66: The Mother Road

Anyone who follows this blog and/or my musical (mis)adventures (and bothers to remember any of it all) may recall that back in January I recorded a 21-minute prog rock suite called 66. If you don’t remember, it’s available in its entirety, both as 10 individual tracks and the complete suite, on my music site.

As usual, I’ve spent a ton of time listening to 66 since I recorded it. If my iTunes play count is to be believed, it’s somewhere in the range of 130 times, but I suspect it’s actually much higher than that, with different versions (the 24-bit version, the 16-bit CD version, the MP3 version), some of which I no longer keep on my computer, plus listening in the car and elsewhere that may not have been logged. The point is, I’ve literally spent days listening to this thing since I recorded it 6 months ago. And, not surprisingly, I eventually started to notice things I was unhappy with.

The most significant issue I had was with the drum sound. I don’t really play drums. (Well, OK, I do play drums, but I don’t really play drums.) The drum tracks are MIDI software instruments, part of GarageBand. I played the drum parts on my keyboard, looped them, tinkered with them endlessly in the track editor, and eventually arrived at an end result. But there were two problems: 1) they were too repetitive, and 2) they sounded plastic. The issues went beyond the drums, but they were my main source of frustration with what I had created.

I’ve been considering putting together a 3-track prog rock album this year called 3, in the format of the Yes albums Close to the Edge and Relayer. That would be one “side-long” track, followed by two “half-side” tracks. In other words, the first track should be around 20 minutes long, and the other two should be about 8-12 minutes each. I already have tracks 1 and 2: track 1 is the 66 suite, of course, retitled for these purposes as “66 (The Mother Road).” Track 2 is the final track of my improvised RPM Challenge album from February, 222, known originally as “All Together Now” but to be retitled “222 (All Together Now).” The final track hasn’t been written yet, and I don’t know what it will be like, other than that it will be about 10 minutes long and its title will be in the form of “Number (Three Parenthetical Words).” A hackneyed concept, I suppose, but that’s how I roll.

Anyway, since I’m repackaging two existing tracks for this album, it also gives me an opportunity to remix them (and, to some extent, to reworking them even more deeply, in that nether region between remixing and re-recording, which I am not doing).

First up was a remix of 66, which I undertook over the past couple of days. I changed the drum sound I was using from “Pop Kit” to “Rock Kit,” did some serious EQ, tinkered a ton with the reverb to make them sound more “live,” and also rearranged some of the notes in the editor to make the parts a bit more varied and interesting. I also reworked the EQ on the electric bass, as it sounded thin and plastic before, too. And while I was at it I made adjustments to the reverb settings on the guitar and Mellotron parts, and I also removed an 8-measure section of the final part, to eliminate some unnecessary repetition.

The end result then went through my new mastering process, which I think does a better job of beefing up the sound without completely squashing the dynamic range. And now, I present it to you. Enjoy!

[audio:http://blog.room34.com/wp-content/uploads/underdog/room34_66_the_mother_road_remix.mp3|titles=Room 34: 66 (The Mother Road) (July 2010 remix)]

What does Route 66 sound like?

Much of it is probably pretty quiet these days. I know the remnant of the once great U.S. Route 66 running through the Cajon Pass in Southern California is an all-but-forgotten back road now: Interstate 15 roars with 8-plus lanes of cars and trucks 24 hours a day, while less than a mile away, the former divided 4-lane Route 66 has been reduced to a single 2-lane blacktop county road, with the abandoned southbound lanes left overgrown with weeds and populated intermittently with parked cars, their occupants wistfully dreaming of the glory days of the erstwhile “Main Street of America.”

My latest music project, entitled simply 66, is a 21-minute, 10-part suite that seeks to capture, in my own quasi-prog-rock fashion, some of the experience of cruising along the “Mother Road” from its origin at Lake Michigan in Chicago, through St. Louis, across the American Southwest (following, roughly, the path of current Interstate 40), past the Grand Canyon, into the California High Desert and on to the Pacific shore in Santa Monica.

Route 66 is in many ways a symbol of America, from its optimistic (if never so simple and wholesome as some prefer to remember) origins in westward expansion, to its decommissioning in the 1970s with the advent of bigger and better freeways, and its subsequent haphazard mix of abandonment and preservation. Route 66 represents the best and worst of the American prospect. It’s a fitting inspiration for an extended, varied, and ultimately unpredictable piece of music.

You can listen to the entire album online or download it for free at my official 66 album page. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.