time I fire it up, I find new voices that I have never heard or used before. plus, of course, you can alter, customise and save voices too, that makes it incredibly flexible.  in this case, however, I pretty much just used the sounds out of the box, and instead of altering the voices, used reverb, modulation or resonance filters in the breeze reverb to breathe additional musical mystique into the parts that I recorded.

on part 12, bryan’s basic track is  very powerful, very dense, so I needed something with a very different timbre so as to create a part distinguishable from his.  one of the artist patches on the m-tron pro fit the bill perfectly: “ghostly fx”, which had a thick, powerful white noise wind-whisper coupled with strange ocean and feedback-like sounds – perfect to overdub bryan’s very intense track.  the resulting rough mix is most encouraging.  I applied a strange customised resonance filter using the breeze reverb, which took my very unconventional take of “ghostly fx” and moved it into a bizarre sonic space – truly odd but very musically stimulating.

for part 13, a completely different approach, bryan’s part being supremely calm, and very, very ambient – I wanted something simple, that would not overstep the mark or intrude too much on the fragile beauty of bryan’s loop. normally, I have shied away from using many or any voices that contain human voices (with some notable exceptions on “sky full of stars” to be sure) but in this case, I happened across another voice in the artists’ banks called “custron” which was perfect, and I manually played two different short melodies over the piece – and it was done, in one take as part 12 had also been done. a large hall reverb from the breeze completed the picture, and the piece – and the album’s main work – was complete.

so the very rough mixes of the five final parts are all very encouraging indeed, and I look forward to sitting down and really starting to properly process, adjust, tweak, amend, embellish and final mix these 13 amazing pieces of music that have very nearly created themselves.

I think the original choice, many months ago, to play only the mellotron (rather than repeat the obvious, my previous role in bindlestiff of guitarist or ebow guitarist – that just did not seem right) was the key – and since that decision, almost every session has gone like a dream – the parts just unfolding each time until the final session yesterday.

now if only we had a name for this band – we have agreed that this is not, could not possibly be, bindlestiff – so the identity of this new group remains to be seen.  the music itself may reveal the name over the coming weeks during the mixing and arranging process – I am certain it will appear eventually.