I've had the great fortune to have played music for about 35 years - and yes I'm including my stint taking piano lessons with the Royal Conservatory at age five - and still be in awe of it's powers and it's wonders. Over the last four years or so I have mainly been working in improvisation and doing a lot of live electronics - which could be described as signal manipulation, or simply put- sound effects. There's much more to it than pressing a button to make a delay sound happen, though. It really is more about engaging the mind and the body in the act of listening, perceiving, and imagining new sounds, ideas and worlds. I often remark to people these days when they ask me what kind of music I am creating that I feel more like I am involved in discovering time travel than I am making music. That either turns people right off and they walk away, or it is confounding to say the least. Let me give a more straight ahead, practical example using physics. Albert Einstein answered the question of how energy and matter are related with his theories of relativity. He said that energy can be turned into mass and vice versa.
That said, I would like to announce my hand in creating the new Neil Young Album which was a collaboration with producer Daniel Lanois. You're welcome!
In 2007 Daniel Lanois, one of the most successful producers in the world - who also happens to be a stunningly talented musician - released a documentary film about his latest studio record. He spoke about making music, the creative process and his knack for capturing great performances from the artists. Long time collaborator Brian Eno also makes and appearance to wax about all things dealing with the creative nature of things and people. I immediately was inspired by the films honest approach to letting people in on the secret of music making and as Eno put it: "To let people understand that beautiful things come from shit - things evolve out of nothing." The opening piano sequence is a beautiful bit of piano improvisation by Garth Hudson from the group The Band.
I took the DVD over to the studio at Giorgio's place where a lot of sound thinking had occured and where something is always cooking or on the boil, so to speak. We put the piano on the big speakers to listen, and ended up remixing the sounds a bit. Later that evening, I did a random remix using dialogue from the DVD overtop of the songs from "here it is," recently purchased from itunes. Giorgio would fire back three remixes from each one I sent. Then a number game ensued...let do so many per track incrementally, until it became more about speed and volume than about sonic perfection or decision making. We had plans to do a DVD remix live and invite Mr. Lanois himself - busy as he is - he seemed like a genuine musician who would be inspired by our level of interest and experimentation, so why not? The project lost steam and went into the always available archives of material to re-use, re-sample and re-interpret.
Then along came Neil. In 2008 Giorgio asked me while sitting in a car waiting for a ferry back to the Coast if I knew how to play the song "Ohio," by Neil Young. I gently explained that I almost considered Mr. Young family as he was the first formative musical influence in my life and I had grown up playing Neil Young songs around campfires. Basically, he was almost my Grandpa. So I was invited to play with Veda Hille and the CBC Radio Orchestra at the Chan Centre in Vancouver doing 5 Neil young songs arranged by Giorgio. We spent the better part of 5 months being immersed in the tracks and the project. Later a CD was recorded in Vancouver (soon to be released) and that spurred another, more expansive Neil remix project with Andrew Bate and David Murphy for the first Laboratorio festival: Five shows and three workshops in a three week period. We organized it all, and performed at all the shows. It was a busy time. The Neil remix show made us dive even deeper into all things Neil; and we remixed, scored, re-remixed, did melody only harp songs, electric versions of acoustic songs and everything else inbetween. You could say we were heavily focused on Neil Young and sound.
And this is where it gets fun. Listening to Lanois and Young talk to Jian Gomeshi on the CBC about the making of the new collaboration album 'Le Noise," felt like all this time and talking and soundthinking here on our little corner of the world had actually moved them closer together and helped to put them in a space where they were experimenting with some of the ideas that we had been talking about. Lanois is famous for doing "live mixing," and he said he had never gone this deep before, and Young remarked that the whole house was like a giant speaker and they were playing the whole space. The record (released today, Tuesday September 30th) is a 37 minute tour of Neil Young solo with mainly an electric distorted guitar. It feels like he is playing with a band rocking out behind him, but somehow it never made it into the mix. That could be the whole point, although the interview clearly shows Neil as an example of someone experienced enough in getting out of the way and letting the natural energy take it's course. He's not too worried about what he is doing beyond going with his gut. He said the best thing about the record was that it was fun to make because there was no one else around to bother them. They could focus.
In the interview Young talks about how Lanois would take the guitar sound and grab just a part of it, and use it in several places - re-mix it back into the track - and that words from one song would reappear again and again in other places throughout the record. The dream of one song showing up in another. Using sounds as source material to be used again and again, but tweaked, re-imagined, re-mixed. I've talked a lot about starting from a new place for inspiration and to get things rolling. Lanois "prepared" the house and built a specialized guitar for Young which inspired him to write new material for the project.
Whatever the music is or isn't or whether or not it inspires you or lets you down, these are all personal opinions based on whatever they are based on, and it still doesn't change the fact that ideas made at home and in the head can manifest in other places in the universe. Keep on rocking in the real world!