24. Thursday. January 31st. Music and kindness
NOTE: Click on the pictures and see them at a larger size.
Thursday finds me in the desert. In the town of Palm Springs. Martha, 79, who lives here, has a doctor’s appointment for a heart condition and I am accompanying her to the Hospital and giving my advice on surgical options. I think it is a little scary having to go for heart surgery, especially when you are old, and because I am able to offer good enthusiastic informed support with tremendous confidence, I usually take that opportunity to help whenever I can. I think you will be the same with old people when you are older.
The drive was fantastic, as usual. It’s about two hours heading East from the beach to the desert. Enjoying the changing scenery is always fun for me. Long trains running on tracks that pass next to the motorway, with a close sight of these huge engines dragging miles of rolling stock through the flatlands, with mountains all around, reflecting light. Its all such an inspiring picture of America. Beautiful expansive light in a panoramic vista that is a joy to behold. We drive past windfarms, with hundreds of giant windmills, which are used for generating renewable energy. The scenery changes a lot in just two hours of heading inland. Dramatic topography that is a big part of my romance with America.
I like listening to music in this two hour drive.
On this drive I played the song mixes from the album I am working on at the moment. I enjoy listening to my musical work outside of the studio. It gives me a chance to hear the record in a different way which influences how I finish the songs. When you always listen through the same speakers in the same studio, you hear things the same.
That is why it helps to listen in different sound environments. Not everybody is going to be listening to the music on the same sound systems and in the same place. Listening through the car sound system gives me a fresh perspective. And the changing visual scenery helps listen in an elevated state. All in all, a good way to review progress with the song’s development. I make mental notes in this way so that when I get back to the studio I can make the changes I think will work. To make the composition better as well as to make the production values work on both expensive speakers, and cheap little iPhone type speakers.
My new record is in the style of meditation music. My first musical project of 2019. Although sometimes I use other musicians playing parts, this one is just me; playing a nylon strung guitar and adding sounds from my library of recordings of sounds from nature. Like waves on a beach, rain falling on a tin roof, waterfall after a rainstorm. That sort of, relaxing sound. Creating a sound atmosphere that is relaxing and peaceful.
Plus, in addition to the guitar playing, I use other musical sources. I have many synthetic sound generators, which I can use to emulate the frequencies of wind instruments like flutes. I have hundreds of options with bells and strings and just about anything you can think of, across a wide frequency range. With clever music programs that enable sculpting those sounds into a design that makes the music work for my intention as the writer. I can make the sounds I choose echo, at different lengths. And arpeggiate, playing different notes in the scale in a rhythmic way that can become hypnotic. Putting all those parts together in a ‘mix’ of sounds, my goal is, to find a balance that is relaxing, mindful sound design, good for meditation. To help create an atmosphere that is relaxing and promotes clear thinking. I think it is quite clever in its own way. And I love doing this work.
Music is very powerful in many ways. Different frequencies have different effects on a listeners experience. For example, a certain frequency range that repeats in a drone can create a sleepy effect on the listener. A certain high frequency can be so high it cannot be heard by the ear, but it can cause annoyance. Do you know, dogs can hear certain high frequencies unavailable to the human ear?
Then there are frequencies that can be combined to cause harm to people. Like ‘sonic warfare’ where, for military use, you can create low ‘toxic’ frequencies so powerful they can, for example, blow peoples ear drums.
Sound provides a powerful opportunity to do good things, like make people happy with well-chosen harmonious notes and frequencies, or bad things. Like some military use. Or records by Kenny G. (That is an adult musician joke reference, to people who play a little bit out of tune. Microtonally missing the constant pitch that makes a note resonate ‘in tune.’) You could get frequencies to tingle at such a hard vibration you could make a glass crack, or even worse.
I have very sensitive hearing. That is why I think I was pretty good at producing musical records. I can hear notes quite well. Like, I used to be able to hear a note and tell you what that note was. Not everyone can do that. Even fewer people can use that skill to make some money.
When I first heard a sitar, an Indian stringed instrument which has a sound that wavers around the constant pitch, it actually made me throw up. For real.
When I was about ten, I saw a movie called ‘The concert for Bangladesh’ which had a sitar player in it. (His name was Ravi Shankar.) It was the first time I ever heard a sitar. Well, I listened intently and I had never heard anything like it. After five minutes of concentrating on this strange sound I started to feel ill. And after ten minutes I actually threw up. That was my first reaction to atonal music. Now that I understand it, I don’t have the same reaction anymore, but that was my first experience and I remember it well.
Sometime when I work on recordings where frequencies are slightly atonal, I get physically ill. Obviously I avoid doing that, but sometime it happens, like with a singing bowl, where the sound is slightly off from perfect pitch.
Music is very powerful. Different frequencies have different powers. They can be used to help, or to harm. And to change peoples emotions. To make them happy, or sad. Or make them think clever, or dumb. The possibilities for a composer are endless.
Although sometimes I work on sounds where there is a frequency that is microtonally off pitch, hitting a frequency that is not ‘on’ the note, I feel ill, the better news is that the converse works as well.
When I hear beautiful music ringing in perfect tune, I always feel better. I have found a great healing quality in music. That can make your spirits soar and your imagination run wild with infinite possibility.
My favorite musician who uses frequencies the most effectively is Bach. Super clever German guy, who died in 1750. Over 200 years ago, and no one has been smarter than him in composition since then. When I was ten, and learning about music, when I first heard Bach I realized this was something special. When you were a baby, even before you were born, I played Bach music for you. In utero, as well as when you were actually born. Bach music was playing when you took your first breath as a baba. I believe music of this level makes the brain develop smarter.
Actually. I made a beautiful album of meditation music with the compositions of Bach. With my friend, the famous guitar player Hugh Burns. You might remember him? He was around a lot when you were a little baba. Here is the record we made at that time. Called “Seven Bach Meditations.” You heard this a lot when you were forming your first thoughts. I wonder if you remember any of it?
My new recording will be my 9th album in this style of musical composition. New Age meditation music. I still don’t have a title for it. That part comes later, when I have to consider how to ‘market and sell’ the album. That is a whole different story.
I made my first album in this genre in 2001. So that is, on average, one album every two years. I set myself deadlines to make these albums, otherwise I would just go on and on tweaking the sounds in the endless quest for perfection. Which is why all art relies on some form of deadline to have any value.
When I set out with this project, I allocated 21 sessions for the album. That is 3 sessions for each song. Seven songs each around 9 minutes long. For a total of around one hour of listening time. Each session is usually not much longer than three hours because that is how long I can hear notes clearly. Fresh ears wear out after about three hours and it becomes difficult to hear the correct note. Hearing pitch is quite tiring in a way.
Each song starts with one session for the composition and playing the ‘spine’ of the track, usually using my nylon strung guitar. (The same Taylor guitar I used to play to you when you were not even born. Its a special, hand made Taylor guitar.) Then, on another day, with fresh ears, I add the production values, the musical background, like piano parts, flutes and bells for high frequency melody lines. And the sound effects. Like the rain sounds, or running water. Or blackbirds singing in a forest.
And then, on a different day, with fresh ears, a third session for mixing it into a working balance, where it sounds good to the ear.
Mixing the different sounds and frequencies is quite a challenge to find a balance in the range of sounds that works the same on big expensive speakers as on little iPhone speakers. And that makes the effect pleasant for the listener. Where I want them to be relaxed and feel meditative.
Listening to the 7 pieces on this drive earlier on the car speakers today was my first review of this album I started about a month ago. I have decided to give myself a good mark. It’s coming together nicely. I think I should be able to sign off the finished album before long. Maybe another Month? And then release it though my Andrew Brel Music website. I hope the people who bought the previous 8 albums I made in this style will also buy this one.
The best part of making this type of music is, even if it doesn’t sell well, I really enjoy making the recordings and I enjoy listening to them afterwards. It is the kind of music I would choose to listen to for a relaxing experience anyhow.
Of course I would prefer if it sells well though. That is my goal, more than just the fun and therapy reward in making music. To market and sell it well. So that when we eventually succeed in getting you to visit with me, whether it’s this summer or not, I will have some money to spend on lawyers to make sure you are able to see me as you should have been from the beginning. There but for Adler/Amlot and O’Leary. The family law trio we both have to thank for being so true to the ethical code of Britain’s Solicitors regulation authority.
Maybe that is a good title for my new album? ‘Thank you?’ Perhaps we should thank British Family law for all their honest contribution in making judgments in the best interests of a child. Because, obviously, it must be in your best interests not to be with your father or speak to him?
If British family law was wrong in that, there would be a court case, and people would go to jail for blackmail and criminally abusing a legal system. But that is not happening,. So all we can hope for is this summer holiday as our target for being together.
That then is my Thursday letter. The end of January 2019.
February will be a big month for me. I may have to go to see Yaya again. Elias and Evyenia are there now,with Yaya. And I have arranged a 24 hour live in care giver (Who is such a lovely person, who looks after yaya) so right now she has a lot of attention.
Hope you get this letter.
See you again on this page on the first Monday in February.