Holiday 2011 — O Tannenbaum

A year and a half after finishing the year-long Duo Chronicles project, Clay suggested that we get together and put together a video for the holiday season this year.  After returning from almost three weeks in Europe on tour, I returned home and quickly wrote out an arrangement of “O Tannenbaum” (also known as “O Christmas Tree”).

Just a couple days before Christmas, we found a couple hours in our holiday schedules, dug the lights and cameras out of their boxes and put together this video.  Both of us were excited to be back to the project and doing a recording.  I’m hoping that in 2012 we’ll have some time to work on new projects together.

Happy holidays, everyone.

Special: The Memory of Water with Lynn Darroch

This is a special video project, featuring a collaboration with writer/journalist/musician Lynn Darroch, who has been following our project since the beginnings and has been kind enough to feature us on KMHD and in the Jazz Society of Oregon’s JazzScene magazine.  Lynn has been working on his own video projects, pairing his spoken-word pieces with jazz performances from artists such as Randy Porter, David Evans, Pere Soto, and others.

This particular video features a composition of mine from week 42 of our project, called “The Memory of Water.”  The piece was actually untitled until Lynn wrote the words to accompany it, at which point I co-opted the title for the song as well.  Clay and I would both like to thank Lynn for working with us on this piece.

Here’s what Lynn has to say about the piece:

When Clay and John asked to write a story to go with this composition, I immediately thought of water. And my desire to develop a magic realism suited to the Pacific Northwest. I also thought of singing whales, and though this story’s not about whales, what we know about them may well apply here …

Every year, when humpback whales gather off the Mexican coast, the males arrive singing. Early in the season, each whale’s song is short, simple and different from the others. But as time passes, they adjust; by season’s end, every whale is singing the same long, complex tune. The next year, each returns with only fragments of the previous song, but all leave singing in unison again, though the collective tune is slightly different every year.

Special: Visual Animated Score for “Twenty Seven”

Most of the time, when I hear music, I have initial feelings about whether I like or dislike it and down the line (maybe next time I’m at a record store) that may influence my decision to buy or not buy the album.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across the EPK for Brad Mehldau’s newest album, titled “Highway Rider,” and hearing the music provoked a much more immediate reaction — I knew that I had to buy the album and listen to it immediately.  After buying and downloading the album from iTunes, I started digging around on Mehldau’s website and found an animated score for one of the songs.

This seemed like the perfect way to present the Duo Chronicles material.  We already provide videos and sheet music files, so why not combine the two?

After quite a bit of research and planning, I came up with what I thought would be the best method to create that sort of video using the tools at my disposal.  The final product was made with Finale 2010 (for the sheet music itself), Gimp (to edit the sheet music into separate image files), and Final Cut Express (to animate the image files and combine them with the audio track).

I chose to use the technique on “Twenty Seven,” a piece from a couple of weeks ago that was completely through composed, meaning that the score represented everything that was played — no improvisation to deal with.  “Twenty Seven” also had a few instruments (melodica, soprano sax, tenor sax, and piano), making the five-staff score more interesting to represent than just a piano/sax duet with only three staffs.

Without going into too much detail, the basic process for creation of the video was:

  • Create a score that fit on one page (about 110 inches long and 5 inches tall)
  • Cut the score horizontally to make separate files for each instrument
  • Cut those resulting files vertically to break up the piece into sections (the result was about 50 separate image files)
  • Line up the different sections of the score with the audio track in Final Cut and add animations

The amount of time that it took to create the project makes it prohibitive to do for each Duo Chronicles piece, but it’s definitely something we’d like to explore further for the occasional video.