“B. Obama”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very pleased to be able to present, at long last, “B. Obama”:

This is a piece of hand-crafted music recorded in a style of the ’70s. All of the sounds have been slightly edited to improve their timing (more or less), but otherwise no notes have been quantized or digitally sequenced*, and no external music was sampled**. The music is 100% original.***

* Except that the A and B sections were themselves copied and pasted a few times, but, hey, that coulda been done in the 70s via tape-to-tape transfer.

** Except that the waveforms for the drum and keyboard sounds were themselves digitally sampled, but otherwise I didn’t, e.g., sample a KC & The Sunshine Band tune and then loop it. What’s more, I played all the instruments in real time, as will be painfully obvious to the discerning ear.

*** Except for the fact that it’s desperately trying to sound like an authentic instrumental funk tune circa 1975. But, yeah, I wrote and performed the whole thing.

And now, the gratuitous FAQs for all the questions you probably don’t have:

Wait, I Googled [“b. obama” music video] and saw that you already have a video out there with that name.

Actually, I have three! They’re all “teaser trailers”, excerpts of proto-versions of the tune that I published. A tune like this takes a while to put together, so in the meantime I released little tunelets to try out certain techniques and help me keep putting out some music on a weekly schedule.

Here are the three prior teaser trailers:

Where’s the vocals? I thought you were a singer-songwriter-type-dude.

Yeah, and as will be obvious, I’m also not the greatest soloist in the world on any instrument. But I have all kinds of musical ideas, and some of them just don’t have voice involved.

1975 just called, and it wants its music back.

What can I say? I have an unironic, bone-deep love of African-American pop music of the 70s, and that includes funk. Give me some Stevie, Sly, or Shuggie, and I’m in heaven.

Dude, “B. Obama”? Really?

I’m sure writers far better than me have examined the relationship between a piece of instrumental music and its title. The minute you slap a name on an instrumental music piece, you turn it into program music, and suddenly all that abstract sound takes on the burden of having to be a living metaphor for the title, for better or for worse.

So why not just go with “Funk Instrumental #1” or something bland and generic? Oh, wait, I think I just answered that question.

OK, but why not “Barack Obama”, or just “Obama”?

For a little while I was indeed just calling it “Obama”, but that just seemed too stiff and monolithic. “B. Obama”, on the other hand, has the advantage of sounding like “Be Obama”, as in, “You, too, can be Obama“, or “Just let Obama be Obama!”

Actually, for a while I was calling it “Barry Obama”, but that felt a little disrespectful. I can fault the President for the things he does or doesn’t do, but I can’t bring myself to use a name for him that only his family and people from his youth know. But I do get a kick out of imagining our future President back when he was a happy 13-year-old, grooving to something funky on a gorgeous Hawaiian evening. Those were simpler times…and they had good tunes.

“Hide & Seek”

So here’s the first song off my ’99 album:

It’s actually two tracks running together: “Count to Ten”, the electronica instrumental, and “Hide & Seek”. When I played it live (e.g., I’ve played Burlington’s New Year’s Eve arts festival a few times as a solo artist, but not for over a decade now), I would usually start “Hide & Seek” with a version of “Count to Ten” (on acoustic guitar).

As with everything musical with me, all roads lead back to The Beatles. I love songs that start with a quirky intro that you don’t hear again for the rest of the song, and brothers and sisters, did those guys ever have a truckload of ’em, e.g.:

Speaking of musical geniuses for the ages, Matt McCarthy was the engineer, CD masterer (“masterer”?), additional producer, and occasional guitarist on “Roomful of Fans”, the CD from which “Hide & Seek” came. Among other things, he came up with little guitar flourishes, things that were either too complicated for me to play or that I couldn’t have thought up myself. The little arpeggio after each “Oh oh oh ohhhh” is an example of his tasteful playing. He also put the “Count to Ten” tune together, sneaking in little touches such as his and my touch-tone phone numbers.

I have to balance wanting to write a lot about Matt –because we go back decades together, having met in high school and formed an Essex Junction/Burlington band that played for a few years– with respecting his privacy. Matt keeps a low profile online on purpose, sort of in keeping with his wonderfully contrarian nature, so, for example, there’s nothing (that we would want me) to link to.

Suffice it to say that “Roomful of Fans” is a testament to his ability to push the limits of cheap desktop computing circa 1997. The entire thing was recorded and mastered on his PC, making it perhaps the first CD in Vermont to have been created that way; in those days, most digital recording took place on Apple Macs, and the hardware and software to do similar audio production on PCs were either terribly expensive or didn’t exist in the first place. (I also did all the graphic design, typography, and layout on PCs using Corel Draw and Photopaint, making it a completely Mac-free CD.)

Matt has been profoundly influential on my musical development, and he’s still the best musician I know. I’ll continue to praise his excellence here on NatoSongs.

So what’s “Hide & Seek” about? Seek, and ye shall find. That’s what clever apes like us do.

Hide & Seek

Count to ten, turn around
Disappeared, they have fled without a sound
Under stairs, in the trees
Children’s laughter in the breeze

Alive in a hide and seek

Painted fur, sharpened rock
Ancient girl crawling slowly to the flock
Where they graze on the hill
Her lip curls for the kill

Alive in a hide and seek

Sticky beer, cigarettes
Ten of three, and he hasn’t hooked up yet
Stranger smiles at his joke
There’s a blush, there’s still hope

Alive in a hide and seek

And on adventure’s horse we’re riding
Our searching always beats our finding

On a hunt for the truth
Giving up, when you’re almost out of youth
Turn around, count to ten
God is giggling behind the fence

Alive in a hide and seek

©1999 Nate Orshan

“Get Along, Amazon” Live at Phoenix Books

In spite of my sordid past and shady acquaintances, Phoenix Books allowed me a couple of minutes to play “Get Along, Amazon” at their grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, June 8, 2012:

I had just put out the produced version of my anti-Amazon.com, pro-Phoenix-Books song a couple of days before, so it was a thrill to be able to play the thing live for real. I can’t thank co-owners Renee Reiner and Mike DeSanto enough for letting me be part of the festivities and, even more important, for opening Burlington’s only indie, new bookstore in the first place.

I hope I made a good enough case for the store’s importance in last week’s post, so I’ll just add for anyone reading about this for the first time that you, yes you can be a part of this community-supported and community-supporting endeavor. Just visit http://JoinPhoenix.com to learn more.

Delivering remarks and cutting the ribbon? None other than Burlington’s brand-new Mayor, the Honorable Miro Weinberger:

From L to R: Phoenix Books co-owner Renee Reiner, Nato, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Phoenix Books co-owner Mike DeSanto

From L to R: Renee Reiner, Nato, Mayor Dubs*, Mike DeSanto. Note the “Miro for Mayor” sticker on my guitar case.

Thanks and hugs to Rich Nadworny for being such a strong supporter of local Vermont business, not to mention for filming the video in the first place as well as taking the pic! His digital branding efforts are starting to become the stuff of legend.

* “Mayor Dubs”?!? OK, so maybe I’m the only person in #BTV who says that. But let’s face it, the name “Mayor Weinberger” is intimidatingly multisyllabic, and “Mayor Miro”, while alliterative, is completely inappropriate. But “Mayor Dubs”? OK…also inappropriate…but flows nicely. Calls to mind those old “VDub” ads for Volkswagen with Peter Stormare or even, more au courant, dubstep. I’ll keep using “Mayor Dubs” until his lawyers inform me otherwise…