muted tones

january 07


Chicago's Whitney Johnson plays the accordion and the viola and sings with Rififi and with the Notes and Scratches.

curator log:

TJ Tambellini, don’t get your cables in a wad.

february 05th, 2007

Please listen to this with headphones, because Paul Krauss panned the sound in really interesting ways. Thanks for all your help, Pawl.

On January 31st, I went back to the bus stop where I first heard the pigeon elegy, glad to be finishing, glad to have finished January. This project helped fix some trouble I had back then, the day I sat and waved the bus along. I shiver to think where we’d be without projects.

This music turned out quite differently than I had planned, with a RIFIFI voice I can’t quite describe. Maybe the perpetual surprise is what makes recording so magical. Interacting with copies of sounds can bring about entirely different ideas for new sounds, ideas that wouldn’t have existed if the copy hadn’t. The copy creates the original. Different machines tell different versions of the sound narrative; the mix, the color, the texture, the tone all change from speaker to speaker. Each copy in each situation becomes original.

TJ would flip out if he thought I was telling his secrets, but here are a few of the sounds: singing into tin foil wrapped around a wire hanger, singing into shapes, singing into fibers, childhood quiet-time shrieks, every angle of my Midget Grand accordion, shaking a toy drummer, the Blue Line, the wind chimes in my landlord’s yard, instruments and instruments and every inflection of the viola. All bounced off the walls of his bathroom. TJ, I can’t thank you enough for your time, your talent, the Dad jokes, the lows, the highs.

I hope you enjoy the music!

TJ Tambellini, aka Angus MacGyver

february 04th, 2007

A dryer sheet rubber-banded to headphones isn’t as effective as one would think for muffling the click track.

Early Times with TJ Tambellini

february 04th, 2007

Early Times came in handy later in the project, too. You may not notice, but this Casio is labeled with notes A through V. T flat is used a lot in this song, an octave above L sharp. Also notice the 2006 calendar against the wall, a reminder that, yes, January 2007 had actually come.

TJ Tambellini wonders, ‘Wha’ppen?’

january 31st, 2007

Last night we finished recording some odds and ends, including a truly fabulous guitar part by the real star of the show, TJ Tambellini. Listen closely; it’s a mere 20 seconds long but really hits the height. The time change from 6/8 to 4/4 was seamless, though it might shove me inadvertently into a few lines of country-and-western singing. Oh, well, your country-and-western lines are my folk song, she says with a smirk.

Looks like we’ve got a few seconds of sound for each of you out there. The smattering of ideas that converge on these 10 minutes may daze, may dazzle, may dizzy. Maybe this recording is the inevitable effect of the anvil of ambition mentioned below. Over and over again, the music would do something Interesting in my mind, and I’d say, ‘Oh, that would be perfect for the recording.’ At this point I think I’ve crossed the threshold for too many Interesting things; it’s unfair to displace my own boredom issues on the person who listens. Curious messmaking gone awry, this painting is becoming thick with acrylic and disjunct with abstraction. The time has come to learn focus and patience and perseverance with a near-boring line that has potential.

What’s left? A little homegrown percussion, singing, viola, noise, noises, and all the mixing. And the ending.

The end.

TJ Tambellini writes the songs that make the whole world sing.

january 30th, 2007

QT singing with Bruce.

TJ Tambellini is an audio genius.

january 29th, 2007

So this friend of mine saw a special on Nova about the magnetosphere. Apparently, every ___ years the electrical field holding our planet in relative harmony needs to flip. North becomes South; inside is outside. A big flip was scheduled to happen this new year, and I think the normal magnetic tension we’ve come to trust somehow just, well, broke. My people and I have had an exceptionally rough start to the year, even cosmically rough. Machines have broken in inexplicable ways. Everyone is breaking up, moving around. I got an eviction call in the middle of the night. Strong people are really sick. The ground is quaking, lightbulbs flicker.

The whole theory has since been debunked by some smart, sciency folks, but I’m glad to blame my late start on something external and omnipotent. Earlier this month I took a spontaneous, all-night, solo drive to Columbia, South Carolina to help care for these troubles, these people. Bruce, the Subaruce, became a whirring practice space that night, and I pulled a lot of mental pieces together [see above]. The concepts I’d been mulling took on more notes over different chords during that ride. Still, by mid-month nothing had been recorded.

I hope some grade-school kids read this and blame missed homework on the magnetosphere, which is exactly what I’m doing. Excuses aside, this has become a two-week project. Let’s pretend that I’m just getting started; here’s why I’m a little anxious:

1. I don’t understand technology, particularly the recording and amplifying types. And the computer type. For that matter, the mobile phone type, too, but I’m learning a lot about the first two for this project. TJ Tambellini is an audio genius. He can make things work that shouldn’t and teaches me the basics so graciously.

2. Despite the late start, I wasn’t able to avoid the anvil of ambition that falls on me with this sort of thing.

3. Influences and inner-ear tunes are hard to escape, even for a minute. I’m deciphering which parts are core, inescapable, and which parts are peripheral, remote. When I hear a folk-rock-pop line or progression, what should I do with it? Part of me wants to glorify it; part of me wants to exploit it. Part of me wants to toss it.

4. Not only did I write and arrange all of this, I shortsightedly thought it would be easier to play all the parts. True, we musicians tend to be unreliable and scheduling a quick recording session, nearly impossible. Still, the music would be richer and so much nicer with friends playing the parts.

Enough, enough. Let’s hear what sounds the next few days bring.

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