Mike Opitz Song Writing and Theory Project

Featuring the Karma Refugees

The Process of Making “Summer and a Dream”


The Process of Making “Summer and a Dream”


Caitlin said that she loves to document things. This seems to conflict with my avoidance of documenting things. I rarely even take pictures, and like to scratch lines on the beach that the tide will wash away at high tide. Through some strange path of personal reasoning, that reminds me of the Doomtree line, “We’re not a legend/ we’re the third set of footprints (“Knives on Fire,” False Hopes).” The thought of leaving a trace—perhaps making a map—collides in my mind with one of my oldest ideas—hatched when I was a sophomore Theater major. My favorite part of a production was always the “strike”– when after the last show, the whole production is torn down and vanishes. The remnants—photos, old programs, scraps of the set or costumes, memories—evoke a sense of nostalgia that gives a fleeting, fragmentary glimpse at the ruins of the production. I’ve discussed this with Caitlin and find that we both have always thought that live performance was “better than” recorded performance. Maybe it retains an “aura” because it vanishes. Still, I see Caitlin’s point about documenting things now. Sometimes things don’t have to vanish; they can grow and develop.

As I’ve become more aware of possibilities and impact of contemporary technologies for recording and distributing sounds and images, I’ve come to see the value of documenting and recording. Not in the sense of making a commodity—a thing that could be sold and perhaps be called a “legend” –but rather of leaving footprints for others to follow—of making a map.

So here is a documentation of the process of making “Summer and a Dream.” The song was written during our recording session this year.


I saw Cyril Pahinui play at a small club in Honolulu and met him at intermission. I left with an avid interest Hawaiian slack key guitar playing and singing. In the months leading up to writing the song, I was playing simple variations in the “taro patch” tuning (G tuning). I tried this with different rhythm tracks. This was an inspiration for the song—on a level of sound. I liked the sound and even the vibration of the guitar when plucked.

Gabby Pahinui and Peter Moon, “Waialae.”

Gabby Pahinui and Peter Moon, “Waikiki Hula.”

Cyril Pahinui, “Hi’lawe”

As I entertained myself playing around in the G tuning, I found the sounds to be beautiful and I started playing more slowly—thinking of ocean waves and kinds of love.

A Place in the Heart?

Michael Dennis Browne has noted that a poem—the verbal part of a song—comes from a “place in the heart.” Well—maybe—but for me it is more like a fragmentary illumination of something that lies just beyond visibility. At any rate, like many works of art and transformation, this song has a personal and even private inspiration. Many words in the lyric of the song are drawn from the well of inspiration on this level as the personal dream emerges into language.


Tom arrived on a Sunday afternoon and we started playing around with the slack key progression. Since Tom is a scholar of Flamenco, we have talked about the imagery and construction of a Flamenco song. My understanding—though not an expert one—is that the imagery of each verse may be unrelated, but that each verse evokes a depth of feeling that carries the song. So I was consciously trying to make the images and similes fragmentary but evocative. The words emerged by Monday—playing the chord progression led to an arrangement and a rhythm that resulted in the writing of the words. The minimalist feel of the playing suggested a lyrical structure. The structure is made of fragments. It is a fragment itself.

A Joyful Moment

By Tuesday, we played the song with Caitlin on keyboards and Tom trying different bass lines. We recorded a version of “Summer and a Dream” with my vocals as a “guide track”—a kind of sonic blue print for later versions of the song. The moment, when the song “comes together” is a joyful one. Sometimes it makes me want to dance and shout!

Thursday night when Kathee arrived we had a jam session in The Maltshop—Tom on bass, Caitlin on keyboards, Kathee working on vocal arrangements and trying things, and me on guitar. We amped everything a little and just used one mic to record the results. The song started to take its shape.

Most of the night, we jammed on another emerging song, “Midnight in Triana” but recorded a couple of versions of “Summer and a Dream.”

By the next day, Kathee had thought through some vocal parts and recorded several. Kathee is very thoughtful about the vocals she designs, and also very critical of her own work. We always love everything she does, so we have learned to pay close attention to Kathee’s critique. Critique is a feedback loop in this process. After some listening and editing, we settled on keeping three vocal tracks. We all fixed up our parts and wound up with some (insert) tracks fit for mixing. Some of these tracks will be rerecorded before the “final” mix (which really need not be “final”).

First Mix

Tom did the first edit and the major amount of work on the mix. We had 4 vocal tracks, 1 keyboard, 1 gamelan (found by playing around on the keyboard), 1 bass, 1 guitar track with a plan to add more, a click track, a couple of punch-ins, and a maraca track have not used so far. He then sent me the tracks on a CD and I did this 1st version of the song.

Imagine the first sound-makers sending visions into the wind. Each sound is a node on a map, each map a path through the world. Then words can become documents and somehow we can know the words that were spoken at The Globe Theater in 1603. And each document creates and reflects a world that wants to last. The staggering thought is that we can now do this to sound. This is a document.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s