For the past few months I have been producing bits and pieces of country artist John Lilly’s State Song Project. He has written songs about twelve U.S. states and gotten a patchwork of grants and Kickstarter funds to cover the cost of recording and producing them. His songs seem to me to be the direct descendants of Hank Williams songs: forthright, tuneful, and lyrically solid. Last month we recorded “Mississippi” with the Chaise Lounge rhythm section, a blistering horn section, and three gospel backup singers. Next up will be his anthem to his home state, “The Hills of West Virginia.” When I first heard this song, it reminded me of a rather formal composition that might have been performed in a park gazebo in 1910. John was amazingly agreeable to my suggestion to orchestrate the piece for cornet, French horn, euphonium, tuba, background singers and a rhythm section of frailing banjo, guitar, and double bass. In a few weeks, we’ll go into the studio—and 100+ years back in time.
Last week I produced a string quartet recording in Tel Aviv…from my home near Washington DC. I’d written the quartet as a sort of reverse overture for an upcoming film, An Open Door. The score will be for full orchestra, but this condensed ten-minute work contains all the major themes. Of course the compositional trick was to write idiomatic string parts for melodies that I’ve imagined for French horn or oboe, along with a full string section, brass, woodwinds, percussion section, etc. The practical trick—a kind of 21st century magic—was to oversee the recording without actually being there.
The onsite engineer and I managed the second trick via Facetime on our phones. Barack gave me a quick tour of the space and of each microphone he was using. I met the members of the quartet, with first violinist, Hagai Shaham translating between Hebrew and English. Maybe you have worked this way before, but it was my first experience with virtual audio production, and I’m now hooked. Though I unfortunately wasn’t able to travel to the session due to other obligations, I was able to get the performance I was hoping for from the quartet. Futurists have been predicting the advent of videophones since I was a little kid. I can’t believe the future is finally here.