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New Album: Transience

Yesterday I put my third album – Transience – online at Bandcamp. My first thought, thinking about it, is “How?!,” followed shortly by “Why?,” but sometimes that’s just the way things go: we do things, we realize we have enough, we’re okay with it, we set it free.

Transience is weird to me. It’s a transitional release – which it shares in common with Between Hammer and Anvil and Time and Distance, oddly enough, but unlike those other releases, it feels closer to what I had in mind in the first place.

I did everything on these releases. If you hear drums, I played them, whether they’re a real acoustic kit (on everything but Zuum and Fly) or BFD3 (for, well, Zuum and Fly). If there’s a bass, it’s my fingers. All guitars were mine, all of the synths, even the vocals on “Inhibition” were me, although Inhibition fed them through a vocoder.

Weirdly enough, this is my most guitar-forward collection, with Contrivance being the only track that features keyboards heavily in any role; apart from that song, keyboards are purely sound reinforcement, something that fits my limited skills better.

I tried to capture things as “live” as I could. I read recently that Led Zeppelin wanted Physical Graffiti to have a “real band recording an album” feel, so if a plane was flying overhead and the mics captured it, well, there was a plane on the album, and the album was what it became, warts and all. (If that album has warts, gosh, I wish my album had such problems!)

So with Transience, I decided that I was going to try to write and record something I could hear myself recording. There are a few places where I “patched in” to repair performances, or to maintain a vibe that changed over the recording, but for the most part, for each instrument, I hit “record,” played the song, and decided to either capture that performance as a whole, or discard it. What you’re hearing is what I was able to play. There’s no “studio magic,” for the most part.

I also captured changing processes. These songs were recorded over a couple of years, it turns out, and as such they reflect changes in how I recorded or set things up, or different equipment profiles.

This shows up most clearly in the drums, because I added drums, or changed cymbals, or changed my mic setup. I initially used stereo overheads, suspended equilaterally over the kit, and switched to a more traditional Glyn Johns technique (with a center overhead mic and a side mic over the ride); I also went from Shure 57s (because they’re what I had) to some PreSonus PM-2 condenser mics and a Shure 52A kick mic.

Changing mics isn’t easy, because you have to learn what the mics capture in order to record them well. I’m still not sure I’m satisfied with the drum sound, but… again, looking at Led Zeppelin, my conclusion is that the sound is what it is, and I’m going to have to be happy enough with it, or I’ll never release music and move on to something new.

The bass on this album was mostly my Rickenbacker. Contrivance and Glimpse and Heat all used my Jazz bass; after those were recorded, my Rickenbacker came in and I pretty much never played the Jazz again. I traded it for a new guitar, an Alex Lifeson Axcess, which ended up being very heavily featured on the subsequent tracks.

My amplification – such that it was – also changed over time. The early tracks used Amplitube for recording the guitars “in the box” – meaning that I plugged the guitars to feed into Cubase and software was used as an amp emulator. I relied heavily on Ampeg and Orange amp emulations for the bass, and the guitars tended to be Hiwatt, Fender Twin, or Marshall emulations (although there’s a Roland Jazz Chorus or three in there as well).

But I chose guitar amplification on a per-song basis; for one song (Contrivance) I used Native Instruments’ Reaktor for the electric guitar.

After a while, though, I switched over to a NeuralDSP-heavy amplification chain. Darkglass, Archetype Tim Henson, and Archetype Rabea dominate my recent tracks.

The mixes are… inconsistent. I am a somewhat competent recording engineer, at best: what I know is what I need, and that’s about it. Every mix is approached as its own project, and as a result, each song has its own mix and sound.

That’s borrowing yet again from Led Zeppelin as an inspiration, where on their earlier albums you’d be hard-pressed to tell which song belonged on which album just based on the sound of the song. (Later on, you could tell; songs on “Presence” sound like they were on “Presence,” you know? But on earlier albums, the mixing on each song was unique.)

However, one thing Led Zeppelin has that I do not was a mastering process; the songs sounded very different, with unique mixes, but the mastering was consistent (and excellent). If I had a criticism of my releases based on pure analysis (apart from the artistry, a subjective thing), I’d say that my inexperience mastering would be the most severe criticism. It is what it is. I don’t trust myself to master well; such is life.

I hope you enjoy the release.

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