When you have too many flavors…..

Lapat111

This is most definitely a guitar geek posting

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A student recently asked why I have only two nylon strings on my LaPatrie classical guitar rather than the 3 nylon/ 3 metal setup common to most classical-style guitars. I explained that the flatwound metal G string affords better intonation on my guitar (which was explained to me by my repair-person Jack Romano and proved to be coorrect). Of course, in true guitar-geek fashion, I then explained that I also replace the remaining two nylon strings with ‘carbon’ trebles. By the time I revealed that last fact, she was deep in thought, examining her own classical guitar.

“Where can I tell my mother to get those strings?” she asked.

Of course, I then needed to explain how she didn’t really need to string her guitar in the same manner as I did because…….”Well….. your guitar doesn’t need to use these strings… it sounds really great as it is (despite the fact that it’s a $200 student model and mine isn’t)….. and…… the G string alone costs $8!

Of course, she listened and considered my explanation, finally nodding in agreement and continuing with her lesson. I later considered that exchange and also considered my obsession with trying different strings in different combinations. Had I fallen into the Baskin-Robbins syndrome, having too many ‘flavors’ when it came to string options and wanting to try them all?

Well…… of course, I never swapped out strings with my steel-string acoustic – it was a whole set and nothing less. But classical guitars have options….

Snapshot - 2

Okay – here’s the way things unfolded:

I acquired the LaPatrie classical more than 5 years ago as an interim instrument until the factory made more Multiacs. I needed it for a duo project with flutist Katherine Barbato. As it turns out, I never ordered the multiac and have adopted the LaPatrie as my primary solo guitar. When I first received it I wanted more treble punch than the standard sylon strings offered. I tried ‘titanium’ trebles (not actually metal, but composite of materials). They were more pronounced in volume and brighter in tone and worked great until one day I recorded with my TASCAM DR-1 and heard the brash twang (well, not exactly twanging-ly brash, but it seemed that way at the time). I switched back to standard nylons – the guitar was balanced and even (Lulo Reinhardt thought so, too) but I felt they still lacked something.

Carbon trebles came into my life and for about three years were perfect. (By the way, many classical strings are sold in separate treble and bass sets so it makes the obsessive selection much easier.) They suited my needs quite well until one day…………..

While reviewing tracks for my upcoming release Balance I kept hearing a thinness in the treble strings. From frets 7 through 11 the E string plinked and the B string did something similar (but slightly less). Jack recommended humidifying the guitar even though the weather had begun to warm. It worked… up to a point. Even though the resonance was back I still noticed thinness in those trebles. Then I did something daring….

I put standard nylon B and E strings on.

They sound and feel perfect! Warm and resonant, these were the strings that I had abandoned years ago.

Okay the question is: Did the guitar actually mature and change during the past five+ years and my swapping-out string types provided the best balance for a period of time? OR am I still a guitar geek and just delighted in being different and overly-detailed about my string selection?

I definitely pick the first option……. there was a difference and I have George Lowden on my side: “Matt, the guitars definitely open up as you play them. The tone changes as the sound goes through the wood.”

While I am pleased with the simplicity of ordering complete sets without the added cost of specialty trebles, I will stick with the flatwound metal G string. It does intonate better….. really…..

LaPatrie4

 

I’m getting even better in the studio….

… and I am very pleased.

I have detailed some of the experiences I’ve had while recording (and in some cases attempting to record) my latest album project balance. While I have refined my setup and technical skills for recording, I actually took on the challenge to return to a previously recorded duo version of an original piece and track a new guitar part to replace the original one.

Lapat111

My composition How Many Times Will We Say Goodbye? was featured in demos for a duo in which I performed with vocalist JayKatz . We had decided to work together several weeks beforehand and needed recorded music to demonstrate the music we were creating together. She and her husband had assembled a recording studio in their home (essentially a personal studio, suited for one or two people, maximum), and she was anxious to get some experience producing product.

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We recorded all of the tracks live, without overdubs. We went through a few tunes, staying at one or two takes each. Very simple approach, one track for her voice, one for the guitar. I then took the raw files and pulled them into my studio setup. My studio is physically wherever I set it up in my house.

We were both pleased with five of the tunes and I proceeded to mix and master the tracks. No overdubs — the take either worked or it didn’t. I did notice in several spots there was some extraneous noise, barely audible on most speakers I previewed on, but these were demos, not to be released for sale. (We did agree that for a release we’d do a completely different session.) I minimized the offending noise for the most part and produced a very professional master.

Recently, I have been submitting the song for repertoire consideration to a number of female vocalists — I considered the track to be fine sonically. However, I had minor issues with my playing and I had included a guitar solo on the original, of course, as it represented our duo. However, I considered the fact that it was the song that should be the focus of a submission, the lyrics, the melody, etc. and not the capability of the guitarist. I decided to edit the solo out and present only the structured part of the tune. When I returned to the track I immediately heard a scratchy presence that, though very subtle, drove me crazy. I pulled up the original takes and attempted to filter the track — no luck. I ended up with a massive impact on the track itself. So the next option: re-record the guitar track from scratch.

Easier said than done…. When two individuals perform as a duo and really connect there are natural tendencies to speed up and slow down. This isn’t a bad thing and it is part of the special magic that makes for fantastic performances and recordings. Here I was, attempting to go back and recreate the guitar part that fit together so beautifully, realizing that we were, indeed, altering tempo subtly in several spots.After two less-than-successful tries I decided to sit down with Jay’s solo vocal track and listen to and internalize the way things stretched or shrank, tempo-wise, and where the accents and musical interactions actually took place. I also wanted to use an acoustic guitar this time.

Third time was the charm! I focused entirely on her voice, her breathing, her phrasing, and got it right. To top it off, I used an AKG D8000M dynamic mic to record the guitar – I was picking up some sort of radio interference with the condenser mics. What a wide-open sound!

I did a bit of EQing and, of course, mixed and balanced things. I liked it. And here it is:

 

Playing live and recording…

…. are, from my perspective, very different situations that require somewhat different mindsets.

I’ve always been aware of this to some extent – however, while recording my upcoming release balance I seem to have gained a better grasp of this fact. Has it made this whole project go smoothly? The simple answer is no.

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Mock-up of the CD cover

I had the opportunity to perform regularly during the Summer of 2015, heading up my two series Solo Guitar on a Saturday Morning and Solo Guitar on a Sunday Morning. While I believe, without a doubt, that I qualify as a seasoned performer, the settings of both series afforded me the chance to work at delivering a quality performance in what many would consider less-than-desirable situations. These were both open-air markets with a broad range of attendees, from infants to seniors, who weren’t all attending to see/hear me. I made it a point on each and every date to zero in and perform at the highest level, even if the crowd was less than enthusiastic in response. I have always maintained that when quality music is performed with technical finesse and sincerity it will communicate no matter what. And, based on my experience, that assumption is correct. With my very first note I would strive to interact with the music, go deeply into whatever I was playing and mine the possibilities without worrying that it would be ‘beyond’ any listener. I gained new listeners and a sparkling reputation as a result.

Live at Ambler Farmers' Market

Ambler Farmers’ Market, Spring 2015

However, when I am sitting in my living room (which I’ve temporarily modified for recording), in front of several microphones with no external connections to the outside world, pushing the music the same way as I did on those early mornings yielded less-than-satisfactory results on the recordings. It’s a change in my attitude and focus that makes the difference between tracks that sound as if I wrestled the guitar to squeeze out something approaching music instead of engaging in the imaginative exploration of musical possibilities.

StudioToGo Early studio set-up

Let me be clear – I’m not pulling back in my efforts to create something highly musical and immediately unique. I’m still pushing into the song form, exploring ideas spontaneously. (I am not attempting to water-down the music to suit a market.) Things seem to work better and the resulting performance quality is satisfying to me – it communicates as well if not, in many cases, even better than the powerhouse approach that works in the great outdoors.

I still have the penchant to second-guess the results, especially if I listen to the tracks within 24 to 48 hours after recording. I want to fix everything -squeaks, finger noise, a buzzed note. This was the pitfall for my first two CD releases – I remixed and re-edited and cut and pasted well beyond what should have been done. Time and money were easily disposed of during the post-production. Then, after all that, when Larry Coryell listened to the first album he commented “You didn’t use many first or second takes did you?” Of course, I was proud of the countless hours spent in the studio to achieve the final product and I proudly told him “No – I did a lot of production afterward”. Then Larry says “In the future you should trust your early takes more and rely less on fixing it later.”

Larry’s words were on my mind throughout the recording process for balance. Especially with a solo guitar recording, tweaking the daylights out of the finished product literally tweaks the soul and substance out of it. There are small rough edges here and there, buzzes, scrapes, imperfect notes – but I’ve finally managed to step back and listen to the music I’ve created rather than the details inside it.

I feel better and the music sounds great.

I don’t use a musical template…

… when I arrange solo guitar pieces or when I compose and score music. While I do have a well-developed knowledge of music theory I don’t necessarily take the technical path to harmony and structure when creating music. I do experiment until I hear what I want.

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This doesn’t mean that I haphazardly stick notes atop one another over and over until something takes shape. Theory does have an important function as my foundation. It’s similar to writing a story – you need knowledge of a language, its vocabulary, its grammar, to write an original piece of fiction. Your characters may speak in slang, or have unique speech mannerisms that are part of the narrative – you can make this happen by understanding the workings of the language. Simple and complex sentences can alter the flow and feeling of sections of the story. By understanding the language you can fashion the components of the story to make it realistic and interesting.

The same thing applies to composing and arranging. Having a thorough knowledge of how the music fits together allows me to imagine possibilities while composing in terms of voicings, counterpoint, rhythm and phrasing. While I do experiment with what I include and how/where it’s included, I can usually achieve what I’m after in a piece after a couple of attempts.

SoundForge

I do credit my awareness of music theory to having had the opportunity to study with Dr. Donald Reinhart while in high school. ‘Doc’ was a very capable arranger and didn’t hesitate to throw the 17- and 18-year-olds in his class into the deep end when it came to arranging dense harmonies. Quite honestly, I was musically immature at the time, and thought playing barre chords on guitar was an advanced technique. While I can’t actually quote any hard and fast concepts that Doc conveyed throughout the year, I actually gained a very basic understanding of the possibilities in chord inversions and rhythmic structures that does remain with me to this very day. One aspect that remains with me is my aversion to playing guitar chords that contain octaves – I always try moving the octave to another note that will add more color and substance to the voicing.

My first guitar instructor Tom Giacabetti similarly overwhelmed me with chord inversions but also included a system that allowed me to build altered chords (#9, b5, etc.) from major7, minor7 and dom7 4-note voicings – as with Doc, I learned the process of building these voicings and worked with all the possibilities. Some were immediately useful to me, others sounded horrendously awkward – as I matured musically they all made sense.

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Here’s a video clip of a recent performance of my arrangement of the Lennon & McCartney tune All My Loving: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHwJj5njMcA&list=PL035F657F1E000CF0&index=1. While the melody remains the same as my original chart (G major) the chord structure winds around and resolves to E minor.

While I haven’t placed any music in video or film yet, I do have selections to stream. One of my compositions Magnificent is on Soundcloud:  https://soundcloud.com/matt-richards-65/graciously?in=matt-richards-65/sets/compositions-soundtracks. There’s also a very different piece, Her Dark Heart: https://soundcloud.com/matt-richards-65/her-dark-heart?in=matt-richards-65/sets/compositions-soundtracks.

I’ll be back with more soon….

It’s a new year….

… so I best get back into the rhythm of writing and posting regularly.

In actuality, I’ve been immersing myself in work, both musical and personal, meaning I’m holing up in my own world following a creative surge of energy. That energy has often been directed to composing and recording musical material for possible features in film, television and other audio/visual markets. I do post samples on a ReverbNation page specifically for my ensemble compositions: https://www.reverbnation.com/mattrichmusic.

I’m getting much better at composing on demand – in fact, I composed then engineered a piece in two hours for a low-budget horror film. Though I haven’t heard anything back from the producers, I am pleased with Her Dark Heart – I did overstep my original intention and added some embellishments featuring the melody being twisted and turned in and around itself before the piece begins. Check it out here:  https://www.reverbnation.com/mattrichmusic/song/24944158-her-dark-heart. Without the intro it feels SciFi-like- I’ll keep it in rotation for inquiries.

The oft-rumored much-delayed CD project Balance is underway for real this time. I am, as usual, highly critical of my recorded work and while the many technical gremlins seem to be dashed for the time-being, my critical ear for the final product is a real challenge for me. In addition to wanting every note to be perfect, I’ve also found out that the many live solo dates throughout the Summer offered the wonderful opportunity to develop the pieces further. While, in and of itself, this is a good thing, I now go back and listen to tracks from earlier in the year and discover I am performing them very differently now. When I review those recorded versions I find I must listen with the mindset that they are perfectly good versions of the tunes – I must struggle to not re-record newer renditions or else I end up in an endless loop of recycling myself. Each time I play the songs there are differences – I’m slowly accepting that and, unless there are serious problems with the performance, I need to recognize that the earlier versions are fine and will work perfectly on the release.

I am happy to say the cover art now exists in a new, much-improved version:

Balancecvr

The first cover featured the photo of the dancer/gymnast from my former arts school with her arms outstretched (which brought the title Balance to mind). However, when I showed my wife the cover she immediately asked where I’d gotten a photo of a nude woman dancing and if I really wanted to put that on a CD cover. In fact, my PhotoShop manipulations had altered the photo and gave the appearance that the woman was, in fact, not wearing a leotard for her routine. I did attempt to correct this, but my efforts looked very much like I was covering up a naked lady in a photo. I perused my collection of photos taken while on the road and found the intriguing one above – it may still be tweaked before the release, but it’s pretty close to the way I want it to look now (and I don’t feel the need to paint fake sleeves on any part of it).

There has also been some familial adjustments following my mother’s passing – nothing serious or debilitating. The feeling in our small family circle is somewhat different. A few loose ends are being tied up, as well.

Getting back to blogging for the New Year. I promise.

Happy 2016!

Matt

 

 

 

 

Yes, I am finally back…..

… and I do apologize for my absence. While I abhor excuses, even if they are justifiable, I always feel as if I’m defying belief relating them. However, this time I’d like to briefly explain why I haven’t been posting.

My mother passed away last month. Her health had been slowly declining, beginning about five years ago, and she was in assisted care in a nursing home. She had periodically had concerns with her health that required additional care and a visit to the hospital during that time, but she did not suffer from a terminal disease or condition. To be honest, there were times when I would visit her (which I was able to do several times each week) and come away feeling frustrated and sad — I’d cloister myself away and avoid my front office duties for a few days as a result. Of course, I’d scramble to catch up and get back on track.

While I knew that she was slowly diminishing with each day, I realized how valuable my time was with her and how much each visit meant to both of us. This had a strong effect on how I perceived my own life and the effect I could have on others and I always brought my deepest sense of well-being to each visit with her. Not only did it provide support for her, but it had an amazing effect on the other residents at the facility and on the nursing staff as well. It had a profound effect on me — through bringing that determination to the fore, I felt so wonderful that I was able to be part of her life to the very end. I do owe that insight to my Buddhist practice and the emphasis of placing true value in human life and realizing that value can be created no matter what the situation — it can, indeed, transcend whatever limits we may have thought were in our way.

While I endeavored to keep the business moving along, I have discovered some loose ends — my blog is one of them. I’ll be getting some of the drafts finished and get a regular schedule going. I do have a lot to say, especially when it comes to music, so I better get busy….

In the meantime, here’s something from my trio’s Doyelstown Arts Festival date: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzjk3C2mCaA.

Thanks!

Matt

I’ve been invisible long enough………..

…..and have, quite honestly, been focused on expanding my visibility via Twitter, Facebook and most other so-called ‘social networks’. Much to my displeasure it seems to take an inordinate amount of my time, time better spent practicing and getting music together. I know I’ve ranted about the disadvantage of artists being solely responsible for their publicity in a 24/7 manner. While there are quite a lot of active musicians doing just that, they seem to active as promoters more than as musical artists. While publicizing oneself is a real requirement now, it seems time and effort must be spent on assuring that what you are promoting (your music/ your performance) lives up to the hype. Without naming names, that is, too often, not the case. The packaging ends up being much better developed than the contents.

I’m struggling mightily to prevent myself from sliding down that slope. There’s a balance somewhere, an even surface where I don’t always feel pressured to post photos of my breakfast coffee (or tea) each morning…. Old School? Yeah, perhaps, but I am a musician first and I want to be really excellent at that.

My 19yo son commented the other day that there are very few exceptional guitarists under the age of 50 — he noticed that Hendrix was in his 20s when he essentially re-invented not just guitar-playing but modern music. Now, a Hendrix-level artist isn’t going to be a commonality, but given the fact that the artistic doors have been pushed wide by Jimi and so many other kindred spirits (McLaughlin, Coryell, Beck, Johnson, et al) beginning from that time more guitar slingers should be building upon those concepts and ideas. With very few exceptions, in limited ways, they’re not.

It may well be that the business of music has overwhelmed the creation of music – the emphasis is rarely on being a great player but, rather, on marketing. Yes, that is necessary and vital. But, the music needs to grow and evolve and the artists need to do likewise. So few of the young players to day will have a life-long career as they don’t spend the time to develop their artistry and become great musicians who will grow and set the pace for music.

Now, I’m going on and on about one of my favorite issues….. You’d think after three months’ absence I’d have something new…. Oh, here’s a new photo from a recent outdoor event:

From a solo outdoor performance, Spring 2015

From a solo outdoor performance, Spring 2015

(Guitar aficionados: It’s a rare moment with me playing in traditional classical style.)

I’ll be doing this (posting) more often…. with more substance, I promise.

Matt