Thursday, November 3, 2011

"New Zealand Coastline"

"New Zealand Coastline" came to me in a dream. It doesn't happen very often, but once in a great while I will have a song playing in a dream, and once in a greater while I will be dreaming lucidly enough to realize that I am dreaming about a song, and once in an even greater while I will be able to make myself wake up and play enough of it on a keyboard so I will remember it.  Even then, only a very few of those middle-of-the-night doodles have eventually developed into what I felt was a good song.  Of those, this is my favorite.  

In the dream, the song was not specifically about New Zealand, but I think there was a general implication that this is where I was at the time it appeared.  I was not playing the song in the dream, nor was it even my song.  It sounded sort of like something Enya would do, and it was just kind of the "soundtrack" to what was going on at the time.  Once I realized that I was dreaming, and was able to wake up while still retaining the song in my head, I knew that the song didn't belong to anyone so I figured it was a case of "finders keepers."

Once I began to properly work on the song, a New Zealand coastal theme started to properly take shape.  I kept in mind a picture that was in a family album from a trip we took in the late 1980s, using that as a basis for the texture of the piece as it continued to take shape.  I eventually obtained a copy of that photo and included it in the booklet for the CD along with the track listing for the song.

"New Zealand Coastline" was initially created without any PC software.  I recorded each of the tracks internally with the ENSONIQ MR-61's built-in sequencer, using MIDI to control one patch on the ENSONIQ SD-1.  There is a patch on that synth which has a huge, multi-leveled feel which was perfect for this song.  You can clearly hear the single patch from the SD-1 once you know what to listen for.  It is where the high notes come from at about the :40 second mark and is the sound that carries out with a long sustain at the end of the song.  Everything else is the MR-61.  Because the whole thing was done on board the MR-61, to get this ready for the CD I simply pushed "record" on the computer and "play" on the keyboard.  Unfortunately, the multi-voice chorus effect used for that patch on the SD-1 has a glitch, where random click noises somehow get into the audio chain - and are replicated by the chorus - so they have a watery-echoey sound to them.  I used that same patch in "A New Beginning" on my first CD and a few of those clicks inadvertently made it into the final recording.  I didn't want to repeat that error here, so I painstakingly edited every click and its multiples from the recording using some software prior to mastering.  Other than that, this song is a good representation of how these keyboards sound "live."  ENSONIQ made some cool gear and I still use both of these synths on a regular basis.

The coastal scenes used in this video were shot in 2008 and include the Moeraki Boulders, Queen Charlotte Sound, Punakaiki, Waipapa Bay, Akaroa and Hokitika.

You can get a CD, including the booklet with New Zealand Coastline picture here.


This song was written late one night in 2001.  It was one of those moments where everything seemed to be aligned just right, the magic was in the air, or whatever happens when creativity peaks happens.  "Secrets" went from inspiration to completion in about 30 minutes, and the decision to make it the opening track on the next CD also came rather quickly.

Now that I am finally moving forward on preparing that CD, I revisited this song to see if it needed anything before being committed to the album.  Although the timing is a little sloppy in a couple of places and there is some unintended variation in the left-hand arpeggios, I decided to do absolutely no quantization or other "fixing," because a more intimate, human or perhaps "imperfect" condition is more true to the spirit of the song.    I had originally planned to extend the piece with a bridge leading into something as yet undetermined, but after listening to the initial draft I felt that this particular composition was certainly a case where one could easily break the spell by overdoing it.  The instrumentation is nothing fancy; little more than piano backed by strings, and so it seemed as though the basic structure of the song was appropriate as well.

I only made two significant changes (other than re-recording each track into the DAW at a higher sample rate).  First, I updated the piano sample from one on the ENSONIQ MR-61 to one from the KORG Triton.  I didn't yet own the KORG at the time this song was composed, and for most purposes I find its piano samples to be more lifelike.  Changing that patch did necessitate some level adjustments and effects processing in Reaper in order for it to properly fit into the mix.  After that, the only other change was a very small addition to the strings at about the 2-minute mark.  For some reason, every time I listened to this song I would hear - in my head - a specific note in the strings at that precise moment... that actually wasn't there.  So I put it there.