Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Timothy Cannon Album - May 2009

Below are some issues we encountered, considerations we had to make and some of the solutions we found while working on the Tim Cannon album.

There were 10 original tracks chosen for this album and demoed as a band. Over the course of this work-shopping session with the band, some of the songs changes quite substantially in feel, arrangement, chord progressions and keys. Now that we had an idea of how we wanted each track to sound on it's own, the challenge was to somehow marry them together in a cohesive collection of songs and come up with a track order which made sense for the album. After much thought on how to overcome this problem Tim decided on the idea of telling a story with the songs (using the thematic material in the lyrics) gave a solid basis in which to structure the album and allowed us a little more freedom and flexibility when it came to differences between song arrangements. This album structure meant that we needed to add a few new songs to fill in the gaps of the story being told, so Dumping Season was added (denoted by the asterisk being a late addition to the album).

So, we now had a basic over-arching structure for the album, but I had an idea which would allow us to have a little more control over the overall feel of the album. I'd heard one of Tim's songs on his MySpace page. I thought it had a nice floating/dreaming quality which could be used as a segue between different song ideas. Rather than just having the song placed somewhere on the album, I had the vision of making it a re-occuring theme, using it to either transform the mood between songs or make harmonic shifts between 2 songs more interesting, thus, hopefully, marrying the album together. In the above track listing, you can see where we plan to have the inserted in the album as little fragments rather than the whole song.

Once we had this concept in mind, we had to decide where these fragments were going to go in the album. We made the decision to start with a simple fragment of the Tree Song in the key of the first track to set up a melancholy tone. The next time Tree Song comes back is between track 4 (Sleeping Out) & 5 (Satellite). The tracks are in different keys, C major and Eb major respectively. Rather than just jump from C major to Eb major without preparation, we thought we would make the transition with some clever use of harmonic relations. As Sleeping Out (track 4)finishes on a C chord, Tree Song starts in the key of Eb. However, the melody of Tree Song starts on the major 3rd of the key (in this case, a G). G is also the 5th of the last chord of Sleeping Out, thus hopefully making a smooth and interesting harmonic transition between the two keys.It's interesting comparing the harmonic movement of the whole album compared to the musical feel of the album. In terms of song keys, the tonic progression is: G - C - C - C - Eb - Am - A - A - F# - C - F# - D

or written another way:

Album Tracks and their order:

0.5. Pre Song - Tree Song fragment in G
1. Keep It Together [G major]
2. Dumping Season* (Acoustic) [ C major]
3. Feeling [C major]
4. Sleeping Out [C major]
4.5. Tree Song fragment in Eb (main melody starts on a G which is the 5th of the final chord of Sleeping Out)
5. Satellite [Eb major]
----- Common tone of C. Ending to finish on combination of chords like Eb13 / Ab / F / F-, to set up smooth transition to the key of A minor. -----
6. High Hopes [A minor]
7. Coming Home [A major]
8. Tell Me Dan [A major]
9. Finish Line [F# major]
------ At the end of the song, the final harmonic resolution is interrupted by the entry of the drums in the next song. ------
10. Friend of Mine [C major]
11. Silver Lining [F# major]
12. Tree Song* (Hidden Track) in the key of D, melody starts on the F# which is held from the end of Silver Lining.

So we can see a very static a smooth harmonic movement at the beginning of the album which becomes more erratic as the album progresses. In contrast to this, most of the feel change happens at the beginning of the album. Our intent of this was to always having something tying everything together, be it feel, key, or instrumentation.
Another harmonic consideration which I would like to mention is the key of the final (complete) version of Tree Song. I thought it would be very effective to have a subtle link between the end of the album and the beginning of the album, giving the feeling that you (the listener) had departed on a journey and arrived somewhere at the end. Originally, the album started in G major and ended in F# major. If the listener would listen to the album on repeat, i.e. once they finish the album, they start again (as commonly done in car CD players etc) they would get an awkward semi-tone movement (F#-G). To give it a "complete" feel, I added in Tree Song in the key of D major, thus giving a V - I (or perfect cadence) at the conclusion of the album which really gives a harmonic representation of both the end of something, and the start of something. Making this more interesting is that (as mentioned above) the melody of Tree Song starts on the major 3rd, so in the key of D major, the melody starts on an F# which happens to be the tonic note of the previous track (Silver Lining).

Tracking Issues

Finish Line posed a big problem for us when we were tracking as a band. The song had dramatically different tempos for the verses and choruses and also had a tempo ramp up in the bridge section. We had to make some big decisions and live with the consequences as time was against us. Our options were:
1. spend an hour or two creating a tempo map,
2. work out a compromise tempo and adjust the song to remove the tempo changes,
3. forget the click track and rely on each other to make the tempo changes ourselves.

As you may know, a click track enables for easy editing and over-dubbing after the recording phase, so this was a pretty big decision. After talking about it in the group for 5 minutes we decided to go with option number 3 because it's what the song needed. We decided on option 3 over option 1 for 2 reasons: 1) we didn't feel that we had the studio time to spare to do the click tracks, & 2) we were both confident in our ability to perform the tempo changes confidently and to obtain maximum emotional effect of the music. The way we managed to achieve confident tempo changes was assign a person responsible for leading the tempo for each section. After playing through the piece 10 or so time, each band member was both comfortable with following the tempo changes lead by different members of the band we managed to track it successfully with a very good end result.

- Andrew

No comments: