Imagined Lands (2019)

The year 2018 was very busy for me outside my “creative life”, and it marked the first year in which I released no new music on my Bandcamp page, since 2011. That does not mean that I was musically-inactive, however…

In the few years leading up to 2018, most of my recorded work had been done on my iPhone and/or iPad, often with a distinct leaning towards “electronica”. This culminated in my album “45”, recorded entirely on my iPhone, and released at the end of November 2017—perhaps my most “adventurous” project to date, certainly in exploring the possibilities of iPhone apps for music-production.

While I was—and remain—very fond of “45”, by early 2018 I was feeling that I wanted to change my approach to songwriting and music-making for a period: perhaps, to use a hackneyed old phrase, to “go back to basics”, giving the machines and apps a rest and bringing “real” instruments to the fore. This was no “Luddite” reaction—I know I will return to the electronics in future, and perhaps not that far in the future—but I just felt I needed to follow a different creative path for a while.

Through the spring and early summer, I “prepared the ground” by having my acoustic guitars “serviced”, and by investing in a couple of new items of relatively inexpensive and “compact” musical gear, including a Stylophone Gen X-1 synthesiser, a Behringer GDI21 electric guitar pre-amp and, finally, a TASCAM DP-006 Pocketstudio. The latter was perhaps the key ingredient to my new approach: as the DP-006 is basically a digital four-track recorder (well, technically, six-track, except four of the six are hardwired as two inseparable stereo pairs), I figured it would force me to keep my arrangements relatively stripped-down, and rein in my more “expansive” tendencies…

It also helped that around this time, in addition to the influence of artists like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith, I “discovered” the work of Sam Beam, who records and performs as Iron And Wine. In particular, I became very keen on his early home-made recordings, especially the album “The Creek Drank The Cradle” (2002) and the EP “The Sea And The Rhythm” (2003). The production on these tracks manages to sound stripped-down and minimalist, but upon closer listening there are multiple instrument and vocal parts, carefully blended into a “whole”. I think that the Iron And Wine influence worked its way into my own recordings on “Imagined Lands”.

The recordings presented here, were made sporadically between July and November 2018, and mixed at intervals throughout the same period. For their release on Bandcamp, I made a few minor changes to the mixes, and also added a measure of simulated analogue tape-saturation, using a software “plugin” I acquired at the end of December. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

Instrumentally, I kept things relatively uncomplicated on these sessions, deliberately making an effort to eschew electronics and sequencing in favour of “live” instrumentation:

  • acoustic 6-string (2003 Faith Saturn) and 12-string (Seagull S12) guitars;
  • electric 6-string (Ministar Testar) and lap-steel (Harley Benton Slider II) guitars;
  • acoustic (Enya EUR-X1 acoustic soprano) and electric (Risa Solid “stick” tenor) ukuleles;
  • the aforementioned Stylophone synth (a pure “analogue” box, I should point out); and
  • percussion (egg-shaker and Meinl travel cajón) on the track “Even Keel”.

Although I recorded all these songs on the DP-006, the machine is not really designed for mixing on (due to a lack of EQ, FX or any sound-shaping facilities beyond relative volume and panning), so I transferred the multitracks to our Logic Pro X-based Mac studio setup for the mixing part of the proceedings. I would like to include a “hat-tip” here to the good folk at Waves, quite a few of whose software audio-processing “plugins” I made extensive use of on these mixes. (The key items, mainly on the “mix bus”, were the SSL G-Channel compressor; the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain; and the J37 Tape analogue tape-saturation emulator.)

I originally distributed this set of recordings to family and friends as an early “Christmas present”, including two extra tracks which I have omitted from this release as they were both cover-versions.

Any more memories or items of note which spring to mind: I’ll pop them in here as and when…