Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week II

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)
A joyless shoe factory
At the end of week two, it looks like the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is shaping up to be a series of wordless radio plays. This week's composition, entitled, "I Ain't Making Shoes No More," is the story of a young shoemaker who yearns to be free.

If you missed the grand opening last week, the idea behind the project is to conceive and record a new instrumental piece each week. You can skip to the bottom to hear the latest right now, or you can stick around while I ruminate on the artistic process. I really wish I could've spent more time with this one, but then again I knew I'd say that and that's why I conceived the THHOAB project. I don't think it's my finest hour (I hope not), but it did teach me a few things.

First and foremost, I learned to play the shoes and practiced my tin cans, which I've been meaning to do. But there were some background processes I was working on too. Some people like the quick-change nature of my album Gallows Humour, but others told me they wished I'd just groove a little longer. You'll notice the last installment of TTHOAB clocked in at a scant two minutes and featured a pretty disjunctive switch nonetheless. This time I wanted to work within a single musical thought, and that's why this piece is longer - although I caved to my earlier tendency at the very end for dramatic purposes.

I can't tell, but the end result might be repetitive. The conceit is that our young shoemaker is gradually being seduced into flights of fancy (represented by solos on the tin cans), until his coworkers pull him back in line. The process repeats until he can stand it no longer, and he makes his escape from the factory. I wasn't sure that came across as sharply as I wanted. A technical reason may be that the timbre of the cans doesn't differentiate our hero from the workers enough (they are, in fact, the same cans played with different mic placement and panned left and right). I had it in my head that the cans sounded like little shoe nail hammers, but maybe I should've dug out some beer bottles or something.

One thing that I am happy with is that the piece, at least by my standards, errs on the side of musical rather than dramatic expression. On the first pass, I had our hero begin humming while he worked, and then graduate to a lusty baritone. It told the story, but it was too broad to work as music. Using the can solos to tell the story instead was a step in the right direction. I also had fun making background factory noises, but I limited myself in case I made the piece too sonically busy. As a went to bed after finishing it, my head was full of ideas for that third step to solidify the composition.

But I've already broken my deadline (blame the long weekend), and if I miss another one it's seppuku for me. Maybe I should've posted this at the top, before I gutted it, but here is this week's entry in the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project:

"I Ain't Making Shoes No More"

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