Hiawatha Blue: Collaborative Album from James Patrick and Students

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For years, Certified Trainer James Patrick has traveled along Minneapolis’ Hiawatha Light Rail Line - known commonly as the “Blue Line”. Working with his students at Institute of Production and Recording (IPR), James envisioned Hiawatha Blue, a collaborative album with individual tracks based around field recordings of different stations on the Blue Line. The album is currently available as a free download - we recently caught up with James to discuss the ambitious project.

Did you originally conceive of Hiawatha Blue as a collaborative project with students?

Yes.  We thought of it during Midterms, in pondering what I/ we could do to really make a difference.  I knew that I was finally going to be leaving IPR soon, and so I wanted to leave a positive mark on my tenure there.  I also have felt the incredible positive energy of my students, always.  It's that energy that is my momentum and driving force.  Their love of sound.

Did any of the field recording experiences stick out in particular?

For sure! The downtown farmers markets - Inner city folks arguing with great vulgarity with screaming infants in their arms. The odd looks by probably paranoid drug addicts on busses and trains when a 19 year old walks on carrying a boom mic. Scaling nearly frozen waterfalls to capture the sounds of drips careening over the edge. Also building ambient minuets for the transitions in between tempo changes and harmonies. Wind and nature is great for atonal yet beautiful sonorities.

What was your role in the compositional process for the album?

I built the overall concept for the project with the help of the students. I then laid out the important factors to include in the real "album." We started by thinking about things that we'd like to see change in the world of sound and music. For me, a big one to complain about is "the death of the album."  They all agreed so we felt that it's overall cohesion should be album-esque. Dark Side of the Moon, etc. - we all were moved by this music as youth. Single tracks could never provide that level of experience. So that was problem that we wanted to fix. We laid out each person's style of music and where they wanted to go as artists. We then put them in a nice order and thought about how we would want this concept album to feel, overall.  We built an arc that felt compelling, and laid it out in parallel with the map of our Light Rail system. We then allocated a single stop per student, and set everyone up with cameras, field recorders, etc.

Next, I laid out the remaining six weeks of the project.  I remember one student saying: "Six weeks for one song?  BORING!"  ... I laughed. To his credit, he did end up making two songs, the website, and becoming assistant producer to the project.

I then booked the SSL 4000G+ and our best Mix and Mastering engineer, Brian Jacoby. That left us with two weeks to compose and produce, one week to do final tweaks and group feedback, one week to mix, one week to master, and then the final week to assemble the A/V performance.

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What’s some of your favorite music to listen to while traveling on public transportation? Outside of Hiawatha Blue, of course.

A few examples:
Erik Satie - Gymnopedies, Yann Tiersen - Amelie Soundtrack

Rain Dog - Two Words, anything by ISHOME.


Learn more and download Hiawatha Blue