iPadded Cell

One of the exciting aspects of recording these days is the affordability of it. The most recent release from Dave Migman was created on an iPad, iPadded Cell. Almost all of us have some sort of electronic device, just to survive in the modern world, that probably comes with or can download recording software. When finished you can upload your recordings to Bandcamp for free (the fee comes out of your sales rather than up front).

For a while now iPads have included the whole Apple software bundle, including Garage Band. I work on a PC so I have no direct experience with Garage Band but I assume it’s pretty much like any other DAW. It comes with a fairly useful and robust sound library of both traditional instrument sounds and electronics. As with any other DAW, if you want the subtlety of performance a physical object would produce, the non-musical squeaks and wonks that are often incorporated into the sonic palette, especially since the elevation of jazz to serious art music, you’ll be very unhappy. You’re still going to need a real instrument and microphone and, most obviously, a real musician. But you can do some amazing things with these software instruments.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts about Migman’s recordings, he’s most at home with his guitar making some rather punkish squalls of rhythmic noise to accompany his blood and sinew, modern myth poems. Some of the slicker sounding, more classical accompaniment on this album seem incongruous and a bit misguided. The opening track in particular, “No Soothe Throat”, came across as an ominous forecast with its plucked strings. It turns out that much of the recordings here have synth and electric guitar sounds that, to me, work better. But even the other recordings with orchestral patches seem to fit better. I’m not really here to review his work though I seem to be sliding into a review. I just want to point out that you can do some interesting and acceptably good work with inexpensive tools.

Here is an extensive quote from Dave: “I have my own misgivings about the album… partly guilt. I know a lot of musicians and they spend their lives practicing their art… with the touch screen instruments that the iPad version of GB offers you create sound by rubbing the screen (sounds bizarrely Sci-Fi erotic… like something from an old Woody Allen flick) – but its true. Pressure alters the sound, resonance, the way you touch the screen alters note length. It’s actually very intuitive and well designed. However, as stated in the note that goes with the LP – I’m fairly certain a monkey could belt out a tune on the thing. The presets offer structured chords in rhythmic sequence, which you can alter should you wish. For me the boon is that after years of carving rocks I can’t play guitar so well, the old hand claws up. The guilt factor comes with the ease and comparative lack of skill needed to create a tune.
Another drawback with GB is that you can’t alter the levels to a great degree and to transport the tracks to a laptop or PC is complicated and time consuming… it’s also a bitch to recompose each track into the full song. I’m sure there are ways of doing it.”

The other thing I wanted to point out about Migman is that he is a hard working guy. I don’t know of many people recording poetry and music together and most of us who are seem to be too easily distracted by other things. Dave, too, is distracted. I know he’s written at least one novel while producing several albums of recorded poetry. I start to wonder if the guy sleeps.

If you want to do some good in the world, buy his work. Any of us who are recording poetry and music or other sounds are less than marginal. We need your support.

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A Quick Mention

I want to treat this installment as a news flash. Mark Goodwin has an upcoming event and Dave Migman has two new releases of music and poetry.

First, I’ll pass on the basics of the exhibit Mark Goodwin is putting together in Leicester, quoting from an email announcement he sent me: “Poems, places & soundscapes  An international exhibition of digitally produced sound-&-poetry focusing on place, and soundscape. Poet Mark Goodwin and Brian Lewis (of Longbarrow Press) bring together and present a range of vivid, immersive sound-enhanced poetry made through various poet, musician and sound-designer collaborations, as well as by individual poet-sound-artists. The exhibition also includes a small selection of ‘place-entranced’ film-poems. This exhibition is part of Mark Goodwin’s Sound-Enhanced Poetry project, which was awarded an Arts Council of England Grant for the arts in 2013.  An open and informal panel discussion about sound-enhanced poetry and film-poem will launch the exhibition on April 10th 2014, 6.30 pm, The Cube Gallery, The Phoenix, Leicester.”

I hope you get to see and hear it in person.

I’m also hoping there will be more to post about the event and exhibition.

Something a little easier for most of us to experience are two more collections of recordings by Dave Migman, both released on March 5, 2014. We have a collection of his solo works, In the Kingdom of the Blind, released on Spleen’s label Splitting Sounds Records, which includes possibly my favorite recording of his, The Drift.

The other collection is another collaboration with Spleen, Where All Tracks Lead. As much as I liked their last album, Sheol, I think I find this one even more satisfying, perhaps because the music is more rhythmic (the old rocker in me is hard to put down).

In the future I’d like to do an article about Radio Wildfire, from the UK, who feature recordings of poetry and sound (I noticed both Dave Migman and Mark Goodwin on a current playlist), as well as hosting and presenting live events. I’m trying to get ahold of them. (A brief aside: the background on their site kills my eyes and leaves me with a fuchsia afterimage that prevents me from seeing much of anything for about 30 seconds. I hope your eyes are more adaptable than mine. It looks like an great site.)

I intend to get more information about recorded poetry from Longbarrow Press (notice that they have a tab for recordings), who publish Mark Goodwin and are involved in the exhibition. My ambition is to fill the world with multimedia publications, so if I ask enough people and write about it I will eventually get my wish? I think with or without me it’s happening.

I have also been digging into what Bandcamp allows you to upload into a release package. This includes PDF and video. So there’s no reason a poet and noisemaker couldn’t include a standard PDF with text and images as well as an interactive PDF with the recordings included, as well as video. Time and technology and skills permitting, of course. I’ve been thinking of releasing something of my own just to test the possibilities but more so I encourage others to try. I would like to hear and see what you can do.

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.

The record I’ve been waiting for

In 1978 I heard the record that made me hungry: An American Prayer, the posthumous release of some of Jim Morrison’s poems with sound collage and musical backing by the surviving members of the Doors. Some people hate it. Some love it. To me it doesn’t matter if it was good or bad: the important fact is that it changed my expectations of what can and should be done with poetry.

Since then it’s been pretty bleak. You ever see those nature films with the animals wandering the Serengeti with nothing to eat or drink, yet they must keep moving or they’ll die: that’s how I feel about recordings of poetry and music. There have been sporadic recordings throughout the years by artists who don’t feel the need do whole albums or multiple albums of poetry (for instance, Hawkwind and Laurie Anderson might come to mind).

And of course there’s Brian Eno and Rick Holland’s collaboration Drums Between the Bells.

While checking out what was going on in the world of Istvan Peter B’Racz, probably looking for something of his to listen to, I noticed he was following someone called Farewell Poetry. Of course I had to find who or what they are.

Of course I had to buy the CD/DVD once I heard “As True as Troilus”.

Listen while you read on:

September, 2011 Gizeh Records released Hoping for the Invisible to Ignite by Farewell Poetry. This is the record that has given me hope. (I think Drums Between the Bells will make more waves and influence more people, both artists and consumers, leading to more recordings of music and poetry combined—which gives me hope that there’s a future for the genre.) This is the record I’ve been waiting for almost 35 years, and because of this I have hope that beautiful records of a sort I long to hear will still be made.

I’m won over by Jayne Amara Ross’ poetry and voice (Ross is also a filmmaker and the second disc is video). I’m won over by painfully beautiful music, a mixture of sweetness and noise building to multiple crescendos and final collapse.…I feel totally inadequate to describe anything about these recordings: just listen to them. That’s all I want you to do: listen to these recordings. I can’t get my fill.

Sounding The Cloud

 

 

Technology provides each aspiring artist with recording studios that are inexpensive and more than adequate for the aspiring artist.  We each of us now have at our fingertips the potential to record our own sounds, in our own rooms or even on the move! In the past I had been recording my own stuff (sometimes collaborating with others, mostly solo projects) responding to a primal ‘need’ to make my writings audible. At first I recorded purely for the enjoyment I took from vocalizing and adding music to my tracks. For the most part I would record little snippets of guitar or keyboards, then add to these in Audacity. I liked fading sequences in and out of each other.  Regardless I had no idea what to do with the mounting files of audio recordings that were crowding my external hard drives.

 

Now there is Soundcloud! A platform has been created whereby you can seek an audience for your uploaded tracks and you can peruse other artists’ talent to your hearts content. Now, sure there are many ‘friendcatchers’ out there: they follow you but when you check them out they already have 2000 followers and you can be pretty sure they haven’t listened to your tracks (funny that most of their tracks tend to be, from what I have heard, generic hardcore samples that can be knocked up in programs like mixtikl in the space of five minutes). But there are many out there who are having fun with the audio medium, who are experimenting (the Air to Hear group is a good place to listen in –   it’s one of many out there).  There is a thriving community of artists of all genres (and beyond) out there.  Unlike Facebook I feel that Soundcloud has more to offer. There is potential here, more so than the likes of My Space, which does not possess the same intimacy. I’ve only been using SoundCloud for a month now and I feel I’ve already made many good contacts and discovered a host of interesting work. Long may it continue!

 

 

 

Dave Migman