Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

An Introduction to Moody Music

Alright, alright...I hear you. As the “blog family” has increased, so have the calls for me to make my homegrown music available, particularly online. Okay, I’ll bow to the pressure and try putting some samples here so people can check it out.

WARNING: The linked tracks are all in mp3 format, and most if not all of them are more than 2.5 mb in size.

My recording “career” started in 1983 when my friend Pa’ve asked me to be his guinea pig for his studio recording class in college. I invited some musician friends of mine to help, and we recorded one of my compositions in the college studio (on a 4-track reel-to-reel recorder) with Pa’ve serving as engineer and producer. It was a good experience, but the results have since (thankfully) vanished into the mists of time. Later, in 1988, Pa’ve came to visit me together with the 4-track cassette recorder he had recently bought, and together we produced a cassette tape demo including three of my songs and one that we’d co-written. It seems laughably bad now, but it was a lot of fun to make, and it convinced me that I needed my own home studio. That was my first priority when I came to Japan and started my teaching career back in 1990. Since then, I have produced what now amounts to twenty CD albums of original material.

Keep in mind that these are, at best, demos. Although I have been hired to do session work for some people including a few professional recording artists, on my own I am strictly a hobbyist. These songs were all written, performed, engineered, and produced (and copyrighted, make no mistake) by me at home. Certainly, the quality of my work has improved a lot over the years as I have gained experience and equipment, but I don’t claim to be a professional recording artist (yet), and I make no guarantees. Listen to these tracks at your own risk.

It’s hard to decide where to begin. There’s no way for me to represent all my work in one go, and I wouldn’t want to! My earlier recordings, all carried out on limited, analog equipment with little gear and know-how, seem pretty embarrassing now but still fun to listen to. On the other hand, if I want to make even a halfway good impression, it would be best for me to start with my more recent works. My music can probably be classified into six distinct periods (or eras), so I’ll start with the latest one (2002 till the present). If people want me to, I’ll work backward from there later.

(Incidentally, the "KM" logo is taken from the initials of my real name.)

Spinning Flow

spinning flow

The period from 1996 to 2001 was one of great turbulence and upheaval in my life, reflected all too well in the four albums I collectively call the “Purple Era”. This album, completed in 2002, was the escape from that, ushering in the current, as yet unnamed period. The “Purple Era” was the sound of someone sitting in a closed room screaming while peering out at the world through the crack in the curtains. In Spinning Flow our hero(?) is still feeling rather churned up inside, but at least he is outside breathing the air and swimming in the water again.

“Roundabout Me” - One beautiful, sunny day as I was driving home from Ye Olde AcademyTM I saw an old man riding a bicycle down a narrow, country road with a big smile on his face. I wondered what sort of tune he might be humming. This lyric-less “song” was the result. The singing is kept very loose and casual by design. Imagine other people coming out of their homes, rice fields, etc. to join the old man’s song as he rides by. (Singing off-key with myself was kind of fun, actually…)

”Bond” - This song was an anniversary present for my wife. It’s not my best singing (some have suggested I should have used a lower octave), but several people have said they like this one, the most important being my wife! The music is partly programmed, partly played by hand.

”(Zenzen) Wakannai!” - The title means, “I don’t understand (at all)!” This is probably my biggest hit to date. Based on a true incident that happened during one of my team-taught lessons, it was originally recorded back in December of 1990. That old version included stupid-sounding, direct-lined guitars, even more stupid-sounding Casio drums, hideous sound quality, sloppy execution, and a lead solo played with numb fingers (since I had no way to heat my flat at the time). Bootleg recordings of it continued to circulate among JET Program expats for years after I’d left that program. This was the long-awaited remake, and it is MUCH better. (I don’t know if tapes of the old one are still going around. If so, I REALLY want to replace them with this version!)

”Wanting” - This tune was actually some last-minute space filler I whipped up and stuck in so the album wouldn’t be quite so short. It also served to help me vent a bit of pent-up frustration. I wrote and recorded it in about two hours. One person has told me they hate this song, but many others have named it as a favorite, so here it is.

View from the Tower

viewtower

During the period from 2000 to 2002 I wrote and recorded a lot of material in quick succession. (I also composed and arranged quite a number of things for other people.) By the time Spinning Flow was finished I was pretty much exhausted. Finally, after many months, I dusted off my gear and started playing with it again, recording a couple of tunes inspired by events in my life at the time. As I continued practicing and experimenting, it looked as though the next album was in danger of being terribly cynical; the song inspirations were coming mainly from problem students (and teachers) at work. I squashed that idea like a cockroach. Some song ideas were dumped, others were rewritten. I also dug up some ideas I’d had in mind for a long time, and the result was an album whose principal theme was my own sci-fi/fantasy writing. View from the Tower, finished in early 2004, is kind of a strange work, perhaps difficult for some people to fathom, but I’m rather proud of it.

”My Mask” - Ah…a moody acoustic number! I always like making these, and I wonder why I don’t do it more often. This song is about a significant background character in my sci-fi/fantasy story setting. She’s a talented and famously benign (but very sheltered and repressed) princess, loved by her people (and scorned by her fellow nobles), but she’s actually quite cruel to the people around her because she doesn’t want them to know how messed up she really is inside. I have performed this song live a number of times.

”Beyanam” - Yes, I do make instrumentals sometimes. (Considering my voice keeps getting worse, perhaps I should do more of them…) This is actually a remake; the original version was recorded back in the late 90s, and it featured a wind synth melody (I never quite liked) and some rather sloppy keyboard playing. This time I used a real sax and cleaned up the ensemble work. The tune is meant to describe a scene from one of my stories. (I won’t bother explaining it here, but it involves the princess from “My Mask”, and it’s kind of romantic.)

”The Firstborn” - The main work on View from the Tower is a seven-part rock opera entitled The Chronicles of Ôus-Gal’ad. It is, well, the Creation story of an alien culture. (Yes, you read that right.) In a nutshell, the living spirit of a heavily-forested planet has evolved into a single, giant consciousness. One day it makes contact with beings from the stars, who convince it to seek a material form so they can interact. The three main aspects of its personality, Bann (the animal self), Gôth (the spiritual self), and Gl’iem (the rational self), each manifest into a separate male-female couple, the Firstborn. Everything goes downhill from there… This tune, the fourth movement of the work, introduces the three couples.

”Mama (Do You Care About Me?)” - This is one of the first tunes I recorded for this album, when it was in danger of being dominated by tales of woe inspired by problem students. Guess what inspired this one! (I come across some pretty dysfunctional families in this job…whew…) This seems to be the most-liked song on the album, though I don’t know why. Incidentally, the high strumming you hear during the refrain is a charango in the right ear and a mandolin in the left.

Open Halls

open halls

I bought my Line 6 PODxt guitar processor while I was working on View from the Tower. After the album was finished, I just spent a lot of time playing around with my new “toy”. Virtually all my attention was going into my guitars, so my playing ability seemed to improve considerably. I never intended to make any real songs, and I certainly didn’t put any effort whatsoever into songwriting, but some of the ideas that came out of my experiments went on disk, and next thing I knew I had another album. That was Open Halls. It was finished in 2004, only a few months after View from the Tower, but it is perhaps my most successful work to date in terms of feedback from listeners. Naturally, it is a very “rocking”, guitar driven, and upbeat work.

”Open Halls” - The title track from the album started out as a joke. I was parodying “pop metal”. I started out by playing (what I thought was) a very cliché riff on my SG through a digital model of a (1980s) Marshall JCM-800 amp boosted by a Rat distortion pedal to the point of insanity. This is then blasted with pure fuzz from my Strat going through a cranked-up (1990s) Boogie dual recto amp (again, a digital model, not the real thing). Then I turned silly into ridiculous by playing the first solo on the SG through a (1960s) Vox amp (i.e. George Harrison) and the second on the Strat through a Soldano (i.e. Eric Clapton). The lyrics are a bit esoteric but very serious, inspired by a really cool Hawaiian girl I met, and who wound up psychoanalyzing me, as I walked through the open halls of Himeji Castle (which, incidentally, is what’s on the cover photo of the album).

”In Your Ranks” - This song was inspired by a former student who was also in the music club. She seemed like a quiet, insecure wall flower when she first joined. A few months later she threw her mask off, went crazy, and practically reinvented our whole music club (for the better, actually)! The music and lyrics reflect that. She was a bit of a handful at times, but I think we all miss that girl.

”What’s On It?” - What? Sonnet?!? That’s right. Sonnets set to music. This song starts with just my jangly “Yamacaster” guitar going through a Matchless Chieftain amp. Then it builds…and builds….

”Why These Tears?” - Can you tell that I’m a schoolteacher? This is probably the only song on the album that I actually put effort into writing instead of just going with whatever came out. It was inspired by two student musicians who suddenly came and tearfully apologized to me for not having played perfectly. I was confused, because I thought they’d done a wonderful job. Kids… Many people have told me they really like this song, so here it is.

Okay…I’ll let you digest these for a bit, and then I’ll post some tunes from my latest album. Either that or I’ll start going chronologically backwards (heh heh heh heh…).

(All rights reserved. All songs are protected by applicable copyright laws. If you want to listen, cool, but please don't steal my music!)

16 Comments:

  • My private reserve of fine dance tunes has gone public. Cheerio!

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:20 AM  

  • WOW...just WOW!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:04 AM  

  • i'm listening to your songs right now. my first choice was "wanting" and i must say, i really like it. you remind me of someone, but i can't put my finger on it. i heard Rush come through many times, and , believe it or not, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came to my mind... don't know why, but there was something that reminded me of that... w/ the Beatles.

    This song "Beyanam" first reminded me of some of Hashim's music. Very relaxing tune... comforting. I really like the sax here. boy, you play a lot of instruments!!

    I'll listen to some more... I like your music!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:08 AM  

  • Ha, ha! As Snabby as stated we've been able to have secret "K" music days, whilst Snabby reminices about the Good O'l days...while I make him fold laundry.

    I get kick out of the Cthlulu reference stuff myself. Makes me want to go roll up a new D & D character...

    By Blogger ladybug, at 3:33 AM  

  • Yessss!!!

    Yessss!!


    I'm really happy that you're putting your tracks online. I like how you separate the musical 'eras' :) Ain't that true :)

    The 4 track reel-to-reel recorder is actually still being used in some of the major studios in the world for its added warmth to the overall sound.

    *Listening to (Wanting)*

    I really dig this track. Your voice is good, but I think it's being overtaken by the guitars and drums (in some areas). Is that you on the drums? Or are they pre-programmed? Love the flanger on the guitars :)

    *Listening to (Roundabout)*

    Nice... I can really see that man on the bike. Love the chord progression. This song has a nice western and japanese mixture of styles. Very calming.

    *Listening to (Wakannai)*

    Whooo !! I can really see Rush's influence in this song. Can't imagine it with the Casio's drums though ;) Man... I REALLY can't imagine it with Casio's drums! I like the lyrics. Excellent ending :)

    -Moving on towards the next musical era-

    *Listening to (My Mask)*

    This is exactly the kind of music I was expecting to hear from you. I don't know, but for some reason, I thought you were more of an acoustic music fan. I really enjoyed this, and can defiantly see the princess character.

    *Listening to (Beyanam)*

    I'll take that back. THIS is the kind of music I expected to hear you play. Excellent work on the Sax, it really works nice with the piano. I really like this one. I would've added a little bit more reverb on the Sax. It sounds beautiful as it is though.

    *Listening to (The Firstborn)*

    Another nice track heavily influenced by Rush. Beautiful mix of the guitars on this one. A very emotionally charged song.

    *Listening to (Mama)*

    I like the vocals on this one. Not sure if I entirely like the beat (especially when the shakers kick in). A bit more of chord variation would've probably add an *umth* to it, if that makes sense.

    Ok, I'm getting carried away here. I'll listen to Open Halls this evening and post my thoughts.

    From what I heard so far, i'm really impressed by your musical talent and recording skills. I do look forward to hearing more and more of your music, and thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    Go Moody!

    By Anonymous Hashim, at 3:48 AM  

  • Wow Minstrel, it really is a personal thing for you to share with us - especially as your blog isn't primarily about your music.

    I listened to Spinning Flow just now and I will have to come back tomorrow for the rest. Much of it really has a 70s/80s feel to it. "Wanted" is my fave because it's very 70s. Seems to be the general fave among your readers. It's very pro even if we can't hear your voice so clearly.

    Wakannai is very 80s, but fun to listen to!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 12:29 PM  

  • Oh, forgot to say, I have to come back tomorrow and hear the rest.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 12:30 PM  

  • Voting time:

    I’ve listened to your 3 CD albums, I would like to permute the first 3 among them within my favorite.

    1) Wakannai
    2) What’s on it.
    3) Mama (Do you care about me?)

    Well, I still like that one about Acerola_Cola. ;-)

    Thanks for sharing your gentle music with us. Well Done!!!

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 6:11 PM  

  • Wow...thank you, everyone from the bottom of my moody heart! I appreciate all these wonderful comments more than you know! What any artist, professional or otherwise, wants more than anything is to be appreciated. I guess I never really had all that much faith in my work. If I'd known I'd get such a warm response I would've put my stuff online long ago! Maybe I should have put more songs online. (Each of those three albums has more than a dozen tracks...I just picked the top four in terms of other people's comments...) Bandwidth isn't an issue yet, but it might become one if I upload and link more tracks.

    I guess the next question is: should I post songs from my latest album, or should I go back one era next? (Or both?)

    (L.C._D., the Acerola Cola?????!? album is three eras back! Should I go back and start from the beginning?!??)

    Any requests?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:17 PM  

  • Hashim
    I especially appreciate your comments, critique, and advice, coming as it is from a musician with the know how and the professional experience! Feel free to rip me apart as much as you wish, as I can only learn and grow from it!

    Actually, all three of those albums are from the same "era" (2002-2004 in this case, since I haven't posted the new album yet). Basically, my "eras" are classified as follows:
    Green era - 1990-1992
    Blue era - 1992-1993
    Red era - 1994-1996
    Gray era - 1996-1999*
    Purple era - 1996-2001*
    current - 2002-present
    (*overlap, but are thematically distinct)
    I don't know if I'm going to eventually post samples of all of these are not. Some of the early stuff is pretty lame.

    Vocal balance is something I hear about a lot. I guess I consider myself an instrumentalist first and a vocalist second, so I have a bad habit of scaling the vocals back so the instruments can be heard. Maybe I need to hire a producer! ;-)

    Sometimes the drums are step-programmed, whether on a drum machine or in MIDI (depending on the era), but a lot of the time I record them in real time by playing them manually on my Roland synth. (I would love to have a set of Vee-drums someday...)

    Oh, and feel free to get carried away! I'm all ears!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:30 PM  

  • i'd love to hear some of your recent songs. and then some of your other stuff as well....

    you sound totally different than i expected.... and i'm really impressed w/ all the instruments you play, and how well you've produced your own stuff.

    since meeting hashim and seeing what all goes in to making a song, i can really appreciate ppl who do it. congrats to you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:25 AM  

  • Right then, I have just listened to View from the Tower, and going against the flow, my fave track is My Mask. It's very 1960s Ballady.

    Mind you, The Firstborn, being rock opera, does remind me a bit of Lloyd-Webber.

    ***

    I would make use of the word "riffs" but I feel a bit self-conscious about that.

    ***

    Listening to Open Halls, I really like the way In Your Ranks starts - reminds me of something but I can't think what.

    I also like What's In It? I don't know who Matchless Chieftains are, but if you are comparing it to a contemporary Gaelic-type band, then you're right :)

    ***

    I fuond the downloading to be very slow. 2MB isn't much, and today I dl'd 268MB of Microsoft Office onto my computer in under 10 minutes.
    It must be the Fileden servers?

    Anyway, again, thanks for sharing, Minstrel!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 10:40 AM  

  • Tooners
    Thanks. Okay, I'll post selections from my new album next. Since no one but my family has heard it yet I can't base my choices on listeners' opinions, so you'll just have to trust my judgment.

    Each song usually takes several hours, sometimes even several days to complete. That's why it was so amazing that "Wanting" took only about two hours total including composition time.

    Olivia
    Thanks for your comments. Wow! I'm being compared to Andrew Lloyd-Webber?? Actually, he (briefly) attended the international school in Tokyo where my friend and fellow musician Jeff works.

    Feel free to say "riffs". I use that term all the time, as do the musicians I work with (in the jazz and rock genres, anyway).

    I'm using FileDen's "regular" service, which by design is slower than their more expensive services. Still, when I tested it each song I tried downloaded in under a minute on my ADSL account. Maybe someone else was downloading at the same time...or FileDen was having a problem.

    PS: Matchless Chieftain is a type of amplifier. ;-)

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:55 AM  

  • Panda come lately here. I haven't had time to listen to all of them (4 so far), but I am impressed with what I've heard. There is something here for everyone it seems. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    (about bloody time grumble grumble... just kidding!)

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:13 PM  

  • I've listened to 3 of your songs last week but haven't put any comment in here yet...

    Listening to your songs bring me back to my old days memory especially during the 80s which is very nice :)

    By Blogger Selba, at 6:56 PM  

  • Geez...I didn't know my muse was so fixated in the 80s. I guess it makes sense since that was my really "formative" period in terms of songwriting.

    The trouble is that I didn't like a lot of popular music in the 80s...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home