compositions for waterphones, musical saws, tuned glass bottles and the dark vocals of Carla Hallett will celebrate the quiet side of the acoustic spectrum. Natural, quirky sound, rich in subtle hues and rough textures… strangely familiar and resonant.
Musideum Saturday May 31 8:00PM 401 Richmond Street West, Suite 133 Toronto
Music Mondays Monday June 2 12:15 noon Church Of The Holy Trinity, 10 Trinity Square. Toronto
The search for low sounds in the universe of found instruments is always a challenge. It usually means finding something big, like long lengths of PVC pipes, which can be difficult for touring. For bottle sounds, the depth and low range of the perfect gallon jug is worth the trouble of collecting, cleaning, and carefully transporting.
The range of a glass cider jug extends below a wine bottle or an old vinegar jug. It takes an enormous amount of air to produce a good clear sound. And to get enough air, one needs to take deep noisy breaths. But this is actually a bonus, because the sound of the in-breath just before the articulated note, can form part of the music. The in-breaths are quite audible, especially when the mics are close and hot. So using this sound will be an interesting way of allowing a natural percussive line to be heard while producing the pitched sounds from tuned blown jugs. The real breath sounds produce a sense of necessity and energy in the music. This technique is used in the song “Why Don’t We” from the album “Whisper in My Ear”.
Writing music and words without a tried and true recipe can be unnerving. There is a tendency to think about what your “brand” is or should be or could be; how you fit in. All the voices in your head keep at you: “What if no one will listen?” ” What if the music doesn’t fit any genres?” Pressure to follow convention and adjust your ideas so the music will find the “right” audience can strangle the process with self doubt. And of course this might lead to failure. And that’s the biggest fear of all.
But failure might be more common, more natural than we have assumed. Learn to accept it as part of the process and it might become a fresh place to imagine. Love the sounds and they will open up your ears to a new place. Impossible to know this ahead of time. Impossible to know this with any assurance. Start playing with the sounds that you love. Keep playing with them because you love them, not because you want to be successful. Let them resonate within you. Who knows where it might lead?
Another recording session: different room, different sounds. This time at The Farm Studios (once Vancouver’s Little Mountain Studio). The room was smaller and less resonant than our first session and for some of our sounds, especially clay flowerpots, this allowed for a more distinct recording, the sounds of the pots more precise than if they were in a more reverberant setting. The placing of PZM mics on the table between the pots proved to be the best way to capture the special sound of struck clay. Completed another two songs. Gathering momentum.
Our unique instrumentation makes for a compelling array of varying timbres. Always seeking to expand the predictable sonic palette found in contemporary music, our recordings concentrate on the colour and texture of acoustic sound. Much of the Duo’s focus is on timbre. The musical saw is an excellent example and is explored in all of our recordings. It has an unexpected voice and when placed with other sounds can offer acoustic surprise.
Listening to the sound of the musical saw in live performance is uncanny, the sound feels like it comes from everywhere/nowhere. Unlike a trumpet or a piano or a vocalist which have a direct point of origin the musical saw is strange because it seems to originate in the air itself. In live performance the rubbing sound of the bow is diminished because the listener is not that close and one is not required to pay attention to it. If one places a mic in front and close to the saw it amplifies the sound caused by the bow rubbing the blade and the delicate, mysterious sound of the saw is compromised and becomes confined.
The difficulty in recording the bowed saw is to recreate its ethereal experience. Experimenting over the years with many different mic positions and different ways of recording the saw, what seems crucial is the sound of the room itself. It is important to record in as resonant a room as possible using two microphones. Mic the sound in the room, as well as the closer sound coming from behind the player and the blade of the saw. Mixing both tracks together comes close to reproducing this extraordinary resonance.
Carla Hallett & Robert Minden – Trent University concert
The album we’re working on alludes to film music – the music suggests images, scenes, narratives. It feels like we are scoring a film, the music evocative and cinematic, the movie becoming visible by the listener.
In a more literal sense, the mixing of the sounds creates a landscape – on the left, on the right, in the centre, coming in from the back of the listeners head. Will a sound move? How will it move? Which sound will stay anchored in one place? And how will each sound be coloured, and in what space are they happening/seen? These sonic decisions are also visual decisions; the music suggesting the movie imagined in the mind.
In live performance when I sing I’m usually playing some sort of “instrument” at the same time. Whether it’s a toy piano, a pair of soup spoons, tuned glass bottles, simply pushing one side of a sruti box, or swinging an elastic band drone through the air – I like to be busy while vocalizing, and the interplay between singing and playing can be very engaging.
But in a recording studio, when the final vocal line is performed alone it’s curiously freeing. During this last recording session I found that when I concentrated solely on my voice, without playing additional instruments, I could really sink into the telling of the story – seeing the images as I sang the song. I wanted to keep the voice natural and honest, and close, like a good storyteller. The engineer chose a vintage (1950s) AKG C12 microphone. We wanted to achieve subtleties of expression and a clear and intimate sound with great presence, underplaying the intense emotion of the song.
We began the recording session with the sound of the toy piano. I knew the engineer would want to isolate this sound, but I was used to singing and playing the toy piano at the same time. Sometimes the voice leads the piano, and other times the piano leads the voice. So how can one separate these sounds without compromising the musical dialogue between them?
As I took the toy piano out of its’ case and began attaching the legs, I looked around the room. It was spacious and bright with lots of wood, so there was a warmth to the space. But when I sat on the little stool and began to play, the room felt enormous and vaguely intimidating for my tiny sounds. Meanwhile the engineers were busy gathering large blocks of thick foam. They began to encase the toy piano leaving only the keyboard exposed for me to play. A veritable fort started forming around me – just like the ones we used to build out of cushions from the living room couch. It was perfect. The toy piano sound was isolated and so was its’ mic, while I could sing to my hearts content, in my little fort, cushioned and contained.
Now we’re orchestrating a song that features the music box sounds of the toy piano. I’m playing on a 3 octave keyboard which activates little hammers that strike metal rods, and the accompanying noise of the mechanics is so wonderful, and strangely out of tune, (hell to sing against,) but the mysterious intonation is just so right for this song.
Robert is playing a melodica – a curious hybrid between a keyboard and a harmonica. He blows through a tube while his fingers play the little keyboard. It’s almost like an accordion but there are no bellows and the tone is controlled by his breath. The song plays with the ideas that children’s toys can suggest. To this we will add the soaring sound of the carpenter’s hand saw, vacuum cleaner hose vocals, tuned glass bottles and a touch of French horn.
The song was inspired by an unlikely meeting, at just the right time, with a comedienne from Chicago, named Poppy, in the waiting room of an almost empty train station in Saskatoon in the middle of the night.