Video: Garageband demo of "The Paupers' Death," with stills from the October 2011 performance of "Death and Other Excitements."
This Winter I'll be going into the studio to record an album of songs based on the cantastoria project I've been working on with Dave Buchen and Theater Oobleck, called "Baudelaire in A Box." Cantastoria, as the photo above illustrates, is a low-tech story-telling medium dating back hundreds of years ("A great leap backwards" in Tony Adler's words), pairing a series of illustrations with recitation or song. For this particular project, the story in question is Charles Baudelaire's masterpiece, Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil), with illustrations by Dave Buchen, and songs by myself and other composers and musicians.
We're doing the whole book of poems by 2017, 125 in all, which means we have to keep moving, without pity. But many of the songs are, to my ear, too successful to allow to fade away into obscurity altogether. Thus this project: to record them professionally, with full arrangements. (For practical reasons, most of the performances so far have been very minimalist, with at most one or two accompanists).
Last spring I home-recorded a batch of songs for an album I called The Wine Cycle (including the five wine poems with which Dave and I kicked off the project). Given the shoestring budget and short timeline I allowed myself, it came out pretty well, but I think the songs deserve more development, time, and care--plus I'd really like to involve some of the musicians I've worked with live over the last couple of years.
Three of the Wine Cycle tracks (engineered by John Szymanski in my dining room) will probably see new life on the new album, in some altered form. The other five are candidates for being recorded anew. But the main focus of the album will be the songs I wrote in 2011 for the most recent installment "Death and Other Excitements."
In writing these songs I've chosen to start from scratch with my own original translations. I'm a songwriter, and accustomed to exercising a certain amount of control over my phrasing. Most existing translations that I've been able to find are written to be spoken, not sung, and trying to contort them into song cadence just felt too Procrustean. As the project has developed I've come across a handful of translations that would well lend themselves well to song treatment, but I've come to enjoy the process of translation so much I can't bear to let it go.
I take solace in the fact that all translations are faithless. But, ironically, having given myself this freedom, my obsession with each new poem is to immediately re-bind myself to it, and seek out the most accurate faithlessness--the truest lie--that I can devise.
You can read all my translations to date here.
Two studios, actually. The first is The Barn Recorder, in El Rito, New Mexico, home of The Art of Flying and the Discobolus record label. The Barn Recorder is that rare beast, an all-analog studio, featuring gear purchased and bartered over 25 years, including a 36-channel console and a 16-channel 2" tape deck. It is the "Ishi, Last of His Tribe" of recording studios. David Costanza presiding. (David engineered my last album, Heraclitus, at The Barn Recorder in 2005. Back then we had to make do with 1/2" 8-track tape, but it came out pretty nicely:)
I'll record as much as I can in New Mexico, but in the meanwhile I'll be working on songs throughout the winter in the kitchen of ProTools wunderkind John Szymanski. Listen to the nice job John did on "The Giantess":
Where the twain shall meet shall be my album.
I'm lucky to have an affordable arrangement with both studios, but I want to make sure I pay my engineers some small fraction of what they are worth. Your money goes to that, and also to: Stipends for the musicians I hire, cover art & design, and production costs (CD replication, mastering, packaging). If I am able to raise money beyond my target amount, I will put a little into publicity, and the rest will be divided between the artists I mention above. I've budgeted this project at the minimum amount I can get it done for without feeling like a total schmuck. The more money I raise, the more I can pay everybody, all of it very well-deserved. (Also: the more I raise, the more musicians I can hire, the lovelier the music, the world can spin sprightly on its axis for a few moments. You'll know when it happens.)
I Thank You.
- (30 days)