Doing Music Differently

Please note that clicking on anything written in blue, like our instruments, unspecialized, or help us pay the rent (where you will find information about ordering our CDs), will take you to a different page of this website….
If you have already listened to some of the pieces posted on our “work-in-progress” blog,  you know that when we say our music is very different, these are not just empty words.
But you would be wrong to think that it is different because we have unusually big brains, miraculous “musical ability”, or uncanny fast and skillful fingers.
Rather its originality is the somewhat inevitable result of for twenty years going about the business of doing music in a very unconventional way.
So back when we were living in Varanasi India,  we started designing and building our own non-standard instruments, and once we had enough of them, we stopped playing conventional instruments since to our ears,  they all had conventional music built in by default. (our instruments)
And rather than each of us focusing on just one of our new instruments, we’ve both made it a point to play all of  them. (unspecialized)
Also we decided to avoid performance, for fear that would push us towards a premature crystalization of our style (performance).  But since we still wanted to get our music out there, instead of performing we decided to learn to record and  engineer our music at home. (our recording)
Furthermore we resolved to play only our own music.
And finally we accepted that this non-standard approach meant we would inevitably stray far from conventional rhythms and tunings.(notation and slow, low, and varied).
Of course this program did not emerge fully formed twenty years ago as the result of accurately analyzing the situation of music.  To the contrary, our music was just  part of the laid-back low-budget life we were leading in Varanasi, India,  something we did in between  cups of chai and going down to swim in Gangaji.

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Our Instruments****Unspecialized****Our Recording
The Indian Music Scene****Music And Magic****The Street Singer
Performance****Notation****Slow, Low, And Varied
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music


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For more than 20 years we’ve been doing music differently.

Back when we were settled in Varanasi ( The Indian Music Scene ) we started inventing, building, and playing our own original instruments, and right from the beginning each of us made it a point to play all of them ( Our InstrumentsUnspecialized ).  Then once we’d created a little orchestra of these new instruments, we stopped playing standard ones we felt had conventional music built into them by default.

We didn’t mind this steered our music away from traditional tonality and were pleased when our freer tunings encouraged us to take the further step of ditching rigidly counted rhythms ( Notation and  Slow, Low, And Varied ).
abass bowus

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Also we avoided performing, mostly because we didn’t like to do it.  ( Performance ).

Furthermore we accepted that taken together, all this meant we would be playing only our own music.

achai shop
Now obviously this program didn’t emerge fully formed 22 years ago.  To the contrary, at that point our music was just part of the laid-back low-budget life we were enjoying in Varanasi, something we did between cups of chai and going down to swim in Gangaji.

Back then it was merely something we were doing to entertain ourselves, though it’s true our immersion in and subsequent disillusionment with the Varanasi classical music scene was an early source for many important insights found in more developed form throughout this website ( The Indian Music Scene, Music And Magic ).  And of course it was in India we started to build original instruments.

So our radical approach was most definitely not the result of clear thinking, rather it evolved slowly as we inched towards a way of doing music which suited us.  Though after the fact we suspect for us following some such untravelled path was the simplest, most direct, and probably even the only way to insure we would eventually arrive at a truly different music.

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Anyway, in 1998 the depressing decay of Indian culture combined with increasing pollution ( noise, shit, people, cars…. ) forced us to regretfully flee our sweet little life in Varanasi, and after briefly checking out Japan, we returned to the United States.
*thru the gate
Still we will remain forever grateful we started our shared musical life in India.

Instead of struggling ( and probably failing ) to maintain our integrity in our own countries ( Japan and the United States ) during the booms and bubbles of the late twentieth century, we were living a life that got progressively simpler and more ancient.

Instead of being bombarded by recycled rock, jazz, and rap, instead of being pacified by various varieties of lame fusion, we had the ( admittedly bitter-sweet ) privilege of listening to and being immersed in the beautiful last notes of the great dying classical Indian music tradition.  ( The Indian Music Scene, Music And Magic )

And we were particularly fortunate to be living in Varanasi, the oldest city in India, a place so stubbornly conservative we heard more dhrupad, bhajans, and thumris than slickly produced, sized-to-fit-a-record ragas.

…. A place where the over-amplified fake Bollywood devotional singing which every year boomed more obnoxiously from the loudspeakers of more and more temples, was still balanced by the soft ringing of temple bells, the humble chanting of devotees on the way to bathe in the holy river, and even the occasional magic music of some street singer who taking a wrong turn a thousand years ago, had accidentally wandered into our sad shallow modern world.

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Return to the Modern World
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antaramUnfortunately returning to the twentieth century had serious financial implications.  Clearly the $100/month which had covered our expenses in India wouldn’t do the trick in the States.  So for the first time we started thinking about making money from our music ( while stretching our funds by living in a charming, dirt cheap, rotting trailer huddled under perpetually damp northern California redwoods. )

But we knew we couldn’t do it by performing.

Indeed, right from its beginning our music has been our play and spiritual ( a fine word that’s been hijacked by all sorts of con men ) discipline rather than something produced on demand in front of other people.  Sure we’ve learned to do an imitation of ourselves playing music that’s good enough to impress listeners, but we can’t fool ourselves.  We know when we’re “performing” we’re sticking to the safe stuff, we’re playing only what we can do easily, and this of course steals the magic from our sound.  ( Performance, Music And Magic )

So since we couldn’t get our music out there by performing, in 2001 we took a deep breath, bought ourselves entry level recording and editing equipment ( Our First Kit ), and then in our trailer created “Huhnandhuhn”, our first CD.
( Our Recording )

But though it turned out to be a more interesting and finished sounding first try than we’d dared hope, it failed to get much attention from the gatekeepers of the official music world ( folks like critics, djs, successful musicians, and professors ).  Instead these people with power and position ignored us.  Huhnandhuhn was played on the radio only a few times, and it received not even a single review.
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It was very confusing because we knew we’d produced music that though imperfect, was very different and sometimes quite beautiful.  How, we wondered, could all those important “music lovers” be so closed minded?

Back then we were innocent and didn’t understand one of the primary responsibilities of these gatekeepers was to turn down anything new which wasn’t “new” in some already approved of way.
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Naturally our initial reaction to this total rejection by the very people whose help we needed to spread word of the existence of our music, was to get very depressed.

But then we got furious, and fueled by this anger got back to work.

Since we realized many people make music with guitars and drums, the first step was to put ours away ( which before this we’d been playing every day and which are featured on 3 cuts of Huhnandhuhn ) so we could focus on building and playing more of our one-of-a-kind original instruments.  ( Our Instruments )

We did this with some regret, we loved singing with our guitars and drums ( mostly our Indian pakhawaj ), but we knew if we were going to show the bastards, the way to do it was to plunge even more deeply into newness.

snowy fieldSo it was gratifying when after making this change and moving to New Mexico, our music began to grow at a great speed.

Indeed the beauty and the power of the music we created in 2005 for Sweet Heresy, our second CD, proved once and for all that our untravelled musical path was not a dead end.

Unfortunately the official arbiters of good taste once more studiously ignored us, so we sold very few copies of Sweet Heresy.  Instead we plunged ever more deeply into debt, until soon the only remaining choices were to slit our throats or to find another way of supporting ourselves.

What we didn’t know back then, and this was perhaps just as well, was this severe financial crisis was only the start of a long period when we would often be struggling to pay the bills.  A period running right up to the present when we would always be either tumbling into debt or working too hard.

Forgive us for running on about the precarious state of our finances, but to understand our musical development ( and this website and our songs ), it’s useful to know that during this whole time we’ve been in the midst of falling from our earlier over-privileged condition.  Because if like most of our “birth class” we’d continued to live in unearned comfort, we never would have had to learn how to do things ourselves and how to make things work ( which are of course essential steps towards “doing music differently” ).  We would have continued to depend on “experts”, and would still have had a vested interest in not seeing most of them don’t know what they’re talking about.  We would have continued to believe our old friends actually meant what they said, and been less likely to notice the difference between their raps and their actions.  We never would have been welcomed and respected by our wonderful new working class friends, by the funny self-aware folk who actually do the work which keeps our town alive.
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For more about this check out the posts accompanying our songs Dark Clouds and Hand in Hand.

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So our financial insecurity has come with a valuable silver lining.  It’s forced us to take a hard, long overdo, and often painful look at who we’d been, who we are, and who we want to be.

In fact, even at their darkest these years have also been a time of great triumph.

They’ve been a time our wildflower gardens developed to the point they could be appreciated even by those with less than sympathetic eyes.  A time we’ve further perfected our very non standard diet and turned out one delicious, elegant, cheap, and nutritious meal after another.  A time we’ve built many pieces of beautiful furniture and a second lovely quartertone kalimba ( Kalimba Family ).  A time we’ve read deeply in both the eastern and western classics.  A time we’ve become stronger, thinner, and more flexible.  A time we’ve shed more of our old upper class conditioning while gaining new working class toughness.  A time we’ve learned to behave well in the face of anxiety.  A time we’ve fallen more and more in love.

And of course as a direct result of all this it’s been a time our music’s grown like it’s never grown before.  Because we became better bigger humans, our music deepened.  Because we learned to be more careful, our music became more polished.  And because we gained in insight, our music grew more noble, more magical, and more sad.  ( Unspecialized, Music And Magic )

Without the painful struggles and intoxicating triumphs of this period we never could have produced our most recent and astonishingly beautiful CD.  ( Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog )

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A Fruitful Detour Through Translation
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But we’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves….

…. So let’s back up to 2005.  There we were, going broke, ready to slit our throats, desperately looking for some way of earning money.

Fortunately we discovered by working together we could do an excellent job of translating Japanese business documents into English, and ever since we’ve supported ourselves translating hundreds of thousands of words of contracts, surveys, e-mail chains, magazine articles, depositions, and other even more boring documents.

And though we didn’t see it then, even when this grinding work forced us to put music on a back burner, we were learning and growing, laying the foundation for the creative surge which led to Work In Progress.  ( Unspecialized )

Perhaps most importantly, translation made us more comfortable with computers.  Not only were we forced to learn our way around every single formatting option of Word and to become skillful with programs like Excel and PowerPoint, we also had to develop the butt and brain calluses required for working long days at a computer.
aPowerpoint J

Powerpoint Ea
Also since turning out translations of which one can be proud is very difficult and demands total concentration, doing it for far too many hours made us stronger and sharper, while that we did it together further improved the nearly telepathic communication which we already enjoyed and which is vital to our music.

As a result, when now to edit one of our musical pieces we must spend many hours at the computer, we can do it (*Carving Down Our Files, Cleaning Up Our Files ).  Indeed compared to translating some poorly written and fundamentally stupid commercial document, hours spent that way are a downright delightful experience.

Furthermore without the computer savvy acquired as translators, we would have been less successful coming to terms with Tracktion 2, the program with which we recorded and edited the music for Work In Progress ( Our Recording ), and WordPress, the program we’ve used to create this website.

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Our Recording Shrine
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recording shrineIn any case, after several years of more translation work than we wanted, the situation changed and reading the tea leaves we saw ourselves sliding back into debt.  So while we still had the money, in 2009 we splurged $1,263 on the multi-track recording system of our dreams.

Watching every penny, we carefully considered the options and ended up buying three 2-channel preamps from M-Audio, a lovely 8-channel firewire digitalizer from Echo Digital Audio, four sets of Koss PortaPro headphones, and a pair of self amplified AV-40 speakers from M-Audio.
( Our Updated Kit )

Set up in what we refer to as our “recording shrine”, it’s a system which gives us vastly improved basic audio quality, helps us deal with noises we’d previously had to accept (*Cleaning Up Our Files ), and at long last allows us to overdub instrumental and vocal tracks.

As a lovely fringe benefit, by reducing setup time our new equipment has let us realize our other old dream of always playing amplified.  What previously had been mixer adjustments made with finicky physical knobs and sliders, are now part of a saved project file, and since now we can change levels, etc. after the fact, we no longer need to get everything perfect before we start playing.  ( Our Recording )

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We Go Broke a Second Time, Set Up a Blog,
and Again Start to Record
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As we had foreseen, a few months into 2009 the steadily diminishing flow of translation jobs dwindled away to nothing.

So rather than sitting around chewing our nails, in August of 2009 we fired up our new gear, put out our microphones and for the first time in more than 3 years did some recording.  Simultaneously we dove into WordPress and set up the blog on which we’d be offering our new pieces….
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You can still read the posts from this blog in their entirety by going to our Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog.  Taken together they give a detailed picture of our musical development and our state of mind as we were creating our new CD, while the players in them allow you to listen to the finished versions of all its cuts.

a Frozen mp3 Blog

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By having our new work directly available on the blog, we hoped to make an end run around the gatekeepers.  But though several thousand people came to the site, it turned out more were interested in reading about our instruments than in buying our music.

However now we understand this failure was irrelevant, and that the real reason we’d started the blog was to give ourselves a path towards Work In Progress.

Because at that point we were not ready to face the huge job of recording an entire CD.

As we watched our savings drip away, set up our blog, and learned to use our new equipment, we were too uptight.  Then when we were hit by a quarter of a million words of translation work, we were simply too busy.

However recording, editing, and posting just one more piece, well that was a smaller more manageable task, that was something we could still squeeze in between jobs…

And as this music slowly accumulated, without even having noticed it was happening, at one point we realized we were well on our way to our third CD.

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Work In Progress, The CD
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It took about 1½ years to record Work In Progress.

We started in August 2009 by recording and editing bbqq, the first musical piece posted on our blog, and by the end of 2010 we had rough versions of all the cuts which would eventually be on the CD.

Musically it was a very exciting time, a time when we were doing many things we’d never done before.

In our first blog post, Heading Back Up the Mountain, you can read how we bravely threw ourselves into multitrack recording and overdubbing, though to begin with we didn’t really know what these words meant.  We were still struggling to figure out even the simplest stuff with Tracktion.  Things as basic as selecting a portion of a track were still mysteries.

While Dynasties Fall, our second post, describes our first try singing words on top of our instruments.  Back in 2001 for our first CD we’d recorded ourselves singing with guitars and drums, but that had been live recording done with conventional instruments and of somewhat conventional music.  Compared to that, what we were trying to do for Dynasties Fall required an enormous leap of faith.
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Dynasties Fall :  Sung on top of Bass Bowus, Dotara, Boxus Quartus, Boardus Quartus quartet
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dotara mikingAnd our third post, Creative Microphone Placement, tells how we used piles of books, bookends, and rubber bands to improve our miking and reduce the amount of recorded hiss……

But there’s no need to continue this cut-by-cut account of the evolution of our CD, since if you’re interested it’s all there for the reading on our Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog.

The important point is as we recorded what would become the successive cuts of Work In Progress, both our music and our recording technique grew, even as our understanding of the world and our place in it continued to mature and provide insights central to the words of our songs.

We’ve resisted the temptation to make ourselves look better by rewriting these blog posts.  Instead we’ve left them exactly as they were when first published, left them to stand as a record of this wonderful but often confusing and angry time.
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Cleaning Up Our Files
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But there were still a few bumps in the road ahead of us, and we hit the first and biggest of these as soon as we carefully listened to what we’d thought to be the essentially finished pieces we’d posted on our blog.

To our horror it was instantly obvious we’d managed to not hear all sorts of noises and to not notice that long sections were full of hiss.  There were also awkward transitions, balance problems, distorted sounds….

So since we had no choice, we clapped editing caps onto our heads and got back to work.
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Editing with Tracktion*

At that point we didn’t realize just how much time this would involve, that in the end it would take nearly 5 months to track down and eliminate all the discrete noises, to bring the hiss under control.

It was an enormous mind numbing task made worse by our discovery that for us a labor intensive noise-by-noise approach worked better than available high tech solutions such as d-essers and gate filters.  ( Cleaning Up Our Files )
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Such intensive editing was possible only because we did it all ourselves.  As a result, the 1,000 or so editing hours required to create Work In Progress cost only bucketfuls of nasty computer sweat plus long days of being glued to our screen.  If we’d actually had to pay real money for studio time and sound engineers, it would have been out of the question.
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But we persevered and in the end brought each file to the point where it was clear there was nothing we knew to do that would make any significant further improvement.  In line with our generally Neo-Confucian world view, only then did we feel it was OK to call our editing “finished”.

Of course there were other less metaphysical reasons for persevering until our music was preternaturally clean.  For one thing, since a regular effect of our music is to take listeners to another world, this uncanny cleanness suits it ( Music And Magic ).  Also we knew we were musical heretics, so we wanted to make it difficult for bad tempered defenders of the status quo to attack us by disparagingly describing our music as crude, unfinished, or unprofessional.

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Mastering
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When we made our first CD in 2001, we took the simplest route and had it mastered by the vanity press type outfit replicating the CD.  But by the time we’d finished recording Sweet Heresy we’d become more critical listeners and instead found a local studio which gave us a better sounding master.

For our most recent CD we went back to the same local studio, but as had happened with the vanity press outfit and probably because our standards had again soared, the second time we were not satisfied with their work.
( Our Mastering )

So we took a few days to chill, looked at the situation again, and concluded mastering was yet another part of the process we would need to do for ourselves.
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WIP cover a

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From start to finish we’ve personally done everything connected to creating this CD.  We built and played the instruments.  We recorded, edited, and mastered the sound.  We designed the cover.  We set up and wrote the website.  This unspecialized approach is not the way things are usually done, but it’s worked for us. 
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Up to that point we’d still been buying into the general view of mastering as an arcane art which magically makes sound richer.  But as we dug deeper we realized it actually wasn’t anything magical, that basically it meant nothing more than preparing a good sounding audio CD which the replication process would then exactly reproduce.  ( Our Mastering )

We took the final step towards Work In Progress on July 5, 2011 when into a very carefully packed box we put our filled out paperwork, a check, and 2 copies of our home burned master, and then bravely mailed it all off to the manufacturer.

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Music For the 99 Percent
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Since then we’ve been excited to discover the potential audience for Work In Progress goes way beyond the small group who pride themselves on being interested in far out untraditional music.

Ordinary decent humans also love it.

And here we’re talking about people who work far too many hours to support themselves, people with far less time for music than they would like, people who when they do manage to sneak in a quick listen usually go for Hispanic rock, country and western, Christian rock, 60’s rock and roll, and 50’s and 60’s light jazz.

To be specific, they’re the 70 or so people who work in our town’s grocery stores, garages, post offices, banks, etc., to whom as a way of saying thanks we gave copies of our new CD.

Now since these people are our friends, we expected they’d find something pleasant and vague to say ( perhaps in the spirit of, “you must have worked very hard on this,” or “it’s always satisfying to bring something to completion”….), so we were blown away to instead be hit by a deluge of nearly universal rave reviews.

One bank teller who’d most emphatically disliked our earlier CDs, confessed Work In Progress had become the music she most often plays in her hot tub.  Another woman told us she listens to it every day driving to and from her job at the post office.  While a grumpy checkout lady who has never taken either us or our music seriously, beamed at us and uttered just one word, “awesome”.  Then there’s the supermarket manager who passed on that his son chills out with Work In Progress while waiting his turn to shoot at rifle meets….. and the girl from the flower department who couldn’t bear to take the CD out of her car’s player, and so took forever to give it on to her husband, our friend who drives an ice cream truck….. and the manager of the local Radio Shack who offered that Work In Progress had started him thinking for the first time about selling local artist CDs…. and the young man stocking a refrigerator case who paused from his work, stood up, shook our hands, and with a glowing face told us, “it’s outrageous”…….

As for older people, there were two women in their late 70’s who reacted as though Work In Progress had turned them on, who with surprise admitted they’d found it extraordinarily sensual.  While a dapper 80 year old man who lives in elder housing and bikes slowly and carefully around town, suddenly started treating us with respect.

Obviously our new local fans are not part of any demographic usually considered to be an audience for music that’s very different.  But astonishingly at least 80 per cent of them quickly elevated Work In Progress to the status of one of their favorite CDs.  And whenever we’ve asked if they’re still listening, the most frequent response has been, “of course”.

It doesn’t trouble them our music isn’t in any defined key or meter.  Nor does it bother them they’ve never heard its like before.  Even its extreme slowness, rather than disturbing them makes it more useful for chilling out after work, something they’re all very aware is essential for their sanity.

Moreover once they’ve listened to Work In Progress enough to understand what we’re singing, they like it even more.

So our market is huge.  It’s the 99%, the billions who are bored with the music that’s out there, who have no interest in yet another CD of the same old same old, who are hungry for music that’s different.  ( Music and Magic )

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Mitsuko - Bass Bowus***Arthur - Quartus

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Our Instruments****Unspecialized****Our Recording
The Indian Music Scene****Music And Magic****The Street Singer
Performance****Notation****Slow, Low, And Varied
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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© 2014 Untravelled Path