Wanted: collaborating musicians with didgeridoo, duduk, fiddle and guitar. But how to find them? Singer songwriter Abi Rooley-Towle shares secrets of her debut album and the challenge of finding the right mix of creative collaborators ‘in the middle of nowhere’.
I am a bit untraditional in what I want for accompaniment. Most songwriters are sensible and stick to guitars, keyboard, drums with perhaps the odd extra bit of fiddle or sax for interest. Not me!
I don’t have anyone to collaborate with at the moment except in my imagination. That makes for a creatively open process – there are no bounds to a wacky imagination – and, paradoxically, that can become limiting.
For one track on my debut EP (Azure Blue) I chose echoey, spacey electric guitar with viol and duduk. For another, I wanted didgeridoo, acoustic guitar and duduk again. Collaboration is the absolute beating heart of making a song interesting and three dimensional….listening to my demos with just the vocal line is a very bare, slightly boring, experience compared to the wonder of hearing it complete with everyone taking part.
So, for me, collaboration is a process of creating musical magic. But there’s an extra magical dimension to it when you are living and working in a remote part of Scotland. Having completed my EP I can reveal what I believe to be the five essentials to making the alchemy happen:
- You need to be able to find each other to work with
- You need a space and place to meet
- You may need modern recording equipment if you are to collaborate remotely (see my ‘meeting’ with a duduk player from Armenia).
- You need to get on – to creatively ‘click’.
- You need time – and plenty of it!
You need to be able to find each other
Seems obvious, but this isn’t the case if you are a rural musician such as myself! [See Introducing Abi]. When I was working on Azure Blue, the right people – semi professionals and one professional – happened to manifest about six months before I recorded it. This gave us the time to work on four songs in bits and pieces – a morning here and an evening there once a week.
You need somewhere to meet
Again seems obvious but not always easy to orchestrate (pun not intended – or not at first!)
Luckily the guitarist, Jerry, had a converted garden shed where we met and recorded bits and bobs if we needed. The actual recording was made in Unity Recording Studio, Auldearn (20 miles east of Inverness). Everyone was a delight to work with and I am forever grateful for their generosity of time, spirit and kindness in doing this for me. It always felt like a wonder when we had added the next bit to a song or another instrumental layer. Sometimes I would have to pinch myself to see that it was actually true! There is a special joy in this kind of productive creative collaboration.
Collaborating remotely – between Scotland and Armenia
Remote collaboration is possible with modern recording methods, although the tech can be expensive and you need to know how to use it!
I had decided I wanted the duduk. The haunting wooden flute is the national instrument of Armenia – and not easily found in north east Scotland! So, I put out a FB request and forgot about it…..thinking this would be a bit of a tall order to fulfil.
Many FB moons later Arsen Petrosyan got in touch with me. Arsen is considered the ‘torchbearer’ of duduk players and had recently graduated from Yerevan Conservatoire. We FB message chatted and I could tell he had the right ‘feeling’ about him as a human being for it to work, even remotely.
It took a while to get the money together to make the EP and for him to be paid (he was the only musician who was paid). I made the tracks in a local studio with the other musicians who had worked up their parts and then we sent it digitally to Armenia for his part. It was an act of faith and trust combined with giving him absolute precise details of timings/feel and requirements. English is not his first language, we had never met but I trusted that all would be well and it was! His musicianship and ability is second to none and he is the icing on the cake on the two tracks he collaborated on.
You need to get on, to creatively click
This is very important. You need to get a feel for someone to see if there is a good match. You have to share a ‘seeing prism’ of how to view/create the song. You have to give each other space to feel into things. If someone is too bossy or a stress-head then this impedes the process. The song writer (and producer if you are working with one) holds the vision of what they intend whilst allowing lots of creative space and room for creative journeying.
I look at my songs as stories or mood/ emotion journeys. They gain life and texture through poetry, voice, melody, and interweaving tapestry of other instruments. I might have a general overview of the mood, feel and texture but the other musicians bring their expertise and creativity to the song. I always think that they bring a little bit of their soul.
You need time
But it takes time to work up a song in my experience – to get just the right chords, the right interplay between voice and other instruments. You can’t rush this process. It grows organically, through feeling, as people create together. Sometimes magical moments of flow happen but it is often hard to re- create them and for them to become concrete!
And what happens next?
Finding these wonderful musicians was a wonder itself in north east rural Scotland. Since that time they have moved away and disbanded leaving me with lots of songs and no collaborators to make them into performable, 3-D versions of their acapella starting points.
It would be great if creative organisations had a ‘Soundbank’ database of musicians and an example of their work so musicians could find each other from far and wide. For someone like me that would be invaluable. I have not yet found anyone to replace the guitarist though would be happy to travel to London (where I could stay with family) to collaborate.
Arsen and I have still not met but have got to know each other through Facebook messenger, sharing and liking each other’s comments and posts. He is doing well and has just completed a tour of young world musicians to the UK. Unfortunately they have not managed to come this far north yet. I’m delighted that Arsen’s career is developing in the UK. It would be great if rural mums turned fusion songwriters could also develop! Support for rural musicians and older women entering the music industry would be such positive progress. It could help to break some of the gender disparity in the business too.
I hope one day Arsen and I will meet…and jam. I have a song about silence (Stillness speaks in the mountains) which needs crystal singing bowls, guitar with harmonics and duduk to create the shivering silence of the ringing glens.
This is an edited extract of Abi’s original blogpost Collaboration – the creative fusion of bringing a song to life
Azure Blue can be downloaded from Bandcamp click HERE
Abi Rooley-Towle is a Moray-based singer-songwriter and holistic music teacher. Follow her on Twitter @TowleAbi and Facebook Abi’s World of Music