Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gravity: "it was a pleasure to burn" production diary

These past two days, I've been visiting with an old friend: "Gravity." I wrote this song for swim for shore, an album I released in Fall, 2008.

There's so much that I like about "Gravity" that I wanted to revisit it, tighten up my vocal performance and give it a fuller production.

Here's the original recording:

And here's the version I just finished:

the world has come together
the world will fly apart
seeking dreams we chase the shadow
that lies within our heart
word for word I know the story
the tales in colors stark
down the path unknowing known
we stumble in the dark

and your gravity
how it pulls at me
does my gravity
pull you free

in orbit round we circle
this azure mass untamed
the heavens all a-singing
our passions all aflame
oh supplications muted
we strain to hear the tune
that single chord we have forgot
that rest we left too soon

and your gravity
how it pulls at me
does my gravity
pull you free

what have you forsaken?
my god e'er lost in pain
suffer long the quiet aching
and listen to the rain
blood will wash our misdirection
as it falls upon the ground
we are now all pulled together
by one divine sound

and your gravity
how it pulls at me
does my gravity
pull you free

Lyrically, I was inspired (and continue to be) by the work of Leonard Cohen, the way that he blends Judeo-Christian imagery with longing and Existentialism. I also have a long-standing fascination with physics and the way that our mathematical understanding about the universe can serve as a metaphor for how we relate to each other as flesh-and-blood human beings. The changes I made in the new version are pretty minor; I tweaked a few words, especially in the chorus for variety. But I was always happy with the core of this song.

The chord progression in the verse is somewhat symmetrical:

the [C#m] world has [E] come [B] together
the [C#m] world will [E] fly [A] apart
[C#m] seeking [E] dreams we [A] chase the shadow
that [C#m] lies with [E] in our [B] heart

This was tricky to record since I prefer cyclical patterns, like in the chorus (a simple F# - Emaj9 - B). The whole thing is capo'd on the fourth fret, so these fancy chords are actually pretty simple: Am - C - G (or F) for the verse and D - Cmaj9 - G for the chorus.

I'm a sucker for slide guitar and definitely wanted to keep that slinky lead, but decided for a new intro that is more dynamic and even a little mysterious. After losing my old slide in New York last year, I finally cracked and picked up a new one. It sounds so much better than the cigarette lighters I've used in the meantime.

In the original recording, I achieved that lovely distorted organ sound with a Shadow acoustic pickup, kind of like this one, and then ran the output through Florida Music Company's free TubeAmp VST plug-in. It was a neat trick, since I was able to record the same performance: one input from the pick up, another from a USB microphone. TubeAmp returns in the new recording, still processing the overdriven guitar in the chorus. But that's my trusty ESP Ltd electric guitar now, and it's doubly overdriven, since I record through a Line 6 Pod UX1 and use a great preset I've dubbed "Prince Corvette power chords."

Since 2008, I've accrued several tools beyond the Pod UX1. The most important are a pair of GLS Audio microphones, but the toy I'm really excited about is EZDrummer. I'm still learning the finer points of this program, but it has made creating engaging, dynamic percussion so much easier than before, when I was programming every last hit by hand with leafDrums. (You can hear a leafDrums composition on "Only You Behind," the subject of Entry the First of this production diary, and on the original recording of "Gravity" as well.) I've always struggled with fills and simple-but-interesting drum parts and now EZDrummer's vast library of samples gives me all sorts of great-sounding bits. Plus, tweaking the samples is a piece of cake; just crack open the MIDI editor in my DAW (I use REAPER) and add the touches I need or shave the bits I don't want.

The other newcomer is MDA's ePiano VSTi, which sounds nothing a piano, but produces a fabulous organ tone that I then ran through an string ensemble pad effect from DaSample's GlaceVerb. That's the wonderful glow in the background.

There must be something about the keys of E and B, because I've always felt very comfortable singing this melody, even as it stretches my limited, low range. Recording this, I tried a new method, placing the microphone higher than my nose-line, forcing me to sing upwards. It made achieving strong, clear notes a lot easier. I still have a funny stance with my right leg way out in front, like I'm getting ready to run or attack someone, but that's my "energy stance." It works.

Interestingly, the new version of "Gravity" is one of my most populated. Most of my songs have eight to ten individual tracks. "Gravity" has sixteen! Some of them are very small: a few bars for those organ crescendos or the third verse backing vocals. Still, there are many elements and it was a challenge to blend them all appropriately. I'm very satisfied with the end-product, which has a full texture but manages to highlight different parts as needed.

Looking at this entry, there was a lot of recording technique at play, more than I normally employ. Because "Gravity" was such a set part of my repertoire, I think that I was able to focus on that aspect of song-craft. Thanks for coming along! Follow, bookmark, what-have-you, there's plenty more to come!

1 comment:

Heather said...

Cool to hear the progression from one version to the other! Congrats!