2nd Rocker Posted by Eliot Houser December 15, 2010

This tune is another rocker Rick and I came up with last week. Again, no lyrics but at least a solid working arrangement. An inkling of this song was first visited back in October when Rick was banging away on an accoustic and me on a Wurlitzer. As I am wont to do, I was recording the idea onto my iPhone, which has become indispensable to me for capturing ideas in the moment. I literally have hundreds of such ideas on my phone, most of which I have yet to listen back to.

So, last week, I knew we had some things that we had captured on my phone, so I went sifting through all the stuff that I recorded back in October and found something we wanted to flesh out. So I picked up the electric again and started playing the parts. Next I came up with a new part because I thought the arrangement needed more interest and somewhere else to go. This is the part that begins and ends the song and might very well be the chorus. Again, I recorded the electric to a click track and then Rick immediately laid down the drums afterwards. The reason we don't record our parts together during these sessions is that it is faster to do them separately, especially when the arrangement is still in flux. However, once a song has an established arrangement and lyrics, I much prefer to record together as a band.

The next post will hopefully feature a working draft of lyrics which will do the moniker 'Dumb Rock' proud...

Over and out from Nashville...


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Can You Feel It Posted by Eliot Houser December 11, 2010

This is a song that I wrote last Friday, December 3rd, with a little help from my friend, Rick Schell, during one of our speed writing sessions. Speed writing is a song development process that requires you to make decisions quickly (because they are usually right) and to move on to something else if you get bogged down or run into a wall. There are no lyrics yet but I have an idea for a chorus that uses the rather cliche refrain 'Can You Feel It?' Hey, if it's worked before, no need to reinvent the wheel--damn, there I go again.

In this very raw form, Rick is playing drums and I am playing guitar and bass. The process for writing this song involved me plugging into a loud amplifier and coming up with 3 or 4 complementary parts or riffs. It's a process that I use quite often. Once I've found something I like, I usually take the most compelling riff and then declare that one to be the chorus. All the while, I'm usually searching out melodies and lyrics that may or may not stick. A strong melody is important, but on a chorus it's essential. Then comes the arranging, which is taking the other parts and building them around the chorus in an interesting way. Sometimes it's cool to start a song on the chorus, as is happening in this arrangement. However, most of the time it doesn't work, and it makes a stronger statement to make the listener wait for the chorus.

So after coming up with an arrangement, I started to cut the electric guitar to a click (metronome) set at about 130 beats per minute. However, Rick suggested we speed it up, so I amped up the speed to 146 bpm. He was right--the faster tempo gave the song more urgency. After I recorded the guitar to the click, Rick recorded the drum track, and then we drank some more beer and started working on a new tune. Instead of losing momentum writing lyrics (which did not seem to be immediately forthcoming), we thought it would be more fun and productive to move onto composing another tune. So that's what we did...and the next post will include this other song and describe our process

Concerning 'Can You Feel It?', been working on the words and the next audio update will have at least a working draft of lyrics.


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Reflections on our first three public editions, part 1: a bridge between the Lab and the Labletter Posted by Robert Kotchen December 11, 2010

Our 2009 edition—our first public edition—holds a certain charm, more for me than it will for others. For ten years, the Labletter had been a magazine printed and bound at a copy shop like OfficeMax or Kinkos. Those covers are all solid colors—a different color for each year—and until the magazines are opened, the fronts can't be distinguished from the backs, the tops from the bottoms. Now we had a magazine professionally printed, with a cover designed by Guy Hundere, a thin volume that would prove a hybrid between the eclectic nature of the work that had been presented in the first ten editions and the quality of work that would emerge in the next couple of editions. One of the highlights of that edition is the CD that accompanies the magazine of songs recorded at the Oregon Lab, and in particular, a song called "The Tide".

Most of the songs on the CD were recorded in the sharing ceremony, during a time when the Lab was at its most vibrant. The Lab would meet once a year for a week, and on the last night of the week we would all gather after dinner in a common room—often a group of eight to twelve people—and everybody would take turns presenting work—reading an excerpt from a manuscript in a process or a journal, presenting a short play or monologue, sharing or talking about photographs or paintings, playing music and singing songs. The sharing ceremonies of 1996 and 1997 were exciting. In both those years, everybody who participated in the Lab found something during the course of the week, had an experience of tapping into the work, the work getting better, and being moved in the process.

Eliot Houser has a gift conducive to that environment. Part of his gift is music and laughter that bring people together. And part of his gift is the ability to work with other people, to create the spark that allows them to find something they otherwise wouldn't have found and to allow what other people have to offer to move what he is doing. At the beginning of the week, he would let people know—people who are not musicians by trade—that if they wanted to write a song and had a clear idea of what the song would be about, he would work on the song with them. The results: a beautiful song with lyrics by Dan Robb

I have done my share of ramblin' round
Following my heart from town to town
I think I've made my peace with this old land
And I think I've learned something about being a man
And I believe I'll recommend, I believe I shall attend
That I stay right here with what I know's all right
And I'll keep on standing up for that light
–from "Standing Up For That Light"

a raucous song with lyrics and vocals by Brian Weir

We're parked side by side in our double-parked garage
My Volkswagen Bug's making your Beamer look large
The neighbors are worried, they're all in a tizz
Cause they've never seen license plates that read his and his
–from "Moving In"

a relatively (think Einstein) imaginative song with lyrics and vocals by Michael Heelan

In America
You can buy crackers
Shaped like fish
That taste like cheese
–from "Blackie Wants A Cheese Fish"

and a song that Eliot had written on (as he puts it) one of those Nashville winter days when it's drizzly and it's been overcast for two weeks and it makes you want to write something forlorn and heartbreaking. He worked on it after writing it, and it wasn't happening—so he thought it wasn't very good and he put it away. At the Lab he brought it out again and played it for Trace (Trace Turville), and he credited her with turning it into something beautiful and giving him confidence in his work. There was something about where we all were, individually and collectively, something a recording could never capture, in our response—deep and shared—to the first time Trace and Eliot performed "The Tide" in 1996.

Trace and Eliot performed "The Tide" again in 1997. The performance was less emotional and more even, and the recording quality is better.

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Anna Marie Posted by Eliot Houser December 11, 2010

I thought I might send some work in progress that will demonstrate how I go about composing and producing. This could be posted on the website and as I bring the songs to completion, I could send audio updates with an accompanying aesthetic rationale for my decisions.

This first song, Anna Marie, is a song I wrote about 5 years ago, but forgot about. I have reworked the arrangement a little bit and just recorded it this past week. Right now it is just accoustic guitar and vocals, but the way I hear it in my head, I could either make a grand statement by adding piano, upright bass, and strings, or I could make it a little more eclectic and intimate by adding bass, accordion, and percussion. The next update should reveal which way I go.

This song is the most romantic song I've ever written. It incorporates the idea of earthly love in a spiritual context that makes the tangible ethereal. So, from a production standpoint, it needs a light and unobtrusive touch.

More heavy-handed songs to follow.


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On walking outside my apartment this morning, an observation Posted by Robert Kotchen December 4, 2010



Red and Blue Sky over the Hudson, 11/13/10 Posted by Doug Sadler November 18, 2010

I started the day with my son Emery waking me and pointing out the window to the bands of red and blue of the dawn sky over the Hudson – and he said "right there – where the evening sky meets the day sky is where you were born – I asked your mom" – then he got the paper, made me a tub and helped toast a bagel…not a bad start to my birthday.


Asparagus by Suzan Pitt Posted by Julian Goldberger October 12, 2010

Ronnie & Keef Posted by Julian Goldberger October 8, 2010

Mirages Posted by Julian Goldberger September 7, 2010

Summer Pasture Posted by Julian Goldberger August 22, 2010


New Siren, NYPD, 3/4/10 Posted by Doug Sadler August 18, 2010

The police here have a new siren. I hear it in the streets below. A deep, pulsating ‘whump, whump’. A techno-rumble pulsing from the pavement, coming from everywhere at once. We are here, we are everywhere, we own the situation. A 21st-century shocker, no doubt the product of endless research on the art of intimidation. Statistics, detailed reports on the importance of establishing control in those critical first moments of any encounter. Can’t be too careful these days. The world is gunning for us.

Where did it come from? Europe probably. Has the feel of something the Swiss or the Spanish might have come up with to overcome those zippy little economy sedans they careen around cobblestone streets with over there. Or maybe it was the Germans (never to be overlooked in these matters). Over here we’ve strapped them to the big Ford cruisers for maximum impact. A double-dose.

The order came in and some excited engineer in some Old-world capital bounds up the stairs to his young family, bursting with the news that the New York Police Department – yes that New York, from America no less – has ordered a bajillion units of Hans’s brainchild. Little Hans Jr. will be fine, we can buy a villa, the years in the Lab have finally paid off! His beautiful, bewildered bride tearing up, Oh Hans, oh Hans …

I hope it is so. That someone experienced comfort from that ominous pulse echoing on the streets below while I lay here, trying vainly for sleep, wondering when that primal rumble will usher in the void.


The Godz Posted by Julian Goldberger July 27, 2010


On thinking about what it is that should be said on the About page of this website to describe who we are and what the Labletter is, lines diverging from the diverging text Posted by Robert Kotchen July 19, 2010


to place ourselves small-ly in a largely world
to become like a drop of rain that is a drop
instead of an idea of a storm that is not


we become real when we connect
because alone, we do not exist


Stranded in Canton Posted by Julian Goldberger June 22, 2010


Doc Ellis Posted by Julian Goldberger June 22, 2010


James Whitney Posted by Julian Goldberger June 22, 2010


Police in Washington Square Park, New York, 2/23/10 Posted by Doug Sadler June 15, 2010

Echoing walkie-talkie squawks in the ATM cubicle at 8am. I’m there. Undercover dude with a hoodie bolts out the door.

A few minutes later I see him again, hiding the walkie, the same gesture as a boy, excited, mystery. Something about a guy with a dog I hear and again the hiding of the walkie. I leave him crossing the park, crossing traffic, timing myself to pass behind a slowing sedan. Inside two more guys with walkies pause behind the double-parked plumbing van.

Cops, right? Gotta be. One hops out, walkie by his hip. Flips up his hoodie against the misting rain, strides off. Is the hoodie standard procedure? In the distance, a guy walking a dog. Maybe the ATM guy was spotted. Maybe this is a shift change.

Just like kids all of this. Same excitement. Same drama. Same games we used to play. I want to play too. Be important. My every move watched. Maybe I should go up to the guy with the dog, say, ‘cops are trailing you, man, what did you do?’ Or maybe shake his hand, pretend to pocket something. Get the cop talking. Earn my own tail. Someone following me, tracking my every move, trying to figure out what I was doing, how I fit in to the whole picture. I could use that.


J Ralph Posted by Julian Goldberger June 9, 2010

One of my good friends, J. McClain (aka J. Ralph Phillips), just sent this to me. It’s his first foray into the world of animation. It definitely casts a mysterious spell. J. is also a musician. His work with the MONDAL FAMILY was featured in my first film TRANS. The man behind  ”Baby D.”

About this blog Posted by The Labletter June 1, 2010

Most categories in this blog refer to a series of posts made by a specific editor. A description of each of the categories is as follows:

Letters from the editors: Letters written by the editors in their editorial capacities.

Dispatches: Doug Sadler's short reports that combine his observations of his immediate environment with thoughts about those observations.

Mullover: A collection of Sid Parker's critical ruminations.

Occasional Notes: Things that get Robert Kotchen's attention, often while he's working on something else.

Over And Out: Eliot Houser's discussions about and presentations of songs he's working on in various stages of their development.

Video: Video pieces found on the web by Julian Goldberger.

Woodcuttingfool: Woodcuts with accompanying stories by contributing artist Loren Kantor.

This post last updated on October 2, 2012.


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