Adventures in Home Recording, pt 2 – The Dreamer’s Symphony

The Dreamer’s Symphony demo

PREAMBLE

It was early in the summer of 1994. I lived in a two-bedroom apartment above an empty storefront with my girlfriend, Etcetera’s keyboardist and principle composer, Dori Downie. She was spending a week or two convalescing at her family’s home in Kitchener-Waterloo, due to having developed a kidney infection we’d been mistaking for back aches. We had recently agreed to stay together after her having had a brief flirtation with our producer friend, David Jones. They both seemed determined to make it up to me, and agreed they wouldn’t spend any more time alone together. By the time Dori was ready to come ‘home’, things had changed significantly, though I hadn’t twigged to this just yet.

I was reading Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith. I was listening to Yes’ Talk and Dream Theater’s Images and Words. I had largely abandoned my art studies, but was tinkering with a band logo. I didn’t know it then, but I was already starting to dream up a tale that would eventually turn into my detective Sterling Carcieri’s first (unfinished) novel, The Uninvited Guest. Those days are so ingrained in my mind that, when I finally did sit down to start writing that story almost a decade later, I decided to make our old apartment Sterling’s, and the store beneath it his office.

GETTING TO THE POINT

What does that have to do with music, you ask? Well, I had previously used Dori’s keyboard to improvise a number of motifs that I’d been hoping the band could use to create new songs, but by the time Dori and I were living together and going through all that drama together, I’d started to hear a new idea, but I could tell it was going to take some work to chase down.

Now, Dori was the band’s defacto keyboardist, owing to the fact that she had taken piano lessons for a great deal longer period of time than Derrick and I had back in high school. She was good. Not professional level, but she was a decent player.

Her one fault, if you could call it one, was that she liked the simplicity and gut-level impact of those big power ballads and synth-heavy hard rock bands of the 80s, like Bon Jovi and Europe. I liked those bands too, so it didn’t bother me much, but as a band, we were trying to create something a little more… well, let’s be honest, precious and artsy. So I wanted choppier, melodic playing, and Dori wanted nice, friendly melodic figures and hooky rhythm comping. Dori was willing to go as far as Whitesnake; I wanted Yes and Genesis; Derrick wanted Queen; Dave wanted Rush (Gary wasn’t a member yet, but he eventually voted for Marillion); We somewhat discordantly settled on Asia and Saga as our sound template.

The song she had been working on, an untitled piece I’d been slowly dragging out of her line by line, had by this time wriggled free and mutated into a well-produced, sunny-but-sugary synth pop number, which Derrick, Dave and I were pretty adamantly against playing. It wasn’t a bad song; it just wasn’t the song we’d been pushing for.

I started asserting a little more creative control at this point, trying to edge the band back towards the less-travelled Progressive Rock highway, but I still wasn’t what I considered to be a great keyboardist, or composer, to be honest. All I could do was muddle and jam and sweat it out until stuff started to happen.

And it was real sweat, too. It had been a long, bitter winter with record snowfall, but by May,  the weather was heating up nicely, and while the apartment was spacious and had about a billion windows, sadly, there was no air conditioning, and getting a cross-breeze to travel through the apartment was virtually impossible. We’d taken to filling the bath tub with cold water at night, as we’d heard that it helped to draw off the worst of the heat. To this day, I’m not entirely certain it helped. There was a rather colourful day when Dori and I were sitting around in our underwear, sponging each other down with cold water, and that was AFTER the break-up.

SETTING UP THE PIECES

So, yeah, hot. While I had been having trouble getting Dori to play any of the material I’d started concocting before she got sick and had to leave, I soldiered on, practicing more or less daily, working out parts and tweaking a sound I’d fallen in love with, which these days I have to admit is pretty dated and synthetic sounding.

What it had going for it was that I could fairly easily replicate the kind of dynamics and sustain I needed from the band; the iceblock percussion patch had sharp attack and decay, a nice harmonic quality, and responded well to the touch-sensitive keys; the synth string ensemble patch had great bass and treble coverage and a lovely sustain and fade, and responded beautifully to my erratic playing style. And there was a wee bit of tweezing the ring modulation of the paired sounds (two strings, two iceblocks, panned right and left, IIRC) to create a rather broad, sweeping, jittering sound, with loads of majesty-in-a-can as I needed it.

I recorded all of the parts by outputting the K-1 directly into my Hitachi ghetto blaster, which recorded my playing pretty nicely, except for the more than occasional distortion peak or cut-out from striking too many keys at once (16-note polyphony, IIRC). I’ve tried to tweeze some of that out today, but there’s not a lot you can do with white noise clipping except start from scratch and have somebody else to watch the meters better.

I actually created a number of parts, about two fifths of which I deemed to be sub-par, so I set those aside and focused on arranging and editing together the parts that did the most melodically- and rhythmically-interesting things. What I wound up with, I suspect a short while after Dori and I had finally parted ways, was more or less what you can hear HERE. I can’t remember when I decided on the title, pretentious as it may sound, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t long after I’d assembled it. It just felt like the right title.

I don’t think I’ll ever push to have this performed and recorded by a symphony orchestra, despite the name. It would be nice to eventually have access to such things, but I’ll probably be quite happy with an arrangement that can be played by a rock outfit with a keyboardist who has some good orchestral sounds at their disposal.

Anyhow, that’s show and tell for today. I should have been working on the drum track, but just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe after I have something to eat.

Thanks for reading,

Lee.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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