Posts Tagged chicago

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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Back in the Game: Live at Archer Heights Library

After a two-year break, it was time to get back on the live wagon, to make sure the wheels were still securely attached. So I jumped at the library’s invitation.

I had planned to play all composed pieces, but it finally dawned (at the last rehearsal) that this was involving too many guitars (four, including the 12-string and the acoustic), so I cut back to the usual two and revamped the program, allowing for a couple of improvised flings.

So I ended up with three pieces from The Separate Ones, two from the next solo album, one from the album after that, and the two improvs. I used just the two guitars, apart from the synth line in Radha’s Tears.

The minimum success threshold for a live show of mine is pretty basic: no power outages, no blue screens of death, no screaming feedback, and no crazy blue notes. So… on this day we’re all good.

Actually, it was one of the better shows. The live take on Sirens of Maya is so pleasing that it may replace the finished studio recording on the next album.

So, we got music to share!

Here is a medley of highlights, also on Soundcloud:

Submerge/Emerge (part of which closes this highlight clip) is free with all Memory Palace digital pre-orders. A download link will be emailed. This ends on Release Day (Dec. 8), though the download link will be good until all pre-purchasers have confirmed receipt.

I was so chuffed at how Emerge turned out – thanks to its improved structural re-arrangement at the last rehearsal – that I recorded the studio version last night. Six guitar parts, and no looping – all the repeating parts were played through. This allows for variety in phrasing and processing, and liberates me from the metronome.

Concert day wasn’t the best day for photos, but here’s one before:

Pre-Concert Setup

and one during:

Shaping Some Space

Program:

First Day Apart

Fading Angel

Improv 1: Glittering Depths

Radha’s Tears

 

Rebuild From Memory

Sirens of Maya

Improv 2: Submerge

Emerge

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The Week of Playing Dangerously: My Two Live Art Shows

To get this month started on a hectic note (or cluster thereof), I played two live shows, bookending the week. They were: Sunday, April 1 at one of the empty storefronts in downtown Chicago which have been converted into temporary visual arts studios; and Saturday, April 7, at a café in northern Chicago.

Both shows involved working with live art painters. For the most part, I was pleased with how the music turned out. There may even be a nugget or two that’s fit to release on a live album down the road. Time will tell. You can hear two clips of highlights from these two shows, over 32 minutes of music, on my website’s Music page.

I also learned a ton about what works and what doesn’t, in both hardware and software setup, which kick-started an evolutionary process in the rig. One more good reason to leave the safety of the studio and venture out there!

Two things in particular stand out:

Loop Station RC-300, by Roland1) the software looper on which I was relying simply doesn’t work as advertised, so I was forced to buy a hardware one – a much better outcome. It’s a dreamy Roland Loop Station, which I’ve named Quincy (fellow Chicago residents will be able to figure it out); and

2) circumstance forced a new layout for the first of these two shows, which worked so well that I’ve adopted it for the studio as well as live playing. That will be a separate blog post, probably the next one.

eyes cast down Plays Live, April 1, 2012 at Paint in Action, Chicago

Photo by Dasi

The April 1 show was a collaboration with artists Royce Deans and Tali Farchi, who have been working with live musicians for five years. I met them through a mutual friend (thanks, Eve!) and learned about their Colorboration Project, which was just what I was looking for: a chance to play with visual artists, all working live in a spontaneous, improvisational setting. We arranged the gig on just five days’ notice, the day after I met them.

This is the piece Royce painted to the music:

Painted by Royce Deans April 1, 2012 with music of eyes cast down

(c) 2012 by Royce Deans. All rights reserved.

As if the ante wasn’t upped enough already, I didn’t have time to get brand-new Quincy out of the box until the day before this show. But he instantly became an essential part of the rig. I use him for both guitars and percussion. One of the many cool consequences of using him is that it’s really easy (with the ability to run three independent loops) to crossfade/segue from one piece to the next so the music doesn’t have to stop. Now I want to get a second one, so I can devote one to guitars and the other to percussion and voice – which will actually simplify things. Well done, Roland!

This was Tali’s response to the music:

Painted by Tali Farchi, April 21, 2012

(c) 2012 by Tali Farchi. All rights reserved.

To exploit the spontaneous nature of the interaction with Royce and Tali – and to add to the “jumping off a cliff” factor – I decided that I would mostly improvise the music on this day. The only composed piece I played was First Day Apart. For other pieces, I had ideas of what to use, and sometimes elements set aside. Everything else came up in the moment, which was an extra bonus.

Case in point (and one of the high points of the day): Mystic Memory. I tuned Electra (my Danelectro 12-string) to Alexander Scriabin’s famous Mystic Chord. None of the usual unison or octave intervals usually used in 12-string tuning were happening here – and I started playing with a slide, which I’ve never done much until now. This piece went into some surprising, almost avant-garde territory. The slide is quickly becoming a fixture.

The other highlight for me was Om Hari Om, a largely percussive soundscape featuring voice samples from a friend, actor David Ludwig. I was really pleased with the five-minute-long fade which brought the performance to a serene close. Royce remarked that it sounded more like the music was moving away from us, rather than simply fading out. Perfect.

Set list:
Kinkakuji
First Day Apart
Fading Angel
Desert Oasis
Resounding State of Silence
Mystic Memory
Om Hari Om

The April 7 show took place at Royal Coffee, one of our favorite cafés, in East Rogers Park, Chicago. This show was about evenly divided between improvised and composed pieces.

Ghost of the Green Forest by Walter Palmer Burrows

(c) 2012 by Walter Palmer Burrows. All rights reserved.

Two artists were involved, again: paintings by Walter Palmer Burrows were on display for the evening, and Phoenix Heller painted at least half a dozen pieces to the music.

I began both shows the same way, with a Zen-like percussive zone, Kinkakuji, named after Kyoto’s famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which was immortalized in Yukio Mishima’s novel of that name.

eyes cast down Play Live, April 7, 2012 in Chicago

Photo by Dasi

The highlight, this evening, was easily Arvo Pärt’s Fratres. If not for two small mistakes, it might have been good enough to release. But I’ll get there. It’s definitely slated for my album of cover pieces, but that’s a year or two away.

Touchstone Array, a version of a piece with Chris Russell on our in-progress Memory Palace album, escalated into a slide-guitar-and-hybrid-groove frenzy. Rebuild From Memory did the same with just guitar. In both cases, I was using Pat, my high-strung Squier Strat.

This is one of the pieces that Phoenix painted that night:

Painted by Phoenix Heller, April 7, 2012, to music of eyes cast down

(c) 2012 by Phoenix Heller. All rights reserved.

After a tempestuous Mystic Memory, a plaintive Radha’s Tears wound down the evening.

Set list:
Kinkakuji
First Day Apart
Touchstone Array
Rebuild From Memory
Om Hari Om

Fratres (Pärt)
Mystic Memory
Radha’s Tears

Many thanks to everyone who turned out, and to all four artists for really bringing it – and for their enjoyment of the music. Work from all four of them graces our apartment now, and I look forward to working with all of them again. The next event with Walter Burrows – the opening of his month-long show at Royal Coffee – is already booked for May 12. Details at my website’s Events page.

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American Dreaming

Downtown ChicagoFirst off, I’m thrilled to announce a gorgeous new design for eyescastdown.com, from Mara of Gourami Studio, who also designed my Kalindi Music website. She put my old hackwork to shame, and also supplied the photo for my blog’s new look. Thanks, Mara! Please visit both of us.

Second, after a lifetime in Canada, I have moved from Toronto to Chicago. Thereby hangs a tale…

Anyone following the progress of my recording projects might have been struck by my apparent failure (or refusal) to finish an album, while defiantly starting up new ones.

At the end of 2010, two albums were nearing completion: my solo debut The Separate Ones and the Keshava-Lila trio album Pastimes of Creation.

Then, next thing you know, in spring 2011, they’re still nearing completion (and suspiciously, nothing more is being said about them), but now other projects are rising up. Not just single pieces, but an entire new album – and then another. What’s going on? Is this guy ever going to finish anything?

1. Three remixes of James Johnson’s music for the Butterfly Effects series. Two Fractured Mirrors will be in Vol. 1. As for Mandala Nebula and Nightshade, time will tell.

Due to circumstances I had to keep it under my hat, but now I can finally tell the story. Back to the beginning:

A certain fine lady moved from Chicago to Toronto in the summer of 2007. We were married a year later. At the end of 2008, we decided to move to Chicago to teach mantra meditation, which we have each practiced for years. It was her idea and a good one; and I’d flipped for the city on our first visit a month prior. Done deal!

2. Gypsy Girl in Paris, a piano-santur groove track for Disturbed Earth, which he will presumably render unrecognizable in his trademark magical way.

We began the immigration process in March 2009. We had no idea how long it would take! The inevitable slow process, among other circumstances, delayed our final submission of documents until December 2010, a month before the deadline. Failure to meet this deadline would have meant starting the entire process over again. Not an option.

3. Three light groove pieces for a yoga show, which may meet their destiny on a yoga-meditation album from Meditation Chicago. These fall under the Kalindi Music banner.

Here’s where it got gnarly: even though my wife is a U.S. citizen, because she was no longer a resident, she had to move there (without me, due to circumstance) to establish residence and employment. We packed up our apartment (including my studio, The Keep) and she drove to Chicago in the first week of January 2011.

We anticipated that I would have my visa within a month or so, and hoped that I would obtain a job within another month, so that I could join her in Chicago sometime in March. In the meantime, I lived out of a suitcase, at the home of friends. Thanks, friends!

4. Around Christmas 2010, I had proposed a collaboration to Chris Russell, for which I would supply him with grooves. (I hadn’t worked with grooves much yet – and he hadn’t at all – so I just thought it was time.) We agreed to try one piece and see how it went.

Shortly after this, the next Relaxed Machinery compilation was proposed. The idea was to randomly pair off the label’s artists for collaborative pieces. You can guess the rest: Chris and I were matched up; so were another pair of musicians who were already working on something. There are no accidents.

At this point, the careless attitude of consulate personnel took over, highlighted by a crazy-making, stubborn Refusal to Communicate. They lost our final document package (which had been couriered), and it took us over four months (and a Congressional inquiry) to get them to tell us that much! So we had to send the package again. This all happened after they changed the procedure for submitting documents (without bothering to contact those of us with applications in process).

From a friend we learned that we weren’t being singled out or picked on; apparently such things are commonplace for the particular consulate office with which we had to deal. So a word to the wise: if you’re a Canadian planning to emigrate to the U.S., go west! Sayin’?

5. The result of my work with Chris, Particles and Waves, was so satisfying that it was clear an entire album was in order. It’s half finished at this point, with tracks titled Primitive and Prime, Spatial Mnemonics and Touchstone Array. The album title is Memory Palace, and Relaxed Machinery will release it sometime in 2012.

Even when our visa was finally issued in late July 2011, the consulate kept a sullen silence. We got the good news from our Congresswoman’s office – many thanks to them for intervening on our behalf! I was visiting my wife in Chicago (celebrating our third anniversary) when we got the news, and a short dance around the living room ensued. It had taken 28 months for the visa to come through. I’ve heard of cases which have taken five or ten years, and of people who have given up the attempt. Horrific.

Anyway, a few weeks later I was in Chicago for job interviews. At the end of September, I finally joined my wife there after a nine-month separation. During that time I’d visited three times, for a total of four weeks.

6. Brad Ross-MacLeod sent out a call for submissions for a compilation, with which he would kick-start his Free Floating netlabel. My first all-softsynth piece, Exquisite Divination of Patterns, made it onto the Conception album, alongside some esteemed colleagues. Thanks, Brad!

Why so hush-hush? The usual simple reason: I couldn’t speak online about what was going on (except to a few friends in confidence), because I couldn’t risk my employer finding out that I was looking to leave.

During those nine months, I kept busy with music projects…

7. The Divination process was so energizing (and the result so satisfying) that I immediately resolved to undertake an entire album in softsynth mode. The first piece, Radiant Perception, immediately followed. The rest of the album is down the road a bit.

All of these projects were done on a laptop, mostly with samples, as well as a few drumming loops recorded with bare hands on a metal handrail, 30 floors up in my work building. I also recorded my friend David Ludwig’s voice in that stairwell, for the Pastimes of Creation project.

What’s next? Now that I’m in the Windy City, I have to set up The Keep and re-learn how to power up stuff. There are a few administrative tasks like synchronizing hard drives and installing software updates. Then to work:

The Separate Ones, Pastimes of Creation and Memory Palace albums have to be finished. In what order remains to be seen, though hopefully in that order, the order in which they began.

There’s also another collaborative track for the Relaxed Machinery compilation, for which Peter James has provided me a rich drone. I’m thinking to weave a few guitar lines over that, but we’ll see when we get to it.

Then there’s an album with violinist Ezra Azmon, who appears on the requiem piece Like a Riven Cloud from the Separate Ones album. I recorded his playing a year ago, which will be mostly recycled. Again, I’m thinking my parts will probably be just guitars, but you never know…

That will conclude the first cluster of eyes cast down albums. Then I’ll take a break to finish recording a backlog of ecstatic songs that have accumulated over the years, and probably start a couple of other ambitious projects, the first one for choir. Stay tuned to Kalindi Music for details.

Then the next chapter of eyes cast down will begin. Many projects are in the plans, including the softsynth album, two albums of cover pieces, a collaboration with an honored colleague and friend, and more.

My only regret about the move is that I’ll have to curtail my behind-the-scenes involvement with the Relaxed Machinery label and Ning community. I’ve been working with John Koch-Northrup, Steve Brand and Geoff Small for over a year, and I’m the lucky one, getting to work with such men as them. But there just won’t be time for it, going forward. Hopefully someone new will step in. Regardless, Relaxed Machinery remains my home artistic community.

I’ve enjoyed hearing and writing about a lot of great music in the past two years, but there won’t be time for that anymore either. I’m grateful that my reviews have been well-received. Fortunately, there are others doing a great job of spreading the word about this music that we all love.

Thus concludes a chapter. Turn the page… the next one promises to be exciting!

Chicago Cultural Center

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