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Instruments

Making Curse of Mercury

Icon Studio West

At the simplest level Curse of Mercury is about boy girl stuff. The songs are collaged together from myriad stories of my near-50 years—some real, some professed, some pure fantasy.

I began the making of Curse of Mercury in earnest in the summer of 2008. My entire studio had been mothballed for nearly three years since my move from St. Louis to Seattle. There was even a period when I wasn’t sure there was any merit to unpacking my boxes of equipment; my studio in Seattle would never match the glory of Icon Studio that I’d left behind in St. Louis. But I succumbed to the charms of my new Seattle home, and eventually matched cables to ports, and settled in again with ProTools HD and the rest of my toys.

One afternoon, I sat surrounded by re-plugged-in equipment and several 3-ring binders of “unfinished” material; I was struck with the novel notion that it might be about time to get something presentable together. So, I began sifting through hundreds of pages of song ideas dating back as far as 1975.

As an album took shape in my mind, two principles emerged which shaped and guided this project:
1. To the best of my ability I would do everything myself: write, record, sing, and play all the instruments.
2. I would make a “concept” album.

As to Principle One, I achieved this—with the exception of enlisting the help of two of my long-time collaborators to be my rhythm section for the last two songs, Milk and Colors of the Sky. I needed the specific dimension that I knew Rob Medcalf’s drumming would bring to those songs. And being in the studio in St. Louis to do this meant that I could engage Michael “Doc” Murphy to contribute his sublime bass playing.

Doc & Jeff in the studio

Doc & Jeff in the studio

Fortuitously, Doc was teaching Electronic Music at Webster University, giving us an “in” to book their studio during spring break, and luckily for me this studio is equipped with Pro Tools HD—the only recording medium I use these days. Their SSL Duality console was icing on the cake.

Rob tracking Milk

Rob tracking Milk

I arrived with scratch tracks on my hard drive for Rob and Doc to play to, and within six hours of me darting back and forth between the control room and studio, I had coaxed the takes from Doc and Rob that I’d come mining for. Chief engineer Jeff Allen did an aces job of cutting the tracks.

The other notable and interesting contributions to the record are some bits that came with me to Seattle from my days in Icon Studio back in St Louis. One bit is Doc’s whackity-whack guitar part on track seven, Transformation. Even more important are Doc’s guitar and bass parts on track nine, Aggravations. These we recorded in 2004. I had an a cappella demo of the lyrics and melody but couldn’t quite get the changes right. Doc and his keen ear fleshed them out. I kept his parts and built the rest of the song around those.

Other than these bits, Principle One holds—a long winter of me left to my own devices in the studio, crafting Curse of Mercury.

me being producer dude

me being producer dude

As to Principle Two “a concept album”—I have always been drawn to the lifestyle and culture of making records. My serious involvement with music began of course in my teens, in the 1970s—the heyday of the concept album. These inspired me, and expanded my vision of music and its possibilities. In the making of Curse of Mercury my intent was to harken back to these days of naïve discovery, and to use the storyline or thematic nature of a concept album to give depth and structure to my work at hand.

The underlying theme of this record is a string of stories about affairs of the heart, running the gamut from naive to divine. The title “Curse of Mercury” was originally the working title for what later became the song Aggravations. One might propose that Cupid or Psyche are more accurate harbingers for the theme of this record—relationships and transformation—but in keeping with the greater arc of the story I find “The Trickster” Mercury more apropos.

On another level Curse of Mercury is about aspects of the old Greek god himself. In this respect I particularly mean the bit about Mercury being charged the duty of escorting souls through the Underworld—a realm of transformation—and coming out relatively unscathed himself.

For me, a good concept album extends beyond being a collection of good three-minute songs. I strove for that with “Curse of Mercury”.

Pan’s Pipes

Track 2 from Curse of Mercury [Play Pan’s Pipes]

This tune began as a system test. En route to my new home in Seattle I stopped in San Diego to visit Rob Medcalf, my long time musical cohort. I was installing a Pro Tools system on his laptop and came up with the basic parts on a whim just trying to test all his plugins and virtual instruments; as I remember I was trying to make Sample Tank work. My original demo was called “On the Beach” and was about getting one’s self together On the Beach as it were. Then I entirely reworked it inspired by the perspective of my amazing Seattle backyard and the things I imagined going on out there in the forest.

http://www.flickr.com/people/croweb/

Pan’s Pipes  3:16

Why don’t you get yourself in order
Why don’t you get yourself together

It’s a simple thing to do
When the Full Moon comes in view
First you’ll have to build a fire
Then you’ll have to breathe the smoke

When you stand before that fire
You start to feel your Spirit rise higher higher

Up in the air where the clouds roll by
Up in the air where the Spirits fly
Deep in the woods where Forest Nymphs live
The Muse delights in hearing Pan’s Pipes
The Muse delights in hearing Pan’s Pipes

Such a simple thing to do
Align your points be sure that you’re in tune
From your circle under the Moon
Align yourself the time will be here soon

You better get yourself in order
Don’t just grasp you better reach
You better get yourself together
Don’t hold back don’t be weak
You better get yourself in order
‘cause here ain’t no one else

Lyrics/Music © 2009 Perry Emge
Lyrics Page for Curse of Mercury
Image ©Ben Crowe

Human

Track 3 from Curse of Mercury [Play Human]

The basic keyboard part this tune is built around is one of those little bits I have been working with off and on for 20 years but never completed until now. The vocal part was inspired by playing with the Access Virus vocorder. I was attracted to the idea of juxtaposing the unnatural mechanical sound against the imagery in the lyric, mimicking how our humanity is so often veiled. The crowning stroke of song form completion for me was the adaptation of the Hafiz poem as a bridge. It fit just right.

03human

Human 2:25

All the time we spend together
Is all the life we know
All the time we spend together
Help each other grow
All the life we have together
Saves us from alone

Even though we’re human warming other hearts
I wish we didn’t have to live so far apart

All the light we have within
We have to let it show
All the light we have to give
To let each other know
All the light we have within
It shines and makes us grow

Even though we’re human warming other hearts
I wish we didn’t have to live so far apart

“Not once after all this time
Has the Sun said to the Earth, you owe me.
Look what a love like that does
It lights the entire sky”*

All at once we come together
And all at once we go
All at once we feel the answer
And yet we never know
All at once we come together
And all at once we go

Even though we’re human warming other hearts
I wish we didn’t have to live so far apart

* © Hafiz 15c Persia
Lyrics/Music © 2009 Perry Emge
Lyrics Page for Curse of Mercury
image Cyborgs Perry Emge ©1975

Transformation

Track 7 from Curse of Mercury [Play Transformation]

I think of this tune as Song 1 on Side 2–if you remember the days of LP’s, where when you’ve gotten through the obvious cuts on Side 1 and now that you’ve flipped it over you expect to hear what “they” really wanted to put on the record. This tune is a pretty literal statement, about letting go of, holding on, clinging and possessiveness that thwarts growth. I also had a poem I needed to put somewhere and this looked like a good place to use it.

07transformation

Transformation 4:14

I don’t know why I can’t let go
Let go of you
I know I should, but it’s no good
I don’t know why I can’t let go
Let go of you

I’m lookin’ for the absolution of my soul
I’m lookin’ for some integration of the opposite poles
I’m workin’ on the transformation that’ll make me whole

Whole, make me whole, make me …
Make me whole, make me whole again, make me whole

Everyone is asleep and the Full Moon wanders
The same dusty books lie against themselves on the shelves
Like we lie against one another
As we lie against one another

Contact transform calling out for
Contact transform holding on now
Contact transform calling out for
Contact transform holding on now

While you wander I’ll be waiting here
While you wander on and on

I am awake now and sense your Full Moon power
Like the tide I pull up against your shore
But you and your Moon wane
And I too retreat into my own depths
The depths of which we can not fathom
Or why your Full Moon wanders

While you wander I’ll be waiting here
While you wonder on and on

Lyrics/Music © 2009 Perry Emge
Lyrics Page for Curse of Mercury
photo-collage Economic Nemonic Perry Emge ©2002

Recording “Beliefs” with some fun toys in the Studio

I took a break from work on ‘”Curse of Mercury” to help Electronic musician Kurt Bujack create a new piece of music for his up coming Art Exhibit at Studio X in Belltown.

Kurt Bujack recording marbles

Kurt Bujack recording marbles rolling on a bass drum to simulate a rain stick

Kurt Bujack with Vintage MiniMoog

Kurt Bujack with Vintage MiniMoog

Kurt brought over a Mint condition Mini Moog for the Bass part. Nothing beats the real thing!