29. December 2011

The Syrens Of Spring How Weary I am — 1995-2011

Filed under: — zettberlin @ 22:39

Some day in the year 1995 I had a dream. I dreamed, that I was fallen asleep on a ride with the tram and that I was waken up by the driver as the train has reached its terminal at the outskirts of Berlin. I do not remember every detail of the dream since I had written it down on a 5.25″-floppy and did not managed it tzo copy the file to a new datavault still accessible today and I lost the floppy and the computer anyway — so I cannot read the story anymore. But one thing in this dream I can remember well, because it is a common motive in my dreams: to be distracted, dislocated, while the time is running out.

I stepped out of the train and did, what insticts use to tell any sentient being that has lost its way: “climb a mountain an get a big picture of this part of the world.” Sleep remained my follower in this dream, as I reached a parc-bench ca. 20m above the scenary I sat down and fell asleep again.

I waked up with a whistle. Evening had come an everything was bathed in a apocalyptic golden glow of the sinking sun. A glow that did not light anything but made the shadows appear deeper. All I wanted now was to leave this lost place and return to the city.

About a year later I played a simple riff and needed words to sing to. I remembered the dream and wrote down this:

I had climbed a big mountain
atop the town of the sheep

as I was startling whith a whistle blowing
must have been fallen asleep.

so I opened my eyes,
and I wiped them well
and in the evening sun
the place looked like hell.

down the slope is a station
tells a dull neon-light
could make it home by the city-railway
before the fall of the night

so I tried to get up
to return to the town
but my feet felt like lead
so I dropped to the ground

So much for my creative writing. If I cannot find words that fit, I use to use citations of better writers in deep gratitude:

how weary I am of my good and bad,
for it does not make me fervour and fuel
the just however — are fervour and fuel

Friedrich Nietzsche/Thus spoke Zarathustra

I like the Thomas Common-translation a lot, though it seems not to be very accurate. In the end it’s a text, written by a poet translating the thoughts of another poet and I like it.

I had recorded the tune onto Cassette. In the following years I started to use computers for music-production and in 2004 I made a new Ardour-Project in Mandrake-Linux to record How weary I am as it should be.

For some weeks I worked with an old friend to build an arrangement for the first part. Henry is a remarkable guitar-player and a rare gem: he is indeed more musician that guitarist. He changed the harmonies and added some interesting new elements such as multivoiced slides. But I was not that happy singing it in the new tune and I did not find a way to produce a second part and ending.
So I left the song untamed and went to do other things.

Two years later I had a new band an we played how weary with an ending that was written by our guitarist Michael. One night I took my MSI-Laptop with 64Studio, a Presonus Firebox and some microphones to our rehearsal-room and we recorded some songs. Since the Firebox has only but 4 inputs I recorded the drums in stereo and vocals and 2 guitars with only 2 microphones. Afterwards I recorded the drums alone with 4 Microphones. But the takes did not fit as they should and there where lots of mistakes and an intolerable sound on the guitar-recordings.

In 2007 I revisited the recordings again and found the drumtracks to be kind of charming. I recorded new guitar-tracks and vocals in my little studio. I used AMSGuitrack: my little patch for Alsa Modular Synth using Tim Goetzes C*-Plugins to build a guitar-amp. Yes, it sounds like burning plastic and yes: I want it that way. In our track Ashita one can hear, that AMSGuitrack can sound much more conventional ;-)

There is no such thing as “bad sound” a sound fits or it does not thats it.

The song was not done yet. It still had no ending. To have a little more material for a new jamendo.com-page I made a halfdone-mix/master of the first part and put it there together with Ashita, What Hath Befallen Me and Macbeth. There was a little response for the tracks but nothing explicitly for How weary. I had some songs on other websites too but How weary did not make it: it was even on jamendo just by accident somehow.

From time to time I kept trying to produce the missing second part. Some day I came up with the spoken work at the end of part one:

Und wenn ich Dir dann alles,
aber auch wirklich alles,
ganz genau erzählt habe…
Werde ich Dich fressen.

That is:

And after I have told you everything
and really everything
completely exact
I will eat you

The Inspiration came from Walter Adlers Radioplay of “Otherland” by Tad Williams. It is a reversed citation of Mullet in its egypt Tefi-Sim.

In summer 2009 I consumed all volumes of Frank Herberts Dune and watched some snippets from the miniseries, ScFi-Channel had made for Children of Dune. Both made me think of some kind of movie-soundtrack and planted a name in my head: Tyrant Theme.

In the first months of 2010 I had the Tyrant Theme idea worked out a little in Qtractor. Something made me record it at the end of the how weary-project in Ardour. I started to play guitars to this material(that was some simple drums and a sampeled bass).

I had begun to work intensly with Guitarix. Guitarix is my main guitar-amp now and the best one I ever played. At least the one, I like the most. I had written articles on Guitarix for german Linux Magazines so I was quite familiar with Brummers amp too. It was great fun to work with it playing more and more voices to accompany the Tyrant theme. After approx. 1 h I had about 2 minutes that really seemed to work. A good deal of these recordings is actually part of the final result now published, some of it is 1st-take material.

In spring 2010 I made a lot of experiments with the material and came up with a interlude after the first riff, followed by a riff featuring the melody played to the first riff and an end played by multivoiced-clean-guitars. In the same time I programmed and edited drums for many houres to get a feeling that should resemble a reall, living drummer but still should have the special qualities of programmed drums. I did this with Hydrogen about witch I also wrote an article in the process and under intense use of the grid in Ardours arranger.
I also recorded some material playing Alsa Modular Synth and Bristol using a primitive 25-key Behringer MIDI-Keyboard.
Hundreds of takes I recorded and erased, in the end I had a stucture that was kind of logical but with lots of loose ends hanging out of the walls and with not enough spice to accomplish the mission of making a valid ending for the first part.

In January 2011 I asked Christoph Löffler, guitar-player from our time as Symposion of Sickness to join in. He brought his Ibanez and we recorded the howling motive following the riff after the interlude. Christoph is remarkable: he can play unbelievable impeccable lead-guitars out of nothing. The best-sounding lead-guitars in the final version are his work.

We tried to do something in 3/4 but it did not really work so we ended with a slow 4/4 emphasized a bit like a walz.

The initial Tyrant Theme idea was lost in a labyrinth of about 1000 regions made out of more than 500 files on about 30 tracks. I faced a mace of at least 5 different virtual drumkits, a few synths and dozens of guitars played in several virtual rooms with Guitarix-presets I did not save. All this grown up in about 5 years — I had lost track and did not know how to handle the material to form something I could relate to anymore. So I abandoned the project in May 2011 and went to do other things.

I worked on at least 100 days on the piece, sometimes 6 h, sometimes 15 min in most cases 1-2 h. For every minute on every track in the project I had 5 minutes erased. Some 5-minute takes are edited down to 3 seconds. Other parts (such as some of the vocals) are 1st takes.
While I worked on the piece Linux Audio made great progress. I opened the project-file in all versions of Ardour since 2004. I wrote 4 articles about Ardour for german Linux-Magazines most of them using screenshots of the how weary project. Such screenshots also appeared in articles about 64Studio, Ubuntu Studio, Suse/JAD and other Linux-distros I wrote about in that time.

The software never failed me. If there was trouble, it was never catastrophic — most incidents where related to plug-ins badly written or abused or both. But bugs never destroyed more than a few minutes of recordings and the project itself never was endangered by some serious mistakes of Ardour — since there where no mistakes of that category. The same goes for Guitarix and Alsa Modular Synth that where my main standalone sound generators for the project.

I spent a important part of my life with this piece of music. Two of my children are borne in that time. The colour of my hair changed from brown with some grayish strands to gray with some darker strands and a good deal of white and the length of these hairs swayed between 30 centimeters in the 1990ies and 2 centimeters in 2005. My weight from 89 Kilogramm up to unacceptable 108 at the LAC in Berlin and now down to more acceptable 91K. I smoked 30 cigarettes a day then quit smoking for 2 years then started again and changed to e-cigaretts in the end. I used computers for office-work like everybody, then became a power-user, switched to GNU/Linux and became a modest web-programmer in the end. I have seen and experienced many many things in this time and I am thankfull and glad to have seen and experienced all this.

“Music” is an not very precise word or better: a word, that is usually not used precisely. It is common sense, that the works of Bach, Mahler or Beethoven are indeed music. But the first arguments arise if we talk about Wagners Operas and they multiply if the work of Miles Davis or Thelonius Monk is discussed. In the end still one thing is all too clear to see: it is not very useful to name the things, I produce “music” and the works of any of the aforementioned gentlemen “music” too.

Still what I do is not nothing. So I propose to name it “dramatic sound-art”. This sounds a bit constructed but describes what I do in an acceptable manner and with a seemingly distance to Mahler or Rachmaninov. If not music in its ultimate sense so it is still art build out of musical forms. And I give my best to make it say something.

By the end of November 2011 I gave up the room, in witch I had set up my recording equipment.I set up the equipment in our flat and checked, if everything works as expected. Since I have a much faster internet-connection at home compared to the one in the rooms I left behind, I upgraded the software on my workstation too. Based on Ubuntu with the KXStudio-layer from FalkTX I get a recent Linux audio system. And I built Ardour, Hydrogen, Qtractor, some others and Guitarix from their most recent sources.

After solving some minor issues I had not the fastest Linux audio system I ever experienced but the most comfortable I ever had before(listening to Youtube while Ardour is running without even the need to think about, how this could be managed is kind of nice…).

I started to try it and somehow I opened the old tyrant theme – project in Ardour to test it. It worked perfectly well, it sounded pretty good. Brummer had built some new amp-models in Guitarix and he had the sound-quality improved so my guitars sounded just great also.
Somehow the signal from a microphone found its way to Guitarix thus there was some strange noise in the back. I could have cutted the connction of course but why not sing a little into an amp running a patch named “total shred from hell”. And what shall I sing? Why not some more Nietzsche:

What good is my happiness,
it is poverty and pollution and wretched self-complacency
but my happiness should
justify existence itself

I had just finished an article on Hydrogen so I had some cool new drumloops handy. I recorded these to replace the drums in the interlude. It worked, I recorded some more guitars of the more screaming/howling kind at prominent places and erased a lot of stuff, that had no function anymore. A few days later I returned to the piece and started mixing it. It worked like a charm, it worked out fast. On the 6th of December 2011 I exported the session as you can download it. I did not add further mastering, only the foo lookahead limiter in Ardours master-channel is involved. I tried CALF multichannel compressor but did not get any improvements so I deleted the plug-in and simply mixed every channel to its max below 0db.

I listened to the result on several devices: car stereo, 2+1 sattelite stereo, laptop-speakers, headphones from my AKG DF250 down to no-name 3.99-earplugs — all tests OK, it sounds as intended. In some places I still hear opportunities for improvements but I cannot find any place that I would not name acceptable. No work is ever finished but this shall be it for now. In some minutes of the piece I cannot help but grin and say to myself in all due humility: “That was totally wicked! I am the f…n greatest!”. I compute as follows: If i like to hear it, there may be one or two people out there, that like to hear this too.

I hereby give this tune to these people: enjoy my sound-installation by the name of “How weary I am” for 8 minutes, 8 seconds and 8 hundreds of a second (this is really, really the result of the export, I did nothing, none, zero to provoke these figures. I swear it!).

I thank you all and especially the musicians that helped me to do it (Fred and Christoph) and all the brilliant programmers that made the software I worked with and give it to the world under a free license.

Hartmut Noack
Berlin, 21. Dezember 2011

(used for early sketches and for the final project)


64Studio Electric
OpenSuse 9.1 – 11.3
Ubuntu Linux 6.4 – 11.10


Ardour 0.94 – 2.8.12


Seq24(Bass, Drums)

Standalone generators and effects:

CAPS/C*+AMS (AMSGuitrack)
Alsa Modular Synth
Specimen Sampler

Plugins (LV2 und LADSPA):

SWH, CALF, Invada, IR

Fitting perfectly well into the colours of a meadow since the late Cretaceous. Some 130 million years of learning can do wonders, methinks...