1m4s Day 29: Filling in the Gaps

lemmings-boxscanIt’s taken longer than it should have, but I now have four songs which are complete in the most basic sense of the word. They have chords, words, melodies and vague sense of feel. But they are far from finished. If I was writing for a band, now would be a time to introduce them and start shaping up an arrangement. This still needs to happen, but for the time being I’m doing so on my own, so it involves thinking about the fingerstyle arrangement and throwing in those ‘fiddly bits’ between the basic patterns. If this was cake baking, now would be time for the icing.

Bold Little Weasel already feels like the most complete of the new tunes, so was a natural choice to begin this process with. I decided I wanted a main ‘theme’ to represent the weasel, a solo part in the middle of the song, and a fill to link the bridge back to the final verse. Using Guitar Pro, I looped the basic fingerstyle arrangements over which these parts will be played and jammed over them to develop some ideas. The guitar parts to Bold Little Weasel have drifted away from their original inspirations; it now sounds quite ‘folky’, and I want to rectify this by alluding to Egyptian music in parts.

I began jamming on a stereotype: the famous(ly silly) Egyptian riff from the song Streets of Cairo, as quoted by the Beatles in the clip above. Transposing this to fit the key of Bold Little Weasel, I jammed over the verse chords, extending and altering the notes until I hit upon something which sounds different enough and interesting. These Eastern notes were a little unsettling, so I concluded they wouldn’t work as part of the main theme, but would suit the opening stages of the solo, which then blossom into a wider palette of notes. I also explored the ‘Egyptian’ scale to bring the bridge back to the verse chords, on the appropriate line “Egyptian dervish spins.”

The opening theme of the song (which I dubbed ‘the weasel’s theme’) needed something a bit brighter, cheerful, and reflecting the energy of the song’s subject. So here I left the Eastern scales behind and instead experimented with major hammer-ons and pull-offs on the major scale – more familiar territory for my fingertips.

Having come up with these lines, I worked them into my transcription directly. What emerges is rather busy, and realistically, a considerable challenge to play. And so the next step of filling in the gaps is to then shovel off the earth that doesn’t need to be there. A lot of the incidental notes of the basic arrangement become redundant when matched with the themes and solo. Some thought also needs to given to how the arrangement can be simplified. For example, the A section of the verse works with a G shape on the bass strings being slide up to 5th fret, with the relative root being A. When playing the leads, this is much more easily played as the open fifth string, leaving fingers free to tackle other notes – as seen in the transcription below.

bold-little-weasel-riff

Needless to say, I’m still a long way short of physically being able to play these leads. A lot of work needs to go into that step. In the meantime, you can listen to the Midi performance of the theme and solo as they currently stand. Hopefully, when this music is performed on a real instrument it won’t sound so much like the tune to a level of Lemmings!

1m4s Day 29: Filling in the Gaps

1m4s Day 14: Half Way Reflections

At this stage I’m roughly half way through my project to write four songs in a month. What’s struck me so far is how difficult it is to ascribe a ‘method’ to a process that resists such strictures.

Although I’d like to believe in the strength of my own creativity, I’m also well aware that I’m quite ‘left-brain’ dominant. In most things I quite like order, or at least the outward impression of such. This thinking has been leading my approach to this project, where I’ve stepped through several stages in a song-writing process that are largely self-imposed. The intention to start big, with lots of ideas for lyrics and music, and then narrow down the focus has been of variable value. Lyrically, those sheets of lyrics I turned out in the first couple of days have been some of the most rewarding steps, and I feel I have lots of content to fall back on as I begin to shape those words into songs. But the macro-approach to the music – my insistence on writing different chord progressions but resisting getting too into the details felt a little self-defeating, and I think the musical arrangements should have progressed well beyond these nascent stages after two weeks work.

Having listened over the different ideas I’ve come up with so far, four songs emerge as the most promising. Still, understanding what a messy affair songwriting tends to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the month, one, two or all of them have fallen out of favour.

This is the shortlist:

When The City Is Home: This is the title of a short film my wife is putting together, and she’s asked me to write a ‘theme song’ for it. The concept was born from our experience moving from rural Borneo to the heart of urban Cairo. We’re both people of the country at heart, and value our relationship with nature, so naturally we’ve taken great interest in the wild creatures that make their home in the city. This will be the subject of the film, and indirectly the song.  I want the song also to reflect its environment, so this is the song where I’ll try and evoke some of the Sufi music I’ve been discussing.

Let’s Make Our Bed Together: A love song to my wife, each verse a window of different stages of our relationship – the central metaphor being the act of ‘making the bed’ being the reset that overcomes each challenge we face together. My wife may scoff at the thought of making the bed being a mutual act, for I am a lazy git, but for the purposes of a song it works. Musically, it would go in the African rhumba direction, though the lyrical content might suggest something of a neo white boy soul kind of sound – and by that I mean akin to Radiohead’s House of Cards.

Bold Little Weasel: Strangely, Cairo is full of weasels, who like Britain’s urban fox have adapted to the challenge of living in the city. It always gives me a lift to see them darting across the street, so much so I thought they deserved their own little ode. So lyrically, this looks like a companion piece to Where The City Is Home. I’d like to try and turn this into a jolly number – I’m imagining something that evokes the British Sixties fingerpickers – a la Angie or Al Stewart’s Small Fruit Song but with a few Egyptian flourishes.

Confide in Me: A love song to a lost soul, who turns to all the wrong places for redemption. It’s one of those ideas that seems to lend itself very naturally to a song form – each verse decrying a different ill-advised spiritual saviour, with chorus imploring the song’s title. One of the most fully developed musical ideas I have so far is another bouncing bit of African flavoured fingerpicking which I think will serve as the foundation of this song.

It’s the last throes of the day job before the holidays come at present. Soon there should be a bit more free time on the cards, and hopefully the chance to really start moving these songs forward.

1m4s Day 14: Half Way Reflections

1m4s Day 11: Have I Got Anything?

cairo-sunset-egypt

Over the last couple of posts I’ve shared a few very early demos of ideas. All in all, I have about twelve different ‘mini-ideas’. What I’ve been doing today is singing along to these different passages of music.

First of all, I shuffled up the song lyrics I concocted last week. Then I simply turned on one of the demos, grabbed a page and started singing the words. Whenever I came across a melody which seemed to work I recorded it. For each musical ideas I’d experiment like this with different groups of lyrics, forming a ‘bank’ of different melodies. Afterwards, I will sit down and sort them out, homing in on the most promising for further development.

This has been by turns sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating. Certain things come with complete ease, and on others I’ve sat warbling ad infinitum, until I started to feel a little out of my mind. By the end of today I had 25 different vocal ‘memos’, recorded simply onto the sound recorder of my tablet. Below is an example, not much to speak of at the moment, but I think there’s potential there.

Have I got anything? Certainly, I think most of what I’ve come up will be discarded, but with so many ideas on tape I don’t need so much. I’d say there were at least three ideas I got really excited about (and notably, most of these were to the musical themes which were least interesting). By songwriting standards, three out of 25 isn’t bad going. I’ll listen again with fresh ears tomorrow or the day after, and see if there’s anything worth salvaging, and where to take what I’ve got next.

1m4s Day 11: Have I Got Anything?