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Shannon Miller and I began the recording process in April 2006 with a fairly complete idea of the songs we wanted to record and the instrumentation for each song, however, many aspects of the polished work evolved during the process of recording the tracks, listening to the mixes, and opening our ears to the greater possibilities of expression. Since a mutual resonance with Celtic music brought Shannon and I together, we decided to make this genre the focus of our first CD. We wanted these fifteen tracks to provide a taste of the traditional music from the British Isles and Ireland, and our sometimes non-traditional interpretation of these familiar classics. Generations of musicians have passed along these songs, often without the aid of notation, and as an auditory process this has allowed the individual style of the region and particularly the personality and technique of the performer to color every detail of the music. Coming from a classical music background, I discovered a delicious freedom in being able to let my creativity freely guide my musical choices. I experimented with the placement of ornaments, improvised and wrote my own harmonies, combined songs together as sets, and contemplated the sound, emotion, and mood of each phrase I played to make sure I was complementing the expression of Shannon’s voice, the meaning of the lyrics, and the efforts of the other musicians.

The highlight of the recording process for me was the last day of recording in early June 2006 when Warren John Wolfe and I spent over six hours in the studio adding the finishing touches to each song. I was excited to hear if the percussion tracks I was envisioning would really work. I had just spent a few days with random noise makers (clave, maracas, wind chimes, bells, drums, rain stick) from Warren’s “Cachagua Band in a Bag” (a horse feed bag to be precise) spread out over my bedroom floor while I listened to rough mixes and experimented. Of most importance to me was recording Warren on the East Indian Tabla for “The Butterfly Set” which became track 14. This gave me, for the first time, a glimmer of the realization of my long term goal to bring together a band of unique instruments from around the world and combine their styles and sounds into a new genre. To my delight the Tabla and Celtic music seemed made for each other.

We started the mixing process in the Fall of 2006 after spending the summer in a holding pattern with the CD, trying to figure out who to mix with. When we found Jimmy Hobson, through Sahra Baker, a singer/songwriter I work with, we were relieved to have found someone who could understand our musical vision. I was especially intrigued when Jimmy’s explained the process of creating space between the instruments by isolating and minimizing various harmonics and frequencies in competition. This was a major challenge for our project because the range of our instrumentation and Shannon’s vocals were fairly narrow, lacking the bass range almost entirely. Jimmy was able to bring out the lower register on the my viola and Amy Krupski’s Harp, not changing the notes, but increasing the clarity of the natural harmonics in that lower range. True acoustic alchemy! The effects would be subtle to many, but Shannon had tears in her eyes and I gained a new wave of enthusiasm for the project as we listened to “Drowsy Maggie” and heard what we wanted come to life. Three quarters of the way through mixing we were reaching our budget, but we were committed to completing a disk we could be proud of and pushed ahead.

Jimmy and I mastered with Ken Lee in a long day at his Oakland studio, which looks like it could be a star ship command center with the computers, speakers, flashing lights, and strange acoustic “artwork” on the walls. While mixing balances the levels of the various tracks within a song, mastering balances the levels between songs, the placing of the vocals and instruments across the left and right speakers, and creates the spacing between the songs. The mastering session started with Ken playing sections of our songs against clips of songs from a range of styles to find an appropriate overall volume level. This insures that our disk could be played with other songs on the radio, within a compilation CD, or in a CD changer at home and the listener would never have to adjust the volume. It was no surprise to learn that the average volume is increasing!

Preparing the graphics was a bigger and longer process than expected. First it was the photos: Three shoots, four locations, and two photographers before we found what we were looking for. Then it was the text: writing it, editing it with friend Mari Lynch Dehmler, then cutting part of it to cut printing costs. Next we had to put the photos and text together in detailed mockups for the design team at Disk Makers and work with them, rejecting and approving proofs until we found the right look.

The project went into the final stage of manufacturing in late November 2006. We were almost certain it would be finished by Christmas, but Shannon and I left town for our respective holiday trips without CD stocking stuffers. On December 26th, on the train back from Los Angeles, where my boyfriend, Ben and I had been spending the holiday with his father and step-mother, I received a call from my mom letting me know that the UPS man had just stopped by to deliver 13 large boxes of CDs at my parents’ back door.

Please email Laurel at laurel@laurelthomsen.com if you have a violin, viola, fiddle, music biz, or practice related question you’d like answered in the blog or on a podcast, have a story or insight to share, or if you’d like to inquire about violin, viola, or fiddle lessons with Laurel, in-person or via Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom.

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Laurel Thomsen

Violin, Viola, Vocals
Performance, Instruction, Recording

Based in Santa Cruz, California

Site by Laurel Thomsen
Photography by Michelle Magdalena

laurel@laurelthomsen.com
831-224-0913
Skype: laurelthomsen

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