Posts Tagged electronic

Star’s End Review: Souls Adrift, in Disrepair

Big thanks to Chuck van Zyl for his review (original post here) and support! I’m looking forward to working with him in October, for performances at the Gatherings and on Star’s End Radio. As I’ve said many times, it’s the deep listeners like Chuck, who really hear and understand what I’m trying to accomplish musically, who make it worth all the effort to get music out there in a very crowded market.

“A soundtrack from out of the middle distance, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair (73’52”) uses stillness to superb effect. Eyes Cast Down (multi-instrumentalist Greg Moorcroft) asks that you give his delicately layered performance your patience. Once we adjust our ears to the minimalist arrangements, what emerges is a slow steady tempest of sound. The five stark compositions found on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair evoke different questions from the ones we are used to. We are asked to look within, and think about what feelings and sensations we experience while listening to this album’s sustaining drones, breathing chords, and dense forms – things large enough to swallow you whole. Whatever drama does arise on Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, does not come from harmonic displacement, melodic invention, nor counterpoint, but from contrasts in the sounds themselves. Stripped of almost everything, but for the subtlest shifts in atmosphere and light, this work opens up a space for one. Moorcroft relies on a myriad of electronic processing devices to transform his guitar playing into the textural masses found on this album… and a learned musicianship to direct this technology. Beautifully restrained moments, borne in improvisation, extend in slowly decaying ripples beneath gradually undulating contours. Aural details come in and out of focus, in shades of twilight and sepulchral frost. As each tone breathes into our listening space, we feel a slow force of momentum. Near album’s end, a reverberant piano enters, repeating its question again and again. When shadows pull together, ethereal voices add to an enfolding darkness. The reason this album seems so quiet is because there are so few other people saying these things. The unadorned beauty of Souls Adrift, in Disrepair relates to human fragility. The dark alliance of unmodulated sounds imparts a haunting force. As ideas and emotions cross borders, the outside world remains an abstraction – possibly a parallel present to the loftier firmaments of the mind.”

Front Cover

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Souls Adrift, in Disrepair: the Album Story

Front Cover

Painting copyright (c) by Royce Deans. Used with permission of the artist.

I’m delighted to announce the upcoming release of my fourth album, Souls Adrift, in Disrepair, on my Kalindi Music label. It will be available by download on July 12 and on CD shortly thereafter. The album’s release page is here.

I think of the album as… three guitar symphonies, a dark drift and an elegy. Possibly an oversimplification, but close enough to be helpful.

Four of the album’s five pieces are reworked improvisations from my April 2012 multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans & Tali Farchi.

I had met Royce & Tali a mere five days beforehand (thanks, Eve!), towards the end of their 6-week residency in downtown Chicago (part of the Pop-Up Loop series), and we just went for it.

Many thanks to Royce & Tali for making the day, and for lending me their inspiring artwork for the CD package.

Back Cover

Painting copyright (c) by Tali Farchi. Used with permission of the artist.

As always, every piece has a story…

Of the pieces which began as live improvs, Fading Angel needed the least rewriting to reach its final form. For the recording, I set aside my usual live playing approach and recorded all six guitar parts separately, playing them all the way through without looping. This approach allowed me, on each pass, to vary tempo, phrasing, and dynamics – unlike looping, where each repetition is exactly the same – and to interact with the previously-recorded parts even more closely than I can when looping.

I also did this for the other two guitar-driven pieces, and anticipate doing so for recording similar pieces going forward.

Astral Drift creates an unsettling atmosphere, using processed metallics, ocarina, voices and breath with an occasional guitar chord, and a few brush strokes of synths to keep us grounded, so we don’t go spiraling off into the void.

Sirens of Maya is built on a loop that’s all electric guitar harmonics, an approach I later ported over to acoustic guitar for Snowdance in Starlight on my album Divinations. Sirens of Maya is a three-part canon, but those parts aren’t strictly synchronized, which makes it a loose canon (someone had to do this). I had some more fun with my EBow on this piece, and I’m getting pretty good at hitting just the right amount and drawing back – before anything breaks. I also mixed up the guitars more than usual, using 6- and 12-strings as well as the fretless.

A live version of Sirens of Maya is the album’s pre-order bonus.

Transcending Memory features my Danelectro electric 12-string tuned to Alexander Scriabin‘s famous mystic chord. This piece was a lot of fun to record and should be a blast to play live. The 12-string lines carve out an eerie space, over a roaring processed singing bowl drone.

At This Body’s Final Hour closes out the album with a plaintive piano melody over a haunting synth-guitar blend, occasionally punctuated by a thumping bass drum and featuring a chorus of chanting voices (thanks to Dasi & Leyla for joining in). The instrumental track slows to half-speed over its 18 minutes.

So what’s with the album title, anyway?

Well, it goes something like this:

The album is dedicated to the memory of our longtime companions, Sandor Cat (who passed on two days after the performance with Royce & Tali), and his brother Kalman Cat, who left us two years later. Sandor’s six-week illness was a difficult time, and was hanging thick in the air when showtime rolled around.

So I wanted the album and track titles to convey something of the gravitas of the time. 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, this closes a circle in some ways. Other circles await.

I was also looking for something powerfully descriptive, like many of Dirk Serries‘ wonderful titles. I’m well aware of the cognitive dissonance of the word “disrepair” in this context – which is way more animé than I intend – and that it may at first be read as “despair”, which is way more “emo” than I intend, but anyway…

Sandor Cat

Track list:
1. Fading Angel   9.41
2. Astral Drift   17.17
3. Sirens of Maya   12.55
4. Transcending Memory   15.55
5. At This Body’s Final Hour   18.04

Here is a preview clip, with highlights from all five pieces:

I hope you find the album enjoyable, and worth purchasing. Many thanks for your support!

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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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Building the Memory Palace – My Story of the Album

Memory Palace Album - Front Cover

What’s a memory palace? According to Wikipedia, it’s an ancient “method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information.” It was especially useful to students and orators in pre-printing-press times. I’ve long thought it would make a good exploratory theme for an album.

The Memory Palace project began when I approached Chris Russell around Christmas 2010, asking if he would be interesting in exploring a groove-based collaboration. I had enjoyed Chris’ album Frozen and posted a brief but enthusiastic review.

My idea was a simplistic division of labor: rhythmic stuff by me, melodic stuff by Chris. We agreed to try our hands at one piece and see if we liked the result.

So, on a January weekend in 2011, I headed straight to the 31st-floor stairwell in The White Tower (my downtown Toronto day job venue), portable recorder in hand… as one does. Hit the Record button… check. Start drumming on the steel handrails, with bare hands… check.

You might be surprised how many different sound timbres can be obtained that way. The session yielded a righteous selection of grooves, a few of which – duly processed into something other, of course – formed the backbone of a piece which I assembled on my laptop. The laptop approach was hatched of necessity; all my instruments and studio gear were in Chicago, while I was exiled in Toronto awaiting my US visa.

Chris wove one of his characteristic synth atmospheres over my groove, and I hit on the title Particles and Waves, in reference to the two forms in which – according to physics – light is perceived as acting, if you zoom in closely enough. It was included in the Relaxed Machinery compilation reBOOT, released in Jan. 2014, along with The Rage of Reason, a piece I did with Peter James.

Chris and I were both so pleased with how Particles and Waves turned out that going ahead with a full album was … how you say … not needing any brains.

Musical frogs

Best wedding present. Ever.

In any event, I hadn’t even waited for Chris to finish his part for Particles and Waves, before embarking on two other pieces. For Primitive and Prime, I worked up a groove using mostly acoustic drum and percussion samples, and especially my much-favored wooden frogs. By contrast, Touchstone Array was made from samples which were also acoustic in origin, but transmogrified into an electronic crackle, and set to a racing tempo. The original version of that groove goes all the way back to the Christmas season of 2006, one of my first attempts at carving up a sampled-based groove with Ableton Live.

Our procedure was the same for the entire album: I sent Chris my finished parts, and he went to work. By the end of summer 2011, we had three pieces, half an album’s worth. Chris remixed my groove part for Particles and Waves and composed a completely new piece around it, which became Spatial Mnemonics.

A lengthy hiatus was then sort of forced upon us. I was finally able to move to Chicago at the end of September 2011. The next year’s music work was mainly playing live shows and finishing The Separate Ones.

The running order of the pieces on Memory Palace was pretty clear early on, with those first three opening the album, and they were intense enough to strongly suggest a non-rhythmic, purely-atmospheric interlude for the next piece, especially since I was planning a really ambitious closer. So I started off 2013 on the right foot, spending New Year’s afternoon in the studio to record about 15 tracks of atmospheric percussion elements, using objects like car keys, Go stones, bubble wrap, a handful of inch-thick branches, and so on. I did some drumming on an inflated yoga ball, among other things. Fun fun fun…

Memory Palace - inside panel detail

Memory Palace – inside panel detail

Fast-forward to the end of October 2013, on a week-long Indiana getaway. By this time Chris – who had raised his personal bar with an outstanding release, Portal – had recorded entirely new parts for two of those first three pieces, and I wanted to tweak one of mine. I spent most of my play time that week arranging my New Year’s Day elements – which had been recorded without any concern for their future structure – into what became Afterimages. For a bed track, I added a field recording which I really liked, of blowing wind and falling leaves, which I’d recorded at the same retreat place two months earlier.

The Afterimages arrangement took only two days, so I began work on the closing piece, Somewhere the Circle Stops. For this I’d dreamed of alternating odd-meter electronic grooves (flashing back to my drum kit days) with four-on-the-floor tribal drumming, flashing back and forth between ancient and present days. Once again, the electronic grooves (in 5/4, 7/4, 9/4 and 11/8) were all pieced together from samples. I need more vacation time, so I can get more work done!

Back to the city… I recorded the acoustic drumming and percussion parts early in January and sent my part to Chris. The piece was over 20 minutes long, so one of my most pleasant surprises ever was receiving the finished piece from Chris a mere three days later.

A shout-out here to one of my favorite singers, Sheila Chandra, whose song Question the Answer (from her album Nada Brahma) provided the title. I like the phrase’s apparently counter-intuitive nature; circles aren’t supposed to end! Nature, however, is full of … how you say … interesting paradoxes.

In the spring of 2012, some Buddhist monks visited Chicago’s Loyola University and created a sand mandala… as one does. Mandalas are gorgeous artworks which have always attracted me. I knew at once that this was the perfect subject for the Memory Palace album art. Since I couldn’t make it to the exhibit, my wife Dasi took some photos…

Memory Palace is available for pre-order now and will be released Dec. 8. It’s a joint release on Chris’ label Void Music and my Kalindi Music. We hope you enjoy it!

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

The Keep, in Nov. 2013

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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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Album Review: Worlds, Afterworlds by Zero Ohms

Album cover: Worlds, Afterworlds by Zero OhmsRichard Roberts (Zero Ohms) has just released Worlds, Afterworlds, his debut on the Relaxed Machinery label (rM_0019).

Richard is a veteran performer on flutes, wind-synth and other woodwinds. In addition to solo releases, he has collaborated with artists such as Craig Padilla and Markus Reuter, and has produced albums for overtone singer Gordon Rhyne and Inuit shaman Angaangaq.

The five pieces on Worlds, Afterworlds are created with bass flute, wind-synth and field recordings. In an amusing yin-yang progression, the pieces get shorter (and the titles longer) as the album moves forward.

From the beginning of the 28-minute Translation, Richard establishes a minimal, timeless space which is almost hollow at times but never empty. A peaceful stillness holds throughout, lightly punctuated with serene bits of melody, evoking the low, deep breathing (and ringing) of the cosmos – the stillness (full of potential) in which worlds can form. This would be great for meditation, deep listening, background or drift. The birds sound right at home – just as I felt. It made me want to grab a few singing bowls and join in.

This Beautiful Now flows by like a stream, slowing time to irrelevance, evoking and celebrating the joy of being fully present and mindful. It’s never fluff – these slow shifts could almost be tectonic – rather the music is subtle and full in stillness.

Worlds, Afterworlds sample clips by Zero Ohms

Peace of the Pi is a walk in the country on a windy day. Mournful Light of a Gibbous Moon is a melancholy bass flute alone in the moonlight, joined by a second one in a duet of loss.

I Become the Emptiness Thru Which the Axle Turns closes the album with wind-synth lines over a processed wind/hollow bass drone. It’s a soundtrack for letting go and stepping back from the entanglements of this world – perhaps not without regret, but with resolve all the same.

Arvo Pärt famously said that one note beautifully played is enough for him. The music of Zero Ohms perfectly embodies that minimalist ethic. You don’t need a lot of notes when they’re played with the kind of presence and still joy that Richard brings to every moment of playing.

Zero Ohms is yet another impressive addition to the Relaxed Machinery roster of artists, which includes Max Corbacho, Steve Brand, Bob Ohrum, Chris Russell and I’ve Lost. Forthcoming albums from Robert Scott Thompson (December) and Andrew Lahiff (early 2012) can only be expected to increase the label’s panache.

Worlds, Afterworlds is available by download from CD Baby, and is coming on CDR from Hypnos and in FLAC from AD21 Music. Highest recommendation!

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Album Review: Upwelling by Steve Brand

Album cover: Upwelling by Steve BrandSteve Brand has just released his first “lost pieces” collection, on his own Pioneer Light label. Upwelling (PL 0002) is a gathering of nine remixed and reimagined tracks, some created during work on other albums, others resulting from momentary inspirations.

Forgotten Feast at once opens a ritual, ancestral space, into which a rich light streams, full with memory. Steve establishes at the outset one of his signature themes: rebirth through rediscovery. The journey, as it must, passes through darkness and loss as well as joy and learning. I couldn’t believe how quickly this 8-minute piece flowed by. It barely seemed to have begun – one of my favorites.

Overtone continues the mood, with enticing flute fragments offset by darklit tectonic shifts. Quietly searing, ominously ringing and enchanting.

My other favorites are the reflective meditation Morning Glory and the glorious The Web, which together anchor the album at its midpoint. I hear them both as hymns to simply being present and attentive – for me, another key theme that resonates throughout Steve’s music. Key, because being present in the moment is essential to Steve’s spiritual quest, of which his music is an inevitable expression.

The pieces seem to come in pairs: the title track shimmers through a glinting, slightly-metallic space, while Selves Like Facets in a Diamond follows with a darker, more intense soundscape of processed metal percussion. At six minutes, it’s the album’s shortest piece – perhaps its strongest.

The ethereal drift of Over-soul is a brief glimpse of a slow, eternal journey through infinite space. This is a short clip from the long-form version, which will probably see release in 2012. I’m definitely looking forward to that.

Steve Brand – Upwelling (Excerpts) by Relaxed Machinery

Opening with a processed vocal invocation and softly-clattering chimes, The Language of Moon and Tide swells into a flow of midnight pads, ending with chimes and cymbal effects.

Ever-Increasing Brightness closes the album with Asian elements of melodic percussion and plucked strings, which cascade and echo away, then give way to an atmosphere which falls away from us.

In much the same way as does any of Steve Roach’s Lost Pieces albums, or Max Corbacho’s recent Lost Links collection, Upwelling weaves these varying strands together into a seamless, cohesive whole. As solidly as the tracks are sequenced, I think shuffling them would yield some interesting, parallel experiences.

If you’re new to Steve Brand’s music, this is an excellent introduction. For the rest of us, it’s one more welcome addition to his impressive discography.

Upwelling is available for download from CD Baby and other digital outlets, and is coming soon on CDR from Hypnos and in FLAC format from AD21 Music. Recommended!

Wallpaper: Upwelling by Steve Brand

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