eyes cast down
Ambient/electronic composer, musician and writer. Using guitars, EBow, synths, samples, loops, singing bowls, percussion & more, in pursuit of... something infinite. Other projects: Mukunda's Friends, releasing ecstatic, yoga/meditation music; Kalindi Music, my music label and publisher for various classical projects published under my own name; and Ear Brandy, a Music Branding service for businesses.
Posted in Releases on April 14, 2013
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.
Posted in The Creative Life on March 2, 2013
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.
Posted in Releases on February 22, 2013
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. 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.
Posted in The Creative Life on January 2, 2013
Three things are inevitable: death, taxes and year-end reviews…
2012. What a year it was! And it didn’t end early, after all…
First of all, many thanks to everyone who supported my musical explorations this year. Whether it was attending (or helping facilitate) a live event, spreading the word, keeping up with the music online, or whatever – y’all know who you are. Muchas gracias!
This year, I played my first live shows (six in all), which were a major learning experience, significantly changed the way I set up my gear, and yielded one album’s worth of finished music and a second album’s worth of work in progress.
In November we finished recording for the first album, The Separate Ones, completing a nearly seven-year odyssey. I expect to release it (on CD and by download) in late January. There will be a CD Release party at Royal Coffee in Chicago, and a streaming feature on StillStream (details to follow when ready).
In early November, I revisited the recordings of my live show on April 1, the multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans and Tali Farchi, and determined to release them on yet-to-be-titled Album #4. The recordings need remixing and perhaps a few added brush strokes. Hopefully the entire art package will be Royce & Tali’s work.
With most of 2012’s studio time involving preparation for live events, the only finished compositions to emerge this year were Darklight Canon, which will be included on Album #4, and Snowdance in Starlight, which appears on the Free Floating netlabel’s third Christmas/winter collection, all|is|calm 2012.
In other compilation news this year, my early piece Last of His Breed made it onto two Sound For Good compilations: Oceans and S4G-Mix-I. The latter was a survey of the label’s entire output to that point, so being included was quite a feather in the old cap. Many thanks to Jack Hertz and Crazy Dymond, respectively, for choosing it! Last of His Breed was the last (and my favorite) of four formative early jams which launched my ambient journey in spring 2004.
Besides changing significantly in its arrangement, The Keep acquired some new gear this year: a Roland Loop Station, djembe, clay pot drum, mini-djembe, thunder tube, claves and a big loud shaker. I also picked up a couple of baskets for rocks and Go stones, cut five new claves from downed branches, made one shaker out of locust bean pods and another out of plastic curtain rings, and bagged fallen leaves for sampling. Many thanks to John Briggs for the loan of a mini-darbuka.
Now it’s time to be a studio hermit for a few months, so I can get some albums finished.
So far, the best-laid plans for 2013 shape up something like this:
Pastimes of Creation, the Keshava-Lila trio album, just needs one more bit of recording. I hope to release it in mid-March.
Album #4, which will be submitted to rM.
By this time, it should be spring (at least), at which point I’ll come out of the cave and play a home concert – at my place. If all goes well, the program will be six improvised pieces from the two September shows, which I hope to have worked up into final form. Those pieces should be Album #5. Highlights of their gestation can be heard on my Events page.
Album #6, Nuances of Illusion, with violinist Ezra Azmon (who tears it up on Like a Riven Cloud from The Separate Ones) providing source material for recycling. These last two will probably be released on my Kalindi Music label.
Then – after a short vacation – work on the long-planned covers album will begin the next phase.
Some compilation pieces and guest appearances are also in process:
Butterfly Effects, the James Johnson recycling album on rM, is cued up for release early in ‘13. My piece Two Fractured Mirrors is included, along with pieces from Altus, Disturbed Earth, Scott M2, Northcape and others. I also dreamed up the album’s title and acted as Info & Project Manager.
I’ll have pieces with Chris Russell (Particles and Waves) and Peter James (in progress) on the second rM artists’ comp, inFUSE, which title struck me through a nice dialogue with John Koch-Northrup and Steve Brand.
I’ve submitted a piece, Radiant Perception, for the Free Floating compilation a.m. If it makes the cut, a.m. will be the fourth Free Floating collection to include a piece of mine. Radiant Perception was the immediate follow-up to Exquisite Divination of Patterns (from Conception), and these – along with Crystalline (from all|is|calm 2011) – form a clearly-bound trilogy of softsynth pieces.
So far, the only live events I’m contemplating for ‘13 are a repeat at Daley Plaza and hopefully expanding the Carving Through Shadow workshop into an all-day deep dive. I’m always open to offers, of course…
Finally, as usual, it was a great year for music from my peers. In December alone, Steve Roach, Steve Brand and Max Corbacho all released awesome new work, to end the year on a high chord. Other releases of note came from Robert Rich, Lucette Bourdin, Andrew Lahiff, Chris Russell and Peter James. Low Volume Music by Steve Roach & Dirk Serries (returning from a ten-year hiatus) was the year’s coolest surprise and a major highlight.
Bring on the lucky ’13!
Posted in The Creative Life on November 11, 2012
First, I’m delighted to announce an expanded Kalindi Music website, home of my acoustic guitar-driven devotional project Mukunda’s Friends, including a Bandcamp store page for preview and purchase of our ecstatic song Lacrimosa, which was released early last year. If you haven’t heard Lacrimosa yet, I hope you’ll pay a visit and preview the song – and buy it if you like it.
Second (and spoiler alert): Notwithstanding the following, friends of mine have lots of music out on iTunes and CD Baby and they’re doing just fine. I’m glad that regime works for them, but below are given the reasons why it doesn’t work for me. What follows is – needless to say – only my point of view.
Bandcamp has appeared as the solution to my music distribution dilemma.
I’m already committed to releasing both CDs and downloads. I briefly considered going CD-only (whether from purism or fanaticism I’m not sure), but a niche artist like myself simply can’t afford to alienate 90% of likely purchasers. So I’ve got to make the music downloadable, one way or another.
I briefly described to my wife how the digital distribution system works, specifically iTunes and CD Baby, and how much money they take off the top (30% and 25%, respectively). Her reply was: “That sounds just like the big record labels.”
My feeling, exactly. How much has actually changed?
To be fair, at least the digital distributors don’t claim to own your music. The internet/digital revolution has gained us that much. On the other hand, there have been horror stories that attest to the same arrogance and lack of regard for the artists which perfectly sums up the big-record-label mentality. Need it be pointed out that without the artists, there would be no CD Baby or iTunes? So who needs whom?
So let’s look at the numbers, and see how economically viable the CD Baby/iTunes regime is for a niche artist like one of us.
If I’m selling a download for $10, iTunes would have to sell 43% more units, and CD Baby would have to sell 34% more, to equal the amount I would earn selling them on my own website.
For an obscure niche artist like myself, these numbers don’t compute. Can iTunes and CD Baby seriously claim they’re going to earn me that many more sales? How?
One argument you hear is that a kindred spirit will be browsing or buying and somehow find me, by referral or plain chance. Given the enormous inventory of both of these vendors, is there a 34-43% likelihood of this happening at all, let alone resulting in a sale? I doubt it.
I think someone new to my music is way more likely to find it through direct links from fellow musicians and fans. So rather than rely on chance, I think it better for us musical kindred spirits to band together and link to each other through our websites. Fortunately, the good Bandcamp folks are working on enabling more website features for artist pages, including the ability to post links. Righteous!
Check my own Links page as an example. At the risk of bragging a bit, I can’t recall another musician’s website with this many links (over 150). If all of us with websites would link to fellow artists whose work we enjoy, it would make it so much easier for our music to reach new ears.
(By the way, if I have your link but you’d prefer I use a different one, let me know!)
My point is, I think we’d do better to take matters into our own hands than leave everything to a mega corp. which may not even bother to contact you when you have a need. Observe this – admittedly extreme – horror story.
What’s my experience with the digital giants so far? I’ve uploaded one song to CD Baby, the aforementioned Lacrimosa. CD Baby propagated it.
One of the problems is who they propagate to, without disclosing sufficient information for the uninitiated. They don’t tell you, for example, that “subscription services” includes phone companies, to whom they are practically giving away the music. My account shows a Nokia subscriber buying Lacrimosa outright, for which I was paid two cents! If there had been proper disclosure in advance, I would have signed up for a different distribution package, one that excluded subscriptions. (I have asked CD Baby to change my package.)
iTunes, for their part, categorized the song completely wrong. Ignoring the categories I gave to CD Baby (Spiritual/Mantras, New Age/Healing), they’ve categorized it as – wait for it – Latino! When I complained, they passed the buck back to CD Baby. This makes no sense, as I doubt that CD Baby has access to Apple’s database, but anyway… So I complained to CD Baby. Apple added New Age/Inspirational to the categories, but left Latino as the all-important first one – so it’s still wrong. How many listeners might that have cost me? No way to know. So a second complaint to CD Baby has them promising to get that fixed – over 18 months after the song’s release.
I’ve also heard of CD Baby having customer service issues on CD orders. None of this inspires confidence.
That said, doing it all myself isn’t the best option. I’m not prepared to shell out the many dollars it would need to have an e-store built, nor spend the time needed to encode audio files into the many download formats desired by customers. Enter Bandcamp!
Bandcamp takes only a 10% cut on CDs and other merchandise, and 15% on downloads (reduced to 10% when you break the $5000 sales barrier). They’ll convert my WAV files into all the download formats anyone could want. That alone makes it worth going with them. (But don’t forget to add on 4-6% for PayPal fees, which makes a total of 19-21% starting out. Still an improvement.)
Having said all this, there may be good arguments that I’ve overlooked or didn’t know about. Hopefully those who are using CD Baby and iTunes to their advantage will post comments here, all the better for those who have yet to make their decision. But I’m good to go. If Bandcamp goes bad, then I’ll swear off distributors and do it myself.
Posted in Adventures in Living on October 31, 2012
It was time for another long weekend in the woods, so in mid-October we returned to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington, IN, which we had gratefully discovered six months ago.
Autumn is my favorite season, so this was the perfect time to be out here. Time to reflect on changes and new possibilities. Falling leaves, and saplings.
We went for a nice long hike in the woods, and took lots of photos. I read Macbeth (talk about falling leaves!), practiced my (still rudimentary) ocarina playing, and picked up some more good sticks for making claves. I also got a nice field recording of the wind blowing through the trees and the leaves falling, which I’m thinking of using in an ambient percussion track for a friend.
There are a couple of cool shops in Bloomington’s town square. One of them is Athena, where (choosing from among many temptations) I picked up a mini-djembe and thunder tube for the studio. They both sound great.
I’ve also determined to add some more earthy elements to the toy box, such as sticks, stones and leaves, as well as a couple of good ocarinas. The percussion shelf is getting crowded; some rearrangement will be in order.
As all this attests, the studio setup continues to evolve, moving toward The Dream Rig. This all coincides with a growing understanding, as it is slowly revealed, of what eyes cast down actually sounds like.
Starting out on any creative path, most of us understandably want to emulate our heroes (in my case, mainly Steve Roach). We want to try everything they do. As we move forward, elements that aren’t right for us drop away, so the true ones have room to emerge and grow. So a tribal element begins to crack the shell.
Also on my mind lately has been the dilemma of how to distribute albums, and I’ve finally settled on that – much to my relief. But that’s a separate blog entry.
Back to the town square, an awesome new discovery was The Owlery veggie restaurant. They opened there a week after our last visit. The food is amazing. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit (or several).
Same goes for the cultural center itself. We look forward to returning there by spring – possibly also in midwinter. The stillness of this place, blanketed with snow, would be compelling.
Posted in The Creative Life on October 5, 2012
After a five-month break, during which I played only one live event (a laptop-driven atmosphere for an art show opening in mid-May), I emerged from The Keep in September for a workshop and my highest-profile concert so far.
Having determined to begin exploring a more earthy, tribal sound, I recently added a djembe and clay pot drum to the percussion section. And for these shows I finally got to bring along my keyboard controller, as there were no space constraints. So I had the artistically-necessary feeling of leaving behind the safety of the nest. This timing was perfect, especially given the nature of the first event.
September 15: the Carving Through Shadow workshop was an exploration in going within and expressing the journey through drawings. I’ve been keen on working in such a situation since I started playing live, so I was jazzed to finally have a chance to give it a try.
The music followed the workshop’s three-part program:
1. Getting Comfortable was a purely atmospheric, slow-moving and fairly minimal synth zone. It’s a great pleasure playing around in this mode.
2. Getting Uncomfortable, an inward descent, got down, dirty and earthy. The whole percussion section came out for this.
Getting past some discomfort of my own, I finally undertook to use my voice as an instrument, to open another door inward. Immediately, a couple of the participants joined in, giving voice to their own work. That was a good start, for a direction which I hope to pursue down the road. (Anyone know an overtone voice teacher anywhere near Chicago?)
3. A New Way was about coming back up to the surface and integrating what was discovered. For this I used mostly layered guitar loops.
The energy was good all around, as everyone came ready to go for it. Many thanks to expressive arts therapist Eve Brownstone for running the event, and to everyone who took part!
First Day Apart
September 25: Music of Many Worlds – concert at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, under Picasso’s famous unnamed steel giant, as part of the Daley’s lunch-hour concert series.
This show also celebrated the one-year anniversary of my move from Toronto to Chicago.
To help capture the mood, I picked up a wonderful eagle T-shirt from the Amerinkas gift shop. So now it’s a feeling of leaving the safety of the eyrie – hopefully to soar.
Apropos of this, the most exciting development from this show is the Fledgling suite, which came about of its own volition. Three pieces that were intended to be separate simply drew together (both musically, and as a concept, when their titles turned up). The middle one, First Expanse, is modeled on one of those formative studio jams from Spring 2004 (see my First Iterations blog).
Like many pieces from this year’s shows, these are works in progress, hybrids of composition and improv, trying out some cool ideas. I’m excited to see how they move forward; Fledgling could end up being the centerpiece of an album as well as live shows.
The program was completed by guitar staples First Day Apart and Radha’s Tears, which will open and close the Separate Ones album, along with one cover: Future Tribe, from the Serpent’s Lair album. I’ve dreamed about opening live shows with this piece for years. Hopefully I’ll really nail it sometime, so I can send it to Steve and Byron.
Along with taking photos, my wife recorded about 20 minutes of video on her iPad, some of which I will post as soon as I can get it together.
Big thanks to the team at Daley Plaza for helping to make this happen!
Future Tribe (Roach/Metcalf)
First Day Apart
I Am But a Fledgling…
… New to Flight
Posted in Working That Studio on October 2, 2012
It’s wonderful how circumstances can push one forward. Venturing out to play live this year has been a major growing process, as one learns quickly (and sharply) what works and what doesn’t. For this fledgling, circumstance dictated a significant setup change, which was such a huge improvement that it instantly took over the studio. Adapt or die…
Here is The Keep v1 – the original setup of the computer table and keyboard/percussion stand, perfectly suitable for the studio hermit I was at the time (and the way that I thought I would play live):
The stage at the April 1 live art gig forced a change, which has the extra benefit of allowing me to see out in front (when I can spare a moment to look up), and is way more ergonomic for the way that I actually play live. This was a no-brainer to implement in The Keep, and it goes something like this:
Thanks to the new djembe and clay pot drum (and their dedicated microphone), once I get to the chair and move them into place, I’m completely surrounded. It ain’t called The Keep for nothing…
So that’s The Keep v2. Never finished, just a work in progress…
Looking ahead: v3 will be the dream rig: a second mondo Loop Station (one for guitars, one for voices and percussion), both fed by a mixer, with compressor and reverb boxes in the respective signal paths, all feeding the Musical Box, along with MIDI from the keyboard controller and (dream about it) a Roland GR-55 guitar synth. There will also be a few more drums, probably at least a tar and a djun djun. Yum yum!
(When that happens, I’ll probably move the keyboard stand next to the computer table at a right angle, and turn them to make a V opening forward. My seat – at the bottom of the V – would be a drum throne, allowing me to spin around as needed. I’ll need a bigger room… John Cleese moment: That’s planning, isn’t it? Forethought!)
Another major circumstantial change has been the birth of the laptop/softsynth live experience. This was necessitated by the art show background music gig back in May, for which I didn’t want to bring the concert rig to the smallish café again. That would have distracted from the art show. On top of that, many otherwise viable art galleries and other spaces are just too small for the concert rig.
Inspiration struck: I could compose spontaneously with softsynths, on the laptop, and fit everything on a little table out of the way, in the background proper. Call it The Keep Portable…
This approach yielded the Free Floating pieces Exquisite Divination of Patterns, Radiant Perception (hopefully to come soon) and Crystalline. The first was such a pleasant surprise that the second followed almost immediately. After Crystalline, I thought I was probably done with working in that mode. Fool!
I don’t want to be a laptop jockey, creating arrangements (I wouldn’t call them compositions) entirely from prefab/pre-recorded elements. Some folks do very well at that, but it’s not my path. My way is tabula rasa, spontaneous composition from scratch, using Ableton Live’s “pencil/piano roll” feature to write in the notes. My softsynths are Propellerhead Reason, Native Instruments Absynth and Camel Audio Cameleon 5000 (the precursor to Alchemy). I have hopes that a viable longform piece will one day emerge from this process.
Work in progress. Let’s see what happens next year…
Posted in The Creative Life on September 21, 2012
In Between the Lines, Book Two: Perspectives on Writing Inspired Music
by Robert Bruce, self-published summer 2012
Listening to any one minute of Robert Bruce’s music makes clear his total commitment to the creative act as a spiritual quest for beauty, joy, and eternal truth. I see this is self-evidently inspiring and admirable, but this attitude is totally opposed to today’s musical mainstreams – especially, many of those who purport to teach aspiring composers.
Indeed, he is probably a pariah to the “classical” or “serious” music world, which nearly a century ago (under the poisonous influence of a handful of intellectuals) overthrew beauty, joy and eternal truth as the highest goals in music, and replaced them with … shock value. The resultant pollution is everywhere, whether you’re sourcing MTV or composers in residence.
In this book, along with his artistic credo, Robert sets out the creative approach that has worked for him, explaining how and why this approach will nurture any aspiring composer.
I think this book’s importance is such that anyone who aspires to write (or teach) music should read it.
Robert holds that no one can really “teach” composition. Too often, the teacher tries to impose upon the student their own narrow view of what constitutes music and composition. “This is what you must learn, and this is how you must compose.” The teacher has accepted, as dogma, some regime that worked for someone else in the past – often centuries past – and the student is expected to blindly follow that.
But it simply doesn’t work that way. Creativity, by definition, is not conformist. It is a uniquely personal, unavoidably individual process. No one else’s methods or approaches can work for me – except my own, which I must discover. Trying to impose some other process upon a creative aspirant is simply closed-minded, and can have only one result: frustration. The aspirant all too often will simply give up, accepting that they don’t have what it takes to write music.
As proof of this, Robert describes a heartbreaking visit which he paid to a fourth-year university pedagogy class – about twenty young women who were planning on becoming piano teachers:
As I presented some of my own music and talked about how I went about finding and developing ideas, the young ladies started making frequent comments like “I used to do that”, “I used to love doing that”, and so on. I was mainly talking about my joy and approach in finding and working with the musical ideas that would come to me just by being open to them. When I asked them to explain to me what they meant they invariably said that their parents and/or earlier teachers had had often said to them to not waste their practicing time by messing around with such “nonsense”, to get serious about playing “real” music, to not play childish games, etc., and – most tragic of all – to not foolishly venture into the realm of writing music or composing at such a young age. Eventually, they all seemingly more or less gave up these experimental and creative practices after having had their balloons burst so many times by the adults around them. [emphasis mine]
If the tragedy of this outcome is not plain to you, if it doesn’t move you to anger (or at least pity), then I can only hope that you’re not involved with teaching anything to anyone. Creative processes are a birthright for us all, which parents and teachers are supposed to nurture and encourage – not suppress.
Robert’s approach is a liberating rejection of dogmatic practices and a return to the path of true creativity. It is like throwing off handcuffs, rolling up the blinds and opening all the windows to a sunny spring breeze.
Robert’s compositional “method” is also mentioned above: just playing with the notes, allowing ideas and phrases to emerge in their own time, not trying to force anything to happen. It is supposed to be play, not work; fun, not labor. Robert views the creative act as a gift of grace, a visit from the spiritual realm. Our part as creatives is to open ourselves to that visit, gratefully receive and document it when it arrives, and not try to make it happen. Hence the essential individuality of the act – it depends on the openness of the receiver. It is only when we work in this way that we will be given true music, that which embodies the beauty, joy and truth which we crave.
Those who are taking the first tentative steps towards finding their individual creative voices need to understand this, more than anything else they may learn along the way. So I think the greatest favor you can do for an aspiring composer or musician is to give them a copy of Robert’s book. Anyone can find it liberating and inspiring – as I have.
Notwithstanding a century of shock value and the current unimaginable degradation of most music (whether “serious” or popular), the source and aims of true Music have not changed, and never will. Let us, as composers, proclaim them openly and lay the foundation for a new musical Renaissance. I think it has never been more urgently needed.
In summary: 10 out of 10. Required reading for all music teachers and students.
Available from Robert Bruce Music, along with In Between the Lines, Book One: an Essay on the Therapeutic Value of Music, Musical Aesthetics and the Spiritual Origins of Music.