An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
18 October, 2022

Part three of the Moving Saga Diary, as I’m now calling it.  Except, much like ‘Rambo,’ you won’t find ‘Moving Saga Diary’ in the title of the first post.  I was like 39 or 40 when I learned that the name of the first Rambo movie wasn’t “Rambo,” but “First Blood.”  Not even “Rambo: First Blood.”  Just, “First Blood.”  Also, turns out Frankenstein is the doctor, not the monster.  You think you know things…

I often watch some TV during dinner.  Nothing serious and not every day.  But usually.  Although I’d taken a break from that for the better part of the last two months.  For quite a while there, I was just working my way through many seasons of The Simpsons.  Not for nothing, The Simpsons remains brilliant as far as I’m concerned.  But now I’m working my way through The Golden Girls.  And in so doing, I’ve learned something about myself.  This is what I’ve learned.  My whole life, all I’ve ever wanted to be when I grow up is Sophia Petrillo.  

Anyway, back to the Moving Saga Diary…

9 October, 2022

The futon arrived this morning, so C is now sleeping in the living room.  Well, I think she’s still up, but she’s taken over the living room.  Also, I have a living room!  Anyway, we’ve put away at least two bottles of wine each of the first three nights, and we stayed up pretty late, so passing out wasn’t much of a problem.  That said, it should be better for both of us to have our own space for the rest of the visit.

We had dinner with Esma tonight.  That was great.  They got along very well, as I knew they would.  Good conversation and a lotta laughs.  And I was both happy and proud to introduce them to each other, as they are two of my very favorite people.  (Unless they happen to be reading this, in which case, bitches). 

C and I started recording some music as well.  Not sure how much of it we’ll keep, but it’s good we got started.  As with everybody, it took C some time to get acclimated to singing in a studio environment; if she’s even used to it yet.  But I should have enough to work with by the time she leaves to be able to knock together something nice.

We worked up a new version of Dream Lover; a proper duet now.  It’s the first song she ever started singing with me.  As such, until now, we’ve always just sung in parallel octaves, the whole song together.  But now we’ve worked it into a duet, trading off parts of the verses, harmonies on the choruses and bridge.  And I think it’s really nice what we’ve got now.  I’m really looking forward to recording it properly. 

Life continues to be an absolute whirlwind.  Still no proper sense of time going back to before the move.  And now, I’m basically settling in at the same time as C is here.  It’s funny, I haven’t been here long enough to develop any real routines concerning the general management and maintenance of this place.  And since C has been here, she’s basically taken it upon herself to do all the cleaning.  Not just putting things in the dishwasher, but putting them away afterwards.  I cook.  But it’s like, I moved into this magically self-cleaning apartment.  It’ll be weird to start having to clean up after myself after she goes.  But also, I guess that will really be the first time I start “living” here on my own.

We’re gonna have Philippe and Brigitte down tomorrow to see the place and have a few glasses of wine; after which we’ll head out somewhere for dinner, though where I have no idea as yet.  But that should be nice.  I’m sure they’ll get along just fine.

The eating at home has been good so far.  The first night was leftovers from the first proper meal I cooked in this joint – Brussels sprouts and zucchini with chicken breast and spaghetti in a white wine sauce.  The next night, C basically went through my Instagram and made requests.  We settled on chicken katsu, basically a Japanese chicken cutlet with a particular sauce; salad with a homemade sesame-soy-ginger dressing and rice on the side.  And Thursday for lunch, I made us miso soup with cabbage, zucchini and egg plus kimchi rice on the side.

For Saturday’s dinner, I went to the Turkish market and picked up a bunch of little things.  Roasted eggplant, pickles, pickled turnips, olives, Turkish cheese and grape leaves.  So we made a sort of Turkish tappas, or as C said, a sort of Turkish breakfast.  Which she loved.  Having spent several months in Turkey, she’s quite keen on the culture, the food and the language.  So that was a win.  She’s also requested my coconut milk cauliflower and chicken, so we should have time to squeeze that in as well before she leaves. 

I also gotta give C some credit here.  I found her kinda tough to be in close quarters with in her own home.  Don’t get me wrong, it was easy enough and we had a great time.  But she has her way she want’s things done, how she want’s things to be.  And it wasn’t always easy to stay ahead of that.  But as a guest, she’s been top notch.  And I don’t just mean the cleaning.  Little things.  Like, she’s been really observant about shit.  She noticed that I keep the lid off the tea kettle when not in use, so she just started doing that without saying a word.  And when I’d mention a few peculiarities about how I prefer things, she’s just like, “Oh yeah, sure, no problem.” 

And she mentioned that I’m easy to ‘live’ with. She feels totally at home.  Which is great.  I mean, of course that’s how I want any guest to feel in my home.  So it’s gratifying to know that that’s the case.

We were even drunkenly talking about her family visiting.  There’s certainly room.  We were both pretty sure we could get her dad in for a visit, which I would love.  I mean, I love her dad and would be delighted to have him visit.  But she was like, “We could even get Chloe (her sister) and Emil (her nephew) to visit; they could sleep on the futon and I’ll sleep up on the loft.”  And I was like, are you kidding, of course!  After all the visits I’ve made to her family, I’d love to have them visit and put them up.  I think that would be a lot of fun, but like, also good for my heart.  Whenever I visit them, they don’t just make me feel like a welcome guest, they make me feel like family.  I’d love nothing more than to return the favor. 

This week is the last parsha of the year.  I’ll start tonight when I finish writing.  Upon completing this week’s parsha, it will mark my fifth time through the Torah.  That in itself is an accomplishment, and one I’m proud of.  This year, I’m hoping it will take on an additional social aspect.  I’m hoping to get some semi-regular learning with Akiva; it’s something we’ve talked about.  Just need to find the time to make it happen.  But if I can find a way to bring Moritz or Nikolai or others from that group into it somehow, or to find another way to share some Torah learning with them, that would be really great.  But first things first, as far as they’re concerned, I gotta make an effort to just show up to events and be social.  I think I’ll touch base with Moritz this week and see if he’s going to shul on Friday, and if so, if I can tag along.  More on that if and when it actually happens…

Good enough place to stop as any.  Time to learn a little Torah and then head to bed.

11 October, 2022

We got some good music done today, C and I.  Knocked out all her vocals for Dream Lover and most of mine.  Maybe all of mine.  I’m not sure I love what I’m doing on the last verse, but otherwise my shit’s in place.  I wrote a three-part harmony for the bridge, which I then asked her to sing the two higher parts of.  At first, she was just like, “You want me to sing this?  OK, sure, it sounds nice.”  But when I played them back together, I had another one of those moments.  She just lit up and was like, “That’s me?!”  And then when I played all three parts back together with the main vocal for the bridge, she declared it her favorite part of the song.  And yeah, it’s probably mine too. 

But it was an interesting process.  She’d never harmonized with herself before.  And in a way, she still hasn’t.  What I mean is, we had to do each voice as a solo shot, because hearing the other vocal would throw her off.  So she handled each line as if it were the only one.  Which is perhaps why it was such a surprise for hear to her it all together in playback; it was the first time she’d actually heard the parts together.  But she did it, and she did it well.  I didn’t need to do any pitch correction on it.  The only thing I did was to stretch or shorten the phrase-endings of all three parts – mine included – so that they matched up with each other.

I’ve also started on the mix.  I knocked out a quick and dirty processing stream for our vocals, the harmonies and the guitars.  It might need some tweaking, but it’s mostly what I want.  I just need to clean it up and tie it all together.

After she fell asleep I started messing around with a drum track, which I think will greatly benefit the song.  I think the rough idea of it is more or less fine, but I may hand it off to Justin and see if he can do better; I’m sure he can.  But here I ran into a new problem.  Or rather, an old one that just keeps coming back.

I really should have done the drums first.  I mean, I laid down the guitars to a click track, and they’re in time.  But trying to sync the drums with the guitars is just ass-backwards.  Even if everything is in time, it doesn’t mesh the way it should, it doesn’t feel as tight as it should.  And of course the vocals are laid down over the guitars.  So they’re good with the guitars but equally ‘unmeshed’ with the drums.  Maybe Justin will be able to actually play something that meshes better than anything that can be written in via the drum editor.  But part of me wants to get the drums down early tomorrow and re-record everything.  I’ll run it by C and see what she thinks, but I can’t imagine she’ll be enthused about it.  In the end, we may just have to settle for the best we can do. 

But the best we can do will still sound nice.  I mean, she sounds really good, I have to say.  She’s got a totally different voice from Pauline or Bibi.  Much higher and ‘cleaner’ for lack of a better word.  But it’s very pretty and her pitch is pretty good.  I think she would really benefit from some lessons though, which I’ll mention to her tomorrow.  Because there are things that I can’t teach her but which I hear can be improved.  Just thinks like breathing and support, which would really take her to another level.  But like I said, that’s beyond my ability to coach at this point.  But even as things are, she sounds great and I think we’re gonna have a really nice product by the time I’m done with it.  The harder work will come with the other two songs, as we are now running out of time.  But I’m hopeful we’ll still be able to do enough work so as to arrive at a good product in the end.  Obviously the most important thing is to get her vocals down as best we can, and then I can keep working on it after she’s gone.

Not that I don’t have enough to do.  I’ve got the three songs we did with Pauline while she was in that I haven’t touched yet because of the move and C’s visit.  And still two outstanding songs for the band.  To say nothing of four of my own songs that are in various stages of completion.  One of them, though, is nearly done.  I’m considering giving that my full attention first, just to clear it from the roster. 

One last thought on working with Charlotte, at least for tonight.  I’d written a few times that I was looking forward to ‘getting my hands on her voice,’ so to speak; to see what I could do with it.  Tonight, I finally got that chance.  Now obviously, it all starts with the raw product.  If she doesn’t sing well, there’s little I can do.  But she did sing well.  So I got to work, doing the EQ, adding some compression and just a touch of saturation and delay.  And I’m quite pleased with the result.  I think I’ll have given her something she can be proud of, something she can show off to people and say, “Hell yeah I can sing, listen to this!” 

And something I can be proud of as well, something to add to my slowly growing portfolio of work.  Because this makes now five voices I’ve worked with: myself, Bibi & Ralf, Pauline and now Charlotte.  Plus the spoken word stuff I did with Helmut.  I still don’t consider myself a whiz with EQ, but I’m learning to trust my ears and I think I’m getting solid results.  I will of course send my work with Charlotte off to Justin and Rob for feedback, and I’ll press Rob for input on the EQ side of things.  But I think I’m in a pretty good place.  Room to grow and improve?  Of course.  But still work I can be proud of and show off as an example of what I can do.

As for potentially opening my studio to strangers for money, well, I feel like I’m running up against my limitations.  Like, sure, if a singer-songwriter were to come in with just their voice and guitar, I can definitely handle that.  And at this point, I feel confident that I’ve developed a solid ear for harmonies and structure.  I feel good about my ability to work with artists to try and get good results from them.  But on the other side, there are things I can’t do at all.  Piano and synths as well as anything beyond the most basic of drums.  So if those are things an artist is looking for, I’m out of my depth. 

With that in mind, I think it’s important that I invest in a good quality full-sized keyboard for the studio.  That won’t come cheap, so it can’t happen tomorrow.  At the same time, it’s going to be necessary going forward, and the sooner I can get to experimenting and learning the better.  I also need to get my hands a decent quality steel-string guitar.  For that, I’ll talk to Michi and see if she has anything she’d recommend for studio work.  The last big investment that I have in mind is a proper studio desk.  It’s not terribly pressing, but if I’m to add a full-sized keyboard, I’ll have to make more efficient use of my space, and a proper desk will help me do that.  Of course, once I do have a proper desk, I might start thinking about some kind of small physical mixing board; eight – or, at most – sixteen channels.  Now, that’s definitely a luxury.  I can, of course, do everything I need right in the computer, and my two monitors makes it quite practical to do so.  Still, a mixing board would be fun!

Well, it was good to write that out.  It’s easy for me to make excuses.  Excuses like not being able to do anything with keys, synths or drums.  But it’s also clear that there’s plenty of music I’m ready to take on right now. 

So, originally, I had set a vague goal of advertising my studio “some time in 2023.”  I think it’s time to get more serious about that.  The biggest impediment is not, in fact, my ability or experience.  It’s just workload.  I can’t take on any more projects right now.  So let’s say this.  I need to clear out what’s on my plate.  I need to finish the songs with Pauline, with Charlotte and for the band.  By rights, the stuff with Pauline should come first.  But the stuff with C is sufficiently minimalist that I can get it done the fastest.  So I’ll try to bang those out in the next two weeks if not sooner.  The stuff with Pauline I’d like to have finished by the time she comes back in December.  Then the stuff for the band.  And then, finally, my songs.  (Although I may push Met You to the front of the queue, since it’s so nearly done). 

But once I’ve finished all of that off, then I think it’s time to hang up my shingle.  Where and how?  No idea yet.  I don’t even know who to talk to about that.  But I’ll keep my ears open and see what’s out there.  One idea, if it’s not in bad taste, might be to show up to an open mic and see if any singer-songwriters strike my fancy as being people I’d like to work with.  Then I can approach them and see if they’re interested.  But of course to do that, I’ve got to also figure out my price structure.  And that will take a bit of research.  And there too, I don’t even know where to begin.  But none of that can happen until I clear out my current workload. 

So besides the million things I need to do for and around the apartment, I also need to make sure I find time to do steady work in the studio.  It’ll be a challenge, but a good one.  This summer was rough, and I was super unproductive and in a very deep funk because of all this apartment shit.  But that’s all squared away now and there’s no more room for excuses.  It’s time to get to work!

I’ve been writing almost every night now for some time.  Which is good therapy, I believe; and also, just good on the merits, good to be writing, to keep the skills fresh, even if it’s self-reflective and not creative.  But come this weekend, or next, I need to start organizing some of this into a blogue post.  Much of what I’ve written in the last two weeks will serve, so that will mostly be a cut and paste job.  But I think I should also start a post from scratch, dealing with the new apartment and the new ‘hood.  I’ve not reflected on either as much as I’d have liked to this point.  And on those subjects, whoever actually reads my blogue will surely be interested.   Yay, more work to do.

Tomorrow is C’s last full day.  Crazy that she’s been here for nearly a week already.  It doesn’t feel like it.  She’s so easy to have around and we get along so well together.  Before she came, it was like, great, I’m gonna have a house guest before I can even get settled.  But now, she’s basically been an integral part of that settling in, such that it will be kind of weird when she’s gone and I’ll have to re-settle all over again.  I mean, I’ve basically had her here for longer than I’ve been alone in this place.  So in a way, my adventure won’t really begin until she leaves.  She leaves Wednesday, but I have to work, so we’ll probably just have lunch together and then that will be that.  We’re talking about trying to meet up in Vietnam sometime this winter though. 

I think it’s important that I try and make that happen.  Because on the one hand, I’d love to go to Vietnam – noodle soup!  On the other hand, I kinda don’t see myself going on my own.  So if the opportunity exists to plan a joint adventure there, I think I can’t let that slip by.  Nothing’s written in stone, but it seems realistic.  She’s already planning a trip to SE Asia; so her plan is to be in Thailand no matter what.  And if that’s the case, there’s no good reason why we can’t make Vietnam happen.  We’ll see…

C and I went to THF on Sunday.  At one point, we laid down in the grass.  The sun was shining and warm.  So naturally I fell asleep.  And I loved it.  It was also just great to be there again.  I really do love that place and I can’t wait to start skating there.  Let me say it here so I hopefully lock myself into it.  I’m done with work at one on Thursday.  I want to go skating as soon as I finish.  Time to get the ball rolling on that as well.   I’ve got to make that a habit, a routine.  Not just because I need the exercise; I do.  But because I need to be on skates.  I feel incomplete without that.  I mean, what kind of Dave is a Dave who doesn’t skate?  It’s time to set that arights. 

That’s more than enough.  It’s ‘only’ quarter after three, but I should get to bed.  I’d like to be up comparatively early tomorrow (say, 11), so I can hopefully get some work done in the studio with C.  She’s got work at three, so I can take a nap then.  And then, we’ll have one more dinner and one last night of wine.  It’s been good.  I’ll reflect more fully on her visit after she’s gone.

12 October, 2022

Charlotte’s last night.  We worked on another song, so that now we’ve got four in total.  Or at least, her vocals and most of the guitars.  Justin is eager to drums for Dream Lover and had good things to say about C’s voice.  We – me and her, I mean – spent some time today digging into the last song, working on her breathing and trying to bring some more intention to the vocal.  We definitely succeeded on the breathing front.  And I think she was brining more to the song by the last take than she was when we started.  So it was worth the effort, and I think she heard that.

And she was really appreciative that I took the time do that with her, to work on those things.  I told her that’s one of my favorite parts about this.  Like, in the end, the artist has to do all the work right?  But helping them get from A to B, helping them find something within themselves they didn’t know they had, that’s a lot of fun for me.  And she said it was fun for her too.

She also has a lot of patience with me.  I mean when I don’t have patience with myself.  I wasn’t happy with the way some of my guitar work was coming out and I was starting to get pretty annoyed, losing my cool, cursing a lot.  The more I do this, the more I’m discovering that I actually hate recording guitars.  Like, with vocals, it’s so much fun.  And with the bass too, even.  Maybe because they’re new instruments for me, and there’s so much room to learn and experiment in the process.  But the guitar is my instrument, and maybe because of that my standards are higher?  I don’t know.  Whatever the reason, I get super frustrated when things aren’t perfect.  And they almost never are.  But she just takes me as I am.  She doesn’t get put off by my moods or hate being around me when I get like that.  She’s just like, very gently, “Hey, Dave, maybe you want to take a break?”  Or just a a little shoulder rub for a second or two.  Enough to bring me back down a bit.  It’s great.

And the whole week has been great.  I’ll get more into it when she’s gone.  But we’ve had our last night now.  And we were talking today about how easy it’s been.  I mean, we’ve been sharing the same apartment for a full week.  There’s no guarantee that something like that will be easy, no matter how good friends you are.  But with us, it’s just easy.  I think she used the phrase “living around each other.”  In the sense that we’re both plenty independent, we can be left alone, we can work alone, we can feel at home in our respective space without needing anything from the other.  But then, we’ll have lunch together.  We’ll share a beer.  We’ll play music and drink wine and play games and do some recording. 

And we always share beers.  Like, even if we wind up drinking two – normally, each person would have their own beer.  But we just take two little glasses and share a half-liter.  And when that’s done, we’ll open a second if we’re of a mind to, and share that.  And it’s just nice and easy.  On the one hand, a week is enough.  But on the other, she could stay even longer and it would be fine.  That’s a pretty special thing.

We’ll have lunch again tomorrow.  And then, when I finish class, it’s time for her to go.  The plan is for me to make miso ramen for lunch.  That’ll be a nice way to end things for this visit.

15 October, 2022

I’ve got a lasagna in the oven that probably needs to come out soon (it’s only 4:15am), so I don’t have a ton of time here. 

Still struggling with my schedule.  Still a lot of running around every day picking up this and that for the apartment.  Exhausted after school because I go to bed so late.  Result, it’s only two days since C left, but I’ve yet to go skating or do any further work in the studio.  Although my patch cable arrived today, so I was finally able to hook up my headphone amp to the DI box; which means I can now have both headphones plugged in at the same time; which means I can now listen to the mix when a singer is doing their vocal.  Two days late to be of any use with C, but as I’m sure I’ll be doing plenty more recording with others, I’m quite looking forward to using it.  Very excited in fact.  And even just for me, it’ll be nice to not have to unplug and switch headphones every time I go from recording to mixing.  Really happy with the way the studio is coming along.

Charlotte was in love with the rough mix of Dream Lover I shared with her.  She then promptly shared it with like all her friends and family; which I advised her not to do as it’s not finished.  Rave reviews so far, which is nice.  But then after she got back to France she got all worried, like, “What did you do to my voice?  Is this what I really sound like?  I feel like a fraud.”  Which I guess is understandable on some level.  So I tried to explain to her what I’d done: zero pitch correction, just EQ, compression, saturation and delay.  I don’t think I’d even mixed in any reverb yet.  But that did nothing to assuage her fears.

So I sent her a mix with the raw vocal.  She couldn’t hear the difference.  Which is both a good thing and not entirely surprising.  It reminded me of when I first started out with this stuff.  I’d add compression according to the tutorials I’d read and watched, but I couldn’t really hear it myself.  Same with EQ.  I’d follow the guidelines I’d found, but I wasn’t any good at picking out frequencies on my own or hearing the difference except when I’d do a side by side comparison.  To be honest, I’m still no whiz with EQ.  But I trust my ears more now, and I’m better at hearing things.  So to me, the difference between the raw vocal and the processed vocal is night and day.  But admittedly, I’m listening with a producer’s ear at this point; even if it’s a very inexperienced producer’s ear. 

Anyway, I take the fact that she couldn’t hear a difference to be a good thing.  Because in the end, you’re not trying to change the vocal.  You’re trying to make subtle adjustments to bring out its best qualities.  On the hand, to make it sound more like itself, because the mic doesn’t hear a voice the way a human ear does, so you’re trying to compensate for that.  On the other hand, you’re trying to fit into the mix, to give it its own dedicated frequency space.  The rest is cosmetic. But like any good cosmetic job, you’re just trying to highlight what’s already there.  So if, to her untrained ear, there’s little to no difference, I feel like that’s in some ways a success. 

18 October, 2022 (again)

Well, I guess that brings us pretty much up to date.  I’m still exhausted and overwhelmed.  But things are good.  Now that I’m all caught up here, I can (hopefully) turn my nighttime attention elsewhere.  I need to take a break from writing and start getting back to work in the studio.  Also, Torah starts all over again this week.  “In the beginning” and all that.  Which is fitting.  This is a new beginning after all…

Oh, and one final, embarrassing, note from today.  Weather was absolutely gorgeous.  So I decided today was the day.  Today was the day I get off my ass, lace up the skates and hit THF.  Then, in act of complete hubris – all the more so considering I haven’t been on skates once in Germany – I decided to lace up at home and skate over to the park.  Then I get outside and discover that the sidewalk in front of my house is cobblestone.  You can’t skate on that shit.  I know because I tried.  Got my wheel stuck in a rut between two stones, spun around and had to catch myself on a parked car.  Who knows how many people saw that.  Anyway, I kept going.  After my block, the sidewalks smoothed out until Schiller Kiez, which I had to cross to get to the park.  There, the sidewalks and streets were made of even bigger cobblestones.  Caught my wheel again and fell.  A controlled fall, I came down not too hard on one knee and one hand;  not even a scratch.  But still a fall.  And more people saw that.  Still having a ways to go before I could get to the park, I decided it just wasn’t worth it, turned around and made my home.  Picked up chicken tenders and fries on the way to soothe my battered ego.  The tenders were ok, the bbq sauce and fries were not.  Anyway, lesson learned.  Next time, I’ll walk to the park and lace up there.  Not my finest moment, to be sure.  But that’s what you get when you don’t skate for literally years.  Next time will be better.  And I’m already looking forward to it.  Right, let’s stop here.  Time to learn some Torah.

זײַ געזונט

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