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The way we play

Living alone in the woods is fine. But sometimes I miss things like playing live music together with friends - that doesn't happen too often. (To compensate that I often have music playing on the background when I'm alone at home. At the moment of writing this it is the soundtrack of Amélie on a CD.) I know some of my local friends play an instrument, but I haven't developed a habit of playing together with them. So generally speaking it is only Sami I make music with. And it is three years since we recorded a major piece Hololiloija. Well, but I pretty much enjoyed playing Hololiloija, so let's take a closer look at the process how it was created.

We had been talking with Sami, and we shared an idea of a piece to play. The idea was; Let's have a rhythm, and a riff - then the riff is sung and played on different instruments, varying it a little on each take. And the piece will be composed of different sections. When I arrived at Sami's, he had the riff ready and he played it on the guitar. OK, good; let's go recording! Sami set up his recording equipment, and I played the basic rhythm with the frame drum. Then we took turns, listening to the drum beat on headphones and playing percussions to enrich the basic rhythm. That way we got the backbone of the piece. Now, having the rhythm playing on the headphones, we recorded several takes of vocals, and Sami played guitar and improvised on kantele. See - it is Sami playing anything like melody. I can't play any instrument to produce a fluent melody, and my singing basically sucks. But that's why we are making shamanistic primitive punk =) As we had more and more takes recorded, Sami edited them together, we listened to the piece, Sami made some further edits and sometimes we got an idea 'hey, what about adding a little bit this here, and let's try recording low murmuring vocals for that part before the kantele starts'. So the general idea the piece will be composed of different sections got clarified on the fly, we kept on making decisions as we played and listened. It was an intensive day of work, and before midnight we got the soundtrack ready. Then off to shoot a video for it! We had a small mp3 player looping the soundtrack, and we shot several takes of us playing around the fire.

I greatly do enjoy such intensive working sessions, when we start from a scratch and end up with a nearly finished piece. I have sometimes said that it would be nice to try a 'concept weekend' - to have a weekend dedicated purely on recording music, and lowering the bar a little so that it would be realistic to create five or six pieces a weekend. Something like the short piece of music we did for Donation Dance. It was created with the same method. We talked a little until we got the basic idea. First we recorded us chanting the humbada-bumbada vocals, then the huh-hah-huh-hoi for the second part. Sami edited them together and added some samples like the clickety-click of us coding. Since the piece is short and simple, it was completed in matter of hours. So why not spend a weekend doing a handful of pieces of music? Hehe, so far that has not happened, mostly because we always have other ideas - like actual coding for UrW, or shooting a new video. And this year it has also been a lot of PR stuff, especially for Sami. But maybe in 2017? An ultimate Enormous Elk 72 hours music jam session, yes?

Well, in my previous post I mentioned we were recording a soundtrack for our upcoming video. This time the process was different. We only had vague ideas, but not a clear basic idea to build on. And the video material isn't yet completely edited, so there is an extra challenge trying to imagine how the rhythm and the different sections of the music will fit with the cutting of the film. I think I read somewhere that when shooting The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Leone asked Morricone to first compose some pieces of music, and then some scenes were shot to exactly fit the music. But we only had a rough cut of our video, and no clear idea for the music. And we were both somewhat tired. So it was not a good time to pursue for an intensive let's start from a scratch, work till midnight and have a finished soundtrack session. Instead we decided to start with some experimentation, just to clarify our ideas. We played some percussions, Sami looped them to get a basic rhythm for the whole duration of our video. Sami added some free samples, and we recorded our own, and kept on adding more and more elements. At some point I felt like having an idea how to navigate through the video, but little does it help if the idea resides in my head and it is Sami who is a wizard in recording and editing. My idea was too vague to be effectively communicated with Sami, so instead of trying to push my idea to him, I did my best just to stay present, serving as an instant audience for Sami, providing feedback as he went of experimenting. And slowly a shape started to emerge. When it was time for sauna, our soundtrack was still far from complete. But we got a lot further than we had thought in the morning. So, instead of longer takes, this time the rhythmic backbone of the piece was more like composed of shorter samples. Still, now when the background rhythm is mostly done, Sami can continue later on, recording longer takes on guitar for melody. Or something like that - we don't know yet. And sometimes for a creative process it is essential to have a break and then continue the project with a fresh mind.

playing Hololiloija
playing Hololiloija
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The Kantele reminds me very much of the Mountain Dulcimer.

What kind of microphones do you use? I have been trying to decide on what to get for a couple of general-purpose microphones (to mic vocal, piano, reed organ, guitar, and banjo), but there is so much on the market that I can't decide what I want, lol. I am kind of leaning towards a couple of Shure SM57s with USB, but I dunno.... They seem a little pricey, but I am afraid to get "cheap" ones and then have a bunch of extra noise in the recording.....

Ah, I didn't know of the Mountain Dulcimer - that's interesting! I'd guess many cultures across the globe have their own version of the same basic concept of this kind of instrument.

I don't remember if I have already posted a link to this - but in any case, I'm glad that the kantele as an instrument is not dead and not merely museumized - it is alive and kicking, with both the traditional use, and then some of the new generation developing new ways. There is also a new evolution of the instrument itself, like the electric kantele etc.

What comes to the microphones, I think Sami has an array of different kind of mics, but then what we actually have been using most of the time is a portable device we call simply H2. I think it is a slightly older version of this - not exactly a cheap one, but sure worth the price for it serves well for different situations. A couple of different kind of windscreens come handy, as well.

Hmmm you know, that thing isn't much more expensive than the SM-57, once you figure in the XLR-to-USB dongle.... And I could turn off the computer when recording with it, to reduce the amount of background noise, hmmmmmmmmm....

Does it have any sort of ability to automagically synchronize with another H2 that is placed some distance away, for stereo recording? I can feed my digital piano straight into the line-in on the computer and get noise free recording with good separation of the treble and bass sides of the piano, but with the reed organ I think I will have trouble getting a good recording unless I use two microphones.... Though from reading a little in the H2 docs it looks like it may be able to record in some sort of figure-8 pattern that might do the trick, unless it misses the middle of the organ that way, hmmmmmmmm......

Thanks for the info. I shall have to do some research! :D Assuming I can figure out how to get good results from the organ with that H2, it looks like it will do the trick very nicely.

H2 has two mics built into it, so what little I do understand it can be used to record in stereo. Contact Sami is you need more technical details =)

But, yes, one of the pros of H2 is that it can be conveniently used for field recording sessions. Sami has also used it for recording ambient sounds for UrW; like placing it in nocturnal forest, leaving the recording on for hours, and then returning to collect the device curious to see what kind of sounds it has captured. I think he once said there were sounds of a moose approaching, and sniffing H2 =)

Hahaha! Mooses are cool. I kinda wish we had them around here. I'd like to eat one sometime. :3

Well, I squeezed my eyes shut and ordered one. Now to get a boom stand and hopefully I will be ready to go. :D

Good luck! Looking forward to your future recordings.

It will probably take me the rest of the year to learn to use it. I downloaded the manual and it is 90 pages! Lol.

Whee! The recorder got here. Exciting. I think it sounds pretty good, but I think I will have to mess with the EQ a bit; the mid-range seems pretty up-in-front and maybe a little overpowering.

Test recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAhaFUiPR9c

Way to go! I wish the 90-page manual has decent instructions on how to adjust the EQ settings =)

Well, I bought mine directly from Hong Kong, to try to save $30. The manual (and the rest of the literature) that they sent is all in Japanese, lol. So I guess it's good that I'd downloaded the PDF already, haha.

I don't think there is a way to adjust the EQ on the recorder. The video editor I use (kdenlive) doesn't have very good audio editing facilities, so I think I will have to load it into Audacity and fix the EQ before I fire up the video editor. An extra step, but oh well. :3


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