A year or so ago, I told my colleague that I would learn from my mum how to make chap chye and pass some over to her. Busy as we all are, I procrastinated until I felt it could not pass into 2010 (how to make someone wait for 2 years for chap chye? So, I decided to make a trip to the Mayflower wet market with my mum so I could learn which ingredients needed to be bought and from where… Its difficult to get this all from any supermarket so a visit to the wet market is a must.
My mum, sis and I chillaxing out at the wet market over laksa, chai tao kueh and fish ball noodles.
Learning the recipe involved more than just the cooking. It meant having breakfast at the market with my mum and sis (who loves to tag along) and spending a lovely morning chatting away. Its something to savour… and somehow if you are mindful, it helps in the cooking process as well. No rushing.
The finished product, a culinary treasure from the Peranakan heritage. It tastes good too.
All the ingredients should be in and none left out but I think the essential ingredients are the prawn head stock and the black fungus. The fungus imparts a nice woody and slightly pungent aroma to the dish.
Here’s a podcast of the recipe as narrated by my mum, I have taken the liberty of adding some music from the starfishstories.wordpress.com. I chose the song Ivan and I wrote for our friends Siva and Airani entitled “The mangrove tree”. I think the song goes well with the dish.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Singapore. Download at ARCHIVE.ORG.
Heat up oil, fry garlic 2 table spoons
Dou chio (ground) – 10 tablespoons
Fry dou chio until wangi
Belly pork cut into small, fry until cooked
Pour in water (half) or stock (prawn head that is fried and boiled in water for 20 mins to make stock)
Put in white cabbage (kobis) cut big pieces
Giam tou kee (dried and long pressed bean curd) rendam for 15 mins or until softer
Sweet tou kee (cut into squares) rinse
Dried Lily buds tie 2 (cut off stalk) rendam (soak in water) for half hour and remove dirt.
Soft black fungus – bok zhee (50 cts worth; its soft). Soak until kembang (pluck out the stem)
Until comes to a boil.
Let it simmer for another hour or so until all is soft and mushy.
This is a picture of the fermented bean paste that I used.
I’m documenting how the album name, and the title track, came about. For my benefit, if nothing else.
The album title was conceived in Sept ’08, when Adrian and I were conversing over IM, about the song sequence for our 2nd album, One World One Moment (OWOM). Near the end of our chat, Adrian said he still had one more song to write. He called it “Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula”.
“wah, sounds interesting… like aural-scape,” I wrote back.
Nine months later (I checked my email archive!), Adrian sent me an MP3 demo file titled “Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula”. By then, it was obviously too late for the OWOM album. So it was definitely for the next unnamed album.
In his email, Adrian explained: “… this is half done.. need you to add bass, smoothen the sound. I was […] playing this in the dark! Anyway I think I could refine the tune. It’s about space and the beautiful stars I saw before Leea was born. I thought it would fit well into the new album about beginnings… since nebulae are where stars are born.”
Here’s what Adrian’s first demo track, which I’ll call Version Zero-One, sounds like:
I immediately liked the chord progressions and transitions in Adrian’s demo track. The backing guitar sounded good to me. When the chord progression shifts at around the 1min mark, I thought I heard a winner in there. Plus, Adrian had just given our third album its name.
Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula.
The name conjured up images that could be translated into instrumental tracks, I felt. Also, it seemed to tie in nicely with some tracks we were considering for the next album.
That very evening, I did a very rough edit of Adrian’s Version Zero-One and emailed to him. Just to give him an idea for how the track could be extended.
Next day, Adrian replied:
“… I am getting an idea of what you mean.
Anyway, I think I am adding another stanza as it seems missing in that part. I will email you the other stuff soon when I am done with the tune…
After I add that stanza, you can do your magic on it. Can you leave in some of the guitar bits that come up before I start each melody. Gives it that raw feel. Do keep the percussions the same before the 1 min mark and after that you can add some others. Keep the percussions clean and no ethnic beats for this. Lets keep it raw. Dont want to drown out the backing guitar cos I think that gives the music its mood.
Thanks, will try to add that stanza tonight.”
It was clear to me that Adrian put his heart and soul into the track. Very seldom would he work on a song immediately, LOL (for good reasons, given his teaching schedule and his three kids to boot). In any case, I had a very good feeling about the upcoming track.
Adrian managed to record his part and emailed to me:
“I have put in a lead, 22 takes! And this is not counting the previous chord progression I tried but I felt that was lame so deleted it over this one. Basically worked with a basic rift and then improvised for 22 times. Its got the atmosphere that I had in my head.
I added tambourines at 46 secs… Its quite fitting I feel.
I could think of some things that you could add
1. Bassline – a melodic one.
2. Some intro of sort before 1min 46 as a prelude to the lead.
3. The ending
4. Smoothen the lead tracks. (no chorus please) I like the leads sounds as it is but they are a bit sharp.”
At that stage, the arrangement was still a rough one, but the idea was shaping up nicely over our email exchanges. I looked forward to working on the track after work. Adrian exported his individual tracks — guitars, beats — as MP3 (128 kbps, VBR) and sent them over via email.
Basically, we repeated the process of sending MP3 files over, commenting via emails. Each time our comments would be quite detailed on which parts worked, and which ones needed changes. If necessary, I would let Adrian know why I cut away some of his original guitar leads. And Adrian would let me know if my guitar leads (which I thought sounded good at first) didn’t quite make the cut.
One exchange went like this (from Adrian):
57s the kranging of the guitars are beautifully included. that really lifts the song quite a bit.
1min 9 s, nice beat added and the guitars sound great. The accompanying guitar is nice. A bass line here is needed.
1min 44 – 1min 51. The bend on the guitar sounds a bit off. Could be a better progression… The song shouldn’t have bends or anything pentatonic.
1m 53s to 2min – The clean guitar here has a nice melody, I like it. The increasing tempo is nice here with a new beat coming into the foreground… Sounding groovy so far.
Too much jamming I feel from 2 mins 27s till 3 m 26s. Basically I feel the beginning part was great. From 2 m 27s its just sounds a bit too improvised. Although the rhythm and the drums are well organised.
3m 25s the sudden entry of this part is nice.. great stuff here. Again, a bass would have made an impact here.
The accompanying lead you did from 4mins on, sounded nice.
What happened to the 3rd guitar solo? (1min 46 onwards in the one I did) Can bring some parts of it in?
I like the looping ending, that’s a nice touch. Your lead there is inspirational. It is uplifting man. I kinda of like this for the song.
I think the generally what I felt was that you brought the song to a new level and that’s really amazing. The only thing I feel it that the song lost some of that traveling through space kind of feeling… not sure it I am putting it through well though. There should be a lull somewhere in the middle – gives the perception of being lost in space, in a nice kind of way, a kind of abandoning/ liberating.
Lastly, it definitely needs a bass man… maybe a soft intro at 33s and then a full on one at 1min 9s.
The “Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula” track was our most intensive effort to date.
As I post excerpts of our email exchanges, I’m wondering if you’d read this and think that this is the work of two middle-aged guys stroking each other’s ego. That’s for you to judge.
What I’m certain was that we were pretty focused on how to make the music work for us, first. We were mindful to be tactful in giving feedback, but we said it like it was.
No egos were involved, and therefore no egos were hurt in the process.
The final version of the “Crystal Tears and the Dream Nebula” will be available with the rest of the uploads. So far, the preliminary reviews by our friends have been positive.
The fun part for us has been in the learning and creativity. Positive comments are a bonus.
I took several days of my annual leave to stay home and complete the mixing and mastering of the 3rd album.
Most of the tracks are finalised, although I’ve decided to drop Vox Humana.
For the mastering stage, I turned on the master track Audio Peak Limiter feature in GarageBand, and then did some volume peak/ automation adjustments to individual tracks. It’s an awesome feature that enabled me to keep the final track volume at a high, without clipping.
I discovered that if I listened to the songs at a softer volume (3rd vol bar on my Macbook Pro), I could pick out what’s louder/ softer/ lost/ overwhelmed — all relative to the other sounds in the track. Listening at full volume may just accentuated what you know and hide what you don’t. At least that’s what I think.
Stroke of midnight
The rhythm and bass are not aligned near the end. Re-adjustments needed.
Guitar vol seems too loud, esp after 2nd/ 3rd stanzas. Cannot hear the rhythm guitars.
Am considering raising the rhythm vol, or lowering the bass, and subsequently the lead guitars (the lead guitars sound louder at the beginning).
Run Towards the Sky (formerly known as Running)
Optional: to consider raising the rhythm (prob not the synth) for the first chorus, first 9 – 10 beats. The rhythm guitar is too soft. suddenly sounds like there’s no backing. The rhythm guitar vol of the 2nd chorus is ok.
Need to do some more alignment of the lead guitar.
Need to add 1 to 2 seconds of silence at the start. If not, the track starts abruptly.
No audio change. Just a re-titling to “We Wonder”.
Cos there are 2 guitars.
My overall sound production aim was to achieve thumpy/ punchy bass riffs and drum bass, with clear-enough lead guitar but not drowning out details where needed.
Sequence of the songs
My semi-final list was to have ‘To Be Free’ as the last track. But I liked the uplifting “Run Towards the sky”, which had a catchier melody and more atmospheric closing. It sounded like a nicer way to end the album.
Also, after listening to the tracks in sequence, I felt some tracks, at a faster BPM (e.g. Stroke of Midnight), sounded jarring when listened immediately after a slower BPM song. So here’s the final sequence:
Stroke of Midnight
Goodnight Not Goodbye
To Be Free
Run Towards the Sky
Bonus Track: Blueness (Mangrove Tree preview)
ASIDE: It dawned on me that making good music was a lot like reading a lot in order to write well. One step closer towards making good music means listening to others and reflecting on how its done. Also like writing, it’s to compose a song for oneself. Then edit for others.
And practice and practice.
Most important is to enjoy the process. If not, I think the whole music making is pointless.
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It’s a longish instrumental track that makes me think of soft white clouds, blue skies, cool lazy afternoons… then spilling into a sudden equatorial monsoon rain. Then all is groovy again. And I’m floating, floating up and up, not wanting to come back down.
I thought it fitting to contribute to CC7, with a track made possible by the CC movement, and posting on ccMixter. Thanks to this video that led me to jaspertine’s inspirational ambient track.
Recently I emailed him for permission to re-license his “K’laerge Lomi” guitar stem under a CC-BY license (having a similar license makes it easier in publishing the entire album), ‘cos I wanted to include Old Man and The Sea in our not-sure-when-to-be-released southeast Asian themed ‘The Mangrove Tree’ album.
Also sent him the link to The Mangrove Tree to give him a sense of what the album is about, and the context of how his guitar stem would be used.
He was generous enough to grant me permission. And I’m grateful that he took time to listen to the track AND write me the following (posted with permission):
i just listened to this piece twice. it’s very calming & very beautiful. it reminds me of acoustic alchemy’s first album, when they were playing because they loved it instead of trying to replicate themselves so they could sell records.
the fact that you live at the crossroads of so many ancient cultures & produce from that mindset is truly a blessing of tao. there is no way an american producer could get this kind of feel & performance from his artists.
lastly, i still maintain that the sound you got from the ‘lomi’ sample was pure singapore alchemy. and last, but not least, your tip to record in aiff. was the best tip anyone’s given me in years.
be proud & be yourself, my friend. panu
You know, I don’t use the word “friend” lightly.
In this case, thank you very, very much friend panu. Your review just gave hope to this fledgling musical identify that Adrian and myself are trying to create.