Music

Mallets, Bows and Recorders

I'm currently in a pretty big musical learning phase and most of the music I'm working on asks some pretty simple questions. Like: "What would it sound like if....?" and  "Whoa. That's a cool sound. Can I use it?" or  "I like this plug in - can I do this with it? - what happens if I automate that here? Yikes it's not a recorder anymore, but I can use that sound... right here."

I try to keep the creative process basic so that my neocortex has plenty of goodwill to deal with complex details and problems as they arise - and they always do, so I don't overthink the simple things. Here's the story (in point form) of how I kept this piece as close to the reptile brain as possible :

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  • "That's a nice looking marimba - I can probably play that."
  • "Next to the big marimba is a marimbaphone. I will play that too." So I pick up a bow and get some great shimmery notes. (Marimbaphones are tuned percussion that have slots in the metal tongs specifically designed for bowing.)
  • "That's a reco-reco. I can bow that too." The reco-reco is a percussion instrument; the one I used has coiled springs like overgrown bass strings on a piano. You can see it pictured on the right.
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  • This is what it sounds like when you bow it and use a contact mic:
  • "Can I try bowing a couple of notes in tune on a double bass?"
  • "Now I want the sound of that hang drum over there, this kantele, and some of those kitsch looking cardboard wind chimes."

And as I went along I was constantly adding recorders and putting together the puzzle of binding everything together into a few minutes of music.

I kept my thinking simple to take away any unnecessary inhibitions or fears and let it be fun. There are always opportunities to be afraid or anxious, so I just bring them to the party and show them a good time. I really can't play the double bass, but it feels great to embrace such a big resonant soundboard and really feel those notes. Fear agreed that it was pretty cool too and was happy to be hanging out at this particular party: so there's a couple of notes buried in there that do add to the overall sound.

Having lessons or joining a group to learn a new instrument is something I'm always doing when I can: Right now I'm on the look out for a local percussion group I can join so I can develop that side. And, I'd be the first in line to join a Portsmouth Sinfonia (Gavin Bryars founded them, Brian Eno played clarinet with them, and Michael Nyman got to play cello and euphonium) or The Really Terrible Orchestra. I'd be there at all rehearsals and make my way through every. single. instrument. The Really Terrible Orchestra actually tour, unbelievable! Being asked to be a guest performer on any instrument I can't play would be one of those rainbow lifetime cool moments and I'd probably be righteously blocked by most of my facebook friends for over-sharing the glory along with too many truly horrible sound bytes. Letting go of ideas of what it means to be a good musician, or in the case of these orchestras, being asked to move on when you start getting too good on a particular instrument is liberating.

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A big thank you to Brian D'Oliveira for bringing me into your world and sharing so much. You have reminded me to play lots of instruments (as well as recorders) and the future hurdy-gurdy/bag-pipe player and taiko drummer in me bows deeply to you.

Water

Water

In July 2017 I began working with La Hacienda Creative. It's a beautiful studio with a great team of people, lots of awesome gear and an incredible collection of instruments. As I learned my way around their work process I began creating different pieces of music to help me learn my own way around a totally new and complex set-up that often changed daily.

This was one of the early pieces I started work on. I was learning a different DAW (Cubase) and finding that every time I came in to work by myself there was a puzzle to solve - something had changed, moved, or just wasn't there any more and I had to find my own way to work around it. But I like trouble shooting, and I wasn't in a hurry, so it was kind of relaxing. and of course immensely satisfying each time a piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

Teardrop

 This is a cover of Massive Attack's Teardrop from 1998. It was released in their third album, Mezzanine.

Recorders, Sounds, Vocals, Mixing and production: Racheal Cogan

Recorders made and designed by Geri Bollinger: Contrabass, CBass. Bass, Tenor.

 

The artwork is by my dear friend Carolyn Walton in Banff. Banff is a small town within a National Park nestled in Alberta's Rocky Mountains along the Trans-Canada Highway.  Magpies and crows are some of the few birds that stay throughout the winter of its subarctic climate and, whilst the bears slumber, their presence is an important part of this magical place along with the elk, wolves, enigmatic cougars, and the rare lynx. This lovely miniature work was created thinking of these birds and the many stories associated with them told by the First Nations peoples.

 

The Music

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I wanted to utilise the raw sounds of my instruments and objects around me. So I worked on percussion ideas with slapping sounds on my larger instruments. One day I was mulling over some extra sounds the percussion needed whilst absent mind-idly tapping on the cardboard packet of some disposable razors. As I was thinking I started listening and thought that this was exactly the sound I was after. I also use a harpsichord sound in a couple of places to link back to the soundscape of the original piece.

One day, whilst prepping for dinner, I took a small break and fell into a light dreaming whilst my partner finished up cooking. As I slowly woke I could hear Massive Attack's Teardrop bubbling on the surface of my consciousness and in those suspended moments of waking I attentively fixed my focus to the sounds. It was a magical moment for some beautiful music. I decided to make a cover version; 1998 is more contemporary than my 'cover' of a composition by Hildegard von Bingen almost 1,000 years ago.

Tsivaeri

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Jonathan Lewis - violin, recording and mixing; Allen Baekeland - guitar, vocals; Lincoln Frey - clarinet; Nick Diochnos - bouzouki; George Iosifelis - bass; Racheal Cogan - recorder, vocals.

It has been almost 6 months now that I left Calgary and moved to Montréal.

When I first arrived in Calgary I was very eager to perform and work with some of the great creative people that live there. I found some really interesting people and reached out - through email, or a chat after a concert. I researched each person carefully before making contact; though mostly we are all pretty caught up in our lives and it's not the time to think

about adding a complete stranger into an often hectic creative schedule. So I wouldn't hear back from them, or I'd get a brief hello and 'I'm busy right now'. Which is fair. I think it's more about serendipity than trying too hard and being disappointed when somebody doesn't respond in the way that you thought you wanted.

A few people that became key to my life in Calgary however did take the very cool (for me) step of inviting me into their lives. From our very first meeting, the Rembetika Hipsters took me into their lives in a way that helped me call Calgary home for the three years I lived there. Joining a band that has been around for as long as they have (20 years!) is a little like being born into a family. You don't know quite what you are getting into, they don't know either - but you all do your darnedest to somehow make it work: quirks and all. It was Jonathan Lewis who first invited me in. Jonathan is a rare musician - you should hear him play: his outstanding virtuosity combined with immaculate taste is simply breathtaking. Sometimes he would play a solo and I'd be so blown away by the beauty that I would strongly feel it wasn't necessary for any of us to play a single note more and that we should just silently pack up and go home. If I were Leonard Cohen I would have thanked the audience and either gone home, or made 30 minutes of silence to allow the music to reverberate inside.

Each person in the group, in their own time, invited me into their lives and histories, passions and difficulties in our musical worlds.  20 years of performing together and this group is still going. That in itself is remarkable. My biggest challenge was learning a very large repertoire of music, many original compositions, and being ready to play any of those pieces (and remember their names!) at any time during any of our gigs. Nick, one of the founding members, liked to go along with the flow, and was well known for abruptly announcing an unplanned piece (often something I'd never played before) during one of his endearingly comic and long introductions, spinning a completely new story into a song whilst playing the bouzouki and changing the lyrics to fit. (It's challenging when you are the victim singing harmonies with him.) When Nick was feeling particularly inspired he had the most awesomely unusual bouzouki solos. He is one cool dude and it was never boring playing in a band with him around.

Allen the other founding member partnered Nick perfectly with a slight smile or a grunt or a frown, and would immediately be there with him as I fumbled for that other recorder I didn't have ready for each new turn. Allen is steady as a rock on guitar, bass (not with the Hipsters, but other groups in Calgary), and singing in much better Greek than I can possibly muster up. Allen is the mortar in the group and one of the kindest, most gentle of people you will have the pleasure of meeting.

left to right: Nick Diochnos, Allen Baekeland, Lincoln Frey, Jonathan Lewis, Racheal Cogan, George Iosifelis, Jon May.

left to right: Nick Diochnos, Allen Baekeland, Lincoln Frey, Jonathan Lewis, Racheal Cogan, George Iosifelis, Jon May.

Just before leaving Calgary we found the time to record a couple of pieces together. Here is one of them. One of my very favorite songs in the world - Tsivaeri. I love the clarinet in this recording - it is understated for sure but adds a texture and sound that perfectly reflects the sadness and gentle acceptance of the lyrics. You can hear Lincoln shining in some of the other recordings of the Hipsters on Spotify.

Lincoln released his own album last year. He dresses immaculately for performances, with crisp bow-ties, caps, and jackets;  his quiet watchful demeanor occasionally opening up into a hilarious raucous character. There was a memorable solo one night where the clarinet was being being slowly taken apart alongside an uncensored dance. No more needs to be said!

And then there is George, underpinning and supporting the entire group with humour, humility, and his bass, pretty much singing along to all of the songs, frowning momentarily whilst I mangle my Greek pronunciation, and enjoying every moment he has to make music.

Jon May isn't playing on this recording - but he's another person I really enjoyed making music with in both this group and with Amy Thiesson. He is an awesome percussionist as well as a great person to have in a group for his insightful and sensitive comments and musical view.

I hope you enjoy this piece with this wonderful, idiosyncratic group of people as much as I enjoyed having them as a part of my life. Many thanks to them for making Calgary a home rather than another brief stop on the long road.

Oh, foreign lands are taking happiness from him, My Tzivaeri (my treasure), My flower, Gently and humbly.

Ah! It was me who sent him there My Tzivaeri With my own will. Gently I walk upon the earth.

Ah! To be damned foreign lands My Tzivaeri You and your good things Gently and humbly

Ah! That you take my little child My Tzivaeri And you made him yours. Gently I walk upon the earth.

Le Septième Nuage

 by Racheal Cogan and Pasha Karami

Pasha Karami: udu and tombak.

Racheal Cogan: mixing and recorders (tenor, CBass, and Contrabass recorders by Geri Bollinger, ganassi recorder in G by Michael Grinter, pvc Futujara by Nadishana).

I started imagining the melody to this piece at the very end of our epic move from Calgary to Montréal. I had finally made it to Montréal and I just had a couple of instruments with me until we moved into our next 'home'. This project really began on the day I met percussionist Pasha Karami at a concert he performed at. It was great music, and afterwards I learned two things: Pasha was leaving for the Netherlands the next day after living in Montréal a few years, and he wanted to work on some projects with me.

I started making this melody and hearing tombak and udu as a part of it. As I continued working my way around the melodic ideas, we moved into our new place, and finally I could record what I had and I emailed the music file to Pasha in the Netherlands. When Pasha wrote back to me he was in Iran, but would be in Montréal for a few days - soon. So we decided to record his part at my apartment.  I had started a fairly intense full time French immersion course not long after arriving, and my time for music has been really constricted! I was lucky I was able to take some time out from the French  to spend a day with Pasha talking music, listening to music and recording the percussion parts.

Pasha played me some great recordings he had made with the Win-Bang Trio and three Lithuanian singers. I'd already been listening to his music on soundcloud and particularly liked this piece with Hang Drum, Tombak, and Udu:

Pasha also introduced me to the music of his teacher, Navid Afghah. Take a listen to this beauty:

The recorder part of Le Septième Nuage focuses on the scale and sounds of the tenor instrument when the bell (the very end of the instrument) is covered up by placing it on the leg, or a small piece of plastic/vinyl on a chair or the ground. This creates a very cool low note and a beautiful scale with awesome overtones and a covered, cloudy sound, rather than the bright sound we often expect from recorders. I also use some overblown recorder sounds (multiphonics) that sound like bells chiming when they are enhanced with a bit of reverb and  pulled back from the mix (Listen at 3:00 - 3:25). The big bass recorders are subtle in this piece and mainly come in for layering and to underline moments.

Mixing this piece was interesting. I'd be thinking I had a great balance between the recorders and percussion, and then I'd turn the general volume up and the volume of the recorders seemed to increase more than the percussion, it worked the other way when I turned the volume down. Also, the further away you move from the speakers the percussion gets softer, but the recorders carry really well. In my headphones everything surrounded me perfectly, but then I miss the lower frequencies from a sub woofer! It's always a big multidimensional puzzle, where the pieces aren't meant to fit together perfectly, and there are sections missing but you have know idea what they are, and then there are those seemingly random bits that really don't belong to the puzzle, but just add that something magical.

I really love Pasha's work on the percussion parts for this piece and I'm looking forward to continuing our collaboration together.

Thanks so much to Geri for your always insightful comments on the mixing and making me work harder; and for making recorders so amazing :)

Photo taken halfway between Calgary and Montréal.