May 29, 2007:
I’m proud to announce the new band: Steve Vai’s String Theories.
SV: guitar, vox and audience panderer. (not so new member)
Jeremy Colson: drum kit and all sorts of things that you hit. (not so new member either)
Dave Weiner: Rhythm guitar, sitar, acoustic guitar and smile. (The longest member besides Steve)
Bryan Beller: Bass and impossible ears.
Alex DePue: Electric and acoustic violin, keyboards, the new fast fingers.
Ann Marie Calhoun: Electric and acoustic violin, Viola, Banjo and keyboards, confidence personified.
Zack Wiesinger: Solo opening act guitar extravaganza and perhaps a few saxophone honks here and there with the band.
How did we find these brilliantly talented folks?
We recently held auditions for the new band in support of the new CD “Sound Theories”, and quite frankly I enjoyed the process a lot. Especially since I feel as though we found some tremendous players.
Coming across so many talented musicians made the choice of picking one for a position very difficult. But now my address book is filled with wonderful contenders.
So, how does one find these people?
The Universe will provide.
For the audition process for the new band we did not specifically reach out to anyone and request they come down. I felt that the best way to go was to just announce that we were looking for people and those interested would apply. We put the word out on our site and contacted some friends who could pass the word onto people they thought might be interested. There were no personal invites as I felt if someone heard about the gig and they wanted it they would apply. This way there was no pressure on their part.
We posted info on what songs to learn etc. and anyone interested needed to send materials or direct us to a web page that contained some performance music or footage of them. If we felt they fit the parameters we would then invite them to come down, hence the “special invitation” language on the posted audition page.
We received a good amount of inquiries from many talented people.
On the first day we had bass players, and guitarists/keyboardists come down, the second day was violinists, on both evenings we had open auditions. The third day was callbacks.
The new record “Sound Theories” is an orchestral record with a rock band that was part of the ensemble of the Metropole orchestra that performed the music. Read about the new record here.
Although it’s impossible to perform much of this music live, I wanted to figure out a way of introducing some compositions from “Sound Theories“ into a set list that also consist of some older favorites and some tracks from the catalog that have not been performed live yet.
At first I was planning on a complete overhaul but after careful consideration I decided to invite Jeremy Colson (drums) back into the band as I felt his abilities would meld with the new material. Plus, I have played with what the world considers to be the finest drummers on Earth and I would have to say that Jeremy Colson has the most solid time of any drummer I have ever worked with. In the past 4 years he has never dropped one beat. He understands rock music but at the same time is comfortable grooving out in a brisk 13/16. He is a supreme team player. I considered other players but he is my number one choice in the world for this band. I’m lucky to have him.
I needed a keyboard player that doubles on guitar and during auditions I tried out several but could not find the heaviness of a 7 string that some stuff needed and the delicacy of an acoustic player who could also play wicked keyboards, but fortunately both of the new violin players double on keyboards so all I needed was a good solid rhythm guitarist. I decided to invite Dave Weiner back into the band, as he is a chameleon of the strings. I feel fortunate that he took the invite.
I have had the pleasure of working with bass player Bryan Beller on several occasions in the past. He is the bass player that played with the Metropole orchestra on the new “Sound Theories” record.
We have been friends for years and when he came in and played with us he fit perfectly with the new concept. At what he does Bryan is truly a Giant. His inner musical ear is so receptive that it’s scary.
So many wonderfully talented violin players came down and the choice was very difficult. But Alex’s sound was so sweet and at the same time so ballsy, (that’s a technical term). He has ferocious chops and his intonations blends seamlessly with my guitar. Another lucky find for me.
I felt relatively set with the band but was also feeling that it was not distinctively different enough. Then I received a video from Anne Marie after auditions had stopped. This girl played with so much confidence and like Alex her intonation was virtually flawless. My mind started to arrange the songs in my head with two powerfully proficient violin players and I soon felt that having both of these talents would lend itself to some virtuostically menacing situations.
How lucky am I?
Don’t let the preconceived sound and expected music of an acoustic violin fool you. When brutally processed this stringed wonder can rival the weight of any guitar. We plan on using this instrument to it’s dimensional potential.
A word about Zack
Zack Weisinger is a 20-year-old prodigy. I met him at a Grammy camp 4 years ago when he was 16 and he started to send me some of his music and art. Whatever “it” is, he has it. He just does his thing without any concern as to why he shouldn’t or can’t. He is oblivious to compromise and that’s a sign of greatness. Most importantly he does what he does because he enjoys it and it gives him a kick.
At the time that I am writing this Zack is going to the national finals of the Guitar Center competition, and rightfully so. For a good part of what he does his inner ear is steeped in the blues but he is capable of adding his own quirky sense of brilliance without any excuses.
We were planning on making this tour an “Evening with” which denotes that there would be no opening act but I wanted to bring Zack on tour to open the show by standing in front of you with nothing but a guitar for 20 minutes or so and just entertain you with his unique blend of…. Hmmm, what is he a unique blend of??? He’s just Zack. You’ll have to see him and decide for yourself.
He may also be joining us on stage to add yet more threatening frequencies to the mix. I have not figured it out yet.
There you have it…
When I think about how the songs are going to sound with this ensemble I get so energized I could explode. I almost can’t contain myself. I’m actually bouncing off the walls right now. Yup, there I go.
I love being excited about the band because if you’re reading this you are probably one of those folks who are interested in this stuff and are planning to come to one of the shows. When I believe you are going to enjoy something, I can’t help but get all wound up.
I can tell you that you are in for a real treat. I’m uncomfortable being so optimistic but I just can’t help it. Am I gushing too much? Too bad, this is for your own good!
You won’t want to miss this show.
Did I tell you I’m excited?
See ya at the Evo experience and beyond…
April 10, 2007:
Last night I finished the 5.1 mixes and was finally able to start thinking about playing the guitar again. I took to my private little guitar room in the Harmony Hut and started to just play. After floating for about 15 minutes I had the realization that I had made a mistake with the 5.1 mixes. While importing session data from other sessions and pasting them into the 5.1 auxiliary tracks, I realized that certain information did not transfer and the mixes were thrown off so I have to go back and re-do all the 5.1 mixes. It felt as though I was hit by a train right in the middle of the light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m cursed with this need to do things systematically and immediately realized I could not concentrate on playing until the mixes were done. I lost about 2 days, ouch!
OH well, I guess if the pressure wasn’t excruciating then I wouldn’t feel normal, ha.
Going back under.
April 9, 2007:
I changed the name of the record to “Sound Theories.”
I just finished the stereo and 5.1 mixes of the record.
It’s stunning to hear this stuff in 5.1. I opted to place the rock band (bass drums, and myself) in the stereo portion of the mix for the most part, and delegate the orchestra to all of the 5.1 areas. Hearing this kind of a robust spread is a bird of a different color. It’s rich dense and magnificent to be embraced by the surround audio experience.
I mixed the surround sound with the specification that the listener should have in their set up 5 of the same exact speakers. These speakers would take the place of the two front stereo pair, the two rear surround pair and the middle center speaker.
All speakers should be set to the same output level. The sweet spot for the listener would be right in the middle of the configuration.
Most 5.1 mixes of live shows have the entire mix in the front stereo pair and the audience ambient tracks in the rear. This creates the awareness of being in the venue and hearing things from the perspective of being in the audience, but with my mix I decided to create a listening environment as if the listener was standing where the conductor is and is surrounded by the orchestra.
The only down side to this is that if you’re at home watching this DVD and listening to the 5.1 mix, your system would need to be set up as described above or it could end up sounding kind of odd. I’ll have to put a notice on the DVD that explains the set up and that I would recommend listening to the stereo DVD mix instead of the 5.1 mix if your set up is not balanced the way the mix intended it to be.
You see, I even want to control the way you set up your home listening environment. Good thing I’m to too much of a control freak or I would have to visit your house and set it up properly myself.
Thanks for hanging in there.
More to come.
March 31, 2007:
Last night at 9:45 pm I experienced one of those rare moments of creative bliss. I actually finished the CDs for the orchestra project.
Yup, it is sequenced and complete.
I sat for a moment and let the relief run through my being, but it was rather short lived and replaced swiftly with the realization that I still need to mix the DVD stereo audio; the DVD 5.1 audio; contemplate a commentary track; edit the DVD; complete the artwork and credits; schedule press; start thinking about the tour; put together a new set list; put together a new band; imagine a spectacularly entertaining stage show; rehearse; and prep for tour, etc. to infinity.
Did I mention I’m also a guitar player that needs many hours a day of undisturbed focus to reinvent myself and develop totally new concepts on the instrument? Ah, all in a days work.
All of the above may seem daunting but the work load is probably not much different than most of yours, just the situation is different. It’s a good thing that I love this work. I know this sounds cliché but I’m excited to get up everyday and go to work. I’m not sure why but I thrive on the pressure. I do enjoy it and I am tremendously grateful to have the opportunity to put all of the above in action.
One of the things that keeps an artist going is knowing that there is someone out there interested. I’m very grateful for that too.
March 28, 2007:
I have to be more disciplined in writing these updates after a workday. So sorry to anyone who might be looking forward to them.
I have been compiling the mixes for the CD along with working with Mike Mesker on the art and with Ruta on the tour prep. I’m starting to get very excited about the tour.
Sometimes when I’m on tour I get these little rushes of joy. It has to do with performing, being with friends, traveling around the world and seeing different places and people, not to mention I usually get treated like royalty. Ahhh, just livin’ the life.
There’s few things I get a bigger kick out of then walking off a tour bus in a different city everyday and just checking things out. You know, searching for a Starbucks or Whole Foods Market? These are the things that really excite me.
The simple pleasures, ha.
I think that in my DNA, I was always meant to be traveling but when the tours start to wind down I’m usually ready to come home.
The actual act of sitting on a plane, tour bus or waiting around in an airport is very attractive me. It’s the only time I get to do nothing but listen to music, read or write something. And the best part is that I don’t even have a cell phone, Yay! The people that need to get in touch with me know how, otherwise I’m inaccessible. It’s sort of like hiding out.
Back to the studio…
My life is run by these little lists of things that I need to accomplish. Every night before bed I write a list of things that will be addressed the next day. This includes personal stuff too but on the work front, following is the list I wrote for myself to be completed in the next week. The list helps with the deadlines but can become a monkey on my back.
Final CD and DVD stereo mix
- Go to root Sessions and consolidate any good audience pieces from all the shows.
- Mix down all stereo CD tracks
- Create Master CD mix session, import loose audience, Compile final CD’s
- Send CD off to Sony for press.
- Mix down in-between bits from DVD night
- Create final DVD stereo and 5.1 mix Sessions
a. Import in-between bits and loose audio
- Edit DVD and complete
- Complete alternate solo’s for CD if any
- Create final CD with alternate solo’s, maybe
- Set Mastering date
- Work on credits and artwork
- Escape with Pia to Mexico, detour through Tahoe with Pia and Fire
Excuse me while I go swinging through the trees…
March 25, 2007:
Did a wonderful photo shoot with Larry DiMarzio the other day. We’ll probably be able to post some of them soon.
I’m thinking of changing the name of this record. Not sure yet but I like Currents. We’ll see.
I’m in the compiling stages. That means I’m running off all final mixes for the album and compiling it into the final running order of the CD.
This should take a while so if you don’t hear form me it means I’m in digital purgatory.
March 19, 2007:
Next up is “Lotus Feet.”
Today, before I started working. A gentleman from Germany came by with a new kind of instant tuner for the guitar. It’s not ordinary. You can program various alternative tunings into it and it automatically changes the tuning of your guitar to the tuning you punch in. It’s extraordinary.
When he first demonstrated it I was a bit stunned. I gave him a Strat to install the technology in. Before I put it in ay other guitars I thought it would be a good idea to test it on an instrument that could really use it.
Then I started working on “Lotus Feet.”
I noticed that I transferred all the audio from the 5 different shows into one mix session while I was on the ZPZ tour so that saves me several hours.
This track will only be on the DVD, as it wouldn’t make sense to put in on the CD since it was just released on Real Illusions. The version on the DVD will be a different take then what appeared on Real Illusions.
I was nervous to take a listen to this because I didn’t want to have to cut from different shows if my guitar part was not right, but low and behold, my performance the night of the DVD shoot was actually pretty good, so I have a wonderful version of “Lotus Feet” here. There are only two bad notes but hey, I have a very large pair of tweezers with me.
The first thing I have to do is move all the tracks incrementally forward some frames. While making the original transfer there were enough plug-ins on the tracks that they caused slight delays in the play back of the track. It’s a form of latency. The tracks can fall behind anywhere from 0-200 samples. Pro Tools will show you exactly how much delay is involved with each track but then I have to go in and manually move the tracks frame by frame one at a time. There are 48 tracks. It takes about an hour.
Next is work on the drums. Worked on adding kick sample and building all the EQ’s and then adding reverbs etc.
My friend from Digidesign came by today and loaded the newest version of Pro Tools onto the Harmony Hut computer. This took 3 hours.
Chipping away at it…
March 18, 2007:
Worked on “Liberty.”
The process once the tracks are all imported into a mix session in Pro Tools, is to first go through every track one by one and check the timing and notes for each instrument.
The drums are first. I listen to the drums all the way through and tweak anything that may have been out of place or draggy. In “Liberty” the performance was spot on.
The next step is to get a drum sound up. I add a kick sample to the existing kick to give it an extra punch. To do this I use a program called Drumagog. It works well, but like every single other sample replacer it does not place the sample exactly on top of the old sample. After I get it to trigger new kicks, I have to zoom into sample level for EVERY SINGLE KICK DRUM HIT and move it so that it falls exactly with the old kick. Then I have to check the phasing to make sure they resonate together. If the phasing of the two kicks is off then it takes the punch out of it.
Once that’s done I go back and listen to only the two kicks and make sure every one is right.
I recently purchased the TC Electronics 6000 reverb unit. It’s quite good. I’ve tried to use various plug-ins for reverb but they all sound grainy and fake.
I then print on another track a non-linear kick reverb.
I then do the same procedure for the snare.
The toms are next. I go in and find every tom-tom fill and raise the level of them. When tom-tom microphones are left open at their full normal volume, they pick up a lot of messy bottom end noise from the kit. In some situation this live open sound is good but with an orchestra I wanted to keep the drums as clean as possible as there is a lot of room needed for all the other instruments.
I then build a stereo non-linear reverb for the toms and print that. Then I balance and EQ. the rest of the kit and send it all through a stereo bus to the reverb unit to add a very little bit of reverb plate to it. These various reverbs are used very slightly, just enough to let the drums breath. The big drowning reverb comes from the room mics.
After the Drums are complete I move onto the bass. In this case I am extremely fortunate as Brian Beller (the bass player) is such a solid player that I can cut the rest of the orchestra around him if I wanted. In working on the bass, first I EQ. it and then go through each note and make sure it’s not only the right note but also that it grooves with the drums.
Preparing the drums and bass could take up to 3 solid days depending on the piece.
Then I move onto my guitar. I listen closely to the performance and either tweak a few things or whatever is necessary to make it sound good to my ear. This includes leaving some mistakes if they sound interesting, but most of the time they don’t.
Then I move to the second guitar, then piano, then harp, then second keyboard, then the three percussionists, then the brass, saxophones, woodwinds and strings.
Each section of the orchestra takes forensic work. I break out each instrument and check every single note. While doing this I also balance each section. For instance, I may take the first verse of “Liberty” and if I’m working on the brass, I will balance each instrument with one another in its section. The brass usually consists of French horns, trumpets, trombones, bass trombone, and tuba.
As I’m doing this, I’m only working with one instrument at a time – so up to this point I have not heard the performance with all the instruments because I have not worked on the actual mix yet.
The mix stage is relatively easier than the assortment stage. For something like “Liberty,” I go one section of the song at a time and slowly add each section of the orchestra in to the mix making sure that they are all balanced around the drums. Any little melody or line that needs to come out is then automated in the mix stage.
When I’m mixing I’m listening with headphones very very very soft. For me it’s the best way to hear the blend of instrument. I occasionally check on various sized speakers.
I go from section to section and when I get to the end, I then turn the volume up and listen to the entire piece in it’s most mixed form for the first time. This is the exciting part. Nothing is like that first listen. That’s where the juice is. What a rush.
When I listened to “Liberty” for the first time I was amazed at how big it sounded. It’s the way this piece should sound. It’s majestic and grand and made me feel as though I was on the top of a mountain eating a York Peppermint Patty and preaching beauty to the world.
March 16, 2007:
I thought “Liberty” would be a piece of cake but then I opened the files and found out that some of the root session sound files got shifted slightly in the transfers. So I spent all day just tracking that down. In the middle of all this I received the deadlines from Sony for all the parts of the record and DVD.
This means crunch time because just getting the art work together is a major undertaking. There are concepts that come up and are discussed, and then refined, and then discussed and then… you get it. And then the credits have to be written and the photo shoot needs to be discussed. Oh, yeah, that’s on Wed.
So tonight I just stopped everything and listened to “Gentle Ways” a few times.
Ahhhh, that’s better.
March 15, 2007:
Over the last few days I have been working on “Gentle Ways.” I was very much looking forward to this one because I knew the mix was going to be an easy one and I had made a mental note that I played this one well.
After listening to my part I found that I had played it virtually perfect, yay!
I just finished the mix of “Gentle Ways” and after listening through the entire piece, fully mixed, for the first time, I just broke down and started to sob in gratitude. It was a little slice of heaven on Earth. Sort of a… a euphoria of gratefulness to whatever power it is that allows us to express such things for each other. Some believe that to be God.
And then I prayed to never let myself take selfish advantage of any gift I have. But how do you remember that all of the minutes of the day and night? That’s the real challenge, life.
March 13, 2007:
Have been mixing the “The Attitude Song.”
The work on this one started 15 years ago when I first orchestrated it for an orchestra in Rochester. Without much rehearsal time back then the piece suffered so I figured I needed to re-orchestrate it.
When the Aching Hunger project came up I dusted off the old arrangement for this one and tweaked it a bit. It went through some further tweaks and then Tom Trapp cleaned it up in Finale.
I could never hear the intricacies of the arrangement because whenever it was being played, I was playing along. With a song like this you really have to think about what you’re doing and where it’s going and just lock into the drums. And plus, my guitar is the loudest thing in the world sometimes.
The arrangement always sounded very odd and I could never quite wrap my “what were your intentions with this Vai???”-brain around it.
After taking it apart in the mix and fixing some wrong notes and timing things in the orchestra, the arrangement exploded in my face. There it was, all those things I was thinking about 15 years ago when I first orchestrated it. Some of those ideas are so bizarre yet ultra-cool.
And here was the payoff, right in front of my steaming ears. It made all those hours of all the work so worth it.
This does not sound like “orchestra music” one would expect when that phrase comes up. It’s something very different. It’s difficult to get an orchestra to work with an electric guitar and rock band. They are so different. It’s like comparing apples with beef yoghurt! But somehow it’s working in a 20th century kind of way.
I don’t know. You decide when you hear it.
And then I think that sometimes I just living on my own little island, on Venus.
Hey, you’re invited.
March 11, 2007:
Hasn’t been much to write about, just pounding it out everyday in the studio.
For the past few days and probably for the next few, I have been feverishly trying to pull together the orchestra version of “The Attitude Song.” It’s a bear!
I originally scored this piece for the Rochester orchestra back in the early ’90s. It had gone through some changes and simplifications for the Metropole.
Some sections in the original score were notated with two time signatures going on at the same time. But when it came time to notate that in the computer program that was being used to enter the written score in, the program had a serious challenge with doing the poly meters.
The result was that it had to be written in one time signature but sound as though it was in two. This made some of the parts more complicated to drive through. The speeding zones were not properly posted so there are areas where there are deadly note pile-ups. I have to police the situation and clear the wreckage. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have to spend so much time in Grand Staff court trying to sort out the accident-als.
But it’s slowly coming together and I’m seeing a light at the end of the Bass Clef tunnel.
Then I remember that there is an upcoming European tour this summer and I have to put a whole new band and show together and reinvent my technique on the instrument by May…
No problem… sure!!!!
But I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about that yet…
Ahhh, that light was the front of an on coming train.
A day in…
March 03, 2007:
Transferred files and built the sessions for “The Attitude Song” and “For the Love of God.” Once the files start to transfer there is nothing to do but wait for them to finish because it ties up the computer.
The house was festooned with teenagers all day as Julian was celebrating his 18th birthday and Fire his 15th.
I was living a dream just watching the kids do their thing within the confines of the safe haven of our property.
March 04, 2007:
Finally started the DVD mix of “For The Love of God” today.
I’m happy with the way I performed it on the DVD version but the ending started to sound old to me. I may have to edit all the expected things out of it.
March 02, 2007:
Worked on moving files all day.
Mike Mesker will be putting together the packaging on the new record and today we got together and started to hash out some ideas.
He presented some wonderful things and we discussed some concepts that have been floating around for the project.
The name of the CD is Sound Current and the idea is to have the artwork and packaging somehow reflect the concept.
After toiling away for many months on editing and mixing this music it was refreshing to spend some time on something creative for a change.
When you have an opportunity to work with someone that understands what you’re about and is creative in their own right, you start digging for ideas and eventually you find threads of ideas to build on. Well, within a few minutes Mike and I were unearthing an ocean of thread ideas made out of the finest satin. I don’t want to give too much away and we are still building on the packaging concepts. Once we have a good outline we have to go to Sony and get them onboard with it.
March 01, 2007:
Spent most of the day transferring files for Gentle Ways, FTLOG, Attitude song, Liberty, Lotus feet. This is a purely mechanical process that has virtually no creative element to it and it takes at least 50 hours of just sitting and watching the screen. I can’t give it to anyone else to do either because it would take me as long to explain it and then I would have to check it all anyway.
It’s difficult being an island unto yourself.
February 28, 2007:
Started to work on The Attitude song today. Wow, what a beast.
This is the kind of thing that the orchestra really has trouble with. And it’s going to be like getting a cactus to sit comfortably in silk blankets without tearing them up, trying to get this guitar to sit with the orchestra.
Thank God the drummer and bass player on this gig are exceptional.
The first thing I have to do is go to every recording of this song, match the levels and ambience and then consolidate the tracks to make One session with only the audio from the various takes in it. I did most of this work already so tonight it’s just about getting the session up.
Here goes. I wonder how long this is going to take me.
February 27, 2007:
Thursday is the boys’ birthday. Julian will be 18 and fire will be 15. Having teenagers in the house is better than I thought it would ever be. Pia and I went birthday shopping for them today and I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
Anyway, came home and worked on I’m Becoming and Salamanders. Finished the CD mix. Found an interesting little solo that’s different from the DVD mix. Don’t know if I’m going to keep it yet. Have to live with it for a while. It has a little enchantment to it but the DVD solo is so… spontaneous.
February 26, 2007:
Today I finished the DVD mixes for “I’m Becoming” and “Salamanders In the Sun.”
I like it a lot, a real lot. It’s very sweet.
OK Vai, you can relax now.
I was trying to find another version of these two pieces for the CD but I don’t like anything that I found nearly as much as I like the DVD recording.
So maybe the DVD and CD will be the same take, with the exception of a different solo in “Salamanders.”
I’ll put on my audio goggles and go deep sea disk fishing tomorrow to see if I can find another solo for the CD version of “Salamanders.” Maybe I’ll unearth a morsel of pearl, or perhaps some whale food.
Which would I prefer???
February 25, 2007:
Was up at 5am, worked on “I’m Becoming” and “Salamanders in the Sun.”
There is a nice segue between these songs. One of my favorite parts of the show is holding the last note of “I’m Becoming”. As I hold that note I’m breathing in the Universe and the vibrations of that note are the microcosm of the entire creation. Well, something like that.
The past few days I’ve been editing Salamanders and now it’s ready to mix.
February 21, 2007:
Personal business day
February 22, 2007:
Yet another personal business day.
February 23, 2007:
Mostly personal bus today but I did meet up with a friend from Holland named Frank Scheffer. Frank is a professional film maker and has created many films.
February 24, 2007:
Worked on Salamanders today.
February 20, 2007:
Well, today I finally did something that I have been putting off year after year. I attended Jury duty! I probably could have gotten out of it again but I felt that it was important to make the contribution as a citizen. Lucky for me my name was not called so I did not have to sit on a jury and judge somebody. But I did get to sit quietly, undisturbed for 8 hours and that was kind of nice in itself. Good thing I brought reading materials.
Later when I returned home John Frusciante from the Chili Peppers stopped by my house.
We ended up talking for hours about many things and then we went to his house and listened to a ton of cool music. He is a very special person with a deep passion for music, the guitar and life.
Although I did not get any work done today, after I left his house I felt as though I really needed the experience to balance myself out a bit after being buried in the studio for so long. It’s so rare that I get to just hang out with interesting people who I resonate both musically, personally and spiritually with. I discovered a gold mine in John.
February 19, 2007:
Today I finished editing the track for the CD version of “Answers.”
I think it may be a little too bright because when the horns kick in it’s pretty piercing. I need to check this out. Also, the bass is not translating clear enough. The room that the last two shows were recorded in was very live and the stage reverberated wildly. Gotta figure out a way to make the low end distinct. It’s like a rubik’s cube with frequencies.
I then was able to move onto “I’m Becoming” and “Salamanders in the Sun.”
“I’m Becoming” is an ethereal piece of music. It’s a clean solo guitar piece that I use the sustainer for. I remember when I wrote this song. I was sitting in the studio recording something and I felt a wave of inspiration come over me and knew that something was about to happen. I just hit record on my little DAT player and wrote this song.
I started to perform it on the Real Illusions tour and although I thought it was very sparse and perhaps boring for the audience, the band convinced me that it was one of the most beautiful pieces they have ever heard from me. When we were in Japan for G3 we opened the first show with this piece. I don’t know if the audience got it. I decided not to play it anymore on the Japanese tour as I felt it was a personal piece of music that would play better in a full-on Vai show.
This piece of music, although simple, touches me very deeply. It’s called “I’m Becoming” because in order for it to sound the way I want it to, and for the dynamics and articulation to speak deeply, I need to become the notes that are being played. There are moments during this piece when I forget everything and time stands still. But in order for this to happen the focus needs to be on the music coming out of the amp and I need to separate myself from the person who is playing the piece, and be the person listening to it and being moved by it. When this happens the emotional content of the song is more in my control from my subconscious. I don’t know if this makes sense but it’s the best explanation I can give.
The guitar starts to do what I’m feeling as opposed to what I’m thinking. At this point my body language becomes attached to the sound and merging body language, with state of mind as the goal. It becomes a performance.
When this frame of mind is achieved it is quite liberating.
This may seem like an odd approach but after playing the instrument for 37 years, you need to evolve your overview of the instrument and this is a direction I feel a pull towards. My goal is to become every note that I play on stage.
Jeez – this could take many more lifetimes, but I guess I got the time.
Hope you like it when it’s done.
February 18, 2007:
Pia and I went to a fund raider today that Alee Willis held at her house. She is probably the most tastefully colorful person I know. The fund raiser was to raise money to restore and archive old tapes of various famous black speakers, musicians, etc.
This was the kind of party I really like. I met so many wonderful people, all there for a good cause.
I finally got to meet “Weird Al” Yankovic. I had to just hug him and thank him for all the times he made me smile. He’s a very cool guy.
Anyway, back to Sound Current.
Today I finished the track for the CD mix of Answers. My idea was to take the DVD version and cut out the solo, and replace it with something else but I can’t seem to get the ambiences to match. The two pieces are taken from such vast corners of the audio Universe.
I’m going to need a Day and Night of Brahma, or perhaps as the scientists put it, another big bang, to pull this off.
I might be all banged up!
February 17, 2007:
I finished the mix on Answers for the DVD today. There are a lot of frequencies fighting for the audio real estate. I’m hoping it will clean up a bit in the mastering stage. I like the way it came out though.
Next up is the CD mix for Answers. I will probably use most of the DVD mix but insert a new solo, but first I’m off to a fundraiser tonight with Julian for the first annual “Dream Awards”, honoring Tommy Tallarico for his vital musical contributions to the video game industry.
Better bring my joystick!
February 16, 2007:
Today I finished editing the woodwinds and strings on Answers then started to actually get the mix up. I’m beginning to now hear all the ideas I had when I originally orchestrated it years ago. It’s a real pay off when those ancient impressions come to life in front of your naked ears.
It’s just difficult getting my guitar to balance with the orchestra. It is such a different beast. The orchestra is like the perfect bud in bloom and my guitar is like the honeybee that sucks it of its nectar.
It’s got a buzz and a sting but can work to make some sweet stuff.
But they need each other to make the honey.
I only hope this song comes out as sweet as that.
February 14, 2007:
Did not get much done today on Answers. At some point one must prioritize their time and meet various responsibilities. Today I had family responsibilities that I relished doing. But I did get to tweak the woodwinds and Sax section of Answers. Slowly slowly but surely surely.
February 12, 2007:
For the past five years I have been hosting the pre-telecast of the Grammy’s. This is the event that takes place before the main televised show. In the pre-tel, we give out 97 Grammy awards in some of the more obscure categories. I basically introduce various celebrities who then come up and present ten or so Grammy’s each. We usually have a co-host and last night it was the lovely Zuleyka, Ms. Universe… in an exploding dress!
It was a wonderful event but the thing that made it so special this year was that the pre-tel has evolved and now we have (deleted) some performances. Well, Joe Satch and I got to play together for the 2-3,000 folks that usually attend. We played “Super Colossal,” a song that Joe was nominated for this year in the category of “Best Rock Instrumental Performance.” It WAS a Super Colossal event for us.
I told the audience that Joe and I grew up together, went to the same school, and played together as young teenagers and that he was my teacher and that we had been through a lot over the years but to be up there playing together for them, a song Joe was nominated for, was truly a privilege. And it surely was. After, Joe and I reflected on our past achievements and good fortune. We could only look at each other and smile in gratitude to the Gods of good karma, and count our blessings.
It’s all kind of remarkable to us.
During NAMM week Ibanez threw a little private party at the Key Club in Hollywood to Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Jem. 20 YEARS!!!! Soon to be a classic.
“Between the Buried and Me” performed a set and then Paul Gilbert performed a set and then I played a set with the Breed. There were quite a few cool guitar players on the stage through the night and the show was topped off with a well-performed jam with the likes of The Breed, Matt Roberts from Three Doors Down, Herman Li from Dragonforce, Joe Satch, Andy Timmons, and Paul Gilbert. It actually came off surprisingly well. The kicker for me was Paul. His new record “Get Out Of My Yard” is a spellbinding masterpiece of extreme guitar work, really.
G3 is going out next month in the USA with Joe, John Petrucci and Paul. You won’t want to miss this.
What have I been doing for the past three years, among other things?
It’s called “Sound Current”.
This is the project that was recorded with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland.
Ever since I was a young boy I wanted to be a composer more than anything. The guitar fell into my lap along with the progressive rock music of the 70′s and even though my fingers were glued to the instrument, I started studying composition and musical notation long before I even started playing the guitar. I had a wonderful music theory teacher in high school, Bill Westcot, who gave me an assignment to write a song in manuscript form every day, then turn it into him to play on the piano. This was the only homework I ever did in high school and it made every day exciting. To be able to hear your music performed is the greatest gift a composer could hope for. I wrote my first orchestra piece in 9th grade for the Carle Place High School Orchestra. It was called “Sweet Wind From Orange County” and I actually still have a scar on my finger from the pencil I used while feverishly writing it.
Through high school, college and beyond I kept up my compositional studies but the prospect of getting your music performed by an orchestra when you’re only considered to be an over the top electric Rock guitar shredder was virtually impossible. Enter Co de Kloet.
Co lives in Holland and back in the early 80′s he had a small record import company. He was the first one to import “Flex-Able” in Europe for distribution. He later went on to be a major player at NPS Radio and would play my music on his program. I think he was the only one. As you can imagine this was a tremendous stroke of good fortune for someone like me. Through the years we got to know each other and bonded as good friends.
Although he got a bit of a kick out of my guitar wailings, Co felt I had potential as a composer and in the late 90′s he approached me to compose for the Metropole Orkest in Holland. Holland is different than most other countries in their support of the arts. The government has programs that support the arts for their citizens. Co was able to put together a budget and submit it to the government with the idea that a concert of Steve Vai compositions would make for a special radio program that would enrich the Dutch listening audience. Imagine that. He worked hard for this and the result was the Aching Hunger concerts that took place.
If not for Co’s confidence and support this project would have never happened.
I was commissioned to compose an hour of music for the Metropole but I put together two hours of music. The concept was to create a show with two- one hour or so segments. The first hour would consist of compositions without me playing guitar and the second hour would be compositions with me.
When the reality of the opportunity hit me I feverishly went to work. As always, time was tight and although I would have loved to have used this opportunity to compose all new music, the reality of the time deadlines did not allow this so I dug into the stacks and stacks of manuscripts I had sketched through the years to find some to dust off. I found some interesting old things that I ended up orchestrating for the first part of the show and then went into my conventional catalog to orchestrate some of the more well known songs with me playing guitar. I would have loved to have composed a whole new one hour piece with guitar and orchestra but there just simply was not enough time.
The original concept for the show was to be a musical of sorts with a few singers but once again, the time involved to make that a reality was too tight.
I had some wonderful orchestrators at my disposal and copyists that worked with me on many of the scores. More on them later.
I thought it would be nice to offer updates of sorts on where I am with this project.
The “Aching Hunger Phase I” took place in the summer of 2004 in Amsterdam and Groningen in Holland. The second phase took place early July 2005 in Groningen, Holland and included a few tweaks to the scores and a new orchestration of “Bledsoe Bluvd.”
In all there were 5 different public performances, a studio recording session of a few tracks, and a sound check rehearsal recording.
Eventually I started to lay out the concept for the packaging of the “Sound Current” project.
“Sound Current” would be the category of releases that consist of orchestral music and other rich compositional pieces that I pen.
The Aching Hunger concerts were the first to kick off this series and as things stand right now the idea is to release a double CD and single DVD of the pieces performed by the Metropole.
Everything that I write in the updates section here is subject to change. But these updates may give you a bit of insight into how the whole process works and those who are interested can follow the evolution of the project.
The first step was to create the scores. As I dismantle each piece you can see how the concept was formulated and the work that was involved.
The second step was the rehearsals and finally the recording of the performances.
With all of the meetings, rehearsals, recording, budgets etc. (in comparison to what needed to follow from that point regarding the editing and mixing of the package, the first phase was a snap.)
I had five performances to choose from and because the music was very challenging I had to take pieces of all the performances and cut them together to make an accurate representation of each piece. This required finding the best takes of each section of each piece, cutting them together and trying to get them to audibly match and then find any wrong notes in the parts or bad performances from a particular section of the orchestra and cut in the right stuff. It’s like trying to build a ten thousand square foot house out of toothpicks at $1,000.00 a square foot.
At this time the idea for the packaging and track list are as follows. Remember, it’s subject to change but…
“Sound Current Vol 1.”
The Aching Hunger
(This CD contains performances of songs from the catalog with me playing guitar)
1. Kill The Guy with the Ball/ The God Eaters
2. The Murder
4. Gentle Ways
5. Salamanders in the Sun
6. Attitude Song
7. I’m Becoming
9. For the Love of God
“Sound Current Vol 2.”
Shadows and Sparks
(This CD contains compositions without me playing guitar with the Orchestra)
1. Shadows and Sparks
3. Hellios and Vesta
4. Bledsoe Bluvd
(At this time the name of the DVD is not yet confirmed)
Kill the Guy With the Ball/The God Eaters
Salamanders in the Sun
For The Love of God
It has taken me two years to edit together and mix the “Shadows and Sparks” CD but at this time, those songs are complete.
I have also completed “Kill The Guy With the Ball/ The God Eaters”, and “The Murder”.
In order to add some diversity to the published performances of the tracks on the DVD vs. the same tracks on the CD, I decided to use different takes for various elements in the songs.
At this time I am working on “Answers”
OK, that’s it for now. I’ll try to give you updates whenever I work on the stuff.
Today I am editing and tweaking the horn section of “Answers.”
Thanks for sticking with this.