Diary

11/7/11 : Penguin Cafe

At the weekend I went to see Penguin Cafe play at the Hackney Empire, playing music by Simon Jeffes, who was quite simply a genius. I love the choices of instruments and the way the loops build up and interact. Mark.x


5/7/11 : Why Spring 2011 has been so busy

One of the annoying things about diary entries is that you only have time to write them when you're not really busy, but it's the busy times when you have the most interesting stuff to write about. Spring has been really busy, but I think we've got a lot done and things are really moving along well now.

The main thing we had been working on of course was finishing off Desert Tracks, which is out on 1st Aug of course - which is roughly when we originally planned it I think. It was a struggle to stick to that deadline though, mainly due to the time it takes to do the final alterations to the mix of the song itself. We had the body of it recorded for some time, recorded at Soup Studios near Brick Lane, and most of the additional instruments (basically the organ and cello) were recorded in my little home studio. Derek (my co-composer on the Booked Out soundtrack!) was the guest cello player, thanks again Derek! The mix was really tough though, and right up until the last minute it was still being altered, with much help and feedback from Alex the mastering engineer. I think we got it sounding good in the end, but it wasn't easy!

We also have another track completed at the same time - The Tower, which is sounding great and you'll be able to hear it soon. Conversely, mixing of that track all just fell into place easily - which is odd as it is far more intricate, with plenty of swirly sounds and orchestral touches. Plus what can only be described as a stunning bass solo from Oliver - though not a bass solo in the way you would usually expect it, don't worry...

The recording had to be completed and the tracks mastered at the same time as Toby completed the artwork (stunning yet again), after which the track needed to be sent off for distribution to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and so on, and also at the same time we needed to get promos duplicated onto CDs for sending to radio and reviewers. That all had to be done two months before the release date in order to allow enough time for reviews and so on - we made it though, just about on time.

As well as all this I've been organising gigs, which takes up quite a bit of time in total. We've had some good ones over the last month (Oh! Inverted World at The Old Queens Head, Offline in Brixton and another gig on the Tamesis Dock, this time with Kurran And The Wolfnotes, who were amazing - that was a top night) and have some good ones to come, including The Windmill, Plan B and White Heat. It could possibly be time for us to get a manager, who would then do all this stuff for us, but if we did that we would need to be careful to get the right manager as I have heard some stories... a great manager however (like we had in Fanfarlo with Big Dipper for example) can make all the difference.

Since sending the single off there's then been the video to sort out - which has just been finished. My friends and I run a club night called Wonderland (www.wonderlandfestival.co.uk) so I thought I'd take advantage of an idea I'd had for an art installation there and use it for a video too. I created a box with a camera inside it and a large wire and plastic head to project the video onto. I set it up at our last Wonderland club night and recorded people as they put their faces into the box - and at the same time their face would be projected onto the plastic face at the side of the stage. Then stage two was to merge this with video of the band and then project this again onto the face while recording the results. You can take a look at the video on our youtube page.

Then there was the final work on the Booked Out soundtrack - recorded by Derek and I at the end of 2010 and the start of this year. The film versions were all complete, but I re-edited the songs into a full soundtrack album which is now available from our band shop. After working on the music for so long in conjunction with the film it was liberating to be able to rework them as songs, and really pleasing to listen to them all running together as an album. Take a listen now - and of course watch the new trailer for the film at www.bookedoutfilm.com.

There's a few more things on the horizon - including a remix of Desert Tracks by our friend Flow Machines, and then the release itself. Then it's time to get back to our next EP, which was due for release in October, but which is unfortunately slipping already - as that date means that the final mixes of the remaining two tracks need to be done around now. They are both sounding healthy but definitely not finished yet... but they will be good when they are I think, especially our new track 'Snow City Radio'. I just need to find a bit more time in the day to get the mix right and nail that perfect vocal take...

Mark.x


17/3/11 : The Cabalgata Carnival in La Linea de la Concepcion

We in The Lost Cavalry are not at all averse to a good old sing and music on the move - and (as anyone who saw us play our cover of 'Stop The Cavalry' at Christmas will know) we are also not averse to a bit of kazoo action. Last weekend during a trip to Spain we randomly discovered the Cabalgata Carnival in the town of La Linea de la Concepcion in southern Spain (right on the border of Gibraltar) - Obviously, it was all in Spanish, but I think we worked out that it was the yearly 'Sunday Festival' where anyone can group together and write a song protesting about anything they wish, generally something funny.

These guys were amazing - the home made fake brass instruments actually have kazoos attached to them... Genius! I have absolutely no idea what they are singing about, but it looks fun. I was especially impressed by the tuba made from plastic pipes and a dustbin lid, I think I need to get Oliver to make one for LeeFest this summer...


26/1/11 : Film Score - Booked Out

Booked Out film

For the last months I've been working hard on the original score for the feature film 'Booked Out', and I'm pleased to say that it's now nearly done and the film is nearly ready to be sent to the film festivals. I've been writing with Derek Yau, someone I've known for a couple of years but never worked with until we started the initial score demos last summer. I thought I'd write a bit about how it's all been going, as it's been a pretty interesting experience and a bit different to anything I've done before.

We started to become involved with the Booked Out film project really early on as the director, Bryan O'Neil knew us both via other things, liked Derek's music and was a fan of The Lost Cavalry. It was Bryan who suggested that Derek and I worked together to compose the score for the film. I was a bit unsure how things would work out at first, as I've only really written with Nick on a one-on-one basis and with The Lost Cavalry and Fanfarlo as part of a band. Bryan gave us a couple of early edits of a scene and asked us to each go and write our own rough demos to fit it. It turned out that Derek and I had similar ideas about how to go about writing, what kinds of instruments should be used, the overall feel and also which existing films had soundtracks that we thought were pretty great... I think for me the soundtrack by DeVotchKa to 'Little Miss Sunshine' was a particular influence, I love the way it builds, the skittery snare drum and the folky instrumentation.

Derek and I met up a few times for some initial demoing session and came up with a few options for what were to become the main themes for the film - fundamentally, a 'sad' theme, a 'busy' theme and a more 'tense' theme. We tried to match certain instruments up to certain characters (to an extent) and we decided early on to use a certain set of instruments, to give the whole score a unified feel. We initially planned to write the tracks (cues) and then to get others in to perform some of the parts but we ended up actually performing all the instruments ourselves, it just felt easier that way, and also helped to capture a more lively feel. We definitely didn't want the score to sound anything like a slick Hollywood score! I mainly played the uke, drums, concertina and melodica, and Derek played the cello, a lot of the guitars, flute and all the piano. We also ended up adding in a fair bit of glock and organ - hammond, but also the lovely analogue sound of my Casiotone keyboard, bought for three pounds from Dalston waste market - what a bargain!

A few months later, after some reshoots had been done, we got our first full edit of the film. This edit had 'temp' tracks throughout that gave an indication of the kind of feel the editor thought that the music should give at certain points, and also a good indication of where Bryan wanted score music to be. We had some planning sessions with Bryan where we got to grips with the feel required for each cue, what the important edit points were, what emotion we were trying to get across at a given point. This was all pretty new for us of course to this level, and looking back it was definitely the hardest part of the process. We wrote a load of demos for each scene, and sometimes struggled to reach the point that Bryan was aiming for - some scenes had to negotiate a number of emotion changes throughout as we switched between different characters but the score still needed to feel whole and coherent. We'd gone for a quite 'full on' sound to our score, treating them as full 'songs' really for each piece, so this made the job harder - but hopefully the final effect is worth it. Certainly the music for Booked Out is a key feature of the film and hopefully something that will make it stand out to reviewers.

After we had approved versions of our demos we started to record the proper versions. We worked often to a click, with the (now locked) video edit visible to us as we played. Often getting our music to match up to the edit points required a fair bit of re-jigging on the computer so the click track was pretty essential. For some slower cues we didn't use a click though, and for some we performed live together. Mainly though, we gradually added the instruments one by one and then trimmed them back where needed. We had one day in Soup Studios, Brick Lane to record drums and piano but aside from that recorded the rest of the music at my home studio. I recorded all the tracks on to my Sonar PC rig (Sonar is like Pro Tools but (in my opinion!) better and cheaper). Our aim was to make it sound like there was a folk band were sat in the corner of the cinema with you, playing along to the film live, as you watch it.

So now I am in the final mixing stages of the Booked Out score, getting the cues to sound as good as I can make them, tweaking bits here and there. There's been a lot of back-and-forth between us, Bryan the director and Roland the sound designer for the film, making changes to the mood at certain point, making sure that the music fits well around the dialogue and so on. After I'm happy with the mix, each cue will be split into stems, with certain instruments in each group so that Roland can fit them in to the film and place them within the surround sound mix.

So, it's been a big project, but absolutely worthwhile, and I can't wait to see the film for the first time in a proper cinema. I hope my mixes will sound right through a full boomy cinema sound system! The film is on IMDB here and the web site is here.



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