Production Update – March 11, 2009

I haven’t completed anything of note, but I thought now might be a good time to list off the status of my various projects, since I managed to get a lot of progress made this past weekend.

My shortest-term project is a collaboration with a good friend. He is a talented guitarist and prolific songwriter. We have talked about collaborating often, and play live together from time to time, but this is only the second time that we’ve really made an honest go of recording together. The first was much less involved than this.

He usually writes, not surprisingly, guitar-based songs. He has decent enough keyboard chops to add synth lines, and has several times – occasionally better than I would have come up with. Once, he sent me a scratch track and asked me for input. I sent back a MIDI file of a Rhodes Piano line that he liked well enough to use without further editing.

This time, however, he came to me with a concept for a song that would be completely piano driven. He sent me a file where he played a lead line on his guitar that he wanted me to base the piano line around, and the idea was that once the piano was recorded, the guitar would then sit this one out.

After I sent him my first take, with a modified, rubato-feel intro, he decided that a little guitar counterpoint to the piano would be appropriate. When he sent me that back, I realized that this song was beginning to head in a completely different direction – one that would not be facilitated by our e-mailing the project file back and forth. We needed to get in the same room and play together.

So, we did. I spent a Saturday at his place and we made a rough stereo recording of the song with a brand new tempo and feel. Monday night I loaded that into Sonar and tracked a piano line. It still needs a lot of work and tweaking, but the rough idea is in place.

This past weekend I took a break from the collaboration and put some serious time in on Father’s World. I have been frustrated with my lack of ability to create a decent-sounding sampled recorder. I have some wonderful samples from Early Patches, but there are two places in the song where the recorder line is very exposed, so I need something that plays very realistically – i.e., with legato.

After numerous tries, I have given up trying to program these samples to play legato in sfz. I just can’t find decent points within the sample to make it work right. As a side note, my plan to offset the beginning of the sample is not original to me, as that is the method employed by the Garritan Pocket Orchestra that comes bundled with Dimension LE that comes bundled with Sonar. I just can’t get it to work the way they do.

The next plan was to purchase or borrow a decent acoustic recorder and play those two exposed lines in myself, then use the samples for “in the ensemble.” School kids play recorders – how hard could it be, right?

Unable to afford a decent recorder, a good friend loaned me a Suzuki. I downloaded a fingering chart from the internet and went about learning how to play. Man, this thing is finicky. The first time I played, I got three good notes out of it. After several weeks of regular practice, the lowest notes are still hit or miss. There’s something about those lowest two notes that are very difficult to produce. I’ve learned that each time I pick up the recorder I have a window in which I can produce these notes. The window starts when I’ve warmed up, and ends not too long thereafter. After the window closes, no amount of cajoling, pleading, or threatening will cause the instrument to produce these lowest notes again.

Anyway, I finally recorded some decent lines, and pitch corrected them (thanks, V-Vocal) so that they were in the same key as the song. Now there is too much contrast between the acoustic sections and the sampled sections. I’m pretty sure I can play the second half of the song (which is in F) with the recorder. I’m pretty sure I can’t play the first half (in Eb). I’m still figuring this one out.

All that being said, the rest of the song is almost ready for mixing. I spent several hours on the strings this weekend and nearly have them exactly where I want them. Another hour and I should be there.

The other project track that I’ve spent a little time on recently is Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded. If you recall it will be a double brass quartet with a predominant fugal section. My work on it has been aided by the addition of my mini-controller keyboard, but not as much as I had hoped. I just don’t have enough time.

Whining aside, I spent some time with the end of the fugal section. The hymn is in Am (absenting future key changes to put the whole piece in a better key for the brass ranges), and the fugal section starts in Am. It eventually needs to get to A-major, as the secondary dominant to the D (sub-dominant of the original key) that starts the final line of the hymn (which is repeated at the very end of the arrangement). It took me a while to get there satisfactorily. I had something worked out that I didn’t like, and I finally sat down and worked it and worked it until I was happy with it.

My last project was, of course, referenced rather comprehensively in my most recent post. I am currently scheduling the kids to come over and sing their parts. My goal is to have the videos completed by the end of March so I can have a kids worship leader workshop to teach the new songs to the other leaders.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I can report soon that Will has published his new, piano-based song, that I have published Father’s World, and that the kid’s ministry at my church has three new praise videos for Sunday morning.

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