Obscura la Noche

Dark the Night

By on 7-09-2006 in Listening Posts, Recording Session Notes

Guilty Movie Posterby Gary Powell

As a creative strategy in scoring Glendalough Studios’ movie Guilty, I first composed the song “Obscura la Noche”. Although the movie is in English Gabe Folse, the director of the film, and I agreed that the lyric played more emotionally when sung in Spanish. In the truest sense, this song is a “theme song” in that the melodic content and harmonization reflect the Latino culture and the layered internal compromises of the characters. Many of the film’s musical cues quote themes taken from both the harmonization and the melodies from the song itself. These musical components of the song are indeed inner-woven into the score which purposefully presents itself as one piece of music. The end effect of this compositional technique is that as the song is finally revealed at the end of the movie, audiences will already be familiar with it like an old friend you haven’t seen in years.

Hank Olguin, who masterfully translated my English lyric into Spanish, introduced me to singer Sara Traina of Indart Music. Sara is a native Spanish speaker and as Hank suggested, was the perfect singer to deliver the emotional impact of this song using her haunting and soulful voice. Sara is a principle player with Indart Music and Sound Productions in Los Angeles and Hank Olguin also works within this impressive music group from his home base in Mountain View, California. I offer many thanks to both Hank and Sara for working on a very short deadline and for delivering such a beautiful performance and also to audio engineer, Danny Osuna, who recorded Sara’s vocal.

(SITE TIP: Click on the script “Listen” to hear the music described in each post throughout this site.)

Composer & Lyricist: Gary Powell
Translator from English to Spanish: Hank Olguin
Vocalist: Sara Traina
Vocal Recorded by: Danny Osuna
Recorded and Mixed by: Gary Powell
Piano & Percussion: Gary Powell
Guitar: Larry Seyer
Upright Bass: Larry Seyer’s Acoustic Bass Library featuring the samples of Spencer Starnes, bassist

“Obscura la Noche”
Music and Lyrics by Gary Powell
(Spanish Translation by Hank Olguin)
Copyright 2007 Jesmax Music, BMI

Dark the Night

(Obscura la Noche)
Words and Music by Gary Powell

When the day is gone
And the night is long
There’s no way to live
Nothing’s left to give

Wash the day away
Hold the pain at bay
Settled for a knife
Settled for my life

Dark the night (Obscura la noche)
Dark the day (Obscuro el dia)
On the lonely path of only hurting
Loving souls when I once loved in light

Just below the skin
Looking deep within
There’s a place to rest
Where I’ll pass the test

Fluid threads are creased
Fragments cloak the peace
A dark soul to bear
Masked from all who care

Dark the night (Obscura la noche)
Dark the day (Obscuro el dia)
On the lonely path of only hurting
Loving souls when I once loved in light

When the day is gone
And the night is long
There’s no way to live
Nothing’s left to give

Dark the night (Obscura la noche)
Dark the day (Obscuro el dia)
On the lonely path of only hurting
Loving souls when I once loved in light

(Copyright 2007 Jesmax Music, BMI)

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Battle Hymn of the Republic

A Composer’s Perspective

By on 7-09-2006 in Listening Posts, Recording Session Notes

by Gary Powell, Vocal Arranger/Producer

“Battle Hymn of the Republic”
             Gary Powell, Arranger/Producer

Shortly after September 11th, 2001, a new century of American flag-waving began. It’s hard to know whether this display of nationalism was a sign of solidarity or just unconscious rage. When our behavior is unconscious, some simple math will reveal that the forthcoming ramifications from that behavior will also be cloaked. Whether war is in our nature or just our birthright, it may be time to step back and search out new teachers and healers.

On November 19th, 1861, Julia Ward Howe was sleeping in her hotel room at Willard’s Hotel in Washington, D.C., now the Willard Intercontinental. Having just visited troop maneuvers outside of town, her pastor suggested she write more appropriate and inspirational lyrics to the stirring folk tune, “John Brown’s Body”, which the troops had been singing that day. According to her memoirs, her own inspiration was born both from a “feeling of discouragement” and a desire to make a contribution to the war effort.

Fast forward 140 years and I now felt uncomfortable with musically waving the flag without acknowledging the loss that had come before and the loss that was now close at hand. With that in mind, this, a cappella arrangement, begins and ends with the simple haunting word glory. The musical treatment of that word and the word itself play opposite each other by design. In between these mournful bookends, you might hear flag-waving, hope, despair, victory or defeat, for it is certainly all there. For myself, however, this entire piece is about loss.

If war is a natural state of humankind, then it’s time to own it and change it. If war is unconsciously taught through the trauma of its victims to their children, it’s time to heal it. However, simple platitudes will not affect change until our enmeshment with violence transitions into a balanced coexistence with whatever the truth is about us. This is my best effort to musically represent that balance.

The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness (1973) by Erich Fromm
Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society’s Betrayal of the Child (1981) by Alice Miller

LEAD VOCALS: Rayvon Foster, Alicia Jones
WOMEN’S CHORUS: Alicia Jones, Chris Martin, Robin Huston
TENORS: David Stephens, Gary Powell
BASSES: John White, Gary Powell

Recorded January, 2002
Musical Arrangement Copyright 2002 Jesmax Music, BMI

Listen to Rich Harney’s Jazz Choral Piece

“Jesus, Lamb of God”

By on 7-09-2006 in Listening Posts, Recording Session Notes

by Gary Powell, Producer

“Jesus, Lamb of God” Rich Harney, Composer

Austin jazz pianist and composer Rich Harney has been gracious enough to give me permission to share his jazz choral piece, “Jesus, Lamb of God”, with you.

When recording choral ensembles, I prefer to let the music dictate or at least guide me to the appropriate recording technique. Budget, studio space, singer capabilities or even singer availability are all part of the equation. The singers, in relation to the music, must also be considered in choosing how to produce the recording session.

For Rich’s piece, I chose the choral recording method which creates the richest, most homogeneous sound. It’s a nice way to produce chorale compositions because it “blurs the ears” from hearing individual parts. Because of the tight voicings of Rich’s piece, however, we also took special care to scale the size of individual voices and vibratos. As you will hear, we have created a wide and airy sound with only nine different singers. All but the lowest alto and basses sang multiple parts on multiple recording passes, which is another nice way to homogenize the sound and performance gestures. Career studio session singers all become fluent in these vocal gestures with the ability to create, take dictation, harmonize, read and change quickly all within the ensemble at hand.

Performance gestures include the initial transient (how each note begins), tone, vowel sounds, vibrato, envelope (how it all changes over time) and release.

The men and women were recorded separately and in a “mid-side” microphone configuration. Distances from the mics varied from four to six feet depending on the tone and volume within each singer’s tessitura.

WOMEN: Alicia Jones, Leslie Whiteley, Deborah Leigh, Dianne Donovan
MEN: John White, Rich Harney, David Stevens,
Bert Meisenbach, Gary Powell
PIANO: Rich Harney UPRIGHT BASS: Spencer Starnes
(Choir Recorded by Larry Seyer)

I have a multi-decade musical relationship with every singer except for Dianne Donovan who is new to my studio. Diane is an announcer and producer for KMFA, Austin’s classical radio station. Welcome, Diane, and thank you lending your vocal talents to Rich Harney’s piece. Also, I hope you will take special note of Spencer Starnes’ wonderful bass performance.

Enjoy reading more about Rich Harney’s piano part and this production.