Electric Rain Dance 2011: redux

[First posted at MyRightBrain.wordpress.com]

Here’s an updated version of my June 2006 track:


Listen/ Download at www.archive.org. The track is licensed under a CC-BY license. Feel free to reuse or remix this song (CC license applies). Please credit the music to: Music by Ivan Chew – MyRightBrain.wordpress.com.

The original was composed at a time when I was still new to GarageBand. There wasn’t much of an original lead guitar. More of a tentative attempt at learning how to record an electric guitar “live instrument” into GarageBand. And it was composed after a 12-year break from playing the guitar.

Here’s the original (the volume is mastered too low and uneven; lack of any significant melody):

Four years on, and about four digital albums later, I’ve learned more about recording, mixing and mastering.

I have a better understanding of Compression settings, tricks like applying a Limiter to the final mix, stereo and panning effects. Had help from books like this, this and this.

Redstone Arsenal Army Concert Tour
Originally uploaded by familymwr

While I’m far, far from the likes of playing like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai, the lead guitar playing is considerable better. By my standards, at least.

Even if I’m not technically accomplished, I definitely gave more thought to the lead guitar composition and musical phrasing.


~ Ivan

Lunarin’s Band’s Survival Guide

Don’t know about Adrian or I-Ling, but I found Lunarin‘s 2010 New Year’s Even post witty, irreverent and inspirational. All at once. Oh, and what I have come to rely on Adrian is his QC role, as per Lunarin’s band survival advice #3 🙂

Lunarin’s post doesn’t have a permalink, so I’m reposting it here. Don’t think they’ll mind but I’ll email them just to be sure. ~ Ivan [Update: permission granted!]

The end of 2010 vs the start of 2011: A Band’s Survival Guide

Posted on 31 December 2010

Dear Friends

Here we are, on the threshold of a new year.

Most of us would open our eyes on the 31st and decide that it’s time to begin things on a clean slate. Some of us may aspire to be better people, to do charity work, to be better tempered, to manage time better, to be more patient and giving… Yes we know the feeling – that growing optimism that for once the passing of time is not something to be loathed, but to be embraced. It is a time for change and make things new. You may decide, on your way out to the party, to send an emo text message to that ex girlfriend you have not spoken to for years, that ex co-worker who used to steal your biscuits, your boss (good luck)… There is goodwill. There is hope. There is a feeling that nothing is insurmountable.

Fast forward 24 hours later and we often find ourselves lying face down at the foot of a couch in a hotel suite, our mouths reeking with the stench of a dead rat, mothballs or a pro-P** ballot paper (or all three), hearing the snores of an unidentified male sleeping on the couch next to us with a half drunk beer can in his hands and the words “Happy New Year!” scribbled in magic marker on his chest.

It is often in those sobering moments, under the glare of the harsh reality of daylight as we pick ourselves up, that we will often say, “Screw those lofty new year resolutions. Given the way the year has started, I’ll settle with bettering my scores in Angry Birds.”

And so that is how it often is with the band.

What have we done this year?

We finished recording an album that almost killed us. We flew to Maine to get it mastered. We pressed and released it and made it available for sale. We played at Baybeats 2010. We had an album launch on 1 October 2010. We did an acoustic rendition of our songs with violins and cello.

“Was it worth it?” you say, with a glint in your eyes, daring us to say that we surpassed [censored] in terms of number of downloads for our single (we didn’t), that we broke new records in terms of local CD sales in Gramophone (we can’t verify this but more likely than not we didn’t), that our single Zero Point Red made top 10 on national radio (yes it did! – oh wait that was level 3 inception…)

(Well we did make it on the lists of our favourite radio deejays on Unpopular Radio:


Are we to shift our eyes to our feet and twiddle our thumbs in embarassment? Perhaps, 5 years ago, we would have done exactly that. But frankly now, at this age and after doing this for as long as we could, we don’t really give a damn. Our minds are instead focused on the next recording that we will be doing (acoustic B Sides) and the gigs we need to prep for in the new year (Mosaic Music Fest). Life is too short to fret over the things you can’t control. And yet…

2010 was a good year for us because of the people we have met, the support we have garnered and more. For those of you who got that little signed note in the Duae CD (yes all 3 of us signed each individual note) we mean every word in it and still do. We still can’t believe that people would buy the CD, download the music and come for our shows. Thank you thank you thank you. We still can’t thank you enough.

For those of you aspiring to form bands (or are already in bands) and are curious about the secrets of our longevity, you would be pleased to know that one golden rule in this band is that we NEVER celebrate New Year’s together. We used to, in the past, and it often led to tears being shed, angry words being traded, and a wastage of time money and space. And the truth is, we hardly (have never!) been inspired on New Years’ Eve to write songs anyway. Goodwill, Hope and Forgiveness are not quintessential Lunarin traits. But that’s just us.

But on a more serious note, and in light of the spirit of giving, we would like to share the following “rules” as a survival guide for all you would be rock stars out there:

1. Never lose that interest/curiosity/focus in life. Observe observe observe. Watch people. Learn. See. Feel. Be angry with something. Be moved by something. Inspiration is synonymous with life. You do not live alone by yourself. In Yoda-speak:”To be inspired, to live. You need.”

2. If you want to stay on for long in a band, forgive but never forget. Don’t bear grudges but remember the key moments when something didn’t work out, or when words were said that shouldn’t have been said, and don’t repeat that mistake. Darcy of the Smashing Pumpkins once said that forming a band is iike being married to 3 people you don’t even want to date (although hang on, wasn’t she and James Iha dating?). She’s right you know. And because of that, maintaining a connection in a band takes a lot of work. Deal with it intelligently.

3. Be honest with one another. If a riff sucks, say it. If the lyrics suck, say it. If the song is going nowhere from the second verse onwards, say it. You are one another’s QC officer. If you want to put out something you will be collectively proud of, you need to be honest with one another. Otherwise you are better off playing FIFA than writing music together.

4. During songwriting, don’t take yourself (and the music) too seriously. You are not going to change the world. You are not Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain or [insert idol/guitar god of your choice] You cannot contrive a song. A good song writes itself. You do not sit down and say, “Today I am going to write a song in the key of E and the first verse shall start with a monotone melody with lyrics touching on global warning and then it shall develop into a rousing chorus with hopeful lyrics and heavily syncopated drums and then I shall change the key of the song for the bridge and then write a guitar solo comprising of 16 notes before wrapping things up in a thunderous outro with shouting vocal melodies. Ok, now let’s start!” It just doesn’t work that way.

5. Be open to the fact that the “reward” comes in various forms and perhaps not what you intended it to be. For us, it was not about stellar record album sales. Rather, it was the forging of friendships (old and new) and the gratifying feeling of knowing your music has been busy making friends with other people (i.e. The Void). It is priceless. Really

So there you have it. Our little tiny present that you could take with you before you start sending text messages. And on that note we shall leave you with the music video of The Sky (Algiers) because it pretty much summed up the highlights of 2010 for us (and because our bassplayer made the video herself and wanted to show off)

Here’s wishing all of you a very Happy New Year, good health, peace and joy for the new year to come.

With everlasting love


Starfish Stories has a new band member

Starfish Stories :: The Band is now a trio.

If you’ve heard our latest album, or read the credits or the bio for SoundOut, you would know Adrian and I had help from this lady. Who has a unique spelling for her name: I-Ling (pronounced ‘Ee Ling’, and not ‘Eye Ling’).

The other day, Adrian asked how I got to know I-Ling. I wish it was because I-Ling came upon our music by chance, was so moved by it, and decided she had to be a part of it. Reality was more mundane.

I-Ling and I met in mid 2009, when we were both speaking at an event as part of our respective work. She worked for National Arts Council then. We chatted after the session. I was curious to learn more about how NAC worked, its programmes and the funding. In her talk, I-Ling mentioned Noise Singapore. I jokingly complained that the cut-off age for participating in Noise Singapore was too low (in that, given my age I didn’t qualify, heh).

As we talked, we discovered a shared interest in creating music. She sings (and if I-Ling is willing, she should share what she used to do before she joined NAC) and was interested in knowing more about DIY recording. I told her how we do things at Starfish Stories. The basic equipment needed. We ended our conversation with a promise to keep in touch. I-Ling said she would seriously give the DIY recording stuff a try. I hoped she would also email her vocal tracks for a remix.

Ah, the “Keep In Touch” is an oft-abused term and given much lip-service than actual practice (I’m guilty of that too). BUT luckily in this case, we did keep our conversation going. On the rare occasions that we bumped into each other on Gmail chat, we would exchange pleasantries. I’d tell her about ccMixter. And I’d cajole her to record her stuff. Would send her some tracks and ask if she would feel inspired to do something.

She eventually did a recording, which I remixed and decided to include as part of the 3rd Starfish Stories digital album.

[Incidentally, I-Ling also posted her vocal stems to ccMixter too (under her own profile). I remember telling her, in jest, that I was jealous how her very first stem had more remixes than what I had in two years, heh.]

While I-Ling serendipitously became involved with Starfish Stories with “Good-night Not Good-bye”, it wasn’t until the SoundOut album that she wrote original lyrics and recorded vocals for the band.

A few weeks before the end of 2010, we informally sealed our partnership over pizza. And exchanges of gifts of dried mangoes, jasmine flower tea and Lunarin CDs that aren’t shown in the picture.
An Exchange

After our makan session, I also made another ‘gift’. That’s a story for another time.
Pass it On

I stress the word ‘informal’, ‘cos I sort of just said to Adrian, “So, I-Ling will be our vocalist, ok?” and Adrian said something like “Yah, finally we have a better looking band member”. 🙂

So now Starfish Stories :: The Band comprise of a Biologist, a Librarian, and a… Officer Worker (yo, I-Ling please come up with a better label than that lah!)

All three of us are married. We’re in our 30s (I don’t know I-Ling’s exact age but for Adrian and I, we’re more than tilting towards 40).

We have our day jobs.

We’ll continue to be a band that doesn’t perform ‘live’, who doesn’t meet to jam.

We cherish the music that we create, for sure.

But we’re friends first, and the music really is an outcome of the camaraderie.

Cheers to a new year.

~ Ivan