Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Video: Arabesque I

Claude Debussy's Arabesque I might be the "oldest" piece I play, in the sense that I've played it longer than the others. I think I first learned it in 1982. (I could probably recover the year if I knew what grade it was in the RCM syllabus).

Update 4/29/09: BJ says in the comments that it's Grade 10, which means I probably started learning it Fall, 1982.

I'm very happy with the audio on this recording. The video is ok. I might start experimenting with lighting and post-production image processing.

Again, to watch in HD, you'll have go to vimeo and watch it full screen (well worth it, says me).

Debussy: Arabesque I from Ken Barker on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Video: Danza de la Pastora

Danza de la Pastora is a wonderful piece by twentieth century Spanish composer Ernesto Halffter. The piece was originally written as part of his one-act ballet Sonatina, but he also arranged it for solo piano.

I had never heard of Ernesto Halffter. Last Fall I was hunting around the web for Alicia de Larrocha recordings. She's one of my all-time favorite pianists, and is responsible for popularizing much of the Spanish piano repertoire. I came across a video on YouTube from an old 1967 documentary pairing Spanish art and music. The second performance is de Larrocha playing Danza de la Pastora. It completely hooked me from the first notes.

So I started trying to find out more about the piece and about Halffter. I could only find one recording of his piano works, a two-disc set by Guillermo González. The liner notes state that Halffter was "one of the most important Spanish composers of the twentieth century". I have plenty of respect for Halffter, and I'm completely crazy about Pastora, but I'm going to have to call BS on this one.

A note on the video... I'm definitely making some headway with the video quality. This is my first piano video in HD. You can play the embedded version below but you won't see it in HD. So make sure you go to my page at vimeo.com and watch it full screen. I should also note that YouTube now allows HD videos and stereo audio, so you can watch it HD at my YouTube page too.

Halffter: Danza de la Pastora from Ken Barker on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Thom Barker Band: No Forever

The second TBB demo is a song that also made it on to Twice the Usual, though with a quite different feel.

No Forever

I'll post the version off 2x as well, for comparison.

No Forever (off Twice the Usual)

The most obvious difference is the tempo. The TBB version sits just under 150 bpm. The 2x version is 180! I like the faster tempo better, but I think the slower version would have worked if we had performed it more relaxed. As it is, it sounds like we're all fighting to hold it back.

To me the second most obvious difference is how warm the TBB recording sounds. That's the difference between a real recording studio and some schlub with a home studio. The 2x version sounds very harsh by comparison. The mix on the TBB version is better too. The bass sits in the lows and doesn't stray. The electric owns the mids, and the drums find the gaps. On the 2x version, everything is fighting for the mids.

Apart from that, I think we can all agree on what the recording really needs: more cowbell!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thom Barker Band: All The Same To Me

The first of the two 1996 Thom Barker Band demos was All The Same To Me.

All The Same To Me

This song has all the elements of a classic Thom Barker song: happy-catchy music, despondent lyrics, hooky Chénier guitar themes, sloppy overplayed bass and horrible backing vocals.

The first thing that jumps out at me is how over-compressed the drums are. Sure, it makes them sound nice and punchy. And it was the '90s. But man, that's a lot of compression.

Second thing is Chris' electric theme. He has this knack for coming up with a hook that's completely original, but ends up defining the song. Underneath, the acoustic and bass just repeat I-vi-IV-V (the Heart and Soul chords... and a million other pop songs). Chris' hook gives it its own character.

The bridge (at 2:03) is a departure for a Thom Barker song. I can't think of another one like it. I'm pretty sure Thom had the idea of breaking down to a half-tempo version of the chorus. I think it was also his idea to switch to 6/8 time. I do remember working it out on my SY77 sequencer to show the band how to get in and out of it. We never quite got it right, though. We got into it ok, but tended to rush the half time a little. And the band was never really comfortable coming back out. You can hear in the recording that the outro chorus is a little slower than the beginning of the song. It's maybe 8-10 bpm (about 5%) slower. The highlight of the bridge for me is Chris' harmonic embellishments. Any time he accuses me of playing too many chord extensions I can point him here. Who's the jazz-head now, eh?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thom Barker Band: The Recording

The Thom Barker Band recordings were done at the new Sound of One Hand Studios at their location on Liverpool Court (off Innes Road) in south Ottawa. It was after they moved but before they renamed to Liverpool Court Studios. We recorded in the big room and Marty Jones was the engineer. The photo clearly shows their new (used) Neve console.

Marty Jones at the Neve

Both songs were straight guitars-bass-drums. Thom used his blue Yamaha acoustic and his yellow hair.

Thom at Sound of One Hand

I had recently upgraded to the John Pattitucci signature Yamaha six string bass (the TRB-JP). It's still my all-time favorite instrument with a single-digit number of strings. We recorded it direct through the good-old Sans Amp Bass Driver DI.

Ken at Sound of One Hand

Chris was still using his old Ibanez electric at the time. This was obviously before he developed full-on GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). He tracked his parts from the control room, but the sound was mic'd off an amp in the big room. I remember us fooling with different amps (including the big Marshall in the picture and the smaller combo that Marty is messing with). I don't remember what amp we went with.

Chris at Sound of One Hand

Scott was playing his basic Tama kit (with one anonymous rototom).

Scott at Sound of One Hand

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thom Barker Band Promo Photos

In the Fall of 1995 when Thom was getting serious about promoting the band, he put together a "promo package" which included press clippings, the Forest cd, bios and promo photos. We had done up a couple of photos specifically for the promo package. I don't know what happened to the negatives or any of the prints. I assume they're probably lost forever.

Thom Barker Band, Fall 1995, Regent St., Ottawa

But this was 1995 and there was a new craze sweeping Computer Science Departments. It was called the World Wide Web. It made it easy to publish text and pictures online in a way that was presentable for reading (as opposed to just searching and downloading). Not being immune to the draw of a bandwagon, I started scanning photos and putting them on web pages in my Unix account at the University of Ottawa.

Unfortunately, sometime in the late '90s I accidentally deleted all photos in my musicpix directory whose filename began with the letter 't'. Don't ask me why. So the scanned versions of the Thom Barker Band promo photos (tbb-promo1.gif and tbb-promo2.gif) and a bunch of others were gone.

Fast forward 14 years to April, 2009. Thanks to the magic of the Wayback Machine, I found the deleted photos. Sometime between 1995 and the date I deleted the pictures, the Wayback Machine archived them. I'm sure I've checked the archive before, but if you've ever tried to find old stuff there, you know it's kind of hit-or-miss. Today I got lucky.

Thom Barker Band, Fall 1995, Regent St., Ottawa

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Thom Barker Band

Hold on to your hat, blogreader... you're in for a surprise. I have uncovered the long-lost Thom Barker Band recordings! And I've digitized them and cleaned them up for posting. But first, a little background.

Thom Barker Band at The Pit, December 21(ish?), 1995

Shortly after we finished recording Forest for the Trees, Thom decided he wanted to go for more of a band concept, and to ramp up our performance schedule. He was used to doing solo shows and duos (with me). We added electric guitar (Chris Chénier) and drums (Scott McCulloch).

Zaphod Beeblebrox, August 9, 1996

We rented a rehearsal studio in the basement of Irene's Pub in the Glebe (Ottawa) and booked a whole bunch of shows over the winter of 1995 and well into 1996.

The Gluepot Pub, August 10, 1996

We also booked Sound of One Hand Studio (where both previous albums were recorded) and got the whole band in there to record two songs. I thought we had lost those recordings forever, but I found a cassette at my parents' house and brought it back to my studio in Texas where I was able to get a decent quality re-recording of them.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Piano Fire

What a horrifying noun compound that is.

Gary-the-Piano-Tech was over yesterday. It's the longest I've gone between tunings since I got the piano (15 weeks!). I showed him the sticky G and he pointed out that its hammer was rubbing against the adjacent hammer. He explained that when the hammer shank wood is still young, changes in humidity can cause the shank to warp a little making the hammer go off center. All you have to do is warm up the wood and coax it back. In the shop he has a heat gun for just this task. For location jobs he keeps a torch in his kit.

Let me repeat that and let it sink in: he keeps a torch in his kit to warm hammer shanks so he can bend them.

It's a little hard to see, but the photo shows him applying flame to wood inside my piano. I implored him not to start a piano fire (and immediately regretted coining the term).

Anyway, he did three shanks and the tuning. We talked about options for voicing and some of the subtler aspects of regulation (like leveling the hammer line). I won't be getting any of that work done soon. But the voicing has already noticeably hardened up a bit.