Archive for November, 2008

The Difference In The End

November 20, 2008

Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!

Robin

Batman (1966)

Most young people today are more familiar with Adam West as a recurring character on Family Guy but for me he will always be the only Batman. I am one of the people who didn’t learn about Batman through comics or Tim Burton’s movies, but through reruns of the campy 1960’s classic TV show.  Apparently the actor who played Commissioner Gordon was unaware that the show was meant to be satire and played his character straight. When I was a little kid I didn’t know that either and hung on every word as gospel.  The movie quoted above was a favourite of mine. My parents must’ve rented it 100 times for me and I now own it on DVD and VHS.  The reason I have chosen to quote this hilarious series is that today’s song is, in a small way, a bit humourous.

The Lights I See You In Shadow is full of earth/nature imagery.  Virtually every song makes reference to natural phenomenon or rural life in some way.  I’m not sure exactly why nature has been so significant to me over the last couple of years, but it certainly has.  Today’s track, The Sunrises, is the last of three Pinstripe Mystery songs on the album. In fact, The Sunrises was the very first song I wrote specifically for my old band, back when we had three members and no name.  It was the first song we played at our first practice. That’s your history lesson for the day.

The project file for it was called The Sunrises Again because I didn’t want it to be exactly the same as the original, which was covered by Max Woghiren at one time. If you know the Muffin Parfait version of the song you will notice the one significant change. It was actually a fairly easy addition to record, but I think it changes the song in a very major way. The title, The Sunrises, was always intended to be a verbal pun. It could be “Hey no matter what happens the Sun rises,” or “It’s been three sunrises since I left the house.” Is that funny? Not really, but I don’t write funny songs.  When it came time to write out the name, I went with the latter because it was convenient.  A lot of Pinstripe Mystery was about doing what was easy or convenient. This album has been a bit more about doing what is right, at least my version of right.

This song, like many, tries to have a narrative structure. There is a story and an argument in there. I’m not sure what comparing a person to the Sun implies. Perhaps a giant ball of gas is about as different from a human being as you can get, perhaps it’s closer than I think.

Just wait and breath in The Sunrises:

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It Was Foggy And Cold

November 19, 2008

‘No,’ he said, ‘somewhere, someone who had faith in currents, in winds – and also in people, put thought and careful work into this carving. And I’ll not be the one to stop his Paddle-to-the-Sea.’

Holling Clancy Holling

Paddle-to-the-Sea

I briefly referenced Paddle-to-the-Sea in an earlier post but I wanted to give it a fuller treatment. It is the only book from my childhood that still sits on my shelf. The rest are in boxes awaiting the day that I have children.  My affection for the book goes beyond its clever story, its grand adventure, or its lovely illustrations.  For me Paddle-to-the-Sea represents a dream. A life that is both independent and dependent.  The little carved canoe traveled from north of Lake Superior all the way to France, thanks to the currents and the respect of strangers for a little boy’s vision.  The book was first published in 1941 and was written by an American. It is a classic of children’s literature and was intended to help teach the geography of the Great Lakes region.  It certainly succeeds at that.  It even gives young Americans and Canadians alike descriptions of exotic Canadian locales like the Grand Banks, Montral, and Sault Ste. Marie; three places that I have not been. I recommend it for your children and you.

I can say today that the recording of The Lights I See You In Shadow is officially done. It will be 14 instead of 15 songs long due to my dissatisfaction with a song called The Lights, which will most likely resurface as part of another project. As for the identity of that next project, I will save that for another day.

HG Plant Companion began its life as a jazzy tune called Home Gardener.  One night I was playing around with the parts I’d written and came up with a way more interesting and catchy song.  This song has very coherent lyrics. It tells the story of an early morning talk. One that may or may not be going well. This song has a nice breakdown in the middle that I wasn’t sure about at first. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. In the final analysis I’m very happy with it.

In the coming days I will be posting the final two songs, the album artwork, and the final order of songs.  I will also be creating final mixes of every song, so that I can fix any little problems. I have been toying with the idea of creating a video, and if I get time it will happen. Once all of that is completed I will continue to post blogs about The Alder Fork and other things, so I invite you to stick around.

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I Can See The Sun Rise

November 18, 2008

It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.

Emily Carr

Strictly speaking Emily Carr was not a member of the Group of Seven, but her art is related to that collection of artists. I have always been a fan of the work of the Group of Seven and other Canadian artists of that period. In fact, I am a fan of a great deal of homegrown Canadian culture, whether it is art, music, film, theatre, or television.  The Group’s work speaks to the ruggedness of this country, and it’s beauty. They (and the artists they influenced) established perhaps the most significant artistic movement Canada has ever seen. I mention them because today’s piece is influenced by a similar vision of my home country.

The Lights I See You In Shadow is the second major album I have been a part of.  The last, Muffin Parfait, was nowhere near this one in quality or completeness. I was surprised when I received a letter from the National Archives asking for a copy.  Apparently they ask everyone who puts out any piece of recorded work.  At the moment you can find Muffin Parfait in the Ryerson University library, at several Ontario university and college radio stations, and in the homes of about 50 people (assuming they haven’t lost or disposed of it).  With the budget I have for this album, it will not be possible to release a hard copy in wide distribution. That is why I am relying on the internet to get the music out there.  That said, I have worked with Dave Fallis on some album artwork, and I will be displaying that material on this blog later in the week. There will also be actual CD’s with cases available for a modest price if anyone wants one. Of course if you download the finished project on Amie Street you can contact me about getting an actual CD.

Great Cliff-face Real Estate is about rural life.  I was born and raised in a city, but I have an interest in the country life.  It’s amazing to think how dependent humans have been on uncontrollable elements like weather for survival.  In light of this it isn’t surprising that we have put so much effort into controlling the earth.  The music for GC-FRE evolved over a period of several months.  I tried various piano parts before settling on the current version.  The guitar in the chorus is a recent addition, and was called “avant garde” by a friend of mine. It has a bit of a first at the end when horns scream to life. I have never even thought to put any type of horn in my work.  The trumpets worked into this piece very naturally.

Move onto some Great Cliff-Face Real Estate:

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I Fly Up To Meet You

November 17, 2008

The greatness of Ty Cobb was something that had to be seen, and to see him was to remember him forever.

George Sisler

Ty Cobb was the greatest Detroit Tiger’s player of all time. He is also considered one of the “bad guys” of baseball history.  He was known for his spikes up slides and his violent play. You have to be pretty bad to be considered a violent baseball player, since it is among the most non-contact sports on earth. I mention Ty Cobb not only because I love baseball and the Detroit Tigers, but because he represents a past that we probably don’t want to return to. Another interesting thing about baseball is that among all the team sports, it is the loneliest. I spent many a summer day playing the game and know that a lot of it was spent with my own thoughts.  When I played centrefield I would talk to myself since there no one was really around.  Perhaps the reason baseball is so beloved is that it is reflective and leisurely unlike the other major sports.  Athletics is usually about winning and competition but for me it as always been a place to think, act, react, and reflect.  The outcome is usually beside the point for me. Maybe I just can’t handle the failure?

Lonely Day tells one person’s tale as they wander the streets and ultimately leave to see the person and place that they love.  They refuse to leave because everything that they left back home is not as important. This song spawned two other songs, The Lights and May, both of which will appear on the blog this week.  This was the very last song I started recording, as The Lights and May represent earlier attempts that went off in different directions.  Lonely Day is a very straight forward song, with only 5 instruments represented.

I hope you enjoy, Lonely Day:


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The Simple Things Shift

November 16, 2008

Okay Chief, take them away. I’m going home to sleep with my wife.

Mr. Green

Clue

My original awareness of the Clue movie came from Cable TV. I would catch bits and pieces of it, but I was too young to put them together.  When I finally saw the complete picture, I was in stitches.  Although it occasionally relies on terrible jokes, the vast majority of the film is great. There is nothing quite as funny as Tim Curry running around reenacting murders for 5 minutes. I think I’d pay him to watch him do that all day. Michael McKean, who plays Mr. Green, was also a main character in This Is Spinal Tap.

Lying Fallow was written on a train, that was stuck in Kingston for an extra hour and a half on the way to Ottawa. It was the first and so far only time I took Via Rail anywhere. It was a fun experience, if for no other reason, than I wrote this song.  Musically this song is driven by bouncy bass line and punchy piano.  Lyrically the song describes a sort of taboo aspect of life, and my feelings about it.  If you want to know more about that, you’ll have to decipher the lyrics for yourself. I actually think they are pretty clear.

Lying Fallow:


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Well Some Might Say That It Wasn’t True

November 15, 2008

May I start by saying how thrilled we are to have you here. We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I’m not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll and so many of the exciting things that are happening in music today.

Lt. Hookstratten (Fred Willard)

This is Spinal Tap

I highly recommend any movie directed by Christopher Guest.  They will make you laugh out loud.  This is Spinal Tap captures a lot of the hilarious aspects of being in a band. While The Alder Fork isn’t strictly a band there has been a great deal of collaboration on this album.

NOTLD was written for my old band, Pinstripe Mystery, and is my favourite song from those days.  This song involves the most other people directly and indirectly of any song on the album.  I am especially indebted to Dave for his efforts on this one (have I mentioned his photography blog? Check it out!).
The title is an obvious reference to the classic film Night of the Living Dead but the song has absolutely nothing to do with zombies.  The band just happened to be watching the movie on the day I first presented the song to them.  But now it has returned to life after it, and all the other songs of
Pinstripe Mystery seemed to have died.  This song is probably the most straight ahead rock song I have ever written. Lyrically it is about a complex relationship between two people, and the secrets that they keep.

NOTLD:

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I Could See Where You Were

November 14, 2008

It was not openly spoken of, but the family was waiting for Caleb Gare. Even Lind Archer, the new schoolteacher, who had come all the way from Yellow Post with the Indian mail carrier and must therefore be hungry, was waiting. Amelia Gare, Caleb’s wife, with all her cheerful bustling about the kitchen as if everything weren’t quite ready, could not break the suspense. Judith and Charlie had milked several of the cows and had come in and out of the house repeatedly for no reason whatever. Martin, slow and clumsy of feeling as he was, had cleaned the entire stable so thoroughly that it looked unnatural. Ellen, Martin’s twin, was playing the organ,but appeared to have forgotten even the more familiar parts of her repertoire, such as “Red Wing” and the less recent “Ben Bolt.” Ellen played, harmoniously enough, “by ear.”

Martha Ostenso

Wild Geese

Wild Geese was written almost 90 years ago and tells the story of a dysfunctional prairie family.  I fell in love with the main character, a teenage girl named Judith, because she represented the passion and independence that I admire.  Most of the students in the English class that read it, wanted to kill Caleb by the end. I think you would too.  Judith had a plan for her life, and she executed it in unpredictable ways, eventually getting what she wanted.

There is a picture above the desk I record music on. In it you can see 3 of the 4 rooms I lived in at St. Jerome’s. It’s a very nice picture of a cafeteria and the residence.  It brings up memories that I would usually ignore because they represent a mixed time in my life.  They also demonstrate the way small decisions can have a large influence on much later events. But perhaps they aren’t small decisions, even if they seem that way. For many people, choosing what to study at university requires a great deal of consideration.  For others it is obvious from the very beginning, but is no less important.  For me, that choice was secondary to a lot of other matters.  None of the decisions that I made regarding my future were given anymore than cursory thought.  Now, as I am posed to map out the next 4 or maybe 40 years of my life, I lack a true mechanism for sorting it out.  Humans have always had tricks for finding their way. The north star, animal tracks, landmarks, maps, the sextant, and now GPS have helped people get from one place or another.  In order to find direction in life, a person needs dreams, goals, and a plan.  I have only recently formulated a plan.

To what degree is this album a part of that plan? Probably not at all, but I have spent a lot of time on it anyway. The Mountain is a true story, more or less.  I wrote the lyrics literally at the edge of the Hamilton escarpment.  They describe what was going through my mind on that day, and the music reflects what I felt. The mood of the song was influenced by the Peter Gabriel song Don’t Give Up. If you know that song, I imagine you know what I mean.  I haven’t had the feelings from The Mountain in a long time. But they were common once.

Join me on The Mountain:


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The Spiders On Your Back

November 13, 2008

The writer is a prowler in a given story that emerges in time. The writer reports on incidents. There are no protagonists in the given story. Any subject is a contrived subject. The point of view is uncertain. The writer is necessarily part of the story.

The writer cannot report on everything. It is not necessary to tell the whole story. There will be just enough to provide a faint sketch of the pattern.

In any case the writer expects rough seas. The entire work may find itself on the floor in the end, again in shambles.

Kristjana Gunnars

The Prowler

The Prowler is a complex piece of modern literature. It is written in a non-linear style, is both fiction and non-fiction, and contains a great deal of self-referential criticism. The book is meant to be a puzzle that the reader assembles in some fashion to suit themselves. I chose the above passage because it was highlighted by the person who owned my copy of the book before me. Clearly they thought that these words unlocked some of the meaning of the entire book.

Easterbrooks was written in the later days of Pinstripe Mystery and has never been recorded before. I believe it debuted at Max Woghiren’s birthday party a couple of years ago. You can hear some of his music at The Two Minute Project. It’s in there, you just have to hunt for it. Well worth the search. The song discusses the age old problem of someone who was once in your life and wants back in. Once again Karen Shields provides her musical talent. It is the highlight of the song.

The name, Easterbrooks, will be familiar to some as a popular hot dog stand near the Royal Botanical Gardens in Aldershot. It is also next to the cemetary where a great many of my deceased relatives are buried. This has nothing to do with the song itself, but I do like the name, and I have many strong memories of both the hot dogs and the graves. Much like Kristjana Gunnars, I am not necessarily part of the story, but I might be.

Enjoy Easterbrooks:

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The Peril of St. Veronica

November 12, 2008

In the time that she made her rigorous fast of five years, about which I testified the other time in my examination, but when I was not yet a Religious here, the sisters sometimes found Sister Veronica in the kitchen, in the refectory, or the dispensary, where she ate everything there was, and what is more, other times they found her eating before the hour of Communion, and then they saw her come to communion with the others. From this there derived great confusion and backbiting to the discredit of this Servant of God, but later it became clear, that in effect what appeared under the aspect of Sister Veronica was the Devil.

Abbes Ceoli

Translated in Holy Anorexia

St. Veronica was born Orsola Giuliani in Italy during the Seventeenth Century.  Her story is like many other ascetic women of the Middle Ages. She observed ritual fasting beyond the extreme of what was considered normal in that time.  I came across her story while working on my MA thesis on the connections between anorexia nervosa and religious belief. Rudolph Bell argued that many women who fasted themselves to death had exhibited clear signs of anorexia. At the same time I was working on a folk type song that tells the story of a man and a woman separated by an impassable river.  I decided to name the song after this saint I was reading about who seemed to spend her whole life battling demons, real and imagined, all with a deep sense of purpose and righteousness. Those who examined Veronica’s candidacy for sainthood seemed to believe that she had endured the hardship of her illness (they recognized that something was indeed not right about her actions) with saintly fortitude and faith.  She was a perfect candidate for this song. I actually considered writing a completely separate album based on Orsola and examining the many women discussed in Holy Anorexia. That could still be my next project.

Orsola is a special song to me.  It was the first song completed for the album, in fact it’s been sitting in its current form for quite some time.  I have to thank Karen Shields for her outstanding vocal work on this track. She came down for a couple of hours one evening and recorded the two best vocal tracks on the album.  It seemed ridiculous that I would write a song that discussed three perspectives, the man, the villagers, and the woman, without including a female voice.  The song itself was written with an eye towards building suspense and using dynamics to mark the changes between parts. I think it creates a nice effect.

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Remember

November 11, 2008

Generally speaking, of course, any pursuit of art in camp was somewhat grotesque. I would say that the real impression made by anything connected with art arose only from the ghostlike contrast between the performance and the background of desolate camp life.  I shall never forget how I awoke from the deep sleep of exhaustion on my second night in Auchwitz – aroused by music. The senior warden of the hut had some kind of celebration in his room, which was near the entrance of the hut. Suddenly there was a silence and into the night a violin sang a desperately sad tango, an unusal tune not spoiled by frequent playing. The violin wept and a part of me wept with it, for on the same day someone had a twenty-fourth birthday. That someone lay in another part of Auschwitz camp, possibly only a few hundred or a thousand yards away, and yet completely out of reach. That someone was my wife.

Viktor Frankl

Man’s Search For Meaning

Today is one of the most important days of the year. It is Remembrance Day and also the Ninetieth Anniversary of the end of the Great War.  I have been a student of military history for most of my life, because I am fascinated by the irrationality, terror, improbability, tactics, sights, sounds, and stories of war.  Reading Viktor Frankl’s description of life at Auschwitz as part of a course on theodicy (a discussion of the relationship between God and evil) was a harsh reminder of the limitless capacity of human cruelty. Frankl was interested in more than describing what happened in the concentration camps and goes on to elaborate his theory of the meaning of existence and the psychological crisis at work.  He was grasping with the question: Why did I live when so many others died? I often ask myself how I was so lucky to be born at a time and place where I have never been asked to risk my life for something.  Regardless of how you feel about the legitimacy of any war, it is hard not to admire the heroism of the many men and women who have gone off to war.  World War II gave us the classic dynamic of good versus evil thanks to Hitler’s unbelievable final solution.  Other wars have not been so clear cut.  Please take some time today to remember, reflect, pray, and thank those who faced iron and steel, and the impossibilities of war.

The song that I have chosen today is the first instrumental piece I have ever written.  It was part of a project I began working on for my previous job at Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster, Ontario. I had hoped to create a slideshow but I never seemed to have the time. I composed two pieces of music for it, the other became HG Plant Companion, and decided to expand them for my album.  Deer Deer was dedicated to the deer I would see many mornings lingering around the bandshell.  They would run off when my car rounded the bend, thereby relinquishing the site to me for the day.  The song was inspired by a Radiohead song called Melatonin. There are 4 instruments involved, with most of the work being split between bass, violin and cello. This song was really the first time I composed using these instruments together.  It made me feel like a real composer for a day. I chose to use this song today because I don’t think any of my other songs suit an occasion like Remembrance Day effectively.  The lyrical content of my music generally doesn’t address such serious topics as war or death.  In this case, I want the instruments to speak for me.

Remember.

This is Deer Deer:

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