Archive for the ‘STUDIO DIARY 03’ Category


Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

Part 2 of 18 serialised by Nuance, New Straits Times

Second Week Of September 2002

I’ve been busy charting my music all week. For the non-musicians among you, ‘charting’ simply means transcribing music onto manuscript paper ñ you know, chord progressions, repeats, sequences, tempo, rhythm, time signature and so on. It enables other musicians to understand your music quickly; thus, it is a very important tool when working with session musicians in the studio, where time is literally money.

I hate charting. Although you end up with impressive looking sheets of paper with lines upon lines of cool symbols and notations all over them, charting by itself has got nothing to do with creativity, and even less to do with music. I am also awful at it, having not taken sufficient music lessons to be absolutely sure of what I am doing.

I also suspect my way of charting is highly personal, like speaking in a self-invented language that only has a passing resemblance with the language that the rest of the community speaks. Thus, I have no way of knowing whether anyone else will understand me. But I suppose it is better than nothing. Anyway, it is not something a few days of jamming and rehearsal will not iron out, so I’m not worried about it. I am only telling you this because I want you to know how much I hate charting.

Luckily, Sherry and I get down to rehearsing and picking out the second guitar part almost every day now, which helps to keep the charting blues at bay. I enjoy our rehearsals immensely because Sherry is a wonderfully creative musician. Unlike many guitarists I know, he is not obsessed with showing off his technical chops alone, but instead concentrates on coming up with a guitar part that improves the song, however technically simple it might be. This aspect of his musicianship alone makes him mature beyond his years. Perhaps a life spent on the streets of Kuala Lumpur as a busker amongst the homeless and pushers has something to do with it.

Anyway, we are both obsessed with developing a perfect second guitar part for each song, one that enhances the song as opposed to just clattering it up with flashy but meaningless pyrotechnics. It is thus we work very well together. Those of you who have never had to work with other musicians may not know how rare it is to stumble upon another musician who share the same musical sensibilities and work ethic as you do. I first knew Sherry when he played at the Songwriters’ Round, a songwriters’ showcase that I produce at a cosy little downtown live music bar called No Black Tie, and we’ve since become good friends. Either way, I lucked out yet again when he agreed to come onboard the project.

I owe much of my musical development to a good friend in Hong Kong, Leo Fung. He not only acted as a musical mentor when I was new to the Hong Kong music scene in the late-80s, but it was also Leo who got me back into writing and performing music after a few years of self-imposed break in the mid-90s. He is a bit of a technical guru in the Asian audiophile music recording community and is a hugely respected and good-hearted man. Other than loaning me a collection of very expensive microphones for my recording, Leo is also the project’s chief cheerleader.

Anyway, Leo’s girlfriend Rain and three of her friends flew into Kuala Lumpur for a short vacation this week. They didn’t know anyone here, so I chaperoned them around for dinner and drinks every night for four nights. With a name like that, you don’t have to be a genius to guess that Rain is a Cantonese movie star. While walking the streets with her in tow, I had a good laugh smirking at strangers who drop their jaws when they recognised her. Still, Hong Kong folks tend to love Malaysian food; so we spent all our time eating, only taking the occasional break to catch our breath.

When the eating schedule conflicted with rehearsals, I brought Rain and friends to my flat to meet Sherry and Kum Loong. They then get to listen to some work in progress while we rehearsed. Anyway, they were all impossibly bubbly and great fun to be with, not least because they politely said they liked the music weíre working on. Although I was initially worried about taking time out from rehearsals when Leo asked me to be tour guide, itíd turned out to be a needed break from an endless cycle of charting and rehearsing.

Anyway, my construction day job has been threatening to seriously intrude on the recording project. Endless contract reviews, meetings with lawyers, crazed contractors, you name it. I don’t know if any of you share this, but why do things always come to you in clusters and bundles? I’ve had a couple of years of really relaxed day job duties, but when I really need some slack from the pencil-necked day job world, it heats up like a rash. Perhaps I need more than 24 hours a day. Perhaps I’ll migrate to Jupiter or some place near it. I hear days are longer there.

Yawn. It has been a tiring week. And I must look like death, because when Rain and friends left town, they bought me a box of chicken essence to keep my strength up.