First of all, thanks to everyone who reads this for following my musical and other adventures.
Now that the retooled eyescastdown.com is up, I’ve moved my blog there. It has a cleaner look now and I’m tidying up some entries a little, but it’s basically unchanged.
I’ll leave this now-“old” version up for the time being, but there will be no new entries, and it will be taken down in the near future.
I hope you’ll pay a visit to the new website and the new blog. Our Philadelphia trip is next week, and there will be a lot to report after the vortex settles.
My website, eyescastdown.com, has a brand new look and is mobile-friendly at last!
I’m loving the new scenic photography on the home page, and Wade Chandler did a great job of “just shooting me” for the Press page.
I felt the need to update my music description. “Ambient-Atmospheric” is fine as far as it goes but, for me, that’s not so far any more. In particular, the implication of “Ambient” – that the music is as readily ignored as listened to – just doesn’t work me for any more. The music that’s playing me has always demanded attention, though an atmospheric element is always present.
So the term “Ethereal” covers that nicely, and “Progressive” was an inevitable choice, given the importance of Progressive rock and fusion music in my history, and my love of jazzy, altered chords, modes and odd time signatures. So… “Ethereal, Progressive Soundscapes” it is.
My fifth album, The White Island, has gone to the factory and will be released on CD and in digital formats on October 1st, just in time for my performances on Philadelphia at The Gatherings and on Star’s End, on the 7th and 8th.
This album concludes a most unexpected arc in my performance history. The music is all improvised, and all but one of the tracks are solo guitar pieces, recorded live either in the studio or in performance.
I say “unexpected” because it came as a pleasant surprise to me that I could improvise at all. So I’m really pleased that I’ve somehow been able to jam in an extended mode: of the album’s six solo pieces, five of them are over eight minutes long.
Also unexpected was the frankly experimental nature of three of these tracks. They are a fairly severe contrast to the more serene vibe of the three Mirage pieces.
Here is a Preview Clip, featuring bits from all seven pieces:
The front and back covers of the CD package are graced by photos from my wife Dasi, looking out over Lake Michigan on an early November evening, with the sun setting behind us. The two interior photos were taken by me, on our wilderness camping trip this summer.
All pieces were performed on 6-string electric guitar, unless otherwise noted.
Track List and Details:
- Mirage One 8.30
Studio recording, June 11/15; rehearsal for June 20/15 concert. As mentioned in my 2015 year-end review, I planned an improvisation between the composed pieces First Day Apart and Fading Angel in my two concerts that summer and, from those concerts and two rehearsals, obtained three releasable pieces. This was a revelation, which suddenly made an album of guitar improvs a Necessary Project.
- The Four Directions Seemed Aflame 9.00
Studio recording, Jan. 1/16; fretless guitar with EBow. All was not quiet on New Year’s Day. This was a stab at a collaborative piece, inspired by a wildlife scene from our Boulder Lake camping trip. This performance – which ends up with four loops going – didn’t leave any room for my collaborator, so it meets its destiny here. This taught me that I’d best compose my part for the collab piece, which has been done, but not recorded yet. It’s a little restrained compared to this…
By the way, the “wildlife scene” wasn’t a forest fire, thankfully. It was four hawks circling overhead. This just sounds like a wildfire…
- Mirage Two 11.10
Studio recording, June 30/15. Rehearsal for July 6/15 concert.
- The Eons Are Closing 16.20
Studio recording, Jan. 16/17. This is the crazy one, starting with its tongue-in-cheek title, lifted from a Frank Zappa piece. There are eight 16-bar improvised parts: two each on 6-string, 12-string, fretless with EBow through a harmonizer pedal, and electric mandolin through an octave pedal. These were copied, messed with and arranged into something structure-like.
The middle section has all eight of them going at once, followed by each instrument’s pair of clips. Some of them are run backwards, and they’re put through some fun effects. The mandolin, pitched down two octaves, often sounds like a crazed bass marimba or some such, which I think will require further exploration.
- Mirage Three 8.55
Recorded in concert, July 6/15.
- Submerge 5.11
- Mystic Memory 14.38
Recorded in concert, Apr. 1/12. 12-string with slide, severely modified with lots of processing. The guitar is tuned to Alexander Scriabin’s mystic chord and the performance is fairly avant at times. This inspired the composed piece Transcending Memory on my Souls Adrift, in Disrepair album.
After over a decade, John is putting aside the Reviewer’s hat to undertake new ventures. His enthusiasm, keen observations and support will be greatly missed.
“It may not matter to you that Souls Adrift, in Disrepair began its life as a set of live improvised pieces to accompany an art installation. It’s nice to know, sure, but not necessary to take the voyage this album offers. All that really matters is how easily you got lost in the sound. Ambient guitarist Eyes Cast Down (Greg Moorcroft) provides five nuanced soundscapes in this “…spiritual journey, facing down sorrow and loss, in order to see through them and beyond…” There are long stretches of grim shadow, passages of optimistic light, and a mostly seamless sonic topography that gives your mind’s eye plenty to gaze into as you go deeper. “Fading Angel” opens the album in a light space, presenting floating ambient washes. It’s the lightest Souls… gets–or, at least, its longest sustained stretch of lightness, and as you get more into the album, you understand that this is something of a cleansing breath before it’s time to get deeper and darker. Impatient listeners may have issues with the mist-wrapped, near-static drones of the next track, “Astral Drift.” Moorcroft keeps the voices very low on this piece, both in volume and in timbre, and although there are shifts of sound and the emergence of fresh textures and directions, they come at a glacial pace in this 17-minute journey. Those who appreciate drone work will go deep into this one. I find myself halfway between. On different listens I have alternately been pulled completely into it or gotten to a point where I want something to happen. Regardless, its dark and mysterious flow makes a fine counterpoint to the lighter tracks. In fact, “Sirens of Maya” leaps into your head after that down-the-well experience with high, bright tones that bounce into view. They get somewhat smoothed out as they go along, but also spend some time working through a hint of dissonance that rolls through the space. I pick up chime tones in the wash, and wavering pads that ripple across the piece’s surface. “Transcending Memory” is a Steve Roach-style piece, the kind that blends moody darkness with a bigger stellar sense–The Magnificent Void comes to mind. It’s a dynamic ambient work, its pads in constant morphing motion like swirling storm clouds. The Roach sensibility rears up in sudden dramatic swells, and the whole thing has an ominous tone. That carries into “At This Body’s Final Hour,” which frankly is where Moorcroft loses me a little. He shoots for upping the dramatic ante, but chooses to do so by dropping in some big kettle drum tones. I understand the idea, but it comes across as out of place from what has gone before, and he’s already using super-heavy bass notes to give the piece the cadence and gravity of a funeral march. He offsets that weight with a rising, tonally brighter piano line, creating a powerful mood that doesn’t need the extra bombast.
“I like the balance of light and dark that runs through Souls Adrift, in Disrepair. I think there’s just enough of a challenge in the heavier pieces, and Moorcroft skirts the edge of alienating listeners who don’t want that kind of experience. As droning as “Astral Drift” gets, Moorcroft gives it enough dynamism to make you maybe want to keep listening even if it’s not your thing. We can all use a little darkness now and then. It sets you up for the next step of the voyage, and that path the album takes makes excellent sense overall.”
Big thanks to Chuck van Zyl for his review (original post here) and support! I’m looking forward to working with him in October, for performances at the Gatherings and on Star’s End Radio. As I’ve said many times, it’s the deep listeners like Chuck, who really hear and understand what I’m trying to accomplish musically, who make it worth all the effort to get music out there in a very crowded market.
“A soundtrack from out of the middle distance, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair (73’52”) uses stillness to superb effect. Eyes Cast Down (multi-instrumentalist Greg Moorcroft) asks that you give his delicately layered performance your patience. Once we adjust our ears to the minimalist arrangements, what emerges is a slow steady tempest of sound. The five stark compositions found on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair evoke different questions from the ones we are used to. We are asked to look within, and think about what feelings and sensations we experience while listening to this album’s sustaining drones, breathing chords, and dense forms – things large enough to swallow you whole. Whatever drama does arise on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, does not come from harmonic displacement, melodic invention, nor counterpoint, but from contrasts in the sounds themselves. Stripped of almost everything, but for the subtlest shifts in atmosphere and light, this work opens up a space for one. Moorcroft relies on a myriad of electronic processing devices to transform his guitar playing into the textural masses found on this album… and a learned musicianship to direct this technology. Beautifully restrained moments, borne in improvisation, extend in slowly decaying ripples beneath gradually undulating contours. Aural details come in and out of focus, in shades of twilight and sepulchral frost. As each tone breathes into our listening space, we feel a slow force of momentum. Near album’s end, a reverberant piano enters, repeating its question again and again. When shadows pull together, ethereal voices add to an enfolding darkness. The reason this album seems so quiet is because there are so few other people saying these things. The unadorned beauty of Souls Adrift, in Disrepair relates to human fragility. The dark alliance of unmodulated sounds imparts a haunting force. As ideas and emotions cross borders, the outside world remains an abstraction – possibly a parallel present to the loftier firmaments of the mind.”
Progressive rockers Yes’ 1974 release Relayer was one of the first albums that opened my ears to what was possible in music. Pretty difficult to overstate the importance of that – especially to an impressionable teenager.
This was in the mid-70s. I didn’t know anything about Yes and hadn’t heard a single note. I was fascinated by Roger Dean’s amazing cover and bought Relayer partly for that, and partly out of curiosity to learn what these guys were about. Of course, seeing only three song titles on the back cover really piqued my curiosity.
I was blown away at once, listened to Relayer many, many times, and naturally dove into the rest of the classic Yes catalog. On my commute this morning, I heard Relayer for the first time in at least 25 years, and was almost in tears of joy. I had never forgotten it; it was just one of those things that drift out of your life somehow…
Some of those things we come back to, and find that their attraction has been lost. Relayer has lost nothing for me over time; it’s still incredible.
Gates of Delirium is one of the handful of absolute Yes masterpieces. Epic in scope, prodigious in moods, brilliantly executed, with passages of intense power and sublime beauty. It has always blown me away. This is what music is supposed to do. I began to know it then, and that conviction has only grown over the years.
Sound Chaser has the strongest fusion elements and bears the largest stamp of Patrick Moraz’ input – though the band was already well down the fusion path, as composition and arrangement for Relayer was well underway before he came on board. The three-way interplay (not to say flat-out battle) between Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Moraz just explodes all through this track, and Howe’s solo section is a gem.
To Be Over closes on a more mellow note, slowing to a pastoral and dreamy – but somehow still well-grounded – vibe. It fully embodies the opening line “We go sailing down the calming stream.” Beautifully done.
This was Patrick Moraz’ only album with Yes. Rick Wakeman is surely Yes’ Keyboardist of Destiny, but it’s tantalizing to try to imagine where Yes would have gone if they’d stuck with Moraz for a few more albums. The possibilities were surely unlimited. The next album with Wakeman, 1977’s Going for the One, was definitely another masterpiece, but Moraz’ departure closed off a path of exciting possibilities.
Yes’ best work remains a huge influence on what I do, and I expect that to be heard in my work going forward. Thanks, guys!
Somehow I neglected to include Richard Gürtler’s May 2013 review of The Separate Ones here. Definitely an oversight, which I’m happy to rectify now. Many thanks, Richard!
Eyes Cast Down is Greg Moorcroft from Chicago and The Separate Ones is his debut work released on his own Kalindi Music label at the end of February 2013. As mentioned on Greg’s website, the album was recorded during the time span of 7 years. “First Day Apart”, a composition based on the longer separation with daughter, unfolds with sublime and sparse guitar dreamscapes, slowly meandering like a feather in the breeze. Strong longing feel is explored throughout this hazy and introspective soundscape, smoothly cascading from quieter contemplations to slightly more intense soars, yet still remaining enough consonant and allowing each listener to dive deeply into Eyes Cast Down’s own sonorous cavern.
“Rebuild From Memory” keeps its reflective dimension, but it’s surrounded by diversely scattered dissonant vibrations. “Knife Of Karma”, with 17 and half minutes the second longest composition, is invaded by fragile tinkles and mysteriously flavored drones, enhanced by diverse eerie fragments, cavernous rumbles and disruptive, nearly cacophonous embellishments. Here and there distant tribal groove fade in and out, and also occasional fanfares do their highly distinguishing work within this uniquely fragranced soundsculpting. All in all, it’s quite disturbing, but also as much challenging, a real masterpiece!!!
Celestial voice magics by guest singer Alannah lead “Expanse Of Heart” along with rather minimal and slowly shifting, organ-like drones create a truly mesmerizing reverie taking the listener on a soothing mind journey. The next composition, “Like A Riven Cloud”, clocking over 21-minute mark, reveals with deeper organic drones, enhanced by low rumbles and ghostly female whispers by another guest, Greg’s wife Dasi. Composed as a dedication to a friend that committed suicide, it paints a truly mysterious and grieving sceneries, especially when deeply evocative washes merge with the reciting voice along with expanding mournful violin expressions by Ezra Azmon. Few piano subtleties tranquilly float through too. Thoroughly gorgeous!!!
“Radha’s Tears” closes the album with coiling and resonating, hypnotic guitar drone, again conjugated with Dasi’s celestial chants. Overall, this is definitely not your ordinary accessible ambient recording, for sure The Separate Ones album craves for numerous listening sessions with deeply dedicated attention and immersion, but then it offers huge amount of fruitful and joyous moments filled with highly reflective, but enormously distinctive and intriguing palette of sounds and atmospheres. The Separate Ones is your ticket to magnificently perfumed and anomalously mindscaping sonic realms, a must have!!!
Photographs by Boris Lelong and Kris Tilbury nicely accomplish this album, while the credit for mastering goes to Bobby Jones. For a debut work like this, I won’t hesitate to say, this is a virtuoso performance!!! And since Greg Moorcroft was working during the last 7 years on several other albums, some of them are scheduled for this year’s release, so make sure you will keep an eye and ear on this highly capable and crafted ambient venturer!!!