I have been organizing and packing and throwing away stuff for several weeks now. A 20 yard dumpster was filled with some of the detritus of thirty years – I moved into this house on my birthday in 1992 – and what I wanted to keep was moved into storage. I was exhausted from the work and hadn’t played guitar at all in a couple of weeks. This afternoon a lovely thunderstorm approached the house and I decided to play guitar accompanied by rain and thunder. The house is empty and the reverb in this room is now enormous. I leaned my iPhone against the guitar case and it recorded my guitar and the rain and some thunder.
My friends say it sounds sad. I say that it should sound sad because it was wonderful to live here and to make music here. I am not moving because I don’t like this house and the studio. I am moving because if I don’t move now I will never move. That would be okay, too, but I want another adventure and now is the time.
I recorded around twenty albums in the studio that’s less than fifty yards from this room. The first album that came out of here was ¡Viva!. We mixed the album here after recording it on the road in 1994. The 1996 release Opium was the first album to be recorded and completed here. In those days we still mastered every album at The Mastering Lab in Los Angeles. A few years later we took the late and great Doug Sax’s (who mastered albums for Pink Floyd!) advice who asked me why I was still coming to him for mastering when the material already sounded perfect. So we started to master albums at my studio as well. Innamorare and christmas + santa fe were released in 2000, Little Wing in 2001. If I remember correctly Little Wing was the first album mastered here. In the Arms of Love was the first album released on my label SSRI, in 2002. La Semana, released in 2004, was the first album I engineered by myself. Then came Winter Rose, in 2005, One Guitar in 2006, the binaural album Up Close in 2008, followed by The Scent of Light in the same year. That album was followed by POP in 2010, Dune in 2012, three-oh-five and Bare Wood in 2014, Waiting n Swan in 2015, slow in 2016, The Complete Santa Fe Sessions in 2018, Fete in 2019, and finally the Lockdown and Full versions of vision 2020 last year.
Now I want to do something different. I’ll tell you more about my plans soon…
More about this later…
This was less revelation and more confirmation of how I experience my brain working. Very interesting podcast. Might change the way you work:
“Plunging Into the Abyss. As even our smartest friends fall to conspiracy fever, we have to accept it’s not about logic or politics, but addiction.”
Plunging Into the Abyss by Douglas Rushkoff
This is perhaps Ryokan’s most famous poem:
The Thief left it behind –
At the window
Compare these two stories, the first one from Zen monk and poet Ryokan and the second from the Sufi Idries Shah:
One night a thief broke into the Five Scoop Hut on Mount Kugami. Finding nothing else to steal, the thief tried to pull out the mat Ryokan was sleeping on. Ryokan turned over and let the thief take the mat.
From Sky Above, Great Wind by Kazuaki Tanahashi
A thief entered the house of a Sufi, and found nothing there. As he was leaving, the dervish perceived his disappointment and threw him the blanket in which he was sleeping, so that he should not go away empty-handed.
From “The Way of the Sufi” by Idries Shah.
There is much happening right now that I will share with you soon. Bare Wood 2 is finished and I am very, very happy with it. It’s been a beautiful weekend. The light outside is incredible. It’s been raining a little every day. It’s all good.
I also came across the following video and would love to hear what you think of it.
Now I am going to bake my bread and make risotto for dinner. That’ll set me right.
Grammar gives us the structure of language but doesn’t help us figure out the story we want to tell.
Music theory teaches the rules of the musical language but not what to say.
Keeping that in mind we need to strive for a balance between training the understanding of the rules and structure on one hand and the development of our own message, our emotional story, and our vocabulary.
Do we want to write an essay that has perfect structure or do –
Maybe somewhere in between is the place to be, is where the balance lies.
You may have heard the cliche: the classical musician who performs the notes in front of him perfectly, but cannot improvise; the self-trained musician who can’t read music but who play his instrument beautifully. There are jokes about it, like this one:
How do you get a pianist to stop playing? You take away their sheet music. How do you make a guitarist stop playing? Put sheet music in front of them.
Most musicians are a combination of the two varieties. I can read music, but can’t sight-read. I read haltingly like a second grader reading a story. I remember telling Jon, who can sight-read his way through a whole performance, but also improvises as well as anyone I know, that I wanted to study music theory – this was sometime in the Nineties. There was a pause and then he simply asked why? I think I replied that I felt there were a lot of rules I didn’t know and that learning them might make me a more well rounded musician. Jon said something like, but it’s working for you. I felt he could be right. What if I wrecked the secret sauce of my music?
It’s all about the balance. What is enough structure and what is too much? Perhaps it is the tension between the feeling we want to convey and the structure that we express it with that creates beauty?
The microphone’s position has not changed in over twenty years. Tape marks where the chair needs to be, should it be accidentally moved.
The microphone is a Neumann M-149, which I have used since 1999 – following the loss of the previous Neumann. As you can see I tend to stick with something I like. I don’t feel the need to experiment and am rather loyal to things that work. I own only two Flamenco guitars, which is very unusual, and have only used one of those two for the last five years. I generally prefer depth over variety. I would rather be very intimately familiar with one guitar than be vaguely familiar with a hundred.
One photo shows the back of the M-149 which shows that the bass roll-off is set to 40Hz. There is also a photo that shows the mic pattern setting on the front of the microphone.
From the microphone the analog signal travels to a Martech MSS-10 microphone pre-amp. Sadly Martinsound no longer makes the MSS-10, but luckily I have two in case something happens to one of them. In 1999 we rated a number of mic pre-amps and I wrote about that test here. The MSS-10 is by far the nicest mic pre-amp for the flamenco guitar that I have ever heard. When we listened to it the three of us – Jon, engineer Gary, and I – immediately preferred it over all others tested. From the MSS-10 the analog signal travels to the Digidesign 192 HD Interface that converts the analog signal to a digital one. I use the DigiDesign Reverb One plugin on the guitar, preferring a dark, but longer reverb. I put an EQ on the reverb, removing much of the lower frequencies of the reverb as they muddy the waters in my opinion. The guitar EQ is a GML (George Massenburg Labs) software plugin. I use it to dip out a frequency of my guitar that sounds boxy and to add a very small amount of presence.
That’s it. The analog equipment – microphone and mic pre-amp – is expensive, but the digital side is not. I just looked up the Reverb One plugin and it retails for $300. The GML software EQ is no longer available.
When considering a guitar sound one should not forget the guitar itself, the type of strings, the player’s way of holding the guitar – some players choke their guitar by holding it too tight – and, of course, the nail treatment and how the strings are struck. There are so many variables that it is good to go step by step.
Today, Saturday, I added four screenshots to the viewer. The first screenshot shows the EQ setting for my Blanca guitar when playing a melody. The second shows the EQ setting for my Negra when playing rhythm. I start with two EQ settings for each guitar:
There is a setting for playing rhythm – anything that’s not the main melody. This setting only removes a low frequency that every guitar has when one places the microphone relatively close. This becomes a problem when playing multiple rhythm guitars because that low-end builds up. A second setting, for the melody, removes a little less of the lower frequencey and adds a little bit of a high frequency. I look for a sweet spot where I can add a little bit of treble that sounds smooth and silky. Over time I collect more EQ settings for each guitar because the guitar can subtly change according to string wear or humidity.
The next screenshot shows one of the EQs for reverb that filters out much of the sound below 150 hertz. The last screenshot shows the One Reverb setting I prefer for all of my guitars. It is called “Dark Concert Hall” and I have used it for two decades.
A man walks through Japan. He takes photographs and sometimes he pauses to explain what he captured.
What he wrote sounds like a long poem to me. You can subscribe to it here.
At 0240 I woke up and it didn’t seem as if I could go back to sleep. So I picked up “The Overstory” and finished it. This one will stay with me for a long time. At 0500 I got up and poured myself a glass of cold brew coffee—a new habit I started about a month ago—and waited for the day to break.
Yesterday I downloaded the last percussion and upright tracks for “Bare Wood 2” from Dropbox. In the studio I added them to the songs. Just a few guitar lines left to do then the album is done. The music speaks of longing and sadness and of hope and joy. The usual human stuff. :-) Hopefully it will sound like poetry to you.
I know no good way
to live and I can’t
stop getting lost in my
thoughts, my ancient forests…
You ask: how does a man rise or fall in this life?
The fisherman’s song flows deep under the river.
That is a poem by Wang Wei I found in The Overstory.
Wang Wei (Chinese: 王維; 699–759) was a Chinese poet, musician, painter, and politician during the Tang dynasty. He was one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his time. Many of his poems are preserved, and twenty-nine were included in the highly influential 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.
Later I found another poem by Wang Wei, a reply to Subprefect Zhang, that is of a similar nature:
Now in old age, I know the value of silence,
The world’s affairs no longer stir my heart.
Turning to myself, I have no greater plan,
All I can do is return to the forest of old.
Wind from the pine trees blows my sash undone,
The moon shines through the hills; I pluck the qin.
You ask me why the world must rise and fall,
Fishermen sing on the steep banks of the river.
The tone is familiar and reminds me of Lao Tzu and Hanshan.
The biography of Wang Wei speaks of many ups and downs. Promoted, promoted, demoted, promoted, demoted, demoted, imprisoned as a suspected traitor, promoted and then Deputy Prime Minister.
I discovered Ryokan when I was 22 and then Hanshan, also many decades ago. It informed how I tried to live my life and, perhaps, saved my musical life. You are the greatest, you are the worst. Okay. You can say what you like and I will just continue making music.
I’ll add Wang Wei to the list of people I will read whenever I am wondering about the affairs of humans:
And, believe me, human affairs baffle me much of the time. :-)
And here’s a tip. If you’re ever feeling anxious or overwhelmed, pause and notice the subtle shades of colour or the shapes of things around you.