The Separate Ones – The First Album Always Takes Forever

The Separate Ones front cover

The Separate Ones front cover. Photo by Boris Lelong, filtered by eyes cast down

My first album, The Separate Ones, is now available on CD and by download. What a joy. What a relief!

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)!

(By the way, Geoff has released two excellent albums on the rM label under his moniker åpne sinn, espiritista and en seier, both of which I highly recommend.)

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.

Statue at Montmartre Cemetery, Paris France. Photographer unknown

Statue at Montmartre Cemetery, Paris France. Photographer unknown

That statue is a story in itself. Years ago, I found online this wonderful sepia-treated photo of it, shot from a perfect angle, which I used as my online profile icon for several years. Thinking to ask permission to license it for the album, I searched for that original photo again last year, but it had disappeared. So I couldn’t find the original photographer. Boris to the rescue!

Every song has a story (or a theme, or a concept, or a system…) related to the core subject matter, and here they are:

First Day Apart: My daughter went to a boarding school half a world away, with her two best friends (and their mother), when she was 15. We had never been separated for more than three weeks before this; she was gone for over a year and had a wonderful time. Almost exactly a year after her flight, this music emerged over an Easter weekend, taking me back to that day at the airport.

Rebuild From Memory: This piece was informed by my reflections on our propensity to rewrite the past, especially in times of crisis. Whether it concerns the end of a relationship or world-shaking historical events, our memory capabilities are far from impartial, let alone perfect. But this goes beyond isolated events; my consciousness is a lens through which I view my entire life, oftentimes quite independently of the facts. This only increases as we age. Musically, this was my first ambitious editing project, taking four improvised guitar tracks (all recorded in one evening), leaving two as they were and severely modifying the other two.

Knife of Karma: The word “karma” means action, and refers to the sum total of reactions that result from one’s actions. One might refer to the reactions to good actions as a “caress of karma”; here I was reflecting on the other end of the spectrum. I like to think vidnaObmana was in a similar space when he created his brilliant Dante Trilogy, as that – though only circumstantially – would put me in damn fine company. I recorded a singing bowl loop for this piece, and did a little tinkering with the sample’s pitch in Ableton Live. That’s how I got what sounds like a long, slow sigh, and what sounds like a flute riff. The nine-minute long ambient guitar intro was recorded in one take. This was an enormous editing and mixing job, the summit of my then-current trend of increasing complexity.

Expanse of Heart: This piece originated in a theater project. Its earlier version featured Chinese cymbals and a crystal-bowl-like melodic line, with which I eventually lost patience. It just sounded like the dreaded N-word to me. So I deleted those elements and added the voices-only intro. All this allowed the piece to breathe more and – I like to think – reveal its depth more clearly. Many thanks to singer Alannah for her stellar vocal performance. I’m really fond of the chords in this piece, and I found the title so apt that I stole it from an earlier piece which is still in progress. (A rework of that piece, for guitar & synth, is in progress, to be titled First Expanse.)

Like a Riven Cloud: This is a requiem for a friend who killed his body (read the full story here). Almost immediately after I learned about the event, I knew I would have to reckon with it musically, to give shape to the many feelings it stirred up. He left a wife and two young children, and many friends who would have helped him, had he turned to them. I lifted a melodic line from a wonderful 12th-century Aquitanian monastic song, Lux Refulget (Shining Light), a great favorite of mine which I included in our wedding ceremony. Violinist Ezra Azmon contributed a searing performance. This piece was assembled from improvised episodes, as it stubbornly refused my every attempt to compose it.

Radha’s Tears: The album ends as it began, with a solo guitar composition. This is a song of separation in the mood of ecstatic love for God – as I imagine it might be, anyway. Loreena McKennitt’s rendition of St. John of the Cross’ prayer, Dark Night of the Soul, is a favorite of mine.

Many thanks to Bobby Jones for mastering the album, and to three friends who are helping me to unveil it: Rebecca and Lisa of Healing Foundations in Chicago, who are hosting the album release party on March 1, and Har, who is featuring the entire album on his StillStream program Nightscaping, on March 3. Har premiered both Knife of Karma and Like a Riven Cloud on Nightscaping in 2010, the latter on the day after its completion. You don’t forget friends like these.

The last word of thanks, and the album dedication, are to my wife Dasi, without whose love and support the album might not have been finished at all. I can’t say it any better than that.

The Separate Ones is published by my Kalindi Music label. It’s available on CD and by download from my Bandcamp store. I hope you enjoy it!

The Separate Ones back cover; photo by Kris Tilbury

The Separate Ones back cover; photo by Kris Tilbury

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