Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Believe In Father Christmas

If you have been reading my blog for the last few years, you probably know how I feel about Christmas, since I have blogged about it before.  I suppose having two children has probably softened me up a little bit about this whole Christmas thing :-)

Last year, I got kind of deep and personal, and posted a synthesized rendition of one of my favorite carols, "What Child Is This".

In 2008, I posted a much less serious cover of Peter Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" (be sure to listen to it all, as it has a surprise genre-spanning ended).

Doing "cover tunes" is fun.  I don't do it that often, but I always learn from the experience.  This time, I actually learned a song (note-for-note) that I have always loved, and previously only dabbled with.  I did the entire learning and recording session in one four-hour span, with a single hour-long follow-up session of final overdubs and the mixdown.  The song is "I Believe In Father Christmas", recorded and released by Greg Lake in 1975, and then again by Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1977, and yet again in 1993.  In addition to the Wikipedia link above, you can read more trivia about this song, and about the controversy it created at this songfacts link.

Bottom line is, I believe that lyricist Peter Sinfield left the lyrics to this song ambiguous on purpose.  Unlike some of his other blatantly atheistic lyrics (for instance, in ELP's "The Only Way" from the album "Tarkus") the lyrics to Father Christmas, the middle verse anyway, can be interpreted several ways.  In an attempt to make my version a little less ambiguous, I altered the lyrics in very subtle ways (just one word really, and a couple of pronoun substitutions is all, hardly worth mentioned fact, forget I mentioned it).

I will let you draw your own conclusions.  I hope you enjoy my rendition of this timeless holiday classic.  The lyrics, as I sang them, are posted just below the song links.

I Believe In Father Christmas (Lake/Sinfield)

They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin's birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me the fairy stories
Still I believe in the Israelite
But they believed in father Christmas
And they looked at the sky with excited eyes
'till they woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And they saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

First track done on my Mac

Yep, you heard that right.  Hybernation Studio now has a Mac.  A 21.5" iMac with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.66gHz, with 4GB of RAM, to be specific.

I bought this used machine on a whim for a paltry $600, from a friend who no longer needed it after getting himself a MacBook Pro.  I was thinking it would just be an experiment.  A Toy.  Something to mess with, and entertain the kids with using Photo Booth.

Little did I know I would fall in love with this unbelievably stable platform.  I've been a PC user for my entire life, and have always stood by them.  I still love them.  Windows 7 64-bit is, without a doubt, the best and most stable Windows platform ever.  But, now I see why everyone was telling me I needed to try a Mac.

So of course now I am wanting a full-blown 27" Core i7 iMac pretty bad, after acquiring Apple's DAW program "Logic Express".  Logic is so intuitive and feature-rich.  And incredibly stable.  I believe it is my new favorite DAW, edging out Pro Tools.  So, I'm willing to live with the somewhat limited hardware of this current Mac I own (compared to my quad-core PC) and will probably continue to use it as the platform of choice for composing, just because it's so incredibly stable, and Logic is so unbelievably productive for me.  "It just works".  Help, I'm turning into a Mac Fanboy!

This track is the first one I recorded completely in Logic on the Mac.  Enjoy!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jamming on Indian instruments

I've always liked the sound of the "trademark" Indian instruments such as Tanpura, Sitar and Tabla.  Well at least since I was a youngster and first heard George Harrison experimenting with them to great effect.  So I was delighted last year when Native Instruments released their Kore Soundpack entitled "North India", which contained these and other Indian instruments.  I won't say they are "authentic" because, to be honest, I wouldn't really have any way of knowing!  But they advertise that they are, and they sure sound that way to me.

This track was just me experimenting with the three instruments that I mention above, and then layering in some more conventional western sounds....synthesized voices, electric guitar, drums, percussion and big Moog Synth bass.  I must warn you that this track doesn't really "go" anywhere, it just presents a few simple melodies and provides an ambiance that is a blend of eastern and western tonalities.

I tried to get my son Jonathan to "name that track" a few days ago in the car, playing him an earlier mix.  When he first heard the "vocal synth drone" part he said "Hey Daddy, that sounds like a bunch of Indian guys burping!".  Funny, but not a great title for the track.  I couldn't think of anything either, so I just stuck with my working title, which was "Jamming India".


here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The original version of "Passage"

I have blogged quite a lot about this composition in the past, which you can read here, and also referenced here and most recently here.

I decided it would be good to record the "original version" as it was composed for that Freshman Composition class at the Belmont College School of Music in 1979. This is pretty much exactly what I heard in my head at the time, and the music is exactly what I played for the class (if my 30 year old memory can be trusted). As I mentioned previously, I eventually want to showcase the entire "Suite" of "Serious Compositions" which I wrote between 1979 and sometime in the early 80's in a single blog post, and I only have a few more pieces to record before I can do that. But this is the piece of music that started it all, and this was my very first attempt at actually "composing" (not to be confused with the art of "songwriting" which I gave up on years ago!).

Recently, my amazing wife insisted I buy myself a really top-end laptop computer on which I can do my music "anywhere, anytime". After looking around at commercial laptops such as Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc, and reading music blogs (including many horror stories) and otherwise researching this, I decided to stick with ADK Pro Audio, where I purchased my main studio computer over two years ago. I have nothing but great things to say about Scott and his whole crew based on my past experiences...they are fabulous people with a passion for great, continuing customer support long after the sale. They sell computer systems specifically for the Digital Audio market, and they are extremely well respected in their field. Scott fixed me up with a killer laptop based on an Intel Core i7 M620 processor, with 8GB RAM and all the fixings, as we say here in the south (the "K" in ADK does stand for "Kentucky" after all!).

I was thinking that this new addition to "Studio B" would give me the ability to "start things", but that I would probably still transfer the projects down to "Studio A" to finish them. Well, I had no idea how much processor speeds have improved in the two years since I bought my quad-core machine from ADK! This laptop will do everything my big machine will do, and without breaking a sweat. It actually runs Pro Tools better than the other machine (still not completely sure why that is).

I recorded this version of "Passage" in Pro Tools 8 M-Powered using Kontakt 4 for the Rhodes and CP-80 piano sample that makes up the main "piano" part. The synths you hear are all from the CPU-hungry folks at Arturia, specifically the Moog Modular V (Taurus bass sound), the Jupiter V (String machine sound), and the Arp 2600 V (lead sound). I laid on the mastering and EQ plugins pretty heavy while mixing this down, and saw my CPU meter holding steady at less than 20%. Amazing.

In the few weeks since Studio B got this upgrade, I've only spent a couple of hours in studio A! I actually did start and finish this piece completely on my new laptop. Amazing technology. What a great time it is for musicians to be alive.

A HUGE "THANK YOU" to my lovely and amazing wife LoriLea for upgrading "Studio B"!

Hope you enjoy this "Original Version" of "Passage", composed in the 20th century...recorded well into the 21st!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Thursday, April 01, 2010


The year was 1981. February. I had been on the road touring with "Amy and Members Only" for several months, my first "professional musician" job. We landed this really sweet gig in Stratton, Vermont, where Olympic skiers train, to play a one night party for the U.S. Olympic Team. Payment was 6 days worth of lift tickets and lodging in a huge chalet for the whole band.

First day there, me and the bass player, Dow Tomlin, took some skiing lessons, since we were the only two newbies. It went pretty well, and by the end of the day we were doing the beginners slopes, him more successfully than me by far. I have never had a good sense of balance, and NOTHING about downhill skiing felt intuitive to me (plus I hadn't and still haven't ever been water skiing). I could get down and only have 3 or 4 major falls or tree crashes with each run.

Second day there, back at it that morning, my hardware kept malfunctioning and one or both skis would pop off when I would put any stress on them. They tried to tune them twice but it kept happening to me. Then it happened at a very bad time and I took a horrible fall, dislocating my "trick shoulder" which I had major surgery on just 18 months prior. Not good. As I writhed in the snow in excruciating pain, bellowing at the top of my lungs, I was finally able to pop it in myself, and then I somehow got down the rest of the way and went to see the on-site doctor. Well, he took one look at my surgical scar and dished out a huge bottle of pain-killlers. No more skiing for me this week.

With several days alone in the chalet with my keyboards, I decided to continue composing additional sections to the suite of "serious music" that I had started in college, and which I blogged about here and here. I had actually started a slow and very melodic piano-solo piece and finished it in my head for a third "movement", but since I couldn't actually play very well with my arm in a sling, I started writing a fourth movement, one I envisioned as being a very strong Proclamation of life.

I stumbled upon some very cool chords...the right hand playing F major and Bb major, over the left hand playing Bb and Eb (a 4th higher than the tonic). Sounded very progressive to me at the time...still does actually. Probably borrows quite heavily from Keith Emerson and Aaron Copeland, not surprisingly. Some shifting time signatures, and then a B-section in 5/4. I wrote it all down on staff paper, and got very excited about this piece. I remember that the guitar player, Dan Searles, loved the B-section and couldn't get enough of it. That is, until I kept playing (through headphones of course) after everyone else crashed. They would yell down, "Hey John, that clunky sound is keeping us awake" -- me banging the keys!

The amazing thing is that I have managed to keep up with the hand-written scores of this piece for the last 30 years. You can view the A-section here...and the B-Section here. Notice the pretentiousness on page one: "Sonata #1 for Polyphonic Synthesizer and Piano". LOL!!! and "Part 1 - Exposition". Ah youth...pretentious and didn't care a bit.

Now, those of you that listened to the the song "Passage" earlier may notice that the final section of Passage is exactly like the B-section of this piece, Proclamation. Here is the story. Originally, Passage was JUST the A-section, repeated twice. It only had to be 16 measures long to meet the requirements of the Freshman Music Comp class! But as the years went by and I continued to work on this "suite", I started playing a "reprise" version of Passage that ended with the 5/4 section of Proclamation, and that is actually what I recorded a few months ago for that other posting. Perhaps soon I will record the original Passage and the other three pieces in the suite and put them all up on one page so they can be listened to in order.

Anyway, for tonight, here is "Proclamation". Enjoy

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments

Painting courtesy of Ken Ahlering

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pulsation - first new track for 2010

Here is a happy little tune I tossed together in Ableton Live 8 the other night, using Rob Papan's Blue and Predator synths, joined by an Absynth5 pad sound processed through a trippy CamelSpace effect, Arturia's Arp 2600V and using the Roland TB-303 sounds from the Electronic Expansion for EZDrummer.

Ableton Live 8 is yet another contender in the "great DAW race" at Hybernation Music. I've have had a copy of Live "Lite" for years which I got for free with an audio interface. When Live Lite 8 came out last year I thought I would give it another try. Their integration with Propellerhead's Reason is very good, second only to Pro Tools 8, but their real claim to fame with "Live" is the "Session View", which is an interactive clip-based way of working that lends itself to spontaneity and the whole "DJ" thing. While the "DJ" thing interests me not in the least, I do always appreciate experimenting with other ways of working while composing which might produce ideas that otherwise wouldn't be realized, and Live 8 definitely offers that!

Ableton Live 8 Session View
Ableton Live 8 Session View

So I began this piece by recording several bubbly little pulsating parts into the Session View and chaining them together that way. As this evolved into no less than 5 of these parts coming and going, I then added the lead lines using the more conventional "Arrangement View" which works pretty much the way all the other "linear" DAW's do. Having used a very simple "guide track" for the electronic drums, I then had a great time auditioning various TB-303 patterns in EZDrummer and stringing my favorite ones together to create the finished drum part.

This whole process took about 3 hours, spread out over 2 nights.

I wondered after-the-fact if it needed a proper "bass part", but I didn't labor over the idea. I just decided to mix it down and get on with it. So here it is. I call it "Pulsation". Enjoy!

here is a direct link to the mp3 for non-shockwave environments