Back in the Game: Live at Archer Heights Library

After a two-year break, it was time to get back on the live wagon, to make sure the wheels were still securely attached. So I jumped at the library’s invitation.

I had planned to play all composed pieces, but it finally dawned (at the last rehearsal) that this was involving too many guitars (four, including the 12-string and the acoustic), so I cut back to the usual two and revamped the program, allowing for a couple of improvised flings.

So I ended up with three pieces from The Separate Ones, two from the next solo album, one from the album after that, and the two improvs. I used just the two guitars, apart from the synth line in Radha’s Tears.

The minimum success threshold for a live show of mine is pretty basic: no power outages, no blue screens of death, no screaming feedback, and no crazy blue notes. So… on this day we’re all good.

Actually, it was one of the better shows. The live take on Sirens of Maya is so pleasing that it may replace the finished studio recording on the next album.

So, we got music to share!

Here is a medley of highlights, also on Soundcloud:

Submerge/Emerge (part of which closes this highlight clip) is free with all Memory Palace digital pre-orders. A download link will be emailed. This ends on Release Day (Dec. 8), though the download link will be good until all pre-purchasers have confirmed receipt.

I was so chuffed at how Emerge turned out – thanks to its improved structural re-arrangement at the last rehearsal – that I recorded the studio version last night. Six guitar parts, and no looping – all the repeating parts were played through. This allows for variety in phrasing and processing, and liberates me from the metronome.

Concert day wasn’t the best day for photos, but here’s one before:

Pre-Concert Setup

and one during:

Shaping Some Space

Program:

First Day Apart

Fading Angel

Improv 1: Glittering Depths

Radha’s Tears

 

Rebuild From Memory

Sirens of Maya

Improv 2: Submerge

Emerge

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Building the Memory Palace – My Story of the Album

Memory Palace Album - Front Cover

What’s a memory palace? According to Wikipedia, it’s an ancient “method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information.” It was especially useful to students and orators in pre-printing-press times. I’ve long thought it would make a good exploratory theme for an album.

The Memory Palace project began when I approached Chris Russell around Christmas 2010, asking if he would be interesting in exploring a groove-based collaboration. I had enjoyed Chris’ album Frozen and posted a brief but enthusiastic review.

My idea was a simplistic division of labor: rhythmic stuff by me, melodic stuff by Chris. We agreed to try our hands at one piece and see if we liked the result.

So, on a January weekend in 2011, I headed straight to the 31st-floor stairwell in The White Tower (my downtown Toronto day job venue), portable recorder in hand… as one does. Hit the Record button… check. Start drumming on the steel handrails, with bare hands… check.

You might be surprised how many different sound timbres can be obtained that way. The session yielded a righteous selection of grooves, a few of which – duly processed into something other, of course - formed the backbone of a piece which I assembled on my laptop. The laptop approach was hatched of necessity; all my instruments and studio gear were in Chicago, while I was exiled in Toronto awaiting my US visa.

Chris wove one of his characteristic synth atmospheres over my groove, and I hit on the title Particles and Waves, in reference to the two forms in which - according to physics – light is perceived as acting, if you zoom in closely enough. It was included in the Relaxed Machinery compilation reBOOT, released in Jan. 2014, along with The Rage of Reason, a piece I did with Peter James.

Chris and I were both so pleased with how Particles and Waves turned out that going ahead with a full album was … how you say … not needing any brains.

Musical frogs

Best wedding present. Ever.

In any event, I hadn’t even waited for Chris to finish his part for Particles and Waves, before embarking on two other pieces. For Primitive and Prime, I worked up a groove using mostly acoustic drum and percussion samples, and especially my much-favored wooden frogs. By contrast, Touchstone Array was made from samples which were also acoustic in origin, but transmogrified into an electronic crackle, and set to a racing tempo. The original version of that groove goes all the way back to the Christmas season of 2006, one of my first attempts at carving up a sampled-based groove with Ableton Live.

Our procedure was the same for the entire album: I sent Chris my finished parts, and he went to work. By the end of summer 2011, we had three pieces, half an album’s worth. Chris remixed my groove part for Particles and Waves and composed a completely new piece around it, which became Spatial Mnemonics.

A lengthy hiatus was then sort of forced upon us. I was finally able to move to Chicago at the end of September 2011. The next year’s music work was mainly playing live shows and finishing The Separate Ones.

The running order of the pieces on Memory Palace was pretty clear early on, with those first three opening the album, and they were intense enough to strongly suggest a non-rhythmic, purely-atmospheric interlude for the next piece, especially since I was planning a really ambitious closer. So I started off 2013 on the right foot, spending New Year’s afternoon in the studio to record about 15 tracks of atmospheric percussion elements, using objects like car keys, Go stones, bubble wrap, a handful of inch-thick branches, and so on. I did some drumming on an inflated yoga ball, among other things. Fun fun fun…

Memory Palace - inside panel detail

Memory Palace – inside panel detail

Fast-forward to the end of October 2013, on a week-long Indiana getaway. By this time Chris - who had raised his personal bar with an outstanding release, Portal – had recorded entirely new parts for two of those first three pieces, and I wanted to tweak one of mine. I spent most of my play time that week arranging my New Year’s Day elements – which had been recorded without any concern for their future structure – into what became Afterimages. For a bed track, I added a field recording which I really liked, of blowing wind and falling leaves, which I’d recorded at the same retreat place two months earlier.

The Afterimages arrangement took only two days, so I began work on the closing piece, Somewhere the Circle Stops. For this I’d dreamed of alternating odd-meter electronic grooves (flashing back to my drum kit days) with four-on-the-floor tribal drumming, flashing back and forth between ancient and present days. Once again, the electronic grooves (in 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and 11/8) were all pieced together from samples. I need more vacation time, so I can get more work done!

Back to the city… I recorded the acoustic drumming and percussion parts early in January and sent my part to Chris. The piece was over 20 minutes long, so one of my most pleasant surprises ever was receiving the finished piece from Chris a mere three days later.

A shout-out here to one of my favorite singers, Sheila Chandra, whose song Question the Answer (from her album Nada Brahma) provided the title. I like the phrase’s apparently counter-intuitive nature; circles aren’t supposed to end! Nature, however, is full of … how you say … interesting paradoxes.

In the spring of 2012, some Buddhist monks visited Chicago’s Loyola University and created a sand mandala… as one does. Mandalas are gorgeous artworks which have always attracted me. I knew at once that this was the perfect subject for the Memory Palace album art. Since I couldn’t make it to the exhibit, my wife Dasi took some photos…

Memory Palace is available for pre-order now and will be released Dec. 8. It’s a joint release on Chris’ label Void Music and my Kalindi Music. We hope you enjoy it!

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

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Quick News: 2014 Promo Mix; Website Improvements

Cover for 2014 Promo Mix by eyes cast down

Cover for 2014 Promo Mix

The annual ritual continues: I’ve updated my free Promo Mix for another year. This is a 53-minute medley of clips from 13 pieces (sourced from published and forthcoming albums, and compilations). It’s available for streaming, free download and sharing (the usual non-commercial and no-derivations caveats apply) from my Bandcamp store. Please share with anyone you think might enjoy discovering the music.

I’ve implemented some tweaks to eyescastdown.com, to improve the layout and functionality. The coolest thing is the addition of Bandcamp listening widgets on the Listen page and each release page. Now you can listen immediately, without having to leave eyescastdown.com. This includes all the compilation albums as well as my own releases.

A preview clip for Memory Palace will be posted shortly, when we announce the album’s release date.

A shout-out here to my colleague Phillip Wilkerson, whose music I’ve recently (finally!) had the pleasure of discovering. His releases Sojourner and Highlands are simply outstanding, and I can’t wait to hear his latest, Wondrous Encounters, and the upcoming Vague Traces (with Chris Russell, on the Spotted Peccary label). If you haven’t discovered Phillip’s music yet, you’d best head over to his Bandcamp page right away.

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Coming Soon: Memory Palace – New Album with Chris Russell

Memory Palace Album - Front Cover

Just a quick announcement, as I’m learning I don’t have to write a book every time out…

Chris Russell & I have finished our album Memory Palace and will announce its release date shortly. It will be a joint release on Chris’ Void Music and my own Kalindi Music.

Needless to say, we’re very excited to share this. Nearly four years in the making, it’s something neither of us had done before: a full-on groove-driven project. Chris took my organic-electronic hybrid groove tracks and wove his deep-atmospheric magic around them.

This will be available on CD from eyescastdown.com, and by download from both of our Bandcamp pages.

Much more to come soon, including a preview clip, pre-order info (including bonus items for both digital and CD versions), and the behind-the-scenes story of how the “palace” was built.

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Divinations Revisited, No. 4: Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman at Challenger hearingAnother character who always drew my attention, and therefore had to be reckoned with in words, somehow or other. I hugely enjoyed his two two books, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? when I read them years ago. After all, how many scientific geniuses have also been bongo players and safecrackers?

Richard Feynman

Before the spin un-densing,
 the Point pre-exclamation
  rockets into Being…

I Galaxy’s Child

We are each part of that Point, you and I
Nothing has ever changed that possibility
Which clusters do you romp now?
No local group could contain you -
 drummed back into the Continuum -
  which mortal constraints fall to next?

You, non-locally connected,
 splash color on the radio days
Bongo boy, never still, ever fresh,
 awash in today’s drum machines
  that would drown me out in my turn

Let’s continue the Infinity Drumming Circle,
 be Shiva’s dance band
It wouldn’t compute, but
 large-scale fun!

II Knights Errant

We each lie in that shadow, you and I
 of the day everything stopped -
  music, and time,
   rhythm and life everywhere
Before the neutrons – radiant active dancing,
 the Sun’s extermination
  shatters into Mourning…

Kind humans vanished in that fireball
What kind of humans vanquished them?
What? on Earth?
My Goddess, man – what have you done?
What twisted Genesis -
 oh, never mind, but never again!
How turned such genius evil?
Who turned Truth to such murder?

Why couldn’t you just
 have made better windmills -
  and then lanced those,
   instead of boiling the Yellow Sea?

You roasted in that secret, unjust desert
Charged with a mission,
 fission for an Enemy
Somebody’s gotta pay – now
Everybody
will have to pay – ever after

III Courting Jester

Before the seatbelts unfastened,
 the point of exploration accelerates
  and rockets into Oblivion…

We each aspire to this distinction, you and I
All-knowing Fools would be
You modeled the part,
 shook your bellcap
  at the king/idiot/bureaucrats
Become the true Challenger in that official mock-up
 (another bloody infernal farce fiasco)
Did you find some solace, some redemption?

Whatever parts you engineered
 took a smash when you dropped the rubber ring
  into that glass of cold water
   televising one more official couldn’t-care-lessness

Confused genius, creator/destroyer -
 your stories are lovable/laughable
You’re a polyrhythmic sandwich
 we’ll never quite theorize out
Like a Black Page – tricky to read

(5/14/96)

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Divinations Revisited, No. 3: Luna Vita

This poem was published three times, making it one of my best-received. Another sad character study, like (though more unlike) Twilight Child; this described a flesh-and-blood person, not a fictional one. Between these two and Camille Claudel, there was a clear insanity theme running through my mind in those days. Hmmm… must’ve been my day job.

Luna Vita girl

Luna Vita

Twilit, waiflike, as last week
Shrouded in meager, chilled black
Slept you? where? and this night?

Straggly runny hair
Omni eyes scattering
Focus-free, restless, fleeing
As your minimal shuffle scuttles
Escaping – what?

Surely not my sympathetic ear?
Hateful thought: I can do no thing
Can’t know your need – you’re not telling
I won’t hear of madness -
 fantasy convenience!

How dimmed your Luna strength?
Who damned?
Luna substance reflecting
 empty uncaring neon our blank faces
Your warm halo obscured
Your wild quarter-moon face -
 half mystery – half heartbreaking luminosity
  too clear to feeling eyes

Adrift through inner city space
Random crash some distant, freezing corner
You’re not circling me – are you?

Leave the clouds – hiding your shadow
Embrace your earth – sing your own light
Your ecstatic erratic self
A goddess now closed to us all
 regardless we see you

Some little thing -
 maybe a cup of tea
  could be your world now
Wait! It’s not all cold!

(3/14/94)

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eyes cast down Interview by Headphonaught

Many thanks to Thomas Mathie for posting this interview and for his nice support! The original post is here.

Thomas, aka Headphonaught, is a music lover, artist and designer, and keeper of the We Are All Ghosts netlabel, the Circumambient podcast and the Nanolog blog. Don’t miss his interview with my colleague Scott Lawlor.

Seven questions with … Greg Moorcroft aka eyes cast down

There is something wonderfully spiritual about some forms of ambient music … I find these forms reach into my soul like no other music. The music may be created to be spiritual and then again it may not … but, due to its very nature, it is possible to project a spirituality onto it whether it be the deeply meditative of certain longform drones or the wildly joyful of more upbeat, trancey sounds … this is my ‘worship’ music now.

One proponent of this form of ambient music is musician Greg Moorcroft aka eyes cast down. His contributions to the Free Floating winter compilations all|is|calm are exceptional. I have recently obtained a promo copy of his latest album - Divinations - and look forward to digging into that.

As is my way, I asked Moorcroft if he’d be interested in answering a few questions for this ol’ blog. I’m delighted to say he agreed.

———-

1) Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Greg Moorcroft. I use the artist name eyes cast down. I am a composer, musician, recording artist and live performer. I work primarily – though not exclusively – in the ambient-atmospheric world.

2) What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just released Album #2, Divinations, on my Kalindi Music label. Album #3, Pastimes of Creation, is very nearly finished, so that’s the priority now.

3) Who inspires you?
- Name an artist who has inspired you.
My main man is Steve Roach, whom I hugely enjoyed interviewing three years ago. His music provides an endlessly-deep well of inspiration.

- Name a place that has inspired you.
I love getting out into nature. The most inspiring place I’ve been to is Cranberry Lake Park in upstate New York, on a camping holiday.

- Name some “thing” that has inspired you.
Drumming. I go to a monthly group, which is tons of fun. I really should take my portable recorder next time, because some good grooves often magically appear.

4) What drives you to do what you do?
The word “drive” says it all. I have to make music. I don’t have any choice about it; it’s in my bones. I love it. I would do it for myself alone, if I had to, but being able to share it is better.

5) What values do you wish your creativity to express?
True spirituality, which requires humility; love, which can grow only from that point; the courage to undergo necessary introspection; and a delight in the amazing power of Creation, of which I aspire to be a medium.

6) What role does community play in what you do?
In this sense, “community” means “kindred spirits” who value the music as I do – as critically important, as soul-shaking, ritual, deepcore magic. It’s fantastic that such a community exists; for me, its hub is the Relaxed Machinery community.


7) What is next for what you do?
The next project is either: begin recording Album #5 (which is entirely written), or finish writing Album #6 (which is half written). After those are both recorded, I think it will be time for the Concerto for Ambient Orchestra project. That is going to be … something other.

———-

Thanks Greg.

The first four tracks of Divinations were all released on Free Floating netlabel - Conceptionall|is|calm 2011all|is|calm 2013, and all|is|calm 2012 - with the final piece, Ensō (a live laptop/softsynth improvisation with Avian and human voices added during postproduction in May 2014) originating from an art show in May 2012.

I’m glad to have all these tracks in one place and recommend you check out the album: Divinations.

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