HOW I KEEP TRACK OF MY MUSIC-MAKING: IMPROBABLE SCORES AND MESSY TABS.

June 12, 2020 § Leave a comment

Doing things in spite of limitations is a theme I’ll come back to, as it’s been my modus operandi ever since I started making music on my own in the mid-90s, before the Colleen project was even born. My second tool for keeping track of my music-making is a case in point: I write what I call “improbable scores”, scores that have no purpose other than to serve as memory aids, and which lack the “correctness” that would turn them into real scores. Since I’m originally a guitarist, I also use tabs, which presents fewer problems, but of course I’ve only used these when I was using string instruments, which is not the case anymore.

I’m not classically trained, therefore my music-reading (and writing) skills are very limited. I can decipher for the purposes of playing, but only up to a certain point – I got better at that when I took viola da gamba lessons before my 3rd album Les ondes silencieuses, but my limitations were painfully obvious and problematic within that particular context. My 4th album The weighing of the heart is my most “orchestral” album and the one where I’ve used the widest variety of instruments (bass and treble viola da gamba, guitar, clarinet, piano, organ, toy gamelan, hand drums), so I’m attaching a very cleanly written (by my standards) score for “Moonlit sky”, and the very messy tab for “Geometría del universo”, which somehow, to my disbelief, became a kind of “hit” for me in the past few years: this was the first song for which I detuned and fingerpicked my treble viola da gamba, which later paved the way for the Captain of none album, and you can see that the song was born in fits, since the changes in pen colour correspond to nothing other than different work sessions!

HOW I KEEP TRACK OF MY MUSIC-MAKING: GEAR TEMPLATES.

June 6, 2020 § Leave a comment

Part of a new series of hopefully helpful insights into how I keep track of my music-making!

If you’re a musician, I don’t need to ask you if you’ve ever run into the problem of having found a great sound, a great combination of chords/notes with which to combine it, and then a few hours/days later, even though you’re convinced you’ve left the gear in the exact same position and you did take notes about what it was you were doing, you find that it just doesn’t sound the same… We all have run into that problem! It’s happened to me more times than I can count, and the more analogue the gear you are using, the more urgent the problem, especially if, like me, you think that an exciting idea almost always needs refining in order to take it to the level of a song that can end up being released. This is what this new series is all about, starting with the trickiest bit: gear settings!!!

Gear templates are my number one tool: sometimes an intelligent manufacturer provides the users with a preexisting gear template (thank you Moog for doing that with the Grandmother), but most of the time, that’s not the case, so what I do is I take whatever diagram I can find in the manual, and Photoshop it in order to have a version of a size that makes sense for taking notes. I will mark the settings in different coloured pens corresponding to different stages of the song, using numbers and letters when the song involves a lot of changes, and writing actual instructions.

Illustrated example with “One warm spark” from my last album A flame my love, a frequency: a Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano going through an Octabass octaver pedal and the Moogerfooger MF104M delay, sent via an aux to the Moogerfooger MIDIMuRF. There are 3 sheets for the MIDIMuRF, packed full of information as the settings keep changing throughout the song; the delay is a wee bit more static, but still going through its own changes as well. If you can, listen to the song and try to follow my instructions (mostly in French, for some reason!).

This is the methodology I now use for everything I do, and when I don’t, well, I always end up being sorry I didn’t! :-)

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR A TINY SUSTAINABLE ERGONOMIC STUDIO FOR THE SELF-PRODUCED MUSICIAN: PART III

May 28, 2020 § Leave a comment

I like having my gear in one place as I try to record live in one take as much as possible, performing on the units as I play (as opposed to post-producing with the same units), and one of the issues I quickly ran into was that cables and power supply cables at the back of units “bump” into the gear right behind them: the row of Moogerfoogers bumped into the Drummer One, the Yamaha Reface YC keyboard’s cables bumped into the Grandmother. The units themselves all fit, but the cables were the problem. Super simple, super cheap solution: simply cut wood strips at the appropriate length and glue them on top of each other until you reach the correct height so that cables going to/coming from the front gear can go under the platform you’ve just built for the rear gear, thereby also ensuring neat access to the rear gear’s controls (plus extra ventilation)!
This isn’t even particularly clever and I feel a bit weird writing about something so simple, but I hadn’t seen it elsewhere, and it really solved a problem that was annoying me, so I hope that somehow it may help someone out there!

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR A TINY SUSTAINABLE ERGONOMIC STUDIO FOR THE SELF-PRODUCED MUSICIAN: PART II

May 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

My studio is organized as two sides: music gear/instrument side, recording/DAW/monitoring side.  In the middle is a space just big enough for a tall mike stand for vocal takes, and a high swivel chair that enables me to go seamlessly from one side to the other. I care about the environment and I really wanted to limit my purchases and avoid plastic or highly transformed material if I could, so the tabletops are the recycled sides of an unused wardrobe that had decent wood and whose depth is just perfect for music-related activities. This, by the way, is Sol’s second favorite spot after the Space Echo: I’m guessing very large cats are perfect for absorbing unwanted frequencies bouncing off tabletops during the monitoring process, so I think he’ll prove to be of some actual use (I’ll just try to push him more towards the middle!😊).


The tabletops sit on heavy duty trestles manufactured with certified pine wood by a Basque company, super sturdy so no worries about piling up gear, and can be adjusted to the desired height (the music side is higher up so I can play standing if I want to). The bottom “shelves” of the trestles are used to store (formerly wine) boxes containing cables, power supplies and whatnots, or to hold my nearfield monitors’ sub so it doesn’t rest directly on the floor. The contents of the boxes is protected from the dust with covers I sewed from Japanese denim I bought in Tokyo when I played at Mutek in 2018. There’s also room underneath the trestles to accommodate more objects if necessary. I also hang my headphones on them, and last but not least, a plank of plywood slid on top of the trestles on the recording side holds the folders containing my recording notes and other miscellaneous stuff, while 2 wire baskets hold manuals, gear templates and music scores on the music side.
Next I’ll share something really simple and really useful for those of us working in very small spaces, so stay tuned! 😊

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR A TINY SUSTAINABLE ERGONOMIC STUDIO FOR THE SELF-PRODUCED MUSICIAN: PART I.

May 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

7 SQ M / 75 SQ FT IN A FLAT IN BARCELONA

Several days ago I had to fully dismantle the music gear side of my studio because damp spots had appeared below the small window: thankfully the owners of the place (I rent) agreed to come and repair the origin of the problem, and paint the wall anew. Later on I had to rearrange everything again, which gave me the opportunity to take photos and show you some of the solutions I’ve used that go a long way towards making this a space I not only feel comfortable in but actually love working in.

I love seeing the places where artists get their work done, and for musicians, workspaces can be a real conundrum due to the noisy nature of our activity. Last year I wrote a series of posts on my Facebook and website about all the various places I’ve made my albums in, and the pros and cons of having a studio outside the home (my case from 2010 to 2018 – you can find all the links here below the Barcelona studio video) . I’ve only used the home studio in this picture since October 2019: from January to September 2019 I had a twice as large home studio in the same flat, but it didn’t work out the way I had planned, as I got depressed by the lack of light, to the point of thinking that I really couldn’t work in there. The beauty of keeping your setup small is that you can do what I did: downsize even further in exchange for light, which was what I really needed :-)

More about the studio very soon!

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