Posts Tagged “Relaxed Machinery”

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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Memory Palace Premiere – SomaFM

Many thanks to Rusty Hodge of SomaFM for featuring the entire Memory Palace album today on Soma’s Deep Space One channel to mark the album’s release!

Gratitude also to everyone who tuned in, and those who joined us in the Relaxed Machinery community chat room. The album has been very well received, and we’re hopeful that the word will spread…

Memory Palace is available on CD and by download. Check out the preview clip on the album page.

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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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eyes cast down Interview by Headphonaught

Many thanks to Thomas Mathie for posting this interview and for his nice support! The original post is here.

Thomas, aka Headphonaught, is a music lover, artist and designer, and keeper of the We Are All Ghosts netlabel, the Circumambient podcast and the Nanolog blog. Don’t miss his interview with my colleague Scott Lawlor.

Seven questions with … Greg Moorcroft aka eyes cast down

There is something wonderfully spiritual about some forms of ambient music … I find these forms reach into my soul like no other music. The music may be created to be spiritual and then again it may not … but, due to its very nature, it is possible to project a spirituality onto it whether it be the deeply meditative of certain longform drones or the wildly joyful of more upbeat, trancey sounds … this is my ‘worship’ music now.

One proponent of this form of ambient music is musician Greg Moorcroft aka eyes cast down. His contributions to the Free Floating winter compilations all|is|calm are exceptional. I have recently obtained a promo copy of his latest album – Divinations – and look forward to digging into that.

As is my way, I asked Moorcroft if he’d be interested in answering a few questions for this ol’ blog. I’m delighted to say he agreed.


1) Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Greg Moorcroft. I use the artist name eyes cast down. I am a composer, musician, recording artist and live performer. I work primarily – though not exclusively – in the ambient-atmospheric world.

2) What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just released Album #2, Divinations, on my Kalindi Music label. Album #3, Pastimes of Creation, is very nearly finished, so that’s the priority now.

3) Who inspires you?
– Name an artist who has inspired you.
My main man is Steve Roach, whom I hugely enjoyed interviewing three years ago. His music provides an endlessly-deep well of inspiration.

– Name a place that has inspired you.
I love getting out into nature. The most inspiring place I’ve been to is Cranberry Lake Park in upstate New York, on a camping holiday.

– Name some “thing” that has inspired you.
Drumming. I go to a monthly group, which is tons of fun. I really should take my portable recorder next time, because some good grooves often magically appear.

4) What drives you to do what you do?
The word “drive” says it all. I have to make music. I don’t have any choice about it; it’s in my bones. I love it. I would do it for myself alone, if I had to, but being able to share it is better.

5) What values do you wish your creativity to express?
True spirituality, which requires humility; love, which can grow only from that point; the courage to undergo necessary introspection; and a delight in the amazing power of Creation, of which I aspire to be a medium.

6) What role does community play in what you do?
In this sense, “community” means “kindred spirits” who value the music as I do – as critically important, as soul-shaking, ritual, deepcore magic. It’s fantastic that such a community exists; for me, its hub is the Relaxed Machinery community.

7) What is next for what you do?
The next project is either: begin recording Album #5 (which is entirely written), or finish writing Album #6 (which is half written). After those are both recorded, I think it will be time for the Concerto for Ambient Orchestra project. That is going to be … something other.


Thanks Greg.

The first four tracks of Divinations were all released on Free Floating netlabel – Conceptionall|is|calm 2011all|is|calm 2013, and all|is|calm 2012 – with the final piece, Ensō (a live laptop/softsynth improvisation with Avian and human voices added during postproduction in May 2014) originating from an art show in May 2012.

I’m glad to have all these tracks in one place and recommend you check out the album: Divinations.

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The Separate Ones – The First Album Always Takes Forever

The Separate Ones front cover

The Separate Ones front cover. Photo by Boris Lelong, filtered by eyes cast down

My first album, The Separate Ones, is now available on CD and by download. What a joy. What a relief!

The album’s release comes seven years (to the day) after composition began on the first piece, as music is (sorry to say) my very part-time vocation. All the clichés about a first album being one’s entire life’s work up to that point are entirely applicable here. During that seven years, work began on seven other albums, and I hope to finish and release three or four of them this year. So, breaking the ice opens the floodgates.

But work started slowly. I had been playing around with ambient improvisation and composition (with synths alone) for nearly two years before I decided to try my hand at composing for electric guitar. Four of the album’s six pieces are guitar-driven.

The first four pieces to be written for the album were composed and recorded – literally – one per year, from 2006 to 2009. By this time, the project had gathered sufficient momentum, and its two longest pieces were both completed in 2010. The crazy circumstances around our move from Toronto to Chicago in 2011, and a busy year of playing live throughout 2012, delayed completion of the final bits of recording to November 2012.

Back to 2009 briefly. It was early in this year when I decided to search for a simpatico record label, thinking I need not necessarily self-release. On MySpace, I made contact with Geoff Small, who was working with a label which looked like a good fit. Unfortunately, that came to change, but another label emerged which was a good fit: John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery, with which I’m thrilled to be working. The point is, Geoff’s encouragement was absolutely critical in my getting connected to a label at all, so major thanks, Geoff (and John)!

(By the way, Geoff has released two excellent albums on the rM label under his moniker åpne sinn, espiritista and en seier, both of which I highly recommend.)

The Separate Ones is a set of reflections on attachment, separation and loss. By the time the first two pieces had been composed (Radha’s Tears and First Day Apart), the album’s title and theme, and these pieces’ respective closing and opening positions, were all clear. In retrospect, it was also clear at that point that guitar composition is the core of whatever the eyes cast down sound is – though I had a lot of fun trying other approaches, and expect to continue doing so.

Great thanks to my friends Boris Lelong and Kris Tilbury for contributing their photographs to the project. Boris shot the  statue (at Paris’ Montmartre Cemetery), which I filtered and used on the front cover and inside panel, while Kris’ birds photo graces the back cover.

Statue at Montmartre Cemetery, Paris France. Photographer unknown

Statue at Montmartre Cemetery, Paris France. Photographer unknown

That statue is a story in itself. Years ago, I found online this wonderful sepia-treated photo of it, shot from a perfect angle, which I used as my online profile icon for several years. Thinking to ask permission to license it for the album, I searched for that original photo again last year, but it had disappeared. So I couldn’t find the original photographer. Boris to the rescue!

Every song has a story (or a theme, or a concept, or a system…) related to the core subject matter, and here they are:

First Day Apart: My daughter went to a boarding school half a world away, with her two best friends (and their mother), when she was 15. We had never been separated for more than three weeks before this; she was gone for over a year and had a wonderful time. Almost exactly a year after her flight, this music emerged over an Easter weekend, taking me back to that day at the airport.

Rebuild From Memory: This piece was informed by my reflections on our propensity to rewrite the past, especially in times of crisis. Whether it concerns the end of a relationship or world-shaking historical events, our memory capabilities are far from impartial, let alone perfect. But this goes beyond isolated events; my consciousness is a lens through which I view my entire life, oftentimes quite independently of the facts. This only increases as we age. Musically, this was my first ambitious editing project, taking four improvised guitar tracks (all recorded in one evening), leaving two as they were and severely modifying the other two.

Knife of Karma: The word “karma” means action, and refers to the sum total of reactions that result from one’s actions. One might refer to the reactions to good actions as a “caress of karma”; here I was reflecting on the other end of the spectrum. I like to think vidnaObmana was in a similar space when he created his brilliant Dante Trilogy, as that – though only circumstantially – would put me in damn fine company. I recorded a singing bowl loop for this piece, and did a little tinkering with the sample’s pitch in Ableton Live. That’s how I got what sounds like a long, slow sigh, and what sounds like a flute riff. The nine-minute long ambient guitar intro was recorded in one take. This was an enormous editing and mixing job, the summit of my then-current trend of increasing complexity.

Expanse of Heart: This piece originated in a theater project. Its earlier version featured Chinese cymbals and a crystal-bowl-like melodic line, with which I eventually lost patience. It just sounded like the dreaded N-word to me. So I deleted those elements and added the voices-only intro. All this allowed the piece to breathe more and – I like to think – reveal its depth more clearly. Many thanks to singer Alannah for her stellar vocal performance. I’m really fond of the chords in this piece, and I found the title so apt that I stole it from an earlier piece which is still in progress. (A rework of that piece, for guitar & synth, is in progress, to be titled First Expanse.)

Like a Riven Cloud: This is a requiem for a friend who killed his body (read the full story here). Almost immediately after I learned about the event, I knew I would have to reckon with it musically, to give shape to the many feelings it stirred up. He left a wife and two young children, and many friends who would have helped him, had he turned to them. I lifted a melodic line from a wonderful 12th-century Aquitanian monastic song, Lux Refulget (Shining Light), a great favorite of mine which I included in our wedding ceremony. Violinist Ezra Azmon contributed a searing performance. This piece was assembled from improvised episodes, as it stubbornly refused my every attempt to compose it.

Radha’s Tears: The album ends as it began, with a solo guitar composition. This is a song of separation in the mood of ecstatic love for God – as I imagine it might be, anyway. Loreena McKennitt’s rendition of St. John of the Cross’ prayer, Dark Night of the Soul, is a favorite of mine.

Many thanks to Bobby Jones for mastering the album, and to three friends who are helping me to unveil it: Rebecca and Lisa of Healing Foundations in Chicago, who are hosting the album release party on March 1, and Har, who is featuring the entire album on his StillStream program Nightscaping, on March 3. Har premiered both Knife of Karma and Like a Riven Cloud on Nightscaping in 2010, the latter on the day after its completion. You don’t forget friends like these.

The last word of thanks, and the album dedication, are to my wife Dasi, without whose love and support the album might not have been finished at all. I can’t say it any better than that.

The Separate Ones is published by my Kalindi Music label. It’s available on CD and by download from my Bandcamp store. I hope you enjoy it!

The Separate Ones back cover; photo by Kris Tilbury

The Separate Ones back cover; photo by Kris Tilbury

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The Receding Horizon: 2012 in Review

Three things are inevitable: death, taxes and year-end reviews…

2012. What a year it was! And it didn’t end early, after all…

First of all, many thanks to everyone who supported my musical explorations this year. Whether it was attending (or helping facilitate) a live event, spreading the word, keeping up with the music online, or whatever – y’all know who you are. Muchas gracias!

This year, I played my first live shows (six in all), which were a major learning experience, significantly changed the way I set up my gear, and yielded one album’s worth of finished music and a second album’s worth of work in progress.

In November we finished recording for the first album, The Separate Ones, completing a nearly seven-year odyssey. I expect to release it (on CD and by download) in late January. There will be a CD Release party at Royal Coffee in Chicago, and a streaming feature on StillStream (details to follow when ready).

In early November, I revisited the recordings of my live show on April 1, the multimedia jam with art painters Royce Deans and Tali Farchi, and determined to release them on yet-to-be-titled Album #4. The recordings need remixing and perhaps a few added brush strokes. Hopefully the entire art package will be Royce & Tali’s work.

With most of 2012’s studio time involving preparation for live events, the only finished compositions to emerge this year were Darklight Canon, which will be included on Album #4, and Snowdance in Starlight, which appears on the Free Floating netlabel’s third Christmas/winter collection, all|is|calm 2012.

In other compilation news this year, my early piece Last of His Breed made it onto two Sound For Good compilations: Oceans and S4G-Mix-I. The latter was a survey of the label’s entire output to that point, so being included was quite a feather in the old cap. Many thanks to Jack Hertz and Crazy Dymond, respectively, for choosing it! Last of His Breed was the last (and my favorite) of four formative early jams which launched my ambient journey in spring 2004.

Mini Djembe and Thunder Tube

Besides changing significantly in its arrangement, The Keep acquired some new gear this year: a Roland Loop Station, djembe, clay pot drum, mini-djembe, thunder tube, claves and a big loud shaker. I also picked up a couple of baskets for rocks and Go stones, cut five new claves from downed branches, made one shaker out of locust bean pods and another out of plastic curtain rings, and bagged fallen leaves for sampling. Many thanks to John Briggs for the loan of a mini-darbuka.

Now it’s time to be a studio hermit for a few months, so I can get some albums finished.

New Toys Dec 25-12

L-R: Centipede, Loud Shaker, Locust Bean Pod Shaker, unfinished Claves

So far, the best-laid plans for 2013 shape up something like this:

Pastimes of Creation, the Keshava-Lila trio album, just needs one more bit of recording. I hope to release it in mid-March.

Memory Palace, a collaboration album with Chris Russell (for which half of my parts are done), for the Relaxed Machinery label.

Album #4, which will be submitted to rM.

By this time, it should be spring (at least), at which point I’ll come out of the cave and play a home concert – at my place. If all goes well, the program will be six improvised pieces from the two September shows, which I hope to have worked up into final form. Those pieces should be Album #5. Highlights of their gestation can be heard on my Events page.

Album #6, Nuances of Illusion, with violinist Ezra Azmon (who tears it up on Like a Riven Cloud from The Separate Ones) providing source material for recycling. These last two will probably be released on my Kalindi Music label.

Then – after a short vacation – work on the long-planned covers album will begin the next phase.

Some compilation pieces and guest appearances are also in process:

Butterfly Effects, the James Johnson recycling album on rM, is cued up for release early in ‘13. My piece Two Fractured Mirrors is included, along with pieces from Altus, Disturbed Earth, Scott M2, Northcape and othersI also dreamed up the album’s title and acted as Info & Project Manager.

I’ll have pieces with Chris Russell (Particles and Waves) and Peter James (in progress) on the second rM artists’ comp, inFUSE, which title struck me through a nice dialogue with John Koch-Northrup and Steve Brand.

I’ve submitted a piece, Radiant Perception, for the Free Floating compilation a.m. If it makes the cut, a.m. will be the fourth Free Floating collection to include a piece of mine. Radiant Perception was the immediate follow-up to Exquisite Divination of Patterns (from Conception), and these – along with Crystalline (from all|is|calm 2011) – form a clearly-bound trilogy of softsynth pieces.

So far, the only live events I’m contemplating for ‘13 are a repeat at Daley Plaza and hopefully expanding the Carving Through Shadow workshop into an all-day deep dive. I’m always open to offers, of course…

Finally, as usual, it was a great year for music from my peers. In December alone, Steve Roach, Steve Brand and Max Corbacho all released awesome new work, to end the year on a high chord. Other releases of note came from Robert Rich, Lucette Bourdin, Andrew Lahiff, Chris Russell and Peter James. Low Volume Music by Steve Roach & Dirk Serries (returning from a ten-year hiatus) was the year’s coolest surprise and a major highlight.

Bring on the lucky ’13!

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2012: My “Hello, World!” Year

As I wrote in my blog entry American Dreaming, 2011 was in some ways a lost year for me, due to circumstances around my immigration to the USA, which stranded me in Toronto and separated me from my wife for nine months.

Chicago Cultural CenterIn musical terms, I made the best of it by temporarily becoming a laptop musician, since I was also separated from my studio and gear. Chris Russell and I began our Memory Palace album, and I worked up some remixes and compilation pieces (for details, see American Dreaming). But the circumstances meant that three albums-in-progress (The Separate Ones, Pastimes of Creation and Nuances of Illusion) were put on hold.

So, the priority for 2012 is to see all four of those albums finished and released.

Along with that, I have to finalize the packaging for the James Johnson recycling collection Butterfly Effects, Vol. 1 (which will be a free download from the Relaxed Machinery label). It’s been an honor to be involved with this project, which will be the subject of a separate blog on release day.

Also in the pipeline: a second duo piece for the next Relaxed Machinery multi-artist compilation (Peter James gave me a gorgeous drone to work with), and an atmospheric percussion track for a respected colleague to use if he likes.

All this will conclude the first chapter in the eyes cast down story. I’ll take a break to finish up some meditational and ecstatic songs, which have been lying around for years, for my Mukunda’s Friends project. Hopefully some of them will see release on my Kalindi Music label, joining our song Lacrimosa.

The next cluster of eyes cast down releases will include a twin-guitar album, two albums of cover pieces (the second one is a longform version of one all-time favorite piece), an exciting duo project which will be announced in due course, and perhaps a live collection. At least, that’s the plan right now.

Chicago Cultural Center(Side note: John K-N has already razzed me about box sets, which is entirely proper and necessary to help guard against overinflated plans. I like to think that I’m just taking a Long-Term View of Things.)

Phase II will mark the end of my work in Equal Temperament (excluding possible future collaborations), as I leave behind the 12-tone equally-out-of-tune scale and dive into working with my own 64-tone Just Intonation scale, which I’ve been working out over the past two months. (That will be another separate blog entry, which I promise will not be too arcane and technical to be of actual interest to living, breathing human beings.)

There are heaps of ideas for projects, at the back of the stove.

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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