Saturday, August 11, 2007

Heavy Nylon: Alpha Test Version

Well, I guess the third time is a charm, as I finally got all of the sound programs EQ'd properly and have recorded alpha test versions of all fourteen of the pieces. Some of the tracks are total crap since they are all first takes - I was watching recording levels on the computer screen most of the time - but I got initial versions in the can and so I'm able to check the pacing of the CD and the progression of the virtual acoustic environments as well. A few of the tracks are actually pretty good though.

My recording setup is a Lexicon MPX-G2 Guitar Effects Processor running in stand-alone mode (Meaning it is the preamp and effects unit), and that goes into the output section of a Lexicon Signature 284 All Tube Class "A" Stereo Recording Amplifier and Direct Source. I bypassed the Signature 284's preamp because I was running into headroom problems: Distortion is nice for steel string guitars, but it is the last thing you want for electric nylon string: I just wanted the warmth of the EL84 output tubes, so I ran the mains of the MPX-G2 into the Sig 284's effects loop returns. The virtual acoustic environments I programmed into the MPX-G2 sound awesome with the class A tube amp sparkle added: "Bigger than God."

I'm using the balanced outputs of the Sig 284, and running those into a Digidesign M-Box (The original USB version), and my Mac Mini is running v7.1 of the ProTools LE software. As I've mentioned before, I dislike the M-Box' preamp section, as what you put into the thing comes out much brighter, Focusrite preamps or no. I understand this has been addressed with the M-Box II - and it comes in a FireWire version that can record at higher resolutions - but I think my work-around proceedure will hold me in good stead for this particular demo CD project. I may get an M-Box II before I re-record the Fossils CD though.

If you are using ProTools LE with a Mac, I'd strongly suggest that you get an external FireWire HD that is dedicated to recording onto. I have a MicroNet MiniMate 250 GB HD and combo USB/FireWire hub, but it appears they no longer make it. Too bad, as it's awesome.

A killer monitor system is de rigueur for recording, and I have the legendary Bryston 3B-NPB running a pair of Tannoy Proto-J near field monitors. Not a bad home recording system for solo electric nylon string guitar.

I have created a new .Mac Downloads page for these recordings called Heavy Nylon Alpha, Beta, Theta for anyone who might be interested in listening to the MP3's. I'm again taking the weekend off from recording, but I'll start recording the beta versions on Monday.


Here's a track by track rundown:

Track 01: Classical Gas - Mason Williams

I have a couple of years in on this arrangement, so it's pretty much in focus. I edited the piece for content so that it makes more sense to me musically, as I do with just about everything I arrange.

Track 02: Desert Song - Eric Johnson

I have totally reinterpreted this piece. Eric plays it pretty fast and mostly a tempo, but I heard it as a slower, more quasi-rubato romantic piece. People seem to like this version, and I believe it's my manager's favorite piece.

Track 03: Spanish Fly - Eddie Van Halen

I had to completely re-compose this piece, using the signature tap technique licks, to not only make it more sensible to me musically, but also to adapt it to my technique (Or lack thereof). Eddie plays this holding a pick in his right hand and he taps using the middle finger. I don't use a pick at all, and I tap with the index finger. As a result, I changed a lot of the linear runs to use legatto technique - hammer ons and pull offs - while retaining the classic Van Halen tap riffs. I also added some of my own, as I learned this piece speciffically so that I could learn tap technique on the nylon string, and I was coming up with some new ideas.

Track 04: A Day at the Beach: Joe Satriani

I only perform this piece if I'm in the zone, so it's still a very dangerous piece for me. The double-stop tap technique is completely unique and beautiful, but it's a monster difficult piece. This take is pretty crappy because, as I was warming up for it, I played it fifteen times through. The result was that I actually blistered the tip of my right hand "m" finger! So, I took what I could get, and the result is predictably sloppy. I'll have to play this more often in practice to callous up that fingertip.

Track 05: Scherzo - Yours Truly

This is the most difficult piece that I have composed that I actually perform. Though I wrote it over fifteen years ago, I just started performing it in the last year or so! It's a typical Scherzo: Compound ternary form, and this piece is now in my Sonata Zero for solo classic guitar. It's a very difficult quasi-virtuoso piece, so the take is quite rough, but I'm amazed I can get through the thing at all. When I wrote it, I thought I'd never be able to play it.

Track 06: Eu So Quero Um Xodo - Dominguinhos

I first heard this piece at the site of classical guitarist Don Witter Jr. He has it set as the bumper music on his splash page. Take just a few seconds to listen to an excerpt of his awesome arrangement! I simply had to have the music, so I emailed Don, and he told me it was from an arrangement by Tim Sparks. So, I emailed Tim and he had a PDF file of the score to me almost immediately. From the time I heard it at Don's site until I had the score was less than three hours! I love the internet.

I re-arranged the piece for my five-finger right hand technique - there are no strums in the piece, it's all finger rolls - and added a coda and new ending to it. This ain't a bad take energy wise, but there are a couple of minor flubs.

Track 07: Figuration Prelude No. 7 in F-sharp Minor - Yours Truly

This is my figuration prelude in F-sharp minor. It's in 10/8 time and has some nice modal inflections in it, but on the final Heavy Nylon CD this will be replaced with the Steve Howe/Yes piece, Mood for a Day, which is sorta/kinda in F-sharp Flamenco.

Track 08: Heavy Nylon - Yours Truly

Here's the title track. I was fooling around with some riffs I had used in some of the tunes I wrote back when I was in the band B-Rock - which landed me on MTV's The Week in Rock a couple of times back in the late '80's - and this piece came out of it, at first as a joke, but crowds love this thing. I flubbed the cadenza, but otherwise it's not a bad take. I'll have to isolate the cadenza and work on it some before I try this one again.

Track 09: E-Axis Study No. 4 in C-sharp Minor - Yours Truly

This is an old piece from the late 80's when I was still with B-Rock, so it's pretty simple. Every other note in the melody is the open E-string of the guitar, which is a Joseph Schillinger Zero Axis "thing." On the final CD, this will be replaced with Chet Atkins' Yankee Doodle Dixie, which I have memorized, but it's not performable yet (In fact, it's next on my metronome slow play agenda, so I may have it securly under my fingers soon).

Track 10: Fighter Pilots - Yours Truly

This piece just rocks, and it is another re-working of a rock piece I wrote years ago when I was at Berklee. This is quite a nice take on it too.

Track 11: Figuration Prelude No. 11 in G-sharp Minor - Yours Truly

Here we have a piece that has some very difficult stretches in it - I call these preludes "hard chord music" - but it has a great feel and was inspired by watching a sunset along the Rio Grande over the Mexican Chihuahuan Desert Mountains after a day of motorcycle riding.

Track 12: B-Axis Study No. 1 in B Major - Yours Truly

Another Schillinger Zero Axis piece, this time with every other note in the melody being the guitar's open B-string. In fact, this piece was on of six of these B-Axis Studies that I presented in a lecture-recital for my Master of Music degree back in 1991. The lecture part of the recital was all about how Schillinger inspired these pieces. The piece is fairly virtuosic, and it's actually not a bad take considering the difficulty level.

Track 13: Tears in the Rain - Joe Satriani

I love Satch. This beautiful little ditty gets the girls. LOL! It is a compliment if I don't make major changes to a piece, and I only changed the penultimate chord from a triad to a dominant seventh, so it is just a little jewel of perfection.

Track 14: Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin

The ultimate rock ballad. I'm from the generation of guitarists who learned this piece early on, and it is, in fact, the first thing I ever learned to play "all the way through." I've been working on this arrangement for almost three years now, so it's pretty much in focus. Not a bad take either.

Again, these pieces are available as MP3's for download here, if you are interested.

I'm taking the weekend off from recording again, but will get on the beta versions Monday. Tonight and tomorrow is the annual Perseid Meteor Shower so I'm going to take a nap later and go out to watch tonight. Right now I have an appointment with my Bowflex, however.


"To sleep, perchance to dream."


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