Nur Ein 3 (2008)
Whale, Parts 2 & 1 (6/12/08)
My participation in Nur Ein 3 came to an end with Whale. I was basically disqualified for not adhering to the "prominent use of a kitchen item (such as a pot, pan, glass, mixer) as an instrument" challenge. I misread the challenge, leaving off the "as an instrument" part, and instead went with a scene from a restaurant where silverware clanks in the background and an egg timer lets the ridiculously loud band with the ridiculously shy frontman know when it's time to start and stop. I deserved to be eliminated and it prevented me from having to write a song the following week called "Brain Trust." So really, who lost?
In order to make this gag work (and admittedly, it only works once, so if you like the song(s) but don't want the gag, download this edited version
), I had to write two songs named Whale. Writing one song in five days is challenging enough; writing two....well, it's at least as challenging! ;) Actually, if I remember correctly, this is one of those situations where I had two ideas and I couldn't decide which one to develop so I decided to record an homage to the power pop band Superdrag, who have a tendency to begin their records with a diptych of songs that overlap or run without pause.
I really like both of these songs. I play Whale, Part 1 (the second song—I regret that titling decision frequently) live a lot despite the fact that it loses something by going acoustic. I'm really proud of the lyrics. It's hard to come up with new and interesting ways to deliver a breakup song and I think I hit the mark with this one. Whale, Part 2 (which seems to be preferred by most people) is essentially just a list of politically-incorrect things I've eaten while traveling. It's all true except, ironically, the whale. I tried, but it was too expensive or the restaurant I went to was closed or something. I settled for reindeer. Don't judge me!
frank caravella - vocals, guitar, bass, egg timer, progamming
austin wagner - drums
Ties of Blood and Water (6/2/08)
Ties of Blood and Water was a difficult song. The Nur Ein charge was to write a song with three different tempos and we weren't allowed to use "half-time" or "double-time"—the tempos had to be distinct. Then there was the title, which left me uninspired and cold. This was the moment during this Nur Ein (it happens during every Nur Ein, really) when I almost gave up.
Eventually, I began writing this melodrama that follows a lesbian couple through the most amazing and most difficult moments of their lives. The main idea of the piece being that love between two people overrides any other connection, familial or otherwise. It's pretty heavy stuff featuring life, death, pain, suffering, (and yes) blood and water. Although I wasn't that thrilled with the song at the time and the middle section ("Only love...") leaves something to be desired, I'm proud of it now. I think the lyrics are actually quite good. It's also a challenge to sing. Probably would fit nicely in a modern musical drama.
frank caravella - vocals, piano, guitars, bass, drum programming
The Blitz (5/26/08)
A part of me just knew it / From the time I said "I love you" we were sunk
I remember there used to be a recurring piece in Entertainment Weekly (I think) featuring intriguing first lines from new books. My song The Blitz has that type of line, one that just propels the narrative forward. As it turns out, despite the downer of a first line, it's a pretty hopeful song with a positive message about not giving up on a relationship even when it seems like the other person has checked out completely. Even though we don't know whether or not the protagonist's "blitz" in this song is successful, we do know he countered feelings of hopelessness by ratcheting up his love for his partner and that seems like a strategy you can live with it even it fails.
This is probably my favorite composition from 2008, which makes all the problems with the recording and performance even more painful to revisit. The piano riff that opens the tune has that cool expansive sound you get from an augmented fourth (Lydian mode, y'all!) and the tempo is right for marching and therefore characteristic of the concept. The challenge of this tune was composing all the marching band bits and making them work with the choir bits later on. I spent SO much time on this that I rushed through the vocals and ended up with flat and sometimes strained notes that undermine the song. (I think I was sick at the time which didn't help.) And even with all the work on the synthy stuff, it still sounds like a demo at best—real marching instruments and a real choir would work so much better.
I almost never re-record songs but The Blitz is one I'd really like to do over. I think the song has a McCartney-esque charm to it and I still like the chorus a lot and the sentiment even more. Perhaps one day...
frank caravella - vocals, keyboards, guitar, programming
Unnatural Disaster (5/17/08)
Typically, I aim to write songs about complex feelings associated with the often challenging dynamics of relationships. This is not easy work. The wrong line at the wrong time can completely derail the sentiment of the song. More than anything, I toil over my lyrics even though they're usually the last thing people (including me!) notice when listening to a new song.
Which is why it's sometimes fun to just write something that is completely silly like Unnatural Disaster. The lyrics to this song are okay—there are a few clever lines about this death-cheating protagonist—but mostly they belong buried beneath the thick layers of noise and reverb that I used in the arrangement. This type of song is so much fun to play, I only wish that I had had time to bring in a real drummer to share in the RAWK. The chord progression is a bit unique, with all the chords related by minor thirds and the second part a mirror image of the first: E G E Bb | Bb G Bb E. The chorus has an interesting progression as well with three chords cycling over four-measure phrases: A C G A | C G A (F).
The break in the middle with the flute-y jazz rock is a gag to fulfill the Nur Ein challenge (prominent use of backwards recording) which is mildly funny the first time you hear it, but not so much afterward. (If you like the song enough to want to hear it in the future without the gag, here is an edited version: Unnatural Disaster (edit)
.) On the plus side, it gave me an excuse to break out my flute and do my best Ian Anderson impression.
frank caravella - vocals, guitar, bass, flute, programming
I have hits and I have misses. Sleepwalking is a major miss. I was really obsessed with Mahler symphonies during this time, especially his so-called "Symphony of a Thousand" (No. 8). I had recently seen it performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and immediately had this idea to sample the pizzicato section that opens Part 2 (Poco adagio). I thought this title was a good opportunity to use it because it seems to fit so well with the concept of sleepwalking, like footsteps in the middle of the night.
Good idea, poor execution. I had trouble syncing a drum track with the Chicago Symphony sample, which probably has some natural flexibility in the tempo. I worked on it really hard but I just didn't have the time or skill to make it work. I do like the lyrics, about the stagnation that can result from a relationship that has grown stale, but the vocal phrasing does not fit well with the tempo, which I think is several clicks too slow. (It's painful to listen to me struggling to stretch the lyrics to fit these ridiculously long phrases.) The track was also impossible to mix because I was at the mercy of the sample which has the orchestra balanced in a way that made sense for the symphony (woodwinds bright, almost strident at times) but didn't really work in this context.
Oh well. Lesson learned. Mahler 1, Frankie Big Face 0.
frank caravella - vocals, electric piano, guitar, bass, programming, samples
Kick Start (5/2/08)
Nur Ein 3 was not a pleasant experience on a number of levels and these are not my best songs. So what happened? Well, for one thing, I switched software. I was doing just fine with the limited features of GarageBand but decided to invest in its big brother, Logic. The learning curve is (comparatively) pretty steep and, honestly, I still haven't mastered it. Also, I seemed to have lost interest in the guitar during this time period, preferring to write almost entirely on the piano for this Nur Ein. Even the guitar you hear in this track is sampled and played on a keyboard. Finally, I wasn't very happy in my personal life at this time and was feeling uninspired and isolated. I didn't involve anyone else in the recording process until week six, when I was finally eliminated.
All that being said, I think there are some redeeming qualities about my Kick Start and I do occasionally play it live in an acoustic arrangement. If I remember correctly, this is one of those rare instances where I constructed a musical element (the chorus) before I had a melody or lyric. I liked the icy synth sounds and thought they fit nicely with this idea of a frozen heart that needs to be thawed. My favorite line ("win me over like Napolean Bonaparte") seemed to confuse at least one judge so maybe it's not as good as I thought, but I was trying to express the idea of longing for the feeling of submission or surrender. The line "let's go a little too far" plays into this concept as well. I think this arrangement has a lot of clever elements (cold synths, pulsating heartbeats) but sorely needs a remix. By someone more skilled than me. Any volunteers?
frank caravella - vocals, keyboards, programming