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.

 

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.

Online Recording Resources

I don’t think making art is just a matter of spewing sounds or paint or what have you to convince the world that you’re alive and that you feel, though I have engaged in a great deal of spewing over the years. You have to start somewhere.

I think making art is also a matter of craftsmanship. It’s a matter of learning to use and misuse the requisite tools. At times I’ve been a little too concerned with craft and technique. Until you’ve mastered your tools craft can interfere with your emotional flow and you end up with nothing but a poorly made exhibit of technique—at best, an educational aid, a reminder of what you don’t want to do again.

During winter break of my final year of high school (this would have been December, 1974) I began delving into my mother’s paint box, which she hadn’t touched in over a decade. When I graduated in June of 1975 I started to paint in earnest and began ransacking the Duluth public library for everything I could find on painting and drawing techniques and quite a bit on art history: it was all new to me. This lasted at least a couple of years.

Throughout the 1980s I went through a similar process with books on writing poetry.

In the spring of 1996 I again began this process with books and magazines on home recording.

The one lesson almost all these works omit is the importance of making art. All the gear in the world, all the techniques every master can pass on will not give you what you need to make art. Just get out there and do it. Spew! The people I’ve encountered who are recording their readings on their phone or onto their laptop with the built-in mic are off to a good start. I would urge them to do the best reading/performance that they can (rehearse it, record multiple takes) and don’t get too close to the microphone but beyond that, just keep recording.

That being said, improving your craft will help you offer something more pleasing to your audience. Lo-fi has its charms but, to me, the only redeeming charm is that a great performance was captured despite poor technology. Most of the time the recording is only a tool for capturing and structuring the actual art, which is sound, and should be as transparent as possible. But recording can also be a more integral part of the art, in a sense adding to the flavor or creating a tangible matrix for your words and sounds. Once you have some skill it becomes an esthetic choice and you are a little less a victim of technology.

The substance of this article is minimal, a series of almost random links to websites that discuss some of the basics of home recording. I ran a Google search of “basic music recording” which provided most of these links. Then I ran a search for “basic recording techniques” which was very disappointing: it was almost all adds for schools. And a third search for “home recording tips”.

This article began with someone’s letter to the editor in Tape Op, a magazine for recording engineers, thanking them for opening a new questions page on their website. ( http://tapeop.com/and http://tapeop.com/questions/) I can’t say enough in favor of this magazine, I’m a fan (and I’m not a fan of much that humans have created), and the subscription is free. The magazine on the whole is not that geeky. It’s not really a tech mag with page after page of mic placement and reports on knobs turned, though they have those moments. Primarily it’s a document of the human side of recording. I find the interviews inspiring and informative.

If you’re trying to take the first steps into more serious studio recording, on whatever budget, I don’t know that Tape Op is the place for you. I recommend reading every issue past, present, and future (as I said, I’m a fan) but you could very easily find your eyes glazing over when they do get down to serious discussions of hardware and technique. And when you see the price tags on some of the gear you will sometimes think there’s nothing in it for you. But they, more than anyone, support the just-do-it approach to recording. Use whatever is at hand. It’s the art that counts, not the tools used to make it.

I think I’ve said this before and I know I’ll say it again: if you have a computer connected to the internet you can get almost everything you need to record online for free.

I’m going to supply a rather random list of links I found from those searches. What I noticed is how much most of the authors get caught up in gear fetishes. That’s why I’m putting the dummies.com link at the top of the list. (I generally haven’t gotten much of value from their books, which are too broad and too basic to answer most of my questions. But they might be the perfect place for you to start.) I also liked the quick links on the Basic Home Recording Studio site, which is why they’re second on the list.

Also, most physical book stores and certainly the online bookstores have plenty of how-to books for home recording. I read many that were in print in 1996 or shortly after. They also have a tendency to get bogged down in gear fetishes. As do I, for that matter.…I think you should find the few things that you really need, the best you can afford, and learn to use what you have. Everything else is potential distraction and baggage. (Here is a quick reference as to where you might start looking for cheap and useful tools: http://www.sweetwater.com/c1006–Portable_Recorders.) A portable recorder is a significant step up in quality compared to using your phone or the mic built into your laptop and can be used for recording just about any sound, from your voice to environments to instruments.

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/determining-what-you-need-for-your-home-recording-.html

http://www.basic-home-recording-studio.com/

http://www.musicradar.com/us/tuition/tech/25-pro-tips-for-better-home-recordings-169382

http://therecordingrevolution.com/

http://lifehacker.com/the-basics-of-music-production-lesson-1-set-up-your-h-499088482

http://audio.gracenote.ca/knowledge/basic_recording_process.htm

http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/4-simple-tips-for-recording-high-quality-audio/

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/5-home-recording-studio-essentials.htm

http://www.renegadeproducer.com/diy-home-studio.html

http://www.homerecordingtips.org/

http://www.soundrecordingadvice.com/tips.html

A Very Basic Introduction to DAW

Just because you’re an intelligent and creative person (that is, a poet) doesn’t mean you know anything about recording or composing, or that you know anything about the technology for creating any kind of audio composition. This is specialized knowledge with a specialized language and specialized tools: it takes a while to learn it, even the basics.

I’m going to take a few minutes to introduce you to some of the most rudimentary means of construction within the recording technology accessible to almost anyone in the modern world: the DAW, or digital audio workstation, on a computer. That is, I want to introduce you to recording actual sounds, creating with MIDI, and looping.

I do my sound editing and some basic recording in a program called Sound Forge, then construct an audio collage in ACID Pro. (These are moderately expensive programs, both of which come in much cheaper versions. I’ve been spoiled by good software and it is now one of the few luxuries in my life. Almost all the DAWs have at least one limited use version at a lower price, and almost all also have a version that is free. The wikipedia article on DAWs lists quite a few options, both paid and free.) In the late 1990s there were huge differences in what each program could do. For instance, most of the programs were nothing more than MIDI editors and controllers. Pro Tools made its mark by being a dedicated recording platform—turning your computer into a digital tape deck. ACID was unique as a loop production program. Now they all do pretty much the same thing.

Twenty years ago loops were the buzz, very mysterious and very intimidating (at least to traditional musicians).  All there is to a loop is a sound recording set to continuous playback (yes, that annoying theme song that keeps playing while a DVD is in menu mode is a loop). Looping in performance—that is, performing and recording a musical phrase and setting it to repeat, then creating more layers the same way—takes talent and timing. The subject here is a bit more static and slow moving. The loops I use are created by setting the beats per minute (BPM) by selecting how many beats a recording has or by selecting a tempo (say, 110 BPM) in an audio editing program like Sound Forge (this is also known as acidizing). You can buy commercial loops, such as short passages of drumming, that are ready to go, and I’ve used them but find the process dissatisfying. Most often I create something original made from recording found and household objects abused in various ways.

In 2003 I found some furnace filters while cleaning out a commercial space, on my day job, and brought them home to rub and bang on. The following recorded clip is one of the results:

By looping it and placing it on the timeline in ACID I’ve created a crude rhythm. You’ll notice that the sound is quite different now: that’s because the tempo of the sample was set to something like 298 BPM but the composition is at 110 BPM. This stretches the sample beyond its limits, creating artifacts very much like zooming in too far on a photo. It’s sort of like an audio pixilation.

Here is how it sounds:

And here is how it looks on the monitor in ACID Pro:

loop and MIDI

This is a screen shot of looped audio and a MIDI track in Sony’s ACID Pro.

Below the looped audio file you’ll notice five horizontal blue bars. This is a display of MIDI information in a piano roll editor (as opposed to a text editor). The basic blue bar shows the pitch by diagramming its placement on a piano’s keyboard; duration by the length of the bar along the timeline; and how hard the keyboard was pressed or struck by the little vertical wand with a diamond on top. MIDI data can be entered by performance in realtime with any kind of MIDI controller (a piano-type keyboard is the most common but wind controllers (basically a sax mouthpiece), guitar controllers, and percussion controllers are also very common), it can be step-recorded with a controller (a laborious process where you set the length of each note then create it with the controller), or you can even draw in the notes in the MIDI editor.

The mind boggling side of MIDI is that you can play it back with any sound, whether on hardware or software. In this example I merely copied the MIDI clip and placed it on two tracks. The first track is the original sound module, a patch called M’Lady on a software instrument called M-Tron Pro (an emulation of the venerable Mellotron). For the second track I used a purely digital product by Native Instruments called Massive (a patch known as Infatuated).

The last component, and to the poet the most important, is live recording. You can record your voice or any other sound directly into the computer with any of these programs. Or you can record elsewhere with a portable recorder, your phone, or anything else that can capture sound and then transmit it to a computer, then open up the file within the composition program.

The example I’m providing is a recording of my older daughter at the age of five, in 1996, on a cassette 4-track portable studio just a few months after I began working with audio (this singing and babbling goes on for half an hour and only came to an end because the tape came to an end—unfortunately she’s become a rather shy young woman).

all four tracks

This is a screen shot of ACID Pro showing the looped sample, two copies of a MIDI clip, and a fragment of stereo audio (my daughter singing).

I’ll conclude with one of my compositions, Winter Flowers. With this piece I used a variation of sampling and looping not discussed above. First I’ll let you hear the original field recording of “snow pellets”, little hard balls of snow not quite solid enough to be considered hail. This was then looped in a processing program from Native Instruments (unfortunately long discontinued) called Spektral Delay, a mixture of delays and EQ filters with a visual controller (you can draw how the filters work). I did this several times over, each time with different settings, then compiled them randomly in ACID. To which I added voice and a couple MIDI instruments. The whole thing is very simple.

Recording Your Poetry Is Affordable

…if you have some surplus income and/or already own some electronic device such as a computer, tablet, or iPhone.

When I first began recording in 1996 I started as cheaply as I could: a 4-track cassette portable studio and a used microphone totaling less than $500. Oh, yeah, and some cables. Within two years I’d gotten myself about $10,000 in debt and still had no way to put this work in front of the world except through mechanical reproduction and physical distribution. Still, it was very cheap and egalitarian compared to what was available 10-20 years earlier (well, the field was becoming expensive again as digital recorders entered the market, and that’s what brought me down).

Now there are so many inexpensive options, both for creation and distribution, because of the ubiquity of computers, portable devices, and the internet.

(Before I forget, digital portable studios are now very cheap, starting at about $100 for a 4-track. I know very little about these, the quality of recording, what formats are supported, and how they interface with computers. And you still need a microphone (and I’d say a pre-amp). This is more what you’d want if you’re working with others, such as if you were resident poet in a band.)

I’m primarily going to discuss multitrack, computer-related production. (If you have an iPad or iPhone I encourage you to explore the apps and inputs available. Microphones that connect directly to Apple products are becoming very common and inexpensive.)

One of the cheapest ways to record your art and build structures that are more than just a documentation of your reading is to use the microphone available in your laptop and to download free software, such as Audacity (for PC, I think Apple comes with music software). If I remember correctly, these recordings by Dave Migman and Lee Foust were both done this way:

Another very cheap way of recording any sound, as well as your voice, is a handheld portable recorder (I use a Zoom H-1, which cost about $100). Almost all of these recorders can connect to a computer via USB and some sort of card, such as an SD card. They often come with free software, though you might want to stay with Audacity. I use mine for field recording, though I have also used it for recording readings and improvisations. Among other things, Mark Goodwin uses a portable recorder for his landscape projects:

For reasons of control and convenience I prefer to work in a “studio” (that is, my bedroom). Probably the next cheapest way of recording directly to computer is to use a USB microphone. There are many on the market, usually under $200, that come with free software.

When I began working on a computer about 10 years ago, it wasn’t so simple and direct, though it had already become affordable (that is, costing hundreds of dollars rather than thousands). You still had to use a traditional microphone and needed an audio interface that would transform an analog audio signal into ones and zeroes for the computer (ASIO, for output as well as input, to eliminate the lag so you could monitor and overdub in realtime) . I think all current audio interfaces will supply phantom power for a condenser mic and most have a built-in pre-amp to boost the signal.

I recommend a pre-amp. It’s not a glamorous tool but is the one thing I wish I’d gotten before I laid down my first signals to tape. For digital recording it’s nice to have a tube pre-amp to color your signal a little, to add tube distortion (one of the sources often referred to as “warmth”).

At the moment my usual signal chain is a Røde NT1 condenser microphone (roughly $200); a PreSonus Bluetube 2-channel pre-amp (about $250); an M-Audio Fast Track Pro, 2-channel USB audio interface with digital I/O and MIDI I/O (also around $200). None of which would satisfy a professional engineer but is perfectly adequate for most of us. Also, keep in mind that you could get comparably good gear for about half the price if, for instance, your pre-amp were single channel or your USB interface skipped the MIDI I/O. A Shure SM57 is still a staple in the recording industry and costs under $100.

You should also keep in mind that if you intend on recording with any kind of instrumentation or mangling your voice or household sounds, software has become ridiculously cheap. For the past couple years the buzz has been around PreSonus Studio One, starting at $100. I use Sony’s Sound Forge for editing (mostly for mangling sounds, creating my own loops, and for conversions to various formats) and ACIDPro for composing. (I’ve had Audacity on my computer but haven’t used it in years. I really don’t like the program but want to remind you that it’s free and easy to use.)

Finally, there’s distribution. If you think you’ve got something to sell there’s Bandcamp, CD Baby, iTunes, and many others, each with their own quirks, perks, and idiocies. Something I’ve yet to explore: Netlabels. You can post your recordings on your own website. My choice for the past two years has been  SoundCloud, which can give you a more social experience than the other options. Or an old standard: MySpace.

 

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.