Tiny Desk

I just finished filming a video of questionable quality, but fun nonetheless. It was my submission to NPR's Tiny Desk contest: a rendition of If I Was Your Father from the EP. I haven't played that song, which I wrote in 2000, in years. Enjoy! (Fingers crossed.)


Summerhaven

Last week I began work on another musical: Summerhaven. It's the story of an eccentric teacher of an alternative method of education who has a crisis of faith when his school is taken over by the local board of education. I feel good about where it's going so far, even though I'm only just beginning the first very rough draft.

Here's how I started the work: after working out a full sketch of the play using Dramatica, I created an outline. Then I created character sheets for each of the characters.

Now, I have to do lots of research about different kinds of movement-as-healing practices, such as yoga, the Waldorf method's eurythmy, Delacroix's Eurythmics, and others. This is important, because the teacher in my play practices the Lotus Flower method of education, which is an entirely fictional mishmash of such therapeutic methods. It fuses music and movement in a way that nurtures the child's inner spiritual bud as it opens into the beautiful flower that the child will become. It's very woo woo. I'm looking forward to writing about it.

The play opens with Charlotte, a girl of 25, entering a temple in Nepal where her father, Marcus, the play's Main Character, is meditating. They haven't seen each other for 20 years and Charlotte has been searching for him. The two have a confrontation and Marcus explains why he left Charlotte all those years ago. Then the opening number begins. It's hard to describe the opening number, but I'll try in a later post. Right now I'm going to start writing some more. More later!

 

Success!

This past Sunday we had a table read through of Success! Some great actors from the Portland theater community joined me. We had Mike Arsenault, Paige McKinney, David Loftus, David Mitchum-Brown, and Julianne Nelson. Paige, the Davids, and Julianne doubled the parts and Mike read Gregory. I read the part of Nicholas. The cast all did an amazing job. I was pretty floored to be acting and singing with such a talented group of people.

Reading around the table.

Reading around the table.

Now I'm working on a shorter draft of the play with narration for inclusion in the Fertile Ground Festival. I'll keep you posted on how that goes!

The Story So Far...

This is my first blog post in five years. Wow. You would think that I've been doing nothing all this time, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Here's what I've been up to, in a nutshell:

2009 - 2010

I left Portland for Mil(iving)wauk(H)e(ll)e to do a training to be a Montessori teacher. While doing the training I recorded a rough guitar/bass demo and staged a reading for Success!, got a regular gig playing shows at an art gallery, and designed the album cover for Secret Notebook, and released digitally two albums: Secret Notebook and The Ideal Home Music Library, Vol. 2. Milwaukee is a real dump.

After I finished the training for my day job and moved to Germany to work in a small school about 20 minutes outside of Frankfurt. There, on weekends and weeknights, I finished the piano score for Success! I also went to Finland to record the latest Reclinerland album. I worked on the vocal and piano tracks in my apartment, playing on a little piano that a generous man named Herr Reinke loaned me. 

2011

While living in Germany I went to Finland in the Spring to record the album. Anthony Georgis and I spent a weekend working with Jarkko Heinio, or Japi, as he's nicknamed, in his home studio. We also walked a lot, ate black licorice ice cream, among other Finnish desert delights. For details, check out the albums page. We finished the album and released it digitally later that year.

2012

I returned to Portland and started writing for musical theater. My first ventures were 10-minute musicals, the first of which was Up On The Orange Moon, which was considered for the 4x4 Musicals show. My friend Rachel Sakry, who staged an amazing musical of her own called Whatever Girl got me in touch with Rich Rubin, who wrote the book for Happy Valley. So I spent this year working on the music and lyrics for Happy Valley while also writing songs for the next Parks & Recreation album.

2013 - 2014

These two years seem like a blur. A lot happened in my personal life, but I continued writing the songs for Happy Valley. We staged a reading of the play in late 2014. I also wrote another 10-minute musical, this one completely through-sung, called You Are Standing at the Mouth of a Cave. It was rejected by the 4x4 Musicals show, but I had a great time writing it. I also wrote about 20 songs for the next Parks & Recreation album, which I worked out and rehearsed with Joe Ballman and Bob Ham. Let's see, Happy Valley got a table reading. Oh, and in 2013 and 2014 I submitted Success! to the National Music Theater Conference, where it made the third round of selections before being roundly rejected. 

2015

This Is It! first band photo 

This Is It! first band photo 

And now, it's 2015. I've finished the music and lyrics for Happy Valley. Parks & Recreation are going into the studio later this year to record our third (epic) album. I have to get started on the string arrangements. I'm starting a new band with my fiancee called This Is It!. We've already got half the songs for our album written! I've begun work on a new musical play called Summerhaven. I'm putting together a showcase of Success! for the Fertile Ground festival. Whew.

So you see? I haven't been blogging, but I haven't exactly been slacking either. 


A Present for the Lonely People

Hi everyone. On this, the blackest of all holidays, I just wanted to offer a little Valentine to all of the lonely people in the world who don't have significant others to smooch and cuddle and buy flowers for. It's a song called Don't You Know There Are Lonely People In The World?. I recorded it this time last year, and one year later, it's message is still as fresh as the day I wrote it. If you aren't a member of a couple, I hope you enjoy it.

Here lonely people! Download your present here!

An amendment to the Secret Notebook Story

Hello all. I was sitting here doing stuff when it hit me why I made the Secret Notebook album. I thought I'd take a little break and fill you in.

It happened that back in May, 2008, I got a message from some organization who was going to give Kevin Sampsell an award for something (being such a stand-up guy, I suppose). The organization wanted a 30 second sound clip from a bunch of Kevin's friends. So I took his book A Common Pornography from my bathroom reading basket and flipped through it. I happened upon the story Vibrator, which was only a paragraph long, and thought, "That would make a nice little song." So my challenge was to turn one paragraph of prose into a complete musical statement. So I rewrote the paragraph as a four line bit of verse, and then started singing a melody. It took me a whole afternoon to get a melody that felt complete, with a beginning, a climax, and an end. It had to have shape.

Anyway, I recorded it in Garage Band with lots of little kid noises and a big dental drill sound (which is supposed to be a vibrator), put some harmonies on, and voila! A 30 second song. Well, the people who honored Kevin liked it a lot. They even synced it to a little film they made in Kevin's honor. So I thought it would be a nice challenge to take all the songs in the book and make an album of short songs. In the end I wrote and recorded 25 songs between May or so 2008 and February 2009. Kevin came over and approved of 20 of them, and I finished the album.

So that's the story. Back to work. I hope you're all well! More later.

Secret Notebook

Well, hello everyone! New year, new post, new album! That's right, I'm taking a break from blogging about the musical to announce that the new Reclinerland album is out now on iTunes and Amazon MP3. I'm particularly excited about this release because it marks a couple of firsts for me.

In the first place, it's the first time I recorded an entire album by myself. I wrote the songs, played all the instruments, mixed, mastered, and released the entire project under my new digital "label" George Recordings. Secondly, it marks the first time I've ever used someone else's lyrics. The songs are based on a collection of short stories by my good friend, the very talented writer Kevin Sampsell. His memoir, A Common Pornography, was written way back in 2002. In 2007 or '08, I was sitting around my apartment in Portland one day reading it, and I just thought it would be really a nice challenge to take his words and make them into songs. So I started working on the album. Coincidentally, sometime during the making of the album, Kevin got a book deal to revamp his book and release it. So it's coming out this year, very soon. You should read it, it's brilliant.

If you've been following the blog, you may have read some previous posts about me working on the songs. If not, well, I'll tell you that it was an eye-opening process. To take someone else's prose and adapt it to verse was a challenge. Some of the lyrics I had to chop up, but others I could just glean right off the page. It's a testament to Kevin's skill as a writer that most of the stories organized themselves naturally into musical structure.

In keeping with the fact that Kevin's stories were short, I kept most of the songs down to under 3 minutes. My mission throughout the collection was to boil each song down to it's most catchy, most repeatable elements and only keep the ideas that were the most melodic, the most hummable. In that sense, this is a collection of songs with only choruses and no verses. I cut out all extraneous ideas from every song. Just like a writer would do: no extra words. No fluff. Just the basic elements. I approached this album like a writer. Simple wins!

In other news, the musical is going great. Only three more songs to record and I'll have the demo finished. Then I'm going to put together a couple of staged readings. I'll be out in Portland, Oregon this summer, before I move to Germany, and I'll probably stage a reading out there. So more news about that later. Okay. Back to work! More later!

Happy New Year!

The Lion and The Rat

As I was getting ready for the next post, I was thinking that maybe these blog posts are a bit too technical. I mean, maybe I shouldn't go into so much detail about how I wrote the music for these songs and just stick to the basic information. I could just describe the scene, maybe talk a little bit about the chords or something, but keep it light, you know. With that in mind, I have implemented a color coded system so I can talk about the geeky stuff, and not bring the rest of you to tears. So, whenever you see a big block of red text, that's the really nerdy stuff. If you skip it, you won't miss anything. But if you want to read it, it's there for you. Deal? Deal.

So, song number three in this little musical thingy is called The Lion and the Rat. After Nicholas's dream sequence, his boss, Charles, comes in and yells at him because the opening is such a failure. Charles gets angry also because Nicholas put a bunch of "sold" stickers on the paintings, presumably to make it look like he'd sold some. Not fooled, Charles goes and looks for the receipts, when Nicholas tries to back out of his lie. An argument ensues, and this song is, basically, the argument. The song is a duet, but it doesn't kick off with both of the two characters singing together. Instead, Nicholas starts it off with the first theme, which contains little motives from the Something Special melody. Then Charles replies with the second theme, which also contains bits of the Something Special melody. Then Nicholas issues a final rebuttal, before launching into the melody of the song. All of this is the introductory verse. The whole introductory verse is in C major, which is V of F, the key of the song. Because Nicholas's melody starts on a b, and Charles's melody starts on a D, the melodies never quite feel centered and final. This makes it nice when finally, the introduction settles on a C7, and Nicholas comes in with the main melody of the song, which is in the key of F. Avoiding the key note like this gives a melody a kind of driving feeling. It never comes to a rest. This next part of the song is a call and response. The melody is broken up between Nicholas's statements, and Charles's rebuttals. It was important to keep the ranges separate, so Nicholas's replies are pitched high, so they sound really fruity and pompous, while Charles's melodies are low, giving them a bit of a growl. The form of this call and response section is ABA. The first A is in F major, and through a quick ii-V in the key of A, the B section moves up to A major. Because the key shifts upward, you can hear that Nicholas is a little agitated. Then, the B section ends with Nicholas singing a one-note melody on the note 'a'. Through this one note, I modulated back to F for the next A section.

The call and response part ends with Charles laying into Nicholas. Now, Charles's melody dominates, and Nicholas sings little protests against Charles's melody. But the two don't sing together until just after this, when Charles insults Nicholas. This last was the C section, which is in the key of D. To get to D from F, I had to do a really quick, sudden modulation through Eb7. But I think it sounds okay, because Nicholas is being smug, and the chord on that beat really sounds kind of sinister and disconcerting. At the end of this section, Charles and Nicholas start really arguing. And here is where they start singing at the same time. They sing two different melodies, each made of the themes that introduced the song. This part of the song is free form. The two just sing at each other, talking over each other until Nicholas says something that really makes Charles angry, and Charles fires him. The song ends on a manic dissonant chord as Charles yells "You're fired!" This last section moves from D to Eb, which I made happen through a common tone modulation off the note g in Nicholas's melody. Since g is IV in D and vi in Bb, all I had to do was have Nicholas sing a g, and instantly shift the tonality to Eb. So the key center of the song rises as the tension mounts. It moves from Eb, up to F, way up again to A, then to D, which is only one sharp away from A, and then rises back to Eb. The ending chord of the song is an AM7(#11), which is a really nasty chord. I think it's nice that the song ends with a scary, disconcerting chord as Charles is yelling "You're fired!" I want it to highlight the grim revenge that Nicholas is planning, which he hints at a few measures before the end when he sings "Let it burn, fine with me..."

So that's The Lion and The Rat. Now, this time, along with the sheet music, I have a demo of me singing both parts and playing guitar (there's also a standup bass). It's pretty low-fi. Singing both parts was hard because I'm a bass, and both parts are written for tenor. So my voice strains a bit, and I waver in and out of tune, but this track will give you the general idea. You can get the demo track here, and the music here.

More later!

Something Special

I won't even bother to apologize for taking so long to post this time. I've been so busy with my Montessori studies that monthly posts are going to be about the norm. Apart from my studies, I've been working on the demo for the songs. What's interesting about that is that the songs keep evolving. As I record them, I change parts and fix ham fisted harmonies and whatnot. It's a big job, so you'll have to bear with me. You can imagine how little dating I've been doing, much to the chagrin of the ladies of the world. You would think talking shop like this would get me so many ladies.

Anyway, the next song in the play, Something Special, is, well, special to me because it was one of the first songs I came up with for the play. I thought of it while I was walking up SE 12th Avenue in Portland toward home one afternoon. I think it was the very same afternoon I'd given some stupid girl that I liked my Paul Simon songbook with my phone number in it. (She never called me. And she still has my book! Stupid girl.) I started dancing around and pantomiming because I didn't have anything to record with and no writing implements. But I needed to remember my idea, so I sang it over and over again until I got home and then I jotted it down. Because it was the first song I came up with, and because I noticed a lot of distinct features in the melody, I used this song to generate all of the musical material for the rest of the play. Even the songs that I culled from other sources will eventually contain material from this song once I flesh out the piano score. That means that before I wrote any of the other songs, I first analyzed this one to death. In other words, I broke down the melody into as many little motives as I could find and wrote each little motive out backwards (Retrograde), Inverted (Inversion), and backwards inverted (Retrograde Inversion). Then I combined those melodic snippets in different ways to create the melodies, harmony lines, and accompaniments for the other songs. If you look closely at subsequent lead sheets, you'll see the same little motives popping up in all the songs. For example, the little eighth note step up-down-up-down on the words "tonight we're showing" is a motive I use often throughout the play. Another one is the eighth rest motive on the lyric "something special!" I used rhythmic motives too, such as the eighth, quarter, eighth rhythm on "welcome, tonight".

In terms of the scene, the opening number melds seamlessly into this song. Our protagonist—and I use the term protagonist here in the way Lajos Egri uses it in his book The Art of Dramatic Writing. According to Egri, the protagonist is not the hero, rather he's the character who forces the conflict. Often, the protagonist is the villain. The antagonist, according to Egri, is the one who opposes the protagonist, often the hero. In Othello, for example, Iago is the protagonist and Othello is the antagonist, rather than the other way around—Nicholas comes on and introduces himself. As he appears saying "Welcome!" a whole host of hipsters, gallery goers, and high society jet setters flood into the art gallery where he is curating his brother's art show. This is a classic "I want" song. Nicholas is welcoming everyone to his brother's highly successful gallery opening. Of course, none of it is actually happening, because in fact the opening has been a complete failure and no one has come.

A word about the form of the song: The overall form is ABA'. The first A, in which Nicholas welcomes everyone to the gallery is ABAC. The middle section, where Nicholas sings about himself, is an AABA form, the B section being a slow contrast to the As. The the third section is an incomplete version of the first form, we only hear one A, and then the music changes to a darker key, and Nicholas sings about how it's all a dream as everyone files out and leaves him all alone. To make the darker feel, I modulated from the key of G down a half step to G-flat. The final ending I came up with was not the original ending. Originally I wrote a ii-V-I cadence in Gb, but a friend of mine pointed out that it should sound darker. She sang it how she heard it, and all she did was step down a half-step on the last word, "dream", and it sounded really dark and sad. So I changed the final chords to accommodate that cool, dark half-step. The only way to do it was to effect a deceptive cadence in Eb major. So, by putting an F in the bass of the GbM7 chord in measure 87, I was able to lead the bass down in half steps (foreshadowing the final half-step in the melody) and arrive at an Eb7 chord, which then leads nicely into Bb7, and viola: the last chord of the song is a Cm7. Very dark indeed! Of course it wasn't as easy as that (gulp). I wrestled with many many different endings for a few days until I came up with that one. I like that the song ends in a different key than it started in, because the character is in a different place by the end of the song and the music should reflect that.

Anyway, that's enough nerdiness for one evening. Here is the lead sheet if you want to geek out yourself. I have to get back to my beautiful French/Russian wife, who speaks English with a Manchester lilt, who's just finished working in her studio and is waiting for me. Ah, if only that weren't all a dream. More later.

Canon For Cool Kids

Whew! How does a month go by so fast? In the blog world, a month between posts is inexcusable. I throw myself at your mercy, dear reader, and beg your forgiveness. I've been recording a demo of the songs from the musical and it's kept me away from the blog. Also, I made some important revisions as well. My good friend who's an actress read the script and she had some wonderful suggestions about changes I could make. I'll discuss them in turn, but for now, I hope I have your forgiveness. Alright, no more cloying: to the blog.

This song Canon for Cool Kids started out as a concept. The musical Guys & dolls opens with the Fugue for Tinhorns: three gangster guys standing around singing about betting on the races. I wanted to write an opening that alluded to that opening, so I thought, what icons from contemporary life could I open the show with? Naturally, since the play is about art, hipsters sprang to mind. Originally I wanted to have a whole group of hipsters, nine, to be exact. And they would all be in a big group standing around ragging on the art. I imagined them all pantomiming talking, and one of them at a time yells out his opinion, so that little melodies would pop in and out of this chattering noise. That was my original concept.

So, to write the lyrics, I went to the internet and read tons of different art reviews, good and bad. I started collecting different short phrases, naturally gravitating toward the most pretentious stuff, like "the subtext is overbearing," and, "contradictorially repressed." Even some of the most articulate, reputable publications wrote things like "he's reliant on classical tropes." I also searched record review sites, like Pitchfork.com, where I found a veritable gold mine of pretentious reviews and sloppy journalism. So I just made a giant list of all this artcriticspeak, and viola: I had my lyrics!

The music wasn't quite as easy. I wanted it to be a canon, because the Fugue for Tinhorns is, well, a Fugue. (Fugues and canons are both contrapuntal forms) Originally, I wrote one big long melody and tried to get it to wrap around itself, but that didn't work. So I chopped it up, and after a lot of sketching, I gave up. So after a few days of taking long walks, I went back to my lyrics and tried to build a little melody off of the little phrases I had found. I started by building a little melody on the rhythm from the phrase "Who is this gallery kidding?". I liked it, so I matched up all the artcriticspeak phrases that matched that rhythm. You would be amazed how many I found, real beauties too, like, "The subtext is overbearing", "It's reliant on classical tropes", "Abyss of consumerist culture", etc. So I wrote a little tiny melody, in fact, only a 3 note melody (f, e-flat, and g), repeated it four times (to comply with good phrase structure), and that became the first melodic part of the canon.

Here I had to pause, because the canon needed harmonic structure. I went to Fugue for Tinhorns and discovered that it was really only the V and the I chords repeated over and over again. That made my job a little easier.

So, for the second part, then, I started on a d above f, so I could outline the V chord (in Eb, V is Bb), and ended it on an e-flat (the I). I chose longer notes that matched the rhythm of the phrase "His lines are too confining" (I swear, these are all from actual art reviews!) and went on from there, again, repeating the snippet four times. For the third part I aimed lower, again so the parts would be distinct and contrasting, and since the first melody started on f, and the second on d, I chose b-flat to complete the V triad. I needed to end the third part on g, because the other two end on e-flat, and that creates the I chord. Again I chose different rhythms and used really crazy phrases like "He throws the paint haphazzardly" and "complete inscrutability".

Now I had all three parts, and it was just a matter of laying them out together. Most contrapuntal compositions expose all the material straight away, so I opened the piece with each melody alone, and then staggered the entrances so gradually they'd layer on top of each other.There had to be places where the parts come together, so as to break up the craziness of the counterpoint, so I had them all periodically sing "Someone burn his art degree!" in 3 part harmony.

Here, I should mention that my original concept changed. I suppose I was trying to avoid having the opening be too much like Guys & Dolls, so I avoided just having 3 hipsters sing the whole thing. But then I thought it would be really great if my character Timothy, who is the community in the play's tastemaker, had a little gaggle of 3 followers that he could sing with in a barbershop style. So eventually the crowd of hipsters I had originally envisioned became only 3. So now, the musical opens with a trio of male hipsters singing the canon, and they're later joined by Timothy in juicy barbershop style. And that, folks, is the Canon for Cool Kids.

The revised (and final so far) version of the song can be found here. More later!

New releases and Success

I'm so excited!! I've just gotten clearance to digitally distribute the EP that came out in 2002. That means I can digitally re-issue the album any way I want. So, coming soon to fine online retailers everywhere: the remastered EP with a couple of bonus tracks and stuff. I'm trying to secure permission to re-release the first album as well. That will make this year very exciting for Reclinerland indeed. If I get the go ahead for the first album, I will be releasing records all the way until January 2010. I've almost finished the mastering on Secret Notebook, as well. So things are really productive here at Reclinerland HQ. Everything is running along quite smoothly.

That said, I realized as I read over the blog that it got a bit whiny for a while there. I was supposed to be blogging about the process of creating things and whatnot, specifically, the songwriting process. So, I hereby vow to get this blog back on that tract. To do that, I thought I would start a series of posts which talk about how I wrote the songs for the play. Lest you think I'm being narcissistic, I'm doing this for three reasons: 1) it might be instructive for me to review the process so that I can catch any glitches in preparation for writing the piano score. 2) It would be valuable to get feedback from any of you out there who are songwriters, actors, writers, or who are just fans of music and musical theater. After all, feedback and dialog -- not whining-- is why I started this blog in the first place. 3) It would be nice to reflect on the process because I'm going to be very busy in the coming months with career things, so I won't be doing much songwriting. I find it instructive, when I'm not actually doing much writing, to reflect about writing. That way, when I sit down to write, my imagination will be all lubed up. And I do have my next songwriting project in mind: the Ideal Home Music Library, Volume 3, which will be another set of fictional showsongs, parlor songs, and art songs for string quartet and voice. But that's another post. For now, let me just repeat that reflecting on the creative process is very valuable, and I shall be doing more of it here, I promise.

So, this is the first of a series of posts dedicated to reviewing the songwriting process for the musical I've just written called Success. (By the way, even as I write this, the play is out there being read by people who are going to give me feedback. So entire songs may be scrapped or rewritten as bits of the story are changed and fleshed out. But be still my heart; as I once read: a musical isn't written, it's re-written.) In the posts that follow, I'm going to talk about each song in terms of how I came up with the idea, what the technical considerations are, how I'm going to set it for piano, what I think will and won't work, and what the challenges will be, etc. To begin, I'd like to present to you the first song in the piece. It's called Canon For Cool Kids, and you can examine it here.

In the next post, I'll examine the song in detail. So, as usual, more later.

Thoughts on Isolation

I don't know why I thought moving across the country by myself was a good idea. I've been sitting in this little square room for days, taking occasional jaunts to spend money exploring the city. At first I was propelled by a sense of purpose and excitement, but now, I just feel so incredibly mind achingly chest poundingly lonely. I walked out of the art museum today and had to sit on a bench and just cry for a while. I wished I could walk into the paintings, instead of out the doors. I saw a girl in a painting and imagined holding her hand.

I have a fresh new musical in a neat stack next to me, just laying there, silent. For a year and a half I worked on that play almost every day, every weekend, I'm still fiddling with it, editing it, but now comes the most arduous and horrible part of the whole process: getting it put on. This is the part of making music I hate, having to convince the rest of the world that what you're doing is worthwhile.

In 2001 I was studying composition in New York with a Russian man named Michael Zieger, and I remember going to a lesson and seeing piles of notebooks stacked neatly on a bookshelf. I asked him about them, and he told me they were his symphonies. He pulled them out, and sure enough, they were handwritten works of enormous proportion that, sadly, will never see the light of day. When I first saw them, I thought it was exciting that he'd written five symphonies, and that there they were. Whether or not they ever struck human ears, they exist, they are an entity, and I imagined he must have taken enormous comfort from that. But now, looking at my play sitting there, I feel a sense of enormous dread. What a waste of time it was to have written something that no one will ever hear. I basically built a huge tree, put it in a forest where there is no one to hear it fall, and answered that age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? The answer, and I can tell you this first hand, is yes, but what difference does it make? I've been tumbling down down down in this little forest of mine for a long time now. However! All that said, I have mustered up the strength to begin the process of getting this thing put on. As usual, it's all up to me, and so I have been trying to figure out how to get it put on. I suppose I'll have to research contests, playwriting competitions, local theater groups. etc. It's going to take a long time, since I'll be doing it all by myself.

With that in mind, I am mastering the album Secret Notebook and I'm almost finished. I've done ten songs and I really love them. So you can look forward to hearing this particular little tree fall sometime at the end of this year. Kevin Sampsell's book comes out in January, but I want the record to come out first. I hope you're all having a lovely summer. More later.

You're Standing In Front of a Cave

I have so much to post about, but I have so little time, so I'll be brief. I'm really happy about a little film that I made with Grammar School Pictures about two guys playing D&D. You can watch it here: http://www.vimeo.com/5408240

Also, mastering has begun on Secret Notebook, and as soon as I'm over this moving hump, I will begin an overhaul of the Ideal Home Music Library website. Look for a release of the composer biographies, and a mastered version of the album on iTunes later this year.

I hope you're all doing well. More later.

The 11 O'clock Number

It's me again. I was thinking today as I walked home that I now know why most epic musical compositions climax two-thirds of the way through. Liars and smug "successful" people will tell you that a musical composition climaxes where it does because of the Golden Ratio. That is to say, the first thick rectangle represents everything that happens before the climax, the little off-center line is the climax, and the small rectangle represents everything after the climax. I know now that that's crap. Yes, musicals climax where they do because right when the composer reaches that two-thirds mark, his or her imagination craps out. That's right. It's true. Here I am, having arrived at the climax, or, what they call in musical theater the "eleven o'clock number", and I can't think of a thing. No ideas will come. Nothing. Golden Mean my butt. So, I find myself doomed to aimless wandering, intermittent fetal positions, bad television, and drinking (soda pop), waiting until that moment when, at last,the ideas begin to flow and I can head into the dénouement with confidence. What's funny is that just a week ago I wrote one of the songs in a single day. In a fit of work I wrote a whole song based on an idea I had recorded months ago into my cell phone's voice recorder. That was when "the silence" came.

In good news, though, the Willamette Week conducted an interview with me to promote the show at the Someday Lounge on July 7th. In the interview, Casey Jarman and I talk about pop music, suburban strip commercial architecture, Parks & Recreation, and a bunch of other things. I look a bit pudgy, but anyway, there it is. You can view it at this link: http://blip.tv/file/2168899/

More later.

I've changed my mind

Here's what happened: I was on the bus and a middle aged man carrying some blue shopping bags came on and sat down in the seat in front of me. I caught a glimpse of the content of his bags: boxes of brand new guitar effects processors, and other gear. He was humming as he boarded the bus. And when he got off, he cradled his purchases in his hands, and kind of raced away down the sidewalk as though he was eager to get home, plug it all in, and rock out. I hope he did rock out. I hope he got home and posted all his songs to his blog, or his Myspace page, or wherever, and just laid it all out there for everyone to see. I wonder what his music sounds like?

Anyway, since I announced two weeks ago that I was putting Reclinerland aside for a while, I got quite a few emails and Myspace messages from people telling me how sorry they were to hear that I was closing shop. I was quite touched. I know that Reclinerland is not much, that I'm pretty obscure, and that, like my friend on the bus, I'm doing this alone. Sometimes you feel like you aren't reaching anyone and you start to get down. But, you know, it isn't about how many people you reach, it's about reaching anyone at all. I think if even one person is really touched by your music, that is reason enough to do it forever. At least until that person keels over and dies (if you don't first). Because that connection, as my recent experience trying to quit has shown me,  is reciprocal: you create something that touches them, which, in turn, touches you, and it just goes around and around. 

And another thing! Since I made the announcement, I've been more inspired! I had already been working full-steam-ahead on the musical, so much work, in fact, that I haven't even been bothered to BLOG about it, but then after I decided to put Reclinerland aside I was hit with a torrent of song ideas. It's as if I'd quit smoking and then started sucking down three packs a day. I've been writing and recording, and, well, I think I may have another album on my hands. 

So what do I do? How can I quit now? Why should I quit? I suppose a person is allowed an occasional moment of questioning, of soul-searching. And, having put Reclinerland away for even a week, I guess my body, my brain, my heart missed it too much, even in that short time. I can't quit. I want to keep going as long as people, any people, are being touched. Sometimes, when you're making something alone for too long, you forget that you're giving little gifts to the world. So as long as anyone is interested, I'm intersted. I'm not doing this for myself. I already love music, and I'd make it no matter what, but it isn't enough to do it by yourself, not when you could touch people. So I'm not going to quit Reclinerland. Eff it. I've changed my mind. I'm going to keep going with my projects and keep on doing it.

So please forgive me for being so wishy-washy. Reclinerland will not die. Not until I do. As always, look for a new album entitled Secret Notebook out later this year, another album called simply Reclinerland, and please, for Pete's sake, whatever you're doing with your life, DON'T QUIT!

Moving on

Although I'm putting Reclinerland to rest for a while, I thought it might be nice to give you a little parting gift. Since you have read the blog posts and followed the album's evolution from writing the songs to getting it all mixed, I would like to present to you the unmastered version of the Ideal Home Music Library, Vol. 2.   

This download includes the mixed (but unmastered) versions of the songs, complete sheet music for all the songs, and the credits. Composer biographies haven't been written yet.

Happy listening, and may you have all the happiness in the world forever.

Happy Holidays!

Hi, all! I know it's after Christmas, but seeing as how it's still Hannukah, I'm not too late. 

I just wanted to send you a quick hello and present to you a little present! My friend Grey Anne and I recorded a version of the Pogue's Fairytale Of New York to give to all of our listeners. Please accept this humble token of our affection for you: our version of Fairytale Of New York. Enjoy! 

2009 will be a busy year for Reclinerland. Two new albums are on the way, plus a website redesign, and plenty of shows. See you soon!

Rough Mix

The Ideal Home Music Library, Volume 2 is in its mixing stage. Scott Gared is doing the mixing, and he's doing a wonderful job. I gave him a sample of all of these albums that I'd love this record to sound like, and he's pretty much nailed it. We've been having fun getting together and laughing about the songs and everything. I thought you might like to hear one of the mixes. This is a rough version of the song All Through The Morning. I chose this mix because it displays Jenny Conlee's piano skills. You can hear her switch deftly back and forth between the loud, stride-style and the soft, tinkly textures in the song. My singing is a little throaty, but that's just the way it goes.

It was challenging for us initially to mix these songs, because we had to make the vocals sound as though they were in the same room as the piano. I think if you close your eyes as you listen, you get the sense that I'm standing there in the crook of the piano. It's nice.

This song was one of the first that I wrote for the collection, I think. I'm not about to sift through all of those old posts to find out, but I think it was. In any case, it's nice to hear it completed after all that hard work. I'm really thrilled. I hope you like it. Feel free to make comments and suggestions.

Michael Built His House All Spiral

Two posts in a row! Yes, it's true. I was just reading some old posts and I came upon one called "Flat Line" in which I wax philisophocal about Reclinerland hitting the 10-year mark. I'd like to ammend that post here and now. I don't think the shape of my "career" is a flat line anymore. It's more like  a spiral. Ten years ago I started off recording and making songs not knowing what I was doing, and here I am now, in the same situation, only I do know what I'm doing. I'm better at music, I'm more experienced, I have more to say. So you see, we may revisit the same points in our lives, but each time we pass through those points we're on a higher level in some way. So it's more like a spiral. And we keep going up, not down, unless we're on crack or something. But you catch my meaning, don't you? We just go up and up until we're in the ground.

And now, back to work. I'm up late writing since there's no work tomorrow. G'night kids. Sleep tight.