Monday, January 31, 2011

Philosophy of Making Tea

They have a particular tea making ritual here in Mali which we filmed today. This allowed me to use the Sound Devices 788 for the first time. The tea is strong green tea and sugar and is prepared a special way which we had the fellow making it explain. Americans call this Gunpowder tea but it's just simply tea to the Africans. It's made with a small silver tea pot on a small charcoal burner in the outer courtyard on the ground. I used a Rode mono shotgun mic on a boom stand for the close mic and set-up the Neumann stereo shotgun mic for ambience.

The 788 is even smaller than I described it yesterday - about a foot wide only about _ inches long and slightlt more than one rack space deep. Had it set for a 96k sample rate, 24 bit resolution with the time code at 29.97 non drop frame.

Our talent, the tea maker, took the opportunity to expound upon his philosophy of making tea which seemed broad enough to cover all areas of life. He spoke in Bamana and it was encapsulated and translated to me as:

¨If you're going to do something you should do it right, with consciousness, and by paying attention to what you're doing. To do something carelessly or improperly is to tell a lie. To do it right with good intention is the truth.¨

He went on to tell a common local parable: ¨One finger can not pick up a rock, you need help from all the fingers on the hand to pick up a rock.¨ Not sure how he connected that with making tea, maybe he was referring to the interdependence of everything? I thought he might be talking about working with groups.

Speaking of picking up rocks, another example of the local economy: an older woman was observed sifting dirt and sand. Asked what she was doing, she replied ¨Harvesting rocks.¨ She went on to explain that in about 5 or 6 months she will have enough rocks to make a truckload. They use them for construction. She'll get paid 1500 to 1700 CFAs ( about 30 - 35 dollars) per truckload.

News came through that our driver's wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy yesterday. His name is Mohammed after the prophet.

Other work included scouting a location for some music recording tomorrow. They found a nice, semi-secluded spot down on the banks of the Niger river.

Fired up our Pro Tools rig and powered it from our generator. A good thing we did, our voltage convertor which steps down the voltage from 220 to 110 wasn't working. Acquired a new one and we're now good to go.

Our herbologist showed me a good trick for dealing with mosquito bites. Immediately apply lavender essential oil to the bite and it won't itch. Worked well for me last night. Staying healthy is both a challenge and a key to sucessfully working in foreign climes.

I fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the day after tomorrow to mix a concert for Bill Laswell's Material featuring Gigi.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Not much, as in nothing at all, has happened yet with the filming or recording.

We are slowly establishing our household base; we had a table built to set-up an editing station, and we did a partial equipment inventory. My assistant, Lee, went over the brand new multi-track digital audio recorder which is a Sound Devices 788T. This 8 track recorder goes for about $6,000 and has everything you need to record in one box roughly a foot square and 2 rack spaces deep. It has 8 mic/line pres with all the standard features ie phantom power, phase reverse etc. programmable in the menu. I don't know what kind of clock it has, but it's extremely accurate. We just have to plug in time code as generated by one of the cameras and do what's called "jam synch" which means the 788's time code reader reads the cameras code and becomes synched to it all day long, as long as it's powered. The reader only needs to read one burst of code to synch the recorder meaning it can run without any external connections and still stay synched with the video footage. It has a 250 + gig hard drive, and the battery pack can keep it powered all day, or all night long.

We have a few great mics to go along with it: a stereo Neumann shotgun, and some Audio Technica wireless lavaliers for those scenes where they don't want to see the mics. The lavs also work well as contact mics for quieter stringed instruments like koras.

Our set-up for straight audio recording which we plan to pull out tonight, consists of a Pro Tools 03, a MacBook Pro, and Presonus mic pres. We have some good mics for this also, a Neumann U87, and a pair of km 184s, my cheap AT 3010 which gives good results, along with an assortment of dynamic mics - 57's and a couple of AKG D112's for drums.

Our house has been dubbed Chez Shelly after Shelly Salvatore, a designated field producer, mother of the two main producers, and chief naturopath health services and home hygiene caretaker. The rest of our gang consists of Dave who is the DP, Camen - an intern and camera operator, myself on sound, Lee who is the assistant sound engineer, Aja and Eo Salvatore who are Executive Producers, Producers, and Production co-ordinaters, 3 cooks/cleaning people one of whom has a 2 year old who has the strongest set of lungs that I've ever heard, and Adama, the house guardian. Our driver, Baba, also one of our translators, isn't part of the household and hasn't been around that much so far, partly because he isn't needed, but also due to his wife giving birth to their first baby. She's having a long labor, about 30 hours, so far.

Our house is on the outskirts of town. It feels closer to the Sahara than where we've stayed in the past, a feeling reinforced by seeing what looked like a Bedouin driving a camel in the neighborhood. Much grassroots type construction is going on, you see a lot of half built homes with their raw stone grey color, just the shells waiting to be finished. This gives the impression of being in a futuristic ancient ruins. Our house is salmon colored on the outside while all the completely bare walls on the inside are a fairly bright shade of light yellow making it a bright interior atmosphere when the sunlight shines through. Apart from the color, it's externally identifiable by the crimson bougainvillea flowers growing on it.

All our food is bought fresh locally from a market on the day we eat it. Vegetables, eggs, bread, yogurt, and lamb. We don't have a fridge but plan to pick up a small one.

The local economy, local meaning this neighborhood called Golf, is such that it's hard to break the equivalent of a $20 bill (10,000 CFAs pronounced Sefas) without spending at least $10. Merchants don't carry that much change.

It seems that tomorrow will be our first session, finishing an album by Mache, a djembe player. Today we might scout locations. It will be a field recording of some sort.

Friday, January 28, 2011

African Adventure

Second day here in Mali. Here to finish shooting a documentary on West African music for KSK (Kanega System Krush). The trip, so far, struggles to organize itself. First things first, find a house for the crew to reside while they live here for the next 5 to 8 weeks. Aja, our fearless leader has been here a week already trying to set something up, along with Eo his brother and a co-producer, and Shelly, his mother who naturally assumes the role of attempting to keep everyone healthy. She's well-stocked with all kinds of natural, herbal, and homeopathic remedies.

They've already been burned on one house and plan to file a police report to recover the 800 dollars ( French keyboard, no dollar sign) they gave to Lord of that particular land. They did find another house which we moved into last night. It's very palatial situated on a ridge near the edge of Bamako, what I would call the suburbs. This is a great location because it's slightly outside the devastingly intense air pollution that grips the city every afternoon. Bamako has, by far, the worst air pollution I've ever encountered as experienced by my 3 previous sojourns here. Now, they say it's much worse, but so far, it feels no worse to me than it has ever been.

Sibiri Samake, one of the KSK artists dropped by yesterday to hear his cd for the first time. He loved it. It's always very satisfying when the artist is pleased with the work that goes into getting their work recorded and mixed well. Anyone who read my Tape Op interview last year will recognize Sibiri as the musician we recorded at a studio here in Bamako when the electricity went haywire and destructively zapped two AKG 414 mics and brought down our Pro Tools LE rig.

So we moved into our new house last night. I was exhausted, so crashed out at 9:30 pm. Got up at 12:30 am, started the water for a cup of tea in an electric kettle I brought and it brought down the electricity for the whole house. It didn't just pop a breaker for one circuit, it took out everything. Found the master breaker box but it had a thick lock on it which resisted all efforts to snap it open. No electricity meant that our ceiling fans weren't working which meant that the mosquitos had nothing to prevent them from feasting on our flesh. I spent a sleepless night trying to convince my brother and sister mosquitos to find sustenance elsewhere. They just laughed, in their mosquito-like way, at the natural insect repellant I brought and applied. In the morning, Dave ( our head camera operator) popped the hinges off of the master circuit box and pressed the reset switch to restore our electricity. Powering down a few of the fans enabled us to boil water in the kettle. That was all the food we had. It tasted incredibly good. Today we set up the house with cooking utensils, kitchen supplies and whatever else we need to establish our home base.

Hopefully, we'll get to recording some music or filming before too long. The plan is also to record 6 or 7 albums while we're here. I have a post about my trip over all written up but it's at the new house several miles away. Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Who Will Shall Attain

Just back from LA where I was working on a new EP for the up and coming American chanteuse, Winifred Adams. She is self producing the release with some help from an old compatriot, John Wooler. John assembled a top notch band for backing tracks which including Sergio Gonzalez on drums - his credits include Bob Hope and Red Skelton, David Immerglock from the Counting Crows on acooustic, pedal steel, slide guitar and mandolin, ( here's where my journalism note-taking skills need brushing up on) a bass player named Johnny who has played with Ryan Adams ( no relation to Winifred), and Randy, a seasoned LA session electric guitarist.

Only one song was cut from scratch, the other 3 were adding a live rhythm section to songs that had been produced and assembled by George Leger III. The first stop in LA was to get the old audio files from George. Sitting there chatting while the files transferred, I was amazed to discover how much George and I had in common. Both of us are bald, we're both George the 3rds ( my middle name) and we began our audio legacies in Canada at around the same time, late 70's, early '80s - he in Vancouver, and I in Calgary. I discovered our directions diverged when George mentioned getting into the disco scene in the '70s. I got into punk rock.

The tracks were cut at the Steakhouse, one of my favorite LA tracking rooms located in North Hollywood off of Magnolia near Cahuenga, with the stellar assistance of John Cranfield, an extremely competent engineer and editor in his own right. The Steakhouse has a vintage EMI modified Neve desk that sounds golden along with a vintage Teletronic LA2A that also sounds incredible on vocals.

The Steakhouse has a long association with guitarist Steve Lukather, an LA studio session perennial ( he played on Michael Jackson's Thriller among much else) and member of the band Toto. The studio also has a strong Rolling Stones vibe about it partially due to the two large Ron Wood paintings of the Stones that adorn the lobby. One of them is personally signed to Bernard Fowler, a Steakhouse regular, and a singer with the Stones since the late '80s which is about the time I first met him through Bill Laswell.

Randy picked up the space and got a rocking mood going by playing old Led Zeppelin riffs on the guitar. The next day Immerglock commented how Randy played with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager. He's never lost sight of those early days when it seemed like the right guitar riff could change everything. One of them in particular, the one from Dancing Days, took me back to my High School days of blasting Zeppelin in the school parking lot while studying the aerodynamics of frisbee throwing.

Dancing days are here again as the summer evening grows
You are my flower, you are my power
You are my woman who knows.
Though the summer evenings are still a bit away for us Northern Hemispherers, this seems like a good message to start the New Year. Or maybe Randy played it as a subconscious connection or bridge between Winifred and an archetype? I stated earlier in this Mix my opinion that Madonna became as big as she did partially through connecting to an archetype and marketing it.


Methods of Defiance are multiplying as we speak. Musician, composer and oblique strategist, Dashmesh Khalsa, has started a new blog, Music of the Ancients, outlining his methods:

The universe is governed by the law of vibration and the collective tune of society is a result of the combination of all individual wavelengths. An individual's frequency, or tune, is being constantly adjusted in relation to both conscious and unconscious use of internal and external symbols. Therefore, it is paramount that we feel symbols from the perspective of harmonic resonance. From this perspective our reality consists of a soup of various harmonious and inharmonious vibrations (symbols), to varying degrees.


Anyone interested in Robert Anton Wilson's methods of defiance needs to regularly check out Tom Jackson's blog, RAW Illumination, a daily dose of all things Wilsonian. He calls it, " A window into the writings of Robert Anton Wilson."


My New Year's greeting to the world is from The Vision and the Voice, 2nd Aethyr by Aleister Crowley:

Silence! the moon ceaseth (her motion),
That also was sweet
In the air, in the air, in the air!
Who Will shall attain!
Who Will shall attain
By the Moon, and by Myself, and by the Angel of the Lord!
Now Silence ceaseth
And the moon waxeth sweet;
(It is the hour of) Initiation, Initiation, Initiation.
The kiss of Isis is honeyed;
My own Will is ended,
For Will hath attained.
Behold the lion-child swimmeth (in the heaven)
And the moon reeleth: --
(It is) Thou! (It is) Thou! (It is) Thou!
Triumph; the Will stealeth away (like a thief),
The Strong Will that staggered
Before Ra Hoor Khuit! -- Hadit! -- Nuit!
To the God OAI
Be praise
In the end and the beginning!
And may none fall
Who Will attain
The Sword, the Balances, the Crown!

May everyone attain their deepest wishes and desires in this New Year!!