Creative process · Songwriting

Latest release ‘2+2=4’: another reinvention of Muir’s songwriting?

Departure or reinvention?

I was reading an article recently about which artists have been successful at reinvention. The article went on to say that these artists recognized the need to reinvent themselves in the pursuit of obtaining a long lasting career in the music industry. I’m sure you’ll have a few artists which come to mind. This got me thinking about my music.

Early beginnings

When I first started recording five years ago I had a back catalog of over 50 songs. Given I’d never been in a studio before, I had to be selective about which songs would go on the first album. Half made it. New to living in the States – and already having a penchant for writing Folk, Americana and songs with Jazz/blues/gospel undertones – ‘living in the USA’ underpinned some of the new songs that went onto the album.

I then started to play live (something I’d never done before) while becoming more experienced with home recording and with really preparing song files for use in the studio downtown. Now, I was beginning to write my own arrangments, another new exploration.

I began to realize that I was in some kind of cycle, one that was getting stronger and stronger over time:

Write. Wash. Record. Rinse. Perform. Rinse & Repeat.

Music as a muscle

In fitness terms, it would be akin to seeking to grow your muscles through working out. You stretch yourself further and further so as to increase your muscle mass.  ‘Training makes you stronger”. I guess it’s no different for any endeavor you put your heart into.

I felt I’d begun to discover a new dimension I’d never known before – like  Dr. Who’s Tardis when he talks about Insides and outsides are not in the same dimension :-).

Any ways, I realized that the more you release your creativity, the more it expands and the more you want to explore and write.

What about influences?

I’ve been told before that I don’t fit into any genre of music. I write Americana, for sure, but I write jazzy pieces, gospel undertoned pieces, orchestral pieces and now I’m venturing into pop. I do all this not because I’m trying to find a market for my music and therefore, need to try on different musical hats. It’s not about reinvention. I’m doing it simply because I want to be me. I want to express myself freely.

Creativity comes from within but it has many influences to acknowledge:

Musical Influence

If you’re like me you probably like a lot of different genres of music. Mornings are often without voices: classical or ambient music; I like folk and indie folk; I love pop with ethereal shifting undertones; Burt Bacharach 60’s tunes, and soulful 70’s music from the greats like Aretha, Roberta Flack, Dusty Springfield etc. Or I love downright I-can’t-help-but-sing-these-lyrics songs!

So, if we like all these different styles of music, then how can we NOT avoid their influence on our writing? Now, overlay this with the most important influence. Life.

Life-gets-in-the-way influence

Events within our own personal circles or social/economic/political events at home or abroad can have a real impact, especially if they affect our friends, families or communities.

Time-of-my-Life influence

We change over time, that’s the beauty of life, it’s why everything is still such a discovery, and which is why the journey is as important as the destination. I remember something Nina Simone said in an interview about why she joined the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s. She said, “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?”.

Her words resonated.

I realized that whatever I write, I write in the now, at this moment in time. When I’m an old lady and look back at all the songs I wrote, I’ll know that each one was an expression of who I was at that age, at that moment in time, listening to this music and being affected by that social/political event in whichever country, home or away.

So, what about this new EP “2+2=4”?

2+2=4 was written during 2016 and 2017 but was influenced as early as January 2016 by domestic and world events. The Other Side was the first manifestation of this moment in time. I felt needed to write about love and intolerance and about never forgetting how beautiful we are as people and not to lose hope in each other. Stereo Stickman did a beautiful review of the song. The other songs on “2+2” explore this more but from various perspectives.

Musical influences were also very much present, which is why the songs are stripped down in feel so as to support the lyrical content. These songs are bound by the same woven thread running through them: they are bare, organic, honest and lyrically poetic.

Visual and musical inspiration

For these particular songs, I saw a lot of imagery when I was writing them.

+ http://www.kathymuir.com/art-and-music-brothers-arm-in-arm/

I think this imagery was inspired by listening to a lot of heartland folk at that time, music that had an edginess to it. I’m always trying to find different yet authentic ways to express myself through music. Ways that challenge me and force me to get out of my comfort zone. ‘2+2=4’ is one such project.

Here’s some insight into the meaning of the songs although it would be better to read the lyrics to learn more.

The Other Side was the first of the four to be released (August 2016) and talks about intolerance and love

Try Coming Round is basically a conversation between an Optimist and a Cynic

You Never Knew Me explores who we are and how others see us

River Running essentially looks at two elements of nature (man and water) and illustrates how similar they are in life’s journey. Personally, this was an amazing creative journey, so much so that I wrote four blogs following the creative process.

+ PART 1: The Concept

+ PART 2: Words to a Rhythm

+ PART 3: Home Studio Demo

+ PART 4: Let Me Tell You About The Three Bears

Try Coming Round Music Video marks the launch of “2+2=4”

To mark the launch of the EP, I released the Try Coming Round music video. Shot in the recording studio, some of the footage shows me recording the vocals that went onto the final record, as well as footage of me having a go at playing mallets. I have never sat at a drum kit before and, I have to say,  it was fun!

I am about to release my fourth Beyond The Fold vlogletter (video newsletter) in which I talk a little more about the writing of the song.

So there you have it, an introduction to 2+2=4 and a reason why you may find the songs a departure to what you’ve heard me write previously.

A producer once told me “your songs are all your children and you are the mother. They may each have their own personalities but are loved for their differences. You are their Mother and love them all”.

Reinvention? Nope, just living life.

 

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Creative process · Songwriting

Creative Brothers in Arms: Art and Music, are they siblings who go hand in hand?

When I write music I think in landscapes.

source_mf_jeff_deviantart

Source: mf-jeff@deviantart.com 

I recall meeting up with Austin artist Joshua Thelin who explained that, for certain projects, his canvas has to be extremely taught. Joshua tightens his canvas so much so that on occasions the canvas emits an ‘A’ note when he hits it.

Atwood Magazine related a great conversation with artist Brian Coleman who listens to music while he paints. ‘All of the sound helps; rhythm, lyric, and tempo all have different influences while creating. For instance, tempo determines if my brushstrokes and pencil lines are aggressive or free flowing; lyrics head me into happiness or pain in the past or in the now; rhythm influences fragmented or sometimes more content geometric and organic forms within my work’.

For me personally, I use imagery in the songwriting process by transforming what I see in my mind’s eye into actual words and music. However, I use it in another way: I apply it to create a visual interpretation of a song’s structure and arrangement.

Songwriting is like painting: when I write a song and record a simple vocal and guitar in my home studio, the bare bones of the song is akin to an artist sketching his outline on a canvas before applying paint.

Once the foundation of the song is in place, I then explore the other melodies in my head, voices that naturally reveal themselves over time. The key here is to record these melodies and only then determine whether they remain as vocal parts or whether they become instrumental parts. Selecting which category each belongs to is similar to a painter choosing which paints to apply to convey the mood of his painting.

I then go into the recording studio and it is here that the painting truly begins to reveal itself. Instruments have different frequencies: bass notes and drums have lower frequencies than vocals.  Here is a visual example, known as a frequency spectrum:

frequency_spectrum3.jpg

Source: Genxbeats.com

Now try to imagine the above frequency spectrum as a landscape painting (shown below) whereby the low-frequency notes are at the bottom of the canvas (grass), the middle-frequency notes – like strings – are slightly higher up (hills), and the vocals are higher still (sky).

source_mf_jeff_deviantart

A slight scattering of percussion or individual guitar notes would be represented by individual strokes rather than solid blocks of color. The length of the painting equals the length of the song.  Essentially, a song is only finished when the mental painting is complete. If something is missing it is this visual overview that helps me complete the song.

The ambience of the song is a further dimension. The landscape painting above, with all its soft contours, could be a pastoral classical piece, or a ballad. A jagged musical composition, perhaps folk-rock or pop in style, would have sharper edges and have much greater highs and lows, such as valleys and mountains.

jagged sonic landscape_Kathy Muir.jpg

Source: Wallup.net

Here is an audio example. “NOW” is a song on the next album entitled Double Take comprising six songs each with two versions: one acoustic, one pop. You’ll hear the same piece of music but the first half is pastoral and the second uptempo.

Question: Do art and music go hand in hand? For me, they are inextricably linked, creative brothers in arms, forever entwined.

 

black and white

Square peg in a round hole, really?

There’s something about square photos which I have grown very accustomed to. When pandering to our daily schedules we think less about carrying our DSLR’s to every planned rendezvous and rely more on our trusty smartphones. They’re small, offer no frills functionality (no aperture/ISO/shutter speed setting) and simply take what you see. Some of my favorite photos were taken “quick-as-a-flash” and just before a moment evaporated: a kid on a tricycle squealing with delight, two monks walking to worship at Notre Dame, a man looking straight at me but straight through me.

I started using Hipstamatic about three years ago. I found myself using a certain lens and film because what I saw with my own eyes was very similar to what the end photo looked like. I then decided to etch two border lines on the user-replaceable focusing screen in my Canon 5D so that when previewing a shot through the viewfinder, I could see it in a square format.

I also found that I began losing interest in 4:3 photos. They seemed to have less energy than my square photos. Or perhaps it’s something else. Perhaps it’s the challenge such a tight space presents, and how you search to truly capture the energy of a composition when faced with such tight dimensions.

I’m not saying I’ll take square photos forever, but they really capture my eye. They remind me of some of the earliest film cameras that were medium format and which produced square photos. I love that historical link. Secondly – and this may sound more strange – I like printing my photos 12 x 12″, the same dimensions of a record album of which I am a fan given my love of all things analog. Moreover, some of the most amazing artwork was produced on album covers.

And there’s one final point. I’d say that the way you physically look at a square photo is different to a rectangular image: with the former, the motion of your head is more circular because all sides of the photo are equal, with the latter you tend to look left to right.

Despite poor weather, I’ve managed to get out a little and try some shots using the Live View mode on my Canon. It’s kind of interesting but will take a bit of time to get used to. Mind you, it will be worth it in the long run: larger resolution and file sizes, the photographic version of a WAV file compared to an MP3.

Square peg? Cool peg more like.

Beauty in The Eye_LAA

MUSIC | PHOTOGRAPHY | SPOTIFY | SOUNDCLOUD
Writing

Can there really exist an orchestra of words?

Soundcloud – a bedrock of inspiration

I was listening to my favourite playlist on Soundcloud. Entitled Brotherly Love – because my brother got me into ambient music – the playlist contains nearly 100 tracks. Anyways, I was on my teeny balcony watching the sun set over the horizon when this song came on.

For whatever reason, words started to walk towards me. When that happens, I know to pick up my pen and notebook because the walking-of-words will become a frantic sprint. When that happens, I need to be ready to help them to the finishing line. And so, I began to write whatever came to mind while I set the song to repeat-play.

After a while, the music became a distant hum as words took the lead. Eventually, the last stragglers of syllables and consonants made it past the finishing line and received their reward.  ‘An Orchestra of Words’ was written. If you listen to Wildes ‘Bare’ as you read the poem, I wonder if you feel the words differently?

An Orchestra of Words

She slips into the room, unannounced, unheard

Lets her small voice slip between stone-aged curves

Unadulterated, still unfound

Unsure, still without sound

 

Her hand reaches over, tentative to fear

A soft skin enveloping a hand young with years

In that moment I saw all she could be

And wished more for her than I did ever for me

 

Fingers point softly to the words on a page

Her middle one directing the orchestra’s gaze

With words plain in view, they began to be heard

As the symphony rose, and her words gently stirred

 

In this quiet summer air she began to take breath

And the generations before who’d wished they’d been there

Let their memories rise up and come to the stage

An assembly of souls, in unison, played

 

As she walked with words, her voice did rise

And the syllables danced while the consonants cried

The violins skipped haughtily to the beat of her drum

And the cellos mourned gleefully at this prodigal son

 

The crescendo, you ask, it shone for all to hear?

You ask that of me, why not ask that of her?

When a young girl makes words come alive on the page

An orchestra of souls will always come to the stage

Words of a Voice poem by Kathy Muir
‘Words of a Voice’ stream of consciousness

Here is the complete playlist if you’d to listen to some of my favorite tunes by other artists.

Writing

Eyes Of a Child

I recently played at a very special place, a place where I used to volunteer most weekends for several years. Ten years in the making, Mill River Park is a dream coming true; a ‘Central Park’ in downtown Stamford, CT.

The Mill River Dam was demolished, allowing herring to spawn for the first time in 360 years and land along the riverside has been reclaimed from invasive plants. It is a park for all seasons and for all people: a playground for the kids, the 4th grade science curriculum at Hart School is now being taught through the laboratory of Mill River and each summer yoga takes place on the Grand Steps as does the Cherry Blossom Festival that celebrates cherry trees donated by Japanese-American immigrant Junzo Nojima, as a thank you to the community who supported him during WWII.

On that particular weekend, Mill River Park had organized a series of Horse & Carriage rides and asked me to play. It was lovely to give back to the Park, this time music instead of muscle.

To keep folks warm, hot chocolate, toasted marshmallows and firepits were provided. Cajon player Vinny and I played throughout the 4-hour event. I hadn’t played out in the cold before but it was just magic. While singing I found myself looking at the folks with their kids toasting marshmallows, all wrapped up and excited whilst trepidatious at touching the horses.

Eyes of a Child

What gave me most joy was seeing the kids dancing or stomping their feet to the fast songs. After our second set, Vinny and I took a break. I noticed a wee girl looking at me, bent down to say hello and asked her if she liked music. Her Mum said they sing her a lullaby every night. I told the little girl that I have a lullaby I like to play called ‘Hush Hush’, an old Scot’s song. I took off my capo and started to play the lullaby while the young child stood listening, eyes wide open.

Afterward, she made a gesture that her Mum said meant ‘more’. So I sang the song a few more times. Once I finished singing, the wee girl picked up my capo and handed it to me, her little hands so small and cold. It was a sweet moment, made the sweeter after discovering Vinny took this photo.

It’s so important to try to make a creative impact on children, whether it is music art, writing or anything else that helps to reveal themselves as human beings. And have fun doing it at the same time :-).

black and white

The Stage is Set

Just_before_coming_on_stage_to_do_a_show._It_s_weird__you_create_a_set_list_and_then_as_soon_as_you_pick_up_the_guitar__see_the_audience_and_feel_the_room__you_often_change_it._Last_nigh

Just before coming on stage to do a show.

It’s weird, you create a set list and then as soon as you pick up the guitar, see the audience and feel the room, you often change it. Last night was no exception and I tried out Si Doucement. And many songs from new album #secondlife. The sound makes or

The sound makes or breaks a show. When you have great sound and you can hear yourself, well, you can try just about anything vocally.