Tag Archives: music

The Music of a Landscape….The Prairie

On my 4th album “Heading West” I wanted to interpret some of the North American landscapes that I had seen and felt in the music that I composed.  But more than that I wanted some of the history of those landscapes to be heard in the music, and particularly in the instrumentation that I used.

This tune is about the prairies.  I obviously wanted to depict wide open spaces, but I also wanted the warmth and intimacy of the piano and double bass to convey some of the folk traditions of times past.  It’s not always a comfortable experience to interpret places that you are not completely familiar with, there’s a real danger of creating a cliche, as I have heard many times when the British culture or landscape is interpreted musically by others.

Anyway I hope that you like this one and can see where I’m coming from 🙂

Recording Music Can Be a Tricky Business

Studio recording drums bw

So I’ve come up with an idea for a new music composition, I’ve worked out the structure, what happens where, how it should be put together, what instruments I’ll be needing for each part, rehearsed each instrument piece over and over, and then comes the tricky part – how to record it….

Studio recording mics bwEach instrument is different, some more difficult to record than others.  The drums are quite problematic because they need specialist microphones, and the studio space needs to be right acoustically.

Studio recording bwSo arranging which bits of kit need to go where can often be a case of trial and error.  And if, like me, you are completely self taught in the art of sound recording, things can take a little longer than they might otherwise, but at least I have total control over the outcome.

Photo 160Then you have to perform the composition in each of its constituent parts.  Depending on how well I’ve planned it, and also on how well I am playing on any given day, this process can either go very smoothly or, as is sometimes the case, there can be a lot of takes.  The track I’ve just recorded had 2 guitar parts, a bass, keyboards and drums, so obviously it was a much more complex project than if it had been just solo guitar.

Studio recording monitorAnd this is where all of that sound is recorded, stored, sonically manipulated and mixed.  This process can take anywhere from a few hours to weeks or, and this has happened, years.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work and you have to walk away from it because you can’t figure out why.  But when it clicks, and all of the pieces come together and the mix is just right, it all becomes worthwhile and a new song is born 🙂

In the studio with IanThis is me discussing the finer points of sound recording and mixing with my friend Ian.

Rehearsal 2And this is me doing what I enjoy best, playing and recording a new melody on my guitar…..

I’ve really enjoyed teaching myself how to do everything, from learning how to play the instruments, to learning how to compose music, to learning how to become a producer and sound engineer.  I guess if you’re really interested and enthusiastic about something you will learn how to do it, and you won’t really notice the thousands of hours spent doing it.  And you keep learning.  On this project I improved my skills in recording cymbals and drums, and I turned an idea in my head into something real that I think sounds pretty good.

I Get Reviews…

It’s obviously really gratifying when a music reviewer takes the time to critique your album over all the countless others that are released every month, and even more so when they say nice things 🙂

So a big thank you to Mike Debbage from mainlypiano.com for this great review of my new album Heading West…..

Heading West by Mike HoweHeading West by Mike Howe  2013/ Real Music  Total time: 52:46

Reviewed by Michael Debbage

With Howe’s impressive debut being released back in 2009, every single year he has come up with a new shining jewel to add to his recording treasure chest. However, 2012 represented the first year that Howe was unable to maintain this ridiculous recording pace.  Instead, he finally skipped a year with Heading West receiving a formal release in the year of 2013 as well as probably one of his finest recordings to date.

While Howe continues to lay his musical foundation in pastoral yet engaging pastures, Heading West represents a more exploratory recording and is best summed up by the liner notes which state that “through the heart and hands a British guitarist interprets his American travels”. Needless to say, Heading West lightly draws on the strains of folk, jazz and country allowing us as the listener to hear this very intelligent and introspective music become a tad more retrospective without losing his gorgeous original musical voice.

Though Heading West begins like any typical Howe album, by track 3 you will find yourself in somewhat new territory with Howe exploring the light jazzy winds of “Badlands” that is driven by what sounds like a stand up bass and light percussive work that intermingles seamlessly with Howe’s guitar and piano work. Speaking of percussion work, check out the stark exotic “Navajo Winds” that features Howe on bongos who decides to pick and pluck at his guitar strings versus strumming.  Meanwhile, the light orchestration and gentle spacious piano work on “The Last Buffalo” have similar exotic results but this time leaving a sense of openness. It brings to mind the rolling open plains that are now empty and bare with only ghosts of the once great roaming buffaloes. The same exotica can be found on the mystical “Desert Solitaire” that includes Howe’s delectable but restrained guitar work. On the completely different end of the musical spectrum, perhaps the more driven melodic sensibilities of “Wyoming” may also your suit your fancy.

Otherwise, Heading West is filled with Howe’s effortless ability to make outstanding exquisite music, reflecting his musical journal of his stateside journeys. It also represents one of his best recordings to date and undoubtedly one of 2013’s finer musical moments in its genre. So travel west into a sunset with Mike Howe as his music is your perfect engaging travel companion.

The Music of a Landscape Part IV – Pwll Deri

Imagine if you will a high cliff, or a sheer wall on a mountain side, and you get the idea behind this music.  It was originally imagined whilst reading “The Shining Mountain”, the incredible and enthralling account of British climbers Joe Tasker and Pete Boardman’s famous ascent of Changabang, a 22,500 foot mountain in the Himalayas of India, in 1976.

Boardman and Tasker climbed the great West Wall using revolutionary climbing techniques, which included sleeping in hammocks suspended from the sheer face with a drop of thousands of feet below them.  It took 25 days to complete the climb, a climb that many at the time thought impossible.

A little nearer to home (for me anyway) there are some magnificent cliffs with a sheer drop to the sea below, where peregrine falcons, and large colonies of seabirds nest in spring, and where, standing at the top, it is quite difficult to catch your breath, such is the exhilaration.  Pwll Deri is one of those places, as is this beautiful arch and stack further to the south.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

The music was intended to capture the drama and majesty of places like this wherever they may be found.  But also the sadness I felt whilst reading of Boardman and Taskers subsequent adventure, to climb the North-East ridge of Everest, another route that had never been done at the time.  The rest of the expedition were out of the reckoning due to exhaustion, but Boardman and Tasker attempted to complete the ascent on their own.  They were last seen alive by their comrades as tiny specks on the ridge before they disappeared into the cloud and were gone forever.

I’m Very Sad Today But It Doesn’t Matter

I don’t know about you but sometimes I get incredibly sad, and today is one of those days. I know why, I could go into it and explain it, but I don’t need to for my sake, and anyway you would be bored reading about it.  No honestly you would, it’s really not very interesting.

In recent years, however, one of the great and surprising benefits of being sad (or happy, or morbid, or awestruck), and for which I am truly grateful (although I’m not sure to whom), is that I have developed an ability to write music about how I feel, which has lead to all of the other interesting things that sometimes happen in my life.

So in recognition of how I feel today, and probably will tomorrow, but probably won’t a day or two after that, here is a song I wrote whilst feeling very sad indeed.  I hope you like it (in a recognising the emotion sort of way and not in a making you sad sort of way, I wouldn’t want to do that to you) 🙂

By the way, does anybody know whether or not I should be allowing pingbacks and trackbacks on this post?  I have absolutely no idea what they are.  Thanks and enjoy the sad music 🙂

The Old Wooden House

I once had the great pleasure of wandering around an old wooden church in the state of Mississippi and was able to really feel and smell its history.  It was quite a humbling experience in many ways, and it certainly penetrated deep inside me, so that many years later, when I had developed the ability, I wrote a piece of music about it and included it on my fourth album Heading West.

I was particularly gratified that the esteemed music reviewer Kathy Parsons wrote of the track…..“Old Wooden House suggests a time-worn structure that has seen better days and holds generations of precious memories of days gone by.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Here’s a little video that I put together featuring the beautiful photographs of Walker Evans and Bernard M Baruch, which I felt illustrated the kind of building that it is/was, I hope you like it.

A Love Song….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

This is a simple song about those times in your life when it feels like someone who is very dear to you is always close, inside you almost, no matter where you are…..

The Music of a Landscape Part III – Badlands

Sadly I only visited the badlands of North Dakota very briefly many years ago.  Even more sadly my camera wasn’t working at the time so I wasn’t able to record the hauntingly beautiful landscape, so I did the next best thing and wrote some music about it instead…..

Of course the music of any landscape is completely abstract, so for every person that can identify with it, there will be many more who cannot – we all have different senses and points of reference, which is a very good thing.

This music is also dedicated to Yellow Bird, Kent, Grover and Dan, “The Wolf at Twilight”

Website: https://mikehowe.com/
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Music and art about San Francisco

So in composing the music for my album “Heading West”, which is essentially a travelogue about my journey across America, I wrote a song called “San Francisco” which leaned heavily on my love of jazz and jazz fusion.  I wanted to paint a musical picture of a cityscape, something that talked of vibrancy, excitement and a little edginess, and contrasted with the more peaceful sounds I had written on the album to capture great landscapes.  San Francisco is such a beautiful, exciting city to visit, I felt compelled to write music about it.

I also wanted to put together a video essentially to showcase the music.  What I ended up with, however, was something different – a video showcasing the amazing art of Jeremy Mann, who has painted some of the most beautiful and evocative cityscapes that I have ever seen of his hometown, San Francisco.  See what you think here….

In his creative practice, Mann aims to imbue his city with drama, mood, and personality.  He paints his immediate surroundings with intimate, dynamic expression. A number of his compositions are inspired by wet pavement that reflects street lamps and neon signs and glitters in the rain.

Painting on medium-to-large scale wood panels, Mann utilizes a number of techniques: staining the surface, wiping away paint with solvents, and applying broad, gritty marks with an ink brayer.  He paints with confidence and flair, addressing complex compositions with colors both vivid and atmospheric.

I love his work.  And so, actually, my song is dedicated to him and I hope it does his work justice, even in a very small way.