WijeratneWorks

the blog of musician Dinuk Wijeratne

Tag: skratch bastid

A ‘Spin Cycle’ Teaser

Happy Monday! Just out for you to enjoy, in 60 secs, is a little teaser for the string-quartet-&-DJ project:

Tsimo!

The first piece from my 2012 Halifax JazzFest show is finally out on video, thanks to the boys at the CBC! I have used this blog to follow the gestation of this epic ‘song’, so if you would like to explore this in more detail please click on a tag at the bottom of this post.

In case you are wondering about the lyrics, I mentioned them in a previous post. I used one of the quatrains from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, in a very beautiful (and liberal) translation by Edward Fitzgerald:

I sent my soul through the invisible, 
some letter of that after-life to spell,
and by and by my soul return’d to me, 
and answer’d: “I myself am heav’n and hell”

This after attempting to write my own lyrics and deciding, shortly thereafter, that it is something best left to the professionals. My favourite section of the whole piece is the very last one, beginning around 15’30”, when young Reeny Smith (20 years of age at the time of recording) quite simply knocks the lyrics out of the park :)

One last JazzFest teaser: the beatz, they are approachin’….

Jazz Fest Halifax01

It has been several months since a beautiful, balmy summer evening in July 2012 saw us debut the WijeratneWorks project, featuring DJ Skratch Bastid. Boy did I have a ball that night. Many of you have asked to see/hear some footage from the show; I can tell you that it has certainly been an agonizing wait for me especially. I only recently got the call from the CBC saying that we would be going into the studio to begin mixing and editing, not forgetting that all the audio will ultimately be synced to video, yeh. It won’t be long now until the whole show hits the airwaves, but if you need something to keep you going until then, here is an excerpt of my favourite piece from the show:

Tsimo!


Notation

Thanks to a harmonious collaboration of GOOGLE Docs, LOGIC Score Editor, and MAC screenshots (I stand in awe of technology and btw how would I survive without shift⇧-command⌘-4, the world’s most useful keyboard shortcut?!), my ‘score’ for this section ended up looking like I’d been armed with scissors and glue, yet never had to worry about paper cuts and sticky fingers:

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.33.01 PM

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 2.34.54 PM

Skratch Bastid burns up the Schubert (please forgive us Franz)

Skratch Bastid burns up the Schubert (please forgive us Franz)

the young Reeny Smith belies her age

the young Reeny Smith belies her age

no time like the Dave Burton

no time like the Dave Burton

me

me

In the studio

To finally hear all the recorded audio footage was cathartic, to say the least. I’m quite proud that Tsimo! has come out so well. Notably, there is quite a symphonic arc to it; gratifying considering that it was a world premiere, ambitious in scope, with all of us on stage slowly working our way down an untravelled musical path. Once in the studio, I was blessed to work with mixer/editor Pat Martin and the very visionary Karl Falkenham. Karl and his fellow CBC producer Glenn Meisner recently retired after a combined seventy years (gasp) at the CBC.

CameraAwesomePhoto

Glenn & Karl @ their farewell shindig

I feel so special that my WijeratneWorks debut marks Karl’s last official work as a CBC producer, and that he even came out of retirement to wrap everything up, his enthusiasm and expertise ever-present. He has been a catalyst for the creativity of artists through the decades, and I salute him.

Karl

Karl pouring over his mix and edit notes

Pat just can't help touching all the buttons

Pat just can’t help touching all the buttons

Whatever did we do before we had [….]?!

Since everyone loves stories of the almost-gone-wrong, I’ll leave you with my personal anecdote of mid-session studio angst. I’m paraphrasing conversation amongst composer, producer and mixer/editor, but you get the gist:

ME: “Oh noooooo! The balance of all the samples in this climax is completely upside down. The most important loops are too quiet….while the least important ones are too prominent. We are able to adjust the levels of individual samples right?”

PAT: “Actually, no.”

KARL: “It’s not possible because we don’t have the DJ’s material on separate channels at this point in the piece. Everything is lumped together; we can’t change the balance.”

[Silence]

PAT: “Do you have the samples with you now?”

ME: (my state of anxiety worsening) “Arggghh, they’re at home….Oh wait! I may have put them all in a mobile folder….”

[Subsequent note to self: there’s no point in having the DROPBOX app on your does-everything-but-make-toast iPhone 5 if you don’t fill its folders with the files that you actually need]

ME: (depression at rock bottom) “Well that’s that then. So much for the mix.”

KARL: “Would Skratch have them?”

ME: (glimmer of hope) “I could text him right now! Gawd, I hope he’s not on tour.”

Amazingly for me, this story had a happy ending. If ever DROPBOX were to have a competition calling for the most eulogized story of how their service saved someone’s *ss in a moment of crisis, here’s my winning entry: a mere 5 minutes after thinking that my whole mix was doomed, my dear colleague responds immediately to a text sent from the studio by transferring all of the 100+ samples I constructed for the whole project, directly to our man at the console. Karl grins.

The moral

Well, make better use of DROPBOX, obviously ;)  Having individual samples at our disposal allowed us to overdub them onto the live track, fine-tuning via automation exactly according to the dictates of how this particular climax of the piece should grow organically. To my ears the transformation was so stark; from the muddled to the emotionally coherent. It was a powerful exposé of how ‘balance’ is just as expressive a musical parameter as phrasing or any other. The acoustic equivalent would be to have, say, an orchestra playing perfectly in time and in tune but not expressing anything meaningful due to the fact that all the various musical lines were utterly out of balance.

(concert photos by kind permission of Stefan Massing)

Skratch Bastid in da house!

Poised for the big show tomorrow, the countdown is now 24 hours. The lovely Sarah Moore interviewed me for her JazzEast blog, about the gestation of the music you’ll hear tomorrow:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/52511016″ iframe=”true” /]


If you want more music to pique your interest, there are teasers available in the archives of this blog, here and here and here.

Skratch Bastid & Dinuk Wijeratne – a YouTube sneak peek

The two of us jamming on a 4-chord piano sample I prepared earlier. My concept is to turn the turntables into a second piano, thereby creating a ‘duel of the keyboards’, so to speak. I love paul’s big smile as much as his turntabling :)

Video by SkratchBastidTV. Wardrobe by Armani. Hair by total neglect.

Another JazzFest teaser: HymnPeace ‘Re-ReMixed’

Only last week did I finish writing all the music for the brand new electro-acoustic project WijeratneWorks, featuring the illustrious DJ Skratch Bastid, which is set to debut at the Halifax JazzFest this summer. Of course, one has never truly ‘finished’, because any show containing improvised content will continue to evolve and demand alterations.

The project has become quite the roller-coaster of discovery, and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way. Until now, I have primarily existed in a totally acoustic world, as I can dutifully answer any questions you may have about how to make something sound good on oh, say, a flute. But change the subject to pre-recorded samples and loops on a set of turntables, and I’ll happily start pestering you with questions. Thankfully, Paul (Murphy) – a.k.a. Skratch Bastid – was kind enough to submit to my pestering when we met this week to go over all the music I’d written for the show. There were over 100 samples to go through. We hung out, we chatted, we got the laptops out, we jammed. It turned out to be one of those überinspiring sessions you spend with a musician who gets excited about the same things you do, and who also helps you find great excitement in things you have overlooked.

It was utterly fascinating for me to observe him in action up-close as he explained many technical things that sent me straight to geek-heaven: his choice of software; good attacks and decays of samples; how he visualizes the motion of the turntable in a typical 4-bar loop; ‘turnarounds’ at the ends of loops; how mid-frequency sound-files make for better scratching than high or low ones; etc.

(I have no idea whose hands these are btw)

When he spoke it reminded me of similarly scintillating moments I’ve experienced in the company of percussionists holding berimbaus, famous accordionists and tabla players among others, who have graciously and passionately demystifed the wonders of their instruments for me through show-and-tell. I find that the limitations of an instrument are just as thought-provoking as its possibilities, since both force you to come up with solutions.

DJ Shub goes forth to represent Canada in the international finals

It was certainly the kind of week to intrigue and stimulate, since on Saturday night I was at the Palace in Halifax, where Paul and DJ Jazz Jeff (yes, him!) were adjudicating for the Red Bull Thre3Style Canadian National Finals (five young DJs going head-to-head with only 15 minutes each to establish their superiority), while on Tuesday I was at C.P.Allen High School to watch Paul and students premiere a piece for DJ and wind ensemble, conducted by their visionary teacher Nathan Beeler.

Molto, MOLTO cool.

I was actually beside myself with excitement for most of the day and it wasn’t until the evening that I realized why: firstly, turntables in conjunction with live instruments is just plain cool; and secondly, I was at the inception of something so unusual and totally unexpected.

Nathan Beeler and some chap who presented him with the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence

Getting back to JazzFest, the band and I will be playing a 60-minute set that I had originally intended to be a bunch of short pieces, but now have realized into three contrasting 20-minute epics, each with plenty of peaks and troughs, nooks and crannies, premeditated moments and unintentional ones (the best kind). In trying to imagine a good closer for the set, I thought I’d attempt an electro-acoustic ReMix of an older piece of mine entitled HymnPeace. It already exists in the form of an ‘orchestral remix’ (commissioned by the CBC for Symphony Nova Scotia and Buck 65; boy what a killer night that was), and a ‘trio remix’ which actually premiered at the 2008 Halifax JazzFest (another highly memorable evening for me, as I often feel nostalgia for the audience singing at the very end). The essence of HymnPeace is a simple melody which one can complement with whatever-else, and arrange and orchestrate into whatever-size. So maybe there will come a time for further incarnations, but for now I’m hearing a remix that goes from atmospheric synth pads through indian drum loops and tabla kaidas to a bit of headbanging euro-trance. The latter starts here:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/38482655″ iframe=”true” /]

ANY CHARACTER HERE

I apologize for the highly compressed audio quality, but that’s SoundCloud for you ;)  As I mentioned in the previous post about this project, this is only a mock-up that is done primarily to give me and the musicians something to listen to and practise with as we prepare for the show. It is a condensed exposition of material that will ultimately be embellished in performance, and is missing all the live elements, not to mention Skratch’s, er, scratching.

Ancient Persian poetry through a vocoder

This July 12th I appear again at the Halifax Jazz Festival, certainly one of my favourite musical forums for creative expression and appreciative audiences. I am proud that ‘my city’ can create such a wonderful, artistic atmosphere in this annual event, that also capitalizes on the fact that Nova Scotia is a darn great place to spend the summer. Ah yes, the Haligonian Summer. Heaven knows we wait long enough for it. Bring on the warm waterfront vibe!

I am debuting my new electro-acoustic project, that I still haven’t found a name for (yikes, suggestions please, our publicity people need the name yesterday). I’ll be on keys, and I’m putting together a wikid little band whose featured artist is a both a top Canadian DJ and one of the great turntablists of the world: Skratch Bastid. I’m so looking forward to working with him.

I’ve decided to write three large, contrasting pieces for the set. Totally new territory for me since I’m putting together samples that DJ Skratch Bastid will hopefully enjoy scratching the crap out of. The acoustic instruments on stage will play over and around this. For the first piece, entitled TSIMO (right now can’t be bothered to explain the convoluted ‘why’), I’ve chosen to set a quatrain from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Killer lyrics, if you ask me:

I sent my soul through the invisible, 
some letter of that after-life to spell,
and by and by my soul return’d to me, 
and answer’d: “I myself am heav’n and hell”

For the coda (conclusion) of TSIMO, I don’t particularly want to inflict people with my singing, so instead I went through several steps to create an alternative sound that would still communicate the text:

  • Firstly, I recorded myself speaking the text in my best Sir-Laurence-Olivier-Shakespearean-soliloquy voice (or Sir Ben Kingsley, if you prefer someone who can orate as well and is still alive. By the way, his On Point interview is fantastic).
  • Secondly, I took my software scissors to it and chopped up the whole poem into very short phrases.
  • Thirdly, I had to synchronize the phrases, even individual words and syllables, to a click-track running at the tempo of the song (120BPM). This is a painstaking and time-consuming process that also includes time-stretching certain vowel sounds to fit the click-track. This is all done to make the vocals, well, ‘cook’. Nothing whatsoever to do with cuisine, but frankly I can’t think of a better verb for sounds that lock right into a groove . A great film that has crisp cuts akin to the rhythms of a great piece of music, has editing that ‘cooks’.
  • Finally – the fun part – I fed the vocal samples through a software vocoder, making me sound as though I’ve been turned into an android that speaks in harmonic tones. I had to pick the harmonic tones. They’re actually chords from a Schubert string quartet. This is what I ended up with:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/45430316″ iframe=”true” /]

ANY CHARACTER HERE

The main thing to bear in mind, when listening to a ‘mock-up’ for a show like this, is that it is only a condensed exposition of material that will ultimately be embellished live in various ways. Notably, all ‘loops’ which repeat, such as ‘heaven and hell’, will most likely be scratched many times over by our esteemed DJ. Which means that a recorded 2-minute coda will probably double or triple in length in live performance.