Warming Up

Warming Up

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Listening: Rain

It happens every time. Every time I hear this song I think to myself “This song is just unbelievably awesome.” Then I hear something new in the song. Something I’d never heard before even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times before. “Rain” by The Beatles. It’s just so freaking good.

I played "Rain" this morning as I was packing the boys their school lunches. I can’t be in a bad mood “when the Rain comes.” I’m a Beatles freak and this tune is one of my all-time favorites. So why is it so good? There are just so many reasons. It’s a great song. Great song-writing. Great hooks, great transitions, great structure. And the recorded sound is just amazing. So up front and in your face.
According to engineer Geoff Emerick, the reason for this is that Rain (and it’s A-Side “Paperback Writer”) was the “first release to use a new device invented by the maintenance department at Abbey Road called "ATOC" for "Automatic Transient Overload Control". The new device allowed the record to be cut at a louder volume, louder than any other single up to that time.” The guitars have a clangy, sitar-meets-harpischord-ish sound that was all new for the band at the time. Ringo’s drums sound like they are being played right in front of you. And Paul is also super high in the mix on his new Rickenbacker. And what Paul and Ringo play on this track is just some of their best playing ever on record. Paul’s lines are simply ridiculous. Listen to just the bass on this track. He’s rhythm. He’s melody and counter-melody. He’s accompaniment. He’s forward motion. He controls this track. Listen to what he plays coming out of the choruses. What?!?! And Ringo contributes his greatest work to this track, I think. Ringo plays some of the weirdest fills in Rock and Roll and this track features his weirdest. It’s like he doesn’t even know what he’s doing. Like he’s discovering the instrument for the very first time. And I mean that in the best possible way. (I tell my drum-playing 11 year old son, Julian, all the time to listen to Ringo's fills. Simple, but perfect in their own strange way)

Another thing that makes “Rain” so important is that, to me, it helps to mark the monumental transition from the pop, bubble gum Beatles into the mature, even experimental Beatles. This track was recorded in April 1966 and released a few months before Revolver came out. Sure it came out after “Rubber Soul” which was the truly the first Beatles album to have some studio experimentation. But “Rain” was truly experimental: slowed down and sped up tape tracks, the revolutionary use of the ATOC, the new up-front Rickenbacker bass, and perhaps the most important innovation, the backwards Lennon vocal. Lennon claims credit for the idea:

“After we'd done the session on that particular song—it ended at about four or five in the morning—I went home with a tape to see what else you could do with it. And I was sort of very tired, you know, not knowing what I was doing, and I just happened to put it on my own tape recorder and it came out backwards. And I liked it better. So that's how it happened.”

Producer George Martin also claims credit:

“I was always playing around with tapes and I thought it might be fun to do something extra with John's voice. So I lifted a bit of his main vocal off the four-track, put it on another spool, turned it around and then slid it back and forth until it fitted. John was out at the time but when he came back he was amazed”

I don’t know who’s idea it really was, but who cares? The fact is they made history with this little piece of genius. Regardless of your feelings and opinions of the Beatles, this was serious innovation in the recording studio.

“Rain” marks a pivotal moment in recorded music. Plus it’s just a superbad track. Oh, and they also made a music video for it. Another first of sorts. And this video should also prove that Ringo was the coolest Beatle. Good Gravy this song is good!

Friday, November 11, 2011


I’ve been a bit lax lately about posting my upcoming gigs on this blog (or lax about posting in general!). Because of that I never posted about two great recent shows I played. I never told you about the PhillyBloco Halloween show I played (photos here); and I never told you about the gig I did last week with guitarist Tim Motzer at Tritone. Both of those gigs were awesome in their own unique way. PhillyBloco gigs are always crazy fun parties (we’ll be at World Café Live for New Years Eve!) and playing with Tim gives me an opportunity to play my horn in a way that none of the other bands I play in do.

Even when I was a kid, just trying to learn the trumpet, I would always noodle around trying to make weird sounds on my horn. It wasn’t until I got into jazz and more avant garde musics during and after college that I realized that there was a whole history, a lineage, of trumpet players who had created unique, non-trumpet-sounding noises. Modern players (I won't even get into the old-school geniuses) like, Axel Dorner, Peter Evans, Dave Douglas, Cuong Vu, and Nate Wooley can get an amazing array of sounds out of the trumpet. Those guys can all play the horn straight too and can do it at a truly ridiculous, virtuosic level, especially Evans and Douglas. But there’s something about those strange sounds and the process of trying to figure out how they make those sounds that really fascinates me. And I think that I also have some sounds that I make that are sounds that I haven’t heard other trumpet players play. Besides making weird noises, I’m also slowly starting to get into the world of electronic effects. Recently I’ve been playing through a Digitech Whammy pedal,

a Boss Distortion pedal,and a Boss Loop station
– while adding some delay and/or reverb through my amp or PA. I’m also a sucker for a simple, pure melody line. Improvising with Tim Motzer gives me a unique opportunity to make all of those weird noises to my heart’s content, play through all of those effects, and also search for some beautiful melodies.

Tim is really a master of creating sound. He’s got a sick array of effects that he has truly mastered and incorporated into a sound that is only his. And he’s made a career out of this. No easy feat. He plays all over the world, collaborates with some amazing artists, records some magic in his studio, and improvises for dance classes at the University of the Arts in Philly. When we play, it’s always an improvisational experiment. Sometime we “compose” succinct songs and song forms on the spot. Other times, like at Tritone the other night, we create a set-long, ever-evolving soundscape. It’s always an adventure in listening and responding and conversing. For me it’s one of the most enjoyable music-making opportunities that I’m currently involved in.

Tomorrow night I will be playing with Tim as part of a really cool festival – music, dance, and super-cool visuals. Here are the details – if you are in the area and free, come check it out:

Cosmic Trigger - An Exploratorium of sound, light, and kinetics
Night Two of the Fall Experimental Music Festival at fidget space | Philadelphia.
10PM Saturday November 12, 2011
Cosmic Trigger: Tim Motzer and Dejha Ti collaborate to produce an immersive night of music, movement and interactivity exploration. The music, improvised by Tim Motzer (guitars, electronics, and laptop), both solo and in configurations of duo and trio with Bart Miltenberger (prepared trumpet and electronics), and Jim Hamilton (percussion) promises to be an evolution in soundscaping. The fidget space will be invaded by Dejha Ti’s unique blend of projections, real-time kinect visuals and modular set installations, while dancers Leanne Grieger and Zach Svoboda travel the “inner space” in search for meaning through their exploration of spacial stages and “trans-time dialogues”.  Art direction, set design with Erik Silverson, and cinematography, and lighting by Ahing Huang.