For the creators and for the fans, active listeners or passive listeners, music has the power to move us all incredibly deeply. Sometimes we’re right here- in the moment and sometimes we’re floating in a sea of sounds- we blissfully lose ourselves for a tiny while.
And sometimes we’re both- Here and There.
The latest release My Names A, Your Names Zed from El Grey is exactly that.
If you’re already a fan of El Grey you’ll come to expect haunting, stunning and breathtaking vocal performances as standard. You’ll also expect crunchy beats mixed with a wash of synths and gentle acoustic guitars. You’ll also be aware that her music is deeply personal to her and each song is a little piece of her soul, committed to record.
Take all that you already know about El Grey and put a little twist on it. You won’t find this track anything like her previous release El Grey, but you will find her distinctive, trademark vocals affirming her ardent passion right here. Glistening synthy motifs bounce over and back a sound world of luscious piano playing and looped, reverberant vocals. Instantly you’re taken by the hand of El Grey herself into the infinite cosmos. If you haven’t gotten goosebumps multiple times within the first 60 seconds then you’re not ready for the journey she wishes to bring you on.
Hypnotic yet deeply grounding, her chanting vocal pulls you right into the centre. Looped over and over with additional harmonies, her voice guides the way- “Grab a coat, find a home”. While the chant gives way to a choir of swirly, angelic vocal expressions, we’re lifted further into the heavens, soaring high, looking for Home.
The mood changes somewhat after this point. You’ll hear a male voice enter- another new sound for El Grey. You’ll know that there’s something very special going on here- something very deep and very personal. In absolute contrast to what we’ve been listening to, she sings in her native tongue- and it works brilliantly. Switching languages in one song is a new and brave move for El Grey for she has something personal to say-revealing another dimension of herself and affirming her spirituality though her music.
For me the most poignant lyric comes in around the 7-minute mark- “It’s just one heartbeat away from you” with echoes of “one” bouncing around, underpinning it. The music producer in me loves that line. The sentiment in me loves it too. It’s a line I’d hang on to for dear life.
This recording is 100% live and one take only. There was no pre-production. There was no doctoring this up in post-production either. The barest moments of extraneous sounds pop in and out here and there but these are not faults. Such sounds tickle my imagination and for me, they add to the soundscape. The piece in its entirety has a completely natural feel and I’m certain the musicians lost themselves in this performances-lost themselves to find a little something on the way back.
You could use a multitude of words to describe this track (atmospheric, holy, meditative, serene, gripping, stunning, special…) and you could find a multitude of situations to enjoy it in – at home with a candle, on a long, night-drive home, walking around a busy city- for it’s completely immersive and completely El Grey.
Posting and sharing with you, my most recent music production project, the beautiful Leaca Bán by 5-piece, traditional Irish crossover group, Na Tonnta.
Introducing Na Tonnta (L-R as above): Daniel ‘Hearthrob’ Whelan, Ellie ‘Ellington’ J McGinley, Sinéad ‘Brings her own teabags’ O’Malley, Ciara ‘I♥ Beoga’ Moley and Fiachra ‘Figgy’ Meek. The group met while studying Music in DkIT together and bonded through their love of traditional Irish music, popular music, tea, biscuits and cakes!
My journey with Na Tonnta began in September 2014. I was searching for a musically-new band to introduce to the recording studio and collaborate with for my final music production project at DkIT, resulting in three songs- one being the core and most-polished production.
I knew I wanted to carry forward my love for traditional Irish music while bringing it into a contemporary production and I also knew Na Tonnta were a hard-working, creative and driven group from my Facebook stalking since they formed in October 2013!
Leaca Bán began in the rehearsal room. Sinéad introduced the idea to the group with the beautiful, haunting traditional tune, 250 ToVigo, accompanied by accordion player, Ciara. I sat, mesmerised by the performance- the beautiful tone of the B flat whistle, the rhythm of the tune, the sombre accordion, gently accompanying the haunting tune. The hairs on my arms stood and I knew instantly that this was a tune I wanted to be a part of. I could already hear our studio recording in my mind’s ear!
What happened next lifted my spirits even further. There was a lyrical idea. In fact, there was more than just an idea- there was a theme, a mood, an atmosphere and a poem! A vintage book was produced- a little blue book with yellow pages, about to be tossed out from a local school library where Sinéad worked. For some reason unknown to me, Sinéad opened the book and there was a beautiful poem at the beginning. The Lights of Leaca Bán by Alice Cashel is an old book intended for secondary school children but the poem simply titled Leaca Bán, found at the begnning of the book, is a literary work of beauty. It was suggested that Ellie fit the tune to the words- amazingly, it worked like a dream. Ellie suddenly started singing the poem and it was just right.
By Christmas a humble demo which consisted of a vocal, fiddle, tin whistle and accordion was recorded and then my audio fun began. What I already had was a beautiful tune which was deeply Irish and could hold up on its own with such a small ensemble- how about adding drums? Synthesisers? Guitars? More vocals? How big could we go?! How big did I dare?!
Well, here’s the final production. Listen for yourself.
First off, apologies for the radio silence!!! I haven’t fallen off the face of the planet, I haven’t stuck my thumb and hitchhiked across the galaxy (as much as I would LOVE to do that!), I’ve been around, just quietly observing what’s been going on around me and stuff like that!
My last year in college has been a whirlwind. Where does the time go?! I’ve been working hard at many projects. A quick summary of what I’m currently up to- a research project on uilleann pipes and how to record them in the studio (interesting things I’ve come across regarding this amazing instrument!), my intervention project is going to be interesting and fun. A recording project where I’m producing Dundalk traditional/crossover group Na Tonnta. Exciting stuff to talk about there! Recording projects within the class- the current one I’m writing vocals for… A composition project for a final project for Creative Media 4th year students… A recording project for Music I engineered- recorded a bunch of trad instruments for a decent amount of tracks, very fun!
Outside of this, Trend-E and I are collaborating on some wicked electronic tracks of his again! I enjoyed collaborating with him last time…
… this time we’re working on something much darker but very, very sexy!!!
I’m delighted to be this busy again! I was feeling very down on things after the rush of Christmas assignments were done, I had nothing creative *to do*. It’s well and good having free time to play with DAWs and guitars etc but when you’re not in the mood……….
I even purchased a Yamaha DX-7 before Christmas NOM!!!! Tubular bells!!!! I’ve been enjoying Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks album for months now, seriously mind-blowing music. I had to get a DX-7. Just had to. The fun starts when I learn how to programme it! I’ve been messing around, getting to grips a little bit. The way I see it, I’ve my whole life to master this. And I will.
So happy new year 2015! This is a year of serious life changes for me. I’ve been doing so much thinking, feeling, writing about my life and my life path the last year or so. I know big changes are coming. I can feel them. My spiritual side is guiding me very strongly and I’m learning to trust my gut feeling, myself and believe in myself.
Cue song lyrics…. yes indeed….
Probably meant to blurb out more stuff here but it’s kinda, sorta late and I’m getting tired!
I can’t believe it’s Monday already! This time last week I was sitting in this exact chair in Starbucks, DkIT School of Informatics and Creative Arts, planning my journey to Derry and feeling rather anxious about it!
What in the world was I worrying about? Absolutely nothing!
I heard about the award through one of my lecturers at DkIT, they insisted I give it a shot. Normally I wouldn’t even dream of entering competitions!
You can imagine my surprise when I received an email a couple of weeks later telling me I was chosen as one of the top twenty digital creators of class of 2014 from colleges and universities across Northern Ireland and the six Republic of Ireland bordering counties! My prize was a week of workshops in Derry, meeting industry professionals, attending interesting talks about creative arts and business, working with the 19 other winners and an opportunity to pitch my skills to a panel of industry experts in a bid to win the grand ultimate prize!
I was immediately delighted but also a tiny bit anxious! Travelling 190 km to spend a full week with strangers! Shy, self-conscious and over-thinker- Steff almost completely backed out- if it wasn’t for the same lecturer who assured me attending the bootcamp was something I absolutely needed to do!
And glad am I for their assurance!
My drive up to Derry was very pleasant. As soon as I arrived at the hotel I met some of the other winners and I was immediately put at ease with their big smiles, interesting chat and genuine warmth. These were people like me!
That night we were treated to a fantastic meal in the Exchange restaurant in Derry city centre. The craic was ninety and the food was delicious!
The next morning (Tuesday) bootcamp officially kicked off with lovely welcomes from the Honeycomb team and straight into a fun personality workshop. After a card game which got the group instantly giggling and working together, I learned about the four general different types of people (not that anyone can be labelled into any one type of course)- the two extroverted types and the two introverted types. I learned how these kinds of people generally think, behave and react to each other. The card game revealed that I am indeed an introvert- the kind who responds to others body language instantly, smiles a lot, tends to procrastinate, is generally quiet and shy and likes to take direction from others (over a cup of tea!)- yes, that’s me all over! I knew this already but it was lovely to learn there ARE others like me and how to approach the extroverts!
This was followed by a fantastic talk from Richard Williams from N.I Screen with great advice and useful information for us.
After lunch we started working on our pitching skills, learning how others deliver successful and smart pitches quickly and with structure.
After this we attended a Culturetech event in the Craft Village (much to my delight as there was a beautiful little shop I wished to visit there!) about starting up businesses in the creative arts. We listened to fascinating stories from three speakers about their ideas, their initial struggles, their developments and their successes. It was fantastic to hear how they went from their normal day-job to the job of their dreams.
Wednesday started with a workshop which was all about thinking on your feet- how to improvise. This was a lot of fun as it was all games that got us interacting as a group. I was initially terrified of staring into a strangers eyes- I tend to find looking into a strangers eyes unsettling- it makes me feel invaded and uncomfortable! And in turn, I tend to think I’m making them uncomfortable! I’m always aware of trust issues regarding eye contact but this is not my intent! (People I know and trust I am ok with!) So some of the games really freaked me out and I very nearly bolted but the ladies running the group were very understanding and said my feelings were totally ok- something I was never told before! It wasn’t long before I felt brave enough to join back in and enjoy the craic!
This workshop actually turned out to be one of the biggest benefits for me on reflection. It tied in perfectly with my life coaching that I’ve been working so hard on during the summer- building my self confidence, accepting myself, learning to feel joy towards myself and others, not feeling lost in the crowd and indeed- looking people in the eyes without fear.
After another amazing lunch, Josh Richards (science comedian and speaker, physicist, ukulele lover and astronaut candidate.@ISUnet graduate short-listed among 705 to colonise Mars with @MarsOneProject) captivated us with his stories, his dreams, his infectious laughter and smile. We fired loads of questions at him and even though his hour ran out, he stayed back and chatted some more with us over coffee, we milled around him, taking photos and asking as many questions as we could! He really touched my heart and he will very well be the source for inspiration for a very future song I wish to write!!!
We continued our pitching skills workshop afterwards, pitching fun ideas to each other and then working on the tough stuff- our real pitches to deliver to the industry panel the next morning! We also received mentoring from industry experts- invaluable experience!
The next day (Thursday) was the day of truth- we were all a light-hearted bunch of people with all of our different personalities but one thing we shared- an anxiety about pitching our skills or business ideas to an industry panel! It was a big deal as we wanted to do our best- it wasn’t about winning, it was about doing a good job and pushing ourselves that little further.
My pitch went good! I couldn’t help but be nervous, my voice revealed that! But I felt good- I did push myself into something I would normally run away from- and hey, it didn’t hurt! 🙂 I pitched to them my skills as a music producer- what I could offer them if they were a top music studio, what ideas I have for the future of recorded music, my experience etc etc! My three minutes flew by in a heartbeat.
After a very pleasant walk around the city and lunch, there were more talks to listen to.
Greg Spence (producer of Game of Thrones) inspired us with his stories of the work he’s done, his journey and what he loves. He showed us the incredible work that goes into Game of Thrones (I knew it was brilliantly done but their pre-production is out of this world!!!). He didn’t just talk for the film/video/tv people, he spoke about the other creative work that goes into making a tv show (music, art, design, textiles, animation etc, etc.).
The last talk was more business- how to get investment in projects etc- valuable information was learned.
Bootcamp came to an official close that evening with two announcements- the person who came up with such a brilliant business idea that it was going to get further advice from an industry professional and the overall winner of the Honeycomb Creative Buzz Award.
It was after the celebration that our lovely group parted- some of us left for home and some stayed for further partying and Culturetech events! I went home as Derry is about a three hour drive and well, I missed my cat 😉
It took me the rest of the weekend to recover from such an intense week! The wonderful thing is we’re all keeping in touch. All the Creative Buzz Award winners are connected online and we are doing a great job staying in touch!
Thank you Honeycomb Creative Works for a brilliant week. I gained so much, I’m so glad I went! You did a brilliant job and events like these really do perk up people like me! I have new friends, new contacts, new skills, new self-confidence and new experiences!
Attention metal heads! Dundalk-based metallers Words That Burn released their new single “Before The Fall” via BandCamp over the weekend. And it kicks serious ass.
For me personally, the song brings the likes of Primordial to mind. The excellent production showcases the band as a mature and highly-polished unit with plenty of edge and energy expertly performed. Catchy guitar hooks, tight as hell bass and drums, excellent lyrics and a savage vocal performance make this latest release the bands finest output to date. I love the fabulous contrasting middle eight for the well-considered, layered vocal harmonies- the lower register of Ronan’s vocal gets me every time.
The band’s next major gig is at PhilFest 2014 in Fibbers, Parnell St, Dublin (Sunday the 29th of June)- a 2-day heavy metal event with a fantastic lineup for a mere €5 per day- you’d be bonkers to miss it!
I would like to share my major production project “Crystal Hearts”- a contemporary Celtic New Age song about the divine connection and eternal love of soulmates that I have been working on this semester. This is an alternative mix to what I’m being graded on and I hope you all enjoy listening to it as much as I did producing it! Love and light.
Composed by Stephanie Caffrey
Lyrics by Keith Caffrey and Stephanie Caffrey. Produced, recorded and mixed by Stephanie Caffrey.
This is the first post in a weekly series of blogs relating to topics in the Culture, Society and Popular Music module I am studying this semester as part of my Music and Audio Production degree.
Country music is at the centre of attention of the media this week with Garth Brooks selling out 4 dates in Croke Park. Garth Brooks was a very popular artist in Ireland in the early 90’s and the announcement of his Croke Park gigs has caused huge excitement among his old and new fans. It’s been impossible to ignore the frenzy on social media and the fact that this is the first time ever that one artist has sold out so many shows in Croke Park in record time! This blog continues the discussion in class about the country music scene in Ireland.
I would like to begin by expressing my personal opinion of country music and its’ culture. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of the genre as I find prolonged listening very boring and cheesey (the I, IV and V major chord progression, the vocal styles and the bland, basic drum beats)! To be quite honest, it generally doesn’t grab me inside. I can’t connect with the music and it doesn’t make me feel good. This is not ignorance or disrespect towards the genre at all. It’s a simple matter of personal taste.
On the other hand as a guitar player myself, I do genuinely really like the guitars in country music. I love fingerpicked acoustic guitars, twangy electric guitars (especially Fender Stratocasters!), pentatonic scales, bends and slides. I have absolute respect for country music guitar playing and acknowledge how skilled guitarists are. I love when these guitar elements combine with rock music, for example Metallicas’ “Mama Said” (country rock) is one of my all time favourite Metallica songs.
As I’m not a fan of the music itself, I have never really connected with country music culture. Growing up in a rural area in the early 90’s, I was aware of the line-dancing craze and of the dancing sessions in the local parochial hall- it seemed cheesey to me, even as a child! No one in my family was interested in country music or attending the dancing.
Fast forward to the present. About four times a year every year, I work with my father at country music gigs he organises in a country club venue in county Meath.
I should explain that my father is a DJ on a local radio station and presents a very popular show dedicated to céili country, old time songs and ballads. His playlists includes songs by artists such as the Wolftones and the Dubliners as well as local artists and musicians.
The gigs are very popular and usually sell out, drawing a large crowd usually of elderly and middle-aged people. The gig consists of a live band who plays all night with local singers (all these singers have recorded material played on the radio show regularly) and usually one or two bigger stars who are full-time musicians.
I usually do front of house- taking tickets, greeting the people as they come in, selling raffle tickets during the show and help out with loading of music gear. I usually end up chatting with the people and I’m always struck by their friendliness. I’ve noticed that the middle-aged folk tend to take the country music culture side more seriously than the older ones- dressing in cowboy boots, hats, leather jackets and denim shirts. It’s always an enjoyable night and although I can’t say I like every song I hear, I do enjoy the energy and sound of the live band!
As mentioned in my opening paragraph, the Garth Brooks concerts in Croke Park have caused a frenzy on social media. My own Facebook feed was a mixture of excitement and annoyance.
I’ve noticed through posts on Facebook that the ticket sales itself was a big social event. Friends posted pictures of themselves q-ing and tagged their friends in them. These kind of posts got plenty of likes and comments, giving me the impression that this was actually a lot of fun for fans of Garth Brooks.
I have never in my life seen photos of people q-ing for tickets months and months before any event. Occasionally I might see a photograph of a ticket with an additional comment along the lines of “Got my ticket! Can’t wait till the show!” but never photos of smiley, happy people meeting and waiting in the cold to buy their tickets.
I was impressed with the community spirit at these social events when in class we saw fans looking out for each other. The fans seemed genuinely caring towards each other.
I haven’t seen any evidence of bad natured reports or derogatory comments through the media about Garth Brooks, his fans or country music in general. I have seen funny tweets and posts about the fact so many shows were added but these were good natured.
Today FM’s Gift Grub incorporated Garth Brooks in a new satirical song on their show. The song itself is country music and the lyrics are humorous with mock Irish politicians singing about the Recession to and with a mock Garth Brooks.
My attention was drawn to an old Rich Hall interview about country music on Paul Merton’s Room 101 (I do take into account that this is a British not an Irish show). I thought Rich Hall made valid points about contemporary country music becoming more manufactured, overly produced and losing its’ traditions and values. The interview was funny and light hearted but I thought it was interesting nonetheless. I never considered that country music might be losing its’ roots and values.
My perception of country music hasn’t really changed with the recent coverage. For me it always was and still seems to be- you either love country music or you hate it! I for one am glad that the country music fan (who may sometimes only consider themselves general music fans) still has the passion and enthusiasm to q for tickets, support their country music hero, stick to their guns and be proud to call themselves a fan, especially after having to wait almost 20 years since his last Irish show. I think it’s great a new generation of fans have become passionate about country music. Even if I personally don’t like most of the songs I hear and the music itself is not quite as authentic as Johnny Cash, it still delivers relatable lyrical messages while showcases musicianship and songwriting. That to me is a healthy thing.
Some vocal edits, some tweaks, some mix balances, I don’t think I should call it a remix but a small re-work of my original song “Close Your Eyes” which features Fiona McErlane and Keith Caffrey on vocals.
I personally prefer this version. I intended on making the female vocals and drums clearer. I especially hope the listener is drawn to the delicate subtleties of Fiona’s voice.
Thought I’d post a little update of my own creative musings!
Yes, I have been busy musically. I’ve been working away on my next New Age/Chill Out/Sexy Celtic/Whatever You Wanna Call It track! It’s an idea which sparked off a few weeks ago but I did not have the energy to continue, now it’s full steam ahead!
I’ve been having fun blending my favourite sounds from Logic’s ES2 and EX24 synths as well as making my own sounds in the Sculpture synth and recording lush harmonics from my 12 string acoustic, reversing them and having fun with my Roland Gaia SH01 synth.
Vocal ideas suddenly came and with them, a lyrical theme. These were sent off to my songwriting partner Keith Caffrey and although he has only indulged me with a tiny taste of what he has written, I have been blown away. He has possibly outdone himself this time! I can’t get over what a gift he has with words, he really writes so beautifully and from the soul! Every lyric Keith writes, whether it’s for our acoustic-rock Shock Sorrow duet, his heavy metal band Black Svan, his own solo material or for my solo New Age/Electronic music, is always deep, meaningful, interesting, emotional, personal and universal. I can’t wait to hear his lyrics with melody! (Oh I forgot to mention his amazing melodies, guitar playing and all round gift for music, any instrument Keith puts his hands on, he can play it!)
I recorded some violin ideas last week on a whim, when I say “violin” I really mean “fiddle”! My love for Irish traditional is clearly evident in this one! I always preferred playing traditional music, be it fast or slow (really love the minor and modal pieces I learned from a great old fiddle player many years ago) to the classical, technical pieces (which are of course wonderful but that style never felt right for me- though I do not knock for one second the theory and technicality I learned through those pieces!) I studied in my school days.
I decided tonight that yes, indeed, there will be a fiddle solo in this one. 😉
That’s really all I will say right now, until I hear the rest of the lyrics with the melodies, I can’t finish the structure but I really am looking forward to recording this. I’m thinking of asking a guest female vocalist to sing it. I’m also strongly thinking that this might well be a demo for a possible future college recording project, real drums would be fantastic… now to find a drummer… if you know any, send them my way please!!! (firstname.lastname@example.org, for reals!!!!)
Still on a high from the Trouble Pilgrims gig over the weekend, still badly wanting my own Burns Hank Marvin signature series electric guitar!!!!
Also I see Logic Pro X has been unveiled today! Looks pretty slick, I gotta say! I do like the new interface. I was afraid it was going to go all GarageBand and childish in style- I LOVE GarageBand-hey, it was how I started, pretty much (if you don’t count mucking around in good old, Cool Edit years and years ago) but desperately hoped Apple would keep Logic professional! It sounds good with new features Drummer, Flex Pitch, Track Stacks and an Arpeggiator! I am excited! But I have absolutely no reason to upgrade, I love Logic Pro 9, it’s stable on my iMac and Macbook Pro, it works a treat. I wouldn’t mind having a go though! The Apple Press Info hasn’t said whether it has changed it’s plug-ins at all, like Pro Tools 11 has (oh dear! Big no, no for me there! Happy to stay with Pro Tools 10 for college work, even if off-line bouncing is a desirable plus!). So for now, I’m sticking with Logic Pro 9, it’s the only Logic version which ever appealed to me (7 and 8 were disasters for me!) and the only version which ever inspired me!