Sismeringa Lodge – ICS session #1

Recording: ‘Coming-out’ (demo)
Recording: Orlando (part one)
Recording: ‘The poison’
Recording: ‘Solarworld’
France 3 basement – 7:30-19:30 – P: Dude.

This is an incredible and intense experience: the very first ICS session I ever attended. ICS means Immersion Composition Society and has been created by Nicholas Dobson and Michael Mellender. I was intruced to this by Goubs, which created the Sismeringa Lodge. Other members of this Lodge are Stef, Vincent Tekal, Florian Valloo and Emy, flutist and painter.

I approached this first ICS session with two major objectives:

1. To absolutely respect the “immersion” aspect of the game.
2. To use only real instruments. No MIDI or programming of any kind for my stuff.

In order to achive objective #1, I choose to spend my 12 hours locked up in a basement room without windows (at my workplace), without my dear wife and kids in attendance, and without anyone to talk to except for a huge amount of various candy, chocolate, crisps bags, etc… I also brought with me a drumkit, an acoustic and an electric guitar, a cheap bass and a keyboard locked on a “grand piano” setting. I brought all these equipements the day before, so that on the morning of the session I would start creating music as soon as I enter the room.

I stayed there for 12 hours, working and eating small portions of stuff basically at the same time, and I went out only to satisfy urgent natural needs. So I guess I passed the “immersion” test quite well.

During the day I went thru different states of mind, starting with “struggle and fear of the passing time”, then “exhaustion”, then “okay that’s fine now I’m rolling. Just watch me create !” and then “frustration” as I was leaving the place. The good thing though is the last feelings of the day, the ones you get in the middle of the evening when gathering with the other members of the Lodge: joy, peace with oneself and happiness of having done something you really wanted to do.

One of the funny thing related to the ICS way of doing things, is the fact that none of the stuff I thought I would be doing ever happened at all ! For example, I had envisioned myself doing a whole lot of different music genre, from pop songs to experimental weird pieces. I also thought I would be a hero coming up with 15 songs at the end of the day ! Ha ha !!! Good joke. I hardly came up with 4 songs, only 13 minutes of music, and all four being plain pop/rock songs !!! What happened to my dark strange music ambition ? Don’t know. I guess there’s a kind of magic powers going on at an ICS session: it was almost as if the songs went on as they wanted to appear, not as I wanted them to be. Strange beasties, those songs.

Anyway, that certainly was true of the first composition I wrote that day. (Let me go into details of each recording, if you please. Since you’ve read that far, I guess you’re not easily subject to boreness).
I wanted to start this session softly, with a classy piano/voice tune. I thought it would be cool and smart not to show off right away, but to build things up smoothly. A piano/voice piece, and then something with more instruments, etc….

So I sat at the “piano” and started a new song from scratch, only to find myself 13 measures later stuck in an epic kind-of-british-pop-rock-anthem-thing, complete with hard drums, raging bass, powerful-wanna-be-voices and loud guitars !!
That song took me forever to complete ! I was still on it at 1:00 p.m. (the session started at 7:30 a.m.). That’s when I started to feel anxious about the clock keeping on moving forward. Every other note I was looking at the time to see how much has went by. Not a good way to live a session, I guess, but hey… I was new at that game, wasn’t I ? I also think this piece of music I was writing was maybe too ambitious. I had to do more simple stuff for the rest of the day. Anyway, I managed to bring the song to completion no matter what, and I’m very proud of it (although it is at times a bit too much one the “radio friendly” side – but as I said, the songs wrote themselves. I couldn’t have very much input into them). This song is called “Coming-out”, and you can hear it on the Sismeringa Myspace page. (for an unknow reason, MySpace wouldn’t let me have a “-” into my song title, so it’s named “Coming out” there. But it’s supposed to be in one word).

After that, considering that I almost spend half of the session on this one song only, I decided to a simpler song. So came “Orlando – part one”, a simple little rock song, about a character which is a skinny guy with a light mustache that thinks he is a very cool guy apreciated by everyone, but is in fact a pathetic loser. The song is kind of jumpy, and it has a funny noise-oriented middle-8, which finally became the ending of the song (hence the “part one” mention in the title). I’m thinking about doing the following parts during the next ICS sessions. This one came quite rapidly, the longest time being spent on the writing of the lyrics. (God, writing lyrics is certainly the drag moment of these ICS sessions. I must admit I tried not to spend too much time on them so they’re just ideas being thrown in on the fly, without too much thinking about meaning, coolness or whatever. The problem is that while it does absolutely no harm to my fellow french-speaking friends of the lodge, it certainly would make you native-englishers have a good laugh. (not to mention my french accent that certainly shows off in my singing. Sorry about that.)

Did I mention that Orlando works in a Casino ?

Let’s go to song number 3.
In order to twist things a little in my little private creation session, I decided to do the next song very simply. I wanted no overdubs or arrangement, only on an acoustic guitar with a voice, being recorded at the same time, with one mike lying on the table. I was looking for cheapness, and that’s what I got. I used a very tired acoustic guitar for this thing, which I called “The poison”, with creepy and not-so-joyful lyrics (which I wrote prior to the music, contrary to the 3 other songs in that session).

After that I had the feeling the hard times of this session were over: I felt very confident, I was suddenly creating and recording very very fast. As soon as I envisioned an idea, a musical section in my head, I would commit it to hard drive very rapidly, switching on and on to the drum chair, the guitar, the bass, adding some backing vocals here and there, sometime even switching instruments within the same measure, just to make sure I would not forget the parts.

Those were the best, happiest moments of the session. Those last three hours were pure joy, euphoria of doing THE ultimate thing: creating and recording music, nothing else even existed. I’ve been alone in this room for decades, and I was in full “music” mode. This feeling alone is what made the whole ICS thing worth it, for me. Kuddos to the Fathers of ICS !

I finished the fourth and last song just on time. I had 30 minutes left to do pre-mixes of the tracks for the “gathering of the Lords”. I called this last song “Solarworld”.
Although I’m a man of many various music styles and although I’m fond of what is sometimes called “difficult music”, there’s a baba-cool hippy living somewhere inside of me and I think that for “Solarworld” I allowed him to come forward and drive things up. So this song is probably the most “twee” and naive stuff I’ve ever made. Nethertheless, it is my personnal favorite track of the four, because of the cheer joyfulness and “automatic pilot” feeling I experienced while making it. (you can hear the song on my MySpace page).

When I left the basement room in order to go to the meeting (which was an hour drive away), I was feeling very frustrated and disapointed. I thought that 4 songs was a dreadful performance, and that I would be laughed at and mocked for my “pop songs” music.
But when I arrived, I was surprised to learn that each one of us has managed to write only 4 or 5 songs, making 12 or 13 minutes of music !
I was totally in the norm. And some of my “pop songs” seem to have made a good impression on some Lodge members, so I don’t feel frustrated anymore. (although my Lodge mates have made more mad and crazier music than me. Mad and beautiful actually. You have to check them out !).

Many days have passed since this session, and I’m still thinking about it very strongly. I can’t seem to get my head of this thing and it has marked me very deeply. It’s almost as if there is now a “Before ICS” and an “After ICS” period in my life.

For my part I look forward to our next ICS Session (december 21st).

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