Two Releases Spring 2016

You might be thinking that I’m showing favoritism by once again announcing a release by UK artist Dave Migman. It’s certainly true that I like his work and would love to enlarge his audience. It’s also true that he’s relatively prolific. While most of us seem to be running our children around town or getting sucked into another season of some television show or other (now that we can stream whole seasons over a weekend, why bother with anything else?) he’s busy making stuff. Not that artists don’t deserve a little relaxation and a chance to fill themself with the mental equivalent of a Twinkie but, really, we’re usually happier making stuff.

Dave Migman - Learning How To Live And Die - Learning How To Live And Die 3

A drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Migman’s most recent release on Bandcamp, Learning How to Live and Die, has many of his delightful drawings. His writing, as always, is visceral, blood and sinews, corporeal, tangible, and in-your-face outraged. That is, he’ll probably offend your finer sensibilities and get himself thrown out of any polite discussion of office politics. The sounds here, behind the words, are spartan, especially compared to his last release iPadded Cell, and, as always, help build a sense of immediacy and intensity.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

Another drawing from Learning How to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

According to the notes on Bandcamp’s page, these works were originally “dogcasts” written and performed in 2012 for Doghorn publishing. Then, “This version has been re-edited, scooped and hollowed and then pumped with reinforced concrete. Some readings are recent, others old. It recounts a journey through Greece back in 2007 and much was written under the influence of Grecian Village white wine, while staring at the gathering dusk.”

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

A third drawing from Learning to Live and Die. Copyright Dave Migman.

I hope you have the time and money to venture over to Bandcamp to buy all his recordings. (I think all his downloads are name-your-price.)

Also available at Bandcamp is my own collection, 20 Years Frozen for
All Time, with selections spanning 1996-2016. Compared to my previous retrospective collection, 15 Years of Prattle and Din, this one better represents my earlier, pre-computer years of recording.  It is a 2-disc collection (though it downloads as a single stream of twenty-one compositions) lasting over 2 1/2 hours. It’s hard to do anything else while listening to any kind of spoken word, so this could be quite a chore to listen to. The collection includes a 72-page booklet, both in standard PDF and in a printable version (set out in 12-page signatures that need to be collated, trimmed, and bound), and binding instructions. The content of several recordings and certainly that of the booklet are sexually explicit and not appropriate for all ages or philosophical states of mind. The booklet is thick with biographical detail, forays into my recording history (which you can find in even greater detail on my blog Prattle and Din), essays on the creative process, the texts for all included recordings, as well as some notes specific to each recording (again, you can find much more on the blog).

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6"x 8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less "offensive") drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 105 from Laughing Water. 6″x 8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Early to mid-1990s. One of the more socially acceptable (that is, less explicit and therefore less “offensive”) drawings from the series. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6"x8" graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another "tame" image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.

Drawing 107 from Laughing Water. 6″x8″ graphite and acrylic on Rieves BFK. Circa early to mid-1990s. Another “tame” image from the booklet. Copyright Michael Myshack.



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.

A Recording Memoir

A recording memoir? Like spending months in the studio with rock stars? Endless drama and creativity? Even those books (try Tony Visconti, Glyn Johns, or Phill Brown) give a hint of day after day at a control surface playing knob and fader ballet. It’s rarely glamorous. The excitement is a bit more rarefied, that sense of a job well done.

That story is becoming legend as even professional musicians do more and more of their recording alone at their home studio. They might still have some interesting tales of life on the road but their recording experiences are becoming as dull as any amateur’s, possibly not even getting to play with those cool looking faders and knobs, just sitting at a computer’s monitor clicking the mouse between takes.

Welcome to the blank screen of infinite creativity. It’s just you and the machine. I hope you can work together. It need not be as intimidating as it seems, maybe even less so than a blank sheet of paper.

Last November (2014) I began to write down my experiences in recording as I attempted to make the transition from clueless to creative. The memoir would be Prattle and Din. I spent most of my free time for the next nine months bringing the tale up to date, as of August 2015, telling the story of each recording as well as of my (mis)adventures with technology. That’s almost twenty years of me and the machines, beginning in March 1996 on a 4-track cassette portable studio. Since 2002 I’ve been working on a computer with DAWs and virtual instruments and processors. Don’t worry, I haven’t become some sort of jaded technocrat; I’ve managed to remain true to my roots and am still pretty seriously clueless.

Of the reasons for me to write of my experiences recording poetry and music (or other sounds), other than to just get it out of my system, I think the most important is that I can inform and warn (and maybe entertain) others who would attempt to create a similar art. I’ve tried a variety of home recording solutions, both hardware and software. Along with the articles telling of each individual composition, its aggregation and evolution, I have posts on microphones, software instruments, effects units, analog and digital portable studios, et cetera. Learn from my mistakes (buy a preamp for your mic!). My experiences are limited so I’ve added numerous links to every article.

I might also inspire you to get beyond some of the conventions of music to try more experimental ways of producing sound. If you think a pop song or classical music is the best thing ever and that’s what you want backing your poetry, by all means. But, really, there’s no reason to get stuck with convention. Everything, absolutely everything has music making potential. It’s just a matter of capturing those sounds and then doing something with them, whether leaving them natural sounding or mangling them beyond recognition (just taking something out of context is often enough). The sound manipulating possibilities within computer software make this very exciting to play with. And if you’re a poet you probably already like playing with sound.

If you have experience recording my story might just be a bit of nostalgia and a source of argument (for instance, I do not glorify recording on a 4-track). Checking out someone’s instruments and tools in recording is quite a bit like checking out someone’s library—it seems to be the geek alternative to butt sniffing (I reek amateur).

I almost forgot, you might have an interest in my recordings and want to know more about them. Almost every post has a story about the sounds I’ve used, maybe something about how they were processed, and how they were put together. There are often photos of the recording tools and of household objects turned into musical instruments. There are screen shots of how the sounds are laid out on a DAW’s timeline, showing the structure of the thing. There is the poem itself (or rant or dream) and often some background information as to what was going on in my life when I wrote it and how it evolved over time, if it was an early work.

I want more people making this kind of nonsense—poetry and other sounds—so it is in my self-interest that I convince you it’s worth your time. I just want to kick back and enjoy what you’ve done. I want the luxury of being a fan.

Sylvian/Wright, Migman, and myself

Some recent releases of recorded poetry and music…

2014 David Sylvian released a recording of a project he had begun in 2011 when he paid a visit to poet Franz Wright and recorded Wright reading poems from Kindertotenwald, There’s a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight.

I had not heard about it until this summer, about two months after Wright had died (May 14, 2015). I had no problem ordering the CD from Amazon but I’ve since heard that it’s already hard to come by. Start emailing Samadhi Sound to let them know it’s their obligation to keep this in print and available (at least through them, if they’ve got problems with the big distributors). I understand that it’s expensive to print LPs and CDs and to keep them on hand but there’s no reason to not have a download available.

Dave Migman has released another album available for purchase at Bandcamp, In the Fine Night We Marched…we’re testing my memory here, I think this is part 2 of The March. The storyline is a retelling based on his notes of a walk from the Pyrenees to Fisterra, along the Via Franca, in 2013. The musical aspect of the record is different from most of his solo albums, which tend to have a DIY punk edge of rough guitar backing his voice (try The March, part 1), while his collaborations with Spleen have a rich electronic backdrop. The music here is primarily synthesized but sparser than Spleen’s style. If I remember correctly he said this album was made in Garage Band.

To help tell the story on my recording memoir Prattle and Din about what I was doing in 2011, just before I began posting my recordings on SoundCloud for all to hear, I re-issued an anniversary collection from that year, 15 Years of Prattle and Din, and put it on Bandcamp. Originally I burned about ten CD copies to give to friends: so, to me, it’s something of a joke to say it’s been re-issued. Most of the compositions were recent (as of 2011) but a couple of them, such as “Music, the Beginning” and “Evil 1”, are recreations of things I’d first recorded in 1996. It’s not particularly representative of my oeuvre in that it lacks stylistic diversity. That is, I tried to put together a fairly cohesive album.

The Familiar Is Best?

For the moment the best way to produce a multi-media presentation of your poetry might be something very familiar: the downloadable album.

There is and may never be a truly universal format. At present all the available multi-media digital publishing options are severely limited as to where they can be fully operational and how many hoops you have to jump through as a producer to make them worth your while (to me the Digital Publishing Suite, available with InDesign, looks like a nightmare).

Downloading albums has not been part of my entertainment repertoire. I don’t like them and find that they’re generally overpriced. But some online friends have been putting their recordings up for sale on sites such as iTunes and Bandcamp. Of course it triggered my curiosity and imagination. What really caught my interest is how many file formats Bandcamp has been allowing in the category of “bonus features”: text files, PDFs, videos, JPEGs. I forget what else.

Also, it was really easy to put an album on Bandcamp. Even an old guy like me can do it. The cool thing is that you can keep it as a draft until you’ve worked out the kinks and bugs and have tracked down all your typos and whatever other brain farts you’ve added to the page while you thought you were awake. (I also want to point out that the search engine on Bandcamp is superior to that on iTunes. Just go to the respective sites and try to find Dave Migman, on Bandcamp, and David McCooey, on iTunes. The only way I can find McCooey’s Outside Broadcast is to do a Google search and then link to iTunes. Maybe by the time you’ve read this Apple will have corrected things.)

In an earlier experiment, Essay, I tried giving you the example of an interactive PDF, which could contain audio and video files, plus internal and external linking. Unfortunately, Adobe still creates a Flash player for the audio and video, which severely restricts the utility of the book. It will be read only, like any other printable PDF, in Apple products and most mobile devices.

Uploading an album to Bandcamp (the album can be as long or short as needed, but if you’re doing an extended epic I suggest breaking it into sections since they do have a limit to the length of track upload, currently about 25 minutes long) allows you the luxury of higher resolution audio (compared to what you’d normally use for an interactive book). The PDF bonus book can be printed and bound, if you’re that old fashioned, or a rich experience on an electronic device (for instance navigation by thumbnails or by a linked table of contents, plus hyperlinks for users connected to the web). You can also add album artwork and posters. You can include videos. Basically, you can give your audience a lot to play with and enjoy for not much fuss. (Well, this depends on how difficult it is for you to create these things, how much time you have, and how obsessively perfectionist you are.)

I like the idea of giving the audience the richest possible experience. It doesn’t cost you any extra to upload more goodies.

My demonstration is a revival of a book I made in early 2001, when I was at the beginning of my computer experiences and in the process of archiving all my drawings, poems, and recordings: Six Sonnets and Some Wild Words Resurrected from the Last Century plus a Line without a Home. Originally I printed maybe five copies on an imitation vellum and hand bound them. This year I recreated the book in Adobe’s InDesign and exported it as a printable PDF, leaving in the hyperlinks of the table of contents (the nice thing about PDFs is that they are ubiquitous, there are free downloadable PDF viewers, most word processor and publishing (and photo?) programs will export PDF, so you could make rudimentary documents for free).

Though the site engages you to choose your own price I encourage you to download the album for free. Just type a zero (or zed) into that little box and you can go straight to download.

The album is just a test piece. I hope my example inspires you to make something magnificent.

A Small Treat from Dave Migman

I think I’ve made it clear in other posts that I’m very fond of Dave Migman’s work. His prose and poetry are filled with rich imagery that is both visceral and thought provoking. The readings/performances, in his wonderful voice, are always evocative.

So, when I see a new track posted on soundcloud with a link leading to a new album I get pretty damned excited.

I don’t mean this to be a review: just a news flash.

Here are a few links for listening to Dave and—do yourself a favor—buying a download of the album:

A recent posting by Dave Migman, Hall of Sighs, that brought me the good news that he’d put another album up for purchase on

This is the link to Migman’s new release, Dogcast Work, a collection of recordings he’s had on the Dog Cast Central podcasts over the course of 2012.

Post script: I’m on the verge of giving up on The code they supply for WordPress has not been working in my most recent posts. I keep getting a message that the track is not currently available. Why am I paying them $100 a year? I think my money could be better spent…just about anywhere.

Do You Really Want to Be Heard?

The music the adults would listen to when I was a kid, in the 1960s, always had the band at the far end of a very large room, barely audible, and the vocalist practically sitting in your lap. This is the pop mix and it’s still in use today, though part of the rhythm section might be turned up enough for you to always feel the thump in your rump (or wherever it hits you and makes you want to dance).

I loved hearing a rock mix, really coming into its own around 1970 when I was starting to collect records, where the singer is just another member of the band.

Just compare Andy Williams’ recording of Moon River with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, you’ll immediately hear what I’m talking about. If you were to have these songs as background in a crowded room, such as a restaurant, you’d only hear Williams’ voice. Black Sabbath…unless it was played loudly enough to be annoying you might not hear at all. It would just be a garbled mess.

How to mix music and poetry has been an ongoing discussion/debate/argument—depending on how much investment someone has in the outcome and how threatened they feel by criticism—I’ve been having with poets, musicians, and DJs on, as well as with friends and family.

As I’ve stated, I like the rock mix. I like having the vocal down in the mix not lording it over the other sounds. But I’ve come to the other side, the pop side, with regard to poetry and music. I think I may be consorting with the devil. I’m almost certainly betraying Art (that stuff with that capital A).

Most of my life I’ve created in response to some inarticulate need, some bizarre drive to put things on paper or canvas, to noodle around with images and then words and most recently to do unnatural things to sound. I have rarely made things to please others or to communicate with them. I’d say it’s more how I think, or how I document stages of a thought, so I’d only be trying to communicate with myself. I certainly haven’t done it for money.

But in the past few years, since the spring of 2011, I’ve been posting my recordings on and other human beings have been interested enough and gracious enough to listen to what I’ve been doing. I think I owe them a little consideration, even if I’m still only trying to communicate with myself.

I’ve started to develop my recording and mixing technique in a more sociable direction (not necessarily improving it): primarily, I’ve been using a lot more compression and EQ.

When you speak, the first phonemes, as well as the first words, have more wind behind them, more energy, and will sound much louder than the rest of the sentence. Your first word or two will be loud and clear and possibly overloading the microphone and circuits whereas the end of the sentence will trail off into silence. This varies from person to person depending on their reading/speaking technique, how well they preserve their air supply and how often they pause for breath, as well as how full of wind they are (I’m not going to play with the windiness of any particular poet, myself included). I’m not very physical and I tend to be a mumbler, so when I record myself I drift off into nothingness more often than not. My technique makes it hard for people to hear what I’ve said.

The easiest way of dealing with this is to use compression. As the word implies, compression squeezes things, in this case sound. Your loudest sounds will be squashed so they no longer jump out compared to the other sounds. It gives you headroom, which means that you can turn up the volume of the whole sentence, before you overload and distort your equipment and digits. (This is what they do in radio and TV, especially in advertising, to make things seem louder.) A lot of compression makes everything sound like crap, there’s no longer any dynamic range. Also, it brings up the noise floor: as soon as you have more headroom to raise the overall volume you also raise the volume of the noise, such as circuit noise, tape hiss, ambient noise, computer fans, et cetera (to some extent this can be dealt with by using noise reduction software, but often only in the spaces between the words, depending on the quality of your software and how much and what type of noise).

Because all of the vocal is now louder from compression but without the spikes at the beginning of words, I can make my voice sound louder than the surrounding sounds without overloading the mix. It’ll be easier to hear what I say. The sentences will not trail off the way they did in the original recording.

The other thing I’ve started doing is to tweak the EQ in the mix. What this means is to accentuate or diminish different frequencies to make various sounds or my voice stand out against the others. I’m not going to dwell on this. A quick and rough example should be enough.

Let’s say your voice is not real high, not real low. It probably competes for sonic space with most stringed instruments and parts of a drum kit, such as the snare and cymbals. (I rarely use conventional instruments or samples of them but more than likely you do. Either way, whether using a guitar or a washing machine, the premise is the same.) I will lower the volume on my voice below, say, 500 Hz, or 300, because not much of the articulation is at the low end. That’s where the vowels are. I’ll save that range for other sound sources, let them have their say. But I will bump the EQ a little around 1000 Hz (or 1 kHz) because that’s the area that speech is most legible. That’s where you’re most likely to recognize individual words. It’s the range of articulation. Along with that boost to my voice, I’ll tone down some of the other sounds (for instance, I might notch the guitar part a little around the same frequency range, at least while I’m speaking).

Exactly how much EQ and compression are not just a matter of taste but reflect the kind of instrumentation you’re using and how much you want your words to be heard. If you’re doing just voice or voice with a very quiet and subtle background you might not want to tweak it much, or not at all if you’re a purist. If you’ve got a lot going on, perhaps going for some version of a “wall of sound”, you’ll probably want to make some major changes to the levels.

Enough said about the technology. I want to say more about the history of how I came to more of a pop mix and what the debate is about.

When I started posting my recordings I received comments from listeners who couldn’t hear what I was saying. I’m calling what I write poetry and the idea is that the word is god, so, yeah, they should be able to hear the word. Some of these people were native speakers of English, so this means that they simply can’t hear what I’m saying. Others were only somewhat acquainted with English: first, to accommodate them I started posting the text on the song page; then, to make it even easier, I started posting the text as a comment on the track itself (so at least with the old soundcloud interface they could read it while listening, without having to leave the page they were on).

So far this has done nothing to change the esthetic object. It’s put me out a little, time wise, but the recording remains the same.

But it was still stressful for the listener. That’s when I started digging into my recordings and altering the levels, both in the mix (changing the compression and EQ as well as volume of one track against another) and in the mastering stage, where I can shape the overall sound. This did change the esthetic object. This pushed me from my beloved rock mix to the dread pop mix. (Okay. Art people aren’t supposed to like anything pop, unless it’s an ironically cynical spoofing of pop. Despite how weird and unfriendly my recordings are, I’m actually a pretty mainstream kind of guy. I am not pure. I am most definitely not high art. And, ultimately, I have no pedigree or credentials. Let’s just say I’m a poseur. So, really, by using a more pop sensibility I’m only violating my own taste and not staining my everlasting artistic soul. The soul that I don’t have: I’ve just decided that I’m an artistic golem.)

Sorry for the digression.

Another detail of mixing that I’d forgotten, which brings me out of both the pop and rock esthetic, is that I use little or no reverb. It’s called mixing dry. (I think Lou Reed is one of the few name artists who doesn’t, or didn’t, sweeten his voice with reverb. I will process the hell out of my voice but really don’t want to use reverb. This has nothing to do with Lou Reed’s choices.) I came to this decision because my arrangements are very busy (let’s be honest: cluttered) and even a little reverb made my words that much harder to hear. I came to this conclusion probably ten years before I started posting online. The conclusion to be drawn from that fact is that I couldn’t even understand myself.

The original use of reverb, it’s reason for being once people started recording in a studio rather than a concert hall, was to give the recording a sense of place. It was there to make the band sound like they were in a better room than the one they were actually in. But almost immediately musicians and recording engineers started using reverb as an effect, to sweeten the sound, to give parts of the recording a little something special.

This has now become a source of sonic nightmares, and I don’t mean the creation of recordings that strive to express a nightmare or to capture the dissociation of a nightmare. I mean that reverb is now used to turn music into a sludge of sounds in competing spaces. Anyone who has recently gotten their first effects unit or software with reverb has made garbage (myself most definitely included, even though I was trying to be restrained). The worst of it, though, isn’t the excess of reverb but the conflicting echoes. Almost every instrument, especially electronic synths and samplers, will have its own reverb. So, in the finished recording, you could have it sounding as though each instrument was played in a different room. On top of which the whole composition might be awash in a unifying reverb. I guarantee you will have trouble understanding the poet’s words when reverb has gotten out of control.

Now we get back to the conflicts of opinion and why I often give offense…

It is common for the musicians working with poets, as well as poets themselves, especially those new to the tools of recording, to put the voice low in the mix and to use a lot of reverb. As I’ve now stated, I object to this not for esthetic reasons but for the sake of the listener.

With a song it doesn’t always matter that the listener can’t hear every word that’s sung (in fact, it’s often a kindness). Even when people sing along they aren’t conscious of the words. They couldn’t tell you what the singer just said or what it meant. It’s really just a flow of sounds. Even when the lyricist is superb and the listener should be paying attention that’s rarely the case.

Poetry and any other kind of spoken word demands more of you. When someone talks to you it’s normal to pay attention. You have to listen a little more closely, like it or not. Already, recorded poetry is making demands that a song wouldn’t. Then, if you have the voice so it’s barely audible, buried in the mix and drowning in reverb, you’re forcing the listener to stop whatever it is that they’re doing so they can hear what you’ve got to say. And you’re a poet and think, of course, they should do that. This is poetry. This is serious. Or, you might be thinking that it’s poetry and no one’s going to listen, ever, so who cares if the words are intelligible. Either way, you’re not really taking into account another person’s experience.

Most listeners will turn you off and look for something a little less demanding. Something that fits better in the background of their life. That’s just a fact. No one owes you their attention. No one owes you anything. Good bye, ego.

One of the arguments for more of a rock mix is that most listeners now days have the recording plugged into or around their ears. They aren’t listening on speakers and they’ll hear every word.

Another argument is that a collaboration or remix is not going to be the only version of the poem and that you can link to a clearer recording of the words. Of course my child would be pointing that out to me. I think of listening to music on a dedicated medium such as an LP or CD or tape on a device connected only to other audio devices, such as an amp and speakers. Link? What does that mean?

Yet another point of view, says my partner in a very loud voice, is that a very large percentage of the Earth’s population has better hearing than I.

Of course there’s still the esthetic argument, that it has to work as a whole. I would say the musicians, DJs, and remixers are thinking of how all the pieces fit together, of how they all interact sonically rather than intellectually, and that having the voice stand out would destroy the whole.

And then there’s just plain attitude: I’ll do as I please and the audience can follow me. Which may or may not be a statement of arrogance. Or a matter of integrity. Or insensitivity.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways of looking at this. Please share your opinions. Dialog is just about all we’ve got.

I don’t really care how you make your recording. I don’t really care how you mix it or whether or not I can hear your words. And if you’re collaborating with me, using my words, I actually don’t care how you do that, either (ideally we both have a go at the material and I can mix it however I please).

What I do want is for you to think about what you’re doing, to have a conscious moment before you give your art and your work to the world. Do you want people to hear your words? Do you want to make it easy for them to listen or do you think they should go out of their way to hear you? Do you want your recording to work as a whole, your voice just another sound? With modern recording technology you can have it all with little or no extra expense. You can very easily make alternate mixes, let your audience download a dozen versions of everything you do. You can trust your audience to make a few decisions of their own.

If you’re a poet, a recording poet, you’ll probably never have a large audience. But maybe a few thousand people would like to hear what you have to say. Think about what their experience is. For most of us there’s an unconscious step in the creative process where you’re more of a conduit or vessel than a human being. But after that it’s a matter of editing the gift, of continuing to shape it, whatever that “it” is, into a public object, a work of art, a shared experience.

Give a little thought and care as to what that object will be.

I’ll part with two examples of my own. The first, Psychedelic Baby of Death, is something I recorded in 1998 or 1999, and is a good example of how hard it can be to hear what I’m saying. My voice is competing with an air compressor (for a nebulizer) and an electric guitar as well as an excess of reverb on all the sound sources. I’ve tried to master it so my voice would be more audible (can’t get rid of all that reverb no matter what I do) but it still requires a lot of effort on the listener’s part.

The other recording is My Soul. This was created in June, 2012, well after I started posting on, and does a much better job of taking into consideration the listener’s experience.

In case the recordings are not available for streaming, as often seems the case with soundcloud, these are the direct links to the song pages (though of course they might be down as well):

Second post script, October 12, 2013: Several weeks ago I received help from but could not correctly interpret what I was being told. They suggested I switch to HTML and re-paste the links. I don’t know anything about HTML nor how I would do this, and said so. What they meant, and what someone at WordPress said more clearly, is that I need to use the text editor rather than the visual editor. You can toggle between the two tabs at the top of your editor page. That seems to have fixed the problem.

This is a recurrent problem I have with technical support. We don’t speak the same language and it’s rare that there’s anyone on the support end who understands the subject and can still communicate with those of us who do not. (Does this remind you of math and science teachers?)

I thank people at both and for their assistance.

Post script, September 8, 2013: In response to David McCooey’s comment regarding his own struggles with the balance of voice to sound, I think the point of the article, though not quite blatantly stated, is that we have no way of predicting the environmental circumstances of the listener. It also, I suppose, pits the creator, who would like to control the final outcome of their creation, against the consumer, who’d like to personalize that precious object to fit their own needs and tastes. Other than wanting to see artists recompensed for their labor, I think we creators need to learn to let go (I know I’m having trouble with this). Once the work has reached the public it is no longer ours. The recipients of our work have now begun to invest it with their own needs and imaginings and emotions, it’s begun to fill their dreams as it once filled ours, it has begun to reshape how they see the world.…I think my digression here is to say that I wish the audience could have the same tools I have—multitrack audio software—to remix the compositions to suit themselves, to bring the vocal down when listening on headphones and to bring it up when listening in the car.