Posts Tagged composition

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!


New Toys for The Keep, Nov. ’16


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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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Right Here Right Now: a Status Snapshot

This is cool: my buddy John Koch-Northrup, who runs the Relaxed Machinery music label and artistic community, just posted an “instant interview” of 10 questions. I always have fun with this sort of thing (see my “Credo” post, which came about in a similar way), so I thought it would serve as a handy quick update for anyone who’s cruising by. More soon!

1.  What is your main project right now?

New album: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair. Postproduction almost finished, waiting for the artwork to be emailed so I can process that. “Story of the album” blog coming soon…

2.  Do you have additional projects in the works as well?

Eight of them. And that’s only counting the projects for which composition and recording have begun.

3.  What motivated any of these projects? Influence? Inspiration?

The usual: Life the Universe and Everything.

4.  What do you hope to achieve?

Ultimately, a symphonic ambient fusion of my favorite musical genres, in Just Intonation. It’s years away…

5.  How do you release your work?

On CD, on my own label (and hopefully others), and by download.

6.  Desert Island Items?

16-track mixer, another Roland Loop Station, upright electric bass (just thought of that today!). Of course, if I get that, my wife might just send me to a damn desert island…

7.  If you could tell your young self something about your creative career you’ve learned – what would it be?

Stop dabbling and get serious!

8.  How do you hope your works will be remembered?

To recycle that phrase I cooked up recently: as ritual, soul-shaking, deepcore magic.

9.  If you could have only one ‘tool’ what would it be?

Electric guitar through a computer full of FX.

10.  Who do you hope will answer these questions in the community?

Max Corbacho. But I’m not going to bug him…

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eyes cast down 2013 Promo Sampler – Available for Free Download

Cranberry Lake, NY

The annual ritual…

I’ve compiled an up-to-date mix of clips from 16 pieces into a 55-minute promotional montage, covering the entire spectrum of the eyes cast down sound as it stands today, from serene atmospherics to power Zen to tribalism.

Electric and acoustic guitars, synths, percussion, voices – even live tabula-rasa laptop composition – they’re all here.

Some tracks are from published compilations, some are works in progress, and some from forthcoming albums. More than half are live recordings.

It breaks out something like this:

1. Exquisite Divination of Patterns (Conception; Free Floating netlabel)
2. I Am but a Fledgling… (live; work in progress)
3. Darklight Canon (forthcoming album)
4. Radiant Perception (unreleased)
5. Snowdance in Starlight (all is calm 2012; Free Floating netlabel)
6. Resounding State of Silence (live; forthcoming album)
7. Crystalline (all is calm 2011; Free Floating netlabel)
8. First Expanse (live; work in progress)
9. Emerge (live; work in progress)
10. Haven (live; work in progress)
11. Fading Angel (live; forthcoming album)
12. Ensō (live laptop composition; unreleased)
13. … New to Flight (live; work in progress)
14. Mystic Memory (live; forthcoming album)
15. Last of His Breed (Oceans & S4G Mix I; Sound For Good label)
16. Om Hari Om (live; forthcoming album)

Like the Separate Ones album preview mix, this sampler is available for free download and non-commercial distribution, from my Bandcamp store – along with an optional Media Page, a two-page color PDF including photos, Bio and Raves. I hope you find it enjoyable.

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Book Review: Perspectives on Writing Inspired Music by Robert Bruce

In Between the Lines, Book Two: Perspectives on Writing Inspired Music
by Robert Bruce, self-published summer 2012

Listening to any one minute of Robert Bruce’s music makes clear his total commitment to the creative act as a spiritual quest for beauty, joy, and eternal truth. I see this is self-evidently inspiring and admirable, but this attitude is totally opposed to today’s musical mainstreams – especially, many of those who purport to teach aspiring composers.

Indeed, he is probably a pariah to the “classical” or “serious” music world, which nearly a century ago (under the poisonous influence of a handful of intellectuals) overthrew beauty, joy and eternal truth as the highest goals in music, and replaced them with … shock value. The resultant pollution is everywhere, whether you’re sourcing MTV or composers in residence.

In this book, along with his artistic credo, Robert sets out the creative approach that has worked for him, explaining how and why this approach will nurture any aspiring composer.

I think this book’s importance is such that anyone who aspires to write (or teach) music should read it.


Robert holds that no one can really “teach” composition. Too often, the teacher tries to impose upon the student their own narrow view of what constitutes music and composition. “This is what you must learn, and this is how you must compose.” The teacher has accepted, as dogma, some regime that worked for someone else in the past – often centuries past – and the student is expected to blindly follow that.

But it simply doesn’t work that way. Creativity, by definition, is not conformist. It is a uniquely personal, unavoidably individual process. No one else’s methods or approaches can work for me – except my own, which I must discover. Trying to impose some other process upon a creative aspirant is simply closed-minded, and can have only one result: frustration. The aspirant all too often will simply give up, accepting that they don’t have what it takes to write music.

As proof of this, Robert describes a heartbreaking visit which he paid to a fourth-year university pedagogy class – about twenty young women who were planning on becoming piano teachers:

As I presented some of my own music and talked about how I went about finding and developing ideas, the young ladies started making frequent comments like “I used to do that”, “I used to love doing that”, and so on. I was mainly talking about my joy and approach in finding and working with the musical ideas that would come to me just by being open to them. When I asked them to explain to me what they meant they invariably said that their parents and/or earlier teachers had had often said to them to not waste their practicing time by messing around with such “nonsense”, to get serious about playing “real” music, to not play childish games, etc., and – most tragic of all – to not foolishly venture into the realm of writing music or composing at such a young age. Eventually, they all seemingly more or less gave up these experimental and creative practices after having had their balloons burst so many times by the adults around them. [emphasis mine]

If the tragedy of this outcome is not plain to you, if it doesn’t move you to anger (or at least pity), then I can only hope that you’re not involved with teaching anything to anyone. Creative processes are a birthright for us all, which parents and teachers are supposed to nurture and encourage – not suppress.

Robert’s approach is a liberating rejection of dogmatic practices and a return to the path of true creativity. It is like throwing off handcuffs, rolling up the blinds and opening all the windows to a sunny spring breeze.

Robert’s compositional “method” is also mentioned above: just playing with the notes, allowing ideas and phrases to emerge in their own time, not trying to force anything to happen. It is supposed to be play, not work; fun, not labor. Robert views the creative act as a gift of grace, a visit from the spiritual realm. Our part as creatives is to open ourselves to that visit, gratefully receive and document it when it arrives, and not try to make it happen. Hence the essential individuality of the act – it depends on the openness of the receiver. It is only when we work in this way that we will be given true music, that which embodies the beauty, joy and truth which we crave.

Those who are taking the first tentative steps towards finding their individual creative voices need to understand this, more than anything else they may learn along the way. So I think the greatest favor you can do for an aspiring composer or musician is to give them a copy of Robert’s book. Anyone can find it liberating and inspiring – as I have.

Notwithstanding a century of shock value and the current unimaginable degradation of most music (whether “serious” or popular), the source and aims of true Music have not changed, and never will. Let us, as composers, proclaim them openly and lay the foundation for a new musical Renaissance. I think it has never been more urgently needed.

In summary: 10 out of 10. Required reading for all music teachers and students.

Available from Robert Bruce Music, along with In Between the Lines, Book One: an Essay on the Therapeutic Value of Music, Musical Aesthetics and the Spiritual Origins of Music.

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In Between the Lines Vol. 2 – New Book from Composer Robert Bruce

ImageCanadian composer (and long-time friend o’ mine) Robert Bruce has just published the second of three books in his series In Between the Lines.

I think Perspectives on Writing Inspired Music is so important that it should be absolutely required reading for all music teachers and students.

From Robert’s website:

In Between the Lines – Book Two: Perspectives on Writing Inspired Music offers an unprecedented collection of practical and unusually vivid insights into the inner workings of writing music and the creative process, and is presented with a thoroughness and level of detail that won’t likely be found in any other writing on the subject. All of composer/author Robert Bruce’s most far-reaching secrets, gathered over almost four decades of writing inspired music, are shared in an easy to follow overview that addresses many subtle and usually-unspoken concerns and gives the reader a great deal of solid ground to stand on in creative matters.

“Possibly the most encouraging and ‘cut to the chase’ writing on composition ever published, this book without a doubt has the reader’s interests at heart and will help practically any composer connect some of the inner, intuitive dots in ways that anticipate and inevitably lead toward the desired end result of adding more life and vitality to his or her own original music, regardless of its style or genre. The reader is invited into a world of pure creativity and inspiration and may take from it as many ideas as he or she deems desirable for his or her own creative/musical purposes.

“The author not only clearly explains how to develop one’s own compositional method and style but also details a number of elements that can be potentially damaging or confining to the creative process, particularly in the earlier stages of development when one’s habits, patterns and working methods are formed. Some of the things to be cautious of are so commonplace, subtle and seemingly innocent in nature that they are very often overlooked.”


“Cut to the chase” is an understatement. Robert pulls no punches, especially on the disastrous effects of misguided pedagogy on aspiring young composers.

In music composition, perhaps more than any other creative field, the aspirant must find his/her own unique way. Having devoted nearly four decades to seeking his own compositional voice and delving into the deeply personal process that this requires, Robert understands this probably more clearly than most. He does a great job of pointing the way for anyone who’s interested, regardless of their place along the path.

The first chapter is available for free download, and after reading it I believe you’ll find the book worth well worth buying.

I can’t recommend this book enough to anyone who’s interested in music, whether as composer, performer, teacher, student or listener.

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