Close My Eyes

Close My Eyes is a song about one of my favourite things in the world, the moment when you start to drift off to sleep. Why not have a listen to it here:

Close My Eyes actually started life as two different sections of a song, one in 6/8 time and one in 4/4. The verse section came about because (yet again) I was playing around with my Shruti Box.

Shruti Box

I set it up playing a chord that I liked then just started singing whatever melodies came into my head. After a while I came up with a number of melody lines that I liked that went well together and I went about recording them.

After this I removed the Shruti Box and started playing chords on the piano that I felt fitted the melody nicely. Once I had the chords in place I added in vocal harmony lines that followed the piano chords. I then removed the piano sound so that I was just left with a blocks of vocals.

Then I had a slightly strange, but very nice turn of events. I got talking to the comedian Rufus Hound on Twitter. He’d had a listen to my music and read one of my previous blogs about my harmoniums. He thought that it was all very interesting, but he wanted to hear some of these harmoniums that I’d been banging on about!

Okay, I thought, no problem. In fact this song may well just be the perfect thing for that. So I sat down at the harmonium and recorded the chords to section I’d been working on. However my mind being the way it is, I then got immediately distracted and started improvising some other parts. I came up with a new chord sequence and a new melody that followed on from the original section. However because I wasn’t playing to a click track or anything like that, I’d written it in 4/4 time signature as opposed to the first section, which was in 6/8. Despite a premonition of things to come, I liked this as it seemed to be where the song naturally wanted to go.

Salvation Army Harmonium

So now, as I mentioned above, I had two different sections. At first I tried to make the song transition between the two sections with an instrumental part that tried to introduce the timing change subtly. I produced a semi-complete version of the song this way, but I just couldn’t make it feel natural enough for what I was hearing in my head.

Then in the spirit of The Beatles I decided to cut the sections up and glue them back together thereby creating a new structure for the song. I split the first 6/8 section in half and that became the two verses, whilst the 4/4 section became the chorus. I must say that performing this kind of work is where modern studio technology really starts to come into it’s own. Every time I cut, copied and dragged a bit of the multitrack audio around the song I thought about how difficult this would be if I were recording to tape.

After only a few hours work I had come up with a completely new structure for the song and the good news was, I thought it was awesome. Now I just needed to add all the instrumentation and vocals to make the song sound the way I wanted.

At first I came up with a little concept in order to try and encourage some creativity from myself. When I had written the blog on my harmoniums, I had called it Windpower. This was partly in reference to a Thomas Dolby song that I really like, but also because of the bellows you pump with your feet that generate the harmonium’s sound. I thought that this would be an interesting concept for the recording of this Close My Eyes, if I could only use sounds that were windpowered in some way. I also thought that saying a song was powered by my own wind was funny, because I’m very childish and stupid.

I pretty much recorded everything I could that was in some way powered by wind. I recorded my smaller harmonium playing a variety of parts.

Small Harmonium

I recorded my melodica playing chords and also a lead line during the middle instrumental section.

Hohner Melodica Student 32

I then started recording any other noises I could find. I recorded the noise of pedals on the big harmonium being pressed, the creaking noise of the wooden bellow moving on the smaller harmonium, the sound of air being blown down the tube on the melodica. I went back to an idea I had used previously on Tonight and recorded lots of sounds of breathing. I used these sounds to build up percussion and rhythm parts. I also recorded lots and lots of wordless vocal parts in harmony which I used to build up a kind of human harmonium sound.

Although the song was coming together quite nicely, something wasn’t right. This song felt like it needed to build up more as it went along and I just couldn’t make that happen with the instrumentation I was using. So as quickly as I had taken to the concept of windpower, I decided I that I needed it no longer. I’m shallow like that.

I began to add instruments to the song that filled it in dynamically the way I could hear in my head. I added some bass guitar (using Spectrasonic’s Trillian) and then broke out my Telecaster to add a number of guitar parts.

Fender Telecaster

One of the guitar parts was a repeating upwards scale, I felt that this part really helped to make the transition in time signature between the two parts and also provided a great counter-melody to the lead instruments in the middle and end sections of the song.

I also added lots of other percussion and drums sounds to help to beef up the rhythm of the track. I added foot stomps, hands claps, timpani and other drum sounds. I wanted to add a shaker part, but I couldn’t find anything that had the right clunkiness I was after. Then I grabbed hold of the rainmaker that Wanda had got me for Christmas.

Rainmaker

I found that when I shook it gently the little plastic wheels inside would turn around and squeak and all the balls at the bottom provided an excellent shaker sound. This was exactly what I was after and it became the central point of the percussion tracks that all the others hang off. It’s this noise that you can hear right at the beginning of the song and again at the end, although it is in fact playing all the way through.

For the second chorus I started playing around with drum loops. I started adding more and more drums loops on top of each other as the chorus moves along. Each drum loop is more heavy and compressed than that last and by the end of the Chorus there are about 15 drums loops playing simultaneously, which I’m quite happy to admit, is bit over the top. They make a great noise though.

Finally I started playing around with a new virtual instrument I had recently bought. Native Instruments’ Session Strings.

Native Instruments – Session Strings

This is one of the first string libraries I have found that seems to sound amazing as soon as you play a note. Then once you delve into it, you can fine tune the sounds to be exactly as you want them to be. I used this for the string section at the end that mirrors the melodica solo in the middle of the song.

And that was that. A mere 3 months after I had started, I was finished. I guess I’m not exactly a fast worker.

I hope you enjoy the song, Wanda told me it’s her favourite. I wonder if Rufus will like it?

Stephen.

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3 Comments
  1. I love it!

    I found your blog when Googling for things about shruti boxes. I discovered they exist when I heard Karine Polwart playing one at one of her concerts, and I thought that sounds nice, and great for a solo singer who can’t play the guitar and likes folk songs like me. Then she used it on albums, and I still liked it, and then last night I saw Jackie Oates and she used one too and I really REALLY liked it. Although I’m sure she was playing it with her foot at one point (I couldn’t see properly, she may have been using a loop pedal instead).

    So I was looking around to see what other people are doing with them to see if it would be useful enough to justify a purchase. I can certainly see how it could lead to inspiration for melodies and tunes, and I could definitely do with some of that, but what I really want to do is stand up and sing over it, which I know can work very well with presumably carefully selected songs.

    Of course then one has to decide whether to get a C or G box. Can you offer any insight into how you decided?

    • Thanks Matt, that’s really very nice of you to say. I really do love my shurti box, it’s amazing that an instrument that just produces a few drone notes can sound so amazing and be so inspirational. I think you are right, it will sound very nice to just sing over it. Although since you mentioned possibly using a looper pedal with one, that sounds like an interesting thing to do as well. I imagine you could do some very interesting things with that.

      I got a G box, primarily because I tend to like singing in G and it seemed to fit my range better. Although, I have also pitch shifted it sometimes – so I could probably do with a C box as well. I just need to try and justify buying another one 🙂

      • I think it’s inevitable that whichever one you buy, you’re going to want the other one eventually. I’ve ordered a C box based on the recommendation of Stefan at shrutibox.co.uk after I told him my vocal range, so fingers crossed it will suit me nicely. Unfortunately it’s going to be a couple of weeks before they get their next batch in so I have to be patient.

        I wasn’t really considering using a loop pedal, I was just speculating that Jackie Oates might have been – she definitely used one with her viola elsewhere in the set, so I know she had one, and it seems a little more plausible than playing the box with a foot while playing the fiddle over the top… still, you’re right, it could lead to some interesting things. Something else to invest in one day!

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