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Between the Walls and the Sea

July 28th, 2013

cassette layout

There’s actually news on the solo project front. My next record is complete. I have preliminary masters for it and I’ll be releasing it on cassette and MP3 in the fall. No physical CDs to start out, but I’m offering the MP3s on my Bandcamp page on a pay-what-you-want basis.

Between 1997 and 2009, I released at least one recording every year. There’s been nothing since then. I wrote a bunch of new songs in 2009 and then tabled them. In late 2011 I started recording some of them. I’ve been working on those tracks slowly since then, and recorded a few new songs along with them. That means I’ve been working on this release for four years. I think it shows. Every step was a very deliberate process, and I’ve gotten to know the tracks very well. This is a very different record from Open or Exits — I’ve gotten pretty enthusiastic about analog synth sounds and keyboards in general, so this record is way less guitar-dominated. There’s also a shit-ton of reverb and drum machine. Warning: the rest of this paragraph is geek-talk. I recorded it all in my room using Cubase LE (which I’m done with — I recently switched to Reaper,) an Alesis SR-18 drum machine, an M-Audio midi controller and a handful of free VST synth plugins. Guitar and vocals were mic’d but everything else was done in the box. A big part of the sound is a result of using the same very wet reverb settings on the vocals and the software synths in addition to a lot of spacey delay guitar. To master for the cassette, I ran everything through a PSP Vintage Warmer plugin and a very conservative limiter. For the MP3s I might add a multiband compressor and a little more limiting to get louder tracks if they don’t sound hot enough. They might be good enough already, I’m not sure.

Maybe this goes against what you’re “supposed” to do, but this record is mixed for headphone listening. I’ve been trying to get it to sound OK in a room with speakers, but when it comes down to me having to choose where it sounds great, I chose headphones. In other words, I’m not sacrificing the headphone sound as much as I’ve done before trying to cater to different listening environments. I’m not that great of an engineer anyways and I think I’m talking about pretty subtle differences, so maybe it’s not worth mentioning. I tried to make the kind of record that I would want to listen to privately, from beginning to end, either in a dark room or going out for a walk.

The in-progress tracks are all currently up on Soundcloud, where I’ve been posting them as they come into being. I won’t be putting the finished tracks up on there. Instead, they’ll go right up on Bandcamp as soon as I finish the “hot” masters (for digital distribution) and the cassette will probably be released at a record-release show.

My last record, Open, is currently available on Bandcamp — also pay-what-you-want. You can download it for free or throw some cash at me to help get the cassette produced. Here’s the link again to go get it:

geraldprokop.bandcamp.com/album/open

Here’s the final track listing for the record:
Between the Walls and the Sea
Side One

  1. On a Road
  2. Dwell
  3. Groundless/Flightless
  4. Background
  5. Tornado

Side Two

  1. Cellar Door
  2. Follow Apart
  3. Can of Worms
  4. Let Go

I’m recording and you get to watch.

November 14th, 2011

My vacation from music is over, I’m happy to say.

A long time ago, I started a YouTube channel where I was posting song sketches. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it–or with the songs–but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to publish the groundwork rather than waiting until a proper record came out for people to hear the songs. I really love recording and don’t consider myself much of a live performer, so that keeps my songs boxed up until a CD release. I kind of envy bands who can test out an early version of a song in front of an audience before going into the studio. I’ve always been a little protective of my work–I’m afraid that if you hear a track that hasn’t been obsessively worked over for six months, you’ll think I’m sloppy and not very good.

But now I think that if you have that kind of attitude you probably wouldn’t even pay attention to my blog or listen to the unfinished tracks anyways. What’s the harm in letting people in on the process, letting them witness the changes, and letting them see not only the work that I put past the gate, but also the stuff that I edit out? I really like rawness, mistakes, sketches, and happy accidents. An unfinished piece usually has a lot of character that can’t be recreated in the final product.

I was initially going to start from scratch and gradually write new songs. When I had a bunch, I would record them. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking–that’s not how I work. The songwriting process doesn’t drive me. I have no interest in writing songs unless I’m recording (or unless I have the right combination of depression and privacy). Writing bass lines, tweaking echo effects, fucking with synth plugins and micing amps are as much part of the songwriting process as playing chords and coming up with words.

So I decided to pick up where I left off and rework the songs from YouTube and record a new EP. Some of them are getting a near-total rewrite. I’m trying to take the folksy edge off of all of them and work them into a layered, echoey, loud, electric landscape. It’s a lot of fun to take something that started on an acoustic guitar and rebuild it from the drum machine up.

I’m also mixing down sketches that I have sitting on my fourtrack, which will probably turn into new songs for some future project. I’m documenting everything I can online: videos to YouTube, audio to SoundCloud, and updates to my recording to-do lists get automatically Tweeted.

My finished recordings are now up on Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. I made a compilation of all my best old songs (entitled Questions Unexplained) which you can get for free as individual tracks, or at a price of your choosing if you download the whole thing. There’s also my last two “studio” records, “Open” and “Exits + Obstacles.” I consider “Open” to be a major artistic success. Erase the 10 years of stress and anxiety preceding it and maybe it wouldn’t have been such a complete marketing failure. Maybe. Anyways, I’m very proud of that disc. Listen to it. Buy it.

As for “Exits + Obstacles,” I think it’s funny how right as I was releasing it, the economy was collapsing. It’s a loose concept record that I wrote as if I was living in a post-apocalyptic, mid-western dystopia. It was pretty easy since I already felt like I was. After listening to both of these records with fresh ears, I realized that there’s this subtle, angry political undertone in my songwriting that wasn’t there before. The royal “we” left my songs back in 2004, and when it came back, it came back darker and more damaged.


Open!

August 15th, 2009

005

Stream it here, buy it here. Come to the Hexagon on September 3rd and hear it live.

Order it now and you’ll have it by September 1st.


Enormous Problems EP ready to ship

April 21st, 2009

Enormous Problems
I made a small amount of these today and they’re ready to ship for only $5. Enormous Problems has eight tracks, five instrumental and three vocal. There’s lots of noisy keyboards, there’s an auto-tune effect, transistor overdrive and lots of bass and drum machine. They’re packaged in plastic sleeves with photocopied art, an inkjet-labeled CDR, a short fictional text and a Prokiev binder clip logo sticker.


The Return of the 8-song EP

March 29th, 2009

I was doing this a lot when I was using the fourtrack and burning CDs at home.  A large handful of really short tracks on a 20 minute CD, half of them noisy instrumentals and half of them folky vocal songs.  It’s a fun format.  It suits my music.  But it doesn’t really work if you want to do bulk runs or promote the disc commercially.

Also, once I decided I was going to try and promote my music commercially, I started wondering what I should do with all the weird, quick, noisy experimental stuff.

I’m going to do the Belle and Sebastian thing.  They had a habit of releasing EPs in between all of their proper albums.  I’m recording enough these days to do that.  So I’ll be “releasing” a new 8-song, 20 minute EP in May.  It will likely only be available on my websites and at shows.  I am also working on a new full-length, which is likely to come out late this summer.  That one will be available everywhere possible.


Things That Spin in Circles

October 15th, 2008

1. Vinyl Records.  I bought a turntable, then went to the Needle Doctor to fix it.  I realized I never ruined a record, but I have plenty of CDs that are scratched up to all fucking hell.

Today I bought:
Radiohead - Hail to the Theif
Elliott Smith - XO
(both of which I have scratched CDRs)
Bettie Servert - Lamprey (out of print 90s record on yellow vinyl I found for super cheap)

2. CDs.  The old plastic compromise.  I pack ‘em up with printed uncoated paper to bring some dignity to it all.  It’s all on YouTube.

3. Four wheels under a steel box.  I’m going to Madison this weekend for the big Madison Zine Fest.  I’m tabling with zines and CDs and playing an acoustic house show.  I haven’t yet been out of the state as a clear-headed thirtysomething.

4. Dough in the air.  I start a new job at Uptown Pizza tomorrow.  I’m looking forward to returning to life outside of chains-ville and still getting paid to drive my car.  Pizza delivery is a cool job because people are less likely to be in a sour mood when you’re bringing pizza to their door.  Especially when it’s awesome pizza.


I’m selling my time

August 28th, 2008

With a huge spiderweb-crack in my windshield to serve a reminder that I need to stay calm, I’m working again.  A friend of mine knows someone who turns over real estate, so I’m on his crew fixing up a fourplex.  I’m looking for an easy night job to balance it out.  I have this crazy plan involving working a lot over the winter and then going on a long trip in the spring.  Of course this all depends on what I’m doing for work, but not working for my family is a good start.

In about a week I’ll be assembling the CDs.  I’ll be spending all my time scoring, folding, stapling, bagging, etc.  Serves me right for hating jewel cases.  You can stream the whole thing on iLike if you need to hear it before it hits stores October 1st.


On sound and where it lives

July 16th, 2008

You can’t have a zine festival without getting questions about zines’ survival in an increasingly digital age.  Are they dying?  Why don’t people just start blogs?  Etc. etc.  I’ve had this stuff on my mind lately, as I’m about to release another record on a different dying format: CD.  Now, this time I’m actually getting them professionally duplicated, just because it will open more doors for reviews and distribution.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a problem with it…

(BTW-zines are not dying, and the people who read zines are not the same people who read blogs though there are those that do both.  Nobody “collects” blogs, you can’t fill a shoebox or a milkcrate with them, you can’t save them.  A zine will be there to stumble upon when you’re old and going through things.  A blog will be deleted from the server.)

So-called MP3 culture asserts a song’s autonomy, making it available on it’s own without the other songs, without artwork or credits or packaging.  I obviously don’t buy this.  Songs need homes, and singles are the equivalent of a cramped apartment where there’s nothing but you, but at least it’s a place to stay.  MP3s are like homeless people.  Just as society in general doesn’t really give a shit if some guy is homeless, the consumer market doesn’t care if a song gets distributed as part of an album or on it’s own.  I think musicians do care though.  Songs are usually recorded as albums, with a distinct group of people working on them in the same place and over a certain period of time, etc.  Songs in an album often complement each other or just “go with” each other.  They live together.

Just because a new technology makes it effortless to distribute something in a certain form, doesn’t mean that the thing necessarily benefits from that form.  Amazon.com could save people a lot in shipping by selling books as PDF files.  Why is this debate not happening with literature?

Imagine your favorite book and then imagine if you had read it curled up with your laptop computer.

When I go over to someone’s house for the first time, for a party maybe, I glance through their music collection and their book shelf while everybody else is socializing.  People typically display these things prominently.  What I don’t do is turn on their computer and start opening folders.

I decided a little while ago just what is the problem with CDs. They’re ugly, stupid, fragile things.  They don’t age well, the cases break, they scratch.  Not only that but typically CDs are not produced with any consideration for the aesthetics of the physical product.  Beyond the graphic design and artwork of the booklet, and the screenprint of the disc itself, they’re all the same.  A  beautifully produced concept-album that took two-years to make is likely to come in the same form as a the bundle of free software included with your inkjet printer.

CDs have become ephemera.  The general consensus in our culture is that if it’s on CD, it’s endlessly replaceable, repeatable, and if it’s not free, it may as well be.

I think that even though people prefer having a tangible product, CDs just don’t have that many redeeming qualities as such a product.  A little while ago, I started thinking, “why am I still using CDs?  I can buy a USB turntable, buy records, and burn them to CD when I need to play them somewhere else.”  I just read an article from last year claiming that vinyl sales are up.  It makes sense to me.  Now I’m thinking my next release might be on vinyl.  This one will be a CD, but there’s no jewel case.  It’s going to be a little bit of a book-arts project, and consequently will also be expensive and a major pain in the ass.  But I needed to make it something that I could see myself buying.