There are minor differences between the blog in its original form and the frozen form in which it appears below.
Most importantly the posts now include selections from the final fully edited versions of the pieces on the CD, since it makes no sense to offer you a taste of anything less than our most finished music.
Also the posts are now arranged in chronological order, not like originally when the most recent ones were on top.
And finally we’ve added links to pages of our website which did not exist when we wrote the posts.
The quartet that’s playing is the piece recorded for the earliest of these posts. It was the first recording we’d done for many years and the first time we used our new equipment. Over the next 20 months our music grew and deepened even as the words of our songs circled ever closer to important insights long overdue in our life.
This means to listen to our most evolved music you should scroll down to the players in the later posts. There you’ll find the mature fruit of nearly 2 years of recording and more than 1,000 uptight hours of editing at our computers.
After releasing our second CD, in 2005 we went broke and had no choice but to back off from our music.
Instead, for nearly 4 years we concentrated on digging ourselves out with a long detour through the world of Japanese > English commercial translation, while dust gathered on our instruments and Microsoft Office not wave files danced through our computers.
Now for reasons beyond our control the stream of our translation jobs has dwindled to near nothing, and again we are facing financial ruin. Fortunately thanks to our ample credit card limits, the flip side of this is that at least temporarily we once more have time for our music.
And this blog, where we plan to regularly post pieces of our Work-In-Progress music, is the first fruit of this renewed focus….
While ”bbqq” is the first of these pieces…..
“bbqq” stands for bowus-bowus, quartus-quartus and refers to the 4 magical instruments with which we recorded the piece. It is the first music recorded with our new equipment and the first that we edited with our new software.
As befits a first try, it’s full of all sorts of minor warts and blemishes, but once we set aside our editing hats (that is set aside the hypercritical mode of listening that concentrates on finding defects and which is absolutely essential for editing), we were more than pleased to discover that our music had grown mightily during our four-year layoff.
Obviously the vein of positive quiet and active chill that we had mined with our second CD has not petered out. Indeed the first new stuff we got down turned out to be so rich with magic, it makes us suspect that whoever or whatever it is that’s in charge of this strange show wants us to get back to our music, and that our translation career vanished because we are not supposed to waste our time doing something that will soon be done primarily by machines….
But to move beyond such metaphysical observations, bbqq is the first time we recorded each of our individual instruments on a separate track, and we were blown away by the astonishing things that this allowed us to do.
Dynasties Fall is our first try at recording words on top of our own instruments. Way back in 2001 when we put out Huhnandhuhn, our first CD, we did include two songs recorded with our guitars and Indian drums, but singing with a conventionally tuned instrument is altogether different from what we tried here…..
dead leaves rustle across the gravel,
with it, the wind carries a hint of winter.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall.
growing older contradictions surface,
problems long unfixed swell and bloom.
frost burned leaves flutter from the trees,
freezing water rips potholes in the road.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall.
one more time those who never work
come home from vacation,
turn around, go out to grab a bite to eat
that’s cooked by someone else.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall.
stunted by too easy lives,
those at the top are shallow, weak, and fearful,
sucked dry by their ungrateful children,
who impatient wait for them to clear the way,
while ready to strip their still warm corpses,
their wives dance with bloody hands.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall.
but while the top’s been busy rotting,
the bottom’s been big ground down,
and everywhere a terrible sameness.
can one doubt that soon a cold stone wind
will roar through the bare branches,
and clean quiet snow
will cover all with white.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall.
merit is exhausted, dynasties fall……
For several weeks we sweated over the words to this song, but before recording it, I never practiced singing it on top of our music, not even once. So the version we have posted is our very first take, and before I had the mike in my hand I actually had no idea of what I was going to do, of how I was going to fit the words to the music. I did sing it a second time, and that take too turned out lovely and was more than good enough to post, but we liked the wildness of my first try, so that’s the one we went with.
We recorded the foundation tracks for this seriously chilled quartus, dotara, shoki quartet (or “qdss” – see Our Instruments) at the end of the seemingly endless period during which we’d been alternately devoting one week to our music and one to building our new WordPress powered web presence. It was just before the final brain and eyeball numbing push to process all of our pages and sound files, and we wanted to get something down which would help restart our music after the stressful weeks we realized were inevitable before the launch of our new site.
It was definitely a hail Mary situation. We knew we were totally fried, but we also knew it would be our last chance to record for at least three weeks, and since all during this crazy three month push we’d had the feeling that everything we did was turning out outrageous beautiful only because it was scripted, we figured we might as well go for it.
And so on the very last day when it was possible to record before hunkering down to complete our website, we took a deep breath and pressed the record button.
Which is why we were more than pleased that as soon as we’d played the first few notes we knew that the Force was with us, that one more time the Mountain, Our Lady, Corn Mother, and Krishna had our backs.
Of course it also must have helped that to get back into the swing of the combination, we’d devoted 3 days to playing quartus and dotara amplified, and that during that time we’d worked out new ways of miking both instruments.
The biggest change was the way we positioned the dynamic mikes. As we explain on our recording page, by the time we recorded our second CD we’d already figured out that placing our dynamic mikes in direct contact with our instruments in effect turned them into pickups. However back then we were just strapping them across the necks of our Bowus Family instruments, and laying them on top of the keys of our Kalimba Family instruments.
But now we realized that since our Shure SM-57’s were highly directional, it made more sense to have their noses actually touching our instruments, and since we didn’t have any clips or stands which would make this possible, we decided to do it with the aid of gravity.
……and of course with the aid of a few books, bookends, and rubber bands.
Which feels totally appropriate since we’d been already using stacks of books to prop up the necks of our bowus instruments, because we live surrounded by books, and because especially old books are absolutely critical for our sanity.
And lo and behold it worked !! The weight of the microphones held them tightly enough to the instruments so that they didn’t rattle, and with the new positioning they picked up so much sound that we could dial down our preamps and still record a rich big signal.
We also made a small but significant change in the placement of our AKG C2000 condenser mikes by nudging them much closer to the instruments so we could reduce the amplification of our M-audio’s and thereby cut the hiss that these inexpensive condenser mikes (the cheapest that would even somewhat work….and the most expensive that we could afford, making this an area where when we have a bit more bread, that is when we can pay our rent with real not borrowed money, we’d love to do some upgrading) introduced as soon as we turned up the mic preamp knobs much beyond 12 o’clock.
Together these changes greatly improved the behavior of our recorded signal. We no longer were always flirting with the red, while the troublesome hiss which in previous posts had bedeviled our condenser microphone tracks was greatly reduced.
Equally wonderful, our new miking arrangement made dotara sound much warmer. Of course part of this may have been because the new positioning allowed us to play our instruments more softly, and we always sound better when we’re playing softly.
When I tried to compose this my first song in Japanese, my native tongue, I quickly became acutely dissatisfied and even felt that I was just translating ideas which had originally come to me in English into clumsy Japanese. So after struggling for a while I gave up trying to write it in Japanese, and was pleased that then the new song started to come more easily. This also feels like a correct move because now more of our friends and a larger audience can understand what I am singing, rather than just hearing my Japanese words as pretty sounds. So here is my first song, “I’m a Little Worried.”
I’m a Little Worried
in a bowl of water,
apache plumes slow open into flowers,
white petals glow translucent,
in warm autumn light,
while full grown children over thirty,
for skills they will never use,
waste time at fancy schools.
no way these kids try
like the determined budding plumes.
deep in the forest,
sprinkled by icy streams,
royal blue columbines hide,
while high above them from sharp dry rocks,
their brave brothers raise proud heads.
those too good to clean their own homes,
too important to cook their own food,
do they deserve the respect
due this noble flower?
by the shore dandies dream to wave songs,
above the trees their golden petals tremble in the storm.
my enemies, I pull them from our garden,
but in the sweet spring,
smiling brilliant in the midst of dirty snow,
they make me want to bow.
the too proud dude in the tailored suit,
stuffed from a power lunch, tired from a hard trip on business class,
at home in jeans and a bandana, plays blues on his concert grand,
and dreams he’s right down there with the struggling masses.
he’s so much smaller than the humble glowing bloom.
if it’s humans like these who now truly hold the reins,
if such “masters of the universe” really are the ones in charge,
well I’m a little worried,
I’m a little worried…
Once I had completed the first draft of the song, Arthur and I worked together on it right through to the end of our recording and editing process, and for this I cannot thank Arthur enough. Not only did I rely on his native speaker intuition about things like where “the” should be used instead of “a”, and where singular was better than plural, but as we went back and forth many times about each verse, my song started to more accurately express my meaning even as the words got easier to deliver…
When we’re chilled, our music often leads us to a stillness rich with magic. Then our notes hang in a golden silence and fall like jeweled drops through twisting fields of invisible energy. Then our music finds its structure in the silent breathing of our minds and its unity in the warm cohabitation of our souls. Mysterious even to us, then our music flows not from counting, not from thinking clearly, not from memory, and not even from some determination to seek quiet, but rather from listening to almost silent cues and from the shared joy of feeling sounds being born from nothing.
A passage of somewhat purple prose, but if you were listening to this post’s music while you read it you will probably admit that I was merely stretching language as part of a legitimate attempt to talk about music which really can not be described by more conventional musical terms.
Indeed there’s so much weird and wonderful about this piece, that the only things that one can for sure say about it are that it does strange things to a listener’s time sense and that it is very very very slow.
So it’s downright amazing that even now when we know we’re deeply stressed, our music still seems determined to move in this direction.
However we were far from certain this would be the case when last fall, for the first time in 4 years, we again started recording. Indeed, since we live in a time when it’s best to be suspicious of old solutions, we tried to stay open to the possibility that during this new round of recording we would record tracks that moved to a quicker pace.
But as we gradually grew more used to our new kit and came to be more comfortable with always playing amplified, it became clear that once again we were headed towards slowness, until now for this post with Bass Bowus and Boardus Quartus we have recorded some of our slowest ever music…
Which is just fine with us. As we wrote in the jacket notes for Sweet Heresy and on the Slow, Low, and Varied page of this website, there’s more than enough music out there that jacks you up. In this society where at the top nothing ever gets done, even as the flimsy folks who live there fill their appointment calendars with endless silly meetings and events; and where the people below them who actually do the work are bullied into working faster and faster for less and less reward, the obvious need is for music that slows you down.
Also the last thing we want to do is to buy into the stupidly materialist view that playing more notes faster makes music better and more powerful.
In this same anti-materialist spirit that more is not always better, with this piece we have also taken a step back to the comfortable simplicity of our earlier recordings. So unlike all of the other pieces which we’ve so far posted on this blog, this one was done without overdubbing.
We came to this decision as soon as we listened to this piece’s raw unedited file and it became obvious that recording anything on top of it would be gilding a lily, and would just detract from the force and beauty of what was already there. But to read a more abstract principle into it, we also realized that though our new equipment and editing software make overdubbing easy, it would be downright greedy to always overdub, and that to do so would be to fall into the stupidly materialistic modern attitutude that more is always better, that multiple overlapping musical lines are inherently more interesting and powerful.
dark clouds hang heavy over the mountain,
birds circle silent in the sky.
shielded from the world by unearned wealth,
our old friends stayed teens until their 60’s,
faces unlined, hands soft,
they joined professions, raised children, without ever growing up.
mistaking stunted growth for everlasting youth,
untested and untempered by life,
ripe for the abuse of prescription drugs
and the grand promises of elective surgery.
they fear us because we don’t believe their rap,
they try to think their money makes them better humans,
but in their hearts they know we’ve outgrown them,
know we still live a glory they’ve hoped was just unreal dream.
grimly smiling through pickets of implanted teeth, they hang to the essential lie,
if only they’d had our privilege, they too would be doing something with their lives.
they refuse to see our fortune has been having less to spend,
has been knowing which modern madness to avoid.
they’ve forgotten good books train the brain to build a world,
that cooking feeds more than just the belly,
that doing something is different from having something done.
mornings we drink mugs of sweet hot chai,
afternoons there are pots of strong green tea.
every evening after dinner,
on one knee I ask her for her hand.
twenty years now our shared life has grown in magic,
where she ends and I begin, we long ago forgot.
another full day finished,
we wait for our sheets to warm.
outside wind sighs thru the aspens,
above stars burn in the deep cold night.
This song was born in sorrow and in anger.
Sorrow that so many people whom we’ve known for so many years are now so very miserable, bored, terrified, and preyed upon by their herds of damaged children.
Anger that so many of them have grown from their seeming early promise and integrity into large fatty self protective lumps.
Sorrow that so many of our old friends are obviously such ignorant, arrogant, unaccomplished, and uninteresting adults that albeit reluctantly we’ve been forced to chuck virtually all of them.
Anger that most of them have stubbornly refused to relate to us as humans with elegant, self reliant, and creative lives, preferring instead to see us as only lazy, privileged, failed refugees.
We know we’re damn lucky we can do the translation work which pays our rent and buys our food at home.
We know that the working conditions here in this quiet elegant space are downright perfect compared to the noisy crowded chaos faced by our friends who earn their living in downtown grocery stores, banks, and post offices.
Unlike them we can pee whenever we want. Whenever the urge hits I can grab Mitsuko for a hug. Lunch is whenever we get hungry. The air we breath is impeccable. We have no commute. Our hourly pay (though far less than is earned by even the most incompetent doctors, lawyers, professors, realtors, and brokers…) is pretty good. We don’t need to worry about puffed up guys in suits showing up to inspect us. And though sometimes when fighting deadlines we work for weeks without a break, often we can take off two or even three consecutive days, which is something for which many of our working friends in town would kill…
And we also know we’d have crunched long ago if we had to face the humiliation and abuse which this unjust society deals out to them on a daily basis. Because the fact is that we’re not as tough as they are, since like the rest of our “birth class” (including of course the old friends whom I wrote and sang about chucking in “Dark Clouds”) we were spoiled by being raised with too much unearned privilege.
But our knowledge that we have it good, still doesn’t change the reality that we’re more than a little ground down. For nearly 7 months now we’ve been working our butts off to retire the $13,000 of credit card debt accumulated last year when we had no work, and the effects of this sort of abuse are cumulative. It’s been a period when we haven’t had enough sleep, we haven’t had enough fun, and we haven’t been playing enough music.
But at least we are succeeding, and after sweating out 200,000 words of meticulous high quality Japanese to English commercial translations, the finish line is in sight. In another couple of months we should be completely out of debt, which of course makes us feel more than good, it also makes us feel big proud.
By the way, it would be wrong to get the impression that we’ve been translating neat stuff like poetry or literature. That would be lovely, but I’m afraid the less romantic truth is that we’ve been translating thousands of pages of poorly written e-mails and reports. In fact these stacks of documents generated by multi-billion dollar companies are full of such astonishing incompetence that they’ve further convinced us the folks at the top of our society don’t really deserve to be there, and that it’s only the accident of having been born in wealthy families, not any real accomplishment, that’s made them so sure they’re big time smarter than everyone else. Like Mitsuko sings, it’s enough to make one a little worried….
In any case, since we are such flimsy weak types (and again this is of course compared to our friends working in town, since at this point compared to our old birth class friends we are beasts, both physically and psychically), and since spending many many days glued to our computers has left us deep fried, perhaps it was a bit arrogant to try for this post to record a bowus – bowus duet, since that’s the most difficult to play combination of our self-created instruments.
Hand in Hand
a pair of magpies settled in our tree.
twig by twig their nest grew.
a season passed before the day
we saw a young one puzzling with its wings
by sunset all were gone…..
I used to fear someday I’d meet someone
who’d smash my front, reveal the ugly me.
then I found my love, who’s loved me just the way I am,
together we’ve helped each other grow.
hand in hand we fell from the world,
where title and money count more than what you can do.
from the world where too much is made too easy,
where with all their wealth,
no one has what they need.
should we laugh or cry or scream
at these small humans,
who think they’ve triumphed,
love everyone, and know everything.
how different from our new world
where what you do counts more than what you have,
where everyone must work endless hours,
must use their bodies and their brains,
but no one even dreams they know everything.
now we too are a bit ground down,
like our tough new friends
we have no time to suffer.
but when we rake the fallen leaves our arms are strong.
before dawn the magpies chatter by our window,
sometimes they hang by their old home.
sweet wise birds,
if we’re still good enough,
next year please build your nest again…
In this modern world being serious is considered naive and unhip. Still we are glad that we’ve taken our lives seriously.
In “hip enlightened” society (which also tends to be wealthy), walking your talk is seen as unsubtle and even rude. In that world what you say is far more important than what you do, and there is an unspoken agreement that “I won’t look at your behavior if you don’t look at mine.”
As Arthur sang and wrote in Dark Clouds, noticing that what our old “birth class” friends said and what they did were quite different was the first step towards realizing that we and they have been travelling on separate paths for a long time…
This piece played on two quartertone kalimbas was actually completed nearly 3 months ago, but since then we’ve been so focused on reediting the music which will be going into our next CD (hopefully to be released by July), that we couldn’t find the energy to write a post to go with it.
Still the piece is just too good to languish unheard on our computer’s hard drive.
Indeed it’s some of the most spacious and crystalline music which we have so far produced, music that in many ways comes close to being “pure” music, to use this word as it’s sometimes been used to describe Bach’s music.
At the same time it’s music that could induce serious headaches in those musicologists who give it a careful listen. This is because its clarity, superficial simplicity, and apparent lack of discord makes it sound as though it should be easy to analyze with conventional music theory, when in fact since it’s played on instruments tuned roughly in quartertones, and since its tempo and rhythms are continually changing, this might not be so easy to do…
To create this piece we edited until we were blue in the face, because right from when we first listened to its raw recorded file we felt it had the makings of something very special, and we wanted to do everything possible to realize that potential.
In the end this meant that to cut the raw 52 minute file down to the final finished 6 minute piece took 32 separate editing sessions, or a total of about 110 hours of headache inducing eye-straining work.
And the many long intervals filled with nothing but the ring between the notes did not simplify our work. Instead they made it distressingly easy to hear every defect, either musical (clumsiness, repetitiveness, lack of beauty), or technical (playing and recording noises, background noises like the wind outside the window or the house creaking). This of course is quite different from the situation in more conventional music where there’s almost always some played sound to help hide such intrusive noises.
It’s also worth noting that for most musicians hiring someone to take this much time to edit would be prohibitively expensive. However since in line with our generalized unspecialized philosophy we do all of our editing ourselves on our own computer, it only cost us bucketfuls of nasty computer sweat. And of course since we were editing our own music we could make musical decisions (changing the levels of or even silencing some clips, etc.) without any cumbersome approval process. When there was something we thought should be done, we could just go ahead and do it.
To Keep Our Music Alive We Need Your Support
Life lived by the established rules,
Is likely to be safe and boring.
Well paved roads lead only where others have gone before.
But walking an untravelled path,
may just take you to magic newness.
Still our particular brand of newness,
though decorated with never before heard music,
and rich with unconventional foods and healing quiet,
has not yet brought us monetary wealth.
So if you’re feeling flush,
and you’d like our music to continue,
please click on Buy Our Music,
for your copy of our new CD.