This week's guest blogger is Mikhail Fiksel, https://mikhailfiksel.com/.
FIRST OF ALL. When you hear something that makes you stop in your tracks? That makes you pause for a moment, when that is exactly NOT what you are supposed to be doing? That's what we're all trying to do with our art and our music. FREEZE TIME. Bring us all together, into the eternal NOW.
This is what happened when I heard, and witnessed, Mikhail (Misha) Fiksel lead his band of live musicians to play deep, deep groves at an event that was important to my professional life at the time. He just...stopped me. With the music. In a way that nothing should have been able to, at that moment. With the way he was with his musicians, and the way the musicians were with him. They were all present, intently listening, responding to the deepest need of the moment with their keenly-honed skills.
I had no idea who he was. I did not at the time know he was an award winning designer, composer, musician, and dj. I had no idea and none of it mattered. I just wanted to work with him.
And as he'll tell you, I tried to engage him a few times. When he finally agreed to produce the remixes of my songs for the Haiku Milieu Soundtrack, I was thrilled.
I remember our first phone call. He had a lot of questions. What was the big idea the sound was in service to? What should it sound like? How should the listeners feel? How did I think they would be listening? Basically, all the questions I ask myself before starting a project, he was asking me. He was present, he was listening, and he was responding to the deepest need of the project, just as I had seen him do while working with his band those many years ago.
I got off the phone and said to my husband Robin, "I think I have been waiting my whole life to have that conversation." I've attached one of the songs he mentions, "Spinning (remix)" to this post, and you can find the entire Haiku Milieu Soundtrack at my website, jennybienemann.com.
Meanwhile, here's what he had to say about our collaboration:
"It occurs to me that all this started quite a while ago. It also occurs to me that it’s all about... theater galas. Let me try to explain.
Way back in 2014 (I just checked the receipts :) I guess she spotted me performing with my band at Madhatter’s Ball, a gala by Lookingglass Theater.
She reached out, inviting me to collaborate on a live performance - incorporating me on the beats, etc...Unfortunately that gig didn’t happen for me, probably because I was actually in the process of moving to NY.
Fast forward to 2018, and I’m back in Chicago (at least on a part time basis). And this time it is I who proposes collaborating for a live event. I was in pre-production for 2nd Story’s Soiree (yet another gala - I told ya!) and we wanted to incorporate a song into one of the stories, and Jenny’s voice and vibe seemed to be a perfect fit.
Just to be clear, I was going on a hunch - by that point, we just had a couple phone conversations. But I was pretty confident in my suspicions that she would be a good collaborator.
And I was not wrong - her generosity and dedication made it such a great rehearsal process and the stories and the songs ended up exactly what they needed to be - beautiful, moving and inviting. Right on brand for 2nd Story. And then Jenny also brought her awesome band and showed off her performance chops - she sang and performed all night and was the secret sauce for the whole event.
So I was sold. And we began collaborating on the Haiku project.
That process proved to be a nice gentle ride - like cruising on Lake Shore Drive with the top down on a sunny Sunday evening. Jenny emerged from the studio with a handful of simple yet delightful recordings of her solo guitar work and some vocalizations. I was immediately drawn to how spacious they were - there was a lot of breathing room, so much space, so much patience - plenty to play with.
And Jenny wasn’t asking for anything SPECIFIC - for whatever reason - she was trusting me to do my thing…. And so the music (and some of the images that eventually became the book) were speaking for themselves.
If I remember correctly, with each of those remixes, the process was to take the raw guitar track, chop up a few strums/sections and for starters to throw some sort of semi-extreme effect - a long delay or verb, or to run it through a resonator, or slow it down by half or reverse it, etc - and see what that would inspire.
Because we weren’t aiming at the dancefloor - I wasn’t feeling the pressure to provide beats (although a few did sneak in) and instead I would focus on the pads and layers created by the effected guitar elements. I would stack them and let it get away from me for a bit - and then start editing and making choices.
There was one interesting development. All that processing and layering would very quickly lead to a rather synth/electronic sound. But I was very interested in holding on to the organic flavor of Jenny’s music - so that led to me using field recordings (mostly nature sounds). Somehow that helped ground things and often would inform my next steps - for example, the rhythm of the crickets I added in One Last Chance were the inspiration for the looping shaker textures that is throughout the track. In responding to the title of Spinning Away, I decided to listen to the crackling of the needle on a vinyl record - that informed the clicking textures that set the tempo for the remix. And so forth and so on.
So at some point, I started sharing drafts with Jenny. One of the most pleasant surprises was that she was asking me to make the tracks longer. That is a RARE note - most of the time I find myself needing to edit, to sharpen, to look for efficiency. Inversely, Jenny was asking me to take my time and to let things breathe (much like her original recordings).
This direction was very helpful - I got to slow down the whole ebb and flow of the tracks. Unlike so much of electronic music, there were no drops or peaks…. Quite the opposite - ideas/layers were developing gradually and cresting and crossfading into each other. I think that the tracks really opened up at that point - some of the synth elements dissipated, and those that stayed felt like they belonged and informed the songs… And the tracks became meditative and truly in support of the visuals without drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.
Finally I started delivering the masters. I’m sure things were arriving at the 11th hour. I’m sorry about that :) And then a bit after that, the book and CD finally arrived.
And it is then that I got to understand and witness her vision for the final product. All the elements were in sync with each other, and definitely serving the book experience. I’m sure that was the plan all along.
But for me it was magic - without giving me too much direction, Jenny lead me through this process all the way to the finish line. And I’m quite grateful for that." Misha Fiksel