Bloomsburg to Bangladesh (Blue Buddha Records) is a self-titled album that showcases the collaboration of roots songwriter Jeremy dePrisco and Bangladeshi tabla player Ahm Mostafizur (Bulu) Rahman. Formed in 2003, Bloomsburg to Bangladesh has performed throughout Central PA and have been featured on WVIA’s Homegrown Music with George Graham (billed as Moonlight Masala with artist Tom Dennehy).
Bloomsburg to Bangladesh consists of 11 tracks of East/West fusion with anthemic lyrics and full arrangements, as well as some stripped-down acoustic instrumental music. Instrumentation includes guitars, flute, tabla, harmonium and tasteful use of sampling. Subject manner ranges from whaling to teen violence and fairy tales expressed through sometimes dark characters and situations. A tribute to songwriter Tom Waits is also given with Jeremy’s rendition of “Yesterday is Here.”
Jeremy’s third self-produced release, Bloomsburg to Bangladesh is truly a celebration of intercultural possibilities. Several students from the community and singer Nandini Sengupta contribute to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party song “Prothom Bangladesh.” Jeremy co-wrote one of the songs with lyricist Paul Rodericks from India.
She’s a Zombie (dePrisco/Rodericks): In 2002, a fellow songwriter forwarded to me a message from a lyricist in India who was looking for collaborators. The lyricist’s name was Paul Rodericks, and within a short time we were corresponding. Paul initially sent me several complete song lyrics to work with, but it was “She’s a Zombie” that most quickly developed into a complete track. I worked out an acoustic guitar and vocal draft on a micro cassette recorder, then converted that draft into audio that I could post on the web so that Paul could review it.
Unfortunately, spotty Internet access in Goa, India and compatibility issues with audio players on the web began to affect our collaboration. Even email was not reliable, with long dropouts in communication taking place for months at a time. Nevertheless, the track went through various revisions, first with a produced sound that included royalty-free tabla loops from Sonic Foundry and TaalTrax, a tabla sample vendor. After meeting Bulu however, it was obvious that I needed to strip away some of the electronics and add Bulu’s talent to finish this track. On this song, Bulu plays in Druto Kaharba Taal. The song also features some drum fills from a (royalty free) Mick Fleetweed Signature Sounds collection. While the use of loops and samples is still an open creative question in my mind, I think their use here is judicious and satisfying.
Bistirno Dupare (Writer: Shibdas Banerjee): Bistirno Dupare (aka Liberation War Song in our live shows and our WVIA appearance) is one of my favorite songs in our set. Sung by other artists like Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, this song is about the two Bengali nations (West & East) and it inspired the sub-continent to revolt against British Imperialism. It is an expression of outrage against poverty, illiteracy, language discrimination, and government corruption – sung by millions of people living on the shores of the River Ganges.
I like the song because it gives Bulu the opportunity to use his glorious and sincere voice (which he usually can’t do playing tablas at the same time), and it is an expression of the feeling of his people.
Asongkhay manosher, hahakar suneo, nissabde nirobe
Oh ganga tumi, Oh ganga baicho keno.
The Ganges, epitomized as the powerful goddess, has been challenged for its inaction during economic oppression, deprivation, and helplessness under self-centered and corrupt political-social leadership. The writer, Shibdas Banerjee, is a journalist in Bangladesh. She could not be reached during the recording process, so we’d like to ask her to contact us if she reads this. Bulu plays Kaharba Taal.
Men At Sea (dePrisco): This song was inspired by reading Moby Dick and a program about whaling on the Discovery or History channel (don’t recall which one it was.)
Pentangle (dePrisco): When Bulu and I first started working together, we dug deep into my catalog of vocal and instrumental material for pieces that allowed us to showcase the interaction of tablas and guitar. Pentangle is a composition written in 1991 as part of my early MINDSPEAK collections. These days, Pentangle is usually played as a medley with Maya, also included later on this CD. Pentangle is in Am, as is Yesterday is Here, so I’ve used Pentangle as a transition piece. The namesake of Pentangle song is a progressive folk-rock group from the 70s which I (sadly) know little about. On Pentangle Bulu plays in Kaharba Taal, which turns out to be the most effective Taal for many of my songs.
Maya (dePrisco): Written around 1992, Maya is a simple Em and Am guitar interlude used here to bring the energy level down a bit as we transition to the next song. Maya is usually played as a medley after Pentangle. On Maya, Bulu plays Kaharba Taal.
Yesterday is Here (Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan): Tom Waits is one of my favorite songwriters, and Yesterday is Here is one of my favorite Tom Waits songs. One of the reasons that I like Tom Waits is that almost anyone can pick up his songs and give them a unique twist, and they will still sound good because they are such great songs. I’ve included Yesterday is Here (with permission) to showcase my solo vocal/guitar format and to add a break to the other highly produced songs. It also gave Bulu a rest, and was very easy to mix!
Mangalam (dePrisco): Mangalam is an Indian term that means “prosperity”. This instrumental started as an experiment using a percussion loop. Starting in Harrisburg, and continuing over a period of about two years, the various guitar and keyboard parts came to me, and in October of 2001 I finally compiled all of the best motifs. I consider this song the pinnacle of my instrumental guitar/keyboard pieces, as it builds on the energy of Indian music and my own rock interests. This is also the first song to feature flute in several years, and represents a proud return to my roots as a Jethro Tull fan.
Mangalam sat for a couple of years on my hard drive, in almost final form. Occasionally I would come back to add tabla loops and other colors. When Bulu and I were looking for material, we deconstructed the song for an acoustic version. For many of our early shows it was our signature song, often serving as a starting point for improvisation. Fans who have seen us perform live may recognize the melody, but I’m sure the electric arrangement will turn some heads. One day I would like to play this version live, with a real drum kit. Bulu plays Kaharba and Ektal on the tablas.
Mikey Might (dePrisco): In 1992, I wrote a song on mandolin about high school peer pressure and frustration. It was one of the early MINDSPEAK pieces that I always wanted to produce. Little did I know that over the years the song would be so pertinent with events such as the Columbine school shootings. A friend encouraged me to do a new version with my new production ethics that developed while working with Mangalam and She’s A Zombie. I would have liked to have done more with the orchestration, but the raw nature of the arrangement is in keeping with the subject matter itself. Bulu plays Rupak and Kaharba Taals.
Teasing the Toad (dePrisco): This is one of my early MINDSPEAK-era fairytale-like songs from 1995. The arrangement here just evolved over time as we worked the song into our live set. I was tempted to add a lead instrument, such as bansuri flute or synthesizer over the bridge and end, but hesitated because it seemed like the song worked best in its more sparse form. I can see us coming back to this piece to do something a bit more involved someday. Bulu plays single Kaharba Taal on the tablas.
Visions (dePrisco): Another MINDSPEAK-era piece from 1992, Visions is the first flute solo that I am releasing on CD. My relationship with the flute goes back to the early 90s and my fascination with Jethro Tull. For the most part I’ve learned flute by ear, as well as a host of bad playing habits. While I had a few lessons from teachers, I never made the time to keep up the practice necessary to call myself a flutist. When I moved to Harrisburg in 1997, there was a period of about four years where I played flute very seldom, mostly to keep my neighbors happy. I was also very conscious of the comparisons I received to Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson, so I made an effort to distance myself from their music and image.
When I moved to Bloomsburg in 2001, the flute gradually came out again. Fewer neighbors and a suitable studio layout helped me be less self conscious. Bloomsburg to Bangladesh formed, and when we began to work with Tom Dennehy as Moonlight Masala it seemed like it might be possible to dust off some of my old flute instrumentals and give them a whirl. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the flute. As we worked it into our sets, we saw that people responded to it quite well. Bulu was particularly encouraging, and suggested that we keep it up. Hopefully we can offer some more pieces like this in the future. There are at least two that are on the backburner, and I’m sure I can write others.
Bulu plays Druto Dadra and Kaharba Taals.
Prothom Bangladesh (Abdul Basit Choudhury, Sweden): Prothom Bangladesh is the Bangladesh National Party Anthem. I was first exposed to this song during a Bengali New Year celebration at Bloomsburg University in 2002, which was also the first time I saw Bulu. However, Bulu and I did not formally meet until late 2002, or early 2003. In 2003, the Bengali community held another New Year celebration, and Prothom Bangladesh was again performed. At the 2004 Bengali New Year, I found myself playing with the Bengali community on this song, which fell relatively easily under my fingers on the guitar except for one place that to this day still boggles my mind. Nevertheless, it is one of my favorite songs.
This song features Nandini Sengupta, a local singer and harmonium player. The initial performance of chorus and harmonium were recorded with a DAT recorder at Nandini’s house. The rest of the instrumentation was added at my project studio, including Bulu’s tabla part (Jhumur Taal).
My first vision of a Bloomsburg to Bangladesh album was a selection of acoustic songs, mostly because that is what we do live. Bulu had a more layered approach in mind. As we progressed through song selection and recording, it was evident that we would end up with something in the middle.
Departing from a completely acoustic presentation meant the technical side of things would be more complex. Recording required extra juggling, scheduling and focus. Multi-tracking meant that I would be using up more hard drive space, which meant additional backups were necessary.
Some of the songs make use of my project studio’s sampling and sequencing capabilities, things that hadn’t been used very much in the past. The collaborative nature of the project also demanded additional time to get the best results.
Most of the instrumentation was familiar to me from recording Mandala, and Cadillacs & Tarantulas. Acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, bass, and mandolin were all familiar territory. Tablas were a bit new, though I had worked with samples before. During 2003-2004, Bulu and I did a fair amount of performing, either as Bloomsburg to Bangladesh or as Moonlight Masala, and live recordings revealed some arrangements that later worked in the studio. Bulu and I did a preliminary recording session at my house with Tom Dennehy. While it didn’t provide much usable material, it shed some light on the best way to mike the tablas. I also referenced numerous recordings of tablas from Zakir Hussain and other artists. I had also been exposed to Topan Modak, a tabla player from NY who attends the area Bengali New Year celebration in Bloomsburg. Of course, the whole time, Bulu guided our ears.
I didn’t keep a recording journal per se, so what I’m posting here are highlights of the process. Listed here are the largest challenges or most interesting items. Even still, these are technical notes, so they are not going to be exciting for non-musicians or non-engineers.
The Tablas: In our music, tablas are meant to be very audible, in front of the mix. Since they are my favorite percussion instrument, I definitely wanted to do the tablas justice. Every opportunity to record with Bulu was a once-in-a-life-time event. Changes in weather and our own creative energy meant that each time we met required our focus and attention to detail. Like any drum, the tablas require a lot of stamina to keep playing for long periods. I had to be mindful not to miss a take because it might be the only one we had time to record due to scheduling constraints. A very humid summer and lack of air conditioning were a challenge. Many days it was just too hot in my studio to do much besides a little mixing.
In several cases we were working with songs that I had written and recorded previously. For those, Bulu overdubbed his tablas. In other cases, as with Teasing the Toad, we played our parts together.
Microphones: The tablas were recorded with several different setups, depending on the song and the arrangements. Two CAD M177 condenser mikes worked very well in some cases, but they tended to be too sensitive. The best combination was an SM57 on the treble (Tabla), and SM58 on the bass (Dagga or Banyan). Most of the time I ran the mikes through a small Behringer Eurorack MXB1002 mixing console, tweaking the EQ there, but then sending the signal directly to the Roland. On occasion I used a Presonus BlueTube preamp.
Bulu’s Voice: Bulu doesn’t consider himself a singer, and he rarely sings at shows because he’s usually concentrating on his tabla playing. I very much wanted to do Bistirno Dupare to showcase his voice, but it was especially challenging for me to record. Bulu did a great job, but I had a lot of difficulty getting his voice to sound right. The song is very dynamic, with soft and loud parts intermixed. We were plagued with clipping despite repeated observations of the recording levels. We tried live recording (without close miking), various mike setups, compressors, etc. Nothing worked very well, and it looked like we were doomed. Then I did some research into the Sound Forge tools at my disposal. Before too long I was able to work some mojo on the vocal track, though I am still not sure what I think of it from a philosophical point of view. I took the backing tracks and dumped them to Cakewalk, and then separated the vocal so I could create a WAV file. Then I took that vocal WAV file into Sound Forge, did my thing, and brought it back into Cakewalk, then back to the Roland. (see The 44.1 khz problem below for more on the reason for this roller coaster ride.)
My main guitar was a Taylor 314ce Ltd edition (Koa back and sides). Some tracks also feature a fairly cheap Alvarez that I keep strung with silk and steel strings. This was particularly nice for songs like Bistirno Dupare and Prothom Bangladesh recorded with two capoed guitars.
Samples and loops were managed with Sonic Foundry Acid Pro 3.0. In most cases, the loops were arranged in Acid and then the dumped to the Roland via an MTC sync. For the song Men At Sea, the entire stereo mix from the Roland was imported into Acid Pro and placed on the timeline so that the various sound effects could be lined up appropriately. Men At Sea was mixed directly to a WAV file via Acid’s render feature (no real time mixing needed once levels were set.)
Sequencing: Mikey Might and Mangalam both feature sequenced Acid loops and MIDI sequencing with soundfonts from Cakewalk. The keyboard parts for Bistirno Dupare and Visions were not sequenced via MIDI. The soundfonts in Cakewalk were triggered with a Roland D-20, but the parts were layered using digital audio tracks in Roland VS-1680. This was due to a technical issue that was later solved (well, sort of). So when I got to Prothom Bangladesh, I used MIDI sequencing, but rather than dump the MIDI to the Roland via the digital (optical) pathway, I had to use an analog connection.
The 44.1 khz problem: Cakewalk ProAudio 9.0 serves as my main sequencer whenever I want to transfer audio or do stuff with MIDI. While I could do more with Cakewalk from a digital audio mixing perspective, I prefer to mix directly on the Roland, which gives me physical faders, and a more stable storage environment (the Roland is a dedicated unit, whereas my PC is used for many other tasks and is subject to more risks.)
The 44.1 khz problem is based on how my Soundblaster Live Platinum soundcard links (or rather doesn’t link) to the Roland when I use a 44.1 khz song template. Using the 44.1 khz Roland template allows audio to leave the Roland digitally, but not come back to it. On the other hand, if I use 48 khz, I can go both ways with the audio. I believe this to be a quirk of my PC or the soundcard – not the Roland. Of course, once you have a song fully recorded at one sampling rate, the Roland can not convert it to another, so you are stuck. The main lesson here is to always start the song using 48 khz. Of course the down side is that 48 khz uses more space, so it is a trade off either way, and really depends on what you intend to do with the song. If you don’t plan on sequencing at all, this is a non-issue.
Prothom Bangladesh was recorded live at the Sengupta’s home, second floor using my Tascam DAT recorder and two M177 condenser mikes. The mikes were placed about a foot and a half off the floor using short table-top mike stands and goosenecks.
The rest of the instruments, including tabla, were overdubbed at Mothership Studios (my place) after transferring the DAT signal to the Roland.
Backups: With previous projects, I approached backups by processing an entire hard drive partition (up to 2 GB) at once, usually spanning three CDRW disks. However, as I gradually learned, spanning the songs like that was wasteful. There were many times when only one song needed to be backed up. Management of the process just became cumbersome because retrieving from or storing to spanned disks isn’t something you can just let run by itself. You have to be present to swap disks.
This time, I decided to move to a one disk per song backup procedure, with an additional rotated backup for each song. So at any one time, I’d have two separate backups for each song (on separate CDRW disks), one being the most recent, and the other being the prior backup date. Smaller songs were easy to manage this way, and even larger songs of 600MB+ were manageable. I always had the comfort level that I could go back to something fairly recent if something went wrong, and it wouldn’t take me forever to load the data. And since no swapping was necessary, I could let things run while I went out, re-strung guitars, did PC work, etc.
Mastering: Sound Forge was used for audio mastering. A smooth compression algorithm and volume maximization to –0.5 was done for each song except Bistirno Dupare, which I purposely mixed a little lower for contrast and because the dynamics of Bulu’s voice required a different touch. (Special note: I do not claim to be a “Mastering Engineer” – I have basic recording and signal processing knowledge which expands with each project. I also use my ears. If it sounds good, it is good. I simply enjoy the process of learning the art and science of recording. I have a great respect for true Mastering Engineers, but also do not think they are always needed.)
Oasis manufactured the CD from a master made with Nero Express.
The Artwork: Our concept for the artwork was very straightforward. We knew we wanted something bright that showed our faces. Russ Cox, from Smiling Otis, did a great job on my first CD, Mandala, and on the 2004 update to MINDSPEAK.COM, so I knew I wanted to work with him again.
During the summer of 2004 I began working with local Bloomsburg photographer Marlin Wagner. I had some of the best luck working with Marling, so when it came time for album art, Bulu and I scheduled a shoot with Marlin in June. This included some time in Marlin’s studio, and some time in an alley by Hess’s tavern in Bloomsburg. Someone was power washing the front of the building, so we didn’t stay too long, but we got some nice shots. The live shot is from the yearly Renaissance Jamboree celebration in downtown Bloomsburg (April 24, 2004).
The harmonium image is a picture that I took of Mrs. Amin’s practice harmonium, complete with Saregam markings on the keys. We thought about editing the markings out, but thought they added some character.
Blue Buddha logo is recycled from previous releases.
Album design: Smiling Otis Designs
Portraits & tabla image by Marlin Wagner, Harmonium images by Jeremy dePrisco
Live image from Renaissance Jamboree 2004
Thanks to our friends and family, but especially our parents, and siblings. All these folks played a part too: Tom Dennehy, Mike Maguire, Steve Schrum & Dianna Bourke, Mike Kattner, Bill King, Lt. James Reese, Jeff Sherman, The Remishes, Jason Palmer, Kristy Thompson, Amethyst, Katalin Tamás & Béla Marssó (The Bodó Band), Roger Schoch, The Isenbergs, John Hearity, Jim & Mary Rose Hearity, Pete Longo, Jason Ramsland, Thom Greco, The Rainbow’s End, Danny Demelfi, Matt Homiak, Jim Nowak, Joe Schrum, Ed Debes, George Graham & WVIA, Nancy Coughlin, Prabesh Poudyal, Dr. Kalyan Krishnan, Marlin Wagner, Jason Perez, Deborah Miller, Mike Naydock and Cellar Full of Noize, Ian Anderson & Jethro Tull, Tom Waits, Jai Uttal, Zakir Hussain and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens). Jeremy would also like to recognize his teachers: Rev. Patricia Dai-En Bennage, Gen Kelsang Norden, Anthony Stultz, Rev. Eko Little, and Buddha.
Bulu and Jeremy would also like to recognize their wives, Nancy and Audra respectively, for putting up with us during the recording process. Jeremy would like to personally thank Mushtaq & Millie Ehali for introducing Bulu and Jeremy; Nandini Sengupta & The Sengupta Family; Dr. M. Ruhul Amin and Mrs. Amin for use of her harmonium for practice, recording and shows. Bulu would like to extend his appreciation to his brother, Atique Babu, for his musical inspiration.
Bloomsburg University faculty: Prof. Jerry Wemple, and Drs. Mary Badami, Sandra Kehoe-Forutan, Madhav P. Sharma, Thomas Aleto, Oliver Larmi, Anne Wilson and Dr. Sen, if indeed you do exist.
Companies & Organizations: Bengali Association of Bloomsburg, Susquehanna International Folk Dancers, Smiling Otis Designs, OasisCD, Roland, Taylor, Fender, Alesis, Microsoft, Avery, Cakewalk, Folk Alliance, CAD, ART, Shure, Behringer, Wray’s, C&C Music, School House Music, K&S Music, Journal Newspapers Inc., Brews N Bytes, Sakuntala, Greenwood Friends School, and Sage Coffeehouse. Thanks to all the teachers, musical and otherwise, co-workers past and present, and everyone who has encouraged us over the years.
This song was written around 1994, then released on my 2004 CD, Bloomsburg to Bangladesh, with tabla maestro Bulu Rahman. Here it is performed in its stripped-down version at the Advocacy Center in Pottsville, PA.