Recording the CD ‘Natures Way’ 1995 Hamburg.
The first four months of the year spent in Pune has seen more than half a dozen songs suddenly pop out of me as if from nowhere. My girlfriend, Sadhu, who has written the lyrics for three of them, untrained as she is, wants to try to sing them in the studio. I’m aiming to make a full CD of these songs (plus two more I wrote years ago) and hopefully work on adding to some instrumental recordings made last year. All in twenty-two days.
I’m back with my old producer friend, Sangit Om, who I’ve worked with before. Budget is tight as usual, so here’s some diary extracts that give a look at how things used to go back in the days when we had only reel-to-reel tape decks and clumsy digital ADAT 8 track recorders hooked up to underpowered computers. And when I was in the early stages of learning to be a professional.
17th – 28th May,
Day 1: As a guide track for each I play stereo guitars on ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Freedom Free’ and ‘Easy’s Right’ and a borrowed Stratocaster on ‘Nature’s Way’. My fingers ache afterwards. Sangit Om has done some basic computer drums to keep it all in rhythm and Sadhu sings a preliminary vocal line so we all know where we are.
Day 2: Cameroonian rasta Gro Ngolle puts groovy bass on ‘Easy’. I spend four grueling hours recording electric guitar on ‘Now Summer’s here Again’ and ‘Riversong’ (which turns out I have composed without knowing it in two different keys and three tempos, including 7/8 for a single bar) plus a second acoustic guitar track on ‘Summer’. My fingers are falling off and my head is spinning. It’s raining all day every day.
Day 3: More guitar on ‘Artists of the Heart’, ‘O Shyam’ and ‘Charlie Girl’. Then watching Sangit Om working hard all afternoon creating drums from machine for ‘Summer’. Fascinating to see how he works in all the breaks, rolls and even some deliberate ‘mistakes’ to make it sound human.
Day 4: finding it hard to sleep, I wake and go for a walk in the park at 4.30 am and suddenly hear an Arabic groove for ‘Artists’ echoing in my head. Sangit Om replicates it on a computer generated dhombak, which we then ‘humanize’ together. Next job is for him to play in some ‘pads’ (a sort of background stringy/organy glue, which will keep each song hanging together) on keyboard. I have spent hours detailing all the chords for this but now discover that my work is riddled with errors. He adds some hilarious rock ‘n roll piano on ‘Summer’. At the end of a long day I try to record the guitars again for ‘Easy’s Right’, which isn’t sounding right at all. Sadhu doesn’t like the feel; Sangit Om points out it has no breaks; I’m all wobble. We postpone.
Day 5: I’m flying today. Since weeks I’ve eaten no sugar, drank no milk or cream, stopped tea, coffee and chocolate, and prefer alcohol-free beer. And I love what I’m doing with music so much! I wake after a kind of ‘enlightenment’ dream, where I’m wheeling, spinning, dizzy, my whole body whirling. In a touch of fear, I call out to Osho and find myself suddenly back calm, clear and meditating in a room. Up at 7am walking and planning the swarmandel (Indian autoharp) for ‘Riversong’. Each chord change requires a re-tuning of this thirty-stringed instrument and at breakfast I plan it all out on paper. In the studio Sadhu plays it in with dedicated concentration while I frantically tune a second swarmandel ready for the next chord change. She gets such satisfaction from finally having a job to do! I replay ‘Freedom Free’ guitars, including some breaks this time. Sangit Om cagey about feedback, as he has to be professionally, but “I like it very, very much” escapes his lips as I replay the ‘Easy’s Right’ guitars in bossanova style. He also “loves, really likes” my demos for two new sarod-based instrumentals ‘Isles of the Blessed’ and ‘Castles in the Clouds’; I hope we can find the time to record them once we’ve finished this project.
Late afternoon, while Sadhu rehearses her vocals, I skip around the Kellerstrasse fields, hugging trees, transfixed by the light on the leaves, the colours in the sky, the cool breeze and bright sun.
Day 6: Heavy feeling today after a whole day getting the bass on. I go to commune with nature in the park afterwards and a dog viciously barks at me. Gro is such a professional and plays like a dream, but I have a headache from all those low notes and the project feels like a weight on my shoulders; resentful that a bassist gets DM700 for an ‘easy’ days work, and a suffering ego says ‘no-one ever paid me that kind of money for my playing boo-hoo…’
Days 7 & 8: Sadhu’s vocals. The same songs over and over and over again to get the best takes. She’s working hard!
Day 9: Pick up Rishi our drummer at train station, we gossip ‘til 2am and next morning he juices up ‘Easy’s Right’, transforms ‘Riversong’ into jazz and brings some Arabic patterns into ‘Artists’. Then S Om and I relax together, feeling so in tune, dream of climbing mountains together in Crete, gossiping about –what else? – music. Finally feedback: I tell him I’ve spent all my inheritance money already, within a year. “You’re a crazy guy, Chinmaya. But we need crazy guys like you making crazy music!” Sadhu sounds ‘a bit thin’ to his ears, and her inexperience and insecurity comes through in her voice. When I tell her, she has a panic attack, but laughs once I tell her how insecure I am too! She’s doing her best, we all are.
Day 10: Naman compliments Sadhu on her singing and then jazzes up ‘Freedom Free’ with flugelhorn and puts tasty trumpet on ‘Nature’s Way’. Then it’s time for Henrik Gumoes on percussion, doubling up Rishi’s drumming on the bossanova and Arabic and spicing up ‘Summer’, which still has only a computer drum loop. Then I look Sangit Om in the eyes to brace him for the next of my crazy ideas: a loop of rainstick percussion for ‘Freedom Free’. After 2 ½ hours of his concentrated work we have turned a basic recording of a rainstick being upturned into a cheeky little groove of tiny clicks.
Day 11: After some small finishing jobs, Sangit Om and I turn to making rough mixes for me to take away at the end of this first stage of recording. We end up doing it all twice because his tape deck is fucked.
29th June – 11th July, Hamburg
Driving seven and a half hours in traffic jams and hot weather back here from Amsterdam, full of tensions around the upcoming second stage recording and a lot of pressure on Sadhu to be ready to perform.
Day 12: I put sarod down for the ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’ instrumentals. Wobbles, technical snafus but Sangit Om and I finally get the computer drums sounding half decent on ‘Nature’s Way’. Sadhu roars into twin tracks of ‘Golden Forest’. Down to the car to listen to the rough mixes on a crappy car stereo (a vital perspective after hearing them only on high quality studio monitors) and we consider them ‘in the pot’.
Day 13 and 14: Friedmar Hitzer, our hot violinist goes wild on ‘Summer’, but struggles to play the simpler things like ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Castles’ and ‘Isles’. The raga Bhairavi scale on ‘Artists’ is a real challenge for him. Sadhu sings ‘O Shyam’, ‘Now Summer’s Here Again’ and ‘Charlie Girl’.
Day 16 and 17: Various mixes made, plus Henrik recorded on ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’. I’m panicking: I just can’t see how we can finish what’s left in the five days remaining….
Day 18: Crash! We’re struggling on harmony lines for ‘Artists’ and it’s a trigger for all the tension that’s been building up. I’m pushing Sangit Om more and more for help and he’s getting impatient, unwilling to cross his invisible boundary of actually composing the music for me (or maybe he doesn’t know what to do any more than we do!). Sadhu takes it personally and storms out of the recording for a walk. Another hit comes too: apart from ‘Summer’, Friedmar really has not done much of a job this year. We decide to leave his violin off ‘Artists’ and on Sadhu’s return get back with full concentration to her harmony vocals.
Day 19: Sadhu records ‘Nature’s Way’, the last recording we have to do for the project. Then Sangit Om announces he’s ‘lost’ the vocals for ‘Shyam’ somewhere on the hard disk. Sadhu has a crisis at the thought of having to re-sing this delicate and demanding piece. Finally it’s found. We can now turn our attention to the new sarod-based instrumentals, plus three others recorded last year. Sangit Om and I do a good old fashioned ‘hands on’ live mix of ‘Castles’, our four arms reaching past each other to tweak buttons, edge up sliders etc.
Day 20 and 21: My first ever guitar solo on ‘Isles’. Re-listening with Sangit Om to last year’s recording of ‘Edge of the Known World’ I discover with a shock that my sarod is flat, Friedmar misplayed the melody and the whole piece has no space in it at all! Only Naman as usual was on the ball. I hurridly replay sarod and we add some artificial breaks to Manish’s tabla. A new mix for last year’s ‘Kirwani’ further reveals that my sarod playing was not up to the mark at all.
Day 22: Replay sarod for ‘Kirwani (very stressed, especially on the solos) and add pads on ‘Edge’. Final mixes and it’s time to make CD masters of the two whole projects. Sangit Om is so generous, he counts no extra hours for his bill beyond his fixed eight per day. I love the guy, despite our wobble the other day! That night I dream that he and I are smoking pot together. He has long wild hair. We’re so stoned we are incoherent! I wake up next morning to a thunderstorm and a restless mind, realizing that no further improvements to the music are possible now, and that from now on I have to start thinking about how to sell it! We leave Hamburg with our two precious golden CD Masters in fierce heat. At 8pm, when we arrive in Holland it is still 34 degrees, and the night turns out to be 26 – the hottest this century.
Over the next five years I re-recorded the vocals on the ‘Nature’s Way’ songs project with two different singers before I found a label willing to take it. And that was merely the tiny music subsidiary of a big German New Age book publishing company. It sank there without trace (though I do have a single copy of the CD they released) and thereafter the songs sat on my shelf until last year, when I decided to gift them to whosoever might want to listen to them on Soundcloud.
The instrumentals had happier fortunes, starting life as tracks on the CDs ‘Lands of the Dawn’ and ‘Feng Shui Part 1’ on what turned out to be a rogue German label. When that collapsed they found their way to New Earth Records as part of my CDs ‘Celtic Ragas’ (1997) and ‘Sacred Temples of India’ (2002).