Posts Tagged Arvo Pärt

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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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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Sundry Bits of Dabble: a Lifetime’s Artistic Resume

This is probably a total Exercise in Self-Indulgence, but anyway… JKN thought it was a good idea, so who am I to argue? Maybe he’s just trying to get me razzed or something… but it will be cool to see what others have to report on this subject, if they care to.

The idea was to recount a lifetime’s artistic activity, an artistic resume, if you like. In my case, that involves mostly writing, music and theater.

After grade school choir, nothing happens until Grade 11 (1975), when I get into acting. At my small rural high school, we staged the first two plays of James Reaney’s classic Donnellys trilogy, Sticks and Stones and St. Nicholas Hotel.

In between those two came the First Watershed Event: My Fair Lady in Grade 12 (1977). I had never intended to get involved with a musical, but somehow or other was invited and convinced to try out for the lead part of Prof. Henry Higgins – and got it! The production went very well, and I had a great time. This. Changed. Everything.

By this time I had determined that I was going to be a writer, so my orientation changed from math/computer nerd to artistic wannabe – although the computer thing (as far as it goes) still comes in pretty handy.

After My Fair Lady, next year’s musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, was a big step backwards but, as most of our major talent had graduated, it was all we could manage. It was OK, but if I’d known that it would cost me a place on the soccer team, I probably would have passed.

My three-year university career was dominated by a comedy performance group which I started and administered, which played mostly Monty Python, a handful of Saturday Night Live bits and some originals.

There were also frequent open mic nights in our college, for which I played solo or teamed up with various friends. Memorable songs that I can recall playing include: Horse with No Name (America), Let It Be and Here Comes the Sun (Beatles), Flowers are Red (Harry Chapin), The Eagle and the Hawk (John Denver), Lucky Man (Greg Lake), Imagine (John Lennon), Circle of Steel, If Children Had Wings and Endless Wire (Gordon Lightfoot), Rivendell (Rush), and Stairway to Heaven (yeah, yeah) with no guitar solo.

Our comedy group also played a couple of these, with fairly infamous results. The most memorable was probably the night only two of our six guys could attend, for which we prepared all the classic Python two-handers (Parrot Sketch, Cheeseshop, Travel Agent, Nudge Nudge, etc.). A friend of mine in the audience, unsolicited, played the part of a howling mole, and definitely upped the ante for us.

I left university a year early (1981) to join a rock band with my then-best friend. I was the drummer, with a carbon copy of Neil Peart’s Tama kit to prove it. We played lots of Rush, and songs by Led Zeppelin, Max Webster, Jimi Hendrix, Yes, Frank Zappa and others. Without a keyboard player, we did interesting arrangements of ELP’s Lucky Man and Yes’ Starship Trooper. My favorites were the first four songs from Rush’s Moving Pictures LP, along with their La Villa Strangiato and Yes’ I’ve Seen All Good People.

That lasted about four years, so now we’re into the mid-1980s. Married life intervened shortly thereafter, but there was still time for try out standup comedy at a Toronto comedy club’s open mic night. I went twice and thought I did pretty well, but gave it up in disgust, as the common taste ran to what I would politely label “toilet graffiti”. I think Bill Cosby would have a much tougher slog if he started out today.

In 1989, I started up a vocal duo with a friend, which later grew to a trio. Our instrumentation was just my guitar. This lasted about two years, and memorable songs that we played include: A Sort of Homecoming (U2), Mrs. Robinson, The Sound of Silence, Bookends and Scarborough Fair (Simon & Garfunkel), Bluebird (Paul McCartney), If You Could Read My Mind and Rainy Day People (Gordon Lightfoot), Cats in the Cradle (Harry Chapin), Nowhere Man, Blackbird, Across the Universe and She Loves You (Beatles).

Apart from a few guitar ideas, none of the stuff that I wrote up to this point has survived – with good reason. The earliest writing that I’ve kept is what came next. My separation and divorce led to a period of introspection and exploration, punctuated by occasional poetical eruptions (1993-96). Therapeutic venting in the form of free-associative wordplay. Most of them are more or less embarrassing now but a few of them still stand up, which I published here as the Divinations series.

Time for the Second Watershed Event: the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Music By the Masses workshop in 1997. A small fee bought me guidance from a real composer (Martin van de Ven, from the Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band), while I wrote a three-minute trio to be recorded by TSO musicians. I was quite pleased with my Trio Galactique for violin, viola & cello, which timed in at a modest 2:37. It dabbled in, and hastily disposed of, enough ideas for a handful of pieces. Already the influence of Arvo Pärt, whom I’d recently discovered, can be heard. When I can wrench the audio out of the cassette, I’ll post it here.

This turned me irresistibly away from wannabe writer, to wannabe composer/musician. Around this time I took up mantra meditation. After a few more years of acoustic guitar noodling, which now took a more contemplative and devotional turn, I discovered Steve Roach and the ambient/electronic universe (2001). Everything. Changed. Again.

In 2004, another cocoon split and eyes cast down emerged. And here we are.

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