This Is How We Jam

People often have a preconception on what a home studio should look like.  Spacious, sound proofing, glass partitions, and a mixer that runs from one end of the room to another.  Just like the movies, or the MTV clips.  I am a pragmatic perfectionist.  That is to say, I aspire to attain perfection within my means.  I have a home studio, but a humble one.  Good enough to record our band’s jamming materials.  Good enough to record a demo tape, I reckon.  Above is a photo taken by our band manager Selrol using her brand new film camera that comes with a fisheye lens.  It is amazing what a cute little camera can do.  I said to her: Keep the film rolling and we shall have a montage of jamming photos for our upcoming album.  Last week, I have designed a logo for our band.  My band-mates Jason and Cynthia seem to like the design.  It bears our band name wrapped with a guitar in abstract form.  Jason said to me: What about some candy colours for our logo?  What colours are the candies these days?  I can’t remember when was the last time I ate one.  I am a pragmatist.  What are the benefits in chewing candies?  I like Jason’s idea.
Have you heard the b-side song “Do You Believe in Me” performed by the Welsh band Catatonia?  Many ask: What does the music of [your band] No Eye Candy sound like?  It is dark.  But what is dark?  “Do You Believe in Me” is a good example.  During our jamming break last weekend, between our practice session one and two, I said to Jason: I want to write some songs, just like that.  We listened to the song in detail and Jason commented that this is the type of songs to be written by the band, as a whole.  And not I alone, which is the case today.  Fair enough.  We shall have some song writing sessions.  Perhaps after we are done with our practice sessions, perhaps after we are done with our recording sessions.  Our long list of to-do items.  Our multi-year project.
In our next gig, there should not be a constraint on our play time.  And since it is an indoor dinning and drinking setting, we have reintroduced the slow song “Feather” into our playlist.  What can I say?  The legacy of our ex-drummer lives on, even after she has [temporarily] moved on.  The song does not have the same level of impact without Wieke’s highly challenging arrangement.  No effort, no risk, hence no glory.  Maybe we shall dedicate this song to her from now on, whenever we perform “Feather” live.  Our band manager loves the song “Jealousy”.  And that too, has been added into our playlist.  The original song lasted close to half an hour during the early No Eye Candy years.  Since then, we have attempted to trim down the song into now a ten minutes long song.  We change the song title to “(A Glimpse of) Jealousy”.  No surprise.
We have not jammed “(A Glimpse of) Jealousy” for a long time.  A song that starts with Cynthia’s steady bass line.  Then Jason’s surreal, heart wrenching guitar sound tears the veil of our reality apart, sucking us into the dark void.  Moments later, I join in with my rhythm guitar filling the air with an ambient of that repeated familiarity.  Dramatic as it may sound, last weekend, as we jammed this song, the dark cloud broke open halfway through the song.  And then the heavy rain poured.

Jealousy.  Potent as it’s meant to be.  It is a pretty dark thing, I kid you not.

Talents Are Made Of This: Our Drummer Plays the Tiny Drum Machine Like a Video Game

Sound, or rather our music, in wave form ...

After the morning Good Friday Mass, our drummer Wieke and I were talking about the popular video game “Guitar Hero” and the Stand Alone Drums that you can buy and play it like a pro.  For our jamming session right after the Mass that Cynthia, Wieke , and I have attended, our guitarist Jason has brought along a tiny drum machine to experiment at my humble home studio.  If you are curious about how it looks like, here is one.

Both Jason and I were quite skeptical on what this tiny machine can do.  Here is our dilemma: Recording at my home studio allows us to have a much better control over the sound quality but there’s no drum kit; jamming at a rented standard studio comes with drums but the recording is lousy.  Besides, my home studio is a more conducive environment to discuss and experiment on the different song arrangements.  And here is another dilemma.  It seems hard to get a live gig that provides a drum set.  Like an upcoming performance that I’ll share more once the detail is finalized.  Jason and I have talked about the possibility of using a drum machine for years but somehow, neither of us has managed to pull it off.  I don’t have the talent.  He doesn’t have the time.

I wish I could share the video our band manager Selrol has recorded as we witnessed the magic fingers of Wieke dancing over the tiny key pads live.  While the band played our usual set, she fed us with the beats that if I were to close my eyes, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the way she plays a real drum set and this tiny drum machine (note: sound-wise, of course I can).  All of us were speechless. Not in a million years can I the songwriter be able do that.  I would love to have that talent though.  I shall start with “Guitar Hero”.  Maybe talents are made of this.  The kind of effortlessness.  My personal thought is that if we put time into nurturing what our talents are, we may be able to do something great.

So all of a sudden, recording a decent demo album at my home studio can be a reality; performing live with live drum beats without a drum set can also be a reality.  I’m excited, on what we can potentially do in a very near future.  We, or rather I, tend to be over optimistic right after our jamming sessions.  Having said that, I have a good feel on this.

Parallelism Between the Various Art Forms – And My Band Resumes Our Practice

My beloved Gibson guitar and I, in the comfort of my home, a photo taken by Cynthia

My life as such: our public performance in The Heeren – or rather the practice sessions leading to that one event – must have been draining to our band members.  Three months we were in hiatus.  It was the Christmas, the New Year, the Chinese New Year, and for me, much of my time has been devoted to photography.

As I was leaving the jamming studio Stone Jamz on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon carrying 20 kg worth of band gear, the band next door was playing the exact same bass line as what Cynthia has been playing in one of our songs.  Down to the exact same set of chords.  Either our drummer Wieke or guitarist Jason commented that we shall start to copyright our music.  I laughed heartily.  Maybe it was coincidence, maybe it was not; maybe it was influence, maybe it was not.

Recently, I have been hit with a revelation that I can pick on the things that I have learned while mastering on one art form and apply them to another.  It is efficiency, it is synergy, depending on how you see it.  It does not make the pain of hard work and frustration goes away.  But cross-discipline pollination of concepts and ideas and techniques seem to have by chance or by design invoked an out-of-the-box experience when I am stuck staring at the same art form for too long (see Medici Effect on innovation by cross-discipline interaction).

So what do I mean?

The concepts of subject standing out from the background (photography), every piece of work begins with a title (music and writing), a common theme and consistency across an album (photography and music), interesting variation in details (painting), mood (music), and technical skill (all).  Maybe next time before I take a photo, I shall have a title in mind, enter into a certain mood.  Maybe next time I write a piece of music, I shall consciously think of what my subject is going to be, what should be in the background.  Maybe next time I paint a picture, I shall apply the technical skill of the photography.  Maybe next time I write, I shall add a lot of interesting variations on not only what is in focus, but out of focus like what I would be doing when I paint.

After each photo session, I would have to sit down and go through hundreds if not more than a thousand pictures and see which ones are the keepers and what need to be done at my computer.  After each jamming session, I would have to do the same for the hours of recorded materials.  It is hard work, it can be frustrating.  Instead of looking at the color histogram, I look at the waveform of sound.  Unlike photos that I can make a decision to keep or to reject, what to work on at one glance, tidying up recording music materials take lots of patience in listening to each track from beginning to end, comparing to one track to another of the same song.  Instead of the highlight and shadow protection that I usually observe when I work on my photos, I apply sound compression to my recorded materials.  Same concept of bring out the details of the submerged creating a more balanced outcome.

My life as such: I still want my band to audition for Baybeats Singapore, a music festival.  Maybe for the year 201x, whatever x is going to be.

Related Entry: In Search for Styles – Of Photography, Oil Painting, Music Creation, and Writing

7pm This Saturday at The Heeren – Our Band is Ready for Plan A, Are You?

First of all, thank you for all the inquiries and warm wishes for our band No Eye Candy’s upcoming charity live performance at The Heeren, Singapore.  We shall be on stage at 7pm this Saturday (Nov 29)Music for Hope is a full day event from 11am to 9pm organized by the non-profit organization B Well Ltd – Compassion for the Needy Sick.  No Eye Candy is honored to be part of this fund raising initiative. 

Here are some of the pictures we have taken during our band practice last weekend.  The lovely lady in pink top is Cynthia, the bassist.  The lovely lady in black top is Wieke, the unplugged guitarist.  The handsome dude is Jason, the lead guitarist.  And the dude in bumblebee top is me.  More about our bios in our mini-band website.

And we have great news to share.  Jason, our almighty lead guitarist, has just received his reservist training program and he should be able to make it on stage with us.  Hooray!  Although we have worked out the music arrangement for plan B+ (us sans Jason), his presence will certainly, most definitely add much sparkle to our performance.  I personally will measure his success by counting the number of lingerie being thrown at his feet on the day itself.

Wieke, our drummer-turned-unplugged-guitarist, should have already booked the air ticket to fly back from Malaysia this Friday.  We really wouldn’t want to go plan B- (us sans Wieke).  Because without Wieke, there will be no structure to our songs and three of us would just go crazy improvising our performance all the way taking up the rest of the slots till closing time.  Note: you wouldn’t want to know what plan C is.

The lyrics of our songs have been submitted to the authority as requested and so far, no news means no censorship means good news.  Our particulars have too been submitted to the authority.  We have been practicing hard for plan A, plan B+, plan B-, and plan C since September.  We are ready for our gig.  See you there.

Related link: Read more on our Music for Hope journey.

Our Band Has a New Vocal Coach, Woot! – Live on Nov 29 (Sat) 7pm @ Heeren

Finally, the program for the charity event “Music for Hope” is out.  I was just about to wonder if our band’s slot is still on, or off.  It will be a whole day event at Heeren (Singapore) and our band will perform right in between the last leg of the show (Nov 29, 7pm), right in between a young children band performance, a dance performance, songs by a Korean singer, and songs by another unplugged band.  Let’s see how this will play out.

I love looping in my friends for fun events like this (and I am more than happy to be involved in any of theirs in the future).  So I gave my old friend Jason Seet a call and without hesitation, he is happy to be our band’s unofficial vocal coach, give us some fresh ideas to work on, and much like our private performance previously in Petaling Jaya (Malaysia), it i always good to perform in front of real audience.  It is much easier to get into the songs this way.  So he turned up at our practice session, together with his wife Silvia whom Cynthia and I have met before they got married.

Jason Seet is a model consultant (we worked as a team before together with Cynthia).  Full of enthusiasm and encouragement with crisp clear suggestions for areas of improvement.  I always think that to criticize is much easier than to propose how to be better.  After we were done for the day, Jason reviewed our recordings and pinpointed word by word where the emphasis should lie, how some of the lyrics can be rewritten for better impact.  Hands down, the best vocal advice I have had.

OK, time to put the advice into practice.  See you at the Heeren!