Nemo Memo
Interview with Daphne Kalfon, Songwriter / Composer

Daphne Kalfon, Songwriter and Composer of So Much More Than “I Love My Mac”

Quick! Name a contemporary singer-songwriter composer who is equally versatile in pop, jazz, rock, avant-garde and orchestral; who writes, arranges, and performs her vocal and instrumental tracks; who publishes an informative monthly column; who is world famous for one song and hopes to be acclaimed for many others; who has already been featured on our podcasts – whoizzit?

Daphne “I Love My Mac” Kalfon’s music has filled the iPods and MP3 players of open-minded listeners lucky enough to have become aware of her talents. Let’s go into her studio for a conversation with this one-of-a-kind contemporary musical artist. Welcome to the interview, Daphne.

MyMac – Do you make a distinction, Daphne, between being a “songwriter” and a “composer”?

Daphne – Yes I do. A songwriter is someone who writes songs, and songs are pieces that contain words and music combined. On the other hand, “composer” implies a wider range of music writing. It could include songwriting, but also includes writing instrumental pieces, whether it be for the symphony, a small ensemble, for the theatre, or for film. Also, the word “composer” connotes that a certain level of training has taken place, whereas in the case of a songwriter, he or she may have little if any formal training in music.

MyMac – Please tell our readers and listeners what you use for your recording equipment, both audio and computer (hardware/software).

Daphne– I use a dual 2 GHz PowerMac G5, and I’ve streamlined my hardware down to a NAD amp, Energy speakers, MOTU 828 hard disk recording unit, a trusty Studio Projects C1 condenser mic, and my baby which is the Alesis QS8 keyboard. All other instruments and effects are virtual. Since GarageBand came out, everything I’ve created has been done solely using GarageBand.

MyMac – Will you work on one composition at a time, or have several happening all at once, or overlapping?

Daphne – I sometimes have several happening all at once, although I prefer to try to concentrate on one at a time.

MyMac – Are those great jazzy chords you play in some of your songs written down, or made up as you go?

Daphne – Definitely made up as I go. Just whatever sounds good.

MyMac – How long have you been serious about creating music from scratch, and how have you evolved over the years?

Daphne – I’ve always been serious about creating music from scratch, but only in the last eight years, since I got a studio, have I been able to act on it. I had a lot to learn first, however. Over the first few years, I went from not knowing how to turn on a computer, to scoring film clips in Cubase. I didn’t know how to orchestrate either so I studied orchestration for several years and applied that to my later compositions, using programs like Encore, Finale and Sibelius.

MyMac – How would you characterize your results?

Daphne – I am continuously surprised at the music that comes out. It is always different from the last thing I did, and always seems to cover new ground, which for me as an artist, is really exciting and gratifying; if you’re not constantly evolving and stretching the boundaries, as least for myself, I would feel that I’m not fully tapping into the well.

MyMac – Is personal awareness and growth part of your creative process?

Daphne – I do believe that you need to be in the moment to take advantage of what is around you in your creative process. To evolve as an artist, you need to be personally self-aware, because anything that blocks the knowledge of yourself will also block your art. The more you know your “self”, the more you can know your art.

MyMac – Is your classical training a help or an obstacle when writing pop and jazz tunes?

Daphne – Much as it was a fairly oppressive experience for me over the years I took piano lessons, it has been a huge help later on. The solid background I received in classical piano and theory has helped me immensely. That kind of training cannot and should never be trivialized or under-estimated, because it really does add things to your artistic toolbox that you’d be hard-pressed to get any other way.

MyMac – How?

Daphne – It has influenced all my writing, whether it be pop or jazz, or whatever else, but only in a good way. Because of that classical training, I don’t feel that there are any limitations to what I can do; it has instilled in me the discipline and desire to learn every facet of my craft.

MyMac – Do you perform someplace live, so we can come hear you play and sing when in the neighborhood?

Daphne – No, I consider myself a songwriter and composer. I’m not the performing type at all, but rather prefer to be “backstage.” It does make things a bit more challenging when you aren’t able to perform your own material. Basically you have to find someone to sing and perform it for you, which I did over last summer.

MyMac – How does recent software (Garage Band and others) enable to you be your own studio engineer and recording ensemble?

Daphne – Recent software (especially GarageBand for me) of all kinds has greatly enabled me to do everything myself. What I don’t have are good engineering skills so my songs may suffer a bit in their production at times. That being said, I do produce the whole song or piece using virtual instruments, so I know that realistically, it can never sound the same as a live band, or a live orchestra. However, at least now I can produce a complete musical piece, whereas before, it was really difficult or not possible at all.

MyMac – What are the best and worst things about posting your tracks at on the Internet?

Daphne – I can’t speak for other people, but for myself, the best thing is simply having people hear your music. Also, receiving constructive criticism and feedback on your work can be invaluable. In many instances, it has helped me improve my songs. Another great thing is the potential for collaborations between members, be it instruments (both live and midi) or vocals. The worst thing is the rating system on certain sites, because people have the ability to rate your work however unfairly they desire, and that part is very unpleasant.

MyMac – Where did you get the idea to develop your own stylistic “word jazz” original repertoire?

Daphne – I call those “spoken word” pieces, but “word jazz” is a good one too. I don’t really know how it happened. One night I got this musical idea in my head, and the music just sounded like it should have spoken words over it, not singing. And based on what that initial snippet of music sounded like, I decided on the subject matter, and away it went.

MyMac – How so?

Daphne – I would compose one block of music at a time, perhaps a bar or two, and then come up with the words. “Kate’s Keys” is one of the most fun pieces I have ever done, in that it was both enjoyable and challenging for me to create, and all the while exploring new writing territory.

MyMac – We’ll get to “Kate’s Keys” in a little while, Daphne. I want our readers/listeners to spend time with your music starting with a couple of more pop-oriented tunes, and progress deeper from there.

Her compositions are located at the following URL (or will be soon – it’s scheduled to be fully operative early January, 2006):

“Dissatisfied” is our first track to discuss:

MyMac – Tell us about all the vocal effects you used.

Daphne – I just stuck with the basic reverb and echo. A fellow macjammer by the name of James Bouchard did some sound processing and mixing on the whole thing, and added live guitar and drums using Drums on Demand, all of which really helped make the song sound more “alive” and present.

MyMac – How was it singing harmony with yourself?

Daphne – Pretty easy actually. Well, depending on what you’re trying to do, but in general, it’s not that difficult.

MyMac – How did you learn to do those drum and guitar tracks?

Daphne – I did a version with my own drums and guitar first, and you learn that by just listening to drums and guitar in other songs to see what they do. I was lucky enough however, to later have James play in real guitar for me, which is what you are hearing. For drums, he used loops from Drums on Demand.

MyMac – Why did you bury the guitar sounds in the audio distance?

Daphne – The mix could probably use some more tweaking. James did the mix and that was the way it came out. When it comes to mixing, there are so many variables, including personal preferences. Give it to ten individual people, you will get ten different mixes.

MyMac – How tricky is it to get the mix and balance right in this number?

Daphne – I would imagine probably very tricky, as there were so many tracks to deal with.

MyMac – Is your vocal echo hard to get in synch, to keep it natural and rhythmic?

Daphne – No. It depends on how much echo you apply and what the other instruments are doing around it.

MyMac – In which order did this song happen, during your creative process?

Daphne -At the time I wrote it, as with “Okey Dokey Corral” (see below), I was a TAXI member, and the listing was looking for songs a la Alanis Morissette. After carefully listening to several of her songs and reading up about them, I came up with “Dissatisfied.” I went through a few different melodies before settling on this one, and then came the lyrics, which were a bit more of a struggle than usual because this song was written specifically for a purpose, and not just a spontaneous thing as it usually is. The last thing I do is record vocals. Coming up with the section at the end was difficult, but after mulling it over, an idea came and I thankfully put it into the song and it worked out great. All in all I was very happy with the final result.

MyMac – Which age group and demographic is this tune for?

Daphne – Probably anywhere from tweens to twenty-something’s, possibly a little older, but probably not much.

“Will You Find Me” comes next:

MyMac – Tell us about this remarkable vocalist.

Daphne – I first heard Emily’s voice on macjams and I was really impressed with her vocal style. Sometime later, another very well-known macjammer by the name of Tobin Mueller, introduced my to Emily Rohm, saying that she was planning on recording an album and would I be interested in writing some songs for her for that project, to which I replied “sure!” I asked her whether she would be interested in singing “Will You Find Me” and she immediately said yes, and later on, she also recorded two other songs for me.

MyMac – Where else can we hear her live or on recordings?

Daphne – I really don’t know actually! She is a member of macjams and can be contacted through the site.

MyMac – Did you compose and arrange all lyrics, melody, and accompaniment on this song?

Daphne – Yes.

MyMac – Describe the studio experience for this session.

Daphne – If you mean sitting in a corner of the bedroom at my studio, that’s about as glamorous as it gets, I’m afraid! With GarageBand, you can swap files with other people all over the world, which is how I worked with Emily. I sent her my song file, she recorded her vocals, some edits were made back and forth, and then I mixed her final vocals into my song. It’s really quite simple.

MyMac – Tell us about scoring the subtle string section.

Daphne – I felt I needed just a little something more to build up to that climax in the song, and what could do it better than a touch of strings? I just picked an appropriate string ensemble sound, and recorded in a very simple part. Less is definitely more.

MyMac – Are these piano parts written or improvised?

Daphne – I usually noodle around while the song is playing a section over and over, and figure out the piano parts that way. So not really pure improvisation, because I record the ideas that I like the most and that I think work best in the song. But no, most often, nothing is written down. If it is a very complicated passage however, sometimes I will jot down some notes. When I first come up with a song idea however, I do jot down my ideas, both musical and lyrical. For the music part, long ago I devised a kind of short hand that allows me to write music without having any manuscript paper.

“Jazzy Chestnuts” is a delightful Christmas tune, given a new interpretation by Daphne Kalfon. Her comments on it:

MyMac – Is it possible to make your piano sound “less digital,” because the timbre is somewhat static and artificial here, Daphne?

Daphne – Sure. There are lots of piano patches available, plus quite a few just in GarageBand alone. As I have mentioned before, I’m not much of a sound engineer, but in good hands, GarageBand allows for very detailed sound editing, so you could probably get just the sound you want that way. Of course nothing really beats a real piano, like anything else.

MyMac – What’s the evolution of this arrangement?

Daphne – I came up with most of this piece many years ago when I was taking jazz piano lessons, and learning about chord substitution, which is very often done in jazz. I wanted to try to preserve most of the melody so that it would still be recognizable, but play around with the chord progressions as much as possible. I had never recorded it before, which means that very, very few people had ever heard it, save for the times I played it at my jazz teacher’s student concerts, so I thought it would be really great to finally record it and post it on macjams for others to enjoy.

MyMac – Have you ever played it live at a holiday party?

Daphne – No! Just the idea of playing live these days makes me very nervous. I’m not confident in my playing abilities because I haven’t practiced in years, something which I really need to address. Maybe if I had enough drinks in me however, I would play it just fine. Seriously though, just a little drink can loosen you up enough for a really wonderful performance. That happened to me once many years ago when we had a dinner guest one night, and he told me he will never forget that performance.

MyMac – Are you “thinking” during all those rich chords, or are you letting them happen via organic experience?

Daphne – At the time I composed it, it definitely involved a lot of thinking and working out of chords to get just what I wanted.

“Okey Dokey Corral” has more musical sense (or nonsense) than horse sense:

MyMac – How did you develop this orchestral arrangement, especially the string sounds?

Daphne – I picked various string sounds from the Kontakt and Kompakt sound libraries. I did the whole arrangement in GarageBand.

MyMac – Why did you mix obvious digital sounds with more conventional instrumentation?

Daphne – I didn’t actually. All the sounds used for this piece were the typical instruments found in the orchestra.

MyMac – Where do you intend this composition to find a home?

Daphne – At the time I wrote it, I was a member of TAXI, an A & R company based in California, and I had written the piece for one of their listings. It wasn’t forwarded, but it gave me the opportunity to stretch the boundaries again by seeing if I could arrange such a piece in GarageBand. Then I posted it on macjams for others to enjoy. Of course my hope, for all of my orchestral compositions, is for them to someday find a home with a live symphony wanting to perform them!

“The Conversation” uses dueling pianos that end up being pals:

MyMac – Please tell us more about your digital piano.

Daphne – It’s an Alesis QS8, full size, and weighted keyboard. Non-portable!

MyMac – What’s the best Garage Band string bass sound for you?

Daphne – I think they’re all really good. It just depends on what the music requires.

MyMac – How did you record the different piano tracks?

Daphne – I wrote the piece for two pianos, so I made sure that if it were ever transcribed to sheet music, it could actually be performed by the two players, each at his or her own piano. With that in mind, I worked out the parts, split them up accordingly, panned one left, the other right, and also used a different piano sound for each, that way it would be easier for the listener to differentiate between the two parts, and to more easily hear the conversation, as stated in the title. I thought it would add more of a stage sound that way as well, as if there were one piano on each side of the stage.

MyMac – Are the stylistic variations deliberate or accidental? I hear, among others: Monk, Latin, Gershwin, Garner, Floyd Kramer, honky tonk, Beethoven, ragtime.

Daphne – It wasn’t deliberate, but rather just came tumbling out that way, which was fun for me because it was like bringing together all the musical elements that have influenced me over the years. So in a way, I was paying tribute to them all, and besides that I do love to combine seemingly divergent styles into something that flows well as a whole. Maybe on a subconscious level, that was my intent when I set out to write this piece, but I wasn’t thinking it consciously.

MyMac – Did you get this all completely recorded without a lot of corrections and retakes?

Daphne – I am definitely rusty on my piano skills these days, so if a section is really difficult to play at the set tempo, then I’ll just slow it down using the metronome, and record at a slower tempo. Doing it that way saves me a lot of time on retakes. Sometimes I do try to record at as close to the real tempo as I can because I want it to sound as spontaneous as possible. What I do spend a lot of time on is making corrections to note velocities: correcting notes that are too loud or too soft, as well as note lengths. It’s attention to the littlest details that sometimes makes a huge difference in the overall sound, at least as far as I know for a piano performance.

MyMac – How do you maintain the relentless underlying tempo in this piece?

Daphne – I never really thought about it. I guess it’s not a conscious thing for me.

MyMac – Do you want listeners to feel that homage to “Rhapsody in Blue” at the final coda?

Daphne – Sure if they want to, but I wasn’t thinking along those lines when I wrote it. That was just what popped into my head, and I took it and ran! But again, on a subconscious level, who knows what the brain is doing when creating music. I’m sure everything I’ve ever listened to has had an influence of some kind, on that part of the piece, as well as on everything else I ever write.

“Kate’s Keys” was mentioned earlier, and it’s a very unusual track that will either engage and amuse you or … well, listen and find out for yourself. Daphne tells us about it:

MyMac – How did this intense, bizarre song happen?

Daphne – One night before bed, which is the time it often happens, a musical idea popped into my head. The first bit of music you hear in “Kate’s Key’s” is what I heard in my head. At the time it happened, I was out of town, so I jotted down the idea on a piece of paper so that I wouldn’t forget it. Just hearing that little bit, I quickly decided on the basic subject matter. Once I was back home, I recorded that initial idea, and from there it took off.

MyMac – In what order?

Daphne – I came up with the music, in chunks, and as I arranged it and recorded it, the lyrics came along beside. The creative process really is quite mysterious. I can’t really explain in much detail what happens. For me at least, it happens so fast, and with some kind of force behind it, that, a lot of the time, I’m not really all there when it’s happening.

MyMac – Tell us more about Kate, please.

Daphne – It really was wonderful to have the lyrics come along so quickly with the music, because this Kate character was coming to life for me, and it was like I was getting to know her as I was writing this piece of music. I think, as one macjammer put it, this piece probably speaks to some my own personal neurosis!

Speaking of neuroses, how about “I Love My Mac”? She certainly has plenty of podcast listeners whistling this tune.

MyMac – How did this masterpiece happen, Daphne?

Daphne – Well, I owe it all to the people at macCompanion Magazine. One day as I was reading on macjams, I saw an announcement for a song contest, which was to write a love song about your Mac computer, and you could even win stuff! I thought, this is great. Right up my alley.

MyMac – That was all? Not possible.

Daphne – I came up with an initial melody and lyrics, but it just didn’t quite work well enough, so I did a re-write, and that is the one that you hear. It was so easy to come up with lyrics for this subject.

MyMac – What about your unusual bridge?

Daphne – I really don’t remember how I came up with that bridge where I go into a spoken word thing where I name off a lot of Mac products. Probably just one of those spontaneous things. What I do remember though, is the struggle with what to do at the end as the chorus is repeating over and over. My husband and I were actually going away on holidays the next day, and I literally did it on the fly. I thought, why don’t I do a spoken word kind of thing over top the repeating chorus? This song was really the first time I tried the spoken word technique, and I was surprised at how much I loved the experience and at how well it worked out. To help differentiate the singing from the spoken, I added an amp effect to the spoken voice.

MyMac – Do you want to be known for it?

Daphne – After I wrote it, I really didn’t think much except that it was probably going to be enjoyed by people on macjams, which is where I first posted it, and of course sent it off to the people at macCompanion for the contest, and yes, it did win first place! A few months later, I also posted it on iCompositions, and there too it was enjoyed by many. A year later I was contacted by a woman in Switzerland, Antonia Lutz , who asked me if she could translate and record the song into German, and some months after that is when I thought about having more international versions, and of submitting the song for inclusion on the MacAddict CD-ROM.

MyMac – And next?

Daphne – Since it came out on the CD-ROM, “I Love My Mac” has been so widely and wildly accepted, that it’s got me thinking maybe this could be something really big. Of course I’d like to be known for it, because I really do think it’s a great song, but I would also like to be known for my other music. And making some money from the fruits of my labour would be most welcome : )

MyMac – You express yourself very well in words, as well as in music. Where are your online columns published?

Daphne – At, beginning in October, and my three recent articles are here, here, and here, in reverse chronological order.

Thanks and congratulations to Daphne Kalfon, with best wishes for her creative musical projects. We’ll be listening!

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