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A Passage In Time

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On St. Patrick’s Day in 1958, a man named Ted wrote an inscription in a book of love poems from India. Inside the book he tucked a verse of his own, neatly typed on parchment, signed and carefully folded. Sealed with three kisses and safely wrapped in its brown paperboard case, Ted’s gift began a journey across hands and time.

inscription

Fifty years and a few months later, I was sitting in my living room studio, immersing myself in a dark, velvety blue musical sketch Mijo had sent me, hearing melodies waft up between notes, leaning in to listen for what song might be living inside. Curious, I walked over to the bookshelf and fingered a soft brown spine that caught my eye, hoping to tempt inspiration from some random phrase or image.  I slipped the little volume from its box, recalling I’d picked it up at a used booksale, drawn by its viney cover dotted with inky black berries, and inside, a treasure of rich, red ochre wood engravings of leaf-eyed women outlined in wide, white slithering curves. Pulling open the cover, out dropped a folded leaf of faded parchment. Ahh…that savory moment when the hunting scavenger stumbles on a possible prize – perhaps it’s a shopping list, a receipt, some slouching mundane march of words…but just maybe, could it be…Something Interesting?  Slowly unfolding the page to reveal twelve modestly typed lines, I laughed out loud in giddy gratitude as my eyes delightedly skipped across Ted’s verse, a gracefully woven juxtaposition of monks and lovers, shadows and glittering sparks bouncing between mirrors of devotion, desire, longing, passion, pilgrimage toward some distant mirage of union. The words were musical, each sensual line shaded by midnight and fire, phrases shaping themselves effortlessly to the melody singing from Mijo’s chords. The marriage was instantaneous. I adapted Ted’s poem, arranged the music around it, and there emerged the song ‘Passage’ on Sephyra.

Ted’s words speak to that aspect of being human which is rooted in our ability to experience profound connectedness, whether exploring the mystery of ‘other’ through sharing ideas, love, friendship, sensuality, or on our own, in meditation, creative practice, spiritual devotion or simple reverie. A friend recently posted a reminder that the word ‘alone’ is akin to “all one” – even in solitude we contain the totality of all creation. And when we are entwined with another or even many others, like points of light in a constellation, we are still solitary.

In a similar vein, several artists collaborated across distance on the development of ‘Passage’ – Mijo drew the musical sketch, I recorded vocals and arranged the song based on Ted’s poem, and Keith Crusher and Bobby Cochran added instrumentation and production to the piece before it was handed back to David Earl and me for final production and mixing. I then sent the track to Steve Lawson – he added several layers of bass lines and ambient textures, which served to weave elements together and lent the song much of its soaringly deep atmosphere and feel. Each person whose ears and hands were entrusted with the piece was given no specific instruction or request, each worked remotely, and each heard, felt and brought out an integral aspect of the whole. The song’s realization depended entirely on a silent conversation we all had with one another and with ourselves, from a place of solitude.

Fifty-five years ago this week, Ted wrote a poem that was destined to become a song in the hands of six strangers who hadn’t yet been born. Who was he? Priest, husband, lover, young, old? Was his gift inspired by new love or celebrating a lifelong friendship? To whom was it given? Was it given at all? Mystery endures. We’ve never met Ted. But we’ve created something beautiful together, celebrating something essential about our humanness. It seems helpful to remember the possibility of connection and unity when conversations become polarized by apparently divergent political ideals or religious dogmas, either personally or on the world stage. What we say and think matters, whether we share it with a thousand, or one, or simply with ourselves. Perspectives differ and yet truth resonates. The fate of what we offer is unknown to us when it’s given, but when we listen deeply and speak thoughtfully, what we express may find itself rippling across time in ways that surprise, delight and inspire.

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New release of an old Treasure

treasure

The other day, someone said to me, after hearing a guitar song I wrote for Song-A-Day, “Wow, I never heard you write guitar-y stuff before!”  Well, not to be unexpected.  I have shamefully neglected my poor Baby-J for several long years.  This was a good reminder to put things in perspective and pay a little respect to where things all began…so, we’ve dusted off an old favorite and are very pleased to re-release the song Treasure.  You can listen here while you read, and if you enjoy, please download it for whatever you think it’s worth.  And please, as always, feel free to share.

 

 

Treasure was the title track for the first Artemis EP (1999) – the rest of the material on the EP was formative, but Treasure was a gem that stood out, so we wanted to bring it out again and share it with you, as a reminder of where we began on this journey of music making.  I wrote the song on my Gibson J200, for a friend who was going through a challenging time.  I played and sang on the track, and Daniel Berkman added electric guitar using an Ebow, Korg Pandora, whammy pedal and overdubs. David Earl (aka SFLogicninja) engineered, produced and mastered the song.  It was the beginning of our relationships as collaborators, and of each of our careers as musicians and producers, and was a very rich, potent time.  As things are ripening and blossoming in all our creative lives these days, it seems an appropriate moment to echo back to our roots together.

I asked David to write down some reflections on the making of the song, and he tells the story in such a lovely way, I’m including the whole thing right here:

“I believe the idea for the first song on Artemis’ Treasure EP was hatched as Artemis and I were searching for the perfect tiramisu in San Francisco.

Artemis was living in the Castro at that time, and we were just getting to become friends via Frank Garvey and the Omnicircus, (then known as Theater Concrete). We were hanging out, and both came to the conclusion that the best tiramisu would be found in North Beach. For those not familiar with the layout of San Francisco, North Beach is about 4 miles away from the Castro. Even though public transportation between these locations is plentiful and simple to navigate… well, we decided to walk.

The tiramisu was pretty good! (No Yelp back then, so we kinda winged it). While buzzing on a sugar high Artemis mentioned wanting to put a demo together – would I want to work on it?

‘Sure!’

Treasure took shape in a very different way than any other production I would work on with Artemis. First of all, there was Artemis’ beautiful Gibson J200 guitar. She wrote the song entirely on guitar, and brought the song fully formed to me in my home studio. The song is in compound meter, varying between 5/4 and 6/4. It was not the kind of compound meter that you hear in progressing rock. It flowed naturally, and did not distract at all. I knew that writing a rhythm that would not distract was key. Using Logic and my trusty Ensoniq EPS16+ and MR76, I laid the rhythm and keyboard tracks down in one afternoon.

After the whirlwind session in the home studio, it was off to the Icehouse, where I was working as the studio manager/in house composer/producer/janitor and recording engineer. We had a pretty nice selection of mics, but we ended up using a matched pair of AKG 414ULS mics to record the guitar, (which was quite a feat – that guitar was notoriously hard to record), and then used one of the 414ULS for Artemis’ vocal tracks as well. It just worked.

The console was an Amek M1000, and if I remember correctly, the preamps were all Massenberg. We tracked into Pro Tools. I laid back all of the keyboard parts through the console into Pro Tools, and then it was on to Daniel Berkman’s genius guitar work.

Daniel brought his own processing, and we didn’t reamp anything. He played a sunburst Fender Stratocaster through his Korg Pandora. All of the effects were his vision alone, and he actually tracked the parts sitting in the control room. The way he drops those electric guitar parts into the chorus is genius. Little licks here and there on the verses… and then the alien atmosphere of the bridge! The bridge is actually mostly Daniel. We just kept overdubbing and overdubbing his guitar being played with an Ebow. The Ebow is a magnetic device that excites the guitar string in a way that is very smooth and lap-steel like. I believe he was also using a whammy pedal. It was genius.

Once the tracking was done, it was on to mixing. All of the channels were sent from Pro Tools to the console via submixes. I still automated the mix via Pro Tools and used mostly Waves plugins for mixing. We also used honest to goodness Silverface 1176 compressors, a Lexicon 480XL, and other various hardware goodies. I love the bridge of the song, where the compression on Artemis’ voice is just ludicrous, but still works perfectly.

The mix went fairly quickly, and when we were done, I can actually remember sitting in the control room listening back thinking ‘this is the best production I have ever done’. I have been extremely happy to revisit this song years later… it is like revisiting an old friend. It’s one of the only pieces of music that I had a hand in from those days that I consider ‘canon’. It still stands up today with my other productions… Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic, but damn if I don’t just love this song. Artemis had something succinct to say, and we were all there to be in service to this song. It is what I consider the beginning of my life as a producer.”

We originally released Treasure on mp3.com during its heyday, and the song did very well, rising to the top of the Alternative charts for a few weeks in 1999.  Mp3.com soon faded into memory, but the licensing deals the song landed during that time continue to reap rewards. We didn’t realize this until Keith Crusher was on his way to Iceland to meet Artemis for some video shoots in 2008.  He had a particularly bleary-eyed layover in Boston Logan airport, where he thought he had hallucinated hearing his name over the loudspeaker, followed by hearing Treasure over that same system.  Both things actually happened.  Artemis was stuck in Bahrain after a delayed flight from India and was trying to page Keith to let him know she’d be a day late, and according to the guy in the bar where Keith went to check his head, Treasure was actually being played throughout the airport.  We later discovered this was due to the deal mp3.com brokered with a company called Trusonic (now Mood Media), with whom we continue to work.

Here’s some shamlessly self-congratulatory memorabilia (please forgive) – just in case you think we might be making this stuff up ;)

There may be a few other hidden gems from the distant past we may yet release…but Treasure is certainly a nice example of some of our best early work.  Hope you enjoy it.

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New video for ‘Ella’ from Auralei!

Ella Video Screenshot

Ella Video ScreenshotHappy Valentines Day lovelies!

Here’s a little (and long-awaited) token of love – the new video for ‘Ella’ from the Auralei EP.  The video was actually completed quite awhile back, but as it was in rotation in the film festival circuit, we had to wait to release it.  The video premiered in 2011 at the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival, and also won the John Muir Award for best music video at the Yosemite Film Festival – that was quite an honor and a nice surprise!  I hope you enjoy the video as much as we enjoyed being part of its creation.

 

 

 

Video concept, direction, and animation by Nicky Cairney, an artist from Aberdeen, Scotland

Photos and video footage shot by Keith Crusher of RTFM Records: http://www.rtfmrecords.com

Nicky’s animations can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/missartimation

Nicky is also a musical artist at RTFM Records: http://rtfmrecords.com/artists/nicky-cairney/

Download the Artemis song ‘Ella’ or the entire Auralei IP (pay what you want) on Bandcamp:  http://music.artemis.fm/album/auralei

About the video:

The video for Ella was conceived, directed and executed by Nicky Cairney.  Keith Crusher took photos and shot video of me according to Nicky’s instructions and sketches, and she very painstakingly transformed those still and motion shots into beautiful hand-drawn animations.  The animation of the eagle landing took many hours to create.  One highlight of the creative process was shooting the video footage for the animated shot of me falling off the cliff and becoming the eagle.  To do this, I had to literally ‘fall off a cliff’ with arms spread wide – we used a rickety table about 1.5 meters high, and I swan dove into a pile of couch cushions generously provided by Lynda Arnold at the Oakland Noodle Factory, where some footage was shot.  Managed to avoid whiplash. We may post some of the original footage soon, just for a laugh.  Beach footage was shot in Marin County, California.  It was incredibly cold.  I was barefoot wearing my grandmother’s nightgown.  A woman asked me if I had just gotten married.  That made me giggle.  I like doing cartwheels.

About the song:

The song Ella was inspired by the birth of my neice Ella Wilson in June 2008.  Much of the lyrics were inspired by the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and reflect on the joys of being a child, having a child, and the beauty of the natural world and ourselves as its fleetingly embodied echoes and reflections.  When Ella was born on a warm evening in June, at home, there were literally and quite randomly fireworks in the sky outside the window as she came into the world.  Fittingly, her first word was “Bang!”

Lyrics:

nature’s child
wildly wise
awoke and opened ancient joyful eyes
danced down from heaven
trailing fireworks cross the sky
bright soul shine ten thousand fireflies

ella
lucky child
born of love
sunlight on water dancing
write our names on the wind

turning cartwheels on the sand
casting shadows on the sun
weaving blankets of light
digging secret gardens

ella
lucky child
born of love
sunlight on water dancing
write our names on the wind

in the woods
on a winter afternoon
see your stained glass heart shining
adorned in colors of the western sky
seen through bare crossing branches high
cathedrals blossoming of stone
mountains of granite bloom eternal flowers
in stem and petal lotus and fern
trace your gypsy footsteps home

ella
lucky child
born of love
sunlight on water dancing
write our names on the wind

to those not yet here
to all who have been
offer these hands
for you to begin again

give to her
she give back ten times to you

may we always be together

 

 

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