Studio Up and Running

Hugh Carswell / Studio

OK, perhaps it was a little hopeful to expect to make huge progress during July and August. You may find it hard to believe but Scottish islands magically become very busy around this time with the influx of visitors and lots of local events.

This year has been no exception – with the Ardlussa Sports, Regatta and Cricket Festival to name but a few of the very enjoyable distractions available. Jura has two distinct states. In season there are lots of new faces, more cars and bikes on the road, more socialising with friends and family here for their holidays and, of course, more beautiful days to enjoy the island. Out of season everything settles down to its natural order – and we become aware again of the local community with informal evenings in the pub and village hall and more time to spend with each other and by ourselves.

However, despite the recent hectic island life, during the last few months I've been in the studio most days making good progress arranging the music. Many of the songs have existed in my head for a year or two. They have been written on guitar or piano with all the accompanying arrangements and words played out in my imagination. A few, relating to my late father, came during my last months in London – hankering for time in Jura, whilst the rest have been written in the 'building site years' here when I was, sometimes literally, soaking Jura up.

Over time, and much repetition, these imaginary arrangements have taken different forms in my head until things have stuck. My imagined band has been an orchestra – strings, horns, clarinet, xylophone and percussion interwoven by sampled found sounds. Of course, it sounds effortlessly perfect in my imagination(!) – so the challenge now is writing it down into parts – making it real.

It took a few inevitably frustrating technical weeks getting all the studio up and running. A mouse had made its home in my mac and obviously found something in there tasty - meaning that new parts had to be shipped in and fitted. But now everything is working so that I can record in very high quality and, for composing, mimic all the instrument parts with sound samples. With all the mental preparation, many of the arrangements are easy to write – although the mixing will take a lot of work to match my imagined version.

Once all the arrangements are written, I can start to record my own performances on guitar and piano. I have a 'snake' cable that reaches to all the rooms of the cottage – so I can set up microphones to record in differing acoustics. So far my favourite acoustic guitar sound is in the new kitchen, sitting in the pink chair, with a window open - as long as Willie isn't driving by in his tractor! It's as much about it being a 'Jura' sound as anything – I've sat in the pink chair for hours playing my guitar – so that has become a sound that I'm after. Likewise, with the composing and arranging, I often ask myself if what I am doing sits comfortably with Jura. It's a good test. Certain harmonies or sounds can suddenly sound contrived or out of place when I look out the window or go for a walk. So then it's back to the drawing board until something sounds at home here.

I will be recording the piano parts on the mainland at Crear – an amazing space (an old cow byre!) with a beautiful sounding Steinway D – and a magnificent view of Jura.  All being well, that will be happening in the next month – much piano practise required so that I can really make the most of the time and get some great recordings.

Then, the fun really starts with sessions for musicians to rehearse and replace my sample arrangements with real performances. I'll have recorded guides of singing parts and found sound sequences so that everyone can get a feel for the end result. It'll be at this stage when I will properly start to hear the music for the first time. I hope to have this in the bag over the winter.

So, there you are, a plan of sorts. I'd say 90% of arrangements are now done – it's really starting to come together.

Over and out from an end-of-season Jura.


Hugh Carswell