Eclectic Blah – this was an odd ensemble project from early in the millennium. The idea: radically freely improvised – and danceable.
While it existed, I always saw it as kind of a proof of concept project, and so, when in 2004 we had reached a level where it truly worked, the project ended.
There had, of course, always been the idea of an album. Not a studio album, of course, as the ensemble was about improvisation, and thus, live performance. However, most of the sessions, and also most of the concerts, got recorded. In case of the sessions, this meant putting a DAT with a stereo mic in the room. For the concerts (at least for most of them) however, this meant sixteen tracks of digital audio, which works well for a proper album. And there are, in fact, a few really great recordings, and I have already “leaked” some roughmixes of some tracks.
So finally, there will be an album, more than ten years later! But how is the progress?
Work had started mainly in the week before christmas, and I have already given a few status reports via twitter since then. The first task, obviously, was to make a few creative choices. The important one was to only use material that was recorded in multitrack audio – limiting the input to recordings of seven concerts (if we count in the Reverse Engineering live remix event). What about those fantastic tracks like Chiba City Blues or Deuteronomium from some session? They might go onto a “garage” release later.
With that decision made, a shortlist was compiled, taking into account next to musical quality also some sound quality issues on some of the recordings. And there were several of the latter: on the The Ebersberg Enigma concert, the drum mics got forgotten, so the drum sound was not up to par (although this mainly affected the bass drum). For A Triptoed Opening, phantom power for the drum overheads got not turned on, leaving a very “incomplete” drum sound experience. There’s distortion on the bass guitar from Fractal Dimension, and on some keyboard parts on Sansserif. In some cases, surgery was considered possible, in others, it was not.
After the first round of evaluation, the list contained 20 items from six different concerts. Listening further to the roughmixes and thinking about a proper album sequence, the list then was prioritized to ten items, together with a running order.
The next step was getting into some mixing and editing. For all of the chosen tracks, at least a roughmix/edit was already available – which, at times, required to be converted to different plugins (if only different versions), and also including some vital lessons I’ve since learned regarding audio engineering. In some cases, the work was rather non-standard: Spheres might be the prime example here – the completely unusable bass drum signal had me using the trusted Battery I Studio Drums library, extracting the groove from the bassdrum track, and using the MPD24 to sequence a synthetic bass drum track. In contrast to similar works from music history (e.g. You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol.2), I did however make sure to use a sound that fit into the musical context, and also had some life to it. Sometimes, mixing also meant to remove a gate on the snare drum which, present in the original roughmix, hid all of the intricate ghosts played by Ralf Gruber on Lazer.
I made clever use of my remaining vacation days (which I had to take starting December 12th and extending until Epiphany), and so today, I can already report that of the ten tracks, four have a “status 3” (meaning of to finishing), four more have a “status 2” (mix and edit established, remaining action items identified), and only one has a “status 1” (roughmix established).
My current schedule has me getting all tracks to status 3 by Epiphany, and then aiming for a completion within Q1/2014 – which, to me, looks entirely realistic.
Now let me tell you why this is so much fun for me at the moment. First of all, rediscovering the beautiful output that has happened with the eleven artists represented on the included tracks – some of the (as Ralf Gruber) being represented on each and every Eclectic Blah concert, others (as Jack Traherne) only present for one set of one concert. There’s the stunning beauty of the intricate interplay of Franz Wechtenbruch on trapset and Ralf Gruber on percussion (which he choose to be limited to a shaker and a small, snareless drum) on both Spheres and The Porcupine. There’s the magic of a group which, on a freely improvised basis, enters a fast-paced number with an unisono intro and ends it with a similar coda. There’s the fun of a group playing improvised material, but playing a blues only after existing for three years. There’s audience members screaming “Carlos!” after the flu-and-fever-handicapped (or -enhanced?) Jan Kühner launches into a beautiful guitar theme. The fun of being able to in a detailed fashion apply mixing tricks (such as a fun panning delay with filter and saturation of Spheres) due to me having been very uncooperative (to say the least) when group members asked for instrument amplifiers or monitor speakers on stage.
Finally, this also raises memories about this project and that the idea of a radically improvised ensemble doing “normal” music would work. We believed in it, and we made it happen! And this mainly because of great artists such as Luke Cyrus Götze, Ralf Gruber, Christian Klos, Jan Kühner, Erik Müller, Wolfi Schlick, Jack Traherne, Franz Wechtenbruch, Jörg Weger, Thomas Würdinger (and many more who didn’t even make it into the chosen tracks).
So, what are the next steps?
Of course, first is getting the remaining “status 1” track up to “status 2” (which will be a tricky one, as for this one, only a 2bus recording of the digital console used for that session is available). Then, going through the established list of action items (which as of now holds 77 of those items). And finally, getting everything into shape, designing a cover, getting ready for mastering – and having a good time along the way!