No, not literally. A couple of weeks ago, Stevie and I were engaged in this:
How to introduce you to the unique musical phenomenon that is He was Eaten by Owls … other than letting you play around on the Facebook page, Bandcamp, YouTube channel and so on and make up your own mind …
The project is mostly the brainchild of Kyle Perfect – composer / organiser / sometime singer / guitarist who traces his musical roots to the fingerstyle legends of 60s/70s British folk (Wiz Jones, Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and so on to the end of the chapter), but who is also a massive aficionado of the minimalist and aleatoric experimentation of Steve Reich and in love with electronic music. The result is as diverse as it sounds, and across as wide a range from intuitive to intellectual, even cerebral.
The other full-time member of the band is drummer Vilius Pavarde, who seems to be on all the recordings and videos from the beginning, even the ones that are just live duos, and has managed to internalise Kyle’s love of irregular and oft-changing time signatures to a degree I can largely only envy.
We were recording the second full album under the … Owls name, at a superb residential studio called Shaken Oak, somewhere on a farm in the middle of nowhere near Witney. It’s a while since I’ve done a thoroughly studio-oriented project as a ‘session’ musician; by the time I (with viola), Stevie, my oft-time freelance colleague Maria Kroon and double bassist Robin Breeze (bridging the jazz and classical characters of the instrument across the recording) got started, drum, guitar, piano and harp parts were already recorded, together with the organ and chamber choir core of a track with brief string overdubs; we were using these and a click to add the string parts (usually as a section live in the room, as you can see, plus as many overdubs and splices as required for the number of parts); after we finished, a handful of wind players added their lines later again. I think Kyle and Vilf were living at the studio for a good week while the other players – some repeat contributors to the recordings, others like me new – came and went.
The process was varied, to put it mildly. Some pieces were straightforwardly fully scored, like the one you can hear here:
Though, as with most material that has never been out live before, there was a great deal of ‘editorial’ work going on refining rhythms, dynamics, phrasing and so on, and making decisions about double-tracking and editing as we went.
Others were instruction-based improvisation, or directed handling of minimal cells, in the 1960s-and-after experimental art music tradition – I wasn’t exaggerating about Kyle and Steve Reich, or more recent composers influenced by him. Of course, we left with essentially just raw takes done, and potentially much decision-making about editing and indeed inclusion and exclusion (anywhere from takes and parts to whole numbers) to be done – and quite possibly still in progress.
Studio recording is an exhausting process, and it gets more so the more you are looking for a clean take rather than an energetic pseudo-live sound, or playing material more or less new to you (we had had parts and demos to practice, but still), or involved in all the playing while you’re there rather than alternating with bandmates. All were true this time, and the recordings were probably the longest and most tiring 48 hours’ musical work I can recall! For all of which, I wouldn’t have missed doing this for the world – so little of what I do is actually radical or boundary-pushing, and I’m fascinated to hear the finished product when it reaches release. And I do think it’s interesting that this one of the few projects I’ve been involved in to have arts grant funding of any sort (together with a concert of orchestral music by female composers, and probably others I’ve forgotten). Watch this space for links to the album!