Song – How Can I Grasp

This is a recording of a hymn my friend Ali McLachlan wrote some years ago. We used to sing it a lot at West Street Baptist Church. It is one of my favourites, and works very well in a congregational setting. My recording of it is a bit more contemporary in style than it would normally be played, but that’s just to compensate up for my average quality voice. If you are looking for good modern hymns to use in your church, this one is highly recommended, and I’m sure Ali would be delighted for you to make use of it.

You can download it here, or stream it from my SoundClick page.

Lyrics

How can I grasp this awesome love
That stooped to wash one stained with sin
That won a rebel heart like mine
And died to bring me peace with him?
What grace that fixed that love on me
Selfless yet so undeserved
A love which paid my debt with pain
That death eternal life secured

While others stood outside the light –
Immanuel’s rejection –
He granted me, a son of God
The hope of resurrection.
I cannot tell the debt I owe,
A sum beyond all counting.
His grace has planted faith in me
And cast out all my doubting

This awesome love has won my heart.
How could I love another?
When all I have is found in him,
In Christ and in no other
O may I serve this awesome love
A heart forever grateful
My king, my life, my all in all
May I be ever faithful.

Recording

This will be my last recording using SONAR 2, as SONAR 5 arrived today. My eagerness to start a new project using SONAR 5 probably meant that I didn’t spend as much time as I should have done finishing this recording off. There are a few rough edges and bits that need a bit more tidying up, but I’m leaving it as is for now.

Piano was my Yamaha P200 stage piano
Acoustic Guitar was my Yamaha APX-4 with a bit of reverb
Synth Lead Sounds came from Steinberg Hypersonic
Organ was a superb free VSTi – Organised Trio
Lead Guitar was my Yamaha RGX-321 through a Behringer V-Amp
Vocals were me with some Cakewalk EQ and Reverb, plus my trusty Kjaerhus GUP-1 compressor
Bass Guitar was my Yamaha RBX-270 with some GUP-1 compression
Drums made use of some loops from a House sample CD
Mastering as usual was nothing more than a bit of limiting courtesy of Kjaerhus Classic Master-Limiter

Song – O Lord, How Majestic

OK, here’s another song which I have recorded as part of my quest to improve my recording and mixing technique. This was one I started a few years back as part of a collection of songs that people in my church (which was then West Street Baptist Church in Dunstable) had written. I never got round to finishing them because I had planned to get some other people to do the vocals but I moved to Southampton before I got the chance.

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This one was written by Katrina Peacham probably some time in the 1980s, and is based on Psalm 8. The melody is simple but effective. Its perhaps a bit dated now, but I still like it.

Lyrics

O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth
O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth
You have set your glory high above the heavens
From the lips of little children
You’ve established praise
When I see the heavens, the wonders you have made
How majestic is your name,
How majestic is your name
How majestic is your name in all the earth

Recording

I started with the original I made a few years back, and stuck with the arrangement I had decided on back then. I completely re-recorded all the parts, as they were either out of tune or had mistakes.

– The rhythm guitar effect was from my Behringer V-Amp which did a good job of recreating the original Boss ME-8 patch I had used.
– The guitar solo was recorded completely clean, and I used the excellent Free Amp SE VST plugin for the distortion.
– The piano part was from the Yamaha P200, and I tried to follow the advice people gave me from “Holy Spirit Will You Be” not to put too many bass notes in.
Vocals were of course me (sorry), and I realised a little too late that it would have been good for me to raise the pitch of the song by a tone to suit my vocal range better. Effects were my new Kjaerhus GUP-1 compressor plus the free Anwida reverb. The vocals at the end used a band pass filter (courtesy of Kjaerhus Classic Filter) plus a delay with automated mix level.
– As usual, the drums took up far too much time. Again I used the Natural Studio kit lite through sfz. This time I decided I would bounce each part down to a separate audio track before applying effects to each one separately. Big mistake – it was a painfully slow process. I now know why people shell out the extra money to get drum samplers with multiple outs. Once they were finally out, I used GUP-1 compression and a Cakewalk room reverb. I was able to set the compression for each drum separately, but I still struggled to get the kick drum to cut through the mix the way I wanted it to. Percussion (tambourine and bongoes) were provided by hypersonic. I did record my own tambourine but the hypersonic tambourine’s jangle was at a much higher frequency which sat better in the mix. You will notice that it is more or less the same drum loop throughout the song. I had used some drum-loop WAVs when I first put the song together but they were never going to be used for the final thing as each variation seemed to have a subtly different snare, and also I couldn’t find a single-hit crash that matched for the transition to a slower tempo at the end. However, recreating the loop in MIDI took so long that I decided I wasn’t going to program any pattern variations for different parts of the song.
Synth sounds were provided by Hypersonic, and the arpegiated synth for the third verse is an example of how the tempo-syncing just works with soft-synths in a way that was far too much hassle with hardware synths (maybe I’m just lazy though).
Bass guitar was my Yamaha plus GUP-1 compression
Final Mixdown: Reverbs were done on the 2 aux busses in SONAR rather than per-track, which was a first for me. Kjaerhus Classic Master-Limiter added the finishing touches.

I thought that this was going to be a fairly quick track to do, but it ended up taking slightly longer than the last one. Still, I feel I have learned a lot, and am slowly edging closer to being able to make mixes that I am actually happy with.

Song – Holy Spirit Will You Be

Sometimes when I am having a prayer time, I will open the hymn-book up and sing a hymn. I like to turn to the section on prayer, and if I don’t know the hymn in question, I tend to make up my own tune rather than trying to learn the one in the book. So as a result of my recent urge to do some home studio recording, here is my version of Holy Spirit Will You Be which I originally wrote and partially recorded a few years ago. The hymn is from the Praise hymn book (number 604), and the words are written by Martin E Leckebusch (© 1999 Kevin Mayhew Ltd.) I like this hymn because it explores a rarely thought about theme of the Spirit helping us in our praying.

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See below for details of the lyrics and recording process.

The lyrics

Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes for me
When I wonder what to pray
How to phrase the words I say
Come in might and majesty,
Help me in my frailty
Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes for me

Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes through me
When I lack the words to tell
What my feelings say too well
Speak through every sigh and groan
Making my emotions known
Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes through me

Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes with me
Come search my heart and mind
My desires and motives find
Take my deepest thoughts and cares
Turn them into fervent prayers
Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes with me

Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes for me
You alone can understand
What the mind of God has planned
And within his will you will lead
All for whom you intercede
Holy Spirit will you be,
One who intercedes for me

The recording

Recording was done in SONAR 2 using my Audiophile 2496 soundcard. I had recorded a version of this a couple of years ago, but never finished it off, but this is a complete re-recording. I only recorded at 16bit 44.1kHz mainly because I forgot to switch the old project to 24 bit before I started recording the new material. The original had a very strong acoustic guitar part, but I decided to build slowly and have the piano as the lead instrument this time round.

  • Acoustic guitar – I recorded my Yamaha acoustic guitar both direct (piezo-electric) and miked using my Senheisser Evolution 845 dynamic mic. The miked version was dull and boxy and the direct was trebly. As it happened, I didn’t use the miked track in the final mix as the acoustic doesn’t play a very significant part in the mix and the direct one fitted better.
  • Shaker – This is one of my children’s toys. The secret to playing a shaker is not to think about what you’re doing. It goes wrong otherwise.
  • Drums – I recorded myself four times on my acoustic kit just to get some ideas down. Then I tried to program it in MIDI using the excellent NSKit (lite version) sounds through sfz. It mostly went well, although there was one thing I played on the real kit that I just couldn’t get to sound right with in MIDI (where the stick bounces on the closed hi-hat twice before hitting the snare).
  • Piano – This is simply my Yamaha P200 stage piano. I have yet to find a sample library that is as pleasing to play as this.
  • Electric Guitar – I originally recorded it clean, and tried out a host of VST amp and cabinet simulators before getting frustrated and using my trusty Behringer V-Amp to give me a nice patch with tempo-synced tremolo. Its about time I got myself a new electric guitar though – the intonation is miles out which is a real pain in the neck when recording.
  • Bass Guitar – As usual, my Yamaha bass was DIed but I used the compressor on my digital mixer first rather than software compression. I had to tail off the treble quite a bit to get rid of an annoying 6kHzish hum.
  • Vocals – I tried my best, I really did. But I have a habit of getting ‘high’ (well, high for me) notes slightly flat with depressing regularity.

The mixdown

The dynamics and EQ effects supplied with Cakewalk are not very intuitive to use, so I relied again on the trusty Kjaerhus Classic Compressor and Classic EQ on most tracks. I did use the Cakewalk reverb, which sounded better than the Kjaerhus one. The free Voxengo Span spectrum analyser plugin was useful for choosing EQing frequencies.

  • Acoustic Guitar and Shaker – just a bit of reverb on these
  • Vocals – some compression, EQ and a room reverb. It was in danger of getting lost in the mix in the fourth verse, but I think its just about OK.
  • Bass Guitar – was already compressed, so I just added a bit of EQ
  • Electric guitars – were thinned out with Classic EQ so they didn’t trample over the piano. The two parts are panned hard left and right.
  • Piano – left entirely untreated (it already had reverb)
  • Drums – I had programmed each drum on a separate MIDI track so I could bounce to separate audio tracks and apply different effects, but too be honest I had spent a very long time mixing already and just wanted to finish things off. I simply put a bit of compression and reverb onto the output of sfz. If I had the time to bounce down to separate tracks I would probably mix the cymbals slightly lower and get the kick drum to cut through a bit better.
  • Mastering – I used the Kjaerhus Classic Mastering Limiter just to boost the level of the track slightly, but no additional reverb or EQ. Oh yes, and thankfully I remembered to cut the beginning and end tails off the recordings and fading things out properly (rather than my usual accidentally leaving in the recorded sound of me walking across the room to press the stop button).

Overall, doing this recording was a good learning experience for me, but I still feel I have a long way to go. I’m hoping to find the time next month to do another one.

A Tentpeg Through His Head

By popular request I have posted a recording of my “tentpeg” song. This was written to go on the latest KCC worship album, but for some inexplicable reason it was rejected. It is thoroughly Scriptural, based on Deborah’s song in Judges 5, and the second and third verses especially correspond to Judges 5:24-30 (in fact if you think that the third verse is a bit tasteless, you’re right, but so was Deborah’s song – you’re supposed to be repulsed at the attitude of his mother and her ‘wise’ attendants). If you want to use the song in your church worship, feel free, but do let me know. Credit is also due to Dale Ralph-Davies whose brilliant commentary on Judges really brought this passage alive for me.

The recording is a bit raw. I didn’t have time for drums, so its just acoustic guitar and bass and my voice. I’ve thrown a few of the excellent Kjaerhus free effects on to tidy the sound up a bit, but don’t expect production quality. I just don’t have the time these days to finish my recordings off the way I would like to.

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Come hear the story of Deborah
And the defeat of Sisera
She prophesied, “take an army, and fight against Canaan”
The people gladly followed under Barak’s command
And God gave the battle into their hands

There they fell, dead
God’s enemies defeated
Killed by the armies of Yahweh
But their leader ran away

Blessed be Jael the Kenite
Who offered milk and a bed for the night
She took a tent peg in her left hand, and a hammer in her right
And when he started snoring, she approached him from behind
And crushed his skull with all of her might

There he fell, dead
With a tent peg through his head
Killed by a friend of the family
As he slept in her bed

Poor old Sisera’s mummy
Wonders where her little boy has gone
“Now don’t you worry, he’ll be home soon”
“He’s probably raping a girl or two”
“And when he’s done with them he’ll steal some clothes for you”

There he lay, dead
With a tent peg through his head
Killed by a friend of the family
As he slept in her bed