Posts Tagged toronto

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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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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