My wife and I have taken several long-weekend trips to the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center near Bloomington, IN, and from the first visit (18 months ago), it became our go-to getaway place. It features pervasive quiet, pristine grounds for walking, deer wandering fearlessly, tranquil temple space, and four retreat cabins nestled in a woodland ideal for hiking.
So you might imagine my anticipation of a full nine days there, during my favorite season… my first real vacation (meaning, a week or more outside the city) in at least three years. Kalman Cat accompanied us in all his royal pomp.
I took the laptop, and spent a couple of hours per day working on several projects.
The primary focus was on Album #3, Memory Palace, a duo with Chris Russell, which was about half-finished, but on hold since my Stateside move two years ago. I’m wearing the Percussionist hat on this project.
The first task was to listen to the three pieces already done. Fortunately, I still like my parts, and I only made a few tweaks to one of them.
So, my parts for two pieces remained to be done. Elements for one of them had already been recorded on New Year’s Day ’13, so only the arrangement remained. This one is atmospheric rather than rhythmic, and utilizes some amusing homemade/processed samples. I think of it as the album’s slow movement.
The final track is more complicated, as it will be alternating acoustic and electronic grooves – with some potentially thrilling polyrhythmic crossfades, as the electronic parts are all in odd-number time signatures (I got to wear my prog rock drummer hat again!). Anyway, I got those parts done, so hopefully a studio session or two with the acoustic drums will finish this. Then it’s over to Chris.
There was enough time to spend one day each on two future projects:
First up was the Ambient Orchestra Concerto. It was time to get clear on the basic parameters, so it’s not merely a warm and fuzzy idea any more. I hope to start working on this late next year, with 11 colleagues signed on and hopefully more to come.
The last day’s task was listening to some live improvised pieces from last year, and making notes on how best to work them into proper compositions. There are probably two albums’ worth of these, and I hope to get them moving in the new year.
Finally, the Retreat Center’s Cultural Building looks like a fine live setting for the music, and its visitors are very likely to be an ideal audience. So I’ve begun a discussion with the events manager. I’m hopeful that we’ll arrange a performance for the spring or summer.
Over the Horizon
It’s become a fairly amusing year-end ritual: I undertake – in all sincerity – a recap of the year just ended, along with plans for the New Year. Case in point: my 2012 review. The amusement stems from my well-earned awareness that “best-laid plans” are always subject to change, without notice or reason.
So, at the midpoint of the year, how have my plans for 2013 changed, and what do I <chuckle> anticipate for the balance (or possible absence thereof)?
I had thought to play a few live shows this year, but fewer than the six undertaken in 2012, which consumed most of my studio time. That has changed to maybe one – if art painters Royce Deans & Tali Farchi bring their Colorboration Project back to Chicago. Otherwise, it’s going to be a studio year. The priority is finishing several albums in progress.
I had hoped to come out of hibernation in the spring and play a concert of new pieces worked up from last September’s shows, but they’re still in progress, so that’s on hold. There are enough pieces in progress from last year’s shows for two albums, possibly more. I hope to get working on those next year.
Here’s an updated photo of The Keep as it stands today (the Guitar Corner is unchanged). The percussion section, having acquired some homemade trinkets, has outgrown the one shelf on my keyboard stand, hence the – ahem – Custom Hanging Multi-Pocket Repository. I should have kept the 3-level stand that I had… and that MIDI cable, running from the keyboard controller to the interface, hanging in the air behind the chair – I definitely must get a longer one.
What’s next for The Keep? A significant computer upgrade, a second Roland Loop Station, and a mixer. Someday.
I’m also on the lookout for a designer and builder, as I would like to have a custom multi-guitar stand made, along with an intern to help me with marketing and promotion. Anyone who’s interested, please contact me [music at eyescastdown dot com].
I probably have it worse than most people: the tendency to be dreaming up (and getting caught up in) more and more new projects while current ones languish, awaiting completion. Oh well, it seems one must keep many fires burning… The allure of future directions can be pretty distracting. The challenge is to balance looking ahead with staying in the present – and just getting stuff done.
So which future possibilities are calling me?
I’ve been nurturing a wish to write in other modes, especially for choir and for orchestra, as well as in Just Intonation, and these are all being subsumed into my ambient ethos. Hence the new “ambient orchestra concerto” project, which is still primarily an ambient conception, but with more orchestral textures. This is already anticipated to be a CD-length piece, but it could easily expand beyond that, especially if there are many participants. There are two other “crossover” projects, also at the “great idea” stage, with the details… mostly pending.
So, all these developments have my radar up for subjects or ideas that could inspire a Seriously Large Project (i.e., a set of 3 or more CDs). Recently revisiting two of the greatest in my collection (vidnaObmana’s brutally visceral Dante Trilogy and Steve Roach’s sublimely deep Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces) has strongly fueled that.
So where does one begin? What are some possible inspiration points?
These, of course, are legion, coming from different aspects of nature, and the various arts and sciences. There is already a literature-inspired project in the queue (if I’m lucky, work on that will begin next year), which I don’t expect to outgrow the one CD that’s contemplated for it.
I could make jokes about tinkering with stuff like the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Ratio, Moebius loops, etc., but that would probably be in bad taste.
Part of the attraction – and part of the problem – is that the Vedas are beyond vast – covering every branch of science and knowledge. So one needs to find a touchstone that’s circumscribed enough to get a handle on…
… and I think I have one! So let it brew – for a few years. While I try to get some stuff done…
This is cool: my buddy John Koch-Northrup, who runs the Relaxed Machinery music label and artistic community, just posted an “instant interview” of 10 questions. I always have fun with this sort of thing (see my “Credo” post, which came about in a similar way), so I thought it would serve as a handy quick update for anyone who’s cruising by. More soon!
1. What is your main project right now?
New album: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair. Postproduction almost finished, waiting for the artwork to be emailed so I can process that. “Story of the album” blog coming soon…
2. Do you have additional projects in the works as well?
Eight of them. And that’s only counting the projects for which composition and recording have begun.
3. What motivated any of these projects? Influence? Inspiration?
The usual: Life the Universe and Everything.
4. What do you hope to achieve?
Ultimately, a symphonic ambient fusion of my favorite musical genres, in Just Intonation. It’s years away…
5. How do you release your work?
On CD, on my own label (and hopefully others), and by download.
6. Desert Island Items?
16-track mixer, another Roland Loop Station, upright electric bass (just thought of that today!). Of course, if I get that, my wife might just send me to a damn desert island…
7. If you could tell your young self something about your creative career you’ve learned – what would it be?
Stop dabbling and get serious!
8. How do you hope your works will be remembered?
To recycle that phrase I cooked up recently: as ritual, soul-shaking, deepcore magic.
9. If you could have only one ‘tool’ what would it be?
Electric guitar through a computer full of FX.
10. Who do you hope will answer these questions in the community?
Max Corbacho. But I’m not going to bug him…
The annual ritual…
I’ve compiled an up-to-date mix of clips from 16 pieces into a 55-minute promotional montage, covering the entire spectrum of the eyes cast down sound as it stands today, from serene atmospherics to power Zen to tribalism.
Electric and acoustic guitars, synths, percussion, voices – even live tabula-rasa laptop composition – they’re all here.
Some tracks are from published compilations, some are works in progress, and some from forthcoming albums. More than half are live recordings.
It breaks out something like this:
1. Exquisite Divination of Patterns (Conception; Free Floating netlabel)
2. I Am but a Fledgling… (live; work in progress)
3. Darklight Canon (forthcoming album)
4. Radiant Perception (unreleased)
5. Snowdance in Starlight (all is calm 2012; Free Floating netlabel)
6. Resounding State of Silence (live; forthcoming album)
7. Crystalline (all is calm 2011; Free Floating netlabel)
8. First Expanse (live; work in progress)
9. Emerge (live; work in progress)
10. Haven (live; work in progress)
11. Fading Angel (live; forthcoming album)
12. Ensō (live laptop composition; unreleased)
13. … New to Flight (live; work in progress)
14. Mystic Memory (live; forthcoming album)
15. Last of His Breed (Oceans & S4G Mix I; Sound For Good label)
16. Om Hari Om (live; forthcoming album)
Like the Separate Ones album preview mix, this sampler is available for free download and non-commercial distribution, from my Bandcamp store - along with an optional Media Page, a two-page color PDF including photos, Bio and Raves. I hope you find it enjoyable.
Given that the recording of The Separate Ones, the debut full-length release from Eyes Cast Down, took place over seven years of part-time work, it’s no wonder that the finished product comes off as very intimate and personal. Surprisingly, considering its spread-out pedigree, it also manages to feel like a sensible, continuous narrative. Through six tracks, composer Greg Moorcroft moves his work from warm, straightforward guitar ambient to fever-dream ruminations graced with Sanskrit chant. The journey runs, by turns, from calming to halluncinatory, but keeps the listener engaged throughout. Starting as it does with the quiet ambient structures of “First Day Apart”, it would be easy to dismiss this within the first five minutes as simply that–quiet ambient. As much as I enjoy the rich guitar tones here, it’s when Moorcroft begins imbuing the work with more texture and drama that things get even more interesting. “Rebuild from Memory” retains the sighing notes at first, with Moorcroft rippling their surface with wavering treatments. It’s a very classic sound, broad and calming. “Knife of Karma” glides in on rich waveform pads, then adds a metallic clatter, creating moments of percussion that come and go. Mid-track it turns slightly toward a dissonant feel, like shadows falling across the sound. Sharp guitar notes cleave through the mix. Echoing, chanting vocals from singer Alannah drive “Expanse of Heart”. There’s a wonderful, gut-shaking bass chord that comes and goes throughout the piece, a great counter to the skyward-reaching vocals. And then there is the centerpiece here, “Like A Riven Cloud”, a piece composed of improvised parts, used as a conduit for Moorcroft’s feelings about a friend’s suicide. This is a bared-soul piece of work, extremely vulnerable, with the feel of an unsettled dream. Moorcroft’s wife Dasi recites part of a Sanksrit prayer for protection in the middle of a scattered wash of sounds, and the raw sadness in her voice, at times sounding quite on the verge of tears, cuts straight into you. Violin from Ezra Azmon – whom Moorcroft found busking on the street in Toronto – cries and calls from the distance and adds a fiery anger in spots. At 21 minutes, this is a long time to spend washed over with someone else’s potent emotions, and it’s hard not to come away a little changed from the experience. The disc ends with “Radha’s Tears”, pairing a solo processed guitar with vocals from Dasi. The guitar sounds swirl and resonate, and I find it interesting that the vocals come off as the sharper element here, not interruptive, but at times almost boldly challenging the instrument.
Quite honestly, I struggled to find words for this review. I have probably listened to this disc more than 20 times in the past couple of weeks, and it has lost none of its potency for the repetition. While all music is personal at its core, The Separate Ones stands out for the extreme intimacy it conveys and the remarkable depth of effect it carries. It is profoundly intense in its honesty. I highly recommend reading Moorcroft’s extensive background notes on his pieces. The very good news is that while this disc was seven years in the making, Moorcroft says cracking this ice has opened the flow, and there will be several more Eyes Cast Down releases in 2013. This is quite a good thing for ambient music fans.
Eyes Cast Down is the ethereal music project by Greg Moorcroft. Using various guitars, synthesizers, computer programs and acoustic sources, Moorcroft has produced The Separate Ones (73’34″), a fascinating album of six sustained atmospheres. The Separate Ones provides the listener with intelligently directed soundscapes, within which we are almost certain to become lost. Measure upon measure of slowly changing, undulating chords advance and recede along a musical arc of vague dimensions. The slowly breathing tones summon interesting variations in mood and space. Yet these dark sonic clouds cannot keep the sacred from shining through. There are areas of minimal sound, which move on to a thick density of contrasting timbres and emanations in a striking drama of dynamic range. Other pieces dwell in restful sonic colors, luxuriant in their repose. The two final pieces are dreamy – truly depicting the often strange and surreal landscapes and images generated by the dreaming mind. Random voices speak softly amidst reverberant guitar plucks and swells as distant ringing percussion and deep rumblings meet to transform this section into abstraction. This sophisticated collection of Ambient realizations proves to be a delight of wit and wonder in its minimalist phantasmagoria of sounds. The Separate Ones seems felt rather than reasoned out, proving seductive in its use of musically dramatic forms – and achieves an uncanny haunting intensity equal to if not exceeding that of Moorcroft’s predecessors.
The sole musician behind Eyes Cast Down is US-based ambient/electronic composer, musician and writer Greg Moorcroft. The Separate Ones (that demanded seven years of hard work to complete as life got in the way on many occasions during the process of creation and sculpting) is a concept album featuring a set of reflections on attachment, separation and loss. This automatically made me think of Paul Sauvanet’s Tristesse, along with an album by Boris Lelong (that I reviewed a while back), who also appears to have provided the artwork for The Separate Ones.
Work started with lots of trial and error of ambient improvisation and composition for which Greg stuck to synths only for about two years. Next, he decided to try his hand at composing for electric guitar. This turned out more effectively and satisfying, eventually leading to four guitar-driven works on a total of six compositions.
The 73-minute The Separate Ones features airy, drifting and lush textural worlds along gentle loops that now and then bring the older releases of Jeff Pearce to mind. Moreover, it’s an entrance into a slowly curling and flowing world of contemplation and inner thoughts despite a constant undercurrent of movement. Things go even deeper on the 17-minute “Knife of Karma”, where drifting pads, Tibetan drone chimes and soft bells run the celestial edge.
This moody sphere continues on the elevating “Expanse of Heart”, on which a heavenly female voice joins the gentle soundscapes. The 21-minute “Like a Riven Cloud” is the longest take on the album, entering a spacious dream sphere with soft mourning and wavering violin. But as the track progresses, a surreal/psychedelic world opens up as well, something that’ s also found in the final piece “Radha’s Tears”.
All in all, The Separate Ones is a peculiar but also fascinating ambient album needing a couple of spins before one can judge its real sonic impact.
There are some terrific enthusiasts in the ambient music community who like to create and distribute podcasts of various artists’ music. Now that I have an album out, which might turn up on some podcasters’ radar, it’s necessary to set out my policy regarding such use of my music.
First point: if anyone wants to include music of mine in their podcast, I’m honored. This community is chock-full of artists whose work I admire greatly, and of course, there are many others outside of it. Even being considered for inclusion in any kind of program, in their company, is awesome.
That said, I have to set some boundaries.
I use the phrase “All rights reserved” on my albums for the simple reason that I don’t want the music being reproduced or distributed, in any form, without my written permission. All the radio and/or streaming broadcasters who receive promo copies of an album of mine are authorized to play the music freely (as if it were under Creative Commons), because they are simply enthusiastic about sharing the music – which they love as we all do – as best they can.
I do not authorize any “content providers” such as Pandora and Spotify to play my music under any circumstances. They are merely businesses out to make money from the music without fairly compensating the artists, and I want nothing to do with them.
Any podcasters to whom I send an album are advised of my terms in advance:
1. if the podcast is available only by streaming, then the policy’s the same as for broadcasters: you’re free to play all that you like;
2. if the podcast is available to be downloaded and saved, that’s another matter. Now we’re talking about giving away tangible free copies of my music – which I do NOT authorize anyone else to do. Therefore, for downloadable podcasts, I only authorize playing up to 50% of any particular track.
So if you’re a podcaster reading this who has bought your own copy of an album of mine, you’re free to podcast the music subject to these terms. If you don’t agree, then I trust you will leave my music out of your podcasts.
The 15-minute sampler clip for the Separate Ones album is freely available for download, non-commercial distribution and podcasting. The same will apply to similar clips from future albums.
My conditions may be unusual, but two eminent podcasters have agreed to them without reservation: Hypnagogue (whom I approached), and Sequence Magazine (who approached me). Other podcasters to whom I sent promo copies of The Separate Ones were also advised of these terms.
All of this may seem to be laboring the point, but so many people feel entitled to get music for free nowadays, just because it’s so easy to obtain (whether it’s legitimately given away by the artist, or simply stolen), that I feel it necessary to draw my line in the sand. My music is NOT under Creative Commons; it is under copyright, and I assert my right to be compensated for it on my terms. I think most people reading this will have no issue with it, because they respect an artist’s rights. It’s to the others that this message is primarily addressed. They should know that I will defend my legal rights.
The album’s release comes seven years (to the day) after composition began on the first piece, as music is (sorry to say) my very part-time vocation. All the clichés about a first album being one’s entire life’s work up to that point are entirely applicable here. During that seven years, work began on seven other albums, and I hope to finish and release three or four of them this year. So, breaking the ice opens the floodgates.
But work started slowly. I had been playing around with ambient improvisation and composition (with synths alone) for nearly two years before I decided to try my hand at composing for electric guitar. Four of the album’s six pieces are guitar-driven.
The first four pieces to be written for the album were composed and recorded – literally – one per year, from 2006 to 2009. By this time, the project had gathered sufficient momentum, and its two longest pieces were both completed in 2010. The crazy circumstances around our move from Toronto to Chicago in 2011, and a busy year of playing live throughout 2012, delayed completion of the final bits of recording to November 2012.
Back to 2009 briefly. It was early in this year when I decided to search for a simpatico record label, thinking I need not necessarily self-release. On MySpace, I made contact with Geoff Small, who was working with a label which looked like a good fit. Unfortunately, that came to change, but another label emerged which was a good fit: John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery, with which I’m thrilled to be working. The point is, Geoff’s encouragement was absolutely critical in my getting connected to a label at all, so major thanks, Geoff (and John)!
The Separate Ones is a set of reflections on attachment, separation and loss. By the time the first two pieces had been composed (Radha’s Tears and First Day Apart), the album’s title and theme, and these pieces’ respective closing and opening positions, were all clear. In retrospect, it was also clear at that point that guitar composition is the core of whatever the eyes cast down sound is – though I had a lot of fun trying other approaches, and expect to continue doing so.
Great thanks to my friends Boris Lelong and Kris Tilbury for contributing their photographs to the project. Boris shot the statue (at Paris’ Montmartre Cemetery), which I filtered and used on the front cover and inside panel, while Kris’ birds photo graces the back cover.
That statue is a story in itself. Years ago, I found online this wonderful sepia-treated photo of it, shot from a perfect angle, which I used as my online profile icon for several years. Thinking to ask permission to license it for the album, I searched for that original photo again last year, but it had disappeared. So I couldn’t find the original photographer. Boris to the rescue!
Every song has a story (or a theme, or a concept, or a system…) related to the core subject matter, and here they are:
First Day Apart: My daughter went to a boarding school half a world away, with her two best friends (and their mother), when she was 15. We had never been separated for more than three weeks before this; she was gone for over a year and had a wonderful time. Almost exactly a year after her flight, this music emerged over an Easter weekend, taking me back to that day at the airport.
Rebuild From Memory: This piece was informed by my reflections on our propensity to rewrite the past, especially in times of crisis. Whether it concerns the end of a relationship or world-shaking historical events, our memory capabilities are far from impartial, let alone perfect. But this goes beyond isolated events; my consciousness is a lens through which I view my entire life, oftentimes quite independently of the facts. This only increases as we age. Musically, this was my first ambitious editing project, taking four improvised guitar tracks (all recorded in one evening), leaving two as they were and severely modifying the other two.
Knife of Karma: The word “karma” means action, and refers to the sum total of reactions that result from one’s actions. One might refer to the reactions to good actions as a “caress of karma”; here I was reflecting on the other end of the spectrum. I like to think vidnaObmana was in a similar space when he created his brilliant Dante Trilogy, as that – though only circumstantially – would put me in damn fine company. I recorded a singing bowl loop for this piece, and did a little tinkering with the sample’s pitch in Ableton Live. That’s how I got what sounds like a long, slow sigh, and what sounds like a flute riff. The nine-minute long ambient guitar intro was recorded in one take. This was an enormous editing and mixing job, the summit of my then-current trend of increasing complexity.
Expanse of Heart: This piece originated in a theater project. Its earlier version featured Chinese cymbals and a crystal-bowl-like melodic line, with which I eventually lost patience. It just sounded like the dreaded N-word to me. So I deleted those elements and added the voices-only intro. All this allowed the piece to breathe more and – I like to think – reveal its depth more clearly. Many thanks to singer Alannah for her stellar vocal performance. I’m really fond of the chords in this piece, and I found the title so apt that I stole it from an earlier piece which is still in progress. (A rework of that piece, for guitar & synth, is in progress, to be titled First Expanse.)
Like a Riven Cloud: This is a requiem for a friend who killed his body (read the full story here). Almost immediately after I learned about the event, I knew I would have to reckon with it musically, to give shape to the many feelings it stirred up. He left a wife and two young children, and many friends who would have helped him, had he turned to them. I lifted a melodic line from a wonderful 12th-century Aquitanian monastic song, Lux Refulget (Shining Light), a great favorite of mine which I included in our wedding ceremony. Violinist Ezra Azmon contributed a searing performance. This piece was assembled from improvised episodes, as it stubbornly refused my every attempt to compose it.
Radha’s Tears: The album ends as it began, with a solo guitar composition. This is a song of separation in the mood of ecstatic love for God – as I imagine it might be, anyway. Loreena McKennitt’s rendition of St. John of the Cross’ prayer, Dark Night of the Soul, is a favorite of mine.
Many thanks to Bobby Jones for mastering the album, and to three friends who are helping me to unveil it: Rebecca and Lisa of Healing Foundations in Chicago, who are hosting the album release party on March 1, and Har, who is featuring the entire album on his StillStream program Nightscaping, on March 3. Har premiered both Knife of Karma and Like a Riven Cloud on Nightscaping in 2010, the latter on the day after its completion. You don’t forget friends like these.
The last word of thanks, and the album dedication, are to my wife Dasi, without whose love and support the album might not have been finished at all. I can’t say it any better than that.