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Souls Adrift, in Disrepair: the Album Story

Front Cover

Painting copyright (c) by Royce Deans. Used with permission of the artist.

I’m delighted to announce the upcoming release of my fourth album, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, on my Kalindi Music label. It will be available by download on July 12 and on CD shortly thereafter. The album’s release page is here.

I think of the album as… three guitar symphonies, a dark drift and an elegy. Possibly an oversimplification, but close enough to be helpful.

Four of the album’s five pieces are reworked improvisations from my April 2012 multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans & Tali Farchi.

I had met Royce & Tali a mere five days beforehand (thanks, Eve!), towards the end of their 6-week residency in downtown Chicago (part of the Pop-Up Loop series), and we just went for it.

Many thanks to Royce & Tali for making the day, and for lending me their inspiring artwork for the CD package.

Back Cover

Painting copyright (c) by Tali Farchi. Used with permission of the artist.

As always, every piece has a story…

Of the pieces which began as live improvs, Fading Angel needed the least rewriting to reach its final form. For the recording, I set aside my usual live playing approach and recorded all six guitar parts separately, playing them all the way through without looping. This approach allowed me, on each pass, to vary tempo, phrasing, and dynamics – unlike looping, where each repetition is exactly the same – and to interact with the previously-recorded parts even more closely than I can when looping.

I also did this for the other two guitar-driven pieces, and anticipate doing so for recording similar pieces going forward.

Astral Drift creates an unsettling atmosphere, using processed metallics, ocarina, voices and breath with an occasional guitar chord, and a few brush strokes of synths to keep us grounded, so we don’t go spiraling off into the void.

Sirens of Maya is built on a loop that’s all electric guitar harmonics, an approach I later ported over to acoustic guitar for Snowdance in Starlight on my album Divinations. Sirens of Maya is a three-part canon, but those parts aren’t strictly synchronized, which makes it a loose canon (someone had to do this). I had some more fun with my EBow on this piece, and I’m getting pretty good at hitting just the right amount and drawing back – before anything breaks. I also mixed up the guitars more than usual, using 6- and 12-strings as well as the fretless.

A live version of Sirens of Maya is the album’s pre-order bonus.

Transcending Memory features my Danelectro electric 12-string tuned to Alexander Scriabin‘s famous mystic chord. This piece was a lot of fun to record and should be a blast to play live. The 12-string lines carve out an eerie space, over a roaring processed singing bowl drone.

At This Body’s Final Hour closes out the album with a plaintive piano melody over a haunting synth-guitar blend, occasionally punctuated by a thumping bass drum and featuring a chorus of chanting voices (thanks to Dasi & Leyla for joining in). The instrumental track slows to half-speed over its 18 minutes.

So what’s with the album title, anyway?

Well, it goes something like this:

The album is dedicated to the memory of our longtime companions, Sandor Cat (who passed on two days after the performance with Royce & Tali), and his brother Kalman Cat, who left us two years later. Sandor’s six-week illness was a difficult time, and was hanging thick in the air when showtime rolled around.

So I wanted the album and track titles to convey something of the gravitas of the time. For me it sums up the material world, with us struggling our way through it. Fish out of water. A suitable continuation of themes ruminated upon in the Separate Ones album, this closes a circle in some ways. Other circles await.

I was also looking for something powerfully descriptive, like many of Dirk Serries‘ wonderful titles. I’m well aware of the cognitive dissonance of the word “disrepair” in this context – which is way more animé than I intend – and that it may at first be read as “despair”, which is way more “emo” than I intend, but anyway…

Sandor Cat

Track list:
1. Fading Angel   9.41
2. Astral Drift   17.17
3. Sirens of Maya   12.55
4. Transcending Memory   15.55
5. At This Body’s Final Hour   18.04

Here is a preview clip, with highlights from all five pieces:

I hope you find the album enjoyable, and worth purchasing. Many thanks for your support!

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Memory Palace Airplay – Thought Radio

Many thanks to Bill Fox of Thought Radio for playing Primitive and Prime from the Memory Palace album on his Dec. 20 broadcast. Bill has been playing my music from the beginning, and his support is greatly appreciated!

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Guest Blog by Chris Russell: Our Journey to the Memory Palace

Guest blogger alert:

It’s a pleasure to turn the page over to my collaborator Chris Russell, for his perspective on making the Memory Palace album:

Chris RussellThe journey to this palace has been a long, rewarding and sometimes frustrating journey. But so worth it in the end. Greg contacted me late 2010 to work on an album and we were off running. This was to be our first release using drums and odd time rhythms in our music. I have played with loops in the past, but never really applied acoustic or tribal drums to my music until work on this album came up. This immediately took me out of my comfort zone and at times became a challenge that led me to re-do my parts, two, sometimes three, times before I could hand the piece off to Greg.

Life events for both of us would slow production down on this album and it became clear to not rush the music and let this album slowly develop over time. That probably is what helped the most for me, living with the music for brief periods of time and then after a hiatus coming back to the project with fresh ears.

Fast forward to 2014 and Greg and I are at the end of our journey to the Memory Palace, but this is only the beginning of our adventure.

I look forward to the next chapter.

***

Thanks, Chris!

As might be deduced from the above, Chris and I knew, even before Memory Palace was finished, that another project was in our future, and the general direction it would take. Stay tuned!

A shout-out here to (1) the Relaxed Machinery artistic community, where we connected shortly after its inception, early in 2010; and (2) the rM label, which has released most of Chris’ albums to date. There’s a long list of excellent releases which I highly recommend!

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Memory Palace Premiere – SomaFM

Many thanks to Rusty Hodge of SomaFM for featuring the entire Memory Palace album today on Soma’s Deep Space One channel to mark the album’s release!

Gratitude also to everyone who tuned in, and those who joined us in the Relaxed Machinery community chat room. The album has been very well received, and we’re hopeful that the word will spread…

Memory Palace is available on CD and by download. Check out the preview clip on the album page.

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Memory Palace Airplay: Galactic Travels & Night Tides

Thanks to the hosts of two first-rate radio programs for including music from our Memory Palace album in their latest broadcasts!

Bill Fox included Primitive and Prime in the Nov. 27 edition of Galactic Travels. You can see the full playlist here.

Renée Blanche, who recently celebrated her 20th anniversary as host of Night Tides, included Touchstone Array in the Nov. 30 edition. (Night Tides playlists are temporarily offline.)

If you’re not familiar with either of these programs, you would do well to check them out. They both come very highly recommended.

A shout-out to my collaborator Chris Russell, whose other new duo release, Vague Traces with Phillip Wilkerson, is earning enthusiastic reviews and airplay. Here is one from Synth & Sequences.

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Memory Palace Review by Bert Strolenberg (Sonic Immersion)

Many thanks to Bert for his close attention and support! His original post is here. (I added the links.)

*****

The origins for “Memory Palace” go back to Christmas 2010, when Greg Moorcroft (aka eyes cast down) approached Chris Russell with the idea of starting a groove-based collaboration. Greg would take care of the rhythmic side of things while Mr. Russell would be in charge of all additional textures, soundscapes and synthetic sounds. Both musicians focused on a full-album release after the first idea materialized smoothly in a track for the Relaxed Machinery sampler “reBOOT“.

The first half of the the 5-track/70+ minutes album is centered around electric groove patterns using mostly acoustic drum and percussion samples and the sounding of Greg’s much-favored wooden frogs alongside tasty synth textures and circular atmospheres, all creating quite an intense and more upfront sonic statement with a certain psychedelic edge.

The third piece “Touchstone Array” (defined as electron crackle) reveals certain contemplativeness, but evolves eventually into a weird and abstract/experimental effort led by acoustic samples set to a racing tempo with lots of bleeps and sound modifications running alongside.

Fortunately, gentle curling and shifting atmospherics make up the core of the two remaining tracks, with assorted (occasional tribal) rhythmic elements pushed further back in the spacious, transparent sound design on “Afterimages”. The fast but not upfront table-percussion on the final 22-minute piece (which alternates odd-meter electronic rhythms with live tribal drumming) reminds slightly of the Roachcollabs with Mr. Fayman.

The result on “Memory Palace” comes down to quite peculiar ambient, expecting the listener to think out of the box quite a bit.

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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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