Rivers of the Sky now available

Jim Hewitt’s latest CD project, Rivers of the Sky, is an album of instrumentals available for purchase or download at CD Baby.  If you enjoy imaginative and mesmerizing music for mediation, background for work, or just relaxation, check this one out. The physical album is $15.00 plus shipping, or you can download it for $9.99, or purchase individual tracks. This project has been 2 years in the making and combines electric violin, viola, octave mandolin, electric mandocello, and electric bass with keyboard parts played using the Omnisphere 1.5 and Chromaphone synth instruments. Click on the link above, or go to CDBaby.com and search for James Michael Hewitt.

Cover for CD Baby

Caitlin McMillan records at Barn Jazz

Caitlin McMillan is from LA, recently moved to Grand Junction. She will be returning to perform at the last ever set at the House of Blues before it is torn down. Caitlin is joined by Hekter Gallardo on guitar and harmonica on her new CD project.Caitlin Guitar

Notes on Original Barn Jazz CD

I get asked a lot about the term “barn jazz”. Just ran across these notes from 7/16/2003, about the time of my first concert at Oracle State Park in Oracle, AZ for the Barn Jazz Vol. I CD release.

BARN JAZZ NOTES

Garden Dreams

A dream state experiencing altered realities or visions

What is it about Oracle and the High Desert that leads us there?

The cat is metaphor for our letting go and experiencing something beyond the mundane, so Barn Jazz is a way of interpreting music that is seen from the perspective of a cat dreaming about insects playing a different kind of music

With the participation of the Yuccas and animals and other critters of the high desert, Annie the cat spins a tale of fantasy. It starts in one of the gardens of Oracle.  The cat wanders in the summer heat through the garden looking for a place to nap

Barn Jazz – The theme song arising out of the idea music in the transition zone, blending elements of blue grass, folk, fiddle jazz, and classical-new age styles, a messy kind of melding, but then cats are not that picky about these things.

Fire on the Ridge – (Oracle Hill Fire) – the cat dreams of a vast holocaust of fire causing animals and insects to evacuate their habitat, much coming and going, disturbance, but ultimately a once familiar part of nature and so not a nightmare.

Oracle Wildfire

Fire on the Ridge

So the animals are seeking safe havens.

Don’t Tread on Me – imagine a caterpillar undulating along in the garden, underfoot, trying his best to get to the Barnagle, along with other bugs and critters, a great movement is afoot, also snakes undulating, but the other implication is the flag of Vermont during the American Rev, and the motto.

March of the Yuccas – actually has some words, unspoken: “I’m a Yucca, I’m a Yucca, I’m a Yucca, not a tree. I stand upon the mighty desert, king of all that I foresee.”  (but cannot foresee man – the bulldozer). Also marching to get to the Barnagle.

March of the Yuccas

March of the Yuccas

The Barnagle – this is focal point, insect hoe down. I had the image of a spider with 8 batons conducting a rag-tag group of insects and arachnids playing on their web-strings, grass-hoppers blowing on blades of grass making horn sounds, small mammals blowing thru flower-bell trumpets, etc.  The deal is that these musicians are somewhat unruly and competing at first, but eventually falls together at the end. This all takes place after midnight of the summer solstice full moon shining in the broken window glass of the barn/shed.  Here is the image as captured beautifully and faithfully by Oracle artist, Kate Horton.

The Barnagle

The Barnagle

 

Contours – this is a long, new agey piece that represents the time just before dawn as the outlines of the mountains and hills become apparent, the barnagle is over and everyone is dispersing, the cat is stirring, but not yet awake.

Sweet Annie – The cat dreams of romping after the field mice, pocket gophers, lizards etc who are leaving the Barnagle, basically just running and leaping and having fun but still asleep.

Sweet Annie’s Dream – the awakening and realization that all of this was just her dream, or was it?

NB: “Sweet Annie” was Linda Leigh’s cat. Linda was one of the original Biospherians. Annie was indeed a sweet, gentle, if not somewhat finicky creature.

Also the original Barn Jazz Vol. 1 is out-of-print. I have a few copies remaining in my archive available for an exorbitant price. Contact me if interested.

Instagators CD Released

Instagators CD
The first CD from The Instagators in over 20 years features rock wizard Jimmy McNally on guitar, vocals, keys, and harmonica, Mike Williams on Bass and vocals, Robb Lasater on drums, with appearances by several other local guest artists, including yours truly, “Diamond Jim” on fiddle and mandolin. The project took 4 months to record and mix at Barn Jazz Studios.
The songs are mostly classic rock covers from the Beatles to Roy Orbison, reflecting the kinds of music that local Grand Junction fans have come to expect from these talented musicians. However track 2, “My Kind of Girl”, is an original by McNally. This is by far the most interesting track and is worth the price of admission. Hopefully their next CD will have more of Jimmy’s original tunes.

The CD is available directly from Jimmy McNally. If you would like to order a copy send a check for $12.00 to Barn Jazz Productions, PO Box 1826, Grand Junction, CO 81502 along with your address and I will make sure Jimmy gets one in the mail to you right away. In the meantime if you are in the Grand Junction vicinity you can catch the Instagators (and their new CD) most Friday and Saturday nights at Le Rouge downtown. See their Facebook page for more into (just search for Instagators, and mind the spelling).
Instagators CD back

Why vocal booths suck and what makes a good control room

I just found a nice explanation from L.A. recording engineer Ronan Chris Murphy as to why its not always a good thing to record vocals in a small vocal booth. I had considered adding one at much expense. Instead I employ a small absorber called a “reflection filter” around the back of the mic as shown here. This gives the mic more focus without complete isolation.

Jimmy McNally of the Instagators recording with an SE Reflexion Filter

Jimmy McNally of the Instagators recording with an SE Reflexion Filter

Also Ronan touts the advantages of having a longer, narrower control room/tracking area instead of a small box control room. That is exactly what we have created at Barn Jazz, and the sound of the room is, I think, more open with plenty of room for bass frequencies to develop. Check his video blog out at Ronan Chris Murphy

The Instagators inciting rock and roll in Grand Junction

Jimmy McNally recording Holly Jolly

Jimmy McNally recording Holly Jolly

Just added a new client, The Instagators, a Grand Junction favorite rock group. These guys are for real. Jimmy McNally is a very talented guitarist, singer, composer, keyboard player, you name it. With Mike Williams on bass and Robb Lasater on drums, they rock downtown GJ on a weekly basis. I have played with them on occasion and enjoy their energy and musicianship.

So a few weeks ago I get a call from Jimmy. He wants to make a CD of tunes that they play regularly at their gigs. So we get started recording 10 tunes. You can see some pics from the studio work in the slide show. The CD should be finished sometime in early 2015. I posted the first complete song, Holly Jolly Christmas, on the playlist on the home page. Holly Jolly is a favorite with the locals, especially when played on a hot summer night in July! You may be hearing it on the local community radio station, KAFM.
More to come….

Robb Lasater in the drum room

Robb Lasater in the drum room

Mike Williams on Fender Bass

Mike Williams on Fender Bass

Mastering Audio Through Adult Education

Yes you can teach an old dog new “tracks”. These days many if not most independent engineers and producers are self taught. We learn to mix by accident, mostly. We buy exotic gear, trendy plugins for our DAW’s (“Digital Audio Workstations”), haunt the music and gear forums looking for tips and tricks.

20 or 30 years ago an aspiring audio engineer interned for a local music studio, making coffee, cleaning toilets, and maybe after a few months got to mount tape, set up mics, or push a few faders on the console. Eventually that (young) person was asked to record an entire session, often with a critical senior engineer watching and listening. If you did a good job you got to work with major talent, maybe even get some credits on an album.

Well those days are mostly gone. Yes it still happens but you need to be willing to put in the time for free or low pay and earn your bones. Woof! Not my style.

So how does an old dog continue to hone his chops? One way is through on-line audio education. Another is through workshops and recording “boot camps”. I have done both. So far the most rigorous and rewarding school has been the Audio Master Class courses offered by David Mellor (Oxford School of Audio) out of Thame, England. I have completed the professional courses in Mixing and Equalization, and am currently working through the course on Compression.

These are certificate-track courses that take a minimum of 6 months to complete. You download professionally recorded tracks with the assignment to make them sound a certain way. One recent assignment in the EQ class was to remove hum, buzz, and broadband noise using just EQ filters (no fancy noise removal plugins allowed). This is the hard way, but it is a great learning experience.

So far I am doing quite well, and will continue taking these “adult education” courses because I am serious about improving my skills. Next up will be courses in reverb and mastering. Of course, I already “knew” how to apply EQ, compression, and reverb, but there is always more to learn, often those unexpected things you did not know you did not know.

The feedback I get from Mr. Mellor is the next best thing to “being there” in the role of intern. Highly recommended, if you are interested check out www.audiomasterclass.com.

The Next Wave

There was an interesting post on Gearslutz.com, my favorite hangout for pro audio information (and misinformation, you have to be very selective). Lately there has been much analysis (and complaining) about the state of the music industry. Lack of recording opportunities, the shift from physical media to streaming music aggregators like Pandora, Spotify, Google Play, etc.

If you look at the trends in music sales for the past 40 years, there is an interesting pattern.

trends in music sales

Trends in music sales

8-Tracks cassettes, vinyl, 2-track cassette tapes, CD’s, all seem to follow a pattern similar to ocean waves. Initial acceptance, peak, and slow decline. Unfortunately this graph, by Michael DeGusta with data from the RIAA, does not show the data up to present. However we can speculate with some confidence. Digital media started out with a rapid acceptance during the Napster and file “sharing” (re: stealing) years, then declined somewhat as the majors cracked down. However the shift from downloads to streaming services has started in earnest.

I expect that wave to continue peaking for the foreseeable future, especially as bandwidth increases and higher quality audio is made available (e.g. tidalhifi.com). The question is how high and how long will the wave be?

What does this mean for the independent musician? Are physical media dead entirely? I don’t think so. Vinyl is making a come back in a small way (more like a secondary wave) as people are demanding more physical contact and ownership of their music. Streaming services are convenient and will be around for a long time, but there will always be a demand for something you can put in your hand. The real question is this: who is in control of your music selection, and can you count on having your favorites around in 20 years? I personally do not trust iTunes to be my only music source for retaining control of my digital tracks.

We no longer consume music just for listening sessions like my generation did back in the 60’s and 70’s. It is more likely background for work, parties, or used for TV and film cues and sound tracks. Touring bands still sell CD’s but just as likely will have download cards for mp3’s.

Will we see a big resurgence of the music album as art for its own sake? Not until we can package digital media and associate images and liner notes with it. In the meantime independent small-time producers like Barn Jazz will continue to labor in the eddies of the ocean doing work the way we want to do it.

So what is the next wave? Maybe 3-D holographic surround sound with direct implants to our neurons? While we are waiting for the musical industrial complex to shake out, I think I will just go put an album onto my high quality turntable, flip on my 1973 Marantz receiver, and chill.

Shedding the Past

So I have this great old (vintage 1973) Otari MX7800 1″ reel to reel deck that I have used sparingly over the past few years (Lynn calls it Godzilla because its the largest piece of pro audio gear I own, weighing in at about 250 lbs.). It sounds great but takes a bit of TLC. New 1″ tape is not cheap, about $150.00 per reel, and I am grateful that it is still available from places like ATR.

The beast, Godzilla

The beast, Godzilla

So when I found 5 reels of used 1″ Ampex 456 Grand Master Tape for $30.00 per reel shipped from Canada, I said, hey that sounds like a helluva deal, right? Tapes arrived today and I put one on with the intention of erasing the old program material. These apparently were used at a television station in Ontario, Canada but the owner did not know how old they were or what kind of condition they were in. I decided to take a chance.

After about 10 minutes of running the first reel through Godzilla, the old lady started slowing down, slowing, slowing, until eventually she would not rewind or fast forward, and could barely run the tape at play speed. I was of course alarmed, thinking that some part had finally failed, some obscure capacitor or relay was fried, and the closest repair depot for tape machines was, of course, in Denver!

After a few frantic calls I was able to get back with Mike Everhart, a very talented engineer and audio tech in Portland OR. Mike had been the tech for this machine for a while when it was owned by Jordan Richter, a young Portland recording engineer. Jordan had sold me the machine back in 2007 I think it was. This old lady has a storied past, previously owned by the famous American punk band, Sleater-Kinney (with Carrie Brownstein from Portlandia no less).

When I arrived in Portland to pick it up Mike was there still doing some last minute tinkering! Talk about dedicated. Anyway to make a short story longer, Mike walked me through some basic questions over the phone and told me that old Ampex 456 formulations were very prone to excessive SHEDDING due to a breakdown in the tape chemical adhesive over time. This causes a buildup of brown gunk over the tape guides and heads, which was immediately apparent once I removed the tape. Mike suggested I thoroughly clean the guides and heads and try again with some newer tape. Brilliant, KISS is the lesson here.

Yes that worked, of course, now Godzilla is cranking along running newer tape just fine. Sometimes vintage is great, sometimes old stuff is just old, and you learn the hard way. Fortunately the price was not too dear this time. Now its time to Shred, not Shed!

New music video: Event Horizon

This started out as a spacey electronic audio work that imagines a lost space probe encountering a black hole. Then coinciding with the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, I added footage from NASA and some visualization to spice it up as a video. As a child I built lots of space ship models and still read lots of Sci-Fi. Think of this music video as a requiem for our abandoned space program.

Event Horizon from Jim Hewitt on Vimeo.