This year’s composition and recording trajectory might best be described as an ellipse. The two focal points were (1) my two live shows in June and July, and (2) an 8-day recording blitz in August. Everything gravitated around those two periods.
I usually take advantage of the statutory holidays from January to May to spend time in The Keep, and that’s when much of a year’s composition work gets done. Somehow, that didn’t happen this year – but I’ll do my best to rectify that in ’16.
This year, it took the two summer performances to get my composition mojo going, with some surprising results. I started each show with a trio of solo guitar pieces, beginning with First Day Apart, and concluding with Fading Angel (which opens the next album, and which was born as a post-First Day Apart live improv), with a new improvisation in between.
Imagine my delight when the two performances, and two rehearsals, yielded three releasable versions of this new improv piece! It was clear at once that an album of solo guitar improvisations should be compiled, which is already nearly half-done. I’ll try one on the 12-string, and one on the fretless, and one on the mandolin…
My wife Dasi, whose photography graces the Divinations and Memory Palace albums, took a bunch of great photos of an early-November sky over Lake Michigan, with the color schemes changing constantly. So, artwork for the improv album is already in hand.
Another releasable artifact from these shows is a riotous version of Rebuild From Memory, which has cemented my resolve to put together a live album someday.
Dasi went camping with friends for two weeks in August. Thus freed from any obligation to keep our apartment fit for civilized habitation, I hunkered down in The Keep and recorded four pieces (about 65 minutes’ worth of music) in eight days. Three of them are for Album 4: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair.
The fourth piece is for a singer friend of mine, and I’ll put the finishing touches on that after she sends it back. That is simply going to be amazing. She’s a terrific singer whom I’ve wanted to work with since I discovered her ten years ago.
Another piece for the Souls Adrift album was written and mostly recorded a few weeks later, so only one piece remains to finish that album. It’s written and just needs to be recorded.
So… what’s the plan for 2016? The answer was somewhat simplified when, in the past few months, I made a critical decision that was a long time coming: after the albums in progress, all new solo work will be written in Just Intonation. A liner note on a Robert Rich album opened that door for me some years back, and I’m finally stepping through.
That has really tightened my focus, which is always a good thing. Some contemplated projects have necessarily fallen away. The Concerto for Ambient Orchestra, in which nearly a dozen of my peers had expressed interest in participating, will now be a solo project – hopefully before 2040…
Another project simply ran out of gas: the covers album I had planned since 2010. Hope remains for three of those pieces, though: one is Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, though I’m still struggling with trying to arrange it for one guitar. Some of those chord changes are simply crazy. The other – and more likely – one is… big secret. It’s going to be a riot, and probably a standalone release. Luckily for me, the original music is in the public domain now. The third one is another work in progress, which I hope will make it onto the live album.
All my dreams of classical prestige have bitten the dust, although if some ambitious string quartet or choir should take a shine to me…
Of course, collaborations will be exempt from the JI Directive. Chris Russell and I knew long ago that we wanted to make a second album. It won’t be Memory Palace II. That’s just a matter of finding one more burner on the stove. Another duo with a new collaborator is still at the hopeful stage.
So, 2016 will be mostly about finishing work in progress. Barring something unforeseen, Album 5 will be the Guitar Improv album, and Album 6 will be an initiation/journey story project, inspired by a workshop I played three years ago, which could grow to a double-CD. I entertain grandiose hopes of recording at least some of that in a large church (and using their pipe organ). Album 7 includes the collaboration with the singer, and maybe another guest artist or two. Those albums, hopefully culminating in a live release, will mark the end of a phase – my solo Equal-Temperament composition phase and, hopefully, my recording apprenticeship.
Hopefully before 2040… because the JI World is beckoning, and it promises to be even more exciting than everything that’s happened so far.
2015 was also a stellar year for hearing some of my musical heroes play live, and meeting them for the first time. That would be Steve Roach (twice), Robert Rich (whom I finally met properly at my third concert of his), and long-time Americana idols Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel. Much gratitude for their endless inspiration.
I also got to hear prog-rock demigod Steve Hackett for the first time, a few weeks ago, and hope to do so again. I don’t listen to much rock anymore, but he’s always been one of the cats…
Happy 2016 to all!
The second of my two live events this summer was on July 6 at Chicago’s Daley Plaza, as part of the Under the Picasso lunch-hour concert series.
Technically, the stage isn’t under Picasso’s giant nameless steelwork – it’s some yards away. Too bad – I would’ve been grateful for the shade, as the stage baked in a hot and humid high noon. Always grateful for my trusty and good-looking Tilley hat! Some brave souls sat in the hot sun to listen attentively – muchas gracias! Others listened in the shelter of umbrella-shaded tables around the plaza. Cheers to them all, to everyone at Daley Plaza for making it happen, and to Ello comrade Dennis for his support and for lending a hand.
For practical reasons, I went with the minimal rig this time: just two guitars, pedals and the computer. The second guitar was originally just for backup, but since that turned out to be the 12-string, I got some new mileage from it by using it on Sirens of Maya for the first time, which went very well. This piece continues to evolve, as these two concerts have taught me a handful of ways to improve it – after I thought it was done!
The opening “farewell suite” of First Day Apart, Intervening Ages and Fading Angel continues to inspire. “Hello, I must be going…”
Rebuild From Memory continues to be a platform for layering parts and technical evolution, with no end in sight. I’m getting better at using the EBow as an airbrush, to add lighter textures (OK, at least some of the time!). It’s too easy to use the EBow like a sledgehammer, to lay the power on thick, so I’m glad to have hit upon this way of using it.
Dasi says I should release a live album, and as always she makes a good case. Thanks to the intense rendition of Rebuild From Memory on June 20, this project is underway. But I think that’s going to be a year or two in the making.
Guitar improvising is also going really well these days, so imagine my surprise at finding that an album of that is suddenly developing, too. (Steve Roach’s Streams and Currents remains an absolute high-water mark in this field.) Four pieces from these two shows and their rehearsals – almost half an album’s worth – are in there.
I’m also looking forward to compiling a live demo CD for purposes of Prospective Gig Solicitation. These two events alone have yielded almost the full CD’s worth.
Here are some highlights. That Christmas-y bit in Rebuild From Memory (starting at the 7.54 mark) is the 7/8 riff from the Rush classic Xanadu. It’s practically unrecognizable, because my attempt to turn off the Illudium Q-36 Perfect-Storm Multi-Echo Propagator was cruelly rejected by the computer. When listening, don’t max out your volume. because the whole thing peaks with a roar about a minute before the end.
This was the end of my live apprenticeship, so … I’m done with playing free concerts. It’s time to challenge the popular myth that artists should give away their work in exchange for “exposure”.
So the energy’s at a peak, and I’m taking it into the studio! That will be our next subject, in about two weeks…
First Day Apart
Sirens of Maya
Rebuild From Memory
My first of two live appearances for this summer was on June 20 at Chicago’s Sulzer Library Auditorium.
Definitely the best gig yet, a clear step forward.
This was the most well-rounded performance yet, with more keyboard parts, more layers, and some best-yet guitar zones.
As I did for the September 2012 events, I brought most of the gear this time: three guitars, synth controller, lots of percussion, a couple of ocarinas. I should post an studio inventory with lots of photos sometime; it’s kind of amusing, some of the weird things one can make use of.
Highlights were many. I’m especially pleased with the opening half-hour “farewell suite” of solo guitar pieces, so I expect to use this a lot in future. This is: First Day Apart, Intervening Age and Fading Angel. Both of the latter were born as improvs played immediately following First Day Apart (the first in rehearsal for this event, the second in concert in 2012), so the connection is really organic.
This day’s take on Rebuild From Memory was the best live one yet, even evoking soundscape pioneer Robert Fripp at times, and I’m working up technical ideas for ramping it up further…. inexorable evolution. This is definitely going on a future live album, unless it gets replaced by a better version.
I Am But a Fledgling… (part of the Dreamlife suite slated for an album-in-progress) was tons of fun, with ocarinas, lots of percussion, and a hair-raising synth bed. (My wife Dasi filmed most of the 19-minute piece, so we may be sharing some of that soon.) Haven, a solo synth piece which will open the same album, is a serene pleasure to play, which I hope to do many more times.
Four pieces were played live for the first time, including the massive Knife of Karma, Expanse of Heart (with Alannah’s voice clips), and Exquisite Divination of Patterns. I expect to keep playing these, hopefully take them to some new places, and release live versions if all goes well.
The increase in keyboard parts is a most pleasing development, as I’m trying to move in the direction of having a more balanced guitar-synth sound.
The “surprise cover piece” I promised was the Enya song Sumiregusa, with the two melodic lines from another song, Fallen Embers, woven in at the end. This 12-string arrangement went off really well. Too bad it’s owned by a major record label; I’m not optimistic about ever getting clearance to release it.
Here is a 24-minute highlights clip, culled from 9 pieces:
The audience was small but enthusiastic. Special thanks to our friends Lou & Sue, who really appreciate and support the music!
Next up: a report on the July 6 Daley Plaza event.
First Day Apart
Exquisite Divination of Patterns
Sirens of Maya
Knife of Karma
Rebuild From Memory
I Am But a Fledgling…
Expanse of Heart
Vacation time! We spent a delightful week (entirely offline and unplugged) chilling in the Boulder Lake Campground, part of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, in northern Wisconsin.
After the long drive up from Chicago, the last hour was a joy, winding along hilly roads through dense woodland. We could happily live here. Maybe someday…
The camp has hiking trails, a small lakeside beach that was really pleasant (before the crowds moved in), and squillions of trees. We tented, hiked, biked, swam, rested and campfired.
We didn’t take many photos in the forest, as there weren’t any remarkable features – and how many photos of just trees does one need? We did take more photos during two splendid days at the rapids on Wolf River, which we wish we’d discovered earlier.
Wolf River’s rapids are popular with rafters, kayakers, canoeists and inner-tube riders. We liked the scene best on its own, sitting right at the water’s edge and cooling our feet. We also enjoyed a fine hike along one section of the river, through more forest.
We saw lots of big birds overhead, hawks and eagles. I got an exciting bit of musical inspiration one morning at the beach, when we saw four hawks circling in overlapping orbits. (I’d never seen more than one before.) That sighting (unfortunately, we couldn’t get a good photo) immediately sparked a musical idea, which I hope to include in a top-secret collaboration project. Failing that, I’ll solo it.
The only music I listened to was that playing in my mind all week, my favorite pastoral tunes from Eric Tingstad & Nancy Rumbel (Woodlands (w/ David Lanz) and Legends) and Will Ackerman (Returning and Sound of Wind-Driven Rain).
As nice as Boulder Lake park is, it was still too noisy at times, due to people who brought their noise with them. It’s no secret that most people are uncomfortable with quiet. In fact they’re terrified by it, and feel the need to shout it down. (What we have here is a failure to relax…)
So… our priority next summer will be a wilderness trip to Quetico Provincial Park in northwestern Ontario, and the nearby Boundary Waters in northeastern Minnesota, both old friends of Dasi’s from her Girl Scout days. Two weeks up there will probably make us allergic to Chicago, which is becoming intolerably noisy (thanks to its 1% mayor, O’Hare and the FAA). We’ll just chalk it up as more Relocation Motivation.
Next up: reports on my two performances in June and July, each with audio highlights and a photo or two. There is some cool news to report…. stay tuned!
Many thanks to Michael Hunter of Music With Space, for including our piece Primitive and Prime, from the Memory Palace album, in his April 25 broadcast. Music by our friends John Koch-Northrup, Frore and Shane Morris was also included, among many others. You can see the playlist here.
crumble under circling stars
jeweled sand castles
Many thanks to John Shanahan (Hypnagogue) for his deep listening and enthusiastic review. The support of deep listeners like John means more to us than we can say!
John’s original post is here.
Me, upon receiving Memory Palace: “Excellent! A collaboration between two artists who do lovely, quiet stuff.” Me, after listening: “Wow! That was not what I expected!” Perhaps my expectation was skewed; both artists, Chris Russell and eyes cast down (aka Greg Moorcroft) do tend to work shades of darkness, hints of dissonance and touches of tribal into their individual work. But here, they ramp all that up into a pulse-driven, drum-loaded outing that still speaks most often in a restrained voice. Having called out another artist for adhering a bit closely to the Steve Roach model, I would note that bits of it show up here as well. The opener, “Primitive and Prime,” is familiar territory, pushed along on space-opening drum work from Moorcroft and wide, misty atmospheres from Russell. The influence is clear but the piece stands alone based on its deep groove and the deliciously hypnotic quality of the electronics. You get it again at the end of the disc with “Somewhere the Circle Stops,” which sounds much like a lost track from Roach’s Trance Spirits. Moorcroft takes the front here, weaving several drum lines into a complex and potent structure. Russell’s soundworlds here move as slow as incense smoke, soft washes that sometimes take on a growling, almost didgeridoo-like edge. Outside of that, while the influence still colors the proceedings, Russell and Moorcroft head off into their own zones. “Spatial Mnemonics” has an industrial clatter to it, all serving more of the kind of interlaced rhythms that are the centerpiece of the album. It’s a little dark, and it works. “Touchstone Array” is a fast-paced piece with an up-front analog feel. Glitchy snips of sound tap out a rapid-fire rhythm over slow pads for a nice contrast. However, my only complaint on the whole album comes from this track. The lads play with some high-pitched sounds, one of which sounds—to me—like a kid’s party favor bring blown in one ear over and over. Just like that, I’m pulled out of the track. (It’s playing as I type this out and, honestly, I just want to punch it.) Luckily, that passes and I let myself focus on the cool electronic rhythm work. “Afterimages” quiets things down with an ambient flow lightly touched with (I believe) rain sounds, shakers, and the lightest touch of percussion on the whole album. There’s a very cool effect late in the track where it rises up just a little—a nice touch. On these five tracks, the artists allow themselves a wide time frame in which to craft each piece; the two shortest run about 11 minutes each. Within that frame, they explore and codify their chemistry and justify their initial decision to challenge themselves to do a beat-based album. Memory Palace is an excellent deep listen; Russell and Moorcroft both love their details, and they are plentiful here, so dig into them. An excellent collaboration between two good artists. Well worth listening to.