Category Archives: composition

Things (demo)

New music! You can hear it here.

I’ve had the idea of ‘looped acoustic guitars’ going around my head for a few weeks now. Finally, I have had time today to grab my scribbled notes & make a basic demo. This way, I not only get to start fleshing out my draft, but it makes me less likely to forget about it altogether!

Still footage from the demo video of ‘Things’

When finished, this piece will be part of a new original music project I am working on. As it happens, I am still recruiting musicians for this project. If you’re interested, based in the North East of England and NOT a guitar player, drop me a message via this site or answer my Gumtree advert or my advert on Join My Band.

The main idea centres around two acoustic guitars using natural harmonics (where you touch a string over a deer without pressing down to create a bell-like chime). This guitars, panned hard left & right respectively, are then overlaid not only with additional instrumentation, but unexpected harmonic colours.

The basic harmony of the guitar ‘loops’ on their own is very predominantly E minor. I intend to add a few variants of this to the finished piece, but the draft I uploaded today features an upbeat, uplifting section base around the chords of G major & C major. Laid over the looping guitars, this gives a feel of extended chords such as G6, Gmaj9, Cmaj11 and others. For this reason, the bass, drums & keys you hear on this demo are kept relatively simple as a result. Following in my previous minimalist drafts, I’ve true not to throw too much in – why over complicate something which doesn’t need it?

Still footage from the demo video of ‘Things’

You can hear my first draft for ‘Things’ (with my pretty basic video of things around my house) online now via my Vimeo page. As always, comments are more than welcome – I’d really love to hear what you think. I’d also like to get the word out so please feel free to share, like, tweet & reblog to your heart’s content!  

Thanks guys! More coming very soon xx

Three things we can learn from George Martin

Sir George Martin, most famous for acting as the producer of all but one of The Beatles’ albums, passed away yesterday, aged 90.

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966

Already, reports and obituaries have been published, quoting Martin and highlighting his amazing achievements with and without The Beatles. Though Martin was a producer for over a decade before meeting them, it is undoubtedly his work with this music-changing band, the very Zeitgeist  of musical development in the nineteen-sixties and beyond, for which he will be best remembered and discussed for years to come.

There’s been plenty of debate on whether or not The Beatles succeeded artistically because of suggestions made by Martin, or if he was simply very effective in channelling their natural talent. In reality, it was probably a mix of the two. That in itself is not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Though Martin now sadly has passed away, we can still learn something valuable from the work he left behind. Here are my three things which we can learn from the life and career of George Martin:

Have an open mind

I’ve mentioned this in several previous posts, but an open mind and a willing pair of ears is without a shadow of a doubt the most important tool for any artist. This is especially true for musicians and producers, and a sentiment to which Martin himself prescribed more than once, including in his own books.

It is well established in rock history canon that The Beatles were been turned down by several record companies prior to being signed by Martin to EMI. Think about this for a moment: every almost ‘industry expert’ had refused to take on another guitar band, believing them to be going out of fashion. Fair enough, it is called the music business for a reason. Money has to be made and trends will always be followed. This is as true today as it was in the nineteen fifties and sixties. However, ‘following the money’ is a great way to be a follower, but you are default already a follower from the start, and not a leader.

The best leaders, artists, teachers, and indeed the best in any profession listen first. In seeing the potential that The Beatles had, Martin was able to continue listening to them throughout their eight years working together making hit after hit, and classic album after classic album. This is especially noticeable when at the point mid-sixties where the band stopped performing live altogether, becoming a studio band only. The resulting works, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, The Beatles and Abbey Road, are unique in sounding very much of their time, but still fresh and exciting in 2016.

And it wasn’t just Martin doing all of the listening. The Beatles themselves were avid consumers of art and music. In being open to anything interesting, they brought elements of avant-garde, atonalism, looping, sampling and a whole world of musical styles to their music. By opening your ears, and combining the sounds you love, it is entirely possible to produce a new work, which speaks to the future while recognising that which has gone before.

Know your limits, and push them

Looping, you say? Sampling? In the nineteen-sixties?! It is worth noting that the vast majority of The Beatles’ recorded output was recorded on a four-track (or, at very best towards the seventies, eight-track) tape machine. This was state of the art back then, but lacking in the limitless options of the digital recording software in use everywhere. Leaving aside all the other technological innovations and improvisations Martin would conjure up to accommodate the visions of The Beatles in their songwriting, there is the question of the sheer number of instruments and sounds on some songs. The solution to squeezing so many different elements onto a four-track recorder? Multi-tracking.

Multi-tracking was first developed by guitarist Les Paul some decades before Martin made such effective use of the technique. Put simply, the process involves recording onto three of the available tracks, then ‘bouncing’ that mix onto the fourth track. The process can be repeated using tracks one and two, then bouncing to the third. Then it can (if needed) be taken even further by mixing tracks three & four onto one of the other tracks, meaning there are now three left to add on more parts (and here is where I start to go cross-eyed myself!).

The biggest issue with this method of recording is the physical degradation of the tape onto which the sound was being copied. By layering track upon track, the overall mix becomes more dense, and done incorrectly, can leave with a muddy sounding, uninspiring record. George Martin, however, seems to have been perfectly capable of getting clean, crisp recordings of individual mixes, which hold their brightness as they get ‘bounced’ and mixed into a deeper and more complicated arrangement. Even with Martin’s confident ‘know how’, there was still a limit to how many additions could me made. In these days of endless tracks and almost any possible sound available to laptops worldwide, I personally don’t see the same level of mechanical creativity. Sometimes working with what you have, pushing the limits, is better than having no limits at all…

Have a sense of humour

There’s a famous anecdote – which Martin was often fond of telling – detailing the first time The Beatles first met their producer (retold once more in the Washington Post’s obituary of George Martin today). After Martin had spoke at length about the recording process, he asked the Fab Four is there was anything they didn’t like. The response, from George Harrison, was “Well, I don’t like your tie for a start…”. From there, Martin knew that they would get along famously.

A sense of humour can not only ease any tensions rising in the studio, which can be high-pressure for some acts expected to produce hit after hit. It can also serve to bridge the gap between generations. In that respect, Martin must have impressed the Beatles from the start, having quite an extensive background in comedy and novelty recordings – some of which became unexpected hits – including John Lennon’s comedy heroes, The Goons. In quite a lot of interview footage from the early sixties, The Beatles were set apart from their questioners, an exclusive club with a shared sense of humour and in-jokes which created a barrier to those outside of the group. Martin, I believe, was very much inside their ‘circle of trust’, otherwise they would not have allowed him such authority in the studio. A shared sense of humour must have been a major in-road to gaining the trust of these young Liverpudlians.

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Final Thoughts

As a musician, producer and in some ways, mentor, Martin helped the Fab Four to realise the sounds they heard in their heads. His creative, yet critical thinking fuelled The Beatles’ insatiable appetite for art, and helped their music transcend to heights which otherwise may have remained untouched. Though I have spoken mostly about Martin’s work with the Fab Four, we should be no means overlook all of the other artists he worked with & film scores he wrote/arranged. Without Martin, popular music, and therefore the world we live in today, would be very different indeed…

R.I.P. Sir George Henry Martin (1926-2016).

Alternate guitar tunings and bringing my old acoustic out of retirement

A fairly decent chunk of this evening has been spent cleaning & re-stringing this old girl.

 

My Taylor 314CE. This guitar was my main acoustic for ten years until I retired her almost exactly a year ago. A decade of gigging was starting to show, so this has been my writing and recording acoustic, until now…

 
I’m booked to play a full set of Northumbrian #FolkMusic on solo guitar at the end of this month. A lot of my arrangements of these old tunes are better suited to an alternate tuning. So for ease, this gig requires a second guitar pre-tuned to the DADGAD tuning, and I can’t think of a better choice than the one in these pictures.  

  

 Since setting the guitar up in this way, I’ve found myself writing more draft solo guitar ideas. It looks like the shift to DADGAD might be a more permanent thing, especially if the creative juices continue to flow…

 
Until next time, keep on pluckin’,

 
Tim x

Advice for young musicians

We all know how it is. You want to prove yourself and show the world (and your peers) that you ‘have what it takes’ to work in music; Self assured and not in need of any advice of pointers from anyone else. How would they know your ‘story’ anyway? How could someone advise you when your style, your sound, your ‘voice’, is unique to you.

True, confidence can be a great asset to our chosen profession. Even in an industry where we work together because it’s the fundamental nature of how music operates, it can get lonely out there sometimes. But a false confidence, or bluff, will leave you alienated and likely to make the same sorts of mistakes thousands of musicians have made before you.

So swallow your pride, take a seat, and listen to a few words of wisdom from those who have made music work – and pay – for themselves.


Keybaord player and composer Ben Folds wrote some advice a few years ago on his Facebook page. Boiled down to the essentials, I found three things especially true:

    Work on finding your own voice
    However much you try, you will always be you. Stop trying to be anyone else and accept this fact. Once you have come to terms with this, work on being the best ‘you’ that you can be.

    Learn your technique, then forget it
    learn as much as you can, as widely as you can. Read about it & practise it. Then follow the advice of the previous point and learn to present these techniques in your own, unique way.

    Before you can express yourself in words, you first have to learn the language; it’s vocabulary & grammar. But think of how many books & poems were all the more interesting for their yearning up of the rules? The same applies to music first. However, to reach this point, you need to know which rules you are breaking…

    Don’t they to force people into liking you or your music
    There will always be people out there who find what you do interesting, provided you are doing it well, and playing from the heart. don’t bend over backwards trying to commercialise your sound, compromising your music in the process. The audience will come to you, so just persist at it.

    This is even more true in our digital age – search for good advice on putting you material online. You should never have to pay to do this, due to the high number of platforms out there. It might be slow at first, but you will eventually reap the fruits of your hard work.


NobleViola.com also features a really interesting article entitled ’10 things I wish I knew when I was a young musician’ which, while echoing the sentiments of Folds, adds the following gems:

  • Practicing isn’t a matter of how many hours you put in, but how many good hours you put in. It’s quality, not quantity.
  • Your body is also your instrument – learn how it works and take care of it.
  • Being professional is a 24 hour job.
  • Keep busy, and do a variety of things. Diversify as much as you can.
  • Love what you do – and remember to nurture that love.
  • As Pat Metheny says on his website, “for me, after everything, the only thing that finally remains really true is the feeling that at the end of the day, I know that I played really good, or I didn’t ; or that I made some progress and understand something that I didn’t understand at the beginning of the day; or I didn’t. This, to me, is the real currency of what it is to have a life as a musician”.

    Well said, Pat.

    As always, comments and responses are more than welcome. Feel free to check out my previous articles too! Enjoy the rest of your week & happy playing!

    Seeing Without Knowing (2) / Sacred Spaces

    It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on here – writing a dissertation will do that unfortunately. The upside is, I will post abridged versions of each chapter from my dissertation (examining the value of music in wellbeing on a mental, pysical and educational level) on here for you to digest and enjoy over the summer.

    However, I wished to update you on my Sound Art piece, originally entitled “Seeing Without Knowing”.

    For the time being, this project, under its initial outline, has been temporarily shelved. A large amount of its components, namely the absence of the performer, has been retained in the new project. Emerging from the ‘Seeing Without Knowing’ idea came a more specific soundscapes idea.

    Using recordings of simply the ECHOES of a room, as per the original brief, the Sacred Spaces project aims to feature recordings / soundscapes from spiritual spaces and buildings throughout the world, across all cultures and religions. The first of these was recorded in Durham Cathedral on a windy and rain-filled night, April 2015. The sounds were reorganised and edited later that month using ProTools software.

    You can hear the initial demo for this project here:

    http://www.vimeo.com/128493094

    Many thanks to Durham Cathedral for allowing us into your Sacred Space for an hour that evening. Also, many thanks to Sunderland University for the loan of microphones and recording equipment. I hope you enjoy what you hear. Please do feel free to let me know what you think!

    Tim