Archive for category The Creative Life

2017: Eons and Gatherings

2017 is off to a roaring good start!

In mid-January, I completed recording for my fifth album, The White Island. It’s all improvised guitar pieces, though I pushed the concept a little for the last piece to be recorded, The Eons Are Closing. (Coolness points if you recognize the phrase!) For this I recorded two spontaneous parts on each of 6- and 12-string guitars, the fretless with EBow, and electric mandolin with octave pedal, then arranged the parts jigsaw-puzzle style. A similar approach was used on Like a Riven Cloud and Mister God, This is Taylor.

The final mixing and artwork are all that remain to be done. I hope to release in the spring. Look for the album’s creation story soon.

Next in the recording queue is one of two classical cover pieces that I’m dying to record.

On the live performance front, I’ve been honored with an invitation to play two of North America’s most important venues in the electronic/atmospheric music world: The Gatherings Concert Series and Star’s End Radio, both located in Philadelphia.

The Gatherings celebrates its 25th year, and has hosted many of the world’s most important musicians in the field, including Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Erik Wøllo, Ian Boddy, Saul Stokes, and guitarist Jeff Pearce – one of my most important influences, for whom I will be opening. My set will be 30-40 minutes.

The concert takes place Sat. Oct. 7, 8:00 p.m., at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village, 3916 Locust Walk, Philadelphia PA 19104.

After the concert, I’ll relocate to WXPN Radio at the University of Pennsylvania, to play an hour live to air on Star’s End, currently in its 40th year, which airs from 1:00 – 6:00 a.m. Star’s End cited my albums The Separate Ones and Souls Adrift, in Disrepair as Significant Releases for 2013 and 2016 respectively.

I hope to see you there! More news to come very soon, as the ripple effects from this invitation are considerable…

 

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2016 in Review: The Year of Other People’s Music

2016 was largely the Year of Other People’s Music, as almost everything I worked on was either a cover piece or collaborative project.

The year’s centerpiece was the July release of my fourth album, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, most of which was recorded in 2015. You can read the album story here.

The only solo piece I worked on in ‘16 – on New Year’s Day – was a take on an idea that has since been composed for a collaborative album. This improvised fretless/EBow whirlwind, The Four Directions Seemed Aflame, will be on the upcoming guitar improv album, The White Island, which is nearly finished and should be the next release.

In 2016, I also wrote guitar parts for two pieces, intended for a duo album with one my favorite musicians, and recorded one of them. That project is still in its infancy.

During the late summer 2015 studio frenzy, I recorded a 20-minute piece for a singer with whom I have long dreamed of working. So, one of my greatest joys of 2016 was receiving the recording of her stellar performance. She utterly nailed it. Pieces such as Like a Riven Cloud and Fading Angel will give you an idea of emotional power in this one. It’s going to close out…. probably Album 8, for which nothing else has been done yet. So that is probably two years away. It will wring out your heart, I can promise.

At my 2015 Sulzer Library concert, I played a 12-string solo version of the Enya piece Sumiregusa. I sent the recording to a musician friend and fellow Enya fan, who loved it. Toward the end of ‘16, I was delighted to receive her invitation to arrange and record 12-string parts for two pieces from her new album. Each is a rich synth/voice drone, around 15 minutes long. I’ve done my parts for one of them, and expect to the other to be done soon.

This will be the second album on which I’ve played a guest role, and I have another invitation to record some drumming for a friend’s album. This material may be used more-or-less as is, or mangled beyond recognition, or both. That recording is expected to happen in January – a good way to start the year.

While I’m not optimistic about the Enya piece ever being released, I have much higher hopes for my arrangement of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, which is a recording priority for 2017. I first arranged this in 2010, working from the composer’s string quartet version, but this was impossible to arrange properly for one guitar. Luckily, I discovered that the original strings-and-percussion score works easily.

My arrangement for electric guitar and sampled percussion is straight off the score, but I play it much more slowly, and it occupies a huge space. I can’t wait to play this one live…

Thanks for reading, and all the best for 2017!

singing-bowl-shakers-nov16

New Toys for The Keep, Nov. ’16

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Artist Appreciation – Lily Pond Orchestra

It’s been too long since my album reviewing days and, while I lack sufficient time for the serious repeat listening which a good review requires, I can at least get back into the practice of calling attention to some of my favorite fellow artists in the Ambient-Atmospheric field.

Lily Pond Orchestra was the name of Douglas Lee’s synth-driven ambient project, which can best be described as orchestral, both in its sonic texture and its compositional ambition.

Douglas was part of the Relaxed Machinery community in its years on the Ning platform, and anyone who had the pleasure of chatting with him can confirm that he was one of the nicest souls you could hope to meet. A real gentleman. We lost him, far too soon, a few years ago, but he left a rich musical legacy which is to be treasured.

Douglas’ final three albums, Tabernacle, Beautiful Day, and Suite for New England could be considered the apex of his work. They are all available from the highly-respected Earth Mantra netlabel, which also has a Bandcamp page for new releases since its 2015 restart. Shout-outs to founder Darrell Burgan and to Geoff Small, who took up leadership of the label in 2015.

Douglas’ impressive discography also includes over 30 other albums and many renditions of classical compositions but, sadly, very little of this is available any longer.There are a few albums available at CD Baby, and a handful of tracks at SoundCloud and MySpace.

However, the three albums mentioned above, by themselves, constitute an impressive body of work. I consider them essential listening, and hope you will find them enjoyable, as many of us do.

Thank you, Douglas!

douglas-lee

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Kawabata-san: a Fleeting Glimpse

As with all the arts – and sciences too – I think, one’s tastes and allegiances can – should – evolve over time. We may fanatically adhere to one musician, writer or artist above all in our youth then, in maturity, wonder what possessed us.

I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter some of the world’s greatest writers. Victor Hugo was the lion of my youth, and I still read him occasionally. I might have one more go at Les Miserables, which I’ve read six times. His lesser-known novels Toilers of the Sea and Ninety-Three are terrific page-turners with Hugo’s signature heart-stopping personal and moral dilemmas, and I really should pick up Notre-Dame de Paris once more.

Note that latter title: Wikipedia notwithstanding, it’s not The Hunchback of Notre-Dame; it never was. Quasimodo – as great and noble a character as he is – is not the title character of the novel; the cathedral is. Reading a good unabridged translation makes that clear enough.

Hugo’s irresistible romantic drive stoked my occasionally reckless and misspent youth (or what I like to imagine was), such as when I walked away from a final aimless year at university to undertake the rock musician vision quest. I still remember sitting in a large park in small-town Southern Ontario, being moved to tears by reading of Cosette’s thought, “Perhaps he is my mother, too, this man.”

Of all the writers I’ve encountered, however, the one who resonates with me the most now is Yasunari Kawabata, Japan’s first Nobel Laureate.

Kawabata-san famously said that, after Japan’s defeat in the war, he would only write elegies (although that was arguably no change from his prior work). All of his novels which I’ve had the fortune to read in translation certainly fit that category.

yasunari_kawabata_c1946

The journey began 24 years ago, when I read The Master of Go for the first time. The elegy ethos – and the tension between the classic and modern Japanese cultures – is perhaps at its sharpest in this story, which is built upon Kawabata’s reporting of a famous 1938 match between a legendary old master and the best of the younger, modern generation of players. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Kawabata cited The Master of Go as his favorite among his works (and the only one which he regarded as finished).

Kawabata’s three novels cited by the Nobel Prize Committee are Snow Country, Thousand Cranes, and The Old Capital. As outstanding as they all are, the last is my clear favorite.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over a thousand years, from the late 8th century until 1869, a year after the Meiji Imperial Restoration, when Tokyo became the capital.

Kawabata’s exquisite descriptions of natural scenes, Kyoto’s numerous religious festivals, and the city itself are sufficient to recommend The Old Capital, but what makes this gem really glow is the masterful, understated portrayal of character and relationship. Little is said; much more is left unsaid. As a molecule is mostly empty space, Kawabata’s meaning is found mostly between the written lines. I don’t claim to understand very much of what he’s getting at, so far; as with any subtle art, understanding comes with practice.

kawabata-by-karsh

Photo by Yousuf Karsh.

Kawabata-san’s influence must inevitably drift into the music, and so it has, from the beginning of the eyes cast down project. It’s most notable in the elegy pieces Like a Riven Cloud, At This Body’s Final Hour, Transitional and Mister God, This is Taylor, as well as an album in progress about which it’s too early to speak. As I wrote in the story of the Souls Adrift, in Disrepair album:

“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…” In a sense, as far as this world is concerned, I can only write elegies, too, because this temporary, chaotic ball of matter, birth and death is not our home.

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Summertime Drifts, 2 of 2: Under the Picasso, Once More

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!

eyes cast down Live 7-6-15

Playing First Day Apart. Photo by Dasi.

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…

Set List:
First Day Apart
Intervening Ages
Fading Angel
Sirens of Maya
Rebuild From Memory

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Summertime Drifts, 1 of 2: The Muse Rises!

My first of two live appearances for this summer was on June 20 at Chicago’s Sulzer Library Auditorium.

Short version:

Definitely the best gig yet, a clear step forward.

Long version:

This was the most well-rounded performance yet, with more keyboard parts, more layers, and some best-yet guitar zones.

eyes cast down at Sulzer Library, Chicago, 6.20.15

Ready to bring it. (Photo by Dasi)

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.

1st Set
First Day Apart
Intervening Age
Fading Angel
Exquisite Divination of Patterns
Sirens of Maya
Knife of Karma

2nd Set
Rebuild From Memory
Haven
I Am But a Fledgling…
Expanse of Heart
Sumiregusa (Enya)
Submerge/Emerge

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2014 in Review: Afterimages and Transitions

It’s that time of year again… time for the dreaded Year-End Review. An attempt to make sense of 2014 and formulate an idea of where 2015 might lead.

I’m a little embarrassed to note that I didn’t even do this last year! But 2013 was a quiet year, and I didn’t work on anything solo. I recorded my parts for The Rage of Reason (see below) and Afterimages (from Memory Palace, below), and arranged my odd-meter electronic groove parts for Somewhere the Circle Stops (from Memory Palace), along with a handbell choir version of Arvo Pärt’s Summa. That was it. (Handbell choirs: please get in touch!)

Memory Palace Album - Front Cover

Anyway, 2014 was the most productive year yet! The highlights are, predictably, its two releases, Divinations and Memory Palace (with Chris Russell). Each album was several years in the making, and included work recorded before I left Canada to move Stateside. Both are self-released on my Kalindi Music label, with Memory Palace being a joint release with Chris’ Void Music.

Four pieces were released on three compilation albums. The Relaxed Machinery label‘s collection reBOOT included two duo pieces: The Rage of Reason and Particles and Waves. On the first, Peter James provided a nice drone chord over which I laid a couple of guitar parts, using an original effects patch which I’m really pleased with and will definitely use again. For the second, Chris Russell took a metal-handrail-drumming groove of mine and bathed it in his signature synth atmospheres. (He also did this on Spatial Mnemonics from the Memory Palace album.)

(Details on the other two compilation pieces below.)

2014 was a great year for composition – most of it in the month of January. In the first week, I finished arranging and recording my part for Somewhere the Circle Stops, the ambitious closing piece on the Memory Palace album.

Album cover: Divinations by eyes cast down

Still in January, I took up four improvised pieces from the April 2012 multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans and Tali Farchi. I had to distill and rearrange the good parts into actual compositions. These will make up most of the next solo album. The artwork will be all from Royce and Tali.

I recorded one of these pieces, Fading Angel, shortly after its performance at my library concert in mid-November, which marked my return to live performance after a two-year break. One of the others, Sirens of Maya, was already recorded, but its live performance (also at the library concert) was so pleasing that I’m going to use that version instead.

Still in January, I applied the same distillation process to three of six pieces from the two September 2012 events (all six of which will make up the second next solo album). One of these, Emerge, was also played at the library concert and the studio version recorded shortly thereafter.

So that was a really good month…

After January, there wasn’t as much composition time as one would like, but I managed to work up three pieces, all for compilation albums.

ShineCoverMister God, This is Taylor was published on the Waiting World Records album Shine Like the Stars. This memorial tribute was curated by Waiting World’s Michael Peck, in honor of a young and dear family friend, someone I would like to have met. Musically, this was a clear step forward in my composition process toward something that’s beginning to emerge as “my sound”. The story begins here.

Driven to Ground is a drone experiment, intended for the open-ended compilation I No Longer Love Blue Skies from Sound For Good Records. This is an evolving synth texture, which I’ve sketched out but not executed yet. I’ll know if it amounts to anything…. when it’s done.

The year closed in a rush, with the library concert and the subsequent recordings. With all that going on, there was just enough time to meet one more deadline: the compilation Power Beyond Fathom, from CRL Studios. This is a benefit for Chicago musician Don Hill and his family. Don, aka Millipede, was diagnosed with Stage 4 renal cancer late in the year. I’m honored to have my piece Transitional included in this 3-part, 47-track collection. Transitional marked my first use of more-or-less normal-sounding drum kits to drive the piece, and was a hallucination of what a collaboration with Don might sound like. Sadly, that now seems most unlikely.

The compilation pieces continue to serve as testing grounds for new ideas and approaches. Almost every one of them is a “first” of some kind.

2014 also marked the release of my first guest appearance, on the album Halla from Ari Porki and Christopher Alvarado. I contributed electric guitar and EBowed fretless electric to one piece, Ruska. My colleagues Jack Hertz, Cousin Silas, Stephen Briggs and Void of Realms also guested. Halla is available from the 45 Echoes Sounds netlabel.

We moved in late September, and the new studio is the most spacious yet. The layout changed only slightly, so v3.1 of The Keep goes something like this:

The Keep Nov 4-14

So what’s on the horizon for 2015?

I’m inclined to be cautious about looking ahead, because very few items from my hope-to-accomplish in 2013 list actually got done that year. So let’s just say what I hope to be working on:

Albums 4, 5 and 6 are all partly recorded, so the priority is finishing these and kicking them out of the nest.

After these, the Concerto for Ambient Orchestra looms as the most likely project to start up next. There are also the covers album and two collaborations, one already settled (with Chris Russell) and the other on a wait-and-see basis. So there’s never a shortage of choices…

There’s also one piece to be drafted for a potential collaborator, which would be the concluding track of a future album – which is part of a multi-album cycle. That one piece could be a year or two down the road; it’s a real case of “if and when”, so I’ll leave it there for now.

So here we are, and there we might go. As always, many thanks for your interest and support, and all the best for 2015! (My year’s already off to a great start, because I’m finally going to get to see Steve Roach play live in February. Hope to see you there!)

Doesn't every Christmas tree need an owl?

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