In 2010, I released a massive 14-hour collection of songs on DVD. These were sold at shows and online, and once I sold out, I was trying to figure out a way that I could release such a large collection of ambient music. With 14 tracks over an hour long each, there wasn’t a digital music infrastructure in place to be able to handle such a large project. Places like iTunes and Amazon were great for an album of 4 or 5 minute tracks. But they flat-out refused to deal with the pricing structure and logistics of hosting such a large project. Buy it here. You can also watch a playlist made up of samples from all 14 hours (itself, an hour) here.
I came across Bandcamp, which is a sole distributor for many independent artists. They were willing to host my project, and have the audience to appreciate such a large release. So, while my shorter releases remain on more traditional digital music outlets, these large ones will be hosted on Bandcamp.
This project was over a year in the making, and required learning a lot of new skills to release- many of those have nothing to do with music! It consists of 14 hours of ambient music, each named for a star in the constellation Orion. These were recorded with guitar, guitar synthesizer, and looping. I released it on DVD, as it was too much information to be held on a normal CD. The DVD contained a recording blog, some demos, and video as well.
These bonus contents of the DVD are reproduced below, as they don’t come with the digital download.
OK, I have been pretty busy to sit around and write blogs. I put a new CD out a few weeks ago and I have been promoting that.
The purpose of restarting this blog is to write a bit about the process of writing the next long-form series called ‘Reward Your Toil’. As it is now, it will consist of 14 hours of music to relax or sleep by. I think music can have many different purposes…you can sing along/rock out to it, or study it…or do what I think the original ambient artists did- use it to influence your mood. That is why I am doing this.
I am playing a lot of keys on this too, with some guitar and guitar synth. I think for me, when I want new ideas, I change the method of coming up with them. Over 30 years of guitar playing leaves you with pretty set muscle memory sometimes. But I wanted to try to learn some keys, so I could avoid those hot licks I always come back to.
The music will be done differently than my last long series- the 50 CD, 50 hour Collectives series. I plan to multitrack it, so I can layer a few parts. Not many, because the layers are really dense, but a few. Instead of improvising it all, I will come up with small motifs- little melodies that come back, overlap and loop. Something not too rhythmic or too repetitive so your mind doesn’t lock too much on it while it is going by slowly.
I am using some different programs to record this: since it is fairly straightforward, recording-wise, I am using Mackie Tracktion to record it. It is a great DAW that is really fast to use, with no menus and an easy layout. I do plan on switching to Focusrite’s Studio One at some point, since it is designed to be fast and efficient, and it isn’t 4 years old, which, in the computer world is like Pong. The best way to learn a new program is to dive right in, and use it for a project- you learn really fast! And it is much easier than just doing test recordings- I might actually be able to release this stuff! I will be using many softsynths as well, including Omnisphere (wow, this one is amazing), M-Tron (which does Mellotron emulation) and a few string libraries.
OK, this recording will be an hour long, broken up into 4 15 minute segments at a time. I will record the first 15 minutes, do whatever keyboard overdubs I want, then go on to the next 15 minutes, I move to the next one. When I am done with the hour, I will mix it, and then play the guitar part over the continuous hour. It will probably be just 1 or 2 guitar parts at the most, because looping and guitar synth can get pretty dense, and it will make it hard to mix later.
Vol 1: The First 30 minutes
I layered 2 sounds in Omnisphere, and added some slow phaser and a long reverb. These sounded great, and are constantly evolving, so there is a lot to listen to. Over these 2 sounds, I overdubbed a Choir and String sound from M-Tron. This synth sounds just like a vintage Mellotron, that sound you hear at the beginning of ‘Strawberry Fields’, and all those Yes, King Crimson and Moody Blues recordings. The world’s first sampler, it used strips of magnetic tape (8 seconds long) that played when you pressed a key. The tape wore down though and after awhile sounded pretty scrappy, which is why this sounds so awesome. After 8 seconds, the sound just stops. I treated my Mellotron with reverb and a small amount of phasing, and it sounds huge. I did this section in G minor, which I am terrible at playing on keys, but no better way to learn.
For the 2nd 15 minutes, I started out with a monophonic sound. It is really dense, tuned in 5ths, and it evolves in a different way than the first 15 minutes. This 15 is a lot more sparse, though, a little quieter. Playing monophonically I was forced to come up with something I can play in Bb major. Over top of this swirling synth string sound, I put some electric piano (again from Omnisphere) playing a small 8 note melody. The space in this 15 minutes will alow for some nice guitar stuff in there.
After 30 minutes of recording, I am thinking that I don’t know if anyone could sleep to this…you could, but I am sure the nightmares would start soon.
Volume 2 completed @ 11:41pm the night before. The reason for the gap between Volume 1 & 2 was an upgrade in hardware. I now am using a firewire interface for getting the guitar/synth/looping signals into the computer. It took awhile to get it working (mostly user error), but the guitar signal is being sent digitally, as is the synth. The signal then comes out of the interface, to my Echoplex to get looped, and then is sent back in. This allows me to record without a mixer, which is one less thing to set up, and a whole lot less cables to plug in every time I want to record. Unless I am recording, I don’t keep all the gear plugged in and ready to go, so it is something I have to plan for. So far, the firewire interface sounds great, and will work well when I eventually ditch the bulky desktop computer for a laptop.
Volume 1 of this recording was completed a few weeks ago, and presented some challenges. I played keyboards more than guitar- and my feeble keyboard skills suited this project well. However, I had to layer many parts, as I haven’t quite programmed many sounds yet. I didn’t want strings to sound like strings, and horns to sound like horns, so the signals were further processed to sound nothing like they did originally. The results mostly worked as music, and certainly worked as a different way of doing things which I can add to what I already do.
If you keep drawing from the same well, the water will taste the same, and eventually run out, so I am figuring out new ways to work. With Volume 2, I worked in 15 minute segments, so I can keep things fresh, and I am pre-planning some keys and transitions, which I never used to do.
I also started incorporating soft synths, which reside in the computer. Soft synths are capable of more complex sounds than hardware, although using the computer for sound generation and looping presents it’s own challanges.
It takes awhile for sounds to be switched, and you definately hear the transition. By the same token, looping works, most of the time, but occasionally, the computer hiccups, and you get clicks and pops inserted into the loop. This doesn’t happen with my Echoplex. Also, midi triggering is slow, and the processing power needed to replicate my hardware gear with software eats up a lot of processing power, even with my new firewire interface. So, software is good for some things. Processing 1 guitar signal, for instance, or triggering 1 synth, or simple looping. Not so good for complex routing yet- at least not my computer.
Volume 2 is more serene than Volume 1. This is both good and bad, and I keep reminding myself that I need to slow down. Some very nice changes in the key of A major, with some unexpected chords in there. The new recording program I am using allowed me to edit out a few bad notes, but there were only 3.
Music for a specific purpose is a very different challenge for me. This project is a way for me to jump start creativity, which is certainly happening. I was frustrated by the music I was using to fall asleep to- not that it was bad, but it is slightly one-dimensional. I am striving to have music that is not so complex that it is distracting, not so repetitive that it is annoying but dense enough to focus on different sounds/layer upon repeated listening. I am getting there.
Over the course of the past few weeks, I have completed Volumes 3, 4, 5 & 6. They are very different, and represent a few different approaches to long-form improvisation. I am trying to use less gear so I get a more direct signal. I am also using more tracks per recording, which allows editing later on. If I totally mess up one note on the the guitar, I can edit it out without it affecting the guitar synth or the looping. With the new audio interface I am using, I can send digital signals from most of my hardware boxes, as well as send the signals from the computer back into my Echoplex (the looper) and then back to the computer, all without the use of a mixer. This is ideally the best way to record so far.
I have been playing a bit more on these last few recordings, and not letting the loops just play. I don’t think it is too busy as to prevent relaxation, but I will have to test. I think the next few will go back to being a bit more sparse.
Volume 3 contained some slow chord progressions, with very sparse loops and lots more live playing. I hadn’t quite set the levels between the guitar/guitar synth/looping yet. There is much more guitar on it, as opposed to synth, and it is pretty heavily echoed and pitch transposed.
Volume 4 included lots of bowed glass, lots of chimes, and some Ebow. I really like how it came out, and I think it is one of my favorites.
On Volume 5, I tried something new. I programmed a few very ambient patches for the piezo output of my guitar, which is usually reserved for very acoustic guitar-like sounds. Now I can mix in these reverb washes (some with pitch transposing down or up a few octaves) can be mixed with my guitar and synth. I can also set these sounds up on their own loop, so they run on their own, not locked to the initial loop. I also tried a 68.7 second loop that gradually faded out after about 7 minutes. I kept the loop ‘open’, which means that everything I played got looped..and the loop slowly morphed over the 60 minutes. It was a different way of recording, and it worked. I recorded this direct to 2 track stereo, instead of separate tracks, but I might try that in the future.
Vol 6 was more complex, it was really dynamic, with loud and soft parts, and a few bad notes and hiss in there, which I had to edit out. I am playing in many keys a guitarist normally doesn’t get a chance to play in. Guitarists stick to a few very basic keys in the context of a band, so when playing solo, I get a chance to do things a bit different. Since Volume 5 stuck with many low (in pitch) sounds, I did lots of high ones this time. Due to the dynamic range over the course of the hour, I had to do some editing and eq-ing afterwards. This was a difficult one, and the challenge is to remain focused throughout the hour. Even playing keys I didn’t expect, it is important to turn it into something musical. I have to embrace the unexpected rather than be afraid of it. Bad notes are a different story- the listener never hears them, thankfully.
Hopefully Volume 7 will be recorded this weekend, and I will be well on track to complete this series by the end of October. Then I get to start in promo mode.
This weekend I have to do some programming on my foot controller, as well as work on the amount of cables this system needs. It is constantly evolving, but hopefully it will settle into one constant setup. Controlling most of the sounds with my feet is ideal, although it keeps me busy during the whole hour.
I usually try to enter recording mode with an idea. Maybe it is a certain start key and a completely different end key, and I have to try to connect them over the course of an hour. Or maybe it is a new sound or a range of sounds, like high or low. I think it is too easy to just do what you know. In a sense, projects like this, and the much bigger 50 CD set ‘Collectives’ are the R&D for this artist. I can try new setups, new sounds, new keys, etc, and I am forced to create with them because the (digital) tape is rolling. So I get to know the guitar, the gear, and music better so hopefully I will come out on the other side a little bit wiser.
Volume 7 is finished, and one of the best yet. Some re-programming of some delay sounds allows me to press buttons to create ‘mini-loops’ and not have to hold down the pedals while the echoes continue. There was surprisingly little guitar playing in this recording, but lots of synth and ebow. Also new for this series is an actual guitar solo. It is pretty slow and impressionistic, but it is there, where the piezo output of the guitar mixed with a piano playing some 3 and 4 note melodies at the end of the whole thing.
There were a few stops and starts, and some editing of some missed notes, but nothing major. Putting all of the signals on their own tracks makes it a lot easier to edit though. It was almost impossible when recording all of the signals to 2 tracks. It was almost easier to just start over rather than edit the mistakes out.
After 7 hours of recording, of what seems to be one of my hardest projects, I figured a few things out. Not playing is hard. Not making things too busy is hard. It isn’t like a live performance, where you can feel the audience getting antsy. The purpose of this is to go slow, and provide something that doesn’t change suddenly, and doesn’t have so many notes. So lots of synth and lots of looping…but the looping can’t suddenly stutter or go backwards or an octave lower. Doing that would disrupt the flow, so taking those tools out of the toolbox makes things a lot harder. I am hoping the next 7 not only go a little faster (of course I am running out of time), but keeping these lessons in mind, they might be a lot easier to make now I realize what I have to do.
Before the next one, I have a few programming things to take care of, to tweak a few sounds, both in my pedalboard and one of my effects units.
10/17/10 4:36 PM
Volume 10 is completed, although not without a bunch of edits. The edits were due to reprogramming several sounds, and adding several more to what I normally use. This took about 5 hours or staring at not just the computer screen, but the tiny screens of the hardware devices. Mostly I added a bunch of regular guitar sounds, as well as a bunch of new and forgotten synth sounds. My pedals are constructed in a way that I have about 100 sounds (guitar, guitar synth, and a few others) that I can mix and match. So I did the programming, and then a few days later, dove right into recording. Due to unfamiliarity, and probably exhaustion, I hit a few buttons that resulted in some really loud sounds. Now normally, I would like that, if it was expected. This just means I will have to dive back into some programming. All in all, it worked pretty well, although about 20 minutes in I was seriously thinking of giving up and starting over because the sounds I needed were not where I wanted them to be. Hopefully over the next 4 hours of recording, I will learn where everything is again.
A few more technical glitches resulted in a weird clicking noise throughout this hour, which I got rid of after the fact, but it still shouldn’t be there. Mostly this is caused by something called a sync signal being sent digitally from 2 devices, both made by the same manufacturer. They should play well together, but apparently the clicking turns up randomly. Pretty annoying, but I am trying some ways to get rid of it, but it takes time tracking these things down. I’d rather be playing that killing bugs, but this is a pretty complex recording setup, so I am going to have to deal with it if I want this to be a viable studio.
I also worked on triggering some bass notes with my feet in this recording- as well as recording some loops and reversing them. It is difficult to get too rhythmic, or too fancy with reversing and pitch-changing the loops, as it takes away the meditational aspect of the music.
If the music is too jumpy, or if it is able to be noticed too much, it doesn’t exactly quiet the mind, and I am guessing that is one of the harder things for me to learn while recording this.
Volume 11 is done, and I am on track to get the whole series done by the end of this month. This recording went pretty quickly, with no sync clicks. I am getting used to my reprogrammed pedals, with lots more sounds at my disposal than before. This makes the transitions a lot easier than before, with much less scrolling and searching by hand. This recording mostly focused on G minor, Eb major and C major, which much more rhythms in this recording than others. I find it hard to just play chords for an hour straight- is that the lesson here? I am not sure. I think when I started with this whole project, part of it was to reconnect with my synth & looping rig, discover new sounds, and play much less irritating music, which I tend to do when things get too serene. I am finding that playing chords and very slow passages for an hour straight is pretty difficult, because the composer part of my brain hears so much more going on. So I am trying to strike a balance- between very slow chords with pretty dreamy sounds, and enough interest in the arrangement that I, myself, would listen to it. I think I need a bit more practice, but I am getting there.
Also, today I visited the space that I am using for the CD release. It is a small theater in Tarpon Springs, FL and it has enough seats to not feel like someone’s living room, and it is small enough that I can still feel some sort of connection to the audience. There is a lot of promo work still to do, including pictures, videos, etc, but that will take up most of November. With the recording being done in October, I can devote more time to deciding how 14 hours of music will be released, and figure out the logistics of the performance.
Hour 12 completed, and if I plan well, I can do 13 tomorrow, and 14 this weekend. I had some problems early on, with the loops getting louder in every repeat, and eventually distorting in a bad way. Fortunately I can edit that out. I also had some pretty awful notes I accidently played, because I forgot what key I was in! I normally would leave these in, but due to the nature of this project, I didn’t. The hardest part of this whole thing is playing simple lines, that you can ignore or pay attention to, but definately not call attention to, so they had to go. I did a few solos in this though, 2 with an Ebow- a kind of electronic bowing device for guitar that causes endless sustain. You hold it over the string (one at a time) and it vibrates, making some really beautiful sounds. Closer to an oboe or cello than guitar, since you don’t hear the attack of the pick at all. It blends well with the synth too- and I often blend it with a bunch of other things going on as well.
The other solo was straight distorted guitar, which almost never happens in this series (maybe once?). But I did a small solo as well. I have to tweak a few sounds though- I am still scrolling through presets way too much, and the when I press pedals, I am not getting the sounds I expect. That is fun sometimes, but certainly not here.
This week also starts the 2 month promo cycle for this project, which first starts with posting samples online, and then making posters and press releases around town. Hopefully the ‘cd release’ (if releasing 14 hours is a CD release) will go well, and I can sell tickets. But it takes a lot of work to do that- good thing I am hopeful, and I am looking forward to the actual show in January.
Volume 13 is finished, and 1 more to go. I will hopefully record that this weekend. This recording turned out well, but there were some low-level clicks at the beginning or ending of some sof the loops.
This is easily edited out of the final recording, but this sucks when playing live. So after number 14 is recorded, I will have to go through and try to figure out a way to get rid of them. It isn’t easy, since this will most likely mean I will have to ditch the dedicated loop footpedal, and use the same one I use to select patches. This effectively cuts out about 40 sounds that I use now. However, I would rather have a seamless performance than not know when clicks will happen. They are pretty loud! And I think part of ‘what I do’ is to have seamlessness between live playing and looping.
The way the synth works is that it uses ‘samples’ or recordings of sound that I trigger with the guitar. It also further treats these sounds with internal effects, which drastically change the sound. It uses different effects for each sound. Now, if I play a sound, and hold it with a sustain pedal, then select another sound, the original, held sound will change, because new effects for the new sound are applied to it. So while changing the sound itself is seamless, changing the effects isn’t. I can choose either:
- Wait until the previous sound has rung out before changing sounds. I have done this on every one of these recordings, and it is a very different way to play. The sounds are more interesting, but the tradeoff is that it isn’t nearly as seamless.
- Apply the same effects to every sound. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, although it makes most sounds not as interesting. So this helps me whittle down 40 sounds, as it seems I will have to. Some of the stronger sounds still hold up, though- my main ones. Some of the pads suffer, but I will have to let go of about 10-15 of them anyway for this to work. This does, however, make the switching of sounds incredibly seamless.
On this project, I can’t play a sound, hold a chord with my sustain pedal, and switch sounds. The held sound would change with new effects applied to it. So I hold the sound, loop it, and then change sounds.
My regular guitar doesn’t do seamless patch changes either. So it would be nice is one piece of gear does.
The music on this recording is some of my favorite of the series. It also features probably my favorite Ebow solo ever recorded.
Volume 14, the last, is done. After 4 months or so, the music part of this project is complete.
Well, I am in the middle of editing. I got this down pretty well by now- the last ones are much better edited than the early ones, however this was a particularly tough recording to make. There are some level problems, as well as some clicks caused by the Echoplex’s foot controller. I can edit these, but it takes time. So I am spending more time on the editing side of things. It turned out to be a pretty good recording though- even if I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to record today. Today, being the last day of October, was the goal I set for myself for finishing up the recording of this project. I am happy I met that goal- but now the next phase begins. All of the promo, pictures, press releases, websites, etc now has to be done. This part is my least favorite, but it has to be done or else all of the hard work recording this goes out of the window. i have a lot to do too- much less figure out how to release 14 hours of music. It can all be on a USB drive, which is the original plan. However, it might also be released on a data CD. The idea is to have lots of extra content besides the music. Like this blog, as well as pictures, a video or 2, etc. Much more than you would find on a typical CD. I think the format in which I like to release things doesn’t suit the standard CD idea, and there isn’t exactly a roadmap for this kind of stuff.
Oh, I just remembered- I still have more sound programming to do before the show. Hopefully some rehearsing as well. I will do the programming this week, then take a break from ambient music for a month, and start rehearsing again in December.
The home stretch. Videos recorded, radio show over. Press releases sent out. This is about as much as this musician can do himself. Well, not entirely himself, but it feels like it.
Also, I decided to release this on a DVD, which is easier and chieaper than a USB drive. Hopefully no one will put it in their DVD or CD player- it won’t work.
I have to still make the CDs, but the artwork is done.
The stresses include:
- the CD cover, which may not get here in time. Good news is that I love the CD cover. So if it doesn’t get here in time, I have to figure out something else.
- the lighting for the show isn’t going to happen the way I wanted.
- the PA system provided is in mono. This is baaaaad. I might have to bring other speakers. I hate mono for this kind of music.
Still have to change strings, practice, make up a program for the show. Good news, is that the press has been kind. A 1 hour radio show (I included it here on the CD) was done, with a positive response. Several papers are doing stories.
And today, I am ‘Artist of the Day’ for Tampa Bay…from the St Pete Times:
“One would be hard-pressed to find an artist as productive as Dave Eichenberger of New Port Richey.
In 2006, Eichenberger received a grant from the State of Florida and National Endowment for the Arts for a project encompassing 50 hour-long albums. You could call him a New Age jazz guitarist, but his music is more avant-garde than you might think, with lots of loops, synths and soundscapes.
Lest you think that was just a one-time deal, Eichenberger is set to debut a new project this weekend. Titled Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind, his new album is a 14-hour collection of music designed to help you go to sleep. He’ll perform music at 8:30 p.m. Saturday (1/8) at the Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, 101 S Pinellas Ave., Tarpon Springs. There, you can buy a data CD including the entire 14-hour album, plus writings and pictures.
Outside of his solo career, Eichenberger plays guitar with local blues favorite Julie Black and other performers. And if that’s not enough creative output for you, you can even buy jewelry featuring his logo.”
OK, ‘new age jazz’? I don’t know what that means, but it has jazz in the description, so I will take it. It is funny how people describe what I do. I generally don’t describe it, but I love hearing descriptions. It does have a heritage in jazz, because of the improvisation. It also has a heritage in classical music, because of the multi-layered composition. But I hear a slightly bratty intent in there too….
CD covers haven’t shown up. 2 more days left. Did get a mention in Creative Loafing today, the area’s artsy paper:
“Saturday, Jan. 08 Dave Eichenberger Tampa Bay area guitarist Dave Eichenberger sets aside his time as sideman (he usually plays with blues songstress Julie Black) and stages a performance of live guitar loops and synth compositions as featured on his recent solo release, Reward Your Toil: Music to Quiet the Mind, a 14-hour collection designed to aid in meditation, relaxation and sleep. According to the musician’s release, “This project was the result of my need for music that doesn’t demand attention. It is also a good soundtrack while staring at the night sky.” Expect a calming experience. (Tarpon Springs Cultural Center, Tarpon Springs)”
Program content to write
still to do.
Proofreading the blog, and burning CDs. Got a mention in the local arts paper as well as a picture in today’s St Pete Times Weekend section, as ‘something to do this weekend.’ CD covers still haven’t arrived. If you bought this, and it came in a cool cover with a starscape and skeleton, then they showed up on the day before the show.
The above performance was recorded and broadcast by WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa FL on 12/31/10 at 9 am. The last Live Music Showcase at this time slot, the show will move to a more musician-friendly 2pm. Getting there early at 8:20 am, setting up, and then playing about 4 long pieces in an hour, the show turned out to be more talking about the project than I thought, but it was all good stuff. I am happy with most of the performances, except some loop problems early on. By 9:30, things really started to come together. I actually played a few solos on this- it was New Years Eve after all- although the 14 hours didn’t have any solos at all.