In the Black

Musicam novam præsento. Heather Ackroyd and I both loved this Marian Call song, and after we enjoyed playing it at the 2011 Southern Indiana Browncoat Bash, the thought of recording it occurred. But how to arrange it? Marian’s original is a near-perfect minimalist arrangement, and as I played around with ideas, I came to realize that the answer was to go big. Very big. Instead of trying to imitate Marian’s taught and claustrophobically-intimate arrangement, we sought to unleash the song’s cinematic potential—it has an enormous, epic feel—and blow it all the way out to a full 70mm widescreen production.

To that end, the first verse is pretty spare—just Heather’s voice, a couple of guitars, and a mandolin, and in the bridge, there’s a little bit of mellotron that fades in and out while panning, as a kind of “tease” that nods toward the original. But starting in the second verse, I hauled in a virtual orchestra. The total count of individual orchestral voices is 30: Twelve violins and nine violas, each in three sections, four french horns, two trombones, two trumpets, and a tuba. Each section was scored individually and played by DSK’s Brass and Strings VSTs. The middle section features some orchestral percussion (timpani and marching snare) and some flourishes from the Kurzweil (some string pads that would be out-of-range for real instruments, an organ that comes in for a few bars, a flute and piccolo, two choirs, and a harp). I also sung a few backing vocals in the chorus (I was shooting for something akin to the backgrounds on Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes: Vocals that subtly fill out the frequency range without disappearing into the mix) and added some electric guitar (a few tasty blues licks with the Les Paul through my “Blue Bro” (GGG Bluesbreaker clone), some moody strat with the CH1, and some big ol’ power chords with the Les Paul and the Valve Jr turned up to breakup). This one was a real pleasure to work on and Heather did a great job!