The Aural Times is Back

October 20, 2006 6:23 AM

The nice thing about a musical website like AT is that when you apologize for a lame failure to update, you can do it in song.

posted by cortex (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Man, good to see you are alive and kicking ass! Great song, glad to have you back.
posted by micayetoca at 6:42 AM on October 20, 2006

Thanks, micayetoca. I have discovered that, for whatever reason, I can now not post to music (a) from home on Firefox, or (b) from work at all. And I've been busy. And stuff.
posted by cortex at 7:43 AM on October 20, 2006

That's tua maxima culpa, cortex! And don't you forget it!

Nah, just kidding.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:37 AM on October 20, 2006

Mulp, is there some sort of memetic/historic background to the phrase "tua culpa, tua maxima culpa"? It has a certain catchiness to it, but google results were pretty dang limited on a search for "tua maxima culpa".

And of course my Latin is essentially non-existent—I can make a guess at something along the lines of "entirely|all your fault", but I don't know if that quite gets it or not.
posted by cortex at 9:49 AM on October 20, 2006

I'm not sure, beyond that I recall having a high school chemistry teacher who used to say "mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa".

And "maxima culpa" is more like "huge mistake", if I remember correctly. It's been ten years since my last Latin class.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:35 AM on October 20, 2006

Fantastic! Thank you.
posted by ba at 1:13 PM on October 20, 2006

Very Bowie, I like it a lot.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:21 PM on October 20, 2006

Very cool! It's hard to imagine how you're able to put things together so quickly! Awesome.
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on October 20, 2006

It's hard to imagine how you're able to put things together so quickly!

Superhuman powers. And practice. And I do a lot of planning in my head. And more practice.

I honestly feel like I've spent the last ten years accidentally assembling a disparate set of skills and tools, and in the last year or so I've figured out how to put them together effectively. And I can't complain about the happy accident, the realization that, more and more, I seem to Know What I'm Doing—but when I look at what I've learned in ten years and think about how much more quickly I could have learned much of it if only I'd known what to do and put out the effort to really practice and build instead of just doing music things happenstance...

Making music is wonderful and maddening at the same time.
posted by cortex at 5:17 PM on October 20, 2006

Wow, cortex, that was very well put. I've always been one to try to make music in a happenstance way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Nice food for thought. Thanks!
posted by snsranch at 8:02 PM on October 20, 2006

Funny, I got a similar reaction to snsranch, I thought to myself "how does he put together these well thought out songs in such short periods of time?"

It's really cool that you posted this song and it is even cooler that you took the time to share a little bit of how the process works for you. Thx for that.

Now, how much do you plan ahead in your head, for instance, with this one song? Did you develop it enough that you just went in there and recorded it as you had planned it, or did it change during the recording?

For me, I usually start recording a general idea and it evolves as I record, which is a bit of a pain in the ass, as many times I have to end up re-recording the earlier tracks.

I'll cut it there, I don't want to make the longest comment in Metafilter Music, I just wanted to seize the occassion to hear about how this wonderful and maddening process of songwriting works for someone else. Someone whose songs, by the way, I like a lot.
posted by micayetoca at 6:14 AM on October 21, 2006

Now, how much do you plan ahead in your head, for instance, with this one song?

For this one I was on a mission: I've really put off updating the Aural Times, and I need to post an apology song, by god! So I was thinking about it in general during the work day on Thursday, though I was too busy with work (go figure) to concentrate on specific musical ideas.

The melody and the chord structure was written more or less on the walk home, and refined (and the lyrics fleshed out) in the hour or so between when I got home and when my wife took off for a class. Me singing under my breath (I'm very shy about singing an un-sure melody, even around my wife), occasionally grabbing an electric to strum out a pattern, test out a chord move.

That was the writing process. By the time I turned on my mixer, I had pretty good idea of the melody, lyrics, and harmonic structure of the song, and some ideas about the dynamics and what layers would go in.

Then I laid down a scratch acoustic guitar track, getting those chords and dynamics sketched out firmly (I often find that I had been mentally waving my hands about specific bits of a song, once I sit down to actually perform it—play this, then that, something or other...and then this). Call that a take, and I've got a guideline.

At that point I start recording layers and essentially "producing" the song on the fly. I knew I wanted some Big Guitars on the track, but that was it—I dialed in a nice compressed (almost Brian May-ish) stadium rock lead tone and recorded a fairly melodic lead track with all the flash in the spots where the vocals were resting; I recorded a twin part for that playing (sloppily) improvised counter-point harmony.

And I wanted some more guitar to beef up the overall tone, so I recorded a chunky, Brit-ish distorted rhythm part—lots of driving, plunking on-time hits to provide some momentum—and another gentler, clean arpeggio-and-strum part that ended up really buried in the mix but gives a little bit of warmth to the proceedings.

And then a bass part, because I needed some low-end.

Other parts of the process included considering a piano part and maybe a synth pad and disregarding both because I didn't feel like adding another 20 minutes to the process to set up the synth and sync up a Reason track and so on. The piano thing was going to be a nice rhythmic plunk-plunk-plunk-plunk thing, clean up the feel of the sound a bit.

Executive decision ("Christ, that'd take all night") also nixed a pondered synth drum track. I work slow with rhythm tracks; not one of my strengths.

And then I just listened to what I had, made a couple tweaks, and asked myself if it was Good Enough. That's one of the things that I do to work quickly—I execute an idea (sing this, play that) and then stop when it's acceptable. My bar for acceptable has gone up in the last few years, but not as much as my confidence in the process, so I work pretty quickly if I'm not having an off night or being dishonest with myself about what I can and can't pull off ad hoc.

Total time from serious start of writing to having it in the can was probably 3 hours, which is on the long side for an Aural Times recording session. Degree of planning was, I'd say, middling—for some songs, I know exactly what I want to do, down to the instrument and the note; on others, I just pull ideas out of the air and see if they stick. Total recording time is an equation that factors in the number of parts, the degree of difficulty for the parts, diversity of hardware required, how much it was written ahead of time, and the very fuzzy term "On-ness".

For the record, I don't always work in ruthless speed mode. When I recorded A Man in a Boat in the Water, I had been writing and restructuring the song for a good week before I sat down to record, and then I threw out the whole first session and started over with some of the ideas that had come out of it. And with most songs that aren't written to a specific non-musical purpose (reacting to MeFi hijinx, updating AT, etc), the writing process tends to be much slower and organic, with a great deal of work done before I ever hit record.

I'll cut it there, I don't want to make the longest comment in Metafilter Music...

I have no fear! MUHAHAHAHA&c
posted by cortex at 8:09 AM on October 21, 2006

Damn. Fuck. "probably 3 hours"??? I used to think you were good, now I think you are gifted.

About the drums: the song doesn't suffer without them at all. I'd say it was a good call no to do them.

The Big Pink-Floyd-The-Wallish/Brian-Mayish Guitars work wonderfully and the little "because we missed you" break is great. That's what impressed me most about the song, that it is not just an obvious little A - E - D thing put together to carry the lyrics.

It's funny that this took you less time than A Man in a Boat in the Water because AMIABITW somehow seems a lot simpler, though perhaps it is easier to know what to do when you are writing something in a well-defined genre (that 70s Big Guitar rock) in opposition to a song that is in a more personal style, that could have pretty much gone anyway you wanted it.

So I'll insist. Great song, and what a cool opportunity to hear about the process of songwriting from the author of the song. Thx for taking the time for answering.
posted by micayetoca at 9:23 AM on October 21, 2006

Nice! And I'm glad you're back!

I will now resume pretending that this weekend I will have time to work on a story.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:35 AM on October 21, 2006

I'm late on the scene, here, but I really appreciate the discussion of the process. I'd even be interested in technical details, e.g., gear, mic'ing, software, and so on. Anyways, neat song.
posted by erikgrande at 8:42 PM on October 25, 2006

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