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Gavern Lyall:A Musical Revelation(Interview)

Atmospheric composer shares his musical project along with things that make his life soar in harmony. 

“You imagine sound as a circle, and little instruments pieces are slightly in front, others are panned slightly left, or right, and the main sounds come from the middle of the circle of sound. Then you can have that abundant reverb that creates a space like atmosphere, or huge earthly plain where you can feel as if you have been transported to a very, very large place that has HUGE speakers hanging in the sky, or the sound just magically coming out of the big space. This is what I love about working with sound, is the feeling of it, the emotion and the bliss you can experience”.

Gavern Lyall’s music is visual, evocative and vibrant. I can create scenes in my mind of running and flying while I listen to his tracks. The music is transporting , at times haunting but always pleasant to hear.  He fuses Celtic styling with  atmospheric electronic music creating a new sound. He also uses his voice as an instrument creating a wall of sound- like in the track Galileo my Friend. A truly remarkable artist with an ear for epic and fantasy. It’s always a rewarding experience to listen to his composition.

His love for percussion adds to the driving energy of the pieces. His drive for shaping the overall sound finds home with his love for voice layering and effects. Today he shares with CMF the process of putting up a debut EP and what it’s like to not just love music but to create them.

He answers this interview in Dublin Ireland while spending time with his spouse Brian. They’ve been together for 10 years. Having music, and great people in one’s life is an inspiring thought. I have been meaning to ask a lot of things for a long time but now they are here. What can I say? Our tastes  in music aren’t that far.  I challenged him to give me lengthy answers. And here he rises to the occasion. I love what he has to reveal to everyone.

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Hi Gavern. At last I am able to get hold of you ! How is it over there? You said you are in Dublin right now?
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Yes my spouse and I are currently in Dublin, we’ve been here since May this year. I imagine we will be here until the years end. It’s been a truly fascinating experience. We have met more people here and made more friends in the last 5 months than we have in our entire lives! I had lived in Dublin in the late 90′s for a while, while I was backpacking Europe. Ireland is very near and dear to my heart. My great, great Grandmother was Irish and my Grandmother is Scottish, so I am definitely encompassed by the Celtic way of life as it was centuries ago as told to me by them. When we first arrived, we did some traveling, small villages and quaint little pubs where I was even able to sing some songs in Gaelic, this of course without all the bells and whistles of vocal effects, keyboards and reverb. It was a very intimate experience and most people were quite surprised that I could sing some songs in Gaelic, being that I have an American accent and had just came from Seattle!
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You are really busy in putting up tracks. Tell me about your latest project.
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I’ve been creative with music for about 7 years now. Music comes naturally to me, I have very good rhythm when dancing and I really feel music, it’s very spiritual to me. I always loved singing as a child and I used to use Sarah

Photo by Brian Harrison

Photo by Brian Harrison

McLachlan’s “Fumbling Toward’s Ecstasy” album to try and train my voice, this was of course until my voice broke in my mid teenage years. But I feel I have a very good ear for sound and creating atmosphere. And I enjoy doing unique things with my vocals, like harmonizing with my own voice, creating walls of sound like in the song Galileo My Friend, the vocal intro to the song was layered a hundred or so times to create those big, deep voices. I  just like seeing what sounds can come out to express emotion. It was through technology that I was later, finally able to learn about the art of recording sound. Before I would use tape’s, and sing over and over on the tape. This idea came from listening to Enya and other artists. But as time progressed I felt that my inspirations were moving towards actually working with sound itself. Composing music, arranging it, mixing it, engineering it and producing it. I was fascinated with the dynamics of sound and what I call the “artistry of sound”. An example would be, where I love it when sounds move, this is something that can be experienced when listening to music with earphones or in a big room with surround sound speakers. You imagine sound as a circle, and little instruments pieces are slightly in front, others are panned slightly left, or right, and the main sounds come from the middle of the circle of sound. Then you can have that abundant reverb that creates a space like atmosphere, or huge earthly plain where you can feel as if you have been transported to a very, very large place that has HUGE speakers hanging in the sky, or the sound just magically coming out of the big space. This is what I love about working with sound, is the feeling of it, the emotion and the bliss you can experience. I’m currently working on a physical single release for Celtic Adrenalin. But I guess it would be considered more of an EP. It the project will focus on the central theme upon which Celtic Adrenalin was based. The music wanted to be in the spotlight as a song itself and so I worked on many remixes of the song, including an acoustic version and an instrumental remix which seriously modernizes the song. I think that we might add the track “Self Realization” as well as reworked version of  “Galileo My Friend” which is being mastered at the moment. It’s exciting because it will be my first physical release. I felt like music was telling me this is what it wanted.

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Celtic Adrenalin is a very catchy and energetic track. I love it. What’s the recording process for this track?
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Celtic Adrenalin had a working title of “Cool Adrenalin”, the original piece that I had composed and arranged had the running beat and atmospheric sounds, and pulse. It was missing something and then the idea struck me, why not mix

Photo by Brian Harrison

modern with old? Again it’s the music talking to me here when I get these ideas. I thought I could compose a Celtic themed song on the keyboard and see if it fits the track, but over and over it would not sound right. So I took a look at some scores and sound samples that were in a sound library and listened to different pieces that were available to use I came across the Bouzouki piece that I think contained 1 or 2 bars. And I layered the piece above the track I had already worked on. I adjusted the tempo and it worked perfectly! I then used the arpeggiator to enhance the flow of the melody and add depth and clarity to it, finally after some time I had the sound I needed and could compose the rest of the song around it. Then I had to arrange the entire song from scratch, this is the part I love the most. I played it back and listened carefully and I knew it wanted a vocal, I tried to lay down some of my own vocals but I had a pretty bad cough at the time and it was just not working. I could hear a chant throughout the song in my mind but I needed to find it and I wanted a female vocal in Gaelic. A few days later I found a chanting sample that was available for use, it was short but it went absolutely perfectly with the melody, it even contained the same initial key! I was amazed and it’s like it was meant to be! I had to do a lot of work on the vocals, editing, mixing, adjusting the sample, and then layering it in a lower sound by adjusting it digitally, which was very hard to do to make it sound like a real person was actually singing it softly in the background of the frontal vocal. I wanted just a nice soft lower tone to enhance the main vocal. Fortunately Logic Studio has some amazing effects you can use to achieve this and I was able to do it. Then came the atmospheric elements, rain and thunder, which can actually be played on the keyboard and then converted into loops. I wanted the thunder to sound real, so I used real sound samples of real thunder and rain, programed them into the keyboard and then used them to create the tracks that I created. The interlude violin piece is also actually a real violin that has been recorded and then added to the midi keyboard, able to play each sound uniquely. As is the Bouzouki. The rest of the song, I spent a long time arranging and I think I achieved the hypnotic effect I wanted with the vocals in the final verse. The electric guitar lick was added last and that was  the final touch which actually now inspired the remixes! I am very, very excited about the remixes. Celtic Adrenalin was a bold take on traditional Celtic music but to my delight, people here in Ireland loved it and saw it as a new way if delivering the same old time sounds that were so predominant in Irish History. A lot of Irish people do not necessarily like trad because it’s all they ever hear growing up, but they too liked Celtic Adrenalin because it was a different way of delivering traditional and used a modern almost film like atmosphere. I’m very happy with how the song turned out.

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Are there musical frontiers that you still think of exploring? I mean that in terms of style and arrangement.
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Well I have big ideas of what I would like to achieve sound wise. I would very much like to work with Mary-Jess. Her debut album Shine has just been released and I love her music, it’s very powerful. She knows exactly what she wants in relation to interpreting the music she writes and I feel she has the right voice for the music I plan to create in the future. I think I’d like to work on music that is powerfully moving. I’m not really into pop songs as a whole but I will enjoy them every so often. I want to work with music that speaks directly to the soul. I think it’s quite possible blending filmic and classical with electronic and ambient. I have a series of orchestral songs that are purely orchestral but they have that rolling excitement and heart moving pulse that could easily be used for film. I never can say what will develop on arrangements but I think “atmospheric” is the word. Delerium and Enigma are right up my ally but so is William Orbit and Mary-Jess, so somewhere in there, there’s got to be a doorway that allows my interpretations in. I’ve always believed that a musician just an instrument that the Universe uses to create the song, for whatever purpose, I never feel like I “own” the music or that it’s about me and my talent. The talent part comes in in how you are able to interpret what the music wants. As we are ultimately dealing with energy and vibrations, the movement of sound that evokes emotion and imagination. The physical world around us came from imagination and so music is very, very important and very powerful.
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 I see that you are fascinated with sound and the whole concept of music being visual. Do you plan putting your music on film or television?
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One of my songs “Senistrognata” was used on an Australian surfing documentary. It was very layered and although it did not have the best production (it was about 5 years ago and I was still learning how to master sound) something about the way I used my vocals and the lyrics appealed to the director of the documentary. I think the lyric “ride the tide of your life” was what he liked. I was happy they liked it but when I listen to the song now, I realize there were parts that I could have done better in terms of mastering. I never really gained exposure from it as I never had a website and the music was not for sale but it certainly inspired me to forge ahead. Working with soundtrack is something I would love to do, but I very much would need to be part of the direction and be in some way involved with how the sound would be designed in relation to what emotions they were trying to capture. In other words, what is the true intention of the using the song? Because music is very powerful, you have to be careful where you allow it be used. But certainly in the capacity that would work just right for that particular film.
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What are the top 5 albums you are listening to right now?
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I never really listen to more than two albums in a period. Depending on how I feel at the time is what I will listen to but then again what I listen to very much determines how I feel. Lol. Lately for the past 3 weeks it’s been Mary-Jess’ album Shine and Delerium’s album Karma. Before that it was Enya’s album Amarantine for almost a year and Madonna’s Ray of Light. I enjoy Lady GaGa when I’m feeling like a rebel but only a day or two and also the amazing sister rock stars, Heart. I started listening to Tori Amos as well again. So it’s diverse, but I need to listen to music every day for several hours or I will die!
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You are ‘there’ in terms of production, composition and recording. What are the no nos when it comes to creating layered vocals or instruments?
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Brian and Gavern

Brian and Gavern

 You know, that is a very good question. I have a traveling studio. There’s the keyboard, the guitar on occasion, the pedals, the mics etc and then of all the electronic stuff like the computer and the software plug-ins and EXS 24 instrument player. When I compose a song, I usually sit in front of the keys and play around with hundreds of real instrument sounds and also synthesized sounds. I play the keys and see what happens. Its like I make a connection and “feel” what it wants, hours and hours go by including a glass or two of red wine and finally when you find the fragment of sound, you know right away what it wants and you create the song from that seed of initial sound and allow it to grow. My spouse will often help me by being a listening ear. I ask him this or that and he says “try this, or make that part less obvious or raise the strings etc”, he is not always involved as I like the privateness of my space when creating but I do share many songs with him. Most times we agree but sometimes I say “no, I’m not doing that, that’s not what the music wants”, it’s very inspirational having him around. Vocal layering is the most difficult part, there are all sorts of adjustments you need to make to make it sound right and you have to sing at different sounds to achieve the 1+1=3 effect and so on. Plus if you sing out of tune just on one layer, it messes with everything and you have to delete an rerecord over and over and over.Then once you have your wall of sound, you have to then make sure “it” sounds good on a big stereo, a car radio, earphones and surround sound speakers. It’s very difficult but the more you do it, the better you become. As far as No, No’s, well I can’t think of any exactly but you need earphones and speakers that are good quality. When working with so many instrument layers and sounds you need a CPU that can handle and process the sound. You need a back up to make sure your studio system doesn’t crash and you need to make sure you give your ears a break. Your ears get tired, just like a muscle and so after too much stress on the ear the sounds become muddy and you can’t interpret them well enough. You’ll notice music sounds different if you listen to it right after you wake up and then later in the afternoon and also after you are very tired. All these things have to be taken into account. You need to know when to stop recording and allow the song to rest. Just like all life, it needs to rest and sleep and I do love sleeping so much!
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How will the EP be like in terms of packaging? Will it be available for download only or will you be releasing a physical disc?
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The EP will be presented in a digipak as a physical release with art work. It will also be available digitally on iTunes and other online retailers. WGBH Boston, A Celtic Sojourn Radio had asked me to send the physical track for radio play in, which I’m very excited about!  We are still in the design process of the artwork and the website is under a major revamp, but has some goodies you can check out. But we do have some great musician friends that we know like Siobhán O’ Brien, Mary-Jess, The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra, Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart and a few weeks back we talked with Deborah Harry from Blondie which was fantastic. So we have people who can help us with making the best choice on presentation. I’m hoping that the release will be by early 2012, it could be sooner but that all depends on licensing etc
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Thanks for answering the question Gavern. It is good to really get to know you musically. Words of wisdom to your listener?
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Living in the moment has really helped me in this life. Listening to music is a wonderful way to live that moment, it can make it feel like forever. And finally, be yourself, if you don’t know who you are, let music help you discover yourself and how unique you are.

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From soundcloud: Gavern’s music encompasses many sounds and atmospheric textures that range from orchestral pieces suited for soundtrack to ambient/electronic and Celtic Chanting pieces. The music is composed to evoke emotion and help the listener enjoy the experience by either relaxing, dancing or reminiscing. Gavern plays piano and keyboards, works with synthesizers and plays percussion. He enjoys dancing, designing, imagination, performing, computers, and collaborating. He also does sound engineering, sound design and production work for other musicians.To contact, please email: info@gavern.com
Follow regular updates at:http://gavern.blogspot.com
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