Thursday, February 11, 2010

Common Lisp and Song Fu 6

I was fortunate enough to be able to record two original songs for the Masters of Song Fu competition, under my nom de (Ken) plume, Common Lisp.

For Round 1, the challenge was:

Write a song that is about (or at least has key to the central narrative) RAIN (the meteorological phenomena). At some point (or throughout) the song, you must utilize an instrument (or vocals) that represent the rain...

My entry was a sort of nerdcore science rap called Polly Loves the Rain. There it is, my first ever complete original song. Joe "Covenant" Lamb was kind enough to track the sung vocal part for me. I added some backing and harmony to his part. My vocal in the the original upload that appeared on the competition page was a little rough, but I managed to record a slightly smoother version and tweak the mix a bit.

There's a video here, based on that earlier mix.

I had a great time recording this song and am very grateful for all the people that told me they enjoyed it! The drums are all from Logic's library, pieced together into a MIDI track; the bass line is my Steinberger Synapse fretless; the keyboard part is again a MIDI track, pieced together using my DX-7 as a keyboard controller; the guitar parts use a Squier Super-Sonic. The microphone I used for this one is the Oktava ML-52 ribbon mic (mine is actually branded an Electro-Harmonix EH-R1).

For round 2, the challenge was:

Write a song that does not rhyme.

CLARIFICATION: Your song can be in any style, but must not contain any rhymes of 2 dissimilar words within a traditional verse structure. Exact repetition of a phrase or word is permitted...

Some challengers were very clever with the premise, writing songs that mocked the concept itself, poking fun at Ken, or implying rhymes. I wasn't nearly that clever -- instead I wanted to write an anthem inspired by a David Feldman gag; in one of his podcasts he made the joke "It's 2010, and I'm still writing 'Dick Cheney is a War Criminal' on my checks."

After his daughter Liz decided that the best thing she could do with her time was to contribute more overheated rhetoric -- attacking Justice Department lawyers for representing Guantanmo detainees, portraying them as sympathetic to Al Quaeda -- I wanted to try to bring the conversation back to what I thought it should really be about: the fact that the men who lied us into Iraq still walk free. I wanted it to be in the style of, kinda sort, The Clash. So here is War Criminal, my second original song. There are some things I might tweak, especially the drums, but overall I'm pretty pleased with the way it came out.

On that track, the drums are again all from Logic; the guitar parts are the Parker Fly; the bass part is, if I recall correctly, the Steinberger XP. For vocals, I used a newly arrived Oktava MK-219 condenser (I picked up two of these at a very low price on eBay; the plan is to have the Michael Joly electronics and capsule upgrades applied at some point, but I like the way they sound on my voice). Everything is direct into the Apogee.

Unfortunately, I had to drop out for Round 3. The round 3 competition involved writing a song that featured a recipe. I was sketching out a few ideas involving water, barley, yeast, and hops, in the style of a Celtic reel, but I developed some kind of bronchial infection. I couldn't sing, had a fever, and was just too washed out to work on the song. I saw my doctor, and confirmed that I didn't have anything dangerous (it wasn't pneumonia), but still, what with our somewhat stressful home life (4 kids and a lot of chaos), I lost a number of work days, and it took me over a month to completely recover. By that time Song Fu 6 was long-done. At some point I'd like to try to complete my round 3 song.

Overall I was very happy to have finally gotten a chance to compete, as I had been considering it for several previous Song Fu competitions but hadn't quite worked up my courage yet. I really enjoyed my interactions with the other competitors. I'm disappointed that I had to drop out. The future of Song Fu remains slightly unclear after several prominent rounds fell apart due to masters who bailed out. That's a shame, but even if it isn't Song Fu under the same name and management, there will be more of this kind of thing -- the idea is too much fun to die. I am looking forward to a future excuse to write and record songs!

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