Dave Migman, in the rough

If you’ve been reading Poetry and Other Sounds you’ve probably already encountered Dave Migman as a contributing author. Also, I’ve made passing mention of him before. Primarily we’re interested in his recordings of poetry combined with music. But Dave is multitalented and is most driven to express himself by writing: here are links to his publisher and his book, The Wolf Stepped Out, his blog, and his literary podcast (the Dogcast can also be found on soundcloud.com). In his soundcloud biography he mentions being a stone carver though I haven’t found any links to this work. But, there is a link to his graphic art.

I’m drawn to the colors and textures, finding that it reminds me of Max Ernst.

I want to start you off with The Drift, which Dave mentions later in an email discussing his recording methods. While I like Dave’s recordings, the spoken pieces more than the sung, The Drift has gotten hold of me the way music does when you’re fourteen and you play a song over and over until the vinyl has worn almost as thin as the patience of everyone around you (we had records and 8-track tapes when I was young (I don’t think cassettes were being commercially made for music yet, it was just a dictation medium of very low quality), and some of us only had mono record players…can you play an MP3 until it wears out?).

I say “in the rough” because Dave seems to follow in the tradition of English verse rich in blood and sinews and direct statements. I see it as a sign of honesty, integrity, and impatience (I consider these artistic virtues but they might be social liabilities, as expressed in his song Solitary Man). You can’t call any of these tracks smooth. There’s nothing paté about his writing or his recording: it’s all meat and gristle you can chew on.

Dave has already spoken of the ease and usefulness of a free audio editing program, Audacity.  I’m going to let him speak for himself, quoting from an email I opened this morning. I’m assuming that the “directional microphone” he’s referring to is a cardioid mic, which picks up less and less of the sound as it moves from front and center, so you aim the microphone at your sound source. By the time you read this the Tascam DR-05 could be off the market. It is a handheld audio recorder, inexpensive and easy to use, with built-in microphones. There are numerous recorders of the sort on the market and for the first time anyone with $100 or a little more can have very high quality recording equipment (when I started recording in 1996 the portable recorders available were rarely under $2000, plus microphones, and had a lot of breakable moving parts and recorded to tape; and if it was a cheaper digital unit it came with copy protection so you couldn’t transfer your recordings).…Regarding the pop filtering he mentions, you can buy little foam hat-like things or mesh discs that mount to a mic stand. If you really don’t have the money but can access old nylon stockings and a coat hanger, it’s not too difficult to construct your own (if it’s touching anything that the mic comes into contact with, such as a mic stand, be careful not to bump it). My advice, along with using a pop filter or windscreen is to take a step back, especially if you like to scream and yell. A little distance is good for the microphone as well as the recording.

Well, I’ll try to clarify things. I work with a variety of methods. But I do like to keep it simple. I’m not great with technical issues as I do not have a head for mathematics. Certain things flow intuitively. Neither am I trained in music, I know what strings to tune on a guitar, and I can feel which notes will sit with a bass line etc.

I am a prolific writer. I have files and hardcopy notebooks filled with poetic bile, notes culled from the road or relationships and thoughts on life. Thus my process is pretty haphazard. I record a guitar riff ( I had a directional microphone that I would balance on a pile of books next to the amp (a tiny 25 watt thing). Then I test the levels, all long as I’m not hitting the red too much things record fine and the mic’s proximity to the amp cuts out any background noise. Currently I record on a new iMac, using its built in mic which isn’t the best, I’m still hunting for my mic. Sometimes I also record lyrics for tracks on my Tascam DR-05 mp3 recorder, these tracks I then slot in place over a ‘rough’ vocal in either Audacity or Garageband (the two studio platforms I use).

When I first began recording my own stuff on my laptop in 2008 I would just holler into the built in mic, but found that these vary from computer to computer, so it’s worth buying a mic, if you are looking for professional quality you’ll want something directional and something to stop your p’s and b’s popping (I used to put a cloth over the mic, it seemed to help).

Song construction varies, but generally I create files of riffs, these I might add to, and once again the lyrics are chosen by what feels right rhythmically and what suits the mood of each track. Often I cobble together several pieces of text to create one song. I do like reversing sounds, altering the pitch and I used to have a piece of vocal transforming software which was useless for the intended purpose but when set on a certain effect, and when the mic was rubbed against the table or palm of my hand produced the bizarre sound that you hear through “The Drift” – so it’s good to experiment. As for other instruments, I use harmonica, harmony, wind drum, Bodhran, guitar, thumb piano etc recording straight into the computer, or Mp3 recorder (currently this is why most of my audio tracks pick up the noise of the busy street I live on – but it’s all ambience).

Notice that he was using an effects processor for an unintended purpose. Please do as Dave does. In the digital world it’s pretty hard to damage anything but the results can be incredible. In the physical world show a little more care—electronics and liquids should never meet; microphones and electrical components are easily damaged by even small bumps and bangs. Imagination can be simple. If you play it right we call it art, whether it’s smooth or in the rough.

Diana Harmon Garnand and the Art of Collaboration

It’s too easy to think of the artist—at least certain types of artist, such as poets and painters—as isolated beings. And we, the artists, too often buy into that stereotype. Prior to the era of Earth being blanketed in communication networks we’d all have to hang out at a bar or café, if we wanted to connect with other artists, drinking and arguing rather than creating. Of course we can still do that, and it has its rewards. But you can avoid the hangover and actually use those networks to make art.

Diana Harmon Garnand is doing just that. At the beginning of 2012 she began posting her readings of poems, her own and those of some favorite poets (notably Rumi and Neruda), on soundcloud.com. “I have only been on SC since January and have only been recording since then, so my tracks are no older than that, and I have even deleted most of my voice only recordings which I started out with, to gain space.” (All quotes are from email exchanges.)

It didn’t take long for musicians to notice her. “Many times I recorded and posted a vocal of a poem and then unbeknownst to me an artist (or several) have downloaded it and meshed it with their tracks, then sent it to me to see what I think. In most cases, they have worked beautifully.” “I happen to know that in many cases their music tracks were created…long ago and just recently blended with the vocal track…and in other cases, some of the tracks were created specifically for my vocal tracks.” “In a few occasions, an artist has sent me their music track and asked me to write or find something to recite with it.”

Of everything I’ve heard her do, the following is my favorite. To me, the poem, her voice, the music all fit perfectly.

The most ambitious project she’s been involved with is reading for Zebrabook‘s project, The Dead Company (he is known elsewhere as Jon Bushaway). Tales of loss, despair, heartache, these are not exactly what Diana is usually drawn toward, but she brings to them a very painful vulnerability that keeps them believable.  “The Dead Co project was quite something to be part of and I’m quite grateful to Jon (Zebra) for allowing me to be a voice for that. Real life but often uneasy topics.” “…the process begins with being moved by a piece of poetry; I try to connect deeply with all the pieces I recite, although in honesty, it is challenging to connect emotionally with some of them. With the ones about love and romance, no problem.”  “Many of The Dead Co pieces I could connect with rather quickly, others not so much. My goal is that this emotional reaction, connection, interpretation comes through in the reading.”

I find it encouraging for other poets and actors, the simplicity of her recording “studio”. “My equip is very novice at this point: my laptop and built-in mic…It’s what I have for now and as I didn’t set out to do this initially, it’s what I am able to utilize for now, so it works. I have dreamt about a studio however… and a real mic too, lol. All the stuff. Someday perhaps. My ‘studio’ is my closet, lol. I laugh but it’s really something I love doing.” “And yes, in most cases the collab partner is doing the mixing and effects. I have also done some myself though :) If the music to vocal mix sounds out of balance to me, I tell the partner…”

You really don’t need much to record yourself these days and it’s very easy, at least in theory, to find artists with whom you can collaborate (this is a topic I expect to return to many times, until every poet who wants to record is doing it and every musician looking for a poet has found one).

Because of financial and space constrictions, Diana has begun a second page at soundcloud.com: and speaking of love…

I have to leave you with one more recorded collaboration before we part ways. This is a reading of a poem by London’s Taymaz Valley, music by another soundclouder Brian Routh.