Archive for category Working That Studio

2015 in Review: Many Seeds Got Planted

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!

GM in Keep, Dec 27-15

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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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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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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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October Grooves – Building a Memory Palace in the Forest

My wife and I have taken several long-weekend trips to the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center near Bloomington, IN, and from the first visit (18 months ago), it became our go-to getaway place. It features pervasive quiet, pristine grounds for walking, deer wandering fearlessly, tranquil temple space, and four retreat cabins nestled in a woodland ideal for hiking.

Dasi & Deer

So you might imagine my anticipation of a full nine days there, during my favorite season… my first real vacation (meaning, a week or more outside the city) in at least three years. Kalman Cat accompanied us in all his royal pomp.

I took the laptop, and spent a couple of hours per day working on several projects.

The primary focus was on Album #3, Memory Palace, a duo with Chris Russell, which was about half-finished, but on hold since my Stateside move two years ago. I’m wearing the Percussionist hat on this project.

The first task was to listen to the three pieces already done. Fortunately, I still like my parts, and I only made a few tweaks to one of them.

So, my parts for two pieces remained to be done. Elements for one of them had already been recorded on New Year’s Day ’13, so only the arrangement remained. This one is atmospheric rather than rhythmic, and utilizes some amusing homemade/processed samples. I think of it as the album’s slow movement.

The final track is more complicated, as it will be alternating acoustic and electronic grooves – with some potentially thrilling polyrhythmic crossfades, as the electronic parts are all in odd-number time signatures (I got to wear my prog rock drummer hat again!). Anyway, I got those parts done, so hopefully a studio session or two with the acoustic drums will finish this. Then it’s over to Chris.

There was enough time to spend one day each on two future projects:

First up was the Ambient Orchestra Concerto. It was time to get clear on the basic parameters, so it’s not merely a warm and fuzzy idea any more. I hope to start working on this late next year, with 11 colleagues signed on and hopefully more to come.

Kalman Walks the Line 2

The last day’s task was listening to some live improvised pieces from last year, and making notes on how best to work them into proper compositions. There are probably two albums’ worth of these, and I hope to get them moving in the new year.

Forest 26

Finally, the Retreat Center’s Cultural Building looks like a fine live setting for the music, and its visitors are very likely to be an ideal audience. So I’ve begun a discussion with the events manager. I’m hopeful that we’ll arrange a performance for the spring or summer.

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Hamster on a Speeding Treadmill: My Studio, v2

It’s wonderful how circumstances can push one forward. Venturing out to play live this year has been a major growing process, as one learns quickly (and sharply) what works and what doesn’t. For this fledgling, circumstance dictated a significant setup change, which was such a huge improvement that it instantly took over the studio. Adapt or die…

Here is The Keep v1 – the original setup of the computer table and keyboard/percussion stand, perfectly suitable for the studio hermit I was at the time (and the way that I thought I would play live):

The Keep v1, October 2011

The stage at the April 1 live art gig forced a change, which has the extra benefit of allowing me to see out in front (when I can spare a moment to look up), and is way more ergonomic for the way that I actually play live. This was a no-brainer to implement in The Keep, and it goes something like this:

The Keep v2, Oct. 2012

Thanks to the new djembe and clay pot drum (and their dedicated microphone), once I get to the chair and move them into place, I’m completely surrounded. It ain’t called The Keep for nothing…

So that’s The Keep v2. Never finished, just a work in progress…

Looking ahead: v3 will be the dream rig: a second mondo Loop Station (one for guitars, one for voices and percussion), both fed by a mixer, with compressor and reverb boxes in the respective signal paths, all feeding the Musical Box, along with MIDI from the keyboard controller and (dream about it) a Roland GR-55 guitar synth. There will also be a few more drums, probably at least a tar and a djun djun. Yum yum!

(When that happens, I’ll probably move the keyboard stand next to the computer table at a right angle, and turn them to make a V opening forward. My seat – at the bottom of the V – would be a drum throne, allowing me to spin around as needed. I’ll need a bigger room… John Cleese moment: That’s planning, isn’t it? Forethought!)

Another major circumstantial change has been the birth of the laptop/softsynth live experience. This was necessitated by the art show background music gig back in May, for which I didn’t want to bring the concert rig to the smallish café again. That would have distracted from the art show. On top of that, many otherwise viable art galleries and other spaces are just too small for the concert rig.

Inspiration struck: I could compose spontaneously with softsynths, on the laptop, and fit everything on a little table out of the way, in the background proper. Call it The Keep Portable

eyes cast down Laptop Rig

This approach yielded the Free Floating pieces Exquisite Divination of Patterns, Radiant Perception (hopefully to come soon) and Crystalline. The first was such a pleasant surprise that the second followed almost immediately. After Crystalline, I thought I was probably done with working in that mode. Fool!

I don’t want to be a laptop jockey, creating arrangements (I wouldn’t call them compositions) entirely from prefab/pre-recorded elements. Some folks do very well at that, but it’s not my path. My way is tabula rasa, spontaneous composition from scratch, using Ableton Live’s “pencil/piano roll” feature to write in the notes. My softsynths are Propellerhead Reason, Native Instruments Absynth and Camel Audio Cameleon 5000 (the precursor to Alchemy). I have hopes that a viable longform piece will one day emerge from this process.

Work in progress. Let’s see what happens next year…

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Kalindi Music – My Label & Other Projects

Website Logo - KalindiMusic.comKalindi Music is my publisher and CD label, as well as the online home for my music projects apart from eyes cast down.

These fall loosely into the categories of Yoga/Meditation, Ecstatic, Classical and Other.

So far, the only project with anything to show is the acoustic guitar-based devotional project Mukunda’s Friends. Our song Lacrimosa is an ecstatic song of separation and longing, beautifully sung by Alannah, who also appears on the eyes cast down piece Expanse of Heart.

On the horizon for Kalindi Music: several eyes cast down CD releases, a CD of Yoga/Meditation music, a choir project and an orchestral project. Some of these are not necessarily on the near horizon…

I couldn’t be more thrilled with the website design, which was done by friend Mara of Gourami Studio. She’s doing first-rate work, and beginning to get the notice that she deserves.

Mara’s portfolio includes branding, logos and labels, print and digital designs and websites. She has just finalized the text logo for my wife’s website (she’s a lawyer).

Mara is also working on a new design for www.eyescastdown.com, which should be at least a 2000% improvement over my original. I hope to work with her on more projects after that! I can’t recommend her enough – go take a look at her portfolio and see for yourself.

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