Feb 162015

Our last SpinTunes song received a much better reception from the judges, though it still resulted in some widely different scores (which is a good thing, I think). This time around we came up with a piece that sounds like it might have been a better fit, in musical terms at least, for the first round challenge:

There was a bit of grumping about this challenge in the Bordet household. After two fairly broad prompts that focused on the content of the songs, this time round we had been hoping for something more technical or at least more challenging:

Non-Stop Hits – Write a song that features looooong run on sentences.

Shortly after the challenge was posted, Katharina posted the following:

This developed into a full-blown conversation over on Facebook, with various people offering their own alternatives to sock-wearing terminology, so it didn’t take too much of a jump to figure out that this would make a fun topic for a song, something a little more cheerful than our previous two efforts. Katharina wrote all the lyrics within the following day, leaving me with almost a week to come up with the music.

The song was to have been another duet, but early on in the week we both came down with colds, so by the time we were ready to record it, Katharina found herself barely able to talk, let alone sing. A last-minute change of lyrical viewpoint took us away from the original first person narratives and I ended up doing all the vocals, singing about a couple and their personal preferences for knitted footwear – their ‘socksuality’.

SocksualNow that progress is being made with the studio, most of my instruments are living down there, leaving me with whatever instrument I happen to have brought in with me. This week it was the mandolin, which is a good choice for a more upbeat tune, but it did mean that we ended up writing two jigs in a row. Before I even knew what the subject of the song would be, I began putting together a little folky tune that repeated over four chords. Once the lyrics were available, the tune itself was put aside, but because I had that chord progression going around in my head, that ended up becoming the basis for the chorus. The melody of the chorus bears no resemblance to the original jig, but is at least within my limited vocal range.

The verses took a couple of attempts to settle in, as I struggled to come up with something as upbeat as possible for a song that lyrically seems to want to cuddle up and drift off to sleep. In the end it was down to increasing the tempo a little and working out a bass line that would push the song along, but even when I reached that stage I didn’t really have a melody for the verses in mind. I recorded some simple picked arpeggios on both guitar and bouzouki for the verses and a gentle background tremolo melody for the mandolin throughout the chorus, wanting to keep the song true to its roots.

As it turned out, once the vocals had been recorded and I had edited down the arrangement into an almost final form, I tried dropping the original jig back over the chorus chords. Although it fitted perfectly, it clashed with the lyrics throughout the chorus, so I added a final repeat of the chorus and let the jig play out on the final fade.

Here is the full album for all the songs this round. There’s a poll for your favourites at the SpinTunes website, so please show your support for any songs you enjoy!

Feb 042015

Our new song, for SpinTunes round two, has now hit the net:

I was very pleased with the reviews we received for our first round song, both from the official judges and from others who took the time to review all the songs (quite a task, especially in the early rounds, as we both know from sitting in as judges in the past). Once the whole run is over I will gather them together and include them in a closing post. For now, let’s take a look at the new song. The challenge was:

Music To My Fears – Write a scary song, basically explore the horror genre in music format.

This seems to be right up our street, especially if you consider some of our previous responses to less horrific challenges. In SpinTunes 4 we were challenged to write about a childhood fear and to make a song from body parts and came up with these:

We decided to play it fairly straight this time around and within moments of the challenge being posted, Katharina had an idea. Within a couple of days she had a completed set of lyrics based on a traditional empty threat to children who suck their thumbs. Pair this idea with a chorus in german that sounds like a twisted nursery rhyme and it doesn’t take too much imagination to conjure up images of a Krueger-meets-Scissorhands figure, stalking the shadows, waiting for the moment when the thumb goes into the mouth.

I wanted the music to be fairly understated, so concentrated on finding a simple, but unsettling melody. This was played on the keyboards with a vibraphone sound, while a slightly edited version of the sound was used to distinguish a little between verse and chorus. The most difficult part of this initial process was getting to a pair of tunes that could be played simultaneously, as the last verse and chorus collide. I wanted to bring in some stronger dissonance to increase the feeling of tension, but without losing the uneasy sweetness of the jig rhythm. There was one particular combination of notes that clashed, but the more I tried alternatives, the clearer it became that it was actually the best fit for the song at that point, so there it remained.

Kalimba & BladesWith the melody and vocals recorded, the next task was to add the sound effects and background atmosphere; in this case a set of metal sewing scissors provided a suitable punctuation for the chorus. I then slid a kitchen knife through the strings of the electric guitar, which I retuned to match the key notes of the melody and fed the sound through a delay, filter and reverb. Very gently tapping the knife resulted in some percussive chords that rang out in the distance. This was overlaid with the little korean gong; a single hit at the start of choruses mostly, but occasionally also a longer roll. The third ringing, metallic sound is the kalimba. This was played normally for the plucked counter-melody in the chorus and for the verses was played with the e-bow, providing some wonderfully eerie long notes.

The final touch came from the first appearance of my ‘new’ accordion – a bargain 20 Euros at a flea market over the summer (it really needs a new set of leathers, but is still playable). I haven’t yet got to grips with it, especially the chord section, but was able to come up with a plaintive accompaniment to the chorus, which I think matches the German lyrics to give a bit of a Brothers Grimm atmosphere. Later in the song, it also sneaks into the background in verses as the boy realises he is not alone.

The lyrics originally had a final section with the boy being woken by his alarm, before the ‘schnipp, schnapp’ part of the chorus returned at the very end. I decided to leave this out as, despite giving a last fright to the listener, I felt it had been done quite often before in a previous SpinTunes and it broke into the creepy feeling of the song. However, we did record a last chorus and edited it down to a single line, which appears at the very end of the album (as a hidden track that is only available on the download). In this way, we maintained the long-standing tradition of the monster reappearing at the very end of the show. I was slightly surprised, but delighted, to see that nobody else had this idea!

Here is the full album, with some really creepy songs. More than the normal percentage of metal-ish songs, but also country, lullabies and even a rather dark ‘hymn':

Jan 202015

The deadline for round 1 of SpinTunes 10 has finished and we have a new song!

Despite having two weekends to complete the challenge, this one was submitted at the last moment as it took us a while to come up with a concept that we were happy with. I tend to find that the first round of SpinTunes is often the most challenging in some ways, because it is usually left quite open in comparison to later rounds, in order to ease newcomers (or rusty old hands) into the way of meeting deadlines. As a result, there is almost too much choice left. Having a work-in-progress studio didn’t do to much to encourage us to sit down and get started, either! The challenge was:

Heart Beatz – Tonight’s your lucky night…or so you hope. The fire is crackling, and you have a candlelit dinner waiting for your special someone. All you need is a seductive tune to put your lover in the mood. Write it.

Studio DrumsNow, I don’t really do ‘seductive’ at the best of times, least of all in a song; we needed something to rescue us from writing something so corny that it would make you puke. After going through a couple of options (including a date between two of the four horsemen of the apocalypse), we grabbed tight onto the fact the challenge doesn’t mention what the lover should be in the mood for. If you haven’t listened to the song (play it above), then you should do that first, as spoilers follow!

Katharina came up with the title “Gag Reflex’, which is a perfect summary of the song, which is an exercise in double-entendre. It takes the form of a duet, with the male voice trying to encourage the female voice to do something she is convinced will make her gag. Probably not a song to play in the workplace, but the last line makes it all clear and the intent is purely innocent. Honestly!

For the music, I wrote the basic chord pattern on the bouzouki, which lent the track a different feel, even when I translated it over to guitar and keyboard (the bouzouki has four pairs of strings tuned to a tone lower than a guitar). We start of with just bass guitar and vocal, with acoustic guitar joining after a few bars. At the end of each verse and chorus there is a bit of a breathing space where short bouzouki and harmonica figures add texture over a heavily-filtered and delayed bass note.

The verses and chorus are fairly simple chord patterns, but then the tone turns a little more sinister at the bridge, where a repeated piano chord is joined by a simple kalimba melody and a heavily warped pan-pipe line that decays into the next verse. I think this is the most successful part of the track, as it really sounds quite creepy and builds up well to Katharina’s insistent final line.

The final “Heart Beatz” (Round 1 Album) is free to download. Please visit the SpinTunes website for more information and even some videos. You can also listen to the whole thing right here:

Studio DeskMeanwhile, as you might have guessed from the photographs accompanying this post, I have got a bit further in putting the studio together. Yes, that is a real drum kit in the first photograph. I’ve never played the drums, although I do have a set of digital drum pads that have been used for drum programming and triggering samples, so I’m looking forward to learning how to play them.

My musical focus has always been on melody, rather than rhythm, and a substantial chunk of my back catalogue contains no drumming at all, but this second hand beginner’s kit was offered at too good a price to turn down. Even if the drums are not for me, having a kit set up for anyone else to play should help with some spontaneous music-making (and might entice Sean over for a session or two).

In the second photo, you can see a first attempt at getting some sort of work area set up. The old range cooker (the white thing at the back, to the right) is a bit of an obstruction, so I might end up moving it out in order to get a better layout. In any case, there is still enough room for keyboard and mixer to stay permanently set up and still have space for recording gear. The blue fabric at the back of the picture is hiding some high density rock wool panels (which are proving difficult to find in Austria) that help deaden the sound and limit the reverberation from the tiled walls and floor. At the moment these are just leaning against the wall, but I have plans for some self-built panels and bass traps that will really help tame the sound.

Now it’s time to wait for the next challenge. Don’t forget to vote!

Jan 092015

Studio BeforeThings have been quiet on this blog over the last six months, but not without reason. We have moved from a small flat in the city out into a house in the Austrian countryside, which has eaten into quite a bit of time thanks to dealings with estate agents, banks, lawyers and all the associated palaver that goes with such a move. Then we had packing and moving, as well as a couple of months of building works going on, before we could finally settle in.

Being outside of Vienna means access to the culture and amenities of the city takes a bit longer, so no more falling out of concerts straight into a tram that delivers us practically to our doorstep. However, that is only one (small) disadvantage. On the plus side, we now have a home with metre-thick walls and enough space to let us have music and writing gear permanently set up and ready for when inspiration strikes. In particular, the house an out-building that is now in the process of being converted into a dedicated recording studio.

Piles of boxesAs the photograph shows, it is going to take a while to sort it all out, but there is enough space in there for a three-piece band to practise and/or record quite comfortably. The room originally functioned as part of a butcher’s, hence the impressive-looking electro-mechanical system embedded into the walls, but this does mean it will take a bit of work to overcome the acoustic issues of having a tiled floor and concrete walls.

On the plus side, there are no parallel walls and the sound-proofing (those thick-thick-thick walls again) is pretty good. So far I have laid down an old carpet recycled from one of the rooms in the house and have some high-density rockwool panels to install as a first step in treating the sound, though more work than just that will probably be required in the longer term.

By way of motivation to get the recording space fully functional, we’ve signed up for the 10th SpinTunes, writing and recording as ‘Dreiviertel Drei’. Here’s the trailer:

I’ll be posting the new tracks and links to each round’s album here over the next month, along with some updates on progress sorting out the studio as it happens. Time for some new songs!

Mar 132012

Our last song for this SpinTunes is a creepy little number inspired in part by the challenge and in part by the classic Universal Frankenstein movies, with a tongue-in-cheek nod towards Carry On Screaming. The challenge itself was to produce a song that was accompanied using only noises produced by the human body, though some form of processing was acceptable.

This time we started with the lyrics. For a song played on body parts, it seemed logical to write a song ABOUT body parts, and who knows more about body parts than Dr. Frankenstein’s sidekick, Igor? There are a couple of historic references stuck in the midst of the bad puns for those digging a little deeper.
Nodebeat HD
We recorded a whole range of body noises, sampled many of them and created a few common sounds to use. Various short slaps and pops became a rhythm section, clicking teeth formed a xylophone-type sound, a hum became the baseline and a few other recognisable sounds were used as spot effects. Katharina put the rhythm track together using NodebeatHD on the iPad to control the sampler, then I added some bass and vocals.

Here is the finished song, complete with lyrics, which can be downloaded from bandcamp:

Mar 042012

We already have another three Drei Viertel Drei songs in the can.

The second SpinTunes challenge was to write a love song in the form of a valentine’s day card some OTHER than your significant other. Katharina wrote the lyrics and melody to this one, so it seemed only right that she should sing it too. Since all our songs are shadows of the main challenge from this point on, we had no official placing in the rankings, however some of the judges still reviewed our songs. This time around Denise Hudson said of the lyrics:

there was some real poetry in them and they were sweepy and rainy feeling and cold and sad

Round three asked for a song with lyrics having to start with a choice of seven letters. After a little thought we settled on the letters C, A, R, N, I, V & L, having just returned from a visit to the carnival in Venice. Whilst there we saw a sight that could not help but be an inspiration – a gentleman dressed as a viking, but also entirely in pink. I think this was possibly our most successful SpinTunes song so far. Doctor Lindyke said:

Tell me truthfully… you guys get up in the morning and suck down a pint of Weird just to start your day, don’t you?

whilst Denise said of this one

This was perhaps the most creative and arbitrary song of the entire round. Go. Take your place next to Raptor Jesus in the Halls of Asgard. I raise a tankard in your honor

as well as

I have no idea how you even wrote this song so I have to admire it because I just listened to it with my mouth hanging open. The melody and way of being were completely alien to me.

However, the limit imposed by the challenge meant that we had more to say about our pink viking. For a start, we needed to poke some fun at our viking-monikered friend, Odin1Eye. So Katharina wrote another set of lyrics for Odin and we changed the structure and arrangement of the song to arrive at what is really a new song with a common ancestry. See which one you prefer…

You can find the first two of the songs above on the SpinTunes albums for each round, along with a selection of songs that fit the same challenges.

Feb 052012

SpinTunes is back!

After sitting out the last couple, I’m back in the game with twist. As “Drei Viertel Drei”, Katharina and I entered our song “Lollipop Lady” into the first round. The challenge was to write a song about a childhood nightmare that featured rubato, so we worked up a song about a little boy and his fear of his local lollipop lady (or crossing guard for those of you outside the UK). Here it is:

Thirty-four entries were made into the first round, with some really strong competition. My personal favourite was Rebecca Angel’s song “Monster’s Lullaby”, but there were several really good songs and a healthy number of pretty good (if needing work) songs. Our song came in at position 28, which sounds worse than it is, because we suffered badly in the public vote by not really doing too much promotion of the song. It wouldn’t have made that much difference, but it could have been enough to see us into the second round. One of the great things about SpinTunes over Song Fu is that each judge (5 in total, plus ‘Spin’ himself as backup judge) provides a review as well as a score. This, from Denise Hudson, really made me laugh:

This is terribly weird and really interesting. Psychological and troubling. I don’t really like it, but it’s because it BOTHERS me. And it’s not because it’s not well done. It’s because you are creepy.

or this…

As I hate this more and more and swear never to listen to it again, I put it higher in the rankings.

The general consensus amongst the reviewers is that the chorus and pre-chorus are much better than the verses. They were certainly more fun to write the music for, letting loose the creepiness, but they actually didn’t come together like that until the mixing stage. When the song was still being recorded, the verses were actually the strongest part, but that may have been because of some fairly severe tempo changes in the choruses that made them quite tricky to record certain parts for.

We’re out of the official competition now, but can still produce “shadow” entries. We already have lyrics and a little music worked out for the next challenge: a slightly dark and sad love song. Keep an eye on my Twitter feed for more regular updates.

All 34 songs from round one are also available from Bandcamp. You can listen to the songs below or download the whole album – a great way to get hold of some creepy and fun songs without spending a cent/penny.