The Making of Belizean Heat: Part 8 – Caves Branch

I was able to borrow a GoPro camera for my trip to Belize, so I actually have a lot of video footage. Eventually I hope to use that footage to make videos for at least a few of the songs. This song is actually more based on video footage than field recordings, and it spent a lot of time in limbo before I figured out a direction for it. Once I did settle on a direction it was actually completed quite quickly (by my standards). It was one of the last songs finished on the album along with Stowaway, which I talked about in the last making of post.

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We spent a few nights at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch Lodge. Generally I’m not an all-inclusive resort kind of guy, but this place is unique. It’s surrounded by a network of caves, some of which were used by the Maya for religious ceremonies. The Lodge provides stewardship and a range of tours through these caves, along with other adventure activities. They also make cheese and soap; have a massage center; and they have a massive beautiful botanical garden with the largest orchid collection in the country (which I discuss in the first making of post). It has a strong family vibe to the place, not just in the sense of being kid-friendly, but in how the staff really makes you feel at home. They hold massive multi-course dinners where guests sit with each other at long picnic tables and talk about the adventure tours they just did or plan to do. We learned the first night not to load up too much on the first course, but it was hard not to eat too much at every meal.

 

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Bloody Bastard

One of the tours we took, was to go spelunking in a cave which has a series of six waterfalls inside it. We hiked through the jungle and learned about local flora and fauna like the bloody bastard tree, which has rings of sharp downward pointing spines. Its name comes from early British explorers yelling this phrase after discovering these spines with their hands while stumbling through the dense jungle. The mouth of the cave was home to a colony of bats roosting in guano carved divots in the ceiling. We travelled through the cave, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling, and sometimes swimming. It had some spectacular rock and mineral formations. and the way water pooled and carved its way through the cave was at times magical. We also did some climbing up the face of a waterfall then jumped off into the pool below.

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Unfortunately the GoPro footage was mostly too dark to use, and the battery conked out before I got to the waterfall leap. I did some recording with binaural microphones in the cave, but it mostly felt too chaotic and mundane to feature in a song. Basically it was a lot of gravelly footsteps, overlapping idle chatter, running water, and handling noise. My initial approach to make the song was to edit together a video of the most useable footage. Then I played a few takes with my hank drum using the video as a guide. It was OK, but didn’t quite fit. I tried running the audio from the video and some of my other recordings through my modular. I made some neat sounds, but it still didn’t quite feel right. Finally I loaded the hank drum and modular recordings into my Elektron Octatrack. I sliced them up and experimented with triggering and sequencing various snippets of those recordings and quickly came up with something that fit the vibe I was looking for. I then layered drums and synths from my Analog RYTM, Analog Four, and a recently acquired Novation Nova. I then debuted this song live as part of 24 Hours of ADSR, where DJs and Live PA artists provided a full day of continuous music.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This song took a long time to get off the ground initially, but once I found a direction I liked it came together quickly and now it’s one of my favourites on the album. Like Stowaway, this one was made in a more improvisatory manner using my live rig rather than by layering and looping things in a DAW like Ableton or Pro Tools. Since finishing the album, I’ve been having a lot of fun having thirty minute micro jams. I’ll start something from scratch with my live rig without worrying about recording anything and just play for the enjoyment of making music. Sometime I might try live-streaming it, but I’ll have to figure out a satisfactory system of lighting, audio, and camera angle first.

Next week will be the last chapter of this making of series, with another song inspired by a Caves Branch Lodge tour: Xibalba.

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